9.30.2012

omar khadr: what can be said?

Now that Omar Khadr - 26 years old, 11 of those years spent in a concentration camp - is finally in Canada, I find little to say. His mistreatment at the hands of both the US and Canadian governments is horrendous, shameful, and irreversible.

Khadr is still in prison, having had the misfortune of being recruited as a child soldier.

The Harper Government refers to Khadr as a "convicted terrorist," said conviction coming from a show-trial that would have made Joseph Stalin proud. As I wrote recently about another big lie, the saddest part is how many Canadians believe it.

I thank and admire Khadr's legal team, who worked endlessly to make this happen.

Thanks to Stephen Harper, there was only one "Westerner" still languishing at Guantanamo. (What a bizarre distinction in this circumstance.) What about the other 166 remaining prisoners? What about that, Mr. Obama?

9.29.2012

she said let's discuss abortion. i told her to fuck off.

She said she'd pray for me. I said nothing.

She said let's discuss abortion. I told her to fuck off.

* * * *

Long ago, I blogged about receiving a holiday card with a proselytizing message underlined in red. Wmtc readers had a good discussion around it, with responses running the gamut.

The person who left that card for me recently resurfaced on my radar. But she won't be appearing again. I want to share our exchange, to get it off my chest, as well as to hear your reactions.

Former Co-worker and I worked together briefly, one day a week, several years ago. She was a nice person to work with, and we would sometimes chat. We haven't worked together in more than four years, and we do not keep in touch. She sends photos of her children to, apparently, everyone she has ever known. I never respond.

But I guess she keeps in touch with other former co-workers, because she heard I had resigned my position at Evil Corporate Law Firm, and contacted me.
Hey Laura,

I just emailed [former co-worker] at [ECLF] to say hi and she told me your good news! Congratulations on your Masters!!! And, also congratulations on quitting [ECLF], with no notice no less! LOL! Good for you! You go, girl! I remember your heartache there when I worked with you, glad you moved on and that you are pursuing new avenues. I believe you told me you were working towards being a librarian, if I am correct? Have you gotten a job in that field already?

How have you been? I really enjoyed working with you and hope all is well! Congratulations again on your Masters!!

I replied:
Thanks, [FC-W]! I'll be done with my degree in April 2013. It's been a long haul and I can't wait to be finished! Yes, it's a Library degree, technically called Library and Information Science (LIS). I am incredibly happy and relieved to be out of [ECLF]. I was absolutely miserable there for several years. I have a small part-time job with the Mississauga Library System, working in their incredible children's library. It's just an entry-level job, but I'm learning a lot, and it gives me access to internal job postings, so that after I have my degree, I can compete for good librarian jobs.

Things are good, busy and hectic, but chugging along. I hope you and the whole family are all well. Thanks so much thinking of me. All best!!

Laura
I assumed that would be the end of the conversation. But she replied:
Hi Laura,

Good for you for getting out of [ECLF]! What a nasty environment that was! At least now you will have time to clear your mind and focus on what really matters to you. I have not missed it there at all, that's for sure.

I will put you on my prayer list and ask the Lord to open doors for you to get a good job that you are hoping for! I know things must be tough in our economy. I occasionally take the time to read your blogs and I can tell that you and I are on the complete opposite ends of the spectrum on most issues, but that doesn't mean I don't respect you as a person and I really enjoyed working with you. I will always remember the horrific story you shared with me about what happened to you and it just broke my heart. I can never imagine such a nightmare. I hope and pray you will find complete healing in your life regarding this.

It has been a pleasure knowing you and I hope to bump into you again one day!!
It took me a while to figure out what "horrific story" I shared with her. Eventually I realized that, in context of something she disclosed to me, I told her I had been raped when I was 21. I didn't tell her any story, just that I was a rape survivor. I thought it was strange that she would bring this up, considering our complete lack of relationship.

Then, of course, there's the old bugaboo that haunts many atheists: "I'll pray for you". Many people find this extremely offensive. To me, it depends on the context. If someone is praying for me because I'm not Christian and they are praying for me to see the light, I'm likely to tell them to go to hell. But if they mean it more in the sense of "I'll keep you in my thoughts," or "I hope you will be well", because (for some bizarre reason) they think these thoughts can help keep people healthy and safe, I'll nod and smile and make no comment.

In this case, I struggled a bit, because I was irritated, but I said nothing. Still hoping to end the conversation, I replied:
Hi [FC-W],

That's very sweet of you to say. I had forgotten that I shared with you that I am a rape survivor. I can assure you am completely healed and whole again, and have been for a very long time. It's something that changed me, the way any trauma does, and I hope I can always say it's the worst thing that ever happened to me. But it's not something that still affects my life, except in a political way.

Thanks for your very kind words and good perspective. I think it's important that people who are, as you put it, on opposite sides of most issues, can still respect each other and have compassion for each other's lives. We all share the same world, we should know how to co-exist.

I also enjoyed working with you! I hope things are well with you and your family and I wish you all the best.

Laura
Now I was sure that would be the end of the conversation. But to my surprise, she wrote back, and expanded a bit on just how opposite-ends-of-the-spectrum we are.

Hi Laura,

I am so glad to hear that you are completely healed and whole after such a traumatic experience! I also wanted to say what an amazing writer you ar I've read some of your blogs and the way you can carry out your points so articulately just honestly amazes me. The blogs I have read are so carefully thought out and you express things in ways that are clear, concise and honest. You are also very bold in being straight forward about where you stand on the most important topics of our times.

After reading some of your blogs, I can see that you are clearly pro-choice. I am 100% pro-life and during the summer got involved with Bound4Life and stood outside of the [name of hospital] every 2 weeks to pray for an end to abortion. We don't hold signs or protest, we simply line up and pray for one hour. One thing I wanted to ask you was your opinion on sex-selective abortions since that is on a serious increase in our society, as women are going in to abort their babies simply because they are female (and occasionally male). May I ask your thoughts on this as I would really like to know the pro-choice opinion (or perhaps you have already blogged about it!). There are great reasons why each person is either pro-choice or pro-life, and I for one, want to be understanding of everyone, no matter what side they are on. Thanks for any insight you can provide!

[FC-W]
Was the whole email conversation leading up to this? Is her praise for my writing bait for a trap? Or is she genuinely asking my opinion? I wrote my reply very carefully.
Hi [FC-W],

Thanks for saying such nice things about my writing. It's always amazing and wonderful to hear.

I will be writing soon about sex-selected abortion. The short version is that there are no circumstances where I oppose a woman's right to choose whether or not to bear a pregnancy to term. It is not for me - or anyone else, and especially not the government - to tell any woman what to do with her own pregnancy, under any circumstances. If a woman wants to terminate a pregnancy because of the sex of the fetus, that's her business.

I am speaking for myself. I can't say that is "the pro-choice opinion". It is simply *my* opinion.

Since you raised this topic, I'll also share with you that I strongly object to the use of the expression "pro-life" to mean anti-abortion-rights. I do not believe people who oppose abortion are more pro-life than people who support abortion rights. We are certainly not pro-death. I use the expressions pro-choice and anti-choice. I believe that is more accurate.

As you read my blog, at least occasionally, you probably know that I don't debate this issue. I trust you will respect that and make this our last communication on the subject. Thanks for asking, and if you are interested in a more in-depth answer, stay tuned to wmtc.

Best,

Laura

She wrote back.
Hi Laura,

I am not anti-choice either, so I agree that terminology can really bother both sides! I love that women have rights and choices, I just think that if those rights and choices affect what happens to another human life, that's when we must stop and realize that one person's rights should never impede another person's right to live. It is too bad that Motion 312 was defeated since then we could have made this issue very clear either way... is an unborn fetus a human being or not?? And if a fetus is a human being, then do we simply not care that they are being killed all in the name of "Women's Rights"? That is why we call ourselves pro-life, because we believe in the value of life right from conception, not just after birth. Why did pro-choice people not want to find out if a fetus is a human being (Motion 312)??

Anyways, I will certainly respect your wishes regarding debate. I am not here to debate you, but do you really mind even discussing this topic? I don't know how else to clearly understand both sides unless I get answers from people who are pro-choice, which is helpful especially getting an opinion from someone I respect. However, if even discussion is out, then forgive me and I will simply have to just read your blogs for greater understanding! And please, no hard feelings!! As I said, I am certain there are great reasons why all of us hold to the positions we have.
Does she really believe that M-312* would have "made this issue very clear either way"? Can anyone be that naive - or that stupid? I asked her to make it her last communication on the topic, and she didn't respect that - which makes me think this was her intent all along. Recall that this is the person who left me a religious holiday card with instructions to worship underlined in red.

I cannot talk to anti-choice people about abortion. I simply cannot. I cannot be rational, I cannot contain my anger, I cannot be respectful. It strikes too deeply into the core of my beliefs. Their position denies my personhood, denies all women's basic human rights. They are my enemy.

If she were moderately pro-choice, as most people seem to be - understanding the need for safe and legal abortion options, but also wishing to place some restrictions on abortion - I could easily exchange ideas. In those situations, I always listen and offer my own perspective in return. No problem.

I also know women who feel abortion is wrong for themselves under any circumstances, but agree there should be safe and legal abortion services. (One is a rape survivor who was prepared to carry the pregnancy if there was one. The other surrendered a baby to adoption.) I have great respect for both of those women.

But a person who prays in front of hospitals for "an end to abortion", who confuses fetuses with "people"... I cannot. If this is a flaw or a shortcoming, so be it. It's not something I'm trying to change about myself. Why should I play nice with them? What's the point?

Of course I could have said nothing, and ended the conversation myself. But her refusal to respect my request to drop the subject pissed me off. If that was her intention, she accomplished it, and I wasn't about to sit and fume without a reply.

[FC-W], you must have misunderstood me. I have no interest in discussing this topic with you or reading anything you have to say about abortion. There is no such thing as a "discussion" between you and I on this topic that is not actually a debate. There are no arguments you could possibly make that I haven't heard a million times before. There is nothing you could possibly say that could change my point of view, any more than I could change yours. I find your views incredibly offensive. I cannot even stand to read them. Please do not email me again about this or any other subject. Thank you.
Laura

Was the whole email conversation a set-up to bait me about M-312? If she wants to understand the pro-choice position on M-312, a simple Google search would have done the trick. There was no need to contact me.

Your thoughts?






------
* For non-Canadian readers, Motion 312 was a private member's bill (non-government sponsored attempt at legislation) calling for a Parliamentary committee to study when life begins.

FC-W, in case you're reading, life begins at the moment of conception. We all know that. Bacteria is a life form. Celery is a life form. A zygote is a life form. But none of these blobs of cells are human beings.

M-312 was defeated in a vote of 203-90. One-third of Canadian MPs, including one of the most powerful Ministers in the country, want to re-open the abortion debate.

9.28.2012

the politics of sex-selective abortion: there shouldn't be any

Hard on the heels of the defeat of Motion 312 - on the mind-bending spectacle of the Minister of the Status of Women voting with the anti-choice contingent, on the sobering sight of de facto Deputy Prime Minister Jason Kenney voting the way a former U.S. anti-abortion activist could be expected to vote - we learn that the next chapter in Stephen "I Promise Not to Re-open the Abortion Date" Harper's latest reopening of the abortion debate involves sex-selective abortions.

Supposedly some women terminate pregnancies because a fetus is male or female. And supposedly this is bad, and wrong, and we should stop them. And supposedly some feminists agree. Or should I say "some supposed feminists" agree?

Here's the thing. A fetus is a fetus is a fetus. And choice is choice is choice.

At some future date, Canada's House of Commons will be asked to consider the following motion:
That the House condemn discrimination against females occurring through sex-selective pregnancy termination.
Conservative MP Mark Warawa (Langley) follows contemporary anti-choice protocol and wraps his anti-abortion endeavors in the language of civil rights: we condemn discrimination. So you abortion-lovers on the other side of the aisle, you're voting for discrimination?

But you see, you can't discriminate against a fetus. Because a fetus is a fetus. A fetus is not a person.

Aborting a female fetus does not discriminate against girls, because a fetus is not a girl.

There are many people, including many women, whose gut reactions to sex-selective abortions is disgust, or revulsion, or anger. Similar to the people in the brilliant "How much time should she do?" videos, these folks need to stop, think, and extrapolate.

How shall we stop sex-selected abortions?

Shall we prevent women from knowing the sex of the fetus, so that doctors and technicians have information about a woman's pregnancy that is withheld from the patient herself? Will we withhold any other details about the woman's pregnancy from women? Is this sound medical practice? Would you consent to such a medical practice for any other conditions? Would you consent to such a practice for yourself?

Before a woman terminates a pregnancy, shall we give her a questionnaire, asking for her reasons? Who will approve the reasons, who will decide whether a woman's reproductive choices pass muster? Will there be a panel of doctors, or judges, or perhaps the woman's neighbours? Or maybe the Member of Parliament for her riding? What if the woman ticks "no" after "Are you choosing termination because of the sex of the fetus," but she's lying? How will we know? (I'm thinking dunking stool.)

Will all women be given these questionnaires, or only some women? Will any white, Christian women be suspected of sex-selective termination?

Hey, while we're at it, is anyone else disgusted by any other reasons for choosing abortion???

What's that you say, a slippery slope?

Since when do we need to approve of women's reasons for terminating?

Since never.

Perhaps you think sex-selective abortion reflects a belief that boys are better than girls, that women are not equal to men. And this offends you.

And this offense gives you some kind of right?

And you can assert that right over someone else's pregnancy?

I'm offended by men who beat their children. I want to know if a man is ever going to beat his children. And if he is, I want him to be sterilized, never allowed to have children, and never allowed to adopt. Cool?

* * * *

You want to live in a world where baby girls are valued as highly as baby boys? You can help create such a world. But first, check the mirror. Your cultural imperialism might be showing. There may be more than a little racism and xenophobia embedded in your revulsion for sex-selective abortion. Everyone knows it's "those people" who abort female fetuses. (How does everyone know this? Because that's what they hear. Why do they hear it? Because everyone knows it. Isn't that enough evidence for you?)

You want to live in a world where women and girls are valued as highly as men and boys? Help create that world. But not on the backs of other women's reproductive freedom.

If a woman wants to terminate a pregnancy because she doesn't want a boy or doesn't want a girl, that is not our business.

Women don't need to submit their reproductive choices for our - or anyone's - approval. Women can make their own choices. Whether you like them or not.

9.22.2012

rtod

Revolutionary thought of the day:
And all the criminals in their coats and ties
Are free to drink martinis
And watch the sun rise
- Bob Dylan

A woman refuses to kill people, and she is torn from her family and put in jail.

A man orders some people to kill some other people, and he enjoys a position of great power and prestige.

A shameful human condition.

let them stay: two canadians speak out in the toronto star

From the Toronto Star:
I am ashamed to be a Canadian. I have been involved with the campaign to keep Kim Rivera in Canada for some time. It is obvious that most Canadians think that as a conscientious objector to the war in Iraq she should stay here rather than face court martial and jail separate from her family.

When I opened my Star on Thursday I saw another story of a deportation on the same page as Rivera's story. Fatemeh Derakhshandeh Tosarvandan is to be sent back to Iran, where she could face stoning as a result of an accusation of adultery.

What kind of a country has Canada become?

Elizabeth (Beth) Guthrie
Toronto

*

When the Iraq war was just getting underway, a person in the United States asked me if conscientious objectors would be allowed to stay in Canada as had been the case during the Vietnam War.

It never occurred to me that a policy that had been practised to the benefit of both Canada and the U.S. since at least 1850 would not be followed now and I assured him they would be welcome.

Ontario was founded to a great extent by conscientious objectors we call United Empire Loyalists. If Jason Kenney is anxious to honour Canadian history, now would be a good time to start, with Kim Rivera and others like her, loyal to the common standards of humanity.

Allen R. Wells, Sarnia

now it can be told: why i have hated my job for the last four years

I quit my job today, a job I've had for five years, a job which I've hated for about four of those years. I've known my employer has read my blog from time to time, and once used some information against me. So I've kept quiet publicly (and complained constantly in private!). But now I can let it all out.

First the cuts

The position started out all right. I've done legal document production work since 1990. I've worked in many corporate law firms, and the quality of the workplace can vary widely, from hellish to quite pleasant. This was a decent firm. My pay rate was good, and I was treated decently, albeit with a below-average physical space.

Then the fun started. In early 2008, the firm laid off about one-third of the staff. There had been seven people on my shift, and we were cut to three, of course with no corresponding reduction of work. After all, we're machines, right? We can just set ourselves to a higher speed.

With the surviving staff reeling from the layoffs, in a climate of fear and anxiety, the firm announced a massive cutback in benefits. And what could we do? We were supposed to be grateful that we had jobs at all.

When you work in a law firm at night, tradition has it that the company pays for a cab home. Night staff in law firms all over North America get a car home. That may sound cushy, but as support staff are predominantly female, and people are going home at midnight and later, it's a safety measure, and a hedge against potential litigation.

The firm cut our transportation benefit, putting a cap on the amount that would be reimbursed - a cap that meant almost no staff (who seldom live downtown) could take a cab home. We could be reimbursed for parking or for train/bus plus cab. (Note how in a non-union environment, the employer can unilaterally change the terms of employment.)

The public transit to my area doesn't run very frequently on weekends, and my commute instantly changed from 25 minutes to an hour and 15 minutes. And I live relatively nearby. Some people were left with a two-hour commute.

In addition to the increased commuting time, I was left waiting in at a bus stop for a cab. I call the cab from the bus, and sometimes its waiting for me... but often it is not. After a long shift, a 15-minute wait for the bus, and a long wait for a cab in a deserted parking lot, is not a great way to end the day.

I was also told I would no longer have paid sick days - all four of them. Supposedly, as a part-time employee, I was not entitled to these, I was given them in error, and now that benefit would end. I argued: an insignificant amount of money to the firm could amount to my entire income for the week, if I happened to get sick on a weekend. They relented on this one; I kept my four measley sick days.

Do I need to add that there was no raise that year?

Shortly after, we received a memo from the managing partner, jubilant about what a profitable year the firm had had.

Then the RSI

Not long after the staff layoffs, I developed a repetitive stress injury. It was an atypical injury, and for a while I didn't recognize what was causing the pain, so I continued to do the work that was aggravating it. My doctor didn't recognize it either. She sent me for x-rays, and was puzzled as the pain worsened. Finally I couldn't lift my right arm. I couldn't pick up a mug of coffee or a toothbrush without waves of pain shooting through my chest and neck.

My massage therapist diagnosed it, and suddenly it all made sense. I got a note from my doctor and asked for an accommodation at work. It meant I wouldn't perform one or two specific tasks. There was plenty of other work to do.

I had some physiotherapy, and at first the firm was supportive. Then they began to harass me. How was the treatment going? When was I going to return to full duties? I explained that the treatment was extremely limited, because I couldn't afford it, and that although the pain had diminished a great deal, that was because I wasn't doing these few specific tasks. As soon as I would resume the motion that caused the RSI, the inflammation and pain would return.

I would periodically receive emails from Human Resources, the tone increasingly annoyed and blunt. Finally my doctor wrote a letter saying the change would likely be permanent. HR said this was unacceptable.

I told HR that I was well within my rights under the Ontario Human Rights Act and the Employment Standards Act, and that they were obligated to comply with my request to modify my duties in this extremely minor way. In the US this is called "reasonable accommodation"; in Ontario it's known as "duty to accommodate". You can be sure that Evil Corporate Law Firm knows the letter of the law backwards and forwards. They were just trying to intimidate me. (Once again, the non-union workplace: we are left to fight against our employers alone.)

That ended the harassment - until it was time for my annual performance review. What a surprise, I received the first non-stellar review of my entire working career. In one year, my performance somehow slipped from excellent or above-average to average or below-average. What a coincidence.

Then there were the co-workers

For one year, I was subjected to an utterly self-absorbed compulsive talker, whose nonstop chatter and ear-splitting volume caused me to wear headphones 100% of the time. I would never express any interest in her life, to avoid a 90-minute answer. I am not exaggerating.

This woman's presence felt like the final straw. Miraculously, she left the department after one year.

Other co-workers have come and gone, but the one constant was a mean-spirited compulsive gossip and inveterate liar, who spent her time either complaining about how everyone was against her, broadcasting everyone's business (much of it fiction), or plotting against her co-workers.

"We have information that you were not, in fact, sick."

We didn't receive raises the following year, or the year after that. The workload continued to increase.

Our supervisors started instituting new, inflexible rules. If we were 15 minutes late to work, or if we had to leave a little early to take care of something, we were to deduct that time from our dinner or lunch breaks. If we misplaced our receipts for transportation, we would not be reimbursed, despite weeks, months, and years of the same amounts claimed for transportation.

To be clear, this is a firm whose partners charge $350 to $500 an hour, whose clients include the largest energy producers and real estate developers in North America, the largest mining operations in the world - and the Conservative Party of Canada. The firm recently opened offices in Vancouver, and the Opening Gala resembled a royal wedding.

Harassing people over a lost receipt for a $20 cab ride, or docking a good employee 15 minutes of pay, is not a financial survival tactic.

Once I used a sick day to attend a war resisters event. A few days later, HR called me at home. "We have information from an online posting board that you were not, in fact, sick, and that you attended a rally."

Are you reading? Did you get that? You were right, I wasn't sick! Fuck you!

Believe me, I tried to get away

I looked for another job - continuously - for 2-1/2 years. I couldn't find another weekend job, and was unwilling to take a full-time, Monday-Friday job. This field is supposed to subsidize my writing and activism, not be a full-time career.

At the same time, freelance writing opportunities were drying up. It's never easy to earn a living as a writer, but the internet has made it all but impossible. So not only did I hate my day-job, it was also my sole source of income. I did a lot of freelance transcribing, which helps pay the bills, but it was a hell of a way to spend my week. Not the way I want to live.

Eventually I concluded that I had to do something entirely different... and realized that to do that, I needed more education. And the rest is (my) history.

And now I am done.

I've done legal document production work since 1990, on weekends since 1995. For a long time, it was an excellent way to support myself - well paid, interesting enough so that it wasn't mind-numbingly boring, but not so challenging that it used any creative energy, and I never had to take work home (literally or mentally). But like so many other fields, available jobs have dried up and working conditions have deteriorated.

The only good thing I can say about my old job is that it paid well. I landed it before wages in the field became depressed - that's why I could force myself not to quit all these years. It will actually be a long time before I make a comparable hourly rate in the library.

But no matter. Because now... I. Am. Free!

thinking of the riveras, today and always

My grief for the Rivera family and my rage at this cruel, anti-democratic government roils unabated.

I am haunted by thoughts of my dear friend Kimberly Rivera, who has given so much to so many people, all by herself in a jail cell, and by thoughts of those four beautiful children waking up, day after day, to the reality of a motherless family.

Mario Rivera is one of the best fathers I've ever seen. He is loving and kind, strict when he needs to be but always gentle, just like Kim. But Kim is their rock. I fear for them all, ripped from their vibrant community in Toronto, plunked down in Texas, in a new world, without their mom.

All completely avoidable. Entirely the fault of Stephen Harper, Jason Kenney, and everyone who voted for them.

* * * *

I have some personal news that I want to announce and write about. Please know that the above is true, no matter what else is happening in my life.

9.21.2012

the rivera family leaves canada. our hearts break, our anger rises.

Now that some of the details have been made public, I need to write about my experience yesterday and the last few days.

As the public battle to keep Kimberly Rivera and her family in Canada raged, there was, simultaneously, a more private effort to help the Rivera family personally. The War Resisters Support Campaign - especially one person, and many of you know who she is - made heroic efforts to minimize the trauma to the family.

The night before the actual deportation, Kim said goodbye to her children, not knowing when she will see them again. What more can be said about such a scene - so painful, so unjust, so completely unnecessary.

Kim then went with our lead organizer to Kingston; they spent the night near the border. In the morning Kim surrendered to authorities and was immediately taken into custody at Fort Drum.

Meanwhile, Thursday at dawn, a few campaigners met at the Riveras' apartment. We packed up a large passenger van (which we had rented specifically for this) with the kids and their backpacks, the younger children each clinging to a favourite stuffed animal.

Allan drove the van with Mario Rivera and all the kids, and I went in another car with a campaign friend and comrade, and we drove to Buffalo.

At the Buffalo border, we waited in the parking lot of the duty-free store, giving the kids juice and keeping the younger ones entertained while we worked out the final details of Mario and the kids getting to Texas.

Once that was done, we went to the CBSA office. Mario presented himself and got his official papers.

Next we had to cross the US border. Naturally, the guard in the booth couldn't understand the situation - "What do you mean you're helping him move? Why can't they move themselves?" - and ordered us all in to the station. Fortunately, though, this did not turn out to be a major hurdle. We merely explained the complicated situation - omitting any mention of military desertion, as it's hardly relevant at that point - showed our various identification, including Mario's birth certificate from Texas, and were soon on our way.

Then we drove into Buffalo and helped Mario with the final arrangements of his trip. We transferred the kids to another van and said goodbye. The Rivera family - minus their mother, the head of their household, their rock - began their 22-hour drive to Texas.

* * * *

These complex plans were made while the Campaign was simultaneously churning on all cylinders (and then some) organizing press conferences, statements from endorsers, interviews, massive petition drives and leafletting campaigns, demonstrations, and whatever else.

It's been an incredible effort, buoyed by tens of thousands of Canadians who called on the Harper government to show compassion and to respect Canadian tradition.

This government is a disgrace.

This morning I learned that after it was confirmed in the House of Commons that Kim had left Canada, a huge cheer went up from the Conservative bench. Whoo-hoo, a government has split up a family and sent a woman of peace to prison. Aren't they big and strong.

What breed of evil is this?

* * * *

Last Sunday, along with several core Campaigners, I attended an Appreciation Dinner for Kimberly Rivera, hosted by the Toronto Quakers. It was an opportunity to spend quiet time with Kim - to share a meal, to express our love and gratitude, and our solidarity.

After dinner, there was a brief ceremony in the Quaker tradition. Kim thanked us for all the love we have shown her and her family, and for all our efforts on their behalf. She said, "No matter what happens, my experiences in Canada have changed me forever. Through people like you and so many others I have met, I discovered whole new worlds. I discovered myself. No matter what happens, nothing will ever take that away from me."

9.19.2012

kim rivera to be deported from canada tomorrow. our struggle continues.

As you may have heard, the Federal Court has denied Kimberly Rivera a stay of removal and leave to appeal. Kim and her family are scheduled to leave Canada tomorrow.

We continue to call on Immigration Minister Jason to stop this injustice. Please continue to call and email Minister Kenney. Urge him to stop this deportation, which will result in a family being torn apart.

Phone: 613-954-1064
Fax: 613-957.2688
Email: jason.kenney@parl.gc.ca, minister@cic.gc.ca

If you are as angry about this injustice as I am, please consider responding to an important feature story about the Riveras in the Toronto Star. Letters can be sent to lettertoed@thestar.ca.

The War Resisters Support Campaign will continue to fight to keep U.S. Iraq War resisters in Canada. We thank you for your support and we hope you will continue to fight with us.

Tomorrow morning we are helping the Riveras get to the border. Kim will likely be taken into custody immediately.

This is a dark day for Canada.

9.17.2012

archbishop tutu calls on canada to let kimberly rivera stay

In today's Globe and Mail:

Don’t deport war resister Kimberly Rivera
By Desmond Tutu


When the United States and Britain made the case in 2003 for the invasion of Iraq, it was on the basis of a lie. We were told that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction, and that these weapons posed an imminent threat to humanity.

For the millions around the world who took part in peaceful protests opposing the war, there was certainly profound skepticism about the deeply flawed evidence presented to support the illegal invasion.

But those who were called to fight this war believed what their leaders had told them. The reason we know this is because U.S. soldiers such as Kimberly Rivera, through her own experience in Iraq, came to the conclusion that the invasion had nothing to do with weapons of mass destruction. Indeed, the presence of U.S. forces only created immense misery for civilians and soldiers alike.

Those leaders to whom soldiers such as Kimberly Rivera looked for answers failed a supreme moral test. More than 110,000 Iraqis have died in the conflict since 2003, millions have been displaced and nearly 4,500 American soldiers have been killed.

There are many people who, while they may have believed the original justification for the war, came to a different conclusion as the reality of the war became more evident. Prime Minister Stephen Harper himself came to the conclusion that the Iraq war was “absolutely an error.”

It is large-hearted and courageous people who are not diminished by saying: “I made a mistake.” Not least among these are Ms. Rivera and the other American war resisters who determined they could not in good conscience continue to be part of the Iraq war.

Ms. Rivera, who is from Texas, joined the U.S. Army when she was 24 and was stationed in Baghdad. She believed the U.S. efforts would make her country safer. Disillusioned by the reality of civilian casualties, she came to Canada in 2007 and applied for refugee status. She felt she could no longer participate in a war where she was contributing to causing harm and death to innocent people.

The Canadian government has notified Ms. Rivera that she is scheduled for deportation to the U.S. on Sept. 20. Her lawyer says she faces a prison sentence of two to five years on her return. Ms. Rivera lives in Toronto with her husband and four children (two of whom were born in Canada); these are people of courage and peace, and they should be granted asylum.

Canada has a long tradition of giving refuge to people of conscience. During the Vietnam War, more than 50,000 young Americans came to Canada. Many of them volunteered and, like Ms. Rivera, later developed moral objections to a war they could not ignore.

Public opinion polls have shown that most Canadians want their government to continue that tradition today. A 2008 Angus Reid poll showed that 64 per cent of Canadians want U.S. conscientious objectors to the Iraq war to remain in Canada. And Parliament has voted twice to allow American conscientious objectors to the Iraq war to stay.

The deportation order given to Ms. Rivera is unjust and must be challenged. It’s in times when people are swept up in a frenzy of war that it’s most important to listen to the quiet voices speaking the truth. Isn’t it time we begin to redress the atrocity of this war by honouring those such as Ms. Rivera who had the courage to stand against it at such cost to themselves?

During the struggle against the apartheid regime in South Africa, we were sustained by the knowledge of the support we had in the international community. Ms. Rivera has my support and the support of all those who desperately want humanity to move along a path of peace.

Despite all of the ghastliness in the world, human beings are made for goodness. The ones who are held in high regard are not militarily powerful nor even economically prosperous. They have a commitment to try to make the world a better place. I truly believe that Kimberly Rivera is such a person, and that Canada can only benefit from allowing her to stay.
Supportive letters should be sent to letters@globeandmail.com.

9.16.2012

manitoba to defy jason kenney, cover refugee health care

The Province of Manitoba has announced that it will cover health care for refugee claimants, in defiance of Jason Kenney's vindictive cuts to help at the federal level. (I haven't been able to find the link from the Winnipeg Free Press; I hope this capture at iPolitics is trustworthy.)
Manitoba will help refugees access health benefits the federal government recently took away.

Health Minister Theresa Oswald said in a prepared statement that the province doesn’t agree with the cut because it’s hurting families and will lead to longer-term and more expensive problems.

Agencies and advocates for privately sponsored refugees and health-care providers have rallied against Citizenship and Immigration Canada’s cuts to supplemental health benefits that took effect June 30.

The refugees’ sponsors were left to pay for any prescription drugs, prosthetic limbs, wheelchairs, vision and dental care they needed, otherwise, they would go without.

Dr. Mike Dillon, who has worked with refugees for decades, praised the Manitoba government for recognizing this as a concern and for picking up the slack.

Oswald said the province will add up the bill and send it to the federal health minister.
This would not have happened without the persistent activism of nurses, doctors, and other health care providers, who fought back for their patients. Well done, Manitoba! Who's next?

9.15.2012

what i'm reading: john henry days, by colson whitehead

Here I am again, gushing about another novel by Colson Whitehead. For my last grab at pleasure reading before trudging back to my grad-school cell, I went back to the only book by Whitehead - fiction and nonfiction - that I hadn't read: John Henry Days, published in 2001 and shortlisted for the Pulitzer Prize. I don't know why I didn't read this book when it first came out, since I loved Whitehead's debut novel, The Intuitionist. And once again, a novel by this man knocks me out.

On the surface, this book combines two central stories. One is set in the present, as a pop journalist, purveyor of PR fluff disguised as articles, visits the town of Talcott, West Virginia, for the first annual John Henry Days Festival. The other story is set in the distant past: a historical-fiction imagining of John Henry, a recently emancipated African American labourer, one of many doing the world's most dangerous work, just a whisper away from slavery.

Also in the present or the recent past or a fictional past, we meet an obsessive collector of John Henry memorabilia, and his daughter. An eccentric collector of railroad stamps. A small town fair. The Chicago blues scene. A railroad magnate's opium dreams. A small-town hotel owner's paranormal experiences. A book launch party in the New York City pop-celebrity scene.

The two words that keep coming to my mind to describe John Henry Days are both borrowed from music: polyphonic and contrapuntal. Not coincidentally, this book is also about the song "The Ballad of John Henry," which appears throughout the history of American vernacular music in hundreds of variations, from blues to folk to work song, with changing lyrics and shifting meanings. John Henry Days is a novel told in many voices, in several related and interrelated threads and themes, and as the stories move along, the themes comment on each other in many surprising and insightful ways.

In one plot line, an African American man is valued only for his brute strength lives and dies as an expendable cog in a machine. That machine might be called human progress, or it might be called industrialism, or capitalism, or bigotry, depending on the point of view.

In another plot line, an African American man lives by his wits and his skill with words, valuing nothing more than a free meal and an open bar. He is a cog in a different machine, the pop-celebrity-PR racket. He has no point of view. He has only the most modern weapons: irony, ennui, and disinterest.

John Henry Days is also about obsession and addiction. About how we can collect facts and knowledge yet somehow never fully understand any portion of history. About the search for authenticity, and the treachery of nostalgia. Along the way, the reader learns about the monumental enterprise of building railroad tunnels through mountains. About stamp collecting. About drill bits. About evolution of folks songs. The book is full of these wonderful little set pieces, windows into another world.

More than anything, though, John Henry Days is about a peculiar scourge of contemporary society: irony, or ironic detachment. If the hammer will be the death of the steel drivin' man John Henry, irony very nearly is the death of the modern protagonist. Portions of John Henry Days are spoof, and laden with irony, but the irony is used ironically, if you can get your head around that, in layer upon ironic layer.

But the historical and emotional pieces are never ironic; those are always told with depth of feeling. Gradually, as the polyphonic voices build the song, we see ironic superficiality weighed against the richly lived, passionately felt life, and revealed as a scam, a hoax.

We're all familiar with books where a protagonist is offered two visions of life, often portrayed as a choice between two people, and two father-figures. Which path will our hero travel? Will he choose violence or peace, competition or cooperation, family or the road? The protagonist of John Henry Days, in the end, must choose between a life with meaning and authenticity and a superficial life of ironic detachment.

* * * *

Already on my winter-break reading list: re-read Whitehead's debut novel, The Intuitionist. (John Henry Days contains a tiny inside-joke reference to that novel.) If you haven't yet read Colson Whitehead, start with Sag Harbor, then Apex Hides the Hurt. And if you love New York City, you must read his collection of essays, The Colossus of New York, worthy of sitting beside E. B. White's Here is New York on your bookshelf.

leading canadian advocates say: let kimberly rivera stay. war resisters welcome here.

Author Judy Rebick, Alex Neve of Amnesty International Canada, Bruce Cox of Greenpeace, Maude Barlow of the Council of Canadians, and Brigette DePape of "Stop Harper" fame: a great video. Please watch and share.

9.13.2012

ndp: war resisters are welcome in canada

From the New Democratic Party:
Allow conscientious objectors to stay in Canada

SURREY – New Democrats are calling on the government to respect parliament’s commitment to allow conscientious objectors to the U.S. war in Iraq to remain in Canada on humanitarian and compassionate grounds.

“U.S. war resisters in Canada have entered the country legally, after refusing to serve in the military for reasons of conscience. This is clearly a legitimate ground for protection,” said NDP Immigration critic Jinny Sims. “Parliament has adopted two motions in support of these people’s efforts to stay in Canada – a commitment which has been ignored by the Conservative government.”

Amnesty International has called on the Conservatives to rescind Operational Bulletin 202, which tells immigration officers that conscientious objectors may be considered deserters, guilty of crimes and inadmissible to Canada.

The NDP believes this bulletin runs contrary to Parliament’s motion to respect war resisters and should be rescinded.

Sims added that in the specific case of war resister Kimberly Rivera, a mother of four facing deportation, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney has grounds to grant her application for permanent residency on humanitarian and compassionate grounds.

“Two of Ms Rivera’s children were born here in Canada, she has built a family here,” said Sims. “We are asking Minister Kenney to do the right thing, the compassionate thing and allow her to stay.”

A 2008 Angus Reid poll found that 64 % of Canadians believe the U.S. war deserters in Canada should be allowed to become permanent residents.

this is what privatization looks like: harper govt turns austerity into outsourcing

The Harper Government has schooled us in austerity basics. Call it Privatization 101. Ottawa Citizen:
DND to pay $100 million to private firm to replace laid-off workers

Just months after issuing notices to public servants that their jobs were being eliminated to save money the Defence Department is looking at paying a private firm $100 million to provide those same services, according to DND documents obtained by the Citizen.

The contract would cover management services, maintenance and repair and janitorial services for army installations in western Canada, including 10 training areas and 17 armouries.

But the proposed contract, to run from 2013 to 2018, has union leaders angry and accusing the Conservative government and DND of using the public service layoffs as a guise for privatizing more federal jobs.

“We were told that those jobs were not needed and those people wouldn’t be replaced,” said John MacLennan, national president of the Union of National Defence Employees, which represents 19,000 workers. “The government’s program was supposedly all about saving money so how do you save money when you cut jobs and then turn around and spend $100 million to hire companies to do the same work?”
The answer to MacLennan's rhetorical question is: you don't. You don't save money, because saving money was never the goal, only the excuse. The goals are increasing the wealth of select private companies, and further reducing, and (they hope) ultimately breaking, the power of public sector unions.


Privatization doesn't save taxpayers money. It never has, and it never will. All evidence shows privatization increases costs to taxpayers, if not in taxes, then through skyrocketing fees for service, and often both. As Tommy Douglas told us about health care, whenever profit is introduced to a system, costs go up.

Privatization is the shell game of the corporatocracy. We must resist it.

9.12.2012

cheri dinovo says: let kim stay

In this video, Provincial MP Cheri DiNovo introduces war resister Kimberly Rivera to the Ontario legislative assembly. She asks her fellow MPPs to contact the federal government on Kim's behalf. DiNovo's late husband was a war resister, and her short speech is very touching.

9.11.2012

please watch, share, and call



Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Jason Kenney
613.954.1064

where i've been (updated)

I was planning on spending the final few weeks of my summer reading, and blogging the remainder of my notes from Marxism 2012. That all changed when the Rivera family was ordered to leave Canada by September 20.

While Kim and lawyer Alyssa Manning pursue all avenues to challenge this injustice in court, the War Resisters Support Campaign is trying to make visible the widespread support for Kim, and for allowing all US war resisters to remain in Canada. If you're in Canada, check this page for local actions you can participate in - or call a friend and organize your own.

Today begins the final year of my Master of Information degree. This year I'm taking all electives, and actually not dreading the start of school. Not-dread is the most I can muster, but that's a big improvement. This term I have "Children's Cultural Texts"* - "texts" being current academia-speak for all messaging (books, movies, games, advertising, and so on) - and "Public Library Advocacy," which is about advocating for the public library with government and in the community. Next term is Issues in Children's and Youth Services, and Graphic Novels and Comic Books in the Library.

I am also the new chair of the Children's and Youth Advocacy group at the iSchool, a student association for people interested in children's library services. I agreed to chair with extreme trepidation, as I don't exactly have spare time on my hands. I've belonged to this group for three years without being able to attend a single event! But no one else had stepped up to chair in 2012-13, and I do want the group to exist. It's a good resume hit, and I'll need everything I can to compete for a librarian job once I have my degree. I'm setting very modest goals for the group, trying to get someone to co-chair, and keeping my fingers crossed.

That's an extremely partial update of what I've been up to. Watch this space for big news, coming soon. Either that or utter dejection.

* Update. The class is actually called Children's Cultural Texts and Artifacts. It's best described as children's cultural studies and media analysis. Among the long list of what's meant by cultural artifacts: toys, dolls, candy, fairy tales, public television, advertising, food packaging, characters, series books, movies, collectibles, characters, video games... and more. It seems super interesting.

9.06.2012

let them stay: action alert: what you can do to help stop the deportation of war resister kim rivera

See below for actions you can take to help US war resister Kimberly Rivera.

We had an amazing community meeting in the Parkdale neighbourhood of Toronto last night.

More than 200 people crowded into the Parkdale United Church basement to show their support for their friend and neighbour Kim Rivera, and to voice their disgust at the Harper Government for its callous, wrongheaded decision that Kim and her family leave Canada.

Rivera - an Iraq War veteran who refused a second deployment and came to Canada with her family in 2007 - has been told she must leave Canada and return to the US by September 20. If she is turned over to the US military, Rivera will likely face a lengthy jail sentence. She will also have a felony conviction that will remain on her record and restrict her opportunities on her record for the rest of her life.

Some of the loudest applause of the evening was in response to a letter from the Most Reverend Desmond Tutu, urging Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Jason Kenney to lift the deportation order and allow war resisters to remain in Canada.

Parkdale MP Peggy Nash was on retreat with the NDP caucus, but a representative from her office spoke in strong support of Kim. Nash has been a long-time supporter of the war resisters for many years.

City Councillor Gord Perks spoke eloquently, saying that instead of deporting peaceful people of conscience like Kim, Canada should be recruiting them.

MPP Cheri DiNovo also spoke, noting that her late husband was a Vietnam war resister, and reminding the crowd of the positive impact made on Canadian society by the tens of thousands of men and women who came to Canada in the late 60s and early 70s.

A letter from Amnesty International, outlining the legal reasons why Kim should be allowed to stay in Canada as a conscientious objector, was also read. The letter noted exactly how Kenney and Prime Minister Stephen Harper are in violation of international laws and treaties in their continued persecution of Iraq War resisters.

Representatives from the Canadian Council of Churches and the Quakers also spoke.

The final words of the evening belonged to Kimberly Rivera, who thanked us all for our energy and enthusiasm, and said she will fight with Parkdale to stay in Canada.

When the brief speeches were done, everyone signed letters to Kenney, and there was a candlelight procession through the Parkdale neighbourhood. The energy was incredible.

HOW YOU CAN HELP

While Kim and her lawyer pursue all legal avenues to challenge the deportation order, we must take to the streets, to the phones, and to our keyboards, to show that Canadians say: WAR RESISTERS ARE WELCOME HERE.

Here are several actions you can take in your own community to support the Riveras. We have only two weeks. We need you to organize in your own community to amplify this message in towns and cities from coast to coast to coast.

1. Friday, September 14 DAY OF ACTION

In Toronto:

Join petitioning and leafletting at the following
locations:
• Carrot Common, Danforth Ave
• Trinity-St. Paul's Centre, 427 Bloor Street West (near Spadina)
• Queen Street West and Dunn Avenue (Parkdale)

Across Canada:

Organize local pickets, petitioning, and leafletting! See our website for materials to help get you started. Fill in your own information and hit the streets!
http://resisters.ca/support-the-rivera-family/

2. Wednesday, September 19 DAY OF ACTION

In Toronto:

From 4:30 p.m. to 6:00 p.m., join a peaceful demonstration at the following location to call on
Jason Kenney to halt the deportation of Kim Rivera and her family:
• Federal Court Building, 180 Queen Street West, Toronto

Across Canada:

Organize a similar demonstration at the same time! You don't need a lot of people.

This is the day before the Riveras' removal date. We must raise our collective voice to loudly say: LET THEM STAY.

3. EVERY DAY: Call Jason Kenney

Call Jason Kenney, Minister of Citizenship and Immigration. Tell him you support war resister Kim Rivera and you want the government to allow her to stay in Canada. A suggested script for this phone call will be on our website: How you can support the Rivera family.

This takes only a few minutes. Call every day!

Office of the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration: 613.954.1064 (9-5 EST)

4. Write Jason Kenney

If you haven't done so already, sign a letter to Jason Kenney and your MP. The letter is here: Letter to Jason Kenney.

You can write your own letter and send it to:
The Honourable Jason Kenney
Minister of Citizenship, Immigration, and Multiculturalism
325 East Block
House of Commons
Ottawa, ON K1A 0A6

Email: minister@cic.gc.ca, jason.kenney@parl.gc.ca

Fax: 613.957.2688

5. Write a letter to your local newspaper in support of Kim Rivera and all war resisters

Letters to the editor are an effective way to get our message out. Letters to the editor in support of Kim are already popping up in major newspapers. Keep the letter short and simple, and you can reach thousands of people.

6. Donate.

THANK YOU to every supporter who has so generously given funds so we can mount this public campaign. If you can, please donate either online or by cheque.

To donate online, go to our ChipIn page.

To donate by cheque, please make a cheque payable to the War Resisters Support Campaign and mail it to:

War Resisters Support Campaign
Box 13, 427 Bloor Street West
Toronto, ON M5S 1X7
CANADA

THANK YOU FOR ALL YOUR SUPPORT. We have only two weeks to make this campaign as visible and as loud as possible. Kim Rivera risked so much for peace. Now it's our turn to fight for her and her family. LET THEM STAY!

9.05.2012

amnesty: kim rivera is a conscientious objector. let her stay.

Gloria Nafziger at Amnesty International Canada:
Amnesty International considers Kimberly Rivera to be a conscientious objector, and as such would consider her to be a prisoner of conscience should she be detained for military evasion, upon removal to the United States.

Amnesty International considers a conscientious objector to be any person who, for reasons of conscience or profound conviction, refuses either to perform any form of service in the armed forces or applies for non-combatant status. This can include refusal to participate in a war because one disagrees with its aims or the manner in which it was being waged, even if one does not oppose taking part in all wars.

Wherever such a person is detained or imprisoned solely for their beliefs as a conscientious objector, Amnesty International considers that person to be a prisoner of conscience, and calls for their immediate and unconditional release.

The right to refuse to perform military service for reasons of conscience is inherent in the notion of freedom of thought, conscience and religion and is recognized in international human rights instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Kimberly Rivera formed an understanding of her position as a conscientious objector over a period of time while she was deployed in Iraq. At one point her convictions caused her to stop carrying her rifle while on duty in Iraq.

Amnesty International urges the Minister to fully consider all of the facts in the case of Kimberly Rivera, including the fact that she is facing detention in the United States for her conscientiously held beliefs, and allow her to remain in Canada on Humanitarian and Compassionate grounds.

headline letter in today's star: let them stay

In today's Toronto Star:
Let U.S. war resister stay in Canada

For the last few years, I have followed our government’s response to the issue of American war resisters in Canada, so I was not surprised but was still so deeply saddened to learn that Kimberly Rivera, the first female U.S. war resister to seek refuge in Canada, has been ordered to leave our country by Sept. 20. Ironically, that’s the day before International Peace Day.

This order goes against the clearly expressed wishes of many of our elected parliamentarians who have argued that U.S. war resisters should be allowed to stay in our country. This order also goes against a fundamental Canadian belief that we have an obligation and a responsibility to protect all who face unjust punishment or persecution if returned to their own country of origin because of their actions or their beliefs. This order also, quite simply, goes against what is right and moral and just.

There are those, including our own Prime Minister and members of his government, who argue that Kimberley voluntarily joined the U.S. army and, so, should not be sheltered in Canada because she chose to walk away from a voluntary commitment. My understanding, however, is that Kimberly went to Iraq intending to fulfil the responsibilities she accepted, but then realized she couldn’t do so in good conscience because she saw that so many young families, like her own, were suffering and dying because of an invasion she no longer believed to be just.

Kimberley had the courage the stand up for what was right, to stand up against an unjust war and to bring her young family to Canada where they have done everything possible to be responsible and productive.

What has become painfully clear in the last few years, is that wars are fought, most often, because of greed and a desire for power, and that it is corporations and governments that profit from conflict. Hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians have perished in Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere while executives and governments in privileged countries like our own have profited.

And many, many soldiers from Canada and elsewhere have paid the “ultimate price” — benefiting the privileged and then trying, and often failing, to deal with the emotional pain of having done so.

There is a reason why there are now more young American and Canadian soldiers who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, who have taken their own lives than there are soldiers who have died in combat. There is a reason why our dear family friend — 23 years old — returned from service in Afghanistan, a fractured and struggling young soul. There is an age old question “What if they gave a war and nobody went?”

What Kimberly Rivera and others like her are courageously saying is that when young soldiers go into combat and look long and hard at those they are fighting against, they often recognize the inherent humanity of their “enemies,” understand that they too have children and elderly parents and pets who love and depend on them, and recognize that destroying this other soldier’s or civilian’s life and soul would also destroy their own.

Kimberly Rivera took that long hard look. And she made a very courageous choice. Please contact Stephen Harper and tell her that we want Kimberly and her family to stay in Canada.

Charlotte Sheasby-Coleman, Etobicoke

Check back at Resisters.ca/Support the Rivera Family
for updates on how you can help, including materials for download.

tonight in toronto: stand with the riveras


Tonight in Toronto, supporters of US war resisters and the Parkdale community will gather at United Church of Parkdale to support war resister Kimberly Rivera and her family. The Harper Government has ordered the Riveras to leave Canada by September 20. At the meeting, we will take several actions calling on the government to let the Riveras stay, and announce more plans of how you can help.

If you can't attend, stay tuned for more information. If you're in the area, I hope to see you there.

9.02.2012

archbishop tutu calls for bush and blair to stand trial at the hague

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a hero for peace.
The Iraq war “has destabilized and polarized the world to a greater extent than any other conflict in history,” wrote Tutu, who was awarded the Nobel prize in 1984.

“Those responsible for this suffering and loss of life should be treading the same path as some of their African and Asian peers who have been made to answer for their actions in the Hague,” he added.

The Hague, Netherlands, based court is the world’s first permanent war crimes tribunal and has been in operation for 10 years. So far it has launched prosecutions only in Africa, including in Sudan, Congo, Libya and Ivory Coast.

Tutu has long been a staunch critic of the Iraq war, while others opposed to the conflict — including playwright Harold Pinter — have previously called for Bush and Blair to face prosecution at the Hague.

“The then-leaders of the U.S. and U.K. fabricated the grounds to behave like playground bullies and drive us further apart. They have driven us to the edge of a precipice where we now stand — with the spectre of Syria and Iran before us,” said Tutu, who last week withdrew from a conference in South Africa due to Blair’s presence at the event.

9.01.2012

rtod

Revolutionary thought of the day:
I'd rather go to prison for desertion than kill a child by mistake.

Camilo Mejia, US War Resister

media conference in support of war resister kim rivera

Please watch. It's not the complete press conference, but it's a good portion of it, and it's worth seeing.

marxism 2012 program notes: how abortion rights were won in canada



One of the most exciting and illuminating sessions I attended at the 2012 Marxism Conference was a history of how abortion rights were won - and are threatened - in both the UK and Canada. I am honoured that some of my friends and comrades from the peace movement were integral to the abortion-rights struggle in Canada.

* * * *

"Never Going Back!" Abortion Rights: How Women Won the Right
May 27, 2012
Judith Orr, Michelle Robidoux (with honourable mention to Carolyn Egan, in the audience)

Judith Orr
Feminist, socialist, author, editor of Socialist Worker (UK)

I thought I'd start by explaining what the situation is in the UK, in terms of the law. Not everyone is aware of what is legal.

UK abortion law

In 1967, the Abortion Act was passed, which made abortion legal if two doctors decided it would be against the woman's mental or physical health to carry the pregnancy. This makes it the only procedure in the UK that you need two doctors to sign off on. You don't need two doctors to OK it if you need your appendix out or your tonsils out or anything else. But if you need an abortion, you need two doctors to OK it on the grounds of your mental or physical health. This is still true.

In the years since 1967, there has been a shrinking time limit of the time limit at which a pregnancy can be terminated. It's now 24 weeks.

Some years ago, there was an attempt by anti-abortion Tories to bring the time limit down, because, they said, medical advances meant fetuses could live outside the womb at younger ages. The British Medical Association and all kinds of committees met and studied this for more than a year, and came to the conclusion that it was not true - and the medical time limit remained the same. For fetal abnormalities, you can have an abortion later than that, but those are very unusual circumstances, and rarely used. The vast majority of abortions in England happen before 12 weeks.

Also, the right to abortion was never extended to Ireland, including Northern Ireland, even though Northern Ireland is part of the UK. The 1967 Act was never extended to Northern Ireland, because the Catholic and Protestant Churches have two things that they agree on there. One is on being homophobic. And the other is being against abortion. And so the British government never forced them to accept legalized abortion.

I am person of interest in that circumstance. I had a friend who had to travel to London, as a teenager, for an abortion. On her way back, it was (at that time), a 21-hour journey from London to Belfast. By the time she returned, she was hemorrhaging, and had to go into hospital - and had to lie about what had happened. The doctors knew full well, of course - and, to be fair, they cared for her. But if she had had access in her local hospital, she would have gotten immediate after care, and there wouldn't have been any problems.

And thousands and thousands and thousands of women travel from Ireland to England for abortions still.

The anti-choice-by-stealth agenda

What's interesting right now about abortion rights in the UK is, with the Tory government having come in, there's been a shift in the agenda, rightwards. On one level, it's almost imperceptible. On another level, it's been bludgeoned.

It's always Tory private member bills that are trying to change laws. No government is going to actually challenge the abortion laws, because there is a clear majority support for legal abortion among the public. So they do it through the back door, whether it's trying to roll back the time limit, or chip away at certain aspects of reproductive rights. This is what's been happening.

One rabidly right-wing MP pays lip service to women's rights: "I'm not anti-abortion. I just want women to make a fully informed choice." She uses the language of women's empowerment to put through a disgusting right-wing agenda. It's a sign of our strength that she has to do that! Because she can't just come out and say, "I want to stop women from having abortions". So that's a victory for our side in a way, but it can be quite dangerous, because it's insidious.

She claims that abortion clinics have a financial incentive to coerce women into terminating pregnancies. Of course this is completely untrue. The clinics are funded by the National Health Service. They don't make money. There is no financial incentive for them no matter what their patients do. But this MP claims that there is, and calls for so-called independent groups, including anti-abortion groups,to offer mandatory counseling in clinics - funded publicly, of course.

It's a lie that's been cooked up to make abortion providers look evil, portray them as taking advantage of vulnerable women. So phony counseling groups - which (as in Canada and the US) are just covers for anti-abortion groups that employ terrible coercive tactics - would be funded publicly to do their work in actual NHS clinics!

There was such an outcry about this that everybody, including the leading Conservatives, voted against it. But... they had a committee study it. And that committee could change how the counseling guidelines work - without needing more legislation.

These are the kinds of dangers that we are facing now, these "back door" threats to choice. Let's face it, when women go to clinics for abortions, they've already made their choice. They don't need mandatory counseling. They're not children. It's insulting to women's agency.

And this is only one of the many types of threats being put forth. Some are almost laughable and will never go through, such as celibacy classes in school. But - get this - only for girls! These are the kinds of things I read about happening in America. And we're horrified that they are trying to do it in the UK.

There was a manufactured scare that clinics were performing so-called illegal abortions. The illegality was that doctors were pre-signing forms, to ease the burden of having two doctors sign off on every procedure. This is done all the time, so that if someone needs a procedure immediately, there won't be a delay while another doctor can perform an exam and sign the form.

The Conservative Minister of Health sent in hundreds of checkers to investigate clinics - seized their paperwork and their computers. People who should have been performing health and safety checks were instead harassing clinics in this moral panic about pre-signed forms. They spent one million pounds on this.

The current "scare" is about sex-selected abortions, which is also obviously a racist notion: the idea that there are "certain communities" that are aborting female fetuses. They found no evidence of this happening in any significant numbers. But they used the language of feminism and women's oppression, talking about a "holocaust of girls".

Another tactic was to claim women need to be "fully informed" by submitting to mandatory ultrasound - and mandatory audio ultrasound, to hear the fetal heartbeat.

These are the things they throw out there. They put a scare in everyone, then when they back off, people are so relieved that it's not the original full-strength bill, it's a form of a compromise... and now their rights are chipped away. And it obviously deters women, who may be afraid to terminate a pregnancy, fearing that they'll have to go through this.

Finally, there were some Catholic nurses in Scotland who took a hospital to court. It's already their legal right to opt-out of abortion procedures. But these nurses wanted to opt out of caring for patients post-procedure, and from supervising staff who at other times cared for abortion patients. They lost, it didn't work, but they drove a wedge in, they opened the door, they began legitimizing the idea that abortion is something shameful and dirty. This is something we have to hold up against.

American imports

The ideological attack is: abortions are too easy to get, women get them for frivolous reasons, and therefore we have to control this, we must make it more difficult for women to obtain abortions. It ends up legitimizing some of the most extreme tactics of the anti-abortion camp.

We've seen things in the UK that we had never seen before. For 40 days during Lent, people campaigned outside abortion clinics, praying, holding up disgusting pictures -and filming women as they went into clinics! Sometimes passersby would tell them to fuck off. And we held protests and counter-demonstrations.

The biggest demo was on the last day of Lent. They came out with 300 people, and we had 1,000. It was one of the most militant and brilliant pro-choice demos I've been on for years. Women came up to me and said, "I remember when it was illegal and we're never going back!"

This has reinvigorated the pro-choice movement, especially among younger women who may not have had that awareness before.

There was recently an action by an extreme anti-abortion group, praying on street corners for the "dead children" and such. We surrounded them, shouted at them, made it impossible for them to be seen by anybody else. There are some debates within the pro-choice movement about whether or not to be this aggressive. Our feeling is if you give these people an inch... They must be countered early and strongly.

At the same time, a hactivist obtained health records of thousands of women who had had abortions and was threatening to publicize them. When people get entranced by how social media is going to bring about the revolution, we should remember that these are tools that can be used for reactionary as well as progressive ends.

Re-educate, re-invigorate, re-activate

In the UK, there is a real sense that we have to up our game, that we have to re-educate a whole generation of young women and men about what this all means. People assume it's there if we need it. They don't consciously think about defending it. We have to reach people both going out into colleges and universities, and also into the trade union movements.

We are seeing women's bodies as battlegrounds once again. We see it in all sorts of ways. The whole Conservative agenda - the family has to carry more of the burden, because of the cuts to social state - it all puts women back in the role of family and caregiver, for the elderly, for children. And at the same time, chipping away at abortion rights tells women, This is all you are. You're only here to carry the next generation.

We've got to take this very seriously.

One of my greatest memories in the pro-choice movement in the UK was after a particularly disgusting Tory bill attempting to roll back rights, there was an absolutely massive protest from the unions - after pressure from the rank-and-file. 80,000 people came out to say, "Abortion is a class issue and we have to defend abortion rights." It pushed back the bigots for decades. That demonstration - that show of strength - from the labour movement - held them back for decades.

There is an enormous groundswell of public opinion in our favour. But we can't be complacent that it will always be that way. The Tories will stop at nothing in terms of women's rights. The leaders will look moderate while they let the extremists off the leash.

We have to reinvigorate those networks and say: We are never going back.

Michelle Robidoux
Pro-choice activist, leading member IS Canada

For anyone who knows what's going on in Canada, we could almost be talking about the same country. Change a few names, but there's so much that's similar. I'm going to give an overview of abortion law in Canada, and how we won that battle, and where we are now.

Canadian history

In Canada, before 1969, abortion was illegal and birth control was illegal. It was very, very difficult to even access birth control.

The changes that came in, in Canada in 1969 and in the UK in 1967, that made abortion legal in certain circumstances, was a huge change. It was the result of pressure from the women's movement, from the medical community that saw women being maimed and dying from illegal abortions, that pushed Prime Minister Trudeau to change the law.

But that new law said that a woman could have an abortion if it was approved by a therapeutic abortion committee of three doctors - not two - but similar to the UK's law. That committee had to approve, and only one-third of hospitals in Canada even had these committees. Where they existed, there was no requirement for them to meet and to function. And the decision they made could not be appealed. It was a very tough situation.

This new law sparked resistance almost immediately. In 1970, there was a well-known mobilization that took place from British Columbia to Ottawa called the Abortion Caravan, to try to highlight the injustice of the conditions of this law, it terms of the limited access for women to abortion.

That was the first time that Parliament was shut down, when women chained themselves in the House of Commons protesting the provisions of the law.

The new abortion law was in place through the 1970s. There were numerous attempts to change it, most notably through Committee to Repeal Abortion Law (CARAL) (which later became another CARAL, Canadian Abortion Rights Action League). They attempted to meet and lobby politicians to change the law. But this reasoned approach was not working. As we know, the balance of power doesn't get shifted by reasoned argument.

In the 1980s, if you were in a major city like Toronto or Montreal or Vancouver, there was some limited access to abortion, particularly if you were middle class and could afford to pay for the procedure. But if you were a low-income woman, an immigrant, if you lived on a Northern reserve, if you had low English skills, you didn't have that kind of access.

Even the mechanism of access was very difficult. You would have to phone that day to get an appointment, a phone call that had to be made at 8 in the morning and could take an hour or 45 minutes. If you worked in a factory, if you were a student, a teenager, you couldn't spend an hour on the phone. And sometimes if you did manage to do this, when you got through, they were fully booked and you had try again the next day.

For a while the movement tried to do this for women - tried to make the phone calls for women who couldn't do that easily or at all.

Struggles that led to the Morgentaler Decision

There were many important struggles, especially in Quebec, that I don't have time to go into here. I'm going to talk mainly about what went on in Ontario, because that was what led to the Morgentaler Decision.

In 1982, representatives from different organizations got together to discuss what strategy to adopt to try and challenge the law. There were many competing ideas, and much discussion took place about the best route to take. Some groups felt the way forward was for the women's movement to start providing the service themselves. Some people wanted greater and more intensive lobbying. Other people who came from a socialist and trade unionist background - and from the background of the 1960s movements, of course - took a different approach.

They said, when you look around the world, where do women have greater reproductive rights and how did they win them? They looked at the UK, and at Italy, a Catholic country but through the women's movement and trade union movements, people were able to shift the balance of power and to put pressure on governments. And most of all, they looked at Quebec, also Catholic, but the province had better access than anywhere else in Canada. This was the product of a mass movement for change, with the involvement of the unions - and the product of highlighting abortion access as a class issue, uniting men and women together, in a militant campaign to challenge the limits of the law.

In Quebec, with the radicalization that took place through the early 1970s, there was so much pressure from the women's movement, from the sovreigntist movement, that eventually the PQ Government said it would no longer prosecute doctors who provided abortions. They said they would no longer enforce the federal abortion law in Quebec.

In 1975, before the PQ came to power, Dr. Henry Morgentaler was sentenced to 18 months in prison for providing abortions - even though three juries had acquitted him. The courts appealed that ruling, it was overturned, and he was sentenced to a year and a half in prison. He served 10 months before he had a heart attack after being beaten up by anti-Semitic prison guards, and eventually released into a medical facility.

The PQ eventually announced the federal law was not enforceable in Quebec and they were no longer going to prosecute doctors who performed abortions.

So looking at that situation, and based on the perspective of building a mass movement that would unite a broad coalition around a few key demands, the Ontario Coalition for Abortion Clinics was formed in Toronto. The main demands were: repeal the federal abortion law, legalize free-standing clinics, and provide medically insured abortions.

Dr. Morgentaler opens his Toronto clinic, the movement builds mass support

Dr. Morgentaler agreed to open a clinic in Toronto to challenge the law, and the movement built the mass support around it. Carolyn [Egan] was a founding member of that, so hopefully she will fill in some gaps after I'm done. I wasn't involved at that point. I got involved later - after you won.

OCAC framed the demands in a broad context which would allow people to look at the bigger contradictions, and the question of what choice really means. It's a legal right, of course. But when we talk about choice, we talk about a range of things that are necessary for women to really be able to make choices about their lives.

The right to have a job that can support the kids you want. To be free of harassment. The right to keep your children in your home, to not have them taken away from you - something especially relevant to Aboriginal women and to women with disabilities. The right to live openly as a lesbian. The right to raise children whether or not you are married. The right to employment equity, to child care, to full access to free abortion, birth control services in your community, in your language. This is the way the choice question was framed. These things are all necessary if women are to have the children they want and to decide if, when, and when not to have children.

This was very different from what was happening in the US, where the movement didn't take up these questions.

From there, it was about building broad support. Going into the unions, in particular, was very, very important. There were segments of the women's movement who didn't want this issue raised in the unions at the time, because they felt it would be divisive at a time when women were trying to win things like pay equity. But we pressed forward, and felt it was important that, win or lose, we were going to open the issue, to educate people about what reproductive rights is about.

And to everyone's surprise, the pro-choice position won overwhelmingly. Every major union adopted a pro-choice position. The argument that women will never be equal in society unless we control our reproduction really resonated. This was very significant in terms of building mass support.

The other thing was reaching out to groups representing women of colour, immigrant women, low-income women - groups that were not necessarily seen as part of the women's movement. The right to abortion was not enough. Alone, it left too many women in the background. This touched on the issues of forced and coerced sterilization as well.

The clinic as a symbol of resistance to an unjust law

I can't go into the details of how OCAC organized. But in brief, the clinic opened, it was shut down, three doctors were arrested, all the equipment was removed. At that point, of course, the government was going to pursue charges. The lawyers were saying, let it be, the judges are going to decide this. OCAC argued, no, we have to re-open the clinic. We have to keep building. We have to have a focus. The clinic is a symbol of resistance to an unjust law. We have to open it, and we have to defend it.

The Catholic Church mobilized big time. They had demonstrations of 1,000, 2,000, and 3,000 people. OCAC put out a call for an emergency demonstration, people organized in their unions, OCAC drove through neighbourhoods with speakers on the car, asking for people to come out. 10,000 people showed up and marched from Queens Park to the clinic, and said, The people have spoken, the clinic will stay open!

Supreme Court decision, because of the movement

From 1983 to 1988 when the Supreme Court decision came, OCAC argued that we have to be active and we have to be struggling. Without that, the Supreme Court decision would not have been what it was. The Supreme Court decision was a collective victory of all the people who were part of keeping the clinic open, defending it, and everything that went into that.

In 1988, the Supreme Court struck down the abortion law. There now is no abortion law. It is like getting an appendectomy or any other medical procedure a patient needs.

Of course, that didn't last very long. The Tories came back and tried to re-criminalize abortion. But the pro-choice movement didn't demobilize. In 1988, the anti-choice movement mobilized and tried to shut down the clinics. This was from the US, the first "Operation Rescue" movement. We had a pitched battle to move the anti-choice people from the clinic and keep the clinic open. All different activists were there - people from the gay community, labour activists, peace activists, Jack Layton was there.

The police were called in at 9:00 a.m., but they didn't start removing people until 3 in the afternoon. What did they care? They were no friends of women's rights. And again, there were arguments within the movement. "Let the police do their job. We don't want to create a war zone, we don't want to look crazy." But OCAC wanted to show that the community supported the clinics. This was very important to the debates that were happening in Parliament.

From 1988 to 1991, we turned the anti-choice strategy on its head. They were trying to take the mantle of the civil rights movement, saying they were defending the unborn. Where in reality, they were more like the Ku Klux Klan, stopping black kids from going to integrated schools in the US, by keeping women from getting to clinics. We pulled the rug out from under them. And the movement to re-criminalize abortion failed.

We did succeed in stopping the re-criminalization of abortion. But it was very close. It passed the House of Commons, got to the Senate, and we thought, this is it. We're going to have this law. And then it was a vote of 43 senators for and 43 senators against. We didn't even know what that meant!

As it turned out, it meant that it failed. That's why there's no abortion law in this country. It came down to one Senator. She was whipped, but she voted against it.

Just after that, the Morgentaler clinic in Toronto was firebombed. That was the last gasp of a movement that did not speak for the majority. It had lost the fight on the streets and, therefore, in the courts and in the legislature.

Now all they have is stealth

Now the only way they've been able to introduce anti-choice measures is by stealth. Everything Judith talked about is happening here, too. It's the only way they can take it on. Polls show the pro-choice majority is larger than ever.

They're not giving up, of course. But the lessons of how we mobilize, how we build support, how we frame the issue as a class issue, how we do it for ourselves, these lessons still hold. Millions of millions of people across the country feel it was their victory. We drove the anti-choice movement out. We demoralized them. Now when they stand on the street corner with their signs, they get abused.

Of course we must be vigilant. The Harper Tories have revitalized the anti-choice movement. It's the same as in the UK. The zealots are off the leash. Harper can say he's not going after abortion, he can sit back and look moderate, while the backbenchers table these extreme motions. Jason Kenney, who's effectively the Deputy Prime Minister, was one of those anti-choice activists when he was younger, organizing on his college campus in the US.

The anti-choice learned lessons from how we won. They are announcing their own anti-abortion caravan. They think they can reproduce what we did, driving to Ottawa. I don't think they're going to succeed, but the fact that they feel they can try that is significant.

The young women who have been mobilizing against this have been phenomenal. We need to keep mobilizing, and to remember that's how we won that victory in the first place.

Selections from the floor

- Right and access to abortion as the cornerstone of women's equality and freedom

- Parallels between UK and Canadian situation

- Anti-choice movement is determined to roll back abortion rights, and the Conservatives are determined to do the same. The dynamic of Harper pretending he's not anti-choice while they continue to go through the back door is very effective and insidious.

- We have to stay vigilant, but we can't hit the panic button all the time.

- Our debates within our movements are incredibly important. For example, if we hadn't won the debate about allowing a male doctor to open that clinic and put all our support into that clinic - and if we didn't win the debate about not leaving it to lobbying politicians, but building a mass movement in the streets - and if we didn't win the debate on including men - we wouldn't have had those victories. If we hadn't framed the right to abortion as a class issue, if we hadn't won the debate to bring the issue to the unions, none of these victories would have been possible.

- Anti-choice rhetoric often succeeds ideologically. Even some pro-choice people call abortion "a tragedy", rather than a simple fact of women's healthcare. They may not win in court or legislature but they often win the ideological debate. We have to address these debates within our movement. "There are not 'too many' abortions. The right number of abortions is the number of abortions women need."

- Sometimes there is religious bigotry sometimes mixed in the pro-choice movement: anti-Catholic or anti-Muslim sentiment. Another way of dividing us that we must address. Some people believe if we got rid of religion, there would be no anti-choice movement. But the desire to control women's bodies is not only grounded in religion.

- The right to choose extends to all aspects of our lives. The right to wear a hijab is the right to choose. Decouple pro-choice movement from anti-religious sentiments.

- So many young women are getting involved in the pro-choice movement. They grew up with this right, took it for granted, but now are angry that people are trying to take that right away.

- Abortion is a human right. Reproductive rights are human rights.

- Fewer doctors training in termination. Another way of shutting down clinics.

- Even the fear of re-criminalization hurts us all - women afraid to seek help, trying self-induced abortions.

- Women in New Brunswick, who have to pay for abortion, and women in PEI, who have to travel to New Brunswick for abortions, are fed up and agitating for an end to that.

- We will not have women's freedom until we have the end of capitalism. And we will not have the end of capitalism until we have women's freedom. This is at the heart of our vision of society.