An ounce of prevention…

June 28, 2010

An ounce of prevention is worth quite a bit more than the repression of hundreds. There was nothing normal about how Toronto’s G20 was handled and the violence could have been avoided.

In the lead-up to the conference, many activists received visits by Canada’s intelligence services and many other activists and others in the Toronto area were arrested on charges related to laws that were not yet made public. These kind of intimidation tactics work to scare and anger people. They do not deescalate civil unrest.

Spending half a billion dollars to confront protesters with twice as many security personnel does nothing more than anger and scare people. Also, a pretty bad thing happened: the roles became reversed.  The footage clearly shows that given the critical mass of police, they were the ones infected by mob mentality. So what we witnessed was an armored and armed mob of security personnel indiscriminately spraying, hitting and arresting people.

Now, 900 civilians are detained and in order to prove that this wasn’t an indiscriminate act on the part of the police, those people will not be released despite the fact that Toronto doesn’t have the capacity to process them properly. Instead,  speaking on CBC Radio One’s Metro Morning, Toronto police Chief Bill Blair said several hundred people were engaged in a “criminal conspiracy to attack the city”. Not only is the statement far fetched and scary, it isn’t useful because it doesn’t justify the unethical and violent nature of the police actions. This is what Chief Blair is supposed to be doing right now.

There is a specific government department designated to ensure that tense moments are mediated properly by all security officials involved: Public Safety Canada. According to its website, its mandate is to ensure coordination across all federal departments and agencies responsible for national security and the safety of Canadians. Its work provides national leadership on effective and cost-effective ways to prevent and reduce crime by intervening on the risk factors before crime happens and its approach is to promote the implementation of effective crime prevention practices.

Where was Public Safety Canada? According to their strategic plans, they were supposed to pull ‘security partners’ together for the G20/G8 and provide strategic advice and support to the partners. What kind of advice did they give? That half a billion dollars was a ‘cost-effective’ security price tag? That outnumbering ‘black blocks’ by several hundred to one but not managing to arrest them before and during the riots is preventing crime? That abandoning police vehicles in the thick of a protest is OK?

The Integrated Security Unit led by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) in partnership with the Toronto Police Service (TPS) the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP), the Canadian Forces (CF) and Peel Regional Police (PRP) did the following to ensure public security: they created a perimeter by putting up a fence, complete with security checkpoints and registration card services for those requiring access to within the perimeter. This was especially necessary given the inappropriate location of the conference, taking place as it did in a heavily populated urban area. All roads bordered by King Street, Yonge street, Queens Quay and Spadina Avenue were closed or restricted. Others were closed to accommodate protest activity. Highway 427 and the Gardiner Expressway were also restricted and traffic was generally severely disrupted. Buses were disrupted, Union station was partially closed. The underground pedestrian system was closed and parking was severely restricted in the downtown area. This was effective in protecting the safety of the delegates but given the frustrations it caused, it was ineffective in protecting the Canadian general public in the area. In other words, the prevention activities put into place to help mitigate the conference’s inappropriate location escalated tensions with the civil population.

The civil protests were supposed to be managed in the following manner: the Integrated Security Unit began their planning by recognizing that the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees freedom of thought, belief, opinion, expression and peaceful assembly. In order to uphold these principles in the safest way possible, they worked with the city of Toronto to identify North Queen’s Park as a Designated Speech area. The area was equipped with audio-visual equipment that televised the activities at the Park to the delegates at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. The plan went wrong when police failed to contain a riot elsewhere. This compelled them to forcefully clear the park. This act did a lot to escalate tensions between protestors and police and ensured that the protest process was no longer being managed. Protestors were at a loss as to where to go. Police then finally penned protestors in between Spadina and Queen street and arrested many. Giving peaceful protestors a place to exercise their civil rights, then taking this place away due to police incompetence over issues unrelated to them, and then arresting them for not being in the closed down designated area does nothing to promote anyone’s safety.

Protestors, journalists, residents and visitors were detained. There has been a lot of confusion as to the number of actual ‘black blocks’ involved and the focus on civil violence sidesteps the issue at stake: civil society. In any functional democracy, civil society needs to be protected. Civil society includes journalists, merchants, residents and yes, protestors. Protestors play a vital role in any functional democracy. Civil society needs to be protected, protected from common criminals and indiscriminate repression by security forces. The general failure to understand this explains why 900 people are in detention right now and in the context of a G20 summit, four burning police cars make major headlines.


Revisiting Proroguement I and II, the Afghan detainee issue and a few other things.

April 18, 2010

In 2008, Harper announced a repeal on legislation that guaranteed public funding to federal political parties.  He calculated that the opposition parties would have no choice but to vote for the repeal, since failing to do so would provoke an election that they could not afford to win. After that Harper could call an election anyway: one that thanks to the repeal, the opposition would not afford to win. What Harper didn’t foresee was that the opposition would come together to form a governing coalition, a clever tool that would bring down the government without sparking an election. Threatened by the prospect of losing power, Harper asked our Governer General to prorogue parliament, effectively quelling the vote of none-confidence.

Was the Governer General right in acquiescing to the request? No. She was bound by convention to refrain from taking sides. Given that an alternative governing coalition was in place as a viable governing option and representing the majority of the parliament, by taking the decision to prorogue, our Governor General was in fact taking sides. There was no sitting on the fence with this one: when our Governer General prorogued parliament, she set a precedent which allows for any governing leader to legitimately demand the closure of parliament on the sole grounds of avoiding a vote of none-confidence.

Therefore when the Afghan detainee issue came up, proroguement was a no-brainer for our Prime Minister. Proroguing again effectively quelled a debate that was quickly spiraling out of control and towards another vote of none-confidence. The issue at stake is fundamental: has government veered so far from Canadian values that Canada is now a country that facilitates the use of torture for strategic military purposes?

Why torture is going too far as opposed to say, diddling account books in order to circumvent legislation governing spending limits on election advertising and then declaring an election in violation of existing elections legislation, or refouling war-resistors to face the consequences of their beliefs in their own countries despite repeated majority Housing resolutions condemning the practice, or getting bulk water to be defined as a good under NAFTA, despite majority votes against it in the House of Commons … at this point why torture is supposed to phase Canadians is hard to say.

Canadians didn’t balk to the shutting the down the Parliamentary Budget Office, or  the sabotage of the Military Police Complaints Commission, or the attack on the Canadian Nuclear Safety Committee which dared extend the Chalk River plant’s maintenance shutdown for safety reasons, or the regular undermining of the Federal Information Act to the point that nobody knows what is going on with government decisions and processes anymore. Canadians are not defending Conservative cabinet ministers, senior bureaucrats, parliamentary secretaries and ministerial communications advisors, all targets of a communications strategy that has them effectively muzzled at the risk of them losing their jobs. Canadians haven’t reacted to repeated attempts to eliminate the Canadian Wheat Board, the refusal to acknowledge Omar Khadr for the child combatant that he is and to bring him home once and for all, the unconstitutional use of Security Certificates to deport people on grounds of suspected terrorism, the elimination of the Court Challenges Program, the closure of 12 out of 16 regional offices of Status of Women Canada, the closure of our safe injection sites, the dismissal of the Kyoto accords that we previously signed, the demolition of CIDA and related organizations such as Kairos, Rights and Democracy and Alternatives in the interest of cutting off dissent and protecting Israeli domestic policy or whatever else, the axing of funding to the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative, cuts to the Aboriginal Healing Foundation, the ecoENERGY program, any number of cultural institutions… Canadians just haven’t reacted up to now.

But somehow, Canadians might react to what’s in the documents that Harper refuses to divulge to Parliament. A motion has been passed to declare Harper in contempt of Parliament and a decision is pending. It is unclear what such a motion is supposed to accomplish, but any decision either way should have one consequence: Canadians demanding that those documents be revealed once and for all, so that we can see for ourselves if we can be shaken out of our apathy.


Reality of Canadian Official Development Assistance: Update

March 26, 2010

On 8 September 2000, following a three day Millennium Summit of world leaders at the headquarters of the United Nations, the General Assembly adopted the Millennium Declaration. The Declaration was declared in 2000 to remind us that without intervention from the world’s wealthiest, increasingly large numbers of people would face destitution. This process provided the Canadian government with the political rationale increase development budgets to the approval of both Canadian voters and the international community and after almost a decade of decline, Canadian Official Development Assistance rose from C$2.6 billion in 2000-2001 to C$4.1 billion in 2004-2005. This corresponded to the UN Millennium Development Goal aimed towards allocating 0.7 percent of gross national income to foreign aid.

The problem is that while the Millennium Goals were used as the political rationale for increased aid spending, in practice the Millennium Goals are no longer the only target: observers such as University of Ottawa professor Stephen Brown remark that as  Canada’s official development assistance budget expanded, so did things like ‘interdepartmental coordination’ and as the Canadian International Development Agency gained importance, its autonomy to achieve its mandate declined: resources were captured by parties more interested in Canada’s own security, diplomatic or commercial interests.

Two years ago, Canada passed its own Development Assistance Accountability Act, also known as the Better Aid Bill, Bill C-293. The bill was designed to ensure that transparency and accountability of Canada’s aid spending. Aid spending was also supposed to be used for the clear purpose of poverty reduction, as per the Millennium Goals and as per where Canadian taxpayers believed their aid money should be going: to do things like taking into account the perspectives of the poor, in a manner consistent with Canadian values, foreign policy and international human rights standards. There were three exceptions, though: when official development assistance goes to ‘natural disasters’ or ‘artificial disasters’ or other ‘international emergencies’.
The exceptions mentioned in the Better Aid Bill became all-important and as perhaps an ‘artificial disaster region’, Afghanistan remained the lead recipient of Canadian Official Development Assistance – by far – to the point that most of Canada’s Official Development Assistance increases over the last three years went directly there.

It was difficult for CIDA to establish its mandate in Afghanistan. Security considerations meant that Canada’s Department of National Defence, not CIDA called much of the shots and much of CIDA’s budget was handed over to the World Bank, various United Nations Agencies and the Asian Development Bank .

The end results is that today, Canadian assistance rarely serves to facilitate marginalized populations in finding their own solutions to poverty. Professionals still committed to the Millennium goals found themselves shut out of the Canada’s new aid picture. Only 32% of Canadian aid in 2004 was made available to community organizations in poor countries to implement their own development strategies, down from 39% in 2000. Development aid administered in cooperation with Canadian civil society organizations has been dropping correspondingly: in the five years up to 2004-2005, the proportion of CIDA aid resources managed by Canadian non-governmental organizations declined from just under 30% to less than 20%.

More recently, strenuous efforts on the part of civil society organizations and Ministeries such as CIDA to renew the role of the grassroots for poverty alleviation in development led to High Level Forums in Accra, Ghana in September of 2008. But today, civil society organizations still in operation are finding working conditions near impossible, funding delays exorbitant and bureaucracy slow to the extent that it precludes adequate planning. In addition, a number of non-governmental development experts  most critical of what’s happened to Canada’s assistance programs have found themselves audited and evaluated to no end, demonized in the press, and unemployed.

Now with an economic crises, the Millennium Goals receding into the distance and CIDA’s reputation ruined, the  government has announced a freeze on future aid budgets. According to recently-released OECD data, Canada provides the 16th lowest percentage of Gross National Income to aid amongst the world’s 22 richest nations and at 0.32 percent of Gross National Income, the country’s aid allocation in 2007 was even lower than its contribution in 1969. leaving Canada standing 18th out of 22 foreign-aid donors. Get ready for it – like the 0.7% promise of a generation before- the Millennium Development Goals are set to become yet another promise to the world’s poor that was not kept: and we’ll have contributed to the problem.


Evolutionary theory

February 22, 2010

A 2007 poll on Canadian beliefs towards evolutionary theory confirms that 59% of Canadians believe in evolution and almost a quarter believe that ‘’God created human beings in their present form within the last 10,000 years’’. Another 19% of respondents don’t know what they think.

Even those who say they believe in evolution might not be sure what the belief entails. The poll finds that 42% of Canadians agree that dinosaurs and humans co-existed on earth. Evolutionary theory posits that land-bound dinosaurs died out about 60 million years before humans evolved in their current form.

The results are lopsided: 71% of Quebec believes in evolution and only 9% of Quebec does not. Meanwhile next door in Ontario, only half believes in evolution and further west, Alberta sports the Big Valley Creation ‘Science’ Museum. Our Treasury Board President Stockwell Day is unwaivering in his support of Youth Earth Creationism, as is our Minister of Science and Technology, Dr. James Lunney. Last year Dr. Lunney gamely expounded his views on the issue in parliament. Finally, although he’s more quiet about it, our own Prime Minister is a public member of his own creationist, apocalyptic Missionary Alliance Church. At this point we can only hope that political opportunity in Canada is not too loaded against those who biologist Richard Dawkins terms, ‘intelligent and honest’.

So where does science stand in Canada these days?  Two years ago, Britain’s Nature magazine published its assessment of the status of science in Canada. It noted that we’ve closed the office of our national science advisor, who was appointed to provide independent non-partisan advice on science and technology. The advisor was replaced with an 18-member Science, Technology and Innovation Council (STIC). This doesn’t impress Nature magazine however, because although the Council is stocked with first-class scientists, it also features several government administrators and this makes it markedly less independent.

Nature magazine also reported that our government has been muzzling Environment Canada scientists, ordering them to route all media enquiries through Ottawa to control the agency’s media message.

Other deeper problems include the fact that while on the face of it, budgets  for the Canadian Institute of Health Research and the National Sciences and Engineering Research Council enjoy significant increases, due to new rules, often they can only fund half the costs of a research project. This means that applicants need to find the other half of their funds from elswhere, leading to a situation where now, the Canadian Institute of Health Research can only fund 16% of the applications it receives and the applicants that succeed in finding matching funding, find only enough to receive three quarters the equivalent of a normal grant.

When the Toronto Star’s Lenny Stout picked up the story and asked the government to respond to the report, he was met with silence.  Stout wrote: it is.. “The same resounding silence we’ve become used to…that same silence Harper mandated when he quit talking to the media. Get used to the sound of this silence. It’s the sound of the Conservatives busily governing away on your behalf. Too busy to talk.”


On Crime and Human Rights

February 3, 2010

Today’s move by Right’s and Democracy’s interim president Jacques Gauthier to hire a private investigator for unknown reasons makes the continuing saga at Rights and Democracy even more strange and disturbing. Instead of hiring a private investigator, the current interim President should immediately, conclusively dispel the rumor that Rights and Democracy passed money to terrorist organizations.

According to media reports on the abundant documentation regarding the subject, at issue are three grants: $10,000 each to B’Tselem, Al Haq and Al Mazen. Let’s be clear. These are not the IRA. Regardless of personal views on the subject, right now there is a huge legal gap between someone donating to either of these three organizations and this person’s involvement in aiding and abetting terrorism.

There are a number of people publicly intent on ‘reforming’ Rights and Democracy’s activities in the Middle East. What strikes me about Jacques Gauthier, David Matas,  Michael Van Pelt, Aurel Braun, Elliot Tepper, Marco Navarro-Genie and consultant types like Gerald Steinberg is to that to greater or lesser extent, many of them have studied ethic conflict at elite institutions of higher education. So it seems that they have studied the effects of the grassroots on ethnic conflict. Yes, there is something to be said for how anti-colonization movements of the past stimulated ethnic-based conflict. Civil rights movements of the sixties also did the same thing. We have to understand that the social change phenomena that we associate with human rights, social justice and yes, peace, sometimes cause very real bloodshed along the lines of what is essentially a figment of our collective imaginations: ethnicity.

Ergo the facile and outdated comparisons we see today between NGOs, leftists and anti-semitism. So Mr. Gauthier and company  are maybe  intellectuals or business representatives who have little to no grassroots experience. No doubt they hold a great deal of distrust in the grassroots. And now they are in a position of power at an NGO organization. Cue the secret memos to the Prime Minister’s Office, not so subtle snooping into the work of employees, gag orders, investigators, suspensions, power games and psychological abuse.

Mr. Gauthier and company are lead advocates for the idea that issues such as the Israeli peace process are best left to the elite. The minute the actual public, grassroots start to congregate to discuss how they feel about it, it is cause for real concern. This is why Alternatives’ ‘Journées d’études’ or study days in English are being called ‘militant camps’. Outside the carefully spoon-fed confines of mainstream media, the general public is not supposed to be exposed to the Nepali Maoist government, Chavez’s Venezuela, Fidel’s Cuba, Hamas, Hezbollah, Gaza, Israel, or anything else that threatens to disturb the peace. And above all, they are not supposed to talk to each other about it.


Confession.

January 26, 2010

It wasn’t about proroguement. Proroguement is annoying to write and even more annoying to say. Listening to constitutional experts about how proroguement is a normal part of Canadian parliamentary democracy was a bit of a yawner. Not many of us can name the bills about to die. The demise of the Afghan torture enquiry captures our imagination, but being enraged about not finding out what we’re supposed to be enraged about is a bit of a none starter.

It’s not even about the money. I don’t think there is anyone in Canada that doubts that the ruling party works hard. This is precisely the problem. They’re working too hard for our taste. When the Prime Minister says that even though parliament is in session, they are getting things done – in fact they are getting *more* things done, that’s where the disquiet sets in. It’s no coincidence that our Prime Minister’s popularity tends to increase when he’s out of sight: it’s when we’ve figured out what he’s been up to that he loses points.

At the moment, our Prime Minister is looking OK here in Montreal, sitting with Haiti’s Prime Minister, Hillary Clinton and Oxfam Canada, figuring out how to fix Haiti. But here’s the thing: this particular event is taking place in Montreal due to Montreal’s close cultural-linguistic ties to Haiti. So on the surface of it, Harper can sit in Montreal and assure Haiti’s Prime Minister that Haiti’s reconstruction will be Haitian-led. However, what our Prime Minister and Haiti’s Prime Minister knows is that really recently, the Conservatives tried to deactivate some the very same Montreal-based international development organizations that would have been key to facilitating Haiti’s locally-led reconstruction efforts. Désolé Papaye, on vous aime toujours. Despite the rhetoric, locally-led international development is going out of style.

Disquiet in Canada comes from a number of places. Funding is being strangled to the Middle East and a lot of other places, and Canada’s international development community wants to understand the Conservative vision that guides these ‘defunding’ decisions. Cuts to a number of women’s organizations here and rape clinics in Africa makes women’s rights advocates wonder about the Conservative abortion agenda and attitudes towards women’s rights more generally. The environmentalist community knows that the Conservative stance in Copenhagen calls into question whether the Conservatives believe in climate change at all. When a news anchor announces that a Conservative Minister was demoted due to funding a gay parade last summer, most Canadians hear nails on a chalkboard. And prorogation? Prorogation points out that the entire Conservative approach to social change calls into question their dedication to democracy.

The point is, leaving the ruling coalition to close parliament and figure out Canada’s future on behalf of us all seems a little counterintuitive to lots of Canadians right now. That’s what the rallys were about.


le Bloc Québecois prend parti…

January 20, 2010

Ottawa, le 20 janvier 2010

Madame,

Au nom de monsieur Gilles Duceppe, chef du Bloc Québécois, nous accusons réception de votre courriel du 8 janvier dernier adressé à la ministre de la Coopération internationale, madame Bev Oda.

Nous vous remercions d’avoir pris le temps de communiquer avec nous pour nous faire part de vos préoccupations concernant le financement gouvernemental accordé à l’ONG Alternatives.

Tout comme vous, le Bloc Québécois est consterné par la décision de la ministre de la Coopération internationale, Bev Oda, de réexaminer la subvention de 2,1 millions de dollars sur trois ans accordée à Alternatives. Cette situation inquiétante n’est pas sans rappeler les coupes que le gouvernement conservateur a infligées à l’ONG œcuménique KAIROS en raison de ses idées progressistes.

Au lieu de s’acharner sur Alternatives et les autres ONG financées depuis de nombreuses années par tous les partis, la ministre de la Coopération internationale devrait plutôt assurer le maintien du financement afin de permettre à ces ONG de poursuivre leur travail crucial sur les plans de la défense, de la promotion des droits humains, de la justice sociale, de la démocratie et de la lutte contre la pauvreté. Il serait vraiment malhonnête d’empêcher une ONG comme Alternatives d’accomplir sa mission en prétextant que celle-ci entretient des liens avec des groupes extrémistes, tel que l’ont rapporté certains médias en citant des sources gouvernementales.

Ayez donc la certitude que les élus du Bloc Québécois continueront de presser la ministre de la Coopération internationale d’octroyer le financement nécessaire à la survie de l’ONG Alternatives afin que celle-ci puisse poursuivre son travail à l’échelle internationale.

Nous vous prions de recevoir, Madame, nos salutations distinguées.

Anne Allard

Adjointe à la coordonnatrice à la correspondance