Archive for the ‘Human Rights’ Category

Salvador Allende

Salvador Allende

Forty years ago, on September 11, 1973, the military forces commanded by General Augusto Pinochet, overthrew the democratically elected government of Chile led by Salvador Allende. Thousands of people were killed. Many thousands more were imprisoned.

The coup d’etat was swift, brutal and merciless. It was carried out by the Chilean oligarchs with the active assistance of the United States. Overnight, the progressive social and economic measures introduced by the Allende government were overturned, condemning Chile’s working class to lives of poverty and oppression.

Perhaps 500,000 Chileans were forced into exile, relocating to countries around the world. Several hundred found themselves in my home town, Winnipeg, where they have made significant and lasting contributions to the life of our city.

This past month, the Winnipeg Chilean community, like many such communities in the Chilean diaspora world wide, has been commemorating the tragedy of Sept. 11, 1973 with film screenings, cultural performances and events such as the one I participated in tonight as part of a panel discussion that included former Manitoba Premier, Howard Pawley, former MP Judy Wasylycia-Leis, and Darrell Rankin, head of the Manitoba wing of the Communist Party of Canada.

Each of us drew on our experiences to talk about the significance of September 11, 1973 and our memories of the solidarity movement with the people of Chile. What follows is the text of my remarks.


Panelists (l-r): Darrell Rankin, Howard Pawley, Judy W,, Paul Graham. Photo: Maggi Robinson

Panelists (l-r): Darrell Rankin, Howard Pawley, Judy Wasylycia-Leis, Paul Graham. Photo: Maggi Robinson

Forty years is a long time to remember what I knew and when I knew it, but I seriously doubt that I could have located Chile on a map on the day that Augusto Pinochet seized power and destroyed so many lives.

In September 1973 I was a student at the University of Manitoba. I was active in student politics and becoming aware of some of the forces that shape our lives. But our struggles were more local and immediate. For example, there was a strike at the U of M that year, and some of us looked for ways to support the people on strike.

However, in time, our impulse to act locally led us to think more globally.

Throughout the 1970s Winnipeg was fertile ground for many kinds of political activism. We had a vibrant anti-war movement. It mobilized support for American draft resisters, opposed the war in Vietnam and campaigned for nuclear disarmament.

I think the first demonstration I attended had to do with American nuclear testing in Amchitka, an island in Alaska’s Aleutian Islands. This movement became quite broad by the early 1980s, with annual Walks for Peace that attracted up to 20,000 people.

The anti-apartheid movement was quite active here in the 70s, supporting liberation movements in South Africa, Mozambique, Angola and what was then known as Rhodesia.

The women’s movement was gaining strong momentum. There would be many victories in successive decades, including reproductive rights, equal pay for work of equal value, state supported childcare and the right of women to work in so-called nontraditional occupations.

Environmentalism was being born in Winnipeg. It is interesting to note that the Amchitka nuclear test that drew me and a couple hundred other people to the US consulate in 1971 was a catalyst for the creation of Greenpeace. We can thank the Vancouver “Don’t Make a Wave” committee which sent a boat named “Greenpeace” to protest the blast and later adopted the boat’s name as their own.

White progressives were waking up to the struggles of aboriginal peoples and getting involved in campaigns around mercury poisoning at Grassy Narrows, support for the Dene who were opposing the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline, and struggles led by the American Indian Movement related to the Wounded Knee occupation and the case of Leonard Peltier, who many believe was framed for the murder of 2 FBI agents in 1975.

Relatively new to government, the NDP introduced some progressive reforms, such as public auto insurance and reduced medicare premiums. As a Party, it was more active in political education than it has been for many years since and published a newspaper for its members. To the left of the NDP we had, for a time, at least five revolutionary groups. To this collection of radical lefties we should add members of the New Democratic Youth, and former members of the Waffle movement that had been expelled from the NDP. We had at least three left wing book stores, and Canadian Dimension magazine, still published in Winnipeg, was enjoying its largest circulation ever.

Also working for social change were a number of largely (but not exclusively) faith based organizations dedicated to international development and social justice. In a more secular vein, Oxfam, CUSO, and the IDEA Centre engaged in similar work. To various degrees, these groups were beginning to think in terms of solidarity and linking the struggles of oppressed people in the so-called Third World with those of people living in Canada. With the exception of the IDEA Centre, most of them continue to be active and make up the Manitoba Council for International Co-operation.

I could go on, but I’m sure you get the picture. Winnipeg was, in the 1970s, politically progressive, diverse and vibrant. It was a welcoming environment for the refugees of Pinochet’s terror and one that was enriched by these newcomers.

In 1975, when Chileans started arriving in Winnipeg, I had just begun working at the IDEA Centre. IDEA stood for Intercultural Development Education Association. Its mission was to promote support for international development. We were housed at 418 Wardlaw Avenue, in the company of like minded organizations, including CUSO, the Manitoba Council for International Cooperation and the Agassiz Food Co-op.

IDEA offered a lot of things to a lot of different kinds of people. We operated a resource library that specialized in international development. We did programs with schools and held regular educational evenings, usually on Wednesdays, that were combined with a potluck supper.

Our most useful function, I think, was that we provided meeting space, printing facilities and a welcoming environment in which a wide range of individuals and groups could meet, plan and organize.

As the Chilean community began to form in Winnipeg, and as people found their bearings, the IDEA Centre was one of the places that welcomed them, worked with them and learned from them.

It was at the IDEA Centre that I met people like Jaime Carasco, Hugo Torres, Olga Flandez, Rosa Candia, Pablo Herrera and many others. Bonds of friendship, collaboration and respect were formed in those days that have endured to the present. With all of this in mind, I have two observations with which I will close:

Most of the Canadians with whom I worked in that period fell into one of two categories.

One was made up of individuals who were motivated by faith-based or secular humanitarian values; we had little to no direct, personal experience of poverty, oppression, or repression; our understanding was largely theoretical.

The other group included people who had traveled, worked abroad and witnessed poverty and abuse; in some cases they helped struggle against it. Others in this group had had similar Canadian experience. But our perceptions were conditioned by our largely middle class, privileged backgrounds. At the end of the day, we could go home to a relatively comfortable existence.

The arrival of the Chilean refugees, and their participation in Winnipeg’s political life changed this. It enriched our understanding of solidarity. It made it real. Suddenly American imperialism wasn’t some abstract system directed by sociopaths we would never meet. Through our new Chilean friends we could learn what it was all about. It was no longer theoretical. It was flesh and blood. And this strengthened our resolve and deepened our understanding.

My second observation has to do with the Chileans themselves. Like all newcomers, their first priority was getting oriented, learning English, finding jobs, decoding Canadian culture and coping with all of the stress that this involves. Add to this the need to recover from the trauma of the coup, of prison and torture, of having to uproot and flee, of losing their friends, families, homes, communities and country. You have to ask where they found the energy to not only survive, but to reach out and participate in the political life of their new community.

Not everyone was able to manage this. But many were, and their solidarity work went beyond resistance to Pinochet’s military junta. In the years that followed their arrival in Winnipeg, US backed governments carried out vicious repressions rights across Central and South America. If there was a solidarity committee for any of these struggles operating in Winnipeg you could be sure to find at least one Chilean on it.

In 1980, I had the privilege of being able to travel to Nicaragua with a group of solidarity activists from across Western Canada. At least one third of the group were Chilean Canadians who had worked hard to support the Nicaraguan revolution. They understood, better than most, that freedom for Nicaragua would contribute to the same in their own country and throughout Latin America. History has shown they were right. Latin America is much less dominated by American imperialism than it has ever been.

Another quick example and I’ll wrap up. On Oct. 25, 1983, the United States invaded Grenada, a tiny Caribbean nation of 91,000 people. People worldwide were outraged. The UN General Assembly called the invasion a “flagrant violation of international law.”

Three days later, in Winnipeg, there was a demonstration at the US Consulate, then on Pembina Highway. Several hundred people participated.

It began peacefully, but we soon had our own invasion to deal with. A half dozen members of the Winnipeg Rifles militia unit, decked out in camouflage jackets, charged the steps to disrupt the speakers and touched off what some described as a “police riot.”

Rather than arrest the militia goons, the police began arresting demonstrators. Six were arrested and many more were roughed up. Four of those arrested were Chilean.

Now, this little statistic could be used by folks uncomfortable with refugees as evidence they are troublemakers. Having been an active participant in that demonstration and the subsequent defence committee, I see things differently.

They were arrested because they were unwilling to let their comrades be detained by police. They were arrested because they refused to be intimidated by right wing thugs in camouflage uniforms. They were arrested because they would not allow what happened in their home country to happen in another without standing up and saying “Nunca mas!” – “Never again!”

That was the spirit of the Chilean community in Winnipeg in those early years. A spirit of resistance to oppression. A spirit of resilience. A spirit of courage. I think this spirit lives on and continues to inspire all of us.


Advertisements
Aug. 31, 2013: Winnipeggers rallied to voice opposition to foreign intervention in Syria's civil war. Photo: Paul S. Graham

Aug. 31, 2013: Winnipeggers rallied to voice opposition to foreign intervention in Syria’s civil war. Photo: Paul S. Graham

About 50 Winnipeggers rallied at the Canadian Museum of Human Rights Saturday afternoon to express their opposition to foreign military interventions in Syria. The rally, organized by Winnipeg Alternative Media, was one of many held on Saturday across Canada, and was part of an international campaign to prevent the Syrian crisis from escalating into a world war.

In this video report, organizers explain what is at stake.


Jo Seenie Redsky: "we’re your last resort." Photo: Paul S. Graham

Jo Seenie Redsky: “We’re your last resort.” Photo: Paul S. Graham

If your only source of information is the mainstream news media you can be forgiven for wondering what the Idle No More movement is all about. Since it burst on the scene late last year, media attention has darted from demonstrations to blockades to the fasts of elders and chiefs — with an occasional sustained flurry of excitement when the PMO tried to smear Chief Theresa Spence.

Discussions of the abrogation of historic treaty rights or the corporate pillaging Stephen Harper has buried, like poisonous turds, in his omnibus budget bills, do not lend themselves to the tidy sound bites that nourish the media and feed the news cycle.

Having spent last Sunday afternoon at a panel discussion sponsored by Peace Alliance Winnipeg and Project Peacemakers, I can assure you that Idle No More is about nearly everything that is wrong with our society, but fundamentally it is about love. Love of family, friends, complete strangers, future generations, the air we breathe, the water we drink, the earth we walk on.

Feb. 24, 2013: Jerry Daniels speaking about Idle No More in Winnipeg. Photo: Paul S. Graham

Jerry Daniels: ” The issue is sustainable development.” Photo: Paul S. Graham

Idle No More is inclusive and green. As panelist Jerry Daniels puts it, “A sustainable future is important to not only aboriginal people, it is important to all of us . . . the issue is sustainable development – sustainable futures for our children.” For Leah Gazan, “it’s not just about indigenous people of Canada any more, it’s about all of us. It’s about all of us sharing this land in a really good way.”

Idle No More is about redressing the damage we have done to ourselves and the environment, and preventing more of the same. Chickadee Richard sums it up in as tidy a sound bite as you could find anywhere: “As you heal, you heal Mother Earth.”

Chickadee Richard, Feb. 24, 2013

Chickadee Richard: “As you heal, you heal Mother Earth.” Photo: Paul S. Graham

Michael Champagne: "An injustice to one is an injustice to all." Photo: Paul S. Graham

Michael Champagne: “An injustice to one is an injustice to all.” Photo: Paul S. Graham

Idle No More is about aboriginal youth, says Michael Champagne, but about aboriginal youth unlike those of previous generations: “not only are we educated in Western institutions . . . , we are also educated by the Chickadees of the world, by our elders and our ancestors and our community and we are able to learn about the strength and resilience of our ancestors and our nations.”

Idle No More is about human solidarity. Champagne continues: “We’re able to hear those teachings within the medicine wheel and understand that we are all related regardless of the colour of our skin, and like a circle, it is not complete if one of you is missing . . . if you’re hurting, I’m hurting . . . and if I’m hurting, so are you . . . An injustice to one is an injustice to all.” Champagne was consistent; he included Stephen Harper in the company of those damaged by the system Idle No More seeks to overturn.

Lori Mainville: "no fear, no surrender, only love." Photo: Paul S. Graham

Lori Mainville: “no fear, no surrender, only love.” Photo: Paul S. Graham

Idle No More cannot be contained or controlled says Lori Mainville. “The media poses a skewed version – always trying commodify or standardize or put it in a dichotomy and this is a people’s movement. The definition rests with the people and our relationship with the people, our allies, our brothers and sisters in each moment as this energy reveals itself. There’s no way you can cap [it].”

Idle No More is an obligation for those who love Mother Earth. “I guess you could say in . . . protecting the land, the waters, we’re your last resort,” says Jo Seenie Redsky. “I know the world is watching our people here, in the country of Canada, to see us rise up and protect what everybody needs to protect and that’s the land and the waters and those yet to come.”

Leah Gazan: "Idle No More is the newest version of a 500-year struggle." Photo: Paul S. Graham

Leah Gazan: “Idle No More is the newest version of a 500-year struggle.” Photo: Paul S. Graham

At its base, says Redsky, Idle No More is about love. “There’s an unconditional love that we have for our kids. That protection that we have for them is the same protection that we need to have for Mother Earth.” For Lori Mainville, whatever the risks, “I keep remembering that the greatest equalizer is love . . . no fear, no surrender, only love . . . For me, it’s about love as a mother and a grandmother and a sister and a community member.”

My reduction of this discussion to a matter of love aside, it is difficult to sum up a discussion of this importance in a few paragraphs.

Fortunately, I brought my video camera.

If you want to get involved, you can find Idle No More on Facebook and on the World Wide Web. As the weather warms, I have a feeling you’ll be able find it and join it in the streets. Don’t hesitate, because I’m sure you’ll receive a warm welcome.


Churchill MP Niki Ashton gave an impassioned speech at the July 11th Winnipeg rally for a national inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women. In addition to posting the video, I’m providing a transcript because it neatly sums up this ongoing tragedy and the Harper government’s decisions that have served only to make matters worse.


Winnipeg, July 11, 2012: Churchill MP Niki Ashton speaking at a rally in support of provincial and national inquiries into missing and murdered aboriginal woman in Canada. Photo: Paul S. Graham

Our message is clear. There is an epidemic of missing and murdered aboriginal women in Canada.

Let’s look at those statistics. Over 600 aboriginal women missing. One aboriginal woman is three-and-a-half times more likely to experience violence than a non-aboriginal woman. A young aboriginal woman is five times more likely to die from violence than a non-aboriginal woman in Canada.

But this isn’t about the statistics. It’s about the daughters, the sisters, the mothers, the grandmothers, the friends that have gone missing. It is about the broken families and the broken communities and the people that are grieving. And it is time to recognize that we need action. We need a national inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women.

International organizations have spoken out. Amnesty International — even the United Nations – are beginning to understand and have said they understand the magnitude of this issue.

But where is our federal government? Not only have they failed to recognize the magnitude of this tragedy, they have cut the programs that would help to be part of the solution — the loss of Sisters in Spirit, the cuts to the Native Women’s Association of Canada, the loss of the National Aboriginal Health Organization, the loss of the Women’s Health Network, the loss of the Aboriginal Healing Foundation, the loss of the First Nations Statistical Institute.

We need action and we need to find out what’s going on. We need an inquiry that will look into the underlying causes of why aboriginal women face so much violence.

The debilitating impact of a residential school legacy, crushing poverty, Third World living conditions on First Nations, overcrowding in housing, the lack of access to education and health care —

My message to Stephen Harper is: “Mr. Harper — if you’re not part of the solution, YOU are part of the problem.”

But in this darkness there is hope. There is hope that, with an inquiry and a call for action and a commitment to that action, we will be able to prevent this violence from continuing to take place. And more importantly, there will be an ability to bring justice to the memories of the women that have been missing, that have been murdered — to their families, to their communities.

So we are here and we are not asking. We are demanding that there be a national response to a national epidemic. We are demanding a national inquiry. And we will not rest until we hear from the federal government — until there is a national inquiry to finally put an end — so that no aboriginal woman — no woman — dies because she is an aboriginal woman — in a country as wealthy as Canada — in the year 2012 and beyond. Thank you. Meegwetch.


More: Video: Manitoba’s Grand Chiefs demand provincial, national & international inquiries into missing & murdered women


Winnipeg: July 11, 2012: Three of the several hundred demonstrators who marched through downtown Winnipeg demanding public inquiries into the the deaths and disappearances of 600 hundred indigenous women in Canada. Photo: Paul S. Graham

More than 600 indigenous women in Canada are believed to have gone missing or been murdered in recent years.  The slowness of governments to act and the lack of progress where governments have acted have spurred Manitoba’s aboriginal organizations to demand full-scale provincial and national inquiries.

The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak and the Southern Chiefs Organization have written to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, urging that he hold a national inquiry that would look at all aspects of the issue.

The Chiefs have sent a parallel request to Eric Robinson, Deputy Premier of Manitoba and Minister of Aboriginal and Northern Affairs. Both letters are available on the web site of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs.

So far, Manitoba’s and Canada’s governments have shown no interest in public inquiries. Manitoba’s Justice Minister, Andrew Swan, claims he does not support an inquiry because it could “get in the way of a criminal investigation” that led to the arrest of Shawn Cameron Lamb on charges of killing three aboriginal women in Winnipeg.

The Chiefs hope that will change if their efforts to have the United Nations become involved bear fruit. Says MKO Grand Chief David Harper, “The province will not inspect itself, Canada will not inspect itself . . . We’re going to the United Nations.”

The AMC, MKO and SCO held a rally in Winnipeg on July 11, 2012. Several hundred Winnipeggers marched from the Forks National Historic Site to the TD Centre near the corner of Portage and Main in support.

Here is some of the video I shot at this event. Featured in this video clip are Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Derek Nepinak, respected community elder Mae Louise Campbell and David Harper, Grand Chief of Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak.

In this clip, Winnipeg City Councillor Ross Eadie makes an impassioned plea for justice for Aboriginal People, declaring “We are all Treaty People!”


Winnipeg, June 18, 2012: Opposition to the Harper government’s plan to cut health care for refugees is gaining momentum across Canada. Joining in a National Day of Action Against Refugee Health Cuts, about 500 Winnipeggers rallied at The Forks to hear from health care professionals and newcomers to Canada about the threats posed by Harper’s plans.

In this clip, Dr. Michael Dillon outlines the impressive line-up of opposition to these cuts, the outcomes of which, according to Canadian Doctors for Medicare, “could range from diabetics not getting their insulin, to children not receiving immunizations, to letting people succumb to heart attacks.”

More information

What is your course?
Our course is the conscience of humanity.

What is your final destination?
Our final destination is the betterment of mankind.

Nov. 4, 2011: David Heap, in the wheel house of The Tahrir, in radio contact with Israeli commandos who were preparing to forcibly board the boat.

On November 4, 2011, the Canadian boat, The Tahrir, en route to Gaza bearing medical supplies and solidarity, was boarded on the high seas by the Israeli Navy, as was the Irish vessel, the MV Saoirse. The crews were taken to Ashdod, held in prison for six days, and deported.

David Heap was among those captured, and on May 22, 2012, he was in Winnipeg to recount this gripping story and build support for a new solidarity project, Gaza’s Ark. Harold Shuster and I recorded it for Winnipeg Community TV.