Saturday, February 16, 2019

SNC-Lavalin Declares War on Homes not Bombs!

Dozens of Police, Mounted Units, Police Wagons Greet Toronto Vigil of 10 People Protesting Production of Canadian Bullets for U.S. Forces in Iraq, Afghanistan....

 TORONTO, MARCH 21, 2005 -- All the 10 or so members of Homes not Bombs wanted to do today was have a dialogue on ending SNC-Lavalin's participation in the war crimes being committed in Iraq and Afghanistan. SNC-Lavalin profits handily from its Quebec-based SNC-TEC subsidiary, which is providing hundreds of millions of bullets to U.S. occupation forces across the globe.

But SNC-Lavalin management would have none of it, preferring to treat Homes not Bombs as a security threat. In their largest display of force yet, some three dozen Metro Police, eight wearing riot visors and riding horses -- backed up with two police wagons ready to cart folks away -- were on hand early today at the Etobicoke offices of the firm, which has been the site of two prior, peaceful protests.
   All this for a group of ten people with placards and flyers calling for an end to the profits being made from war crimes. And just to make sure we got the point, police immediately accosted the small group as we walked towards the western driveway to the offices. The officer in charge told us that the company had pre-issued trespass notices against us "that would be enforced," and another officer took it upon himself to single out one demonstrator, grabbing him by the arm, without explanation, and proceeding to shove him around. The officer then threatened to attack another demonstrator for standing on the sidewalk.



"Move, how many times do I have to tell you, you're blocking the driveway!" he thundered at her.

She reminded him that his police cars were in fact blocking the driveway and that she was simply standing on the sidewalk. Despite his repeated thundering at her, she stood her ground, staring him down until he backed off.



Indeed, police cars blocked both entrances, and a row of squad cars was lined up at the front entrance to the building, perhaps to prevent a repeat of the scene on Martin Luther King Day, when a group of about 50 people, including some recently returned from first-hand witnessing in Iraq, had paraded around the grounds and a smaller group of about 10 had tried to enter the building for a dialogue. That day, police had seemed unprepared, and made no arrests.
   
Why was there such a display of force today? Were the police simply embarrassed by their lack of preparation last time out (only to be made even more embarrassed with today's show of firepower for the small vigil)? Or has the campaign to get SNC-Lavalin to divest itself of its bulletmaker or, better yet, transform itself into something socially useful, begun to have an effect inside corporate boardrooms?
  

Bullet production certainly has been cause for a great deal of dialogue inside the building, according to employees who ventured out for lunch and discussed the issue with the demonstrators.

And if SNC-Lavalin was trying to deflect attention away from itself because of its unsavoury practices, this was certainly not the way to do it.The huge police presence also meant many passersby slowed down to see what was going on and, having found out, honked enthusiastically their support for our vigil.
    While some employees refused to look at us, others nodded in silent support, and a few were vocal in their words of encouragement. Some said they were unaware there was to be a protest, so there was concern when police on horseback started circling the building this morning. Once that occurred, the company did much of the work for us, by explaining once again in an internal email that SNC's profiting from bullets was the cause of our demo.

Some employees stood out on the front porch for a short time while we called out to them to have a dialogue on divestment, but apparently a senior manager ordered them back inside. It is that kind of treatment--not even allowing employees the right on their break to speak with us--that has contributed to a certain amount of discomfort within the company.

Indeed, one employee told us of a personal decision to give notice in a few weeks time, declaring that the bullet contract was one more reason to leave the company, in addition to concerns about what the individual described as shoddy environmental practices by the firm in its engineering and mining projects and poor treatment of employees.

As we left the armed encampment that was SNC-Lavalin this afternoon, we vowed to return, to once again expose the lie that Canada is not involved in the crimes taking place in Iraq, and to challenge a complacent population which seems to have bought that lie in much the same way as many have swallowed the line that Paul Martin's announcement on star wars means Canada is not involved in space warfare (when in fact it is official Canadian government policy to view space as the fourth medium of warfare).

Stay tuned. Better yet, if you are one of those people who has enough money to have investments, make sure none of your money is going to SNC-Lavalin. If it is, divestment provides a perfect way to express your displeasure at their profiting from war crimes.

(report from Matthew Behrens of Homes not Bombs; photos by John Bonnar)





NOTE: This campaign proved successful. SNC-Lavalin was forced to divest itself of its bullet division.

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Canada ignores national security threat posed by femicide

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By Matthew Behrens
            Every other day in 2018, a woman in Canada was murdered, almost exclusively  by men. Sexual assault crisis centres reported a record numbers of calls last year. And according to a new report, male violence against women has claimed the lives of at least 10,495 women and girls in Canada since 1961, an average of 184 femicides per year. 

            Femicide is recognized internationally by the United Nations as the most extreme form of violence and discrimination against women and girls,” according to the Canadian Femicide Observatory for Justice and Accountability. “Its definition varies across disciplines and world regions, but broadly captures the killing of females, primarily by men, because they are female.”

            Despite such massacre-scale figures, successive federal and provincial governments have refused to recognize and act upon the scale and severity of a national security threat that daily targets more than half the population. It’s certainly not news to those who courageously – and almost always without the necessary funding and resources they need to do their jobs – staff the shelters and sexual violence hotlines counseling the targets of hundreds of thousands of daily acts of male violence. 

            While the Trudeau government has thumbed its nose at a United Nations commitment to enact and properly fund a National Action Plan to End Violence Against Women and Girls, its Public Safety Minister also refuses to recognize the national security implications of male violence. Indeed, when a man inspired by extremist misogynist ideology (the so-called incel movement) went on a murderous Yonge Street rampage in 2018, Ralph Goodale had the audacity to declare the terrorist act did “not appear to be connected in any way to national security.”

            Instead of naming and addressing this major national security threat, the Canadian government continues to rely on racist tropes generated by white supremacist state security agencies to imagine threats that are minimal at worst but which, when parroted by a compliant media, actually make life even more dangerous for anyone who does not enjoy the protective shield of white privilege.

A Flimsy Terror Plot
            Nowhere was that more clear than in the arrests last week of two people in Kingston on an alleged terror plot. While one of those arrested was released without charge, the media continue to spout inflammatory lines about the non-charged individual being part of a refugee family fleeing Syrian violence. Needless to say, that irresponsible reportage was immediately picked up by Donald Trump’s Canadian Tweet Deputy, Andrew Scheer, who reinforced the utterly nonexistent notion that falsely equates refugees with terrorism. (Indeed, research concludes that new immigrant communities have lower crimes rates than those who came before them).

            While we have yet to learn the details about this alleged plot, its timing is, as with all so-called terror arrests, curious, coming as it does as the Senate is set to renew hearings on the dangerous new state security powers being debated in Bill C-59. Its substance is also open to some very reasonable questioning. A tip from the FBI – an organization with a remarkable record of initiating and planning terror plots that are then pinned on vulnerable individuals – led some 300 Canadian agents into high-octane motion, even though there was  no specific target identified”; the superintendent in charge confirmed there was “no specific time, date or location affixed to” the alleged plot of the 16-year-old; there were only “elements and trace elements” of a “potentially” explosive substance allegedly found in one of the houses raided by police; and the superintendent in charge declared: “At no time was the city of Kingston or any Canadian area under direct threat.” It appears there was some vague talk of “facilitating” someone setting off a non-existent explosive device at a place and time that had not been determined, which sounds a lot like the kind of plots that are cooked up by eager FBI and RCMP informants who fish the internet to find vulnerable individuals who might take the bait.

            The arrests also play into what will likely be a significant racist narrative during the 2019 federal election: Canada’s allegedly “porous” borders and equating refugees with security threats. Evidence of this trend was a lazy and fear-mongering CBC piece that read more like a press release from CSIS than the work of a responsible news organization. In reporting on a heavily redacted government document entitled “Subject of national security concern granted permanent residency,” CBC took great pains to point out, adding fuel to the fire, that the granting of landed status here “means the person is entitled to most social benefits —including health care — can live, work and study anywhere in Canada, and is protected by Canadian law and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, but isn't considered a Canadian citizen.”
While the document allegedly could not detail why the individual was considered a threat because to detail CSIS’s “derogatory information” would allegedly harm “the conduct of international affairs, the defence of Canada or any state allied or associated with Canada,” the CBC failed to properly contextualize the consistent pattern of state security agencies claiming “national security confidentiality”  as a means of covering up anything that could prove embarrassing to the government. Such rationalizations are also employed to cover up the fact that “derogatory information” in the hands of CSIS is often the product of torture or other forms of mistreatment that Canada’s spy agency  eagerly  receives from some of the world’s worst dictatorships.
 The CBC also failed to question what it meant to declare that CSIS had “derogatory information” against this individual, especially given the spy agency’s lengthy historical record of falsely naming individuals security threats (often leading to torture, as we have seen in the cases of Maher Arar, Abdullah Almalki, Ahmad ElMaati, Muayyed Nureddin, and Abousfian Abdelrazik, among others).
In addition, CBC failed to place this allegedly bombshell document within a long history of Canada using overly broad definitions of security threats to declare individuals  inadmissible to Canada.  That includes, for example, thoe who were involved in struggles against South African apartheid or death squad dictatorships in Central America. The overly broad interpretation of what it means to be a member of an organization – membership being a ground to make one inadmissible to Canada on security grounds – is so broad that it can encompass someone who wrote for a party newspaper or provided catering services to a political meeting. Ottawa fails to consider, for example, whether someone joined a group before it took up arms or after it eschewed violence. It also fails to distinguish between membership in groups with a single brutal purpose -- the employment of violence without regard to civilian casualties -- and multi-faceted organizations that, while possessing a military wing, also act as de facto governments that provide social services (such as the Palestine Liberation Organization).
The Tunnel Vision of State Security
That Canada’s state security agencies would not focus on real threats to security and instead pin blame on individual targeted communities is understandable. They have always demonized Indigenous people, immigrant communities, and anyone who threatens an unequal status quo. It's in their DNA, reflected recently in a 2017 lawsuit by a group of CSIS employees who declared they had been “harassed and discriminated against by CSIS management and colleagues, on the basis of religion, race, ethnic and/or national origin, and/or sexual orientation." That lawsuit was quietly settled with the usual promise to “do better.”
Meanwhile, the 2018  “Terrorist Threat to Canada” report, issued just before the December holiday season, proved a significant dose of cognitive dissonance on steroids. While Ralph Goodale inaccurately described it as “a balanced and frank assessment of the current threat environment,” it is in reality a recycled hash of racist nonsense produced by a nation that Goodale describes as “being a collaborative force for good in the world”. While the 2017 public report declared, without substantiation, that “the principal terrorist threat to Canada continues to be that posed by violent extremists who are inspired by violent Islamist ideology, and terrorist groups such as Daesh and al-Qaida,” the 2018 report returns to the tired evil Muslims nostrum of “violent Sunni Islamist ideology.”
The basis for such conclusions is a timeline dating back to 2006 that features a series of incidents that almost exclusively relied on the role of highly-paid RCMP and CSIS agents in creating and organizing various plots, leading vulnerable individuals right into lengthy prison terms via elaborate entrapment schemes. Others – single individual incidents – were carried out by people with serious mental health challenges but, given their ancestry, were translated into so-called terrorist acts.
In the check-box virtue-signalling and faux political correctness that defines the Trudeau regime, some space is devoted to Right-Wing Extremism. But it is seriously downplayed, noting in a major affront to the lived reality of millions that  “while racism, bigotry, and misogyny may undermine the fabric of Canadian society, ultimately they do not usually result in criminal behavior or threats to national security.” It’s a remarkable statement – not only because racism, bigotry, and misogyny actually make up the fabric of Canadian society – but also because it flies in the face of readily available public figures.
Indeed, whether it’s the epidemic of male violence against women – perhaps most dramatically illustrated in 2018 by the Yonge Street misogynist massacre – or racism (January 29 marks the second anniversary of the terrorist attack that murdered six and injured 19 Muslim worshippers in Quebec City), there is clearly a growing threat from white supremacists that’s been well documented by researchers Barbara Perry and Ryan Scrivens.
Downplaying White Supremacist Violence
Indeed, as the Toronto Star reports: “Between 2015 and 2018, researcher Barbara Perry said she’s observed a 20 to 25 per cent jump in the number of right-wing extremist groups active in Canada. Based on Perry’s previous estimates, that would mean anywhere between 100 to 125 active right-wing extremist groups operating from coast to coast.   Between 1980 and 2014, there have been more than 120 incidents involving right-wing extremist groups in Canada, according to Perry and co-author Ryan Scrivens’s 2015 research. The ‘incidents’ range from drug offences to attempted assassinations, firebombings and attacks.” The researchers noted, by comparison, only seven incidents during the same time period that could possibly be described under the government’s definition of “Islamist” ideology.
(Notably, a recently released report from the Anti-Defamation League also confirms that every single extremist killing in the USA in 2018 was committed by right-wing extremists.)
Despite such readily available figures, it remains controversial within the Canadian government to mention this reality. Indeed, an initial muted reference to right-wing extremism in the 2017 Canadian terrorism report almost didn't make it given the objections of CSIS.
According to documents obtained by Global News, CSIS originally proposed that the 2017 report would include the claim that  “Within the broader context of extremism in Canada, the number of right-wing extremists who promote or are willing to engage in politically-motivated violence is extremely small.”  (This false claim would be consistent with CSIS behaviour:  the spy agency’s review committee  found that CSIS dropped an investigation into Canada’s far-right in 2016 because Canada’s spies felt these groups did not represent a national security threat.) Global News continues that while Public Safety Canada initially included the CSIS statement on the far fight, it was later changed from “extremely small” to “quite small,” and then cut altogether.  CSIS also disputed that right-wing extremism was “a growing concern in Canada,” saying that was a “subjective statement” and demanding, “What is your facting for this?”

CSIS could have easily found that “facting” via a search engine that most 2nd graders know about called Google. They would have discovered a rigorous academic study by the  Canadian Network for Research on Terrorism, Security & Society (whose partners include CSIS and Public Safety Canada) that concluded the right-wing extremist movement in Canada “is more extensive and more active than public rhetoric would suggest.” They noted there were over 100 groups, some of which “were actively engaged in brutal acts of violence directed at an array of targets” including Muslims, Jews, Indigenous people, LGBTQ communities, and “people of color, such as Afro-Canadians, Asians, and South Asians.”

            Significantly, their research confirmed that “a key factor enabling the emergence and sustainability of right-wing groups was a weak law enforcement response. Typically, activities of the far right have not been monitored or taken seriously…there was a tendency for officials to deny or trivialize the presence and threat.”

            Still, Canadian officials tried to soft pedal right wing extremism, questioning why it was listed as a Principal Threat to Canada. “Is far-right a ‘principal threat’ to Canada?” asked an official in the released documents obtained by Global News.  “Good that it is outlined in this document, but may want to revisit how this is framed.”

Naming New Unsubstantiated Threats
            The unwillingness of Canadian state security agencies to develop threat profiles based on readily available public information is another reason why CBC’s abovementioned reportage of alleged security threats receiving permanent landing in Canada is so irresponsible. Indeed, the CBC’s preferential option for the powerful assumes that CSIS and the CBSA actually know what they are doing. Notably, these terrorism threat reports are produced by the same agencies that treat as security risks land and water defenders from Wet'suwet'en to Muskrat Falls (a chilling but consistent historical practice well documented in the excellent book, Policing Indigenous Movements). 

            The 2018 public report on terror threats also suddenly raised out of the blue alleged “Sikh (Khalistani) Extremism,” pointing to events that happened over 30 years ago as part of its rationale. It also backs up this claim by declaring that two Sikh organizations were listed as terrorist entities in Canada, but that is old news that dates back to 2003. This understandably upset Sikh groups, prompting Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale to say he would look into tweaking the language of the report because “words matter and being precise matters,” but six weeks later, the libelous reference remains on the website. 

            And because Canada’s state security agencies are equal opportunity Islamophobes, they also bring in alleged “Shia Extremism” with the very lazy, vague claims that some people in Canada “may sympathize with [Hizballah] for political reasons” and that individuals in Canada send material and financial support to the group, without providing any evidence. Hizballah was listed as a terrorist entity in 2002 by Canada. 

            The largest amount of space in the report is dedicated to “Canadian Extremist Travellers,” even though the report notes that “Canada has not experienced, and does not expect to experience, a significant influx of returning Daesh-affiliated extremist travellers.” While the report claims that these travellers pose a threat because they return with the “capability to conduct unsophisticated attacks, such as with knives and vehicles,” it completely ignores the fact that white Canadian men are perfectly capable of conducting such attacks against women with no need for overseas training, as reports from hospital emergency rooms and women’s shelters will bear out. Indeed, a December, 2018 report from the Canadian Domestic Homicide Prevention Initiative found that the most common means of men murdering women in Canada was by knifing, all carried out without the support and inspiration of Daesh or Al-Qaeda. 

            The report offers an extensive explanation of initiatives being undertaken to counter what it already admits is not much of a threat – those who have travelled overseas – while completely failing to list any efforts being undertaken to counter right-wing extremism and misogynistic attacks.

Will Canada Acknowledge an Epidemic?
            As billions of dollars continue to be poured into state agencies chasing almost non-existent threats (including the commityment to purchase warships at a staggering cost of anywhere from $62 to $100 billion) , those whose lives are on the line from racism and misogyny are left out in the cold. But with a federal election on the horizon, there is an opportunity to push all political parties on the epidemic of misogyny in Canada. 

            Former NDP Women’s Critic Sheila Malcolmson pointed out that direct federal funding to women’s organizations represents less than 0.01% of total federal program spending; only about $1 for every woman in Canada,” and that proper core funding for said groups should be a cornerstone commitment that would allow Canada to live up to international and domestic constitutional obligations ensuring women’s equality.
             
When she testified before a Parliamentary Committee last fall, Megan Walker of the London Abused Women's Centre reminded MPS that any program going forward must consider that “male violence against women is an epidemic. If we were talking about violence in any other format except against women and we knew that 106 women were murdered this year, largely by men, with 33 murdered by their intimate partners, all bells and whistles would be going off. If it were an epidemic with respect to a flu or SARS or anything like that, we would be taking immediate action, yet for some reason we still continue to minimize the lived experiences of women and pretend it doesn't happen.

It's time to get our heads out of the sand and realize that we all have a role to play, especially government, in preventing women across this country from being murdered, particularly when they're being murdered by a man who is supposed to love them, and in their homes, which for most of us is the safest place we can be. That's our first recommendation: we want the Government of Canada to recognize this as the epidemic it is.

Further, we want the government to respond to this epidemic by including full core funding for all services that are helping women live their lives free from violence and abuse. We want to see major public awareness and education programs so that future generations of girls and boys grow up knowing that this is wrong, that the value women and girls have is not from the attention paid to them by boys and men, but in fact from who they are as people.

We also want to see a heavy investment in prevention. As I say, I think if we can see the results of one woman being alive today because of preventive action, we've done our job. We need to do that with much more frequency and with a much greater investment.”

(originally published at http://rabble.ca/columnists/2019/01/canada-ignores-national-security-threat-posed-femicide)
           


Friday, January 11, 2019

Saudi Weapons Deal Opponents to Present Chrystia Freeland With Ready-to-Sign Cancellation Letter


Large 4 X 4 Faces of War Will be Featured at Nonviolent Demonstration
Former Canadian Disarmament Ambassador Peggy Mason to Speak

Tuesday, January 15, 11:30 am (Martin Luther King's birthday)
Global Affairs Canada, 125 Sussex Drive, Ottawa

To celebrate the January 15 birthday of civil rights leader and pacifist Martin Luther King, members of Homes not Bombs and Ottawa's Raging Grannies will attempt to present Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland with a ready-to-sign letter cancelling the $15 billion Saudi weapons deal. They will also carry large portraits of the victims of war to remind Freeland of the human face of her failure to cancel the contract.

"Justin Trudeau and Chrystia Freeland keep fretting about how to get out of a deal that contributes to the detention and torture of women's rights activists, that worsens a war against the Yemeni people that has placed 20 million lives at risk of starvation, and which violates Canada's own export control guidelines," explains organizer Matthew Behrens. "So we have a ready-to-sign letter for them that cancels the deal, ensures investments for affected workers in alternative, socially useful green technology, and bars Global Affairs and the Canadian Commercial Corporation from continuing to jet-set around the world as a global arms broker."

While the Liberal government ultimately signed off on a Saudi deal initiated by the Harper Conservatives, members of Homes not Bombs point out that the issue is structural, not partisan. "We have numerous agencies of the federal government investing in weapons that the government then tries to sell to some of the worst human right violators on the globe," Behrens says, noting that Canadian weapons sales to the U.S. and Middle East (along with previously approved sales to ruthless leaders like Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines and armoured vehicles to Colombia) continue to make a mockery of any "peaceable kingdom" press releases issued by the Trudeau government.

While the Liberals have said they worry about financial penalties and the economic effects on the southern Ontario manufacturing economy, Behrens notes that Ottawa maintains a $102 billion fiscal emergency fund which could be drawn upon to ensure no one gets hurt further by a deal that has already proved hugely damaging. "They can use money from the emergency fiscal fund to deal with a human rights emergency."

"It's appropriate we do this on Martin Luther King Day because the late civil rights leader was very clear when he discussed overcoming the triplets of militarism, racism and poverty. King would have been the first to condemn this deal, the sleazy way the Liberals have attempted to justify it, and their complete and utter moral and legal failure to actually end this deal and all other weapons exports that do nothing but fuel the fires of global conflict."

Former Canadian Disarmament Ambassador to the United Nations Peggy Mason, a long-time critic of the Saudi weapons deal, will be on hand to reiterate her call for cancellation of the deal, as well as ending Canadian weapons exports to countries that are human rights abusers, or which undermine regional or international security.

For more information: Homes not Bombs, (613) 267-3998

Homes not Bombs
PO Box 2121, 57 Foster Street
Perth, ON K7H 1R0
(613) 267-3998

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Supporting Homes not Bombs with a Donation: Please Help Us As We Plan a Busy 2019!

Dear Friends of Homes not Bombs,

I had the honour of being arrested and banned from Parliament Hill twice this year during a series of actions Homes not Bombs organized along with Indigenous land protectors and supporters. (You can watch some excellent footage of our May 7 direct action at https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=219&v=7wIDbahpmY8)

When your nonviolent direct actions are so impossible for authorities to accept that they must take such actions, it's a good sign that we are on the right path.

That's the philosophy of Homes not Bombs: when intolerable policies are being created and carried out by governments and corporations, it is our duty to interfere with the harm that targets vulnerable and marginalized groups of people.

It's earned many of us lengthy arrest records, government surveillance, and the ire of Canada's state security agencies, one of whose directors singled us out for allegedly creating "folk heroes" out of individuals who were wrongfully detained.

BUILDING COMMUNITY
But more importantly, it has helped us build community with disparate groups of people fighting for their very lives: refugees resisting deportation to a grave fate; land and water protectors trying to stop the poisoning of their lands and destruction of their cultures; prisoners who are behind bars because of racial profiling and colonialism or because they chose to escape an abusive relationship; and individuals whose challenging cases few others will touch. 




For over two decades, during times of great fear and anxiety, we have consistently engaged in nonviolent direct action campaigns that have exposed and transformed situations of great injustice, from secret trials and indefinite detention to bringing home and seeking justice for those tortured abroad with Canadian complicity.

With the work we do, we cannot offer charitable receipts. Yet the donations we receive go a long way towards helping us confront some of the most serious institutional forms of violence that exist in this country.

As I write this, Homes not Bombs is busily engaged in quite a few education and advocacy campaigns, from supporting Indigenous rights and promoting the bill to adopt and implement C-262 (UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples) to coordinating the Ontario Muskrat Solidarity Committee, which is working to try and prevent an act of cultural genocide against Inuit and Innu people downstream from the dangerous Muskrat Falls megaproject. With the dam slated to go online in 2019, the issue becomes ever more critical, and we intend to step up our activities in 2019.

WOMEN WHO CHOOSE TO LIVE
Our group Women Who Choose to Live works with those women who have been jailed for choosing to live in the context of male violence. We continue to support MM, an abuse survivor and single mother facing jail time for rescuing her kids from an abusive father, as well as other women facing jail at the hands of overseas abusers who are using the Extradition Act to reach across borders to continue punishing survivors who have escaped.  



Our group Stop Canadian Involvement in Torture continues our work on ending secret trials and abolishing the dreaded security certificate procedure, as well as working to end deportation to torture and exposing the many ways in which the Trudeau government's changes to Harper-era legislation are simply window dressing that does not get at the substance and danger these laws pose.  In 2019, a primary focus of that work will be on stopping the deportation to torture of Ottawa refugee Mohamed Harkat.

Our Anne Frank Sanctuary Committee continues working with desperate refugees fighting deportation. This is a busy time of year when border officials step up deportations of families in order to meet the Trudeau government's deportation quotas. Such policies are cruel, taking advantage of asylum seekers who, for whatever reason – poor legal advice, racist bias, an incomplete form in a language that is not their first – are deemed "failed" refugee claimants. It is only through the provision of church sanctuary that we are able to buy the time necessary for a reconsideration of their cases (the great majority of which are eventually decided in their favour).

Our Prisoner Solidarity Project works to pair individuals behind bars with friends and supporters on the outside who can advocate with them, raise funds, and support anxious families.

As we go forward in 2019, we rely on your support to help with the costs of speaking tours, prisoner support, demonstration logistics, organization of nonviolence training workshops, and other costs that we accrue. We are a network of dedicated individuals who devote untold numbers of hours of thoughtful and determined work for justice, and even with our shoestring budget, we continue to have a major impact. 




We sincerely hope you might be able to contribute whatever you can towards the ongoing costs of maintaining this vital work in 2019 and beyond.

You can help by sending an etransfer to tasc@web.ca or writing a cheque to Homes not Bombs at PO Box 2121, 57 Foster Street, Perth, ON K7H 1R0.

Thanks as always for your support, and together, we can face the future not with fear, but rather with hope in our hearts that the power of love and nonviolence will transform the systemic injustices that confront us on so many levels on a daily basis.

Peace

Matthew Behrens
Homes not Bombs

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Mercury's Toxic Legacy from Grassy Narrows to Muskrat Falls


Labrador Land Protector Denise Cole (holding drum) shows solidarity with the people of Grassy Narrows, knowing full well that the future downstream of Muskrat Falls is one full of methylmercury poisoning unless the federally-supported megadam is halted.

By Matthew Behrens

Two weeks ago on Parliament Hill, I stood with members of a northern Ontario Indigenous community dying from mercury poisoning. Along with youth and parents from Grassy Narrows, Chief Rudy Turtle and indefatigable community leader Judy Da Silva had traveled a great distance to demand that Prime Minister Trudeau ensure proper compensation and care for their long-suffering people.

As I imagined enduring the half-century of inter-generational neurotoxin poisoning that continues to plague Grassy Narrows, I sadly concluded that we rarely learn from the worst aspects of our history. Indeed, as we cry “never again,” the Inuit and Innu of Labrador face a future that could well mirror the Grassy Narrows experience.

 The federal government is backstopping the hugely controversial Muskrat Falls mega-dam with $9.2 billion in loan guarantees, despite never having received the free, prior and informed consent of all Indigenous people affected. Critically, Ottawa insistently ignores a 2016 Harvard University study that concluded major spikes in methylmercury poisoning will contaminate the traditional country food web relied upon by Indigenous people since time immemorial.

The indefatigable Grassy Narrows community leader Judy Da Silva speaking at yet another trip to Ottawa to demand compensation and proper care for a community still suffering after a half-century battle to clean up the soil and waters.

In relatively remote communities where store-bought food is beyond affordable for many residents, the impossible choice will be going hungry or taking risks by harvesting dangerously contaminated foods.


This preventable poisoning stems from the refusal of Newfoundland and Labrador, their federal backers, and provincial Crown corporation Nalcor to undertake significant clearance of trees, vegetation, and topsoil in the Muskrat Falls reservoir area, which is slated for completion in 2019. Scientists predict that submerged inorganic mercury compounds will begin to “methylate” and produce a neurotoxin, methylmercury, that rapidly bioaccumulates at “concentrations of a million times or more those present in water” in the fish, waterfowl, and marine mammals that make up a large percentage of the downstream Indigenous diet.

Methylmercury poisoning can lead to kidney and liver failure, endocrine disruption, cardiovascular problems, and neurocognitive delays in children (including reduced verbal function and memory, long-term IQ deficits and attention deficit disorder).

 In 2011, a joint federal-provincial panel called for “a precautionary approach [at Muskrat Falls] particularly because no feasible adaptive management measures have been identified to reverse either long-term adverse ecological changes or mercury contamination of renewable resources,” a recommendation that continues to be dismissed.

Instead, the Indigenous people downstream of Muskrat Falls were advised earlier this year by an Independent Experts Advisory Committee to negotiate a fund “to compensate for lost food and traditional harvesting practices, and for the associated physical and mental health impacts of this loss.” But how can anyone place a monetary amount on the loss of a culture, spirituality, and social fabric so intimately tied up with practices of harvesting country foods that reaffirm Indigenous identity and connection to the land and water?
Rita Monias of Pimicikamak Okimawin spoke about the devastation, including methylmercury poisoning, caused by Manitoba Hydro dams that never received free, prior and informed consent of Indigenous people. "Look around," she said. "These children and grandchildren are poisoned."


As if that were not enough, project critics have raised major concerns about the instability of the North Spur, a natural formation that, despite being composed of quick clay (sand that liquefies and moves under pressure), is being relied upon to hold back the intense pressure of a full dam reservoir. The fears of catastrophic dam break and mass casualty flooding are real – there are reports of individuals in the flood zone going to bed with life preservers under their beds – while leading Swedish quick clay expert Stig Bernander recently wrote that “the safety and reliability of the Muskrat Falls dam have not been demonstrated.”

A public inquiry into why the Muskrat Falls mega-dam ballooned to twice its original cost is ongoing in Newfoundland and Labrador, but its mandate is limited to financial and bureaucratic issues, avoiding the very real human rights and environmental concerns that have been raised by groups like the Labrador Land Protectors and Grand Riverkeeper, many of whose members still face civil and criminal charges for nonviolent acts of land and water protection. As critics of the inquiry point out, even the limited lessons that may arise from the inquiry will be too late:  the dam will be complete before its final report.

When Justin Trudeau apologized in 2017 for the cultural genocide of Labrador residential schools, my friend Marjorie Flowers, an Inuk survivor of that devastating system, shared with me her mixed feelings. Fresh from ten days in a maximum security prison where she’d been sent for her peaceful acts of resistance to the mega-dam, she said: “I won't discredit the value in an apology, but I’m puzzled at how the same government is perpetrating a disaster against the environment and our culture. This Muskrat Falls project is putting our lives in peril. There is a huge contradiction.”

When Marjorie came to Parliament Hill last May and tried to enter the House of Commons with the pictures and words of those most at risk from Muskrat Falls, she was handcuffed, charged, and banned for 90 days from the vicinity. Like many in Labrador, she feels at her wit’s end. At home, an injunction threatens further jail time for any interference with a project that threatens their cultural survival. In Ottawa, she and other dam opponents face arrests and Parliamentary bans for seeking an audience from the biggest backers of Muskrat Falls.

The people of Grassy Narrows have fought 50 years for mercury justice, and recognize that their battle is far from over. Is a half century-long battle just beginning for the Inuit and Innu of Labrador because Indigenous lives continue to be treated as disposable in this country?
The federal government and province of Ontario still refuse to name the cause of so many premature deaths at Grassy Narrows: mercury poisoning.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Canada’s Extradition Law: A Dangerous Back-Door Bludgeon for Abusive Ex-Spouses



By Matthew Behrens
            The high-profile Vancouver arrest of Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou once again shines a spotlight on Canada’s problematic Extradition Act, a draconian piece of legislation which has also subjected Ottawa University professor Hassan Diab to a decade-long, ongoing Kafkaesque nightmare based on false allegations.
            Regardless of how one feels about Huawei’s role in facilitating state surveillance and repression – if anything, it is that history which should give rise to actionable court charges – Wanzhou and her lawyers have no doubt already discovered how few rights apply when subject to an extradition request.
            That feeling of utter helplessness generated by a Canadian government accepting at face value any request that comes its way from an extradition partner – no matter how unfair, inaccurate, politically biased, or rights-denying – is one currently being experienced by a number of women who have been subjected to vindictive actions initiated from abroad by violent ex-spouses.

No Gender-Based Impact Analysis
            While the Trudeau government has long boasted of employing a gendered lens to enact its policies, that analysis has certainly not applied to extradition, an area where Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould continues to rely on rape myths and standard sexism to reject the pleas of abuse survivors. This failure of the Trudeau government to respect and honour women’s lives in this context also places additional women and children at risk as well. Indeed, as a member of the group Women Who Choose to Live, I am aware of at least half a dozen cases of women who feel trapped in the cycle of abuse because any move they take to protect themselves and their children from abusive fathers and husbands who live in other countries could make them subject to extradition requests, forced removal from Canada, and overseas detention.
Perhaps the most famous example of this failure to apply a gender-based impact analysis in the extradition context is the still outstanding case of MM, whose name is subject to a publication ban. MM is a Canadian citizen fighting extradition to the United States, where she faces multiple charges for having rescued her kids from an abusive father.
In 2010, MM’s three young children (aged 9, 11 and 14) escaped from their father – who at the time had a sole custody order (obtained under shady circumstances) that prevented MM having contact with the children – and sought refuge in an abandoned house, sleeping on a concrete garage floor. Fearful of going to jail if she took the kids in, MM originally rejected their pleas for shelter. But recognizing the children’s increasingly desperate circumstances, MM’s adult daughter from a previous marriage packed her and the kids in a car and drove them to Canada.
            MM was arrested two days shy of Christmas in a Quebec women’s shelter, where the RCMP had tracked her down by tracing the children’s internet log-in passwords. At the time of the arrest, a Mountie acknowledged that the children "expressed their fear of the father.”
            Since then, MM’s legal journey has traveled the often oblique world of extradition law. After winning in Quebec Superior Court in 2011 – Madame Justice Carol Cohen dismissed the evidence as “so defective and unreliable that it is not worthy of consideration” – the Harper government appealed on jurisdictional grounds. In December, 2015, the Supreme Court of Canada, in a bitterly divided 4-3
decision, upheld the extradition, with the dissenting justices calling the majority’s reasoning “Kafkaesque.”

Rescuing Children Not a Crime
Writing for the minority, Justice Rosalie Abella pointed out that “the defence of rescuing children to protect them from imminent harm does not exist in Georgia [and] the mother will not be able to raise the defence she would have been able to raise had she been prosecuted in Canada.” This contradiction violates a cornerstone of extradition law, the “double criminality” requirement that the Supreme Court acknowledges is a process that ensures Canada is “not embarrassed by an obligation to extradite a person who would not, according to its own standards, be guilty of acts deserving punishment.”
A public campaign to convince the then newly-elected Liberals to reconsider the case included MM’s two-week jailhouse hunger strike, which ended on December 23, 2015 when freshly-minted Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould agreed to examine new information not available to her predecessor. But even with the extensive new submissions put before her, including personal appeals from MM’s kids as well as expert U.S. opinion on MM’s inability under Georgia law to mount a proper legal defence, Wilson-Raybould said no.
In a terrible decision, one that was riddled with the types of misunderstandings that continue to plague anyone who has survived abuse, the Trudeau government showed how little it understands the reality of and limited choices available to battered women and abused children. Despite abundant evidence of the father's abuse of the children, the Justice Minister complained that in saving her kids and taking them to Canada, MM had “deprived [the father] of the reasonable ability to visit his children,” even though the children were clear that they wanted no contact with him (see the children's own statement on the case here). The decision bought into repeated myths about abuse survivors (claiming the fact that children allegedly did not report abuse to guidance counselors and attended school regularly casts doubt on their allegations of abuse).
 The decision further attacked MM for not seeking legal remedies (as if access to good counsel and the courts in the US is easy and affordable)  and for not speaking with police (how many violence survivors have heard that line?)
While Wilson-Raybould could refuse MM’s surrender under Section 44 of the Extradition Act, which allows the Minister to reject any request that is “unjust or oppressive having regard to all the relevant circumstances,” she instead has chosen to keep MM under draconian house arrest, from which she now awaits a decision from the Quebec Court of Appeal. It's been over 12 months since the court heard a judicial review of the ministerial decision.
Trudeau’s Minister of Justice has also continued to ignore the words of Supreme Court Justice Abella and two of her Supreme Court colleagues, who concluded:  “At the end of the day, there is little demonstrable harm to the integrity of our extradition process in finding it to be unjust or oppressive to extradite the mother of young children she rescued, at their request, from their abusive father. The harm, on the other hand, of depriving the children of their mother in these circumstances is profound and, with respect, demonstrably unfair.”
Instead, Wilson-Raybould has rationalized the choice to break up the family by saying “many families who lose the assistance of a family member because that person is detained in custody find that they have to make changes to manage their new reality.”

Extradition: An Abuser’s Bludgeon
            More recently, the case of KT – her real name subject to a publication ban – has again shone a light on how easy it is for an ex-spouse to continue persecuting a woman and their children under the guise of extradition. Indeed, as noted by the BC Supreme Court, KT imputes to her ex-husband “a goal of wishing to harm her, using the extradition proceedings and a potential prison sentence as a bludgeon.” Had the court applied a gender-based impact analysis, perhaps it would not have dismissed as “irrelevant” proposed evidence about the best wishes of the children (who clearly do not wish to be forcibly returned to the father). Also dismissed was the affidavit of the survivor of male violence against women, KT herself, whose documentary evidence of bruising and UK police reports illustrate a history of assaults that include being hit by her ex-spouse’s car.
            Married in Britain in 2000, Canadian-born KT reports that she endured years of physical and psychological abuse. Following a divorce, she was awarded custody of two children, with the father retaining visitation rights. The order stipulated that KT could take the children out of the UK for periods of up to 28 days.
            When she decided to permanently move back to Canada in October, 2015, the two children came with her to see where she would be living and to help her adjust to life back in Canada. Both boys had the full intention of returning to the UK to continue with their schooling. But while the boys were in contact with the father via skype shortly after their arrival in Canada, things turned sour, with the father becoming angry and threatening to have the boys arrested. When it became apparent that the boys were questioning whether they had to go back to the UK, the father initiated court proceedings to have the children apprehended and immediately returned to the UK (even though KT had the right to have the boys with her for up to 28 days).
            The father brought a Hague Convention application to forcibly return the boys (then aged 14 and 12), initiating a protracted series of back-and-forth court decisions (one of which found that the voices of the children had not been properly considered in this process) and subsequent police actions that traumatized the boys. The father’s actions infuriated the boys who, without KT’s knowledge, moved to an aunt’s house in BC to avoid their father.
Eventually, the father provided consent to the boys remaining in Canada on the basis that he would have access to them and that the boys would be allowed to visit the U.K. However, as often happens in such disputes, negotiations failed to resolve all outstanding issues, and an extradition request (which would not result in the return of the boys, ironically, but which would certainly punish the mother, KT) was initiated from the UK by the abusive ex-spouse.
            Canada’s Justice Minister, Judy Wilson-Raybould, signed off on the request, and the issue of whether the extradition for alleged child abduction could proceed was sent to the courts. Among the pieces of “evidence” in the British ROC – “Record of the Case,” which is always presumed to be reliable by Canadian authorities, no matter what is in it – were such hearsay pieces as the following:

         “a next door neighbour in the U.K. heard ‘a lot of movement’ outside K.T.’s home on the night of October 17-18, 2015, and witnessed a number of vehicles coming and going;  that neighbour also saw a moving van arrive on October 19 and remove six to eight large packing boxes labelled, ‘[T.] Calgary’.”

            But the BC Supreme Court refused to allow KT to adduce any evidence to prevent the extradition. For example, the history of the abuse she suffered was deemed not relevant. The Court also refused to consider affidavits from the children that “depose that they do not wish to live in England ever again.  They depose that they have asked [the father] several times if they could visit him in the U.K. during school holidays, the eldest once even offering to pay for his own flight.  However, [the father] declined each time, saying more than once that he wants to see the results of the extradition proceedings.”
            In other words, extradition was clearly, as KT explained, being used by her abusive ex-husband as a bludgeon. The BC Supreme Court even refused to consider evidence from a social worker who “details the boys’ affection for and commitment to their mother, and their guarded attitude toward their father.  He reports that despite more interviews with social workers and others in England than the boys could keep track of, they felt that the professional community there did not listen to them.  [He] reports that the boys have expressed clear and unequivocal views that they wished to remain in Canada with their mother or, if not with her, with their aunt.  The boys ‘believe their future is here and there is little for them in England’, and they question the apparent attempt of the legal system to trump their views and their voiced opinions.”
            In her reasons for upholding the surrender of KT to the UK, Wilson-Raybould said  that she could only turn down the extradition if the conscience of Canadians would be shocked or that it would be contrary to the principles of fundamental justice. However, no evidence is provided that she has tested whether Canadians would have their conscience shocked by the details of this case. Apart from the failure to apply a gender-based impact analysis to this case, how did the extradition even get off the ground when it was clear that the alleged facts which underpin the allegations show there was no violation of the law? Indeed, the alleged at of “child abduction” was not in fact an abduction because the kids were overseas within the terms of the custody order, the father was able to communicate with the boys, and the mother attempted to have the boys communicate with the father even after he had threatened to have them arrested.
            In a world where spiteful men will do anything to punish the women survivors who have escaped them, such cases as MM and KT send a very clear and dangerous message to abusers:  Canada’s “feminist” government will open the door to another round of judicially-sanctioned battering under the guise of respecting extradition treaties.

Overhauling Extradition Act
            As MM and KT await their fates, efforts continue to force the Trudeau government to overhaul the Extradition Act and halt further proceedings until the process is brought into line with concepts like human rights law, fundamental justice, and procedural fairness. Unfortunately, Wilson-Raybould and a battery of Justice Department lawyers – some of whom are implicated in clearly unsavoury practices in the Hassan Diab case – seem unmoved by the countless examples of abuses carried out under the umbrella of the Extradition Act. 
Meanwhile, although the federal government spouts disingenuous language about rule of law and independent judiciaries in the high-profile Wanzhou U.S. extradition case, foreign governments rest easy in knowing that Canada will almost always refuse to uphold the rights of any citizen, refugee, or foreign national sought under extradition. Over the past decade, Canada has surrendered individuals in 90% of the cases. Whether MM and KT get added to those statistics will ultimately depend on whether public pressure can force a government that says its respects and honours women to put its rhetoric into action.