Wednesday, December 26, 2018

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

Dear Friends of Homes not Bombs,

I had the honour of being arrested and banned from Parliament Hill twice this year during a series of actions Homes not Bombs organized along with Indigenous land protectors and supporters. (You can watch some excellent footage of our May 7 direct action at

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Matthew Behrens
Homes not Bombs

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Mercury's Toxic Legacy from Grassy Narrows to Muskrat Falls

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

By Matthew Behrens

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 16, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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