- 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.”
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)
Anti-LGBTQ+ Hungarian Politician Resigns After He Was Caught At a 25-Man Orgy
- József Szájer, a longtime ally of the right-wing Hungarian Prime Minister and a Member of the European Parliament, resigned Sunday after he was caught attending a 25-man orgy in Brussels.
- The event was raided after a noise complaint as Brussels is currently under a lockdown to curb the spread of COVID-19.
- Szájer claimed diplomatic immunity after being detained and was issued a €250 fine.
- His attendance at a gay orgy contrasts his career as an adamantly anti-LGBTQ+ politician. In fact, he was instrumental in rewriting Hungary’s 2010 constitution to include provisions meant to stifle the possibility of gay marriage.
Long time anti-LGBTQ+ politician József Szájer resigned from the European Parliament Sunday after revelations that he attended a 25-man orgy in Brussels, which was raided by police.
The Saturday event violated Belgium’s stay-at-home orders, which prohibit inter-household gathers of more than four people in an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19. Police were notified of the orgy after a neighbor called to file a noise complaint. The organizer of the party was unapologetic about hosting the party during the pandemic, telling HLN, “I always invite a few friends to my parties, who in turn bring some friends along, and then we make it fun together.”
“We talk a little, we have a drink – just like in a café. The only difference is that in the meantime we also have sex with each other. I don’t see what’s wrong with that,” he added.
József Szájer’s Great Escape
According to local media HLN, Szájer wasn’t even invited to the party but instead came as a guest’s friend. There are differing accounts about how he was aprehended at the party. A spokesperson for the local prosecutor’s office said on Tuesday, “A passer-by reported to the police that he had seen a man fleeing along the gutter; he was able to identify the man.”
“The man’s hands were bloody. It is possible that he may have been injured while fleeing. Narcotics were found in his backpack. The man was unable to produce any identity documents. He was escorted to his place of residence, where he identified himself as [Szájer József] by means of a diplomatic passport.”
After apprehending him, police detained Szájer and searched a bag he brought with him where they allegedly found ecstasy. Szájer denied the drugs were his and demanded a drug test, which the police declined to do.
On Tuesday, after reports of his attendance at the orgy became public, Szájer made a statement saying, “After the police asked for my identity — since I did not have ID on me — I declared that I was a MEP.”.
“The police continued the process and finally issued an official verbal warning and transported me home.
“I deeply regret violating the Covid restrictions, it was irresponsible on my part. I am ready to stand for the fine that occurs.”
That fine ended up being €250.
No Future Career
Szájer, as a member of Orban’s party, helped rewrite Hungary’s constitution in 2010. He once boasted on his blog in 2011 that he wrote the constitution on his iPad. That constitution included a provision that would “protect the institution of marriage as the union of a man and a woman.
In his statement Tuesday, Szájer asked that the matter be treated as “strictly personal” and added, “I ask everyone not to extend it to my homeland, or to my political community.”
His words gave light to the reason he originally resigned as a member of the European Parliament on Sunday, which at the time came as sudden and unexpected news.
His party hasn’t issued any statement regarding Szájer’s actions, and Szájer asked for forgiveness from his wife, child, and country. He added that he would be retiring from political life.
See What Others Are Saying: (Business Insider) (The Daily Beast) (The Guardian)
U.K Approves Pfizer’s COVID-19 Vaccine
- The United Kingdom has become the first western country to approve a coronavirus vaccine after giving Pfizer’s vaccine the go-ahead.
- Prime Minister Boris Johnson said vaccinations will start next week. Health care workers and those in elderly care homes are expected to get priority.
- Russian President Vladimir Putin also ordered that doses of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine be given in the country next week, though many are still skeptical of Russia’s vaccine due to a lack of transparency and data.
- In the U.S., Moderna and Pfizer will likely get approval in the next few weeks, and Vice President Mike Pence has told states to get ready to distribute. The timing in the states is crucial as health officials are warning that the coronavirus threat to Americans is at a historic high.
U.K. Greenlights Pfizer
The United Kingdom became the first western country to greenlight a coronavirus vaccine Wednesday after approving one created by Pfizer and BioNTech.
Pfizer said its vaccine is 95% effective and has also begun the process of seeking Food and Drug Administration approval in the U.S. If all goes well, it should be authorized in the next two weeks. Across the pond, the review was done by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, which said that the vaccine met its high standards.
“A dedicated team of MHRA scientists and clinicians carried out a rigorous, scientific and detailed review of all the available data and have concluded that the vaccine meets high standards of safety, quality and effectiveness,” the agency said in a statement.
“I’m really pleased to say that the UK is now one step closer to providing a safe and effective vaccine to help in the fight against COVID-19 – a virus that has affected each and every one of us in some way – and in helping to save lives,” MHRA’s Chief Executive Dr. June Raine added.
The U.K., like much of Europe, is recovering from a staggering increase of cases in the fall, which reached their peak sometime in November. The country has so far seen over 1.6 million cases and suffered 59,000 deaths.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that the vaccine will be made available across the U.K. next week. Priority will likely go to staff and residents at elderly care homes, medical workers, and those above the age of 80. However, since the vaccine needs to be stored in extreme subzero temperatures, doses will likely be given out from hospitals first as those are among the few locations with the means to store them.
Russian Vaccine and Skepticism
The U.K. was not the only country making vaccine progress on Wednesday. Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered doses of their Sputnik V vaccine to be distributed next week. Russia approved their vaccine before trials were completed, eventually claiming a 92% efficacy rate. While some health officials are optimistic about it, and countries like Brazil, Mexico, India, and Egypt have bought doses, others remain skeptical.
Critics often cite a lack of transparency between Russia and the public about their trials as well as a lack of data.
“The sample is too low to claim any percentage of efficacy,” Enrico Bucci, an Italian biologist told CBC News.
Others are concerned that Russia was aiming to win a vaccine race, putting speed ahead of everything else. John Moore, a vaccine researcher at Weill Cornell Medical College told Science Mag that the FDA would never approve a vaccine with the limited information of Sputnik V.
“Why is Russia doing this?” Moore asked. “It’s the international vaccine race. They want to be seen to be keeping up with their competitors in other countries. It’s clearly a rushed out announcement.”
“But it doesn’t mean it’s wrong,” he continued.
Others have also raised questions about why Putin himself has not taken the vaccine, especially considering his claims that his own daughter already has. Russian officials say the president cannot take an “uncertified” vaccine, but it is unclear what the difference between a certified vaccine and an approved vaccine is.
U.S. Vaccine Updates
The United States is also making strides towards approving a vaccine. On Monday, Moderna started the process of seeking FDA authorization with their vaccine, which touts a 94.1% efficacy rate. The FDA is set to meet to discuss Pfizer’s vaccine next week and Moderna’s the week after.
As the potential for a vaccine in the states inches closer, Vice President Mike Pence said that vaccine distribution could begin this month.
“We strongly believe the vaccine distribution process could begin as soon as the week of December 14,” he said while speaking to the White House Coronavirus Task Force on Monday. “With this morning’s news that Moderna is joining Pfizer in submitting an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA), we continue to be on pace.”
As far as who will get it first in the U.S., the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices voted 13-1 on Tuesday to recommend that healthcare workers and residents of long-term care facilities get vaccinated first.
The need for a vaccine has never been greater. Daily case reports are increasing significantly and the country is seeing spikes like never before. So far, there have been 13.7 million cases and 270,000 lives lost.
On Wednesday, multiple news outlets obtained reports the White House Coronavirus Task Force sent to states warning of a dire state.
“The COVID risk to all Americans is at a historic high,” the report said. “We are in a very dangerous place due to the current, extremely high COVID baseline and limited hospital capacity.”
“If state and local policies do not reflect the seriousness of the current situation, all public health officials must alert the state population directly,” it added.
On top of this, the report said that anyone over the age of 65 or anyone with significant health conditions should not enter any indoor spaces with unmasked people as it poses an “immediate risk to your health.” It also said that anyone under 40 who traveled for Thanksgiving should assume they became infected.
“Most likely, you will not have symptoms; however, you are dangerous to others and you must isolate away from anyone at increased risk,” the report warned.
See what others are saying: (BBC News) (The Independant) (CNN)
China Refuses to Apologize for Official’s Tweet Showing Fake Image of Australian Soldier
- Earlier this month, Australia released a report saying 25 Australian soldiers likely killed 39 Afghan civilians and prisoners between 2009 and 2013.
- The report was praised in Australia for its transparency. In China, however, it was used as a prop to highlight the perceived hypocrisy of the West towards Human Rights.
- Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Zhao Lijian tweeted out a posed image of an Australian soldier threatening to kill an Afghan child.
- The tweet caused Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison to angrily respond, asking Twitter to remove the image.
- China has refused to apologize for the tweet, marking the latest escalation in diplomatic tensions between the two countries
Tweets on the International Stage
China has refused to apologize for a tweet by a Chinese Foreign Ministry official that caused Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison to ask Twitter to take down the post.
On November 29, Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian tweeted out, “Shocked by murder of Afghan civilians & prisoners by Australian soldiers. We strongly condemn such acts, &call for holding them accountable.”
That post also featured the staged image of an Australian soldier holding a bloody knife to an Afghan child, with the caption, “Don’t be afraid, we are coming to bring you peace!”
Zhao was referencing an internal report by the Australian Defence Force released earlier this month. The report investigated allegations of Australian war crimes and found found “credible information” that 25 Australian soldiers were involved in the murders of 30 Afghan civilians and prisoners between 2009 and 2013.
Shortly after the tweet, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison responded and asked Twitter to intervene. Morrison described it as “disinformation” and “truly repugnant, deeply offensive, utterly outrageous.”
“The Chinese government should be totally ashamed of this post. It diminishes them in the world’s eyes. It is a false image and terrible slur on our defense forces,” he added.
Chinese diplomats seem to be confused about why Spokesperson Zhao’s tweet got such a strong response from Australia. A different Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Hua Chunying, responded to reporters questions about the incident and said, “The Australian side reacted so strongly to my colleague’s personal tweet.”
“Are they justifying the ruthless killing of innocent Afghan civilians by Australian soldiers but suggesting that it is unreasonable for anyone to condemn such a cold crime?” he continued.
The issue has highlighted differences in how the West and China see the same situation. The Australian war crimes report was met with indignation at the actions of certain soldiers, while also being praised as a new standard of transparency.
Meanwhile, in China, this report highlighted perceived hypocrisies in the West over human rights. The image Zhao tweeted out is actually from a Chinese Weibo user who has gained some fame this year for making art criticizes Western takes on democracy and human rights.
This situation is the latest in an ongoing series of diplomatic tit-for-tats between Australia and China. In April of this year, Australia tried to get E.U. support in investigating whether Beijing’s early response to the coronavirus led to it becoming a global pandemic. China responded with tariffs on Australian barley and this past Friday imposed duties on Australian wine.
These incidents actually reach out beyond just Australia and China. China uses the threat of cutting off or limiting trade on smaller nations to “win” international disputes. In the case of Australia, that’s a significant threat; 40% of everything Australia sells internationally goes to China.
The combat this, the U.S. has sought to make a loose-coalition of Western nations to jointly-retaliate when China tries to do this, although those efforts have yet to materialize.