Tag Archives: Civil disobedience

“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

ICYMI – general strike looms in Quebec as public service, students fight back against austerity

A massive protest against Quebec by public sector workers. (Image credit: Graham Hughes/CP)

Every Monday, I like to take a look at important stories which got gobbled up by the vicious ever-moving news cycle. Typically, these are one-off events, official announcements which get overlooked or trends which don’t get reported on.

But today, I’d like to look at a major, ongoing, and extremely newsworthy event which is barely making an impact in the national consciousness.

I follow Canadian politics and activism pretty darn closely, if I do say so myself. So I was shocked to discover a few days ago that there have been massive union-organized demonstrations and widespread strike actions against austerity in Quebec since mid-October without my hearing a single word about it.

It’s a story that’s been barely reported outside of Quebec, and yet it holds out promise and potential to the anti-austerity movement everywhere in Canada and across the globe.

Today, teachers across Montreal and Laval, along with other public sector workers, struck against government contract proposals that would cut pay for teachers, nurses, and other public sector workers while simultaneously raising the age of retirement and increasing the workload (by, for instance, increasing the number of students per classroom or nurses per patient), thus guaranteeing a decreased quality of service for every member of the public who accesses these services.

Today’s strike actions were the third such round of rotating strikes, which have affected multiple cities across the province.

The culmination of this agitation, failing an eleventh-hour agreement with an intransigent provincial government, will be a three-day general strike by nearly half a million workers on the first three days of December. 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)

Continue Reading

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

No more homeless deaths! OCAP takes the fight to City Hall…again.

One of the true downers of activism is that the same issues keep coming back around again and again.

In March of 2013 I was arrested at an Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP) sit-in at Toronto’s Metro Hall protesting the chronic lack of space in city shelters. That winter, several people had frozen to death on the streets of the city, and yet homeless folks were regularly turned away from the city’s shelters due to a lack of beds. This was despite official City of Toronto policy that occupancy rates at municipal shelters should not exceed 90%. Then-mayor Rob Ford brushed off our concerns, insisting that there were available beds – an assertion which was flatly contradicted by a City report released in the months that followed.

The sit-in I participated in was the second in as many months for OCAP. In February, they also occupied the lobby outside of Mayor Ford’s office [link is to the Toronto Sun – fair warning!], demanding that shelter space be made immediately available; several people were arrested that night as well.

(Eventually, all charges related to the whole affair were thrown out – it seems that the main purpose of laying the charges to begin with was to end the sit-ins.)

That round of protests was successful, in a way; after months of delay and denial, city council voted to aim for more shelter beds and reaffirmed their target of 90% occupancy.

In retrospect, though, it’s obvious that Council was all talk and no action. Continue Reading

The Great Leap Forward – it sounds great on paper, but how do we get there from here?

If you haven’t heard about the Leap Manifesto yet, and you’re concerned about the future of humanity in the face of myriad challenges, challenges which are corporate, environmental, and white-cis-het-patriarcho-supremacist, then perhaps you could go take a look at it.

(I tried to pick a section to highlight and quote here, but it was all too reasonable and on point. So I’ll wait here while you read it.)

OK. So. A concrete plan for a transformation of the Canadian economy and political system and energy infrastructure and racial relations and worker/capitalist relations, all in the name of making Earth more habitable and life more enjoyable in both the short and long term.

Sounds great, right?

So why in the hell haven’t we been hearing more about this kind of thing from, I don’t know, ANY MAJOR POLITICIAN?

Funny you should ask…

Here’s the thing. We’ve never had any shortage of great ideas in terms of how we should radically transform the world to make it more inclusive, equitable, environmentally sustainable, racially just. Plans to conclusively end poverty once and for all have been kicking around for a century or more. And I’m not saying that these ideas and plans and schemes and manifestos have been ill-informed or poorly designed or unworkable in practice.

It’s just that, well… Continue Reading

Unist’ot’en camp facing imminent RCMP raid – what is Stephen Harper thinking?

On Friday morning, Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs received word that the RCMP had booked up hotel rooms in Smithers and Burns Lake, two communities in close proximity to the Unist’ot’en Camp.

The Unist’ot’en Camp, as you’ll recall, sent out an appeal late last month for assistance and support in the face of what they said was a looming raid by the Mounties on their territory. Now, it appears that that raid is imminent:

“It’s definitely going to come down,” Phillip told Vancouver Observer. “We don’t have precise numbers, but it very well could be more than 200 (officers), because this story is totally rippling across the country.” […]

“I don’t want to disclose names, but there have been top political leaders who have contacted senior levels of the RCMP again, attempting to persuade them to stand down,” said Phillip, who will be heading to the Unist’ot’en Camp on Sunday to support its residents and bear witness to any police action that may take place. 

To mount an operation of this size and begin to execute this plan, (RCMP) would have had to have approval at the highest levels, at that takes considerable time, and I suspect those decisions were made weeks ago.” [my bold]

Phillip has been drawing attention to the impending confrontation between the RCMP and Indigenous land defenders and pipeline resisters for months now. In February, he said that there was the potential for another crisis on the scale of Oka surrounding Northern Gateway and other controversial pipeline projects.

For their part, members of the Unist’ot’en Camp have made it clear that they intend to hold firm and not be moved by police intimidation. Just days ago, they issued a declaration signed by all five Unist’ot’en chiefs, enacted specifically “in response to increasing encroachment onto Unist’ot’en territory by the Crown and associated industry and RCMP”, reasserting their “unbroken, unextinguished and unceded right to govern and occupy these lands”.

As rumours swirl that the RCMP intends to charge the land defenders under the hyper-controversial anti-terrorist law Bill C-51, it’s hard to imagine how the situation could become more highly charged. Continue Reading

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