Every time Ottawa-based Syrian refugee Dima Siam sees Prime Minister Justin Trudeau saying refugees are welcome in Canada, she says, "I feel as if someone despises me and slapped me on the face."
Siam, whose husband and four children are Canadian, survives every day under the shadow of a deportation order to Syria because of a simple paperwork error that, despite being resolved years ago, continues to supply the immigration bureaucracy with the cruel rationale to carry on the same hard-hearted policies that marked the Harper regime.
For years, Siam has called on the Harper and Trudeau governments to allow her to live in peace with her Ottawa family, and over 22,000 people have signed a petition in her support. While she applauds the work of those Canadian officials who went overseas to facilitate the entry of thousands of other Syrian refugees, she wonders why she cannot meet one of those same officials in a downtown Ottawa office to resolve her limbo.
The painful reality of Dima Siam's life hit home once again last week when she showed up at the Ottawa airport to welcome her brother-in-law and his family, Syrian refugees who had been sponsored by her husband, Mohammad, and the United Church. The new arrivals to Canada were welcomed with kind, loving arms by community members even as Siam contemplated the fact that her own temporary resident permit will soon expire and she is no longer eligible for post-partum health care.
A sour happiness
"I had mixed feelings," she says, her husband Mohammad translating.
"Sort of sour happiness. On one hand, I was very happy for them because I knew how difficult their situation was in Syria when we were neighbours back then before 2013, and it was not easier for them in Lebanon when they had to flee Syria in December 2012. This is why I encouraged my husband to sponsor them and went with him to the church to ask if they could co-sponsor with us.
"On the other hand I am very sad for myself being ignored: my rights as a woman in need for protection by the former government continue to be ignored by the current government, although my husband did everything he could and submitted all different types of reunification applications for five years to help me get permanent status in Canada."
Like thousands of refugees living a made-in-Canada limbo -- including hundreds of Syrians under deportation order -- Siam says: "I feel like being in a virtual prison. I have not been able to see my parents and brothers for 7 years. My parents have not seen two of my children at all, and the oldest two were babies when they last saw them. And when my mom applied to visit me when I gave birth to my last baby girl in December, 2016, to be by my side and help me with the kids, her visa application was rejected."
A teacher with a bachelor's degree in biology, Siam wants to work and "integrate into society," but she cannot move forward while stuck in the immigration limbo. She's only had health coverage for nine months over the last five years, and has had to cancel a series of post-partum medical appointments because her health card expired April 7. Although she has a humanitarian and compassionate application in the queue, her temporary resident status expires on June 7.
A dreamland turned nightmare
"To me Canada was like a dreamland based on what my husband used to tell me about it," she says. "We did not come sooner when the war started because although my husband and children are Canadian citizens, I am not, and could not come with them. We only came to Canada when I was granted a visitor visa to accompany my husband and children and after I gave birth to our third baby."
Needless to say, the threat of deportation to Syria, where Dima Siam would be at risk from all sides of the conflict, is psychological torture. It has resulted in depression, family stress -- especially for the young children, who fear they too will be deported and who won't stay in a room unless one of their parents is constantly with them -- emergency room visits via ambulance, and a range of other afflictions due to a life of constant fear and uncertainty.
Stories like Siam's get overlooked in an era where a simple Trudeau tweet garners international praise from sloppy newspaper editorial boards who thank the lord that he isn't Trump, a low standard which is fairly easy to meet, if only on a rhetorical level. But on the practical, day-to-day level, Trudeau's policies are a smiling version of Harper's, continuing the endless grind of detention, deportation, and a refusal to regularize status for hundreds of thousands of people forced to survive in the shadows.
Nowhere is the cruelty of Trudeau's hypocrisy more clear than in his refusal to cancel the Safe Third County Agreement. Following the chaos of the Muslim bans implemented by the Trump regime, 845 students from 22 Canadian law schools came together to conduct 3,143 hours of legal research to determine whether the U.S. can properly be considered a "safe third country" for asylum seekers and refugees. The research-a-thon was a valuable project given the increasing numbers of refugees who are forced to cross the Canada-U.S. border outside of regular ports of arrival, needlessly increasing their level of risk.
In a summary of their research, the law students found that "many persons seeking asylum in Canada who have entered from the United States face a credible threat to their security and fundamental rights if they are returned to the United States." Among the threats for those returned to the U.S. are prolonged periods of immigration detention, limited legal access, and potential deportation to torture or death.
"Canada is in breach of the Canadian Charter if the United States violates the fundamental rights of asylum seekers who Canada has refused in accordance with the [Safe Third County] Agreement," the researchers concluded. "In Canada, asylum seekers have constitutional rights to life, liberty, security of the person, access to counsel upon detention and procedural fairness. By returning asylum seekers to the United States, Canada violates those rights. Canada also breaches its own international legal obligations not to participate in possible indirect refoulement. The authors of this report believe that Canada's continued participation in the Safe Third Country Agreement violates Canada's constitutional and international obligations."
Indefinite immigration detention
Of course, the reception for refugees who make it to Canada is not a rosy picture either, as witnessed by the ongoing detention of thousands of refugees annually, some for indefinite periods. At a court hearing in Toronto last week, Ontario judge Ian Nordheimer heard about the case of Kashif Ali, originally from West Africa, who has spent over seven years in immigration detention, with stretches in solitary confinement lasting over three months, beatings, and regular, humiliating strip searches. Nordheimer asked government lawyers whether Ali could be held for the rest of his natural life if his situation is not resolved. He received no direct response.
The utter disregard for the most basic human rights of those seeking asylum in Canada was revealed in a recent Toronto Star investigation that revealed border officers have no clue how to assess whether individuals should be detained in the first place, and that those being placed in maximum security jails for indefinite stays are often sent there by agents like the one who wrote in an assessment form: "I am not a medical or mental health professional. I have not received any training on the completion of the form. This assessment is cursory in nature and should not be construed as an accurate representation of the subject's risk or mental health status."
The results are predictably disastrous, and all too commonplace. As Global News reported earlier this week, one immigrant in detention spent over a year in solitary confinement for undefined "bizarre" behaviour, and by day 390 of being in the hole, he was assessed as "catatonic." The UN defines 15 days or more in solitary as torture.
The Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA), which annually spends well over $100 million on detaining and deporting refugees, is considering potential policy changes with respect to immigration detention. Their National Immigration Detention Framework on the one hand talks about alternatives to detention, but also seeks an investment "in federal immigration detention infrastructure," which essentially means that the government will continue to detain refugees, but with different buildings and what it alleges will be "improved conditions."
From 2011-2016, the CBSA detained 38,868 human beings, including hundreds of children (554 kids were officially detained during 2014-16).
The Trudeau Liberals have contracted the Canadian Red Cross to conduct visits to immigration detention facilities, but their assessments are confidential and will only be shared with government officials, contradicting the CBSA's promises of increased accountability and transparency. Last month, Senators Mobina Jaffer and Victor Oh called on Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale to explain why the feds didn't arrange for an independent oversight body or ombudsperson.
Meanwhile, Citizens for Public Justice published a report earlier this month documenting frustrations with refugee sponsorship, "A Half Welcome: Delays, Limits and Inequities in Refugee Sponsorship." Based on interviews and a survey of Sponsorship Agreement Holders (SAH), the report found:
"[t]he current protracted nature of application processing very concerning. Many also call for attention to the long wait currently impacting many non-Syrian applications, considering the government's plan to resettle many Syrian refugees in 2015 and 2016. SAHs consider this to be inequity in private sponsorship, and urge the government to ensure more balance in this regard. SAHs also raised concerns about the allocation limits placed on the resettlement of privately sponsored refugees in 2017, noting that this impedes refugees' safety."
But the problem facing refugees going forward is that Trudeau already got his photo-ops with the first arrivals of Syrian refugees. He doesn't need them anymore. While they were welcome images, the airport photo shoot was indicative of the way he uses whole groups -- women, Indigenous people, refugees, Muslims -- as props for his own self-aggrandizement, garnering quick selfies that can be used for the 2019 election campaign and Liberal fundraising pitches. Trudeau says or tweets what he thinks are the right words, basks in the applause of those who praise him in comparison to Trump, and then trots off to New York meetings where fawning "journalists" ask where his Superman cape is. He is living the ultimate privileged white male fantasy, in which the oppressed of the world are asked to applaud this white saviour for paying lip service to their existence, without having to commit to anything real or substantive.
But in the real world, harm results from Trudeau's policy choices. As the student research-a-thon concluded: "Under international law, a country cannot transfer refugees to a state it knows to be in violation of the Refugee Convention. The 'Travel Ban' and other executive orders are flagrant violations of the Refugee Convention and as such, Canada's refusal to admit refugees at the U.S.-Canada border is itself a violation of international law."
On an individual level, Ottawa's Dima Siam says she sadly has little reason to be optimistic about her fate. However, she is quick to note that "what I have been through did not change the way I think of Canada, especially with all the positive and big-hearted people who have been supporting, fighting, petitioning for me getting justice and welcoming me in Canada."
Photo: Dima Siam (far right, in white hijab, holding her baby, Maria), welcomes her brother-in-law and his family as sponsored refugees to Canada on April 12. Siam is fighting a deportation order that would send her to Syria, the result of a simple paperwork error. The Trudeau government has thus far refused to end her nightmare of limbo and grant her permanent resident status. Credit: Brian Cornelius
Matthew Behrens is a freelance writer and social justice advocate who co-ordinates the Homes not Bombs non-violent direct action network. He has worked closely with the targets of Canadian and U.S. 'national security' profiling for many years.immigration and refugeesCanadian immigrationSyrian refugeesimmigration policyTrudeau governmentCanadian immigration detentionCanadian refugee policyMatthew BehrensApril 26, 2017Trudeau continues Harper assault on human rightsThose still intoxicated by the dream of a world without Harper don't want the fresh perfume of Trudeaumania to be erased by the cold facts of reality. But it's time to acknowledge some hard truths.Canada's refugee policy must change in response to Trump presidencyMany of the refugee policies brought in by the Harper government are still in place. Refugee advocates say Justin Trudeau has to make significant changes to those policies now that Trump is president.Exposing and challenging migrant detention in CanadaTings Chak talks about her graphic novel-style book Undocumented: The Architecture of Migrant Detention.
If Alberta's conservatives imagined U.S. President Donald Trump's decision immediately after his election last November to push the Keystone XL Pipeline project forward would provide an opening for them to attack the Alberta NDP government's policy of building social license for export development, they now need to re-examine their assumptions.
With his recent decision to attack Canadian trade -- and his inclusion of energy along with milk, cheese and lumber on his grocery list of grievances -- President Trump has risked ruining his Canadian fellow travellers' strategy.
Both Progressive Conservative Leader Jason Kenney and Wildrose Leader Brian Jean have always been quick to point to any opposition by environmentalists in British Columbia, aging stars in Hollywood or whomever wherever as evidence that trying to earn social license from citizens of other jurisdictions to get Alberta's oil to world markets is a lost cause.
As an alternative -- apparently the only alternative acceptable to conservatives -- they always propose going back to the time-honoured Tory strategy of shoving it up the nose of anyone who stands in their way, never mind their notable lack of success trying to do just that through all the years their man Stephen Harper ran things in Ottawa.
A keystone of this argument, as it were, was that it was the mercurial, climate-denying reality TV POTUS that the whole world now has to learn to live with who gave us Albertans the pipeline we wanted -- so we don't need no stinkin' social license!
Now Trump has gone and demonstrated just how dangerous it can be to assume you can rely on one single market to sell the product that remains the mainstay of Alberta’s economy. This is true even though it's completely murky what the heck it is Trump is complaining about when it comes to energy, massive sales of which are locked in at terms favourable to the United States by the trade agreement the president finds so disagreeable.
We'd better get to work to build some social license if we expect the economy of this place to keep running long enough to manage the transition to a difficult-to-imagine post-carbon future that is assuredly coming whether Trump, Kenney and Jean think it is or not.
Premier Rachel Notley did not miss the opportunity to state the obvious, pointing out to reporters during her recent trade mission to China that the president’s ramblings are that much more evidence for the need to expand the Trans Mountain Pipeline to the West Coast so Alberta oil can reach overseas markets through Canada.
And that simply isn't going to happen with a little more social license than we have right now, as conservatives of various stripes keep pointing out -- and as may become even more obvious on May 9, depending on the results of the B.C. provincial election.
I would say this makes Notley's point in a way that even die-hard supporters of Kenney and Jean should be able to comprehend, although I'm not optimistic.
Meanwhile, Canadian conservatives who have been cheering Trump since before his election, really need to think carefully about how that is going to look now that the U.S. president appears set to provoke a trade war with Canada because … well, we're not actually sure why.
In particular, conservative Canadian politicians who crossed the border to campaign for Trump and other Republicans should probably be thinking about what to say when the issue comes up at all-candidates' meetings in future election campaigns.
Because, believe me, it's going to come up! Believe me! Many, many times. So many times!
This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.
Post-politics is alive in France, thanks to the marriage of social democracy and neoliberal economics
The marriage of social democracy and neoliberal market economics has created what Belgian political philosopher Chantal Mouffe calls "post-politics."
On the economic issues of how wealth is produced and distributed, the social democratic left in the U.K., France and Germany -- once elected -- have bought into the "globalization is good" agenda promoted by the conservative right.
This left-right consensus means that voters are not offered a choice at election time.
If both left and right agree on who gets what -- let the impartial world market decide -- then politics as social conflict between profit seekers and employees becomes irrelevant.
What Marine Le Pen and her Front National represent is a world divided between friends (the French people) and enemies (others).
The Front National appeals to strong emotions: attachment to country and its flag, anthem and patriotic symbols.
With France shaken by dramatic incidents of violence and assassination, Le Pen plays off the 21-century "war on terrorism" and its associated Islamophobia to stoke fear and distrust of recent immigrants and French Muslims.
While the results of last Sunday's first round of voting for the next president of the French Republic showed support for LePen at 21 per cent, the French Socialist candidate Benoît Hamon gathered only six per cent support.
The French Socialist party has split three ways. The neoliberal supporters of outgoing President Hollande quietly joined with globalist Emmanuel Macron who led the polls with 23 per cent, propped up by his one-year-old En Marche! movement, post-politics to the core, claiming to be neither left nor right.
Benoît Hamon and those who remained faithful to the program of the Socialist party could not overcome the five-year legacy of the outgoing Socialist president who had abandoned policies he defended to get elected, and failed to dent unemployment.
Those loyal to left ideals (as exhibited in Nuit Debout protests against labour market liberalization for instance) joined Jean-Luc Mélenchon under his campaign banner La France Insoumise (unbowed).
The Mélenchon campaign attracted seven million-plus voters. It fell two percentage points short of replacing Le Pen on the run-off ballot -- a frustrating result, with two per cent of voters submitting blank ballots and another two per cent voting for two marginal candidates of the left.
The legacy of the Mélenchon campaign is promising.
By refusing the post-political consensus, Mélenchon opened debates over how to defeat European Union-imposed austerity, end economic practices that contribute to ecological disaster, introduce a new constitution to replace the Fifth Republic monarchy, and break with NATO- and U.S.-led military interventionism.
France Insoumise operated successfully through innovative social media campaigns, borrowing ideas from Podemos in Spain, and Sanders in the U.S., and engaging youth voters.
The success of his campaign led to widespread attempts to demonize and discredit Mélanchon, and it had an impact on the election results; but his ability to defend himself in public debate also generated support for Mélenchon from disaffected voters coveted by Le Pen.
Le Pen received less than five per cent of the vote in Paris. Her supporters number those with small capital: businesses and farmers worried about economic survival, and those disenchanted with Europe.
Emanuel Macron and En Marche! were financed and supported by the 40 French corporations that constitute the CAC stock exchange index.
In recent years, ownership of French media has become increasingly concentrated and liberty of expression reduced. The new media lords strongly supported Macron.
In June, France elects its parliament. The ability of Macron, the likely winner in the May 7 run-off against Le Pen, to put together a stable legislative majority is much in doubt.
En Marche! has been recruiting and interviewing candidates for the legislative elections.
Trying to break with the old parties, Macron has promised to name to cabinet only people who have never been ministers in earlier governments.
The (Gaullist) Republicans and Socialists who have dominated the National Assembly will not go down to defeat, just because Macron asks people to vote En Marche!
The Front National has only two current members in the 577-member National Assembly. The two-round voting system has kept them from winning seats.
Jean-Luc Mélenchon and La France Insoumise will challenge Le Pen and post-politics as practiced by the Socialists, Gaullists, and incarnated by Macron and En Marche!
Duncan Cameron is former president of rabble.ca and writes a weekly column on politics and current affairs.
Photo: radiowood/flickrfrench election 2017france politicsneoliberal politicsMarine Le PenDuncan CameronApril 25, 2017French presidential race finds two leading candidates enmeshed in corruptionFrance awaits the results of judicial enquiries launched against the Republican candidate and the Front National candidate, not just the first round of voting for a new president.Populism and faux feminism: Marine Le Pen, Donald Trump and Justin TrudeauJustin Trudeau arrived in Washington on Monday with a plan to help Trump polish his image with women, even though Canadian women are still waiting for action on public child care from our feminist PM.Fighting the right-wing plague that struck Europe In its current version the European extreme right represents the Europe of peoples, not the Europe of democracies. The threat it poses is serious because European democracy is weak and getting weaker.
Never imagine, even for a moment, that U.S. President Donald Trump was serious when he talked about standing up for the interests American farmers in his notorious anti-Canadian trade speech at the Snap-On Tool factory in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
Some Wisconsin dairy farmers may have been pleased when Trump began bloviating on the topic because anything is better than nothing when you're in desperate straits. And have no doubt, a lot of American dairy farmers are in desperate straits.
But the interests Trump is defending are those of the multinational "agri-food" corporations that hold Wisconsin dairy farmers in a grip that approaches feudal vassalage, and which would love to be able to do the same thing to their counterparts down on the Canadian farm.
Remember, despite his lies, misdirection and deceptions, the not-so-competent Trump serves the same neoliberal corporate masters as the quite competent Hillary Clinton, whom he defeated in last fall's U.S. presidential election with a little help from his friends in the FBI and -- who knows? -- maybe the FSB as well.
So his problem with the "very unfair things" supposedly going on in Canadian agriculture's supply-managed dairy, poultry and egg sectors may be that they offer a good, very good example to U.S. farmers that the agri-food lobby and its friends in Washington would very much like to eliminate forever.
On the other hand, speaking of desperate straits, with the end of his shambolic first 100 days in office fast approaching, President Trump may want desperately to look as if he's doing something for the schmucks who voted for him when, despite his big talk, he hasn't really done anything much at all since he was sworn in on Jan. 20.
Because when farmers are left to themselves, they can usually be counted on to produce themselves into poverty, it's good to have something to blame for the problems you’ve created. As Wisconsin farmer Chris Holman observed in a recent blog post, "Sorry Canada, this time that thing is you!"
"Scapegoating Canadian trade policy is a brilliant move as morally flexible politics goes, but as is often the case with finger-pointing, anyone doing it in a situation like this looks suspiciously like a guilty four-year-old,” Holman wrote.
Since the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates about 163 million litres of heavily subsidized American milk were dumped in fields, manure ponds or otherwise went down the drain in the first eight months of 2016, U.S. farmers in financial trouble would dearly love the opportunity to dump it in Canada instead. Supply-managed Canadian dairy farmers, by the way, receive zero subsidies from our taxes.
And lots of American dairy farms are in big financial trouble. According to the USDA, and state agencies quoted by Holman, about 500 Wisconsin farms close every year as the dairy industry there grows ever more concentrated. And, believe me, this has nothing to do with Canada.
Of course, bad neoliberal economic policies have the same kind of friends on both sides of the Medicine Line, which may be why the Canadian supply management system, which supplies high-quality product to Canadians at a fair price while ensuring dairy, poultry and egg farmers earn a living wage, has been under attack by the same types in Canada.
This explains why the Usual Suspects, like the neoliberal propagandists in Thinktankistan and their publicity auxiliary in Canadian media where Postmedia and The Globe and Mail compete to outdo one another with hysterical denunciations of supply management, are positively gleeful at President Trump's bombastic attacks on Canada.
"Dear Donald Trump," exclaimed the failing Globe and Mail in an editorial attacking at least some of its few remaining readers, "please milk Canada's sacred dairy cow."
It's true that supply management does "interfere with the market" to ensure a steady supply of supply-managed products at a fair price -- which is enough to send the Globe and Postmedia into paroxysms of apoplexy on ideological grounds alone.
But we can be reasonably sure that certain things will happen in the Canadian market without it, notwithstanding the fairy-tale promises made by neoliberal journalists, think-tank shills and a few geographically fortunate farmers located next to major centres.
First, as is happening in Wisconsin, there will be significant concentration of the Canadian egg, poultry and dairy farming into a few corporate hands.
In dairy, though, it may be all for naught over the long term for the simple reason most of our milk will eventually be trucked in from places with more favourable climates for year-round feed crops, like Mexico and the southern United States.
If you imagine that will make it cheaper, though, don't bet the farm … as it were. Without supply management, Canada's heavily concentrated grocery supply corporations will merrily continue to charge consumers pretty much what they please. The profits, though, will go into corporate pockets, not those of community members and farmers.
The occasional loss leader may give the illusion milk or eggs are cheaper, but that will come at the expense of dairy farmers and extra mark-ups on other groceries.
Moreover, the not-so-cheap milk you do get will be loaded with Recombinant Bovine Growth hormone and antibiotics necessary to run dairies in the U.S. market.
If you imagine the market will provide a niche for producers of artisanal products for consumers willing to pay a little bit more, dream on. Surviving Canadian dairies will be screaming to adopt the same strategies. They will say they have little choice, and they will be right.
The government of Canada will end up having to compensate farmers with quota to the tune of billions of dollars -- which will be paid by you and me.
So the short answer is that while supply management gives consumers a quality product at a price that allows local farmers a living wage, the alternative is not cheaper milk, cheese, eggs and poultry. It's the same price for lower quality food produced in dystopic conditions and hauled across the continent in diesel trucks.
Well, I suppose we should be thankful President Trump is not yet sending real bombs our way, but if this attack succeeds, you can count on it that the health of our economy, the success of our agricultural sector and the people who run it, and the physical wellbeing of Canadians who consume these products will all be worse.
As National Farmers Union President Jan Slomp cheekily advised Trump a few days ago, if he really wants to make American dairy farms great again, he should adopt supply management.
This post also appears on rabble.ca.
Deep social change happens so slowly it looks like nothing is happening. Not just over years but decades, maybe longer. Nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing. Then WHAM. The imminent legalization of (nonmedical) marijuana is a perfect example. Its perfectness even has a generational, father to son, symmetry.
Back in 1969 the Liberal government of Pierre Trudeau appointed a royal commission to recommend policy on marijuana. Its head was a future Supreme Court justice. They heard hundreds of witnesses, including John Lennon, and in 1973 reported. Two of the three members recommended decriminalization for possession and cultivation; the third supported legalization. No one suggested keeping it criminal. It must have been what Trudeau wanted. You always select people knowing what they'll give you. Then nothing, nothing, nothing -- till the son.
Why finally now? Who knows? But that's how it goes: there is social ferment yet no official policy or law reflects it. You feel it's hopeless. Then it bursts forth whole. Too bad for devotees of the cause who died in the interim.
In the same era, the 1960s, came the sexual revolution. It questioned heteronormative sex. It was like the drugs, music and political revolutions. Anti-capitalist authorities, such as Herbert Marcuse, theorized about the possibility of "nonrepressive desublimation." Intellectual guru Norman O. Brown advocated "polymorphous perversity" versus uncomplicated (marital only) intercourse.
Then 30 years of nothing. Gary Hart dropped his 1988 Democratic run for president because he was spotted on a sailboat with not-his-wife. In 1998 Bill Clinton was caught having oral sex in the Oval Office (making every word in that phrase sound sexual) with an intern. The sole achievement of his eight years as president was resisting the stigmatization and staying in office. (It seems to me Donald Trump owes Bill Clinton for the fact that his tape didn't cost him victory.)
The official marker for change on this front was same-sex marriage, which became legal nationally in the U.S. in 2015. WHAM, finally.
What about Bill O'Reilly, the mighty mouth at Fox News, who this week was booted for harassment of women working there? Did the Murdochs just find out? I think it's unfortunate that O'Reilly's harassment history got intertwined with Fox's right-wing ideology -- because the very same things have happened for years at other media outlets of all stripes. Women's lives were blighted and careers destroyed at more "liberal" or progressive institutions by behaviour as ugly and sometimes far worse than his including, bien sur, the CBC.
But why now? Nobody knows. It seemed to coalesce at the time of the Jian Ghomeshi and Bill Cosby cases two or three years ago. Then, why then? I don't think there's an answer. (Which should make people wary of declaring "causes" of anything, like wars and recessions.) But that's when women who had been fighting these battles for decades began saying they sensed a "sea-change." The lesson is obvious: don't fret about lack of results; just keep on battling.
Personally, I find it regrettable that the arrival of the cannabis legislation hasn't been more celebratory. I know laws are dry things and Parliament a dreary place. Besides, everyone can say they saw it coming. Still, people celebrate birthdays and anniversaries though they're inevitable. Since you never know the precise moment of a WHAM, it should be worth a cheer.
Maybe it's because fighting when the outcome is uncertain, or hopeless, is more fun. Pierre the dad had an insouciance in office that his son lacks. Even 10 years into power, he pirouetted for the cameras behind the Queen's back, as they went into a formal dinner. Meaning what exactly? Maybe: Believe me, all this prestige and rank means nothing, though I'm enjoying it while it lasts.
Justin had that before his political ascension: when he called Peter Kent "a piece of shit"; boxed, defying the odds, against Patrick Brazeau; or two years later, said nothing "f---ing matters" in the ring except who you truly are. I'm sure he has his reasons, including the dad he had, but now, over 10 years younger than Pierre was when he pirouetted, he sometimes seems older.
All the more reason to take pride in delivering the knockout blow in the case of pot. He should have learned how long it can take to finish something that's clearly right.
Maybe little Hadrien will get around to electoral reform.
This column was first published in the Toronto Star.
Like this article? rabble is reader-supported journalism. Chip in to keep stories like these coming.social changemarijuana legalizationpot legalizationsexual harassmentheterosexual relationshipssexual rightsRick SalutinApril 21, 2017For the Internet generation, revolutionary change is nothing to fearThe time is ripe, it seems to me, for assessing the deep change brought by the Internet era. It's ripe because, now, there's a generation grown up entirely within that era.Sexual assault is society's norm. Stop treating Donald Trump as an anomaly.Finally, a call for the mainstream press to take a broader approach to analysing Trump's sexual abuse history.Trudeau to make pot legal while cracking down on impaired drivers and pushersThe Liberal government finally introduced its pot legalization legislation, which contains many law-and-order measures to placate the many who are concerned about the impact of legal dope.
Climate change is one area where anti-science rhetoric and actions are endangering human health and survival
They say the personal is political. And the film Who is Arthur Chu? is testament in every way to that statement. It's featured in this year's Hot Docs Documentary Canadian International Festival launching April 27 in Toronto.
Arthur Chu, an insurance analyst from Cleveland, won almost US$300,000 on Jeopardy! in 2014 -- his haphazard style and forthright manner sparked intense emotions among viewers who called him a "Jeopardy! villain" (and yes there is racism in that, a Tweet -- "cheating chinx" -- comes to mind).
"I admired his audacity," co-director Yu Gu writes to me in an email. "[I admire] his courage to try to create a space for himself in a culture that has sought to erase him from the day he was born."
Gu, based in Vancouver, tells rabble.ca that she was forced to examine her own immigrant background and the paternal ideals passed on to her through Asian cultures which often devalue women.
"I felt there weren't many films or stories that painted a portrait of an Asian-American person using all the colours available in the palette."
Directors and cinematographers, Gu and Scott Drucker, caught Chu at the tail end of his TV "random 15 minutes of fame" and then got drawn in. What unfolds is layers and layers of relationships, family history, cultural/racial issues, deep dives into masculinity and misogyny in nerd and mainstream culture and a rough personal journey that at times can parallel your own.
As Drucker pointed out to me: "I was grappling with a lot of the same stuff Arthur was, particularly with the influence of this 'toxic masculinity' on my worldview."
'Women aren't on the other team'
What a ride.
Chu decides he wants to leverage this momentary fame to expose misogyny and writes about it in a magazine. His massive Twitter following goes wild. Some urge him to kill himself. Others are plainly racist.
He's an eloquent and calm debater and speaker and soon, he's on a talk circuit as well as churning out essays for various sites and online magazines.
"Women aren't on the other team," he points out during the 90-minute film. "They are the ball men are [fighting over]."
The editing flow, the intimate shots and scenes between Arthur, his wife Eliza and his family are painfully revealing. The narrative of Chu's life is laid bare, in careful but honest ways that make this film engrossing.
Interlacing a long one-on-one interview, old videos, Chu's home life and interactions with his family along with his public appearances, the viewer gets a 360-degree perspective on Chu.
Gu said during the process of editing, Chu's marriage emerged as a second storyline. Eliza herself is at a crossroads, trying to support her husband, dealing with an illness and then attempting to forge her own identity and work.
"It was important to show the challenges of their relationship as evidence of the true cost of what Arthur was attempting to do," said Gu.
Asians required to be polite
I am struck by the bracing candour of Chu in his comments, and realized how I never get to see Asian individuals be so frank about the world around them: "We are supposed to be polite and succeed in a quiet way."
The space allowed us (Asians -- such a pan-stereotypical term that covers everyone from Iran to the edges of China and the Pacific) is narrow, confining and debilitating for our own growth. Chu faces that head on and in doing so, provokes the mainstream culture of stereotypes.
That applies to concepts of masculinity as well and Chu is blasting on all fronts on that.
Chu implores us to just try to relate to each other as people. It's a touching wish.
For the filmmakers, different purposes emerge.
Drucker talks of holding a mirror up to society: "It's an important time to discuss the theme of viral circulation and how social media can function as a suffocating enclosure, holding our deepest and darkest fears in captivity."
Gu: "We are a mess -- imperfect, works in progress. [Arthur] is full of contradictions, he has experienced the highest of highs and the lowest of lows…I want people to watch and see themselves in their own imperfect glory."
Chu and his parents have not watched the film. Though, he has given the filmmakers his blessing to screen it.
There are more questions than answers, the marks of a good documentary. Chu leaves us with his own giant query about modern life, embedded in thinking that technological advances and the Internet would free us from our tropes, prejudices and limited beliefs: "[The Internet] is the broken promise of modernity."
Watch the film, experience the questions. Chu himself has no answers. His life is still unravelling beyond the last credits.
Who is Arthur Chu? is at HOT DOCS April 28, 29 and May 5. Check it out.
And check out these other great Canadian films at Hot Docs: Bee Nation, Manic, Quiet Zone and Blurred Lines.
June Chua is a Berlin-based journalist who regularly writes about the arts for rabble.ca.
Images courtesy of Who is Arthur Chu?Hot Docsfilm festivalCanadian filmcanadian documentaryAsian communitystereotypesJune ChuaApril 24, 2017Chinese railway worker history comes to life in new Canadian children's bookPlaywright George Chiang's new book tells the story of Chen Sing, a teenage boy who ventures to Canada's West to build the transcontinental railway through the Rockies.Hot Docs 2015 radiates with personal, high-stakes storiesOver the years, North America's biggest documentary showcase has become a glossy panorama. This year at Hot Docs, June Chua finds a trove of personal films about individuals and their challenges.A set of sizzling films at 2014 Hot DocsMore than 190 documentaries from 43 countries will be featured in this year's Hot Docs Canadian international documentary festival. Here are arts columnist June Chua's picks for docs to watch.
If he gets his way, Arkansas' Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson will execute eight men in 11 days this month. On Feb. 27, he issued the death warrants for the prisoners, with "doubleheader" executions on April 17, 20, 24 and 27, because the state's supply of one of the three drugs in the execution "cocktail," midazolam, is set to expire at the end of April. As this is written, three of the eight executions have been temporarily halted; the other five are scheduled to take place in what would be a rapid-fire flurry of executions unprecedented in modern U.S. history.
Megan McCracken is an attorney with the Death Penalty Clinic at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law. She told the Democracy Now! news hour:
"Midazolam is an anti-anxiety drug ... but it is not an anesthetic drug. That means it's not used to take a person who is awake and conscious to put that person under surgical anesthesia and then keep that person there. That's what's needed for an execution to be humane, to comport with the Constitution. This drug is inappropriate for the task. You have this situation created by the state where it's rushing to use a drug before it expires, even though the drug itself is inappropriate for the use."
Midazolam is the first of the drugs in Arkansas' death mix.
All the drugs for executions by lethal injection are becoming harder and harder to acquire; companies don't want to be associated with the increasingly unpopular practice of capital punishment, and the European Union has banned companies in Europe from selling execution drugs since 2011, partly because of sensitivity to the Holocaust (yes, press secretary Sean Spicer, Adolf Hitler did use gas to kill millions of people).
The eight men scheduled for execution by Gov. Hutchinson each have unique circumstances, but fall into categories that are common on America's death rows: poor, disproportionately people of colour, most likely to have been found guilty of a crime that had a white victim, and incapable of mounting the type of vigorous defence that wealthier defendants can.
Damien Echols knows Arkansas' death row all too well: He spent more than 18 years on it. He was one of the West Memphis Three, imprisoned for the 1993 slayings of three eight-year-old boys. Four separate documentary films were made about that case, attracting global attention and increased scrutiny. After improved DNA testing became available years later, he and his two co-defendants were freed in 2011.
"These are people that I knew on a personal, everyday basis. [Some] have an IQ of 70. Some of them are mentally insane. A couple of them are believed to be innocent," Echols said on the Democracy Now! news hour. One of those slated to be executed is Don Davis.
"He had killed a woman during a home invasion ... he said it tortured him every single day for the rest of his life since he had done it," Echols said. "He was crying when he was saying this. ... Every single night when he went back to his cell, it's all he thought about all night long. This was a guy who has been in there for 25 years and has had an incredible amount of time to reflect on what he's done, and was truly regretful."
Despite suffering multiple anxiety attacks, Damien returned to Arkansas, the state that almost killed him, to participate in a rally at the Arkansas Capitol building on Good Friday, accompanied by his friend, actor Johnny Depp.
At the Governor's Mansion nearby, a half-dozen people held signs against the death penalty. In front of them, an African-American man lay on a cot, as if on a death-chamber gurney awaiting execution. That man was the Honorable Wendell Griffen.
Arkansas state judge Griffen had just issued a temporary restraining order, in response to a motion filed by the McKesson Corp., which distributes chemicals. McKeeson claimed that the Arkansas Department of Correction deceived them in order to acquire vecuronium bromide, one of the lethal drugs in the state's execution cocktail. McKesson will only sell vecuronium bromide for authorized medical purposes, which do not include executions. Judge Griffen's restraining order, along with the imminent expiration of the state's supply of midazolam, would effectively halt executions in Arkansas indefinitely. In response to his participation in the anti-death-penalty protest, the state supreme court stripped Griffen of his authority to oversee any capital-punishment cases.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Supreme Court is considering an appeal from the Arkansas death-row prisoners. Whether or not Gov. Asa Hutchinson has his way, and oversees the execution of eight men, hangs in the balance.
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: Terry Dye/flickrdeath penaltyexecution drugsExecutionsU.S. JusticeU.S. politicscapital punishmentAmy GoodmanDenis MoynihanApril 20, 2017Trump keeps campaign promise to promote unfettered police powerAs the world focuses on state violence from Syria to Iraq to Yemen to North Korea, the groundwork is being laid in the United States for unchecked state violence at home.Dead Man Walking, 20 years later: Sister Helen Prejean's work on abolishing the death penaltyThirty years ago, a Catholic nun working in a poor neighbourhood of New Orleans was asked if she would be a pen-pal to a death-row prisoner. Sister Helen Prejean agreed, forever changing her life.Opposing the death penalty in the United StatesThis month the United States passed a grim milestone -- 1000 people executed since the death penalty was reinstated 30 years ago.
Premier Rachel Notley's NDP wins Alberta's first-quarter fundraising sweepstakes, continuing trend from 2016
Alberta's New Democratic Party outraised each of the province's other political parties in the first quarter of 2017, ended March 31.
This is not the first time this has happened since the New Democrat government led by Premier Rachel Notley was elected in May 2015 and, promising to take corporate and union money out of electoral politics, swiftly passed tough political financing legislation that allowed donations only from individuals.
Nevertheless, the latest numbers from Elections Alberta do suggest the law is working essentially as advertised -- although, of course, we don't know how much corporate money is flowing into political slush funds for right-wing parties proudly labelled political action committees by their operators.
According to the reports published yesterday by the provincial elections agency, the NDP raised $373,060.23 in the quarter, compared to consolidated donations of $281,606.85 for the Wildrose Party and $226,572.21 for the PCs. (Consolidated reports count donations to constituency associations as well as the party. In the case of the NDP, all donations go to the party.)
We can only speculate on whether a unified right-wing party could collect the same level of support from former supporters of both conservative parties, although, given their traditional differences and the discomfort of many PCs with the direction their party is likely to take under the leadership of social conservative Jason Kenney, this seems unlikely.
The Alberta Liberal Party, with a leadership contest in its near future, raised $47,959.83 in the quarter, the Alberta Party took in a consolidated $14,070.49, which must have been a disappointment for leader Greg Clark, and the Green Party of Alberta was given consolidated donations of $5,192.50.
Revenue totals for all of 2016 lined up in the same order:
NDP – $2.3 million
WRP – $1.5 million
PC – $1 million
ALP – $184,700
AP – $90,100
Greens – $28,000
It would probably be reading too much into these latest numbers to suggest that they mean Wildrose Leader Brian Jean is a little more popular than his rival Kenney, or that the PCs still haven't really figured out how to raise money after thriving on huge corporate donations for generations.
The reasons people make political contributions are more nuanced and complicated than such calculations suggest.
If the latest numbers show anything it's how much support there is for the NDP, notwithstanding the prevailing narratives of both the opposition parties and the mainstream media.
To repeat an old line from past reports of this sort, readers and watchers of various far-right social media sites who see Communists hiding under almost every bed and park bench in Alberta will be disappointed to learn the Communist Party brought in no donations at all once again in the first quarter of 2017. Nor did the Alberta First Party, Alberta Social Credit and the Reform Party of Alberta.
Meanwhile, on either side of Alberta, the conservative party in British Columbia that is known as the Liberals and the conservative party in Saskatchewan called the Saskatchewan Party continue to raise huge amounts of corporate cash by selling access to their leaders.
My blog at AlbertaPolitics.ca remains inaccessible as we continue to work to get it back on line. Bear with us! It will return one of these days.
Martin Himel and Face2Face host David Peck talk about his new film Secrets of Survival, family, isolation, identity and loneliness -- and the secrets we all keep.
Malka Rosenbaum remembers that moment as if it happened yesterday. A Toronto University student, she had been complaining about the difficulties of being an only child. Her Mother then told her there was once another child who had died in the Second World War. Malka had a sister and her name was Esther. Forty-five years later, Malka's 93-year-old Aunt Franiya told her that Esther may have survived. Malka is compelled to find out what happened.
Juergen Ulloth can never forget the moment his life changed forever. Excited about getting married, he went to the Kassel Municipality in Germany to retrieve his birth certificate for a marriage license. The clerk told Juergen that his family name was not originally Ulloth, it was Raenold, his mother's maiden name. Juergen's Father, a German Second World War veteran, was not his biological parent. Who is his father? Juergen must find him. The search leads him to America and transforms his identity.
Martin Himel has worked as a foreign correspondent and war correspondent for 25 years for CTV, Global TV and FOX, and a producer for ABC news. His television series, documentaries and news coverage have exposed major issues throughout Europe, the Middle East, Asia, Africa and the Americas, and have appeared on PBS, Bloomberg TV, NBC, SKY, BBC, CNN, Vision Television Canada, CBC, CTV, Global Television Canada, Fox News USA, and HD NET, among others.
He directs and produces his projects through his production companies, Elsash Productions Ltd. and Vigilance Productions. Himel's most recent documentary was the explosive exposé Undercover in ISIS, broadcast on documentary Channel in 2016.
Other productions include the documentary specials Keys To Paradise; North Korea: Desperate or Deceptive; and Jenin – Massacring Truth; as well as two four-part series, Infidelity and Global Anti-Semitism; and the 13-part series Twist of Faith. For more information: www.martin-himel.com
SECRETS OF SURIVAL is written, directed and produced by Martin Himel. Videography is by Ken Ng, Martin Himel and Ellai Himel. Sound recordist is Inna Shapiro. Lead Picture Editor is Yasmine Novak. Music is by Adam White & David Wall. Field Coordinator is Lisa Sanders. For documentary Channel, Bruce Cowley is Creative Head; Jordana Ross is Production Executive; and Susan Baker handles Business & Rights.
For more information about my podcasting, writing and public speaking please visit my site here.
With thanks to producer Josh Snethlage and Mixed Media Sound.
Image Copyright: Martin Himel. Used with permission.
Like this podcast? rabble is reader/listener supported journalism.
Legacy of Little Mountain shows devastating failure of B.C. Liberals' housing strategy, say critics, former residents
The effort by a group of politicians previously associated with the Progressive Conservative, Liberal and Alberta parties to "unite the centre" suggests divisive social conservative doctrines that increasingly dominate the Wildrose and PC parties are starting to seriously worry economic conservatives.
Meanwhile, one of the very issues that has been worrying these would-be centrist conservatives, the dispute over how to respond to gay-straight alliances in schools, has now seeped into the open with publication of an attack on Wildrose Opposition Leader Brian Jean on a social media page run by one of his caucus members, Cardston-Taber-Warner Wildrose MLA Grant Hunter.
About 50 members of the self-styled united-the-centre crowd -- which might also be called "the Coalition of the Failing" -- met behind closed doors in Red Deer on the weekend at the invitation of former Edmonton mayor and Prentice PC cabinet minister Stephen Mandel.
Mandel, apparently, is one of several old Tories -- who can only be described as centrists if you've seriously misplaced your left -- who haven’t quite tuned into the fact Alberta already has a successful centre-right party and they're not members of it.
It's called the New Democratic Party and it's led by Premier Rachel Notley. Rhetoric from Alberta's two social-conservative parties notwithstanding, about the only difference between the Dippers of '17 and the Tories of '71 is that a slightly larger percentage of NDP policy is more than mere rhetoric. Still, the similarities between the two parties are striking -- and often annoying to longtime NDP loyalists. If you don't believe me, just ask a New Democrat from British Columbia!
But to see that, you have to pay attention to actual policies -- on royalties, deficit spending and the effort to build an inclusive big tent platform -- and not just listen to the ever-more hysterical rhetoric of the leaders competing to lead the increasingly loony right.
"This was just a preliminary get-together to see if there are any grounds to continue," Mandel told the CBC on the weekend. "We will see what happens next."
What the excessively cynical think will happen is that these old Tories will try to grab what's left of the Alberta Party and turn it into the New PCs to compete with the New Dems.
"If I was Clark, I’d be worried," observed an experienced Alberta political operator of my acquaintance, referring to Alberta Party Leader and sole MLA Greg Clark.
For his part, Clark didn't sound particularly worried, possibly because short of joining the far-right Frankenparty that both PC Leader Jason Kenney and Wildrose Opposition leader Brian Jean hope to animate as soon as they can figure out where to attach the electrodes, it's about the only possible way for him to keep his job as an MLA.
"Albertans are centrists, I think broadly, and want a centrist political option," Clark told the CBC in the same story -- an observation that is most certainly true, subject to the same caveat as that regarding Mandel's commentary above.
Alberta Liberal leadership candidate Kerry Cundal was there too -- as was St. Albert Mayor Nolan Crouse, until recently a candidate for the same job -- presumably both aware that the last time a merger of the Alberta Liberal Party and the Alberta Party was proposed, the ALP board of directors put the kybosh on it.
It's interesting that three Alberta political parties -- the Liberals and the Alberta Party thanks to their difficulty getting on the radar in the current Legislative setup, and the PCs seeing as they’ve just elected a leader determined to shut them down and merge them with the Wildrosers -- are now facing existential crises as the wake of the 2015 Alberta general election continues to spread across Alberta's troubled metaphorical waters.
Speaking of the Wildrosers, just days ago Jean was insisting manfully there are no major divisions in his caucus -- despite constant talk of the phenomenon throughout Alberta political circles.
Jean's optimistic denials notwithstanding, one rift within Wildrose Caucus is now right out in the open with the publication by Hunter on his Facebook page of a long screed by Parents for Choice in Education director Donna Trimble.
As noted in this space recently, the social conservative Wildrose base just can't leave alone the issue of gay-straight alliances in schools and their belief that students who join them should be outed to their parents. They keep picking at it, alienating more and more mainstream Abertans.
But when Trimble directed her anger at Jean for daring to agree with the NDP, not to mention many conservatives of the sort who were meeting in Red Deer, that children who join GSAs could be put at risk if their parents are automatically informed, Hunter passed it right along.
While Education Minister David Eggen "Threatens to Expand State Control," Trimble wrote in quaintly capitalized headline style, "there is a greater danger posed by Wildrose Leader Brian Jean demonstrating such weakness on this portfolio in the Legislature." (Emphasis mine.)
"When the opposition in the Legislature fails to stand up to protect families from state control of their own children, Minister Eggen and the NDP are empowered to expand that state control," Trimble protested, urging her militant organization's member-parents to "contact Brian Jean and remind him that his job is to represent you, the good families of Alberta, and not the rhetoric of iSMSS (Institute for Sexual Minority Studies and Services) and the NDP!"
She advised her readers to "ask that he clarifies or retracts his statement regarding the circumvention of parents."
I imagine the Wildrose Leader was none too pleased by his MLA's freelancing, which tends to bring into question Jean's ability to lead a united right-wing party, not to mention damaging the ability of that party and its two constituent parts to be seen by the boarder public as anything but a mob of obsessive homophobic nuts.
Jean obviously gets this, but for some reason lacks the wherewithal to stand up to the social conservatives in his own caucus or among his party's general membership.
For his part, Kenney seems to be discreetly encouraging them, while keeping his distance from the media or anyone else who might ask him rude questions about what he really believes.
This certainly puts the desire of economic conservatives to rebrand themselves as the centre of the province's centre in proper context, no matter how difficult that will be with a genuinely centrist social democratic party in government.
Today marks 101st anniversary of women's right to vote in Alberta
Today marks the 101st anniversary of the right of women to vote in Alberta.
Alberta followed Saskatchewan, which implemented women’s suffrage on March 14, 1916, and Manitoba, which did so on Jan. 28 the same year.
The West led on this important development in Canada, it has been argued, with the support of the co-operative, labour and temperance movements, the latter which saw women's suffrage as another tool to end alcohol-spurred violence against women and children.
The United Farmers of Alberta, the political movement that lingers as a co-operative retail fuel chain, endorsed the vote for women in Alberta in 1912.
Alas, not all supporters of the franchise for women were as concerned with democracy as using its availability as a tool for encouraging immigration to wrest the recently colonized lands of the West from their Indigenous inhabitants, a part of Prairie history we tend not to acknowledge when we remember this important development in our past.
NOTE: This post will eventually appear on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca. Unfortunately, it's broken right now, possibly the result of a viral surge in interest in yesterday's post about the creation of 20,000 new full-time jobs in Alberta last night, and the way the right and the media are pretending it didn't happen. As soon as AlbertaPolitics.ca is back in operation, this will be posted there as well.
Like this article? rabble is reader-supported journalism. Chip in to keep stories like these coming.FeminismPolitics in CanadaAlberta politicsAlberta NDPWildrose PartyProgressive Conservative PartyBrian JeanRachel NotleySocial ConservatismEconomic ConservatismUnite the RightUnite the CentreWomen’s SuffrageUnited Farmers of AlbertaInstitute for Sexual Minority Studies and ServicesParents for Choice in Education
Legacy of Little Mountain shows devastating failure of B.C. Liberals' housing strategy, say critics, former residents
When Ingrid Steenhuisen's former neighbours were low on food and strapped for cash, the Little Mountain social housing resident would spend what little she had on a bag of flour and deliver it to their home.
Last week, Steenhuisen and other Little Mountain housing activists marked 10 years since the province announced it had sold the complex to a private developer, who quickly made plans to demolish it. While critics continue to cite its demolition as the failed testing ground for B.C.'s approach to social housing, Steenhuisen remembers the vibrant social housing community where people looked out for each other.
"There were a few times where the local grocery store in their sale flier would have a 25-pound bag of flour for six or seven dollars," Steenhuisen says. "So my Mom and I would split that cost and then I'd take the bag of flour to that family because I knew the mother baked and that way she could do bread....she'd have a way to tide it over."
"People took care of one another's kids. That kind of thing existed when I was young, it existed until 2009."
There goes the neighbourhood
Steenhuisen grew up in the Little Mountain housing project, which was originally constructed as low-rent housing for middle-income families after the Second World War. A long-time housing advocate, the 60-year old says that everywhere she goes in her neighbourhood of Little Mountain, people know her. But with the removal of the 224-unit social housing project at East 37th Ave. and Main Street, Steenhuisen had to say goodbye to neighbours she'd known her whole life.
With a handful of others, Steenhuisen resisted eviction for several years. Today she lives in the 54-unit seniors social housing building that sits on the otherwise empty green lot. It's the only thing that has been built since the original row houses were levelled.
Steenhuisen recalls the community had experienced its fair share of rumours that the complex would be broken up and sold off since the 1990s. But it wasn't until March 2007--10 years ago -- that rumour became reality. The B.C. Housing authority announced it had sold the site to a developer, effective April 1, 2007. Many tenants started packing up, with the idea that it was temporary.
According to David Chudnovsky, a Little Mountain housing advocate and former MLA for Vancouver-Kensington, when B.C. Housing started pushing residents out in 2007, they were told they'd be moved back in before the 2010 Olympics. But it never happened.
It wasn't until July 2016 that the city and developer, Holborn Holdings Ltd., agreed on zoning changes that would allow the company to build market-priced condos alongside the social housing it had promised to replace. At this point, the company announced it would still be 10 years before the project was complete.
But according to B.C. NDP housing critic, David Eby, the delay could have been avoided.
"When the property was purchased by the developer everybody knew what the zoning was. . . everybody knew the maximum number of units that could be built on the site," said Eby. But the city initially said no to the developer's rezoning application.
"There has definitely been a stand-off between the city and the developer because [given the zoning] the developer overpaid for the site. The problem is that the province entirely failed to put deadlines in the contract with the developer when they sold the land, to require that the affordable housing be rebuilt, regardless, by a certain deadline."
Eby, the MLA for Vancouver-Point Grey, says the loss of the low-income housing project is an example of the failure of the government's strategy to privatize social housing.
"I think the evidence for the failure of this government's approach is really evident in the Little Mountain site as a micro example," he said. In fact, the project was essentially a "test" site for the B.C. Liberals' "broader approach to public housing."
The approach, said Eby, has seen $200 million worth of public housing sold to private developers, and the management transferred to non-profits. At the Little Mountain site, the province expected that the private developer would rebuild the social housing, using the profit from the market-priced condos it would build next to them. Or, as the B.C. Housing website puts it, the "partnership with the private and non-profit sectors," envisions a "new, safe, accessible housing, with a mix of subsidized and market housing, along with community facilities and other neighbourhood amenities."
With B.C.'s election less than three weeks away, the NDP have promised to build 114,000 new co-op, social, rental and owner-purchased homes in the next 10 years as part of their housing strategy, which also includes a $400 annual subsidy for renters.
While construction is now set to start this year, much of the 15-acre lot has sat unused for the last decade. Housing advocates say the redevelopment process for Little Mountain has failed the residents because it broke up a vibrant community.
"You start with a community that actually works, where people know each other and have some relationship to one another, and then you scatter those people to the four winds," said Chudnovsky.
Tessa Vikander is a Vancouver-based freelance multimedia journalist writing about social movements, Indigenous leadership, education and lifestyle. She is smart and funny on Twitter @TessaVikander.
Image: David Vaisbord
Please chip in to keep stories like these coming.Tessa VikanderApril 19, 2017Little Mountain2017 B.C. ElectionB.C. politicshousingDavid EbyBC
"Further details of the next agricultural policy framework will be announced over the coming year…" So states the 2017 federal Liberal budget released on March 22.
I had hoped there would be a bit more of an attempt to deal with the pressing issues related to agriculture.
When I came upon this statement on page 108 of the 2017 budget, I couldn't quite believe what I was reading.
Another "stay-tuned" budget, with little commitment and definitely little vision for how the agricultural economy of this country might be best developed in the interests of community, family farmers, climate change and clean food.
Still no policy framework and still no discussion of pressing issues such as retiring farmers, land tenure, preserving the family farm, poor farm incomes, or how best to encourage sustainable agriculture, farm cooperatives, community trusts, financing and micro-loans, etc. Of all the ideas that might be tried, this budget came up shamefully empty.
Beyond mentioning working toward eliminating tariffs, launching initiatives to encourage science and value-added agri-business, the 2017 federal budget was remarkable in its lack of understanding, insight and action.
It is not that the federal government has not received guidance or clear recommendations.
Here is what one of several recommendations from the National Farmers Union submission to the pre-budget consultations of the Finance Committee stated on the most pressing of issues -- intergenerational transfer of family farms:
"The average age of farmers in Canada is rising and the number of farmers under age 35 is falling. We are in the midst of a crisis in inter-generational transfer. There is an urgent need for measures to assist young people to begin and continue farming. Measures to promote sustainable incomes for all farmers will help young people choose farming as an economically viable career. Beginning farmers require mentorship and training, as well as assistance in gaining access to land, especially options for secure land tenure that do not involve crippling debts.
The NFU recommends the federal government develop mechanisms for farm family intergenerational land transfers that do not rely on loans and interest payments. Fiscal measures should be created that would promote community-based financing options and community-owned land trusts and land banks to ensure food production by local farmers. Canada also needs an income-assurance plan for beginning farmers to assist them in becoming established and support their long-term success. A retirement savings program or pension plan specifically designed for farmers would reduce their need to rely on selling land at high prices to fund their retirement."
As noted in other columns I have written, there are many, many ways of implementing these recommendations. These two paragraphs clearly and succinctly sum up what is required. Budget 2017 did not even mention new farmers, but encouraged us to wait until next year for a comprehensive agricultural policy under Growing Forward 2018.
Hearken back to the Alternative Federal Budget 2017 (AFB) published on March 9 by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives for a clear picture of the choices required for food security and sovereignty in Canada. Among its comprehensive economic policies, the AFB 2017 maps out strong policy actions to ensure family farming in Canada gets back on track. It also recognizes the importance of small farms in helping to mitigate climate change, recognizes the need to drastically improve farm incomes, and supports the reestablishment of a strong system of publicly funded research to support family farmers. It also recognizes that there is a crisis in intergenerational land transfer.
Here is a summary from the CCPA's budget publication entitled High Stakes, Clear Choices:
"The average age of Canadian farmers is rising. Older farmers are delaying retirement, while younger people who want to farm are facing barriers that are increasingly difficult to overcome, such as precarious farm income prospects and a fraying rural social fabric. We are in the midst of a crisis in inter-generational transfer. Land is being acquired by farmland investment companies, consolidated into large holdings, and farmed by tenant farmers and hired labour instead of being transferred to younger farm families and new entrants. There is an urgent need for measures to assist young people to begin and continue farming successfully.
- Create a national agricultural climate change mitigation program to help farmers reduce emissions and make their farms more resilient.
- Make farm incomes less precarious by rebuilding or repairing the institutions that give farmers more power in the marketplace.
- Create a new set of mechanisms and training programs to facilitate land transfer to new farmers without requiring them to take on crippling debt."
Add to this context decades of poor farm incomes as illustrated in this graphic blog by researcher Darrin Qualman, "Agribusiness takes all: 90 years of Canadian net farm income," and it is incredible that there are any family farmers left in Canada. The fact that there still are underscores the commitment and stamina and stick-to-it-ness of some. But, of course, low farm incomes have taken a drastic toll on the rural population generally. That includes small businesses located in small centres across the country. Family farmers are suffering, but so is all of rural Canada. Without addressing the issue of the farming population, there is no way to solve the rural crisis more generally.
In 2018, the Liberal government plans to discuss agriculture and apparently provide a framework for renewal. We'll see. So far, the federal government has simply put a whole new spin on the meaning of the farming phrase "next year country."
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.At the farm gateBudget 2017agricultural policyCanadian agricultureCanadian Farmersland transferLois RossApril 18, 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.Liberals' second budget gets failing gradeThe federal government, says David Macdonald, "took the 2016 budget out and put a new cover on it... Now you have the 2017 budget. They’ve gift wrapped last year’s budget."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.