The idea for this past weekend’s fourth annual Halifax International Security Forum, Peter MacKay told the Globe and Mail, was born because our defence minister “got a little tired” of traveling to other global security conferences in places like Munich where the discussions were all “Europe-America, Europe-America.”
Voila the Halifax Forum.
MacKay’s “brainchild”—as another media report described it—is a chance for more than 300 of the world’s most self-important politicians, generals, security experts and assorted media celebrity hangers-on (CBC’s Peter Mansbridge, Global’s Tom Clark, CTV’s Kevin Newman, CNN’s Jeanne Meserve) to get together for “two days without distraction to focus on pressing security issues, conduct bilateral meetings, and network.”
To talk, in other words, about Europe-America, Europe-America—but in Halifax.
And thus make the world more safe and secure…
Four years in, we can see how well that’s working out.
But let us pass, for the moment, on the relevant discussion of the real value of these echo-chamber discussions—with subjects like “Mischief or Miscalculation? China and the Rise of Confusion-ism,” “The Good Guys? The Special Burden of Democratic Nations” and “Learning from Israel,” all featuring speakers and listeners of similar hues from a narrow ideological spectrum— and focus instead on the economic optics of the gathering.
Consider first that the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (Peter MacKay, real proprietor), has gifted organizers $3 million a year for the last four years—making it one of the agency’s largest individual funding recipients—so they can stage MacKay’s two-day annual gabfest.
That’s $10,000 per participant, or $125,000 per hour of face time.
And then consider that ACOA’s overall grants—which are supposed to “create opportunities for economic growth in Atlantic Canada by helping businesses become more competitive, innovative and productive”—fell by more than 25 per cent last year. With more Harper-mandated cuts to come.
While the 20 local restaurants where delegates dined at our expense Saturday night—and the downtown bars where they probably “networked” after—are no doubt delighted by their one-day business boost, it is difficult to understand how any of this makes us “more competitive, innovative and productive.”
But then—like making the world more safe and secure—that was never the point.
Copyright 2012 Stephen Kimber
Friday’s much-hyped Fifth Estate documentary on the crash of Swissair Flight 111 generated much arcing and sparking about its cause but—in the end—no incendiary device, no hard evidence the tragic 1998 accident was anything but.
That said, the story raised questions that deserve better than read-the-report, cone-of-silence non-responses from the RCMP and the Transportation Safety Board.
The documentary focused on concerns—not specific allegations—by retired RCMP investigator Tom Juby. Juby claims his bosses shut down inquiries into what he believed were too-high-to-be-explained levels of magnesium in the plane’s cockpit area. He thought the magnesium suggested the crash could have been caused by an incendiary device. He wanted to pursue that as a possible criminal investigation into the murders of the 229 passengers and crew.
Although I never interviewed him, I have no doubt Juby is a dedicated professional who believes what he says.
But I also believe Larry Vance—the deputy chief TSB investigator who spent even more years investigating the crash, and whom I did interview extensively while researching a book about the tragedy—is equally dedicated, equally professional.
Vance and the TSB ultimately dismissed Juby’s concerns. They claim the heightened magnesium levels resulted from prolonged exposure to salt water, and believe an incendiary device would have caused far more damage to the cockpit. “It would be like aiming a blow-torch at your head and burning only one hair,” Vance told Canadian Press.
Which leaves us with… an interesting professional disagreement among professional investigators, goosed by tantalizing, made-for-TV tidbits about missing diamonds and the post-9/11-freighted presence of Arab royalty among the plane’s passengers.
Swiss television, which helped finance the CBC documentary, was so unpersuaded by its conclusions it refused to air it. “It’s not our task to spread speculation,” the network’s chief editor says.
My own issue is not with Juby’s clearly heartfelt complaints nor even with the CBC’s decision to broadcast a documentary filled with so much might-have-could-have-possibly speculation.
My concern is with the RCMP and the TSB, whose refusal to publicly respond to Juby’s allegations can only feed more sinister interpretations and add to the doubt and pain of those who lost loved ones in the crash.
Doesn’t anyone ever learn?
Stephen Kimber is the author of Flight 111: The Tragedy of the Swissair Crash.
Copyright 2011 Stephen Kimber
So let me see if I have this right.
The U.S. State Department has promised immunity from prosecution to a group of rogue American private security agents who were involved in an alleged massacre in west Baghdad's Nisoor Square in September. Seventeen unarmed Iraqis were killed and two dozen others wounded in that attack, which witnesses say was unprovoked.
On the other hand, this same U.S. government remains bullishly determined to prosecute Canadian Omar Khadr for allegedly killing one U.S. soldier and wounding another in Afghanistan in 2002 during what was, in fact, a firefight between armed U.S. forces and almost-as-armed Afghani fighters.
This does not compute.
Or perhaps it does.
In the topsy turvy, enemy-of-my-enemy-is-my-friend, what-me-worry-about-reality world of American geopolitics, it must all seem perfectly reasonable.
And, of course, equally explicable in Stephen Harper’s Canada. We’ll get back to Harper.
Let’s start with the Americans. During the 1990s, the U.S. government supported Osama bin Laden when he was fighting the Soviet Army in Afghanistan, in the process helping to pave the way for the Taliban takeover of that country. After 9/11, the Americans invaded Afghanistan in order to wipe out the now evil Taliban and kill or capture the satanic Osama — without ever once acknowledging their complicity in creating the mess in the first place.
The American government also supported — at the same time, incredibly — both Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and the Islamic fundamentalist government of Iran during their bloody, decade-long war with each other, only to turn on each of them (Saddam became the Butcher of Baghdad, Iran a member in good standing of George W. Bush’s Axis of Evil) when it became convenient to do so for American foreign policy purposes.
That shouldn’t surprise, I guess, considering that this administration still can’t comprehend the striking similarities between those brave American lads who drop bombs on unwary, unseen civilians from thousands of feet in the air and those cowardly terrorist insurgents who plant improvised explosive devices along roadsides to kill and maim unsuspecting American soldiers.
And that doesn’t understand the incongruity of disparagingly referring to non-Iraqi insurgents as “foreign fighters” while forgetting that that is how most Iraqis see them.
Not that we have much to brag about in the area of intellectual or moral consistency in our foreign policy.
This week, Prime Minister Stephen Harper met with the Dalai Lama, partly to exchange small talk and white Tibetan silk scarves — the one made for the Dalai Lama was embroidered with the Canadian maple leaf — and partly to make a political point with the Chinese government about Canada’s unhappiness with its well-documented human rights abuses in Tibet.
This week’s get together with Harper was the first time the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader has met formally with a Canadian prime minister in his own office.
Perhaps not surprisingly, Jason Kenney, Harper’s secretary of state for multiculturalism and Canadian identity, was quick to praise his boss.
“This prime minister, obviously, is someone who has placed a real emphasis on human rights and Canadian values in our foreign policy,” he told CTV.
Uh, yes… but what about Omar Khadr? Oh, him.
Khadr, who is a Canadian citizen, was just 15 when he was captured by the Americans in Afghanistan and whisked off to the notorious Guantanamo Bay prison compound where he has languished, without trial, for five years.
While other countries — including such steadfast American allies as Britain and Australia — have publicly protested the detentions of their citizens at Guantanamo and even managed to get them released or at least returned to their home countries, Canada has been worse than silent on Khadr.
The Harper government, in fact, is still fighting to prevent Khadr’s lawyers from seeing secret files it compiled when the RCMP, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and the Department of Foreign Affairs interrogated Khadr — without a lawyer — shortly after he was captured. Canada passed on summaries of those sessions to the Americans.
Last May, the Federal Court of Appeal ordered the government to hand over to the court uncensored copies of all records relevant to the case, but Ottawa refused and is now appealing that decision.
One of the key issues, incredibly, will be whether Khadr, as a Canadian citizen, actually has the right to a fair trial under the Charter of Rights.
Khadr’s Edmonton-based lawyer, Dennis Edney, says Ottawa’s refusal to disclose the information “shows the extent to which Canada has been prepared to violate the rule of law when it comes to Omar Khadr.”
A prime minister “who has placed a real emphasis on human rights and Canadian values in our foreign policy?”
Only, it seems, when it suits our other interests.
Stephen Kimber is the Rogers Communications Chair in Journalism at the University of King's College. His column, Kimber's Nova Scotia, appears in The Sunday Daily News.
Copyright 2007 Stephen Kimber