Saturday, July 28, 2012

Lloyd Axworthy and David Barnard have a memory problem

On Friday, two letters to the editor were published in the Winnipeg Free Press, authored by two distinguished presidents of the University of Winnipeg and University of Manitoba. Also, it seems slightly co-ordinated, as if to validate their noble opinions of the Museum and it's virtues, that both President's letters arrive in print on the same day.

The comments were RE: Dan Lett's piece on the loan idea, and both presidents dutifully came out in support.

Dan's column aside, the letters offer no intellectual depth or argument for or against the CMHR. They are the total opposite, shining examples of the purveyance of the narrative used by CMHR proponents. The same sort of narrative that willingly casts aside all managerial mistakes, all budget shortfalls, all funding shortfalls, all tax gaffes. The kind of narrative that, if they weren't writing about support for the Museum, they'd be arguing for you to crack your wallet open. Again.

But these things are not what makes their letters offensive. Lloyd Axworthy might as well be applying for a job as chief CMHR Spin Doctor. Behold:

"Beyond the economic benefit to our city and province, it will act as a centrepiece in the promotion of Winnipeg as a place where human rights are valued."

And I've no idea where David Barnard got this little completely unsubstantiated factoid from:

"Already, people are equating Winnipeg with human rights education."

There must be a CMHR flavour of Kool-Aid I'm not aware of. Or maybe there are flavours for each of the 30 Articles. Maybe you get some of this if you sign up as a Friend of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights as "new member" schwag. And if you mix them all, maybe you get a super-duper formula that leaves you with a euphoric sense of amnesia about your own country's human rights abuses.

Let us refresh these two Presidents' - recent - memories.

Most recently, the case of Omar Khadr, a Canadian-born man who has been "convicted" (by a US Military tribunal at Guantanamo Bay) of terrorism. Khadr is allowed to transfer as a prisoner to Canada, where he could serve the remainder of his sentence. Canada, however, has refused to act on this, since Khadr's transfer eligibility last year. The Canadian Government even refused to act based on a 9-0 Supreme Court ruling that found the Government had violated Khadr's constitutionally-protected rights.

I'd hope the Presidents are well aware that the CMHR could fill all it's galleries for opening week with examples of human rights abuses at Guantanamo Bay alone. That Canada, in not transferring Khadr, is by proxy aligning itself with the practices at GITMO. So, it is clear that the case of Khadr most definitely embodies the actions of a country as a place where human rights are valued.

And we're off from Afghanistan to Syria. Where Maher Arar, a Canadian-Sryian holding dual citizenship was whisked off to Syria by the US and tortured for a year. Again the Canadian government refused to intervene in the case. At least we gave the man $10.5 million dollars in repatriation, and an apology from Stephen Harper after the fact. Doesn't it show that Canada is a place where human rights are valued to allow this to go on without government intervention?

A quick search on Human Rights Watch shows several surprising things, like bill C-31, which proposes changes to the Immigration and Refugee act. Including "mandatory detention" for anyone who the government might think has anything to do with any sort of smuggling. Which of course leaves all sorts of opportunity for abuse. That bill passed, 159-132. Canada, a place where human rights are valued, is now okay with mandatory detention practices for refugees and immigrants, including minors.

To go local, James Turner recently reported that 2 in 5 police calls (ie 40%) relate to domestic abuse. Couple that with City Hall refusing to pony up a paltry $450 000 to Osborne House to take care of women and children who are victims of this abuse and you might get a sickening feeling in your stomach. Especially when that CMHR loan deal would cover the additional $40 million needed to finish the museum. This is again, another example of how we live in a place where human rights are valued.

Nearly half a billion dollars are being spent to build a museum with a operating cost of $22 million, championed by politicians, millionaires, and all three presidents of local post secondary campuses. And Winnipeg City Hall shut down a half million dollar request to keep a domestic abuse shelter running to take care of the victims of 40% of police calls? Yes indeed, a place where human rights are valued.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention that this town of Winnipeg has a free speech problem. It is apparent that the editor of the Winnipeg Free Press does not actually believe in the idea of a Free Press. Editor Margo Goodhand suggested to the two Presidents' post-secondary cohort RRC President Stephanie Forsyth, that the only truly independent journalism and news program in Winnipeg be dealt with. Margo Goodhand got her wish. The program, which gained considerable popularity over 4 years of broadcasting, was silenced.

In a couple months, the prominent folk of this city, the rich CEOs, politicians, will have another go at the CEO Sleepout. A glossy PR stunt to raise money for homelessness that is so fake it would be funny, if it weren't about such a serious issue. Last year these people ignored Mark Horvath's visit to Winnipeg as if he was never here.

This year, the goal is $250 000 from 80 CEOs sleeping out at 201 Portage. Which, if you do the math, is a pitiful $3125 per CEO, an amount that for people making an easy six figures, should be no problem. People like Lloyd Axworthy might do well to consider that $40 million fundraising shortfall for the Musuem, and how long $40 million would eradicate homelessness from Winnipeg for. After all, this is a place where human rights are valued, not a place where the prominent do publicity stunts to make themselves appear as good corporate citizens, and turn around the next minute to sell us the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. Again. Right?

I should note: this blog post does not go out just to Mr Axworthy and Mr Barnard. It goes out to everybody who has ever touted the Canadian Museum of Human Rights in this manner. Which would include anyone who has publicly spoken in favour of it, or attempted to wring a few more dollars out of the public sector for an ever-cost-increasing project.

Contrary to what people like to believe about Canada, we are not this amazing, platonic sense of Canadiana as we often feel we belong to. The reality of Canada is far more dark than our happy stereotype-enforcing Ron James-esque image leaves us to think of ourselves as. Canada has a great history of human rights abuses. The other thing that gets me about it, is that Canadians often feel as if these abuses are in the past, that we have moved on as a Nation, and that we are no longer the purveyors of evil.

This attitude is even emboldened in the Human Rights in Canada article on Wikipedia:

Most Canadians believe the country to be a strong proponent and positive model of human rights for the rest of the world.

Which is rather frightening. Not only in the cases I outlined above, but also on the fronts of: internet surveillance, letting American cops into RCMP detachments with authority, irresponsibly sharing information with the US, happily and readily joining the Libyan conflict without question, expansion of oil and mining operations that greatly undermine our pristine image and threaten our environmental well being.

The CMHR is a nice thing. But we can do more for human rights in Canada, other than unquestionably arguing how great we are. We could do more by examining our role in human rights abuses, by admitting we did them, by admitting they are ongoing, even in Winnipeg, mere blocks away from the Museum itself. By challenging draconian bills in the House, by demanding all Canadians overseas be protected, looked after, and offered legal counsel, by knowing our government will step in where abuse might be committed. By not playing along with the United States of America in their choice wars, torture regimes, and insidious demands to more access to Canadian information and soil.

Reality check, Mr Presidents. Don't applaud for what we have done in the past, or play to Canadians and Winnipegger's noble-superiority-complexes. Challenge that noble viewpoint we have of ourselves. Educate people on current abuses and issues. We are already equated with human rights education, aren't we?

If that is the case, then why don't Winnipeggers, and Canadians, know about these issues? Why are we kept in the dark? Why don't newspapers write about these things more prominently? Why do we think these sorts of things can't happen here? Why do we think abuses are things of the past?

Opening a Museum won't answer those questions. Letters to the Editor parading support for a mismanaged project won't answer those questions either. So maybe it's time to start answering them. And we don't need a Museum, or it's completion, to do it.

It starts with you guys. Our community leaders.

* * * *
Post Appendix: Human Rights Articles under question in this piece
* * * *

Article 3: Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person. (domestic abuse)

Article 4: No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms. (human trafficking)

Article 5: No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. (Omar Khadr, Maher Arar)

Article 8: Everyone has the right to an effective remedy by the competent national tribunals for acts violating the fundamental rights granted him by the constitution or by law. (Omar Khadr)

Article 9: No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile. (Bill C-31)

Article 19: Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers. (cancelling of independent news programs)

Article 25: (1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control. (homelessness)

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Who is the monster? Omar Khadr or the average Canadian?

Just the other day blogger colleague Policy Frog tweeted "What's the average % of an article that most online commenters actually read before posting their lunatic crap? 10%?"

At least that.

A recent CP story on Omar Khadr, a Canadian citizen who has spent the past 10 years in Guantanamo Bay, displays this ignorance Policy Frog speaks of.

And more so...this article demands not only that you read the whole thing, but that you understand the history of the case, and that you can comprehend new developments. The Omar Khadr case, a "convicted" terrorist, has been dragging on for years, has lead to a 9-0 Supreme Court ruling upholding that the Canadian Government knowingly violated Khadr's rights as a Canadian Citizen.

It would not be surprising of course, to learn that people of the Winnipeg Free Press comment pool ("citizen journalists" to Dan Lett) think about as much of Omar Khadr as a press release from the US Government concerning "militants" killed in any random drone strike.

For it would appear that by and large people have now, 11 years after 9/11, fully bought into the idea that terrorists are evil people, and that anyone at Guantanamo Bay are there for a reason. As if torture regimes practiced by the US Government (and practiced against Omar Khadr, which the Canadian government was made aware of in 2003) are somehow justified.

I'd like to say that it undermines us as Canadians to condone this treatment on anyone, convicted of an offense or not. But the section of commentary on news sites leaves me with a taste of disgust and contempt for my fellow Canadians. How can it not, with such ignorant comments like this...

"I don't want to wind up being on a plane with this monster when he is free to roam the planet. Do you want this guy to be YOUR neighbor?"

Perhaps I should be mindful enough to cast aside such a statement and not let it bother me. But I fear this is what most Canadians would think about this man. A "monster." For being transported to a war zone, facing an assault by US Marines on your home, and throwing a single grenade. This apparently, makes one a monster.

It is overly easy to label the man a monster, especially if you buy into the US-lead narrative on what "terrorism" is, who is a terrorist, and what a terrorist action counts as. That all of our, Western, actions are "good" and all of their actions are bad, threatening, and endangering to our freedom.

Likewise it is easy to then draw a comparison that he would happily run around throwing grenades in East Toronto committing "jihad," except that no army of Canadian Special Forces would be surrounding his house, threatening to kill his family at any time.

So this single grenade-throwing kid "monster" shouldn't be allowed to spend the remainder of his sentence in Canada? Free from the law-flaunting due-process-denying torture-center known as Guantanamo Bay?

As Canadians, I'd like to think we'd have the decency to stand firm on our values. Which would include proper and just treatment of criminals. But apparently, many Canadians would rather have him "rot" in Guantanamo.

Who is the monster?

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Why is KICK FM off the air?

The reasons behind the decision to take KICK off the air and "return the license" to the CRTC is not what the "board of directors" would have you believe. A brief timeline of events paints a much different story that local journalists especially, and Red River College students, need to be aware of.

On the KICK FM website, it states:

As a result of recent changes to CRTC regulations regarding campus and community radio stations, and financial challenges, the Board of Cre-Comm Radio Inc has decided to discontinue over the air broadcasting effective Wednesday, July 4 at 4:00 pm, and will be returning the current broadcast license to the CRTC.

This statement is quite astounding. Let me run through it.

The CRTC did change their regulations, they decided that "instructional license" was no longer a category they wanted to have. However, KICK and RRC also knew this. They applied anyhow for a regular campus and community radio license, the same license that UMFM and CKUW operate under.

If they applied to renew their license as a campus and community station, then they must have been okay with the changes in policy. Why would an organization go through the process of renewing their license only to say later that they didn't want it?

Because public interventions happened. When you file for license renewal, the CRTC asks the public for letters of concern and support. Such letters were submitted to the CRTC. KICK FM even, until yesterday, had a countdown of the deadline and encouraged listeners to send letters of support to the CRTC.

In other words: they clearly wanted to continue the station and were perfectly fine with the policy changes that would be required in a move to a campus and community station, instead of instructional.

But they received submissions like mine, which you can read here. Also several others called on the CRTC to investigate corruption and impropriety of the Red River College officials who were involved in illegally cancelling The Great Canadian Talk Show, in plain violation of federal CRTC policies. 

Instead of facing these allegations, KICK and RRC have decided instead not to face federal scrutiny by the CRTC and risk having their license embarrassingly revoked, and instead close the license themselves. This was done with just 3 hours left for the public to submit documents to the CRTC.  

Lastly, the station has been in 6-figure debt for years and years. Why is it only an issue now, today, and not months ago when they filed for renewal?

Dean Graham Thomson, czar of KICK FM, still has a lot to answer for, it seems. To his students. Why should RRC students be denied the opportunities a radio station offers because of their administration's corruption and mishandling of a federal broadcasting license? Why did they feel they could intervene, subvert the role of the station manager (who had turned that station into what it was: successful) and implement their will?

KICK FM; my filing with the CRTC

It is being reported on the KICK FM website that Red River College will effectively shut down the station, claiming CRTC changes in regulation of instructional licenses. This is complete fabrication of events.

The KICK FM (CKIC FM) license was up for renewal. People like myself filed interventions with the CRTC on the proceeding of the license. Until now, KICK was happy to concede to the CRTC's policy changes. They did, after all, file for renewal under the changes.

Now, facing criticism of the College's control over CreComm Inc, the station has instead elected to shut down their station, effectively avoiding federal scrutiny by the CRTC. I will have more postings and comments on this in the coming days.

 In the spirit of journalism, and scientific journalism, here is the intervention I filed with the CRTC.

 * * * *

I am filing an intervention against the renewal of the CKIC FM license. As a volunteer on a former program on this radio station, my experiences gave me exceptional insight into the impropriety of board members with regards to community access and involvement.

 I had great experiences on the show that I was a part of. It taught me invaluable skills which I use to this day, as I have progressed in journalism. I was welcome on the show and to the radio studio. I did work that was meaningful and provided me with a proud sense of purpose. I was encouraged to help, to follow my own stories, to contribute content, and to participate in the day-to-day direction of this show.

Although I cannot speak for other volunteers, I do know they had the same level of involvement as I did, and were treated in the same way I was. They were encouraged to participate in a significant way to the show, and to the station. The Great Canadian Talk Show (TGCTS) also existed on CKIC as the only show to cross-promote all other programs on the station, and encourage listeners to tune in to other programs.

This changed in November 2010, and all of our volunteer work and contributions to the show and the station were halted under the guise of “policy changes,” although only one program was affected: TGCTS. Following this show’s cancellation (after a perfect record of zero complaints during 4 years of broadcasting), myself and other volunteers were essentially shut out of being volunteers on the station. We were no longer welcome to participate, as the show we were community and student participants on was cancelled unilaterally by an “executive committee” of the Board of Directors.

My communication with Graham Thomson (a self-appointed member of this executive committee, and simultaneously a non-voting member of the Board) following cancellation of TGCTS is indicative of the goals of this so-called “executive committee.” Furthermore, in retrospect of these statements, the current application shows a level of collusion that can be considered extensions of their flagrant CKIC and CRTC policy violations.

On 10 November 2010, Graham Thomson replied to an email I sent inquiring about the nature of the “policy change” that occurred.

“Training students, for jobs in the provincial economy, is the focus.” 

This statement describes exactly what TGCTS did. It trained me, and many others, who have gone on to do valuable work in the provincial economy, both as journalists and in the radio industry. After reminding him of this, he responded:


“We know that students were involved in some good learning opportunities with the show.”

This is true, and also precisely why canceling TGCTS was such a mystery. There was no better learning opportunity for radio and for journalism on CKIC than on TGCTS, which ran 5 days a week. Because the show was hosted by a member of the community and not a Red River College student, the show was always there to learn on. A student or community volunteer such as myself, or a board operative, wishing to learn more did not have to worry about bending their already-tight schedules. One could put as much time or effort in as they wanted. It was an ideal training platform.

I again told Mr Thomson this is what the show did and why it was such an asset to CKIC as a training platform. Mr Thomson responded:

“Producing and researching is valuable, but student on-air delivery on TGCTS was limited.”

Training and community access is the purpose of the station, not student air-time. In fact, RRC students were allowed air time on the show, and in a much more valuable way than simply how many minutes they were on air speaking. Because the host encouraged students and volunteers to pursue their own material, it was their journalism material that was broadcasted.

This statement, along with the first statement I highlighted, also shows a disconnect between what the “executive committee” wanted, and what the station mandate was at the time: to provide instruction. Not, as Mr Thomson eluded to, to provide RRC student airtime. Mr Thomson stated this despite being fully aware of the involvement and successful training of RRC students on the program.

After nearly two years, there is still only one program to have been cancelled: the program that gave students and community volunteers such as myself the opportunity to participate in and contribute journalism and talk radio content to, in a professional environment.

As I understand, the CRTC’s policies and guidelines on volunteers, volunteer participation and community access are quite clear. As are the CRTC’s policies on governance of campus and community stations. The governance of CKIC is still under the same people who have shut out the community, volunteers, and any semblance of adherence to any rules. And they want to continue to run a campus and community license.

I received no help at all with other board members, in particular the student representatives. Nobody was willing to stand up to the officials from RRC who stepped in to take control of the station to eliminate one program from their FM band, and spend their time after November 2010 devising ways to lie, deceive, or cover up exactly what they did.

The events surrounding the cancellation of TGCTS and now this license application show that Red River College, the funder CreComm Inc, have successfully usurped control of the radio station. The question the CRTC must ask of Graham Thomson, is how does a non-voting member of the board have such influence, to cancel shows that adhered to all their policies and CRTC policies? How does a non-voting member of the board have such influence that he/she can treat volunteers and community members with such contempt?

Graham Thomson was not the only “executive committee” member to show contempt for volunteers and CRTC policies. The other RRC official of the “executive,” former RRC Vice President Cathy Rushton, did this as well.

In RRC’s attempt to lie to the public about the cancellation of the show as other interveners have documented, Ms Rushton created two preposterous lies about a municipal and federal politician. She claimed that Mayor of Winnipeg Sam Katz, and Minister of Public Safety Vic Toews had made complaints about The Great Canadian Talk Show. No such complaints exist, in fact zero complaints exist against the show within CreComm Inc, or with the CRTC. It was with this logic Ms Rushton tried to justify the show’s cancellation: there had been high profile complaints, therefore, we had to remove the show (a much different reason than Mr Thomson’s “policy changes.”)

Both politicians soundly denied complaining, as Mayor Katz was a frequent guest, and Mr Toews had never even heard of the program, let alone be a guest on it. I had written about this on my website, progressivewinnipeg.blogpspot.com. Myself and others made repeated calls for her to correct the record for this uncalled for slander and defamation against the show’s host. After she had been caught red-handed lying to the public about these two politicians, Ms Rushton contacted me, asking me to “correct the record” by publishing her email to me on my website. I have submitted this email as part of my intervention.

Ms Rushton thought it prudent to “correct the record” not through an official means, or through Red River College, or issuing a public apology, but rather, to have a blogger publish an email where she denies purposeful wrongdoing.

As a third and last example I would like to draw your attention to correspondence between Ms Rushton and Mr Thomson that was discovered in a Freedom of Information request. This email chain is submitted with my intervention.

Another local blogger had contacted Mr Thomson and received a response back. The blogger asked Mr Thomson of the possibility of host Marty Gold to appeal the decision and the possibility of him still being involved with the station.

Note, in this email chain, that it starts with a “Google Alert.” Ms Rushton evidently had set a Google Alert for all new items with “Marty Gold” in them. This shows further contempt for a volunteer community member, as does the resulting conversation with Mr Thomson. It is clear that these “executive committee” members acted on their own accord, to remove one program from the airwaves, and assert RRC control over what is supposed to be an independent non-profit organization.

Note also, that blogger John Dobbin had made a post at 4:03PM on 12 November 2010. (this can be checked in Mr Dobbin’s archives). By 4:59PM on 12 November 2010, less than an hour after Dobbin had published his post, Ms Rushton had sent an email to Mr Thomson in desperation that he was not telling people Mr Gold could appeal or in any way get back on the airwaves of CKIC FM. Why would college officials be monitoring the niche local blog community for dissent against their actions?

This culture of contempt by RRC officials towards volunteers and the community at large is proven in their success in usurping control of the CreComm Inc organization. From the guise of “programming changes” to spreading fictitious complaints by politicians, and to monitoring local blogs for mentions of the show’s host. They have mysteriously “lost” records of the executive committee. And now RRC and CreComm Inc seek to have their license status changed and approved.

The CRTC cannot allow CKIC’s license renewal to proceed. The conduct of RRC officials has been clear, that rules, policies and guidelines are of no meaning and of no consequence. The level of contempt for community volunteers, as well as listeners, that put so much work into helping to make this station successful is astounding. These people cannot be entrusted to run a public community radio station.

I hereby urge the CRTC to revoke CKIC’s license.

Graham Hnatiuk