Front Page News: April 20, 2015

Good morning Pine Tree Republic citizens! In our Front Page News features, I share 3-5 of the top news stories from the past week and discuss the broader global context in which they occurred. Each post concludes with questions to follow in the coming days and weeks to better understand how today’s news shapes tomorrow’s world, and the Pine Poll of the Week, where the Pine Tree Republic community makes its collective voice heard on one of the week’s top issues. As always, please share your thoughts on these and other stories of the week in the comments section.

This week’s stories include:


1. “Europe Hunts for People-Trafficking Gangs behind Tide of Migrant Misery“, by Colin Freeman (The Telegraph)



The Story: The ongoing international migration crisis across the Mediterranean Sea took another turn for the worse this week, amid reports of 400 migrants drowning when one boat sank last week, and another incident this week in which a dozen Christian migrants were thrown overboard in a dispute with Muslim migrants on the same boat. These sometimes daily incidents are taking place as the number of migrants fleeing African and Middle Eastern countries is skyrocketing. Italy received over 170,000 Mediterranean migrants last year, and is projecting an even greater influx this summer – not counting those who don’t survive the journey. As this article illustrates, many would-be migrants face harrowing journeys in transit countries such as Libya, where lawlessness reigns amidst intertribal warfare. On the other end of the journey, European host countries such as Italy are seeking ways to stem the tide of migrants arriving on their shores as concerns over criminal trafficking and terrorism activity rises.

[Update: News broke late Sunday that yet another boat carrying migrants has sank, resulting in potentially 700 deaths.]

So many (trafficking gangs) are now entering the game that they now jostle for fares “like budget airlines”… among would-be players is Libya’s new chapter of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), based in (former Libyan leader) Gaddafi’s home city of Sirte, which sees trafficking as a rich source of income and a way of smuggling fighters into Europe.”

Context: The level of human trafficking across the Mediterranean Sea has reached crisis proportions over the last two years, and is only expected to grow worse this year with ongoing instability in North Africa and the Middle East. This influx of migrants has exploded primarily as law and order have crumbled in Libya, which is now ground zero for launching perilous journeys to southern European countries e.g. Italy. Since the Western-led military operation to depose former Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, no single group has been able to fill the resulting power vacuum in the country, and ongoing intertribal warfare has created an environment for criminal activity to flourish. Given Libya’s ample coastline on the Mediterranean and proximity to Italy, it is the perfect host for human trafficking gangs to take advantage of people fleeing war and desperate economic situations in West Africa, North Africa, and the Middle East. As Freeman notes in this article, this activity represents an important source of income for the country’s militias, and when combined with the omnipresence of guns in the country, can further empower fledgling terrorist and international criminal organizations (indeed, Freeman writes that ISIS has recently established a presence in the country for this reason). On the European side, continued uncertainty over how to manage the increase in migration threatens a different kind of instability in the European Union. The countries that are geographically predisposed to receive the majority of the migrants – Italy, Greece, and Spain – also happen to be the economies that are struggling the most within the EU. Without an agreement on how to accommodate the influx in immigration, these trends could likely combine to embolden nationalist movements that will challenge the continued legitimacy of the European Union.


2. “In Historic Speech, Indian PM Modi Vows Closer Canadian Ties“, by Kim Mackerel and Joe Friesen (Globe and Mail)



The Story: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi paid an official state visit to Canada this past week, the first leader from his country to do so in over 40 years. The  visit was notable not just for the policy issues that were concluded or advanced between the two countries – including a deal to sell Canadian uranium to help fuel India’s nuclear industry, and a potential free trade deal to be signed in September – but also for the pageantry and “rock star”-style public events in which Modi appeared. In between visits to Ottawa and Vancouver, the largest public event of Modi’s Canadian tour was a sold-out speech he delivered in front of 10,000 Indo-Canadians in a Toronto, accompanied by Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Defence Minister Jason Kenney. As the authors of this article note, Harper and Kenney did not shy away from highlighting their close friendship with the conservative Indian leader, despite persistent concerns about his human rights record.

“We had extended a hand of friendship long before others,” Mr. Harper said, in an apparent reference to the years when Mr. Modi was shunned by some in the international community over allegations related to deadly riots in his home state of Gujarat.”

Context: Modi’s visit to Canada highlights two prominent features of Canadian foreign policy under the Conservative Government: unapologetic support of countries perceived as defenders of democracy and capitalism in their respective regions, and the use of foreign policy to court ethnic electoral constituencies in Canada. Prime Minister Harper’s full-fledged embrace of Narendra Modi is somewhat out-of-step with the more ambivalent welcome other countries have given the Indian leader since his election victory; the United States, for example, had imposed a travel ban on Modi until last year. International concerns stem from Modi’s alleged role in permitting mass religious riots that killed over 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, when he was the governor of Gujarat state in the early 2000s, and the often unvarnished Hindu nationalist positions that have propelled him to power. Yet, Harper’s decidedly pro-Modi rhetoric echoes his enthusiastic support of other leaders, such as Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu and Ukraine’s Petro Poroshenko, who also have ambivalent human rights records but are perceived as allies of Western democratic and capitalist values within broader regional struggles. This foreign policy approach contrasts with Canada’s historical “middle power” role, in which previous governments refrained from openly choosing sides in regional conflicts, but rather focused on building international rules and institutions.

Also notable in Modi’s visit is the degree to which he was provided a public platform to court the large Indian diaspora in Toronto and Vancouver, and the presence of Prime Minister Harper and Defence Minister Kenney at the Toronto event. Modi’s speech and the event’s concert-like atmosphere evoke the feeling of a major election stump speech, which would be in keeping with the Conservative government’s success in courting ethnic constituencies in large Canadian cities during federal elections. Whereas Foreign Minister Rob Nicholson might be expected to appear along with the Prime Minister when a prominent foreign dignatry visits Canada, the presence instead of Defence Minister Kenney, who has long been the party’s point person on courting ethnic minorities, further cemented the importance of this visit for Canada’s upcoming elections.


3. “Ottawa’s New Climate Change Mantra Involves Cross-Border Greenhouse Gas Emissions Regulations“, by Claudia Cattaneo (National Post)



The Story: Efforts to curb greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in Canada received a boost at this week’s provincial premiers’ meeting on climate change in Quebec City. On Monday, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne announced that her province will join Quebec’s recently formed cap-and-trade market. The following day, federal Natural Resources Minister Greg Rickford announced that Canada, the United States, and Mexico will begin working together on joint regulations to address GHG emissions in the oil and gas industry. Rickford’s announcement comes at a time when provinces and states have taken the lead on implementing climate change legislation, which has been hampered at the federal level in Canada and the United States by partisan gridlock and a lack of political will. It also comes a few months ahead of the next round of international climate negotiations in Paris, in which countries will be under the microscope to present their plans to reduce GHG emissions beyond 2015.

“We have an opportunity here to address a North American challenge and to not create any unfairness or imbalance in the competitive edge of our respective jurisdictions,” [Rickford] said. He said the “initial signals” from the U.S. to develop a common GHG emissions approach with Canada, without putting “one state, one province, or one sector” at a disadvantage, are “favourable.”

Context: After several years of stagnation, last week’s Quebec City summit appeared to signal a shift in Canada’s stance on climate change regulations. At the provincial level, momentum is building for a pan-Canadian approach to managing this issue, as Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard seeks to build an alliance of provinces that will potentially create a multi-province market for trading carbon credits. Konrad Yakabuski notes that this represents one policy area in which the premier can help shape Canadian action aligned with his province’s interests, at a time when a majority of Quebecers are opposed to other major federal initiatives. And while the federal government may see some advantage in aligning with a popular policy position in Quebec and Ontario, a likely stronger driver for action on the climate change issue comes from the emergence of Mexico as a potential competitor in supplying oil to the United States. Since the Mexican government announced its eagerly-anticipated energy industry reforms last year, investors have been bullish on the potential for the country to increase its production and export of oil, particularly the type of heavy oil that Canada currently supplies to the United States. And as Mexican oil typically can be produced more cheaply than its counterpart in Canada, the Canadian government may see an interest in evening the playing field through continent-wide regulations on the oil and gas industry. Whether this new shift in rhetoric is matched by action, particularly with a gridlocked U.S. Congress, remains to be seen.


4. “Wave of Threats Prompts Creation of Edmonton Counterterrorism Unit“, by Justin Giovannetti and Colin Freeze (Globe and Mail)

Source: Toronto Sun

Source: Toronto Sun

The Story: Edmonton Police Chief Rod Knecht announced this week that Alberta’s capital city will form its own municipal counterterrorism team to investigate people suspected of participating in terrorism-related activities. Since the September 11, 2001 attacks, counterterrorism in Canada has primarily been coordinated through Integrated National Security Enforcement Teams, or INSET, led by federal agencies such as the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and Canadian Security Intelligence Service. However, there is mounting concern that INSET teams are not receiving sufficient funding to effectively conduct counterterrorism investigations, and that they have focused too much on Canada’s largest cities, at the expense of medium-sized cities such as Edmonton. The city’s new counterterrorism team will consist of 35 officers, though Chief Knecht is requesting 10 times that amount as the city begins to feel the effect of a worsening economy and increased crime rates.

The expectation on INSET has grown so dramatically I can’t see how they could possibly keep up on their own. I think municipal services are at the point where they are going to have to pick up the ball.” – Vern White, former Ottawa Police Chief and current Canadian Senator

Context: The creation of a new counterterrorism team in Edmonton, at a time when centralized INSET teams have not grown substantially in recent years, suggests that Canadian municipalities may increasingly take more responsibility for a domain that has typically been handled at the federal level. This shift may reflect an evolving understanding of terrorist threats from large plots requiring a high degree of coordination from established terror networks, to more dispersed “lone wolf”-style attacks that do not depend on the networks typically concentrated in large cities. Should this trend continue with more municipalities forming their own counterterrorism teams, the questions of what new abilities will be granted to municipal forces and how they will be regulated could have broader implications for the relations between police forces and their communities. In particular, Canada’s Parliament is poised to pass Bill C-51, which would increase the powers of Canada’s federal agencies to share information and conduct domestic police work in counterterrorism investigations – would municipal counterterrorism teams also see greater powers in collecting and sharing information with other agencies on individuals and groups in their communities? A similar shift in U.S. municipal police powers has been linked to the increased “militarization” of police departments – and while significant differences exist between policing in the United States and Canada, the devolution of counterterrorism responsibilities to the municipal level may also lead to unanticipated shifts in how policing is conducted across Canadian communities.


Questions to Follow:

  • What groups are benefitting from the current Mediterranean migrant crisis? How will this affect relationships between members of the European Union?
  • Does the Harper Government’s open embrace of leaders with spotty human rights records, such as India’s Narendra Modi, mark a noticeable shift in Canadian foreign policy? If so, what factors may be driving this shift?
  • Which level of government (municipal, provincial, or federal) will have the most influence in developing Canadian climate change regulations? What are the different objectives for each of these governments, and how might this affect what the regulations look like?
  • What are the potential long-term implications of municipalities taking on more responsibility for counterterrorism operations?


Pine Poll of the Week:


Last week’s poll results: The Pine Tree Republic community was split between projecting a weakened Progressive Conservative majority and a Progressive Conservative minority government in Alberta’s upcoming elections.

I look forward to reading your comments and perspectives on this week’s news.

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