journo.jpgNot long ago, veteran journalist and editor-at-liberty Jonathan Kay wrote an article about social media “mobbing.” It turned out, in fact, to be mostly a tendentious attack on the Left—there was scant mention of the routine mob action of the Right in Cyberville when Black and First Nations folks raise the issue of racism, or women merely open their mouths—but you know, he had a point. The social media do concentrate and amplify opposition, sometimes for its own sake. It’s risk-free, often safely anonymous activity that, as one person admitted years ago on Usenet, “brings out my inner asshole.”

But let it not be said that the legacy media are above that kind of mucking about. The media mobbing of the woman who is to become our new Governor General is a case in point; one for the journalism textbooks, assuming such things exist.

Julie Payette is, in a phrase, larger than life. She is an electrical engineer, an astronaut, a qualified commercial pilot, a musician who sang with the Montreal Symphonic Orchestra Chamber Choir, she’s fluent in six languages, holds 27 honorary doctorates, and is an Officer of the Order of Canada. I would not be one bit surprised to learn that this amazing woman could leap tall buildings with a single bound.

In other words, she’s the tallest of tall poppies. So the professional scribblers, wearing their own relatively minor achievements on their ink-stained sleeves, lost no time trying to cut her down.

And just look what they found! She was briefly charged with assault after a complaint from a vengeful spouse, but the charges were dropped a mere two weeks later. And before that, a jaywalker stepped in front of her SUV as she was proceeding through a green light: Payette swerved to avoid her, but struck the pedestrian, who died of her injuries. No charges were even contemplated: she was asked to provide cellphone logs to prove she was not using the phone at the time, she did, and she was not.

Umm..that’s it. That’s all. A classic nothingburger, with special sauce.

But the hacks have wasted vast amounts of ink and pixels going after her and, by extension, the person who appointed her—Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. And something tells me they aren’t done with this non-story yet, even if these newshounds were momentarily distracted by the utter scandal of the current Governor General helping the Queen down some stairs.

I urge readers to peruse the articles linked below, all of them, to observe spin in action, made somewhat miraculously in this case because there was no top in the first place.

The “story” broke in iPolitics. The PMO has “no comment,” we are told—which, there being nothing to comment on, is hardly a surprise. But here’s how the MSM set to work:

The background search record shows that on December 8, 2011 the assault case was entered nolle prosequi, meaning the prosecutor opted to not proceed with the charges. This most commonly occurs in domestic disputes because the victim refuses to press charges, witnesses recant, or the district attorney sees little chance of conviction. There’s no explanation in the background records obtained by iPolitics of what transpired or why the charge was dropped.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is what’s known as “innuendo.” Textbook case of same. Triple-distilled.

It didn’t take long for the partisans to use this non-story as yet another stick to beat Trudeau with. “Double standard!” shrieks Robyn Urback, gleefully comparing apples to oranges. She reminds us that Trudeau expelled two MPs from his caucus after complaints of sexual impropriety had been made. The glaring difference in what she coyly concedes is “not a perfect comparison” is, of course, that no investigation of the MPs had taken place, but in Payette’s case one had, quickly clearing her. “Presumption of innocence” is what we all enjoy before a criminal trial, or, by popular extension, an investigation. But actually being cleared almost immediately (or tried and acquitted) is considerably stronger than a mere general presumption before an investigation/trial is completed.

Veteran journo Susan Delacourt weighed in as well, with an article that we social media addicts would call “concern trolling.” Oh, there is surely nothing to hide, nothing at all, why it could even make Payette look more relatably human, but if only the PMO would talk to us here at iPolitics! And she goes on to employ the same faulty comparison as Urback.

The Toronto Star, meanwhile, appears to be on a bit of a crusade. Not only was Payette cleared of an assault charge; she wasn’t charged for an accident that wasn’t her fault, too. But here’s the Star hed:

“Reports of dismissed assault charge prompt questions about vetting of Julie Payette for Governor General role.” Prompt questions? About vetting? As though being cleared of a charge in two weeks—found innocent, in other words—would be something to get her struck her off the GG shortlist? Really?

And here’s the dek:

“Payette, a former astronaut and Trudeau’s pick for governor general, has called the dismissed second-degree assault charge a case of an ‘unfounded’ allegation.” Note the suggestive shudder-quotes around the word “unfounded.” Triple-distilled innuendo once again.

In the story itself, this finding of innocence is transformed into “potentially embarrassing information.” Embarrassing? To be cleared of a charge?

And here’s the Star hed for a later story: “Future Governor General Julie Payette involved in fatal collision months before assault charge in Maryland.” I’ll just leave that there.

Oh, one more. This is the CBC’s hed: “Julie Payette’s vetting for governor general questioned amid ‘disquieting’ revelations.” Disquieting revelations? That she remains innocent after an unfounded charge was quickly withdrawn and she was demonstrably not at fault in a traffic incident?

If anything demonstrates the tribal nature of journalists, particularly those inhabiting the Parliamentary Press Gallery, this non-story should serve as an exemplar. Even a decent professional like Susan Delacourt has succumbed to those tribal loyalties, closing ranks with her fellows. What is actually eating them? Why, the PMO won’t talk to them about it—that is, indulge them in their eager pursuit of a snipe.

So just watch the tribe continue to wring a flood from a damp J-cloth. It’s what they do, when actual substance is nowhere to be found.

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Ottawa police brutality.jpgOf course it’s gratifying to see that Roxanne Carr has wrung damages from the Ottawa Police—nine years after she was brutalized by several Ottawa cops.

But let’s not break out the champagne just yet, OK?

Does the name “Stephanie Cayer” ring a bell? It should. A cop named Martin Cardinal, who smashed her head repeatedly into a car hood—after checking to see no one was watching—got a Wikipedia entry over that one. His punishment was positively Draconian, mind you: he got a conditional discharge, was docked a whole eight days pay, and was reinstated as an Ottawa police officer.

Then there was the manhandling of Leslie DeFazio.

And let us not forget Sgt. Stephen Desjourdy, who seems, in fairness, to be in a class by himself. He received a three-month demotion in 2008 for kicking an unarmed, kneeling woman in the back, smashing her head into a toilet, and then Tasering her twice. Then he lost 20 days’ pay for savaging another woman, Stacy Bonds, just a few days after he had expressed “remorse” for the first incident.

Bogus charges against Bonds were thrown out by an angry judge. The charges against DeFazio and Carr were dropped. Cayer was never charged. And so it goes.

Want to stop violence against women? Why not start with those who serve and protect?

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Dr.Dawg

"Product of Israel"

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A junior employee of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency finds himself in hot water for sending a letter to the Ontario Liquor Commission of Ontario stating that wine produced in the occupied territories of Palestine is not to be labelled “Product of Israel.” The LCBO then informed its stores of the ruling.

This produced the predictable whining from the Usual Suspects. The Israeli Embassy got involved, calling it “politicization.” And a spokesman for the indefatigable B’nai Brith Canada, Marty York, demanded that the employee be “disciplined.”

Needless to say, the CFIA reversed course in a matter of hours, and stated that the employee had “made a mistake.”

The Canada Israel Free Trade Agreement (CIFTA) allegedly permits the mislabelling. In fact, it appears to state the opposite: To qualify under CIFTA, a good must be “wholly obtained or produced entirely in the territory of one or both of the Parties.”

But wait. The definition of “territory” in CIFTA contains a cunning bit of legerdemain: it is defined, not as the formal state territory, but as the area over which a party exerts customs control. As an occupying power, it is Israel that imposes that control over the West Bank, East Jerusalem, the prison-house of Gaza, and the Golan Heights. Voilà! Israel’s “territory,” for the purposes of CIFTA, includes Palestine.

Now, in case anyone needs reminding, the West Bank and other occupied territories are not formally part of Israel. Under international law, the territories remain distinct: Security Council Resolution 2334 (2016), reaffirming numerous earlier Resolutions, calls upon all States to “distinguish, in their relevant dealings, between the territory of the State of Israel and the territories occupied since 1967.” Indeed, annexing all or part of these territories is a war crime under the Fourth Geneva Convention: Article 49(6) states: “The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies,” of which the expanding settlement program is in open defiance. Canada’s expressed position is, at least on paper, aligned with that of the United Nations.

Under the dubious cover of CIFTA, however, Canada is now effectively subverting international law by sleight of hand, permitting the labelling of products manufactured in the occupied territories as “products of Israel.” This is egregiously underhanded and wrong.

The interpretation by the “low-level employee” of CFIA, on the other hand, is squarely backed by international law. Yet he or she is the one facing possible discipline for stating the obvious. If there is to be any discipline, I would suggest that the higher-ups who countermanded his or her ruling be required to attend a remedial law course or two.

The politics here, of course, which have seemingly led Canada to flout UN resolutions and the Fourth Geneva Convention, are that identifying products as being from the occupied territories might make it easier for people so inclined to boycott them—analogous to some degree to the anti-labelling lobby by GMO-content food producers. But here there is a distinction to be made: the latter lobby does not demand that misleading labels be substituted. Here, contrary to the CFIA’s own written policy, which the junior employee was conscientiously applying, the order has come down to permit labelling duplicity based upon the slippery wording of CIFTA.

Those of us who have been critical of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians in the occupied territories have frequently been criticized for “singling out Israel” or applying a double standard by which we allegedly judge Israel by higher standards than we do other nations. But this is the first case that I am aware of where the government agency in charge of food labelling has ordered its staff, but only in the case of Israel, to disregard a policy that applies everywhere else. There does appear to be a double standard in play here, but it’s the reverse of the one of which we have been accused.

Let’s have one standard and one standard only. Truth in labelling is too important a concept to be “politicized.” Anyone disagree?

Photocredit: Garrett Mills/Flash 90 Photo

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On July 24 last year, Constable Daniel Montsion, one of the highest-paid police officers in Ontario, beat an unarmed Somalian man, Abdirahman Abdi,to death in front of horrified witnesses. He used specially reinforced gloves, the equivalent of brass knuckles, to accomplish his grisly task.

This past March 6, Montsion was charged with manslaughter, one of the rare occasions when the provincial Special Investigations Unit (SIU) finds a police officer at fault.

He has been on paid leave ever since. And now his taxpayer-subsidized vacation will continue for a further two years and two months.

To say that there is something badly amiss here would be to understate the obvious. What kind of court system delays justice to such an extent that the very concept seems meaningless? And what sort of legislation (the Ontario Police Act) allows a brutal killer to enjoy a tax-subsidized holiday for nearly three years?

If this isn’t a wake-up call about the state of “justice” in Canada—and the near-impunity of police officers into the bargain—I can’t imagine what would be. This is shameful, a travesty, an outrage, and it should give some of us pause when we point a little too self-righteously at the US. Our own backyard, it seems, needs its own tending. Hell, if this case is any indication, it needs to be dug up and re-seeded.

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CBC weeping.jpgThe rot began long ago, with Prime Minister Brian Mulroney appointing far-right John Crispo to the CBC Board of Directors. It accelerated with the appointment of the ridiculous Richard Stursberg, who wanted to rescue the Mothercorp from the “elites” by coarsening and cheapening its content. And CEO Robert Rabinovich played his part in the decline, drowning the CBC in freelancers and firing capable journalists like Barbara Budd.

More recently, there was solid, gray, dependable Peter Mansbridge, whose end-of-year interviews with the previous Prime Minister consisted entirely of soft lobs. Whether he afflicted the afflicted may be up for debate, but he certainly comforted the comfortable. Matters proceeded to get worse, far worse, when he and the cranky noise machine Rex Murphy started shilling for Big Oil, making small fortunes on the speaking circuit, and when others sat on big stories, or even got caught in louche conflicts of interest.

More recently, the pace has picked up even further. In a classic example of news suppression, the CBC made no mention whatsoever about the Chrystia Freeland scandal. And the Power and Politics program, in particular, has disgraced itself. There was the interview with a racist who spewed false information about First Nations people without being challenged. A half-hearted apology from the CBC after a social media uproar was remarkable: “The show did have an expert on immediately following Mr. McInnes’s appearance who challenged what the group stands for, but a more comprehensive response would have included an Indigenous representative to critique Mr. McInnes’s views,” said spokesman Chuck Thompson. Gosh—ya think?

Then there was the interview with Layne Morris, a fraudster who was blinded in that infamous Afghanistan firefight at the Khadr compound, not by shrapnel, but by pebbles. He was airlifted out of the fray well before Omar Khadr allegedly threw his grenade. But there he is, having never met Khadr, and having never been close to him in battle, allowed to blather on about him to a complaisant Rosemary Barton. She might just as well have interviewed this guy: who needs anything but a low-information opinion these days to catch the eye of Power and Politics?

And of course there was Julie Van Dusen’s unforgiveable behaviour towards some Cree elders during the Canada Day tipi protest on Parliament Hill. She didn’t want to hear their stories: she wanted them, in effect, to tell hers. “Just answer the question!” she barked, at one point. It’s hard to imagine that level of unprofessional rudeness from a CBC journo at any other presser. She sounded like the mistress of a house interrogating her servants. Decolonization, anyone?

All of this is to say that the CBC has…changed. Has it caught the infection introduced to Canadian airwaves by Rebel Media? Is the Harper-appointed Board of Directors to blame? Or the dreary succession of lightweights put in charge of the operation over the past few years? Could it be budget cuts, forcing a move from in-depth reporting to sensational, one-sided, sound-bite journalism? Whatever the cause, we’ve seen the effects.

So do we put on the brakes—or just junk the rusty old car? In fairness, there is still some content worth saving: among other programs, As It Happens continues to chunder reliably along, although its glory days are long past; Terry O’Reilly’s series on the history of advertising is a gem; and The Current makes morning radio bearable. Regional programming, at least in my city (Ottawa), is superior in quality to the competition. So I’m not giving up on the corporation I help to pay for just yet. But—to extend the metaphor—it needs more than a lick of paint. Serious bodywork, new tires, realignment and a new engine are called for, not to mention a more capable driver. Do I hear a yes?

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Dr.Dawg

In memoriam

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Item: Nazis to gather at the Richview Library, Etobicoke.

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Dr.Dawg

Khadr

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On one hand, weary recognition that a grievous wrong has been partially righted. On the other, grunts, incoherent babbling, lying, much jabbering, pseudo-intellectual nitpicking, and crass political opportunism.

Which side are you on? Seems a fairly easy choice.

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“This is a problem, the way you communicate,” said First Nations Elder Jocelyn Wabano-Iahtail, to Julie Van Dusen, from CBC television. “You’re a guest here, and you don’t even know how to speak to us. You don’t even recognize the tone in your voice, in your delivery.”

Bingo.

This clip is hard to watch and harder to hear, but people should do both, and more than once. In particular, it should be viewed by any non-indigenous member of the media who wants productive face-time with First Nations people.

Let’s first recognize that the two women on the podium were genuinely exasperated. This was no false outrage, but all too real. Perhaps it behooves us to ask why, and to swallow our own discomfort as we do so.

From a non-indigenous, “white” perspective, Van Dusen’s question was what we expect of Parliamentary Press Gallery reporters at pressers: framing a context and probing for a sound-bite. I doubt that there was any malicious intent on her part, but her vast unknowing marked the boundaries of a chasm between her world-view and professional practice, and the perspectives of those with whom she was trying to engage.

The women called the presser, after all, to give expression to their own world-view, history and experience. Instead of being granted that opportunity, they were being forced into a corner, asked instead to fit themselves into a political context that, for them, was wildly irrelevant. Comparing Trudeau to Harper? What use was a question like that for First Nations women who take the historical long view, and (with FN people everywhere) are facing a government—a Liberal government—which has already spent hundreds of thousands of dollars fighting against equal services for First Nations children, and is continuing to do so?

It’s fair to assume that the women saw here a distinction without much of a difference. Indeed, as Wabano-Iahtail subsequently said, “”As far as how Justin Trudeau is doing, one of the things we have to keep in mind is we’re asking the United Nations to help us…Because your Liberal party was also responsible—every party, your every government that has been in power, there’s been a war conflict.”

But in any case, Van Dusen pressed on, and then she crossed the line. In answer to her initial question about Trudeau and Harper, another speaker mentioned the death of a young indigenous person in Thunder Bay. She was trying to bring the conversation back into her own reality by being concrete and specific. But Van Dusen wasn’t having that. “But how can [Trudeau] be blamed for that? You don’t think that anything he’s doing is helping the situation? Is he an improvement over Stephen Harper? Talk about his record.”

The people on the podium were aghast. They had just attempted to return the exchange to their own context, and here Van Dusen was being insistent, aggressive (“Just answer the question!”), and just a touch snide as she continued to press her point. Wabano-Iahtail began to protest, but Van Dusen kept talking.

You don’t, ever, talk over an Elder when they are speaking. It’s considered profoundly offensive to do so. And she was righteously scolded for it.

Then Glen McGregor of CTV stepped in. After being told to be respectful, he repeated Van Dusen’s question calmly enough, and he got his answer. But his immediate standing up for Van Dusen, who refused to leave after being asked, was the icing on the white cake. It looked like, and it was, a closing of ranks. The presser was abruptly terminated.

Van Dusen (and McGregor) seemed blithely unaware of the numerous transgressions that they had committed. I am certain that they felt very badly treated, and they did indeed get an earful. Many, maybe most, non-indigenous folks heard nothing but angry people attacking a couple of journos who were just trying to do their jobs. But if we start with the anthropologist’s “what is happening here?” instead of simply reacting, a few constructive lessons might be learned.

We should grant that all the participants were acting in good faith. There is no reason to believe otherwise. So, what went wrong? How could such encounters be avoided next time?

This clip is an important one for those interested in the reconciliation project. It’s going to be tough. We’re the folks, after all, who need to do the reconciling, not the First Nations/Inuit/Métis who have borne the brunt of colonial privilege, racism and economic immiseration literally for centuries. Face-to-face encounters are an essential part of that healing process; in fact, probably the main ingredient. So, if we’re going to talk with people whose collective subject-position is so extraordinarily different from our own, shouldn’t we first learn how to do it?

Consider this a training film on how not to go about having that dialogue. But we can all learn from our mistakes. Perhaps, on the 150th anniversary of the Canadian state, we should resolve to do better. Call it a Canada Day resolution.

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See Joe Clark’s comment.

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170630 whale poutine.jpg

I was wracking my brain for a uniquely Canadian recipe to bring to a gathering of Hill-shunning celebrants this weekend, and decided to whip up a batch of an old treat from Salluit, Nunavik. We may have leftovers - let me know if you want a whaley-bag.

WHALE POUTINE RECIPE

Preparation Time: 1 hour Cook time: 40 hours Yield: 347,161 servings

Ingredients: - 1 (95, 254 kg) Whale (ensure that species is non-endangered) - 860 kg onions - 3,322 kg potatoes - 7,222 L water, lightly salted - 1,032 kg carrots - 420 kg celery - 47 kg salt (or low-sodium option for a healthier poutine) - 34 kg black pepper - 13 kg cornstarch - 18 L water - 27 kg unsalted butter - 22 kg unbleached all purpose flour (or gluten-free alternative) - 90 L beef broth - 60 L chicken broth - Pepper, to taste - 998 kg cheddar cheese curds (note that St. Albert Cheese Factory required one week advance notice for order of over 3 kg.)

Directions:

1) Place whale in a very large pot with water. Cook at 300°F for 4 hours.

2) Add onions, carrots, celery, salt, pepper. Simmer 36 hours.

3) When tender, cut whale into bite-sized chunks. Set aside, but keep warm.

4) In a small cauldron, dissolve the cornstarch in the water and set aside.

5) In a larger cauldron, melt the butter. Add the flour (or gluten free aternative) and cook, stirring regularly, for about 5 minutes, until the mixture turns golden brown. Add the beef and chicken broth and bring to a boil, stirring with a forklift. Stir in the cornstarch and simmer for 3-5 minutes or until the sauce thickens. Season with pepper. Add salt to taste. Make ahead and re-warm, or keep warm until your fries are ready.

6) Cut potatoes into 1/2-inch thick julienne sticks. Place into several large cauldrons and cover completely with cold water. Allow to stand at least one hour.

7) When ready to cook, heat oil in small tank to 300°F. Add your fries to the oil and cook for 5-8 minutes, just until potatoes are starting to cook but are not yet browned. Remove potatoes from oil and scatter on a wire rack. Increase oil temperature to 375°F. Return the potatoes to the tank and cook until potatoes are golden brown. Drain fries on a paper towel-lined high school gym floor.

8) Combine whale and fries. Season lightly with salt while still warm. Add three forklift buckets of hot poutine gravy and using tongs, toss the fries in the gravy. Add more gravy as needed to coat the fries.

9) Add the cheese curds and toss with the hot whale, fries and gravy.

10) Serve immediately. Add freshly ground pepper to taste. Hot sauce optional.

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