Hotline hot button
Long-serving councillor Michael Walker, best known as a progressive if unpredictable politician, seems to be acting out of character by calling for the city to set up a counterterrorism hotline. A proposal was considered at the policy and finance committee last week, and staff were directed to come back with a fuller report in the spring. Walker says he's not out to demonize Muslims or people of Arab origin. He says he doesn't want to wait for a catastrophe before taking action against terrorism.
"I just don't think the issue is going to go away," says the councillor. "There are people who are committed to terrorism." He cites reports that al Qaeda might view the CN Tower as a potential target, and points to the tremendous consequences of an attack on a water treatment facility or the Pickering nuclear power plant, for example.
While Walker may be sincere, we have to wonder what staff will come up with if they're guided by words like those of Richard Cohen, a counterterrorism expert who wrote to the committee supporting the proposal. "Given the closed and often secretive nature of the communities within our cities from which acts of terrorism may be supported and launched," writes Cohen, "a widely publicized confidential hotline like the one in Northern Ireland would be an invaluable tool."
The Canadian Arab Federation, however, believes the proposal is far more than an innocent tool to catch bad guys. "We believe a hotline could lead to very McCarthyist measures, and it raises the question of why we would pursue this type of initiative when we already have mechanisms like Crimestoppers or calling the RCMP," says CAF spokesperson Rula Sharkawi.
Also worrisome to the CAF, given the continual tensions between some Jewish and Arab groups, is the fact that Walker's proposal was copied to B'nai Brith and to no other groups.
"We are concerned that one community group has been consulted about the initiative and not other communities, specifically the Arab and Muslim communities that have been directly affected by the backlash from 9/11," says Sharkawi.
The board of health passed a proposal to approve imidacloprid, a pesticide currently used against grubs, to slow the onslaught of Asian Long-horned Beetles. But we wonder if understandable anxiety about our seriously threatened trees and industries - including the maple syrup export business - is making the board less than rigorous on the matter of risks to human health. Monica Campbell, manager of health promotion for the environmental protection office of Toronto public health, says imidacloprid's status as weakly mutagenic and only possibly an endocrine disruptor means it poses a relatively small risk to human health. Endocrine disruptors can cause damage to the immune, hormonal, reproductive and neurological systems.
"I don't believe we have the capacity to fully discern which chemicals are endocrine disruptors," Campbell says.
At the same time, experts say imidacloprid doesn't cure infested trees, nor does it prevent infestation. But it is thought (there are no conclusive studies on this yet) to exert a protective effect. Seems we're dealing with fuzzy science all around.
In an attempt to minimize the potential health effects of using imidacloprid on trees at risk, public health's report to the board of health asks for approval of stem injection, to shoot the chemical directly into the tree. But Campbell says the manufacturer may not have the stem-injectable form ready by April, when it will be needed.
Soil injection is another option, Campbell explains, but that would raise concerns about imidacloprid seeping into our groundwater. And what of the city's bylaw to limit the use of pesticides? Campbell suggests that the city could invoke a provision in the bylaw that allows normally prohibited pesticides to be used.
Given the lack of informed opinion, it's hard to say whether the risks outweigh the benefits in this case.