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

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

O Cannabis!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: David Climenhaga

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Categories: News for progressives

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

Fri, 2017-12-01 10:22
Anti-RacismIndigenous RightsUS Politics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This column was first published on Democracy Now!

Image: Simon van de Passe/Wikimedia Commons

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Donald TrumpPocahontasracism#MMIWcolonial historiescolonial violencedemocracy now!Amy GoodmanDenis MoynihanNovember 30, 2017'Indigenous London' re-imagines colonial telling of London's pastUniversity of British Columbia professor Coll Thrush's work reveals Indigenous history at the centre of an empire.Ignorance and slurs: Indigenous election coverageEvery election, there are important reminders of the ignorance and racism Indigenous people face each day in Canada.Reel Injun is real interestingDocumentary explores the history of how Native Americans have been portrayed on film, from silent screen to Atanarjuat.
Categories: News for progressives

Concerns about election tampering during Honduran Presidential election

Fri, 2017-12-01 07:43
Raul Burbano

Common Frontiers expresses profound concern over the environment of intimidation in Honduras leading up to the elections and the electoral process itself, which has been plagued by delays and a lack of transparency during the vote tally. We are also concerned by allegations of election tampering and falsification of elections results.

On Sunday November 26, 2017, Honduras held elections for president, the National Assembly, and mayors. Leading up to the elections, Honduras experienced escalating militarization and intimidation intended to strike fear in opposition coalition supporters. 

Former President Manuel Zelaya's leftist Liberty and Refoundation Party (LIBRE) and Salvador Nasralla's centrist Anticorruption Party (PAC) had joined to form the Alliance Against Dictatorship coalition to run in the elections.

Supporters of the opposition alliances have experienced electoral fraud in the past. It was President Juan Orlando Hernandez's National Party that engineered the coup which deposed President Manuel Zelaya from office. Hernandez' National Party has control over many of the country's institutions, including the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) and the Supreme Court, that eliminated terms limits so he could run for re-election.

Amid allegations of fraud, the TSE, which is responsible for overseeing elections, still has not declared a winner in Sunday's presidential vote.

With 60 per cent of ballots counted, the TSE announced initial results on Sunday showing Alliance Against the Dictatorship's presidential candidate Salvador Nasralla leading by 5 per cent over incumbent National Party candidate Juan Orlando Hernandez. Two members of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE), Marco Lobo and Eric Mejia, stated the Opposition Alliance candidate Salvador Nasralla's lead in the vote was irreversible.

Inexplicably, election authorities then stopped giving results for more than 24 hours. The long pause in results have led many in Nasralla's party to suspect fraud and his supporters have taken to the streets in protest.

On Tuesday, the TSE finally began releasing vote totals which showed, Nasralla's lead dropping rapidly, and by Wednesday morning results showed that it has shrunk to about 1 per cent.

The European Union election monitoring delegation has criticized the TSE for lack of transparency and for failure to document where the votes tallies were coming from.

Several international elections observers in the country have said irregularities during the vote counting could be potential fraud intended to benefit Juan Orlando Hernandez. As well, prominent civil society groups in Honduras accused the TSE of slowing its release of tallies because it appeared the incumbent president was headed toward a loss.

Hernandez has increasingly militarized the Honduran police and adopted a military style approach to the problem of migration, drugs and crime, an approach favoured by the White House administration -- the steady increase of U.S. assistance to the Honduran armed forces is an indicator of tacit U.S. support.

We call on the Canadian government to break its silence about repression, corruption and impunity that have been systematic in Honduras since the 2009 coup.

We call on the Canadian government to stop all political and economic support for the Honduran government until election results can be scrutinized by international observers and declared free and fair, and until the human rights situation in the country improves.

We call on the international community to stay vigilant in order to ensure the democratic will of the Honduran people is respected without repression, fear or violence.

Photo: Matt Ginsberg-Jaeckle

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Categories: News for progressives

Hashtag activism promotes inclusion and helps build solidarity

Fri, 2017-12-01 01:07
Krystalline Kraus

Leveraging the power of social media has been a key way smaller social justice campaigns have successful amplified their voice, and larger campaigns have unified the personal experience of struggle.

Not everyone can have the backing of a major political party, NGO or other social justice group to promote their cause; causes that are often extremely important to individuals and communities who have to break through geographical, social and political isolation.

There is nothing better than watching an campaign soar thanks to a successful social media strategy.

Web 2.0 activism

For anyone who does not have Twitter or use other Web 2.0 social media platforms, haghtags amplify campaigns by allowing hive-mind thinking. They allow a quick way for anyone searching a political cause or slogan to connect the dots, one story to the next, thus painting a larger picture than one could with one person's story alone. Not only do hashtags represent a form of information sharing, but it also builds strong bonds of solidarity that can bring in national and even international attention to a cause.

An example of this is the hashtag #IdleNoMore which was created by four women from Canada. The slogan and hashtag not only went viral here in Canada, but also internationality. #IdleNoMore posts came in from as far away as New Zealand where people shared stories of struggles and solidarity.

Sharing and solidarity

Sharing is one major way to promote inclusion and remove stigma around more intimate issues such as sexual assault, police brutality and even murder. One example of this type is the #MeToo campaign, which told stories about sexual harassment and assault told from the first person but shared as a community. For these issues impact individuals, but they also impact communities and larger society.

On a practical level, even if all someone can do is share a link and include the relevant hashtag, that's still doing a lot. Frustrated screams and street chants often make for good hashtags. Some campaigns that come to mind are #IdleNoMore, #MeToo, #ICantBreathe and #HandsUpDontShoot come to mind.

In activism, one movement heroically builds itself up upon the lessons from the past and dreams about a better future. #MeToo has become successful by learning lessons from earlier campaigns such as #IdleNoMore, which when used together, has united Indigenous individuals and communities fighting sexual assault on a personal and newsworthy level. On a larger level, #MMIW, which stands in short form for Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women, encompasses the stories from both the #MeToo and #IdleNoMore campaigns.

Hashtags build solidarity

Simply put, hashtags build solidarity.

Perhaps you're a seasoned activist who wants to research into intersectionality, or a new activist trying to connect the dots between different campaigns. Hashtag can allow both to happen, thereby increasing the depth and breadth of a campaign. Black Lives Matter birthed a few hashtags that came from real situations. Eric Garner's last words, #ICantBreathe, or Michael Brown's arrest, #HandsUpDontShoot, spawned two very important hashtags.

Struggling against shame and isolation are two of the bone crushers that the state relies upon to keep people shut up. Hashtag activism can open up dialogue around important topics and weave intersectionality and solidarity into public consciousness. Smaller cities and towns with only a handful of activists have successfully used hashtag, such as Grassy Narrows and their #RiverRun campaign for access to clean water, as a way of stitching together smaller campaigns to bigger voices.

That is fundamentally what activism is all about. Opening up issues to the wider public so people don't have to feel so alone. That is why I rarely use the term "protest" and instead use the word "demonstration" because we are showing others, demonstrating to one another, the power that lies in our hearts; strong enough can defeat the weapons of isolation, shame and fear.

Nurturing Community

Hashtag activism nurtures community. It nurtures the creation of a shared voice of struggle. Nurtures solidarity even when we are ourselves are racked with pain.

The Idle No More is a classic example I'll always return to when proving the power of the internet and how that platform has changed the very nature of activism itself, from direct actions to international campaigns.

#Metoo is the experience of not just one woman but the "we" in "us." The solidarity of hashtag activism helps to combat the effects of othering’by virtually laying a kind hand on stranger's shoulder and telling them you understood the pain, the humiliation and all the other nasty effects of sexism and misogyny.

The street chant is true: if united, we'll never be defeated.

Photo: badsci/Flickr

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Categories: News for progressives

Calling for no wage hikes for public-sector unions a risky strategy for Alberta NDP

Thu, 2017-11-30 06:59
David J. Climenhaga

Alberta's NDP Government can't say they weren't warned.

Back in the days when Brian Topp was a heavy hitter in the federal New Democratic Party, he wrote a book about how the NDP, Liberals and Bloc Quebecois almost toppled Stephen Harper's Conservative government in November 2008.

In How We Almost Gave the Tories the Boot, published in 2010, the former federal NDP party president and second-place leadership candidate in the 2012 New Democrat leadership race warned his fellow NDPers about the dangers of tangling with their occasionally difficult allies in the labour movement.

"Public sector bargaining is one of the progressive left's proudest achievements in Canada," Topp dryly observed in the book's prologue. "It is also perhaps our greatest gift to the political right, who lie in wait to destroy our governments, and then often find ways to outlaw it when they rule."

Some people argue that it is public sector unions who lie in wait "to hold left-wing parties to ransom during elections" -- one suspects from his tone in The Boot that one of them is Topp.

No one can blame any political party, left or right, for giving public employees in Alberta the right to strike. That was done by the Supreme Court of Canada, in 2015, and it can't be undone. But surely the corollary lesson implied by Topp in his book is that every NDP government that has gone to war against its public sector labour unions has lost the next election. Topp, significantly, worked in 2015 and 2016 as Alberta Premier Rachel Notley's chief of staff.

It is very difficult to believe this lesson wasn't expressed, and repeated, in the Premier's office, the cabinet room and perhaps even the NDP caucus rooms of the Alberta Legislature during Topp's tenure.

Topp is gone now, however. He left Notley's service almost a year ago, on December 14, 2016. (Remember, a week is a long time in politics.) He was replaced as chief of staff by John Heaney, a lower key but savvy operator, who himself returned at the start of September to his old stomping grounds in Victoria, B.C. Nathan Rotman, once national director of the federal NDP, is now the premier's chief of staff.

So maybe Topp's advice is remembered. Maybe it isn't.

Regardless, here we are in 2017, an election in 2019 close enough now that we can start to feel the vibration in the railway tracks, the United Conservative Party led by Jason Kenney polling comfortably ahead of Notley's NDP, and the governing party acting very much as if it has, in fact, never heard this lesson.

The first bad sign came about a week ago, when Premier Notley uttered the phrase "compassionate belt tightening." She hinted the government would sign "common sense agreements," whatever that was supposed to mean, with public sector unions.

Then, yesterday, there it was again! This time it came out of the mouth of Finance Minister Joe Ceci, who was quoted in a government news release as saying, "I look forward to hearing Albertans' thoughts on how we can continue to make life better for Albertans while compassionately tightening our belt and returning responsibly and carefully to balance without extreme and risky cuts." (Emphasis added.)

This smacks of Compassionate Belt Tightening having become an official talking point.

Technically, Ceci was providing Alberta's second-quarter fiscal update, a legal requirement. Prompted by reporters, however, he was soon commenting on negotiations now underway between the government or its agencies and the Alberta Medical Association, the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees, the Health Services Association of Alberta, and the United Nurses of Alberta.

At the newser, Ceci touted the example of the government's recent agreement with the Alberta Teachers Association -- two years of zeroes -- as something he's hopeful other public-sector unions will accept.

"We're...asking our labour partners to join in our efforts," he told reporters. "We're looking for more common-sense settlements like those we negotiated with teachers, which provide job stability in return for no raises and better services for our kids."

The CBC interpreted his remarks as meaning Ceci was signalling "no pay increases for Alberta unions."

Ceci also indicated there would be a hiring freeze in the civil service and restraint on hiring in health care that would be chilly enough to call it a freeze as well. So far, the details are far from clear.

Public sector union leaders were cool to Ceci's suggestion. They are all in good-faith negotiations, in some cases with a public-sector employer that, at least technically, is not the government. Quoted by journalists, however, none of them sounded like they were contemplating holding anyone to ransom.

Still, everyone has to understand that thanks to the Supreme Court, this is dangerous territory for any Canadian provincial government, especially one led by the NDP.

We all understand the NDP is tired of being blamed for an economic downturn it didn't cause and would like to be able to say, as Ceci did, that the recession is behind us.

It is not quite over, however, just yet. It is too soon for cuts and austerity. That's the economic reality, even if it's not the political reality -- which is the conundrum the Notley government must grapple with.

So, is another NDP premier about to wade into a fight with the party's own supporters -- as Dave Barrett's government did in B.C. in 1973, Bob Rae's did in Ontario 1993, and Roy Romanow's did in Saskatchewan in 1999, with unhappy results in the subsequent general elections?

We're not there yet. No one has proposed extending Rae Days -- Rae's imposition of mandatory unpaid days in addition to a wage freeze on Ontario's civil servants -- into Rachel Days. Still, these are worrisome developments.

The NDP's opponents may praise them for talking about compassionate belt tightening -- as UCP house leader Jason Nixon half-heartedly did after Notley's remarks last week. But UCP supporters will never vote for the NDP.

On the other hand, if this isn't handled deftly, the NDP can persuade its own supporters to stay at home on election day, or even vote for someone else.

I wonder what Topp would now advise?

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

Photo: Premier of Alberta/Flickr

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Categories: News for progressives

'Acha Bacha' celebrates alternative relationships and love in hyper-racialized times

Thu, 2017-11-30 04:55
Doreen Nicoll

What does it take to be a good child? Or, more specifically, a good son? That's one of the themes explored in Acha Bacha, a new Canadian work premiering in the new year at Theatre Passe Muraille, in co-operation with Buddies in Bad Times.

A Hindi term of endearment meaning good child, Acha Bacha stars Qasim Khan as Zaya and Matt Nethersole as his gender non-conforming, devout Muslim love interest, Salim. I recently a chance to talk with Matt about this ground-breaking play and his character.

The 25-year-old Oakville native studied music theatre at Sheridan college before launching into a career that includes musicals at Stratford, Shaw, the Grand Theatre as well as many smaller theatre companies. His growing list of film and television credits include series lead on the Moblees children's show, a dancer on Degrassi Goes Hollywood, Frisah on Little Mosque on the Prairie and a feature part on Ghost Trackers.

Flying home to Toronto after finishing a run at the Mayfield Theatre in Edmonton where he played Ike Turner in a review of Tina Turner and Aretha Franklin, Nethersole decided to read through a play that had been intentionally sent his way. According to Nethersole, "Reading a play for the first time can sometimes be a tedious task, but I devoured Acha Bacha in no time. These characters are not 'other' and they are not defined by being Muslim or queer. They are human beings, real, complex and fully realized."

By the time the plane landed Nethersole knew he had to play Salim because, "In a time when fear of immigrants and anti-Muslim sentiment seems to be on the rise, Acha Bacha reminds us of the humanity of others and shines a light on a part of life people rarely see."

This is not the first time playwright Bilal Baig has tackled complicated controversial themes. His play Khwaja Sera (Transgender) premiered in 2017 at Rhubarb -- Canada's longest-running new works festival housed Toronto's Buddies in Bad Times Theatre. The play was an exploration of the lives of two twenty-something Muslim siblings separated by geography and living divergent lives.

In Acha Bacha, Baig has successfully crafted multidimensional characters that avoid becoming clichés. Nethersole's Salim is the measured, emotionally intelligent rock in the relationship. Nethersole admitted, "It was the relationship that drew me to the piece. We are so quick as a society to invalidate alternative relationships, convinced that the love between queer, gay and trans people is somehow less valid than conventional love.

"In Zaya and Salim we see a love that is as common as deciding how to get your partner from Toronto to Mississauga and back for dinner when they don't know how to drive. We see a love that is patient and unfettered with artifice or unearned drama. I am thrilled to be able to bring a character like this to the stage because characters like Salim deserve to be seen and heard and their stories deserve to be told."

For Nethersole, relationships and seeing yourself on stage are important components when choosing parts. In the spring of 2017 Nethersole played James in the Young People's Theatre production of James and the Giant Peach.

A man of colour, Nethersole observed, "The Young People's Theatre has always been ahead of the curve casting people of colour regardless of who 'should' play the part. Leno Akin makes a point of presenting people of colour on stage. James doesn't have to be white especially in Toronto where there are so many girls and boys of colour. To play an iconic character like that was amazing!"

Nethersole acknowledges we're living in hyper-racialized times and that makes it imperative to humanize all people, including those with different gender identities, through theatre and art. He believes we need to stop reinforcing the same negative ideals and status quo and that means being discerning and conscious of who's agenda is being served.

When Nethersole played Ike Turner he consciously chose to shift the attention to Tina and her accomplishments rather than having the audience focus on her abuser and the abuse he inflicted. That way, Nethersole avoided reinforcing the typical angry black man stereotype and was able to concentrate on Ike the musician and entertainer.

Nethersole loves the fact that he's able to act, sing and dance often at the same time. But, he's the first to admit that singing didn't come quite as easily. According to Nethersole, "Singing makes you more vulnerable and I was hesitant to share from the heart." Thanks goodness it didn't take long for Nethersole to get over this.

In fact, Nethersole's been spending time nurturing his musical talents and the effort is paying off. On December 4, Nethersole will be hosting and performing in Soulville: An R&B Soul Cabaret featuring Stacey Kay, Alana Hibbert, Dana Jean Phoenix, Robert Markus, Kelly Holliff, Chris Tsujiuchi and many more.

He's also in the process of composing songs for his first solo EP that muses on relationships and self-discovery. He plans to work on this project while on hiatus between plays, but the way Nethersole's calendar is filling up there'll be very little down time and that means very little time for sleep.

Photo: Kevin Bryan

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Categories: News for progressives

Mohamed Harkat awaits another court verdict

Wed, 2017-11-29 15:43
November 29, 2017Politics in CanadaKafka’s Canada at 15: The secret trials of Mohamed HarkatThe Ottawa resident has never subjected to examination either in an open court or a closed session. He was in court in mid-November seeking relaxed conditions and now wait for a verdict.Mohamed Harkatsecurity certificateCanadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS)
Categories: News for progressives

Renewable energy isn't perfect, but it's far better than fossil fuels

Wed, 2017-11-29 05:30
David Suzuki

In their efforts to discredit renewable energy and support continued fossil fuel burning, many anti-environmentalists have circulated a dual image purporting to compare a lithium mine with an oilsands operation. It illustrates the level of dishonesty to which some will stoop to keep us on our current polluting, climate-disrupting path (although in some cases it could be ignorance).

The image is a poor attempt to prove that lithium batteries and renewable energy are worse for the environment than energy from oil sands bitumen. The first problem is that the "lithium mine" is actually BHP Billiton's Escondida copper mine in Chile (the world's largest). The bottom image is of an Alberta oil sands operation, but it's an in situ underground facility and doesn't represent the enormous open-pit mining operations used to extract most bitumen.

Lithium is used in batteries for electric cars, cellphones, computers and other electric devices, as well as power-grid storage systems, because it's light and highly conductive. Most lithium isn't mined. More than 95 per cent comes from pumping underground brine into pans, allowing the liquid to evaporate and separating out the lithium using electrolysis.

Any real comparison between oil sands and lithium batteries shows that oil sands products, from extracting and processing to transporting and burning, are by far the most destructive. Extraction and production destroy habitat, pollute air, land and water and produce greenhouse gas emissions. Burning the fuels causes toxic pollution and wreaks havoc with Earth's climate.

Does that mean batteries are environmentally benign? No. All energy sources and technologies have some environmental impact -- one reason energy conservation is crucial. A 2010 study comparing the environmental impacts of electric cars to internal combustion vehicles found the latter are far more damaging, taking into account global warming potential, cumulative energy demand and resource depletion. Battery components, including lithium, can also be recycled, and used electric car batteries can be repurposed to store energy for homes, buildings and power grids.

Lithium wasn't found to be a major environmental factor for electric car batteries, but copper, aluminum, cobalt and nickel used in the batteries have high impacts. Materials used to make other car components, for electric and internal combustion vehicles, also come with environmental impacts.

The energy sources used to charge car batteries also determine the degree of environmental impact. If coal is the main source, negative effects are much higher than if the power comes from hydroelectric or renewables such as wind and solar. But the impacts are still lower than fuelling cars with gas.

One study found using lithium for a rapidly expanding electric vehicle market, as well as numerous other products and devices, could cause supplies to become scarce. As with fossil fuels, this means more destructive methods, such as mining, would be required. But these arguments are more against private automobiles than batteries. Electric vehicles are part of the short-term solution, but reducing environmental damage from transportation, including climate disruption, will require shifting as much as possible to better alternatives such as public transit, cycling and walking.

We still need batteries, though. Storage systems are essential to making the best of renewable energy. They make power available when the sun isn't shining or the wind isn't blowing. Finding ways to make them -- and other renewable energy components such as solar panels and wind turbines -- with minimal environmental impact is a challenge. Some components in electric vehicles and solar panels use "rare metals," which are often mined in ways that damage the environment and endanger miners. But these materials are frequently used in newer internal combustion vehicles, too.

Part of the solution is to improve labour and environmental standards in mining operations -- a challenge considering many materials are mined in Africa by Chinese companies that put profit above human health and the environment.

The good news is that renewable energy and storage technologies are advancing rapidly, with attention paid to the environmental impacts of materials used to make them. The ability to recycle batteries and their components is also improving but needs to get better.

Renewable energy is already far better environmentally than fossil fuel energy. It's time to shift from current massive fossil fuel support and subsidies to making renewable energy as clean and available as possible.

David Suzuki is a scientist, broadcaster, author and co-founder of the David Suzuki Foundation. Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Senior Editor Ian Hanington. 

Learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org.

Photo: Saskatechwan Proud/Facebook

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Categories: News for progressives

Animated short takes on decolonization in a different way

Tue, 2017-11-28 15:20
November 28, 2017Anti-RacismArts & CultureRamen gets dunked in decolonization in CBC animation shortInterview with 'Marco’s Oriental Noodles' filmmaker Howie Shia on how using a story to show cultural appropriation through foodcultural appropriationfoodanimationfilmmaking
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Interview: Canadian lawyer Joshua Blume on Chelsea Manning

Tue, 2017-11-28 10:26
Ted StraussSurplacePolitics in CanadaUS PoliticsNovember 28, 2017Best-of-the-net

Surplace Media speaks with Joshua Blum, an attorney representing Chelsea Manning who was refused entry to Canada on September 22, 2017. Blum is an attorney with Jared, Will & Associates in Toronto who is appealing to Canadian Border Services on behalf of Manning (interview conducted: Nov 2, 2017).

Chelsea Manning is a former U.S. Army intelligence analyst who became a whistleblower when she leaked a large amount of classified data to Wikileaks in 2010. This leak included evidence of war crimes committed by the U.S. military in Iraq. She was imprisoned from 2010 to 2017. President Barack Obama commuted her sentence before leaving office and she was released in May, 2017.

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Chelsea Manningwikileakscanadian lawCanadian Border Services Agency
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What could fix the housing crisis?

Mon, 2017-11-27 16:40
November 27, 2017Politics in CanadaThe housing crisis requires attacking on several frontsIt's out of control within Canada and also internationally, thanks to neoliberalism and capitalism. affordable housingpovertyVancouverToronto
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Safe injection activists celebrate small victory with heated tent in Moss Park

Mon, 2017-11-27 10:18
November 26, 2017Not Rex: Moss Park Safe Injection Trailer InstallationA heated trailer at Moss Park will get harm reduction workers and those they help out of the cold this winter.
Categories: News for progressives

Celebrating the end of Mugabe, not the end of darkness

Sat, 2017-11-25 09:40
Political ActionWorld

Mugabe's end

I found the delirious celebration over the resignation of tyrant Robert Mugabe in Harare this week, exhilarating, not because the crowds thought it was the end of the darkness, but because many surely knew it wasn't.

The BBC's anchor asked their correspondent, a Zimbabwean, what it made her think of. She said unhesitatingly: our liberation from colonial rule (and the odious name, Rhodesia) in 1980, when she was a girl. She seemed undisheartened that it had to be reprised and likely will have to be again in the future. Is this naiveté or sophistication?

It's true many had known only Mugabe's harsh rule, but they also knew he'll be replaced by his virtual shadow, Emmerson Mnangagwa, who'd been a freedom fighter, chief cop during the ethnic massacres of the 1980s in Matabeleland, and co-thief of the 2008 election. He has the same blood on his hands. The anchor managed to mislay his nickname, The Crocodile, applying it to Mugabe though it's used for Mnangagwa, but she inadvertently made a wider point.

Joy reigned unconfined in the streets. My favourite moment was a photo of a "Wenger out!" sign, meaning the manager of Arsenal's football team in the U.K. WTF? Yet why not? If one tyrant who wrecked lives full of promise could go, let’s toss the rest, including foul sports types. It seems to me people yearn for liberation in many ways at once. The great messianic movements of the Middle Ages were pan-revolutionary: religiously, politically, sexually, economically. They were antinomian. The only law would be: There are no laws! Go be happy, people.

I had a taste of that in the late 1960s: everything got transformed at once: sex, drugs, music, politics (just one piece of the chaos). It dismayed many of those who were older, even slightly, either because they feared the bedlam, or were envious since their lives were already so trammelled that they couldn't get in on it. Then it collapsed, quite swiftly (at the same moment that "Let It Be" hit the jukeboxes). Would anyone rather have skipped it, given the letdown? I doubt it. But reality descended abruptly and decisively.

Zimbabwe is an exuberant place, with exuberant names: Welshman Ncube, Godknows Mwanza, Canaan Banana -- it's like flipping the bird at Cecil Rhodes: You want to impose your English names? We'll do you one better. It's also Africa's most educated, literate country. Where's the sophistication right now?

It lies in giving yourself fully to the present while knowing it's transient, yet keeping in view, somewhere on the horizon, your larger goals. All victory parties are temporary and conditional, especially when you scarcely get to take a breath between the old tyrant and the new one. The only game available is the long game, for the end of which none of us will be around. That's pretty savvy.

Series end

As a sucker for westerns, I devoured the 10-odd hours of Longmire's final season in one near gulp. It was unsatisfying. It's as though it had to tie everything up by a known deadline; it careened toward its conclusion.

I've also started watching Godless to fill the cowboy void and I'm hoping it won't get extended, because then it won't need a drag-ass final season. It even happened in Justified, my all-time fave, a sort of Appalachian western. When a final season is announced it’s as if everyone starts playing the ending. Actors do this when they forget that they're in a moment, and depict it from beyond. I'd say this even applies to Game of Thrones. They rushed through the penultimate season, checking boxes and speeding up as the end nears.

The great thing about long-form TV has been its ability to amble around, even more than a novel. It turns out what it’s bad at is getting somewhere. More power to the ambling. Only The Sopranos, so far, got it right because it ended in the middle -- or did it? Showrunner David Chase said that the stranger at the counter in the last scene isn't meant to be ominous, though he could be. Exactly. The ominousness comes from us knowing it’s the last scene forever. The people in the café don't know that. Chase's final word? "All I know is the end is coming for all of us." Right, thanks Chase. I mean that: Right. Thanks.

This column was first published in the Toronto Star.

Photo: Louis Reynolds/Flickr

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Robert Mugabezimbabwepolitical changegame of thronescolonialismRick SalutinNovember 24, 2017Foreign aid helps Canadian corporations dominate the global mining industryPublic money masquerading as "foreign aid" has financed private interests through mine-related educational activities abroad, mollified resistant communities and liberalized local legislation.'Big Men' of Africa betray it stillThe struggle to free Africa of the yoke of colonialism is one of the great forgotten causes of the twentieth century. But Africa's leaders continue to betray its people.Zimbabwe drops extradition request against U.S. dentist who shot Cecil the LionWhat began as a trophy hunt for Cecil the Lion became a man hunt for Palmer. Now Zimbabwe dropped its extradition request against the U.S. dentist who shot Cecil the Lion.
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Not Rex: Moss Park Safe Injection Trailer Installation

Sat, 2017-11-25 02:46
Humberto DaSilvaFood & HealthNovember 24, 2017Not Rex

Harm reduction workers, who have been operating an unsanctioned safe injection site in Toronto's Moss Park, receive a heated trailer in which to continue their work throughout the winter.

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What makes a people happy with their lives

Fri, 2017-11-24 16:02
November 24, 2017A vision of happinessThe happiest countries in the world are not necessarily the richest, but those with truly democratic governments.happiness indexcosta ricaDenmarksocial democracyequality
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Keystone pipeline leak a reminder to 'respect existence or expect resistance'

Fri, 2017-11-24 10:54
EnvironmentPolitical ActionUS Politics

Last week in Bonn, Germany, thousands gathered at the heavily secured United Nations climate conference, dubbed "COP 23," a Potemkin village of bureaucrats, politicians, environmentalists, journalists and local support staff. Sixty kilometers away, in the 12,000-year-old Hambach Forest, scores of activists, living in treehouses, defended the old growth woodland in an ongoing struggle to save the rare ecosystem from destruction and stop the expansion of Europe's largest open-pit mine, a sprawling hole in the earth where energy company RWE extracts lignite, or brown coal, the dirtiest coal on earth. Hanging over both was the political pall cast by President Donald Trump, who announced June 1 that he was pulling the U.S. out of the Paris Agreement, the global climate change accord negotiated by all the countries of the world.

"Whilst the United States might be saying that it's pulling out, it still continues to play a destructive role," Asad Rehman, executive director of London-based War on Want, told us on the Democracy Now! news hour, broadcasting from inside COP 23 ("COP" stands for "Conference of Parties" to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change). "Donald Trump has come here, backed by his fossil fuel pals. He's come here to wreck the climate negotiations."

Big promises were made in Paris in 2015: Each signatory to the Paris Agreement made a voluntary pledge to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions. If pledges are met, the theory goes, then the global temperature rise above pre-industrial levels will be capped at 1.5, or, at worst, 2 degrees Celsius (2.7-3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), avoiding the worst consequences of climate disruption. Rich countries, largely responsible for the world's polluting carbon emissions to date, pledged hundreds of billions of dollars to poorer nations, to allow them to recover from climate damage already done, and to pursue a renewably powered development path.

In response to Trump, U.S. civil society organized the "We Are Still In" coalition, with over 2,500 elected officials, state and local governments, CEOs, businesses, universities, faith leaders and grassroots organizations committing to meeting the Paris Agreement's goals, since the Trump administration won't. It is a big coalition, and not without dissension. As California's Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown was speaking in Bonn, protesters began chanting, "California's fracking spreads pollution," and "Keep it in the ground!" Brown responded, addressing an indigenous activist: "I agree with you. In the ground. Let's put you in the ground so we can get on with the show here." The grim imagery of a white governor threatening to put a Native American in the ground was not missed by anyone.

Just one year ago, as families gathered in the United States to celebrate Thanksgiving, the holiday predicated on the wholesale whitewashing of the colonial genocide against Native Americans, the Indigenous-led resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline on Standing Rock Sioux tribal territory in North Dakota was being subjected to increasingly intense state violence. Police and National Guardsmen unleashed so-called "less than lethal" armaments, with rubber-coated steel-ball bullets, tear gas, pepper spray, LRAD sound cannons and water cannons fired on crowds in subzero temperatures. The Standing Rock Sioux call the pipeline "the black snake," carrying fracked petroleum from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota through South Dakota, Iowa and Illinois, for transfer to another pipeline to carry it to the Gulf Coast. The black snake's arrival in Lakota territory has long been prophesied.

Last Thursday, as COP 23 was wrapping up, a massive leak in the Keystone pipeline was discovered in South Dakota. At least 210,000 gallons of oil leaked from the pipeline, just as TransCanada, the pipeline's owner, was seeking final permission from Nebraska's Public Utilities Commission to build its Keystone XL pipeline. Despite the leak, the PUC granted the permit for the controversial KXL to carry toxic tar sands oil from Canada to the hurricane-battered U.S. Gulf Coast for refining. President Barack Obama, after years of resistance, finally killed the pipeline. Trump, as soon as he took office, boastfully greenlighted both KXL and DAPL.

Back in the Hambach Forest, activists are bracing for RWE and German police to raid their treehouse villages, arrest them all and clear-cut the remaining 10 percent of the ancient forest. "It's time to resist against state power," a forest defender named Indigo told us. Commenting on the nearby COP 23, she added, "It's time that we take responsibility for our own lives...that we create a world which gives us the power to act, instead of hoping that other people will solve problems."

The day before the climate summit opened, 4,500 people marched into the open pit and halted mining for the day. Nearby, in the remaining occupied forest, a banner was strung between two ancient oaks. It proclaimed, "Respect existence or expect resistance."

This column was first published on Democracy Now!

Photo: Pax Ahimsa Gethen/Wikimedia Commons

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Standing RockNorth Dakotaanti-colonialismresistanceCOP23paris agreementAmy GoodmanDenis MoynihanNovember 23, 2017United States is alone in the world in its refusal to act on climate changeBut when it comes to setting policy on climate change, as with healthcare, taxes, and, hopefully, even war, Trump doesn't hold the same dictatorial powers as authoritarian world leaders he admires.The need for climate change activism has never been higherSign this Green Party petition and demand that fracking across Canada stop and keep working with groups like Greenpeace to stop the expansion of tar sands.When 15,000 scientists warn of environmental catastrophe it must not be a one-day story In 1992, concerned scientists described a series of danger signs for the planet. Twenty five years later, all but one of those dangers signs are worse.
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Much to do to ensure NDP Alberta victory

Thu, 2017-11-23 16:09
November 23, 2017Arts & CultureRachel against the stormHow Notley aims to steer Alberta’s New Democrats to victory in 2019Alberta NDP
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It's time for a public inquiry into fracking in B.C.

Thu, 2017-11-23 09:39
Ben Parfitt

Last year, more natural gas was produced in British Columbia than at any point in the past 10 years.

That may come as a surprise to some people who thought that growth in B.C.'s natural gas industry hinged on the emergence of a Liquefied Natural Gas sector. It does not.

The reality is that even without a much-hyped LNG industry, natural gas production in B.C. jumped 70 per cent over the past decade with major customers, including Alberta's tar sands industry, fuelling that growth. And the situation is poised to intensify, with one major player in the industry predicting a doubling of natural gas production and a fivefold increase in the output of gas byproducts (including pentane, butane and condensate), within just two years time. Again, absent LNG.

The ecological, human health and safety, and climate costs associated with producing all that fossil fuel is generally very poorly appreciated by those of us living in the urban southwest corner of the province. But ask people living on the front lines about the consequences -- the First Nations, farming families and rural communities in the northeast region of B.C. -- and a litany of problems is quickly listed off.

A troubling increase in earthquakes. Contaminated groundwater and surface water sources. A sprawling network of unauthorized dams. Rapidly escalating industrial water use and contamination. Massive fragmentation of Indigenous lands and lost opportunities to carry out traditional hunting and fishing activities. Troubling increases in methane emissions at gas wells and other natural gas industry facilities. Ongoing threats of sour gas leaks that can kill and maim.

The time is long overdue for a wide-ranging formal public inquiry into how natural gas is produced in British Columbia.

What changes are needed? Particularly when we know that every unit of increased gas production in B.C. requires the use of hydraulic fracturing or fracking -- brute force technology that rams massive amounts of water below the earth's surface to "liberate" gas.

Until recently the B.C. government, which heavily promoted LNG, was utterly dismissive of any suggestion that fracking posed risks. But with a new minority government, the door may finally be opening for natural gas drilling and fracking to get the long overdue public scrutiny they deserve.

One thing that wasn't talked much about during the spring election was that the NDP's 2017 campaign platform called for a review of fracking.

"Most of B.C.'s natural gas is produced using hydraulic fracturing, a process that has been used in north eastern B.C. for decades," the platform read. "With the potential of a significant expansion of gas production in the years ahead, we will appoint a scientific panel to review the practice to ensure that gas is produced safely, and that our environment is protected. This will include assessment of impacts on water and, given recent minor earthquakes in the area, what role gas production has in seismic activity."

Given the known impacts associated with recent fracking operations in the province, the NDP's commitment is a starting point. But to be meaningful and effective that commitment must go well beyond simply appointing a scientific panel.

The reasons why are numerous. Here are just a few.

  • In August 2015, the largest earthquake anywhere ever scientifically linked to a fracking operation occurred in northeast B.C. -- a 4.6 magnitude tremor.
  • BC Hydro is so concerned about its Peace River dams -- among the most critical infrastructure in the province -- that it has quietly succeeded in getting fracking banished from near those facilities.
  • Water use at B.C. fracking operations is off the charts. In the rush for water, fracking companies built dozens of unlicensed dams across the northeast of the province to trap freshwater used in the fracking process while failing to notify those First Nations most directly impacted let alone the general public.
  • Methane is leaking into the atmosphere at numerous gas well sites. There's every reason to believe that at numerous sites it has also contaminated groundwater sources.

Given such realities, a full public inquiry is the least British Columbians deserve. An inquiry where public meetings are held, where witnesses are called and testify under oath, where independent experts provide services as needed, and where a final public report is issued.

Such an inquiry should not be limited to scientific questions (in many cases the science is already in) but should focus squarely on the risks associated with fracking and what should be done about them, including taking a hard look at the adequacy of provincial regulatory oversight and enforcement, and the compliance of fracking companies with existing laws and regulations. It should also cast a wider net addressing important questions such as:

  • Have natural gas companies and provincial regulators appropriately consulted with First Nations as required by law and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples?
  • What is the true extent of public health and safety risks associated with fracking, including the risks posed by industry-induced earthquakes?
  • Where are outright bans on fracking warranted and what other steps should be taken to comprehensively protect human health and safety?
  • What are the environmental and water impacts?
  • How much could accelerated gas drilling and fracking increase B.C.'s overall greenhouse gas emissions and what should be done to ensure that industry emissions move steadily down, not up?
  • Does B.C.'s Oil and Gas Commission adequately monitor the fracking industry, ensuring that it complies with all relevant laws? Is it transparent and does it keep the public fully informed?
  • If current monitoring and enforcement actions are inadequate, what changes are necessary to ensure that natural gas companies comply with all relevant laws and regulations?

There is a long history in B.C. of periodically subjecting management of the province's forests to independent public scrutiny. To date, no such scrutiny has been focussed on the province's oil and gas sector.

Our new provincial government would provide a valuable public service in immediately rectifying that.

The CCPA is one of 17 organizations calling for a public inquiry into fracking in BC. You can add your voice to the call here.

This piece originally appeared on the B.C. CCPA's Policy Note blog.

Photo: Kate Ausburn/Flickr


Categories: News for progressives

Ontario college teachers say there is more to come

Wed, 2017-11-22 13:38
November 22, 2017EducationOntario college teachers: It’s not over yet Concerns about Ontario college system continue as government orders faculty back to workOPSEUOntario college faculty strikeOntario college strikeback-to-work legislation
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