On balance, however, this was not a good year for world peace. Russian aggression in Crimea and the Ukraine, and the West's response, pushed the world closer to a new Cold War. Revelations about the CIA's use of torture were enough to shake anyone's faith in the goodness of humanity. Meanwhile, the Middle East spiralled downward with greater violence in Gaza, Syria and Iraq. At home we are still not on track to meet our emissions targets. And the strongest praise environmentalists could muster for the climate change deal reached in Lima, Peru, last week was to wince and say it is "better than nothing."
Massive military egos, political conniving, and Western dilly-dallying have resulted in a potent brew. And now has come famine on a vast scale, in what the United Nations has described as perhaps the worst humanitarian disaster of this recent era. Two million people are now on the move, displaced by conflict and lack of resources.
Today's conflicts are smaller in scale than the world wars on which we normally focus come Remembrance Day. But tragically, so are many of the soldiers. There are some 250,000 child soldiers in the world today, mostly in Africa. Children the age of my school-aged sons are shoved headlong into a hell that's unimaginable for most adults, let alone a child.
Taking this time to reflect on the dedication of our armed forces is not the same as blindly supporting war. Remembrance Day is really about being present to the experiences of those who sacrificed their mental and emotional well-being in the name of our country. It's about expressing gratitude to those who gave up their dreams so that the rest of us can pursue ours. After all, while the poppy historically symbolizes the blood of fallen soldiers, it also represents a flower that was able to grow in land too infertile for much else; transforming from a mere community of poppy seeds while simultaneously converting the land into fertile and beautiful possibility.
So many young Canadians are looking to make their mark on the world. Some pick up a shovel to build a school or a ladle in soup kitchens to serve the homeless. A small number choose a different way, traveling to Syria to pick up an AK-47. Where does the road diverge between the youth who choose the path of helping and those on the path of harm? And for those on the road toward extremism, are there points along their journey where they might be set on a positive path?
This conflict is not Afghanistan post 9/11 nor is it Iraq circa 2004. The fight against ISIS is far more complex, multifaceted and layered than any in which Canada has been involved in recent years. The Canadian government has suggested that the best that can be done is to act now and reevaluate in six months, figure out our goals and objectives as we go. And while the government's arguments against inaction appeal to our moral imperatives doing so basically asks Canadians to support military action with no clear or realistic intentions and with little acknowledgement that this conflict is likely to last longer than six months.
The tragedy of friendly fire is perhaps the starkest proof that militaries can make deadly errors that are neither intentional nor illegal. In the same vein, civilian casualties are painful, but they do not automatically represent a breach of the international law so long as the distinction, proportionality, and intentionality are observed (and other rules of course).
I want us all to shut up until we are ready to stop being hypocrites. I ask that we stop justifying pain that in our own lives would be unjustifiable, unliveable, unkind. I am so ashamed of my people -- all of you whom I intersect with on social media, and even myself -- I barely hear anyone with the guts not to answer back, not to justify "their" point of view.
Headlines and news stories keep us updated on the sometimes harsh truths around the world. While we are disturbed by the increasingly horrific situation in Iraq and the ensuing displacement of millions of Syrian refugees, another serious humanitarian crisis has been unfolding in South Sudan in near silence.
As the war recedes even farther into the past, the experience of the Great War risks sliding out of our collective memory. The centenary of WWI challenges us to renew our understanding of the conflict and reconsider its contemporary meaning. In that same spirit, my office is hosting Lest We Forget, an exhibition of WWI-inspired paintings by celebrated contemporary artist Charles Pachter.
With every day that passes, the Nigerian schoolgirls could be moving further into dangerous territory of all kinds. Exploitation like the kinds they may be facing can have intensely disturbing effects on a child's social, emotional cognitive and spiritual well-being -- as well as their long-term development.
As I write this, the swell of a Western grassroots outcry against the Nigerian outfit, Boko Haram, appears to be forming across social media. There's a specific aspect of war crimes which it is necessary to emphasize, and that's the use of sexualized violence against women as a tool of war. Can we all agree to stop using the phrase "the forcible sale of women into marriage"? Church bells and nuptials this is not. It's profiteering from rape in a triple currency which is simultaneously economic, military and psychological in nature.
Consider what is happening in Syria even as we read these words. Aid agencies have become so desperate for help that they repeatedly call upon the affluent West to step up and assist the 9.3 million people living at risk, and the 3.5 million Syrians living under siege. Surely these people matter to us, right?
At the end of the day, it will always be the people who suffer, and Ukraine has a long history of suffering. There are enough populations who feel abandoned by a Ukrainian Ukraine to fight for Russia, and enough who are ready to engulf Kiev in flames in order to show their desire to move away from the perceived dangers of an Eastern block and take their place among Western nations.
The West, and especially the English-speaking West, has wrongly taken sides in the present conflict in Ukraine. Instead of making empty promises or threats, our message should be clear and decisive: "What is happening in Ukraine is a matter that its population has to sort out for itself. But, if asked, we will work with all interested parties to mediate a speedy and peaceful resolution." No more, no less.
The challenges that remain in Afghanistan are significant and they are copiously documented elsewhere and do not require repeating here. But the challenges should not overshadow the progress, and what can be concluded from the state of affairs in Afghanistan today is that Afghanistan is far better off today than it was in in 2001.
If you knew that [Sierra Leone's Revolutionary United Front] were coming, or if you even heard a rumour that the RUF were on their way, knowing that they cut the hands and feet off babies, you wouldn't hang around very long. And it worked -- it was very successful. It helped them clear the diamond fields, and they could dig diamonds to their heart's content. There are 1.5-million artisanal diamond diggers in Africa -- they produce about 16 per cent of the world's diamonds. So there's a good chance that 16 per cent of the diamonds in any store are part of that problem.