Paul Weinberg

Paul Weinberg lives in Toronto. He is a freelance writer and Canadian correspondent for Inter Press Services. He also writes for NOW Weekly.

Jul 222013

Toronto progressives struggle for focus in the face of a raging civil war.

by Paul Weinberg

What should we be doing about Syria? Admittedly, it’s a difficult question — so much so that the moderator is berating the two panelists at the July 12 meeting at Beit Zatoun on Markham for failing to offer anything beyond their sharp differences. The moderator's frustration might be because one speaker has mounted a bizarre defence of Bashar al-Assad, which can only be attributed to his membership in the Communist Party, whose positions are in lockstep with Russia’s.

The other participant, Ali Mustafa, a Torongo freelance journalist of mixed Portuguese and Egyptian background and explicitly pro-rebel, albeit with reservations, is less of a propagandist and more informative. He shares observations from a recent trip to the rebel-held city of Aleppo, site of some of the biggest battles in the civil war.

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Mar 082013
The musical ride.

RCMP files show Liberal government regarded criticism as potential subversion.

by Paul Weinberg

“Surreal and creepy” is how Mark Starowicz describes RCMP files released last summer that depict long-forgotten conversations he and fellow young journalists held at an editorial meeting of the small muckraking magazine, the Last Post, in June 1971.

The creator of As It Happens and other CBC shows who is currently the public broadcaster’s head of documentaries, appears to be in the same peculiar company as Walter Gordon, Northrop Frye, Tommy Douglas and other redoubtable Canadians who have been targeted by the RCMP Security Service (the precursor to today’s CSIS) in the 1960s and '70s, for their alleged subversive activity.

“I am not surprised first of all [by the RCMP’s surveillance of the Last Post], just because of what we know about the context of the times [early 1970s in Canada]. I mean the scale of what [the Mounties] did. I mean, it all came out in the McDonald Commission. Look at the Canadian Encyclopaedia [about the Security Service]. You have to pull your hair all over again.”

One RCMP file says, "it is felt that given the opportunity to embarrass the Government on any issue, the persons employed by it would do so. This is where the concern of the Security Service lies with the Last Post.

Starowicz is referring to a royal commission that then-Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau established in the face of credible reports of illegal RCMP Security Service activity – the so-called “dirty tricks,” which included the theft of the Parti Quebecois membership list, the burning of a barn and the break in at a left-wing news agency in Montreal.

The Security Service’s modest 22 pages on the Last Post (embedded in full below) are part of a larger package of documents and memos, ominously titled “the Penetration of Canada,” released from Library and Archives Canada (also known informally as the National Archives) as part of an Access to Information request.

But it wasn’t just the left-wing slant of the Last Post that seemed to disturb HC Draper, assistant commissioner and deputy director general (operations) at the RCMP Security Service back then. Before holding that position, “Howie Draper" was “the main voice on investigations involving subversion,” says one of his former colleagues in the SS.

In a June 12, 1973 memo, marked “secret,” part of the RCMP’s Last Post files, Draper wrote the following to AF Hart, the under secretary of state for External Affairs: “Although the Last Post is not of major significance to the Security Service, it is felt that given the opportunity to embarrass the Government on any issue, the persons employed by it would do so. This is where the concern of the Security Service lies with the Last Post.

Draper’s remarks raise the unanswerable question as to whether other high profile and lively journalists in larger media outlets may have been similarly targeted for surveillance, says other Last Post alumnus, Robert Chodos (currently the managing editor of Inroads Magazine). “The impression one gets from these files is that they regarded critical journalism as subversion.”

Started in 1969 by young journalists, the Last Post lasted about ten years as an independent magazine, and at its height had about 15,000 subscribers.

“The Last Post did not have a political line as such. It was generally left-wing and critical of corporations and the government. But there were some articles that were favourable to the NDP. We even ran articles that were favourable to the government — one, I remember, was the Competition Act that the Trudeau government brought in,” says Chodos.

Two issues of the Last Post in particular garnered a lot of attention. One was a special edition devoted to the machinations – government and police – behind the Trudeau government’s proclamation of the War Measures Act in Quebec following two FLQ kidnappings – which led to the suspension of civil liberties and 500 arrests.

“A lot of the insight and information on the War Measures Act were from people in the press, in the press gallery and the Quebec papers [where] there was a muzzle on,” Starowicz recalls.

But the focus of the released Security Service files on the Last Post was on the other big story for the magazine – the leaking of excerpts of a report by renegade researchers on a committee studying poverty. “Telling the chairman of the Senate Committee on Poverty, David Croll to get stuffed was only an incidental but necessary act…” reads the resounding headline of the front cover of the summer 1971 issue of the magazine.

Novelist and journalist Ian Adams recalls his revealing magazine articles on the poor in Canada and his book, The Poverty Wall, got him the research gig on Senator Croll’s committee. He relates that he and another writer, the late Bill Cameron, as well as two economists, later bolted from the committee because they felt that the Liberal senator was keen on watering down their call for a comprehensive guaranteed annual income just as the ruling Liberals faced a difficult 1972 federal election.

“Crowe tried to get Cameron and I to rewrite the report, to take out all of the stuff about negative income tax rates, guaranteed annual income and what kind of support people needed in various regions of the country, all of the real nuts and bolts of how to do it. They were terrified of losing votes by suggesting there should be a national standard for a minimum wage,” says Adams. (The Real Poverty Report ended up as a best selling book for Mel Hurtig’s Edmonton based publisher, he notes, coming out months before Croll’s was available for public consumption.)

Emerging from the professionalism of Maclean’s magazine, but also a bit of a leftie outlier in the media, Adams was surprisingly unimpressed by the Last Post. “I thought it was very fly-by-night, but the media loved [the issue on the Real Poverty Report]. They made a huge deal out of it.”

Adams’ name also pops up briefly in the anonymous RCMP investigator’s detailed account of the Last Post’s June 1, 1971 negotiations with the renegade researchers and the costs involved in publishing their excerpts.

But it is the comments of Starowicz that were closely scrutinized by the Mountie in the same memo. “Starowicz reaction and comment concerning the hint of Marxism in the Last Post are of particular interest….It is the first instance that he actually indicated what the theoretical position of the Last Post is and indicated a more radical left alignment.”

Today, such comments help reinforce the point made by a number of academics and journalists on the RCMP including Starowicz that the Security Service, made up of high school graduates at the time, was not especially well schooled on political theory and the different permutations of the left. “Last Post was not Marxist; it was intended to be fairly mainstream,” says Starowicz.

Robert Chodos expresses in retrospect his surprise at the level of detail in the Security Service files about the Last Post and extent of the surveillance over a three year period. “The other question that sort of came to my mind was — how were they getting this information? I can’t think of anybody privy to that information who likely would have been the source for the RCMP.”

The notion of a police agent mixing with among a group of Last Post journalists who were and are friends today is quite disturbing for Chodos, but he says “I don't want to get paranoid.”

Starowicz argues that the RCMP Security Service more likely used sophisticated electronic surveillance equipment to tape the Last Post editorial meetings. “It could have been bugged. If anybody was taking notes about the meetings of the poverty report he must have been taking them awfully quickly,” he says.

But historian and security expert Steve Hewitt has his doubts, maintaining the informant thesis is more plausible for the Security Service in the early 70s.

“Technical surveillance was rarely used because it was expensive, involved considerable human resources, [and] often would require physical access to the property and a warrant. The Mounties would have had to have known in advance where meetings were occurring in order to plant microphones, and how likely is that?”

A former RCMP officer who requested anonymity agrees, adding that the Security Service in the 1970s preferred to interview “cooperative” individuals at targeted organizations, versus planting an officer inside them.

“The Service was expected to keep informed and was expected to answer questions raised by other parts of the government, especially if there was any security concerns raised through the Sol. Gen. Office [Solicitor General’s Office in Ottawa]. So, I am not surprised that they would have knowledge of the Last Post and in fact I would be surprised if they did not have.”

The other aspect of the Security Service’s files on the Last Post which stand out is the innuendo and suspicion that appear in the memos exchanged by members of the force at various levels of responsibility. They followed Robert Chodos’ formal request by letter in 1973 to speak to the head of the Crisis Management Centre at the department of External Affairs within the federal government.

One unnamed investigator in “D Ops” (which security expert and University of Victoria political scientist Reg Whitaker explains was a Security Service operation engaged in counter subversion efforts in both Quebec and across Canada) discusses in a May 11, 1973 memo, certain conversations about Chodos’ inquiry with various people within the Crisis Management Centre. “There was some possible involvement by the Soviets with certain members of the Last Post. However I told him [a certain Colonel Sutherland] I could not elaborate further on this particular point.”

A Security Service memo dated May 9, 1973 demonstrates that the force knew quite a bit about Chodos.

“Chodos went to Ottawa, on the overnight train, on 25-A-73, where he intended to spend a few days finishing the research for his book on the CPR. From Ottawa he planned to travel to St John’s Newfoundland, via Montreal it is believed, where he planned to stay with friends (unidentified) until the end of May 1973, to begin writing his book….[redacted]..Chodos has received an Ontario Arts Council grant to help finance his book.”

Chodos has no memory of his ultimately fruitless search for the Crisis Management Centre four decades ago. As a reporter for the Last Post magazine – making $100 a week at times – he wrote countless letters to many federal departments in Ottawa in his search for stories.

“They knew what we said at meetings, where we were going and yet they really didn't understand it at all, in terms of what we were actually doing. They put it in their own context which had nothing to do with our own context. I think [the investigators] started out with the assumption that we were some kind of conspiracy and they attributed everything as evidence of that conspiracy.”

As an aside, Whitaker has some explanation for why alarm bells were set off at Security Service when Chodos innocently arrived on the scene. For one thing, the crisis management centre was not at External Affairs. Instead, the historian says, the Trudeau government had established “an operations centre” in that department because of a fear (later shown to be unfounded) that the FLQ kidnappers had ties to foreign terrorists. “It acted as the nerve centre of the October 1970 Crisis response in Ottawa.”

Meanwhile, it is possible more hidden RCMP files on the Last Post can be retrieved from the National Archives. One former Last Post manager, Drummond Burgess, says he may pursue an Access to Information request to determine if that is case. This is not an easy task, because he has to know the name of the documents where these files are kept or hidden. Another former staffer, who doesn't want his name used, worries about a “violation” of his privacy and civil rights if more files on personal conversations held 40 years ago by people still alive are released.

And if one small letter by Robert Chodos generated so many RCMP memos, then it may be the case that higher profile investigative journalists, like Ron Haggart, might have also been targeted. Asks Starowicz: “How far did [the surveillance] go?”

Finally, with new revelations coming out every day about the number of people investigated by the Security Service, courtesy of newly accessed files from the archives, one wonders where the Mounties found the resources to do this kind of intrusive work. One former Security Service officer estimates there were only several hundred people employed in the organization at its height.

Historian Steve Hewitt, a Canadian teaching at the University of Birmingham in the UK, has stated that the Security Service approached its investigation with considerable zeal to justify its existence — and maybe with a lot of little understood assistance.

“The thing that stands out for me is the prevalence of informers (sometimes multiple ones) as the sources of information in reports [for the RCMP],” says Hewitt, who specializes in archival research on the force’s security and intelligence activities and is the author of Snitch!: a History of the Modern Intelligence Informer.


Feb 142013

Despite obfuscations, RCAF says Canada still hot on armed drones

by Paul Weinberg

While the publication last week of a US Justice Department memo has triggered the first major debate on drones south of the border, it’s also likely to cast a long shadow over Canadian military affairs.

The document obtained by NBC attempts to establish the rules of the game for the US’s targeted assassinations in Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen.  It asserts that threats to US interests do not have to be immediate to justify attacks, and that US citizens associated with al Qaeda are not immune.

Rideau Institute, which has just launched a petition and public education campaign aimed at scuttling the idea of armed drones in Canada’s arsenal.

Now get ready for all the questions now being raised about the legality of such missions to start migrating north, as the Harper government decides how to acquire armed drones under the Department of National Defence’s Joint Uninhabited Surveillance and Target Acquisition System (JUSTAS).

While the reported $1 billion program is way behind schedule, it’s being closely monitored by the Ottawa-based Rideau Institute, which has just launched a petition and public education campaign aimed at scuttling the idea of armed drones in Canada’s arsenal.

Although a year ago, then-associate defence minister Julian Fantino dismissed reports that Canada might acquire such vehicles as “mere speculation,” RCAF spokesperson Holly-Anne Brown confirmed to this reporter that the force is still on track for the purchases.

The program, she says, is “primarily” about giving Canadian Forces more scope in terms of “intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.” (DND has announced the use of smaller unmanned, unarmed craft for Arctic patrols.)

As to larger versions like the Reaper or Predator, capable of carrying weighty “precision-guided munitions,” she says this represents “a secondary” function “in support of deployed operations.

Future developments in unmanned aerial tech could make the controversial F-35 stealth jet fighter the Tories have put on hold due to ballooning costs obsolete.

“[JUSTAS] will contribute to equipping the Canadian Forces with the tools they need to be a modern, multi-role force taking on the challenges of the 21st century,” adds Brown, who refuses to be pinned down on a deadline.

The nature of those challenges is, however, not being mapped out. The US and Israel are the only countries employing these weapons at present, according to defence organization Global Security. Meanwhile, those working to minimize global conflict fear unmanned vehicles encourage participation in wars because their use means far fewer military casualties and hence less anti-war backlash on the home front.

“We would be making all of the same mistakes the Americans are making,” says the Rideau’s Steven Staples, pointing to the number of civilians inadvertantly killed by these supposedly precise weapons. (The Bureau of Investigative Journalism estimates about 500 to 900 civilians have been killed by drones in Pakistan alone since 2004).

At York University, Michael Skinner, a researcher at the Centre for International and Security Studies, points out that the future of aerial war lies with remote-controlled supersonic jet fighters that can get in and out of tricky combat situations. He also suggests that future developments in unmanned aerial tech could make the controversial F-35 stealth jet fighter the Tories have put on hold due to ballooning costs “obsolete.”

“Once the government starts using the [current] armed drones, it will be easier to sell the buying of the next generation of unmanned aerial vehicles, which could be in operation in five years” and will be programmed to fire without the assistance of a human operator at base.

“Politically, governments don’t want to talk about it. You are talking about robotic warfare. That is politically volatile,” he says.

Even the more capable drones like the MQ-9 Reaper carry roughly one-ninth to one-fourth of the payload of a manned jet fighter like the F-16.

At the Washington-based Center for Defence Information, Winslow Wheeler doubts there will be any move to replace piloted aircraft with drones in the foreseeable future. Even the more capable drones like the MQ-9 Reaper, he says, carry roughly one-ninth to one-fourth of the payload of a manned jet fighter like the F-16.

And the Reaper costs about $120 million US, compared to about $55 million for a F-16 jet fighter. “There surely is a future for unmanned systems, but only for those uses where they are effective, survivable and affordable. We are clearly not there yet,” Wheeler tells NOW.

“As an assassination device, drones have the advantage of seemingly holding the perpetrator harmless and politically safe, but it is not clear how long that will last. This story has a long way to go,” he says.

Certainly, the political questions have begun. Queen’s University defence analyst Christian Leuprecht thinks the delay in the JUSTAS program can be partly attributed to the fact that our country is a signatory to the Geneva Convention.

“Canada is likely wrestling with its interpretation of international law,” he says. “We might take part in [US-led] missions, but it is entirely possible that the terms of engagement for Canadians with regard to unmanned aerial vehicles are going to be different.”

Feb 042013
Phil Berger.

New amalgamated group replaced Canadian Jewish Congress two years ago.

by Paul Weinberg

TORONTO, Feb 4 2013 (IPS) — Canada’s major Israel lobby organisation is running into conflict with critics who say it is betraying the historical liberal legacy of this country’s 380,000-member Jewish community.

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Nov 222012
The Harper government is investing billions of dollars in new military hardware.

Harper tells DND to cut 2.5 billion dollars from its 22.8-billion-dollar budget.

by Paul Weinberg

TORONTO, November 21 2012 (IPS) — Canada’s military buying binge under the current Conservative government has hit a financial brick wall in these austere times, but there is no nostalgic return in sight for Ottawa’s once robust participation in United Nations-led peacekeeping missions.

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Nov 112012
Cdn Coast Guard boarding operation

Canada's Coast Guard ships carry US Coast Guard drug hunters.

by Paul Weinberg

Is Canada on the wrong side in the dust-up between the US and Latin America over the future of the four-decades-old so-called war on drugs? In a late September meeting that didn’t get much press, the presidents of Guatemala, Colombia and Mexico, addressed the United Nations, calling for alternatives to the military assault on drug cartels that has done little to end the violence. Yet the US war on drugs continues.

And where does Canada stand on attempts to reframe the drug issue? The answer appears to be we’re getting deeper into the war by the year.

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Oct 152012

Harper’s suprise embassy closure helps Netanyahu, hurts Obama.

by Paul Weinberg

Canada garnered brief international attention for closing its Tehran embassy just as war talk swirls around Iran, in the weeks before the November US presidential election.

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Oct 062012

Organizers decline opportunity to promote Iranian pro-democracy movement.

by  Paul Weinberg,

An international debate about whether protests against an attack on Iran should also embrace the Iranian pro-democracy movement arrived in Toronto just in time for Saturday’s (October 6) anti-war’s rally at Queen’s Park in Toronto and may reflect similar debates elsewhere.

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Sep 022012

Toronto partisans of Syrian democracy are struggling to find their own common ground.

by Paul Weinberg

As the last of the UN monitors leave Syria in despair, Toronto partisans of Syrian democracy are struggling to find their own common ground.

The morphing of the 17-month uprising from civil disobedience to civil war hasn’t been easy for those favouring Egyptian —  rather than Libyan — style regime change. And that’s put activists on dramatically different pages when it comes to assessing the meaning and consequences of the Free Syrian Army.


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Jul 232012

Pulitzer-prize winning journalist warns of US economic "sacrifice zones".

Through his signature owlish metal-rimmed glasses, former foreign correspondent and Pulitzer Prize winner Chris Hedges surveys a packed hall of rapt listeners at U of T's Innis Town Hall.

He's just been asked what activists ought to do following the apparent dissipation of the Occupy uprising. "I am not going tell people what to do,'' he says. "I just tell what I do."

Hedges is being modest, of course. The "minister pretending to be a journalist," as some have called him, is probably the most-read movement commentator in North America these days on all matters of protest against privilege and power. He's already spilled thousands of words of advice to Occupy — dump the Black Bloc and keep faith with non-violence — in his weekly column at

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