Archive for the ‘Nibbling on The Empire’ Category

Winnipeg, Oct. 12, 2013: Jingle dancers ready themselves to welcome the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Photo: Paul S. Graham

Winnipeg, Oct. 12, 2013: Jingle dancers ready themselves to welcome the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Photo: Paul S. Graham

Winnipeg, Canada: Thousands gathered at the intersection of Portage and Main Street to welcome the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Professor James Anaya, with a Jingle Dance. Speaking in this clip are Jo Redsky and Michael Champagne, activists in Canada’s Idle No More movement.

Among the many issues outstanding between the First Nations and the Government of Canada is the refusal of the federal government to hold a national inquiry into the documented murders or disappearances of over 600 aboriginal women in Canada. Stephen Harper has been distinctly cool towards the visit of the UN Special Rapporteur, but until the Canadian government takes serious steps to address the needs of Canada’s First Nations they will continue to seek support in the international arena.

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October 8, 2013 - Green Party leader Elizabeth May, speaking at the Speak Up For Democracy Town Hall Meeting in Winnipeg. Photo: Paul S. Graham

October 8, 2013 – Green Party leader Elizabeth May, speaking at the Speak Up For Democracy Town Hall Meeting in Winnipeg. Photo: Paul S. Graham

Canadian democracy ain’t what it used to be and what it used to be was far from ideal. Still, fewer of us are voting and even fewer are satisfied with the outcome.

Over the past 20 years, voter turnout has declined precipitously. Of the 24.2 million citizens eligible to vote in the 2011 federal election, only 14.8 million, or 61.1 per cent did so. Of those who voted, 39.6 per cent, or 5.8 million voters chose a Conservative candidate. In other words, the government of Canada was elected by fewer than 25 per cent of eligible voters. 9.4 million Canadians chose not to vote for anyone; this is nearly twice as many as those who elected the governing party.

Among those of us who have chosen to vote, there is widespread dissatisfaction with the way this is represented in the House of Commons. The following table shows the distribution of seats following the 2011 federal election.

Party

Elected

% of Seats

% of Vote

Conservative

167

54.2

39.6

NDP

102

33.1

30.6

Liberal

34

11

18.9

BQ

4

1.3

6

Green

1

0.3

3.9

Source: http://www.sfu.ca/~aheard/elections/results.html. (Note, percentages to not add up to 100, probably because of some rounding in the original data. But you get the idea.)

The top two parties clearly have more MPs than their share of the popular vote would justify. It looks like this.

Now, look what happens when MPs are elected in proportion to their party’s share of the popular vote.

Party

FPTP

PR

Conservative

167

122

NDP

102

95

Liberal

34

59

BQ

4

19

Green

1

13

(Note: the above chart needed some rounding to make it work – but it’s close enough.) It would look like this.

Would adoption of a proportional representation system increase voter turnouts in elections? It might. Those who are convinced that their vote does not count might be encouraged to participate in a process that offered a more representative outcome.

However, all the electoral system reforms in the world will be fruitless unless the governments we elect learn to behave in a more democratic fashion.

A common refrain among voters is that once elected, Members of Parliament become invisible, until the next election, anyway. Stories of MPs frustrated by the their lack of freedom to speak their minds are growing, as are the complaints of reporters who are frustrated with the federal government’s record of providing information that should be made public in a timely way. Government scientists are prevented from discussing their publicly funded research. Organizations that evaluate government policies lose their funding. Critics of government policy find themselves described as dangerous radicals and citizens concerned about fracking are placed under surveillance. Shutting down Parliament to avoid controversy and using omnibus budget bills to to limit Parliamentary examination of legislation can be added to the list.

While our current federal government is notorious for its antidemocratic practices, governments at all levels have fostered a system that insulates them from addressing the concerns of citizens. This growing trend to undemocratic governance in a country that regards itself as a democracy inspired the town hall meeting that took place in Winnipeg Oct. 8, 2013.

Sponsored by Peace Alliance Winnipeg and the Green Party of Canada, “Speak Up for Democracy” featured Elizabeth May, leader of the Green Party and MP for Saanich-Gulf Islands, Dennis Lewycky, executive director of the Social Planning Council of Winnipeg, and Leah Gazan, a leading activist in Idle No More.

More that 200 people packed the Broadway Disciples United Church to hear from them and to discuss with them what must be done to rescue our democracy.

I’ve been to a lot of meetings over the years; this clearly was one of the best. So grab some pop corn, turn off your smart phone and invest the next two hours in pondering one of the most pressing issues of our generation.

Links:
Elizabeth May, MP
Green Party of Canada
Social Planning Council of Winnipeg
Idle No More Manitoba


tour_logo_enGreen Party of Canada Leader Elizabeth May, MP for Saanich-Gulf Islands, is on a cross country tour, billed as “Save Democracy from Politics,” to call for major reforms in Canada’s Parliamentary system. According to May, Canadian democracy is being undermined by excessive partisanship, a party system that punishes MPs who do not toe the party line, and a Prime Minister’s Office that wields the powers that should be exercised by Parliament.

May was in Winnipeg to speak at a town hall meeting co-sponsored by the Green Party and Peace Alliance Winnipeg. I will post the video from that meeting later this week. In the meantime, here’s Michael Welch, News Director of CKUW-FM, in conversation with Elizabeth May.

 

Links


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

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.


Winnipeg Peace in Syria Rally

Sept. 7, 2013: Winnipeggers rallied at the Manitoba Legislature in opposition to an attack on Syria and distributed literature on Memorial Boulevard and Broadway. Photo: Paul S. Graham

Sept. 7, 2013: For the second time in a week, Winnipeggers rallied in solidarity with the people of Syria and in opposition to a US led attack. After a brief gathering on the steps of the Manitoba Legislature, the demonstrators took to the streets to hand out literature and talk with their fellow Winnipeggers.

Speaking on behalf of No War with Syria (Winnipeg), Chris Zanewich said, “ The decision to carry out a “limited” attack on Syria will carry dire consequences. If nothing is done to intervene peacefully, an increase in civilian casualties along with the displacement of millions of peaceful Syrians will undoubtedly be the harsh reality.”

Zanewich said that the appropriate remedy for those accused of chemical weapons attacks would be “ a fair democratic trial.” Elaborating on Chris’s comments, No War with Syria (Winnipeg) representative Tara Mann explained that “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, hate cannot drive out hate. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, creating a destructive spiral. Peace cannot be achieved through violence, hatred, and greed; it can only be attained through truth, love and understanding.  Humanity must understand this concept. Or else. We will continue to experience separation, and we will continue to experience war with each other over money, oil, power, skin colour, and religion for the remainder of our existence on this planet.”

Manitoba Peace Council representative Cheryl-Anne Carr said that the struggle of the Syrian people for democratic rights has been “hijacked by the West” to serve Western interests. Regarding Canada’s pro-military intervention stance in this crisis, she noted that

“Canada is the third largest investor in Syria and we have some actual leverage with that country if we wanted to use it without encouraging missile strikes. A few short years ago, the Harper government had such confidence in the Assad government we in Winnipeg had to fight tooth and nail to keep a young man from being deported to torture and death in Syria. The Harper government openly said no harm would come to him, that it did not think Assad hurt his own people, that nations were sovereign and made their own rules.”

Glenn Michalchuk, of Peace Alliance Winnipeg, was the last to speak. He observed that “When we demonstrate against the threat of U.S bombing we are not blind to the suffering of the Syrian people or indifferent to their struggle against internal reaction. The Syrian people have the right to determine their future for themselves and to build their country as they see fit. But this right will not come from the bombs of the U.S. Nor will it come from the interference of the U.S., Britain, Canada, France and Saudi Arabia to fuel civil war with arms and foreign fighters. This right will not come from Russia which for decades considered Syria its client state in the Middle East to protect its interests in that region against the maneuverings of the United States.”

Complete texts of the speeches delivered by Carr and Michalchuk are available here and here, respectively.

For more, watch my video report.


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.