Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Please Support Homes not Bombs During Its 15th Anniversary of Working for Social Justice


25 years ago this month, I found myself sitting in the back of a police car, handcuffed, dressed as Santa Claus, busted with several fellow Santas and elves for trying to remove war "toys" from a store shelf and replace them with cooperative, peaceful games. It was one of many nonviolent actions in which I have had the pleasure of participating, the transformative spirit of which very much undergirds the work of Homes not Bombs.

This year marks the 15th anniversary of Homes not Bombs, the loose-knit network of social justice advocates and nonviolence practitioners who have taken on a wide variety of injustices since we were founded in 1998. We have often been visited by Santa in the course of our work, from resisting the devastating sanctions and wars against the people of Iraq and Afghanistan to singing holiday carols at the immigration detention centres where children – incarcerated simply because they are refugees – wave from behind the bars.

While we generally do not blow our own horn, we felt this would be an opportunity to reflect on some of our successes while also asking that you consider contributing to our ongoing costs so that we can continue on for years to come. 

2013 has been a busy year as we conduct direct action trainings for union locals under attack, provide campaign-building advice for numerous grass roots initiatives that serve to empower youth, and redouble educational and outreach efforts to end violence against women. We also continue working to expose the untold billions spent on Canadian war plans at the expense of social needs at home and abroad, all the while trying to drive home the reminder that we have more power than we know and that positive social change really is possible.

In the past 15 years,  we have many achievements to recall, including:

1. Founding the Campaign to Stop Secret Trials in Canada, the group that took on secret hearing security certificates when few would touch the issue. Our work to advocate for the detainees facing secret hearings and years in solitary confinement eventually contributed to the landmark 2007 Supreme Court decision declaring this medieval process unconstitutional. Two of the five Muslim men subject to the process have had their cases quashed, while three others continue the struggle in the courts. We played a significant role in the preparations for the October, 2013 Supreme Court challenge in the case of Mohamed Harkat, and re-staged our production of Kafka's The Trial in Ottawa with readers including Giller-Prize winner Elizabeth Hay. Significantly, we have made the issue so controversial that CSIS has stopped issuing security certificates altogether. That being said, other repressive tools also involving secrecy in the immigration act continue to be used against a growing number of refugees, and so our work is not yet done.

2. Founding the group Stop Canadian Involvement in Torture, which for years has worked to not only bring home those illegally detained and tortured overseas, but to ensure accountability and apologies for those who still suffer the effects of torture. Our cross-Ontario caravans, educational presentations, and ongoing vigils continue as we raise the uncomfortable questions about Canadian complicity in torture. Our work also inspired the only film made about Canadian complicity in the torture of Abdullah Almalki, Ahmad El Maati and Muayyed Nureddin, the excellent Ghosts (see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nJmVhUoFjWo)

3. Leading significant nonviolent campaigns and civil disobedience actions across the province of Ontario, from trying to transform the War Department into the Housing Department to working with our friends in Hamilton to organize the Festivals of Life that led to the closure of the Hamilton War Show. We have also played a major role in focusing on drones (doing so beginning in 2002 when few thought this would become a major issue), with an ongoing campaign at L-3 Wescam in Burlington, as well as focusing on the manufacture of assault rifles and grenade launchers at Kitchener's Diemaco and weapons of mass destruction at Northrup Grumman (Litton) in Rexdale. Many of our actions have led to court victories that provide others engaged in direct action with precedents that can help them win their cases as well.

4. Founding the Anne Frank Sanctuary Committee, which has worked to open churches to the idea of hosting refugees at serious risk if deported. We have won two lengthy cases, saving individuals from deportation to torture, and continue working to find safe spaces for those increasingly at risk as a result of repressive legislation.

5. Working with jailed Canadians held in the U.S. or overseas such as Khalid Awan, held since October, 2001, with many years spent in the infamous "Little Gitmo."

6. Founding St. Clare's Multifaith Housing Society, which grew out of our work with homeless youth in Toronto. Since the late 90s, hundreds of not-for-profit housing units have been constructed by St. Clare's.

While these important landmarks remind us of the power we have to frame an issue, focus in on those perpetrating an injustice, and come up with transformative solutions, they represent in many ways the tip of the iceberg in terms of our ongoing campaigning, much of which begins as individualized advocacy with those who have fallen through the cracks and expands into a wider social justice campaign when we see others facing the same plight.

Our work does not always make the news, but it still goes on, sometimes hidden from view given the delicate nature of some of the cases we handle. But rest assured, we continue on with the important work of nonviolence training, speaking in high schools, providing court support, and organizing public action.

Unfortunately, all of this does cost money, and we rely on the support of individuals like yourselves to help pay those bills for organizing both nationally and provincially.

We hope you can make a significant financial contribution to the work of Homes not Bombs (and perhaps share this with someone who is similarly able to do so).

You can do this three ways:

1. To receive a tax deductible contribution for donations over $100, contact us at tasc@web.ca and we can let you know the details.

2. If you do not need a tax receipt, simply write a cheque out to Homes not Bombs and mail it to PO Box 2020, 57 Foster Street, Perth, ON K7H 1R0.

Thanks so much for your support. If you have any questions please feel free to contact us at tasc@web.ca


Matthew Behrens
Homes not Bombs

Santa Claus Rejects NORAD Escort; May be Placed on No-Fly List


December 17, 2013

            In a little-noticed news release emanating from the North Pole, a jolly senior citizen has asked that his image not be co-opted this holiday season by the Canadian War Dept. and NORAD. In addition, the gentleman, who identified himself as Santa Claus, also refused the militarized escort that NORAD said would be tracking his annual flight around the world.
            "I don't want war planes on my tail, and I don't want children to think I am in any way associated with the type of organization that plans for things like nuclear war and space warfare," Claus said in an exclusive telephone interview with rabble.ca. "Your War Dept. misrepresents me the same way the sales of war toys misrepresent me. I don't make machine guns and toy tanks, and I certainly do NOT want an escort from warplanes or to be tracked by an organization which is working to militarize the heavens."
            Claus was particularly concerned that NORAD uses this annual opportunity to glorify warplanes and drones which are used to drop bombs on and mutilate children in countries like Afghanistan and Iraq, noting that last week, dozens of people in a Yemeni wedding party were massacred by a drone-fired  Hellfire missile.
            Santa says he is disturbed to again find himself the focus of the annual military public affairs operation, designed to normalize for children the idea that the military – as well as military alliances which plan and constantly threaten life on the planet with nuclear warfare, pre-emptive invasions, and environmental destruction – is a benign outfit.
            “I also don’t need to be tracked,” Claus says. “This is the era where we are learning that CSEC in Ottawa and the NSA are watching every move everybody makes, and it’s getting ridiculous. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer has gotten ulcers out of concern that every time he sneaks into the bushes to do his business, it winds up on some database somewhere and could be used to embarrass him in front of his fellow creatures.”
            The NORAD Tracks Santa website (www.noradsanta.org/‎) is a paean to militarism, inviting young children to play at war and offering videos that are recruitment vehicles featuring martial music more akin to a 1980s Tom Cruise bomb-em-up flick than a period of peace and good will to all. Indeed, one four-minute video making the rounds of community newspaper websites around the globe opens with an image not of Santa but of bomber planes.
            “One of the videos says I did a test flight in cooperation with NORAD, which is a total lie,” Claus said, bemoaning the fact that the tracking site features numerous tributes to an organization that has the power, along with its other “northern command” partners, to commit the ultimate act of nuclear terrorism and obliterate the globe.
            One video features a small child (perhaps the son of US military personnel) stationed in Djibouti, one of over 700 U.S. bases occupying the globe and also the site of a command centre from which drones are launched in countries like Yemen and Somalia. (Djibouti troops do not, notably, maintain a military base protecting their own interests in Florida or Manitoba). While the child talks of going to the beach and riding his bike, it does not mention that one month ago, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights heard evidence on Djibouti’s role in the U.S.-led (and Canadian-supported) rendition to torture and secret detention program. (http://www.interights.org/news/130/index.html)
            The NORAD tracking site also features holiday songs performed by – who else – the Air Force Academy Band.
            “In the same way the militaries of the world try to convince us that humanitarian aid cannot be delivered without sniper rifles or bombing the heck out of a village first, now they are trying to show that Christmas cannot happen without all of their firepower, and that Christmas carols cannot be sung unless by people who’ve been trained to kill,” Claus said. “Well, I have news for them. The trillions spent on war are what deprive most children of happy holidays, regardless of when they celebrate them.”
            Meanwhile, a heavily redacted Access to Information request appears to reveal why NORAD is tracking Santa, and early indicators are it has nothing to do with his protection nor his mission of delivering joy.
            According to the highly classified document from the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), “The Service has reasonable grounds to believe that [name blacked out, but clearly a reference to Claus] is a member of an inadmissable class of persons to Canada based on a variety of associations, travel patterns, and other indicators which constitute a threat to the security of Canada.”
            Among those highly suspect findings, CSIS notes, is Santa’s long beard (“worn in the traditional Muslim fashion that could inspire some radicalized youth to follow bearded individuals such as Osama bin Laden”), his visitation to countries throughout the Middle East and refusal to demonize anyone (“a disturbing inclination towards supporting the human rights of Palestinians,”), his large donations of gifts (“he may be transporting illicit materials that could place him on the United Nations 1267 list, thereby barring him from travelling with goods that could fall into the wrong hands”), past associations (“[subject] did attend at Robben Island prison compound and provide material aid to Nelson Mandela and other members of African National Congress, which Service maintains was, is, or could be a terrorist organization”), has signed petitions urging the release of immigration detainees (including children detained in refugee jails across Canada) and in support of environmental protections (“Service notes subject supports same causes as eco-terrorists trying to block oil sands development”), and his failure to carry a passport.
            “Service also notes that Mr. Claus uses several aliases possibly as a means of avoiding detection, including Jolly St. Nick, Kris Kringle, and, in a special code with woman alleged to be Mrs. Claus, ‘tubby old sock,’ origin for which is still a mystery to Service but further investigation will reveal.” Claus also appears to be under surveillance for carrying of “suspicious” sacks, studious avoidance of customs, and his “religious head gear,” the last of particular concern to Quebec security services attempting to pre-emptively enforce their so-called Charter of Values.

            CSIS also notes with grave concern that at least two of Santa’s reindeer (Prancer and Vixen) have been reading the Koran and allegedly discussed conversion to Islam.
            It is not surprising that Claus would be the subject of concern to “security services,” whose main goals tend toward monitoring outbreaks of democracy and free-thinking inquiry while harassing specific targeted communities using the same vague profiling against, for example, members of this country’s Arab Muslim communities. Santa certainly does have a record of being involved in the same social justice causes that everyone from CSIS and the RCMP to the FBI and CIA have deemed threats to national security. For example, Santa was recently arrested with Walmart workers seeking a decent wage (https://www.commondreams.org/headline/2013/11/29-1), while the busiest resident of the North Pole also managed to take an anti-drones message of Peace to the Australian military (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=738RSak2yBI). Santa also performed a tripod action for 9 hours in Glasgow this week to protest immigration raids that break down doors and arrest and detain children simply because they are refugees (http://www.indymedia.org.uk/en/2012/12/504004.html?c=on#c290190)
            While Santa is proud of involving himself in social justice activities, he does get weary of his image being used to glorify war, especially given that he annually views the painful reality that is a result of relying on military might to enforce injustice and resolve conflicts. "We see all the children of the world, the ones who have lost legs and arms and eyes to landmines and cluster bombs, the ones who have watched parents murdered with Canadian bullets and machine guns in Iraq and Afghanistan, the ones whose only wish for Christmas is peace on Earth, or the return of a parent or sibling killed by an aerial bombardment."
            Claus has joined Homes not Bombs members on many occasions through the years as an ambassador of peace through justice and goodwill. As such, he has been arrested by Loblaws for helping distribute food he took from their shelves (to help pay back the tens of millions of dollars in unpaid taxes owed by Loblaws), protesting sanctions against the people of Iraq which killed over 1 million Iraqis (this with the aid of the Canadian military whose warplanes are set to tail Santa), the use of secret trial security certificates, the production of war toys, L-3 Wescam’s production of drone technology in Burlington, Ontario, the Hamilton War Show, and many others.
            "There are so many causes for me to support, and I want to support them all, but half the time I'm busy trying to correct the false information about me and what I stand for that's presented by the military and the media," Claus said. "I barely have time to speak with you, much less all the other media outlets who request interviews."
            Rabble.ca’s interview with Claus was cut off when he received a call from one of Canada’s top immigration lawyers, Barb Jackman, to discuss his travel options given the increasingly tight Canadian borders for refugees and the possibility that he may be on Canada’s no-fly list. Indeed, it is unclear whether agents of the Canadian Border Services Agency – a federal department with absolutely no independent oversight– will allow Claus to enter Canada, and there are still many unresolved questions regarding its recent rejection of Jesus Christ, who was deemed a failed refugee claimant and a threat to national security.
            Lawyers at the time had asked for information about CSIS interviews with Christ, but because CSIS does not record interviews nor make verbatim notes, there was little to go on. "The Service noted that Christ appeared unusually calm when pressed about his possible association with prostitutes, beggars, and lepers," read a short half page of notes which were eventually declassified. “Christ also seemed hesitant when asked whether an individual named Joseph was his father, a sign that he was withholding the true nature of his character.” Christ’s anti-government activities also raised a red flag for Canadian border officials.
            Christ was also deemed to be a security threat because he allegedly uses a number of aliases, including Prince of Peace, Jesus of Nazareth, and the Son of God. He had travelled to Canada, like most refugees, on a false passport, because if he had used his real name on travel documents, Roman authorities may have picked him up before he could have fled the country. Christ was also deemed inadmissable to Canada because of his criminal record; he, like all refugees coming to this country, are considered not worthy of being accepted even if those convictions have occurred in countries where there is no due process or internationally recognized legal system. Worse, refugees who have been convicted of minor offences which would be deemed "summary" (or lesser) offences if convicted here in Canada have their record interpreted as indictable (or more severe) upon their arrival here, regardless of the circumstances.
            In another mark against Christ, CBSA points out one particular incident in which the refugee applicant was "particularly violent, overturning a table used by moneychangers in a temple frequented by Canadian money speculators." Canada's Criminal Code notes that a terrorist is anyone who "damages property outside of Canada because a person or entity with an interest in the property or occupying the property has a relationship with Canada or a province or is doing business with or on behalf of the Government of Canada or a province."
            While Christ remains in detention with hundreds of never-charged  immigration detainees in Lindsay (many of whom are again on hunger strike), Santa will no doubt be writing the phone number of his lawyer on his arm in the event he needs to make that call. If there’s nothing under your tree December 25, you may want to consider posting bail for the latest in a long line of wrongly imprisoned migrants and travellers caught up in the nightmare of Canada’s immigration regime.


Sunday, December 1, 2013

Why Do We Jail Women Who Choose to Live?


(Trigger alert, this story contains disturbing reports of assault)
            Earlier this year, the World Health Organization released a comprehensive study that found more than a third of all women worldwide – 35.6% – will experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetime. The great majority of this violence is committed by intimate male partners in acts that can only be described as domestic or home-grown terrorism. It’s the latest in an endless stream of similar reports on this form of domestic terror, but Canada and other governments refuse to both recognize the extent of the crisis and respond accordingly.
            When the report was released, WHO Director General Dr. Margaret Chan declared, "These findings send a powerful message that violence against women is a global health problem of epidemic proportions. We also see that the world's health systems can and must do more for women who experience violence." The report found that of the women who experience direct attacks, 42% require some form of hospitalization.
            In confirming what more than half of the population already knows is a daily reality, the WHO report did not exactly produce a firestorm of response and calls for urgent action from government leaders.  Instead, their “war on terrorism” focuses on racial and religious profiling, the jailing of innocents, the closing borders to refugees, extra-judicial assassination by Canadian-made drones, and continuation of indefinite detention and rendition to torture programs. There are no massive interventions that address the greatest purveyors of fear and violence in Canada and around the world: the men in women’s lives.
            As of April, 2010, there were an astounding 593 women’s shelters in Canada. Earlier this month, the Ontario Association of Interval and Transition Houses released its annual Femicide report, a grim reminder of women’s lives snuffed out by men in Ontario during 2013 (http://www.oaith.ca/assets/files/OAITH%20Final%202013%20Femicide%20List-%20Nov%202013.pdf). And despite a United Nations call for Canada to develop a comprehensive national review to end violence against aboriginal women, Canada’s envoy to the UN in Geneva rejected the idea. Similarly, in 2010, Canada adopted a National Action Plan for the implementation of United Nations Security Council resolutions on Women, Peace and Security which included supporting the rights of girls and women abroad, but it has failed to deliver on its promise of annual and midterm reports.
            Perhaps that is due in part to the fact that Canada’s rhetoric about supporting women’s rights (a mainstay of its justification for the occupation of Afghanistan) rings hollow. In Afghanistan, Canada’s presence does not appear to have moved things forward for women. Indeed, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan reported last December that women who flee rapists and abusive husbands are regularly jailed by the hundreds for alleged “moral crimes.”  Among those jailed are those who have defended themselves against and, in the process, wounded or killed rapists.
            Lest one conclude that Afghanistan is just “behind the times”, it is worth noting that here in North America, women who choose to live by defending themselves are similarly jailed in alarming numbers. In the U.S., the Michigan Women’s Justice and Clemency Project, found: "The average prison sentence for men who kill their intimate partners is 2 to 6 years. Women who kill their partners are sentenced, on average, to 15 years." 
            Marissa Alexander, an African-American mother of three, did not kill her abusive ex-partner when he physically attacked her and threatened her with death only nine days after she gave birth. She fired a warning shot into the ceiling to scare him off, and as a result is serving 20 years of hard time in Florida. During her trial – one in which the judge rejected her “stand your ground” defence - the same rationale used by the state of Florida for failing to arrest the man who murdered Trayvon Martin – Alexander recounted numerous incidents of severe physical abuse including choking, attempted strangulation, and other incidents that required hospitalization. She lost the ability to swallow as a result of her injuries and lost ten pounds. She subsequently obtained a domestic violence injunction against her ex. In 2010, when she was five months pregnant, she was “head-butted” twice, her clothes torn, and thrown to the ground. During all these episodes—and at other times, as well—he threatened to kill her. At trial, numerous witnesses testified about seeing Alexander's injuries, while in-laws of her abusive husband testified about his reputation for violence. One witness confirmed that Marissa Alexander met the criteria for “battered person’s syndrome.” 
            On top of this, her abusive husband admitted in a sworn affidavit, “The way I was with women…they never knew what I was thinking or what I might do. Hit them, push them. …I honestly think [Marissa] just didn’t want me to put my hands on her anymore, so she did what she feel like she have to do to make sure she wouldn’t get hurt, you know. …The gun was never actually pointed at me.”     
            While an appeals court recently rejected her contention that she should have been granted immunity from prosecution under Stand Your Ground (under which an individual can use deadly force if “he or she reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm”), it did find, in granting her a new trial, that the jury was given the wrong instructions. The original judge essentially placed the burden of proof on Marissa Alexander when it came to showing that she was about to be attacked and needed to act in self-defence. The appeals court confirmed that Alexander “was charged with aggravated assault but – under any possible review of the evidence– inflicted no injury.”           
            While a new trial was a breakthrough, Alexander’s supporters called on the state to drop the charges and let her go free. Unfortunately, the state of Florida is pursuing the trial option, and a hearing to determine whether Marissa will be freed on bond and returned to her children (she has not seen her youngest child in three years) took place earlier this month, with a decision expected by the end of the year.  Meanwhile, the man who continually assaulted her and threatened to take her life walks free.   
            I have had the privilege of corresponding with Alexander while she has been in jail. She is a compassionate and insightful person who recognized immediately upon going behind bars how many women were also in her shoes: they too were in jail because they chose to live, and the judicial system simply could not understand the terror that constituted their daily lives.
            Closer to home is the case of Ottawa’s Ashley White, 25, who earlier this year was found guilty of aggravated assault (and acquitted of attempted murder) for stabbing her abusive former boyfriend. She faces a possible maximum of 14 years behind bars for defending herself. According to press reports on her trial, White’s former boyfriend, Patrick Halcro, aged 36, a veteran of the Afghanistan occupation who suffers PTSD, often went into fits of rage and jealousy. He admitted in court to punching her and smashing her head into a door frame. As QMI News reported, he claimed, "I used proportional force. I felt threatened."
            White suffered a shattered nose and cheekbone, requiring facial reconstruction surgery, in addition to post-concussion syndrome and a diagnosis of PTSD. The Ottawa Sun reported, “Medical evidence suggested her head trauma and the shock of seeing her face bathed in blood could have placed her in a state where she wouldn't have known what she was doing when she stabbed Halcro. As for Halcro, the knife blade nicked his lung but a trauma surgeon said the injury was relatively minor.”
            At one point in the trial, White’s lawyer noted that after pummeling her, Mr. Halcro stepped over her bloodied body to retrieve his luggage. “Your luggage was more important to you than checking on Ashley,” the lawyer said. According to QMI News, “He said he didn’t realize the extent to which he’d hurt her until he got his bag and noticed a lot of blood where White had collapsed.”
            The Ottawa Sun reported that White “remembers being pummelled on the floor as he loomed over her until she could no longer see and felt like she was going to die. He said: ‘I am trained to kill you and I will kill you’ or something like that, White said.”Four years after the original beating, White remains out on restrictive bail, while her ex was never charged. A community of friends has come together to try and assist her with her massive legal bills, both for the trial and an expected appeal. That group has formed a Facebook page, on which they write: “We strongly believe [Ashley] was wrongly convicted of aggravated assault for stabbing her abusive ex-military boyfriend. After being beaten so badly she would later require reconstructive surgery and in a state of near unconsciousness, Ashley fended off the attack with a kitchen knife. It has never been explained why he was never charged and why the lead detective never testified in court, yet Ashley’s life is changed forever. Ashley’s friends and supporters are planning a fund-raising event to help her cover the $90,000 accumulated costs to date and $50,000+ she is facing in future legal fees.” To join that facebook page, where you can leave messages of support and donate to her costs, visit https://www.facebook.com/pages/Friends-of-Ashley-White/471297956316613
In the meantime, Marissa Alexander’s supporters ask that you contact FreeMarissaNow@gmail.com and visit https://www.facebook.com/FreeMarissaNow
And http://www.justice4marissa.com/    As Canada marks the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women on November 25, it is a reminder of how much work remains to be done, not simply on symbolic days, but every day as the war against women grinds mercilessly on.