Day: November 20, 2019

NATO Battle Between U.S. And France Leaves Canada Stuck In The Middle

OTTAWA — A brewing battle between the U.S. and France over the future of NATO could have major implications for Canada, which for decades has relied on the military alliance as a cornerstone of its security, protection and influence in the world.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is expected to travel to London next month where recent comments by French President Emmanuel Macron questioning the viability of the alliance threaten to overshadow a celebration of NATO’s 70th birthday.

Macron, in an interview published in the Economist magazine, warned that NATO, which was established at the start of the Cold War to protect the democracies of North America and Western Europe from the Soviet Union, was suffering from “brain death.”

Justin Trudeau, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan and Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland after participating in the NATO Summit in Belgium on July 12, 2018. 

The French president specifically cited the recent U.S. military withdrawal from northeast Syria and Turkey’s subsequent invasion of the area — both without any consultation with fellow NATO members — as examples of a breakdown in the alliance.

The stark comments came as Macron warned that Europe must stop relying exclusively on NATO — which has been historically backed by American guarantees of protection — and prepare to defend itself.

Even before Macron’s comments, there were questions over whether the U.S. under President Donald Trump would honour its historic promise to help defend another member that comes under attack given his “America First” philosophy.

Speaking to reporters Tuesday, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said he planned to speak to Macron about his comments ahead of next month’s leaders’ summit even as Stoltenberg touted the importance of the transatlantic alliance and defended its record.

Canadian forces at a ceremony to start the Rapid Trident 2019 multinational military exercise in Ukraine on Sept. 16, 2019

“NATO is the only forum that brings nations from Europe and North America together to address strategic security challenges,” he said.

“NATO remains the only guarantor of European and transatlantic security. And it is the responsibility of each of us to maintain and strengthen our unity in order to ensure credible deterrence and defence for all of us.”

Robert Baines, president of the NATO Association of Canada, credited the alliance with having maintained decades of relative peace and security in North America and Europe since the Second World War.

It is also through NATO that Canada is most active militarily today, with hundreds of Forces’ members deployed on NATO operations in Iraq, Latvia, Romania, and the Mediterranean, as well as hundreds more scattered throughout the alliance’s command structures.

HMCS Toronto arrives in Odessa, Ukraine after a Black Sea patrol mission on Apr. 1, 2019.

Baines, whose organization’s mandate is to raise awareness of NATO among Canadians, said he was genuinely concerned about the alliance’s future — and the possible implications for Canada.

“I am hopeful, but very worried at the same time,” he said. “We could be in this really awkward situation where we’ve got Macron’s vision of a strengthened Europe worrying about itself, the U.S. increasingly worrying about itself … and Canada left behind as America’s hat.”

Not that NATO’s dissolution would leave Canada completely unprotected; the United States is Canada’s most important military ally, with the two countries working hand-in-hand to defend North America from attacks by land, sea, air and even space.

But NATO represents an important “counterweight” to what would otherwise be an extremely lopsided Canada-U.S. defence relationship, said defence analyst David Perry of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, because the alliance works on a consensus basis.

We could be in this really awkward situation where we’ve got Macron’s vision of a strengthened Europe worrying about itself, the U.S. increasingly worrying about itself … and Canada left behind as America’s hat.Robert Baines, president of the NATO Association of Canada

It also solidifies Canada’s ties with most other western democracies, particularly at a time when the principles and values espoused by such countries appear to be under increasing threat. Together, NATO’s 29 members spend more than $1 trillion on defence each year.

“NATO is a fundamental guarantor of western democracies’ security, freedom and defence,” said Perry. “It’s a linchpin of both our — and our allies’ — security, prosperity and defence in the world.”

Canada has been criticized over the years for being among those allies not spending enough on defence, which has been a bone of contention for Trump, who wants all members to pay their fair share for collective security.

All NATO members agreed in 2014 to work towards spending two per cent of their gross domestic product on their militaries within a decade, but the federal Liberals planned to only spend 1.4 per cent of GDP by 2024-25.

While this could hurt Canada’s efforts to champion the alliance, Baines suggested it is nonetheless well-placed to bring Washington and Europe together — and that saving the organization should be a priority.

“In some ways, I think Mr. Trudeau, if he could, should try to be that ideal Canadian archetype of the peacemaker and the bridge-builder,” said Baines. “These are not things that we can allow to break NATO, these disagreements. We’ve got to find a way.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 19, 2019.

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By The Wall of Law November 20, 2019 Off

Canada’s worst violent crime problem is in Thompson, Man.

It’s the “machete kids” that worry Donnel Jonsson most. The property manager for Ashberry Place, a low-income apartment complex in Thompson, Man., has dealt with assaults, fires and even murder over the years. However, recent youth crime has him feeling unsafe, particularly along the city’s Spirit Way trail.

“Kids are going around and assaulting individuals walking the path, no reason why, they just come up to them and basically stab them or cut them across the face,” he says, pointing to a wooded section of trail below a 10-storey-high wolf mural.

This May, the city’s RCMP detachment indeed found itself investigating a stabbing spree that left five injured. In March, a machete-wielding home invader hacked a dog to death and in June, Thompson saw two stabbings and a machete attack in three days. August then saw a 30-year-old woman stabbed in the face and chest outside a downtown business. Some of those arrested were as young as 12 and many speculate the attacks were gang initiations.

INTERACTIVE: See the full ranking of Canada’s most dangerous places

For three years running, Thompson has held the unenviable position of Canada’s most violent city in Maclean’s ranking of the country’s most dangerous places. The finding is based on data from Statistics Canada’s crime severity index, which examines police data from all Canadian cities with a population over 10,000. Thompson didn’t have the worst crime problem, in general—North Battleford, Sask. had the country’s highest overall index number. But the prevalence of violent offences like sex assaults and firearms offences in the Manitoba city, along with a rise in impaired driving and some drug crimes, pushed Thompson to No. 2 on that list, as well.

Located nearly 800 kilometres north of Winnipeg, the city of 13,678 faces the same, complex issues as much larger urban centres—transient populations, inconsistent funding, addictions and homelessness—plus the deep legacy of colonization.

Mayor Colleen Smook, a veteran of the northern construction industry who still leaves her doors unlocked, is angered by the ranking. Yes, crime is a concern and the city is working to address it, she says, but she adds “those numbers don’t accurately reflect life in Thompson.”

A reproduction of a Robert Bateman wolf painting on the side of the Highland Tower in Thompson, Manitoba. (Photograph by Shannon VanRaes)

Staff Sergeant Christopher Hastie confirms members are more likely to investigate assaults involving improvised weapons—like paper cups, plastic bottles and in a recent case, an electronic tablet—than deadly weapons like firearms or knives. And he believes a greater numb­­er of common assaults are reported in Thompson than other cities, which skews crime stats upward.

“Thompson has a bad reputation, but there are some really good people here,” says Sgt. Hastie. “But it’s like anything in life, we kind of focus on the negatives more than the positives.”

Founded in 1956, after the discovery of significant nickel deposits, Thompson’s streets follow a pattern more reminiscent of a subdivision than a Roman grid. Concentric roads, bays and crescents spread out from a cluster of low-rise malls, downtown hotels and fast-food restaurants that makeup the city’s core. At the centre, wedged between drinking establishments, the public library and a gas station, is the Thompson RCMP detachment.

READ: Most Dangerous Places 2020: Overview

Nearby, groups of people—some homeless, some transient—gather early each morning to consume bootleg alcohol, then head towards the ci­­ty’s one, recently relocated, Liquor Mart before 10 a.m.—many for London Westminster Canadian Apera, a cheap sherry with 20 per cent alcohol content and a product of choice among those suffering alcohol addiction.

Evelyn Wood, 72, moved to Thompson eight years ago to be closer to her daughter, but tries to get her shopping done before the liquor store opens. “I think it’s worse now than when I first moved here,” she says while loading groceries into her car outside the Thompson Walmart. As if on cue, an intoxicated man begins screaming and thrashing at shopping carts a few metres away.

At the Thompson Homeless Shelter, co-ordinator Abbey Ogunbanwo makes jokes and smiles as he asks participants about their days. He acknowledges that shelter clients “have their moments” when it comes to public intoxication. But he emphasises that addiction and homelessness are making people vulnerable. “Violence in this city is not coming from the homeless people,” Ogunbanwo stresses. “The homeless people are the ones being attacked.”

Brenda Kirkness, a shelter client, knows exactly how vulnerable the homeless are. When asked about having her photo taken, she replies darkly: “Good idea, in case I go missing one of these days.”

Brenda Kirkness regularly uses the services of the Thompson Homeless Shelter and was the victim of a violent attack earlier this year. (Photograph by Shannon VanRaes)

This summer, Kirkness woke up in hospital after being jumped. Or at least that’s what people told her happened. The last thing she remembers is drinking with friends near the Safeway store. Not long after being released from hospital, she witnessed a man being stabbed near the shelter.

Another shelter client, Bobbie Lynn Moose, was found murdered on the edge of the city centre this October. The 29-year-old mother of two, originally from Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation, was much loved within the community; RCMP have put up a billboard asking for public assistance and have canvassed every home and apartment in the city. But so far, no arrests have been made.

Ogunbanwo says most of the stabbings were linked to what he believes is a growing transient population: “The last five or six months, we’ve had a lot of youths, a lot of teenagers, that came from other communities into Thompson and they are the ones that are actually attacking people, especially the vulnerable people.”

As the “Hub of the North” Thompson serves a regional population of 55,000. The city’s airport is the second busiest in the province and more than 40 remote communities—mostly First Nations and Northern Affairs settlements—rely on Thompson for essential services and commerce.

“Basically, we’re on the front line of the issues we’ve had in the past with First Nations and we’re trying to rectify that with reconciliation,” explains Jeff Fountain, a Thompson city councillor. “But we’re facing the fallout from all of these, some people would call it, colonial legacy issues.”

Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Inc. is a political advocacy group representing First Nation signatories to Treaties 4, 5, 6 and 10. Grand Chief Garrison Settee lives in Thompson and says the overrepresentation of Indigenous people in the criminal justice system is directly related to colonization and government policies that left a legacy of intergenerational trauma.

PHOTOS: A look at the most dangerous places in Canada

“Youth being so detached from their culture is one of the products of Indian residential schools,” says Settee. “And if they don’t have their own culture, they’ll adopt any culture—be it one of drugs or of violence. We need to introduce a culture that is positive, and their own is probably the thing they need to be reconnected with.”

Disaffected youth—as well as those in search of housing, employment, social services, medical care, education, recreation and good-times—often end up in Thompson after leaving First Nation communities, where services and infrastructure as fundamental as clean drinking water are frequently lacking. Service providers say they then risk becoming part of the city’s so-called transient population—couch surfing, staying with family or squeezing into over-capacity rentals, unable to find permanent housing. Many only plan to be in Thompson a short time, but find themselves stranded when they can’t afford a plane ticket home or when winter roads close for the season.

Staff Sgt. Hastie estimates about 90 per cent of charges laid by the Thompson detachment involve individuals from outlying communities. “It’s a means for them to escape, especially with a lot of the youth living in deplorable, third-world conditions,” says Hastie. “Coming to Thompson is definitely a step up.”

Three years ago, Thompson launched a so-called “hub” policing model, connecting social service providers with law enforcement in an effort to identify at-risk individuals and give them help. Smook says the model is working—even if it’s hard to see concrete statistical results.

“I think our problem is we have more and more people coming into town [who are in need], so that sort of takes away from the finished product,” says Smook.

Community groups like Peace and Prevention also conduct youth outreach, while Councillor Duncan Wong is pushing to establish incentives for homeowners to install surveillance cameras and security lighting.

StreetReach, a Winnipeg-based program aimed at preventing the exploitation of vulnerable youth, has operated sporadically in Thompson over the years. Although overnight youth crime went down as much as 80 per cent while StreetReach was operating in the city, Thompson hasn’t been able to secure funding for a permanent program like that of its own.

An empty sherry bottle, one with 20 per cent alcohol content and a product of choice among those suffering alcohol addiction, sits in a Thompson, Manitoba parking lot. (Photograph by Shannon VanRaes)

The city and Indigenous organizations have also pushed for establishment of a restorative justice centre in Thompson, but to no avail.

Ultimately, Mayor Smook says, the issue is one of resources needed from provincial and federal governments: more money for housing and social services on reserves; for cultural programs, restorative justice, transitional housing and crime prevention would go a long way to addressing the issues Thompson faces, she says. “It’s starting, but it’s a very slow process and we’re still waiting,” Smook adds. “Often, we get a program going and it seems to be working … and then funding dries up.”

Serena Puranen, a defence lawyer with Legal Aid Manitoba, says Thompson also desperately needs greater mental-health support for youth. “There is so much trauma that many of the people who come here have suffered and there is no adequate trauma care—we don’t have registered child therapists,” says Puranen. “You’re filling a cup that has a massive hole in the bottom of it.”

Grand Chief Settee, who notes cultural programming in Thompson is “scarce,” points to the federal government’s role in addressing social issues, not just in Thompson, but across Northern Communities. “Colonization came from the highest level of government, residential schools came from the highest level of government, and they need to invest in programs that will restore culture and identity and the language of the people,” he says. “Once that happens, they’re going to start to see a lot of people finding their way.”

Back at Thompson City Hall, the mayor states the obvious: “The city can’t do this on its own.”


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By The Wall of Law November 20, 2019 Off