canada, Crime

Murder in Markham

After about a four-month investigation involving hundreds of pages of court documents and over 70 hours of courtroom audio (and multiple interviews), I weave together a tragic story in Toronto’s Markham area concerning the gruesome murder of a young Chinese man who wanted to get rich quick with the help of his business partners.

All thought that a partnership between friends would be easy and a breeze. They planned to flip houses in Toronto’s then very volatile and fast-paced real estate market. But soon doubt and betrayal set in and the partnership began to fray badly. The culmination is a gruesome murder that shocked even law enforcement. 

Published by Toronto Life on May 28th, 2018

PEIZHENG Qiu came from humble beginnings. He was born in 1987 in the province of Jiangsu in eastern China. His parents ran a gas station and, after some modest success, made enough money to open a small clothing factory. Business was inconsistent and often slow, but by 2008, they’d saved enough money to send their only son to live in Canada. They hoped he could make something of himself.

In China, where social mobility is limited, members of the lower middle class can only move up in the world with the help of people who can provide favours, referrals and patronage. The Chinese have a term for these social networks: guanxi. Many mainland Chinese families, including Qiu’s, believe the best way for their children to improve their social status and elevate their guanxi is to learn English, and obtain degrees from Western universities and colleges. There are more than 132,000 Chinese students currently enrolled in Canadian post-secondary institutions, making up nearly a third of foreign enrolment in the country.

When Qiu arrived in Toronto, he started a two-year ESL program, then enrolled in a two-year business accounting diploma at Centennial College. Qiu didn’t much care for his coursework, and he turned in a lack­lustre performance—he graduated with a paltry 2.04 GPA. But his parents were still sending him money each month, and he needed to find a way to stand on his own, so he wouldn’t have to rely on their largesse. He wanted to make them proud. “My father wanted me to try something on my own,” he later said. “He said to me that as a man, I needed to be trained in running my own business.” After he graduated, he used some money from his parents to open a store called I-Flooring, located in a strip mall near Woodbine and Steeles, and serving a mostly Chinese-Canadian clientele. He eventually had 10 people working under him—five full-time and five on contract.

The stress of the job wore on Qiu. He had no administrative experience, and despite his Centennial diploma, he had no idea how to run a business. Between paying his employees, covering rent and buying supplies, he was barely turning a profit. Reluctantly, he continued to depend on his parents to cover a significant portion of his monthly expenses. He got to the point where he felt waves of anxiety every time he entered his own shop. He needed to find another way to make money.

XIAO Xuan Long Yu, who went by the English name Bertram, was also seeking his fortune. A year younger than Qiu, Bertram was the son of a wealthy and prominent lawyer in Shenzhen, a major city in southeastern China, and one of the country’s biggest financial and commercial hubs. His parents had financed his immigration to Canada, putting him up in a luxury unit at the C Condos tower at Yonge and Finch. He liked to splurge on fancy cars: he drove a Ferrari 458, which sells for around $250,000, and previously owned a Maserati and BMW. Like Qiu, he was hoping to free himself from his parents’ support and make it on his own in Canada. He was smart and charming, with a strong command of English, and he probably could have landed a good job, but Bertram was ambitious. He wanted more than a steady paycheque. He wanted to run his own business.


Bertram Yu, the son of a wealthy Chinese lawyer, lived in a luxury condo and splurged on fancy cars

Bertram met Qiu at Centennial, where he too was studying business accounting. On the surface, they were polar opposites: where Qiu was modest and shy, Bertram was flashy and stylish, with side-swept bangs, thick-rimmed black glasses and an affinity for dramatic scarves. Qiu seemed to admire and resent ­Bertram’s inherited wealth, and sought to rise to the same level. By 2014, they’d decided to pool their resources and break into the one business that seemed like a sure thing in Toronto: real estate.

Qiu and Bertram believed that flipping houses would be a low-risk way to make serious money. More than six per cent of Toronto properties for sale in 2017 had been purchased less than 18 months earlier; that’s almost twice the percentage of properties that were bought by foreign investors. Flipping is particularly popular in the Chinese-Canadian community. In Richmond Hill, where nearly one-third of the population is of Chinese descent, residents successfully lobbied to ban the number 4, which sounds like the Chinese word for “death,” from street addresses back in 2013. Many Chinese home­owners believe that being stuck with the unlucky number will hurt the resale value of their properties.

The two men struck a deal: Bertram would put up the money to buy properties, while Qiu would use his construction expertise to make upgrades. Their arrangement was remarkably informal. They’d meet at Mint Karaoke and Lounge, a bar near Yonge and Steeles, not far from Bertram’s condo, where they’d drink and chat about business. There was very little paperwork spelling out what obligations each party was expected to fulfill and what would happen if things didn’t go according to plan. They were eager to make money as quickly as possible, and relied solely on mutual trust and friendship to make it happen. “The Chinese like to do things different,” Qiu later told police. “Millions can be loaned or borrowed based on a slip of paper.”

Bertram also enlisted his good friend Elson Yu to join the partnership. Elson was a seasoned businessman who’d owned and operated a men’s clothing store for six years. He and Bertram had met a few years earlier through some mutual friends. The two came from a similar social background, and both had grown up in mainland China. Elson was eager to get in on the flipping scheme. He figured that if his friend could trust Qiu, so could he.

BY early 2014, Elson and Bertram were scouting Toronto’s real estate listings, and over the next few months, they went on an investing spree, impulsively buying several large homes in North York for a some $3 million. The first property that caught their eye was 216 Harlandale Avenue, located just west of Yonge and Sheppard. It was a five-bedroom detached in a peaceful suburb, listed at $928,000. Elson knew that plenty of other people were looking at the property and decided to snatch it up on his own, forking over $300,000 for a down payment. He promised Bertram that he could still invest in the property later.

The partners bought this house at 216 Harlandale Avenue in early 2014 as their first property to flip


Peizheng Qiu sold 262 Senlac Road behind his partners’ backs, pocketing the profits


Bertram Yu bought 2 Laureleaf Road for $1.5 million in 2015. A year later, he was murdered and dismembered in the basement

Three weeks later, Elson and Bertram pooled their money to buy 262 Senlac Road, a four-bedroom detached in West ­Willowdale, only a couple of kilometres north of the Harlandale house. The sale price for this one was $752,000; Elson put up roughly two-thirds of the $150,000 down payment, while ­Bertram fronted the remainder. And two months after that, they acquired their third and most valuable property: a mansion at 2 Laureleaf Road in Thornhill, sold for $1.46 million. It was worth much more than Senlac to begin with, and the trio figured that a suite of upgrades could raise its sticker price substantially: they wanted Qiu to install new flooring and drywall, finish the basement, and add a new staircase on the main floor. The partners decided to focus on 2 Laureleaf first and use the profits to judge what to do with 262 Senlac. Based on what they made on 2 ­Laureleaf, they could decide whether to renovate the Senlac property or tear it down altogether.

According to Elson, he and Bertram covered the $450,000 down payment on the Laureleaf property, and were waiting for Qiu to cover his share. Qiu later disputed this claim, insisting that he had contributed to the down payment. He was the one who found the first financing opportunity for the house. He had a friend at the bank who was willing to give them a favourable mortgage.

Cracks in the partnership began to show as soon as the properties were purchased. Qiu was still juggling his flooring business and the flipping enterprise, and he seemed overwhelmed. Progress on the houses was excruciatingly slow. By the beginning of 2015, he’d barely done any work on the Laureleaf property.

Qiu was desperate for money. In March 2015, he went behind his partners’ backs and sold the property at 262 Senlac for $666,000, almost $100,000 less than Elson and Bertram had originally paid for it. When they confronted him, Qiu tried to placate them, promising he’d pay them back with the money they’d all make from the sale of 2 Laureleaf. Neither Elson nor Bertram believed him. They realized there was a lot about Qiu that they didn’t know.

THE house at 2 Laureleaf Road is palatial, with six bedrooms, six baths, a three-car garage and a faux-gothic aesthetic. Located in the idyllic neighbourhood of Bayview Glen, it had the potential to bring in big profit—if the planned renovations were ever finished. “Whenever we asked Qiu about it, it was always delay, delay, delay,” Elson said later. “Every time we went to inspect the house, nothing much was done.” He and Bertram were worried. Neither of them trusted Qiu, and they had no paperwork that would hold him accountable if he didn’t refund their money. By this point, all they wanted was to recoup their initial investments, sell the houses and walk. They never wanted to work with Qiu again.

Qiu, meanwhile, had sold his flooring business, ostensibly with the goal of renovating 2 Laureleaf full-time. He’d hired his friend Yaorile Yaorile, an experienced Chinese construction worker, to help him with the project. He’d also begun seeing a woman named Ruby. Frequently, Qiu would ask Bertram and Elson for more money to finish the renovations. Between the down payments, monthly mortgages and renovation costs, they had both invested hundreds of thousands of dollars into the partnership. As far as they could tell, Qiu had invested zero.

The Laureleaf project crawled along for the next few months. According to one worker, Qiu didn’t even do much of the hands-on labour. He was better known for his coffee runs than he was for construction work. “They seemed to be in no hurry,” says Dino Dimonte, who lives across the street. “They’d come in Friday evening, work on Saturday and Sunday, be gone on Monday,” he says. At one point, he had to call the City of Markham to complain about the endeavour: apparently, Qiu had begun renovations without a permit and had violated several bylaws, including failing to ensure the construction site was properly fenced in.

The tension was mounting between Qiu and his partners. Elson and Bertram were both short on cash, and Bertram was planning to marry his long-time girlfriend. They wanted to get their money back. The harder they pressed, the shiftier Qiu became. He’d promise payment, then postpone; promise payment, then postpone. Eventually, Bertram became resigned to the fact that Qiu would likely never pay him back. According to Bertram’s girlfriend, he wasn’t the kind of guy who ever got angry. “He knew that Qiu wasn’t a trustworthy person,” she later said. “But Qiu was his friend, and he had a high tolerance for him.”

On September 1, 2015, Bertram and Elson confronted Qiu at Mint karaoke bar, their usual spot. They had drawn up Acknowledgement of Debt documents, which they presented to him. These promissory notes included repayment schedules for Qiu, who at this point owed Bertram $1.3 million; the first $100,000 was due on January 15, 2016, with several more instalments scheduled throughout the year and a final payment of $600,000 in October. He owed Elson $290,000. Both documents had a Breach of Terms clause that demanded 0.5 per cent interest for every week he missed a payment. They also included scanned copies of Qiu’s driver’s licence. Bertram and Elson insisted that he sign on the spot, and he did so without a fuss. “We were going to leave 2 Laureleaf alone. We didn’t care when he finished working on it,” Elson later said. “But now he had a liability that he couldn’t run away from.” In total, Qiu owed $1.6 million.


Bertram and Elson forced Qiu to sign promissory notes for repayment totalling $1.6 million

QIU missed his first payment to Bertram for the amount of $100,000. Desperation had set in. At around 8 a.m. on Sunday, March 20, he walked into a Home Depot near Woodbine and Highway 7. He bought gloves, masks, coveralls, a DeWalt reciprocating saw and metal saw blades. He packed the items into his girlfriend’s BMW and drove to 2 Laureleaf.

About half an hour later, he called Bertram and asked him to come to the property for a meeting. He said he wanted to discuss borrowing money to pay for more renovations. As soon as Bertram arrived, the two started arguing about money. Qiu claims Bertram threatened to use his connections in China to hurt Qiu’s family back home, to kill them or have their limbs hacked off. In Qiu’s version of events, he was a victim forced to defend himself and his family against a rich bully.

Qiu snapped. He noticed a hammer, grabbed it and began swinging (he later claimed that he’d seen Bertram reach for the weapon first). He says he wrestled Bertram to the floor and whacked him on the back of his head when he tried to get up. Then he began strangling him. “I just wanted to shut him up and let him die,” he later said. He kept his hands gripped tightly around Bertram’s neck for two minutes, Qiu said, until he stopped breathing. His former friend was dead.

When Qiu realized he’d committed murder, he had a cigarette. He needed to figure out a way to avoid jail time. He turned to his phone and started googling phrases such as “How to handle a dead body.” He’d seen a YouTube video about how to dismember a corpse and an episode of CSI where the characters had discussed how to butcher bodies. So he decided to do what he’d seen on TV.

There were all sorts of tools—saws, knives, an axe—stored in the basement, as well as a supply of black garbage bags. “I wanted to separate the meat from the bone,” he later told police. He took an axe and started with Bertram’s head, which he severed after several chops. Then he hacked off his arms and legs. Qiu says that at one point, he tried to use his new DeWalt reciprocating saw on the corpse but found it too unwieldy. Instead, he opted for a straight-edge knife to carve the flesh off of Bertram’s bones. He removed each muscle and organ individually, trying to keep them grouped together. The process lasted hours. Then he divided up Bertram’s remains—the head, limbs, hands, feet, skin, muscles, organs and bones—into seven garbage bags. He placed his victim’s clothes into an eighth bag and rolled the torso inside a blue tarp.


Qiu’s Home Depot receipt from the morning of the murder and a police sketch of the crime scene

By 4 p.m., the reality of what he’d done had sunk in. He’d murdered his friend and business partner, and tampered with the corpse. Could he get away with it? “I stopped and went to smoke another cigarette,” Qiu later told police. “Then I decided, no, I won’t do that. Just be a man.”

He picked up the phone and called Harley Bowe, his friend and housemate, who was at their place in Scarborough. Qiu didn’t tell Harley exactly what had happened over the phone—only that he needed him to drive over to 2 Laureleaf. When Harley arrived, he went downstairs and got the shock of his life. Qiu was covered in blood. “He looked like he got out of a butcher’s,” Harley later testified.

They got into Harley’s truck and drove to their house, where Qiu took a shower. He didn’t have the heart to tell his girlfriend what had happened. The two were supposed to marry in just a few months. Yaorile showed up while the men were drinking beers, and Qiu confessed his crime. “I asked him if he was joking,” Yaorile told the courts. “When he said no, I told him I couldn’t help him. Be a man and turn yourself in.”

At 6:15 p.m., Qiu drove Bertram’s white Ferrari to 42 ­Division, near Markham and Sheppard. He gave a lengthy statement to police, in which he confessed to his crime and tried to explain why he’d resorted to murder. According to Qiu, Bertram was the one who owed him money, not the other way around. He claimed that Bertram had a gambling addiction, and that he visited underground casinos and bet large sums of money on soccer games—an accusation Bertram’s friends and family vehemently denied. He also told police that he’d been regularly making $10,000 monthly mortgage payments on 2 Laureleaf Road. He insisted that he’d truly believed Bertram would hurt his family. “Rich guys in China can do whatever they want,” he told police.

QIU was arrested and charged with first-degree murder. The story made major news back home in China. The headlines in Chinese newspapers were littered with exclamation marks and highlighted the gruesome nature of the crime. People were shocked to learn that a Chinese student from an affluent family could meet such a fate in Canada, a country that’s revered for its safety and prosperity.


A police photo of the crime scene

Preliminary hearings began a year after the murder, in March 2017. Qiu’s lawyer insisted that the murder was unplanned. His client had bought the supplies at Home Depot that morning to work on the house, he argued, and he became violent only after Bertram allegedly threatened his family. The Crown argued that the murder was premeditated. According to police, the outdoor security camera at the crime scene had been disabled at 9:19 on the morning of the murder, 15 minutes before Qiu called Bertram to come over. And the autopsy report suggested a far more violent attack than the one Qiu had copped to: Bertram had sustained countless fractures, lacerations, bruises and contusions on his face, jaw and torso in the moments leading up to his death. His lungs and airway were filled with blood, suggesting that he was still breathing when he acquired these injuries. And while there was some evidence that he’d been strangled by human hands, there were marks that also showed trauma to his neck caused by a sharp object.

In the end, Qiu accepted a deal: he agreed to plead guilty to charges of second-degree murder and indecent interference with a body. In exchange, he would be spared a jury trial and receive life in federal prison, with the possibility of parole after 14 years. If he is released, he will be deported back to China. Bertram’s family was horrified when they learned about the plea bargain. During a pre-sentencing hearing, the family’s lawyer read a victim impact statement from Bertram’s father, condemning the Crown for agreeing to a second-degree murder charge. He claimed the deal was dishonourable, and described Qiu as debased. He told the court he believed Qiu should never be allowed to step outside prison walls again. Bertram’s girlfriend also issued a statement. She recounted the last time she saw her partner, on the morning of March 20, 2016, near Finch subway station. “Xiao Xuan Long was the most charming man I had ever seen,” she said. “No one could or can imagine the degree of harm and hurt his murder brought to me…. My life has been filled with tears ever since.”

At his sentencing hearing last October, Qiu presented his own statement in Mandarin, which was translated for the court. “The bad things have been tormenting my mind like a movie looping and repeating itself,” he said. He listed off the things he’d lost: his job, his fiancée, his family, his dignity, and his opportunity to make a life in Canada. That one seemed to sting the most.

[https://torontolife.com/city/crime/wanted-make-fortune-flipping-houses-toronto-wound-killing-partner-1-6-million-debt/]

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alt-right, canada, islamophobia, muslims, national security, politics, war on terror

Conservative party leadership advisor helped create anti-Islam organization

Current Conservative Party of Canada leader Andrew Scheer has already had two members of his leadership campaign team revealed to be connected in some way with “alt-right” organizations/groups. Hamish Marshall, his former Campaign Manager, used to be a Director of Rebel Media. Stephen Taylor, his campaign’s Digital Director, is linked with the far-right “metacanada” subreddit.

The investigation below implicates a third leading member of Scheer’s team as having problematic ties with a group that promotes far-right conspiracies, particularly with regards to the Muslim community. Georganne Burke, Scheer’s former Outreach Chair, has been involved in one way or another with the anti-Islam group, Canadian Citizens for Charter Rights and Freedoms (C3RF), which pushes the conspiracy theory that Muslims want replace Canadian law with Sharia law, particularly by using the term Islamophobia as a weapon against critics. 

Published by Vice on December 6th, 2017 (co-authored with Evan Balgord)

A senior member of Andrew Scheer’s leadership team helped create an anti-Islam organization during his campaign to lead the Conservative Party. Now, that organization is holding events to protest anti-Islamophobia Motion 103 and is bringing together Canada’s anti-Islam pundits and anti-Muslim groups.

Georganne Burke, the Scheer campaign’s Outreach Chair, was involved in the founding of Canadian Citizens for Charter Rights and Freedoms (C3RF). The group warns that the Liberal government is criminalizing criticism of Islam and opening the door for a Sharia (Islamic) takeover of Canadian law. C3RF plans to hold events across the country to advocate against M103 and the Trudeau government.

Georganne Burke is one of at least three senior members of Scheer’s campaign team that have now been linked to the so-called alt-right or anti-Islam groups. Scheer’s Campaign Manager, Hamish Marshall, was a director of Rebel Media, an alt-right media outlet that pushes narratives of white genocide and hosts prominent alt-right figures, and worked out of the Rebel offices during the campaign. He has been named as a campaign chair for the 2019 general election.

Marshall did not respond to interview requests sent to his email address at the Torch Agency, the public affairs and communications firm he leads.  The Conservative Party now led by Scheer did not respond to interview requests.

“Experienced organizer”

The Digital Director for the Scheer campaign, Stephen Taylor, is linked to the alt-right metacanada subreddit. Last year, for example, he posted a comment to provide additional information to members of the subreddit who were e-mailing complaints to the CBC ombudsman. However, he says that it has been awhile since he participated in the subreddit, that he wasn’t fully aware of the increasingly alt-right nature of the subreddit, and that he doesn’t want anything to do with the alt-right. He says he doesn’t have any particular plans to engage with the subreddit in the future, and declined to comment on whether he has a current role with the Conservative Party of Canada.

“Commenting is not involvement,” Georganne Burke, Conservative strategist

Burke invited the first group of members to the C3RF Facebook page (including one of the group’s current administrators) and one of her posts indicates she held a leadership or advisory role while she was working on Scheer’s leadership campaign. In March, the group was preparing a press release to distribute to MPs. “We need to select a media contact,” writes Burke. “Not me. One person who is familiar with working with the media and can manage the press kit and media materials.”

“Some of us reached out to Georganne in the beginning, around spring time, because of her experience,” said Irving Weisdorf, an organizer with C3RF who has been involved since its inception. He’s also the founder of the pro-Israel advocacy organization Mozuud, which has partnered with C3RF on occasion.

Burke is Senior Vice President of the Pathway Group, which is in the business of government relations and providing services for political campaigns, and she has over 10 years of experience as a political operative for the Conservative Party of Canada. She’s a big fan of Donald Trump, according to social media posts and an October 2016 interview with CBC.

“This is what Georganne does you know, and we wanted her advice on how motions work,” Weisdorf noted. Burke’s involvement with C3RF eventually tapered off due to her commitment to the Scheer leadership campaign, he said.

Burke says she “[has] not been involved with C3RF since a couple of weeks after they formed.” She continues to post in the group, but says that “commenting is not involvement,” and declined to comment further.

Anti-Islam industry

Burke was also a member of several extreme anti-Muslim groups on Facebook, but says she was only in those groups for information purposes. Burke left at least two of these groups following a story by Anti-Racist Canadawhich named her as a member of groups like the Worldwide Coalition Against Islam, a group which critics say is  anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic. Burke hasn’t posted any explicitly anti-Muslim comments on the C3RF Facebook Page, according to a search of posts in the group.

Scheer has tried to distance himself from the alt-right Rebel Media, and says his party is welcoming to Muslims. The anti-Islam organization co-founded by Burke, however, is connected to the American Islamophobia industry, and anti-Islam figures in Canada.

The anti-Islam industry in the United States and Canada is comprised of dozens of individual pundits, think tanks, and media outlets that host events together and amplify each other’s voices. Some organizations are more careful in their criticism of Islam than others, but they  tend to view Islam and the Muslim community as a monolithic entity with a dangerous anti-Western agenda.

On September 10, C3RF held an anti-M103 conference in Toronto which brought together a number of speakers and organizations from the anti-Islam industry.

C3RF has worked with ACT! For Canada (the Canadian branch of ACT! For America) and the Washington DC-based Center for Security Policy, both of which are part of the Islamophobia industry in the United States, according Fear, Inc., a report published by the Center for American Progress.

According to the report, the Center for Security Policy is a “key source of information for the Islamophobia network.” Clare Lopez, CSP’s VP for Research and Analysis, was the keynote speaker at C3RF’s conference, which ACT! For Canada was also a co-partner for, along with conservative think-tank The Mackenzie Institute and the pro-Israel Hasbara Fellowships.

ACT! For Canada has shared articles in support of PEGIDA – an anti-Muslim group in Europe with a Canadian chapter – and  frequently links to Robert Spencer and his website, Jihad Watch. Dr. Gad Saad, another C3RF speaker at the September conference, has also hosted Spencer on his Youtube channel. The Southern Poverty Law Centre describes Spencer as an “anti-Muslim propagandist.”

Several members of the C3RF Facebook Page are also members of anti-Muslim groups on Facebook, including the Storm Alliance, an offshoot of the Soldiers of Odin, Blood and Honour, a violent neo-Nazi group, and the III%ers, an armed militia group. C3RF’s Facebook group promoted the September 30 day of action organized by the Storm Alliance and other far right groups to protest the Liberal Party’s immigration policies.

Moreover, the C3RF Calgary Satellite Coordinator is Stephen Garvey, President of the National Advancement Party (NAP) and member of the Worldwide Coalition Against Islam, a white supremacist group. The Jewish Defence League, which has acted as security for several anti-Muslim demonstrations, also provided security for C3RF’s September 10 conference.

“Aggressive and intolerant”

Speakers at the event characterized M-103 as a threat to free speech supported by Muslim extremists whose ultimate goal is to criminalize criticism of Islam.

“The increase in political Islam we’re seeing all across the world is perhaps the biggest threat to Canada,” said Anthony Furey, a Toronto Sun columnist who spoke at the conference. Furey says that the committee hearings on Systemic Racism and Religious Discrimination sparked by M103 can “lead to recommendations” that might suggest outlawing criticisms of Islam.

Another Toronto Sun columnist, Sue-Ann Levy, took it one step further by suggesting that liberal centrists and Islamist extremists have a broad overlap in interest. “I got in trouble for saying that Barack Obama has ties to radical Islamic ideology,” she said. “There’s no question in my mind that he does, and I also think that he’s a Muslim.”

Speakers such as Benjamin Dichter, founder of LGBTory, also suggested that an overly liberal and politically correct culture is helping to open the door for radical Islamists to take over Canadian society.

“Some Western liberal leaders are stopping people from asking a very important question,” said Dichter, “the question of whether a more Islamic Canada will become more tolerant, or more aggressive and intolerant of anything other than itself?”

Talking points shared by C3RF, its speakers and partner organizations are almost identical to the positions of extreme anti-Muslim groups and the so-called alt-right. They broadly warn of an unspecified mass of Muslims in the West who want Sharia law and an “Islamic theocracy.”

“The principles and freedoms that undergird both constitutions in the United States and in Canada are Judeo-Christian based,” said keynote speaker Clare Lopez. “Islam doesn’t have such freedoms, such as the freedom of speech; it has the ‘law of slander,’ which it defines as anything that a Muslim dislikes.”

The C3RF’s brochure warns of Muslims who “want to implement at least some aspects of Sharia law,” and who are either using or partnering with Iqra Khalid to implement the “normalization of Sharia law as a respectable form of multicultural expression.”

They’re also broadly critical of Canada’s immigration and refugee policies. In their minds, Islam and the West are in conflict, both abroad and here in Canada, and they are fighting for Western, Judeo-Christian values.

One of C3RF’s partner organizations, ACT! For Canada, was recently denied space at an Ottawa library to host a screening of Killing Europe, an Islamophobic video. The video screening went ahead last Sunday, hosted by the Jewish Defense League at the Toronto Zionist Centre.

Burke had also planned a “Rally to Turn Khadr Settlement Over To Speer and Morris Families” in late July, which was cancelled after it was reported that over half the people who RSVPd on Facebook were connected with anti-Muslim groups and pages.

Photo credit: images all from Vice News page of article

[https://news.vice.com/story/conservative-party-leadership-advisor-helped-create-anti-islam-organization]

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muslims, politics, war on terror

Stingray cellphone-snooping technology needs regulation

Published by CBC News on June 6th, 2016

The Liberal Party has promised parliamentary oversight for Canada’s national intelligence agencies, but the issue of policing and surveillance overreach isn’t just a national problem. It’s a municipal one too, as a recent example concerning gang members in Toronto has proved. About 40 members of the Asian Assassinz gang and a rival crew are on trial, and their lawyers have received an internal RCMP memo proving that police in Canada have used Stingray devices to track and locate suspects’ cellphones.

One major problem is that these Stingrays, or International Mobile Subscriber Identity (IMSI)-catchers, can disrupt and block innocent third-party phone calls made within a certain vicinity. The device mimics cellphone towers and is supposed to attract signals from the suspected parties’ mobile devices, thus allowing the police to tag and perhaps bug the phones later on. But they can also attract signals from phones in the area being used by innocent bystanders. The devices are also supposed to deactivate when coming into contact with 911 calls, but this doesn’t always happen. Defence lawyers are now hoping to put the use of IMSI devices on trial, alleging that it breaks the law by disrupting the public airwaves, and thus infringes on the rights of their clients.

Public should have been informed

The 1985 Radio-Communications Act prohibits incursions on the public airwaves, particularly intrusions that interfere with people’s calls. Yet even the Toronto police have acknowledged that IMSI devices can violate this law, which is why the plan, according to Toronto police Det. Shingo Tanabe in a sworn affidavit related to the Asian Assassinz case, was to limit the use of such devices to three-minute intervals and to steer clear of those trying to call 911.

Citing logs of devices used in the case, defence lawyers are arguing that the police didn’t even adhere to their own rules. According to these lawyers, IMSI devices were used for more than three minutes at a time, thus increasing the chances of serious interference with the airwaves. This kind of use can carry a prison sentence, and it’s not clear yet whether police are exempt from the rules.

More frustrating for the general public is the denial on the part of the Toronto police when asked last year by the media if they were operating with IMSI devices. They arrested the gang members back in 2014, but said last December that, “We do not use the Stingray technology and do not have one.” This conveniently glossed over the fact that Toronto police brought in an RCMP officer who assisted in the case by using a Stingray device.

It’s clear by now that the police focus on catching their suspects prompted them to use methods that jeopardized the public’s safety, in addition to essentially misleading the public into thinking they didn’t even have the tools to pursue such methods.

Impossible to regulate what you don’t know

The document received by the defence that illustrates the use of IMSI technology was disclosed to them by the RCMP, and is a 2011 internal memo that actually warns officers how such devices can break the law. To steer clear of such illegal activity, the memo suggests that officers limit the use of IMSI devices in a way that doesn’t jeopardize public safety. It’s at best unclear whether Toronto police took real precautions to regulate themselves, and the defence alleges there’s plenty of evidence to suggest the contrary.

In fact, federal officers have been using IMSI technology since 2005. Yet only because of media investigations and court documentation related to the Asian Assassinz case, along with another organized crime case in Quebec, has information about the police use of such technology made its way to the public. Prior to the past few months, only police and judges who issued warrants knew about the police’s use of these devices.

How will policy-makers and legislators decide what place this kind of technology has in Canada  if they are kept in the dark? The Toronto police remain reticent on the matter, and, depending on how the Asian Assassinz case unfolds in court, the legality of IMSI devices is likely to be called into question, which will be a real blow to those who want to put the gangsters behind bars. However, that the police used this technology extensively in the first place, without proper oversight, is further evidence that Canada’s post-Sept. 11 policing and surveillance needs plenty of regulation.

Elected officials, particularly those in the Liberal Party who now make up a parliamentary majority, supported hard-core security legislation — Bill C-51, in particular — partly by way of promising that they will apply the right kinds of oversight to intelligence-gathering. But the Toronto case has essentially proved that even they haven’t figured out exactly what they’re supposed to be regulating — let alone how.

Photo credit: L’Enfant Metro Station/CC

[http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/manitoba/stingray-cellphone-imsi-technology-rights-1.3618075]

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politics

The Canada Revenue Agency’s political inquisitions

Published by CBC News on April 16th, 2015

If a democratic system thrives on participation from a civil society free to express itself without state intervention, then Canadian democracy could use some help these days.

Citizens who band together into groups that push politicians to engage a problem should, in theory, be a vital aspect of democratic decision-making. Yet the Harper administration, in its infinite political wisdom, has devoted millions of taxpayer dollars via Canada Revenue Agency, formerly Revenue Canada, to, in effect, target groups that are critical of federal policies.

The CRA launched a series of 60 audits in 2012, and, tellingly, the targeted organizations all seem to espouse views that don’t fit so well with the Harper agenda.

Canadian NGOs with charitable status can devote up to 10 per cent of their resources to political activities, or risk losing their status as a charity under the law. Since 2012, $13 million has been earmarked by the Harper administration to audit organizations that, in the eyes of the CRA, may have devoted too much to political activities.

These ‘political-activity audits’ have primarily targeted environmental groups, human rights organizations, and labour-backed think tanks like the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. Meanwhile, more conservative-minded groups like the Manning Foundation or the Fraser Institute have not faced such aggression from the CRA. Many of them have also, like their leftist counterparts, participated in ‘political activities.’

“Right-wing” groups don’t get same attention

Though a CRA spokesperson will come out once in a while to proclaim that the executive branch has no influence over which groups the agency targets, right-wing civil society organizations have yet to receive much attention from the tax agency. Rather, the latest charity to be targeted in a significant way is the United Steelworkers’ Humanity Fund, a labour-backed organization that has supported food banks and disaster relief initiatives for over 30 years.

It has donated about two per cent of its annual revenue to the Canadian Network on Corporate Accountability (CNCA), an umbrella organization that advocates for more accountability in the Canadian mining sector, among other things.

This support for the CNCA, an organization that hasn’t shied away from its political purposes, is apparently what the CRA is zeroing in on. The fund has often butted heads with the Harper administration over labour issues, and wants more oversight of Canadian mining practices abroad, which, according to its president Ken Neumann, is primarily why the CRA began auditing the group’s finances last year.

Such audits can certainly disrupt an organization’s day-to-day operations significantly, but this kind of trouble isn’t the main reason why these intrusions are bad for Canadian democracy in the long run. Targeted organizations that are forced to go through the lengthy auditing process can, whether the government intends it or not, become examples of what not to say or do in the Harper era.

Groups practice self-censorship

One can hardly blame other charities if they decide to interpret the current inquisitorial atmosphere as being politically motivated. This means that if they want to keep their charitable status, practicing a degree of self-censorship may end up being totally rational. This is an anti-democratic development almost by definition, and it hardly matters whether a particular agenda is behind it all, though the available evidence suggests that Revenue Canada’s choices aren’t exactly politically neutral.

Earlier this year, Dying with Dignity Canada lost its charitable status after being audited for about three years. It’s a non-profit that advocates for terminally ill patients to have a choice when it comes to euthanasia – not exactly a ‘pro-life’ stance according to contemporary political standards.

The CRA says that it made a mistake back in 1982 and 2011 when it confirmed charitable status for Dying with Dignity. It remains a mystery as to how more conservatively minded charities have managed to follow the rules so well as to not even attract the attention of the agency, which has certainly found a new kind of zeal for revoking charitable status.

Equally mysterious is why there hasn’t been more uproar when it comes to the government’s auditing targets. The list of charities being investigated and audited by the CRA looks increasingly like Stephen Harper’s enemy list. The numbers are so lopsided as to be almost comical, yet no significant amount of public scrutiny coalesced to call for a re-evaluation of the agency’s methods.

Photo: the Canada Revenue Agency headquarters in Ottawa./CC

[http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/manitoba/the-canada-revenue-agency-s-political-inquisitions-1.3036361]

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international affairs, muslims, politics, war on terror

ISIS: Prime Minister Harper’s top political bogeyman of the day

Published by the CBC on April 7th, 2015

Canada is ready to extend its fight against the Islamic State (ISIS) into Syria, carrying on a war that’ll cost about half-a-billion taxpayer dollars by early next year. Prime Minister Stephen Harper is following up on his promise that Canada won’t “stand on the sidelines” when it comes to the fight against Muslim extremism.

This kind of rhetoric has helped make ISIS into Canada’s top political bogeyman as the Tory administration insists on adopting tough security measures at home as Canadian Forces fight the bad guys abroad.

The public language in support of this two-front “war on terror” has given rise to a new kind of militarism in Canada. It’s characterized by a political rhetoric that galvanizes support for itself not only by pointing to a foreign enemy, but also by emphasizing the need to root out the enemy’s ideological supporters on Canadian soil.

This latter emphasis has, at the hands of the Tories, become a way to depict dissent against government policy as support for Muslim terrorism.

Support for terrorism

Take the debate around Bill C-51 (the “Anti-terrorism Act”), the Conservative’s proposal on how to fight domestic terrorism. The bill is making its way through the legislative process with limited debate and examination, despite containing provisions that will, according to a chorus of critics, forever change the landscape of Canadian national security. Its supporters emphasize the imminent nature of an ill-defined terrorism threat, keeping in mind that security issues will likely occupy the minds of voters in the upcoming fall election.

This process is now essentially an exploitation of the current climate of fear engendered primarily by images of ISIS’s bloody exploits, combined with memories of recent, high-profile incidents of violent extremism in cities like OttawaSydney, and Paris. It is a convergence of the foreign and domestic policy agendas in a way that casts “Muslim terror” as the enemy, often without bothering to differentiate between Islam’s peaceful followers and those who have been radicalized.

This monolithic representation is calculated to yield political results. A recent poll conducted by the Angus Reid Institute shows that 44 per cent of participating Canadians hold a “negative” view of Muslims. This kind of public opinion should give confidence to those who want to use unsubstantiated accusations and assertions to malign Muslims for political gain.

No niqab

Harper’s hardline stance against allowing Muslim women to wear the face-veil (niqab) during citizenship ceremonies is just one case-in-point. Without acknowledging that the niqab isn’t even a universally accepted concept within Islam, the prime minister said in the House of Commons last month that the practice is “rooted in a culture that is anti-women.”

He didn’t bother to clarify which culture he had in mind, leaving it up to the public imagination to decide what he was implying. Days later, Tory MP Larry Miller had to publicly apologize after he told women who wear the niqab to “stay the hell where you came from” on a radio show.

Still more ridiculous is Defence Minister Jason Kenney’s decision to use International Women’s Day to tweet what he claimed are photographs of women being led off in chains by ISIS.

It was later revealed that the photos had nothing to do with ISIS, and were actually depictions of Shia Muslims commemorating the death of the Prophet’s family in a ceremony.

 Muddying the Waters

This kind of political messaging and decision-making helps to confuse the already-unclear public representation of Canadian Muslims and their beliefs. Nonetheless, it’s the kind of confusion that allows those within the Muslim community who question the government’s security policies to be easily antagonized.

The National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM) got a taste of this during last month’s borderline-farcical parliamentary hearings on Bill C-51, when executive director Ihsaan Gardee had to reply to Conservative MP Diane Ablonczy’s question of whether his group supports terrorism.

Ablonczy was referring to an unsubstantiated rumour, but she succeeded in turning the nature and focus of the discussion away from Bill C-51’s more problematic provisions. Instead, Muslims like Gardee are forced to defend against a process that seeks to represent their community in a way that places them within the ideological orbit of groups like ISIS.

Political language that demonizes an entire segment of the domestic population is helping to reinforce the Tories’ pro-war rhetoric against ISIS, and vice-versa. These parallel narratives have increasingly given rise to the most recent form of Canadian militarism, a jingoistic aggression that uses racial bullying at home to bolster support for questionable foreign interventions.

Photo credit: The niqab has become a political wedge issue in Canada/CC

[http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/manitoba/isis-prime-minister-harper-s-top-political-bogeyman-of-the-day-1.3023753]

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muslims, politics, war on terror

Conservatives resort to McCarthyism as criticism of Bill C-51 escalates

Published on March 21st, 2015 by Ricochet Media

Those who pay attention to what politicians say are familiar with the ambiguous way many of them prefer to speak on certain issues. That might be why it’s almost refreshing to hear the unrestrained racism coming out of the Harper Conservatives these days, most of which is directed at Canada’s Muslim population.

Anti-Muslim sentiment has always been part of the Conservatives’ strategy to galvanize their political base, and they’ve recently taken it up a notch in anticipation of this year’s elections. The current administration also has a vested interested in demonizing Muslims since curbing “Islamic extremism” is cited as a top reason for Bill C-51 (the Anti-terrorism Act), perhaps the Conservatives’ worst national security proposal since 9/11.

Muslim groups speaking out against the bill and a large chorus of critics, including Canada’s Harper-appointed privacy commissioner, have been met with open slander that conjures up memories of Joseph McCarthy’s anti-communist witch hunt of the 1950s.

When Ihsaan Gardee, executive director of the National Council of Canadian Muslims, gave expert testimony in Ottawa last week on C-51, he probably didn’t expect veteran Tory MP Diane Ablonczy of Calgary–Nose Hill to ask him to address “a continuing series of allegations” that the Council supports terrorism. But she did, by echoing a load of spurious allegations against the Council that originated last year from Harper’s spokesperson Jason MacDonald. Gardee pushed back, having to defend his group’s reputation at a hearing to which he was invited to speak on the bill. The Council is currently pursuing a lawsuit against Harper and MacDonald.

Yet the Conservatives seem to want to make a real habit out of this kind of politicking, and Muslims aren’t their only targets. Just ask Greenpeace Canada, whose executive director, Joanne Kerr, had to endure the followingquery from Conservative MP Lavar Payne. “The purpose of the act is sharing for national security threats, so it makes me wonder if your organization is a national security threat?” In other words, The bill is meant to stop terrorists, so are you opposing it because you’re a terrorist?

Payne’s questions ran out the clock on the allotted question-and-response time, leaving Kerr no time to answer. Even if she had responded, she would have had to take the time to address the insinuation that Greenpeace Canada opposes the bill because they’re a threat to national security. The BC Civil Liberties Association experienced a similar exchange with Tory MP Rick Norlock, who essentially asked the association’s senior counsel Carmen Cheung if her organization is “fundamentally opposed” to fighting terrorism, since Cheung had the gall to criticize the bill’s lack of checks and balances.

The skillful tagging of Bill C-51’s critics with unfounded and unfair accusations is the Harper Conservatives’ political bread and butter. It’s also the very definition of 21st-century McCarthyism, exercised in a way that deflects the conversation away from the matter at hand or plummeting public support for the bill. Tory MPs used the tactic to such an extent during last week’s hearings that opposition MP Megan Leslie of the NDP got up in Parliament last Friday to ask Ablonczy to apologize for her “disgraceful behaviour.” Of course, Leslie was promptly ignored.

It’s what Canadians should come to expect from the current administration, who have made it quite clear by now that political expediency trumps all else. Heading into last week’s expert testimony sessions, Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney referred to those testifying against some of the bill’s provisions as “so-called experts.” These “so-called experts” just so happen to be joined in their opposition to C-51 by former officials of CSIS, Canada’s spy agency, whose powers will be expanded if the bill is passed. Also in opposition are four former prime ministers: Jean Chrétien, Joe Clark, Paul Martin, and John Turner. All fear that the bill will open doors to abuse.

The most thorough analysis of the bill, conducted by University of Toronto scholar Kent Roach and his colleague Craig Forcese at the University of Ottawa, echo these concerns. The two have put together several backgroundersthat dissect the bill, concluding that many provisions are essentially anti-privacy and threaten to trample all over the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The bill will allow authorities to arrest people more easily, CSIS to morph into a secret police force (in the words of the Globe and Mail editorial board), and at least 17 federal agencies to share private citizen information with each other in unprecedented ways, all at a time when heavy-handed security laws have not been proven by anyone to prevent terrorism in a substantial way.

The Conservatives are rushing C-51 through the legislative process with little critical evaluation. Of course, this is by design. The bill’s proponents, including the Liberal Party, have already expanded a bloated security apparatus by passing bills C-13 and C-44, but C-51 may be the worst yet. The post-9/11 era has always been an era of fear — but it’s fear of overzealous governments that truly stands out.

Photo credit: Rally protesting Harper’s C-51 anti-terrorist legislation in Toronto, City Hall, March 14, 2015/CC

[https://ricochet.media/en/357/conservatives-resort-to-mccarthyism-as-criticism-of-bill-c-51-escalates]

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international affairs, muslims, politics, war on terror

Canada doesn’t need a US-style surveillance state

Published by Al Jazeera America on March 13th, 2015

Thanks to leaks by National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden, we now know that the modern U.S. security state makes Big Brother from George Orwell’s “1984” look quaint. Thanks to the Conservative administration of Stephen Harper, Canada is heading quickly in the same direction. Bill C-51, currently under debate in Parliament, represents the most sweeping threat to Canadian civil liberties yet.

The Tories have long emphasized the danger of domestic terrorism, but there is little evidence that Canada faces an imminent threat. And only six Muslims were involved in planning terrorism on U.S. soil in 2014, the fewest since 2008. The exact figures for Canada are unknown, but they are almost certainly even lower.

The government’s actual motivation appears to be political opportunism. Last fall, polls showed Harper and the Conservatives badly trailing Justin Trudeau and the Liberal Party. Then in October, Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, a troubled Quebec Muslim man, killed a soldier at the National War Memorial in Ottawa. Later that month, Martin Rouleau killed a soldier in Quebec. Harper wasted no time in announcing that his administration would quickly pass laws to bolster public safety. Since then, his position in the polls has improved steadily.

C-51 is only the latest step in the expansion of Canada’s security state. In 2011 alone, federal agencies made more than 1 million requests to acquire private user data from Canadian telecommunication companies. The Snowden archive shows that Canada’s Communications Security Establishment (CSE) has been spying on people in Canadathrough airport Wi-Fi. In December, Bill C-13 became law, allowing police easier access to private transmission data and tracking data. Though it is known popularly as the cyberbullying bill, only a negligible fraction of C-13 refers to the issue; the bulk of it has to do with lawful access. Another piece of legislation now making its way through the legislative process proposes that the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) be allowed to operate beyond Canada’s borders.

Bill C-51 seeks to expand state power even further. It would criminalize online speech that “promotes” terrorism, lower the threshold for making preventive arrests and expand the CSIS from an intelligence-gathering entity into what the Globe and Mail calls a “secret police force.” The language around these newly proposed powers for CSIS is quite vague, centering on allowing the agency to “disrupt” operations it finds problematic. The bill also includes the Security of Canada Information Sharing Act, which would enable at least 17 government agencies to share information for an incredibly broad range of reasons, most of which have little to do with terrorism.

Current safeguards against invasion of privacy (which date to the 1983 Privacy Act) are no match for such a rapidly expanding surveillance state. Even critics in the government have recognized the need for more oversight. Four former prime ministers, in addition to numerous civil society groups, have warned against the passage of Bill C-51. Even former CSIS Chief Geoffrey O’Brian has voiced his concerns. But the Conservatives put an end to the first round of debate regarding the bill after only a few hours. With a majority in Parliament, they are poised to pass the act in the coming months.

The problem of terrorism deserves attention. But there is little evidence that drastic expansion of police and spying powers would make Canada more secure. After the Snowden leaks in 2013, a New America Foundation study found that bulk collection of metadata contributed to just four of the 225 post-9/11 terrorism cases that ended in arrest or conviction. The study concludes that the U.S. government’s claim that such surveillance is necessary is “overblown and even misleading.”

If given new powers, security forces will likely alienate Muslim communities by encroaching on their civil liberties. This would play into the hands of violent extremists who propagate the narrative that Canada and the rest of the West are obsessed with destroying Islam. It would also make work harder for law enforcement, which relies on cooperation with community members and leaders to identify terrorist threats. The Harper administration’s extreme anti-terrorism policies threaten both privacy and safety. Canada needs a robust public debate to challenge the unexamined ideology of the security state.

Photo: Prime Minister Stephen Harper at the Quebec Chamber of Commerce/CC

[http://america.aljazeera.com/opinions/2015/3/canada-doesnt-need-a-us-style-surveillance-state.html]

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