The Mohamed Fahmy saga has reeked of bad judgment almost from the beginning. The odours come from multiple places, including Cairo, Doha and Ottawa. They comingle. They confuse. Put a sniffer dog on the story, he’d end up sneezing explosively and chasing his tail.
But if you take the time to sort through the smells, the rankest by far comes from Cairo, where a military-backed Egyptian court on Saturday added dramatically to the stench, ordering the Egyptian-Canadian journalist back to jail for three more years.
Fahmy was reporting without distortion for Al Jazeera English when he was arrested with two colleagues in December 2013. No more. No less. People repeat the phrase “journalism is not a crime” ad nauseam because it is actually true. Fahmy is innocent. The Egyptian legal system stinks like kangaroo, now more than ever.
Hold that thought — and hold your nose — as we disentangle the other fragrances clouding the story.
One, most assuredly, emanates from government circles in Qatar, which owns Al Jazeera, the multi-faceted news organization that has both thrilled and disheartened so many viewers in its brief but revolutionary life.
Al Jazeera was operating as a three-headed hydra in Egypt when Fahmy started his work in tension-fraught Cairo. Fahmy’s branch, Al Jazeera English, had already earned a reputation for consistent work, ranging from good to great to outstanding. That reputation was holding.
But there were growing doubts about the impartiality of the Arabic sister network and its ability to resist geo-political interference by its Qatari government masters, whose backing for ousted Muslim Brotherhood president Mohammed Morsi was clear on multiple levels.
As for Al Jazeera’s third head, the now outlawed Egyptian channel Mubasher Misr, all doubt was gone. It had effectively abandoned journalism by the time Fahmy arrived, serving as a mouthpiece for the Brotherhood. Recognizing the risks, Fahmy and colleagues demanded their bosses in Qatar act to keep their work quarantined, beyond the reach of Mubasher Misr editors. The requests appeared to have little effect.
As Georgetown University communications expert Adel Iskandar told the Guardian in February, Al Jazeera’s Mubasher Misr had degraded to become “an abomination of journalism and a disgrace to the AJ brand,” and the idea that it wouldn’t come back to bite the news group’s far more respected branch was simply wrong.
“It’s like ignoring the fact that you have one gangrenous leg but insisting you can limp along on the other,” said Iskandar.
But AJ’s complicated presence in Cairo also added a complicating sniff test to this story. How does JA’s rogue outlet, Mubasher Misr, fit the “journalism is not a crime” meme? Not very cleanly, if at all.
Ottawa’s involvement in Fahmy’s case, or Ottawa’s perceived lack thereof, continues to wrinkle noses. Did Stephen Harper at any point actually so much as pick up the phone to Cairo? John Baird managed to tie up a few loose ends that mattered to him after stepping down suddenly as foreign minister in February, including a confusing encounter with the Queen in London.
But the file on Fahmy, whose freedom Baird once described as “imminent,” was left blowing in the wind. Baird once told the Star’s Tim Harper he had a choice of being loud or being effective in his diplomatic overtures to Cairo. Fahmy’s sustained ordeal shows Baird was neither.
And, finally, is any of this acrid mess attached to Fahmy himself? The incarcerated reporter’s freedom strategy has shifted multiple times, presumably on advice from counsel. His renunciation of his Egyptian passport last December — a move believed to open the way for his deportation to freedom in Canada, much like jailed colleague Peter Greste was expelled to his native Australia — appeared to backfire, sapping sympathy in the land of his birth, earning headlines of “traitor.”
But subsequent courtroom scenes showing Fahmy draped in the Egyptian flag — and the unbridled criticism of Ottawa by human rights lawyer Amal Clooney, who described Canada’s diplomatic efforts as “sheepish” and “woefully inadequate” — awakened considerable nativist ire in Canada, as a quick glance at the comments beneath any Fahmy story will show.
And, finally, in May, the last unbitten hand in the saga was chomped hard, as Fahmy filed a $100-million lawsuit in a Canadian court, accusing Al Jazeera of negligence and breach of contract.
We now had the full set of blame — Egypt, Qatar, Canada. As Fahmy shifted the questioning gaze toward Al Jazeera itself, he also usurped the phrase a world of journalists had taken up on his behalf, seated in front of a large banner that read “Journalism is not political activism.”
Confusing? Oh yes. Partly Fahmy’s fault? Hold on, now. Perhaps let the victim blaming wait until after you’ve spent 400-plus Kafkaesque days in an Egyptian jail. Fahmy’s decision to publicly berate AJ was music to the current Egyptian regime’s heart, a regime that held a metaphorical gun to his head at the time. Let that judgment, at least, await the fuller facts.
Al Jazeera, for all its alleged and indeed evident failings, responded to Fahmy’s attack, accepting that its decisions as a news organization “can of course be scrutinized, but noone should lose sight of the fact that the responsibility for jailing journalists lies firmly with the jailors.”
In this, they are right. And the smell from the Cairo today couldn’t be worse.
ORILLIA—The last time an Ontario Progressive Conservative leader ran in a byelection, he lost and quit provincial politics the next day.
Patrick Brown, the former MP for nearby Barrie who won the PC job in May, is running hard in Thursday’s Simcoe North vote to avoid the same fate as John Tory, now mayor of Toronto.
Brown brushes aside comparisons, saying he enjoys family and personal ties that Tory didn’t for his 2009 quest in a neighbouring cottage-country seat also considered safe Conservative territory.
“Everyone knows I’m a Simcoe County guy. My aunts, my uncles, my parents live in the riding,” Brown boasts while knocking on doors in a posh enclave of lakefront homes near Highway 11’s busy gasoline alley.
“When I was a child we had a farm in Midland,” adds Brown, who pauses to banter with a supporter driving a Bentley and an accountant still fuming over the Liberal gas plants scandal.
Brown, who currently lives in Barrie, is in the process of moving to the municipality of Oro-Medonte, in the south end of Simcoe North.
The stakes are high for Brown.
He needs a win to lead his party’s charge against Premier Kathleen Wynne, her provincial pension plan, her partial selloff of Hydro One and credit rating downgrades when the legislature returns Sept. 14.
And he won’t get a paycheque from taxpayers — about $180,000 as MPP and leader of the Official Opposition — unless he keeps the seat in PC hands after the abrupt retirement of the popular Garfield Dunlop, who had held the riding since 1999.
The Liberals are trying to make the vote a referendum on Brown, painting him as a hard-right social conservative opposed to abortion choice and same-sex marriage given his voting record as an MP.
Brown has said he won’t reopen the abortion debate and notes that, in June, he led his party’s first official delegation to the Toronto Pride parade.
“His rhetoric doesn’t match up,” charges Liberal cabinet minister Brad Duguid.
The NDP strategy in the byelection is to rally voters against the Hydro One deal while Green Party candidate Valerie Powell is calling attention to protecting farmland.
Liberal candidate Fred Larsen, a retired Orillia teacher, doesn’t take kindly to Brown’s home-grown claims in the race overshadowed by the Oct. 19 federal election campaign called early by his former boss, Conservative Leader Stephen Harper.
“Garfield Dunlop used to be the local boy. In this election I’m the local boy,” Larsen tells voters in a middle-class Orillia neighbourhood west of a postcard-perfect waterfront park.
He blames Dunlop and Brown for what some voters consider an unnecessary byelection that will cost taxpayers up to $500,000, and takes issue with Brown slamming the Liberal government’s proposed pension plan as a “job-killing tax.”
“I find it ironic he’s qualified for a $45,000 annual pension” after nine years as an MP, Larsen says at an all-candidates meeting, accusing Brown of looking after himself and leaving the two-thirds of Ontarians without workplace pension plans to fend for themselves.
But the soft-spoken Larsen, a longtime Liberal activist and community volunteer who previously ran against Dunlop, finds himself on the defensive over Wynne’s sale of a 60 per cent stake in Hydro One to raise $9 billion for public transit and debt reduction.
The partial selloff is a “terrible thing” and on par with the Mike Harris Progressive Conservative government’s decision to lease Highway 407 to a private company, Orillia resident Jim Todd tells Larsen.
“It was a money-maker,” Todd cautions as Larsen pets his housecat who has tried to bolt out the door.
“I’m mystified as to what to do … the Conservatives have a good toe hold now it seems,” Todd adds.
Running for the NDP, social work professor Elizabeth Van Houtte stresses she lives in Orillia, and urges voters to block the “reckless and short-sighted” Hydro One deal.
“You can send that message loud and clear by electing me,” she says at an all-candidates meeting.
While going door-to-door, Van Houtte — no relation to the coffee conglomerate of the same name — says she hears grumbling from voters about Dunlop stepping aside to clear the way for Brown, whom he slagged during the PC leadership campaign as not up to the job.
“They’ve said it doesn’t look good, it doesn’t smell good and they’re very disappointed.”
Bill Madigan, who is working on the foundation of a house as Van Houtte goes door-to-door on Orillia’s east side, agrees.
“I don’t like it. We had a guy who gave his seat up,” he says before co-workers call him away, declining to say how he’ll vote.
With quite a few front yards hosting federal and provincial election signs side-by-side, some voters appear confused when asked their thoughts on the issues or who they’re voting for — something Wynne feared before she agreed to a push from Brown to hold the vote before Labour Day.
Others are making connections between the two levels of politics.
Air Canada pilot Mandy Rominger, for example, politely tells Brown she was “not pleased” when the Harper Conservative government in which he was an MP passed back-to-work legislation to end a strike by her union.
Walking away after a friendly chat on her doorstep, Brown concedes the legislation was “not popular” with the many airline pilots who live in the area — so many that he notes it has the nickname “Terminal Four.”
June 2014 provincial election results
Garfield Dunlop, PC: 22,179 votes (43.96 per cent)
Fred Larsen, Liberal: 16,413 votes (32.53 per cent)
Doris Middleton, NDP: 7,846 (15.55 per cent)
Peter Stubbins, Green Party: 4,013 (7.95 per cent)
OTTAWA—A quiet day on the federal election campaign saw the Conservatives promise to continue funding an agency devoted to combating cancer while the Liberals and New Democrats talked about repealing Conservative citizenship and terrorism laws.
The Conservatives announced Saturday that the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer would be given a renewed five-year mandate and $50 million a year beginning in 2017 if they form government.
The organization was set up by the Conservative government in 2006 to implement a Canadian strategy for cancer control.
Its funding and mandate have been renewed twice already, with the current term and cash set to run out in 2017.
The group focuses on improving access to cancer screening and detection, especially in vulnerable populations like First Nations communities, as well as on improving patient care and on data collection.
Saturday’s pledge is the first foray into health-care policy the Conservatives have made since the campaign began in August.
It came as Harper was spending the weekend out of the public eye, and the low key nature of the pledge perhaps underscores an issue raised by the Canadian Cancer Society ahead of the election — that health care is no longer seen as a top priority on the national agenda.
The society says the Conservative government had taken some positive steps, like the partnership, but there were a lot of missed opportunities.
“What’s left is chequebook federalism: Ottawa takes in and ships out billions of tax dollars for health care but without setting clear national objectives for its investments or effectively measuring their impact,” the society said in a report laying out recommendations for the federal party platforms.
The cancer society welcomed the Conservative announcement, issuing a statement saying cancer is a “national health challenge that demands national solutions.”
The year the partnership will have its funding renewed is the same year as a Conservative government would start using a new formula to determine how much money it will transfer to the provinces for health care, tying the increases to economic and population growth but promising it would never fall below three per cent a year.
The transfers have become a political hot button this campaign.
The Liberals have said their infrastructure program would require taking the country into deficit and the Conservatives’ political rebuttal is to seek to remind people the last Liberal government slashed its deficit by cutting those health payments.
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau was the only major party leader on the campaign trail on Saturday, spending his time in the GTA.
Trudeau says a Liberal administration would repeal the Conservative government’s citizenship law so all citizens are treated equally.
Trudeau told an Islamic conference in Mississauga that “Liberals believe in a Canada that is united — strong not in spite of its differences, but precisely because of them.”
Mulcair has also promised to repeal the Conservative citizenship legislation, which would allow the government to revoke citizenship for anyone convicted of terrorism, treason or espionage offences inside or outside of Canada. The rules also apply to dual citizens who take up arms against Canada by fighting in a foreign army or joining an international terrorist organization.
The Conservatives have maintained the law is needed to combat terrorism.
Mulcair was also off the campaign trail, but the New Democrats put up two of their Toronto candidates to assail the Conservatives’ anti-terrorism law and attack the Liberals for supporting it.
The New Democrats say if elected they’ll repeal the legislation, which gives intelligence and security agencies greater powers.
As David Price walked off the field Saturday afternoon following the Blue Jays’ latest offensive drubbing at the Rogers Centre, the 30-year-old lefty clapped in the direction of the sold-out crowd and offered a few appreciative fist pumps before ducking into the dugout.
Price has been a Blue Jay for barely a month but the size and volume of the crowds that have greeted him since his arrival in Toronto have left him in awe. He described the atmosphere of his debut earlier this month as the best he had ever pitched in.
The Jays were welcomed home this weekend from their recent road trip with another round of sellouts, as excitement builds for the franchise’s first pennant race in 22 years. Sunday’s game will be the seventh straight sellout and 13th of the season, while the average per-game figure recently climbed above 31,000 — nearly 2,000 more than last year.
The players, to a man, will tell you they feed off the energy of the bigger crowds.
“To some degree we’re all show-boaters, we like to play in front of people,” said outfielder Kevin Pillar. “We like to do incredible things in front of big crowds and there’s no denying the extra adrenalin rush you get with a sold-out crowd and the extra energy you’re able to find despite being tired or sore or whatever the circumstances may be. You want to elevate your game.”
But does playing in front of bigger, louder and more supportive home crowds actually have any impact on an athlete’s performance?
In short, it depends on the athlete, says Katherine Tamminen, assistant professor of sport psychology at the University of Toronto.
“Some athletes will see that as a lot of pressure and they almost feel like they have to perform well, so they’re trying to avoid failure,” she said. “Whereas other athletes see it as really supportive and they feel like they’re being lifted up and that provides the motivation to achieve good performances rather than trying to avoid failing.”
“Really what it all boils down to is the athlete’s perception,” said Jeremy Jamieson, a psychology professor at the University of Rochester. “If they think it helps it actually probably will help.”
Jamieson said the key is whether the athlete feels he or she has the ability to meet the demands of the situation. If they are confident in their ability to meet the challenge, the crowd’s influence will motivate them to try to do well; if they fear they can’t meet the challenge they will try perceive the crowd as a “threat” and try not to disappoint them.
“It’s the difference between trying to win and trying not to lose,” he said. “People try not to screw up, essentially. But by trying not to screw up, people screw up.”
Jose Bautista said he’s never felt added pressure playing in front of bigger home crowds.
“It’s less pressure,” he said. “I mean, they’re there to support you. If you’re on the visiting side it could be intimidating going into a hostile environment.”
The Jays have performed well at home all season, posting a 42-23 record at the Rogers Centre compared to a 31-33 mark on the road. But the reason for that may have more to do with the home crowd’s effect on the umpires rather than the players.
Tobias Moskowitz, an economist and co-author of “Scorecasting: The hidden influences behind how sports are played and games are won,” found the most discernible advantage home teams have is in getting more favourable calls from officials.
“Naturally we like to please people, especially when there are forty or fifty-thousand screaming people who are focused on every decision you make,” he said. “It’s sort of a natural human condition to alleviate that kind of pressure.”
To study the effect in baseball, Moskowitz looked at ball-strike calls by home plate umpires and found that for borderline pitches in the same location there was a “huge strike-ball discrepancy” between home and visiting batters.
“What we found was the bigger the crowd, the louder the crowd, the closer the crowd is to the field of play, all of those things heighten that discrepancy.”
Moskowitz said it’s possible that, as many players say, they feel better playing in front of their home fans. “But it’s hard to find that show up in terms of their measured statistics.”
Bautista said he didn’t think playing in front of bigger home crowds changed his performance.
“But I think it helps feeling the support behind you and the energy level and the excitement. That gets us more excited, also. It’s just human nature.”
But, he added, he’s never been in a pennant race before, so it’s hard to know.
“I don’t have enough experience,” he said. “We’ll see.”
PANDEMONIUM: A state of uproar, shortened to roar for our purposes. Which is what Edwin Encarnacion detonated with three home runs. That was 1,136 feet of dinger all together.
Pandemonium: The term for a flock of parrots. Which is what Double-E, on triple long balls, had figuratively perched on his right arm as he circled the bases Saturday afternoon — a pantomime that has evolved from chicken wing, first time we saw the whimsical gesture, to exotic toucan.
Last belt was a seventh-inning grand slam, ninth career, third this season. Nine runs driven in on the day for EE, tying a club record and extending his hitting streak to a major-league-leading 24 games.
Then came the lids, dozens of them flung onto the field, because even a sell-out baseball crowd is never far from its point-of-reference hockey roots — hat trick at the Rogers Centre.
Encarnacion was puzzled when it started raining chapeaus, as were many of his ’mates in the dugout, until Dioner Navarro provided an explanation. “He tell me, like, when they score three goals — I think? — they do that. It made me feel happy.”
The manager too was taken aback. “I hadn’t seen it before. Don’t they normally throw octopuses or something?”
Octopi, John Gibbons. And that’s only at The Joe, where the other sports team from Detroit plays, not the outfit the Blue Jays routed on Saturday 15-1 as they continued their explosively awesome ways.
Big innings. Humongous power. Scary torque.
Really, it’s getting ridiculous, especially as the Jays have been cutting a swath through August: 20-5 and the month’s not done yet.
It’s been a top-to-bottom of the roster lollapalooza — Toronto 1.5 games up on the Yankees — with Encarnacion and Josh Donaldson leading the un-dog-days of summer charge. For EE, a six-pack of three-plus RBI efforts in his last 17 contests.
One can get smothered in the stats. The more telling gauge, on this occasion, was that lit-up smile on Encarnacion’s face. Sweetest smile on the team. Only chore was standing up in front of the cameras in the clubhouse afterwards. It is always a discomfiting demand for Encarnacion, who’s still shy speaking in English. He prefers smaller gatherings at his cubicle, with only the writers posing questions.
“I know this is the bigger game,” he said, when asked where this memorable outing ranked. “I feel happy. And I thank God for giving me this game like this.”
At the plate in the seventh, bases loaded, Encarnacion said he wasn’t envisioning grand salami. “No, I never thinking about that. I was just thinking about taking good AB, looking for my pitch.”
Fastball down the middle from reliever Alex Wilson and Encarnacion feasted on it.
“It’s very fun. But it’s more fun that we’re winning games. That’s what we’ve been doing, winning games. Having fun, everybody, the team.”
How demoralizing it must be for opposing pitchers, having to contend with The Four Men of the Apocalypse at the top of Toronto’s batting order colossi, and then everybody else because there’s not a single weak link, as 18 hits, including four HRs Saturday proved yet again. Only Jose Bautista failed to get a hit, though he walked twice and accounted for two runs.
“I don’t think it can get any better,” marveled Gibbons, speaking specifically about his first basemen-DH. “When I was here coaching first base, Carlos Delgado hit four in one game. Don’t know how many RBIs he had.
“(Encarnacion) is some kind of locked in. When he gets going there’s nobody better, nobody more dangerous.”
The Jays aren’t just beating teams, they’re annihilating them.
“To score as many runs as we’ve had — big, big innings like we’d had — it surprises the hell out of me to be honest with you,” said the skipper. “I can’t say you start expecting it. What it does is, you’re never really out of a game.”
Except they are expecting it. This is how the Jays roll — ML-leading 709 runs, best run-differential in the majors.
For Encarnacion, the only regret was that his young son hadn’t been on hand to witness dad’s record-book day. Eddie Jr. has gone back to the Dominican with school starting. Back on the island, no one has ever seen Encarnacion crank three homers in one day.
“That doesn’t happen in the Dominican. The parks are too big.”
Encarnacion’s pyrotechnics eclipsed what was also a momentous game for several teammates.
Ben Revere extended his own hitting streak to eight games with a double on four hits and run scored. But his most impressive play was a spectacular catch at the wall in the first, when starter Drew Hutchison was still looking for his groove and giving up some alarming long fly ball outs. On that at-bat to Victor Martinez, Hutch visibly flinched as the ball carried and carried. Revere bounced off the ’pen fence to get it in his glove.
“Victor, I’ve been watching him my whole life, he’s got a lot of power,” said Revere. “He kind of got me turned around a little bit. I thought I had another step to brace myself. Hit the chain fence pretty hard. Just trying to win good defence. Defence wins championships, so just doing my part.”
Took enough of a bruising boing off that fence, however, that Revere required an hour-long soak in the hot-tub post-game.
You might recall that the Toronto surge began on July 29, with the arrival of Troy Tulowitzki, who homered that night — now that was storybook epic — against Philadelphia. Revere was leading off for the Phillies in that game. Made it just under the trade deadline for transformation shortly thereafter into a Blue Jay.
Feels like he stepped into heaven, reeled in by GM Alex Anthopoulos, coming over here, being part of this.
“When I got that call from Alex, it was definitely: Open the gates. It was one of those deals where you drop down on your knees and pray, getting out of that situation (in Philadelphia).”
Three hits — all carbon copies, singles through the hole into centre — for the always defensively stalwart Ryan Goins too. For good measure, his first career stolen base and a run scored by tagging up on a Donaldson sac fly — from second, goodness — when ex-Jay Anthony Gose apparently forgot how many outs there were, no throw.
“Just being relaxed, going out there with a clear mind, I think that helps a lot. Just getting comfortable and trying to be the best I can be for this team.”
Best team in baseball since the all-star break.
The dictionary provides a third definition for pandemonium: “The abode of all demons, hell.”
Hell to pay, playing Toronto: Demonic Jays.
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