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Election of Doug Jones in Alabama 'a political earthquake'

Fri, 2017-12-15 08:42
ElectionsPolitical ActionUS Politics

The unexpected victory of Democrat Doug Jones in the special U.S. Senate election in Alabama has been described as a political earthquake. The seismic rumblings began decades ago, though, during the civil-rights struggle of the 1950s and '60s, with echoes that reach as far back as the U.S. Civil War and the long, violent era of slavery. Jones' road to the Senate might have started on the early evening of December 1, 1955, at a bus stop in Montgomery, Alabama, when an African-American woman named Rosa Parks sat down in one of the 10 front rows reserved for white passengers. The driver ordered her to the back of the bus. When she refused, the police were summoned, she was arrested, and the modern civil-rights era was launched.

When she died, one of the cable news networks called her "a tired seamstress, no troublemaker." In fact, Rosa Parks was a first-class troublemaker. She knew exactly what she was doing. She was secretary of the local NAACP. After her arrest, organizing in the African-American community began immediately, with the Montgomery Bus Boycott, launched on December 5, led by Martin Luther King Jr. They knew that overcoming segregation and institutional racism would require dedicated organizing. Their historic achievements laid the foundation for Doug Jones' victory. It was modern-day grass-roots mobilization and movement-building, especially among African-American women, that won him his Senate seat.

It's important to recognize just how profoundly flawed Roy Moore was as the Republican candidate. First were the shocking allegations from at least nine women who accused Moore of sexually harassing or assaulting them when they were teenagers, one as young as 14. Coming in the midst of the national, and increasingly global, #MeToo movement to end sexual harassment and abuse of women, the numerous accounts of predatory sexual stalking by Moore became a flashpoint, with numerous senators pledging that, if he were to win the election, they would expel him from the U.S. Senate. That is, until another self-described sexual assaulter, President Donald Trump, decided to give his unequivocal support for Moore, and began aggressively campaigning for him.

But even if serial child molestation is not enough to disqualify a Senate candidate, many of Moore's statements and actions as an Alabama judge should have. He was twice removed from the elected position of chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court for refusing federal court orders. In 2003, he refused to remove a statue of the Ten Commandments from the courthouse property. In 2016, he was again suspended, for refusing to implement the Supreme Court's ruling legalizing same-sex marriage.

When recently asked, by one of the only African-Americans at an event, at what point in the past he thought America was great, Roy Moore referred to slavery time, "when families were united -- even though we had slavery -- our families were strong, our country had a direction." He claims that Muslims, like Keith Ellison, should not be allowed to serve in Congress, likening the Quran to Mein Kampf. He supports the repeal of all U.S. constitutional amendments after the original 10, including those outlawing slavery and granting women and African-Americans the right to vote. When assuring the public at the last campaign rally before Tuesday's election that her husband is not anti-Semitic, Moore's wife emphatically stated, "One of our attorneys is a Jew."

The results of the Alabama special election should not only serve as a lesson for the Republican Party, but for the Democratic Party. Success lies in activating the public, motivating people to become engaged, and fighting against the increasing number of restrictions on voting -- not in tailoring a message in the vain attempt to woo "undecided" voters.

Jones won through voter registration, grass-roots mobilization and the enormous get-out-the-vote effort in the African-American community. According to CNN exit polls, Doug Jones received 98 per cent of the votes cast by African-American women, and 93 per cent of votes by African-American men. In contrast, 63 per cent of white women voted for the accused child molester Roy Moore, as did 72 per cent of white male voters. A larger percentage of the African-American electorate in Alabama turned out for Jones than for Barack Obama in either 2008 or 2012.

Doug Jones won by just 1.5 per cent of the vote, a large enough margin to avoid a recount, but still very slim. He would not have won without the hard work of Alabama-based grass-roots groups, working for years with scant support from the national Democratic Party, registering poor people and African-Americans to vote. Social movements build power and make change, and the Democrats would be wise to heed the lessons of Alabama, from resistance to slavery, to the civil-rights era, to the unexpected victory of Doug Jones.

This column was first published on Democracy Now!

Photo: Doug Jones for Senate Committee​

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Doug JonesalabamaRoy MooreDonald Trumpdemocratscivil rights movementrosa parksAmy GoodmanDenis MoynihanDecember 14, 2017Intolerance in Alabama: People push back with a force more powerfulInequality, racism, segregation. These injustices persist with remarkable tenacity in Alabama and throughout the U.S. But courageous people are rising up and shifting the course of history.Unspooling justice: 'Selma' tells story of civil-rights movementThe film "Selma" follows one of the key moments in the civil-rights movement, the 1965 marches from Selma to Montgomery, best remembered for "Bloody Sunday" on March 7.Forget the polls: Idle No More can take heart from history of the civil rights movementWe can expect general bewilderment and frustration from the public as Idle No More pushes through in 2013. If history is any guide, public support should catch up sometime in 2045.
Categories: News for progressives

Federal prisoners still wait for meaningful reform after two years of ‘sunny ways’

Thu, 2017-12-14 15:59
December 14, 2017Civil Liberties WatchFederal prisoners still wait for meaningful reform after two years of ‘sunny ways’The Journal of Prisoners on Prisons identifies several areas for changes to the laws, policies, and practices of the Canadian penal system to improve life and work inside federal penitentiaries. B.C. prisons
Categories: News for progressives

Derek Fildebrandt ends his terrible, horrible, no good, very bad year with a bang

Thu, 2017-12-14 13:29
David J. Climenhaga

Round up your livestock, O farmers of Alberta!

Derek Fildebrandt may be a city boy at heart, but he'll likely have to run in rural Alberta if he wants to stay in politics. So Alberta's Conservative problem child may have concluded shooting large hoofed mammals with powerful firearms would go over well with the yeoman farmers of southern Alberta who are his constituents now.

After all, it appears to work for rural Republican politicians south of the 49th Parallel, whence the querulous Ottawa-born founder of the "Reagan-Goldwater Society" at his alma mater, Carleton University, seems to get much of his strategic inspiration.

But it's hard to imagine the Strathmore-Brooks MLA's latest brush with the law, which involves being caught hunting illegally on private farm land, is going to do much to enhance his re-election chances in rural Alberta in the general election expected in 2019.

For one thing, we all know how farmers feel about city slickers wandering uninvited onto their property with big guns, Elmer Fudd caps from Cabela's, a sketchy knowledge of large ungulates, and a desire to shoot something on four legs.

The self-described liberty conservative's latest legal troubles won't even assure his until-recently-assumed swift readmission to the United Conservative Party caucus in the Alberta legislature by his friend Jason Kenney, that party's leader.

Fildebrandt, 32, resigned under pressure from the UCP Caucus in mid-August in the wake of two politically embarrassing situations -- getting caught renting his taxpayer-subsidized Edmonton condo on Airbnb and allegedly crashing his huge pickup truck into another vehicle in the building's parking lot, then taking off without leaving his name.

As The Globe and Mail reported then, "the close scrutiny given to his questionable expenses and legal blunders likely stems from his long-time role as a political agitator." Before becoming a Wildrose Party MLA in 2015, you see, Fildebrandt was well known as an unpleasantly aggressive operative for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, an anti-tax Astro-Turf organization.

Nevertheless, Fildebrandt's readmission to the UCP Caucus was widely expected as soon as Kenney got himself a seat in the Legislature in the Calgary-Lougheed byelection taking place today. Fildebrandt needs to be welcomed back because there's no way he'll be reelected in 2019 unless he's a candidate for the UCP.

Piling illegal hunting onto his previous legal and ethical troubles, though, will not speed his return!

News reports yesterday said Fildebrandt was caught near the town of Sundre on Nov. 4 in unlawful possession of wildlife (a deer he had shot) and being on private land without permission. A farmer complained to provincial Fish and Wildlife officers about an unwelcome hunter. The MLA does not dispute the charges. Indeed, he has apologized to everyone. He has a court date on Feb. 2 in the nearby town of Didsbury.

Meanwhile, his timing couldn't be less propitious. Fildebrandt already has a court hearing next Monday in the matter of the disputed parking lot collision. As noted, Kenney's by-election campaign reaches its climax in Calgary tomorrow. And the UCP Caucus in the Legislature was already scrambling to minimize the damage done by Tuesday's revelation Opposition House Leader Jason Nixon's former consulting company once fired a single mom it employed because she complained about a contractor who was sexually harassing her.

The discovery of Nixon's method of dealing with harassment at his company right came after he'd argued in the Legislature such matters should be left to private companies like his to sort out. The UCP's embarrassment was so acute it dropped its attack on the NDP Government's Bill 30, An Act to Protect the Health and Well-being of Working Albertans, which requires employers to implement sexual harassment policies.

The UCP had planned to stage a bitter fight against the bill, extending the 22-day fall sitting of the Legislature if possible. Instead, they gave up with a whimper yesterday, letting the NDP bring the busy session to an end as it desired.

Government House Leader Brian Mason mocked the UCP's "damage control" efforts, suggesting "they're getting out of there as fast as they can" with their "tail between their legs."

Well, in fairness, they have bigger fish to fry today in Kenney's bid to get into the House, where he can control his fractious, B-Team caucus.

At least one poll -- albeit one readers may not have full confidence in -- is said to have given Kenney 60 per cent support in the safe Conservative riding.

Still, in light of unexpected election outcomes in the past couple of days, Kenney would surely rather be concentrating on his main chance right now.

On Monday in British Columbia, Liberal Gordie Hogg won what was supposed to be a rock solid Conservative seat in a federal by-election for the South Surrey-White Rock riding. It was the first time in 70 years the Liberals have managed to represent any part of the riding.

And yesterday, of course, Democrat Doug Jones scored what is being called "an unimagined victory" in the race for the U.S. Senate seat in another seven-letter jurisdiction starting with A.

So the possibility, however slim, that since political lightning has struck twice, it might strike a third time, must have occurred to Kenney's strategic brain trust.

Fildebrandt's big game hunting adventure, at least, probably means Nixon is less likely to be demoted or sent packing by Kenney after Tuesday's embarrassment. As for the errant marksman's return to the bosom of the UCP, that may depend on Kenney's margin of victory today.

If it is huge, the UCP leader may feel he can do what he pleases. If it is lower than expected, he may be inclined to take more care with his personnel problems. And if by some miracle he loses, well, all bets would be off, wouldn't they?

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

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Categories: News for progressives

Let's all shine our lights to make the world a brighter place

Wed, 2017-12-13 20:41
December 13, 2017Shine a light during dark timesIt's no time to be complacent. We must show that we shine brighter. Knowledge, kindness and solidarity can overcome ignorance and fear.
Categories: News for progressives

Arthur Manuel's books should be mandatory reading for all Canadians

Wed, 2017-12-13 07:24
Doreen Nicoll

"The loss of our lands has been the precise cause of our impoverishment. Indigenous Peoples control only 0.2 [per cent] of the land in Canada while settler governments claim control of the other 99.8 [per cent]. With this distribution of land, you don't have to have a doctorate in economics to understand who will be poor and who will be rich. And our poverty is crushing." - Arthur Manuel, Secwepemc Nation from his book Unsettling Canada.

Arthur Manuel was like a brother to Kahnawake Mohawk policy analyst, writer, and activist Russ Diabo.  Recently, I had the honour and pleasure to speak by phone with Diabo. He told me about the life and work of Manuel, his long-time friend, fellow activist, and author of Unsettling Canada (UC) and The Reconciliation Manifesto: Recovering the Land Rebuilding the Economy (RM).

According to Diabo, "Both books are important for understanding the real history of Indigenous peoples and today's treatment because the structure hasn't changed."

In UC, Manuel lays out Indigenous history as a pattern of dispossession followed by dependence which eventually gives way to uprisings that culminate in the oppression of First Nations, Inuit and Metis peoples.

Meanwhile, RM, focuses on Indigenous right to self-determination. But, Manuel doesn't shy away from addressing the fact that Indigenous Nations also need to put their own house in order.

According to Diabo, "First Nation assemblies have been co-opted by federal government money. They are not sitting at the table at the United Nations to ensure more international oversite. There is government oppression of the 0.2 [per cent] economy which is not addressing dependency on the federal government. This needs to be addressed through a change to the system which means going after Trudeau and his fake reconciliation."

Manuel's chapter on dishonest reconciliation embraces the creative use of language by settler politicians and a disrespecting of Indigenous self-determination as laid out by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).

In 2007 when UNDRIP was adopted by the UN, Canada was one of only four countries to vote against it. In 2010 after succumbing to constant international pressure Canada endorsed the declaration. Yet, it wasn't until 2016 that Canada adopted and implemented the declaration. Even then, it did so only in accordance with the Canadian Constitution effectively demoting international law to a position secondary to national law -- something that is just not done.

To date, the Canadian government has refused to implement the UNDRIP Action Plan. It continues working against Indigenous interests; routinely excludes Indigenous representatives from decision making processes; and violates Nation to Nation treaties and international human rights law.

Chapter 43 of RM is a scant five pages that concisely lays out Manuel's six-point plan for effective, relatively painless decolonization that could, "Transform Canada into one of the most politically and environmentally progressive countries in the world, one that could be an example for all on how the ugly part of colonialism and racism, that has been so catastrophic for our people in terms of the sheer brutality we have been subject to, can finally be laid to rest. And both Indigenous peoples and Canadians can finally turn away from that sad past and look to a much brighter future."

On January 11, 2017, shortly after completing the manuscript for RM, Manuel died of congenitive heart failure at the age of 65.

Diabo remembers Manuel as, "The Nelson Mandela of the international Indigenous movement. No one has his knowledge, skill, and integrity. It will take many people to replace him and the limitless volunteer work he contributed."

Manuel's wife, son and two daughters are continuing the legacy of his work and they're joined by Manuel's vast network of friends and supporters numbering in the thousands.

Throughout this year of Colonialism 150 I've encouraged readers to listen to, watch or read an Indigenous point of view each week. Well, here you go settlers, buy a copy of each of these essential books and spend some quality time over the holidays educating yourself about Canada's colonial past and present, but more importantly embrace Manuel's vision of a Turtle Island that is truly home to Indigenous and settler alike.

While you're at it, simplify your life by buying several copies to give to your kids, in-laws, friends, colleagues, and dinner guests this holiday season. What a wonderful way to ring in a truthful New Year ready to hold Canada's governments accountable for meaningful Nation to Nation reconciliAction!

Photo: Tupak Huehuecoyotl​/Facebook

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Categories: News for progressives

Shine a light during dark times

Wed, 2017-12-13 06:09
David Suzuki

Before he died on November 7, 2016, the great poet Leonard Cohen offered a moving, prophetic warning in his final album's title song: "You want it darker / We kill the flame." As we near the Northern hemisphere's longest night of the year, it seems like a monumental challenge to keep the flickering flame from being extinguished.

In the U.S., human rights, environmental protections and social services are being snuffed out by executive order. Angry rhetoric from an administration that appears to thrive on division is fuelling racial tensions. As drought-fuelled fires rage, storms become more intense and unpredictable, and flooding devastates communities, and as much of the world plans how to meet commitments under the Paris Agreement, the fossil fuel industry and its government sycophants continue to destroy ecosystems in their race to exploit every bit of climate-altering product they can before shrinking markets halt their rampage.

Even governments that say they're committed to tackling climate change continue to promote pipelines, fracking and other fossil fuel projects and infrastructure. We also face the spectacle of two mad nuclear-armed heads of state trading childish insults, inching us closer to catastrophic confrontation.

Another great poet, William Butler Yeats, wrote presciently in 1919: "The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere / The ceremony of innocence is drowned / The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity."

It's not really true that the "best lack all conviction." But as the days get darker, it sometimes feels overwhelming, hopeless.

We must keep the flame burning.

The light will return to this part of the world and the days will get longer, but we must act to make our lives brighter. The "passionate intensity" (or maybe just banal indifference to suffering) of those who would impose misery on many for the benefit of the few may be little more than the death throes of an outdated, destructive order. But it's no time to be complacent. We must show that we shine brighter. Knowledge, kindness and solidarity can overcome ignorance and fear.

This truth is coming to light as more and more people reject the forces of darkness. Black Lives Matter#MeTooIdle No More. Women are speaking out against those who have oppressed them through rape, abuse and systemic sexism. People of colour are standing up to the violence, hatred and inequality they have faced in countries claiming to value freedom and equality. Indigenous peoples are demonstrating their knowledge and power and demanding an end to colonial oppression. Business people, religious leaders, politicians and citizens are demanding action on climate change and other environmental challenges. People everywhere are developing solutions to the problems we have caused through ignorance and avarice.

We must also work for better education, at home and throughout the world. Stabilizing population growth requires education for women and families, along with access to birth control and family planning. Democracies function best when people cast their votes and base their decisions on facts, critical thought and understanding rather than tribalism and rigid ideology. Those who have learned how to critically assess the overabundance of information that floods our daily lives are in a better position to contribute to positive change.

For many cultures, the winter solstice is a time to reflect, regroup and rededicate. As the light slowly returns, it's a period of renewal and eventual rebirth. It's a good time to celebrate that which holds true meaning and brings real happiness in life: friends, family, nature, connection. It's also a time to reach out to help those who are less fortunate.

Every good deed, every positive act, helps the flame burn a little bit brighter. No matter how small or insignificant our contributions may seem, when we do good in the world, it adds up -- and it will eventually overcome the darkness. Even an unconditional smile given to a stranger can cheer that person, who may then offer smiles to others, multiplying the effect and spreading joy.

As we near the solstice and enter the holiday season, I and the David Suzuki Foundation staff wish you peace and happiness for this year and the days to come. Let us all shine our lights to make the world a brighter, better place for all.

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

Learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org

Image: patrick janicek​/Flickr

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Categories: News for progressives

Avoidance and possibility in a burning world at COP 23

Tue, 2017-12-12 16:04
December 12, 2017EnvironmentCopping out at COP 23Our uncomfortable future demands that climate criminals not be enabled further while we carry our caps in hand with appeals to do the right thingClimate Changeenvironmental action
Categories: News for progressives

Avoidance and possibility in a burning world at COP 23

Tue, 2017-12-12 16:01
December 12, 2017EnvironmentCopping out at COP 23Our uncomfortable future demands that climate criminals not be enabled further while we carry our caps in hand with appeals to do the right thingenvironmentalCOP 23Climate Change
Categories: News for progressives

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

Mon, 2017-12-11 10:17
December 10, 2017Moving U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem is Trump's war on the PalestiniansBy recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the U.S. further isolates itself, as it becomes the only country in the world to do so.
Categories: News for progressives

Special programs and testing prevent children from learning important life lessons

Sat, 2017-12-09 13:00
Anti-RacismEducationPolitics in Canada

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This column was first published in the Toronto Star.

Photo: University of Saskatchewan​/Flickr

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

Many First Nations communities still do not have safe drinking water

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image: Rachel Small

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Categories: News for progressives

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

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

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

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

In response, media really poured it on.

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

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

To the CBC, he was "Just Brad."

You get the picture.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: DanielPaquet/Wikimedia Commons

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Categories: News for progressives

Apologies are appropriate and needed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This column was first published on Democracy Now!

Photo: Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff/Flickr

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

Petition calls for citizenship guide and exam to include Indigenous history

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

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

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

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

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

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

The petition to the Minister states:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: Canadian Pacific/Flickr

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Categories: News for progressives

Do migrant workers have access to health care?

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

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

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

The Niagara Migrant Worker Interest Group-NMWIG

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

St. Alban’s Anglican Church in Beamsville, Ontario

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: Heryka Miranda

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Categories: News for progressives

Fighting reproductive health leads to further inequality for women

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

Reflections on 28 years of remembering the Montreal Massacre

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org.

Photo: Ryan L. C. Quan/Wikimedia Commons

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Categories: News for progressives



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