Torturing developmentally challenged man to gain “leverage”

Buried in the U.S. Senate’s scathing report on CIA torture—in footnote 32 on page 43 of the heavily redacted 528-page “summary”—is this chilling detail:

Twenty-six of the 119 people subjected to torture by the CIA turned out to be guilty of nothing. These were cases of mistaken identity, being in the wrong place at the wrong time, etc. One such wrongfully held prisoner was Nazar Ali, an intellectually challenged man who was never even suspected of involvement in terrorism. He was imprisoned and tortured only so his “taped crying” could be “used as leverage against a family member.”

nazar ali

I’m at a loss to know what to say about government agents who would torture a mentally handicapped person in order to squeeze information out of family members. The New Yorker’s Amy Davidson fills out the picture:

There is a tape recording somewhere, unless the Central Intelligence Agency has destroyed it, that captures the sound of a man named Nazar Ali crying. He was a prisoner in a secret C.I.A. prison, in a foreign country where terrorists were supposed to be interrogated. But Nazar Ali, whom a Senate Select Intelligence Committee report, part of which was released on Tuesday, suggests has a developmental disability—it quotes an assessment of him as “intellectually challenged”—was no sophisticated Al Qaeda operative. It is not even clear, from what’s been released of the report, that his interrogation was an attempt to gain information, or indeed that he was properly interrogated at all. According to the report, his “C.I.A. detention was used solely as leverage to get a family member to provide information.” A footnote later in the report, where his name appears, explains that Nazar Ali’s “taped crying was used as leverage against his family member.” Left unexplained is what the American operatives did to make this man cry. Did they plan ahead, preparing recording equipment and proddings, or did they just, from their perspective, get lucky?

….Footnote 32, the same one that outlines the motives for holding Nazar Ali, has a devastating litany, starting with “Abu Hudhaifa, who was subjected to ice water baths and 66 hours of standing sleep deprivation before being released because the CIA discovered he was likely not the person he was believed to be,” and including many others, such as,

Gul Rahman, another case of mistaken identity.… Shaistah Habibullah Khan, who, like his brother, Sayed Habib, was the subject of fabrications.… Haji Ghalgi, who was detained as “useful leverage”…. Hayatullah Haqqani, whom the CIA determined “may have been in the wrong place at the wrong time”…. Ali Jan, who was detained for using a satellite phone, traces on which “revealed no derogatory information”.… Two individuals—Mohammad al-Shomaila and Salah Nasir Salim Ali—on whom derogatory information was “speculative”.… and Bismullah, who was mistakenly arrested … and later released with $[redacted] and told not to speak about his experience.

John Carey’s Peace and Freedom blog lists “ten examples of the horror” in CIA prisons:

  1. Detainees were “rectally fed”
  2. Prisoner dies of suspected hypothermia
  3. 26 of 119 prisoners were wrongfully held
  4. Repeated waterboarding
  5. Prisoners deprived of sleep for a week
  6. Russian Roulette
  7. Prisoner threatened with a drill
  8. Threatening to harm detainees’ children and families
  9. Playing loud music to give detainees a “sense of hopelessness”
  10. Prisoner handcuffed with his hands above his head for 22 hours at a time

Carey’s post fills in the details.

On Facebook, my friend David Rodenhiser reminds us of the applicable moral compass:

There is now a debate going on in the United States about whether torturing prisoners helped thwart planned terrorist attacks and save lives. Democrats largely say “No.” Republicans and the CIA largely say “Yes.” They’re arguing over the wrong question and distracting from the real issue: Does America want to be a nation that tortures prisoners of war? Does the most powerful nation on the planet want to turn its back on one of the basic “rules of war” espoused by the civilized nations of the world?

Because it’s not a rule you only get to live by when it’s convenient. Either you’re a nation that tortures, or you’re a nation that doesn’t. There’s no “except when” clause.

The whole post is here.


Sen. John McCain, who spent five-and-a-half years in a North Vietnamese prisoner-of-war camp, and is the only Senate Republican to speak out in support of the report, makes a similar point:

The use of torture compromises that which most distinguishes us from our enemies, our belief that all people, even captured enemies, possess basic human rights.

His speech on the Senate floor [video link] is worth hearing in its entirety:

Finally, these events remind me of the courage Canadian diplomat Richard Colvin showed when he blew the whistle on Canadian complicity in the torture of prisoners our Canadian soldiers handed over to the Afghan Army, and of the character assassination then-Defence Minister Peter MacKay subjected him to for exposing these crimes-by-proxy against humanity.

Family and friends speak up in Philip Boudreau’s defence

Over the last two days, I’ve posted letters (here and here) from residents of Isle Madame who complain that media accounts of lobster poacher Philip Boudreau’s disappearance tell less than half the story.

They portrayed Boudreau, who had a long but mostly non-violent criminal record, as a menacing figure in Petit-de-Grat, travelling the community by night, stealing lobster from licensed fishermen, and threatening violence against any who objected. While not condoning the actions of Twin Maggies’ crewmen, they say the fishermen snapped after suffering years of abuse at Boudreau’s hands.

But Boudreau also has friends and family in Petit-de-Grat, devastated at his killing, determined to defend him. Today is their turn.

One of yesterday’s correspondents referred causticly to an ex-nun in the community who portrayed Boudreau as a martyr. Marie-Louise Sampson responds:

To one particular sarcastic person who could not find enough guts to identify himself or herself pertaining to their comments about me. Their beef is that I am an ex-nun trying to paint Philip Boudreau as a Saint.

Nothing is any further from the truth. I am simply telling you and all others that Philip was a human being, who was created and loved by God as much as you are. Maybe with greater compassion for him as he was a sick person.

Silver Donald Cameron did some research on Philip and was told that he had been diagnosed as being bi-polar. Philip was a human being who had been rejected by many people in life, however, the part that most people cannot grasp is the fact that he was not always the bad boy and whatever demonized names that some wish to give him. He was rejected by many people as he was growing up without the proper help that he should have been given.

I do not know who wrote those comments about me and to tell you the truth, I am not anxious to meet you… Your language and demeanour says it all…. I have a conscience, a heart that beats, compassion, and a lot of respect for the late Philip Boudreau. You are not a Saint, neither am I, nor Philip or anyone else on this earth….

Philip was not always what he had become. People responsible for this know who they are, many of them who ARE LOSING SLEEP AT NIGHT THROUGH GUILT TRIPS. Society has failed him, at school, he was bullied, he was a child starving for love, expecting that maybe, just maybe, someday someone would have chosen to let him know that in his “own little way”, he too was SPECIAL!

If I placed a white sheet of paper in front of you, made a line in the middle, [put] Philip’s name on the left and those responsible for the Barbaric Fate that he has met on the sea off Isle-Madame. You would get a huge surprise! Philip was very much liked by many. The greater amount of votes would go to Philip.

Why do you suppose that his Parole Officer of many years and her mother travelled all the way from New Brunswick to attend his funeral service? Why did many of his fellow prisoners attended? Someone saw the good side of Phillip. The church was filled to capacity, had he been such a devil as he is pictured by some, the church would have been empty.

Silver Donald made the same point about Philip Boudreau’s well-attended funeral in an exchange with me on Twitter. I believe this amounts to a misreading of rural funeral etiquette in Nova Scotia. Attendance at the funeral of a young resident died violently under horrendous circumstances is not necessarily a mark of affection. Going to the funeral is just what you do in such a case. It’s a time for setting aside grievances.

An admirer A cousin of Philip Boudreau writes:

I think your articles are completely misleading, you are trying to take the attention off of the real situation at hand. This was a MURDER out of cold blood, regardless of the type of man Phillip was (which by the way he was an excellent man, that is why his funeral was packed with people who love and cherish him, that is also why people had to stand up at his funeral and some even outside, no awful human being would have that much support.. he was a terrific man ). Phillip may have made many mistakes in his life but he did not deserve what happened to him. I believe you should stop with your bullshit articles that make him seem like a completely different person then he really was, the man was tortured and then they tied him to an anchor and let him drown to death. They are sick disgusting individuals. Let Phillip and his beautiful soul rest in peace!!!!

Tara Boudreau, Philip’s niece, writes:

I find if funny that people can bad talk the dead and clearly have no respect what so ever for the Boudreau family and what they had to go through and what they’re still going through, these people have written letters and are clearly cowards cause they have to be anonymous if they were telling the truth they wouldn’t have to be anonymous these cowards fail to mention how after lobster season was over James would get Phillip to poach him lobster so he would have a few feeds over the winter…

At this point, Ms. Boudreau’s letter makes a series of allegations against James Landry I have chosen not to publish. I have not heard them from any of the many Isle Madame residents who have written Contrarian about this issue, they are impossible for me to verify, and I am not inclined to believe them without evidence.

Her letter continues:

They used [Philip] to there benefit until they had no use for him anymore and I hope [Landry] rots in jail where he belongs cause he’s a monster and killed someone’s son, uncle, and brother and I hope Phillip haunts them till there heart stops beating in there chest just like Phillips stopped June 1st.

A correspondent who describes himself as “a local citizen/fishermen [who] knew both Phillip and James very well writes:

It amazes me how all these stories keep portraying Phillip as the bad guy here. James is far from an angel himself, my father was a fishermen for years and always told me stories about James.

This writer, too, makes a series of allegations against James Landry that I have chosen not to publish. I have not heard them from anyone else, they differ from Tara Boudreau’s claims, and I have no way of verifying them, nor any basis for crediting them. The anonymous writer continues:

I’m not saying Phillip was an angel which I knew he wasn’t but he was the type of guy that wouldn’t hurt anyone, his treats were just that treats about harming people. Local people knew he needed money so that’s why the stealing happened and traps cut. But as for James he brought all that on to himself.

I’m just tired of hearing everyone bashing Phillips name and people need to know the truth about both individuals just not half truths to portray one worst then the other.

Michelle Cole writes:

I should not be surprised with the back lash from what happened to Philip Boudreau but what I am surprised about is how people hide behind a letter. As someone who lived on the island I know all involved but one (Dwayne) and I will tell you this not one of these people are saints and all have a tarnish past but some were caught and have a record while the others managed to due so and get away with it!  

I believe that an Island is now divided if it hadn’t been before with the verdict. I myself believe the verdict was very light for what happened to Philip but I am glad James did not walk away scot free. Now with three more trials to come it will only get worse.

You all want to point fingers and make yourself feel better by bringing up a person’s past to justify taking another persons life, this is very sad and if this is the case there should be more people lives taken cause I am sure and I know that Philip is not the only person who made life hard for people on the island.

I also keep hearing the statement ” well everyone has a breaking point” I could scream when I hear and read this! Any person knows right from wrong and we can control our emotions even if we get irate.

So to everyone I say this, you have your views and opinions and you are entitled to them but remember not one person involved here is innocent! So as you want to bash Philip about how bad he was he never took a life and that in itself I believe makes those 4 people just as bad if not worse than him.

So to all of you who still live on the island I would urge you to stop pointing fingers and stop trying to make someone better than the other cause it’s nothing but BS and try to rebuild a broken community where you see each other every day. This is just my 2 cents.

A woman who knows everyone involved in the Petit-de-Grat tragedy writes:

My son followed the same path as Philip and I pray loosing his friend thought him a lesson. I always told him “you can only cheat life so many times before it comes get you with a vengeance” as in Philip’s case. 

My point isn’t about who was more right or more wrong between the tragedy. But, the system does suck. I’ve asked for help so many times and got no where’s. 

This community made Philip, that includes James!!! He too paid Philip to cut traps and James did his own share too. None involved are angels, but if the law would do its job maybe this wouldn’t have happened. Cause you see, I have a Philip of my own, my son. He could have been with him, he could have been killed too. No mother should see know or hear how her son was brutally killed. 

My heart is with the families especially those young kids that will know how there father’s took care of business.

Thank you for listening .

Tomorrow: On the ethics of publishing anonymous comments.

More readers defend James Landry

Yesterday’s post by a letter writer from Petit-de-Grat touched off  a record day for Contrarian, with more than 60,000 hits, along with thousands of shares on Facebook. My mailbox is full of comments on the tragic events on Isle Madame. I’ll post a representative sample over the next few days. (Previous posts on the killing here, hereherehere, and here.)

Most of what I have received about this situation arrived anonymously. Many of those who support James Landry, the fisherman convicted of manslaughter last week, say they fear reprisals. Those who do business in the divided community feel especially vulnerable. A reporter I admire who has covered the events offers this observation:

I just read the letter you posted on behalf of someone from Petit de Grat. A very interesting read, and one I (as a reporter) have heard before. But no one will go on record. I’m not sure how well you know this person, and I don’t want to argue about accuracy of coverage, but please let them know we looked for people to tell us more about this story, and no one except Andre Leblanc would speak to us. With more trials to come, if someone wants to come forward, we’re always open to it. 

The point is well taken. Reporters understandably find it frustrating to endure complaints about the quality of their coverage from people who refuse to help them understand the matter being covered.

Here are a couple of notes that came in before the letter I published yesterday, in response to my Dec. 1 post objecting to headline writers’ use of the prosecutorial phrase, “murder for lobster.” A reader from Petit-de-Grat writes:

The people from Petit de Grat who know the history of Philip Boudreau and put up with 25+ years of bullshit and stress know why this happened, and are not surprised.

He survived for years 1) because he spent most of his days in prison, and 2) while he was out, he went after folks he knew were scared of the law and scared of what he could do.

Petit de Grat is my home and an awesome place to live. This guy was goddam poison unless he liked you. I now read all this crap about how wonderful he was and one lady (ex-nun) calling him a goddam martyr. She defends a lifelong criminal as if he’s a saint that went mackerel jigging and didn’t come home. Then you read the comments made by reporters that figure James Landry needed extra lobsters. Never mind the torture this 5 ft 2 little bastard put him and others through over the years.

The folks from Petit de Grat all knew what Philip was up too. The local fishery officer figured it was the RCMP’s problem, and they figured it was DFO’s problem. If they had done their jobs this would never have happened.

It’s easy for some jackass to sit there and say James Landry is to blame for everything because he was greedy. It’s like, put yourself in his shoes. Let a guy threaten you, cut/steal the equipment you need to do your job, and then make fun of you afterwards. And multiply this and more by 10-15 years. Call the authorities and they say “have a nice day!” And they wonder why this man cracked?

I agree [Boudreau] didn’t deserve to be killed, but was James Landry the problem or the solution?

Do you have any CBC buddies you can smarten up. From day 1 they reported BS and picked who they would support in all of this. It’s like, are they that stupid or is it they figure the rural people from Petit de Grat are just rednecks that don’t matter. Present what society wants to hear. Never mind doing a little digging and putting the pieces together.

On the performance of the CBC, I think the commenter paints with an overly broad brush. I criticized the broadcaster’s early coverage (here, here, and here), but aside from the “murder for lobster” headlines, which polluted every news outlet, the Ceeb’s trial coverage was professional and fair. As the journalist quoted above observed, you can’t report what no one will tell you.

A Richmond County fisherman wrote:

I have known about this character Phillip Boudreau for a long time. He was exactly as you described him to be. I’ve also known James Landry for many years, and he never struck me as the type who would commit premeditated murder—which he didn’t.

I also know what its like to deal with DFO and the RCMP when it comes to matters dealing with damaged lobster gear or bullies telling you to stay out of their territory. They will usually say that it is very difficult to catch anyone at this business, or that they are so understaffed that they simply don’t have any time for you.

It seems also that even less interest is shown, by either DFO or RCMP, if the individual or individuals are not not afraid of the law or its enforcers as we’ve seen in Boudreau’s case. (He once phoned an RCMP officer who had helped put him in prison near Christmastime one year and thanked him for putting him away for the winter).

This writer didn’t share my objection to the “murder for lobster” headlines, but added:

I do think this part is the most important aspect to draw attention to: “It obscures the responsibility of DFO and the RCMP, who failed to act against Boudreau’s years of brazen lawlessness.”

More reaction to come—pro and con.

The untold truth of the Petit de Grat tragedy

Several readers from Isle Madame share my disdain for those who falsely depict lobster stealer Philip Boudreau’s death as a case of “murder for lobster.” Here’s a letter from one of them, a life-long Petit-de-Grat resident who withheld his name for obvious reasons. If all you know about Philip Boudreau’s death is what you’ve seen on TV or read in the papers, prepare for an eye opener:

I have written this letter to dispute the title of “A Murder for Lobsters.” As I reflect on the hundreds of media stories that I’ve read since this incident on June 1, 2013, I can now see the power of the media and how it can portray things that aren’t so.

I was born and raised in Petit de Grat. I knew all the people involved well enough to know that this was indeed not about lobsters.

As a person very close to Philip Boudreau’s age, we grew up wondering who he would terrorize next and to what extent of a crime he would commit. We were well aware of his release dates and made sure doors were locked upon his arrival.

Philip was an expert in a correctional system he would end up spending most of his life. He had an extensive record which built the criminal reputation he used to bully and harass innocent people who feared what he would do next if he was crossed. He had no fear and never thought twice of threatening people who stood in his way. He preyed on the weak/innocent and knew who he could victimize.

PDG - Boudreau 1edit

The last several years Philip was out of a jail, he drew welfare and poached lobster to finance his habits. As you’re aware he was not a FISHERMAN, he was an illegal POACHER.

Everyone knew of his criminal catches and many residents of P-D-G [Petit-de-Grat] knew where to buy cheap lobster. Philip could offer a great deal and a fresh product. He would offer lobster he often got free in traps that were baited by hard working fisherman. These were the men and women who had commercial licenses and had to make their living on what two months had to offer.

I visited a friend one night to end up listening to two of Philips acquaintances talk about a small speed boat that Philip had baptized “The Midnight Slider.” It was a running joke that he would launch the boat at dark and take care of business. Philip mainly traveled the village by water and he would be cocky enough to have lobsters aboard. He knew the local fishery officer turned a blind eye to his illegal activity and he basically did as he wished.

If you disputed his way of life, there would be a price to pay. While you slept, he travelled and could make your life a living hell.

In the part of the village where Philip grew up, he was the King. He looked after his friends and family very well. What they needed he could supply. He was truly their friend, their ally. These people have been very vocal from the beginning of this terrible altercation and have spoken fondly of Philip. The media has heard from many who loved him and still call him a poor INNOCENT victim that he wasn’t.

Never did they mention the fact that his relative cashed in a crime stoppers reward to sell him out to the RCMP in one of his escapes. Never did they mention the disputes he had with his brother Gerard, another hard working fisherman that made his living on the water. Never did they mention the threats to local law enforcement officers.

The saddest part of this whole story is there has never been a word spoken FROM the people who fell victim to Philips antics. From the retired school teacher who brought him cigarettes from the US and he would repay him by stealing his boat, to other “weak” fisherman who he figured he could bully, not a word.

PDG Fisheries

He had a lengthy criminal past that almost went silent as soon as he passed. Even the incident with a young man from the village where he threatened to burn him down. The mans girlfriend panicked, called 911 and the RCMP were involved. Again nothing. No charges, no consequences to these bold threats.

Philip figured he was invincible. He would run this small harbour and he was in control. With this control came an understanding that if you crossed him, he would cut you out of the water.

In the Spring of 2013, Philip turned up the pressure on the crew of the Twin Maggies and they were to see that Petit de Grat Harbour was his territory. Not being a fisherman didn’t seem to matter, all he figured was James Landry and his daughter Carla were pushovers. Dwayne Samson the quiet son-in-law was known to be a very mild individual and a pretty easy target. James he expected would yell but eventually cool off. Philip knew these were innocent people that made a living working the grounds that he figured he owned.

For most Nova Scotians that read this story they figure it’s about greed. All about how many pounds of Lobsters a guy can catch in 2 months and a poor fisherman who crossed another man’s territory and got tortured.

PDG_ James Landry

The problem with this whole story is that most don’t know the man James Landry really was. Here is a man who had been on the water for over 50 years. He would give the shirt off his back, and had a nickname that matched his personality, “Tis Buddy.” In English this translates to “Little Buddy.” That’s what James called everyone and how he treated people. He even went as far as naming his old wooden boat, “Tis Buddy.”

This was a man who had no drivers license, lived in a small trailer, and lived like he probably had in 1970. Money didn’t mean anything. He could have bought just about anything given he had landed record catches for years. He lived like the man he was, pretty basic. He built a garage and updated his old trailer with vinyl siding.

When he left the trailer by foot, within minutes the next passing vehicle would pick him up because everyone knew who he was, what he stood for. He had no drivers license, but he could get to the next community as quick as a fella who drove. James was an honest fisherman who was involved in an altercation that resulted from years of abuse. This was the altercation that would prove to change his whole life. A man who lived as a down-to-earth French Acadian fisherman for 67 years to one day being labeled a monster. A man broken down by a bully who sent his whole world crashing.

As I read the local news stories and Facebook posts from Philip’s friends and family speaking of how James deserved second-degree murder, it’s so evident that the only camp I hear from is the Boudreau camp. I know many are hurting, and this will take time for some and will never heal others.

PDG Grease2

As I read these stories I am not surprised that local innocent people from P-D-G will not come out and say James was a great man who made a terrible mistake. This is mainly out of fear for the consequences of taking such action. Owning a local business making such a comment could have drastic results. This is a place where many people are thinking it, but fear what it could lead too. Basically Philip Boudreau and his remaining supporters still have a grip on these people.

I will agree that no man should be killed due to an altercation. I will also agree that no man should be bullied and have his property or assets damaged for years without consequence.

Local fishery officers if had done their jobs properly would have saved all these families of this terrible tragedy. This was grease on the stove and no one to watch it. It proved to be destruction to families, a village in chaos and men and women who will be scarred to life’s end.

How a village filled with love and support could lead to a National story with many to blame. From the folks who ate poached lobsters to those who turned a blind eye to criminal wrong-doing, the guilty are many. An altercation that was an accumulation of choices that led to a tragedy. Without a demand, Philip Boudreau would not have needed a supply.

To sit here today and toss all the blame on the crew of the Twin Maggies is being ignorant or misinformed. James Landry does not hold all the responsibility for this incident and tragic ending.

Philip Boudreau was a grown man who knew what he was involved in. He is by far not INNOCENT in this altercation. He pushed men to limits that they probably didn’t know they could reach. Years of bullying and abuse proved to be his destruction. Let me make myself clear. There are no winners in this story. Philip paid the ultimate price and the others accused have also paid dearly. Men and women who lived for their children and were loved by their village.

As I write these words I recall the TV interview last night with the family of Canada’s oldest person who has recently passed. They asked her two sons, what did your mother live by. One son stated, “work hard and mind your own business.”

If Philip Boudreau had followed this advice, I can assure you that all of this would of been prevented. He made choices that would result in a terrible tragedy on the water that day. He was the main character of this story and folks who don’t know the history can only assume what they read.

You must ask yourself how James Landry survived 50 years without altercation and how at age 67 the grandfather of two got pushed to this limit. A family who went from loving to separated on what proved to be his final season.

PDG Twin Maggies

I hope to one day read an article that is a more accurate summation of this life changing altercation. The CBC started this story by making Philip Boudreau sound like a poor innocent fisherman. Other outlets used the same line to sell the easy story of victim and monster.

Now 17 months later, the innocent are still silenced. Locals express their opinions in their homes and dare not speak outside. They filter their Facebook and choose their words carefully.

To all those who know nothing about this peaceful village of Petit-de-Grat, please don’t be quick to judge people based on stories that are written by strangers. If you’re a good reporter and want to write an accurate story, please do your homework and find multiple sources.

Do us the honour and present facts on men that helped build our great village. Speak for the innocent who are still scared to speak publicly and face repercussions. Be wise enough to know that this man did not die due to Lobsters.

More letters to come. Silver Donald Cameron, who spent much of his adult life on Isle Madame, and is writing a book about the Petit-de-Grat tragedy, had a nuanced piece about the case in Friday’s Globe and Mail.

A surprising online art collection


Today is the United Nations International Day of Persons with Disabilities. The international L’Arche organization is celebrating with an online exhibit of art created by L’Arche core members from 25 of the 38 countries with L’Arche communities. As Jenn Power,* Atlantic Regional Coordinator for L’Arche, noted on Facebook, it’s a chance to experience “some of what our folks have to say about life.”

Woman,” the watercolour at the top of this post, was created by Andrea Frizon, a resident of Mortimer House at L’Arche Toronto. The painting below, “Look at yourself in the mirror,” is a collective work by 13 artists from the Alizé Workshop at L’Arche Montreal:


One of the L’Arche Montreal artists, Core Member Michel Bouchard, reflected on the collective work:

When I look at this work that everybody from the workshop has worked on together, I feel happy and it’s as if my heart is open. It’s nice to look at and really not boring. There’s plenty of action and the colours are vibrant and wonderful. As you can see in this painting, we’re all different and we don’t have the right to make fun of others, it doesn’t get you anywhere. When you bring lots of different people together, I think it makes something beautiful. I’m proud of our work and happy to have participated.

The untitled collage below is the creation of Slavko Škerl, a core member from the l’Arche community in Društvo Barka, Slovenia. Mute from birth, Slavco came to the community in 1997, following the death of his parents, because he had no close relatives.


‘A prodigal son,’ below, is a work in Acrylic on wood created by Masaichi Wakamoto, a foundling who has lived in the Japan’s Kana-no-ie l’Arche community for 24 years.


Readers will find time spent with the entire exhibit rewarding and surprising.

* Disclosure: Jenn is my daughter-in-law.

When prosecutors co-opt headline writers

You’ve got to hand it to Steve Drake, prosecutor in the trial of a man charged with killing Isle Madame lobster stealer Philip Boudreau: He knows how to frame a problematic case in a way headline writers will find irresistible.

Drake’s problem was to persuade a local jury to convict 67-year-old lobster fisherman James Joseph Landry of murdering a man who evoked little sympathy outside his own family. Boudreau had terrorized the tight-knit community for years: stealing lobster at will, taunting the fishermen he stole from, openly selling his ill-gotten wares from a pickup truck parked on the Isle Madame Causeway, routinely threatening mayhem and arson against the families of anyone brave enough to object—including federal fisheries officers.

Drake’s ploy was to reframe Boudreau’s decade of terror as a simple dispute over lobster. He called it “murder for lobster,” implying Boudreau Landry, a licensed fisherman, had resorted t0 lethal violence just to pick up a few extra lobster. (NB: Boudreau held no fishing license of any kind.)

What happened on the waters off Petit de Grat on the morning of June 1, 2013, was dreadful. One fervently wishes someone aboard the Twin Maggies had called a halt before events spun so horribly out of control.

But calling Boudreau’s death “murder for lobster” not only takes the focus off his chronic bullying, it obscures the responsibility of DFO and the RCMP, who failed to act against Boudreau’s years of brazen lawlessness. As an added bonus, it feeds the nasty trope of life in the rural Maritimes as a half step removed from Deliverance. [For more on that, see New Yorker writer John McPhee’s brilliant takedown of Deliverance author James Dickey in The Survival of the Birchbark Canoe.]

The jury didn’t buy Drake’s slogan—it disappointed prosecutors with a verdict of manslaughter—but headline writers lapped it up, adopting the prosecutorial frame with universal enthusiasm.

I keep saying, “headline writers,” because, for the most part, reporters who actually covered the trial didn’t use the phrase. They quoted Drake when he floated it during his opening remarks to the jury, but they knew better than to adopt his tendentious wording as their own.

Most CBC headlines are written in Toronto:


Cape Breton Post headlines spring to life in a centralized Transcon sweatshop composing room located in another province:


The Halifax Chronicle Herald still writes its own headlines, and ought to know better:


Likewise CTV:


The Mop and Pail:


The National Post’s best copy editor comes from Judique. I’m betting she was off the day this slipped past the rim:

National Post 2

I suppose we should be thankful HuffPo abjured its normally obligatory “trigger warning” prior to describing backwoods misbehaviour.


Mulcair, Trudeau, and the classic double bind

In the 1950s, the social scientist Gregor Bateson described what he called the Double Bind phenomenon: an emotionally distressing situation in which someone in authority delivers a pair of messages so conflicted that a successful response to one results in a failed response to the other, and the recipient is wrong regardless their response. It’s roughly the equivalent of being asked whether you have stopped beating your spouse.

ndp-leader-tom-mulcairEvents of the last month in Ottawa show that, where allegations of sexual abuse against two Liberal MPs are concerned, Tom Mulcair’s NDP caucus has mastered the double-bind. Here’s the latest nugget, courtesy of the Hill Times:

The Canadian Press reported last week that NDP MP Craig Scott (Toronto-Danforth, Ont.), a former law professor, told Liberals that one of the alleged incidents, the way it was described to him, amounted to an allegation of sexual assault. Mr. Scott responded to the story last week with a terse statement saying his “good faith contribution to this meeting was confidential” and “had been broken in a way that disrespects the victim.”

How, exactly, does suspending an MP who may have committed sexual assault get turned into disrespect for the victim of that (alleged) assault? Let’s review the events leading up to this charge of “disrespect for the victim.”

  • Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau became aware of the allegations through a chance encounter.
  • He immediately put in place a mechanism for investigating the allegations with the cooperation of the NDP caucus.
  • Based on those discussions, he concluded the allegations were serious enough to warrant suspending the MPs from his caucus until the issue could be resolved.
  • He did all this in a matter of days, without identifying the complaining MPs or the caucus they belong to.

trudeau copyYou can argue that Trudeau acted with such haste that he compromised the rights of the impugned MPs. Indeed, their political careers may never recover. But no, Mulcair, Scott, and their caucus argue that, by acting at all, Trudeau “disrespected” the purported victims of the Liberal MPs’ alleged abuse.

What a clever trap! Disrespectful if you do; disrespectful if you don’t. Had Trudeau failed to act, the NDP would have pilloried him for… “disrespecting the victims.” But since he acted with dispatch, the NDP must now pillory him for “disrespecting the victims.” Classic double bind.

I don’t like to speculate on motives, but it’s not hard to see how distressing it must be for Mulcair to have the youthful leader of the Liberal Party, thought to have wide appeal to women voters, act with rare urgency on an allegation of sexual abuse. Why it’s almost like having Lester Pearson adopt medicare.

Moral panic makes bad law

The trial of the second boy charged in connection with the #YouKnowHerName case got underway in Halifax this morning. In the Halifax Examiner, Tim Bousquet correctly predicted the defendant would plead guilty, before adding:

The first man tried in the case pleaded guilty and was given a light sentence that included no jail time.

Since the media long ago convicted both youngsters of rape without benefit of trial, Bousquet and his fellow journocutors would likely consider anything short of a long prison term to be “light.”

But the boys—they were legally boys at the time of the now infamous incident— haven’t been charged with rape. One was charged with making child pornography, the other with distributing it. The open secret is that everyone—media, police, prosecutors, public—knows that’s not really what they did.

What they did, as minors, was to take, and text to others, a sexually explicit photo of another minor without her consent.

Up to the “without her consent” part, this is something thousands of Canadians—young and old—do every day. Doing it without the girl’s consent was nasty, cruel, and certainly worthy of being a crime. I would support a law that made it a crime. Unfortunately, we don’t have such a law, so we shoe-horn the offence into a bogus child pornography charge.

Ugly as it was, this was not a case of child pornography. Society created child pornography laws to protect children and punish adult pedophiles, not to punish sexual activity and imagery among teenagers, even those deemed too drunk to give their consent.

One result is a flurry of child pornography charges against youngsters guilty only of entirely consensual sexting.

In the #YouKnowHerName case, the media and much of the public want to see the boys punished for what many fervently believe, based on hearsay accounts by individuals with a deep personal stake in the case, to have been rape, a crime that too often goes unpunished. It’s clear the available evidence does not support such a charge. So any charge will do.

That’s no way to run a criminal justice system.

More roundabouts, please

Halifax Commons Rotary copy

Here’s an aerial photograph taken yesterday of the gorgeous, WSP-designed roundabout taking shape at the northeast corner of the Halifax Commons, in front of the Halifax Armoury. Construction of bike trails and pedestrian walkways on adjacent sections of the Commons will take place over the next two weeks.

Construction of a companion roundabout at the right edge of this photo, where North Park St. meets Cogswell, Trollope, Ahern Ave., and Rannie Drive at the foot of Citadel Hill will begin next Spring. Once workers complete that job next year, an underground electrical system will go into service, enabling NS Power to remove utility poles from the area.

Roundabouts smooth traffic flows, increase roadway capacity, enhance safety, lessen idling, and curb pollution. They are a fantastic improvement. Nova Scotia could use 200 more. Congratulations to all involved.

An Ingonish reader defends the colossal monument

Mother Canada Site Diagram 550

In a post last week, I argued that the 24-metre* war memorial statue of “Mother Canada” proposed for Green Cove in the Cape Breton Highlands National Park flew in the face of sound public policy. Many readers weighed in, mostly against the project. Today, a passionate supporter of the monument takes the floor.

Jason writes from Ingonish:

Upon reading your view on the monument, it is hard to believe the joy newspapers and news broadcasts get out of, once again, stirring up controversy on a subject you really don’t know about.

While you make points about the project itself, and its artistry, you leave out the fact something incredible has been proposed by, not just someone with money, but by a group of people with a passion for our war dead.

[A] very small number of naysayers are trying to say this shouldn’t happen in a park—with most wanting it in an area closer to them.

Of course, everyone wants a memorial to honour our fallen. For you to say we as a community want it because we are economically depressed is extremely ignorant and without fact. Did you come interview me to ask me those questions? No you didn’t. I get tired of hearing papers from away make comments based on our “little economically deprived” town, as you have said without asking any of us. It’s sad to see so-called educated reporters report without fact.

I happened to be at the community meetings at which hundreds of people from all over showed up to express their opinion, and where the sentiment was 95% positive—but I’m sure you won’t print that. You won’t print the fact that Banff has built a whole town and huge ski hills in a national park without consulting us. So I guess building a resort town in Banff was OK, but building a memorial in dedication to the many men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice is just too much to do here in Cape Breton.

You won’t print the fact that the majority are excited at the opportunity to have something with so much meaning brought to one of the most beautiful islands in the world. In fact you won’t print anything positive as it does not sell papers or create controversy.

It’s a sad world we live in when some thing proposed by people that truly have a passion for our fallen Heroes is only met in the media with negativity in hopes that you sell a few more issues in coming months.

Why don’t you come speak with me about the support of the community and how we feel about the monument before printing an article using us as your base and saying we only want this because we are so down and out here. It’s too bad as a society most of us thrive on the negative things instead of seeing something so positive in all of this.

Reading comments on your site, I see people say the money would be better spent on veterans affairs. This has to be to rest finally. It was said at the second meeting that this is private money. People are under the misunderstanding due to the faulty reporting of media that the money is tax dollars. The building of the monument and upkeep will all be privately funded. People believe everything they hear in media instead of actually researching the project itself. It’s time people stop listening and start educating themselves on the facts.

And someone has mentioned how ugly it is. Wow! So all other monuments that happen to be big, and that commemorate our fallen be it canada or elsewhere, are ugly? That is one of the most ignorant things I have ever heard, and I’m embarrassed for you. Whether one is for or against I believe being negative to something that honours our soldiers to be very offensive.

There are lots more comments from readers in the queue—mainly opponents of the proposed monument. I’ll publish more this week.

* An update to the post that started this thread corrects the hight of the proposed Mother Canada stature, along with that of the Canada Bereft statue in Vimy upon which it is based. The mistake is mostly mine, but also partly a reflection of the fact the size of the proposed monument has been a moving target.

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