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 since 2005, adopted the symbol to knock some sense and the right questions into the heads of Legislators, pundits, and other opinion makers.

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:

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Newsmaker of the Year and more

With the curtain about to drop on 2006, it's time for the annual announcement of our Newsmaker of the Year.

The title this year goes to Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz.

Not only was he re-elected Mayor with a larger vote total than the first time, but he crossed the finish line with four councillors hanging onto his coat tails.

And he did it in face of an unrelenting two-year campaign of smear and sneer by the Winnipeg Free Press. It got so bad that the newspaper's own editor, Bob Cox, had to write an apology disguised as a correction for the misquotes, erroneous headlines and editorial slants slipped into news stories during the election campaign.

The gesture still didn't get Katz to buy a single election ad in the newspaper. His eventual victory underlined how irrelevant the FP has become.

While his predecessor, the preening Glen Murray, threw out a thousand "visionary" ideas and never stuck around to accomplish even one (not counting street parties), Katz does his work behind the scenes. It drives the press crazy. They'd trade a dozen pothole, street light, and transit announcements for one monorail, one subway, or one electric train.

Last year The Black Rod put a Dunce cap on Mayor Sam for his blind support of the city's new bug guy, Taz Stuart, whose refusal to spray with malathion ended only when people began coming down with West Nile Virus and the province stepped in.

Katz is a fast learner, and this year he gave Taz his marching orders---spray, early and often enough to keep the mosquitoes from becoming a danger. His biggest opponent at City Council, Donald Benham, joined the moonbats in calling malathion a nerve poison; Benham has now joined the unemployment line.

For reasons known only to him, Katz ran an almost invisible campaign for re-election. He frustrated even his most ardent supporters. It was a double mystery since Katz had very early on identified the major issue in the civic election---crime---and he was the only one offering an answer.

Since the election, its only become a bigger issue, what with a rash of robberies in and around the Health Sciences Centre, a crack epidemic that residents of the city know too well but no one in office wants to talk about, and an undiminished record of car thefts and break-ins.

Where "the visionary" Glen Murray ignored the crime problem, Katz has promised it will be a priority in his next term of office. He said he will introduce Crimestat, a computer-aided dispatch system for police, of the kind that helped turn the tide against crime in New York City in the Nineties. If he manages to get the same results as New York Mayor Rudy Guiliani, they'll be erecting statues of Sam at City Hall.


Looking back through our archives for the year, we noticed two things. One, we were sure busy. And, two, we hit our stride as bloggers.

Readers of The Black Rod were:

* the first to know the damning details of the Provincial Auditor's report into The Worker's Compensation Board and the betrayal of the whistleblower by a desperate NDP government

* the first to read about how far Supreme Court Justice Beverly McLachlin would go to attack a Conservative MP after he revealed she was prepared to overrule Parliament and use 'unwritten principles' to create new precedents, and how CBC did not check the facts before launching the first salvo in the War on Harper.

We were the first in Canada to link to her speech in New Zealand where she outlined this principle, which her office was trying to deny and which CBC bought into hook, line and sinker in a classic case of 'gotcha' journalism against Maurice Vellacott.

* the first to know the Bandidos (Manitoba) had grown powerful enough to have their own farm team - Los Montagneros, who were throwing their weight around in local bars

* the first to know of a Winnipeg connection to the mass murder of 8 Bandidos in Ontario, which lead to the arrests of 3 Winnipeg members on murder charges

* the first to read a blow-by-blow account of what happened at Montreal's Dawson College when a gunman came to kill as many students as he could

* the first to read the actual testimony from the transcripts from the Driskell Inquiry, and see how the MSM was missing, or ignoring, the story behind the attempt to engineer a conclusion to blame police and two prosecutors (one retired and the other deceased), for a dubious miscarriage of justice.

The Black Rod was the only analyst to catch the Winnipeg Free Press literally fabricating a quote to justify a page one story justifying the newspaper's condemnation of former Crown Attorney George Dangerfield

* the first to know that the Winnipeg Blue Bombers had scrubbed their publicized plan to build a new stadium at the Red River Ex site and were looking at the St. Boniface yards instead

* the first to know that the still-secret stadium feasibility study says that remodelling the existing stadium is the best option of all

* the first to learn that the Seven Oaks School Division lost even more money than they had admitted on a non-legal housing development (aka O'Learygate), but that they were using creative accounting with the permission of the NDP government to turn the loss into a profit on the books

* the first to know television news host Janet Stewart was leaving CKY to take Krista Erickson's chair at CBC

* the first to know why Brad Pitt's movie about Jesse James, which was partially filmed in Winnipeg, isn't out yet (too long, too slow, too arty)

* the first to know the story of an interpreter working in Afghanistan with Canadian troops who was terribly wounded and feeling abandoned by our country. We extended our reach halfway around the world to play a small role in helping him get his life back on track.

We hope to continue breaking stories and offering insightful analysis in the new year.

Right now, though, The Black Rod wishes a Happy New Year to...

Tom Brodbeck, who continues to run laps around the rest of the reporters in town.

Lisa Saunders, who was on vacation when she learned she had lost her hosting job at City-TV when the station was sold and the new owners announced they were scrapping local news. She was also pregnant. Her new job as mother has bad pay and atrocious hours, but the rewards are priceless.

Glen Kirby, Lisa's co-host, who was flying solo when the axe dropped on City-TV. He picked himself up and went to work on Don Benham's crash-and-burn re-election campaign. Somebody, give the guy a break.

Cosmo of 92CITI-FM, who is eating Charles Adler's lunch in the afternoons (and hammering CJOB in the 2-7 P.M. slot as a whole.) Charles who? How the mighty have fallen.

Michell Dobrovolny, the reporter for the Uniter who provided the best election converage in town. Somebody hire this girl.

"Spanky" McFadyen. Every list needs some comic relief. Elected as leader of the Manitoba Progressive Conservative Party on his image as a political wunderkind, he spent the year having his ears boxed by Premier Gary Doer. He started his job by scrapping a campaign to force the NDP to call an inquiry into the Crocus scandal, and he ended the year by begging the NDP to answer his questions about Crocus during a three-week rump session of the House. Between his plan to turn the party into Liberals-lite and the news that his own Youth Leader intended to leave the province as soon as he finished his university year, Spanky just couldn't get no respect ( apologies to the late Rodney Dangerfield).

David Asper whose name, no matter what the Winnipeg Free Press says, just doesn't sound like Diasporas.

Camilla and Leah, who were our favorite late-night news team

The gang at
Dust MY sorry we missed you when you dropped by Carlos and Murphy's

Jon Fredkove of,

Dallas Hansen
Rosie DiManno
Jamie Krym
, formerly of the 107th Engineer Batallion
Niaz Mohammed Hussaini

"A Friend".

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Afghanistan Operation Falcon's Summit: The magic bullet? Or will we pay the price for being nice?

Taliban Driver: " Shhh. Did you hear that?"

Passenger: "Is that.....?"


As near as we can tell, that's an exact transcript of the last moment in the life of Taliban high mucky-muck Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Osmani who was blown to itsy bitsy pieces by a NATO plane last week.

It took forensic experts a week to positively (yes, we split the infinitive) identify the tiny bits of Osmani and the other three men in the car. Associated Press initially quoted their Taliban spokesman, Qari Yousef Ahmadi, as denying Osmani had been killed. But this week Reuters got confirmation from their (unnamed) Taliban source.

"He has died. We got this information on the day of the strike but our leadership ordered us not to disclose it," the commander, speaking by telephone, told a Reuters reporter in the Pakistani border town of Chaman. "He was not only an experienced military commander but also good in making financial transactions for us. He had good contacts," he said, without elaborating. "His death will have some bad impact on our movement for some time," he added.

It's impossible to overestimate the importance of killing Osmani.
Imagine if General Bernard Montgomery had been killed just before D-Day and you'll have some idea.

Osmani was the Taliban's chief of military operations in six provinces--- Uruzgan, Nimroz, Kandahar, Farah, Herat and Helmand. In April, Afghan President Karzai said he was one of the four most dangerous Taliban leaders in the country. He was said to be part of the triumvirate behind Taliban and Al Qaeda operations with Mullah Dadullah, the Taliban military commander, and Mullah Omar, the Taliban leader.

Some reports say Kandahar province, where Canadians troops have set up shop, was his baliwick, although a more recent report, from an Afghan general, has the Taliban's former defence minister, Mullah Ubaidullah Akhund, leading a force of about 400 insurgents in Kandahar province. He cited intelligence reports and information from Afghan troops on the ground, as well as from captured insurgents. Akhund would be getting his orders from Osmani who was killed in the Zahre district of Kandahar province after entering from Pakistan, presumably to lead his forces against Operation Falcon's Summit.

(For a complete examination of Osmani's crimes and background, Robert Lindsay's blog is a must read.)

If killing Osmani is the only success of Operation Falcon's Summit, the latest combined Afghan-Allied Forces campaign in Kandahar and the largest NATO military operation yet in Afghanistan., then the whole thing will have been worth it.

The operation started two weeks ago with a melange of goals. One thing is certain, it was intended to be the exact opposite of Operation Medusa, the Canadian-led assault on Taliban forces in Kandahar this past summer. Operation Medusa ended with a Taliban retreat and up to 1000 dead insurgents. Falcon's Summit is the kinder, gentler approach to defeating the insurgency.

Operation Falcon's Summit put together a force more than three times more powerful than Medusa, with the intention of not using it for anything other than intimidation. Troops were ordered not to engage insurgents unless fired on first.

"In the now famous Operation MEDUSA that took place here in the late summer, the whole thing started with 48 hours of non-stop bombardment. We have started with 48 hours of non-stop discussion and negotiation: with the Afghan people." explained Canadian Colonel Mike Kampman, Chief of Staff, Regional Command (South).

The three things Falcon's Summit was intended to achieve were:
1. to highlight the participation of the Afghan army, which is to make villagers more inclined to support the fight against the Taliban when its by their home-grown soldiers instead of foreigners.
2. to spread around money for humanitarian purposes, aka buying the loyalty of villagers.
3. to separate the hardcore ideological taliban forces (called Tier 1) from the conscripts, mercenaries and local sons (called Tier 2) who, given a choice, might prefer to avoid getting killed by NATO troops. It's estimated that three-quarters of the insurgent forces are tier two. Operation Falcon's Summit is encouraging them to join the Afghan National Army instead.

Oh, and one of the principal aims of Falcon's Summit, according to General Rick Hillier, Canada's chief of defence staff, was to "exploit intelligence on the location of suicide-bomb workshops." A side effect of that goal would be killing Taliban leaders and suicide-bomb makers. Buh-bye Mullah Osmani.

The operation has been successful in weeding out regional and local Taliban commanders, although their removal is like eliminating an army's lieutenants, kill one and the enemy loses some operational experience, temporarily, until another leader is quickly slotted in.

Three key commanders were eliminated on the eve of the operation by a NATO airstrike that killed about 30 Taliban insurgents in Kandahar. A regional commander was captured in neighbouring Zabul province four days later and Osmani was killed the day after that along with two other Taliban commanders in his car. U.S. special forces swooped down on another regional commander in western Farah province the same day. NATO forces also launched air strikes against Taliban command posts, killing senior Taliban leaders.

"Taliban leaders are fleeing or being killed, and the Taliban soldiers don't know what to do," said Brig. Richard E. Nugee, the chief spokesman for Nato's International Security Assistance Force. "Like any organization, if you take out the head, often the body doesn't know what to do."

The first ISAF casulty of Falcon's Summit was Canadian Pte. Frederick Couture who stepped on a mine that blew his foot off. It was the first day of the operation and he was on a patrol in an area where two insurgents had been shot and killed the night before while planting a bomb 200 yards from the military outpost. (A Sunday Telegraph reporter was with the Canadian troops on the patrol and video of the rescue of Pte. Couture is posted on the newspaper's website at mms://

Operation Falcon's Summit began Dec. 14 with the movement of British, Danish and Estonian troops from Helmand province east into Kandahar province. They may have been shadowing 250 Taliban fighters who are said to have moved into Kandahar around that time. Afghan police and army sources said the Taliban force included fighters from Chechnya, Pakistan and Syria as well as three suicide-bombers.

NATO blanketed the villages targetted by Falcon Summit with pamphlets advising Taliban to leave before the main body of soldiers arrived. The pamphlets at the very least warned the insurgents to hide because American special forces trekking through the area found few fighters. They did find some arms caches which were destroyed.

Like a chess game, the pieces of the operation moved into place, creating a box 10 kilometres square. British and American forces are holding the south. British and Estonian forces control the west. The Canadians hold the north and east flanks.

Maybe they didn't get the memo to play nice, but Canadian forces joined the operation with a half hour barrage of artillery and LAV fire before moving out. They would eventually move into three villages which had not been part of Operation Medusa where they held meetings with elders and distributed cash and reconstruction aid.

The Taliban showed their contempt for these goodwill gestures by seizing at least two plows that had been distributed as part of Operation Falcon's Summit.

One of the villages visited by the Canadians was Talukan, where Taliban terrorists killed twomen before ISAF troops arrived as a warning not to collaborate with foreigners, including aid workers. One man was taken to the central market and stabbed to death. His body was hanged from a tree. A second man was beheaded for "spying" on the Taliban.

Who delivered the louder message remains to be seen.

Lt. Col. Omer Lavoie told the press on Christmas Eve that ISAF was in the final phase of the operation. Two-thirds of the forces had already moved out.

Left unspoken was what NATO planned to do with the estimated 400 to 900 insurgents boxed in the south of Kandahar.

Brig. Nugee said a week ago that about 50 Taliban had been killed so far, and 20 insurgents surrendered without a fight. About 20 Taliban fighters were seen running into a compound but NATO held off engaging them because they were holding women and children as human shields. What's become of them is a mystery.

If Operation Falcon's Summit takes the gloves off and wipes out the insurgent forces trapped in the box, then NATO will end the year with an amazing success. Victory in two major back-to-back battles in Kandahar will send an unmistakeable message. The Taliban have declared that next year the capture of Kandahar will be the primary objective. If we don't engage them now when we have them trapped, they will be alive and killing Canadian soldiers next spring. The string of suicide bombings in Kandahar ended with the launch of Operation Falcon's Summit. The lesson there is that as long as the Canadians are on the offensive, they win. Peacefully static, they lose.

Unfortunately, it appears the NATO command has decided that the non-confrontational model of Operation Falcon's Summit is the way to go.

Col. Mike Kampman says:
Over the coming weeks, we will finish mopping up the remnants of the insurgency in this area, and then we will move on to the next in another province. I believe that we have found the right combination to win this counter-insurgency campaign - the right balance between gaining the support of the local population on the one hand and using precision technology to destroy the hard-core insurgent leadership on the other.

Doug Beazley is a Sun Media journalist embedded with Canadian forces in Afghanistan. In addition to his regular reports from the battle zone, he blogs.

In a recent posting, he passed on the observations a man who has no reason to lie. He's a dog handler, one of the civilians working under a U.S. Department of Defence contract screening vehicles before they enter military bases, and he's been in lot of war zones.

Dec 18, 2006
22:51 pm, Doug Beazley / General, 136 words Ready, aye, ready

You remember Leon, the civilian dog handler from South Africa working out of Ma'sum Ghar? He's watched soldiers operate on four continents.

And he's never seen any army better than Canada's.

"You people don't know. These guys are very, very good," he told me.

"When they came into Ma'sum Ghar, the Taliban didn't have a chance. The Canadians blew the s-t out of them and took the place over like it was nothing at all.

"That's why the Taliban keep hanging around, dropping mortars and rockets on us. Ma'sum Ghar controls the district. They're mad as hell because they lost Ma'sum Ghar and there's no way they're ever going to get it back.

"The Canadians are the ones fighting the war here. If they pull out now, this whole country would fall apart in a week."

To which one reader responded:

Well, what else do they think? We would just walk in and leave? It's the worlds biggest hockey fight over there, and we dropped our gloves and can't find them. Looks like we'll just keep on swinging!

What can we add, except:

"Doo-doo-doo-DOOT doo-doooooo! Chaaarge!"

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Getting good news at Christmastime, the 21st Century way

This weekend The Black Rod got a terrific Christmas present.

It was an e-mail telling us of the latest news about Mohammed Niaz, an interpreter with the Canadian forces in Afghanistan who we had written about six months ago.

At that time, life looked grim for the young man.

He had been horribly wounded in an ambush on Canadian troops. He was in the hospital at the Kandahar air base where both his legs had been amputed below the knee.

He was depressed and feeling abandoned as he watched others who had been wounded in combat flown to Germany and Canada for treatment. He was begging Canada for help.

Our e-mailer brought us up to date.

Niaz is out of hospital and back working as an interpreter with Canadian forces.

His home has been rebuilt by Canadian troops to make it wheelchair friendly.

And he was standing on his new prosthetic legs when he received a medal from Commander CEFCOM, (Canadian Expeditionary Forces Command) Lieutenant-General J.C.M. Gauthier as his proud father looked on.What a terrific turnaround.

And it stands as testament to how influential the Blogosphere has become in the 21st Century, how a blog in Winnipeg, Canada, can have an impact on the life of a man in Kandahar, Afghanistan, 4000 miles away.

We first learned about Niaz's existence while researching a story on the first stage of Canada's military commitment in Kandahar. Published news reports told of the Canadians wounded in the ambush. Some of them mentioned that an Afghan interpreter had also been injured. Only a few said his injuries were severe. None of them identified the man.The Black Rod was the first to put a name and a face to the injured translator. (

We had come across a story on National Public Radio (URL is in our story) about a man named Mohammed Niaz in the military hospital in Kandahar. His story about an ambush sounded familiar. We did some more digging, and confirmed that he was the translator in the G-wagon with Canadian troops in Panjwayi District on May 24, 2006, when they got ambushed.

We wrote his story. But we felt it deserved more exposure, so we sent our story to Small Dead Animals, which then provided a link to us.

Soon SDA readers joined ours in e-mailing the defence department to insist that Canada had an obligation to Niaz and to his fellow translators should they, too, be injured on duty.

We also sent our story to national columnists Rosie DiManno of the Toronto Star and Christie Blatchford of the Globe and Mail. They had both been in Afghanistan and we thought they might remember Niaz.

DiManno picked up on the story and began making calls to defence department officials. She also wrote a column about Niaz.
DiManno: Canada owes maimed Afghan <20060613/dimanno_canada_owes_maimed_afghan>

Over the months the interest in Niaz's fate didn't diminish, and Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor himself wrote to one of the Canadians who was pressing the military establishment to tell him that Canada was committed to doing everything it could for the injured Afghan.

And then, days ago, we got this e-mail.

Subject: Afghan interpreter follow up
You two (The Black Rod and SDA - ed) both followed the story of Niaz Mohammed Hussaini, the Afghan interpreter whose legs were taken from him by a Taliban RPG in the spring of this year. I've gathered some additional information on his current situation, and put it up here:

On his blog, Damian Brooks wrote:

Since the fateful day Mr. Hossaini had his legs taken from him by a Taliban RPG, Canadians have been diligently but quietly working to help this man. After his medical treatment and recovery at the Coalition medical facility at KAF, the Canadian mission commanders struggled with how best to come to his aid. A cash payment would have simply made him a target in Kandahar, so instead, they decided to make some changes to both his home and his workplace at Camp Nathan Smith, and bring him back to work full-time as an interpreter and translator at the camp.

This entailed buying him a wheelchair, pouring concrete sidewalks and ramps around the camp, and making sure he can properly access the medical station, the kitchen, the washroom, and his office without trouble.

Some might say we owe Mr. Hussaini more than that, and they're certainly entitled to that opinion. The truth is that the CF has not had to deal with this situation before, and is currently reviewing options and developing standards that could be applied to compensate foreign employees such as Mr. Hussaini who are injured in the service of the CF. In the meantime, the fellow has received medical care and full-time employment, which is a lot more than many Afghans can say. For now, it will have to be enough.We found yet another story about Niaz in an official government publication The Maple Leaf.

It contains Niaz Hussaini's (for that appears to be the true rendering of his name) own account of the ambush where he lost his legs, as well as some nice photos of him receiving his award from Lt. Gen J.C.M. Gauthier.

And Christie Blatchford, who is back in Afghanistan, mentioned Niaz Hussaini in her Saturday column:

"Similarly, inspired by Mohammed Niaz, a PRT interpreter who lost both legs in a May 24 battle and who is back at work at the compound, the cobbler program is about to get started.
A cobbler paid by the PRT will come to Kandahar from Kabul, teach amputees how to make custom dress shoes on equipment bought by the PRT, and the amputees will set up shop at markets at the PRT and perhaps later at the much-bigger air field at Kandahar, with their captive audiences of foreigners looking for bargains."

We're proud to say that we had a small part to play with our fellow bloggers and members of the MSM, in reaching a happier conclusion for Niaz and his family.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all our readers across the globe.

Monday, December 18, 2006

A year (almost) in Afghanistan: Tanks for the memories

The national news media had finally found something good to say about Canada's military mission in Afghanistan.

If they squinted hard, they could see the soldiers in a role the Press could accept. Nay, a role they could embrace and endorse.

That role?

The sympathetic stories poured out. Canada was being abandoned by its NATO allies. Canada was doing all the fighting and dying and needed help. We were pleading. We were desperate.
How sad. How beautiful.

There was Canada on its knees at the NATO summit in Riga, Latvia, begging for countries like France and Germany to lift the caveats that kept their troops out of the battle zones of Afghanistan.

Oh woe is us. Canadian forces are doomed. Doomed. The reporters couldn't get worked up enough.

And then the military just had to spoil it all.

The new Leopard tanks had arrived in Afghanistan and Canadian troops were joyfully testing them out, playing with their new toys and looking for all the world like warriors. Not victims.

It wasn't supposed to be like that.

When Canadians arrived in Kandahar province in February, we were going to be the counter-Americans. We were going to show them how it should be done. We were going to be nice. We would meet with the locals and talk with them. We would respect their customs. We would learn their needs. We would respect them and they, in turn, would learn to respect us. We would join hands and sing Kumbaya, together.

But on March 4, 2006, Canada lost its virginity.

Lieut. Trevor Greene was holding a shura, a meeting with the elders in the village of Shingai, 50 kilometres north of Kandahar. He took his helmet off and lay his gun down in a sign of respect. He had just asked if there was a school for the children of the village when a teenager stepped forward and drove the blade of an 20-inch axe into Greene's head as he shouted "Allah Akbar".

Sgt. Rob Dolson grabbed his gun first. He pumped six shots into the attacker. Capt. Kevin Schamuhn, the platoon commander, and Pvt. Matt McFadden were milliseconds behind him, riddling the teen with their bullets.
"Once he was down, I realized the three of us who shot him were all in the same stance, knees bent, weapon up. We just reverted to the Gunfighter Program training without even realizing it," Dolson said later.(The Gunfighter Program teaches the doctrine of rapid-reaction fire without using gunsights.)

Taliban attackers started shooting at the Canadians from a nearby riverbank and fired a rocket-propelled grenade, which missed its targets. Greene, to everyone's surprise, wasn't killed. He's currently mostly confined to bed, his recovery long and slow and the outcome still uncertain.

Schamuhn said it was apparent the attack was well-planned. Minutes before Greene was hit, all the children were moved away about a hundred feet. Immediately after the shooting stopped, the Canadians found all the young men and elders had disappeared. When the elders showed up the next day, they claimed they didn't know a thing about the attacker or the planned ambush.
"Everything I've been taught about Islam, everything I've been taught about the Pashtun code of honour, has just completely been defiled in a horrifying way," Schamuhn told CTV.
The Canadians learned that the Pashtun code of honour includes murdering your guests and lying through your teeth. They wouldn't be fooled again.

The Taliban made Canadians special targets. They were afraid of the American military, but they saw Canadians as weak and easily intimidated.

Canada was taking over the security mission in Kandahar province, the literal Ground Zero of Taliban support, and they openly bragged that they intended to cause so many casulties that Canada would give up and leave Afghanistan.

Their first chance came with the dreaded, fierce, terrifying Taliban Spring. Every year, after the mountain snows melt, the Taliban returns to impose its will on Afghanistan. This year was going to be worse--- much, much worse. The Press said so.

The Taliban were supermen. Armed to the teeth with new weapons from Iran and Pakistan. Flush with new recruits from around the world. Backed by thousands of suicide bombers trained in tactics honed in Iraq.What chance did we have? We were doomed.

Well, by the end of the spring, Canadian forces had settled into their bases where there had been no government presence for years. The joint allied forces were killing the Taliban at a rate of a hundred to two hundred a week, disrupting their plans to overrun districts. The British had started arriving in Helmand province next door. The Dutch were scouting their field of operations in Uruzgan province to the north pending their arrival in a few weeks. NATO had officially taken over control of security and development in the south from the Americans.

The fierce Taliban Spring was pretty much a bust.

No matter, the Press was already trumpeting the arrival of the fierce, terrifying Taliban Summer.

The Taliban were supermen. Armed to the teeth with new weapons from Iran and Pakistan. Flush with new recruits from around the world. Backed by thousands of suicide bombers trained in tactics honed in Iraq.

What chance did we have? We were doomed, according to the Press.

But by end of September, the British and Dutch had secured their own bases and Canada was the undisputed champion of Kandahar. The Canadian-led Operation Medusa in September resulted in the biggest Taliban defeat since they were driven from government in 2001. Almost a thousand Taliban were killed, hundeds arrested, and the power of the insurgency had been cracked.

Qari Mohammed Yousaf Ahmadi, the alleged chief spokesman of the Taliban, announced to the Afghan Islamic press Sept. 15 that Taliban forces had conducted "a tactical retreat" from the Panjwaii district in Kandahar province.

You remember the headlines:
"Taliban Turn Tail."
"Taliban Retreat Under Canadian Assault"
"Taliban Defeated in Panjwaii"
No? That's probably because THERE WERE NO HEADLINES.

Canada's clear victory in the corner of Afghanistan under their watch went unremarked in most of the Canadian press. So did the announcement in October of the medals awarded by the Governor General Michaelle Jean to four soldiers "who have displayed gallantry and devotion to duty in combat" during the tumultuous year.

- Sgt. Patrick Tower, of Edmonton and Victoria, received the Star of Military Valour, the medal just below the Victoria Cross.
- Sgt. Michael Thomas Victor Denine, of Edmonton, received the Medal of Military Valour.
- Master Corp. Collin Ryan Fitzgerald, of Shilo and Morrisburg, received the Medal of Military Valour.
- Pvt. Jason Lamont, of Edmonton and Greenwood, N.S., received the Medal of Military Valour.

Once we revered the values of bravery and self-sacrifice, values which inspired Canadians to overcome the odds against victory. Now, instead, the national news media attacked the military for even telling anyone how many of the enemy they were killing.

The Winnipeg Free Press railed:
"Canada's NATO allies have taken a decision that can only bring dishonour to the mission in Afghanistan. They have decided to resurrent a measuring of progress in fighting the Taliban that came to be seen as odious in Vietnam---they are reporting body counts.To some, these comparisons might sound like great victories, to others, mass slaughter. But either way, they really say little while raising false expectations that NATO forces are somehow invincible, while families of 34 dead Canadian soldiers know they are not."

When the CBC National (yes, that CBC) carried a series of reports last week on the military and the mission in Afghanistan, John Doyle, television critic for the Globe and Mail, went into a rug-biting fury.

"The CBC's obsession with the military bespeaks a diminution of journalistic standards that is reprehensible at any time, but the clear and obvious linking of the military with with the holiday season (note how he can't bring himself to say Christmas - ed.) is simply appalling. It sentimentalizes the armed forces and their action in Afghanistan.To sentimentalize is to fetishize under the guise of good feeling. To fetishize the military is to appeal to the authorities for respect."

How dare they? Respect the military? Hogwash.

Oh, wait, he added ( probably knowing he had gone too far): "The military command our respect."

But--- and there always is a but with people like him--- "The CBC doesn't need to drool over our soldiers at this time of year, self-doubt is still okay. Discomfort and disapproval, too."

Got that?
We must doubt what we're doing is right.
We must be uncomfortable with fighting for democracy.
We should welcome disapproval.

The media mindset will not be changed. It doesn't matter that Canadians are accomplishing their goals in Afghanistan and preventing the Taliban from accomplishing theirs. We have to be losing. We can't win. Everybody knows that.

So the only numbers that count, are those that cast doubt on what we're doing.

Every story about Afghanistan mentions that almost 4000 people have died in this year in the fighting "most of them insurgents". But they don't say that last year (2005) about 1700 died, most of them insurgents. The additional deaths were almost all insurgents. Some Taliban resurgence.

The stories say that the Taliban has burned down 198 schools and killed 20 teachers this year. Last year they only burned down 150 schools. But Afghanistan has more than 4000 schools. Yes, many, if not most of them, are in tents or in the open air. The Education Ministry announced this weekend they plan to build another 1000 schools by March, 2007, with the help of the World Bank. There are 5.5 million boys and girls attending schools where there were almost none under the Taliban in 2001, and each student is a generation lost to the Islamic fundamentalists.

They won't all grow up to become soldiers fighting the Taliban, but they will grow up knowing that their freedom, and that of their children, depends on helping the authorities, on informing on the Taliban in their midst, and on supporting the international forces that have come to fight for them.

The Canadians are the spearpoint of those international forces right now. Kandahar is the battle ground where the Taliban expect to win or lose according to the latest intelligence estimates. Although they don't really care which.

"We will fight until we die. We don't care if we win or lose. Our only goal is to do jihad," the Times (of London) quoted a deputy Taliban commander in May.

So, with the help of the mainstream media, the Taliban announced an unprecedented, but still fierce and terrifying, Taliban Winter. They skipped the Taliban Autumn this year, maybe to give time to replenish the number of virgins needed in heaven for the new martyrs to come.

The Taliban Winter turned out to be a series of suicide bombings, including six in 9 days in Kandahar.There have been 100 or more suicide bombings in Afghanistan this year. In 2005 there were 26 according to the Pentagon (although some news accounts say 21, 17 and 11).

The attacks have killed about 280 people, including about 20 foreign troops. However if the death toll includes the bombers themselves, then the number of non-Taliban killed stands at about 180.

The detractors always point to the death tolls when they feel it helps denigrate the military mission. Why aren't we doing more to provide humanitarian aid, they cry.

The answer came at public hearings in the Senate in October.

Brigadier General Al Howard told a Senate committee that the military has been dipping into its own funds for development, $1.9 million, to pay for a variety of projects. The projects are underway quickly and completed as soon as possible to demonstrate the commitment of Canada to helping rebuild Afghanistan, he said.

But Canada has promised Afghanistan $100 million in aid, of which $10 million is earmarked for Kandahar province. And barely a penny has been spent. Why?

Because its in the hands of bureaucrats. CIDA, the Canadian International Development Agency, to be exact. And CIDA bureaucrats are taking their own sweet time to get going. They've been holding meetings with Afghan officials, followed by more meetings with village elders, followed by more meetings to discuss the progress of the meetings.

The Senators were aghast.
"The troops have been there for how long and we're waiting for funding from CIDA still? Why are we waiting," asked Sen. Colin Kennedy, chairman of the Senate committee on national security and defence. "The assumption we had was that the funding was taken care of."

Until the bureaucrats discover a sense of urgency, the military mission depends on the soldiers on the ground. This week, they were back at it. And they brought their tanks.

Afghan Army Takes Fight To Taliban's Heartland
Gethin Chamberlain, Sunday Telegraph,

The Taliban were out there, somewhere in the darkness to the north of the jagged peaks of Masum Gar, just the other side of the Arghandab river. They had fired one rocket. Now they were ready to fire again.

The light had faded about an hour earlier. Inside the compound only a few tiny chinks of light, spilling through the gaps in the doorway leading into the warren of vaulted underground cellars, betrayed the presence of the Afghan soldiers and their Canadian counterparts.

Suddenly, two huge explosions shook the night. And on the other side of the river to the north, where a moment earlier two men had been crouching down preparing the rocket, there was nothing left but the craters where the shells fired by the Leopard tank had detonated.

The Taliban are back. They were driven west from their traditional stronghold in the Panjvai area of southern Afghanistan by Afghan and Canadian troops in Operation Medusa three months ago. Now they have returned from neighbouring Helmand.

Afghan police and army commanders report that about 250 hard-core fighters have moved into the area, including men from Chechnya, Pakistan and Syria, and at least three suicide bombers are feared to be preparing attacks. The Afghans blame Pakistan for failing to secure its borders, but this was always the Taliban's heartland.
The Afghan army is determined to stop them and with the help of Canadian forces, it is finally taking the fight to the Taliban.

Afghan and Nato forces are to launch Operation Falcon's Summit - or Baaz Tsuka - against them in the next few days in an attempt to show local people their determination to defeat the Taliban. The Sunday Telegraph travelled with units of the Afghan National Army (ANA) as it geared up for a new offensive.

About 250 Afghan soldiers and a similar number of Canadians are dug in at Masum Gar - 20 miles west of Kandahar and scene of the heaviest fighting during the opening phase of Medusa - bringing in tanks and setting up heavily armed observation posts on the hills around the forward operating base.

It was from one of those observation posts that Afghan soldiers managed to locate the Taliban fighters on Monday night, moments after a rocket had been fired in the direction of the main base.
In the radio room of the headquarters, inside an old house set into the ground at the heart of the base, French, Dari, Pashtun and English voices spilled out of the radio sets stacked on the trestle tables lining one wall. Bare bulbs cast a dim yellow light across the room.

Over the radio came the message from the observation post that two men had been seen on the far bank of the river, apparently setting up another rocket. The Afghan signaller pulled on a cigarette while his senior officer spoke over the radio to the men on the hill.

In the Canadian headquarters about 50 yards away, they were also mulling over the information. The fighting had emptied civilians from the area; there was little doubt that the men were Taliban. The tank fired once, missed, and fired again. The second time it hit its target.

- 30 -

Don't miss a heartwarming Christmas story from The Black Rod. Tomorrow.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Is this what the police are hiding?

It's been more than a week since three Winnipeg police officers were shot during a drug raid on Jubilee Avenue, and the dust has settled enough to give us a glimpse of what's behind the headlines.

One thing is abundantly clear--- the raid went spectacularly bad.

Only one month earlier we saw how a raid gone right was presented to the public.

Drug / Weapon Arrest
On November 7th, 2006 at 11:45 p.m., members of the Winnipeg Police Service Street Crime Unit executed a Controlled Drug and Substances Act warrant at a residence in the 500 block of Alverstone Street.
As a result, the following was seized:
--more than 32 ounces of powder Cocaine with a street value of nearly $37,000.00;
--a quantity of marihuana
--drug manufacturing paraphernalia
--a gun and a quantity of ammunition
During the execution of the warrant one of the residents' Cane Corso dogs lunged at officers resulting in an officer discharging his weapon. The dog was struck in the leg and sustained non-life threatening injuries. The officers were not injured by the dog.
Twenty-nine year old Jason Allen CRAWFORD has been charged with Possessing a Substance for the Purpose of Trafficking, Possessing a Controlled Drug or Substance X 2, Production of a Controlled Substance, Possession of a Weapon Obtained by Crime, Careless Use of a Firearm, Unauthorized Possession of Firearm X 2 and Unauthorized Possession of a Weapon. He was detained at the Winnipeg Remand Centre.

The official news release contained everything you wanted to know.
Who? Crawford.
Where? Alverstone.
What? Cocaine and a gun.
It even had the police shooting a gun during the raid.

This is what people expected when Police Chief Jack Ewatski met with the press the same morning the news of the Jubilee raid became public.

What they got was lots of bafflegab wrapped in barely intelligible police jargon. Ewatski was evasive and left the impression he had something to hide.

Nature abhors a vacuum, and the press jumped in to fill the information gap left by Ewatski. Within hours we were hearing more details of what happened on Jubilee Avenue from unofficial channels. But it was hard to separate fact from the speculation.

One news story alone ("Cop hailed as hero", The Winnipeg Sun, Dec. 10, 2006) was almost completely constructed from comments by unidentified people.

"...said a police source."
"...said another cop."
"...said a cop."
"...said a source."
" One source said ..."
"...said one cop."
"...the officer said."

An extreme example, maybe, but almost every story this week quoted some undeclared source offering information (emphasis ours - ed).

All four people were hurt as a dozen officers went looking for drugs at 723 Jubilee Ave. just before 11 p.m. Thursday. Once inside the house, three of the officers were shot at with what a source said was a shotgun.
Winnipeg Sun, Dec. 9

CTV News has learned that the officers were searching a house on a drug warrant when they heard a noise in the bathroom. As they approached, someone lying in wait fired a shotgun through the wall, injuring the three officers. CTV Dec. 8

Twelve officers entered the bungalow just before 11 pm. They were moving from room to room, sweeping the house, when gunfire erupted from behind a closed door.
Globe and Mail, Dec. 9

Sources said that as the officers moved from room to room, sweeping the interior of the home, shots were fired through a wall. The weapon was believed to be a 12-gauge shotgun. One officer took the brunt of a shot near the wrist. Colleagues say the impact blew through his wrist and hand, leaving him with a significant injury.
Globe and Mail, Dec. 8

A suspected drug dealer hiding in a bathroom fired a shotgun blast through the door -- hitting two police officers -- in the seconds after police raided a Jubilee Avenue home for drugs, police sources said Friday.
Wpg. Free Press, Dec. 9

Sources said the officer was wearing a bullet-proof vest at the time of the raid, but the gunfire entered his body near his pelvis and exited through his stomach. A second officer, a 17-year-veteran, was shot near the wrist and suffered injuries that could cost him the use of his hand. A third officer was shot in the back of the leg and is expected to recover.
Globe and Mail, Dec. 9

Winnipeg police officer is being hailed as a hero after he disregarded his own safety Thursday night to disarm a man who had just ambushed him and two other cops.
"He'd just had his gun blown out of his hand when he went through what was left of the bathroom door and grabbed the guy before he could reload his shotgun," said a police source
Winnipeg Sun, Dec. 10

Reporter Bruce Owen of the Winnipeg Free Press turned up an important piece of the puzzle early on.
"A third officer was shot in the leg by a fellow officer," the sources said..."
Wpg. Free Press, Dec. 9, 2006

Ahh. Was that it? What that what Jack Ewatski was hiding?

But why? The public was nothing but supportive of the police who had been wounded. They would have understood how an accident could have occurred in the heat of the moment, police officers deafened by a shotgun blast, the wounded crying out, their colleagues returning fire.

There had to be something more, and an alternative reason for secrecy was soon on the table.

-- Did the police, who regularly warn people against taking the law into their own hands, deliver a little rough justice to the suspect they blamed for shooting their friends?

Scan the eyewitness statements and "unidentified sources" and you can see where this idea comes from

"he went through what was left of the bathroom door and grabbed the guy before he could reload his shotgun," said a police source."
Winnipeg Sun , Dec. 10

"she watched her son being "dragged" out of the house after the shooting stopped."
Winnipeg Free Press, Dec. 10

"They had one person on the boulevard and they were kind of holding him down ..."
Canadian Press, Dec. 8

"One neighbour... said she looked out her window and saw two men wrestling on the front lawn at 723 Jubilee Ave. and a man giving chase to another individual down Jubilee."
Wpg. Free Press , Dec. 9

"Anderson, 21, who is charged with attempted murder, was chased down after he fled the house at 723 Jubilee"
Winnipeg Free Press, Dec. 9

The witness's wife said "There was yelling and shots outside, so we got up to look out the window. I saw people running between cars and heard one officer yell 'Get down.' I'm not sure what happened. I think I heard three shots."
Winnipeg Free Press, Dec. 7

(The suspect was shot in the hand {he lost three fingers} and in the arm. Police won't say when he was shot.)

Headline: "Accused police shooter was beaten, lawyer says."
"He was severely beaten about the face. His face is like an eggplant."
Globe and Mail, Dec. 11

Police Chief Ewatski has been almost apoplectic at allegations like this. But he still refuses to provide any more details of the raid. In fact, his communication skills are so bad, it's almost like he's speaking a foreign language.

Here's what he told the CBC about the condition of the wounded officers:

"I am happy to say that all three of them are progressing in the positive direction relative to the recovering of their injuries. I'm very pleased with that"

Translation: They're doing fine considering they all got shot.

The police reluctance to add anything to the public's understanding of what happened on Jubilee Avenue is certainly not, as they claim, because of any concern about the suspect's rights to a fair trial. Just ask Jason Crawford (above).

Police spokesman Sgt. Kelly Dennison has made no bones about that.
"Mr. Anderson is responsible, for sure, for shooting two of our police officers."
Winnipeg Free Press, Dec. 12 "Officer released from hospital."

-- The Black Rod may have discovered the real reason for the tight lip treatment.
It starts with the raid on 723 Jubilee Avenue.

On Monday, the Winnipeg Free Press provided a diagram of the layout of the house, which has been an invaluable tool. (See, we give praise to the FP when it's due.)

The house has a front door onto Jubilee, a side door, and a patio door opening onto the back yard. Police covered all exits during the raid.

Twelve police officers were at the house.
The team included a canine unit.
Assume the dog handler and his partner (the human, not the dog), were stationed at the rear of the house to cover the patio and side doors and sic the dog if anyone not in uniform ran out.

That means ten officers entered the house.

The side door leads directly to a set of stairs to the basement. Two officers would have gone down to secure the area.

That leaves eight officers going into the main floor.

The suspect's mother was in the kitchen when police broke down the side door with a battering ram. She would have been handcuffed and put in the custody of one officer.

The suspect's girlfriend was in the living room. She has to be the luckiest woman in the city.

She had gone in just as the police were preparing to enter the house, to shut the lights. An unidentified person moving around in a darkened room just as police storm into the house is a breath away from getting shot. Instead, she was just taken into custody and put in the kitchen with the mother.Two women and two officers standing guard over the prisoners.

Four left.
Of the four, three are shot.
The last man standing is presumably literally holding the proverbial smoking gun.

We know one of the wounded policemen was likely shot by another officer.
But there's a hint that a second wounded policeman was also hit by a police bullet.

FP reporter Bruce Owen wrote Dec. 12 in a Web update:

"Sources have said Anderson was armed with a shotgun and fired through the door, hitting the two senior constables. Penner also suffered a gun shot wound, but Dennison said it's not known if he was hit faby a bullet fired from a police officer's pistol or by a ricochet."

Const. Curtis Penner is the officer shot in the hand and forearm. Const. Jeremy Cull is the officer shot in the leg, presumably by a police gun. The third wounded officer is Const. Don Murray, who was hit in the abdomen by the shotgun blast.

Was Penner also hit by a police bullet? Were two of the wounded officers shot by police? Or did Owen garble his own story?

Regardless, the result would be the same.

-- We just have to look at the testimony from the inquest into the fatal shooting of Abe Hiebert, Dec. 16, 1997, almost nine years ago to the day. It was another drug raid gone bad.

Sgt. Bob Freeman testified that after the shooting, he seized the shooter's gun. Police policy, he said.
He then issued a standard police caution to the police officer.

P. 59
Q. You charged and cautioned him with what?
A. Charged and cautioned him with careless use of afirearm, attempted murder and/or similar charges.
Q. What was the reason for charge and caution?
A. I charged and cautioned him because I am aware thatit was possibly policy. I wasn't totally aware if it was but I thought it might be. As well as that, I knew he would have to justify his actions in a court of law at a later time.

Herein may lie the answer to why the police are apparently acting so suspiciously in the Jubilee case.

As a result of the J.J. Harper shooting, Winnipeg police adopted a policy of treating all officers involved in a police shooting, whether fatal or involving serious injury, as potential criminal suspects.

Look at the charge and caution given to the officer in the Hiebert shooting.

Careless use of a firearm or similar charges.

That would apply to the Jubilee shooting.

So if one (or more) officers on the Jubilee raid were charged and cautioned as a result of the shooting of either the raid suspect or another policeman, then we can see why Ewatski can legitimately claim to be unable to say what happened.

When Dennison told the Free Press "detectives investigating the shooting -- all serious police shootings are investigated - ("Police officer shot in leg released from hospital", Dec. 12, 2006)", he may have been referring to the internal investigation of the officers on the raid.

A separate protocol would then be in place. Union lawyers would be representing the officers. And the first thing a lawyer tells a client is "don't say anything." That means the officers in the best situation to know what happened haven't given formal statements.

That would explain why the police have to rely on ballistics and forensics investigators to tell them what happened and who shot who.

The information isn't entirely for the trial of the raid suspect. It is to provide to any outside agency that reviews the shootings that took place in the likely event that the police are cleared of wrongdoing.

And that may be why nobody from Ewatski on down is in a position of answering the obvious questions about the drug raid on Jubilee Avenue. They're not covering anything up. They're doing a double investigation in an excess of diligence.

Now, while we wait for the results, can we get Jack Ewatski into an ESL program and teach him how to talk like a human being instead of a copspeak-spewing automaton?

Jeremy Cull, one of the police injured in the Jubilee raid, has been released from hospital and is recuperating at home.

Almost a year ago, the Winnipeg Sun carried this letter to the editor:

Letters to the Editor
Winnipeg Sun
Jan. 13, 2006
Screwdriver can be lethal
Re: Man may lose sight (Chris Kitching and Paul Turenne, Jan. 12).
Nice to see people in a uproar when a victim is stabbed in the eye. The victim will likely loss his eyesight, but he is lucky that is all he lost. I believe it was almost a year ago when the people and media in Winnipeg were in an uproar because a police officer used lethal force against a man wielding a screwdriver. I'm sure the victim, Chris McDonald, understands why that police officer was forced to defend himself.

Jeremy Cull

How many Jeremy Cull's are there?

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

A Free Press apology: Admit his column was made up, just don't say who wrote it

For a newspaper that claims to be wedded to the public's right to know, the Winnipeg Free Press is awfully coy about a little, ahem, scandal within its own pages.

In what's becoming a regular feature, editor Bob Cox wrote an "editor's note" for the paper Tuesday telling readers that yet another story in the Free Press was phoney.

Bogus, Made-up, Untrue.

A cynic might say that Cox's little note, complete with apologies to all, was strategically tucked away on Page Two to attract as few readers as possible. Those who did spot the piece were rewarded with the barest details---- and no names.

Note from the editor:
Tue Dec 12 2006
A Dec. 9 column on the Manitoba Liquor Control Commission contained an inaccurate account of an incident at a liquor store. The column began with an anecdote about a writer being asked for identification at a liquor commission outlet. The commission has provided the Free Press with taped evidence and witness statements showing that an incident occurred, but was not accurately described in the paper and contained false information.

Well, so much for full disclosure. You might think they had something to hide.

But we're sure they'll thank us for filling in the blanks.

The mystery column was written by Dallas Hansen and was titled "It's Time to Put a Cork on Liquor Monopoly." Hansen has been a weekly editorial opinion columnist for the past two years, collecting $250 a pop.

Here's a bit of what he wrote:

Recently one afternoon, my girlfriend Denise and I sought out a bottle of red wine to enjoy later that evening. Such a common consumer good, and an obvious companion to dinner, ought to be readily available. But, alas, the experience turned out to be quite difficult.

We headed for the government monopoly store at Portage Avenue and Banning Street and selected, with the assistance of a Liquor Mart staff member, a promising Chilean merlot. As luck would have it, however, that same helpful employee decided at the time of purchase to demand from me some form of government-issued identification.

"For proof of age," I said, pointing to the worrisome number of white strands to be found atop my head. "Aren't these dozens of grey hairs sufficient?"

They were not. Apparently my being a frequent and regular customer (as well as a public figure) meant nothing either. Another Liquor Mart employee, apparently a supervisor, then advised me to come back with my ID.

Since we had walked to the liquor store, I did not bother bringing my driving licence, and since I was not planning an exit from the country I did not think to bring my passport. I was, to say the least, rather miffed that an identity document could be demanded from someone so obviously above the age of majority just so he could purchase so simple a consumer good as a bottle of vino. Yet in the interest of avoiding conflict I simply allowed Denise to present her driving licence.

"Sorry, this is no good," the clerk said to her. Although the photographic component of her two-part Manitoba driving license was valid until 2008, the paper portion had expired some months earlier. Since Denise, unlike myself, does not drive at all, she hadn't bothered renewing it. Thus now, despite showing definitive proof of age, she was being denied the opportunity to enjoy Chilean merlot with that evening's meal on account of an arcane technicality.

(You can read the whole thing at,
or email us and we'll send you the column in its entirety, if the Free Press figured out that they failed to erase every trace of Hansen's missive from cyberspace.)

Now, columnists frequently use their positions to embarrass some employee of a restaurant, clothing store, airport, or other business that fails to give them the respect they're sure is due to "a public figure", as Hansen put it.

But this columnist picked a fight with the wrong patsy.

The Liquor Commission promptly fought back with all guns blazing. Starting with videotape of the incident and following with written statements from people who saw and heard what happened.

Oh Oh.

As Bob Cox put it in his note:

"liquor store staff were following a policy that requires them to ask any customer who appears to be under 25 for identification. The writer (Hansen- ed.) became agitated, used profanity, and made rude gestures, according to liquor store employees."

Then came the knockout blow.

"The writer was not accompanied by a female, though his column said that a woman with him produced expired identification that was rejected."

Ouch. That's gotta hurt.

As one Web wag said about the matter:
Cool, its good to know i'm not the only person out there with an imaginary girlfriend.

The Free Press dropped the hammer on Hansen immediately. The offending column was yanked from the newspaper's website. And the betting is that you won't be seeing Hansen's opinions in the pages of the FP anytime soon. Or ever.

Cox hurriedly sent out a memo, copied to publisher Andy Ritchie who holds the MLCC advertising account near and dear to his heart.

Cox, without once naming Hansen, reminded his employees:

" Please note it is against Free Press policy to trade on the name of the Free Press for personal advantage or to threaten to use the newspaper to help an employee in a personal matter unrelated to any journalism we are doing ...
You may not solicit or receive any significant benefit from any subject you may write about ...
In short the Free Press name should be used only for legitimate journalistic purposes and not for personal ones. "

( It remains to be seen if his lecture includes the marrying of interview subjects - ed.)

The FP cut Hansen a lot of slack this year.

They didn't say anything when he got arrested at the new skateboard park following a confrontation with a security guard. We don't know if he "became agitated, used profanity, and made rude gestures" in that incident, too.

Back in April Hansen and editor Gerald Flood butted heads over a column of Hansen's that was spiked. Hansen found merit in the 911 Truth movement, which believes the attacks on the World Trade Centre were engineered by the Bush administration. Flood was not amused.

Undeterred, Hansen wrote to Alex Jones, a syndicated radio host in the U.S., who peddles the 911 conspiracy theories at every opportunity. He has posted both Hansen's letter and his interview with the FP columnist on his website.

Dear Mr. Jones,

As a regular op-ed columnist for the *Winnipeg Free Press* since October, 2004, I have had only two submissions refused by my editor, both of which concerned the Bush administration and information first discovered on your websites. Both of my rejected columns are attached; please feel free to publish them or to contact me at will.
Dallas Hansen

In his interview, Hansen says he always believed that the Twin Towers were brought down by planted explosives and that the government cover-up is unravelling thanks to Jones and his fellow conspiracy freaks.

Alex Jones' strokes him by praising his bravery for being the only one of an alleged 200 reporters who had stories censored for wanting to print "the truth".

Hansen has a message for the editor who killed his 911 conspiracy column:

"Sorry, Mr. Flood, you should have run it."
He tells Jones, "He didn't realize I was ahead of my time."

But actually, he wasn't.
He was preceeded by Stephen Glass, Jayson Blair, and even Janet Cooke.

That's some team to be joining.

Friday, December 08, 2006

The Story behind the story: Gena Rowlands;Jesse James; a poker champ; and Ragtime, the Irish in America

It's almost enough to make a skeptic recant.

And if he did, he might have to say that, maybe, the man-who-says-he-can-talk-to-the-dead has more clout than we've given him credit for.

While the rest of us cursed the cold on Wednesday, the director of the made-for-TV movie What If God Were The Sun, currently shooting in Winnipeg, said it had been just perfect, more perfect than he could have ever hoped for.

His movie is based on a book written by John Edwards, a psychic who says he can pass messages from beyond the grave. The director has always had a healthy skepticism to Edward's claims. But he may be softening a bit after Wednesday.

The shoot is more than halfway through its 19-day schedule so time is of the essence.

Wednesday they hoped to shoot two scenes, one calling for a gloomy, cloudy sky and the other---wouldn't you know it--- for bright sunshine.

Scene one went off without a hitch with the sky over Winnipeg heavy with lowhanging clouds. As they moved to their second location, the clouds miraculously parted and the bright winter sun came streaming through. Perfect.

Did John Edwards put in a word with someone upstairs when it mattered?

What If God Were The Sun got an important boost this week when veteran actress Gena Rowlands was signed to play the lead. She replaces Mary Tyler Moore who, according to the Winnipeg Free Press, quit for "personal reasons."

Well, not exactly.

Mary Tyler Moore actually quit a couple of weeks ago. She said she just couldn't work with Lacey Chabert, 24, the second lead who had just signed on. She said she doubted Chabert, who played one of the Mean Girls opposite Lindsay Lohan, could handle the emotional requirements of the role. And that meant the movie would flop. And she, MTM, didn't want to be in a flop this late in her life.

Her unexpected departure created a bit of a panic.

The studio had bent over backward to cater to her request for a personal assistant, although they hemmed and hawed at coughing up a hugh chunk o' change for a private jet because there are no direct flights to Winnipeg and she didn't want to transfer planes. They had turned cartwheels when she said yes to the script, ending their plan to call the next name on their list, Jane Fonda.

Now, with shooting only days away, they had no lead. Meetings were held and phone calls were made. And a decision arrived at.

Phone Bette Midler.

Tell her, one week of shooting and one million dollars.

Bette, with a new Christmas album out, and no notice, was unavailable, million or no.

Panic. Part Two.

Just as they started looking for Ann Margaret's phone number, a network executive made an electrifying suggestion. Call Gena Rowlands first.

And, wonder of wonders, she said yes the next day.

Her reputation proceeds her, and the cast and crew are weak at the knees at the thought of working with an actor of her calibre.


A movie that appears less blessed is one that's dear to the heart of Winnipeggers.

Black Rod has discovered some clues to what's holding up THE ASSASINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD, starring Brad Pitt. The movie wrapped 15 months ago, including a few days of shooting in Winnipeg. The local extras have been wondering what's happened with their movie.

Well, an early cut of the film has begun showing up at sneak peaks in the U.S.

A couple of people who saw it have posted their own reviews on Ain't It Cool News.

Bronson says:
This is not your average western. This film is very dark, with Brad Pitt playing his darkest character since, ?Kalifornia?. Brad Pitt doesn't use a lot of words in his performance, it's all looks and internal turmoil, he is truly mesmerizing in this performance, showing a more mature actor then we have seen before.

The Man says:
The film looks amazing and the performances are there, if they shave a good 50 mins off the film I think the pacing would work much better, the story kept moving. I can't say I recommend the film as it is, but I hope they cut it down before it is released.

You see, the rough cut runs two hours and 50 minutes.

And while everyone says its good, its also very--- how shall we put it--- arty.
"...voice over, abstract shots, and beautiful scenery, something out of a Terence (sic) Malick film." said The Man.

Terrence Malick brought us Days of Heaven (1978) , The Thin Red Line (1998), and The New World (2005). All praised by critics. But none a box-office barn-burner.

And that appears the problem with the release of The Assassination of Jesse James. It was originally scheduled for release this past fall. People thought it was delayed because Brad Pitt wanted to concentrate on promoting Babel.

Tony Scott, the executive producer, told the Calgary Sun last month he thought it was coming out "the holiday weekend" of February. But there is no holiday weekend in February. And the studio, Warner Brothers, denies its being released that soon.

WB honchos are trying to read the entrails to decide whether its:
a.) offbeat but saleable, which could mean a February to April release,
b.) going to bomb, which calls for a mercy release in August, or
c.) high falutin' enough to be an Oscar contender, and a fall 2007 release.


Winnipeg is in a competition for still another movie -- and doesn't know it.

The Madison Kid, a movie about Phil Hellmuth, the youngest world champion poker player, is to start filming in Winnipeg in April or May, 2007. Hayden Christensen is to play the lead in the $6-8 million movie. Yes, Hayden Christensen, the nice Vancouver boy who played Anakin Skywalker in a couple of Star Wars movies.

But Phil Hellmuth himself has joined the film industry lobby in Wisconsin to sweeten the incentives for moviemakers so that the movie of his life can be shot in the town where he grew up.

"If we play our cards right, there is still a chance of bringing 'The Madison Kid' home to Madison. The legislature needs to act quickly and fix the film incentive legislation they passed in May and make the incentives retroactive as of Jan. 1, 2007. The producers at Beacon are laying all of their cards on the table and giving Wisconsin a shot to win this project back from Winnipeg." Hellmuth wrote in the Wisconsin Journal Times this week.

Hasn't he heard about our Spirited Energy?


And still on the topic of entertainment....

Grant Park High School is putting on a production of the Broadway hit Ragtime with student performers. They ran into a rather unusual problem, though.

The play interweaves the stories of three families, one white, one Jewish, one black. Problem was Grant Park High couldn't cast black students to play Coalhouse Walker, the main character in Ragtime, and his girlfriend Sarah. This isn't New York. So they figured they'd change the play a teeny tiny bit and have Coalhouse and Sarah become Irish in their production.

We can't say that bright idea was scrapped before or after Garth Drabinsky, the producer of Ragtime on Broadway, met with students and staff Nov. 8.