Halifax man arrested on Wednesday after stabbing two men in Saint Mary’s assault

Just before midnight on Wednesday, two men, aged 19 and 21, were stabbed after a confrontation with two other men in Halifax. Both victims suffered non-life-threatening injuries and were treated at a nearby hospital, and then soon released.

Police investigators do not believe this was a random incident, considering all four men were involved in a heated argument earlier that evening.

On Thursday morning, a 22-year old man turned himself in to police at Police Headquarters. Later that afternoon, he appeared in Halifax Provincial Court and faced charges of assault with a weapon, assault causing bodily harm and possession of a weapon for a dangerous purpose.

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You don’t like the truth: where was Canada?

Many Canadians take pride in a government that relentlessly opposes the exploitation of child soldiers. In fact, Canada was the first to sign an international treaty that requires participating nations to give exceptional consideration to any captured enemy fighters that are under 18. Yet, when it came to Omar Khadr, the Canadian government abandoned its own citizen.

Khadr’s desertion is the focus of Luc Côté and Patricio Henriquez’s documentary, You Don’t Like The Truth. The genie-nominated film is based on video footage of Omar Khadr’s 2003 interrogation by Canadian representatives at Guantanamo Bay.

Grainy clips from the seven-hour long video, taken over four days of illegitimate grilling, form the documentary’s backbone. What surfaces is a dark reality of closed minds and incessant accusations. Initially, when the Canadians first arrive, Khadr is thrilled. He mistakenly believes his government is finally helping him, and the agents don’t bother to disclose their intentions. From day one, the CSIS agent’s mind is already made up—he’s not there to support Khadr but only to blame him.

Screenshot of Omar Khadr's interrogation by Canadian representatives at Guantanamo Bay

They bribe him with McDonald’s and Subway sandwiches and when their attempts fail, they turn to emotional blackmail, claiming they will help his family in return for his cooperation. After Khadr speaks out about the brutal torture he endured, the CSIS agent shrugs off his claims, and says he’s “happy not to be in [Khadr’s] position.”

There are also interviews with Khadr’s lawyers, former cellmates, journalists, and even an ex-torturer, Damien “Monster” Corsetti. Deployed as an interrogator at the U.S. military base in Bagram, Afghanistan, Corsetti strikes a powerful chord: “Ultimately the blame now lies on the Canadian people, of how I, as a cold, callous son of a bitch, had more compassion for that boy than his own people?”

Essentially, Harper’s minority government doesn’t represent the majority of Canadians. In fact, Côté and Henriquez screened the film in Ottawa for members of Parliament a couple months ago, as part of an event organized by the Bloc Quebecois for all MPs. Some Liberals showed up, some NDP and a lot of MPs from the Bloc, but there were no Conservatives.

After Thursday’s screening at the Human Rights Watch film festival in Toronto, Henriquez said, “The Conservatives don’t like to have another point of view represented. When it came to Omar Khadr’s case they had their own agenda.”

Everyone has their own stand regarding Omar Khadr, and this documentary will do little to sway them in a particular direction. Interestingly, in a panel discussion following the film’s screening, Côté revealed a surprisingly beautiful statement made by Khadr in court:

“There are two things I missed out on because of prison. The first thing is an education, and the second is a relationship.”

After Côté mentioned this quote to a Quebec audience a couple weeks ago, a wealthy elderly lady offered to finance Khadr’s postsecondary studies in Winnipeg, where he plans to study medicine once released.

He insists that the pain his body endured during years of torture will help him understand his patients’ suffering. This reminds me of Plato’s Republic, when Socrates pictures a just city. The city’s best doctors are those who’ve had contact with “the greatest number of very sick bodies from childhood on, have themselves experienced every illness.”

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Gladstone Hotel in Toronto

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Award-winning journalist talks about vaccine-autism controversy

Investigative journalist Brian Deer is a newspaper man to the core. He broke the vaccine-autism scandal. Parents of autistic children have wrongly blamed themselves for having their kids vaccinated for measles, mumps and rubella, said Deer at Ryerson yesterday.

The Lancet, a respected British medical journal, published a report claiming a connection between the MMR vaccine and autism in children. Seven years ago, an investigation led by Sunday Times journalist, Brian Deer, started out as routine assignment.

Deer discovered that the lead author of the article, former physician Andrew Wakefield, had several hidden conflicts of interest. Wakefield’s report proved fraudulent. Originally about 12 developmentally challenged children, The Lancet retracted the article last year, saying that many components were wrong. The General Medical Council found Wakefield guilty of serious professional misconduct and struck him off the Medical Register, meaning he couldn’t practice as a doctor in the UK anymore.

Newspapers across the UK accepted Wakefield’s research as verified facts and accordingly published his findings as true. Journalists ask: why hadn’t anyone else picked up this case? Fear and pity—these were the two elements kept this overhyped fib in the media.

A lawyer hired Wakefield to make a case against MMR developers. By doing so, Wakefield was paid around $330 per hour. His sole purpose was to fabricate a link between MMR and negative side-effects, and continue to perpetrate this lie.

After Deer published newspaper articles criticizing Wakefield, he faced a libel lawsuit conducted by Wakefield.

“My happiest moment was at the end of 2005 when the judge said that Wakefield couldn’t end his litigation,” said Deer at Ryerson yesterday. He describes winning the British Press Award as a prime moment in his life.

Andrew Wakefield never admitted to fabricating data and maintains his claim today.

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Miss Representation, a compelling documentary film and official selection at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, explores the under-representation of women in power.

By looking at the identity of the 21st century woman, the film challenges the media’s limited portrayal of what it means to be empowered. It promises to be the awakening we all need.


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Only a week away!

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Building bridges using art

I was wrapping up my interview with Adeena Niazi when I asked her, “What should the world know about Afghan women?”

Adeena replied:

“Anyone concerned with helping Afghan women must educate themselves about the reality of Afghanistan. They must distinguish between urban myth and the truth by talking to Afghan women and working closely with them.”

It was only a few days later that I found out about Artfully Unforgotten, an advocacy-driven NGO based in New York City that develops resources for vulnerable communities worldwide. The organization’s founder and Executive Director, Heather Metcalfe, has raised funds for Afghan women since October 2007.

Through art exhibits and theatre, Heather delivers the colourful and insightful stories of individuals from across the Afghan social spectrum. They maintain their dignity and Heather employs accuracy. By doing so, Heather bridges gaps between her North American audiences and the burka-clad women seen on the 6 o’clock news.

Heather’s current project, Voices of Afghanistan, showcases photographs and her interviews with the women, men and children of Mazar-i-Sharif and Maimana, Afghanistan from June 2009. Since then she has used her collection of stories and video footage to create a short film and coffee table book–I need to get more copies, pronto!

Heather isn’t simply advocating on behalf of women and children, she’s doing something that has become disappointingly rare in today’s journalism: she’slistening. It is only by listening to the people Heather meets that her audience hears the real voices of Afghanistan.

Ultimately, Heather incorporates the investigative essence of journalism with the accessibility of art. Her stories discuss conflict, culture and hope. Both men and women share their thoughts on the future of their country.

What the reader is eventually left with is a striking portrait of the astounding resilience and courage that exists among the Afghan people.

Coincidentally, my last question to Adeena addressed the portrayal of Afghan women in the media. This is what she said:

“The western media focuses only on the veil–Afghan women are very resilient and they have worked hard, especially during Taliban rule and during war. There were women who pursued education and organized the mobility of education. They’re really strong; they are survivors.”

Similarly, after her trip Heather wrote about her experiences and she said:

“I did not find one woman who perceived herself to be a victim.”

Artfully Unforgotten‘s book and video conveys to the public why the people of Afghanistan are most deserving of their support: they are eager for a brighter future and they are dedicated to rebuilding.

For video footage check out:

More information about Adeena Niazi and the Toronto-based refugee settlement agency she founded (Afghan Women’s Organization) will be available in McClung’s magazine’s upcoming spring 2011 issue.


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