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Many First Nations communities still do not have safe drinking water

Sat, 2017-12-09 05:20
December 8, 2017The government has not budgeted enough money to provide safe water to all First Nations: PBOThe Parliamentary Budget Officer warns the funds budgeted for water infrastructure and maintenance in First Nations communities is inadequate to the need -- and to the government's own commitments.
Categories: News for progressives

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

Sat, 2017-12-09 03:34
Rachel Small

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

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

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

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

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

Image: Rachel Small

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Categories: News for progressives

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

Fri, 2017-12-08 14:28
David J. Climenhaga

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

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

In response, media really poured it on.

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

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

To the CBC, he was "Just Brad."

You get the picture.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: DanielPaquet/Wikimedia Commons

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Categories: News for progressives

Apologies are appropriate and needed

Fri, 2017-12-08 14:18
December 8, 2017Politics in CanadaPublic apologies serve crucial role in democratic societiesApologies are not monetary gifts or hollow words offered by teary politicians. They are gestures that define our history as a country and restorre faith in institutions.Trudeau apology
Categories: News for progressives

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

Fri, 2017-12-08 10:34
US PoliticsWorld

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This column was first published on Democracy Now!

Photo: Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff/Flickr

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

Petition calls for citizenship guide and exam to include Indigenous history

Fri, 2017-12-08 05:21
Doreen Nicoll

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

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

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

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

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

The petition to the Minister states:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: Canadian Pacific/Flickr

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Categories: News for progressives

Do migrant workers have access to health care?

Fri, 2017-12-08 01:40
Heryka Miranda

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

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

The Niagara Migrant Worker Interest Group-NMWIG

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

St. Alban’s Anglican Church in Beamsville, Ontario

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: Heryka Miranda

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Categories: News for progressives

Fighting reproductive health leads to further inequality for women

Thu, 2017-12-07 14:54
December 7, 2017WorldNew UN report on world’s population connects reproductive health to inequalityEvery year the UN’s population agency reports on the world’s population. This year’s report focuses on the connection between poverty and lack of access to reproductive services.United Nationsreproductive healthafrica
Categories: News for progressives

Reflections on 28 years of remembering the Montreal Massacre

Wed, 2017-12-06 15:57
December 6, 2017FeminismTwenty-eight years later: December 6, 1989Remembering the killings at L'École Polytechnique at a time of renewed mobilization to fight violence against women.Montreal Massacre Memorialdecember 6male violence against women
Categories: News for progressives

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

Wed, 2017-12-06 06:07
David Suzuki

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org.

Photo: Ryan L. C. Quan/Wikimedia Commons

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Categories: News for progressives

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

Wed, 2017-12-06 04:24
Bonnie Burstow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AP: Good to hear. Congratulations again.

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Categories: News for progressives

An awkward meeting in Parliament

Tue, 2017-12-05 15:43
December 5, 2017Politics in CanadaUS PoliticsWorldJustin Trudeau betrays his father’s legacy on nuclear weaponsWhile Parliament honours the anti-nuclear campaign, the Trudeau government refuses to join the effort of more than 120 countries to ban nuclear weapons. Critics wonder why.nuclear war
Categories: News for progressives

Free speech is not a neutral proposition with equal enfranchisement

Tue, 2017-12-05 10:32
Mercedes Allen

Part two of a two-part series. Read part one.

It should be no surprise to anyone that trans* people find the "Debate™" to be triggering and toxic.

Of course, Ezra Levant might be a bad example.  Social conservatives aren't usually as candid (or as classless) as Levant, and instead hide these views in coded language about sinister, ideologically-driven social agendas, a nebulous transgender "craze," totalitarianism (as if trans* people had that much power!), political correctness, "cultural Marxists," and persecution by "compelled speech" (which -- on a legal level, at least -- is factually incorrect, regardless of what overzealous professors at WLU reportedly told Lindsay Shepherd).

From his argument before the Senate against trans* human rights protections, Peterson himself makes it clear that he sees gender identity as as something that cannot be substantiated scientifically, and therefore as something that should not be dignified by giving it any credence:

"It's incorrect in that identity is not and will never be something that people define subjectively because your identity is something you actually have to act out in the world as a set of procedural tools, which most people learn -- and I'm being technical about this -- between the ages of two and four. It's a fundamental human reality. It's well recognized by the relevant, say, developmental psychological authorities. The idea that identity is something you define purely subjectively is an idea without status as far as I'm concerned.

"I also think it's unbelievably dangerous for us to move towards representing a social constructionist view of identity in our legal system. The social constructionist view insists that human identity is nothing but a consequence of socialization, and there's an inordinate amount of scientific evidence suggesting that that happens to not be the case. So the reason that this is being instantiated into law is because the people who are promoting that sort of perspective, or at least in part because the people promoting that sort of perspective, know perfectly well they've lost the battle completely on scientific grounds.

"...the social constructionist view of gender isn't another opinion; it's just wrong...99.7 per cent of people who inhabit a body with a given biological sex identify with that biological sex. They're incredibly tightly linked.

"If you can't attribute causality to a link that's that tight, you have to dispense with the notion of causality altogether. Of the people who identify as male or female who are also biologically male or female, the vast majority of them have the sexual preference that would go along with that and the gender identity and the gender expression.

"These levels of analysis are unbelievably tightly linked, and the evidence that biological factors play a role in determining gender identity is, in a word, overwhelming. There isn't a serious scientist alive who would dispute that. You get disputes about it, but they always stem, essentially, from the humanities. As far as I'm concerned -- I've looked at it very carefully -- those arguments are entirely ideologically driven. It's a tenet of the ideology that identity is socially constructed, and that's partly why it's been instantiated into law, because there's no way they can win the argument but they can certainly win the propaganda war..."

I don't know about you, but to me, that says that if there are so few trans* people and they can't prove their existence on a scientific level that Peterson is willing to accept, then he shouldn't have to accept their existence or treat them as anything other than deluded people.

For what it's worth, to make this argument, Peterson has to disregard decades of medical case histories which have consistently demonstrated two key points: first, that suppression and reparative therapies are extremely harmful to trans-identified individuals; and second, acceptance and accommodation alleviates distress to the point that it (social stigma and circumstance aside) allows them to reach a kind of "square one," from which they hopefully move on to happier and productive lives.

There is some discussion about the medical study of gender identity herehereherehere, and elsewhere, but the bottom line is that the overwhelming weight of case histories has been so compelling that the American Psychiatric AssociationAmerican Psychological Association, and all other major medical professional organizations (with the lone exception of an astroturf reparative therapy advocacy group with the official-sounding name of the American College of Pediatricians) call for the accommodation of, medical access for, and acceptance of trans* people. So, even though you can't circle someone's gender identity on a radiograph, the medical evidence is there -- and when it comes to human rights, it also isn't the point.

Indeed, it's become a common adage for trans* folk to say that we only hear about ten "regret" stories a year, and nine of them are Walt Heyer (although since the backlash to trans* human rights protections arose, that ratio has become more like 70 out of 80).

With all of that said, freedom of speech is a critically important part of Canadian life -- and not just in academic settings.  The people who are first to lose it are typically those who are marginalized, those who never really had much visibility, or a public voice, or access to platforms to speak out in their defense. Whatever else they may feel about it, trans* people must take the side of freedom of speech, because their continued existence and eventual acceptance depends on it.  What is critically important, then, is to seek true freedom of speech, which as Abigail Curlew points out is not a neutral proposition that all parties come to with equal enfranchisement:

"From a sociological perspective, our society suffers from extreme stratification along the lines of race, gender, sexuality, and class. Your identity shapes where you might be located within society's opportunity structure. Where you were born and what body you were born with matters and has a significant impact on your material and symbolic wealth.

"For transgender folks, this positions us in a precarious reality. A great portion of Canadian society doesn't recognize trans folks as real persons. And when they recognize us, it is often filtered through crude stereotypes that emphasize perversion or mental illness. The point is, we must go to great lengths to justify and defend our very existence in everyday situations.

"...The pressures of daily transphobia and cissexism push us back into the closets where we are unable to express our voices. The "freedom of speech" of those who hold bigoted views silence the freedom of speech of those they target..."

In the end, the very reason that opponents use free speech as a weapon is because they feel threatened. This is because in recent years, trans* people have demanded to have a voice in the cultural debate, have increasingly been given that opportunity, and have been compelling when they are heard. Indeed, by telling their stories and having the audacity to assert themselves as authorities on their own experiences, trans* people have already changed the actual debate, making it necessary for opponents to use some twist of logic to re-establish a hegemony that uses the language of academia -- couched in theory that can be misguided or at times even deceptive -- but removing the authority of lived experience, to once again justify trans* exclusion from that discussion. 

This, then, is the solution for trans* people: to keep speaking their experiences, and for there to be continued platforms available for them to do so. Protest, yes (with an effort to be clear what is being protested and what non-censorious remedy is being sought), but do not waste an overly unnecessary amount of energy on them (especially since that draws undue attention to them). When trans* people are considered authorities about themselves and are prioritized, then opponents' collective stance against acceptance begins to be recognized as archaic.

For people like Jordan Peterson and Ezra Levant, the thought of this is apparently terrifying.

Crossposted to Dented Blue Mercedes.

Photo: wiredforlego​/Flickr

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Categories: News for progressives

Navigating free speech when the 'debate' is you, and you're not invited

Tue, 2017-12-05 03:10
Mercedes Allen

Part one of a two-part series.

There's a duplicitous game of sleight-of-hand that is taking place in discussions about freedom of speech in academia and the public square.

Here's how it works: at first, a person fishes for controversy by saying several things that they know will offend people. If this garners enough attention, then the process recurs organically -- say, whenever a politician wants to reference the controversy as a coded dog whistle to their base, or when a teaching assistant replays a recording in class because she thinks the discussion is interesting and challenging.

And the moment the people targeted by that discussion get angry and protest, they're described not as being upset about the content of what is being said, but rather their protest is reframed as opposing freedom of speech itself.  Whether you see that as accidental or deliberate probably depends on how cynical you are about the whole issue.

And often in their anger and rush to respond, that target group will unwittingly play along and demand things that create the appearance of doing exactly that, rather than directly challenging the offensive comments. (Though to be fair, it's incredibly insulting to expect people to participate in a debate when said debate is about whether they exist and should be treated with dignity). 

Media, meanwhile, doesn't have much incentive to challenge that narrative, since controversy sells -- and the simpler and more iconic that controversy can be made, the more effective it becomes at drawing in readers.

That's why even when it's acknowledged that the protesters are also exercising freedom of speech, it can be made to sound like a perplexing situation in which "counter-protesters use free speech to protest free speech."  It makes the protesters sound idiotic, reframes their protest and demands as unreasonable, and their actual objections are erased entirely.  It also helps validate manipulative messaging that transforms a group of people who are concerned about their human rights and their acceptance in society into some vague and deceptive "agenda" that is maliciously transforming our nation in ways that no one actually ever has to clarify or substantiate -- because by this time, the people doing the framing already control the debate completely.

This also makes it possible to recast the substance of what is being debated into something that is so delicate and fragile that it shouldn't ever be subjected to any scrutiny or challenge whatsoever, lest free speech itself be irreparably harmed. It redefines free speech as speech-without-consequence, becoming "a little free speech for me, and a little shut-up-and-take-it for you." The intended result is to bring about a "discussion" which is apparently about you, but ideally doesn't involve you.

This is how freedom of speech -- a principle which Canadians rightly value highly -- can be weaponized. It's an effective quandary to dupe people into, seems to work every time, and Canadian social conservatives love and have perfected it. In fact, it's become a lucrative source of income for some of the better-known personalities who use it (albeit with some hypocrisy).

Such is the nature of University of Toronto professor Jordan Peterson's battle to deliberately disregard trans* peoples' requested pronouns -- he was so adamantly determined about it, in fact, that he urged the Senate to oppose a law to extend basic human rights protections to trans* people, for fear that he might be obligated to call someone "ze."  While there are similar debates being engaged in regarding Islamophobia, immigration and abortion (and LGBTQ human rights are simultaneously being reconceptualized as religious persecution), trans-bashing continues to be a favourite and effective political strategy. Apparently we're today's lucrative low-hanging fruits.

And so, the "Debate™" manages to fluctuate from the question of whether trans* people deserve to be dignified as the people they claim to be, to whether political correctness creates a toxic environment on campuses -- the moment one is challenged on the former, one hides behind the latter and plays the victim.

Of course, you experience the debate a little differently when the "Debate™" is you. 

Peterson's debate arose from his objections to respecting trans* peoples' choice of pronouns. In the process, he casts dubious aspersions on the whole question of trans* identity (and, if you listen long enough, chalks it all up to a Marxist/feminist conspiracy to destroy academia and society). If you're willing to plumb it to any depth, it quickly becomes a discussion about whether trans* people should have their identities respected... and by extension, whether they have any right to dignity. You can't have a debate like that without getting a lot of angry speech in response, especially if the people at issue don't typically have a voice in that debate (or at least not one that is given any weight or credibility). Even if Peterson himself isn't intending to make trans* people the issue, it's certainly where his proponents quickly go.

So, that's the context that needs to be kept in mind.  Out of a sense of decency, we don't debate other groups' right to dignity, or argue about whether someone from a different characteristic class should be dignified as "Mr." or "Ms." (which is itself a relatively recent development in language). I'm sure if the debate was about whether clinical psychologists are true academics or just "mentally ill" (playing on the same negative and stigmatizing attitudes prevalent in society about mental health issues that anti-trans* speakers typically exploit), Peterson would find it very insulting very quickly -- especially if he kept having to contend with those arguments constantly. So to have that debate without remembering the responsibility to approach it with empathy, care and to elevate the voices of people being talked about...that is always going to be trouble.

As an example, let's look at one snippet from the extended discussion about the Peterson controversy, courtesy of Rebel Media's Ezra Levant:

"I have no patience for the predators. For the sex offenders who just want to sneak into a women's jail rather than a men's jail. Makes sense: if you're a sex offender, sometimes you get killed in a men's jail -- but you get into a women's jail, well, now you get to be the rapist. I'm against the predators in the Girl Guides. Don't foist yourself into a girl's cabin at camp. I'm against the cheaters who want to compete in women's sports leagues instead of men's sports leagues. I'm hardline on that stuff. 

"But for the truly troubled men out there -- and it's almost all men -- I have concern and worry and sorrow, and I don't want them to kill themselves. I want them to get help. Don't cut things off your body. Being straight, being gay, whatever, do not cut yourself up.

"The American Psychiatric Association is using the dead bodies of these suicides as political weapons. So is the New York Times. And frankly, politicians like Justin Trudeau and Hillary Clinton, and the politicians at Wilfrid Laurier University are too. If you care about transgender people -- especially youth -- stop normalizing their troubles. Stop accelerating it. Stop coaching it. Stop pushing them down the road to what the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention says is a death sentence. Just stop it. And no, it is not transphobic to say so. It's the opposite, actually..."

If Levant isn't equating trans* women (who he essentializes as men) with sexual predators, then he at least certainly doesn't see a need to make any effort to differentiate the two. He still equates being trans* with mental illness (which in addition to invoking stigma also deliberately suggests that trans* peoples' experiences are not "real"), and displays no understanding whatsoever about what gender dysphoria is (nor any apparent interest in finding out).

In his accompanying article, Levant goes on to warn about "insane attacks on society...done in the name of trans rights," claims that Wilfrid Laurier University (WLU, which reprimanded teaching assistant Lindsay Shepherd for playing a recording of Peterson, and then subsequently apologized) has a "massively-funded Transgender Office," and suggests that there weren't any trans* people attending WLU (emphasis his) "until it became cool -- free stuff, special rights, lots of attention." Oh, those lazy socialists: exceedingly wealthy and powerful, yet totally unambitious until there's free stuff going around. And I'm not even going to dignify his "not transphobic" nonsense.

But he goes further to allege that acceptance, accommodation and medical transition are responsible for an extremely high rate of suicide among trans* people. Levant appears to refer (but does not link) to a 2014 report that the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention co-authored (Ann P. Haas and Philip L. Rodgers) with UCLA's Williams Institute (Jody L. Herman), entitled Suicide Attempts among Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Adults: Findings of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, documenting the effect of stigma and transphobia on escalating suicide ideation. If this is indeed the report that Levant is referring to, then he is certainly mischaracterizing their findings.

So in other words, Ezra Levant is so willfully blind to the stigmatizing effect that attitudes like his have on trans* people (or as he dismissively minimizes whenever it comes to human rights issues, "hurt feelings") that he has to twist the high incidence of suicide back into his "illness" paradigm by asserting that all of their troubles would be solved if they would simply stop being trans* -- which is an easy expectation to have when you start from a premise that the existence of trans* people has no basis in reality whatsoever.

It should be no surprise to anyone that trans* people find the "Debate™" to be triggering and toxic.

Crossposted to Dented Blue Mercedes.

Photo: Adobe Stock, with modification by author

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Categories: News for progressives

Canadian banks need to stop fleecing low and moderate income users

Mon, 2017-12-04 23:20
Donna Borden

"We say 'More,' he says 'No!,' Mor-neau, Mor-neau!" I yelled, along with my fellow ACORN members outside Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s constituency office in Toronto this morning. As cars honked in support, we demanded that the Minister improves the consumer protection framework under the Bank Act, so that people on lower-incomes can have access to fair financial services. Our National Day of Action on Fair Banking saw ACORN members taking to the streets in New Westminster, Calgary, Regina, Toronto, Hamilton, Mississauga, Ottawa, Montreal and Halifax, urging the Government to take action. The Bank Act is currently under review, providing an opportunity for the Liberals to implement regulations that meet the needs of their citizens, and we want to make sure they do so.

ACORN's Fair Banking campaign is important to me. I joined ACORN in 2014 after I ran into problems with a CitiFinancial installment loan (now Fairstone). At the time, I had approached my bank to consolidate my loan payments, to make it easier to repay. However, the bank told me that I had too much credit. Not that I had bad credit, just too much. So they wouldn't offer me a loan. Left with no alternative, I signed up for a $10,000 loan with Citifinancial. The interest rate was under the 60 per cent permissible by under the Criminal Code. Yet, with the addition of thousands of dollars of insurance premiums, I soon realized it was going to be impossible to pay the loan back. I reached a point where I had repaid $25,000 for a $10,000 loan and CitiFinancial were still saying I owed money.

After searching every corner of the internet to find out how I could resolve this issue, I found that there are little consumer protections in place to protect people like me from these unscrupulous lenders. I reached out to ACORN and found that there are many others in a similar situation -- the Government isn't doing their duty to protect low-income people. While wealthy Canadians can access affordable loans, low and moderate-income Canadians are being denied access to basic credit by mainstream banks. At a time where Canadians are racking up debt-to-income at rate of 169.9 per cent, an increase of over 93 per cent since 1990 (according to Statistics Canada), more and more low-income earners are being pushed into relying on fringe financial services, that charge predatory rates.

Our Fair Banking campaign calls for the Federal Government to mandate the banks to provide access to fair financial services for low and moderate-income earners, including:

  • Access to low-interest credit for emergencies;
  • Access to low-interest overdraft protection;
  • No holds on cheques;
  • Lower NSF fees from $45 to $10;
  • Alternatives to predatory lenders, such as postal banking and credit union credit products geared toward low and moderate income families;
  • Creation a national anti-predatory lending strategy;
  • A real-time national tracking system (or database) to help stop roll over loans;
  • Amend the Criminal Code to lower the maximum interest rate from 60 per cent to 30 per cent.

Until now, Morneau's focus when regulating the banks has only served to push low-income communities further to the fringes. Recent changes to mortgage regulation look to make it even more difficult for low-income earners to access credit from mainstream financial institutions. The mortgage rate stress test was introduced to ensure that consumers can afford to borrow, yet by not moving forward on a regulatory framework that addresses the entire market, specifically the absence of a national anti-predatory lending strategy, Morneau has missed the mark.

The stress test only succeeds in raising the bar even higher for low and moderate-income earners who strive to own a home. Even the banks admit that, "If you tighten rules and raise the bar on getting a mortgage from financial institutions, it may prompt a number of borrowers who are being shut out to deal with lenders that are in the less regulated space." In the midst of a housing crisis, this will push consumers further into the fringes and increase the risk that borrowers will get trapped in high-interest, high-risk mortgages. Analysts indicate that the entire fringe market is growing, and with further growth expected over the next twelve months, I worry that without adequate protections in place, more people will be pushed into the same predatory debt trap that I was pushed into.

A national anti-predatory lending strategy that seeks to harmonize federal and provincial anti-predatory lending practices would help tackle inter-jurisdictional challenges and gaps in regulation on predatory lending, which would help bring spiralling debt costs for many low and moderate-income individuals under control.

Find out more about ACORN's Fair Banking campaign here.

Donna Borden is a member of ACORN Canada and an ACORN Financial Justice Leader. 

Photo: ACORN Canada​

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Categories: News for progressives

The week we heard the first death rattles of the Canadian newspaper industry

Mon, 2017-12-04 08:56
December 3, 2017Newspapers march further down their road to oblivionThis week's Torstar-Postmedia deal and Globe and Mail redesign both show that newspapers will do anything to put profits ahead of readers.
Categories: News for progressives

Neoliberalism is a spent force in electoral politics

Sat, 2017-12-02 09:02
Political ActionPolitics in CanadaWorld

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This column was first published in the Toronto Star.

Photo: Andra Mihali/Flickr

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

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

Sat, 2017-12-02 08:55
Rachel Small

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Categories: News for progressives

Supreme Court to hear VICE News case on source protection

Sat, 2017-12-02 06:02
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: Ben Makuch/Facebook

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Categories: News for progressives

Global corporations have become the greatest threat to the planet

Fri, 2017-12-01 15:47
December 1, 2017WorldWe must begin to curb the power of corporationsThe revelations of the Paradise Papers and the earlier Panama Papers demonstrate just one dimension, tax evasion, of an obvious truth: corporations have become the greatest threat to the planet.corporate corruptiontax evasiontax havensParadise PapersPanama Paperscorporate taxationcorporate greed
Categories: News for progressives

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