Gangbuster raid inches closer to Mayor’s doorstep

Any link between Thursday’s pre-dawn raid on the notorious Dixon City Bloods gang, their litany of alleged crimes, and the crack cocaine scandal that has rocked Mayor Rob Ford’s office, remains as yet unclear; although an apparent connection was insinuated by police during a news conference inside the 23 Division. For the first time police said their investigation into the high-profile slaying of Anthony Smith, who appeared in a widely-circulated photograph with Mr. Ford, forms part of Project Traveller, the codename used for the year-long investigation that had culminated in the latest Etobicoke raids. Police said around 300 charges were laid against about four dozen suspects believed to be involved in narcotics, weapons and other criminal activities. Mayor Ford has meanwhile refrained from commenting on the ongoing raids and the investigation.

Tories slam CBC over ‘secret fund’ exposure

The Conservative party called for the retraction of a CBC report on Friday, saying the CBC exposure that the Prime Minister’s Office runs a secret partisan fund is false. “All Conservative party expenses are paid by one account, controlled by the Conservative party,” the party said in a statement, adding, “All funds are properly reported to Elections Canada and audited annually.”

The spat grew following a report by the CBC on Thursday that a fund controlled by the Prime Minister’s chief of staff, and operating outside the oversight of Elections Canada, was being run by Stephen Harper’s office for partisan purposes. The report claimed that Nigel Wright, Harper’s ex-chief of staff, was running the fund at the same time he wrote a $90,172 cheque to Sen. Mike Duffy to cover wrongful expense repayment claims.

“They should retract this piece of shoddy journalism, ” demanded the PC statement.

The CBC said their story is bona fide and need not be retracted. “We stand behind the story and will be posting a follow-up later today which will include the Conservative Party’s response,” CBC spokesman Chris Ball said.

This is not the first time the PMO has been accused of shoddy transactions. In 2011, the Tories spent $48.4 million in 14 different areas, but their audited report didn’t make clear how much of that involved the expenses of the Prime Minister’s Office.

Senate payment scandal hits Harper’s doorstep

In a parliamentary democracy, buck stops at the Prime Minister’s desk. No wonder the fire ignited by the discovery of improper expenses by Senators from the Conservative denomination has hit the Prime Minister’s doorstep at last. This morning, Stephen Harper’s embattled chief of staff, Nigel Wright, resigned over his role in helping Senator Mike Duffy repay over $90,000 of improper Senate expenses.

Harper’s longtime political confidant – and political secretary since 2008 – Ray Novak has been named as Wright’s replacement.

The PM will be out of the country when the parliament sits on Tuesday, but the debate over the revelation that Wright wrote Duffy a personal cheque to cover a $90,000 repayment for the alleged improper Senate expenses will keep getting louder.

Opposition parties have already demanded a full investigation by the House’s ethics committee as well as the RCMP to ascertain whether the PM asked Wright to pay the money, and why?

NDP ethics critic Charlie Angus said, “Wright’s resignation still leaves a number of unanswered questions about the details of his $90,000 cheque to Duffy.This is a party and a government that is in full-fledged panic. They tossed Pamela Wallin overboard on Friday, they tossed Duffy over on Thursday; Nigel Wright was the obvious next choice.”

Angus added, “What they need to understand is that this isn’t going away. This is a scandal that is tied directly to the prime minister now and it involves very, very serious allegations.”

The PM too expressed his reaction over the Wright’s resignation saga. “I accept that Nigel believed he was acting in the public interest, but I understand the decision he has taken to resign,” Harper said, adding, “I want to thank Nigel for his tremendous contribution to our Government over the past two and a half years.”

Muslim League returns to lead Pakistan following election victory

Nawaz Sharif, who was ousted from power by General Parvez Musharrof in 1999 and exiled to Saudi Arabia, is preparing to lead Pakistan for the third time following an weekend election victory.

Initial results showed Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) has emerged as the largest party in the parliament, with three times as many seats as each of its two main rivals; Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP) of Asif Ali Zardari and the legendary cricketer Imran Khan-led Pakistan Tehriq- e- Insaf (PTI).

Although Khan’s PTI won a clear victory in Peshawar and the rest of Khyber- Pakhtunwa region in the northwest and, looked set to be the second largest party, the massive votes could not be translated into parliamentary seats under the country’s first-past-the-post electoral system.

Sharif’s PML-N, on the other hand, made a major dent in Punjab, the province where 60 per cent of voters live and where his support base is anchored.

The secular PPP – led jointly by Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and his father and the incumbent President Asif Ali Zardari – is traditionally strong in the Sindh province but lost support due to scandal, corruption and poor governance.

According to the state-run PTV, latest unofficial results showed Sharif’s PML-N leading in 118 of the 272 parliamentary seats up for grab. Although Sharif needs 137 seats for a majority, analysts say his party is likely to get 125 seats in the end and form the government with support of independent candidates and smaller rightist parties like the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam which was ahead in 11 seats, according to last count.

Buoyed by the outcome, Sharif told a jubilant crowd, “We have been given a historic opportunity to serve Pakistan and to change Pakistan. Our program is to change the fate of this country.”

The election was historic in terms of high voter turnout, despite violence resulting in closing of many polling stations and deaths of 38 people. Besides, this is the first time in Pakistan’s history since becoming independent in 1947 that an elected government has completed its tenure and another one is about to take office soon.

Courtesy: Weekly Holiday, Dhaka


Motijheel massacre spawns unintended consequences

M. Shahidul Islam in Toronto

The tears are yet to dry from the eyes of millions at home and abroad mourning the fateful Savar tragedy when another major tragedy has struck the nation.
Unlike the over 1,000 feared deaths — 819 bodies recovered till Wednesday — from the rubble of the Rana Plaza complex in Savar that collapsed on April 24 due to an alleged government-sponsored call to poor workers to work inside a wobbly edifice, the ‘Motijheel massacre’ took place under the direct command of the the government’s high command.

The alleged midnight massacre around the Shapla Chattar during the pre-dawn hours of May 6 has given birth to a number of new scenarios and consequences. Hefajat leaders are preparing a lawsuit in the International Criminal Court (ICC) against the Prime Minister and her cohorts while threat of revenge has been uttered by responsible leaders of Hefajat-i-Islam Bangladesh (HIB) from within.

HRW pre-warning

Human rights watchers across the world have already begun to conclude that an unprecedented atrocities by over 10,000 strong police and paramilitary forces has caused over 2,000 deaths and injured another 2500 Hefajat activists who were either on sleep, or on prayers following an exhausting day of protests on May 5 when reportedly over 3 millions of HIB followers gathered in Dhaka to attend their pre-scheduled congregation. For weeks before what now seems to have turned into the most horrific incident of mayhem in Bangladesh’s history since the March 25, 1971 crackdown on unarmed civilians by the Pakistan Army, speculations were rife about what was about to befall the nation.

Depending on reports of various diplomatic missions in Bangladesh that armed ruling party thugs would descend on Dhaka that day in great number to create mayhem, the Human Rights Watch (HRW) warned on May 3, “With new protests planned in the coming days, the Bangladeshi government should ensure that the security forces immediately end their practice of using excessive force against protesters. The government should appoint an independent commission to investigate the deaths of dozens of protesters, including children, since began in February, and, prosecute anyone responsible for unlawful killings and use of force.”

The HRW pre-warning was based on intelligence reports from some diplomatic missions that the government had planned a major crackdown on unarmed Hefajat protesters to silence their agitations forever, it was learnt.

Independent report

What exactly happened that night may be a subject of debate and introspection for months and years to come, but the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), an independent rights watchdog, summed up the massacre in its initial report on May 6 that reads:

“News reports from Bangladesh allege that a series of attacks on demonstrators have taken place, at around 3am today, May 6, 2013. The extent of the injuries and death is difficult to be ascertained at the moment. The Daily Star, a Bangladeshi newspaper, gave the figure of deaths as 5. However, several internet reports have mentioned that the number of deaths could be as high as 2,500 or more. Pictures of dead bodies have also been distributed over the internet. Major news channels in Bangladesh have been silenced. Two private television channels that were showing live pictures of the attacks upon the demonstrators were immediately closed down. All forms of public gatherings, rallies and protests have been prohibited until the midnight of May 6.

It is widely believed that the post- and pre-massacre measures — such as imposing section 144 and the cutting off electricity supply around Motijheel prior to the massacre — were designed to perpetrate the killings and transport and hide dead bodies from the spot beyond public or media watch.

HIB version

The Holiday had the opportunity to talk to one of the senior HIB leaders on condition that his identity would not be revealed. He has confirmed that the initial estimate by the HIB’s media cell about the number of deaths from the pre-dawn crackdown in Motijheel was about 1,000; a figure officially confirmed by Ahlullah Wassel, chief of the HIB’s media cell. “As reports of more deaths and injuries poured in, the estimated death now stands at 2300 and the number of injured at 2900 (as of midnight, May 7, 2013)”, said the HIB leader.

This correspondent was then referred to what the HIB leader said HIB’s Chief Security Adviser (CSA), and, whose antecedent was revealed as a former officer of the Bangladesh armed forces. Upon contact, the CSA sought an assurance from this correspondence that his phone number would not be revealed and his name would remain anonymous. Agreed, the CSA said his outfit (HIB) has had some prior information about a likely government crackdown, but not to the extent it had happened.

“Our people were first blocked from entering Dhaka in the outskirts and, prior to that, transports were made unavailable in many districts by government-instigated strikes called by transport owners. But half of our estimated three million people were already in Dhaka and its outskirts by May 3. As people started moving towards the venue after Shapla Chottor was allocated in late noon, police blocked their way in eight places in and around Motijheel, pitting our activists to engage in a showdown with the police in which so much of teargas were lobbed that the victims were compelled to create fire on the street to neutralize tear gas impact.”

These are fires being portrayed by the government as the acts of arson and vandalism committed by HIB activists and for which ruling party leader Syed Ashraf declared that, “They (Hefajat) would never be allowed to come to Dhaka. We’ll not allow them to come out of their houses either.”

When response was sought from the CSA about Syed Ashraf’s threats, the CSA said, “Our top leaders have had a policy not to indulge in any violence but that policy has now changed.Asked why, the CSA broke into tears and said, “As a soldier, I will take revenge of my innocent brothers’ deaths, at any cost. We will not respond with bricks and stones anymore.”

ICC lawsuit underway

This correspondence was told that the HIB has begun to form committees abroad after this massacre and a competent lawyer has been hired to prepare a lawsuit against Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her accessories (under-command) in the International Criminal Court (ICC) for mass killings and crimes against humanity by relentlessly ordering slaughtering of unarmed HIB and other opposition protesters.

When contacted, the lawyer too requested anonymity and said he is working on such a lawsuit and specific evidence are being received which seems convincing to him. He said the lawsuit will be initiated pursuant to Article 2 of the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (CPPCG), and, all other relevant laws and treaties that followed since.

He added, “We seem to have a strong case as the definition of genocide is now wide and encompasses murder by a government of people due to their national, ethnic, racial, or religious group membership.”

The lawyer further said, “Since February 28, nearly 3,000 unarmed protesters have been killed by Bangladesh security forces, of which over 100 deaths occurred within 48 hours on March 1-2. Now that thousands more have been slaughtered within two hours on May 6, these crimes fall under the definition of genocide and the Bangladesh government stands accused of violating all the international treaties relating to human rights. It’s time this madness is censored by the global community.”

UN and the USA

Meanwhile, the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon, has voiced his concern over the ongoing killing of unarmed protesters in Bangladesh and requested the government to sit with religious and political leaders while the US Ambassador to Dhaka, Dan Mozena, has cautioned that all groups and individuals have rights to protest; insinuating that the use of brute force against unarmed protesters constitutes violations of domestic and international laws.

As the global outcry gets louder, these unintended consequences come at a time when the nation remains ungovernable due to incessant strikes and violent agitations and the government’s undeterred intent to kill as many unarmed people as needed to cling onto power indefinitely. Bangladesh also seems to be having a tryst with the destiny as it struggles to decide whether to live with democracy by accommodating all shades of opinions, or allow a virtual one-party rule to decide the fate of its 165 million people. Time for that decision is now or never.

Hugo Chavez passes away

Following prolonged battle with cancer, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has succumbed to his illness, according to the country’s vice president. The 58 years old revolutionary is a former military officer who’s recently returned to Venezuela after undergoing a complicated cancer surgery and more than two months of treatment in Cuba.

Born on July 28, 1954, Chavez hailed from a working class family of schoolteachers. He was raised by his grandmother. After joining the army, Chavez turned himself into a leftist and socialist ideologue during his military service.

A failed coup attempt in 1992 landed him in prison. But the relentless and intrepid crusader managed grass root support and established the Fifth Republic Movement, a political party which made him an elected president in 1998.

Venezuelans and the world will remember him for his sweeping constitutional reforms, control of natural resources and the popularity of his political outfit, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela.

Two new are codes introduced for GTA phone users

Faced with increased demands from phone users, service providers have introduced two new area codes for the GTA residents.

Starting from March 25, Toronto are will get 437 area code in addition to existing 416 and 647. The surrounding region currently served by 905 and 289 will get 365 as additional area code.

“Increasing demand for telephone numbers, particularly for wireless devices, has created the need for additional numbers to serve customers in these regions,” said a press release of the Telecommunications Alliance, an association of the service providers.

Wynne becomes first female, and lesbian, premier of Ontario

After three breath-taking ballots and an intense horse trading, former education minister Kathleen Wynne (above) has won the race to become the new Ontario Liberal party leader. She will replace Premier Dalton McGuinty who had announced his surprise resignation in October and prorogued the parliament, virtually throwing the business of governance into a state of uncertainty.

The 59 year old daughter of a physician, Wynne is a Harvard graduate who will now become the province’s first female premier. She is also a self-confessed lesbian.

Initially trailing behind former cabinet minister Sandra pupatello in the first and second ballot, Wynne won the leadership race with 1,150 votes after three other contestants – Eric Hoskins, Charles Sousa and Gerard Kennedy, all of whom ran and lost the 1996 leadership campaign to Dalton McGuinty – backed Wynne.

In the run up to the election Wynne said she would work hard to ensure social justice, to revive the sagging economy and to strengthen the agricultural output of the province.

Ford wins appeal, loses moral high ground

As the clock struck the 10.30 AM mark on a frosty Friday morning, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford (above) received the best news of his lifetime. A Dvisional Court of Appeal issued a verdict in his favour, saying the embattled- and somewhat disgraced – Mayor of Toronto can keep his job. The ‘politically correct’ decision overturned what seemed as a ‘legally correct ruling’ in November of the Superior Court of Ontario that had ordered Ford’s removal from office. Many legal experts believe, the appeal court’s decision to reinstate Ford in his job may have put to rest for now a tumultuos period in the city’s life, but its legal ramifications will keep reverberating for decades. One of them said, “The Mayor not only violated the conflict of interest codes and the campaign finance guidelines, he has been arrogant in righting the wrongs since early 2012 when the anomalies were spotted and repeated requests were made to rectify them.” (Read full story: Did Ford squander moral authority to remain as Mayor?).

Conservatives brace for poll in the spring

Tim Hudak: Aiming for the premiership

The Ontario Conservatives have been acting since the resignation in October of premier Dalton McGuinty as if an election is unavoidable in the coming spring. Now they seem to be getting more aggressive.

Tory leader Tim Hudak himself said earlier Ontario can’t afford to keep what he said the ‘high-spending Liberals’ in power.

Over the months, a series of ‘White Papers’ were issued by the party, outlining potential policy reforms that aim to privatize lotteries, casinos and liquor stores, cut the size of the civil service, and, reduce public sector pension benefits.

And, barely weeks after outlining his vision for a prosperous Ontario, Hudak has explained on Thursday how the province’s welfare system must be re-hauled.

The policy agendas are unmistakably election-centric and the agenda for welfare reform seems to be the party’s second priority following the job creation efforts through (1) significant tax cuts to spur business expansion and job growth; (2) an end to unsustainable wind and solar subsidies to make energy affordable; (3) freeing up businesses to create jobs; and, (4) empower individual workers to advance their careers by allowing a choice in union membership.

As tax cuts often implies lesser revenue in the exchequer, the Tory vision for big changes to the welfare system suggests welfare recipients be given debit-style food cards that can’t be used to buy booze or cigarettes.

While explaining the proposed changes in a 22-page White Paper, Hudak said, “They’re aimed at overhauling a system that is long-outdated and does little to encourage peoples to return to work.” He added, “These are simply ideas for discussion, not promises in the event I’m elected to the premier’s office.

The welfare reform propositions include (1) submitting all social programs to “value-for-money” audits; (2) opening up social program delivery to non-profit agencies, charities or the private sector; (3) requirement for individualized employment plans that detail the monthly activities to assess eligibility for income support; (4) rolling Ontario Works and the Ontario Disability Support Program into one agency with streamlined rules; (5) steadily declining benefits, to discourage long-term reliance on welfare cheques; (6) implementation of a “benefits-directed debit smart card system” to ensure benefits are spent on essential food items rather than other expenses.

Earlier, Hudak emphasized that the province has been trailing Canada’s average in job creation for six years and the need to spur job creation in the private sector is his party’s utmost priority. “We’ve lost 300,000 manufacturing jobs at the same time we’ve added 300,000 government bureaucrats, “ he cautioned.

Obama issues executive orders to rein in gun proliferation

In a desperate bid to rein in gun proliferation, President Barack Obama on Wednesday launched the most sweeping policy directives to curb gun violence; signing 23 executive orders which need no Congressional approval and setting aside $500 million to ensure bans of all military-styled assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines. The move comes a month after the fateful Connecticut shooting that killed 20 children. Speaking at the White House, a seemingly distraught President insisted that real actions must be taken by the lawmakers. “To make a real and lasting difference, Congress must act, and act sooner,” Obama said.

Pakistan faces collapse of government, martial law


The fate of Pakistan hangs between anarchy, or, yet another military intervention.

Faced with the fear of external aggression from India, Taliban insurgency within, and a million-strong angry zealots who’re on a non-stop picket demanding the dissolution of the entire government, the embattled Pakistani regime is gasping for a breather to survive.

Fearing constitutional crisis, a team of ministers and political leaders have struck a deal with the protesters on Thursday. The draft of the deal commits to dissolve parliament by March 16, following which election to be held in 90 days.

But the deal may face a debacle due to the dubious status of the Prime Minister who has been ordered to be arrested on corruption charges by the country’s Supreme Court a day before, and, who must sign such a deal as the country’s executive chief.

Unless a new PM is appointed, the incumbent PM’s mandate may not cover signing such a deal following the Supreme Court order for his arrest on grounds of moral turpitude.

The latest political crisis is rumoured to have been crafted by the military with help from a fiery Muslim Cleric, Muhammad Tahirul Qadri, who lives in Canada and has reportedly returned with an agenda to remove the incumbent government.
The Pakistani military has always had a dominant role in shaping the destiny of the nation since its independence from Britain in 1947.
If the deal does not go through, or, is not complied with by all stakeholders, another military intervention seems unavoidable.

Toronto student dies ‘mysterious death’ in Bangladesh

Dreams crushed: Aspirant Canadian doctor believed to have been killed by her friend

Munjerin Arabin Jerin Mir, 21, a Canadian born child of Bangladeshi parents, died a mysterious death in an alleged train-crush incident at 6.30 pm Bangladesh local time in Dhaka. Jerin was studying medicine at Dhaka’s Uttara Women Medical College and Hospital.

Jerin’s Toronto-based parents and family members sought help from the Canadian authorities to discover the background to her death which is suspected to be an act of homicide conducted by a friend, Mohiuddin Shoron, with whom the young Canadian reportedly went for a stroll around the Dhaka cantonment railway station that afternoon.

Local Bangladesh media reported that Bangladesh police are questioning Shoron while the Canadian diplomatic mission in Dhaka is in contact with the Bangladesh authrities.

Struck heavily by this tragic news, Jerin’s parents flew from Toronto on Saturday night to attend the funeral of their beloved daughter in Bangladesh.

Harper-Spence scheduled meeting hits snag

The scheduled meeting between Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence has become uncertain due to a precondition from Spence that Gov. Gen. David Johnston too must attend the meeting so that aboriginal treaty matters can be discussed.

An aboriginal media outlet quoted Spence’s spokesman Danny Metatawabin as saying: “If [Johnston] is not going to be there, Theresa is not going to the meeting.”

The GG decided not to attend the meeting due to what his office said the meeting being “a working meeting with government on public policy issues,” not a Crown-First Nations’ gathering usually attended by the GG as the Queen’s representative. Spence, on the other hand, maintains that her key demand is to discuss “treaty issues” and the presence of the GG is a must in such a meeting.

It’s not clear as yet whether the other aboriginal chiefs from across Canada will attend the meeting without Spence, if the GG does not agree to attend eventually.

The Friday meeting was scheduled after Harper agreed to meet Spence in order to stop the hunger strike she’s been observing since December 11. It was co-ordinated by Assembly of First Nations’ National Chief Shawn Atleo.

Harper relents to Spence’s demand for talks

Amidst global uproar, Prime Minister Stephen Harper agreed finally to meet next week with Chief Theresa Spence (above) of the First Nations to discuss aboriginal demands. Sources say the yet to be scheduled meeting has been brokered by the Assembly of the First Nations. Spence treated the news with joy while her colleagues and many across the nation and around the world felt relieved due to the abroriginal leader’s deteriorating health condition as she eschewed solid food since December 11, demanding to meet the Prime minister and the Governor General to discuss alleged violation of First Nations treaty obligation by the Federal government. Spence went into a hunger strike following the publication of a report by the UN that has criticized Canada for aboriginal treaty rights violation.

First Nations defy court order

Violating a court injunction that has empowered police to disperse demonstrations,a group of First Nations citizen from Sarnia, Ontario, has blockaded a CN rail track on Monday (picture above) while the Mayor said he would not order police to disperse them as long as they remain peaceful. Demonstrators said the blockade would continue until Prime Minister Harper meets with Attiwapiskat Chief Theresa Spence, who’s on a hunger strike since December 11 to draw attention to aboriginal issues. Spence demands a meeting with Harper, the governor general and First Nations leaders to discuss the treaty relationship which the Amnesty International and the UN had lately claimed to have been vitiated by the federal government.

Half of Ontario teachers on strike

It’s spreading like an epidemic. About 35,000 Ontario teachers, nearly half of the total, have joined the picket on Tuesday following Monday’s action in Hamilton and parts of northern Ontario. Seven other school boards of the province joined the picket on Tuesday. Next week, three more Ontario school boards will experience strikes at their elementary schools, according to a schedule received from the teacher’s union. Strike was observed last week in North York region following pickets in Ottawa-Carleton, Lakehead in Thunder Bay, and Hastings-Prince Edward. The one-day walkout by teachers is being affected in protest of legislation that allows the province to impose contract on teachers and prevent them from striking. Earlier, the province allowed the walkouts as long as they only last one day at a time.

Bloody Friday in Connecticut

At least 28 people, including 20 schoolchildren aged between 5-10, were murdered by a heavily armed gunman who opened fire at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, USA, on Friday. The 20-year-old gunman, Adam Lanza, has made rec0rd by commiting the worst mass murder in US history. Adam’s mother works for the school but the motive of the crime is as yet unknown.

Current account deficit soars

Canada’s current account deficit in the third quarter of 2012 grew by 2.9 percent to a near-record $18.91 billion amidst falling exports, Statistics Canada said on Thursday. The deficit was the second largest on record after the $19.43 billion posted in the third quarter of 2010.