Alec Baldwin shares some of the blame

After weeks of silence and a feigned hideout in small-town Vermont, actor Alec Baldwin has broken his silence about the firearm incident that killed cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and wounded director Joel Souza.

In an interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, Baldwin blamed “someone” for the shooting on the set of his film Rust.

"Someone is responsible for what happened, and I can't say who that is, but I know it's not me," Baldwin said.

The complete abdication of responsibility may help Baldwin sleep at night, but that doesn’t make it true. Accidents of this nature are often the product of a series of mistakes and miscalculations rather than just one. Baldwin played a key role in this chain.

Based on the information available, it seems an inexperienced armourer, a clueless assistant director, and an overly deferential actor share the blame, albeit to varying degrees.

In Canada, it’s impossible to get a firearms license without having the ‘PROVE’ and ‘ACTS mnemonics drilled into you. The first two parts of ACTS, assume every firearm is loaded and control the muzzle direction at all times, are particularly relevant here. In general you should never point a gun at someone, even if you know for a fact it’s unloaded. In Baldwin’s case, he didn’t know and never bothered checking.

Assistant director Dave Halls allegedly handed Baldwin the gun and said it was “cold,” or unloaded. Baldwin took him at his word.

Halls, according to his lawyer, “had no responsibility, no liability and certainly not at the level of criminal liability.”

This seemingly cavalier on-set attitude towards firearms isn’t a given. Baldwin said in the ABC interview that he’s worked with armorers who insist on demonstrating guns are cold before handing them over.

Why not insist, as the producer, or at the very least as the actor handling such guns, on that level of diligence as the norm?

“I trusted them to do the job,” Baldwin said.

Baldwin was not a hapless victim in this. He made a choice to make safety someone else’s responsibility.

To be clear, whatever my political disagreements with Baldwin, I feel horrible he’s had to go through this. My sympathy for him doesn’t come close to what I feel for Hutchins’ family, but I accept there was no malice. Yet there were enough weak links that it isn’t fair to write this off as an unavoidable freak accident either. It was entirely preventable.

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One of Baldwin’s defensive lines with Stephanopoulos is that he “didn’t pull the trigger.” I can’t help but wonder if this helps muddle the narrative for those unfamiliar with how guns work.

To get the shot, Baldwin said he needed to cock the gun, but not fire it: “The trigger wasn't pulled. I didn't pull the trigger.”

“I cock the gun. I go, ‘Can you see that? Can you see that? Can you see that?’” Baldwin said. “And then I let go of the hammer of the gun, and the gun goes off. I let go of the hammer of the gun, the gun goes off.”

“So, you never pulled the trigger?” Stephanopoulos asked.

“No, no, no, no, no,” Baldwin said. “I would never point a gun at anyone and pull a trigger at them.”

A trigger does not fire a revolver. The trigger does, however, result in the movement of the piece that does fire a revolver – the hammer. It’s the hammer that strikes the primer, which sends a bullet flying through the barrel.

From The Reload:

When the hammer is pulled back on a single-action revolver a series of sears are engaged which prevent it from moving back towards the chamber without the trigger being depressed. There are scenarios where the gun might be able to fire after the hammer is pulled back but without the trigger being pulled. However, they’re even more unlikely than a misfire with the hammer all the way down.

Although rare, an accidental discharge is possible. A negligent discharge is more probable. Regardless, if anyone involved in the gun’s handoffs and handling – including Baldwin – had taken a moment to ensure it was unloaded, Hutchins would still be here.

Keeping China happy

As the new megatron – wait, what was it again? Ah yes, omicron – variant makes its way around the world, all I can do is shrug and say “Here we go again.”

Just like with all of the other “variants of concern,” by the time omicron was detected it had already slipped out of the quarantine zone. Canada’s first omicron cases came from Nigeria, which wasn’t even one of the African countries over which the world tried to throw a net.

The problem with travel bans is that they must be put in place early and remain indefinitely to be of any use. It’s a lot easier to get results from closing the borders of island nations than large countries with integrated, cross-border supply chains like Canada and the United States.

Nevertheless, Israel and Japan – two countries with very high vaccination rates – have gone right back to non-variant COVID mode, shutting down their borders to all international travellers.

The action is reminiscent of March 2020, when draconian measures were justified by how little we knew about COVID. Nearly two years on, omicron is already being seized by the lockdown-lovers as license to further delay – or reverse – reopening.

The World Health Organization’s “preliminary evidence” indicates its researchers don’t know all that much about omicron. Perhaps it’s because all their efforts are tied up with the real pandemic – travel bans that “attack global solidarity.”

That was what the WHO’s regional director for Africa said was his top concern.

“COVID-19 constantly exploits our divisions,” Dr. Matshidiso Moeti said. “We will only get the better of the virus if we work together for solutions.”

Omicron might be a new variant, but we still get the same old “We’re all in this together” shtick to counter it.

Meanwhile, the WHO continues to run interference for China, even at the expense of the Greek alphabet. When I first came across this story, I feared it would prove too good to be true, but it’s true. We haven’t had a variant of concern since delta, but researchers have nonetheless picked up lambda and mu “variants of interest.”

The next one was supposed to be “nu” though the WHO apparently didn’t want a “Who’s on first?” situation with “nu” and “new.”

“Which variant?”

“Omicron.”

“On the new one?”

“No, not the old nu one.”

That said, I trust Abbott and Costello more than anyone else over at the WHO.

After nu should have been the xi variant. Not as in Chairman Xi – that’s all the variants, really. But the similar spelling was enough for the WHO to just skip over it entirely to avoid “stigmatising a region,” thus bringing us to omicron.

We still have nine more letters ‘til omega – I think that’s when the pandemic ends.


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Conservatives and Libertarians Who Care Update

On Saturday, Danielle Smith and I hosted the first official meeting of Libertarians Who Care and Conservatives Who Care. After brief presentations from representatives of the groups on the two shortlists, members voted and selected the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms and the Canadian Covid Care Alliance, respectively, as their first beneficiaries.

If you are a member you’ll have received information on how and where to send your money. If you want to join ahead of the next cycle to nominate and vote on recipients, just register here. The only rule is that you agree to donate $100 every three months to whomever the group picks. Our goal is for each of the groups to have 100 members, which means $20,000 every quarter will be going to pro-liberty initiatives and organizations.


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Unvaccinated Germans inoculated with irony

With some stories, the joke is so self-evident that I don’t know what else I’m supposed to add. Such is the case with this headline:

German euthanasia clinics refusing unvaccinated customers

Citing “human closeness” as a “breeding ground” for COVID transmission, the German Euthanasia Association wants proof of vaccination before you get help killing yourself.

As the Spectator’s Steerpike puts it, there’s now a “vaccine passport to the afterlife.”

Comic irony aside, there is a bigger point here about the denial of healthcare to the unvaccinated. There have been myriad stories about people being taken off transplant lists because of their vaccination status. Defenders of this say that it’s for medical, not moral, reasons.

However, in Canada, there have been dozens of complaints to regulatory colleges over doctors denying care to unvaccinated patients. A Florida doctor is openly barring unvaccinated primary care patients, saying “the health of the public takes priority over the rights of any given individual.”


Disney cozies up to China

Just as the WHO skipped a letter of the Greek alphabet to make China happy, so too did Disney+ with an episode of The Simpsons. A 2005 episode of the animated show is conspicuously absent from the streaming service’s offerings in Hong Kong. Coincidentally, I’m sure, it’s the episode in which the Simpson family visits China only to find a placard in Tiananmen Square saying, “On this site, in 1989, nothing happened.”

It’s a good joke and a salient point. Years ago, as a second-year undergraduate student, I was shocked to learn in a class discussion that a Chinese classmate had never heard of the Tiananmen Square massacre (though not as shocked as she was to learn about it, I suspect). At the time, and perhaps still now, China had managed to purge the event from its citizens’ collective consciousness by censoring any and all mentions of it anywhere Chinese people could access.

Disney censored its own show over a joke about Chinese regime censorship. For all its tens of billions of dollars and global reach, Disney is no different than most other world leaders in bending the knee before Chairman Xi. It’s a wonder the company hasn’t pulled its Winnie the Pooh properties.

What Disney hasn’t removed to this day is the line in the credits of Mulan thanking the “cooperation, approvals, and assistance provided” by the Public Security Bureau in Xinjiang, where Uyghurs are being subjected to an ongoing genocide by the folks Disney is committed to pleasing.

Justin Trudeau wants to keep Zooming it in

In the last five months, Justin Trudeau has been to the United Kingdom, Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy, the United Kingdom again, and, just one week ago, the United States. But it’s not safe for the people tasked with holding him to account to travel to Ottawa.

“Canadians should be asking why the Liberals can gather in Glasgow, but are out of sight in Ottawa,” Conservative leader Erin O’Toole said of the Liberal plan to make in-person attendance in the House of Commons optional for members of parliament.

It’s a good question without a good answer. While the hybrid approach is supposed to be about the pandemic, justifications range from work-life balance to the importance of getting women in politics to the almighty fight against climate change.

The real explanation is found in the immortal wisdom of my late friend Kathy Shaidle: “Liberals – it’s different when they do it.”

The same Liberals who vowed undying transparency in government want to keep their critics just a mute button away. Thanks to (unsurprising) support from the NDP, the Liberals are getting their way.

As someone who’s worked from home since even before the pandemic, I appreciate the flexibility of remote work as much as anyone. (Though I was never so adventurous as to vote on legislation in an airplane bathroom or pee in a cup without leaving my desk).

Virtual lawmaking creates both technical and accountability problems, however.

As anyone who’s spent the last two years on Zoom knows, the internet is not reliable. This is especially true, ironically, for the remote and rural MPs who face the most onerous routes to Ottawa each week. During Pierre Poilievre’s grilling of Justin Trudeau about the WE scandal last year, committee chair Wayne Easter dropped off the call because of a storm in Prince Edward Island.

And then there’s the issue of accountability. Scandal-plagued ministers should have to look their colleagues in the face as they defend themselves in Question Period. Vigorous back-and-forth debate is simply not replicable online. Moreover, members of parliament and ministers can conveniently avoid reporters by just disconnecting from a call instead of walking out the front door of the House of Commons.

Interestingly, one of the better defenses of in-person politicking came from Liberal MP Marc Garneau earlier this year as he defended his trip to the G7 meeting in London while he was the foreign minister.

“There are some things that are very difficult to do on Zoom,” Garneau told CTV’s Evan Solomon. “When we’re talking about diplomacy and getting together with other countries and trying to solve some very challenging problems in the world, and having to engage, and being persuasive, there’s something that is missing when you’re on a Zoom call, which is really more like a two-dimensional way of communicating.”

Now, this may be sufficient for a two-dimensional government, though it raises the question of whether the Liberals were being disingenuous then or now. My money is on the latter.

Liberal MP Ya’ara Saks abandoned the pandemic excuse altogether, saying virtual parliament is important to save the planet.

“A hybrid Parliament system is cheaper, more efficient and climate-friendly,” she said. “The avoided travels to and from Ottawa…are equal to removing 1.5 cars per parliamentarian from circulation each year.”

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Saks’ exhortation on climate grounds suggests the Liberals are finding arguments to support their desired outcome rather than genuinely pursuing a hybrid parliament as a safe pandemic measure. After all, what was the point of mandating vaccination MPs then?

During the Thursday debate, NDP MP Laurel Collins held her adorable seven month old daughter as she lamented the 10-hours of travel it takes for her to get from her riding of Victoria, BC to Ottawa.

“A virtual Parliament for me would mean I could still work, even if I was stuck in Victoria unable to fly because she is still breastfeeding, has caught a mild cold or has a teething fever,” Collins said.

For Collins, sitting virtually means more women in politics.

There are lots of MPs who move their families to Ottawa for this exact reason. There are also MPs who have delayed seeking office until there aren’t as many trade-offs required. Regardless, if we’re going to reform the way Canadian politics operates for reasons of climate or gender, let’s not cloak it in the urgency of a pandemic.

Throughout the WE and SNC-Lavalin scandals, the NDP talked a big game when it came to demanding accountability from the Liberals. On this side of the election, they appear to have forgotten that.

As the world reopens, the Liberals and NDP are doubling down on Zoom politics. Perhaps they just want a shorter commute, but I’m not buying it.


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Mandatory vaccination was a conspiracy theory – now Austria's doing it

Plus the perils of political tribalism and an "Islamophobic" ISIS survivor.

I can’t say I’m all that surprised to see the mass protests – some descending into riots – taking place across Europe as people from Austria to the Netherlands to the Czech Republic feel pushed to the brink by their overseers.

Just a couple of weeks ago, I was eating Wiener schnitzel and sipping an Einspänner in Vienna, enjoying how normal it all felt relative to the locked down Ontario life. But as the pandemic has shown us, freedom can never be taken for granted. Austrians are now facing mandatory vaccination and a nationwide lockdown out of Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg’s fear of a “fifth…sixth and seventh wave.”

Schallenberg lamented it’s taken until now for Austrians to come around to the idea of forced jabs.

“For a long time, the consensus in this country was that we didn’t want mandatory vaccination,” he said. “For a long time, perhaps too long.”

The health minister in neighboring Germany was asked if he planned to mandate vaccination and said he wouldn’t “rule anything out.”

(Just what one wants to hear from a German leader).

In Austria, which has a vaccination rate of just over 65 per cent, citizens have had to show proof of vaccination, a negative test, or proof of natural immunity to go to a hotel or restaurant for some time. As of February, vaccination will be mandatory not just to dine out or board a plane, but simply to exist as an Austrian.

It’s not even “Get the jab… or else,” as there is no “or else” option.

The fine print of Austria’s forced vaccination policy hasn’t yet been released. The Guardian predicts the penalty for being unvaccinated will be “administrative fines, which can be converted into a prison sentence.” I wonder if they’ll skip the punishment altogether and just send public health officials door to door to start jabbing. Once you’ve made vaccination mandatory, you’ve already decided your citizens don’t have rights. How you enforce it is just a matter of preference.

By my count, the only other country with mandatory COVID vaccination is Turkmenistan, which generally isn’t the company I like to keep on matters of public policy.

Austria’s pivot to mandatory vaccination is another point in favour of my belief that yesterday’s conspiracy theory is today’s public policy.

World Health Organization regional director Dr. Hans Kluge said on the weekend that Europe would log 500,000 more deaths by spring unless countries start doing more to push vaccine passports and masks, as though these things have not been ubiquitous while cases have continued to rise.

No doubt fully vaccinated Europeans will, in due course, find themselves de-vaccinated as booster shots become required to evade the “lockdowns of the unvaccinated” being implemented in Germany, Slovakia, the Netherlands, and countless others.

I get why people are skeptical about doubling down on a policy that evidently hasn’t worked. Okay, it will really flatten the curve this time.

People have had enough.

In the Netherlands, police opened fire into an unruly crowd that had had started rioting Friday night.

France has dispatched dozens of “elite police and counter-terrorism officers” to the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe to quell looting and rioting that arose during protests of a new evening curfew.

These are thankfully relatively isolated incidents in a landscape of peaceful protests across Europe and the world, in which tens of thousands have lined the streets to resist these mandates, which are not encroaching on individual liberty, but obliterating it.

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Update on Libertarians and Conservatives Who Care

On Saturday, Libertarians Who Care and Conservatives Who Care will gather (virtually) to vote for the first recipients of the groups’ collective generosity.

Danielle Smith will lead the Libertarians Who Care meeting while I’ll be taking the reins of the Conservatives Who Care session. Members have already narrowed down nominees to two short-lists, but there’s still time to join ahead of Saturday morning’s vote (9am MT / 11am ET).

As Danielle and I have both said in our respective newsletters, this is a great project to not just get linked up with like-minded folks across the country, but also to put some real money behind causes and organizations that are ignored by mainstream media, and funding sources.

It’s a simple concept: Every member agrees to donate $100 every quarter to whatever cause the group selects. It’s pure, it’s easy, and it’s democratic. But it only works if everyone contributes.

With over 300 members in the two networks, we’ll be poised to direct more than $30,000 on Saturday, which is pretty exciting. To join, just subscribe to this list (and make sure to check your junk mail folder for the confirmation email). This was started rather spontaneously, but we’re working on getting a website set up and making it easier for people to connect and contribute, so do stay tuned.


The perils of political tribalism

I’ve had a fair bit of criticism as of late for Conservative leader Erin O’Toole. I won’t rehash it here, except to restate my point that O’Toole needs to make the pitch to conservatives for why he deserves to stick around. This was the subject of my newsletter last Thursday.

In response to it, one gentlemen, with whom I’ve only ever had favourable interactions, dismissed it by saying I was in the “Bernier camp.” When I responded that I’m in no camp, he was unconvinced.

Just a couple of days later, another gentlemen with whom I’ve had a couple of cordial exchanges accused me of ignoring the People’s Party of Canada and shilling for the Conservatives.

Such a juxtaposition isn’t all that uncommon for me. Sometimes I face these duelling accusations in response to the same segment of the same show.

There’s a Rorschach effect to media in that people see what they want to see, irrespective of what’s actually in front of them. I don’t know how new this phenomenon is, but it does seem to be worsening. The benefit of focusing on ideas is that I don’t need to hitch my wagon to politicians and parties, whose primary goals are simply to get into office.

I spent several days on the campaign trail following O’Toole, and several following Maxime Bernier. I’ve interviewed them both and will do so again if given the opportunity.

Partisanship is useful to give people a cause to rally around, but it also can breed a paranoia that everything is a slight. There’s a place for partisanship in our political system, but it doesn’t always put things in the clearest focus.


Nobel Prize-winning former ISIS captive an Islamophobe?

There was a kerfuffle in Toronto a couple of weeks ago when the Toronto District School Board initially declined to promote a book club session with superstar criminal lawyer and author Marie Henein, because she had successfully defended Jian Ghomeshi against sexual assault charges.

An aspect of this story I hadn’t seen until this weekend was that the TDSB superintendent apparently told the book club organizer students couldn’t participate in a book chat with Nobel Prize-winning former ISIS captive Nadia Murad, because of concerns about… “Islamophobia.”

The organizer told superintendent Helen Fisher that criticizing the Islamic State had “nothing to do with ordinary Muslims,” but was then sent a “copy of the board’s policy on selecting equitable, culturally relevant and responsive reading materials.”

Like with the Henein story, the board has said this is all one big misunderstanding. Whether it is or not, these stories speak to a more concerning trend which is that for most individuals and institutions, the default position is cowardice. Sure, you might be able to persuade or cajole one way or another, but in a vacuum, there are enough people willing to fold without a fight.


On that cheery note, I hope you enjoyed this lengthier newsletter. This is free for anyone to enjoy (or hate-read) but it goes along way if you take out a subscription. Just click the ‘Subscribe now’ button, and if you’re so inclined do sign up for a paid subscription which ensures it remains viable to keep publishing these dispatches.

Erin O’Toole needs to tell conservatives why he deserves to stay

Conservative leader Erin O’Toole has made it clear he’ll kick anyone who questions his leadership out of caucus, but he’s yet to tell conservative Canadians why he deserves to stick around as leader.

The base’s patience seems to be wearing thin.

Conservative senator – well, former Conservative senator – Denise Batters launched a petition this week for party members to trigger a referendum on O’Toole’s leadership ahead of the scheduled review nearly two years from now.

In response, O’Toole, who was elected leader in part due to his stated commitment to letting caucus members speak their minds, kicked Batters out of caucus and threatened to do the same to any other MP “who's not putting the team and the country first.”

It’s been nearly two months since the election that sent Justin Trudeau back to Ottawa with a minority government. Since then, O’Toole has not wanted to address any of the things that may have contributed to the Conservative loss – flip-flopping on key policies, not preparing for a PPC surge, alienating parts of the party’s base. Any time O’Toole has faced questions about these, he’s just pledged to pay attention to the campaign review underway by defeated Conservative MP James Cumming.

Has he nothing to say in the meantime?

O’Toole’s primary arguments in defence of his leadership are that there could be another election at any moment (the election readiness thesis), and that the Conservatives made significant gains in the last election (the “we won” thesis).

The former is true, though this is an argument for expediting, not delaying, a review.

The second point is simply laughable.

The Liberals gained seats, and the Conservatives lost seats. While everyone enjoys a rousing chorus of “but the popular vote,” as though that’s a relevant metric in Canadian politics, a loss is a loss.

The Conservatives have yet to truly concede defeat.

In his statement announcing Batters’ expulsion from caucus, O’Toole said “Canadians elected Conservatives to hold Justin Trudeau accountable,” as though one is “elected” to opposition rather than winding up there because someone else won the election.

Half an hour before sending out the statement, O’Toole posted a photo of him and a handful of his MPs chatting it up on Parliament Hill, with the caption “Our team is focused on getting Canada back on track. Let's get to work.”

Translation: “Nothing to see here. Everything is fine.”

Whether this is hubris or obliviousness, neither seems to be all that useful.

O’Toole’s shift from a “true blue” leadership candidate to a centrist general election candidate has been well documented. O’Toole tried to preempt some of the expected attacks ahead of the campaign by proposing a carbon tax plan and avowing his pro-choice bona fides. He also released the Conservatives’ platform on the first full day of the campaign, so his plan would be in full view and not subject to any “hidden agenda” attacks.

Mind you, having policies in writing hardly protected them. As the Globe and Mail’s Robyn Urback put it:

If Erin O’Toole’s position on vaccine mandates, conscience rights, guns, defunding the CBC and carbon taxes is any indication, his expulsion of Senator Denise Batters from the Conservative caucus should last only a few days.

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I’ve been deliberately non-committal on whether O’Toole deserves another kick at the can as this is something only Conservative members can decide. I will, however, offer some unsolicited advice.

If O’Toole’s run to the centre was done solely for votes, he needs to tell conservatives what makes him think it will work next time. If it was done because that’s where O’Toole actually sits on the political spectrum, he needs to account for what changed between the leadership race and the election.

His silence on anything of substance since the election may well be because he knows there is no justification, at least none that will allay the base’s concerns.

My friend Mark Steyn has pointed out on a number of occasions that it’s easier for the base to get itself a new leader than for the leader to get himself a new base. O’Toole’s aversion to having a timely review of his leadership may well be rooted in a fear that he wouldn’t survive it.

Were O’Toole confident about his place in the party – among the members, not his caucus – he would be welcoming a renewed mandate with open arms. It’s telling he’s not.

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