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RCMP admit they are using invasive surveillance devices to spy on cellphones. What now?

3 May 2017 - 8:47am
May 3, 2017The RCMP's admission that it spies on our cellphones is long overdue, but leaves important questions unansweredAfter years of obfuscation, the RCMP have admitted they are using invasive surveillance devices known as IMSI-catchers or Stingrays to spy on Canadians' cellphones.

The RCMP's admission that it spies on our cellphones is long overdue, but leaves important questions unanswered

3 May 2017 - 8:42am
Civil Liberties WatchTechnology

Finally. After years of obfuscation, the RCMP have admitted they are using invasive surveillance devices known as IMSI-catchers or Stingrays to spy on Canadians' cellphones. The admission came early last month, seemingly prompted by revelations from CBC News that Stingray devices had been in use in downtown Ottawa, and at the international airport in Montréal.

In those instances, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale issued a strong denial that Canadian agencies, such as the RCMP or CSIS, were involved, but the controversy brought a great deal of public attention to the RCMP's own use of Stingray devices.

Stingrays are deeply problematic for a number of reasons. About the size of a small suitcase, they operate by mimicking a wireless tower, tricking all cellphones within a radius of up to 2 kilometres into switching their connection to the Stingray. Once that connection is made, instead of targeting just a single device, Stingrays indiscriminately vacuum up sensitive personal information from all devices within range.

This means that Stingrays are essentially a tool of mass surveillance. There's no need to be a target of a police investigation to have the security of your private information compromised -- you just need to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. And when you consider just how many cellphones are located within a 2-kilometre radius of, say, a downtown Toronto intersection, that gives some indication of just how many Canadians have likely been impacted.

Secondly, Stingrays are capable of collecting information on everything from your location to details of every call, email and text you make. They are even capable of listening in and recording the content of cellphone calls. Nor should we be reassured by the RCMP's statement that they only use Stingrays to collect location and device identification metadata -- as Brenda McPhail of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association points out, "Metadata includes location information. That is intimately personal. The fact that they only collect metadata doesn't let them off the hook."

For those of us working in the field of digital privacy, the RCMP's belated admission that it has deployed Stingrays dozens of times in recent years did not exactly come as a surprise -- especially after Motherboard and VICE News obtained over 3,000 pages of court documents revealing how the devices were being used, and how few safeguards were involved. Despite media reports such as this, the RCMP has clearly spent years trying to hide its use of Stingrays from the Canadian public, even dropping serious criminal charges to avoid revealing this information.

Hopefully, the RCMP's long overdue statement will finally prompt the informed democratic debate Canadians deserve about whether the use of these surveillance devices can ever be justified and, if so, what safeguards are necessary to protect the privacy of the law-abiding public.

Unfortunately, the RCMP left many important questions unanswered. Why not tell us how many innocent Canadians have had their private information compromised over the past 10 years? Or let us know whether Stingrays have ever been used to monitor a political protest? And why did the RCMP wait until just a few weeks ago before applying for permission from Innovation, Science, and Economic Development Canada to use the devices?

Last but far from least, the fact that the use of Stingrays can apparently be authorized based merely on suspicion of wrongdoing is hugely worrying -- surely a much higher standard of evidence should be required, given the serious privacy implications for the general public?

It's clear we deserve answers to all these questions from Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale. Canadians should keep up the pressure on the government by supporting our 48,000-strong campaign at StopStingrays.org

David Christopher is communications manager for OpenMedia, a community-based organization that works to keep the Internet open, affordable, and surveillance-free.

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Digital Freedom Updatedigital privacyStingrayselectronic surveillancecellphonesRCMPDavid ChristopherDigital Freedom UpdateMay 3, 2017What the heck is a Stingray? And what does it have to do with my privacy? A growing concern in the privacy world, the surveillance device nicknamed a "Stingray" is an invasive technology that threatens to undermine the privacy of anyone with a cell phone.Vancouver police won't say if they can spy on cellphonesThe Vancouver police refuses to confirm or deny that they have the StingRay, a surveillance device that mimics a cellphone tower to gain access to all cellphones in the area. New report reveals potential extent of invasive Stingray phone surveillance in CanadaWe're calling on Public Safety Minister Goodale to address this blatant violation of Canadians' Charter rights in the government

Trudeau's social media mastermind tours Europe, explains strategy

2 May 2017 - 11:38am
May 2, 2017Trudeau's social media mastermind tours Europe, explains strategyTom Pitfield, a childhood friend of Trudeau's and a former IBM innovation expert, went through a top 10 Buzzfeed-like list of What He Learned from the Election Campaign.

Trudeau's social media mastermind tours Europe, explains strategy

2 May 2017 - 11:35am
June Chua

I had an ominous exchange on my way to a presentation in the German capital by Tom Pitfield, the digital mastermind behind Justin Trudeau's success -- as billed by Factory Berlin, a high-tech campus of startups and freelancers.

Picking up a snack at a store nearby, the French clerk shook his head when I asked him about his country's presidential election: "What do you think?" he posed back to me. "It's bad, yes. I believe Le Pen will win."

Why? I queried. "It's just before a Monday bank holiday in France, some people will be away and won't vote [and] others don't want to vote anyways." He was resigned.

The French runoff presidential vote is now between the far-right candidate Marine Le Pen and the "newbie" Emmanuel Macron, who's only 39 and has been compared to Trudeau. Macron is seen as a political outsider but is a former investment banker who graduated from the prestigious, elite École nationale d'administration (ENA).

"It's true, the French media have made the same comparisons," Charline Merieau told rabble.ca. "But they don't have the same ideas or the same problems [to tackle]."

The 25-year-old from the Vendée region pointed out that Macron's use of Twitter and his email newsletters are ways for the En Marche leader to explain his platform -- not so much for images of doing yoga or being in the outdoors like Trudeau.

"Macron isn't looking for interaction with the public the way Trudeau did. He's more about his message," said Merieau, who works for a fashion retailer.

Our hubs

I realized after the night was through -- our world really is about contained spaces: physical, mental and digital. The talk was in a high-tech hub. We all exist in cosseted worlds.

Pitfield, a childhood friend of Trudeau's and a former IBM innovation expert, went through a top 10 Buzzfeed-like list of What He Learned from the Election Campaign. He also dropped that he had been in Europe "helping political campaigns in three countries" and was alarmed by the rise of fascist and populist movements -- all using the same tactics on social media.

"I am scared," he revealed. "We do live in echo chambers -- it's not hard. It's how those computer algorithms work."

Calling Trudeau a "Jedi" (i.e. showing a single-minded focus), Pitfield was recruited ahead of time to slowly build the PM's image. The team first identified 40 swing ridings and eventually won 39 of those. Impressive. And how was this done?

Pitfield -- who heads the progressive think-tank Canada 2020 -- and his team used social media to gather information about those voters on Facebook or on their website, realchange.ca, to find out what issues resonated with them the most and then spoke to those issues: environment, jobs, education, economy and immigration.

"You need to engage, have legitimate conversations," emphasized Pitfield. "With explicit consent, we gathered people's personal information [required by Canadian law]…then, we would have honest conversations with them. This helped us immensely."

His team spent two years getting people to "change their minds."

They found out: who to target, what content they liked, how to reach them (i.e. which social media they used and in what form) and most vitally, what would motivate them to vote for Trudeau.

Merieau, who is pro-Macron, said her candidate is using data in a different way. Macron is using information about where his support is weak to get his campaigners out door-to-door and not relying on social media per se to do the persuading.

"We never use this face-to-face stuff in France but that's what Macron is doing."

Countering the echo chamber

Sitting in the audience was the British founder and editor of The Echo Chamber Club -- a weekly newsletter seeking to counter "the opinions of liberal metropolitans."

"Everyone loves him, don't they?" Alice Thwaite stated to me about Trudeau. "He's so good-looking and says all the right things. It's just like Trump really."

Thwaite, 27, is disturbed by the use of advertising tactics which she says is causing a deterioration in politics. Specifically "A/B" testing on campaign messages -- i.e. identifying what headlines would be the most attractive to the public.

"It's how Hilary Clinton's campaign was ruined," she explained. "They used the message 'Vote for me because I'm a woman' and thought that would work. In the end, she sounded so scripted."

According to Thwaite this kind of A/B advertising tactic is about seizing our "monkey brains." A/B methods are about click-through rates, not about actual policy.

"In the American election people were getting farther apart," she said. "They were being told to shut up and what happens? Things go underground…that's what you do, create an enemy and force people into their tribes. It works in digital marketing as well."

Thwaite said last year, she predicted the odds were much greater for Brexit and for a Trump win: "I won a lot of bets."

Whatever the reality, she remains positive: "This is better than it was in [the early 2000s]. People aren't so apathetic anymore. They know they can't coast along. They have to act."

Germany's anti-Trudeau

Perhaps, the turning of the tide is happening in Germany where the anti-immigrant Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) has seen its popularity dwindle from rates at 15 per cent last year to about seven to 10 per cent in recent polls. Its leader also recently stepped down amid infighting in the movement.

Who's rising? Martin Schulz, a former head of the European Parliament and now leader of the leftist Social Democratic (SPD) party. Schulz, a bookish man in his 50s, is the opposite of Trudeau. He's not telegenic and doesn't use social media much, but he's now considered a serious contender against "Mutti" -- Mother Merkel as she's called. His party is now neck and neck with Angela Merkel's centre-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU).

"He speaks about issues," said Artur Lebedev, a southern German who now lives in Berlin. "He speaks like a normal person and in this way, he is sort of like Trudeau -- the authenticity part."

Lebedev said Merkel seemed wooden in contrast, but then, that's her appeal: "Speaking spontaneously is fine sometimes but also, for me, you might think this politician could be fickle, change their mind once they are in power."

A replay of 2002

Back to France, Sylvan Varlet, a business manager with a video game company, looks to the past.

"It's like 2002 all over again when it was between Jacques Chirac and the father of Marine -- Jean-Marie Le Pen. Everyone had to get behind Chirac and he won by 82 per cent," said Varlet, who also admits Macron has some Trudeau characteristics -- such as the "honest broker" bit.

"[Macron] is really friendly and focused on people as well," said Varlet, originally from the Lyon region.

"I think this time though, Macron might win with about 60 to 70 per cent of the vote, it won't be as high," said the 27-year-old who plans to vote for Macron.

Merieau thinks it might be close: "Compared to 2002, Marine has worked to make the Front Nationale more modern and she has succeeded. There are less people against her."

She fears supporters of the other candidates who "lost" won't vote: "My brother was a supporter of [leftist] Melanchon. He doesn't know how to vote on May 7. Every day I send him reasons to vote for Macron."

Near the end of the session, a Montrealer proclaimed that he'd been living in Berlin for 10 years and he fought to vote in Canada's 2015 election: "I honoured my German roots and flew back to Montreal to vote for Trudeau because I know you have to fight fascists."

June Chua is a Berlin-based journalist who regularly writes for rabble.ca.

Photo: World Bank Photo Collection/flickr

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Aspiring to stupid: Conservative Party of Canada does damage to others while also damaging itself

2 May 2017 - 9:33am
Politics in Canada

John Stuart Mill was esteemed as a political economist and philosopher of liberalism. He was also a British MP with a sharp tongue. "I did not mean that Conservatives are generally stupid; I meant, that stupid persons are generally Conservative," he noted in parliamentary debate May 31, 1866.

In Mill's day, having opposed the abolition of slavery and the expansion of the electorate, the British Conservative Party was also known as the stupid party.

Recently it lived up to its old moniker by provoking a vote on membership in the European Union and then losing it -- the unnecessary referendum being called for the domestic purpose of blocking the advance of the United Kingdom Independence Party.

In an analysis of the current predicament facing the United States of America, Republican adviser Max Boot observed in the New York Times that the American Republican Party has acquired the title of the stupid party.

First it got stupid, then it got Trump.

As Edmund Fawcett, author of Liberalism: The Life of an Idea, has pointed out, the post-Reagan conservative Republicans were dominated by the religious right and the anti-government fundamentalists, and became unable to face facts and recognize change.

Since 1867 Canadian Conservatives have been pragmatic, following the injunction that a country must have the means to change in order to conserve itself and protect its future.

The Canadian Conservative Party was built on strong institutions. The Anglican Church and its allied Colleges, the military, law, banking and large retail business provided the organizational resources Conservatives could rely on to form government and make policy.

Governing during the 1930s Depression the Conservatives were led by the wealthy and well-connected R.B. Bennett. Though he created the Bank of Canada, the CBC and Canadian National Railways (out of bankrupt endeavours), Bennett found no way to alleviate the plight of farmers, the destitute and the growing out-of-work class.

During the Second World War to demonstrate their willingness to attend to the well-being of their fellow citizens, the Conservatives renamed themselves the Progressive Conservatives.

PC leaders such as Robert Stanfield (1967-76) and Joe Clark (1976-83) had little time for ideology. Their tenures as party leaders were marked by their civility and concern for Canada.

The current Conservative Party of Canada bears less and less resemblance to its forbears.

An important break occurred with the election of Brian Mulroney as leader of the then Progressive Conservatives in 1983. He understood that without support in Quebec, the Conservatives were destined regularly to finish behind the Liberals in the country. 

However, Mulroney consented to continental economic integration with the United States (billed as "free" trade), which gave already dominant American corporate interests an expanded role in Canadian political life, while limiting the constitutional control of public affairs by Parliament and provincial legislatures.

Eventually, hugely unpopular, in 1993 Mulroney resigned, leaving his party with no means of securing public support.

The obliteration of the Progressive Conservatives -- who were reduced to two seats in the 1993 general election -- set the stage for the re-invention of the Canadian Conservatives, first as the Preston Manning Reform Party (a "faux" populist movement), then as the fake Canadian Alliance, and ultimately as the Conservative Party of Canada (CPC), a personal vehicle for the ambitions of Stephen Harper.

The definition of stupid given by economic historian Carlo Cipolla in his work The Basic Laws of Stupidity is an entity that does damage to others while also damaging itself.

With the withdrawal of Kevin O'Leary from the Conservative leadership race -- or O'Lexit -- the CPC avoids doing damage to itself. The question remains, can they make a choice that, unlike the Harper-led party, does not promise damage to others?

The current CPC leadership contest has seen the party grow to just short of 260,000 members. Voting is underway to select one of 13 undistinguished candidates, with Quebec MP and former minister Maxime Bernier holding a temporary lead.

Bernier brings to the race an extreme version of libertarian economics. He would privatize government services, deregulate commerce and industry, and reduce government. By choosing him, the CPC would have difficulty winning an election, which would reduce its chances of doing damage to Canadians.

An intelligent entity is one that makes things better for others while helping itself. Such is the goal of normal political parties. The only Conservative party candidate who seems to understand this is MP Michael Chong. He is given no chance of winning the leadership.

As a result of the voting process that will be concluded on May 27, it is likely the CPC will find itself with a leader unable to match the able performance of interim leader Rona Ambrose, who was ruled out of the race by virtue of having her colleagues declare she was up to the job, which she has done very well.

It's all part of a scenario that is being played out among conservatives in Britain and the U.S.: aspiring to stupid.

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

Photo: Ontario Chamber of Commerce/flickr

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Canadian Conservative PartyStephen HarperBrian MulroneyProgressive ConservativeConservative politics2017 Conservative leadership racepreston manningDuncan CameronMay 2, 2017Liberals follow in Conservatives' footsteps with government by the PMO Turning Canadian democracy over to the PMO may make it simpler to govern. Watching the Trudeau PMO at work shows it does not improve a government's ability to perform the duties it promised.Conservative leadership race could be decided by dogwhistle politics and wannabe demagoguesJust four of the 14 Conservative leadership candidates could be said to be fit for office. None of them are likely to win, however.13 Conservative leadership candidates show little diversity of opinion in Quebec City debateThe economy, the French language and terrorism were the winners of last night's Conservative Party debate.

Funny … not a peep on the right about Jason Kenney stumping for a Liberal

2 May 2017 - 1:44am
David J. Climenhaga

Back in the days Sandra Jansen was one of the few Progressive Conservatives to have survived the debacle of the May 5, 2015, provincial election, the Calgary-North West MLA was savaged by the right-wing rage machine for daring to express support for Liberal candidates Kent Hehr and Nirmala Naidoo in the October 2015 federal election.

You just don't publicly support a Liberal if you're a Tory in Alberta, she learned, not if you want to avoid a vicious public hazing.

It's been said it wasn't any better behind the closed doors of the PC Caucus where, Alberta political legend has it, interim Leader Ric McIver excoriated her like a schoolgirl in front of her fellow Tory MLAs, demanding that she not even indicate she was stumping for a couple of federal Grits.

Alas for McIver, the former broadcaster is said to have given it back as good as she got it in a caucus session described as profane and angry -- and which may have marked the day the PC members in the Legislature pretty much stopped working as a team.

So isn't it funny how there's been nary a peep of protest from the Usual Suspects on the Alberta Right about newly elected Progressive Conservative Leader Jason Kenney's foray into British Columbia politics where, of all things, he was overheard stumping at a federal Conservative clambake in a chichi Vancouver restaurant for B.C. Premier Christy Clark -- who is, of course, a Liberal.

Not just a Liberal either, but one that dares to set conditions on Alberta's all-party plans for more pipelines to the West Coast.

It would seem that in Alberta conservative circles, what's sauce for the goose may not be sauce for the gander, especially if the gander is the fellow the big money boys in Calgary have chosen to lead Alberta's Conservatives back to the promised land of power.

That certainly wasn't going to be Jansen, who got another lesson in how things really work in Alberta conservative circles when she ran for the PC Party's leadership as a candidate who put the progressive back in Progressive Conservative.

She was soon hounded from the race by Kenney supporters -- the topic of her support for Liberal federal candidates came up again, bien sur! -- and today sits as a New Democrat MLA in Premier Rachel Notley's government.

This week includes anniversaries of Fort Mac Fire and NDP victory

Two important anniversaries in recent Alberta history will occur this week -- and there's always the possibility of another event of historical significance.

Tomorrow is the first anniversary of the day the devastating Fort McMurray Fire swept into the northern oilsands city and began destroying houses -- a disaster that eventually saw virtually the entire population of the city of 90,000 forced to leave and destroyed about 2,400 structures, roughly 15 per cent of the city's housing.

Friday marks the second anniversary of the general election that brought the NDP to power under Premier Notley, an astonishing development in a place the prevailing narrative had always insisted was Canada's most-conservative province. Alberta's conservatives, who had run the place for most of the previous 80 years and had apparently concluded they ruled by divine right, have been in a state of sustained and inconsolable fury ever since.

The possible event of historical significance mooted above, is a public gesture symbolizing if not quite delivering union of the province's two principal conservative political parties -- the PCs under Kenney and the Wildrose Party under Opposition Leader Brian Jean -- that Kenney was reportedly dropping broad hints about in Vancouver last weekend.

Not all PCs and Wildrosers may be enthusiastic just yet about the union of their parties’ legislative caucuses, especially if Kenney is in the lead. But there's been a fairly constant buzz for a few days that something may be cooking, possibly along the lines of some sort of mass shift by four or five Wildrosers and/or a similar number of PC MLAs in the Legislature.

Certainly, sooner or later, Kenney is going to want to engineer a grand gesture to demonstrate not only that the right is uniting, but that he's in charge of the union -- an impression Jean, presumably, would very much like to avoid.

Dumpster fire continues to blaze at Edmonton Catholic Schools

Speaking of fires, the dumpster fire that is Edmonton Catholic Schools continued to rage yesterday with the public firing of a trustee as vice-chair and a knuckle-rap for another who dared suggest something was wrong with refusing to let students who have completed their required credits attend a graduation ceremony if they haven't also finished their religion classes.

The Catholic board canned Marilyn Bergstra as vice chair, and rapped Patricia Grell on the knuckles, metaphorically speaking, for "blatant disrespect" and lacking Catholic values. Neither were told in advance what was coming.

Students who opt out of religion classes but complete their required Alberta Education curriculum can receive their diplomas in the mail, thank you very much. Catholic schools all over Alberta, however, continue to court non-Catholic students and the generous per-student grants that come with them.

Bergstra told the CBC she thought she was also in trouble with the majority on the board for calling for medically accurate sex-education and showing sympathy for LGBTQ students.

If this all seems rather unchristian, the constitutional right of Alberta's Catholics to run their own school system is unquestioned. However, if a recent court decision in Saskatchewan is anything to go by, that provincial system's right to expect public funding for non-Catholic students is not nearly as clear.

Faced with a court ruling saying such funding is unconstitutional in his province, Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall came up with a plan yesterday to ignore the courts by using use Section 33 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the notorious "Notwithstanding Clause."

It will be very interesting to see how this shakes out. If past experience in Alberta during Ralph Klein's premiership is an indicator, the Saskatchewan Premier's Office might want to hire some thick-skinned temps to man the telephones for the rest of the week.

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

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Outgoing CLC secretary-treasurer Barbara Byers reflects on her work in the labour movement

1 May 2017 - 12:20pm
May 1, 2017'Never confuse decency with weakness': Outgoing CLC secretary-treasurer Barbara Byers advises womenTo celebrate May Day, rabble is focusing on the accomplishments of women in the workplace. We spoke with outgoing CLC secretary-treasurer Barbara Byers about her work as a labour activist.

'Never confuse decency with weakness': Outgoing CLC secretary-treasurer Barbara Byers advises women

1 May 2017 - 12:10pm
Meagan Gillmore

Barbara Byers retires as secretary-treasurer of the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) this year after three years in the role. This comes after a career in union activism that began in 1979 when she was a social worker in Saskatchewan. In 1984, Byers was elected president of what is now the Saskatchewan Government and General Employees' Union, the first woman president of a provincial government employees' union. She was president of the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour from 1988 to 2002 before moving to the CLC.

To celebrate May Day, rabble wanted to focus on the accomplishments of women in the workplace. Byers spoke to rabble about how she got started in the union movement, struggles she and other women have faced and what she'd like to see happen in the future.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

What first got you involved in unions?

I got involved by accident. I discovered that many of the things the union could do were also things that I was fighting for as a social worker... The union became a vehicle to also do that.

You were the first female president of a provincial government employees' union. What was people's response?

I don't remember a lot of pushback about me being a woman, more me being evaluated on my skills. I don't remember a lot of that, but I certainly know that it was there for some people in all of the positions I've run for, and it continues to be there for women. We've made huge strides, but women's voices are still heard differently. They are still not as valued as they need to be.

Can you givesome examples of ways that women's voices are still heard differently today?

The labour movement is not unlike society generally that when a woman speaks in a meeting, she's not necessarily listened to. If she offers ideas, and a man comes along later and offers the same idea, just in different words, oftentimes he doesn't acknowledge that his idea is building on hers, … Some of the raw sexism that was [present] in my early years is not there; some of it may have gone underground a bit. We should never take away from the incredible work and the incredible advancements that have been made in the last 30 years I've been involved. There have been incredible advances for women. And there have been incredible advances for equity-seeking groups. That doesn't mean that the job is finished yet.

What improvements have you seen?

Statements against harassment started out as statements against sexism. It was considered quite revolutionary in the mid-1980s. … It's almost now part of meeting agendas, so people don't realize there's an actual history there. The number of women in leadership roles has expanded in huge ways. We're not 50-50 yet, but we're very much making advancements.Advancements from women in equity-seeking groups have come along very quickly as well … Cumulatively this movement is a lot different than it was when I started out.

Why is it important to have women in positions of visible leadership?

We need to have women's voices there. Women have a different leadership style. They have a different way of doing things as long as they don't fall into the trap of doing things the way the male leadership has done ... forever. … We do tend to be more collaborative. We can get pretty tough, and we have to be ready to take on a lot of tough issues with governments, with employers and inside our own organizations. One of the things I have used as a bit of a motto is, "Never confuse decency with weakness." Women leaders are strong, they're smart, they're strategic. They have incredible spirit and strength and solidarity and we only get better when all of those skills and attributes are used.

Do you think it should be 50-50 (women's representation in leadership roles)?

I think that would be the goal.

People have said, "Is there major pieces of unfinished business that you're looking back over the 30 years?" In small ways I wanted to make the labour movement … more flexible and family-friendly, life-friendly, but I didn't do the systematic change that needed to be done in terms of the structural change that needed to happen.

Do you have any accomplishments that really stand out to you?

Making sure women's voices were heard, making sure that when one of us went through a door, if I can put it that way, we left the door open for those that are coming behind.

What are the struggles that women need to take on today?

There's still the question of women's voices being heard and respected…and ensuring that the labour movement in general is "life-friendly." You can be an activist, you can be true to the union movement, and you don't have to hand over your life to the movement.

Are there any women throughout history that you've turned to for inspiration?

Every woman I've come into contact with I've learned something from … That's the strength and the beauty of women and feminists and the trade labour movement is that we hear each other and we learn from each other, and we honour that. I certainly do.

What would you say to the young aspiring women activists who are coming up?

Never be afraid to question, but always have sisters around you that can help you with support if you don't get the response that you need. Have that group of women around you that's from diverse communities … Don't give up. Women who went before us didn't give up on equal pay for equal work and then the ones that came after them didn't give up on equal pay for similar work. Women for many, many years are still fighting for equal pay for equal value. That's not one that we're going to give up on, because we're fighting for gender-wage justice.

Meagan Gillmore is rabble's labour reporter.

Photo: UN Women/flickr

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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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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.

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