The National Today

Philippines inks $233M deal with Canada for combat utility helicopters

A deeper dive into the day's most notable stories with The National newsletter's Jonathon Gatehouse.

Newsletter: A deeper dive into the day's most notable stories

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte salutes customs police Tuesday in Manila. His government has inked a deal to purchase 16 combat utility helicopters from Canada for use in 'internal security operations.' (Bullit Marquez/Associated Press)

Welcome to The National Today newsletter, which takes a closer look at what's happening around some of the day's most notable stories. Sign up here and it will be delivered directly to your inbox Monday to Friday.


TODAY:

  • Philippines inks $233 million deal to purchase 16 combat utility helicopters from Canada for use in "internal security operations"
  • South Korea locks down Olympics with massive security presence
  • Prowling the Pacific aboard a Canadian submarine on a surveillance mission
  • Hong Kong's top court tosses out jail sentences for three young organizers of 2014's "Umbrella Revolution," but upholds strict new guidelines that will see future protesters locked away.

Helicopters and human rights

The Philippines has inked a $233 million deal to purchase 16 combat utility helicopters from Canada for use in "internal security operations" against Maoist rebels and Islamic State allied extremists.

The $233 million deal would see Canada sell the Philippines 16 Bell 412EPI helicopters. (Bell Helicopter)
The agreement, announced this morning, will see the Bell 412EPI choppers delivered early next year as part of President Rodrigo Duterte's broad push to modernize his military and bring more power to bear on restive regions of the country.

The deal is sure to raise questions about the Duterte's government's true aims, and Canada's role in arming a regime that stands accused of widespread human rights abuses.

Last May, the Canadian-based International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines (ICHRP) wrote to Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland to ask if eight helicopters sold in a 2014 deal with Bell were being used in air campaigns that are alleged to have targeted civilians.

Soldiers board a helicopter in June 2017 as government troops battled insurgents from the Maute group in the Marawi City region. (Romeo Ranoco/Reuters)
The strikes in Malibcong, Abra, reportedly destroyed farms and forests. The Philippine military is fighting the New People's Army, an armed communist group in the region.

Duterte has not been particularly concerned about who gets caught in the crossfire. After NPA guerrillas killed four police last March, the president instructed his forces to "go ahead, flatten the hills," adding, "if there's collateral damage, pasensiya [a Tagalog word meaning 'too bad']."

Justin Trudeaudid raise the issue of human rights in the Philippines — most specifically a war on drugs that has seen the extrajudicial killings of thousands by police — during a face-to-face meeting with Duterte in Manila last November. The prime minister characterized the discussion as "cordial," but that wasn't his counterpart's take.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, left, met with Duterte before the opening ceremony of the ASEAN Summit in Manila in November 2017. (Mark R. Cristino/EPA-EFE)
"It is a personal and official insult," the Philippines president railed at a news conference. "I only answer to the Filipino. I will not answer to any other bullshit, especially foreigners. Lay off."

Canada's foreign arm sales have been under scrutiny since reports last summer that the Saudi Arabian military was using armoured vehicles made in London, Ont., to quell an uprising in a minority Shia Muslim area.

That $15 billion deal was struck by Stephen Harper's government, but approved by the Liberals shortly after they took office. Ottawa is currently defending the agreement against a Federal Court challenge on the grounds that it contravenes restrictions on exporting arms to countries with a "persistent record of serious violations of the human rights of their citizens."

There are precedents for halting arms sales to the Philippines. In October 2016, the U.S. State Department quashed the export of 26,000 assault rifles after Ben Cardin, a senior member of the Senate, said he would oppose it over human rights concerns.

Duterte checks the scope of a 7.62mm sniper rifle. During a meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi in January, he indicated that his country may buy a large order of firearms from India. (Romeo Ranoco/Reuters)
Duterte reacted with his usual calm.

"Look at these monkeys, the 26,000 firearms we wanted to buy, they don't want to sell," he said in a televised speech. "Son of a bitch, we have many homemade guns here. These American fools."

Last month, during a meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi, the Philippines president indicated that he might purchase the guns from India.


Locking down the Olympics

It takes a decent-sized city to protect an Olympic village.

When the Pyeongchang Winter Games start Friday, there will be 60,000 security guards and soldiers in place to ensure the safety of 2,925 athletes.

Security workers patrol the Alpensia resort at the 2018 Winter Olympics site in Pyeongchang, South Korea. The Olympic security detail includes 60,000 guards and soldiers. (Charlie Riedel/Associated Press)
While there haven't been any recent terror attacks in South Korea, that doesn't mean organizers are taking potential threats lightly.

For months now, authorities have been stagingelaborate drills, complete with cops rappelling down buildings, mock hostage rescues and Hollywood-like special effects simulating explosions and fires.

A South Korean police SWAT team member takes part in a simulated anti-terror operation tied to the Olympics. (Woohae Cho/Getty Images)
Police have also been outfitted with an assortment of high-tech gadgets, from chemical-sniffing sensors and cameras equipped with face-scanning software, to killer security drones that can bring down unauthorized flying objects.

And there has been some serious coordination with spy agencies around the world. At a briefing for lawmakers this week, representatives of South Korea's National Intelligence Service disclosed that they have a list of 36,000 foreigners who are banned from entering the country during the Games.

South Korean government safety officers and firefighters train for a simulated emergency involving toxic substances at the Olympic Stadium. (Kim Hong-Ji/Reuters)
Last month's historic agreement with North Korea to field a "unified team" that will march together at the Opening Ceremony — and in the case of the women's hockey squad, compete together — has relieved much of the tension. (The demilitarized zone that divides the Korean peninsula is just 80 kilometres north of the mountain venues.)

But bad memories linger; most specifically the 1987 bombing of Korean Air Flight 858 by DPRK agents, which killed all 115 aboard, just 10 months before the Seoul Summer Games.

And one of the biggest threats to these Olympics may come in the form of cyber attacks.

Vehicles are detonated during a security drill at the Olympic Stadium in Pyeongchang. (Kim Hong-Ji/Reuters)
Experts have already uncovered two ongoing attempts to introduce malware into the computers of organizers and tourism authorities. It's not yet clear if the perpetrators are looking to disrupt the event, or simply searching for compromising information.

(Although the more pressing concern for organizers is an outbreak of norovirus that has laid low 41 security guards with vomiting and the trots. Some 1,200 other guards have been quarantined as a safeguard.)

Despite all the precautions, there is a level of apprehension surrounding these Games. Ticket sales remain underwhelming, with almost 300,000 seats still up for grabs. And many foreign tourists and VIPs have opted to stay at home and watch on TV.

The effects will be in plain view on Friday night in Pyeongchang — early morning in Canada — at the Opening Ceremony.

South Korean police SWAT members take part in an anti-terror drill at the Olympic Stadium, the venue of the opening and closing ceremony for the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympic Games. (Jung Yeon-Je/AFP/Getty Images)
Organizers boast that "26 world leaders" will be in attendance, but the list drops off sharply after Shinzo Abe of Japan, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, and UN secretary general  Antonio Gueteres. Prince Albert of Monaco, Grand Duke Henri of Luxembourg and King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden will add some regal charm, while Governor General Julie Payette represents Canada.

And the most pressing concern might be frostbite for all the security personnel who will stand on guard to keep everyone safe.

The forecast calls for evening temperatures of -10 C, with a healthy wind.


Prowling under the Pacific

The last timeHMCS Chicoutimi crossed an ocean, the boat flooded, caught fire, and a sailor died. Nearly a decade and a half later, the diesel-electric submarine has deployed to Asia — farther from home than any Canadian sub in five decades — on a mission the Canadian military hopes will erase doubts about the vessel's effectiveness.

CBC'sDavid Common had unprecedented access onboard the Canadian sub as it worked to help monitor sanctions against North Korea, tracking suspicious vessels and activity.

Read his story at CBCNews.ca, and watch his feature from The National:

CBC News has gotten an exclusive look inside a top-secret Canadian submarine — so secret, we can't even tell you exactly where the submarine was when we got inside. The HMCS Chicoutimi is deep in the Pacific Ocean, within a few days' sail of the Korean Peninsula. Its task: to monitor supplies going into North Korea. 4:57

Watch this 360-degree video to look around HMCS Chicoutimi's control room.



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Hong Kong's limited freedoms

Hong Kong's top court has tossed out jail sentences for three young organizers of the territory's 2014 "Umbrella Revolution," but upheld strict new guidelines that will see future protesters locked away.

Joshua Wong, Nathan Law and Alex Chow walked free this morning after the Court of Final Appeal upheld their challenge to jail terms ranging from six to eight months that were imposed by a lower court judge last year.

Pro-democracy activists Joshua Wong, left, Alex Chow and Nathan Law speak to journalists outside Hong Kong's Court of Final Appeal shortly before their successful hearing on Tuesday. (Alex Hofford/EPA-EFE)
The trio, known as the "Civic Square 3," had been charged for a dramatic Sept. 26, 2104, confrontation involving hundreds of young pro-democracy demonstrators storming the courtyard of the Hong Kong government's fortified downtown compound.

The running battle with police, featuring water cannons, pepper spray and tear gas, was the spark for the Occupy Central movement, which saw tens of thousands of residents take over many of the city's main thoroughfares in a protest that lasted 79 days.

Today's unanimous ruling restores an original sentence of community service for the three men. But it also places limits on the notion of civil disobedience, saying courts should give such a defence "little (if any) weight" if protesters engage in violence or infringe on criminal laws.

Riot police clash with pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong's Mongkok shopping district on Oct. 19, 2014. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)
Wong, who was still in high school at the time of the protests, called it a "sugar-coated harsh punishment," adding that it is no cause for celebration. "In the future ... maybe more and more activists will be locked up because of this harsh judgment."

The prolonged court battle over the trio's actions has been source of friction between Beijing and Western governments.

Last week, a dozen members of the U.S. Congress nominated Wong and his Umbrella Movement compatriots for the Nobel Peace Prize. This elicited a sharp rebuke from Chinese officials, who accused the legislators of "interfering" in their domestic affairs.

Hong Kong student leaders Agnes Chow, left, Joshua Wong and Oscar Lai march in the streets to demand universal suffrage in Hong Kong on Feb. 1, 2015. (Tyrone Siu/Reuters)
The former British colony's place and evolution within China continues to be a sore spot as locals push for greater autonomy, and Beijing reinforces its "one country, two systems" policy.

And Wong, now 21 and the founder of Demosisto, a new pro-democracy and anti-capitalist political movement, remains at the centre of the debate.

Late last month, 2,000 supporters demonstrated outside the same downtown government compound after one of his allies, 21-year-old Agnes Chow, was disqualified as a candidate for upcoming elections. A bureaucrat had ruled that she did not intend to "uphold" the city's constitution, pointing to Demosisto's goal of "promoting self-determination."

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam, left, shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing in December 2017. Lam was in Beijing to report on the work of the Hong Kong government to China's central government. (Xie Huanchi/Xinhua via Associated Press)
Carrie Lam, Hong Kong's new chief executive, told journalists that such aims do not fit into China's future.

"Democratic self-determination, Hong Kong independence or regional autonomy do not comply with the requirement of the Basic Law and deviate from the policy of one country, two systems," she said.


Quote of the moment

"The helicopter pilot comes up, 'Are ya still alive?' I said 'yeah I'm still alive.''

- Manitoba trapperNormand Preteau, who spent 24 hours marooned in the bush in -37 C temperatures after his snowmobile got stuck in deep snow and he suffered a heart attack. The 66-year-old's ex-wife responded to his emergency beacon, calling in the RCMP.

Métis trapper Normand Preteau. (courtesy Normand Preteau)

What The National is reading

  • Canada and U.S. plan for more customs pre-clearance in more places (CBC)
  • Reports of chlorine gas attack amidst Syrian advance on rebel province (CNN)
  • Poland's president to sign Holocaust speech bill into law (CBC)
  • Former Mountie recruiter sentenced in teen sex case (Winnipeg Free Press)
  • China nearly done militarizing South China Sea (Asia Times)
  • Once rich Venezuelans live as beggars in Colombia (Miami Herald)
  • Blind man who is scared of dogs gets U.K.'s first 'guide horse' (BBC)

Today in history

Feb. 6, 1966: Cops ban artist for "lewd" drawings

Toronto's busy police morality squad raided the Eros 65 art show at the Dorothy Cameron gallery, seizing several works. Later, a judge found Robert Markle's depiction of nude women touching to be "lewd" and "obscene." The painting had "every intention to arouse, not sexually — sensually," the painter explains in this interview.

An artist censored for depicting lesbians discusses censorship's double standards. 2:57

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About the Author

Jonathon Gatehouse

Jonathon Gatehouse

Has covered news and politics at home and abroad, reporting from dozens of countries. He has also written extensively about sports, including seven Olympic Games and a best-selling book on the business of pro-hockey.