Forget Facebook, Five Eyes is bigger threat to our privacy, security

While the media has been full of news about information-gathering by Facebook and other Internet giants, other secretive organizations that are a major threat to our personal privacy and public security are seldom mentioned. And when they are, it has most often been because politicians are praising them and offering up more money for them to spy.

For example, Justin Trudeau recently promoted the “Anglosphere’s” intelligence sharing arrangement. Two weeks ago, in a rare move, the PM revealed a meeting with his “Five Eyes” counterparts. After the meeting in London Trudeau labelled the 2,000 employee Communications Security Establishment, Canada’s main contributor to the “Five Eyes” arrangement, “an extraordinary institution”. Last year Trudeau said that “collaboration and co-operation between allies, friends and partners has saved lives and keeps all of our citizens safe.”

The praise comes as the government is seeking to substantially expand CSE’s powers and two months ago put up $500 million to create a federal “cybersecurity” centre. This money is on top of CSE’s $600 million annual budget and a massive new $1.2 billion complex.

Since its creation CSE has been part of the “Five Eyes” intelligence-sharing framework. The main contributors to the accord are the US National Security Agency (NSA), Australian Defence Signals Directorate (DFS), New Zealand’s Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB), British Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) and CSE. A series of post-World War II accords, beginning with the 1946 UKUSA intelligence agreement, createdthe “AUS/CAN/NZ/UK/US EYES ONLY” arrangement.

Writing prior to the Internet, author of Target Nation: Canada and the Western Intelligence Network James Littleton notes, “almost the entire globe is monitored by the SIGINT [signals intelligence] agencies of the UKUSA countries.” With major technological advancements in recent decades, the Five Eyes now monitor billions of private communications worldwide.

The Five Eyes accords are ultra-secretive and operate with little oversight. NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden labeled it a “supra-national intelligence organisation that doesn’t answer to the known laws of its own countries.”

In addition to sharing information they’ve intercepted, collected, analysed and decrypted, the five SIGINT agencies exchange technologies and tactics. They also cooperate on targeting and “standardize their terminology, codewords, intercept–handling procedures, and indoctrination oaths, for efficiency as well as security.”

CSE Special Liaison Officers are embedded with Five Eyes counterparts while colleagues from the US, Britain, Australia and New Zealand are inserted in CSE. NSA has had many long-term guest detachments at CSE facilities. An NSA document Snowden released described how the US and Canadian agencies’ “co-operative efforts include the exchange of liaison officers and integrees.”

NSA has trained CSE cryptanalysts and in the 1960s the US agency paid part of the cost of modernizing Canadian communications interception facilities. With CSE lacking capacity, intelligence collected at interception posts set up in Canadian embassies in Cuba, Jamaica, Russia, etc. was often remitted to NSA for deciphering and analysis. In his 1986 book Littleton writes, “much of the SIGINT material collected by Canada is transmitted directly to the U.S. National Security Agency, where it is interpreted, stored, and retained. Much of it is not first processed and analyzed in Canada.”

Five Eyes agencies have helped each other skirt restrictions on spying on their own citizenry. Former Solicitor-General Wayne Easter told the Toronto Starthat it was “common” for NSA “to pass on information about Canadians” to CSE. Conversely, former CSE officer Michael Frost says NSA asked the agency to spy on US citizens. In Spyworld: Inside the Canadian and American Intelligence Establishments Frost reveals that on the eve of the 1983 British election Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher asked GCHQ to spy on two cabinet ministers “to find out not what they were saying, but what they were thinking.” Reflecting the two agencies close ties, GCHQ requested CSE’s help on this highly sensitive matter. Frost notes that CSE wasn’t particularly worried about being caught because GCHQ was the agency tasked with protecting Britain from foreign spying.

In the lead-up to the US-British invasion of Iraq NSA asked Canada and the rest of the Five Eyes to spy on UN Security Council members. On January 31, 2003, NSA SIGINT Department Deputy Chief of Staff for regional targets wrote alliance counterparts: “As you’ve likely heard by now, the agency is mounting a surge particularly directed at the UN Security Council (UNSC) members (minus US and GBR [Great Britain] of course) for insights as to how membership is reacting to the ongoing debate RE: Iraq, plans to vote on any related resolutions, what related policies/negotiating positions they may be considering, alliances/dependencies, etc. – the whole gamut of information that could give US policymakers an edge in obtaining results favorable to US goals or to head off surprises.”

While CSE reportedly rejected this NSA request, a number of commentators suggest CSE has shown greater allegiance to its Five Eyes partners than most Canadians would like. Littleton writes, “the agreements may not explicitly say that the United States, through its SIGINT organization, the National Security Agency (NSA) dominates and controls the SIGINT organizations of the other member nations, but that is clearly what the agreements mean.”

An NSA history of the US–Canada SIGINT relationship released by Snowden labelled Canada a “highly valued second party partner”, which offers “resources for advanced collection, processing and analysis, and has opened covert sites at the request of NSA. CSE shares with NSA their unique geographic access to areas unavailable to the US.”

The Five Eyes arrangement has made Canada complicit in belligerent US foreign policy. It’s time for a debate about Canadian participation in the “Anglosphere’s” intelligence sharing agreement.

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Filed under A Propaganda System, Black Book of Canadian Foreign Policy

Is militaristic shill for bloodstained African dictator really a hero?

He’s gone from shaking hands with the devil to promoting Africa’s most bloodstained ruler.

Last week Roméo Dallaire attended a screening of Rwanda — The Royal Tourin Chicago. The tourism documentary criss-crosses that country with Paul Kagame and the Rwandan dictator was on hand for the premiere. Six months ago Dallaire met Rwanda’s war criminal defence minister, James Kabarebe, in Vancouver and in 2016 the former Canadian general spoke alongside Kagame in Toronto.

All this despite growing attention to Kagame’s brutality and questions regarding the official story of the Rwandan genocide, which underpins his legitimacy. The President of Rwanda, who in his 2003 book Shake Hands With the Devil Dallaire described as an “extraordinary man”, has finally been revealed as a tyrant by the dominant media.

According to the promotion for In Praise of Blood, The Crimes of the Rwandan Patriotic Front, since 2015 seven front page Globe and Mail stories have included Judi Rever’s reporting on Kagame’s international assassination program and responsibility for blowing up the presidential plane, which triggered the Rwandan mass killings in April 1994. Published by Penguin Random House Canada, the Globe and Mail and Toronto Star (provocatively titled “Did Rwanda’s Paul Kagame trigger the genocide of his own people?”) have both recently run excerpts from In Praise of Blood while Rever has been interviewed by CBC radio’s flagship current affairs show As It Happens, the Hill Times and others.

An important contribution to exposing RPF violence in Rwanda and the Congo during the 1990s, Rever’s book comes on the heels of Anjan Sundaram’s Bad News: Last Journalists in a Dictatorship, which describes the totalitarian regime in Rwanda. (In a sign of Kagame’s determination to stamp out all non-state controlled gatherings, the government recently shuttered 6,000 churches/mosques and arrested a half-dozen pastors for “illegal meetings with bad intentions.”) Sundaram’s book received significant corporate media attention and the BBC documentary Rwanda’s Untold Storyoffers an easily accessible challenge to the Dallaire/Kigali promoted genocide fairy tale. More devastating, though less publicized, recent challenges to the Kigali/Washington/London promoted account of the Rwanda (and concurrent Burundian and Congolese) tragedies include Edward S. Herman and David Peterson’s Enduring Lies: The Rwandan Genocide in the Propaganda System, 20 Years Later and Robin Philpot’s Rwanda and the New Scramble for Africa: From Tragedy to Useful Imperial Fiction.

As part of research for a chapter on Dallaire I picked up In Praise of Blood and was surprised that Rever ignores the former Canadian general’s contribution to the Rwandan disaster and distortion of what transpired. (Dallaire is cited three times in the bibliography and none of those mentions are critical.) This can’t be by accident. It’s unlikely Penguin Random House Canada would have considered publishing the Montrealer’s book if not for the former Canadian general’s role in Rwanda since, as serial Kagame apologist Gerald Caplan put it, “the personal relationship so many Canadians feel with Rwanda can be explained in two words: Roméo Dallaire.” Conversely, however, the corporate behemoth probably wouldn’t have published Rever’s book (or dominant media covered it) if it directly challenged Dallaire/benevolent Canada mythology. Already, In Praise of Blood’s challenge to the popular understanding of the Rwandan violence pushes the bounds of mainstream politics. It would be too much to explicitly criticize Dallaire’s role in backing RPF crimes and distorting Rwanda’s tragedy to serve Kigali/Washington and his own aims.

When the political head of the mid 1990s UN mission in Rwanda, former Cameroonian Foreign Minister Jacques-Roger Booh-Booh, published Le Patron de Dallaire Parle: Révélations sur les dérives d’un général de l’ONU au Rwanda (Dallaire’s boss speaks: Revelations about the excesses of a UN General in Rwanda) the dominant media all but ignored it. A 2015 Canadian newswire search found three mentions of the 2005 book (a National Postreview headlined “Allegations called ‘ridiculous’: UN boss attacks general,” an Ottawa Citizen piece headlined “There are many sides to the Rwanda saga” and a letter by an associate of Dallaire).

But, directly confronting Dallaire is imperative. As I detail, the former general backed the war in Afghanistan, bombing of Libya, 2004 coup in Haiti, etc. and has called for western intervention in a slew of other places. Dallaire promotes a highly simplistic account of the Rwandan genocide designed to promote liberal interventionist policies such as the Responsibility to Protect doctrine.

At the same time “Canada’s most admired citizen” and “greatest Canadian” finalist openly backs a dictator who has contributed to millions of deaths in Rwanda and the Congo. Having played an important role in toppling governments in Kampala (1986), Kigali (1994) and Kinshasa (1997), Kagame probably has more African blood on his hands than any other individual alive today.

Canada’s humanitarian “hero” is openly aligned with ‘Africa’s Hitler’.

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Filed under Canada in Africa

Hey Montréal police, respect our right to protest

The Montréal police have a problem with democracy that the new progressive city council should address.

Last Thursday I was arrested for shouting “shame; free Palestine” at the large annual pro-Israel demonstration. Three officers on bikes blocked me from walking on the sidewalk of Boulevard René Lévesque and yelling “shame, free Palestine” at people with Israeli flags on the street. After being threatened with arrest for expressing my opinion in motion, I joined a small counter-demonstration called by the Action Antifasciste Montréal (though most of the counter-demonstrators were Jewish anti-Zionist Neturei Karta). Standing just behind a row of police officers at the edge of Square Dorchester, I restarted shouting for about five minutes at which point a cop told me to move further into the park. When I refused to be muzzled again I was handcuffed, searched, put in the back of a police van and given a ticket for having continued or repeated an act that a police officer said to cease doing (“En ayant continué ou répété un acte interdit après avoir reçu l`ordre d’un agent de la paix de cesser cet acte.”).

After a half hour the police drove me a few blocks away and said if I returned to the protest site they would arrest me and take me to a detention centre. I was given a $150 fine, which I will contest. In fact, I hope to sue the police for breaching my Charter right to peacefully protest.

Of course, this incident of police overreach — in a peaceful political situation — is a relatively trivial example of the SPVM’s hostility towards protests called by student and radical left groups (Association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante, Convergence des luttes anticapitalistes, Parti communiste révolutionnaire, Collectif Opposé à la Brutalité Policière, etc.) Police repression is so common that when leaving the Bibliothèque nationale du Québec around 8:30 p.m. two Fridays ago and seeing multiple cop cars speeding down de Bleury with sirens blazing, my first thought was what demonstration would be taking place at that hour. Then I remembered seeing an announcement for a protest against the French government’s dispersal of a 10-year-old anti-capitalist environmental squat. Subsequently I discovered about a hundred mostly students marching festively along Saint Denis towards UQAM.

On my way home I passed dozens of riot cops sitting in police buses and vans. There may have been as many police as protesters! (One cop said hi to which I asked if we knew each other. In a response that seemed less than friendly he said he recognized me from previous demonstrations.)

The cost to the city was probably a thousand, maybe over ten thousand, dollars in overtime to have these cops sit around for a few hours. But, in this case at least SPVM decision makers only trampled on taxpayers rights. The Montréal police regularly undermine the democratic rights of the student and radical left. A 2005 United Nations repo​rt condemned the SPVM’s mass arrest tactics for encroaching on the right to “peacefully participate in social protests.” Six years later it came to light that the SPVM created a unit called “GAMMA” (Guet des activités des mouvements marginaux et anarchistes or surveillance of marginal and anarchist groups’ activities). During the student strike, between February 16 and September 3 2012, 3,509 demonstrators were arrested in Montréal. In Spring 2015 the SPVM fiercely repressed student-led anti-austerity mobilizations.

The city is currently facing eight class-action lawsuits totalling $20 million for mass arrests during the 2012 student strike. It already settled out of court with a student strike activist over the SPVM politically profiling her.

City council controls the police budget ($650 million) and oversees its operations. Projet Montréal (the progressive party that has a majority on council) needs to address the SPVM’s cavalier and costly attitude towards democratic rights.

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Filed under A Propaganda System

Toronto terror attack, toxic masculinity and militarism

Progressive online commentary about Monday’s van attack in Toronto has focused on the influence of “toxic masculinity”. The analyses should be expanded to include the alleged perpetrator’s ties to a powerful patriarchal institution that is Canada’s biggest purveyor of violence.

Early reports suggest alleged mass murderer Alek Minassian may have targeted women and been motivated by sexism. Before carrying out his horrific attack he posted on Facebook about the “Incel Rebellion”, a community of “involuntarily celibate” men who hate women, and praised misogynistic US mass murderer Elliot Roger. Minassian reportedly wrote: “Private (Recruit) Minassian Infantry 00010, wishing to speak to Sgt 4chan please. C23249161.The Incel Rebellion has already begun! We will overthrow all the Chads and Stacys! All hail the Supreme Gentleman Elliot Rodger!”

It should surprise no one that alongside his call for an “Incel Rebellion” the misogynist Minassian cited his (short) military service. Last fall he joined the Canadian Forces, which has one hundred thousand active members and three hundred thousand retired members.A 2015 investigation led by former Supreme Court justice Marie Deschamps found a “culture of misogyny” in the CF “hostile to women and LGTBQ members.” While women now represent 15% of military personnel, the Deschamps report concluded that “the overall perception is that a ‘boy’s club’ culture still prevails in the armed forces.”

Until 1979 women were excluded from the Royal Military College. Until 1989 women were excluded from combat roles in the CF. In 2000 the submarine service was finally opened to women.

A 1992 Department of National Defence survey found that 26.2% of female CF respondents were sexually harassed in the previous 12 months. Subsequent investigations have shown steady improvements, but 27.3% of women in 2016 still reported having been victims of sexual assault at least once since joining the CF. The Deschamps review “found that there is an undeniable problem of sexual harassment and sexual assault in the CAF.” In 2017 plaintiffs in five separate cities united to sue over sexual assault, harassment and gender-based discrimination in the CF.

When Nichola Goddard became the first female CF member to die in Afghanistan it came to light that she wrote her husband about sexual violence on the base. Goddard wrote about “the tension of living in a fortress where men outnumbered women ten to one” and “there were six rapes in the camp last week, so we have to work out an escort at night.” But, theCF only admits to investigating five reports of sexual harassment or assault in Afghanistan between 2004 and 2010. Valerie Fortney, author of Sunray: The Death and Life of Captain Nichola Goddard said she “hit a brick wall” when seeking to investigate sexual harassment in Afghanistan.

Male veterans have repeatedly engaged in gender-based violence. Last year Lionel Desmond killed his wife, daughter, mother and himself while Robert Giblin stabbed and threw his pregnant wife off a building before killing himself in 2015.

After the worst incident of patriarchal violence in Canadian history members of the elite Airborne Regiment reportedly held a celebratory dinner to honour Marc Lepine. In 1989 Lepine massacred fourteen women at the Université de Montréal while shouting “you’re all a bunch of feminists, and I hate feminists!”

Not only is the CF a patriarchal social force, it is the country’s greatest purveyor of violence. The Canadian military spends hundreds of millions of dollars a year promoting militarism and during the past quarter century it has fought wars of aggression in Libya, Afghanistan, Yugoslavia and Iraq (not to mention helping to overthrow an elected government in Haiti and engaging in gunboat diplomacy in a number of locations).

To a large extent the CF is the institutional embodiment of toxic masculinity and therefore its not surprising that Minassian was drawn to it. His connection to an organization that receives over $20 billion a year in public funds while upholding patriarchy and promoting violence ought to be part of the discussion of this horrible act.

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Filed under Black Book of Canadian Foreign Policy

Ontario anti-racism committee members tied to racist JNF

Independent Jewish Voices and the United Jewish People’s Order’s exclusion from an Anti-Racism Directorate committee has rightly been criticized. But, the Ontario government’s more appalling decision to appoint individuals tied to an explicitly racist organization has been ignored.

Two years ago the Liberals put forward a plan titled “A Better Way Forward: Ontario’s 3-Year Anti-Racism Strategic Plan How we’re taking proactive steps to fight and prevent systemic racism in government decision-making, programs and services.” As part of the initiative, the government’s Anti-Racism Directorate set up four subcommittees last year to look at anti-Indigenous racism, anti-Black racism, Islamophobia and anti-Semitism.

A number of members of the subcommittee on anti-Semitism have personal or institutional ties to the Jewish National Fund, which practices a form of discrimination outlawed in a famed seven-decade-old Supreme Court of Canada ruling.

A member of the subcommittee, Madi Murariu, is the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs’ (CIJA) Associate Director for Ontario Government Relations and Public Affairs. CIJA and JNF Canada often work together and sponsor each other’s events. Additionally, CIJA staff fundraise for the explicitly racist organization and JNF Canada CEO Lance Davis previously worked as CIJA’s National Jewish Campus Life director.

Another subcommittee member, Karen Mock, chairs JSpaceCanada, which was a “participatingorganization” with JNF Canada on a 2016 event honouring the life of former Israeli president Shimon Peres. Mock also sat on the board of the Canadian Peres Center for Peace Foundation, which raised funds for the Israeli-based Peres Center For Peace. In Israel the Peres Center operated a slew of projects with JNF Canada and other branches of the racist group.

Zach Potashner represents the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center on the subcommittee. One of its directors, Tony Comper, was guest of honour for the 2009 Toronto JNF Negev Dinner fundraiser and a Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center Spirit of Hope Benefit chair, Ron Frisch, chaired JNF Toronto’s Campaign and Negev Dinner.

Brianna Ames, a volunteer with the Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee, represents that organization on the subcommittee. A CJPAC founder and former executive director, Josh Cooper, left the organization to become head of JNF Toronto in 2009 and subsequently CEO of JNF Canada. Another founding member of CJPAC, Michael Levitt, was a JNF Canada board member.

A co-chair of the subcommittee on anti-Semitism is Andrea Freedman, President of the Jewish Federation of Ottawa. Freedman’s organization regularly promotes JNF Ottawa events and funds the centre where it’s based (adjacent to the Jewish Federation of Ottawa offices). The other subcommittee co-chair is Bernie Farber. During Farber’s quarter century at the Canadian Jewish Congress the organization and its personnel had many ties to the JNF.

I found no support from Farber, Mock or the rest of the above-mentioned individuals for Independent Jewish Voices’ campaign to revoke JNF Canada’s charitable status (or other criticism of the explicitly racist organization). An owner of 13 per cent of Israel’s land, the JNF discriminates against Palestinian citizens of Israel (Arab Israelis) who make up one-fifth of the population. According to a UN report, JNF lands are “chartered to benefit Jews exclusively,” which has led to an “institutionalized form of discrimination.” Echoing the UN, a 2012 US State Department report detailing “institutional and societal discrimination” in Israel says JNF “statutes prohibit sale or lease of land to non-Jews.”

Indicative of its discrimination against Israelis who aren’t Jewish, JNF Canada’s Twitter tag says it “is the caretaker of the land of Israel, on behalf of its owners  — Jewish people everywhere.” Its parent organization in Israel — the Keren Kayemet LeYisrael — is even more open about its racism. Its website notes that “a survey commissioned by KKL-JNF reveals that over 70% of the Jewish population in Israel opposes allocating KKL-JNF land to non-Jews, while over 80% prefer the definition of Israel as a Jewish state, rather than as the state of all its citizens.”

JNF-style discrimination was effectively outlawed in this country in 1951. In 1948 Annie Noble decided to sell a cottage in the exclusive Beach O’ Pines subdivision on Lake Huron to Bernie Wolf, who was Jewish. During the sale Wolf’s lawyer realized that the original deed for the property restricted sale to “any person wholly or partly of negro, Asiatic, coloured or Semitic blood.” A Toronto court and the Ontario Court of Appeal refused to invalidate the racist land covenant. But Noble pursued the case — with assistance from the Canadian Jewish Congress — to the Supreme Court of Canada. In one of the most important blows to legalistic racism in this country, the Supreme Court reversed the lower courts’ ruling and allowed Noble to purchase the property. This decision led to the abolition of racist land covenants in this country.

Should we laugh or cry at an Ontario Anti-Racism Directorate subcommittee led by individuals with ties to an organization practicing discriminatory land-use policies outlawed in this country seven decades ago?

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Filed under Canada and Israel

Canada should support peace in Syria, not US missiles

The US has once again flagrantly violated international law. Without UN approval, they launched dozens of airstrikes on Syria.

Ottawa immediately supported the US bombing. In a statement Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said, “Canada supports the decision by the United States, the United Kingdom, and France to take action to degrade the Assad regime’s ability to launch chemical weapons attacks against its own people.”

Over the past week the Trudeau government has helped lay the foundation for the US-led attack. Twenty-four hours after the alleged April 7 attack foreign minister Chrystia Freeland put out a statement claiming,“the repeated and morally reprehensible use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime in the past has been confirmed by independent international investigators…. Canada condemns the Assad regime—and its backers, Russia and Iran—for its‎ repeated, gross violations of human rights and continued, deliberate targeting of civilians.”Without presenting any evidence of the alleged chemical weapons use in Douma, Freeland said on Friday “when it comes to this use of chemical weapons, it is clear to Canada that chemical weapons were used and that they were used by the Assad regime.”

In her initial statement Freeland expressed Canada’s “admiration for … the White Helmets.” Also known as the Syrian Civil Defence, the White Helmets produced the video purporting to show chemical weapons use in Douma.

On Friday Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov claimed the White Helmets staged the video with help from the UK. Former British ambassador to Syria Peter Ford largely endorsed Moscow’s position.

Credited with rescuing people from bombed out buildings, the White Helmets have long fostered opposition to Assad and promoted western intervention. The White Helmets operated almost entirely in areas of Syria occupied by the Saudi Arabia–Washington backed Al Nusra/Al Qaeda rebels and other jihadist groups. They criticized the Syrian government and disseminated images of its violence while largely ignoring those targeted by the opposition. Their members were repeatedly photographed with Al Qaeda-linked Jihadists and reportedly enabled their executions.

Canada has provided significant support to the White Helmets. Two weeks ago Global Affairs Canada announced they “provided $12 million for groups in Syria, such as the White Helmets, that are saving lives by providing communities with emergency response services and removing explosives.” At that time White Helmet representatives were in Ottawa to meet with government officials and in late 2016 Global Affairs Canada sponsored a five-city White Helmets tour of Canada.

The White Helmets received at least $23 million US from USAID. The British, Dutch, German and French governments have also provided the group with tens of millions of dollars. The White Helmets are closely associated with the Syria Campaign, which was set up by a British billionaire of Syrian descent, Ayman Asfari, actively opposed to the Bashar al-Assad regime.

The conflict in Syria is multilayered and messy. Thousands of US and Turkish troops are in the country in contravention of the UN charter. Similarly, Israel has bombed Syria more than 100 times since the outbreak of the conflict and continues to illegally occupy part of its territory. Saudi Arabia and Qatar have plowed billions of dollars worth of weaponry and other forms of support to opposition rebels while the CIA spent a billion dollars backing anti-Assad groups.

On a number of occasions Ottawa has denounced Iran, Hezbollah and Russia’s substantial support of Assad, but they’ve ignored the significant role the US, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar and Israel have played in the conflict. In fact, Ottawa has ramped up arms sales to Saudi Arabia and deepened its ties to Israel and the US in recent years.

Syrians needs an end to fighting. Hundreds of thousands have been killed and millions more displaced over the past seven years of conflict. The US, which unleashed sectarian war in Iraq, bears significant responsibility for the horrors in that country. Syria requires political negotiation, the withdrawal of foreign troops and a real arms embargo, not more bombing and violations of international law.

Canadians should oppose the Trudeau government’s support for the recent US air strikes.

 

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Filed under Black Book of Canadian Foreign Policy

Time to junk the cars and use public land for housing

Who could possibly be against doing something that would be both good for the environment and improve housing affordability in our biggest cities?

By turning public land devoted to noisy, dangerous and polluting vehicles into social/co-op/rental housing it is possible to put a dent into runaway climate change while improving housing affordability and urbanity.

Radio Canada recently reported on a 14-storey co-op set to be built just behind the Bell Centre on the southern edge of downtown Montréal. The Coopérative Montagne Verte will have 136 units, which will make it the largest housing co-op in a single building in Montreal. Having received a piece of city land, the co-op will be financed in equal measure with public funds and a long-term mortgage. If all goes according to plan, hundreds will gain access to affordable housing in an area with easy access to employment and services by foot, bike and mass transit.

In discussing the barrier to building more co-ops Radio Canada claimed, “the scarcity of land in Montreal is also an important issue.”  This is absurd. In fact, one of the city’s principal problems is the abundance of public land devoted to noisy, dangerous and polluting vehicles, which contribute significantly to the climate crisis (40 per cent of Montréal’s greenhouse gas emissions are from transport.)

Near where the Coopérative Montagne Verte will be located, for instance, is a highway that has gobbled up a large swath of the city centre. Thousands could be housed on the public roadway and adjacent areas destroyed by it.

In what would be a more straightforward cars-for-shelter exchange, Boulevard René-Lévesque is wide enough to build a row of lodgings with a narrow street on each side. Thousands of family sized social/co-op/rental units could be built and it would improve the city for its inhabitants and the planet. While it may seem radical, this move would simply be a return to before buildings were demolished to widen the street in the 1940s and 50s.

Other car spaces in the city centre could easily be turned into affordable housing. The three blocks of McGill College between Cathcart and Sherbrooke and a number of other non-through streets between Sherbrooke and Saint Catherine on the western edge of downtown could be reclaimed for multi-story dwellings. To the east, avenue du Parc Lafontaine between Sherbrooke and Rachel is wide enough to build a row of smaller units with a narrow street on each side.

With housing affordability an even bigger issue in Toronto and Vancouver there would be much to gain by turning public roadway into co-op/rental/social housing there. The land destroyed by the centrally located Gardiner Expressway could house thousands. Rather than spending $3.6billion to fix the monstrosity, Toronto could subsidize co-op/social housing on this prime piece of public real estate.

Proof that cars-for-housing exchange is not pie in the sky, Vancouver’s city council voted to remove the Georgia and Dunsmuir viaducts at the eastern edge of downtown. Their plan to build thousands of housing units (30%“social housing”) is better than the status quo, but not ambitious enough. The city should eliminate the boulevard that is part of the current plan and turn it all into a car free social/co-op/rental housing oasis. Ideally located for getting around by foot, bike and Skytrain, the area reclaimed for housing should also be extended along Georgia Street into downtown.

A whopping 27.4% of Toronto is roadway (another 13 per cent is parks and open spaces — a share of which goes largely unused because of the unpleasantness of adjacent traffic filled streets). I was unable to find the exact proportion of Vancouver and Montréal devoted to roadway, but a significant share of those cities is also devoted to noisy, dangerous and polluting vehicles.

We need to build an environmentalist/urbanist/housing rights coalition that would push to turn swaths of this land into social/co-op/rental housing.

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Filed under Stop Signs