This is a blog dedicated to a personal interpretation of political news of the day. I attempt to be as knowledgeable as possible before commenting and committing my thoughts to a day's communication.

Monday, June 30, 2008

"Illigitimate"!! Says Who?

Canada, that's who. And, about time. Why, in all this time, when what was happening was so blatantly evident, did Canada not seek to intervene? To call upon its influence, for example, with South Africa. Canada having been one of the most stalwart and outspoken critics against Apartheid.

Canada, which exerted its influence on the world stage to shame the Apartheid government of South Africa, to hold it up to ridicule and censure; to insist that Nelson Mandela be freed from his long imprisonment as a political prisoner of conscience.

Even if Canadian overtures did not result in success, in persuading Nelson Mandela to impress upon Thabo Mbeko his responsibility toward Zimbabweans - as opposed to his unrelenting support of Robert Mugabe - the effort would have been worthwhile. If only in support of Canada's sense of responsibility as a signal part of the world's conscience. If only for our own self-respect.

Looking on and doing exactly nothing doesn't quite entitle us to feelings of superiority that such outrageous flouting of democratic ideals isn't quite on. Looking on and deploring the living conditions of Zimbabweans, and doing nothing to exert ourselves for a more positive outcome. Much as the helplessness Canadians - and the world at large - have felt about the ongoing horrors in Darfur.

So finally, the theatre of the absurd produced a truly meaningful democratic result for Robert Mugabe. The Zimbabwe electoral commission has assured the world that Mr. Mugabe rightfully won 85.51 percent of the happy vote. That original vote back in March where, even with fiddling the results brought him 43.2 percent as opposed to Morgan Tsvangirai's 47.9 percent was merely an unfortunate and unreliable aberration.

President for life has now been officially crowned. And the African Union summit, while simmering with annoyance at how, once again, African politics have made them look rather inept and undemocratic and downright sanctimoniously unrepentant about their failures - hard on the heels of a similar, but since settled voting contretemps in Kenya - can now hope the rest of the world will go on to other matters.

For their part, aside from a bit of grumbling they're prepared to accept Robert Mugabe into their tender fold, and life in Africa goes on as it will. Those legislators who are truly aggrieved and who do actually respect democracy and wish the best for their people will find it an intelligent course of action to let this little matter slide. And who knows? perhaps a "unity" government may yet be arranged...

Meanwhile, the deed is done. And in its wake Canada's prime minister has characterized the charade as an "ugly perversion of democracy". Which it most certainly is, in spades. What's far uglier, however, is the dire emergency - economical, political, social - that the country finds itself in. The desperation of the people, hopeless about their future prospects. Worrying about massive unemployment, about lack of food and adequate shelter and medicines.

Canada's new foreign minister got his dibs in, too with a delayed statement of condemnation. "The government of Zimbabwe's systematic use of violence and intimidation represents a grave violation of human rights and democratic principles", said Mr. Emerson. Actually, we noticed all of that. We Canadians do read our newspapers.

But it's never too late to make amends: "The citizens of Zimbabwe have been denied the opportunity to shape their future through free and fair elections, and they remain in constant danger of intimidation, injury and loss of life. Canada does not consider the result of the June 27 (run-off) election to be, by any reasonable standard of democracy, a credible outcome. This 'election' is illegitimate and will not be accepted by the government of Canada."

So there.

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Sunday, June 29, 2008

100% Preventable

Dr. Jean-Denis Yelle is fed up with treating spinal injuries, punctured lungs, ruptured spleens and serious rib fractures. As director of trauma services at the Ottawa Hospital he cleans up the tragic mess that adults find themselves in as a result of careless use of all-terrain vehicles. He deplores the needless deaths of people dying from ATV crashes. The accidents, he says occur mostly at night.

"These accidents are 100% preventable" according to Dr. Yelle. "It's simple in Quebec, you have to be at least 16 years old to operate an ATV. It doesn't matter if it's private property or not" according to the general manager of the Canadian Safety Council. In Ontario, he says, it's a little different: "To be on a road, you have to have a driver's license. To be on a trail, you have to be 12 years old; and on private property they can be any age."

People going off trail, falling off the machine, because they cannot control it. They're driving too fast, or driving under the influence of alcohol. There are approximately 850,000 ATVs in use in Canada. The number of hospitalizations necessitated by serious injuries in the last eleven years has increased by 72%, across the country, according to the manager of clinical registries at the Canadian Institute for Health Information.

And then there are the child deaths. Invariably, the parents, the care-givers, those in position of authority and care for young children, see nothing wrong in encouraging children as young as seven, to drive ATVs. They want their children to enjoy themselves, to have fun, to face outdoor challenges. And so, summer and winter, children are involved in accidents, driving these vehicles. Guardians of children can be fined up to $500 for non-compliance of law.

But nothing restores a child to life.

And they die. Always, after such events, people sigh in fond memory of these boldly adventurous children, calling them "angels". And so it was with the latest, a 7-year-old boy from Aylmer, Quebec who died after crashing an ATV last week. Reporters love interviewing neighbours, and neighbours are happy to oblige, explaining how much these children loved riding their all-terrain vehicles.

This little boy, Jonathan Blais, was supervised by his father's father, and his own father. Father and grandfather, they were both content to have this child experience the joy of driving a motorized device with the potential to inflict harm on a 7-year-old whose understanding of mechanics, whose physical capacity and reactions could not be equated with those of an adult.

"He was my little angel", Jonathan's grandfather mourned. The little boy had his own gas-powered ATV which he was driving, as usual, on his grandfather's property. The child, whose parents were separated, spent a lot of time with his grandfather. Neighbours described the accident to have occurred when the little boy drove his ATV directly into a tree in front of his grandfather's house.

"Great little boy and an excellent family. The grandson was there most of the time. Pierre (the grandfather) adored that little boy, said one neighbour. His own 9-year-old son doesn't own an ATV, but he was permitted to ride with Jonathan, as they were pals.

The neighbour, in assessing the situation, avowed as how he doesn't think he'll provide his son with an ATV of his own, now.

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Saturday, June 28, 2008

Monarch, Bedeck Thy Palace

Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain is a truly admirable personage. She has adapted well to changing times, although it has been an undeniably painful experience for her. She has aged gracefully. She has continued to do her duty to her country, a constitutional monarchy. None others, such as those which exist in Belgium, Cambodia, Jordan, The Netherlands, Spain, appear to enjoy as much public attention and celebration on an international basis.

But then, Queen Elizabeth rules over the Commonwealth, a historical, traditional, in-gathering of nations during the era of imperialistic Great Britain, when that sea-faring island ventured well beyond its Atlantic shoreline to claim colonial powers over countries far and wide, in the process enriching her coffers, in competition with Spain and France. The Commonwealth of countries aligned with Great Britain and still in obscure ways allied to her are 53 in number.

These 53 separate states, once symbols of Great Britain's vast outreach and hunger for ever greater power, to satiate her appetite for natural resources that added to her wealth and prestige, represent 1.7-billion people. A full 30% of the world's population. It is nostalgia that keeps most of these once-colonial countries within the Commonwealth, although there is also a tacit recognition that their status now owes something to that long-ago time.

Britain was both an imperial occupier, who ravished the lands she occupied, and regally and paternalistically administered those lands, in the process absorbing indigenous administrators into her structure of governance - becoming the source from which these diverse countries' system of parliamentary rule, and justice emanated. Some good was seen to have evolved from the human injustice of colonial rule and rapine.

Queen Elizabeth is known to be one of the wealthiest women in the world. Although the actual size of her fortune is unknown, it is understood to be vast. Her ownership of a huge collection of art representing world-class masterpieces - the genius of ages long past - and her collection of fabled jewels form only one part of her wealth. Vast real estate holdings and wise investments comprise other portions of her riches.

But it is the country, the tax-payers of Great Britain who surrender a certain portion of their hard-earned wages, that are tasked with the upkeep of all this pomp and pageantry. The royal family's entourage of household servants, their various royal palaces, their travel and household expenses are supported by taxation. Now it would seem that there exists a whopping $64.2-million backlog of repairs for Buckingham Palace.

Buckingham Palace, unlike Windsor Castle, for which the Queen takes personal responsibility, belongs to the country, and is paid for by the country. Like many of the other royal residences where other members of the royal family reside. There is a need to replace the roof at Buckingham Palace, to remove asbestos, to re-wire the edifice, and to redecorate many of its rooms which haven't been changed since 1952, when she ascended to the throne.

There is a current $30-million annual grant for maintenance of the royal residences, but the Queen has requested an additional $8-million increase. Alas, the government has rejected the request. "It was a major disappointment to us. That money was badly needed", said the Queen's accountant. The fabled art gallery which contains works by the world's master artists of yore has a leaking roof.

Understandably, the Queen is much concerned with the gradual deterioration of her palaces. She is considered by many Britons - indeed many from within the Commonwealth still under the sway of the Crown - to have outlived her usefulness. On the other side of the ledger, there appears an equal number who feel she earns her keep. There is little doubt she has dedicated her life to her country as its titular royal head, that of its symbolic "Defender of the Faith" in the Anglican Church, and chief of its military.

She must be kept in the style to which she is accustomed. That style no longer the monopoly of royalty, although the respect given royalty remains unchallenged. On the other hand, this is an inordinately wealthy woman who has amassed unheard-of-wealth. There are many charitable enterprises which could make good use of some of that wealth. Among them, perhaps, the need to deliver assistance to her own royal residences.

Perhaps in the process freeing up state funds for other useful and needed purposes. Olympic games not included.

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Friday, June 27, 2008

Me and Elizabeth

Much is being made of Nelson Mandela's 90th birthday. Celebrations in honour of this man's personal sacrifices and final victory in his country's struggle against Apartheid pay homage to his personal achievements and his world view. He has long been honoured as a successor to such historical luminaries as Mahatma Gandhi, as Dr. Martin Luther King. He has the ear of heads of state and of reigning monarchs.

He is comfortable within himself and has reason to feel personal pride in his personal legacy. Africa needed a modern-day hero. It had spawned more than enough villains. Nelson Mandela fought an unceasing battle for his downtrodden and disenfranchised people. With honour and integrity. Starkly unlike monsters like Idi Amin and Robert Mugabe.

His personal history and his presence proved the healing antidote to the murderous rampages of those African rulers whose main concern was their self-aggrandizement and the acquiring of personal wealth, ignoring the needs of their people. Enslaving their people to their selfish agenda. Nelson Mandela accepted the well-earned plaudits offered him by well-wishers and admirers, world-wide.

He alone, outside members of the British royal Windsor family, speaks directly to the Queen of England, addressing her simply as "Elizabeth". The royal and the humble commoner. His status enables him this freedom, much as it gave him the freedom to directly contact the president of the United States to recommend favours he would like to see performed, and to which the president concurred.

After stepping down from his position as head of his country and abandoning politics for peace and retirement, he remained a voice of reason and compassion, speaking out on behalf of those with little voice in the public realm. Yet, confusingly, he has become strangely selective in his choice of championing human rights.

"We look back at much human progress" he said during a recent public address, in London. "...but we sadly note so much failing as well. In our time we spoke out on the situation in Palestine and Israel, and that conflict continues unabated. We warned against the invasion of Iraq, and observe the terrible suffering in that country.

"We watch with sadness the continuing tragedy in Darfur. Nearer to home, we had seen the outbreak of violence against fellow Africans in our own country and the tragic failure of leadership in our neighbouring Zimbabwe". Did he confuse the Zimbabwean Gaza with the Middle East Gaza? Just incidentally taking upon himself the prerogative of the royal "we"; an admittedly trifling conceit.

But one wonders why the lingering over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Why not dwell on the problems plaguing his own continent ... in Uganda, Kenya, Somalia, Central African Republic, Rwanda, Congo, Chad, for example. It's puzzling to say the least that this great, good man stood silent, not using his prodigious reputation and his undeniable clout as the Grand Old Man of Africa to early on denounce Zimbabwe's tragedy.

When refugees within South Africa were being brutalized, hounded and murdered, forcing them to flee back to their original countries of oppression, one doesn't recall hearing a word from Nelson Mandela. Perhaps his personal agony over the situation rendered him mute. But then, has he spoken of Burma, North Korea, Syria, Iran, as places of great human rights abuses, which additionally threaten the stability of the world at large?

Queen Elizabeth has done her part, annulling the honourary knighthood bestowed upon Robert Mugabe fourteen years earlier, when he was still an admired African hero. Oh, yes, and Zimbabwe will not be permitted to take part in the cricket tour, next year. This will most certainly distress a public where millions are on the verge of starvation.

Where acute shortages of food and foreign currency, an 80% unemployment rate, and the highest inflation rate in the world marks its current condition. A loaf of bread in that country now costs 6 billion Zimbabwe dollars, about 150 times more than bread cost at the time of the first round of elections, in March. Where was Nelson Mandela's voice in March, in April, in May, before conditions deteriorated so direly?

Nelson Mandela spoke mournfully, of Zimbabwe, representing a "failure of leadership". Yes, and one might almost be tempted to speak of the lost opportunities resulting from Mr. Mandela's lack of forthright condemnation of Robert Mugabe, his hesitation to exert due influence upon Thabo Mbeki to denounce Mr. Mugabe, as his own very particular and lamentable "failure of leadership".

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Thursday, June 26, 2008

Not My Fault!

If there's anything worse than a seasoned and cynical politician, it must be an inexperienced, callow and not-too-bright politician. We've got too many in both categories, alas. By all accounts, Canada's recently-departed foreign affairs minister, Maxime Bernier, despite his youth, had the type of experience that might and should have suited him to a senior government post - just not that particular one. Even though prime minister Stephen Harper maintains a firm grip on all his ministries, he cannot be everywhere all the time.

Nor should he be. There seems, lamentably, to be such a dearth of dependable, reliable, intelligent, honest and capable members of Parliament that the choices are pitiable. Give us a break, please do: an unelected - two unelected - lawmaker/s brought into a Cabinet position (or into the Senate, as the case may be). It's common enough in the United States, but this is Canada, we're not accustomed to this type of thing, although it's been done in the past, on occasion.

And appointing a still-green 34-year-old member of Parliament as secretary of state for agriculture? Another, a mere 32-years-of-age as secretary of state for the Asia-Pacific Gateway, and Official Languages? Not dreadfully vital posts, most certainly, but is that the best we can do, all we can offer? What's the rationale for these appointments? That they're more malleable, manageable, less likely to squawk in protest when they're manipulated?

Keeping all one's governing ducks in a row doesn't make for a good and workable, integrity-laden and reasonable government. It simply relates to the chief's inability to let loose the strings, trust his own choices. In the case of Maxime Bernier, clearly proving too much was entrusted to providence; he was incapable of growing that quickly into the position. And as young men are wont to do, he sought to present himself, not the position, necessarily.

Conceited preening as a way to prove he was capable and admirable and responsible, doesn't equate with intelligent application of resources. If it was more important to him to forward himself arm in arm with a visually presentable girlfriend as a companion piece to his cabinet status, then he was more than a little off-message. If the cheesy veneer of small-town riding politics in distributing Beauce-produced cakes to Canadian troops in Afghanistan is what occupied his mind, then he was more than a little off base.

He didn't have time to mature into the job. It isn't the kind of position that one should mature into. But it's not his fault. He was simply there for the selection process. It was the prime minister who chose to elevate this promising young member of Parliament into a position whose seat proved too large and uncomfortable for him. Wasn't his fault, he told his riding supporters, that no one warned him his girlfriend had inconvenient personal contacts.

Not his fault sensitive briefing documents were left at her home, no longer in the hot grasp of his personal possession. Not his fault he couldn't discuss that little matter with her, because they were estranged, no longer dating. His personal sensitivities trumped his professional and political obligations as an elected official. Not his fault he hadn't the good sense to separate the wheat from the chaff.

But we do, actually, know whose fault it is. Not his proud papa's fault, either. Not Julie Couillard's fault; in this war of the sexes, it's every gender for itself, and if a generous book offer can result from all this nasty public airing of personal lingerie, then all the better for an enterprising, self-respecting woman.

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As Goes Pakistan, So Too Does Afghanistan

It's like that proverbial house of cards, or stacked dominoes. Knock one over, the rest fall. The plague of religious extremism appears to have infected the region, and it seems that no antidote exists, no amount of diligent administration of remediating infusions of civility and charity can wrench the population out of its collapse into fundamentalism. Not that there doesn't exist countless poor wretches in the countryside that might prefer the mujidaheen, the Taliban, to leave them in peace to get on with their lives.

But corrupt officials and basely corrupt and self-seeking and inept administrations in both of these countries see to it that there is no firm advance in the struggle against Islamism in its most twisted and grotesque manifestation as a religion of holy war, in their grim determination to install a rigidly theistic state. Pakistan has so long encouraged the existence of rigidly fundamentalist Islamist armed militias as a foil against India and by extension Afghanistan, that the government is no longer in control.

This has amply manifested as reality, but never recognized by official Pakistan, despite its neighbouring country's imploring it time and again to cease and desist in supporting Islamic militants in the lawless North West Frontier region. Giving them easy access to Afghanistan. Pakistan believed that as long as it tolerated and appeased the wild tribal chieftains and their growing support for the Taliban, it would itself be exempt from attack.

But the more overtures made to establish agreements between the government and the Taliban, the more, predictably enough, did the Taliban become emboldened because they construed those agreements as validation and encouragement of their purpose. As signs of a weak government. That Pakistan was incapable of foreseeing the eventuality of this reality can be ascribed in large part to its unrelenting war with India over ownership of disputed Kashmir. Pakistan has always been complacent about supporting militant Islamists attacking Hindu India.

Now its chickens have truly come home to roost. The three governing parties that currently and insecurely form the uneasy coalition are faced with the reality of a weakened and demoralized national security force; army troops and paramilitary soldiers, however well armed, who feel that the Taliban has the upper hand. Not surprisingly, since they now control the Frontier's arterial roads and towns. Even Peshawar, the provincial capital, is under virtual siege.

Police hesitate to patrol at night for fear of militant attacks, which have been numerous and deadly. "It is a highly alarming situation" said one senior provincial government official, in a masterstroke of understatement. Even the supply route for NATO forces in Afghanistan through the Khyber Pass is being struck by the Taliban through frequent convoy attacks. The tribal areas are securely in the command of the Taliban, along with key cities of the Frontier area.

The very leader of the Taliban who is considered to have been responsible for the assassination of Benazir Bhutto remains very comfortable, alert and in command of the South Waziristan tribal region. Where, not incidentally, al-Qaeda itself has found comfort and support, establishing its main base there. The provincial government has signed a peace deal with the militants in the Swat valley, the government releasing a commander responsible for thousands of fighters operating in Afghanistan.

And there is NATO, in Afghanistan, unveiling a host of incentives and initiatives, doing its utmost in a two-pronged attack, to both hold back the advances of the resurgent Taliban, and persuading the people of Afghanistan that in the final analysis, despite their own government's proven incapacity to govern adequately, much less build vital civic infrastructure, they can and should depend on the work of foreign soldiers and diplomats.

Canada, through its CIDA-funded Governance and Development Support Project to Kandahar has introduced a three-year plan to transform Kandahar from civic chaos to a well-run and responsibly-managed city. One of the few uncorrupted Afghan administrators, Mayor Ghulam Haider Hamidi has returned to his sad and sorry country, at the urging of Hamid Karzai, to enact a new regime, where residents pay taxes which enable the municipality to provide the vital services of a functioning city.

Community development councils have been activated with the assistance of outside sources like the UN Habitat program. The residents will begin to see tangible benefits resulting from formalization of city services, ranging from legitimizing land ownership through the issuance of land titles to owners, ensuring security of tenure and property value increases, and employment opportunities, along with city water improvements, resulting from payment of taxes.

All of this will be an exercise in futility if Pakistan remains in its current state of instability, incapable of dealing with the tribal militants that their own government tolerated and encouraged to the extent that their affiliates prospered and grew, now threatening the country's legitimate administration. The spillover, should it occur, will knock down NATO's and the UN's still-tenuous house of cards.

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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Behaviourial Contrasts

Soldier who assaulted boys won't do time: War tour cited in soldier's assault trial
There's the sad story of a Canadian soldier found guilty of assaulting his six-month-old triplet sons because he just couldn't cope with the strain of looking after his children. His lawyer claims that he was, among other things, suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. He was depressed. And he had an unhappy childhood; his father had abandoned his family. He was also possessed of a rather nasty temperament.

So why, one might venture to query, would any woman seek out such a man as a mate? His common-law partner had already given birth to a little boy, two years previously. And then, on his return from active duty in Afghanistan - a 3-1/2-month tour of duty back in 2006 - he found she was carrying triplets. Most inconsiderate of her, to be sure. Which sent him into a bit of a tizzy; he withdrew from society, played video games, stayed up all night.

He had joined the military in 2001. Deployed to Kandahar in 2006. And came back, claims his lawyer, a much different person. His job there was the loading of equipment onto military planes and trucks. A safe job, one could hazard to guess, one that kept him out of harm's way. But a job that, he said, frustrated him. He wanted to see some front-line action.

His frustration led to a number of fractious events with his superiors. His "explosive temper" was given free reign. "I wanted to get out there and do something. I knew many of the infantry ... I could see it in their eyes that they expected more from me. I felt helpless", he reported to the psychologist who had been tasked by the court to assess his condition.

So if this man suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome it wasn't as a result of the danger he found himself in, on the front lines of action. It was a result of frustration that he was unable to persuade his superiors that he was the stuff of action, that he should be deployed out in the field, facing danger. That's an odd one, isn't it?

What he did on the home front was to succumb to his frustration and anger by meting out gross capital punishment on his infant sons. They were discovered to be suffering from 19 broken bones among them, as a result of their father's brutality. This man admitted that he squeezed his tiny sons repeatedly "so as not to leave marks", and biting them on occasion.

Despite which his lawyer claimed that the man had no intention of inflicting pain on the babies. That he was amazed to discover the extent of their resulting injuries. The result of the trial was that the provincial court judge, calling the man's actions "horrible", felt he no longer posed a threat. He will remain free in the community, after having spent 9 months in custody.

He will be under a 24-hour daily curfew. required to attend therapy and counselling, banned from unsupervised contact with his children, or any other children under the age of 18. Whether he will be invited to remain in the military is an unknown question.

And then, to wash away the foul odour of this story is another in the same paper, same page:
Man sacrifices self to save his children
And this is a totally other story, an antidote, counter-balancing, if that's possible, the stench of the former. This second story relates to a young father of five children, Steve Whissell, who was attending a holiday parade with his family, not too far from Montreal, in the Laurentians. Mr. Whissell was seated on the grass waiting for the parade to begin, beside him his three-year-old twins, and his wife, Johanne Coursolle, holding their two-year-old daughter.

Above them, on top of a 35-metre hill was a car parked in a municipal lot cresting a winter toboggan run. The vehicle suddenly began to move downhill, picking up speed as it descended, heading directly for this family. Someone screamed "get out of the way!". Mr. Whissell pushed his three-year-old twins out of harm's way; his older set of twins were not in danger. The car rolled over him, striking his wife.

Attempts were made by bystanders to lift the car off Mr. Whissell. He and his wife were taken to hospital, where she is a few days from release, and he will never come home again, the day before he turned 34.

"His children and his wife were his life", his father-in-law said. Explaining that it was his son-in-law's intention to become a mechanic and find a good job. "He was devoted, a solid, good guy. It's all so senseless. The kids are still trying to understand why their dad is not coming home."

Like the abusive father whose name was not divulged to the media to protect his children, Mr. Whissell's life revolved around his children, but in an entirely different way. One was abusive and resentful, the other loving and protective.

The abusive father who might have killed his children had there not been timely intervention, will survive this little interruption in the patterns of his days, to carry on with his life, presumably without close contact with his children in any near future. And it's debatable whether they may ever, as they grow, consider this man to be a father in its defined terms.

The father who protected and loved and valued his children gave no thought to his own safety when they were threatened. His time on earth expired. His legacy through his children will live on.

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Presidential Promises, Environmental Concerns

Odd isn't it, that the Republican candidate appears so steady-as-she-goes, so thoughtfully and carefully committed to the kind of change that the reality of Climate Change and the expectations of the American public require. While his Democratic counterpart, not wishing to be left behind, more or less echoes his rival's position, but with an undertone of hysteria; rashness to the other's rationale.

Crass, almost. As though it's incumbent upon the candidate of the liberal 'suasion to go one better. Those pledged to his support, seeing in the candidate something fine and noble, are complacent with his direction. They've every right to be. He's doubtless sincere and well-meaning. Who really knows who is deluded and who is attempting to delude in any event? The public takes it all on trust.

John McCain sensibly claims he would offer sizeable cash incentives to enterprising developers of vehicles that would spew less carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. He has outlined a program he calls the "Clean Car Challenge", to issue tax credits with the sale of zero-emissions vehicles. The lower the emissions, the higher the tax credit. Sounds reasonable, and perhaps even achievable.

"Innovation in the use of alternative fuels in transportation presents the greatest opportunity for energy independence" he claims. Motherhood statement; it's what everyone wants to hear and he won't disappoint them. It is an increasingly important issue, no doubt about it. What's really impressive, is his opposition to corn-based ethanol, currently government policy. Ethanol sourced from inedible fibrous growth is infinitely more sensible.

He emphasizes the need to rupture the current monopoly of fossil-based fuels. We need to look increasingly at solar energy, at creating diverse and workable options for the creation of clean-burning and infinitely renewable energy sources; wind and sun. As the urgency to convert and to become independent increases, so will the creative minds rise to the challenge. In the process we must also become more careful, less wasteful.

And hard on the release of Senator McCain's most recent statements, come Barack Obama's, not to be left out of the public eye. Senator Obama is direct and unequivocal; he would be relentless in denying the use and usefulness of "dirty, dwindling and dangerously expensive" oil, if elected president. That sounds like he's targeting Albert's nasty tarsands projects. And little wonder, since extracting from that source is more costly, more injurious to the environment.

But it's a toss-up really. Shipping crude oil from the Middle East is also injurious to the environment and costly in and of the process involved. And there's another little thing in the equation that so many Americans, presidential hopefuls included, seem to overlook. Their next-door neighbour, Canada, is the foremost provider of oil and gas for their energy market. No need to point the finger of blame at Canada.

Fact is, Canada is conceding to America's demands in the supply of dirty oil. The process is largely owned by American corporations. And it's Canada's environment that is being compromised so dreadfully through the dire need of the United States to be assured of a steady supply of energy. So instead of turning that crooked finger at Canada, turn it inward, as John McCain has done.

Change internally, by persuading manufacturers and researchers and producers of all kinds to make available alternate devices for energy needs and production. Canada will be there right alongside the United States. We're partners in geography after all, just as we're partners in the process of sharing security of resources, security of national interests, security of our populations' needs.

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"Grave Concern"

Ongoing events in Zimbabwe have earned the grave concern of close onlookers, the African Union chief executive having expressed such concern. Studied understatement to be certain. It is outside of Africa where Robert Mugabe and his militias, his police and his ardent supporters are harshly condemned. Zambia's president feelingly states "Elections held in such an environment will not only be undemocratic but will also bring embarrassment to the SADC region and the entire continent of Africa."

Well, yes. Most certainly. After all, there was ample opportunity in the last three months for the Southern African Development Community and the African Union - let alone such regional luminaries as South Africa's Thabo Mbeki (we won't even mention Nelson Mandela and Biship Desmond Tutu) to have acted decisively and without equivocation, in demanding that Robert Mugabe step down from his unsupportable position. But then, why should he, when they would not, when they hesitated to criticize, much less blame the U.K.-knighted champion of independence against colonial rule?

Much, however, has happened since that era of achieving independence. The champion of his people turned into president-for-life, anointed by God Almighty and answerable to no one. President Mugabe has had much success in putting down one 'illegal and undemocratic' insurrection after another, in the process demonstrating his proclivity for mass murder. Clearly enjoying the reputation he attained after sending his militant thugs through Matabeleland to burn villages and murder tens of thousands.

That successfully quelled that particular and inconvenient situation. He moved on to magnanimously share out prime agricultural land to his thuggish supporters by encouraging them to march on White-owned farms, sometimes brutalizing the black farm workers along with threatening and occasionally murdering the White farmers and ousting their families. Taking Zimbabwe from its primary position as regional breadbasket and exporter of food, to poverty, massive inflation and starvation.

Then he set about cleaning up the resulting poor migrants from the countryside, the squatters and street sellers, the slum dwellers who produced such a bad odour in the more refined quarters of the capital. Those unspeakably close and nasty slums must be cleared away. Their presence being so unseemly. So hundreds of thousands of street sellers and squatters were unceremoniously ousted and dumped into the countryside to fend helplessly for themselves. Adding to the already impoverished and famished millions dwelling there.

And wasn't he shocked out of his cool when Morgan Tsvangerai bettered him in the popular vote, and the Movement for Democratic Change won handily against the ZANU-PF. Ever regal and defiant, he would never surrender, for what God has achieved, no man, no political movement could ever rent asunder. He dispatched his loyal troops and his rag-tag political supporters into the countryside where his opposition had their strength, and battered and beat them, setting fire to their homes.

The police force and the military would never permit their elderly and much-respected figurehead to stand down, so the theatre of fraudulent democratic protocols was presented up front and centre, while the leaders of the opposition were repeatedly arrested, threatened, beaten. Discreetly tortured, murdered. And then attention turned to the most vulnerable assets of those leaders; their wives, their children. Vicious brutality of a more inventively atrocious nature was demonstrated, and the horror of the situation had its desired effect.

To avoid further bloodshed and additional homelessness among an already beleaguered population, Morgan Tsvangerai determined there was nothing further to be gained at this time by a continuation of the advance of his position and that of his party. He succumbed, as any humane individual would do, to the threats and the blackmail against Zimbabweans. Now it is God's turn.

Where humankind has been unable or incapable of delivering the people of Zimbabwe out of their misery, the God that Robert Mugabe claimed gave him oversight of the country in perpetuity must take issue. There are, of course, other emissaries who might have intervened, somewhat akin to prophets in their own land who garnered the respect and admiration of the entire world for their resistance to Apartheid in South Africa, for example, but they too have been loathe to step forward.

In the absence of their powerful words of condemnation against the tyrant of Zimbabwe, God will just simply have to pull his divine authority into play. We're waiting.

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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The NDP? There Is Yet Hope

Took long enough. To reach public notice, in any event. Perhaps it might have been foretold. That anyone who trusted to their long experience in observing the mandate and program of the New Democratic Party in Canada might anticipate that matters could not conceivably have plunged to that depth of unconscionable judgmental lapse. That they might not yet be completely prepared to abandon their traditional allegiances and alliances. That there might yet be a soupcon of merit and morals left.

An internal caucus revolt. About time. About time long-time members of the NDP shook their collective fists in fury at the turn-about of ethical underpinnings and abandoned values. What on earth could Jack Layton be thinking? Well, he could be thinking, first and foremost, of gathering in votes there to be had by a disgruntled community of potential bloc-votes. Now that's a double insult: the thought that all members of Canada's Muslim community think alike, vote alike.

Much as it's in obvious error to feel the same about any other community - the Canadian Jewish community, for example. Yet, Jack Layton, leader of the federal NDP in his great and good left-liberal wisdom, bethought himself of the virtue of pandering to a perceived Muslim bloc, and abandoning that erstwhile Jewish voting bloc. In the process buying himself quite an excess of disgusted critical reviews.

Eight respected and senior members of the NDP caucus, Members of Parliament, have taken steps to strenuously chide their leader for his blithe stupidity. He chose to back-track on his original support of the Conservative-led Government of Canada's decision to opt out of participation in the United Nations racism conference, to be held next year in Geneva.

With the clear understanding that it was gearing up to be a repeat of the original conference held in Durban, South Africa, in 2001, when Israel-bashing and anti-Semitic attacks became the order of the day. Canada had decided, along with Israel, that it wanted no part in such a grotesque reversal of purpose.

Assurances by Ban Ki-Moon and outgoing UN Human Rights commissioner Louise Arbour to the contrary, seasoned UN-watchers have a fairly good idea what to expect out of a conference whose agenda is being manipulated by some of the world's worst human-rights abusers. Who just incidentally also happen to be Jew-baiters and Israel-haters.

The wonder of it all is that someone as ill-informed and unprepared as Jack Layton continues to be, is the leader of this good old political party. Eye on the main chance, ever eager for publicity, and anxious as all hell to acquire greater credibility in the Canadian political arena, his attempts to further the agenda of the NDP have continually fallen flat. It takes someone with the political skills and even-handedness of Pat Martin to keep rescuing the party.

Jack Layton now is prepared to "denounce the anti-Semitism from the first conference and set clear conditions that it never happen again". How would he manage that? Does he have some critical inside influence with the UN conference's main players? Interesting how this man attempts to play both ends against the middle.

It transpires that his caucus is fidgeting with discomfort over the candidacy for the NDP of a Quebec project manager for the Canadian Islamic Congress, a group whose position is that Israel is an "apartheid regime", one guilty of genocidal crimes, and which calls for the government of Canada to remove Hezbollah and Hamas from its list of designated terrorist organizations.

Oops, Jack - has no one reminded you of the importance of due diligence?

Oh dear, here's another bit of bad timing. The riding association president associated with the candidacy of Samira Laouni, one Hayder Moussa, appears to be vice-president of the Association des Jeunes Libanais Museulmans de Montreal. Which has a Web site with links to radical Shiite ayatollahs, along with Hezbollah's spiritual leader. A Web site that, alas, calls upon Muslims to "fight the tyrant" because victory is promised by God.

It appears Mr. Moussa was invited to resign his position when it was discovered he had written a poem whose content speaks of non-Muslim women as promiscuous drunks. Sensible, honest and trustworthy Pat Martin is perplexed and troubled. He appears to be concerned that his party, in its search for votes, is letting down the expectations of its long-time supporters. And he's right.

"We just seem to gain some credibility and then we do something goofy", he said. And he's right. This party still hasn't adequately adopted its own first lessons: to be careful of the company they keep. And to keep faith with their company.

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Monday, June 23, 2008

Fraught With Danger

Aren't we just the most arrogant lot? As custodians and managers of our environment we haven't done a very good job. We're just so eager to explore, to plumb the depths of experience, to absorb knowledge, to fashion experiments, to manipulate resources, to take unto ourselves all that this earth and our lives and lifestyles can possibly provide for us. We dabble in chemical witchcraft, never quite understanding the end result, but celebrating the perceived successes.

Pandora's box of chemicals, additives, toxins.

So here we are, as living carbon-based tissues, sinews, muscles, synapses and addled brains, polluting and corrupting our environment and in the process and through that ongoing manoeuvre, our very bodies. Our talented scientists have extracted and synthesized all manner of chemicals and they are everywhere around us. In the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat. All the commercially products available to us and which we so enthusiastically utilize.

In the space of a half-century, 70,000 to 100,000 various chemicals have been produced and introduced into world markets. Approximately one thousand, five hundred additional chemicals are added to that arsenal each and every year. Aren't we marvellously enterprising? Look at us, we're so clever and industrious, there are no secrets in this world that our scientists cannot unravel.

Thank you so very much. As a result, and surely predictably, our bodies contain unprecedented amounts - not mere traces - of, for example, lead, arsenic, mercury, PCBs, PBDEs (flame retardant banned in many places but not yet in Canada) along with a pharmaceutical dispensary-worth of additional chemicals indisputably linked to cancers, birth defects and neurological diseases. Present in my bloodstream. And yours.

In Dubai in 2006 many governments in the west signed onto an International Strategic Approach to International Chemical Management. As appears usual of late, the European Union is leading the way with their own particular program for regulation named Regulation on Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemicals, requiring industry to prove the safety of their product before being placed on the market.

Um, makes sense doesn't it? Why is it that we are so trusting that we have always believed our governments, acting in our best interests, have already been doing this kind of thing. That our federal departments of health and public safety have been working within a long established protocol to protect the public from the effects of harmful, toxic substances? Aren't we just so naive, after all!

For it is only now, under our current Conservative-led minority government that Health Canada has been tasked with getting serious about the incredible proliferation of chemicals that circulate within Canada and are available in the marketplace. Health Canada is currently testing five thousand Canadians for chemical contamination. And a recent U.S. study found many of its test subjects testing positive with rocket fuel chemicals in their bodies, among other toxins.

Under the European Union's REACH program, just initiated, every company must register chemicals sold there, and they must reveal the chemical composition and toxicity of their products, financing their own toxicity studies. To be entered into a public registry. And until the producing company can prove the safety of their product, it cannot be placed on the market. In the European Union.

As for us, our umbrella law for chemical regulation is the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, passed in 1999. Under which all new chemicals produced in or imported into Canada since 1994 must be assessed for health and environmental effects. Not by the manufacturer but by Health Canada. The onus is not on the producer, but on the Canadian taxpayer. What kind of logic is that?

It is up to the government to prove the chemical poses a risk to the public before it will be taken off the market. Companies are able to market their product before the tests are completed. We're all guinea pigs. Our government, at present, recognizes no obligation to the public to insist that dangerous chemicals be kept off the shelves. Meanwhile, it has identified over four thousand chemicals requiring further study.

Two hundred of which are assumed to be "high priority"; 66 of which are potentially dangerous to human health, the rest considered to pose ecological dangers. All of these remain on the market. For example, thiourea, used in metal finishing solutions like silver polish, tarnish removers, metal cleaners and in pharmaceutical manufacture and the pulp and paper industry poses a high risk to you and me. And our children, of course.

Meanwhile, our bodies are polluted with this gruesome stuff. What the final impact on us will be is anyone's guess.

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Sunday, June 22, 2008

Conciliatory, Neighbourly Overtures

How refreshingly different, to be noticed by American politicians. What a departure. Canada has always felt ignored, shunted aside through sheer disinterest by Americans in general and their politicians in particular. Yet here is the Republican presumptive nominee for president of that great United States of America come to the nation's capital to address a high-powered business group of Canadians.

Interrupting the process of a vigorously-contested campaign. Who ever heard of such a thing? Senator John McCain has privileged Canada with his presence at what would normally seem to be a rather inauspicious time, but then, who can judge? He's made the time to touch base with Canada, despite the obvious tight times and stress of campaigning.

Since the Democratic candidates, during that time when Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were still debating, claimed that they would unilaterally re-visit NAFTA and impose a re-direction of the agreement between Canada, Mexico and the U.S. that would seem to be more favourable to U.S. interests, Mr. McCain was doing a little fence-mending.

Wouldn't it be nice to think that we're held in high regard by such a very nice and persuasively powerful man just because he thinks the world of us? We're fairly good neighbours, after all. Just think of that loooong, "undefended" border - which, since 9-11 has seemed to our good neighbours to be too long, too porous, and too undefended.

But we share not only a continent but some level of values and international conscience as well.

So, please, say it's not just a recognize on the part of influential and potentially elite-to-the-first-place of politics in that grand country of the crass reality of Canada's vast natural resources; our reserves of oil and natural gas. Which it very well might (too sad, too bad, too opportunistic) reflect.

So watchagonnado? That's reality, after all, in a shrinking world of resources and an expanding world of requirements.

Senator McCain came out swinging before his audience in Ottawa, defending NAFTA as is, without equivocation, as being worthwhile and an economic trade boost to all its participants. He would not, he promised as president, resort to protectionism. "If I am elected president, have no doubt that America will honour its international commitments - and we will expect the same of others.

"We will strengthen and extend the open and rules-based international trading system. I aspire to lead a proud, outward-looking America that deepens its partnerships throughout the hemisphere and the world." Those tense times just recently past when Washington felt it needless to consult with its allies would be a thing of the past, if he's elected.

"I intend to listen carefully when close allies offer their counsel. Even when they don't volunteer their advice, I will ask for it and seek it out", said the good man. He cited climate change as an example prime for co-operation, in marked contrast to the current administration's stance on the issue.

"We stand to gain much by harmonizing energy plans, just as we have gained by co-operating in trade through NAFTA."

The generosity of Senator McCain's statements have snapped Canadian heads to attention. Good man. Hey, he knows we're here. Present and accounted for, thank you very much.

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Moral Conundrums

It's amazing what people will insist upon, convinced that they're right in their interpretation of what has merit and value through the lens of religious conviction. In Winnipeg, the family of an 84-year-old man suffering from pneumonia and pulmonary hypertension, on life support in hospital for the last six months, refuses to agree with doctors' advice to withdraw life support.

The man, Samuel Golubchuk, an Orthodox Jew, is in a barely conscious state, and is susceptible to pain. His son and his daughter claim that their father is aware of everything happening about him. Doctors point out that they cannot prescribe pain relief for the man because he's on dialysis as the medication would interfere with his kidney function.

Winnipeg's Grace Hospital has a truly perplexing situation on their hands. Three of their critical-care doctors claim that to treat Mr. Golubchuk would result in the prolongation of his suffering; an ethical dilemma for them.

Even the specialized critical care nurses assigned to his support claim they feel they are 'assaulting' someone, without hope of a promising outcome. But his children contest the doctors' claims of treatment futility, insisting that removing life support for their father would directly violate his religious beliefs. They obtained a court injunction forcing the hospital to continue to keep their father alive.

Because of the expert resources required to do just that, the hospital has had to close two of their intensive-care beds, and transfer "specialized skills" nursing staff to the man's bedside, to obey the court order. The man is clearly beyond the skills of medical science, to resurrect his physical potential. Insisting that he be kept alive when no positive outcome can be achieved is in no one's interests.

The costs associated with maintaining this dying man's lifeline, although he has no potential for future viability, are enormous. The cost of doctors, nurses, medical supplies, drugs and hospital space is one thing. Utilizing precious spare intensive-care space for a lamentably sad lost cause infringes on the right of people recovering from surgical procedures who also require intensive treatment in an already-stretched and overburdened health care system.

This situation goes quite beyond reasonable accommodation, in an end-of-life issue. No one rests easy with the decision to remove life support from a loved one. In this particular instance the stubborn resolve of two adults who claim their religious rights to be infringed upon should support be removed from their father, actually victimizes their father as much as it does society at large.

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Typically Canadian, Eh?

We aren't particularly imposing, nor do we take great strides to impose ourselves notably. We're a little reserved, quiet, and fairly relaxed about our social mores. Still, we have a code of conduct that we're wedded to, with good reason, since we're also eminently reasonable, most of the time.

Well, there are exceptions to everything. We get a little anxious, restless, when we're up against our southern neighbour. We seem to find fault in their values, their popular culture. Even while we're steadfastly importing elements of those values, that culture.

As Canadians, we are comfortable with ourselves, although we don't shout it from the rooftops. We like to think of ourselves as mediators, peace-loving and -enjoying, sensible and matter-of-fact people, able to absorb diversity, and obligingly inclusive of others.

And we're rather intolerably smug, let's face it. Particularly when it comes to comparing ourselves with the United States. Canada doesn't initiate conflict, the U.S. does. Canada has a greater social conscience that does the United States, and we demonstrate that by our more generous attitude toward the have-nots among us.

Our welfare supports, our unemployment supports, are more generous than what accrues to the down-and-out, and the unemployed in the United States. We aren't entranced by the culture of the gun, quite unlike our neighbours. We have a universal health care system that ensures all Canadians have access to health care and critical financial coverage.

In short, we're pretty great, aren't we? Well, we pay a higher rate of income taxes as well as consumer taxes. We can't write off the interest on our mortgage payments the way American citizens can. Damn. We contrive offhandedness in opposition to American assertiveness.

And we simmer with resentment when the U.S. pulls its weight and leaves us in its wake; as it so often does with the NAFTA deal we've signed on to.

And then there's the matter of Capital Punishment. Canadians, bless our souls, have agreed we have no wish for the State to take a life as punishment for capital crimes. We're squeamish about things like that; if it's a mortal sin to murder, and we have stringent laws against that, then it's unreasonable for us to agree that our courts mete out capital punishment.

It's different in the United States; there are thousands on death row, and those found guilty of the ultimate crime face the ultimate punishment.

So Canada, in its great and good wisdom came to the conclusion that it would only turn over to American policing authorities those who have fled their punishment - seeking refuge in Canada - if our authorities could be successful in convincing Americans that in respect of our tender feelings they abstain from inflicting capital punishment upon a criminal we've turned over to them.

And it's worked fairly well. And that suits our view of ourselves, even if it's somewhat self-delusional. Who are we, after all, to persuade another mature society that their manner of solving the problem of how to dispense justice is morally intolerable?

When a criminal's assaults against society is so atrocious as to be beyond the realm of tolerance, a society has a right to determine how they will manage legally sanctioned punishment. We choose life imprisonment which isn't quite life imprisonment, and the United States opts - state by state - for their particular versions of meting out justice.

So hey, give us all a break. When a former chief of police sees fit to murder his wife over the issue of unpaid child support, he knows what he's doing, since he has planned and executed a death, and he's well aware of the punishment that society will exact.

Mere hours after killing his ex-wife, former Millerstown, Pennsylvania police chief Richard Curran was apprehended at the Canada-U.S. border, by Canadian authorities. And summarily handed over to the American authorities. Without Canada seeking assurance he would not face the death penalty. Which has had human rights activists cry foul, yet again.

If someone has murdered remorselessly - his own lawyer claims his client, Richard Curran, to be a "depraved wife killer" after all - the individual should be prepared to meet the challenge of U.S. law enforcement. For human rights activists to give dire warning that Canada's "moral authority" has been flouted, is a bit much.

The Americans will do as they will, and we in turn will conduct ourselves as we will, each being sovereign nations.

Our moral superiority, our moral smugness in such instances does us little credit. If a firm protocol exists with a firm understanding that capital-offence criminals handed over from Canada to the United States will not face capital punishment that's one thing. If it's a piecemeal, state-by-state actionable process it's another.

If the U.S. feels that the punishment should fit the crime as they determine it, that's their business. This man shot his wife seven times at close range. An additional five bullets missed. This was one determined murderer. A jury found him guilty of first-degree murder; he could have faced death by lethal injection. He was, instead, sentenced to life in prison, no parole.

Canada's sole interest in such cases should be that our Canada Border Services Agency officers be alert to ensure that individuals whose presence in Canada represents a clear danger be removed. Once handed over to the Americans, those good people will make their own decisions as they will, as reflects their social justice system. Finis.

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Friday, June 20, 2008

Zimbabwe's Aristocratic Thug

That grand old man of African battle against western colonialism so honoured by his peers in their universal struggle for independence, appears finally to have worn his regard rather threadbare.

One could only wonder what it would take for other leaders of African countries to identify him for the megalomaniacally murderous thug that he has ultimately proven himself to be. It wasn't the ouster of Zimbabwe's white farm owners, nor the prime agricultural land lying fallow as Mugabe's "land distribution" to ZANU-PF stalwarts sat on the land.

It wasn't the complete disregard of this distinguished man of African revolutionary zeal of the plight of his people, facing unemployment, food, medicine and energy shortages, and an economy in desperate free-fall. It wasn't the vision of Mugabe and his henchmen living in luxury despite an onerous inflation rate that ensured consumables were rare on retail shelves, even if people had the wherewithal to acquire them.

It wasn't the brutality with which Mugabe's police and his military - all well recompensed by his regime, while people lived tenuous lives of desperate want - meted out discipline to dissenters. Mugabe demonstrated himself to be more than a little comfortable with dealing death to those who chafed under his rule, and that too, didn't seem to unsettle his support among other African leaders unduly.

And when Morgan Tsvangerai and his MDC appeared to win Zimbabwe's election, despite mass voting fraud, and Robert Mugabe and his ruling elite, aided and abetted by the police and the country's military refused to recognize the legality of the count, that too didn't appear to upset his ruling peers. Nor did they become too exercised when Mugabe withheld international aid from starving Zimbabweans to hand it out to his supporters.

Now that ZANU-PF's supporters have rampaged throughout the country, murdering supporters of the MDC, they're doing a double-take. That a new tactic has been adopted where leading figures of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change have seen their wives abducted, tortured and murdered, an impact is being felt, finally. Manifesting itself first among the grieving husbands, rendering them impotent to act, and now additionally among horrified onlookers.

Charges of treason, with convictions earning the death penalty. Abductions of MDC supporters, their torture and murder. Distribution of international aid to supporters only of the Zimbabwean African National Unity-Patriotic Front. Withholding of business licenses to Zimbabweans who hold MDC memberships. Encouragement of "war veterans"' brutality against MDC supporters.

The list goes on. And meanwhile millions of Zimbabweans live tenuously on the verge of starvation. Inflation has resulted in 23-billion Zimbabwean dollars having the equivalence value of one U.S. dollar. Mugabe has gifted his supporters with flat-screen televisions, loftily asserting that all would be well with the economy; that it is Britain's interference that has resulted in the country's economic collapse.

Finally, representatives from the Pan-African Parliament, from South Africa, Tanzania, and other regional African countries seem to be ready to abandon their support of Robert Mugabe. None too soon. It would be instructive to know what kind of practical efforts, authoritative and useful actions they would be prepared to undertake on behalf of Zimbabwe, to help free the country from Mugabe.

Because it doesn't appear feasible that mere tut-tutting will do the trick.

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One Super-Loyal Canadian

When, back in June of 2006, Canada reeled with the impact of the news that the RCMP had arrested no fewer than 18 home-grown jihadists bent on creating terror by planned operations to bomb select institutions in the country, we felt ourselves to be imperilled through this apprehended insurrection. Eighteen Muslim men arrested - how many others were there out there planning similar acts of violence?

And then, slowly, bits of information began to be reported about the would-be terrorists, their plans, overheard conversations, the vital information conveyed to police by an undercover mole, and it was truly difficult to feel that the eighteen represented a serious threat. The insubstantiality of their stealthy meetings, their discussions, their determinations, spoke of the behaviour of loutish adolescents, societally dissatisfied and nursing grudges.

Of course even clumsy, unintelligent but determined groups, left to their own devices, are theoretically capable of visiting great harm on the public, and no country can afford, in the present climate of international terror, to ignore the terror potential on its soil. Vigilance is the order of the day, to ensure that any such incidents are apprehended before real harm is done.

So here is this arrogant braggart, a busybody of monumental proportions, a religious hypocrite, an egotistical bully, who puts himself forward as a valuable undercover agent for the RCMP. Assuring the authorities that with his background as a devout Muslim, a former member of the Canadian militia, a good citizen who wants to defend his country, he is the perfect candidate to inveigle himself into the confidence of would-be jihadists.

Post-arrest, back in 2006, this man, Mubin Shaikh, enthusiastically offered himself up to the media for interviews, where he preened himself and boasted of his love of country, and his inability to sit back and let blackguards who would disturb the peace and security of the nation, get on with their plans. Not if he could help it, that stout defender of Canadian values and freedoms. Shaikh to the rescue!

Of course the irrelevant little details such as that he was paid a $300,000 fee for his work with the federal policing authorities were absent from his oily description of himself as a Canadian hero, helping to forestall a dreadful attack on Parliament, and the potential beheading of the prime minister.

This same heroic figure was earlier involved in attempting to persuade the Province of Ontario to install shariah law in the province. He was also identified as one who threatened physical harm to outspoken members of the Muslim community in Toronto who were critical of the un-Canadian agendas of fundamentalist Muslim organizations in the country.

So why, one wonders, is the counsel for the RCMP puzzled at the kind of witness Mr. Shaikh has turned out to be in the trial of a young Muslim man as one of the group of 18 who, in reality, likely was innocent of anything but naivete. Mubin Shaikh was a paid informer whose self-aggrandizing affiliation with the RCMP surely guaranteed he was not to be trusted.

It was merely a dramatic bit of theatre, his infiltration of a suspected terror cell, which was likely in reality, a group of really brain-challenged Muslim ne'er-do-wells, playing vapid games of romantic pretend-reality to enhance their visions of themselves as champions of Islam against the evil machinations of Western democracies. Of which they were just incidentally, a part as home-grown and Canadian.

His testimony against the 20-year-old currently on trial isn't standing up to expectations. Much to the exasperation of those who paid him so handsomely as an "undercover agent". If Mr. Shaikh is good at anything, it is his propensity to embroider reality, to ingratiate himself, to draw attention to his self-pronounced sterling qualities.

As to the verity of his statements as a witness for the Crown, well, he will tell the story that most appeals to him and his sense of ironic superiority. That story will reflect whatever suits his vision of self at any given time. Discrepancies in testimony? Mere irrelevances.

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Thursday, June 19, 2008

Peace, Goodwill and Brotherhood

It's always been thus in the human family. Whatever is most familiar, whichever group one is a part of, whatever social customs and traditions are commonly practised are far superior than those undertaken by others. Our customs and traditions, our religion and way of life is superior, theirs inferior. Human beings seem always to require someone else to denigrate, as though only so can their own customs and beliefs be elevated, in comparison.

And yet human beings seek salvation, spiritual guidance, and a deep and abiding faith. Generally most religions attempt, through their sacred writings, to entice adherents to behave circumspectly, humanely, charitably. While they may not presumptively teach that all are equal under the eyes of god - since the almighty spirit that is hailed as god is different from one religion to another - adherents are still taught something about the "brotherhood of humankind".

Religions, religious belief and instruction, in the first instance of their creation make an attempt to be reasonable and moderate in their orientation, but in the final analysis interpretation is undertaken by human beings who lack the theoretical genius of the original humans who constructed the religion and its precepts and holy writings and the process and the product become corrupted.

Hindus believed intrinsically in the caste system, that one's place in life is predetermined, that destiny is aligned inevitably to one's caste, and caste is incontrovertible in the current lifetime. The single, largest failing in the original and ancient concept of that particular religious source. Christians believed that their religion transcended the failings of the earlier Judaism from which it borrowed - and believed that salvation lay only in the purity of belief in Christ.

Buddhists believed in elevating their spirits beyond the mundane concerns of daily life; in achieving nirvana by reaching a state of inner peace and tranquility. Judaism believed in cleaving to the strictures of a jealous god who would have no graven images before his indelible yet hidden presence; it is a conceit of man who created god that god created man in his own image, an image not to be copied.

Muslims are secure in the knowledge that they and they alone worship the true god, that all others are pretenders, and that Muhammad was the intimate inductee of Allah who serviced him with the honour of proclaiming Islam the world's only fealty to the almighty spirit. The ancient world worshipped their own panoply of gods and goddesses, all of whom owned attributes that explained the wonders of Nature herself.

Humankind has built upon the technologies and sciences that have gradually accumulated over the aeons, enabling us to acquire knowledge and practical devices that have enhanced our mortal existence. This speaks to our universal curiosity, our creativity, our industriousness. Yet the endless need for a belief in a spiritual father figure who looks over the world of humankind and guides believers in the way of faith appears to be hard-wired into the creatures that are human.

Still, that belief in god, the presence of an immortal, all-powerful, all-seeing, all-controlling figure; that immutable faith in something not seen, not heard, but there all the same, has not succeeded in securing for mankind any kind of spiritual peace. We go on searching for verities, yet there are no assurances. And what we really do best is destroy what we have assumed control of; the natural world that surrounds us.

And in the process destroy one another, because humankind does not appear to be able to live in peace with other orders of our same species. We look for physical differences that set us apart and that apartness is the mechanism that persuades us that there exist others inferior to ourselves; we look at cultural, social, traditional and religious differences that we can direct scorn upon.

And we exercise our existential imperative of survival by doing our utmost, under one pretense or another - usually in search of material resources that enhance our own existence, culminating in geographical imperialism to consolidate our presence. In the process, discarding our very humanity by persecuting and impoverishing, by mutilating and ravishing, by murdering the "strangers" among us, discerning them to be hostile to our own advances.

What a dark vision. And yet the proof is around us everywhere in the world. We are utter, abject failures as experiments in the dynamics of human interaction. Some superior being's dabbling in experimentation with lesser creatures inhabiting elements of his domain as a result of his singular creative processing.

The evil mind of man. Too sad, too dreadfully bad that those among us whose purpose, desire and beliefs in the goodness of humankind are incapable of asserting that which is good about us, simply because of insufficient numbers to counter-balance the greater presence of the baser elements whose numbers outweigh the finer instincts inhabiting too few.

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Monday, June 09, 2008

Seeking That Elusive Truth

Someone, somewhere, somehow, will always feel aggrieved over a memory. Everyone, at some time or another in a life has an experience that is seen to be traumatic, one that has in some way changed their lives. Sometimes a memory is recalled and a singular hurt or irritation assumes proportions beyond the actual occurrence.

Sometimes that memory is allowed to fester, to grow into something it wasn't quite. And sometimes real damage will have been done to tender sensibilities, damage bordering on the criminal, in circumstances beyond the victim's control.

There are private schools, public schools, finishing schools, residential schools. In Great Britain it has been common practise for generations upon generations for well-heeled, and aristocratic families to send young children to what they term "public" schools, but which are, in reality, extremely expensive private schools.

Many of those children, young boys, sent to live elsewhere than in the warmth of their family home from the age of seven and up, experienced true misery.

Their instructors were merciless in their expectations, and discipline was the order of the day, every day. Punishment was never withheld for infractions, and often went beyond reason in physical cruelty. Nor were many of these young boys sheltered from being used and abused as sex objects.

Without doubt many of these youngsters grew into twisted and bitter adults, but many more managed somehow, through their inner strength to endure.

Young girls too were often sent away to other types of boarding schools, meant to "finish" their social graces, to teach them the roles of their prescribed futures as intelligent and capable, and resourceful and socially adept young women. Their teachers were often nuns, and the girls often suffered the strictures of discipline and unkindness of spirit that bitter older women can mete out to fresh and lissome youth.

There were special boarding schools, like those for the young who could not hear; schools for the "deaf and dumb", to teach them coping skills, so that they could go into the wider world prepared to take their rightful place there. These young boys and girls pined for their homes, all that was familiar to them; living in dormitories, learning in regimented classes, and eating in sensitively discordant dining halls.

And then there were the residential schools set up by well-meaning people of the church, in tandem with the government of Canada, to educate and look to the future social welfare of young aboriginal children. Sometimes aboriginal parents willingly brought their children to these schools with the understanding they would be taught life skills that would stand them in good stead for the future.

More often, aboriginal parents were informed they had little choice; they were expected to give up their young children to be fostered in the white man's education system, for their own good, the better to prepare them to take their place in the white man's society. It could not have been anything but difficult for these children - as it has always been for children anywhere - to leave the comfort of their homes and feel emotionally distraught as a result.

To put these matters into some kind of perspective, it's well to remember that society is always engaged in elevating opportunities for its children, and engaged also in protecting them from situations deleterious to their character formation and physical safety. It's why we have welfare agencies that look after those children whose situations are so dire with their families that for their safety they are removed and placed in foster homes.

These children too are in great distress. The parents, however neglectful and even abusive, are the only parents they know, to whom they cling, and from whom they have no wish to be separated. We know that often enough these children whose lives have been so dreadfully disrupted suffer further damage because the foster families - even on occasion, in return to their own families - continue the damaging process.

Children whose parents have introduced them to religion and who have taught them that religion is the foundation of their lives, are sometimes - sadly enough, too often, as fairly recent revelations in the Roman Catholic Church in particular have taught us - sexually abused by those in whom they and their parents have placed the ultimate trust. This abuse of the most vulnerable in any society is one of the darkest bruises on human society.

The Government of Canada, in its great good wisdom and prevailing guilt over the long-standing and seemingly insolvable problem of aboriginal Canadian living conditions, has accepted the claims of First Nations that their children were deliberately taken from them over a period of generations for the purpose of expunging their native inheritance from their memories and transforming them into "white" children.

In the process damaging the children and creating an existential confusion and irremediable harm to the future of First Nations. The mass trauma these children suffered, denied their heritage, forced to learn the white man's ways, is responsible for the latter-day situation where aboriginal peoples remain government-dependent, tribal entities, and pitifully dysfunctional as independent and proud people; above all, as responsible parents.

The fact that aboriginal children are given no lasting values through their communities, that their physical and emotional needs are neglected, along with their educational needs, that they are sexually abused, is a result of residential schools having had such a negative effect on their parents that they're unable to function. They turn instead to the comforts of alcohol and drug addiction, and the children are left to fend for themselves.

Which explains the high suicide rates among children, the high rate of child addiction to alcohol and drugs, the school drop-out rates. Because, charge the erstwhile residents of these schools, they were themselves so dreadfully abused there. These charges are nothing less than amazing to many of the teachers who were present at those schools, who took pride in their place there, and who fondly believed they were doing something worthwhile for these children.

At the schools children's nutritional needs were looked after, their medical and dental needs which had been previously overlooked in the traditional aboriginal communities. The children were taught basic subjects much like children in schools anywhere else. But there they were also taught practical life skills as well. Yes, a strict discipline was maintained, but the teachers also recall special relationships with the children they taught with affection and care.

The brutality of corporal punishment that so many aboriginals point out was part of their education, was common enough in any public school anywhere in Canada. Where undisciplined and badly-behaved students - mostly boys - would be sent to the principal's office, and where they could expect to be punished by the "strap". Knowledge of this punishment was sufficient to ensure that most students sought the straight and narrow path.

There are many from among the aboriginal community who profess that the life skills they learned in the residential schools they attended prepared them to live in a functional way that has served them well over the succeeding years. Some considered their schools to have been normal ones, in the sense that they term them to have been "private Anglican schools". As in any school setting there are those who teach well and humanely and those who do not.

Now, in our politically correct environment that distinguishes present-day Canada, the public and the government is prepared to wail "mea culpa", guilty as charged. We perpetrated a social desecration on helpless people and their offspring. Yet these children were taught to read and to write and to calculate. They were taught democratic principles and common law. Some of their teachers were even aboriginal who would speak to the children in their native languages.

At these residential schools for aboriginal children there were often present other children, as well. Children whose parents worked in the far north, for example, and for whom there would be no other school experience than that they shared at the residential schools. Children of merchants, missionaries and hunters and trappers. They too found themselves in a situation of being confronted by people who were eager to be of assistance, to teach and to comfort.

Those teachers felt they were doing something truly worth the effort. And for little personal comfort, including a meagre salary. The working hours were long and the responsibilities were truly onerous. Those teachers have now been smeared, their efforts cruelly denigrated, the history of their personal sacrifices, their personal attendance on these children, critically besmirched.

Yet some of the teachers have never lost touch with the children they taught. There is no doubt that some aboriginal children were abused in the residential school system. There is no doubt that some children of wealthy Torontonians and Montrealers were sexually abused by predators posing as teachers as they attended prestigious private schools in both those cities, for example. Those schools have faced law suits and have settled in private where they could.

The cult and culture of victimhood and aggrievement remains front and centre in Canada's First Nations communities. The truth is they have much to be aggrieved about. But they have also much to be accountable for, themselves. Foremost among the accountabilities is that they have been satisfied to fester as society's dependents, incapable of bettering their situations. Which is not to deny that government too has been horribly lax in settling land claims.

What, in the end, will the $60-million residential school Truth and Reconciliation Commission accomplish? It will hear witnesses, it will weigh the "evidence" of failure, but the failures should be mutually apportioned. It's long past time for Canada's First Nations to commit themselves to pulling themselves together. If not for their own good, then for the good of their children's futures.

Doesn't it tell us something that in the last decade there has been a 47% increase in the aboriginal population, as opposed to a 8% increase in the general population? There's a steadily growing aboriginal child demographic that needs attention to ensure they have more than adequate provisions for a decent home life, their medical needs seen to, their education assured.

We're long past the era of residential schools where some 60,000 aboriginal youngsters were taught to become members of society. Tribal affiliation and pride is all very well and good, but collective backwoods lifestyles haven't done much other than spread impoverishment and third-world living conditions. And dire dysfunctional parenting; severe neglect of children's emotional, physical and practical needs.

These children require encouragement, social support, physical closeness to caring adults. They need to know that much depends upon their own ability to pursue a decent future for themselves, to feel self-assured as Canadians of aboriginal descent that their well being is a concern of all Canadians.

Time to stop the blame game and become serious about the future.

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Sunday, June 08, 2008

A Closed Issue?

Racial segregation, once a formal requirement under the law in the United States, remains a living issue long after that country recognized the inhumane illegality of its institution. But habits are hard to change, and suspicion, so deeply ingrained in the collective mindsets of both black and white are not easily changed. People of good will on both sides of the colour divide might wish the evil of colour separation and discrimination to die a deserved death, but it's not likely to, any time soon.

Human beings feel comfortable in the presence of others like themselves. They find it difficult to get beyond initial impressions; their discernment of physical differences leads to their impression of integral differences of all kinds. Even those who espouse the equality of humankind regardless of superficial differences seem to feel awkward in the company of those whose distinguishing physical features don't reflect their own.

Different cultures have evolved, through long social and civic separation imposed by the prevailing social system of the time. People tend to forget that basic human needs and values are universally shared. They cannot see beyond the cover and so judge the book by what it is they see that sets it apart from what is most familiar to them. People don't tend to want to share space with differences, nor to spend time investing in their understanding.

On a strictly impressionistic level a presumed fair and just level, people can and do agree that there are no real differences between people; we are all human beings with more in common than what it is that keeps us apart. It's that little bit that we don't hold in common that has cemented us into our own separate lifestyles and cultures. We ascribe to others features that we deem unpleasant, but expected because of their perceived apartness and differences.

We are prepared to be diffident about those differences, to accept that we share enough in common to forge a common link, but idealism melts into confusion and withdrawal when reality takes the place of perception, because perception becomes reality. Whites live with whites, blacks with blacks; their personal choices, spaces and comfort levels. Theoretically that great country, the United States of America, for all its faults, would like to be a just place.

Enough of its voting public has demonstrated that it is prepared to live under an administration that has at its head a black man. A black man who has experienced life on each side of the divide, and who sought to extend his capabilities and sensitivities to the betterment of his fellow blacks living in the seamier urban spaces of that country. While at the same time enjoying a familiarity with white culture and politics.

Straddling both worlds as it were, placing himself forward as a credible candidate for the near future of the position of president. What an enormous stride for someone to take, breaking brave new ground in a really astonishing way. What incredible self-assurance and commitment. What an impossible hunger to succeed. He plans to represent the entire community that makes up the population of the U.S.

His exposure, through his early years of personal development, his academic years, his professional years, aligned with his personal character, appears to have prepared him for a large place in his country's political infrastructure. He has been able, through his personality, his avowed dedication to the task at hand, his ability to emote and to quote, to encourage and to greet, to bring enough people from all walks of life and colour to his side.

His ascension, should he be successful in claiming the contested position, will not overnight, solve the problem of the black-white divide in America. It's possible that the divide will never be successfully and finally breached to produce a seamless society of acceptance of the other. But should he succeed, even if blacks and whites continue to choose to live apart in their personal lives, he will have proven that the United States has managed to mature in a manner to earn it plaudits from the international world.

People will always choose to live in their own enclaves. Where they feel more at home in a familiar social milieu, a tradition and culture most familiar to them. It's not restricted to black and white; it has its counterpart through the immigrant experience reflected in North America and increasingly everywhere in the world, through mass migration.

The recent upheavals in Africa where people from countries surrounding South Africa who have lived as recent migrants there - escaping oppression, internecine wars, frail economic prospects - and as decades-long immigrants and are now being hounded out of that country - prove that xenophobia, dislike, distrust of the 'other' happens irrespective of colour.

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Laureen Harper - Impressive, Inspirational

It's so easy to be cynical, to be disappointed, to check off yet another public persona convinced of personal superiority, deigning to have her name, the prestige of her position, both political and social, be used as a device for the public good. Without, in the process lifting a finger. Minus personal commitment. Relying on their public celebrity to weigh into the process and do the trick.

It works: people in the public eye "lend" their names regularly to one charitable event after another, and people respond. Seems there's nothing quite like celebrity to encourage people to be responsive to worthwhile causes. Generally speaking, it's a "do as I say not as I do" situation, with the person who lends the weight of their name and status to the case doing nothing themselves to practically assist in the process.

Laureen Harper, wife of the prime minister of Canada, Stephen Harper, does it differently. She embroils herself personally in causes she feels she has a personal stake in. Causes that she recognizes require society's attention. And these range from high-profile elite events favouring the arts, to less visible but very necessary events meant to highlight society's responsibilities toward non-human creatures reliant on peoples' good will.

Those events can range from active participation profiting Canada's national institutions of culture, to actively helping to raise funds for a municipality's humane society for the protection of domestic animals. Maureen Harper graces social events of high culture for whose preparations she will herself have participated, actively. She has volunteered 24 Sussex Drive and her care to the fostering of unwanted and abandoned pets.

And in her latest venture, she has been practising weekly with a group of dedicated friends to take part in an event, along with a thousand other dedicated volunteers, for a two-day 60-kilometre walk around Canada's capital for the Weekend to End Breast Cancer Walk. She undertook to assemble her own team of volunteers, titled Team 24, giving them the impetus of her own enthusiasm, her time and determination to help.

Her own inspiration having been her friendship with a woman who manages the official residence, who is a survivor of breast cancer. The funds raised help in the operation of the Ottawa Regional Cancer Foundation. "At first, I was shy to ask for money" explained Mrs. Harper. "Now I have no shame." It is difficult, no matter who you are, how assured you are with your position in life, to appear before people to ask them to support a cause, however meaningful, with their money.

Laureen Harper is a far cry as an activist for the public good, and a representative of the highest office of the land, from other wives of earlier prime ministers. Some of whom made the news by their self-seeking, self-absorbed behaviours; others who seldom made the news because of their secretive and retiring manner. This woman is one of a kind.

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Saturday, June 07, 2008

The Beloved Family Pet

There's just something about companion animals that appeals to people. As though a family, a home, is not quite complete without the presence of small furry animals. Completely dependent on the goodwill and attention of the people who undertake to provide for them. In exchange for their company, their unqualified love for those who value them and care for them.

Trouble is, too often it's the idea, not the reality of pet ownership that attracts some people.
For these people the pets have another kind of value other than companionship. Status, perhaps, or an indication that they are like everyone else, enjoying the company of a companion animal.

Their commitment is not terribly deep, they tolerate the presence of an animal that is completely dependent on their good graces and the memory that they require daily feeding at a minimum. These are the people who don't take their pets to a veterinarian, or register it with the municipality. Nor see to its safety and daily exercise requirements.

As opposed to the many who become inordinately fond of their dogs and cats, ferrets and rabbits, hamsters and whatever else they may have taken a fancy to - turtles, reptiles. They have a stake in the health and well-being of their pets, because they value them. They reciprocate in a sense the human-centric appreciation of a lower animal species' presence by committing to looking after their needs.

There are many, in fact, who go a whole lot further and become animal missionaries, trying to educate others about the needs of animals and the distinct responsibilities of their owners in caring adequately for them. And those others who found and direct private animal welfare groups, rescue groups. Not to leave behind the importance of others whose mission in life becomes circumscribed by the number of unwanted or abandoned dogs and cats they rescue.

Some, like my daughter, ending up with no fewer than ten dogs, two cats, seven rabbits. Living rurally, and valuing all the wildlife that surrounds her acreage. Putting up feeders for the birds, becoming excited at the presence of deer, ducks, snakes, wild turkeys and an encyclopedia of birds and insect populations.

These people develop a messianic complex, see themselves as saviours of animals in an pet-animal-hostile world.

There is the example of pets abandoned at times of upheaval, both natural and man-made. Dogs and cats and farm animals wandering confused, dazed and lost after hurricanes, wildfires, floods. Awaiting rescue, helpless to make a life for themselves without the protection of human owners.

And then there is the dilemma that real estate agents find themselves in, as a result of the sub-prime mortgage debacle in the United States. Where people, unprepared to face economic reality were walking away from their homes - virtually worthless - their mortgages a greater burden than the value of the houses.

Walking away from a lifestyle they were incapable of supporting under normal circumstances, but were drawn into through a situation where, although their finances did not qualify them for home ownership, they succumbed to assurances given them by unscrupulous realtors endorsing financing schemes doomed to failure.

Through simple greed, wishing to acquire more than they needed, because more is better and big is nicer. Or through simple-mindedness that persuaded them that they were entitled to the same kind of "good life" and all its embellishments that exemplified people earning larger salaries.

Their pets have since become expendable discards. Left in the homes they abandoned, to fend for themselves. Many, as a result, have died of neglect and starvation. In many instances, kindly real estate agents have fed them for the requisite number of weeks until the pets could be turned over to area humane societies; no longer seen as "owned" by those who abandoned them, under the law.

And then there are the humane societies themselves. Some of which honour a "no-kill" policy and strain their resources to find new homes for these abandoned pets.

Others which, although receiving municipal support as a public service, and launching successful charitable appeals among the public enabling them to look after the medical-health and nutritional needs of the animals they take in, feel justified in euthanizing the roughly 50% of dogs and cats they are, in the end, unable to place with new owners.

In the Ottawa area, the humane society, unlike many others in Canada, doesn't recognize the moral utility of a "no-kill" policy. Roughly 60% of dogs are reclaimed by their owners. As opposed to 4% to 7% of cats. What does that say for peoples' humanity? As for the Ottawa Humane Society, they took in 10,500 cats, dogs and other small animals in 2006 - 2007. Homes were found for 4,276 of the animals.

Thousands were euthanized. What does that say about us as a responsible and caring society?

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