Windsor Humanist Society

May 29, 2008

‘Honour Killings’ On Rise In Iraq – Used As Weapon To Subjugate Women in Iraq

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At first glance Shawbo Ali Rauf appears to be slumbering on the grass, her pale brown curls framing her face, her summer skirt spread about her. But the awkward position of her limbs and the splattered blood reveal the true horror of the scene.

Shawbo Ali RaufThe 19-year-old Iraqi was, according to her father, murdered by her own in-laws, who took her to a picnic area in Dokan and shot her seven times. Her crime was to have an unknown number on her mobile phone. Her “honour killing” is just one in a grotesque series emerging from Iraq, where activists speak of a “genocide” against women in the name of religion.

In the latest such case, it was reported yesterday that a 17-year-old girl, Rand Abdel-Qader, was stabbed to death last month by her father for becoming infatuated with a British soldier serving in southern Iraq.

In Basra alone, police acknowledge that 15 women a month are murdered for breaching Islamic dress codes. Campaigners insist it is a conservative figure.

Violence against women is rampant, rising every day with the power of the militias. Beheadings, rapes, beatings, suicides through self-immolation, genital mutilation, trafficking and child abuse masquerading as marriage of girls as young as nine are all on the increase.

Du’a Khalil Aswad, 17, from Nineveh, was executed by stoning in front of mob of 2,000 men for falling in love with a boy outside her Yazidi tribe. Mobile phone images of her broken body transmitted on the internet led to sectarian violence, international outrage and calls for reform. Her father, Khalil Aswad, speaking one year after her death in April last year, has revealed that none of those responsible had been prosecuted and his family remained “outcasts” in their own tribe.

“My daughter did nothing wrong,” he said. “She fell in love with a Muslim and there is nothing wrong with that. I couldn’t protect her because I got threats from my brother, the whole tribe. They insisted they were gong to kill us all, not only Du’a, if she was not killed. She was mutilated, her body dumped like rubbish.

“I want those who committed this act to be punished but so far they have not, they are free. Honour killing is murder. This is a barbaric act.”

Despite the outrage, recent calls by the Kurdish MP Narmin Osman to outlaw honour killings have been blocked by fundamentalists. “Honour killings are not actually a crime in the eyes of the government,” said Houzan Mahmoud, who has had a fatwa on her head since raising a petition against the introduction of sharia law in Kurdistan. “If before there was one dictator persecuting people, now almost everyone is persecuting women.

“In the past five years it is has got [much] worse. It is difficult to described how terrible it is, how badly we have been pushed back to the dark ages. Women are being beheaded for taking their veil off. Self immolation is rising – women are left with no choice. There is no government body or institution to provide any sort of support. Sharia law is being used to underpin government rule, denying women their most basic human rights.”

In August last year, the body of 11-year-old Sara Jaffar Nimat was found in Khanaqin, Kurdistan, after she had been stoned and burnt to death. Earlier this month, two brothers and a sister were kidnapped from their home near Kirkuk by gunmen in police uniforms. The brothers were beaten to death and the woman left in a critical condition after being informed that she must obey the rules of an “Islamic state”. One week ago, a journalist, Begard Huseein, was murdered in her home in Arbil, northern Iraq. Her husband, Mohammed Mustafa, stabbed her because she was in love with another man, according to local reports.

The stoning death of Ms Aswad led to the establishment of an Internal Ministry unit in Kurdistan to combat violence against women. It reported that last year in Sulaymaniyah, a city of 1 million people, there were 407 reported offences, beheadings, beatings, deaths through “family problems”, and threats of honour killings. Rape is not included as most women are too fearful to report it for fear of retribution. Nevertheless, police in Karbala recently revealed 25 reports of rape.

The new Iraqi constitution, according to Mrs Mahmoud, is a mass of confusing contradictions. While it states that men and women are equal under law it also decrees that sharia law – which considers one male witness worth two females – must be observed. The days when women could hold down key jobs or enjoy any freedom of movement are long gone. The fundamentalists have sent out too many chilling messages. In Mosul two years ago, eight women were beheaded in a terror campaign.

“It was really, really horrifying,” said Mrs Mahmoud. “Honour killings and murder are widespread. Thousands [of people] … have become victims of murder, violence and rape – all backed by laws, tribal customs and religious rules. We urge the international community, the government to condemn this barbaric practice, and help the women of Iraq.”
…this post forwarded by Windsor Humanist, Jimmy Mac, after an April 28, 2008 article by Terri Judd in The Independent

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Provincial Education Minister Kathleen Wynne Moves on Toronto Catholic District School Board

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Saying she has lost faith that The Toronto Catholic District School Board can fix its financial mess, Education Minister Kathleen Wynne has taken a first step toward seizing the board’s purse strings by sending an investigator to review its finances.

Provincial Education Minister Kathleen WynneIf veteran school board official Pierre Filiatrault is not convinced within one week that Catholic trustees can both balance their books and change their spending habits, he will recommend Minister Wynne appoint a supervisor to run the board’s finances.

“By appointing an investigator, I am declaring publicly I have lost confidence in the board’s ability to manage its financial affairs,” said Minister Wynne yesterday. She said she is giving the investigator only one week because she already has such a detailed report on trustees’ spending abuses from adviser Norbert Hartmann.

“I don’t do this lightly; it’s a serious step, and I wouldn’t have ordered an investigator unless I was very concerned,” said Minister Wynne, noting the Education Act says the province may not take over a school board until its concerns have been verified by an outside investigator.

Minister Wynne said she is troubled not only by suggestions some trustees are still putting in for expenses they have been told should not be allowed, but also that the board has refused to stick to a multi-year plan to wipe out its deficit, approving a proposed $13 million shortfall and pledging not to lay off any staff.

“The deficit is growing rather than decreasing, and if trustees haven’t stopped (putting in unauthorized receipts) even after the Hartmann report, that’s a huge problem,” said Minister Wynne yesterday, just hours after calling board chair Catherine LeBlanc-Miller at home to give her the news.

While Ms. LeBlanc-Miller said “provincial takeover is not something anybody looks forward to, if that’s what it takes for the public to regain confidence in the board, then that’s what we should do.”

The move comes after weeks of allegations of trustee misspending on everything from meals with alcohol to hotel minibars and even a trip to the Dominican Republic, at taxpayers’ expense.

Trustees also had voted to give themselves health benefits, which is not permitted, and many kept office furniture and cellphones after they left office.

In a scathing report released May 7, Mr. Hartmann chronicled years of overspending by trustees that made them among the biggest spenders in the province – at about $100,000 each per year. By comparison, at The Dufferin-Peel Catholic board, which is roughly the same size, trustees spend $27,000 per year. Toronto public trustees spend about $67,000 per year.

Ms. LeBlanc-Miller said yesterday that “while the results of Hartmann’s findings were extremely disappointing and not something I am proud of, we have to deal with it in a manner that is transparent and restores public confidence.”

Former board chair Oliver Carroll said he thinks the board has a chance to persuade the investigator it can put its financial house in order by re-opening the budget at a special board meeting planned for tomorrow night and thinking of another way to reduce the deficit without sweeping layoffs or cutting cherished literacy and kindergarten programs.

But Ms. LeBlanc-Miller says given the board expects enrolment to fall by another 1,000 students this fall, “we simply need fewer teachers.” Yet because the board voted earlier this month against layoffs, it has now passed the deadline by which it must give teachers proper layoff notice, a situation Ms. LeBlanc-Miller calls “very restrictive.”

Minister Wynne called the board chair and education director to an emergency meeting Friday at her Queen’s Park office to discuss the situation in more detail, and said she would take the weekend to decide her next step and announce that today. However, trustee Maria Rizzo released an open letter to Minister Wynne on Saturday pleading with the province to take over the board “and save us from ourselves!” Minister Wynne said that had little to do with her decision to move a day early.

Mr. Filiatrault will work with a ministry auditor to conduct the week-long review. The investigator is expected to turn his recommendations in to Minister Wynne by June 4. Meanwhile, the accounting firm of Ernst and Young already is working with individual trustees on drafting plans to repay any unauthorized expenses.
…this post forwarded by Windsor Humanist, Jimmy Mac, after a May 26, 2008 article by Louise Brown and Kristin Rushowy in The Toronto Star

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May 14, 2008

Ottawa Valley Surgical Tool Firm Saving Limbs in Iraqi Conflict

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An Ottawa Valley-designed method of quickly closing massive wounds is helping to save limbs in the war in Iraq, according to a study published last month in The American Surgeon.

 Dynamic bioabsorbable fastener for use in wound closureU.S. military surgeons in Baghdad have been testing a system called dynamic wound closure, which uses elastic strands to apply constant tension to the wound, drawing the edges of the skin together.

The concept is at once simple and innovative, said Alden Rattew, executive vice-president of Canica Design, the Almonte-based surgical tool company and brainchild of Lee Valley Tool chairman Leonard Lee.

“We specialize in putting dynamic forces on soft tissues–muscle and skin–to get it to to where it didn’t used to go before,” Mr. Rattew said.

In Iraq, dynamic wound closure has been particularly effective in treating lower-body injuries inflicted by improvised explosive devices, the study said.

Those injuries often require fasciotomies, huge incisions to relieve pressure and fluid buildup in muscles which can cut off blood supply and lead to amputations.

While saving limbs, fasciotomy wounds are often too large to be stitched or stapled, and can only be closed by radical skin grafts, a painful procedure that results in extensive scarring. Between December 2006 and February 2007, 11 American soldiers were treated for leg fasciotomies using Canica’s device. Ten of the soldiers’ wounds closed within an average of 2.6 days, compared to the weeks and months it can take to recover from skin-graft surgery.

One soldier, however, had to have above-knee amputations after the onset of a blood platelet condition.

The doctors concluded the use of the device to treat wartime injuries is “extremely successful and expedient.”

While Canica is confident its device will become the new standard of care, most hospitals are still relying on skin grafts.

The Ottawa Hospital, however, has been using variations of dynamic wound closure for about five years, said Michael Bell, a plastic surgeon at The Ottawa Hospital and Canica researcher. “It’s reliable and safe and inexpensive, and sure reduces the pain and suffering and morbidity of the patients. It’s got many, many advantages over what was ever done before,” Dr. Bell said.

The device can save a hospital $6,000 to $8,000 per patient, he added.

Doctors are also treating other conditions using Canica’s tissue-stretching technology, including cleft lips and abdominal wall wounds.

After driving over an improvised explosive device in Iraq, a U.S. civilian worker was treated in Germany before being sent home, Mr. Rattew said.

By the time he got back to Michigan, however, he had eviscerated and his abdominal contents were coming out of the wound in his belly. Doctors used Canica’s abdominal wall closure device to realign his muscles.

The condition is often treated with a mesh tissue replacement, which impairs muscle function and can amount to a disability, Mr. Rattew said.

“This gentleman is now bench-pressing 300 pounds and he’s gone back over to Iraq to work again.”
…this post forwarded by Windsor Humanist, Alexander Neil, after a May 14, 2008 article by Tim Shufelt in The Ottawa Citizen

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May 8, 2008

Evangelical Pushing Bill To Deny Tax Credits To Films Deemed Offensive By The Gov’t

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Canada Family Action Coalition president Charles McVety has no regrets about engaging in politics on behalf of evangelicals: ‘I don’t think it’s helpful to democracy to discourage people from getting involved.’

Charles McVety on-dutyIt’s difficult to pinpoint which version of Charles McVety is most accurate. A powerful religious lobbyist who has the ear of the Harper government, or a mere spokesman for a segment of Canada’s evangelical community concerned with promoting family values? Manipulator or messenger?

Lately, the image of Mr. McVety as a Parliament Hill string-puller prevails as he pushes for Bill C-10, an amendment to the federal tax-credit system that critics say is an affront to freedom of speech and a mortal threat to the Canadian film industry. (MODERATOR’s NOTE: See explanatory link via CBC News website here).

The controversial section of the bill, which would deny tax credits to films deemed offensive by government, has sparked a battle between Canada’s entertainment industry and the 40,000-member Canada Family Action Coalition, of which Mr. McVety is president.

On Thursday, the reigning queen of Canadian independent film and recent Oscar nominee Sarah Polley testified before the Senate banking committee, which is receiving a level of attention almost always reserved for non-tax-related issues.

Ms. Polley told the committee that public money is key to the production of daring, inspirational film and television. Bill C-10 smacks of government censorship, she says.

Next week, Mr. McVety will get his turn with the committee. And he has no doubt the panel of mostly Liberal-appointed senators will see the light.

“This change has to happen. As sure as I sit here, it’s going to happen,” he says.

Under the current regulations, he says it is conceivable that a film could violate the Criminal Code of Canada and still qualify for government funding through tax credits. Bill C-10 is simply good public policy, he says.

Mr. McVety bristles against reports that he boasted of having an instrumental role in getting key changes into the tax bill.

But he says he raised the issue of denying tax credits to offensive films with his old ally Stockwell Day, Minister of Public Safety. And his executive director at the coalition, Brian Rushfeldt, talked with Justice Minister Rob Nicholson about Bill C-10, he says.

Questions about the extent of Mr. McVety’s clout with the Harper Conservatives are not new. According to former Conservative MP and avid McVety critic Garth Turner, in 2006 during a commercial break on The Michael Coren Show, Mr. McVety claimed: “I can pick up the phone and call Harper and I can get him in two minutes.”

Words he never uttered, Mr. McVety insists, which Mr. Coren backed up. But Mr. McVety says he does have many friends in the current government and is unapologetic about getting involved in politics.

“The expectation that religious people should not have a voice in democracy is undemocratic in its very nature,” he says.

Mr. McVety, 48, was born in Winnipeg where his father, Elmer McVety, a “Billy Graham evangelist,” founded a Bible school called Richmond College, the predecessor to Canada Christian College.

In 1967, the family and the school relocated to Toronto. Mr. McVety took over as college president after his father’s death in 1993 in the midst of a battle with the provincial government over the school’s authority to grant degrees.

The college survived a bid by the education ministry to shut it down and now offers undergraduate, masters and doctoral programs mainly focusing on theology and divinity.

In his political youth, Mr. McVety became involved in the riding nomination of Ken Robinson, a Liberal MP for Etobicoke-Lakeshore and then-chairman of the board of the college.

In the runup to the 1984 federal election, Mr. Robinson was bumped from his own riding when several hundred supporters of a rookie candidate unexpectedly ousted the incumbent.

For Mr. McVety, it was a realization that a small number of people can make a big difference in the grassroots of Canadian politics.

“We realized not enough people get involved. Canadians are complacent, laid-back people,” he says.

In the 2006 federal election, Mr. McVety and his supporters sought to sway a few dozen ridings across the country in favour of Conservative candidates.

He was not very successful.

In his own riding of Ajax-Pickering, Mr. McVety helped nominate Conservative candidate Rondo Thomas, also an administrator at the college, to challenge Liberal MP Mark Holland, a proponent of same-sex marriage. Mr. Holland sailed to victory in the general election with almost half the total riding vote. Mr. Thomas placed a distant second.

Before the election, Mr. McVety also registered dozens of unclaimed Internet domains bearing the names of several Liberal candidates, like and, to inform constituents of those MPs’ views on same-sex marriage.

Although the practice was widely criticized and branded a form of cybersquatting, Mr. McVety still stands by the approach.

“A lot of members of Parliament, they like to appease special interests and do things that are against the population, but they don’t like people knowing about it,” he says. “Why not educate people on what their representative is doing? Why should all the education be left to the CBC?”

Come next election, Mr. McVety plans to wage more nomination battles, particularly against Conservative candidates who support same-sex marriage.

Mr. McVety says his allegiance does not lie exclusively with the Conservative Party of Canada. The Liberals, in fact, supported many “pro-family positions” throughout the 1990s, Mr. McVety says. He aims to hold representatives of all parties to account.

Individual ridings are fertile ground to effect change on behalf of his evangelical supporters, he says. And since such a small fraction of Canadian voters get involved in nomination contests, he believes his participation should be welcome.

“In the general population, you make a choice between the two options the one per cent gives you. I don’t think it’s helpful to democracy to discourage any group of people from getting involved.”

It would be a mistake, however, to assume Mr. McVety represents the collective views of Canada’s evangelical community, says Don Hutchinson, a director of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada.

The EFC represents more than three million Canadians, 40 denominations and more than 1,000 congregations. That does not include Mr. McVety, his denomination, or his church, Mr. Hutchinson says.

The EFC is also affiliated with 35 Christian colleges and 89 organizations, but not The Canada Christian College or The Canada Family Action Coalition.

“There’s a broad spectrum on the evangelical meter. Charles may be representative of one end, probably one extreme end, of that spectrum,” Mr. Hutchinson says.

Mr. McVety belongs to a brand of Pentecostalism that sees modern-day prophecies and speaking in tongues as gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Support of Zionism is also key to Mr. McVety’s belief, as a strong Israel is considered by some evangelicals to be the definitive sign of the return of the Messiah. Hence, he firmly rejects a two-state agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

This branch of evangelical Christianity, which Ottawa-based Lloyd Mackey, a veteran journalist for several Christian publications, calls “pretty close to fundamentalist,” is much more common in the United States, with adherents such as the firebrand San Antonio televangelist John Hagee and the late Jerry Fallwell.

In Canada, however, those beliefs simply fall well outside mainstream evangelism, Mr. Hutchinson says. “Public-policy development is not based on whether or not there’s a strong Biblical argument for it; it’s based on whether there’s a sound public-policy reason for the initiative.”

Still, Mr. McVety manages to project a public profile disproportionate to the segment of Christianity he champions, Mr. Mackey says.

“It’s easy to get a colourful quote from Charles. Some of the other major spokespersons for evangelical Christianity aren’t nearly as colourful.”

But it wasn’t always this easy for Mr. McVety and his ilk to get a hearing in Ottawa.

The enormous political influence wielded by American evangelicals, combined with what is considered in Canada to be a disastrous Bush administration, soured Canadians to political involvement of the religious right, Mr. McVety says.

“There was a great deal of hostility that developed, especially under Paul Martin’s government, toward family values,” he says.

So when Mr. Harper took the reins of power in February 2006, there was a giddy optimism that social conservatism would no longer be taboo in Canadian politics.

But the relationship between the Harper government and Ottawa’s burgeoning network of evangelical organizations, galvanized by the same-sex marriage debate, soon hit the rocks.

“That honeymoon ended quite quickly,” Mr. McVety says. After Mr. Harper lost a free vote in the House to restore the traditional definition of marriage, he declared the issue closed, much to the dismay of Mr. McVety and The Canada Family Action Coalition.

And not even a Conservative majority government will bring back the spark between Mr. Harper and Mr. McVety’s cast of social conservatives, Mr. Mackey says. “In effect, (Mr Harper is) functioning as if it’s a majority anyway.”

The government won some praise from Mr. McVety last year when it raised the age of sexual consent. And he says Bill C-10 closes a long-standing policy gap that funnels taxpayer money into obscene movies like Young People Fucking, last year’s Toronto International Film Festival hit that Mr. McVety equates to state-sponsored pornography.

“When it comes to the government allocating hard-earned taxpayer dollars, I believe there’s a national consensus on this issue that it should not go to dirty movies.”
…this post forwarded by Windsor Humanist, J.Pkr, after an April 12, 2008 article by Tim Shufelt in The Ottawa Citizen

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May 7, 2008

The Lord’s Prayer Crashes Ontario Gov’t Website

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A proposal to scrap the reading of the Lord’s Prayer in the legislature has prompted 5,700 submissions from the public – temporarily crashing the legislature’s website – and hundreds of phone calls from many The Power of Prayerwho want to preserve the Christian tradition.

While Premier Dalton McGuinty says it’s time to open the province’s legislative debate with a more inclusive prayer, politicians tasked with sifting through the varied opinions say the majority don’t want to see Ontario fall in line with other provinces by replacing the Lord’s Prayer.

Speaker Steve Peters, who is chairing the committee to examine replacing the prayer with another reading, said the response through the legislature’s website has been overwhelming.

The traffic was so great when the committee first set up the online form that it temporarily crashed the website, resulting in hundreds of calls to Mr. Peters’ office. More than half the Conservative caucus have presented petitions in the house on the topic and the committee has yet to hear from about 50 different faith groups.

Those handpicked organizations, from The Assembly of First Nations to atheists to Christian denominations, have until the end of the month to make their case.

“The committee is going to have a lot of information to review,” Mr. Peters said.

But other committee members say the message from the submissions so far is pretty clear – keep the Lord’s Prayer.

Conservative Garfield Dunlop said some don’t mind alternating the Lord’s Prayer with other readings but the vast majority don’t want to see it scrapped altogether.

“The Lord’s Prayer is inclusive enough that it covers a lot of different religions,” said Mr. Dunlop, adding the reading is part of Ontario’s history. “You have to take that into account. It’s not just about religion. It’s about tradition.”

The last time the legislature debated replacing the Lord’s Prayer, in 2001, Mr. Dunlop said there was a similar outcry. The debate sparked by the Conservative proposal to fund all religious schools in the last election is further proof, Mr. Dunlop said.

“You don’t tamper too much with what you’ve got,” he said. “This really irks a lot of people and gets under their skin.”

People weren’t clamouring to talk again about the Lord’s Prayer’s place in the legislature before Premier McGuinty raised the issue in February, but New Democrat Cheri DiNovo says they are now.

“About 80 per cent of them are in favour of keeping the Lord’s Prayer. Now he’s getting his groundswell,” said the United Church minister. “The background of all of this is a province with one-in-eight children living in poverty. We could be spending all this money and all this time addressing that.”

The last time the Ontario legislature updated its daily prayer was in 1969, when it changed the preamble to the Lord’s Prayer. It is one of the few remaining provinces – along with Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick – still reciting the Lord’s Prayer.

Both the House of Commons and the Senate recite non-denominational prayers.

(Moderator’s Note: You can make your opinion known to the Ontatio Legislative Assembly here.
…this post forwarded by Windsor Humanist, Matt Achine, after A May 5, 2008 article by Chinta Puxley over The Canadian Press

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