Category Archives: Solidarity Saturday

Large-scale strike action hits Quebec – but how effective will it be?

Image: a crowd of thousands marches through a Montreal street. (Image credit @MyMyvall)

This past Wednesday, the long-threatened mass strike by a coalition of public sector unions finally took place.

Up to forty thousand people took to the streets in Montreal in a march that the Gazette described as reminiscent of the student strike of 2012. Across the province, as many as 400 000 workers were on strike for the day, including elementary, high school, and CEGEP teachers, nurses, and civil servants. It was the largest workers’ strike in the province since 1972.

Oh, and they brought a drum ensemble.

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“Political realities”, protest, and the preemptive deflation of expectations at COP21

As Prime Minister Justin “We don’t need emission targets” Trudeau heads to Paris for the COP21 climate summit, his Minister of the Environment and Climate Change is already trying to negotiate down expectations for the final outcome of what has been billed as humanity’s last chance at averting catastrophic global warming.

If you’ll recall, there was a lot of fanfare when it was announced that “climate change” was going to be tacked on to the Environment Minister’s title, but I pointed out at the time that this was pure spin – the Liberals campaigned actively on being a more effective champion for the oil/gas/pipeline industry than the outgoing Conservatives had ever been, and that substantive commitment far outweighed any superficial change in tone.

Now, I hate to be right about this, but I’ve gotta say, I was right…

Canada on Friday backed the U.S. approach to major climate change talks in Paris, saying any carbon reduction targets agreed to at the negotiations should not be legally binding.

The announcement by Environment Minister Catherine McKenna could irritate host nation France, which wants any deal to be enforceable. That would be politically impossible for the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama, however, since it is clear the Republican-dominated Congress would not ratify any treaty imposing legally binding cuts on the United States.

“Everyone wants to see the United States be part of this treaty,” McKenna told reporters on a conference call before flying to Paris. “There are political realities in the United States … they cannot have legally binding targets. We don’t expect that the targets will be internationally legally binding,” she said.

In other words, it’s unfortunate that oil-funded Republican corporate shills in the U.S. Senate essentially hold veto power over a comprehensive, legally-binding climate change agreement that will preserve a livable future for our planet, but what can we do? That’s the “political reality”, after all…hell, even Thompson Reuters agrees, in an objective neutral journalistic tone, that it would be “politically impossible” to push a legally binding agreement through the U.S. Congress. Continue Reading

After Paris attacks, protest is criminalized – and major activist groups are complicit

Image description: a WWF promotional poster features a panda with a megaphone and a young person with a skateboard leading a crowd of protestors holding signs and banners through rubble-littered streets. The caption reads: “Paris Climat 2015: Pour tout changer, nous avons besoins de tous.” (To change everything, we need everyone.)

Starting next Sunday, November 29, the largest and most important international climate conference to date will begin in Paris. The 21st meeting of the Conference of Parties (COP21) aims for nothing less than the establishment of an international framework for pricing and trading carbon, with the aim of holding the global increase in temperatures to 2°C.

The behind-the-scenes planning and lobbying and scheming in the lead-up to this conference has been extensive – as has the out-in-the-open organizing by environmental activists and organizations. And, upon close inspection, there’s quite a bit to protest at the COP21.

For instance, the access to negotiations and deliberations that has been granted to major international corporations is considerable and troubling, especially when compared with the positive dearth of consultation with the most affected frontline communities. As such, it’s perhaps not surprising that the promised emissions reductions to date fall miserably short of achieving the hardline target of 2°C or less of warming which the scientific community warns is the most that our civilization can possibly endure.

Given how high the stakes are, and how non-transparent and open to corruption the negotiation process is, the scale of demonstrations was projected to be massive – the “largest climate civil disobedience ever”, organizers said in October, although even then the major professional activist organizations were trying to soft-pedal the more militant grassroots factions’ plans: Continue Reading

Prime Minister Trudeau: Intervene to put Line 9 on hold!

Earlier this week, incoming Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Carolyn Bennett announced that the Liberal government intends to (finally) ratify the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).

Canada was one of only four nations to vote against the declaration at the UN back in 2007.

Speaking to media earlier this week, Bennet was full of enthusiasm for the treaty:

“That means starting out right, such that everything has been considered before a decision is taken so that you can find that win-win of ‘you can develop there but not there,’” Bennett told media this week, when asked how her government would abide by the UN declaration.

Her conciliatory remarks build on a statement by her boss, Justin Trudeau, who said, “No relationship is more important to me and to Canada than the one with Indigenous Peoples.”

And as the Star’s Joanna Smith notes, the move has more than symbolic consequences; it could have a serious impact on resource extraction in this country:

The Crown already has a constitutionally protected “duty to consult” with aboriginal peoples on issues that might affect their interests, but the UN declaration goes much further and calls on governments to obtain “free, prior and informed consent,” including when it comes to natural resources development…

How does a federal government implement those principles without risking a loss of control over its agenda? Bennett said achieving mutually beneficial results begins by having a conversation, and having it right away.

“There are many ways of achieving mutual results, but it begins with the conversation and it isn’t writing legislation and then saying, ‘You love it, don’t you?’ We are committed to sitting down early, at the earliest possible moment, on every single thing that will affect indigenous people in Canada,” said Bennett, who believes it is “hugely important” all parliamentarians, government departments, provinces, territories, mayors and municipalities understand this too.

All of which sounds fantastic. But it just so happens that there is an ongoing court case which touches on exactly these issues, and in which the Trudeau government has an opportunity to intervene and demonstrate that they’re not just making nice hopey-changey promises. Continue Reading

After Keystone XL: taking stock of pipeline resistance in Canada

There’s no question about it: yesterday’s decision by President Barack Obama to reject TransCanada’s application to build the northern portion of the Keystone XL pipeline is a big deal.

There were a multitude of factors that led to Obama’s decision, but chief among them was the fact that an army of activists and agitators have successfully associated the pipeline with the dirty tar sands carbon bomb at its source. In fact, Obama specifically invoked climate change in explaining the rationale behind his rejection, saying that approving the pipeline would be inconsistent with tackling global warming.

This is a massive win for activists. As Neil Macdonald points out, the oil companies have considered Keystone to be a done deal for half a decade or more, and at least one oil lobbyist who spoke to him credits the turnaround almost entirely to environmentalist activism.

And yes, while Keystone has been delayed, the amount of raw bitumen shipped (by train and by more roundabout pipeline routes) from the tar sands to the Gulf of Mexico has tripled in the last seven years, and yes, TransCanada could very well resubmit a slightly altered proposal with a totally different name to the next American administration, and yes, the Trudeau government is an eager advocate for the tar sands and could use their masterful command of symbolic gesture and tone control to try to change international perceptions of Canada’s “dirty oil”. All of this is undeniably true. There’s a lot of work still to be done.

But to know that a project this major which is so enthusiastically backed by so many powerful players can still be brought down by persistent and determined activism (with a healthy dash of direct action mixed in) is incredibly encouraging. It’s heartening to see the environmental movement get such a big win, and it could very well be the harbinger of a shift in public thought about fossil fuels in general and/or the tar sands in particular.

With that in mind, I thought I’d check back in with the resistance to pipelines here in Canada. At present, there are at least three major sites of contention, and in each case there are reasons to be optimistic that resistance will ultimately be successful.

Some major proposed pipelines in Canada (image credit: CBC)

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Hallowe’en special: there’s nothing scarier than the police

This week I couldn’t seem to go a day without hearing a horror story about police brutality, hubris, abuse of power, intimidation, or sexual violence.

The most pervasive one was, of course, the now-notorious incident in South Carolina, in which a white police officer seizes a seated young black girl from her desk and hurls her across a classroom, because she (apparently) didn’t immediately comply with his order to leave the room. The girl, reportedly grieving the recent death of her mother, was then charged with “disrupting a classroom”; the classmate who filmed the video has, absurdly, also been charged with disrupting a classroom.

This whole violent attack was disgusting, pure and simple. (I say this based purely on the descriptions I’ve read of the assault, because I myself haven’t watched the footage, nor do I intend to. I likewise didn’t watch Eric Garner’s slow suffocation on a New York City sidewalk, or look at the photos of Mike Brown’s body left lying in the hot Ferguson streets for hours after his extrajudicial execution. I read about these things, and that’s disturbing enough for me.)

Speaking out against such abuse can be costly, though, as superstar film director Quentin Tarantino found out this week. At a New York City rally against police brutality organized by a group called Rise Up October, Tarantino said:

“This is not being dealt with in any way at all. That’s why we are out here. If it was being dealt with, then these murdering cops would be in jail or at least be facing charges. When I see murders, I do not stand by. I have to call a murder a murder, and I have to call the murderers the murderers.”

The backlash against Tarantino from police apologists was immediate and intense. The national police union, echoing calls from the NYPD, LAPD, and departments in Philadelphia, Chicago, Houston, and New Jersey, has called for a boycott of Tarantino and his forthcoming film. Media coverage has largely fallen in line with the police angle, repeatedly falling back on the supposed insensitivity of the timing of the protest, which took place within a week of the on-duty death of an NYPD officer. In an attempt to make the protest appear out-of-bounds radical, the ostensibly left-leaning Guardian quotes the rally’s organizers as saying that police brutality amounts to a “genocidal assault on black and Latino people in this country”.

Lost amidst all this furor is the reality of the situation, which is that police Tarantino’s words are completely accurate: officers in the United States routinely get away with murder, and nothing is being done to deal with this dire crisis. Continue Reading

New government expected to act on Indigenous issues, thanks to tireless activism

CW: rape, violence against women, anti-Indigenous racism, police brutality

For those who still don’t believe that we urgently need a national inquiry into the issue of murdered and missing Indigenous women, consider the following:

Earlier this week, it emerged that the British Columbia Minister of Transportation, Todd Stone, and staff working under him, as well as the deputy chief of staff in Premier Christy Clark’s office, had intentionally deleted government emails relating to the so-called “Highway of Tears”, a stretch of Highway 16 notorious for being the site of the disappearance and/or murder of up to 40 women, most of them Aboriginal women, over the past forty years.

The revelation further established the B.C. provincial government as an impediment to resolving the longstanding issue of #MMIW. In the province of Robert Picton and the Highway of Tears, one would think that the government would be more responsive to these concerns, but instead we see bureaucrats and politicians primarily concerned with covering their own asses – and perhaps the asses of law enforcement in the province as well. Just two years back, Human Rights Watch issued a report accusing the RCMP of systemically abusing and raping Aboriginal women in British Columbia, an allegation made on the basis of widespread specific accusations from Indigenous women and girls. The RCMP at the time did not comment on the allegations, and are the law enforcement agency currently tasked with reviewing the B.C. government’s handling of records relating to the Highway of Tears.

Though the timing was coincidental, the parallels with the B.C. situation are clear in a story coming out of Quebec today: eight officers with the Sûreté du Québec were suspended after allegations of sexual assault and abuse against Indigenous women.

In the Quebec case, the probe into the police was led by the provincial Ministry of Public Safety, but conducted by the SQ on its own members – a detail which hasn’t escaped the government’s critics.

These two examples are not isolated incidents. They’re part of a systemic pattern of behaviour. In this country, the lives of Indigenous people, and especially Indigenous women and girls, are considered by many, including many authority figures in government and law enforcement, to be worthless.

This has been a problem for a very long time. Indeed, total disregard for the value of the lives of Indigenous people is the foundational injustice of this colonial nation. The contemporary environment of extreme violence towards Indigenous women is but the latest manifestation in a multi-generational campaign of slow cultural and physical genocide against First Nations peoples.  Continue Reading

Whistleblowers under attack – RCMP launches investigation into Dept. of Citizenship leaks

In the past few weeks, there have been a handful of high-profile scandals based on leaks from within the Department of Citizenship and Immigration which have reflected poorly upon the Conservative Party. Yesterday, we found out that the RCMP has launched a criminal investigation into the leaks.

Before I dig into how profoundly frightening that is, let’s take a look at the leaks in question.

Although it’s unclear which stories precisely the investigation is focussing on, two major investigative reports are likely candidates.

The first is a CBC story from September 23 which revealed that a new passport design system had led to at least 1,500 flawed passports being issued, and that political pressure led to that system’s implementation ahead of schedule:

Internal records from Citizenship and Immigration Canada reveal the processing program was rushed into operation on May 9, 2015, despite dire warnings from senior officials that it was not ready and could present new security risks.

One government source told CBC/Radio-Canada there are concerns that passports produced under the new system could wind up in the wrong hands.

The report was a major downer for the Conservatives, who have made making Canadians more safe a centrepiece of their campaign. They spent the day in damage-control mode. Immigration Minister Chris Alexander, still reeling from his early-September embarrassment at the hands of Rosie Barton on Power and Politics, hid behind his spokesperson, who issued a vaguely worded statement insistently saying nothing much in particular. (‘”The Canadian passport is, and will remain, one of the most secure travel documents in the world,” said Nancy Caron in an emailed response. “CIC has been moving towards an increasingly integrated, modernized and centralized working environment across many of its business lines, including the passport program.”‘) Foreign Affairs Minister Rob Nicholson was also deployed to make reassuring noises without specifically commenting on the allegations. After weeks of being relentlessly attacked over their handling of the refugee crisis, the Conservative Party was no doubt frustrated to have to respond to yet another scandal on the immigration file.

Their frustration must have been compounded earlier this week when the refugee issue returned to the forefront of campaign coverage on the strength of a Globe and Mail article detailing interference by the Prime Minister’s Office into the refugee application process: Continue Reading

Jacob Kearey-Moreland on food justice, party politics, and strategic voting

Regular readers of The Alfalfafield will know that I’ve been pretty disenchanted with the level of discourse spouted by most candidates in the ongoing federal election.

There’s an artificiality to the talking points and carefully calibrated messages rolled out by each of the major parties which is positively grating, regardless of how much I may agree or disagree with the policies that are being advocated.

And far too often, I’m left wondering why we’re spending so much time talking about such narrow issues that matter to so few people.

Which is why I’ve taken so much enjoyment in keeping tabs on the campaign of Jacob Kearey-Moreland, an unlikely Independent candidate in Simcoe North.

I first met Jacob at Occupy Toronto in 2011. (I can’t bring myself to follow the journalistic convention and refer to Jacob by his last name – he’s very much a first-name kind of guy. Even his election lawn signs say “Vote Jacob”!) I remember hearing him strumming his ukulele and singing a song about gardens, and going on to talk about his plans to create an organization called Occupy Gardens, which would take public gardens and use them to grow free food for their communities, and I remember being skeptical.

But sure enough, Occupy Gardens was a big success in the growing season of 2012. In 2013, I sat on the organizing committee for Toronto’s May Day rally, and so did Jacob, on behalf of Occupy Gardens. They were planning their most ambitious planting to date: a People’s Garden on the north lawn of Queen’s Park, just outside of the Ontario legislative building. It was, for me at least, the high point of that year’s May Day festivities. The planting was a rousing success; a large section of the lawn was dug up and several kinds of seeds were sowed. Jacob led everybody in a song with his then-omnipresent ukulele.

(For those curious about the fate of the project: The organization carefully tended the garden over the summer and fall. Then, just days before a long-planned and well-publicized harvest party, Parliamentary officers destroyed the garden and threw away the entire crop. It was hard to see their actions as anything but deliberately spiteful.)

Since I first met Jacob, he’s become a regular columnist for the Orillia Packet and Times, his hometown newspaper, on issues related to food justice and activism. Though our paths don’t often cross, I’ve found his online commentary on issues to be insightful and on-point.

I caught up with Jacob over the phone earlier this week to talk about his candidacy, and he did a lot to reinforce my positive perceptions of his candidacy when he started out our conversations by saying, “There’s a number of issues that aren’t really being talked about because these issues affect people who are unlikely to vote.” Continue Reading

The Munk Debates is probably the least impartial host imaginable for a foreign policy debate

This coming Monday, the leaders of The Big Three Parties will gather in Toronto once more for the latest in an interminable series of talking-point recitations and statistical manipulations falsely marketed to the public as “debates”.

The latest such “debate”, hosted by the Munk Debates, will focus exclusively on foreign policy. And as observant critics have pointed out, the choice of host for this debate is pretty problematic. The Munk Debates is endowed by Peter Munk, founder and former CEO of Barrick Gold, the world’s largest gold-mining company and a serial abuser of human rights, indigenous rights, labor activists and the environment. Continue Reading

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