On a Saturday edition of FTB Fridays, Jason C. McLean and Dawn McSweeney discuss the recent deal between Jagmeet Singh’s NDP and Justin Trudeau’s Liberals, François Legault and the upcoming Quebec election and the ongoing Ukraine invasion.

Follow Dawn McSweeney on Twitter and Instagram @mcmoxy and read her book The Mountains We Climb by Accident

Follow Jason C. McLean on Twitter and Instagram @jasoncmclean

In a week that saw US warships sent to North Korea, increased tensions in Syria following a US missile strike and the American military drop, for the first time, the largest non-nuclear bomb in its arsenal on Afghanistan, the most ominous story came to light yesterday. President Donald Trump really wants to ride in the Queen Elizabeth’s gold-plated, horse-drawn carriage when he visits England.

While foreign leaders hitching a ride to Buckingham Palace with Her Majesty is occasionally a thing that happens, American Presidents generally take a different vehicle because of security concerns. A police source told the Times of London:

“The vehicle which carries the president of the United States is a spectacular vehicle. It is designed to withstand a massive attack like a low-level rocket grenade. If he’s in that vehicle he is incredibly well protected and on top of that it can travel at enormous speed. If he is in a golden coach being dragged up the Mall by a couple of horses, the risk factor is dramatically increased.”

I’m not sure of this source’s name or rank, so let’s just use Captain Obvious. Security concerns are heightened when it comes to this President in  particular. There are supposed to be massive protests and even the British Parliament is refusing to let him address them.

Instead of taking the safer route, the Trump team is doing their best to insist on the gold-plated carriage ride. It’s a pretty safe bet that this approach goes right to the top. And that is why this otherwise trivial piece of nonsense is downright scary.

Trump wants to ride in something gold sitting next to royalty. Putin got to do it. That peasant Obama slummed it when he visited the Queen. Slummed it in a super-fast grenade-repellent limousine driven by a chauffeur with more real-world military training than most fictional action heroes.

Maybe if the hyper-secure car was also gold on the outside Trump would ride in it. But then he would be in a competition with the Queen for opulence. Come to think of it, the main reason he probably wants to ride in the carriage is to be on equal footing with the Queen.

Why is that something he cares about? Being on equal footing, or even a dominant footing, when meeting with Xi Jinping, Justin Trudeau, Vladamir Putin or Theresa May makes sense. You don’t want to negotiate from a position of weakness. But what on Earth could President Trump possibly hope to negotiate with the Queen?

She is technically a Head of State, sure, but that is purely symbolic. Symbolism matters to this President. Celebrity, though, matters even more. The Queen is a celebrity, way more than Prime Minister May is, you might say she is THE celebrity.

Riding in the Royal Carriage means, to Trump, that some people may see his celebrity on par with hers and that he is one step ahead of Obama in looking important. It’s all about proving that he is important. The fact that he achieved, perhaps by fluke, something that only forty-four other people have done in a country of millions doesn’t seem to be a factor.

If Obama took a secure limo, Trump wants to ride in the same carriage as the Queen. If other Presidents dropped bombs, Trump wants to drop the Mother of All Bombs. His bomb is bigger.

Some have suggested, and I tend to agree with them, that launching sixty missiles at an airfield in Syria was a PR stunt:

A distraction, most likely from the persistent allegations that he is a Russian puppet. But he didn’t just give us one distraction, no, that’s something a standard politician would do. Trump has the most distractions, the best distractions. Bigly.

Three distractions so far. If this is a case of the tail wagging the dog (as in the 1997 film Wag the Dog which many have referenced in the past few days), well, this dog now has three tails and might grow more.

The Trump team can’t even do deflection right, because their boss is only focused on looking bigger and badder than anyone else. Meanwhile, the biggest, baddest dog in the yard, the US military (along with its defense contractor allies) has been unleashed, or at the very least, is now connected to a real long bendy leash that no one is pulling on to reign it in.

These distractions could turn into full-blown wars. When it comes to North Korea, it’s now up to Kim Jong Un to be the restrained, responsible one if the world is to avoid the start of World War III.

If Donald Trump was taking the actions of the military he now commands with the gravity the situation warrants, then he wouldn’t be telling reporters about the chocolate cake he was eating when ordering a strike on Iraq, only to be corrected that it was, in fact, Syria he had sent missiles into. He also wouldn’t be ordering military actions from a golf course.

He also wouldn’t care if he got to ride in the carriage with the Queen, or, for that matter, whether or not he got to meet with the Queen at all. This focus on image and who looks more famous, bigger and more important, may be laughable, but it also may be what dooms us all.



As airstrikes target the Syrian city of Aleppo, there are reports, far too many reports to simply say there are reports. Sometimes it’s clear what is happening. Assad regime forces are going house to house and murdering civilians inside.

Since early in the morning (late last night for us in North America), residents of the city under siege and even journalists reporting from there have been taking to social media not just to report on what is happening but to say what they fear might be a final farewell. People are being murdered indiscriminately. Many more will die.

Apparently, rain is a good thing today, because it means the bombings stop for a while and people have a chance to regroup, hide or possibly escape.

Hospitals are a target in Aleppo, to a degree previously unseen. There is a report today of an entire hospital staff being murdered.

This isn’t going to be a long post. This isn’t the time or the place for intellectual analysis. People are dying. I’m not sure what people living halfway across the world can do about it aside from spreading awareness and contacting government officials over here and try and force them to do something, to put a stop to what seems unstoppable.

As of the time this is being published, Russia is claiming that their military action over East Aleppo has stopped and “the Syrian Government is in control.” Considering they’re referring to the same regime forces that are doing the killing on the ground, speaking up is still essential.

Meanwhile, the United Nations convened an Emergency Security Council Meeting which lasted just over 20 minutes. If all they’re willing to spend on this catastrophe is 20 minutes, then we really need to let them know it’s not enough.

Under the Jasmine has a list of some Canadian politicians to contact and an international campaign as well. That’s a start. So is forcing media to cover the story and report what’s really happening.

Not sure if it will help, but at the very least we need to try…today, because tomorrow may be too late.


In this past week Beirut, Bagdad, Paris and most of Syria were the epicentres of yet another gruesome chapter of the war on terror. The images of a blood-stained Paris echoed the images of the Lebanese bloodbath that had followed the day before, but as one served as an echo chamber for the whole struggle against terrorism and radicalism the other was almost practically omitted: “after all,” some said, “it happens over there all the time!”

This gap in solidarity became much more than merely your routine ethnocentricity. Some have put forward the argument that it’s “normal” to feel more proximity to France, and this argument and the debate in general is in many ways the highest manifestation of how the war on terror is fuelled and perpetuated.

One of the best examples of this occurred in the wreckage of the Paris attacks on the On n’est pas couchés (ONPC) set–a renowned French talk-show rebranding itself On est solidaires for the occasion. During the televised debate where several politicians, artists and philosophers were invited, the discourse was the same–except for the notable exception of Jean-Luc Mélanchon (leader of the French left Parti de Gauche) and the philosopher Raphaël Glucksmann.

The drums of war were the same. The actors and the scenery had changed but the script was the same, the same one handed out in the aftermath of the 9-11 attacks in the United States.

pray for paris french flag

The journalists in charge of orchestrating the whole affair reminded the audience time after time that the message the show was promoting was one of solidarity and peace but there was a cognitive dissonance, it seems, between the message of peace they were promoting and the “clash of civilizations” speech that came out of their mouths. The “us” against “them” was reformulated time after time, “they hate us because we love life,” “they hate what we love, music, art, gastronomy”… with every passing sentence the arguments became ever more void.

In the conversation that lasted more than two hours, the fact that the totality of the eight assailants who ravaged Paris last Friday were all Europeans, born and raised, was never brought up. So much for the racists and xenophobes among us for whom the prospect of one of them being a refugee birthed in them a pleasure of orgasmic proportions.

Yet the conclusion François Hollande and the majority of the panelists reached, which now seems a Cannon Law, was that these young men weren’t French, they were Daesh. Once Hollande uttered those words in his speech to the French people, real debate and reflection upon how to put an end to all of this nonsensical bloodshed was silenced.

Once Hollande uttered those words, France’s foreign policy and interventionism, its interior policy with regards to the Muslim minority, and the utter failure of France’s “integration” policies and the state’s relationship with its invisible and silenced minorities were exempt from any criticism.

And thus in the days that followed, just like every time a Western city or capital is the target of a major terrorist attack, the mystification of the terrorist, of terrorism becomes  the phantasmagoric object of all our hidden and deeply buried fears, a sort of blank sheet used as a deflection, to absolve us of all our sins.

This has become a routine affair in the past decade. Regardless of what country the attack might happen in, the drill is the same. It was same here after the attacks in Ottawa last year. Thus the real debate never really surfaces, the real question never really comes up: with all the anti-terrorism measures –le plan vigipirate in France, C-51 in Canada, the Patriot Act in the United States–  do we feel safer?

Today Syria is engulfed in a brutal and gruesome conflict that has millions of refugees fleeing for their lives and, if anything, the attacks in Paris should be the wake-up call for Europeans to understand why. Iraq has been torn apart for the past decade and apart from Kabul in Afghanistan the Taliban pretty much control  the stretches of territory that were in their possession before the invasion of 2001.

So instead of bombing Raaqa and swearing for more retaliation and pinning everything on the cosmic evil that is terrorism, it is our duty, while upholding the memory of the hundreds of thousands that perished in the past fifteen years, in this war on terror, to ask ourselves – hasn’t all of this become a self-fulfilling prophecy?

Scores of innocent civilians laid lifeless in back to back attacks in Beirut and Paris and today, as I write this article, scores more will perish in Yemen, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Libya because of wars that were not of their doing, caught in the crossfire of a war without end, that strengthens its grip with every attack, with every bombing, with every passing of “anti-terrorist” legislation.

We must ask ourselves the questions: “Who profits from this? What companies gained points on the stock market? Who has an interest in perpetuating the constant state of fear and hate?”

To use the terminology that Podemos has employed in Spain there is a caste, a transnational caste that has every interest not only propagating such terror but also in stabilizing and maintaining perpetual terror. This is the same caste that rails about refugees and yet on the other hand rants and criticizes “Western values.” It’s the same caste that authorizes airstrikes in the guise of retaliation and yet on the other hand guns down innocent civilians in the streets of Beirut and Paris.

On the chess board that is presented to us by the media, all of these different bloodthirsty actors are portrayed as enemies, Islamists versus Western forces, the bad guys versus the good guys, us versus them, when in fact their resolve and objective is the same, when in fact what links them all together is that they are fuelled by grief, destruction and death. From this vantage point, the us and them is a fake dichotomy, a rhetoric that only finds some sort of grounding in the clash of civilizations doctrine that is their lifeline. 

In reality it has never been about us and them, Arabs and Westerns. It’s about a military-financial-complex. The vicious tempo of its ever expansionary cycle has pushed more areas to be colonized by terror and in the wake of its passage deadlier and more gruesome attacks will be symptomatic. For as long as some profit off of war, others will have to die.

In the aftermath of the terrible events of the past week, in the memory of all of the victims of this never-ending war on terror, the victims of Kabul, of Baghdad, of Damascus, of Beirut, of Mosul, of Kenya and Yemen, of Bali, of New York and Washington, of Paris, of London, of Madrid, of all of the victims of this horrible war, it is our duty to honour them, to put an end to the false dichotomy and thus an end to this war!

Vos Guerres, Nos Morts!

Remembrance Day has come and gone and with it many people’s concern for our members and veterans of the Canadian Forces.

In the days around November 11 you probably all saw the same cartoon by American artist Rob Rogers circulating online. It featured the famous Tomb of the Unknown Soldier a monument to World War I soldiers, shown next to an illustration marked “The Known Soldier” in which a beggar holds sign saying: “Homeless, Suicidal, and Suffering from PTSD” and asking frantically if anyone is there:

Known Soldier

The cartoon is a sad reflection of how veterans are treated in Canada and the US. In Canada, veterans fall under the Canadian Forces Members and Veterans Re-establishment and Compensation Act, which was enacted in 2005 to “recognize and fulfill the obligation of the people and Government of Canada to show just and due appreciation to members and veterans for their service.”

The law provides that this obligation is to members and veterans of the Canadian Forces who were injured or killed as a result of their military service as well as to their spouses and children. What the law does in fact is give the Minister of Veterans Affairs the power to provide financial assistance, and rehabilitation and vocational services to facilitate veterans’ reentry into civilian life and compensate them for their service. In cases where a soldier is completely incapacitated by a service related injury or condition, the veteran continues receive benefits until he or she is able to work or until he or she reaches retirement age.

At first glance, the Act seems like a wonderful thing for it looks like it provides for our troops and their families when they get hurt defending us. But, like all laws there are more than a few catches that make the Act a lot less fair than it seems.

First, the Minister of Veterans affairs under article 9 (2) must refuse an application for the services and assistance the Act provides if the application was made more than 120 days after the veteran was released from service. Every section of the law mentioning eligibility for benefits refers to this “prescribed time.”

There are lots of reasons a person will take their time submitting an application for government benefits. If a soldier, is for example, in a coma for over four months and has no close family, it would be no surprise that said soldier would not submit their application in 120 days. Other possible scenarios are medical or psychiatric conditions that were caused by their military service but would not necessarily surface during their service or within those 120 days. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is a perfect example.

While this provision of the act does allow the Minister some discretion if he is “of the opinion that the reasons for the delay are reasonable,” setting a maximum number of days in which to submit an application for help simply doesn’t fit with the nature of medical and psychiatric conditions that don’t obey such arbitrary timelines.

veterans affairs canada

A second caveat of the Act is regarding the eligibility of government benefits for veterans. If a veteran is deemed in need of a rehabilitation or vocational program, the Minister can pay the veteran benefits – called an Earnings Loss Benefit – for as long as he or she is completing the program, or until it’s cancelled or until the veteran reaches age 65 and can retire.

The Minister can refuse or cancel such a program if he dubs it reasonable, but the circumstances considered reasonable are never explained in the Act. If the veteran is no longer entitled to the Earnings Loss Benefit because, for example, the extent of their health problems keeps them from working despite the rehabilitation program, he or she can apply for an Income Support Benefit but it should be noted that under article 33 veterans aren’t eligible for this if they decide not to reside in Canada.

Now let’s look at the something called the Permanent Impairment Allowance. Under article 38 the Minister can pay a permanent allowance to a veteran who has one or more physical or mental health problems creating “permanent or severe impairment.” Article 40 says that in order to determine whether a veteran can continue to receive this type of benefit the Minister can make him or her undergo a medical exam by a person of his choosing. Anyone who’s battled a government for disability payments knows that when they get to choose the doctor, chances are that doctor is going to be more sympathetic to them than to you.

All that said, let’s take a look at how much a veteran will actually get. For a single veteran entitled to an Income Support Benefit, they get a $1132.26 a month. If you take the time to crunch the numbers on the average cost of living, a single person needs at least two grand a month after taxes in order to survive.

If you’ve been permanently disabled due to your service, you get a lump sum determined by a percentage calculated based on the extent of your disability. The highest amount you can get for the highest percentage of disability is $250 000 which sucks if you’re crippled and are expected to live another 30 years.

But don’t worry, there’s hope! You can choose to have your lump sum in the form of annual payments that take the lump sum and divide by the number of years you choose and then add in the interest. No matter how you slice it, it’s still not enough to live on.

The Remembrance Day slogan is “Lest We Forget” and yet we have forgotten to care for those risking their lives for Canada. Instead of honoring them with expensive monuments and a massive ceremony once a year, how about we salute them with something a lot more concrete: proper care and benefits.

Well, my boy. It’s hard to say exactly when it started. I suppose it was as early as twenty-thirteen or twenty-fourteen. ‘Course, it’s easy now to look back at everything that’s happened in all the years since then and say it was obvious what was going on. At the time, it was hardly nothin’. It was just part of our everyday lives back then. I know that seems pretty unenlightened to you young folks of today, but things was different back in those days. Simpler, you could say.

But before long it escalated, and what happened next was one of the bloodiest conflicts the world has ever saw. The Great Introvert War. It was a dark time for humanity. Brother against brother, sister against sister, me against everyone in my book club. And the lines drawn are still felt to this day.

It seemed innocent enough at first. History folk will say the real start to it was a sudden onslaught of online lists about what it’s like to be introverted. Sure, they was made to look harmless, with lots of pics and animated gifs from 30 Rock and New Girl, but there was somethin’ a whole lot more sinister at work there. Drove a wedge right down the middle of society is what it did.

Now supposin’ you’re all set to marry the pretty young gal from down the street. She’s a little shy, but you’ve been sweet on each other since grade school, and everything’s ready to go. Then one day there’s some inflammatory BuzzFeed link going around called “22 Things You Need to Know if You’re Dating an Introvert,” and suddenly your whole world is turned upside down and thisways that.

A lot of people started wonderin’ about the people they was with, and things started to turn ugly. It wasn’t long before there was numbers you could call to report someone if you knew they was an introvert, and not much longer after that people started gettin’ killed. It became organized. Secret coded messages, unintelligible to extroverts, started being passed around under headlines like “34 Things Only Introverts will Understand.”

‘Course, you know all about that from the history holograms at your school. But it was a different thing to live through it. History folk will tell you all about what caused what, and who fought who in what battle. But they ain’t going to tell you about what it was like to lose half of your friends, your family. They can’t tell you how it felt for me when your grandmother was taken away to the introvert camps.


Horrible, ghastly places, those camps. Big complexes of individual cells where introverts were forced to live by themselves, with virtually no contact with the outside world. ‘Course, the introverts loved ’em, and flocked to ’em in droves. Many of us never saw a lot of our friends and family again. It could’ve just ended there, with the world divided like it were. We could’ve just left each other alone. But the smugness of the introvert knows no bounds. And what happened next I can hardly bear to recall.

It was devastating for us extroverts. Almost lost us the war when they unleashed their most diabolical weapon. “17 Signs You’re a Secret Introvert” it was called. It spread around Facebook like wildfire. Came out of the clear blue sky. Ain’t none of us was expectin’ somethin’ like this. All of a sudden you didn’t know who to trust. Anyone, this list proclaimed, no matter how outgoing they appeared in public, could actually be an introvert at heart. And right there at the top of the article was a meme of Amy Poehler.

She was supposed to be one of our most steadfast and powerful extroverts. This was slander. It sent shockwaves through our camp, and almost immediately people were turning each other in. Their friends, their drinking buddies, their obnoxious co-workers who were always imitating techno beats. It was a fever. A panic. It almost lost us the war. But we managed to bounce back in the eleventh hour, as any history robot will tell you.

Some people believe there are still introverts out there, hiding in their vast underground cave systems, rechargin’ and preparin’ to venture back out into the world for revenge. After BuzzFeed was dismantled and all its content creators hanged, they lost their main method of propaganda dissemination. But some say they’re plotting, back and forth in long threads of @ replies in their private Twitter accounts, and it’s only a matter of time till they strike again. They just need to work up the resolve to go out in public once more.

And all we can do until that day, my dear boy, is keep living the life we fought so hard to preserve, to ensure the extroverts who died didn’t do it in vain. Having house parties, gettin’ drunk in movie theatres, and talkin’ way too loud at brunch in trendy cafes. Thems are the birthrights of every extrovert.


Photo by Frédéric Vissault via Flickr

Canada’s stance on the Israel-Palestine conflict disappointing, to say the least. Canadians don’t favour Israel over Palestine. A recent poll showed roughly equal support for Israel and Palestine and more significantly, the poll also showed that the majority of Canadians are neutral towards the conflict.

And yet, when Prime Minister Harper recently spoke in response to Gaza-Israel clashes, he emphasized that unilateral “solidarity with Israel is the best way of stopping the conflict.”

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird also criticized the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights for her condemnation of Israel’s air-strikes, again re-iterating the narrative trumpeted by the Conservative Party- that Israel has the right to defend itself against terrorists, and that any collateral damage in the process is ultimately the fault on the part of the terrorists.

No other administration in Canadian history has ever taken such a stance on the conflict. In fact, in comparison to the United States (perceived by many as overwhelmingly pro-Israel) and the European Union, (perceived more as pro-Palestine) Canada had the advantage of being in the middle.

Indeed, starting with Lester B. Peason’s UN peacekeeping mission during the 1956 War, Canada had cultivated a foreign policy outlook that often sided with the United Nations and pursued diplomacy, not ideology.

The Harper government chose to take a different route. The government has repeatedly criticized and gone against the United Nations, including voting against Palestinian statehood in the General Assembly in 2012.

The Prime Minister also visited the region in January of this year, and became the first Canadian Prime Minister to address the Israeli Knesset, where he delivered the memorable line: “Through fire and water, Canada will stand with you.”  Conversely, Harper’s meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas a little while later was much more formal and tense.

But what is the rationale behind the Harper government’s overwhelmingly pro-Israel stance when polls indicate that that position doesn’t represent Canadian views?

Academics think that the answer lies in domestic politics, not foreign. That is, there might be an electoral pay-off for the Conservative Party in adopting such a position. They can both console members of their own base while winning new votes from those who are frustrated by the other parties’ vague support for Israel.

montreal gaza protest

But then three serious problems remain.

First, the Canadian government’s foreign policy is supposed to reflect the opinions of the nation as a whole, and not just the views of a few strategic constituencies. The Harper government’s pro-Israel stance is quite simply unrepresentative of the views of a majority of Canadians.

Secondly, such a one-sided stance eliminates the potential ability of Canada to act as a credible mediator in the conflict. In a situation where the EU and the US are perceived as biased by one side towards the other, a more ‘neutral’ Canada may have been able to lead negotiations in a way that the others could not.  But given the rhetoric used by the PMO, that opportunity is no longer available.

Finally, on an even broader note, the Harper government’s statements on the conflict sustain certain toxic narratives that make this conflict so taboo and difficult to negotiate. Yes, Hamas is a terrorist organization and Israel has the right to defend itself against rocket attacks. But trumpeting this statement alone, without any context or nuance, is simply dangerous. It does not educate about the conflict, and can instead reinforce hostile stereotypes about Palestinians and Muslims as a whole.

Such a stance spurs on hardliners within Israel while simultaneously communicating to groups like Hamas that the Western World is against them- thereby forcing both sides to take on more uncompromising stances, making negotiations more difficult.

Sacrificing such foreign policy considerations in preference of electoral goals is disappointing, to say the least.


On November 11th, after more research and more reflection, I stood watching the Remembrance day celebrations in Montreal. I was wearing a White Poppy, after the first blast of the cannon; I threw it in the garbage.

The Red Poppy is not about war mongering. The Red Poppy is not about militarism. The Red Poppy is about remembering the Sacred Dead, those who heard the call, felt the fight was just and put their lives on the line for a greater good.

But, originally, when the Red Poppy was given out in 1921, it was about more than that. It was about camaraderie, it was about caring for the less fortunate domestically and it was about trying to help the most affected by the pillages and destruction of war around the world.

Somehow, over almost a century these core messages were perverted. It is time we take them back.

GWVA constitution 1917 1In the early of fall of 1921, The Great War Veteran’s Association wanted to run a cross country campaign. Returned soldiers were worried, the government was apathetic and stingy, returned soldiers were starving. And so the Poppy Day campaign was started.

It was based on and in collaboration with efforts in France. Orphans and widows in the most ravaged parts of France had begun producing beautiful silk poppies in 1920 to cover their most basic needs, many were sold in the United States and around the world. Times were desperate.

The G.W.V.A was in touch with the needs of the poor and helpless. It wasn’t an organization of fancy officers and big shot generals.

It was started by non-commissioned members, mostly privates and corporals. Members addressed each other as comrade, and used their organizational strength to fight for Canadians.

Unlike the apathetic Officer’s Legion of today they were very political, although unfortunately sometimes reflecting the racial biases of the day. They had grand conventions and called for national unemployment insurance, jobs for the jobless and more help for the poor.

A lot of big shots didn’t like that. They were called Bolsheviks, fanatics and were suppressed mercilessly. But they kept on. Winter was coming and many knew their comrades wouldn’t make to the Spring. The Red Poppy, a desperate Hail Mary, just had to work.

The G.W.V.A Poppy Day campaign had three official objectives repeated across the country. The first was to inaugurate the wearing of the Red Poppy as a sign to cherish the memory of the Sacred Dead. The big shots who ended up taking over the campaign kept this one alive.

The second, explicitly, was to provide funds to relieve the very real distresses of returned soldiers, who very well couldn’t survive the winter. If you suggested the third today you’d be called a heretic. The G.W.V.A wanted to raise money for the orphans of Europe, the victims of the war. It is a national shame the second and third have been forgotten. We need to take back our traditions.

And people responded. That year, over 1 million poppies were sold. Tens of thousands of dollars were raised. Jewish, Orange Protestant and Catholic organizations set aside their differences and worked together.

In Ottawa, the tradition of laying poppy covered wreaths began on Parliament Hill. In Calgary, returned soldiers of all ranks had a ball at the beautiful Palliser Hotel, now reserved exclusively for the rich.

The following Sunday, the 10th Battalion showed off their brand new Highlander Kilts. In Toronto, thousands crowded the war monument, despite the slush and terrible weather, to show their respect.

Our great Canadian traditions have been stolen from us. It is high time we took them back.

The Red Poppy is about Remembrance, but it was about more than Remembrance. The G.W.V.A was created, in their own words, by bands of “weary-eyed, hopeless men who struggled to regain a niche in the country which apparently had no further use for them because their value as fighting units belonged to the past.”

Veterans today are facing austerity. Front line services are being cut. The government is getting stingy. Not much has changed.

This isn’t just about veterans, it is about all Canadians and it is about the world. We need to take back our traditions from those who use them against us. Like the Great War Veterans’ Association, together as comrades, we can make that happen.

Although it might seem contradictory, a central part of remembering the past is also forgetting it. If today blacks march alongside whites during Civil War reenactments, it is to challenge the enduring narrative that continues to erase them from their struggle for emancipation. At the fiftieth anniversary of the battle of Gettysburg, in front of thousands of white Yankees and Confederates, the Chairman of reunion exclaimed “it matters little to you or to me now what the causes were that provoked the war,” what was important was how the nation’s collective memory and amnesia served America’s current war aims.

….never forget…what? The statement seems purposefully vague so as to encompass a multitude of ideas. Rituals and places of pilgrimage unite public memory with an individual’s own private memory. Yet absent from solemn Remembrance Day ceremonies are the stories of racism and resistance that were very much part of the experience of the First World War.

Contesting the dominant narrative of war remembrance and the reverence of “fallen heroes” is met with resistance. For example, recently there has been some outcry over people sporting a white poppy instead of the traditional red one.

The other day I asked an eight year old I work with why she was wearing the red poppy and what she thought it meant. She said it is to remember “our soldiers who went to make peace for our country, to keep us safe. We think about all the soldiers who died for us, fighting for peace.”

Name one soldier, I asked…

Previous to the Great War, military-themed monuments marked a battle or glorified a single military leader. Then during WWI, there was a concerted effort to erect more democratic lieux de mémoire as a means of drumming up support for an increasingly unpopular war.

These stone monuments can be seen in public squares, parks and in front of town halls across the island, so ubiquitous they become invisible; names appear without military rank thus leveling the battlefield —all were rewarded and remembered equally in death.

Who is remembered has changed as much as how we remember.

While the tradition of naming fallen soldiers has endured, the intended purpose of the monuments has shifted: from patriotic hero-worship to therapeutic healing and reflection. In Maya Lin’s words, when visiting the Vietnam Veterans Memorial “it is up to each individual to resolve or come to terms with (this) loss. For death, is in the end a personal and private matter, and the area contained with this memorial is a quiet place, meant for personal reflection and private reckoning.” The reflective black granite, submerged into the ground and into which over 58 000 names are inscribed is a far cry from the Thiepval Memorial‘s towering majestic arch and its chiseled  72 000 names, which served as its inspiration.

If wars are divisive, so too are the ways in which we chose to remember them. Today anthems, flags, and memorials are the equivalent of a secular religion whose symbols and meaning need to be constantly reinforced.

“Ah not this marble, dead and cold,” lamented Walt Whitman in 1885 upon the completion of the Washington Monument. Perhaps the best way to understand our nation’s past is not to repeat slogans or sport a plastic flower, but to crack open a book or three. Better yet take the time to sit down and talk to a veteran; that will surely be a day to remember.

* Westmount Cenotaph photo by Mario Melillo

I admit it, I don’t know enough about the conflict in Syria to be able to come up with a solution. Neither does Barack Obama.

Sure, his administration has vast resources that can give him a very clear picture of what’s going on, but that still doesn’t mean he knows how to solve the problem. He admits this but is acting anyways, provided congress lets him.

Let’s assume for a second that John Kerry is telling us the truth and Bashar al-Assad did in fact use chemical weapons on his own people (not saying he did). Obama’s proposed surgical strike of his chemical facilities is still an ineffective move that only makes things worse.

Obama Syria 1_0

Imagine your neighbour gets drunk one night and starts beating his wife. You could call the cops, or maybe go and confront him yourself, bang on his door, hit him if you have to and try and get his wife out of the abusive relationship.

All of those are courses of action that may make things better. What Obama is proposing to do in Syria is akin to doing nothing in the moment and then stealing the guy’s beer the next day when he’s unlocking his door.

I think Obama knows this and doesn’t care. This isn’t, after all, about Syria. It’s about the US and his presidency.

Why else would he make such a big deal out of going to congress for approval? It’s something he’s supposed to do anyways and is pretty much a rubber stamp.

He wants everyone to know he’s doing this because he wants people to see that he can get congress to support him on something, anything. He’s dangling the military intervention carrot that will make arms industry funded Republicans swallow their pride and support the President.

He’ll get his war, or rather his limited intervention. Once again, America will flex its military muscle to the world and nothing good will be accomplished.

Syria’s dictator will still be in place and continue to kill. In fact, he’ll probably be even angrier and emboldened after a US attack. The rebels, peaceful protestors at first and now apparently backed by Al Qaida, will fight on and continue to kill as well.

navy syria obama

This situation was brutal before anyone floated the idea of chemical weapons. Taking out the supposed facilities that produce them won’t change that, just like taking away your abusive neighbour’s beer will only piss him off more.

Do I think that a full-scale invasion like what happened in Iraq is the answer? Absolutely not, I was against that war and not out of any love for Saddam.

Going to war and claiming it’s for humanitarian reasons is only justifiable if you do so every time a similar set of circumstances arises and not just when your oil and business interests permit it. There are horrible things happening in Egypt right now, too, sure it’s a very complicated situation, but so is Syria.

On the world stage, the US likes to act like a teacher who punishes schoolyard bullies. Problem is they leave the bullies whose parents donate to the school alone and sometimes even befriend them.

Another problem is they’re not actually a teacher, but rather a bully themselves and have proved this on several occasions. They went through their drunken cowboy phase, learned some big words and like to think of themselves as enlightened, but they’re still the same person.

Whenever another bully moves in on their turf or outdoes their dickishness, they have to put them in their place. This time, though, two other bullies, Russia and China, are friends with the dude America wants to school.

Things could get ugly in the schoolyard of international relations, but things are already ugly on the ground in Syria and can only get worse. If people would think of that first and not the theatre of the schoolyard, then at the very least we wouldn’t make things worse.

Remember Canada’s mission in Afghanistan? It wasn’t long ago that Canada mothballed its forward operating base (complete with Tim Horton’s) outside the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar City in order to enable the Karzai government to assume responsibility for the security of the one of the toughest neighbourhoods in Afghanistan.

How’s that transition going, you ask? Rather badly, it turns out. The other day a suicide attack outside a bank killed six and wounded at least 20 people, in Kandahar.

If this were an isolated incident, you might be willing to give the Afghan government, supposedly ready to take control of the country in 2014 (the date given by ISAF for the departure of NATO troops), the benefit of the doubt. But it’s just the latest in a series of bloody terrorists attacks carried out by the increasingly emboldened Taliban. According to UN statistics, in the month of July of this year alone, the body count rose to over a 1000 civilians, staggeringly!

Even more worrying is the way that the violence seems to be trending. Much of it is aimed at women and even little girls, more active in Afghan society since the fall of the ultra-medieval rule of the Taliban in 2001, one of the few positives to emerge from one of the longest and costliest wars in Canadian history.

But now even this progress is under threat of being reversed by a wave of attacks deliberately designed to intimidate Afghan women. Arguably, the most notorious example of this is the case of Farabi Ahmadi Kakar, a female member of Aghanistan’s national parliament that was kidnapped along with her three children.

Ms. Kakar’s whereabouts remain unknown, though her children have since been rescued. But her Taliban kidnappers are demanding the release of four Taliban prisoners in exchange for her life.

This would be a troubling enough case, even if it were the only one. However, it is the symptom of a much wider epidemic that has seen many prominent female leaders in the country subjected to daily attempts on their lives. The growing list of victims include a police chief from Helmand province and the daughter of a female Senator who had the misfortune of being blown up by a car bomb intended for her mother.

I can recall many a neo-con in this country boasting about the success of their humanitarian efforts in Afghanistan to bring justice and equality for women in that country (though you would have to be born yesterday to believe that that was ever part of the original motivation for the invasion). And, to be fair, they have managed to enshrine gender equality in the 2004 Constitution, no small feat in a country as deeply chauvinist as Afghanistan (see the case of Mohamed Shafia for just one example of this.

Yet the onus is now on the Canadian government and its allies who invaded Afghanistan and helped put in place the current state structure, to see that the country doesn’t backslide into the brutal oppression of women which was the hallmark of the Taliban era. Otherwise, all of the rhetoric from NATO countries about turning Afghanistan into a respectable member of the international community, even as they prepare to abandon the country by the end of next year, will ring hollow.

Canada’s  government should lobby its NATO allies to hold a full investigation into allegations of civilian deaths during its yearlong bombing campaign in support of Libyan rebel’s successful toppling of the  Gaddafi clan and the corrupt regime that kept them in power for over 40 years.

This may be a tad hypocritical of me.  You see, I supported the humanitarian intervention in that country, back when it seemed evident that Gaddafi would stop at nothing in order to quell the legitimate protests of his people (including preparing to carry out a civilian blood bath in the city of Benghazi!). Most Libyans still agree that the military strikes, as damaging  as they may have been, were justified on the grounds that they saved more innocent lives than they killed. Even a spokesman for Human Rights Watch (one of the non-governmental organizations calling for an investigation into the alleged war crimes) admits that the number of casualties (72 people) is relatively small, for a military operation of this size.

Presumably, this is why the Libyan government (such as it is) has yet to appeal to NATO for an inquiry into the deaths.
But the international human rights lawyer in me says that we have an obligation, moral and legal, to get to the bottom of this matter, and to do it now, so the victims of these errant bombs, if they can be established, may receive compensation and some measure of justice in this tragic affair.

First the legal case: international humanitarian law ( which used to known as the laws of war, during a less politically correct by gone era) clearly hold States responsible for their actions during wartime. Among other things, civilian deaths, even if accidental, are strictly forbidden (see Geneva Conventions, for more info). Especially if, as is claimed by the NGOs, they were caused by air strikes on targets with no military or strategic value.

It’s clear that, despite pressure from the international human rights community (Amnesty International, HRW, etc.), NATO is determined to drag its feet on this question. As a result, NATO flack Oana Lungescu made a slightly contradictory statement the other day, which attempted to nip the case against NATO in the bud, by claiming that, on the one hand, no civilians had been killed by NATO.

On the other hand, she then implied that even if they had, it was impossible to avoid such tragedies entirely in a complex military campaign and that , in any case, all “targets struck by NATO were legitimate targets.” This sounds an awful lot like hedging one’s bets, to my mind. Incidentally, as the author of the HRW report, Fred Abrahams, pointed out, NATO’s has no such qualms about investigating and compensating alleged civilian casualties in Afghanistan.

Above all, there is a powerful moral argument for a NATO investigation into this. If NATO wants to maintain the moral high ground and continue to claim that they only use military force with the utmost regard for minimizing collateral damage (for lack of a better term), then they should show more accountability to the people of Libya, in this case. There is no better way, that I can think of, for the new government and its allies to demonstrate a commitment to the principle of the rule of law and, in so doing, help heal the national wounds that continue to divide Libya and distance themselves from the criminality of the ancien régime.

The winter of 2012 is still less than a month old and if you had turned on a television since the New Year, you’d have found two seemingly different stories being covered on the news networks. The first being the Republican Primaries that got underway a couple weeks ago, the other would be Iran.

In the past, I would have said that sabre rattling and a looming American election went together like peas and carrots. From the invasion of Iraq, to the liberation of Kuwait, from the invasion of Grenada and beyond, war has played an important part in American politics since the onset of the Cold War.

Is there a difference this time around? That would depend on who you ask; Barack Obama favors bleeding them dry, preferring sanctions over military action, Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney would bomb them back to the Stone Age and it would appear Ron Paul wouldn’t do a thing even if Iran attacked Canada.

With all the War the United States has waged in the last decade I would think all but the biggest hawks are weary of never ending conflict, Iran though might be the exception. Other than the USSR, the United States has had no greater enemy over the last thirty-three years and, of course, the USSR is no longer a problem.

Iran/US relations started weakening quickly after the people of Iran overthrew the Shah, a “King” the United States helped to install. It deteriorated completely less than a year after the Iranian (Islamic) revolution when a group of students took hostages at the US embassy. The students accused the embassy’s personnel of being CIA spies who wanted to overthrow the Islamic Republic just as they did to democratically elected Mosaddegh in the 50s. Ayatollah Khomeini backed the students 100%.

The rise of Ayatollah Khomeini in 1979

Relations haven’t changed much since those days; aside from the Iran-Iraq war of the eighties both countries have all but ignored each other… until 2002. In President George Bush’s State of the Union Address that year he labelled Iran, Iraq and North Korea part of an Axis of Evil. The following year Bush invaded Iraq as he deemed it to be the greatest threat of the three.

After this threat backed up by the use of force, North Korea quickly developed nuclear weapon capabilities as a deterrent to what they saw as American aggression, Iran I would imagine is trying to do the same thing. While some people say that Iran’s military might is a threat to Israel as well as its neighbours, Iran’s military budget is only 2% compared to that of the United States. A nuclear weapon is therefore its only defense; even so Iranian officials still claim its nuclear program to be strictly for energy and medical purposes (an argument most of the west, including myself, does not believe).

Assassinated Nuclear Scientist Mostafa Ahmadi-Roshan

In the past few weeks, Obama has introduced harsh new sanctions that aim to cripple the Iranian economy and its oil exports; we’ve seen another assassination of an Iranian nuclear scientist and continued tough language coming from western countries. Tehran in the same time span has begun to enrich uranium in an underground bunker, threatened briefly to close the Strait of Hormuz and sentenced an Iranian-American citizen to death on espionage charges.

I am by no means a supporter of Iran or their cause; in fact I despise any country that uses religion to guide its policies, democratic or otherwise. I worry though, when a man gets backed into a corner and has nothing left to lose, this man won’t necessarily give up and die. Desperate times call for desperate measures and autocratic regimes never give up so easily. Iran just might be lured into starting a war it had no intention of fighting.

So, I’m still left with an unanswered question: Is Barack Obama’s sudden tougher stance on Iran just to help his re-election aspirations or is the Iranian threat a clear and present danger? Perhaps it’s just good timing? I’ll leave the answer to you and time will tell. One thing is certain however, if war breaks out not much good will come of it.

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Last week, to the amazement of the entire planet, Barack Obama took to the airwaves to announce the death of Osama bin Laden, the world’s most wanted man. Within minutes of Obama’s announcement, Americans took to the streets to celebrate, with chants of “USA, USA, USA” starting up in New York and Washington, much like al-Qaeda chanted “death to America” nearly ten years prior in Afghanistan.

Nearly nine months in the making, Barack Obama finally decided to act on intelligence that bin Laden was held up in a fortified compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Navy Seals were sent in on a secret mission even unknown by the Pakistani Government to kill the al-Qaeda leader. What followed in the days after the event was nothing short of ridiculous, reminiscent of the stories about Jessica Lynch & Pat Tillman. At first, Osama was shot while he was shooting at the Navy Seals using his wife as a human shield;  the next day, we learned there was no human shield; the day after, we learned bin Laden was not even armed. I’m not bothered by the fact the bin Laden is dead; it was a long time coming. I don’t think anyone in the West is upset to see him go, though I am troubled, however, by the way that he died. It would have been far more beneficial for the reputation of the United States to have captured him alive.

The Palace of Justice, where the Nuremberg trials were held. Photograph: Eddie Worth/AP

Rewind about sixty years when the earth was faced with the worst evil the world has ever seen. When it came to bringing Nazi war criminals to justice, they were not hunted down and executed, but rather put on trial first – so that the whole world could see the evil they’ve caused, and the consequences of their actions. In short, Nazis were put on trial to face justice in a court of law; the type of justice that Americans were once proud of, even when those criminals were responsible for the deaths of millions. Instead of a trial for bin Laden, he got a quick double tap to the forehead, followed by a quick burial at sea. Justice was swift, but will soon be forgotten, unlike the way the Americans once again broke international laws in order to conduct a safe and clean assassination. The US Attorney General justified the raid “as an action of national self-defence” against “a lawful military target.” I fail to see, however, how the killing of an unarmed man, regardless of who he is, can be classified as self-defence. If he was a lawful “military” target as the Attorney General suggests, then it is unlawful to kill him before attempting to capture him.

It is also illegal under international law to carry out a military operation on foreign soil without first notifying its government. The Pakistani government was notified only after all US troops had left the site. It would have been a clear violation of the UN charter and Pakistan’s sovereignty were it not for the fact that Pakistan had not objected.

I thought for a moment that when King George II retired from office and Obama got elected, things might go back to the way they once were – when justice didn’t mean an automatic bullet to the head. Instead, Obama went the way of his predecessors by looking for that quick solution to a larger problem. I think the operation’s main objective was managed poorly, and it won’t hide the shame of a country that has yet to find its way.

Rest in Hell Osama.

The Osama Compound In Abbottabad, Pakistan

This is the time of year I like to kick back, relax and throw in a good old World War II movie… and thank the heavens I didn’t have to experience for myself the living hell that our troops had to go through on the battlefields. I cower away on my sofa, let alone in a fox hole.

Of course today is Remembrance Day in Canada as well as most other Commonwealth Countries. Remembrance Day was first held throughout the Commonwealth in 1919 at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. It marked the time (in the United Kingdom) when the German armistice became effective one year prior. It has been observed ever since to commemorate the sacrifices of members of the military and civilians alike in times of war.

John McCrae in 1914

In Canada, we sacrificed more than 110,000 combatants in the two world wars and continue still to spill blood in Afghanistan going on ten years. Believe it or not, I don’t think we as a country do nearly enough to remember these facts.

I do wear a poppy proudly over my heart and I’m sure many Canadians remember where the symbolism comes from. It comes from the poppies that bloomed across the battlefields of Flanders in World War I, a visualization made clear in Canadian military physician John McCrae’s poem In Flanders Fields. I love the poem as many Canadians do, but I can’t help but think that people remember the poppy more than the men, women and battles that were fought.

It has been more than ninety years since the end of the Great War and its heroes have all but faded away into history, the same will soon be true for veterans of the Second World War. Pretty soon there will be no more first hand accounts of the biggest conflict the earth has ever seen. It’s now more important than ever to get their stories into books, movies and documentaries for the world to reflect on.

Passchendaele: Come for War, Stay for the Scenery

Europe and the United States have done a great job in telling a lot of these stories through various media facets. Band of Brothers, Europa Europa, Enemy at the Gates and many others are all great books and/or movies, great at telling personal stories about bravery, heroism and sacrifice. Passchendaele aside, Canada has fallen far short in telling these same types of tales. Why can’t the Canadian government help to fund films about Vimy Ridge, The Battle of the Somme, Juno Beach or the liberation of Holland? It’s these stories that would truly allow us to remember and appreciate the sacrifices our troops made and we might just feel a little pride on the side.

The last thing I feel I should mention is the fact that Remembrance Day in Canada is a public holiday everywhere except Ontario, Quebec, and Manitoba. I can’t understand the logic behind this, but I think it’s time these three provinces followed the rest of the herd.

Nevertheless, regardless of whether you’re taking part in a parade, watching Saving Private Ryan for the tenth time or leaving poppies on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, remember to remember today at 11:11

Canadian Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Ottawa

Last week in parliament, Liberal Gerard Kennedy’s private member’s bill to grant U.S. military deserters permanent residency in Canada, died at the second reading by a vote of 143 to 136.

All conservatives voted against the bill along with some of Kennedy’s Liberal associates. The bill would have allowed military deserters from any country to apply for permanent residence as conscientious objectors to armed conflicts not sanctioned by the United Nations.

Conservatives bickered that the existing bill made it possible for deserters who might be unacceptable, based on war crimes or other offenses, to stay in Canada. Apparently, conservatives don’t know how to read.

The bill would have allowed deserters to apply for permanent residency, I’m pretty sure the immigration department knows how to reject applications. I also don’t see any war criminals seeking refuge in Canada. In fact, the war criminals are the people many of the conscientious objectors are running from.

Estimates say there is currently between three to four hundred American military deserters in Canada. Of the hundreds, Rodney Watson is one of the best known among them. An Iraq war veteran, Watson was forced under the military’s stop-loss program to return to Iraq for a second tour, but came to Canada in defiance.

Iraq War Resister Rodney Watson

The Conservative government ordered Watson to leave Canada on September 11, 2009. Watson then appealed to the First United Church in Vancouver for sanctuary and has now been living there for more than a year while he awaits a decision to let him stay on humanitarian grounds. “I did not return to Iraq because it is a war of aggression based on lies about weapons of mass destruction. I witnessed U.S. soldiers beating Iraqi civilians and using racist terms,” Watson said

During the Vietnam War, tens of thousands of Americans came to Canada to avoid the draft. The conservatives that were against this bill claimed that is the difference between then and now. Americans have a choice these days with an all volunteer army. “This is not a conscripted army, this is a volunteer army,” said Conservative MP Laurie Hawn, “If the deserters have issues with that, they should stay in their own country and fight it out in their own courts.”

Of course it’s not that simple. With the Conservatives blind support of Mr. Bush’s war; they still have no sight to see that the war itself was illegal. Attacking an unarmed nation unprovoked and unsanctioned by the UN is a war crime and under the Nuremberg principles anyone who fights in an illegal war is a war criminal, Nuremberg Principle IV states: “The fact that a person acted pursuant to order of his Government or of a superior does not relieve him from responsibility under international law, provided a moral choice was in fact possible to him.” The conservative government is not giving these “deserters” that choice.

We are effectively preventing these resisters from doing their duty as human beings by not allowing them to stay in Canada. If it wasn’t one of our allies that invaded a sovereign nation without just cause, I’m sure Harper would be welcoming them with open arms instead of pursuing them like criminals. The only criminals here are those in the former Bush Administration.

So while Rodney Watson sits patiently with his family in a Vancouver church and hundreds more await their fate, please do not sit idly by and leave these men in the hands of our narrow-minded government. Write a letter to your member of parliament, better yet, write a letter to Harper himself. http://www.pm.gc.ca/eng/contact.asp?featureId=10

See also: http://www.resisters.ca/