CBC News reports: Eight months ago, Umm Haritha, a 20-year-old woman from Canada, made her way to Turkey against her parents’ wishes with a half-empty suitcase and $1,500.
Within a week she was in Syria, and a few weeks later she was married to Abu Ibrahim al-Suedi, a 26-year-old Palestinian from Sweden fighting for Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the Sunni jihadist group battling the Syrian regime.
It is not clear whether Umm Haritha’s marriage to Abu Ibrahim was arranged before her travel to Syria. Regardless, it only lasted five months.
On May 5, Abu Ibrahim, whose real name is Taha Shade, was in a car en route to a meeting in Deir ez-Zor with members of rival faction Jabhat al-Nusra. What was meant to be a gathering to finalize a peace treaty between ISIS and al-Nusra turned deadly when an al-Nusra fighter on a motorbike sped up to Shade’s car and detonated his explosive belt.
At the time, Shade was wearing his own explosive belt, which also went off and blew him to pieces.
Two days later, Umm Haritha tweeted about her husband’s death, calling on “Allah” to “destroy those who backstabbed the brothers and resurrect Abu Ibrahim with noor [light] from every piece of his body.”
Umm Haritha’s journey to Syria highlights an underreported part of the western Jihadist experience in Syria. [Continue reading...]
The Globe and Mail reports: On March 20, the U.S. authorized sanctions against billionaire Gennady Timchenko amid the escalating crisis between Russia and Ukraine. Three weeks later, the Russian tycoon, who amassed a fortune trading oil and selling natural gas, appeared on Russian television. He was not in Russia at the time. He was in China. The West, he said, was “pushing us away.” China was not. In fact, Chinese companies were talking with Mr. Timchenko about buying more of Russia’s abundant energy.
“There is a market with a lot of potential developing in the Asia-Pacific region,” said the billionaire, who boasts close ties to Vladimir Putin and has been called one of Russia’s most powerful men.
This week, the country’s Prime Minister was even more explicit: “We are interested in diversifying today more so than ever before. Therefore we are implementing solutions for the export of gas and oil to Asian and Pacific countries, first and foremost China,” Dmitry Medvedev said on Russian television.
As the global fissures radiating from Russia’s moves against Ukraine call into question the future of its ties with Western powers, Russia is increasingly casting its gaze east, to a distant border long neglected. In May, Mr. Putin is expected to come to Beijing to sign a major contract that will see Russia pipe vast quantities of natural gas to China. It will mark the sixth meeting between Mr. Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping since the beginning of 2013, as Russia pushes for a “pivot east” that has taken on sudden new urgency in the wake of the country’s moves in Ukraine, which have earned it global criticism, and an increasing likelihood of punitive sanctions.
The change stands to have wide-reaching ramifications, redrawing geopolitical alignments and altering global energy flows, a matter of concern to Canada, among others.
For Russia’s economy, Ukraine stands to create “a major crisis,” said Vassily Kasin, a China expert with the Centre for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, a Moscow-based defence studies organization. “And China will become the major economic partner.” The two countries “will in fact move very close to an alliance, I think,” he said. “This is a major change.” [Continue reading...]
The Associated Press reports: For the first time, a former U.S. president has come out against the Keystone XL pipeline.
The ex-president in question is Jimmy Carter.
The 39th president joined a group of Nobel laureates to sign a letter urging the current commander-in-chief to reject the pipeline from Canada.
The letter tells Barack Obama that he stands on the brink of making a choice that will define his legacy on one of the greatest challenges humanity has ever faced — climate change.
“History will reflect on this moment and it will be clear to our children and grandchildren if you made the right choice…. We urge you to reject the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline,” the letter reads.
It says his decision will either signal a “dangerous commitment” to the status quo, or “bold leadership” that will inspire millions counting on him to do the right thing for the climate. [Continue reading...]
National Post reports: A week after a Montreal businessman claimed Canada had provided a new identity and passport to an Israeli Mossad agent involved in the assassination of a Hamas leader in Dubai, the government denied the sensational story on Friday.
While Ottawa is usually reluctant to comment on national security matters, the allegation of Canadian involvement in the killing of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh was apparently considered so damaging it required a response.
“There is no truth to these allegations that the government of Canada provided support to protect those wanted in the 2010 death of a Hamas leader,” said a government official with knowledge of the case, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The charge that the government had secretly resettled a member of the hit squad that drugged and suffocated Mr. Al-Mabhouh in a five star hotel room was made last weekend by Arian Azarbar, an Iranian-Canadian businessman.
He told the Ottawa Sun he learned about it from a Passport Canada employee with whom he had an affair. The passport officer, a member of the Integrated National Security Enforcement Team, had been investigating Mr. Azarbar and has since been suspended. [Continue reading...]
A non-denial denial? It depends on whether the individual in question had been identified as one those “those wanted.”
The Montreal Gazette adds: [A] Montreal police detective was reportedly reassigned in January after allegations surfaced that he, too, leaked information to Azarbar. The businessman is identified in Montreal police documents of being a possible Iranian spy, according to Montreal media reports.
Azarbar said Tuesday he has known the police officer for years, but said he had nothing to do with the officer’s reassignment. He also categorically denied any involvement with his native Iran. He said he has lived in Montreal’s West Island community since the age of five.
“I’ve been to Iran once in my whole life for two weeks,” he said.
He said his troubles began when he received a government letter asking him to meet with federal agents.
There followed one or two initial meetings with Kennedy and a man he believes was from the Department of Foreign Affairs. He said they were most interested in learning about his business trips to Venezuela, where he sells housing construction products.
He said he also had spent time around Hugo Chavez, the country’s fiery socialist leader who died last year.
“Did I work for the Iranian government? No, never. Did I like Chavez? Absolutely. I thought he was one of the greatest men in the world.”
Azarbar blamed much of his situation on a federal customs official in Toronto. Azarbar believes the man was jealous of his relationship with Kennedy, who has been separated from her husband, he said.
“When he found out about my relationship with Trina, he went berserk. It’s him that made this whole story.”
AFP reports: The amount of harmful pollutants released in the process of recovering oil from tar sands in western Canada is likely far higher than corporate interests say, university researchers said Monday.
Actual levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) emissions into the air may be two to three times higher than estimated, said the findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a peer-reviewed US journal.
The study raises new questions about the accuracy of environmental impact assessments on the tar sands, just days after a US State Department report said the controversial Keystone pipeline project to bring oil from Canada to Texas would have little impact on climate change or the environment.
Current government-accepted estimates do not account for the evaporation of PAHs from wastewater pools known as tailing ponds, which are believed to be a major source of pollution, said researchers at the University of Toronto.
According to corporate interests which are responsible for projecting their environmental impact, the Athabasca oil sands beneath Alberta, Canada — which hold the third largest reserve of crude oil known in the world — are only spewing as much pollution into the air as sparsely populated Greenland, where no big industry exists.
Lead study author Frank Wania, a professor in the department of physical and environmental sciences, described the corporate estimates as “inadequate and incomplete.”
“If you use these officially reported emissions for the oil sands area you get an emissions density that is lower than just about anywhere else in the world,” he told AFP. [Continue reading...]
Dawn Stover writes: My favorite gift of 2013 arrived in the mail a few days before Christmas: two cans of pure maple syrup made in Quebec by longtime friends, the Stevenson family. Printed on the metal cans is an image that instantly transports me back to my childhood in Canada: In a woodland scene, several men in plaid jackets pour sap from tapped sugar maple trees into buckets, and from there into a horse-drawn tank. Firewood is stacked alongside a red shanty, and steam rises from its roof. I can almost smell the sap boiling, and the scene conjures memories of Floyd Stevenson trickling hot syrup across a pan of fresh snow, and offering me a fork to taste the strands of sweet, frozen taffy.
In the eyes of a first-grader, Canada was a land of vast forests, deep snow, and crisp Macintosh apples. I knew that the nation that put a maple leaf on its flag wasn’t simply one big national park, but for many years afterward, Canada seemed to be a great green land where large carnivores still roamed, and key environmental protections remained intact.
In recent years, however, Canada’s conservative leaders—who are not so when it comes to conserving natural resources—have systematically trashed those protections. My Canadian friends tell me that many of their countrymen don’t even discuss climate change; it is considered unpatriotic to do so, now that Canada has hitched its economic sled to oil.
Oh, Canada. What happened to you, eh? Where is the “land glorious and free” described in your national anthem? Who is now standing “on guard for thee?” You have lost your true north.
The natural resources that Canada is increasingly tapping today are fossil fuels. Canada’s crude oil production has increased by about a third during the past decade, mostly because of tar sands development in Alberta. If the Obama administration approves the Keystone XL pipeline proposed by the energy company TransCanada, the conduit will extend from Alberta to the US Gulf Coast and open new markets for Canadian oil exports.
While environmental activists in the United States have focused on Keystone, though, another Canadian project has flown under the radar. A federal review panel recently approved plans for the Enbridge Northern Gateway Project, a new pipeline and port that would facilitate oil exports from Canada’s Pacific Coast to Asia. According to a report in InsideClimate News, “The goal is to double or triple tar sands output in the decades ahead, clearing the transportation bottlenecks that have depressed prices for tar sands crude, and getting Canada’s vast reserves onto more lucrative markets outside North America.” But while the government review panel assessed the climate impacts of building and operating the pipeline, it did not study the effects of the increased production that would result, saying that the latter was “beyond the scope of its review.”
Largely because of oil production, Canada is now expected to miss its target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 17 percent (below 2005 levels) by 2020, which it committed to under the 2009 Copenhagen Accord. A government report released in October showed that emissions decreased between 2005 and 2011 but have since risen, and that by the end of the decade they will be 20 percent higher than the target. Annual emissions attributed to the tar sands are forecast to grow from 34 million metric tons in 2005 to 101 million metric tons in 2020. Canada’s per-capita emissions are now only slightly less than in the United States and Saudi Arabia. [Continue reading...]
ThinkProgress: Just one week after Al Jazeera discovered that regulatory responsibility for Alberta, Canada’s controversial tar sands would be handed over to a fossil-fuel funded corporation, federal scientists have found that the area’s viscous petroleum deposits are surrounded by a nearly 7,500-square-mile ring of mercury.
Canadian government scientists have found that levels of mercury — a potent neurotoxin which has been found to cause severe birth defects and brain damage — around the region’s vast tar sand operations are up to 16 times higher than regular levels for the region. The findings, presented by Environment Canada researcher Jane Kirk at an international toxicology conference, showed that the 7,500 miles contaminated are “currently impacted by airborne Hg (mercury) emissions originating from oilsands developments.”
The Canadian government touts Alberta’s oil sands as the third-largest proven crude oil reserve in the world, next to Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. The region’s heavy crude oil is mixed with clay, bitumen, and a good deal of sand — hence the name “oil sands.” This makes for a unique and energy-intensive extraction process that some scientists say produces three times the greenhouse gas emissions of conventionally produced oil. Environment Canada has said it expects production emissions from tar sands to hit 104 million tonnes of CO2 by 2020 under current expansion plans. [Continue reading...]
The Globe and Mail reports: It is known as “Camelot,” and it is believed to be among the most expensive government buildings Canada has ever built.
Next year, the analysts, hackers and linguists who form the heart of Communications Security Establishment Canada are expected to move from their crumbling old campus in Ottawa to a gleaming new, $1-billion headquarters.
It is the physical manifestation of just how far the agency has come since Sept. 11, 2001. Before those attacks, it was known as Canada’s other spy agency – an organization created to crack Communist codes more than seven decades ago, but rendered rudderless after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The agency’s biggest victory of the 1990s, insiders say, was its behind-the-scenes role in the seizure of a Spanish trawler during the Turbot Wars, a 1995 fishing dispute off the Grand Banks of Newfoundland.
But now, where it once focused on vacuuming up Russian radio signals from Arctic bases, its surveillance reach is global: Its leaders now speak of “mastering the Internet” from desktops in Ottawa. In 1999, it had a shrinking budget of $100-million a year and a staff of about 900. Today, CSEC (pronounced like “seasick” ever since “Canada” was appended to the CSE brand) has evolved into a different machine: a deeply complex, deep-pocketed spying juggernaut that has seen its budget balloon to almost half a billion dollars and its ranks rise to more than 2,100 staff.
Canadian taxpayers spent $300-million a year on the nation’s two intelligence agencies before the attacks of Sept. 11, but the bill for spying is now coming in at more than $1-billion. That’s because the Canadian Security Intelligence Service has also been bulked up into a $535-million-a-year agency, up from $180-million in 1999. [Continue reading...]
The New York Times reports: Canadian opposition politicians expressed shock and anger on Thursday over a report that the National Security Agency conducted widespread surveillance during a summit meeting of world leaders in Canada in June 2010.
The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, citing a confidential briefing paper obtained by Edward J. Snowden, the former N.S.A. contractor, reported on Wednesday night that the N.S.A. turned the United States Embassy in Ottawa into a command post for a six-day surveillance operation that coincided with the Group of 20 summit meeting in Toronto and the Group of 8 meeting in Huntsville, Ontario.
According to the document, the operation was “closely coordinated with the Canadian partner,” an apparent reference to the Communications Security Establishment Canada, a Canadian electronic surveillance agency.
Exactly who or what the N.S.A. was monitoring, however, was unclear from the CBC’s description of the report. The document does indicate, however, that the N.S.A. believed that its mandate during the summit meetings included “providing support to policy makers.” [Continue reading...]
Bloomberg News reports: Canada is blessed with 3 million lakes, more than any country on Earth — and it may soon start manufacturing new ones. They’re just not the kind that will attract anglers or tourists.
The oil sands industry is in the throes of a major expansion, powered by C$20 billion ($19 billion) a year in investments. Companies including Syncrude Canada Ltd., Royal Dutch Shell Plc and Exxon Mobil Corp. affiliate Imperial Oil Ltd. are running out of room to store the contaminated water that is a byproduct of the process used to turn bitumen — a highly viscous form of petroleum — into diesel and other fuels.
By 2022 they will be producing so much of the stuff that a month’s output of wastewater could turn an area the size of New York’s Central Park into a toxic reservoir 11 feet (3.4 meters) deep, according to the Pembina Institute, a nonprofit in Calgary that promotes sustainable energy.
To tackle the problem, energy companies have drawn up plans that would transform northern Alberta into the largest man-made lake district on Earth. [Continue reading...]
The New York Times reports: Suncor Energy, Canada’s top petroleum producer, announced on Thursday that it would expand its oil production in 2014 by 10 percent in another sign that the Obama administration’s delay in approving the Keystone XL pipeline extension is not holding back growth in the western Canadian oil sands fields.
“We’re set for a strong year of continued production,” Suncor’s chief executive, Steven W. Williams, said. The company announced a capital spending program of $7.45 billion for 2014, $477 million more than it had forecast earlier this year.
Suncor, which is based in Calgary, produces oil and gas around Canada, and has operations in North Africa and the North Sea. But its oil sands operations are the main driver for the company. In the most recent quarter, its oil sands output rose 16 percent from the year before for a record of 396,000 barrels a day, nearly 20 percent of the country’s total oil sands production.
The company said it expected its oil sands production to increase again next year to 430,000 barrels a day.
Reports of increased production are coming even as Canadian oil executives are privately questioning whether the Obama administration will ever approve the Keystone XL pipeline, which it has been considering for more than two years.
The extension is intended to transport more than 800,000 barrels a day of oil sands output to refineries on the Gulf of Mexico coast, but environmentalists have made stopping the pipeline their top priority since emissions from oil sands production are higher than for most crude oils consumed in the United States.
But over the last several months, oil companies have sought to go around the dispute by announcing plans for three large rail loading terminals with the combined capacity of transporting 350,000 barrels a day.
The companies are poised to quadruple rail-loading capacity over the next few years to as many as 900,000 barrels a day, whether or not the Keystone pipeline is built. [Continue reading...]
It’s long been reported that rail transportation of oil was already making the construction of Keystone XL an issue of questionable relevance in relation to the environmental consequences of oil sands production, which makes me wonder why so much activist energy was focused on the pipeline. Was it simply because “stop the pipeline” is such an easy rallying-cry?
Ironically, the dangers posed by rail delivery of oil are probably far greater than those posed by Keystone XL as an accident in Alabama earlier this month made all too clear:
The Guardian reports: Canada’s rush to exploit its tar sands and shale gas resources will destroy the environment “as fast as possible”, according to Noam Chomsky.
In an interview with the Guardian, the linguist and author criticised the energy policies of the Canadian government under Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
He said: “It means taking every drop of hydrocarbon out of the ground, whether it’s shale gas in New Brunswick or tar sands in Alberta and trying to destroy the environment as fast as possible, with barely a question raised about what the world will look like as a result.”
But indigenous peoples in Canada blocking fossil fuel developments are taking the lead in combatting climate change, he said. Chomsky highlighted indigenous opposition to the Alberta tar sands, the oil deposit that is Canada’s fastest growing source of carbon emissions and is slated for massive expansion despite attracting international criticism and protest.
“It is pretty ironic that the so-called ‘least advanced’ people are the ones taking the lead in trying to protect all of us, while the richest and most powerful among us are the ones who are trying to drive the society to destruction,” said Chomsky. [Continue reading...]
CBC reports: Nearly half of Canadians polled would prefer the federal government be neutral when it comes to Israel and the Palestinian Territories, a new poll suggests.
According to the CBC/Nanos survey, 48 per cent of people asked how the government should handle Middle East foreign policy said they want the government to favour neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians.
Another 27 per cent said they are unsure.
Of those who had a preference, 19 per cent said they want the government to favour the Israelis, with six per cent wanting the government to favour the Palestinians — a three-to-one ratio.
Salon reports: When President Barack Obama decided in early November to delay a decision on TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline until after the next election, America’s environmental movement celebrated one of its biggest victories in recent memory. And no doubt the news came as a blow to Alberta’s tar sands industry, and to Canada’s oft-stated dream of becoming the next global energy superpower.
But behind activists’ jubilation lurked a somber reality, an untold story with much wider implications. The broader fight to reform Alberta’s tar sands, the one which actually stood a chance of breaking America’s addiction to the continent’s most polluting road fuel, has been quietly abandoned over the past several years. For that we can thank the planet’s richest oil companies and their Canadian government allies, who’ve together waged a stealthy war against President Obama’s climate change ambitions.
Their battle-plan is revealed in more 300 pages of personal emails obtained through a Freedom of Information request to the Alberta government. The story in the emails, reported for the first time here in Salon and The Tyee, Canada’s leading independent online news site, traces a year in the relationship of Michael Whatley, a GOP-connected oil industry lobbyist and his friend, Gary Mar, a smooth-talking and ambitious diplomat at the Canadian embassy in the Washington, DC.
The messages lay bare a sophisticated and stealthy public relations offensive, one designed to manipulate the U.S. political system; to deluge the media with messages favorable to the tar-sands industry; to sway key legislators at state and federal levels; and most importantly, to defeat any attempt to make the gasoline and diesel pumped everyday into U.S. vehicles less damaging to the climate. The goal of it all? “Defeat” Obama’s effort to reduce carbon consumption and keep America hooked on Canada’s $441 billion tar sands industry, no matter what the cost to our planet’s future.
That campaign has largely succeeded too, with only a small group of players any the wiser.
Reuters reports: Environmental opponents of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline aimed to deluge the White House and Congress with phone calls on Friday, slamming a Republican plan to speed approval of the project in exchange for extending a payroll tax cut.
“Red alert – call the White House and tell them not to back down to big oil on Keystone,” environmental activist Bill McKibben said in a tweet. McKibben mobilized some 10,000 demonstrators outside the White House earlier this year to protest the pipeline.
A spokesman for Friends of the Earth said a call for grassroots opposition to the deal generated more than 10,000 phone calls to U.S. senators on Friday.
“We are surprised at the extent to which the Republicans have decided to go to bat for Big Oil here,” said Nick Berning, a spokesman for the group. “We’re urging the Democrats to stand strong with the position they’ve articulated and not to cave.”
House Republicans warned last week they planned to include approval of the Keystone pipeline to a payroll tax cut bill, a challenge to President Barack Obama, who has said he would veto such a bill if the pipeline deal is part of it.
But on Friday, a White House spokesman left open the possibility that Obama might consider approving the legislation to get the extended tax cut.
Jamie Henn writes: On Thursday afternoon, President Obama announced that the State Department will be sending plans for TransCanada’s controversial Keystone XL pipeline back to the drawing board. Most analysts think the 12- to 18-month delay will cause enough cost overruns and missed contracts that TransCanada will have to scrap the project altogether.
Keystone XL was going to be another fuse to the largest carbon bomb in North America: the Canadian tar sands. The tar sands are the dirtiest fuel on the face of the planet, and our top climate scientist says fully exploiting them could be “essentially game over” for the climate. We haven’t defused the bomb yet, but fighting Keystone has taught us a lot about how to dismantle it.
This fight started in indigenous communities in Canada and quickly spread down the pipeline route to ranchers in Nebraska and farmers in Texas. National environmental groups picked up the beat a while back. But it was the bravery of 1,253 people that transformed Keystone XL from a regional fight into the most important environmental question facing President Obama before the 2012 election.
For two weeks this August, one person after another was led away from the White House in handcuffs protesting Keystone XL. The sit-in united a uniquely diverse movement, from consummate D.C. insiders to indigenous leaders to Tea Party supporters. I was arrested on the second Wednesday with an architect from Philadelphia, a lawyer from National Resources Defense Council, and Darryl Hannah.
From those 1,253 people, the movement quickly spread. Protests met President Obama at nearly every public campaign stop. Groups of 50 to 100 people started visiting Obama for America offices to say, “We’re not going to donate or volunteer for your campaign until President Obama lives up to the promises he made in 2008, stands up to Big Oil, and kills this pipeline.” Hundreds of people were arrested in Ottawa to turn up the heat on the Canadian government. And this Sunday, more than 12,000 people surrounded the White House in a Keystone XL protest.
Al Jazeera reports:
Nearly two years after the first hearings were held in Ottawa, the Canadian Parliamentary Coalition fto Combat Anti-Semitism (CPCCA) released a detailed report [PDF] on July 7 that found that anti-Semitism is on the rise in Canada, especially on university campuses.
While the CPCCA’s final report does contain some cases of real anti-Semitism, the committee has provided little evidence that anti-Semitism has actually increased in Canada in recent years. Instead, it has focused a disproportionate amount of effort and resources on what it calls a so-called “new anti-Semitism”: criticism of Israel.
Indeed, the real purpose of the CPCCA coalition seems to be to stifle critiques of Israeli policy and disrupt pro-Palestinian solidarity organizing in Canada, including, most notably, Israeli Apartheid Week events. Many of the CPCCA’s findings, therefore, must be rejected as both an attack on freedom of speech and freedom of protest, and as recklessly undermining the fight against real instances of anti-Semitism.