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UCP leader says he's opposed to more safe-drug-consumption sites -- but how would he address opioid crisis?

Mon, 2018-03-05 13:45
David J. Climenhaga

It wouldn't be fair to ask Jason Kenney to be his brother's keeper, but it's reasonable to wonder if the Alberta Opposition leader's brother has influenced his thinking about harm-reduction as a response to the opioid crisis, and in what ways.

Kenney was widely criticized for statements he made last Wednesday in Lethbridge, to the effect that if his United Conservative Party formed government on his watch, he would oppose expanding safe consumption sites in Alberta communities.

"Helping addicts inject poison into their bodies is not a solution to the problem of addiction," the UCP leader said, a statement that was widely interpreted on social media as indicating either his ignorance and hostility to scientific evidence, or a cynical desire to pander to his party's social conservative base.

Despite its brevity, the small story Thursday in the Lethbridge Herald about Kenney's observations did note that his position runs counter to the recommendations of local government officials, health groups and police. It did not, however, provide much information about why so many health-care professionals advocate harm-reduction strategies such as safe-injection sites as part of a co-ordinated response to North America's continuing opioid overdose crisis.

Experts seem to agree the only strategy that will save lives -- as opposed to winning votes, presumably -- includes harm-reduction techniques such as supervised-injection clinics where overdoses can be treated and drugs that will kill can be detected before use. The logic of this is that even though using powerful and dangerous drugs is not a good idea, the supply is plentiful, demand is strong, and users will die if they hide when they're using.

As a market fundamentalist missionary, this is something one would think Kenney would understand.

However, harm reduction goes against the harsh religious fundamentalist view, which Kenney also endorses, that drug abuse is sin, and therefore that reducing its impact somehow encourages sinning. Given his track record on a number of issues, it's not hard to believe Kenney's commentary was designed to appeal to members of his party's base who harbour such opinions

It's also possible, however, Kenney was influenced by the views of his brother, David Kenney, who with his wife once operated an unlicensed youth treatment centre in British Columbia that, in the words of the Toronto Sun, "purports to help kids with drug addiction, depression and psychological issues."

According to the Feb. 13, 2014, story in the Sun, Kelowna operations of NeurVana Innovative Recovery and Wellness Inc., which the paper said billed itself online as "officially recognized by the province of British Columbia," were shut down by the B.C. government and young people in the company's care sent home.

Media reports said the government closed two treatment centres in the Okanagan Valley city for operating without a licence in 2013. But news stories also indicated reports young people in the facility were "bullied and mistreated" brought the company to the government's attention. Reports of "abuse and neglect" resulted in a lawsuit by the families of children at the centre.

According to the 2014 Sun story, "NeurVana says it uses a technique called 'Brainwave Optimization' which it says can cure 'addiction, depression, anxiety, PTSD, ADHD, self-destructive behaviour, rage and anger, eating disorders, and more.'"

Regardless, given the advocacy of the UCP and its predecessor political parties, for private heath-care delivery it would be reasonable for mainstream news reporters with regular access to Kenney to ask him if he has been influenced by the views of his family members on techniques such as the use of "brainwave optimization" to treat addictions.

Physicians consulted about brainwave optimization by the CBC in another context were skeptical about the technique.

One thing was very clear from Kenney's Lethbridge commentary, and that is that he has not given up on the "war on drugs" strategy as the best way to reduce harmful drug use.

Well, as Premier Rachel Notley observed in her speech to the Alberta NDP's Provincial Council in Edmonton Saturday, "Jason, the 1990s are calling, and they want their ridiculous ideas back!"

According to the Herald, Kenney asked: "Why aren't we giving the police adequate resources to chase down every source in the criminal to world (sic) to find out who is dealing poison on the streets of Lethbridge right now?"

He went on, not without unintended irony, to wonder, "Why aren't we massively increasing funding for the Canada's Border Service Agency to interdict the importation of deadly drugs from China and elsewhere?"

The CBSA is a federal agency. So one answer to that question may be that back in 2012, when Kenney was sitting at the cabinet table in Ottawa, the government of then-prime minister Stephen Harper cut the CBSA's budget by 10 per cent, resulting in the immediate loss of 250 front-line Border Services officers and more in subsequent years.

By 2015, days before the federal election that saw the Conservatives swept from power, about 1,300 positions had been eliminated at the CSBA and $143 million cut from the agency's budget. Front-line border officers, sniffer-dog teams and CBSA intelligence officers all lost their jobs in the Conservative cuts, media reported.

In addition to saving the lives of drug users who overdose, supervised consumption clinics prevent the spread of HIV, Hepatitis C, bacterial infections and other medical conditions to drug users as well as people with whom they come in contact.

"Kenney's hypocrisy is unfathomable," observed Cam Westhead, NDP MLA for Banff-Cochrane in a Facebook response to the UCP leader's comments.

"Let's not also forget that when it comes to solutions that require increased funding, that in 2015 the former PC government rejected a $1.4-million grant that would have helped fund drug treatment programs during a time when fentanyl was killing a person a day in Alberta," noted Westhead, who is a Registered Nurse. "Alberta was the only province to decline this funding."

He noted that the minister responsible at the time for refusing that funding "now occupies a leadership position in Alberta's political scene" -- a reference to Stephen Mandel, chosen as the leader of the Alberta Party on Feb. 27.

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

Photo: michael_swan/flickr

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Categories: News for progressives

In case you missed it, Parliament issued its M-103 Islamophobia report

Mon, 2018-03-05 04:27
Thomas Woodley

Given the brouhaha last year around Parliament's Islamophobia motion M-103, the quasi indifference to its resulting report seems perplexing. The motion itself repeatedly topped the news last year after initial Parliamentary debates in mid-February. Yet when the motion's summary report was issued last month -- almost a year later -- the most striking upshot was the general apathy.

The media and public ignored the fact that the report recommended that January 29 -- the anniversary of the horrific 2017 Quebec City mosque shooting -- be designated as a national day of remembrance and action on islamophobia. This, just weeks after Liberal Quebec premier Philippe Couillard made headlines after siding with Quebec's sovereigntist and conservative parties in opposing such a move.

For those who might have forgotten, after M-103 was introduced last year, its parliamentary sponsor Iqra Khalid received death threats among thousands of hate emails. After dominating headlines for weeks, the motion sparked protests and counter-protests across the country. Candidates for leadership of the federal Conservative Party debated the motion passionately, and Conservative leaders in Parliament offered a divisive alternative motion. Those opposed to the motion suggested it would somehow squelch criticism of Islam. Others cast doubt on the true intentions of the report proposed by the motion, asserting that it might propose measures to curtail civil liberties in an attempt to discourage anti-Muslim bigotry. 

But while the M-103 report certainly does not live up to the fear-mongering, it also fails to live up to the hopes of many Canadians. After almost a year of work, and testimony from 78 witnesses, the Parliamentary Committee's 30 recommendations provide little inspiration for Canada's Muslims. Indeed, only two of the Committee's 30 recommendations even mention Islamophobia: recommendation 30 calling for the national day of action on January 29, and recommendation 22 urging the government to take "a strong leadership role" against religious discrimination "including Islamophobia."

Despite M-103's obvious concern over Islamophobia in the wake of the Quebec City mosque shooting, the Committee's report smothers real action on Islamophobia under generalized concerns about religious discrimination overall. A bit like saying that the best response to Black Lives Matter is to launch an "all lives matter" campaign. Canada's Muslims have faced a significant rise in Islamophobia in recent years, and the Quebec City mosque attack provides concrete proof that anti-Muslim bigots are prepared to back their threats with violence.

It's not to say that the Committee's recommendations are ill-advised. Who could argue against better reporting on hate crimes, new tools to help religious minorities overcome racism in the employment market, or more funding for public awareness programs on religious discrimination. But the report ignores the core raison d'être of M-103: to address head-on the growing problem of Islamophobia in Canada today. 

Surveys over the last two years repeatedly demonstrate that Islamophobia in Canada should be a serious concern for policymakers. A May, 2016 study by MARU/VCR&C found that 53 per cent of Canadians had an unfavourable opinion of Islam. A December, 2016 Abacus poll found that 79 per cent of Canadians feel there is "some" or "a lot" of discrimination towards Muslims. A February, 2017 survey by Angus Reid again found that 46 per cent of Canadians had an unfavourable opinion of Islam. And an October, 2017 survey by Angus Reid revealed that 46 per cent said that Islam was "damaging" Canada and Canadian society.

New immigrant communities -- in which Muslim Canadians figure significantly -- are less well-established, and less well-positioned to assert their rights in Canadian society. One Committee witness representing the South Asian Legal Clinic of Ontario said that his organization talks to clients "daily" who experience acts of "hate […] violence [and…] Islamophobia" who do not report such incidents either for fear of their safety, or because they don't believe they would be supported if they did. 

Yet while the Committee's report highlights the fact that hate crimes against Muslims, or those perceived to be Muslim, has risen dramatically in recent years. And while the report also cites the challenge of hate crime reporting, specifically the problem of underreporting, the report still fails to put special focus on the need to protect Muslim Canadians. 

The report also sidesteps the issue of Islamophobia in its refusal to even define Islamophobia. The report includes a section presenting different opinions on the term, and seems to suggest that there is insufficient consensus on it. The Conservative "minority report" seemed to delight in the fact that the Committee heard 26 different definitions of the term. Of course, ask different 26 people to define "potato," and you'll probably get 26 definitions of that word too. But a December, 2017 survey by EKOS Research found that, despite the political name games that MPs were playing in Ottawa, 70 per cent of Canadians are clear on what Islamophobia is, and 81 per cent believe such anti-Muslim racism is a problem in Canada. 

So despite the behaviour of some Canadian politicians, the issue of Islamophobia is not a political game or joke. Muslim-Canadians suffer through it every day, as they face racist comments in public spaces, and as they fail to obtain jobs because of their name or clothing. And sadly, as we discovered early in 2017, some Muslim-Canadians lose their lives because of Islamophobia. 

Muslim Canadians are not the only religious minority in Canada facing challenges, but as a relatively new immigrant community, they are among the least well-equipped to cope with religious discrimination. While the M-103 report fell short in addressing Islamophobia specifically, its broader recommendations are not unwelcome. What remains to be seen is whether the government will implement any of the report's recommendations, or whether it too will respond with indifference.

Photo: Adam Scotti/PMO

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Categories: News for progressives

Governments need to work together to clean up Grassy Narrows water

Sat, 2018-03-03 11:24
Krystalline Kraus

After decades of lobbying, with the inclusion of international doctors and researchers, and successful River Run demonstrations here in Toronto, it seems like both levels of government are finally willing to own up to their role in the failure to prevent -- and most importantly -- to clean up the toxic water and soil of Grassy Narrows, which has permanently damaged bodies and minds.

Th federal government, with a sometimes smiling and sometimes teary leader, Justin Trudeau, has played a good game of claiming to support a radical new way to treat First Nation issues.

His path to victory as our country's leader was paved in part on Indigenous votes who, after decades and decades of mistreatment, finally fell under a "Yes We Can" magical type of political promise that a vote for Trudeau junior would mean a better relationship with the federal government.  

The provincial government whose leader, Kathleen Wynne, was at one point the go-to public official when it came to lobbying the provincial government to radically (or at least subtly) alter the course of Indigenous-government relations.

But Ontario co-operation in helping to clean up the chemical damage around Grassy Narrows was not an easy deal to secure.

Fish from the English-Wabigoon River System has up to 150 times the safe daily dose of mercury, but a wholesale clean-up could end the damage caused decades ago when the pulp and paper industry dumped heavy metals into the river system -- and no political party seemed to really care.

Even the NDP, while paying lip service to the cause of Grassy Narrows, provided a much better critique of the Liberals but a big unknown if they ever found themselves in the seat of power.

Members of the Grassy Narrows and White Dog First Nations have every right to be wary of government promises.

I know the Ontario Liberal party likes to shine the sun on itself since Kathleen Wynne used to be the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs, so it only makes political sense that she wants to be seen as their champion.

The good news started rolling in at the end of May 2016, when scientists came to the conclusion that the English-Wabigoon water system could feasibly be cleaned up if there was enough money available to do the job and do it properly.

You see, community members from both reservations rely upon the English-Wabigoon river system to provide their communities with fish, as the cost of purchasing other forms of protein for their diets can be prohibitive. While their health is very important, that is not the only concern. They have a right to live and gather food within their traditional territories, a right re-affirmed by Canada's adoption of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).

The Declaration guarantees the right of Indigenous peoples to enjoy and practice their cultures, their customs, their religions and their languages; to develop and strengthen their economies and their social and political institutions. Indigenous peoples have the right to be free from discrimination and the right to a nationality.

As with most politics, the trick's in finding a politician and a party willing to fund the actual clean up for the full amount, no half-measures.

The Liberals under Wynne seemed like they were willing to at least commit to the job.

Grassy Narrows First Nation had received a settlement back in 1985 from the federal government and the Reed Paper Company that bought out the Dryden Pulp and Paper Company and its sister-company Dryden Chemical Company, but the mercury was never actually removed from the water.

The water and soil contamination from mercury causes a debilitating and deadly disability, which still impacts residents to this day, generations after the pulp and paper plant shut down.

Minamata disease, which first occurred in the town of Minamata, Japan, in 1956, is a neurological syndrome caused by severe mercury poisoning. Minamata disease is terrible, resulting in symptoms from body tremors to effects on the brain.  It can be chronic, tainting the blood of those exposed to too much mercury as much as it can poison the water and soil.

Clear-cutting -- Grassy Narrows has the longest running blockade in Canadian history -- only causes more contamination as toxic but previously rooted contaminated soil runs off the land due to erosion into the already contaminated river system.

After intense lobbying and allies lining up behind the people of Grassy Narrows, the Ontario government finally in June 2017 pledged $85 million to clean up the mercury contamination of the English-Wabigoon River system. An additional $2.7 million is budgeted by Queen's Park to accelerate work already underway on the river.

Chief and council of the First Nation community in Northern Ontario are thankful for the commitment of the Ontario government, but they know they are also going to need the help of the federal government in order for the situation to finally be set right.

"The people of Grassy Narrows have fought for more than 40 years to hear [this]," David Suzuki said after visiting Grassy Narrows. "The government needs to promptly implement a remediation plan for the river that has been developed by Grassy Narrows and their science advisers on a strict timeline for action."

Yes, it is also true that the federal government has pledged to fund an in-community mercury treatment centre at a cost of at least $4.5 million.

But talk is just talk and promises are just promises.

And while Grassy Narrows community members are thrilled by the announcement -- their chief called it a "dream come true" -- the federal government should partner with the Ontario government to fund the total clean-up of the river system lands.

Fundamentally, what we are talking about here is Justin Trudeau's pledge to clean up poisoned drinking water and subsequent boil and food advisories.  

"Two-thirds of all First Nation communities in Canada have been under at least one drinking water advisory at some time in the last decade," according to a CBC News investigation, and it has not gotten much better in 2017 or 2018. Grassy Narrows is obviously among them.

While flashier campaigns such as the legalization of marijuana captivate the public and the media, Trudeau has also promised to clean up the water supply of Indigenous communities across Canada.

Grassy Narrows Chief Simon Fobister is calling on Prime Minister Trudeau to act immediately to stop the ongoing contamination and commit to cleaning the river.

Access to clean running water to drink and clean water to fish, is not a luxury but a necessity. It is more than just a campaign promise, it's got to be seen as a fundamental health and environmental right.

Photo: Howl Arts Collective/flickr

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Categories: News for progressives

Black History Month should be all year

Fri, 2018-03-02 22:57
March 2, 2018Anti-RacismBlack History Month: A plea for continuityWhile the celebrations of Black culture in Canada are welcome, other events in February reminded us there is much improvement still needed.Black History Monthanti-racismracism
Categories: News for progressives

Maple Leafs partner with Royal Canadian Navy to 'honour' military tradition

Fri, 2018-03-02 14:44
Yves Engler

Hey Maple Leafs, be careful which traditions you honour.

On Saturday the Leafs played an outdoor game against the Washington Capitals at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. To mark the occasion the team created a jersey with the Royal Canadian Navy's (RCN) "Ready, Aye, Ready" motto on it. The website unveiling the sweaters includes a brief history of the RCN, and Leafs President Brendan Shanahan said the jerseys were designed to honour "the traditions of the Royal Canadian Navy" whose sailors "stand always ready to defend Canada and proudly safeguard its interests and values whether at home or abroad."

Sounds all maple syrupy, but there are a couple of nagging questions: Whose "interests and values" are we talking about? Should we honour all their traditions?

For example, in 1917 the Royal Bank loaned $200,000 to unpopular Costa Rican dictator Federico Tinoco just as he was about to flee the country. A new government refused to repay, saying the Canadian bank knew Tinoco was likely to steal it. "In 1921," reports Royal Military College historian Sean Maloney in Canadian Gunboat Diplomacy, "Aurora, Patriot and Patrician helped the Royal Bank of Canada satisfactorily settle an outstanding claim with the government of that country."

In 1932 RCN destroyers Skeena and Vancouver assisted a month-old military coup government that brutally suppressed a peasant and Indigenous rebellion in El Salvador. London had informed Ottawa that a "communist" uprising was underway and there was "a possibility of danger to British banks, railways and other British lives and property" as well as a Canadian-owned utility. Bolstered by the RCN's presence, the military regime would commit "one of the worst massacres of civilians in the history of the Americas."

In 1963 two Canadian naval vessels joined U.S., British and French warships, reports Maloney, that "conducted landing exercises up to the [Haiti's] territorial limit several times with the express purpose of intimidating the Duvalier government." That mission was largely aimed at guaranteeing that Haiti did not make any moves towards Cuba and that a Cuban-inspired guerrilla movement did not seize power.

Two years later, thousands of U.S. troops invaded the Dominican Republic to stop a left-wing government from taking office. Alongside the U.S. invasion, a Canadian warship was sent to Santo Domingo in April 1965, in the words of Defence Minister Paul Hellyer, "to stand by in case it is required."

After dispatching three vessels during the first Iraq war in 1991, Canadian warships were part of U.S. carrier battle groups enforcing brutal sanctions. In 1998 HMCS Toronto was deployed to support U.S. airstrikes on Iraq. In the months just before and after the second U.S.-led invasion of Iraq at least 10 Canadian naval vessels conducted maritime interdictions, force-support and force-projection operations in the Arabian Sea. Canadian frigates often accompanied U.S. warships used as platforms for bombing raids in Iraq. A month before the commencement of the U.S. invasion, Canada sent a command and control destroyer to the Persian Gulf to take charge of Taskforce 151 -- the joint allied naval command. Opinion sought by the Liberal government concluded that taking command of Taskforce 151 could make Canada legally at war with Iraq.

In 2011 HMCS Charlottetown and Vancouver were dispatched to enforce a UN arms embargo on Libya. But, they allowed weapons, including from Canadian companies, to flow to anti-Gadhafi rebels. They also helped destroy Libyan government naval vessels.

Last summer HMCS Ottawa and Winnipeg participated in "freedom of navigation" operations alongside U.S., Japanese, Australian and other countries' warships in disputed areas of the South China Sea. Chinese vessels responded by "shadowing" the Canadian vessels for 36 hours.

The honest truth is that the RCN is employed mostly to advance corporate and Western geostrategic interests, something many of us would prefer not to honour.

A Canucks and Canadiens fan, Yves Engler confesses to having hated the Leafs before they partnered with the navy. He is the author of Playing Left Wing: From Rink Rat to Student Radical and other books. He is currently writing a people's history of the Canadian military.

Photo: Jack G. Kempster. Canada. Department of National Defence. Library and Archives Canada, PA-106904 /flickr

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Categories: News for progressives

International Women's Day celebrates the achievements of women

Fri, 2018-03-02 10:39
Doreen Nicoll

March is such a wonderful month! The days are longer, March 20 is the official start of spring, and there's the promise of renewed life as snowdrops push through the last of the snow and pussy willows offer nectar to emerging pollinators.

March is also the time to celebrate women's accomplishments. International Women's Day (IWD) launched Sunday, March 8, 1914. Historically, IWD celebrations have been used to advance women's rights and gender equity. However, while women around the world have made great strides, we know that even Canada has a long way to go before it can call itself truly gender equitable.

In 1995, Canada was number 1 on the United Nations Gender Equality Index. Today Canada ranks 25th. In November 2016, the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) issued comprehensive recommendations regarding Canada's compliance with the UN treaty on women's rights. All recommendations are to be implemented by 2020, including a National Gender Equality Plan.

The CEDAW Committee clearly stated that Canada does not adequately provide the programs and services essential to women's equality. Women in Canada are still fighting for income equality, equal pay, decent jobs, affordable child care and housing, adequate legal aid, access to sexual and reproductive health care, sufficient protection from violence, and a justice system that responds to their needs in all parts of the country.

Globally, the World Economic Forum's 2017 Global Gender Gap Report found that at our current pace, global gender parity will take over 200 years to reach. That's why this IWD we need to #PressforProgress by recognizing that achievement comes in a variety of forms; ensuring women's contributions get credited; acknowledging the value of their lived experience; and celebrating their individual and collective successes.

To that end, let's shine a huge spotlight on the contributions of five fabulous feminists who have helped move Canada and the world closer to gender equity.

Thelma McGillivray (May 11, 1933 - January 28, 2018) was a trailblazer! As a single parent raising four children, Thelma returned to school and earned a Masters of Social Work from McMaster University. What she accomplished was no small feat because this was a time when it wasn't popular to be divorced, a single parent, or an adult learner. Thelma worked in the family court system in Hamilton before opening her private practice specializing in mediation and therapy.

Thelma was a proud feminist and social activist promoting the rights of women, children and seniors. Thelma was an active member of the Provincial Council of Women, the Canadian Federation of University Women, the former Hamilton Status of Women Committee, Advancement of Women Halton, and the Older Women's Network.

Thelma was also an avid writer, regularly addressing social justice and human rights issues in the Hamilton Spectator, the Star, and the Anvil newspapers. As editor of the provincial Council of Women of Ontario Newsletter, Thelma was always busy recruiting writers.

In her spare time, Thelma could be found lunching with members of the provincial parliament at Queen's Park and discussing important matters to be raised at her next meeting or injected into her next article.

Bonnie Brown is a force to be reckoned with! Bonnie worked as a social worker and teacher before becoming an elected school trustee in 1987. Bonnie was then elected to the Oakville Town Council and later to Halton Regional Council.

Bonnie was first elected to the House of Commons in 1993 as a Liberal MP representing the riding of Oakville-Milton. When the riding was divided in two, Bonnie was re-elected in 1997 and represented Oakville from 1997 until losing her seat in the 2008 federal election.

Well known for thoroughly researching issues before speaking her mind, Bonnie was considered outspoken for supporting a moratorium on the patenting of human genes and was the first MP to denounce the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Bonnie was crucial in securing Canada's endorsement of the Kyoto Accord and advocated for a carbon tax.

When Bonnie left Parliament Hill, instead of retiring, she refocused her skills and energy into volunteering and set her sights on improving the lives of women living in the Halton region, across Canada, and around the world. In 2008, Bonnie was a founding member of Advancement of Women Halton (AWH) a compilation of 25 women representing a broader spectrum of agencies, services and community groups working to improve the lives of women and their children.

AWH develops and promotes social, political, cultural, and economic strategies that support gender equality locally, nationally and internationally. Issues championed by this all-female group include poverty, universal child care, violence against women and girls, affordable housing, pay equity, diverse and marginalized women, women's economic development, reproductive rights, the overuse of segregation in prisons, a higher minimum wage, and a universal guaranteed income.

Bonnie's years of experience at a variety of levels of government continues to be invaluable to the work of this non-profit, non-partisan, issue-oriented collaborative women's advocacy group.

Veronica Tyrell has been a vital part of Oakville's community for many years. Her roles are many and varied including serving as President of the Canadian Caribbean Association of Halton, a citizen member of the Cultural Advisory Committee for the Town of Oakville, and a long-standing member of Advancement of Women Halton.

Veronica was the recipient of a Leading Women Building Communities award from Ontario's Ministry for Women's Issues. She has also won the Oakville Community Spirit award, the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Award, the Oakville Arts Council's Award for Collaboration, and was a 2017 recipient of the WCH's award Honouring 150 Years of Exemplary Women.

Under Veronica's leadership, the Canadian Caribbean Association of Halton's (CCAH) project Black Youth in Action was selected to be part of the minister's report to Parliament on the Multicultural Act of 2008. This project served over 15,000 students, as well as over 500 adults. CCAH has hosted a virtually endless list of programs and festivals including the Roots of Freedom Festival, annual Black History Month celebrations, and the Caribbean Cultural Pavilion in the Carousel of Nations festival.

Sherry Saevil, a Cree woman from Treaty 6, developed her passion for Indigenous issues through lived and professional experience. Sherry's mother and all of her aunts and uncles were survivors of the residential school system. Sherry is from a family of 10 children all of whom were taken in the Sixties Scoop. Sherry is the first generation to raise her children without government interference.

Armed with degrees in Native Studies and Criminology from the University of Saskatchewan, Sherry embarked on her career working for Indigenous organizations starting with the Treaty and Aboriginal Rights Research Centre in Manitoba.

Sherry also spent five years at Six Nations of the Grand River Territory working as the Assistant Director and focusing on land claims research in preparation for submissions to the federal government.

She currently works with the Halton Catholic District School Board as the Indigenous Education Advisor. Sherry is able to provide professional development for staff while introducing Indigenous elders, artists, performers and traditional knowledge keepers to both staff and students. In this role Sherry is also able to encourage teachers to embed Indigenous ways of knowing into their curriculum.

Sherry participated on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, the Educational Roundtable with the National Centre of Truth and Reconciliation, the International Indigenous Education Conference, and treaty discussions with the Treaty Commission of Saskatchewan. In January 2018, Sherry received with the prestigious Sesquicentennial Award which was presented to only 15 Canadians who have positively impacted and influenced their communities.

Nicole Pietsch is a Coordinator with the Ontario Coalition of Rape Crisis Centres and a community research associate with The Learning Network on Violence Against Women. The Coalition works toward the prevention and eradication of sexual assault. Its membership includes 29 community-based sexual assault centres from across Ontario, offering counselling, information, education and support services to survivors of sexual violence.

Nicole has a particular interest in the ways in which social constructs of sex, gender, age and race inform Canadian social policy, including law. Since 1998, Nicole has assisted women and youth living with violence, including immigrant and refugee women and survivors of sexual violence. In recent years, Nicole has worked with youth and adult survivors of violence who are incarcerated, those living in an institutional setting, and Deaf youth.

Nicole was the consultant for both the Opening Doors Project: Economic Opportunities for Immigrant Women and the Working Together for A Stronger Sexual Violence Response and A Stronger Renfrew County Project.

In 2013/14, Nicole was the Gender Specialist in the Preventing and Reducing the Trafficking of Women and Girls through Community Planning in York Region Project. Her strategic organizing and priority-setting supported the Women's Support Network of York Region in operationalizing new work, based on community-identified needs. Today, she continues as the organization's Gender Specialist concerning human trafficking.

In 2015, Nicole led a local needs assessment/consultation with youth and women as Researcher /Coordinator in the Online and Okay Project: Identifying Solutions for Addressing the Problem of Digital Sexual Violence Project. She also co-led community consultations with diverse youth in collaboration with Planned Parenthood Toronto's strategic planning process.

Nicole's written work has appeared in York University's Journal of the Association for Research on Mothering, the University of Toronto's Women's Health and Urban Life, and Canadian Woman Studies/les cahiers de la femme.

Her critical review of how media and the legal system interpreted youth violence, race and gender within British Columbia's Reena Virk case appeared in a collection published by Canadian Scholars Press, Reena Virk: Critical Perspectives on a Canadian Murder. In 2015, her essay, "Doing Something" About "COMING TOGETHER: The Surfacing of Intersections of Race, Sex and Sexual Violence in the SlutWalk Movement" appeared in a collection published by Demeter Press.

Each of these amazing women answered the call to action to work for gender parity. They have also been instrumental in motivating colleagues, friends, male supporters and a good chunk of the Halton Community to think, act, and be gender inclusive.

International Women's Day is a day to come together to celebrate our leaders, our compatriots, and our accomplishments. It's also a day to commit to pushing the gender parity agenda forward so we have even more to celebrate in 2019!

On Thursday, March 8, 2018 help women around the world move closer to gender equity and #PressforProgress.

Also, check out #MyFeminism celebrating Canadian feminists blazing a trail towards equity here at home and around the world.

A version of this piece originally appeared on the website of the Women's Centre of Halton.

Photo: J Carrier/UN Women/flickr

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Categories: News for progressives

Size as a human right in a #MeToo world

Thu, 2018-03-01 21:55

In May 2017, Quebec court judge Jean-Paul Braun decided on a case in which a 17-year-old young woman was sexually assaulted by a cab driver. Justice Braun said, "you could say she's a little overweight, but she has a pretty face, huh?" and went on to suggest that perhaps the victim was a "little flattered" by the sexual attention, implying that her size made her unattractive to most men.

We're living in a time when sexual assault and fat‑shaming are both concepts receiving a lot of attention. While sexual assault has dominated headlines and those headlines appear to be affecting behaviour and in some cases, laws, a larger discussion of fat‑shaming hasn't quite broken through to the mainstream in the same way.

In Canada, size is still an acceptable basis for discrimination, not protected by human rights legislation. It ought to be. And in certain lights, the two issues are different sides of the same (sexist) coin.

In December 2015, before #MeToo really took root, The Atlantic published an article by Olga Khazan about a connection between obesity and prior sexual abuse, describing a number of obese women who were previously the victims of abuse. Khazan noted:

"Research suggests childhood sexual abuse increases the odds of adult obesity by between 31 and 100 per cent. One study found that about 8 per cent of all cases of obesity, and 17 perc ent of "class three" severe obesity, can be attributed to some form of child abuse."

The #MeToo ball really got rolling on October 5, 2017 when The New York Times broke a story describing decades of Harvey Weinstein's sexual misconduct against Hollywood stars in the making. According to actor and victim Jennifer Lawrence, Weinstein once said to her that "[he] didn't know why everyone thought [she] was so fat; [he] thought [she] was perfectly 'fuckable.'"

Obesity, size‑ism and sexual assault are intricately linked. We're making progress on sexual assault. Why not size-ism?

As a few recent examples show, discrimination on the basis of size is all too commonplace:

  • In August 2017, the CBC brought to light the case of the Sheraton Cadwell Orchestra, a Toronto‑based now‑defunct orchestra that sent an email to its singers to say that "although all of our vocalists are fit and slim -- the way our boutique orchestra would like our front line performing artist to be ... two of our featured singers were not ... and we hope that they would, as such, refrain from using tight‑fitting dresses and use loose (less physically-revealing, less physically‑accentuating) dresses instead." The email went on to ask its singers not to draw attention to their "dietary indulgences."

  • Also in 2017, BBC News reported that Aeroflot, Russia's national airline, has linked the pay of its flight attendants to their dress size! Their defence? The extra kilos of weight a flight attendant carries costs more in fuel. They must be joking. According to Wikipedia, a fully loaded 747 weighs 439,985 kg. The very largest flight attendant is unlikely to top more than 100 kg -- extremely insignificant in comparison.

  • In 2016, Connie Levitsky made international headlines when she was fired from plus-sized women's retailer Addition Elle in Edmonton, for writing an online post about her experience helping "fat ladies," like herself, find clothing.

Like many others, I was shocked. But we know that these are not isolated incidents.  

What recourse do these women have? Without human rights protection, not much. 

And efforts are being made to add other prohibited grounds of discrimination to the list. For example, on October 4, 2017, Ontario NDP MPP Nathalie Des Rosiers introduced a private member's bill, Bill 164, the Human Rights Code Amendment Act, to add immigration status, genetic characteristics, police records and social condition to Ontario's Human Rights Code's list of protected grounds.  She noted that "it is the role of government to ensure that we confront discrimination in a proactive manner, and this bill, if passed, would empower the Human Rights Commission to educate and to act to ensure a more equal society, free of all forms of discrimination."

No doubt -- each of these are important and worthy of consideration by the legislature. Her bill did not, however, include size. Regardless, it was referred to committee on October 26, 2017, where, like most private member's bills, it will surely die as Ontario approaches its June election. 

The discussion of including fat or size as a protected ground has come up in other provinces. A year ago, Manitoba Liberal MLA, Jon Gerrard, pushed his private member's bill to get physical size or weight added to that province's human rights legislation. His bill was defeated by Manitoba's governing Tories last November. Following the vote, the Winnipeg Free Press reported that Mr. Gerrard noted, "We had representation from the Little People of Manitoba," referring to dwarfism, he said. "We had representation very concerned about eating disorders... discrimination against people whether it's fat or thin bodies, representatives working with people who are large-bodied. They were all very disappointed."

A recent article from the Ontario Bar Association's publication Just says that there is no need to have size as a separate protected ground because disability is already protected. I would argue -- and I'm not alone -- that conflating size with disability is inappropriate for those who are outside the range of standard sizes but do not see themselves as disabled. The singers of the Sheraton Cadwell Orchestra would surely not. A recent York University study produced evidence that an overweight person can be healthy depending on the level of activity -- pretty much like the rest of the population.  

Furthermore, the human rights system is not afraid of nuance in its legislation. In Ontario, for example, race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, and citizenship is each a protected characteristic, even though some might argue that the distinctions between each of these are so subtle that they are routinely all named in a belts‑and‑suspenders approach to completing a human rights application. 

Jill Andrew, the co-founder of the Body Confidence Canada Awards, has worked with local leaders to petition provincial governments now in Saskatchewan, Alberta, Manitoba and Ontario to include size discrimination in human rights legislation. No action yet, but there's a whole lot of people out there waiting.

Pro Bono provides legal information designed to educate and entertain readers. But legal information is not the same as legal advice -- the application of law to an individual's specific circumstances. While efforts are made to ensure the legal information provided through these columns is useful, we strongly recommend you consult a lawyer for assistance with your particular situation to obtain accurate advice.

Submit requests for future Pro Bono topics to probono@rabble.ca. Read past Pro Bono columns here.

Photo: Angie Torres/flickr

Photo: Jodi Green/flickr

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pro bonosize discriminationcanadian lawhuman rights#metoosexual assaultPro BonoCelia ChandlerMarch 1, 2018B.C. is revamping its human rights system. How can it ensure justice is served?As B.C. prepares to reinstate its Human Rights Commission, it would do well to learn from Ontario, where the introduction of a direct access system has been only a qualified success.The law is settled on sexual assault. When will the legal system catch up?The treatment of sexual assault complainants in the justice system has received a great deal of mainstream media attention. Why has the system failed victims?Fat activism: A history by and for fat peopleCharlotte Cooper's book Fat Activism: A Radical Social Movement studies the history of fat activism and seeks to challenge its current, more problematic, narratives.
Categories: News for progressives

Household debts worry Trudeau, greater financial support for women, no

Thu, 2018-03-01 14:40
March 1, 2018Politics in CanadaFederal budget makes a play for NDP voters but falls short on childcareBudget 2018 is all about gender, although the rhetoric might outweigh the substance, and the economy still faces big risks from household debt and global conditions. budget 2018Justin Trudeaubill morneau
Categories: News for progressives

Wellington Water Watchers make water an election issue

Thu, 2018-03-01 09:53
Doreen Nicoll

Mike Nagy is a natural wonder. His formative years were spent in southern rural Hamilton where he lived a uniquely angelic childhood. Walking home from school each day included stopping to drink natural spring water bubbling  from rocks at the "Jolly Cut," a little oasis in the woods. As Nagy recalls, "Kids hung out there every afternoon. We had freedom because there was no bus and while we walked home from school we had time to explore and have fun."

This idyllic childhood abruptly ended in Grade 8 when Nagy's family moved to inner city Hamilton. Experiencing the loss of paradise gave birth to the actionist conservationist in Nagy who, despite working in private high-tech fields, has logged in excess of 20,000 volunteer hours crusading for a better local, national and international environment.

Nagy has a Bachelor of Arts in Urban Geography and Political Science from McMaster as well as a master's in Environmental Studies from Wilfrid Laurier University in Eco-Certification Labeling and Traceablility of Seafood in Canada. Nagy pursued his master's in order to further understand, and speak to, the connection between healthy oceans and the survival of earth's inhabitants.

Nagy believes that ecology cannot be put into silos. He sees a connection between the sustainable food movement, water protection and reversing climate change. He also knows there's an undeniable link between the economy and the environment.

According to Nagy, "The environment produces all of our wealth. What we have done is build an environmental deficit and one day the environment will ask for payment. It's catching up with us and it will take more money to clean it up than to prevent the devastation. Every dollar spent on prevention saves us four to five dollars in clean-up costs."

Nagy looks to the end of the Cold War for proof. East Germany had so heavily polluted their water sources with heavy metals and other contaminants that it was impacting the composition of steel they were manufacturing. East Germany eventually had to truck in clean water at great cost in order to continue production.

Then, there's Poland. Once considered an environmental gem with landscapes similar to northern Ontario, Poland became one of the most polluted places on earth. "The economy was in tatters and innovation was halted, all to try to compete with the west while using post-Second World War technology. The human condition suffered terribly as a result of the environment being so severely degraded," observes Nagy.

But, the world in general, and North America in particular, is not heeding the warnings. As Nagy notes; "Modern equivalents of this exist all over the world now from over-consumption, race to the bottom policies and the thirst for more and more resources. It has become a world of haves and have-nots with the new term Global North vs. Global South. China has now publicly recognized that it can no longer pollute like it has as it is threatening their economy. It's all a delayed effect."

Nagy knows, "Climate change and the collapse of the oceans is the biggest global issue the world has faced. Both are tied to bottled water -- a luxury we can no longer afford." Water extraction is an indisputable concern because many Canadians live under the misconception that we can find more water whenever we need it while the truth remains water is not renewable.

Not one single drop more has been produced since the world began. All we do is simply transform water into different states and we contaminate it. But, the bigger concern is the huge carbon footprint of bottled water production and transportation.

In order to save the planet, Nagy believes Canadians need to reorganize ourselves and our economy as well as that of the international community. Nagy sagely advises, "Attitudes need to change. People need to connect the dots to understand the cause and effect and the interrelatedness of our health, the health of our environment, and the health of our economy. Bottled water slows the problem solving down and enables corporations to get rich off of a problem that shouldn't exist."

Nagy wants Canadians to understand that, "Renewable, clean water is not abundant in the populated areas of Canada. Our Great Lakes are not bathtubs that can be drained and shipped around the world because there is no magic faucet to refill them. All life depends on clean water."

Yet, Nagy remains hopeful. He believes in empowering people one person at a time because, ultimately, it's the actions of individuals that will have the greatest and longest lasting impact. In fact, recognizing the doom can be liberating: "You know that you're doing as much as you can. It's your civic duty to be engaged in making things better. So, help design your society and work for it."

Nagy credits his mother, Hamilton actionist Beverley Nagy, with inspiring him to become an actionist conservationist. Nagy lovingly recalls, "She was part of the cultural inner circle. She did what was right, not what was popular. She made Hamilton a better place."

Nagy's father, Les, was a Stelco career worker born to Hungarian immigrants on their kitchen table in a rented house on the shores of Hamilton harbour. At a time when homes were patriarchal temples, Les Nagy created a true house of equality. Nagy recalls often hearing his father say, "Do what you think is best Bev." Needless to say, the younger Nagy developed the same sense of fairness and equity.

Nagy prefers the term actionist over activist because, "All it takes to be defined as an activist is to write a letter or contact your MP or simply ask for better heath care. But, over the decades the term has too often become associated with negative connotations."

Nagy has been involved in ecological issues since the 1980s. But, his focus turned to water in 2002 due to the hypocrisy of water use in the town of Elora. At that time, the residents were experiencing water shortages during drought conditions. Yet, the provincial and local governments were championing the development of the Grand River Raceway which combined horse racing and slots and placed excessive demands on Centre Wellington's water supply.

In 2007, the Wellington Water Watchers (WWW) formed and Nagy immediately joined. His water actionism expanded in 2008 when he ran again in a byelection for the federal Green Party in Guelph, Ontario. Nagy was on track to victory, which helped prompt then prime minister Harper to prorogue government a mere 24 hours before the scheduled vote, forcing a general election and thereby eliminating the byelection.

Nagy returned once again to tackling water issues and eventually became the spokesperson and face of the WWW. This will be Nagy's last year as chair. During that time, he would like to see a sizeable push from Ontarians during the upcoming provincial election.

The WWW program, Water for Life Not Profit, places pressure on Premier Wynne to make water an election issue. To date the Green Party is on side; the Liberals have undertaken new regulations but have not committed to the phase out, the NDP has partially supported the directive of the program and the Conservatives have yet to declare their stance.

As Nagy sees it, "Bottled water is a symbol of water inequality not luxury. This includes First Nations reserves where water contamination is commonplace. Yet, instead of timely fixes to the problems with equipment and training, bottled water has become institutionalized in too many cases. But, really the question all Canadians should be asking is, why is the water contaminated in the first place?"

March 22 is World Water Day. Celebrate by endorsing the WWW's Water for Life, Not Profit program. Then, download the MPP action kit and ask your MPP to endorse the program. While you're at it, print and sign the letter for Premier Wynne and be sure to add your own personal comments.

For more information or to volunteer with WWW go to their website.

This article originally appeared in The Anvil newspaper's Water for Life, Not Profit edition available throughout the GTHA during the month of March.

Photo: Viv Lynch/flickr

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Categories: News for progressives

Thanks to you, SumOfUs and OpenMedia's #DontCensor billboard is now up in Toronto!

Thu, 2018-03-01 07:01
Marie Aspiazu

On February 28, OpenMedia held a national Day of Action against website blocking, in partnership with over 30 other companies and organizations, and tens of thousands of Canadians.

Why? Because Bell Canada has spearheaded an effort at the CRTC to institute new website blocking, that will lead to censorship, and undermine net neutrality.

But we're not going to let them get away with it. As a part of our day of action, put the spotlight on Bell's proposal, with a massive billboard right in the heart of downtown Toronto, at Yonge and Dundas Square.

This 30-by-40-foot billboard took our Day of Action to the next level and we couldn't have done it without our community having our back. Thank you for your donations, shares, and ongoing support. You make our work possible.

We'd also like to give a special thanks to our friends at SumOfUs for teaming up with us on this one!  

Check out these photos of the billboard, located right on Yonge and Dundas square in Toronto (if you happen to walk by, send us a pic!).

And please don't forget to join the day of action and spread the word! Our goal is to gather at least 50,000 comments to the CRTC.


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Categories: News for progressives

A Bell-led website blocking scheme may open the floodgates to widespread censorship

Thu, 2018-03-01 01:56
Civil Liberties WatchPolitics in CanadaTechnology

Back in September, we were shocked by Bell Canada's overreaching proposal to introduce a mandatory website blocking system with no judicial oversight and radical new copyright rules in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which is currently being renegotiated. Not long after, rumours surfaced that Bell was planning a similar proposal at home via the

Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC). And this January, just when we thought we'd seen it all, Bell went full throttle and spearheaded a coalition of over 25 organizations calling itself "FairPlay Canada," including Cineplex and the CBC. This coalition has formally requested the CRTC to consider creating a website-blocking agency.

Bell's proposal is problematic because creating a censorship committee within the federal government has a huge potential to open the floodgates to widespread Internet censorship. Website blocking schemes often result in over-blocking, as seen in the U.K., where gay-teen support sites are being added to its ever-growing list of blocked websites. So if this proposal goes through, it won't be long before legitimate content and even services like Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) become the coalition's next targets. FairPlay Canada's proposal is an attack on Canadians' right to free expression and our robust net neutrality rules that Minister Navdeep Bains and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau have both expressed strong support for.

Bell's foundations for its website blocking proposal, that it's targetting piracy, prove rather weak. Canada is already home to some of the toughest anti-piracy laws in the world, and recent reports indicate that piracy rates are declining as people are rapidly shifting to legal alternatives. Plus, data shows online streaming services like Netflix, Spotify and Apple Music are thriving, demonstrating that if people are given affordable access to the content they want to watch, they are willing to pay for it.

But Bell seems to be telling different stories depending on its needs. On one hand, Bell is trying to convince the CRTC that piracy is a big problem in need of a radical "solution," emphasizing how it's leading people to cut the cord on their pricy cable packages. Simultaneously, Bell is emphasizing the success of its TV and online streaming services before business analysts (with no mention of the former).

This proposal from Bell is just one more example of the ways that Canada's vertically integrated telecommunications companies are trampling on our internet rights in favour of their concentrated media interests. Except, in this case, their plan won't even help put money back into their TV assets. It's time for Bell, and its partners, to ensure their content is available where Canadians want to watch it: online. And as has been made clear time and time again -- if they offer it, Canadians will pay.

OpenMedia has been pushing back against Bell's censorship proposal since it first tried to sneak it into NAFTA, and we will not back down. We spearheaded a nationwide day of action on February 28 and will continue to collect comments against Bell coalition’s proposal, which we will be submitting as part of the CRTC’s comment period (ending March 29, 2018). People can also submit their comments directly to the CRTC's website. Follow OpenMedia on Facebook and Twitter for the latest developments on Bell coalition's proposal.

Marie Aspiazu is a Campaigner and Social Media Specialist for OpenMedia, a non-profit organization that works to keep the internet open, affordable, and surveillance-free.

Image: opensource.com/flickr

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Digital Freedom UpdateInternet censorshipBell MediaNAFTA 2.0copyright lawsonline piracyDigital Freedom UpdateMarie AspiazuMarch 1, 2018Join the Day of Action against a Bell-led censorship initiativeMark the date on your calendars, on February 28 Canadians across the country are coming together to protest Bell coalition's website blocking plan. Here's how you can participate.Bell Canada is attempting to weaponize copyright through NAFTAWe thought we'd seen it all, but Bell has pitched an outrageous proposal to protect its outdated model and censor the Internet through NAFTA.Three ways NAFTA helps the powerful bend the rulesThe lack of transparency around NAFTA means undemocratic policies are being considered which could harm ordinary Canadians.
Categories: News for progressives

Top disappointments of Budget 2018, by the numbers

Wed, 2018-02-28 21:18
Brent Patterson

The Council of Canadians had a first look at Budget 2018 tabled by Finance Minister Bill Morneau on February 27 and has these initial observations.

1. $0 for pharmacare

"There's a pledge for a new national pharmacare program -- but the budget says nothing about what that might cost. Eric Hoskins, who resigned as Ontario's health minister Monday, was officially named today as the chair of a new council that will hold nationwide consultations on how to proceed with a national program." - CBC

After years of study and clear evidence that pharmacare would both save lives and billions of dollars, we are disappointed that the government decided to pursue consultations rather than taking immediate action to implement pharmacare. The advisory council's report isn't expected until the spring of 2019, just prior to the October 2019 federal election.

2. $0 for Trans-Pacific Partnership compensation

"[Ontario Finance Minister Charles] Sousa said he was disappointed there weren't more transition measures to help Ontario businesses affected by the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal with Asian nations." - Toronto Star

We are opposed to the Trudeau government's so-called "comprehensive and progressive" Trans-Pacific Partnership, but are mindful that earlier this week the Ontario government requested the Trudeau government provide $1.26 billion for the province's auto sector and $1.4 billion for agricultural producers to offset harm done by the agreement.

3. $6.8 million over six years for human rights ombudsperson

"The government said Tuesday the role would ultimately be funded through Public Services Canada's existing budget, but few details were immediately available. The budget documents said that the ombudsperson's office would receive $6.8 million over six years, including money for the previous 2017/2018 fiscal year." - National Observer

We are deeply disappointed at the small amount of money allocated to this newly announced position that is to investigate allegations of abuse abroad by Canadian corporations. We had hoped that the position would be well-resourced both financially and with the necessary expertise and staff levels so as to be able to respond effectively and in a timely way to complaints.

4. $75 million over five years for trade with China

"The Government proposes to provide up to $75 million over five years, starting in 2018–19, with $11.8 million per year thereafter, to Global Affairs Canada to establish a stronger Canadian diplomatic and trade support presence in China and Asia. This includes bolstering the number of Canadian diplomats and trade commissioners on the ground in China as well as new initiatives to promote Canada's trade with China and other Asian markets." - Budget 2018

We take this as another signal the Trudeau government is committed to pursuing eventual Canada-China free trade agreement talks.

5. $90.6 million over five years to address offshore tax evasion

"The federal government did attach a price tag to its plan for going after those who skip out on, or use offshore accounts to avoid paying taxes: $90.6 million over five years. Morneau said they expect to recover $5 in revenue for every dollar spent to 'crack down on tax cheats and offshore tax havens.'" - National Observer

This appears to be a modest expenditure given Canadians for Tax Fairness estimates that federal and provincial governments lose $7.8 billion a year in tax revenue due to offshore tax evasion. The number could be as high as $20 billion a year in lost revenue.

6. $172.6 million more over three years for clean drinking water

"The Trudeau government is also under pressure to fulfill a promise to end all water advisories in First Nations by 2021. The 2018 federal budget sets aside about $172.6 million in new funding for clean drinking water; most of the money is set to flow over the next two years. The bulk of this funding -- $102 million -- is slated for the 2018-2019 fiscal year, with $50 million earmarked for the following year. This comes in addition to $1.8 billion initially set aside in the 2016 budget for First Nations water infrastructure." - CBC

An additional $57.5 million a year for three years is not sufficient funding to end boil water advisories in First Nations as promised in the last election.

7. $600 million for the G7 summit

"Canadians will pay nearly $600 million for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to host the G7 summit in June, the bulk of which will be spread over budgets this year and next, and will be spread across a range of departments. The biggest chunk of change will be spent by the RCMP, with nearly $300 million budgeted for the national police force's role -- and overtime -- in keeping the world leaders secure." - Toronto Star

This is an outrageous sum for the two-day summit that will take place June 8-9. This money would be much better spent added on to the insufficient spending currently allocated for clean drinking water for First Nations across this country.

8. $1.3 billion over five years for land, water and species at risk

"The new budget proposes $1.3 billion over five years to protect land, water, and species at risk." - National Observer

This is less funding than had been expected ($1.4 billion over three years) and we are concerned that the Trudeau government continues to endanger land, water and species at risk by championing the 890,000 barrel per day Kinder Morgan pipeline that crosses more than 1300 waterways to fill hundreds of tankers on the Pacific Ocean with bitumen each year and approving BP to conduct oil and gas exploration in the deep ocean waters off the coast of Nova Scotia.

9. About $3.3 billion for fossil fuel subsidies

"The Paris target of holding global average temperature at no more than 1.5 degrees C above Industrial Revolution levels is a fundamental goal that should involve a whole-of-government approach. Yet Budget 2018 does not touch subsidies to fossil fuels in the oil patch and for fracked natural gas." - Green Party leader Elizabeth May

While the government is spending $600 million on a two-day G7 summit, it has failed to meet its October 2015 election pledge to "fulfill our G20 commitment [made in September 2009] and phase out subsidies for the fossil fuel industry over the medium-term."

We will be providing more commentary in the coming days.

The NDP response to the budget is here, the Green Party's response is here.

Photo: Adam Scotti/PMO

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Categories: News for progressives

Why should Indigenous peoples believe untrustworthy Trudeau?

Wed, 2018-02-28 14:07
February 28, 2018Indigenous RightsTrudeau's dance of deception on Indigenous rightsSince his election, Trudeau has made the same core promises to recognize and implement Indigenous rights in a multitude of strategically timed announcements, but it's been all talk and little action.Indigenous rightsColten Boushieracismanti-racism
Categories: News for progressives

Stephen Mandel to lead Alberta Party; probably won't take Tory insider's advice to go 'ultra-left'

Wed, 2018-02-28 13:51
David J. Climenhaga

Ian Brodie -- chief of staff to Stephen Harper for a spell back in the bleak days the Conservatives ran the country -- had some advice for the Alberta Party yesterday, just hours before the party's members chose former Edmonton mayor Stephen Mandel as their leader.

To wit: If the Alberta Party wants to win seats in 2019 in what is bound to be a race between Premier Rachel Notley's New Democrats and Opposition Leader Jason Kenney's supposedly United Conservatives, they must "campaign against oil," as the headline writer of Brodie's opinion piece on the CBC website accurately summarized his argument.

Or, as Brodie himself tendentiously put it in the piece published hours before the Alberta Party announced Mandel's selection as leader, "if Notley continues her move to the centre on pipelines, there might be room for an ultra-left party in Alberta politics."

There's a sly suggestion here that the Alberta NDP is pretty far to the left too. This is nonsense, of course, as is becoming increasingly obvious to ever-larger numbers of Albertans.

What's more, being on one side or the other of the debate about whether the fossil fuel economy has a future is not really a right- or a left-wing thing, as I am sure Brodie, nowadays a University of Calgary professor, understands perfectly well. He is, after all, a bright, even erudite, guy, for all that he has served the wrong side of the economic policy argument in a variety of important roles.

The real point of the veteran Conservative political operator's piece, I would suggest, was to tempt the Alberta Party to take a position that will make it irrelevant in the 2019 Alberta election, thereby improving Kenney's chances of defeating the NDP.

Brodie, by the way, also proffered the same advice to the Alberta Liberals led by David Khan, giving the same reasons. But his main target was clearly the Alberta Party because it is more likely to drain more Red Tory votes from the UCP than Blue Dipper votes from the NDP. This is especially true with Mandel at the helm, as was expected well in advance of last night's coronation.

So this argument, coming from this well-placed Conservative source, suggests that notwithstanding the prevailing narrative to the contrary, the UCP and its Ottawa auxiliary over at the Conservative Party of Canada understand perfectly well that a successful Alberta Party under Mandel would principally threaten them.

It also suggests that they understand the NDP is much more competitive than the current media storyline makes it seem. That narrative, as we have all heard repeatedly, is that the Notley government's departure from office is only a matter of when the election is called, a notion Brodie understandably tries to reinforce in his CBC piece.

Being a smart guy, I'm sure Brodie also understands that Mandel is unlikely to take the bait. After all, at 72, Mandel wasn't born yesterday. Still, come the campaign, the new Alberta Party leader may try to sound just a little greener than the oil-soaked elite consensus at the Alberta Legislature nowadays.

I confess that, up to now, I've thought it pretty unlikely the Alberta Party could even get on the radar, no matter who its members chose as leader. Hitherto, the party has appealed to no one except media, professional pundits and a few people better described as political cultists than political activists.

The fact that a connected Conservative like Brodie is offering bad advice to the Alberta Party as it tries to transform itself into the new Progressive Conservatives suggests that the strategic minds behind the UCP don't want that to happen.

We shouldn't get too excited about this, though. Mandel won by an impressive 66 per cent … but it was only 66 per cent of an unimpressive 4,613 votes.

Do you remember the days when more than 130,000 Albertans signed up and turned out to choose Ed Stelmach as PC leader and premier in 2006? Or when it was considered a huge comedown that only a few more than 23,000 voted in the 2014 party election that chose the late Jim Prentice as leader after Alison Redford's catastrophic tenure?

Mandel is going to have to interest more than 4,613 Albertans to realize the dream of forming an Alberta Party government.

He won't do that, obviously, by declaring war on the oil industry.

Pharmacare advisory committee a good step, but a tiny one

The pharmacare advisory committee mentioned in the Trudeau government's budget yesterday is a positive step forward, but Canada is still a long, long way from having an actual national prescription drug plan.

So it's incumbent upon pharmacare's many supporters to keep the pressure on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his ministers to actually implement a prescription drug plan like every other country in the industrialized West except the United States, which is disastrous when it comes to the way it organizes health care.

As The Globe and Mail correctly reported yesterday in its coverage of Finance Minister Bill Morneau's budget, "national pharmacare could represent significant savings for both patients and the government." These savings are variously estimated from about $5 billion to about $12 billion per year. Alberta alone would save more than $1 billion annually.

It would also, of course, save the lives of many Canadians who must now choose between paying the rent and feeding their children or getting the prescription drugs they require to survive.

A way to save $11 billion a year for taxpayers while ensuring all Canadians can have the pharmaceutical drugs they need if they are ill? A way to reinvest in health care and make a good system better? What's not to hate about that if you're a profit-drenched multinational pharmaceutical company, a huge insurance corporation, or an operative for a neoliberal advocacy group like the Fraser Institute or the Canadian Taxpayers Federation?

So count on it that the usual suspects will be lobbying furiously against a national pharmacare plan behind the scenes and in public. Given the Liberals' past modus operandi, there is a significant chance the party will lose interest in the plan after it wins next federal election.

If we are ever to have pharmacare in Canada, no matter whom we elect, we will have to keep our politicians' feet to the fire.

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

Photo: David J. Climenhaga

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Categories: News for progressives

A gender budget needs meaningful changes to parental leave and pay equity

Wed, 2018-02-28 05:06
Angella MacEwen

Budget 2018 is being advertised as a truly comprehensive gender budget, with two key pieces of that being use-it-or-lose-it paternity leave, and action on pay equity.

Last year's gender budget implemented the Liberal campaign promise to extend EI parental leave from a total of 12 months to 18 months, despite the fact that the idea was universally panned by feminists, Canada's unions and business groups.

The problem? Other than the fact it doesn't recognize that the primary issue facing parents of young children is the need for a national child-care system, the plan didn't increase the total amount of funding, it simply extended the current allotment over a longer period of time. Instead of getting 55 per cent of your average earnings for 35 weeks of parental benefits, you can choose to get 33 per cent for 61 weeks. If you earn more than the maximum insurable earnings threshold of $51,700, the 35-week maximum benefit is $547/week, and the 61-week maximum benefit is $328/week. The main benefit for parents taking the 18-month leave would be the accompanying change in the duration of job-protected leave, and some parents might have collective agreement top-ups that make the 18-month leave more attractive (although that will likely change rather quickly).

On the whole, an excellent example of how not to do gender budgeting.

So what should we be looking for to make sure that this year's changes to parental leave and pay equity will be meaningful?

Well, for any measure we should be looking for how it will affect differently located women -- women with disabilities, racialized women, women in rural areas, women with different levels of income … you get the idea.

For parental leave specifically, it is useful to look at Quebec's program. Andrea Doucet, Lindsey McKay, and Sophie Mathieu, have found that Quebec's QPIP does a better job of reaching low-income families. There are several features that contribute to this -- lower eligibility requirement ($2,000 of income vs. 600 hours of EI eligible employment), dedicated second-parent leave, and a higher 70 per cent replacement rate for both the dedicated maternity leave and the dedicated second-parent leave, as well as the first seven weeks of parental leave. Any modification of Canada's parental leave program that only does part of this will likely fall short.

On pay equity, many stakeholders are expecting stand-alone legislation to implement proactive pay equity at the federal level. In the budget, we might see set-asides for what this could be expected to cost the federal government as an employer, as well as funding for independent Pay Equity Commission and Hearings Tribunal, and a commitment to funding to support workers' and advocacy groups' access to advice, information, training, and participation in the pay equity process.

Last year I asked how it could be a gender budget without "higher minimum wages, better employment standards enforcement, proactive pay equity legislation, and affordable child care." Those are still the questions I'll be asking this year.

Photo: KMR Photography/flickr

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Categories: News for progressives

Nasra Adem unfurls emotional journey in first book of poetry

Wed, 2018-02-28 03:02
Arts & Culture

When Nasra Adem speaks, they form more than words and sentences. There are entire emotional worlds in the tenor and cadence of their voice. Adem, who lives in Edmonton, identifies as a queer, Muslim multidisciplinary artist.

"My throat is always the first thing to go, when I'm under stress," says Adem in an interview with rabble.ca. It goes back to their time as a 16-year-old struggling in Edmonton's school system, dealing with anxiety and ADHD as well as trying to sort out their relationship to their parents and to Islam. It was too much.

"I developed a thyroid condition…and now that I'm investigating dis-ease and the spiritual map of my body, of course, it's the throat chakra! I couldn't express myself in the ways that I needed to."

Needless to say, Adem has come a long way. They have just finished a term as the Youth Poet Laureate of Edmonton, helped launch the Black Arts Matter festival last year (Alberta's first all-Black festival) and is curator of Sister 2 Sister: an artist collective for/by femmes of colour.

Adem is currently the star of an Alberta Treasury Board commercial dedicated to entrepreneurs and, is also an artistic associate at Workshop West Playwright's Theatre in Edmonton.

On March 16, the day they turn 24, Adem launches their first book of poetry, A God Dance in Human Cloth.

Born in Calgary, growing up in Toronto and Ottawa, and then relocating to Edmonton at the age of 12, Adem has had to sort out a lot -- in Ontario, they spent time around a lot of African and Middle-Eastern families but arriving in Edmonton, they felt like an outcast. Eventually, in high school they ended up hanging out with a group of people who were focused on dance. This gave them purpose and focus. They went on to study musical theatre at Grant McEwan College but dropped out to focus on poetry and spoken word.

Adem spoke to rabble.ca in the middle of the second Black Arts Matter Festival in Edmonton. This interview has been condensed and edited.

You had been practicing spoken word and posting videos but then you finally performed in 2013 with I am not a Poet. Can you recall that experience?

It was at the Rouge Lounge and I saw the poster for it. I thought, "Stop talking about doing the thing. Do the thing." I was in a healthy [state of] mind. I invited my two friends from university, my mom was super supportive. I saw the poster and saw it was run by two Black people [poet knowmadic, a.k.a. Ahmed Ali, and Titilope Sonuga]. I thought, What?!!

I was a ball of nerves. I thought maybe I'll forget everything. It was the energy in the room, I sucked it up, and through the poem, I took it all and shared it back at the end. I remember the afterwards mostly. Titi came up and grabbed my shoulders and said: 'You have to slam -- it's spoken word but it's competition. You have to because you're Black and you're a woman!'  I was crying and shaky.

They really helped me. Titi showed me -- this is what you want? Then, this is how you get it. She's amazing. She's now back in Lagos on a TV show, advocating for girls in STEM. Ahmed and his wife are still there every Tuesday night running it, now it's at The Nook. He's doing it out of his own pocket.

You can choose the experiences that you want. I seek the relationships, not the product.

Describe the poetry that's in your book -- is there a focus?

It's a lot of reckoning, reconciling. It's about the last three, four years of spiritual and emotional work I've done to find out where that voice went that was swallowed up. What made me, what un-made me. My sexuality, the intimate intersections with growing up in a Muslim household, coming from the places that I come from.

My father's side is very religious, my grandfather is an imam, all my uncles have memorized the Qu'ran. I really loved Islam. As I was coming to my art, it was not a place that supported me so I was very confused and I had crying fits with God: You don't want me to do this?!

Once I started this other thing [dance, poetry], I realized it made me feel the way I had about Islam. Creation is creation. It was before religion.

I was dealing with my anxiety, finding out I had ADHD, the medication made me fat, it really screwed with me. I prayed hard. I embodied that on stage. Spoken word gives you the time to speak, to move the way you say.

The title came from a freestyle I was doing during a photo shoot. It became a caption. I thought yeah, this is kind of how I feel about myself: a God dance in human cloth.

It's about understanding the way I move and flow. The poems are ones I've done over the last three years like, I Am a New Brand of Shiny and Victory -- which is about my name. They are bold affirmations.

The book is closing that chapter of discovery. I have chosen myself in all forms, in all ways.

What did you learn from your tenure as the Youth Poet Laureate?

I had to thank [the title] for giving me legitimacy to the institutions that tried to kick me out!

I left high school early because I was dealing with the thyroid [condition], the medication, my struggle with so many things. I couldn't churn out the numbers or essays that they required, I started failing and skipping classes. And I had been an honour student, I got student leadership awards. The school system doesn't support art. I could see the brand new gym, the money that went into sports and sports teams at school.

Going into the schools, it's incredible. I have a lot of energy and there's this beautiful, visceral feeling of seeing young people see themselves. I walk in there with this fancy title and it's like, "Yo, I gotta be here huh?" There's nothing like watching a bunch of Somali girls, who could be my cousins, really excited when I show up. I see how deeply invested the students are in each other. The solidarity among the students in classrooms is BIG. And I'm chilling with them and bringing my reference points, talking about music and lyrics. Then, we have these natural conversations that occur because you're there and you honour where they are.

The best classrooms are community. There is no power dynamic. I've had the privilege of seeing that happening. The teachers, staff members, principals are raising people's children!

In the end, what do your parents make of this?

I didn't finish that theatre degree and technically, I could go back and my mom always asks if I could. And I think, why?  I'm already doing the things I want to do.

My dad, he's got this magazine with my face on it and a five-page spread about me and he says, "I don't understand why you're doing this." Well, it's not your job to understand. We come from different tool sets.

I'm first generation. I'm coming out of my parents' expectations. I honour their survival but I'm not here to tailor my ideas, the truths of myself to them.

A God Dance in Human Cloth is available for purchase here.  The book launch takes place March 16,  6: 30 p.m., $15, CKUA Performance Space, 9804 Jasper Avenue NW Edmonton. For more info, click here.

June Chua is a Berlin-based journalist who regularly writes about the arts for rabble.ca.

Photo: Autumn Beemer Photography

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Canadian poetryCanadian poetsBlack CommunityBlack ArtsJune ChuaFebruary 28, 2018Vivek Shraya and Arsenal Pulp Press launch imprint for young writers of colourArtist and writer Vivek Shraya is partnering with Arsenal Pulp Press to offer a deep mentorship and publication to a writer of Indigenous background or a person of colour who is living in Canada.Mad Room: Black artist lays bare struggle with depression, anxietyTangled Art Gallery in Toronto is opening its first-ever installation, featuring the work of local artist Gloria Swain and focusing on her experience as a Black woman in the mental health system.Finding hope in the poetics and politics of waterRita Wong's poetry collection 'undercurrent' describes the power and sacredness of water and cracks into the language of colonialism and capitalism and offers alternative narratives.
Categories: News for progressives

Mel Watkins writes on the passing of James Laxer

Wed, 2018-02-28 00:54
February 27, 2018NDPMel Watkins: Reflections on Jim LaxerWe met in mid-1969 at a small gathering in Toronto of NDP members. The bond we formed in the time of the Waffle was a defining moment of my life politically, and one of its great joys, personally.NDPjames laxermel watkinsthe waffle
Categories: News for progressives

Trudeau's dance of deception on Indigenous rights

Tue, 2018-02-27 23:44
Pamela Palmater

On Feb. 14, 2018, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced his plan to develop a new legislative framework called the "Recognition and Implementation of Rights Framework" intended to recognize Indigenous rights and avoid litigation. This announcement came after the incredible "not guilty" verdict in the Gerald Stanley murder trial -- the farmer who killed Colten Boushie from Red Pheasant First Nation -- and the subsequent nationwide rallies and protests by Indigenous peoples.

There is no doubt that Trudeau was trying to deflect attention from the deep-rooted racism within Canada's justice system -- but also in his own government's failure to take substantive action on any of the injustices facing Indigenous peoples. Despite his many pre- and post-election promises to Indigenous peoples -- Trudeau has been all talk and little action.

Aside from the opportunistic nature of his announcement, it is important to note that this is nothing new. Since his election, Trudeau has made the same core promises to recognize and implement Indigenous rights in a multitude of strategically timed announcements. He campaigned on reviewing and repealing all laws imposed on First Nations by the former Conservative government headed by Stephen Harper. He promised to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), including the provision of free, prior and informed consent, which he confirmed meant a veto for First Nations.

After he was elected he reconfirmed that his government would renew the nation-to-nation relationship based on rights recognition. However, his mandate letters to his cabinet tended to focus more on specific social programs than any rights-based agenda. Despite these very telling mandate letters, Trudeau managed to maintain the fanfare around his government's commitments at the Assembly of First Nations' (AFN) Chiefs in Assembly meetings in 2015 and 2016. With very similar impassioned speeches, he re-announced his government's commitment to repeal all of Harper's laws, review all Canadian laws to ensure their compliance with section 35 Aboriginal and treaty rights and implement UNDRIP.

However, year after year, he has not taken any substantive steps in this direction. Therefore, when yet another announcement was made in June 2017, this time about a Memorandum of Understanding between the AFN and Canada, there was some expectation of concrete deliverables. Like all other announcements to date, the pomp and circumstance celebrating the MOU overshadowed the fact that the only hard commitment in the MOU was to meet with the AFN three times a year to talk.

This is the well-choreographed dance used by Trudeau to make Canadians and Indigenous peoples believe that he is making great strides, "absolutely historic" advancements, or engaging in a "fundamental rethink" of the relationship with Indigenous peoples. Sadly, the AFN has become a willing partner in this deception. Had the AFN been doing its job, it would have advised First Nations not to count on the speeches and announcements, but to force hard commitments on paper. It should have been concerned that Trudeau's legislative framework idea is yet another federal government idea, much like the creation of two Indian Affairs departments -- neither of which was requested or developed by First Nations.

We know from the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples and the most recent Truth and Reconciliation Commission report that every time Canada imposes solutions on us -- our lives get much worse. This announcement is no exception. Despite trying to distance himself from his father's legacy, Justin Trudeau is covertly trying to do what his father Pierre Trudeau tried to do directly.

In 1969, then Liberal prime minister Pierre Trudeau, together with his Minister of Indian Affairs, Jean Chretien, released the 1969 White Paper on Indian Policy. The goal was to repeal the Indian Act, dissolve Indian Affairs, eliminate Indian status, and get rid of reserves and treaties.

There was tremendous opposition to this plan by First Nations, including protests and several official responses, including Citizens Plus -- dubbed the Red Paper -- from First Nations in Alberta and Wahbung: Our Tomorrows from First Nations in Manitoba. In both of these responses, First Nations said they did not want the Indian Act repealed and that any amendments had to be done with their consent. They also said that their separate status as Indians and treaty beneficiaries were to stay. Most importantly, they reconfirmed what First Nations have long said: that they need their lands, resources and jurisdictions recognized so they can rebuild their Nations. Trudeau abandoned the 1969 White Paper, but subsequent governments have never stopped trying to fulfil its objectives.

Now, Justin Trudeau, who did not consult with First Nations nationally, has made unilateral decisions about Indigenous peoples, including changing the name of the department, creating two new departments, limiting nation-to-nation relations to meetings with the AFN and a new legislative framework to limit Indigenous rights. We know that this legislation will limit rights because of the code words used by Trudeau during his announcement. His focus on "certainty" is a Justice Canada word used to extinguish Indigenous rights and title. His comment that this process is not about getting back what was lost -- is code for no return of lands and resources or compensation for the loss of use or benefit.

Trudeau's confirmation that no amendments would be made to the Constitution means that no substantive recognition of Indigenous jurisdiction will be made. Finally, his focus on doing this to avoid the courts is another way of saying that he doesn't want any more court cases upholding our rights to land and our right to decide what happens on our lands. Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould made it very clear that free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) in UNDRIP "does not equate to a veto" -- a stark contrast from Trudeau's promise that FPIC "absolutely" equates to a veto.

Trudeau's dance of deception has the potential to gut Indigenous rights, treaties, title and jurisdiction in Canada, especially if he is permitted to ride the pomp and circumstance of these carefully worded, flowery announcements to royal assent before the next election -- as he promised. Conflict is coming and the true test of reconciliation will be over our right to say no.

This article was originally published in Lawyer's Daily on February 26, 2018.

Photo: Adam Scotti/PMO

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Categories: News for progressives

Canadian governments, and not just Liberals, have a history of playing footsie with bad actors

Tue, 2018-02-27 13:31
David J. Climenhaga

The embarrassing case of Jaspal Atwal, the unwanted Mumbai dinner guest, suggests the Trudeau government has a problem with terrorists.

Atwal is the Sikh extremist who served prison time in Canada for attempting to murder a visiting Indian cabinet minister on Vancouver Island in 1986. He was invited to attend a dinner in Mumbai hosted by the Canadian High Commission during the recent Indian visit of our resplendent prime minister, Justin Trudeau.

Atwal was disinvited as soon his history became known, but not before he managed to appear in a photograph with the PM's wife, Sophie Gregoire Trudeau. Considerable bad press was generated for Trudeau and Canada's Liberal government.

A B.C. Liberal MP has now fallen on his sword, metaphorically speaking, taking responsibility for the blunder. This has persuaded no one, of course, that the blame doesn't belong elsewhere, presumably in the Prime Minister's Office.

This, along with Trudeau's sartorial extravagances, led many pundits to describe his mission to India as a disaster, even a catastrophe. It might be right and just if that were so. But don't count on that being the way it works out.

The fact is, yes, the Trudeau government has a problem with bad actors abroad, including some outright terrorists. But it's not just the Trudeau government.

Recent Canadian governments of both the Liberal and Conservative persuasions have consorted with unsavoury characters, and will continue to do so.

This means that while the Conservative Opposition will understandably try to squeeze some short-term political gain from Trudeau's embarrassment, it and the media are unlikely to dig deeply into why this sort of thing occurs.

Canada's habit of playing footsie with extremists and their supporters happens for two reasons: domestic politics and geopolitics, sometimes a combination of both.   

Geopolitics, in the case of both Liberal and Conservative governments, usually means carrying water for the Republic next door. And the United States has been none too fastidious in the way it distinguishes between the bad terrorists it targets in its so-called Global War on Terror and the "relatively moderate rebels" it arms and supports to help its various geostrategic regime-change projects.

For example, in Syria, where the United States has long desired regime change, it has covertly armed a branch of Al-Qaeda, the organization it accused of attacking the Twin Towers in New York City on Sept. 11, 2001.

Meanwhile, the U.S. relationship with the so-called Islamic State in both Syria and Iraq is murkier, but there's plenty of evidence there is a relationship of some sort. Consider the strangely passive approach the U.S. Air Force took when ISIS could be used to put pressure on the Syrian government, and the USAF's "accidental" bombing of Syrian troops as ISIS fighters waited unmolested nearby to fill the gap. Lately, there are reports defeated ISIS commanders from Iraq are turning up in Afghanistan. If true, they didn't go commercial!

On the domestic political front, meanwhile, Canada is a country of immigrants with multiple large diaspora populations. Whether these Canadians come from European countries like Ireland or Ukraine, or from Asian ones like India, it is inevitable that political conflicts from away will find expression here.

As long as large groups in Canada with ties to their home countries can mobilize blocks of voters in the service of political parties, the temptation for Canadian governments to get too close to extremist factions in those communities will be overpowering.

All we can ask is for our governments and security agencies to deal with them judiciously -- say, by not appointing a foreign minister with strong historical family ties to a foreign government supported by fascist sympathizers engaged in a civil war with their fellow citizens.

This is why, notwithstanding Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer's recent rhetoric about Trudeau's Indian junket, we can expect the Tories not to push too hard.

Cozy relationships with extremist factions in expatriate communities from Punjab, Tamil Sri Lanka, Western Ukraine, Latin America and Iraqi Kurdistan are nothing new for Canadian political parties, or Canadian governments.

Jason Kenney would be the man to ask about how that worked under the Conservatives. After all, the Alberta Opposition Leader was the Harper government's successful point man on wooing immigrant community votes.

Kenney certainly showed up in the Kurdish region of Iraq in 2015 and posed for controversial photos under the Kurds' sunburst flag with his mentor Stephen Harper, then the prime minister. This annoyed the governments of both Iraq and Turkey, the latter our NATO ally.

And who can forget how the National Post, Pravda of the Harper government, functioned as a virtual recruiting agency for Canadian mercenaries to serve the Kurdish cause?

At least in the case of Sikh separatism in India, there are influential and articulate members of both sides of the debate over an independent "Khalistan," so we have a better chance of properly understanding the issue. No one is using "national security" to hide the facts.

But if Indian officials distrust Canada's assurances it has no sympathy with Khalistan, perhaps our military support for the Kurds and our recognition of Kosovo separation from Serbia in 2008 contribute to that. Knee-jerk loyalty to American regime change projects drove both, but they were nevertheless strange policies to be taken up by a country that has its own challenges with national unity.

Meanwhile, in the aftermath of the Atwal embarrassment, Canadian officials were in full damage-control mode, with everyone from the PMO down suggesting the cock-up was someone else's fault.

Former employees and anonymous sources within Canada's security services worked feverishly to insist there was nothing they could have done to prevent the embarrassment. This is baloney, of course.

Still, in terms of the political consequences, it's the PMO that will have to wear the egg on its face.

Given that political reality, others were naturally in full damage-maximization mode.

The Toronto Star gave ample space to Scheer's claim it was "dangerously irresponsible" to suggest Indian officials knowingly allowed Atwal to enter their country after years of banning him. "The implications of saying that elements in the Indian government have played a role in this are profound," he huffed.

But if anything, one imagines, the Indian government is delighted with the short-term advantage it has gained in its dealings with Canada -- a fact that lends credence to our government's leaked damage-control theory.

Regardless, the Star, which seems to have been excluded from the original scoop, quoted the Times of India saying, "Justin Trudeau's visit was a disaster that has little parallel."

The Toronto newspaper, however, omitted to tell its readers that the Times took an optimistic view of the affair, concluding in the same sentence that it "may have provided the opportunity to reset relations between Canada and India."

In terms of realpolitik, it's hard to see much real danger here. The ties between Canada and India are too deep for that.

Embarrassing for the PMO and the security agencies? Certainly, and properly so. The long-term political consequences for Trudeau and the Liberals, though, are unlikely to be serious.

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

Photo: Adam Scotti/PMO

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Categories: News for progressives

James Laxer: 1941-2018

Mon, 2018-02-26 14:44
February 26, 2018Remembering James Laxer, Canadian iconoclastCo-founder of the Waffle, academic, writer and politician, Laxer died on February 23 in Paris. He is remembered here by his son, Michael.james laxerthe waffleNDPsocialism
Categories: News for progressives



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