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Government for the people, not fossil fuel corporations

Wed, 2017-11-01 05:08
David Suzuki

I consider voting a privilege and a responsibility. But I wish politicians would take their responsibility to voters more seriously. We elect them to represent us. Sometimes our interests coincide with corporate priorities. After all, corporations create jobs and economic opportunities and often develop products and services citizens need. Corporations can't vote, but by putting enormous amounts of money into campaigns and lobbying, they can hijack the political agenda.

That's the case with the fossil fuel industry -- the most profitable in human history. It's taken such hold on the U.S. that the current administration refuses to accept advice and research from climate scientists, biologists, military experts, economists and others who warn that continuing to burn fossil fuels will steer us to climate catastrophe, with horrendous impacts on agriculture, human migration, health, security, the economy and resources, and that failing to act will be far more costly and lacking in economic opportunity than confronting the challenge.

Canadians shouldn't be smug. Although most of our elected representatives acknowledge climate change and the need to act, some have been compromised by the fossil fuel industry. Many people expected changes in 2015 when the Liberals won the federal election and the NDP won Alberta's election. The new governments said the right things and came up with reasonably good plans but then continued to approve and promote fossil fuel development and infrastructure to the extent that one has to question whether they understand the urgency of the climate crisis.

As former Alberta Liberal Party leader and Oil's Deep State author Kevin Taft writes in a Maclean’s article, "The link between fossil fuels and global warming has been known since the 1980s, and so has the solution to global warming: phasing out fossil fuels. Rather than accepting the science and adapting to other sources of energy, the oil industry has developed an aggressive campaign to obscure the science and advance its own interests."

In Oil's Deep State, Taft outlines how the oil industry worked to influence governments and their bureaucracies, as well as public institutions like universities. From the 1980s and into the '90s, Taft writes in Maclean's, "University and government scientists conducted research; civil servants prepared plans and legislation to reduce emissions; political parties committed to action; and Canada's Parliament endorsed international climate change agreements." Then the Harper government pulled out of the Kyoto Protocol, cut research funding and silenced scientists. Since their 2015 election, the federal Liberals and Alberta NDP have maintained support for fossil fuel projects and infrastructure.

In early October, federal environment commissioner Julie Gelfand gave the government a failing grade on climate change, noting only five of 19 government departments she looked at had even assessed climate risks and how to deal with them.

Taft also examines how oil money has compromised universities' independence. A recent report by the University of Western Ontario's Alison Hearn and York University's Gus Van Harten backs him up, showing Enbridge funding for the University of Calgary created conflicts of interest, compromised academic freedom and gave the company influence over decision-making.

It's not the first time the University of Calgary has been caught up in oil industry scandals. In 2004, political science professor Barry Cooper set up research accounts to secretly funnel donations, mostly from oil and gas industries, to the misnamed group Friends of Science for its efforts to dispute climate science and reject the Kyoto Protocol.

Taft also examines the case of Bruce Carson, a senior adviser to Prime Minister Stephen Harper who was appointed to set up an energy institute at the University of Calgary and later convicted on three counts of illegal lobbying on behalf of the oil industry.

In a Desmog Blog interview, Taft says, "The universities, starting in the 1960s, were the foundation of much of the scientific research underlying global warming. To win the battle and delay action on global warming, the oil industry needed to gain influence in universities to smother or distort or counter the science that was coming out. And they succeeded substantially."

Democracy works -- if we participate. But it doesn't function well if we forfeit our rights to corporate interests. We must speak out at the ballot box and between elections, and tell politicians our support depends on them putting our interests first.

Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Senior Editor Ian Hanington.

Learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org.

Photo: Mark Klotz/Flickr

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Categories: News for progressives

Canada's role in the Rohingya crisis

Tue, 2017-10-31 15:27
October 31, 2017Politics in CanadaWorldFor Bob Rae, the Rohingya challenge is political as well as humanitarian Understanding the context of the current crisis in Burma is important
Categories: News for progressives

My dad put the tattoo on the Marlboro man's hand

Tue, 2017-10-31 09:07
Penney Kome

The "gig economy" shows the extreme side of individualist culture -- each worker independent, supposedly self-sufficient, and in competition with all the others. Economically, the pendulum has swung to the other extreme from the conformity of the 1950s and early ‘60s.

I grew up in the age of ticky-tacky cookie-cutter suburban homes, Corporation Man breadwinners -- employed at one firm for life -- and Feminine Mystique homemakers.  Everyone wanted to succeed, and the way to succeed was to "fit in" -- that is, to conform.  Of course, some of us never could.

Conformity offered comfort and security for those who succeeded, especially for returning soldiers. Social planners focussed on the farm boy who earned his BA and middle management job on a GI Bill scholarship, his reward for surviving the killing fields of World War II.  

His home was his pride and joy, perpetually stocked with all the latest appliances, thanks to his educated and dedicated homemaking wife, who handled the machines and did all the childcare, food preparation, and other daily household work. Utopia meant a chicken in every pot, and a new car in every garage.

At the dawn of industrialization, suffragists had argued for communal laundries and kitchens as well as shared childcare, but in vain. Instead, in the 1950s, social planners upheld the nuclear family structure: the breadwinner husband and financially dependent homemaker wife.

Giant corporations swelled on the revenue from selling every individual household its own HVAC, fridge, stove, washer, dryer, dishwasher, and freezer, all administered by the housewife, whose main role in the selection process was choosing the appliances' colour.

Corporations proclaimed their own importance with phrases like, "What's good for General Motors is good for America." And yet among the public, a certain discontent gathered and grew. Even well-adjusted children found the comfort of suburban conformity became stultifying and often terrifying when they became adolescents and they tried on different personalities.  

Playboy Magazine arrived in 1953, singing a seductive philandering song to husbands who suddenly felt like married life was another version of the army. Women, housebound, and constantly at any family member's beck and call, suffered mysterious maladies and had weeping spells. Most American grown-ups drank a lot. Suddenly, conformity sucked.

So iconoclastic individualism became glamourous. Hollywood discovered the bad boy, the misfit, the rebel without a cause personified by James Dean on his motorcycle, or Marlon Brando in his ripped undershirt. By the 1970s, Clint Eastwood and Charles Bronson replaced them -- fighters, not lovers, and none too debonair.

I must confess that my Dad, Hal Kome, was the advertising creative director who told the art director to put a tattoo on the hand of the Marlboro man. Dad was well versed in Freudianism. He added the tattoo to signify rugged individuality. Marlboro cigarette sales soared, and the Marlboro man became iconic.

But the competitive, individualistic model was always flawed. Not only did individuals burn out, but structures teetered and collapsed from the inherent instability of people competing instead of co-operating. Yet a certain macho streak persevered, crying, "Live free or die!" Some far-right folks in the States declared themselves "sovereign citizens," not under the authority of any government's laws. 

In theory, sociologists say,  every society can be placed on a spectrum with "collective living" at one end, and "individualism" at the other.  Collectivist societies (the majority of  both developed and developing countries) emphasize safety, social welfare, and programs like universal health care, but to different degrees. For example, in Japan, police officers regularly visit people's homes so they know who is living where -- a practice Canadians might find invasive.    

Individualistic countries emphasize competition as the path to achieving excellence, in the "free" market. Thus in 1996, a sociology journal article pointed out that, "Individualization is considered one of the processes associated with what is called modernization."

Which is not to say that individualization is necessarily helpful or beneficial to individuals or society. Corporations and governments decide where the jobs go. People leave their families in order to follow their jobs or their dreams.

The U.S. developed an emphasis on personal responsibility that is the flip side of the West's goal of personal freedom -- a definition of "freedom" that has excluded state initiatives such as universal health care but permitted corporate welfare. As I learned while helping to compile Peace: A Dream Unfolding (1986, Sierra Club Books), after WWII, East and West divided up the virtues. The East chose peace as their primary goal; the West chose freedom, as epitomized by a lone man on a motorcycle.

Such "freedom" was available only to a few, though. Social research turned up many excluded groups, from women, to persons with disabilities, to elderly people, to persons of colour. They were neither "free from" social constraints nor "free to" choose their own destinies.

Also, psychologists discovered that total independence often brings total loneliness, and loneliness kills people. The U.S. is the most individualistic country in the world and there, death rates have been rising for white people without college degrees. Single men and family women are especially vulnerable. Many men believed what Playboy taught, and ended up single. Actually, marriage is highly beneficial for married men, who live longer and report better health than single men.

Now the pendulum is swinging back towards collective action again, and everyone is talking about "belonging." Attachment theory has migrated to social theory, and synthesized a much friendlier analysis of human society. No longer is the lone hero the ideal. For example:

"Research has established links between social networks and health outcomes," says a 2009 Statistics Canada. "Social isolation tends to be detrimental to health, while social engagement and attachment are associated with positive health outcomes [as in building strong community ties]...This type of indicator supports an 'upstream' approach to preventing illness and promoting health..."

"Belonging" was the theme of Community Foundations, 2017 AGM, where 191 community foundations of Canada defined the term to include "affordable housing, employment opportunities and public safety" as the three top factors people want in order to feel they "belong" in a place. 

The social emphasis is swinging back to recognizing how much we are all alike, how much we all have in common -- an approach that runs counter to politics, which still emphasizes our differences.  However, unlike conformist times, now the emphasis is on including formerly excluded groups.

The national Vital Signs report notes that "Security is essential for belonging too. Crime is on the decline in Canada and most people feel safe where they live. However, systemic racism and a lack of public services that are culturally safe still leave many without a sense of security.

"More than one in five Canadians reported being a victim of discrimination in the last five years. Meanwhile visible minorities and Indigenous Peoples both have less faith in public services such as police to protect them."

One way to counter the gig economy is by building resilient communities with resources to share. Union organizing is crucial too, of course. Alberta's first step towards the $15 per hour minimum wage on January 1 should show the wisdom of putting money directly in workers' hands -- in the long run.  

Trends like co-housing and house-sharing show people are seeking community again, although high housing prices and climate change concerns are also factors. Car-sharing services offer access without ownership. Toronto's two "Sharing Depots" allow access to tools and appliances on a library basis. Some 10,000 people across the country are employed in worker-owned co-ops. 

Diversity is the watchword now, not conformity. Health researchers warn that the ideal of the rugged individual shortens a person's life expectancy. Self-actualization starts with a secure and stable community base. We live in smaller spaces yet we still make our homes our own. And as for appliances? The suffragists were right. Daily chores are more fun (well, bearable) if you do them together.  

Photo: Keijo Knutas/Flickr

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Categories: News for progressives

Why is Toronto's media still so white?

Sun, 2017-10-29 03:35
John Miller

The Toronto Star welcomed news that a majority of its city's population now identifies as non-white by issuing a challenge to what it called the leading civic institutions: it's time to step up to the plate and reflect this diversity.

In an editorial, the paper said, "there's still a yawning gap between Toronto's demographic reality and the makeup of its leadership in almost all sectors -- political, economic and social."

The Star's warning came the day after results of the 2016 census were released, showing that 51.5 per cent of Toronto's population identified as a member of a visible minority, marking the first time more than half the population of Canada's largest city has said that.

But instead of earning points for courageous leadership, the Star is guilty of myopia. Or, to extend the baseball analogy, it took its eye off the ball and struck out swinging.

To bolster its case, it quoted from a 2011 research report from Ryerson University showing that visible minorities comprised only 11 per cent of the region's elected officials at city hall, Queen's Park and Ottawa. Nor did big business measure any better. The report showed only 4.2 per cent of corporate leadership roles were held by visible minorities.

It's perhaps telling that the Star didn't refer to the previous year's report of the DiverseCity Counts project, which used the same standards to look at Toronto's media representations of diversity.

Or perhaps the paper no longer considers itself one of the city's "leading institutions."

I co-authored that research, and it showed the following:

Only 5 of 138 senior managers of the city's leading newspaper and television companies were non-white -- a meagre 3.6 per cent. That's far behind the corresponding percentages of elected officials, public sector employees, the voluntary sector and government agencies, boards and commissions.

Newspaper columnists? Only 16 of 471 columns, or 3.4 per cent, were written by visible minorities, including none in sports and only one in the business sections of the Star, Globe and Mail, National Post and Sun.

Broadcasters fared a little better, but visible minorities made only two of 42 appearances as hosts -- 4.8 per cent -- and 56 of 244 appearances as on-air reporters, or 22.5 per cent.

These numbers are unfortunately reflected in news coverage. "Everyday life stories" on television news, for example, included visible minorites only 23 per cent of the time -- 46 of 200 speaking sources on CBC, CTV, City TV, Global and TVO. These are stories that affect everyone, from weather and traffic to reports of local community events and consumer activity.

That was the picture seven years ago. No similar research has been conducted since, but I believe the percentages of visible minorities in media could be much lower today, since many newsrooms have undergone economic layoffs and buyouts, which usually result in the most recent hires getting let go.

Diversity in our media matters because our newspapers and television stations are supposed to reflect reality. If our mirror on society is distorted, our opinions gets skewed, and most people form their opinions about contentious issues like race, immigration and social justice by reading newspapers or watching TV news.

When the Star says "all sectors in the city must seek out the best talent for leadership positions, regardless of background," we have the right to ask the paper if it's really walking that walk, or just talking that talk.

Photo: Toronto History​/Flickr

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Categories: News for progressives

Entering the era of 'big government' means more taxes

Sat, 2017-10-28 11:45
EconomyPolitical ActionPolitics in Canada

The era of big government isn't over, as Reagan, Clinton and Blair claimed. In fact its hour may be about to strike. Why?

Take tax reform. To U.S. Republicans, it means one thing: cuts. It's their ultimate "reason for existing" (Financial Times). They staggered into the light this week to say (again) that Americans should keep their hard-earned money to pay their medical and university bills. Ha ha ha. There's no way tax cuts will cover most such costs, though you might be able to repave your carport. What would help? More taxes. That could fund national "free" health care or tuition. But it would mean bigger government, levying higher taxes.

Up here, take the maltreated Sears workers, set adrift and in danger of not getting their pensions because -- oh, the usual greedy reasons. I support the NDP plan to prioritize workers' claims in these disasters. But consider also this: 68 per cent of Canadians have no private sector pension plans -- and that percentage is declining. Even with NDP-type rescues, most people will still be private pensionless.

Where are they? Many in the gig economy: deals between individuals, details to be negotiated, often off the books. Fifty-two per cent of people in the GTA now do precarious work with few or no benefits. The gig economy proper is at 30 per cent and rising. Where will they get pensions? They won't. The obvious solution is the health-care model: public programs like CPP not to supplement private pensions but to replace and amplify them -- i.e., bigger government.

The mystery is why anyone ever thought private companies were the way to cover huge costs like health or pensions. It's costly and patchwork; public programs make far more sense. They're stabler, better funded and include some democratic oversight. But before the economy got financialized, and mighty companies turned into hedgies' playthings, they could at least pretend to fill the need.

Public programs, however, mean you need revenues to fund them. And presto, you're back to taxes. So the gig economy would have to open up, versus being deliciously furtive. I know part of the appeal of precarious work, with its generational draw, is that you're on your own, you’re not hooked into the system, man, like those union workers of old who sold their souls to the company store for summer cottages and pensions. But to run national programs, taxes must be accumulated, not just endlessly cut.

A caveat: Individual tax cuts aren't useless. They're good for one thing: stimulating the economy, if they go to the non-one per cent, where they tend to be spent creating more demand for, say, gig or precarious workers, rather than to those who simply save, or buy villas in Europe. Then, if the additional income is reported and taxed, even at lower rates, it can, aggregated, fund "free" tuition or meaningful universal pensions. If left unreported and untaxed, it'll never be sufficient to finance (non-existent) retirements or health emergencies.

It's a simple picture and it's amazing how Finance Minister Bill Morneau managed not to paint it with his summer tax "reform" rollout: get more tax revenues from the rich, who can afford it, to fund big programs; and give cuts to those who'll spend to stimulate the economy, generating more revenues. He muffed it, maybe because he's a tin-eared rich kid himself. (Why weren't we told his vaunted business success came from having money to start with?)

Still, it's been fun this week watching the deficit maniacs at Postmedia and the Globe hyperventilate over Morneau's refusal to pour all, versus just most, of his surplus into deficit reduction. Their deficit-itis lacks its old verve and freshness; they lug it around like Sam McGee's frozen corpse, unable to offload it, fretting about "this blizzard of new spending." As if Morneau had to search wildly for useless projects, since there are no unmet needs in housing, transportation...Deficit hysteria was always more a cultural (or psychic) issue, than economic.

Lastly, a personal perspective on big gov. In recent weeks I've had (public sector) fire trucks at the house twice -- for a fallen branch on power lines, then two false CO alarms in two days. They came swiftly, cheerily and competently, unlike my private gas provider, who effectively said, from wherever on the globe, that they didn't give a flying leap. So who's afraid of big government? Well, actually, I am, but you have to choose your fears, line them up and prioritize them.

This column was first published in the Toronto Star.

Photo: World Bank Photo Collection/Flickr

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Categories: News for progressives

The Canadian military's search for 'gravitas' in Asia

Sat, 2017-10-28 00:46
Yves Engler

Canadian leaders search for "gravitas" and "respect" from their U.S. counterparts is adding to friction in the Asia-Pacific. Amidst tension on the Korean Peninsula, the Canadian Navy has joined Washington's "pivot" towards Asia.

Recently departed, HMCS Chicoutimi is expected to be in the Asia-Pacific until March. While they refused to offer CBC News much detail, a military spokesperson said the first ever Victoria-class submarine deployed to the region will "provide the government with defence and security options should a timely Canadian response be necessary."

Chicoutimi's deployment follows on the heels of a six-month tour of Asia by HMCS Ottawa and Winnipeg, which included "freedom of navigation" operations and exercises alongside U.S., Japanese, Australian and other countries' warships. When the two Canadian gunboats travelled through the South China Sea with their allies, Chinese vessels came within three nautical miles and "shadowed" them for 36 hours. On another occasion a Chinese intelligence vessel monitored HMCS Winnipeg and Ottawa while they exercised with a South Korean ship.

After visiting HMCS Ottawa and Winnipeg in Singapore Chief of Defence Staff Jon Vance declared, "if one wants to have any respect or gravitas you have to be in that region."

During the past decade the U.S. and its principle Asian economic ally Japan have lost their economic hegemony over the region. With Chinese power growing and the Obama administration's "pivot" designed to contain it, Washington has sought to stoke longstanding territorial and maritime boundary disputes in the South China Sea between China and the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam and other nations. As part of efforts to rally regional opposition to China, the U.S. Navy engages in regular "freedom of navigation" operations, which see warships travel through or near disputed waters -- kind of like the logic employed by street gangs defending "their" territory.

The Canadian Navy has supported Washington's aggressive posture. They've increased participation in patrols and exercises in the region. In 2012 it came to light the military was seeking a small base or "hub" in southeast Asia -- probably in Singapore -- with a port facility.

Unfortunately, exerting naval power in the region is nothing new for this country. For two decades the Canadian navy has made regular port visits to Asia and since its 1971 inception Canada has participated in every Rim of the Pacific Exercise, which is a massive U.S.-led maritime warfare training every two years.

Immediately after U.S. forces invaded Korea in 1950, Ottawa sent three gunboats to the region. Ultimately eight Canadian warships with 3,600 soldiers were deployed to the country during the conflict (a total of 27,000 Canadians fought in the three-year war that left millions dead). Canadian ships transported troops and bombed the North. According to a Canadian War Museum exhibit, "During the war, Canadians became especially good at 'train busting.' This meant running in close to shore, usually at night, and risking damage from Chinese and North Korean artillery in order to destroy trains or tunnels on Korea's coastal railway. Of the 28 trains destroyed by United Nations warships in Korea, Canadian vessels claimed eight."

Before the outbreak of the Korean War the Canadian Navy sought to exert itself in the region. In a bizarre move, Ottawa sent a naval vessel to China in 1949 as the Communists were on the verge of victory. According to Canadian Gunboat Diplomacy, the boat was sent too late to stop the Kuomintang's defeat by Mao's forces and was not needed to evacuate Canadians since British boats could remove them. The objective, it seems, was to demonstrate to the US and UK "that Canada was a willing partner," particularly in light of the emerging north Atlantic alliance.

And like the smaller, weaker kid in a street gang our "leaders" are trying to prove how tough we are. Need someone to attack a house? Sure, we'll do it. Show them our firepower? We're in.

Canadian military planners' search for "gravitas" is akin to gang logic. But, let's hope our behaviour in Asia doesn't lead to where gang warfare has taken many North American cities.

Photo: United States Navy/Wikimedia Commons

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Categories: News for progressives

The Goodale memos on torture lay a hideous groundwork

Fri, 2017-10-27 21:21
October 27, 2017Anti-RacismCivil Liberties WatchPolitics in CanadaTrudeau torture controls approach Orwellian statureRalph Goodale's series of new memos defy the absolute prohibition on torture. This is immoral and foolish, given how Canadian citizens have been treated and the deserved payouts they have receivedAnti-Terrorism Act (Bill C-51)CSISAnti-Terror LegislationTorture
Categories: News for progressives

Trump's treatment of Gold Star families a far cry from presidential

Fri, 2017-10-27 08:51
Anti-RacismCivil Liberties WatchUS Politics

On the morning of Tuesday, June 8, 2004, a taxi navigated the serpentine barriers toward the gate of Forward Operating Base Warhorse in Baquba, Iraq. A U.S. Army officer who was on watch saw it and ran forward toward the vehicle. That is when it exploded, killing the soldier, Capain Humayun Saqib Muazzam Khan, and two Iraqis who stood nearby. Khan was a Muslim-American, killed by a suicide bomber who was likely of the same faith. He was laid to rest in Section 60 of Arlington National Cemetery, along with thousands of others killed in the so-called Global War on Terror. His family privately mourned their loss daily, frequently visiting his gravesite. Then the openly racist presidential campaign of Donald Trump swept them into the center of a political storm.

Trump's anti-immigrant rhetoric and pledges to ban all Muslims from entering the country incensed Humayun Khan's parents, Khizr and Ghazala Khan. Natives of Pakistan, they are extremely proud of their U.S. citizenship. Khizr Khan was invited to address the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia in late July 2016.

"If it was up to Donald Trump, [my son] never would have been in America. Donald Trump consistently smears the character of Muslims. He disrespects other minorities, women, judges, even his own party leadership. He vows to build walls and ban us from this country," Khizr Khan said, with his wife at his side. "Donald Trump, you're asking Americans to trust you with their future. Let me ask you: Have you even read the United States Constitution? I will gladly lend you my copy." The thousands of delegates rose in thunderous applause at his remarks, as he held his pocket-sized copy of the U.S. Constitution aloft.

Khan continued, "Have you ever been to Arlington Cemetery? Go look at the graves of brave patriots who died defending [the] United States of America. You will see all faiths, genders and ethnicities. You have sacrificed nothing and no one."

Trump wasted little time attacking the Gold Star family: "I saw him. He was, you know, very emotional and probably looked like a nice guy to me. His wife, if you look at his wife, she was standing there. She had nothing to say. She probably -- maybe she wasn't allowed to have anything to say. You tell me. But plenty of people have written that." Ghazala Khan replied in a piece published in The Washington Post: "Here is my answer to Donald Trump: Because without saying a thing, all the world, all America, felt my pain. I am a Gold Star mother...The last time I spoke to my son was on Mother's Day 2004. We had asked him to call us collect whenever he could. I begged him to be safe."

Trump, who boasted at a rally last July, one year after attacking Mrs. Khan, "with the exception of the late, great Abraham Lincoln, I can be more presidential than any president that's ever held this office," has now attacked a Gold Star widow, Myeshia Johnson, whose husband, Sergeant La David Johnson, was killed October 4 in Niger. Trump made a condolence phone call to Myeshia Johnson as she was in a car en route to meet her husband's casket. "The president said that 'he knew what he signed up for, but it hurts anyway,'" she said on ABC. The insensitive remark was overheard by others in the car, including Representative Frederica Wilson, a Democratic member of Congress who is a dear family friend. Instead of apologizing, Trump went on the attack against Wilson, calling her "wacky." His chief of staff, former Marine General John Kelly, doubled down, calling Wilson an "empty barrel" while lying to the press about her record. Neither Trump nor Kelly will correct, retract or apologize for their comments about the two African-American women, the pregnant widow and the congressmember.

During the intense years of combat at FOB Warhorse in Iraq, concrete blast walls were used for an ad hoc memorial, inscribed with the names of soldiers killed in action. Captain Humayun Khan's name is there, as is first Lieutenant Andrew Bacevich, who was killed three years later, on May 13, 2007. His father, retired Army Colonel Andrew J. Bacevich, opposed the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and wrote of the war in the Los Angeles Times, just one month before his son was killed, "We are spectators, witnesses, bystanders caught in a conflagration that we ourselves, in an act of monumental folly, touched off."

Khizr Khan also opposed the war. As he travels the country, speaking about his new book, An American Family: A Memoir of Hope and Sacrifice, he described on the Democracy Now! news hour how he felt about anti-war protesters as his beloved son was deployed: "In spirit, in every which way, I was with them. I supported them, because they were right. Time and history has proven they were right. We were right."

This column was first published on Democracy Now!

Photo: Disney | ABC Television Group/Flickr

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Categories: News for progressives

The Liberal's Fall Fiscal Update fails many lower-income Canadians

Wed, 2017-10-25 21:29
October 25, 2017EconomyPolitics in CanadaTrudeau boosts benefits, but does little for the precarious working poor The Trudeau government’s fall fiscal update gives the beleaguered finance minister a chance to shine. But Bill Morneau’s soaring rhetoric about his new measures might outrun their modest ambitionsFinance Minister Bill MorneauJustin TrudeauFederal Budget Update
Categories: News for progressives

Government inaction, industry tactics increase caribou risks

Wed, 2017-10-25 05:29
David Suzuki

October 5 came and went, and Canada's boreal woodland caribou are still in trouble. That was the deadline the federal government gave provinces and territories five years ago to come up with caribou range plans for the iconic animals. Not one met the deadline.

Why should we care about caribou? Beyond the fact that we should care about all animals that play important roles in the ecological makeup of this "super natural" country, caribou are indicators of forest health. When caribou are healthy, it's a sign the forests they live in are healthy. Forests provide numerous ecological services, such as preventing floods, storing carbon and regulating climate, as well as habitat for animals and plants and livelihoods and resources for people.

Failing to protect caribou habitat affects many Indigenous peoples' rights, cultures and traditional livelihoods, and risks tarnishing Canada's reputation in the global marketplace. U.S. and international customers buy our products on the understanding that we'll protect wildlife and honour commitments to Indigenous peoples.

In 2012, the federal government's recovery strategy for boreal caribou concluded that only 14 of 51 herds were healthy enough to sustain themselves. The strategy, developed by 18 top caribou scientists, established a strong relationship between the extent of habitat disturbance and whether a local population increases, declines or remains stable.

The recovery strategy identifies a minimum of 65 per cent undisturbed habitat in a range as the "disturbance management threshold." Based on this, the government gave provinces and territories five years to develop plans to protect or restore critical habitat.

In the face of ineffective stopgap measures -- like killing predators such as wolves and bears, and penning female caribou to keep predators away -- many scientists, environmentalists and First Nations have been calling on governments to address the real problem: cumulative disturbance. Roads and seismic lines for forestry, mining and oil and gas operations, along with industrial activity, have fragmented and degraded caribou habitat, altering predator-prey dynamics.

In response to the obvious need for immediate action to protect and restore caribou habitat to reverse the creatures' decline across the country, the Forest Products Association of Canada has done its part to stall the necessary changes. It claims, among other arguments, that the recovery strategy is being rushed; the science is uncertain, incomplete and out of date; the 65/35 disturbance threshold is too rigid; boreal caribou are recovering with good management plans across the country; and climate change isn't being considered as a major cause of decline.

Caribou don't have time to wait, and the science is clear. Many herds were identified as threatened more than 17 years ago, and provinces and territories have had five years to come up with plans. Although the causes of caribou decline are varied and complex, decades of research have shown habitat degradation is a major factor and habitat protection and restoration must be the foundation for recovery plans.

As for rigidity, provinces and territories have been given space to vary their plans based on science, but even protecting or restoring 65 per cent intact habitat only gives caribou a 60 per cent chance of survival.

Climate change is, of course, a factor in the decline of many plants and animals, but that doesn't explain the rapid decline of caribou, nor should it be used as an excuse to ignore habitat destruction.

Industrial resource-extraction operators often claim their practices are sustainable. Yet these practices have contributed to caribou decline and, under the current management regime, there is no evidence herds are recovering. Either the research shows continued declines or, in some cases such as Ontario, populations haven't been monitored for four to six years.

It's time for governments and industry to stop dragging their heels. Habitat maintenance and restoration should be recognized as a cost of doing business in the boreal.

Yes, we need to continue studying caribou and ways to keep their populations stable, and industry has an important role to play. Stalling, raising doubt about the research and exempting industry from regulations, as Ontario has done, will increase risks for boreal caribou.

Governments and industry must work with Indigenous peoples to stop industrial expansion in boreal caribou ranges that have exceeded 35 per cent disturbance and take immediate steps to restore and protect critical habitat. Time is running out.

Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Ontario Science Projects Manager Rachel Plotkin.

Learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org.

Photo: Pixabay

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The light show at sacred Akikodjiwan

Wed, 2017-10-25 02:17
October 24, 2017Arts & CultureFake horn on the unicorn: Controversial 'Mìwàte' a distraction from Akikodjiwan There is an appropriate and inappropriate way to celebrate the sacred Akikodjiwan (Chaudière Falls) through artAkikodjiwanAlgonquincultural appropriationAboriginal art
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Roger Waters' BDS activism welcomed by Independent Jewish Voices

Tue, 2017-10-24 05:23
Independent Jewish Voices Canada

Rock legend Roger Waters of Pink Floyd recently kicked off a cross-Canada tour in Toronto, where he was met by groups both supporting and opposing his activism in support of the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement. Among the groups opposing Waters' message is the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), which has launched a campaign to mobilize its base in protest.

In a recent e-mail to supporters, CIJA opens by noting that although the Jewish community is "remarkably diverse in its views," one thing that "unites us" is opposition to BDS, a movement they claim is "tainted with antisemitism."

Disunity among Jews on the question of BDS

Readers who follow the work of Independent Jewish Voices Canada will know that CIJA's claim of Jewish unity on this issue is simply untrue. CIJA head Shimon Fogel should know this from IJV's repeated attempts to have him engage in a public discussion regarding BDS.

The fact is that Jews around the world are increasingly divided over the issue. According to a recent study by the Brand Israel Group, 2010-2016 showed an unprecedented 27 per cent drop in support for Israel and an 11 per cent spike in support for Palestinians among Jewish college students in the U.S. Meanwhile, Jewish Voice for Peace -- a leader in the BDS movement -- is experiencing rapid growth and is widely claimed to be among the fastest growing Jewish organizations in the States.

Canadian Jews are moving in that direction as well, led by IJV. An EKOS poll from earlier in the year showed widespread support for boycott and sanctions among Canadians surveyed, including those who identify as Jewish. Further proof of growing support for BDS, particularly among young Jews in Canada, was demonstrated at a recent Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) dinner held by IJV's campus chapter at McGill. The event, covered by the McGill Daily, attracted dozens of Jewish undergraduate students who were thrilled to have found a communal space that allows them to embrace their religion and culture while simultaneously supporting the Palestinians, including through BDS.

The antisemitism charge

IJV as an organization stands vigilant against antisemitism and all forms of hatred and discrimination. As Jews active in BDS and the broader Palestine solidarity movement, we resent the claim that BDS and its supporters, including Roger Waters, are inherently antisemitic.

That there are, unfortunately, individuals out there who support BDS and hold antisemitic views cannot be contested, just as many antisemites out there ardently support Israel and its policies. In either case, antisemitism must be confronted for what it is, plain and simple. To brand an entire grassroots non-violent movement for human rights as antisemitic, however, amounts to nothing short of slander, and is clearly nothing more than an attempt to shut down debate on this important issue.

Enough already with the blanket charge of antisemitism against those around the world who support the BDS movement. Indeed, the more organizations like CIJA employ this strategy, the clearer it becomes that they cannot refute the actual facts on the ground regarding the unjust and discriminatory policies of the State of Israel toward the Palestinian people.

IJV applauds Roger Waters' courageous and principled stand in support of the Palestinian people and encourages other artists to join him. Together we will bring down The Wall.

Independent Jewish Voices Canada (IJV) is a national human rights organization whose mandate is to promote a just resolution to the conflict in Israel and Palestine through the application of international law and respect for the human rights of all parties.

Photo: Sam Javanrouh/Flickr 

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#MeToo hashtag points out, yet again, the ubiquity of sexual violence

Mon, 2017-10-23 04:49
October 22, 2017Like most women, I've been slimed, too.In light of the allegations against Harvey Weinstein women took to social media to share their experiences with the hashtag #MeToo. It's an old story, but it's still news.
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In pragmatic move, Premier Rachel Notley appoints former Tory minister from Calgary to infrastructure portfolio

Sat, 2017-10-21 10:22
David J. Climenhaga

While tout le monde political Alberta was focusing on the province-wide municipal elections Monday, no one noticed NDP Premier Rachel Notley was busy cooking up a small cabinet shuffle.

Actually, shuffle is too grand a word. What got announced by the premier on Tuesday was too small for that, although quite significant just the same.

It was a cabinet enhancement, the addition of a single new minister -- importantly, Calgary-North West MLA and former Progressive Conservative cabinet member Sandra Jansen to the infrastructure portfolio -- plus two parliamentary secretaries.

It was interesting and probably meaningful that the premier made the announcement there would be a new minister of building expensive stuff in the hours after progressively inclined Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi fought off an effort to topple him by a collection of operators associated with both the Manning Centre and the increasingly Wildrose-like United Conservative Party.

As the provincial election expected in 2019 begins to appear over the horizon, everyone understands that the key battleground will be Calgary -- traditionally thought of as a conservative constituency but, as recent events have shown, maybe not.

NDP strategists obviously realize that most of rural Alberta is likely lost to them now, and barring a polling catastrophe, the Edmonton region remains their stronghold -- so their ability to hang onto government in 2019 depends on whether they can hold seats in Calgary.

So giving a portfolio to a former cabinet minister from the progressive wing of the old PC party, who not so long ago was campaigning to lead the Progressive Conservatives, is a pragmatic move clearly designed to position the NDP in the moderate middle, conservative enough to appeal to Calgarians and progressive enough to distinguish the government from the increasingly scary hard-right positions being taken by the UCP's leadership candidates.

Alert readers will recall that, not so long ago, the former national CTV news anchor was driven out of the PC leadership race by harassment from social conservative operatives suspected of being UCP frontrunner Jason Kenney's supporters, young Tory men of the sort generically known as the boys in short pants. She crossed the floor to join the NDP in November 2016.

The appointment of Jansen to the infrastructure portfolio will also free up former NDP leader Brian Mason, until yesterday the minister of transportation and infrastructure, to act as the government's pit bull in the pre-election period, a role in which he is likely to excel. Mr. Mason is Government House Leader in the Legislature as well.

The premier also appointed Jessica Littlewood, MLA for Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville, as Parliamentary Secretary to the minister of economic development and trade, and Annie McKitrick, MLA for Sherwood Park, as Parliamentary Secretary to the minister of education. All three were sworn in at Government House in Edmonton yesterday afternoon.

The appointment of Jansen is pragmatic enough to recall memories of Alberta's first PC government, led by the late Peter Lougheed, a leader Notley has been known to channel from time to time. Lougheed, of course, was a conservative who wasn't afraid to pick economic winners when necessary, and who once nationalized an airline to keep it from pulling up stakes and moving from Calgary to Vancouver.

As such, the appointment wasn't necessarily greeted with complete enthusiasm by every member of the NDP base. But Notley's caucus itself is tightly disciplined and mostly disinclined to public eruptions of discontent.

Meanwhile, former Wildrose MLA Leela Aheer, now a member of the UCP caucus in the Legislature, seemed yesterday to be trying to take back Mr. Lougheed's legacy for the Conservatives.

Leastways, in an email drumming up conference participants and cash for the Manning Centre, Preston Manning's well-heeled Calgary-based PAC for market fundamentalist causes and politicians, Aheer complained about uppity Central Canadians who are happy about the recent demise of the Energy East Pipeline and wondered what has become of the Western conservative heroes of yesteryear.

"When Pierre Trudeau brought in the National Energy Program we had Peter Lougheed," the Chestermere-Rocky View MLA lamented. "These days, if we want to have a Premier fight for us, we have to rely on Brad Wall."

One could argue this is weird, coming from a loyalist to UCP leadership contender and former Wildrose leader Brian Jean, who lately has been advocating policies to wean Canadian refiners from what he calls "Dictator Oil" that sound suspiciously like the elder Trudeau's NEP.

Jean, Kenney and Manning should take some time to straighten out the kinks in the UCP's party line at the Manning Centre's Western bun-fest in Red Deer next month.

By then, perhaps, Jansen will have figured out how to build a new hockey rink for the Calgary Flames -- and to do it entirely on Mayor Nenshi's terms. We'll have to see about that...

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

Photo: Premier of Alberta/Flickr

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The return of nuclear nightmares

Sat, 2017-10-21 07:57
Political ActionPolitics in CanadaTechnologyUS Politics

The first age of nuclear nightmares came in the 1950s and 1960s. They chiefly afflicted the young. Their parents had experienced nuclear realities by way of bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. That was part of a war, and ended it. It was normalized and rational, though in a basically ungraspable way.

Their kids grew up in a peaceful world haunted by nuclear terrors. Their teachers taught them to "duck and cover" beneath their desks if they saw the nuclear flash. They had nightmares (and waking ones) of it. The only moment of apparent imminence came during the 1962 Cuba Missile Crisis. It all receded gradually, via détente, a non-proliferation treaty and the Cold War's demise.

Now it's back. The minds of the young (in particular) are haunted by nuclear annihilation. If, at this moment, as you're reading, you saw a nuclear flash illuminate the sky, you'd be shattered but not surprised. It's there again as imminent, due largely, but not solely, to Trump. Why not solely? Because generations of earlier leaders failed to act to eliminate those weapons and instead built dazzling models of international relations based on them. Trump has arrived, in a way, to demonstrate the true meaning of their bullshit.

Why especially among youth? They have a future but no (adult) past, and fear they won't live to see it. The rest of us have already had lives we steered ourselves. "Do you think God can exist in a world with nuclear weapons?" asked a millennial -- not hysterically, matter-of-factly. They are a quirky demographic.

Along with daily, waking horrors, come new ways to think about politics. I had a friend, the late Art Pape, who left university in his second year, in 1962, to become Canada's first full time worker for nuclear disarmament. It seemed daring then. Later that image morphed into elderly white people in Birkenstocks demonstrating outside nuclear facilities and looking like Jeremy Corbyn.

Now, remarkably, Corbyn is young again! In a U.K. parliamentary debate on renewing the Trident missile system, he was pilloried by his political and media peers for saying, "I do not believe the threat of mass murder is a legitimate way to go about dealing with international relations."

Another millennial I know was inspired, almost transported, by those words. Corbyn has been saying them in some form for half a century. The respectable voices in politics and public discourse simply snicker at his phrasing. But when the young hear it, in sober, adult forums, it gives them hope: they aren't alone.

In fact, what Corbyn says is entirely sensible, it's pure reason, and when the nuclear flash happens, and the skin is dripping off the faces of vast urban populations, everyone will suddenly get it. The sages of Mutual Assured Destruction will smack their own foreheads and say, "How did we miss that?"

Other signs of anti-nuke renewal? Last summer, almost two-thirds of UN members passed a non-binding ban on nuclear weapons. Did you know there was no such thing? The nuclear non-proliferation treaty way back in 1968 tried to prevent new nukers but left original possessors (the Security Council five plus Israel, with India and Pakistan since) untouched.

There's a hilarious clause by which they're supposed to work "in good faith" to eliminate their arsenals. The new ban is meant to "stigmatize" nuclear weapons, a weird idea. Rape and cannibalism don't need stigmatization (or far less). Chemical and biological weapons and anti-personnel mines are already illegal. The Nobel Peace Prize this year went to the nuke-banning campaign.

The U.S., U.K. and France chorused, "We do not intend to sign, ratify or ever become party," since a ban "is incompatible with...nuclear deterrence" which makes us so secure. They sounded petulant, like they'd taken Trump lessons.

Tell it to the young, watching through the terrifying prism of Trump. Maybe the next step in nuclear deterrence should be a Trump non-proliferation treaty.

Where does Canada stand? Nowhere. Didn't attend UN sessions or support the ban. Certainly didn't want to irk the U.S. in the midst of our brilliant, sunny effort to cling to NAFTA.

Also: Trudeau's government, for obscure reasons, wants desperately to win a 2019 seat on the Security Council. There it could be a "moderating" voice for causes like global peace. So it declines to speak out on the defining peace issue of the age. You figure it out.

This column was first published in the Toronto Star.

Photo: National Nuclear Security Administration/Wikimedia Commons

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nuclear arms controlarms raceU.S. politicsDonald TrumpRick SalutinOctober 20, 2017Canada was never a 'nuclear nag'Canada wasn't a 'nuclear nag.' If one were to rank the world's 200 countries in order of their contribution to the nuclear arms race Canada would fall just behind the nine nuclear armed states.U.S. restarts nuclear arms race with massive new weapons programU.S. President Barack Obama recently announced a 30-year, $1-trillion program to modernize the U.S. nuclear-weapon arsenal, also known as the "Trillion Dollar Trainwreck."Canada now a hawk on nuclear arms proliferationCanada's recent failure to step up for the UN vote banning nuclear weapons is just the latest in a series of bewildering decisions.
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Bill 62 is now Law 62. What will happen to women on Quebec streets as they go about their lives?

Sat, 2017-10-21 00:43
October 20, 2017Anti-RacismCivil Liberties WatchPolitics in CanadaQuebec's face-covering ban encourages bigotrySome political leaders have condemned Quebec’s Law 62 as a violation of human rights; others not. Justin Trudeau has been circumspect, while Jagmeet Singh and the Ontario legislature have gone furtherban on nibnib CanadaCharter of Quebec ValuesCanadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms
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'I am woman, hear me roar, in numbers too big to ignore'

Fri, 2017-10-20 09:26
Civil Liberties WatchFeminismPolitical Action

"I am woman, hear me roar, in numbers too big to ignore." Helen Reddy sang those words in 1972, providing an anthem to the rising women's movement. Forty-five years later, the song could serve as the score to a movie documenting the abusive rise and abrupt demise of Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein. If only it were just a movie. Fifty-five women have bravely come forward so far, accusing Weinstein of everything from sexual harassment to rape and propelling the issue of violence against women to the forefront of American life.

The flood of personal statements has gone well beyond Weinstein now, channeled on social media under the hashtag "MeToo," posted on Sunday by actress Alyssa Milano. "If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote 'Me too' as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem," she wrote, adding, "If you've been sexually harassed or assaulted write 'me too' as a reply to this tweet." Over half a million women (and some men as well) have used the #MeToo hashtag, exposing in a few short days how pervasive are the crimes of sexual harassment and rape.

While Alyssa Milano propelled "MeToo" into the public forum, it was founded 10 years ago by Tarana Burke, a longtime African-American feminist who now works as program director at Girls for Gender Equity.

"As a survivor of sexual violence myself, as a person who was struggling trying to figure out what healing looked like for me, I also saw young people, and particularly young women of color, in the community I worked with, struggling with the same issues and trying to find a succinct way to show empathy," Tarana Burke said on the Democracy Now! news hour. "'Me Too' is so powerful, because somebody had said it to me, and it changed the trajectory of my healing process."

Celebrity perpetrators, as well as victims who also are celebrities, can quickly bring an issue to the forefront. But Burke has for decades been working with regular people: "For every R. Kelly or Bill Cosby or Harvey Weinstein, there's the owner of the grocery store, the coach, the teacher, the neighbor, who are doing the same things...we don't pay attention till it's a big celebrity. But this work is ongoing, because this is pervasive."

Alicia Garza, one of the founders of Black Lives Matter, also spoke on "Democracy Now!," saying: "I first have to just say a deep thank-you to Tarana for creating this space for survivors like myself. Without that space, I wouldn't be able to tell my story, and thousands and thousands of other people that I know would not be able to tell their stories." Garza added, "This kind of violence is as American as apple pie."

In addition to the torrent of accusations Harvey Weinstein faces, new criminal investigations are being undertaken by both the New York City Police Department and Scotland Yard. As the floodgates have opened, Amazon Studios head Roy Price has been forced to resign after allegations surfaced that he sexually harassed a female producer.

This all comes on the first anniversary of the notorious 2005 "Access Hollywood" tape on which Donald Trump is caught bragging to TV host Billy Bush about sexually assaulting women:

Trump: "I'm automatically attracted to beautiful -- I just start kissing them. It's like a magnet. Just kiss. I don't even wait. And when you're a star, they let you do it. You can do anything."
Bush: "Whatever you want." 
Trump: "Grab 'em by the pussy. You can do anything."

Two years later, in 2007, Celebrity Apprentice contestant Summer Zervos alleges, Trump sexually assaulted her: "He put me in an embrace and I tried to push him away. I pushed his chest to put space between us...he began thrusting his genitals. He tried to kiss me again, with my hand still on his chest."

Trump denied Zervos' accusations, as well as similar allegations from at least a dozen other women who came out last year accusing him of sexual assault. Trump promised to sue them after the election. To date, he hasn't. Zervos, however, has sued him, charging Trump with libel for using his vast bully pulpit (stress on the word "bully") to call her a liar. As part of her lawsuit, Zervos' lawyer has issued a subpoena to the Trump campaign for all documents relating to her and other women's allegations of his inappropriate or unwanted contact.

After our interview, Tarana Burke took off her leopard-patterned sweater and proudly displayed her black T-shirt. On the front, in pink letters, were the words "me too." She smiled and turned around. On the back were the words "You are not alone...It's a movement!"

This column was first published on Democracy Now!

Image: Tarana Burke/Facebook

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#metoosexual assaultwomen's rightssexual violencesexual abuseDonald TrumpAmy GoodmanDenis MoynihanOctober 19, 2017To understand sexual assault, we still need to listen to Donald TrumpSurvivors, primarily women, have been speaking out about Trump and other sexually aggressive men for decades. Why is it that we don't pay attention until these men speak themselves?#WeBelieveYou: Allies stand with sexual assault survivorsAs the verdict of the Ghomeshi trial was announced, allies continue to stand with survivors of sexual violence through social media and rallies across the country.Sexual assault in progressive spaces: Thinking about the Jian Ghomeshi allegationsAfter the Jian Ghomeshi allegations, let's think about how we handle sexual assault allegations in progressive spaces.
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Independent Jewish Voices Canada congratulates Nadia Shoufani on victory for freedom of speech

Fri, 2017-10-20 06:17
Independent Jewish Voices Canada

Independent Jewish Voices Canada (IJV) was thrilled to learn that Palestinian-Canadian teacher and human rights activist Nadia Shoufani successfully fended off a defamatory campaign that targeted her livelihood and reputation. Shoufani was targeted by Israel lobby groups after she spoke passionately at a rally in Toronto during the summer of 2016 in solidarity with Palestinians. A highly coordinated and malicious smear campaign against her was designed to ruin her career, and ultimately make an example of her, with the aim of silencing others who would consider speaking out publicly in support of Palestinians' human rights.

IJV is inspired by the steadfastness of Shoufani, who was suspended from her job for a lengthy period of time, and faced the prospect of  losing her career after her case was brought before the Ontario College of Teachers. In spite of the malicious and defamatory campaign directed against her, coupled with the unfair coverage she received in mainstream media that unquestioningly parroted the talking points of Israel lobby groups, Shoufani refused to be bullied into silence. She displayed profound courage, and her successful defense at the Ontario College of Teachers, which led to her being exonerated and her case being dismissed, marks a victory for all those in Canada who cherish our right to freedom of speech and expression.

Shoufani's victory over the well-resourced organizations that tried to make an example of her sends a strong message to Canadian civil society that those of us who support the human rights of Palestinians will never succumb to the bullying tactics of Israel lobby groups. We will continue to resist Israel's apartheid policies, and expose and challenge the undemocratic organizations that falsely claim to speak on behalf of diverse Jewish Canadian communities. We will also continue to hold our politicians and media accountable for their acquiescence in  Israel's systematic human rights abuses against Palestinians.

We reiterate our desire to promote an honest and open discussion in Canada on the situation in Israel and Palestine. In solidarity with the Palestinian people, and in the Jewish traditions of social justice and support for the liberation of all peoples, we continue to support the Palestinian-led campaign for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel, until Israel ends its occupation, and accepts and recognizes the Palestinians as equal human beings entitled to the same rights, freedoms and dignity that all of us should enjoy as a matter of course.

Image: darstv/Youtube

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