Union asks NDP to keep Saudi deal ‘under wraps’

An industrial giant has been thrust into a federal election scrap between party leaders, and its workers – fearing their jobs could be jeopardized – aren’t happy about it.

In a federal leaders debate, when NDP Leader Tom Mulcair questioned Conservative Leader Stephen Harper on General Dynamics Land Systems Canada’s $15-billion deal to supply armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia, it drew fire from Unifor, the union that represents workers at the southwestern Ontario plant.

“We have contacted the NDP about this issue,” said Fergo Berto, Unifor area director for London, adding that Unifor national president Jerry Dias spoke recently to Mulcair.

If the company lost the contract, it would not only mean “significant” job losses in London, he said, but he’s worried it would also hurt the plant’s ability to land future work.

“We asked the NDP to not make this an issue, that it be kept under wraps. There are a lot of issues out there to be talking about,” said Berto, adding Dias spoke to Mulcair over the weekend, after the debate last week.

There are more than 2,000 workers at GDLS Canada and more than 500 are Unifor workers.

During the debate, Bloc Quebecois Leader Gilles Duceppe and Mulcair challenged Harper on military sales to Saudi Arabia.

Mulcair said after the debate the government must question the human rights record of Saudi Arabia and that his government would look at the human rights record of any country in which it intended to sign an agreement on arms.

Harper defended the deal, saying many of Canada’s allies were also after that contract. He also said Saudi Arabia is an ally in the fight against ISIL, and the deal is crucial to the region’s economy.

Irene Mathyssen, NDP candidate and MP in the last Parliament in London-Fanshawe, said she has since spoken to Mulcair and GDLS officials.

She said the contract wouldn’t be cancelled under an NDP win, but the party wanted “more transparency” from the federal government.

“It’s a signed deal. We recognize the impact this will have for General Dynamics,”

Mathyssen said. “The issue is the Conservatives are so secretive they don’t tell anyone what they are up to. We have to do due diligence and investigate.”

The GDLS deal wasn’t raised during the most recent debate Monday. Mulcair and GDLS Canada couldn’t be reached for comment Tuesday.

The Saudi contract, spread over 14 years, is to supply armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia, which has a record of suppressing its citizens, including imprisoning those who speak out.

When Harper was challenged about the deal, he said it would “not be right to punish workers in a factory in London for this. It doesn’t make sense.”

David Perry, senior analyst with the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute in Ottawa, defended the secrecy around arms deals, saying it’s often demanded by the customer, and not the fault of government or the industry. If Canada wants to compete globally in the military supply sector, it shouldn’t make a habit of questioning this deal, he added.

“To have this discussed after will be a concern to (the Saudis). It is not secrecy, but the terms of the contract,” Perry said.

It’s also a question of whether Canada wants to be a global player in trade, he added.

“If we’re going to have a domestic industry that is economically viable, we need a foreign policy pragmatic enough to support it. We just can’t sell to our closest allies. We need to broaden the market.”


Canadian study on the persecution of Iranian journalists

Many Iranian journalists suffer depression and post-traumatic stress disorder due to government harassment, intimidation, arrest and even torture, according to a Canadian study released Thursday.

The report, “Iranian Journalists: A Study of Their Psychological Wellbeing”, found that journalists who had been arrested by Iranian authorities experienced the most severe symptoms, the Toronto Star reported.

Authored by University of Toronto psychiatrist and war correspondent trauma expert Dr. Anthony Feinstein, the report looked at 114 Iranian journalists selected from a random group of 400.

The results — one in five had been tortured — surprised Feinstein.

“I’ve looked at journalists in many societies and I’ve not come across a statistic like this,” the doctor told Canada’s largest newspaper. “I did not expect the level of threat against this group to be so high.”

Half had been arrested at least once and one in 10 had been assaulted. Authorities did not stop at intimidating journalists: 57 percent said their families had been threatened.

Other statistics the study uncovered included: 78 percent abandoned a story due to threats and or assaults; 61 percent said they had been subjected to surveillance; and 61 percent were victims of intimidation.

Those journalists who refrained from going against the official line of Iranian authorities fared much better, with less to worry about, Feinstein found.

The study — which will be discussed Thursday evening at a public forum by a panel of two prominent Canadian journalists and Feinstein — was the brainchild of Maziar Bahari, an Iranian-Canadian journalist who is the founder of the lobby group Journalism Is Not A Crime. He is one of the panelist, the other a journalist from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

Bahari spent 118 days in prison in 2009 after reporting on former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s election irregularities.

“Journalists in Iran are invisible victims of the regime,” Bahari told the Star. “They are really scarred and the Iranian government has to be held accountable.”

In all, 37 percent of those in the study suffered moderate to very severe depression. The victims need help to deal with the psychological effects.

“Post-traumatic stress disorder and depression are treatable,” Feinstein said. “[But] if you don’t treat them, they generally don’t go away, or they might get worse.”

The experience of Iranian journalists is similar to their counterparts in countries such as Mexico or Kenya, where governments there also practice intimidation against members of the press; it is also a similar experience to reporters who cover war zones.

“It’s a universal problem,” Bahari said. “With the advent of citizen journalism and social media, it is just going to get worse and more widespread.”


Saudis blame Iranians for Hajj disaster

Dr. Khalid al-Saud, a member of the royal family, wrote on Twitter that “the time has come to think — in a serious way — about banning ‘Iranians’ from coming to Mecca, for the safety of the pilgrims.”

Sabq, a prominent Saudi news site, published a report based on unnamed “eyewitnesses” claiming that the stampede was caused by Iranian pilgrims.

Idiocy of the day

Oh yeah, this’ll work:

“What is needed, in addition to a humane refugee policy, is a fundamentally different approach to the Syrian civil war that holds out the promise not only of defeating the Islamic State and, over time, President Bashar al-Assad but also of relieving as much of the humanitarian tragedy unfolding there as possible — and soon. We are witnessing the equivalent of a slow-motion genocide and doing little about it.

The most viable strategy for achieving, at least partially, these various aims would be to deconstruct Syria. We need a number of regional solutions rather than a Hail Mary hope for a big and comprehensive political deal or military turnaround. By helping opposition forces create pockets of sanctuary within Syria that would grow stronger and larger over time, we can help at least the people living in these zones — while also building up, bit by bit, a political and military strategy that could eventually prove successful against extremist forces and the regime.”

Uighur jihadist group in Syria advertises ‘little jihadists’

Click the image.


At least 42 injured in concentration camp amusement park accident

The accident took place at Fun Fair amusement park in the Gaza Strip.

3000 year old occupation seal discovered

A rare 3,000-year-old seal, from the time of King David in the 10th century BCE, was recently discovered by a 10-year-old Russian volunteer at Jerusalem’s Temple Mount Sifting Project.