Canada's vague, unimaginative and not all that progressive priorities for NAFTA renegotiations

17 August 2017 - 8:40am
Hadrian Mertins-KirkwoodStuart Trew

In a series of speeches on Monday morning, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland outlined six broad priorities for Canada in the impending renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Freeland's list was not as extensive as the U.S. proposal released in July, which is to be expected, but it was also unimaginative.

Trump called for NAFTA to be renegotiated, after all, so the pressure was on his trade team to explain what exactly has to change in the deal to make it "fair," in their view. Canada and Mexico are on the defensive: neither wants to see NAFTA thrown out, but they also don't want to get rolled over by Team Trump.

So what did Freeland tell us? From procurement to regulatory co-operation to labour rights, Canada sees the recently concluded Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) with Europe as the model for NAFTA 2.0. (Trump won't, but that's a conversation for another day.) The Trudeau government has repeatedly praised CETA as the "most progressive" trade agreement in Canadian history and will try to push that model onto the U.S. and Mexico.

To be clear, CETA is not a progressive agreement. The EU deal was negotiated almost entirely by the Harper government. Had the Conservatives won the election in 2015, they would likely have fronted the same six priorities for NAFTA renegotiation as the Liberals did today. Besides, being the "most progressive" deal in a sea of pro-corporate trade pacts is hardly worth celebrating. In fact, CETA includes a long list of truly regressive elements that continue to be challenged by workers, activists and politicians in Canada and the EU.

One of those issues is the chapter on regulatory co-operation. Earlier this year we co-published a report with our European allies exploring how Canadian governments have repeatedly prioritized business concerns over environmental or public health concerns when regulating (e.g. in the areas of toxics, food safety, rail safety and GMOs). Co-operation, in this case, became an excuse for inaction or the adoption of pro-industry regulations. Provisions to "harmonize" regulations through CETA threaten to reduce regulatory standards to the lowest common denominator in Canada and the EU, just as they have in North America.

But now we are dealing with a Trump administration that is defunding its environmental regulator, doubts the science of climate change, and wants to scale up fossil fuel production and exports. Is this really the right time to be increasing the amount of regulatory co-operation we do with the U.S.? Freeland talked about the opportunity in the NAFTA renegotiation to "cut red tape" for business. The adoption of deregulated environmental standards across North America could hardly be called progressive.

Another key issue is NAFTA's problematic investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) mechanism, which gives multinational corporations a powerful tool to undermine public interest regulations -- a tool that has been used more times against Canada than either of the two other NAFTA countries. At the trade committee this morning, NDP trade critic Tracey Ramsey asked Minister Freeland directly if ISDS would be removed from NAFTA, but Freeland dodged the question by claiming that governments have a "right to regulate" regardless of ISDS.

That might sound like a reassuring answer, but the government also claims the right of governments to set environmental policy is protected in CETA, which it isn't. An updated ISDS system in NAFTA, modelled on CETA, is simply not good enough. If ISDS survives these renegotiations, it will be difficult for the government to honestly claim NAFTA has been made progressive.

Last month, the CCPA laid out our own priorities for the NAFTA renegotiation in a submission to the government's consultations. One of them -- perhaps one of the most important -- had to do with process. We proposed that the NAFTA renegotiation should be inclusive and transparent, meaning that labour leaders, Indigenous communities and other critical stakeholders should have a seat at the table, and that the talks should be public.

Instead, Minister Freeland has established a NAFTA advisory council that includes business leaders and partisans from the left and right opposition parties. The panel also includes CLC President Hassan Yussuff and Chief Perry Bellegarde of the Assembly of First Nations, but its benefit (to the government) may be in the impression it creates of a cross-ideological consensus on NAFTA -- a consensus that does not really exist.

On the surface, the inclusion of the AFN on the advisory council corrects the historic exclusion of Indigenous nations from Canadian trade deals that affect their sovereignty. The same could be said for labour, which historically plays a much larger (if disputed) role in U.S. trade policy than it has in Canada. But this will only be true if the NAFTA council is taken seriously and is not sidelined while business groups get to shape the bulk of Canada's priorities for renegotiation.

Will this advisory council be a real sounding board with privileged access to texts, or merely window dressing on the traditional closed-door negotiation process?

Canadians are starting to catch on to just how important image -- the narrative -- is for this government. In the public communications universe, being seen as progressive can be a victory, even when the government doesn't follow through with actions (as on funding for the new feminist development policy, Indigenous reconciliation, and especially electoral reform). Like with those other files, we should ask whether the stories the government tells us about progressive trade deals are just that -- stories.

The proof will be in the government's actions after the NAFTA negotiations get started this week.

Hadrian Mertins-Kirkwood is an international trade and climate policy researcher at the CCPA. Stuart Trew is a CCPA trade researcher and Editor of the Monitor. This article was originally published on the CCPA blog Behind The Numbers.

Photo: OEA - OAS/flickr

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How do we get the labour movement to take up the fight against fascism?

17 August 2017 - 7:57am
August 17, 2017Re-engaging unions in the fight against fascismThe roots of the labour movement are anti-fascist. How do we get the labour movement to take up the fight today?

Re-engaging unions in the fight against fascism

16 August 2017 - 2:45pm
Nora Loreto

In Charlottesville, Virginia, when a car ploughed into a crowd of anti-racist activists killing Heather Heyer and injuring 19 others, many people linked that tactic to recent terror attacks, especially in Europe. Indeed, driving a truck into a crowd of protesters has become a favoured tactic for some who seek to murder. So much so that even Quebec City's Carnival parade erected barriers to lower the potential of this happening last February.

"The attacks in Charlottesville show the violence of racism and white supremacy," read a statement from the Teamsters Joint Council 16 in New York City. "We stand with Charlottesville and honour the memory of Heather Heyer. We also know that our union and the labour movement must lead in the fight against white supremacy. Those in power have always sought to divide workers based on race. Unions are the voice of equality and justice in the workplace. It is our responsibility to unite the working class for racial and economic justice."

For labour activists, seeing a car drive into protesters is a strong reminder of the routine danger that workers face when they walk a picket line. That, when your body is on the line to force a company to slow down or close, the likelihood of injury from a car driving into you is very high.

Back in 2006, when Ontario college workers were on province-wide strike, John Stammers was killed by a driver while he was on the picket line at Centennial College. The driver was not charged.

Cars are dangerous, especially when used as a weapon. As protests have grown in the United States, some lawmakers are exploring ways to legalize injury by car. Republican lawmakers have considered legislation that would make it legal to hit protesters who are blocking a street, if the consequences of that action were "unintentional" or "accidental." In North Dakota, a proposal defeated by 41-50, actually stated: "A driver of a motor vehicle who negligently causes injury or death to an individual obstructing vehicular traffic on a public road, street, or highway may not be held liable for any damages."

This has triggered Republicans in other states to try to pass similar pieces of legislation. In North Carolina, legislation passed that would shield drivers who exercised "due care" but still hit protesters.

There's no doubt that these laws are being passed with protests coordinated by Black Lives Matter and other civil rights movements in mind. Criminalizing and crushing dissent through any means necessary is nothing new.

Fascism is nothing new either, and the connection between the rise in the alt-right and the power of organized labour goes far beyond the similarities of tactics employed by individuals who seek to cause harm. Labour's principal role in a democratic society is to be a counterbalancing political force to power, both the economic power of the bosses and the political power of the state.

Trade unions were at the epicentre of the fight against fascism in Europe in the 1930s. As a result, dictators outlawed independent unions. Mussolini took over trade unions and turned them into state-run fascist entities. By 1935, four million Italian workers were represented by the Fascist Trade Unions. Controlling workers through their governing bodies helped to undercut anti-fascist organizing.

Crushing trade unions was also critical to Hitler's rise. Even before the Nazis were installed as the state government in July 1933, he jailed union leaders, had his police take over union offices and seized their assets. He forced them to merge with the Nazi party, ending independent trade unionism.

As a democratic and independent voice of workers, it's obvious why the labour movement poses a threat to leaders with dictatorial tendencies. With resources, internal democratic structures, access to people and communities and various platforms, they are a critical node in the fight against fascism.

But it's been social movements, especially Black Lives Matter that have been doing the heaviest lifting in the current iteration of this struggle. With union density of just 10.4 per cent, perhaps it's unfair to expect the labour movement to be the standard bearer against fascism.

Mass mobilizations against fascism, both expressions of it in the streets and within the White House remind us that organized resistance remains our best chance at defending democracy and confronting state power. This is as true today as it ever has been. While AFL-CIO representatives Richard Trumka and Thea Lee resigned yesterday from Donald Trump's manufacturing council, the question must be asked: why were they ever there in the first place?

Too much of organized labour has forgotten that the primary role of unions goes far beyond dues-paying members. That people power manifests in various ways, but none so powerful, resourced and broad as the labour movement. Trade unionists should be arm-in-arm with Black Lives Matter and anti-fascist organizations. They should be supplying advice and tools to topple monuments. They should co-ordinate food, sound systems and a political analysis that cuts through the right-wing, divisive rhetoric that has seemingly confused some among the working class.

In Canada, where union density remains much higher, at almost 30 per cent, the responsibility that trade unionists have is even greater. They should be linking arms with the thousands of newly arrived refugees, helping with relief efforts and volunteering their resources and time. They should be paying for anti-racist organizers. They should be boosting these messages in the mainstream press.

They need to hold the spot in social democracy that they're supposed to hold.

Photo: Joe Brusky/flickr

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Businesses lagging behind in Indigenous reconciliation, says report

16 August 2017 - 9:01am
August 16, 2017Businesses lagging behind in Indigenous reconciliation: ReportCanadian companies have a long way to go to advance reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, a recent report argues.

Radical model could be key to creating new community newspapers across Canada

15 August 2017 - 4:32pm
Nick Fillmore

News outlets in Canadian communities are falling like bowling pins.

At least 171 media organizations in 138 communities closed between 2008 and this January, says the Local News Research Project, a project led by Ryerson School of Journalism. By comparison, only 51 new outlets opened.

Project co-ordinator April Lindgren writes:

"Local news poverty, we argue, is greatest in communities where residents have limited or no access to timely, verified news about local politics, education, health, economic and other key topics they need to navigate daily life."

Small communities such as Markdale, Ontario, and Canmore, Alberta, lost their local papers, while cities like Guelph, Ontario and Nanaimo, B.C. were among the largest centres to be hit.

Newspapers have been crucial for the development of Canada for more than three centuries. But "free" news from for-profit papers is coming to an end.

Daily papers are failing because millions of dollars of advertising they used to have has either moved to the internet or has just disappeared. Because an ad that brings in $1,000 in a paper sells for about $100 on the internet, newspapers are so far unable to make a go of it on the internet.

Communities poorly served

Hundreds of Canadian communities are now poorly served when it comes to local news by underfunded and understaffed Internet news sites, give-away newspapers and even bloggers.

But Canadian communities still should have access to reliable newspapers. They need to explore the development of community-controlled not-for-profit papers.  

Non-profit newspapers have financial advantages over for-profit papers. A commercial paper is expected to churn out at least 15 per cent profits or investors will take their money elsewhere. Business executives at corporations command salaries into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. The manager of a non-profit might earn $90,000. Ad sales staff at daily papers earn a large salary; not so at a non-profit. A for-profit paper pays taxes. A non-profit pays fewer taxes and can engage in fundraising activities.

Secondly, locally owned non-profit papers command reader loyalty because they embrace and reflect all aspects of a community. Corporate media often filter the news so that it reflects the interests and views of the rich and powerful.

The internet is the future for many news organizations, but many people prefer to hold a newspaper in their hands. A printed publication tends to have more authority than an internet site. And finally, advertisers like to see their ads in print.

There are no non-profit newspapers in Canada, but hundreds of public interest organizations operate on a non-profit basis.

The Guardian world's best non-profit

The U.K. Guardian is the most prominent not-for-profit newspaper in the world. Last year, the award-winning but financially strapped Philadelphia Inquirer switched to the not-for-profit model. Both organizations have large endowments.

Not-for-profit newspapers are highly desirable if a group can develop a break-even budget. I believe this is possible in Canada.

If folks feel there's a need for a newspaper in their community the first step would be to bring together 15 or 20 people who represent a cross-section of citizens. The group could conduct a survey to determine whether people in the community support the idea.   

An important early task would be to develop a project model to see if the concept is financially viable. First steps would include thinking about how groups and businesses in the community might contribute, and reaching out to local journalists and media outlets to see if they would like to become involved in the project.

My recommendation is that groups create a non-profit corporation. This way any surplus at the end of the year would go back into the project.

One of the biggest questions concerns how to distribute the paper. Traditional door-to-door delivery could be costly but, if the project can afford it, this is the best way to go.

'Mini-paper' cheap to produce

However, groups could use a much cheaper distribution system. What I call the "mini-paper" would have small pages -- 8 1/2 x 11 1/2 inches -- just about the same size as Maclean's magazine -- distributed to subscribers by email.

Subscribers would print out the paper in the morning. The group would provide a simple binding system that readers would use to hold the pages. It might be best to limit the size of any one edition to 24 pages or less.

The huge advantage of the mini-paper is that it would not require newsprint and there would be no distribution expenses.

In case subscribers prefer to access the news online, all of the articles and other information published in the mini-paper would be posted behind a paywall on a website.

The big question for any group is figuring out where the money is going to come from.

I think it should be possible to run a non-profit paper with about one-third of the revenue coming from advertising, one-third from subscribers and sustained donors, and one-third from fundraising. 

Many sources of funding

I have considerable experience as a fundraiser and would be pleased to provide fundraising advice to any group free of charge. Here's a summary of funding possibilities:

  • Sustaining memberships where strong supporters pay an annual amount;
  • As is the case with any newspaper, subscriber fees would be charged;
  • Revenue from community advertisers would be an important source of funds;
  • For organizations that know how to utilize it effectively, the internet has a huge potential for fundraising;
  • An investigative journalism fund;
  • A fundraising committee could carry out a number of activities to raise money, including silent auctions, evening panel discussions, and hold breakfasts with guest speakers;
  • Support from "A Guardian Angel": Perhaps your community has one or more individuals who have amassed a lot of money, and;
  • Government support: A group should make presentations to municipal governments and the appropriate provincial government departments.

My strong advice to a group is to not launch a new paper until you have lined up funding for at least your first full year.

There are a number of Canadian non-profit experts and journalists who would be pleased to help develop a project. Several knowledgeable U.S. organizations, such as the Institute for Nonprofit News and the Poynter institute could provide advice.

The creation of even one sustainable, independent newspaper project anywhere in Canada would be a huge, unprecedented accomplishment. It could be the forerunner of other papers that would once again provide our communities with a reliable source of news and information.

Nick Fillmore is a Toronto freelance journalist who specializes in writing about media issues. He is a frequent contributor to rabble.ca Nick was co-publisher of The 4th Estate, a highly-successful alternative newspaper in Nova Scotia. Nick was a CBC journalist and producer for more than 25 years. Email: fillmore0274@rogers.com

Photo: greenzowie/flickr

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WATCH: Striking Pearson airport workers ask for fair deal and respect

15 August 2017 - 3:37pm
YouTubeNadine MacKinnonLabourAugust 15, 2017Best-of-the-net

Members of Teamsters Local 419 walked off the job at Pearson International Airport in July. The airport's baggage handlers and grounds crew are calling on Swissport for a fair deal -- asking for respect as well as improvements in benefits, safety and wages. Hear from workers who are walking the line and speaking out.

swissportbaggage handlersToronto airport workersstrikeairport grounds crew Teamsters Local 419 on strike at Pearson

A food policy for Canada -- show us the goods, please!

15 August 2017 - 1:34pm
EnvironmentFood & HealthPolitics in Canada

You'll know from reading this column that I am rarely one to champion or cheerlead government initiatives.

Call me jaded, call me skeptical, call me grouchy…

Having been around the agricultural policy block a few times, I have all too often seen both previous federal Liberal and Conservative governments shaft family farmers and small-scale producers, and food consumers. I have seen governments miss opportunity after opportunity to encourage sustainable agriculture and healthy food practices, and instead continue to bow to the pressure of transnationals and corporations bent on making profits at the costs of the environment, health and community.

The most recent example, of course, is the introduction of genetically modified (GM) salmon, unlabelled, into the Canadian market. How the heck did that happen? Despite the fact that more than 75 per cent of Canadians want labelling of GM products, GM salmon has been sold in Canada over the past year without consumers' knowledge. And last May the majority Liberal government voted down a bill calling for mandatory labelling of GM products.

So you can see why I am grouchy.

Maybe it is because I am so frustrated with the lack of agricultural policy at the federal level, and the lack of vision and ethics when it comes to food policy, that I decided to fill out the online survey on food policy that the federal government launched in late May.

The deadline to respond to the survey is now August 31. Here is the promotional blurb:

"Agriculture and Agri-Food Minister, Lawrence MacAulay, announced today that the Government of Canada is launching consultations to support the development of A Food Policy for Canada. An online survey is now open at www.canada.ca/food-policy and Canadians are encouraged to share their input to help shape a food policy that will cover the entire food system, from farm to fork. Canadians can share their views on four major themes:

• increasing access to affordable food;

• improving health and food safety;

• conserving our soil, water, and air; and

• growing more high-quality food.  

A Food Policy for Canada will be the first of its kind for the Government of Canada, and is a new step in the government's mandate to taking a collaborative and broad-based approach to addressing food-related issues in Canada.

The online consultation is the first of a number of engagement activities planned with a wide range of participants to inform the development of a food policy. Feedback from the consultations will provide the federal government with a better understanding of Canadians' priorities when it comes to food-related issues. The results will help inform key elements of a food policy, including a long-term vision and identifying actions to take in the near term."

Much of the language used in this government blurb reads as if was taken directly from the Food Secure Canada playbook. Food Secure Canada is a coalition of organizations pushing for meaningful food and agriculture policy. It has been lobbying the federal government, along with other farm organizations, to create a national food policy. The organization is also hosting kitchen table discussions in the hopes of injecting more responses, and likely pressure, into the process. Food Secure Canada has done a lot of collaborative work on food policy. I hope these efforts will bear fruit, and that the federal government is not simply adopting the language. The changes required are massive, and I am just not sure that the Liberals are up to it… but perhaps I am too cynical!

We'll see. So, I held my nose and did my civic duty and filled out the survey.

You can find it here.

Just a tip -- after each question you get to plug in a 50-word response with whatever related thoughts you have. Take advantage of that small comment space to tell it like it should be! The survey allows you to go back later if you want to refine your responses.

Now that I have held my nose, I am holding my breath -- to see what kind of food policy the federal government will reveal given its consultations and political will.

Lois Ross is a communications specialist, writer, and editor, living in Ottawa. Her column "At the farm gate" discusses issues that are key to food production here in Canada as well as internationally.

Photo: John Tornow/flickr


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At the farm gatefood policyagricultural policyCanadian farmsCanadian agricultureTrudeau governmentLois RossAugust 15, 2017Hungering for commitments on a new Canadian food policyHarvest season may be over in Canada, but for activist farmers the work is never done. As winter approaches, food activists are advocating for long-term policy changes that are increasingly urgent.Agriculture stats call for political will as family farms dwindleIn mid-May the federal government began to release the long-awaited results of the 2016 Agriculture Census. While lots of the detail has yet to be revealed, there is enough to see the big picture.Need for national food policy intensifies as costs soar and food insecurity remainsThere should be no one suffering from food insecurity in a country as rich as Canada, yet this is a big issue. Here is why we need a national food policy that focuses on sustainability.

Sending support to those needing help in Charlottesville

15 August 2017 - 8:25am
August 15, 2017Responding to Charlottesville: Some ways to helpMany of us are devastated by the news from Charlottesville. The Activist Toolkit has been pulling together tools to help send support.

Responding to Charlottesville: Some ways to help

14 August 2017 - 8:42pm
Maya Bhullar

Many of us are devastated by the news from Charlottesville. The Activist Toolkit has been pulling together ways to help. Here are some sites which are collecting donations:

Now let's talk a bit about what Rebel Media's Faith Goldy was saying from the ground in Charlottesville. Seems she is intent on fueling what she calls a "rising in, I think, white racial consciousness, after decades of identity politics which underscored non-white identities."

Finally, remember these words circulated by B.C. journalist and radio producer Andrew Kurjata. Let's keep working to make these acts of hate visible. The homegrown racists in Canada have taken to attacking schools, in B.C., in Alberta, in Ontario, and attacking public services available to Muslims. We will be doing another roundup of Canada specific anti-racist organizing very soon.

white supremacy doesn't always dress in khakis and wave torches. its victims aren't always killed while the world is watching.

— Andrew Kurjata (@akurjata) August 13, 2017

Help us out and use the #stophateCA hashtag to share accounts of organizing and tools. Please stand up to and report hate. 

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Image: Flickr/Alisdare Hickson

White nationalist rally turns violent in Virginia

14 August 2017 - 8:40am
August 14, 2017Trump fails to condemn white nationalist violence in VirginiaIn condemning the violence that occurred in Virginia this weekend, Trump failed to point out the instigators of that violence - white nationalists and Neo-Nazis.

Trump fails to condemn white nationalist violence in Virginia

14 August 2017 - 8:18am
Brent Patterson

A white nationalist rally -- that included neo-Nazis, skinheads, members of the Ku Klux Klan -- took place in the college town Charlottesville in Virginia this weekend.

The Associated Press reports:

"Saturday's Unite the Right rally was meant to protest the planned removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. The city of Charlottesville voted to remove the statue earlier this year, but it remains in Emancipation Park, formerly known as Lee Park, pending a judge's ruling expected later this month."

After about two hours of clashes between the racists and counter-demonstrators, a car was driven into the counter-protest killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer and injuring at least 26 other people.

The article adds:

"In May, a torch-wielding group that included prominent white nationalist Richard Spencer gathered around the statue for a nighttime protest, and in July, about 50 members of a North Carolina-based KKK group travelled there for a rally, where they were met by hundreds of counter-protesters."

Hundreds of white nationalists had also marched -- carrying torches -- through the University of Virginia campus on Friday night.

The racist groups Vanguard America, Identity Evropa, the League of the South, the National Socialist Movement, the Traditionalist Workers Party, and the Fraternal Order of Alt Knights were all reportedly at Saturday's protest.

U.S. President Donald Trump commented:

"We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides. It's been going on for a long time in our country. Not Donald Trump. Not Barack Obama. It's been going on for a long, long time."

Trump did not specifically condemn white supremacists in his "violence on many sides" comment.

Toronto Star columnist Shree Paradkar observes, "On many sides. Which sides would those be, Mr. President, when there were just two: white supremacy -- and equality."

The neo-Nazi website Daily Stormer noted:

"Trump comments were good. He didn't attack us. He just said the nation should come together. Nothing specific against us. ...No condemnation at all." Former Klu Klux Klan leader David Duke, who attended Saturday's demonstration, stated, white nationalists were working to "fulfil the promises of Donald Trump."

Civil rights icon Jesse Jackson says:

"The ignorance and hate and fear and violence in Virginia is being fed from the top down. The incitement to violence is very apparently coming from the White House. ...The president bears a major responsibility. You cannot create unhate with one tweet. The campaigns of fear and hatred and division has caught up with us and the end is not in sight."

For more on this, please read this commentary by Paradkar.

Photo: Eden, Janine and Jim/flickr

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When Trump threatens nuclear war, we need to take him seriously

13 August 2017 - 5:52pm
US PoliticsWorld

President Donald Trump threatened nuclear war this week, just six months into his presidency.

Speaking from his luxury golf resort in Bedminster, New Jersey, Trump warned: "North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States. They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen." He was responding to a question about a news report that North Korea had successfully miniaturized nuclear warheads, which could theoretically strike the U.S. mainland.

After Trump's threat, North Korea responded, saying it was reviewing plans to launch a nuclear attack on Guam, a United States territory in the South Pacific with major U.S. Air Force and naval bases. The statement went on, "The army of the DPRK [Democratic People's Republic of Korea] will turn the U.S. mainland into the theatre of a nuclear war before the inviolable land of the DPRK turns into one."

Words matter. This is how wars start.

When the president of the United States promises "fire and fury like the world has never seen," we need to take him seriously. The U.S. nuclear arsenal has unsurpassed lethality. The only atomic bombs ever used in war, those the U.S. dropped on Japan 72 years ago this week, wrought horrific death and destruction on the civilian populations.

There are still people alive who survived the "fire and fury" of those first atomic bombs. Trump's bellicose threat this week fell between the anniversaries of the 1945 atomic bomb attacks on Hiroshima, on Aug. 6, and Nagasaki, on Aug. 9. Over 200,000 people were killed in those two attacks, whether vaporized instantly or from fatal burns and radiation sickness. The survivors are highly respected in Japan, where they are called "hibakusha." These are the voices that should be heard on the news networks this week, reflecting on the horror of nuclear war.

Several years ago, we were given a tour of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park and Museum by a hibakusha, Koji Hosokawa. He was 17 years old on the day of the blast. He walked home to the distant suburbs, surrounded by death and destruction. His sister, Yoko, was 13 years old. "My biggest sorrow in my life is about my younger sister, who died in the atomic bomb," he recalled, tears in his eyes.

Another hibakusha, Setsuko Thurlow, was also 13 on that day. "I saw the bluish-white flash in the windows. I was on the second floor of a wooden building, which was one mile away from ground zero," she told us on the Democracy Now! news hour. "I had a sensation of floating in the air. All the buildings were flattened by the blast and falling … the building I was in was falling, and my body was falling together with it." She blacked out, regaining consciousness as her classmates were calling out in the darkness for help. "All of a sudden, a strong male voice said: 'Don't give up. I'm trying to free you. Keep moving. Keep pushing. … Crawl.' That's what I did in the total darkness." She emerged, witnessing the carnage from the first use of atomic weaponry, her city wiped off the earth, burning corpses everywhere.

Trump's use of "fire and fury" recalled the words of President Harry Truman, who authorized the atomic bomb attack on Japan. On Aug. 6, 1945, after Hiroshima but before Nagasaki, he demanded Japan surrender, saying, "If they do not now accept our terms, they may expect a rain of ruin from the air, the like of which has never been seen on this Earth." The surrender didn't occur until after Nagasaki was laid to waste, with at least 70,000 more civilians killed.

Investigative journalist Allan Nairn calls Trump "the hair-trigger president," citing his dangerous impulsiveness. "The U.S. nuclear system was already dangerous, irresponsible, insane, because many of the U.S. weapons are on hair-trigger alert. The missiles in the silos, the missiles on the submarines, they can be fired within minutes. Now there's a president who's on hair trigger," Nairn said on Democracy Now! "In more rational times, what Trump said would be an article of impeachment."

North Korea says it's closely watching the "speech and behaviour" of the United States. It's time for Trump to tone down his rhetoric, stop tweeting and assign genuine diplomats, working in concert with other countries -- including China -- to help achieve a lasting peace on the Korean peninsula.

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: IoSonoUnaFotoCamera/flickr

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As tourists flood Europe, the masses are rising against the masses

11 August 2017 - 4:24pm
Anti-RacismArts & Culture

Is travel the new opiate of the masses? That's what Marx called religion. (Though sympathetically: religion was "the sigh of a distressed creature, the soul of a heartless world …") But ultimately, an instrument of oppression.

So, at least in Europe, the masses have begun to rise against the masses: last month in Venice -- where 55,000 locals are overwhelmed by 70,000 to 90,000 tourists daily. Those numbers make sense in Disney World, not anywhere real.

More recently in Barcelona, with Catalan gusto: "If it's tourist season, why can't we hunt them?" They've slashed tires on tour buses (or tyres, as the tabloid press has it: "Brit Holidaymakers face wave of attacks at hands of tourist-hating anarchists" -- a perfect English nightmare notion of Spain.)

The middle-classification of China also underlies these events. About 40 million Chinese are expected to head for Venice in coming years. I saw busloads of Chinese tourists in Moscow and St. Petersburg last month.

Why do people join tours? What do they expect to find? Greater meaning to their lives, I think. Somehow it must be in that square, or cathedral. They aren't there mainly for fun, it's about edification, and the most meaning they find is often not at tour stops but with fellow travellers on that bus for weeks, or at meals. Couldn't they do that at home? Yes, but there must be more, out there somewhere.

The pushback against "tourrorists" is a First World phenomenon. Tourism has always been a pernicious force in places like the Caribbean, where it seethes in petty micro-encounters. It poisons relations between locals and visitors, especially since the travel is hardly ever reciprocal. We don't guide them around Ontario. Europeans though can recall economic alternatives to allowing travellers to slop through your streets and patronize you for the price of a tip.

The solution is clearly government controls: visas for tourists, limits on numbers. But that would mean less reliance on tourism economically, and the need to revitalize those economies.

Or you could think more radically. Is it possible that tourism has reached the end of its life cycle, like, possibly, zoos? Residents in big tourist cities react a lot like animals in cages: pacing, then snarling. There's been a long effort to reform zoos but they still look pretty shabby. Why not eliminate them, like animals in circuses? You could still have tourists, like foreigners passing through game parks in Africa, but stringently vetted. And the mobs? Let them stay on their cruise ships, and get to know each other.

#NoConfederate. There's a campaign to block the next projected series by the guys who made Game of Thrones, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss (the DBs). It's a counterfactual where the South wins the U.S. civil war and slavery persists.

In principle, I'm in favour of counterfactual fiction for political reasons. It reminds you that almost anything could've been different and puts the onus on everyone to fight for the best of potential futures.

In that light, the U.S. civil war has been well covered, though the DBs, who are American, seem to think they're onto something unique. Personally, I'd be more intrigued by the American Revolution: the British win, so slavery gets abolished in America in 1833, along with the rest of the Empire, so there's no Civil War or deep racial scars in the U.S. In other words, the bad guys actually won that one.

But everything depends on how the show is done. With GoT, they were anchored in a great text; it had few contemporary implications; and they brilliantly cast British and European actors in most parts.

But on Confederate, they seem to think they're serving the "progressive" cause. HBO said, "If you can get it right, there's a real opportunity to advance the race discussion." Weiss said there "is a reason to talk about [slavery], not a reason to run from it. And this feels like a potentially valuable way." Their African-American co-producer says, "I think there's a duty to force this discussion."

But Black Lives Matter has already forced the discussion, and "advanced" it. Before them many generations and individuals, Black and white, pre- and post-Civil War, did so. What's needed now isn't more jabber, or another series; it's leadership, organization and progress. Their words bode poorly for their show.

So en principe, I'm in favour of their right to go ahead, but I'm kind of hoping they won't.

This column was first published in the Toronto Star.

Photo: Roberto Trombetta/flickr

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sustainable tourismtourismeuropegame of thronestelevisionrace relationsSlaveryRick SalutinAugust 11, 2017More than DNA tests, genealogy allows us to trace our roots in historyComing to terms with a personal odyssey to understand a murky family history that's clouded by cinematic imagery and time.Canada's economic strategy -- beyond tourismWe need a wide debate around what to expect from our economic life. Can we redefine our goals to be economic and social well-being? How do we reduce poverty and inequalities?It's the end of tourism as we know it The trickle-down economics of high aviation fuel prices seem pretty clear. And tourism isn't the only thing that's going to be changing along with the climate.

Trudeau gives billions to questionable energy projects while withholding funding for Indigenous children

11 August 2017 - 2:38pm
Hans Rollman

Want to get a few billion dollars from Justin Trudeau? All you need is to be a white-settler-dominated provincial government, with a haphazard plan to build an energy mega-project and no demonstrated track record of being able to do anything of the sort (in fact, a track record of repeated failures).

What you don't want to be: an Indigenous government trying to help your children.

This summer, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that before increasing funding for Indigenous children -- as basically ordered to do by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal in January 2016 -- he wants them to prove they have the capacity to use the money that they've been begging for. "A lot of Indigenous communities haven't had the opportunity yet to take that responsibility, to actually think about how they can and must deliver [services]," said Trudeau.

Yet in November 2016, Trudeau's Liberal government provided $2.9 billion in federal loan guarantees for the Muskrat Falls project, a scandal-ridden mega-project being constructed in Labrador against the wishes of local residents, communities and Indigenous land protectors. That's on top of a previous $5-billion loan guarantee provided by the Harper Conservative government to the Muskrat Falls project in 2013.

The billions in loan guarantees came despite clear evidence of incompetence and disorganization on the part of Nalcor, the provincial Crown corporation spearheading the project. Cost overruns have bloated the cost of the project from an initial estimate of $7.7 billion to an updated estimate of $12.7 billion. Operational costs have tripled. Residents of the province have been told their energy bills may double as a result of the increased costs.

Meanwhile, concerns over methylmercury poisoning, and the structural stability of the North Spur component of the project, have led to ongoing Indigenous-led protests against the project. In October 2016 Indigenous land protectors stormed and occupied the site after RCMP attempted a crackdown on protests which included the violent arrest of one youth. Earlier this year, unprecedented water levels flooded the community of Mud Lake and left many homeless; an investigation is underway to determine whether the project was responsible.

The former CEO of Nalcor either resigned or was fired (or both; after a he-said, he-said argument between the provincial government and Nalcor's board, board members also resigned en masse); the new CEO declared the project a "boondoggle" and a disaster, and promptly continued pouring money and resources into it; and a report recently surfaced suggesting contractor SNC Lavalin warned about the potential cost overruns, and the risks posed by Nalcor's lack of experience with projects of this type and scale, as far back as 2013. Most people involved in the project, both now and then, are currently denying ever having seen the report, while also accusing others of having seen it and failing to act on it.

In other words, Muskrat Falls is a disorganized disaster, and has been since its inception. Yet Prime Minister Trudeau was more than happy to sign over $2.9 billion in loan guarantees to the project, despite the fact it was already mired in scandal and had already been denounced by the Indigenous-led land protectors and communities where it was being built.

Yet while Trudeau will throw billions of dollars away on a demonstrated disaster of this nature, which is led by a crew without a plan, he won't even fulfill the demands of a Canadian Human Rights Tribunal and increase funding to Indigenous groups to support their children's basic human rights needs.

There are two ways to read this story.

Either the people of Newfoundland and Labrador (the majority of whom are opposed to the project, according to recent surveys) should be offended that Prime Minister Trudeau didn't exercise the same paternalistic second-guessing over Muskrat Falls, and withhold the billions in loan guarantees that are now going to leave the province in debt and poverty for generations.

Or Indigenous communities should be offended that Prime Minister Trudeau isn't willing to exercise the same, er, generosity toward them and their children that he demonstrated toward a lost-and-drifting-into-disaster energy project pitched by a scandal-ridden provincial government.

Either way, the outcome is the same: Prime Minister Trudeau's funding decisions are hypocritical, pure and simple.

Hans Rollmann is a writer and editor with TheIndependent.ca, and has been published in a range of other publications including Briarpatch Magazine, PopMatters, and rabble.ca's UP! Labour series. He also works in radio broadcasting and community/labour organizing.

Photo: Adam Scotti/PMO

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Businesses lagging behind in Indigenous reconciliation: Report

11 August 2017 - 1:44pm
Meagan Gillmore

Canadian companies have a long way to go to advance reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, a recent report argues.

SHARE (Shareholder Association for Research and Education), a non-profit that advises institutional investors like foundations and religious organizations about ethical and socially responsible investments, released a study last month about how well publicly listed companies report on Indigenous relations.

The study includes results from 173 publicly listed companies from financial, telecommunications, materials, energy, renewable energy and clean technology, health care, and consumer sectors. Researchers looked at how companies reported about the number of Indigenous employees at their company and their roles; recruitment, education and advancement of Indigenous employees; contracting with Indigenous companies; how companies complied with international laws about Indigenous rights, particularly the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP); policies about free and prior informed consent and companies' investments in Indigenous communities. Canada fully committed to implement UNDRIP last year.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission's (TRC) final report in 2015 called on businesses to use the UNDRIP as a framework for promoting reconciliation. This includes committing to building meaningful relationships with Indigenous communities and obtaining free and prior informed consent; making sure Indigenous people have access to jobs and employment training and educating employees about Indigenous history and culture.

Of the 173 companies surveyed, only 10 made any commitment to international law. Only five companies specifically mentioned a commitment to free and prior informed consent: three mining companies, an energy company and a financial company. Consent can be a difficult concept to define, but it involves building relationships with affected communities early on in a project's development, and involving them in the management and oversight of projects so the authority is shared, said Delaney Greig, a co-author of the report.

This means companies need to treat Indigenous people as "neighbours and partners," said Greig, and look for "opportunities for relationship-building between groups instead of looking at [Indigenous people] as this outside other who's a risk."

Often, companies view building relationships with Indigenous people as a way to prevent a lawsuit or protest, Greig said. They may not consult with them until environmental assessments are needed.

Businesses can begin building better relationships with Indigenous communities by having Indigenous people involved in senior roles where they can guide companies towards reconciliation.

Only two companies reported having an Indigenous board member, one in each company, said Greig.

"To expect those two individuals to represent the entire company and cause shifts in the way these enormous organizations operate is not reasonable," she said.

Many companies -- 18.5 per cent -- said they prioritize hiring Indigenous employees, and many use Indigenous organizations in the recruitment process. But companies provided little data about the types of jobs Indigenous people had. This makes it hard to determine if they are in entry-level, temporary or upper-management roles.

Only 11 per cent of companies gave quantitative data about their Indigenous employees, and only five per cent gave information about what level Indigenous employees were at in the company.

In general, few companies provided any reporting about their relationships with Indigenous peoples. Companies that did report were more likely to include case studies and examples instead of facts and figures. This cursory detail and lack of specifics makes it difficult to know exactly how companies relate to Indigenous peoples, or if their interactions with Indigenous peoples are isolated activities related to specific projects, something to help the company's public relations or something the company is pursuing intentionally, said Greig.

Companies were most likely to report about their community involvement with Indigenous peoples. Thirty per cent of the companies surveyed reported on this. But even then, specific details about their involvement were slim and reporting mainly consisted of anecdotes. For many companies, the report says, this community involvement was part of their broader philanthropic activities, and the only indicator on which they reported. A company's financial contributions to a community, or investment in community initiatives may be helpful, the report says, but they may also be short-term, or motivated by the company's interest.

The report indicates a large gap in companies' reporting on their relationships with Indigenous peoples, but it doesn't offer clear reasons for why this gap exists.

Some companies may not be used to reporting on the topic, said Greig. For example, telecommunications and financial companies scored the highest in including Indigenous people in employment diversity goals. All four telecommunications companies surveyed for the report reported on this, as did 30 per cent of financial institutions. But as the report notes, banks and telecommunications companies are required by federal law to report on employment diversity, including the number of Indigenous people in their workforce, and therefore already have systems in place to collect and disseminate this data.

Greig said it was particularly surprising how poor the reporting from sustainable energy companies was. Many Indigenous groups are interested in renewable energy, and energy projects often have a large impact on their land. None of the 19 companies in this sector reported any mention of respecting Indigenous rights in international law or obtaining free and prior informed consent -- even though the report says many proposed wind, solar and hydro developments are located on traditional Indigenous territories.

SHARE plans to hold workshops with Indigenous and non-Indigenous business leaders and investors to learn more about how companies can pursue reconciliation with Indigenous communities, Greig said.

Meagan Gillmore is rabble.ca's labour reporter.

Photo: michael_swan/flickr

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Challenges ahead for Chronicle Herald workers as strike ends

11 August 2017 - 12:05pm
August 11, 2017No clear winners as Chronicle Herald strike endsChronicle Herald workers who were on strike for 19 months have mixed feelings from workers about the eight-year deal that passed with 94 per cent approval from the Halifax Typographical Union.

No clear winners as Chronicle Herald strike ends

11 August 2017 - 11:53am
Meagan Gillmore

A few hours after the 19-month strike at The Chronicle Herald in Halifax ended on Thursday, photographer Christian Laforce was making plans to eat chicken wings. He wasn't sure exactly what he'd order, having never eaten at the restaurant he and a friend intended to visit, but he knew it would involve blue cheese sauce "no matter what."

The dinner wasn't necessarily a celebration.

Laforce said he has "mixed feelings" about the eight-year deal that passed with 94 per cent approval from the Halifax Typographical Union (HTU).

He won't be returning to the paper on Tuesday.

He's not alone.

Members have been on strike since January 2016. In July, the province launched a commission to end the strike. Mediation began earlier this month. Of the 61 striking members, only 25 will return to the Herald. Twenty-six have been laid off, one will be moving to another paper in the SaltWire Network, the Herald's parent company, and nine left during the strike for other jobs.

While workers were striking, the company was expanding. In April, the Herald purchased all of TC Media's newspapers and websites in Atlantic Canada, as well as four printing plants.

Laforce said he knew he was going to be laid off, and has secured future employment.

Those who remain will see their workweek increase, changes to their duties, and a decrease in pay and benefits.

Workers are "relieved" said, union president Ingrid Bulmer, but mainly because the strike's finished. "It's not a win-win for either side because both sides are losing something." The paper lost subscriptions and advertisers during the strike, and its reputation suffered, she said.

Journalists have lost jobs. Those who will return to the Herald will see wages cut by five per cent, with an additional eight per cent cut for new hires, a concession Bulmer called "unfortunate." The deal also sees pension plans frozen, reductions to vacation time and sick days and an increase in the workweek to 37.5 hours from 35.

There will be modest pay increases after the first year of the deal, said Bulmer.

The new contract also guarantees workers cannot be laid off for two years. If workers are laid off in the future, their positions cannot be replaced with non-unionized workers, said Bulmer.

In a statement, Mark Lever, the paper's president and CEO, said the Herald wants to welcome the returning employees back to the newsroom.

But returning staff aren't sure exactly what they'll find.

One of the biggest tasks will be mending relationships within the company, with many predicting a strained newsroom environment, at least at the beginning. Both sides recognize returning after such a long strike will be difficult, said Bulmer. Returning staff will be given a couple days of orientation and employment counsellors will be on site to help with the transition. Offices have changed during the strike, so unionized and non-unionized staff will be working alongside each other, and this could cause tension.

Pam Sword, who will be returning to the newsroom, said her mental strategy is to "not overthink it." But she said the end of the strike is "surreal." Sword's been at the paper since 1989, most recently as a digital news editor. She doesn't know what her new job will be; workflow has changed during the strike. She's been told her position has been classified as a "lead editor."

During the strike, the company created a central hub for editing newspaper pages before they went to print. It isn't entirely clear how editing duties for print and digital products will be divided.

What Sword does know is many familiar faces will be missing, including the first friend she made at the paper. She spent her evening after the vote scrolling through former colleagues' posts on social media reminiscing about their time at the Herald. She contemplated what she'll wear when she goes into the office. She decided against sporting a "Local News Matter" button created when the strike began, saying she needs to "play by the rules."

The support workers received during the strike proved the message of the button true.

"We've said from the beginning that our fight was to not see journalism be crushed by what businesses think is good enough," said Bulmer, noting how newspapers across North America "continually attack the newsroom to save money." Readers need accurate information, she said, whether that's from a printed newspaper or digital news source. "The more journalists that go out the door, the less information people are going to have in order to make (informed) decisions," she said.

The conclusion of the strike means more than the end of several journalists' careers at the Herald. It also means the closing of LocalXpress, a news site created by the striking workers. Workers could choose to picket or work shifts for the site. While it was volunteer-run, photographers would shoot breaking news photos after midnight, said Sword, the site's editor. All the photographers wanted to contribute to the site, so it had the largest photo department in Atlantic Canada, she said.

Sword worked on the site, what she says her daughter called her "second child," from her dining room table, her three cats nearby. The community supported the site, saying readers were much more forgiving of errors like bad links posted on Facebook sites than they would have been if she was at the Herald.

It garnered recognition outside of Halifax. The site won two Atlantic Journalism awards for photojournalism. In the photojournalism feature category, it not only won gold, but claimed three finalist positions as well.

Christian Laforce, who was a feature photojournalism finalist, called the awards "validating."

Reporters Frances Willick and Michael Gorman, both now with the CBC, were finalists in the business reporting category for their work on the site.

Meagan Gillmore is rabble.ca's labour reporter.

Photo: Tony Webster/flickr

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The end of the Chronicle Herald strike brings relief, but at a steep cost

11 August 2017 - 10:01am
Frances Willick

My Herald colleagues voted yesterday to accept a deal after a year and a half on strike. For many -- most, I dare say -- this is little cause for celebration. Yes, it brings a much-needed resolution to this toxic situation.

But the toll it has taken is deep.

Unless you've been on strike for a lengthy period, you probably can't fathom what that feels like. I was on strike with my Herald co-workers for about 14 and a half months, although I was on maternity leave for 12 of those months, and have since taken a job at the CBC. But I certainly got a good taste of what it's like. The anger just gnaws at you. Anger towards management who forced you out. Anger towards scabs (I'm not using that other term, which is way too nice for them). Anger toward those who could have helped, but didn't.

The anxiety is constant. What will become of me? What will happen to my career? How will I pay my bills?

It even can affect your self-esteem. You start to wonder, "Am I any good at what I do?"

There were so many dark times during those 566 days on strike. (566! Think about that for a minute.)

But thank goodness for those who showed support. You helped us get through it. Those quick honks of the horn as you passed by the picket line helped. Those surprise coffee deliveries on cold winter days helped. And those cheques donated by other unions helped, too.

The strike was at times divisive, even among union members. But it also forged bonds among co-workers who weren't very close before the strike started. These friendships will go on, even after our little Herald/Local Xpress family breaks up.

The Local Xpress, the online strike publication we started shortly after the strike began, was another bright spot. It was, as veteran sports reporter Monty Mosher has said, "a lifeboat in stormy seas." It allowed the reporters, photographers and editors an opportunity to keep doing the work they love. That publication will cease with the ratification of a deal. RIP Local Xpress. You were a good little news source.

Some people are leaving the Herald "voluntarily." I use quotation marks because yes, they're opting to collect severance and go, but these are people who never would have left the job they loved if this hadn't all happened.

Others are simply losing their jobs. What a way to go, after years -- and for many, decades -- of hard work.

The coming days will be difficult for everyone, whether they walk through the doors of the building on Joseph Howe Drive again or not. Those who return to the Chronicle Herald will have to work alongside management who kicked them to the curb a year and a half ago, and maybe also with the scabs who thought nothing of their role in all this. (You will forever be known as scabs, by the way).

Those who walk away will grapple with an uncertain future and possibly an end to the career that was part of their identity for so long. These journalists and staff are talented. They're kind. They're dedicated and they're strong. They'll get through this. But they still have challenges ahead. Now begins the time for healing. I wish all of my friends and former co-workers every bit of strength, luck and resolve.

I can't wait to see what they get up to next.

Frances Willick is a digital reporter in Halifax. Before that, she worked at The Chronicle Herald for about six years. This article was first posted on Facebook and is reprinted here with permission.

Photo: Ben MacLeod/Wikimedia Commons

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Despite confusion and dysfunction, hard reset is needed in MMIW inquiry

11 August 2017 - 8:41am
August 11, 2017Inquiry into murdered and missing Indigenous women has been a slow motion implosionSince its launch, the inquiry has been criticized for its numerous and lengthy delays, its failures to communicate with the families and its continued failure to provide information.

Inquiry into murdered and missing Indigenous women has been a slow motion implosion

10 August 2017 - 10:13am
Pam Palmater

When the draft terms of reference of the National Inquiry into Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls were leaked to the media in the summer of 2016, many families, advocates, experts and communities were upset that there would be no investigation of the police -- either their mishandling of individual files or their behaviour.

This omission was a shock to most since police racism and abuse was raised at every pre-engagement session conducted by Indigenous Affairs seeking input into the inquiry's mandate. Families and advocates immediately responded by writing open letters calling on the federal, provincial and territorial governments to ensure that police handling of individual files and police behaviour would be included in the final terms of reference. Despite their strenuous advocacy, the final terms of reference specifically excluded any review of individual files or police conduct.

Since the launch of the inquiry in September 2016, it has been in slow motion implosion. The inquiry has been criticized for its numerous and lengthy delays, its failures to communicate with the families and its continued failure to provide information about schedules, logistics, process, or budgets. The Native Women's Association of Canada raised the issue that their phone calls to the inquiry were not answered or returned and were instead redirected to Indigenous Affairs -- leading some to question the objectivity of the inquiry.

Then, one by one, the inquiry saw the resignations of some of its most senior staffers, including Michèle Moreau, the executive director; Chantale Courcy, director of operations; Tanya Kappo, manager of community relations; and Sue Montgomery, director of communications (the first, Michael Hutchinson, had been terminated). Several former staffers, speaking under condition of anonymity shared their concerns that the inquiry was lacking leadership and direction, and egos and power struggles have left it dysfunctional.

The recent resignation of one of the commissioners, Marilyn Poitras, makes chief commissioner Marion Buller's strenuous denial of significant problems in the inquiry, look blatantly detached from the seriousness of the situation. This is especially true when her own fellow commissioners are resigning, admitting they haven't done their jobs and that the inquiry is in "crisis mode."

To this end, an open letter was sent to the inquiry by a collective of Indigenous women, advocates and impacted family members calling for action and offering assistance. Others tried phone calls, e-mails and in-person meetings to try to get the inquiry back on track, with little obvious impact.

The continued lack of action on the part of the inquiry led many prominent advocates, Indigenous leaders and concerned families to call for a hard reset of the inquiry -- which included calls for new commissioners, extended timelines, additional budget and improved terms of reference.

Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO) Grand Chief Sheila North Wilson, representing northern Manitoba First Nations, called for the current commissioners to resign and let the inquiry reset for the benefit of the families -- a call shared by many. A hard reset is not without precedent as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission also struggled in the beginning and was reset with new commissioners and it was better for it. The issue of residential schools deserved a proper inquiry just as the issue of murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls deserves a competent, independent fulsome inquiry that has the time and resources necessary to address the core issues -- which includes a review of individual files and police conduct.

The issue of a hard reset also divided the chiefs at the most recent Assembly of First Nations (AFN) annual general assembly in Regina. Numerous family members attended the AFN assembly to plead with the inquiry's commissioners to resign and reset the inquiry. The chiefs were deeply divided on the issue of reset but all seemed to agree that the inquiry was plagued with problems and recommended numerous improvements.

Commissioner Buller's statements prior to the chiefs' vote that she would not resign regardless of the outcome of the vote, arguably created an adversarial relationship between Indigenous peoples and the inquiry. Many family members are saying that the inquiry has "already failed" and this division among the leaders and families on how to fix the broken inquiry is itself evidence that the inquiry lacks the trust it needs to do its job.

Equally as concerning were the developments at the AFN assembly, where chiefs and families who wanted to address their concerns about the inquiry met with or spoke to Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett. Bennett was also quick to support the chiefs at the AFN in their calls for a soft reset of the inquiry.

This inquiry is supposed to be independent of the federal government, yet by all appearances it is the federal government pulling the strings. The inquiry itself then scrambled to put together a press release on the very same day that families were calling for a hard reset of the inquiry claiming they will now review police conduct and individual files.

This release has caused greater confusion because the inquiry is both empowered and limited by the terms of reference agreed to by the federal, provincial and territorial governments which specifically excluded the review of open or ongoing individual files (which for murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls are many) and police misconduct. Any information related to these matters must be referred back to police -- the very same institutions that did not handle the files properly to begin with or that failed to take action against racist, abusive or sexually violent police officers. Misleading the families this way in order to avoid more calls for a hard reset is a huge injustice to the many families and communities who are relying on this process in good faith.

What is clear despite all the confusion and dysfunction, is that a hard reset is required or it risks becoming like Wally Oppal's Missing Women Commission of Inquiry where large numbers of witnesses pulled out of the inquiry and the resulting report lacks any credibility. The Ontario Native Women's Association has already pulled out of the inquiry and many others may follow suit if the inquiry is not addressed. Canada owes the families and communities better if the prime minister meant what he said that there is no relationship more important to Canada than the one with Indigenous peoples.

A version of this article was originally published in the Lawyer's Daily.

Photo: Jen Castro/flickr

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