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Corruption Scandal Shakes Canadian Prime Minister

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  • Candian PM Justin Trudeau has been accused of pressuring his justi minister to settle a corruption scandal involving the large Canadian corporation SNC-Lavalin.
  • SNC has been accused of paying millions of dollars in bribes to the Lybian government, including to the regime of dictator Muammar Gaddafi.
  • Two ministers and one of Trudeau’s top political advisors have resigned amid the allegations, which Trudeau has denied.

SNC-Lavalin

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has become entangled in a corruption scandal that alleges his office attempted to settle a criminal case against SNC-Lavalin, a multinational engineering and construction firm based in Canada.

The criminal case against SNC claims the company paid millions of dollars in bribes to officials in Lybia in order to secure lucrative contracts, including millions in bribes paid to the regime of Lybian dictator, Muammar Gaddafi.

SNC is a large company. While it is based in Quebec, it boasts more than 50,000 employees worldwide and $10.1 billion in revenue in 2018.

Source: SNC-Lavalin

However, SNC is not new to corruption allegations. The company has been accused of corrupt practices for years in multiple countries, including in Bangladesh, India, Mexico, and it’s home country of Canada.

Just last month, a former SNC CEO Pierre Duhaime pleaded guilty to 15 charges including fraud, conspiracy, and forgery in a Montreal court. The charges against Duhaime came only six years after he was first arrested and accused of bribing public officials.

Nine people were charged in the case involving Duhaime, and one Quebec police investigator called it “The biggest case of corruption fraud in Canadian history.”

Then, in Feb. 2015, Canadian authorities charged SNC with paying 47.7 million Canadian dollars in bribes to officials in Libya, as well as defrauding the Libyan government of 129.8 million Canadian dollars.

If SNC is convicted, it could be banned from federal government contracts for a decade. A move that could seriously hurt its business and eliminate numerous Canadian jobs.

Trudeau’s Involvement

Trudeau’s involvement in the SNC Lybia case started when he took office 2015. Following his inauguration, his justice minister and attorney general, Jody Wilson-Raybould, was given oversight of the case regarding Lybia.

Wilson-Raybould identifies as Indigenous, and her appointment was applauded by many in Canada, who took it as a sign of Trudeau’s commitment to Indigenous people and women.

Then, in Jan. 2019, Trudeau reassigned Wilson-Raybould from to the Veterans Affairs Department– a major demotion.

On Feb. 7, The Globe and Mail published an investigative report that claimed Trudeau and his aides had attempted to direct Wilson-Raybould’s handling of the SNC-Lavalin case.

Wilson-Raybould resigned from her post on Feb. 12, less than a week after the Globe and Mail story was published.

Then, last month, she gave testimony to a parliamentary committee. In that testimony, she claimed that Trudeau and his aides had pressured her to settle the case against SNC by using “political interference” and “veiled threats.”

Wilson-Raybould said that she had 10 meetings, 10 phone calls, and a series of emails regarding the case with 11 government officials.

She also specified that the conversations were “inappropriate” but not illegal. Stating that despite the pressure, no one ever directly told her to order prosecutors to reach a settlement with SNC.

Wilson-Raybould did say she felt that Trudeau and his aides had crossed informal lines that are supposed to keep politics and prosecutions separate, claiming that they did this by repeatedly raising concerns about the possibility of job losses and potential political ramifications of a trial.

She asserted Trudeau specifically said, “There would be many jobs lost and that SNC will move from Montreal,” and asked her to “find a solution here for SNC.”

Wilson-Raybould alleges she resisted that pressure and believes she was removed from the position as a consequence.

Trudeau, for his part, has denied putting pressure on her. In a press conference after her testimony, he stated: “I and my staff always acted appropriately and professionally, therefore I completely disagree with the characterization of the former attorney general of these events.”

Sources: Global News

Resignations

Trudeau’s problems do not just stop with Wilson-Raybould.

On Monday, Treasury Board president Jane Philpott resigned from her post, writing in her resignation letter: “I have been considering the events that have shaken the government in recent weeks and after serious reflection, I have concluded that I must resign as a member of cabinet.”

She then goes on to cite a provision in Canada’s constitution that requires ministers to defend all of the cabinet’s decisions.

“Given this convention and the current circumstances, it is untenable for me to continue to serve as a Cabinet member,” she wrote.

Philpott added that she has, “ lost confidence in how the government has dealt with this matter and in how it has responded to the issues raised,”

There can be a cost to acting on one’s principles, but there is a bigger cost to abandoning them,” she continued.

Philpott now marks the second resignation of a minister, and it also comes just weeks after Trudeau’s top political advisor, Gerald Butts, quit in late February.

Although Butts denied the allegations which he has also been implicated in, he still cited them as a reason for his resignation.

What Now?

The unresolved nature of this case has left many wondering what will happen next.

The leader of Canada’s Conservative opposition, Andrew Scheer, called for Trudeau to resign, stating, “Justin Trudeau simply cannot continue to govern this country now that Canadians know what he has done.”

Sheer has also called for the police to launch a criminal probe of Trudeau’s actions. A request which has been joined both other members of opposition parties, some of whom have also called for an independent inquiry.

The ethics commissioner of Canada’s Parliament has started an investigation into the matter. However, by law, the commissioner can look only for conflicts of interest.

Meanwhile, there are still more hearings to come, including testimony from Gerald Butts, who is scheduled to testify about his role in the Lavalin matter before a parliament committee on Wednesday.

Trudeau for his part has continually denied the allegations. Following Philpotts resignation on Monday, Trudeau said he is taking the concerns seriously

Trudeau notably faces a federal election in October, which is just seven months away.

Even if nothing comes of the allegations against him, his opponents have already used this incident to portray him as a leader who directed aides to bully an Indigenous woman to protect a corporation from a criminal conviction in a corruption case.

A move that does not look good for someone who promised government transparency, and is a self-described feminist and supporter of Indigenous rights.

What happens next depends on if Trudeau can save his reputation, as well as what happens with the SNC case.

Many people believe that major job losses at the SNC headquarters in Quebec would hurt Trudeau in a province where votes will be crucial for him.

See what others are saying: (New York Times) (CBC) (NPR)

International

Thousands Protest in Algeria Over “Sham” Election

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  • Massive protests have broken out all over Algeria, which is holding its first election since its president stepped down in April after weeks of demonstrations.
  • Protests have been ongoing since February, with demonstrators calling for a complete overhaul of the entire political system.
  • The protestors have called for a boycott of the election, saying it is a sham and that fair elections cannot be held while the ruling elite and military are in power.

Continuous Protests

Thousands of protesters took to the streets in Algeria on Thursday, calling for boycotts of the presidential election.

Protestors say that the election is a sham and that free and fair elections cannot be held as long as the ruling elite and the military are still in power.

Algerians have been holding weekly peaceful protests since February after President Abdelaziz Bouteflika announced that he would run for a fifth term. 

Bouteflika had already been president for two decades, but ever since he suffered a stroke in 2013, he rarely made public appearances.

According to reports, he had basically left the day-to-day running of the country to a very secretive group of his own relatives and senior military officials.

After weeks of protests, Bouteflika eventually resigned in April when his military chief, Ahmed Gaid Salah, called for a constitutional provision to be activated that would deem the president unfit to rule.

Salah became the de facto leader of the country, and Bouteflika appointed Abdelkader Bensalah as interim president and Nouredine Bedoui as interim prime minister until elections could be held in 90 days.

The protests did not stop after Bouteflika stepped down. Instead, the protestors called for the new leaders to step down too, and for the military to give up control of the government.

They argued that the leaders were part of the corrupt old regime and had benefitted from Bouteflika’s rule. Because of that, they felt nothing would change as long as they held power or controlled the elections.

When the military scheduled new elections for July, protestors demanded that they cancel them. Eventually, the military agreed to the protestors’ demands and called off the elections, though they later rescheduled them for December 12.

But the leaders still refused to give up power, and with the lack of actual structural change, the demonstrations continued. 

New Elections & Protests

After the second election date was announced, protestors called for the December elections to be canceled until there could be a complete overhaul of the political system.

Those demands became even more heightened after the government announced that all five of the presidential candidates it had chosen had ties to Bouteflika or his regime, with four of them having served as ministers under him.

For the protestors, not only has there been no political reforms, all of their options for president are people tied to the regime. 

On top of that, because the interim leaders’ have ties to Bouteflika, many protestors believe that they cannot be trusted to hold a free and transparent election— a concern that has been even more legitimized by the fact that the government denied the protestors’ demand to have independent supervision of the election.

Still, the leadership and the military have refused to cancel the election, arguing that it is the only way forward and the only way to achieve political stability.

“The election of December 12th constitutes a historic opportunity for our citizens who are committed to democracy and social justice, and to building the rule of law institutions to which our people aspire,” Interim President Bensalah said in a statement Wednesday.

When it was clear the government had no plans to cancel the election, protestors became even more energized and took to the streets to call for a boycott of the election altogether.

Thousands of people demonstrated in the capital Algiers on the day of the election, where they were reportedly heard chanting: “There is no vote today,” “Independence,” and “No vote with the mafia.”

The protestors were met by riot police, who reportedly clashed with the demonstrators and violently dispersed the crowds.

In some cities, it has been reported that protestors stormed polling places. One video showed people throwing ballot boxes to the ground and tossing ballots in the air. Police have also responded with tear gas in some places.

According to reports, voter turnout has been extremely low, sitting at only 33% by 5 p.m. local time, with just two hours left of polling. Around 24 million people are eligible to vote.

The results are expected to be announced on Friday. In order to win the election, a candidate must get more than 50% of the votes. If no candidate receives 50% or more, the two leading candidates go to a runoff in a few weeks.

See what others are saying: (Al Jazeera) (The Wall Street Journal) (BBC)

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How Police Deal With Protests and Riots All Over the World…

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Throughout the world, from Hong Kong to Lebanon, and Chile to Iraq, there have been large-scale protests where millions have demanded changes in their societies. A few things have been consistent; nearly all started as peaceful protests, and nearly all of them have devolved into violence between protesters and police. But in ideal scenarios, police doctrines officially try to avoid violence, so how do these situations happen? Sometimes protesters get out of hand, but often poorly trained riot police and a cavalier “us versus them” attitude can be the catalyst for violence.

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Myanmar’s Leader Defends 2017 Operation That Killed Thousands of Muslims

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  • Myanmar’s leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, defended her country before the United Nations, saying it had not acted with genocidal intent in a 2017 operation that resulted in the deaths of 24,000 minority Muslims.
  • Suu Kyi’s comments come as she faces increasing criticism for being complicit with the Myanmar military’s action. 
  • Previously, Suu Kyi had won a Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts in promoting democracy.

Suu Kyi Defends Myanmar

Speaking before the United Nation’s International Court of Justice, Myanmar’s Leader defended the state against accusations that it acted with genocidal intent in a 2017 operation that led to the deaths of more than 24,000 minority Muslims.

Aung San Suu Kyi—a Nobel Peace laureate and Myanmar’s State Counselor, a role akin to a prime minister—had previously been heralded as an icon for democracy, though that status has slipped in recent years. Though she has no power over the military, her handling of the operation has led to criticism that she is being “complicit.”

Suu Kyi’s comments come a day after hearing horribly graphic testimony of what happened to the Rohingya Muslims during that operation.

During the hearing, she described the case brought by the Republic of The Gambia and a dozen other majority-Muslim countries as  “incomplete and incorrect.” 

She then referred to the situation an “internal armed conflict” and argued that the military had pursued an extremist threat, saying Rohingya militants had attacked government security posts.

Though she did admit that Myanmar’s military might have used too much force at times—including admitting that the army had used military gunships on civilians—she also argued that any soldiers who committed war crimes would be prosecuted.

She went on to say that since the country is investigating war criminals, the state could not be accused of genocide.

“Can there be genocidal intent on the part of the state that actively investigates, prosecutes and punishes soldiers and officers, who are accused of wrongdoing?” she said in The Hague on Wednesday. “Although the focus here is on members of the military, I can assure you that appropriate action will also be taken on civilian offenders, in line with due process.” 

However, in May, seven Myanmar soldiers were released from jail early after being accused of killing 10 Rohingya men. On top of that, the military also previously cleared itself of any previous wrongdoing in the killings.

Suu Kyi also told the court that Myanmar was committed to helping Rohingya refugees return to their homes in Rakhine. Notably, she then urged the court to stop short of any action that might make the conflict worse.

Expectedly, many Rohingya refugees watching Suu Kyi’s defense on live TV shouted that she was a liar. Others also chanted, “Shame on you!” They then carried those words into the streets and were met by about 250 pro-Myanmar protesters who said they stood with Suu Kyi.

Why is Myanmar in Court?

On August 25, 2017, the Burmese army—Myanmar’s armed forces—undertook a massive operation in the northern state of Rakhine.

Though Myanmar is predominantly a Buddhist nation, a significant Muslim population lived in the area. That minority, known as Rohingya Muslims, has been denied citizenship by Myanmar, and the country considers them to be illegal immigrants.

The operation to clear the Rohingya from the area led to the deaths of 24,000 people and the mass relocation of an estimated 915,000 to the neighboring country of Bangladesh. In March, the government of Bangladesh announced that it would stop taking in Rohingya refugees. Meanwhile, in Rakhine, whole villages sit empty.

In October, The Gambia’s attorney general, Ba Tambadou told the BBC he decided to launch a case against Myanmar after visiting a Rohingya refugee camp in Bangladesh. There, he said he heard of killings, torture, and even rape during the operation.

In its submission, The Gambia claims the operation was “intended to destroy the Rohingya as a group, in whole or in part,” by means mass murder, rape and setting fire to buildings, “often with inhabitants locked inside.”

The UN then led a fact-finding mission and found such compelling evidence that it decided to take up the case to investigate the Burmese army.

Myanmar soldiers “routinely and systematically employed rape, gang rape and other violent and forced sexual acts against women, girls, boys, men and transgender people,” the report found in August.

For its part, The Gambia says it is only asking that Myanmar “stop these senseless killings” and “stop these acts of barbarity.”

How Will All of This End?

The ICJ’s first phase of hearings will conclude Thursday; however, the case is expected to be drawn out over the course of several years. 

“The final judgment can take a long time [of up to five years], but for victims and their communities, it’s an incredible moment,” a human rights expert told Al Jazeera. “This sends a very strong message to the Rohingya that the international community is watching and listening to them.”

Currently, The Gambia is only asking that the ICJ impose “provisional measures” that protect Rohingya in Myanmar and other countries.

Even if the court were to rule that Myanmar did break genocide laws, neither Suu Kyi nor any generals involved in the operation would be automatically arrested and put on trial.

On Tuesday, the U.S. responded by stiffening sanctions against several senior military commanders in Myanmar.

“The United States will not tolerate torture, kidnapping, sexual violence, murder or brutality against innocent civilians,” Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said in a statement.

See what others are saying: (BBC) (Al Jazeera) (The New York Times)

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