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Trump's decision to move U.S. embassy means further oppression for Palestinians

Sun, 2017-12-10 22:17
December 10, 2017Moving U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem is Trump's war on the PalestiniansBy recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the U.S. further isolates itself, as it becomes the only country in the world to do so.

Special programs and testing prevent children from learning important life lessons

Sat, 2017-12-09 01:00
Anti-RacismEducationPolitics in Canada

I was saddened to see Toronto's school board retreat from its plan to phase out its special schools and programs, like those for the arts and gifted students. They said it would be for the sake of greater social equity and meant to replace them by spreading the benefits among all, not just some -- mostly white and affluent -- kids. But they came under heavy fire for trying to squelch creativity and undermine individualism among "our" brightest kids. They caved.

These educational matters go through phases; what was once daring and urgent has to eventually be discarded for something else. The individual creativity thing has roots in the mid-20th century, a highly conformist time. If you want a sense of that, watch Amazon's The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, about a young Jewish woman in 1950s New York, with a cameo by comedian Lenny Bruce. He was repeatedly arrested for saying words like tits, onstage. Even in the 1970s, comic George Carlin recited a list of seven words you couldn't utter publicly. Now they're all staples of network TV.

How did social equity replace individual creativity? Partly, demographics. Toronto's an awfully different place. But there's also activism among minority communities. It's one thing to have well-meaning white liberals fighting for your kids, it's another to engage directly. It's no longer just about what's right; there's what must be responded to. OISE (the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education), the weird educational building on Bloor St. W., has become a voice for those demands, but it reflects broader activism.

Take Toronto's "gifted" program. Kids are selected for it based on individually administered aptitude tests that don't depend on growing up in a home with lots of books and a piano. But teachers choose which kids take the test. Guess which parents squawk loudest if their kids aren't chosen and demand they be tested anyway. That's one way social equity gets eased out the back door. A high school like Northern has many gifted classes and many black students, but few of the latter are in the former. It makes no sense.

The name itself also sucks. I know I sound like Mister Rogers but all kids are gifted. My main point though is educational. The great feat of public schools is being open to everyone; they offer unique opportunities to learn from those unlike us. That gets lost if school populations are desegregated by program. At the same time, kids fail to learn a crucial lesson: what their society really looks like.

The special programs debate is linked to the testing question, another issue roiling education in Toronto. Every three years all Ontario kids take standardized tests and the results in math have been falling.

In fact, this is common everywhere that standardized tests are used. But in the Globe, Margaret Wente uses it to attack the equity caucus: "The folks at OISE believe that differences in academic achievement are caused by social inequities, not differences in ability."

That isn't so preposterous. Differences in academic achievement between demographic groups are frequently caused by social inequities while differences within the same group indicate different abilities. Maybe Wente needs some refreshers in "problem-solving and discovery approaches," which Conrad Black hyperventilates over in the National Post.

He finds it absurd that teachers and their unions suggest scrapping tests in response to poor scores. But their point isn't that kids are doing badly on the tests; it's that they're doing badly because of them. A heavy stress on tests detracts from teaching time and, if it goes far enough, as it has in the U.S., drives good teachers from the system. That's not what they went into it for.

Black's solution? "A redoubled effort be made to teach young people better." Wow. It's like Trump's idea to appoint "good generals" instead of bad ones, to start winning wars. ("The man's a military genius!" fumed Lewis Black.)

Black also noted that he'd taught fellow inmates while in a U.S. prison and "Every one my lads matriculated," i.e., passed the test. Because that's what tests prove: you've learned how to pass a test.

All university students currently sweating through papers and exams prior to Christmas break know it: you're studying to pass the test, not master the course material. What you've truly learned counts zero, compared to what you think your prof (or more likely, TA) wants to hear you say. This column is dedicated to them.

This column was first published in the Toronto Star.

Photo: University of Saskatchewan​/Flickr

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educationCanadian teacherspublic schoolssocial equalitycreativityschools kill creativityCAONRick SalutinDecember 9, 2017Unions rally over possible school closures in TorontoSchools are community hubs, say parents and teachers, and any closures need to be reviewed by City Council and the communities affected.B.C. budget favours private schools over public educationAs with other areas of the B.C. budget, 2015 will favour the rich with increases for private schools while imposing spending cuts to public schools.Canadian schools must be culturally inclusive. Why aren't they?Earlier this month, the Toronto District School Board was in hot water after its plan to help Somali-Canadian youth better succeed in school became controversial.

Many First Nations communities still do not have safe drinking water

Fri, 2017-12-08 17:20
December 8, 2017The government has not budgeted enough money to provide safe water to all First Nations: PBOThe Parliamentary Budget Officer warns the funds budgeted for water infrastructure and maintenance in First Nations communities is inadequate to the need -- and to the government's own commitments.

Today is day 142 of the vigil demanding response to Indigenous youth suicide crisis

Fri, 2017-12-08 15:34
Rachel Small

Today marks the 142nd day that a continuous 24-hour vigil has been maintained outside of the Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada office in downtown Toronto. Under the slogan #NOMIC (Not One More Indigenous Child) the vigil has been honoring victims of the ongoing Indigenous youth suicide crisis and demanding real, meaningful responses. That's over four months of the organizers suspending their lives in order to sleep, eat, and spend their days outside in variable ­-- and increasingly frigid -- weather. They have been tirelessly holding space with their bodies to serve as a visual reminder that Indigenous youth are dying and it is urgent that the government stop stalling and take action.

The suicide crisis affecting First Nations communities is not a new problem. And despite many promises of reconciliation and rebuilding relationships, both provincial and federal governments have dragged their feet in taking any kind of action. As the organizers of the vigil explain, "There has been report after report, inquiry after inquiry, recommendation after recommendation made, all of which have yet to be implemented in an effort to reduce the number of suicides, missing and murdered women, child apprehensions, incarceration rates, rapes, boiling water advisories, food insecurities, inadequate housing and shelters, coupled with the lack of funding and services that is administered in comparison to the non-Indigenous population."

In the face of this inaction, the vigil organizers are going one step further and planning a forum from December 19 to 21 to open up space and a platform for Indigenous youth from remote northern communities to come together in Toronto to share their vision and stories in their own words, as well as how others might contribute in a meaningful way to truly address the crisis of youth suicides in Indigenous communities. The forum will end with a large rally and march at noon on December 21, marking the five year anniversary of the thousands-strong Idle No More march on Parliament Hill.

Sometimes when we face something this heartbreaking it is easier to turn away, or the impulse is to quickly throw anything at the problem so we can then move on. For those of us like myself who are settlers here in Tkaronto, it is imperative that we support the amazing women who are refusing to let everyone turn away from this ongoing tragedy by maintaining this vigil and planning the forum and march coming up this month. We must join them in refusing to let the conversation be shifted to one of charity towards Indigenous youth. This is not an issue of charity but of working towards justice and action in response to the enormous state violence -- via ongoing colonization, erasure, resource extraction, land theft, breaking up of families, deprivation of resources, etc. -- that the Indigenous youth who have taken their own lives have faced. We have those who have supported this vigil to thank for holding space and supporting a deeper reckoning and conversation.

Information on how to support the forum and march in Toronto from December 19-21 is available here

Image: Rachel Small

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It was wall-to-wall Brad Wall as premier exits, stage right, before wheels fall off Saskatchewan Party bus

Fri, 2017-12-08 02:28
David J. Climenhaga

Political coverage was wall-to-wall Brad Wall yesterday as mainstream media said farewell to their beloved posterboy for Western Canadian austerity.

Saskatchewan Premier Wall -- once known as the Mr. Congeniality of Canadian politics, but lately an increasingly cranky figure as recession and persistently low oil prices exposed the cracks in his government's austerity and privatization agenda -- gave his last speech in the province's legislature in Regina.

In response, media really poured it on.

CTV alliteratively recounted yesterday's "tears and tributes" in Regina.

Postmedia's reporter seemed to suggest Wall got his inspiration from Abraham Lincoln, leastways, the Disney version of the Civil War U.S. president. The story didn't actually say Wall was born in a log cabin, but it came close.

To the CBC, he was "Just Brad."

You get the picture.

What you didn't get from the media was much of what Wall actually said -- which from the few quotes provided by reporters mostly seemed to be the usual anodyne platitudes uttered by exiting Canadian politicians on their way out the door.

Well, give the man his due. The Swift Current MLA was premier for 14 years, led his Saskatchewan Party to three big majorities, and was very popular with voters through most of his career.

The rebranding of the Saskatchewan Progressive Conservative Party was made necessary by the mid-1990s corruption scandal in Saskatchewan that saw more than a dozen PC MLAs convicted. Wall made it work.

While Wall's mood turned sour with the onset of low petroleum prices, the defeat of the Harper Conservatives in Ottawa, and the reluctance of some provinces to see bitumen pipelines from Canada's Prairies running through their real estate, he had the wit to get out before his reputation was in tatters. Some other Saskatchewan Party premier will now have to take the blame as the provincial economy moves further south.

The election of an NDP government in Alberta seemed particularly to get up Wall's nose. He showed up in Calgary from time to time to complain petulantly about Premier Rachel Notley to conservative-dominated oilpatch audiences.

This hostility may be what's driving Saskatchewan's nutty ban on Alberta licence plates on highway construction worksites. Indeed, Wall took time out from his round of farewells yesterday to insist Saskatchewan won't be backing off the Plate War any time soon.

This prompted jeers from Alberta's government. Trade Minister Deron Bilous called him "desperate to change the channel from his bad-for-business budget" on the CBC's morning radio show yesterday. Premier Notley told the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce that "what's really going on here, we know full well, is the Saskatchewan government decided to slap a 6 per cent tax onto the construction industry and people are hurting and they're trying to distract from it."

She got laughs when she joked that "if any of you drove here and have a Saskatchewan licence plate, you might want to move your car, because we are towing." And she got a standing ovation at the end of her speech.

The late stages of Wall's political career casts some useful illumination on the problem for neoliberal ideologues who want to move democratic societies like Canada's toward full-blown austerity and privatization, a process that requires an economic boom sustained by high commodity prices to succeed.

As with the schemes of Margaret Thatcher, Stephen Harper and Ralph Klein, revenue from the export of petroleum products was supposed to pay for huge tax cuts and (temporary) maintenance of public services to buy social peace during the transfer of wealth to the richest classes and transition to privatization.

For years, the oil money pouring into Saskatchewan sustained Wall's distracting slight of hand, which was necessary to fool voters into thinking they could have both neoliberal austerity in government and a booming economy in civil economy.

Alas for him, the boom ended too soon to complete the work of weaning Saskatchewanians off government services and redirecting the taxes that pay for civil society into the pockets of the government's wealthy patrons. It turns out it was easy to be the most popular guy in the West when your coffers were overflowing. When they weren't? Not so much.

When the cracks started to appear, it wasn't just Mr. Wall that got cranky. So did significant numbers of former Saskatchewan Party supporters, particularly in the province's urban areas. Not all of them, it turns out, blame the government of Alberta for their problems, presumably contributing to the timing of Mr. Wall's prudent exit.

The Saskatchewan Party will choose a new leader on Jan. 27.

At 52, Mr. Wall is still a young man. So he'll probably find a way to continue to be a public nuisance.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca

Photo: DanielPaquet/Wikimedia Commons

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Apologies are appropriate and needed

Fri, 2017-12-08 02:18
December 8, 2017Politics in CanadaPublic apologies serve crucial role in democratic societiesApologies are not monetary gifts or hollow words offered by teary politicians. They are gestures that define our history as a country and restorre faith in institutions.Trudeau apology

U.S. Senate committee considers limiting presidential authorization of nuclear attacks

Thu, 2017-12-07 22:34
US PoliticsWorld

In 1971, Daniel Ellsberg released the Pentagon Papers, thousands of pages of the Pentagon's secret history of U.S. involvement in Vietnam, exposing the government's lies and helping to end the war. President Richard Nixon's national security adviser, Henry Kissinger, called Ellsberg "the most dangerous man in America."

Now at 86 years old, Ellsberg is revealing for the first time that the Pentagon Papers were not the first classified documents that he removed from his secure workplace. In his new book, The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner, he details his early years at the Pentagon, and why he took thousands of pages of U.S. nuclear war plans describing the lunacy of the U.S. nuclear war policy over 55 years ago. What he discovered is frighteningly relevant today.

Last July 20 at the Pentagon, President Donald Trump reportedly shocked the military staff gathered to brief him on national security issues by suggesting he wanted to increase the nuclear arsenal tenfold. It was after that meeting that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is said to have called Trump a "f-ing moron." In August, NBC's Joe Scarborough, citing an unnamed source, said Trump asked a foreign-policy adviser about using nuclear weapons. Scarborough said: "Three times [Trump] asked about the use of nuclear weapons. Three times he asked at one point if we had them why can't we use them?" For over 70 years, the president has held the enormous power to launch nuclear weapons, but only one has used it: Harry Truman, ordering the dropping of two atomic bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, killing hundreds of thousands of people. Trump, who seems to relish saber rattling and antagonizing opponents like the supreme leader of nuclear-armed North Korea, Kim Jong Un, may be pushing us to the brink of nuclear war.

Describing President Dwight Eisenhower's nuclear war plans, which Ellsberg was tasked with improving in the early months of the Kennedy administration, the whistleblower told us on the Democracy Now! news hour: "They were insane. They called for first-strike, all-out war...for hitting every city -- actually, every town over 25,000 -- in the USSR and every city in China...The captive nations, the East Europe satellites in the Warsaw Pact, were to be hit in their air defenses, which were all near cities, their transport points, their communications of any kind. So they were to be annihilated as well."

Ellsberg recalled how, in 1961, the Joint Chiefs of Staff matter-of-factly predicted casualties of over 600 million people globally, when the world population was only 3 billion. "Six hundred million, that was a hundred Holocausts. And when I held the piece of paper in my hand that had that figure, that they had sent out proudly, to the president -- 'Here's what we will do' -- I thought, 'This is the most evil plan that has ever existed. It's insane.'"

Ellsberg was summoned to the Pentagon to help manage the Cuban missile crisis in 1962, considered the closest humanity has come to nuclear annihilation. His personal experience there informs his opinion on Trump's antagonism toward North Korea. The nuclear arsenals of both countries, he says, are "being pointed by two people who are giving very good imitations of being crazy. That's dangerous. I hope they're pretending...But to pretend to be crazy with nuclear weapons is not a safe game. It's a game of chicken. Nuclear chicken."

Despite widespread concern with Trump's mental stability, he remains in control of the world's most powerful nuclear arsenal. He has promised to rain "fire and fury" on North Korea. U.S. Air Force General John Hyten, commander of U.S. Strategic Command, who oversees the entire nuclear arsenal, assured the audience at a public forum in November that "we're not stupid," that he would reject an illegal order from Trump to launch a nuclear attack.

Not satisfied to leave the check on Trump to the generals, the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations held a hearing November 14 to consider changing the law to forbid the president, alone, from being able to launch a nuclear attack. Republican Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, who has publicly stated his fear that Trump may start World War III, chaired the hearing. Democratic Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut summed up the hearing's intent, saying, "We are concerned the president of the United States is so unstable, is so volatile, has a decision-making process that is so quixotic, that he might order a nuclear weapon strike that is wildly out of step with U.S. national security interests."

We are closer to nuclear war than we have been in many decades, which is why Daniel Ellsberg's example as a whistleblower and his call for people in government to expose current doomsday plans are more important than ever.

This column was first published on Democracy Now!

Photo: Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff/Flickr

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nuclear warU.S. foreign policynuclear weaponsDonald TrumpNorth Koreaforeign policyU.S. politicsAmy GoodmanDenis MoynihanDecember 7, 2017When Trump threatens nuclear war, we need to take him seriouslyIt's time for Trump to tone down his rhetoric, stop tweeting and assign genuine diplomats to help achieve a lasting peace on the Korean peninsula.The return of nuclear nightmaresThe U.S. president has revived the fear of a nuclear holocaust for a new generation.Donald Trump may have started a new arms raceThe President-elect's vague tweet set off alarms around the world, necessitating a cadre of his inner circle to flood the airwaves with now-routine attempts to explain what their boss "really meant."

Petition calls for citizenship guide and exam to include Indigenous history

Thu, 2017-12-07 17:21
Doreen Nicoll

A petition calling on the federal government to redesign the current Canadian Citizenship study guide and exam to acknowledge Indigenous history has received the 500 signatures required to be formally tabled in the House.

Petition E-1228, an initiative of Mariam Manaa, a former summer intern in the office of Oakville North-Burlington Liberal MP Pam Damoff, is supported by Stephen Paquette, a member of the Anishinaabe from Wikwemikong First Nation on Manitoulin Island. Paquette is chair of the Halton Indigenous Education Advisory Council.

Manaa wanted to create an online petition asking the federal government to redesign the current Canadian Citizenship guide and exam to acknowledge Indigenous history. Paquette volunteered to play a supporting role to Manaa's initiative.

The petition calls on the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) to continue working in consultation and partnership with Indigenous Nations across Canada as well as the Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs to redevelop the study guide curriculum to acknowledge Indigenous Treaty Rights and educate new Canadians on intergenerational effects of residential schools and the legacy of colonialism.

The citizenship exam would be modified to include a question about the traditional territories new Canadians inhabit.

The petition to the Minister states:

  • Canada is a country that was founded during the era of colonization;
  • Policies implemented by the colonizing Nations and respective Canadian governments aimed at the assimilation of Indigenous Nations into a homogenized Canadian society;
  • In recent history, Canada has embraced that diversity which is at the core of our national identity and strength;
  • The Truth and Reconciliation Commission has called on all Canadians to begin the process of reconciliation and the current government has reiterated that there is no more important relationship than the one between the government of Canada and Indigenous Nations;
  • The current Discover Canada Study Guide and Citizenship Exam does not include any requirement to learn about the Indigenous Nations of Canada.

The changes would uphold the commitment made in the Minister of the IRCC's mandate letter to educate new Canadians on residential schools and the legacy of colonialism.

Paquette undertook changing the citizenship guide and exam because, "It's a simple opportunity to educate newcomers to Canada and thereby change the landscape of perspectives going forward. These changes can make a lasting and meaningful impact to the relationships between the Indigenous peoples and their neighbours."

Specifically, Call to Action 93, "We call upon the federal government, in collaboration with the national Aboriginal organizations, to revise the information kit for newcomers to Canada and its citizenship test to reflect a more inclusive history of the diverse Aboriginal peoples of Canada, including information about the Treaties and the history of residential schools," is addressed by the proposed changes.

Petition E-1228 also implements Call to Action 94, "We call upon the Government of Canada to replace the Oath of Citizenship with the following: I swear (or affirm) that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Queen of Canada, Her Heirs and Successors, and that I will faithfully observe the laws of Canada including Treaties with Indigenous Peoples, and fulfill my duties as a Canadian citizen."

Manna, who studies Urban Regional Planning, undertook the project in order to raise awareness, but in the end, she learned much more, "Steven taught me that it's more important to work with people than working for them. Many times, we think that we are helping people by doing the work for them. However, how can we help them if we don't work together to better things or make an impact together?"

Paquette chose to work with Damoff's office because he found her intentions of true Reconciliation sincere stating, "Pam Damoff recognizes that this will not be a one-time event, but rather a journey and from every thing I have seen, she understands this and wants to be a part of it."

Via email Damoff indicated, "As part of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau accepted the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission on behalf of Canada. One recommendation called on the federal government, in collaboration with national Indigenous organizations, to revise the information kit for newcomers to Canada and the citizenship test to 'reflect a more inclusive history of the diverse Aboriginal peoples of Canada.' A draft guide delves extensively into the history and present-day lives of Indigenous Peoples, including multiple references to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's report on residential schools and a lengthy section on what happened at those schools. The current guide contains a single paragraph."

Sherry Saevil, Indigenous Education Advisor, supports the e-petition because, "The immigration test does not have enough information on the history of Indigenous people nor does it have anything to do with understanding Treaties.

"Every person in Canada is a Treaty person and for new Canadians they must understand colonization from an Indigenous perspective. New Canadians too must understand the turmoil of the Residential School experience. I have heard numerous times from new Canadians that happened a long time ago and has nothing to do with them. New Canadians also come with their own bias of Indigenous people which is racist and bigoted. It is important for everyone to understand the land that they come to has been stolen by the colonial government without compensation."

Kim Jenkinson, Executive Director of the Halton Multicultural Council, also fully supports Petition E-1228. Jenkinson believes, "If newcomers are expected to know and understand something of the history of Canada, then there must also be an expectation that it includes the history of Canada's Indigenous people and their treatment in Canada."

Jenkinson says the learning would have 2 purposes, "The first, to understand history from a more diverse and holistic lens and the second to bring an understanding that Canada is not perfect.  We have liberties and rights here, but the rights of some have been trampled. Freedom and liberties do not come easily, and we need to do the work of examining our history and our current actions against our values and reconcile to ensure our future is peaceful and equitable for all."

Fallon Melander, an Anishinaabe lawyer, believes this to be a very important undertaking. Melander who has read the study guide said, "I strongly agree it does not reflect or portray the reality of Indigenous Peoples, communities and history of Turtle Island. I have had the opportunity to sit down with many new immigrants who feel cheated that they were not given the whole or true story of Indigenous Peoples and Canada's history of colonization. I am happy to see that this is being brought up by Steven and sponsored by Pam."

A minimum 500 signatures are required to proceed to next steps. To date over 527 people from across the country have signed the petition.

According to Damoff, "Once a petition is tabled, the government has to respond. It already has the 500 signatures necessary to require a government response." However, Damoff was clear, "The timeline for implementing the changes is up to the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship the Honourable Ahmed Hussen."

While Paquette feels the petition has been well received he sagely observes, "The passion behind it, that could be better."

Petition E-1228, is available online until December 15, 2017 at 12:30 p.m. (EDT).

A version of this article appeared in NOW Magazine on November 29, 2017.

Photo: Canadian Pacific/Flickr

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Do migrant workers have access to health care?

Thu, 2017-12-07 13:40
Heryka Miranda

Do migrant workers have health care? The answer to that question is not easy. As a condition of employment, migrant workers have the right to public health care, however, whether they have access is a more complicated question. Many workers do not know that they have health care, and generally only access emergency services. Most only have the right to the basic benefits available as a part of the provincial health system, not to dental, prescription drug and other such coverage. Migrant workers often work long hours for 6 or 7 days a week. When you add language barriers, lack of transportation, and fear of the employer finding out about their illnesses, many workers report major impediments to accessing health care. There are also important concerns about occupational health and safety, and currently there are campaigns to demand better pesticide rules and improve occupational health and safety across North America.   

I introduce to the reader two groups in the Niagara Region who are working towards addressing the psycho-social needs of migrant farm works while filling the gap as it relates to migrant farm workers accessing health care. If, after reading these stories, you want to volunteer or get involved, I have included links to both initiatives in the text of the article and at the end of the article. 

The Niagara Migrant Worker Interest Group-NMWIG

About 10 years ago a few migrant farm workers in the Niagara Region identified concerns to trusted members of their host rural community. These concerns demonstrated that there was a lack of health services and information about an array of issues impacting migrant farm workers. This included access to health care, and occupational health concerns such as a lack of preventative care protocols for workers to protect themselves from the sun or pesticides, lack of safety equipment and training on how to use certain machinery, and other job-related safety matters.

As a community response to migrant farm workers' concerns, The Niagara Migrant Worker Interest Group (NMWIG) was born and continues to be a coalition of community members and agencies responding to the health and safety needs of migrant farm workers in the Niagara Region. NMWIG was formed to foster collaboration, partnership, and resource sharing to increase access to services for migrant workers in the Niagara Region, and share information among agencies, individuals, employers and migrant workers to increase public awareness and advocate for policy change. Currently, NMWIG partners with the following agencies that include: Agricultural Workers Alliance (Virgil), Bikes for Farm Workers, Brock University, Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers (OHCOW) - Hamilton Office, Positive Living Niagara, and Quest Community Health Centre.

One way in which migrant workers access basic preventative care is at the annual migrant farm worker information health fair in the Niagara Region. This health fair is held every summer and each year up to 400 migrant farm workers attend. According to current NMWIG chair, Joanne Navarro: 

"It's an important event because many organizations come together to present migrant workers with different information which is useful to them. We also have students from Brock University that come and demonstrate stretches with workers. One worker told me that he learned valuable information on how to protect his back which he uses here and back home in Jamaica."

What the migrant farm workers most like about the festival, however, is the companionship, according to Navarro. In June 2017, NMWIG held a workers' advisory council meeting to ensure that it was addressing the needs the workers wanted to meet. In Navarro's words:

"We are always responding to migrant workers needs and not what we think they need but what they are telling us that they need. For example, we asked them about the festival, do they like it as is? Do they want to see changes? They requested whether someone can be checking their eyes, blood pressure, etc...? Their suggestions were about wanting more health check-ups at the festival and more fun and games. At the festival, the workers visit various information booths and then they wait for the bike raffle or food. In those periods of lull it would be great to have more fun activities. We are trying to provide both."

Needs assessment is an ongoing process and at the festival, NMWIG conducts community needs assessments with migrant farm workers that helps to provide more understanding and at times, tends to counter some beliefs about the lives of migrant workers. Navarro explains:

"I was surprised to read that some workers admit that they don't work enough hours. This is something I haven't heard before. You come to learn more facets about their lives that you weren't aware of before."

Towards the end of my conversation with Navarro I asked her if there were any NMWIG initiatives in reaching out to the employers/farmers of migrant workers? And, whether there are any farmers that are part of the coalition? Navarro responded:

"No there are no farmers that are part of the coalition. One of the roles that we are looking to fill is the role of outreach coordinator. Some individuals who work with NMWIG do have relationships with farmers. As a coalition we are going to stretch our efforts to focus on building relationships with farmers. I have many positive employer stories which is not the norm. What many people don't hear are the stories of farmers that do care. Its important to bring positive employer experiences as they are demonized in the media and keep everything at an arm's length. There are wonderful employers out there and we don't hear enough about them. The best story that I can tell you is about an employer that vacations in Jamaica to visit his employees. So instead of going somewhere else he goes back to Jamaica to visit his guys. That's where he chooses to spend his vacation with the workers, not away from them."

St. Alban’s Anglican Church in Beamsville, Ontario

The fact that St. Alban's is a hub for migrant workers in the Niagara region is well documented. I interviewed Padre Javier Arias about the work he does modelling exceptional culturally sensitive programming for the predominantly Mexican migrant farmworker population that they serve.

Padre Arias, a Colombian-born Anglican priest, arrived at St. Alban's in the summer of 2013. In February 2014 he took the initiative to visit a nearby farm. There he found 30 Mexican workers living at a temporary residence. This spontaneous farm visit and the meaningful relationships that were built between the priest and several workers over time was the impetus to organize weekly Spanish mass services at the Anglican Church. Through the help of these migrant farmworkers, Arias was introduced to several farms that hire migrant farmworkers in the Niagara Region.

Padre Arias came to understand some of the great challenges faced by Mexican migrant workers, in particular the lack of access to medical services and the impact that living in isolation has on the workers emotional and psychological states. Arias says:

"The migrant workers wanted something different besides being inside their temporary residences when they weren't working. They felt isolated in their homes and they were concerned about other workers' emotional states. Once I started offering Spanish mass service, I felt they needed more than just a mass. They needed accompaniment, meaningful relationships and a strong sense that they are an integral part of their community. The ability to speak the same language and attempt to integrate workers in the community has meant so much to the workers."

This year St. Alban's launched a seasonal migrant worker health clinic inside the church that runs from February through August. I have collaborated with Padre Arias on culturally sensitive arts-based programming at St. Alban's, and it's clear to me that the success of St. Alban's programs has something to do with him. So I asked him what philosophical influences ground his efforts. Padre Arias explained:

"In Latin America they trained me in Liberation Theology -- working in the community -- sensitizing others to work for social justice. It's not just about going to church, it's about social justice. It's in our blood Heryka, to fight for community and for people to progress against injustice and oppression. Jesus worked with thieves, prostitutes, the lowest of the low in society. That is the mission, to be with those most in need -- vulnerable and marginalized populations, not the most powerful, however we need them too. We need to love the powerless and take care of them as Jesus did and rise up for those who are voiceless."

Social integration and inclusion are at root of what makes St. Alban's a hub for migrant farmworkers, not religious affiliation or beliefs. Padre Arias insists that:

"We don't care what religious or spiritual affiliation migrant farm workers practice or whether they believe in God, the important thing is that they take advantage of the resources available to them. The emphasis is on social integration and inclusion. Some workers don't come to mass but come to the health clinic or English classes or dinner program, which is all fine. Its not an issue of religious affiliation, its about making sure workers access needed services and resources."

St. Alban's efforts has united a collective of six churches in the local community. Members of these churches have donated food to the migrant worker dinner program, have assisted with transportation needs, and have organized their congregations to donate warm winter clothing for the workers.

The accompaniment process is an important principle that Arias models with members of his congregation. It includes visits to local migrant farmworker residences which not only can be an eye-opening experience for Canadians, it also assists in forming meaningful relationships with the workers. Arias explains:

"When I first came to Mexican and Central American migrant farm worker communities, it was difficult because they tend to be very reserved and not trusting of people from the outside because they fear being used or manipulated or that we are going to tell them lies. When you offer genuine friendship, they give you their whole heart. My relationships evolved into this sense of family. It didn't matter if I was a priest or whether they believe in God or not, they saw me as a close friend and likewise, I would see them as close friends. Migrant workers who come to the church have a special and close relationship with volunteers. They feel part of the community when they engage with volunteers and members of the congregation and create meaningful relationships."

St. Alban's already has its eyes set on their next initiative: to carefully work on developing relationships with farmers that employ migrant farm workers.

Both these initiatives need volunteers and support. To contact St. Alban's Anglican Church and find out more about volunteer jobs, click here and to volunteer with NMWIG, click here.

Photo: Heryka Miranda

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Fighting reproductive health leads to further inequality for women

Thu, 2017-12-07 02:54
December 7, 2017WorldNew UN report on world's population connects reproductive health to inequalityEvery year the UN’s population agency reports on the world’s population. This year’s report focuses on the connection between poverty and lack of access to reproductive services.United Nationsreproductive healthafrica

Reflections on 28 years of remembering the Montreal Massacre

Wed, 2017-12-06 03:57
December 6, 2017FeminismTwenty-eight years later: December 6, 1989Remembering the killings at L'École Polytechnique at a time of renewed mobilization to fight violence against women.Montreal Massacre Memorialdecember 6male violence against women

Don't blame God or nature. We're the culprits

Tue, 2017-12-05 18:07
David Suzuki

Traditionally, we've labelled events over which we have no influence or control "acts of God" or "natural disasters." But what's "natural" about climate-induced disasters today? Scientists call the interval since the Industrial Revolution the "Anthropocene," a period when our species has become the major factor altering the biological, physical and chemical properties of the planet on a geological scale. Empowered by fossil fuel-driven technologies, a rapidly growing human population and an insatiable demand for constant growth in consumption and the global economy, our species is responsible for the calamitous consequences.

We now know that the weight of water behind large dams and injecting pressurized water into the earth for fracking induce earthquakes. Clearing large swathes of forests, draining wetlands, depleting water for industrial agriculture, polluting marine and freshwater ecosystems with nitrogen, plastics and pesticides from farmland and cities, expanding urban areas and employing ecologically destructive fishing practices such as drift nets and trawling all combine to produce species extinction on a scale not seen since the mega-extinction of dinosaurs 65 million years ago.

But we use language to deflect blame from ourselves. Not long ago, wolves, seals and basking sharks were called "pests" or "vermin," regarded as nuisances to be killed for bounties. Insects are the most numerous, diverse and important group of animals in ecosystems, yet all are affected by insecticides applied to eliminate the handful that attack commercial crops. One egregious class of pesticide is neonicotinoids, nerve toxins to which bees -- important pollinators -- are especially sensitive. Ancient forests are called "wild" or "decadent" while plantations that replace them after clear cutting are termed "normal."

One of the rarest ecosystems on Earth is the temperate rainforest stretching between Alaska and northern California, pinched between the Pacific Ocean and coastal mountains. The huge trees there have been decimated in the U.S. Fewer than 10 per cent remain. Yet environmentalists who called for the entire remnant to be protected from logging were branded as "greedy."

Former B.C. Premier Glen Clark famously labelled environmentalists like me "enemies of B.C." Former federal Finance Minister Joe Oliver called us "foreign-funded radicals" while others said we were "eco-terrorists." The real enemies, radicals and eco-terrorists are those who rush to destroy forests, watersheds or the atmosphere without regard to ecological consequences.

Recently defeated B.C. Premier Christy Clark called opponents of pipelines or LNG plants "forces of no." We who want to protect what we all need to survive would more accurately be called "forces of know" who say "yes" to a future of clean, renewable energy and a rich environment.

We seem to have forgotten that the word economy, like ecology, is based on the Greek oikos, meaning "domain" or "household." Because of our ability to find ways to exploit our surroundings, humans are not confined to a specific habitat or ecosystem. We've found ways to live almost everywhere -- in deserts, the Arctic, jungles, wetlands and mountains. Ecologists seek the principles, rules and laws that enable species to flourish sustainably. Economists are charged with "managing" our activity within the biosphere, our domain.

Former Prime Minister Stephen Harper decreed it was impossible to act to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to avoid climate change because it would destroy the economy. To people like him, the economy is more important than the air that provides weather and climate and enables us to live. At the same time, many "fiscal conservatives" rail against an effective market solution to climate change -- carbon pricing -- ignoring the example of Sweden, which imposed a carbon tax of about $35 a tonne in 1991, grew its economy by 60 per cent by 2012 while reducing emissions by 25 per cent, then raised the tax to more than $160 in 2014.

We know climate change is caused primarily by human use of fossil fuels. It's influencing the frequency and intensity of such events as monstrous wildfires (Kelowna, Fort McMurray), floods (Calgary, Toronto), hurricanes (Katrina, Sandy), drought (California, Alberta), and loss of glaciers and ice sheets. There's no longer anything "natural" about them. We must acknowledge the human imprint. If we're the cause of the problems, then we must stop blaming "nature" or "God." We have to take responsibility and tackle them with the urgency they require.

Learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org.

Photo: Ryan L. C. Quan/Wikimedia Commons

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'The Other Mrs. Smith' examines electroshock as violence against women

Tue, 2017-12-05 16:24
Bonnie Burstow

In late October, my novel The Other Mrs. Smith -- a novel centred on electroshock -- was published. The fact that the release of such a novel was newsworthy became evident shortly after its launch. I was approached by CTV National News Channel for an interview. But days later, I was approached by Amy Pitt for an interview. What follows is an edited version of the second interview (see the original printed version here.) I invite the reader to peruse and ponder it.

AP: This novel traces the life experiences of one highly successful woman who falls prey to electroshock. What inspired you to write it?

BB: In the early 1980s, I was part of group that held hearings into electroshock. And those hearings were an incredible eye-opener. I had known people who has been subjected to electroshock, but the few I knew were men. And so while I had certainly seen terrible damage -- nothing like what I witnessed from the legions of women at this hearing. The extent of the memory and other losses was horrifying. And that was the start of my becoming highly involved in the fight to ban electroshock. What followed were decades of research, articles, and activism. Now at one point in the mid 80s, it looked like we had the electroshock industry on the ropes. Then we lost the interest of the press and the public and never got it back. Anyway, after decades of research and activism, I remembered the power of art and embarked on this novel. "Could a novel, if powerful enough, lead to a public outcry against shock?," I wondered. So what was my inspiration? Very real people and the very real damage done to them.

AP: Primarily, you wrote it from the perspective of Naomi, the protagonist, who suffers from enormous memory loss. How did you go about writing a novel from the perspective of someone who can't remember much of anything?

BB: That was the struggle; and that, the gambit. As I was keenly aware, all instructions on how to write novels warn you against writing from the first person where the person has been severely damaged or traumatized. And I could totally see why. Nonetheless, I knew from the get-go that this was the only way to do it if the reader was to end up really understanding. So I took the plunge. Decided to write it from inside the head of a brain-damaged narrator. And indeed, writing from the first person virtually forced me into her perspective.

AP: Did you have to employ any special strategies to tell the story?

BB: Well there was no problem getting into her head -- none, for I had been making common cause with shock survivors for decades. The issue was: How was she to tell a story when she cannot remember? Also, how do I ensure that reader does not get drowned  in her problems? What did I do? I started employing two devices early on in the project. One was to switch back and forth between pre-shock days -- when her memory was good -- and her post-shock life. The second was to invent point-of-view characters and allow the novel to occasionally drift into the third person narrative from their points of view -- for that way we could learn the odd thing that we that we needed to know but that Naomi was in no position to tell us. Those were the two main devices. But even doing that did not come close to addressing the biggest problem facing me. The point is, narrating a novel primarily from within the head of someone who could not remember her story was crazy-making for I kept running into dead ends. Anyway, a couple of years into the project, I decided: I can't take this any more. I want my life back. And I can get my life back. All I have to do is stop writing this novel. Then it hit me like a thunderbolt: Yes, I can get my life back. But shock survivors cannot get their lives back. Which means that I have to continue and to do it well. Herein lies the moral imperative. And once I took that in, I solved problem after problem. And in the process, the novel grew richer and  richer.

AP: I get that. Let me ask you something somewhat different. They say that all writing is autographical. Where's Bonnie in this?

BB: Besides the concern over shock? Like the protagonist, I spent most of my life in two cities -- Toronto and Winnipeg. Now Naomi loves Winnipeg, not Toronto, and I'm the opposite. So I asked myself, if you loved Winnipeg, what would you love about it? Also I found myself drawing on the type of arguments that my best friend and I have when I scripted quarrels between Naomi and her sister. One way or another, your life always flows into the fiction that you write, and in the absence of that, you just cannot write anything deep.

AP: I've heard you refer to this as very much a Canadian novel. How so?

BB: Two Canadian cities come alive in the novel, Toronto and Winnipeg -- especially Winnipeg. We are led to shiver at the cold Winnipeg winter. We are introduced to the legendary flooding of the Red River. Aspects of Canadian history -- the Winnipeg General Strike, for instance -- are frequently referenced. We experience Kensington Market in its heyday. We get a taste of Newfoundland. So, yes, this is quintessentially Canadian. Let me just add, it is at the same time a Turtle Island novel, if I may call it that. An Indigenous theme runs throughout. We witness the oppression of Indigenous people. We make the acquaintance of a remarkable Indigenous man named Jack. And we see Indigenous wisdom. When Naomi does not know what to do, she calls to mind Jack -- and suddenly, she knows.

AP: Which reminds me, this novel has a huge rich cast of well developed characters. Who's your favourite and why?

BB: Hands down, Naomi. That said, if I were to choose another, it would be Ger. Ger is a trans man. He is also the kindest and most sensitive soul in the novel -- the sort of guy we would all dearly love to have as a friend. And we see him thoughtfully make the connection between his struggles and those of other oppressed people. And then there is his uncanny eye. He realizes early on that there is a secret lurking between the lines in some writing of Naomi's known as Black Binder Number Three. But let me ask, Amy: Who's your favourite?

AP: One of the many characters that I love is Naomi’s father. His kindness, his spirituality, his open-mindedness, his connection with nature. My favourite scene is when he takes the girls outside to feed the birds. It reminds me of my own father. You know, we can all identify with your characters, for they link up one way or another with our own lives. Okay, a more literary question: How's this novel different from the other famous novel about electroshock -- One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest?

BB: Let me say from the outset, that Kesey's is a truly terrific novel for Kesey is an exceptional writer. At the same time, his novel does not provide either an intricate or an accurate depiction of electroshock. On one level, we are left with the impression that electroshock mainly befalls men, when two to three times as many women as men are shocked. Moreover, women are way more damaged by it. Nor is there any exploration of the damage done. Now it is a fascinating novel, but I would have to add, it is also a sexist novel. The primary adversary in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is Big Nurse -- a woman, in other words, not the patriarchal figures who actually have the power. By contrast, in The Other Mrs. Smith I lay bare the reality of electroshock. In other words, my novel is once experiential, true-to-life, and what goes along with this, a feminist novel. I was trying to show what happens to women in this patriarchal society and what happens to women with electroshock -- the sheer violence against women involved.

To move beyond the question of Kesey, you know, every woman survivor that I have ever known -- and I've literally known hundreds -- have overlapping stories to tell. Which leads me to this point: While the character Naomi is very individual, there is a way in which some version of what befalls her not only has befallen many women, but beyond that, could happen to any woman. You know, the morality plays mounted in the Middle Ages typically contained a character called Everyman. And, as unique as Naomi is, what we gradually come to realize, if I may coin a term, is that Naomi is "Every-Woman." What happened to her happened ultimately for no reason other than that she is a woman. So we see the plight of Every-Woman in Naomi. We also see the wondrous strength of Every-Woman. A testament in itself to the beauty of the human spirit

AP: Yes, we do indeed see her heroically and brilliantly rebuild a life. Bonnie, congratulations on writing an exceptional novel. You have written a highly lyrical novel. You have provided a sobering account with such grace and tenderness that it speaks to the paradox of what it means to be human. There is something here for everyone.

BB: Humour, pathos, ingenuity, comraderie, activism, mystery, insight.

AP: All and all, a stunning work of art. And I imagine many people will be itching to dip into it over the holidays. So one more question: Where can one pick it up?

BB: From libraries. From the publisher's website, from Amazon. Also, from local bookstores. For example, in Toronto, Book City on the Danforth has the equivalent of signed copies.

AP: Good to hear. Congratulations again.

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An awkward meeting in Parliament

Tue, 2017-12-05 03:43
December 5, 2017Politics in CanadaUS PoliticsWorldJustin Trudeau betrays his father's legacy on nuclear weaponsWhile Parliament honours the anti-nuclear campaign, the Trudeau government refuses to join the effort of more than 120 countries to ban nuclear weapons. Critics wonder why.nuclear war

Neoliberalism is a spent force in electoral politics

Fri, 2017-12-01 21:02
Political ActionPolitics in CanadaWorld

What accounts for the "progressive," activist, pro-government, even leftish tone of Patrick Brown's platform for Ontario's Progressive Conservatives in the coming June election: more transit, more for mental health, etc.?

A. Someone bodysnatched the former Harperite MP and replaced him. B. He's an unprincipled politician who believes nothing except what focus groups tell him. C. He has returned to Bill Davis's inclusive Red Toryism that predated the Mike Harris/Tim Hudak eras and dominated the postwar decades.

My own answer? As a young lad of 39 (Brown qualifies as what Niki Ashton calls an "early millennial"), he grew up under neoliberal assumptions: free trade deals are the coolest, government sucks and business must be unleashed. But as a callow youth absorbed by politics, he also noticed the crash of '08 and how those promises turned out false. So neoliberalism is a spent force, electorally.

In their early days, around the time Brown was born, those ideas sounded fresh and there was nothing to test them against. Now there is declining pay, failing social programs, and, above all, the crash of 2008, from which the rich learned nothing while most leaders, like Obama, continued catering to them. That was a watershed, especially for those who once hoped for better lives and now live in despair over their student debt, their dashed dreams of owning a home, or even just being able to rent in a decent downtown area.

In other words, Brown has noticed the Zeitgeist. So have others, like U.K. Conservatives, who suddenly "recognize the good that government can do." It's even permissible to advocate "socialism" (Corbyn, Sanders, Podemos in Spain, the Frente Amplio in Chile's recent election). The alternative is no longer neoliberalism; it's Trumpian racist populism, probably a nonstarter in Ontario.

One sign that Brown has gauged this situation correctly is that premier Wynne is attacking him not for what he says he'll do but for being naive: How ya gonna pay for that, buddy? -- a hoary jibe traditionally spewed at the NDP.

It's not a simple return to Davisism, because Bill Davis was also responding to the Zeitgeist of his time: the postwar consensus. Respectable conservatives like him could still smell the stench of two world wars, a depression, the Holocaust; they realized the old order was no longer acceptable. They weren't leftists, but their perspective had shifted, partly in response to horrors they'd seen with their own eyes, partly from political realism. When the moment is past, its effects tend to fade, no matter what memorials or testimonials are shown to later generations. What Brown's eyes beheld was the folly of 2008.

There's nothing deep going on here, but there's nothing wrong either. People are allowed to change their minds, including for career reasons. Not all politicians can be Sanders or Corbyn, who stayed consistent when the Zeitgeist left them behind, then rejoined them again while they remained where they'd always been.

Kathleen Wynne should be in a strong position here. When she ran five years ago she said, "Anyone who knows me, knows I'm about social justice" -- and sounded like she meant it. But she lost her footing, especially in selling off Hydro One. It wasn't just Hydro's near-mystical status in Ontario; she also embraced one of neoliberalism's core tenets: privatization of public goods, under the hideous Orwellism of "broadening" its ownership. You never hear business say: Let's sell some of this great business we've got to government.

Wynne has since re-emerged as the person she was supposed to be then. Her government's new workplace law is pretty impressive, both for doubling the number of enforcement officers -- business had grown casual about breaking the law, knowing they wouldn't be inspected, much less charged -- and perhaps even more for imposing equal pay for part-time precarious workers. I'm not sure even the dreamers expected that. There's also the $15 minimum wage, which Brown has committed to, though more slowly. So who was that premier who sold off Hydro One and refused to raise taxes instead, or let Toronto do so?

But the party leader in the weirdest position now is NDP Leader Andrea Horwath. Whatcha gonna do when you're a socialist, or social democrat, or whatever she calls it, and you're in danger of being outflanked on your left not just by those damn Liberals but by Stephen Harper's former backbencher

This column was first published in the Toronto Star.

Photo: Andra Mihali/Flickr

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neoliberalismCanadian politicssocialismOntarioJeremy Corbynbernie sandersRed ToryCAONRick SalutinDecember 1, 2017Post-politics is alive in France, thanks to the marriage of social democracy and neoliberal economicsOn the economic issues of how wealth is produced and distributed, the social democratic left in the U.K., France and Germany have bought into the "globalization is good" agenda promoted by the right.World Social Forum urged to adopt new strategy to confront neoliberalismThe World Social Forum begins today in Montreal, running until Sunday Aug. 14 with over 1,000 self-directed sessions to mobilize, organize and plan for a better future.The three key moments in Canada's neoliberal transformationThe last three decades have witnessed a far-reaching neoliberal transformation of the Canadian economy, politics and culture that has been dramatic, thorough and socially destructive.

The struggle continues between Q'eqchi' communities and Hudbay Minerals

Fri, 2017-12-01 20:55
Rachel Small

"In my community we are fighting for our lands and we will protect them until we die." Margarita Caal Caal explained to over 150 people who had packed into the Toronto Friends' House on November 23. "I am here to tell you the truth."

Margarita is one of 11 Mayan Q'eqchi' women from the tiny Guatemalan community of Lote Ocho at the frontlines of the struggle against Hudbay Minerals. The women had traveled to Toronto to be cross-examined as part of the lawsuit they launched against the Canadian mining company in 2010. The suit addresses the gang-rape of 11 women from Lote Ocho by mining company security personnel, police, and military during the forced eviction of their village and families from their ancestral lands on January 17, 2007. The company is also being sued for the murder of community leader Adolfo Ich Chamán and the shooting and paralyzing of German Chub.

I first traveled to Lote Ocho in 2009. The entire community gathered in an open air structure at the centre of their land to share with me, via a Q'eqchi'-Spanish translator, how all of their buildings were burned down during violent evictions carried out by the mining company, the police, and the army. However it was only when I met with some of the women individually that I learned about the terrible gang rapes many had suffered during these evictions. To say that these women were nervous to be sharing these stories with me -- an outsider and a Canadian no less­ -- would be an understatement. None spoke a language other than their native Q'eqchi' or had ever left Guatemala. At the time, the idea that within a few years they would stand up defiantly before Hudbay's lawyers in a board room on the 20th floor of a skyscraper in downtown Toronto was nearly inconceivable.   

These landmark lawsuits launched against Hudbay seemed unlikely for other reasons as well. They are in fact the first cases to hold a Canadian company to account in Canadian courts for violence committed overseas. Historically, Canadian judges have typically sent such cases back to the jurisdictions where the alleged crimes took place. Communities impacted by Canadian mining around the world as well as the Canadian extractive industry itself are watching these cases closely to see what new precedent will be set. If the claimants are able to find some measure of justice in court that will mark a tide-changing moment in the corporate accountability landscape in Canada.

But any verdict in these cases is still years away. And when the claimants return to their communities they know very well the dangers they will continue to face. "Because of all that happened to me I must look for justice," Elvira Choc Chub explained. "But because we are seeking justice, the company continues to intimidate and threaten us." The plaintiffs have documented multiple instances of being threateningly stalked by unidentified men. And in the early hours of September 17, 2016, shots were fired outside the home of Angélica Choc in El Estor, where she slept with her two children. Bullet marks were found the next morning on the walls of her house, and 12-gauge shotgun and 22-calibre bullet casings were found nearby.

Angelica's husband Adolfo Ich Chamán, former President of the Community of La Uníon and a respected Mayan Q'eqchi' community leader, was killed in 2009 due to his leadership role in speaking out about the rights violations caused by Canadian mining in Guatemala. Adolfo was hacked with a machete and shot in the head, allegedly by the private security forces contracted by the mining company. In Choc v. Hudbay Minerals Inc., Angélica Choc personally sued Hudbay Minerals and its Guatemalan subsidiaries in Canadian courts for the death of her husband. She will undergo a similar process of cross examination in Toronto in early 2018 as the women of Lote Ocho have just done. It is crucial that those of us here in Canada who support their struggle for justice continue to show up in solidarity.

More of the Council of Canadian's writing about this here.

For more of Rachel's writing with a deeper background on this case (and of efforts in Toronto to confront Hudbay minerals) see this article in Alternatives Journal and her blog posts on the subject.

Photo: "13 Brave Giants vs Hudbay Minerals," a painting by Pati Flores​

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Supreme Court to hear VICE News case on source protection

Fri, 2017-12-01 18:02
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression

On November 30, 2017 the Supreme Court of Canada agreed to hear a landmark case for press freedom in Canada. VICE News successfully sought leave to appeal an Ontario Court of Appeal ruling that VICE News reporter Ben Makuch must hand over all communications between him and an ISIS fighter to the RCMP.

This is a big deal: the Court only agrees to hear around 8 to 12 per cent of cases that apply for leave in any given year. By agreeing to hear the case, the Supreme Court of Canada will have the opportunity to overturn a dangerous precedent and ensure that press freedom and the integrity of journalism in Canada are protected.

"We are encouraged that the Court has agreed to hear the case, which will be crucial to defending press freedom in Canada," said Duncan Pike, Co-Director, Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE). "If journalists cannot protect their sources, then the information they provide will dry up, leaving Canadians uninformed and democracy impoverished."

CJFE will be seeking leave to intervene before the Supreme Court shortly, which will require court approval to proceed. A legal intervention is a procedure that allows an outside party to join ongoing litigation, usually because the outcome of the case will affect the rights of others besides the original parties. A coalition of civil liberties organizations intervened before the Ontario Court of Appeal in support of VICE Media's appeal, including CJFE, CBC, Canadian Media Lawyers' Association, Canadian Association of Journalists, Canadian Media Guild, Reporters Without Borders, Aboriginal Peoples Television Network, Centre for Free Expression, The Canadian Civil Liberties Association, and the B.C. Civil Liberties Association.

Last year CJFE and VICE Media Canada joined forces with a coalition of civil liberties organizations to launch protectpressfreedom.ca, a multi-platform campaign to raise awareness about VICE News Journalist and Cyberwar Host Ben Makuch's fight to protect his sources from RCMP interference. CJFE, together with a coalition of media, labour and non-governmental organizations, held a rally in support of VICE News reporter Ben Makuch as he appeared in court on February 6, 2017, making a principled stand to protect press freedom. The rally took place outside the Toronto courthouse in which he was appearing.

In October 2015, the RCMP served Makuch and VICE Canada with a production order seeking any notes and all records of communications with alleged ISIS terrorist Shirdon. VICE Canada has actively fought the production order over the last two years before seeking leave to take the case to the Supreme Court of Canada. 

The protection of sources is a foundational principle of journalism, making crucial reporting like Makuch's coverage of ISIS possible in the first place. Forcing Makuch to hand over his notes to the RCMP, or go to jail, makes it less likely that sources will be willing to speak with journalists. The RCMP's production order is a simple fishing expedition which will do little to make Canadians secure while making it harder for Makuch, VICE, and all Canadian journalists to bring stories of national importance to the public.

Interestingly, the RCMP has acknowledged as much in a recently revealed court document. The original production order, written by RCMP Constable Harinder Grewal, states, "It is a reasonable inference that this news organization would not be able to stage this kind of interview with a purported member of a terrorist group if they had a reputation for immediately handing original evidence to the police."

Makuch's work has deepened public understanding of a matter of urgent national importance. As the RCMP admits, this work could be made impossible if the ruling is allowed to stand.

CJFE has a long history of intervening in cases that affect free expression and free press issues in Canada, including defamation and libelprotection of sourceshate speech legislation, and access to information.

Note: Tom Henheffer, VICE Canada's Head of News and Digital, is a member of CJFE's Board of Directors

Photo: Ben Makuch/Facebook

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Global corporations have become the greatest threat to the planet

Fri, 2017-12-01 03:47
December 1, 2017WorldWe must begin to curb the power of corporationsThe revelations of the Paradise Papers and the earlier Panama Papers demonstrate just one dimension, tax evasion, of an obvious truth: corporations have become the greatest threat to the planet.corporate corruptiontax evasiontax havensParadise PapersPanama Paperscorporate taxationcorporate greed

High-profile Alberta horticulturalist Jim Hole does his bit to make cannabis cultivation respectable

Fri, 2017-12-01 00:31
David J. Climenhaga

O Cannabis!

Even a couple of city councillors showed up Wednesday morning for horticulturist Jim Hole's news conference at Hole's Greenhouses and Gardens here in the Botanic City, as the Edmonton-area bedroom suburb of St. Albert styles itself. You can't get much more respectable than that, now, can you?

The newser didn't actually seem to be about much that we hadn't already been told, though.

Hole, co-owner of the venerable family greenhouse business, answered a few questions from reporters and showed off a home pot-growing set-up he'll soon be selling. Disappointingly, the tent-like structure housed only a couple of azaleas, pot not being quite legal yet hereabouts, despite the third reading given Bill C-45, the Cannabis Act, in the House of Commons Tuesday.

Hole will be director of cultivation for Edmonton-based Atlas Growers Ltd., the privately held corporation that is building a large legal medical and recreational marijuana growing facility in nearby Lac Ste. Anne County. The company says it expects to harvest its first crop of legal recreational marijuana in the second half of next year.

Hole did most of the talking Wednesday, but Atlas President and CEO Sheldon Croome stepped up to the microphone to promise to "redefine production standards within the cannabis industry."

Hiring Hole, he said in a news release, was "a major step forward in our efforts to legitimize and standardize the Canadian cannabis market." Fair enough, hiring a professional horticulturalist and media figure with deep roots in Alberta as the public face of a pot-growing company does send a message of respectability about an industry that is still highly controversial.

A horticulture expert regularly heard on the CBC certainly comes across as more decorous than hiring a former police chief or justice minister who used to send pot users to jail, as some folks in the marijuana industry have recently done. If you ask me, using former cops to market pot is the definition of bad optics.

Hole of course, is the son of the late Lois Hole, founder of the greenhouse business, gardening guru, author and beloved lieutenant governor of Alberta. Asked by a reporter if his mother would have approved, Hole responded: "Mom would be happy. She loved helping people."

I don't think Hole was entirely blowing smoke. I have no doubt Lois Hole would be happy. She was, after all, a shrewd and tough-minded businesswoman, and legal marijuana looks to soon be a multi-billion-dollar horticultural business in Canada, which is getting into it as an entire country before anyone else in the industrialized world.

As for the real or imagined therapeutic benefits of the hardy weed that Hole seemed to be referring to, I'll leave that to the medical experts.

But the new cannabis era that Canada is entering at a dizzying pace under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's Liberal government is having a faintly disorienting effect on a lot of us -- even if we were part of that tiny group of Canadians who never thought marijuana should be outlawed.

By that I don't mean the pungent smell of the burning herb now common every lunch hour on the streets of downtown Edmonton, even though formal legalization isn't expected to take place until Cannabis Day, I mean Canada Day, next summer.

No, I have in mind the entirely legitimate concern of many Canadians we're not moving to legalization and full marketization of this drug quite the right way.

Overnight, a substance that could net a seller or even a user a long prison sentence, is turning into a full-blown legal recreational product pushed by major corporations with virtually no controls on how they advertise or sell the stuff other than an age limit for buyers.

Seriously, should we really be letting large private corporations market marijuana like Big Tobacco through corner-store outlets with near-zero accountability? What could possibly go wrong?

Handing the marketing and profits to the private sector as the Alberta NDP plan to do while socializing the risks seems like going about this in a bass-ackwards way.

Of course, not everyone who worries about legal marijuana is worried about the same stuff.

Take Ron Orr, for example, the United Conservative Party's culture and tourism critic, who thinks legalizing marijuana will spark a Communist revolution in Canada.

By now all of Canada knows that the MLA for Lacombe-Ponoka told the Alberta Legislature on Wednesday the "human tragedy of what's going to happen with this is yet to be revealed," which might just be true, and that "nobody's taken a moment to think about it," which almost certainly is.

He went on, however, to argue there are historical parallels between Canada's imminent Horticultural Revolution and China's Cultural Revolution under the Communist Party of Mao Zedong.

Orr told the House he believes use of opium in China contributed to the rise of Communism there, so the use of pot in Canada could obviously lead to a Communist revolution in Canada.

This suggests the former Wildroser doesn't really have a strong handle on either history or cause and effect. Still, if you apply a little good old 19th-century Marxist analysis, you might come up with an argument he's right just the same.

After all, opium in China was pushed by the British as part of their imperial project, and the eventual reaction to imperialism in China was communism. Still, something tells me this isn't what Orr had in mind.

Give him a little time. He's the tourism critic, after all. With marketing advice from folks like Jim Hole, the UCP will soon be demanding the government support Bud & Breakfast bus tours through the high Rockies of Alberta.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

Photo: David Climenhaga

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Calling someone 'Pocahontas' is actually a compliment, not an insult

Thu, 2017-11-30 22:22
Anti-RacismIndigenous RightsUS Politics

President Donald Trump has the most powerful bully pulpit in the world. Sadly, he uses it to do just that: to bully, to demean, to wreak havoc. On Monday, he met in the Oval Office with three of the surviving 13 Navajo Code Talkers, ostensibly to honor them for their courageous service in World War II. As young men, they were recruited into the U.S. Marines to use their native Navajo language in the war against Japan. They used 600 Navajo words, each of which had a code meaning useful in combat communications. They are credited with helping the U.S. win key battles like Guadalcanal and Iwo Jima. In the space of a few minutes, though, Trump veered off message:

"You were here long before any of us were here," Trump said, addressing the Navajo men, all in their 90s. "Although we have a representative in Congress who, they say, was here a long time ago. They call her 'Pocahontas.' But you know what, I like you because you are special. You are special people."

Trump's dig was directed at Democratic Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, and her belief based on family lore that she has some Cherokee ancestry. There is no evidence that she ever used the claim to advance her career. Her unverified lineage became an issue in her 2012 senatorial campaign, and Trump, perceiving her as a potential challenger in 2020, has repeatedly called her "Pocahontas."

To add insult to injury, the backdrop of the Oval Office ceremony with the Navajo veterans was a portrait of President Andrew Jackson that Trump had installed upon assuming the presidency. During his two terms, from 1829-1837, President Jackson, known as "Indian Killer" and "Sharp Knife," accelerated the removal of native tribes from the southeastern U.S., with forced marches to reservations west of the Mississippi River. Thousands of Native Americans died. These death marches would become known as the "Trail of Tears."

If Trump were a reader of history, he might know that calling someone "Pocahontas" is actually a compliment, not an insult. Pocahontas was a real person who displayed courage and conviction in her very short life. She was born around 1595 in the Tidewater region of what is now called Virginia, and was named Matoaka, then nicknamed Pocahontas. Her father was named Powhatan, which also was the name of the affiliation of 30 or so Algonquin tribes in the region. According to one account, she saved English colonist John Smith from execution in 1607. In 1995, Disney released a blockbuster animated film based on that story.

"Most Americans at this point understand her as a Disney character," Mary Kathryn Nagle told us on the Democracy Now! news hour. Nagle is a citizen of Cherokee Nation and an attorney who works to restore tribal sovereignty and jurisdiction. "Her real true story has been commodified and retold in a false narrative that celebrates her union with her abuser. She was a survivor of a form of violence, of colonial violence, at a time when native women were primary targets, because the colonial powers who came over here from 1492 and even past 1776 knew that a primary way of destroying a tribal nation, an Indigenous nation, is to attack the women."

Matoaka, or Pocahontas, actively sought peace between her Indigenous people and the white, European colonists. In 1613, she was kidnapped and held prisoner at Jamestown. During captivity, she converted to Christianity and later married John Rolfe, a prominent tobacco grower. Rolfe took her to England, where she died at the age of 20 or 21. She was buried in Gravesend, England, and her remains have never been located.

The abduction of Matoaka/Pocahontas has current parallels. The disappearance of native women from the oil boom fields of North Dakota and the Canadian tar sands region is an ongoing and underreported epidemic. Olivia Lone Bear, a 32-year-old mother of five from the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation in North Dakota, has been missing since October 24. She is just one of hundreds who have gone missing.

Imagine if Trump used his vast Twitter following to assist in the search for Olivia. Instead, Trump retweets anti-Muslim videos put out by an extreme right-wing racist group from the U.K., attacks African-American athletes for their civil-rights protests, and supports Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore, accused of child molestation and serial sexual harassment of teenage girls. Meanwhile, Trump himself stands accused of sexual harassment and assault by no less than 16 women.

Pocahontas died 400 years ago this year. Let's remember her name, not because it is invoked by a powerful man who preys on the vulnerable, but to inspire action, advancing Indigenous rights and women's rights.

This column was first published on Democracy Now!

Image: Simon van de Passe/Wikimedia Commons

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