former irb showler excoriates jason kenney and current cic policy

Peter Showler, former head of the Immigration and Refugee Board, currently director the Refugee Forum, a human rights education centre at the University of Ottawa, wrote an open letter to CIC Minister Jason Kenney.

It was published in Embassy magazine.

* * * *

The Honourable Jason Kenney, P.C., M.P.
Citizenship and Immigration Canada
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 1L1

September 19, 2010

Dear Minister,

On July 22 of this year, Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) sent a directive to all Immigration Officers in Canada that sets a basic principle of refugee law on its head. The directive, Operational Bulletin 202, concerns the processing of military deserters who claim refugee status in Canada. The first paragraph of the directive sets out the following line of logic:
Military deserters from other countries have sought refugee protection in Canada. Desertion from the Canadian military is a serious criminal offence. Therefore these deserters may also be serious criminals and therefore inadmissible to Canada.

Conscientious objection to military service, whether by draft resisters or deserters, is a widely recognized ground for granting refugee protection, both in Canada and internationally. Over the years, hundreds of conscientious objectors have been given protection although not all deserters or draft resisters are accepted as refugees. The facts of each individual case are considered, particularly: the motives and sincerity of the claimant, the legality or illegality of the military exercise they are seeking to avoid, and the possibility of excessive punishment or discriminatory prosecution. These are all facts and issues of law to be decided by a member of the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) after hearing the claimant’s testimony and evidence. It is fundamentally wrong-headed and a violation of the UN Refugee Convention to suggest that deserters are automatically inadmissible to Canada before hearing their claim because desertion is an offence in their own country.

Although the bulletin cites a general principle of law, a closer reading identifies the real target of the directive, namely, military deserters from one country, the United States of America. I presume then that military deserters from other, less friendly and more offensive regimes, such as Iran, Burma, Sudan, North Korea, possibly Syria and Kyrgyzstan, are still welcome to seek refugee protection in Canada and that their violation of state laws will not be a deterrent to making a refugee claim. The bulletin implies that military deserters from the US should be treated differently than deserters from other countries. There is no basis in law for that proposition. At the risk of repeating myself, that is the job of the Immigration and Refugee Board and not something to be decided prematurely by a border official before the evidence is heard.

The bulletin then discloses that its precise target is even narrower, namely those U.S. deserters who have already had their refugee claims denied and who have asked to remain in Canada for humanitarian reasons. Once again, the government appears to be circumventing the law and intruding on the independence of the Immigration Officers who are delegated to decide humanitarian applications based on the law and the evidence. It is the Immigration Officer who has the discretion to decide whether a refused claimant, for example, someone who has married a Canadian and may now be the parent of Canadian children, whether that person should be permitted to remain in Canada for humanitarian reasons.

These are difficult decisions with complicated and often heart-rending facts that include the best interests of the children but may also include the violation of US military laws. Regardless of the relevant factors, responsibility for the decision lies within the discretion of the Immigration Officer. Does any Canadian reasonably think that an Immigration Officer is making an independent decision when he or she is instructed, for US deserter cases, to “seek guidance” from the Regional Program Advisor and to copy their communications to very senior levels of their department? The clear implication is that any deserter from the US should be denied permanent residence in Canada no matter how sincere their motive for deserting or how compelling their reasons for staying in Canada.

Operational Bulletin 202 misstates the law and seeks to intrude on the independence of both IRB members and Immigration Officers. Out of respect for due process of law, I urge you to withdraw the bulletin.


Peter Showler
Director, the Refugee Forum
Human Rights Research and Education Centre
University of Ottawa

bill c-440 is defeated, but our support of war resisters will never be

See below for more information.


Federal Court of Appeal ruling in Hinzman case stands as government chooses not to appeal

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

OTTAWA--Despite support by the majority of Canadians for US Iraq War resisters, Bill C-440 An Act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (war resisters)­ failed to pass at second reading in the House of Commons on Wednesday evening.

While the bill received strong support from a large majority of opposition members of parliament, it needed 7 more votes to pass.

"This is a setback for Iraq War resisters seeking permanent resident status in Canada, but our campaign to make the government respect the will of the majority of Canadians on this issue is far from over," said Michelle Robidoux, a spokesperson for the War Resisters Support Campaign. "These courageous men and women have the support of two-thirds of Canadians across the country, and they are still threatened with punishment if returned to the United States."

"Over the past few weeks, some MPs had expressed concern about the scope of Bill C-440 as it was presented," said Robidoux. "We will be working with opposition MPs to find a way to give effect to Parliament's two votes, in 2008 and 2009, in favour of letting Iraq War resisters stay."

Two motions that were previously adopted by Parliament which directed the Conservative minority government to immediately cease deportations of Iraq War resisters and facilitate their requests for permanent resident status have been ignored despite public opinion polls indicating that 64 per cent of voters support Parliament's direction.

The Harper government has repeatedly interfered with the cases of war resisters that are supposed to be considered on a case-by-case basis by making blatantly prejudicial comments and issuing an operational directive that intrude on the independence of both Immigration and Refugee Board members and immigration officers.

Coincidentally, Wednesday was also the last day of the Government of Canada’s window to challenge the Federal Court of Appeal decision in the case of resister Jeremy Hinzman. In a unanimous ruling on July 6, 2010, the Federal Court of Appeal held that the government’s assessment of Mr. Hinzman’s bid to stay in Canada on humanitarian and compassionate grounds was substantially flawed because it did not take into account his sincerely held religious, moral and political beliefs against service in the war in Iraq. Jeremy’s case will now be sent back for reconsideration by a different immigration officer in accordance with the court’s ruling.

The government's failure to file an application for leave to appeal to the Supreme Court in Mr. Hinzman's case means that the Federal Court of Appeal’s decision stands.

"Canadians expect that their government will treat everyone with basic fairness," said Robidoux. "Minister Jason Kenney must ensure immigration officers stop issuing the cookie-cutter decisions that have ignored the Iraq War resisters' motivations for coming to Canada, and instead follow the direction of the court that each individual's circumstances should be considered."

* * * *

If you are disgusted, angry or sad about this setback, and you live in the GTA, you are welcome to attend an emergency meeting tonight, where we will collectively assess the results and plan our next steps. Contact me for details.

Please feel free to discuss the C-440 vote here.


george galloway to speak in toronto this weekend

The Globe and Mail headline put it best: "‘I'm coming to get you,’ George Galloway tells Jason Kenney".

Galloway arrives in Toronto Saturday, and will speak at Trinity St Paul's United Church the following day, Sunday, October 3, at 3:00 p.m.

It will be quite a triumphant scene! We sure could use that right now.

c-440 is defeated in second reading

We lost. 143-136. More when I can.

bill c-440 vote today!

Twelve hours from now, we'll know whether Bill C-440 lives or dies. The vote in the House of Commons is today at 5:45 pm.

Core campaigners have been very busy - contacting opposition MPs, reaching out to our network of supporters all across Canada to encourage specific Members, working closely with Gerard Kennedy's office, and in general leaving as little to chance as possible.

It's been nerve-wracking, but it's also been beautiful to witness. If we win this fight, it will because so many good people worked together to make it happen. If we lose, it will be a great injustice, and we will continue to fight.

I fully expect we will win this vote and the Bill will go to committee. But until it happens, we're all holding our breath and biting our fingernails.


in u.s., raids on peace activists; in canada, raids on... who?

In case you didn't hear elsewhere, the FBI raided and vandalized the home of peace activists in Minnesota, claiming they had links to terrorist organizations. This wouldn't be big news if not for the current so-called anti-terrorism laws - under which these peace activists could be imprisoned indefinitely without charges. Local coverage:
The homes of six Twin Cities activists, including three prominent leaders of the Twin Cities antiwar movement, were raided Friday by the FBI in what an agency spokesman described as an investigation into activities concerning the material support of terrorism."

An FBI spokesman Steve Warfield confirmed that six Minneapolis homes were raided this morning.

Among the homes raided were the apartments of Jessica Sundin, who was a principal leader of the mass antiwar march of 10,000 on the opening day of the Republican National Convention two years ago, and Mick Kelly, who was prominent in that protest and among those who announced plans to march on the Democratic National Convention in Minneapolis, if the city is selected to host it in 2012. Neither has been arrested.

Kelly said in an interview this morning he had "absolutely not" been involved in illegal activities.

A raid was also in progress at the home of Meredith Aby, another local antiwar leader who was frequently the spokeswoman for the march on the GOP convention. Sundin and another source said that a fourth raid took place at the home of Tracy Molm, a leading activist in Students for a Democratic Society, an organization at the University of Minnesota.

The source said raids occurred at the addresses of two other activists whose names he did not disclose.

Supporters of Sundin, Kelly and Aby had gathered on the sidewalks outside each of the residences.

Ted Dooley, an attorney, said he had reviewed the search warrant issued in the raid on Kelly's apartment. "It's a probe into the political beliefs of American citizens and to any organization anywhere that opposes the American imperial design," he said.

Kelly said he was the subject of a similar early raid.

“They broke down a door, smashed a fish tank, and went through my books and papers,” Kelly said.

Kelly described himself as a 40-year veteran of the peace movement . . .

Lest you think this is only a US issue, and could never happen in Canada, please read this important post by Alison, writing at Dawg's Blawg.
On the same day the nation was preoccupied with the national Lib/Con competition for votes to preserve/kill the long gun registry, the Libs and Cons combined forces to slip the Combating Terrorism Act through second reading in the House - 220 votes to 84 in a classic Lib/Con vs NDP/Bloc split -just ten minutes before the long gun vote.

The Libs and Cons may disagree on whether it is either useful or an egregious invasion of privacy and civil liberties that Canadians should have to spend a few minutes registering a long gun online, but when it comes to locking Canadians up for 12 months without a warrant or compelling them to appear before a court based on some anonymous tip, they're both just fine with that.

The right to remain silent, the right not to be jailed without charge, the right to know what the charges are against you - pfft!

In reintroducing Bill C-17 for the third time on Monday to reinstate provisions from the Anti-terrorism Act of 2001, Justice Minister Rob Nicholson emphasized a fabulous new feature:

"The key here is that the person required to attend an investigative hearing is treated as a witness, not someone who is accused of a crime."

True, as long as your definition of "witness" includes being arrested if you don't comply and being detained for up to 72 hours if you do.

But what if you are also suspected of being likely to commit a terrorist crime some time in the future. Over to you, Mr. Nicholson :

"a judge can order the person's detention for up to 12 months."

Go to the original for more plus full linkage.

As you may recall, I don't care very much about the long-gun registry. I think gun registration is a good idea, but I also know it does very little to reduce crime. I view the whole kerfuffle as a lot of overheated political grandstanding on both sides, and misplaced enthusiasm on the part of many activists. So while many people were behaving as if the gun registry is the ultimate determinant of Canadian civilization, the Liberal-Conservative coalition continued to support the deterioration of your basic human rights and civil liberties.

Progressive bloggers flogged Jack Layton for not toeing their party line on the gun registry, but only the NDP was standing up against "slipperysloping into 12thC pre-Magna Carta sensibilities" (Alison). Why was that?
By Wednesday Libby Davies wondered aloud in the House why there were hundreds of articles in newspapers across the country dealing with the gun registry but no mention of the debate on the Combating Terrorism Act.

Good question, Libby.

Gee, do you think it has anything to do with who is affected by the so-called anti-terrorism laws? Hmmm.

(updated) victory for free speech and sanity: federal court slams government interference in galloway ban

See update below.

The media is trying to sell this as a defeat for Galloway and his supporters. It is anything but.

Subject: Federal Court slams government interference in Galloway ban
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – Monday, September 27, 2010

Federal Court slams government interference in Galloway ban
Former British MP to announce plans to return to Canada

Toronto – Federal Court Judge Richard Mosley issued a 60-page ruling today that slams the federal government for attempting to ban former British MP George Galloway from entering Canada. The ruling vindicates Galloway and his Canadian supporters who argued that Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Jason Kenney made a political decision to try to keep Galloway out of Canada, not one based on national security claims.

According to Justice Mosley, “the main reason why the respondents [the Federal government] sought to prevent Mr. Galloway from entering Canada was that they disagreed with his political views.”

The ruling also refutes government claims that Galloway’s humanitarian aid convoy to Gaza made him a national security risk: “From the evidence on the record, the question of Galloway’s admissibility was never an issue of national security… CSIS was consulted prior to the writing of the CBSA assessment and had no national security concerns about his visit.”

The ruling exposes how staff in Jason Kenney’s office attempted to ban Galloway from Canada, although no final decision had been made: “It is also clear that the preliminary assessment was prepared with the intention that it be used to justify a CBSA officer’s determination that Mr. Galloway was inadmissible should he appear at the border.”

Galloway’s Canadian supporters are claiming victory.

“This ruling confirms what we have been saying from the beginning: Jason Kenney attempted to ban Galloway because he disagreed with his views,” says James Clark, a member of the Toronto Coalition to Stop the War and an applicant in the case. “This kind of behaviour is completely unacceptable in a democratic society, and represents a serious attack on Canadians’ free speech rights. We are pleased that the Court agrees with us.”

Galloway and his supporters will announce in the coming days the details of an upcoming speaking tour that will bring Galloway back to Canada.

* * * *


I was involved in a discussion on Facebook about whether or not this ruling can be considered a full or partial victory for our side. James Clark said:
The fact the judge dismissed the application actually works in our favour, because he also argued that any negative decision at the border to bar Galloway (then or in the future) could only be seen as biased and the result of obvious and documented political interference - what we've been saying all along. This means the path is clear for Galloway to come to Canada. Stay tuned for dates...

The bulk on the 60-page ruling, by the way, is a sharp criticism of the government's role in trying to ban Galloway. The judge agreed with us that the ONLY motivation to keep Galloway out was a political one: the government tried to ban someone it disagreed with. Welcome to free speech, Harper-style.

The decision also vindicates Galloway by stating in no uncertain terms that the government went too far in trying to label Galloway a terror support. The court said definitively: humanitarian aid is NOT support for terror. Galloway's aid to Gaza is just, fair and legal.

This case will have lots of legal repercussions on many fronts, all good for the movement.


support bradley manning: blowing the whistle on war crimes is not a crime

Last week, there were actions in more than 20 cities in support of accused whistleblower Bradley Manning. You can read about them at the Bradley Manning Support Network. Here's a video of the small but spirited vigil held in Toronto.

To help support Manning, you can write to him, get updates on his case, donate towards his legal defense - and support military resistance to endless, for-profit war.

bill c-440 second reading debate today!

Today at 11:00, the House of Commons will have a second hour of debate on Bill C-440, the private member's bill that would allow US Iraq War resisters to apply for permanent residence in Canada. If you don't get CPAC on TV, you can watch it online here.

The second-reading vote is scheduled for Wednesday, September 29 at 5:45 p.m.

Canadian readers, I hope you've all called your opposition MPs. If you haven't yet, it's not too late: call today.

for-profit libraries creeping into u.s.

The march of privatization goes on. In a country with money for war and nothing else - where most corporations get taxpayer subsidies but pay zero taxes themselves - corporate interests profit from empty public coffers. And in some cases, they profit from public ignorance.
A private company in Maryland has taken over public libraries in ailing cities in California, Oregon, Tennessee and Texas, growing into the country’s fifth-largest library system.

Now the company, Library Systems & Services, has been hired for the first time to run a system in a relatively healthy city, setting off an intense and often acrimonious debate about the role of outsourcing in a ravaged economy.

A $4 million deal to run the three libraries here is a chance for the company to demonstrate that a dose of private management can be good for communities, whatever their financial situation. But in an era when outsourcing is most often an act of budget desperation — with janitors, police forces and even entire city halls farmed out in one town or another — the contract in Santa Clarita has touched a deep nerve and begun a round of second-guessing.

Can a municipal service like a library hold so central a place that it should be entrusted to a profit-driven contractor only as a last resort — and maybe not even then?

“There’s this American flag, apple pie thing about libraries,” said Frank A. Pezzanite, the outsourcing company’s chief executive. He has pledged to save $1 million a year in Santa Clarita, mainly by cutting overhead and replacing unionized employees. “Somehow they have been put in the category of a sacred organization.”

. . . .

L.S.S.I. got its start 30 years ago developing software for government use, then expanded into running libraries for federal agencies. In the mid-1990s, it moved into the municipal library market, and now, when ranked by number of branches, it places immediately after Los Angeles County, New York City, Chicago and the City of Los Angeles.

The company is majority owned by Islington Capital Partners, a private equity firm in Boston, and has about $35 million in annual revenue and 800 employees. Officials would not discuss the company’s profitability.

Some L.S.S.I. customers have ended their contracts, while in other places, opposition has faded with time. In Redding, Calif., Jim Ceragioli, a board member of the Friends of Shasta County Library, said he initially counted himself among the skeptics.

But he has since changed his mind. “I can’t think of anything that’s been lost,” Mr. Ceragioli said.

The library in Redding has expanded its services and hours. And the volunteers are still showing up — even if their assistance is now aiding a private company. “We volunteer more than ever now,” Mr. Ceragioli said.
Key phrase here: "...while in other places, opposition has faded with time." That's how it works.

This guy volunteers for a private, for-profit company and he can't think of anything that's been lost? Maybe his pride and common sense are under the bed with the lost socks. When library hours and services are cut because they're not sufficiently profitable, he won't find them there, either.

That "overhead" they cut is another word for your services. Why would you rather put money into shareholders' pockets than into good jobs in your own community? The for-profit library isn't going to cost any less, and you won't see a penny of the profit it turns.

There are many services that - done properly - can never and should never create profit. Health care and education are tied for first on that list. Public access to information is another.


in which i learn the lasting effects of the g20 police brutality

This evening I was slightly roughed up by a Toronto cop. And the first thing I thought of - unlike anything I've ever experienced before - was, "Don't talk back, don't move, don't look at her. Don't escalate." I thought of the G20, and I thought, I don't want to get hurt, I don't want to get arrested.

That's how terrorism works.

I got out of work early tonight, 7:00 instead of the usual 10. King Street in front of Scotia Plaza was barricaded off for a film shoot. I ignored it and stepped past some traffic cones. I could hear someone with a megaphone on the other side of the street directing people to move me. One of the production assistants asked me to leave. I said, "Sorry, I'm not missing my bus for your movie."

I managed to get to the corner of King & Bay, where people were being held on all four corners, and I tried to cross the street. A production assistant told me I couldn't go. I told her my bus runs once per hour, and I'm not going to miss it. She said, "We're all tired and cold, too, but we have to be patient."

I said, "You may be tired and cold, but you're getting paid. I'm trying to get home, and I'm not going to miss my bus."

I tried to go. She tried to stop me. I tried to go.

From the other side of the intersection, a female cop came charging at me with her arms fully extended, grabbed my upper arms and shoved me back into the metal barricade. I was wearing a full backpack, which absorbed the shock. Had I not been wearing a backpack, she would have hurt me.

Leaning into my face, she screamed, "Do you want me to arrest you? You stay the hell out of the street."

I looked away and offered no resistance. This is very unlike me. It's not the first time I've been confronted by an overheated cop, but it's the first time I didn't resist.

As the female cop accosted me, a male pedestrian came over and yelled at her, "What are you doing? How long are we going to have to stand here?" A male cop then appeared, shouting, but also intervening between me and the out-of-control female cop. He said, not looking at me, "When a police officer tells you to do something, you do it! You were about to get run over by 10 different cars! They have a permit to use the street!" I shouted back that I had not disobeyed a police officer, but he wasn't looking or listening to me.

The male pedestrian and the male cop got in a shouting match. The cop told him he could cross underground in the subway - at which point several people yelled back that the subway was closed, too.

Meanwhile, several fake New York City yellow cabs were driving by. The male cop yelled at the male pedestrian, "Just because they're shooting a New York City scene doesn't mean you have to act like a New Yorker!"

That was pretty funny on several levels, especially since in New York I used to walk through film shoots all the time. I worked in Rockefeller Center, and if I stopped for every film shoot, I'd never get back from my lunch break on time.

While the male cop was yelling, the film production assistant was saying, "Why don't you all just take a deep breath. Maybe chilling out and taking an extra minute would be a good idea." That was the most galling thing of all. I don't need a flunky on a film shoot giving me relaxation advice! Just do your job. Don't lecture me on how I'm supposed to like it.

When they released the crowd and I walked down King Street, I could feel where the officer had grabbed my arms. And I realized, sadly, why I didn't make eye contact, why I didn't yell or push back: the brutality of the policing at the G20. I felt really sad and defeated by this.

I got her badge number. I know what it will do - nothing - but I plan to report it anyway.

the taste of metal: war resister memoir by canadian journalist jack todd

Just before classes started, I added to my growing library of war resister literature* by reading The Taste of Metal: A Deserter's Story by Jack Todd. Todd is a sports columnist for The Montreal Gazette and a novelist. Originally from Nebraska, Todd deserted from the US military in 1970 and came to Canada, settling first in Vancouver before moving to Montreal.

A Taste of Metal is an excellent read - gritty and unsparing, compassionate and keenly observed. For me it was interesting to compare this book to the deserter's story I'm most familiar with, Joshua Key's The Deserter's Tale: The Story of an Ordinary Soldier Who Walked Away from the War in Iraq, which I've written about here and here, among other posts.

Josh's book focuses on why he joined the Army and his experiences in Iraq - what he witnessed and was forced to participate in. After Josh realizes he cannot return to Iraq, the book follows his desperate struggle to live underground in the US, before finally finding refuge in Canada - or at least among the Canadian people.

A Taste of Metal, on the other hand, focuses on the writer's wrenching decision to go AWOL and leave the US, and his struggle to find his footing in Canada. In this sense, it's an excellent counterpart to Josh Key's book.

Jack Todd never went to Vietnam. Fortunately for him, a childhood friend had been there and survived, and pleaded with him not to go. Even though Todd opposed the war, he couldn't conceive of deserting and leaving behind everything he knew. During basic training, he met a soldier who had applied for conscientious objector status, a figure of towering physical and moral strength.
Almost every night when I'm on supply guard duty, Powers drops by at some point. He doesn't seem to need more than three or four hours' sleep, so we sit there night after night, talking about Thoreau and Sakharov and Camus and arguing about the war. We agree that it's stupid, callous, destructive, murderous, probably illegal, and certainly immoral. We disagree only about our own responsibility for bringing it to an end.

Powers argues that if I believe it is criminal for the U.S. to go on killing people, then I have a moral obligation to refuse to fight: "Man, you're part of the machine or you're out. You can't have it both ways. You want to be a nice little soldier boy for a couple of years, do your time, then go back to Miami and join a couple of peace marches for your conscience? Work for George McGovern or Gene McCarthy in '72 and hope they straighten out this mess? Is that it? That's chickenshit, man. If we're all like you, then those bastards can go right on dropping napalm on babies for a hundred years, because nothing's going to change."

His friend's influence, along with the photographs his boyhood friend had showed him - including a necklace made of human ears, cut off of North Vietnamese - push his already troubled conscience to the limit. Todd decides to go AWOL.
Powers wants to roll at first light the next morning. I spend a sleepless night in the apartment downstairs. I feel the pain of old ties breaking, the sense of loss overwhelming: my parents, Mariela, all my old friends back in Scottsbluff, my lost career. All because of this war and the things it is doing to people. No matter what happens, I'm an American — as American as Richard Nixon or Spiro Agnew or Dean Rusk or Henry Kissinger or any of those generals in Washington — so why should I have to go into exile for my beliefs? Why should I have to give up my life in Miami and shatter my parents and turn my back on my country and go into exile when I was born in the USA, when I tried to become a Marine Corps officer, when my patriotism runs at least as deep as theirs and possibly deeper? I would fight any war except this one, so why does it have to be this one? Who turned my country over to these maniacs anyway, and when are we going to get it back? What kind of madmen decide to defoliate an agricultural country on the other side of the world in order to "save" it? I have been brought up to despise injustice, and this is injustice — massive, powerful, state-supported injustice.

There is nothing left to be done. I have written editorials and marched, protested and argued and carried placards, worked for Bobby Kennedy, hoped for Eugene McCarthy after Kennedy was shot. And still the war grinds on, madness carried along by its own momentum. The only thing left is to walk away.

It's not quite that easy, but he does it.
The night of January 3, 1970, with Powers waiting to drive me to Vancouver early the next morning, I call home. My mother answers, and in the instant after I hear her voice I think I can't possibly tell her. Then I just blurt it all out

"Mom, I'm not going back to the army, I've made up my mind, the war is wrong, I can't be part of it, I'm going to desert and I'm going to Canada tomorrow morning."

She catches her breath. She's tougher than I am, tougher than Pop, tougher than any of us. She knows I need her to be steady and she is. She speaks slowly. I can tell she's determined not to let her emotions get in the way.

"Well, you know we'll support you whatever you decide to do. I know you've thought about this a lot and you know I hate this war, but this is going to be hard for you, real hard."

"I know, Mom. I know it's going to be hard for you, too. But I have to do it. It's wrong to be a part of it, you know? I feel awful but I don't feel like I have a choice."

"You're sure you don't want to go back and wait to see what school you get in the army? What if you get journalism?"

"That would just make it worse, If I did, I'd feel like I had to ask for infantry. Writing press releases for the army would be the most dishonest thing I could do. It would be like writing speeches for Nixon. It would make me sick."

"You know if you go you might never get to come home again."

"I know, Mom. I've thought about that a lot."

"And you know we might never see you again. We're getting old, your Pop and I. We can't afford to go traveling and we've never even been on a plane, anyway."

"I know. I'll find some way to get you up to Canada. You should see the world anyway. You can't just stay in Scottsbluff all your life."

"Oh yes, I can. You know what Faulkner said, how if a man was meant to travel he'd of been long-ways like a road or a wagon instead of up-and-down-ways like a tree or a fence post? Well, I'm like that. I was meant to stay put."

I laugh. At least she can kid about it a little. And she has to know that if not for her, I would not be going to Canada. She taught me about books, taught me to think for myself, taught me to be skeptical about people in power. If it wasn't for her I would never have become a reader, never have gone to university. . . .

Her voice breaks a little then. She knows how silly that is, talking about sending pots of food all the way to Canada, but somehow it's a comfort to pretend that she can. We talk around it awhile longer, but the truth is out there, dangling along the thousands of miles of telephone wire between us. Given her age, their poverty, the distance, it's possible we will never see each other again.

Being permitted to stay in Canada legally wasn't a sure thing, and came close to not happening. Once in the country, Todd floundered for a while, struggling with poverty and alcohol abuse on Vancouver's downtown Eastside.
There aren't many places on the continent worse than Hastings Street. Every town has its skid row, but Hastings is the skid row for an entire country. It's where you end up when you have nowhere else to go. You've bounced out of Winnipeg or worn out your welcome in Sudbury or taken the bus down from Prince George with the pay from a summer's logging fat in your pocket and forgotten the way back. It's warm enough in Vancouver so you won't freeze to death in the winter, so when the rest of it is gone — family and friends, jobs and money and hope — you stop here in this beautiful place at the tag end of the continent, two blocks short of the water, and you try to get numb enough to die.

I'm luckier than most. They've been taken down by cheap rum, glue, smack, wine, beatings, rape, prison, frozen nights sleeping on Toronto sidewalks — or maybe just the demons that live in the back of their minds. They end up here, dazed and broke and bleeding sitting in a doorway, sprawled on a park bench, shuffling along side walks slick with frozen spittle begging quarters from strangers scraping together enough to get a needle back into a ravaged arm or a flask of cheap brandy or a few filthy balls of scavenged Kleenex soaked with glue, jammed between the gum and upper lip so the fumes explode behind their eyes.

Days when they're almost sober they sit for hours in the White Lunch drinking coffee with extra cream and sugar because the cream and sugar are food, sort of, trying to eat a bit, hands shaking, the terrors of withdrawal nibbling at the corners of their minds. Then they score enough for another bottle or another needle and crawl into a doorway and pull the world shut behind them, nothing left except the warm, dumb place at the end of consciousness when you go down under the water for the third time. Bobbing beneath the surface, hoping not to come up ever again, not to go back to the shakes and the terror and the cops whacking the soles of your feet with their nightsticks when you’ve lost your shoes.

Hastings Street is a derelict's paradise, a symphony of misery. They come here all the way from Toronto and Halifax and Newfoundland, chasing a warmer place to die. The only thing that makes me different is the beast, because the beast has not yet crawled behind my eyes and taken over, although if I stay down here long enough it will get me, too. Beyond that there is no pretense. No point remembering that not so long ago I had another life, a job and a car and a beautiful woman and a future. . . . I haven’t started panhandling, not crazy enough or drunk enough yet, but that will come. That makes me different, maybe, but not different in a way you’d notice when we’re all sitting side by side on a park bench at the end of a winter afternoon, waiting for time to pass.

Todd flirts with dissolution, but surfaces intact. I found this part of the story particularly gripping. Many years ago, I briefly did some volunteer work visiting indigent people with AIDS at a New York City hospital. Most of the patients had been sex workers and drug addicts - but before that, many of them had lived ordinary middle-class lives, complete with families, jobs, homes. It's astonishing how easy it can be to fall through the cracks, and for many people, how impossible it becomes to climb back out.

Todd mentions that in 1970, after the US's secret bombing of Cambodia was revealed, after the murders at Kent State, the volunteer group that helped US war resisters in Vancouver was processing 100 people each week, with similar numbers arriving in Toronto and Montreal. Imagine 300 war resisters coming to Canada each week! I'd give anything to see that kind of resistance now.

Instead, we need passports to cross the border, and the government unleashes all its resources trying to kick out some 50 people.

One person who helped Todd - a total stranger who takes some very real chances for him - says, "It's hard for Canadians to find something we can do to help stop the war. If I have a chance to do something tangible, I want to do it."

A Taste of Metal is a ground-level view of resistance to war: what it takes to make that fateful choice, and what it costs. It's an excellent book.

Pat Barker, Regeneration
Siegfried Sassoon, Sherston Trilogy
Matthew Bin, L.M.F.
John Hagan, Northern Passage: American Vietnam War Resisters in Canada
Joshua Key, A Deserter's Tale
A. L. Kennedy, Day
Erich Maria Remarque, All Quiet on the Western Front
Christopher Hedges, War Is a Force that Gives Us Meaning

[With thanks to Allan for always adding to my collection.]


have you called your opposition mp today?

We have an historic opportunity to reaffirm Canada as a haven for conscientious objectors to war - and to force the Harper government to respect the will of Parliament and of the people.

Please call your NDP, Liberal or Bloc MP and ask them to support Bill C-440!

* * * * *

From the War Resisters Support Campaign to all our supporters:

URGENT ACTION ALERT – Ask your MP to vote for Bill C-440

Dear friends,

We thank you for your ongoing support for Iraq war resisters. The campaign to allow these resisters to stay in Canada has reached a critical moment.

Bill C-440, the Iraq war resisters bill, will go to a vote on Second Reading next week (likely on Wednesday September 29th).

The Bill, which follows on two concurrence motions which were passed in the House of Commons, represents the will of Parliament and the democratic will of Canadians.

IF YOUR Member of Parliament is an opposition MP (from the Liberals, NDP or Bloc) please urge them to be in the House to support Bill C-440!


Please take a moment and phone your MP to ask that they vote in favour of the Bill. You can also use our online form to send an email to your Member of Parliament.

Here are points that you can raise when you call your MP:

• Say that you are a constituent and that you are asking your MP to vote in support of Bill C-440, the Iraq War resisters bill. This crucial vote on Second Reading is expected the week of September 27th.

• The bill will give legal weight to the two motions previously passed by Parliament in 2008 and 2009.

• The Conservative minority government has refused to implement those motions which were supported by all three opposition parties.

• Iraq war resisters are facing deportation at the hands of the Harper government.

• Polls indicate that two-thirds of Canadians support Canada allowing Iraq war resisters to stay in this country.

To find the contact information for your MP, go to the House of Commons search page and enter your postal code.

If you are calling your MP, it will have the greatest impact if you call both their constituency office and their Ottawa office.

With thanks,
War Resisters Support Campaign

why we love dogs, part 1,357,829

Best watched on mute, in my opinion, but don't miss it. Many thanks to James.

on saying no

One of the most challenging - and most important - parts of being an activist is learning how to say no. If you're an activist, you've been there. No, more than that, if you're an activist, you live there, almost all the time.

Setting boundaries and limits is important in all aspects of life, and something many people find it difficult to do, whether for work or family obligations. Many of us have had painful experiences around giving too much, and have had to learn to set firmer and more explicit boundaries. You've been there, I've been there.

But today I'm writing about boundary-setting in relation to grassroots activism. When you're an activist, you're working hard to achieve goals that you care deeply about. Time is always short, as everyone is juggling several pursuits, trying to squeeze unpaid activism around other non-negotiables. Hopefully - presumably - you enjoy what you're doing, and you love the people you're doing it with, so the activism doubles as a social life. That helps, but it doesn't make the issue go away.

When you're passionate about your cause and serious about getting things done - and there's a chronic shortage of time, money and people - it can be very challenging to say no. You find yourself squeezing in ever more tasks, whether or not you foresee the space and time to get them done.

And once you're in an activist network, you hear about other causes, other actions that need your help. You hear about events - talks, demonstrations, shows - that you'd like to attend or be part of.

We've all known activists who can't say no, and end up either freaking out, burning out, not making good on commitments, or all of the above. It doesn't help anyone. And we all know - theoretically, at least - that our own health and well-being must come first.

I think the single greatest challenge of being in graduate school - even more challenging than the chips truck! - at this time of my life is saying no. I did a mediocre job of it my first year; I need to run a tighter personal ship this year. There is work, school, and the war resisters campaign. I am determined to swim twice a week, and take Tala on a long walks another two days. And that's it. It has to be.

I need to re-learn some basic lessons in boundaries. Just because there's space on your calendar, doesn't mean you can say yes, and fill it in.

Just because you live nearby, doesn't mean you can attend.

Just because you're needed, doesn't mean you can say yes.

You can't be two places at once.

All humans need to rest. Each of us has different needs. Just because someone needs less rest than you, doesn't change your own needs.

Who ever thought I'd need Nancy Reagan?


ready, set, call: let's get out the opposition vote for bill c-440

From the War Resisters Support Campaign to all our supporters:

URGENT ACTION ALERT – Ask your MP to vote for Bill C-440

Dear friends,

We thank you for your ongoing support for Iraq war resisters. The campaign to allow these resisters to stay in Canada has reached a critical moment.

Bill C-440, the Iraq war resisters bill, will go to a vote on Second Reading next week (likely on Wednesday September 29th).

The Bill, which follows on two concurrence motions which were passed in the House of Commons, represents the will of Parliament and the democratic will of Canadians.

IF YOUR Member of Parliament is an opposition MP (from the Liberals, NDP or Bloc) please urge them to be in the House to support Bill C-440!


Please take a moment and phone your MP to ask that they vote in favour of the Bill. You can also use our online form to send an email to your Member of Parliament.

Here are points that you can raise when you call your MP:

• Say that you are a constituent and that you are asking your MP to vote in support of Bill C-440, the Iraq War resisters bill. This crucial vote on Second Reading is expected the week of September 27th.

• The bill will give legal weight to the two motions previously passed by Parliament in 2008 and 2009.

• The Conservative minority government has refused to implement those motions which were supported by all three opposition parties.

• Iraq war resisters are facing deportation at the hands of the Harper government.

• Polls indicate that two-thirds of Canadians support Canada allowing Iraq war resisters to stay in this country.

To find the contact information for your MP, go to the House of Commons search page and enter your postal code.

If you are calling your MP, it would have the greatest impact if you could call both the constituency office and your MP’s Ottawa office.

With thanks,
War Resisters Support Campaign


refusing to kill civilians is not cowardice. it is bravery.

The one-year anniversary of war resister Rodney Watson taking refuge in a Vancouver church was all over the Canadian media, especially, of course, in Vancouver. In response to this story in The Province, responses were generally unsupportive. That's not surprising, given what we know about comment sections in online media - and given that the Harper government has paid operatives trolling the internet.

Here's a great letter in response to one of those misinformed comments.
Comparing war resister Rodney Watson to a firefighter not wanting to go into a burning building is ridiculous. The true analogy is that Watson did not want to be a firefighter who was forced to set fire on people after he already served his contract. He signed up to defend the U.S., but saw instead the Iraq War was based on lies, so he followed the Nuremberg principles and refused to participate in war crimes.

For this he has the support of the majority of Canadians and of Parliament, and would be a free man were it not for the minority Stephen Harper government's refusal to respect democracy.

Shame on the Harper government for trying to separate a veteran from his family and deport him to jail for standing with Canada against the Iraq War.

Jesse McLaren, Toronto

We cannot point out often enough that "he signed a contract" is not an adequate defence against war crimes. Military contracts are written to protect the interests of the military. Human rights and human life are more important.

It also cannot be repeated often enough that many of the war resisters honoured the full terms of their contracts, but the US military did not.

Short, factual letters such as this make a difference. Why not take five minutes and write one to your local newspaper?

movie season starts even earlier this year

Ah well, no Red Sox baseball in October this year. I've assumed this for a long time, but we watch the season until the end, regardless of standings. I haven't suffered through 2010 as many Sox fans have. I just stayed in the moment and went along for the ride. I also missed many more games than I usually do, so at least I didn't do that in a championship season!

I see last year's "movie season starts early" post was in mid-October. Ouch.

So this is my annual post where I ask you what movies you saw over the past year that you highly recommend. As I mentioned here, we may concentrate this Movie Season on TV series, beginning with "Slings & Arrows," which many people have recommended to us and which we've never seen. "Death Comes to Town" is also on the list, at least for now.

Do you have another television series that you love and think we should see? We're not big sci-fi fans, although if something is really stellar, we won't avoid it because it's science fiction.

So far, after Slings & Arrows, the top "new" movies on my ZipList are: Broken Embraces (always have to catch up with Almodóvar), It's Complicated, Crazy Heart, The Trotsky (not out on DVD yet), The Ghost Writer, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, The Yes Men Fix The World, An Education and something called Micmacs.

Two older titles I've been looking for that Zip now has are Our Daily Bread, a documentary about industrial food production, and Denys Arcand's Days of Darkness.

Will Ferrell's recent movie, "The Other Guys," is supposed to be both really funny and slyly anti-capitalist, so it's on the list, too, although also not yet on DVD. I've heard Ben Affleck's "The Town" is terrific; another DVD to wait for.

After that, we're into older titles: It's Not Me I Swear!, Tulpan, Hunger, The Pool, and With A Friend Like Harry. The way Zip works - or doesn't work - you need a minimum number of titles on your list to get decent service. So we often end up paddding out the list with movies that we're only iffy on. If you folks have good suggestions, I can drop some of the older titles.

Any of these you love? Any you hated? What must-sees are missing from our list?


gerard kennedy: "the way canada treats war resisters says a lot about its values"

The Mark asks, "What's missing from the Canadian conversation?"

Gerard Kennedy answers, "War Resisters".

Please watch and share.

important new video: support bill c-440!

Bill C-440, the private member's bill that would allow US Iraq War resisters to apply for permanent residency in Canada, continues second reading at the end of this month. The second hour of Parliamentary debate will take place on Monday, September 27, and we expect a vote a couple of days after that.

Organizers with the War Resisters Support Campaign (myself included) have been working non-stop to mobilize our supporters, leaving no opposition MP unturned when it comes to this vote. More on that soon.

Meanwhile, please watch this amazing video about the campaign and Bill C-440. It's been a long time in the making, and is finally released for to the public today. Please share with everyone you know who wants to live in a Canada that is a "refuge from militarism".

today is international day of peace

Today, September 21, is the International Day of Peace. Peace activists all over the world will take actions, practical and symbolic, large and small, to remind us that war is a choice, and peace is possible - and necessary.

I hope to go to a ceremony today in Mississauga at the Peace Stone. This Saturday in Toronto, thousands of people will form a human chain, voicing their opposition to Canada's war on Afghanistan. More information here or here on Facebook.


at rabble: ezra levant vs. reality, prelude to fox news north

Anyone following The People versus Fox News North story, by now knows that Toronto Sun printed a retraction of some of the more egregious lies they had published about activist-philanthropist George Soros. [I know we can't expect proper grammar from a published newspaper, but the first sentence of the second paragraph is a whopper.]

Many bloggers have been chronicling the day-by-day blows of Chief Wingnut Ezra Levant and his attacks on Soros and the online activist group Avaaz, but this story by Alheli Picazo, writing on Rabble provides history and context. Excellent work, highly recommended.
Ezra Levant vs. reality -- a prelude to Fox News North
By Alheli Picazo

The battle between supporters and opponents of Sun TV News -- the Fox News style channel headed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper's former communications director Kory Teneycke -- reached new heights when members of the ‘Fox News North' team took issue with a growing online petition urging the CRTC to reject Quebecor's (QMI) request to "make it mandatory for cable and satellite networks to provide access to the channel ‘for a maximum period of three years to effectively expose and promote its programming to viewers across Canada'."

In an article entitled Anti-Sun TV News campaign in U.S., Sun Media (QMI)'s Brian Lilley alleges the petition is the work of "a group of left-wing Americans supporting interests in Canada that don't want to see competition in news broadcasting ... backed by MoveOn.org a lobby group that has taken millions of dollars from currency speculator George Soros."

What followed is known as the "saga of the Great Sun TV Petition," in which Teneycke, fellow Sun Media (QMI) personality Ezra Levant, and Conservative blogger/activist and founder of the BloggingTories.ca Stephen Taylor, took to twitter to express their ‘outrage,' as ‘someone' spammed the petition with the names of journalists, actors, and fictional characters, and simultaneously penned an editorial about "why Canada needs Sun TV News."

In their co-ordinated effort, Teneycke, Levant and Taylor not only attacked Avaaz.org -- a global online advocacy community whose co-founder and Executive Director, Ricken Patel, happens to be Canadian -- as a foreign operation, but specifically, and repeatedly, refer to George Soros -- a progressive philanthropist who is despised by Right Wing America.

By connecting Soros to the Avaaz petition, Lilley, Levant, Taylor, and Tenycke aim to stoke fear in their followers who, more often than not, are avid consumers of extreme Right Wing media such as Fox News, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage, Ann Coulter, Andrew Breitbart (BigGovernment.com), Pamela Gellar (AtlasShrugs.com), WorldNetDaily.com, and Judi McLeod (Canadafreepress.com).

Soros can be found at the centre of nearly every conspiracy concocted by the aforementioned, widely discredited media sources, who've alleged...

Go here for full story and lots of great linkage.


avast ye mateys!

You know what September 19 is, don't you??? Arrrrr!

(Thanks to David and Stephanie for the reminder!)


60 million striking indian workers made invisible by mainstream media

Did you know that, earlier this month, 60 million workers in India went on strike? The walk-outs shut down the country's banking, insurance, telecommunications, power and transit industries, among other sectors. One million workers walked out in the banking sector alone!
Millions of workers in India stayed away from work to protest against rising prices, job losses and state asset sales, forcing banks to shut offices in some cities and airlines to cancel flights.

“Persistently high inflation has made life difficult for a common man,” said Gurudas Dasgupta, general secretary at the All India Trade Union Congress. ‘Banking and civil aviation are the worst affected sectors so far.”

Today’s strike, the second in two months, affected business mainly in states ruled by communist parties. Inflation has held near ten percent this year, eroding incomes of almost three quarters of the population who live on less than $2 a day. A nationwide strike in July, called by the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, shut schools and offices and grounded flights.

“The strike is quite widespread” in the states of West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura, said M.K. Pandhe, vice president at the Centre of Indian Trade Unions. “Telecom, insurance, defense, banking, coal, power, port and road transport sectors have been affected.” Pandhe estimates about 60 million workers are on strike.

About one million bank employees in India joined the strike today to protest the central bank’s plan to offer new banking licenses and norms that allow foreign investment in the nation’s lenders, said Vishwas Utagi, secretary of the All India Bank Employees Association, the largest trade union for banking staff in the nation.

What's that you say? You didn't know about this? Neither did I. As my friend who posted this on Facebook said, "Thanks for missing this, Canadian mainstream media".

Little wonder you didn't read about 60 million Indian workers striking, since you probably don't hear much about protracted strikes going on right in your own backyard. A series of union solidarity actions this week were meant to bring attention to a strike at Engineered Coated Products, where more than 80 Steelworkers have been on strike for two years. ECP has instituted massive cuts in wages and benefits, and rather than negotiate in good faith, hired scabs and goons a "private security force" to continue operations.

At the Marxism conference earlier this year, it was thrilling to hear Kostas Katarahiasan, an anti-capitalist activist from Greece - a physician - describe the massive general strikes that shut down his country after austerity measures were announced. How about a 30% cut in wages and pensions, while corporate taxes decrease and VAT (i.e. GST) rises? Union leaders were useless or obstructionist, so the people took matters into their own hands, forming committees, discussing a plan of action, organizing, organizing, organizing - and walking out in huge numbers. (There is audio of this talk here, but I think most people find that an inconvenient format. I am still waiting to get video of this inspiring talk, and will then blog my extensive notes.)

Following those actions in Greece, massive strikes of millions of people have taken place in many European countries, and there is a continent-wide general strike planned for September 29.

Here in North America, we accept these "austerity budgets" like sheep to the slaughter. The glimmer of hope I thought I saw in the anti-prorogation rally and during the G20 are quashed through fear tactics and widespread obedience.

In the US, ordinary working-class people cling to an ideal of individualism, preferring to blame immigrants or the party that is slightly less right-wing - which they call "socialist" - for their problems. Canadians whine about all political parties and take no action of their own - except to excoriate public workers who are desperately trying to preserve quality services and good jobs.

There's another lesson here, one that cannot be learned often enough. Don't look to CBC, Globe and Mail, and CTV to tell you what's happening in the world. Corporate media protects corporate interests.

one year ago, u.s. war resister takes sanctuary in vancouver

One year ago today, US Iraq War resister Rodney Watson, deported from Canada by the Harper Government, accepted an offer of sanctuary from the First United Church of Vancouver.

Watson served in Iraq and completed his full three-year contarct. Then the US military ordered him to return - involuntarily - through the conscription program known as stop-loss. After witnessing the war crimes and the racism of the US occupation of Iraq, Rodney knew he could no longer participate, and came to Canada.

When his appeals to stay were exhausted, the Harper government ordered Watson deported. Reverend Ric Matthews and the congregation of the First United Church in Vancouver wanted to give Rodney - and Canada - another chance.

We are on the cusp of an historic opportunity to affirm Rodney's sacrifice. Bill C-440, the private member's bill that would allow US war resisters to apply for permanent residency in Canada, will continue second reading at the end of this month. We'll be asking for your help to ensure that it passes. Be ready!


michael moore: shame on harper, shame on canada, let the war resisters stay!

Michael Moore, in conversation with filmmaker Ken Loach and screenwriter Paul Laverty, at the Toronto International Film Festival.

Canadian Press story, via Winnipeg Free Press:
Filmmaker Michael Moore calls Canada 'shameful' on U.S. war dodgers

Renowned left-wing American documentary maker Michael Moore on Thursday blasted Canada's position on U.S. war dodgers as shameful.

Speaking at the Toronto International Film Festival, Moore said Ottawa's refusal to allow U.S. soldiers opposed to the war in Iraq to find safe haven in this country betrays what the country once stood for.

"It is absolutely shameful how Canada has behaved toward those who have resisted this war," Moore said.

"It's not the Canada that we used to know."

Moore, who has produced several acclaimed documentaries, noted Canada was sympathetic to American soldiers who refused to fight in Vietnam in the 1970s.

Draft dodgers who fled the U.S. for Canada were allowed to stay here and many became productive citizens, even after they were allowed to return home.

"This country was so generous to those of my generation who did not want to kill Vietnamese and opened the doors," Moore said.

"They stayed here, most of them, after clemency was granted, raised families here, became Canadians and contributed."

Scores of American soldiers have deserted in opposition to the war on Iraq — some after deployment, others pre-deployment — and fled to Canada beginning more than six years ago.

None has been successful in seeking asylum in Canada, with bids for refugee status denied on the grounds that they would be prosecuted, not persecuted, if they returned to the U.S.

Their cases remain caught up in labyrinthine refugee hearings and various appeals.

Some who have gone back either voluntarily or after deportation have been jailed for desertion, but those who stay maintain they should not have to face punishment for opposing a war they call illegal.

The federal government has maintained the U.S. military is a volunteer defence force, in contrast to the forced draft that many young Americans faced in the Vietnam War era.

Still, the House of Commons, in a non-binding motion, called on the government in 2008 to allow those who refused to serve in Iraq on conscientious grounds to remain in Canada.

Bill C-440, currently before the Commons, would force the government to allow the deserting soldiers to apply for permanent residence in Canada.

Canada refused to join the U.S.-led war on Iraq, arguing it had no United Nations sanction.

Moore said Canadians are sympathetic to the war-dodger cause.

"Canadian people have a good heart and are a peaceful people," he said.

"They've always seen themselves as people that want to try to negotiate peace but they've gotten caught up in participating in war."

Let Them Stay!

ladies and gentlemen, it's rolling stones day!

Tonight, I put aside peace activism and get back to rock and roll.

"Ladies and Gentlemen ... The Rolling Stones," the legendary concert film of the Stones' 1972 US Tour is coming to your town. And more importantly, it's coming to my town!

This film, a document of the Greatest Rock and Roll Band in the World (TM) touring the Greatest Rock Album of All Time, has long been bootlegged. Most Stones fans have seen bits and pieces over the years, but not the whole thing, and not in good condition. On October 12, the movie finally will be officially released on DVD. And in advance of that, there is a one-night-only screening in theatres throughout North America - tonight.

We are going and we are psyched!

In a fitting coincidence, the last time Allan and I were in a movie theatre - other than for activism - was to see another Stones movie, Martin Scorcese's "Shine A Light," in IMAX.

This is a real Laura-and-Allan moment. We share many things, but "Exile On Main Street" just may be the basis of our entire relationship.

A bit more about "Ladies and Gentlemen..." and how excited we are here on JoS.

days of action to support bradley manning begin today

Today, September 16, kicks off the International Days of Action in support of Bradley Manning, the courageous soldier who is accused of leaking the infamous Collateral Murder video to WikiLeaks. This video, which showed the US military murdering civilians, offered hard evidence of what war resisters have been saying for so long. Manning has now spent 82 days in prison (and counting) and faces a long, grueling ordeal ahead. Our message: exposing war crimes is not a crime!

The Bradley Manning Support Network has grown into an international movement. Noam Chomsky, Daniel Ellsberg, Michael Moore and Colonel Ann Wright are among Manning's public supporters, with peace and justice groups all over the world working to build support.

On this Days of Action page, you can find an event in your area, or you can create your own. Get some materials, call two friends, and stand on a street corner, raising awareness. It's worth it. Here are some pointers to get you started.

In Toronto, meet at the US Consulate on Sunday, September 19, at noon. I'll post more information as I have it.

The symbol that is really picking up steam is the whistle. Whistleblowers are amazingly brave people. They speak truth in the face of overwhelming power. They need our support, and we, in turn, can gain courage and strength from their example.

Here's Gerry Condon of Veterans For Peace, blowing the whistle on war crimes and standing up for all war resisters at the VFP convention.


ken loach supports iraq war resisters in canada

From the War Resisters Support Campaign:

Celebrated filmmaker Ken Loach supports U.S. Iraq War resisters in Canada

Loach joins screenwriter of Route Irish to endorse Bill C-440 before Canadian Parliament

Award-winning filmmaker Ken Loach has joined a growing number of high-profile Canadian and international filmmakers in support of American soldiers who have come to Canada in opposition to the Iraq War. Ken Loach endorsed Bill C-440 that will debated in the Canadian Parliament later this month and would, if passed, enable U.S. Iraq War resisters to apply for permanent residence within Canada.

Loach joins his long-time collaborator and screenwriter Paul Laverty to enthusiastically support the War Resisters Support Campaign and Bill C-440. The endorsement comes as their new film "Route Irish" is set to screen at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) on Wednesday. Route Irish is the story of a private security contractor in Iraq who rejects the official explanation of his friend’s death and sets out to discover the truth.

“I am very pleased to support the War Resisters Support Campaign and endorse Bill C-440,” said Ken Loach. “Canadians are absolutely right to show solidarity with these brave and principled people. The illegal war in Iraq has been a tragedy for its victims and has shamed the governments of Britain and the United States. Those who resist it are heroes.”

Loach and Laverty join actress Shirley Douglas, film director David Cronenberg, and Academy Award-winner Ron Kovic in calling on the Government of Canada to let U.S. Iraq War resisters stay.

Two motions, brought forward by NDP Immigration Critic Olivia Chow and adopted by the House of Commons on June 3, 2008 and March 30, 2009 have directed the Conservative minority government to cease deportation proceedings against U.S. Iraq War resisters and to create a program to facilitate the resisters’ requests for permanent resident status. Since the first motion was passed, resisters Robin Long and Cliff Cornell were deported, targeted for prosecution by the American military and jailed for speaking out against the war.

The Conservative government’s refusal to respect the will of Parliament led Gerard Kennedy, MP (Parkdale—High Park, ON) to introduce Bill C-440 last September, to give those motions legal weight. The bill was seconded by Bill Siksay, MP (Burnaby—Douglas, BC). The second hour of Second Reading debate of Bill C-440 is scheduled for Monday, September 27 with a vote expected to take place on Wednesday, September 29.

On September 18, the Saturday before the House of Commons fall session begins, Iraq War veteran and resister Rodney Watson will mark his first anniversary in sanctuary at the First United Church in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.

On July 6, the Federal Court of Appeal ruled unanimously that the request of Jeremy Hinzman — the first U.S. Iraq War resister to come to Canada — to remain in Canada on humanitarian and compassionate (H&C) grounds must be reconsidered. The Court found that the first decision was “significantly flawed” and “unreasonable” because the H&C officer had the duty to look at all of the appellants’ personal circumstances, including moral, political and religious beliefs and motivations, but failed to do so.

On July 22, Citizenship and Immigration Canada issued Operational Bulletin 202. Reversing 40 years of Canadian policy, the directive targets war resisters from the U.S. and instructs immigration officers to treat them as criminals. It has been criticized as the latest in a string of attempts by the Conservative minority government to interfere in the supposedly independent immigration process.

A public opinion poll conducted by Angus Reid Strategies in June 2008 found that nearly two-thirds (64 per cent) of Canadians support granting permanent resident status to U.S. Iraq War resisters.


science proves that men and women are from the same planet

The second story that confirms my beliefs touches on something more controversial and more challenging to many people. This story in The Guardian profiles scientific evidence showing that gender-based behavioural differences are not genetic, but the result of socialization.
There is almost nothing we do with our brains that is hard-wired. Every skill, attribute and personality trait is moulded by experience.

The "nature vs. nurture" debate - whether human behaviour is innate or the product of environment - is centuries old. Somewhere through the decades, the terms of the debate moved from "which" to "how much". It became widely acknowledged that human behaviour is influenced by both environment and genetics, but to what degree each affects us is still the subject of much debate.

When I was growing up in the 1960s and 1970s, the dominant trend emphasized environment. In a period of expanding civil rights and social welfare, it was seen that improving social conditions would improve lives. One famous and landmark note in this realm was Dr. Kenneth Clark's famous doll study, which concluded that educational segregation negatively affected the psyches of African-American children. The study was used as court evidence in early school desegregation cases that were direct antecedents to wide-scale social change, such as Brown vs Board of Education.

During my university years and beyond, the nature-vs.-nurture pendulum began swinging towards the innate. It's no coincidence this occurred during a rise of conservatism and right-wing-radicalism. If everything about us is innate, what need is there to concern ourselves with social inequality, or indeed with social conditions at all? If behaviour is predetermined by DNA, people will be who they will be, regardless of environment. Look at this one man who pulled himself up from his bootstraps! If he can do it, everyone can. And if you can't do it, it's your own fault. If a whole bunch of children can't do it, don't blame poor nutrition, abuse at home or grossly inferior education. Just claim it's genetic and cut social spending.

[An aside: this cross-references nicely with my thoughts on Barbara Ehrenreich's most recent book, Bright-sided, which speaks to US society's extreme emphasis on individualism and revulsion for collective solutions.]

Through the 1990s and into this century, new evidence of the genetic basis for diseases has augmented the general trend towards viewing human behaviour as innate, and thus inevitable. And it is especially popular to use this lens to view gender differences and relations between men and women.

This is a very specific subset of the society's rightward march: the backlash against feminism. Feminism teaches that women and men are equally human and should be socially equal. In order to create an equal society, where each of us can achieve our full human potential, not only do women need full access to the boardroom, the academy and the halls of political power, but men need full access to the supermarket, the vacuum, the diapers and the laundry room.

But how much easier it is to say "we were born this way"!

After all, if men and women are from different planets, no one has to change, or even seek to understand each other's needs. Women must accept the double-duty of income-earning and child-raising. Men don't need to communicate or dirty their hands with household drudgery. Boys can be forgiven violence and disrespect. Girls should accept that inferior destiny is already written in their genes.

And this supposedly dates all the way back to the cave, as pseudo-scientists cherry-pick evolutionary "evidence" to support an anti-feminist viewpoint. A former friend - a woman - once told me that the glass ceiling is natural, because women are good at repetitive tasks and men are natural planners. Her evidence? In pre-industrial societies, women gathered while men hunted.

Well, there you have it. Who cares that in modern society, income-earning is not necessarily linked to physical size and strength. Ignore the facts that the advent of reliable contraception has radically altered the modern family structure, and that modern technology means we no longer work from dawn to dusk hauling water, baking bread and weaving cloth. Throw out centuries of human experience in which women have thrived as inventors, artists, astronauts, engineers and leaders of nations. Thousands of years ago, women gathered and men hunted. So stop complaining and do your job.

While thinking about this post, I read an excellent blog post related to this on The Oscillator, part of ScienceBlogs.
Even when not discussing human evolution and inborn intelligence, studies of animal sexuality continually are framed in terms of traditional gender roles (the coy, choosy female; the aggressive, studly male) while species or individuals that don't fit this narrative are ignored. Science news stories about duck rape become hugely popular because we apologize for rape as a "natural" event caused by the male evolutionary need to spread their seed widely. Biases and prejudices become natural, women's bodies are explained as in terms of men's desires, in our culture, in our media, and too often in our science.

There is political and social advantage to be gained in claiming that a certain power structure is "natural" therefore desirable. (The conflating of those - natural and desirable - is another assumption that must be questioned.) But the movement towards viewing gender differences as innate also dovetails with anti-science and anti-intellectualism: "I don't need some expert telling me what I already see with my own eyes!"

I've heard it dozens of times: parents claim that their boy children naturally gravitated towards playing with trucks, and the girls naturally reached for the dolls. They use this "evidence" - which is not evidence at all, but personal observation - as proof that boys and girls are inherently different. Here are some questions for those parents. Were both types of toys given freely and without comment to both children? Did the children grow up seeing other boys play with dolls and other girls play with trucks? What is it about a toy truck and the way a child interacts with it that you believe is inherently male?

And another important question. Has the male child ever seen an adult male caring for a baby? When I was a nanny, I overheard my boy and his friends playing grown-up. My little guy said, "OK, you be the mommy and go to the office, I'll be the daddy and make dinner. Bye honey, don't work too late!" His friend said, "Nuh-uh, daddies can go to work, too! Both mommies and daddies can go to work." And they argued about it.

I don't think it's possible to factor out the influence of environment. Gender socialization permeates every facet of our society. It is pervasive, omnipresent, insidious, inescapable. And you know what? It just may be responsible for everything we think we know about gender.
It is the mainstay of countless magazine and newspaper features. Differences between male and female abilities – from map reading to multi-tasking and from parking to expressing emotion – can be traced to variations in the hard-wiring of their brains at birth, it is claimed.

Men instinctively like the colour blue and are bad at coping with pain, we are told, while women cannot tell jokes but are innately superior at empathising with other people. Key evolutionary differences separate the intellects of men and women and it is all down to our ancient hunter-gatherer genes that program our brains.

The belief has become widespread, particularly in the wake of the publication of international bestsellers such as John Gray's Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus that stress the innate differences between the minds of men and women. But now a growing number of scientists are challenging the pseudo-science of "neurosexism", as they call it, and are raising concerns about its implications. These researchers argue that by telling parents that boys have poor chances of acquiring good verbal skills and girls have little prospect of developing mathematical prowess, serious and unjustified obstacles are being placed in the paths of children's education.

In fact, there are no major neurological differences between the sexes, says Cordelia Fine in her book Delusions of Gender, which will be published by Icon next month. There may be slight variations in the brains of women and men, added Fine, a researcher at Melbourne University, but the wiring is soft, not hard. "It is flexible, malleable and changeable," she said.

In short, our intellects are not prisoners of our genders or our genes and those who claim otherwise are merely coating old-fashioned stereotypes with a veneer of scientific credibility. It is a case backed by Lise Eliot, an associate professor based at the Chicago Medical School. "All the mounting evidence indicates these ideas about hard-wired differences between male and female brains are wrong," she told the Observer.

"Yes, there are basic behavioural differences between the sexes, but we should note that these differences increase with age because our children's intellectual biases are being exaggerated and intensified by our gendered culture. Children don't inherit intellectual differences. They learn them. They are a result of what we expect a boy or a girl to be."

Read more here.

monbiot: ethical meat eating is possible - and better for the earth

I have two pieces to post, both of great interest to me, both of which confirm my own point of view.

I realize in some sense I'm suffering from an echo-chamber effect, reflecting and enlarging on what I already believe. But in another sense, seeing others more knowledgeable in a field use their research and experience to confirm my beliefs is not only comforting, it's illuminating. It's not as if the beliefs that are being reinforced are thoughtless or knee-jerk. My beliefs are the result of years of reading, observation, challenge, debate and internal conflict.

The first piece was sent to me by very-longtime reader and internet friend deang: George Monbiot writing about ethical meat-eating.

Conversations about omnivorousness, vegetarianism and veganism often leave people feeling bruised, if not attacked. So I feel I must emphasize that I am not arguing for anyone else. I have tremendous respect for anyone who chooses not to use animal products out of respect for animals.

Regular readers of wmtc already know the drill. I was a vegetarian for slightly more than two years. It didn't work for me personally, in terms of health and diet, but beyond that, I came to realize that I don't believe eating animals is wrong. However, I've learned too much about the horrors of industrial food production - on animals, on the earth, on labour, on our health - to eat in ignorance. So I'm striving for conscious, ethical, sustainable omnivorousness. It's an imperfect system, but it runs on the theory that whatever we do is worth doing, and the perfect is the enemy of the good.

Long ago, I had a co-worker-friend who was active in the animal rights movement. She decried my emphasis on animal welfare, because, to her mind, it enabled cruelty. She believed we should not improve animal-farming conditions; we should eliminate meat production altogether. We should not try to pressure McDonald's into sourcing meat from farms with better practices; we should shut down McDonald's. I appreciated her radicalism, but after our conversation, I moved further into the animal-welfare camp. Withdrawing from the system started looking like a cop-out.

George Monbiot, who formerly preached that a vegan diet was the most ethical choice, now believes otherwise. In doing so, he does what so few of us can manage: he decides he was wrong, admits it publicly, and agrees with someone who has previously excoriated him. That's a rare and impressive feat in this world.
I was wrong about veganism. Let them eat meat – but farm it properly

This will not be an easy column to write. I am about to put down 1,200 words in support of a book that starts by attacking me and often returns to this sport. But it has persuaded me that I was wrong. More to the point, it has opened my eyes to some fascinating complexities in what seemed to be a black and white case.

In the Guardian in 2002 I discussed the sharp rise in the number of the world's livestock, and the connection between their consumption of grain and human malnutrition. After reviewing the figures, I concluded that veganism "is the only ethical response to what is arguably the world's most urgent social justice issue". I still believe that the diversion of ever wider tracts of arable land from feeding people to feeding livestock is iniquitous and grotesque. So does the book I'm about to discuss. I no longer believe that the only ethical response is to stop eating meat.

In Meat: A Benign Extravagance, Simon Fairlie pays handsome tribute to vegans for opening up the debate. He then subjects their case to the first treatment I've read that is both objective and forensic. His book is an abattoir for misleading claims and dodgy figures, on both sides of the argument.

There's no doubt that the livestock system has gone horribly wrong. Fairlie describes the feedlot beef industry (in which animals are kept in pens) in the US as "one of the biggest ecological cock-ups in modern history". It pumps grain and forage from irrigated pastures into the farm animal species least able to process them efficiently, to produce beef fatty enough for hamburger production. Cattle are excellent converters of grass but terrible converters of concentrated feed. The feed would have been much better used to make pork.

Pigs, in the meantime, have been forbidden in many parts of the rich world from doing what they do best: converting waste into meat. Until the early 1990s, only 33% of compound pig feed in the UK consisted of grains fit for human consumption: the rest was made up of crop residues and food waste. Since then the proportion of sound grain in pig feed has doubled. There are several reasons: the rules set by supermarkets; the domination of the feed industry by large corporations, which can't handle waste from many different sources; but most important the panicked over-reaction to the BSE and foot-and-mouth crises.

Feeding meat and bone meal to cows was insane. Feeding it to pigs, whose natural diet incorporates a fair bit of meat, makes sense, as long as it is rendered properly. The same goes for swill. Giving sterilised scraps to pigs solves two problems at once: waste disposal and the diversion of grain. Instead we now dump or incinerate millions of tonnes of possible pig food and replace it with soya whose production trashes the Amazon. Waste food in the UK, Fairlie calculates, could make 800,000 tonnes of pork, or one sixth of our total meat consumption.

But these idiocies, Fairlie shows, are not arguments against all meat eating, but arguments against the current farming model. He demonstrates that we've been using the wrong comparison to judge the efficiency of meat production. Instead of citing a simple conversion rate of feed into meat, we should be comparing the amount of land required to grow meat with the land needed to grow plant products of the same nutritional value to humans. The results are radically different.

. . . .

He goes on to butcher a herd of sacred cows. Like many greens I have thoughtlessly repeated the claim that it requires 100,000 litres of water to produce every kilogram of beef. Fairlie shows that this figure is wrong by around three orders of magnitude. It arose from the absurd assumption that every drop of water that falls on a pasture disappears into the animals that graze it, never to re-emerge. A ridiculous amount of fossil water is used to feed cattle on irrigated crops in California, but this is a stark exception.

Similarly daft assumptions underlie the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation's famous claim that livestock are responsible for 18% of the world's greenhouse gas emissions, a higher proportion than transport. Fairlie shows that it made a number of basic mistakes. It attributes all deforestation that culminates in cattle ranching in the Amazon to cattle: in reality it is mostly driven by land speculation and logging. It muddles up one-off emissions from deforestation with ongoing pollution. It makes similar boobs in its nitrous oxide and methane accounts, confusing gross and net production. (Conversely, the organisation greatly underestimates fossil fuel consumption by intensive farming: its report seems to have been informed by a powerful bias against extensive livestock keeping.)

Overall, Fairlie estimates that farmed animals produce about 10% of the world's emissions: still too much, but a good deal less than transport. . . .

The meat-producing system Fairlie advocates differs sharply from the one now practised in the rich world: low energy, low waste, just, diverse, small-scale. But if we were to adopt it, we could eat meat, milk and eggs (albeit much less) with a clean conscience. By keeping out of the debate over how livestock should be kept, those of us who have advocated veganism have allowed the champions of cruel, destructive, famine-inducing meat farming to prevail. It's time we got stuck in.

Read the column here.