Richard Colvin, bean counting at the food bank & the Grey Cup: Top newspaper headlines and Parliamentary daybook

Richard Colvin; bean counting at the food bank, and the Grey Cup:   Listen to my three-minute audio roundup of what's on the front pages of the country's newspapers plus highlights from Friday's Parliamentary daybook by clicking on the link below.


You can also get these audio summaries via podcast from iTunes or via an RSS feed by subscribing to my AudioBoo stream. Both the iTunes link and the RSS link are at my profile at Look under my picture on the left hand side of the page.

Here's the links to the top stories in today's summary:

National Post: Whistle-blower Richard Colvin driven by what he thinks is right

Globe and Mail: India's Shift to cut back emissions raises hopes for climate change agreement

Toronto Star: Province cracks down on compost

Montreal Gazette: Cheryl Cornacchia reports that with revenue down 10 per cent and demand up 30 per cent buying dried beans and providing recipes with them is one way the NDG Food Depot is taking care of both the bottom line and its users.

The Ottawa Citizen: Neco Cockburn at city hall reports that Ottawa Citizens are looking at a proposed 2010 tax increase of 3.99 per cent.

The Edmonton Journal: Jodie Sinnema eports that Alberta has recorded 217 new syphilis cases so far this year, despite a $2-million awareness campaign launched in January.

Calgary Herald: Richard Cuthbertson reports that two children – a boy and a girl — were found dead inside a home in the city’s northwest section.

It’s Grey Cup Weekend and Vanier Cup Weekend. Today, the University of Calgary Dinosaurs square off against the upstart Queen’s University Golden Gaels. Tomorrow in Calgary, it’s the Montreal Alouettes and the Saskatchewan Rough Riders. Tomorrow’s game is all over the front page of the Regina Leader Post and the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix.

Vancouver Sun: Tiger Woods car crash.

In their own words: David Mulroney's opening statement at Afghanistan committee

David Mulroney, Canada's Ambassador to China, testified Thursday at the House of Commons Special Committee on Afghanistan about matters that occurred while he was a deputy minister in charge of Canada's Afghanistan mission. He held that post from early 2007 until this year.

I've copied and pasted the text of his address from a PDF. When you do that, the French text gets fairly mangled and there may be some spelling errors in the English text. Download the PDF to review the text as it was distributed by Mulroney's staff:

Remarks for Ambassador David Mulroney


Thank you for the opportunity to share my experience and perspective on the Afghanistan mission and the important issue of Canadian transferred detainees. Recent testimony and media coverage have left the impression that I discouraged honest reporting about the situation in Afghanistan and that I contributed to a situation in which detainees captured by the Canadian Forces were transferred to Afghan authorities without due regard to the risk of torture. This is simply not true.

Des temoiqnaqes et des reportages dans les medias laissent entendre que j' ai decouraqe la diffusion de rapports de la situation en Afghanistan et que j' ai joue un role dans des circonstances ou des detenus captures par les Forces canadiennes auraient ete transferee aux autorites afghanes sans tenir compte du risque de torture. Ce n'est pas vrai.

Like so many others, I am proud of my work on Afghanistan, and very confident that I did my best to ensure that, in everything we did, we acted to conduct our operations effectively, save Afghan and Canadian lives, build stronger Afghan institution s, and meet our legal obligations – as well as the high expectations of Canadians. Let me start by explaining my own involvement in the evolution of the Afghanistan mission. I had visited Afghanistan twice in my student days in the 1970s, and returned again, much later, in my capacity as Assistant Deputy Minister Asia Pacific, first with then-Deputy Prime Minister John Manley, in January 2002 and in September 2003 with then-Foreign Minister Bill Graham, for the opening of our embassy in Kabul. Later, as Foreign and Defence Policy advisor to the Prime Minister from April 2006 to February 2007, I participated, when my presence in Ottawa would allow it, as an observer in the committee of Deputy Ministers that then oversaw the mission.

Among the issues I followed closely at that time were efforts to have civilian officials re-engage in Kandahar following the death of our colleague Glyn Berry on January 15, 2006. In the aftermath of Operation Medusa that summer, which, as General Hillier described yesterday was Canada's largest military engagement since Korea, I worked to help secure the additional equipment that was needed to support our people in the field. I also worked on preparations for the NATO Summit in Riga in which the Prime Minister launched the diplomatic engagement that over time brought thousands of additional troops to southern Afghanistan; and I helped to plan a visit to Afghanistan by the previous Clerk of the Privy Council , a visit that would make recommendations about how we managed Afghanistan, including having me return to DFAIT to take up that challenge. In February 2007, I was named Associate Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and was given lead responsibility to coordinate intergovernmental efforts on Afghanistan.

With the exception of also being lead official for the G8 in 2007, I would work almost exclusively on Afghanistan at Foreign Affairs and later at PCO until May of 2009. I visited Afghanistan 11 more times in that period. The mission I joined in February 2007 was characterized as “3-D”, referring to the pillars of defence, diplomacy and development working together, but the effort was not as coordinated and coherent as it should have been, and needed to be. The number of civilians deployed to the field was too few, and they were too junior. Management structures defining who was accountable and responsible for what, were too diffuse. Most serious, in my view, was a lack of true coordination – between HQ and the field, between Kabul and Kandahar, and between the military and the civilians, something that prevented us from delivering a truly whole-ofgovernment effort.

I worked to change that with a growing team of talented people. We created a new Afghanistan Task Force in DFAIT which brought all resources under my responsibility. We set to work to build a single coordinated plan that would allow us to align people, programs and resources in support of a clearly defined set of Canadian objectives. This was a process that would not be complete until we had, thanks to the Manley Panel, established coherence around 6 priorities and 3 signature projects. We also began to build up civilian resources, and, importantly, to bring more senior civilian resources into Afghanistan. This, too, took time. We needed to completely revamp how we identified, recruited, trained, deployed and supported our people. We grew our civilian presence from a handful in Kandahar in early 2006 to more than 120 in Afghanistan today, including more than 80 in Kandahar.

So my early focus, after making a quick initial visit to Afghanistan, was to bring greater coherence to our work, to create a more truly collaborative approach between HQ and the field, and to begin assigning more civilians – and more senior civilians – to the field. With regard to the specific issue of detainees, it was clear that here, too, greater coordination between government departments was required. As General Hillier indicated in his opening statement yesterday, reporting from respected international sources confirmed that the challenges faced by Afghanistan were enormous, and that Canada's detainee policy had to be situated within that context. It was precisely because of those challenges that the Government had concluded the transfer arrangement in December 2005, which provided assurances from the Government of Afghanistan that detainees transferred by the Canadian Forces would be treated humanely and in accordance with Afghanistan's international legal obligations.

But as General Hillier also testified yesterday, we learned that in the face of an evolving insurgency and many other challenges, we needed to rein-force- our as elsewhere, consistent with our objective to build Afghanistan's capacity to implement those obligations. When I took up my responsibilities at DFAIT in February 2007, the department was already exploring ways to engage in monitoring and tracking detainees. At the same time, we had an exchange of letters with the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission – an organization for which we are a major funderin which the AIHRC agreed to notify Canada should it learn of any mistreatment of Canadiantransferred detainees. In mid-March we began detailed work to create a contingency plan – a standard operating procedure – in the event of well-founded allegations of mistreatment.

We did this not because of confirmed instances of real and substantial risk of torture or mistreatment of Canadian transferred detainees, but because Hwas clear that what we had in place at the time could and should be further reinforced. We needed to be far more engaged in terms of monitoring, training and providing infrastructure and equipment. We worked quickly and collaboratively to design a system that would require contributions from the CF, ONO, OFAIT, Correctional Services, the RCMP, Justice, and several of our diplomatic posts. I spent hours talking with (and in many cases visiting) people involved in the intelligence work, and the actual operations in the field. I walked through every step of the incarceration process at Kandahar Airfield. I would later visit the NOS detention facility in Kandahar and sit in on an interview with a Canadian-transferred detainee.

We were very attuned to the many problems in the Afghan justice system. In a country so beset by poverty, illiteracy, insurgency, with a lack of public institutions, and suffering from decades of civil strife – the possibility of mistreatment could not be ignored . We did not ignore it. A dedicated and experienced interdepartmental team talked with Afghan officials in Kabul and Kandahar, with allies and with informed people in the relevant international organizations – in short, everyone who had a stake in the issue to find out what they knew. We reviewed all relevant reports and documents; took the time to consult; built a common sense of objectives and purpose; a clear understanding of roles and responsibilities; and marshalled the resources to ensure effective implementation. And we negotiated a new and better Arrangement with the Afghans.

Throughout, we were very clearly aware of our responsibilities under international law and were informed by a need to build capacity in Afghan institutions. . We in no way underestimated the challenges, but we had confidence in our people and in the array of tools that we could bring to the effort training, monitoring, providing new infrastructure and equipment, engaging the Afghans at all levels to remind them of their obligations and commitments. The issue was not theoretical. First, we had no doubt that the detainees captured by the CF posed a real threat to Afghans and, more than that, in some cases had Canadian blood on their hands. Our inability to put into the Afghan justice system those who were captured on the battlefield or in operations against lED makers would have put Afghans and Canadians at more risk. .

Second, a working correctional system and a working justice system are critical to governance, nowhere more so than in Afghanjstan. If we gave up on that, it would be a terri ble set back for the Afghan people. We believed that we needed to effect change, and that we had the ability – and the obligation – to do so. On May 3, 2007, our governments signed a Supplementary Arrangement that enhanced the December 2005 Arrangement in a number of important respects to make explicit Canada's expectations and Afghanistan's responsibilities. The Supplementary Arrangement: • Provided us with unrestricted and private access to any person transferred by the CF to Afghan authorities; • Acknowledged that the AIHRC and the ICRC have the same unrestricted access; • Made clear that the Afghanistan Government would investigate ALL allegations of abuse and mistreatment and prosecute offenders in accordance with national law and internationally applicable legal standards; and,

• Provided that Canadian-transferred detainees would only be held in a limited number of facilities, thereby facilitating access and monitoring. This was a major interdepartmental achievement and remains arguably the strongest model for any NATO nation operating in Afghanistan. Now, let me say a few words about my management, not just at DFAIT or PCO, but of the broader interdepartmental team that I was asked to coord inate. The Afghanistan mission presented us with a number of challenges that none of us had ever dealt with before. We learned every single day, talked about how we could do better, integrated best practises into our work and refined our policies and processes in the wake of an evolving series of challenges. One of those challenges was how to move from policy discussion to policy formu lation to implementation.

On detainees, as all the files we were coming to terms with, I encouraged an open airing of views, opinions and suggestions. But once the policy wasdecided, I made it clear that it was up to all officials to implement it, with rigour and commitment and discipline. I have already observed that I felt that we needed far more consultation and teamwork. I noticed that departments tended to report separately, in some cases only to their own people. And although I would certainly be considered an insider, when reading some of the field reporting, it was not always clear whether what we were reading was based on first-hand experience or opinion; whether an author was speaking with the authority of his home department, the embassy or even the g.overnment of Canada; or offering an individual view. Though there was a high volume of reporting, there was a lower volume of hard facts. I felt that it was my job to ensure that we were providing the best possible advice.

Allow me to say a few words about one member of our team. Richard Colvin willingly volunteered to go into a dangerous theatre of operations and undertook very challenging work at a time when . there was not a long line up of people to do so. He demonstrated bravery and dedication, and for that I am grateful. Richard was one of a very large number of people who brought ideas, suggestions and recommendations to bear for consideration. I didn't necessarily always agree with him, but I always listened. The volume of reporting he did would alone suggest that he always had ample opportunity to express himself and have his views considered. In fact, the revised Transfer Arrangement addresses each of the shortcomings he spoke to in his testimony before this Committee because of the collaborative, interdepartmental work we did to get to that point. He acknowledged this to me.

The view that I muzzled him or any other officia ls is wrong. The correspondence to which he has referred in this is, I believe, from April 24, 2007. We had written to provide our embassy in Kabul with our diplomatic contingency plan, the product of extensive interdepartmental consultation that had included the embassy. He wrote back with a message that appeared to reopen the debate based on no new information; to request that we take up a course of action that were were already taking; and to offer views about how the military should conduct its operations. This caused considerable confusion in Ottawa. I made three points to him: • first, the approach we have outlined represents interdepartmental consensus at this stage • second, more detailed and specific tasking for you vis a vis Government of Afghanistan and AIHRC will follow • and third, ideas/opinion and strongly held views are often best first expressed by phone

Getting very difference departments, agencies and the CF to agree and much less do the same thing is not easy. I insisted that we take the time to consu lt widely on all major issues. I asked people to talk through things, confer with colleagues, and to use the phone more – you can't do work of this nature with officia ls in three continents and divided by severa l time zones exclusively through email exchange. We would bring all Ottawa players together into a single room, and connect them with key contacts in Kabul, Kandahar and, where warranted, Brussels or New York. I made it clear that any and all views were welcome and that we were interested in seeing any new, relevant information. I also said that I expected people to be clear about whether they were reporting based on direct experience and whether they were adding new information. Our ability to add facts and understanding grew with our deployment of civilian experts.

I asked that the Ambassador be consulted on all important policy messages, a necessary fact of life in every mission, and something that senior people in Canada assumed was happening . I asked for reporting from the field that was factual, objective, collaborative, and subject to rigorous assessment. Finally, I made it clear that, after those extensive consultations, once a policy direction was set, I did not expect people, in the absence of any • new or relevant information, to reopen the debate. To do so would be to sow confusion in the system, undermine effective implementation, and demoralize those who were risking their lives to visit the prisons and meet the commitments that all departments and agencies had agreed on. I am also very proud of the fact that, far from stifling opinion or hiding the truth, we built up the resources to report fully, bluntly, and transparently on the mission. In this respect, I point to the Manley Panel report, and to the Quarterly Reports that we have published since June 2008.

No other country offers this level of transparency. But our ability to do this was linked to getting civilian resources into the field, and shifting from opinion, circumstantial evidence and allegation, to fact. J'a i cree une solide equlpe interministerielle profondernent dediee aaccomplir la mission et . a promouvoir les valeurs canadiennes, a commencer par Ie respect de la loi. I spent more than two years on the Afghanistan file. I served in DFAIT, as Secretary to the Manley Panel, and in PCO, where I directed the work that sawall of the Panel's recommendations implemented. I helped to forge a strong interdepartmental team that was fiercely devoted to the mission, but also fiercely devoted to Canadian values, starting with a respect for the law.

I left behind some colleagues who, I know, felt frustrated because once our own airing of views and opinions had concluded, and all relevant consultations were completed, we moved decisively from debate to implementation. I am confident, though, that we did this carefully, effectively and with total fidelity to the standards expected of us by the Canadian Government, the international community, and most importantly, Canadians.

Were Taliban captured by Canadians tortured when we put them in Afghan jails? No way to know

Here's my take on David Mulroney's appearance yesterday at the House of Commons Special Committee on the Mission of Afghanistan:

Suspected Taliban insurgents captured by Canadian soldiers in the fall of 2006 may have been tortured by Afghan authorities but Canada has no way of confirming it because it did not have the right systems in place at the time to track what happened to the people it captured, a Commons committee was told Thursday.

David Mulroney, who became deputy minister in charge of the Afghanistan mission in 2007, conceded that fact after being pressed by opposition MPs at the House of Commons special committee on the mission in Afghanistan.

It was not until the spring of 2007 that Canada had a system in place to monitor what happened to people captured by Canadian soldiers, once they were inside Afghan prisons.

He also said that he, along with Peter MacKay, who was foreign affairs minister at the time, senior military officials and other senior bureaucrats were aware that insurgents were routinely tortured by Afghan authorities in those prisons, a determination made not only by credible international and Afghanistan human rights groups but by some of Mulroney's own subordinates … [Read the details on this one]

My friend Murray Brewster, sitting on the other side of the room, during Mulroney's testimony seems to have come to the same conclusions I did with a slightly different but just as appropriate emphasis:

Federal officials were well aware of allegations of abuse in Afghan jails even as the Canadian military was handing over prisoners in 2006, Canada's former top man on Afghanistan says.

The testimony by David Mulroney to a House of Commons committee Thursday supports a key aspect of whistle-blowing diplomat Richard Colvin's claim, and clarifies an important point in the controversy over the detainee issue.

Opposition parties and human rights advocates have been asking why the government continued to turn over prisoners when it knew of abuse in Afghan prisons.

The Harper government has defended itself by arguing there was no credible evidence of torture until 2007, when it changed the transfer system.

But Mulroney, now ambassador to China, suggested there was indeed evidence of torture – just not involving Canadian transferees.

"The fact that there were allegations of mistreatment in Afghan prisons was known to us," said Mulroney, who headed the Privy Council's Afghanistan task force.

"There was no mention specifically of Canadian-transferred prisoners – that was a deficiency that we later cleared up."

He also acknowledged there was no way to get credible evidence about abuse of Canadian transferees because there was no proper monitoring of prisoners prior to 2007. [Read the rest]

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Afghanistan, animal cruelty, and Rider Nation: Friday's Top newspaper headlines and Parliamentary Daybook

Afghanistan torture claims, animal cruelty in Toronto and are the Green Riders Canada's team?:  Listen to my three-minute audio roundup of what's on the front pages of the country's newspapers plus highlights from Friday's Parliamentary daybook by clicking on the link below.

You can also get these audio summaries via podcast from iTunes or via an RSS feed by subscribing to my AudioBoo stream. Both the iTunes link and the RSS link are at my profile at Look under my picture on the left hand side of the page.


Kick Canada out of the Commonwealth for climate change inaction, greenies urge

This just in:

Global coalition demands Canada's suspension from the Commonwealth on climate grounds

26 November 2009 – A coalition of prominent figures from the developing world have joined a former UK development minister, a UN scientist and British environment and development groups to demand the suspension of Canada from the commonwealth for its record on climate change.

The groups claim that Canada's lack of action on climate change is contributing to droughts, floods and sea level rises in small island states and vulnerable commonwealth countries such as Bangladesh, The Maldives and Mozambique. Canada's emissions have risen by 26.2% between 1990 and 2007. A recent report puts Canada at the bottom of the G8 league table for action to tackle climate change.

The Commonwealth allows for member countries to be suspended for Human Rights abuses, but ignores the impact of greenhouse gas emissions on some of the poorest countries in the world. This week, the Secretary General of the Commonwealth of Nations, Kamalesh Sharma said: "I would like to think that our definition of serious violations could embrace much more than it does now."

The organisation has acted before against members. It was a prominent opponent of the apartheid regime in South Africa, and suspended Nigeria for three years after the 1995 hanging of the activist Ken Saro-Wiwa. Zimbabwe was suspended in 2002 and withdrew altogether a year later.

Canada's government, led by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, continues to support for the extraction of oil from tar sands in northern Alberta, a process which scientists say is three times as damaging to the climate than extracting conventional oil (3).  

Reacting to the news, Greenpeace UK Executive Director John Sauven said:

"Individual countries are rightly suspended from the Commonwealth for human rights abuses, but the Canadian government is contributing to what is arguably the greatest human rights scandal of all time. Extracting millions of barrels of dirty oil from tar sands and abandoning the Kyoto treaty is not the behaviour of a responsible commonwealth member, and Canada should be suspended immediately."

Saleemul Huq, Senior Fellow on Climate Change and a lead author of the IPCC fourth assessment report said:
"My country, Bangladesh, is already suffering the effects of climate change. Canada's complete failure to cut its emissions is making the global situation worse. If the Commonwealth is serious about holding its members to account, then threatening the lives of millions of people in developing countries should lead to the suspension of Canada's membership immediately." 

Former UK International Development Secretary Clare Short said:
"It is important that the Commonwealth works to reduce global warming, which will devastate many of its members. Countries that fail to help should be suspended from membership, as are those that breach human rights. A process should now begin to consider suspending Canada."

Tony Clarke, Director of the Polaris institute in Canada said:
"The Canadian government's ongoing support for the Alberta tar sands is giving Canada a black eye on the international stage," "Unless our Government is willing to stop blocking international climate negotiations through its continued support for the tar sands, Canada should get out of the way and stop sitting at the Commonwealth table".

 Deborah Doane, director of the World Development Movement, who is Canadian, said:
"I am deeply ashamed of the Canadian government's appalling record on climate change. Canada consumes far more than its fair share of carbon, and, like all rich nations, owes a debt to developing nations for the impact of its emissions on the climate. Canada's policy on tar sands extraction means than Canada's reputation as a leading global citizen promoting social and environmental justice is now completely tarnished.
"People in developing countries of the Commonwealth, like Bangladesh, are right to be angry that Canada is getting away with climate crimes that are destroying their homes and livelihoods. The Commonwealth should hold Canada to a higher standard, and not accept their stance from the sidelines. Just because they're not using arms, doesn't mean they're not causing harm on a grand scale."

Afghan torture claims, kidnapped journalists, and a big climate change speech: Today's top headlines + parliamentary daybook

Jihad-lit in Canadian libraries; a new line from the Afghan torture whistleblower; and a retiring Senator:  Listen to my three-minute audio roundup of what's on the front pages of the country's newspapers plus highlights from Wednesday's Parliamentary daybook by clicking on the link below.

You can also get these audio summaries via podcast from iTunes or via an RSS feed by subscribing to my AudioBoo stream. Both the iTunes link and the RSS link are at my profile at Look under my picture on the left hand side of the page.


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MacKay responds to new Colvin documents: Never saw direct reports from Colvin

Defence Minister Peter MacKay, upon exiting from the weekly Conservative caucus meeting, responds to new documents that diplomat Richard Colvin filed with the House of Commons Special Committee on the Mission in Afghanistan. Colvin said that memos he sent up the chain of the command alerting officials to possible torture of Afghan detainees in 2006/07 were also cc'd or copied to the office of the Minister of Foreign Affairs. MacKay served as Foreign Affairs from February 6, 2006 until August 13, 2007 when he became Minister of National Defence.

Mackay: “I received briefings from the deputy minister and there were attachments to which Mr. Colvin was a contributor but I have not received direct reports from Mr. Colvin.

This is the subject of the parliamentary committee. We’re going to hear from a number of witnesses today including General Gauthier, General Fraser and General Hillier. We’ll now see other evidence with respect to what took place in Afghanistan. That’s critical that we hear from other individuals who were there on the ground. That’s what we’re going to hear over the course of the next number of appearances by witnesses. We’ve heard from two groups of witnesses in three days of testimony.

Q: Are you still saying that, before 2007 and the change of that deal, you did not see any reports from Mr. Colvin?

Mackay: That’s correct.

Q: And why do you suggest he’s not credible?

Mackay: I’m not getting into the personality, the professionalism. I’m saying evidence that has been presented thus far does not substantiate the claim. It does not prove that any detainees – Taliban prisoners – transferred by Canadian Forces were tortured. I want to be clear: I’m not talking about the individual. I’m talking about evidence. And, quite frankly, now that this is subject of a Parliamentary Committee, I think we should let that committee hear from other individuals which is what’s going to happen.

When we’ve had credible allegations, we’ve acted and we’ve acted in substantial ways. We’ve invested in the prison system. We’ve trained individuals. We have gone out of our way to elevate how Afghans treat Afghans and that’s the crux: This is about what Afghans did to Taliban prisoners. There is no suggestion of wrongdoing on the part of the Canadian Forces or individuals in Afghanistan working very hard to improve the human rights situation. Canada can be very proud of the contributions that have been made by Canadian officials, soldiers, sailers, airmen and women who have done so at great sacrifice to themselves to ensure that Canada continues to enjoy a stellar reputation for human rights.

Jihad-lit, Afghan torture testimony, and a retiring Senator: Top headlines and parliamentary daybook

Jihad-lit in Canadian libraries; a new line from the Afghan torture whistleblower; and a retiring Senator:  Listen to my three-minute audio roundup of what's on the front pages of the country's newspapers plus highlights from Wednesday's Parliamentary daybook by clicking on the link below.

You can also get these audio summaries via podcast from iTunes or via an RSS feed by subscribing to my AudioBoo stream. Both the iTunes link and the RSS link are at my profile at Look under my picture on the left hand side of the page.


An Israel-Hamas deal; crib recall, and Grey Cup fever: Tuesday's front page headlines and Parliamentary daybook

Afghanistan torture allegations, the RCMP Commissioner's plea to Parliament to get tough on his own force; and some really expensive whisky:  Listen to my four-minute audio roundup of what's on the front pages of the country's newspapers plus highlights from Tuesday's Parliamentary daybook by clicking on the link below.

You can also get these audio summaries via podcast from iTunes or via an RSS feed by subscribing to my AudioBoo stream. Both the iTunes link and the RSS link are at my profile at Look under my picture on the left hand side of the page.


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