Saturday, May 31, 2008

"More than the antics of a cabinet clown"

A call for the Conservatives to refrain from obstructing reasonable and appropriate parliamentary inquiry due to the questions still unanswered in the Bernier matter: "Let MPs probe Bernier."
[T]his scandal is about more than the antics of a cabinet clown.

It is about how secrets are protected in the highest echelons of government. Particularly troubling is that these documents disappeared for weeks, apparently without anyone being aware they were gone. Indeed, these papers would likely still be missing if Bernier's former girlfriend, Julie Couillard, had not returned them last weekend.

How could no one in the vast government apparatus notice they were missing? And if someone did, why was the information kept from Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who insists that he only discovered the security breach after Couillard had returned the documents? Are any other documents missing?

Questions also remain over when Bernier learned of his paramour's shady ex-lovers and when he put an end to the relationship. And what role did the Canadian Security Intelligence Service play in this?
The Conservatives won't be doing themselves any favours if they shut the public safety committee down to avoid having any witnesses called. It'll fit quite nicely with the predominant public perception of their secretive unaccountable ways. It's quite the position they're in. If the hearings proceed, it'll be attraction number one in the public sphere. If they don't, well, see my previous remark.

You say divided, I say decided

The National Post applies their own special headline skills: "Canadians divided over Bernier affair: poll." 55% want an RCMP investigation. That's a majority and it's the predominant question in this survey.

Nice try, Harpies.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Public wants RCMP investigation

Ipsos Reid taken this week, Tuesday to Thursday:
"A slim majority of Canadians, 55 per cent of them, want the RCMP to investigate whether Maxime Bernier breached national security, and they want the Mounties to delve into his relationship with Julie Couillard, according to a new poll."
The breakdown:
Support for the RCMP probe was strongest in Alberta at 64 per cent of respondents, followed by British Columbia (62 per cent), Saskatchewan and Manitoba (59 per cent), Ontario (54 per cent), Quebec (53 per cent) and Atlantic Canada (44 per cent).

But another 39 per cent said an investigation was not necessary, with residents of Atlantic Canada (52 per cent) and Quebec (43 per cent), expressing the most opposition.

John Wright, Ipsos senior vice-president, said "to simply have Foreign Affairs doing their own review" simply does not wash with the public.

"The real issue around this is the independence of an investigation and whatever comes out of it," said Wright.
A pretty reasonable public expectation settling in out there. The Clouseau defence, that nobody noticed missing classified documents for 5 weeks, is just not credible. And people know it.

Whitewash, the sequel, coming right up

The absurdity of Foreign Affairs conducting its own investigation into its own Minister's security breach(es) was correctly pointed out today. It is a matter of basic principle that an individual or entity cannot investigate itself and should not have the power to do so. But of course, applying the IOKIYAC principle, these Conservatives believe they are exempt from the standards that apply to the rest of us:
The Harper government is leaving a probe into the security failings of Maxime Bernier in the hands of bureaucrats who could be implicated in their own inquiry, Liberals warned Friday.

Questions about Bernier's abrupt resignation as foreign affairs minister continued for a fourth straight day in the House of Commons, with the Tories maintaining that the only review of Bernier's misplaced NATO documents will be led by foreign affairs officials.

"In conducting their review, the Department of Foreign Affairs can of course draw on the other resources of government that they need, whatever agencies necessary, to assist them," Conservative House leader Peter Van Loan said.

But Bob Rae, the Liberal foreign affairs critic, said such a review flies in the face of a "basic principal of natural law."

"Surely the minister understands a very simple distinction between an administrative review carried out by officials who may in fact be implicated in some of these questions, and an independent inquiry."
They've gotten away with such tactics thus far, on a technical level anyway, most recently in their Privy Council Lynch-led investigation of the NAFTAgate leak that oops, occurred right under Lynch's nose and unsurprisingly, failed to uncover the real PMO leaker. Publicly, however, the real story was outed due to "multiple sources" speaking to Jim Travers.

Perhaps with the similar assistance of an individual(s) with a conscience, perhaps within Foreign Affairs or elsewhere, the same fate will befall the Conservatives again as just reward for their continued stonewalling.

Canada-US Civil Assistance Plan finally released by Harper government

David Pugliese of the Ottawa Citizen points out on his blog that the DND has quietly released on its Canada Command site the controversial Canada-US Civil Assistance Plan. This comes after DND had refused to release it after the agreement was entered into in February of this year. And it is only doing so after the U.S. Northern Command released the document:
Well now the U.S. Northern Command has decided to release the Civil Assistance plan to the public (although there are still some portions kept secret). Yet on this side of the border the Canadian Forces still consider the plan sensitive enough that they have decided NOT to release it….yet. Go figure. NDP defence critic Dawn Black has put in an Access to Information request for the plan and was told it will take 300 days before it is released.


Who knows if the U.S. release will now force DND to reconsider its decision to withhold the plan.
The U.S. release has indeed forced DND Canada to do the same. No more 300 day wait for the document, it's now available here. We can only surmise whether we'd ever be reading it had the U.S. military not acted.

Pugliese, in consultation with a researcher at the Council for Canadians, notes deficiencies in what he's seen of the plan: a good part of it, 23 annexes, still seem to be missing; there's a "Canada-U.S. Combined Defense Plan" referenced on page 1, referring to “support for law enforcement operations” when the plan was supposed to be military-to-military support; and so on.

The plan, entered into by the Harper government in February this year, has raised concerns about sovereignty and creeping integration. The agreement enables troops from either nation to enter the other's for assistance during emergencies.

Consider this evidence of forced publication by the Harper government my contribution to the Conservative secrecy theme going on today...:)

And thanks to a reader for passing this along, as always.

Harper Foreign Affairs watch: strike seventeen

"PMO bungles Berlusconi message." Doh! They've run up such a record of missteps in Foreign Affairs, the strike watch will continue. The curse of Maxime lives on...:)

Things are so bad, a staffer launched a desperate effort to throw herself under the bus, given the pounding Harper is taking:
"Blame me. It's my fault," a spokeswoman for Mr. Harper, Carolyn Stewart-Olsen, said after acknowledging the error.
The buck doesn't stop with the spokesperson, however, in this tightly run PMO. We know who's driving the bus on such matters. And who's not:
Government House Leader Peter Van Loan, who fielded all questions about Mr. Bernier and the gaffe regarding Mr. Berlusconi for 25 minutes while acting foreign affairs minister, David Emerson, sat silent, rejected opposition assertions that the Prime Minister had acted incompetently.
They're so gun shy that they won't let Emerson have a go at an issue that was well-known prior to Question Period and for which he presumably could have been briefed. Just remarkable.

Repatriate Khadr and restore some semblance of international credibility for us

If the Harper government wanted to get back on the right track in matters of Foreign Affairs, here's where they might start: by saying enough is enough to the political show trial of Omar Khadr at Gitmo. Incredible and outrageous news last night that the judge overseeing the trial has been "relieved of his duties" without a word of explanation. This is the judge who had dismissed Khadr's case once before, but who was overruled on appeal. Of late, in early May, he had threatened to suspend Khadr's case due to the prosecution's conduct in withholding evidence from the defence.

The public story circulating is that the judge wanted to retire. The real implication of this move is that this is just the latest manifestation of blatant U.S. government interference in the trial processes which are inherently unfair to begin with. There's a U.S. election coming, don't ya know. The Republicans need to have some kind of crude, malformed "victory" to show from their festering sore at Guantanamo. Or at a minimum, trials actually up and working.

From the Associated Press:
The chief judge for the Guantanamo tribunals, Marine Col. Ralph Kohlmann, dismissed Brownback and appointed a new judge for Khadr's case without explanation, defense lawyer Navy Lt. Cmdr. William Kuebler said.
...
Military prosecutors have been pressing Brownback to set a trial date, but he has repeatedly directed them first to satisfy defense requests for access to potential evidence. At a hearing earlier this month, he threatened to suspend the proceedings altogether unless the detention center provided records of Khadr's confinement.

Kuebler said he believes the U.S. military is anxious for the trial to start before political pressure leads Canada to demand Khadr's repatriation. (emphasis added)
If that latter view is indeed what motivated this judge's removal, the U.S. military is sorely misguided in its fear from us. Support for repatriation may be growing in the public mind and as a result of figures such as Romeo Dallaire speaking out, but the track record of the Harper government on Gitmo thus far has been one of willful blindness. Sticking its head in the sand. Mouthing platitudes of deference to the legal process in place there. Ignoring leading bar associations who have advocated that Khadr be returned to Canada to face proper rule of law oriented justice. If the U.S. government is expecting Steve to pick up the phone and push for Khadr's repatriation, well, they don't know the Steve we do. He has yet to publicly pivot on such a major issue.

If Harper wants to shock us all, however, and do the opposite of what his government has done thus far in respect of Khadr and Gitmo, that'd be fine by me. He's in a deep hole in Foreign Affairs. And if there is any ounce of sanity being voiced and getting through to the PM's bubble, this would be a great way to start digging himself out of it.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Can you say standing room only?

File under reasons for Conservatives to move heaven and earth to avoid any parliamentary committee scrutiny of the Bernier affair:
"As for Couillard, she hasn't finished talking.

The ex-girlfriend with ties to biker figures has said she would be willing to provide details at a public inquiry if she's called to testify about the NATO briefing documents she had in her possession for over a month.

She made the remark in a six-page interview in the celebrity magazine 7 Jours - Quebec's equivalent of People."
See now that's the kind of thing our government could learn from, a citizen who believes in accountability. Willingness to testify before the people's representatives to provide answers. What a concept.

So how's that Quebec Conservative strategy going?


A Quebecor publication, home of board member Brian Mulroney no less...

McGill political scientist Antonia Maioni assesses the Conservative fortunes in Quebec as a result of the Bernier fallout, here:
Bernier's fall from grace has not only exposed the cracks in his love life for all to see, it has also revealed the weak foundations of the Conservative Party in Quebec.

The 2006 election brought an uneven Quebec caucus onto the government benches in the House of Commons. But the importance of the breakthrough for the newly reconstituted Conservative Party in this usually inhospitable place meant that the prime minister was obliged to promote as many Quebec MPs into the cabinet room as he dared. One by one, they have proven to have their own respective challenges in taking on major portfolios. Part of this is to be expected as this untested government - particularly in a minority situation - got its sea-legs in the rough waters inside the Ottawa Queensway. More than two years later, however, the amateur hour should be over.
...
...more than two years later, there is little substantive change the government can use to attract more high-profile and experienced candidates, or to deploy to attract the voters it needs in suburban and rural areas in francophone Quebec. Certainly, the loss of Bernier is also the loss of the poster boy for the kind of coalition - bleue, nationaliste, fédéraliste - the Conservative Party was hoping to consolidate in Quebec.
Maioni also points out the rebound effect that may play out among Harper supporters in the rest of Canada as a result of Harper's bungled "romancing of Quebec":
There is also the boomerang potential of how this exposure of weakness in Quebec will play out for Conservative fortunes elsewhere in the country. The Quebec effect was a trump card for Stephen Harper as he remade his image as the leader of a new kind of national unity. It enabled him to move forward on another conservative attempt to forge an alliance between the West and Quebec. It also helped silence his more radical critics about pandering to la belle province.

As the foibles of Harper's Quebec team become apparent, critics of that strategy might become louder. It remains to be seen how the prime minister and the government will weather this storm that has the potential to erode support for the Conservative party and dash its hopes of a majority secured through the romancing of Quebec.
"In politics you take risks," indeed.

Just for fun

A propos of nothing, probably...:)

Looks like someone had his ears pinned back

Peter Van Loan still answered the lion's share of questions in Question Period today. Yes, the one-man government show continues. But his performance was noticeably qualitatively different, at least what I saw of it. No fantastic and far-flung stretches from Van Loan of the "Liberals support communists" variety. Just robotic, one line or one word answers. Van Loan's verbosity seems to have been clipped: the Prime Minister acted Monday and accepted the Foreign Minister's resignation. Or some minor variation of that response was all we heard.

They may wish to leave it at that, but the opposition parties are coming together on a move to have Mr. Bernier and others appear before a parliamentary committee for further discussion. Unless the Conservatives try to take the committee down in procedural flames, that is...

That's a shame

This warms the cockles of my heart: "Satisfaction with Harper government plunges: poll."
A new poll suggests satisfaction with the performance of the Conservatives plunged 13 percentage points from December to May.

The Canadian Press Harris-Decima survey indicates satisfaction fell to 40 per cent from 53 per cent - with majority dissatisfaction in every region of the country except Alberta.

The Mood of Canada poll also found that just 27 per cent of respondents said the Tories were doing a good job in regard to government integrity.

And 65 per cent said the government was doing a bad job on accountability.
What is that saying, you can fool some of the people some of the time but you can't fool all of the people all of the time?

Keep up the excellent strategy, Conservative brain trust...:)

Say it ain't so


Could we be on the brink of losing another one of our faves?
"Mr. Kenney's colleague, Helena Guergis, the junior Foreign Affairs secretary, was seen to have bobbled the file; she could be dropped from cabinet."
It's gettin' to be tough out here in the blogging community what with all these entertainers getting the heave ho...almost makes me want to clam up about some of these eminent parliamentarians...:)

But looking forward to the new meat...:)

So how's that clean government thing going, anyway?

More notes on the scandal...

1. According to "senior law enforcement officials," the RCMP is about to be called in, reported Bob Fife last night. Now, perhaps, we will learn something about what has been going on. The flimsy talking points the government has been parroting thus far, such as the PM just learning about the security breach on Monday, are about to come in for appropriate scrutiny.

(Gratuitous side notes about the CTV report: "Couillard" is giving Fife fits in terms of pronunciation it seems, "Cole-yard" according to Fife. And don't you love it when Stalk gets all condescending to the opposition, calling them ignorant and playing smart guy in his ice cream jacket.)

2. CBC confirms that Bernier's papers were returned a full day before the PM says he learned of the security breach. So ostensibly, Foreign Affairs had them in hand for a full day before Harper supposedly found out about the entire mess. Because poor Harpie is always the last guy to know, don't ya know...:)
The Tories have said Harper became aware of the security breach only on Monday and acted immediately and decisively in accepting Bernier's resignation. But the government so far has offered no explanation why it took almost 24 hours for the prime minister to find out about the breach.

CBC news has confirmed that the missing government document was returned to Foreign Affairs on Sunday, and that Couillard had the document with her when she recorded her now infamous interview with the French-language TVA network on Sunday afternoon.

Lawyers consulting with Couillard contacted the government, and sources said officials arranged for the document to be returned to Foreign Affairs, the CBC's Susan Bonner reported from Ottawa.
This focus on the 24 hour period between Foreign Affairs retrieving the documents and Harper being alerted is important, yes, but largely misses the boat. The documents were missing for 5 weeks. The "security breach" occurred when those documents went missing. The real questions surround why the PM or anyone else did not have a freaking clue for 5 weeks, at least not that they're saying publicly, that the documents were missing.

3. Speaking of which...here's Don Martin with more on the government's internal controls over documents that make the 5 week Clouseau defence seem ridiculous:

The Privy Council Office checks out every document bound for a minister's desk and checks them back in, usually within hours of their release, the minister said. Missing documents or even a few removed papers, particularly on sensitive files like Foreign Affairs, are tracked down almost immediately and reclaimed with a respectful rebuke from anal officials hired to maintain cabinet confidentiality.

The system is supposedly foolproof and perhaps doubly so given this government's penchant for excessive and perhaps unwarranted secrecy.

And more in this Globe article, further underlining the point we're getting to know well by now. It's pretty tough to accomplish what Bernier did:
But what Mr. Cappe said baffled him is how Mr. Bernier could have left the documents in former lover Julie Couillard's apartment for so long.

Mr. Cappe talked about regular confidential-paper security audits, about each minister having someone on staff responsible for keeping track of confidential papers and returning them to their source. He talked about the climate of security in the cabinet and Privy Council Office.

Every minister is provided with a secure briefcase and a lecture on how to use it. A PCO team does a security assessment of every minister's residence, providing "whatever security infrastructure they may need, including things like alarm systems, a regulation safe in the minister's home and a secure telephone so that [they'd] have access to encrypted telephone conversations and they'd do a sweep of the house if there was any reason to think there was a threat."

Mr. Cappe said he expected that even the minister's driver would have sufficient security clearance to look after the minister's briefcase when he was elsewhere.

But the papers go out with Mr. Bernier. "And this stuff never came back," Mr. Cappe said. "How is that possible?"
4. Don Martin also comments on the timing of the alleged CSIS/PMO meeting:
And then there's the surprisingly specific allegation levelled by Liberal MP Ujjal Dosanjh that the Canadian Security Intelligence Service met with officials in the Prime Minister's Office to discuss the Bernier file just as news of his former gal pal's criminal connections were hitting the headlines.

That would suggest a tripwire had gone off and that the prime minister was taking the allegations seriously, even while Harper was smearing all those who dared questioned the connection.
Recall that something else happened around this time frame as well. Dosanjh said the CSIS/PMO meeting occurred between May 1 and 8. On May 9, Julie Couillard returned from dinner to her home to a "deactivated" home alarm system and consequently had her place swept, turning up the supposed bugging. That's a lot of coincidental activity going on: media reports on Couillard begin, alleged CSIS/PMO meeting, Couillard's home incident.

5. The uber-investigator who missed the leaker right under his nose is on the job again:
Privy Council Office spokeswoman Myriam Massabki said the head of the civil service, Kevin Lynch, is ensuring that Foreign Affairs will look into the matter and "plans to conduct a thorough review."
Hopefully, that review is tied to the news of the RCMP coming in and will have absolutely nothing to do with Lynch.

6. Given the way things have been going for the Conservatives lately in terms of anonymous government sources leaking to the media, it'll be interesting to see whether the Clouseau defence holds up. In the last few days we've seen unknown sources finger someone in the PMO as the leaker(s) in NAFTAgate and telling Liberals about CSIS meeting with the PMO in early May. It's big leak week on the Hill and perhaps from here on out...

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Did CSIS meet with the PM in early May over Bernier?

More leaking within government circles it appears, given the Conservatives' approach to the Bernier scandal. A "credible source" has tipped the opposition on a meeting in early May between CSIS and the PMO's office on Maxime Bernier:
Liberal MP Ujjal Dosanjh, a former British Columbia premier and attorney general, told the House of Commons that he believed the meeting with the Canadian Security Intelligence Service took place between May 1 and 8, predating the current scandal with Julie Couillard that led to Mr. Bernier's dismissal from cabinet on Monday.

Mr. Dosanjh said he was told of the meeting by a "credible source," whose identity he and several Liberals refused to divulge.

When Mr. Dosanjh repeatedly asked Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day to confirm the meeting "to discuss the conduct" on the Foreign Affairs minister, Mr. Day brushed off the questions, saying he didn't discuss CSIS meetings with the prime minister in public.

"He's playing a silly game," Mr. Day replied.

But the Liberals stood by the allegation, saying that if the meeting did in fact take place, it showed that Prime Minister Stephen Harper exercised bad judgment in dismissing weeks of questions regarding possible threats to national security because of Mr. Bernier's relationship with Ms. Couillard, who has been linked to Quebec biker gangs.

CSIS spokeswoman Manon Berube declined to answer questions about the Liberal allegation, telling Canwest News Service: "Call the minister's office. The call is being referred to them."

Melisa Leclerc, Mr. Day's spokeswoman, said in an e-mailed response: "There was no such meeting. The Opposition is just making wild allegations."

Outside the Commons, Mr. Dosanjh insisted that he had a credible source about the meeting.
...
When he was pressed to reveal his source, Mr. Dosanjh said: "Look, we have sources. We have been led to believe that there was a meeting between CSIS and the Prime Minister's Office to discuss the matters involving Mr. Bernier."
Take the government's denials for what they're worth at this point, little to nothing. The phony NAFTAgate report that failed to turn up the leaker(s) in the PMO is just the most recent evidence of the stuff of which this government is made. So we're left with the possibility of CSIS having some past or ongoing role in assessing the security breach committed by Mr. Bernier, whether that included government surveillance of Ms. Couillard's home or perhaps a broader CSIS investigation. Given today's interactions and this reporting, looks like it's going to be a topic of ongoing discussion. And of course, if Mr. Harper claims only to have known about the missing documents as of this Monday, then what would a meeting with CSIS have been about?

Great front man

Van Loan's comments in the House today:
"Van Loan said the Tory record on foreign affairs is one of the proudest in the world and referred to former prime minister Brian Mulroney’s fight against apartheid. He also said the Conservative party was supporting former Eastern-bloc countries in their fight for freedom while the Liberals were “cozying up to Communists.”"
Heckuva job, Van Loan, heckuva job...

A new low for Conservatives in the House today

Yes, a new low, if that's possible.

Peter Van Loan was in prime form in Question Period today. Get ready for this one.

When responding to questions on the Bernier disaster, Van Loan accused the Liberals, during their tenure in Foreign Affairs, of "cozying up to communists" and "cozying up to authoritarian regimes." Van Loan seemed to be comically and delusionally re-living the cold war and importing some American-centred view of the world into his spontaneous diatribe. And if that wasn't enough, Van Loan went on to cite the grand Conservative tradition in foreign matters, citing Brian Mulroney's foreign policy on the world stage to counter the Liberal tradition that Ignatieff had put to him and somehow set Van Loan off. Brian Mulroney. Suddenly back in favour in Conservative circles now that the wheel has turned? When they're using Mulroney's past exploits to salvage their credibility, it's dire straits indeed. Desperate times call for desperate measures, hey?

The distraction, the inability to answer questions, provide basic information and commit to an investigation to get to the bottom of the Bernier mess speak volumes.

But let's thank Van Loan for those moments today, they were truly insightful...

Slim pickings

On a lighter note, in the Bernier matter:
According to both Conservative party sources in Quebec and comments by Julie Couillard, Bernier's companion until earlier this year, the real estate agent and former model was sounded out about her interest in running for the party in 2007.

Though it appears she was never formally interviewed or vetted by the party's candidate recruitment committee in Quebec – the members of which have since been replaced – sources say Couillard was contacted by a former party organizer of her acquaintance who asked if she'd be interested in running.

"There are people in the party who know her quite well and sounded her out," said a Quebec Tory.
...
[I]n an English-language interview on the Quebecor-owned Canoe website – a French-language equivalent was aired on the TVA network in Quebec on Monday night – Couillard alluded to meeting Bernier last summer through an unnamed "business acquaintance" who was arranging a dinner with the then-industry minister.

"A couple of weeks before that, the Conservative party actually approached me and asked me if I was interested in becoming a candidate ... and (the acquaintance) said, `You should come tonight, because a minister will be there and you can pick his brain,'" she said.
Heh...:)

A huge story being overshadowed by the Bernier resignation

Jim Travers yesterday had a "bombshell" of a story, with sources pointing to PMO personnel directly for leaking the diplomatic memo on Obama to a chummy Republican contact of theirs. "Multiple sources" were apparently not happy in the wake of the Privy Council Office's report last week that seemed to clear Ian Brodie and Michael Wilson but dump on Foreign Affairs without fingering the real trail. And it seems they decided to talk to Travers:
Fingers are pointing at Conservatives close to Stephen Harper for leaking a diplomatic memo that badly embarrassed Barack Obama and put Canada's vital cross-border interests at risk. Multiple sources say the Canadian note questioning the Democrat frontrunner's public promise to reopen NAFTA was leaked from the Prime Minister's Office to a Republican contact before it made American headline news.

Their claims come days after an internal probe threw up its hands at finding the source. Contradicting Friday's inconclusive report, they claim the controversial memo was slipped to the son of Wisconsin Republican Congressman James Sensenbrenner. Frank Sensenbrenner is well connected to Harper's inner circle and, at Ottawa's insistence, was briefly on contract with Canada's Washington embassy to work on congressional relations.
The motive was self-interested right wing politics, par for the course for the Harper acolytes:
"This was a very deliberate piece of business for political purpose," one of the sources said. "It puts political ideology ahead of what's good for the country."
The ultimate route to the AP?
The PMO was not on the original foreign affairs distribution list. An analyst in Lynch's office gave the memo to a PMO official on Feb. 27 who then shared it with a colleague. A day later it was passed to Brodie. There is no evidence Brodie forwarded the memo himself, but by noon March 2 AP was in touch with the embassy seeking clarification.
From Lynch's office to the PMO, to the Republican operative Frank Sensenbrenner, to the AP.

Now why didn't we read about that in the Lynch Privy Council investigative report?

"Multiple sources" outing the PMO's involvement. Wow. A backlash against a whitewash.

(More on Sensenbrenner in the Star today.)

Notes on the Bernier scandal continuing today...

Harpie's had it out for Bernier for a while now:
While the Prime Minister "always liked Maxime from a philosophical point of view," the friend said, in the past six months Mr. Harper has been known to "consistently backstab Maxime in front of MPs and staff."
Such an inspiring tone from the top, that's our fearless leader. But really, if he went to such lengths, why did he maintain Bernier in the post?

Some detail on document protocols in the Globe as well. The five week gap in discovering that Bernier's documents were missing continues to seem quite incredible and highly unbelievable. Especially given the sensitive nature of what was in them:
The briefing books that Maxime Bernier abandoned at his ex-girlfriend's home were designed to prepare him for a crucial NATO summit, and as such, would have offered confidential insight into the war in Afghanistan, U.S. plans for a missile shield and efforts to expand the military alliance.
Also in the Globe today, Stockwell Day's spokesperson says that CSIS was not involved in bugging of Ms. Couillard's home. But the RCMP is answering no questions on the matter:
Melisa Leclerc, a spokeswoman for Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day, confirmed by e-mail Tuesday that CSIS was not involved in any bugging of Ms. Couillard's house. “As for the RCMP, I can't speak on their behalf, you'll have to call them directly,” she added.

A spokeswoman for the RCMP said it is RCMP policy not to discuss what may or may not be police investigations.
CSIS was "not involved." This sounds pretty firm, but then again Karl Rove was "not involved" in the outing of Valerie Plame either. It depends on what the meaning of the word "involved" is. Not surprising, we get no further information here on what CSIS may have known or whether there was any consultation or cooperation with the RCMP on any investigation of these missing classified documents.

With respect to the RCMP's potential role in a bugging, recall that on May 10, the RCMP were reported to have looked at Bernier's contact with Michael Chamas, a Montreal businessman arrested in March as part of an organized crime bust:
RCMP officers recently visited Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Bernier to discuss photos of him shaking hands with a globe-trotting Montreal businessman who was later arrested in a police sweep targeting Mohawk organized crime groups.
...
The photos that caught the eye of RCMP investigators show a grinning Bernier sharing a stage and shaking hands with Chamas, who is listed as president of a Delaware-based company called Global Village International Solutions.
Might the RCMP have wanted further information beyond their interview with Bernier given Bernier's relationship with Couillard? Interesting coincidence of this line of questioning with the timing Couillard puts on her alleged surveillance. So is this report on alleged vandalism at her home that the police may have investigated. So is this bit of context:

Ms. Couillard's claim that a microphone was secretly placed in her bed was dismissed as dubious yesterday by several security experts. However, one source with a law-enforcement background said the RCMP has engaged in similar types of bugging in the past.

Given her background, the source said, Ms. Couillard's appearance on the public scene would have almost certainly raised red flags among RCMP officers in Quebec.

Don Martin on the "bed bugs" and implications for Harper, if it's true:
If Mr. Harper's pledge to stay out of the nation's bedrooms as a sign of respect for personal privacy is countered by government-ordered eavesdropping under Ms. Couillard's bed, a claim she says is backed by security experts who spotted signs of a listening device cleanup operation, a serious credibility breach has been uncovered.
Not taking the word of the PM, hey Don? Martin also points out that this incident may torpedo any campaign to win a seat on the UN Security Council.

Also from the Globe, looking to the future. The possible successors to Bernier: Clement, Emerson or the now go-to guy for Harper, Prentice. How exciting these choices are. As the Ottawa Citizen points out in an editorial today, the new minister has a lot to look forward to, becoming a cog in Harper's unhealthy cycle of controlling weak ministers:
The challenge now is to find a new foreign minister, but, again, Mr. Harper's management style could make that difficult. Mr. Harper's impulse to keep an iron fist over his cabinet will be even stronger now that he has been burned, but in order to maintain iron control over a minister, he'll need a weak person in the job who is easily controllable.
By this logic, I'd be thinking Clement.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Bug-gate

Some security experts are disputing the likelihood of bugging. And Batman makes an appearance in the debate:
"That aside, Mathers said a tiny video camera would be far more likely should someone with sinister motives wish to spy on the minister.

'They want to get him dressed like Batman or something, and they want that on video so they can use that to extort him. That's what they want, so they're going to install a video device and they're going to catch him doing some kind of wacky sexual stuff,' he said.

'They wouldn't put a wire in the boxspring, OK? The device wouldn't be there. It doesn't make sense.'"
Oh how the PMO must be loving the developing debate ...

Internal controls over classified documentation

A CP report bolsters the notion that the official story that "Harper only found out yesterday" about the misplaced classified materials is not believable:
"Several current and former cabinet ministers found it hard to imagine how classified documents could go missing for so long.

Goodale said all cabinet documents are numbered and logged out to ministers by the Privy Council Office, the administrative arm of the prime minister's office. If a document isn't returned in timely fashion, he said, PCO calls to check where it is.

Revenue Minister Gordon O'Connor said he doesn't take any classified documents outside his office.

Defence Minister Peter MacKay said he has a safe in his home and his office in which to secure secret papers."
A subject we will be hearing much more about in coming days, the government's internal controls over classified information. What are the protocols and what deviations occurred in this instance?

Amateur hour, continued

Another question based on Ms. Couillard's interview and this report detail:
She also said that on May 9, she went out for dinner with a friend and returned home to find that her home alarm was deactivated. Couillard then hired a security expert who discovered evidence there had been a hidden microphone in the boxspring of her bed.
Deactivated. As in someone who had access to the code entered in her absence and deactivated it? Or someone had entered and otherwise deactivated it in the process?

Just asking, as at the May 9th point in our story, remember, Ms. Couillard apparently had classified documents in her possession, left by Mr. Bernier in mid-April and returned to Foreign Affairs just this past weekend.

Also...CTV update on Question Period goings on, here.

And on the likelihood of bugging, let's go with this guy over Bob Fife, shall we:

A former Canadian intelligence agent and RCMP officer said Tuesday that it's possible the federal government planted listening devices in Julie Couillard's apartment in Laval, Que.

Michel Juneau-Katsuya, now a private consultant, told CBC News that if the allegations were true, the bug might well have been planted by government security operatives.

...
Juneau-Katsuya said a government agency could have gone into damage control mode.

"It definitely could have been the government because here we need to know exactly what was going on," he said, adding the agency could have been his own former employer, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.

Three amigos

Ms. Couillard makes a good point...how did she get to meet Mr. Bush without a security check?

"Amateur hour on the Rideau"

For those looking - and there are a pile today - here is the Couillard video.

"Amateur hour on the Rideau," courtesy of Bob Rae in the House today...:)

Van Loan put on quite a show today, still stubbornly sticking to the line that the Prime Minister respects the private lives of private citizens. Harper is ridiculously clinging to this line today as well:
Asked if a larger investigation should be launched, Mr. Harper fell back on previous statements that he won't intrude on individuals' private lives.

“As we've said, private lives are private lives, and the government of Canada does not intend to get into the business of investigating private citizens.”
Don't these guys get it that this line's shelf life is over, like yesterday? Harper acknowledged some kind of "review of the incident" but nowhere near the effort required to restore confidence in his government. It's not just a political matter, the way they appear to be viewing it, that giving in on an investigation emboldens the opposition. That's the way they always view these things, circling the partisan wagons. It's now a matter of sending a signal to allies that the government of Canada takes such matters very seriously. They'll have no choice.

Also no answer from Van Loan to the apparent negligence of the Prime Minister in doing nothing about his Foreign Minister's activities that put security in jeopardy. Van Loan was sticking to the line, incredibly, that Harper only learned yesterday of the documents being left at Ms. Couillard's home. Just unbelievable. Rare public confirmation that the guy at the top is also not up to the job. Mr. Harper had a duty to act once he became aware of the Bernier-Couillard relationship and he fell short.

Most inspired performer of the day? Denis Coderre, who zeroed in on the bugging question. Did the RCMP and/or CSIS place listening devices in Ms. Couillard's home? Bob Fife is putting the kibosh on that aspect of the story today. Beds, according to Mr. Fife, do not make good bugging locations. Too much activity, he says. Too high a standard to get a court order to support such a bug. Really? Perhaps he should enlighten Mr. Coderre, who thought it was actually a question worth asking in the House.

Meanwhile, the word from Paris from our fearless leader on the bug question:
Prime Minister Stephen Harper says he has no reason to believe anyone planted electronic bugs in the home of disgraced former foreign minister Maxime Bernier's ex-girlfriend.

"I have absolutely no information to suggest that's true," he told reporters in Paris on Tuesday, reacting to a question about the allegation by Julie Couillard.
He has no information. He had no information on Bernier's documents either. Apparently, Harper is the last man to know? Does this mean there is information nevertheless that someone has that might suggest it's true?

A "classic clean-up operation"

Before we get into asking some questions here, on the issue of the microphones in Ms.Couillard's home and on the Bernier resignation, let's review the media accounts about the microphone(s) that Ms. Couillard alleges were placed in her home.

Last night, CanWest reported:
Also during the interview Couillard said experts examined her home and determined her home was under surveillance and the activities within the four walls were being tape recorded. She said she had her home checked after her burglar alarm behaved oddly and she was told a microphone had been placed in the boxspring of her bed.

"They didn't find any taperecorder but they found places where a microphone had been in the boxspring of my bed," she said, recounting how the electronic eavesdropping experts had shown her the staple marks and the tear left in her boxspring.
The National Post adds:
Ms. Couillard also revealed that experts have determined her home was under surveillance. She said she had her home checked after her burglar alarm behaved oddly and discovered a microphone had been placed near her bed.

She said she was told a professional cleanup operation had probably entered her home after the publicity erupted over her past ties to bikers.
The Globe's version:
Obviously shaken, Ms. Couillard said she recently learned her bed had been fitted with a microphone. Ms. Couillard said she had her house checked by experts after she came back from a supper with a friend and found that her alarm system had been disarmed. The experts, she said, found clear marks that a microphone had been tacked to her bed, and removed in a “classic clean-up operation.”

“I can only look at what has happened to me, and feel that I'm in the Twilight Zone,” she said.
Aren't we all at this point, aren't we all. This is Canadian politics, after all, we don't hear such tales on a regular basis.

The Canadian Press report zeroes in on the timing more particularly:

However, Couillard said she had her home professionally swept for listening devices in the last three weeks as the controversy raged around her.

"They had a kind of a smirk and they said, 'well, ma'am, this is a classic cleanup operation," she said of the sweeping crew. "He said, 'Ma'am, the evidence that we found, those microphones were taken out very recently."

She said her home alarm had been tripped recently.

"He said, 'Whoever put them there didn't want you to find any microphones for you to have proof that you were under surveillance'."

"Apparently, there were some (listening devices) in the boxspring of the mattress in my bedroom," she said in the interview.

Swept in the last three weeks and the verdict is that "recently" the clean-up occurred.

The Star:
She also said that on May 9, she went out for dinner with a friend and returned home to find that her home alarm was deactivated. Couillard then hired a security expert who discovered evidence there had been a hidden microphone in the boxspring of her bed. (emphasis added throughout)
Combine all of this information with the timing of the documents left by Mr. Bernier at her home in mid-April. And the public airing of the Bernier-Couillard relationship in the media in early May. Connecting any dots?

First of all, having seen part of the interview, let's accept that Ms. Couillard had experts come in and tell her what they did. She gave a national press televised interview. She has consulted with legal counsel on the classified documentation she turned over to Foreign Affairs and was careful in her words not to disclose what those materials were. Her counsel likely would have warned her as to the content of this interview. If she were lying about the microphones, it would be pretty easy to debunk. Who were her experts, will they back up her statements, etc. In any event, it's possible to verify that information. So let's accept that it is indeed the case that her place was bugged.

So who did it and when? Those are the interesting questions. On the who question, there are four possibilities that come to mind.

One: a criminal organization of some variety, in Quebec. A possibility given her former ties to individuals in biker gangs, as recently as 2005. It has been reported that a former significant other owed money to a gang and later committed suicide. Do biker gangs and/or criminal organizations conduct such professional surveillance or have the patience for it? Would they contract it out? Would they do this once they learned of her dating the Foreign Affairs Minister?

Two: a police organization in Quebec. It's been reported that Ms. Couillard and a former significant other were "burst in on" by an anti-biker crime squad in 1995. Would a similar bug have been used by a Quebec squad? Seems remote. Her last reported relationship with a person with criminal ties was in 2005.

Three: a foreign government. Mr. Bernier was one of the top ministers in the country with classified information in his possession. And he wasn't exactly careful.

Four: our government. Mr. Bernier left classified documents in her home in mid-April, the reports tell us. Their relationship became public in early May. Who had a motive, in the recent time frame, to find out about the goings on in Ms. Couillard's home and perhaps about the presence of classified documents and discussions? After all, the CP told us Ms. Couillard took quite an interest in Mr. Bernier's work.

Since we don't know a lot about what goes on behind the scenes in the Harper government - unless someone wants to spill on this - we can surmise that at the time Ms. Couillard's former ties became public, in early May, the shit hit the fan. Despite all the "none of our business" talk, it was likely a lot of people's business behind closed doors. One of the first things that Mr. Harper would have done, given how competent we all know he reportedly is, was to ask his Minister, "Minister, were there any breaches of security?" To which we can only guess what the response was. And secondly, a sweep of documents likely would have been done to determine whether Mr. Bernier could account for everything he should have in his possession. In this scenario, it likely would have been uncovered that yes, things were missing. Might someone have wanted to find out where those items were?

Needless to say, unanswered questions at this point abound. What steps did Mr. Harper take when he learned of the Bernier-Couillard relationship, whenever that might have been, to perform a security check. Has Mr. Harper or any of his staff exercised oversight over Mr. Bernier to determine the possibility of security breaches, at any point, and to what extent. What did Mr. Bernier inform others as to the likelihood of a security breach? Was he upfront about the documents left in mid-April or did he only act when a television interview/and/or news about Ms. Couillard seeking out the media surfaced on May 16th? Did Mr. Harper know about the documents left in Ms. Couillard's home prior to yesterday? Here's the relevant part of Mr. Harper's statement yesterday:
Last night, Maxime Bernier became aware that he had left classified government documents at a private residence earlier this spring. I became aware of this security breach late this afternoon.
Just Sunday night Bernier became aware? And Harper only became aware yesterday? On that latter point, if Harper only became aware yesterday, then it's his incompetence people need to be asking questions about. Even if Mr. Harper only became aware of Ms. Couillard's past relationships in early May - and that's a highly unbelievable supposition given the uproar over the attention she attracted at Rideau Hall when Bernier was sworn in - he should have been taking the appropriate steps and asking questions about security of classified information then. Not yesterday. Mr. Harper's reputation is not of being a laggard in any respect. It's hard to believe the account from yesterday in this respect.

And if Ms. Couillard's home was bugged, for how long? Who has this information on tape and what are they doing with it?

Monday, May 26, 2008

Microphones in boxsprings


It gets weirder and kind of sinister all at once:
Also during the interview Couillard said experts examined her home and determined her home was under surveillance and the activities within the four walls were being tape recorded. She said she had her home checked after her burglar alarm behaved oddly and she was told a microphone had been placed in the boxspring of her bed.

"They didn't find any taperecorder but they found places where a microphone had been in the boxspring of my bed," she said, recounting how the electronic eavesdropping experts had shown her the staple marks and the tear left in her boxspring.

The allegation, if true, is bound to raise profound questions, including: was her residence bugged before or after her association with Bernier became known, and who placed the surveillance device.
Good questions, those. The obvious question would be whether someone would have been seeking to blackmail Bernier as a result.

Also reported in this piece, that Bernier's known his classified materials were at Couillard's house for about a month now yet failed to retrieve them.

Of Harper's own doing, the report also terms this event "...the most severe blow to his two-year minority government..."

The "unsecure location"

CP confirms the details on Couillard's involvement:
"A source tells The Canadian Press that Bernier left an extremely sensitive classified document at Couillard's apartment, and her lawyer notified the Foreign Affairs department about the document on the weekend."
Whoopsie...

Payback's a bitch, ain't it?

Maxime Bernier: strike sixteen - and you're outta there!

Well, the day we've all been expecting has finally arrived. The terrible choice by Prime Minister Stephen Harper for a Foreign Affairs Minister, Maxime Bernier, has resulted in utter embarrassing failure. Can we recall the resignation of a senior minister of government for essentially, incompetence, like this? Nope. Not in recent memory.

The word from CBC is that there was a security breach in that Bernier left documents in an "unsecure location." Hmmm, now let's think real hard about where that might have been in relation to Bernier...

CTV, courtesy of Bob Fife, is intoning that the RCMP might have to be brought in to investigate what documents were left where, who might have seen it, etc. CTV is also citing CP as suggesting that the unsecured breach might have involved Julie Couillard's apartment. Word also that the interview tonight of Couillard on TVA may have factored into this. Lots more to come on this, I'm sure.

The Foreign Affairs Ministry never deserved a minister who was unqualified and who was chosen principally because he was telegenic and from Quebec, to sell the Afghan mission in Quebec. Optics above all else do not a good government make.

This is Stephen Harper's problem, above all. Still not taking it seriously, Steve?

P.S. And here I actually thought I'd get up to eighteen in the Maxime strike watch...

One of these things is not like the other

Greenland summit to discuss carve-up of Arctic:
"Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Moller and the premier of Greenland's government, Hans Enoksen, will meet the Norwegian and Russian foreign ministers Jonas Gahr Stoere and Sergei Lavrov, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte and Canada's Natural Resources Minister Gary Lunn at the two-day conference opening on Wednesday in the town of Ilulissat."
One of these things just doesn't belong...:)

(File under everything I need to know in life I learned from watching Sesame Street.)

"I don't take this subject seriously"

Oh, I'm sure this is nothing, once again. Our fearless leader tells us so:
Prime Minister Stephen Harper is flatly refusing to discuss security concerns about his foreign affairs minister's ex-girlfriend, despite a news report that raises fresh questions.

Reports said Monday that Julie Couillard - who had links to the criminal biker underworld as late as 2005 - is the head of a high-tech firm that has been involved in security at airports.

And it quotes a source as saying she received documents regarding airport security.
...
Harper again refused to answer today when asked if authorities had done a check on Couillard in light of the latest report.

"I have no intention to comment on a minister's former girlfriend," he said. "I don't take this subject seriously."

Hmmm, head of a tech firm involved in airport security...recent ties to biker world...girlfriend of Foreign Affairs Minister...at this point, we seriously need to wonder what actually would warrant a security check. They messed up, period.

She's on TVA in Montreal tonight, a full-feature interview...:)

Maxime, still giving the PMO fits...:)

Low hanging fruit

A CTV online poll showing a healthy majority of those voting think Harper should indeed be pulling the plug on Maxime Bernier just about now. Yes it's an online poll, susceptible to incredible manipulation. But still a notable result on the potential removal of a Foreign Affairs Minister, demonstrating that Bernier's incompetence is resonating. We bloggers compile our records of stumbles, a lot of them tending to be not so high-profile but rather of the "inside baseball" variety. Bernier's gaffes of late, however, including the amateurish call for the Governor of Kandahar's resignation, the questionable girlfriend and the bungled promise of an unavailable cargo airlift plane are taking hold in the public's mind. A string of errors and you can't help but question the basics here.

So Michael Ignatieff yesterday on Question Period took Bernier to task. And apparently it'll be the order of the week to request Bernier's resignation. Not that Bernier will be in town all week. I suppose it'll be left to the likes of Van Loan to defend the minister's million dollar mistake in promising the unavailable C-17. It'll be entertaining, no doubt, to see what Van Loan comes up with to make it all seem perfectly reasonable. What's a million dollars, hey?

In the background, as we read last week, the rumblings from Conservative sources are that Bernier's days are numbered in the Foreign Affairs portfolio in any event. He's low hanging fruit for the opposition. He's pretty much done.

The bigger issue is the disregard in which Foreign Affairs is held by the PM and what might be a nascent war going on behind the scenes. We've witnessed what appears to be an increasing willingness to push back against Conservatives in recent weeks. For example, we witnessed, in the Julie Couillard publicity, reporting on what appeared to be information about Bernier's reliance upon her in his day to day affairs that had to have come from his staff, or at least, certainly those in the know in the department And now, on the bungled C-17 promise by Bernier, his aides claim that he was given faulty information on the availability of the C-17. As Ignatieff pointed out on Sunday:
"He's lost the confidence of his own department," he told CTV's Question Period on Sunday. "You can't make promises on the international stage if you can't deliver. This was a serious mistake."
The rage against the government machinery practiced by the Harper Conservatives coming back to haunt them? Makes you wonder if such push back is going to become more common. And it makes you wonder about the harm being caused in the meantime to significant issues Canada is not tending to while there is a glaring lack of leadership in this file.

I would expect to see a defence of Bernier this week and next. Then a quiet dumping in the summer during some kind of miniature shuffle. They never acknowledge any kind of responsibility for their incompetence, they just paper over the mess when few are looking. But as this sample poll suggests, Canadians know the score...

Go sell crazy somewhere else

We're all stocked up, here.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Void in leadership at Foreign Affairs hurting our international interests

As noted by bloggers this week, a significant international meeting of foreign affairs ministers on the future of the Arctic is to take place in Greenland next week. The U.S. is sending a heavy-hitting diplomat:
"John Negroponte, the US deputy secretary of state, will travel to Greenland for an international conference next week about territorial claims in the oil-rich Arctic, the State Department said Wednesday.

'Negroponte will lead the United States delegation to the Arctic Ocean Conference hosted by the Government of Denmark in Ilulissat, Greenland, May 27-29,' it said in a statement.

Pointing out that Canada, Russia and Norway will send high-level delegates to the conference, it added, 'Negroponte looks forward to these discussions as well as bilateral meetings with his counterparts.'"
Well, our delegate is not exactly as "high-level" as the Americans would have you believe. Who are we sending? Natural Resources Minister Gary Lunn. That's right. Lunn will go toe to toe with Negroponte et al. Not exactly inspiring much in the way of confidence in our diplomatic force there. Not that Bernier would be much of an improvement. And that's the problem.

There are conflicting claims on seabed rights to be negotiated with other nations and boundary disputes in the mix. Michael Byers took the government to task the other day for this mistake in judgment in sending Lunn:
Co-operation, diplomacy and international law are not the remit of a natural resources minister. Denmark invited foreign ministers to the summit for a reason. The Prime Minister needs to reconsider, dispatch Bernier to Greenland, or send a new foreign minister in his place.
Where will Bernier be? Hosting a meeting of the Caribbean Development Bank in Halifax, a get together that will see not only Bernier attending, but a bevy of Harper ministers: Bev Oda (pardon the pun), Guergis, and MacKay. Why this event warrants four ministers yet Lunn is tapped to attend the more significant Greenland meetings is striking.

The Greenland meeting should have Foreign Affairs representation. But Harper's crew demonstrates once more that they are just not up to snuff.

It's about freaking time

File under long overdue stories: "Liberals sheath their knives, now have Dion's back." The existential angst, backroom plotting and bumbling have hopefully just about run their course. Self-interested machinations do nothing to help defeat Mr. Harper's party. They just destroy the morale of Canadians who hope to see a viable Liberal alternative presented in a federal election.

Get on with it!

Friday, May 23, 2008

Better

Now here's a headline on the NAFTAgate report that meets the mark: "Brodie role cited in leak report." Exactly.

Maxime Bernier: strike fifteen

See? That didn't take long. It's been just a week since numero quatorze. Well done, Maxime, speaking before thinking: "Bernier's plane pledge catches Ottawa off guard." And making the vaunted Conservative purchases of massive cargo airlift craft seem utterly useless:
Federal officials scrambled yesterday to rent a high-priced Russian plane to ship helicopters to Myanmar because they could not deliver on Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Bernier's public pledge to provide Canada's new C-17s for the job, sources said.

As officials quickly discovered, none of the recently purchased cargo lift aircraft were immediately available, contrary to what Mr. Bernier promised in Rome two days ago.

Senior federal officials said Canada's military was caught off guard by Mr. Bernier's promise to airlift World Food Program helicopters into the cyclone-ravaged country or neighbouring Thailand.

"Canada is there to help the people of Burma and we have a C-17 available," Mr. Bernier said after meeting with the WFP's director. "We'll do this flight as quickly as possible."

But sources said the Department of National Defence could not move quickly enough to fulfill Mr. Bernier's vow, given that two of Canada's four C-17s are undergoing work and the other two are in prescheduled use.
Doh!

Why yes, he certainly is going out with a bang...:)

If this constitutes being cleared...

A damaging government report being released on a Friday afternoon, truly shocking.

This Globe headline, picked up from the CP reporting, seems misleading if you read the Privy Council Office's NAFTA-gate report: "NAFTA-leak report clears PM's chief of staff." If by "clear" they mean on a very technical level, that is. Brodie has been cleared on two technical grounds, of leaking any classified information or the content of the diplomatic report. The report, however, confirms that Brodie learned of contact by one of the Democratic candidates' campaigns with Canadian officials while he was in Washington, prior to his remarks during the budget lock-up, and that he did "probably" make the comments about a Democratic presidential candidate's posturing during the budget lock-up. So, hello? This is being "cleared?" Here's the report's conclusion on Brodie's leak:



Despite that claim in the report, above, about not being able to substantiate Brodie's comments during the lock-up (CTV reporters declined to participate in the PCO investigation), there's plenty of sourcing out there to confirm the comments. CBC:
CBC News confirmed Wednesday that Harper's chief of staff, Ian Brodie, was the source of what is now being dubbed NAFTA-gate.
And a CP report, removed from the web now, but available extensively on the web in secondary sources:
"Quite a few people heard it," said one source in the room.

"He said someone from (Hillary) Clinton's campaign is telling the embassy to take it with a grain of salt. . . That someone called us and told us not to worry."
Brodie set the ball rolling, this report confirms that significant aspect of the entire matter.

The biggest farce of this Privy Council Office report is their incredible reluctance to actually interview Foreign Affairs personnel. The scope of their investigation into sourcing who in the department may have leaked the diplomatic report to the Associated Press consisted largely of a review of "electronic transmissions," faxes and the like. They claim not to have had the resources to interview the personnel to whom the report was distributed. Here:

So the gaping hole in the investigation is there. Any one of those who were distributed a report could have taken a hard copy to Kinko's or other preferred third party location and faxed it to the media. This investigation completely sidesteps this possibility and prefers to instead leave it at a thirty-thousand foot look - or "advanced keyword search" - at the suspicious traffic emanating out of electronic transmissions. And surprise, no leads came up. A thorough review, fellas.

And also comical, the recommendations to expand future budget lock-up rules to enforce the off the record protocols, given the pressing need to preserve confidentiality around budget matters. Too bad the matters discussed in this particular lock-up were entirely unrelated to budgetary matters! No matter, it appears they want to clamp down on everything uttered in such sessions now, irrespective of whether the remarks are related to budgetary matters or not:



Brodie's comments had nothing to do with budgetary matters and should not have been protected by budgetary confidentiality. Nevertheless, they seek to expand the confidentiality provisions. Not a big stretch for the Harper folk.

This report, "clearing" of Brodie and Wilson, was to have been expected, and there you have it. Well done, PCO.

Bravo to the Supreme Court

A welcome check has been placed on the Harper government's policy on Gitmo: "Ottawa ordered to give Khadr interrogation documents."
The Supreme Court of Canada has ordered the federal government to hand over information to alleged terrorist Omar Khadr that it gleaned from interrogation sessions that Canadian agents held with him in 2003.

Now 21, Mr. Khadr's U. S. war-crimes trial is scheduled to begin later this year. His lawyers are seeking the material in order to prepare his defence.

The 9-0 decision – signed simply "by the Court" – said that Mr. Khadr is entitled to any records of the interviews, regardless of what form they are in. It stated that he must also be given any information that Canadian authorities have given to their US counterparts as a direct consequence of conducting the interviews.
While Khadr's lawyers are concerned the ruling doesn't go far enough, to include a U.S. military report on the battle in which Khadr was involved in Afghanistan, the judgment is being well-received and supported as ground-breaking in the Canadian legal community.

What's being heralded is the judgment of the court, unanimous, that "...Canada cannot be complicit in violations of international law." As this lawyer states:
"The Supreme Court of Canada has unanimously upheld that the Charter applies to the conduct of Canadian officials acting outside of Canada when they participate in the processes of a foreign government – here, the U.S. – that is in violation of international law."

He said this "is an extremely important point of constitutional principle with broad ramifications. The federal government has recently argued that the Charter does not apply to Canadian armed forces operating in Afghanistan, a view accepted by the Federal Court of Canada. That decision is now clearly incorrect.

Mr. Arvay added that the ruling "killed two nasty birds with one carefully aimed stone" – the violation of both Mr. Khadr's rights and those of Afghan detainees.
The judgment is here.

This is one of those days when you feel especially proud to be Canadian, to have the calibre of court we do that will stand up to the anti-rule of law Bush administration by saying to the world, no, Canadian courts will not stand by while a citizens' human rights are being violated.

The court pinned its decision on international agreements to which Canada is a signatory, and on the fact that the U.S. Supreme Court has already found the Guantanamo Bay legal processes "to violate U.S. domestic law and international human rights obligations to which Canada subscribes.

"With Khadr's present and future liberty at stake, Canada is bound by the principles of fundamental justice and is under a duty of disclosure pursuant to s. 7 of the Charter," the court said, in its 9-0 ruling. "The content of this duty is defined by the nature of Canada's participation in the process that violated its international human rights obligations.

"In the present circumstances, this duty requires Canada to disclose to Khadr records of the interviews conducted by Canadian officials with him, and information given to U.S. authorities as a direct consequence of conducting the interviews, subject to claims for privilege and public interest immunity," it said.

"Since unredacted copies of all documents, records and other materials in the appellants' possession which might be relevant to the charges against Khadr have already been produced to a designated judge of the Federal Court, the judge will now review the material, receive submissions from the parties and decide which documents fall within the scope of the disclosure obligation."

The right wing Canadian government, kowtowing to the Bush administration, has been officially and significantly slapped back.

Well done.

Jean Charest's mess

Oh looky, fallout from the Bouchard-Taylor commission goes into constitutional territory:
Mr. Dumont accused the commission of failing to include that the Canadian Constitution was imposed on Quebec in 1982 and that as a nation it deserved proper legal protection.

“We want the Constitution to be formally amended so that it recognizes the Québécois nation,” he told the National Assembly.
Dumont's not exactly Mr. Popularity these days, so this call is likely to have little resonance. We did, however, witness a Conservative cabinet minister from Quebec musing about the same idea just recently, only to be vaguely kiboshed by the PM. Isn't it interesting to see the idea resorted to from time to time, always a reminder of the danger posed by that little harmless, symbolic resolution.

Not to be outdone, Pauline Marois also called for legal recognition of the Quebec identity, but in ultimately a more severe manner:
Parti Québécois Leader Pauline Marois also criticized the commission's failure to address the “identity malaise” that exists in Quebec and accused the Premier of deliberately avoiding the issue.

“The identity question demands more than half-measures and must go beyond symbols. It demands a firm commitment … that should be written in our laws,” Ms. Marois said in the National Assembly, adding that the only real solution to the identity debate would be for Quebec to become a sovereign country.
Capital idea, this commission, Mr. Charest, just capital. He deserves every difficulty in wading through these self-inflicted controversies.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Terrorism unit pursued environmental leaker

It doesn't take much, apparently, for the crack anti-terrorism unit to be called in. Remember the environmental leaker one year ago? He instilled much fear in the RCMP, what with his band's logo and their song, "Harper Youth." Heh...:) The CBC political blog reports with newly released access to information documents:
In May of 2007, Jeff Monaghan, a civil servant with Environment Canada, was led out of a government office tower in handcuffs.

He was accused of leaking a government policy paper on climate change a week before it was to be released to the public.

Now, newly released documents under the Access to Information Act show the Mounties brought in their crack anti-terrorism unit to pursue the case.

Apart from being a mid-level bureaucrat, Monaghan was also a self-described anarchist and the drummer in a band called the Suicide Pilots.

According to the access documents, it was a song entitled "Harper Youth" and the band's logo depicting a cartoon airplane about to crash into the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill that piqued the interest of the terrorism unit.

A three-month investigation ensued. It looked into Monaghan's e-mails, his online postings and activities at a downtown Ottawa anarchist book store. But in the end the Mounties found nothing that could lead to charges so they closed the anti-terrorism investigation.

There have been charges laid yet in the original breach of trust investigation, though the RCMP still considers the original leak to be an open case.

As for Monaghan, who a year ago called his arrest "vengeful" and an attempt to bully civil servants, he and his band are currently on tour in Nova Scotia and unavailable for comment.(emphasis added)
I'm surprised this embarrassing information was released given the slow wheels turning in the access to information department these days...

But now that it is, let's give a big round of applause to the anti-terrorism unit for keeping its ears tuned to the local indie scene for political protest songs. With these kinds of standards prompting anti-terrorism investigations, we are truly in good hands...:)

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Priorities

No show for Joe Clark but..."Prime Minister Stephen Harper to honour 'father' of organized hockey." Sounds like it's going to be quite the thing:
James George Aylwin Creighton lies in an unmarked grave in an Ottawa cemetery but the "father" of organized ice hockey will get his due Thursday with a tribute from the prime minister and Canada's most storied team.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper will be outside Montreal's Bell Centre to unveil a plaque paying tribute to one of hockey's founding fathers. He will be joined by the presidents of the Montreal Canadiens, the International Ice Hockey Federation and Hockey Canada.
Let's not begrudge this guy his honours, but the same respect should properly be paid by the PM to Clark. But I guess there's little political mileage to be had from the Clark event as opposed to some hockey publicity during the playoffs.

Where is the decency?

Will Maxime be shuffled off to obscurity? Say it ain't so

I haven't seen many people discussing this Hill Times article from Monday, so thought I'd give it a whirl, seeing as how it involves one of my all time favourite Conservative cabinet ministers, Mad Max: "Talk about Bernier heats up, likely to be shuffled, Tories say." Yes, it was another Conservative source-filled piece on Mr. Bernier who is about to be politically buried, "Ambrosed," shall we say. It's a bit of a shame, actually. It's been so much fun to conduct the Maxime strike watch and he's only up to fourteen by my count. I was looking forward to many more swings and misses.

So where is he likely off to, according to these mischievous Conservative sources?
"The talk is that Maxime is going to end up at something fun and more at his level, like Revenue," one Conservative insider told The Hill Times last week, referring to the National Revenue portfolio, where former Defence minister Gordon O'Connor (Carleton-Mississippi Mills, Ont.) was moved in August 2007. (emphasis added)
Oh yes, something "fun," like Revenue! And "at his level." Could this comment be any more patronizing? Revenue: where Conservative bumblers go to never be heard from again. I'm tellin' ya, the fall from grace of this rising, telegenic Quebec star has disturbed me to no end.

Let's see...what else do we have here in the way of gratuitous slagging of Bernier:
"I think more and more people are coming to realize that he's a bit of an empty suit," the Conservative source said. "He doesn't seem to have taken any interest in his files, and it shows when he speaks."
...
"It's kind of this accumulation of these little gaffes that are undermining him," the insider said. "He's a smart guy, but the Liberals are trying to paint him as a guy with no judgment, and that's starting to stick, unfortunately for him."
On that last point...gee, whatever are they talking about...:)

But alas, there's hope for Maxime fans yet:
However, a third Conservative source told The Hill Times last week that they haven't heard talk about shuffling Mr. Bernier.
Not exactly a ringing endorsement or quote on the record touting Maxime or anything, but still, it's there.

If Bernier does get shuffled out, let's hope the next Foreign Affairs candidate is equally up to the strike watch. I'm all for Stalkwell Day, for example, the former Conservative Foreign Affairs critic extraordinaire. After all, Day's been quite happy to interject his opinion on international affairs to date. And he's got that gaffe-touch, perhaps even more so than Bernier. Yep, could be a ripe time for a promotion for good ol' Stalk...:) Whatever was that critic experience for if not grooming for the post at some point?

Meanwhile, pity the poor beleaguered folks in Foreign Affairs. This prestigious posting where the public service views their institution with pride will have had three mediocre ministers inflicted upon them within the space of 2 and a half years. Pretty amazing. And telling you just what regard Mr. Harper holds it in.

Mark your calendars...we've likely only two more weeks of Maxime's official House duties as Foreign Affairs Minister. Let's hope he goes out with a bang...:)

A little over the top

Harper's tone today was a little arrogant and condescending. Not surprising to those of us in the Canadian population, a majority, that is, who feel that Mr. Harper is just a little too disconcerting for our taste. But protesting a bit too much on Dion's preliminary proposal on carbon tax policy, suggesting perhaps a discomfort or irritation by Conservatives with having to fight on this territory: "Carbon tax 'foolish and unnecessary': PM." A little too smartest-guy-in-the-room-esque with a hint of an overreach on his part:
Prime Minister Stephen Harper dismissed Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion's plan to tax carbon emissions as a "foolish and unnecessary policy" on Wednesday, saying it's nothing more than a cash grab for a government.

Harper was asked what role the government could play in cushioning the impact of high oil and gas prices on consumers.

He said that beyond providing some tax relief — something he said his party has done with GST and income tax cuts — the government can have little impact on lowering gas prices.

"But I think what we don't need right now when we do face rising gasoline taxes and rising taxes on energy products are governments to come and specifically impose carbon taxes on our economy," Harper told reporters in Beamsville, Ont.

"We think that is a foolish and unnecessary policy that is being proposed by our opposition."
And now, Mr. Dion, time to rebut these words. The Liberals can't have such trash talking hanging out there, unmet. Have a press conference, whatever, but explain reasonably why it isn't "foolish" and "unnecessary" and why Mr. Harper's know-it-all tone is inappropriate.

Waiting...

What to do about Gitmo

The facts continue to embarrass the Harper government, who refuse to act to repatriate Omar Khadr from Gitmo. Today's news includes more documented evidence of torture there, including news of the FBI maintaining a "war crimes file" on activities there until ordered to close it in 2003. And the U.S. Secretary of Defence admitting before a Senate Committee yesterday that the U.S. wants to close Gitmo, but can't find takers for the prisoners who aren't being "tried" by the U.S.
The United States is "stuck" with its war-on-terror detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba because it cannot figure out what to do with prisoners who cannot be charged or set loose, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Tuesday.

Gates told lawmakers that he still believes that the prison should be closed, but has not found a way to do it.

"Senator, I think the brutally frank answer is we're stuck. And we're stuck in several ways," he told California Senator Dianne Feinstein.

He said the United States was prepared to send 60 or 70 prisoners home but either cannot persuade their countries to take them, or can't trust them not to free them.

"The second problem is ... what do you do with that irreducible 70 or 80 who you cannot let loose but will not be charged and will not be sent home," he said.
Seems to me that if you can't let them "loose" then you need to bring charges against them. And if the charges are unwarranted, then you have to let them go. What kind of nation has the U.S. become where it can just abscond with people and hold them forever? Without legal process? A sad, hypocritical nation that holds itself out as a model for others. And one that our government just happily winks at.

Fresh reports of documented torture and the U.S. Secretary of Defence expressing the intent to close Gitmo...the excuses for not repatriating Khadr are just pathetic at this point...

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Peaceful nation? Not for long

Wait 'till Mini Bush spends $96 billion on the military: "Canada slips out of top 10 most peaceful countries." Oh, and we become a primo uranium enricher thanks to Steve's secret international plans.
Canada has slipped out of a rating of the world's top 10 most peaceful countries.

The reason is Canada's involvement in Afghanistan and the addition of 19 more countries to the list, says David Crichton, a research director at Britain's Economist Intelligence Unit which conducted the Global Peace Index.

Canada was ranked number eight in last year's index but slipped to 11th place this year.
...
The index, now in its second year, ranks countries according to their relative states of peace, based on factors such as military expenditure and respect for human rights, the homicide rate and other things.
See? Military expenditure. We're in for a downward plummet on this scale...Canada's back all right...:)