Dion to apologize to Dimitri Soudas or get sued

Lawyers for Dimitri Soudas have filed notice to Liberal leader Stephane Dion for what they claim is defamatory libel against their client. Attached below is the letter on behalf of Mr. Soudas that was hand-delivered to Stephane Dion this morning. Soudas is the deputy press secretary to Prime Minister Harper. According to the National Post, over a year ago Mr. Soudas arranged a meeting between Public Works and Rosedev, a development company from Montreal. Conservatives reject this as well and insist that Soudas only requested information from ministerial staffers with respect to a court case. Despite this assertion, impropriety has been alleged regarding the meeting, which Soudas rejects. Dion, in his classic communications style may have bitten off more than he can chew.

Mr. Dion is quoted in the Canwest papers this morning:

“That means that there was an attempt to extort taxpayers funds to benefit a party supporter and therefore change the decision process and (they say) it’s not important because it didn’t succeed. I think the prime minister has a lot to explain.” — Stephane Dion

UPDATE: Dion says he’s sorry, sort of

Louise Arbour commits to eradicating “Zionism”?

Jason Kenney responds, see update

Louise Arbour responds, see update

Louise Arbour, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, has voiced her support of the Pan-Arab human rights charter, which among other things, commits to “rejecting all forms of racism and Zionism.” Critics have argued that rejecting “all forms” of Zionism is in effect an effort to delegitimize the state of Israel.

Arab Charter of Human Rights:

The Canadian government rejected sending delegates to a UN Conference against racism because it argues that the conference paradoxically promotes racism in the form of anti-antisemitism, questioning the validity of an Israeli state and because of the postering of conference walls with Hitler imagery by invited NGOs and activists protesting Israel at the original “anti-racism” UN conference in the fall of 2001.

Arbour is out of step with Amnesty International which has stated:

The draft Charter includes provisions rejecting Zionism as”a violation of human rights and threat to international peace and security”(preamble and article 2 (c)). Amnesty International believes that states and non-state entities should be held accountable for human rights violations under international human rights standards. For this to be done, Amnesty International believes that the reference should be international human rights standards rather than focussing on a particular ideology or ideologies.— Amnesty International

Furthermore, the International Commission of Jurists has expressed its view on the Arab Charter:

The ICJ invites the authors of the Arab Charter to remove the condemnation of Zionism in the preamble and in its article 1 in order to devote the Charter exclusively to protection of human rights in the Arab region, without digressions of a political nature liable to obscure the Charter’s basic purpose.— International Commission of Jurists

As a member state of the UN, Arbour is seen to represent Canada at that organization. As Canadians, we stand for human rights and ought to reject the language of the Arab Charter and its support by the UN High Commissioner Louise Arbour.

UPDATE: Secretary of State for Multiculturalism and Canadian Identity Jason Kenney has written a letter to Arbour and calls her statements troubling and asks for her to clarify her remarks.

UPDATE: Arbour clarifies her support for the Arab Charter:

To the extent that (the charter) equates Zionism with racism, we reiterated that (it) is not in conformity with (the 1991) General Assembly resolution, which rejects that Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination … OHCHR does not endorse these inconsistencies. We continue to work with all stakeholders in the region to ensure the implementation of universal human rights norms. — Louise Arbour

Mulroney letters to Szabo

Here’s the first letter drafted from former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney’s lawyer to the Chair of the Ethics Committee of Parliament Paul Szabo.

MBM Letter Szabo – Get more free documents

The letter blames Szabo for allowing questions to be posed which extend outside of the mandate of the committee (which was to investigate the Mulroney Airbus Settlement, not any issues pertaining to the Wireless Spectrum auction and MBM’s involvement (or lack thereof) in that matter). The letter labels the actions of Szabo as “the clearest breach of natural justice possible”. The letter goes on to express injury to Mr. Mulroney by violation of his privacy regarding his personal income tax records as Mr. Szabo had requested them from the Auditor General.

Last night, Mulroney’s lawyer sent another letter to Szabo:

This letter demands that Szabo limit testimony to relevant matters and to within the scope of the Committee’s business as defined by the original mandate. The letter also requests that Mulroney be allowed to refuse any answer to any question outside of the committee’s defined boundaries.

Both Mulroney and Schreiber are expected to reappear before the committee soon and it’ll be interesting to see how the committee and it’s chair will rule (and how Mulroney will react) on wide-reaching testimony expected to be given by Norman Spector, Mulroney’s former Chief of Staff in the PMO.

22 Minutes on CBC bias and blogging

Airing a week ago on January 22nd, CBC’s This Hour has 22 minutes weighed in on the complaints that CBC received from Doug Finley, Conservative Party chief of political operations (background and first letter, second letter).

CBC ended up reassigning the reporter at the centre of the collusion allegations to Toronto. CBC’s news publisher John Cruikshank explained, (read the whole response)

When, as in the present instance, it is revealed that a reporter has been collaborating, even if only obliquely, with one party or another, an appearance of partisanship emerges that cannot be dispelled by claims that this is how political reporters interact with their sources. — John Cruickshank, CBC News

CBC’s recognition of Conservative concern and it’s action on the complaint shows that the CBC is at least reluctantly receptive to complaints of impartiality when discussed broadly by senior political officials and other news media.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the horribly biased news team at 22 minutes.

We must demand accountability in fake news!

Please write them on their website with your complaints, or spew your crap all over the comments below.

Elizabeth May: still not ready for prime time

Green Party release on the Manley Report:

Green Party rejects Manley Report conclusions

OTTAWA – The federal Green Party shares a vision of a stable and secure Afghanistan, but today challenged the newly-released Manley Report’s premise that Canada’s troops must remain in Khandahar beyond February of 2009 to achieve this objective.

“The Manley Report fails to consider that the recommendation of more ISAF forces from a Christian/Crusader heritage will continue to fuel an insurgency that has been framed as a ‘Jihad’. This, in turn, may feed the recruitment of suicide bombers and other insurgents,” said Green Party leader Elizabeth May. “Better human security is certainly needed in the South but it should be provided by a different cultural mix of UN countries as well as the Afghan army and police. Even if this proves challenging to accomplish, this key objective should have been included.”

The Green Party also questioned the Report’s recommended indefinite exit date for the Canadian Forces from Kandahar, citing concern that an open-ended departure date could significantly prolong the training time of the Afghan military and police. The continuous availability of external personnel and logistical support in a poor country like Afghanistan risks creating a structural disincentive to rapid military preparedness, especially in an ongoing conflict situation.

Would somebody please tell Ms. May that this conflict shouldn’t be framed in the words of lunatics that strap dynamite to their chests in order to achieve paradise? This isn’t a war of Christians vs. Muslims and it is troubling to see Ms. May speak about it in the same twisted terms as do the enemies of reason.

Let’s see what Ms. May says about Darfur:


The Green Party is recommending that the Canadian government take leadership in rapidly organizing an international emergency initiative that would:

Offer new financial, political and logistical support to the AU Mission in Sudan (AMIS) to encourage it to continue its deployment and also strengthen its capacity to protect civilians at risk;
Break the logjam in the Inter-Sudanese Peace negotiations between the Sudanese government and all rebel groups by guaranteeing a crucial $100 million to the Darfur Compensation Fund and offer Canadian expertise in governance issues related to domestic power and wealth-sharing; Take the lead in persuading other middle-power nations to contribute alongside Canada to a rapid reaction international force that would be immediately deployed to a willing host country bordering the Sudan, and ready to intervene if necessary under a legitimate “responsibility-to-protect” UN-sanctioned process and mandate;

Two Muslim countries, one in Africa and one in Asia. Canada is in Afghanistan with a U.N. mandate.

UPDATE: May retracts her statement, “In hindsight I would have phrased it differently,” the Green Party said on News 940 AM Radio in Montreal, January 24, 2008.

Lobbyists and the campaign

Yesterday, the National Post had an interesting story on the connections between lobbyists and governments and how the federal accountability act has evolved to restrict and allow lateral movement between the political and lobbying sectors.

The story highlights longtime Harper communications guru Yaroslav Baran, who recently quit the Earnscliffe firm to work as Chief of Staff to government whip Jay Hill. While news stories about lobbying, including this one, are critical and skeptical in tone, the article points out that Baran will face a five-year ban on returning to the private sector as a lobbyist. Baran’s move is comparatively selfless as an election is expected quite soon and most lobbyists simply deregister days before the writ is dropped, work on the campaign and then re-register and continue in their jobs lobbying government. Baran has instead elected to leave a high paying job and bind himself by the accountability act.

The Conservative ban on lobbyists in a future war room, however, is self-imposed rather than a matter of law, as Liberals have not yet committed to the same standard that Conservatives have set upon themselves.

This makes the tone of the article somewhat frustrating as it implies that Baran is sidestepping regulations internal to Conservative Party (not even legal ones) by being a chief of staff to a cabinet minister just so he can work in a war room?. Baran is sacrificing his earning potential by putting himself under the accountability act and when an election comes, the outcome is still unknown; Yaroslav could be out of a job (and legally restricted from returning to his old one) in as little as two months. While war rooms are the stuff of political junkies, the prize isn’t one of monetary enrichment or increased political contact; Baran already has an extended history built with Harper. Perhaps Baran is more interested in being a team player and has long term plans of public service?

Krista Erickson reassigned

CBC just sent out this release:

TORONTO, Jan. 21 /CNW/ – CBC News today released the following letter:

Doug Finley,
Director of Political Operations
Conservative Party of Canada

January 21, 2008

Dear Mr. Finley:

This letter is in response to your complaint to the CBC Ombudsman about “collusion” involving one of our reporters during the recent Mulroney/Schreiber hearings in Ottawa, during which questions were asked about lobbying efforts by Mr. Mulroney directed toward the current federal government.

Following an investigation by senior management of CBC News, we have determined that our reporter Krista Erickson did, in fact, provide questions to a Member of Parliament in the lead up to the Ethics Committee meeting in December. Those actions, while in pursuit of a journalistically legitimate story, were inappropriate and inconsistent with CBC News policies and procedures, specifically under our Principles, Sec. 3:

“Credibility is dependent not only on qualities such as accuracy and fairness in reporting and presentation, but also upon avoidance by both the organization and its journalists of associations or contacts which could reasonably give rise to perceptions of partiality. Any situation which could cause reasonable apprehension that a journalist or the organization is biased or under the influence of any pressure group, whether ideological, political, financial, social or cultural, must be avoided.”

Our investigation determined there was no bias in related news coverage.
However, our reporter, acting on her own, used inappropriate tactics as a
result of journalistic zeal, rather than partisan interest. CBC News
management has made the decision to reassign its reporter from the story and
to Toronto, effective Jan. 21.

Given the potential risk to the journalistic credibility of our Ottawa bureau, its reporters and CBC News generally, we have chosen on an exceptional basis to make the detailed outcome of our disciplinary process available to you, our employees and the public at large.

I trust this addresses your concerns.

It is also my responsibility to inform you that if you are not satisfied with this response, you may wish to submit the matter for review by Vince Carlin, CBC Ombudsman. The Office of the Ombudsman, an independent and impartial body reporting directly to the President, is responsible for evaluating program compliance with the CBC’s journalistic policies. The Ombudsman may be reached by mail at the address shown below, or by fax at (416) 205-2825, or by e-mail at ombudsman@cbc.ca

Sincerely,
John Cruickshank
Publisher
CBC News

Box 500, Station “A”,
Toronto, Ontario
M5W 1E6

cc. Vince Carlin, CBC Ombudsman

Lessons in New Media: Regretting the Error

This article is part of a series on blogging, political blogging and the evolution of news reporting.

Blogging continues to evolve as a medium where authors can engage in a variety of activities from finding communities of fellow hobbyists or of like-minded people, to bringing a more populist view and report of the news as it develops.

In the reporting of news, much like in traditional media, errors can and do occur. For anyone that chases a story where facts are raw, breaking and ever-changing, it is not unexpected that the reporter will have to amend an update for their viewers/listeners/readers. After all, that’s why these occurrences are sometimes called “late-breaking developments”.

At the extreme end of reporting is 24-hour cable news where journalists often cover an event live and from the scene as the news itself is unfolding. Not many reporters are savants and they do the best they can to report what facts they are aware of at the time, what is likely to be known shortly, and what the significance of these elements are to the broader picture. Often, reporters on the scene will deal with sources that may have special knowledge, but themselves may be ignorant to certain facts of which others could be aware. Of course, as this all burns in the crucible of the news event as it occurs, hopefully the truth can come out in its purest possible form at the end.

On the other end of the spectrum, we have news magazines which publish stories which have happened and which may have been concluded for weeks. A reader can get a great in-depth report of an event after it has unfolded by picking up a copy of Maclean’s, the Economist, or Time. Editors do not often publish corrections in this news medium because while the pressure of deadline is still there, it is entirely different; updating news consumers as to what is happening and now gives way to concerns of whether a story is still timely or relevant. Insignificant minutia (both accurate and inaccurate) are distilled away by the longer passage of time afforded to this medium.

In between these two poles we have the “6/11 o’clock news” and newspapers. Both media will more frequently provide corrections of their reporting when necessary, yet in comparison with cable news which corrects its errors in the context of news updates and reasonably passes off corrections as “the evolution of a story”, newspapers and nightly newscasts correct their errors as lapses in quality.

Blogging represents an interesting amalgam when reporting on ongoing and developing news stories. While most blogging exists in print (some of it is video- based with vlogging), the blogging medium sees its fair share of reporting that is more aligned with cable news than with news magazines when it comes to late-breaking developments and the unfolding of the broader news story. The “live print” of the blog medium can represent a departure from what is expected by consumers that read their news rather than watch it. While most live reporting is only ever watched as that (i.e. live), it is archived and can be played on future broadcasts. Yet, there is less of an expectation for formal correction as the reporter generally corrects live as they proceed with their report. Readers of newspapers and news magazines have traditionally expected to see corrections of erroneous reporting since the time-frame between publication and correction spans from the period of a day through a span of weeks.

As blogging represents an odd mix between being “live” and being expressed in print, consumers of traditional media can have mixed expectations as to what is acceptable when it comes to correcting errors in ongoing reporting.

A blog post both represents a record of what’s been said and an ongoing dynamic report of what’s happening. To differentiate between other forms of printed media, errors can be edited off of a blog as if they had never been made at all. Indeed, this can be an easier task than a newspapers publisher recovering every print copy of his/her publication and burning them. So, when an error is made while blogging, is it always entirely appropriate to excise the inaccuracies when they are made?

First, it should be noted that corrections should always be made when errors come to a blogger’s attention. But, is it appropriate to remove the record of the error if by doing so we have the sole benefit of providing accuracy of our facts? Other forms of media do not have such a luxury and the journalistic standard has always been to note the error since it cannot be recovered. Since blogging allows a sort of historical correction that is not afforded to traditional media, is it appropriate to do such a blunt correction rather than letting the record of the error stand while providing a correction?

The blogging convention that has developed among those that participate in the medium has been to, except in rare circumstances, let the record of the error stand while pointing future readers in the direction of the correct information.

One can accomplish this in a number of ways. When a blogger wishes to correct the record of fact, while at the same time maintaining the historical record of the story as it was reported and as it developed, the blogger should return to the offending statement/paragraph and provide a reference to where one can find the correct information. For example, one might create a link to the update “see update” or if not linking the update, simply refer to the update that the reader should be able to find below “see update 3/19/2007, 3:21pm”. Another option that further emphasizes the error, maintains a record of it, is the use of HTML (<strike></strike>) to strike-through the text, just like this. This option can fail, however, as certain blog aggregators and RSS readers strip all HTML tags from the text (and therefore the record of correction as well).

The final and least preferred corrective option is to delete the entire post. While this is not faithful to the record of reporting, it can be a easy face-saving measure for some. When considering this option, consider that making errors in the ongoing coverage of developing events is to be expected even if unfortunate. Readers should be able to follow the progression of your reporting as it happens to understand how the unfolding of the story unfolded itself. Letting the error stand (but correcting the information) is also a good self-corrective measure as the consequences of errors retain their cost to and effect on the author.

To my recollection, I have only ever deleted one post instead of letting the record of my error stand while pointing readers in the direction of the correct information. At other rare instances long ago, in the interests of the truth, rather than the truth and the record, I have made factual edits to longer than short-standing sentences or paragraphs.

I regret the error.

On the record: Harper and Dion on Pakistan

Here is a video from Mike Duffy Live that shows Dion’s comments on Pakistan, and Stephen Harper’s response.

Please see my previous posts on this topic:
Will Stephane Dion make military decisions someday? (1/17, 5:32am)
Stephane Dion should be thankful he’s not a conservative party leader (1/17, 3:55pm)
Pakistan condemns Dion’s foreign policy ignorance (1/17, 6:23pm)
Thoughts about the Pakistan story (1/18, 4:59pm)

Thoughts about the Pakistan story

Often when writing this blog I try and wear two hats: one of a reporter and one of a conservative critic. If I get whiff of a good story, I’ll do my best to investigate and be first to put it out there for public consumption. As an advocate of blogging as a new reporting medium, I will say that I am thrilled when I see big stories break on blogs before the so-called mainstream media goes to air/print.

Last night, I received word from someone that works in media that a press release from the High Commissioner was just starting to hit the email boxes of fellow reporters in Ottawa. As I’m not usually on the press contact list of most organizations, I called the Pakistani High Commission to confirm the story. They referred me to the press officer who had already gone home for the evening. Likely expecting a number of media calls that evening, the commission passed on the officer’s home number which I called. When speaking with the press officer, I only inquired as to whether a statement or release had been authored concerning “Mr. Dion’s remarks on Pakistan and NATO” and requested that a copy be emailed to me. They informed me that they had in fact just penned a release and that they would email me a copy.

Some people have emailed me with concerns that by calling the High Commission, I brought attention to a news story of which they would have otherwise not been aware. This is laughable and quite insulting to the professionalism of diplomatic staff whose job it is is to track the host country’s political scene in order to report developments which concern their government. Stephane Dion’s statements regarding NATO and possible “forces” being introduced into Pakistan were already published in the Ottawa Citizen and I’m quite certain that the diplomatic staff reads the papers (and watches the news. The story was on both Mike Duffy and Newman last night). I did nothing to suggest to the Pakistani High Commission that Mr. Dion’s statements were inappropriate; I simply expressed to them that I wanted to be cc’d on the release that they were only starting to send out.

I believe that I was the first to publish the release. Minutes later on his blog, David Akin published it too. My blog beat the CP wire by an hour on a breaking news story. The story’s value was “very high” as Canada has important security interests in central Asia and that a man seeking the office of the Prime Minister had apparently taken a new track on proposed Canadian foreign policy. While I may have been first to break news of the release, it is unfair to say that the mainstream media was negligent or uninterested in reporting on the story. After I posted on the story last night, I benefited from discussions with one of Ottawa bureau chiefs and two other Ottawa reporters. To Peter Mansbridge’s credit, the CBC anchor used a scheduled Mansbridge One-on-One taping the same day to press Dion (and hard) on his statement and to ask him about Pakistan’s condemnation of Dion’s remarks.

As for the partisan statements that I made on this blog concerning the release: I do believe in what I wrote. In fact, much of it mirrors and complements what I have previously said. I think that Canadians should set a very high standard for their applicants to executive and legislative powers, especially when it comes to matters of national defense and foreign policy.

As for Conservatives “taking advantage” of Mr. Dion’s statements or positions? This does nothing to hurt foreign relations as Mr. Harper is the Prime Minister and such high level diplomatic/military transactions cross his desk and not that of Mr. Dion. Despite this, it is the responsible duty of our party-based political system to discuss/debate and sometimes ridicule the positions of opponents. As Canadians, we charge our elected representatives with pursing our interests and those of Canada, and anything less than challenging a new proposed track on foreign policy would be irresponsible and a betrayal to our principles of informed debate, the foundation of our democracy. Parties are the method by which discussion is focused and made effective. Rather than having 308 independent and non-cohesive message tracks, we more effectively debate a handful at a time. It is the duty of parties to propose new ideas and the duty of other parties to put those ideas through the test of intense debate.

The Conservatives can hardly be blamed for both debating what appeared to be Mr. Dion’s divergent foreign policy proposal, and they cannot be blamed for taking the Liberal leader at his literal word. Now Mr. Dion has said that he means “diplomacy” and not “force” even though he called for considering “NATO forces” in Pakistan. Either one of two things then happened. Mr. Dion either realized the faults of his proposal and climbed down in the face of being battered on an already weak file of his. Or the Liberal leader misspoke, which is known to happen. However, misinterpreting Dion’s intent based on his words has really only been known to happen in English. Is it possible that Mr. Dion made a gaffe in French about an issue that was on the top of his mind (he had just come back from his first trip to Afghanistan)? It’s possible, but its not probable. I believe that Mr. Dion was proposing a new track even if it’s a proposal for others to help develop his ideas. And in this, I honestly believe that this is where one of Mr. Dion’s political faults lies; he takes an academic approach which is better suited to the safe environment of a “what-if” university seminar. Such an environment is the incubator to under-developed ideas and untested policy proposals. The national stage is no place to “spitball” ideas.

Some will say that they’ve found it refreshing to hear a Canadian politician “tell it like it is on Pakistan” and “say what we’ve all been thinking”. Pakistan has been a laggard when it comes to taking care of the radical elements in its western province. Like most Canadians, I am concerned about our inability to address this problem directly. Yet, Pakistan is a sovereign country that has the jurisdiction over its own security. Most Canadians would agree that the only scenarios that would allow military presence within Pakistan’s borders would be either with the permission of the Pakistani government, or with a broad international consensus to violate Pakistan’s sovereignty. The Pakistani government is not about to allow any western nation to put our soldiers on the ground there (this is a well known sentiment of the Musharraf government – so it is surprising that Mr. Dion suggested this). Further, the UN is not on the verge on granting any military the authority to violate Pakistan’s sovereignty. Mr. Dion’s statements were ill-conceived and more theoretical than practical in nature.

For Canadian security in central Asia, Pakistan needs a stable administration. If it’s democratic, all the better. But, the “nuance” here is that if Western troops go in, it’ll tip the population of Pakistan away from Musharraf, and away from Bhutto’s PPP and towards radical elements. Having Americans in Saudi Arabia supposedly radicalized Osama bin Laden against the West, so suggesting something half-baked (but on the very surface, quite logical until you dig deeper) is irresponsible of Dion and especially for a man who is supposedly advised on these matters. As a privy counselor, former member of cabinet and leader of the Opposition, Dion receives security briefings. Since Pakistan stability is a key buttress against the whole of central Asia collapsing, Dion made an unfortunate error in making such a weakly-considered statement as the Pakistani media picked up comments from the Canadian opposition leader, named him as the likely winner of the future election and claim that his policy musings will be the Canadian agenda in a matter of weeks or months.

Dion, of course has the right to make such statements however inappropriate they may be. But it is the duty of partisans of all stripes to put his ideas through the machinations of public debate in order for Canadians to be best served.