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Canadian democracy, like a bull moose head-butting a train

The train, in this case, is Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his Conservative government.

A bull moose feeds in the waters of Rangeley Lake in Maine. (Reuters)

TORONTO, Canada — On the face of it, little connects Canadian democracy with roadkill. Yet the year ends with concerns about both.

Wildlife experts raised the alarm last week about the number of grizzlies being killed by trains barreling through national parks in the Rocky Mountains. A report by Parks Canada counted 63 grizzlies killed in an eight-year period, most of them by trains and most of them females of cub-rearing age.

The slaughter is much greater, and involves all kinds of wildlife, when collisions outside the Rocky Mountain parks are included.

At about this time last year, while riding a train across Canada, a conductor told me bull moose during rutting season are particularly vulnerable. They’ve been known to charge trains head-on. The impact is hard enough to jolt the front car, but the results are predictably unfortunate.

“The last thing that went through that moose’s mind was its ass,” the conductor said of one incident he witnessed.

Canadian democracy these days is looking a bit like that moose. The force bearing down on it, according to political analysts here, is Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his Conservative government.

Harper is reportedly threatening to start the New Year the way he ended the last one — with Parliament prorogued. That means the legislature that governs the country would be shut down, at Harper’s request, and reopened at a time when the prime minister finds it more convenient politically.

Last year, Harper had Parliament shut down to save his minority government from opposition parties that had banded together to throw him out of power. This time, Ottawa is buzzing with talk he’ll suspend it to prevent further delving into concerns that Canada may have committed war crimes in Afghanistan.

At issue is how the Harper government handled the transfer to Afghan authorities of suspected insurgents captured by Canadian soldiers in 2006 and 2007. The evidence suggests Canada continued transferring detainees even after receiving repeated warnings — from allies, the Red Cross and its own officials in Kabul — that they were likely to be tortured. That would contravene the Geneva Conventions.