Wednesday, April 18, 2007


***UPDATE -- Vaasuhan was found yesterday afternoon and returned to the Whitby Mental Health Centre. Thank God.

It could have been a plot for a movie. Wait -- it was.

Reminiscent of the film
The Dream Team, which starred Michael Keaton and Peter Boyle, a Whitby mental patient has gone missing from a 'field trip' to a baseball game. Unlike the movie, where the patients were lovable misfits, the real life missing man, Mylvaganam Vaasuhan, is a paranoid schizophrenic who is without the medication he needs to control his sexual urges.

Apparently, the 31 year old, who was found 'not criminally responsible' was put away after sexually assaulting two girls in 2001. This known pedophile 'wandered away' during the outing, and no one knows where he might have gone.

Earlier this month, the Whitby facility had trouble finding a different patient who had escaped. Yet just two weeks later, they obviously felt confident enough to actually bring a group of mental patients to a Blue Jays game.

What's that joke about the inmates running the asylum? Well, when a pedophile is involved, it isn't funny.


Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Degrees of morality at the War Museum

Don Martin wrote again about the Royal Canadian Legion's fight against one of the exhibits at the Canadian War Museum. Martin is of the opinion that Vets are wrong to object to the wording of the contentious "An Enduring Controversy" display. Needless to say I think he's wrong as usual.

The exhibit in question attempts to give perspective and background to the role of Bomber Command and the air war prior to D-Day. This quote from the War Museum backgrounder is meant to set out the museum's position that they have handled this exhibition respectfully and accurately:
The panel states, essentially, that the morality and value of the Allies' strategic bombing campaign continues to be the subject of intense debate, that the raids achieved a high level of physical destruction throughout Germany, and that they failed to reduce substantially German war production until the later months of the war.
While arguing that this display is balanced because the Museum is simply reflecting the reality that the 'morality' and 'value' of the raids are debatable, they present as FACT that the raids were largely ineffective. If the value of the raids is subject to 'intense debate' why are they saying unequivocally that the raids were largely a failure? If the backgrounder is an accurate telling of what the display holds, a visitor might well come away believing not that the raids were 'controversial' but that they were IN FACT ineffective because that's what the display says. And yet we're told it's a point for debate . . . obviously it's a debate in which the CWM has decided to draw the correct conclusion for us.

Does it really shock them that the Veterans would take issue with such a poorly constructed idea?

Now, if the raids were ineffective, but caused 'large-scale physical destruction' of Germany -- it doesn't take a huge leap to realize that it is being broadly hinted that the raids were also 'immoral'. Such pervasive, continuous, long-term devastation resulted -- and yet without fulfilling any significant military goals. The question becomes why did they keep doing it if it didn't have value to the war effort? Weighed against the civilian death toll, what's a bunch of ineffective destruction?

Where's the debate?

Where's the side that says that the bombing drew resources and attention away from other battles and fronts and perhaps saved hundreds of thousands of allied soldiers and civilians because of weapons never built and shipments that never reached their destinations. Where is the side that says that had the Allies not persisted in bombing, D-Day might never have been possible because the Germans would likely been able to hold the Allies off using the resources that would not have been destroyed in the raids? Apparently that's there. Sort of. The backgrounder doesn't give details, but it says:
The display presents an important episode in Canadian military history, some strategic perspective, relevant military details, and personal testimonies. These individual elements combine to give visitors a clear sense of the historical importance and continuing relevance of Canadian contributions to the air war.
If the display is as limited in its perspective as the backgrounder suggests, it has not presented a debate. It has stated that there is debate, and then it has pronounced its own version of truth.

But what really must irk the veterans is the suggestion that their actions were immoral. IMMORAL. That there's even a debate about this is an insult.

Don Martin thinks not -- he says:

The veterans went to great lengths to decipher defamatory meanings in seemingly innocuous words, argue the exhibit paints them as war criminals and insist it shows more empathy for civilian deaths than their casualties. (...) Unfortunately, despite being a class-act crowd, the veterans did not change my mind.
Is it really that hard to understand that it isn't the facts that are the main point of contention?

Questioning the morality of the participants is what has drawn their ire. It isn't just the morality of the mission the CWM is challenging -- which would be bad enough -- it is the morality of those airmen who obeyed orders as part of the bombing campaign. It stands to reason that if the raids were immoral, then so were its perpetrators -- and we've already established the CWM understanding of 'debate'. Following orders is not an excuse for immoral behaviour in the military. If the raids were immoral, we must conclude that so were our fliers. Maybe. But because we don't know for sure, that means the display is balanced.

How can we place modern day value judgments on the air raids of WWII? How can we make judgments at all without viewing the war in its totality, and purging ourselves of the knee-jerk anti-war sentiments that have coloured our perspective of all of our military history? The CWM insists:

This (display) cannot be done selectively, by ignoring difficult subjects.
It is one thing to say that 'today, we would not use these tactics' but the emphasis has to be on the fact that in those times, in those circumstances, those raids were not immoral. Context is essential, and although the backgrounder says it provides context and lauds the sacrifices of our servicemen, it's a backhanded commendation when this display has as its focus and first comments, the dubious morality of the events. The subject matter is not difficult --- the slant is.

The concentration camps were immoral.
The starvation and execution of our POWs at the hands of the Germans was immoral.

Those who run the War Museum might contend that they are not equating our fliers with the people who perpetrated those atrocities -- but then, what degree of immorality would they attribute to our airmen and their mission?

Germans have acknowledged and apologized for the events of the holocaust, but never have they questioned the morality of their war tactics against Britain. They have never hinted at regret about our POWs. We're not talking here of one-sided, wanton murder -- this was WAR!! Is there anything moral about war? If you've answered no, then get off the idea that these men are somehow deserving of this kind of particular and negative scrutiny in the morality department.

The backgrounder goes on to say:

In part as a result of public comments and suggestions, including consultations with veterans of the air war, the CWM subsequently added material defining the term "strategic bombing" itself and explaining the military-political context in which its use became commonplace. We also added the three first-person quotations mentioned above, additional material on the German resources drained from other fronts by the Allied air campaign, and a photograph of a massive German flak (anti-aircraft) tower. (...) Nowhere in this approach, and certainly not in any of our dialogues with veterans, does the Canadian War Museum see fundamental contradictions between presenting history as accurately as possible and remembering respectfully those whose actions in peace and war have done so much to shape this country.

To pretend that this is about historical accuracy is disingenuous. It isn't. The display would have been just as accurate without impugning the integrity, character and morality of those who served in Bomber Command. There is no other way to interpret the suggestion of immorality. It taints everything else. It is not fact, it is a value judgment -- and it is a damaging one.

Don Martin said in March:
But after five prominent historians vetted and vindicated the wording, the only quibble from one was to wonder if the agreed-upon facts were worthy of public presentation and, thus, preservation. (...) Damn right they are. This is Canada, not a place like China where history is subject to periodic revision by the ruling class to create non-persons or purge unpleasant events from the record. Our history is factual, not popular fiction.
Unpleasant truths? This isn't the Somalia scandal. What is he implying the Veterans want to purge? They don't want to destroy the record -- they want to have the facts presented without Monday-morning-quarterbacks saying they were wrong to have done what they did, because their side of the 'debate' says they weren't. Is that side presented in the display?

Martin went on to say:
Lest we forget, 10,000 crew members in Bomber Command died defending our freedom. And nobody said that excluded freedom of speech.
So clever to use their sacrifices as a weapon against them -- but where is their voice in all this 'freedom of speech'?

Those who run the War Museum politely resent their efforts being deemed 'disrespectful', so they've set up the backgrounder to set out their point of view.

Gosh, imagine how they'd feel if they were veterans and their wartime service and that of their fallen comrades, was held up as possibly 'immoral' and definitely 'without value'.
They'd probably like to see the record set straight.


Arts smarts? I think not

Writer Yann Martel is getting worldwide press about his campaign to get more federal arts funding by sending books to Stephen Harper. The first parcel Harper is scheduled to receive is "The Death of Ivan Ilyich" by Russian author Leo Tolstoy.

It's a cute idea really and has obviously garnered attention, which I guess is the point.

A couple of questions though.

If a Canadian author is trying to solicit funding from the Prime Minister of Canada, why is he using a Russian writer to do it? Aren't there examples of fine Canadian writing that might just as easily open Mr. Harper's eyes to the joys of 'art'?

And secondly, how much government funding do you figure Tolstoy received in order to complete this, or any other of his celebrated works?


Monday, April 16, 2007

Dion prefers the status quo

It's always bothered me that Quebec didn't ratify the Constitution. It feels like the whole family is gathering for a special dinner, and one member had a major issue about what was being served and his place at the table. Instead of putting off the dinner and working out the details to suit everyone -- it was prepared and served -- rushed into, despite that person's refusal to attend.

In a family, it might be necessary to proceed without all parties, time and outside obligations playing a part -- but in a nation, regardless of how rigid a demand or how unyielding the response, the dinner shouldn't have proceeded without all parties present. What was the rush to get the constitution through right then? It was a time of social and political upheaval in Quebec, and yet those at the helm were so impatient, that they adopted a nationally defining document that left out one of the elders of Confederation.

Maybe the framers relied on the idea that the ROC would see Quebec as a whiner and dissenter. They could actually grant Quebec special status within Canada, by adopting a constitution that Quebec wouldn't endorse. Those representing Quebec must have realized that so long as they remained outside the constitution, they would always have the 'distinct' status they sought, but without the constraints of working within the same boundaries that applied to the other provinces. Whatever, but the fallout from those decisions have carried through and will continue to haunt this country until something is done to heal this festering sore.

Stéphane Dion said Sunday that the Constitution should not be re-opened because:
“My view is that we have terrible challenges in Canada regarding competitiveness. The world is tough. If we want to keep our standard of living and pass on to our children a better quality of life, we need to tackle this issue. Climate change and the environment is [also] a huge issue and none of these issues that are facing us, including social justice ... request a constitutional change to deal with.”
There are plenty of things to think about besides some stupid piece of paper that we really didn't need in the first place, but were I a politician, I would think that having all of the provinces under the constitutional umbrella would be at least as important as climate change -- given that climate change is or isn't going to happen, regardless of Kyoto and carbon credits. Shouldn't we do as St. Francis prayed -- change the things we can rather than fixating on what we can't?

The constitution is an abstract to most of us. It doesn't really come into our every day lives, but doesn't it stand to reason that if our provinces were expending less energy competing with each other for federal attention, the might actually be more competitive globally?

The national unity issue comes and goes from our minds, but it is always there, simmering. It bubbles just under the surface and it affects everything the federal government does from transfer payments to awarding contracts. It causes suspicion and jealousy amongst the provinces and throughout the populace. Who amongst us hasn't felt at some point that Ottawa was pandering to Quebec or ignoring one or more of the 'lesser' provinces?

So long as Quebec remains outside the Constitution, a separate and disctinct entity within the nation, the need for Ottawa to take a special interest will remain. Dumont has opened up the possibility of Quebec ratifying the constitution. Given that under the Liberals we acknowledged Quebec's 'distinct' status, and now under the Conservatives, we have acknowledged their 'nationhood' -- why would Dion object to putting Quebec on the same footing as the rest of Canada constitutionally?

Maybe Dion likes the idea of a Quebec that stays outside the fray, a Quebec Ottawa will have to buy, a Quebec that is slightly more important than say, Alberta or Newfoundland because of it's perpetual promise to jump ship. Maybe Dion recognizes that without the Quebec card to play somewhere down the line, the Liberal hand is a loser.