An Open Letter to U of Toronto President Meric S. Gertler
Dr. and Prof. Meric S. Gertler,
President, University of Toronto
Dear Dr. Gertler;
(7 Jan. 2015) – I spoke earlier today to your executive assistant expressing my consternation that my Alma Mater, the University of Toronto, (Ph.D., History, 1984) is involved through the Munk School of Global Affairs in a federally-funded initiative that adds to the list of serious international aggressions aimed at the Islamic Republic of Iran in recent years. I find it highly unfortunate and disreputable for the University of Toronto to be aiding and abetting what could be conceived as illegal acts circumventing principles of the national sovereignty and international treaties to which Canada is a party.
As you know the Canadian government severed diplomatic relations with Iran in 2012. Under these conditions what the Canadian government and the Munk School describes as “direct diplomacy” can be interpreted as part of a concerted attempt to bring about illegal regime change, encouraging sedition in a country with frequent and consequential national elections unlike many of the national polities in the region with whom the Canadian government does have diplomatic relations. These diplomatic relations extend to oversight of arms sales to Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the other Persian Gulf sheikhdoms.
The Islamic Republic has endured many acts of war including the Israeli-American Stuxnet attacks on Iran’s nuclear energy facilities, repeated assassinations of its nuclear scientists, attacks from Israeli and US-backed terrorist groups including MeK, as well as economic warfare based on specious rationales and justifications cloaked in the language of so-called “sanctions.”
Much of this history is described by Dr. Gareth Porter in Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of theIran Nuclear Scare (Charlottesville Virginia: Just World Book, 2014).
I was able to discuss the book’s contents directly with Dr. Porter when I was in Tehran in late September and early October of 2014 as a Canadian delegate at the New Horizon 2nd International Conference of Independent Thinkers and Film Makers.
Interestingly after making his featured presentations debunking the lies and concocted information fed through agencies like the Munk Centre on the Iranian nuclear program, Dr. Porter chose to criticize some aspects of the conference on BuzzFeed, the same news site utilized by the Israeli government and the Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister, John Baird, in advertising their shared positions.
I note that Minister Baird sees the highly politicized funding to the University of Toronto through the Munk School of Global Affairs as part of Canadian foreign policy initiative directed at “restrictive and repressive environments.”
This characterization seems inconsistent with my experience as a Canadian delegate at a recent conference in Tehran which was far more open to free ranging discussion among experts in their fields than anything I could imagine taking place in the repressive intellectual atmosphere of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Canada these days. I doubt if the University of Toronto as presently constituted could have hosted anything as erudite and uncensored as the New Horizon proceedings. I doubt if my Ph.D. Supervisor, J.M.S. Careless, a former diplomat himself, would have remained silent in the face of the kind of politicized anti-intellectualism on full display in the machinations of the Munk School of media spin doctoring on Israel’s behalf.
In this country the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and the big media cartels, but especially the Globe and Mail, CTV and the media chain owned by Golden Tree Asset Management in New York, are not free and open environments for broad-ranging discussion from a wide variety of perspectives on current events.
In fact we tend to get constant rehashing of the same set of narrow Israeliocentric interpretations of Canada’s role in the international community as regularly spun out by Prof. Janice Gross Stein and her accomplices at the Munk School of Global Affairs.
The Munk school is the recent creation of Peter Munk whose amassment of a huge fortune is dripping with dark infamy. It is hardly surprising that Mr. Munk seems so desperate to try to buy his way to respectability in order to escape the from the stench of his financial machinations in the blood gold mining of Africa and South America as well as in his well-known former partnership with the notorious Saudi Arabian arm’s merchant, Adnan Khashoggi.
Ironically Mr. Munk’s partner was exposed in selling arms to the Islamic Republic of Iran through Israel as revealed in part in the Iran-Contra scandal. The irony of the Munk School’s new variation on the current extension of the Iran-Contra is worthy of note. So too is the willingness of the ethically challenged University of Toronto to accept funding from apparently any questionable source no matter how drenched in dubious dealings.
Prof. Stein refers to federal funding for “a digital public square… designed for citizens who cannot come together in safety to exchange ideas about the future of their country.” Unfortunately this phrase can be appropriately applied to Canada under the oppressiveness of the Harper-Baird regime, an election-fraud government whose policies are actively promoted by the University of Toronto through the Munk den of political manipulators ands spin doctors.
The failure of academic freedom in Canada, for instance, is on international display in the firing of tenured full professor of Physics, Denis Rancourt, formerly of the University of Ottawa. Prof Rancourt has been the target of University of Ottawa president Allan Rock. In the process of persecuting and prosecuting Prof. Rancourt Mr. Rock made abundantly clear the priority the former Liberal cabinet minister attaches Likudnik Israel above all else. The repressiveness of Canada these days also is illustrated in the content of the existing and forthcoming so-called hate speech laws about to be tested in the trial of Arthur Topham.
What is the University of Toronto, and you in particular Prof. Gertler, doing in the face of the assault on academic freedom and freedom of expression in Canada as advanced by the Harper-Baird regime who has taken to funding the Munk Centre directly with not even any semblance of an arm’s length relationship. This kind of direct funding without some kind of peer review process should be an alert sign for those who care about the academic integrity of the University of Toronto. I shall do what I can to bring my concerns to other alumni and see that those considering donations to our Alma Mater have the opportunity to understand the dubious practices to which they would be financially contributing under your apparently inattentive and ethically careless watch Prof. Gertler.
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“decision to restart development will depend on improved economics and more certainty regarding legal and permitting matters.”
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Clearly Press TV based in Tehran provides a venue for free and open debate concerning many topics, including the domestic and international politics of Canada, that is far more open and uncensored than the narrow range of discourse allowed on venues like the state broadcasting corporation the CBC, The Globe and Mail and the National Post. While I am not arguing that the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran is perfect in every respect, I know of no human rights violations there that even approaches the scale of the Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women Scandal in Canada which the Harper-Baird regime has repeatedly and explicitly refused to investigate formally.
The University of Toronto should not be meddling in the internal politics of any sovereign country including the Islamic Republic of Iran. If my Alma Mater insists on taking some action to improve the tone and substance Canadian-Iranian relations, it should be by bringing pressure on the Canadian government to restore formal diplomatic relations with Iran.
Anthony J. Hall
Professor of Globalization Studies
University of Lethbridge
cc: Reza Montazama, Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs Nader Talebzadeh, Iranian broadcaster, film maker, a Chair of the New Horzon Conference; Hamid Reza, Press TV, Tehran; Joshua Blakeney, Canadian Correspondent, Press; TV Thomas Walkom, Columnist, Toronto Star; Janice Stein, Munk School of Global Affairs; Denis Rancourt, Tenured Physicist Fired by Allan Rock at the University of Ottawa; Michelle Robinson. Liberal Party Riding President
Looking for a way to talk to Iran, Ottawa backs ‘direct diplomacy’
OTTAWA — The Globe and Mail
Published Tuesday, Jan. 06 2015, 3:00 AM EST
Last updated Tuesday, Jan. 06 2015, 6:16 AM EST
Ottawa is putting more money into a project aimed at communicating directly with Iranian citizens as it looks to apply a similar strategy in other countries including Russia and parts of Iraq and Syria.
The Conservative government is set to announce new funding on Tuesday for a “direct diplomacy” project run by the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs.
First launched during the lead-up to Iran’s 2013 presidential elections, the project was touted as a method for bypassing Tehran and offering a platform for dissidents and human-rights activists in the country.
The expansion of the direct diplomacy project comes as other countries, including the United States and Britain, seek to re-engage with the Iranian government.
Since the project’s launch, the Munk School has developed online tools such as the Rouhani Meter, which tracks which reform promises have been fulfilled by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, and the Majlis Monitor, which attempts to measure the performance of Iranian parliamentarians.
The project, called the Global Dialogue on the Future of Iran, also provides technology designed to get around online censorship, and has launched YouTube and Twitter accounts in Farsi.
Janice Stein, professor at the Munk School, said the next phase will involve the creation of a “digital public square” that will bring together the tools that have already been established, create new ones and expand the project’s reach into other countries and regions.
“It’s about making space for multiple narratives, it’s about making space for different voices,” Ms. Stein said. “And it is a strongly held proposition, supported by a lot of good research, that societies who make space for a variety of voices do better at almost everything.”
A Canadian government official said that while Iran would remain a focal point for the digital diplomacy project, its expansion would allow the Munk School to look at other locations where a similar strategy could be used, such as Russia and Islamic State-controlled regions of Iraq and Syria.
The official said future projects could include platforms to help people access restricted websites and generate “counter-narratives” that could challenge the message of a repressive regime.
Critics of the approach have argued that Ottawa has focused too much on circumventing Tehran and should look instead at reopening the Canadian embassy and establishing a dialogue with Mr. Rouhani’s government. Canada suspended diplomatic ties with Iran in 2012.
Ms. Stein said she doesn’t view her school’s efforts and traditional diplomacy as mutually exclusive.
She said some of the tools the Munk School has developed include technology that can be used to get around a firewall, allowing people to access websites they might otherwise be barred from.
The focus of the project will continue to be Iran, but there is “lots of discussion” about working in Russia, Ms. Stein said, adding that journalists and civil society groups in that country are increasingly at risk.
In western Syria and northern Iraq, Ms. Stein said there may be opportunities to help people in Islamic State-controlled areas to access the Internet safely and communicate with each other.
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Stewart Bell | January 6, 2015 4:56 PM ETMore from Stewart Bell | @StewartBellNP
Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird announced the start of The Digital Public Square, at The University of Toronto’s, The Munk School of Global Affairs, in Toronto, Tuesday January 6, 2015.
TORONTO — The Canadian government expanded its “direct diplomacy” efforts on Tuesday, pledging $9-million for a project that aims to help citizens circumvent Internet restrictions imposed by their governments.
Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said the partnership with the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs would open up online spaces for political dialogue within “restrictive and repressive environments.”
Building on an existing initiative focused exclusively on Iran, the project would “increase digital space for free expression,” allowing citizens to stay informed, share their opinions and advocate for their rights, he said.
“We believe that citizens of all countries must be able to express themselves freely, to hold their governments to account as well as to exchange information and ideas,” the minister said, announcing the funding at the Munk School.
“The internet is a game-changing technology on these issues. It has the ability to empower individuals more than any other technology before it. This scares some people in power and so regimes around the world.”
In its latest annual report on Internet freedom, the U.S.-based non-profit Freedom House said it had declined in 2014 for the fourth consecutive year as online censorship and monitoring became increasing aggressive and sophisticated.
Countries were “rapidly adopting new laws that legitimize existing repression and effectively criminalize online dissent,” it said. As a result, more people than ever were being arrested for the things they had posted online.
“Blocking and filtering — once the most widespread methods of censorship — are still very common, but many countries now prefer to simply imprison users who post undesirable content, thereby deterring others and encouraging self-censorship,” it said.
Prof. Janice Gross Stein of the Munk School said the government funding would finance a “digital public square … designed for citizens who cannot come together in safety to exchange ideas about the future of their country.”
The school also plans to conduct online polling on issues and report the results. “Why does that matter? Because they cannot come together in safe and open discussion to talk about what their fellow citizens think and to share ideas. That’s such a fundamental right, it’s so important to the fabric of our life in this country that we take it for granted, but it’s not something that many, many, many around the world share.”
Mr. Baird did not list the countries that could be targeted by the project, but Freedom House said the biggest crackdowns on online freedom had occurred in Russia and Turkey.
“Just this weekend there were reports of a Russian store clerk being investigated by Russian authorities simply because she was open minded enough to share links to a couple of Ukrainian documentaries on her social networking pages,” Mr. Baird said. “Canada is deeply concerned about these growing trends.”
Iran, Syria, China, Cuba and Ethiopia are also possible candidates since they are at the bottom of the Freedom House online freedom rankings. Saudi Arabia and Pakistan are among the ten worst, while Canada ranks third best, below Iceland and Estonia.
Governments are increasingly turning to the Internet to promote their foreign policy goals. The U.S. is now using Twitter to discredit ISIS, and North Korea was recently accused of hacking Sony to force the cancellation of a Hollywood movie that lampooned Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un.
Canada’s strategy is more benign: to undermine authoritarian regimes by undermining the online monitoring and censorship that helps keep them in power. Mr. Baird said Canada was “engaging in what we call direct diplomacy with civic leaders and political actors, including online influencers, to help support them in their work, to effect positive political change where they live.”
From The Web Site of the Canadian Government
Baird Announces Support for Open Political Space Online
January 6, 2015 – Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird today announced a new partnership with the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs to launch the Digital Public Square project, an up to $9-million initiative that will increase digital space for free expression and open political dialogue in places where civil society and citizen participation are under threat. By facilitating safer and accessible open space online, people living in repressive or restrictive environments can exchange their views on the decisions and institutions that affect their lives.
“Canada believes that by harnessing new digital technologies to support freedom and democracy we can help give a voice to the voiceless,” said Minister Baird. “Through the Digital Public Square project, the Munk School of Global Affairs will create open digital spaces to enable citizens to hold their governments to account in defending freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law.”
The Digital Public Square project at the Munk School will rely on the tools and technologies of the global information era to open space online in restrictive or repressive environments so that citizens are empowered to articulate their interests, exchange views freely, advocate for their rights and share views on the policies that affect them. The initiative will provide citizens and civil society organizations with increased access to global information and communications networks, improved connectivity with others living in and outside their countries, and support for citizens’ monitoring and reporting on human rights violations or political repression.
“We are excited to expand the Global Dialogue’s effort to support citizens,” said Janice Stein, founding director and now professor at the Munk School. “Creating a Digital Public Square is fundamentally about enabling the largest possible number of active participants to choose the best in the marketplace of ideas.”
The project will build on the pioneering work of the Munk School’s Global Dialogue on the Future of Iran.
A backgrounder follows.
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Backgrounder – Digital Public Square Project
The Digital Public Square project’s activities will help to:
Increase political accountability and transparency;
Support citizen monitoring of human rights violations;
Increase connectivity between a community’s global diaspora and domestic and international stakeholders to help generate and share alternative narratives on key issues of concern;
Broaden the number of people who can participate in active national debates, including marginalized or purposefully excluded groups;
Increase the access that citizens, civil society organizations and activists have to global information and communications networks;
Increase connectivity between citizens and civil society within their own countries; and
Amplify diverse voices, narratives and expression in oppressive societies.