Little fallout over cables referring to Canada

WASHINGTON—With so much diplomatic egg on their faces almost everywhere else, American officials are showing signs of relief that at least Canada’s share of the humiliating WikiLeaks disclosures is minor.

A few harsh words here, a few private irritations there. But barring more serious disclosures to come — among them, a potentially damaging secret U.S. cable quoting remarks by Canada’s ambassador to Kabul — the four long-awaited Canada memos that emerged Wednesday registered barely a blip on the bilateral radar.

“I’m delighted, frankly. Compared to some of the highly sensitive cables involving other countries, the material on Canada is completely benign,” said former U.S. ambassador Gordon Giffin, who was stationed in Ottawa during the Clinton era.

“There is some foolishness there — a cable from someone in the embassy with a burr up their butt about the CBC and nothing better to do. But that’s just someone going a bit off-course.

“Nobody of consequence would have read it. And I can’t see that kind of foolishness dislodging the fundamental reality of such a thoughtful, serious and deep bilateral relationship.”

The phrase “Canada’s habitual inferiority complex” grabbed Wednesday’s instant headlines Wednesday as the documents emerged. But even that apparent slight was blunted by the larger sentence, which offered “scene-setting” diplomatic advice for President Barack Obama on the eve of his 2009 visit to Ottawa.

“Your decision to make Ottawa your first foreign destination as president will do much to diminish — temporarily at least — Canada’s habitual inferiority complex vis-à-vis the U.S., and its chronic but accurate complaint that the U.S. pays far less attention to Canada than Canada does to us,” the diplomatic cable from the U.S. embassy in Ottawa told the president.

Former U.S. ambassador Paul Cellucci reacted with surprise — and moments later, relief — when informed by the Toronto Star that his 2004 memo to George W. Bush had been posted to WikiLeaks.

In it, Cellucci describes how Canada was engaged in “soul-searching” about its “decline from ‘middle power’ status to that of an ‘active observer’ of global affairs, a trend which some Canadians believe should be reversed.”

Not an easy thought for many Canadians. Not inaccurate, either. And not exactly comparable to the Saudi King telling the Americans they must “cut the head of the snake” in neighbouring Iran.

Six years later Cellucci, now an attorney in Boston, stands by his words, though they were never intended for public eyes.

“It’s just not my style to write about political personalities that way. But besides that, there was never any reason to because the Canada-U.S. relationship transcends personality — it’s bigger than that,” he said.

“When you are dealing with the leader of Russia or a European country, personality is a bigger factor in relations. And so I understand why my diplomatic colleagues would go there. But when it comes to Canada and the U.S., it’s just in a different category.”

The New York Times, one of five news groups to preview the WikiLeaks trove of more than 250,000 stolen State Department, dedicated its own story to the Canada cables Wednesday, playing up U.S. perceptions of anti-Americanism at the tail end of the Bush era.

The Times account quotes an as-yet-unreleased cable describing how Canadians “always carry a chip on their shoulder” in part because of a feeling that their country “is condemned to always play ‘Robin’ to the U.S. ‘Batman.’ ”

Another note of potential embarrassment for Ottawa emerged Wednesday with the disclosure that French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner assumed the role of a Canadian diplomat during his first meeting with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, asking her to reconsider the case of Omar Khadr.

Kouchner handed Clinton “a paper concerning Khadr, a 15-year-old Muslim of Canadian origin. Clinton agreed to review the case,” according to a diplomatic summary of the February 2009 meeting.

The WikiLeaks dump could cause further political ripples in Ottawa, however, over an as yet unreleased cable from the U.S. embassy in Afghanistan that purportedly quotes Canada’s ambassador to Kabul in a red rage over Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

Ambassador William Crosbie has offered to resign even before the cable is released, theNational Post reported.

Crosbie is reported to have said to his U.S. counterpart, Karl Eikenberry, in February, 2010, that Karzai was misusing his power and had hijacked the country’s electoral process to tilt the last national vote in his favour.

Upon learning that his words may come back to haunt him via WikiLeaks, Crosbie sent a cable to Ottawa, offering to quit over the coming furor.

“The (U.S.) report accurately notes that I was emotional and quotes me as saying that Karzai’s actions ‘made my blood boil,’ Crosbie wrote to his political masters in Ottawa.

The Post report says Crosbie and Eikenberry met last Saturday to discuss the impact of the WikiLeaks disclosures on the NATO mission in Afghanistan. Eikenberry apparently told Crosbie that the leaked documents could “feed Karzai’s paranoia and mistrust of the U.S.” and make him more confrontational toward the Americans and other NATO countries.

With files from Allan Woods

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Christ meets Bigfoot: more irreverent atheist ads set to hit Canadian cities

The atheist group behind last year’s controversial bus ads suggesting “there’s probably no God” is rolling out a provocative new set of posters on buses across the country that places Allah beside Bigfoot and Christ beside psychics.

The new posters bear the slogan: “Extraordinary Claims Require Extraordinary Evidence” with “Allah, Bigfoot, UFOs, Homeopathy, Zeus, Psychics, Christ” listed below.

They will hit Toronto streetcars in January, pending final approval from the Toronto Transit Commission, said Justin Trottier, national executive director of the Centre for Inquiry, an atheist organization. After the Toronto debut, the organization plans to post the ads to buses in Calgary, Vancouver, Ottawa, Saskatoon and Montreal.

“Why is belief in Bigfoot dismissed as delusional while belief in Allah and Christ is respected and revered? All of these claims are equally extraordinary and demand critical examination,” says the campaign’s website, http://www.extraordinary-claims.com.

Trottier insists the ads weren’t designed to offend religious Canadians.

“I’d love it if everyone saw the ads and know the point of the campaign is to emphasize not the kind of knee-jerk debunking to anything suspicious but that we’re interested in a genuine debate, a conversation about so-called extraordinary claims. We’re not here to mock people who believe in these claims,” he said.

He said scientists have made extraordinary statements to explain evolution, but their beliefs are backed by evidence.

“Homeopathy, miracles and religious claims — those are at least as extraordinary but where’s the evidence? Present the evidence and we’ll be happy to come along for the ride and endorse those beliefs,” he said.

The previous ads, which ran beginning in January 2009, said, “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life” and appeared in Toronto, Ottawa, Calgary and Montreal for about a month in each city.

Trottier said the Centre for Inquiry raised $50,000 to pay for the 2009 ad campaign. The organization plans to raise another $50,000 to cover expenses to run the new posters.

Last year’s ads received a mixed reaction from both religious Canadians and atheists.

“There were a lot of people who misunderstood the point of the campaign and took issue with the tone, which they saw as overly confrontational or mockery,” said Trottier.

Some critics said relaxing and enjoying life was “hedonistic” and suggesting God “probably” doesn’t exist angered both atheists and theists, for different reasons.

But the campaign led to invitations to join debates, panel discussions and even sermons “in a loose sense” to various religious communities, Trottier said, noting that many organizations found atheists’ interest in religion “intriguing.”

He said he hopes the new campaign will also launch a discussion.

The United Church of Canada, the country’s largest Protestant denomination, countered last year’s atheist ad campaign with newspaper ads of their own.

“There’s probably a God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life,” they read.

Rev. Bruce Gregersen, the church’s general council officer, called the Church’s ads a “joking response” and said Trottier’s new wave of ads will ask Canadians what’s more valuable: facts or meaning and purpose.

“Conversation is welcome and invitational to all people to think about the meaning of faith. It’s a fair question that goes to the heart of what you count as proof. There are millions of people who have sense of the mysterious . . . deeper within our spirits,” he said.

He hopes religious Canadians won’t be upset by seeing Christ and Allah in a list with Bigfoot and leprechauns.

“Our perspective is that Christ is able to stand in that kind of situation and not be ridiculed. Our belief about Christ is much bigger than anything related to Zeus, or psychics or homeopathy, so in that sense it’s trivializing the nature of faith. On the other hand, it’s not enough that I’d want to raise issues,” he said.

Ihsaan Gardee, executive director of the Canadian Council on American-Islamic Relations, said he suspects many Canadians will “strongly” disagree with the ads, but the Centre for Inquiry has a right to express their views.

“Dialogue between people of all faiths is always welcome provided that the means to do so do not contravene Canada’s hate speech laws or promote violence toward any identifiable group,” he wrote in an email.

About a quarter of Canadians said they didn’t believe in any God in a 2008 poll on religion.

cchai(at)postmedia.com

Twitter.com/Carmen_Chai

CNS 12/01/10 20:21:08

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Canada ‘Robin’ to U.S. ‘Batman’: diplomatic cable

Updated: Wed Dec. 01 2010 17:53:30

CTV.ca News Staff

Canadians have an inferiority complex because they feel their country is condemned to always play ‘Robin’ to the United States’ ‘Batman,’ an American diplomat wrote in a leaked diplomatic cable.

A 2008 cable also complained of an “onslaught” of Canadian television shows with “nefarious American officials carrying out equally nefarious deeds in Canada.”

Cables released by the online whistleblower WikiLeaks have been mildly embarrassing to Canada and U.S. relations, revealing a former chief of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service slamming the Canadian courts and Prime Minister Stephen Harper getting an invite to France out of empathy for his “political troubles.”

A 2004 cable briefing for then-president George W. Bush, before a visit to Ottawa, wrote that Canada was a country “soul-searching” about its “decline from ‘middle power'” status.

The same cable also said Canadian officials expressed worry that Canada was being shut out of the intelligence loop as punishment for not joining the invasion of Iraq.

In 2009, when U.S. President Barack Obama visited Canada for the first time, U.S. diplomats said that Canadian officials expressed annoyance that the U.S. president was far more popular than they were.

“No Canadian politician of any stripe is nearly as popular, respected or inspiring as you are to Canadian voters, a genuine factor in the historically low turnout in the October 2008 Canadian federal election,” the memo to Obama said.

The leaked cables are providing a glimpse into U.S.-Canadian relations normally noted only decades later by historians.

But the current U.S. ambassador to Canada says the cables — WikiLeaks has more than 250,000 — won’t affect the relationship between world’s largest trading partners.

“You’re going to find an errant line when you go over tens of thousands of pages of documents that are quotable, that are juicy,” David Jacobson told CTV’s Power Play on Wednesday. “No relationship is closer in the world than the U.S. and Canada’s, and the documents as a whole underscore that.”

Jacobson said he spent the last week reading thousands of cables written by the U.S. embassy in Ottawa and says he has no idea what WikiLeaks might release next.

He said his country wants to shut down WikiLeaks – but declined to say why the superpower has not yet done so.

“We really want to and we haven’t. You can infer from that whatever you want,” Jacobson said.

Jacobson said the U.S has already made steps to ensure such a leak does not occur again, and more steps will have to be taken. However, he said a crime was committed and the most effective action the U.S can take is to prosecute the individuals involved.

“Clearly, there was treason, there was horrendous misconduct by somebody,” he said.

Jacobson said some of the leaks — not the Canadian documents — have “severely impacted” the strategic interests of the U.S. and its allies, and have put lives at risk.

Revealing cables

Harper’s “political troubles” prompted the French government to extend to him a last-minute invitation to attend the D-Day commemoration last year, according to a diplomatic cable.

The revealing cable is authored by an American diplomat writing about a conversation he had in Paris with Jean-David Levitte, the chief diplomatic aide to French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Levitte told the diplomat that the June 6, 2009, D-Day commemoration was originally supposed to be a Franco-American event, but Sarkozy ended up inviting Harper and then-British Prime Minister Gordon Brown for political reasons.

Harper and Brown were invited because they were each “in such political trouble at home that the survival of their governments was at stake,” according to the cable that was prepared on June 8, 2009.

Levitte said Sarkozy had originally intended to invite German Chancellor Angela Merkel to the commemoration.

But the French president was advised that if he invited Merkel, he would have to invite other European leaders “who would have to be given an opportunity to speak as well, which would lengthen an already long ceremony,” according to the diplomatic cable.

Because of the “exceptional” circumstances in the United Kingdom and Canada, Brown and Harper were invited to attend.

WikiLeaks intends to publish more than 250,000 U.S. diplomatic cables on its website against the wishes of Washington.

It began uploading its massive cache of diplomatic secrets on Monday and the Harper-Sarkozy details was included in one of the early cables to be released on the Web.

The French government has said the WikiLeaks releases mark the “height of irresponsibility” and French official Francois Baroin has indicated that France will now change the way it send its diplomatic messages back to Paris.

Meanwhile, the U.S. is fielding calls from governments around the world about the content of the diplomatic messages that are gaining headlines every day.

While attending a meeting in Kazakhstan on Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that the continuing revelations from the WikiLeaks issue will not hurt American diplomacy.

Clinton also said that “there will be a lot of questions that people have every right and reason to ask, and we stand ready to discuss them at any time with our counterparts around the world.”

Police around the world are currently on the watch for any sign of Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks who is wanted on a warrant in Sweden.

Swedish authorities are currently in the midst of a rape investigation and they have indicated Assange is suspected of rape, sexual molestation and unlawful coercion, in the case of encounters with two women in Sweden this past August.

Assange has said the allegations are untrue.

With files from The Associated Press and The Canadian Press