The Daily Visionary: Monday, January 21, 2019

Former Canadian Conservative MP Maxime Bernier registers the People’s Party of Canada and raises over $220k in 48 hours

 

The Story

 

Canadian Member of Parliament (MP) and former Conservative Party leadership candidate Maxime Bernier created a new right-of-center federal political party called the People’s Party on Canada (PPC) on September 14, 2018. As of Friday, January 18, 2019 the PPC is officially registered with Elections Canada.

The fastest growing political party in Canadian history, the new party had nearly 34,000 members and constituency associations in every riding across the country complete with full boards of directors and founding meetings days before Christmas. Between Friday evening’s announcement and Sunday evening, the PPC raised over CAD $220,000 in private donations ahead of the October 2019 federal election.

In a speech given Thursday last week, Mr. Bernier outlined the failures of Confederation that are threatening the country's unity, highlighted by economic policy and consequence.  He proposed greater autonomy for the provinces in terms of taxation and delivery of education and healthcare, energy security and scrapping the carbon tax, and the end to an “equalization” transfer system between the provinces that weakens the economy instead of strengthening it.

Read the Full Speech

 

The Details

  • The PPC has nominated four candidates to date.

  • The People's Party of Canada's platform is still being finalized.

 

Background

Mr. Bernier is a libertarian who fits the “fiscally conservative, socially liberal” political archetype, which resonates most strongly with Millennials. A former businessman and lawyer, Mr. Bernier was elected to the House of Commons as Conservative Party of Canada (CPC) MP in 2006 with the largest majority outside of Alberta and appointed to Cabinet under Prime Minister Stephen Harper as Minister of Industry, Minister of Foreign Affairs, and Minister of State for Small Business and Tourism.

Mr. Bernier was re-elected for a fourth time in 2015, earning more than 59% of the vote. With nearly 49% Mr. Bernier narrowly lost his campaign to become CPC leader in May 2017 to Andrew Scheer, who then removed Mr. Bernier from the CPC shadow cabinet for publicly challenging the Party on supply management in Canada’s dairy sector.

On August 23, 2018, he left the CPC to sit as an independent MP and announced the launch of a new party. In his news conference, Mr. Bernier said, "My leader told me and every other Canadian that I don't have any influence in the party," referring to Mr. Scheer's statement that Mr. Bernier didn't speak for the Conservatives. Political tribalism drew the ire of those including CPC MP Michelle Rempel, who told reporters that Mr. Bernier had to pick a side: Scheer or Trudeau.

 

Key Quotes

What I would like to discuss with you today is how so many of our economic problems derive from the malfunctioning of our federation. Especially for you here in Atlantic Canada. And because Canadians in many regions of our country believe other Canadians are responsible for these problems, this is threatening our country’s unity.” Mr. Bernier’s opening remarks at his January 17 speech “Reconciling East and West with the Right Economic Policies”.

The release of Soviet files outs over 4,000 Latvians as supposed KGB informants

 

The Story

Latvia is one of three Baltic nations reborn as independent states in 1991, following decades of Soviet occupation since 1939. The country has been arguing for nearly three decades over what to do with the ‘Cheka bags’, which are sacks and briefcases stuffed with secret files left behind by the KGB, the Soviet secret police agency originally known as the Cheka.

Other Baltic states formerly occupied by the Soviets, such as Lithuania, Estonia, and Georgia, found KGB files after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Germany quickly opened files left by East Germany’s Stasi secret police after reunification from the Soviets in 1990, following the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Only Latvia was left with a systematic index listing the real and code names of 4,141 purported agents, along with a large digital archive of KGB activities known as Delta.

Though some of the names are of those who confirmed to be spies for the KGB, many more include a two-time former prime minister, the chief justice of the Supreme Court, a onetime foreign minister, leaders of the Catholic and Orthodox churches, three post-independence rectors of the University of Latvia, celebrated filmmakers and assorted television stars and writers. Many regular citizens named deny being KGB agents.

Rather than verifying the list, Latvia’s parliament voted that the contents of the Cheka bags be posted online, causing great unease among its people: is the country slowly coming to terms with the fact that its people were not just victims of Soviet oppression but, in some cases, also eager collaborators, or has it fallen prey to a devious plot by the KGB to sow disarray among the country’s post-independence elites with fabricated records of betrayal? The latter view is widely held by those who have been outed as agents but insist they had never knowingly worked for the KGB. Instead, they say, they have been framed by Soviet secret police officers who padded their roster of informants, either to impress superiors or plant a slowly ticking time bomb under Latvia’s future as an independent state.

 

The Details

  • When the Soviet KGB spy agency left Latvia in August 1991, it inexplicably left piles of documents and a partly destroyed Delta electronic database at its sprawling headquarters, known as the Corner House, in central Riga.

  • Two separate indexes of what the KGB classified as agents — one arranged alphabetically, the other by department — were found in two sealed sacks and two briefcases. These were moved in November 1991 to a secure room in the Latvian Parliament and transferred in 1993 for safekeeping and study to a newly established Center for the Documentation of the Consequences of Totalitarianism.

  • Latvia kept the files locked, restricting access to a few scholars sworn to secrecy and officers of the security services, which used the files for security checks on officials and politicians.

 

Background

Mara Sprudja, director of the national archive, which began posting the files online in December and will release another batch in May, said she was particularly shocked, for example, to see the name of Andres Slapins, a Latvian cameraman, shot and killed by Soviet troops who attacked pro-independence activists in Riga, the capital, in 1991. “He was a hero, not a traitor. How can he have been a KGB agent? It makes no sense,” she said.

Releasing the names of people who faced terrible choices “in a different time and a different place has just created more confusion,” not cathartic clarity, she said, adding, it is not clear what the purported agents did for the KGB, and “nobody today really knows what they would have done themselves in such a situation.”

It is impossible that the KGB would leave behind a real list of agents in what it considered enemy territory,” said Rolands Tjarve, former director of Latvia’s post-independence national broadcaster and now a professor at the University of Latvia.  He said the files must have been doctored and deliberately left as a “special gift” to Latvia, now a member of NATO, as part of a “disinformation operation” by retreating Soviet officers. Included in the list, Mr. Tjarve insists he never served as a KGB agent and said he would go to court to clear his name.

Indulis Zalite, the former longtime director of the documentation center and now a consultant there, said he doubted the files were left as an ingenious act of sabotage by the departing Soviets. “Everything was in chaos in 1991. They could not organize a deep plot. They were too disorganized.” However, he cautioned that the documents released so far present “only part of a very big puzzle,” as they give names but no details of what the purported informants did for their handlers. Long opposed to releasing the contents of the Cheka bags, he said their publication will make it much more difficult for people who had collaborated to talk honestly about what they did and why. “As soon as someone is exposed publicly as an ‘enemy,’ it is not easy for them to tell the truth,” he said.

 

Key Quotes

If these people were really agents, the KGB was a joke. What are these files? A real historical record or a strange Soviet disinformation operation? We just don’t know,” said Vita Zelce, a historian at the University of Latvia, when the files were posted online last month.

How does a perfectly normal person become a beast ready to betray their friends, their family and their country?” said Lidija Lasmane, a 93-year-old veteran of Latvia’s Soviet-era dissident movement, who argued that the Soviet system put people under terrible pressure, threatening careers and relatives with ruin if they did not cooperate.

Europe's turns toward President Trump as their patience with Iran wears thin

 

The Story

In Tehran on January 8, during a meeting with European envoys, Iranian officials abruptly stood up, walked out, and slammed the door in an extraordinary break with protocol. According to four EU diplomats, the French, British, German, Danish, Dutch, and Belgian diplomats in the Iranian foreign ministry room had angered the officials with a message that Europe could no longer tolerate ballistic missile tests in Iran and assassination plots on European soil.

The next day, the European Union imposed its first sanctions on Iran since world powers agreed the 2015 Vienna nuclear arms control deal with Tehran. Europe’s new approach moves it closer to US President Donald Trump’s policy of isolating Iran with tough sanctions even though European governments still support the 2015 Vienna deal from which he withdrew in May.

Among the consequences from the walkout by President Hassan Rouhani’s officials are the possibility of strengthening anti-Western sentiment in Iran and lead to more aggressive Iranian moves around the Middle East, where the Islamic Republic is involved in proxy wars with its main regional rival Saudi Arabia.

EU foreign ministers plan to issue a rare joint statement on January 21 about what they say is Iran’s interference in the region and calling for an end to missile tests.

 

The Details

  • The sanctions against Iran by the EU were largely symbolic but this latest meeting displays the shift in European diplomacy since the end of last year. Smaller EU countries have joined France and Britain in a harder stance on Tehran, including considering new economic sanctions.

  • New sanctions could include asset freezes and travel bans on Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and Iranians developing the Islamic Republic’s ballistic missile program, three diplomats said.

  • Iran’s firing of short-range ballistic missiles into Syria on September 30, missile tests and a satellite launch this month angered Western powers. Alleged assassination plots by Iran on French and Danish soil in 2018 were the last straw, diplomats say. Tehran denies the plots and says the missile tests are purely defensive.

  • On January 8, the Netherlands publicly blamed Iran for killings on its soil in 2015 and 2017. Tehran denies any involvement. Then on January 9, the EU designated a unit of Iran’s intelligence ministry a terrorist organization, froze its assets and those of two men.

 

Background

When the Trump administration accused Iran last year of harboring nuclear ambitions and fomenting instability in the Middle East through its support for militant groups in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, and Yemen, the EU sought dialogue with Tehran. First alarmed by President Trump’s ‘America First’ policy, Europe considered his May 8, 2018 decision to pull out of the Iran accord a severe setback. Now, a US State Department official said there is “a growing international consensus” on the range of Iranian threats, saying “The U.S. welcomes Europe’s efforts to counter Iranian terrorism on European soil, its missile launches, human rights abuses, and other threats.

The accusations against Iran over the past few months have awoken a few countries in Europe that were against a tougher line on Iran. Take the Dutch for example. They had kept very quiet until the Danish attack and now they are more hawkish than the French,” said a European-based Middle East diplomat.

The EU tried to show Iran that compliance with the nuclear accord would still mean economic benefits despite President Trump’s decision to reimpose US sanctions and choke off Iranian oil exports by pressuring US allies. At meetings between European and Iranian diplomats last year, Britain, France, Germany and Italy, pressed for gestures on Iran’s role in Syria’s war and for help to end the conflict in Yemen. Multiple bilateral talks on the ballistic missile program have yielded no results.

 

Key Quotes

We’d prefer not to take these measures, but they need to stop trying to kill people on our territory and over the last three years they have beefed up their ballistic program,” said one senior European diplomat regarding a set of measures being prepared to include asset freezes and travel bans on the IRGC and Iranian companies and groups developing the missile program.

 

China finances a global “Digital Silk Road” of digital infrastructure, threatening privacy and freedom

 

The Story

According to RWR Advisory Group, a Washington consulting firm that tracks Chinese investment, China’s “Digital Silk Road” is a subset of its “Belt and Road” initiative that contributes an estimated USD $79 billion in projects around the world, which has boosted development in Zambia and many other countries but comes at a price.

The 17-million people African nation of Zambia is a former British colony, rich in copper and cobalt, and spending USD $1 billion on Chinese-made telecommunications, broadcasting, and surveillance technology. Most of the digital infrastructure projects in Zambia, such as airport terminals and highways, are being built and financed by China, putting the country at what the International Monetary Fund calls a high risk of debt distress. It’s also given rise to fears that what has long been a thriving and stable multiparty democracy is veering toward a Chinese model of repression.

Zambia justifies the growing reliance on Chinese projects that’s raised Zambia’s debt to that country to USD $3.1 billion, about one-third of its total foreign debt, according to government estimates, by criticizing the West for its exploitation and claiming China’s long-term friendship. Zambian government officials defend their reliance on Chinese funding and technology and deny it’s being used for political purposes.

According to an October report published by Washington watchdog Freedom House, China is exporting sophisticated surveillance systems capable of identifying threats to public order at least eighteen countries and has made it easier to repress free speech in thirty-six others. State-run Zambia Telecommunications Co. (ZTC) is also installing cameras in public spaces in Lusaka as part of a USD $210 million “Safe City” project. The contract was canceled in 2013, over irregularities in how it was awarded, then reinstated in 2015. The project is designed to increase policing power in a city that’s already one of the safest in southern Africa. In China, authorities use surveillance systems with facial recognition software to compare citizens against government databases, allowing them to track those with dissenting views as well as criminals.

 

The Details

  • The rivalry risks dividing the world with a digital iron curtain.

  • A draft cyberlaw scheduled for debate in the National Assembly this year would create an agency with the power to determine whether information published online threatens national security, punishable by jail time.

  • The US recently invested USD $60 billion into the Overseas Private Investment Corp. to increase funding for projects in the developing world to counter China’s spending.

  • On December 13, US National Security Adviser John Bolton announced a new strategy for Africa to fund infrastructure projects, saying that Chinese influence has put the continent at risk. The US is the largest donor to Africa, but most of its money goes toward health, agriculture, and clean-water projects. Mr. Bolton said the US will try to ramp up funding for other projects, citing Zambia as being particularly at risk.

 

Background

Last year, French newspaper Le Monde reported concerns that Chinese technology could be used for spying, saying data had been transmitted from the African Union’s headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to China nightly for years.

In Vietnam, hackers took over screens and audio communications in the country’s two major airports in 2016 to broadcast propaganda supporting China’s claims in the South China Sea. The incident caused an alarmed Vietnamese government to warn its agencies and companies to reduce their reliance on Chinese equipment, which was believed to have played a role.

Potential threats to national security like these have prompted the US, Australia, and Japan to take countermeasures against the spread of Chinese technology. The three have opposed plans by Huawei to lay submarine cable connecting Australia to Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific. However, a Huawei cable project within Papua New Guinea is going forward despite efforts by Western governments to supplant it.

US allies including Australia and New Zealand have banned Huawei and ZTE from providing equipment for 5G wireless technology on national security grounds and Canada arrested Huawei Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou in December on allegations she defrauded banks to violate Iranian sanctions. Huawei and ZTE are both private companies and have pushed back against allegations that they are pawns of the Chinese government. The U.S. is having better success blocking the rollout of Huawei’s 5G telecommunications systems, with Australia, New Zealand, and Japan among countries going along with a ban.

 

Key Quotes

We have sold ourselves to the Chinese. People’s freedom to express themselves—their freedom of thought, their freedom of speech—is shrinking by the day,” says Gregory Chifire, director of an anticorruption organization who fled the country after being sentenced in November to six years in prison on what Amnesty International calls trumped-up charges.

 

Reporters Without Borders report puts the UK down the list at 40th place for journalistic freedom

 

The Story

Citing a continued heavy-handed approach towards the press (often in the name of national security), the organization Reporters Without Borders says the United Kingdom (UK) has kept its status as one of the worst-ranked Western European countries in the World Press Freedom Index. The UK is ranked 40th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2018 World Press Freedom Index.

Both the Conservative and Labour parties restricted journalists' access to campaign events ahead of the June 2017 general election and BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg received extensive online abuse and threats, resulting in her being assigned bodyguards to cover the Labour Party conference.

Offshore law firm Appleby sued the BBC and The Guardian for breach of confidence over the Paradise Papers source materials, making them the only two media outlets out of 96 in 67 countries to have analysed the Paradise Papers and taken to court.

 

The Details

  • The government began to implement the Investigatory Powers Act, the most extreme surveillance legislation in UK history, with insufficient protection mechanisms for whistleblowers, journalists, and their sources.

  • Home Secretary Amber Rudd repeatedly threatened to restrict encryption tools such as WhatsApp and announced plans to criminalise the repeated viewing of extremist content.

  • Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 remained on the books, presenting cause for concern since the law’s punitive cost-shifting provision could hold publishers liable for the costs of all claims made against them, regardless of merit.

 

Background

On September 13, 2018, RSF welcomed the landmark judgment of the European Court of Human Rights, which found that the UK’s mass surveillance regime had violated the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), including with respect to the protection of journalistic sources.

The judgment specifically noted that the UK’s bulk interception of communications data and the regime for obtaining communications data from communications service providers violated Article 10 of the ECHR as there were “insufficient safeguards in respect of confidential journalistic material”.

RSF had long expressed similar concerns with regard to the Investigatory Powers Act, adopted in November 2016, which replaced the ‘Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act’ (RIPA) and gave statutory effect to mass surveillance powers in the UK. RSF had specifically advocated the inclusion of safeguard provisions for whistleblowers, journalists, and their sources, and cautioned that without these safeguards, the law could serve as a “death sentence” for investigative journalism in the UK.

 

Key Quotes

We welcome this judgment of the European Court of Human Rights, which reinforces the concerns that RSF and other rights groups have long expressed about the Investigatory Powers Act. This menacing law should be immediately amended to include specific safeguards for whistleblowers, journalists, and their sources, to protect investigative journalism in the public interest and prevent further erosion of press freedom in the UK”, said RSF UK Bureau Director Rebecca Vincent.


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