Canada NOTES

Canada NOTES

December 26 1994
Canada NOTES

Canada NOTES

December 26 1994

Canada NOTES

A tortuous tale of espionage

Reform party Leader Preston Manning did not mince words. In a letter sent late last week to Prime Minister Jean Chretien, Manning took forceful aim at an investigation into the recent activities of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) by its official watchdog, the Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC). “I submit that this report is a whitewash, a coverup and a disgrace,” wrote Manning. “It disgraces those who prepared it, and it will disgrace any government that accepts it.”

In fact, given the months of controversy leading up to its release, the 225-page SIRC report contained few striking disclosures. It confirmed that a CSIS informant—whom SIRC declined to name but is known to be Grant Bristow—had infiltrated a Toronto-based neo-Nazi group, the Heritage Front. But it flatly rejected allegations that the same informant had spied for CSIS on the Reform party, the CBC and Canadian postal workers. The report acknowledged that the CSIS informant “did engage in individual acts of intimidation and harassment” against antiracist activists. But it added that he broke no laws and, in one memorable phrase, stated that the informant and his handler in CSIS “deserve our thanks” for “helping to protect Canadian

society from a cancer growing within.” Canadian Jewish leaders were angered by another of the report’s findings: that Bristow had told CSIS that one Heritage Front member wanted to kill prominent members of the Canadian Jewish Congress. Toronto police were told of the plan, but congress president Irving Abella said the information was never passed on. “We had no possibility of defending ourselves and protecting ourselves,” said Abella. “We were left to hang out to dry and that was unacceptable.”

The document contained at least one other I startling suggestion. It ¡ said that it was unable to I substantiate an allegation ° that a foreign government may have contributed up to $45,000 to the Reform party in 1988. The report declined to name the country, but Manning—who called the allegation a “red herring”—later told reporters that Reform had been “concerned about” possible South African attempts to get involved in Canadian politics in the late 1980s. Adding to that particular mystery, SIRC officials told reporters on Friday that, in fact, CSIS had looked into allegations that the unnamed country had also tried to influence the federal Liberal and Conservative parties. No evidence was found to substantiate those reports either, they said.

Safety concerns

The Canadian Transportation Safety Board issued a report sharply criticizing Transport Canada for failing to ensure that airlines meet national safety standards. The report said that in the investigations of 19 plane crashes—six of them since 1992—major deficiencies were detected, including poor pilot training and overweight cargo loads. But after problems were found, it added, further investigations were rarely carried out by Transport Canada auditors. The report also states that routine inspections by Transport Canada are seriously flawed, and cites the case of a Manitoba airline that passed inspection in June, 1993, only 18 to have a crash five months later due to poor maintenance. Transport Minister Doug Young acknowledged that there were problems with inspections and enforcement, and vowed to take swift action to address them.

Delaying tactics

With Parliament recessing on Dec. 16, the federal cabinet postponed two controversial measures. Amid reports that some Liberal MPs were balking, the government tabled its plans to reduce MPs’ lucrative pension benefits until at least February. And Justice Minister Allan Rock announced that plans to protect gays under the Canadian Human Rights Act must also wait until early next year.

A NEW APPROACH

Sheila Flnestone, the junior minister responsible for multiculturalism, announced that Ottawa will not pay compensation to organizations representing six different ethnic groups—Ukrainian, Chinese, German, Italian, Jewish and Indo-Canadian— which together are claiming more than $400 million because of past indignities suffered at the hands of the Canadian government. That marks a sharp departure from the former Conservative government, which in 1988 paid out more than $300 million to the families of JapaneseCanadians interned during the Second World War.

PARKINSON'S PROGRESS

Doctors at Halifax’s Victoria General Hospital announced expansion of a fetal-tissue transplant program that has produced significant improvement in motor control and co-ordination of patients suffering from Parkinson’s disease. Despite protests about the ethics of the program, researchers hope that the transplanting of cells from human fetuses into the brain will lead to further advances.

READING AND WRITING

A national test of 13and 16-year-olds revealed that francophones living and studying French in Ontario, New Brunswick and Manitoba are far behind other Canadian students in writing ability. The results of the reading and writing testgiven in April to 58,000 students by the Council of Ministers of Educationprompted pledges by all three provinces to try to improve francophone education. Some possibilities: more francophone school boards and changes in curriculum. The testing also showed that, overall, girls read and write better than boys.

GOING TO TRIAL

Quebec Court Judge Joel Guberman ruled that there was enough evidence to send five Montreal city police officers to trial on assault charges related to the brutal beating of Montreal taxi driver Richard Barnabe while in custody in December, 1993. Barnabe, who remains in a coma with no hope of recovery, was arrested on suspicion of breaking a church window.

BACKING DOWN

The Liberal government has bowed to the Conservative-dominated Senate and agreed to amend its contentious bill cancelling a deal reached by the former Tory government to sell Toronto’s Pearson airport to a private consortium. The principal change allows the consortium to sue the government on some issues should negotiations for compensation fail.