Martin Lukacs – Journalism

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Quebec student protests mark ‘Maple spring’ in Canada

A revolt against a government tuition fee hike is growing into Occupy-inspired dissent against austerity and inequality

Quebec student protests flare

The social unrest roiling Quebec is colour-coded red. One cannot miss the hundreds of thousands of people with cloth of the colour pinned to their coats and satchels; the stickers pasted on street poles and storefront mannequins; and the sheets fluttering from balconies and windows. The red squares – punning visually on a French expression to be squarely in the red, or in debt – are a gesture of solidarity with university and college students on a massive general strike against government tuition fee hikes.

They have also become a symbol of the most powerful challenge to neoliberalism on the continent.

Canadian students have been furiously mobilizing for a freeze on tuition fees since last spring, when the Liberal provincial government announced hikes of 75% over five years. A general strike launched this February shuttered most of the province’s colleges and universities.

In Montreal, family-friendly street-theatre and marches peaked with ahistoric rally of 200,000 on 22 March; business-unfriendly blockades of banks, bridges and government ministries have often paralyzed the downtown core. And over the last week, tens of thousands have joined anightly protest ritual, marching through Montreal past the midnight hour.

Tuition in Quebec remains the lowest in North America, because of generations of student protest – but the militant coalition CLASSE, representing half the striking students, has always included in its program free and universal post-secondary education.

The government’s response has been to wage a war on the students’ right to collectively negotiate the conditions of their studies. It has mocked and vilified students in the corporate media; sought legal injunctions to dismantle picket lines and force teachers to class; and unleashed vicious police crackdowns and mass arrests against peaceful protesters as young as 15 and 16. Some students now wear red eye-patches after one was shot at close range by a flash-bang grenade and lost his vision.

In the painful tumult of daily protests, an entire generation of Québécois youth is learning a political lesson no class would ever teach: violence underlies all of society’s inequalities, and power doesn’t yield an inch without a fight.

The students’ courage and creativity in the face of such brutality has lit a fire under Quebec. Their achievement has been to begin to clarify for a broad swath of society that a tuition hike is not a matter of isolated accounting, but the goal of a neoliberal austerity agenda the world over. Forcing students to pay more for education is part of a transfer of wealth from the poor and middle-class to the rich – as with privatization and the state’s withdrawal from service-provision, tax breaks for corporations and deep cuts to social programs.

The fault-lines of the struggle over education – dividing those who preach it must be a commodity purchased by “consumers” for self-advancement, and those who would protect it as a right funded by the state for the collective good – has thus sparked a fundamental debate about the entire society’s future.

Quebec is, in some ways, uniquely disposed for such a debate. During the long struggle to maintain a French identity under pressure of English Canadian domination and the homogenizing force of the market, Québécois have developed a strong sense of social solidarity. While neoliberalism has captured the two main political parties and incrementally encroached on the economy, its cultural victory – instilling values of rampant individualism and competition – has only been partial.

The ideal of free post secondary education – recommended in the 1960s by a famous state-commissioned inquiry, but long since snuffed out among the economic elite – has been kept alive for decades by the student unions. And as the federal Conservative government, increasingly indifferent to Quebec, shifts economic and political power westward to Alberta, such progressive yearnings could deepen.

Little wonder students’ imagination was stirred by the past year of world rebellion. That inspiration has been distilled in the movement’s main slogan, “Printemps érable,” a clever play on words that literally means Maple Spring but sounds like Arab Spring.

The Occupy movement has also been a game-changer, here as elsewhere. Its spirit of direct democracy has clicked with the Quebec student union’s history of grassroots organizing through decentralized general assemblies. And it has given students a fresh language with which to understand the 1%’s attempt to pass the buck to students: the emerging consensus of the neoliberal elite – whether in Quebec, Chile, England or the US – is that they would prefer their labor force pay for its own education and training, and then simply exploit them.

If students have brought the spirit of global unrest to Quebec, what the government fears most is that they may now spread it permanently to wider society. Students are deepening ties with laid-off and locked-out workers across the province. They have joined civic groups in criticizing a multibillion-dollar scheme to open up indigenous peoples‘ lands in Quebec’s north to a frenzy of mining, oil and forestry operations, which the premier has shopped to investors in London, Tokyo and Rio De Janeiro. And the movement gave an electrifying jolt to an Earth Day mobilization on 22 April, helping to bring nearly 300,000 onto the streets. It is hardly a coincidence that, the same day, the Quebec government agreed finally to negotiations.

The government has delayed in the hope that the student movement will sputter out, succumb to division, or marginalize itself through street-fighting and property damage. They have badly miscalculated. Cracks are indeed appearing, but among the ruling Liberal party and their business allies. Policing costs will soon exceed the value of the tuition increase. Montreal’s tourist reputation could take a hit. And students are beginning to garner international press and support.

The feeling taking root among students and others is that this is the chance to turn the tide of a generation. In the words of the French chant resounding daily in the streets, “On ne lâche pas” – we’re not backing down.


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May 2, 2012 at 4:29 am

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Alberta, Ottawa, oil lobby formed secret committee

Published on Monday March 12, 2012

JEFF MCINTOSH/AP FILE PHOTOAlberta’s oilsands face mounting protest and looming international regulations targeting the province’s crude.
Martin Lukacs
Special to the Star

The federal and Alberta governments struck up a secret, high-level committee in early 2010 to coordinate the promotion of the oilsands with Canada’s most powerful industry lobby group, a document obtained through an access to information request reveals.

The committee brought together the president of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) with deputy ministers from Natural Resources, Environment Canada, Alberta Energy and Alberta Environment to synchronize their lobbying offensive in the face of mounting protest and looming international regulations targeting the Alberta crude.

Environmental organizations criticized the existence of a committee they said they were hearing about for the first time.

“I’m old-fashioned enough to believe that there should be a separation between oil and state, but with these types of secret committees it’s hard to see any daylight between them,” said Keith Stewart, a climate and energy campaigner with Greenpeace.

He said the federal government is working increasingly closer with oil companies as they attempt to polish the image of the “dirtiest oil on earth” and undermine climate-change policies in the United States and Europe that stand to curb the industry’s expansion.

“We’re seeing that the government is becoming the advocacy arm of the oil industry, whether that’s to kill environment regulations abroad or to rhetorically attack environmental groups and First Nations,” Stewart said.

“I think that most Canadians would agree that while oil may still run our cars for now, it shouldn’t ever run our government.”

CAPP spokesperson Travis Davies said the industry lobby group, which represents 150 oil and gas companies, was invited to join the committee by the federal government.

“We exchange information on oilsands outreach activities,” Davies said. “For instance, when governors or groups wanted to come visit the oilsands, we needed to be at the table. It was about basic coordination.”

Davies said the committee has communicated about the work the industry lobby group did at its office in Washington and coordinated the “asks” they made during foreign outreach.

“It wasn’t about messaging. We could say, ‘have you talked to them? What work have you been doing?’ We want to make sure we don’t double up or duplicate our work.”

Though CAPP says oilsands development is expected to contribute $84 billion annually to the Canadian economy over the next 25 years, climate scientists say the oilsands must be drastically cut to prevent further global warming and dangerous changes in the planet’s ecosystems.

The Conservative government’s withdrawal in December from the Kyoto Protocol, the only globally binding agreement for emissions reductions, was widely criticized as a move to defend the industry and its plans for three-fold expansion.

“The fact that the Harper government and oil companies are conspiring behind closed doors is another indication the Alberta tarsands’ environmental costs, human rights violations and massive carbon emissions have become an international embarrassment,” said Clayton Thomas Muller, the oilsands campaign director for the Indigenous Environmental Network.

The “Oilsands Clean Energy Coordinating Committee” is mentioned in a January 2011 briefing memo to Natural Resources deputy minister Serge Dupont.

The memo details talking points for a meeting with CAPP president Dave Collyer, including that the federal government aims to “ramp up” its lobbying in the United States and Europe over the next year and half.

A spokesperson for Natural Resources Canada said the committee meets occasionally, mostly by teleconference.

“Some referred to this group as an oilsands steering committee or a clean energy steering committee. However, there was never any formal mandate given to the group and the purpose is to informally share information,” the spokesperson said.

The spokesperson said that officials with Natural Resources Canada continue to meet with Alberta officials and industry representatives, though would not confirm if it was under this name or another.

According to government documents, the plans to establish such a committee appear to first have been discussed at a March 2010 meeting in Calgary involving high-ranking officials from CAPP, former PMO adviser Bruce Carson, CEOs from oil and gas companies and senior federal and Alberta government officials.

The group suggested forming a “federal-provincial-industry working group” or “Deputy Minister-CEO steering committee” to increase collaboration and “on-the-ground coordination.”

Lobbying by federal officials has helped delay a Fuel Quality Directive in Europe that would stick a dirty label on oilsands for causing more emissions than conventional oil, thereby discouraging its import for use as transportation fuel.

After an inconclusive vote last month, which environmentalists say was heavily swayed by Canadian pressure, European environment ministers will reconsider the Fuel Quality Directive in June.

The Harper government has threatened a trade war over the measure, which could set a global precedent and close off foreign markets to the Alberta crude.

Canadian and Alberta officials and industry groups have successfully lobbied against similar state-level fuel efficiency standards in the United States, but were dealt a blow when U.S. President Obama denied the Keystone XL pipeline, which producers were expecting to use to ship oil to the US Gulf Coast.

The wave of environmental protest has shifted focus to Enbridge’s Northern Gateway project, while the Harper government has characterized the opposition as “radicals” manipulated by foreign interests.

The revelation of the secret government-industry committee comes on the heels of an announcement that Environment Canada will try to “strengthen” cooperation with the oil sector by assigning a senior official to head up the newly formed Canadian Oil Sands Innovation Alliance, a partnership of a dozen major oilsands companies.

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March 12, 2012 at 4:50 am

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How Aboriginal Rights WILL Stop Enbridge. But editors on Huffpo change titles, apparently.
Also, this article owes an enormous amount to Arthur Manuel.

How Aboriginal Rights Could Stop Enbridge

Posted: 01/19/2012 8:40 am
The debate over the proposed Enbridge tar sands pipeline is raging in Canada, but its destiny was in reality settled on November 26, 2010, in a community centre in Williams Lake, British Columbia.

Chiefs and leaders from 60 First Nations gathered there to sign a declaration banning the transport of Alberta tar sands oil across their lands to the Pacific coast — an export route to Asia and California championed by the Canadian Prime Minister ever since U.S. activists delayed construction of the Keystone XL, and now an even greater priority since Obama’s full denial of that pipeline.

By last month, the number of First Nations in B.C. and Alberta opposed to Enbridge’s Northern Gateway had risen to 130, an unprecedented show of unity and power.

“We are an unbroken wall of opposition,” says Chief Jackie Thomas of the Saik’uz First Nation.

So when Canadian Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver ignited controversy last week by accusing environmental “radicals,” “jet-setting celebrities,” and U.S. “foreign interests” of hijacking public hearings for the pipeline’s approval, he was avoiding the issue: The decisive threat to this latest corporate oil scheme are Canada’s Indigenous nations.

There’s no doubt environmentalists, municipalities, and citizens oppose Enbridge’s $5.5 billion plan for many of the same reasons as First Nations: The 730-mile pipeline would carry 500,000 barrels a day of dirty oil across hundreds of fish-bearing rivers and lakes, cut through tracts of pristine wilderness, then launch supertankers through treacherous waters. Oil spills and other disasters — think Exxon Valdez, which happened not far from the B.C. coastline — are a certainty.

But it is First Nations who are the loudest and strongest in protest, and who most deserve backing. They are the ones most affected by the industrial operations dotting and criss-crossing their traditional territories. Enbridge’s pipeline would pose a permanent danger to B.C.’s Fraser River watershed — and so the many First Nations who rely on it for their food, livelihoods, and cultural sustenance see the project as a threat to their very survival. Living and depending on these lands, they are their first and fiercest defenders.

First Nations should be at the forefront of this fight for another very good reason: Their legal position is uniquely strong. As they have struggled to halt, delay, or minimize the effects of polluting and carbon-spewing projects in B.C. and elsewhere, First Nations have won a set of tools — Supreme Court precedents, constitutional protection, and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples — that increase their chances of winning back control over their lands. Better than anyone else, they can stop unwanted development.

In B.C., the possibilities are the greatest: The lands over which the pipeline would cross, and indeed most of the province, were never ceded by First Nations. Their claims were affirmed by the historic Supreme Court of Canada Delgamuukw decision in 1997 that recognized First Nations still held Aboriginal title — a legal concept. The decision sent tremors through the country: If the judges were listened to, First Nations would have a say in development decisions, share sovereignty, or even be granted ownership over the land itself. In other words, the province was still up for grabs.

Government and industry have only partially succeeded in ignoring the courts and regaining the upper hand. They’ve spent 15 years entangling B.C. First Nations in dead-end negotiations whose goal is to ensure these rights are never given life. But the rulings have still created enormous uncertainty over land rights. “Our title underpins this fight,” says Chief Thomas. If the Enbridge review hearings rubber-stamp the pipeline, or Prime Minister Stephen Harper pushes it through, expect a First Nations lawsuit to kill it. Even former federal Aboriginal Affairs Minister Jim Prentice, now a corporate pipeline backer, hasconceded First Nations have a “very strong case.”

Indigenous rights have thus reshaped the debate over the pipeline. But if these rights are one day implemented on the ground, they could reshape the country’s very geography. An upsurge of Canadians calling for their enactment could tilt the balance of power away from corporations and back to First Nations, transforming the management of our lands and waters. This means that supporting Indigenous rights is not simply about paying off Canada’s enormous debt for generations of crooked dealings: it is also our best hope of saving entire territories from endless and senseless extraction and destruction.

After all, we’re not just talking about the blocking of one pipeline or some industrial projects. This is about the right to reimagine our relationship to the environment. And First Nation’s are resisting precisely to protect the alternatives: like the unrivaled marine eco-management system of the Haida Nation, near whose stormy shores on the B.C. coast an oil tanker would spell catastrophe. Or, like so many First Nations along the trail of the potential pipeline and across the country, who are struggling to win recognition of conservation agreements, of sustainable forestry, of the possibility of mixed economies, and of the principle that we must respect the environment that we are a part of.

Though most of these First Nations struggles long predate the new political war over climate change, it’s about time we start thinking about them as our own most important battles. As the uses to which we put our land, air, and water accelerate resource depletion, biodiversity loss, and the climate crisis, First Nations struggle to reverse the course take on heightened importance. In trying to protect their rights, they fight for us all.

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January 15, 2012 at 5:00 am

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And for a fuller version of the article, with the documents on which it is based:–mounties-spied-on-native-protest-groups

Mounties spied on native protest groups

Published on Sunday December 04, 2011

LARS HAGBERG/THE CANADIAN PRESSThe RCMP unit’s mandate was to collect and distribute intelligence about situations that have “escalated to civil disobedience and unrest in the form of protest actions.”
Tim Groves and Martin Lukacs
Special to the Star

The federal government created a vast surveillance network in early 2007 to monitor protests by First Nations, including those that would attract national attention or target “critical infrastructure” like highways, railways and pipelines, according to RCMP documents.

Formed after the Conservatives came to power, the RCMP unit’s mandate was to collect and distribute intelligence about situations involving First Nations that have “escalated to civil disobedience and unrest in the form of protest actions.”

The documents, obtained through access to information requests, include an RCMP slideshow presentation from the spring of 2009, which says the intelligence unit reported weekly to approximately 450 recipients in law enforcement, government, and unnamed “industry partners” in the energy and private sector.

A RCMP spokesperson told the Toronto Star the unit was never considered “permanent” and that last year it was “dismantled’’ at least at headquarters. But the Mounties can’t say if the work is continuing in the field.

“Since the dismantling of the Aboriginal (joint intelligence group) JIG, the work done by the JIG is no longer performed at RCMP HQ Criminal Intelligence (CI). However, we cannot confirm that RCMP divisions are not performing Aboriginal JIG activities under another name of program.”

An annual Strategic Intelligence Report from June 2009 indicates the surveillance at the time focused on 18 “communities of concern” in five provinces across the country. These included First Nations in Ontario like Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug (KI), Ardoch, Grassy Narrows, Six Nations and Tyendinaga, which have made headlines over the last few years for road and railway blockades or opposition to mining and logging on their territories.

The Joint Intelligence Group billed itself as a “central repository” of information about First Nations protest activities, assisted by an “extensive network of contacts throughout Canada and internationally” and an undisclosed number of field operatives acting as its “eyes and ears.”

Its yearly strategic intelligence report “identifies individuals who are causes of concern to public safety,” but any mentions of individuals were redacted in the copy obtained by the Star.

According to a previously obtained copy of a RCMP presentation to the Aboriginal Affairs Ministry in March 2007, the “vast majority” of the monitored protests and actions are “related to lands and resources,” and “most are incited by development activities on traditional territories” of First Nations.

The spectre of heightened aboriginal protest has become a source of anxiety for government and industry.

An RCMP presentation to CSIS from April, 2007 states “there is a growing concern among high-level governmental officials and the policing community about the potential for unrest in aboriginal communities, and an increasing sense of militancy among certain segments of the aboriginal population.”

Recent political standoffs have proved this concern to be prescient.

In northern Ontario in 2008, the KI First Nation prevented the establishment of a platinum mine on their traditional territory by Platinex, whose mining claim was eventually bought out for $5 million by the McGuinty government.

When shown the RCMP documents, KI Chief Donny Morris expressed surprise and said he and his community were “insulted,” remarking that there is “nothing extreme” about protecting their territory.

Morris and five of his councillors served more than two months in jail for peacefully blocking Platinex, before an Ontario Court of Appeal released them and directed the provincial government to negotiate with the First Nation.

Although the Strategic Intelligence Report’s profile of KI is heavily redacted, as with all the “communities of concern,” it states that KI First Nation “remains committed to ensuring their concerns related to the impacts of mining and forestry are addressed by the Ontario government” and “possible future disputes could result in blockades and demonstrations.”

“The documents indicate the government is aware of the harmful impacts of their policies and actions,” said Russell Diabo, an independent aboriginal policy analyst who has seen the RCMP documents.

In what may be a pitch to the private sector, the RCMP slideshow presentation states that the aboriginal intelligence unit can “alleviate some of your workload as we can help identify trends and issues that may impact more than one community.” It can also “provide information on activist groups who are promoting aboriginal issues within your area.”

“The JIG was an essential tool that helped us gather information to understand if in fact critical infrastructure was at risk in certain areas,” the RCMP spokesperson wrote the Star in an email. “This in turn helps the RCMP attain its goal of safe homes and safe communities, which includes aboriginal communities.”

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December 11, 2011 at 4:48 am

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Canada, the Grave-digger of Kyoto

The international climate negotiations have been an abject failure, but we can find hope on the home-front


Canadian youth delegates stages a silent protest during Environment Minister Peter Kent's address to the UN plenary.
Canadian youth delegates stages a silent protest during Environment Minister Peter Kent’s address to the UN plenary.
Few issues have united delegates at the UN Climate Change conference in Durban, South Africa. But if you walked the halls of the convention centre and mentioned the name of “Canada,” the response was unanimous — a collective groan and lament. The only time the country elicited anything else was during a silent protest on Wednesday by young Canadian activists, who stood and turned their backs to their Environment Minister as he addressed the assembled countries in plenary. They were hustled out by security, stripped of their accreditation and booted from the building. But the rousing applause they received well eclipsed the muted claps for the Minister.

Canada’s global reputation is in tatters, and the reasons why are plain to see. A country with a deep multi-lateral tradition has become a climate unilateralist like no other. It was the Canadian government who fired the opening salvo of the talks, when news broke that they planned to withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol — the world’s only legally binding climate treaty — the day before Christmas. They promised to “play hardball” with impoverished, developing countries, and dismissed as a “historical guilty card” the demand for industrialized nations to take responsibility for two centuries of emissions. “It poisoned the negotiations,” says prominent Nigerian environmental activist Nnemmo Bassey. In a setting in which decisions are made by consensus of all countries, such moves were decisively damaging.

Canada dug the grave for the Kyoto Protocol so the United States could put a bullet in its body.  US negotiators came to Durban with the sole aim of preventing any new binding commitments for carbon reductions before 2020. With the crucial help of Canada — alongside Russia, Japan and Australia — it has succeeded. They have shredded the possibility of a viable extension of the Kyoto Protocol, leaving in its place a “Durban mandate” — finalized in secretive side meetings — that includes only voluntary pledges for reductions. As ex-Bolivian Ambassador Pablo Solon said in response, Kyoto has turned “into a Zombie without a global figure for reduction of emissions by industrialised countries, and will carry on walking until 2020,” when it then dies. Nothing will be done to stave off climate change this decade on the international scale, while the richest nations will lead negotiations for an even weaker agreement to eventually replace the Kyoto Protocol.

The consequences in planetary suffering and dislocation are incalculable. The delays will assure temperature increases of more than four degrees Celsius, and higher on the African continent. “It is a death sentence for Africa,” says Bassey. Already, 350,000 people die each year due to natural disasters caused by climate change; this will increase. Our world by the end of the century will be unrecognizable to many — conflict-ridden, starved of food and deprived of water, and bursting with millions of climate refugees with no place of their own to call habitable.

If the negotiations spell disaster for the Global South, they have been a boon to the richest corporations of the Global North, whose polluting ways are protected. In a calculated affront to those nations scrambling to create a fair, binding climate agreement, the Canadian government yesterday announced the approval of a gigantic, multi-billion dollar tar sands mine. It is the perfect symbol of the dirty industry’s absolute capture of a willing government — the root cause of Canada’s obstructionist and subversive negotiating tactics. So long as the world’s richest government gave short shrift to their historical responsibility for climate change, but full license to the wishes of wealthy business elites, little can be achieved at international climate talks.

But there are reasons to hope we can still confront climate change and drastically reduce emissions — on the home-front. Because of the escalating pressure on the Alberta tar sands — Canada’s largest growing source of carbon emissions — the Conservative government shielded themselves from scrutiny here in Durban. Unlike every other country, which hosted booths and appeared for public media scrums, Canadian negotiators holed away in their hotel a kilometre from the convention centre, where they held exclusive, tightly managed press conferences. By mid-week, they simply stopped holding them altogether.

The Canadian government knows that manifestations of people power are growing across the world and in the country, and it gravely worries them. The power of a burgeoning climate justice movement in the United States forced Obama to delay the Keystone XL pipeline, which would have carried almost 1million barrels of tar sands oil to Texas. The tar sand’s industry is now anxiously eying the TransMountain and Enbridge Gateway pipelines to carry oil to the Pacific. But united Indigenous nations, promising a human “wall” of protest, have forced the government regulating body todelay any decision on the Gateway till the end of 2013, in an attempt to wait out growing resistance. Even the Conservative party’s most faithful supporters of the tar sands are balking. A former Energy and Environment Minister, who dismantled the only comprehensive national regulation of the oil industry in the 1980s, has concededthat the power of organized opposition is tremendous: “You can’t just bulldoze your way from the oilsands to the coast.”

In other words, mass civic resistance works. It is in fact the only thing that ever has. The South Africans who overthrew the apartheid regime know it as well as anyone, and so did a young Indian man who settled here in Durban more than a hundred years ago. Mahatma Gandhi honed his theories of non-violent struggle in campaigns against racism and inequality in this town. Then he returned to India, took leadership of a national liberation movement, and changed the world. Those departing South Africa as the UN climate change conference reaches its dismal end must heed a similar challenge.

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December 9, 2011 at 4:55 am

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Occupy Movement Cannot Be Ignored

Posted: 10/28/11 06:16 PM ET
The placid surface of Canadian politics has been disturbed by an unprecedented burst of popular discontent. Over the last week and a half, dozens of cities have emulated the example of New York’s Occupy Wall Street movement. Encampments have been set up near financial districts in Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver and elsewhere; general assemblies are held regularly amidst independent media booths, medical clinics, and kitchens doling out free food. Every day, more tents are pitched, as support widens and plans are hatched for future action.

Government officials and pundits had crowed that the Occupy movement would never spread north; now that it has, they insist it will not grow. “What are they all about?” Finance Minister Jim Flaherty disparagingly told media. Canada had not, like the United States, seen a devastating wave of foreclosures, recklessly criminal trading by investment firms, or a massive public bailout of the banks. No reason for protest in such a ‘generous’ country, he declared.

Flaherty’s response perfectly embodies a defining feature of the age: the utter disconnect between elite charged with governing and those being governed. No reason for protest? The minister should ask the million Canadians who line up monthly for emergency supplements at under-resourced food banks; in 1980, not even a single official Food Bank operated. Or ask the growing numbers of homeless in urban centres, and the multiplying ranks of desperate poor in rural reservations and resource towns. Or middle-class families, shackled with record debts surpassing U.S. levels, working overtime at two or more jobs, simply to maintain the wages they made 30 years ago. These are among the legions that a ‘generous’ political and economic system has failed abysmally.

Those who believe Canada is not riven with deep inequalities should think again. While Canada doesn’t share the extremes of power and privilege in the United States, income inequality in Canada is in factrising faster. In the last decades, the richest one per cent of Canadians took home a third of all income growth, and pay lower taxation than they have in decades. The top 61 billionaires in Canada own twice as much wealth as the bottom half of the population. It is as if the elite had seceded from the country, deserting with its wealth and any shared recognition of how most live and suffer. Little wonder so many are finding meaning and purpose in the declaration of 99 per cent against the one per cent.

“It’s not helpful to make this about class warfare,” John Manley, head of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives (CCCE), Canada’s most powerful corporate lobby group, retorted in his haughtiest tones. But that is precisely what has transpired in this country and in much of the world: a three-decades long ransacking of the public wealth by the rich. Though it has scarcely merited mention in a media owned by the same self-serving class, this country has undergone a calculated redesign in the interests of big business. Since the 1980s, Conservative and Liberal governments alike have implemented a wish list of Bay Street demands — deep cuts to social programs, tax breaks for corporations, privatization and deregulation and the attempted commercialization of everything in sight.

Those overseeing this neoliberal revolution have not just assaulted our wages and living standards. They have assaulted our values and expectations. The ideological adulation of self-interest, of the freedom to accumulate as much as possible and to profit enormously without service to the community, has penetrated our common sense and experience of daily life. It has deeply impacted expectations about how much we can allow ourselves to hope: for dignity and mutual respect, and for real democracy and economic security.

But the Occupy movement in Canada, like elsewhere, seems to have unleashed a flowering of expectation and political possibility. The encampments of public spaces, run democratically and non-hierarchically, have made tangibly visible to millions that the neoliberal mantra is bankrupt: there are indeed alternatives in how we treat one another and organize our world. No one is in charge of the occupations, except the anger and hope in every person. If such a movement can make corporate greed and our rigged liberal democracies unacceptable on a much broader scale, it will lay the groundwork to confront the powers of finance and big business and roll back the privileges of the elites. A sea change in expectations, a transformation of values, are not of course demands to be issued. But they are a force to be reckoned with.

The Occupy moment, in a simple but powerful slogan and tactic, has offered up the potential for a Canadian social movement for the 21st century — vast, inclusive, and integrating consciousness of the inequities within the 99 per cent. It offers a chance for many longer-standing campaigns for economic and social justice — heroic but usually small, isolated and ignored by the media — to find a vital unifying battle as well as broader attention. And as more groups throw themselves into the Occupy movement, it will in turn develop in dynamism and diversity and numbers. The entry of more experienced organizers could prevent the fetishizing of a single tactic; already, its turn toward bank occupations is a good sign that it is starting to looking at a strategic course of tactical escalation.

Bold demands should come when the occupy movement grows into its power. This will help it force concessions from government or the financial sector, short-term victories that could feed the movement’s morale as it hunkers down to face the encroaching, frigid Canadian winter.

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October 27, 2011 at 5:02 am

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OCTOBER 03, 2011

Missing Aboriginal Women

Canada’s Secret Shame


Angeline Eileen Pete, 28, reported missing from British Columbia in May. Roberta Dawn McIvor, 32, found murdered near Lake Winnipeg in July. Kimberley Nolin Napess, 15, last seen in Quebec City in August. And two Friday’s ago, Verna Simard, 50, dead after plunging from the sixth floor window of her residence in Vancouver.

These are not isolated, unconnected incidents. The women are all aboriginal, and their deaths and disappearances are the fruit of a rotten, unresolved Canadian legacy. In a country of deep pride but tolerance much shallower than acknowledged, these crimes are part of a secret shame: more than 600 aboriginal women missing or murdered in the last thirty years.

Killed in their homes and in the streets, on and off reservations, by acquaintances and by strangers, aboriginal women are the victims of an unmistakable epidemic of violence. They are five times more likely to die violently than their non-aboriginal counterparts. In northern BC, so many have disappeared on notorious highway 16 that it has been given a chilling name: the Highway of Tears. The Canadian government’s expressions of official feeling scarcely mask a truth written out in their policies and inaction: these women are disposable.

If 600 white middle class women went missing it would be treated like a national crisis. A single such disappearance triggers emergency advertisements on television and radio news. An aboriginal woman’s disappearance, on the other hand, receives no comparable attention. For police forces it is a file to be quickly closed, often unsolved. For government officials it is a statistic to be hidden from scrutiny. And for the media it is rarely a signal of systemic failure, but the result of a woman’s occupation, her suggested sexual habits, or her supposedly shady background.

It is not sexism or racism alone that is to blame. It is an entire system of inhumane relations with aboriginal peoples, upheld by a society that has swallowed the country’s forests, rivers, minerals and their original owners and spit them out as strangers in their own land.  Dispossessed and subjected to wrenching poverty, culturally demeaned and lacking access to services and housing, aboriginal women are left exposed and vulnerable to all-too-ordinary predators. Predators who act assuming their victims will not be missed. Predators who believe they will escape with impunity.

Denied justice at every turn, it is little wonder these women’s families and their supporters have turned to public protest. Twenty years ago, the first demonstrations in Vancouver’s downtown eastside—ground zero for stolen lives—drew only a handful of women. Objects were thrown at them from passing cars. Now, thousands are marching in cities across the country; a movement has been born. Its demands include a federal inquiry, anti-racist education for police officers, and funding for frontline organizations that offer culturally-appropriate shelter, support and counseling. United Nation’s committees have repeatedly echoed their calls in their reprimands of Canada.

But the current Conservative government’s reaction has been utterly cynical. They have mouthed pieties about the plight of aboriginal women while cutting the funding of the very research program—run by the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC)—that had finally begun to document the cases of deaths and disappearances and thrust the issue into the spotlight. After being widely criticized, the Conservatives made a show of announcing $10 million in new funds. There was a catch: they barred the use of government money for any advocacy or the continuation of NWAC’s groundbreaking research. The bulk of it went instead to a federal missing person’s police branch that has no specific aboriginal mandate.

A provincial inquiry into missing women in British Columbia—one of the only government initiatives that showed promise—is now facing serious questions about its legitimacy. The inquiry has decided to fund legal counsel for police and three levels of government, but has refused to do so for several women’s, community, and aboriginal groups—effectively excluding from participation those with the most direct knowledge of the lives and conditions of impacted women. Such failures, alongside regressive new legislation introduced by the federal Conservative government, will only worsen the situation for aboriginal peoples. The toll will be counted not just in the packing of aboriginal youth into jails, in the degradation of aboriginal schools, in the shuttering of inner city shelters. It will be counted in women’s lives.

On October 4, the many lost women will be remembered during rallies and vigils in scores of cities and communities across the country. Names will be whispered, crimes scorned, and demands to prevent their re-occurrence will be raised again. The movement’s prospects are daunting but stirring, because they impel us to understand that justice is never served by short-term political fixes: to fully end violence against those bearing the brunt of a battalion of social ills—the theft of aboriginal lands, racial and sexual domination, the war on the poor, and the erosion of the welfare state—will require nothing less than the wholesale transformation of society. The courage to imagine such change would ensure that Canadians become truly deserving of self-praise.

Martin Lukacs is a writer and organizer in Montreal, and an editor with the Dominion and

Written by martin lukacs

September 27, 2011 at 4:05 am

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