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:

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Budget Briefs, Black Rod-style

Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty has come to the rescue of Gail Asper's vanity project, the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.

According to Toronto Star columnist Martin Knelman, McGuinty has committed the Ontario government to giving the Manitoba project $5 million, in installments of $500,000 a year for 10 years.

"Premier Dalton McGuinty made the promise months ago to Gail Asper, chair of the fundraising campaign for the museum. But McGuinty asked for the deal to be kept quiet until he was ready to make an announcement." wrote Knelman in his column published Wedneday, March 25.

Nothing about the museum contribution was in the Ontario '09 budget this week, so a formal announcement is probably waiting for Gail Asper to get back from a trip to Argentina.

The money can't come soon enough. Private fundraising by Asper's organization, Friends of the Museum of Human Rights, has stalled millions short of the $105 million it pledged to raise for the project.

The publicly announced cost of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights is $265 million, even though proponents have begun floating hints that the pricetag is already heading up, up and up.


Professional Reporters At Work

"City council is poised to approve Winnipeg's 2009 operating budget this morning, even though as much as $15.1 million remains up in the air until the province tables its own budget Wednesday. "

(City hall puts its cash on the table, by Bartley Kives, March 24, 2009, Winnipeg Free Press.)

"But council's unofficial opposition opposed the spending plan because the city plans to make cuts to the public service if Manitoba does not grant Winnipeg $15.1 million in additional funding when the Doer government tables the provincial budget this afternoon. "
(War of words erupts at city hall/Council OKs budget but colourful language flies by Bartley Kives, March 25, 2009, Winnipeg Free Press.)

Tick, tick, tick, tick....

It's been four days now since the budget was unveilled and we still don't know if the city got the $15.1 million.

Did the province come through? Will property taxes be frozen?

Will we ever know?


The NDP government's spin machine was set to maximum overdrive in the 2009 provicial budget.

Faced with having to explain gallons of red ink, the NDP spindoctors went running to the works of George Orwell. Ahh, doublespeak. What a brilliant idea.

Henceforth, all expenditures by government will be known as "investments." Cue the trumpets.

And so it was----Finance Minister stuffed his budget with more than 80 references to "investments."

Not so fast.

There's one little problem.

Words have meaning.

It's not like inventing new words (planful, for example) which have no meaning except whatever you want them to mean at the moment.

"Investment" must, obviously, mean something beyond spending.

You don't invest in a pizza, however much satisfaction you get out of eating it.

You don't claim you invested in a copy of the Winnipeg Free Press, not unless you're looking at the job ads.

When you buy a Lotto 649 ticket, you're not investing, you're gambling.

An investment implies a return, a specific return over a specific time period.

So when the NDP budget says it's investing in education, or infrastructure, or health, we have to ask what's the return and over what time?

If the answer is "we don't know", then it's either spending, or a gamble.

Gary Doer has said he trusts the Auditor General's word on the budget. So, maybe, it's up to her to examine each and every reference to "investment" in the budget and to announce publicly whether it meets the criterion of an investment (specific return over a specific time period) or not.

Can we trust her to do that?

We're going to invest in a couple of beers before we answer.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

War in Afghanistan 2009 Week 13

"This war is lost."

It was April, 2007, almost exactly two years ago. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, speaking for the Democratic Party, declared the Muslim terrorists had won the war in Iraq.

"I believe myself that the secretary of state, secretary of defense and - you have to make your own decisions as to what the president knows - (know) this war is lost and the surge is not accomplishing anything...," said Reid.

Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby described the mindset of the time in a lookback this week (Bush's Folly is ending in victory, March 25, 2009): There was no military solution to the sectarian slaughter. The surge would only make the violence worse. Victory was not an option. The only choice was to partion Iraq and get out.

That was then. This is now.

ABC reporter Terry McCarthy filed this report on life in Iraq for World News Sunday:

"Markets without bombs. Hummers without guns. Ice cream after dark. Busy streets without fear. Six years after the war started, more Iraqis now say the economy, rather than security, is the biggest concern in their lives... 60% expect things to get better next year, almost three times as many as a year and a half ago. Iraqis are slowly discovering they have a future. We flew south to Basra, where 94% say their lives are going well. Oil is plentiful here. So is money, which they like to spend on expensive imports."

"...a city reborn: speed, light, style - this is Baghdad today. Where car bombs have given way to car racing. Where a once-looted museum has been restored and reopened. And where young women who were forced to cover their heads can again wear the clothes that they like."

Insurgent-committed attacks in Iraq have decreased to their lowest level since August 2003, a drop of more than 90-percent since June, 2007, according to Army Maj. Gen. David G. Perkins, director for Strategic Effects at Multi-National Force - Iraq.

"Dramatic advances in public attitudes are sweeping Iraq, with declining violence, rising economic well-being and improved services lifting optimism, fueling confidence in public institutions and bolstering support for democracy."

That's how ABC analyst Gary Langer starts his story on the findings of the latest ABC News/BBC/NHK poll from Iraq.

The results, he said, "represent a stunning reversal of the spiral of despair caused by Iraq's sectarian violence in 2006 and 2007. The sweeping rebound, extending initial improvements first seen a year ago, marks no less than the opportunity for a new future for Iraq and its people."

The people who wanted to cut and run from Iraq two years ago are now in charge of the war in Afghanistan.

Newly elected U.S. president Barack Obama announced his plans for Afghanistan on Friday:

- 17,000 more troops.

- Plus 4000 soldiers to train the Afghan army and police.

- And the creation of Reconstruction Opportunity Zones in the border regions from which products, including textiles, could be exported to the U.S. for 15 years (providing the union-dominated, anti-free trade Democratic Congress approves.

- The U.S. will fight Al Qaeda in Pakistan and talk with the Taliban in Afghanistan.

In an earlier briefing, a White House official told reporters that roughly two-thirds of Taliban fighters are "primarily concerned with regional issues and can be defeated or co-opted if the central government can bolster its ability to provide security and services" beyond the capital of Kabul.

Only a couple of days earlier a U.S. missile attack killed eight suspected Taliban and Al Qaeda operatives in a stronghold of Pakistani Taliban commander Baitullah Mehsud. The strike destroyed two vehicles near Makeen, a town in South Waziristan. Makeen is the base of Baitullah Mehsud, the leader of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan.

This was the 60th Predator attack during the last three years. The New York Times has reported that the US is considering expanding its airstrike campaign from Pakistan's tribal areas into Pakistan's Baluchistan province.

There wasn't much talking going on this week in Helmand Province where the British were taking the fight to the insurgents in spectacular fashion, something we've come to expect.

Royal Navy Sea King helicopters and RAF Chinooks dropped 700 soldiers from 42 Commando, backed by Danish and Afghan troops, onto Marjah, a Taliban sanctuary a few miles from the British headquarters in Helmand. In the three days of fighting that followed the coalition forces killed 120 insurgents. Only two commandos were injured while Taliban casualties were estimated at 200 to 300 Taliban wounded. It is believed that the enemy dead included a Mullah regarded as a "high value target" by the military.

The coalition forces were supported by Dutch F16 jets, British Apache attack helicopters and American Cobra helicopter gunships, unmanned drones, Danish battle tanks, 105mm artillery guns and 81mm mortar barrels.

Marjah was known as a base for training insurgents and processing opium. The Taliban didn't want to give it up easily and reinforcements were called for from the Pakistan border 160 miles away. (Electronic eavesdropping, of course.)

A correspondent for the Sun newspaper went along and described how Royal Marines entering the Taliban bomb factory, in a school, discovered a massive booby trap that would have killed dozens of children if triggered.

"After being air-dropped on top of the enemy, they battled for up to 12 hours a day.
They then yomped several kilometres at night to stun the Taliban in surprise morning attacks," wrote the Sun's Tom Newton Dunn.

Commanding officer Lt Col Charlie Stickland said: "My guys are brilliant. We've paralysed and shocked the enemy."

We can't agree more.

And this British offensive came hot on the heels of another only days earlier by 250 soldiers to drive the Taliban from the "Snake's Belly" area of southern Helmand province. This was called "an intelligence operation." The main assault force was A Squadron 1st The Queen's Dragoon Guards in heavily armed Jackal vehicles and Riflemen from 2nd Battalion The Royal Gurkha Rifles.

As the troops swept through the Taliban strongholds, insurgents tried to flee south on motorcycles and in pick-up trucks only to be intercepted by the Brigade Reconnaissance Force.

Lt Col Alan Richmond, Commanding Officer Battlegroup South, told one British newspaper:

"At the start of the tour we found the enemy pressing up against our Patrol Base line that protected Garmsir District Centre, in the area we call the 'Snake's Head'.

"Five months on, and after a series of operations to wrest the initiative away from the enemy and keep him constantly on the back foot, we now have to travel a long way south to find the enemy."

Oh, and this assault followed a similar operation further south earlier in March by the 42 Commando Group. Don't those guys ever sleep? Apparently not, not when they're out for revenge.

The Sun's correspondent, writing about the airdrop attack on Marajh noted: "Six-hundred commandos fought to the limit of their endurance - sleeping just two hours a night - to avenge the deaths of 32 comrades during their six-month tour."

The military machine was firing on all cyclinders in Helmand province this week.

A senior Taliban commander in northern Helmand, Maulawi Hassan, along with nine of his fighters was killed in targeted airstrike. Coalition aircraft blasted his compound in the district of Kajaki.

In an example of how honed the coalition intelligence has become, a press release from the International Security Assistance Force says Hassan "rose to prominence in the fall of 2008."

Fall to spring is a short life span for an insurgent commander who hits the NATO radar. And the Taliban is getting the message.

The ISAF identified four senior Taliban leaders, including the one Hassan reported to, who direct "insurgent activity from outside Afghanistan." following the deaths of Taliban commander Jamaluddin Hanif and a "prominent facilitor" named Maulawi Mohammed Saddiq who were killed during a March 16 airstrike in the Now Zad district of Helmand province

Helmand has been a deadly place for Taliban fighters this month. The airstrike that killed Hassan came two days after Afghan and coalition forces killed 30 Taliban insurgents in the Gereshk district. They may have to change the name of the Feared Taliban Spring Offensive to the Feared British Spring Offensive.

Another 22 Taliban fighters were captured in neighbouring Kandahar province by Afghan troops. Among the prisoners, according to press accounts, was an unnamed "famous militant figure."

The Taliban struck back by attacking poorly armed police. Nine policemen were killed at a checkpoint in Helmand province and six policemen were wounded in a Taliban ambush in Ghazni province.

But the Afghan National Police scored a win of their own mid-week with the arrests of two Taliban commanders and three of their fighters in southern Uruzgan province. And they did it with the help of local villagers, who, apparently, were unhappy at the Taliban's campaign of extortion and of threatening teachers to keep schools closed.

Checkpoints and patrols were set up along the route they were traveling and a description of their vehicle was distributed to police on the ground. Guess who drove up right on schedule.

And finally...we had to laugh. Hard and out loud.

What, you say, is so funny about a Canadian woman, kidnapped by Muslim terrorists and being threatened with beheading if somone doesn't pay a ransom in the range of $150,000?

The former Beverly Giesbrecht is from British Columbia. After 911 she converted to Islam and took the name Khadija Abdul Qahaar. She also began publishing the pro-al Qaeda, pro-Taliban, pro-jihadi Jihad Unspun site online.

Round about November, she was in Pakistan's tribal area hangin' with the Muslim homeboys on an alleged assignment from, of all agencies, Al Jazeera, when, wouldn't you know it, she got kidnapped, hijab or no hijab. She's been enjoying the hospitality of her Islamic pals ever since, although her pleas for ransom are getting shriller every week.

What's hilarious about this is a long post she made from Pakistan in September titled "KHADIJA ABDUL QAHAAR: Live From Taliban Controlled Mohmand Agency" In it she writes:

"It did not take Maulana Aziz long to get active in my project after I explained that I wanted to eat, breath and sleep with the Taliban in order to show the true face of those America's calls "terrorists".

Bwahahaha. She's seeing the true face today.

In fact, she saw the true face in September, although she didn't immediately recognize it. Her story, though, is a good picture of the enemy in Afghanistan.

Giesbrecht went to Mohmand Agency to interview someone she calls the Supreme Commander. "Mohmand Agency is the heartland of the Taliban in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan and a strategic centre for the jihad that now rages in Pakistan." she wrote.

She spent two weeks in Peshawar, Pakistan, trying to arrange a meeting with the Supreme Commander. In the interim she got conned by everyone she met. One interpreter collected a week's pay and took off in the night. Three others got her to buy sim cards and load up their cell phones and they disappeared. When the Taliban fighters made contact, she had to buy their lunches for a few days.

Her gullibility is legendary. She wrote that she had been in Pakistan making a film but that she got ripped off by several Pakistani employees "who claimed to be doing so "only for the sake of Allah" but who pilfered nearly 200,000 rupees from the budget." Still, she persisted, and finally her Taliban contacts agreed to take her to the mountains.

Here's where we learn, inadvertently, how the war looks from the other side.

The "Mujahideen" had fled in fear to the mountains that separate Mohmand and Bajaur Agencies after an American attack in the Bajaur Agency. On the drive up, their car got stuck. Then it ran out of gas. They couldn't communicate with their Taliban friends because everyone is afraid to use their cell phones except for brief moments and at night.

And everywhere they heard and saw signs of defeat.

"Emir Ullah. A man of 30, soft eyed and soft spoken, small framed yet strong featured, Emir Ullah went out of his way to show me respect. What I didn't realize at the time was that he had lost five of his own personal security guards during the past week."

"The next morning...No sooner had I finished cleaning myself I heard a large helicopter and moments later loud gunfire. As I returned to the main Madrassa area, I was told that a helicopter gunship had fired on a Taliban check post just two kilometers away and one of Emir Ullah's men had been wounded."

"When we arrived at the check point, I witnessed a truck carrying the wounded Mujahid from the attack earlier in the morning."

"Emir Ullah came with my translator to explain that the cousin of the Supreme Commander had been killed and his martyred body had just arrived at the house."

Taliban checkpoints were nothing more than shakedowns. And a helpful Taliban leader, Emir K, tried to kidnap Giesbrecht and her party after tricking them to go down the wrong road. "It was then I realized just how dangerous this teriitory really is - with rivalries between Emirs and lack of communication that can take a live in a split second."

This is the fearsome Taliban? A frightened grabbag of rival tribes as eager to rip each other off as to beg, con and rob anyone they think has money?

We hope the writer-formerly-known-as-Beverly Giesbrecht escapes with her head. She tells us so much just by being herself.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Inner City residents gave Police Advisory Board an earful of good advice

Well, well, well....What a different message we get when people in the Inner City are allowed to speak for themselves free from the filters of strident native ideologues and Marxist university professors.

It turns out that what they say is diametrically the opposite of what we've been told by these very intermediaries who, we can now clearly see, have been twisting the public's words to fit their own private agendas.

The Winnipeg Police Advisory Board should be applauded for letting the voice of the people be heard at last. The board's first annual report was delivered to city council late last week. Within its pages we can hear what Inner City residents really think about the police.

What an eyeopener.

It turns out the residents of the most crime-ridden centres of town welcome the police. They want more police. They want to help the police to do their jobs better.

Their biggest complaint is that intimidation by gangs and drug dealers keeps them from providing the police with more tips and more intelligence.

The most significant insight flowing from the advisory board report is how, while police and the public want to work toward the same goals, there's often a fundamental mismatch in approach.

Take community policing. Everyone agrees its a good thing. But we see that police and the residents of the Inner City are talking at cross purposes.

The people want to see Officer O'Malley walking down their streets. They want to get to know Officer O'Malley by name and him to know them. They want to wave at him, to offer him home-baked cookies, to tell their children that is they're in trouble to go find Officer O'Malley. They want to trust Officer O'Malley because he's a part of their community, so that they can whisper to him when they see drug dealers or gang members or prostitutes infect the neighbourhood.

The police, on the other hand, don't want their officers identified. They've been victims of gang intimidation themselves. Homes of police officers have been firebombed. Their cars have been shot at. They've been attacked in restaurants. They want to make it harder for drug dealers to identify them, not easier.

The current version of community policing is to have more cruiser cars being more visible driving through the neighbourhood, and something called "community support" which seems to be working with "community leaders" to address specific problems.

The police advisory board says they found the public understanding of the hard job police have.

What the Board heard…about police response
• Although they complained about poor police response, ineffectiveness with problem children, and lack of physical police presence, residents also expressed empathy with the job that individual police have to do, the burden of paperwork, the problems created by the revolving door of the justice system, and the systemic problems of family breakdown, poverty, etc. that police are not able to address.

But there's frustration and confusion over the rules of reporting crimes and getting police to come.

What the Board heard…about police response
• Some do not understand how police prioritize their responses. Long delays for seemingly significant events, or non-attendance, were cited.
Police response was seen as less likely when children were involved as perpetrators, particularly under 12

It's obvious to an outside observer that much of the miscommunication is a result of the class structure of the system; the problems of the poor are assigned a low priority compared to the priorities of the well-to-do.

From the report:

What the Board heard…
• The underlying factors in reporting from the public are distrust, fear and a reported lack of knowledge of each others’ reality. Some feel that police may dismiss complaints unjustly, thinking the callers are motivated by “one dealer finking on another dealer”.

"In the WPS General Survey some respondents reported that when they phoned the police they were told to go to a police service center, something many can not do. The survey also notes that internet crime reporting, while “a good idea” has not caught on with the public, and is also limited by an individual’s access to a computer."

Police were asked to "treat break-ins to detached garages with the same seriousness as break-ins to attached garages." There are very, very few attached garages in the North End and City Centre, so this priority automatically sends police resources to richer areas of the city.

Police were asked to " investigate smaller thefts in the inner city since poor people can’t afford replacement and do not have tenants/house insurance." That's only common sense, but how to adjust police resources under a city-wide priority dispatch system? Officer O'Malley would be one answer.

"Midnight to 6am is reported as being the period of the most concern. Police should concentrate more resources or “flying squad” during those times." Again, common sense.

But what message does the police department send these people when it delivers round-the-clock protection to Lloyd Axworthy's University of Winnipeg for a week because some anonymous person scrawled a vague message in the toilet? "You don't matter," it tells Inner City parents. "We're too short-staffed to protect your children. Lloyd needs us more."

Threats? The residents of the Inner City say they live with threats on a daily basis, not the occasional scrawl on a wall.

What the Board heard
• Residents mention crimes, but emphasize the whole notion of widespread intimidation and fear.

There's obvious frustration with getting the attention of police in high-crime areas. In turn, the police may be frustrated with the public for not helping themselves with programs designed to deter crime such as Neighbourhood Watch, Citizens for Crime Awareness, and Graffiti Reduction which are showing a decline in awareness and participation rates. But there's a fatigue factor at work. Neighbourhood Watch is just unpaid patrols to make up for a lack of real police patrols. And what's the sense of endless graffiti reduction when nothing is being done to stop the graffiti in the first place?

What the Board heard…about police response
* The potential benefit from the use of technology in residential areas is recognized. i.e. Cameras, cell phones, etc. Using cameras in high crime areas was suggested

The most heartbreaking segment of the WPAB report is reading about the lives of children in the Inner City and realizing how desperate their parents are to give them decent, normal lives.

Crime Prevention and Children
In some Winnipeg neighbourhoods the physical and emotional safety of younger children is a daily concern for parents.

Victimization may be at the hand of other young children emulating the activities of older gang-involved youth. Early intervention is seen as one important part of what needs to be a broad-based solution to de-motivate future offenders. Truancy by school-age children should be actively pursued, and when at-risk children and youth are involved in troubling but not criminal activity there should be immediate follow-up with parents. Police are expected to assist, but the neighbouhood still saw the solution ultimately coming from the larger community, with the active involvement of parents and children.

What the Board heard
• Much concern on victimization of children
• bullying and intimidation at/after school
• younger and younger children lured by drug trade and being involved in the delivery of illegal drugs
• 11 and 12 year old females regularly stalked by males in cars;
• Very young children (6-7) from “gangs” bully and steal from even younger children
• Gang activity is central to young children becoming victims and offenders
• Summer sees increased gang activity

• There was a significant amount of call for more attention to crimes by children, often with children as victims. After-school patrolling, school resource officers and other programs were desirable.

But, but, but...haven't we been told that the community hates and fears police?

Here's the police board's report on that.

"Complaints were made about police insensitivity to people who were different, but the most persistent complaint was that officers target Aboriginal Peoples."

But given that the rest of the board's report is a reflection of the people who spoke up at public meetings, and it was obvious that many of those people were "aboriginal peoples" themselves, then we can see the worst complaints come from a sliver of a minority of Winnipeggers.

Oh, and "Diversity targets that were identified in the recommendations of the Aboriginal Justice Inquiry have reportedly been surpassed..."

Here's some of what else the advisory board heard:

• The responding police may be feared for a number of reasons. Previous bad experience locally can be one reason, but some fear of police is imported by newcomers from their country of origin.
• Children may reflect the attitudes and beliefs of their elders and run at the sight of police.

Immigrants from lawless countries bring their fear of state police with them, and somehow this is a bad reflection of the Winnipeg police? And people are indoctrinating children to fear the police?

Child welfare authorities recently acted to separate a child from her parent who espoused white supremacist beliefs; shouldn't we do the same for parents who inculcate hatred of police authorities in their children?

Every message goes down a bit easier with humour. The advisory board did its part in the section of their report called Police and Cultural Diversity.

What the Board heard…
• Cross cultural/sensitivity training was recommended, (Aboriginal culture, sex-trade workers)
• There are community groups willing to assist in training police in these areas.

We bet there are. There are scads of community groups just dying to justify their existence by being "willing to assist in training police" in how to be nicer to crack whores and cross-dressing she-male hustlers.

And, of course, there's the ever-popular "aboriginal culture" industry. Been there. Done that.

After the AJI the Winnipeg police force was overrun with cultural training. But when car thief Matthew Dumas tried to kill a Winnipeg policeman and got shot for his effort, where did all that cross-cultural goodwill go?

The native politicians all jumped to support the criminal and blame the police officer (who turned out to be one of their own). Even after the inquest proved the police officers at the scene acted properly, the aboriginal demagogues and their aboriginal lawyer declared they still refused to believe the evidence and that the police were wrong.

One of those blame-the-police (always) run-at-the-mouths sits on the police advisory board.

Now that's a laugh.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Reality of inner-city fears shocks Winnipeg Police Advisory Board


If a written report could make a sound, that's the sound you would hear from the Winnipeg Police Advisory Board's first annual report.

Everybody from the Premier, the Mayor, the Chief of Police on down to the members of the advisory board themselves get slapped in the report.

The board failed to do what it's supposed to do, but in exchange it produced an amazing report that tips the apple cart of complacency about public safety and policing in the city. It's findings need to be trumpeted from the rooftops.

Instead, the report, which was handed to city councillors last Friday, was met with near deafening silence by the news media in the city. Hey, it was Friday and what self-respecting news reporter wants to tie up a Friday night by reporting news.

Only the Winnipeg Free Press reported the story, and even then it was buried deep in the Saturday newspaper instead of being highlighted on their cover page. At least reporters Bartley Kives and Gabrielle Giroday tried.

The 11-member board was set up to advise city council on:
a) police plans and performance targets regarding crime prevention and enchancement of neighbourhood safety; and
b) how effective the police were in deploying their resources, compared to their plan targets and their budget.

Couldn't do either, said the report, because of lack of data and resources.

So, instead, the board went slumming.

They held public meetings in the poorest, most crime-ridden parts of town. We confess; we thought that the meetings would be a waste of time and effort. We were wrong - wrong because we had no idea how clued out most of the police advisory board's members were about crime in the city.

It turns out that meeting the public was probably the best thing the board could ever do.

So maybe the first slap should go to The Black Rod for jumping to conclusions.

But we're in good company.

Slap.... to Premier Gary Doer.
And Justice Minister Dave "Six Months" Chomiak.
And his predecessor, Gord Macintosh.

What the Board heard…
• Overall the justice system is not working effectively.

And who's responsibility is that?

• The Winnipeg Police Service be more aggressive in insisting that corollary social services such as mental health agencies and child welfare agencies work with their clients in high demand times such as evenings, weekends and cheque days

The police advisory board had to couch its recommedation in police-centric terminology, but the message couldn't be clearer. The provincial mental health and child welfare agencies are failing to do their part in crime prevention. They are set up to meet the schedules of their employees and not their "clientele".

Who's responsibility is that, Mr. Doer? Mr. Macintosh? the Mayor and council

* Environment matters. Elimination of graffiti, timely removal of garbage and abandoned items and better lighting in some back lanes would help reduce crime. and resident involvement in creating solutions would increase.
• The “broken window” philosophy was evident: by responding to smaller matters police would become more connected in the community. Criminal intelligence would improve and resident involvement in creating solutions would increase.

We've heard Mayor Sam Katz talk the talk, but it's obvious that's as far as it goes in the Mayor's office.

Graffiti? It's the most obvious sign that a community is in trouble.

In February, Katz bragged to council that the city has tripled the amount of graffiti it removed between 2005 and 2007. Then he cut the budget for graffiti control by more than half.

A drive down Main Street from City Hall to West Kildonan shows how effective Katz's version of the broken windows policy has been. The amount of graffiti has doubled from last year, and last year it was at least 100 percent over the year before. And that's only along Main Street. We shudder to think what it is on the side streets.

Hey, Sam. Put your money where your mouth is.

The city spent $2.1 million attacking graffiti in 2007, and now you want to cut that to $991,000? Where's the money going? To trendy bicycle paths? To rapid transit for effete university students? Maybe for public art on deserted city streets?

It's funny, isn't it, how nobody who spoke to the police advisory board even mentioned bicycle paths or rapid transit?

They did speak the obvious to city council though when they talked about "timely removal of garbage and abandoned items and better lighting in some back lanes." Garbage collection is a city service, yet the garbage bins in the city centre and north end are filled to overflowing every single week. That's part of the broken windows policy.

The system for picking up abandoned items is broken. Why can't any of the geniuses on city council recognize that? It's evident to the residents.

Clean up the streets and you'll take a step at cleaning up crime. That's what the police advisory board heard. Is city council deaf?

Slap ... to Chief of Police Keith McCaskill

• Police undertake a coordinated education program on the manufacture, identifiers, effects and other important facts about ‘Crack”.

• Gang led incidents are not always reported as gang-related.

Gangs and crack, the two words the Chief of Police never speaks but which define existence in Winnipeg police districts 1 and 3.

McCaskill has spent his short tenure as police chief painting himself as the man who listens to the public.
It's time he becomes the man who's heard enough and starts acting like a policeman and not a politician.

But, but, you expect us to put a police officer in front of every crack house?

Yes, Keith. We do.

Why is it that the police administration always cries about a shortage of police to harass crack dealers and gang members to prevent crimes, but whenever there's a murder or a shooting or an arson you see ten police cars at the scene, and 20 police directing traffic and rolling out police tape? When did sitting in a police car diverting cars around a murder scene become Priority One on the dispatch scale? If you can find the police to do that, then you can find the police to sit outside crack houses.

We almost choked when McCaskill said in a year end interview with the Free Press, "I think we missed the boat on crack."
(Not that it was printed in the paper, that classic was only found in the full transcript ,posted on James Turner's blog post on Jan. 3rd)

As far back as October, 2005, we were writing in The Black Rod about the crack epidemic sweeping Winnipeg.

The police on the street knew about it all too well then. What hole has Keith McCaskill been in for the past four years to say the crack problem is something new to him?

The WPAB dropped another bombshell in their report, but maybe McCaskill can claim credit on this.

Remember last year when the North Point Douglas residents association (whose chairman, Sel Burrows, sits on the police advisory board) proudly announced they had managed to shut down almost all the crack houses in their neighbourhood? Everyone asked, how did you do it?

The answer from Sel Burrows was that the association set up a system whereby people who knew of a crack house could channel that information to a designated person who would then phone the information in to the police. That way they wouldn't be identified to police or the drug dealers and wouldn't become targets for retaliation.

Sounds simple, except that, according to the WPAB, the police department had, until last December, been unwilling to accept crime reports or information from third parties.

That's right. Anyone trying to emulate the North Point Douglas model was stymied by the police department. So how did they manage to do it? Well, Burrows has always publically credited Keith McCaskill for helping his community. So, we have to assume that it was McCaskill who finally broke the logjam within the department and let other communities adopt the NPD model for drug enforcement.

* The issue was resolved by WPS management in December, 2008 in the form of a department-wide policy statement on the value of third-party information.

Slap... to the university egg-heads and newspaper columnists who worship at their feet.

* According to the WPS General Survey, 2008, extrapolating respondents (8%) experience, there were potentially 35,000 unreported crimes in Winnipeg last year. Statistics Canada and other surveys indicate that a very significant percentage of crimes are never reported to police.
• Residents mention crimes, but emphasize the whole notion of widespread intimidation and fear.
* Fear of retaliation was a common reason for not reporting crime.
• A resident’s home may be his/her only refuge.

How many times have you read that university professors say crime is overrated in Winnipeg? That fear of crime is a product of hyped-up reporting? That the statistics show crime is falling? That people should stop listening to anecdotes of crime and depend on data provided by the egg-heads?

It's obvious that the people out of touch with reality as those self-same egg-heads and their echoes, who get their knowledge of crime from books and journals and on-line statistical reports.

The WPAB is telling the public that there's tens of thousands of crimes unreported each year; that entire neighbourhoods are living in fear, and even anticipation of being victims of theft, robbery, violence, intimidation, exactly what the criminology professors say exists only in their deluded uneducated minds. the Police Advisory Board

Perhaps the most shocking information in the police advisory board's report is how shocking its members found what they heard.

"For some Board members it was shocking to hear first hand about the level of crime, violence and fear that residents of some Winnipeg neighbourhoods are exposed to on a daily basis. Many inner-city residents have little choice but to remain in these high-crime areas and the Board’s consultations revealed to us the courage that is required in our high-needs neighbourhoods for residents to face each day and hope that their living conditions will improve."

Who sits on the Winnipeg Police Advisory Board?
Who among them had no idea of the living conditions of the city they live in?

Here's half the answer.

Board Members
Gerald Forrest, Chairman
Sam Anderson
Sel Burrows
Nahanni Fontaine
Robert Gabor
Larry Gregan
David Keam
Melanie Lautt
Aidan O’Brien
Charles Rubin
Gord Steeves

Tomorrow....more of what the WPAB discovered by talking to residents of Winnipeg's high-crime zones.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

War in Afghanistan 2009 Week 12

We confess. We've been knocked off our stride.

Despite our best hopes, we haven't been able to put out a weekly Afghanistan report consistently this year.

When we started our Afghanistan reports in 2006 we hoped to provide an overview of the fighting, primarily in Kandahar province where Canadian troops are stationed, and some analysis of the strategies involved. That gradually expanded to include military action throughout the country. Then into the lawless tribal regions of Pakistan.

Last year as the Taliban tried to destabilize Pakistan and to spark a war with India, we began to get overwhelmed. We thought we could get a handle on it, but...obviously not yet.

So this week we're using a time-honoured tactic---KISS---keep it simple, stupid. We'll focus on only a handful of topics while we regroup.


How time flies. Blink, and it’s already the season of the Feared Taliban Spring Offensive.

As sure as geese fly north in the springtime, the mainstream media has begun to roll out their annual scare stories. Expect this year’s model to be a variation of the Taliban’s newest spin as found in an early March story by Syed Saleem Shahzad, Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief.

“…after striking peace deals with the Pakistani security forces, the newly formed United Front of Taliban in the Pakistani tribal areas is ready to pump at least 15,000 to 20,000 fresh fighters into Afghanistan. These are expected to start crossing the rugged - and unmanned - border in April,” he wrote.

See how many MSM news outlets report this without adding the next paragraph in Shahzad’s story:

United States President Barack Obama has promised an additional 17,000 US forces for Afghanistan…”

Them, 15,000. Us, 17,000.

Who do you think has the edge?
And what’s the United Front of Taliban?

It seems that in February the three main tribal leaders in Pakistan-- Hafiz Gul Bahadar, Mullah Nazir, and Baitullah Mehsud---decided to stop fighting each other and form a club together. They even put out pamphlets to announce the rebranding of the insurgency, because, goodness knows, the surest way to pump air into a lost cause is to change your name to something even fiercer.

But, but, but..haven't we been told the insurgency is resurgent? They're making a comeback? The Coalition forces are being defeated on all fronts?

Yes, unless you listen to the people.

A BBC-ABC poll conducted in December and January asked the question in the simplest terms:

Who would you rather have ruling Afghanistan today: the current government, or the Taliban?

The answer was also simple:

Current Government 82 percent.
Taliban 4 percent.

Now, who do you think the Afghan public wants to win the war?

Two recent developments need to be addressed.

1. Taliban Jack Layton and his MSM allies were ecstatic at a CNN interview with Prime Minister Stephen Harper. To listen to them, Harper said the Coalition forces were defeated and the mission to Afghanistan was lost.

So, for the record, here's exactly what Stephen Harper told CNN interviewer Fareed Zakaria.

We're not going to win this war just by staying. We're not going to -- in fact, my own judgment, Fareed, is, quite frankly, we are not going to ever defeat the insurgency. Afghanistan has probably had -- my reading of Afghanistan history, it's probably had an insurgency forever, of some kind.

What has to happen in Afghanistan is, we have to have an Afghan government that is capable of managing that insurgency and improving its own governance.

So, we are never going to defeat the insurgency. The best we can do is train Afghan forces that can take it on, and then we withdraw.

HARPER: Absolutely. Because I think, you know, a part of the calculation there is the fact that, ultimately, the source of authority in Afghanistan has to be perceived as being indigenous.

If it's perceived as being foreign -- and I still think we're welcome there -- but if it's perceived as being foreign, it will always have a significant degree of opposition.

The Prime Minister's message, without MSM spin, was simple. The war will be won when we can turn over the defence of the country to the Afghan government. Stability is the goal, not rebuilding the country from the ground up into a modern, western-styled democracy.

But the elements of that stability are the roots of a 20th century democracy.

One will bring the other eventually. The models are there.

India is a thriving democratic state which is reducing poverty by leaps and bounds, sending probes to the moon, churning out more engineers per year than the U.S., and still it fights an insurgency in Kashmir.

Israel has been a nation for 60 years, but is surrounded by mortal enemies and has to fight off periodic organized attacks by terrorist insurgents.

Afghanistan should be so lucky to be in their ranks.

2. U.S. President Obama has discovered moderate Taliban. We should, he says, be talking to the 70 percent of Taliban who are not ideologues and trying to make a deal with them. Wow, why didn't anyone think of that before?

Oh, because they did think of that before. In fact, that was the idee du jour of the British and Canadians last spring. How did that work out?

Oh, yeah. Four Canadians were killed this past week by roadside bombs.
We're holding out for Plan B. Kill as many of them as possible.

Nothing works better at deterring moderate insurgents as knowing that sure death awaits you.

A wide split has developed between private U.S. analysts of the war effort in Afghanistan. This is something to watch as the U.S. plans to introduce up to another 30,000 soliders into the war zone over the course of the year.

Strategypage, a website which covers armed forces worldwide, war, weapons, and intelligence takes a positive view of the Afghan effort.

January 17, 2009: The Taliban are shifting strategy in response to heavy losses fighting foreign troops. The Taliban has not been able to come up with a counterstrategy for the smart bomb and UAVs, which give foreign troops an unassailable advantage in battles. The word has gotten around, and Afghans are demanding more money to take up arms and join a bunch of Taliban. The Taliban still need these large groups of armed men. Just threatening Afghans about their girls schools, video and music stores, and not having a beard, does not work unless you can show up once in a while with a large bunch of armed friends, and punish those who defy you. But over 5,000 Taliban fighters were killed last year, and about as many badly wounded or arrested.


The U.S. is expanding its intelligence operations in Afghanistan, bringing in a lot of the equipment, and specialists, who were so useful in Iraq. The U.S. Army has developed intelligence tactics that provide "information dominance" that makes it difficult for the enemy to carry out attacks (without the U.S. knowing about it), and more vulnerable to American raids and sweeps.

The information based tactics concentrate on capturing or killing the enemy leadership and specialists (mostly technical, but religious leaders and media experts are often valuable targets as well). The Australian commandos have specialized in this approach, and made themselves much feared by the Taliban (who will make an extra effort to avoid dealing with the Australians).

The U.S. and NATO commanders know that the Taliban leadership is in trouble, with a new generation of leaders only recently shoving the older guys (veterans of the 1980s war with Russia) out of the way, and introducing more vicious tactics (more terrorism against reluctant civilians). This is backfiring, as it did in Iraq, and the Taliban leadership is not having an easy time trying to come up with a new strategy.


The Taliban are trying to adopt the Iraq "bombs not bullets" strategy against the unbeatable foreign troops. The use of roadside and suicide bombings are up. But these tactics don't kill enough foreign troops to make a difference, unless the foreign media can be manipulated into declaring the bombing losses as proof that the war in Afghanistan is hopeless.

Meanwhile Stratfor, an online intelligence service, is taking a negative view, arguing that the U.S. will soon pull its armed forces out of Afghanistan :

Strategic Divergence: The War Against the Taliban and the War Against Al Qaeda
January 26, 2009 1901 GMT

Does the United States need to succeed against the Taliban to be successful against transnational Islamist terrorists?

Logic argues, therefore, for the creation of a political process for the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan coupled with a recommitment to intelligence operations against al Qaeda.

... we expect that the United States will separate the two conflicts in response to these realities. This will mean that containing terrorists will not be dependent on defeating or holding out against the Taliban, holding Afghanistan’s cities, or preserving the Karzai regime. We expect the United States to surge troops into Afghanistan, but in due course, the counterterrorist portion will diverge from the counter-Taliban portion. The counterterrorist portion will be maintained as an intense covert operation, while the overt operation will wind down over time. The Taliban ruling Afghanistan is not a threat to the United States, so long as intense counterterrorist operations continue there.

Lastly, media coverage of the war has, if anything, gotten worse. Here's just one sad example.

Growing Taliban use of marksmen worries U.S. military
By Nancy A. Youssef McClatchy Newspapers

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - Taliban fighters increasingly are deploying precision marksmen to fire on U.S. troops at greater distances throughout opium-producing southern Afghanistan, according to the top two commanders for the southern region.


The expanded use of precision marksmen comes as the fighting shifts from eastern Afghanistan to the south, where the Taliban are trying to protect opium production, which is reputed to be their economic base.

But its only halfway through the story that you learn:

"So far, shooters have made use of long-barrel rifles, not specialized sniper weapons, and Nicholson said there was no indication that they had trained snipers."

In other words, the "precision marksmen" turned out to be opium farmers taking potshots at soliders from farther and farther away.

It is to weep.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

A (Disraeli) Bridge Too Far

A high stakes poker game between anti-car activists and city consultants ended Wednesday morning.

The bicycle buffs doubled down and the city called. Somebody was bluffing and somebody was dealing from the bottom of the deck.

The pot?

Only the design of the Disraeli Bridge rehabilitation project.

You shoulda been there.

And, in theory, you were. Because, you see, the anti-car cabal was representing you, the public, with the full approval of the city reps. Except that you didn't know it.

This is the story of that double-dealing.

Most Winnipeggers thought the public consultations stopped last Spring when the city held open houses on three possible designs for a rebuilt Disraeli freeway.

Shortly afterward they announced the "winnah" ---a four lane bridge with a pedestrian walkway on the east side and a pricetag of $140 million.

But before the project went to tender, the city administration revealed that there had been a teensy weensie change to the plan.

It seemed that the city planners had decided the project would now consist of two-count 'em-two bridges. One would be a refurbished Disraeli Freeway, and the other would be a bicycle/pedestrian bridge. The price was the same; honest, they said.


Where did that come from? A second bridge was never part of the public hearings?

Well, the professional MSM reporters heard the same announcement that you did and must have asked the same questions. They yawned, scratched themselves and went back into hiberation.

So let us answer the question.

The concept of a second bridge dedicated only to pedestrians and bicyclists was the brainchild of an anti-car group called Bike to the Future.

Somehow they managed to bypass the public hearing process and get the ear of the planners on the QT. But don't say it was done secretly. They were so proud of their coup that they bragged about it on the Bike to the Future website.

"Brion asked that it be reflected in the minutes that Bike to the Future's report that led to the separate cycling pedestrian bridge concept that the SAC developed further was inspired by Wardrop Engineering's work on a previous project."

One mystery solved. Now onto the poker game.

You see, another bridge meant another set of public consultations. City planners knew that time was of the essence in the process.

So how do you fast-track public consultations?

Cut out the public part of the equation, of course.

Last November, consultants hired by the city canvassed the anti-car pressure groups for, ahem, advice on who should be involved in the process. The answer turned out to be eight groups who became known as the Collaborative Planning Working Group. The magic eight and their reps:

Jim Chapryk - North Point Douglas Residents' Association.
Anders Swanson - One Green City/Mayor's Environmental Advisory Committee
Janice Lukes - Winnipeg Trails Association
Brion Dolenko - Bike to the Future
Kathleen Leathers - Prairie Pathfinders/representing walking pedestrians (are there any other kind?)
Jordan Van Sewell - South Point Douglas Residents' Association
Brian Timmerman - Exchange District BIZ
Ingrid Zacharias - Elmwood Community Resource Centre

The consultants laid down the rules:

o For credibility and integrity, participate as representatives of broad constituency rather than as an individual. Ensure that your voice is not your own personal opinion, but rather,
the view of the community or organization that you are at the table to represent.

So, you see, you were there in spirit if not in body. And what did you decide…?

It seems there was a strong consensus that cars are bad and should be replaced by bicycles as soon a humanly possible.

While the city officials were thinking how to move 40,000 vehicles across the Red River every day, the CPWG (kind of rolls off the tongue, doesn't it) was thinking how to reduce, minimize, and ultimately eliminate the number of motor vehicles in and around South and North Point Douglas.

Bikes to the Future must have thought they were in the catbird seat. They had gotten themselves a bridge. They controlled the consulation process. And, in their eyes, the city was listening to their ideas to the exclusion of any other groups.

So up went the ante.

You may remember how South Point Douglas residents went to city council asking for the Louise Bridge to be closed to traffic so that it could be turned into a bicycle/pedestrian bridge. That's always been the longterm goal of the CPWG in the Disraeli Bridge project.

They recognize the obvious problem. If they supported a new bridge, then their bargaining power for the Louise Bridge went down. If they held out for the Louise, they would lose the second bridge.

So they worked with the consultants on a new bridge, while secretly doing their best to limit, if not undermine, the plan.

The city consultants, on the other hand, knew that the city was going ahead with the two-bridge plan and needed to get the cosmetic public consultations out of the way.

They told the CPWG there would be three meetings, and only three, to get their opinions.

- In the first, city officials briefed them on the Disraeli project.

- At the second, they got pens and paper and were told to go wild with ideas. Literally, they drew pictures of bridges, like a grade 3 class.
- In the third, they were to pick which idea they liked most (or two at best.)

The bicycle enthusiasts did their best to bend the process to their goal. A proposal to build the second bridge off the Pritchard Boat docks to E.K. died quickly. The curlicue bridge (which appeared in the Winnipeg Free Press on Tuesday, March 17 without any explanation where it came from) made the cut as one of two finalists, along with the city favorite, the bridge off Annabella.

Yesterday morning, the collaborative working group had to hand over their final recommendations. Show your cards.

The bike-lover's heartfelt favorite was the curlicue bridge, so named for the shape of the on-ramp which twists a full circle before connecting to a bridge that would literally be alongside the rebuilt Disraeli Freeway.

But given that the purpose of the two bridge plan was, er, TWO separate and distinct bridges, you can bet this one is going nowhere.

Which leaves one, the Annabella bridge, which was the plan all along before the three month-long diversionary consultation process.

So who won?

* The city listened to "your" views and "fulfilled" its obligations.

* The bike lobby got conned into thinking they had the inside track -- but they get to keep a new bridge.

* The big losers turned out to be half - that's right, half -the residents of South Point Douglas.

Since November, the city has been "consulting" residents on the location and design of the pedestrian/cycling bridge.

Most of them didn't even know it.

The consultations turned out to be with the artists colony off Higgins Avenue (and the odd bikes-uber-cars proponents scattered elsewhere.)

The other half, area homeowners, car owners, taxpayers, voters and news consumers in the area, were played for Jokers by the city administration, planners, and the consultants.

The consultants, by the way, should be called on the carpet by Mayor Sam Katz for

a) fooling half of the people all of the time, or as we said above, they were there 'in spirit if not in body',
b) orchestrating 3 rushed meetings with special interest groups all played against each other, pretending that kind of conduct fulfills the spirit and intent of "neighbourhood planning", and
c) expecting to collect their full pay from taxpayers for a job half done.

Some deal.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

The Dog Days of Winter

The dog days of winter drag on but we won't let them get us down.

We had to look for new sources of amusement, and in the news of late we found a treasure trove of hilarity.

1. Manitoba's First Family of Show Trials has settled for the booby prize in the fix-it sweepstakes.

While other show trials have paid off in the millions (Sophonow, Driskell), the Taman family had to be satisfied with a palty $300,000 (and if history is any guide, a third of that goes to their lawyer.)

The Tamans, led by widower Robert, sued everybody in sight for their emotional distress at losing wife and mother Crystal in a tragic car crash. They wanted damages, dammit. The long drawn-out process, they said, had destroyed "their ability to properly grieve and to function in society."

They had tried to get over their pain by running to every television camera in sight during the public hearing. But then the reporters all went away, and there was a void that only money could fill.

But, like the instigators who launched previous lawsuits after their respective witchhunts, the Tamans soon learned the hard facts of life---in a real court with a real judge and real rules of evidence and cross-examination, they didn't have a snowball's chance in hell. To make matters worse, the RM of East St. Paul, one of the defendants, grew a set and refused to grovel. See you in court, they said.

So, as usual, the provincial NDP came running to the rescue, to scuttle any court process that wasn't fixed in advance. They threw the Tamans a bone to get them off stage and to clear the decks for the next show trial coming soon.

Drug dealer murderer Frank Ostrowski wants his turn at the NDP's millions for life sweepstakes, and if you can't trust a rigged game, where's the justice in the world?

2. The CBC's emaciated I-Team tried its best to breathe life into the worst example of a scandal in recent memory. Despite valiant huffing and puffing, they only embarassed themselves by trying to flog a year-old report on a defunct medical laboratory into a "potential risk to the public."

For starters, it was impossible to figure out from the CBC story what the scandal was?

· testing equipment "appeared old and obsolete and was no longer being serviced by the manufacturers." Was there any evidence it was inaccurate or delivering false readings? Apparently not because the I-Team didn't mention any problems.

· there were "serious inadequacies" in quality control practices. Such as…????

· and "no review of quality control records" by the lab director. Which means….????

· there were no licenced technologists at all at the lab. Does the law say lab employees have to licensed technologists? CBC didn't answer that obvious question, which means NO.

· and when three (licensed technologists) did apply, they were rejected. Why? CBC didn't say. The implication you're supposed to take is that the lab didn't want real technologists working there. But maybe they commanded too much money. We don't know and they didn't care enough to answer the obvious question.

Oh, and there were no complaints about the lab from any health professionals.

Even CBC viewers weren't fooled. This post from the CBC webpage:

woodturn wrote:Posted 2009/03/02
at 12:52 PM ET This is a story of perhaps, what ifs and maybes. Conjecture runs rampant when you hear "The equipment appeared old and obsolete....." Was if functioning? Was it used correctly? Were the results accurate? If not maintained by the manufacturer was it maintained? Answer these questions and you have a better view of the facility.

The Winnipeg Free Press followed the CBC story, spinning its own version of a scare story Tuesday.

"The accuracy of blood and urine tests at a private downtown medical laboratory have been called into question in an inspection report that flagged serious problems, including outdated equipment and staff who failed to meet provincial training standards," wrote reporter Jan Skerritt.

Oooh. Scary.

Except that her story didn't contain a single quote from the December 2007 report obtained by the CBC expressing concerns about "the accuracy of blood and urine tests" at the lab. That was apparently her own interpretation of interviews she conducted in 2009.

She did reveal the source of the CBC's peg for the story--- "potential risk to the public"---which they repeated as often as possible in the I-Team story. It turns out the lab's medical director resigned and, wrote Skerritt, a letter was written to the province saying "there was a public risk if the facility remained open without a director at its helm."

Fffttttt. That hissing is the sound of a scandal deflating.

Skerritt interviewed Adam Chrobak, spokesman for the College of Medical Laboratory Technologists of Manitoba. She said he said the lab's staff were "practicing illegally without a licence." Yeah? Why, then wasn't that stated in the report by the College of Physicians and Surgeons? Neither the CBC nor the Free Press quoted anything from the report saying the lab staff were incompetent or working illegally? Was it because they weren't?

Sigh. Once upon a time CBC and the Free Press knew the difference between a real scandal and a poor facsimile.

3. And speaking of hype. Canwest News Service provided the FP with a story about the Governor General's Performing Arts Awards announced Monday.

Among the recipients was "film and television actor/director Paul Gross…whose most reent project was the hit feature film Passchendaele, a First World War drama."

Say what? Hit feature film?

Passchendaele cost $20 million to make and earned barely $4.5 million at the box office. Since when is a hit film defined as one that nobody saw and which lost three times what it took in?

Oh, in Canada, where Passchendaele was the top grossing Canadian film of 2008. The next 9 were French films made in Quebec and No. 10 was a Brazilian-Canadian-Japanese production about a city where everybody goes blind. Who didn't want to go see that?

Reviews for the Gross's "hit" were brutal. Here's a sampling from

* Passchendaele is as satisfying a World War I film as any I have seen in recent years. (Yeah, name the other World War 1 film of recent years -- ed.)

* It's a boring, unrealistic love story, set against the backdrop of war. Sorry, but the characters development was weak and/or stereotypical, especially the one dimensional brother. The pacing was slow and while the war scenes were fairly realistic looking, I can't recall any memorable moments, other than the over-the-top, ridiculous, Christ-on-the-cross/saviour-like ending. 100% Canadian cheese.

* Absolutely horrible!

* I'm sorry to say this film is an unmitigated disaster. I was looking forward to this movie and was really hoping that it would be something special. I was terribly disappointed. It's an embarrassing effort from Paul Gross. Poorly written dialogue, implausible plot, wooden cliched acting, need I go on? Looks like Gross' ego got the better of him and he thought he could do it all, Producing, writing, director and starring/acting. Someone should have told him, "stop, this is crap, get a real screen writer!"

* Boring, long and incomprehensible

* ... this film was a hokey, amateurish effort from beginning to end. The dialogue will have you rolling your eyes.... This kind of film is the reason why Canadian film gets such a bad rap. It deserves it. Bad casting, sloppy story, painfully ridiculous dialogue, scenes directly reminiscent of Saving Private Ryan, religious symbolism that was way, way over the top - I was actually embarrassed for Paul Gross. He showed this to people? While he was actually in the audience?

Add 'award-winning' to the Passchendaele hype.

Only in Canada, you say. Pity.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Free Press takes one foot off Gail Asper's Museum bandwagon

You know the wheels are coming off the bus when the Winnipeg Free Press turns on the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.

"Overruns already?" asks the FP editiorial on Saturday.

The newspaper now professes concern that the cost of the high profile project "could go wildly out of control."

Ya think?

The museum's board of trustees informed Parliament this week that they miscalculated their operating costs by about $5 million (23 percent). Oh, and construction inflation is eating up another $1.2 million a month.


None of this comes as news to readers of The Black Rod.

Two weeks ago we flagged the addition of $5 million to their operating costs.

And nine months ago we told you all about the construction inflation. Funny how the FP didn't think it was news then.

Saturday, May 10, 2008
The Canadian Museum of Human Rights: Follow the money

It turns out the Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights held a hearing into the human rights museum Monday, March 3, 2008 before passing the law making it a national institution.

Senator James Cowan asked:
" say that the budget to build and fit up the museum, including exhibition development, would be capped at $265 million. These projects have a tendency to run over the expected costs. Who will pick up the tab if the costs exceed $265 million? "

Lyn Elliot Sherwood, Executive Director, Heritage Group, Canadian Heritage, answered.
"The board of trustees will be accountable for bringing this project in on budget and making decisions with respect to the building design and the contingency fund set aside that allow it to bring the project in on budget."

So the people who have failed to raise the private sector's portion of costs are now responsible for cost overruns.

Uh huh.

Oh wait ... there's a contingency fund built into the $265 million budget.

Sherwood said the contingency fund was 15 percent.

Or about $40 million if our math is correct.


"That has been factored into planning and is one of the reasons for the urgency of this bill because at the moment the purchasing power of that $265 million is being eroded at the rate of between $800,000 and $1.5 million per month." said Ms. Sherwood.

Overruns already? Hell no.

The overruns have been running since well before last May, eating up every penny donated in 2008 and more.

The museum trustees say they were blindsided by city taxes. Hence the $5 million hole in their operating budget.

You see, as the museum's website tells it, on June 28, 2006, the City Council unanimously approved a $20 million contribution to the Museum in cash and in-kind donation in the form of land, infrastructure, and forgiveness of property taxes.

The problem is, that was then and this is now.

Then, the museum was seen as a privately-run operation, Izzy Asper's pet project being stage managed by his daughter Gail.

But in August, 2008, it officially became a government-run museum (so that the Aspers could tap into tax money to build and run the place). And the city collects taxes (actually payments in lieu) from the federal government.

We can't wait until millionaire moocher Gail Asper comes cap in hand to city council begging them Oliver Twist-style to turn over the federal government's millions. T-shirt sales have been slow. Canwest Global is teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. "Please sirs, I want some more."

But it makes you think. The FP raised a stink about conflict-of-interest at city hall over an inflated $230,000 tax bill for land near the mayor's ball park, but never raised a peep when the same city councillors turned over as much as $5 million to the millionaire Aspers.

It goes to show you how much silence you can buy with a lucrative contract to print the National Post.

No Post, and suddenly its "Overruns already?"

Let's see if the FP actually does any real reporting on the financial problems of the CMHR:

* They've failed to raise $3 million of the private share of the project.

* They owe taxes to the city from last August at least.

* They're watching their costs go up $1.2 million a month, and nobody will admit how long that's been going on.

* They conceded last month that the announced cost of the project, $265 million, is four years old and likely way out of date.

The new scam is to pretend that once they get tenders for construction out they can miraculously fix costs.

Tell that to Manitoba Hydro which had contracts in hand when they started building their downtown headquarters, only to watch costs head north of north. And tell that to the City officials who thought they had costs to the water treatment plant pinned down, before they went "wildly out of control."

The Asper Foundation announced the other day it is making another $3 million payment on its commitment of $20 million to the museum. This brings to $17 million that they've delivered, they said.

That got us to thinking.

The Museum Foundation has already spent $14 million. The Western Diversification Fund coughed up $5 million 2007 and $5 million in 2008 (with another $5 million to come in '09). And that was on top of about $3 million in seed money before that.

So about $27 million has already been spent, more than ten percent of the total budget, and what do we have to show for it? A bill to truck in dirt to stage a phony sod-turning.

There's one more aspect of this sordid scam that's been under the radar so far.

Did you know the Canadian Museum for Human Rights is exempted from the federal Access to Information Act?

That's right. They'll be collecting $21.7 million from taxpayers and you can't ask what they're spending it on.

Is that a problem?

In 2002 or 2003 someone filed a request for information from the department of Western Economic Diversification "relating to the construction of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights" . The Asper Foundation went to Federal Court to stop the release of the information.

Two years later, this small item appeared in a government annual report:

l) Judicial Review
In 2002-2003 WD received its first formal request for judicial review. Western Economic Diversification received a request under the Access to Information Act for records pertaining to the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. The proponent, the Asper Foundation Inc., objected to the disclosure of any of their information submitted to the Department and applied for a judicial review to the Federal Court of Canada in accordance with Section 44 of the Act. During the 2003-2004 fiscal year, they withdrew their application to the Federal Court of Canada and Western Economic Diversification negotiated with the Asper Foundation to release of the remaining documents in question.

We don't know exactly what the Asper Foundation wanted to keep secret, but could it have anything to do with the documents that prompted this April, 2005, story in the Winnipeg Free Press…

"Ottawa-Proponents of the human rights museum wanted taxpayers to foot the bills for limos, gourmet coffee and hotel- room movies at the same time they were requesting $100 million from the federal government for the project.

Documents obtained by the Free Press show Ottawa rejected nearly $24,000 in submitted expense claims, including a bill for a meeting with Prime Minister Paul Martin and a consulting contract for ex-Winnipeg mayor Glenn Murray.

The bills from Friends of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights were submitted as part of a previous agreement under which Ottawa will pay up to $2.3 million of the developmental costs for the proposed museum at The Forks.

The claims - deemed ineligible - came as Winnipeg's Asper family was mounting what would be a successful lobbying campaign to secure $100 million from the Martin government.

Among the $23,779 in claims Ottawa refused to pay were: $865 to London Limos; a $300 cash advance to Gail Asper related to her private meeting with the prime minister in Winnipeg last September; $248 for four claims under the heading of "gourmet coffee"; $50 for in -room hotel movies; $6,297 to the law firm Pitblado for legal expenses related to negotiations with the federal government over further funding; $12,432 to the Murray Group, a consulting firm headed by former Winnipeg mayor Glenn Murray"

Thanks to the federal government exemption, pesky reporters are now cut off from information like this.

Gail Asper doesn't have to worry that you'll find out which fine cities around the world she'll be visiting--- to study their fine museums, of course --- and which of her close friends she'll be taking with her---to study those fine museums, of course--- and which fine hotels they'll be staying at, and how much those fine wines and coffees cost, or how much Glen Murray might be billing you for his fine consultating services.

If that ain't her right as a millionaire, then what's this exercise all about anyway?

Professional Reporters at Work

Here's how the CBC reported the museum's tax problem:

Human rights museum facing $5M tax bill from Winnipeg
Last Updated: Friday, February 27, 2009 2:41 PM CT

The Canadian Museum for Human Rights is contemplating ways to pay an expected $5-million tax bill.
The museum, which has been in the planning stages for years and is to start construction in April, recently tabled a report stating that its annual City of Winnipeg tax tab will be $5 million.


The Manitoba government is putting $40 million toward the project and the City of Winnipeg has approved a $20-million contribution in cash plus land, infrastructure and forgiveness of property taxes.

In the same story the CBC says the museum will

A) owe the city up to $5 million for taxes and

B) owe nothing because the city promised to forgive the property taxes.

None of the professional reporters or editors thought this was strange and that it might require some further explanation.