Remember this lad before his political makeover who promised to fight for the middle class probably because polls were telling the Liberals that's where the votes were? He liked to portray himself as being simply one of you. Not so.
He's reminiscent of those nauseating, excruciating, interminable, television ads you seemingly see a thousand times a day.
Please shut the .... up Tie!
Well, what about this? Tie Domi takes on Justin Trudeau in a 5-round fight for that $7,000 plus broach. Middle class men out there, how many of your girlfriends/wives/lovers - whatever - are running around wearing $7,000 broaches?
Forget Patrick Brazeau he's a tomato can.
Did Sophie Gregoire "out brooch" the Queen? Did Birks ever "loan" Laureen Harper any brooches or was the Old Girl not glamorous enough?
BTW, what's a pave diamond? Don't know eh? What's the matter too middle class? A pave setting is when diamonds are accent diamonds set closely together for a diamond-encrusted look. The setting can simply be a band with a pave setting or a single stone with a pave setting on the sides.
Clare L. Pieuk
P. S. Saw Justin Trudeau address reporters from Paris today in comments intended for a Canadian audience. Jezus, it was, "Dear Friends ...." Best Stephen Harper could do was "Friends. let me be clear you're good to go....." The Liberal love in with the electorate continues.
Men, if your middle class lady friend is running around wearing a $7,000 brooch you didn't buy? Quick marry her so when you divorce half is yours.
Birks botches brooch boost: Brands exploit the Trudeau's glamour at their own risk, experts
Monday, November 30, 2015
The maple leaf brooch from the retailer's Les Plaisirs de Birks collection, is made of 18 karat white gold and encrusted in pave diamonds. According to Birks website, it is on sale for $6,412.50, down from $7,125. (Source Birks)
A Birks Group Inc. press release intending to draw attention to a diamond brooch Sophie Gregoire-Trudeau wore to meet Queen Elizabeth II has instead raised questions about whether such gifts are ethical and in good taste.
On Wednesday, the Montreal-based jewelry retailer issued a release with a photo of Gregoire-Trudeau, her husband Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and their children, greeting the Queen’s equerry at the entrance to Buckingham Palace. The release noted that the maple leaf brooch on Gregoire-Trudeau’s coat is from the retailer’s Les Plaisirs de Birks collection, made of 18 karat white gold and encrusted in pave diamonds.
Queen's equerry Wing Commander Sam Fletcher, right, greets the Trudeaus before they meet the queen Sophie is wearing the Birks brooch. (Getty Images)
“Sophie Gregoire-Trudeau… dazzled in Birks jewelry,” the release read. “The chic Sophie Gregoire-Trudeau wore several pieces.”
The press release got little attention until Thursday, when the Ottawa Citizen‘s Glen McGregor pointed out the brooch’s price tag is “a decidedly not-middle-classy $7,125,” in contrast with Trudeau’s pro-middle class election message. The Prime Minister’s Office distanced itself from the release, saying Birks had lent Gregoire-Trudeau the jewelry but hadn’t informed her it planned to turn her outfit into an advertisement. Birks declined to comment.
The quandry is familiar to U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama, who is known for boosting the careers of American designers by wearing their clothing in public. Last year, Obama’s press secretary Joanna Rosholm told the New York Post that the First Lady normally pays for her own clothes, sometimes accepts gifts from designers that are then donated to the National Archives and never accepts clothing on loan.
Marketing experts interviewed by the Financial Post all agreed that if retailers want to capitalize on Gregoire-Trudeau’s glamorous image by giving or lending her clothing in the hopes she’ll be photographed wearing it, they should make sure they follow all rules designed to prevent politicians from entering conflicts of interest. Then, their best bet is to sit back and wait for a breathless reporter to ask her who she’s wearing — not send out a press release about it.
“It’s a real rookie move on Birks’ part,” said brand consultant Tony Chapman. “They’ll certainly be put in the penalty box.”
Marketing experts interviewed by the Financial Post all agreed that if retailers want to capitalize on Gregoire-Trudeau's glamorous image by giving or lending her clothing in the hopes she'll be photographed wearing it, they should make sure they follow all rules designed to prevent politicians from entering conflict of interest. (Toby Melville-WPA Pool/Getty Images)
Alan Middleton, a marketing professor at York University who researches brands and consumer behaviour, said he understands why brands would want to attach themselves to the Trudeaus’ glamour. But while it’s common for companies to shower American celebrities with gifts, hoping to earn a mention in the press when they wear them, the strategy is less likely to succeed in Canada.
“Canadians like people they see as peers, rather than on pedestals,” said Middleton. “That’s doubly so in the case of Justin, because that’s how he’s positioned himself — I’m one of you.”
This isn’t the first time the Trudeaus have landed in hot water for their association with a Canadian retailer. In 2010, the family put out a Christmas card wearing fur-trimmed Canada Goose parkas, prompting the animal rights activist group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals to call their choice of outerwear “a lurid way of celebrating peace on earth.”
Trudeau is also one of several Canadian politicians to be featured in a tongue-in-cheek advertisement for Canadian men’s clothing retailer Harry Rosen. In 2013, the chain released an image of Trudeau walking towards reporters in the House of Commons with the caption, “I guess you’ve heard. I’ve been invited to Harry’s Private Sale.”
When Harry Rosen tried that with an unauthorized image of former prime minister Stephen Harper playing the piano at the National Arts Centre in 2012, it earned the retailer a rebuke from an unnamed PMO official who called it “pretty tasteless.” The late former finance minister Jim Flaherty was more tactful, reportedly asking the clothing store to make a donation to charity in exchange for using his image.
Queen’s University marketing professor Ken Wong said that might be a good way for the Trudeaus to handle such awkward situations in the future.
“(Gregoire-Trudeau) should at least extract from the manufacturers the true value of her so-called endorsement,” he said. “If she’s redirecting those funds to causes she favours, good form.”
Left Postmedia newspapers. Right Postmedia CEO Paul Godfrey. (Canadian Press)
It was the morning of Friday, June 22, 2012. Murphy, The Province’s long-time staff cartoonist, was meeting with Moriarty in the editor’s office on the fifth floor of the paper’s headquarters on Granville Street in downtown Vancouver. The discussion between Murphy and Moriarty was heated; after all, Moriarty was informing Murphy that an animation the cartoonist had produced was being pulled off the web.
A few hours earlier, The Province had posted a satirical animation created by Murphy that lampooned Enbridge Inc., the Calgary-based oil pipeline company. Murphy had taken one of Enbridge’s commercials promoting the benefits of the Northern Gateway pipeline – with its Day-Glo bucolic depictions of nature and happy families – and altered it with splotches of black ink resembling oil spills and noise effects that sounded like breaking wind.
Animation by Dan Murphy satirizing Enbridge Northern Gateway ad
In his meeting with Moriarty, Murphy says he was told Enbridge had complained to the Toronto head office of The Province’s owner, Postmedia Network Canada Corp., Canada’s largest newspaper chain. He says the order had come down to pull Murphy’s satire off the paper’s website – and that $1-million in Enbridge advertising was at stake.
“I’m going to lose my job if we don’t take it down,” Murphy recalls Moriarty saying.
Moriarty, who is still editor of The Province, strongly disagrees with Murphy’s account, saying it was his decision alone to pull the animation due to worries of infringing on Enbridge’s copyright, and not because of orders from superiors. He says his reasons for pulling it include: “I didn’t like it… I didn’t like that Dan went ahead and [posted] it without any discussion prior to it going up with anybody… [And I didn't like] Dan’s reaction following my discussion with him. And I made a mistake. God Almighty if I could undo it, it was the darkest part of my career.”
Enbridge also says they never complained to Postmedia. But whatever happened in that meeting, no one disputes what followed: after the animation was pulled, the media was tipped off and soon stories appeared, including in The New York Times and on CBC, portraying it as a case of corporate censorship.
Murphy continued to work for the paper and even occasionally poke fun at Enbridge. But five months later, his position as staff cartoonist was eradicated as a cost-cutting measure. He was offered a job on the paper’s web desk. When Murphy asked if he could continue producing graphics, cartoons and animations, his bosses said no, claiming union rules.
Instead, Murphy took a severance package and left the paper – one of more than 2,500 employees who’ve been chopped from the payroll of Postmedia since 2010. Now Murphy believes his redundancy as The Province’s cartoonist – a job he’d held since 1984 – was not entirely accidental. “I think in part it was payback,” he maintains, “but in part there was a greater move to get rid of critical voices within the newspaper because that might piss off advertisers, in my opinion.
” Postmedia: a sinking ship embroiled in controversy
Postmedia is a national media giant with nearly 200 papers, magazines and websites. Its dailies reach 6.3 million Canadian readers every week, with some of its best-known papers including the National Post, Vancouver Sun, Calgary Herald, Edmonton Journal, Regina Leader-Post, Winnipeg Sun, The London Free Press, Ottawa Citizen and Montreal Gazette.
But Postmedia is also a ship taking on water, due to both self-inflicted and industry-wide wounds.
Of the self-inflicted variety, Postmedia was pilloried last month in the run-up to the federal election after its Toronto executives ordered 16 of its major daily newspapers to run editorials endorsing Stephen Harper. (Postmedia did the same thing last spring during Alberta’s provincial election, forcing its papers there to back Jim Prentice’s Tories).
In a surprising move, John Honderich, chair of Torstar Corp., which publishes Canada’s largest daily paper, The Toronto Star, devoted an entire op-ed page article two weeks ago heaping scorn on Postmedia’s decision, decrying “the negative impact this affair is having on the newspaper industry in general. At a time when the relevance and impact of newspapers are under attack, this doesn’t help.”
Then there was the stunning resignation of Andrew Coyne as the National Post’s editorials and comments editor. Coyne quit on the eve of the election – although he remains a columnist with the paper – when his superiors told him he was not allowed to publish a column dissenting with their endorsement of Harper. Coyne, who declines to discuss the matter, tweeted his disapproval of the censoring, saying “I don’t see public disagreement as confusing. I see it as honest.”
Even supporters of the Post were shocked at how Coyne was treated. “[Postmedia’s] handling of the Andrew Coyne affair was disgraceful,” says Ken Whyte, the founding editor-in-chief of the National Post, former publisher of Maclean’s magazine and currently senior vice-president of public policy with Rogers Communications Inc. Whyte said that the former owners of the Post, the Asper family, “even in their worst moments would still have allowed Andrew to write a column stating his own views and the Aspers had some pretty bad moments.”
Meanwhile, last week, the editorial board of the Ottawa Citizen suddenly resigned without citing a reason.
The silencing of Coyne was not an isolated incident either. In August, acclaimed novelist Margaret Atwood watched as a column she wrote for the National Post criticizing Harper was posted on-line, then removed, and then edited before being reposted with some of her criticisms deleted. “Um, did I just get censored?” Atwood asked afterwards.
Three days before the election, Postmedia also permitted the Conservative Party to buy yellow ads that covered the entire front pages of most of the company’s major daily newspapers, direly warning about voting for the Liberals. This action, says Marc Edge, a Richmond, B.C.-based journalism professor and author of the 2014 book, Greatly Exaggerated: The Myth of the Death of Newspapers, suggests Postmedia is “poisoning their brand.”
Indeed, a report released two weeks ago by the Canadian Media Concentration Research Project shows that during both the 2011 and 2015 elections, all of Postmedia’s major dailies endorsed the Tories. “My desk was right beside [The Province’s] editorial page editor's desk and he’d done a number of editorials critical of different aspects of the Harper government,” says Murphy. “I was there [in 2011] when he got word he had to write an editorial in favor of re-electing Harper and getting his majority.”
Postmedia’s reputational hits are stacking up. Last winter, two of its top business columnists, Terence Corcoran and Peter Foster, and the National Post, lost a defamation lawsuit brought by Andrew Weaver, an esteemed climatologist at the University of Victoria and a Green Party MLA in the BC legislature. Corcoran and Foster wrote false information about Weaver, suggesting he exaggerated the dangers of climate change. The judge awarded Weaver $50,000 in damages. The decision is being appealed and Weaver will not discuss the matter.
Meanwhile, last week in a Calgary courtroom – after a seven-year odyssey through the legal system – a defamation lawsuit against Postmedia got underway, scheduled to unfold over the next month. The lawsuit was launched by the journalist and war correspondent Arthur Kent, 61, brother of former Harper cabinet minister Peter Kent. The suit claims that former columnist Don Martin defamed Kent, that Kent was prevented from responding to accusations leveled at him, and that Postmedia failed to preserve evidence and dragged out proceedings. Kent is seeking $4-million in damages, and the case could prove embarrassing for Postmedia’s top brass.
Postmedia’s editorial woes are occurring against the backdrop of gruesome economic realities facing the entire newspaper industry – caused by the web’s omnivorous appetite for advertising dollars, and by a host of innovative digital media competitors.
Since being founded in 2010, Postmedia seems to have bled copious amounts of red ink. In its most recent financial statement, it posted net losses of $263-million for this year alone, on revenues of $750-million, while weighed down with $646-million in long-term debt.
Before it bought the Sun Media chain of newspapers this past year, Postmedia’s revenues had fallen from $899-million in 2011 to $674-million in fiscal 2014 – a plunge of 25 per cent in just three years. Meanwhile, its shares, which rose to $17 in 2011, are now penny stock and no longer actively trading.
This summer the company said it planned to chop $50-million in costs over the next two years; but in its most recent conference call with analysts, management said most of this would be cut in 12 months. Prior to the purchase of Sun Media, the company’s workforce had shrunk to 2,500 employees – from 5,400 five years ago.
Meanwhile, according to the Alliance for Audited Media, the circulation of its papers continues to hemorrhage. Among its 12 leading dailies, paid circulation dropped 179,868 from 2011 to the end of 2014 – from 1.1 million readers down to 964,341, a loss of more than 15 per cent. Now, some experts believe Postmedia is in a death spiral.
“They are basically built on the mass media model of advertising-supported journalism and that's in crisis everywhere,” says Kelly Toughill, a former Deputy Executive Editor of The Toronto Star and Director of Journalism at University of King’s College in Halifax. “I think it's going to be difficult for them to survive.”
Ironically, though, the most serious threat Postmedia faces might be from its owners and debt-holders. The company is controlled primarily by two American hedge funds – GoldenTree Asset Management LP and Silver Point Capital LP. Hedge funds are pools of capital that hunt for investment opportunities, but also have a reputation for being destructive and remorseless sharks within the financial industry.
Indeed, the hedge funds controlling Postmedia specialize in buying so-called distressed-debt companies. For them to profit from faltering businesses, however, often means slashing costs to the bone, sucking out cash flow and selling off assets for scrap to recoup their investment. “Basically that's what they do,” says Martin Langeveld, a former American newspaper publisher and industry expert with Harvard University’s Nieman Journalism Lab. “They take a company, they have different ways of getting their money out even if they don't really fix it… You are cannibalizing, you’re consolidating.”
CEO Paul Godfrey, a Tory powerbroker
“I have nothing but high regard for you and your colleagues, but I’m very concerned we’ve got our feet stuck in cement here,” Conrad Black was saying. It was this past July 9th and Black was participating in a conference call with Postmedia’s top management and Bay Street analysts. But Black was irritated with Postmedia’s executives. As a shareholder and the newspaper chain’s former proprietor, he was unhappy with where it was heading.
“Some of those newspapers have deteriorated a long way from what I remember,” said Black. “Some of it you can’t avoid; some of it, you can. But please build the quality. Otherwise, you’re going to retreat right into your own end zone.”
On one hand, Black’s concerns about the deterioration of Postmedia are ironic, given his notorious disdain for the journalism profession. But few could deny Black had a point: Postmedia had fallen far from its origins.
Postmedia’s roots go back to the Southam Inc. newspaper chain that was founded more than a century ago. In 1996, Black bought the Southam papers and soon created the National Post as its flagship paper. His term as boss would be short-lived, however: pressed by his bankers to chop debt, Black sold the papers to the Asper family’s CanWest Global Communications Corp. in 2000.
Seven years later, the New York-based hedge fund GoldenTree—co-founded by Steven Shapiro, a former manager with CIBC World Markets—began buying up CanWest’s debt issues. As CanWest floundered, GoldenTree acquired more of its debt. Poorly managed by the Aspers, weighed down by $4-billion in debt and pummeled by the credit crisis, CanWest declared bankruptcy in 2009.
A year later, GoldenTree and 19 other foreign and domestic lenders, mostly hedge funds, paid $1.1-billion for the CanWest papers, created Postmedia and made Paul Godfrey its CEO.
Godfrey was a curious choice to run an ailing newspaper chain facing its worst crisis in generations. By then he was in his 70s—today he is 76—and his reputation was as a Tory political operative, not a digital-age business wunderkind.
Paul Godfrey photo by The Canadian Press
However, Godfrey is a powerful backroom wheeler-dealer. “Godfrey’s influence has touched almost everything in politics and economics in this country,” notes a former reporter who once worked under him.
“In my time in politics he was very much behind the scenes,” adds David Miller, Toronto’s mayor from 2003 to 2010, “and it's fair to say he's been very influential on the conservative side of politics in Toronto for a very long time.”
Son of a prominent Tory activist, Godfrey rose from city alderman in one of Toronto’s northern suburbs to the post of Metro chairman, a role that allowed him to direct development and infrastructure among Toronto’s municipalities. Sociable, diligent and intelligent, Godfrey built a network of movers and shakers in politics and business, helping land the Toronto Blue Jays baseball franchise and get the SkyDome stadium built. He also formed close ties to the development industry: today he is chairman of RioCan, Canada’s largest real estate investment trust company. “It’s all about profit with him,” says a former Toronto Sun journalist.
In 1984, Godfrey became publisher of the Toronto Sun, a right-wing cheeky tabloid notorious for its scantily clad “Sunshine Girls.” Eight years later, he was CEO of the Toronto Sun Publishing Group that controlled a small chain of papers.
It was during his stint as publisher of the Sun chain that Godfrey first demonstrated his willingness to use his newspapers to further his political ambitions, as he’s currently doing at Postmedia.
First, he pressed the Tory provincial government of Mike Harris to amalgamate Toronto’s various boroughs into one big city. Then he helped engineer the election of his friend Mel Lastman as mayor of the new mega-city. During the 1997 Toronto election, Godfrey ensured that only favourable stories or photos about Lastman appeared in the Toronto Sun. When reporter Don Wanagas wrote couple of unflattering pieces about Lastman, Godfrey had him removed as a municipal columnist.
Lastman would go on to preside over one of the most corrupt regimes in Toronto’s history,
highlighted by the MFP Financial Services Ltd. computer leasing and bribery scandal, where a group of city insiders arranged to lease computers to the city that was supposed to cost $43-million - before being inflated to $85-million. Most of the key people in the scandal were Godfrey’s acquaintances or close friends. “There's no question he was very influential with Mayor Lastman,” says Miller, who was elected mayor in 2003 on a platform of cleaning up Toronto’s city hall after Lastman. “I certainly knew as a city councillor that Lastman’s office was in touch with Mr. Godfrey all the time.”
Paul Godfrey (left) with Mel Lastman (centre) and Ted Rogers (right) in 2002). Photo from Maclean's
In 1999, Godfrey arranged the sale of the Sun media assets to Quebecor Inc., pocketing a personal fortune of $28-million. He left the following year to work for Rogers, taking over as president of the Toronto Blue Jays. In 2009, Godfrey was asked by the Aspers to become publisher of the National Post. After CanWest went into receivership that year, he helped assemble the consortium of American hedge funds and other lenders to buy the newspapers and create Postmedia.
But there was a problem: Canadian tax law discourages foreign ownership ofCanadian media companies. Godfrey managed to get around this by issuing separate shares for Canadian shareholders. This was signed off by the Harper government, although real control of the company remains in American hands. “It seems to flout all of the foreign ownership provisions and Godfrey seems to have found a way around it to satisfy the Conservatives and the Competition Bureau,” notes John Miller, a former Toronto Star editor and former Chair of Ryerson University’s journalism program.
But what would a clutch of American hedge fund managers want with a flailing Canadian newspaper chain in a rapidly declining industry?
The dying newspaper industry
Newspapers were once one of the most profitable businesses in the world – regularly posting profit rates of 25-30 per cent. In their heyday, big city dailies employed small armies of reporters. They had overseas bureaus and investigative reporting units. Newspaper proprietors were rich and feared.
“In the late 20th century, newspapers became exceedingly large and profitable businesses,” says Marc Edge, author of Greatly Exaggerated: The Myth of the Death of Newspapers. “That's why chains bought them up. [But] the advent of the Internet has taken most of the classified advertising, which is where the money was. Now newspapers are reversing course and becoming smaller and smaller businesses.”
Indeed, the web has ravaged newspapers, with websites like Craigslist, Google and Facebook stealing away crucial advertising dollars. From 2006 through 2013, according to the Newspaper Association of America, U.S. print advertising revenue fell by 63 per cent. According to Newspapers Canada, print media here had $3.8-billion in advertising revenue in 2008; last year, it had dropped to $2.6-billion – or a loss of $1.2-billion. Meanwhile, over the same period, advertising online rose from $1.6-billion to $3.8-billion.
This doesn’t mean newspapers aren’t profitable. “Ninety-five percent of the dailies in the US are profitable – maybe ninety-seven percent,” says Ken Doctor, a leading American newspaper industry analyst. But given shrinking revenues, the only way for them to make money is to cut costs, in particular staff – which account for the biggest expense.
As papers have shrunk in size, employing fewer journalists and charging more at the corner store, they’ve become less appealing to readers. “It's like Coke taking a two-liter bottle, cutting it in half and offering one liter and doubling the price,” says Doctor. “That's essentially what newspapers have done, and have suffered the consequences.”
At Postmedia, as revenue and circulation declined, it has downsized staff, sold off assets, consolidated and outsourced operations, cut Sunday editions and shuttered bureaus. Now all of its dailies are copy-edited and laid out, and even stories selected, in offices located in a strip mall in Hamilton, Ontario.
Despite these cuts, Postmedia has never earned any net profit, suffering combined net losses of $624-million since 2010. For the hedge funds that control it, on the other hand, Postmedia is a profitable investment. Because the company’s debt is owed to them, they receive interest payments at rates ranging from 8.25 per cent to 12.5 per cent.
Thus, $340-million in interest payments from Postmedia have already flowed to the hedge funds since 2010. By 2019, interest payments will have totalled $650-million.
Moreover, Postmedia continues to generate cash flow, which industry experts say is the key sum determining its health – although that totaled only $26-million this past year. “That’s not a happy amount of money,” says Toughill.
Earlier this year, Postmedia spent $316-million to buy the ailing Sun Media newspaper chain from Quebecor Inc., with all of its 173 titles. Despite adding to its debt load, Bay Street analysts hailed the purchase, saying it would boost Postmedia’s cash flow to help pay down debt.
But forensic accountant Alan Mak, a partner with Toronto-based Ferguson + Mak LLP, feels the Sun Media purchase is not turning out as expected. “I see the increase in revenue but I don't see a corresponding increase in the cash from operating activities or their operating profits,” he remarks, after examining Postmedia’s books. “Which suggests to me they're not as profitable… [They’ve] made some big bets and big investments which don't appear to be paying off as much as I would expect.”
As long as Postmedia is paying interest on its debts and generating cash flow, the hedge funds will remain happy. The problem, though, is that Postmedia’s revenues keep falling. “It’s very difficult to stay healthy when you have less money every year,” insists Toughill. “Last year alone print advertising dropped 18 percent. That's a huge amount of money to have disappear out of the budget in a single year.”
Thus, in order to keep interest payments flowing to their American owners, the chain must continue cutting costs. But at a certain point, that’s no longer an option either. “If they continue to record net losses they will ultimately consume themselves in order to pay down the debt – unless they can turn themselves around,” says Mitchell Weiss, a former American financial services executive. “So they are in a race against time.”
To stave off oblivion, Postmedia and other newspaper companies have been trying to garner more on-line advertising and readers. But on-line ads are far less lucrative than print ads. “[Newspapers] have been trying to do the digital switch for more than a decade,” says Toughill. “This is nothing new… and very few have been able to cover their costs this way.”
Of Postmedia’s $750-million in revenues this year, only $97.6-million came from digital sources—about 13 percent of the total—and it shows little sign of growing dramatically.
In fact, digital advertising among newspapers is slowing, largely because Google and Facebook are grabbing so much of it. The two corporations together control more than 50 per cent of the on-line advertising market.
So what’s the long-term prognosis for Postmedia? According to Doctor, the hedge funds have likely figured out how they can get their money back by “managing [Postmedia’s] decline profitably.” Which might mean returning it to receivership and selling off its assets, with the hedge funds first in line as creditors to collect.
If this is indeed the plan, the hedge funds – GoldenTree and Silver Point Capital – aren’t saying. Both declined our requests to be interviewed for this story.
Postmedia's journalism deteriorates
One victim of the fall of Postmedia has been its journalism.
A former National Post journalist, who spoke on condition of anonymity, recalls that by last year, reporters were being asked to produce more and shorter stories, with less in-depth coverage. Another former Post reporter said “they would look for regional CBC stories, get that and put a Postspin on it. That's how they found stories.”
Photo of Postmedia/National Post head office in downtown Toronto, by Bruce Livesey
For 25 years, David Baines was one of Canada’s best investigative reporters, working for the Vancouver Sun and exposing financial fraud in BC’s business sector. Two years ago he took a buyout. “I was a very high cost form of journalism,” notes Baines. “It was the legal implications. I was sued twenty times and in between those lawsuits dozens and dozens of lawyers’ letters.”
When Baines left the Sun, though, the paper did not replace him and discontinued his beat. “They could have found someone else to do the same thing – it wasn't rocket science,” he says. “I think they appreciated the value of that form of journalism because they were financing it. [But] I think maybe they were pretty relieved when I left because with it went a huge expense item. And that's too bad because what I tried to do was warn consumers about bad business people and bad business deals.”
Mike De Souza joined Canwest’s News Service’s Ottawa bureau in 2006. Back then, he says, they realized they needed to improve their environmental coverage, so he took on the task. De Souza soon produced scoop after scoop about how the Harper government was muzzling scientists, sabotaging global talks on curbing greenhouse gases and colluding with the oil industry.
One of his biggest exposés came in 2011 when De Souza revealed that University of Calgary political scientist Barry Cooper had funneled oil industry money to a climate change denial front group called Friends of Science. What was more astonishing about this story was that Cooper was, and remains, a columnist for the Postmedia-owned Calgary Herald, where he fulminates against the environmental movement.
Friends of Science billboard in Calgary.
Overall, De Souza’s journalism was so nettlesome to the Harper government that then environment minister Peter Kent publicly complained about him in 2013, saying in a letter that De Souza was an “environmental activist.”
However, in February of 2014, Postmedia shut down its Ottawa bureau, laying off De Souza and two other reporters. De Souza says that even by then, “the amount of time we had to dedicate to individual beats was decreasing and had been decreasing through the years… So all of the subjects are being covered less than they used to be.”
Advertisers calling the shots?
Another victim of Postmedia’s crisis is the Chinese wall separating advertisers from editorial content.
Once upon a time, newspapers could afford to alienate the odd advertiser because there were so many others to pay the bills. No longer. Former National Post editor Ken Whyte says it’s now commonplace for advertisers to demand favourable editorial content in return for their money.
“Before, [newspapers] might've stood up and said we will let that million dollars go, we won't prostitute ourselves,” he remarks. “Now they'll see they will be way short on their budget and need the money.”
Last year, Greenpeace stumbled across a Powerpoint presentation that someone had leaked on-line. Produced by the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) for Postmedia’s Board of Directors in 2013, the presentation proposed a close alliance between the media company and the oil industry’s main lobby group. “We will work with CAPP to amplify our energy mandate and to be a part of the solution to keep Canada competitive in the global marketplace,” it said. “Postmedia will undertake to leverage all means editorially, technically and creatively – through the Financial Post, Postmedia market newspapers and affiliated media partners – to further this critical conversation.” Evidence suggests this alliance occurred, although Postmedia said it would never surrender editorial control.
In December of 2013, the Vancouver Sun published a profile of an Enbridge Vice-President, who extolled the merits of the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline that would run from the oil sands to the B.C. coast.
Vancouver-based economist Robyn Allan noticed that the article claimed Canada was losing $50-million a day by not having enough pipeline capacity – a sum Allan knew to be fictitious. So she wrote an op-ed piece for the Sun explaining why. “The editor was going to print it,” she recalls, until he discovered the story Allan was responding to was, in actuality, paid advertising by Enbridge – although not marked as such. “It was an advertisement posing to be journalism,” says Allan. “So he could not print my piece because it was advertising.”
Postmedia also employs a roster of columnists who, for years, have argued that climate change is a myth and the oil sands must be developed. These include Terence Corcoran, Peter Foster, Rex Murphy and Lawrence Solomon at the National Post; columnists Barry Cooper and Licia Corbella (who is also Editorial Page Editor) at the Calgary Herald; and Province columnist Jon Ferry, among others.
This is not to suggest op-eds and articles critical of the oil industry and supportive of measures to combat climate change don’t appear in Postmedia newspapers. Yet University of Victoria climatologist Andrew Weaver’s battles with Terence Corcoran and Peter Foster illustrates the lengths Postmedia columnists go to stake their positions on this issue.
In 2009, a large cache of emails were leaked from the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit, an important research unit responsible for collecting global temperature data. The emails seemed to show imperfect data and the withholding of information by climate scientists. Corcoran and Foster fastened onto this controversy as further evidence that climate change was a hoax. And they targeted Weaver, one of Canada’s leading experts on climate change, as being party to this so-called conspiracy.
In a series of columns and articles in the Post and on-line, Weaver (who Foster branded “Canada’s warmest spinner in chief”) was accused of blaming the oil industry of breaking into his office, and calling for the resignation of the head of UN’s panel on global warming – neither of which was true.
Former Toronto mayor David Miller, now CEO of World Wildlife Fund-Canada, argues that Postmedia’s stance on climate change overlooks the fact that many senior executives in the oil industry agree it’s happening. “If the Post has given… prominence to climate-denying columnists I think that’s a poor strategic move,” he observes, pointing out that “the vast majority of Canadians are environmentalists.”
Indeed, with a declining and aging readership, taking political and social positions that seem out of step with the majority of Canadians doesn’t appear to be a recipe for attracting new readers and a broad audience. In short, not a smart business plan. Yet the recent actions of Paul Godfrey and his American bosses suggest they are oblivious.
Paid at least $1.4-million in annual compensation, Godfrey’s contract was recently extended until the end of 2018. This week he is being ushered into the Canadian News Hall of Fame (a ceremony sponsored by both Postmedia and RioCan, the real estate investment company Godfrey is Chairman of). Postmedia did not respond to requests for an interview with Godfrey.
Since its real owners seem to have other priorities, some worry Postmedia is sliding into irrelevancy.
“I think ownership matters and that through a series of rather bizarre events… we've ended up in the situation where the control of this chain is in the hands of people who not only don't know much about newspapers and don't have any evident expertise or concern for the future of newspapers, but are also strangers to Canada and uninterested, as far as I can tell, in public discourse up here,” observes Ken Whyte, the National Post’s Founding Editor.
“And I think it's an unfortunate situation when such a large share of the newsgathering capacity in Canada is subject to that kind of ownership regime.”
The role of Canadians in the weaponization of social media by psychopaths!
Good Day Readers:
There has been much speculation over how French authorities and the global anti-terrorist effort could have been caught so off guard by the recent Paris bombings. Was there no online electronic chatter or digital trail? How were those responsible for planning and coordinating such a large scale operation able to stay off the internet or at least go undetected.
The following is by far the best explanation CyberSmokeBlog has yet found. Notice the Canadian connection.
Clare L. Pieuk
Frightening ISIS encryption methods have surprising Canadian connection
A grave intelligence failure marked multiple catastrophic terrorist attacks in recent weeks in Egypt, Beirut and Paris. Brussels is in lockdown, braced for a Paris-style attack, while a firestorm of controversy blazes over social media's encrypted instant messaging apps. And a Canadian technology company is caught in the crossfire.
Whether those responsible for the ISIS attacks actually used communication by untrackable encrypted instant messaging remains unclear. We know that at least some in Paris didn't. Data on adiscarded cell-phone found in a trash-bin outside the Bataclan led authorities directly to the safe-house where attack leader Abdelhamid Abaaoud met his doom.
Oddly, supporters of blanket encryption apps consider this evidence in their favour, when it actually points to the opposite conclusion. Had the attackers encrypted all their communications, per standard ISIS instructions, Abaaoud and his co-conspirators would still be at large instead of chilling at the morgue.
ISIS won't make that mistake again.
Encryption robs investigators of indispensable wiretap powers
Encryption technology is now so powerful that it can't be unlocked even by the host under court order, and is freely available on a number of smartphone apps that all the kids use. Messenger platforms such as WhatsApp, Snapchat, and Telegram sprouted up following the well-worn Facebook path of making their owners rich by designing hook-up apps.
The thing is, these apps also inadvertently immunize malicious users like ISIS and child predators from lawful investigation. Authorities have now been robbed of indispensable wiretap powers that they've possessed since the invention of the telephone.
That's not a good thing, because we have nothing to replace it. There's simply no investigative substitute for the ability to intercept extremist communications in real-time as attacks are planned. Increasingly, authorities are seeing subjects "go dark," meaning they've accessed encryption messaging software and their communications can no longer be tracked.
What authorities seek is that encrypted messaging apps code in a "key" that allows police (operating under warrant) to intercept communications and track militant extremists and terrorists in a manner similar to tapping a phone.
If we don't master this, we'll turn police into 19th century London bobbies, while ISIS roams the Internet virtually at will.
Kik: the Canadian connection
Terrorists also loveKik, Canada's sparkling billion-dollar messaging baby incubated at the University of Waterloo that boasts over 240 million users worldwide. The FBI has identified Kik as among the Internet's top jihadi social media recruiting and fundraising tools, although no evidence ties it to recent attacks.
Pictured below, another recruit coming to join ISIS in Syria through Turkey seeks border crossing advice, providing his Kik handle for direct, encrypted messages.
Recruit seeks border passage advice on Ask.fm, seeks to take private conversation to Kik (not Chicago teens from above example)
And less than a month ago, an enterprising reporter for the Mail on Sunday set up a sting operation and captured ISIS in the act, using Kik to coordinate a donation pick-up. Below, another ISIS Twitter account solicits donations through Kik. (All images care of MEMRI.org, altered for emphasis by National Observer).
ISIS fundraising post solicits encrypted contact through Kik
Kik's special offering goes beyond encryption technology; designed to target teens without their own mobile account, and doesn't require registration to a cell-phone number. No registration is required beyond setting up a user name in a manner similar to an email account. The Middle East Media Research Institute reports,
Anyone can now communicate securely via an untraceable throwaway smartphone, purchased online, including on Amazon. Installing an encrypted messaging app such as Kik... takes a few moments, and after that, chatting securely and secretly with an Islamic State (ISIS) fighter... is one click away.
Reached for comment on the above, Kik media representative Rod McLeod said that Kik cooperates with law enforcement, and is able to assist authorities identify the most recent location of a specific user. Further, Kik will de-activate accounts when appropriate.
Disagreeing that the username model creates a system vulnerability, Mcleod said "A lot of people look at that as kind of a bad feature, especially law enforcement, but we’ve received a lot of feedback saying that having a username instead of giving a phone number makes you feel safer."
Especially if you're a terrorist.
McLeod says the app's vulnerability to terrorists affects all the social media apps that offer encrypted communications. This, however, seems to be the "everyone else is doing it" defence. How useful the law enforcement cooperation can be if users can't be identified and messages aren't stored is doubtful.
The problem with the Internet's get-rich-quick world is that, like Kik, Google and Facebook, social media apps are generally created by young middle-class "geeks" with no real-world experience of threat or insecurity. Kik's market differentiator makes it a perfect design for unlawful uses, like terrorism.
Putting it bluntly, in terms of safety and security, most software designers are wet-behind-the ears amateurs. As McLeod said of Kik founder Ted Livingston and the Waterloo cohort,
"Kik is kind of built in a way where the people that built the technology and the people that founded it—they wouldn’t want people to be able to read their messages so that’s one of the reasons why messages are encrypted and they aren’t stored on our servers."
And so a new ISIS weapon was born.
Organized psychopaths have weaponized social media designed for teenagers
In something as powerful as Internet software, security should never be the afterthought it almost invariably is. Rather, it should be built into the design protocol from the get-go. Organized psychopaths so easily co-opted and weaponized a social media industry designed for teens and gamers, it was like stealing candy from a baby.
Speaking of babies, how come you can't sell a crib in this country without proving it's safe, but you can build a secure end-to-end encryption system that lets ISIS jihadists chat with teens in their rooms, easy-peasy?
Sample Twitter ID of ISIS fighter gives Kik username for encrypted messaging
In ISIS we face an entirely new kind of foe and this is a new kind of war. Violent conflict could be transformed as radically as military aviation revolutionized war in the 20th century.
If that sounds like an exaggeration, picture ISIS drones.
So now, after way too many horses have left the barn, we're finally having the civil rights debate over encryption we should have had years ago in calmer times. Because in this debate, we can finally confront the intractable inner contradictions underpinning the foundations of the Internet itself.
In the founding utopian myth of the Internet, cyberspace is the New World dream made manifest at last; its constitution a Declaration of Independence from nasty earthbound laws and regulatory tentacles.
But cyberspace isn't an imaginary Neverland (where boys never have to grow up). It's right here, in the room where you're reading this. It's in Brussels, Paris, Beirut and Cairo. It's on your bus and in your car and your children's classrooms and bedrooms. It dominates your life.
And those nasty laws and regulations? They brought us safe cars and planes, safe medicine, buildings and food. It's called the rule of law, and it's the bedrock of modern civilization.
Should anyone—whether it's the police, Apple, Snapchat, Kik, or ISIS—be above the law just because they're on-line?
That's the Internet's kryptonite question.
Make no mistake: what's shaping up is a titanic power struggle between the state and the technology sector, now the world's largest and most powerful industry.
Tim Cook rights talk hews absolutist line close to the NRA
“Like many of you,” Apple CEO Tim Cook told an industry audience last summer, "we at Apple reject the idea that our customers should have to make tradeoffs between privacy and security. We can, and we must provide both in equal measure. We believe that people have a fundamental right to privacy. The American people demand it, the constitution demands it and morality demands it.”
Yet for all Cook's rhetoric about privacy rights, his absolutism hews much closer to the NRA than to Thomas Jefferson. And it was no coincidence that he mentioned customers first.
In a free and democratic society, no rights are absolute. All are circumscribed by reasonable limitations in the interests of the greater good. Determining the delicate balance in protecting both belongs to the judiciary, not corporate CEOs.
Of course, the spectre hovering over all the sound and fury is the off-stage presence of Edward Snowden. Almost to a person (including the New York Times editorial board), opponents of government efforts to break encryption mistakenly equate it with mass surveillance and a police state.
NSA can't keep their hands off the data cookie jar
As Snowden heroically demonstrated at enormous personal risk and sacrifice, the NSA couldn't keep its hands off the data cookie jar.
By engaging in profoundly intrusive and arbitrary mass data collection, and then lying about it, U.S. authorities poisoned the debate and destroyed public trust. Every reasonable person is or should be suspicious of the NSA's ultimate aims.
Yet police access to encryption keys, granted under warrant based on reasonable and probable grounds, permitting targeted surveillance of suspected criminals is the very antithesis of indiscriminate warrantless mass surveillance.
Stripped of all the high-falutin' jargon, the argument against government access to encryption is really an argument for placing the tech sector, including all the starry-eyed youngsters coding next year's whiz-bang app, above the law.
In that bargain with the devil, the price will be paid in souls.
In this debate, the deep and undisclosed hypocrisy and conflict of interest of tech libertarians must not be ignored.
For all its present hyperventilation, it was the tech industry itself that created the security risk that now threatens us, and they got richer than kings doing it.
Tech industry has built a massive uncontrolled surveillance state of its own
Apple, Google, and Facebook, the biggest dogs in the tech yard, all offer encrypted messaging and have a combined value of almost $1.5 trillion dollars.
All of them purport to "protect" the public from government scrutiny, yet profit spectacularly from the market in highly invasive private information in the form of "meta-data." This information is sold to undisclosed data brokers for unknown uses—mainly marketing.
According to Marc Goodman, technology expert and author of Future Crimes, the private sector has constructed its own for-profit invisible surveillance state, which generates $156 billion a year in revenues, more than double the annual U.S. intelligence budget. Every site we visit, every page we click, they silently track us and sell us.
They track our facial recognition data, our children's facial data, our movements and location. Google even scans and monetizes email content, claiming in a recent lawsuit that “a person has no legitimate expectation of privacy in information he voluntarily turns over to third parties." Meaning Google.
If we're talking about warrantless mass surveillance, the NSA can't hold a candle to private enterprise.
Brussels in lockdown needs answers now
Brussels is at a standstill, while the world converges on Paris in a week.
The tech sector needs to climb down from its over-the-top sense of entitlement and step up.
Something's seriously wrong when a business sector that indiscriminately hosts terrorist accounts lectures democratically elected leaders about public safety, then shovels its own cash to off-shore tax havens.
We've got a problem here and we've got to fix it fast. There's an urgent global imperative to solve this crisis and find a middle ground between a police state of mass surveillance and giving ISIS killers their own private communications network.
In fact we already have the solution. Like Dorothy's red shoes, we've always had it. It's called a wiretap warrant. Law enforcement has to be given the time-tested powers it needs to protect the public.
Why the Canadian Judicial Council has a serious credibility issue!
Good Day Readers:
The other day the CJC released its findings into the alleged misconduct of Quebec federally appointed Judge Michel Girouard who while a lawyer stands accused of buying cocaine from a video store owner and convicted drug dealer.
But first the players.
This shinny face belongs to Independent Counsel Marie Cossette from Montreal BigLaw Lavery Lawyers. Lots of experience with public inquiries most notably the now concluded Charbonneau Commission that investigated corruption in La Belle Province. Mon Dieu there's corruption there?
Judge Michel "Don't Call Me Mr." Girouard (Soon to be ex?) with a penchant for renting videos.
The Honourable Richard J. F. Chartier Chief Justice of Manitoba's Court of Appeal and only member of the panel who wrote a dissenting decision CyberSmokeBlog found to be beyond comprehensible in its naivete. But more about that later.. "J. F." gave every possible benefit of the doubt and far beyond to "Mr. Giouard." At one point in the proceedings he even sternly corrected "Shinny Face" Cossette for referring to Justice Girouard as "Mr. Girouard."
Panel Member Federal Court of Canada Chief Judge Paul Crampton.
Finally, panel member Ronald LeBlanc.
Appointed a New Brunswick Provincial Judge in 2002. Prior to that he was Crown prosecutor. Has practiced law for over 35-years.
These are the folks who have spent millions of public dollars (God knows how many?) investigating Mr.(sorry Justice) Girouard. After reading the Judicial Council's report the title of Justice sticks in CyberSmokeBlog's craw.
But this may be far from over. Michel Girouard's expensive taxpayer financed two person legal team could conceivably decide to ask the Supreme Court of Canada for a judicial review of the case and you know what that means .....eh? More serious
The very troubling decision of Richard Chartier
If you click below there you will find the 52 page report submitted by the panel dated November 18, 2015.
Report CyberSmokeBlog directs you to Chapter VIII (Chief Justice Chartier's dissenting opinion on the analysis of Justice Giroud's testimony) at page 46 - it's truly remarkable for the wrong reasons. CyberSmokeBlog's Analysis
Here's a sampling of why CSB found Richard Chartier's decision so incredible in light of the information presented to the panel investigating Justice Girouard's "alleged misconduct."  at page 46: "..... that the object which Mr Lamontagne slipped to Me Girouard was cocaine. According to these two witnesses, they exchanged a note regarding either movie rentals or Mr Lamontagne’s tax matter ....."
CyberSmokeBlog:Oh really? Now readers, does this look like a run-of-the-mill everyday transaction between Michel Girouard and now convicted drug trafficker Yvon Lamontagne over movie rentals or a tax matter? Everything above board and by the book? Don't think so. They sure have a strange way of conducting business!  at page 46: "..... Of course, there was the video recording. Unfortunately this recording had no sound track. The Absence of a sound track greatly hampered their expat recollection of the exchange ....."
Mark Twain: "What? your actions are speaking so loudly I can't hear you!"  at page 47: "..... in my opinion, such inaccuracies, when considered separately or as a whole, do not give rise to any concrete doubt about the credibility of Justice Girouard's testimony ....."
CyberSmokeBlog: Giving the accused such overwhelming benefit of the doubt would result in few convictions in courts of law. [250 at page 47]: "..... In his letter of January 2013 to the Executive Director of the Council (i.e. Norman Sabourin), Justice Girouard wrote that he purchased movies directly from Mr. Lamontagne because he did not want adult movies to appear on his customer file ....."
CyberSmokeBlog: Wonder if Richard Chartrand is aware of the Douglas Inquiry? Presumably, federally appointed Judges and Judges need to watch porno too.
[252 at page 47]: "..... Justice Girouard gave two reasons why he slipped money under the desk pad: the first so that it would not be obvious he was giving money to a trafficker; and second, that he was acting out of habit ....."
CyberSmokeBlog: Surely to God this should have raised a huge, huge red flag for Chief Justice Chartier. Is this the usual way a lawyer and client transact? What's wrong with this picture?
[254 at page 48]: "..... Justice Girouard stated that the note contained two pieces of information: the amount to settle the tax matter and the name of the lender ....."
CyberSmokeBlog: Believe in the tooth fairy ..... eh? [257 at page 48]: "..... Justice Girouard testified that Mr. Doray's summary (Raymond Doray appointed by the Council to make further confidential inquiries) which was provided to his (Michel Girouard's) counsel (Gerald Tremblay), indicated that Mr. Lamontagne had written on the note, among other things, a message saying (translation) "I'm (Yvon Lamontagne) under surveillance, I'm (Yvon Lamontagne) being bugged." Justice Girouard stated before the Committee that Mr. Doray must have misunderstood him, and that he told him (Mr. Doray) instead, it was Mr. Lamontagne's behaviour which lead him (Michel Girouard) to believe that the latter (Yvon Lamontagne) was under surveillance ....."
CyberSmokeBlog: It matters not. Both parties in this transaction to say the least were behaving in a highly, highly suspicious manner. This is not the usual way lawyers and clients transact. A benefit of the doubt that is not warranted.
[260 at page 49]: ".....Finally, my colleagues find it difficult to believe that Justice Girouard read the first draft of
the summary dated May 6, 2013, but that he did not read the August 13, 2013 version. I must
admit that I also find it hard to believe this part of his testimony. In my view, Justice Girouard’s
explanation on this issue was weak and ambiguous. However, it is plausible that Justice
Girouard, as a result of being exhausted and discouraged after finding out that the conduct
review process would go forward , did not immediately read Me Doray’s summary of their
meeting.  The fact that Justice Girouard did not read the note: The final suspicious element raised
CyberSmokeBlog: If you found it difficult to believe Michel Girouard did not read the revised version of Mr. Doray's summary and his explanation to be weak and ambiguous then why did you yet again give him the benefit of the doubt? [261 at page 49]: In my view, a negative
inference should not be drawn from the fact that the two men do not recall what they talked
about five (5) years ago.
CyberSmokeBlog: Even with a highly, highly suspicious video to refresh their memories?
[262 at page 49]: "I wish to make it very clear that what I saw on the video recording of September 17
seems shady to me. Even Justice Girouard acknowledged it in his testimony: what is shown on
the video looks [translation) “suspicious.” ..... "I cannot conclude that his explanations
are false. The fact remains that the independent counsel was unable to provide the Committee
with clear and conclusive evidence regarding the object that was exchanged and, therefore, the
true nature of the transaction that was recorded on video. Although it is true that there are some
inaccuracies in Justice Girouard’s testimony, it is important to make a distinction between a
version of the facts that is disbelieved and one that is deliberately fabricated. As the Court of
Appeal of Quebec stated in Bureautique Nouvelle-Beauce inc. versus. Compagnie d’assurance
Guardian du Canada (translation) […] what is untrue is not necessarily deceitful.” CyberSmokeBlog: Case law notwithstanding, many would call "the transaction" both untrue and deceitful. Conclusion CSB could go on and on and on ..... but you can read the full report for yourselves. It's time now for you who will pay for this investigation to indicate what you saw. A normal transaction between a lawyer and his client or something much, much more sinister? Should Michel Girouard be allowed to remain on the bench?
Like many upon hearing of the recent Paris attacks they appeared to have caught the world's counter terrorist intelligence community completely by surprise, CyberSmokeBlog also wondered how could this have happened? Surely, such a co-ordinated, simultaneous,multi-site operation involving several individuals must have involved considerable planning and communication. Why didn't anyone pick up "electronic chatter? It didn't take much research to explain why.
Here are some techniques for staying off the grid.
Lac Megantic oil train explosion in Quebec. (Canadian Press photo)
Some call them bomb trains. Oil trains — loaded with explosive Canadian and Bakken fuels — are expected to roll into U.S. communities in “staggering" numbers, says a new study released Thursday by a Seattle sustainability think tank.
Sightline Institute says oil shipped by rail into Washington and Oregon states alone will reach one million barrels per day by the year 2018, quadrupling current levels. The cancelation last week of TransCanada's proposed Keystone XL pipeline, to boost Canadian oil exports, is only expected to worsen this trend, the report states.
The analysis comes amid opposition to oil trains from cities and towns in these states. On Thursday, the City of Portland passed a resolution opposing oil by rail expansion, and directed city staff to investigate the health, safety and climate impacts.
The controversial issue has been gaining steam since 2012, when the region's first crude oil rail terminal was installed to load oil tankers.
"If there were an oil train explosion ... we’d all be vaporized"
“If there were an oil train explosion here or near my house — we’d all be vaporized,” said Annie Christensen, a resident near Rainier, Oregon, population 1,800, in a YouTube video last year. “I live a third of a mile from these tracks.”
“The tracks run literally right through the center of Rainier. In order to back out of your parking place, you have to back up over the tracks,” she says in the video.
After the video was posted, Christensen told National Observer this week that the state has begun upgrading the rails, and realigning the town's car parking for safety. But, she said, far more needs to be done. America’s bridges, roads and communities are not ready for the Canadian oil train surge.
"You don't have to be an environmentalist to not want to be incinerated,” she wrote in an e-mail Thursday.
"There is significant anger and frustration regarding the danger of the oil trains and the lack of real action from those in positions to help us be safe."
There are now seven oil-by-rail terminals in the region, moving 250,000 barrels of oil per day. A total of 14 facilities are in the works.
“The capacity that the industry is trying to build right now is staggering,” said Sightline’s policy director, Eric de Place, on Thursday from Seattle.
"People are largely unaware of it, except when the trains derail and explode. Then they become painfully aware."
Canadian oil still growing, despite Keystone XL rejection
And while environmentalists across North America celebrated President Obama’s nixing of the giant Keystone XL pipeline last Friday, Canadian oil production itself is still growing — even with very low oil prices.
“Even without the [Keystone XL] pipeline, Canadian crude has always found its way down to the U.S. — and this is by rail,” said U.S. Energy Information Agency (EIA) economist Lejla Villar on Wednesday from Washington, D.C.
The U.S. government forecasts Canadian oil production will expand by 60,000 barrels per day this year, and an additional 90,000 barrels per day in 2016.
Oil train protest in Grays Haror near Seattle in October 2015. (Photo by Natalie Jamerson, Washington Environmental Council)
Rail will be now be the "sole driver" of new growth in Alberta's oil sands exports, says the Sightline study.
“The Kinder Morgan [pipeline] expansion in B.C. would be a 590,000 barrels per day increase. But we’re talking about almost double that much in rail capacity for oil trains — it’s a lot.”
The greenhouse gas from the oil train surge in the Pacific Northwest is equal to the pollution of adding nine to 22 million cars, says the Sightline report.
Canada's oil lobby group says oil by train is a reality as the industry struggles to get the approval of giant pipelines.
"Low world oil prices are causing a slower pace of oil development throughout North America. Even with this slower pace, additional transportation capacity will be required over time,” wrote Matthew O'Connor of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers in Calgary.
"The industry has several pipelines (new and expansions of existing) currently in the regulator process ... Rail is one component of that transportation network and currently makes up about five per cent of that total capacity,” he added.
One of the industry's next anticipated projects is Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline expansion between Alberta and B.C.'s coast. However, the $5.4-billion project is facing uncertain delays with a new government in Ottawa pledging to overhaul Canada's environmental review of pipelines.
As of August, Canada provided 45 per cent of all crude oil imports to the United States, almost three times as much as all Persian Gulf countries combined, says the U.S. EIA.
An environmentalist report on oil trains also released this month — co-produced by Waterkeeper Alliance, Riverkeeper and ForestEthics — used 250 citizen investigators to survey bridges used by oil trains in 15 U.S. states. They photographed bridges cracking and in an apparent bad state of repair, though they admitted they were not engineers.
The report also chronicled a growing list of U.S. oil train accidents, where derailments have spilled oil into rivers and other watersheds.
Map of proposed and existing oil-by-train infrastructure. (Source: Sightline Institute)
What's hard to fathom about last Friday's Paris terrorist attack is how it seemed to catch authorities by complete surprise. An operation involving up to 8-terrorists operating simultaneously at multiple locations must have involved significant planning and co-ordation. Did international anti-terrorist organizations not pick up any "chatter?" Are you to believe those responsible did not use their smart phones and stayed completely off the grid? Add to this a report German authorities are investigating claims that an Algerian man warned fellow migrants last week of an imminent attack in Paris and the mystery deepens.
What does this say about the state of international anti-terrorist intelligence gathering?
Clare L. Pieuk
Belgian jihadi Abdelhamid Abaaoud identified as mastermind of Paris attacks
Monday, November 16, 2015
This undated image talen from a militant website on Monday, November 16, 2015 showing Belgian Abdelhamid Abaaoud, a French official says Abdelhamid Abaaoud is the suspected mastermind of the Paris attacks was also linked to the thwarted train and church attacks. (militant video via AP)
BRUSSELS — Once a happy-go-lucky student at one of Brussels' most prestigious high schools, Saint-Pierre d'Uccle, Abdelhamid Abaaoud morphed into Belgium's most notorious jihadi, a zealot so devoted to the cause of holy war that he recruited his 13-year-old brother to join him in Syria.
The child of Moroccan immigrants who grew up in the Belgian capital's scruffy and multiethnic Molenbeek-Saint-Jean neighborhood, the fugitive, in his late 20s, was identified by French authorities on Monday as the presumed mastermind of the attacks last Friday in Paris that killed 129 people and injured hundreds.
What's more, one French official told The Associated Press, Abaaoud is believed to have links to earlier terror attacks that were thwarted: one against a Paris-bound high-speed train that was foiled by three young Americans in August, and the other against a church in the French capital's suburbs.
"All my life, I have seen the blood of Muslims flow," Abaaoud said in a video made public in 2014. "I pray that Allah will break the backs of those who oppose him, his soldiers and his admirers, and that he will exterminate them."
Belgian authorities suspect him of also helping organize and finance a terror cell in the eastern city of Verviers that was broken up in an armed police raid on Jan. 15, in which two of his presumed accomplices were killed.
The following month, Abaaoud was quoted by the Islamic State group's English-language magazine, Dabiq, as saying that he had secretly returned to Belgium to lead the terror cell and then escaped to Syria in the aftermath of the raid despite having his picture broadcast across the news.
"I was even stopped by an officer who contemplated me so as to compare me to the picture, but he let me go, as he did not see the resemblance!" Abaaoud boasted.
There was no official comment from the Belgian federal prosecutor's office about Abaaoud's reported role in the Paris attacks, but Belgian police over the weekend announced the arrest of three suspects in Molenbeek, his old neighborhood, and were carrying out numerous searches there Monday.
The hardscrabble area in the west of Brussels has long been considered a focal point of Islamic radicalism and recruitment of foreign fighters to go to Iraq and Syria.
Abaaoud's image became even grimmer after independent journalists Etienne Huver and Guillaume Lhotellier, visiting the Turkish-Syrian frontier, obtained photos and video last year of Abaaoud's exploits across Syria. The material included footage of him and his friends loading a pickup truck and a makeshift trailer with a mound of bloodied corpses.
Before driving off, a grinning Abaaoud tells the camera: "Before we towed jet skis, motorcycles, quad bikes, big trailers filled with gifts for vacation in Morocco. Now, thank God, following God's path, we're towing apostates, infidels who are fighting us."
Huver told The Associated Press Monday the video was too fragmentary to say much about Abaaoud's character, but that he detected some signs the Belgian was moving into a leadership role.
"On the one hand I'm surprised," Huver said of Abaaoud's prominence. "On the other hand, I saw that there were beginnings of something . You can see that he's giving orders. You can feel a charismatic guy who's going up in the world ... You can see a combatant who's ready to climb the ranks."
Satter reported from Paris. Lori Hinnant in Paris contributed.
Masters Degree (University of Calgary - Economics), Bachelor of Arts (Honours - Carleton University), Diploma Chemical Technology (St. Clair College), Oh yes, almost forgot - one course credit, Wayne State University, Detroit, Michigan