Thursday, November 23, 2017

Sorry Means You Don't Do it Again

 
As Justin Trudeau apologizes on November 24 for one instance of cultural genocide in Labrador, his government risks a similar act of genocide with a hydro megaproject at Muskrat Falls

(From far left, hunger strikers Delilah Saunders, Jerry Kohlmeister and Billy Gauthier, along with Mitzi Wall, brought their Muskrat Falls message to Ottawa in October 2016
By Matthew Behrens

            Residential school survivor Marjorie Flowers has mixed feelings about the November 24 visit of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who will be saying sorry to Labrador residents left out of Stephen Harper’s 2008 Parliamentary apology.

            Flowers, who lived at the North West River school during the 1970s, views the apology through the lens of ten days she spent last summer in maximum security lockup at Her Majesty’s Penitentiary in St. John’s for trying to stop the massive Muskrat Falls hydro project. The controversial $12.7 billion dam initiative, begun in 2013, has received successive blessings from Harper and Trudeau ($9.2 billion in federal loan guarantees) despite growing evidence that negative impacts on Labrador’s Indigenous population could well finish off the residential schools’ original mission of cultural genocide.

            “I have been deeply scarred by the intergenerational trauma that affected my family with residential schools,” Flowers says from her home in Goose Bay, Labrador. “I feel it every day. 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.”

Lesser known than its west coast megaproject cousin – B.C.’s Site C dam, currently the focus of a rethink by the recently elected NDP coalition government – Muskrat Falls is rapidly crystallizing as an issue that belies federal Liberal campaign promises on the environment, science-based decision-making, transparency, press freedom, and respectful nation-to-nations relationships.

            Indeed, the Labrador Land Protectors, a grassroots coalition of downstream Indigenous people and settlers, have led years of peaceful actions demanding that all parties at Muskrat Falls engage in a fulsome consultation to receive free, prior and informed consent, as mandated by the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). While the Liberals have pledged to respect UNDRIP, those on the ground in Labrador are more likely to face a pair of handcuffs and a prison sentence when they show up at the Muskrat Falls gates demanding accountability. Even two media representatives were charged in the course of covering the issue.

David Vardy, an economist who once worked as Secretary to the Newfoundland and Labrador Cabinet and served as chair of the provincial public utilities board, recently submitted a detailed, 50-page brief warning the BC Utilities Commission of the dangerous lessons being learned in Labrador. Vardy calls the Muskrat Falls project a huge mistake that “has spiraled into a major economic and environmental catastrophe,” adding the “risks of operating the project may be just as daunting as those of building it,” while the projected doubling of hydro rates for residential customers could provoke an exodus from the province.


Even Stan Marshall, CEO of Nalcor, the provincial energy firm behind Muskrat Falls, labeled the project a “boondoggle” and famously declared it “should never have been built.”

A key factor motivating opposition to the project is the threat of neurotoxin methylmercury poisoning the traditional food web relied on by Indigenous people. The future at Muskrat Falls, many fear, could well look like the present in Grassy Narrows, the northern Ontario Indigenous community where 90% of the population suffers the ravages of methylmercury, from numbness in fingers and toes to tremors, cardiovascular problems, endocrine disruption, neurocognitive delay, and damage to hearing, eyesight and speech.

In 2011, a joint federal-provincial panel called for “a precautionary approach particularly because no feasible adaptive management measures have been identified to reverse either long-term adverse ecological changes or mercury contamination of renewable resources.” Nalcor claimed that there would be “no measurable effect,” concluding that clearance of trees, vegetation and soil – whose decay while under reservoir water produces the neurotoxin – “would not be cost effective if carried out strictly to reduce fish mercury levels.”

Indigenous leaders did not accept Nalcor’s unsubstantiated claims, and when the provincial and federal governments greenlit the project in the absence of the comprehensive downstream impacts assessment that their own joint panel had recommended, leaders in Nunatsiavut (formed in 2005 as the first Inuit self-government body in Canada) contacted Harvard University to conduct an independent study. Their 2016 report was a bombshell, illustrating how methylmercury levels would rise dramatically above both American and (the more lax) Canadian health guidelines.

When the Harvard report was released, it ignited a round of peaceful protests that led to criminal charges, a court injunction, and a 5-day occupation of the work site that completely shut down operations. It also provoked a 13-day hunger strike by renowned Inuk sculptor Billy Gauthier, as well as Indigenous activists Delilah Saunders and Jerry Kohlmeister. The uptick in public action forced the provincial government to commit to reservoir land clearance to reduce methylmercury accumulation. However, 11 months later, Nunatsiavut President Johannes Lampe issued a statement saying “we have been informed that the major commitment to lower water levels in the reservoir to allow for further mitigation measures will not be honoured.”  


Equally vexing for those living downstream is the fear of catastrophic dam break at the North Spur, a neck of land containing quick clay, a substance that is subject to liquefaction and movement. It is not uncommon for downstream residents to go to sleep with life preservers under their bed after reading the chilling finding of the world’s leading quick clay expert, Stig Bernander, who produced a detailed report declaringthe safety and reliability of the Muskrat Falls dam have not been demonstrated.”  
           
The growing body of science questioning Muskrat Falls has been dismissed in Ottawa. While acknowledging that Muskrat Falls “has been beset by difficulties, cost overruns, and delays…the project has been in trouble,” Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr insists that the project will continue to receive Ottawa’s support as “part of the government's strategy to make sure that we are producing non-emitting sources of electricity.”

But playing the green energy card fails to address the dangerous greenhouse gas emissions of large hydro projects like Muskrat Falls, which produce significantly greater amounts of methane than previously thought. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change identifies methane as a global warming accelerant which, measured over a 20-year time frame, is 84 times more potent than CO2.

Carr’s insistence that Muskrat Falls is a viable green alternative infuriates Kelly Morrissey, a Nunatsiavummiuk Inuk woman who’s especially worried about family members in  Rigolet, a Labrador community where methylmercury levels could skyrocket as high as 1400%.

“Do we have to have a sacrificial population in order to meet green energy targets, and if so, how do you decide who is that population?” asks Morrissey, who turned down a lucrative offer to work on the Muskrat Falls project. “You cannot put a cost on the loss of culture, of communing with each other on the land, of sharing food together as people have done since time immemorial.”


          Police arrest a land protector at the gates to Muskrat Falls (Janet Cooper photo) 

  While Trudeau will likely stay in Labrador for less than a day, he will no doubt receive an earful from land protectors who are calling for the suspension of operations at Muskrat Falls until a properly independent, mutually agreed upon, and transparent process has been undertaken that addresses, among other issues, the requirements of UNDRIP, proper clearance of the reservoir area, the huge debt load expected to be carried by local residents, and affordable, environmentally harmonious alternatives to the Muskrat Falls project.

For Gauthier, it’s the least that can be done. “This project can't exist without causing harm,” he says. “I’m not sure it can be completely stopped, by I know they can do a lot more to protect the environment and at least keep our cultural practices alive by allowing the waters to be clean enough to harvest from.”

 (an edited version of this story appears in the November 23 edition of NOW Magazine in Toronto)

NDP leader Jagmeet Singh receives a bottle of "Muskrat Falls Methylmercury Water" from Angus Andersen on November 14. Andersen asked Singh to take the message back to Ottawa, which supports the project with $9.2 billion in loan guarantees. While Singh says he feels "concerned and uncomfortable" about the project, it would appear he needs to hear from New Democrats calling on him to support calls for a suspension of construction until a proper, mutually agreed upon review subject to a number of conditions has taken place, including free, prior and informed consent of Indigenous populations directly affected.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Mohawk Land Rights Still Focus of Protests at Oka

-->


“Many people don't recognize that Oka is not ‘near Kanehsatà:ke’, Oka IS Kanehsatà:ke,” says Ellen Gabriel. “These are our traditional territories,” which she says have fallen prey to massive “land fraud” since the first Europeans entered the area.  “In 1990, they wanted the army to come in here and take over, and they still do. They want to have another conflict. Otherwise they would have done something by now to seek a moratorium on development.”

By Matthew Behrens
At the heart of one of many unresolved Indigenous land rights issues facing a Trudeau government that is long on promises but short on substance is Oka, a village 50 km west of Montreal indelibly stamped by the historic 1990 standoff between the Canadian military and the Mohawks of Kanehsatà:ke.

While the “Oka Summer” is often viewed as a singular crisis – when thousands of heavily-armed, paramilitary Quebec police and RCMP were joined by over 3,300 Canadian soldiers, twice as many as were sent to Iraq that same year to fight in Desert Storm – it was but one of many moments in a centuries-long history of Mohawk resistance to land dispossession that is once more bubbling to the surface.


Protests against encroachments on traditional territories by the western Quebec municipality and a private developer began in earnest once again this past summer on the 27th anniversary of the 78-day confrontation. Land defenders gathered at the site of new home construction to point out they had not been consulted about, much less provided consent for, a massive project that would see 400 houses built. In addition to reading out public declarations declaring sovereignty over the land, they confronted the mayor of Oka, erected signs reminding residents that the territory is disputed, and took to social media with video documentation of freshly buried gas lines, felled trees, and newly paved paths that appeared to threaten the last parcel of common lands belonging to the Mohawks, a wooded area known as The Pines.

Among those documenting and resisting the unauthorized construction is Ellen Gabriel, one of the key negotiators during the 1990 confrontations, when the town of Oka sought to expand a nine-hole golf course and parking lot over sacred Indigenous burial grounds while also building condos that would have threatened The Pines. 

“Many people don't recognize that Oka is not ‘near Kanehsatà:ke’, Oka is Kanehsatà:ke,” says Gabriel. “These are our traditional territories,” which she says have fallen prey to massive “land fraud” since the first Europeans entered the area. 


Complicating things is a failure of all levels of government to acknowledge responsibility, with Ottawa claiming it cannot interfere with provincial and township decisions, and the latter two insisting final resolution lies with the Feds. Since 2016, Gabriel and the Longhouse matrilineal clan society entrusted with land stewardship at Kanehsatà:ke have been firing off letters seeking an urgent meeting with Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations Carolyn Bennett, but she appears reluctant to get involved. Bennett’s press secretary, Sabrina Williams, declared in an email that “we don't have jurisdiction, all we can do is facilitate discussions,” adding that Bennett is trying to find a suitable meeting date.

Should such a meeting occur, Gabriel says a major bone of contention would be federal legislation forced on the Mohawks in 2001, the Kanesatake Interim Land Base Governance Act. Instead of acting on the recommendation of John Caccia, the former Quebec minister of Indian affairs who called for all disputed lands to be returned to the Mohawks of Kanehsatà:ke, Ottawa chose instead to produce a law that forcibly extinguished Aboriginal title to their lands, what Gabriel calls “the final piece of paper which they didn’t have, which means surrendering our lands. They like to call it the harmonization of municipal bylaws with Oka to make it sound sweet.” Gabriel says the land is technically “for our benefit and use, so we get certificates of possession, but that doesn't mean we own the land according to Canadian law.” The Act’s proponents did not seek or receive consent from the Longhouse, as the federal government prefers to deal with Indian Act-created band councils, which tend to be more compliant with federal prerogatives. 

“We’re one of the few nations that continue to practice traditional forms of governance that preceded European arrival,” Gabriel explains. “We survived colonization, and the band council is a creation of Canada. There’s nothing traditional about it. It's hierarchical and there’s nothing democratic about it.”


As some pundits speculate about “Oka 2” breaking out, Gabriel says she believes it’s the federal government that’s game for escalation. “In 1990, they wanted the army to come in here and take over, and they still do. They want to have another conflict. Otherwise they would have done something by now to seek a moratorium on development.”

(Mohawk Council Chief Serge Simon did not return numerous phone messages and email requests for comment on this story, though he reportedly told Radio Canada that he supports a construction moratorium.)

A new space for dialogue could be created, however, depending on the outcome of the November 5th Oka mayoral election. If elected, Julie Tremblay, a former school board president and businesswoman, hopes to change not only the tone, but also the substance, of relations with the Mohawks. She’s also campaigning with the knowledge that many non-Indigenous residents oppose the development because it would seriously alter the small village spirit that marks Oka. 

            “I actually saw the trees coming down when it was first happening,” she says, adding “the mayor lacked sensitivity because he knew very well about the Mohawks being concerned. He didn't advise anybody.”

            Tremblay says not living in Oka during the 1990 standoff provides her a beneficial distance, as “I don't re-live the traumatic experiences from that time.” She agrees that the Longhouse “is part of the solution. We need to respect that in the Indigenous population, lots of people still rely on the Longhouse to make decisions, so they need to be at the table.” 

            Although Mohawks do have a right to vote in the election, Tremblay concedes “most don't want to because it is associated with the colonialist system. But they are a fourth of our population. Even if they don't vote, I want to make a consultative seat on the council just for Indigenous affairs. They need to be consulted and know what’s going on.”

Tremblay says that while “we should stop further development until the Mohawks are consulted, I also want to push the federal government to reach a final agreement so it's clear for everybody. Right now it's a burden for us, because we live with the problem but have no power to do anything about it except for consulting and being sensitive about it. It's between the federal government and the Mohawks, it's out of our hands.”

In the meantime, a new generation of land defenders is getting involved in the Oka gatherings, including 24-year-old Caitlyn Richard, a First Peoples studies Concordia student who didn't learn about the 1990 crisis until she was in high school.

            “I never pictured myself as a protester or activist,” she says. “But going and seeing all the trees that had been demolished was eye-opening and terrifying. It looked like a natural disaster had come by and wiped out everything.” She says some residents of the new homes “are younger families with children who didn't know that this is where 1990 happened or that there were Mohawks living nearby. We explained why we're here, that this is our territory, and they get it. Some have said they understand and support what we're doing.”

            The new residents also have nothing to fear. In a public statement read out this summer, Gabriel was clear that “we do not intend to take away anyone’s home or ask for their keys.”

            But Gabriel is still waiting for a meaningful signal beyond the pen of politeness that seems to be Bennett’s métier.  “We don’t believe them. It’s evident in their actions what they’re doing to Indigenous people. They're not sincere. People say they don’t like Donald Trump because he is a bully, lacks morals and ethics, and defies the rule of law, but that’s what we as Indigenous peoples have been up against since the creation of the Indian Act.  That is the kind of people we face on a daily basis through Canadian ministers and bureaucrats.” 

(An edited version of this article appears in NOW Magazine at https://nowtoronto.com/news/oka-crisis/)

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Concerns Raised Over Secretive Nuclear Waste Shipments

-->

By Matthew Behrens
Hometown News, June, 2017
            A growing number of voices is raising alarm over a secretive,  unprecedented series of liquid radioactive waste shipments from Chalk River’s nuclear facilities to a South Carolina processing plant. While routes are not publicized, two of the only roadways that meet the designated requirements for the journey are Highways 17 and 416.


            In March, Carleton Place’s emergency management committee received a provincial fire marshal memo describing imminent shipments of 23,000 litres of bomb-grade highly enriched uranyl nitrate liquid (HEUNL). Fact sheets were provided to ensure “communities know how to prepare for – and respond appropriately to…transportation incidents involving radioactive materials,” according to the memo, which said the shipments “pose a minimal risk to public health and safety due to strict packaging and safety standards.”
            But according to Dr. Gordon Edwards, president and co-founder of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility (CCNR), a 42-year-old research organization documenting the nuclear industry’s often under-publicized hazards, the province is not telling first responders or the public the whole story. (Notably, the Lanark County emergency preparedness handbook, distributed in May, addresses a range of threats, but includes no mention of roadside nuclear accidents.)
            “Nuclear authorities in both Canada and the US have disguised the true nature of this liquid,” says Edwards, who has provided consulting services on nuclear-related issues to provincial, territorial, national, and international bodies, including the Auditor General of Canada. “In fact, urynal nitrate is only one of dozens of radioactive compounds in the liquid, which is 17,000 times more radioactive than uranyl nitrate alone. Such high-level radioactive liquid has never been transported over public roads anywhere in North America. If spilled, two ounces of this liquid is enough to ruin the drinking water supply of a city as large as Washington, DC.”
            Noting the shipments have not been subject to an environmental impact statement in Canada or the US, Edwards says the uranium involved is the same material used in the 1945 Hiroshima atomic bomb. He also warns that many of the radioactive materials being transported are “the same stuff you find in the melted cores of the Fukushima and Chernobyl reactors.”

            Dr. Gordon Edwards 

          Dr. Edwards has produced a report questioning the safety of casks transporting the liquid materials, which were designed 30 years ago to transport solid waste only. While documenting the radioactive release hazards posed by a vehicle fire, Edwards also studied potential crash impacts. Safety standards require the cask to withstand the shock of a 30-foot drop, but most bridges to the USA are far higher, while the cask’s cavity, with a thin two-inch stainless steel body, would not survive a sideways impact of only 12.5 miles per hour.
Last fall, over 40 organizations, including the Sierra Club, Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, and Concerned Citizens of Renfrew County called on Justin Trudeau and Barack Obama to cancel the shipments, citing the devastating impact of a spill on the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River ecosystems.
Members of the Niagara Regional Council have expressed similar opposition, while last month, the Anishinabek Nation and Iroquois Caucus jointly issued a pointed statement declaring that they had not been consulted as per Aboriginal title and treaty rights, warning that the “potential for long-lived contamination to the environment and to all living entities is too great.”
The shipments are rationalized under the Global Threat Reduction Initiative to account for and secure nuclear weapons materials, but Edwards says far safer means are available. Given that liquid waste has been routinely solidified and rendered far less dangerous on-site at Chalk River since 2003, Edwards also points to a 2011 federal report calling for the “down-blending” of the liquid waste. Over three months during 2016, Indonesia carried out just such a down-blending of similar liquid material, preventing the need to transport it to the U.S.
Interviewed by Hometown News, Carleton Place Fire Chief Les Reynolds confirmed materials his office received did not discuss the consequences of a liquid radioactive waste spill. “There’s been very little information,” he said, adding he is never provided notice of any such shipments through the area.
While Reynolds says his team’s response to dangerous chemical spills is to secure the affected area and call in Ottawa HAZMAT teams, “I would expect that this stuff is properly encased and protected. Having said that, anything can happen. A propane tank is a very strong vessel, and yet we all know under certain conditions they can turn into a traveling bomb. I’m not overly concerned because I guess I’m trusting that the people who do know what they’re doing are taking the necessary precautions.”
            Edwards’ experience monitoring the nuclear industry provides him with no such reassurance, citing recent welding failures in equipment associated with transport casks as well as an April, 2017 U.S.  Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board report on the first HEUNL shipment that revealed an unexpected hotpsot in unloading equipment that was “not providing adequate radiological shielding.”
            “Sending a hundred more shipments carrying 23,000 litres of this stuff down the highway is like rolling a pair of dice a hundred times,” Edwards cautioned. “Sooner or later our luck may give out and we will roll snake-eyes.”

 

Monday, May 22, 2017

The Problem is Civil Obedience



1970, from the Zinn Reader, Seven Stories Press



By Howard Zinn

Transcript of my opening statement in the debate at Johns Hopkins. It was included in a book published by Johns Hopkins Press in 1972, entitled Violence: The Crisis of American Confidence. - Howard Zinn



I start from the supposition that the world is topsy-turvy, that things are all wrong, that the wrong people are in jail and the wrong people are out of jail, that the wrong people are in power and the wrong people are out of power, that the wealth is distributed in this country and the world in such a way as not simply to require small reform but to require a drastic reallocation of wealth. I start from the supposition that we don't have to say too much about this because all we have to do is think about the state of the world today and realize that things are all upside down. Daniel Berrigan is in jail-A Catholic priest, a poet who opposes the war-and J. Edgar Hoover is free, you see. David Dellinger, who has opposed war ever since he was this high and who has used all of his energy and passion against it, is in danger of going to jail. The men who are responsible for the My Lai massacre are not on trial; they are in Washington serving various functions, primary and subordinate, that have to do with the unleashing of massacres, which surprise them when they occur. At Kent State University four students were killed by the National Guard and students were indicted. In every city in this country, when demonstrations take place, the protesters, whether they have demonstrated or not, whatever they have done, are assaulted and clubbed by police, and then they are arrested for assaulting a police officer.

Now, I have been studying very closely what happens every day in the courts in Boston, Massachusetts. You would be astounded-maybe you wouldn't, maybe you have been around, maybe you have lived, maybe you have thought, maybe you have been hit-at how the daily rounds of injustice make their way through this marvelous thing that we call due process. Well, that is my premise.

All you have to do is read the Soledad letters of George Jackson, who was sentenced to one year to life, of which he spent ten years, for a seventy-dollar robbery of a filling station. And then there is the U.S. Senator who is alleged to keep 185,000 dollars a year, or something like that, on the oil depletion allowance. One is theft; the other is legislation. something is wrong, something is terribly wrong when we ship 10,000 bombs full of nerve gas across the country, and drop them in somebody else's swimming pool so as not to trouble our own. So you lose your perspective after a while. If you don't think, if you just listen to TV and read scholarly things, you actually begin to think that things are not so bad, or that just little things are wrong. But you have to get a little detached, and then come back and look at the world, and you are horrified. So we have to start from that supposition-that things are really topsy-turvy.

And our topic is topsy-turvy: civil disobedience. As soon as you say the topic is civil disobedience, you are saying our problem is civil disobedience. That is not our problem.... Our problem is civil obedience. Our problem is the numbers of people all over the world who have obeyed the dictates of the leaders of their government and have gone to war, and millions have been killed because of this obedience. And our problem is that scene in All Quiet on the Western Front where the schoolboys march off dutifully in a line to war. Our problem is that people are obedient all over the world, in the face of poverty and starvation and stupidity, and war and cruelty. Our problem is that people are obedient while the jails are full of petty thieves, and all the while the grand thieves are running the country. That's our problem. We recognize this for Nazi Germany. We know that the problem there was obedience, that the people obeyed Hitler. People obeyed; that was wrong. They should have challenged, and they should have resisted; and if we were only there, we would have showed them. Even in Stalin's Russia we can understand that; people are obedient, all these herdlike people.

But America is different. That is what we've all been brought up on. From the time we are this high and I still hear it resounding in Mr. Frankel's statement-you tick off, one, two, three, four, five lovely things .~ about America that we don't want disturbed very much. But if we have learned anything in the past ten years, it is that these lovely things about America were never lovely. We have been expansionist and aggressive and mean to other people from the beginning. And we've been aggressive and mean to people in this country, and we've allocated the wealth of this country in a very unjust way. We've never had justice in the courts for the poor people, for black people, for radicals. Now how can we boast that America is a very special place? It is not that special. It really isn't.

Well, that is our topic, that is our problem: civil obedience. Law is very important. We are talking about obedience to law-law, this marvelous invention of modern times, which we attribute to Western civilization, and which we talk about proudly. The rule of law, oh, how wonderful, all these courses in Western civilization all over the land. Remember those bad old days when people were exploited by feudalism? Everything was terrible in the Middle Ages-but now we have Western civilization, the rule of law. The rule of law has regularized and maximized the injustice that existed before the rule of law, that is what the rule of law has done. Let us start looking at the rule of law realistically, not with that metaphysical complacency with which we always examined it before.

When in all the nations of the world the rule of law is the darling of the leaders and the plague of the people, we ought to begin to recognize this. We have to transcend these national boundaries in our thinking. Nixon and Brezhnev have much more in common with one another than - we have with Nixon. J. Edgar Hoover has far more in common with the head of the Soviet secret police than he has with us. It's the international dedication to law and order that binds the leaders of all countries in a comradely bond. That's why we are always surprised when they get together -- they smile, they shake hands, they smoke cigars, they really like one another no matter what they say. It's like the Republican and Democratic parties, who claim that it's going to make a terrible difference if one or the other wins, yet they are all the same. Basically, it is us against them.

Yossarian was right, remember, in Catch-22? He had been accused of giving aid and comfort to the enemy, which nobody should ever be accused of, and Yossarian said to his friend Clevinger: "The enemy is whoever is going to get you killed, whichever side they are on." But that didn't sink in, so he said to Clevinger: "Now you remember that, or one of these days you'll be dead." And remember? Clevinger, after a while, was dead. And we must remember that our enemies are not divided along national lines, that enemies are not just people who speak different languages and occupy different territories. Enemies are people who want to get us killed.

We are asked, "What if everyone disobeyed the law?" But a better question is, "What if everyone obeyed the law?" And the answer to that question is much easier to come by, because we have a lot of empirical evidence about what happens if everyone obeys the law, or if even most people obey the law. What happens is what has happened, what is happening. Why do people revere the law? And we all do; even I have to fight it, for it was put into my bones at an early age when I was a Cub Scout. One reason we revere the law is its ambivalence. In the modern world we deal with phrases and words that have multiple meanings, like "national security." Oh, yes, we must do this for national security! Well, what does that mean? Whose national security? Where? When? Why? We don't bother to answer those questions, or even to ask them.

The law conceals many things. The law is the Bill of Rights. ;'~ fact, that is what we think of when we develop our reverence for the law. The law is something that protects us; the law is our right-the law is the Constitution. Bill of Rights Day, essay contests sponsored by the American Legion on our Bill of Rights, that is the law. And that is good.

But there is another part of the law that doesn't get ballyhooed- the legislation that has gone through month after month, year after year, from the beginning of the Republic, which allocates the resources of the country in such a way as to leave some people very rich and other people very poor, and still others scrambling like mad for what little is left. That is the law. If you go to law school you will see this. You can quantify it by counting the big, heavy law books that people carry around with them and see how many law books you count that say "Constitutional Rights" on them and how many that say "Property," "Contracts," "Torts," "Corporation Law." That is what the law is mostly about. The law is the oil depletion allowance-although we don't have Oil Depletion Allowance Day, we don't have essays written on behalf of the oil depletion allowance. So there are parts of the law that are publicized and played up to us-oh, this is the law, the Bill of Rights. And there are other parts of the law that just do their quiet work, and nobody says anything about them.

It started way back. When the Bill of Rights was first passed, remember, in the first administration of Washington? Great thing. Bill of Rights passed! Big ballyhoo. At the same time Hamilton's economic pro gram was passed. Nice, quiet, money to the rich-I'm simplifying it a little, but not too much. Hamilton's economic program started it off. You can draw a straight line from Hamilton's economic program to the oil depletion allowance to the tax write-offs for corporations. All the way through-that is the history. The Bill of Rights publicized; economic legislation unpublicized.

You know the enforcement of different parts of the law is as important as the publicity attached to the different parts of the law. The Bill of Rights, is it enforced? Not very well. You'll find that freedom of speech in constitutional law is a very difficult, ambiguous, troubled concept. Nobody really knows when you can get up and speak and when you can't. Just check all of the Supreme Court decisions. Talk about predictability in a system-you can't predict what will happen to you when you get up on the street corner and speak. See if you can tell the difference between the Terminiello case and the Feiner case, and see if you can figure out what is going to happen. By the way, there is one part of the law that is not very vague, and that involves the right to distribute leaflets on the street. The Supreme Court has been very clear on that. In decision after decision we are affirmed an absolute right to distribute leaflets on the street. Try it. Just go out on the street and start distributing leaflets. And a policeman comes up to you and he says, "Get out of here." And you say, "Aha! Do you know Marsh v. Alabama, 1946?" That is the reality of the Bill of Rights. That's the reality of the Constitution, that part of the law which is portrayed to us as a beautiful and marvelous thing. And seven years after the Bill of Rights was passed, which said that "Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech," Congress made a law abridging the freedom of speech. Remember? The Sedition Act of 1798.

So the Bill of Rights was not enforced. Hamilton's program was enforced, because when the whisky farmers went out and rebelled you remember, in 1794 in Pennsylvania, Hamilton himself got on his horse and went out there to suppress the rebellion to make sure that the revenue tax was enforced. And you can trace the story right down to the present day, what laws are enforced, what laws are not enforced. So you have to be careful when you say, "I'm for the law, I revere the law." What part of the law are you talking about? I'm not against all law. But I think we ought to begin to make very important distinctions about what laws do what things to what people.

And there are other problems with the law. It's a strange thing, we think that law brings order. Law doesn't. How do we know that law does not bring order? Look around us. We live under the rules of law. Notice how much order we have? People say we have to worry about civil disobedience because it will lead to anarchy. Take a look at the present world in which the rule of law obtains. This is the closest to what is called anarchy in the popular mind-confusion, chaos, international banditry. The only order that is really worth anything does not come through the enforcement ... of law, it comes through the establishment of a society which is just and in which harmonious relationships are established and in which you need a minimum of regulation to create decent sets of arrangements among people. But the order based on law and on the force of law is the order of the totalitarian state, and it inevitably leads either to total injustice or to rebel lion-eventually, in other words, to very great disorder.

We all grow up with the notion that the law is holy. They asked Daniel Berrigan's mother what she thought of her son's breaking the law. He burned draft records-one of the most violent acts of this century- to protest the war, for which he was sentenced to prison, as criminals should be. They asked his mother who is in her eighties, what she thought of her son's breaking the law. And she looked straight into the interviewer's face, and she said, "It's not God's law." Now we forget that. There is nothing sacred about the law. Think of who makes laws. The law is not made by God, it is made by Strom Thurmond. If you nave any notion about the sanctity and loveliness and reverence for the law, look at the legislators around the country who make the laws. Sit in on the sessions of the state legislatures. Sit in on Congress, for these are the people who make the laws which we are then supposed to revere.

All of this is done with such propriety as to fool us. This is the problem. In the old days, things were confused; you didn't know. Now you know. It is all down there in the books. Now we go through due process. Now the same things happen as happened before, except that we've gone through the right procedures. In Boston a policeman walked into a hospital ward and fired five times at a black man who had snapped a towel at his arm-and killed him. A hearing was held. The judge decided that the policeman was justified because if he didn't do it, he would lose the respect of his fellow officers. Well, that is what is known as due process-that is, the guy didn't get away with it. We went through the proper procedures, and everything was set up. The decorum, the propriety of the law fools us.

The nation then, was founded on disrespect for the law, and then came the Constitution and the notion of stability which Madison and Hamilton liked. But then we found in certain crucial times in our history that the legal framework did not suffice, and in order to end slavery we had to go outside the legal framework, as we had to do at the time of the American Revolution or the Civil War. The union had to go outside the legal framework in order to establish certain rights in the 1930s. And in this time, which may be more critical than the Revolution or the Civil War, the problems are so horrendous as to require us to go outside the legal framework in order to make a statement, to resist, to begin to establish the kind of institutions and relationships which a decent society should have. No, not just tearing things down; building things up. But even if you build things up that you are not supposed to build up-you try to build up a people's park, that's not tearing down a system; you are building something up, but you are doing it illegally-the militia comes in and drives you out. That is the form that civil disobedience is going to take more and more, people trying to build a new society in the midst of the old.

But what about voting and elections? Civil disobedience-we don't need that much of it, we are told, because we can go through the electoral system. And by now we should have learned, but maybe we haven't, for we grew up with the notion that the voting booth is a sacred place, almost like a confessional. You walk into the voting booth and you come out and they snap your picture and then put it in the papers with a beatific smile on your face. You've just voted; that is democracy. But if you even read what the political scientists say-although who can?-about the voting process, you find that the voting process is a sham. Totalitarian states love voting. You get people to the polls and they register their approval. I know there is a difference-they have one party and we have two parties. We have one more party than they have, you see.

What we are trying to do, I assume, is really to get back to the principles and aims and spirit of the Declaration of Independence. This spirit is resistance to illegitimate authority and to forces that deprive people of their life and liberty and right to pursue happiness, and therefore under these conditions, it urges the right to alter or abolish their current form of government-and the stress had been on abolish. But to establish the principles of the Declaration of Independence, we are going to need to go outside the law, to stop obeying the laws that demand killing or that allocate wealth the way it has been done, or that put people in jail for petty technical offenses and keep other people out of jail for enormous crimes. My hope is that this kind of spirit will take place not just in this country but in other countries because they all need it. People in all countries need the spirit of disobedience to the state, which is not a metaphysical thing but a thing of force and wealth. And we need a kind of declaration of interdependence among people in all countries of the world who are striving for the same thing.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Our Beautiful Land, and the Poisoning of Muskrat Falls


 
October, 2016 Muskrat Falls solidarity rally at Ottawa's Human Rights Monument includes (sitting) Mitzi Wall and hunger strikers Billy Gauthier, Delilah Miriam Saunders and Jerry Kohlmeister. Kelly Morrissey, standing holding banner, left, wrote this speech below for the Walk the Talk Indigenous Rights Rally in Ottawa on May 13, 2017. (Photo: France Rivet/Polar Horizons)


BY KELLY MORRISSEY

(This speech was delivered at the May 13 Walk the Talk Rally in Ottawa in support of Bill C-262 to adopt and implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples)

-->
Firstly, I’d like to acknowledge this gathering is taking place on unceded territory of the Algonquin nation. Welcome and thank you to all in attendance. To you – from closer locales and others whose passion to stand for what is right has led them here today. And to the walkers – who plainly have so much conviction for this cause. You are truly appreciated for your work. My name is Kelly Morrissey, and I’m an Inuit woman from Labrador. Our traditional territory is called Nunatsiavut, which, in Inuttut means ‘Our Beautiful Land’ – and indeed, it is beautiful.



Nearly half of residents in Labrador identify as a member of one of the 3 Indigenous groups there. These are comprised of the northern Inuit of Nunatsiavut (new-NAHT-see-ahh-vuht), the southern Inuit of NunatuKavut (new-nah-TOO-kah-voot), and the Innu Nation. Although I could wax poetic about the warm-natured people, remote vistas and subarctic splendor, I must spend my time wisely here today to tell you about the ongoing nature of Colonialism in my home. In recent decades, Labrador’s untouched nature has been changing with mining projects and hydroelectric development.



Most recently, the ongoing construction of the Muskrat Falls dam has been at the forefront of concern. In 2016, Indigenous groups and settlers alike were asking the Provincial and Federal government to take heed of a recent study done with Harvard University. It projected a marked increase in toxic methyl-mercury downstream from the project. This would affect the harvesting of traditional foods for locals, Innu and Inuit as the fish would then be polluted and could only be consumed in limited amounts. There were also concerns about a leaking cofferdam and the potential for flooding in the area.



In October 2016, after countless unanswered attempts at communication with government, dozens of Indigenous and settlers cut the gate lock to the Muskrat Falls construction site and walked several kilometers down a dirt road to peacefully occupy it. Hundreds of supporters stayed outside the gate while simultaneously, 4 people went on hunger strike to get the government to come to the table. 1 hunger striker occupied the camp, while 3 came here to Ottawa – at this very human rights monument – to appeal to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. All of this culminated in the Premier of the province flying back from Florida (finally!) to meet with the leaders of the Indigenous community. A deal was struck after a marathon 11 hour meeting, where Premier Ball agreed to mandate the energy company Nalcor, clear some vegetation in the spring.



In many ways, this demonstrates the strength of Indigenous people and Settlers united in the face of extreme colonial forces. However, I can’t help but ask why it’s okay to disregard the concerns of Indigenous people affected by a hydroelectric dam. I can’t help but wonder why it’s okay for the government to complain more about the ballooning costs of this mega-project than the human health effects – about my Indigenous sisters and brothers who’ll wonder if their children, and grandchildren will be born with developmental concerns, about those who wonder if the dam – built on clay and sand – will hold. How often will Inuit and Innu turn away from eating their traditional foods? How will they afford to purchase exorbitantly-priced store-bought foods in the north to replace these poisoned fish and animals? And even if they can, how will this affect their ties to the land? In turn, how will this affect the culture? How many days do my friends have to hunger strike before the government will listen to their concerns about their own land? How many of my fellow Inuk, Innu and settlers have to face criminal trespassing and mischief charges in order to get the government to listen to them?



In fact, 37 Labrador Land Protectors, and one journalist have been charged criminally for peacefully occupying the Muskrat Falls site. Yes, the one reporter – Justin Brake - who initially was covering this story in a secluded area, has also been charged criminally. Without his coverage, this story may not have been heard on a national stage – and the police who stated violence was occurring on the Muskrat Falls site may not have been proven false, as they were through live streams showing peace and even camaraderie with workers on the site. This smacks of censorship to me, and of a government and provincial energy corporation that exploits the seclusion of an area to do their dirty deeds, unchecked.



This is why implementing UNDRIP is important. Canada has signed off on this declaration, but just in the past year with Muskrat falls, the Provincial and Federal bodies have violated at least a dozen of these recommendations, paying particular attention to Article 32, which states Indigenous people have the right to determine strategies for use of their land, and that consultation should be done in good faith. I think its clear through my brief synopsis of this complicated scenario, the government did not wish to communicate with the Indigenous communities of Labrador.



And while the fight for the mighty Muskrat Falls continues, I do wish to make this a cautionary tale. Other hydroelectric and resource extraction projects are on the horizon in Canada. In fact, Harvard expanded on their original research, citing 21 more hydroelectric projects that will be affected by mercury levels even higher than those in the Muskrat Falls area. All of these dams are within a 100 km vicinity of secluded Indigenous communities.



It is essential that government be held accountable to their agreements, and if UNDRIP is not adopted into Canadian law, then you can clearly see that governments and corporations will easily disregard it and do what best suits their political agendas or pocket books. I join you all in taking a stand and telling the government – we need to adopt Bill C-262, ensuring Canadian law is in harmony with the tenets of UNDRIP, in order to promote the rights of Indigenous persons in Canada, and to indeed, walk the talk.



Thank you, Nakkumek.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Join the Chain Fast for Freedom for Hassan Diab, May 19 to June 18

Urgent Actions re Hassan Diab:

1. Wednesday, May 17 Rally at Prime Minister's Office, 12 noon, Ottawa

2. Chain Fast for Freedom for Hassan Diab, May 19 to June 18 (see details below)


Friends,

As many of you have know, Dr. Hassan Diab of Ottawa, Ontario was extradited to France and has been jailed there for 30 months based on allegations his lawyer calls the classic recipe for a wrongful conviction. French investigating judges have ordered him released six times, and, in a move that is seen as unprecedented, each time the French Court of Appeal overturned all release orders at the prosecutor's behest. (see https://www.policyalternatives.ca/publications/monitor/no-evidence-no-problem)



Supporters of Dr. Diab will rally at the Prime Minister’s office in Ottawa on Wednesday, May 17 at 12 noon, calling on Justin Trudeau to do exactly what he demanded of Prime Minister Harper when journalist Mohamed Fahmy was wrongfully detained in Egypt. In 2015, Trudeau said Harper "has an obligation to use the full force of the Prime Minister’s Office to help Canadian citizens when they are unjustly imprisoned abroad. His inaction must end today.”



We agree. And so, in addition to the May 17 rally in Ottawa, we invite you to join the Chain fast for Freedom for Hassan Diab, running May 19 to June 18, each day representing a full month Dr. Diab has spent behind bars. We invite you to fast for one or more days according to your own traditions and protocol (sunup to sundown, with or without liquids, 24 hours, etc.).



On the day you fast, we invite you to explain why you are fasting to friends and family, in a letter to the editor, and with MPs, including your own and those referred to below.



To sign up to fast, email your name, town, and date(s) to tasc@web.ca, and we will post this information publicly at http://www.justiceforhassandiab.org/



In addition to fasting (and for those who would like to help but cannot fast), we invite all of you to write to Prime Minister Trudeau calling on him to use the full force of his office to bring Dr. Diab home. You can write to Trudeau directly online at https://pm.gc.ca/eng/connect



Please also email justin.trudeau@parl.gc.ca, Chrystia.Freeland@parl.gc.ca, chrystia.freeland@international.gc.ca, Omar.Alghabra@parl.gc.ca, Jody.Wilson-Raybould@parl.gc.ca



Thanks for your support.



Matthew Behrens

Member, Justice for Hassan Diab

http://www.justiceforhassandiab.org/





Chain Fast for Freedom for Hassan Diab

May 19 to June 18, 2017



For the next 30 days – each day representing a month of being wrongfully detained in a French jail cell – we will be sharing a chain fast calling on Prime Minister Trudeau to undertake all possible efforts to return Canadian citizen Dr. Hasan Diab to his family in Ottawa.



Dr. Diab is an Ottawa university professor and father of two young Canadian children who has been jailed for over two and a half years in France as a result of a controversial and legally questionable extradition proceeding commenced by the previous Conservative government.



Dr. Diab was sought by the French for a crime he did not commit. Dr. Diab’s finger prints, palm prints, physical description, and handwriting do not match those of the French suspect sought for a 1980 bombing in Paris that tragically killed four people. Dr. Diab has consistently denied involvement and condemned the violence, while French investigating judges have confirmed he was in Lebanon at the time of the bombing.



Of critical concern is the fact that Dr. Diab has been ordered released on bail six times over the past year by investigating judges in charge of his case, but on each occasion, the Court of Appeal overturned all release orders at the prosecutor's behest. French lawyers have called this situation unprecedented, a political maneuver to look tough on terror even though a vast body of evidence shows Dr. Diab did not commit the crime.



The inability of Dr. Diab to obtain release from a cell in which he is confined 22 hours a day – even while two investigative judges have called for such a judicially-sanctioned release  recalls the frustrations of other Canadians wrongfully held overseas, such as journalist Mohamed Fahmy.



In 2015, Prime Minister Trudeau issued a powerful statement on Mr. Fahmy’s behalf while in opposition, saying then Prime Minister Stephen Harper  "has an obligation to use the full force of the Prime Minister’s Office to help Canadian citizens when they are unjustly imprisoned abroad. His inaction must end today.”



We undertake this chain fast because we believe it is time for Justin Trudeau to consider how to employ the same forceful use of his office in Dr. Diab’s case as well.



Each of us will fast for a day, during which we will write to the Prime Minister, The Global Affairs Minister, the Justice Minister, our member of Parliament; write a letter to the editor; and discuss Dr. Diab’s case with family and friends.



This modest sacrifice is the least we can do to support Dr. Diab and his loved ones as they truly hunger for justice and for their family to be reunited.


May 19, Ria Heynen, Ottawa
May 20, Lyn Adamson, Toronto
May 21, Matthew Behrens, Perth
May 22, Mohammad Al-Rayyan, Ottawa
May 23, Amani Khalfan, Ottawa
May 24, Dima Siam, Ottawa
May 25, Ria Heynen, Ottawa
May 26, Mary Ann Higgs, Kingston
May 27, Jo Wood, Ottawa
May 28, Hassan Almrei, Ontario
May 29, Cym Gomery, Montreal
May 30, Rabea Murtaza, Toronto
May 31, Don Pratt, Berkeley, CA
June 1, Tyler Levitan, Ottawa
June 2, Ria Heynen, Ottawa
June 3, Samiha Rayeda, Ottawa, Murray Lumley, Toronto
June 4, Linda Green, Ottawa
June 5, Janet Siltanen, Ottawa; Larry Rousseau, Ottawa
June 6, Roger Clark, Ottawa
June 7, Don Pratt, Berkeley, CA
June 8, Ria Heynen, Ottawa
June 9, Mary Ann Higgs, Kingston, Sue Goldstein, Toronto
June 10, Rev. Karen Rodman, Ottawa
June 11, Linda Green, Ottawa
June 12, mandy hiscocks, Guelph, Sue Goldstein, Toronto
June 13, Kathleen Copps, Vancouver
June 14, David Heap, London, ON
June 15, Kelti Cameron, Ottawa
June 16, Sharry Aiken, Toronto
June 17, Bessa Whitmore, Ottawa
June 18, Daiva Stasiulis, Ottawa, Sue Goldstein, Toronto



 

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Anti-Torture Advocates Welcome Resolution of Trio of Canada's Torture Cases Abdullah Almalki Issues Public Statement

Stop Canadian Involvement in Torture
PO Box 2121, 57 Foster Street
Perth, ON K7H 1R0
(613) 267-3998, tasc@web.ca

March 19, 2017  

The advocacy group Stop Canadian Involvement in Torture, which for over a decade has advocated alongside of three Canadians who were tortured with Canadian complicity in Syrian and Egyptian prisons – as well as on behalf of their families, who also suffered the fallout of being falsely labelled threats to national security – welcomes the long-sought settlement of a legal case against the government of Canada. The Canadian government issued a statement at 4:58 pm on Friday afternoon, March 17 (see https://www.canada.ca/content/canadasite/en/public-safety-canada/news/2017/03/statement_of_apologytomralmalkimrabou-elmaatimrnureddin.html)

In addition, the group is pleased to share the moving, gracious statement of Abdullah Almalki (pasted below) which was posted on his facebook page.





Abdullah Almalki is an Ottawa engineer who was detained, interrogated, and tortured for 22 months in Syria as a result of Canadian government actions. Prior to this overseas torture by proxy – in which Syrian torturers demanded answers from Almalki to questions provided to them by the RCMP via Canadian consular officials in Damascus – Mr. Almalki and his family were the subject of an intense campaign of harassment and surveillance by Canadian state security agencies, including CSIS and the RCMP.

Mr. Almalki, Ahmad Abou-Elmaati and Muayyed Nureddin – the latter two also subjected to Canadian torture-by-proxy in Syria and, in the case of Abou-Elmaati, in Egypt as well –  were found by two separate judicial inquiries (O'Connor, Iacobucci) to have been the wrongful targets of false and inflammatory accusations by agencies of the Canadian government. Those inquiries also illustrated how actions and "deficiencies" of the Canadian government led to their torture.

The three men were the subject of a majority Parliamentary motion in 2009 calling on the Government of Canada to apologize, provide compensation, correct misinformation that may exist in records administered by state security agencies in Canada or abroad, and to issue a ministerial direction against torture and the use of information obtained from torture.

A failure by successive Canadian governments to act led to a lawsuit that was finally settled this week, over a dozen years after the men returned home from overseas detention and torture.

"While we are pleased to see the resolution of these cases, we remain committed to ending ongoing Canadian involvement in torture, whether that is  deportation of refugees to situations where they face a substantial likelihood of torture, the Liberals continuing to operate under the Harper-era torture memos that allow Canadian state security agencies to trade information that comes from or could lead to torture, ongoing support for regimes that regularly commit torture against their citizens, and the refusal to repeal the 2015 Anti-terrorism Act (C51), whose troubling provisions open the door to further complicity in torture,"  says group spokesperson Matthew Behrens.

"Keep in mind that those Canadian officials who knowingly took actions that led to the torture in these cases have never been charged or demoted. In fact, many received promotions, continue to work in high-level government positions, or enjoy a retirement in which they now act as media 'consultants' on state security issues."

Stop Canadian Involvement in Torture has organized cross-Ontario Caravans in support of redress for the men and their families, as well as countless educational events focused on Canadian government complicity in the torture not only of these men, but in other cases as well. The group also thanks RAMZ Media for producing the very first film about their cases, Ghosts (preview at https://player.vimeo.com/video/101724396)

For further information, contact Matthew Behrens at tasc@web.ca or (613) 267-3998. Details on contacting Mr. Almalki are available at the end of his statement.


**********************
Statement of Abdullah Almalki

I am very pleased to see the long-awaited government apology.

My family and I are grateful  to finally have closure.

In 2004, I was exonerated by the Syrian Security Court. Four years later, I was exonerated by the Iacobucci Inquiry here at home in Canada. The recent  government apology brings the matter to rest.

This is a victory for Canada and every Canadian who holds dear the Charter of Right and Freedoms, the rule of law, freedom, equality, and dignity. It is also a victory for those who abhor torture, arbitrary detention, bigotry and racism.

This long fought for result will hopefully give hope to everyone who has been wronged. Hopefully, it will also boost their resilience, strengthen their resolve, allow them to have more patience and persistence, and help them to keep on keeping on,  as a victory for justice is a victory for all of us.
 I hope my struggle, and that of many others over the years for truth, justice and reforms, will not be wasted. I hope that we as a country learn from such injustices and work to better our country by strengthening our human rights laws rather than weakening them. We must strengthen laws and institutions to preserve our liberties and freedoms, rather than compromising them. We must also hold government officials and government agencies accountable by demanding powerful, effective, real-time oversight of their activities, especially when human rights can so easily be abused in the name of national security.

It is difficult to reconcile the injustice my family and I have endured over the last 15 years. However, we look forward to a better future, and as much of a normal, quiet, and productive life as we can possibly have under the circumstances.

Throughout  the last 15 years, I have seen a very ugly side of humanity, but I also have seen a very bright, hopeful, loving side of it. I would like to sincerely thank every person and organization in Canada and around the world who has supported my family and myself in many different ways over the years.

I would like to thank my family and friends for their unconditional and continuous support over the years. Your love and support is unquantifiable (to use an engineering term). 

Abdullah Almalki, March 19, 2017. For media inquiries, please call (613) 713-9500 or email almalkimedia@gmail.com.  For more information please visit: www.abdullahalmalki.com

Abdullah Almalki, Ahmad Abou-Elmaati and Muayyed Nureddin