Winnipeg, October 17, 2018: Yves Engler discusses his latest book with an audience at the Université de Saint-Boniface. Photo: Paul S. Graham

Some authors are so prolific you can set your calendar by them. So it is with Yves Engler, who seems to put out a new book every fall. Yves just released his tenth, entitled “Left, Right — Marching to the Beat of Imperial Canada.”

The book details the failure of Canada’s Left parties, institutions and intellectuals to confront Canada’s support for imperialism and promotion of corporate interests abroad.

Part of the solution, says Engler, is to establish a Canadian Foreign Policy Institute that will act as a clearing house for the best alternative research and analysis of Canadian foreign policy.

Yves was in Winnipeg last week to promote the book. The evening was sponsored by Peace Alliance Winnipeg. I recorded his presentation (below) and interviewed him for the Global Research News Hour. Enjoy.

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Steve Ellner

Professor Steve Ellner. Photo: Paul S. Graham

Mainstream media and government sources in Canada and the United States have provided an extremely unbalanced picture of Venezuela, portraying it as a dictatorship when in fact the governing party has won re-election consistently over the past (almost) 20 years in contests deemed fair and democratic by international observers. Through crippling economic sanctions, financial support to anti-government forces, and public musings about the desirability of regime change, the US government has made it clear it wants to put a more reliable puppet in power in Venezuela. With its long history of overthrowing governments it cannot control, the US destabilization campaign is par for the course. As is usually the case, the Canadian government has been an enthusiastic partner.

Doing its part to address the one-sidedness of this situation, the Winnipeg Venezuela Peace Committee held a very well attended public forum on Oct. 19, 2018 entitled What is really happening in Venezuela? The forum featured Steve Ellner, professor of economics at the University of Oriente in Puerto La Cruz, Venezuela and Carlos Ron, Venezuelas Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs, responsible for North America, who participated via Skype.

Regrettably, the Skype connection was so poor that Ron’s presentation was largely incoherent. While I recorded the entire event, I have not included the Skype portion because of terrible audio quality.

On a more positive note, Professor Ellner provided a detailed, highly informative description of conditions in Venezuela and an accessible analysis of how the country arrived at the state it is in.

He is more than qualified to talk about this country. Ellner earned his Ph.D. in Latin American history at the University of New Mexico in 1980. Since 1977 he has taught economic history and political science at the Universidad de Oriente in Puerto La Cruz, Venezuela and for ten years taught in the graduate school of law and political science of the Universidad Central de Venezuela. He has been a visiting professor at numerous schools in the United States and Latin America.

As Professor Ellner underlined, more than once, the problems faced by the Venezuelan people are complex and challenging; the situation is complicated and difficult to understand without considering many factors.

Opposition to the Chavistas by the Venezuelan oligarchs and their foreign backers began as soon as Hugo Chavez was elected in 1999. By fomenting coup attempts, violence and economic instability, these forces have undermined Chavista attempts to alleviate widespread poverty and have magnified the suffering of the Venezuelan people.

Not everyone in the audience would agree with the last paragraph; some were very critical of the Maduro government. Nonetheless, the discussion was wide ranging, open to all perspectives, respectful and civil.

Here is my video report.

Earlier this month I attended and recorded the proceedings of the Israel Palestine International Law Symposium, held in Winnipeg September 7 – 9. While I thought I was better informed than the average Canadian going into the symposium, by the time it was over I was overwhelmed by the amount of new information I received.

The credentials of the presenters were impressive:

  • Suha Jarrar is a Palestinian human rights researcher and advocate, and currently the Environmental and Gender Policy Researcher at Al-Haq human rights organization in Ramallah, Palestine. More.
  • Jonathan Kuttab is a human rights lawyer in Israel and Palestine and co-founder of Al-Haq, the first human right international law organization in Palestine. More 
  • Dimitri Lascaris is a Canadian lawyer, journalist and activist and a board member of Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East. More.
  • Michael Lynk is Associate Professor of Law at the University of Western Ontario and United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territory. More.
  • David Matas is an international human rights, refugee and immigration lawyer and Senior Honorary Counsel for B’Nai Brith Canada. More.
  • Virginia Tilley is Professor of Political Science at Southern Illinois University and co-author of Israeli Practices towards the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid. More.

For me, the main takeaway of the symposium is that by supporting the illegal activities of the State of Israel, our own federal government is in violation of Canadian and international law. If you disagree with this assessment, or want to understand why I believe this to be the case, watch these videos.

Introduction: In this clip, symposium coordinator David Kattenburg explains the origins and purpose of the symposium.

Keynote: In this clip, Michael Lynk explains how international law has largely been ignored or broken by Israel over the past several decades of its occupation of the Palestinian Territory.

One State or Two? In this clip, we hear from Michael Lynk and Virginia Tilley.

Human rights: Rhetoric vs Reality: In this clip, symposium Dimitri Lascaris describes the failure of western governments to uphold the human rights of Palestinians.

Palestinian Rights & Obligations: In this clip, we hear from Suha Jarrar and Jonathan Kuttab.

Palestinian Rights to Resources:  In this clip, Suha Jarrar outlines how Israel has misappropriated key Palestinian resources.

Israeli Rights and Obligations: In this clip, we hear from Michael Lynk and Dimitri Lascaris, who look at different aspects of Israeli’s legal rights and obligations in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.

Is Israel and Apartheid State? In this clip, Virginia Tilley argues that Israel is an apartheid state.

Dueling Perspectives: In this clip, David Matas defends Israeli practices and policies with regard to the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT). Michael Lynk argues that Matas’s arguments are not supported by international law.

Canada’s Rights and Obligations: In this clip, Dimitri Lascaris discusses relevant aspects of Canadian and international law.

Concluding Remarks: In this clip we hear concluding remarks from David Kattenburg, Mark Golden and Dean Peachey.

This symposium will be an important resource for lawyers, scholars and activists for years to come. It was sponsored by Independent Jewish Voices Canada, Mennonite Church Manitoba Working Group on Palestine-Israel, Palestinian Canadian Congress, Peace Alliance Winnipeg, United Jewish People’s Order (Winnipeg) and the Winnipeg Centre Federal Green Party Association. Additional information, including Power Point presentations and other documents will be made available at the conference web site: https://www.israelpalestinelawsymposi…

 

Slim Pickens on the set of Dr. Strangelove or How I learned to stop worrying and love the bomb.

Last year, the United Nations voted overwhelmingly to abolish nuclear weapons. On July 7, 2017, 122 member countries voted to approve the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

Opponents of the treaty declined to participate in the vote. These included the nine countries that are known to possess nuclear arms and some of their allies. Sadly, Canada was one of the countries that refused to support the treaty.

Peter Sellers as Dr. Strangelove from Stanley Kubrick’s 1964 film, Dr. Strangelove.

What gives? Have Canadians lost their minds. Have we become a nation of Dr. Strangeloves and “learned how to stop worrying and love The Bomb.”

No. Not in the least. The truth is, our government has let us down on this issue (and many others, but let’s not digress). Polling conducted by Environics in 2008 indicated that almost 90 percent of Canadians support the abolition of nuclear weapons. Research reported by Environics in 2018 shows that Canadian opposition to nuclear weapons remains high.

Not surprisingly, there is an international campaign to promote the treaty. You can track the progress and access many educational resources at the website of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons.

ICAN has drafted a Parliamentary Pledge, and encourages citizens of countries that have not yet approved and ratified the treaty to get their Members of Parliament to sign on. To date, only 13 Canadian MPs have signed: Daniel Blaikie, Marjolaine Boutin-Sweet, François Choquette, Don Davies, Linda Duncan, Cheryl Hardcastle, Carol Hughes, Gord Johns, Hélène Laverdière, Sheila Malcolmson, Irene Mathyssen, Elizabeth May and Thomas Mulcair. Clearly we have a lot of work to do.

As always, for every cause you can find an online petition. Clicktivism has become an automatic response. Here’s one on the Parliamentary petition web site that gleaned 1451 signatures. By itself,  this will have little impact. I think we need to have a concerted lobbying campaign that makes it clear to each MP that nuclear disarmament is an election issue.

We can’t afford to delay. There are too many “trouble spots” where a miscalculation by one or another of the major powers could lead to world war and a nuclear holocaust.

If not now, then when. If not you, then who?

If you are unsure of how to contact your MP, start here.

Last week, anti-poverty activists in Winnipeg released a report aimed at encouraging the City of Winnipeg to develop a strategy for reducing poverty in the city. They called on the mayor to champion poverty reduction, observing that the most promising civic antipoverty programs in Canada (in Edmonton and Calgary) are promising specifically because of the leadership of the mayors in those cities.

I read the report with a mixture of despair and frustration. My despair was stimulated by the depressing and familiar litany of statistics that describe the depth and breadth of poverty in my hometown. The frustration was rooted in the knowledge that this well-intentioned report would, like its predecessors, consume the energy of its proponents but ultimately lead nowhere unless we focus on challenges unacknowledged in the report.

The report is worth reading. It is particularly strong in illustrating the shocking extent of poverty in the city.  When it gets around to policy prescriptions it’s a mixed bag. There are some good ideas, and there are others that will do little more than create busywork for government and NGO bureaucrats.

In trying to be comprehensive, the report is often superficial. But more problematic is the elephant in the room that does not get a mention. We live in a capitalist political economy that benefits from the existence of poor, unemployed, under-employed or under-paid working people. This “reserve army” of poor workers helps depress wages, dampen labour power and discipline the working class, all of which serves the interests of the capitalist class – that unacknowledged elephant.

If we accept that proposition as a starting point it follows that any decent anti-poverty strategy has to focus on creating jobs that pay living wages. Nothing is more empowering than a good, secure job with a decent salary.  However, we can’t rely on capitalist market forces to create jobs; our governments must take steps to foster these developments.

I would have liked to have seen a section of this report devoted to exploring how the City could support the development of worker co-ops, social enterprises, and new, innovative industries that would create green products and services while training and employing inner-city residents. Without a serious economic strategy that focuses on creating industries and jobs for the 21st century, all we are left with are social work solutions which, up to now, have failed to contain poverty, much less eradicate it.

Poverty in one of the richest countries in history is unacceptable. Despite my misgivings about the report, I hope people get behind the campaign to get the City to step up to the plate. A place to start is to sign this petition. But this is just for openers.

Winnipeg, Jan. 23, 2018: The local Kurdish community rallied at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in solidarity with Kurds under Turkish attack in Afrin, Syria. Photo: Paul S. Graham

According to a January 23, 2018 story from Reuters, Turkey has killed at least 260 Syrian Kurdish fighters and Islamic State militants in its four-day-old offensive into the Kurdish-dominated Afrin region of northwest Syria.

The target of Turkey’s attack is the Kurdish People’s Protection Units, also known as the YPG, who are based in Afrin, though the offensive is expected to widen in the days ahead.

Because the YPG has been armed by the United States to repel attacks by ISIS, one might wonder why Turkey, also an ally of the United States, would attack them. To make a long story short, and possibly to over-simplify it, the Turkish government views the Kurds as enemies because of an almost century long bid by Kurds in the region for a national homeland.

In Winnipeg, the local Kurdish community rallied today at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. Many are recent immigrants and they fear for the lives of family and friends in the path of the Turkish offensive.

In two recent announcements the Manitoba Government has revealed how it intends to regulate cannabis when it is legalized in July 2018. In short, the province will source and regulate it and the private sector will retail it. So far, so good. Unhappily, Manitobans will continue to be criminalized if they grow their own for non-medical purposes and, in a bid to protect children that is doomed to fail, the province will prohibit citizens who are otherwise considered adults (able to vote, join the military and consume alcohol) from partaking until their nineteenth birthday. You can read the details here and here.

Since quitting drinking around the turn of the century I have come to appreciate the ability to think clearly. I am amazed that Younger Me was so eager and willing to abandon clear-headedness so easily and frequently. For various reasons, I’ve come to prefer the joy of experiencing the world as it is to stumbling through drug-induced alternate realities. It logically follows, then, that I am not a consumer of cannabis. I have no skin in this game. Still, I have to wonder what Brian Pallister was smoking in his Costa Rican retreat when he came up with this half-baked plan.

Winnipeg, Dec. 5, 2017: Manitoba Justice Minister Heather Stefanson announces how the province will regulate cannabis consumption in 2018.

In announcing Manitoba’s plans, Justice Minister Heather Stefanson said “This new legislation sets out the regulatory framework, enforcement structures and compliance provisions that will help keep cannabis out of the hands of our youth and away from the black market.”

At best, this statement suggests she is hopelessly naive. If current enforcement efforts have not kept pot out of the hands of kids, it is difficult to see how this government’s plans will address this. Canadians love their dope. Despite government expenditures of $500 million per year on cops and courts, more than two million Canadians consume an estimated 770,000 kg annually. On average, they begin to toke up at age 15 and a quarter-million kids aged 12 to 17 smoke it daily.

Along with setting the age of consumption at 19, Manitoba’s legislation will restrict where retail outlets can operate (away from schools and parks, for example) and allow municipalities to outlaw retail cannabis sales by holding a plebiscite.

There is no plan protect children. The government knows it as should anyone who reviews the colossal failure otherwise known as the War on Drugs.

However, undeterred by the lessons of history our provincial government is determined to keep the costs of law enforcement unnecessarily high by prohibiting home cultivation of cannabis for recreational purposes. Even though citizens may lawfully make beer and wine at home, they will not be able to grow their own weed without the fear of cops kicking in their doors.

Of all of the measures in this bill, this is the least defensible. It serves only to protect the government’s monopoly, which is not a sufficient justification in my view.

As Moses would have said to Pharaoh under these circumstances, “Let my people grow!”


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