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We need to talk about gun control now

6 October 2017 - 1:34am
Civil Liberties WatchPolitical ActionUS Politics

Another horrific mass shooting has occurred in the United States. On the night of October 1 in Las Vegas, a 64-year-old white man named Stephen Paddock opened fire from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino on more than 20,000 people attending a country music festival below. The death count at the time of this writing stands at 59, with 527 injured. The immediate response must be: How do we prevent another massacre? But that is exactly the debate the Trump administration wants to avoid.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders responded to the shooting from the podium of the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room -- named in memory of President Ronald Reagan's press secretary, who was shot and paralyzed during a 1981 assassination attempt on Reagan.

Huckabee Sanders said, "There's a time and place for a political debate."

Yes, that time is now.

As renowned public intellectual and author Naomi Klein tweeted: "Don't talk about guns after a massacre. Or climate change after storms. Or austerity after firetrap buildings burn. Talk when no one listens." While it is too late for the murder victims in Las Vegas, looking at a country where mass shootings were effectively ended over 20 years ago is instructive -- the historically gun-loving country of Australia.

On April 28, 1996, Martin Bryant took his AR-15 assault rifle into the southern Tasmanian tourist village of Port Arthur and proceeded to kill 35 men, women and children, injuring 23 more.

"It's important to remember that before Port Arthur, we [in Australia] had had a series of mass shootings, about one a year," Rebecca Peters told us on the Democracy Now! news hour. "Each time, there was a lot of discussion, noise, grief, prayers, anger, thoughts about what to do. But our politicians were sort of frozen, afraid to take action to reform the gun laws, even though there was plenty of expert advice."

Rebecca Peters led the movement in Australia to change the gun laws. She now works as an arms-control advocate with the International Action Network on Small Arms. "When Port Arthur occurred, the number of victims was so large, and also the fact that it was in a tourist location -- actually, not dissimilar from what's happened in Las Vegas -- so people from all over the country were directly affected. And we had this new conservative government. The prime minister just said: "This is it. We're done. We've been talking about this for years. It's time to take action."

Within two weeks, the 1996 National Firearms Agreement was announced, completely banning semi-automatic weapons, pump-action rifles and shotguns. It included a compulsory buy-back program that removed 650,000 guns from private hands. Since that time, there has not been a mass shooting in Australia.

Many are quick to point out that the Australian solution couldn't work in the U.S., not only because there are already over 300 million guns in circulation, but because the U.S. Constitution, as currently interpreted, protects the right to own guns.

But let's have the debate. Let's open the airwaves and the halls of Congress, the classrooms and the town squares, to a vigorous debate about gun violence and how to stop it. Disgraced former Fox News host and accused serial sexual harasser Bill O'Reilly wrote in a blog just hours after the Las Vegas massacre, "This is the price of freedom."

Stephen Paddock, the gun-rights advocates would argue, had the right to amass his lethal arsenal of, at last count, 42 firearms and thousands of rounds of ammunition -- all purchased, it seems, legally and with full background checks. But the 58 peaceful concertgoers he murdered in a blaze of automatic gunfire had every right to live, to enjoy their constitutionally protected rights. For these victims, the gun protectors offer "thoughts and prayers."

But there are those who do change their minds. Caleb Keeter, a guitarist in the Josh Abbott Band that played at the Las Vegas concert shortly before the massacre, wrote the following day: "I've been a proponent of the 2nd amendment my entire life. Until the events of last night. I cannot express how wrong I was...A small group (or one man) laid waste to a city with dedicated, fearless police officers desperately trying to help, because of access to an insane amount of fire power."

Columbine, the Aurora theater, Sandy Hook Elementary, Orlando's Pulse nightclub and now Las Vegas: the list of massacre sites will continue to grow, without end, until we have the debate and enact sensible gun control. And when we have that debate, let's remember the Port Arthur massacre as well.

This column was first published on Democracy Now!

Image: Flickr/Cory Doctorow

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US politicsgun controlLas Vegasmass shootingSecond AmendmentAmy GoodmanDenis MoynihanOctober 6, 2017Las Vegas attack not merely terrorism, but symptom of failed stateAfter nearly 530 were injured and 59 killed in yesterday's mass shooting in Las Vegas, the United States looks more and more like a failed state.I don't want to talk about gun controlRehashing old conversations about gun control will do nothing to prevent the massacre in Newtown, Connecticut from happening again. And we all know the next time is already on its way.Historic sit-in on floor of U.S. Congress calls for gun controlThe gun control debate took a historic turn Wednesday, as Democratic members of the U.S. House of Representatives staged the first sit-in in Congress history.

Canada rejects refugees, economically exploits the countries they come from

5 October 2017 - 3:19pm
Yves Engler

If you take a nation's mineral resources do you have a moral responsibility to also accept its people?

On Sunday about 40 people rallied outside a Montreal Metro station against deportations to Guinea. The protesters called on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to live up to his "Welcome to Canada" rhetoric and allow asylum seekers from the small West African nation to stay.

After a de-facto amnesty on deportations between 2013 and 2016, requests for asylum by Guineans have been refused en masse since December. According to the Refugee and Immigration Board, 10 Guineans in Canada have had their asylum rejected since June 30. Sixty-three claimants from the impoverished country are currently pending.

Rally organizers cited corporate Canada's exploitation of the mineral rich nation as a rationale for why asylum seekers should be allowed to stay. Certainly, in a number of ways, this country has contributed to the impoverishment that drives Guineans to seek a better life elsewhere.

A handful of Canadian mining companies operate in the small West African nation and to strengthen their hand Ottawa signed a Foreign Investment and Protection Agreement with Guinea in 2015. At least two Canadian resource companies have engendered significant conflict and controversy in Guinea.

Those living near SEMAFO's Kiniero mine, reported Guinée News in 2014, felt "the Canadian company brought more misfortune than benefits." In 2008 the military killed three in a bid to drive away small-scale miners from its mine in southeast Guinea. BBC Monitoring Africa reported "the soldiers shot a woman at close range, burned a baby and in the panic another woman and her baby fell into a gold mining pit and a man fell fatally from his motor while running away from the rangers." Blaming the Montréal-based company for the killings, locals damaged its equipment.

In September 2011 protests flared again over the company's failure to hire local young people and the dissolution of a committee that spent community development monies. Demonstrators attacked SEMAFO's facilities, causing hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage. Some also targeted a bus carrying company employees, prompting the authorities to evacuate all expatriate staff to Bamako in neighbouring Mali.

In 2014 the Guinean government's Comité Technique de Revue des Titres et Conventions Miniers concluded that the Montréal firm evaded $9.6 million in tax. The Comité Technique also found that the company failed "to produce detailed feasibility studies" and was not "in compliance with new measures in the 2011 mining code." The Comité Technique recommended that SEMAFO be fined and stripped of its mining rights in the country. Later that year SEMAFO sold the Kiniero mine.

Canadian mining interest in the country dates back to the colonial period. In 1916 Montreal-based Alcan started exploring in Guinea and a dozen years later began operating through a French subsidiary. In 1938 Alcan opened a bauxite mine on the Island of Tamara in the Isles de Los. (In 1904 London gave the island -- and some other African territory -- to France in exchange for its relinquishment of fishing rights in Newfoundland, which included the right to dry cod on land.) To construct a wharf on this island just off the coast of Conakry the Canadian company turned to the colonial penal system with most of the 170 workmen pressed into service from the local penitentiary.

Fifteen years later Alcan opened a modern plant on the island to supply its smelters in Québec. Les Mines et la Recherche Minière en Afrique Occidentale Française describes the island just off the Guinea coast as "a Canadian enclave" at the beginning of production in 1951. Alcan employed some 1,200 workers to build the site with the African labourers paid 5,000 francs ($20 CAD) a month.

In 1953 the director of mines for French West Africa granted Alcan exclusive prospecting rights over 2,000 square kilometres of territory in Western Guinea. The company discovered one of the richest bauxite deposits in the world in the Boké region. During a 1956 visit to France's West African colonies Canada's ambassador to France, Jean Désy, inspected the nascent Boké site.

After Guinea's 1958 independence the Boké project became highly contentious. In January 1961 much of the workforce went on a weeklong strike to demand the dismissal of a dozen white managers. Later that year the mine was nationalized. In Negotiating the Bauxite/Aluminium Sector under Narrowing Constraints Bonnie K. Campbell notes, "in November 1961, the government took possession of the Kassa and Boké sites because of the failure of the private firm, Les Bauxites du Midi (a 100 per cent subsidiary of Alcan) to observe its agreement to transform locally bauxite to alumina by 1964." When the government voided its contract, Alcan illegally secreted out company files from Guinea.

Alcan (now Rio Tinto Alcan) maintains a presence in the country with the largest known bauxite reserves in the world. While Guinea has extracted significant quantities of the mineral, it has almost all been refined into aluminum elsewhere.

Conversely, bauxite isn't mined in Canada, but this country has long been among the leading producers of the valuable metal. Dependent on cheap electricity from dams built on indigenous land, Québec aluminum smelters have refined significant amounts of Guinean bauxite. The divide between bauxite/aluminum and its extraction/production has traditionally reflected an extremely hierarchical world economy -- shaped by the transatlantic slave trade, European colonialism, structural adjustment, etc. -- in which the poor provide the minerals and those at the top carry out the value-added production.

The exploitation of Guinean resources in this fashion has quite clearly benefited Canadian corporations and created jobs in this country rather than in the place where the bauxite originated.

Therefore the answer to the question posed at the beginning of this article is yes. Ottawa's role in shaping the hierarchical international economic system and corporate Canada's extraction of Guinean resources should be factors considered in assessing every Guinean's request for asylum in this country. 

Image: Flickr/Takver

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Environment commissioner tells Trudeau to get cracking on climate change

5 October 2017 - 6:00am
October 5, 2017EnvironmentPolitics in CanadaEnvironment commissioner tells Trudeau to get cracking on climate changeJustin Trudeau signed the Paris accord with much enthusiasm. He has been much slower to act on reducing greenhouse gas emissionsCanadian environment2015 paris climate conferenceemission targets

Alberta NDP MLA and a UCP leadership candidate depart respective positions

5 October 2017 - 12:52am
David J. Climenhaga

There were two political departures in Alberta yesterday, one that will probably be the subject of too much mainstream analysis, and the other that is unlikely to get enough.

The first was the departure from the NDP backbenches of Calgary MLA Karen McPherson to sit an independent, which will probably get more ink than it deserves because it can be made to fit the prevailing media narrative of the fate and future of Premier Rachel Notley's government.

The second was the departure of former Wildrose Party president Jeff Callaway from the contest to lead the United Conservative Party, which given the purpose of his candidacy in the first place probably warrants more study than it is likely to get.

Both are likely to spend only a little time on Alberta's political radar.

McPherson, MLA for Calgary-Mackay-Nose Hill, was one of the government caucus members from traditionally conservative Calgary elected en masse in the May 5, 2015, general election. She has kept a fairly low profile in caucus and, while her social media announcement yesterday morning she was leaving was unexpected, it did not come as a complete shock to caucus insiders.

At any rate, her decision to go was greeted with a surprising amount of empathy by some NDP MLAs, who seemed to respect her personal feelings even if they were not happy with her decision to quit.

McPherson didn't exactly slam Notley's government in her published note -- "I wish nothing but the best for them" -- but expressed her disquiet with the polarized state of Alberta's provincial politics and gently criticized the government for not having a plan to eliminate the province's deficit.

Whether such a plan involves the wholesale destruction of public services, as is apparently contemplated by the United Conservative Party, or recognition of the province's continuing revenue problem in an era of low oil prices, this is a fair observation.

The northwest Calgary MLA's concerns about polarization, as many observers noted, were not unlike those of former Progressive Conservative and United Conservative Party MLA Rick Fraser, who left the UCP Caucus two weeks ago, also to sit as an independent, criticizing his last party's divisive approach to politics and lack of grace and compassion.

Naturally, with five standalone MLAs already in the Legislature, four of them apparently trying to position themselves as a centrist alternative to both the NDP and the UCP, McPherson's decision aroused speculation that with her along, any three of Alberta Party Leader Greg Clark, legacy PC MLA Richard Starke, lone Liberal MLA David Swann and the independent Fraser they would add up to enough members to achieve official party status if they could overcome their differences.

The odd independent out is train-wreck "Liberty Conservative" Derek Fildebrandt, the UCP's answer to Lemony Snicket, sidelined by a series of unfortunate events that included being caught with his taxpayer subsidized apartment for rent on Airbnb, filing erroneous expense claims, and being charged by police with leaving the scene of a minor accident in his pickup truck. A traffic court decision in the latter matter is expected on December 18.

McPherson's departure will not make re-election of the NDP easier in Calgary -- which is expected to be the key battleground in the Alberta general election expected in 2019.

As for Callaway, he was pressed into service rather late in the UCP leadership race as stalking horse for front-runner Jason Kenney, the role for which Fildebrandt was originally intended.

This candidate's principal job was to level a stream of harsh and embarrassing criticisms at former Wildrose Leader Brian Jean, who is Kenney's only serious competition for the job of UCP leader, while the frontrunner stood back from the fray.

In this role, Callaway performed adequately, and can be expected to continue to do so from the sidelines, but never delivered the entertaining fireworks that had been anticipated from the bombastic Fildebrandt.

Callaway had cast himself in the role of the party's big idea guy, which is a scary thought seeing his biggest idea seemed to be for Alberta to buy the remote and bleak Hudson's Bay port of Churchill, Manitoba, to be the terminus of an oil pipeline that avoided the inconveniently environmentally energized populations of British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec. Never mind that Hudson's Bay could only be expected to stand in as navigable tidewater most of the time thanks to global climate change, a reality the UCP would be just as happy not to acknowledge.

Callaway's departure comes just in time to save his financial benefactors -- whomever they may be -- the final $37,500 needed to pay off his $95,000 entry fee to the pricey UCP leadership race. Having behaved himself, he expects to get back the $20,000 good-behaviour bond included in the original payment. Predictably, he endorsed Kenney as he went out the door.

According to the Calgary Herald, Kenney called Callaway a man of integrity.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

Image: Bob Hawkesworth

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You can’t spend an afternoon reading a tote bag​

4 October 2017 - 9:42am
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We are almost there! Readers have pitched in $43,000 towards our $50,000 fundraiser goal. In these final days of our campaign, you can help take us over the top -- and you can still get these great books -- but sorry, no tote bags here.

If you visit rabble the odds are you like to read. So when we do a fundraiser we want to thank people who support independent progressive media with something they can really sink their teeth in.

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'A reckless provocation’: Diplomacy the only rational solution with North Korea, says historian Luc Walhain

4 October 2017 - 4:15am
Chris Walker

The escalating war of words between Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un has received mainstream news attention in the last few months, but much of it eludes the historical complexities of the North Korean regime, and its relations with its neighbours, according to Luc Walhain, Associate Professor of History at St. Thomas University and an expert on modern Korean history. Journalist Chris Walker caught up with him to provide greater context.

CW: North Korea recently referred to the U.S. as engaging in “reckless provocations.” One can easily think of Donald’s Trump’s rhetoric, his “fire and fury like the world has never seen” comment. Is North Korea simply reacting to rhetorical flourish or are there more substantial concerns that justify the term “provocations?”

LW: North Korea’s communiqués have consistently been inflammatory and colourful, but the North’s regime has said so many times that it would turn Seoul into a sea of fire – or something along those lines – that it’s hard to imagine that there is more than one volume setting on its disagreement lexicon: high. This being said, the North Koreans would be right to describe Donald Trump’s off-the-cuff statements like “they will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen” as reckless provocation, if they were referring to this North Koreanesque sentence. 

Indeed, Pyongyang may find what comes out of Trump’s mouth irritating, but was more alarmed by the military exercises that took place south of the 38th parallel this past August.  As in the past, the Ulchi-Freedom Guardian joint exercises involved tens of thousands of American and South Korean troops in land, sea and air drills.  While the U.S. characterized those exercises as a deterrent against North Korean aggression, it’s worth appreciating that North Koreans may actually see them as a dry run for an invasion against them. They have some ground to be suspicious: besides American threats, such as “to totally destroy North Korea,” the South Korean government just announced a plan to create a special “decapitation unit.” Even though this concept has been mostly talk until now, we have learned that it will be established by the end of the year.

CW: Doug Bandow of the CATO Institute, in an interview with the CBC, made several disconcerting comments. He suggested that if one wants to “bring North Korea to its knees,” tougher sanctions, such as “cutting off energy and cutting off food,” might not work because the North Korean regime is quite willing to “sacrifice its own population” in order to survive. He then adds that if these sanctions are not imposed, however, North Korea will most certainly continue to pursue nuclear weapons. Can you respond?

LW: We have here a Senior Fellow at the CATO Institute suggesting that a genocide is acceptable “for the greater good,” even though he has serious doubts that it will accomplish that purpose.  I hope he doesn’t have the ear of the U.S. government.

CW: Michael Auslin, from the Hoover Institution, in the same interview, comments that nothing short of “force” will compel North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons. He goes on to say that “we’ve tried coercion, that doesn’t work, we’ve tried bribery, that doesn’t work, and we’ve certainly tried engagement, and that doesn’t work.” In Auslin’s view, “we’ve” tried everything in good faith and failed because of “them.” Is that true? Does the historical record support these claims?

LW: Michael Auslin is probably correct to say that North Korea will only give up its nuclear weapons if it’s “forced” to do so.  At this point, I don’t see how one could de-nuclearize North Korea without overthrowing its current regime.  And this would likely lead to war, a colossal death toll, massive destruction, and a long-lasting uncertainty in that region of the world.  But why does Auslin conclude this is the only option left?  Suggesting that “we’ve tried everything in good faith, and it hasn’t worked” is either disingenuous or misinformed.

For nine years, the 1994 US-DPRK Agreed Framework halted Pyongyang’s plutonium processing.  In 1998, the Sunshine Policy initiated by South Korean President Kim Dae-jung led to an unprecedented détente on the Korean peninsula and to the strengthening of inter-Korean economic cooperation and relations. Unfortunately, as soon as he was sworn in as U.S. President, George W. Bush declared his opposition to those constructive developments, in effect, taking away any chance of continuing rapprochement.  The Six-Party agreements of 2005 and 2007 later showed that even a hawkish U.S. administration acknowledged that engagement was the realistic approach.

For all its faults, North Korea is not the only one to be blamed.  Over the past three decades, the changes of administration — and thereby policies re. the Korean conundrum — in the six countries involved have made it difficult to maintain the delicate balance necessary to work towards a diplomatic solution. But saying that engagement has never worked is simply false.

CW: Michael Auslin argues that U.S. security guarantees were originally given in the context of the Cold War when the U.S. was facing an “existential threat” vis-à-vis international communism. Now, with the collapse of communist Russia, the original strategic purpose of containing communism no longer exists. Further, Auslin argues, it’s difficult to rationalize the costs involved in defending South Korea, particularly in light of how wealthy and robust the South Korean economy has become since the 1950s. Can you talk about this version of events? As a historian, does this story pass muster, or is it lacking in balance and nuance?

LW: The so-called “domino theory” may no longer apply in today’s global context, but, during the Cold War, containing communism was only one amongst several reasons to keep hundreds of U.S. military bases across the world, (including at least 60,000 U.S. troops in Northeast Asia alone since WWII).  The U.S. military presence abroad continues to allow the U.S. government to achieve American policy in the world, and it protects access to resources and markets, as well as American interests.  The threat of a conquering communism may be gone, but empires don’t readily relinquish their means of hegemony.  Therefore, it’s unlikely that the U.S. will want to leave East Asia while China demonstrates growing self-confidence in the region. And a bellicose North Korea is a valuable excuse to justify a continued American military presence.  

CW: What salient events of the last 70 years really stick out for thinking about the current conflict?  

LW: Answering this question is difficult, because so many important events have contributed to the current crisis.  There have been serious battles between the two Koreas, and they often involved the United States over the past 70 years. The first one is the Korean War itself.  It still resonates strongly amongst Koreans.  Most North Koreans literally lived underground, while U.S. planes carpet-bombed their country incessantly.  After the signing of a ceasefire in 1953, most of the confrontations were not actual military engagements, but acts of verbal and strategic posturing.  

There is a long list of provocations and retaliatory responses coming from both sides of the 38th parallel, and one could conclude that there is no peaceful way out of this situation.  However, I would rather point out two events which suggest that, with goodwill on all sides, things could become untangled surprisingly fast.

In 1984, as South Korea (still ruled by a U.S.-backed military dictatorship) was struck by devastating floods, Pyongyang offered to deliver relief goods – incredibly, they were accepted by the South.  In the aftermath, Seoul and Pyongyang discussed ways to establish economic ties, and plans to allow families that had been separated since the Korean War to meet again at the DMZ.

The second set of events I wish to mention is the 1997 and 2002 elections, to the South Korean presidency, of Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun, respectively.  Kim, a former dissident, had fought for South Korea’s democratization for decades, and Roh Moo-hyun was a human rights lawyer.  Both made rapprochement with North Korea one of their governments’ central policies, but unfortunately, their efforts were systematically sabotaged by the administration of Georges W. Bush.  Even so, during their tenures, Koreans witnessed two historic summits between the leaders of North and South Korea, and concrete economic and family ties were re-established.

CW: The background and historical context you’ve covered really changes how we might want to think about this situation. Do you recommend any specific historians, journals or media sources that interested people could turn to for more information and analysis? 

LW: As suggested in my replies above, a better understanding of the last 70 years in East Asia is key to ensuring that the premises we base our future policies are solid.  I would therefore encourage people interested in the topic to read historians of modern Korea, such as Charles Armstrong, Andrei Lankov and Bruce Cumings.  For those interested in getting a South Korean media perspective, mainstream Korean newspapers have pages with their leading stories translated into English, e.g. the Dong-A Ilbo and the hankyoreh.

CW: Thank you for your time and sharing your insights Luc, it’s been a pleasure!

LW: Thank you, Chris, for challenging the “there is no alternative” (Ms. Thatcher’s favourite slogan “TINA”) bellicose publicity aimed at grooming the public for war.  The human disasters caused by military campaigns launched since 2000 alone demonstrate there is no alternative but to work towards political resolutions.

Chris Walker writer for NB Media Coop, where this interview first ran. It is reprinted with permission.

Image: Maj. R.V. Spencer, UAF (Navy). U.S. Army Korea/National Archives/Wikimedia Commons

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Water blessing increases appreciation for public ownership

3 October 2017 - 8:57pm
Doreen Nicoll

I spent the last week of August secluded away at a cottage on Fairy Lake. Touted as one of the jewels of the Muskoka region of Ontario, Fairy Lake is also the gateway to Algonquin Park. But, I did absolutely no exploring of the lake -- content to sit in a Muskoka chair mesmerized by the water as it transitioned through its day, evening and into its night.

Calm in the early morning churned into action by rainfall or the odd passing motor boat, a natural mirror for the glorious setting sun, and virtually indistinguishable from the dark sky once night fell, Fairy Lake was very much alive and exuding restorative energy. Yet, far too often, we take water for granted and waste or misuse it.

On Sunday, September 10 I was privileged to be invited to a Water Blessing. Organized by the Unitarian Congregation of Guelph (UCG), Ontario and facilitated by Arlene Slocombe, executive director of the Wellington Water Watchers (WWW), the hour long celebration had me seeing water in an entirely new light.

Paul, a member of the congregation, provided the Territorial Acknowledgement that opened the ceremony; "We acknowledge we are on the treaty lands of the Mississaugas of New Credit First Nation of the Anishinaabe peoples. During our region's rich Indigenous history, these lands have been home to the Chonnonton peoples, the Haudenosaunee, the Anishinaabe and the Métis. We express gratitude for the sharing of these lands. We also acknowledge the tragic history between first peoples and newcomers. We strive to be accountable by acknowledging this history and cultivating respect in our relationships with Indigenous peoples and the land."

Two dozen people comprised our spiritual circle. We were an eclectic group of five children and two young adults with the remainder made up of middle aged and older adults. Women and girls out-numbered men and boys six to one.

Perhaps this is how it should be because traditional First Nation teachings maintain women have a sacred connection to water or nibi. In many developing countries women and girls are responsible for collecting and carrying water from a central well or spring often travelling miles before reaching home. This inter-connectedness with water is something that we in the western settler culture take for granted and in some cases have completely forgotten. Water ceremonies help us reconnect to our history and responsibilities.

Slocombe told us of her intimate relationship with life giving water, "I come from the waters of Justina Dales (my mother), who comes from the waters of Grace O'Mailey (my grandmother), who comes from the waters of Margaret Moir (my great grandmother), who comes from a long line of mothers birthing children from their waters stretching back to the beginning of time."

"I have 2 daughters who have come from my waters and perhaps one day they will birth forth others from their waters in a long line into the future. I place myself on that continuum of women who carry waters of creation. My role here is as caretaker of these waters, and the waters we witness in our rivers, lakes and wetlands and the rain from the skies and the reserves in aquifers deep below the grounds are inextricably linked with the waters we ourselves carry. My health and theirs are intertwined. When I pray for the health of our rivers, I also pray for all of our health."

Slocombe shared with us her daily practice of extending gratitude to the river that passes close to her home. She often includes her daughters in these rituals so they too learn to acknowledge all life comes from water.

Then, it was time for each of us to share a brief story from our memories about water and the importance or special meaning that water conveyed. That's when Paul reminded us not everyone has access to water in its liquid form.

"Years ago, I had the pleasure of working in what is now Nunavut (Baffin and Ellesmere Islands, Resolute Bay), sharing that work with several Inuit people on wildlife surveys, in winter, spring, summer and fall," Paul told us.

"Ice is the defining form of water in the arctic. Ecosystems and Inuit culture and livelihoods depend on frozen oceans. Seals, walrus, whales and fish form the majority of the diet in the arctic islands. The Arctic cod and their food, amphipods and other invertebrates, drive the food chain of the under-ice ecosystem. The Ringed Seal, a staple in the Inuit diet, lives under the frozen ice all winter breathing through small holes it maintains. Hunting depends on travel across sea ice most of the year. Hunting from boats is a fairly short lived activity. Ice and snow are fundamental facts of life in ways southerners cannot imagine."

Each of us was then invited to pour water we had brought with us into a communal vessel. These waters held special meaning for each of us. My contribution came from my backyard pond home to countless small rocks and pebbles I've brought home from the various bodies of water I visit each summer. This summer's collection was sourced from Fairy Lake.

My pond is a teaming with life. Bulrushes have crowded out other plants and provide camouflage for the raccoon, possum, skunk, birds and immeasurable crawling and flying insects that drink from it. This life giving water imbued with the energy from a variety of lakes and rivers that have washed over these rocks and pebbles was my way of adding vital energy to our communal offering. 

Once the waters had time to mingle they were gently released into the Eramosa River to share their energies as they undertook a new journey.

According to Melissa Horvath-Lucid, "Many within our community are involved in water protection and conservation activism. They spoke up against the plans and actions of Nestlé and the mega quarry that was proposed near Unicamp, which was successfully defeated. Our principles call us to action and to a deeper and intimate understanding of the interconnectedness of all things growing awareness and gratitude for the responsibility we have to care for this shared life giving element. Our relationship with water is one that must be explored, nurtured and invested in."

The WWW, a non-profit organization primarily run by volunteer citizens from Guelph-Wellington, are committed to protecting local water and educating the public about threats to watersheds throughout Ontario.

"October 16 marks one year since the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change announced the decision that put Nestlé's application for a Middlebrook well on hold. The moratorium was welcome as a step in the right direction," said Mike Nagy, chairperson of WWW.

He cautions, "The decision to impose a moratorium is only a temporary measure and is not a commitment to protecting our ground water for the long-term. In January 2019 the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change could decide to renew Nestlé’s applications in Aberfolye and Hillsburgh and approve Nestlé's application for the Middlebrook well. We must convince Premier Kathleen Wynne before the next provincial election in June 2018, to 'Say No To Nestlé' and announce a phase out of permits to bottle water in Ontario."

WWW support water as a basic human right and are fighting for clean water for everyone in the world through their efforts to:

  • Phase out the bottled water industry in Ontario within ten years
  • Respect the duty to consult Indigenous communities
  • Safeguard public ownership and control of water including prohibiting private/public partnerships known as P3's
  • Ensure public access to water by requiring public facilities to make drinking water available via drinking fountains

You can find out about future WWW events at wellingtonwaterwatchers.ca, join their newsletter list, or go to saynotonestle.ca to join the campaign.

A version of this article first appeared in NOW Magazine on September 28, 2017.

Image: Facebook/Wellington Wate Watchers

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"Unarmed Verses" sees potential blooming amid precarity

3 October 2017 - 7:21pm
Doreen Nicoll

"Poetry to me is an unofficial language that speaks to your soul. Like a river to your heart. It feels like looking into the eye of a waterfall. I want to create that waterfall."  – Francine Valentine, 12 years old.

Charles Officer's 2016 documentary, Unarmed Verses, chronicles the life of Francine Valentine, her family and her community at a time when urban revitalization threatens their already tenuous daily survival.

Francine Alicia Valentine was born in Antigua in 2002. At the age of four year, Valentine moved to Canada with her father. In the film Valentine lives with her father in the house her grandmother, Keturah Francis, rents from Toronto Community Housing (TCH) in what was then known as the community of Villaways.

Valentine knows people her regard her neighbourhood as dirty and worn down. That's why the 1970s housing complex is slated for revitalization. But, it soon becomes clear to Valentine and many other Villaways residents that the lavish condominium and townhouse units replacing their 121 townhomes are not meant for them. Most, if not all, current TCH renters will neither qualify to return to a subsidized townhouse unit nor be able to afford to purchase one of the new condo units starting between $300,000 to $1.5 million.

This revelation is just one more in a long line of challenges Valentine faces on a daily basis. Thankfully, the Villaways Art Studio offers Valentine, and all the children in the complex, a reprieve from the reality of living precariously.

Run by Program Director Carleen Robinson, the art studio gives the kids living in Villaways a safe place to share some food, create poetry and music or just chill.

Musician and music instructor Krystal Chance is instrumental in helping the kids learn to reach further and take chances in order to reach their goals. Valentine really blooms with Chance's encouragement.

Valentine starts out shy and insecure because as she states, "It's kind of hard to find your voice around here because there are just so many other perspectives and you just don't know if yours is good enough."

But, with the help of Robinson and the encouragement of Chance, Valentine eventually faces her fear of failure head on and records the beginnings of a song she's been composing.

Far too insightful for one so young, Valentine reminds us, "We all have a voice. We just have to find different ways how to use them."

Officer's film focuses on the strengths that exist in communities like Villaways. While young men like rappers Sydney Duff and Lavane Kelly are seen and heard encouraging and mentoring Valentine, the film focuses its lens on the essential roles women and girls play in the community. In particular, it highlights the connections between the women in Valentine's life as well as the networks between those women and the children in the community, and the bonds between the neghbourhood girls.

Unarmed Verses is a stark reminder of how easy forced relocation of marginalized segments of society remains even when it tears apart vital networks and support programs including those that empower youth and give them an outlet and a voice.

Named Best Canadian Feature Documentary at Hot Docs 2017, Charles Officer's powerful National Film Board of Canada production Unarmed Verses returns to the big screen in Toronto at the Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema, 506 Bloor St. W.

  • Friday, October 6 includes Q&A with producer Lea Marin and guests from the film following the 6:30 p.m. screening.
  • Monday, October 9 includes Q&A with director Charles Officer and guests from the film following the 8:30 p.m. screening.

The Vancouver International Film Festival is screening Unarmed Verses.

  • Wednesday, October 4 at 1:00 p.m., at Simon Fraser University’s Goldcorp Centre for the Arts.
  • Friday, October 6 at 6:00 p.m. at the Rio Theatre.

2016 | 1 hour 25 minutes

Image: Vimeo/NFB/marketing

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Bye-bye, bug splatter: Is this the new silent spring?

3 October 2017 - 6:05pm
David Suzuki

Masses of monarch butterflies fluttering across Toronto's waterfront. Painted ladies (often mistaken for monarchs) descending on Montreal. Combined with the hottest September ever recorded in the Great Lakes region, it's been a strange time in Eastern Canada. We should savour the joys of these captivating critters while we can, because their future -- and that of insects generally -- is uncertain.

Many Ontarians noticed this year's unexpected monarch bounty. It's difficult to determine population size during migration, but after two decades of fewer and fewer sightings, the number of monarchs this summer has been astounding. Hundreds of thousands are now flitting to Point Pelee, where they congregate, before heading across Lake Ontario to begin their 4,000-kilometre journey back to the alpine Mexican forests, where their great-great-great grandparents began in March.

Why have monarchs had such a stellar summer? For the past few years, they've faced a number of climate-related calamities, from winter storms in Mexico to scorching heat in their breeding grounds in Texas, the U.S. Midwest and Southern Canada. Widespread herbicide and pesticide use has been linked to dramatic declines in monarchs and the milkweed host plants they depend on.

This year they've had great conditions throughout their journey. Even the weirdly wet summer that put Toronto Island and many beaches underwater appeared to be a boon, as it ensured wildflowers were in full bloom, providing plentiful nectar to fuel their return trip.

The painted ladies stopover story is different, though also related to strange summer weather. Scientists believe shifting weather patterns and winds pushed the thousands of butterflies that descended on the Montreal area to the ground by as they migrated from the northern boreal region to the southern United States.

The unexpected appearance of charming critters like monarchs and painted ladies could cloud a greater issue: the dramatic loss of less alluring insect species, such as moths, fireflies, beetles and hover flies. Monarchs and honeybees have increasingly been in the media spotlight, but as University of New Brunswick ecologist Joe Nocera noted in a recent Science magazine article, "We have a pretty good track record of ignoring most noncharismatic species."

In the article, writer Gretchen Vogel describes what entomologists call "the windscreen phenomenon." Many people recall having to clean bugs from car windshields during drives through farmland and countryside. Today, it seems drivers everywhere are spending less time scrubbing and scraping.

Although bug splatter reduction is anecdotal, a growing body of research shows many once-common insects are declining. A study published in Science found most known invertebrate populations have dropped by 45 per cent over the past four decades. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds reports the U.K. has seen a 59 per cent decline in insects since 1970. Global estimates point to a 40 per cent reduction of all pollinating insects.

As reporter Tom Spears asks in an Ottawa Citizen article, "So, who cares about bugs?" It's a fair question. Many of us were raised to disdain, or even fear, critters. Numerous species remain unloved or fly below our radar.

As we learn in elementary school, honeybees and wild bees pollinate much of our food. We are now coming to grips with the alarming consequences of losing pollinators, even if it's been difficult to diagnose the multiple causes. Insects also provide a host of other essential services, from making soil healthy and controlling pests to being a nutritious food source for birds. A 2006 study suggests wild insects provide ecological services worth $57 billion annually.

Beyond any economic value, these species are irreplaceable parts of the natural world. We must acknowledge and remedy their quiet decline before we experience the next "silent spring," a term popularized by scientist Rachel Carson, who noticed in the 1960s that widespread pesticide use was killing songbirds.

As we move into fall, I encourage you to take note of the bugs in your life. Many are now flitting to warmer climates or crawling into crevices and burrows to wait out the winter. Given the rapidly changing climate, we don't know what impact the next hurricane, Arctic vortex or 35 degrees Celsius September day will have on charismatic and not-quite-as-appealing insects. So, savour the moment, monarch lovers. And let's redouble our efforts to make our communities more green and resilient.

Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Butterflyway Project Manager Jode Roberts.

Learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org.

Image: Wikimedia Commons/Samuel

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A renegotiated NAFTA that satisfies Trump would benefit the U.S., but never Canada

3 October 2017 - 10:08am
October 3, 2017EconomyPolitics in CanadaUS PoliticsA renegotiated NAFTA that satisfies Trump would benefit the U.S., but never Canada Instead of being troubled by Donald Trump's threat to withdraw from NAFTA, Chrystia Freeland should be preparing to withdraw insteadCanada and NAFTADonald Trump on NAFTANAFTA

Jagmeet Singh evokes hope, but must court blue-collar voters and Quebec

2 October 2017 - 11:30am
October 2, 2017Jagmeet Singh evokes hope, but must court blue-collar voters and QuebecThe new NDP leader spoke of 'love and courage' in his victory speech after winning in the first ballot

Why I couldn't stop watching the PBS' Vietnam War series

30 September 2017 - 6:18am
Arts & CultureMedia MattersUS Politics

I get lots of left wing stuff via the internet, mostly from the U.S. I read it because I consider myself basically left, and it contains types of criticism you don't find elsewhere. The negative reactions to Ken Burns' 10-part PBS series, The Vietnam War, have been copious. One writer said he wouldn't bother watching but proceeded to rip the show apart anyway.

The basis for hostility includes the fact that among donors listed are the right wing Koch brothers and Bank of America. (Leftists like to say the P in PBS stands for Pentagon or Petroleum.) They retch over the early-on statement that the war "was begun in good faith, by decent people, out of fateful misunderstandings." I concur, why hang around after that fatuous lying piety? Besides, I've always found Burns' stuff -- jazz, Civil War -- pompous and dull.

So I tried surfing past it (I still tend to watch TV shows on TV) and each time, got hooked and stayed. Even if there was a Leafs-Habs game on (albeit an exhibition, but still Leafs-Habs) or a U.S. debate on health care, with Bernie -- always such a relief in these times. This is the true test of a work: does it grip you so you can't escape? It;s not whether you agree, nor whether it's artful and brilliant. The question is: are you snagged? Reasoned analysis follows.

Maybe they tossed in that stupid line to siphon money from the Kochs. But they immediately leave it behind, as art often does. I worked with one great documentary maker, Allan King, and he could be like that. He'd say what he thought about one of his films; then you'd watch it and see something very different, possibly the opposite. His film spoke for itself and argued with him.

The Vietnam War abandons that early thesis and in fact all theses. It has multiple perspectives, it lays them out almost randomly, not bothering to reconcile them or even segue between. That jibes with my own experience at the time. I was in the U.S. for almost the entire 1960s, the last six years in New York. I was at events like the siege of the Pentagon, the Chicago Democratic convention, the eruption after the Cambodia invasion.

During the latter, I was feverishly involved in protest, at the New School in the Village. One day I went uptown. On the subway you saw men in suits, tears pouring down their faces, in confusion about what was happening. Then I got off at 57th, went up to the street and everything looked...normal. People going to lunch or jobs. They weren't consumed (though some came from Madison Avenue after work to help us propagandize against the war).

I was at 1968's Columbia University uprising and though the campus was shut down, legions of pro-war students marched too. Unionized construction workers savagely beat anti-war students. A high majority backed shooting protesters at Kent State University.

A collage technique makes sense with this kind of multiplexity. You use anything you have that rings true and allow viewers to draw conclusions, if they wish. You're not being comprehensive but if something definitive happens to emerge, that's OK. So what if the filmmaker has an opinion too? A U.S. doctor imprisoned for years, comes home, thrills at miniskirts, wants a Coke above all; his wife has become anti-war, their marriage ends -- all to Ray Charles' impossibly complex rendering of America the Beautiful, though it too fades appropriately.

What's the alternative to collage? It's thesis documentary, like Michael Moore's films. They're structured to make a predetermined point; you might agree but you also feel manipulated (like Moore harassing the somewhat addled Charlton Heston in Bowling for Columbine).

Shows like 60 Minutes and The Fifth Estate do that: everything leads to an "accountability" moment. In fact, that's how documentary began. John Grierson invented the term and wanted art to be a hammer, not a mirror. Burns' Vietnam series is more like a hall of mirrors.

There's an exquisite (to me) section near the end about the Vietnam memorial, tearful but from every possible "side." Then it goes all trite again, precisely because it tries to draw overarching conclusions: "But meaning can be found in the individual stories of those who lived through it." Maybe they tossed that in for the funders too. It's only when it tries to be meaningful that it fails.

This column was first published in the Toronto Star.

Image: Frank Wolfe

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Ken BurnsPBSVietnam WarU.S. politicsKoch brothersRick SalutinSeptember 30, 2017Award-winning new doc on anti-war movement of soldiers in VietnamAn in-depth interview with David Zieger, director of "Sir, No Sir," a remarkable new documentary about the GI movement -- the anti-war movement of active-duty soldiers and veterans.Let's remember the lessons of the Vietnam WarThe Vietnam War ended 35 years ago. The WWW seems to have mostly missed the story.From Vietnam to ISIS: Canada needs to apologizeEven as Canada enters the next stage of its two front wars, it would be good to pause and apologize for the unspeakable grief we have caused to the people of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.

By taking a knee, Kaepernick sparked a movement for justice

29 September 2017 - 12:34am
Anti-RacismPolitical ActionUS Politics

rabble is excited to be hositng Amy Goodman in Toronto on October 1. More details here.

A year ago last August, a courageous athlete named Colin Kaepernick took a stand -- by refusing to stand. The San Francisco 49ers star quarterback sat through the national anthem before an NFL game. "I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of [colour]," he told NFL.com.

"This is bigger than football...There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder," he added, referring to the growing number of African-American men gunned down by police with impunity. Much like Rosa Parks, Colin Kaepernick sat down and refused to get up. And like Rosa Parks on that Montgomery bus more than 60 years ago, Colin Kaepernick has sparked a movement.

"What Colin did was not an attack on the anthem. It was not an attack on the military. It was not even an attack on police. It was an attack on injustice," Dr. Harry Edwards said on the Democracy Now! news hour. Edwards wrote the seminal book The Revolt of the Black Athlete, just reissued on the 50th anniversary of its publication. His academic career as a UC Berkeley sociologist focused on the experience of African-American athletes. He is a respected civil-rights activist and adviser to the San Francisco 49ers, where he advised Colin Kaepernick.

Last spring, Kaepernick voluntarily left the 49ers. He has not yet been signed by another team. Many feel he has been blacklisted -- or should we say, "whitelisted" -- as punishment for his protest, which lasted throughout the 2016-2017 football season.

Despite Kaepernick's absence, scores of players from across the country have "taken a knee" during the anthem. The growing protest movement on the field, in solidarity with people of colour and social-justice movements like Black Lives Matter, against police brutality and the police killing of young, unarmed African-American men was too much for President Donald Trump to take.

At a rally in Hunstville, Alabama on Friday, September 22, Trump said, "Wouldn't you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, 'Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out. He's fired. He's fired!'" He got the desired response, cheers of "USA! USA!" from his base.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement, "Divisive comments like these demonstrate an unfortunate lack of respect...and a failure to understand the overwhelming force for good our clubs and players represent in our communities." The NFL has 32 teams; of the 30 that played over the weekend following Trump's comments, all engaged in some form of protest in solidarity with the players who have chosen to sit or kneel during the anthem.

Some raised a fist in the Black Power salute; others simply sat on the bench. Some white players (who comprise 27 per cent of NFL players, compared with 70 per cent African-Americans) placed a hand on the shoulder of a protesting teammate. Many stood in a line, arms locked together. Some teams stayed in the locker room. Almost every team owner or CEO (many of whom supported Trump when he was campaigning) issued a statement in support of their players' right to protest. They blasted Trump's words as divisive, contentious, misguided, uninformed, disappointing, inappropriate and offensive.

Kaepernick launched and funds a free program for youth called Know Your Rights Camp promoting "higher education, self-empowerment, and instruction to properly interact with law enforcement in various scenarios." He has donated over $1 million to nonprofit groups around the country that work in oppressed communities.

"It's not accidental that Colin Kaepernick moved from protest to programs in pursuit of progress," Harry Edwards said. "He's one of the brightest, most articulate and committed people that I have ever come across. I knew Muhammad Ali. I worked with [John] Carlos and [Tommie] Smith [the two U.S. Olympic medalists who raised their fists in the Black Power salute while on the podium at the 1968 Summer Olympics]. Bill Russell, Jim Brown, some of these people from the 1960s, Arthur Ashe -- I put him in that class...I personally am pushing him for a Nobel Peace Prize."

When asked a year ago what his plans were with the protest action he had taken, Kaepernick said: "I'll continue to sit. I'm going to continue to stand with the people that are being oppressed...when there's significant change and I feel like that flag represents what it's supposed to represent, and this country is representing people the way that it's supposed to, I'll stand."

Principled stands taken at great risk are often how movements are born. As more people "take a knee," let's remember the original inspiration for this quiet act of defiance: the hundreds of unarmed people of colour killed by police every year, and the need to build a movement to stop it.

This column was first published on Democracy Now!

Image: Facebook/ABC7

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colin Kaepernicknational anthemNFLDonald Trumpanti-police brutalitypolice brutalityBlack Lives MatterAmy GoodmanDenis MoynihanSeptember 29, 2017Next in the slow movement: The slow citizenThe slow movement continues to occupy new terrain, gradually. It's made its mark in food, gardening, aging, travel, money. Now we await The Slow Citizen.LISTEN: Athletes as activistsDave Zirin's People's History of Sports explores the politics of sport and tells the stories of activist athletes. He came to Vancouver at the invitation of the Olympic Resistance Network.Black Lives Matter in Canada too: Inside the movementWhy are Black Lives Matter movements occurring in Toronto and who is leading this movement in Canada? Find this out and more about the future of the movement here.

Unions respond to Phoenix pay system

28 September 2017 - 11:57pm
Meagan Gillmore

Thousands of federal government employees, from summer students to managers, have been underpaid, overpaid or not paid at all since the government began using the Phoenix pay system in 2016. Justin Trudeau's Liberals implemented the payroll system introduced by Stephen Harper's Conservatives, despite warnings about potential problems.

Past and current federal employees rabble has spoken to in recent weeks all express deep conviction for their work. They feel betrayed by an employer who does not pay them properly or, in their view, admit responsibility for the problem. Some expressed frustration with the unions that represent them and wonder what more could be done to solve the situation.

In this seriesrabble.ca takes a broader look at Phoenix: the background of the problem; the people affected by it; the responses from unions, and what solutions may be possible.

Federal employees who have not been paid properly since the government started using the Phoenix pay system in February 2016 aren't just mad at their employer. Some are also frustrated at the unions that represent them. They think the unions should be more aggressive in pressuring the government to fix the growing problems and provide more clarity to their members about what's happening. They say information from unions has been slow and vague, at times. Some want the unions to pursue legal action; others suggest strikes.

Union leaders appreciate members' frustrations -- representatives are often federal employees themselves. But they say their options are limited. At times, filing grievances on behalf of members may be all they can do.

"We're in a Catch-22," said Vanessa Miller, national vice-president for CEIU BC, a member of the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC). She's been overpaid herself, and although she's never received a paycheque for $0, she did get one for $3.50. "We're filing grievances because it's important to say that, 'This isn't OK,' but we're also having to manage members' expectations that this isn’t likely to be resolved through the grievance process."

"It's a balancing act," said Emmanuelle Tremblay, president of the Canadian Association of Professional Employees, the union representing many policy analysts and economists. Filing more grievances may be helpful, but it could also be harmful, she said. Members want to know that the union is working for them, and it is, but "some of those actions are not so visible because it’s ongoing communication with the employer," she said.

The unions were critical about Phoenix before the government implemented the system. They're still raising their concerns, union leaders say.

Unions have been assisting members affected by Phoenix in various ways. Union leaders participate in a committee with government officials devoted solely to finding solutions to the problem. Last December, several unions secured a court order requiring the government to maintain a team of employees dedicated solely to helping federal employees who are beginning paternity, maternity or disability leave.

Government updates on Phoenix say 95 per cent of transactions related to paternity, maternity and disability leaves are resolved within the service standard time of 20 days.

Unions have also been instrumental in making sure more compensation officers have been hired to help people harmed by Phoenix; ensuring members are reimbursed for out-of-pocket expenses and helping workers access help with their taxes.

Chris Aylward, PSAC's national executive vice-president, said the union recently helped negotiate a memorandum of understanding with the Treasury Board that would see compensation advisors receive more overtime pay and a recruitment and attention bonus, as well as have the Treasury Board review their job classification and job descriptions.

The union is doing the best it can to communicate with members, although he said it could have posted more regular updates at the beginning.

"Everything (workers) got so far is because unions were at the table asking for it," said Debi Daviau, president of the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC), the union representing scientists and professionals in several government departments. PIPSC was not involved in last year's court order.

Unions have organized demonstrations across the country, and encouraged members to contact their Members of Parliament with their problems. But members need to be active. Tremblay said she thinks doing demonstrations during workdays could be helpful, but with approximately 13,000 members, the union isn't very large. At times, only a few dozen people show up to demonstrations.

"People are so fed up that they don't even have energy to go to the streets," she said.

Even if workers did show up, strikes would be illegal. Unions aren't in a position to strike because of signed collective agreements. Not all government departments had signed agreements when problems with Phoenix began. But even for those workers, strikes would be illegal because issues related to the pay system aren't things to be negotiated at the bargaining table, said Aylward.

Phoenix has already made its way into negotiations for at least one union. Earlier this month, the Canadian Merchant Service Guild presented its latest offer, on behalf of Government Ships' Officers. The offer includes payroll audit reconciliation to address issues for officers affected by Phoenix.

The government rejected the offer and the union is being to prepare for arbitration, a September 14 update says.  

Strike action may not be possible for other reasons. Government employees are extremely dedicated. People who work in the military or on border patrol can't stop doing their jobs. Earlier this month, CAPE released a survey of its members' experiences with Phoenix. Forty-seven per cent of respondents said their mental well-being had been affected by Phoenix, and fewer than 10 per cent of respondents said they'd sought medical assistance for it.

This doesn't surprise Tremblay; she said workers hesitate to take time off when they're sick, regardless of the pay problems.

Aylward agrees.

He said he doesn't know of any other group of employees who would continue to show up to work even if they weren't getting paid.

"Our members simply won't walk off the job over this," he said.

Meagan Gillmore is rabble.ca's labour reporter.

Image: Flickr/Matt Brown

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Communities come together at Walk for Reconciliation in Vancouver

28 September 2017 - 8:22am
September 28, 2017Thousands take to Vancouver streets to walk for reconciliationSunday morning drew a crowd of 50,000 people to Walk for Reconciliation, an event organized in partnership by Reconciliation Canada and the City of Vancouver.

Ontario NDP bring domestic and sexual violence bill to debate

28 September 2017 - 12:26am
Doreen Nicoll

Peggy Sattler's Private Member's Bill 26, the Domestic and Sexual Violence Workplace Leave, Accommodation and Training Act, 2016 passed second reading with unanimous support on October 20, 2016. Since then, Bill 26 has been in limbo.

The Bill would provide 10 days of paid leave, workplace accommodations and mandatory workplace training on domestic violence and sexual violence.

Through petitions and emails to the Ontario Premier, Minister of Labour, and Minister of Women's Issues, many of you urged the Wynne government to bring Bill 26 forward for public consultation. The provincial government's standard response has been that they were in the process of finalizing the Changing Workplaces Review, and amendments proposed in Bill 26 were being considered as part of that review.

Unfortunately, the changing workplaces legislation (Bill 148 Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act, 2017) fell decidedly short of what Bill 26 would provide.

Bill 148 allows for a mere two days of paid "personal emergency leave," plus an additional eight unpaid days each year. That doesn't come close to meeting the needs of those living with, leaving, or healing from the trauma of domestic violence and sexual violence.

On Thursday, September 28, NDP leader Andrea Horwath will be bringing a bill to address domestic violence and sexual violence for debate.

Building on Sattler's Bill and amendments suggested for Bill 148, Horwath is introducing this bill to continue to push legislation to address domestic violence and sexual violence.

Horwath's bill would include the following further steps to address domestic violence and sexual violence:

  • The Bill amends the Employment Standards Act (ESA) to require employers to provide up to ten days of paid leave, as well as 15 weeks of unpaid leave per calendar year to employees who have experienced domestic violence or sexual violence or whose children have experienced domestic violence or sexual violence.
  • The Bill includes a provision that requires the paid portion of this leave to be covered by the Ontario government.
  • The Ontario Health and Safety Act (OHSA) is also amended to require that employers provide mandatory training on domestic violence and sexual violence to all managers, supervisors and workers.

Survivors of domestic violence and sexual violence need sufficient paid time off to see doctors, attend crisis centres, find safe places to live, find affordable child care, find new schools, liaise with their children's teachers, get counselling for themselves and their children, attend the police, create safety plans, and go to court.

Legislation that includes mandatory training is essential to help employers recognize the warning signs, impacts and risks of domestic violence and sexual violence in order to develop informed, effective and appropriate workplace policies and plans.

According to the Ontario Association of Interval & Transition Houses (OAITH), between November 2015 and November 2016, 32 women living in Ontario were killed as a result of domestic violence and sexual violence. The provisions of Horwath's bill will make it easier for women to leave abusive situations because it safeguards their financial independence while providing much needed time to access services needed to help enhance their wellbeing and safety.

The time for Bill 26 to become law is well overdue.

Image: Flickr/United Steelworkers​

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Thousands take to Vancouver streets to walk for reconciliation

28 September 2017 - 12:02am
Abeer Yusuf

Sunday morning drew a crowd of 50,000 people to Walk for Reconciliation, an event organised in partnership by Reconciliation Canada and the City of Vancouver.

Termed Numwayut, meaning "we are all one," the event also brought out some of the country's top officials, including Minister of Justice Jody Wilson-Raybould, National Chief Perry Bellegarde of the Assembly of First Nations and locally, B.C. Premier John Horgan and Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson.

Winona Stevens was one of the first time attendees who came from North Vancouver to complete the two kilometre walk.

Originally from Rocky Bay Nation in North Western Ontario, Stevens, 38, brought along her three year-old son, Jayden along with her. "He needs to understand his own culture and his own people. It is important that he has a lot of connection to his cultural roots," she said.

"We come from survivors and I hope he carries that with him as he grows. I hope he knows his ancestors are survivors, and that he has a huge community behind him."

A feeling of community was an emotion that ran strong throughout the day's events, including speeches held at Strathcona Park, with National Chief Perry Bellegarde of the Assembly of First Nations reminding the audience that "we are all part of the human tribe."

Chief Bellegarde encouraged those who turned out not to forget that while Indigenous peoples were being celebrated and honoured on the day, it was in stark comparison to the decades of residential schools, potlatch bans and Indigenous peoples being denied their right to organize and observe their culture.

Chief Bellegarde also urged community members to put away stereotypes of Indigenous peoples are lazy, drunk and living on welfare, adding, "our people are becoming educated and becoming stronger."

"No one here today may have had a direct hand to things like the residential schools, the Indian Act, but you can all play a role in rebuilding a shared future," he said.

"Don't accept the status quo (about Indigenous peoples). Make sure every school in the province and country teaches the impact of the Indian Act and about residential schools," he added.

Khelsilem, from the Squamish Nation -- a lecturer at SFU in Coast Salish languages, and the programming director and founder of Kwi Awt Stelmexw -- reiterated that much more work needs to be done, adding, "I don't think showing up for a march is ever enough but I think marches and rallies reinforce values. I think it's incumbent on those with power to implement those values."

Coming out to the march with his family, Khelsilem, 28, says he felt a mixture of joy and wonder.

"Joy comes from the feeling of survival. I was singing on the bridge with my family and cousins, and was thinking 'all of this could have been lost.' But we survived."

Khelsilem, who works on preserving and revitalizing Indigenous languages so they may continue onto the next generations, has also recently launched a campaign to petition the new B.C. government to accord Indigenous languages legal protection, among other asks.

The Walk for Reconciliation was first held in Vancouver in 2013, and brought out around 70,000 people from the Metro Vancouver area. In 2015, a similar walk in Ottawa, coincided with closing of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and saw 10,000 people make the walk.

Brainchild of Chief Robert Joseph, himself a residential school survivor, the Walk for Reconciliation was born of an idea to promote healing between Indigenous peoples and Canadians. The walk is one of the many efforts by Reconciliation Canada, an Indigenous-led charitable organization to create awareness, dialogue and revitalize relationships about Canada's history -- and a shared future.

Chief Joseph explains, "Love is at the heart of the reconciliation journey. When people walk together to share hopes and dreams, endless transformative possibilities emerge. New relationships are forged, understanding deepens and a new way forward is paved with justice, equality and inclusion."

So where do those go who want to walk the walk, but also talk the talk? Stevens said, "If you consider yourself an ally, especially if you're white, [it] is about stepping up on a daily basis. I want to see white people stop the racism that happens in the workplace, on the bus, in our everyday. Those everyday microaggressions that happen to Indigenous peoples -- I would love if you consider yourself to be a white ally, if you step up during those situations."

Khelsilem recommended, "Become educated about residential schools. Read the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) report. People should make a commitment to improve the lives of Indigenous peoples -- and it won't happen in this country unless non-Indigenous people do that."

Image: Flickr/Province of British Columbia

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Protecting housing and human rights without limiting options

27 September 2017 - 2:43pm

Canada has been facing a housing crisis for a number of years now, with rising costs affecting both homeowners and tenants. According to the Canadian Rental Housing Index, renters in Canada are spending an average of 22 per cent of their before-tax income on rent and utilities. Further, this index reported that 40 per cent of renter households were spending more than 30 per cent of their before-tax income on rent and utilities, and a staggering 19 per cent were spending over 50 per cent of their before-tax income on rent and utilities. Keep in mind that the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) defines affordable housing as housing that costs less than 30 per cent of before-tax household income. This means that almost half of renter households in Canada are not in affordable housing, and one in five homes are spending over half of their before-tax income just to have a roof over their heads.

Imagine then, the relief that a family in Vancouver must have felt on being told that they had reached the top of a waiting list for a two-bedroom apartment that would have resulted in a significant reduction in their housing costs if they had been offered the unit. Unfortunately for them, the housing provider did not offer them the unit. At the time that the family was told that they were first on the waiting list, the family consisted of two parents and a two-year-old son, but the mother was seven months pregnant (and has since given birth to a baby girl). According to a voicemail left by a representative of the housing provider, they could not offer the family the unit because they did not know the sex of their then unborn child. For its part, the housing provider has said that the family was not being considered for the unit in any event, but the family feels they were passed over for this apartment because they have two young children of different sexes and the housing provider was unwilling to offer them a unit where those two children would share a bedroom.

If the housing provider refused to consider the family for the unit because of the possibility that they might have two young children of different sexes, that definitely creates a problem. The Human Rights Code of British Columbia provides that:

 A person must not, without a bona fide and reasonable justification,

(a) deny to a person or class of persons any accommodation, service or facility customarily available to the public, or

(b) discriminate against a person or class of persons regarding any accommodation, service or facility customarily available to the public

because of the race, colour, ancestry, place of origin, religion, marital status, family status, physical or mental disability, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or age of that person or class of persons.

Each province and territory has legislation that prohibits a landlord or other housing provider from refusing to offer rental accommodation to a person because of that person's marital status, family status, and sex or gender. However, rights are rarely absolute, which can be seen, for example, in the first line of the excerpt from the Human Rights Code of British Columbia cited above: "A person must not, without a bona fide and reasonable justification" discriminate against another. The questions are: what amounts to a "bona fide and reasonable justification" (or whatever other language might be used in other legislation to place a limit on the rights otherwise protected by the legislation) and who gets to decide which limits are acceptable and which are not?

For example, the same CMHC resource that provides guidance on what is affordable housing also provides a definition of suitable housing that suggests that no more than two children under the age of 18 should share a bedroom, and then only if they are the same sex. For children who are opposite sex, this definition indicates that it is only appropriate for them to share the room if they are under five years of age. This sort of characterization may be fine if it is meant to ensure that a family is not forced to have a son and daughter share a room past the age of five, or to have three children share a room, but that a family can choose to do so if they wish. However, it becomes paternalistic if it is used as a rule that a family is not allowed to have a son and daughter share a room past the age of five, or to have three children share a room. Further, it would also appear to violate the human rights legislation of most, if not all, of the provinces and territories in Canada.

A good takeaway from this incident, which can be applied beyond the housing or human rights contexts, is that there is an important distinction between providing individuals with tools and resources to help and protect them (and to prevent others from forcing them into undesirable situations), and imposing arbitrary requirements that might be interpreted in a manner that actually impedes their access to opportunities that could otherwise be available to them (whether or not that is the intention). When we are putting pen to paper and setting out the rules, regulations, policies, laws, etc. that we hope are going to give effect to some goal or measure that we have worked hard to achieve, we must always be mindful of how others might use those rules and policies. And we must be ready to fix outdated and discriminatory rules when the time is right. The time, CMHC, is right.

Pro Bono provides legal information designed to educate and entertain readers. But legal information is not the same as legal advice -- the application of law to an individual's specific circumstances. While efforts are made to ensure the legal information provided through these columns is useful, we strongly recommend you consult a lawyer for assistance with your particular situation to obtain accurate advice.

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Photo: Sarah Miller/flickr

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