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A biweekly column on imperialism and world events by Reverend Blair.

Mr. Harper went to Cancun to meet with Mr. Bush and Mr. Fox last week. It was billed as another Three Amigos summit, but was more like The Three Stooges. Bush and Fox are lame ducks and Harper has such a slim minority that every time he claims to have a mandate, the opposition parties break into open laughter.

The agenda was written in the back rooms of multi-national corporations. The progress that will be made in creating “Fortress America” to keep the bad people out and the money rolling into corporate coffers will be decided by men who never stand for election. It is business as usual, without even a sideways glance to the needs of the countries involved or the people who live in those countries.

Bush, Harper and Fox were in Cancun to appear to be doing something, not to actually accomplish anything. The interesting thing was what Vicente Fox was trying to appear to be doing. Following his dream of solving Mexico’s poverty problem by encouraging the country’s poor people to move north, Fox pushed Harper to accept more Mexican workers into Canada. Harper was noncommital, promising to have somebody look at the issue.

UNICEF UK released its third report on child poverty this week. As part of the End Child Exploitation (ECE) campaign, the report centred on some rather brutal statistics. There are 352 million children between the ages of five and seventeen engaged in some sort of work. One in twelve work in the worst types of child labour...hazardous and unhealthy conditions, child soldiers, sex trade workers. In Africa almost half of the children between five and fourteen are employed.

That means no education at all for most of these children. For others it means a substandard education achieved through part-time attendance in school. It leads to a cycle of poverty that ensures that, as long as something isn’t done, the next generation will suffer the same fate.

The cause of child labour is clearly poverty. That has not changed throughout our history. Poor people need the money, so the kids end up going to work, often in horrendous conditions. Poor people become desperate and sell some of their children into slavery to feed the rest of the family. Poor people get into debt with unscrupulous landlords and moneylenders and their children are forced to be sex trade workers to pay off the debt. Poor countries have civil wars and the boys are forced to pick up guns and become cannon fodder for both sides in conflict while the girls are forced to be sex slaves and cooks for those higher up in the military echelon.

“It is beyond me why are we so stingy, really. Christmastime should remind many Western countries at least, of how rich we have become.” Jan Egeland, United Nations Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs

Back in May I wrote about an idea I had pilfered (with credit) from some Vive le Canada members. The idea is for a civilian aid agency. Given the Canadian government’s originally lacklustre response to the disaster in Asia I think it’s time to revisit that idea, as well as again considering what Canada contributes to aid around the world.

When word of the tsunami in Asia reached us, we originally pledged $1 million, then $ 4 million. That isn’t even a decent lottery win anymore. It was a bizarre and insulting pledge, like leaving a penny for tip. As the death toll rose and the magnitude of the disaster became more and more apparent our elected officials, those men and women who hold the purse strings, began to consider cutting their vacations short. They found, somehow, the wherewithal to up the offer to $40 million. Later Paul Martin offered to match private donations to non-governmental organisations, and doubled the aid to $80 million. The catch is that the $80 million includes the matching of the donations to NGOs. That could rise according to need, but we have no system for dealing with such disasters.

This is from a government run by the man who has been trekking all over the world pretending to be a friend to developing nations. He wants, apparently, for Canada to be recognised for its good works on the world stage. He is also, apparently, the guy that stumbles off to relieve himself when he sees the bill coming to the table, then grudgingly pays up when it becomes apparent that he cannot hide in the bathroom indefinitely.

“The thing with politicians is
I wouldn't have suspicions
If I saw their worst positions
And their Ugly Underneath
But after all the voting
Suck away the sugar coating
Now they've had you and they're gloating
Boy it's Ugly Underneath”

–XTC, The Ugly Underneath

As I write this the wrangling in Ottawa continues. Stephen Harper and Gilles Duceppe want an election, Paul Martin and Jack Layton do not. Martin has decided to hold a confidence vote next week. It could go either way, and it really doesn’t matter which way it goes because the end result will be another minority government.

Normally I prefer minority governments. They keep the various parties in line and force them to work together like adults. Positions are explained and compromises are reached. More Canadians have their voices heard from and the resulting legislation tends to be far less divisive than usual. Unfortunately, our current crop of fools seem incapable of understanding that. Instead of working together to improve the country, they prefer to play petty political games and call each other names.

"Your country [the USA], and particularly your conservative movement, is a light and an inspiration to people in this country and across the world."

- Conservative leader Stephen Harper, then vice-president of the National Citizens Coalition, in a June 1997 Montreal meeting of the Council for National Policy, a right-wing American think tank.

Would Stephen Harper turn Canada into smaller version of the United States? The Bush administration certainly hopes so. An oft-quoted article by Partrick Basham in the Washington Times praised Harper as, "Mr. Bush's new best friend internationally and the poster boy for his ideal foreign leader."

“Beware! the floor is slick and greasy And dangerous… Get down on all fours to proceed.” --Hunter S. Thompson

As the UN Summit on Climate Change in Montreal was winding down, Paul Martin took a shot at George Bush and the United States for their record on the Kyoto Agreement and their apparent reluctance to partake in any future agreements. "To the reticent nations, including the United States, I say this: There is such a thing as a global conscience," Martin said.

That got the attention of the Bush White House. They said they’d be watching our elections and there had better not be any more anti-Americanism. Another vague threat from the Bush administration. They hauled our ambassador in for an official dressing down. David Wilkens, the US ambassador to Canada, has been complaining that Martin’s rhetoric is damaging relations between the US and Canada.

Nobody in the US press likes to mention that relations between the US and Canada were fine before George Bush came to power. They shy away from noting that Martin has a point about the US position on global warming.

The hue and cry from the right has been getting louder. They smell blood in the United Nation’s Oil-for-Food scandal. They’ve been calling for the resignation of Kofi Annan, the Secretary-General that they pushed for when the job last came open, and the disintegration of the UN because, they say, it is corrupt.

The loudest voice calling for the possible end of the UN and the certain end of Kofi Annan’s post as Secretary-General is Fox News. Fox seems to be operating in their usual vacuum, as what they promote as being “fair and balanced” is some of the most biased and nonfactual “journalism” to be presented to the public in decades.

Fox’s ridiculously biased coverage of the Oil-for-Food scandal prompted a response from the UN dated September 29, 2004, to debunk the many factual errors being promoted as reality by Fox. That report, after pointing out so many errors that it is clear that Fox was reporting from a fact-free zone, ends with an explanation of why nobody from the UN would do a taped interview for the Fox show Breaking Point. “ Why the UN would only appear on Fox News live: Fox News notes that the UN “would not do a taped interview for 'Breaking Point'” but conceals the reason why: UN officials have in the past cooperated with Fox only to see their comments grossly distorted through selective editing. Fox also fails to mention that UN officials were quite willing to appear on ‘Breaking Point' live, where they could communicate directly with viewers.”

Do Canadians want our country to be nothing more than a satellite of the United States? We were well on our way to that uncomfortable reality under the ill-considered policies of Paul Martin, and all the signs point to the situation worsening under the Harper government. In the debate about Afghanistan, that is the sub-text that must be considered. Harper, who was so embarrassed by our decision not to partake in the invasion of Iraq that he published an open letter of apology to the United States, is fully backing our new role in Afghanistan. The Conservative response to a recent poll that indicated most Canadian do not agree with our present role in Afghanistan tells a story of the arrogance of the Conservative Party and the undue influence of war hawks on our government. Defence Minister Gordon O’Connor responded to the poll by saying “I guess what this poll tells me is I've got a lot of work to do. I've got to start explaining to Canadians why we're in Afghanistan and the good work we're doing.” If Canadians do not agree with the actions of our government, our government thinks it is because we are misinformed and must be corrected like errant children.

Is Canada participating in the torture and abuse of prisoners in Afghanistan? Yes. Hopefully not directly, but unfortunately we are indirectly involved in exactly that, and have been since we arrived there.

When Canada first sent troops to Afghanistan, we handed over captured enemy combatants to the United States. Those combatants were sent to Guantanamo Bay under the invented, and illegal, designation of "illegal combatant" or passed on to countries that we know routinely commit torture. There were some well-documented cases of US soldiers beating detainees, sometimes to death, in Afghanistan. Those prisoners who reached Guantanamo Bay were, and still are, mistreated as a matter of course.

We continued handing prisoners over to the United States for years under the Chretien and Martin governments, even though we knew the US was breaking international law. In December 2005 we reached an agreement with the Afghan government. It isn’t much of a deal, really. We have no oversight, the Afghan military can pass the prisoners on to which ever country they want, even if that country is committing torture. We also know that prisoners are regularly beaten and tortured in Afghan jails.

Knowing those things and still passing prisoners on is a breech of Article 3 of the UN Convention Against Torture. The convention states very clearly, “1. No State Party shall expel, return ("refouler") or extradite a person to another State where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture.

Is US influence waning on the world stage? There certainly hasn’t been a lot of good news for the Bush administration on that front lately. Venezuela has threatened to sever diplomatic relations over the US refusal to extradite former CIA operative and Cuban exile, Luis Posada Carriles for the bombing of a Cuban airliner. Posada Carriles is a terrorist. Although he claims to be innocent in the airliner bombing, he has admitted to taking part in a bombing campaign in Cuba. The US government is dragging its feet on the extradition. They are using the excuse that Venezuela might extradite Mr. Posada Carriles to Cuba where, according to the US government, he may not get a fair trial. The US government makes no mention of those other alleged terrorists being held in Cuba though, the prisoners being held without trial at the US military base at Guantanamo Bay.

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