Connect to share and comment

Harper’s brinksmanship on Afghan torture

The PM misses a deadline to turn over torture documents to Parliament. A former minister sacked over salacious allegations fights back. Ontario rescinds sex-ed curriculum over religious objection. And grizzlies and polar bears successfully mate.

 The Conservative government of Stephen Harper could be in contempt of parliament if it continues to refuse to turn over uncensored documents pertaining to the handling and possible torture of Afghan detainees, a situation that could result in an untimely snap election.

Peter Milliken, the long-time Speaker of the House of Commons ruled that elected parliamentarians — government and opposition members — have a right to see the documents, even if they are classified under national security  regulations. The ruling, which Milliken said is rooted in centuries of precedent in Westminster democracies throughout the world gave Harper and his minister two weeks to work out a deal with the opposition parties on how they could handle these documents. That deadline passed on Tuesday and the parties have asked for an extension until Friday. 

It is not clear what would happen if the government continues to balk at turning over information that their opponents believe shows an aggressive cover up during the Conservatives’ five years in office.  One option would be for Harper to once again suspend Parliament, which would either result in an immediate election or possibly the formation of a coalition government by opposition parties.

If the Afghan file weren’t enough of a problem for Harper, Helena Guergis, the former minister of state for the status of women, whom Harper sacked last month amid allegations of cavorting with unsavory business partners, drugs and prostitution, began to fight back. After remaining quiet for more than a month, the soft-spoken former beauty queen told the CBC in a one-on-one interview that she had no idea why she was fired, that there has been no follow up investigation by the RCMP, and denied she had done anything wrong.  She painted a picture of a vindictive Harper who had never liked Guergis’s husband, Rahim Jaffer, a former politician himself. At the same time, the private investigator at the heart of the allegations , Derrick Snowdy, testified before Parliament that he had never incriminated Guergis.

The Ontario government found itself in an awkward position of its own last week, announcing a new sex-education curriculum for the province and then rescinding it less than 24 hours later after myriad religious groups vehemently protested.  The curriculum recommends teaching the names of body parts in grade 1; discussing sexual orientation and homosexuality in grade 3;  and would introduce terms like vaginal lubricant and anal intercourse by grade 6. The outrage was immediate and an embarrassed Premier Dalton McGuinty said clearly more thought should have been given to the new program before unveiling it, but gay groups and secularists were equally scathing in their condemnation of McGuinty’s lack of backbone.

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon chided Harper for the tight controls he is placing on the agenda for next month’s G20 meetings in Toronto. Ban pressed Harper to put climate change on the agenda but Harper would have none of it. The topic is one of Harper’s Achilles heels with Canadian voters who give his government low grades for environmental stewardship. Harper clearly didn’t relish being shown up by the likes of China and Brazil in his own backyard.

One of the most controversial figures in Canadian sports, Charlie Francis, died this week at 61.  The former track and field coach trained many of Canada’s top Olympic sprinters  in the 1980s, most notably Ben Johnson, who was stripped of his world record in the 100-meter at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, which resulted in a wrenching three-year public inquiry into Canadian sports.

A family of four was killed Tuesday while watching a hockey game when their family home in eastern Quebec simply vanished into a sink hole. The massive 500-meter crater was caused when unstable clay became saturated with water and simply turned to mush and slid away.   It is not the first time Quebec has had problems with this form of clay, though building codes had been amended decades ago to avoid building on it. The provincial government has called for an investigation and is moving quickly to ensure neighboring houses are safe.

The federal Conservatives continued their get-tough-on-crime push this week, turning over a high-profile marijuana advocate to American authorities to face drug trafficking charges, and tabling legislation to crush the existing criminal pardon system and replacing it with a more limited “record suspension.” A key aspect of the law would be that suspensions will no longer be granted to convicted sex offenders under any circumstances. This was a response to news earlier this year that Graham James, a former well-known former hockey coach who was convicted of molesting numerous players, had been pardoned and was living free under an assumed name.

In a surprising move, the alleged ringleader of an Islamic  terrorist cell in the Toronto area that had been plotting to storm the Parliament Buildings and behead politicians, reversed his initial plea and pleaded guilty. Fahim Ahmad’s decision to admit his guilt after nearly four years of legal proceedings leaves on trial just two of the initial 18 members of the cell.

Money: Canada’s surging dollar reined in the country’s trade surplus  in March, dropping it to $254 million.  It had been forecast to be more than $1 billion.

Debt-laden Canwest Global communications, once Canada’s largest diversified media company, has met its end over the past few weeks with the $2 billion sale of its broadcast assets to Calgary-based cable operator Shaw Communications, and the $1.1 billion sale of its major daily newspapers to a group of debt holders who decided to convert to equity rather than accept less for their assets.

Windsor, Ontario, the heart of Canada’s rustbelt in the wake of the automotive sector collapse, is about to get a chance to shine as a hub of cleantech innovation. The small city will be home to a new $40-million solar-energy facility which is expected to create about  200 jobs.

General Motors, fresh off of paying down it’s debts to the U.S. and Canadian governments, announced plans to invest $235 million in one of its factories in St. Catherines, near Niagara Falls.  The new investment is aimed at readying the plant for new lines of automobiles coming in the next decade. 

Elsewhere: There appears to be hope for the endangered polar bear, and it seems to be the grizzly, another species at risk, that has some answers. Scientists have proven that the two breeds have successfully mated, raising the possibility that a new bear that is better adapted to life on land in the far north could emerge. 

The city of Glendale, AZ, dealt a blow to the hopes of Winnipeg hockey fans by this week announcing that it will underwrite the losses of the Phoenix Coyotes (once the Winnipeg Jets) for at least one more season. A consortium of investors had been hoping to purchase the struggling team and move it back to Canada.

And then there was one:  Only one Canadian team remains in the hunt for the Stanley Cup , as the Montreal Canadiens, just off their 100th anniversary season, advanced in dramatic fashion by beating both the regular-season champions, the Washington Capitals, and the defending Stanley Cup champs, the Pittsburgh Penguins in successive seven-game series. They will now face the winner of the Boston-Philadelphia series.