I've been thinking . . .

"A non-writing writer is a monster courting insanity."    

Franz Kafka

"The craft or art of writing is the clumsy attempt to find symbols for the wordlessness. In utter loneliness a writer tries to explain the inexplicable. And sometimes if he is very fortunate and if the time is right, a very little of what he is trying to do trickles through--not ever much. And if he is a writer wise enough to know it can't be done, then he is not a writer at all. A good writer always works at the impossible."

John Steinbeck

On Being Sane and Safe

I attended the memorial service today honouring the ultimate sacrifices of Canadian heroes Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent and Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, as he stood guard, and unarmed, at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier one year ago.

The gunman then tried to kill more innocent people on Parliament Hill, where the drug addict and drifter was himself killed by six officers who fired 31 times from their handguns.

I was by a barricade a little down the slope from today's ceremony. I could just make out the dignitaries beyond the heavily armed police watching the thousands of us who had come to pay our respects.

We were kept at a necessary distance, but still allowed to feel as if we were part of the ceremony. After it ended, members of the military, RCMP and other police marched down toward us. Soft, sustained applause from the barricaded crowds expressed the gratitude we all feel for the risks they take for us each day.

Watching dozens of Ottawa police with assault rifles, and seeing snipers on a nearby rooftop, my mind turned to how misguided, probably mentally unstable, men with no terrorist training managed to force us to lunge again down the road toward a more militarized society.

Which, of course, is precisely what the enemies that we face want.

As regular readers know, I've been around a lot of people who kill for a living. Some got close to killing me.

I learned this much: Assault rifles with high-powered scopes aren't much good against attackers lurking in a crowd of civilians on a city street. For that, handguns work very well.

So if the Ottawa police (and any federal security agencies that direct and arm them for such duties) are making a statement, what is it?

And if it's supposed to be a deterrent, does overkill really work against lone wolves, who present the main threat because they are so difficult for intelligence agencies to detect?

There are very real grievances at the root of the hatred that motivates people and groups who want to kill innocent Canadians. We need to do more to address them and put less faith in bombs and big guns.

That is not to say there aren't psychopaths among our enemies who will never listen to reason. But they are a small minority. The growing number of Westerners and others flocking to places like Syria to wage jihad believe in a cause.

We need to give them stronger reasons to believe in peace and reconciliation.

Obviously, the peace that the majority of the world seeks is not coming any time soon.

So we need security. We also need sanity.

Otherwise, one way or another, we lose. 




On Being Less Barbaric

On a flight across Canada, while waiting for my next ration of six mini pretzel sticks, between bouts of elbow wrestling for the arm wrest, I had time to think. My mind quickly turned to the Conservatives' Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act.

It occurred to me, in one of those hunger-induced flashes of clarity that draws ascetics into desert caves to commune with the heavens: If we're stuck with an unnecessary, even mean-spirited law, let's make full use of it.

Of course, there's always hope. Starving men in caves will tell you so. By some divine benevolence, Prime Minister Stephen Harper could be unemployed on October 20. Then his successor could immediately repeal his shameful law.

It demeans Canadians in the eyes of the world, and undermines any relevance we have left in discussions about tolerance, religious freedom, and basic human rights. It's also just cheap political pandering to the frightened xenophobe in all of us.

It's been better said elsewhere that the Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act, which the Harper government gave us last spring, is unnecessary. Forcing children to marry and polygamy are already illegal unless, apparently, you're a Mormon in B.C.

"Honor killing" is just another name for murder. Thankfully, that was already a crime in Canada before Immigration and Citizenship Minister Chris Alexander sharpened his legislative pen.

However, should we end up with another Harper government, Canadians ought to come together in the name of ending barbarity once and for all and press for amendments.

Under prolonged Harper rule, we will all need protectection from barbarity.

To that end, with fingers crossed that voters will make this moot, I propose the following list be added to the things prohibited by Canada's Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act. Please feel free to suggest others:

1. Denying passengers proper meals, which by Senatorial amendment could also prohibit cold Camembert, on trans-Canada flights.

2. Cramming passengers into spaces so small that they would violate ant-torture laws anywhere else. 

3. Allowing passengers to bogart the arm rests. This amendment should specify, by international agreement, the middle passenger in a three-person row gets two armrests. The aisle passenger gets only the left armrest, the window passenger the right armrest. 

4. Driving through red lights on right turns. (This may sound like a redundant law unless you live in B.C.)

5. Driving through stop signs with a token tap on the brakes. (This may sound like a redundant law unless you live in B.C.)

6. Talking long and loud about nothing on your cell phone in public.

7. Serving hamburgers that are plump and juicy in ads, but look like tanned leather on the tray.

8. Using baby strollers or shopping carts as battering rams.

9. Driving mobility scooters on sidewalks faster than a person could walk if able bodied.

10. Behaving as if the world is not shared by all human beings.

 

 

 

On Sharing the Light

When used well, social media are doors to a vast library of knowledge delivered right to where you sit.

The following are links to important information that Twitter followers and Facebook friends provided. 

I want to share them here, with thanks to the contributors, along with links to the original sources so that can read everything in context and reach your own conclusions:

1. After being forced to quit the Toronto Star in July to complete the story of significant public interest its editors tried to kill, I've been making the point that old media need to focus on fundamentals as they turn to technology for salvation.

Trust, truthfulness and transparency are probably the most important of the basics. And, as I said on Jesse Brown's Canadaland Show, I'm unaware of an algorithm that can establish trust between the reporter and reader. God help us anyone ever writes one.

Like any person or corporation, when the news media break the bond of trust with those who rely on them to be forthright, they have to work hard to win back that trust. Transparency is essential to that effort.

Instead, the Toronto Star simply ignored the ethical lapse, leaving its readers to wonder what other stories of significant public interest Canada's most read metropolitan newspaper had suppressed.

As social media reaction shows, I'm not the only one who cares. Thanks to an anonymous contributor for the following from the London School of Economics:

CLICK TO READ FULL LSE PIECE

2. The following views stated by Gregory Copley (head of the right-wing International Strategic Studies Association, a fellow of Conservative Party contributor John Geiger's Royal Canadian Geographical Society and one of three non-Canadians to receive the Erebus Medal from him) raises more questions about why a respected organization devoted to exploration and children's education would align itself with someone who espouses such warped analysis.

Thanks to Pat Naughton for both enlightening links.

CLICK TO READ THE FULL TEXT


On Tracking Medals

My recent BuzzFeed story showed how the historic discovery of the submerged wreck of Sir John Franklin's flagship, HMS Erebus, was used to help market the Conservative government's policies in a politically motivated information management operation.

The exchange of medals, which apparently are becoming a debased political coinage in Canada, played an important part in that story.

Here, I'll shed light on an intriguing international connection in that same nexus.

John Geiger, head of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society and a loyal ally of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, was the lead spokesman for the shipwreck discovery in the early days, when most of the world was watching and listening.

His RCGS awarded an Erebus Medal, said to honor those who contributed to the wreck's discovery, to 220 people, including Jeremy Hunt, a senior political aide to the prime minister who has been described as Harper's "gatekeeper."

"All participants in the discovery, including those in the field and those who worked behind the scenes are being recognized," Geiger said in a March 4 statement announcing the award. "Together, they have rewritten the history books and underscored the importance of the geography of Canada’s arctic.” 

Geiger later received the inaugural Polar Medal from the governor general, the Queen's representative in Canada. He was one of four people to get the high honor for their roles in discovering Erebus, even though frontline experts who found the wreck said Geiger did not play a direct role in the discovery. The other three were unquestionably heroes in that discovery.. 

As the BuzzFeed story shows, Geiger was roughly 65 nautical miles north-northwest of the wreck site, on a Russian cruise ship, and oblivious to the find for days.

Before receiving his medal, Geiger travelled to the U.S. headquarters of the International Strategic Studies Association, based in Alexandria, Virginia, to hand-deliver an RCGS Erebus Medal to the organization's president, Australian security and intelligence veteran Gregory Copley.

Below, you'll see a screenshot of Geiger's Erebus Medal presentation to Copley, which months later is still on the agency's homepage. The brief description says Copley was one of only three non-Canadians to receive the medal and that it was awarded because "Copley worked on some aspects of the 2014 expedition, particularly dealing with the impact on Canadian sovereignty issues as (sic) the Northwest Passage . . .  ."

It's important to note, as the BuzzFeed story reports, that the Harper government's view on Canada's Arctic sovereignty was a point Geiger frequently raised in interviews he gave following the discovery of Erebus. Those policy points, and his praise for Harper, remained constant while his story on the moment of discovery, which Geiger neither witnessed nor played any part in, evolved with the telling.

The Harper government claims the Northwest Passage is an internal waterway which, if recognized by the international community, would give federal authorities the right to restrict access as climate change, and the melting polar ice pack, make it seem more attractive to countries and corporations looking for shorter routes to ship, oil, natural gas and other commodities.  

Powerful neighbours, including the U.S. and Russia, insist the Northwest Passage, which is actually several possible routes through Canada's Arctic Archipelago, in an "international strait," through which all vessels have the right of "transit passage."

At the bottom of the same screenshot, you'll see Copley receiving an honor in Switzerland, 2013, from the late Shah of Iran's foreign minister, Ardeshir Zahedi.

Briefly, Zahedi is the son the of the general that overthrew the elected, left-leaning government of Mohamad Mosaddeq in 1953, with the backing of foreign intelligence agencies including the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. Mosaeddeq's young government had nationalized the British Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, now known as BP.

The Shah of Iran was installed following that coup, to restore a pro-Western monarchy. As the Shah's ambassador to the U.S., Zahedi played a crucial role in propping up a repressive regime that was eventually toppled in Iran's 1979 revolution. It still reverberates today as the West confronts a broadening international jihadist movement. (You can read about the links in this brilliant book by veteran New York Times correspondent Stephen Kinzer: All the Shah's Men.)
 

Geiger is a senior fellow of Copley's security and intelligence analysis group, which includes names such as Israeli-American terrorism expert Youssef Bodansky. He famously claimed that anti-Assad Syrian opposition forces orchestrated a horrific August 23, 2013 chemical weapons strike on an area under their control with either the backing, or the acquiescence of, U.S. intelligence. 

Copley backed Bodansky on the startling claim. A team of experts that investigated the attack for the United Nations Security Council concluded surface-to-surface rockets carrying the nerve gas Sarin hit a rebel-held zone of the Syrian capital, Damascus. The team's mandate did not allow it to assign blame for what the U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called a war crime.

Just as Geiger was made a senior fellow of Copley's security and intelligence analysis group, so too was Copley made a senior fellow of Geiger's RCGS, a registered charity with reported revenue of $7.7 million in its most recent fiscal year. In its most recent annual report, RCGS lists "long-standing parters" that include Shell Canada, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers and the W. Garfield Weston Foundation.

Copley keeps other interesting company besides Geiger and the Shah of Iran's foreign minister, including (as you'll see in the following screenshot) the vice minister of defence of the Republic of China, which most people know as Taiwan. Defending the island against reunification with China, in one of the world's most dangerous regions, is a favourite neoconservative cause.

The website for Copley's book, the Art of Victory, includes a long list of career achievements in world hotspots dating back to the early 1970s.

I encourage you to read the list for yourself, but it includes:

"Privately, Mr Copley has worked at the highest levels with a number of governments in Africa, the Middle East, Latin America, Europe, and the Asia-Pacific region to establish national capabilities in intelligence and strategic analysis."

AND:

"Apart from his open information and other activities, he has, since the early 1970s, been heavily involved in classified strategic analysis and operations for governments worldwide. This has involved the preparation of strategic philosophies for the restoration of elected government in certain countries, including input into the preparation of constitutions and electoral processes. It has, on numerous occasions, involved urgent work of a practical and political nature to halt existing conflicts or to prevent the imminent outbreak of hostilities."

AND:

"Analysis in 1973 on the prospect for a space-based, energy-derived weapons system to be used in an ABM (anti-ballistic missile) mode to suppress a Soviet first strike capability (by Dr Stefan Possony). Information noted by then ex-Governor of California Ronald Reagan who later developed it as the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI)."

You can hear Copley in his own words in a 2012 Globe and Mail interview with Geiger's wife, Marina Jimenez. Geiger and Jimenez were also colleagues on the Globe and Mail's editorial board when Geiger headed it. The Toronto Star announced Jimenez its new deputy editor for special sections earlier this year.

CLICK FOR COPLEY-JIMENEZ INTERVIEW

 

On Standing Up

On July 8, during an interview on CBC's As It Happens, it seems I conflated the co-producers of the documentary film "Franklin's Lost Ships," in stating that they had clammed up.

For the record, I haven't had time to go back and listen to the interview to hear my precise words. I'm focused on finishing the reporting on the broader issue of untruths and distortions arising from the film and other matters connected to John Geiger, CEO of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society.

But I accept the impassioned criticism that I've received from the Toronto-based co-producers and want to set the record straight for a second time.

My reporting and writing is almost finished and I expect the facts to be in front of the patiently awaiting public very soon.  

For now, I want to make sure the record concerning my attempts to interview the documentary's co-producers, London-based Lion Television and Toronto-based 90th Parallel Productions, is clear and factual.

Lion TV was initially open to speaking with me, but an interview never happened, and the firm has since stopped replying to emails. I'm still trying.

Gordon Henderson of Toronto's 90th Parallel Productions was immediately receptive to an interview when I first reached out in May and we set a time and date to speak. I had to break that appointment when the Toronto Star's executive editor Paul Woods ordered me to stop reporting on anything related to John Geiger.

I was forced to resign in order to break free from a six-week reporting ban and resume my work to complete a story of significant public interest. 

Naturally, folks at 90th Parallel were angry when I did not make it clear on CBC radio that I was only talking about one of the filmmakers in the co-production. Andrew Gregg called me a liar. He had every reason to be angry.

As the public will soon see, I take facts and the truth very seriously, and work extremely hard to get both right. I've even offered my life up for the truth numerous times. That is is on the public record. So I don't fault people wh get upset when I make a mistake. Readers and listeners expect and deserve accuracy.

As I explained in an apology posted on Facebook soon after the CBC interview, the tongue sometimes works faster than the mind--especially when you're tired. That's what happened to me.

The truth is that 90th Parallel is being helpful in establishing the facts of how the film now in such hot dispute was produced. Readers will soon see those facts.

Gordon Henderson at 90th Parallel is one of a very few people willing to stand up and put his name to verifiable facts. By far the majority of the people I've contacted on this important story, including journalists, have not been willing to stand up and be counted.

I don't condemn them. I understand their fear. The public will soon see the root cause and, I hope, stand up for the people who need their support and work as one to cure a disease that is eating away at our democracy.

So thanks, Gordon. And more apologies for slipping up.

Now I'm back to writing the story everyone's waiting for, and to defending the truths of devoted people who care about one thing: being true to an important episode in human history, and to the 129 brave men who lost their lives trying to expand the horizons of human knowledge.

Truth, and facts, do matter. Sometimes, they are even worth dying for. I've lost several friends and colleagues who never doubted that. I want to honor them by getting things right at this crucial time.

On The Good Old Days

I've been thinking lately of a Toronto Star editor, a memory that gives me strength.

If there was that kind of conviction then, maybe it could come again.

It was 1993 and a U.S.-led hunt was heating up for Somali warlord Mohammed Farah Aideed, a fugitive after his militia attacked and killed 24 Pakistani troops in the U.N. peacekeeping mission.

Like any of the dwindling number of foreign journalists still in Mogadishu as the street war escalated, I wanted to interview the person we were now gleefully calling The World's Most Wanted Man.

Two British journalists, war reporters who taught me by example that you go all in or go home, let me in on a secret. They were writing a letter to Aideed asking for a meeting in hiding. 

I'm certain one was Sam Kiley, a Times of London correspondent who talked and looked like a Marine but always led the charge when we came in from the streets to hear the military's fantasies each afternoon at the U.S. Embassy compound.

if I remember right, the other was Mark Huband, a less bellicose, but equally brave, correspondent  for The Financial Times and The Guardian.

They kindly offered to let me in on the secret pitch to Aideed. I only had to sign the letter. 

Easy enough. It felt very good, in fact. Kiley and Huband took care of the hard part: getting the letter to Aideed.

They went to the best possible intermediary, the man used for years by the CIA or anyone else eager to get close to Aideed. They contacted a wealthy bagman, gun runner and who knows what else named Osman Hassan Ali Atto.

I soon knew for certain he got the letter. It was in Atto's pocket when U.S. Special Forces rappelled down ropes from hovering Blackhawk helicopters and snatched him, hoping to tighten the noose around Aideed.

Atto, we were told at the military briefing later, was flown to a remote island and held captive as the unravelling U.S.-led mission to arrest Aideed pressed on.

Paul Warnick, the Toronto Star's foreign editor, quickly got a phone call from the U.S. State Department. Warnick, a former U.S. Marine who would also work for Stars and Stripes, the newspaper for the troops, was described in his 2011 obituary as "a gentle guy in a gruff business."

He always had my back, which is all I cared about. But I also liked him.

He wasn't much of a chatterer during business hours, so when he called me in Mogadishu, I sensed trouble.

He told me he had just got a call "from some guy at Foggy Bottom." Says your name was on a letter asking Aideed for an interview?

It seems the State Drpartment official was quite worked about it. By Warnick's description, he sounded like an apoplectic parent who'd found pot in his teen's sock drawer.

I was afraid the next sentence was going to be the order to get out. I will never forget Paul Warnick for what he said instead:

"I told him to fuck off. And I hung up the phone."

I miss that editor, that friend, now more than ever.

 

On Hearing for Yourself

On July 7, 2015 I attended a meeting as ordered by the Toronto Star, in the Garibaldi Room of the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver.

My central purpose was to respond to any remaining questions that Editor Michael Cooke and Executive Editor Paul Woods had about a story of significant public interest, involving accounts of the historic discovery of Sir John Franklin's flagship HMS Erebus last fall.

After doing so, I insisted that they tell me whether a six-week ban on my effort to report on complaints from numerous experts involved in that search, levelled against Royal Canadian Geographical Society CEO John Geiger, would be lifted.

Michael Cooke explicitly stated The Star did not want the story I wanted to complete. So I resigned to return to work on that story.

No respectable journalist could allow editors to kill an important story and simply return to work as if nothing had happened.

So I did what I had to do.

At the request of Jesse Brown, host of the popular podcast at www.canadaland.com, I moments ago provided the recording, made in full knowledge of everyone present, so that he can allow his audience to hear for themselves that Michael Cooke rejected the story and I immediately submitted my resignation letter.

The truth matters. Judge for yourself.

 

 

On the Toronto Star Publisher's Misrepresentations

Toronto Star reporter Jacques Gallant reached out for comment this afternoon for a story he's writing about my resigation yesterday from the Toronto Star.

I submitted my resignation after Editor Michael Cooke clearly rejected a story of significant public interest. I resigned to free myself from a six-week reporting ban and to complete the story. I hope to do that soon.

For now, here's my full reply to Jacques Gallant:

Toronto Star publisher John Cruickshank falsely claims in a memo to staff today that I speculated "the Prime Minister's Office and a former editor of The Globe & Mail's editorial page have convinced the Star to constrain his reporting."

I said no such thing. Words matter. The publisher of Canada's largest newspaper should know that.

The thousands of people following this story on social media, and expressing their support for my stand in defence of the truth, can read and hear precisely what I'm saying.

That's where the truth lies. And that's what matters.

On the Truth

To ensure that the public has the truth surrounding my resignation from the Toronto Star yesterday, after Editor Michael Cooke made it clear that the newspaper would not publish a story of significant public interest, I want to put the following on the record.

A published report today quotes Star spokesman Bob Hepburn saying, in response to my blog post explaining that I had to resign to break free from a six-week reporting ban and finish the story in question: “There’s no truth to that suggestion.”

Here is the truth of what happened in the minutes just before my resignation at a meting in the Garibaldi Room of the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver.

Before the meeting with Cooke, Executive Editor Paul Woods, a labor relations staffer from the newspaper and two union reps, I insisted that I would record the meeting. Both Star management and the union insisted I had no right to do so.

I refused to back down, just as I have in the face of genocidal killers, generals, corrupt politicians or others who have told me to turn my recorder off.

I have just listened to that recording. 

After pressing for the right to deal with the central issue, the reporting ban, at the top the meeting, I was asked again what the story in question was about. I told Cooke I had explained that several times before, but would be happy to do so again.

He listened to the description of details already on the record.

Then, after falsely accusing me of "ducking and dodging" editors' questions for weeks (even though I repeatedly asked for a telephone or videoconference conversation to address any remaining questions following lengthy written replies), Cooke stated:

"Thank you for clearing that up. That is indeed what I thought the story was about. I don't think that's a story for The Star to engage in."

It was clear to me Cooke had rejected the story on behalf of the newspaper he leads.

So I submitted my resignation.

Please watch this space for more developments in the coming days.

And thanks to all for joining me in standing up in defence of our democracy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

On War and the Good Fight

Soon after resigning from the Toronto Star yesterday, I chatted with a CBC reporter who asked the question that I suspect is on a lot of minds still: Why pick this hill to die on?

The answer lies in the question itself.

I come from the world of war reporting, where each day journalists in countless places choose to offer up their lives for the truth.

To some, mostly those who've never been there, that might sound bombastic. But it's true.

A quarrel over the search for two ships that sank in the middle of the 19th century probably doesn't strike people as the best reason to turn your back on a six-figure salary and walk the plank.

To understand why, you only need to know this: I've lost track of the times I was nearly killed because I knew I had to give a bigger voice to frightened, intimidated people who couldn't stand up to power on their own.

That is the core of the story I've returned to after breaking free yesterday from a six-week reporting ban imposed by Toronto Star editors.

I was willing to sacrifice my life at many moments over some two decades as combat reporter and photographer, in places like Mogadishu and the Somali countryside, in the blood-soaked streets of Rwanda, Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq, in the former Yugoslavia . . . And on and on.

Yesterday I decided to sacrifice my livelihood for the truth. That's much harder, actually, because it affects my family's future--and I'll still be around to watch them suffer the consequences.

I'll admit that's scary at times. And, as anyone who knows my background will attest, I'm not easily scared.

But when I admit that fear, I think of the alternative: Silence.

Which only breeds more fear.

For strength, I also remember fallen comrades along the way and ask myself: If they had lived, would they still have the fight in them now? 

And I know they would. That's just how combat journalists live. They must be willing to lose everything. They put that much faith in the truth.

I also think of a simple fact about moments of revolutionary change: They arrive, usually after long suffering, when a critical mass of people, as diverse as the society they live in, decide they're not going to be afraid anymore.

When they stand up, others follow. 

It's time. No more fear. Stand up for the people being silenced and give them voice.

That's the only way we'll take our democracy back.

Please watch this space and News page for more thoughts and updates.

 

NOTE: This corrects a typo by deleting the word"up" after "If they had lived:"

 

 

 

 

 

On Resigning from the Toronto Star

July 7, 2015

At a meeting today in Vancouver, I submitted my resignation to the Toronto Star following the newspaper's refusal to publish a story of significant public interest.

Resigning is the only way I can resume that reporting, complete the work and fulfill my responsibilities as a journalist.

My reporting is an attempt to give voice to federal civil servants and others involved in the grueling, High Arctic search for British Royal Navy explorer Sir John Franklin's lost ships, HMS Erebus and HMS Terror. Several are experts in their fields.

For months, these individuals have been angry at what they consider distorted and inaccurate accounts of last fall’s historic discovery of Erebus in the frigid waters of eastern Queen Maud Gulf. They identify a peripheral member of the 2014 Victoria Strait Expedition, who has access to Prime Minister Stephen Harper's office as well as editors at The Star, as the source of these accounts.

I intend to continue my efforts to bring this important story forward and will endeavor, as I have throughout my long career as a journalist, to ensure full, fair and accurate reporting of the facts.

Please watch this space, and follow me on Twitter at @wherewarlives and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/ArcticStarCreativity, for updates on my progress.

Paul Watson

 

About Love

After watching so many people kill each other in war, how could you want anything but love?