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Trudeau Expels MPs From Party, Threatens to Sue Opposition Leader

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  • Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expelled Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott from the Liberal Party and banned them from running in October’s election as Liberals.
  • Wilson-Raybould, who previously served as the Attorney General and Justice Minister, accused Trudeau of pressuring her to drop a criminal case against Canadian engineering firm SNC-Lavalin and then reassigning her when she refused.
  • Opposition leader Andrew Scheer released a letter he received from Trudeau, threatening to sue him for libel over statements he made regarding the case.

Trudeau Kicks Former Ministers Out of Party

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expelled two former ministers from the Liberal Party, in a move intended to create unity between members of his party.

Trudeau said Tuesday that former Justice Minister and Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould and former Treasury Board president Jane Philpott are no longer allowed in the Liberal Party.

Trudeau also banned Wilson-Raybould and Philpott from running for the party in the federal election in October.

The move comes as Trudeau has been embroiled in a corruption scandal that alleges his office attempted to settle a criminal case against SNC-Lavalin, a huge engineering and construction firm based in Canada.

The criminal case against SNC says the company paid millions in bribes to officials in Lybia in order to secure lucrative contracts between 2001 and 2011, including millions of dollars to the regime of Lybian dictator, Muammar Gaddafi.

When Trudeau and the Liberal Party took office in 2015, Wilson-Raybould was given oversight of the case against SNC in her role as Justice Minister and Attorney General.

A Scandal is Born

Then in January, Trudeau reassigned Wilson-Raybould to the Veterans Affairs Department, which was considered a major demotion.

On February 7, The Globe and Mail published an investigative report claiming Trudeau and his aides had tried to direct Wilson-Raybould’s handling of the SNC-Lavalin case. Wilson-Raybould resigned less than a week after the story was published.

Shortly after that, Wilson-Raybould testified before a parliamentary committee, and claimed that Trudeau and his aides had pressured her to settle the case by using “political interference” and “veiled threats.”

She said what they did was not illegal, but that it crossed informal lines intended to keep politics and criminal prosecutions separate.

Following Wilson-Raybould’s testimony, Philpott resigned from her post as Treasury Board president, saying in a resignation letter that she had lost all confidence in the government.

Both women remained as members of the Canadian Parliament in the Liberal Party after they stepped down from their cabinet positions.

Why Were They Expelled?

Trudeau has continually denied any wrongdoing and has said he takes the concerns very seriously.

Trudeau’s decision to eject Wilson-Raybould and Philpott is largely considered part of his broader efforts to do damage control before he faces a federal election in October.

However, it has not been unprompted. Parliamentarians in the Liberal Party have recently pushed Trudeau to remove both women from caucus on the grounds that they were undermining party unity.

“The trust that previously existed between these two individuals and our team has been broken,” Trudeau said in a press conference on Tuesday, “It’s become clear that Ms. Wilson-Raybould and Dr. Philpott can no longer be part of our Liberal team.”

Wilson-Raybould & Philpott Stir the Pot

The Liberal Party putting pressure on Trudeau to remove Wilson-Raybould and Philpott did not come out of the blue.

About two weeks ago, Wilson-Raybould publicly released a secret a recording of a phone call she had in December with Canada’s Clerk of the Privy Council Michael Wernick, who is Canada’s top civil servant.

In the phone call, she told Wernick that Trudeau “was on dangerous ground.” Wilson-Raybould released the records shortly after Wernick announced that he was going to step down from his position before the upcoming election.

In addition to continually supporting Wilson-Raybould, Philpott also angered members of the Liberal Party after she gave an interview with MacLeans on March 21.

“There’s much more to the story that should be told,” Philpott said in the interveiw, “I believe the former attorney general has further points to make. I believe that I have further issues of concern that I’m not free to share.”

Both women can still run for election again, but they would have to run as a different party, which could be challenging. So far neither Wilson-Raybould nor Philpott have said they are going to run for Parliament again in October under another party.

Wilson-Raybould & Philpott Respond

Wilson-Raybould responded to Trudeau’s move to expel her in a series of tweets on Tuesday, writing, “I have no regrets. I will speak the truth as I will continue to do.”

Wilson-Raybould also defended herself in a letter to the Liberal Party, writing:

“I am angry, hurt, and frustrated because I feel and believe I was upholding the values that we all committed to. In giving the advice I did, and taking the steps I did, I was trying to help protect the Prime Minister and the government from a horrible mess. I am not the one who tried to interfere in sensitive proceedings.”

Philpott also responded to her expulsion in a Facebook post on Tuesday.

“It appears that the caucus is intent on staying the current course, regardless of its short-term and long-term consequences to the party and to the country,”wrote Philpott, “And it has been decided that there is no place for me in the caucus.”

Unprecedented Action

Trudeau’s move to expel Wilson-Raybould and Philpott may have come from internal pressures inside the Liberal Party as they inch closer to the election, but this kind of action is largely unprecedented in Canadain politics.

“There’s been resignations on disagreements to government policy, there’s been resignations relating to scandal,” said Chris Cochrane, a University of Toronto politics professor, “There’s never been two resignations in recent memory of people resigning on principle … together.”

Cochrane also said that Wilson-Raybould and Philpott’s ejections especially come as shock because they represent a change of course for Trudeau, who has continually said that Liberals needed strong legislators with different points of view, and who also campaigned on transparency and government accountability.

“The difference here is that Trudeau explicitly promised in the last election to do business differently than previous governments,” Cochrane told the National Post.

Trudeau is also receiving criticism because he has been championed in the past as a self-described feminist and a supporter of indigenous rights.

Now, his opponents have used this incident to portray him as a leader who directed aides to bully Wilson-Raybould, an Indigenous woman, in order to protect a corporation from a criminal conviction in a corruption case.

Trudeau Threatens Lawsuit Against Opposition Leader for ‘Libel’

On Sunday, Conservative leader Andrew Scheer released a letter he received from Trudeau’s lawyer on March 31, threatening to sue him for libel.

On March 29, Scheer posted a statement on Facebook and Twitter regarding Wilson-Raybould and the SNC case. According to Trudeau’s attorney, Scheer’s statement was“beyond the pale of fair debate” and “libelous.”

Trudeau’s lawyer also said Scheer’s statement, “Contained highly defamatory comments about Prime Minister Trudeau.” The letter concludes that it should be taken as a notice for any subsequent action.

Scheer responded to the letter in a tweet, writing, “I stand by every single criticism I have made of Justin Trudeau’s behaviour in this scandal.”

The tweet also included a letter from Scheer’s own lawyer in response to Trudeau’s letter, which called the libel claim “completely without merit,” and claimed Scheer was “performing his constitutional duty to hold the Prime Minister and his government to account.”

Scheer later tweeted that he welcomed Trudeau’s lawsuit, “Because he will finally be forced to testify under oath.”

Whether or not Trudeau will move ahead with the lawsuit is yet to be known.

See what others are saying: (National Post) (CBC) (The Washington Post)

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Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro Criticized for Inaction Over Amazon Forest Fires

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  • Social media users are using #PrayforAmazonia to bring attention to fires in the Amazon forest that have been burning for three weeks.
  • Many blame Brazillian President Jair Bolsonaro for failing to take action to address the issue, while some argue that his pro-deforestation policies are what lead to the fires in the first place.
  • Since taking office in January, Bolsonaro has massively ramped up deforestation of the Amazon by rolling back protections and increasing access for agriculture and mining.

#PrayforAmazonia Trends on Twitter

Twitter users are criticizing Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro for his failure to stop a series of forest fires that have been tearing through the Amazon forest for the last three weeks

On Tuesday morning, “Amazon rainforest” and “#PrayforAmazonia” trended on Twitter. “Amazon rainforest is burning… And Bolsonaro is deliberately doing nothing,” one user wrote.

“This is the Brazilian environmental policy under president Bolsonaro,” another user wrote above pictures of fires. “The Amazon Rainforest’s burning for about 3 weeks and nothing’s been done.”

Other people noted the Amazon has been burning for weeks but that they were just learning about it now.

Some also pointed out the lack of media coverage on the fires.

Amazon Rainforest Fires

Currently, there are numerous fires in multiple states that are basically burning down the Amazon rainforest totally unchecked.

Last week, NASA released satellite images of a massive smoke layer covering a huge part of the forest. One NASA researcher told reporters that the smoke layer spanned about 1.2 million square miles, which is about one-third of the United States.

Satellite images of a massive smoke layer released by NASA.

The smoke has continued to spread, endangering the health of people and animals living in the area, according to local reports. The air quality has gotten so bad in some areas, that about two weeks ago, the state of Amazonas declared a state of emergency.

On Monday, people in São Paulo, which is on the other side of the country from the Amazon, shared pictures of the sky turning black in the middle of the afternoon, which multiple scientists have attributed to the smoke from the fires.

Cause of the Fires

Numerous experts have said that the fires are caused by humans and there are several pieces of evidence to back that up.

First, the Amazon rainforest is comparatively fire-resistant because it is so wet and humid. While there are often fires this time of year, they are usually caused by extreme droughts. 

Despite the fact that fire outbreaks rose by 70% this year compared to 2018, there have not been any extreme weather events that would cause this amount of fires.

Second, fire is actually used in the Amazon as an agricultural technique to clear land for planting crops. The technique, called “slash and burn,” is also one of the major methods used in the Amazon for illegal deforestation.

Since Bolsonaro took office in January, deforestation has rapidly increased.

According to satellite data from the Brazilian National Institute for Space Research (INPE), deforestation in the Amazon increased by around 245% in July 2019 compared to July 2018.

According to The Guardian, that’s the same as destroying three football fields worth of forest every minute.

Despite the fact that the data came from satellite images, Bolsonaro has described it as “fake news.” After the INPE reported those numbers, Bolsonaro fired the head of that agency.

“The numbers, as I understand it, were released with the objective of harming the name of Brazil and its government,” Bolsonaro told reporters earlier this month.

Bolsonaro’s Policies

As many have pointed out, Bolsonaro campaigned on opening up the Amazon to resource extraction. Since taking office, he has made it a key component of his economic policy.

Until Bolsonaro’s election, protecting the Amazon has been at the core of Brazilian environmental policy for the last two decades. 

With the help of powerful lobbyists, he has rolled back environmental protections and ratcheted up access to mining and agriculture by clearing huge sections of forest.

Many of the areas that Bolsonaro has opened up to agriculture and mining are protected indigenous lands, which the president has said are too big for the number of people who live there.

According to BBC, more than 800,000 indigenous people live in 450 demarcated territories which cover about 12% of land across the country. Most of those territories are in the Amazon region, and some are entirely isolated.

This strategy has endangered both the indigenous populations and the forest itself, especially as it is widely believed among experts and scientists that protecting indigenous lands is one of the best strategies to conserve forests.

This is especially important for the Amazon because the Amazon basin is absolutely critical to stabilizing the global climate.

The entire basin spans about three million square miles and includes 40% of the world’s tropical forests, 20% of its freshwater, and produces 20% of the air we breathe, according to a report by Foreign Policy.

It also has many keystone ecosystems which are crucial to global biodiversity. The importance of the Amazon cannot be understated.

Around 60% of the Amazon forest is in Brazil, a country where a number of top officials in the government do not even believe climate change is real.

Those officials are convinced any criticisms of Bolsonaro’s policies as harmful to the environment are propagated by civil society groups and foreign governments who are trying to sabotage the administration.

Bolsonaro, for his part, has largely expressed disinterest in the environment. 

When asked by a reporter last week about whether Brazil can grow more food and protect the environment at the same time, Bolsonaro responded, “It’s enough to eat a little less. You talk about environmental pollution. It’s enough to poop every other day. That will be better for the whole world.”

See what others are saying: (Newsweek) (Foreign Policy) (The New York Times)

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China Ramps Up Propaganda Against Hong Kong Protests

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  • China is ramping up its propaganda campaign against the Hong Kong protests.
  • These efforts include buying anti-protest ads on Twitter and Facebook, both of which are banned in China, as part of an effort to disperse misinformation to the international community.
  • China has also moved thousands of troops to their border with Hong Kong to conduct public military exercises that many believe are meant to intimidate protestors in Hong Kong.
  • On Sunday, hundreds of thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators took to the streets of Hong Kong in one of the biggest peaceful marches seen in the city since the protests first began 11 weeks ago.

Airport Protests

Mainland China has ratcheted up its efforts against the protestors in Hong Kong following several violent instances during protests at Hong Kong’s airport last week.

Last Monday, thousands of protestors flooded the Hong Kong airport, causing officials to cancel all flights. Limited flights resumed Tuesday and protestors began trying to block passengers from boarding planes.

The situation escalated after a group of demonstrators essentially held two men from mainland China hostage. The protestors reportedly believed one of the men was an undercover police officer, even though they had no confirmation of his identity or employment.

The other man who was seized by protestors has been confirmed as a journalist for the Chinese newspaper the Global Times. It was also reported that at one point, a group of demonstrators overwhelmed a police officer and beat him with his own baton.

These instances prompted police to violently crackdown on the protestors Tuesday night, using pepper spray and batons to disperse the demonstrators.

Flights resumed normally on Wednesday after airport authorities filed a court order to limit the protests.

China Propaganda

Amid the protests at the airport, mainland China has significantly stepped up its misinformation and anti-protest propaganda campaign.

While China’s state media has always portrayed the Hong Kong protests in a negative light, they have recently increased their efforts to villainize the protestors.

In general, the Chinese media have portrayed the protestors as a small group of bad actors who engage in extremely violent demonstrations. 

The official narrative in China is that the demonstrations have been planned and incited by foreign forces, including U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and the CIA, who the Chinese government claim pay the protestors to engage in activities that are not supported by residents of Hong Kong.

That narrative obviously contrasts greatly with the fact that the protests are part of popular demonstration movement that at times has prompted two million people— nearly one-third of Hong Kong’s population— to take to the streets.

The Chinese media has also said the protestors in Hong Kong are calling for independence from China, which threatens the mainland’s sovereignty. However, as many have noted, none of the protestors’ demands include independence from China.

The Chinese media has also manipulated pictures and videos of protestors to make them seem more violent. In one recent example, a video showed a protester with a toy Airsoft weapon used in a paintball-like game that’s popular in Hong Kong. 

The state-run newspaper the China Daily circulated that video, claiming it was evidence that the protesters had taken up arms and saying the toy was a grenade launcher used by the U.S. Army.

Over the weekend, it was reported that China’s largest state-run news agency, Xinhua News, bought ads on Facebook and Twitter to smear the protestors. Both Facebook and Twitter are banned in China, so the ads seem to be an attempt to influence the outside world to China’s favor.

One of the ads run on Facebook indicates that the violence from the protests is hurting Hong Kong’s economy, and goes on to say, “Calls are mounting for immediate actions to restore order.”

Another ad on Twitter also pushed the idea that everyone in Hong Kong wants “order,” claiming, “All walks of life in Hong Kong called for a brake to be put on the blatant violence and for order to be restored.”

Twitter Responds

Twitter addressed the misinformation campaign in a Twitter Safety blog post on Monday.

In the post, Twitter said they found “a significant state-backed information operation focused on the situation in Hong Kong.” 

According to the post, Twitter located 936 accounts “originating from within” China that were “deliberately and specifically attempting to sow political discord in Hong Kong, including undermining the legitimacy and political positions of the protest movement on the ground.”

The post went on to say that Twitter had suspended all of the accounts for violating their platform manipulation policies, but also noted that those accounts were only the most active parts of the misinformation campaign, which they said consisted of around 200,000 accounts.

Continued Protests

Propaganda is only one of the methods China is using to put pressure on Hong Kong.

Beijing has recently moved thousands of paramilitary troops to mainland China’s border with Hong Kong.

Those forces have since been seen running very public military exercises over the last week or so, and many experts have said it is a reminder to Hong Kong that the mainland has not ruled out the use of force.

The combination of the violence at the airport and the rising threat from mainland China caused many protest leaders worried that the actions taken by a few demonstrators would deter others from continuing to protest.

The opposite appeared to be true on Sunday, when hundreds of thousands of protestors demonstrated in the rain for one of the biggest peaceful protests in weeks. Protest organizers estimated that around 1.7 million people came out, while the police claim the number is closer to 128,000.

Despite the fact that the authorities had not given the protestors permission for the march, it still remained peaceful.

Police presence was limited, and the officers who were present did not try to stop the protestors. The protestors themselves encouraged each other to avoid confrontations.

Sunday’s massive protest seemed to indicate that the people of Hong Kong are not backing down, even amid what many have described as unprecedented use of force by police and escalating threats from mainland China.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Washington Post) (Gizmodo)

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Tlaib Will Not Visit West Bank After Israel Reverses Travel Restriction Against Her

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  • Rep. Rashida Tlaib announced that she will not go see her family in the West Bank after Israel rescinded a previous travel restriction they had placed on her.
  • That restriction, announced by Israel on Thursday, blocked Tlaib and Rep. Ilham Omar from visiting Israel on a scheduled trip due to their support of the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement.
  • Tlaib, who had planned to visit her grandmother during the visit, appealed the decision on humanitarian grounds and was granted her request to see her family after promising that she would not promote the boycotts against Israel on her trip.
  • Tlaib ultimately decided not to go to Israel, writing on Twitter, “I have decided that visiting my grandmother under these oppressive conditions stands against everything I believe in.”

Israel Reverses Restriction

Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) said Friday she will not visit her family in the West Bank hours after Israel reversed a decision made the day before to block her from entering the country.

On Thursday, Israel announced it would bar Tlaib and Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) from visiting the country during a planned trip because of their support for the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel.

Israeli officials had originally said they would allow the two congresswomen to visit on their trip, which was set to start Sunday.

They later backtracked after President Donald Trump prompted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to block the two women from entering.

Tlaib had also planned to visit her grandmother and other family members who live in the West Bank.

Tlaib’s Letter & Statement

Following Israel’s announcement Thursday, Tlaib wrote a letter to Israeli Interior Minister Aryeh Deri to appeal the decision.

“I would like to request admittance to Israel in order to visit my relatives, and specifically my grandmother, who is in her 90s,” Tlaib wrote. “This could be my last opportunity to see her. I will respect any restrictions and will not promote boycotts against Israel during my visit.”

Deri agreed on Friday to grant Tlaib’s request on humanitarian grounds, but shortly after, Tliab announced that she would be canceling her trip to the West Bank.

“The Israeli government used my love and desire to see my grandmother to silence me and made my ability to do so contingent upon my signing a letter,” Tlaib wrote in a statement. “I have therefore decided to not travel to Palestine and Israel at this time.”

“When I won the election to become a United States Congresswoman, many Palestinians, especially my grandmother, felt a sense of hope, a hope that they would finally have a voice,” she continued.

“I cannot allow the Israeli government to take that away from them or to use my deep desire to see my grandmother, potentially for the last time, as a political bargaining chip.”

Tlaib also echoed parts of her statement in a post on Twitter. Referring to her grandmother, Tlaib wrote, “Silencing me & treating me like a criminal is not what she wants for me.” 

“I have decided that visiting my grandmother under these oppressive conditions stands against everything I believe in–fighting against racism, oppression & injustice,” she continued.

A Complicated Double-Bind

Israeli Interior Minister Deri reacted strongly to Tlaib’s decision.

“I approved her request as a gesture of goodwill on a humanitarian basis, but it was just a provocative request, aimed at bashing the State of Israel,” he wrote in a tweet. “Apparently her hate for Israel overcomes her love for her grandmother.”

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However, others have argued that the situation is more nuanced. Nour Odeh, who had helped plan Tlaib’s trip, told NPR that Tlaib’s decision reflects a broader conflict many Palestinians face.

“Palestinians of all walks of life are put in the impossible situation of having to choose between championing their principles, between defending their cause for freedom, between speaking their mind — and enjoying the basic humanitarian conditions that everybody is entitled to, including having access to their families,” Odeh said.

Tlaib’s Family Responds

Members of Tlaib’s family who spoke to U.S. journalists made similar points. The congresswoman’s uncle, Bassem Tlaib, who lives in the West Bank, told NPR that his village had been preparing for her arrival.

“We have mixed feelings now; we’re happy she didn’t accept the Israeli demands but we’ll miss her,” he said. “Israel does not want us to show our allies in the US how the Israeli occupation treats us. They want our lives to be a secret.”

Tlaib’s grandmother, Muftiyah Tlaib, also told the Washington Post that while she did not understand why her granddaughter could not come visit her, she was still proud of her.

“Who wouldn’t be proud of a granddaughter like that?” she said. “I love her and am so proud of her.”

She told the Post that the planned visit would have been the first time the two have seen each other since around 2007.

“My family and I have cried together throughout this ordeal; they’ve promised to keep my grandmother alive until I can one day reunite with her,” Tlaib said in her statement.

“It is with their strength and heart that I reiterate I am a duly elected United States Congresswoman and I will not allow the Israeli government to humiliate me and my family or take away our right to speak out.”

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (NPR) (Vox)

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