Posts Tagged ‘Canada’

Winnipeg, Jan. 21, 2014: Niigaan James Sinclair, speaking at the "Gift of Treaties" teach-in organized by Idle No More Manitoba.

Winnipeg, Jan. 21, 2014: Niigaan James Sinclair, speaking at the “Gift of Treaties” teach-in organized by Idle No More Manitoba. Photo: Paul S. Graham

A standard dictionary definition of the word “treaty” will describe it, rather drily, as a formal agreement between two or more states – an instrument of international relations commonly used to make peace, cement alliances, enable commerce, and so on.

For Anishinaabe scholar and activist Niigaanwewidam James Sinclair, treaties are gifts which oblige the signatories to accept and value each as equals. Treaties, says Sinclair, are as old as creation and inextricably embedded in the spiritual beliefs and traditions of aboriginal people.

Sinclair is an assistant professor at the University of Manitoba and a regular commentator on indigenous issues on CTV, CBC, and APTN.

He spoke at a teach-in organized by Idle No More Manitoba on Jan. 28, 2014 at the Circle of Life Thunderbird House in downtown Winnipeg.


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.


Stephen-Harper-in-jailAccording to the Canadian Press, “The prime minister’s chief of staff went to Stephen Harper for approval of a secret plan that would have seen the Conservative party repay Mike Duffy’s contested expenses and whitewash a Senate report, new RCMP documents suggest.”

According to the article by Jennifer Ditchburn and Steve Rennie, published today:

When the party balked at the ultimate total of Duffy’s $90,000 bill, however, Nigel Wright paid the bill himself — apparently without Harper’s knowledge. Harper has called that a “deception.”

But emails included in Wednesday’s new RCMP court filings quote Wright as getting a green light from Harper when the original plan was to have the party pay. The plan was to be kept secret.

“I do want to speak to the PM before everything is considered final,” Wright wrote in one February dispatch. An hour later, he followed up: “We are good to go from the PM…”

Despite the predictable denials of the Prime Minster and his staff, it is beginning to look like Mr. Harper was involved in a plot that would appear to any reasonable person to violate Criminal Code provisions that prohibit bribery of public office holders. Here is the section of the Criminal Code that seems to be applicable.

Bribery of judicial officers, etc.

119. (1) Every one is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding fourteen years who

(a) being the holder of a judicial office, or being a member of Parliament or of the legislature of a province, directly or indirectly, corruptly accepts, obtains, agrees to accept or attempts to obtain, for themselves or another person, any money, valuable consideration, office, place or employment in respect of anything done or omitted or to be done or omitted by them in their official capacity, or

(b) directly or indirectly, corruptly gives or offers to a person mentioned in paragraph (a), or to anyone for the benefit of that person, any money, valuable consideration, office, place or employment in respect of anything done or omitted or to be done or omitted by that person in their official capacity.

This new revelation is strongly reminiscent of the Cadman Affair. In 2005, the minority Liberal government of Paul Martin was in deep trouble. The Tories were intent on bringing them down, but the vote would be close. In Like a Rock: The Chuck Cadman Story, Vancouver writer Tom Zytaruk told the story of attempts by Conservative Party officials to offer financial inducements to independent MP Chuck Cadman in return for his support in bringing down the Liberals. The Tories were unsuccessful in getting Cadman’s support. However, an interview with Stephen Harper conducted by Zytaruk makes it clear that Harper was aware of his Party’s efforts to buy Cadman’s vote.

Here is a transcript of this interview. You can listen to the Harper-Zytaruk interview here.

Zytaruk: “I mean, there was an insurance policy for a million dollars. Do you know anything about that?”

Harper: “I don’t know the details. I know that there were discussions, uh, this is not for publication?”

Zytaruk: “This (inaudible) for the book. Not for the newspaper. This is for the book.”

Harper: “Um, I don’t know the details. I can tell you that I had told the individuals, I mean, they wanted to do it. But I told them they were wasting their time. I said Chuck had made up his mind, he was going to vote with the Liberals and I knew why and I respected the decision. But they were just, they were convinced there was, there were financial issues. There may or may not have been, but I said that’s not, you know, I mean, I, that’s not going to change.”

Zytaruk: “You said (inaudible) beforehand and stuff? It wasn’t even a party guy, or maybe some friends, if it was people actually in the party?”

Harper: “No, no, they were legitimately representing the party. I said don’t press him. I mean, you have this theory that it’s, you know, financial insecurity and, you know, just, you know, if that’s what you’re saying, make that case but don’t press it. I don’t think, my view was, my view had been for two or three weeks preceding it, was that Chuck was not going to force an election. I just, we had all kinds of our guys were calling him, and trying to persuade him, I mean, but I just had concluded that’s where he stood and respected that.”

Zytaruk: “Thank you for that. And when (inaudible).”

Harper: “But the, uh, the offer to Chuck was that it was only to replace financial considerations he might lose due to an election.”

Zytaruk: “Oh, OK.”

Harper: “OK? That’s my understanding of what they were talking about.”

Zytaruk: “But, the thing is, though, you made it clear you weren’t big on the idea in the first place?”

Harper: “Well, I just thought Chuck had made up his mind, in my own view …”

Zytaruk: “Oh, okay. So, it’s not like, he’s like, (inaudible).”

Harper: “I talked to Chuck myself. I talked to (inaudible). You know, I talked to him, oh, two or three weeks before that, and then several weeks before that. I mean, you know, I kind of had a sense of where he was going.”

Zytaruk: “Well, thank you very much.”

In both cases, it appears that Mr. Harper was aware of plans by his Conservative Party associates to bribe a judicial office holder. In the most recent instance, he is said to have given the green light to a plan to pay Duffy off. In the former, he admitted that he knew about the plan to buy Cadman’s support.

Surely, by now there are grounds for criminal charges.


October 26, 2013: Diane Orihel, founder and director of the Coalition to Save ELA, speaks to a workshop in Winnipeg on water quality sponsored bu Idle No More Manitoba. Photo: Paul S. Graham

October 26, 2013: Diane Orihel, founder and director of the Coalition to Save ELA, speaks to a workshop in Winnipeg on water quality sponsored by Idle No More Manitoba. Photo: Paul S. Graham

Dr. Diane Orihel is the founder of the Coalition to Save ELA.The Coalition to Save ELA is a nonpartisan group of scientists and citizens concerned about the future of Canada’s Experimental Lakes Area.

Located in northwestern Ontario, the ELA consists of 58 small lakes and their watersheds that have been set aside for research. Since 1968, these lakes have provided scientists with a natural laboratory to study the physical, chemical, and biological processes in living lake ecosystems. Research conducted in the ELA has been critical to maintaining the quality of fresh water in Canada and many other countries.

Last year, the federal government announced plans to close the facility in 2013. Supporters of the ELA mounted a vigorous national and international campaign to maintain federal support. They have been partially successful, insofar as the Ontario government has committed to a short-term agreement to work with Winnipeg’s International Institute for Sustainable Development to spend up to $2 million a year. Under the agreement, IISD will oversee lake monitoring and the federal department of Fisheries and Oceans will continue its remediation work.

Celebrations would be premature. According to Orihel, “it is now illegal to conduct whole eco-system experiments at ELA.” And whole ecosystem experimentation is precisely what put ELA “on the world map,” according to Orihel. And hence, the campaign to save the ELA continues.

Orihel spoke recently at a workshop on water quality and oil fracking. This workshop was sponsored by Idle No More Manitoba as a part of its Red Feather Campaign in solidarity with the people of Elsipogtog, New Brunswick, who have been resisting plans to frack for oil in their territory.

Her topic was “The Five Main threats to Lake Winnipeg.” These threats, in the order in which she presented them, are nutrient pollution. toxic chemicals, climate change, invasive species and the “federal government under the leadership of Stephen Harper.”

I recorded the workshop on Oct. 26, 2013 at Neechi Commons in Winnipeg.


No Prairie PipelineTransCanada Pipelines’ proposed “Energy East” pipeline project, which is intended to transport Alberta tar sands crude to eastern Canada, is meeting growing opposition from First Nations, environmentalists and citizens who live along the planned route.

The Winnipeg chapter of the Council of Canadians, along with Idle No More and the Boreal Forest Network held a public forum on the issue on October 22, 2013. Speakers included Maryam Adrangi, the Council of Canadians’ Energy and Climate Campaigner, and Crystal Green, Michael Kannon and Nina Was’te of Idle No More. The forum was moderated by Susan McCrea of the Boreal Forest Network and held at the Mondragon Book Store and Coffee House.

Ken Harasym recorded and I edited this video report.


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.

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


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.


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.