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Russia seeks international arrest warrant for former Ukraine PM, reported to now hold Canadian citizenship

1 May 2017 - 2:26am
David J. Climenhaga

Earlier this spring, a Russian court in the southern Caucasus city of Yessentuki sought an international arrest warrant for Arseniy Yatsenyuk, accusing the former prime minister of Ukraine of being involved in the torture and execution of captured Russian soldiers in Chechnya in 1995.

Last week, according to Sputnik International, an online news organization operated by the Russian government, a spokesperson for the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation said the national investigative agency intended to seek the extradition and prosecution of Yetsenyuk for the killings, which the court said occurred while the former Ukrainian PM was fighting alongside Chechen rebels against Russian troops. The Russian Prosecutor General's Office confirmed the plan.

For those inclined to dismiss reports from such a source as likely to be "fake news," they have been confirmed by Radio Free Europe, an online and broadcast news organization operated by the United States government, which also reported the Ukrainian government's assertion that the charges are politically motivated.

A report in the online Kyiv Post on Saturday quoted sources in the Ukraine government saying Interpol would refuse to follow up on the Russian request.

Readers may well ask: Why should any of this matter to Canadians?

The answer, as reported in this space last summer, is that Yatsenyuk and members of his family may have been quietly granted expedited Canadian citizenship by the government of Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper in 2015 and issued Canadian passports.

In late June 2016, in response to queries from this blog, a spokesperson for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada refused to comment on reports in Russian media that Yatsenyuk had been granted Canadian citizenship as part of a deal by Western powers to protect him and ensure the safety of his family for his role in the country's affairs after the so-called Euromaidan demonstrations resulted in a violent change of government in Ukraine in early 2014.

"Due to privacy concerns we cannot comment on specific cases without consent," IRCC spokesperson Lindsay Wemp told me in late June in an email. She confirmed, however, that 29 people had received expedited Canadian citizenship that year under a section of the Citizenship Act that grants discretionary powers to the minister and members of cabinet.

Harper himself, then-immigration minister Chris Alexander, who is now a candidate to lead the federal Conservative Party, and former immigration and defence minister Jason Kenney, now leader of the Alberta Progressive Conservative Party, were all strong and vocal supporters of the post-Euromaidan Ukraine government in which Yatsenyuk served -- a policy enthusiastically continued under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau by Liberal Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland.

In a heated speech to the Ukrainian Canadian Congress in Toronto on Feb. 22, 2015, Alexander accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of "terrorism” in Ukraine and claimed online Russian news organizations like Sputnik are "preaching poison" to Canadians about what was happening in Ukraine.

When a report by a Moscow-based online journalist surfaced earlier this spring that Freeland's Ukrainian maternal grandfather had been a Nazi collaborator during the Second World War, she initially dismissed the story as Russian-inspired disinformation -- although it was soon revealed by Canadian media to be accurate and factual.

So while the Russian charges against Yatsenyuk may not be justified and could be politically motivated, surely they must now be a matter of concern to Canadian authorities.

No one in Canada's mainstream media appears to have followed up on the original reports Yatsenyuk and his family were given Canadian citizenship, although perhaps they should be now if the situation is going to involve Canada in an extradition battle with Russia.

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

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Telling the story of migrant activism through art and movement

30 April 2017 - 5:50pm
April 30, 2017Maywork's Journey to Belong highlights art that tells the story of migrant activismThe annual Mayworks festival in Toronto features art on the topic of migrant activism.

Trump is not to blame for Canada's systemic racism towards Indigenous communities

30 April 2017 - 5:31pm
Krystalline Kraus

Trump is not to blame for Canada's systemic racism towards Indigenous communities and communities of people of colour.

I'll be the first to tell you that it's too simple to blame one man for a cultural legacy of racism against Indigenous communities that runs on both sides of the border.

And we have had this racism problem well before Trump announced that he would attempt to become America's 45th president.

In fact, Canadian society has had 500 years to practice our more refined approach to racism.

Instead of a brash racism, we prefer ours to be more refined, more secretive; in whispers, not shouts, around the water cooler, the hiring and recruitment office or the family dinner table.

Five hundred years of refinement is a long time to perfect a weapon like racism.

The government itself doesn't have to work very hard to deny that racism exists when you have the majority of the population either too ignorant or too embarrassed to admit we have a problem in the first place.

Again and again over the years I have heard variations on the same theme of acknowledging our racism. Usually, it will begin with condolences but then the tone of the voice turns hard. A: "I'm sorry that is happening to you, but..."

You see, most Canadians by now have some understanding that what First Nations, Metis and Inuit individuals, families and communities have had to endure historically -- through such institutions as the residential school system and the day-school system, through the 60s scoop, and the Indian Act, etc.

Then it stops. Because while most Canadians can concede that historically perhaps their Canadian ancestors were a part of, and benefited from, the systemic racism that targeted Indigenous communities, that broke Indigenous families and tried to kill the Indian in the child

But certainly they in the present have not harmed and have not benefited from said racism.

It's almost as if you hit a cognitive wall and people can very defensive and angry as they patrol its borders. If you were even to mention that some Canadians living in Vancouver or Halifax in the present could still be benefitting from that systemic racism, the mere suggestion falls into the pit of cognitive dissonance.

History itself becomes like a shield that protects their gentle Canadian ego.

I've pretty much heard every excuse, every dodge, every word in reverse -- anything to keep them from admitting that what was historical fact is indeed current fact.

Statements like: "I wasn't alive back then"; "my relatives had yet to arrive in Canada"; "I can't be held personally responsible for what my ancestors did!"

People become fixated on trying to avoid any connection-thus-responsibility for their behaviour and outlook, and their very effort to avoid any blame that keeps any healing from taking root.

All these missed opportunities simply because the sheer magnitude of the racism means saying sorry is just not enough anymore.

It's at this realization where communication really breaks down – under the assumption that monetary reparations would be demanded from every Canadian citizen; the assumption that land titles and home mortgages would all become forfeit and any and all property would be snatched from the hands of hard-working families and handed over to any Indigenous claimant.

So yes, we have even had a prime minister publicly apologize for the treatment of Indigenous children, families and communities suffered under the residential school system, and yet food prices in the High North -- the traditional territories of many different Indigenous nations -- are so high that it's very difficult to afford fresh fruits and vegetables to live a healthy life and raise healthy children.

And yes, Canada finally fully signed on under the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) in 2016, but this was almost a whole decade after it was adopted by the General Assembly.

Right now, the current political climate in the United States makes it very easy for smug Canadians to look down their noses at the racism in America and start puching downwards, but we have to be careful. And honest with ourselves as a society.

If the same number -- 1,800 murdered and or missing Indigenous women and girls -- of white women and girls were missing, there would be much more attention paid by politicians, universities think-tanks and law enforcement.

For example, no longer could a local police force get away with insinuating that "native girls like to wander, they hitch-hike, they pass through town after town, you know how they are," as one general stereotype goes.

It's as if you could assume these women didn't belong anywhere and wouldn't have a family who would miss them, who would be praying that they are safe.

The fear that many Americans from marginalized communities feel is felt here in Canada, too. And don't be fooled that just because Stephen Harper is no longer in office, Justin Trudeau will not suddenly be able to expel every racist to south of our border.

Vancouver has been hosting the annual February 14 march for missing and murdered women for the past 27 years. That's 27 too many.

Toronto has been hosting this event for the past 12. Again, 12 years too many.

Photo: Gage Skidmore/flickr

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Dear Christy Clark: We are all Linda

30 April 2017 - 4:55am
Sarah Miller

Dear Christy Clark,

I can't say that I was surprised to see your reaction to Linda when she approached you in the grocery store. The fact that you couldn't carry on a two-minute conversation with an average citizen simply because she won't be voting for you is a pretty clear example of how you feel about the majority of citizens in B.C. You know, us middle- and lower-class folk.

However, I do know that you were quite surprised to see the subsequent backlash that spawned the #IamLinda social media storm. You were so shocked, in fact, that you retreated to your go-to move which is blaming the NDP for the whole thing. A move that almost seems to be a knee-jerk reaction for you these days. You say it before even thinking about how absurd you sound or how easily it can be proven to be untrue. 

Remember just recently when you blamed the NDP for hacking into your party's website -- only for it to be proven that in fact it was a mistake from your party. When you were asked questions at the debates about current and urgent issues today almost every time you would start talking about what the NDP was doing almost two decades ago. 

So naturally when you show up at a grocery store and a citizen approaches you and says she won't vote for you (she didn't get to say much more than that because you cut her off and walked away), it must be the NDP. I imagine they have nothing better to do with less than two weeks before the election than to have workers waiting at every grocery store across the province in case you show up.

Your insistence on deflecting blame to try and make yourself look like some kind of victim is made even more ridiculous by the fact that you are currently paying employees to drive around in a troll truck and John Horgan around. Their main goal is to follow Horgan in a giant truck covered with smear campaign posters and do anything they can to disrupt and harass the NDP and their supporters at events and rallies. But yeah, it must have been really tough having to hear a citizen say to your face that they wouldn't vote for you.

What you have failed to realize about the #IamLinda movement is that your reaction to her remind so many of us the many ways you have failed to hear us. 

Those of us who are fundraising tens of thousands of dollars every year to provide our children's schools with basic supplies. Or the parents fighting school closures and cuts to services.

Teachers who, after a 15-year battle with you and your government, finally won with at Supreme Court of Canada, forcing you to reinstate all the support positions for our children that you yourself illegally stripped of their contracts when you were the Minister of Education. 

Those of us who have lived through the previous "Debt Free B.C." and "Families First" campaigns, neither of which proved to be true by a long shot. 

People whose parents are being neglected in a care homes because nine out of 10 of them are understaffed.

Anyone working in health care and the patients that depend on those services -- all of which have been experienced funding cuts, and others, like cleaning and food services have even been privatized.

People who can't even access a doctor or are sitting on a long wait list for surgery.

Parents, relatives and friends of the many children that have died or been seriously injured under the Ministry's care.

The large majority of us who will never be able to afford to buy a house because your government's inaction.

The thousands of parents who either cannot find daycare or have daycare but pay a large portion of our income to cover it.

All of these people and so many more feel like you have quite literally turned your back on us. At this point it's like you're not  even trying to pretend you care.  

You could have avoided this if you had just taken two minutes out of your day to talk to someone who didn't agree with you -- you could have used that opportunity to try to change her mind or learn why she isn't supporting you so you could try to be a better candidate. Instead you rudely cut her off and walked away. That struck a cord for a lot of us. Only you alone are responsible for your reaction to Linda.

You look at all those people sharing #IamLinda tweets and see a bunch of NDP plants. But most of us are smart enough to see the truth, which is there are citizens across this province that have been failed repeatedly by you and your government and they are mad. We have watched you erode every public service that we depend on and we know that your level of corruption and corporate influence is so bad that even the New York Times is taking notice.

Well guess what, Ms. Clark. We are ready for a change and in nine days we might just get our wish. Maybe then you will understand the reality behind #IamLinda.

Image: Flickr/UFV

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A movement is building on May Day in defence of immigrant rights

28 April 2017 - 11:18am
Civil Liberties WatchLabourUS Politics

Arturo Hernandez, like so many millions of immigrants, came to the United States in order to forge a better life for his family. He is one of the more than 11 million undocumented immigrants without whom the U.S. economy would grind to a halt, yet who are forced to live in the shadows, at risk of arrest, detention and deportation. Arturo spent nine months in 2015 living in sanctuary in a church, the First Unitarian Society of Denver. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) notified Arturo back then that he was not considered a "priority for removal" from the U.S., that they would exercise "prosecutorial discretion," in effect letting him carry on with his life. That all ended Wednesday. As he was loading materials for his work laying tile, Arturo was arrested by ICE and taken into detention. ICE told one of his advocates that the letter he has from the Obama administration doesn't count, as there are no longer "priorities." All those who are undocumented will be targeted equally, it seems.

Jeanette Vizguerra is currently living in sanctuary, in the same church where Arturo found protection. She went in not long after Donald Trump's inauguration, and remains inside. Jeanette has been in the U.S. for more than 20 years, working as a janitor and as a union organizer. Her decision to enter sanctuary came as the newly installed Trump administration began threatening "sanctuary cities" with a shut-off of federal funds.

This hardworking mother of four eloquently and unreservedly speaks about the condition of undocumented people in the United States, and stands defiantly in the face of Donald Trump's bigoted pronouncements against them. She proudly shows her 2016 tax returns, challenging President Trump to do the same. Jeanette was shocked to learn last week that she had been named one of Time magazine's 100 Most Influential People of 2017. Since she couldn't travel to the award gala in New York City, she was feted inside the Denver church Tuesday night. The next morning, Arturo Hernandez was picked up by ICE.

While the threat of deportation prevented Jeanette from speaking at the NYC ceremony, musician John Legend was there. Legend offered his opinion of Donald Trump: "He's manifestly unqualified, not curious, not good at legislating or really anything the job requires. He doesn't have any depth about any subject. And he's also using the office of the presidency as a way to make money for himself with his businesses, so he's corrupt. I can't say anything nice about the guy, I think he's one of the worst people I've ever encountered in public life."

Strong words from public figures like Legend attract media attention, and can go viral. But resistance to the Trump administration's policies will only have weight if backed by movements. The immigrants-rights movement, organized by some of the most vulnerable people in our society, is hitting the streets in force on May 1.

May Day is historically a day of resistance. If the past is any predictor, millions around the United States will march in defense of immigrant rights, and against the increasingly draconian, anti-immigrant, anti-refugee policies of President Donald Trump. On May Day, immigrants, their families and their allies organize, march and resist.

Donald Trump launched his presidential campaign close to two years ago, verbally attacking Mexicans by saying, "They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists." He promised to build a wall along the southern border. He reversed President Barack Obama's decision to stop using private, for-profit prisons for immigrant detentions, and has now started deporting "dreamers"-- young, undocumented immigrants who were brought into the U.S. as children -- who handed over their names and addresses to the federal government, under Obama, in order to gain some degree of protection under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA.

We visited Arturo Hernandez when he was in sanctuary, in February 2015. A soft-spoken man, he told us: "We come here, United States, to work and the future for the family. We are not criminal. ... We work and pay taxes. Everything I do, I do for my family."

Donald Trump's immigration ban was blocked by several judges, as was his attempt to pull funding from sanctuary cities, in a separate decision. Trump fires off angry tweets at any who oppose his policies. Those striving for a safe refuge here in the United States, for a place to live, study and work in dignity, free from the fear of being snatched off the street by ICE, are defying his tweets and massing in the streets. They are a force more powerful, organizing for change.

Amy Goodman is the host of Democracy Now!, a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on more than 1,400 stations. She is the co-author, with Denis Moynihan and David Goodman, of the newly published New York Times bestseller Democracy Now!: 20 Years Covering the Movements Changing America.

This column was first published on Democracy Now!

Photo: Paul Cone/flickr

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immigration rightsundocumented workersundocumented immigrantstrump administrationmay daydream actimmigration systemAmy GoodmanDenis MoynihanApril 28, 2017Obama has the power to protect undocumented immigrants from Trump's mass deportationsPresident Obama can use his immense power of the presidential pardon to de-escalate the war on immigrants, which otherwise, under Trump, threatens to get immeasurably worse.The Dream Act registrants are now vulnerable to Trump's deportation threatsPresident Obama must protect them. Wherever we are, we have to stand for status for all. Children crossing U.S.-Mexico border face deepening U.S. immigration crisisTens of thousands of unaccompanied children from Central America and Mexico are pouring across the southern border of the United States, expanding the crisis of the U.S.'s broken immigration system.

As economics and culture blend, art is getting taken over by the privileged

28 April 2017 - 11:02am
Arts & Culture

A recent depressing study of Toronto schools found that kids who go into public high schools for the arts are disproportionately white and wealthy: 67 per cent white versus 29 per cent in the general school population.

Half of the students come from 18 "feeder schools" that lacked diversity; a quarter from just five largely "homogeneous" schools; 57 per cent come from "high income" families versus about half that in the general school population.

Not surprising since the former, unlamented school board director Chris Spence once said the purpose of "academies" and special schools was to offer "private school opportunities within the public system." Whose kids did you think all those special programs (including French immersion) were created for?

But it got me thinking about who rules in the arts altogether. A few years ago I found myself frequently checking family backgrounds of actors, mostly because with Wikipedia, you can: they usually start with family background.

So Hugh Grant's forebears are "a tapestry of warriors, empire-builders and aristocracy." Zooey Deschanel's parents were a cinematographer and actor. Benedict Cumberbatch's are actors; his granddad was from "London high society" and his great-granddad was Queen Victoria's consul-general in Turkey. Gene Hackman's dad, though, was a typesetter who abandoned the family.

Let's not overstate. The arts have typically implied nepotism and privilege, even in cases of black sheep who scorned the family firm to run off with a theatre troupe. But there was something down-market about the arts that made room for the lower orders -- especially with the mass audience that came along with movies. Most of all, you didn't need a university degree to get a foot in.

There were outsiders and scalawags like Charlie Chaplin, who grew up rough and learned to hate middle class do-gooding social workers; or Edward G. Robinson, who lived in a tenement and became a tony art collector to compensate. There was a coarser look to many of them; you didn't need perfect features. It was even was an asset not to have them since that mass movie audience could identify. Charles Laughton actually played romantic roles. One of the last was Hackman, who didn't seem to know he wasn't Cary Grant. (Grant's parents, on the other hand, were a factory worker and a seamstress.)

But the privilege element has now moved up to another level. This is partly due to the so-called "culturalization" of the economy, where art is no longer economically peripheral. It's as gainful and respected (or more so) to be an actor, musician (or news anchor) than a tycoon. In fact, they all sort of blend.

This shift gets most noted, naturally, in the U.K. with its hyper sense of class. There's debate about a takeover by "posh" actors: Tom Hiddleston, Hugh Laurie and Tom Hollander -- stars of The Night Manager -- who all went to the same private elementary school; the former two went on to Eton, alongside Eddie Redmayne and Damien Lewis. Almost everyone attended Oxford. This may underpin the "Downtonization" of British TV drama. In Canada, we tend to phrase these trends in terms of race, but it largely amounts to the same thing.

Much (in fact, too much) depends on education, especially with the decline of other routes to the arts, like provincial rep companies in the U.K. In the early years there are arts programs, where wealthier parents can fundraise for supplies, such as musical instruments or theatre trips -- though here they can't yet buy actual arts teachers for their kids' schools.

Then come university programs that are harder to access with rising tuition; and even if you get there as a poor kid, you probably need to work rather than try out for plays.

The grad programs follow, which require auditions (which often demand fees) and prepping for those. The same goes for writing, where postgrad creative writing degrees have become ubiquitous, though what they mostly provide is simply time to write.

What gets lost? Voices -- literally in the case of actors. I knew a theatre director who made a note during auditions: "has access to class." That won't matter much if you don't have writers who write about class, as David Fennario did in Canada.

What would've been lost if Mozart's or Chopin's dads hadn't been composers and teachers? But wait -- what of all the latent Mozarts and Chopins whose dads weren't? How much richer might the world that kids arrive in have been?

Not to mention the small matter of justice (social variant).

This column was first published in the Toronto Star.

Photo: Croswald9/flickr

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economic inequalityCanadian artsclass privilegewhite privilegeaccess to educationRick SalutinApril 28, 2017'Poor theatre' explores possibilities of art, lifts veil on humannessTheatre could never compete with film's spectacle but what it had was the live presence of actors, in a room, interacting and co-creating with an audience.nteractive theatre for social changeThe 'We Are Making a Difference' youth workshop and performance demonstrates how interactive theatre can be used for social change.Theatre education: Making it happenArts education for everyone, and the folks who try to make it so.

Advocacy group wants to shed light on barriers blind people face finding employment

28 April 2017 - 10:23am
Meagan Gillmore

A series of focus groups organized to determine barriers people who are blind or visually impaired face finding employment conclude this week in Toronto.

The Toronto chapter of the Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians (AEBC), a national grassroots organization that provides peer support and advocacy for people who are blind, visually impaired or deafblind, has held these meetings since the end of March. The fourth meeting is April 28 in the community room of the Loblaws at 380 East Mall. It runs from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m.

The organization wants to hear from at least 100 people, so more focus groups may be added, said project coordinator Michael McNeely. As of mid-April, about 30 people had participated. After the groups end, the AEBC plans to have education sessions with those who came to the focus groups.

The greatest barrier people with disabilities face finding employment is ignorance, said McNeely. Staff at employment agencies may not know how to help people with disabilities. Employers may not hire someone who has a disability because they don't know what that person can and can't do.

"I refuse to think that there is an actual barrier that cannot be resolved or navigated in any way," McNeely said.

He dismisses the idea that workplace accommodations are too expensive as "bullshit."

McNeely, a film critic whose writing appears regularly at dorkshelf.com, needs subtitles and closed captioning when he works. He's deafblind, so both his hearing and sight are significantly impaired. An intervener, someone trained to communicate for and with people who are deafblind, helps him with tasks like communicating on the phone. He also sometimes needs flexibility with deadlines. These aren't expensive accommodations, he said.

"It's 2017," he said. "The least we can do is accommodate our citizens."

But people with disabilities often don't know how to advocate for themselves, said McNeely. They often struggle with how to properly tell potential employers about their disability. They may also be unaware of their legal rights under the Ontario Human Rights Code or the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act.

McNeely, who plans to attend law school in September, said he wants the project to better inform people of these rights. The focus groups will help the AEBC identify what job-seekers need to find work. The organization is also conducting personal interviews with service providers that help people find jobs so they can better help people with disabilities find work.

The City of Toronto funded the $48,000 year-long project.

People who cannot attend the focus groups but would like to contribute to the project can contact McNeely directly at michaeldmcneely[at]gmail.com.

Meagan Gillmore is rabble's labour reporter.

Photo: Flazingo Photos/flickr

Lack of safety in Canada's workplaces is a national disgrace

28 April 2017 - 9:05am
April 28, 2017The Day of Mourning for injured and killed workers was invented by Canada. Now we're killing more workers than anyone. Canadian workers' deaths and injuries more numerous per capita than in most other developed nations.

The Day of Mourning for injured and killed workers was invented by Canada. Now we're killing more workers than anyone.

27 April 2017 - 5:09pm
Ed Finn

April 28 is the National Day of Mourning for workers killed or injured on the job. This is the second of a two-part series. read part one here.

The lack of safety in Canada's workplaces is a national -- and international -- disgrace. Many of our industries neglect safety training, skimp on safety equipment and keep employees unaware of the danger of new chemicals. In our fiercely competitive global market, they will put the maximization of profits ahead of the "costly" provision of safe workplaces -- as long as they can get away with it.

Our governments, too, have given on-the-job safety an inexcusably low priority. Oh yes, they've beefed up work safety rules, even given workers the right to refuse dangerous duties, the right to sit on industrial health and safety committees -- even the right to be informed about the dangers of any material they are obliged to handle.

But, as with Bill C-45, no such legal rights can be exercised without managerial retaliation unless workplaces are regularly inspected and safety laws strictly enforced. And on that score, our federal and provincial governments have fallen shamefully short.

Without stringent government oversight, employers are left free to flout safety rules and regulations. They can maintain their profits-before-personnel policy with virtual impunity.

International comparisons

One way of comparing Canada's atrocious work safety record with those of other countries is to calculate the number of annual workplace deaths per 100,000 workers in each country. This figure varies from year to year, but in Canada has been allowed to remain at the shockingly high rate of about five per 100,000 every year. It's one of the worst national levels of workplace fatalities in the world.

In Europe, for example, this number averages out to just 1.5 per 100,000 fatalities annually, and in some European countries is even lower. In Britain, it's at an astounding low of 0.51 -- fewer than one death in 100,000. No wonder a recent survey found that most European workers "are confident their job does not put their health and safety at risk."

Even the United States has fewer workplace fatalities than Canada: 3.8-per-100,000 workers.

What this means is that far more Canadian workers are killed on the job than in most other developed countries -- as many as 10,000 of them over the past decade. If the essential safety conditions, rules, equipment and training had been provided -- as they are in Europe -- nearly all these fatalities could have been prevented.

Comparisons of this kind with other countries also rank Canada as one of the worst in the number of workplace injuries. The roughly one million Canadians who are injured on the job each year surpasses those injured in every country in Europe, even those with far larger populations.

In 2014, Germany, with a population of 80 million -- three times more than Canada -- had the highest job injury rate at 847,350. France (population 66 million) had the second highest at 724,682, and Italy (population 64 million) was third at 313,312. Britain (also 64 million) had 244,948 workplace injuries. The three Scandinavian countries -- Sweden, Norway and Denmark -- had a combined total of only 99 annual work injuries.

When these figures are translated into per-100,000 workers, they expose just how horrendous the toll of workplace injuries in Canada really is, compared with most other developed nations.

Social and economic costs

Apart from the incalculable grief and loss inflicted on the families of workers killed or crippled on the job in Canada, work-related fatalities and injuries, directly and indirectly, impose an estimated $20 billion a year on Canada's economy. This huge sum includes lost production, WCB and insurance payments, and the increased cost of health care and rehabilitation. Over a 20-year period, these and other costs of our unsafe workplaces have amounted to a staggering $380 billion.

We can only imagine the benefits that would have been derived if even half this vast expenditure had been diverted instead into improving Canada's social and economic systems. Poverty and homelessness could have been extensively reduced; medicare could have been extended to cover pharmaceutical, dental and vision coverage; public child care and pensions could have been more enhanced. And many thousands of Canadian families would not have suffered the heartbreaking loss of their beloved breadwinners.

Instead, the failure to reduce this workplace carnage has subjected Canada's health care system to unnecessary additional medical and hospital costs that total nearly $2 billion a year. Hardly surprising, when on any given day thousands of hospital beds across Canada could be occupied by injured workers.

I couldn't find the exact number, but a study funded by the Conference Board of Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada reported that 231,596 Canadians were hospitalized from injuries that year; that there were 3.5 million emergency room visits; and more than 60,000 people either partially or permanently disabled.

These figures, of course, cover injuries from all places and causes, including falls, car crashes, fires, drowning and violence. The number of work-related injuries was not specified for some reason, but it would be safe to estimate that, out of the 231,596 injuries that resulted in hospitalization, at least 15,000 occurred in the workplace. In any case, they are certainly a major cause of our overcrowded hospitals and long waiting times. 

Workers' Mourning Day

April 28 is the National Day of Mourning. It commemorates the many thousands of workers who have been killed or injured on the job or die from exposure to occupational toxins.

I find it bitterly ironic that this annual commemoration, which is now observed around the world, was originally inaugurated in this country by the Canadian Labour Congress in 1985. Five years later, the federal government passed the Workers' Mourning Day Act, making April 28 a national day of remembrance.

As the originator of this "Labour Safety Day," it might naturally be assumed that Canada would want to become a model of workplace safety for the rest of the world. Instead, we have done far less to protect our workers from harm, allowing them to be killed and injured in numbers that far exceed those in the 80 other countries that observe the Day of Mourning. Fortunately for their workers, whether on a per capita or per-100,000 basis, they have far fewer deaths and injuries to mourn than we do.

On April 28, our corporate and political leaders will piously proclaim their deep concern about occupational deaths and injuries. They will promise – as they have on every previous Day of Mourning -- to redouble their efforts to protect workers from harm on the job. As soon as the sun sets that day, however, they will disregard the indefensible lack of workplace safety until April 28 rolls around again in 2018. The toll of deaths and injuries in our factories, mines, forests, farms, offices and shops will remain as high as ever.

But so will the profits.

Ed Finn was Senior Editor at the CCPA and editor of the CCPA Monitor from 1994-2014. Formerly, as a journalist, he worked at The Montreal Gazette and for 14 years wrote a column on labour relations for The Toronto Star. He also served for three decades as a communications officer for several labour organizations, including the Canadian Labour Congress and the Canadian Union of Public Employees.

Image: Flickr/Joseph King

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Proposed class action challenges wait times for support services for adults with developmental disabilities

27 April 2017 - 9:52am

Many Ontarians with developmental disabilities face a significant problem when they reach their 18th birthday. Specifically, while they have received services and support from the government during their childhood, upon turning 18 they are treated as adults under the law in Ontario and those services and support are typically discontinued immediately, even though their disabilities still exist, and even though that support is often necessary to meet their most basic human needs.

To receive benefits after turning 18, these individuals (or more likely, a family member or caregiver) are required to apply for the continuation of the services and support previously received. They have to establish eligibility for benefits pursuant to the criteria of the Services and Supports to Promote the Social Inclusion of Persons with Developmental Disabilities Act (the "Act"): that they have significant limitations in cognitive functioning and adaptive functioning that originated before they turned 18, which are likely to be life‑long in nature, and affect areas of major life activity, such as personal care, language skills, learning abilities, and the capacity to live independently as an adult.

Once an individual is determined to be eligible under the Act, their approved application is usually placed on a waitlist, often with no estimate as to the length of the wait before the approved services and support will be provided. These waitlists are administered by the regional Developmental Service Ontario office for the region in which the individual lives.

This waitlist system and the way it is administered have been criticized in at least three reports since 2013, with criticisms aimed not only at the use of waitlists and their length, but also the inconsistency in how the waitlist system provides necessary services and support to individuals with developmental disabilities. Most recently, last summer the Ombudsman of the Province of Ontario released a report titled "Nowhere to Turn," in which it was noted that despite a "positive evolutionary policy shift" in how Ontario deals with care for adults with developmental disabilities, there were still significant problems with how the Ministry of Community and Social Services (which takes over the provision of services and support for individuals with developmental disabilities after they turn 18) administered the provision of such services and support.

This report raised concerns about a confusing and complex array of offices and processes "impossible for many individuals with developmental disabilities and their families to navigate," inconsistent application of the process across the province, and "interminable waitlist delays."  This system has left the burden of providing these services and support to family, at least until individuals are reached on the waitlist, which can take years. Families sometimes have to make significant and difficult adjustments to their employment, which can further strain their ability to provide the needed care. In some instances, parents have relinquished care of their adult children for fear that they cannot safely care for them at home without the services and support that were received prior to their 18th birthday. Abandonment and abuse are also problems in the present system.

Taking the problem to court

This problem is now the subject of a proposed class action which commenced in early April. The case of Marc Leroux as Litigation Guardian of Briana Leroux v. Her Majesty the Queen in Right of the Province of Ontario seeks to advance a claim on behalf of all individuals "who have been assessed and approved as eligible for services, supports or direct funding by a Developmental Services Ontario office, and subsequently placed on a waitlist for any or all of the approved services, supports or funding." If this proposed class action is certified by the court, it promises to raise a number of interesting and compelling arguments in favour of the position that the waitlist system is flawed and has caused damages to affected individuals, for which the provincial government should be held liable.  

The claim alleges that the province owes individuals who fall within the definition of the class ("Class Members") a fiduciary duty, on the basis that the province has undertaken to provide the developmental services and supports indicated in the Act, and Class Members had a reasonable expectation that the government would look out for their best interests with respect to the provision of such services and the administration of waitlists. In addition, the claim also argues that a fiduciary duty arises because the province has the sole power to administer, manage and supervise the provision of developmental services and the waitlist system, and the Class Members are reliant on the province to do so in a reasonable fashion. The claim alleges that the province has breached that fiduciary duty, and acted negligently toward Class Members by, among other things, administering the waitlist system in a manner that has deprived the Class Members of services and supports for which they have been approved and which they need to meet their daily living needs.

Lastly, the claim alleges that the shortcomings with the waitlist system "violate the basic essential human needs of the Class Members and, as such, interferes with their life and security of the person" and as a result is a violation of their rights under section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. While the language of Section 7 of the Charter reads as though its purpose is to protect the procedural rights of individuals, especially in criminal matters (such as the right to due process), it has been interpreted more broadly by the courts -- and has been considered in cases involving issues such as assisted suicide, abortion and adoption. It will be interesting to see how the court responds to the argument that Section 7 should apply to create a positive obligation on the province either to eliminate the waitlist system (which would presumably require increased funding) or to manage it in a more consistent fashion and reduce wait times.

Broader implications

While the direct impact of a successful result in this action would be limited to adult Ontarians with developmental disabilities, there could be broader implications if the Charter arguments raised in the action succeed in establishing that government has positive obligations in how services and support are provided to individuals with developmental disabilities. Such a decision may also have an impact on the manner in which such services are provided to Canadians outside of Ontario, and might even serve as a starting point for individuals who are vulnerable and reliant on government for services and supports for other reasons to advance claims to assert their rights.

What is certain, though, is that the present system of providing necessary services and support to adults in Ontario with developmental disabilities needs to be fixed, and that the provincial government has known for some time that the present system is not working. Hopefully, the Leroux action will result in positive changes, whether through successful litigation, or by bringing more attention to this serious problem. The affected individuals are among our society's most vulnerable, and need a better system to provide them with the services and support that are essential to meet their basic needs and safety.

Iler Campbell LLP is a law firm serving co-ops, not-for-profits, charities and socially-minded small business and individuals in Ontario.

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.

Submit requests for future Pro Bono topics to probono@rabble.ca. Read past Pro Bono columns here.

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pro bonodevelopmental disabilitiesCanadian Charter of Rights and Freedomsontario governmentcanadian lawdisability rightsMichael HacklPro BonoApril 27, 2017Privacy compromised: Legal rights and protections in CanadaWhat should the institutions that are privy to our private information do when they have to deal with competing privacy and secrecy concerns? Michael Hackl looks at Canada's privacy laws to find out.'Entwined' a call to action for the rights of the disabledJudith Scott, whose art now hangs in the Museum of Modern Art, was institutionalized for 35 years. A new book tells her story.Service animals for mental health: An emerging issue in disability law The various rules addressing accessibility create a patchy framework that is not adequate to protect the rights of people with mental disabilities to the much‑needed assistance of a support animal.

Movements rooted in community are the antidote to Trumpism

27 April 2017 - 8:52am
April 27, 2017What is the antidote to Trumpism?How do we create a new politics that in the long term builds the basis of a citizen-based democracy to replace the hollowed-out institutions we now have in English-speaking developed countries?

What is the antidote to Trumpism?

27 April 2017 - 8:46am
Political ActionPolitics in CanadaUS Politics

Like biting on a sore tooth it seems like we cannot curb our fascination with U.S. President Donald Trump (just writing those words seem surreal). The man-child president never disappoints in his buffoonish behaviour and exquisite inarticulateness -- as in a recent AP interview.

But we monitor Trump not just because it still seems impossible that such a fool actually is president but also because he is the most dangerous president in U.S. history. He could kill us all.

We tend to forget how he got there and the forces that overturned conventional politics in the U.S. If we are going to be obsessed with anything it should be this: how do we create a new politics that in the long term builds the basis of a citizen-based democracy to replace the hollowed-out institutions we now have in English-speaking developed countries? To do so we first need to understand the roots of Trump's popularity.

We could do worse than revisit the writings of the brilliant Hannah Arendt, still perhaps the most insightful analyst of the roots of totalitarianism. A recent essay by Roger Berkowitz, "Why Arendt Matters: Revisiting The Origins of Totalitarianism," reminded me of her renewed relevance. Berkowitz writes:

"Arendt's understanding of the origins of totalitarianism begins with her insight that mass movements are founded upon 'atomized, isolated individuals.' The lonely people whom Arendt sees as the adherents of movements are not necessarily the poor or the lower classes. They are the 'neutral, politically indifferent people…'"

They join, says Arendt, because they "[a]re obsessed by a desire to escape from reality because in their essential homelessness they can no longer bear its accidental, incomprehensible aspects." This description fits almost perfectly with the white working class facing, as my last column featured, "death by despair."

Berkowitz argues that Trump won because he was not leading a conventional political campaign -- he was the leader of a mass movement and "[m]ovements thrive on the destruction of reality [and] work to create alternate realities that offer adherents a stable and empowering place in the world."

If Arendt and Berkowitz are correct then the left needs to determine how to counter the enervating influence of an increasingly dismal reality on ordinary citizens. So far, at least, Canada's political culture has proved resilient in resisting right-wing populism in spite of social and economic conditions that are not dissimilar to those in the U.S.

But such a populist response is not impossible. Preston Manning harnessed alienation with "eastern elites" in building his Reform party. And the left in Canada still has not come to terms with the key message of Arendt's analysis: that the isolation of people from each other --  "atomized, isolated individuals" -- is the political right's principal advantage and the left's greatest blind spot.

In this context it is interesting to watch the NDP leadership race to test for signs that the candidates understand what they are up against in rebuilding the party. Two of them, Niki Ashton and Peter Julian, have spoken of the importance of social movements in creating a newly robust progressive party. That's encouraging because under both Jack Layton and Thomas Mulcair the party became increasingly professionalized. (Layton didn't start out that way but that's where he ended up.)

The difficulty with this recognition of social movements is that it comes too late. The sad reality is that there are almost no social movements in Canada. While the global Women's March, the recent March for Science in the U.S., The Leap Manifesto and the Quebec students' strike were all significant and provided much-needed inspiration they are not sustained movement organizations. The women's movement in this sense has been moribund for over a decade, the anti-poverty movement likewise. There is literally no peace movement -- recall the days when every year 60,000 people marched for peace in Vancouver -- yet we are closer to nuclear annihilation today than at any time since the Cuban missile crisis. The labour movement has never recovered from the loss of hundreds of thousands of high-paying jobs because of NAFTA and is now all but irrelevant as a national, politically engaged movement. Only the environmental movement and a resurgent First Nations movement can claim a national presence.

The height of the influence of social movements on the political culture was the 1970s and '80s. The Action Canada Network which fought the first Free Trade Agreement (FTA) consisted of all the major unions, the churches, the aforementioned movements and provincial coalitions in every province save one. The Saskatchewan coalition was founded by 50 organizations and played a major role in defeating the Grant Devine Conservative government.

There are no longer any social justice coalitions because their components simply no longer exist or are barely hanging on. A short history lesson may help to explain why. The roots of all of those organizations can be traced back to the late 1960s before the neoliberal counter-revolution. The silo model of movements (each focused on a single issue) reflected the fact that governments of the day actually believed in governing. The Trudeau government (and, later, most provincial governments) funded dozens of grassroots organizations. I once interviewed Gérard Pelletier, the minister in charge of this funding, and believed him when he said the government was responding to left criticism that many voices were not being heard, that our democracy was shallow.

The advent of the FTA and the other elements of the so-called Washington Consensus (deregulation, tax cuts for the wealthy, cuts to social spending, privatization) was the death knell for this kind of grassroots politicking. Neoliberalism -- adopted by all the parties to a greater or lesser extent -- was intent on giving democracy (and its incessant demands for more) a cold shower and dramatically downsizing the social state. The federal and provincial governments quietly tore up the implied "contract" between social movements and the state. They just didn't tell the social movements.

Simone Weil wrote that "[t]o be rooted is perhaps the most important and least recognized need of the human soul." The lesson here for the NDP leadership candidates genuinely open to "social movements" is the need to shift their attention inwards: a renewed NDP must itself become a movement rooted in community (like its predecessor, the CCF), going beyond a list of policies and pledging to help build a society which offers people meaning in their lives.

Murray Dobbin has been a journalist, broadcaster, author and social activist for 40 years. He writes rabble's State of the Nation column.

Photo: Liz Lemon/flickr

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Trumpismprogressive politics2017 ndp leadershipsocial movementsgrassroots activismbuilding communityneoliberalismMurray DobbinApril 27, 2017Working Canadians face 'death by despair' as labour insecurity growsResearch shows that the effects of neoliberalism on Canadian workers are devastating. Who will fight back against worsening conditions and speak up for those most vulnerable?How to fight neoliberalism without giving way to despair This is an epilogue to Ed Finn's three-part series examining the ideology of neoliberalism and the enormous harm its implementation imposes on people and the planet.'The world must jettison neoliberal ideology': A globalization wake-up call If recent mainstream economic reports are to be taken seriously, some of the big brains managing global capitalism these days are starting to lose faith in their neoliberal ideology.

When Trudeau's refugee tweets become a 'slap in the face'

26 April 2017 - 8:55am
April 26, 2017When Trudeau's refugee tweets become a 'slap in the face' Every time Ottawa-based Syrian refugee Dima Siam sees Prime Minister Justin Trudeau saying refugees are welcome in Canada, she says, "I feel as if someone despises me and slapped me on the face."

When Trudeau's refugee tweets become a 'slap in the face'

26 April 2017 - 8:42am
Civil Liberties WatchPolitics in Canada

Every time Ottawa-based Syrian refugee Dima Siam sees Prime Minister Justin Trudeau saying refugees are welcome in Canada, she says, "I feel as if someone despises me and slapped me on the face."

Siam, whose husband and four children are Canadian, survives every day under the shadow of a deportation order to Syria because of a simple paperwork error that, despite being resolved years ago, continues to supply the immigration bureaucracy with the cruel rationale to carry on the same hard-hearted policies that marked the Harper regime.

For years, Siam has called on the Harper and Trudeau governments to allow her to live in peace with her Ottawa family, and over 22,000 people have signed a petition in her support. While she applauds the work of those Canadian officials who went overseas to facilitate the entry of thousands of other Syrian refugees, she wonders why she cannot meet one of those same officials in a downtown Ottawa office to resolve her limbo.

The painful reality of Dima Siam's life hit home once again last week when she showed up at the Ottawa airport to welcome her brother-in-law and his family, Syrian refugees who had been sponsored by her husband, Mohammad, and the United Church. The new arrivals to Canada were welcomed with kind, loving arms by community members even as Siam contemplated the fact that her own temporary resident permit will soon expire and she is no longer eligible for post-partum health care.

A sour happiness

"I had mixed feelings," she says, her husband Mohammad translating.

"Sort of sour happiness. On one hand, I was very happy for them because I knew how difficult their situation was in Syria when we were neighbours back then before 2013, and it was not easier for them in Lebanon when they had to flee Syria in December 2012. This is why I encouraged my husband to sponsor them and went with him to the church to ask if they could co-sponsor with us.

"On the other hand I am very sad for myself being ignored: my rights as a woman in need for protection by the former government continue to be ignored by the current government, although my husband did everything he could and submitted all different types of reunification applications for five years to help me get permanent status in Canada."

Like thousands of refugees living a made-in-Canada limbo -- including hundreds of Syrians under deportation order -- Siam says: "I feel like being in a virtual prison. I have not been able to see my parents and brothers for 7 years. My parents have not seen two of my children at all, and the oldest two were babies when they last saw them. And when my mom applied to visit me when I gave birth to my last baby girl in December, 2016, to be by my side and help me with the kids, her visa application was rejected."

A teacher with a bachelor's degree in biology, Siam wants to work and "integrate into society," but she cannot move forward while stuck in the immigration limbo. She's only had health coverage for nine months over the last five years, and has had to cancel a series of post-partum medical appointments because her health card expired April 7. Although she has a humanitarian and compassionate application in the queue, her temporary resident status expires on June 7.

A dreamland turned nightmare

"To me Canada was like a dreamland based on what my husband used to tell me about it," she says. "We did not come sooner when the war started because although my husband and children are Canadian citizens, I am not, and could not come with them. We only came to Canada when I was granted a visitor visa to accompany my husband and children and after I gave birth to our third baby."

Needless to say, the threat of deportation to Syria, where Dima Siam would be at risk from all sides of the conflict, is psychological torture. It has resulted in depression, family stress -- especially for the young children, who fear they too will be deported and who won't stay in a room unless one of their parents is constantly with them -- emergency room visits via ambulance, and a range of other afflictions due to a life of constant fear and uncertainty.

Stories like Siam's get overlooked in an era where a simple Trudeau tweet garners international praise from sloppy newspaper editorial boards who thank the lord that he isn't Trump, a low standard which is fairly easy to meet, if only on a rhetorical level. But on the practical, day-to-day level, Trudeau's policies are a smiling version of Harper's, continuing the endless grind of detention, deportation, and a refusal to regularize status for hundreds of thousands of people forced to survive in the shadows.

Nowhere is the cruelty of Trudeau's hypocrisy more clear than in his refusal to cancel the Safe Third County Agreement. Following the chaos of the Muslim bans implemented by the Trump regime, 845 students from 22 Canadian law schools came together to conduct 3,143 hours of legal research to determine whether the U.S. can properly be considered a "safe third country" for asylum seekers and refugees. The research-a-thon was a valuable project given the increasing numbers of refugees who are forced to cross the Canada-U.S. border outside of regular ports of arrival, needlessly increasing their level of risk.

In a summary of their research, the law students found that "many persons seeking asylum in Canada who have entered from the United States face a credible threat to their security and fundamental rights if they are returned to the United States." Among the threats for those returned to the U.S. are prolonged periods of immigration detention, limited legal access, and potential deportation to torture or death.

"Canada is in breach of the Canadian Charter if the United States violates the fundamental rights of asylum seekers who Canada has refused in accordance with the [Safe Third County] Agreement," the researchers concluded. "In Canada, asylum seekers have constitutional rights to life, liberty, security of the person, access to counsel upon detention and procedural fairness. By returning asylum seekers to the United States, Canada violates those rights. Canada also breaches its own international legal obligations not to participate in possible indirect refoulement. The authors of this report believe that Canada's continued participation in the Safe Third Country Agreement violates Canada's constitutional and international obligations."

Indefinite immigration detention

Of course, the reception for refugees who make it to Canada is not a rosy picture either, as witnessed by the ongoing detention of thousands of refugees annually, some for indefinite periods. At a court hearing in Toronto last week, Ontario judge Ian Nordheimer heard about the case of Kashif Ali, originally from West Africa, who has spent over seven years in immigration detention, with stretches in solitary confinement lasting over three months, beatings, and regular, humiliating strip searches. Nordheimer asked government lawyers whether Ali could be held for the rest of his natural life if his situation is not resolved. He received no direct response.

The utter disregard for the most basic human rights of those seeking asylum in Canada was revealed in a recent Toronto Star investigation that revealed border officers have no clue how to assess whether individuals should be detained in the first place, and that those being placed in maximum security jails for indefinite stays are often sent there by agents like the one who wrote in an assessment form: "I am not a medical or mental health professional. I have not received any training on the completion of the form. This assessment is cursory in nature and should not be construed as an accurate representation of the subject's risk or mental health status."

The results are predictably disastrous, and all too commonplace. As Global News reported earlier this week, one immigrant in detention spent over a year in solitary confinement for undefined "bizarre" behaviour, and by day 390 of being in the hole, he was assessed as "catatonic." The UN defines 15 days or more in solitary as torture.

The Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA), which annually spends well over $100 million on detaining and deporting refugees, is considering potential policy changes with respect to immigration detention. Their National Immigration Detention Framework on the one hand talks about alternatives to detention, but also seeks an investment "in federal immigration detention infrastructure," which essentially means that the government will continue to detain refugees, but with different buildings and what it alleges will be "improved conditions."

Jailing kids

From 2011-2016, the CBSA detained 38,868 human beings, including hundreds of children (554 kids were officially detained during 2014-16).

The Trudeau Liberals have contracted the Canadian Red Cross to conduct visits to immigration detention facilities, but their assessments are confidential and will only be shared with government officials, contradicting the CBSA's promises of increased accountability and transparency. Last month, Senators Mobina Jaffer and Victor Oh called on Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale to explain why the feds didn't arrange for an independent oversight body or ombudsperson.

Meanwhile, Citizens for Public Justice published a report earlier this month documenting frustrations with refugee sponsorship, "A Half Welcome: Delays, Limits and Inequities in Refugee Sponsorship." Based on interviews and a survey of Sponsorship Agreement Holders (SAH), the report found:

"[t]he current protracted nature of application processing very concerning. Many also call for attention to the long wait currently impacting many non-Syrian applications, considering the government's plan to resettle many Syrian refugees in 2015 and 2016. SAHs consider this to be inequity in private sponsorship, and urge the government to ensure more balance in this regard. SAHs also raised concerns about the allocation limits placed on the resettlement of privately sponsored refugees in 2017, noting that this impedes refugees' safety."

But the problem facing refugees going forward is that Trudeau already got his photo-ops with the first arrivals of Syrian refugees. He doesn't need them anymore. While they were welcome images, the airport photo shoot was indicative of the way he uses whole groups -- women, Indigenous people, refugees, Muslims -- as props for his own self-aggrandizement, garnering quick selfies that can be used for the 2019 election campaign and Liberal fundraising pitches. Trudeau says or tweets what he thinks are the right words, basks in the applause of those who praise him in comparison to Trump, and then trots off to New York meetings where fawning "journalists" ask where his Superman cape is. He is living the ultimate privileged white male fantasy, in which the oppressed of the world are asked to applaud this white saviour for paying lip service to their existence, without having to commit to anything real or substantive.

But in the real world, harm results from Trudeau's policy choices. As the student research-a-thon concluded: "Under international law, a country cannot transfer refugees to a state it knows to be in violation of the Refugee Convention. The 'Travel Ban' and other executive orders are flagrant violations of the Refugee Convention and as such, Canada's refusal to admit refugees at the U.S.-Canada border is itself a violation of international law."

On an individual level, Ottawa's Dima Siam says she sadly has little reason to be optimistic about her fate. However, she is quick to note that "what I have been through did not change the way I think of Canada, especially with all the positive and big-hearted people who have been supporting, fighting, petitioning for me getting justice and welcoming me in Canada."

Photo: Dima Siam (far right, in white hijab, holding her baby, Maria), welcomes her brother-in-law and his family as sponsored refugees to Canada on April 12. Siam is fighting a deportation order that would send her to Syria, the result of a simple paperwork error. The Trudeau government has thus far refused to end her nightmare of limbo and grant her permanent resident status.  Credit: Brian Cornelius

Matthew Behrens is a freelance writer and social justice advocate who co-ordinates the Homes not Bombs non-violent direct action network. He has worked closely with the targets of Canadian and U.S. 'national security' profiling for many years.

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Donald Trump helps build the case for Rachel Notley's social license policy on energy exports

26 April 2017 - 1:47am
David J. Climenhaga

If Alberta's conservatives imagined U.S. President Donald Trump's decision immediately after his election last November to push the Keystone XL Pipeline project forward would provide an opening for them to attack the Alberta NDP government's policy of building social license for export development, they now need to re-examine their assumptions.

With his recent decision to attack Canadian trade -- and his inclusion of energy along with milk, cheese and lumber on his grocery list of grievances -- President Trump has risked ruining his Canadian fellow travellers' strategy.

Both Progressive Conservative Leader Jason Kenney and Wildrose Leader Brian Jean have always been quick to point to any opposition by environmentalists in British Columbia, aging stars in Hollywood or whomever wherever as evidence that trying to earn social license from citizens of other jurisdictions to get Alberta's oil to world markets is a lost cause.

As an alternative -- apparently the only alternative acceptable to conservatives -- they always propose going back to the time-honoured Tory strategy of shoving it up the nose of anyone who stands in their way, never mind their notable lack of success trying to do just that through all the years their man Stephen Harper ran things in Ottawa.

A keystone of this argument, as it were, was that it was the mercurial, climate-denying reality TV POTUS that the whole world now has to learn to live with who gave us Albertans the pipeline we wanted -- so we don't need no stinkin' social license!

Now Trump has gone and demonstrated just how dangerous it can be to assume you can rely on one single market to sell the product that remains the mainstay of Alberta’s economy. This is true even though it's completely murky what the heck it is Trump is complaining about when it comes to energy, massive sales of which are locked in at terms favourable to the United States by the trade agreement the president finds so disagreeable.

We'd better get to work to build some social license if we expect the economy of this place to keep running long enough to manage the transition to a difficult-to-imagine post-carbon future that is assuredly coming whether Trump, Kenney and Jean think it is or not.

Premier Rachel Notley did not miss the opportunity to state the obvious, pointing out to reporters during her recent trade mission to China that the president’s ramblings are that much more evidence for the need to expand the Trans Mountain Pipeline to the West Coast so Alberta oil can reach overseas markets through Canada.

And that simply isn't going to happen with a little more social license than we have right now, as conservatives of various stripes keep pointing out -- and as may become even more obvious on May 9, depending on the results of the B.C. provincial election.

I would say this makes Notley's point in a way that even die-hard supporters of Kenney and Jean should be able to comprehend, although I'm not optimistic.

Meanwhile, Canadian conservatives who have been cheering Trump since before his election, really need to think carefully about how that is going to look now that the U.S. president appears set to provoke a trade war with Canada because … well, we're not actually sure why.

In particular, conservative Canadian politicians who crossed the border to campaign for Trump and other Republicans should probably be thinking about what to say when the issue comes up at all-candidates' meetings in future election campaigns.

Because, believe me, it's going to come up! Believe me! Many, many times. So many times!

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

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Emmanuel Macron, post-politics and social democracy

25 April 2017 - 9:33am
April 25, 2017Post-politics is alive in France, thanks to the marriage of social democracy and neoliberal economics The marriage of social democracy and neoliberal market economics has created what Belgian political philosopher Chantal Mouffe calls "post-politics."

Post-politics is alive in France, thanks to the marriage of social democracy and neoliberal economics

25 April 2017 - 9:30am
World

The marriage of social democracy and neoliberal market economics has created what Belgian political philosopher Chantal Mouffe calls "post-politics."

On the economic issues of how wealth is produced and distributed, the social democratic left in the U.K., France and Germany -- once elected -- have bought into the "globalization is good" agenda promoted by the conservative right.

This left-right consensus means that voters are not offered a choice at election time.

If both left and right agree on who gets what -- let the impartial world market decide -- then politics as social conflict between profit seekers and employees becomes irrelevant.

What Marine Le Pen and her Front National represent is a world divided between friends (the French people) and enemies (others).

The Front National appeals to strong emotions: attachment to country and its flag, anthem and patriotic symbols.

With France shaken by dramatic incidents of violence and assassination, Le Pen plays off the 21-century "war on terrorism" and its associated Islamophobia to stoke fear and distrust of recent immigrants and French Muslims.

While the results of last Sunday's first round of voting for the next president of the French Republic showed support for LePen at 21 per cent, the French Socialist candidate Benoît Hamon gathered only six per cent support.

The French Socialist party has split three ways. The neoliberal supporters of outgoing President Hollande quietly joined with globalist Emmanuel Macron who led the polls with 23 per cent, propped up by his one-year-old En Marche! movement, post-politics to the core, claiming to be neither left nor right.

Benoît Hamon and those who remained faithful to the program of the Socialist party could not overcome the five-year legacy of the outgoing Socialist president who had abandoned policies he defended to get elected, and failed to dent unemployment.

Those loyal to left ideals (as exhibited in Nuit Debout protests against labour market liberalization for instance) joined Jean-Luc Mélenchon under his campaign banner La France Insoumise (unbowed).

The Mélenchon campaign attracted seven million-plus voters. It fell two percentage points short of replacing Le Pen on the run-off ballot -- a frustrating result, with two per cent of voters submitting blank ballots and another two per cent voting for two marginal candidates of the left.

The legacy of the Mélenchon campaign is promising.

By refusing the post-political consensus, Mélenchon opened debates over how to defeat European Union-imposed austerity, end economic practices that contribute to ecological disaster, introduce a new constitution to replace the Fifth Republic monarchy, and break with NATO- and U.S.-led military interventionism.

France Insoumise operated successfully through innovative social media campaigns, borrowing ideas from Podemos in Spain, and Sanders in the U.S., and engaging youth voters.

The success of his campaign led to widespread attempts to demonize and discredit Mélanchon, and it had an impact on the election results; but his ability to defend himself in public debate also generated support for Mélenchon from disaffected voters coveted by Le Pen. 

Le Pen received less than five per cent of the vote in Paris. Her supporters number those with small capital: businesses and farmers worried about economic survival, and those disenchanted with Europe.

Emanuel Macron and En Marche! were financed and supported by the 40 French corporations that constitute the CAC stock exchange index.

In recent years, ownership of French media has become increasingly concentrated and liberty of expression reduced. The new media lords strongly supported Macron.

In June, France elects its parliament. The ability of Macron, the likely winner in the May 7 run-off against Le Pen, to put together a stable legislative majority is much in doubt.

En Marche! has been recruiting and interviewing candidates for the legislative elections.

Trying to break with the old parties, Macron has promised to name to cabinet only people who have never been ministers in earlier governments.

The (Gaullist) Republicans and Socialists who have dominated the National Assembly will not go down to defeat, just because Macron asks people to vote En Marche! 

The Front National has only two current members in the 577-member National Assembly. The two-round voting system has kept them from winning seats.

Jean-Luc Mélenchon and La France Insoumise will challenge Le Pen and post-politics as practiced by the Socialists, Gaullists, and incarnated by Macron and En Marche!

Duncan Cameron is former president of rabble.ca and writes a weekly column on politics and current affairs.

Photo: radiowood/flickr

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french election 2017france politicsneoliberal politicsMarine Le PenDuncan CameronApril 25, 2017French presidential race finds two leading candidates enmeshed in corruptionFrance awaits the results of judicial enquiries launched against the Republican candidate and the Front National candidate, not just the first round of voting for a new president.Populism and faux feminism: Marine Le Pen, Donald Trump and Justin TrudeauJustin Trudeau arrived in Washington on Monday with a plan to help Trump polish his image with women, even though Canadian women are still waiting for action on public child care from our feminist PM.Fighting the right-wing plague that struck Europe In its current version the European extreme right represents the Europe of peoples, not the Europe of democracies. The threat it poses is serious because European democracy is weak and getting weaker.

Make American dairy farms great again! Adopt supply management

25 April 2017 - 2:07am
David J. Climenhaga

Never imagine, even for a moment, that U.S. President Donald Trump was serious when he talked about standing up for the interests American farmers in his notorious anti-Canadian trade speech at the Snap-On Tool factory in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

Some Wisconsin dairy farmers may have been pleased when Trump began bloviating on the topic because anything is better than nothing when you're in desperate straits. And have no doubt, a lot of American dairy farmers are in desperate straits.

But the interests Trump is defending are those of the multinational "agri-food" corporations that hold Wisconsin dairy farmers in a grip that approaches feudal vassalage, and which would love to be able to do the same thing to their counterparts down on the Canadian farm.

Remember, despite his lies, misdirection and deceptions, the not-so-competent Trump serves the same neoliberal corporate masters as the quite competent Hillary Clinton, whom he defeated in last fall's U.S. presidential election with a little help from his friends in the FBI and -- who knows? -- maybe the FSB as well.

So his problem with the "very unfair things" supposedly going on in Canadian agriculture's supply-managed dairy, poultry and egg sectors may be that they offer a good, very good example to U.S. farmers that the agri-food lobby and its friends in Washington would very much like to eliminate forever.

On the other hand, speaking of desperate straits, with the end of his shambolic first 100 days in office fast approaching, President Trump may want desperately to look as if he's doing something for the schmucks who voted for him when, despite his big talk, he hasn't really done anything much at all since he was sworn in on Jan. 20.

Because when farmers are left to themselves, they can usually be counted on to produce themselves into poverty, it's good to have something to blame for the problems you’ve created. As Wisconsin farmer Chris Holman observed in a recent blog post, "Sorry Canada, this time that thing is you!"

"Scapegoating Canadian trade policy is a brilliant move as morally flexible politics goes, but as is often the case with finger-pointing, anyone doing it in a situation like this looks suspiciously like a guilty four-year-old,” Holman wrote.

Since the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates about 163 million litres of heavily subsidized American milk were dumped in fields, manure ponds or otherwise went down the drain in the first eight months of 2016, U.S. farmers in financial trouble would dearly love the opportunity to dump it in Canada instead. Supply-managed Canadian dairy farmers, by the way, receive zero subsidies from our taxes.

And lots of American dairy farms are in big financial trouble. According to the USDA, and state agencies quoted by Holman, about 500 Wisconsin farms close every year as the dairy industry there grows ever more concentrated. And, believe me, this has nothing to do with Canada.

Of course, bad neoliberal economic policies have the same kind of friends on both sides of the Medicine Line, which may be why the Canadian supply management system, which supplies high-quality product to Canadians at a fair price while ensuring dairy, poultry and egg farmers earn a living wage, has been under attack by the same types in Canada.

This explains why the Usual Suspects, like the neoliberal propagandists in Thinktankistan and their publicity auxiliary in Canadian media where Postmedia and The Globe and Mail compete to outdo one another with hysterical denunciations of supply management, are positively gleeful at President Trump's bombastic attacks on Canada.

"Dear Donald Trump," exclaimed the failing Globe and Mail in an editorial attacking at least some of its few remaining readers, "please milk Canada's sacred dairy cow."

It's true that supply management does "interfere with the market" to ensure a steady supply of supply-managed products at a fair price -- which is enough to send the Globe and Postmedia into paroxysms of apoplexy on ideological grounds alone.

But we can be reasonably sure that certain things will happen in the Canadian market without it, notwithstanding the fairy-tale promises made by neoliberal journalists, think-tank shills and a few geographically fortunate farmers located next to major centres.

First, as is happening in Wisconsin, there will be significant concentration of the Canadian egg, poultry and dairy farming into a few corporate hands.

In dairy, though, it may be all for naught over the long term for the simple reason most of our milk will eventually be trucked in from places with more favourable climates for year-round feed crops, like Mexico and the southern United States.

If you imagine that will make it cheaper, though, don't bet the farm … as it were. Without supply management, Canada's heavily concentrated grocery supply corporations will merrily continue to charge consumers pretty much what they please. The profits, though, will go into corporate pockets, not those of community members and farmers.

The occasional loss leader may give the illusion milk or eggs are cheaper, but that will come at the expense of dairy farmers and extra mark-ups on other groceries.

Moreover, the not-so-cheap milk you do get will be loaded with Recombinant Bovine Growth hormone and antibiotics necessary to run dairies in the U.S. market.

If you imagine the market will provide a niche for producers of artisanal products for consumers willing to pay a little bit more, dream on. Surviving Canadian dairies will be screaming to adopt the same strategies. They will say they have little choice, and they will be right.

The government of Canada will end up having to compensate farmers with quota to the tune of billions of dollars -- which will be paid by you and me.

So the short answer is that while supply management gives consumers a quality product at a price that allows local farmers a living wage, the alternative is not cheaper milk, cheese, eggs and poultry. It's the same price for lower quality food produced in dystopic conditions and hauled across the continent in diesel trucks.

Well, I suppose we should be thankful President Trump is not yet sending real bombs our way, but if this attack succeeds, you can count on it that the health of our economy, the success of our agricultural sector and the people who run it, and the physical wellbeing of Canadians who consume these products will all be worse.

As National Farmers Union President Jan Slomp cheekily advised Trump a few days ago, if he really wants to make American dairy farms great again, he should adopt supply management.

This post also appears on rabble.ca.

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It's time we updated the rules about whether journalists can be activists

23 April 2017 - 8:48pm
April 23, 2017Can a journalist be an activist? Let's hope soToronto Star columnist Desmond Cole's campaign against police carding led him to disrupt a public meeting this week. Journalism needs to update its rules. Image: Flickr/id4ro

As pot legalization shows, the path to social change is winding

21 April 2017 - 10:57am
Politics in Canada

Deep social change happens so slowly it looks like nothing is happening. Not just over years but decades, maybe longer. Nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing. Then WHAM. The imminent legalization of (nonmedical) marijuana is a perfect example. Its perfectness even has a generational, father to son, symmetry.

Back in 1969 the Liberal government of Pierre Trudeau appointed a royal commission to recommend policy on marijuana. Its head was a future Supreme Court justice. They heard hundreds of witnesses, including John Lennon, and in 1973 reported. Two of the three members recommended decriminalization for possession and cultivation; the third supported legalization. No one suggested keeping it criminal. It must have been what Trudeau wanted. You always select people knowing what they'll give you. Then nothing, nothing, nothing -- till the son.

Why finally now? Who knows? But that's how it goes: there is social ferment yet no official policy or law reflects it. You feel it's hopeless. Then it bursts forth whole. Too bad for devotees of the cause who died in the interim.

In the same era, the 1960s, came the sexual revolution. It questioned heteronormative sex. It was like the drugs, music and political revolutions. Anti-capitalist authorities, such as Herbert Marcuse, theorized about the possibility of "nonrepressive desublimation." Intellectual guru Norman O. Brown advocated "polymorphous perversity" versus uncomplicated (marital only) intercourse.

Then 30 years of nothing. Gary Hart dropped his 1988 Democratic run for president because he was spotted on a sailboat with not-his-wife. In 1998 Bill Clinton was caught having oral sex in the Oval Office (making every word in that phrase sound sexual) with an intern. The sole achievement of his eight years as president was resisting the stigmatization and staying in office. (It seems to me Donald Trump owes Bill Clinton for the fact that his tape didn't cost him victory.)

The official marker for change on this front was same-sex marriage, which became legal nationally in the U.S. in 2015. WHAM, finally.

What about Bill O'Reilly, the mighty mouth at Fox News, who this week was booted for harassment of women working there? Did the Murdochs just find out? I think it's unfortunate that O'Reilly's harassment history got intertwined with Fox's right-wing ideology -- because the very same things have happened for years at other media outlets of all stripes. Women's lives were blighted and careers destroyed at more "liberal" or progressive institutions by behaviour as ugly and sometimes far worse than his including, bien sur, the CBC.

But why now? Nobody knows. It seemed to coalesce at the time of the Jian Ghomeshi and Bill Cosby cases two or three years ago. Then, why then? I don't think there's an answer. (Which should make people wary of declaring "causes" of anything, like wars and recessions.) But that's when women who had been fighting these battles for decades began saying they sensed a "sea-change." The lesson is obvious: don't fret about lack of results; just keep on battling.

Personally, I find it regrettable that the arrival of the cannabis legislation hasn't been more celebratory. I know laws are dry things and Parliament a dreary place. Besides, everyone can say they saw it coming. Still, people celebrate birthdays and anniversaries though they're inevitable. Since you never know the precise moment of a WHAM, it should be worth a cheer.

Maybe it's because fighting when the outcome is uncertain, or hopeless, is more fun. Pierre the dad had an insouciance in office that his son lacks. Even 10 years into power, he pirouetted for the cameras behind the Queen's back, as they went into a formal dinner. Meaning what exactly? Maybe: Believe me, all this prestige and rank means nothing, though I'm enjoying it while it lasts.

Justin had that before his political ascension: when he called Peter Kent "a piece of shit"; boxed, defying the odds, against Patrick Brazeau; or two years later, said nothing "f---ing matters" in the ring except who you truly are. I'm sure he has his reasons, including the dad he had, but now, over 10 years younger than Pierre was when he pirouetted, he sometimes seems older.

All the more reason to take pride in delivering the knockout blow in the case of pot. He should have learned how long it can take to finish something that's clearly right.

Maybe little Hadrien will get around to electoral reform.

This column was first published in the Toronto Star.

Photo: GoToVan/flickr

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