Thursday, September 23, 2004

Afghanistan, America and Poppies

When the USA invaded Afghanistan in 2001 there were virtualy no poppies growing. Under the Taliban, poppy growing had been outlawed and was all but eliminated. Opium supplies all over the world were drying up. (Before the Taliban took over, approximately 75% of all opium in the world was derived from poppies grown in that nation.) Afghan farmers who had once lived comfortably off their poppy crops had started growing other crops, like wheat, instead. Unfortunately, wheat is far less profitable than poppies. The farmers were making quite a bit less than they had and were reportedly quite unhappy with this change.

So here we are , three years after the invasion, and guess what? Poppies are again the main cash crop of Afghanistan. As I understand it, today, opium poppies account for over 50% of Afghanistan’s gross domestic product (GNP).

The question in my mind is - why has this happened. Doesn’t the US have a war on drugs on the go? Don’t drugs pose one of the main social problems in America? Isn’t every president and presidential wanna-be vehemently against drugs?

As I understand it, there are currently around 1.2 million Americans in prison as a result of being convicted on drug charges. Many of them are from America's inner cities. I have read that the average sentence for a first time, non-violent drug offender in America is longer than the average sentence for rape, child molestation, bank robbery or manslaughter.

So what about Afghanistan? Why did America take control of a nation, that had formerly produced a huge amount of drugs but had cleaned up its act, and then promptly allow them to resume production of the plant that produces one of the most harmful narcotics in the world?

Lets look at the facts. In Afghanistan, a fundamentalist government had outlawed the cultivation of poppies. Poppies are necessary for the production of opium and heroin. Poppies have no other practical use. Afghan poppies represented 75% of the world's supply. Under the Taliban, growth of poppies was outlawed and supplies of opium around the world dwindled to almost nothing. America takes control of Afghanistan. Within a few years poppy production is restored. Today it is the main cash crop in Afghanistan and opium is produced and exported all around the world.

I will not venture to provide a conclusion to this piece. I will leave that up to you.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Illegal Refugees and Short-term Memory Loss

I am proud to live in a country that offers sanctuary, hope and opportunity to refugees from around the world. I believe that we have a moral duty to take in as many legitimate refugees as is economically and socially viable. I have no doubt that most refugees are good, honest people who come here with the intent of building better lives for themselves and their families. We should feel good about welcoming them to our great nation. Many of them make better Canadians than some of the people who were born here.

However, Canada’s refugee system is not without its flaws and certainly not beyond reproach. And like all public institutions, it should not be above having a nobody like me poke a little fun at it or offer suggestions as to how it can be improved.

Security is on everyone’s mind these days, what with both U.S. Presidential candidates making the war on terrorism a main plank in their election campaigns. So, it was no surprise to me to read in the papers that the Canadian government is proposing some unprecedented security measures aimed at documenting and tracking new refugees.

As far as I can determine, the proposed changes involve having refugees fingerprinted and photographed. Personally, I have some concerns about this - the slippery slope and all that. If the government gets away with this, the next thing we know it will be out there trying to find the 36,000 illegal refugees and immigrants who were ordered out of Canada or who never showed up for their hearings. Or maybe it will actually start rejecting all claimants who have criminal records or participated in terrorism or war crimes elsewhere. How draconian can you get?

However, while I can poke fun at our dysfunctional refugee system, we must not assume that all illegal refugees are undeserving of our help. For example, some illegal refugees suffer from severe short-term memory loss and need our empathy and assistance. Think about it – some of them have sufficient identification to get on a plane elsewhere, but by the time the plane arrives in Canada, they have lost their identification. Obviously the only thing for a compassionate nation like Canada to do with these memory-impaired people is to set them free in Canadian society as long as they promise to show up for a hearing a year later. Trouble is, they sometimes forget about their hearing too. Being so forgetful must be a terrible burden to bear.

I have read that there are approximately 30,000 refugees accepted in Canada every year. The number who actually arrive here every year is likely far higher. The overall cost of Canada's refugee system is estimated to be over a billion dollars a year. Some of this money, I'm sure, is well spent.

Emphasis on the word “some”.

Unfortunately, Canada seems to be spending too much money defending and protecting thousands of dishonest, unscrupulous or questionable refugees who arrive here illegally and often never leave.

All our illegal refugee problems can, of course, be traced back to Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms, foisted on Canada by Pierre Trudeau in 1982. Before the Charter, Canada was doing just fine, especially in dealing with its refugees. They would come and quickly be accepted or rejected. Those rejected would be deported. No muss, no fuss, no multi-billion dollar stable of lawyers, social workers and industry hangers-on. No lost refugees. Back then the system served Canada. Today, it serves only the refugees. Thanks to an ill-founded and baffling Supreme Court interpretation of the Charter, anyone and everyone who sets foot on Canadian soil and claims refugee status is given total Charter protection and allowed endless appeals and complete access to all Canada's social programs including free lawyers, social workers, employment placement, housing, schooling, healthcare and on and on.

There are, by some estimations almost 900 refugees and over 100 immigrants living in Canada who are suspected of war crimes and genocidal activities elsewhere. I cannot understand why the rights of these illegal and criminal refugees should take precedence over the rights of Canadians? Why are they still here? Something is definitely very wrong.

In any event, I've given this issue some thought and would like to offer these four simple suggestions that, I feel, would go a long way towards fixing our refugee system.

1) invoke the notwithstanding clause and override the Supreme Court’s 'Singh' decision that gave illegal refugees immediate access to full Charter protection and endless appeals. Until their claims are approved, illegal refugees should be treated as guests in our nation, not family members. (Obviously, the court erred in its interpretation. The Charter was not written as a blank canvas for our politicized Supreme Court judges to fill with their ideological colors. It was written by Canadians for Canadians. It was not intended to, and should not, provide unconditional Charter protection to every foreign person who illegally sets foot on our soil.)

2) Apprehend the missing illegal refugees and deport them without a hearing. They have offended Canadians with their insolence and undermined the credibility of the entire refugee system. We must make all reasonable efforts to find them and expedite their exit.

3) Do not allow any refugees to serve in any position of authority anywhere in our refugee system. We don’t let convicted criminals sit on parole boards; why then would we let refugees judge other refugees? This comparison may be a bit extreme, but the conflict of interest, in both cases, real or perceived, should be a matter for concern and debate.

4) Re-engineer the current system. The new system would consist of several independent mobile teams and a home office in Canada. The teams would have access to jets. They would go to areas where the refugees are, and set up base there. They would work with local officials and Canadian Consulates to find suitable candidates; research, interview and document them, and ship them to Canada where they would be settled. All other refugees, arriving illegally and unannounced outside this system, would be detained, given one hearing and then either accepted or deported. It would not take long before potential illegal refugees in other nations realized that Canada no longer offers a free ride. There would be no endless appeals and lawyer's fees, no lost refugees, and far less uncertainty with respect to the validity of the claims. With this would come a new era of credibility for the system.

Finally, and most attractively, since the need for their services would be significantly reduced, refugee lawyers would be offered a free, one-way, airline ticket to anywhere else in the world.

Question: What do you call 1,000 refugee lawyers banished to Uzbekistan?
Answer: A good start.

Friday, September 03, 2004

Will Government Ever Have Enough Power?

As an exceptionally benevolent, generous, compassionate, caring, selfless and otherwise modest person, I have decided to dedicate a portion of my blog to serve the public good. So, today, I will scour the media for the news stories of the day that bemoan or otherwise agonize over the lack of government programs to solve some or other problem that some or other person has. I will also note the stories that deal with, in general, issues relating to people and organizations whose sole purpose seems to be to demand that more and more of my tax dollars be directed to them or their cause.

With this in mind, I offer this listing of some of today's news stories. Please note, I couldn't find a single story where some person or entity actually asked government to stay the heck out of their lives and let them manage their own affairs. It all seems to be about helpless people begging for assistance; or petulant people demanding that their entitlement be increased. Oh well, I'll keep looking.

Friday September 3, 2004
• Premiers demand money for a National Pharmacare Program
• A shortage of subsidized daycare spots is causing hardships for some parents
• Police Board calls for overhaul – money to pay for it to be pulled out of their…….oh never mind.
• Senators vilified over suggestion to increase competition in health care delivery – Castro sends regards to vilifiers.
• Tuition still rising – groups cry out for government help
• Toronto City Council to create new “Tree Police” bureaucracy. Permit to “disable” or “injure” a tree on your property will cost $100. – I’m not making this up, honest.

I have to add that there are many good, conscientious people, working for various levels of government, who provide the public with the many essential services that we need. My beef is not with them. They have my undying respect.

My beef is with those in our society who live off government gratuities while providing little in practical returns, and those who continually seek to extend the influence and power of government to their own benefit. Because, with every personal responsibiliy that government assumes - every time we are forced to ask our government to do for us what our parents did for themselves - we are weakened and diminished as individuals. There appears to be no end to it. Government never ever gives up responsibility for anything. Its power to regulate our lives grows with every day that passes. While this concerns me, I am more concerned by our apparent willingness - no, eagerness - to hand over responsibility for our lives to the state.

Today, the purveyors of state dependence are demanding a multi-billion dollar national daycare program to save parents from taking responsibility for their own children's care. In Ontario, they are calling for seatbelts and supervisors in all school buses, at a cost of $millions, despite the absence of any evidence that such action will prevent injuries or save lives. Here in Toronto, they want to require citizens to get government consent to cut a limb off a tree in their backyards. What will they be demanding tomorrow? You can bet that it won't be less. Always it is more. And it will always cost more. Unless we say "enough", they will never stop. Well, this is my humble (some may say feeble) attempt to say "enough".

Our resources are strained. People wait a ridiculously long time for essential health care services. Students cry out for a decent cirriculum and discliplne and structure in the classroom. Homeless people abound. Our streets are filthy. Our roads and infrastructure cry for repairs. Our public transit systems are overcrowded and uncomfortable. Have we not had enough?

Let's use our limited tax resources to fix existing problems - problems that profoundly affect us all and problems that are beyond our personal control - before we expand, or create new, laws and programs to address problems that affect only special interests and problems that we should be expected to anticipate and solve ourselves.