Thursday, June 21, 2007

Canada not willing to rock boat

Jun 21, 2007 04:30 AM
When it comes to aiding Canadians abroad, the federal government doesn't discriminate. As the case of Bert Tatham demonstrates, it prefers not to help anyone – particularly if doing so might prove politically inconvenient.

The word hero is overused when it comes to Canadians in Afghanistan. But if medals are to be awarded in that difficult country, 35-year-old Tatham would probably qualify. For the last year, he's been risking his life in Kandahar as part of a United Nations-sponsored counter-narcotics program.

Since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001, Afghanistan has reclaimed its place as the world's number one source of opium for heroin. It's a lucrative trade that funds both the Taliban and local warlords.

For countless Afghan farmers, it is also an economic necessity. Without the proceeds of opium gleaned from their annual poppy crop, they would starve.

The Western response has been contradictory. Sometimes, U.S. and allied troops turn a blind eye – particularly if friendly warlords control the crops. Sometimes, they make enemies of local farmers by destroying their poppy fields.

Tatham was engaged in the far more useful task of encouraging Afghans to grow something else. It was a risky, slow and frustrating job that involved travelling throughout the dangerous south.

It was also exactly the kind of work that the Canadian government claims to support in Afghanistan – winning the war against the Taliban by improving people's lives.

As well, Tatham oversaw the destruction of stockpiled drugs. When Afghan forces seized caches of hashish or opium, he had to make sure they were burned.

Which, he figures now, is why he had traces of hashish – 0.6 grams to be exact — on his clothes last April 23.

That was the day that Tatham took a routine flight to Dubai on his way back to Canada. Customs officials in that United Arab Emirates city found two dried poppy pods – the kind visible in many Toronto gardens at this time of year – and the hashish traces.

He was charged with drug smuggling. This week he was sentenced to four years in jail. Throughout, his parents, who live near Collingwood, have been models of discretion. "We're scrupulously not trying to annoy anyone by saying the wrong thing," says his father, Charlie.

They may be too kind. As in so many cases, the government that is supposed to represent their interests appears to have done nothing. Canadian consular officials didn't make it to their son's trial. Nor did they come to his sentencing. When Tatham was charged, Ottawa said it didn't want to interfere with a case before the courts. When Tatham was convicted, Ottawa said it didn't want to interfere while the sentence was under appeal.

In fact, Ottawa does have some levers. Canada lets a Dubai government company operate one of Vancouver's main container terminals – something the Arab emirate cannot do in the U.S. But no one has suggested that this be used as an argument on Tatham's behalf.

With some countries – notably China or Iran – the federal government is not so circumspect, but Dubai is an ally in the war on terror. Indeed, Dubai allows Ottawa to use its Minhad air base, rent-free, to house Camp Mirage – Canada's way station for troops travelling to and from Afghanistan.

As a result, Ottawa's rule of thumb seems to be don't rock the boat. Maybe the local emir will grant Tatham a pardon. Or maybe he won't. As in so many of these cases, it's not clear that the federal government cares. Not even for one of its heroes.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

It's playoffs or bust for Sundin

Maple Leafs captain Mats Sundin has a keen interest in how well the Leafs will do this season after signing a one-year contract worth $5.5 million (U.S.).

New deal: $5.5 million (all figures U.S.) for one season
Salary cap hit: $5.5 million
Declined team option on 2007-08: $4.3 million
Salary cap hit on option: $6.33 million (average of Sundin's existing contract)
Salary cap saving: $830,000

Sundin's salary through the years
1990-91 $150,000
1991-92 $174,000
1992-93 $189,000
1993-94 $645,000
1994-95 $1.6 million*
1995-96 $1.845 million
1996-97 $1.910 million
1997-98 $1.625 million
1998-99 $6.5 million
1999-00 $7 million
2000-01 $7.5 million
2001-02 $7.5 million
2002-03 $9 million
2003-04 $9 million
2004-05 Lockout
2005-06 $6.84 million
2006-07 $6.84 million
2007-08 $5.5 million

*prorated to 48-game season

Jun 13, 2007 04:30 AM

Mats Sundin won't have to worry about making a decision on his future as a Maple Leaf this time next year if the club misses post-season play for a third straight season.

He'll be headed out the door, and he won't be alone.

General manager John Ferguson almost certainly will be fired, and possibly head coach Paul Maurice, as well. Player-wise, you can bet goalie Andrew Raycroft won't be returning if he can't backstop the club into the playoffs.

Conversely, if the Leafs do qualify, it likely will be because the captain had a strong season, and therefore he'll be less inclined to call it quits or look elsewhere for employment.

Maybe this is what Sundin was talking about yesterday when he mentioned putting more pressure on himself as part of the reason he preferred a one-year deal over a two-year pact.

The Leafs benefited by his decision. He'll play for $5.5 million (all figures U.S.) this season, which gives the team about another $800,000 to spend this summer. That's not a lot, but it would, for example, cover the cost of veteran goalie Curtis Joseph if the club elects to try and turn back the clock with the Keswick Kid next season.

Moreover, given that teams who sign players over the age of 35 are liable for the entire cap hit of that contract regardless of whether the player quits, is injured or gets lost fishing in the Arctic, keeping this a one-year deal protects the team.

Finally, the Leafs haven't over-committed to a 36-year-old player who hasn't exactly soared to new offensive levels in the "new" NHL and all but vanished from the scoreboard when the team was fighting for a playoff berth last season.

And don't hand me that baloney about all the assists he managed while only scoring once in the final 20 games. Assists, as any reasonably smart hockey person knows, are far less valuable than goals. On this Leaf team, Sundin was needed to put the puck in the net.

Go back to that memorable 5-4 loss in Buffalo on March 23. With less than 20 seconds left, Sundin was parked at the lip of the Sabres crease with goalie Ryan Miller desperately moving to his right to get back in position.

Miller somehow made the save, and the Leafs missed the playoffs by a point.

Fact is, while Sundin is a durable, consistent player who likely will earn induction to the hall of fame one day, the Leafs haven't won a thing over the past decade with the talented Swede as their best player. And some of those teams were pretty good.

Some suggest Sundin has put the team on notice by choosing a one-year deal, but it could equally be argued the team will be inclined to turn the page on the Sundin era and spend that chunk of its salary cap on somebody else if next season turns out to be as unsuccessful as this past campaign.

In fact, that'll doubly be the case, for it is hard to believe the Leafs won't be able to lure one of Daniel Briere, Chris Drury, Ryan Smyth, Jason Blake, Scott Gomez, Scott Hartnell or any of the other individuals from this summer's reasonably strong group of free agent forwards.

In other words, Sundin can reasonably expect some experienced help next season, either to play on his line or to add balance to the Leaf attack.

Nobody should anticipate that No. 13 will lead a charge to the Stanley Cup next season.

But if he can't drag the club to the playoffs, it'll be time for everybody to move on.

What My Father Means To Me

An emotional tribute to an incredible and inspirational Dad, from his equally incredible and inspirational son.
By Richard Hoyt Jr., Men's Health

My name is Richard E. Hoyt Jr., and I have cerebral palsy. I cannot speak or walk. To write this story, I'm using a computer with special software. When I move my head slightly, the cursor moves across an alphabet. When it gets to the letter I want, I press a switch at the side of my head.

I am half of Team Hoyt. We are a father-and-son team, and we compete in marathons and triathlons around the world. Our goal is to educate people about how the disabled can lead normal lives. We started racing in 1979. My high school was having a road race to raise money for a lacrosse player who was paralyzed in an accident. I wanted to show this athlete that life can go on, so I asked my dad if he would push me. My wheelchair was not built for racing, but Dad managed to push me the entire 5 miles. We came in next to last, but in the photos of us crossing the finish line, I was smiling from ear to ear!

When we got home, I used my computer to tell Dad, "When I'm running, I feel like my disability disappears!" So we joined a running club, had a special running chair built, and entered our first official race. Many of the athletes didn't want us to participate, but the executive director of the event gave us permission. Soon we were running three races a weekend, and we even did our first double event a 3-mile run and a half-mile swim.

Dad held me by the back of the neck and did the sidestroke for the entire swim. We wanted to run in the Boston Marathon, but we were not allowed to enter because we had not done a qualifying run. So in late 1980, we competed in the Marine Corps Marathon, in Washington, D.C., finishing in 2 hours, 45 minutes. That qualified us for Boston!

A few years later, after a road race in Falmouth, Massachusetts, a man came up to my dad and said, "You are quite an athlete. You should consider a triathlon." Dad said, "Sure, as long as I can do it with Rick." The man just walked away. The next year, the same man said the same thing. Again, Dad said he'd do it, but only with me. This time the man said, "Okay, let's figure out what special equipment you'll need."

So on Father's Day in 1985, we competed in our first triathlon. It included a 10-mile run, during which Dad pushed me; a 1-mile swim, during which Dad pulled me in a life raft with a rope tied around his chest; and a 50-mile bike ride, during which he towed me in a cart behind him. We finished next to last, but we both loved it. Soon after, we did our first Ironman Triathlon. We've now competed in more than 950 races, including 25 Boston Marathons and six Ironmans. During every event, I feel like my disability has disappeared.

People often ask me, "What would you do if you were not disabled?" When I was first asked, I said I'd probably play baseball or hockey. But when I thought about it some more, I realized that I'd tell my father to sit down in my wheelchair so I could push him. If it weren't for him, I'd probably be living in a home for people with disabilities. He is not just my arms and legs. He's my inspiration, the person who allows me to live my life to the fullest and inspire others to do the same.

Happy Father's Day, Dad. And thank you.

More at their Website

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Fri, June 8, 2007
Don't teller to work OT


Class action suit targeting unpaid overtime could be huge

Back when I was a teenager one of the worst jobs I ever had was working as a cashier for a retail clothing company called Dalmy's, which eventually went bankrupt more than a decade ago. I tended to work Friday evenings and Saturdays until closing.

If the doors closed at 9 p.m., customers would often still be in the store trying things on. By the time they made their purchases it was often 9:10 or 9:15 p.m. Then, I'd have to balance the till and help the other staff clean up the store.

By the time we could all leave it would usually be about 9:45 to 9:50 p.m. Only problem was, we'd only get paid until 9 p.m.

Staying late

So, every night, this company, that was bankrupt in so many ways beyond its ultimate financial standing, got close to an hour of free labour from a handful of employees making slightly more than the minimum wage at our store alone.

I recall objecting to this objectionable practice with our manager, an imperious, petite diva of a woman with a voracious appetite for trendy clothes and a name that rhymed with lump (which led to no end of jokes by her abused staff.)

She looked over her bi-focals at me and in her Zsa Zsa Gabor way said something like, "If you don't like zee arrangement Dahlink, get anozza job."

Filing for overtime was not only not allowed, there was simply no provision made for doing it.

I knew what was happening to me and my colleagues was illegal but I didn't really know what to do about it.

Well, it looks like Dara Fresco has figured out what to do about it.

The Toronto teller with CIBC has launched a $600-million class-action lawsuit against her multi-billion-dollar profit making employer for the accumulated overtime she has performed but has not been paid for.

The 34-year-old woman, who earns just $30,715 annually, alleges she is owed about $50,000 in unpaid overtime for the two-and-a-half to 15 hours per week of extra work she says she has been tasked with doing since 1998.

"I've been working for the bank for almost 10 years and I figured enough is enough already," said Fresco at a news conference Tuesday, shortly after the lawsuit was filed in Ontario Superior Court.

My guess is, most Canadians are rooting for her, since most of us, at one time or another, were treated similarly.

Fresco's lawyer, Douglas Elliott, says this is "the largest unpaid overtime class action in Canadian legal history."

Incredible response

Louis Sokolov, another lawyer working on this case, says the response since Tuesday's press conference has been "incredible."

"We're hearing from a great number of employees," he said.

"After almost 10 years of employment to be paid just $30,000 and on top of that to not be paid for one's overtime is appalling," Sokolov added yesterday from his Toronto office with Sack Goldblatt Mitchell.

Sokolov says studies show many Canadian employers frequently violate federal labour laws by not paying staff time-and-a-half for working more than eight hours a day or 40 hours a week.

As a result, employees from Canada's four other big banks are already seeking advice, though for now, anyway, the lawsuit will focus exclusively on CIBC.

What's ironic about how big banks treat their employees, is they rake in billions for doing virtually nothing and then refuse to pay employees who are legitimately working.

It's likely that this potentially precedent-setting case could force bully corporations to treat their employees with fairness in the future.

And all because Dara Fresco did what so many of us failed to do in the past.

You go, girl!

We did it their way

To Western eyes, Saudi Arabia's super-rich royal princes appear a confusing mix of pious Muslims and decadent playboys. But it is their distinctive approach to doing business that is now giving Britain a headache.

Long after midnight, the party is in full swing, the music loud, the whisky and champagne flowing. In the penthouse suite at a five-star London hotel, six attractive young British women in short, tight dresses that leave little to the imagination, sashay between wealthy princes from Saudi Arabia, flirting and laughing more loudly than the Arabs' witticisms merit.

A silver dish of white powder, with matching spoon, is passed around. From time to time, a couple slips out of the suite only to reappear half an hour later and seek new friends. Others do not feel impelled to leave in order to share intimate moments and settle on a sofa or the four-poster in the main bedroom, oblivious of their fellow party-goers.

A British businessman standing by the window overlooking Hyde Park, drinks in the decadent scene, not sure if he has landed in heaven or in hell. "It was my first party with the Saudis, in the early Nineties, and it was a bit of an eye-opener," he recalls. "We'd been to the casino and I watched the princes gamble like there was no tomorrow. The money they threw around was staggering. Then we went upstairs for the party. It was shocking but fascinating."

One woman told him she was paid hundreds to attend and would earn much more by sleeping with one, or more, of the visitors. "She said she would get £2,000 for spending the night with a prince," he says. "The Saudis had their favourites and liked to think they were their girlfriends in London. They don't like to admit they are paying for sex."

Days later, back in their home city of Riyadh, the Saudi princes are on best behaviour. No alcohol, no drugs, no girls. Perhaps the occasional drink, but discreetly, in private, with close friends. They know a flogging awaits those who are caught with as much as a glass of Johnnie Walker by the mutaween, the dreaded religious police, who torture suspects with impunity. This is the country where Sharia law reigns, the Koran is the constitution, women are not allowed to drive and religious zealots hold sway over law and order in a delicate pact with the ruling House of Saud, the extended royal family that fills every government post and has 5,000 princes on its books.

In the capital's notorious Chop Chop Square, in front of sand-coloured buildings and a line of palm trees, the executioner brandishes his sword before swiftly cutting off a thief's right hand. If he offends again, the left hand will follow. On other days the executioner will behead a cuffed and blindfolded drug-dealer, rapist or murderer, watched by a rapt and approving crowd, who laugh and cry "Allah Akbar!" when the blood shoots into the air and cascades down on to their clothes. "Some Saudis think that beheading is too soft a punishment," said one veteran Saudi observer.

This authoritarian country, with its princes who are pious Muslims at home and libertines away, is also the one with which Britain signed its biggest export deal in 1985: the al Yamamah agreement to sell 72 Tornado and 30 Hawk warplanes for £43 billion, mostly paid in oil shipments, over 20 years. The deal, signed by the Saudi defence minister Prince Sultan and Britain's then defence secretary, Michael Heseltine, has been mired in controversy and corruption allegations for years.

The furore has erupted again. This time the claim is that BAE Systems, Britain's biggest arms manufacturer, paid more than £1 billion into two Washington accounts controlled by the former Saudi ambassador to the US, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi defence minister's son, over more than a decade. The payments, made on a quarterly basis, were allegedly written into "secret annexes" of the al Yamamah contract for the provision of "support services'', with the full knowledge and approval of the Ministry of Defence.

MPs have demanded an inquiry into whether government ministers were involved in corruption. A criminal investigation by the Serious Fraud Office - which is understood to have discovered the payments but not whether they were illegal - was controversially dropped "in the interests of national security" last year, after Tony Blair warned that the Saudis, vital allies in the war on terror and a stabilising force in the Middle East, would stop sharing anti-terrorist intelligence if the inquiry continued.

Many who have lived and worked in Saudi Arabia or done business with the Gulf state say the claims, to be broadcast by BBC's Panorama tomorrow, show a failure to understand Saudi culture. "It's totally different from ours," says Jonathan Aitken, the former defence minister who took part in key negotiations over the al Yamamah contract in the early 1990s. "The Saudi monarchy is similar to a Tudor monarchy in that servants of the Crown are rewarded for doing their public service faithfully and well. They believe people are entitled to a slice of the action when they help with something like a big contrac

No British minister was told anything about the alleged payments, he says. "But living in the real world there were always going to be some parts of the contract - training, spares and construction, for example - for which agents would receive commission. Sales commission is what makes the world of commerce go round. The big picture is that Saudi Arabia is a crucial ally for intelligence and is a stabilising influence in a volatile region."

Mr Heseltine agrees. "If this is the way the Saudis want arrangements for their procurement programme, an international company would have had no choice but to go along with that. It's massively important to us and the stability of the Middle East that we have those defence interests in Saudi."

Doing business with the Saudis is not like doing business in the West. Deals take longer, typically 18 months to two years, to finalise. "The Saudis like to get to know and trust you," says David Lloyd, a senior consultant for the Middle East Association, who makes regular trips to Saudi Arabia with trade missions. "They like to see your face, look you in the eye and expect to meet the same people each time. They treat you as a guest in their country and set great store by personal relationships with all countries, not just the UK."

The Saudi royals also like to entertain and expect to be entertained in turn. In their home country that will consist of lavish dinners, with the finest food, in elegant surroundings. Abroad they will expect at least the same, but often much more, especially in Western Europe. Mr Aitken, though, says that senior members of the Saudi royal family did not ask for prostitutes or drugs during his time in office. "We took them to see shows like Chicago and then we would get a table at Annabel's," he said. "They were dignified and, on the whole, they did not get up to those squalid antics."

The "whisky and women" were usually demanded by less senior members of the ruling family, says one former diplomat in Riyadh. "There are about 5,000 Saudi princes and a lot of the younger ones, especially, like to do things that many men of their age do. They are very restricted in their country so it's understandable that some go a bit wild when they are over here." Even in Saudi Arabia, he said, there was much discreet drinking, not just among expatriates but also the locals. "Saudi is the only country where I've seen a jeroboam of Chivas Regal. The owner was a Saudi," he said.

Despite its vast oil wealth (it holds 25 per cent of the world's oil reserves), Saudi Arabia is a backward country run by a curious coalition of the large, nepotistic House of Saud and the fundamentalist Wahhabi religious leaders. The Saud family has ruled the desert kingdom since 1932, when King Abdul Aziz Al Saud united warring tribes under Sharia law. It has a historic connection with the Wahhabis, a branch of Islam to which many of the al-Qaeda members involved in the 9/11 attacks belonged, but there have been growing tensions since the accession of King Abdullah, two years ago. The clerics are resisting the king's attempts to liberalise education and give women more freedom.

One of Abdullah's first appointments was to make his nephew Prince Bandar, the Western-friendly "Mr Fixit" and the central figure in the al Yamamah row, his national security adviser. The cigar-smoking prince has been friendly with British prime ministers and US presidents since the days of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan and is particularly close to George Bush Snr and his son, hence his nickname "Bandar Bush".

Described as charismatic and charming, he glides easily between the West and the Gulf. He trained as a fighter pilot in the US and at RAF Cranwell, but friends say there is no doubt where his true loyalties lie. "The home team is Saudi Arabia," says William Simpson, his biographer and former RAF classmate. The prince has certainly enjoyed the fruits of his al Yamamah labours: he has a personal Airbus, painted in the silver and blue colours of his favourite American football team, the Dallas Cowboys, and landing rights at RAF Brize Norton, close to his 2,000-acre Oxfordshire estate at Glympton.

It was Mrs Thatcher who approached Prince Bandar in December 1984 to ask for his help in winning BAE a new weapons contract. He cleared the deal with the Reagan administration - unable to sell to Riyadh because of pro-Israeli opposition in Congress - then flew to London to meet Charles Powell, Mrs Thatcher's private secretary, and other key officials. In the summer of 1985, he flew to Salzburg, where Mrs Thatcher was on holiday, with a letter from the Saudi king, Fahd, to seal the deal, according to Simpson's book, written with the Prince's co-operation. "I told her specific numbers, shook hands, and the deal was done," he is quoted as saying. The contract, the first instalment of a 20-year deal, was the fourth with BAE since 1967 in which commissions of up to 15 per cent had been passed to Saudi royals with Downing Street's backing, according to British archives.

Two other figures said to have played smaller roles in the deal are Wafic Said, the Syrian-born billionaire, and Mark Thatcher, the Prime Minister's son. Both are said to have acted as advisers. Mr Thatcher has denied that he received up to £12 million as part of the agreement.

The mystery over what was paid to whom and why in the deal has deepened because the Government, BAE and the Serious Fraud Office have declined to comment for "national security" and economic reasons. Mr Blair said the completion of the investigation would have led to the "wreckage of a vital interest to our country" and the loss of "thousands of British jobs".

Prince Bandar insists there were no secret commissions or "backhanders". The payments were in the contract and any money paid from the accounts was "exclusively for purposes approved by the Saudi Arabian ministry of defence and aviation", he says. On another occasion, when asked about payments, he responded more robustly. "So what?" he said. The Saudis had created a successful country from very little and that was a great achievement, he added.

So far, the new allegations have changed nothing, but pressure on the Government is growing. There is concern that BAE will suffer from the termination of the investigation: South Africa is under investigation over a BAE deal and although President Mbeki is co-operating with the SFO, he is furious over the different treatment of his country and is expected to put Britain under pressure to drop the inquiry.

Washington, too, remains suspicious. For years, US defence companies have refused to buy from BAE, because it might fall foul of America's Foreign and Corrupt Practices Act. They are unlikely to feel better about it now.

Meanwhile, the Saudi princes continue to party, albeit more discreetly "They are a bit less flash nowadays," the British businessman said. "But they still like to live it up in London." And still the stories come.

Two months ago, it was claimed that, in 2001, two British actresses were paid tens of thousands of pounds from a slush fund, set up by BAE, to entertain another Saudi prince involved in the al Yamamah deal. And in October, last year, the 24-year-old model girlfriend of a Chelsea footballer was exposed as a former £1,000-an-hour prostitute, paid to take part in orgies and sex shows for rich Arabs.

"They love the capital's nightlife and they love London's women," says one former diplomat. "They are really off the leash when they come over here."

With oil prices high and the Saudi economy booming, it seems the hedonistic London parties are far from over for the desert kingdom's elite.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Privacy commissioner sights hazards of wireless technology

Privacy commissioner sights hazards of wireless technology
CanWest News Service
Published: Thursday, June 07, 2007

TORONTO -- Ontario's information and privacy commissioner is urging all health-care providers to do an immediate check of their video surveillance systems following two bizarre incidents at a methadone clinic in Sudbury.

On two separate occasions, cars either parked nearby, or driving by the clinic, have picked up the image of a client using the facility's washroom on its wireless camera system, which is designed to aid the driver in backing up.

Following an incident in April, Dr. Ann Cavoukian, the province's privacy commissioner, asked the clinic to turn off its in-house camera system.

The clinic complied and even replaced the wireless system with one that is hardwired.

Stressing the incidents highlight the hazards of using wireless technology when handling personal information, the commissioner is reminding all health information workers that wireless technology poses a risk to privacy.

Dr. Cavoukian said that because there is a limited number of frequency bands available for transmission, the potential for intercepting video images and other wireless information relating to an individual poses a significant threat to privacy.

"Health information custodians who use video surveillance," said the commissioner, "should either use a wired video surveillance system, which inherently prevents interception, or a wireless one with appropriate measures, such as strong encryption, to preclude unauthorized access. Nothing short of this will be acceptable."

What Doug Ford has done so far, "For the People"

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