Happy Canada Day

The much anticipated fireworks display over Halifax proved an austere celebration. They were fun while they lasted, about 12 minutes, and the cheerful, appreciative, harbourside crowd was a delight.

This cheerfulness, a certain joie de vivre, has a leavening effect on patriotism, an emotion that, left unchecked, can be unpleasant and dangerous.

In that spirit, I point out that, over the last 24 hours, we’ve had the Canadian Women’s Soccer Team don Tory blue jerseys for their pre-Canada Day bout with the Yanks, and the managing editor of the National Post tweeted his outrage that the Globe and Mail occasionally publishes op-ed pieces by moderate-left New Democrat organizer, pundit, and genocide expert, Gerry Caplan.

Leave the public stage for exclusive use by the cranky and aggrieved right wing, is apparently Jonathan Kay’s concept of journalistic virtue, one his journal implements with rigor.

Yet, somehow, the nation survives. Happy Canada, everyone, most especially Mr. Kay.

H/T: BC.  Photo: Sarah Kate Marsh (@sarahkatemarsh).

Facing up to an unflattering mirror – Update

In the wake of February’s cross-burning in Hants County, the Globe and Mail did what Nova Scotia newspapers ought to have done: assigned a top notch reporter to research and write a searching report on Nova Scotia’s unfinished history of racism. Many of you will have seen Les Perreaux’s piece when it appeared last month, but I missed it. He began by noting African Nova Scotia’s unique backstory:

[N]o other region on this side of the 49th parallel has Nova Scotia’s long history of a black-and-white divide. Until the immigration reforms of the 1960s, 37 per cent of Canadian blacks lived in Nova Scotia. Today, its black population of 19,200 is smaller than the numbers in each of the largest cities. But no other place in Canada has so many black communities still living in de facto segregation. Nowhere else in Canada does the legacy of slavery remain so tangible, as much as mainstream white society tries to block it out.

The remnants of that history can be as subtle as a suspicious glance in a corner store or the cavalier placement of a dog park or garbage dump on top of a poor community. At other times, racism flares up more dramatically, evoking places far south of Canada’s Ocean Playground.

Racism doesn’t disappear just because it’s no longer acceptable in polite company. On the contrary, the stigma that now attaches to racism may make it harder for white people to confront its influence. The unconscious syllogism goes something like this:

  • We want to believe we are good people.
  • Good people abhore racism.
  • Therefore bad outcomes that beset black people in our community must have some explanation other than racism.

  • Then along come Shayne Howe’s neighbors.

    The only black man in pastoral Poplar Grove in Hants County, Shayne Howe woke to the glare of that burning cross on his front lawn one night in February, while the perpetrators shouted threats and taunts. Then, last month, when one of the two brothers charged was due in court, the family car was torched, destroying the entire interior, including a new child-safety seat.

    Sporting diamonds in his earlobes and a baseball cap perched on his head, Mr. Howe is a descendant of the original black settlers, Loyalists and ex-slaves who came to Nova Scotia in the 1780s. He mixes paint one sunny afternoon in their grey bungalow to prepare for the sale of his family’s house, which backs onto a vast, green hay field.

    He’ll miss simple pleasures there, he says – riding his lawn mower, beer in hand, or skinny-dipping under cover of darkness in the backyard pool.

    “I was comfortable before. People seemed okay with me,” says Mr. Howe, a 31-year-old truck driver, recalling his relief when a local shop owner stopped keeping watch on him whenever he dropped in for a carton of milk.

    Because the alleged cross-burners are distant cousins of his wife, Michelle Lyon, many people around town dismiss the incident as a family feud. But Ms. Lyon says she had never met the brothers before.

    A venomous Facebook page with more than 100 supporters has popped up to back one of the alleged firebugs, where residents of nearby Windsor and Halifax throw around the N-word while condemning the couple as publicity hounds.

    The fatuous claim that the incident was just a family feud that got out of hand is an extreme example of white reluctance to acknowledge racism – even at the scene of a cross-burning.

    Perreaux’s entire piece is worth a read.

    [Update] Department of Amplification & Correction/

    Reader Ivan Smith takes issue with Perreaux’s statement that, “No other region on this side of the 49th parallel has Nova Scotia’s long history of a black-and-white divide,” but not for the reason you might think.

    Okay, maybe he meant it metaphorically. Nonetheless the geography is wrong. All of the Maritime Provinces lie south of the 48th parallel.

    All of Nova Scotia, except for a tiny sliver at the far north end of Cape Breton Island, lies south of the 47th parallel.

    Sandra Gittins of Truro points out that HRM’s mayor is of course Peter Kelly, not Peter Perry, as Perreaux calls him at one point.

    Coast news editor on anonymous sources

    Tim Bousquet’s rules for using anonymous sources:

    1. The information gained through granting anonymity is not otherwise available. Or, put another way, granting anonymity is not a shortcut to doing the hard work of gathering solid information and good reporting.
    2. The anonymous source must have something to lose, should anonymity not be given: loss of a job, etc.
    3. Using an anonymous source must result in some positive public good. “Spinning” someone’s view is not a positive public good.

    Bousquet adds:

    When I was a reporter at a daily in the states, I had a publisher who wouldn’t allow me to use anonymous sources at all. At the time, I felt that policy unduly constrained me, but I soon discovered it made me a better reporter: I couldn’t just put any old shit out there, I had to document everything, peg every assertion to a named source or document, etc. Mostly, as anonymity is used today by much of the press, it’s an excuse for lazy reporting.

    Contrarian reader Stan Jones also weighs in on Ibbitson’s practice of letting Harper operatives issue dubious and partisan talking points without identifying themselves:

    I have always thought Ibbitson’s main role was to transcribe whatever was the day’s conservative talking point into grammatical English. So I never read him, preferring to go directly to the source for my daily dose of nonsense.

    Taking dictation from the PMO

    ibbitson-csAn end of year column by the Globe’s John Ibbitson proclaims Harper’s prorogation of Parliament “a travesty… [but] devilishly clever.”

    There’s an old maxim that no one ever hears what comes before the “but.” True to form, the thrust of Ibbitson’s column is to promote admiration for Harper’s cleverness, not mild regret at his abasement of transparency, accountability, and parliamentary supremacy – things the right once pretended to care about. Quote:

    A senior government official, speaking on background, insisted that calculations concerning the Afghan detainees controversy played no part in the decision.

    Rather, said the official, the government wanted to give itself time and breathing room to think through how to manage the economy as it emerges from recession and to put in place a long-term strategy for balancing the budget.

    What conceivable reason would Ibbitson have for granting some Harper functionary anonymity from which to launch this risible proposition? The spinner contributes no novel facts or otherwise unobtainable information – merely a partisan talking point. Ibbitson doesn’t even pretend his source’s job would be at risk if his identity were revealed.

    A columnist for the national newspaper should not be taking dictation from the PMO.

    Blatchford makes herself useful

    In the PMO War Room, columnist Christie Blatchford must have seemed an inspired choice. She can turn a purple phrase with the best of them. She stands foursquare for troops, widows, and orphans. She’s against plummies, toffs, and pointyheads. She’s long on guts and glory, short on assay. She has an ego as big as the Ritz, and fragile as a Gruyère Soufflé. To receive a document drop on a Matter of National Importance would be sweet validation.

    So the Harper Government—someone in the Harper Government—got the brilliant idea of handing Blatchford a trove of Richard Colvin’s long-sought emails from Kandahar, the same documents Harper has thus far refused to surrender to Parliament.

    This is a standard bit of hardball damage control. Before releasing damning documents to anyone who might review them critically, pass them instead to a compliant journalist—a “high-value third-party,” in PR lingo—who can be counted on to convey their content with government-friendly gloss.

    sky27nw2Blatchford did not disappoint. Her piece in Saturday’s Globe is replete with snide references to Colvin, who did not spend enough time outside the wire for her liking. Apparently volunteering to step into the shoes of the highest ranking diplomat ever to be killed in Afghanistan isn’t sufficient for our combat-besotted scribe.

    Blatchford says the document drop  “appears to be the entire collection” of Colvin’s Afghan e-mails. Journalists who have actually followed the torture testimony confirm that she appears to have some documents not among those previously released, but she is also missing others. Even by Blatchford’s own account, the documents she got range from “virtually completely blacked out” through “heavily redacted” to [snideness alert] “rattl[ing] on at such length they could have done with a little more redacting.”

    The omissions neither trouble Blatchford nor deter her from complaining about what Colvin doesn’t say. She finds nothing in the documents that might have alarmed Colvin’s superiors, noting one memo’s observation that the Kandahar prison was, “not that bad” and “not the worst in Afghanistan.” She somehow overlooked these sections of  Memo Kandh-0138:

    Of the [redacted] detainees we interviewed, [redacted] said [redacted] had been whipped with cables, shocked with electricity and/or otherwise “hurt”….detainees still had [redacted] on [redacted] body; [redacted] seemed traumatized.

    Individual sat with his toes curled under his feet. When he straightened his toe, it could be seen that the nails of the big toe and the one next to it, were a red-orange on the top of the nail, although the new growth underneath appeared fine. When we asked him about his treatment [redacted] rather than Kabul, he became quiet. He said that [redacted] he had been “hurt” and “had problems.” However, he is “happy now.” He did not elaborate on what happened [redacted]. [Redacted] seemed very eager to please, very deferential, and expressed gratitude for our visit. General impression was that he was somewhat traumatized.

    When we asked him about his treatment [redacted] he said he had “a very bad time. They hit us with cables and wires.” He said they also shocked him with electricity. He showed us a number of scars on his legs, which he said were caused by the beating. He said he was hit for [redacted] days….

    He and others told [redacted] that three fellow detainees had had their fingers “cut and burned with a lighter”….When we asked about his own treatment [redacted] he said that he was hit on his feet with a cable or a “big wire” and forced to stand for two days, but “that’s all.” He showed us a mark on the back of his ankle, which he said was from the cable. [Note: There was a dark red mark on the back of his ankle.] [Hat tip: Dawg’s Blawg & Voice from the Pack.]

    Blatchford gloats that Colvin’s most prolific period as a memo-writier dates from a period in 2007 after Globe and Mail reporter Graeme Smith began filing reports on Afghan abuse of detainees arrested by Canadian soldiers. This may or may not be true, given that Blatchford is clearly missing half of Colvin’s 2006 reports (and God knows what else). It also shows remarkable intellectual flexibility, given that Blatchford believes nothing bad ever happened to the Afghans we arrested. The mere mention of Smith’s compelling reportage to the contrary must be embarrassing to her.

    The redactions are interesting. Let’s call this fellow Detainee 1:

    Redact 1-sc

    And this fellow Detainee 2:


    What exactly are the national security imperatives that prevent disclosure of what Detainee 1 was told after his several beatings, and what he alleged? Why is it vital to Canada’s security that we not know how many men interrogated Detainee 2, or for how long? He was allegedly threatened [blank] and, some time after the interrogation, told that he would not be [blank]. Why doesn’t the government want to fill in these blanks?

    There is a bigger issue here than whether one gullible columnist wants to abet Harper’s  assassination of one diplomat’s character.  For weeks, the opposition MPs who constitute a majority in the House of Commons, our only elected federal institution, have been trying to get their hands on the relevant documents. For weeks Harper has put them off, promising eventual delivery while insisting that General Rick Hillier and Ambassador David Mulroney give their evidence before MPs had a chance to study the documentary record.

    “The government has. and will continue. to make all legally available information available.” Harper told the Commons.

    Now suddenly the unreleased documents turn up in a friendly (and not very sophisticated) columnist’s inbox. All the pious fretting about national security was, bluntly, a lie; the real concern all along was damage control—even when the issue at hand is Canadian complicity in torture.

    Footnote: On the Globe’s website, conservative blogger Norman Spector pleads with Harper for the third time to call an inquiry into the torture allegations. Spector warns of a cloud on the horizon in the form of a Wall Street Journal report that Luis Moreno Ocampo, chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, “is already conducting a ‘preliminary examination’ into whether NATO troops… may have to be put in the dock” over torture allegations.

    A spotlight finds the invisible man

    Sonia Verma profiles diplomat Richard Colvin in the Globe:

    “Richard is a beta, not an alpha. He doesn’t seek out the spotlight. He’s never the guy you would notice in the room,” said one long-time associate, who requested anonymity to speak frankly… Asked what stood out about him, one former colleague replied: “His meticulous note-taking abilities.”

    Hydro Quebecwick? Not just Danny’s problem

    NB Power-craigslistThis promises to be a continuing Contrarian topic, but I will flag it briefly: NB Power’s apparently imminent sale to Hydro Quebec represents a tectonic shift in Nova Scotia’s energy options.

    I mention this because, as is typical, the national news media seem to view the story as just another installment in Newfoundland Premier Danny Williams’s (to them) clownish battles with central Canada. Such a view is as witless as it is patronizing.

    The sale poses huge problems for Nova Scotia and PEI, as well as Newfoundland. If Quebec can use its windfall profits from Joey Smallwood’s disastrous 1969 deal on Upper Churchill Falls to buy up all the available routes that might get Lower Churchill Falls power to market, you have to wonder whether Canada really is a country any more.

    Nova Scotia needs desperately needs to get off dirty imported coal as an energy source. Of our three local renewable energy prospects—wind, biomass, and tidal—two are intermittent and require large amounts of dispatchable backup energy. (Dispatchable means it can be turned on and off quickly, unlike thermal plants, and when needed, unlike wind and tidal). Pt. LePreau nuclear and Churchill Falls Hydro are the two best only two prospects. To justify the cost of Churchill Falls, we need to be able to transit any excess electricity to New England.

    Premier Darrell Dexter speaks bravely about turning the sale, and Newfoundland’s antipathy to Quebec Hydro, to Nova Scotia’s advantage by building an undersea cable from Yarmouth to Maine. That would add a third undersea cable to the project. (The first two would cross the Strait of Belle Isle and the Cabot Strait.) Maine Governor John Baldacci, keen on forging an energy alliance with NB, has previously rejected that idea.

    Dexter may by hoping to keep the young’un’s spirits up by whistling past this graveyard, but he must understand that this is first big crisis to face his administration.

    A sale would also blows a big hole in nascent plans for a green energy pool involving the four Atlantic Provinces, another potential solution to the problem of intermittentcy of renewable energy supplies.

    The Globe and Mail reports that Quebec is holding out a sweet carrot to NB Premier Shawn Graham: wiping clean NB Power’s $4.7-billion debt, and cutting power rates to consumers and businesses by $5-billion. That will be hard for the province to resist, and it goes without saying that no national government would risk offending Quebec by blocking the sale, even if it cripples energy options for three poor-sister provinces.

    More on this in the days ahead. Meanwhile, Costas Halavrezos has a good interview with Yves Gagnon, KC Irving Chair of Sustainable Development at Université de Moncton here, CBC-New Brunswick’s estimable Jacques Poitras has some cogent analysis, and, as always, AllNovaScotia is on top of the story (subscription required). Reaction from Williams here and here.  The Fredericton Gleaner likes the deal, as does the New Brunswick Business Journal.