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Catalan independence bid dealt new blow as Puigdemont texts caught on video

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

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

Demonstrators take part in a protest to support former Catalan President Carles Puigdemont on Tuesday in Barcelona. (Getty Images)

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  • Catalonia's bid for independence dealt a blow by Carles Puigdemont's texts
  • Halifax to "temporarily remove" a controversial statue of Edward Cornwallis from a downtown park
  • Trump to keep Guantanamo Bay prison open

Catalan's fading separatist dream

The fight for Catalan independence is over. At least for now.

Carles Puigdemont, the would-be president of the breakaway Spanish region, made the frank admission is a series of texts sent to one of his former cabinet members — all of them captured by a TV camera at a political rally in Belgium.

Dismissed Catalan president Carles Puigdemont texted one of his former cabinet members saying, 'Our people have sacrificed us. Or at least me.' (Yves Herman/Reuters)
"I suppose it's clear to you that this is over," reads one of the messages that Puigdemont exchanged with Toni Comín, once Catalan's minister of health. "Our people have sacrificed us. Or at least me."

Another referenced "the last days of republican Catalonia."

"The Moncloa [office of Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy] has triumphed," wrote the separatist leader.

Although he suggested that there was a bright side, because "everyone can get out of jail."

Puigdemont fled to Belgium last October to avoid arrest after Spanish authorities dissolved his government. But other secessionists weren't so lucky.

One of Puigdemont's texts said Spain's Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, 'has triumphed.' (Paul White/Associated Press)
The Catalan leader's hopes of forming a new government were dealt a mortal blow this week when Spain's top court ruled that he must be physically present for his re-investiture as president.

Then yesterday, the speaker of the Catalan parliament postponed the session over fears of Spanish interference.

Some pro-independence politicians are already calling for Catalan to move on. "What's essential is that we have a government. If we have to sacrifice President Puigdemont, we'll have to sacrifice him," Joan Tardà of the Catalan Republican Left party told the newspaper La Vanguardia.

Puigdemont appears on a screen as he delivers a speech Tuesday. (Reuters)
The Spanish network Telecinco broadcast the over-the-shoulder footage of Puigdemont's candid messages today. Afterwards, the Catalan leader confirmed their authenticity in a Twitter post, scolding the reporter and offering an explanation

"I am a journalist and I have always understood that there are limits, such as privacy, which should never be violated," he wrote.  "I am human and there are times that I also doubt. We continue!"

Women hold cut-out masks of Puigdemont as they take part in a protest on Tuesday in Barcelona. (David Ramos/Getty Images)
Puigdemont, whose party won the most seats in a December election imposed by the Spanish government, remains the only candidate for Catalan's presidency.

Still, there is irony in the unmasking of his innermost thoughts. TV cameras were at the rally for the New Flemish Alliance (N-VA) party in Leuven last night because Puigdemont was scheduled to address a local "New Year's" celebration. The Catalonian has received moral and material support from the party — fellow separatists — since arriving in Belgium.

However, Puigdemont cancelled his speech at the last moment and sent Comín instead.

Owning up to history

The City of Halifax has opted to sideline a piece of its past in hopes of avoiding problems in the future.

In a 12-to-4 vote yesterday, regional councillors adopted a motion to "temporarily remove" a controversial statue of Edward Cornwallis from an eponymous downtown park.

Halifax councillors have adopted a motion to 'temporarily remove' a controversial statue of Edward Cornwallis from a downtown park. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)
The massive bronze, which has long stood facing England with his back to the city he founded, will be placed in storage until the politicians can find a more appropriate way to commemorate his legacy.

The decision came after 90 minutes of often fractious debate in which councillors accused each other of being on the wrong side of history.

During his short tenure as Nova Scotia's governor between 1749 and 1752, Cornwallis issued a bounty for the scalps of local Mi'kmaq. The Indigenous community's longstanding concerns about his place in the province's history crystallized around the statue in recent months.

Contractors examine the statue of Edward Cornwallis. The military officer who founded Halifax in 1749 offered a cash bounty to anyone who killed a Mi'kmaq person. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)
City staff were warning councillors of a potential public safety issue over a protest planned for this coming weekend. "The stated aim of protesters is to 'bring down' the Cornwallis statue," said their report.

Workers began erecting scaffolding around the statue this morning, and will reportedly remove it Thursday.

The question of what to do with outdated, inappropriate or even outright racist monuments, place names and sports mascots has become a preoccupation for many governments and municipalities — at home and abroad.

Here are just a few recent Canadian examples:

Some controversies seem to be easier to resolve.

Others have stretched on for years, with no end in sight.

Montreal continues to honour the priest/historian Lionel Groulx with a street and metro station, despite long-standing concerns about his virulent anti-semitism. The debate reached its peak 25 years ago with the publication of Mordecai Richler's screed, Oh Canada! Oh Quebec! But a 2008 attempt to rename the stop after the late jazz pianist Oscar Peterson went nowhere.

Nellie McClung is a controversial figure - a member of the Famous Five, responsible for making women 'persons' under the law, but also a proponent of eugenics. (National Archives of Canada/C.Jessop)
Winnipeg unveiled a statue of pioneering Canadian feminist Nellie McClung outside the provincial legislature in 2010, a decade after a similar bronze was the subject of protests on Parliament Hill. McClung was a member of the Famous Five, responsible for making women "persons" under the law. But she was also a proponent of eugenics. (Which probably explains why a campaign to put her on the new banknotes fell flat.)

Sometimes it just comes down to business.

Earlier this month, the owner of Sir John's Public House, a downtown Kingston, Ont., pub that occupies the site of the former Prime Minister's law offices, shortened its name to remove the reference to Canada's first leader.

Paul Fortier, the proprietor, told CBC News that he made the decision following a protest by members of the group Idle No More, which drew attention to treatment of Aboriginal Canadians under Macdonald's rule.

"Unfortunately, Sir John A. Macdonald has been tarred with that brush," said Fortier. "We don't want to create a feeling of alienation to any customers."

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Guantanamo's high price

Donald Trump's decision to keep open the U.S. military's prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, shouldn't come as a surprise.

"I am asking Congress to ensure that, in the fight against ISIS and al-Qaeda, we continue to have all necessary power to detain terrorists, wherever we chase them down, wherever we find them. And in many cases, for them, it will now be Guantanamo Bay," the U.S. president said during his State of the Union speech to Congress last night.

U.S. President Donald Trump signed an executive order Tuesday to keep the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, operating. (Win McNamee/Reuters)
Minutes earlier, the White House released a copy of an executive order he had signed earlier in the evening.

"The United States may transport additional detainees to U.S. Naval Station Guantanamo Bay when lawful and necessary to protect the Nation," it reads, pledging to ensure that the jail's operations are "legal, safe, humane, and conducted consistent with United States and international law."

Barack Obama ordered the closure of the facility back in 2009, but was never able to deliver. And 16 years after George W. Bush created the prison as an offshore, out-of-reach-of-the-courts holding pen for terrorism suspects, 41 people remain incarcerated there.

A guard opens the gate at the entrance to Camp 6, a prison used to house detainees at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, in this 2013 photo. (Bob Strong/Reuters)
During the 2016 campaign, Trump not only promised to keep '"Gitmo" open, but pledged to "load it up with some bad dudes."

Who that might be is an open question, since the U.S. is no longer fighting large-scale ground wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the places where it gathered most of the 779 suspects who have gone through the naval prison since its 2002 opening.

In this photo reviewed by the U.S. military, Guantanamo detainees sit together in the Camp Six detention facility in May 2009. (Brennan Linsley/Associated Press)
In his speech last night, Trump made reference to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, an Iraqi insurgent who went on to found the Islamic State, "who we captured, who we had, who we released."

Which is technically true, but obscures the fact that Baghdadi — now the world's most wanted man — was released from Camp Bucca in Iraq in 2004 by the U.S. military, who didn't think he was enough of a threat to merit a trip to Cuba.

U.S. military personnel guard cells at Guantanamo's Camp 5 maximum-security facility in October 2007. (Brennan Linsley/Associated Press)
Trump has suggested that Americans accused of terrorism should be tried by military commissions at Gitmo, but that would take a change to U.S. laws.

At present, Guantanamo Bay is costing American taxpayers $440 million a year — or $10.7 million US per prisoner.

Obama shipped out 18 suspects to Saudi Arabia and Oman in the final weeks of his presidency. Four more who have been cleared for release remain in indefinite custody.

Activists protest the continued operation of the Guantanamo Bay detention camp in front of the White House on Jan. 11, the 16th anniversary of the opening of the prison. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Quote of the moment


- Wikie, a 14-year-old killer whale who was born in captivity at a Marineland Aquarium, in Antibes, France, and has learned to imitate some human words. A paper, published today in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B Journal, says the sounds are clear enough that multiple people have been able to decipher their meaning in blind tests.

Wikie swims with her calf at Marineland in Antibes, France, in 2011. (Valery Hache/AFP/Getty Images)

What The National is reading

  • Parents of Quebec mosque gunman break their silence (CBC)
  • Australian government sells two filing cabinets filled with top secret docs (ABC)
  • U.K. capital hits annual air pollution 'limit' in just one month (Sky News)
  • Skier Erik Guay to miss Olympics due to ruptured disc (CBC)
  • Super Bowl fights super flu (Fox News)
  • Sur la glace avec Crosby (La Presse)
  • Older man befuddled, regrets error (Globe and Mail)
  • An oral history of the world's worst song; Toto's Africa (Guardian)

Today in history

Jan. 31, 1960: CBC monopolizes Canada's intellectuals, debates dirty jokes

An exceptionally tweedy half-hour of CBC TV's Fighting Words pits not one, but two Canadian poets — Irving Layton and Miriam Waddington — against plummy author Douglas Grant and political analyst Anne Francis. Come for the discussion of ivory towers and Canadian intellectualism, but stay for the frank talk about ribaldry. "You laugh at the animal side," Grant proclaims. "Your body does produce certain antics which, viewed coldly, are amusing."

The argument: "Canadian intellectuals never crawl out of their ivory towers except to go on CBC panel shows." 27:48

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About the Author

Jonathon Gatehouse

CBC Investigative Journalist

Jonathon Gatehouse has covered news and politics at home and abroad, reporting from dozens of countries. He has also written extensively about sports, covering seven Olympic Games and authoring a best-selling book on the business of pro-hockey. He works for the national investigative unit in Toronto.