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Canadian troops may be dying at three times the rate of Americans in Afghanistan, but that didn’t stop a Fox News program from mocking the country's fight against the Taliban. Elsewhere, oil firms merge to ward off takeover threat, and gang warfare erupts in Vancouver ahead of the Winter Olympics.
Top News: Summer has come early to Canada’s soldiers fighting over in Afghanistan, which is not a good thing. Four Canadians were killed in two separate roadside bomb incidents Friday. The men, who were just weeks from the end of their tours of duty, brought the number of Canadian soldiers who have died in Afghanistan to 116 since the first troops were deployed there early in the spring of 2002.
Insurgent activity tends to go up in the summer months as the snow melts in the key mountain passes between Afghanistan and militant bases in Pakistan, which remain ineffectively policed even after seven years of conflict. The early surge in conflict this year has Canadian forces girding for a long and likely bloody summer.
Casualties are a fact in any war, but Canadians are alarmed that its forces are receiving a significantly higher percentage of them. Out of 1,047 coalition deaths in Afghanistan, 116 have been Canadians. This is from a force of roughly 2,600 troops deployed at any one time. On a proportional basis, that is roughly three times the fatality rate of the U.S. forces, which have had nearly 600 deaths from a deployment of roughly 38,000 troops.
This high casualty rate poses a significant obstacle for both Prime Minister Stephen Harper and U.S. President Barack Obama to having any meaningful discussions about Canada extending its deployment past the 2011 deadline for pulling back from combat operations.
The mounting casualties weren’t the only thing working against Obama’s quiet diplomatic overtures to get Canada to extend its commitment in Afghanistan. On a late night Fox News program, a group of comedians (or at least this is how they describe themselves) infuriated Canadians by mocking a statement by Lt.-Gen. Andrew Leslie, chief of land staff, that Canadian forces are nearing a breaking point and need to be replaced on the front lines for a year in order to regroup and retrain on new equipment. Greg Gutfeld, host of Fox’s Red Eye with Greg Gutfeld, said: “[Canada’s military] wants to take a breather to do some yoga, paint landscapes, run on the beach in gorgeous white Capri pants.” Doug Benson, a panelist, said “I didn’t even know they were in the war. I thought [Canada] is where you go when you don’t want to fight … go chill in Canada.” The segment went viral on the Internet.
As the tempest swelled, Gutfeld apparently added to the controversy with a hollow mea culpa, “My apologies to the Canadian military. They probably could at least beat the Belgians.”
Subsequent apologies from others on the panel seemed more genuine.
Canadians had a rather embarrassing tempest of their own to deal with after immigration officials refused entry to long-time British MP George Galloway, over what Immigration Minister Jason Kenney called Galloway’s “odious” support of terrorists. Galloway has consistently expressed sympathy for the Taliban in Afghanistan and provided financial aid to the Palestinian militant group Hamas, Kenney charged.
Galloway, an outspoken Scot with a strong following in North American peace movements, is on a speaking tour of the U.S. that Canadian organizers had hoped to extend into Canada. Galloway’s supporters say his banning is little more than an effort to suppress dissent by the pro-Israel Harper government. Galloway called the decision "irrational, inexplicable and an affront to Canada's good name."
Vancouver’s good name as Canada’s Pacific paradise is also taking a beating these days as the death toll in an escalating gang war mounts. In the past weeks, there have been 40 shootings and 17 deaths in what appears to be a classic turf war between several rival gangs.
With the city deeply invested in the 2010 Winter Olympics (which are only 10 months away) and facing a tourist slump driven by the recession, officials are taking extraordinary measures to crack down on the violence. They’ve hired an additional 168 police officers, most of whom will be devoted to dealing with the gangs.
Money: The bride may have worn white, but the marriage of two of Canada’s largest oil companies was all about the black gold to be extracted from Alberta’s oil sands. More importantly, as the super-majors eye these reserves, it takes one of Canada’s most eligible companies off the market for would-be foreign suitors.
Suncor Energy Inc. announced plans Monday for a $19 billion all stock deal to merge with Petro-Canada. As a former government-owned corporation, Petrocan, even if merged with another company, is subject to the Petro-Canada Public Participation Act, which limits any single buyer from acquiring more than a 20 percent equity stake. The deal creates a significant global player and will save the joint company about $300 million. It also promises greater cooperation in the development of a number of large-scale oil sands projects. But its main benefit in the short to medium term is to keep the oil sands’ biggest players in largely Canadian hands.
Elsewhere: It’s one of the most successful and storied sports franchises in the world, but the American owner of the Montreal Canadiens appears to have had enough. George Gillett has hired an investment bank to gauge whether there are parties interested in buying what is thought to be the third-most valuable NHL franchise. Among those rumored to be considering a bid are Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberte, and diva Celine Dion. With the Canadiens swooning and at risk of falling out of playoff contention, fans are hopeful that at least the between-period intermissions will be entertaining.