Posts Tagged ‘Human Rights’

Francisca Linconao is a healer and a spiritual leader of the Mapuche, the largest of the indigenous peoples of Chile. On March 30, 2016 she was arrested along with ten others in connection with the killing of an elderly couple that had occurred January 4, 2013 in the midst of a demonstration on the couple’s farm. Those arrested were charged with murder, arson and terrorism and detained under Chile’s draconian Counter-Terrorist Act.

The only evidence linking the eleven accused to the killings was the testimony of one Jose Peralino (above, centre), who claimed he had participated in the attack and knew everyone involved. Peralino has since recanted, alleging police torture and coercion. His allegations are reportedly under investigation, but the eleven accused remain in custody, either in prison or – as is the case with Linconao, under house arrest.

The eleven maintain their innocence and are demanding a trial in order to prove it. Supporters have launched an international solidarity campaign and organizations such as Amnesty International have spoken out in their defence.

On June 24, 2017, Winnipeg supporters of Francisca Linconao held an evening of Solidarity at Broadway Disciples United Church. Here are some of the highlights.

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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.

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:


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.


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.



On July 9, 2005 , Palestinian civil society put out the call for an international campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions to compel the Israeli state to follow international law. Specifically, the signatories called on Israel to:

  1. End its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands occupied in June 1967 and dismantle the Wall;
  2. Recognize the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and
  3. Respect, protect and promote the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN Resolution 194.

The BDS campaign has been taken up by human rights activists around the world and there is some evidence that it is having an impact. For example, last month the Norwegian retail chain, VITA, announced it would stop all sales of products originating from settlements in occupied Palestine, including Ahava cosmetics. Also, last month, graduate students at Carleton University overwhelmingly voted in a referendum to call upon the university’s pension fund to divest from four companies that are complicit in the occupation of Palestine. The BDS campaign is being credited with the decision of the West London Waste Authority to exclude French multinational Veolia from a £485 million contract. Veolia helped build and is involved in operating a tram-line which links Jerusalem with illegal Israeli settlements in the Palestinian West Bank; it also takes waste from Israel and illegal  Israeli Settlements and dumps this on Palestinian land at the Tovlan landfill.

One measure of its effectiveness may be the passage of a law in the Israeli Knesset last year that facilitates attacks on supporters of BDS.  After all, if BDS were ineffective, there would be no reason to pass a law against it. According to the Jerusalem Post, the law “allows citizens to bring civil suits against persons and organizations that call for economic, cultural or academic boycotts against Israel, Israeli institutions or regions under Israeli control. It also prevents the government from doing business with companies that initiate or comply with such boycotts.”

“Can boycott, divestment and sanctions stop Israeli apartheid?” was the title of a forum held March 7, 2012 as part of Israeli Apartheid Week 2012 in Winnipeg. Featured speakers were Dalit Baum and Mostafa Henaway. Baum is an Israeli activist and co-founder of WhoProfits.org, a website that exposes corporate complicity in Israel’s subjugation of Palestinians. Henaway is a human rights activist who works with Tadamon! Montreal. Moderated by Lisa Stepnuk, the forum was sponsored by Students Against Israeli Apartheid and the Winnipeg Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid. As usual, I was there for Winnipeg Community TV to record the discussion.


Campaign to divest the Canada Pension Plan from complicity in Israeli Apartheid

The Ottawa-based Coalition to Oppose the Arms Trade has produced an invaluable resource that forms the first step in a campaign to compel the Canada Pension Plan to divest from companies that support Israeli apartheid. According to COAT’s co-ordinator, Richard Sanders,

“COAT’s research cites data from hundreds of sources to expose 64 corporations that have two things in common:

(1) they profit from links to Israeli government institutions, agencies and corporations that hide behind the euphemisms of “defence” and “homeland security,” and

(2) the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) held shares in these companies, with a market value of $1.4 billion in 2011.

You can learn more here.