Monday, December 22, 2014

No room at Canada's inn MATTHEW BEHRENS | DECEMBER 22, 2014

Usually lost in the bustle of Christmas commercialism is the reminder that when Jesus' parents were looking for a place to stay, there was no room at the inn. For refugees worldwide, that same demeaning sign is hung at the entrance of far too many countries: you are not wanted, you are not admissible, you are undesirable, you are dangerous, you are alien, you are illegal, you are a virus, you are a threat.

Earlier this year, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees reported that the global number of refugees had surpassed 50 million for the first time since the end of the Second World War, with half of them children. Were this group the population of a single country, they would comprise the 24th largest on the globe. To take but one example, over 40 per cent of the population of Syria (9.5 million people) has been displaced by war and repression. That number is equivalent to the total combined population of Manitoba, Nunavut, Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, the Northwest Territories, Prince Edward Island, the Yukon, and British Columbia. Some 86 per cent of the 3 million Syrian refugees who have left the country are hosted by so-called "developing" countries like Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and Pakistan, while Canada in 2013 committed to accepting a paltry 200 "resettled" refugees.

The refugee crisis that emerged during and after the Second World War was met with a global response that put into place institutions and conventions dealing with the massive numbers of those displaced and forced to flee. While imperfect, they were a step forward. Today's callous response to a global crisis of similar proportions was captured by a stunning photographtaken earlier this year on the border of Morocco and the Spanish enclave of Melilla. It featured a lazy sunny afternoon in which golfers blithely teed off as asylum seekers attempted to access the golf course, and, hence, Europe, by climbing a dangerously high razor-wire fence. Every year, thousands of individuals rush the fence but few make it over. The photo did not capture the severe police beatings of those who did not make it over the fence, but it was symbolic of the desperate measures migrants are forced to take due to a combination of repressive measures and indifference.

Walls and fences
The barbed wire of Melilla is but one of an increasing number of walls and fences going up all over the globe to prevent migrants from finding safety. Like most "solutions" rooted in fear and racism, these barriers only make the world a more dangerous place for the most vulnerable, for whom staying in an abusive environment is impossible. They range from the U.S.-Mexico border, where hundreds die annually trying to make the dangerous desert crossing, to Fortress Europe, where, in the Mediterranean Sea, at least 25,000 migrants have drowned trying to cross since 2000. As columnist Shannon Gormley recently pointed out, "between 2007 and 2013, the [European Union] spent about three times more on keeping migrants out than on helping asylum seekers and refugees who were already in."

A life-saving operation launched by the Italian Navy last year, which reportedly had rescued as many as 150,000 migrants in distress on the Mediterranean Sea, was recently replaced by a joint European Union mission, Triton, with two-thirds less funding than the Italians were putting forward, no search and rescue capacity, and a limited mandate of operation within 30 miles of the Italian coast (anyone further out will drown). Journalist Gwynne Dyer reported a spokesman at the British Foreign office as justifying these changes because "Ministers across Europe have expressed concerns that search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean have acted as a pull factor for illegal migration, encouraging people to make dangerous crossings in the expectation of rescue."
In other words, as Dyer concludes:

"So letting lots of them drown will presumably discourage others and save more lives in the end…The EU, of course, is acting with its usual combination of cowardice and confusion… the EU is really talking about killing people here. Or letting them die, if you prefer, but it comes down to much the same thing. How long before they start actively killing refugees fleeing from war, hunger and climate change along Europe's Mediterranean sea frontier (and along Australia's northern sea frontier, and the U.S. border with Mexico, and probably South Africa's northern border too)? Ten to fifteen years, at a guess. We'll all have got used to the principle by then."

In the U.S., Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) maintains at least 34,000 immigrants in jail simply because of a quota set by Congress. Similarly in Canada, immigration detention remains a national scandal that was criticized by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, whose director of International Protection denounced "unnecessary suffering, with often serious consequences for health and well-being, in particular when people are held for long periods. It also increases anxiety, fear and frustrations, and can exacerbate past traumatic experiences." Canadian Border Services Agency detained over 10,000 migrants in 2013 (over 200 of them children), many of them in penal institutions, contributing to the myth that refugees are a criminal class of people.

Expendable people
Refugees become an expendable political football that gets kicked around to please various constituencies, and the Canadian government acts no differently. Indeed, Canada's record on refugee acceptance and protection continues to fly in the face of internationally accepted standards, and the government's repeated, vicious attempts to paint refugees in an unflattering light have had an effect on public thinking. Over a third of Canadians polled in August mistakenly believe Canada accepts too many immigrants.

The rate of refugee acceptance hovers around 40 per cent, a number that has more to do with systemic barriers and impossible expectations built into current immigration legislation than the legitimacy of most claims. Lack of access to competent counsel, inability to understand often complex rules and regulations, impossible deadlines, and clear bias on behalf of numerous Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) adjudicators are just some of the reasons why individuals fleeing persecution still find themselves labelled "failed" refugee claimants.

The Harper government, by making it increasingly difficult to gain asylum in Canada, then uses the number of "failures" to bolster its unfounded claims that many refugees coming here are not bona fide. And while Harper continues to tout the line that individuals wanting to access Canada must wait in line and "follow the rules," there are exceptions for those who are rich. Indeed, Canadian permanent residency is open to the highest bidder, and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander recently announced that Canada will sell 50 spots to millionaires who want to become permanent residents. Additional exceptions will be made for individuals who are not Muslim. Indeed, the Harper government confirmed last week that with the tiny number of Syrian refugees it plans to consider, it will focus on Christians and other religious minorities and not, as the Toronto Star noted, the "Sunni Muslims who have borne the brunt of Syria's civil war and who form the bulk of the millions who have fled."

Meanwhile, Canada maintains a ridiculous registry of so-called "safe" countries that it does not believe are capable of producing refugees. Among those is Mexico, where the record of violence (60,000 murdered in the drug wars), forced disappearances, and torture (up 600 per cent over the past decade) is astounding. When three Mexican nationals were granted asylum in Canada for exposing an alleged plot to launch cyberattacks on U.S. nuclear facilities, Immigration Minister Chris Alexander chose to appeal their acceptance in Federal Court (and in a rare rebuke from that court, Alexander's appeal was thankfully turned down).

Judicial rubber stamp
But such decisions are rare in the Federal Court. By and large, the judiciary plays a rubber-stamp role in the assembly line of human misery produced by Canada's deportation bureaucracy. And what a long line it continues to be. From January, 2004 to June, 2014, Canada deported 148,057 human beings and, as the Toronto Star reported, "more than 500 of these people were sent to countries where Canada has an official moratorium on deportations: Haiti, Democratic Republic of Congo, Zimbabwe, Iraq, and Afghanistan," while "Canada has deported more than 1,000 people to 16 of the most dangerous countries in the world."

In an effort to get around the difficulty of deportations to countries like Somalia, Canada has engaged in people-smuggling operations, as documented in a chilling story on CBC's The Current.
Meanwhile, in a classic case of double punishment, the Supreme Court of Canada issued a scary Halloween Eve decision upholding the idea that people with criminal records should not be granted asylum, regardless of their personal circumstances. The case involved a Cuban refugee, Luis Febles, who, struggling with a severe alcohol addiction, committed two assaults in the U.S. for which he took immediate responsibility, served prison time, and subsequently went sober.

At issue was whether the humanitarian considerations of the Refugee Convention would apply in cases like his. The Court dealt at length with the interpretation of one section of the Convention that is now being used in Canadian immigration law to prevent people with criminal records from having the context of their post-offence lives considered in asylum claims. Such context includes, as Justices Abella and Cromwell pointed out in a lonely dissent, "the completion of a sentence, along with factors such as the passage of time since the commission of the offence, the age at which the crime was committed, and the individual's rehabilitative conduct."

Indeed, Febles "expressed remorse immediately after the commission of the offence and turned himself in to the police. [Febles also disclosed his criminal record when he tried to enter Canada.] He pleaded guilty and served his sentence for his criminal conduct. He also admitted that he was suffering from problems with alcohol at the time of the offence. While it is clear that the criminal conduct was serious, what has yet to be determined is whether the crime is so serious that the claimant's personal circumstances since serving his sentence in 1984 ought to be disregarded in considering whether he is entitled to refugee status."

Double punishment
This is a case of double punishment because there is an additional punishment -- that of deportation -- facing Febles that would not apply to a Canadian citizen in similar circumstances. As UBC lawyer Catherine Dauvergne noted:

"There are two principal reasons why we forgive criminals: rehabilitation and atonement. That is, our criminal justice system echoes these two ideas at many levels. A commitment to rehabilitation means believing that people can change, and can return to being productive members of society. A commitment to atonement means that we embrace that idea that those who have 'done their time' or 'paid their dues' should be free to resume their place as members of society."

On the day the Febles decision was released, she said:

"[The] Supreme Court ruled that these values ought not be extended to those whose human rights are in such peril that they have sought refugee status. For those without the ability to seek protection at home, both their rehabilitation and their atonement will no longer be relevant to their ability to find a safe haven in Canada. Once a criminal, always a criminal, is the nub of today's decision….When someone is excluded from refugee status, there is literally nowhere in the world that they can go to start their lives afresh -- to live free from danger and plan a future. Excluded individuals are banished, not only from Canada, but from human society generally."

An equally sickening judgment came out of the Federal Court in November, rejecting the idea that a 12-month bar on accessing what is known as a pre-removal risk assessment (PRRA) was unconstitutional. That case involved an individual who had been tortured in Sri Lanka but whom the IRB declared, without providing any rationale, would not face torture if forcibly returned to Sri Lanka (even though this is often the fate of returned asylum seekers). The Federal Court refused to review the IRB decision, and the refugee sought a deferral of deportation pending the outcome of a humanitarian and compassionate application. Unfortunately, the refugee was unable to file for a pre-removal risk assessment (which would have automatically stayed deportation) because of an arbitrary measure introduced by the Conservatives that prevents anyone turned down as a refugee claimant from accessing the risk assessment for a full year (during which time many are deported). Given the many problems inherent in the system, some outlined above, the PRRA bar effectively removes any opportunity that an individual will have to indicate risk upon deportation. The PRRA is recognized in Canadian immigration policy manuals as a significant tool that, in responding to Supreme Court jurisprudence, "suggests that everyone, including serious criminals and persons who pose a threat to national security, are entitled to a risk assessment."

But in a terrible decision, Federal Court Judge Peter Annis flippantly dismissed the PRRA because so few -- only 1.6 per cent -- have been successful. Again, that is not a reflection of the legitimacy of the claim, but more an illustration of how poorly the system functions for those most in need. He notes that the refugee in question argued that "the PRRA bar is illegal, in that various unsuccessful refugee claimants will be deported before they can seek the protection that the PRRA mechanism was intended to offer, returning them to places where their lives and freedom could be threatened." But he seems unmoved by this, and claims that a risk assessment was already determined by the IRB officer in declining refugee status, even though, as explained above, such decisions are not always fair or balanced. Indeed, as his fellow judge Anne McTavish noted in a decision on refugee health-care cuts earlier this year, the refugee determination process is not as simplistic as is often made out by government claims, noting that being found "unsuccessful" in a refugee claim does not mean one's claim was "bogus."

The challenge ahead, a holiday wish
And so, as followers of Stephen Harper adorn their homes and churches with signs reading "Keep Christ in Christmas," one wonders if this means they will finally open their doors to provide the sanctuary so many "failed" refugee claimants require to prevent further human rights abuses from befalling them.

Writing in December, 1945, Dorothy Day, who founded the Catholic Worker movement, reminded us "it is no use to say that we are born two thousand years too late to give room to Christ. Nor will those who live at the end of the world have been born too late. Christ is always with us, always asking for room in our hearts. And giving shelter or food to anyone who asks for it, or needs it, is giving it to Christ." She notes that for early generations of Christians, "in every house then a room was kept ready for any stranger who might ask for shelter; it was even called 'the strangers' room.'''

Contemporary churches have more than enough rooms for "strangers" in our midst. They have the capacity and, with a bit of faith, the will to stand with those who are most vulnerable in our country. Perhaps a good holiday wish would be this: that the callous and, indeed, illegal decisions of governments and courts must be disregarded as we uphold the higher law of loving our neighbours and respecting the dignity and humanity of everyone who appears on our doorsteps. May all places of faith in this country live out their creed, open their doors, and fill up with wrongly "failed" refugees to the point where the cruel, heartless business of deportation comes to an end.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Communities of Faith Must Open Their Doors to Refugees

November 28, 2014
Communities of Faith Must Open Their Doors to Refugees
The Anne Frank Sanctuary Committee extends warmest wishes to the sanctuary conference happening today in Vancouver.
With sanctuary, we recognize first and foremost a long-standing tradition to welcome the stranger, the oppressed, the persecuted, the wrongly defamed, and place that commitment above the orderly and efficient operation of an often unjust system which treats migrants seeking asylum as so many cattle to be processed, detained, and “removed.”
Canada is a hard place for refugees and immigrants. It has been since Europeans invaded the continent and began our genocide against indigenous peoples. Restrictive immigration laws based on racial and religious background have always been a cornerstone of this nation, turning away Jews when Nazism reigned in Europe, Latin Americans during the dirty wars of the 70s and 80s, Tamils throughout the brutal civil war in Sri Lanka, among many others. It has fallen to citizens to advocate with those who, having sought safety here, are set up for arbitrary detention and deportation. 

From 2006 until November 12, 2013, the Canadian immigration bureaucracy's "Grand Totals of Removals Executed" stood at 116,266. Think of all those individuals, families, and communities traumatized by the sudden disappearance and deportation of a schoolmate, a neighbour, a fellow congregant. The use of the term "execution" is quite apropos: some of those who were part of the "removals inventory" – human beings who have been relegated to the status of the garbage taken out in the night –  wound up dead in the country from which they originally fled. We do not know exact numbers because the Canadian government does not keep track when it illegally sends people off to face torture and disappearance, but we do hear from advocates, family members and loved ones of such tragedies. Shot in the head and found by a roadside. Tortured. Interrogated and disappeared upon arrival.

Canada's immigration laws increasingly face international condemnation for their failure to live up to basic standards of fairness and legality. In this troubled system, many people fall through the cracks for lack of good counsel, for misunderstanding an incredibly complex set of rules and regulations, for falling prey to greedy immigration consultants, for not having money. Canada's designation of them as "failed refugees" does not take away from the fact that they are, in fact, refugees in need of protection. It becomes our obligation under the law to assist those facing deportation to try and open doors so that their cases may be reconsidered, so that clear errors can be remedied and their lives no longer subject to trauma and the torture of limbo that so many are forced to live under. This is not defiance of the law: it is, in the best sense possible, adhering to those international legal instruments to which Canada is a signatory, covenants that assure the rights of asylum seekers. The lesson of Nuremberg is that when governments engage in crimes against humanity, crimes such as indefinite detention and deportation to torture, it is the duty of citizens to refuse to go along quietly.

Sanctuary has been one of the tools used successfully to keep people in Canada who otherwise would have been deported to face, at best, uncertainty, and at worst, prison, torture, and death. The cases are sometimes long, difficult journeys for the individuals and families, as well as host congregations, but they are the ultimate expression of faith in one another and our belief in truth and justice winning the day. They also provide us with an opportunity to be our best, most truthful selves. The risks to us are small; the rewards are great. We are in the business of trying to save lives, pure and simple.

Writing in December, 1945, Dorothy Day, who founded the Catholic Worker movement, reminded us “it is no use to say that we are born two thousand years too late to give room to Christ. Nor will those who live at the end of the world have been born too late. Christ is always with us, always asking for room in our hearts. And giving shelter or food to anyone who asks for it, or needs it, is giving it to Christ.” She notes that for early generations of Christians, “in every house then a room was kept ready for any stranger who might ask for shelter; it was even called ‘the strangers’ room’’”.

Contemporary churches have more than enough rooms for "strangers" in our midst. They have the capacity and, with a bit of faith, the will to stand with those who are most vulnerable in our country. The Anne Frank Sanctuary committee has been privileged to work in sanctuary for over a dozen years, winning almost all of the cases it has taken on.  We are sick at heart to think of those who did not have the resources or the connections to seek out sanctuary and who are now a world away, struggling to survive.

May the message of today’s gathering be clear: the callous and, indeed, illegal decisions of governments must be disregarded as we uphold the higher law of loving our neighbours and respecting the dignity and humanity of everyone who appears on our doorsteps. May all places of faith in this country live out their creed, open their doors, and fill up with refugees to the point where the cruel, heartless business of deportation comes to an end.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Militarism degrades, disrupts and destroys democracy

Militarism degrades, disrupts and destroys democracy
Matthew Behrens
| November 26, 2014

As the Canadian government plays at fighting wars in Iraq/Syria and in eastern Europe, we see daily examples of how militarism ultimately degrades, disrupts and destroys democracy. Indeed, we are subjected to a  gravitational pull of obedience to martial values that blinds us to a series of uncomfortable realities that are visible in plain sight but unmentionable in mainstream discourse. While a slavish media hangs on every General's word, Ottawa refuses to release the costs of its overseas adventures. Politicians who voted against the Middle East mission now say we must rally around the troops.

It is instructive that Generals speak of modern warfare as taking place "in theatre." It reminds those who are watching the government-supplied videos of aircraft taking off and bombs being dropped that, like audience members at the local movie house or attending a live performance, we must be quiet for the duration of the performance. We cannot stop it midway through and ask questions or protest without the risk of being booed. As in the neighbourhood multiplex films, the wars are all pretty much built on the same good guys versus evil script that has not changed for centuries. Indeed, as Ottawa author Stephen Dale points out in his excellent new book Noble Illusions: Young Canada Goes to War, an examination of the propaganda used to indoctrinate young men to join the ranks of the First World War, militarist tactics stay pretty much the same over time, with only changes in the casting.

The main movie Canadians are now seeing, in limited release, is the ISIL/ISIS charade, which, according to latest figures, has included over 100 "sorties," delivery of close to 1 million pounds of air fuel, and overall operational "success," as described at occasional War Department briefings featuring costumed characters wearing medals and epaulets. Like reasonably trained actors, the commanders spout a script of euphemisms straight out of a video game, recalling with fondness their various operations over the past few years. For example, recent briefings reminisced about Operations Odyssey Dawn and Op Unified Protector in Libya, human rights disasters supported by Canada's three major parties which unleashed the chaos of sectarian violence that has ruined the country and destabilized the region. No one points out that some members of ISIS were in fact allies of Canadians during the Libyan campaign. During these "technical briefings," reporters fall over themselves to thank the Generals for taking the time to speak their well-studied lines, and even when a serious question is asked, it is batted away with the bafflegab that earns military-speak the deserved title of Orwellian.

Canada kills civilians

Indeed, Colonel Daniel Constable, Commander of Joint Task Force–Iraq, told reporters November 13 that "I'm very confident to report that we have no reports on any civilian casualties, no collateral damage" (a dissimulation that means any reports that DO confirm such casualties don't make it on his reading list). Yet a mere 30 seconds later, he contradicted himself by stating, "as we've talked about in previous briefings of this nature, we're not really doing a casualty count at all." In this movie, the civilian deaths are lowly extras who don't get named when the final credits roll. As General Tom Lawson also stated in various media interviews, Canada WILL be killing civilians, but just not at an "unreasonable" level. Media have failed to ask what constitutes "unreasonable," and the Generals likely would not respond even if they were challenged, probably falling back on the claim that revealing such details would aid the enemy by getting into operational procedures.

The role of the media, especially Postmedia's Matthew Fisher, is to write love letters to the military that link the current bombing campaigns to the alleged glory days of prior wars. Media gushed over Canada's first air strikes against ISIS like fathers chortling with cigars over their newborns. Fisher calls the CF-18 bombers "venerable" and then quoted a military source: "We are all proud of the first [bombing] strike."

The Canadian military has over the past two decades dropped bombs on human beings in Iraq, the former Yugoslavia, and Libya. It has directly and indirectly tortured human beings in Somalia and Afghanistan. It has continued to scoop up the largest annual share of discretionary federal spending at the expense of veterans, the homeless, the mentally ill, children without child care, women without shelter from male violence,  First Nations on boil water alerts, and so many other vulnerable populations. But it always gets a free pass. That slavish devotion to the men and women in uniform (the latter a group that is also subject to an epidemic of sexual assault from their male comrades in arms) perhaps explains why it was so easy for an imposter to dress up in war regalia and play a role inside the heavily guarded Remembrance Day ceremonies in Ottawa. Moving freely amongst the dignitaries and sharing sound bites with the media was easy for this individual because, unlike those who wanted to lay a white poppy peace wreath, he would not have been the subject of state security surveillance that day. He appeared to be a soldier, and that was good enough for Ottawa police and the RCMP. 

In a society that increasingly glorifies martial values -- sales of the first-person combat video game Call of Duty top $10 billion, with Quebec's Assassin's Creed creeping up in sales -- those who carry a gun can do no wrong, from the police who get off easy after beating up arrestees to the Mounties who racially profile and trade with torturers. Those at the top needn't be accountable to anyone. The Canadian War Dept. is the only federal institution that can start a new war without having to go to Parliament to approve the open-ended spending spree. Costs of the Ukraine mission are secret and, we are led to believe, will not be released until the end of March 2015. The cost of bombing Iraq/Syria is similarly being withheld.

Radicalized Canadian veterans
Meantime, a handful of Canada's Afghanistan veterans who appear to have become "radicalized" are heading overseas to fight on the ground against ISIS independent of the Canadian military. Although these men will be working alongside forces that have also committed human rights abuses, it does not appear that their passports are being seized or that they will face charges should they return to Canada. No, they get interviews on the CBC and admiring profiles in the print media. They are "our" soldiers.

Indeed, the fact that he made no apparent reference to Islam perhaps explains why one Canadian Forces veteran did not make national headlines when he pleaded guilty to firearms and explosives offences after allegedly planning a major attack against a Calgary office building that housed a Veterans Affairs office. When the vet was arrested last January, RCMP found on his premises tactical equipment, hundreds of rounds of ammunition, bomb-making materials, and a variety of deadly chemicals. The man, whose identity is protected by publication ban to protect his wife and child (a courtesy never extended to Muslim suspects), was apparently planning an assault on the building. Unsurprisingly, the cause of his anger was mistreatment as a veteran. The case came to authorities' attention when the man's wife called for help when he appeared to be suicidal. The Calgary Herald reported that officers found the man's car "was packed with 1,000 rounds of ammunition, seven loaded magazines (five of which had been illegally modified to hold 20 rounds), night-vision binoculars, body armour, a range-finder for long-distance shooting and a laser sight for close-range targets."

While it is a possibility that angry veterans will take up arms against their government when they are refused the benefits they deserve, this potential threat does not appear to be high on the federal government's list of safety priorities. (Notably, we learned last week that Veterans Affairs has also held back over a billion dollars worth of funding for vets' services). Rather, they continue to hope veterans will give up and just disappear. The idea of the wounded and disturbed returning soldier does not fit with the script of glory and honour. That is why the Harper government, like Liberal governments before it and, in fact, all governments throughout history that have sent soldiers off to kill and be killed, mistreats veterans, especially those with post-traumatic stress disorder and similar "readjustment" problems. Their frail humanity does not match the recruiting poster of the happy soldier who bravely goes overseas and commits heroic acts while vanquishing the "enemy." We don't want to know that, as former Canadian General (and current Justin Trudeau adviser) Andrew Leslie recently pointed out, a quarter of Ottawa's homeless are military veterans, and some no doubt sleep underneath the War Department near the Rideau Canal.

A silence on Ukraine

Meanwhile, one of the war films that has escaped multiplex distribution is the one in Ukraine, where thousands have been killed by both sides in the conflict. It has served as a convenient excuse for Canada to deploy over 1,000 troops in eastern Europe, where they fly sorties and take part in war games near the Russian border. Postmedia's Fisher excitedly (and without irony) reported on one sortie in which Canadian bombers -- flying over 7,500 km from their home -- target Russian aircraft over the Baltic Sea as "intruders." Interestingly, this deployment seems not to have raised a peep from opposition parties nor peace groups across Canada, even though the implications have global ramifications. The Harper government's obsession with supporting the post-coup government of Ukraine is one that is embraced by those who fondly recall the overseas stationing of Canadian troops in Germany during the Cold War. It also conveniently ignores the disturbing role of neo-Nazis in the Kiev government and crimes that the regime is committing. Human Rights Watch reported that the Ukrainian government has been firing rockets into populated areas, indiscriminate attacks that kill civilians. Hamas justifiably catches hell when it launches indiscriminate rocket attacks against Israel, but Harper allies have free reign.

Indeed, as renowned Russia scholar Stephen Cohen wrote recently in The Nation, the Canadian-backed regime in Kiev "has been committing atrocities against its own citizens in southeastern Ukraine." Cohen says Kiev's "anti-terror" tactics "have created a reign of terror in targeted cities," including a May 2 attack in which a pro-Kiev mob chased anti-government protesters into a building, set it on fire, and tried to block the exits, killing some 40 people. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, recently serenaded in Canada's Parliament, speaks of those who resist his bombardment of their cities as "gangs of animals" and, in a collective punishment approach in clear violation of all known laws and human decency, has declared that he will take "hundreds of their lives for each life of our servicemen." The neo-fascist Svoboda party (which glorifies its Nazi-collaborationist ancestors, refers to gays, Jews, feminists, and leftists as scum, and was called "neo-Nazi" by the World Jewish Congress in 2013) plays a key role in the coalition government. Far-right nationalist militias constitute a foundation of the country's National Guard, one which Cohen notes is escalating "ethnic warfare and killing of innocent civilians."

Representatives of Poroshenko's National Guard were in Ottawa recently to seek out weapons deals in a visit arranged by Arthur Andersen Defence Consulting (the same company responsible for the implementation of massive welfare cutting in Ontario, among other crimes). It is not clear who would pay for such weapons, but if Canadian government policy with other NATO members is any example, it is likely Canadians who will foot the bill. For example, Canada will pay the $30-million cost for Hungarian fighter pilot training on behalf of their far-right wing government in a country where the Roma continue to face severe  persecution.

"Standing with" the right-nationalist government of Ukraine means Canada must not do anything to upset its special relationship, which includes being one of only three countries on the face of the planet to vote against a November 17 UN resolution called "Combating glorification of Nazism, neo-Nazism and other practices that contribute to fuelling contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance." Yes, Canada joined the U.S. and Ukraine in voting against a resolution that also condemned Holocaust denial. Some 55 nations (many of which are NATO members) abstained on the vote, no doubt because they want Ukraine as part of the military alliance. So much for Harper's calls of "never again" when he spoke in Israel. This is not to whitewash the Russian annexation of Crimea nor to dismiss those voices for democracy that were supportive of the Maidan movement, many of whom face a difficult road ahead trying to navigate the many political strands that make up the Ukrainian mosaic. Indeed, Harper and NATO seem not to care whether the government in Kiev is democratic or authoritarian, as long as it accepts EU dictates and joins NATO.

Opening the vaults

While Harper plans to campaign on a balanced budget, the vaults are continuing to open for outrageous military spending. In the same month that national reports were produced on millions of hungry Canadians and hundreds of thousands of homeless, the focus has remained on how we can be a glorious nation at war against barbaric cultural practices. With the backdrop of an isolated shooting of a reservist in Ottawa and the sad killing of a soldier in Quebec, the military and its industry partners smell blood, and blood means big bucks. Canada's special forces are seeking some $350 million in new war materiel and Harper quietly approved an $800-million purchase of Sea Sparrow Missiles (part of a $26-billion rebuild of the Canadian navy). Meanwhile, the CF-18 bombing campaign is proving a useful trailer for the next movie Harper hopes to produce, the F-35 stealth fighter jet show that will cost over $50 billion. Indeed, as the Ottawa Citizen reported November 4, the Canadian government is planning to tell the U.S. Congress (but not its own Parliament) about those intentions to purchase four jets in 2017. The cost of celebrating war continues to pile up as well, with over $2 million spent earlier this year for a one-day commemoration of the Afghanistan occupation and over a decade of bombings, night raids, and transfers to torture.

The real Canadian crisis

Meanwhile, as the hypocrites on the Hill paid solemn tribute to Canada's soldiers earlier this month, Canadian psychologist Antoon Leenars told a group of veterans Nov. 7 in Ottawa that military suicides are at "epidemic proportions," adding that the Canadian War Dept. has done "no credible, peer-reviewed research into suicide." More vets have committed suicide in the past decade than were killed in Afghanistan. Like the civilians who make up the majority of war's victims, countless Canadian vets continue to suffer the ill effects of militarism, as do their loved ones. They represent those inconvenient realities we would prefer not to  notice because as with all systems of sanctified reverence, with militarism, we only wish to see the façade of glory and heroism. Anything else would cut down on recruitment into what always has been and remains a barbaric cultural practice: developing newer and more refined ways of murdering people.

Perhaps the most eloquent recent expression of distaste for the militarist wave in Canada comes from someone who knows at the most visceral level both loss of a loved one in the military and the manner in which the government misuses their memory. Hamilton, Ontario's Andrea Palko, whose beloved boyfriend Nathan Cirillo was killed at the war memorial in Ottawa last month, wrote in a little publicized Facebook posting that, "I loved him deeply, as did all of the family and friends who knew him and we all still mourn him every day. That being said, I feel I should weigh in on this ridiculous 'was he a hero or was he not' debate. My response is this: WAKE UP CANADA. What we SHOULD be talking about is the dismal state of mental healthcare in our country.

"What that deeply disturbed man killing my boyfriend SHOULD make Canadians focus on is how we can PREVENT another event like this through more accessible and effective mental health treatment programs that target the REAL source of this tragedy.

"Stop tearing apart the honour and love bestowed upon a wonderful man who deserves every bit of it and start taking a good hard look at the awful, dysfunctional systems in our nation that this has shown us NEED TO CHANGE.


"I am a very proud Canadian, but the fact that this hero/not business is what the media here and the general public has chosen to talk about, I must say I am very disappointed.


"For those of you who would like to share my words, please do so. I feel as though this is an important discussion that needs to continue happening."

An example of courage that matches any mustered up on November 11.

Matthew Behrens is a freelance writer and social justice advocate who co-ordinates the Homes not Bombs non-violent direct action network. He has worked closely with the targets of Canadian and U.S. 'national security' profiling for many years.

A book launch for Stephen Dale's Noble Illusions takes place tonight (November 26)  at 7:30 pm in Toronto at Friends House, 60 Lowther Ave (Near Bloor and St. George), with special guests Sarah Hipworth (co-editor, Let Them Stay), 95-year-old pacifist and World War II conscientious Objector Frank Showler, and Jo Vellacott discussing conscientious objection during World War 1. More at

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Reflections on a violent day in Ottawa

| October 23, 2014
Photo: Ashwin Kumar/flickr
I often find it hard to feel empathy for Prime Minister Stephen Harper. But when I saw the grim picture of him talking on the phone following the end of his confinement in the locked down House of Commons yesterday, I sensed in him a vulnerability he rarely exhibits. Harper, like his fellow MPs, Parliamentary staff, media, visitors and children in the downstairs daycare, had likely hunkered down behind locked doors, no doubt traumatized by uncertainty when an armed gunman entered the building. Because no one knew who the gunman was after, all were potential targets. For half a day, everyone on lockdown no doubt felt the fear, despair, sadness and fragile sense of mortality that people in Iraq and Syria have experienced daily for decades, an extra punch of which they will soon receive at the hands of Canadian CF-18 bombers.

It's the kind of trauma not to be wished upon anyone, and I hope all affected will get the kind of counselling and therapeutic support necessary to deal with what may emerge as multiple cases of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), otherwise known as the condition that you get denied proper treatment for when you are a returning Canadian military veteran.

Like those in Afghanistan who suffered 13 years of Canadian bombardment (upwards of a billion Canadian bullets fired), night raids, transfers to torture, and the daily indignities of life under military occupation, those Parliamentarians with the power to declare war -- and send somebody else overseas to fight it for them -- felt, in a relatively limited fashion, what it's like for millions of the world's war-weary populations. The image of a cowering John Baird or Jason Kenney hiding in a barricaded office must have proven a stark contrast to the swaggering, macho manner in which these men urged Canada to declare war on ISIS, further fuelling the flames of fear and hatred against Muslims.

Out-of-the-blue violence
Thankfully, most of yesterday's hostages to violence in Parliament went home last night to warm houses with showers, uninterrupted electricity supply, food in the fridge, and the knowledge that this horror is unlikely to happen tomorrow and four or five times for the remainder of the month or periodically for the rest of their lives. But had this happened in Iraq, such relative safety would not be guaranteed, in part due to Canada's role in obliterating that nation's economy, electricity and water supply, and health-care system, first though intensive bombing in 1991, military enforcement of a decade's worth of brutal sanctions that killed a million Iraqis, and renewed support and participation in the 2003 invasion that was made possible by Canadian weapons, technical components, navy personnel and equipment, embedded troops, and high-ranking military officials. It was also out of Iraq's torturing prisons during the occupation that numerous ISIS leaders emerged.

The tragic murder of a young Canadian reservist and the Parliamentary shootout was all the more shocking because of its sudden, seemingly out-of-the-blue fashion. In the same way, on a daily basis in tribal areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan, in Yemen, in Somalia, children in schools, celebrants at weddings, and other individuals and families are suddenly, shockingly killed by a Hellfire missile fired from a remote control-operated drone, likely with the Canadian-built targeting camera courtesy of L-3 Wescam in Burlington, Ontario.

What is being treated as Canada's 9/11 is a day that recalls the comments made half a century ago by the great Malcolm X, who commented that the assassination of President Kennedy was a case of "chickens coming home to roost," a result of a "climate of hate" fostered by a U.S. political and corporate establishment regularly overthrowing governments and assassinating (or plotting against) a variety of leaders from Patrice Lumumba to Fidel Castro. At the time, Malcolm X was vilified for speaking the truth, one that America was not ready to accept, just as many Canadians may be unwilling to do now.

Indeed, how many Canadians reading that last paragraph would step back and say, "That's them, not us"? The horrible sound of gunfire in Parliament must have sounded a small bit of like some opening moments during the Canadian-supported coup against the democratically elected Chilean government of Salvador Allende in 1973, one of many coups Canada has given support to (including more recently the coups in Honduras, Egypt, Haiti, etc.). One reporter gasped that it was simply incongruous to see SWAT teams escorting her through the Parliament in which she worked, and yet Canadian policy throughout much of the world forces her counterparts to walk that ring of heavily armed men on a daily basis.

Rather than viewing yesterday's tragic events as a wake-up call to seriously examine Canada's negative role on the world stage and the inevitable "climate of hate" to which we are contributing, we can expect nothing less than a ride on the Platitude Express, which embarked within minutes of the first bullets being fired.

The Platitude Express
From endless references to the "loss of innocence" to the pronouncements that "things will never be the same" (especially in the "hallowed halls" of Parliament), we are witnessing the cranking up of our self-loving myth machine into high gear.

In this climate, do not expect our finest hour. Yesterday's events will be used as the springboard to call for greater militarization of the national culture and justification for unending war against ISIL/ISIS or any other convenient enemy-du-jour. This will lead to further increases in war spending, despite the fact that the War Dept. was supposed to come up with $2 billion in cuts. The wars in Ukraine and Iraq -- costs for which are being kept secret, without much protest -- will easily double that. These events will also be used to attack anyone who questions Canada's role in wars past or present.

New repressive laws
The events of yesterday will likely also have a congealing impact on Parliamentarians who, understandably, shared a trauma together. Wednesday was supposed to be the Harper government's opportunity to unleash a new round of legislative measures designed to give CSIS and the RCMP even more freedom to trade information with torturers, monitor people overseas, take part in extraordinary rendition programs, and be completely immune from prosecution and oversight by the creation of a special class privilege that would assert the right of CSIS agents and informers not to be questioned about their activities in any court of law, public or secret.

But after yesterday, what opposition leader who wants to appear prime ministerial will feel comfortable saying no to such an agenda? The Conservatives will no doubt frame the issue with the familiar refrain, "you're either with the terrorists or against them."

Perhaps the most immediate impact will be felt in certain communities targeted for racial and religious profiling. While Canadian soldiers have been told to stay indoors and not show themselves in public, individuals of South Asian or Middle Eastern heritage, and certainly anyone who may be a Muslim or perceived as one, may have second thoughts about being out in public. These communities will be the subject of demands from the media and some "community leaders" to "out" radicalized young people, to call in "suspicious" behavior (undefined), and to report their neighbours to CSIS or the Mounties. They will find greater difficulty travelling, and they will learn first-hand about something called the Passenger Protect Program (or no-fly list).

This is especially so since, while we do not know much about the shooter, media have been quick to point out that although he was a Canadian, he was of "Algerian" heritage, and a recent convert to Islam. Both are completely irrelevant factors, but so commonly part of the daily anti-terror discourse that no second thought is given to the consequences of bringing it up.

The game is no longer far away
Glenn Greenwald adequately summed things up by asking why Canada, a nation that has been at war for 13 years and counting, would be shocked that someone might actually (however unjustifiably), do what he felt was needed to fight back. But as a country that wages war but has never suffered from war the way Russia or France or Syria or Iraq have, we have always been insulated against the consequences of our actions, buoyed by a mythology that allows us to wear Canadian flags on backpacking trips through Europe.

By day's end, Harper addressed the nation, his discourse unchanged from the bellicose rumblings of last week as he rammed through a Parliamentary vote to bomb Iraq and Syria: "Canada will never be intimidated…redouble our efforts…savagery…no safe haven…"

After a long day focused on these gripping events in the nation's capital, I have to wonder if this direct experience of fear and trauma will force us to examine our own addiction to violence as the solution to conflict. Yesterday provides us with an opportunity to reflect on our insidious contribution to the climate of hate, and the chance to disengage from our increasingly militarized culture.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Demonizing those Canada calls 'radicalized'

Matthew Behrens
| October 22, 2014

Scare headlines about young people becoming "radicalized," going overseas, being transformed into robotic Super Muslims, graduating from Beheading School, and being returned to Canada ready to strike at the heart of our values, freedoms, and traditions have filled the media in the past few months, leading to an upcoming Canadian campaign of bombing Iraq and repressive new legislation to be introduced this week in Parliament.

Given the Fourth Estate's role as stenographer to power, it is unsurprising that the many articles asking "why" young people are attracted to overseas adventures are all playing into the same "blame Islam" game that results in horrible "jihad" headlines, increased fear, and suspicion of anyone who does not look like the CBC's Peter Whitemansbridge.

Like similar moral panics that have framed particular groups as the new internal enemy, young people both idealist and alienated now fit the focus of terror suspect, especially if they are Muslim and plan to travel overseas to visit relatives, learn Arabic, or just backpack around. Yet despite all the hyped-up chatter, no one has produced any evidence to show a threat exists to Canada and Canadians from the small number who have joined up in battling the Assad regime in Syria or worked with ISIS. We are told that some 80-130 individuals have gone overseas to be associated with terrorism, but this is always qualified by telling us not everyone is picking up a gun: some are fundraising, some are doing propaganda, some are just helping out with who knows what, from taking out the trash to helping the elderly cross the street. Regardless of what they are doing, Canada's terrorism laws are so broad that anyone associated in any way with a particular group will be tarred as a national security threat.

CSIS, Canada's spy agency, says it knows who has gone overseas and is monitoring them upon their return. RCMP head Bob Paulson was pretty clear when he told Parliament earlier this month: "It's nothing that I think Canadians need to be alarmed about." Sir Richard Dearlove, former M16 head, said the returning rebel threat was "exaggerated" and former M16 officer Richard Barrett said "the threat of the returning fighter is a small one." Chief Canadian Forces warlord Tom Lawson told the media that there was "no indication of direct threats" to members of his military.

The disconnect between rhetoric and reality creates a void that gets filled by the "radicalization" experts, many of whom contribute to the demonization of young people who may, with the best of idealistic intentions, feel great sadness at seeing war, mass murder, and utter despair, and want to do something about it. This doesn't justify the violent actions some may allegedly take part in, nor the rhetoric of fear they may spout while overseas. But Harper and company have done a good job making them out to be the worst possible incarnations of human flesh imaginable.

Halal foods to blame

The solutions to "radicalization" have long been studied and discussed at a variety of gatherings. In 2009, the Canadian War Department's Adversarial Intent Section held a workshop titled "Radicalization in the National Economic Climate," trying to determine possible links between the global recession and extremist responses. Invited to the Toronto gathering were Canadian spy agency CSIS, the Mounties, Citizenship and Immigration Canada, and assorted academics from the terrorism industry who weighed in on the possibilities, but most attendees found no direct link between extremism and the global recession.

However, the University of Toronto's Robert Brym, among others, chimed in that immigrant groups are most likely to radicalize and concluded that one solution was stepped-up monitoring of "groups and places that may pose a threat," including "locations where Halal products are sold." Notably, most national grocery chains now sell Halal products, and one can purchase hummus (which sounds disturbingly like a group the Canadian government has listed as terrorist, Hamas) pretty much everywhere.

Brym also recommended increased surveillance of "friendship groups formed around retail facilities frequented by Muslims" (though the equation between Muslims and immigrants is often a false one, given the faith has been practiced in this country for a century).

In the same way one or more black youth standing on a street corner is viewed as a riot in the making by many police forces, Muslims going shopping (and those "inspired" by Muslims at the retail level) may now pose the greatest threat to Canadians' national security since the CSIS theory that Muslim dreams could provoke radicalization.

Historically, the RCMP Security Service (SS) focused on certain cultural and religious attributes as signs of disloyalty, subversion, and traitorous intent: hence, their long-standing surveillance of groups like the Prairies-based, all-female Ukrainian Mandolin Orchestra. The RCMP SS legacy group, CSIS, frequently begin their national security investigations with such wholly irrelevant details as how often someone prays, if they know women who wear hijab, and what their imam thinks of drone strikes that kill children in Pakistan.

So will Loblaws and Metro stores soon be home to CSIS secret shoppers, monitoring who is picking up Sufra Halal chicken nuggets in the frozen section, or tossing The Queen's Khorasan bread into their recycled grocery bags? (Such bread MAY be suspect since it shares the same name as the non-existent "Khorasan group" that the U.S. created as an excuse to begin its bombing campaign of Syria and Iraq. This correspondent, for one, regularly buys Khorasan and recommends it as a healthy, hearty way to breakfast, despite the possibility it may be viewed, upon heating, as terrorism toast.)

The real ongoing danger

The idiocy of CSIS, the RCMP, and their friends in the press would be laughable if it were not so dangerous: as documented by a number of judicial inquiries and court decisions, their uninformed, lazy, and biased worldview leads to vicious campaigns of racial and religious profiling, community harassment, fear, perpetuation of an informant culture, and complicity in torture, all of which will increase given the current media-hyped scare over "extremist travellers" and "jihadi brides," among other turns of phrase that continue to demonize and put at risk all adherents of Islam.

A conference looking at the decade that has passed since the launch of the inquiry into Canada's role in the torture of Maher Arar (taking place in Ottawa October 29) will no doubt lament not only the lack of human rights progress over this period of time, but the uncertain future that lies ahead. Indeed, the federal government's proposed legislation to provide blanket class privilege to CSIS agents and informers (meaning they would never have to be questioned and cross-examined by lawyers and judges, even in secret hearings) opens the door to legalizing what CSIS has been doing all along: trading information with torturers.

In the same way the Harper government will politely ask the brutal Assad regime for permission to bomb targets in Syria, it is a no-brainer to conclude that CSIS will continue to maintain its similarly cozy relationship with the torturers of Syrian Military Intelligence, in the hopes of producing "actionable intelligence" from some confused Canadian teenager who went overseas with the notion of helping out, fell into the wrong hands, and perhaps got picked up by Syrian authorities. Alternatively, ANY Muslim, particularly of Arabic and/or South Asian heritage, is likely to be suspect if they plan on booking an airline ticket, so whether in the Toronto airport or during a journey to Mecca or dozens of other places in between, the chances of being pulled aside for interrogation or rendered to a place like Syria or Egypt (what is the REAL reason for your travel?) will skyrocket.

And so the same patterns of complicity that led to the torture of Arar, Abdullah Almalki, Ahmad El Maati, Muayyed Nureddin, and Abousfian Abdelrazik, among others, is sure-fire guaranteed to continue into the future. Those who trade in torture certainly took great comfort from last week's Supreme Court of Canada decision that shielded Iran from any accountability in the torture-murder of Canadian photographer Zahra Kazemi. Iran, the court concluded, should be immune from any court action under the State Immunity Act.

Equally certain is that those picked up by the authorities will have been the targets of a legally sanctioned racial profiling regime that will continue to be standard operating procedure, bolstered in part by last week's Federal Court of Appeal ruling (authored by the recently declined Supreme Court nominee, Judge Marc Nadon) that supported racial profiling. In that case, a 72-year-old Chinese woman was fined $800 for having in her purse two $5 pork roll snacks on a return flight to Canada. The Canada Agricultural Review Tribunal found that she was the victim of racial profiling, since the border officer said he believed Chinese people were more likely to smuggle food into the country. Nadon supported the officer.

The root problem of radicalization

Meanwhile, the "what do we do with the kids who are becoming radicalized" question thus becomes the focus of academic study, anti-terrorism funding, and media misinformation.

Perhaps we can start by stating that young people going overseas are not necessarily radicalized. Most standard dictionaries define radical as "arising from or going to a root or source" of a problem. Suppose some young people are excited about going to join ISIS or fight Assad because they can pick up guns and live out real-life adventures by blowing away the bad guys. Is that not in fact a sign that they are ideologically obedient to the violent society they come from, one that invests $1.3 trillion annually on different ways of killing one another and uses war games like paintball as a means of building company morale? If their goal is to shoot down some enemy, regardless of the cost, are they not aping the work of the masters and power brokers for whom the taking of human life is "collateral damage," an inconvenience on the road to their goals? The morality of the groups they seek to join is no different than that of their own countries' violence-based organizations. Indeed, last week Chief Canadian Forces warlord Tom Lawson conceded that his bombers WILL be killing civilians in Iraq and Syria, just not at an "unreasonable" level. Needless to say, no one asked Lawson what was a "reasonable" level of civilian slaughter.

No, in reflecting the very mainstream ideas of their society, some of these travellers are not radicalized. They have not gotten to the roots of the world's problems; instead, they are exhibiting the very symptoms of what is acceptable behavior. They are in this sense "conservatized." Some of them are indoctrinated in the fun of killing through first-person shooter video games like Call of Duty, the combat simulation sensation that is played around the globe and which seems to show up increasingly on the Facebook pages of those joining the likes of ISIS. One threat management company spokesperson told Maclean's that some recruits are "17-year-old boy[s] whose only experience in this field is from playing Call of Duty on an Xbox." Indeed, the Ottawa Citizen reported the late Mohamud Mohamed Mohamud of Hamilton was "more concerned with video games than world events. He chatted about Call of Duty, a series of first-person shooter games praised for their realistic and intense combat simulation." 

What this says is these young recruits are not necessarily interested in ideology or spirituality; rather, they may instead be seeking the thrill and adventure of being in a war zone, a real-life version of what Call of Duty offers them on their basement Xbox.

Firing guns is a blast

In that respect, the conservatized travellers are no different than the child soldiers who are recruited in Canadian high school military co-op programs. In St. Catharines, high school kids can join a day-long co-op program that, in the lingo of the age, is pretty cool shit, including the use of exciting YouTube videos aimed at impressionable young minds (Yes, Virginia, ISIS is not the only group ever to target young people with videos). Indeed, child soldiers in St. Catharines will learn to "use weapons such as rifles, grenades and machine guns; Learn to operate with support elements such as logistics, artillery and armored vehicles; Learn to employ field craft and procedures including camouflage and concealment, internal security, patrol, escape and evasion tactics." In the promo videos encouraging young kids to join up and learn how to use machine guns, we learn from the mouths of babes that it's "a great career choice for anyone who wants to be part of the action. Obviously, firing the gun is a blast, you know, getting to pull that lanyard and feeling that howitzer underneath you, feel the concussion, getting to see the rounds land..." Another exclaims, "It's not everybody who gets to go out and have all this fun in the field.... There's not one of us that would ever give up the opportunity to reload and fire a big triple 7 or an LG1, that's for sure."

And in a statement that perhaps sums up that spirit of camaraderie that young overseas ISIS recruits may be missing at home, the young soldier chimes in:

"Honestly, my best experience so far in the army has been my deployment to Afghanistan. Your existence in the military is to train for war, you know, that's our job, and when you finally get to put everything into play and all your training comes into play there's no better feeling than being over there with everybody that you've worked so hard with."

Nothing about freedom or ideals, or democracy, or helping oppressed women or any of the other propaganda coming from the mouths of those in Ottawa who send the orders but never see the action: just the sense of being part of a team doing stuff together. The fact that things go boom makes it more exciting.

Preventing radicalization

Unsurprisingly, most media have failed to look deeper into the roots of those who are interested in travelling overseas with what would appear at first blush to be the entirely justifiable response to seeing mass murder, torture, and other atrocities committed by the likes of the Assad regime in Syria as well as NATO forces throughout the region: wanting to do something about it. One young Canadian who was killed in Syria actually told his mother "he was in Syria because women and children were being tortured and he wanted to do something productive." They also fail to look at the characteristics of young people wanting to join something that will give them a sense of identity, purpose, and community, something often in short supply in their lives at home.

Unfortunately, it is easier to fall back on the old canards used by the security "specialists." "The signs [of radicalization] could be they're not going to school, they're feeling isolated, their understanding of geopolitics is not what we would say is the standard," says RCMP Sgt. Renu Dash, acting director of the Mounties' "public engagement team." What, exactly, is a standard view of geopolitics, other than Harper's view of the world? In other words, think like we do, or face the consequences.

Ms. Dash says there is no one-size-fits all symptom, and refuses to say what criteria the RCMP actually use, though a British early intervention model called Channel referred young people for intervention if they wore clothes that were deemed too "radical" (and not in the sense of ripped Dark Side of the Moon Pink Floyd garb; rather, a hijab). It is no a stretch to say the RCMP's worldview must be adhered to in order to avoid scrutiny as a potential radicalization suspect.

This extension of thought control pervades the world of "cross-cultural" roundtables convened by the likes of CSIS and the Mounties: they are set up as a "dialogue" but the real goal is community control and enforcement of a standard geopolitical view, as Ms. Dash asserts. This was made abundantly clear when the Islamic Social Services Association and the National Council of Canadian Muslims partnered recently with the RCMP on a "United Against Terrorism" handbook. The Mounties pulled away from the final product, calling it unnecessarily "adversarial" because it had the audacity to advise people of their rights if approached by an RCMP or CSIS member.

Is there a threat?

How much of a threat do these young people pose, especially if they return to Canada?

The Washington Post correctly pointed out that "foreign fighters are often given menial jobs far from the front lines… many have been surprised that when they do fight, the battles are with fellow rebel groups," and not against Assad. M16's Barrett says the kids get trapped, as ISIS will not let them go and the British government will not allow them back. Indeed, London Mayor Boris Johnson has said suspected fighters should be stripped of citizenship and presumed guilty.

And the idea that a lone Canadian shouting into YouTube that "we are coming to destroy you" made the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) go on high alert a few weeks back is another sign of how little people are actually thinking through what is going on. That kid likely has as little capacity to produce destruction in Canada as the drunken hockey fan's ability to propel the Maple Leafs into the playoffs when he proclaims, "This year we are taking the Stanley Cup." 

The idea that overseas fighters are brainwashed forever is also given the lie by folks like Hanif Qadir, who runs an "anti-extremist" foundation. As the Washington Post reported:

"Appalled by reports of U.S. airstrikes killing innocent civilians, he travelled to Pakistan and Afghanistan in 2002. He went with the intention of performing humanitarian work but said he was also attracted to the Taliban's rhetoric of struggle against a foreign occupier and was prepared to fight alongside the insurgent group. Instead, he was repelled by what he found. 'If American soldiers were being hostile toward innocent civilians, so were Al-Qaida and the Taliban…This was hypocrisy.'" 

While the CSIS and Mounties have their knickers in a knot about overseas travellers to the Middle East, they are absolutely silent on those who join another organization that commits well-documented war crimes on a regular basis: the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF). During the summer of 2014, when Israeli war crimes were perpetrated against the people of Gaza, Canadian Netta Gelb of Richmond Hill was serving with the IDF. Her dad complained to Postmedia, "I just want her to get through this in one piece…There was really not much we could do to stop (her). It's very difficult to explain it to people -- how could she make that decision and go off and do it. At that age, you really can't tell them anything."

There are some 30 Canadian young people in the Israeli army from Ontario alone (part of the larger group of some 5,500 "lone soldiers"). During that summer bombardment, the Ottawa Citizen noted Palestinian children were traumatized by what was described by Al-Aqsa University professor Derdah al-Sha'er as "the violent and bloody scenes of war -- the destruction of homes in airstrikes, body parts and corpses covered in blood and dust being pulled from the rubble, night bombings while there's no electricity." Yet if one were to have gone and fought against the IDF, they would now be a candidate for statelessness, their Canadian citizenship revoked.

Some 30,000 Canadians served in the U.S. military during the war against Vietnam, when U.S. forces committed mass atrocities including beheadings that left heads on sticks at the entrances to many villages. Canadians are now serving with Ukrainian paramilitaries (and associating with neo-Nazis). At the same time, anti-choice protesters cross the border to work with terrorist groups in the U.S. that bomb women's reproductive health centres. But none of these have been cause for parliamentary hearings and scare headlines.

Life is hard on the young

That many young people are alienated and disconnected is unsurprising given they live in a country where, even by the Canadian Senate's own reckoning (as documented in their 2008 report, "Children, The Silenced Citizens"), Canada and its institutions fail children when it comes to guaranteeing their most basic rights. It is clear to young people that our society has little use for them: they are exploited, ill-treated, terrorized, given little hope for the future, stressed out, threatened, bullied, blamed for government decisions because they see no point in voting, and then expected to perform well in school and be model citizens. Services for those with mental health issues are stretched to the max and, when utilized, often useless.

We invest in warfare, not child care. When they react with "bad behaviour," zero tolerance legislation slaps them down and criminalizes them without asking WHY they are acting out. The helicopter-parent generation offers them little independence or association with friends of their own choosing. Hanging out with larger groups is seen as trouble in the making. "No more than three students in the store" signs proliferate throughout the land. Is it any wonder they might be looking for a sense of belonging, a purpose, a place where they feel they will be respected? Perhaps they might get that in drama club, perhaps in a gang, perhaps by taking the ultimate adventure in going overseas and fighting against agents of tyranny. We call them naïve when they do: don't they know about the ideology of ISIS? Don't they understand the politics of the region? Perhaps not, but the same question could equally be asked of their parents and the politicians they vote for.

The Harper government's solution to these "problem kids" is to criminalize them, strip them of their citizenship. Because there is no such thing as a root cause in Harper's world, there is no sense trying to delve into the issue: they are just evil, evil, evil, and the solution to our problems is more thought control and surveillance.

Indeed, at the conclusion of the 2009 radicalization conference in Toronto, plenary participants gathered up their flip-chart notes and shared fragments of ideas arising from workshops, including "maintain relationship with community while monitoring it," and "Need Big brother watch (surveillance and intelligence)." Watch what happens in Parliament this week and see if their Big Brother dreams come true.

In the meantime, we need to reframe the radicalization narrative. The very least we can do when it comes to young people who have sadly gone abroad and met their deaths is refuse to demonize them or spit on their graves, and perhaps ask what we as adults are willing to do to help the lost and searching children of this generation.

This column was completed before the unfortunate event in Quebec that took the life of a Canadian soldier. The driver of the hit-and-run vehicle was killed by police -- he was holding a knife -- and so there will be no trial and no further first-hand information made available from the suspect. While the Prime Minister's Office was quick to jump on the bandwagon, inflaming the situation by calling this a home-grown terrorist act (perfectly timed to help with the passage of new repressive legislation), the Sûreté du Québec spokesman at the scene said it was too early to tell whether the military was specifically targeted. Nevertheless, it is remarkably similar to the case of Pamela Mimnagh, an Arnprior woman killed October 3 by a truck driven by her husband, who has since been charged. Like many women whose lives are taken by men in Canada -- often in calculated, well-planned attacks -- it barely makes a headline, much less gets named for what it is: a home-grown terrorist act.

Matthew Behrens is a freelance writer and social justice advocate who co-ordinates the Homes not Bombs non-violent direct action network. He has worked closely with the targets of Canadian and U.S. 'national security' profiling for many years.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Honouring Those Killed by Deportation from Canada, Thursday, October 23, Ottawa, 12:30 pm

 Honouring Those Killed by Deportation from Canada, Thursday, October 23, Ottawa, 12:30 pm

Canadian Border Services Agency (office of CBSA President Luc Portelance)

191 Laurier Ave. West (at Metcalfe, next to Library), Ottawa

 (For those in the national capital region, please join us for the vigil....   Letters demanding a stop to deportations can be sent from anywhere—see below)

Two weeks after the release of inquest findings into the hanging death in CBSA custody of Mexican refugee Lucia Vega Jimenez (who justifiably feared a forced return to violence in Mexico), join us as we gather to honour the memory of Jimenez and other refugees who have lost their lives in this country while facing deportation or following forced removal from Canada.
                                                                    Lucia Vega Jimenez
 Every year, the CBSA spends $100 million to jail and deport refugees in an inhumane assembly line of misery that not only regularly violates the law, but also serves no social purpose, ruins lives and tears apart families and communities, spreads fear, and forces many into situations of further violence, torture, and death. (More info at )

Included in countries to which CBSA seeks to deport individuals are Mexico (a country deemed "safe" by Canada despite the recent massacre of student protesters and an Amnesty International report finding a 600% increase in torture since 2003), Iran, Syria, and Egypt.

 CBSA President Luc Portelance has spent most of his career in agencies that view refugees as security threats and criminals – the RCMP and spy agency CSIS. As BC Lawyer Phil Rankin (among many others) has repeatedly pointed out, refugees like Lucia Vega Jimenez "are not criminals, but what we’ve done is create a criminal model. In this case, it led to a death....If you keep doing business as usual, there will be more (deaths)."

Join us Thursday, October 23 at 12:30 pm in Ottawa to honour the memory of some of those whose lives were lost as a result of Canada's inhumane deportation system, and to demand an end to deportations. There is no rational explanation for why this country detains and forcibly deports human beings (83,635 people deported from January 2009 to June, 2014;  some 10,000, including children, annually detained).

Some Disturbing Findings

85,635 human beings were deported from Canada between January 2009 to June, 2014

CBSA's "removal" costs for 2013/2014 fiscal year were $43,120,600

CBSA's costs to detain refugees simply because they are refugees, 2013/14, $55,195,949

Last year’s landmark Harvard University study,  Bordering on Failure: Canada-U.S. Border policy and the Politics of Refugee Exclusion, concluded: “Canada is systematically closing its borders to asylum seekers, and circumventing its refugee protection obligations under domestic and international law… Canada sets a poor example for other countries, and contributes to the deterioration of refugee protection around the world.”


Although he may feel insulated in his sixth floor office from the human rights concerns of refugees, Luc Portelance needs to hear from you. Let him know how you feel about the deportation process, and demand an end to this barbaric practice.

Luc Portelance, President's Office

Canadian Border Services Agency

6th Flr., 191 Laurier Ave. West

Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0L8

Phone: 613-952-3200

Fax: 613-948-3177


Organized by the Anne Frank Sanctuary Committee and Homes not Bombs,,, 613-267-3998

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Just Say No to War: A nonviolent vigil on Parliament Hill

Just Say No to War: A nonviolent vigil on Parliament Hill
Monday, October 6, 3-5 pm
AND an email campaign to the Prime Minister's office from wherever you are

While politicians inside the House debate timelines, benchmarks, exit strategies, and the intent to add Canadian fighter jets as part of the slaughter from the skies playing out in Iraq and Syria (and fail to even open a debate on the 1,000+ troops and Canadian bombers that are now near the Ukraine border), join us in front of Parliament for a nonviolent vigil to Just Say NO to War. To say no to:

- the macho posturing of those beating the drums of war.
- the excitement bubbling in the offices of Canadian weapons dealers whose profits have fueled the current conflicts and whose instruments of murder are being tested in the new "theatre" of war.
- the complete failure of imagination of those in power who label whole groups of people as beyond human and worthy only of being murdered.
- a perverted mindset that believes in war as a solution to any problem, even though wars are directly or indirectly responsible for 190 million 20th-century deaths (90% of whom were civilian).
- the inability of those inside the House to understand that war is terrorism.
- the Canadian government's role in brokering the $14 billion weapons deal for General Dynamics of London, Ontario to supply the regime of Saudi Arabia, which imposes severe repression against women and regularly beheads people.
- a Canadian war economy that is built on theft of the poor: while the Harper government refuses to reveal the cost of bombing Syria/Iraq and occupying Eastern Europe, hundreds of thousands remain homeless, millions are hungry, wait lists for children with mental health issues are growing exponentially, money is used for warfare and not childcare, and overcrowded women's shelters are turning away countless targets of violence here at home.

War is NOT the Answer

1. Consider organizing a vigil wherever you are
2. Email the Prime Minister to let him know you oppose war under all circumstances. The Harper government may act like it doesn't care what you think, but it outspends all previous governments in monitoring protests, emails, letters, media, etc. So every email counts! You can email Harper from this weblink:   OR write directly to, and cc opposition leaders Mulcair, Trudeau, and May at, , and

Sponsored by Homes not Bombs: Because Canada should build homes, not blow them up
(613) 267-3998

Also see:

"There is nothing as vile as the arrogance of the military mind. Of all the plagues with which the world is cursed, of every ill, militarism is the worst: the assumption that war is the answer to human problems." Rabbi Abraham Heschel