we must support striking city workers

I've just come home from an excellent meeting called by the International Socialists in support of striking city workers in Toronto - and in support of working people everywhere.

I have many thoughts to share on why all of us - union and non-union, public workers and private, employed and unemployed - should support public employees in their fights against concessions.

Tomorrow morning, along with many people who attended tonight's meeting, I'll join the picket at a garbage-transfer station.

When I come home, I'll write about the meeting, and the strike, and me, and you.

Meanwhile: solidarity. Their fight is our fight is all of our fight.

debunking myths about canadian health care system

This excellent story about the Canadian health care system doesn't break any new ground, but it's a clear, concise overview. I'm posting it in the hopes that it will help progressive USians in their efforts to bring sanity to the US's health care crisis. ("Crisis" seems like too small a word for the health care in the US. Disaster? Catastrophe?)

It is estimated that 18,000 Americans die each year from lack of health insurance. And that's only the deaths. How many more suffer diminished lives? [Update. Sarah O. just alerted me to this study: "Make that 22,000 uninsured deaths".]

The Institutes of Medicine, a source of hard facts on science, medicine, and health, has studied the effects of lack of health insurance on USians, and issued a series of reports.
Many Americans believe that people who lack health insurance somehow get the care they really need. Care Without Coverage: Too Little, Too Late, the second report in a series of six from the Institiute of Medicine's Committee on the Consequences of Uninsurance, examines the real consequences for adults who lack health insurance. The study presents findings in the areas of prevention and screening, cancer, chronic illness, hospital-based care, and general health status.

The committee looked at the consequences of being uninsured for people suffering from cancer, diabetes, HIV infection and AIDS, heart and kidney disease, mental illness, traumatic injuries, and heart attacks. It focused on the roughly 30 million - one in seven - working-age Americans without health insurance. This group does not include the population over 65 that is covered by Medicare or the nearly 10 million children who are uninsured in this country.

The main findings of the report are that working-age Americans without health insurance are more likely to receive too little medical care and receive it too late; be sicker and die sooner; and receive poorer care when they are in the hospital, even for acute situations like a motor vehicle crash.

"Debunking Canadian Health Care Myths," by Rhonda Hackett, writing in The Denver Post.
As a Canadian living in the United States for the past 17 years, I am frequently asked by Americans and Canadians alike to declare one health care system as the better one.

Often I'll avoid answering, regardless of the questioner's nationality. To choose one or the other system usually translates into a heated discussion of each one's merits, pitfalls, and an intense recitation of commonly cited statistical comparisons of the two systems.

Because if the only way we compared the two systems was with statistics, there is a clear victor. It is becoming increasingly more difficult to dispute the fact that Canada spends less money on health care to get better outcomes.

Yet, the debate rages on. Indeed, it has reached a fever pitch since President Barack Obama took office, with Americans either dreading or hoping for the dawn of a single-payer health care system. Opponents of such a system cite Canada as the best example of what not to do, while proponents laud that very same Canadian system as the answer to all of America's health care problems. Frankly, both sides often get things wrong when trotting out Canada to further their respective arguments.

As America comes to grips with the reality that changes are desperately needed within its health care infrastructure, it might prove useful to first debunk some myths about the Canadian system.

Myth: Taxes in Canada are extremely high, mostly because of national health care.

In actuality, taxes are nearly equal on both sides of the border. Overall, Canada's taxes are slightly higher than those in the U.S. However, Canadians are afforded many benefits for their tax dollars, even beyond health care (e.g., tax credits, family allowance, cheaper higher education), so the end result is a wash. At the end of the day, the average after-tax income of Canadian workers is equal to about 82 percent of their gross pay. In the U.S., that average is 81.9 percent.

Myth: Canada's health care system is a cumbersome bureaucracy.

The U.S. has the most bureaucratic health care system in the world. More than 31 percent of every dollar spent on health care in the U.S. goes to paperwork, overhead, CEO salaries, profits, etc. The provincial single-payer system in Canada operates with just a 1 percent overhead. Think about it. It is not necessary to spend a huge amount of money to decide who gets care and who doesn't when everybody is covered.

Myth: The Canadian system is significantly more expensive than that of the U.S.

Ten percent of Canada's GDP is spent on health care for 100 percent of the population. The U.S. spends 17 percent of its GDP but 15 percent of its population has no coverage whatsoever and millions of others have inadequate coverage. In essence, the U.S. system is considerably more expensive than Canada's. Part of the reason for this is uninsured and underinsured people in the U.S. still get sick and eventually seek care. People who cannot afford care wait until advanced stages of an illness to see a doctor and then do so through emergency rooms, which cost considerably more than primary care services.

What the American taxpayer may not realize is that such care costs about $45 billion per year, and someone has to pay it. This is why insurance premiums increase every year for insured patients while co-pays and deductibles also rise rapidly.

Myth: Canada's government decides who gets health care and when they get it.

While HMOs and other private medical insurers in the U.S. do indeed make such decisions, the only people in Canada to do so are physicians. In Canada, the government has absolutely no say in who gets care or how they get it. Medical decisions are left entirely up to doctors, as they should be.

There are no requirements for pre-authorization whatsoever. If your family doctor says you need an MRI, you get one. In the U.S., if an insurance administrator says you are not getting an MRI, you don't get one no matter what your doctor thinks — unless, of course, you have the money to cover the cost.

Myth: There are long waits for care, which compromise access to care.

There are no waits for urgent or primary care in Canada. There are reasonable waits for most specialists' care, and much longer waits for elective surgery. Yes, there are those instances where a patient can wait up to a month for radiation therapy for breast cancer or prostate cancer, for example. However, the wait has nothing to do with money per se, but everything to do with the lack of radiation therapists. Despite such waits, however, it is noteworthy that Canada boasts lower incident and mortality rates than the U.S. for all cancers combined, according to the U.S. Cancer Statistics Working Group and the Canadian Cancer Society. Moreover, fewer Canadians (11.3 percent) than Americans (14.4 percent) admit unmet health care needs.

Myth: Canadians are paying out of pocket to come to the U.S. for medical care.

Most patients who come from Canada to the U.S. for health care are those whose costs are covered by the Canadian governments. If a Canadian goes outside of the country to get services that are deemed medically necessary, not experimental, and are not available at home for whatever reason (e.g., shortage or absence of high tech medical equipment; a longer wait for service than is medically prudent; or lack of physician expertise), the provincial government where you live fully funds your care. Those patients who do come to the U.S. for care and pay out of pocket are those who perceive their care to be more urgent than it likely is.

Myth: Canada is a socialized health care system in which the government runs hospitals and where doctors work for the government.

Princeton University health economist Uwe Reinhardt says single-payer systems are not "socialized medicine" but "social insurance" systems because doctors work in the private sector while their pay comes from a public source. Most physicians in Canada are self-employed. They are not employees of the government nor are they accountable to the government. Doctors are accountable to their patients only. More than 90 percent of physicians in Canada are paid on a fee-for-service basis. Claims are submitted to a single provincial health care plan for reimbursement, whereas in the U.S., claims are submitted to a multitude of insurance providers. Moreover, Canadian hospitals are controlled by private boards and/or regional health authorities rather than being part of or run by the government.

Myth: There aren't enough doctors in Canada.

From a purely statistical standpoint, there are enough physicians in Canada to meet the health care needs of its people. But most doctors practice in large urban areas, leaving rural areas with bona fide shortages. This situation is no different than that being experienced in the U.S. Simply training and employing more doctors is not likely to have any significant impact on this specific problem. Whatever issues there are with having an adequate number of doctors in any one geographical area, they have nothing to do with the single-payer system.

And these are just some of the myths about the Canadian health care system. While emulating the Canadian system will likely not fix U.S. health care, it probably isn't the big bad "socialist" bogeyman it has been made out to be.

It is not a perfect system, but it has its merits. For people like my 55-year-old Aunt Betty, who has been waiting for 14 months for knee-replacement surgery due to a long history of arthritis, it is the superior system. Her $35,000-plus surgery is finally scheduled for next month. She has been in pain, and her quality of life has been compromised. However, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Aunt Betty — who lives on a fixed income and could never afford private health insurance, much less the cost of the surgery and requisite follow-up care — will soon sport a new, high-tech knee. Waiting 14 months for the procedure is easy when the alternative is living in pain for the rest of your life.

mark sanford is really a democrat. just ask fox news.

Recently I heard someone say, "The only person happy about Michael Jackson's death is Mark Sanford." Suddenly the scandals around the South Carolina Governor's whereabouts, lies and extra-marital escapades are no longer front-page news.

But did you know Sanford is really a Democrat? Well, not really, but Fox News said he was. Please click through for screen shots!
When does an embattled Republican suddenly become an embattled Democrat? When Fox News is covering him, of course.

The network known for its conservative leaning ran footage of Mark Sanford admitting to an extramarital affair on Wednesday with a Chyron identifying the South Carolina Republican -- near tears -- as a D, for Democrat.

Fox News apologized for the "mistake" (no unnecessary quotations here!), but what about all the other "mistakes"?

InterShame.com - "Shaming bad behavior on the WWW since 1995!" - has gathered screen shots of Fox News identifying scandal-plagued Republicans as Democrats: go here to marvel at this wonder of "journalism".

[Pet peeve note. If you are inclined to wonder, "What's become of journalism today?" or to lament the decline of journalistic standards, you're a few centuries late.]

calgary herald: harper government barring door to u.s. war deserters

This Calgary Herald story by Norma Greenaway really sums up the situation with the Harper Government's intransigence on Iraq War resisters. Please click through to see a great photo of Campaigner Patricia Molloy (the true identity of NCF revealed!) protesting Jason Kenney's appearance in Oslo!
Jason Kenney's most memorable assault on U.S. war deserters seeking refuge in Canada occurred soon after he became immigration minister in October 2008.

Kenney dismissed them as "bogus refugee claimants," a phrase that set off loud alarm bells among the deserters’ supporters because it was more loaded than anything said before by his Tory predecessors in the job.

The phrase cannot be found in more than 300 pages of department briefing notes, e-mails and other documents relating to the issue obtained by Canwest News Service under Access to Information legislation.

Not surprisingly, the language in the documents, including background briefing notes for the minister and his parliamentary secretary written by bureaucrats, is decidedly more neutral than the words chosen by the Calgary firebrand.

Still, the underlying message in the printed material dating back three years is there is no appetite for intervening politically to do for Iraqi war deserters what Pierre Trudeau did for Vietnam War draft dodgers and deserters in 1969, when his government laid out the welcome mat for both groups. There also is nothing in the documents that suggests the issue has spurred any debate within government ranks.

In a memorandum to Kenney in February, Richard Fadden, his then-deputy minister, provided a thorough review of the issue that, among other things, laid out why all Iraqi war deserters’ claims for refugee status had failed so far with the Immigration and Refugee Board, the Federal Court of Canada and the Court of Appeal.

. . . .

Supporters of the deserters admit they are discouraged, but they vow to keep pressing the government to show some compassion before more get eviction notices.

Immigration critics for the opposition Liberals, New Democrats and Bloc Quebecois sent a joint letter to Kenney on Friday asking him to halt all deportations and to respect the "will" of Parliament, which has approved two motions calling for permanent resident status for the "war resisters."

"We urge the government to show compassion for those who have chosen not to participate in a war that was not sanctioned by the United Nations," the letter said.

Two deserters have been forced to leave already and are serving jail sentences on desertion charges.

A handful of others could follow soon as they exhaust their legal options. Among them are Jeremy Hinzman, the first deserter to file for refugee status in Canada in 2004; Kimberly Rivera, the mother of three young children, one of whom was born in Canada; and Phil McDowell, an Iraqi war veteran who fled to Canada in 2006 rather than accept a call to report back to base as a reservist for a 15-month deployment to Iraq.

Michelle Robidoux, a spokeswoman for the War Resisters Support Campaign, says about 50 deserters have applied for refugee status and there are dozens more living below the radar, waiting to see how the legal and political battles play out.

Robidoux said Kenney's comments have tainted the Immigration Refugee Board process.

"How can it possibly be an independent body when a Minister of the Crown is saying they are bogus refugees?" she said.

If you live in striking distance of the Calgary Herald's base, will you take a few minutes and write a letter to the editor? Call on the Government to respect the will of Parliament and Let Them Stay. Tell them it's the Canadian thing to do.


immigration critics to jason kenney: respect the will of parliament, do not deport war resisters!

I've mentioned that the Campaign, along with our Parliamentary supporters, are concerned about what will happen to U.S. war resisters in Canada this summer.

Several war resisters are at risk for deportation - Jeremy Hinzman, Dean Walcott, Patrick Hart and Kimberly Rivera, among others. There is good reason to fear that the Harper Government will use the Parliamentary recess as an opportunity to aggressively go after them - to send them back to the U.S. authorities, to face court martial and imprisonment - while there are fewer avenues of appeal, and less media to report on it. This has already happened twice, in the summer of 2008, and the winter of 2008-09.

As part of an ongoing strategy to support war resisters during that time, all three Opposition Immigration Critics have sent an open letter to Jason Kenney, Minister of Citizenship and Immigration.

This is the text of the letter. Please feel free to circulate this and use it however you can.

[Official House of Commons letterhead]

June 26, 2009

The Honourable Jason Kenney, P.C., M.P.
Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism
325 East Block
House of Commons
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 0A6

Dear Minister Kenney:

As Parliament rises for the summer break, we write to remind you of the House of Commons' direction to the Government of Canada regarding Iraq War resisters.

Twice now, on June 3, 2008 and March 30, 2009, Members of Parliament have voted to direct the government to immediately cease any removal or deportation actions that may be commenced against Iraq War resisters and their families and to establish a program to facilitate these war resisters' requests for permanent resident status is Canada. In our consideration of this important issue we highlighted that the element of compulsion and the stop-loss provision in the U.S. are inconsistent with our sound values of fairness, understanding, compassion, and justice.

Therefore, we urge the government to show compassion for those who have chosen not to participate in a war that was not sanctioned by the United Nations.

When the House of Commons resumes sitting in the fall, we ask that you act in good faith in accordance with this direction from the majority of Canadians' elected representatives.
Mindful that at other times there has been an apparent increase in deportation activity when the House is not sitting, we urge you not to use the Parliamentary recess to disregard the expressed will of the House of Commons with respect to the fair treatment of Iraq War resisters in Canada.

Yours sincerely, [with signatures]

Honourable Maurizio Bevilacqua
Immigration Critic, Liberal Party of Canada

Olivia Chow
Immigration Critic, New Democratic Party of Canada

Thierry St-Cyr
Immigration Critic, Bloc Québécois


[Official House of Commons letterhead]

Le 26 juin 2009

L’honorable Jason Kenney, C.P., député
Ministre de la Citoyenneté, de l’Immigration et du Multiculturalisme
325, édifice de l’Est
Chambre des communes
Ottawa (Ontario)
K1A 0A6

Monsieur le Ministre,

Nous vous écrivons en ce début de relâche du Parlement pour l’été pour vous rappeler les conseils don-nés au gouvernement du Canada par la Chambre des communes au sujet des résistants à la guerre en Irak.

À deux reprises, soit le 3 juin 2008 et le 30 mars 2009, les députés du Parlement ont adopté une motion demandant au gouvernement de cesser immédiatement toute action de renvoi ou d’expulsion entreprise contre les résistants à la guerre en Irak et leurs familles, et d’établir un programme leur permettant de demander le statut de résident permanent au Canada. Durant nos délibérations au sujet de cette question importante, nous avons souligné que la prolongation forcée de la période d’engagement en vigueur aux États-Unis est contraire à nos valeurs d’équité, de compréhension, de compassion et de justice.

Nous exhortons donc le gouvernement à témoigner de la passion à l’endroit de ceux et celles qui ont choisi de ne pas participer à une guerre qui n’a pas été sanctionnée par les Nations Unies. Lorsque la Chambre des communes reprendra ses travaux à l’automne, nous vous demandons d’agir en toute bonne foi conformément à la motion adoptée par la majorité des représentants canadiens élus.

Conscient de l’augmentation apparente du nombre d’expulsions à d’autres moments où la Chambre ne siégeait pas, nous vous exhortons à ne pas profiter de la relâche parlementaire pour faire fi de la volonté expresse de la Chambre des communes en ce qui concerne le traitement juste des résistants à la guerre en Irak qui vivent au Canada.

Veuillez agréer, Monsieur le Ministre, mes salutations distinguées.

Honourable Maurizio Bevilacqua
Immigration Critic, Liberal Party of Canada

Olivia Chow
Immigration Critic, New Democratic Party of Canada

Thierry St-Cyr
Immigration Critic, Bloc Québécois

This summer could be dire for people of peace and conscience, people who are working and contributing to Canadian society, people who ask only one thing: let us stay.

Call, write, email. Show them we are watching.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper

Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Jason Kenney

If you email Jason Kenney, please cc the opposition party critics. Or email them to thank them for their support.

Liberal party immigration critic Maurizio Bevilacqua

NDP immigration critic Olivia Chow

Bloc Québécois immigration critic Thierry St-Cyr


canada knew about afghan rape law in advance

It turns out that Canadian diplomats had advance knowledge of Afghanistan's "rape law", weeks before the laws were passed. Antonia Z has some questions.
1. If Canadian diplomats knew but didn't think it worth a briefing, what do they understand about our mission in Afghanistan?

2. If Canadian diplomats knew and actually did give the government a briefing, why didn't we hear about this law sooner?

3. Why are Canadian men and women dying to keep Karzai in power?

4. Isn't our "mission" in Afghanistan supposed to be humanitarian?

Please click for links and details.

Canada out of Afghanistan now.

another canadian abandoned by the harper government

Abdihakim Mohamed is a Canadian citizen. He's 25 years old, of Somali heritage, and he's autistic.

He's been stuck in Kenya for more than three years. All Mr. Mohamed needs to return to Canada is a passport, or some similar travel document. Canada won't issue him one, and there's no good reason why.

* * * *

Mohamed is at risk in Kenya, and if he's deported to Somalia, he'll be in grave danger there.

In Kenya, Mohamed faces a life without adequate supervision and care, in a culture where there is said to be a great stigma against people with disabilities. He has been harassed by police, and likely faces more police abuse in the future. If, because he is ethnically Somali, he's deported to Somalia, he faces more danger there.

Somalia is one of the countries for which Canada has issued an official warning: "Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada advises against all travel in Somalia. Canadians in this country should leave. There is no resident Canadian government office in Somalia, and the Government of Canada cannot provide consular assistance to Canadian citizens in distress in Somalia."

All that Mr. Mohamed needs to ensure he will not be sent to Somalia is a one-way travel document or replacement passport.

But the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade allege that Mr. Mohamed is not who he says he is, claiming he is an "impostor" who his mother is trying to "smuggle" into Canada. Apparently there aren't a lot of family photos. But numerous people have filed affidavits attesting to Mr. Mohamed's identity. Mr. Mohamed has offered to submit to DNA testing, but Passport Canada hasn't gone ahead with that.

David Yerzy, a Toronto lawyer who knows Mr. Mohamed and signed an affidavit attached to his recent photo, says, "He had a valid passport, which was seized by the government. All he needs is a passport renewal."

Mohamed has already been arrested twice and poorly treated by Kenyan authorities who, discovering he was Canadian, assumed they would be bribed for his release. This pattern might escalate to further arrests and requests for bribe money. With each passing day, Mr. Mohamed is in danger of arrest, imprisonment, and worse. Why can't he come back to Canada?

For more information on how Mr. Mohamed got to Kenya, and why he doesn't have a Canadian passport with him, you can read an extended backgrounder on this case here, at Toronto Coalition to Stop The War. [This case was recently featured on CBC's The Current. I didn't hear the show; I don't listen to the radio.]

The backgrounder is very interesting. It describes a simple human error in judgement - not even an error, really, just a judgement call that didn't work out - then a maddening, and likely racist, bureaucracy.

Popular pressure helped bring Abousfian Abdelrazik back to Canada. Maybe we can help this man, too. Here's what you can do.

  • Write a short, polite letter to Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon. Cc Prime Minister Stephen Harper and your own MP. As Minister Cannon to stand up for the right of Mr. Abdihakim Mohamed to come home, and to issue him a passport or other appropriate travel document so he can be brought back to Canada.

  • If you prefer, call the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Or do both!

    Lawrence Cannon, Minister of Foreign Affairs

    Stephen Harper

    More information and links to details are here.

    Many thanks to the good folks of Toronto Coalition to Stop the War for calling this campaign. Let's bring this man home.
  • "the only person in canada who can send someone to their death is a member of the irb"

    Forty years ago, when Canada signed the United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, it agreed not to expel anyone within its borders to any place where their lives or freedom would be threatened because of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.

    And Canada has been looking for loopholes ever since.

    There's a good, lengthy feature in the Montreal Gazette about Canada's refugee policy, both historically and currently. It ran on June 20, which was World Refugee Day. (By coincidence, I spent the day transcribing a war resister's IRB hearing!)

    "Sometimes A Safe Haven" lays out the facts and myths about the Canadian refugee system - who it serves, who it fails, and how it measures up. Unsurprisingly, as this endless Conservative government smears its fingerprints over every aspect of Canadian life, refugee claimaints are waiting longer for resolution, a smaller percentage of claims are being accepted, and the entire process is being prejudiced by a minister who can't seem to keep his mouth shut.

    Some excerpts:
    The last time Esly Moreno ever saw the man she loved was on a snowy day in February 2006, at the St. Bernard de Lacolle border crossing. Dennis Asuncion Rivera, 21, a handsome car salesman, and the petite Moreno, then two months shy of her 19th birthday, had fled Honduras together three months earlier.

    The common-law couple, who were expecting a baby, hoped to find refuge in Canada from a criminal gang that had made death threats against Rivera.

    But their dream of a safe haven shattered against the Safe Third Country Agreement, which enables the United States and Canada to turn away asylum-seekers at the U.S.-Canada border by requiring them to apply for refugee status in the first country they entered.

    Moreno, who had a sister in Montreal, was allowed into Canada under a provision for refugee claimants with relatives in Canada. But immigration agents returned Rivera to the U.S., which deported him to Honduras.

    A month later, members of the M-18 gang murdered Rivera, an increasingly commonplace tragedy in a country where, according to the U.S. State Department, gang members outnumber police by three to one.

    His death highlights what refugee advocates say are growing cracks in Canada's record as a refuge for people fleeing persecution.

    . . . .

    Canadians have led the world in sheltering people needing protection. . . . But as they mark World Refugee Day, advocates charge that Canada's measures in recent years to deter asylum-seekers are undermining its legal commitment to refugees.

    "Canada, like most western states, ever since it signed the convention, has been looking for ways to evade its international legal responsibilities," said Audrey Macklin, a professor of law at the University of Toronto.

    "The objective is to prevent asylum-seekers from arriving at the border and claiming the rights provided under the convention." In addition to the Safe Third Country Agreement, Canada uses a variety of techniques to deflect refugees from its borders, Macklin added. These include stringent immigration rules, intercepting ships on the open seas and posting immigration officers in overseas airports to screen passengers' travel documents before boarding.

    . . .

    The 35,000 refugee claimants who managed to outwit immigration laws to reach Canada in 2008 are a mere trickle compared to the 42 million people in the world uprooted by war and persecution, according to a report this week by the United Nations High Commission on Refugees. They include 16 million refugees who have fled their countries and 26 million displaced people within war-torn countries.

    Goldman noted that media reports often tout Canada's generosity toward asylum-seekers. But 80 per cent of refugees live in developing nations like Pakistan and Iran, which bear the costs of hosting them. It's all but impossible to seek refuge in Canada without breaking immigration laws, Goldman said. That's because you need a visa to travel from a refugee-producing country, but such visas are usually unobtainable.

    "There's a kind of hypocrisy," Goldman said. "Canada does everything possible to stop people from ever getting here. It's a Catch-22." While the media often portrays asylum-seekers unsympathetically, Goldman said, most people are compassionate toward individual refugees.

    . . .

    Federal Immigration Minister Jason Kenney has expressed similar [negative] sentiments, charging that asylum-seekers are committing "wide-scale and almost systematic abuse" of Canada's refugee system.

    "This is clearly an abuse of Canada's generosity," Kenney told a Canwest News reporter in March, commenting on a rise in refugee claims last year.

    The number of asylum-seekers from April 1, 2008, to March 31, 2009, was 36,269, up from 30,581 for the same period in 2007-08, according to the IRB.

    The spike in claims "is a violation of the integrity of our immigration system," said Kenney, adding that there is a "broad political consensus" that Canada's refugee system is broken. The minister did not respond to a request for an interview.

    Kenney singled out a surge in asylum-seekers from Mexico, who can enter Canada without a visa under the North American Free Trade Agreement, as evidence the system is being abused.

    But Crépeau said that drug-related and family violence in Mexico is cause for concern. "The state is not protecting you," he said. The fact that Mexican resorts like Cancun are popular with Canadians does not mean all refugee claims from the country are unfounded, he said.

    . . .

    Last year, the IRB accepted 7,596 refugees and rejected 6,816 others. Another 3,778 applicants gave up their claims.

    The drop in the number of successful asylum-seekers "is part of a continued trend wherein access to Canada via land borders has become very difficult," Jedwab said.

    A growing backlog at the IRB also contributed to fewer refugee claims being approved. The backlog of asylum-seekers in the system has risen to 58,000 from 20,000 since 2005. Understaffing of the IRB was a contributing factor. In March, Auditor General Sheila Fraser called attention to the government's failure to fill openings on the IRB, creating delays in processing refugee claims.

    In the House of Commons last month, Kenney vehemently denied the suggestion the government was letting delays accumulate in order to undermine the refugee system.

    . . .

    "The only person in Canada who can send someone to their death is a board member of the IRB," he said. While most IRB members are well-intentioned, some are unqualified to rule on the validity of refugee claims, said Crépeau, who recommends increasing lawyers on the IRB to 50 per cent of board members from the current 10 per cent.

    Crépeau also called on the government to enact a bill passed in 2001 to establish an appeal division in the IRB, a cause the Bloc Québécois has championed in Parliament.

    In the wake of 9/11, the rights of refugees were sometimes set aside as western governments tightened security in the fight against terrorism, Crépeau said.

    But the human rights of non-citizens must not be forgotten, he said.

    "The ultimate issue we're seeing emerging is that we're talking about human beings," Crépeau said.

    "Why should they be treated with less fairness simply because they are not Canadian? We're talking about justice."


    welcome home, mr abdelrazik!

    no pride in war

    rainbow peace

    Happy Pride, everyone!

    Today's Pride Parade in Toronto will feature the "No Pride in War" contingent, organized by CUPE Toronto District Council and Educators for Peace & Justice. From the organizers:
    Take a stand against the military presence in our Pride 2009 celebrations. Help us as we unfurl the beautiful billowing banner boldly proclaiming:


    Pride is political! Queer rights are meaningless without human rights!

    An end to the militarization and corporatization of our Pride!
    An end to military recruitment. Hamilton Pride has done so; why can't we?
    An end to Israeli Apartheid!
    Indigenous sovereignty!
    Status for all! Justice and dignity for immigrants and refugees!
    An end to Canada's occupation of Afghanistan!
    An end to colonialism, imperialism, occupation and war!

    March with:
    Educators for Peace and Justice
    Teachers for Palestine
    Queers United Against Israeli Apartheid
    No One Is Illegal
    Toronto Coalition to Stop the War

    ...and other peace activists who march under the rainbow flag.

    I'm working today, of course, but if I were marching, you know this is where I'd be. Consider making your Pride celebration about more than your own rights: make the connection to the rights of all people to live autonomously in peace.

    To join the No Pride In War contingent, meet at 1:45 p.m. on Church Street, north of Bloor, at Rosedale Valley Road. Access from the north via Sherbourne Street to avoid road blocks.


    maher arar: "the stamp of canadian involvement in torture is growing"

    At long last, Abousfian Abdelrazik comes home to Canada today, thanks to citizen pressure and an independent judicial system. A contingent of peace activists are meeting Abdelrazik at the airport to welcome him home.

    A man who knows better than any of us how Mr Abdelrazik may have suffered draws attention to something very rotten and very disturbing happening in Canada. Maher Arar, writing in the Globe and Mail, asks how many more Abdelraziks we'll see.
    Recently, it seems like every new day has brought new revelations about the depth of involvement of Canadian government agencies, past and present, in the torture of Canadian citizens. Despite the clear conclusions of Mr. Justice Dennis O'Connor's inquiry and the findings of former Supreme Court judge Frank Iacobucci's inquiry, the unique stamp of Canadian involvement in the torture of its citizens is actually growing.

    An inquiry into the case of Abousfian Abdelrazik, which now seems inevitable, will certainly shed more light about the widely used practice of "obtain information by proxy." But Canadians need not wait for a full-blown inquiry to learn the facts in this case: A glimpse into the heart of a possible inquiry can already be gleaned from a recent federal court order ruling that the Canadian Security Intelligence Service was, at the very least, complicit in Mr. Abdelrazik's initial detention. We can add to that all the rest of what we have learned recently from extensive investigative journalistic reporting, which has mostly quoted official Canadian government documents.

    What is particularly puzzling is how CSIS keeps repeating its hopeful mantra that it was never complicit in any of these cases. What the agency may not realize is that, regardless of how often or loudly it denies the obvious, Canadians have learned enough from two federal inquiries and the work of reporters to draw their own conclusions. CSIS should be more worried about its credibility, and be open and forthcoming about the facts of this most recent matter. This is the only path that will allow it to restore its credibility, and the most direct route to providing Canadians with the truth.

    Canadians deserve to know why so many of this country's citizens, all of Muslim background, have been imprisoned and tortured abroad. Human-rights organizations, activists and national-security experts have been calling for the current government to establish the credible oversight agency that was recommended by Judge O'Connor several years ago. Their calls have landed on deaf ears.

    How many more victims will it take before our government realizes that it needs to act? If the government had established this agency, Mr. Abdelrazik could launch a complaint upon his return. The time required for him to get answers and justice would be much shorter. For taxpayers, it would be a much cheaper alternative than a full-blown federal inquiry.

    Most importantly, Canadians would have a reason to trust that their security agencies are being properly held to a higher standard.

    In the meantime, even before another inquiry is called, agencies that have played any role in the ordeals of Canadians detained and tortured abroad should be truthful in their statements and not defensive in their rhetoric. They should apologize to the victims of overzealous national security practices. Moreover, they need to take actions assuring Canadians that this will never happen again. It is that simple.

    striking workers fight for us all, take two

    I have a letter in the Globe and Mail today - or, I should say, a portion of a letter. This one was edited beyond recognition, no doubt to make room for the flood of anti-union, anti-worker letters the Globe is receiving.

    Today there are two pro-union letters, mine and one other person's, which I've reprinted below. The bracketed portion of my letter did not run.
    [I am dismayed at the lack of public support for striking city workers. When union employees gain good salaries and benefits through collective bargaining, all workers benefit, as standards are raised for everyone. The anger and vitriol being directed at the striking workers should be saved for the CEOs who cash out of sinking companies with massive bonuses, not working people who are trying to hang on to a decent living.]

    In my non-union workplace, there have been layoffs, deteriorating working conditions, and benefit cuts. I wish I could challenge these unilateral decisions, but without representation, my fellow workers and I are at the mercy of our employer.

    The striking city workers are fighting for all of our rights.

    Laura Kaminker, Mississauga


    Unionized Toronto city staff earning about $25 per hour to pick up and dispose of garbage are roundly vilified as greedy. Meanwhile, entrepreneurs charging as much as $50 per visit to do the same task are hailed as enterprising free marketers. If that's what the market value of this essential service is worth, the unionized workers should be praised for doing the job so much more cheaply.

    Something doesn't smell right.

    Allan Goulding, St. John's

    It's a lonely world out there for the people who are fighting for good jobs - for themselves and for all of us. If you support the workers' right to strike and to fight benefit cuts, please take a few minutes and let the Toronto Star, Globe and Mail, or other local paper know.




    toronto cupe strike explained

    The issues behind the Toronto CUPE strike explained for you.

    A discussion about unions and why we need them is going on in this thread: i support striking city workers and you should too.

    insurance spin doctor opens his eyes: "it was like being in another country"

    David Corn, writing in Mother Jones, has a portion of an interview with Wendell Potter, a former spokesperson for CIGNA, the fourth-largest health insurer in the US. The interviewer is a writer with Columbia Journalism Review.
    Trudy Lieberman: Why did you leave CIGNA?

    Wendell Potter: I didn't want to be part of another health insurance industry effort to shape reform that would benefit the industry at the expense of the public.

    TL: Was there anything in particular that turned you against the industry?

    WP: A couple of years ago I was in Tennessee and saw an ad for a health expedition in the nearby town of Wise, Virginia. Out of curiosity I went and was overwhelmed by what I saw. Hundreds of people were standing in line to get free medical care in animal stalls. Some had camped out the night before in the rain. It was like being in a different country. It moved me to tears. Shortly afterward I was flying in a corporate jet and realized someone's insurance premiums were paying for me to fly that way. I knew it wasn't long before I had to leave the industry. It was like my road to Damascus.

    Potter's "it was like being in a different country" relates perfectly to my US-turning-into-third-world-country theme. Every year, my brother travels with expeditions that bring surgical procedures to un-served populations. What he has experienced in Kenya, Nicaragua and elsewhere isn't too far from what Potter saw in Virginia.

    The CJR interview details how the insurance industry manipulates the media, and runs covert campaigns to scuttle reform efforts. Corn writes:
    It's a chilling account--especially when you consider that the Obama administration and Dems on the Hill this time around are trying to bring the health insurance industry into the tent. Reading Potter's account, you'll find it hard to believe that the legislators or the White House can get the better deal in any collaborative process with these profit-driven wizards of publicity and politics.

    Potter reached a wider audience by testifying at a health-care hearing in Washington, confirming what we all know.
    "[T]hey confuse their customers and dump the sick, all so they can satisfy their Wall Street investors," former Cigna senior executive Wendell Potter said during a hearing on health insurance today before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.

    Potter, who has more than 20 years of experience working in public relations for insurance companies Cigna and Humana, said companies routinely drop seriously ill policyholders so they can meet "Wall Street's relentless profit expectations."

    "They look carefully to see if a sick policyholder may have omitted a minor illness, a pre-existing condition, when applying for coverage, and then they use that as justification to cancel the policy, even if the enrollee has never missed a premium payment," Potter said. "…(D)umping a small number of enrollees can have a big effect on the bottom line."

    Small businesses, in particular, he said, have had trouble maintaining their employee health insurance coverage, he said.

    "All it takes is one illness or accident among employees at a small business to prompt an insurance company to hike the next year's premiums so high that the employer has to cut benefits, shop for another carrier, or stop offering coverage altogether," he said.

    Potter also faulted insurance companies for being misleading both in advertising their policies to new customers and in communicating with existing policyholders.

    More and more people, he said, are falling victim to "deceptive marketing practices" that encourage them to buy "what essentially is fake insurance," policies with high costs but surprisingly limited benefits.

    Insurance companies continue to mislead consumers through "explanation of benefits" documents that note what payments the insurance company made and what's left for consumers to pay out of pocket, Potter said.

    The documents, he said, are "notoriously incomprehensible."

    "Insurers know that policyholders are so baffled by those notices they usually just ignore them or throw them away. And that's exactly the point," he said. "If they were more understandable, more consumers might realize that they are being ripped off."

    Until the profit motive is removed from health care, the system will never work. As long as the private insurers are involved, there can be no meaningful reform.

    Thanks to Allan, James and two anonymous senders.

    rent-a-wife, for (almost) all your wifely needs

    James sent me this disconcerting image: a New Orleans business that contracts out personal-assistant work, with a clever, sexist marketing twist: the assistants are called "wives".

    Image and excellent commentary here: The Occasional Wife. This must be a great site, because the comments won't make your head explode.

    I'm sure many of you are familiar with the classic feminist essay, "Why I Need A Wife," often misattributed to Gloria Steinem, but actually written by Jane Schlosser. You can read it here.

    harper wants to hide cost of war in afghanistan

    How much is Canada's pointless presence in Afghanistan costing Canadian taxpayers? Stephen Harper doesn't want you to know the answer to that question. And no wonder!
    The Treasury Board says that the cost of Canada's military mission in Afghanistan for the next two years will be $1.35 billion higher than projected a year ago by the Defence Department. [emphasis mine]

    Those revised estimates of the incremental costs of the Canadian Forces mission in Afghanistan are posted on the Treasury Board website.

    The Defence Department, citing national security provisions, censored an Access to Information request by the federal NDP that asked for those figures three weeks ago.

    The Treasury Board says the military mission will cost $822 million in the fiscal year 2009-10 and $943 million in 2010-11. It also estimates that the mission will cost $178 million in fiscal 2011-12, when Canadian troops are expected to pull out of combat roles in Afghanistan. It's the first time figures for that year have been made available.

    "The left hand and the right hand seem to have different strategies here. It's time they came clean and let the public know what was going on," said NDP defence critic Jack Harris.

    "It's pretty strange. You've got secret numbers for national security reasons, then they put them on their website."

    These latest estimates by Treasury Board are far larger than the Defence Department predicted in April 2008 when it released information to the NDP that showed a $261-million price tag for 2009-10 and $150 million for 2010-11.

    When the NDP asked for those figures again this year, they were rebuffed under Section 15 of the Access to Information Act which allows an exemption in "the defence of Canada or any state allied" in the withholding information.

    Harris said it is also curious that the Treasury Board figures show for the first time an estimate for the fiscal year 2011-12 when the combat mission is due to end.

    He said that suggests the military has a plan for operations in Afghanistan after the planned withdrawal date.

    "They've got those plans in place. Let's put on the table what they're spending that for and have a real debate and discussion (about) what we're going to be doing there after the troops come back," he said.

    "The whole point of asking for these numbers is to get the facts out there so we can have a discussion and debate about that. They apparently didn't want that."

    Remember "accountability" and "transparency", the Conservative buzzwords that helped elect them in 2005? Hell, remember 2005? That "sponsorship scandal" that ignorant voters thought was sooo important...

    Hat tip to Buckdog.


    u.s. supreme court decision on teenage strip-search victim

    An significant decision - somewhat positive, somewhat negative - from the United States Supreme Court was just announced. I've followed this case with interest through the ACLU. I was encouraged that the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case, but the outcome - although partly positive - leaves a lot to be desired.
    In a ruling of interest to educators, parents and students across the country, the Supreme Court ruled, 8 to 1, on Thursday that the strip search of a 13-year-old Arizona girl by school officials who were looking for prescription-strength drugs violated her constitutional rights.

    The officials in Safford, Ariz., would have been justified in 2003 had they limited their search to the backpack and outer clothing of Savana Redding, who was in the eighth grade at the time, the court ruled. But in searching her undergarments, they went too far and violated her Fourth Amendment privacy rights, the justices said.

    Had Savana been suspected of having illegal drugs that could have posed a far greater danger to herself and other students, the strip search, too, might have been justified, the majority said, in an opinion by Justice David H. Souter.

    "In sum, what was missing from the suspected facts that pointed to Savana was any indication of danger to the students from the power of the drugs or their quantity, and any reason to suppose that Savana was carrying pills in her underwear," the court said. "We think that the combination of these deficiencies was fatal to finding the search reasonable."

    In fact, no pills were found on Savana when her underwear was examined by two school officials, both women, who were acting on a tip passed along by another student.

    . . .

    Justice Clarence Thomas was the only member of the court to conclude that the strip search of Savana Redding did not violate the Fourth Amendment. He asserted that the majority's finding second-guesses the measures that educators take to maintain discipline "and ensure the health and safety of the students in their charge."

    The majority said it meant to cast "no ill reflection" on the assistant principal, Kerry Wilson, who ordered the search at a time when there were incidents of students using alcohol and tobacco. "Parents are known to overreact to protect their children from danger, and a school official with responsibility for safety may tend to do the same," Justice Souter wrote.

    But Justices John Paul Stevens and Ruth Bader Ginsburg did not agree, and would not have protected the officials from liability. Justice Ginsburg singled out the assistant principal, noting that he had made Savana sit on a chair outside his office for more than two hours in what Justice Ginsburg called a "humiliating situation" when the case was argued.

    "At no point did he attempt to call her parent," Justice Ginsburg wrote on Thursday. "Abuse of authority of that order should not be shielded by official immunity."

    During the April argument, Justice Ginsburg seemed taken aback by the circumstances of the case, particularly that Savana came under suspicion because of a "tip" to officials from a classmate. "And nothing is done to check her veracity, nothing is done to follow up on it at all," the justice observed.

    Justice Stevens wrote on Thursday that "it does not require a constitutional scholar to conclude that a nude search of a 13-year-old child is an invasion of constitutional rights of some magnitude."

    tom thomson, inuit art and winston churchill

    I've wanted to visit The McMichael Canadian Art Collection for a long time, and my mother's visit gave me the perfect opportunity. She had actually been there before, but a very long time ago, on a sightseeing trip to Toronto and Ottawa. Allan, my mother and I did this yesterday.

    The McMichael, located north of Toronto - near the suburbs of Richmond Hill, Woodbridge, and Vaughan - exhibits only Canadian art. Their permanent collection emphasizes Tom Thomson, Group of Seven, First Nations and Inuit art.

    Although Thomson and the Group of Seven are perhaps the best known Canadian visual artists to Canadians, I had never heard of them before moving here, which is perhaps a commentary on how Canadian art is viewed (or not viewed) in the US.

    We perused the whole Thomson and Group of Seven collection. I can't say I'm a huge fan of this work, but it was interesting to learn about the artists' social and historical significance. Their work was the first major attempt at forging a distinctly modern Canadian identity in art, rather than repeating and copying European styles. The artists traveled throughout Canada and painted the vast wilderness and variety of landscapes they found. I liked much of the later work that becomes more abstract and geometrical, less representational. I also appreciated the dark, rugged quality of some the landscapes.

    I'm much more interested in Inuit and First Nations art than early 20th Century Anglo-Canadian art. But unfortunately for me, most of those galleries were closed, as a new exhibition is about to open there. We did get to see one First Nations room, and it piqued my interest for a future visit.

    There was also an exhibit of work by photographer Yousuf Karsh. Portraits of famous people are not my thing, but photographs of auto workers and steel workers in Oakville, Windsor and Hamilton were interesting. It was nice to see every worker identified as an individual, not a nameless Everyman. Plus, now I know who made the photograph of Winston Churchill that has become everyone's mental image of the man.

    The best part of the McMichael is probably the site itself, a stunning log and stone building situated in a 100-acre conservation area. There are paths and trails around the woods. Hopefully we can time a future visit with nice walking weather, but yesterday it was just too hot.

    We drove into the tiny historical village of Kleinberg for a cold drink. Sadly, if you've seen one old town trying to live on tourism, you've seen them all. The only way these places can survive is through cutesy, expensive shops and restaurants. Still, it's nice to see a village at all, very different from nearby suburbs.

    textile museum, judy chicago, and me

    My mother went home this morning. We had a very nice visit, a good mix of sightseeing and hanging out, grilling in the backyard and a few restaurants, watching baseball and playing with the dogs.

    On Tuesday we went to the Textile Museum of Canada, in downtown Toronto. Connie, my mother, is a huge appreciator of handcrafted work of all kinds, as well as an expert knitter and talented needleworker in her own right. A textile museum is perfect for her, and a nice thing for us to do together.

    I really enjoy small museums, the kind where you can easily see the entire museum in one visit. For example, in New York, although I love the Metropolitan Museum of Art, my favourite museum is The Frick. In Paris, although I'm glad I've been to the Louvre, I prefer the Marmottan or the Musée Rodin.

    So when we arrived at the Textile Museum, I was pleased to learn it is just two floors of a small building. My mom and I explored one floor, had lunch at Java Joe's across the street, then went back to see the other floor. Perfect.

    The current main exhibit is "When Women Rule The World: Judy Chicago In Thread". Judy Chicago, if you don't know her, is an immensely talented and creative feminist artist who works in many different media. It's been a long time since I've seen any of her work in person, and this exhibit deepened my appreciation of her.

    There were works from Chicago's Birth Project (1980-1985) and Holocaust Project (1993), but what really grabbed me was Resolutions: A Stitch in Time (1994 to present). I would love to see more of these.

    Resolutions takes the old idea of a needlework "sampler" and updates it. Think of those old embroidered aphorisms found in home of generations past: "Home Sweet Home", "Bless This House" and such. The expressions have become meaningless cliches, but the work itself was done by women, with their own hands. Of course that work was devalued as non-essential "women's work" - craft at best, but never art.

    Judy Chicago's Resolutions: A Stitch in Time updates the idea of the sampler. Using needlework genius, as well as paint, applique and other media, the women of Resolutions created samplers with messages of hope for today's world. "Bury The Hatchet" shows a rabbi, a priest and an imam joining hands in work. "Two Heads Are Better Than One" shows a man and woman working together as equals. "Do A Good Turn" shows cooperation between generations, colours and genders. Each sampler displays needlework talent that seems almost otherworldly in its complexity, yet creates simple, direct beauty.

    We watched a great video about the making of Resolutions. Chicago had just finished eight years of studying and creating Holocaust imagery. (Not incidentally, her central thesis on the Holocaust is that it arose not as an aberration, but directly from, Western culture.) She was overwhelmed by darkness and faced a choice: succumb, or choose hope. In keeping with her Judaism, she chose hope.

    Resolutions: A Stitch in Time is a celebration of that choice, and of life, joy and hope. The project itself was collaborative every step of the way. Chicago assembled a group of talented women needleworkers. Together, they explored the themes that would be expressed and methods by which they could implement Chicago's designs. Chicago had the challenge of finding imagery to match the text, and she designed "resolutions" specific to each artist's special talents and skills. In the video, the women all attested to the profound experience of being part of the project, and to how much they learned about themselves and their craft.

    Resolutions reminded me of all the talented people, everywhere, who work at their crafts because they want to and need to, and the seemingly infinite variety of ways that creativity is expressed.

    * * * *

    There was a time when all my writing energy was focused on trying to be published in as many places as possible, trying to see as many of my ideas in print as possible. I thought this way for many years.

    Coincidentally to this, in 2001, Allan and I were planning a trip to Ireland. I had a long-standing fascination with Irish history and culture, and going to Ireland was the culmination of ten years of reading and dreaming.

    A big part of the trip was hearing Irish music, which I adore. Every town we visited had at least one pub where traditional Irish music was played. We would drive into a town, ask at the B&B or in a shop where traditional music could be heard, and get the name of the pub, then we'd stop by that pub to ask what time music would start. In this way, we heard music every night of the trip, nearly 3 weeks.

    This was not in tourist season, and we were usually the only non-locals in the pub. The music was played by whoever showed up. One night it might be two guitars, a pipe and a bodhrán, the next perhaps a guitar, a fiddle and a pipe, or any other combination.

    The musicians sat at a table - no stage - and played whatever they wanted. Patrons would make requests, and sing along. Sometimes everyone in the pub would sing. Imagine this, a community of people hanging out at night together, raising their voices in song.

    These musicians made music because they were musicians. They played for the joy of it, for their craft, and to keep their tradition alive. Undoubtedly they all had jobs and did this after work. You could say they made music because it gave their lives meaning.

    I returned home from that trip with a new understanding of my own craft. I wasn't sorry I had spent so much time and energy trying to be published. That was something I needed to do, and it was important that I did it. But whatever I had needed to prove to myself was now proven.

    I decided to stop applying pressure on myself, stop viewing publication as the necessary end of any writing. I still wanted an audience, of course, but I would get back in touch with the writer within, and not focus on the external affirmation.

    Watching the video about the making of Judy Chicago's Resolutions, I remembered all this. The women who stitched these Resolutions are not famous. Standard Western culture does not even consider them artists, nor their work art. But they are, quite clearly, artists.

    * * * *

    I just might return to the Textile Museum for future exhibits.

    On Wednesday, we visited the McMichael Canadian Art Collection, which I'll write about in my next post.

    war resister support campaign fears more democracy subversion by harper govt

    For those of you, who - like me - were unable to attend last week's fundraiser and update for the War Resister Support Campaign, I can update you a bit here. There's a lot going on.

    War resister Kimberly Rivera, who received an emergency stay of deportation in late March, goes to court on July 8. Lawyer Alyssa Manning will continue to fight for the right of Kim, her husband Mario, and their three children to stay in Canada.

    Several other war resisters have impending court dates or are waiting for potential deportation dates. We have reason to fear that the Harper Government will use the Parliamentary recess as an opportunity to aggressively go after war resisters. In other words, to turf them while they think no one is watching. This has happened twice before: last summer, and over the 2008-2009 winter recess.

    Campaigners went to Ottawa last week, to brainstorm with supportive Members of Parliament for ideas and strategy. In attendance were:
    Hon. Maurizio Bevilacqua (Vaughan), Liberal Immigration Critic
    Borys Wrzesnewskyj (Etobicoke Centre)
    Olivia Chow (Trinity—Spadina), NDP Immigration Critic
    Alex Atamanenko (British Columbia Southern Interior)
    Thierry St-Cyr (Jeanne-Le Ber), Bloc Québécois Immigration Critic
    Gerard Kennedy (Parkdale—High Park), in whose riding several war resisters live, participated by telephone

    The MPs want to find ways to protect the war resisters over the summer, and come up with strategies for ongoing support, so we're not scrambling in emergency mode every time a resister faces possible deportation. There are a few possible options in play, and as soon as we know more, I'll post more.

    Meanwhile, even though Parliament has risen, you can still express your own ongoing support of war resisters to your own MP or any of the Immigration Critics.

    we dog jason kenney all over the globe

    You may recall that Jason Kenney, Minister of Citizenship and Immigration - a/k/a Minister of Censorship and Deportation - was having trouble avoiding members of the War Resisters Support Campaign. It seemed like he couldn't turn around without tripping over a protest.

    Mr Kenney appeared at an event in Mississauga: we were there.

    Mr Kenney appeared in Toronto: we were there, and there.

    Later that week, he appeared in Barrie: we were there.

    That's about the time when the Ministry stopped announcing his whereabouts.

    No matter. He appeared in Calgary: we were there.

    And again in Toronto: there is no escape.

    Are you ready for this? Yesterday Jason Kenney appeared in Oslo, Norway. And guess what?

    From the Ministry's media release:
    Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney leaves tomorrow for an official visit to continental Europe and the United Kingdom. The Minister's agenda in Europe will include travel to Norway, Hungary, the Czech Republic and France, where he will represent the Government of Canada and Prime Minister Stephen Harper at various commemorative events on the Holocaust and the evils of communism.

    While in Oslo, Norway, on June 24, the Minister will represent the Government of Canada at a major conference hosted by the Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance and Research (ITF), where Canada is expected to achieve full membership status.

    "Our Government has taken steps to achieve full membership in the Holocaust Task Force," said Minister Kenney. "We will continue to promote the fundamental Canadian values of freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law, while also promoting Holocaust education and combating anti-Semitism in all its forms."

    During the remainder of the trip, the Minister will meet with senior government officials, pay his respects at various memorial and historical sites commemorating the Holocaust and the evils of communism, and continue to highlight Canada's ongoing commitment to combat anti-Semitism.

    [An aside: the evils of communism?? What decade is this?]

    And from the Campaign's media release:
    Minister Kenney's office has announced that the minister will attend a conference hosted by the Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance and Research (ITF) in Oslo to seek full membership status on behalf of the Government of Canada.

    "While the Canadian government is to be lauded for finally and formally recognising its historical failure to protect refugees from crimes against humanity, the current government is failing to protect refugees who are refusing to commit crimes against humanity in Iraq," said Dr. Patricia Molloy, a Canadian university professor and War Resisters Support Campaign activist who will be participating in the demonstration. "The majority of Canadians and Parliament agree that the deportation of even one more Iraq War resister would be too many. Minister Jason Kenney must act now to stop the deportations of Iraq War resisters to show that the Government of Canada isn't just paying lip service to the Geneva Conventions."

    And an excerpt from an email from the intrepid Dr. Molloy (a/k/a NCF!).

    First a few protesters stood outside the hotel where Kenney was speaking, holding placards. Then she writes:
    I went over with my hand outstretched and introduced myself: "Mr. Kenney, I'm Patricia Molloy with the War Resisters Support Campaign in Toronto."

    He didn't miss a beat. Oh, hi, how are you. Weclome to Oslo. What brings you here?

    So, I said, actually I'd like to ask you a question. And then I said I want to first thank and congratulate him for what he's doing here today, that I applaud Canada's recognition of our historical failure to protect Jewish refugees.... you know the rest.... and my question is: why are you continuing to deport refugees who refuse to commit crimes against humanity etc etc.

    He gave his usual spiel: that no refugees are deported, but once someone's refugee claim is turned down they have to obey the law, they're no longer refugees at that point so no refugees are ever deported from Canada.

    Nice. Twas the usual, there's a process in place, there's the IRB, the courts etc etc. So I brought up the two parliamentary motions. He says they're nonbinding, so I say but they represent the will of the Canadian public who overwhelmingly support letting the resisters stay in Canada and as immigration minister you have the power to implement the motion. etc etc.

    His cohorts meanwhile are taking all this in. I managed to get quite a bit in before a security came over and said that the presentations were about to start and that I'd have to move along. ...

    He'll no doubt get wind that there were protesters... I got in his face and embarrassed him, very politely and astutely, in a foreign country, and I'll be interviewed tomorrow for a local paper with a large readership (and apparently read by journalists). ...

    Mr. Kenney, there is no escape!

    My friends, although we can't all follow Jason Kenney up close and personal, each one of us can email him and call his office. We can all deliver the message loud and clear:


    Constituency Office: 403.225.3480

    Ottawa Office: 613.992.2235

    Email: kennej@parl.gc.ca


    i support striking city workers and you should too

    I am completely disgusted at the vitriol being directed at striking city workers in Toronto.

    Apparently everyone wants other people to have less than what they have. Anyone Who Has More should be knocked down a peg. And god forbid the People Who Have More are paid with My Taxes! I don't want My Taxes to keep anyone comfortable! Everyone should suffer! Hey, if Those People were slaves, we wouldn't have to pay any taxes at all! Whoo-hoo!

    Many of the people brimming over with anger and resentment towards striking city workers are well-paid and comfortable themselves. Some are even members of other, non-affected unions!

    Newsflash, angry Torontonians. Gains for unionized workers raise the standards for all workers.

    We all aren't lucky enough to belong to a strong union that fights to get us better pay, benefits or working conditions, or to keep what we already have. But the strong unions' efforts help all of us. That's been proven throughout history. Without the higher standards hard-fought for and won by unions, most of us would still be labouring under 19th Century conditions.

    But all anyone cares about is the inconvenience to them. And of course, their taxes. "I pay their salaries! They have some nerve! I don't have bankable sick time, why should they?" Yes indeed, why should anyone have what I don't have. If I can't have it, no one should!

    Can your employer unilaterally change your working conditions? Mine can.

    Do you like it? I don't.

    So should I advocate for everyone to have no control over their working life, like I do?

    Isn't it better that some workers, rather than none, have a measure of input into their working conditions, through a collective bargaining agent?

    For a good explanation of why sick time should be bankable, and why this is not just fat for Greedy Evil Unions, see Impudent Strumpet here and here. But my main point is not bankable sick time.

    I've had my benefits cut and my workload increased because of layoffs and cutbacks. If I had a union to fight on my behalf, maybe that wouldn't have happened, or maybe the change wouldn't have been as severe. Maybe the company would have been forced to keep some of the laid off employees.

    But because I work in a notoriously non-unionized sector, my employer can hit us with whatever they want. The cutbacks from my employer lower the standards throughout the industry. When the law firm I work for cut our transportation benefit and increased our workload, it wasn't long before another firm did, then another... and before you know it, that is becoming the new normal. When things improve, do you think they'll reinstate our benefits? Don't count on it.

    That's how it works - in reverse - when union employees make gains through collective bargaining. A threshold is breached, a new standard is set. The higher standard becomes the new normal. We all win.

    We should want people to have good jobs. Jobs through which you can support a family, take a child to the doctor without losing a day's pay (or your job!), have insurance so you don't have to choose between paying rent and taking your medication, have a decent vacation. We should want people to have good jobs so they can live good lives. So we can have a strong society.

    But no. All we care about is paying less taxes, and the inconvenience to ourselves. Everyone Who Isn't Me should have not a penny more, not a single day off, not a hair more of comfort, than I have.

    Canadians should be ashamed of themselves. I'm always hearing how much better Canada is than the US. Folks, this is as American as it gets, because it's all about ME. The individual. Here's Imp Strump again:
    Meanwhile, I'm terrified. Not by the strikes (although the prospect of a prolonged garbage strike with no alcohol available is kind of scary for someone with my phobias), but by the attitude of the public. There are so many loud people who seem so vehemently opposed to anyone making a decent living. They seem to genuinely and truly want all these people - LCBO workers, daycare workers, even garbage collectors - to be among the working poor, floating through contract hell. They seem to actively think that it's outright wrong for these workers to be making a decent working-class living, something where you can rent a small house in a safe neighbourhood, go to the dentist whenever necessary, buy your kid some skates for xmas and take them to Canada's Wonderland in the summer. This terrifies me, because if they want these people to be poor, they also want me to be poor. I'm far less important and have a far easier job than a garbage man! They just haven't noticed me yet because my job is to be invisible.

    . . . .

    I know many people in the world don't get to live at that level, but here in Toronto in the 21st century, it isn't really so much to ask. I'm not asking for diamond-encrusted platinum, I'm not even asking for a car, I just want to be able to continue to make a living that allows me these small comforts. But these loud angry people who begrudge the garbage men a paycheque that allows them to buy their kids skates will, as soon as they notice I exist, want to send me back to having things crawling out of my walls. I don't feel safe.

    I'd like to see a study of the people who begrudge others a safe, steady living for a solid day's work. What do they do for a living? What's their financial situation and career history like? What are some examples of what they think are appropriately-compensated jobs?

    Stand strong, CUPE workers! Fight for yourselves, fight for us all!


    "can harper, who spent most of life in alberta, really understand canada?"

    I am no fan of Michael Ignatieff. Long before I decided to come to Canada, I read his work in The New York Times, and was repulsed. No matter what his apologists say, Ignatieff defended and rationalized U.S. foreign policy, and all the invasion, occupation and torture that goes with it.

    As Liberal leader, Ignatieff has been a tough-talking hot air balloon, pounding his fist but doing nothing, propping up a government that should have been brought down long ago.

    Despite my feelings about Ignatieff, and the ineffective Liberal Party in general, I find the Conservatives' personal arguments against the Liberal leader ridiculous - and dangerous. Watch out folks, this man is well educated! He's an elite! Are we to believe Stephen Harper grew up in a trailer park?

    Such a transparent attempt to appeal to Joe Six Pack with anti-intellectualism should be beyond the pale of Canadian politics. But of course, nothing is beyond the pale for the Conservatives and their US-style campaigning. Whether or not there's even an election campaign going on!

    This is on my mind today because of this excellent letter in yesterday's Globe and Mail, written in response to a Rex Murphy piece, in which Murphy pretends to decry the Conservatives' attack ads, then agrees with them. For me this letter lays the whole non-issue to rest.
    Rex Murphy asks of Michael Ignatieff: Can He Feel What He Never Experienced? (June 20). Good point, Mr. Murphy. Can Stephen Harper, who spent most of adult life in Alberta, really understand the rest of Canada? Is that why he thought that cutting funding for culture will be popular in Quebec? Would someone able to "see anything of Calgary in Newfoundland" then lecture Atlantic Canadians about having "a culture of defeat"? Does the person who initially dismissed the economic crisis as a good chance to invest really "know" what those people losing their jobs felt?

    When Mr. Ignatieff was away, he saw the world, had his ideas shaped by a great diversity of views and, to study and teach at Oxford and Harvard, had to compete against the best. When Mr. Harper was away in Alberta, he got to know, well, Alberta and, being a lifelong Reform/Conservative party apparatchik, knows and trusts only the people who think like him. Anything else deserves only a smirk or an attack ad.

    Which one would you want to lead our country in a complicated world?

    Piotr Trela, St. John's


    mom visit

    My mother arrives today, staying until Thursday morning. I miss her and I'm excited to see her.

    Connie - my mother - has been coming up every year since we moved here, but we've never done any sightseeing together.

    The first year, when Allan and I lived near the Lake, we all worked around our house, walked on the Waterfront Trail, and poked around Port Credit.

    The following year we had several plans, including the ROM, but shortly before the trip, Connie had injured her ankle and could barely walk. (She eventually needed surgery, but is fine now.)

    Then last year, it was my turn. I was recuperating from a huge writing project, and we just did errands and relaxed.

    We always have a good time, so whatever happens is fine, but this year, I hope to be a bit more active. I have two destinations in mind. Naturally, expect a report.

    blogs now dead in more places

    Hey wmtc, check it out. The post you read here, is now here (also on the home page right now).

    The post is much better with your comments. Maybe we should all sign up at The Mark and re-create our conversation.


    petition to open the canadian embassy to injured iranians

    Sign here.

    Text of Petition:

    Petition to Prime Minster Stephen Harper

    Dear Prime Minster Harper,

    We Canadians are lucky enough to live in a country where our government representatives listen to us and act when the people demand assistance. So now, we the voting public of Canada, are requesting you to listen to us and act upon our request.

    I am sure you are all aware of the current coup d'état, demonstrations, violence and the silencing of the voting public by the Iranian government.

    The past few days have been filled with violence and death in Iran. The wounded are unable to go to a hospital to receive care and treatment because they are being arrested and removed from the hospital before they receive treatment.

    What a shame it is that people are safer in foreign embassies than at their own hospitals. What an even bigger shame is that Canada (a country known for its generosity and caring for people less fortunate then them) has not yet opened their doors to the wounded.

    So far the Australian, Belgian, British, Dutch, Finnish, German, Irish, Italian, Norway, Portugese, the Swiss and the Embassy of the Republic of Solvenia, have all opened their doors and are providing aid and shelter and safety for the injured. But where is Canada? Why have we not opened our doors?

    Please listen to the Canadian public and open our doors. To view the uproar and anger caused by Canada not opening their doors, visit www.twitter.com and search the tags #canadafail #canadianembassy #gr88 . There are thousands upon thousands of angered CANADIAN citizens who want their embassy opened to help the injured.

    Please show us that Canada stands by their fellow countries that support democry and do not tolerate what is gong on in Iran.


    The Undersigned

    Sign here.

    flip flop fly fun

    I miss my quiet work weekends, reading Pepys Diary and Impudent Strumpet, scanning Common Dreams and Rabble for essays. There was work, but there was down-time, too.

    But when a company slashes one-third of its support staff, down-time becomes a thing of the past. After so many years of saving certain reading for work weekends, I've yet to develop a new system, carve out new time, for my must-reads. Things are piling up. Uncomfortably so.

    I'll need a full week of vacation just to explore this delicious site: Flip Flop Fly Ball.

    Check it out. Its creator, Craig Robinson, says, "A love of baseball plus a love of infographics equals Flip Flop Fly Ball." I say, wow, I love the internet, because it brings me all this creativity and wonder.

    Many thanks to M@ for turning me and Allan on to this.

    was the taser abuse that killed robert dziekanski premeditated?

    In case - while you were distracted by Liberal bluster and the revolution in Iran - you missed this.
    A single sentence contained in an email between RCMP brass in the weeks after Robert Dziekanski died has derailed a public inquiry, raising questions yet again about the testimony of four police officers and prompting calls for further investigation of the national police force.

    As closing arguments were set to begin on Friday, a lawyer for the inquiry revealed a previously unreleased email that suggested the RCMP officers developed a plan to use a Taser before they arrived at Vancouver's airport.

    All four insisted in their testimony that they did not.

    . . .

    The email was written in November 2007, just weeks after Dziekanski's confrontation with the Mounties.

    In it, Chief Supt. Dick Bent and RCMP Assistant Commissioner Al McIntyre were discussing their media strategy for the release of the now-infamous amateur video of the fatal confrontation.

    Bent recounted a conversation with Supt. Wayne Rideout, who was in charge of the investigation into Dziekanski's death.

    "Spoke to Wayne, and he indicated that the members . . . . had discussed the response en route and decided that if he did not comply, that they would go to CEW (Taser)," wrote Bent, whose email was read in court on Friday.

    . . .

    Ujjal Dosanjh, a former B.C. premier and the federal Liberals' public safety critic, used the furor over the undisclosed email to call for a "comprehensive federal review" of the RCMP and its policies on Tasers.

    "It should look at whether or not . . . the culture of the RCMP is broken and whether or not it is in need of a major overhaul," Dosanjh said in an interview.

    "And if it is, what are the recommendations for that overhaul."

    Most of this Canadian Press story focuses on reactions to the late release of the email, RCMP explanations of the late release, how the late release delays the inquiry, and various other double-speak obfuscation.

    I'm not sure if Occam's Razor applies here, but past experience with all police, military and government authorities in the history of the universe point to a simple explanation: cover up.

    On a related note, here's a good letter to the Globe and Mail this week:
    While I applaud the editorial board for its position on Mr. Abdelrazik, it must be chided on one point: You forgot to warn him that, after landing in Canada, under no circumstances should he approach a stapler.

    Laurelyn Jenkins, Vancouver

    woody allen comes home

    For those interested, as I am, in Woody Allen, and to a lesser extent, in Larry David:

    When Woody Met Larry, by Brian Johnson, in Maclean's.

    Of course it will be ages until I see "Whatever Works," but I very much look forward to it.

    Thanks to Redsock.

    leash free in the gta

    Happy Summer Solstice!

    On this day of maximum sunlight, I'm thinking about how much I'm enjoying my new suburban lifestyle. I know it's not that new anymore - August 30 will be four years - but I still appreciate it every day.

    I will always love cities, and a part of me will always miss urban life. But after living a very urban lifestyle from the time I started university in 1978 until moving to Canada in 2005, I am so enjoying the difference.

    Living in a house, and having a backyard: those were the two main reasons we chose to live in Mississauga. For the rent we could afford, we could find a nice apartment in Toronto, but we really wanted a whole house. And the backyard. The backyard! We adore it. In the warm months, weather permitting, we eat dinner outside every night, and I work outside on the patio as often as possible. On beautiful spring days, I like to email friends who are stuck in offices: "I'm sitting on the patio with an iced coffee...". Ha!

    But we don't only enjoy outdoor space sequestered in our own backyard. I've blogged about this before, but it bears repeating: the parks in Toronto and Mississauga - especially the dog parks - are amazing.

    Mississauga itself is full of lovely public parks, and a handful of them have leash-free areas. We live very near Garnetwood Park, which has a big, fenced-in enclosure that's leash-free. It's just a big dog run within a larger (and beautiful) park, as you'll find in Toronto, New York and many other cities, but larger. It's great for us because it's so nearby - not walking distance, but a 10-minute drive. The proximity helped us socialize Tala more easily.

    When we lived in Port Credit, we drove a bit further down the lake to Jack Darling Park, the jewel in Mississauga's leash-free crown, and as good a dog park as you'll find anywhere. There's a huge open meadow for romping, and a trail through a wooded area, all of it completely fenced. At an average walking pace, a loop through the park takes about 40 minutes - great for people, and a great way to get a dog accustomed to hiking and walking on a trail.

    Jack Darling is a longer drive now, but we would still go down there once in a while, because the dogs (and I) love it. Unfortunately there's some construction going on there now. There's an alternate fenced-in area, which is huge, but without the trail, there's not much incentive to drive all the way there.

    At about the same time the construction started at Jack Darling, I thought Tala might be ready for High Park. Our friends James and Lori, of Miniature Australian Shepherd fame, had mentioned it several times when all of our dogs were playing together in the backyard. We were waiting until Tala seemed ready for a dog park that's not completely fenced in, but uses the natural boundaries of where people stand and where dogs generally run.

    But after trying it once (see here), a new tradition - or at least a habit - was born. Now, on any available holiday, the eight of us meet at a dog park: James, Lori, Allan, Laura, Cobalt, Denim, Cody and Tala.

    The dogs go absolutely wild for this. They always love going to the park, of course, but meeting at these special parks is joy of another magnitude. The last time we met at Toronto's High Park, we arrived first, and Cody planted herself at the entrance, craning her neck, scanning the path from the parking lot - very obviously waiting for her friends to appear. When they did, she started leaping about, overjoyed.

    To our surprise, High Park is much closer than we expected, and quickly supplanted Jack Darling as our favourite dog destination. (I knew where it was, of course; we pass it all the time. But I hadn't realized that the drive time - local roads to Jack Darling versus the highway on a holiday - would make a park in Toronto more convenient than one in Mississauga.)

    High Park is Toronto's largest park. It's huge and very multi-faceted, and the leash-free area is amazing. It's a similar idea to Jack Darling - an open play area where the dogs run around, then a combination of paths and trails, where people and dogs can do an leash-free loop.

    It's hillier than Jack Darling, and there's a creek. The only downside, for us, is that there are also bikes on the path, and sometimes a park bus (one of those fake trollies) - and we can't trust Tala not to chase. We stay alert and keep her leash at the ready, but there are also enough distractions that sometimes she doesn't care.

    Our most recent doggie meet-up was at Cherry Beach, our first time there. (James and Lori go there very frequently.) Allan and I loved this one. The park itself is hidden away; you could drive past the turnoff every day and never know it's there. But over a series of little bridges, past a few marinas and some industrial buildings, you find a stand of tall trees abutting a sandy shoreline. And imagine, a leash-free stretch of lakefront! From May to September, the leash free hours are restricted, but it still seems so great to me.

    Another one we want to try is Etobicoke Valley Park, which we hear contains a nice stretch of Etobicoke Creek where dogs can splash in the summer.

    It probably seems a little odd to write about these parks and not post pictures. But I never feel like taking the camera when we go - and if I did, I'd only have dog photos anyway, nothing that would show you the park itself. I promise more dog pics some time this summer. Possibly involving a hose.


    abdelrazik can come home: one down, how many to go?

    Well hallefuckinlujah, saints be praised, the Harper Government says it will comply with a federal court order and allow Abousfian Abdelrazik to come home.

    It's completely shameful that it took a protracted public battle and a court order to make this happen. Even after the ruling, the Government delayed, saying it needed time to study the situation and decide whether or not to appeal.

    But finally, at long last, the Government will obey the rule of law.

    One down, how many to go?

    Omar Khadr must come home to Canada.

    And, as Parliament has voted twice, Iraq War resisters seeking sanctuary in Canada must be allowed to stay.

    * * * *

    I'm typing my little fingers off for peace today, so - barring some new insane outrage - wmtc will be quiet for a bit. Feel free to talk amongst yourselves.