A travesty took place last Friday with the Canadian House of Commons Subcommittee on International Human Rights. We have the proof in a video clip where you can see MPs try to prevent me from speaking, but it gets worse—much worse.
They never intended to approach this subject fairly or even treat witnesses fairly. How do we know this? Well, even though there seems to be no official transcript out yet (the delay due to the need for translation so that it’s in both official languages), you can see and hear the proof for yourself here.
And the main culprit is an MP named Heather McPherson. This is what she told the subcommittee before things even got moving and any witnesses were heard:
“Mr. Chair, yesterday we received a very troubling letter from United Tegaru Canada regarding some of the witnesses scheduled to be at today’s meeting, and I wrote to you, but I did not receive a response, and I had asked you to cancel today’s session so that we could, as a committee, discuss our witness lists. But we are here now so I’m raising this point of order publicly. The details in the letter we received are alarming. It is extremely problematic that our committee might give platform to individuals or organizations who are publicly circulating concerning remarks about Tigrayans, and in some cases may even amount to hate speech. Our committee has the responsibility to provide a safe environment to all witnesses who are invited to testify, and I do not believe we have met the standard today. And this is deeply troubling to me.”
The chair, Sameer Zuberi, thanked her “for that extremely important remark” and mentioned that all committee members had the opportunity to ask pointed questions when witnesses are appearing.
“Mr. Chair,” said McPherson, “I believe by having witnesses on this panel that will make our other witnesses feel unsafe, it limits our ability to get the testimony that we require. I’m deeply concerned that the way this testimony—this panel has been set up is very, very problematic. I don’t see how we can continue.”
As they discussed the issue, at one point MP Alexis Brunelle-Duceppe, speaking in French, said in part:
“I would suggest that we adjourn the debate today. We call the witnesses back at a later stage. I don’t think that they should feel like they can’t speak openly now. I think we should come back with a ‘quote-unquote’ far safer panel going forward. I can’t find the words. I’m not in a good mood this morning. I’ll put it out there. This is really insensitive what’s going on here. I’m really lost for words, Mr. Chairperson. I’m angry. I’m really angry this morning. I don’t want this to happen to our witnesses. I think we should adjourn the debate, go back and do our homework here, and pick things up where we left off down the track. I’m sorry that the witnesses have traveled to get here, but I’m sure they understand the thrust of my message. We can’t put pressure on them right here and now, and I think that would be unfortunate and wrong.”
Now think about this. McPherson accepts a letter from a Tigrayan group that makes a serious accusation—by implication, it’s leveled at those representing the Ethiopian and Eritrean side. She’s “deeply troubled,” but she takes their accusations at face value.
At no point before the session starts a second time do Ethiopia and Eritrea advocates get to inspect this letter, respond to such an inflammatory suggestion as hate speech, and either disavow it, explain whatever it is, or defend themselves.
And worse, the subcommittee members go off to talk about it without even questioning Ethiopia and Eritrea witnesses in camera to find out if any of this is true or bullshit!
We’re left to sit there, presumed guilty while TPLF advocates play victim again.
And just to rub salt in the wound, McPherson—who was piously “troubled” and wanted to cancel the whole hearing based on an unverified accusation—sat in silence as Mukesh Kapila was given six minutes.
Mukesh Kapila, whose tweet about “horrible” Ethiopians, is still available on his own Twitter account…!
And then there’s the way Kapila has the shameless audacity to rank rape! Maybe Ms McPherson would like to be troubled over this:
What a disgraceful day for Canadian democracy.
As many of you know by now, an MP named Arnold Viersen played the perfect sock puppet for the TPLF by resurrecting my old tweet (which Twitter forced me to take down) about telling Junta supporters to eat stone—more about that in a moment. But I sure as hell will never apologize for it, and I wasn’t going to at the hearing either. Our presentation team expected hostility, but never on such a scale as to interfere with our privilege to testify. In trying to shut me up, these MPs showed the world who they are and did us a favor.
And fortunately, we also had Tihut Asfaw make a dignified and reasonable case, so much so that her presentation is being rightly and widely celebrated.
And while I still hold my reservations about the Eritrean government, I have nothing but sympathy for the Eritrean people themselves, and the presenters for the Coalition of Eritrean Canadian Communities, Lambros Kiriakakos and Hermon Gidey, did a fine job of advancing their own arguments. Hermon Gidey also got abruptly cut off for time. Notice that no pro-TPLF advocates, at least up to the time that I was presenting, got interrupted like we did.
What did the hearing accomplish? Not much. I suspect that many Ethiopians and Eritreans, both at home and the diaspora, might have looked to Canada as an alternative “haven” for appeal as the U.S. and EU relentlessly pursue their vindictive agenda. I’ve been guilty of that same “We’re better” hubris.
But if any Ethiopians felt that way, they must be feeling sorely disillusioned by the kangaroo court held last Friday—and so am I. This is my parliament, my country. And what’s more, I’ve been almost a lifelong voter for Liberal and NDP candidates, always trusting that they reflected my own progressive values.
But now the veil’s been ripped away, and we see the same posture of sanctimony combined with appalling ignorance.
I can’t think of a more disgraceful action on the part of an elected MP—not even the cliché corruption of officials we’ve grown to expect on either side of the aisle—than the willful attempt to deny the free speech of others. And last Friday, we saw it openly committed in public not just by one MP but by five.
And now on a more personal note…
HEY, MR. VIERSEN AND MR. EHSASSI
Because I am a petty, mean, grumbling curmudgeon inching my way to senior status, I will not let this matter go. Arnold Viersen asked me a question. A completely slanderous, bullshit, put-up job of a question, one with ammunition obviously fed to him by TPLF advocates—which also begs the question of his ethics—but let’s give him the benefit of the doubt for the moment and pretend he was genuinely interested in the answer.
And since I wasn’t allowed to speak, let’s finish that answer here where they can’t shut me up, try to humiliate me with condescending language, and kick me out of the hearing.
I managed to get out about two sentences: “I expected this kind of question, and it’s fitting that you put it so disingenuously, seeing as though I don’t have any animosity towards Tigrayans, but I do have it for the terrorist group that started this war—”
And that’s when Ali Ehsassi—who is also the Chair of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs—loudly interrupted me with a point of order and said, “Obviously, this witness has a very difficult time following simple instructions. You did advise him on several occasions that he can only speak when he has been recognized by you.”
Now that’s interesting. Especially given I wasn’t asked any questions at all before that moment. You can see that for yourself on the video.
Ehsassi made a blatant lie. A lie to the hearing and to the Canadian public.
And even if he’s referring to a brief episode before the session resumed, he’s still a liar.
Here’s what really happened. After the disgraceful discussion that floated the idea of denying their witnesses their chance to speak that day, another MP asked for a short suspension so that the panelists and members of the committee could confer. The chair, Sameer Zuberi, then called a five-minute suspension to the hearing.
On the video, you see a title card. What we saw as participants was the room, with the key members having gone to confer. I couldn’t see my co-presenter, the president of ECNAS, Tihut Asfaw, but I could see the clerk, and so given that the session was suspended, I called out, “Ms Clerk,” in the hopes I could confirm that Tihut was there—or if not, that I could read Tihut’s statement for her. Ironically, Tihut couldn’t seem to tell if I was there either, and I got all kinds of text and phone messages from different contacts for where am I, please show up, they’re starting.
Zuberi suddenly broke in and told me that I couldn’t speak, even though I wasn’t speaking to him at all but merely wanted to ask a question from the clerk. Having been told this, I thought, Okay, I’ll have to wait. The clerk—a very nice professional woman—subsequently emailed me to let me know she could reach me that way, and I asked about Tihut and also expressed my concerns about McPherson’s allegations (which I did not get a chance to express in verbal form).
There was nothing more to the issue.
And if Mr. Ehsassi wants to take me on over that one, I suggest the subcommittee release the full raw video of the proceedings.
You hear me call out to the clerk. You hear Zuberi tell me I can’t do that. I respond by saying I just wanted to ask a question. Zuberi tells me in so many brief words no, you can’t do that. End of story.
No “warned several times”—that’s bullshit. Moreover, the hearing wasn’t even in session so that my misdemeanor over the rules hardly counts. And sure as hell doesn’t merit Ehsassi’s attack.
So his barking to the world over how I can’t follow simple instructions? Yeah, I take the implication that I’m a moron very personally. As a favorite writer of mine, Harlan Ellison, once put it, “I don’t mind you thinking I’m stupid, but don’t talk to me like I’m stupid.”
Of course, Ali Ehsassi’s true purpose was to try to kick me out.
I preferred to leave this sham under my own steam.
Well, Mr. Ehsassi, you called me “truly obnoxious.” I call you a bully. And a liar. And I see you represent Willowdale, which is a riding in my hometown of Toronto. How about we go debate Ethiopia in a setting where you can’t shout me down or have control of the venue?
Because I’d really love a rematch. It’s been my experience that bullies thrive in environments of least risk to themselves. How about the next time you’re in from Ottawa, visiting Toronto, you make yourself accountable to the thousands of Ethiopians you helped to slander through that farce of a subcommittee hearing?
And I’m sure they’ll keep that in mind at the next election. Because I will be happy to remind them.
Hey, I’ll probably still vote Liberal, but you… you really deserve to lose your seat.
But back to my full answer to Arnold Viersen. Yes, I have the hindsight luxury of adjusting my phrasing perfectly, but hey, you guys are responsible for that. So, I believe I’d say this:
“I expected this kind of question, and it’s fitting that you put it so disingenuously, seeing as though I don’t have any animosity towards Tigrayans, but I do have it for the terrorist group that started this war. You’re referencing an old tweet, Mr. Viersen, but why is that you didn’t read the rest of it to this hearing? The part that puts it into context. The part that suggests the idea of a humanitarian corridor opened for innocent Tigrayans—which was my phrasing—so that they could escape a terrorist group.
As for those ‘left behind,’ your logic is absurd. Who left who behind? And who’s keeping who there? The majority of those who would choose to stay and not take advantage of a humanitarian corridor would be supporters of a terrorist organization, albeit with of course, some innocent civilians who are sick or infirm and who can’t make the trip. But this is war, and as I’ve said many times, I don’t recall Canada, the U.S., the EU or the UN demanding grocery trucks drive up and unload their goods in Mosul while it was held by ISIS.
I’m also wondering why you claim I have animosity for Tigrayans when my social media posts use the term “TPLF” again and again—so it’s clear you’re conflating Tigrayans with that terrorist group, which is a huge insult to Tigrayans everywhere who think of themselves as proud Ethiopians. I also wonder if you’re familiar with the research of Professor Ann Fitz-Gerald who interviewed scores of Tigrayans who fled the forced recruitment and other abuses by the TPLF. Or with the reportage of Francesca Ronchin, who interviewed two young TPLF child soldiers.
You don’t seem to understand why I and other witnesses are here, Mr. Viersen. Ethiopia is a sovereign country. It neither needs your permission nor your approval for how it conducts its internal affairs.
We witnesses came as a courtesy to help biased individuals like you understand. You don’t get to judge us. We are judging you.”