The Black Rod

The origin of the Usher of the Black Rod goes back to early fourteenth century England . Today, with no royal duties to perform, the Usher knocks on the doors of the House of Commons with the Black Rod at the start of Parliament to summon the members. The rod is a symbol for the authority of debate in the upper house. We of The Black Rod have adopted the symbol to knock some sense and the right questions into the heads of Legislators, pundits, and other opinion makers.

Name:
Location: Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

We are citizen journalists in Winnipeg. When not breaking exclusive stories, we analyze news coverage by the mainstream media and highlight bias, ignorance, incompetence, flawed logic, missed angles and, where warranted, good work. We serve as the only overall news monitors in the province of Manitoba. We do the same with politicians (who require even more monitoring.) EMAIL: black_rod_usher@yahoo.com

Thursday, October 27, 2005

FIGHTING GANGS WITH PHOTO OPS

"Time to take back our streets"
"In your face"
"We're coming for you"

Tough talk.

Mayor Sam Katz declared war on gangs this week.
Last year he declared war on mosquitoes, and we all know that campaign went down to abject defeat.

The final tally:

Mosquitoes: 57 cases of West Nile virus (not all in Winnipeg)
Katz: zero credibility as a general and mosquito fighter.

The only thing that saved his political hide was having the province order citywide spraying of malathion just as the West Nile threat approached its peak.

In his new battle, the only help Katz can call on is Police Chief Jack Ewatski. The irony escaped the mayor. There isn't one person in the city who did more to stop gang prosecutions in its tracks than our hapless police chief.

Maybe if he hadn't suspended half the homicide and organized crime unit, only to say 'oops' two years later, we wouldn't be going through this exercise.

Of course, Justice Minister Huff 'n Puff Gord Macintosh was absent, as usual. He obviously thought he could serve the city better by playing politics with gang strategy and waiting until he could score points in the new session of the Legislature.

Sam and Jack, the mayor and the police chief, announced 45 police officers were going to be seconded to a new gang unit. They expect them to work lots of overtime.

It doesn't really matter, though. Because what the mayor needs most is what he's not going to get--the help of people who can do more than police to stop the gangs..

Like Judge Ron Meyers. More than even Jack Ewatski, Judge Meyers is responsible for the sorry state of violent crime in the city.

Ron Meyers, you'll remember, is the judge who, in 2003, sentenced a teenager to one day in jail for killing a man by beating him to death with a pool ball in a sock, a gang weapon known as an 8-ball.

This was the tipping point for gang activity in Winnipeg.
Meyers goes down in history as the may who put a value on human life in the Peg--one day, just long enough to show up and hear you are free to go. Sweet, said the gangs.

The result --34 homicides the following year, a new record.

Winnipegers know that the threat to their safety doesn't come from the Mad Cowz, or the Indian Posse, or the Hell's Angels. It comes from the lackadaisical attitude to the safety of citizens by the Men in Black Robes who have abandoned their role as protectors of the public's right to a peaceful and safe life.

Caught red-handed with guns and crack in your car? Don't worry. A Winnipeg judge will drop the charges and lecture the police who arrested you for not saying "Pretty please" when they asked you to open your trunk.

Caught red-handed selling crack cocaine for a dial-a-dealer operation? Don't worry, be happy. The judge will send you home to watch television for six months. Hell, make a frowny face and he'll toss in a TV Guide.

The message is getting out loud and clear. This week a crack dealer was arrested in a house full of guns. Who gets charged with gun possession? The dealer's 13 year old son. Everybody knows the law says you can't send a kid to jail - so guess who's going to walk free? Thanks sucker, er, I mean Judge.

And who else wasn't at the anti-gang news conference. Well, let's name names.

- Reg Alcock
- Anita Neville
- Raymond Simard

The Liberal Party Members of Parliament, and their star candidates like John Loewen, weren't about to show up in public when crime is being discussed. And they know the mainstream press in the city isn't about to track them down for answers.

Remember that when Canadian police officers held their 27th annual memorial service on Parliament Hill two weeks ago, the Liberals headed for the hills.

They didn't want to hear the pleas to toughen sentences for marijuana grow operators, to tighten up parole and sentencing criteria, and to scrap plans to decriminalize marijuana. Not then, not now. The Liberal MP's are too busy trying to figure out how to divert attention from the criminal activity of their own party members to worry about answering for their inability to fight crime in the streets.

What we're witnessing in Winnipeg is the fruits of a crack epidemic that's been growing in strength for several years.

Almost two years ago police tried sounding the alarm. Winnipeg, they said, had as many as 3,000 crack dealers at the time.. That wasn't surprising, considering that dealers could make as much as $2,000 a night.

Then-Mayor Glen Murray was too busy throwing street parties and preparing his jump to federal politics to listen. Current Mayor Sam Katz can't be found whenever there's a crisis in the city, so why would he go out of his way to address something that was only a crisis to police and to people walking on public sidewalks.

This week, one reporter from each of the television news stations spent a night on the streets to experience the life of "the homeless." It was arranged by something called the Manitoba Harm Reduction Network. The intent was obviously to get sympathetic coverage, which could be used to leverage more money for "the homeless."

And the coverage was sympathetic, or at least the reporters and hosts thought so since not one of them addressed the obvious fallacy of their reports.

" It's cold. It's dark. It's the homeless at night! Film at 6 and 11..."

* Global's Jayme Doll featured a chap who worked two jobs - yet was still homeless. Why? Oh, he said, he spent all his money - on cocaine.

* CKY's Rachel Lagace, decked out in brand new spotless white touque and parka, let a transgendered prostitute be her guide to the harsh world of the "homeless." Except that he (or is it she) lived at the McLaren Hotel - hardly homeless - and said he spent - wait for it- $5,000 a week on crack.

* CBC's Crystal Goomansingh saw her guide turn up rig after needle after syringe amidst the squalor of the backlanes, underpasses and empty lots - and talked to Krista about anything but what it really meant.

Not one of these crack reporters managed to recognize the link between the subjects of their stories and the source of gang profits. Nor did their editors.

And you wonder why people get their news from the blogosphere rather than the MSM.

There's a saying: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.

The Mayor's new gang plan is political farce. Without judges willing to say there's a penalty for taking a life, for selling highly addictive drugs, for ignoring court orders, for carrying guns, it's all a joke.

When the crack epidemic swept the United States ten or twelve years ago, cities floundered just as Katz and Ewatski are floundering today. It took a drastic tool-- mandatory minimum sentences for possessing and selling crack cocaine-- to break the back of the epidemic in Detroit, in Memphis, in Kansas City. The people had to take the streets back from the judges to restore order.

Be prepared for a lot more mayhem before we see real leaders step up to the plate.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Lett's talk about Crocus, Katz and Confusion

In the same way you retire to the sofa after a heavy Thanksgiving meal, so we had to sit and digest Dan Lett's Crocus turkey in the pages of the Winnipeg Free Press this weekend.

It's customary to praise the cook, and on Monday CJOB news director Vic Grant, for one, raved about the dish served up by Lett. But we have to wonder whether he plowed through all six pages of the Lett opus, as we did, because we reach a different conclusion.

Since we doubt anyone read the entire six pages, here's the abridged version of the Coles Notes of the summary of the story:

1. The Provincial Auditor's report on the Crocus Fund said that CEO James Umlah appeared to favour a certain company, identified only as Company A, by supplementing the initial investment with 37 further infusions of money. The Fund's own investment department said investment in Company A had gotten "out of control".

2. The Winnipeg Free Press says Company A is Maple Leaf Distillers.

3. The owners of Maple Leaf Distillers frequently made big announcements about big deals which turned out to be exaggerated. But Maple Leaf could always count on the Free Press to give the announcements big coverage which is why the only illustrations in Lett's story were Free Press file photos.

4. Maple Leaf could also count on Umlah to slip them hundreds of thousands of new "investment" whenever they hit a bad patch and needed some new capital.

5. That's it.

WHAT? THAT'S IT? But, but, but, there were six pages. That can't be it.

Sorry. That's it. Like a long joke with no punchline.

Despite all the court documents examined, the "sources" who leaked internal Maple Leaf business, the exclusive interview with James Umlah. That's it.

No kickbacks, no payoffs, no scandal.
The Lett stories had lots of details. But he failed to ask the most important question---why. Why did Umlah pour all that money into Maple Leaf Distillers?

Even in Tuesday's editorial echoing our call for a public inquiry, the Winnipeg Free Press says Premier Gary Doer and his government "owe Manitobans an explanation" for making "lavish contributions" to Maple Leaf Distillers to turn it into a profitable company, when there are doubts that it could have ever succeeeded.

If Lett had read The Black Rod, he would have known.

Nowhere in six packed pages does Dan Lett mention the word Mondragon. Or, for that matter, Sherman Kreiner, except to say that Shermy wouldn't reign in Umlah's credit cards.

In the good ole days, Kreiner and Umlah shared the glory that was Crocus. They were spoken of in one breath, like Rogers and Hart, like Brangelina. Yet now, Kreiner has been written out of the Crocus story, like a Soviet politician painted out of official photos.

Yet Kreiner was the voice of Crocus, the man who provided the "why". And the "why" was his devotion to the Mondragon model of co-operative business, socialist capitalism. It's that model that drove Umlah's investments in Maple Leaf and that we dissected months ago.

Remember the many bottom lines that Kreiner touted for the Crocus Fund. One of those bottom lines was "preserving jobs". They used to brag about how many jobs Crocus investment created or "preserved." A sure way of preserving jobs is to keep pumping money into a business, a local business like Maple Leaf Distillers, for example.

Why the Free Press refuses to report on the Mondragon model of Crocus investments, we don't know. However we are thankful for the Dan Lett opus for one thing---it provides us with the genesis of the failed Free Press smear against Mayor Sam Katz.

Imagine this scenario. After working on his expose at his usual glacial pace, Dan Lett finally turns in his six page clunker. The editors read it, look up in bewilderment, and say,"Is that it?" Lett nods.
"There's got to be something more," the panicky editors say. "Where's your notes. There's got to be something else."

" Well," says Lett,"there's this thing about Sam Katz, but that's pretty old."
"Sam Katz!" the editors cry in triumph. "Now we got something."

So the Katz smear made the paper. You know, how Sam Katz is friends with David Wolinsky, co-owner with Costas Ataliotis of Maple Leaf Distillers, and loaned Maple Leaf some money years ago, then, years later, after becoming mayor, he voted to let Salisbury House build a restaurant on a bridge, and Salisbury House guaranteed a line of credit to Maple Leaf, blah blah blah smear blah.

If the smear had taken hold, we'll bet that this six pages of facts and figures signifying nothing would never have seen the light of day.

Instead, The Black Rod exposed how the smear was expected to work, and the Free Press was forced to salvage something from the weeks of Lett's research, even if it did miss the crucial question Why.

But there's one question the Free Press still has to answer. In the aborted attack on Sam Katz, reporters Dan Lett and Mary Agnes Welch are on the record as saying that city councillor Harvey Smith was sending a request Oct. 4 "to city auditor Shannon Hunt to review Katz's role in the Esplanade Riel vote and determine if there was a conflict of interest."

Well? Has he? There has been no follow-up story in three weeks.

According to the story, Harvey Smith was going to the city auditor (the day before the story ran in the newspaper).

Did he? If so, why wasn't it reported.

Or was that part of the story not true?

And if it wasn't true, was it recklessly inserted in a story to smear Katz? By whom? Has any editor been called on the carpet over this?

We hope to answer these questions soon.

We know the Free Press pays attention to The Black Rod. Take, for example, a correction that ran Monday about the date of a movie by the Governor General consort Jean-Daniel Lafond.

The original story about his address to students in St. Boniface mistakenly said the documentary was released in 1991, when the actual date was 2003.

Small point, and we didn't make a big deal of it when we pointed it out to The Free Press. Not, that is, until we researched the documentary more and realized the significance of the dates.

2001 was when Lafond made his now-infamous documentary about poet Aime Cesaire, a Martinique legislator, who was a major influence on Quebec separatists. It was in this movie that Michaelle Jean makes her toast to Quebec separatism.

2003 was the year Lafond made a documentary about Jacques Ferron, the founder of the Rhinoceros Party. The Rhinos are seen as a joke in the West. But when the party was created in 1963 it was fundamentally anti-federalist, using irony and parody to ridicule Canada and its symbols.

Ferron has been described as the "godfather" of the FLQ. He knew the terrorists well--the Vallieres, the Rose brothers, Francis Simard-and he negotiated the surrender of the men who murdered kidnapped Quebec cabinet minister Pierre Laporte in the final act of their terror campaign.

Funny how the Free Press never reports what these documentaries by Lafond are all about, even when he's still extolling the virtues of Quebec separatists in 2003.

The Free Press has also belatedly discovered Dr. Brian Postl after being alerted to him by The Black Rod. In an editorial Monday on the wait-times controversy, the paper quoted Postl for the first time. Postl, it said, believed the provinces could come up with acceptable wait-times for surgeries as promised by the deadline of Dec. 31st.

We found that amusing, since it was Postl who sparked the recent controversy in the first place in an interview published on Thanksgiving. In that story he said that he doubted the provinces could meet the deadline.

But after a few hours of being tied to a chair and reminded by trench-coated Liberal minders of what he really thought, Postl issued a clarification - he didn't believe what he believed, he now believed the opposite of what he believed.

The Black Rod caught the sudden 180 reverse and reported it.

The Free Press carried three paragraphs on Postl's original musings, but
- cut any mention of his name out of the story;
- failed to report his change of mind; then
- waited until the provinces, the doctors, and the federal health minister all joined the debate

before pretending it was big enough to warrant an editorial and a passing reference to Dr. Brian Postl.

Our question is why the paper still hasn't interviewed Postl, who is, after all, Manitoba's health care czar.

And while the Free Press notices us, we've been noticing others in the news field.

We notice, for example, that the chilly autumn has driven CBC host Krista Erickson back to wearing her leather outfit. Or is it the chilly atmosphere in the newsroom? CBC news employees have exchanged notes over the coffee machine and agree that the only time their hostess with the mostess made an appearance during the seven week lockout was once at the side of Uberhost Peter Mansbridge (who dropped by the picket line when he was in town because his daughter was having a baby) and once to vote on going back to work.

Reminds you of a song, doesn't it. But is it Ice Ice or Star Star?

And we noticed the new haircut on CITY-TV news host Lisa Saunders. The sexy factor in local news is ratcheting up.

Unfortunately for co-host Glen Kirby, Lisa's new haircut makes him look 10 years older than he already did, which is 10 years older than he already was.

***************

Confusing, isn't it, when we break a story and then pull it only hours later. That's what we get for trying something new.

When we exclusively revealed Sunday that the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs was planning to build a First Nations Governance House on Manitoba Hydo property near Polo Park, we expected the announcement on Monday. But then the news conference was scrubbed. When we post time sensitive bulletins we will be taking them down when the time passes.

In this case, the time wasn't even coming yet, so we removed the story and maps and didn't realize how hot this topic is with our readers.

But kudos to CKY-TV for confirming our story in their exclusive interviews Tuesday evening with AMC's Ron Evans and Hydro's Bob Brennan. It just goes to show you, MSM can benefit by paying attention to the blogosphere.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Why is Manitoba A-G hard on Filmon, soft on aboriginal gangs?

We don't expect much from the Press Gallery at the Legislature, given their dismal performance at the last session, what with barely recognizing the Crocus Scandal, ignoring the doctor crisis in Brandon, and missing O'Learygate entirely.

And they rarely disappoint us by rising above the low standards we set for them. But we had hopes that a fresh face would change all that.

The Winnipeg Sun's new Legislature reporter Rochelle Squires got her feet wet with a story about the Tory gang strategy going into the next sitting of the Lege. In the interests of fairness, she also spoke with Manitoba Justice Minister Huff 'n Puff Gord Mackintosh.

" Justice Minister Gord Mackintosh plans to unveil his own strategy during next week's throne speech.

" "Every year we've brought in initiatives and we'll continue to strengthen the justice system," " said Mackintosh, noting many of the initiatives in the action plan have already been implemented.

He said the problem with today's gang violence stems from the 1990s when Gary Filmon was premier."

The fact that she didn't double over in derisive laughter when he trotted out the old "blame Filmon" gag disappoints us.

Surely there are some old goats at the Sun whose institutional memory goes way back - say to the 90's? - who could have given her the facts, starting with the fact the NDP have been the government for six years and as such are responsible for administering the law all that time.

Perhaps before the Legislature starts anew, Rochelle can bone up on the gang-fighting history of the recent past.

- January 1998: Winnipeg police, in the Filmon Tory days, shut down two motorcycyle gang clubhouses, the Redliners' and the Los Brovos'. The Redliners clubhouse was seized by the Manitoba Integrated Proceeds of Crime Unit.

- October 1998: 35 members and associates of the Manitoba Warriors street gang were arrested and sent to trial under the federal government's new anti-gang legislation.

- The government spend $3.5 million to convert a building into a special courthouse for the mega-trial.

- It was never used because the accused all pleaded guilty to charges to escape the harsh penalties that would have been imposed if they had been convicted as members of an organized crime organization.

The trial sent a message to gang members that the Tories were on their trail.

By contrast, under the NDP, gangs are in a resurgence.
- The Manitoba Warriors have reconstituted.
- The Hell's Angels set up shop in Winnipeg in 2000, under the NDP watch.
- The Bandidos moved in last year.
- Street gangs abound.

The only gang trials launched by Minister Huff 'n Puff ended in ignominious retreat as all charges were stayed, and the Hell's Angels members and their associates on trial were set free.

That, too, sent a message to the street.

Macintosh wants credit for the "tough" anti-gang laws the NDP has passed, like, say the one, um, I know, banning gang colours in bars. Oooh. That one hurt.

Then there's the safe neighborhoods legislation designed to shutter crack houses and other locales of iniquity. We all see how well that's worked at reducing the number of sniffers, crackheads and streetwalkers in Winnipeg.

What Huff n' Puff is not saying, and Rochelle isn't asking, is why the NDP has such a blind spot when it comes to some gangs in the province, particularly aboriginal gangs.

We saw this attitude during the Manitoba Warriors trial when NDP MLA Eric Robinson went to bat for the gang members, which included his half-brother.

"This trial won't better relations between aboriginal people and whites," Robinson said. He attacked the law and order attitude of the Tories. "They have more of a jail-first-ask-questions-later approach," he said . "It's one thing to be tough on crime, you're also responsible for what's happening on the street."

The NDP have had six years to develop their own policies to reduce the impact of gangs in the city. The result?

The first ever killing of a bystander in a crossfire by gang members.

(People shouldn't forget that this followed another wild shooting outside Junior's on Portage Avenue just a week or two before the West End fatality when only the grace of God saved bystanders from being hit.)

Both shootouts involved the latest gang to hit the headlines, the Mad Cowz.

The papers call it an African youth gang, but the founders are two natives.

Until they killed an innocent man, they flew under the NDP radar. Why?
Do aboriginal gangs have a pass in this city?

In Janurary, teenager Matthew Dumas was shot and killed by police after leading them on a chase. The police investigation exonerates the officer who fired the shot. But a little known detail raises fresh questions about the incidence, questions about possible gang involvement.

Police were looking for a suspect in an East Kildonan robbery, who was described as an aboriginal male wearing a blue touque. A taxi leaving the robbery site dropped off the suspect in the Dufferin area.

Police went there and found Dumas. He took off running. He wasn't wearing a blue touque, but he was wearing a blue "bandana.". Or was that a blue doo-rag, a headgear in the traditional colour of the Crips gang. "Tru to the Blue" as they say.

Will the coming inquest examine whether Dumas was a member of the Crips or another gang?

Or whether police going into the Dufferin area are entering known (aboriginal) gang territory like cops in East L.A.?

Maybe the inquest will have to look at whether the attitude expressed by Dumas' family,

" he didn't want to be in their custody. Who does? ",

even though they admit he was in breach of the conditions of his probation when apprehended, contributed to his death.

**************

The Black Rod made it's presence felt on Parliament Hill this week, when Conservative health critic Stephen Fletcher used our research about federal wait list czar Dr. Brian Postl to force Ujjal Dosanjh to publically commit to the deadline to formulate benchmarks by December 31 as the Liberals promised in the last election campaign.

Hon. Ujjal Dosanjh (Minister of Health, Lib.): "... We will have benchmarks by December 31. We do not have an option. Canadians will not give us an option to do otherwise."

We were the first to report how Postl said there was no way benchmarks could be created, and then Liberal arm-twisting resulted in his issuing a desparate clarification that was so clear, Ujj himself had to reclarify it in the House.

**********************

Speaking of being first to report, another Free Press exclusive, this one about the Canwest media centre project near Portage and Main, got splashy coverage from Martin Cash and the gang on Saturday.

Only 3 weeks after we broke news of the plan here.

It was the practice of following press releases verbatim, that was the trademark of Cash's outstanding *cough* coverage of the Crocus Fund debacle the last 4 years.

Note to editors: less following press releases, more breaking news please.

That's why we won't wait to tell our readers about the $100 million megaproject at a location near Polo Park, being announced on Monday by all your favorite elected leaders.

Welcome to the blogosphere.

- 30 -

Monday, October 17, 2005

Move over Bears on Broadway, here comes Brad Pitt

Pull out your hankies - there will be lots of weeping when the Brad Pitt production The Assassination of Jesse James, comes to film in Winnipeg next week.

One of the scenes is going to be a funeral procession replete with wagons and horses, taking the body
of the outlaw to the undertakers. Interior scenes were shot in Edmonton last month but the Brad Pitt in the casket was not real, only a very lifelike prop. Maybe he'll choose to go for the ride in Winnipeg.

It is common knowledge among those in the loop that historic sites such as the Pantages and Burton Cummings theatres will be used as locations for scenes set in an opera house.

However we have learned that the action will head out of the Exchange District (and the 5 day street closures that will accompany the shoot) for a more uptown locale.

Move over, Bears on Broadway, here comes Hollywood.

Producers reportedly fell in love with the period architecture of the Old Law Courts building which may be used for the recreation of the inquest into the murder. The filming will also move directly across the street under the dome to the Manitoba legislature, where up to now the most famous Golden Boy has been on the roof, and not before the cameras in the foyer.
***********
Don't forget to vote for the Best Whistleblower Blog in the Small Dead Animals blog awards.

Fudging the truth, Governor-General style

It's interesting that in her first formal interview as Canada's new Governor General, Michaelle Jean fails to mention one name-- The Queen-- who she represents by her office.

She seems to have adopted the attitude of her predecessor that the Liberal government appointed her de facto Queen of Canada since all she talks about is me, me, me.

But then her recall throughout the interview seems a bit foggy whenever it matters most.

And reporter Paul Samyn does his best to aid and abet her memory lapses.

After all, that's the price of an "exclusive", or rather "faux exclusive" in the Winnipeg Free Press.

You see, whenever the Liberals in Ottawa want to plant a story, they deliver it to the Free Press on a Friday to run on Page One Saturday, the most read paper of the week.

( Reporters, especially those of the far left, love to say they speak truth to power. But what they really mean is they want to run anything that hurts George Bush. When it comes to power in Canada, well, they become pussycats wanting a tummyrub. )

And so Paul Samyn asked questions about the sensitive topics that Jean wanted to put to rest before arriving in Winnipeg. But he threw more softballs than get tossed at Charlie Krupp Stadium in August.

And he swallowed her answers whole, without follow-up, either because he wasn't prepared or he didn't want to embarass her. After all, he did get a beautiful glossy picture of himself and the Governor General, suitable for framing.

Michaelle Jean and her Liberal Party patrons want to leave the impression that the questions raised about her loyalty to Canada are all coming from the separatist camp in Quebec. In that, they're wrong (and they're well aware of that).

Canadians from across the country still have reason to believe that Jean and her husband were more than casual observers of separatist sentiment.

Her carefully crafted inauguration speech failed to dispel those suspicions particularly because it was so obviously carefully worded. And her first interview only serves to confirm the worst.

* Take this Q&A about her appearance in a documentary by her husband where, in a bar in the company of high-profile separatists, she raises her glass in a toast to independence.

The documentary, she says, was about "a great poet named Aime Cesaire." He spent his life fighting colonialism. But he felt his home country Martinique and its neighbour Guadalupe were stronger as part of France proper than as independent countries.

The film, she says, "is about confronting Aime Cesaire."

(So the documentary is about "confronting" someone who opposes separatism...)

"And you have other persons, who represented Quebec sovereigntists, disillusioned ones, still very purist. But the movie is about Aime Cesaire."

(Note that these other "persons" are not identified.)

"The famous toast was to all those ideas of independence. And when you listen to the soundtrack, you can hear clearly 'aux independence'."

Then, she asks ingenuously:

"Don't you think independence is an important value for Canadians? ...I mean, for example, don't we as Canadians want to be fully independent from our neighbours?"

Deftly, with an assist from Samyn, she slips the question about her association with separatists and begins to expound on what freedom means to her.

But you get an entirely different idea of that infamous toast when you examine what Jean did not say and what Samyn did not ask.

* Let's start with who, exactly, is Aime Cesaire. Jean forgot to mention that he was a Communist legislator from Martinique, who broke with the party because he felt anti-colonialism took precedence over class struggle.

He remained a Marxist, however, and like his former student, Frantz Fanon, came to believe only a proletarian revolution would bring a new society to the Third World. His writings inspired the separatists in Quebec.

But not more than his pupil, Frantz Fanon, whose book The Wretched of the Earth was the gospel for revolutionary movements around the world in the Sixties and Seventies. Fanon believed that violent revolution was the only means of ending colonial repression in the Third World.

"Violence," he argued, "is a cleansing force. It frees the native from his inferiority complex and from his despair and inaction; it makes him fearless and restores his self-respect."

Some of the people inspired by Cesaire and Fanon sat at the table with Jean. the people she called representatives "of Quebec sovereigntists, disillusioned ones, still very purist."

Her merry band included separatist hardliners such as FLQ member Pierre Vallieres, poet Gerald Godin -- a Parti Quebecois cabinet minister a co-founder of its predecessor, Rassemblment pour l'independence nationale , Yves Prefontaine, novelist Dany Laferriere, Andree Ferretti and poet Paul Chamberland.

* The interview with Jean fails to adequately explain just who she was rubbing shoulders with.

"Poets" Godin and Prefontaine and Andree Ferretti were founding members of Rassemblment pour l'independence nationale (RIN), the first formal association to fight for the independence of Quebec. Long forgotten now, RIN had a high profile in the early days of separatism.

Their more famous actions included

- a demonstration in 1964 against the visit by Queen Elizabeth II to Quebec,

- a riot in 1968 protesting the presence of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau on St. Jean Baptiste Day, and

- they were the most vocal when French President Charles de Gaulle shouted his infamous cry "Vive le Quebec Libre" to a Montreal crowd.

When the RIN and other separatist factions decided to unite behind the Parti Quebecois, Andre Ferretti refused to go along, opposing the idea of abandoning civil actions for provincial politics.

Paul Chamberland was the first to put a political spin to the term Quebecois, using the word instead of French-Canadian to designate Quebecers as people of a separate nation.

Pierre Vallieres was a founding member of the terrorist group the FLQ. His book White Niggers of America was seminal to the separatist movement. He wrote it during the four years he served in prison for manslaughter in New York. (We can't find who he killed. If you know, email us.)

During the October Crisis, when the FLQ kidnapped and later murdered Quebec vice-premier Pierre Laporte, Vallieres tried to instigate a general strike. He was arrested and accepted a plea bargain, a one-year suspended sentence on three charges of counselling kidnapping for political purposes.

* It's informative to listen how Jean spins the toast that got her into trouble. "Aux independence."

A transcript supports part of what she said.

Mr. Chamberland (raising a glass of wine for a toast): To independence! To independence!
Yves Prefontaine: To independence!

But she dis-remembers another part of the fun night, when Vallieres says:
"Not only should Martinique go to independence, but to revolution, as Quebec should."
To which Jean replies:
"Yes, one doesn't give independence, one takes it."

Not much ambiguity there.

Even less when we understand the context of the toast in the bar. This wasn't a group of chums going for beers after a long day at the office, or a coupla Haitian emigres bumping into a table full of separatists out to drink to the old days. These people were brought together.

But its 'why' that's important, and the answer is not some obscure Martinique poet.

* There was a reason Michaele Jean and her husband were cozying up to Quebec separatists.

It was just after the Meech Lake Accord had been killed, here in Manitoba. Yes, in Manitoba. We did it.

We're proud we did it. And we would do it again. So stop giving Newfoundland the credit.

- Meech Lake was dead.

- A group of Quebec MP's formed the Bloc Quebecois.

- The Quebec Liberal Party released the Allaire Report calling for massive decentralization of national government ---or a referendum on independence.

- The polls showed 60 percent support for independence, the highest ever recorded.

That was the background to the infamous Michaelle Jean toast story.

The hardline separatists had seen their dream seemingly die when their violent revolution was quashed. Now, more than 20 years later, they saw the dream resurrected. A referendum that could not lose. Success at last. A toast to independence, indeed. Quick, get it on film.

And Michaelle Jean drank.

* As if further proof was needed, reporter Samyn gently raised the question of how she voted in the 1995 referendum on separatism.

Jean ducked the question entirely. Her pretext: the high road. The secret ballot is a sacred trust. One cannot sully that trust by telling how one votes. N'est pas?

Contrast that with voters in Iraq's referendum on a new constitution:

In the south, Shia women in head-to-toe veils and men emerged from the poll stations flashing victory signs with fingers stained with purple ink, apparently responding in mass to the call by their top cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali Al Sistani, to support the charter.

Once the constitution is stable, the country will be stable, Rajaa Mohammed Abbas, a 35-year-old Shia woman, said after voting yes in the southern city of Karbala, where crowds of people marched after casting ballots, chanting yes, yes to the constitution.

This is all wrong. I said no to a constitution written by the Americans, said Jilan Shaker, 22, a laborer who showed up at a polling station in Baghdad's Azamiyah district polling station in shorts and plastic sandals.

In Iraq, where they are just learning the power of the ballot box, they have no difficulty telling how they voted.

Indeed, no one we know hesitates to admit they voted No in the Charlottetown Referendum.

Only those who voted Yes, waffle and hedge and change the subject to the sanctity of the ballot box.

Michaelle Jean thinks we're stupid. That we can't see the truth as she evades it. But the truth is staring Canadians in the face.

She probably also thinks we didn't notice her answer to a question "about the statement you issued to deal with questions about your allegiance..."

"I wasn't pledging allegiance," she snapped.

"Nuff said.

* Michaelle Jean, the new Governor General, toasted Quebec separatism with the the founder of a homegrown terrorist organization.

Michaelle Jean, the new Governor General, voted to break up the country in a referendum.

And Michaelle Jean, the new Governor General, wants it clear she wasn't pledging allegiance to Canada.

Is this the best Paul Martin could do?

With this exclusive interview, Michaelle Jean wanted to preempt further questioning, before she comes to Manitoba, about her loyalty to Canada.

She failed.

Her last chance to put the corrosive questions to rest come with her visit to Winnipeg. Its then that she can stand before Canadians and repudiate her separatist drinking buddies.

She can meet with Bruce Vallance, who was almost killed in by the FLQ , and express her sympathies to him and to the other innocent men and women who were killed, maimed and traumatized by the terror campaign conducted in the name of Quebec separatism by the man who inspired her toast.

(And if she is too busy providing photo ops for Liberal MP's and appointees, perhaps her husband Jean-Daniel Lafond will address the issue on Wednesday when he lectures St. Boniface College students about “cinema and the portrayal of reality”.)

And the news media can hold her to it instead of spilling out more puff stories about her daughter and her dog.

Or will The Black Rod be the only one asking them to do the right thing?

Sunday, October 16, 2005

ADSCAM DNA reveals Patient Zero

Ho hum. Another day, another example of Liberal Party sleaze.

Justice John Gomery lifted the lid on the sponsorship scandal a bit more on Friday and this slid out:

Top civil servant (Chuck Guite) funnels money from a secret Liberal Party slush fund to a Liberal businessman (Jean Brault) to help the Liberals win the next election. Oh, and fight separatism. He then taps the businessman for over a hundred thou in cash and goodies. The businessman bills the taxpayer to cover the cost of the goodies.

Win-win all around, providing you're on the Liberal Party kickback gravy train.

While Liberals everywhere now carry the taint of sleaze on them, they don't notice, because to them it's the sweet perfume of power. They don't even worry about Gomery's initial report, now expected Nov. 1.

But like most Canadians, we're anxious to see what he says. In fact, we have a special interest because The Black Rod has unearthed the true beginning of Adscam.

We found Patient Zero!

Thirteen years ago, a book called "Money on the Run-Canada and How the World's Dirty Profits are Laundered" was published by Penguin Books. It was written by investigative reporter Mario Possamai.

It was a hard, dry read, full of boring and complicated details of money laundering scams.

And so it sat on a library shelf all these years, almost forgotten. And then one day recently, for no particular reason, someone cracked it open and discovered

Chapter Nine --Of Bagmen and Slush Funds.

And suddenly, everything old was new again. It read as if it was written yesterday. A secret slush fund. Fighting separatism. Even the characters was familiar.

"On April 19, 1970, a handful of Canada's most powerful businessmen met privately at the elegant Montreal home of financier Paul Desmarais. What brought them together was the worrying rise of the Parti Quebecois, a growing force in the Quebec provincial elections that were about to be held."

"Within days of the gathering, a secret anti-separatism fund was up and running. It was controlled by a trusted Liberal Party bagman. The fund came to light more by accident than design - as a result of theft charges laid against the bagman. It briefly illuminated a usually murky side of Canadian politics-how confidential pools of money are (often legally) raised, laundered, and spent."


The group raised $55,000, "a hefty sum in the days before the inflationary ravages of the lates 70s and early 80s."

"The money did not go directly to the separatist-fighting Liberal Party or into its regular account at Montreal Trust. Instead the money went to veteran Liberal bagman Louis de Gonzague Giguere, Pierre Trudeau's first Senate appointee."

Giguere was known (affectionately, they say) as "Giggery Bill" on account of his backroom skills. He was Chief Liberal Party Organizer for Quebec in the 1963, 1965 and 1968 elections. He was eventually charged with influence peddling and with theft of left-over slush fund money. He was acquitted, reluctantly, by the judge who said he couldn't be sure who, if anyone, had been defrauded. (Watch for that defence in Adscam.) Giguere died in June, 2002 at the age of 90.

"According to Giguere, the contributions stocked a secret fund to "fight separatism in all its forms."

Within days of getting the money, he quickly began dispensing it.

"On April 27, 1970, a cheque for $3,000.50 went to JEAN CHRETIEN, then a federal cabinet minister."

Bingo.

Jean Chretien. Patient Zero.
The first cheque from a secret slush fund to fight separatism goes to Jean Chretien, who, years later, oversees a secret slush fund to fight separatism by handing out cheques to friends of the Party?

Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose.

What's that smell?
*******************

The Black Rod is the only Manitoba blog nominated in the poll of the best blogs in North America, hosted by the 2004 Best Canadian Blog winner, Small Dead Animals.

You can vote for us here

Just click the circle beside our name in the Best Whistleblower Blog category and press 'vote now'.

Voting is limited to one vote, per computer, per day, and polling ends on October 21st at midnight. Thanks to all our supporters


Saturday, October 15, 2005

Memo to Newsrooms: Read the last memo

At the beginning of August, The Black Rod sent this to every newsroom in the city.

Memo to newrooms: if you're waiting for an official police news release, it's going to look something like this:
There's a gang war going on in the heart of the North End.

We called for authorities to make this tit-for-tat exchange of drive-by shootings and firebombing of homes a priority before some bystander was killed.

And we challenged the news media to get involved immediately instead of waiting until the worst happened and then singing a predictable chorus of "How did this happen? Why didn't anybody stop it?"

Regretably, our worst case scenario is now a reality.

And, right on cue, the news media is singing: "How did this happen? Why didn't anybody stop it?"

A teenager walking down the street has been shot dead. A second man was wounded and could have been killed as well. Neither had any relation to the gang members shooting up McGee Street (which is not in the North End, but stay with us).

One of the shooting suspects says on a web profile that he works in the military. If literally true, it's enough to send a chill through the police investigators who now face the possibility that he had access to weapons for distribution to his fellow gang members or to sell on the street. If he was using a euphemism for his gang affilitation, then it reflects the mindset that Winnipeg citizens and authorities must now contend with.

The Black Rod has been watching the reaction to this tragedy.

The victim's friends called him a great guy.
"He was an awesome person, so outgoing and friendly," said one.

Const. Patrick Chabidon, from the Broadway community office, took a positive view.
Despite the tragic shooting, the "neighbourhood is not lost," he told the Winnipeg Sun.

City councillor Russ Wyatt called for an emergency meeting. The other councillors ignored him.

Maybe its because nobody wants to draw attention to this part of Glen Murray's Winnipeg; like the former mayor they prefer to concentrate on shiny bridges and fast buses to the suburbs and not on random shootings and bombings in the Inner City.

Mayor Sam Katz was missing, just as he has been whenever anything important has happened in Winnipeg since his election last June. This time he had a valid excuse, it was Yom Kippur. But the truth is that he's never around when leadership is required, raising the question of whether Winnipeg needs more than a part-time mayor.

Chief of Police Jack Ewatski blamed the courts for being easy on criminals.
"There has to be meaningful consequences for individuals who have no respect for the laws of the land"

He never mentioned his role in destroying the morale of the police homicide unit that investigates gang murders and in undermining the precedent-setting mega-trial of six Hell's Angels members and associates. Chief Ewatski has done more to promote the power of gangs than any other single person in the city.

Justice Minister Huff-n-Puff, aka Gord Macintosh, was silent. No doubt he'll be issuing a news release blaming Ottawa any day now.

But, really, what can he say? The NDP has no credibility on the issue.

The last time anyone from the NDP made a major statement about gangs, it was MLA Eric Robinson (Minister for Culture, Heritage and Tourism) and he was doing his best to get Manitoba Warriors gang members out of jail, not in. Other aboriginal members of the government - Oscar Lathlin, Andrew Swan and speaker George Hickes - have been silent. As have their ethnic members like Conrad Santos.

Not that the Tories have been any better. Despite the fact that the leading authority on the situation in the West End, Rev. Harry Lehotsky, was once a Conservative candidate, leader Stuart Murray has remained invisible instead of being seen at Lehotsky's side demanding action from Huff-n-Puff.

And the daily newspapers?

The Winnipeg Sun said its time for zero-tolerance.
"The status quo isn't an option. We don't want to see a second or a third innocent bystander shot and killed on city streets. What we want to see is a very aggressive strategy by police to be all over these gangs, arresting gang leaders and nipping new gangs in the bud."

The Winnipeg Free Press left the heavy lifting to its crime reporter Mike McIntyre, who, to his credit, had an excellent exclusive interview with a member of one of the gangs linked to the fatal shooting of passerby Phillipe Haiart.

The paper hid it on Page Four.

But it was obvious on Friday that the news media in this city still just don't get it.

Deep inside both newspapers was a story on, you guessed it, the latest episode in the gang war in the North End.

A house on Boyd targetted. Two gunshots fired into the windows. Two molotov cocktails thrown at the house. Shotgun shell casings litter the street.

Was the story juxtaposed with the West End gang shooting? Did anyone see how narrowly more innocent people were almost killed by gang violence? Was there a hue and cry to catch the shooters?

Hell, no.

The Sun carried its story on the Boyd Avenue attack on Page 14 ("Windows shot out in North End"). The Free Press slipped five tiny paragraphs into its second section Page 3 InBrief block ( "North End home targeted" ).

There were three children (aged 7, 9, and 12) in the home, plus a teenager and his mother. Any one of them could have been killed by the gunshots. Or burned to death if the firebombs had worked as planned.

Somehow, this escaped the attention of the reporters on the newspapers and their editors. Television stations were just as blind, as the information on the Boyd Street attack was released on Thursday, and nobody thought it worthy of news coverage.

When asking, "How did this happen? Why didn't anybody stop it?" the news media in Winnipeg has only to look in the mirror.

Once again:
Memo to newrooms: if you're waiting for an official police news release, it's going to look something like this:

There's a gang war going on in the heart of the North End.

Friday, October 14, 2005

POSTL SPILLS THE BEANS, LIBERALS PANIC

The Postleman Always Quotes Twice

We're not sure what's worse---that Manitoba medical czar Brian Postl dropped a bombshell this week and it wasn't reported in the local news?

Or that the Winnipeg Free Press doesn't know who Dr. Brian Postl is?

On Thanksgiving Monday, a published interview with Postl had Prime Minister Paul Martin clutching his chest as he lurched to the phone for help---political help, that is.

It took some doing, but the Liberal damage-control team had Postl issuing a...what? A retraction? A correction? A clarification?
Whatever it was, it was out just before 10 p.m. Eastern time.

And, oh the phone calls that must have been made on the holiday. Not to Mom.

To news directors and editors to kill the Postl story a-sap.
This bombshell apparently only saw the light in the tiniest sliver of the news media --- the Ottawa Sun, CTV, and the London Free Press, as well as Maclean's, where the original interview ran.

And the Winnipeg Free Press? Well, it ran a three paragraph brief of the story and buried it on an inside page among a long list of other briefs. And the editor cut the story off just before it identified the source of the bombshell - Dr. Brian Postl.

Who? Postl? Never heard of 'em. Chop it here and let's see if there's any turkey left.

And it's not like waiting lists weren't newsworthy for the Freep.

* The paper even ran a story Wednesday by Lindor Reynolds about a Winnipeg family of Winnipeg dealing with the wife's 30 month wait for hip replacement surgery. After paying for her own MRI scan in Calgary, losing her daycare business and having to move into an accessible home, she is one of 2015 Winnipeggers waiting for hip or knee replacement surgery. "The prime minister talks about reallocating resource. Well I'm reallocating mine. I'm taking my tax money ($16,000) and paying for something the government isn't providing". said husband John.

Lindor went running to the Canada Revenue Agency and after the obligatory don't -do- this- at- home-kids take, she slipped in the artful spin to blame the provincial government and let the federal Liberals slip off the hook: " Wasn't this problem supposed to be fixed around the same time the government promised to end hallway medicine? And just how long are we expected to put up with it?"

Maybe it is the Free Press that has to reallocate its resources, to find some editors who remember what's been printed in their own newspaper, who could have steered their columnist away from the lame tax angle and back to the point- exactly who is responsible?

After all- the man responsible for determining acceptable waiting times for surgeries had given the answer the day before in her own newspaper, but like we said, no one there even recognized his name and clearly Lindor Reynolds didn't recognize the answers, with or without his name.

* At the start of the week, in an interview with Maclean's, Dr. Brian Postl, President and CEO of the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority and the man named by the Liberals in July as the Federal Advisor on Wait Times, said there was no way the government could live up to its pledge to establish benchmarks for wait times by Dec. 31, 2005.

John Geddes Q&A with Brian Postl, the federal advisor on wait times:

Geddes: Under the September 2004 accord, the provinces are supposed to deliver by Dec. 31 benchmarks for how quickly patients should get procedures in five priority areas, from cancer care to MRI scans. Is that going to happen?

Postl: I think what's really coming at the end of December is a starting point for benchmarks... more importantly, what will come is discussion around how you build through research, through evidence, a stronger connection to what benchmarks really are. How do you build the evidence that supports huge expenditures, which is what we're talking about? How do you build processes that improve the way the system mitigates waits? I think the whole concept of information systems will be discussed -- that you can't do any of this until you build a system that tells you where people are on the wait lists. So that's what's coming Dec. 31. I don't think it's going to be a complete and extensive catalogue of benchmarks in these five areas.

Or, a long and windy way to say," No, it's not going to happen."

* Canadian Press reporter Dennis Bueckert spotted the interview and reworked it into a story that went out on Canada News Wire the same day. It was a truncated version of this story that ran in the Free Press on Tuesday.

OTTAWA -- There's growing uncertainty whether Canadians will get the medical wait-time benchmarks they were promised during a highly publicized national health summit last year.
The benchmarks were a crucial part of the $41-billion deal between Ottawa and the provinces that was trumpeted as a decade-long cure for the ailing medicare system.
But one year later, the federal wait-time adviser says the whole idea of benchmarks is impractical because there is little scientific evidence on which to base them.

Imagine the terror that went through the Liberal ranks when they read those opening words. The Liberals had made the benchmarks a cornerstone of their health platform a year ago when they were desparately fighting for re-election and trying to divert attention from the kickback scandals that engulfed them.

To convince voters they were sincere and not just playing politics (oh no, not the Liberals playing politics) the government promised Canadian it would make sure wait-time benchmarks for five key procedures - cancer, heart, MRI/CT scans, joint replacements and cataract removals - were in place by the end of the year.

"Our objective is clear: to ensure that Canadian receive the health care they need when they need it. Canadians want to see results." Minister Dosanjh said when announcing Postl's appointment.

And now they were faced with breaking their blood-oath to the electorate.

Can't happen. Get Postl on the phone. NOOOWWWW.

* Within hours, a "statement" had been crafted, and issued by Postl.

21:54 EDT Monday, October 10, 2005
STATEMENT BY DR. BRIAN POSTL
OTTAWA, Oct. 10 /CNW Telbec/ - "Contrary to a story running on the CP Newswire today, I have every reason to believe that there will be evidence based benchmarks in the priority areas as provided for in the September 2004 First Ministers' Agreement on Health, in time for the December 31, 2005 deadline as set out in the Agreement. There is no doubt in my mind that there is both the capacity and the evidence needed to do so. I believe that the benchmarks we are working toward will be based on entirely sound medical science.
What I did say was that while the First Ministers' Agreement did acknowledge the need for national standards, it also acknowledged the need for some flexibility while achieving that comparability."

The cover-up held for only a couple of days. Thursday, the cat was out of the bag, even at the Free Press.

Wait-time deadline won't be met
By Dennis Bueckert
Ottawa -- Provincial officials say they cannot keep the promise of last year's health accord to draw up evidence-based benchmarks for waiting times for a range of high-priority medical services... (The Winnipeg Free Press, page 11)

* And it's escalating.

Consternation in medical community
Ottawa -- ...If premiers didn't intend to follow through on their commitments in the accord they shouldn't have signed, Normand Laberge (executive director of the Canadian Association of Radiologists), said in an interview yesterday. "If I sign a document, that's my word." (Oct. 14, Winnipeg Free Press, page18)

Still not recognizing the importance of the story, or even identifying Brian Postl as something other than some Ottawa bureaucrat, they buried both stories deep in the paper.

Interview our own health-care mandarin in his own town? Preposterous. What do you think we are, a daily newspaper?

The provinces, with billions of dollars of new money in their coffers, now confess that they won't have any measured benchmarks against which their performance in providing health care can be measured.

Postl spilled the beans on Monday. His solution---more talk, more study, more years of waiting. No wonder he makes $350,000 a year; he's got all the answers.

Too bad The Winnipeg Free Press doesn't have any questions.
**************
The Black Rod has been nominated for an award. The Small Dead Blog Awards are North American in scope and are hosted by the 2004 winner of Best Canadian Blog, the respected Small Dead Animals.
The Black Rod is the only Manitoba blog nominated in the entire poll. We are one of only 4 nominees in the category of Best Whistleblower Blog.

Here is a link to the poll,

http://www.smalldeadanimals.com/archives/002780.html

on the left side of the screen scroll down towards the end of the ballot (after Best Hard News blog) until you see Best Whistleblower and click the circle beside your favored nominee ;)

According to the rules, one vote is allowed per computer per day.

Thank you for your support.
**********
And while we're gaining recognition, certain columnists have lost their perch. A little birdie tells us local entertainer Charles Adler is entertaining new offers, now that his regular column at the Free Press is being eliminated, after being identified as a cost-that-could-be-cut with no noticeble effect on circulation or readership. Morning talk show listeners of CJOB have already forgotten him as anything other than the voice of car and hearing-aid ads, and after tomorrow Free Press readers will no doubt forget about him too, since no one watches the dreadful 10 minute snorefests Adler passes off as current affairs for Global TV.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Manitoba-made Oscars Buzz

This is turning into a remarkable year for movies made in Manitoba.

They’re still shooting Brad Pitt’s new Jesse James movie in Calgary this week and next, but then it’s on to Winnipeg for one week.

Philip Seymour Hoffman was the talk of the town at the Toronto Film Festival for his portrayal of Truman Capote in the movie “Capote” which was shot in only 36 days in and around Winnipeg last fall. The words used most often were Academy Award.

And, believe it or not, there’s some teeny-weeny Oscar buzz for another movie shot (partly) in Winnipeg---The Big White. Written by former Winnipeg newscaster Collin Friesen, the movie stars Robin Williams, Holly Hunter and Woody Harrelson. Shooting was finished almost 18 months ago, and the movie still has no American distributor, but The Black Rod has found the first reviews from film festivals where its being shopped around.

THE BIG WHITE has its world debut in Frankfurt, Germany at the German FantasyFilmfest in August and its North American premiere last weekend at the inaugural Fantastic Fest in Austin, Texas, four days of science-fiction, fantasy, horror and animated movies from around the world.

Don’t ask us how, but the producers somehow snuck The Big White in under the category Horror.

Here’s the rough plot:

Robin Williams runs a travel agency, but his wife has Tourette's and her medical bills have driven him to the brink of bankruptcy. He figures his only hope is to collect the life insurance on his brother, who he hasn't seen for five years, and who he hopes to have declared dead. But the plan hits the shoals when an insurance agent says that it will take at least three years to process the claim unless there is a body. Williams discovers the body of a murdered man in a dumpster in front of his shop and decides to scam the insurance company. Then the hitmen who put the body in the dumpster show up and things get very, very twisted, indeed.

Reviews covered the gamut from raves to lukewarm to outright pans. If there is one consistency, it’s lavish praise for the performance of Holly Hunter as the wife with Tourette’s. Though barely a whisper as yet, the words Oscar and Holly are being bandied about in the same breath.

We discovered the latest reviews for THE BIG WHITE, plus an earlier one from Germany, on Harry Knowles’ website AIN’T IT COOL NEWS and here are some excerpts:

Quint
It's easy to compare THE BIG WHITE to FARGO... there are hitmen, there is lots of snow and lots of quirky characters. The tone is pretty similar as well, so it's an apt comparison.

Robin Williams - I like him better in ONE HOUR PHOTO, but he does a good job here, especially in scenes with his wife. This isn't crazy ADD Robin Williams, but more the "serious actor" Robin Williams. …

Holly Hunter - She is the reason I would recommend this movie. Everybody is good in the movie, Hunter is great…. Her interaction with Tim Blake Nelson in the movie are hilarious and make the movie a solid recommend instead of a "it's alright..."

THE BIG WHITE won't change your life and a lot of it has been done better before, but it's a solid little movie that's worth seeing if it ever swings by your neck of the woods. I don't think it has been picked up yet, but I think it'd be a really solid arthouse release.

Psychedelic
This comedy is too self-consciously quirky at times with not the amount of dark humor it wants. The first two-thirds are plodding. It gets better at the end due to Woody Harrelson and tighter pacing. The performances are very good with Williams, Hunter, and Giovanni Ribisi getting special kudos.

Massawyrm
The latest independent film starring Robin Williams breaks his streak of interesting indie roles, proving to be a fairly uninteresting mess that strives to be this decades Fargo and just barely misses becoming this decades Drowning Mona.

A “Dark Comedy” (and I use the term comedy in the loosest of all possible terms) about a down on his luck travel agent in Buttfxxx Nowhere Alaska …

What’s odd about this film is that the first two acts are borderline bad, never quite getting terrible, but never being funny or interesting either. There were times, however, that I just wanted to walk out because of how bored I was. But the third act, the place where most films fall apart, is actually where The Big White comes together. The last 20 minutes accomplishes what the first hour and ten never do - they make you actually care about every single character in the film. And the resolution is pretty great. …

There are a few chuckle worthy moments, and one decent belly laugh at the end, but mostly the film is a series of misfiring jokes not worthy of the fantastic cast assembled for them. The ending certainly doesn’t make the first 2/3rds of the film worth watching again, but it might make hardcore fans of dark comedies happy enough to remember having seen it. Come Monday I’ll have probably completely forgotten it.

Augustus Gloop
There is no stopping people from comparing this one to Fargo. That situation isn't helped by the fact almost everyone talks like they're from Fargo, even though this is Alaska. If I had to call this anything, I might describe it as the 'Anti-Fargo'. If everything in Fargo had gone the other way, if the cops just took everything at face value and dropped the investigation, if the main character wasn't completely batshit-crazy, if the die-hard killers weren't mean as shit and picking up hookers but instead gay lovers, then you wouldn't have Fargo, you'd have The Big White, or as I think it should be called, 'The Big White Lie'.

Giovanni Ribisi, who I have always greatly enjoyed, basically reprises his role from Flight of the Phoenix.. But the best performance, for me, was Holly Hunter as the foul-mouthed, mentally ill wife . Oh yeah, and Woody Harrelson had a part, as basically, Woody Harrelson.

All I can say is it worked well for me; I really enjoyed it, and I left satisfied that I had not wasted my time watching a Fargo wannabe. The only thing I feel hurt the film is that an amazing talent like Robin Williams was not used to his fullest. Almost anyone could have played his part. In fact, it would have been interesting to see William H. Macy in the role just to see the flipside of that other movie.

And after the German premiere, this review:

CURRY ICE

…the film reminded me a little bit on Fargo but this one had more funny and comical moments…I really recommend this one and I'm sure you'll have a good time with strong performances by Holly Hunter (MUST SEE...I'd say Oscar worthy)
August 17th, 2005

Even Harry, the big guy himself, joined the chorus of praise.

AIN’T IT COOL NEWS REVIEW
THE BIG WHITE!!!
Hey folks, Harry here... and look... Robin Williams is in another small quality genre film. With FINAL CUT & ONE HOUR PHOTO - Robin has been taking very good parts in very small films - and doing a great job with them. Looks like he's made another great one... Meanwhile THE BIG WHITE doesn't even have a U.S. distributor yet. This is a shame, sounds fantastic!
************

The producers were hoping to release The Big White in December. They’d better if they’re hoping to ride the reviews to an Oscar nomination for Holly Hunter. Oscar season has moved earlier and earlier each year.

Capote has opened in limited release in New York and Los Angeles, and will be swung out across the U.S. and Canada during October. There’s no word when it will reach Winnipeg.

Here is the link for a sneak preview on the Big White

http://www.robin-williams.net/bigwhite.htm
http://www.robin-williams.net/bigwhite.htm#multimedia

Here is Capote's preview link
http://www.sonyclassics.com/capote/

And, while we’re on the topic of awards….The Black Rod has been nominated for Best Whistleblower Blog in a national poll. We’ll have details for you shortly.

Friday, October 07, 2005

How the Free Press built a smear campaign

The Winnipeg Free Press disgraced itself Wednesday worse than we could imagine.

Winnipeg's main daily newspaper continued its smear campaign against Mayor Sam Katz, and deliberately timed its story so that he couldn't respond because of his religious duties on the Jewish holiday Rosh Hashanah.

Such a shameful use of a person's religion goes beyond any sense of decency and fairness.

It's not like the story contained anything time-sensitive. It's only purpose was to fake momentum for the faux scandal being peddled by the Press. (To understand how flimsy the scandal is, see http://blackrod.blogspot.com/2005/10/free-press-hatchet-job-on-sam-katz.html )

Once journalism students get through studying Free Press columnist Frances Russell and her liberal use of other people's quotes to pad a story she called her own, http://blackrod.blogspot.com/2005/09/happy-anniversary-buckhead-rathergate.html they can turn to this for a classic case study in political assassination.

The Free Press smear campaign is so transparent that we predicted the next story would be "Katz Under Investigation." Sure enough, right on schedule, their next story moved right into the "investigation" phase: "Probe Sals vote, auditor urged."

But there actually is a time factor. With the next mayoral election less than a year away, the Free Press has to hurry to undermine Sam Katz, even if that means rushing out a half-baked scanadal. So far, the smear has been by the book:

Step One: manufacture a scandal. Since nobody has accused Sam Katz of conflict of interest, publish a Page One story "asking the question": was he in a conflict of interest?

Step Two: use an "expert" to give your story credibility. The Free Press used political scientist Paul Thomas. Hope nobody notices that his direct quotes are general in nature, but the lead is specific to Sam Katz.

Step Three: spread the story to other news media to suggest that its growing. Only CJOB's Richard Cloutier fell for this.

Step Four: run an editorial calling for "an investigation" into your own paper's allegations.

Step Five: run a story about the "public outcry" for an investigation. Oops, there is no public outcry? Fake one.

Which brings us to Wednesday's story.

Coun. Mark Lubosch found the Free Press story "complex" and agreed with the reporter's leading question that a review by the auditor would be "the next logical step." The original story by Lett was, indeed, complex and nearly incomprehensible, but if Lubosch had read the deconstruction in The Black Rod (linked earlier in this post) ,
he would have no problem seeing how fragile the scandal is.

The Free Press said Coun. Harvey Smith told them he would be sending the city auditor a request that very day to "review" Katz's role in the Sals vote to "determine if there was a conflict of interest." Strange that the paper wouldn't wait for that request to be filed before running the story. That would give a stronger lead, but, then, you would pass up the chance to run an anti-Katz story when he couldn't respond, and who can pass up an opportunity.

Reporters Dan Lett and Mary Agnes Welch peppered their story with the appropriate buzz words intended to create a cloud of suspicion.
Concerns. Suspicious. Allegations. Revelations. Investigation.
Yup, all there.

And if some suspicion is good, more is better.

"Katz said the loan was paid out in August." The words are chosen carefully ("said") to create the impression the mayor is lying.

"Katz has said he obtained professional legal advice indicated he had no conflict of interest with the Salisbury Houses proposal." Again the use of the word "said" to suggest the mayor is not telling the truth.

Throw in the mention of a previous investigation (which cleared Katz of any wrongdoing) to imply that the mayor is surrounded beset by scandal. Hell, throw in two.

Coun. Donald Benham said Katz should "revisit his decision to remain as president of the Goldeyes."

"I think he will have to consider now how this is being seen by the public."

Well, Don, we guess that the Free Press poll showing that Sam Katz is more popular as mayor than ever is a hint of how the public sees that matter. Don't you? But, then, a good smear shouldn't depend on facts.

Oh, wait, Benham also would "prefer" if Katz himself asked for a review of the perceived conflict of interest. Will Benham, then, ask for a review of his own perceived conflict of interest.

How can he vote on any measures, like the closing of Spence Street, which benefit the University of Winnipeg when he gets paid by the university to teach a journalism course. That's a much more direct line between his vote and his wallet than anything Dan Lett could cook up involving Sam Katz.

In order to create a "link" between the mayor's vote and his personal interest, reporters Lett and Welch had to massage the facts to support their unspoken premise: that Katz broke the rules by voting for the Sals proposal because he indirectly made money on the deal.

"The Free Press reported that Katz, in his role as president of the Winnipeg Goldeyes, approved a loan to Maple Leaf Distrillers, a company linked to Salisbury House Restaurants." they wrote.

Only they deliberately failed to mention that the loan was in 2003, a year or more before Katz won election as Mayor of Winnipeg in June, 2004.

And almost two years before the vote by executive policy committee to accept the Sals proposal.

And that the Sals deal was the only one considered viable by EPC.

And that Salisbury House was putting up $240,000 of its own money to renovate the empty space on the bridge. And that Sals didn't owe Sam Katz a dime.

"Salisbury House and Maple Leaf Distillers are linked primarily through the involvement of businessmen David Wolinsky and Costas Ataliotis, who are officers of and have a significant interest in both companies, in part through their holding company, Protos International."

What's a scandal without a strong dose of cronyism? Of course, the story as related in Lett's Saturday story is more, uh, complex.

Back then the vital "link" was the fact that Salisbury House shares were used as collateral to back a line of credit for Maple Leaf. The credit line was held by the Crocus Fund. Maple Leaf had just bought its shares held by Crocus back.

Obviously that "link" is too tenuous to support a scandal, so out it went by Day Four to be replaced by a more digestable crony connection.

There was a day when character assassination was so easy for a newspaper. Print it and it must be so, was the mantra. But that was a day before the blogosphere. Now newspapers have lost their free hand to create scandals out of whole cloth, to promote their friends and undermine their enemies, personal as well as professional. Just as bloggers caught Dan Rather using forged documents supplied by a non-existent "Lucy Ramirez" to try and sway a presidential election, so the blogosphere will expose phony scandals like this one when a newspaper like the Free Press tries to sway a civic election.

So what's next?

Let's put on our swami turbans and gaze into the crystal.

With the scandal failing to find traction, expect columnist Gordon Sinclair to jump in as a surrogate vox populi. And, can University professor of ethics Arthur Schaefer be far behind with his patented spiel-even though nobody did anything illegal or broke any rules, ethics should cover a perception of bias blah blah blah.

And, of course, we're still waiting on Harvey Smith and his quest to get to the bottom of whether Sam Katz was in a conflict of interest. Unless, of course, that part of the Lett/Welch story, too, was a fabrication by the Free Press.

But, perhaps, when (or if) Coun. Smith goes to the the city auditor, he'll also ask her to look into the allegations against....oh...Harvey Smith.

Say that a publication (http://www.newwinnipeg.com/ Expenses of the Cheap and Famous) carries a quote characterizing the said Harvey Smith as "shady." It asks questions such as why he spent $500 for an immigration consultant exam fee. It links him to disgraced immigation consultant Ingrid Chan.

It raises questions about Smith's purchase of a computer, which, with the requisite taxes, cost EXACTLY $2000. Was it bought from Harvey Smith's assistant? "That is totally a pay off!" to a crony, says a commentator.

Oooh, payoff. Buzz word. And questions, links, shady, disgraced, crony. And what about all those "missing" receipts?

Go to the auditor and demand she investigate you, Mr. Smith. Donald Benham says that's the least you can do to clear up this "perceived conflict of interest" of yours.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

BBC admits news game has changed, will CBC be next?

The Black Rod
Just a short post today - we thought this item from the wire services would interest our readers and didn't want it to slip by:

Media executives ponder role of user-generated news
duluthsuperior.com
Oct. 05, 2005 AP

The avalanche of high quality video, photos and e-mailed news material from citizens following the July 7 bombings in London marked a turning point for the British Broadcasting Corporation, the head of its global news division said Wednesday.

Richard Sambrook, director of the BBC World Service and Global News Division, told a conference the broadcaster's prominent use of video and other material contributed by ordinary citizens signaled that the BBC was evolving from being a broadcaster to a facilitator of news.``We don't own the news any more,'' Sambrook said. ``This is a fundamental realignment of the relationship between large media companies and the public.''

Sambrook likened the increasing use of user-generated news material to a sports game in which the crowd was not only invading the field but also seeking to participate in the game, fundamentally changing the sport.

Sambrook was speaking on a panel with other media professionals at a conference on ``citizen journalism'' organized by The Media Center, a media think tank based in Reston, Va., and hosted by The Associated Press at its headquarters building in New York
**************
So the BBC has come to conclude their future is exactly what we wrote 6 weeks ago, about where the CBC had to head -
http://blackrod.blogspot.com/2005/08/our-plan-for-cbcs-future-without.html

With Slavko Klymkiw now gone to train movie-makers, the new visionaries at the now-unlocked CBC have to prove pretty quickly they can convince Canadians to feel their programming is relevant, or they may be the last visionaries the CBC as we know it will ever see. (Does Rabinovitch have Sambrook's number?)

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Free Press hatchet job on Sam Katz

The smear campaign against Mayor Sam Katz went into overdrive on the weekend. From the screaming headline on Page One of Saturday's Winnipeg Free Press, you would think they had pictures of Katz caught red-handed with his hand in the cookie jar.

Saturday Special...mayor voted in favour...a company partly owned by a friend...owed money...Here are the facts. Should KATZ have VOTED?

Only...there were no pictures. No hand. Not even a jar. But there was a "Free Press photo illustration" of a scowling Katz superimposed in front of the dink bridge Sals.

The "scandal" was thinner than Hurricane Hugh McFadyen's credibility or party-jumpin' John Loewen's loyalty. Reporter Dan Lett would be advised to leave this one out of his scrapbook, unless he's compiling a scrapbook of shame.

Placed prominently in the week's top-selling newspaper, you could expect it was well-read. Or, well started, at least, since we'll bet few readers finished the story or understood it. But they read the headline, which, after all, was the newspaper's intent.

The story itself was so convoluted as to be impenetrable, with conjecture piled upon speculation twisted around a maze of names spottily connected to one another, and with the Crocus Fund thrown in like a cherry added for effect.

The Black Rod has deconstructed Dan Lett's story as best we could:

* Sam Katz is president of the Winnipeg Goldeyes baseball team.

* In 2003, Katz approved a loan to Maple Leaf Distillers.

* Shares in Maple Leaf Distillers are held by Protos, a holding company.

* Thirty percent of Protos belongs to David Wolinsky.

* David Wolinsky is a friend of Sam Katz.

* Sam Katz became Mayor in June, 2004.

* In February, 2005, Katz voted, along with all the other members of Executive Policy Committee, to let Salisbury House restaurants put a Sals on the Esplanade Riel Bridge.

* Protos holds shares in Salisbury House.

* In June, Salisbury House shares were pledged by Protos as security to get the Crocus Fund to keep a guarantee on an overdrawn million-dollar line of credit for Maple Leaf after the distilling company bought back its shares from Crocus.
(Okay, smartypants...you make this simpler.)

Ta-daa.
Summing up the FP spin, we get:
Katz puts a Sals on the bridge so Sals shares go up in value so they can be used as security on a line of credit for Maple Leaf which owes Katz money.

All together: Oooooooh.

The paper noted that Katz talked to a lawyer about whether he had any conflict of interest in voting on the Sals deal and was told he had none. Lett wrote that Katz got "professional legal advice", suggesting....what? We don't know.

But its in quotes, kinda suggesting something's wrong.
All together: Wrong. Oooooh.

The Free Press must have noticed how badly their story sucked because they had a folo the next day, which, if anything, was even weaker.

Headline (not on page one, oh no, page 3 for this classic):
Note to Mayor: blind trust way to go.
A picture of a frowning Sam Katz with a cutline: questions raised.
All together: Oooooh. Quesssstionsssss.

Reporter David Kuxhaus wrote:
"Mayor Sam Katz should put his holdings in a blind trust to remove speculation he is benefitting financially from decisions he makes at city hall, says a University of Manitoba political studies professor."

He quotes Professor Paul Thomas, who, as a veteran source for the news media, should have known how he was being used by the paper. His direct quotes are very general, raising the possiblity that Kuxhaus put words into his mouth to create the lead.

Even Donald Benham, the mayor's arch-foe on council, said the Sals deal was the best the city could get. But he, and only he, slipped in a dig that Katz should have skipped the vote because of "questions" over whether he was making decisions to benefit his business dealings.

So much for widespread public "speculation".

The best the paper could squeeze out of Paul Thomas was some general quotes about a perception of bias. The only bias we could find was a newspaper using a headline to create a perception, which is then cited as proof that Katz did something wrong.

And the con worked on at least one person, CJOB talk show host Richard Cloutier. Monday, he had the mayor on his show to talk about--what else-- conflict of interest laws for city council.

Richard, nobody said the mayor was in conflict of interest. Because he wasn't. There was no issue about conflict of interest. The city clerk had said so, not that the Free Press bothered to quote them.

The real story was why the Free Press was trying so hard to create a "perception" that there was. The Winnipeg Free Press knew what it was doing. It was launching a pre-emptive strike on a very popular mayor.

The newspaper had in its hands a poll it commissioned - showing that Katz's approval rating had only gone up, despite every cheap shot and smear the FP could toss at him in the past year.

Such as the June story about Katz's first year in office, in which Mary Agnes Welch tried to bury Katz as ineffective and blamed him for the demise of the upscale bistro concept for the bridge - in favor of a lowly burger joint. Of course at the time, how could she know the Sals would be standing room only from Day 1 and no one cares anymore about a bistro ?

Then on September 20th - the same day the poll on the mayor's approval began, we note - columnist Gord Sinclair viciously labeled Katz "taking from the people to give to the privileged... Hood Robin" over his idea to build condos in Assiniboine Park. But how was he to know that Katz would still see his approval rating grow by another 5% ?

So Saturday they took the smear up a notch, and the poll was "saved" to Monday, when readership, is, well, less. But this latest escapade takes the anti-Sam campaign to a new level of animosity. Forgive us for suspecting that the Free Press commissioned the poll expecting it to show a huge drop in popularity, and provide the paper with more ammunition to fire at the mayor.

Imagine the looks around the editorial table when Mayor Sam's approval rating topped 76%.

Just when we thought the campaign couldn't get any lower, the Free Press editorial today calls for “responsible authorities” to investigate their unsubstantial allegations, only so they can next report 'Katz under investigation.' It appears they will stop at nothing in their smear campaign.

And its got us wondering what, exactly, is behind it? Why is the Winnipeg Free Press so determined to destroy Sam Katz? It's gotten to the point we're about to start speculating that there's something personal involved.

And if somebody is using the newspaper to carry on a personal vendetta, that's news.

Are you listening Richard?

Monday, October 03, 2005

Lessons in bias: Who will take the Peter Kent challenge

You would think the offer was irresistible, a no-brainer.

Federal Tory candidate Peter Kent invites journalism schools to monitor press coverage during the next election to prove or disprove a bias favouring the Liberal Party.

How could any journalism instructor in the country resist such a real-life teaching tool?

But instead of the chorus of hurrahs we expected to hear, the offer is greeted with tepid interest at best. Are the teacher's afraid of what the students will learn?
**********

Peter Kent comes with impeccable credentials. He's a member of Canada's Hall of Fame. He was nominated twice for Emmys during his stay at NBC. He was the anchor of CBC's national newscast, and anyone still wondering about the political bent of CBC employees only has to read The Black Rod's look at their lockout blogs.
http://blackrod.blogspot.com/2005/09/cbc-bloggers-reveal-their-secret.html

He's worked in the news business for forty years and is under no illusions that the vast majority of reporters and editors are not liberal small "l" and, given a choice, Liberal big "L". Ditto journalism instructors.

The idea that reporters don't slant the news to their politics is laughable. Bernie Goldberg's book Bias is an indispensable journalism text for its revelation of the mindset of newsrooms and how it acts as a filter to reporting on conservative issues and candidates.

So Kent's gambit is a brilliant tactical move. It forces the Liberals to tone down their manipulation of the press, and reporters to pretend their stories are fair and balanced, even when it goes so against their grain.

And at the same time it exposes the journalism schools.

Will we see Liberal (small "l" and big "L") Donald Benham assign the Kent challenge to his journalism students at the University of Winnipeg, where former Liberal Party cabinet minister and leftwing MP Lloyd Axworthy is president ? Or maybe Free Press columnist Lindor Reynolds can raise it with her class in "how to write features" at - you guessed it, Axworthy's campus.

Who knows? Why not? Benham knows that liberals are shameless. If the J-school monitoring turns up an anti-Conservative bias, it won't be for months after the election. And, then, so what? What's anyone going to do about it? A day after the liberal-dominated papers bury the story, it will be forgotten...

But, maybe, the silence is because none of the journalism instructors knows how to do the monitoring. The Black Rod does its own monitoring of the press and we have some suggestions.

The weekend of the Loewen defection is a perfect microcosm of how the Winnipeg Free Press covers the liberals and the conservatives.

Thursday, Sept. 22
A large photo of Liberal MP Reg Alcock. It doesn't matter why because as readers have learned, as long as he shows up somewhere the Free Press will run the picture.

Friday, Sept. 23
The Free Press carries a story saying it "has learned" that the Liberals will be contributing millions to the expansion of the floodway.
Every Friday the paper turns the editorial pages over to its liberal columnists, and today both of them write about the new book trashing former Conservative PM Brian Mulroney.
And there's a small photo of Reg Alcock at the University of Manitoba announcing the feds contribution to the first phase of the high-tech Engineering and Information Technology Complex (EITC) at the U of M.

Saturday, Sept. 24
The Front Page is devoted to the defection of provincial Tory John Loewen to the federal Liberals.
Photos have a smiling Paul Martin in the background.
The pro-Liberal quotes from Loewen are given prominence over any comments by federal Conservatives.
Provincial Conservative leader Stuart Murray refuses to say anything remotely offensive to the Liberals.

Three days.
* three photos favouring the Liberals;
* two stories, including a Front Page on the most-read paper of the week, favouring the Liberals,
* two columns trashing the former Conservative Party leader.
This shows how easily the Liberals can influence the news and how eager the paper is to be manipulated. Hand out money, get a photo. Leak a story, get a big puff piece.

To have the paper claim it "has learned" about the federal money going to the floodway is disingenuous at the least. The wording suggests a reporter ferreted out the information. Don't make us laugh.

What happens at the Free Press is that the Liberals hand them these stories in exchange for the "exclusive". In other words, the paper pretends it's breaking a story when it's actually just serving as a Liberal propaganda arm.
Should this sort of "reporting" be discussed by journalism classes?
Professor Benham...?

This past week delivered an even better example of how the local liberal paper slants the news to protect the large "l" Liberals.

Call it "anatomy of a story".

The Free Press on Thursday carried a story from Parliament Hill which, on the face of it, appeared perfectly balanced. Two paragraphs said PM Paul Martin has apologized to the parents of four murdered Alberta Mounties for telling Parliament he had had "long discussions" with them about changes to the law they were lobbying for. And two paragraphs said the families were critical of Opposition leader Stephen Harper for criticizing the Prime Minister for failing to attend a reception for the parents; they were quoted as saying they knew Paul Martin would be too busy to attend. Sort of even-stephen.

Except that the true story was that the Prime Minister had lied to Parliament and got caught. He tried to use the grief-stricken parents as foils to deflect questioning in the House, and he got caught. Two lies. Is that balance?

We had to dig through a lot of stories to find the truth. Much of it was in the lengthy story that ran in the Winnipeg Sun, but even then there were nuances that the bigger paper could and should have reported.

The story starts Sunday, Sept. 25, at the 28th annual police memorial service on Parliament Hill.

The parents of the Mounties killed at Myerthorpe, Alberta, attended, having come to Ottawa to lobby MP's to scrap plans to decriminalize marijuana, to toughen sentences for grow operators, and to tighten parole and sentencing criteria. Liberal MP's, including the Prime Minister, avoided the rally like vampires avoid garlic.
On Monday, the first day of Parliament, the Tories raised the parents' issues.

The PM told the House "I met with the families and had long discussions with them."
The families choked on his words. Grace Johnston, the mother of one of the Mounties, told the Edmonton Sun she was "outraged that he's trying to use a horrible tragedy and changes we're trying to make...for his own personal whatever."
On Tuesday, the Tories called on Martin to apologize to the families for misleading the House. Martin's reply was to attack the Tories for "political gamesmanship."

Then, after the cameras were gone, he phoned the spokesman for the families and apologized. And had an office hack tell the press.
That was the first part of the Free Press story.

And the second part, the part slamming Conservative Leader Harper?
Well, CTV said the Tories accused the PM of refusing to meet with the family members on Sunday. Not Monday, as the Free Press said. Confusion over meetings, or a bit of bias thrown in for good measure?

The families, meanwhile, accepted Martin's apology and said they didn't want to alienate him by any further criticism. They obviously still work on the dated premise that politicians are honourable people who can be swayed by a reasonable argument.

Last week we saw just how honourable they are.

You may recall our stories about Winnipegger Bruce Vallance, the retired military man who was almost killed by an FLQ bomb 36 years ago. He wrote the Prime Minister with his reservations about the appointment of Michaelle Jean as Governor General because of her cozy relationship to Canada's homegrown terrorist movement, and discussed his feelings about her with us http://blackrod.blogspot.com/2005/08/flq-victim-to-paul-martin-reconsider.html

In a radio interview Tuesday, Vallance told what happened after his letter was delivered.

He got a response.
From the pension board.
Saying he had been overpaid.
Since 1985.
By a grand sum of well over $200,000.
But they had decided he didn't have to pay it back.
Get it? Hint. Hint.

Somebody, on receipt of the letter to the PM, obviously looked him up in government records, privacy rights be damned. They found something they could use against him, something which may or may not be true (they claimed they made a mistake in his disability evaluation) but which a retiree can't afford to fight. And they fired a warning shot across his bow.

Remember what we can do if you bother us again, Mr. Vallance. We are The Libranos.

But Mr. Vallance is not a coward. He wasn't when the FLQ bombed his office. He wasn't when he stood up to appointing someone who has never repudiated her terrorist friends. And he isn't now.

On Sunday the Free Press said "something she said 15 years ago at a party with some of her husband's separtists friends should not be held against her."

Perhaps, when Michaelle Jean comes to Winnipeg later this month, she will meet with Mr. Vallance and we'll see whether she can look him in the face and apologize for making smiley-faces at terrorist bombers. And what spin the papers will put on it.
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