The News Rundown
- This past Tuesday Bezhani Sarvar shot up Edmonton City Hall as well as detonating some molotov cocktails.
- Later confirmed in the week the Commissionaires Northern Alberta Division confirmed that both the shooter and unarmed guard who apprehended him were employees of the Corps of Commissionaires.
- The altercation was lucky in that no one was hurt and that it ended quickly.
- Most of the discussion surrounding this focused on the sheer shock that something like this could happen in Edmonton and the discussion shifted to how it happened and whether an increased security presence would be needed.
- The accused had been a Commissionaire since 2019 but wasn’t assigned to City Hall.
- Sarvar was charged with arson with disregard for human life, possession of incendiary material, use of a firearm while committing an offence, careless use of a firearm, using an explosive with an intent to destroy or damage property, and discharging a firearm into a place.
- Initially there was a brief discussion of what was found in Sarvar’s apartment and socials including a video where he discussed a a series of topics ranging from corruption, inflation, immigration, the cost of housing, multiculturalism the wokeism disease, and the genocide going in Gaza and throughout the world.
- The video alternating between Arabic and English and has now been removed from his YouTube channel.
- It was at this point that the finger pointing began because the National Council of Canadian Muslims denounced the attack and said that it was motivated by an alt-right agenda that ignored the comments about Gaza.
- But it’s clear now that there has been a collective blind spot on the attacker this week.
- There has been outlines made of the video and posted in the Edmonton Journal but TV media and the big 3 news outlets have neglected to dive deep into the posted manifesto video.
- What we are looking at as has been described by some is a Gaza-inspired jihadist terror attack with home made bombs.
- It hasn’t been confirmed by authorities but it is believed that Bezhani came from Afghanistan in 2012.
- We need to be clear that at this point in time the attacker could be branded as either a right-wing terrorist or an islamic terrorist.
- The silver lining of it all should be that the media hasn’t jumped to branding the attacker as a right wing terrorist.
- But what is shown is a significant blind spot that no one is raising the alarm over the language used regarding the events in Gaza.
- We also have to ask which is more likely: is the attacker a right wing terrorist or an islamic terrorist?
- He mentioned Gaza, wokeism, multiculturalism, an immigrant agenda, and brothers and sister god willing.
- But he also says we need to spread love, respect Canadian laws, stand shoulder to shoulder fighting racism, inflation, rising costs, and tax money going towards genocide and wars.
- He also promoted a healthy social life, health system, and education.
- He also used a standard Muslim greeting that is translated to “peace be unto you.”
- At this point it is clear that there was a political motive at play. When violence is undertaken for a political cause we often call it terrorism.
- We’re going to leave it at this point to the investigators to figure out which group if any the attacker held the majority of his sympathies towards.
- But this story shows a huge blind spot in two places for Canadian society.
- First we need to not be ignorant about the fact that there are those within our country who support Hamas in Gaza and we need to be wary of those supporters who have the ability to carry out attacks on our soil because there is a non-zero chance that this is what the attacker was motivated about.
- It’s possible but not guaranteed.
- Second is the media. The discussion following the attacks Tuesday should have been on the realization that there was a manifesto and that manifesto said nothing but terrorism. They don’t need to say what kind of terrorism it is, leave that to the investigators. But since the immediate aftermath of the attack there has been almost no discussion that there was a manifesto that was clearly orchestrated which we call terrorism.
- That doesn’t mean they need to air the videos or detail it point by point but ignoring this undersells the nature of the attack which is doing a disservice to Canadians.
- On the surface what now distinguishes this from senseless gun violence? Or maybe that’s what the media wants.
- Car theft in Canada has been on the rise in recent years, and became so bad in 2023 that the federal government is going to convene what they call a "National Summit on Combatting Auto Theft" in early February. From 2021 to 2023, rates of car thefts have doubled in many provinces, including Ontario, Quebec and Alberta.
- Not only that, but carjackings have sharply risen as well, especially in the big eastern cities of Toronto and Montreal. The Toronto region saw 9,600 vehicles stolen in 2022, a 300% increase in annual thefts compared to 2015. in 2023, that number jumped to 12,170.
- Overall, the year-over-year rate of vehicle theft spiked in 2022 by 50% in the province of Quebec, 48.3% in Ontario and 34.5% in Atlantic Canada, and around 20% in Alberta.
- Public Safety Minister Dominic LeBlanc, speaking in Montreal where Trudeau’s cabinet has gathered for winter meetings, said that “The scale of the issue around auto theft requires coordination between all governments, federal, provincial and municipal police forces, border services officers and auto manufacturers.”
- The reason why the Eastern part of the country is particularly susceptible to auto theft, is because transnational crime groups use the Port of Montreal, one of Canada's two major shipping ports (the other being Vancouver of course), to ship stolen cars from Canada to Europe, where they are then sent onwards to Africa and the Middle East where they can be sold at higher markups than they can be sold for in Canada.
- Law-enforcement specialists say relatively light penalties and lax border security are combining with booming overseas demand to create an easy way for crime rings to exploit a lucrative market. Interpol has labeled Canada one of the world’s “main source countries” for stolen vehicles, feeding a global black market that law-enforcement officials say is funding international organized crime groups.
- In the U.S., almost one million cars were stolen in 2022, up 11% from 2021, according to the FBI. Other countries also recording increases in 2022, included France, which reported more than 130,000 reported vehicle thefts, and Germany, which reported more than 25,000 stolen cars. Still, Canada's thefts per person has risen to be atop the Western world.
- Scott Wade, a detective-inspector in the organized-crime enforcement bureau of the Ontario Provincial Police, says that the organized crime groups behind auto theft include outlaw motorcycle gangs, mafia syndicates and street gangs who take advantage of criminal laws that treat car theft as a minor property crime with light sentences. He puts it simply: “Canada is seen as a high-reward, low-risk jurisdiction for car thieves.”
- Adding to Canada’s attractiveness for smugglers: It is relatively easy for the thieves to get cars onto ships bound for resale markets in Ghana and Nigeria because overstretched border officers can’t keep up, said Michael Rothe, president and chief executive of the Canadian Finance and Leasing Association.
- The high shipping volume means border officers can’t search all outbound containers. The Port of Montreal, the second-largest port in Canada, for example, served 2,000 cargo ships and processed 759,000 outbound shipping containers last year. Meanwhile, the Canada Border Services Agency, which is responsible for screening ship cargo, caught only roughly 1,800 stolen vehicles last year that were bound for foreign markets, a fraction of the thousands that were stolen.
- At the Port of Gioia Tauro, the busiest port in Italy, authorities made a large bust at a busy port and recovered 251 vehicles that had been stolen in Canada and were destined for markets in the Middle East. The vehicles had all been stolen from Canada over recent months, and were from a variety of "expensive" or "prestigious" brands, Italian police said.
- With assistance from both the RCMP and Interpol, the stolen vehicles were found crammed inside containers that had arrived on 18 different cargo vessels – with "almost perfect" counterfeit identification data.
- Italian authorities heralded "teamwork" with the RCMP, saying it's that "synergy" that allowed the complex commercial investigation to quickly verify irregularities in entry declarations and license plates.
- And yet, this success story represents just a few hundred out of hundreds of thousands. If the government is serious about stopping car theft, it needs to give better funding for CBSA so that our borders and ports are better monitored, and it needs to give more meaningful penalties for those who commit crime. The federal government's lackadaisical approach to crime has allowed criminals to set up shop in Canada, and we are now reaping the benefits.
- Two years ago tensions were rising in our country and shortly that would lead to the convoy protests led by the Freedom Convoy.
- This week the Federal Court ruled that the Trudeau government’s decision to invoke the Emergencies Act was unreasonable, unjustified, and violated the Charter Of Rights and Freedoms.
- Justice Richard Mosley said that the decision did not meet the hallmarks of reasonableness - justification, transparency and intelligibility and was not justified.
- Chrystia Freeland responded and said that the government will appeal the decision.
- The legal ruling came from four legal challenges brought by the Canadian Civil Liberties Association and the Canadian Constitutional Foundation. Numerous provinces were also signed up as intervenors including Alberta.
- The Act was used primarily to freeze bank accounts of some convoy participants and compel tow truck companies to cooperate with police in clearing out the blockaded streets.
- There was also concern about how the government froze bank accounts without concern for collateral effects, namely on family members and joint account holders.
- “Someone who had nothing to do with the protests could find themselves without the means to access necessaries for household and other family purposes while the accounts were suspended. There appears to have been no effort made to find a solution to that problem while the measures were in effect,” reads the ruling.
- In the 190 page report there are detailed remarks of people who had their accounts frozen and the reports suggest that it was simply unavoidable.
- Another huge discussion point in the midst of the gathering in downtown Ottawa was whether or not the protestors harmed or harassed residents or workers.
- Justice Mosley also said, “The harassment of residents, workers and business owners in downtown Ottawa and the general infringement of the right to peaceful enjoyment of public spaces there, while highly objectionable, did not amount to serious violence or threats of serious violence.”
- He also said, “The harm being caused to Canada’s economy, trade and commerce was very real and concerning but it did not constitute threats or the use of serious violence to persons or property.”
- And listeners will note that nothing happened on the blockades until the Ambassador Bridge between Windsor, ON and Detroit were blockaded and President Biden expressed concern.
- If we go back in time and look at the media reporting of the blockades, specifically in Ottawa, they trumped up the fear factor both that the reporters were experiencing and the residents of downtown.
- The reality is that the majority of people present were family friendly and the vast majority were not associated with extremist groups.
- There were a few bad actors taken away and a few swastika flags removed but overall the protests got a bad name and were used as a political wedge by Justin Trudeau culminating in the use of the Emergencies Act.
- The most egregious part as felt back then and now with the ruling? Freezing of bank accounts.
- In another democracy or another country that would be seen as freezing the bank accounts of political opponents.
- At the time that angle got almost no coverage in the media and has also been left out of most Canadian reporting on the ruling.
- As we say at Western Context, sometimes we go to foreign outlets to receive the best reporting on Canada and this week that was the New York Times.
- That coverage in of itself should speak volumes of the way Canadian media sees the ruling and sees the values of freedom in our country.
- An unassuming headline about a Vancouver Island paper mill closing down has led to one of the biggest bombshell stories not being talked about in Canada right now, especially when it comes to the ownership and control of our natural resources industries.
- A mill in Crofton that produced paper is being shuttered indefinitely but will keep operating the pulp side of the mill, which has close to 400 employees. Pulp and paper giant Paper Excellence announced Thursday it will indefinitely halt paper-producing operations at the Catalyst Crofton facility on Vancouver Island.
- The announcement comes just over a year after the mill, located in Crofton in the North Cowichan region, received $18.8 million from the provincial and federal governments to resume pulp and paper operations and save 100 jobs. The plan was to see the mill retool to manufacture new products to reduce use of single-use plastics.
- The mill’s future has been an ongoing concern in the Cowichan Valley — North Cowichan Mayor Rob Douglas contacted Forests Minister Bruce Ralston this month urging the province to help keep the mill operating.
- Douglas, who was at the mill last year when the funding announcement was made, said he was surprised and disappointed by the news that the paper operation would be shuttered indefinitely. The worst part is the impact on the workers who won’t be returning to their jobs, said Douglas, who plans to contact local employers to see what job vacancies may exist.
- Douglas said: “We were all very excited about what that investment was going to mean for the future of the operation as far as long-term sustainability. Things obviously haven’t worked out as we’d all hoped. A lot of these [workers] have deep roots in the community. They don’t want to uproot their families and move somewhere else.”
- The BC NDP's Jobs Minister Brenda Bailey acknowledged the curtailment is among a number of forestry operations shuttering in B.C. Notably, the Fraser Lake Sawmill in northern BC is closing completely, a major employer in the rural region that affects hundreds of jobs.
- Bailey said: "My first reaction is just really thinking about those people who've been impacted and the families who are feeling that very bad news today. I can tell you I come from the forestry family. In fact, my dad's first job was at this very mill, the Crofton mill, and it's really difficult news for people."
- Bailey pointed to her government's manufacturing jobs fund and the rural economic diversification and infrastructure program as ways the province is looking to diversify its manufacturing sector and encourage companies to set up industries in B.C. amid the job cuts.
- As far as the $18 million, it’s unclear what is next. A local worker said he understands the company plans to return the funds with a penalty payment, but the company’s statement did not state that, however, saying only that it will “respect the terms and conditions of all contribution agreements affected by this indefinite curtailment and will work with the appropriate government agencies on the next steps.”
- Paper Excellence was fined $25,500 earlier this month for discharging more than a million litres of toxic waste into the Pacific Ocean in a period of time dating back to the summer of 2021.
- On July 23, 2021, a component on one of the mill’s pumps failed, leading to the discharge of a million litres of effluent, storm and sea water into the ocean. That discharge later led to the death of 90 percent of rainbow trout in a failed toxicity test.
- Inspections concluded that the company had failed to regularly inspect an expansion joint on the pump. Catalyst disputed its failure to comply with its permits, submitting it could not have predicted the component’s failure.
- On Aug. 7, 2021, another pump failed, discharging another 6,000 litres of waste into the ocean. This time all the fish died in the acute toxicity test.
- With Paper Excellence's track record, and their awful treatment of Vancouver Island's workers and the environment, it behooves us to look into the company a bit further and see exactly why this company holds such a key position in one of Canada's most important industries.
- A CBC article from March 2023 is the only news source that sheds light on Paper Excellence, their history and their track record, after it gobbled up Montreal-based Resolute Forest Products to become Canada's largest producer of paper pulp in the country, with about 20 percent of all mill capacity — 50 percent bigger than its closest rival, Canfor.
- But for such a major player, Paper Excellence is remarkably quiet about the inner workings of its business. Who exactly runs the company? That is Jackson Wijaya, the elusive founder and CEO. How did it come into the billions of dollars to fund its acquisitions, and what does it plan to do with nearly 22 million hectares of Canadian forest it now manages — an area four times the size of Nova Scotia?
- The answers are hugely important for one of Canada's most iconic natural resources, its immense tracts of forest. For Paper Excellence, the story is straightforward: "Jackson Wijaya established Paper Excellence … with a dream to build a strong business in the pulp and paper industry in the Americas and Europe. His goal has been, and is, to create and develop a healthy and sustainable business."
- The people behind or associated with Paper Excellence appear to have a pattern of using thickets of corporations, including in tax havens, effectively shielding transactions and assets from public and government scrutiny.
- The company won't open up about its past financing, some of which was facilitated by the China Development Bank, which is owned by the Chinese government. CBC's investigation also found leaked records and insider accounts that show that Paper Excellence, at least until a few years ago, appears to have been closely — and secretly — co-ordinating business and strategy decisions with Asia Pulp & Paper, one of the world's biggest pulp-and-paper players, which has a track record of environmental destruction.
- Ask Greenpeace or any of a dozen environmental groups why they're concerned about Paper Excellence, and they link it immediately to a conglomerate called Sinar Mas. Owned and run by a billionaire Indonesian family of Chinese origin — the Wijayas — the family has interests in palm oil, real estate, financial services and a controlling stake in Asia Pulp & Paper, whose CEO is Jackson Wijaya's father, Teguh Ganda Wijaya.
- Sinar Mas and its subsidiaries have been the target of environmental advocacy groups for years. There have been reports of tropical rainforest clearing, peatland destruction and "extensive ties" to companies linked to fires and deforestation in Indonesia.
- In 2007, APP lost its sustainability certification from the Forest Stewardship Council "because of substantial, publicly available information that APP was involved in destructive forestry practices," the FSC said. It has never regained it.
- And that's where it gets tricky. Paper Excellence's official founder and CEO, Jackson Wijaya, is the grandson of the tycoon who created Sinar Mas in the 1960s. Over his life, Wijaya has held numerous positions with Sinar Mas, including as a director of an APP China holding company and of offshore corporations set up in the tax haven of Barbados. In return, he's benefited from his family's wealth and financial connections.
- The first Canadian mill acquired, in Meadow Lake, Sask., in 2007, operated under the Sinar Mas banner for several years; the mill's website said it had been purchased by an Indonesia-based company. In 2008, Paper Excellence was incorporated in the Netherlands. The next year, it was still a fledgling company, yet it received a $17-million US loan at near-zero interest from family-owned Bank International Ningbo.
- By 2012, Paper Excellence sought big financing. And it came in the form of credit — $1.25 billion US worth — through a Chinese government-owned bank.
- CBC's investigation has revealed that the China Development Bank had mortgages with a debenture for that amount on three Canadian pulp mills owned by Paper Excellence starting in August 2012 as part of the security for financing that was repayable on demand.
- Paper Excellence would not answer questions about how much of that credit it drew on, nor why it sought financing through a Chinese government-owned bank.
- Paper Excellence continued its buying spree and swallowed B.C.-based Catalyst Paper in 2019 for an undisclosed price. That was followed by the purchase of the Quebec-American company Domtar in 2021 for $3 billion US. The most recent acquisition is the $2.7-billion US purchase of Quebec-based Resolute Forest Products, completed on March 1. Canada's Competition Bureau for the most part granted its blessing.
- Now, 16 years later, Paper Excellence insists there are no ties between the two sides: "Paper Excellence is owned solely by Jackson Wijaya and is completely independent from Asia Pulp & Paper. Nobody other than Jackson has ever been or is the ultimate owner or controller of any of the companies in Paper Excellence."
- That air of independence is important to its business. Most of Paper Excellence's operations have some kind of FSC certification, which enables a pulp-and-paper company to command higher prices for its output and attract environmentally conscious brands as clients. But if it were shown to be a branch of the disqualified APP, Paper Excellence could put its certification at risk.
- The company's claims of independence are also impossible to verify. Paper Excellence is a private corporation, and despite saying it's Canadian-based, its ownership chain actually traces through companies set up in the Netherlands, Malaysia, the Malaysian offshore jurisdiction of Labuan and two shell companies in the British Virgin Islands.
- CBC and its media partners — including Glacier Media in B.C., the Halifax Examiner, Radio France and the French newspaper Le Monde — twice asked Paper Excellence to provide some kind of proof of who really owns it. The company did not.
- Behind the scenes, though, there is evidence that Paper Excellence and Asia Pulp & Paper have worked together on everything from regulatory submissions to supply and pricing, at least until a few years ago.
- Emails and internal company documents first obtained by the Halifax Examiner show there was close co-operation between APP staff in China and Paper Excellence personnel. The emails span a relatively short time in the late 2010s and are not necessarily indicative of Paper Excellence's or APP's practices today.
- In 2017, for instance, Paper Excellence's Vancouver-based sales executive Edwin Widjaja emailed a vice-president at APP in China, asking for info on how much he should charge a potential client for a kind of wood pulp known as unbleached kraft, or UKP.
- The next year, a sales executive for Paper Excellence's two mills in France had an email exchange with the same APP vice-president in China, also about unbleached kraft. The VP asked for a monthly breakdown of how much one of the French mills was going to produce, and "then we can plan ahead of time how to introduce this new pulp to our customers."
- The leaked records were provided to the Halifax Examiner, and later to CBC, by a source who said that Paper Excellence's real nerve centre wasn't in Richmond, B.C., but in Shanghai, in the same offices as APP. The source said that, in fact, Paper Excellence's entire back office at the time — the teams handling legal, accounting, finance and market analysis — was run by APP and there were no boundaries between staff working for one or the other company. The source asserts that 'APP staff is PE staff. There is no difference there'.
- The source said, for example, that the sales manager for Paper Excellence's subsidiary in France attended strategy meetings at APP's Shanghai offices, with other APP teams from Asia and Europe.
- Another former executive at that French subsidiary told France's Le Monde: "It's extremely nebulous. You never know who's working for who. I had a direct relationship with the owners of APP. My boss at the time was based in China and our monthly videoconference meetings were held with Teguh Wijaya" — that is, Jackson Wijaya's father and the chairman of APP.
- Jackson Wijaya was compelled to talk with the federal Parliamentary Standing Committee on Natural Resources in 2023, but for the second time, Wijaya has declined an invitation to appear before the committee to answer questions about the opaque ownership and complex corporate structure of Paper Excellence, with affiliates scattered around the globe in popular tax havens.
- Responding to the first invitation to appear before the Parliamentary Committee on Natural Resources to respond to questions about the ownership structure and business relations of Paper Excellence, Wijaya wrote that he was “unable to attend due to extensive global business commitments.”
- NDP natural resources critic and MP for Timmins-James Bay, Charlie Angus, asked the new chair, Liberal MP George Chahal, for “some clarification” on the committee’s efforts to have Wijaya appear before them.
- Said Angus: "It’s been four months since our committee passed a motion asking Mr. Jackson Wijaya to appear. There was discussion whether we needed to issue a summons for him to appear, and my understanding is that there were negotiations. But four months is a very long time. We have been approached by Paper Excellence to come and have drinks with them at the Métropolitain [Brasserie & Restaurant in Ottawa]. We’ve been told we could look at some of their documents. They’ve asked us to keep them [the documents] all in confidence. We’ve agreed to all of that, but we have not had Mr. Wijaya. We don’t know how this company is structured. We don’t know the relation of [Paper Excellence with] Asia Pulp and Paper. We don’t know the Sinar Mas Group, whether it’s a family business. But they are holding massive holdings of Canadian equity right now."
- Daniel Cloutier, executive director of the Unifor local that represents unionized workers at Resolute and Domtar, said: "To see that one of the biggest forestry players on Crown land in eastern Canada is an Indonesian giant, formerly financed by China, is not reassuring to us. We do not want to plunder our forests here in Quebec."
- Lumber and forestry have long been of interest to China, and the China Development Bank often plays a key role in advancing the country's goals, says Margaret McCuaig-Johnston, a former top official in the federal government's Industry and Natural Resources departments, and an expert on China.
- McCuaig-Johnston said: "It's often one of the first organizations in the door when China wants to enter a market and acquire resources in another country. So, in the form of a loan, that doesn't seem too difficult or too threatening to a government. But very often, that will then morph into other arrangements. And so it's where you actually get controlled by a Chinese company or Chinese interests that you really run into problems."
- McCuaig-Johnston said companies owned by foreign interests with Chinese partners could decide to export its production to China and Indonesia.
- "The reason Canadians should care is that we have seen in China's behaviour in other resource companies that they will often export all of the product to China for China's own use. Canada needs its own products from its own natural resources and we need to be assured that we will have access to that."
- That's a sentiment echoed by Cloutier: "China has a voracious appetite for kraft pulp and in Quebec we're barely self-sufficient. What are they up to? Is their goal to get their supply from us? What impact is this going to have on our own needs?"
- So at the end of all this, a Vancouver Island mill closing, led to investigation into the company, and what I found was highly disturbing and shows a greater trend of Chinese government money influencing how Canadian industry works. We've covered similar stories over the years, but this one takes the cake.
Quote of the Week
“The harassment of residents, workers and business owners in downtown Ottawa and the general infringement of the right to peaceful enjoyment of public spaces there, while highly objectionable, did not amount to serious violence or threats of serious violence.” - Justice Richard Mosley on the legal assessment of the 2022 Freedom Convoy in Downtown Ottawa.
Word of the Week
Manifesto - a written statement declaring publicly the intentions, motives, or views of its issuer
How to Find Us
Episode Title: Pulp Manifesto
Teaser: A terrorist shoots up Edmonton City Hall, car thefts spike in Canada, and a federal court judge finds the use of the Emergencies Act unjustified. Also, a paper mill closing on Vancouver Island leads to investigation into a Chinese funded forestry giant.
Recorded Date: January 27, 2024
Release Date: January 28, 2024
Edit Notes: Shane cough at BC
Podcast Summary Notes