Archive for the ‘Human Rights’ Category

From the video "Dancing Tragedies and Dreams". Photo: Paul S. Graham

From the video “Dancing Tragedies and Dreams.” Photo: Paul S. Graham

Art, culture, dance and politics blended seamlessly in Winnipeg on September 21, 2014, with the performance of Dancing Tragedies and Dreams, a production of the Canadian Palestinian Association of Manitoba,  at Prairie Theatre Exchange.

Dancing Tragedies and Dreams featured dances from Palestine, Lebanon, Syria and Egypt as well as an exciting performance of Poi dance from New Zealand, propelled by the music of El Funon Popular Dance Troupe of Palestine. Talk about fusion!

Eleven months in the making, Dancing Tragedies and Dreams was the brain child of Rana Abdulla and involved dozens of volunteers working evenings and weekends to bring it to fruition. In preparing this event, Rana’s dream was to bridge the divide between Western and Arabic worlds and to amplify the cry of Palestinians for peace, human rights and social justice.

Sixty-six years ago, the people of Palestine were forcibly driven from their homeland. Confined to parcels of land that are a fraction of their traditional territory and vilified by the the people who drove them out, their history shows some similarity to that of the indigenous people of this country. Unlike the government of Israel, the government of Canada does not bomb indigenous people (in this country, anyway), but for decades in Canada, indigenous people needed permission from the local Indian Agent to leave their reserves, a parallel that would be immediately familiar to any resident of Gaza or the West Bank. And hence, at Dancing Tragedies and Dreams, Said Hamad, Palestine’s representative in Canada, referred to their “solidarity with the aboriginal people in Canada.”

Like the aboriginal people of Canada, Palestinians have been “ethnically cleansed” and negatively stereotyped by their oppressors. Like Canada’s aboriginal peoples, Palestinians continue to assert their rights and make visible their humanity and their rich culture.

Dancing Tragedies and Dreams makes a stunning contribution to this effort. It’s too bad that the performance was limited to one evening. Fortunately, my friend Ken Harasym and I recorded the evening. So, get comfortable for the next 90 minutes. Enjoy, and share widely, please.

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edney dinner poster

Almost unnoticed amidst the hoopla and the protests associated with the opening of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights was a dinner held at the Grand Mosque Community Centre last Friday in honour of Edmonton-based human rights lawyer Dennis Edney, QC.

Sept. 19, 2014: Human rights advocate Dennis Edney, QC, speaking in Winnipeg on the case of Omar Khadr. Photo: Paul S. Graham

Sept. 19, 2014: Human rights advocate Dennis Edney, QC, speaking in Winnipeg on the case of Omar Khadr. Photo: Paul S. Graham

Edney is the recipient of the National Pro Bono Award (2008) and the Human Rights Medal (British Columbia, 2009). He was honoured in Winnipeg for his decade-long pro bono defence of Omar Khadr and presented with a sculpture created by local artist Margaret Glavina.

Omar Khadr is probably Canada’s best-known, least understood prisoner. In 2002, at the age of 15, he was severely wounded in an American assault on a compound in Afghanistan, imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay, tortured and coerced into confessing to “war crimes.” Following his conviction by a US military tribunal he was returned to Canada and is currently held at the federal Bowden Correctional Institution in Edmonton. While respected human rights advocates, such as South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, have called for Khadr’s release, the federal government continues to resist demands that he be set free.

The Khadr case is controversial to say the least. In this video report, Dennis Edney recounts his experience defending Omar Khadr and discusses what this affair says about the state of human rights in Canada.

The dinner, the proceeds of which were donated to cover Omar Khadr’s legal defense costs, was sponsored by:


Winnipeg, Aug. 24, 2014: Some of the people camping out in Memorial Park to call for a national inquiry into the deaths or disappearances of over 1200 aboriginal women. Photo: Paul S. Graham

Some of the people camping out in Memorial Park to call for a national inquiry into the deaths and disappearances of over 1200 Aboriginal women. Photo: Paul S. Graham

The hatred directed at aboriginal people in Canada is appalling, as is their poverty and exclusion from the opportunities that exist for non-indigenous Canadians. Nowhere is this more evident than in the federal government’s continuing refusal to hold a national inquiry into the causes of the deaths and disappearances of over 1200 aboriginal women. Now, aboriginal women are beginning to speak up for the aboriginal men who have disappeared over the years.

My latest video explores some of this.

To connect with the Protest Camp on Facebook, click here.


Winnipeg, July 19, 2014: Winnipeggers march in solidarity with the people of Gaza. Photo: Paul S. Graham

Winnipeg, July 19, 2014: Winnipeggers march in solidarity with the people of Gaza. Photo: Paul S. Graham

July 19, 2014: Several hundred Winnipeggers rallied in front of the Canadian Human Rights Museum in solidarity with the people of Gaza who are enduring yet another murderous invasion by Israeli forces. The rally, the second in a week, was part of an international day of action.

Here’s my video report, featuring:
• Krishna Lalbiharie, Canada-Palestine Support Network (Winnipeg)
• Rana Abdulla, Canadian Palestinian Association of Manitoba
• Terrance Nelson, Grand Chief, Southern Chiefs Organization
• Daniel Thau-Eleff, Independent Jewish Voices (Winnipeg)
• Bassam Hozaima,  Canada-Palestine Support Network (Winnipeg)
• Glenn Michalchuk, Peace Alliance Winnipeg

The demonstration was sponsored by

• Canadian Palestinian Association of Manitoba
• Canada-Palestine Support Network (Winnipeg)
• Independent Jewish Voices (Winnipeg)
• Peace Alliance Winnipeg
• Winnipeg Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid (WCAIA)

HRD 2013 Poster

Because the assumptions that underpin Quebec’s Bill 60 occupy the same racist mindset that drove the Canadian government’s decision in the 19th Century to set up the Indian Residential School system, it was fitting that local Idle No More activists capped Winnipeg’s “Day Affirming Human Rights and Religious Diversity for All Canadians” with a round dance.

The event was held inside the Manitoba Legislative Building on December 10, a day dedicated to celebrating the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights. While this day is typically marked in Canada with an eye to international human rights concerns, attention was focused on Canada this year because of a proposed bill before the Quebec National Assembly entitled “Bill 60: Charter affirming the values of state secularism and religious neutrality and of equality between women and men, and providing a framework for accommodation requests,” known more simply as the “Charter of Values.”

The bill is controversial across Canada because of a provision to prohibit public employees from wearing “objects such as headgear, clothing, jewelry or other adornments which, by their conspicuous nature, overtly indicate a religious affiliation” while at work.

About 200 people crowded into the foyer of the Legislative Building to listen to speakers address Bill 60 from a variety of perspectives. Shahina Siddiqui, executive director of the Islamic Social Services Association, welcomed the audience, thanking them for coming out “to stand in solidarity with all other Canadians across the country, affirming our human rights for all Canadians, and our religious diversity.”

Art Miki, former president of the National Association of Japanese Canadians, questioned the sincerity of Bill 60′s framers. “The Quebec government [says] that their goal is to defend equality between men and women and to encourage equality and harmonious relations amongst all people . . . the National Association of Japanese Canadians sees the values expressed in the proposed [Quebec] charter to be contrary to the values expressed in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms . . . We want guarantees to the right of freedom of expression, freedom of religion, and freedom to manifest one’s religion.”

John Harvard, a former journalist, Member of Parliament and Lieutenant Governor of Manitoba said that “This invidious piece of legislation has been moved in the name of secularism in a further attempt to exclude religious considerations from the area of government. Well, ladies and gentlemen, I am a secularist and I say ‘Thanks, but no thanks.’ ”

Rabbi Alan Green, senior rabbi at Congregation Shaary Zedek described the terminology of the bill as “Orwellian in effect if not in intent.” He continued: “Maintaining religious, ethnic and cultural traditions has always been respected and promoted in Canada. . . [The Quebec charter] represents nothing short of an attack on the open, inclusive, pluralistic Canada we have all known and loved these past many years.”

Bernice Cyr, executive director of the Native Women’s Transition Centre questioned the right of a government to restrict human rights, saying “Human rights are a foundational component of every person’s value in our country. The fact that other people are voting on them – it doesn’t even make sense . . . Rights are not not meant to be voted on. They are meant to [be upheld].”

Marie Lands, a social worker and advocate for aboriginal rights, said Bill 60 seemed all too familiar. “When I started paying attention to this particular bill, I find it quite appalling . . . because our aboriginal people know very well what that means. What it means is that it takes away everything of your identity, of your culture and of who you are and assimilates you into something that you don’t know who you are anymore. We have a whole nation that is struggling to try and reconnect to who they are and what they have lost in their whole lives.”

Dr. James Christie, director of the Ridd Institute for Religion & Global Policy at the University of Winnipeg, said that the bill is being driven by the political ambitions of Premier Pauline Marois. “She would be delighted if it failed before the Supreme Court of Canada in a challenge around the Canadian Bill of Human Rights or Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms. Why? Because Madame Marois doesn’t care about religion, yours or mine. Madame Marois cares about Madame Marois’ political agenda for Quebec. . . People of her own political stripe think that this is a wicked and intolerable thing. But Madame Marois doesn’t care because Madame Marois wants to drive a wedge between the people of Quebec and . . . the rest of Canada.”

The evening ended on an uplifting note, with short speeches by two members of Idle No More Winnipeg, and a round dance.

Holding a wreath of braided grasses, Michael Kannon asked the audience: “How long are you really going to be here?” and answered: “A long, long, long time. Canada is young. We’ve assembled this brief cross-section of who we really are as human beings in this place. For the next couple of hundred years this building is going to be alright but we’re going to be around to build it again. That’s how long we’re going to be here, all of us. I want each and every one of you to remember that. Such a long time we will be together in the future. So now, in this day and in this moment in 2013, we should start really looking at how do we treat each other. How do we share? How do we weave ourselves into that rhythm and braid that is Canada? . . . Our families and our children – how are they going to weave together in a nice balance? . . . That is what First Nations have been working for for thousands of years.”

Raising her hand drum high, Ko’ona Cochrane invited the audience to participate in a traditional round dance. “Behind this drum you see the four directions and you see all nations represented in the centre of this drum. No matter who you are, no matter what your belief, no matter where you are on the globe, you are represented on this drum. You are here on my ancestral lands; welcome to Treaty One. . . These are our homelands. We invite you here to share and to participate with us. We honour this round dance and we want to offer it to you and ask you to join us. The round dance is a spiritual dance. It’s a dance of reciprocity. We’re holding hands; your right hand is connected to the left hand of the person beside you. In our teachings we receive with our right and we give with our left. In order for you to be a whole and balanced human being you have to be always receiving and giving.”

The round dance, the singing and the speeches can be found in my video report.


Oct. 4, 2013: Winnipeggers gathered at the Manitoba Legislature to remember the lives of 600 missing and murdered Aboriginal women in Canada, 75 of whom came from Manitoba. Photo: Paul S. Graham

Oct. 4, 2013: Winnipeggers gathered at the Manitoba Legislature to remember the lives of 600 missing and murdered Aboriginal women in Canada, 75 of whom came from Manitoba. Photo: Paul S. Graham

Winnipeggers gathered at the Manitoba Legislature on Friday afternoon to demand an national inquiry into the causes for the disappearance or death of over 600 indigenous women in Canada in recent years. The demonstrators repeated a longstanding demand for a for national inquiry, something that has gained the support of all provincial premiers and territorial leaders, but which continues to be rejected by the federal government.

Appearing in this video report are Rosanna Deerchild, Chief Francine Meeches,  Judy Wasylycia-Leis, Raven Hart-Bellecourt, Robert Animikii Horton, Jo Redsky, Sierra Noble, Dana Foster and Chief Cathy Merrick.


HR Poster logoWinnipeg, September 28, 2013 – In commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the coup d’etat against the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende, Winnipeg’s Chilean community held numerous educational and cultural events throughout September. On September 28th, the Chilean Human Rights Council of Canada held a conference at the University of Winnipeg entitled “Human Rights – The Chilean Experience.”

Speakers included:
– Dr. Miguel Sanchez, University of Regina, School of Social Work
– Fr. Eduardo Enrique Soto Parra, SJ, Mauro Centre, University of Manitoba
– Claudia Garcia de la Huerta, Journalist
– Dr. Clint Curle, Canadian Museum for Human Rights (Moderator)

Conference Organizers:
– Chilean Human Rights Council of Canada
– Canadian Museum for Human Rights

Conference Sponsors:
– University of Manitoba, Mauro Centre
– University of Winnipeg, Global College