Letter of Resignation from the Editorial Board of The Canadian Charger

This letter was copied to other members of the Editorial Board and to members of the Board of Contributors of The Canadian Charger. It has not previously been published.


To: Dr. Mohamed Elmasry, 1 December 2013

Dear Mohamed,

I'm writing to you, with regret, to declare my resignation from the Editorial Board of The Canadian Charger.

This is a matter of sorrow to me. It has been a pleasure and an honour to have been involved with you in this news-commentary-and analysis website since its early planning stages; and I continue to believe that the project of bringing together voices from the Muslim community and the Canadian left is an important one.

However, the editorial published on November 27, “Canadians: List Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist group,” makes it impossible for me to continue my association with The Charger.

I do not claim any expertise on recent events in Egypt. However, I have read enough to be aware of some of the ways in which a sequence of stupid political misjudgments, errors, and illegalities committed by President Morsi and his entourage fractured their previous support, persuaded many Egyptians that the Muslim Brotherhood was determined to impose a theocracy, and made his government vulnerable to military intervention. It is understandable that the initial response of many secular and Coptic Egyptians to the military overthrow of the Morsi government was a feeling of relief. But over the past five months, the violently anti-democratic intentions of the military junta and its obvious continuities with the Mubarak dictatorship have been repeatedly made evident. To deny that the coup was a coup, as The Charger's November 27 editorial appears to do, is fatuous.

On principle, I oppose political parties whose actions and policies are guided, openly or otherwise, by sectarianism. (Such parties include the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, the U.S. Republican Party, most of the parties in the Israeli Knesset, and the governing party of this country: witness its insistent Christian Zionism and Islamophobia.)

But that does not mean one should automatically believe everything that is said or written to the discredit of such parties.

In the case of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, there is substantial evidence that a propaganda campaign conducted by the Egyptian military junta and its supporters in the international media has sought to blame the Muslim Brotherhood for the appalling acts of violence that have occurred since the beginning of July. (For a sample of critical analyses of this campaign, see two articles by Esam Al-Amin, “The Grand Scam: Spinning Egypt's Military Coup,” CounterPunch [19-21 July 2013], and “Putting Egypt's Coup on Trial,” CounterPunch [8-10 November 2013]; and a further article exposing the fabrication of supposed Muslim Brotherhood atrocities: Mohamed Malik and Mohamad Omar, “How Amnesty International was Played by the Egyptian Junta,” CounterPunch [25 November 2013].) To this should be added the fact that the Muslim Brotherhood's official English-language website, Ikwanweb.com, has repeatedly denounced acts of violence, whether directed against the military and the police, against ministers in the coup regime, or against members of Egypt's Coptic minority and their churches.

One might well want to weigh critical analyses of the kind I have cited, as well as the statements posted at Ikwanweb.com, against news reports of an opposing tendency. But distressingly, I do not find any hint of an attempt to weigh competing claims and sift out probable truths in The Charger's editorial.

The above matters might be understood as questions of editorial imbalance that could be corrected by a follow-up editorial. But the November 27 editorial offers clear support to the Egyptian military as a force aligned with the interests of the Egyptian people, and it demands that the Harper government label the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist group and reject any Egyptian refugee claimants stained by association with this party. I reject these positions, and refuse any association with them.

Since when does The Canadian Charger concede to the Harper government—which since it came to power in 2006 has without fail supported Israeli war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, which boasts of having “punched above its weight” in the NATO bombing of Libya two years ago, and which has pressed for aggression against Syria and Iran—the moral authority to make such a determination?

In its demand for the criminalization of the party overthrown by Egypt's military coup, and in its reference to the Palestinian political party Hamas, the editorial is lending The Charger's support to the policies of the Egyptian junta and of the Harper government—and to the use by both of them of the discredited rhetoric of the “war on terror.”

I oppose political parties guided by sectarian principles. I also oppose, more adamantly, military dictatorships, not least because their guiding principle is state terrorism.

One of the things that needs urgently to be said about the Egyptian coup is that its consequences have included not merely a harshly augmented infliction of state terror on Egyptians, but also—through the closure of the Rafah crossing and the tunnel systems—a radical intensification of the state terrorism inflicted by Israel and its allies on the population of Gaza, in punishment for having freely elected a Hamas government in 2006. (Bombing a captive and defenceless civilian population is state terrorism: so also is depriving them of drinking water, food, medicine, sewage facilities, employment, and contact with the outside world.)

The November 27 editorial supports the Egyptian military coup, and it supports Mr. Hassan Sherif's call for the Canadian government to “be consistent” and list the Muslim Brotherhood along with Hamas “as a terrorist group.” Whatever the editorialist's intentions, the text carries an implicit endorsement of these consequences as well. I find this intolerable.

Yours sincerely and respectfully,


Michael Keefer
Professor Emeritus, School of English and Theatre Studies, University of Guelph

cc: Members of the Editorial Board and Board of Contributors


Justice and Legality: The Sisters of Antigone

First published (without notes) in the Two Row Times (25 December 2013): 7, https://www.tworowtimes.com/opinions/opinion/justice-legality-sisters-antigone/. The issues broached in this article were further explored in comments on my article published by local historian Garry Horsnell on the website of the Two Row Times, and in my response to him. 

Canada does seem to be having persistent problems with the law. The Supreme Court of Canada ruled in its Delgamuukw and Marshall decisions, in 1997 and 1999, that First Nations peoples who never made treaties ceding their lands and resources to the Crown retain aboriginal title to their ancestral territories.1

But Canadian governments, federal and provincial alike, have often simply ignored inconvenient court rulings on what constitutes the law of the land. The Burnt Church fishery dispute of 1999-2002 was nudged toward violence by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans' refusal to accommodate Mi'kmaq rights confirmed by the Marshall decision; and in recent months the New Brunswick government, the RCMP, and the lower courts that have glibly handed out injunctions criminalizing any obstruction of fracking exploration on unceded Mi'kmaq land, appear again to have been violating the law.

Two leading experts in natural resources law have commented on this recent bout of lawlessness. Bill Gallagher has remarked that there are “seven high-level court cases” which the natives won “on a very profound point of law,” with the courts giving “a series of admonitions” to the losing parties, “governments and interveners and industry”—despite which the New Brunswick government has left these court decisions “sitting on shelves.”2 And Michael McClurg has written that in the Elsipogtog case, “the rule of law [...] would arguably dictate” that the protesters had every right to be where they were, while others, “including the Crown and resource extraction companies, are trespassers.”3

What are we to do when the very people who should be applying the rule of law fling it out the window, and when foolish or malignant pundits like Rex Murphy or Ezra Levant do their best to obstruct public understanding of what's going on?

But a further problem arises from the fact that even when governments respect the law, its structures may embody and legitimize wrongs and injustices.

Only in Utopia, the land of Cockagne, or the Big Rock Candy Mountain are legality and justice wholly one and the same. Think of the words of the prophet Amos that Martin Luther King famously quoted in his “I have a dream” speech. Amos didn't say “Let legality roll down”: he said, “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream” (Amos 5: 24). What the civil rights movement was struggling against, in the name of justice and righteousness, was quite precisely a perverted legality: the laws and state practices of Jim Crow racism.

The Canadian legal system has moved towards remedying some institutionalized features that run counter to justice. Attempts are being made to provide restorative justice through Gladue courts; and the Royal Commission on the Donald Marshall, Jr. Prosecution (1989) declared that “Native Canadians have the right to a justice system [...] which has respect for them, and which dispenses justice in a manner consistent with, and sensitive to their history, culture and language.”4

On the level of resource issues, it's clear that a system of law and justice that was respectful of and sensitive to native history, culture and language would not for a moment permit practices like fracking. But the corporations involved in resource extraction are bound by corporate law to understand value as a matter of maximizing shareholders' profits—and to discard the real values of justice, respect for aboriginal title, and the responsibility to preserve the land for future generations.

The hollowness of this perverted legality can be exposed by comparison to higher understandings of what binds us to the land we belong to.

We can find such forms of understanding in the Mi'kmaq system of justice (koqqwaja'ltimk), one of whose principles, as Leslie Jane McMillan explained in her 2002 doctoral thesis on Mi'kmaq Legal Consciousness, is sharing (utkunajik) within a common territory (netukulimk).5 We can find them, perhaps more fully elaborated, in the Six Nations or Haudenosaunee Kaienereh'ko:wa, known in English as the Great Peace.

In 2006, two women of the Six Nations, Katinies and Kahentinetha, explained their intervention in an issue involving environmental degradation in the Haldimand Tract lands as prompted by the Kaianereh'ko:wa's Wampum 44, which defines the women as the “progenitors of the soil,” and makes them, the elders said, “the Caretakers of the land, water and air of Turtle Island. As the trustees, we are obligated to preserve and protect the land's integrity for the future generation.”6

In the same year, another Six Nations woman, Hazel Hill, informed local newspapers in Grand River and Caledonia that the controversy that had erupted over a land reclamation near Caledonia was not just a question of ownership, but a conflict between two laws, one that has served oppression and another higher and much older law:

It's not about disrespecting [...] the laws of Canada, but more importantly about respecting [...] the Universal Law given to us by the Peacemaker and Gigonsaseh, and upholding our responsibilities as individuals in accordance with that law [....] It's not about an occupation, but about asserting our jurisdiction.7

Canadians of European heritage may find it easier to understand these appeals to a system of justice higher and more ancient than the law of the Canadian state if they remember a story that forms part of their own heritage. It is the story of Antigone, a daughter of the royal house of Thebes, as told by Sophocles, one of the great tragic playwrights of ancient Greece, four and a half centuries before the beginning of our Common Era.

Antigone's two brothers quarrelled over the throne of Thebes. One, who was banished, returned with an army and attacked the city. When the brothers killed each other in battle, their uncle, who became king, proclaimed that the one who had defended the city should be buried with due honours, while the other's corpse should rot outside the city and be consumed by dogs and carrion birds—and anyone who gave the body burial rites should die.

It is made clear that the king's decree violated a primal order of justice. Carrion-eating animals and birds refused to touch the corpse; then, after Antigone defiantly gave it burial rites, which the king reversed, exposing the dead body again, the carrion-eaters gorged themselves and vomited the rotting flesh onto the altars of the city's temples.

At a central moment in the play, Antigone tells the king that his law went against the highest god, Zeus, and against an order of Justice higher than any decree of the state. I quote from Robert Fagles' translation:

It wasn't Zeus, not in the least, 
who made this proclamation—not to me. 
Nor did that Justice, dwelling with the gods
beneath the earth, ordain such laws for men. 
Nor did I think your edict had such force
that you, a mere mortal, could override the gods, 
the great unwritten, unshakable traditions. 
They are alive, not just today or yesterday: 
they live forever, from the first of time....8

Set aside this tragedy's lurid details: its central conflict, between a law arrogantly and unjustly proclaimed by the state, and a higher sense of justice, of “unshakable traditions” that Antigone courageously obeys in principled resistance to the state's brute force, has a familiar ring.

The women of the Six Nations, and the Mi'kmaq women who have taken a stand, together with their menfolk, in opposition to fracking exploration in New Brunswick, are sisters of Antigone.


Sequel: An Exchange with Garry Horsnell

Local historian Gary Horsnell offered a response to this op-ed, to which I replied.


Garry Horsnell's response:

When it comes to the Mi’kmaq in the eastern provinces of Canada, they and other First Nations (Indian) bands in that area made a Peace and Friendship Treaty in 1760/61. Here is an excerpt from that 1760/61 treaty:

We the said Saugaaram als Loron Arexus Francois Xavier and Megamumbe Delegates from the said Tribes of Penobscot Naridgwalk St. Johns, Cape Sables and other Tribes inhabiting within His Majesty’s said Territories of Nova Scotia or Accadie and New England So in the Name and behalf of the said Tribes we represent acknowledge his Said Majesty King Georges Jurisdiction and Dominion over the Territories of said Province of Nova Scotia or Accadie and make our Submission to his Said Majesty in as ample a manner as We have formerly done to the Most Christian King.

The Mi’kmaq joined that treaty later, but the Indians agreed the Crown would reserve “Jurisdiction and Dominion over the Territories.”

Here is another excerpt from that 1760/61 treaty: “And we further promise in behalf of the said Tribes we represent that the Indians shall not molest any of His Majesty’s Subjects or their Dependants in their Settlements already or lawfully to be made or in their carrying on their Trade and other affairs within said Province”.

The Mi’kmaq in New Brunswick can protest peacefully against fracking in New Brunswick but it is against the Criminal Code of Canada to cause mischief by blocking roads, highways, other thoroughfares or access to property.

In 2010, the government of Nova Scotia signed an agreement to consult with the Mi’kmaq in Nova Scotia but I doubt that would affect the Mi’kmaq in the separate Province of New Brunswick.

In the 2004 Haida case, the Supreme Court of Canada said that “Third parties cannot be held liable for failing to discharge the Crown’s duty to consult and accommodate. The honour of the Crown cannot be delegated, and the legal responsibility for consultation and accommodation rests with the Crown.” The Crown now includes only the Canadian federal government (the big Crown) and provincial government (the little Crowns). Municipalities and private developers are not the Crown and are not obliged to consult with Indian bands.

I would think the New Brunswick government (a little Crown) should consult with the Mi’kmaq in New Brunswick about fracking but, in section 48 of the 2004 Haida case, the Supreme Court of Canada also said, “This process does not give Aboriginal groups a veto over what can be done with land pending final proof of the claim.”


My reply:

I don't think Garry Horsnell has adequately understood the historical and legal issues he alludes to. I'll go over them briefly.

By 1760 France, with whom the Mi'kmaq had been in alliance during part of the 1750s, had been decisively defeated in North America by the British. In the Peace and Friendship Treaty of 1760-61 from which Horsnell quotes, the Mi'kmaq did indeed acknowledge King George III's political sovereignty, his “Jurisdiction and Dominion,” over Nova Scotia (which at the time also incorporated the present-day province of New Brunswick). But according to what I believe is a large majority of contemporary expert interpreters, this didn't involve giving up what we now call aboriginal title to the land they inhabited, or their rights to its resources.

The point seems obvious enough. When George III at the same time asserted sovereignty over the province of Québec, he wasn't cancelling and erasing the existing system of land tenure and ownership. The British did of course put native people and settler populations (whatever European language they spoke) into different categories; and they made clear their intention to engage in what the Royal Proclamation of 1763 termed the “speedy settling” of their newly conquered colonies. But the aim of the policies the British announced in the early 1760s was to pacify those colonies, not to drive the French-speaking or the native people into acts of desperate resistance by declaring that they had no rights to their ancestral lands.

The treaties made by the British with the Maliseet and Mi'kmaq in 1726, 1752, and 1760-61 promised, explicitly or implicitly, the protection of their fishing, hunting, and planting grounds. (Such an interpretation, the Supreme Court stated in its 1999 Marshall decision, is required “to uphold the honour and integrity of the Crown in its dealings with the Mi'kmaq people.”) And the Royal Proclamation of 1763 declared that “the several Nations or Tribes of Indians, with whom We are connected, and who live under Our protection, should not be molested or disturbed in the Possession of such Parts of our Dominions and Territories as, not having been ceded to, or purchased by Us, are reserved to them, or any of them, as their Hunting Grounds....”

The Proclamation acknowledged native rights by setting out procedures, “to the End that the Indians may be convinced of Our Justice,” by which native lands could be purchased by colonial governments from specially summoned assemblies of the native people concerned, and it forbade any unauthorized form of land surveying and land transfer. These provisions applied not just to the territories west of the Thirteen Colonies, but to “any Lands whatever, which, not having been ceded to, or purchased by Us as aforesaid, are reserved to the said Indians, or any of them.”

There is ongoing debate among experts and in the courts over the precise meaning and applicability, in different contexts, of aboriginal title and resource rights. But it's an uncontested fact that within a few decades after 1761 the Crown's treaties with the Mi'kmaq were being systematically dishonoured by colonial (and subsequently Canadian) governments. Mi'kmaq lands were appropriated as private property or Crown land without any form of agreement or purchase as outlined in the Royal Proclamation. But the dishonouring of the treaties doesn't alter their legal force.

I think Garry Horsnell and I would agree that people really ought to obey the law. (I also believe—as I indicated by quoting Martin Luther King and Sophocles—that in cases where the law is manifestly unjust or iniquitous, people have a right, indeed a moral obligation, to disobey it.)

In the Elsipogtog case, obedience to the law should have begun with the Crown exercising its duty to consult. Horsnell's view that this duty was somehow merely optional for the New Brunswick government reveals an inadequate understanding of the basic principles of common law.

The relevant court decision here is the July 2008 judgment of the Ontario Court of Appeal in the case of Frontenac Ventures Corporation v. Ardoch Algonquin First Nation. As Annie Leeks of the law firm Blake, Cassels & Graydon has written, the Court of Appeal surveyed two decades of Supreme Court jurisprudence in its attempt to weigh asserted aboriginal rights against the interests of a uranium mining company:

The court found that this clear line of jurisprudence required that where constitutionally protected aboriginal rights are asserted, “injunctions sought by private parties to protect their interests should only be granted where every effort has been made by the court to encourage consultation, negotiation, accommodation and reconciliation among the competing rights and interests”. The Court of Appeal cautioned in particular that if the injunction is intended to create a “protest free zone” for contentious private activity that impacts upon an asserted aboriginal right, the court must be extremely careful to ensure that the duty to consult with the First Nation has been fully and faithfully discharged and that every effort has been exhausted to obtain a negotiated or legislated solution.9

Barring a contrary decision by Parliament or the Supreme Court, that's the law of the land. Wouldn't it be nice if New Brunswick felt like obeying it?

And in the absence of the legally required consultation, doesn't it look rather as though the provincial government, the fracking exploration company, and the RCMP were molesting the Mi'kmaq, and not the other way round?




1  See Chelsea Vowel, “The often-ignored facts about Elsipogtog,” Toronto Star (14 November 2013), http://www.thestar.com/opinion/commentary/2013/11/14/the_oftenignored_facts_about_elsipogtog.html. (Vowel also blogs under her Cree name: see Âpihtawikosisân: Law, language, life.) My two next paragraphs echo what I have written in “Canada's Problems with the Law,” Two Row Times (20 November 2013): 7, http://www.tworowtimes.com/opinion/canadas-problems-with-the-law/; also published as “Canadian Justice, the Rule of Law and the Rob Ford Affair,” Centre for Research on Globalization (18 November 2013), http://www.globalresearch.ca/scandal-and-political-impasse-in-toronto-canadian-justice-and-the-rob-ford-affair/5358566.

2  See “Sharing Resources,” Interview with Bill Gallagher, CBC Radio One New Brunswick (6 November 2013), http://www.cbc.ca/shift/2013/11/06/sharing-resources/; and Bill Gallagher, “Will the Canadian Native Legal Winning Streak Hit 200?” Bill Gallagher/Strategist/Lawyer/Author (4 August 2013), http://billgallagher.ca/2013/will-the-canadian-native-legal-winning-streak-hit-200/.

3  Michael McClurg, “Do we need the 'rule of law' in New Brunswick to deal with native protestors?” Olthuis Kleer Townshend – LLP (23 October 2013), http://www.oktlaw.com/blog/do-we-need-the-rule-of-law-in-new-brunswick-to-deal-with-native-protestors/.

4  Chief Justice T. Alexander Hickman et al., Royal Commission on the Donald Marshall, Jr. Prosecution: Digest of Findings and Recommendations (Halifax, 1989), p. 11, http://www.novascotia.ca/just/marshall_inquiry/_docs/Royal%20Commission%20on%20the%20Donald%20Marshall%20Jr%20Prosecution_findings.pdf. I owe this reference to Leslie Jane McMillan, “Koqqwaja'ltimk”: Mi'kmaq Legal Consciousness (University of British Columbia Ph.D. Thesis, 2002), http://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/obj/s4/f2/dsk4/etd/NQ79241.PDF, p. 169.

5  See Leslie Jane McMillan, “Koqqwaja'ltimk”: Mi'kmaq Legal Consciousness.

6  “Demand from Women Title Holders of the Rotinohnsonnion:we/Six Nations to Enbridge Gas Distribution Inc. of Barrie Ontario to Cease and Desist the Building of a Natural Gas Pipeline Under the Pine River in Homings Mills on the Haldimand Tract,” Mohawk Nation News (15 September 2006), http://www.mohawknationnews.com/news/print.php?lang=en&layout=mnn&newsnr=300.

7  “MNN 'Ongwehonwe Women's Manifesto' at Six Nations,” introduced by Kahentinetha Horn, MNN Mohawk Nation News (12 April 2006), http://www.gatheringplacefirstnationscanews.ca/PressReleases/sixnations/060412_01sixnationsmanifesto.htm?selected=77.

8  Antigone, lines 499-507 (450-57 in the Greek text), in Sophocles, The Three Theban Plays: Antigone, Oedipus the King, Oedipus at Colonus, trans. Robert Fagles (1982; rpt. London: Penguin, 1984), p. 82.

9  Available at http://www.mondaq.com/canada/x/63390/Public+Sector+Government/Frontenac+Ventures+Corporation+v+Ardoch+Algonquin+First+Nation+Platinex+Inc+v+Kitchenuhmaykoosib+Inn....


Canada's Problems with the Law

Published in the Two Row Times (20 November 2013): 7, http://www.tworowtimes.com/opinions/opinion/canadas-problems-with-the-law/; also published as “Canadian Justice, the Rule of Law and the Rob Ford Affair,” Centre for Research on Globalization (18 November 2013), http://www.globalresearch.ca/scandal-and-political-impasse-in-toronto-canadian-justice-and-the-rob-ford-affair/5358566. As first published, this article appeared without footnotes.

Rob Ford, now universally referred to as “the crack-smoking mayor of Toronto,” continues to astonish us—not just because he can't open his mouth in public without bullying, lying, confessing to some further crime, or saying something obscene about his wife—but also because of what his ongoing saga suggests about the state of Canadian justice.

It seems that if you're white, male, rich, and powerful, you can do outdoor drug deals in front of police surveillance teams without fear of interruption, let alone arrest. Ford doesn't even bother now to dismiss police summaries of his lawbreaking as “allegations”; he calls them “revelations.”1

But amid the fuss around these Fordian slips, a concurrent story that also reveals something about Canada's present-day problems with legality has gone almost unnoticed. On October 21, the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) announced that it was refusing to carry advertisements from a human rights group, Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East, which show the accelerating disappearance since 1947 of land held by Muslim and Christian Palestinians in historic Palestine.2

The ad copy apparently suggested that the ongoing taking of Palestinian land by the state of Israel has involved unfairness and illegality. After consulting its lawyers, the TTC declared that the land taking hasn't been illegal, and that no court ever said it was—therefore, no ads.

This statement rivals Mayor Ford in its mendacity. For in July 2004 the International Court of Justice found Israel's continuing theft, colonization, and settlement of occupied land to be in violation of the UN Charter, the Fourth Geneva Convention, and five other charters of international law, as well as repeated UN Security Council resolutions. An interesting story, one might think: but the Toronto media buried it with unseemly haste.3

Why should Canada's political class and mainstream media not want Canadians to be informed about an overseas instance of land theft and settlement (one which our present government, by the way, supports with particular vehemence)? Two other recent events may suggest an answer.

The first is the visit to Canada of James Anaya, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which ended on October 15. The second is the RCMP's October 17 assault on the non-violent anti-fracking blockade by the people of Elsipogtog near Rexton, New Brunswick—an attack which looks uncannily like an 'up-yours' response by the Harper government to Anaya's parting remarks. Both events raise important issues of legality.

The statement Anaya issued on concluding his visit included mention of “the frustration expressed to me uniformly by aboriginal leaders that their self-governance capacity and economic development [...] remain impeded by multiple legacies of the history of colonization, treaty infringements, assault on their cultures, and land dispossession suffered by their peoples.”

Adding that negotiations are often undermined by rapid resource development “within lands that are the subject of protracted negotiations,” Anaya recommended that the government adopt a “less adversarial” and “more generous and flexible approach,” one which would acknowledge that “the public interest is not opposed to, but rather includes, aboriginal concerns.” He proposed that “resource extraction should not occur on lands subject to aboriginal claims without adequate consultations with and the free, prior and informed consent of the aboriginal peoples concerned.”4

On the very next day, Stephen Harper borrowed rhetoric from the era of the fifty-year-old TV series Wagon Train for a Throne Speech that re-stated a settler-colony view of Canada excluding any aboriginal perspective: “This is Canada's moment; together we will seize it. And as we do, we draw inspiration from our founders, leaders of courage and audacity. [....] They were undaunted. They dared to seize the moment that history offered. Pioneers, then few in number, reached across a vast continent. They forged an independent country where none would otherwise have existed.”5

As Corey Snelgrove has remarked, Harper's words evoke the doctrine of terra nullius, a Latin term used by early colonizers of the Americas to define the lands they coveted as legally empty and their inhabitants as non-persons.6

One day later, on October 17, the federal police force, the RCMP, was ordered to attack the Elsipogtog blockade—the legal basis for this action being a provincial court injunction that was rescinded on October 22.7

The actual standing of this issue in Canadian law is precisely the opposite of what most Canadians believe it to be. Those who have been in violation of the highest law are the New Brunswick government, the Harper government, the RCMP, and SWN Resources, the would-be frackers.

Why do Canadians not know this? Because, once again, Canada's political class and much of the mainstream media have been (to put it charitably) economical with the truth.

One important exception to the mainstream media's combination of silence and misinformation is a recent article by Métis writer Chelsea Vowel in the Toronto Star (“The often-ignored facts about Elsipogtog,” November 14, 2013), which explains two essential judgments of the Supreme Court of Canada.8

The first of these, the Supreme Court's 1997 Delgamuukw decision, determined that under Canadian law, Aboriginal title to most of British Columbia had never been extinguished—meaning that other parts of the country where no treaties giving up land ownership were ever signed had likewise never been acquired by the Crown. The second, the 1999 Marshall decision, determined both that Mi'kmaq fishers in Atlantic Canada retained their right to make a living by fishing, and confirmed that the Mi'kmaq and Maliseet Peace and Friendship Treaties of 1760-1761 did not involve any surrender of land or resources.

As Vowel writes, “This cannot be emphasized strongly enough: the Mi'kmaq never gave up legal right to their land or resources. Canada does not own the land that the people of Elsipogtog are defending. This is not conspiracy theory, or indigenous interpretation. This is Canadian law, interpreted by the Supreme Court of Canada, applying Canadian constitutional principles.”9

Legal experts have no trouble understanding this. Michael McClurg, a specialist in natural resources law with the Toronto firm Olthuis Kleer Townshend, has written that “the rule of law in this case would arguably dictate that the protesters have every right to be on their traditional land and that in fact, others, including the Crown and resource extraction companies, are trespassers.”10

Bill Gallagher, a lawyer in the same field, notes that First Nations groups have won more than 180 recent victories in Canadian courts. In a recent CBC Radio interview he remarks that in New Brunswick, “There are seven high-level court cases that have been sitting on shelves through previous governments. These are appellate level decisions, Supreme Court of Canada level decisions, that are declaratory: the natives have won on a very profound point of law, [and] the parties that have lost, governments and interveners and industry, have been given a series of admonitions....”11

Governments have not merely ignored these admonitions; they have often directly violated them. In 2000, for example, Mi'kmaq people at Burnt Church who asserted their rights according to the Marshall decision “were subject to racist violence,” Dru Oja Jay writes, “from both the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, which literally ran over boats of people trying to fish, and non-Native mobs, who attacked people trying to fish and destroyed [lobster] traps and boats.”12

Michael McClurg observes that people in government can learn—from the Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, for example, or the Ipperwash Inquiry Report—how to behave in “conflicts over resources, including appropriate police responses.” But their reactions to Elsipogtog give one, he says, “a strong sense of history repeating itself.”13

It's time for politicians like Prime Minister Stephen Harper and New Brunswick Premier David Alward to grow out of their Wagon Train mentality, and start obeying Canadian law.




1  This slip was pointed out by late-night comedian Jimmy Kimmel. Ford's impunity extends beyond drug-dealing, gang-related activities, sexual harassment, and DUI even to parking violations: his black Cadillac Escalade SUV sat for three hours on November 17 in a no-parking zone outside the Sun Media studio where he was taping a show without being ticketed; see Shawn Jeffords, “Mayor Rob Ford parks illegally,” Toronto Sun (17 November 2013), http://www.torontosun.com/2013/11/17/mayor-rob-ford-parks-illegally

2  Tess Kalinowski, “TTC rejects controversial Middle East ad campaign,” Toronto Star (21 October 2013), http://www.torontostar.com/news/gta/2013/10/21/ttc_rejects_controversial_middle_east_ad_campaign.html

3  See my article “Toronto Transit Commission vs. International Law,” Independent Jewish Voices Canada (2 November 2013), http://www.ijvcanada.org; also published as “Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) Rejects Ads Concerning the 'Disappearance of Palestine',” Centre for Research on Globalization (2 November 2013), http://www.globalresearch.ca/toronto-transit-commission-ttc-rejects-ads-concerning-the-disappearance-of-palestine/5356515.

4  James Anaya, “Statement upon conclusion of the visit to Canada,” James Anaya: United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (15 October 2013), http://www.unsr.jamesanaya.org/statements/statement-upon-conclusion-of-the-visit-to-canada.

5  “Seizing Canada's Moment: Prosperity and Opportunity in an Uncertain World,” Speech From The Throne (16 October 2013), http://www.speech.gc.ca. While I object to this flatulent rhetoric, I don't mind noting at the same time that my own ancestors were among the earlier English-speaking settlers in Canada: my quadruple-great-grandmother and her two sons, the widow and children of George Kieffer, a New Jersey farmer who died defending Long Island from the army of George Washington, founded what became the town of Thorold, Ontario. As Loyalists, they came to Canada at the same time, and for the same reasons, as the Six Nations people who were expelled from their ancestral lands in New York state and granted the so-called Haldimand Tract (land extending for six miles on either side of the Grand River).

6  See Corey Snelgrove, “Rex Murphy and the Frames of Settler Colonial War,” Corey Snelgrove: Musings: Generally of the Political and Social Variety (21 October 2013), http://coreysnelgrove.wordpress.com/2013/10/21/rex-murphy-and-the-frames-of-settler-colonial-war/.

7  In exploring this issue, I have benefited from the work of Âpihtawikosisân, “Resources on Elsipogtog,” âpihtawikosisân: Law, language, life: A Plains Cree speaking woman in Montreal (23 October 2013), http://apihtawikosisan.com/author/apihtawikosisan/.

8  Chelsea Vowel, “The often-ignored facts about Elsipogtog,” Toronto Star (14 November 2013), http://www.thestar.com/opinion/commentary/2013/11/14/the_oftenignored_facts_about_elsipogtog.html. (I have learned since publishing this article that Chelsea Vowel and Âpihtawikosisân are the same person.)

9  Ibid.

10  Michael McClurg, “Do we need the 'rule of law' in New Brunswick to deal with native protestors?” Olthuis Kleer Townshend – LLP (23 October 2013), http://www.oktlaw.com/blog/do-we-need-the-rule-of-law-in-new-brunswick-to-deal-with-native-protestors/.

11  “Sharing Resources,” Interview with Bill Gallagher, CBC Radio One New Brunswick (6 November 2013), http://www.cbc.ca/shift/2013/11/06/sharing-resources/. See also Bill Gallagher, “Will the Canadian Native Legal Winning Streak Hit 200?” Bill Gallagher/Strategist/Lawyer/Author (4 August 2013), http://billgallagher.ca/2013/will-the-canadian-native-legal-winning-0streak-hit-200/.

12  Dru Oja Jay, “Elsipogtog: 'Clashes' 400 Years in the Masking: Corporate media coverage creates ignorance, which enables violence,” The Media Co-op (18 October 2013), http://www.mediacoop.ca/story/elsipogtog-clashes-300-years-making/19357.

13  McClurg, “Do we need 'the rule of law'.”

Free Speech on Ottawa Transpo: Letter to Ottawa Transit Commission

Email message to the members of the Ottawa Transit Commission, 19 November 2013. This text has not previously been published.


To: Councillor Diane Deans, Councillor Shad Qadri, Councillor Stephen Blais, Councillor Rainer Bloess, Councillor Keith Egli, Councillor Katherine Hobbs, Councillor Tim Tierney, Councillor Marianne Wilkinson, Mr. Blair Crew, Mr. Justin Ferrabee, Mr. Mark Johnson, Ms. Emily Rahn, Mayor Jim Watson
Cc: OttawaOutreach@AE911Truth.org

Date: 19 Nov 2013, 19:56.


Dear Ottawa Transit Commission Members,

I am writing to convey to you my support for the ReThink911 advertising campaign, which I believe is performing an important service of public information. I would like also to ensure that you are aware of a recent decision of the Supreme Court of Canada which has a direct bearing on this matter.

I address you as an expert in the subject matter under consideration. I have published on the material evidence relating to the events of September 11, 2001, in essays that have appeared in a peer-reviewed book and in peer-reviewed scholarly journals, and also in papers delivered at scholarly conferences in Canada, Mexico, and Finland. I have lectured on matters relating to 9/11 at universities in Sweden and Germany, as well as at several Canadian universities, and have made media appearances on the subject, including on Steve Paikin's TVO program The Agenda.

Although I am not aware of the precise wording of the ReThink911 ads, I am familiar with other public information materials produced by this campaign and by the originating organization, Architects and Engineers for 9/11 Truth. The material of theirs that I have seen and read has been unfailingly evidence-based, scientifically accurate, and sensitive to the suffering of victims of the crimes of 9/11 and the concerns of family members.

Any suggestion that the ReThink911 ads might violate “standards of community acceptability” would be mistaken, for the following reasons:

1) Materials-science analyses published by physicists, chemists, and engineers have demonstrated that the “official account” of the destruction of World Trade Center buildings 1, 2, and 7 contained in such texts as The 9/11 Commission Report and the reports published by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is false. (It is now, for example, an unchallenged fact that for more than two seconds of its collapse, WTC 7 was in a condition of free-fall acceleration. The only hypothesis that can explain this fact is one of planned demolition.) Significantly, the materials-science analyses to which I refer have not been challenged in peer-reviewed studies.

2) A growing body of scholarly opinion in the United States (as evidenced by scholarly books and peer-reviewed essays published in journals of established reputation) is moving to the view that the appropriate analytical framework for contextual study of the events of 9/11 is one in which these events are understood to belong to the category of “state crimes against democracy.”

3) It may be possible to find journalists, demagogues, and even some academics who are willing to apply abusive terms like “conspiracy theory” to the scientific and scholarly work alluded to above. You will discover, in nearly every case, that such people are not acquainted with the scientific and scholarly work in question, and have no comparable publications in the field to their own credit. What weight should their opinions carry?

4) The fact that studies in some particular area are regarded by significant numbers of people as unsettling or controversial does not mean that they can be labelled as violating standards of community acceptability. Large numbers of people in the United States, possibly even a majority, reject the conclusions of evolutionary biologists and climate scientists. Would that put biology and climate science outside the standards of community acceptability?

Perhaps more importantly, I believe there have been suggestions that OC Transpo should change its advertising standards so as to make it more difficult for public education campaigns like ReThink911 to place public transit ads.

It is crucial for you to understand that such a change would be a direct violation of Canadian law. On July 10, 2009, the Supreme Court of Canada released its decision in the case “B.C. Transit v. Canadian Federation of Students.” That decision applies directly and unambiguously to the present situation.

Grace Pastine, Litigation Director for the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA), which appeared as an intervener in the case, commented when the decision was announced that the Supreme Court “has squarely rejected the notion that Canadians need to be shielded from political debate in public spaces. It also sends a strong message to all government-related bodies that control speech in public spaces that they must not violate Charter rights, including the freedom of expression.”

Chris Sanderson, the lawyer who appeared for the BCCLA in the case, remarked that “This decision is significant in at least two respects. First, it clearly establishes that the government cannot shirk its Charter obligations by conferring powers on another entity. Second, the judgement contains a ringing endorsement of a long held BCCLA position that it is not the business of government to approve or disapprove of what Canadians say unless the government can demonstrate that to do so is justifiable in a free and democratic society, something the government was unable to show in this case.”

Given that such a clear precedent has been established by Canada's highest court, I urge you to do the obvious and straightforward thing, and to act according to the rule of Canadian law.

Yours sincerely and respectfully,

Michael Keefer
Professor Emeritus, School of English and Theatre Studies. University of Guelph


Noam Chomsky: Indigenous people “are the ones taking the lead in trying to protect all of us”

First published at the Two Row Times (5 November 2013): 8, http://www.tworowtimes.com/news/national/noam-chomsky-indigenous-people-are-in-the-lead. Also published as “Noam Chomsky: Harper energy policies are destroying the environment 'as fast as possible'.” The Canadian Charger (5 November 2013), http://www.thecanadiancharger.com/page.php?id=5&a=1630.


Noam Chomsky, the celebrated 85-year old American linguist, peace activist and social critic who is the author of more than one hundred books and the world's most frequently quoted intellectual, was in Montréal on October 26 to help celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the magazine Canadian Dimension.

During his visit, Chomsky delivered a lecture at the Université de Montréal in which he analyzed the decline of American power. In the Western hemisphere, he argued, the US and Canada have become marginal to the major discussions now underway: only in the most vulnerable countries like Haiti and Honduras have US- and Canadian-supported military regimes taken power.1

Chomsky also spoke out forcefully against Canadian tar sands, shale gas, and mining developments, and underlined the importance of indigenous resistance to the devastation they are causing.

According to Chomsky, “Canadian mining operations are just destroying large parts of the world.” He said that “Canada is trying to take the lead in destroying the possibility of decent survival: that's what it means to exploit the tar sands, and the gold mining in Colombia, and coal mining, and so on.... That means destroying the world in which your grandchildren might be able to survive: that's the Canadian idea now.”

Chomsky added that “There is resistance: in Canada it's coming from First Nations. But it's worth remembering that that's a world-wide phenomenon. Throughout the world, the indigenous populations are in the lead. They are actually taking the lead in trying to protect the earth. That's extremely significant.”2

Chomsky argued that this resistance is supported by one of the most ancient documents of English law, the nearly 800-year old Magna Carta. For in addition to asserting civil rights like the presumption of innocence and the right to jury trial, the Magna Carta included a “Charter of the Forests,” which “had to do with protecting the commons”—all of the commonly shared things in nature that sustain human life—“from the depredations of power.”3

Since the development of capitalism, Chomsky said, the commons have been under attack. “What Canada and the US and others are doing now,” he added, “is trying to take away what is left of the commons, includ[ing] the global environment—privatize it, take it away.”4

While in Montréal, Chomsky gave an interview to Martin Lukacs of The Guardian in which he again denounced the Harper government's policies of developing tar sands and shale gas resources.

Harper's policies, he told Lukacs, mean “taking every drop of hydrocarbon out of the ground, whether it's shale gas in New Brunswick or tar sands in Alberta and trying to destroy the environment as fast as possible, with barely a question raised about what the world will look like as a result.”5

Chomsky praised Canada's First Nations people for taking the lead in resisting fossil fuel developments and thereby combatting climate change. He expressed concern for the Elsipogtog people in New Brunswick, whose peaceful blockade of shale gas exploration was assaulted by the RCMP on October 17. As Lukacs writes, he also “highlighted indigenous opposition to the Alberta tar sands, the oil deposit that is Canada's fastest growing source of carbon emissions and is slated for massive expansion despite attracting international criticism and protest.”

In Chomsky's own words, “It's pretty ironic that the so-called 'least advanced' people are the ones taking the lead in trying to protect all of us, while the richest and most powerful among us are the ones who are trying to drive the society to destruction.”6



1  Claude Lévesque, “À Montréal, le celèbre linguiste Noam Chomsky présente ses vues sur le déclin de l'empire américain,” Le Devoir (28 octobre 2013), http://www.ledevoir.com/international/actualites-internationales/391104/a-montreal-le-celebre-linguiste-noam-chomsky-presente-ses-vues-sur-le-declin-de-l-empire-americain.

2  “Noam Chomsky on First Nations Resistance (Montréal, 26 octobre 2013),” YouTube (28 October 2013), http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jGK1F0bij6s.

3  Chomsky was alluding here to Peter Linebaugh's important study, The Magna Carta Manifesto: Liberties and Commons for All (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008), which offers a detailed and scrupulous interpretation of the meaning and present-day implications of the Charter of the Forests.

4  Ibid.

5  Martin Lukacs, “Noam Chomsky slams Canada's shale gas energy plans,” The Guardian (1 November 2013), http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2013/nov/01/noam-chomsky-canadas-shale-gas-energy-tar-sands.

6  Ibid.   

The Toronto Transit Commission vs. International Law

A version of this short text was sent to the Toronto Star on October 21, 2013 as a letter to the editor, but ignored. It was first published as “Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) Rejects Ads Concerning the 'Disappearance of Palestine',” Centre for Research on Globalization (2 November 2013), http://www.globalresearch.ca/toronto-transit-commission-ttc-rejects-ads-concerning-the-disappearance-of-palestine/5356515; published with the present title by Independent Jewish Voices Canada (2 November 2013), http://www.ijvcanada.org/2013/the-toronto-transit-commission-vs-ternational-law/.


On October 21, 2013, the Toronto Star reported that the Toronto Transit Commission had decided to reject ads submitted by Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME). A principal features of the ads is a sequence of four maps (which closely resemble the maps provided in the Wikipedia article on Palestine, and those which have appeared in similar transit ads in cities including Boston and Vancouver). These maps show the accelerating disappearance since 1947 of land held by Muslim and Christian Palestinians in historic Palestine.

According to CJPME, after draft designs were sent to the TTC in June 2013, the transit company and ad agencies tried in various ways “to prevent the ads from being posted. Designs were 'lost,' employees told to 'drop the ads,' emails and calls ignored.”1

In September, a letter from CJPME's legal counsel, noting a 2009 Supreme Court of Canada ruling that forbade transit authorities from blocking political ads, demanded that the TTC respect CJPME's right to post these ads.2

In announcing the TTC's rejection of the ads, spokesperson Brad Ross is reported to have given reasons that reflect a sad level of ignorance. According to Ross, CJPME's ad copy indicates that the process of Palestinian dispossession has involved unfairness and illegality. However, he said, “There is no finding in our legal opinion of illegality around loss of land under international law ... no court, no tribunal has ruled on loss of land being illegal.”3

This claim is false and misleading.

The July 9, 2004 ruling of the International Court of Justice on Israel's so-called Separation (or Apartheid) Wall has a direct bearing on the ongoing Israeli appropriation of Palestinian land. Recalling that the UN Security Council “described Israel's policy of establishing settlements in [the Occupied Palestinian Territory] as a flagrant violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention,” the Court found that Israeli settlements on occupied land, which by now have a population of some 600,000 people, “have been established in breach of international law.”4

In regard to Israel's occupation regime and the related destruction of private property, restrictions on freedom of movement, and confiscation of land and of water resources, the Court found Israel to be in contravention of Article 2, paragraph 4 of the UN Charter and General Assembly resolution 2625 (XXV), which make the acquisition of territory by force illegal; as well as the Hague Regulations of 1907, the Fourth Geneva Convention, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and repeated UN Security Council resolutions.5 Does this not suggest unfairness, as well as illegality?

It is no less absurd of Mr. Ross to suggest that honest and non-inflammatory statements of historical fact may lead to the incitement of hatred. The real fear of opponents of CJPME's ads is that Canadians may become aware that our own government has been supporting and facilitating intolerable Israeli policies of land theft and colonization. They are afraid that Canadians, acting out of common decency, will instead take a stand against injustice and oppression.

Michael Keefer is Professor Emeritus in the School of English and Theatre Studies, University of Guelph.



1  See “Please express your disagreement with the TTC decision: More Info,” CJPME, http://archive.constantcontact.com/fs146/1101893905212/archive/1115382118381.html.

2  Ibid.

3  Tess Kalinowski, “TTC rejects controversial Middle East as campaign,” Toronto Star (21 October 2013), http://www.torontostar.com/news/gta/2013/10/21/ttc_rejects_controversial_middle_east_ad_campaign.html. See also Ali Abunimah, “Toronto transit bans 'Disappearing Palestine' ad claiming risk of anti-Jewish violence,” The Electronic Intifada (24 October 2013), http://electronicintifada.net/blogs/ali-abunimah/toronto-transit-bans-disappearing-palestine-ad-claiming-risk-anti-jewish-violence.

4  “Legal Consequences of the Construction of a Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory,” International Court of Justice (9 July 2004), http://www.icj-cij.org/docket/index.php?pr=71&code=mwp&p1=3&p2=4&p3=6.

5  Ibid.   

WHO report on Iraqi birth defects a whitewash: Michael Keefer, interviewed by Jane Williams

This interview with Jane Williams, “WHO report on Iraqi birth defects a whitewash,” was first aired on Redeye, Vancouver Cooperative Radio, CFRO 100.5 FM, on 5 October 2013, 9:05-9:20 a.m. Pacific Time; a podcast is available at Rabble.ca (6 October 2013), http://rabble.ca/podcasts/shows/redeye/2013/10/who-report-on-iraqi-birth-defects-whitewash. The oral quality of the interview has been preserved in the transcript given here.


JW  You're listening to Redeye on Vancouver Co-operative Radio, CFRO 100.5 FM.

In 2003, the United States led an invasion of Iraq, based on false allegations of their possession of weapons of mass destruction. After a nine-year illegal occupation ended in 2012, the Iraq war dropped off the media radar, and Iraqis were left to deal with the devastating aftermath. Among the many daily hardships, there has been a sharp increase in cancer rates and babies born with congenital defects. Not only has this been under-reported internationally, there has been a concerted effort to repress this information.

Michael Keefer is a professor emeritus of Theatre Studies and English at Guelph University; he's also a graduate of the Royal Military College, and he joins me by phone this-morning. Hello, Michael.

MK  Hello, Jane.

JW  Now the Iraqi Ministry of Health just released a report. What's it about, and who is involved in conducting that study?

MK  Well, that's a bit of a mystery, because we know that the report comes from the Ministry—there's no indication of authorship, so it's the Iraqi Ministry of Health with the collaboration of the World Health Organization, WHO. And that came out—I think it was released on September the 11th.

What's interesting about the report is that it has been, I would say, universally condemned by researchers and scientists in the fields of toxicology and epidemiology. In particular, there's a newly published article in the medical journal The Lancet, “Questions raised over Iraq Congenital Birth Defects Study.”

Now what's scandalous about the study is that it in effect claims that there's no problem, nothing significant going on, which is of course quite simply untrue. There have been repeated peer-reviewed studies in medical journals carried out by scholars from many different countries. And insofar as this report makes any mention of those, it dismisses them as “lacking in objectivity.”

JW  So it's a study about birth defects?

MK  Yes, it's a study based on—and this is one of the defects of the study, one would have to say—it's based solely on interviews with mothers. Now there are several problems with that, one being of course that in the case of many of the monstrous births that have occurred in Iraqi hospitals, the mothers are simply informed that it was a stillbirth: they're not told that the child was too horribly deformed for her to tolerate seeing.

Of course in many cases as well where you have subtler forms of birth defect, cardiac problems or other not monstrous sorts of deformations, the parents may not be aware of a defect until some months after the birth. There's also the problem that many of the people in Iraq, many of the women who have given birth to deformed children were themselves very seriously contaminated by toxic agents like depleted uranium, and are dead.

So there are many reasons, methodological reasons, for saying this study is based on the wrong methodology, the wrong research principles. And there's at least one scientist with expertise in the field who has said, “Look, I was consulted by the researchers when they were starting their study,” and he told them, “Look, here's the way to do it; don't do it that way.” And they went ahead in what's, I think, a pretty classic cover-up.

JW  But now you've been waiting a while to actually see the report, I understand.

MK  Yes. I should make it clear—well, you already did in introducing me—that I'm not myself a toxicologist or an epidemiologist. But I was one of fifty-eight signatories of a letter demanding the publication of this WHO report on Iraqi birth defects.

That letter was made public in May of this year [2013]—and the signatories, by the way, include professors of obstetrics, and gynecology, and environmental toxicology, epidemiology, environmental health, neuroscience, genetics, you name it, from universities in Iraq, of course, but also from the U.S., the United Kingdom, Canada, the Netherlands—in other words, a very serious group of international scientists—as well as human rights activists.

And the response to that letter was thoroughly negative. The group that organized that first letter sent out a follow-up letter in late July, reiterating international concern over the fact that this report was being mysteriously delayed. And of course now that the report has come out, it's quite clear that there have been major political influences exerted on the WHO and the Iraqi Ministry of Health.

And by the way, one needs to say that in a formal sense the occupation of Iraq may be over, but the country is still overrun with so-called contractors—in effect, with U.S. military—and it still has that gigantic embassy complex that is a giant blemish in the middle of Baghdad—and it still has of course a very strong U.S. military presence. So it's by no means a properly independent country, or one whose health ministry wouldn't be subject to the pressures exerted by the U.S. and the U.K.

JW  Now you mentioned a number of peer-reviewed studies that tell a very different story. What kind of thing do they say about the kinds of birth defects that you can see in Iraq?

MK  What they say quantitatively is that the numbers of birth defects have risen catastrophically. There were already in the—Before the invasion of 2003, you remember, there was the Gulf War of 1991, after which the Pentagon acknowledged that it had used something like 320 tons of depleted uranium munitions in Kuwait and Iraq. Following that war, there were studies indicating that rates of birth defects in southern Iraq in particular had more than doubled, and childhood cancer rates had increased in a very disturbing way.

There are subsequent reports indicating much much greater increases in birth defect prevalences—seventeen-fold, according to one study.

So it's a major health disaster, and of course, one can see why, because what you have here is a heavy metal that is radioactive, of course, the by-product of civilian nuclear plants. It's radioactive; it is used by the military because it's extremely dense and it's what's called pyrophoric.

Now, the density means that it punches right through steel armour or through concrete or through stone walls; but when it's fired out of a tank barrel, a depleted uranium shell in effect is already on fire. When it hits something, it goes through it, and fragments into, in many cases, microscopic particles, many of them less than 5 microns. Now a micron is one-millionth of a meter. So these are tiny tiny particles of radioactive material, and of course, anything behind the armour plate or the wall is killed—incinerated, or killed by the shock wave—and the stuff is then dissipated.

Because it has formed these tiny particles, they get carried everywhere. So it's literally impossible, unless you're wearing a hazmat suit, to enter into a depleted-uranium-contaminated setting in an Iraqi city or a former battlefield, wherever that was, without inhaling or ingesting particles of depleted uranium. And once it's inside your body, every radioactive emission from a uranium atom is going to hit something.

So every time one of these particles emits, say, an alpha particle, it's doing damage to you. People can excrete some of it, but of course as it goes through your kidneys it gives you kidney damage. The results have been well known since the 1990s, that DU exposure immediately produces very serious lung damage, kidney damage, produces cancers, and there's now a long series of studies of the genetic abnormalities produced by depleted uranium as well.

JW  Now then, it took a long time for the report to be released. Now that it has been released, what kind of response has there been in the media to it?

MK  Well, I'm glad to say that there seems to be a gathering chorus of condemnation. There was a piece just yesterday I think in the Huffington Post; there have been other essays, articles, appearing elsewhere.

You see, what's involved here is that the—Basically, it's a corruption of science, and it's a corruption of the international agency whose job is to provide leadership—I'm quoting here from the WHO website—“providing leadership on global health matters, shaping the health research agenda, setting norms and standards, articulating evidence-based policy options,” and so on.

And they also say, “providing collective defence against transnational threats.” It's not clear what they mean by that, but one would think that a country that is showering defenceless victims with depleted uranium is a transnational threat.

Unfortunately, the principal disseminator of depleted uranium weapons is the United States, which has been quite clearly twisting people's arms to prevent the obvious consequences in international law. I mean, it's—these are—The invasion was a war crime. The use of these munitions is quite clearly a war crime. And so the agency that ought to be doing its job, the WHO, is part of the structure of cover-up.

JW  Well, thanks so much for talking to me this-morning, Michael.

MK  Thank you very much.

JW  I've been speaking with Michael Keefer. He's Professor Emeritus of Guelph University, and a graduate of the Royal Military College, and he joined us this-morning from Toronto.


The Case Against Backing Syria Strike: Re: “Assad is testing us, Baird warns,” Sept. 8

First published as the lead letter in the Toronto Star (11 September 2013), http://www.thestar.com/opinion/letters_to_the_editors/2013/09/10/the_case_against_backing_syria_strike.html.


External Affairs Minister John Baird's concern over the atrocities being inflicted on Syrian civilians is commendable. But he should examine the relevant evidence before throwing Canada's support behind a plan for bombing Syria that will result in the deaths of far more than the 25,000 civilians whom he imagines as the victims of the next poison gas attack.

Carla Del Ponte, of the UN Independent International Commission on Syria, stated in May that there was “strong, concrete” evidence (though not “incontrovertible proof”) that rebels—and not Assad's regime—had used nerve gas in previous attacks on civilians.

Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, an organization of former senior U.S. intelligence officers, informed President Barack Obama on September 6 that sources within U.S. intelligence “are telling us, categorically, that ... Bashar al-Assad was NOT responsible for the chemical incident” of August 21, that this incident “was not the result of an attack by the Syrian army,” and that CIA Director John Brennan “is perpetrating a pre-Iraq-War-type fraud on members of Congress, the media, the public—and perhaps even you.”

They add that there is “a growing body of evidence,” mostly from sources “affiliated with the Syrian opposition,” that this incident was “a pre-planned provocation by the Syrian opposition and its Saudi and Turkish supporters” intended to “bring the United States into the war.”

Contrary to Baird's belief, it is not Assad but Obama who is testing us. Obama wonders whether we have forgotten the lies about WMDs that legitimized the invasion of Iraq in 2003—as well as the principles enunciated at the Nuremberg trials, according to which aggressive war “is the supreme international crime, differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.”

Michael Keefer, 
Professor Emeritus, University of Guelph, 



I sent this letter to the Toronto Star on September 8, 2013, and with it all of my relevant contact information. Two days later, having received no acknowledgment, I sent my letter in a second time, accompanied this time by a note pointing out that it had raised matters not just of opinion, but of quite crucial evidence and of international law, and indicating that I thought the newspaper's Atkinson Principles (which are stated on the Star's website) implied respect for issues such as these.

Shortly after noon on September 11, I received from Kathy English, the Star's Public Editor, a boiler-plate expression of regret. After explaining that the paper “receives many many letters to the editor from readers expressing their views on news and issues of the day” and publishes more than a dozen of these on any given day, but doesn't make a practice of contacting people whose letters are not chosen for publication, Ms. English thanked me “for taking time to express our [sic] views.”

I replied, thanking her for the information, but noting that the point was now moot, since my letter had appeared in print that morning. I added: “May I take the small typo in your last sentence as a Freudian slip, an acknowledgment that 'our views' on the so-far narrowly averted US bombing of Syria are the same?” To which she responded:

“I'm sorry I did not see that your letter was indeed published. A typo, indeed!”