not all crimes are equal: humans and our rights are more valuable than windows

I see many posts in the blogosphere and on Facebook, and clips in old media, assigning blame for the G20 breakdown in equal parts on so-called Black Bloc protesters, government and police.

In an attempt to appear even-handed, fair and non-biased, observers decry all the violence as if it is all equally wrong.

This is wrong - and dangerous.

First of all, vandals broke windows and burned a car. The police fired rubber bullets into humans. The police hit human beings with bicycles, batons and fists. The police trapped and held human beings for hours without shelter, food or water. The police threatened human beings with rape. The police stripped-searched (and worse) human beings.

Even given our society's obsession with property rights, most people agree that human beings are more important than property. Supposed Black Bloc protesters destroyed property. The police assaulted human beings.

Second, the vandals were a one-time occurrence. We are in little danger of their actions recurring on a regular basis. The Toronto police, on the other hand, work among us every day. Our taxes pay their salaries. They are supposed to be accountable to government, and to the people. They are supposed to be trained to keep the peace and to protect us from harm. They are not supposed to be a uniformed gang loaded with weapons unleashed on an unarmed citizenry.

Third, and most importantly, the abuse of policing powers and the suspension of civil liberties by far a greater danger to society than broken windows and a burned car. We have the right to peaceful protest. We have the right to express our anger at these undemocratic and unjust meetings that affect millions of lives and the very survival of our planet. We have the right to walk in our own cities - my god, to sleep in our own beds! - without fear of being dragged off and detained.

There is no moral equivalence between the abuse of police power and the suspension of civil rights and a bunch of marauding vandals. In terms of our daily lives, and our rights as Canadians and as humans, vandalism is dwarfed by the comparison.

We must not allow our desire for order, and our fear of disorder, to blind us to the very real dangers of an overly powerful authority over our daily lives. A free society is a process. So is the chipping away of that freedom.

In addition, I am wholly unconvinced that the vandals were actually free agents. Many people don't understand that agents provocateurs and paid rioters have been employed to discredit peaceful protests for time immemorial. The tactic was used in the 1960s and 1970s against civil rights and anti-war protesters. It was used in the 1920s against union activists. It was used in the 1900s against socialists. It is mentioned in Shakespeare. I bet the ancient Romans used it to discredit the Christians.

More recently, we have proof and official admissions that provocateurs were used in protests against the 2004 and 2008 Democratic and Republican National Conventions, and in Montebello in 2007. Just because proof hasn't come out yet - and may never - doesn't mean it didn't happen again last weekend.

When so many people express outrage over the (at least) $1,300,000,000 spending of our own money on security, what better way to prove that expense was necessary? When so many are protesting, what better way to discredit them? And what better way to change the subject from what actually happens in these summits?

Consider that the people who torched the cop cars and broke windows were allowed to do so. Here is one of many similar eyewitness accounts, this one from Ian Welsh, writing at Crooks and Liars.
As best I can tell, what happened is that for about an hour, the Black Bloc protesters clearly and visibly prepared for action, with both the police and other, non-violent protesters able to see they were doing so. The number of Black Bloc vandals seems to have been between 50 to 100, certainly not more than 200. (The police had 20,000 men.)

The police actually withdrew, leaving behind police cars for the Black Block to torch. Which they then did. The Black Bloc then proceeded up Yonge street (the main north/south street in downtown Toronto), vandalizing as they went, and eventually many headed over to Queen's Park, the Provincial capital. Two hours after the first violence, the police finally take action, ensuring that there are plenty of videos of police cars burning and vandalism that would not have occurred if they had taken action earlier.

According to the police, rather than confront a maximum of 200 protesters, they withdrew behind the barrier around the G20 meetings and let them vandalize downtown Toronto for 2 hours.

Ian goes on to call this a "deliberate decision to allow downtown to be vandalized," and I cannot see it any other way.

If a young man wearing a t-shirt is committing acts of vandalism, and a fully armed (batons, rubber bullets, tear gas, sound cannons) and armored (face shield, bullet-proof vest) officer of the law sees, withdraws and does not intervene, who is the greater problem?

young female g20 detainees sexual assaulted by police in jail

Women who were part of the round-up of peaceful G20 protesters were threatened with rape. Other young women were strip-searched by male officers and, in at least one instance that we know of so far, manually penetrated.

Listen as journalist Amy Miller recounts what she experienced and observed.

Please. Stay outraged.


"conditions for detainees at 629 eastern ave are illegal, immoral and dangerous"

From Rabble:
Conditions for detainees at 629 Eastern Avenue are illegal, immoral and dangerous

We just got back to our computers and are frantically writing this message. It is 4:45 a.m. on Monday morning. We are the only people who seem to know the extent of this story. Coffee and adrenaline keeping us going. When we got to Queen and Spadina after leaving the Convergence Centre raid today, we had already been blocked off by police lines. It was pouring rain, and we could hear a confrontation taking place further down the street. The cops didn't care whether or not we were media -- in fact, we heard that media was forced to leave before we arrived. Police acted violently and with sheer disregard for the law, attacking peaceful protesters and civilians unrelated to the protest. Tired, frantic, and feeling defeated, we came home and posted the message before this one.

We then did the only thing left to do, and headed to 629 Eastern Avenue (the G20 Detention Centre, a converted film studio) where detainees from the demonstrations were being taken. We knew people were being released sporadically so we grabbed as many juice boxes and granola bars as we could afford and set off with medical supplies. Journalists were basically absent, showed up only to take a few seconds of video, or simply arrived far too late to be effective.

It is next to impossible to set the scene of what happened at the Detention Centre. Between the two of us we estimate that we spoke to over 120 people, most of whom were released between 9:30 p.m. and 4:30 a.m. Despite not knowing each other, the story they tell is the same....

[Editors' note: Roughly 900 people have now been arrested, according to police, after a weekend of mayhem on the streets of Toronto during the G20 Summit. This is now the largest-ever mass arrest in Canadian history. No word on how many charges have been laid. Compare it to this: 497 people were arrested during the ‘October Crisis and the war measures act' in 1970, which came before Canada had a Charter of Rights and Freedoms.]

Read it here.

steve paikin describes police attack on peaceful gathering of citizens

Veteran Canadian journalist Steve Paikin describes his own observations of Toronto police attacks on peaceful gathering of citizens, and attack on Guardian journalist Jesse Rosenfeld

"I've been watching protests in this city for 30 years, I've been covering events in this city for 30 years. This was not a great day for democracy in Toronto. I saw things I had never seen before. I saw things that, frankly, should not have happened."

what happened at queen and spadina? how do police states begin?

I assume by now everyone has seen these. These images are posted in comments on these two threads, but I thought they deserved highlighting.

Photo, photo, photo, photo.

Reader Scott M tells me the final arrest count was 800 people. To listen to Toronto Chief of Police William Blair try to justify rounding up and arresting innocent people, go to The Current later today. Scott - hardly a radical! just a guy who values democracy - says it's jaw-dropping.

A Facebook friend is angry about the use of the words "police state". He comes from a country that has seen the real deal in action. But fascism is not an on-or-off proposition. Just like democracy is a process, a continuum, so is fascism. Police and governments will always abuse power. If we allow that abuse to stand without comment, without inquiry, without protest, we take a step down a terrible slippery slope.

solidarity works: historic action in california prevents israeli ship from unloading

This happened last week, but I missed it, so perhaps you did, too.
Historic day in Oakland: Israeli ship blocked from unloading

In an unprecedented action yesterday at the Port of Oakland, hundreds of activists succeeded in preventing the offloading of an Israeli cargo ship for 24-hours, in protest against the massacre of participants of the Freedom Flotilla and the blockade of Gaza in general. This was the first time such an action had been carried out against an Israeli ship in the United States, and the first time in the world such an action had occurred since the Freedom Flotilla massacre. In coming days, other actions, these initiated by unions, will occur in Norway, Sweden, and South Africa.

At 5:00 a.m., somewhere between 800 and 1000 activists began a spirited 5-hour picket in front of the four different gates of Berth 58 of the Port of Oakland. Workers of the ILWU who were expecting to offload the Israeli ship that day refused to cross the picket line, and at 9:00 an arbitrator ruled in favor of the union that attempting to cross the picket line would be unsafe for union members. Because the workers had been called in to work by the company, the workers were paid even though they did not work, and it is reported that this cost the company $20,000.

As a result, the company did not call the workers back in for the afternoon/evening shift, fearing a repetition. Approximately 300 activists returned (or, like myself, came for the first time) at 4 p.m. to begin a second picket of the four gates. Information had it that the company could still call the workers back in as late as 7 p.m., so the picket continued until that time, at which point complete victory in the 24-hour shutdown was declared. Richard Becker of the ANSWER Coalition, Jess Ghannam of the Free Palestine Alliance, Michael Eisensher of U.S. Labor Against the War, and Clarence Thomas of the ILWU addressed a short but spirited rally to close the days events.

Two statements read to the rally showed the international impact of the event. One, sent by the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions said, "Your action today is a milestone in international solidarity from honest and brave U.S. workers and trade unionists. Greetings to you from the trade unionists and workers of Palestine … from the trade unionists and workers trapped in Gaza."

The second, from the Central of Cuban Workers (CTC), read "Our people have lived for 50 years of an unjust and abominable blockade by the U.S. government, so we understand very well how the Palestinian people feel and we will always be in solidarity with their just cause. Today we send you our most sincere support. Long live the solidarity of the working class! End the Blockade of Gaza! Respect and justice for the people of Palestine!"

For links to coverage from both local media and participants, see the excellent left i on the news.

g20 arrestees need our support

Those of us who are safe at home should not forget others who are trapped and hurting. From the Movement Defence Committee:

Appeal for broad political support for the G20 arrestees
June 27, 2010, 3:00pm

The MDC’s Summit Legal Support Project is appealing to the movements it supports to mobilize a show of political strength and solidarity for the nearly 500 people arrested in the last four days. The Toronto Police and the ISU appear to have lost control of their ‘prisoner processing center’, denying arrestees meaningful and timely access to counsel while beating and arresting those peacefully protesting their detention outside.

Despite assurances to the contrary, only a handful of people have been released, including those held for many hours without charge. Arrestees are given incorrect information about the bail process they will be subjected to, and friends and family members gather hours early at the courthouse, located far from the city center and inaccessible via transit. Our lawyers call in and are told that there is no one available to make decisions or wait for hours at the detention centre, only to be denied access to their clients. Almost 500 people are in custody and we know from experience that the vast majority of those charges will disappear and yet the cell doors remain shut.

We need to step it up and build a political response. We need many more voices – especially prominent ones – to say that the abuse and incompetence at 629 Eastern Avenue must stop. We must demand that all levels of government take control of the police forces under their command. We need to ensure that courts and crown attorneys act to enforce constitutional rights rather than collude in their violation.

Free the Toronto 500!

The Movement Defence Committee

call for inquiry into g20 spending and police response

Facebook group: Canadians Demanding a Public Inquiry into Toronto G20

Toronto Star:
The just-completed G20 summit was supposed to be an opportunity to showcase Toronto to the world. Unfortunately, the images the world will remember are of burning police cruisers, smashed store windows and riot squads chasing down protesters.

In Canada, there is another summit memory that will stick in the public mind: the $1.2 billion that was spent to host the G20 in Toronto and its sister group of leaders, the G8, in Muskoka. Much of that money was spent turning Toronto into an armed camp.

How did this happen? How did a seemingly peaceful protest march spin out of control and become a scene of mayhem? And given the heavy police presence in our city, how did a small number of black-clad, self-styled "anarchists" (the Black Bloc) manage to do so much damage?

Some argue that the mayhem justified the huge expenditure on security measures. "That's why the security costs were high," said Prime Minister Stephen Harper at the summit-closing news conference on Sunday.

Others say that the omnipresent barricades and police in riot gear served as a magnet to those intent on smashing property.

Either way, the questions that linger from this weekend ought not to go unanswered. Rather, they should be addressed in a systemic fashion. Auditor-General Sheila Fraser comes to mind as someone who could do the job. But her mandate is limited to determining whether the government is receiving "value for money" for its spending. What is needed is a wider inquiry, headed by an eminent person with a broad mandate and a tight time frame. Among the questions that inquiry should pose are:

• How did the bill for the summits run up so high? Was every summit organizer told to "spare no expense?"

• What was the thinking behind the decision to host a G20 meeting on the heels of the G8 and to put it in Toronto?

• Why was it decided to turn the downtown core into an armed camp rather than take a more subtle approach to security? Did anyone balance security demands against costs to businesses, theatres, restaurants and bars?

• Would the security problems have been reduced if, as Toronto Mayor David Miller had suggested, the main meeting place had been at Exhibition Place instead of the convention centre (Harper's choice)?

• What intelligence was there on the Black Bloc and was it shared among all the police forces? And if some of the Black Bloc came from abroad, why were they let in the country?

• With thousands of additional officers in town, why did the police response seem so slow to deliberate acts of vandalism? Was this a conscious police tactic — to allow some damage to happen before cracking down?

The point of asking questions like this is not to point fingers of blame at summit organizers, the police or anyone else. Rather, it is to learn from our past mistakes. Canada will undoubtedly be expected to host future summits. We have to do a better job of it the next time.


what the media ignored: 25,000 peacefully demonstrate against g20 policies in toronto

We can't expect the corporate media to tell us the truth. But we can tell them they are wrong, and useless. And we can speak the truth to each other and get it out there on our own.

toronto police allow vandalism to occur, attack peaceful protestors

[redsock guest post]

In August 2007, we learned that Quebec police officers were undercover at a protest in Montebello, carrying large rocks, trying to incite a peaceful crowd to turn violent. Naturally, the RCMP and provincial police categorically denied the story, but were forced to admit the truth when video footage was released. The masked men were wearing the exact same type of boots as the uniformed police officers and when they were confronted by actual protesters, they quickly ran towards (and were allowed behind) the line of riot police.

Today, there are numerous reports -- from both national media and private citizens -- of heavily-armed police at the G20 protests yesterday simply standing around or actually AWOL when some of the most extreme violence was occurring. It makes one highly suspicious that the vandalism may have been allowed to occur to justify the spending of at least $1,300,000,000 of taxpayer money on "security".

[Update: Sure enough, undercover cops getting outed.]

Of course, the media's obsession with photos and video footage of violence has conveniently pushed aside the existence and concerns of the tens of thousands of peaceful protesters.

The Toronto Star reported that "about 70 black-clad protesters ran amok through mostly deserted streets ... At police headquarters, about 50 officers in full riot gear stood guard, but they didn't move against the protesters even after they smashed the windows of the police museum."

Marcus Gee, columnist for the Globe & Mail, reported that the police kept their distance as a few dozen people "roamed through the business district, then up Yonge and along College, smashing all the way. ... There was not a cop in sight as the crowd went on its rampage on Yonge."

Gee lamented that the peaceful protest was overshadowed by "a small group of perhaps 100 or 200 hard-core militants ... with destruction on their minds", yet he devoted most of his column to their antics. It's irresistible, I guess. The Star's photo section is dominated by action shots of rioters.

David Langille, posting at rabble.ca, said he and a group of friends
heard glass breaking on Yonge Street, and saw a mob of about 150 coming around the corner, hurling chairs into windows. Someone threw a bottle through a window showering me in broken glass. What was most striking was that there were not any police in sight.

Evidently this group had started rioting on Queen Street over half an hour earlier -- where the police drove one of their cars into the middle of the group then abandon[ed] it. It was soon set on fire -- making a great photo op.

The group proceeded up Yonge Street smashing windows [for] at least eight blocks, without being stopped by police. ...

As an academic and an activist, I have participated in numerous demonstrations in Canada, the United States, Europe and South America, and I have never seen such a dereliction of duty. ... [W]hen the rioters came smashing their way up the main street of Toronto, the police disappeared for half an hour.

Judy Rebick, also at rabble:
The police spokesperson told Metro Morning today that they waited until later when it was safer to make arrests but that cannot be true. I was there and ... the cops could have arrested the Black Bloc right at the beginning of the action but they abandoned their police cars and allowed them to burn, not even calling the fire department until the media had lots of time to photograph them. ...

People were shocked last night by a city out of control but ... the bigger question here is why the police let it happen and make no mistake the police did let it happen.

On the rabble discussion boards, "absentia" posted at 7:24 this morning:
I watched the CBC yesterday, and what struck me about the "vandals" scene is how staged it looked.

Two police cars, empty and with open windows, parked out front, apart from everything else, serving no obvious purpose. Masked person saunters up to one, in plain sight of camera, nobody trying to stop him, no sense of urgency or subterfuge... Another one lets camera have a good gawk at his pick-hammer, then calmly and delibaretely smashes plate glass... Almost as if they didn't expect to be stopped.

Mass of robocops in full regalia over here; mass of bicycle cops in shorts and yellow macs, no protective gear, over there, just standing around. Huh?

Another poster, "Groggo", wrote:
About those curious blazing police cars. I was at the site, close to those cars. We were confronted by scores of menacing cops, who were keeping crowds back. Then, an odd thing happened. The cops retreated and went elsewhere, leaving both cars abandoned. I thought this was MOST peculiar. When was the last time you saw cops abandoning their own police cars? Within about 30 minutes ... both cars were set aflame -- how I don't know. MOST peculiarly again, not a single cop was there to step in, although there were hundreds of them just around the corner on Spadina Avenue. The whole thing reeked of a set-up.

CP-24's non-stop, hysterical 'coverage' has been predictably one-sided. The thousands of peaceful demonstrators were all but forgotten. Now, it's all about 'anarchists' and 'thugs'.

Steve Paikin, the host of TVO's current affairs program "The Agenda with Steve Paikin", was in the midst of the protest and his Twitter feed includes several accounts of police brutality (I have combined consecutive tweets into separate paragraphs):
they repeated they would arrest me if i didn't leave. as i was escorted away from the demonstration, i saw two officers hold a journalist. the journalist identified himself as working for "the guardian." he talked too much and pissed the police off. two officers held him. a third punched him in the stomach. totally unnecessary. the man collapsed. then the third officer drove his elbow into the man's back. [The journalist was identified as Jesse Rosenfeld] ...

the demonstration on the esplanade was peaceful. it was like an old sit in. no one was aggressive. and yet riot squad officers moved in. police on one side screamed at the crowd to leave one way. then police on the other side said leave the other way. there was no way out. so the police just started arresting people. i stress, this was a peaceful, middle class, diverse crowd. no anarchists. literally more than 100 officers with guns pointing at the crowd. rubber bullets and smoke bombs ready to be fired. rubber bullets fired ...

the police should be smart & do nothing. this is not a violent crowd. they keep insisting it's a peaceful protest. cops tightening their perimeter. why? they are forcing something they dont need to force. who is ordering these police to tighten the noose? it's unnecessary. evwryone's sitting. now tthety'ret motvintt into the crowd. cops moving closer why? arresin people

Police attacked non-violent protesters, pepper spraying and beating them with batons even as they attempted to comply with police orders.

In a story reminiscent of house raids in Afghanistan and Iraq, Dr. John Booth, his wife, and their six-month-old son woke up at 4:00 a.m. on Saturday to find several police officers in their bedroom with guns drawn. The police claimed to have warrants to search the house and arrest Mr. Booth, but they never actually produced the warrants.

Earlier, on Thursday afternoon, Dave Vasey was walking with a friend at York Street and Bremner Boulevard when police demanded he show some identification. ("Papers, please!") Vasey said he was not comfortable with the question and was arrested and kept in a wire cage for five hours. Vasey said the police "told me there was this bylaw. I didn't know what they were talking about." That's because the law was passed in secret.

The protests are continuing today. A Toronto police officer, at 10:22 a.m., near the Atrium on Bay Street:
It's gonna get crazy again this afternoon.

[L note: this post arose from my post of yesterday: "save a little outrage for the real criminals", and the comments found there. Thanks to reader Scott M for alerting me to Steve Paikin.]

"drilling, spilling and killing": why we protest, part two

This is the second part of my report on the "Shout Out for Global Justice" event that I attended on Friday, June 25. Part One is here.

* * * *

Next Amy Goodman took the stage. Her first three words were: "Drilling, spilling and killing." These so-called world leaders gathered here for the G20, she said, are not discussing how to fix the world's problems, but how to augment them.

Goodman related a few stories from Democracy Now!'s travels in the US Gulf of Mexico states right after the BP disaster. The fishermen whose lives have been devastated by the explosion, temporarily hired on cleanup crews, were afraid to talk to NPR because they had all been forced to sign hush contracts - forbidding them to speak in exchange for work.

This is why, she said, we need a media covering oil disasters that is not brought to us by energy companies.

Goodman read about the latest Canadian soldier to die in Afghanistan. (Two more were announced today.) This brings the number of Canadian forces killed in Afghanistan to 150. Thousands of American soldiers have been killed in that war-for-oil. And the only thing sadder, Goodman said, than knowing those numbers, is not knowing the numbers of Afghans who have been killed.

She mentioned Brock McIntosh, a US Afghanistan veteran who is speaking out against the war there, and the brave veterans, many in uniform - which puts them at great risk for military arrest, court-martial and punishment - who lead peace marches during the 2008 US political conventions. But the public never saw them on mainstream media.

This is why we need a media covering war that is not brought to us by weapons manufacturers.

A media covering the US health care crisis and the piecemeal privatization of Canadian public health care that is not brought to us by insurance companies.

"Two hundred tea-partiers hold a protest," Goodman said, "and their numbers are dwarfed by the number of mainstream media reporters covering the show. 15,000 people participate in the People's Climate Conference in Cochambamba, Bolivia, and 200,000 people crowd the 2010 US Social Forum in Detroit, and no corporate media covers it."

This is why we need a media not brought to us by the same companies who profit from war and globalization and privatization.

Goodman told the story of the arrest and police abuse of herself and her colleagues at the 2008 Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minnesota. When she showed her media credentials, a secret service agent ripped them from her neck and confiscated them. One of her colleagues was dragged by her legs, face-down on the street. They were charged with felony offenses. Many in the audience didn't know about this, and they were gasping.

Right now, here in Canada, Goodman said, we are seeing the criminalization of dissent. A billion dollars spent on security means there is a truth they need to contain. She smiled and asked, "A billion dollars to contain all of you?"

* * * *

Leo Gerard spoke next. Gerard is the president of the United Steelworkers, and vice-president of the AFL-CIO. I imagine that for many in the audience, Gerard was the least interesting speaker, but his presence at the event was crucial. It is only through organized labour that workers can succeed in challenging corporate power. Even when workers unite, the battles are dire and desperate. But alone, it is hopeless. And when I say "organized labour," that doesn't have to mean a traditional union, although that may work. Vandana Shiva's farmer's networks are organized labour, too.

Gerard grew up in Sudbury, Ontario, a mining community with deep union roots. The town has been devastated by the mining giant Vale Inco. The mine workers of Sudbury have been on strike a full year. But still, facing so much pressure and loss, they stood strong and overwhelming rejected Vale's latest insulting offer. They have help and support from union leadership and rank-and-file all over Canada and the US, and they set an example for all of us. Gerard acknowledged the Sudbury strikers from the stage and all the union activists in the audience cheered them.

When Vale Inco came to Sudbury, it promised to be part of the community. Instead, it created a social disorder that, no matter what the settlement, will reverberate in the community for generations. And the Canadian government didn't just let this happen, Gerard said. The government made it happen.

He said that right now in Canada, 475,000 people are currently collecting Employment Insurance, but at least that many more have given up looking for work and are ineligible for the narrowly-defined benefits.

He reminded us that all over the US, people lost their homes and their life savings, taxpayers were forced to bailout the financial institutions from the mess they themselves created, and the heads of those companies helped themselves to hundreds of millions of dollars in bonuses.

Economic sustainability, Gerard said, means regulation. It means a tax on global financial transactions. It means an end to the idea that we can have either good jobs or a clean environment - for ourselves, our children and our grandchildren, we will have both or we will have neither.

* * * *

After more incredible rhythm music from the Raging Asian Women, John Hilary spoke. Hilary is director of UK-based War on Want. War on Want is an anti-poverty organization that understands that poverty is political. It works in partnership with people in developing countries, campaigning for human rights, and against the root causes of global poverty: inequality and injustice. It works with farmers, factory workers and people living on the margins of society, building networks and communities - not for charity, but for lasting change.

Hilary told us that Canada's image in EU countries has taken a drastic downturn, as former PM Paul Martin travels around lecturing on deficit reduction. How should countries reduce their fiscal deficits? By visiting pain on the poorest sectors of society, through drastic cuts to the social welfare systems.

It took decades to build these public systems so that seniors could live in dignity, children could be cared for while parents worked, and taxes could be used to help people meet their basic needs. And with one stroke of a corporate-government pen, these vital systems are destroyed. To Europeans who care about social justice, "Canada" now means the most regressive and socially unfair economic model.

We're seeing, Hilary said, a kind of macho game among governments to see who can cut the most services. With an emergency budget, the UK saw 25% of its public services cut, 500,000 public-sector jobs eliminated, and the VAT, the most regressive tax that hits working people the hardest, raised yet again.

And it's even worse for countries dependent on the IMF. Latvia saw a full 40% of its public spending cut in order to receive IMF funding. (If you've read Naomi Klein's Shock Doctrine, you know how that works.)

The G8/G20, Hilary said, has declared war on working people and marginalized communities. The bankers get a free ride and we pay for the crisis they caused.

Now, he warned, the Canada/EU free-trade agreement that is being negotiated behind our backs is privatizing sectors of our society that we don't even realize can be traded away: water, health care, indigenous resources.

The G8/G20 is reviving all the failed institutions that caused such poverty and destruction in the 1990s: the IMF, the WTO, the World Bank. The re-emergence of these failed institutions goes to the heart of the illegitimacy of the G8/G20.

Hilary reminded us that the so-called leaders will emerge from their conference saying they will help this country or that need with a few million here and there. "They will dole out little bits of charity and aid. Don't get taken in!"

* * * *

Next came the other speaker, with Vandana Shiva, I was most excited to see, Pablo Solon, the Bolivian ambassador to the UN. In an amusing sidenote, emcee R. H. Thomson mistakenly introduced Solon as the "Bolivian ambassador to the US". Solon reminded us that Bolivia has no ambassador to the US, because they kicked the US embassy out of their country!

Solon was a water warrior; now he is a water warrior ambassador. If you saw the movie "The Corporation," you know something about the stunning victory of the people of Cochabamba, Bolivia over the Bechtel corporation, reversing the unilateral privatization of Bolivia's water supply. I have not yet seen the documentary Blue Gold: World Water Wars but I'm told it's a must.

Solon's present battle - the battle he urges us all to join, the battle the Council of Canadians leads in Canada and Maude Barlow leads in the UN - is to have water declared a human right. We must bring a UN declaration of Water As A Human Right to a vote, and, Solon said, "We must expose those countries who vote against it, as sometimes we must expose vampires."

After the people of Cochabamba kicked Bechtel out of their country, Bechtel sued Bolivia for $30 to $100 million to recover what they said were their losses. After a ten-year court battle in which the people would not surrender, Bechtel was paid damages of one dollar. And they left.

Then the people of Bolivia went on to re-nationalize all the industries that had been privatized: gas, oil, banking. "We re-nationalized our government," Solon said, which brought great cheers. Bolivians created public jobs, raised salaries, restored and increased social benefits. "We can do this," he said, "because we now control the economic power of the country, not the corporations." Before, 82% of the profits of the energy sector went into private hands, and 18% went into the public coffers. Now 18% goes to private hands and 82% is reinvested in the public sector. And do you know what? The companies still see a profit. There is no deficit. There is a surplus.

This is why we must listen to people like Pablo Solon and Vandana Shiva. They bring us living proof that another world is possible.

Solon spoke of the urgency of climate change and establishing "Mother Earth rights," as the people's climate conference in Cochabamba established. "We must recognize," he said, "that there are some things that cannot be commodified."

* * * *

As I said, I had to leave during Naomi Klein's talk and I didn't see Maude Barlow. I heard Barlow was a bit overwhelming and depressing, giving a litany of statistics and not a lot of hope. But I wasn't there. Barlow and everyone from the Council of Canadians deserve heaps of credit for organizing and promoting this incredible evening.

The part of Klein's talk that I did hear outlined how the G20 - which seems to have appeared out of nowhere - was created by Paul Martin, Bill Clinton and Larry Summers in 1999. Three powerful men choosing a few regional players who were friendly to North American interests to help the world's most powerful nations create the conditions that caused the global economic crisis. Summits like the G8 and the G20 are attempts to sideline and marginalize an already-weak United Nations, so these rich, powerful countries can't be outvoted by the world's poor.

Klein also mentioned how weird it is seeing Stephen Harper lecture the world on how to manage their countries, when she's not sure why Harper is allowed to run this country.

Of course we all laugh and applaud, but really. Why?

"we need g6,000,000,000": why we protest, part one

Sunday morning, the day after.

The day after massive peaceful protests against the G8/G20, after small non-peaceful protests and vandalism, after police-provoked and police-allowed violence.

The day after police violence against peaceful demonstrators - after rubber bullets, pepper spray, baton beatings, bicycles smashing against bodies, pre-dawn raids with guns drawn.

The day after 25,000 people march in the rain in Toronto, carrying signs about women's human rights, the for-profit destruction of the planet, the rights of seniors to live in dignity, the demise of democracy, the rights of indigenous peoples.

The day after, I'm going to change the subject, turn back the clock, just a little.

These are some of my notes from the stellar event called "Shout Out for Global Justice," held at Massey Hall on Friday night. (Held there because the University of Toronto closed down completely and cancelled everything on campus - with three weeks' notice and without paying many of their employees. Union grievances abound.)

Unfortunately, because of transit schedules, I wasn't able to stay for the entire event, so my notes drop off a cliff - I heard only half of Naomi Klein and none of Maude Barlow. But I hope the notes I have will paint a picture of why we must protest the G8/G20, and what is being done to our world in the name of capitalism.

If you don't already know these speakers and the issues they speak and write about, I encourage you to follow links and buy their books and learn, learn, learn.

* * * *

The event was emceed by Canadian actor R. H. Thomson and streamed live via Rabble across Canada, to the US Social Forum in Detroit, and to several different countries. It was kicked off by the Raging Asian Women taiko drummers, who also played after intermission. They were amazing! I was quite smitten.

Thomson said while the G20 so-called leaders are talking about financial deficits, the real leaders are here in Massey Hall, talking about more dire deficits: environmental deficits, social justice deficits, deficits of native rights, water as a human right, media, peace.

The first speaker was Clayton Thomas-Muller of the
Indigenous Environmental Network, organizer of their tar sands campaign for the past 20 years. (I also heard Thomas-Muller speak at the Marxism conference.)

He spoke about Canada's shameful record on native rights - how native lands are exploited for resources while the people on those lands benefit the least - how the great resource wealth of native land is stolen in exchange for environmental degradation, health crises, and a paltry token royalty.

At the same time, leaders of the environmental movement do not necessarily include aboriginal people in their plans and those plans often do not reflect the realities of aboriginal people, people of colour, low-income people and people in other marginalized communities that are disproportionately affected by environmental destruction.

Because of this, the IEN calls for climate justice - the link between the rights of indigenous peoples and the environment.

Thomas-Muller reminded us that his community has a 60,000-year track record of providing green jobs for the community. It will be native people, he said, joining with the labour movement, who will bring down the tar sands. (Also at the Marxism conference, Thomas-Muller gave a separate talk about the tar sands. I wish I had been able to attend, but there's a lot of great info on their website.)

Thomas-Muller was passionate and stirring, calling on us to reject the authority of the G8/G20, and look to the authority of the people, ourselves.

He said: I am here to tell you: you are not sheep. You are wolves.

* * * *

Next Vandana Shiva took the stage. I hope you know Dr. Shiva's work. She is a scientist, philosopher, writer, environmental activist, and global food and farming activist. She is the founder of Navdanya, a network of organic producers that trains farmers in seed sovereignty, food sovereignty and sustainable agriculture, and helps set up and promote fair trade organic networks in India. I can't really do Navdanya justice in this description. You should go to their website and learn for yourself.

Shiva is a warm, funny, engaging person, and her presence onstage filled me with joy and hope. She said, "You know, I'm actually starting to feel sorry for the G20. Not only are they so boring, they don't even know what they want to do anymore! Not only are we more than them, we are so much more fun!"

When Shiva read about the civil liberties' crackdowns and the noise cannons, she thought, they are really afraid we will be heard. She said in India women use their own sound cannons: they bring out their pots and pans and rolling pins and take to the streets. "And let me tell you, that noise we make has a way of scaring the patriarchs!"

Shiva said that her country, India, is being used to enlarge the nuclear agenda. 200,000 tonnes of uranium, mined on indigenous lands in North America, is being forced on India, as the nuclear industry there balloons to a $15-billion enterprise. The corporations who profit from this have worked out a deal to cap their own liabilities at a ridiculously low level - so, as Shiva said, they can create another Bhopaul and have the legal right to walk away from it. This courtesy of US corporate economist under a Democrat administration, Lawrence Summers.

US international "development" money is now all about biotechnology and profits for Monsanto. It's no coincidence, Shiva said, that the provinces most associated with this "development" have the highest rates of farmer suicides. It's the same pattern being forced on the entire world: the socialization of risks and costs, the privatization of profits. Now even liabilities are socialized, as taxpayers are forced to bail out the corporations from the effects of their own disastrous policies.

And Shiva brings the story full circle: none of this can happen without militarization. Global military budgets are sucking the life out of our needy world. The money must be redirected to reversing climate change, local food production, clean water, global health.

She noted something I had never thought of before: why is it that only these financial and economic meetings bring out the heavy police presence and civil liberties crackdowns? The United Nations represents almost 200 nations, "not just this pathetic 20," but we don't see the thousands of police for the UN.

The police presence at the G20 is both a symptom and a symbol of the militarization of the entire economic structure, where the land of the world's poorest people is being grabbed and exploited by the world's most powerful corporations.

Shiva asked, who is the G8 or the G20 that they presume to speak for us? The United Nations, G198, is much better, but even that is only a start. We need G6-billion. G6,000,000,000. The whole world.

She said, We are here to tell them, there is a world order beyond corporate power.

Part 2: Amy Goodman, Leo Gerard, John Hilary, Pablo Solon.


save a little outrage for the real criminals, part two

I just came home from the G20 protests, and all anyone can talk about is "the violence". The media, the mayor, the politicians, the "person on the street" interviews - all agog over "the violence".

Newsflash. People smashing windows or setting a cop car on fire is a minor inconvenience.

People appointing themselves spokespeople for the planet in closed-door meetings, destroying social safety nets, commodifying and privatizing every earthly resource, making war, making poverty, destroying oceans, air and water: this is the Bad Thing.

A billion dollars of our tax money wasted, secret laws passed, pre-dawn raids on citizens' homes, pre-emptive arrests, criminalizing dissent, turning a city into a ghost town: this is the Bad Thing.

But all anyone can talk about is "the violence".

Ten thousand - I've just heard it was 25,000 - people were upset and angry enough to spend the day marching in the rain - peacefully, I may add - but all anyone can talk about is "the violence".

Why doesn't someone ask us why we are marching with a giant coat hanger? Ask us why we don't recognize the G8 or G20 as legitimate, why we oppose their very existence, why we call them liars and criminals and murderers.

Ask us why 2,000 people filled Massey Hall last night, ask us what our problem is: we can list them all.

But no, just show endless footage of the burning cop car and a skirmish with police. There, you've covered the protest.

Back in February, I said, save a little outrage for the real criminals. I was frustrated and appalled that Canadians appeared more horrified by a little vandalism in Vancouver than in the larger vandalism of the Olympics themselves. Today, it's even worse. I'm not surprised, but I sure am disgusted.

When people are not heard, when democratic channels are thwarted and ignored, frustration boils over. Some people express that frustration by smashing things. Big fucking deal. The only thing that bothers me about that expression is how the response to it overshadows everything else.

Save your outrage for the G20 itself.

get out there and march

The "Shout Out for Global Justice" was amazing and inspiring.

I was especially thrilled to see Vandana Shiva and Pablo Solon. Sure, Amy Goodman and Naomi Klein are great, but you can hear and read them any day of the week. Shiva, Solon, Clayton Thomas-Muller - these were the real treats. People who are showing us that another world is possible, and who are out there creating it right now.

Since I'm off from work this weekend, I hope to write about it tomorrow, but more than that, I hope you'll all be able to see video of the whole event.

Today is the day to take to the streets, to protest the G20 agenda - its entire anti-democratic existence - and the police lockdown of Toronto and Ontario.

The feeder march of the Canadian Peace Alliance begins 12:30 at the US Consulate, the main march begins 1:00 at Queen's Park. Women will lead the way carrying a giant coat hanger, to remind Stephen Harper and his G20 cronies that maternal health includes abortion.

Be there!

Thanks to Dr. Dawg for the pic, via pmoharper.


police state canada: g20 insanity, part two

This morning we learned that weeks ago, with no public consultation or legislative debate, the Ontario Government authorized special police powers for use before and during the G20 summit.

The Public Works Protection Act, as Orwellian a name as I've heard since coming to Canada, gives enormous power to police, to be used at their own discretion, or lack thereof.

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association tells us that the Act allows the
power to search without warrants, obligation of visitors to state name and purpose of the visit, power to deny entry. Most of these powers contradict current constitutional safeguards. The Regulation, which was not announced and has appeared on e-laws, will be published in its regular form on July 3rd 2010.

These unconstitutional, fascist powers, which supposedly apply only along the border of the Great Security Fence now standing in Toronto's downtown core, took effect Monday. In other words, by the time we, the people, were informed of them, the rules were already in effect. It was too late to seek a court injunction or to protest them or to speak to our elected representatives about them.

Tim Burrows, spokesperson for the "G8/G20 Integrated Security Unit" that is charged with keeping Our Lords and Masters safe from angry peasants, reassures us that the peasantry should not be afraid. "The public has nothing to fear with this legislation and the way the police will use this legislation," said Burrows.

Whew! Thanks, Tim! We all feel so much better now. Please continue to trample on our rights!

In fact, "two or three" arrests - Tim's not sure how many - have already been made under the new law. And you see, everything is fine. Ask this man. He was arrested and left in a wire cage for the crime of walking around.

The regulations state that anyone who comes within five metres of the Great Security Fence must give police their name and state the purpose of their visit.

Police can deny anyone access to the area.

Police can search anyone who approaches the fence.

Police can use "whatever force is necessary," at their own judgement and discretion, to keep people out.

The Canadian Labour Congress and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association were in court yesterday, seeking an injunction against the use of ear-destroying "sound canons" against protesters. This morning the suit was dismissed.

This CBC story says, "Protesters worry the devices can cause long-term hearing damage". Wrong. Protesters know the devices can cause long-term hearing damage, damage to internal organs and brain damage. But hey, if they're good enough for the US military to use against Iraqis, they're good enough for the Integrated Security Unit to use against Canadian citizens.

LRADS don't cause hearing damage. And tasers are non-lethal weapons. Just ask Zofia Cisowski.

Up in Huntsville at the G8, nothing spells police state like the detention of reporters. A Canadian Press reporter was detained because he was carrying a gas mask and body armour, which he needs because of the people who are detaining him.
Before I opened the trunk of my car, there were two officers scanning my vehicle from the outside.

Once the lid was opened, and the contents of the trunk revealed, uniformed police seemed to come out of every corner.

Two more police officers. Then four more. Three taking notes. Then another.

Two more still began to rifle their way through the entire car, looking curiously at my half-eaten bagel and the bottle of wine I bought as a thank you gesture to my friend and Huntsville resident for letting me stay at his place for a couple of nights.

While one stood guard over me, presumably for my own safety, officers from the Ontario Provincial Police crime unit descended on the vehicle.

Then, the G8 security task force sent in their people. More uniforms took notes.

"Of course, we are very curious about why you are carrying body armour and a gas mask in your car," said a female officer who asked not to be identified in the media. In fact, no one could be identified. For security reasons, of course.

"You understand."

All standard equipment issued by my employer for covering demonstrations that could get out of hand, I assured them.

Seems my assurances weren't good enough.

"What is your supervisor's name?" one officer asked.

"We'll need to speak with him," said another.

They called Scott White, editor-in-chief of The Canadian Press, to confirm that our reporters are issued safety equipment like gas masks and vests. But that apparently wasn't enough to get me through.

Soon, a helicopter was hovering overhead.

Then came the bomb-sniffing dogs.

I was still being detained, nearly two hours after being pulled over. And I was growing only slightly aggravated by the lengths to which they were going to interrogate a reporter.

I saw a story. So I asked that I be allowed to videotape my interrogators.

"You can't do that," said one moustached officer.

"We have protocols, and you wouldn't want to put us in danger, now would you?"

Soon I was moved behind a large metal mesh fence, again "for your own security."

And another thing: where has our billion dollars gone? "G20: Canada’s billion-dollar summit mystery".

Part I of G20 insanity here.

Save Our Civil Liberties: Oppose The PWPA on Facebook.

Sign the petition to oppose the Public Works Protection Act.


paranoia strikes deep: g20 "security" insanity in toronto

Canada has gone insane.

In Toronto, the two massive security fences and multiple road closings keep the downtown tied up in knots. Helicopters circle overhead all day. Activists are being visited by CSIS and undercover police.

This week we were all shaking our heads at the news that trees are being removed because they might be used as weapons! Trees! But the trees have plenty of company - bus shelters, newspaper boxes, garbage cans and bicycle rings have all been removed, too. And the paranoia catches on. Some Tim Hortons locations have removed metal napkin holders from tables.

I caught a glimpse of CP24 the other day - something I rarely do - and their promo for G20 coverage includes a brief image of an angry mob of protesters, someone throwing a flaming projectile. Where is this happening? Certainly not at an event that occurs in the future. Is it footage from another G20 protest? Is it from Canada? Who cares. Just throw in some sexy action footage, add a little more scare into the mix.

Downtown office workers are being advised to "dress like protesters" so they won't be hurt. There's irony for you. More like, dress like protesters so you're more likely to be detained and harassed. It's protesters who need to protect our ear drums from LRAD sound cannons and our lungs from tear gas. Maybe protesters should try dressing like Bay Street lawyers to protect ourselves from the cops.

A few weeks ago, 20 protesters gathered to highlight excessive police tactics. Police outnumbered them two-to-one.

Spend a billion dollars on security, and if nothing happens, say the money was well spent. Spend a billion dollars on security, and if there's an incident (whether actual or manufactured), and say the money is well spent. Either way, our own money is being wasted on war toys and security theatre.

Then I see progressive Canadian bloggers who live in the GTA debating whether or not to join the protests, and I see how effective the scare tactics are. The people who run Canada and Toronto want to scare us into staying home, and apparently it's working.

Believe me, I have no great wish to be tear-gassed or have my ear drums blown out. But most demonstrations are peaceful, and there's no reason to think Saturday's march will be any different. Let's recognize this for it is: intimidation. They're trying to keep us home, and to keep us quiet. I'm sorry that for so many people, that works. Fortunately, for many people, it makes us doubly determined to be seen and to be heard.


victory!!! pride toronto will be censorship free!!

The text came in at our war resisters meeting tonight: Pride Toronto has reversed its decision on censoring the words Israeli Apartheid. This is a major victory for freedom of expression, for justice - and for common sense.

And now I can't write anymore, because also at our meeting, my friends surprised me with champagne and a beautiful gift to celebrate my new Canadian citizenship. I'm a bit tipsy and will soon be more so.

Whoo-hoo! Time to celebrate.

reproductive justice and canada part two, or, women speak the fuck up

Here are some notes from the meeting I attended Monday night, "Harper's Attacks on Reproductive Rights - At Home and Abroad". This is by no means an exhaustive account of what was said, but I hope the highlights will inform and inspire you.

Part one, about recent polls showing reproductive choice is a solid, mainstream Canadian value - and why that does and doesn't matter - is here.

* * * *

Carolyn Egan, of the Ontario Coalition for Abortion Clinics (as well as the Steelworkers Union and several other hats she wears), set the scene by saying that Harper has made a "colossal political blunder" with the Conservative so-called international maternal health agenda. Up until now, the Conservatives have been attacking reproductive rights by stealth - with private member's bills that would give legal personhood to a fetus or that pretend to protect health workers, through hospitals mergers (public hospitals merging with Catholic facilities), and so on.

But by putting an anti-abortion-rights program front and centre - by using international policy to advance the religious-right agenda - Harper shows his hand to mainstream voters, and may have awoken a sleeping giant. Sixty-seven percent of Canadians polled believe international programs supported by Canada should include the same rights to abortion that Canadians have. There is widespread support for abortion rights in Canada and it's up to us to organize that support.

Carolyn very proudly announced that the main G20 protest march this Saturday will be lead by women carrying a giant coat hanger, protesting Harper's policies, both in solidarity with women all over the world and as Canadians (info here). Be there!

Jessica Yee, of both the Native Youth Sexual Health Network and Canadians for Choice, reminded us that it was also National Aboriginal Day. Jessica spent part of her day at the Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs, talking about the state of maternal and child health on reserves. Apparently members of the Ministry itself was shocked to hear how poor or nonexistent abortion access is for Native women. (Their ignorance is downright scary.) Jessica said that for Native women, reproductive justice has three prongs: the right to have an abortion, the right to have children and the right to parent as they see fit. Although we often focus on abortion rights, with good reason, reproductive rights must always include an end to sterlization abuse, along with access to quality, accurate sex education and affordable birth control.

Since the meeting took place in Toronto, where access to free abortion exists (including for women without status in Canada), Jessica reminded us that access is very different for so many Canadian women who live elsewhere in Canada.

In PEI, there is no abortion provider.

New Brunswick health insurance doesn't pay for abortion.

In the Northwest Territory and Nunavut, there is one abortion provider for each territory. In NWT, abortions are performed in one clinic on two specific days of the week. Everyone knows that any woman in the clinic on those days is terminating a pregnancy.

In Saskatchewan, there are no freestanding abortion clinics, only hospital procedures, creating unnecessary obstacles and unequal access.

There is a dire shortage of access in Quebec, the same province that declared 88.8% in favour of abortion rights in the recent Nanos poll.

And in many of these places, abortion access goes only up to 12 or 14 weeks, which is often not long enough for a woman to discover and decide about an unwanted or unplanned pregnancy.

[I'm personally very interested in this unequal access, and plan to become part of the movement to change it. After we win the war resisters battle...]

Ayesha Adhami of the Immigrant Women's Health Centre spoke next. The Immigrant Women's Health Centre in Etobicoke (the west end of Toronto) is an amazing health facility where an all-female staff who speaks nine different languages serves immigrants, refugees, people of colour and women without status. The backgrounds of the staff are the same as those of their patients, so all the women are working together for common goals.

Ayesha was born in Pakistan, but her family came to Canada when she was only an infant. During Ayesha's childhood, her family moved back to Pakistan for six years. During that time, she attended a good school and lived a life of privilege enjoyed by 28% of the population. For the 72% of the population outside of those walls, Ayesha said, life was "incredibly bleak".

Most Pakistani women, are impoverished and illiterate, either toiling away in virtual slavery or scavenging to survive. Many women forgo the survival strategy of marriage in order to help their birth families survive. Single women are constantly sexually assaulted and harassed. There is no access to contraception, and if they become pregnant as a result of rape, they are shamed and ostracized. Married women may be protected, or they may be shackled to their abuser with no way out.

Ayesha told us that abortion is accepted practice in Pakistan, and not uncommon, performed by traditional midwives. (Among men, she says, there is more opposition to contraception than to abortion). Yet North American bureaucrats have decided to over-ride local customs, laws and rights to deny Pakistani women access to abortion. In Pakistan, a safe procedure costs between eight and 20 US dollars.

Ayesha spoke so eloquently about how her experiences in Pakistan have informed her life's work, and so forcefully about our solidarity with all women, everywhere, in our fight to control our own bodies.

Rhonda Roffey from Women's Habitat spoke briefly but got us fired up, reminding the gathering that "women have kicked government's ass in Canada". We have before and we will again.

Rhonda reminded us that Harper's anti-choice attack targets the world's most vulnerable people. Contrary to anti-choice propaganda you may see, globally, giving birth is far more dangerous than abortion. Not only does lack of access to safe abortion kill women, it also creates orphans. A study on child survival in rural Bangladesh showed that a motherless child was 25 times more likely to die before the age of 10 than a child with a mother. Abortion saves lives. Period.

[As always, go to the Alan Guttmacher Institute for all your factual and statistic needs. They are the the single best source for accurate statistics on sexual and reproductive health both in North America and worldwide.]

About reproductive rights, Rhonda reminded us about something I say, write and think about all the time: "If we don't have this, we don't have anything." Without the ability to control our reproduction, women can never be free. And without abortion, such control is impossible. Abortion rights are the sine qua non of women's freedom.

Kelly Holloway, a well-known student activist from York University, talked about her experiences fighting the disgustingly named "Genocide Awareness Project" on her campus. This is a group of radical anti-choicers who display gigantic blown-up photos supposedly of aborted fetuses beside photos of the bodies of Jews slaughtered in Nazi concentration camps and lynched African-Americans. They set up these giant displays on campuses to frighten and harass young women.

In one action that Kelly helped organize, activists surrounded the display with pro-choice banners. But as president of her student union, Kelly led a movement to deny "GAP" student council funding. It was clearly not within the student-body mandate to fund harassment or to fund a group that seeks to criminalize a normal, legal, necessary medical procedure. Note the group was never banned from campus nor denied the right to speak on campus. Also note that many other universities - including the University of Calgary, that "hotbed of radicalism," as Kelly said - have similarly denied funding to "GAP" without controversy.

At York, however, the "GAP" successfully deflected the issue of reproductive rights and hid behind the cloak of free speech - although its speech rights were never questioned or denied. "GAP" successfully portrayed themselves as victims of radical feminists; Kelly was called a "campus totalitarianist". The University, the student newspaper and the media all supported "GAP". The University hosted bogus debates in which two men debated whether or not the fetus is a person. At both events, only men were allowed to speak.

After Kelly spoke, a man in the audience briefly and movingly addressed the gathering. I don't have the correct spelling of his name, but he is a Canadian man, originally from Somalia, who is active in union-organizing of taxi drivers. He told us that he came from a family of 12 children; two were girls, and they helped raise the younger children, including him. His sister, the light of his life and his second mother, died in childbirth, along with her child. This has imprinted his entire life, and informs his deeply held belief that women must have full rights to control their reproductive lives. He rose with this message of support and solidarity to the mostly female gathering.

Last, Angela Robertson of Women's College Hospital, pulled all the issues together, by naming the recolonization that globalization is accomplishing, as governments use a pretext of helping women to insinuate their neoconservative agenda on other countries. She compared Harper's so-called maternal and child health initiative to the discourse of wars supposedly fought to "rescue" women from oppression.

This, Angela said, is our "shut the F up" moment. During the G20, we're not supposed to talk about good jobs because that would mean talking about organized labour. We're not supposed to talk about inequality, because that would mean talking about racism and islamophobia. We're not supposed to talk about unequal access, because that would mean talking about women's rights.

We are not here to "help" women internationally, Angela said. We are here to stand in solidarity with all women, for equal rights for all of us. For free, safe abortions. For access to contraception. For quality sex education. For the rights of sex workers.

Angela moved me by putting the global fight for reproductive justice in context of an even larger global fight, and illustrating why reproductive rights is very much part of the G20 picture.

* * * *

During the Q&A, Michelle Robidoux, my comrade from the War Resisters Support Campaign, said the Harper government is "feeling out the contours of what they can get away with," by putting forth an agenda that sounds respectable on the surface, but is actually dangerous and unjust. For example, the refugee "reform" law contained a new appeals division, something for which refugee advocates have been agitating for many years. But the Harper government surrounded that provision with a laundry-list of anti-refugee clauses. Similarly, they supposedly lead the G20 agenda with a "maternal and child health initiative". How can anyone oppose maternal and child health? But the plan attacks women's basic human rights to control their reproductive decisions.

In the case of the refugee law, polls showed that although Canadians did want to speed up the refugee-claim process, they did not want to do so at the expense of fairness - that the majority was proud to be a haven for refugees and wanted to remain so. Now, on abortion rights, a huge percentage of Canadians believe that everyone - including the people who their tax dollars help - should have the same reproductive rights as Canadians do at home.

Someone asked if the Harper "maternal health" plan is a done deal, already set in stone. Meaning: should we fight?

The answers are yes, and yes.

The G20 maternal and child health initiative was planned without us - which underscores what's wrong with the entire G8/G20 scheme, the total absence of democracy. But we must continue to fight, for many reasons.

One, if we say nothing, the anti-woman forces will get away with more and more and more. We must demonstrate our massive resistance to these plans. We must stand up in great numbers and say, this is not done with our consent. The international piece and our rights at home are intimately connected: if they get away with one without a peep of protest, they think they can get away with the other.

Two, resistance saves lives. In Ireland, where abortion is still illegal, there has been a longtime movement of women going to the UK for abortions. In Mexico, where abortion is mostly illegal, Mexico City is a safe-abortion zone. In the US, where millions of rural and low-income women lack access to abortion, women's underground railroads raise funds for procedures and travel. Women on Waves helps bring medical (non-surgical) abortion to women all over the world. And so on.

These movements are founded and maintained by women and men who refuse to lie down and accept the status quo.

It is too late to change the Harper international anti-woman agenda. But the Mexico City Global Gag Rule was repealed - twice - and future governments can change this, too. But only if we demand it.

* * * *

In closing, Carolyn reminded us that Harper's G20 anti-abortion-rights initiative is a gift to our movement.

The Conservatives' stealth tactics are shrewd: it's difficult to fight them. People are less likely to see and organize against incremental changes, as our rights are gradually chipped away. But by playing to his religious-right and anti-choice supporters, by putting anti-abortion-rights plans front and centre, Carolyn said, Harper has made a "fatal error" - and given us a grand opportunity.

We have to use that opportunity to make our voices heard. To speak the fuck up.


reproductive justice and the limits of polls, part one

I attended a terrific meeting last night called "Harper's Attacks on Reproductive Rights at Home and Abroad". The room was packed with people of all ages and from many different communities - university students, women's health workers, socialists, veteran choice activists and those new to the barricades.

When the meeting began, there was a buzz about the recent Globe and Mail article showing the results of a new Nanos poll on Canadians' opinions on abortion.
Canadians believe that women in countries that receive aid from Ottawa should have access to safe abortions, according to new polling data which hints at a political risk for the Harper government in promoting a maternal health initiative that omits abortion.

In the poll by Nanos Research 67.7 per cent of respondents said women in countries receiving Canadian aid should have the same access to safe abortion as Canadian women.

A related Globe story showed that a large majority of people polled in every province believe that women need access to legal, safe and free abortion, ranging from a whopping 88.8% in Quebec to 69.5% in Alberta and in the upper 60 percents in the Atlantic provinces.

This is excellent, and it is a distraction.

Such strong polling numbers are important because they demonstrate that women's reproductive freedom is a mainstream Canadian value, and that the Conservatives tamper with this at their great political peril.

It shows the broad mainstream base behind the small activist voice currently agitating to ensure that reproductive rights in Canada do not backslide, whether through wholesale dismantling or through the stealth, piecemeal chipping away of rights.

And the poll numbers show the strong public opinion we can tap into as we organize around reproductive rights issues.

But our right to control our own bodies should not depend on public opinion.

Our rights to sex education, contraceptives, abortion, prenatal care - our right to control if and when we have children - should not be a function of majority opinion.

In countries where, because of a particular social, political, cultural milieu, public opinion shows strong opposition to contraception and abortion, women still have the right to control their bodies.

And if one day someone comes up with a poll that shows, say, 45% of respondents in such-and-such province oppose abortion rights, 100% of the girls and women in that province still have the right to reproductive freedom.

Reproductive rights are human rights. Human rights cannot depend on public opinion polls.

But the support is there and we must organize it.

This Saturday, at the main G20 protest march - "People First! We Deserve Better" - women will lead the march, carrying a giant coat hanger, both in protest of the Harper government's exclusion of abortion from their so-called "maternal and child health policy" and to say, as Canadians, WE WON'T GO BACK.

This decision was made and endorsed by all the organizing bodies - the Canadian Labour Congress, Greenpeace, Canadian Federation of Students, Oxfam Canada and the Council of Canadians - and it's an exciting development.

Every woman is invited to stand at the head of the march, in a demonstration of strength and solidarity with women around the globe.

The peace march feeding into the main march begins at 12:30 in front of the US Consulate, 360 University Avenue.

The main march will begin at Queen's Park at 1:00.

I'll report on the meeting in Part Two.


call for endorsements: "since 2006 the govt of canada has systematically undermined democratic institutions and practices..."

The Declaration of the Voices-Voix coalition:
Since 2006 the Government of Canada has systematically undermined democratic institutions and practices, and has eroded the protection of free speech, and other fundamental human rights. It has deliberately set out to silence the voices of organizations or individuals who raise concerns about government policies or disagree with government positions. It has weakened Canada’s international standing as a leader in human rights. The impact and consequences for the health of democracy, freedom of expression, and the state of human rights protection in Canada are unparalleled.

Organizations that disagree with the Government’s positions and/or engage in advocacy have had their mandates criticised and their funding threatened, reduced or discontinued. In many cases these organizations have a long history of service to the public, such as KAIROS, MATCH International, the Canadian Council for International Co-operation, Alternatives, the Canadian Arab Federation, the Climate Action Network, the National Association of Women and the Law and the Canadian Research Institute for the Advancement of Women. The Court Challenges Program, which funded many human-rights cases, has had its mandate drastically reduced. The Women’s Program at Status of Women Canada now effectively excludes many women’s groups that conduct research and work to advance women’s equality and participation in society.

Individuals have been personally sanctioned in response to their efforts to defend democratic and human rights principles. Linda Keen, President of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission and three managers from the highly respected organization Rights and Democracy have all been summarily dismissed. Peter Tinsley, Chair of the Military Police Complaints Commission, was not renewed in his position. Diplomat Richard Colvin was intimidated and derided for his parliamentary testimony about the torture of Afghan detainees handed over by the Canadian military. Partisan appointments to the board of directors of Rights and Democracy resulted in the resignation of internationally renowned board members and have thrown the organization into crisis.

Further, an unprecedented level of secrecy now shrouds a long list of government activities and decisions, making it increasingly difficult for the public to hold the government accountable across a range of fundamentally important issues. ...

Read the full Declaration here. Please discuss within your organization and consider endorsing.

wolf puppies and other adorableness

Our photos from Jungle Cat World are up.

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This guy in his winter coat in March...

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...is now dressed for summer.

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This guy as a newborn...

...is this guy as a toddler.

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This little guy who we met in March...


...is now a young adult.

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There are also pics of a tiny baby lynx who we met in advance of the public (he lives in the owner's house!), some baby birds in a nest at the bottom of a trash barrel, some otters and a beautiful silver fox rescued from a fur farm. Go here.


debtors prisons! they're not just for dickens anymore!

How fortuitous to see this as I'm reading Dickens' Little Dorrit. The title character of that novel grew up in the Marshalsea Prison, a prison for debtors, and her family was twisted and ruined behind its walls. Dickens is a little dense for most modern readers, but perhaps some judges and state legislators should give it a try.
You committed no crime, but an officer is knocking on your door. More Minnesotans are surprised to find themselves being locked up over debts.

As a sheriff's deputy dumped the contents of Joy Uhlmeyer's purse into a sealed bag, she begged to know why she had just been arrested while driving home to Richfield after an Easter visit with her elderly mother.

No one had an answer. Uhlmeyer spent a sleepless night in a frigid Anoka County holding cell, her hands tucked under her armpits for warmth. Then, handcuffed in a squad car, she was taken to downtown Minneapolis for booking. Finally, after 16 hours in limbo, jail officials fingerprinted Uhlmeyer and explained her offense -- missing a court hearing over an unpaid debt. "They have no right to do this to me," said the 57-year-old patient care advocate, her voice as soft as a whisper. "Not for a stupid credit card."

It's not a crime to owe money, and debtors' prisons were abolished in the United States in the 19th century. But people are routinely being thrown in jail for failing to pay debts. In Minnesota, which has some of the most creditor-friendly laws in the country, the use of arrest warrants against debtors has jumped 60 percent over the past four years, with 845 cases in 2009, a Star Tribune analysis of state court data has found.

Not every warrant results in an arrest, but in Minnesota many debtors spend up to 48 hours in cells with criminals. Consumer attorneys say such arrests are increasing in many states, including Arkansas, Arizona and Washington, driven by a bad economy, high consumer debt and a growing industry that buys bad debts and employs every means available to collect.

Whether a debtor is locked up depends largely on where the person lives, because enforcement is inconsistent from state to state, and even county to county.

In Illinois and southwest Indiana, some judges jail debtors for missing court-ordered debt payments. In extreme cases, people stay in jail until they raise a minimum payment. In January, a judge sentenced a Kenney, Ill., man "to indefinite incarceration" until he came up with $300 toward a lumber yard debt.

The story includes links to "What to know: Avoiding warrants," "Top five companies using debt arrest warrants," and "Is jailing debtors the same as debtors jail?" It sounds like something out of SNL. But no. Welcome to 21st Century USA.

in which i think my wallet is stolen then returned

I had a weird experience at the grocery store this week.

I am not the most organized grocery shopper, because Allan does 90% of the shopping. So the fewer things I carry with me, the better. I had my list, wallet and keys in one of the reusable Loblaws bags I took to the store. It was just a small fill-in shopping; I had three bags with me.

I paid by credit card - we collect President's Choice points - then meant to put the wallet back in one of the bags, but, it seems, did not.

As I was finishing packing, I noticed the cashier credited me with two bags, but I had three.* I said, "I had three bags, not two," then realized it was too late and didn't matter, and said so.

The cashier said, "I asked you how many bags, you said two."

I said, "You never asked me. Don't worry about it, it doesn't matter."

But it was too late, she had already taken offense. A little upset, she insisted that she had asked and that I said I had two bags.

A few steps out of the store, I had a feeling that I didn't have my wallet with me. I remembered putting my card back in the wallet, but not putting the wallet back in the bag. Immediately before going to Loblaws, I had gone to the bank: I had $200 cash on me. And of course, the usual credit cards, driver's licence, and so on.

I thought I should check before I went back in, so instead of turning around right away, I continued on to the car, checked every bag to see if my wallet was there, and then went back.

I looked at the checkout station. Nothing was there.

The cashier said, "Did you leave something here?"

"Yes, my wallet."

"It's not here. I remember you, but I didn't find a wallet."

I went to speak to customer service. As I did so, the cashier said, "Maybe you dropped it outside, I'll go look for it." And she ran outside.

I used the opportunity to ask the customer service person to look under and around the cashier's station. Nothing.

The cashier runs back inside, breathless, saying, "I didn't find anything." I thanked them both, and went back to the car, took everything out of all three bags, shook out the bags, and re-packed. Nothing.

Naturally I was beginning to be distressed. I was beginning to suspect the cashier took my wallet.

I called Allan to talk through my options. He expressed surprise that a cashier would risk her job by stealing (and usually I would agree), but it seemed even less likely to me that another customer would find a wallet and, rather than turn it in to customer service, pocket it.

I went back to the hutch where customers return shopping carts, but it was already empty, the carts had been put back. At the various Mississauga Loblaws where we shop, an older man who seems mentally disabled does the cart collection. (Not the same man, but Loblaws seems to employ a similar older gentleman at each store.) At this store, the man is very friendly and I always say hi to him. He saw me looking at the carts, asked if everything was okay. I told him I lost my wallet and he said he would keep an eye out for it.

Back to customer service. The customer service person again looks at the cashier station, and suggests I might have left the wallet in the cart. I explain that I've already gone that route. Now the cashier says, "You said the last place you saw it was the cart!" I said, "No, I never said that."

Now I remember the cashier running outside... and I have a growing suspicion that she was taking my wallet, which was in her apron, to her car.

Customer service asks another customer service person to walk around the store and check people's carts, to see if my wallet is - accidentally - in someone else's cart. Meaning, I left my wallet in a cart, and another customer chose that cart for shopping, and didn't notice a wallet in the top rack. I am quite certain I did not leave my wallet in a cart, so I'm not expecting anything, but I appreciate that they are being helpful.

While this is happening, the cashier says, "I'll keep looking for it," and runs outside again.

I quietly tell the customer service person that I am very sorry to say this, but I suspect the cashier has my wallet. Customer service says all she can do is call the manager.

Manager takes me through the same route as customer service. I tell the manager the same thing I told customer service: I am 99% certain that I left the wallet at the cashier, and less than five minutes later, it was gone. The manager suggests that the customer behind me picked it up by mistake.

Manager says that people lose wallets all the time, and customers turn them in. I gently and gingerly suggest that it is possible - unlikely, I agree, but it is conceivable - that the cashier has my wallet and I think they should look through her things. The manager says, "We do not search our employees. You can leave your name and phone number and if we find anything, we will call you."

I write down my name and phone numbers, and walk slowly outside, more because I need to think things through than anything else. The cashier running outside twice is troubling me.

I call Allan again and tell him I think I have to call the police. After all, if the police ask the manager to search the employee's things, the manager is off the hook.

As I speak to Allan, I realize I cannot walk away from this store without my wallet. I don't think another customer has it. I think it's there and I have to get it back.

I decide to go back to the manager, and politely tell her that I am going to call the police. If she would like to search the employee's things - including her car - before I do, I'm giving her the option.

On my way in to the store, the cart-return man says, "Are you the one that lost the wallet?" I say yes, and he produces the wallet.**

He says, "I was afraid she would accuse me of it." I thank him profusely. He says, "It was on top of the carts, here." We are standing by the rows of shopping carts, and he indicates my wallet was sitting on top of one of the cart handles.

I had already looked at the carts, and I know it wasn't there earlier.

The man says, "The girl came running out... I found it here, I was afraid they would accuse me of taking it."

I told him I would tell the manager that he found the wallet and returned it to me.

In the store, of course, customer service is very relieved and, I imagine, glad to be rid of me.

Outside, I call Allan again, and the cart-return man appears again, and luckily I remember to give him some money. I have a bad habit of thinking of things like that when it's too late.

Here's what I think happened. I can't say I am 100% certain, because I didn't actually witness it. But I am reasonably certain that I left my wallet at the check-out, the cashier took it, then ran outside to put it somewhere (such as her car), then - possibly thinking her car might be searched - ran outside again to leave the wallet on top of the carts.

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* The reason the cashier asks how many bags you have is that the store awards us "points" for each of our own bags we use, and a tiny amount is also deducted from our bill for each bag. This is one of the perks of using the store's credit card, which we carry for convenience and points, rather than credit.

The cashier needs to know the correct number of bags in order to credit you with the proper number of points. I noticed she had credited me with 2 bags when I had 3. She either never asked me, or if she asked, I didn't hear her (and thus could not have answered).

** The first comment, below, reminds me of an important detail I forgot to clarify! When the man gave me back my wallet, my money was all there.