dr george tiller and seven other human beings

Someone suggested this was buried in my earlier post, so here it is again.

Dr. Tiller was the 4th abortion provider, and the 8th person overall, murdered by anti-choice terrorists in the US since 1993. The victims, in order of their deaths:
Dr. David Gunn
Dr. John Britton
James Barrett, clinic escort
Shannon Lowney, clinic receptionist
Lee Ann Nichols, clinic receptionist
Robert Sanderson, off-duty police officer working as a security guard
Dr. Barnett Slepian
Dr. George Tiller

dr george tiller, in memoriam: why we must continue the fight

I never met Dr Tiller personally, but I knew him by reputation, and the reproductive rights community I was a part of had worked with him on several desperate occasions. He was a man of great moral and physical courage. He put the right of women to control their own lives ahead of his own safety, and he paid the ultimate price.

In Dr Tiller's honour, I am re-posting what I wrote for this year's Blog For Choice. (I'm omitting a few paragraphs that are not relevant here.)

It's a reminder for all of us: never stop fighting. Never stop. The struggle for reproductive rights is the struggle for freedom and equality. Dr Tiller lost his life in this struggle. We can honour him by continuing his work.

* * * *

In 2002, in New York City, I joined a network of activists and volunteers called The Haven Coalition. I worked with Haven in some capacity until a few months before we moved to Canada.

My work with The Haven Coalition was by far the most challenging, exciting, exhausting, and rewarding activism I have ever done. For me it was the culmination of 25 years in the pro-choice movement.

What did The Haven Coalition do? We helped women who were forced to travel to New York City for second trimester abortions. [It still does.]

. . . .

I often refer to The Haven Coalition on this blog, but I thought I would use Blog For Choice Day - the anniversary of the Roe v Wade decision in the US - as an opportunity to write about it at length. And so, a Haven FAQ.

When I talk to pro-choice friends about Haven, they are often surprised that women needed to come to New York City for a procedure.

Why is Haven needed?

In US states, myriad obstacles stand between a woman who needs to terminate a pregnancy and her ability to do so. None are more pervasive and more dire than availability and income.

  • In 2000, 87% of US counties had no abortion provider. Thirty-four percent of women aged 15-44 live in those counties. Eighty-six of the US's 276 metropolitan areas had no provider.

  • In some states, a first-trimester abortion can cost more than a family of four receives in public assistance in a month.

  • Twenty-six states fund abortion in cases of threat to life, rape, or incest only. All must be proven in court.

  • Three US states prohibit the use of any state funds for abortion whatsoever. They have refused to comply with a federal law requiring states to provide Medicaid funding for abortion in cases of life endangerment, rape, or incest.

  • Four states will fund abortion where there is threat to a woman's life or health, rape, incest, and some other reasons, such as verifiable abuse or mental health issues. All require several court appearances.

  • Four states prohibit private insurers from covering abortion.

    For a longer list of obstacles, and sources, see my post here.

    For a woman who wants to terminate a pregnancy, the further the pregnancy advances, the more complicated - and expensive - the procedure. If a woman of very limited means is trying to scrape together the $500 she needs for a first-trimester abortion, by the time she has $500, the procedure might cost $800. If she can manage to get her hands on that princely sum, the procedure now costs $2,500 and requires an overnight stay. This is known in the movement as "chasing the funds".

    Anti-abortion terrorism and intimidation have blown a gaping hole in medical education and experience. In many states, there are simply no abortion providers experienced in second-trimester abortions. In the few states where some doctors perform the procedure, the fee might be $4,000. But in New York City, the same procedure will cost between $1,500 and $2,500. Even throwing in the cost of a bus ticket, that's a substantial difference.

    But how is the woman going to manage in New York City? Where is she going to stay? That's where we came in.

    What does Haven actually do?

    I haven't been active in Haven in more than three years, so protocol may have changed substantially. But when I was there, this is the basic outline of what we did.

    The Haven coordinator gets a phone call from the clinic with some basic information about the patient. Is she alone or with a partner or friend? How old is she? Can she stay at a home with a dog or cat?

    Then the Haven coordinator on duty - the person who "has the phone" that week, as we would say - consults her calendar of hosts, and her list of emergency hosts, and she makes phone calls. (I'll skip all the fun stuff that made us tear our hair out.)

    Usually the clinic social worker was also calling a different, related group that raised money for the procedure itself.

    When the Haven coordinator finds a host, the host goes to the clinic and picks up the patient. Sometimes the host can't do this until later, so a different Haven volunteer goes to the clinic, and brings the woman to a coffee shop, where they'll hang out and wait together, or perhaps the second volunteer delivers the patient to the host's apartment. The idea is that the patient - pregnant, and in the middle of a medical procedure - isn't alone, and certainly doesn't have to negotiate New York City public transportation on her own.

    The host feeds the patient dinner, and puts her up for the night. In the morning, the host brings the patient back to the clinic to finish her procedure.

    Some nights we had no patients. Some nights we had 3 or 4 patients, doubled up in a host's home, or spread out all over the city.

    Who are our patients?

    Low-income women. They came from Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, Massachusetts, Maine, and many other states. They came by bus, over 10- and 20-hour rides. They usually already had children.

    Our youngest patient was 11 years old. She was impregnated by her father. She didn't even know she was pregnant until an aunt noticed her belly.

    One woman I hosted told me she had been raped. I have to assume there were many others in the same situation.

    Many patients simply had all the children they could possibly afford and manage.

    But you know what? It wasn't my business.

    Birth control fails, women become pregnant, and a blob of cells is not as important as a living woman's life and the life of her family. Period. For various reasons, in women's difficult lives, unwanted pregnancies can advance longer than the woman wants them to. But that's no reason to force a woman to bear a child, or to bring an unwanted child into the world.

    I can think of few things more horrific than being forced to bear a child against my will. It was these women's Constitutional right - and, much more importantly, their human right - to control their bodies. I was there to help them to do that, not to pry into their lives and judge how they ended up in this desperate place.

    People who oppose abortion love to tell stories about how they, or their moms, or someone else they know, had a baby under difficult circumstances. Such stories abound. But they don't negate another woman's right to not have a child. First of all, most of these women already had children under difficult circumstances. And second of all, so what?? What does anyone else's story have to do with this woman, who wants and needs to terminate this pregnancy? You might do differently, but you ain't her.

    Remember my post, thoughts on privilege? This is where we have to think about privilege.

    Why is Haven necessary?

    Before Haven existed, pregnant women in the middle of a termination procedure had spent the night in the bus terminal or McDonald's. End of discussion.

    * * * *

    Haven was founded by Catherine Megill, a Canadian, who has since returned to Montreal, where she is studying at McGill University and (last I heard) plans to become an abortion provider. She worked at a clinic in New York City, and when a patient had no place to spend the night, Cat invited the patient to her home. That's how Haven was born.

    Cat passed the torch to Shauna Shames, and Shauna ran Haven single-handedly - one woman, a cell phone and a rag-tag group of volunteers. I found Haven in 2002 through this story in the Village Voice. So did a lot of other people, and Haven's hosting roster expanded from 8 to 15.

    I hosted a few times, and sometimes picked women up at the bus station (after they had spent the night on a bus), took them out for breakfast and brought them to the clinic. After a few experiences like that, I realized I wanted to help coordinate the growing volunteer network.

    The organization was now too large and successful for one person to run, especially one person who had a full-time job and a life to live. Shauna passed the phone to a coordinating team, which included me.

    When I left Haven leadership, we had 30 hosts. At that time, Haven had served a total of 378 women for 474 nights. I notice according to the little Haven website, the organization has now hosted 700 women for more than 800 nights. It's also now an official nonprofit organization - a move I opposed during my tenure, and I hope it's worked out well for them. I will send this post to some current Haven people, and maybe they'll come by to tell us how they're doing now.

    While writing this post, I looked through some of my old Haven files. Here are excerpts from two "case histories" I collected.

    Helping "S", from Massachusetts and on crutches, was a huge team effort involving a small army of transportation, coffee-shop, and hosting help. S and I were in a cab stuck in traffic, so I got to hear a piece of her story.
    Being pregnant and not wanting to be was the most sickening, horrible feeling in the world. I thought I was only 3-4 weeks along, I would take that pill. When they told me I was 19 weeks – too far along for an abortion in my state – I almost threw up from fear. I felt like I had been told I had an incurable disease, like I was dying. And then, when I heard about Haven and found out I could come to New York City, it's like I had been told a cure has been discovered.

    The town where I go to school is very wealthy, but one town over, it is dirt poor. You go to the mall there and see 16-year-old girls pushing baby carriages. Girls with no future. Girls with these dull looks on their faces, as if their lives have already hit a dead end, and they're only teenagers. And what about the baby? Being unwanted every day while it's in the womb, being hated, being despised – it's got to affect the child when it's born. How horrible to be brought into the world unwanted and unloved!

    I didn't tell my ex-boyfriend. I knew he'd want me to keep it. He couldn't make me keep it, but I thought he would tell my parents, to get back at me. My parents are Catholic and very conservative. I could never tell them.

    The clinic did the procedure at a huge discount. They basically took what I had as payment. When I have more money, I'm going to make a donation to them. I actually have private health insurance, but I can't use it, since my parents might find out that way.

    But more than the money, everyone at the clinic was so nice to me. Everyone from Haven was so generous and kind. And people were so trusting! [Host] left me alone in her apartment! They say if you want to find a crazy person, come to New York City. But here you all are, doing this amazing work. It shows you what stereotypes are worth.

    "D", in her early 40s, was originally from Guatemala. She has been living in Rhode Island for several years with her two sons, then 8 and 12, and with her elderly mother. She does not have a green card or any legal status in the US. She uses a friend's name and ID to work and support her family of four. D's host told us this.
    D had been with the same boyfriend for three years. When she told him she was pregnant, he left her. She was too far along for an abortion in Rhode Island.

    D struggled long and hard with the decision, especially because her mother is very religious and doesn't believe in abortion. Finally she decided it was the right thing to do for herself and her family.

    D came to the clinic we usually work with, where it was discovered that she had a medical condition making the procedure too risky for them. They referred D to [a hospital clinic that Haven occasionally works with], where they take the riskier cases.

    D traveled from Providence to [the first clinic] to [the hospital] herself, getting very lost, frustrated, and scared. Then she spent all day at the hospital getting run around. No one knew what procedure she was supposed to have, who was paying for it, or anything else.

    Finally [a Haven host] brought her home for a good meal and a night's sleep. They returned to the hospital together the next day. She had her procedure, then spent the night at a different host's home.

    Throughout both days she kept worrying about and calling her sons and her elderly mother to make sure they were okay. She told her mother she was visiting a sick friend in NYC.

    D needed a doctor's note for work, but it couldn't use the word abortion and couldn't use her real name! [The Haven host] helped D find a doctor willing to do this. Then the host took D back to the bus station, insisting she call from Providence to let me know she made it all right.

    For more examples, click here, and go to "stories".

    * * * *

    Although my current activism seems so different from this past experience, the War Resisters Support Campaign and the Haven Coalition have more in common than you may think.

    One link is right there in the name: haven. The Haven Coalition offered refuge - a safe port in a storm. Exactly what I want Canada to be for war resisters.

    The other common thread is personal autonomy, or you can call it bodily integrity. No one should be forced to bear a child against her wishes. No one should be forced to kill or to knowingly put themselves in grave danger of being killed, disabled, or traumatized.

    Every person should be free to live life as she or he sees fit. Period.
  • media release from family of george tiller; list of victims

    Media statement from the family of the late Dr George Tiller, assassinated this morning in Kansas. The statement was issued through his lawyers, at the request of his widow, Jeanne Tiller and the Tiller's four children and ten grandchildren.
    Today we mourn the loss of our husband, father and grandfather. Today's event is an unspeakable tragedy for all of us and for George's friends and patients. This is particularly heart wrenching because George was shot down in his house of worship, a place of peace.

    We would like to express the family's thanks for the many messages of sympathy from our friends and from all across the nation. We also want to thank the law enforcement officers who are investigating this crime.

    Our loss is also a loss for the City of Wichita and women across America. George dedicated his life to providing women with high-quality heath care despite frequent threats and violence. We ask that he be remembered as a good husband, father and grandfather and a dedicated servant on behalf of the rights of women everywhere.

    Dr. Tiller was the 4th abortion provider, and the 8th person overall, murdered by anti-choice terrorists in the US since 1993. The victims:
    Dr. David Gunn
    Dr. John Britton
    James Barrett, clinic escort
    Shannon Lowney, clinic receptionist
    Lee Ann Nichols, clinic receptionist
    Robert Sanderson, off-duty police officer working as a security guard
    Dr. Barnett Slepian
    Dr. George Tiller

    breaking news: heroic reproductive rights doctor george tiller has been murdered

    A hero of reproductive freedom has been murdered.

    Dr. George Tiller of Wichita, Kansas, was shot dead this morning as he walked into church.

    That's all I know so far.

    Local story here.

    Dr. Tiller was the doctor of last resort for many American women and girls who needed to terminate pregnancies and were unable to obtain procedures elsewhere. He was a steadfast supporter of women's control over their own bodies.

    Now he is dead.


    New York Times:
    Wichita police said that the shots were fired from a handgun in the church lobby during the morning service. The authorities gave few details, but said they were searching for a powder blue Taurus made in the 1990s that had been seen leaving shortly after the shooting. They said witnesses had described seeing a white man departing. ...

    In 1993, he was shot in both arms by an abortion opponent but recovered.

    * * * *

    Shooter's description:
    The suspect fled the scene and authorities are still investigating. His car is described as a powder blue or light blue Taurus with a K-State vanity plate, license number 225 BAB. He is described as a white male in his 50’s or 60’s, 6’1,” 220 lbs, wearing a white shirt and dark pants.

    * * * *

    I am sick over this horrible, horrible news. In this BBC story, it says:
    We denounce vigilantism and the cowardly act that took place this morning," anti-abortion group Operation Rescue said on its website.

    The hell they do. They all but pulled the trigger.

    Tiller is the fourth abortion provider in the US targeted and killed because of his work since 1993.

    katha pollitt: "we are so used to violence against women we don't even notice how used to it we are"

    From the one and only Katha Pollitt, writing in The Nation.
    On May 6 Johanna Justin-Jinich, a Wesleyan University student, was gunned down in the school's bookstore, almost certainly by 29-year-old Stephen Morgan. My daughter is a senior at Wesleyan, and so I got to see part of the aftermath close up: young people stunned, scared, in tears, confined to their rooms because Morgan was still loose. News accounts make Justin-Jinich seem outstanding in many ways: altruistic, brilliant, full of life, much loved. But in one way, she was far from unusual. She was a woman killed by a man because she was a woman.

    We are so used to violence against women we don't even notice how used to it we are. When we're not persuading ourselves that women are just as violent toward men as vice versa if you forget about who ends up seriously injured or dead, or pointing out that most murders are of men by men, we persuade ourselves that violence against women just comes up out of nowhere. Murder is serious, especially if the victim is young, white, middle-class, pretty; harassment, abuse, domestic violence, even rape, not so much. After all, as I'm writing, I read that Houston, taking a leaf from Sarah Palin's Wasilla, is requiring rape victims to pay for the processing of their rape kits. Los Angeles has a backlog of 12,669 unprocessed rape kits, some so old the crimes have exceeded the statute of limitations. It's controversial to even use terms like "misogyny" and "male privilege" to explain the prevalence of these crimes and the shameful inadequacy of our social and legal response to them. And if you really want to be branded a square and a prude, try talking about the hatred and contempt for, and objectification of, women that permeates pop culture.

    Before Morgan allegedly murdered Justin-Jinich, he stalked her. After the two took the same summer course at NYU in 2007, he made repeated "unwanted" "insulting" phone calls and sent her thirty-eight hostile e-mails ("You're going to have a lot more problems down the road if you can't take any [expletive] criticism, Johanna"--a threat that has "I deserve to control and punish you, bitch" written all over it). The story gets a little unclear here: Justin-Jinich went to campus authorities, who referred her to the police, but like most victims, she declined to prosecute, and Morgan left town before he could be served with an order of protection. So, a situation important enough to warrant at least some legal intervention just vanished when the stalker moved away. "There was no way to foresee the sudden, nightmarish sequel," writes Robert McFadden in the New York Times. Really?

    Stalking is a serious crime and a common one. According to a 2009 Bureau of Justice Statistics report, about 3.4 million people, 74 percent of them female, said they had been stalked in a single year. ...

    Read it here.

    bush protest in t.o.: brief report and links to video

    The Bush-Clinton demo was great! The weather was gorgeous, and people started gathering in Simcoe Park (next to the CBC building and across from the Metro Convention Centre where Bush and Clinton were appearing) long before the 3:00 start time.

    There was music, food, information tables, an art area where people were painting, and signs galore. A huge canvas with Bush's face was unrolled, and people were invited to take turns throwing shoes at it. When the kids present took their turn - children of US war resisters and some little girls in hijabs - the cameras were rolling.

    The festivities went on for about two hours before the main rally began. Two "prisoners" in orange jumpsuits - heads covered in hoods, wrists shackled - were led to the stage. We all donned latex gloves smeared with red paint, symbolizing the blood on Bush's hands. The organizers - mostly people from the Toronto Coalition to Stop the War with an assist from the War Resisters Support Campaign - did an brilliant job of making our cause visible.

    The Convention Centre facade is glass, and people attending the Bush-Clinton event lined up at an upper window to gawk and take pictures on their cell phones. Many hundreds of us were amassed at the barricades, facing them, holding signs and raised fists, and chanting, "Arrest George Bush!". The air was crackling with our energy and our anger.

    I was very disappointed not to make it to the first night of "Global Crisis, Global Resistance," this year's Marxism conference. Friday night was the only time I could attend, but after leafletting, tabling, chanting and such, all of it on our feet and most of it in the sun, then helping to clean up a bit, we needed to sit, and to eat something, and it was suddenly too late to go. But it was great to be a part of the demo.

    I did hear that Matthis Chiroux was unable to participate. He was supposed to speak by Skype from his hospital bed, but was not able to. That was a disappointment, but also a small consolation for me, as he was the speaker I most wanted to hear.

    Here are links to some photos and videos from the day. If you find any others, please leave them in comments and I'll update the post.

    This Newsfix video is a good summary of the event. Look for the back of our huge yellow banner as organizer James Clark is being interviewed.

    This NewsFix link has video of shoe-throwing kids, and of activist hip-hop artist Ali Ameer. Don't miss the slideshow on the same page.

    Photos from a demonstrator on Flickr.

    Pictures and video on CBC. That huge yellow banner reads "STOP DEPORTING US WAR RESISTERS!" and it was in the front of the demo for a long time.


    think globally, resist locally: resistance today in toronto

    I'm excited about the Bush protest today. There should be a strong turnout and a fair amount of media. War resister Joshua Key, in town for his court-ordered IRB hearing next week, will be among the speakers.

    Tonight, I'm attending the kick-off event of "Global Crisis, Global Resistance," this year's Marxism conference, an annual event organized by International Socialists Canada. I'll be working on the weekend, as always, but I'm very glad that I can attend this one event. Speakers include:

  • Matthis Chiroux, a US Army Sergeant who refused to deploy to Iraq,

  • Darshika Selvasivam, a Tamil refugee from Sri Lanka, and recently-elected Vice President Campaigns & Advocacy at the York Federation of Students,

  • Nikos Lountos, a graduate student from Greece, and a participant in the mass movement sparked last December,

  • John Cartwright, President, Toronto & York Region Labour Council, and

  • Virgnia Rodino, a US anti-war activist and socialist.

    It promises to be an enlightening and inspiring evening. Tickets are only $5, and it's not too late to buy one at the door.

    Friday, May 29, 2009
    7:00 p.m. - 9:00 p.m.
    Ryerson Students' Centre, 55 Gould Street, Toronto

    * * * *

    Matthis Chiroux was a US Army photojournalist who announced his refusal to deploy to Iraq at last year's Winter Soldier Iraq/Afghanistan event.
    Good afternoon. My name is Sgt. Matthis Chiroux, and I served in the Army as a Photojournalist until being honorably discharged last summer after over four years of service in Afghanistan, Japan, Europe and the Phillipines. As an Army journalist whose job it was to collect and filter servicemember's stories, I heard many stomach-churning testimonies of the horrors and crimes taking place in Iraq. For fear of retaliation from the military, I failed to report these crimes, but never again will I allow fear to silence me. Never again will I fail to stand.

    In February, I received a letter from the Army ordering my return to active duty, for the purpose of mobilization for Operation Iraqi Freedom. Thanks in great part to the truths of war being fearlessly spoken by my fellow IVAW members, I stand before you today with the strength, clarity and resolve to declare to the military and the world that this Soldier will not be deploying to Iraq.

    This occupation is unconstitutional and illegal and I hereby lawfully refuse to participate as I will surely be a party to war crimes. Furthermore, deployment in support of illegal war violates all of my core values as a human being, but in keeping with those values, I choose to remain in the United States to defend myself from charges brought by the Army if they so wish to pursue them. I refuse to participate in the occupation of Iraq.

    Matthis' blog is here: Matthis Resists.
  • 5.28.2009

    mary jo leddy: will canada be a colony of empire or a country of conscience?

    There's an excellent op-ed in today's Toronto Star. Writer Mary Jo Leddy is a theologian and activist, well known for her work on behalf of refugees.

    Immigration Minister Jason Kenney called US war resisters "bogus refugees," prejudicing what is supposed to be an independent, apolitical process. But people who work with refugees disagree.
    Let Iraq war resisters stay here
    Mary Jo Leddy

    Jeremy Hinzman was a soldier in the United States Army's elite infantry division, the 82nd Airborne. In 2002 and 2003 he served in Afghanistan in a non-combat role after applying for conscientious objector status. His application was refused and he learned that he would be deployed to Iraq. In January 2004 he drove to Niagara Falls, crossing the border with his partner Nga Nguyen and son Liam.

    Hinzman was the first American Iraq war resister to seek refuge in Canada. Since then many others have joined him here realizing that were they to stay in the United States, they would be punished for their moral, political and religious beliefs.

    In the coming days, Hinzman is expected to receive notice that he will be deported. Like Robin Long and Cliff Cornell, who were deported by the Harper government and sentenced respectively to 15 and 12 months in prison, Hinzman will be jailed as a prisoner of conscience.

    For what crime were Long and Cornell sentenced to a year or more in prison?

    During Long's court martial, the only piece of evidence presented against him was a video of him speaking out against the Iraq war on Canadian television. For Cornell, it was a clip of him being interviewed on CNN.

    Ninety-four per cent of U.S. military deserters are administratively discharged. Those who have had the courage to make their opposition to the war public, like Long and Cornell, are convicted as felons. In many states that means they will be stripped of the right to vote and in all cases it means they won't be permitted to return to Canada.

    Ever since the Nuremberg Trials, a new principle has entered the realities of modern warfare: the argument that one must follow orders in all circumstances is no longer justified. Following orders is not the ultimate test of patriotism. This is especially true in the case of an illegal, immoral and, in Barack Obama's words, "a dumb war" like that which is still being fought in Iraq.

    Our former prime minister Jean Chrétien refused to send Canadian troops to Iraq, in spite of all the dire consequences he was threatened with. To this day, Canadians continue to support that decision with what pollsters call "statistical unanimity."

    As a graduate student at the University of Toronto, I studied with many of those who came here because of resistance to the Vietnam War. They were allowed to stay and our country has been immensely enriched by this wave of immigrants who were willing to commit to the civil society that welcomed their ideas and values.

    We would be a better country for welcoming Iraq war resisters, too.

    In the last 11 months Parliament has twice voted for an end to these deportations. Our government has also been directed by the majority of MPs to establish a program to facilitate permanent resident status for Iraq war resisters.

    Despite these democratic expressions of the will of the majority of Canadians, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney refuses to take action to accept Iraq war resisters' requests to stay on humanitarian and compassionate grounds.

    As citizens, Canadians have the choice of whether we are going to be a colony of empire or a country of conscience.

    Our government emphasizes programs for immigrants who make money. We also need immigrants who make sense.

    If you agree, please consider sending a letter to the Star in support: lettertoed@thestar.ca. Leaving a supportive comment on the Star's website is good, but emailing a letter is better.

    let them stay: calendar of important events

    There are several things you can do to help war resisters stay safe in Canada until we can get rid of this anti-democratic government, enact the will of the people and of Parliament, and Let Them Stay.

    First, you can watch part of a past event.

    I was unable to attend the public forum last Friday, May 22, "Why George Bush Should Be Charged With War Crimes," but I heard it was terrific. There were two speakers: Michael Mandel, a renowned expert in international law and war crimes, and Chuck Wiley, a 17-year veteran of the US military, who refused to participate in human rights abuses in Iraq, told the soldiers in his command the truth, and came to Canada rather than submit to punishment for exercising his own conscience. I'm told that Chuck cautioned the audience that Canada is not as far from the US as we might like to think - that the country is headed in the same direction and it's up to us to pull it back.

    Michael Mandel's talk is available on YouTube: Part One, Part Two, Part Three and Part Four. I believe it's 30 minutes total.

    Here are some upcoming events that Toronto-area supporters can attend:

  • Tomorrow, Friday, May 29: Former Presidents George Bush and Bill Clinton will be in Toronto. Join us to say: "War Criminals Are Not Welcome Here!"

    Canada is refusing to allow peace activists like retired US Army colonel Ann Wright and British MP George Galloway to cross its borders, deporting people of conscience who refused to kill innocent people, but allowing bona fide war criminals to use our country and city for profitable speaking engagements. (Top tickets are priced at $2500.) We say: war resisters in, war criminals out!

    The festivities will begin at 3:00, with the main rally starting from 5:00 to 6:00. Metro Toronto Convention Centre, 255 Front Street West. Be there, and bring your shoes! More details here.

  • On Wednesday, June 3, the Immigration and Refugee Board will hear the case of war resister Joshua Key for the second time. Last summer, the Federal Court ordered the IRB to re-hear Josh's case with a new immigration officer.

    In a strongly worded opinion, Justice Robert Barnes said, "Officially condoned military misconduct falling well short of a war crime may support a claim to refugee protection". This is the first of the war resisters' cases to make it this far, and we have been eagerly awaiting the hearing.

    You can show your support for Josh and for all the war resisters in Canada by attending a vigil outside the IRB on Wednesday morning: 74 Victoria Street, east of Yonge, south of Queen, subway to Queen Street. We will gather at 8:00 a.m., and supporters can attend the hearing at 8:30 as space permits. I will definitely be there!

  • On Friday, June 19, join us for dinner and an update on war resisters in Canada, with guest speaker Alyssa Manning and others. This is a fundraiser for legal defense and other costs: $20 and a cash bar.

    Steelworkers Hall, 25 Cecil Street. Doors open at 5:30, buffet dinner at 6:00, speakers at 7:00. Supporters, please mark your calendars!
  • 5.27.2009

    introducing "the mark"

    Some weeks back, I was invited to join The Mark, a Canadian news and opinion site recently launched by Torontonians Jeff Anders and Ali Rahnema. It looks like an excellent site, covering a wide range of news and views, with a clean, uncluttered look and an impressive roster of writers.

    I was very flattered to be asked, especially since the site will echo wmtc posts of my choice, and not require writing new material. Many of the group sites Allan and I have both been contacted by expect writers to crank out original work in exchange for the privilege of being featured at a new, still-unknown site. No thank you! But the people behind The Mark seem to have a more realistic view of what writing entails. It does seem like a quality site, and I agreed to join.

    While I put off submitting a photo and bio until I finished my grad school application, I was surprised to see this story about the site in the Globe and Mail.
    Whether it's a fundraiser or a news and opinion website, success can depend on the star power you trot out.

    Arianna Huffington, founder of the Huffington Post, is practically as much of a celebrity as the A-listers she corrals for her liberal news and opinion site, such as Bill Maher or Alec Baldwin.

    The same goes for Tina Brown, the former New Yorker and Vanity Fair editor and current publisher of the Daily Beast, a similarly popular site where you can find posts by Meghan McCain, daughter of John McCain, on why she loves guns, to Sir Elton John on bands the Rocket Man is listening to these days.

    Jeff Anders and Ali Rahnema may not have the glossy appeal of Ms. Huffington or Ms. Brown, but they have attracted a who's who of policy wonks and pundits to contribute to The Mark, their new Toronto-based site.

    Launched earlier this month, it offers aggregated news stories and original commentary dedicated, as the site explains, to analyzing the news of the day and shedding "light on the dusty old question of what it means to be Canadian."

    The DNA of the site's design is taken from its distant American cousins, but the content is decidedly domestic. The Mark lists a few Toronto luminaries, including businessman and philanthropist Alan Broadbent and Luminato chief executive officer Janice Price.

    Earlier this week, it featured a post on the current economic crisis by Environics Research founder Michael Adams and another, by communications specialist Sylvain Raymond, on the re-branding of the swine flu.

    "What we are going to try to do is give a platform to hyper-credible people who are completely unknown to the average Canadian," said Mr. Anders. "We want this to be the cross-section of ideas across every industry and every field of activity in the country."

    The name of the site is meant to reflect the "aspirational nature of this product," he added. " 'Make your mark' is what we say to our contributors. Have your ideas be on the mark."

    So either I can be included among "a who's who of policy wonks and pundits" (a very amusing thought!) or I am "hyper-credible [but] completely unknown to the average Canadian" (half true!). Or it's best not to believe your own publicity.

    Check them out, and expect to see wmtc there... eventually.

    in which parents try to close their children's minds, canadian edition

    I haven't been blogging about the epic battle between Knowledge and Ignorance currently being waged in Alberta. (It was mentioned in comments in this post about schools still fearing Harvey Milk.)

    Never having lived in or yet visited the province, anything I could write would be merely the obvious. But be assured I've been reading about this madness, and mentally holding my breath.

    I recommend this post from the four strong winds blog:

    In the battle over evolution in the classrooms, Alberta's Minister Lindsay Blackett claims to represent the silent majority (whatever that is).

    dale landry federal court appeal hearing, a campaigner's perspective

    I attended the Federal Court hearing for war resister Dale Landry yesterday. I'm not sure I can reproduce the same level of detail I did for Jeremy Hinzman's hearing, but I'll try to relate the highlights.

    A handful of core campaigners showed up at the court for the vigil, but everyone had to go to work, except Newfie Campaign Friend and I. Refugee lawyer Geraldine Sadoway, who was Alyssa Manning's mentor at the Parkdale legal clinic, was there with another young lawyer, and a group of people were there who might have been law students. But mostly it was just NCF and me. And as the hearing was very long and I had to catch a bus, during the Crown arguments, I scurried off and left NCF alone.

    * * * *

    Dale Landry was an airman in the United States Air Force. He served as a loadmaster in Afghanistan, which means he was involved in transporting detainees. There, he developed a strong moral objection to his military duties.

    Dale was scheduled to be deployed to Iraq, where he would also be involved in transporting innocent civilians who were arrested and detained. Knowing he wanted no part of that, he tried for two years to be excused from deployment. For his efforts, he was continually harassed, but deployment was inevitable.

    Dale attempted to apply for conscientious objector status, even knowing he wouldn't qualify for it. Almost no one in the US military qualifies as a conscientious objector as defined by the US Department of Defense: being opposed to all wars, always, for any reason, on specifically religious grounds.

    In addition, conscientious objector applications have to travel up the chain of command; any officer, at any point, can pull the plug. Still, Dale knew it might be important, and made the attempt. He submitted his application, and his commanding officer shredded it on the spot.

    In August of 2007, the Air Force gave Dale two options. He could submit to punishment for missing movement - 30 days of "corrective custody," meaning hard labour and incarceration - then be deployed to Iraq. Or he could be court martialled, then either dishonourably discharged (a felony conviction), or deployed to Iraq.

    Dale made a third choice: he came to Canada and applied for refugee status. The IRB rejected Dale's claim, but the Federal Court granted him leave to appeal that decision. Yesterday, Alyssa Manning argued Dale's case in front of Justice Sean Harrington of the Federal Court of Canada.

    Alyssa demonstrated how the Immigration and Refugee Board did not adequately assess Dale's qualifications for refugee status, by not analyzing his claim in relation to paragraph 171 of the Handbook of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. That paragraph states, in part:
    ...the type of military action with which an individual does not wish to be associated is condemned by the international community as contrary to basic rules of human conduct, punishment for desertion or draft-evasion could...in itself be regarded as persecution.

    Alyssa also referred to paragraph 169 of the Refugee Handbook, which states:
    A deserter or draft-evader may also be considered a refugee if it can be shown that he would suffer disproportionately severe punishment for the military offence on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion. The same would apply if it can be shown that he has a well-founded fear of persecution on these grounds above and beyond the punishment for desertion.

    Alyssa relied heavily on two previous decisions in war resister cases, those of Joshua Key and Corey Glass, for whom the court ordered a new IRB hearing and a new H&C review, respectively. (Josh's hearing, a landmark in our battle to Let Them Stay, is next week.)

    Using these decisions and others, Alyssa showed that if the specific duties a soldier is ordered to perform violate the Geneva Conventions and have been condemned by the international legal community - even if those orders fall well short of the legal definition of a war crime or crime against humanity - that a soldier has a responsibility to refuse those orders. And any punishment stemming from that refusal constitutes persecution.

    The soldier needn't object to all wars, or to the particular war as a whole. The soldier needn't prove war crimes were committed. (In fact, if the soldier was involved in the commission of war crimes, Canada would consider him a Excluded Person and he could not apply for refugee status.) However, Alyssa showed, a soldier has a fundamental right not to violate the dignity of others.

    When Alyssa said "condemned by the international legal community," the judge asked, "Like rendition, waterboarding and enhanced interrogation techniques?". The last one sounded sarcastic, like he knew full well what "enhanced interrogation" really meant.

    Alyssa argued that the severity of the punishment for deserting is not the central issue - that any punishment meted out for a person's moral or political beliefs is persecution. The Immigration Minister's assertion that war resisters will be afforded due process in the US is beside the point.

    In addition, in the court martials of war resisters such as Camilo Mejia, Stephen Funk, Kevin Benderman and others, the specific orders that soldiers object to have been consistently excluded as evidence. Therefore, when it comes to the real reasons for the soldier's objections, there is no due process anyway.

    Alyssa cited the new evidence, especially as demonstrated by military lawyer Eric Seitz, that war resisters who speak out publicly against the Iraq War are first selected for prosecution and then singled out for harsher punishment. She showed how the IRB did not adequately assess the risk to Dale and others. The IRB said there is state protection from these risks and due process involved, but they never assessed what the risks are, which is a large part of their mandate.

    Alyssa also argued that, regardless of Paragraph 171, the IRB's conclusions about state protection in the US were unreasonable. The IRB continues to insist that US war resisters could have availed themselves of options they do not actually have. In its decision, for example, the IRB characterizes Article 15, under which Dale would have received "corrective custody" plus deployment to Iraq, as a dispute resolution mechanism.

    According to the IRB and the Ministry, war resisters can supposedly apply for conscientious objector status, and "let the process take its full course" - a process for which they do not qualify, and over which they have no control. And they can supposedly take their cases to the US Supreme Court. This is, of course, a ridiculous fantasy. Or a brazen lie. Take your pick.

    One amusing moment came as the judge addressed Alyssa and drew an analogy to a corporate whistleblower who ends up getting fired. Alyssa paused for a moment, then replied, "In this case, the applicant wants to get fired."

    When Alyssa noted that a soldier has a duty to refuse illegal orders, the judge noted that a soldier also has a duty to loyalty. Alyssa said international standards, beginning with the Nuremberg Trials, through the Geneva Conventions and more recent affirmations, make it clear that the duty to refuse illegal orders trumps loyalty.

    Selecting soldiers who refuse illegal orders for prosecution constitutes persecution.

    Selecting soldiers who speak out against the war for harsher punishment is further persecution.

    The judge asked, "So you're guaranteed status in Canada if you shout from the rooftops once you get here?"

    NCF and I looked at each other with raised eyebrows, but of course Alyssa was prepared. She made it clear that Dale spoke out against the war before coming to Canada, and before this pattern of selective punishment was documented.

    * * * *

    I won't attempt to reproduce the Crown's case. They said Alyssa had misinterpreted the Hinzman decision, that the Key decision had no bearing on Dale's case, and that Dale was looking for "an easy exit from the military". Twice (in the portion I heard) the judge interrupted to correct the Crown. Once: "Of course he was not able to quit the military, that was the problem." And again: "But he deserted in order not to commit unlawful acts."

    Their case was brief and dishonest.

    If I had witnessed this proceeding last year, I would have come away feeling very hopeful for a victory. But I felt that way after the Jeremy's hearing, and Judge Russell ruled against. So I'm certainly not making any predictions about this.

    Josh's IRB hearing is on June 3. It has the potential to be a turning point in the campaign to make Canada a refuge from militarism. Stay tuned.

    california remains unequal, but the struggle continues

    Everyone is reeling from yesterday's Proposition 8 decision, as the California Supreme Court upheld the state's ban on same-sex marriages. It's a terrible decision. It's especially crazy in light of good news in Iowa, where the Supreme Court ruled it is unconstitutional to prohibit some citizens from marrying, and legislative victories in Vermont, Maine, New Hampshire, and New York.

    But as stupid and wrong the California Supreme Court decision is, I hope we can all keep the larger picture in mind. All struggles for equal rights are marked by setbacks and disappointments. But the opposition is on the wrong end of history. One day these anti-equal marriage decisions will look as foolish as the old laws prohibiting inter-racial marriages do now.

    The struggle continues, and it will not end, and it will prevail.


    cycle for sight: toronto to collingwood to cure blindness

    Ride For Sight is an annual motorcycle fundraising event that takes place in cities and towns all across Canada, supporting research into cures for blindness.

    This year, a small group of people have organized a complimentary green event: Cycle For Sight. On June 20, participants will cycle 133 kilometres from Toronto to Collingwood, Ontario.

    Two friends of mine, Phil McDowell and Jamine Aponte, are among the riders. Phil and Jamine came to Canada when Phil refused to participate in the war in Iraq.

    Phil volunteered for the US Army after 9/11, and was sent to Iraq. He served a full tour of duty, and was disgusted by the human-rights violations he saw there, and by discovering that the war was based on lies. When he came home, Phil separated from the Army with an honourable discharge. He was then involuntarily re-enlisted: stop-lossed. After exploring all his legal options - and finding he had none - Phil came to Canada, and Jamine followed. They have been living and working in Toronto for almost three years.

    Cyling 133 kilometers for charity is typical Phil and Jamine. They're both athletic and outdoorsy, environmentally conscious, and always ready to give of themselves.

    I've sponsored each of them with a small donation. Perhaps you will, too, or make a small pledge for another rider. Details here.


    "just one more thing, soldier": resisting reactivation through the irr

    Sarah Lazare, Project Director of Courage To Resist, has an excellent piece on Common Dreams about war resister Matthew Dobbs.
    "I felt like I was being robbed of everything," Matthew Dobbs said over the phone from his home in Houston, Texas. "I had visions of military police banging down my door and dragging me back to war."

    Dobbs, a 26 year-old former soldier who served a tour in Afghanistan from 2003-2004, was recounting a story that has become familiar in the ongoing Global War on Terror. It is the story of a soldier who, after serving a tour overseas and being discharged from Active Duty, received involuntary orders to re-deploy to Iraq or Afghanistan years later.

    Dobbs was not a victim of stop-loss, the policy of involuntarily extending a GI's term of service, sometimes after multiple tours in combat zones. This practice has recently garnered widespread negative attention and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates claims that it will be phased out.

    Rather, Dobbs was a victim of reactivation orders from the Individual Ready Reserves (IRR), a lesser-publicized form of involuntary service that has been fueling troop supply for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. While there has been a strong reaction to stop-loss, IRR recall has slipped under the radar, creating the illusion that the problem of involuntary military service has been solved.

    Read it here.

    reminder: morning vigil for war resister dale landry tomorrow

    Tomorrow, May 26, Toronto-area supporters of US war resisters will gather outside the Federal Court to show support for former US soldier Dale Landry. Dale was granted leave to appeal the IRB's negative decision in his refugee claim.

    Dale is a principled and outspoken activist on behalf of peace, and for all other war resisters. He lives in the Parkdale section of Toronto and works at reBoot Canada, a nonprofit company that provides computers, training and technical support to charities and low-income people. Dale is an active member of the War Resisters Support Campaign, and a terrific guy.

    If you're in Toronto on Tuesday, please join us for a vigil in support of Dale, and if you can, attend the hearing.

    When: Tuesday, May 26, 8:30 a.m.
    Where: Federal Court Building, 180 Queen Street West (west of University)
    Subway: Osgoode

    wmtc4: recession special

    This year's wmtc backyard bash is a potluck. It's also on my birthday!

    Last year, wmtc3 was a fundraiser for the War Resisters Support Campaign. Although we raised a lot of money and it was a big success, I don't want people to start fearing our parties. ("Will we have to watch depressing videos?" "How much will this cost us?")

    If you're part of this blog community, and you can be in the Toronto area on June 13, and you didn't get an invite, it means I don't have your current email address. Get in touch with me. Don't be shy!

    in which i announce my obvious decision

    Last week - here and here - I announced my decision to go to graduate school in order to change the non-writing portion of my working life.

    I've been working on my application and I'm very pleased to announce... it is done! It really wasn't such a big deal.

    While I was writing the application, the answer to the pressing question - whether to begin this September or in September 2010 - became obvious. I don't feel ready to start this year, but waiting 15 months to begin seems ridiculous. Ideally, I'd start in January, but that's not an option. So ready or not, this year it is.

    It won't be the first time I accelerate or change my plans in order to take advantage of an opportunity, and I still have a few months to prepare myself, mentally and otherwise. Unfortunately, I'll have to start classes a little late, as we'll be out of town the first week of school. (Note to self: this will not be as nerve-wracking as starting high school three months late, on crutches, not knowing anyone in school. Do not have flashbacks.)

    I want to thank you all for your support and encouragement. It's been great to hear your stories about your own second or third careers, or people you know who began school or new careers later. I'm feeling better and better about the whole thing.

    The next step is to apply for a part-time job as a library page, to start accumulating hours with the union.


    remembering the magdalene laundries

    This is not topical to any current news story, but my previous post about systemic child abuse in Church-run institutions made me think of the Magdalene Laundries.

    From Wikipedia:
    Magdalene Asylums were institutions for so-called 'fallen women', most of them operated by different orders of the Roman Catholic Church. In most asylums, the inmates were required to undertake hard physical labour such as laundry work. In Ireland, such asylums were known as Magdalene Laundries. It has been estimated that 30,000 women were admitted during the 150-year history of these institutions, often against their will. The last Magdalene Asylum in Ireland closed on September 25, 1996.

    These "fallen women," were often girls who had gotten pregnant before marriage, including victims of rape or incest. Or they were girls accused of being sexually active. Or they were developmentally or mentally disabled, or mentally ill. Or they were outspoken, or strong-willed, or otherwise non-conforming.

    It goes without saying that if the girls were punished for being sexually active, no corresponding punishment was meted out to their male partners.

    The inmates of the Magdalene Laundries were slaves. I can think of no more accurate way to describe their condition. They were held against their will, and forced to work without compensation. They were brutally mistreated throughout their incarceration.

    I first heard of the Magdalene Laundries from a Joni Mitchell song on her album "Turbulent Indigo", which she also performs with The Chieftains on their "Tears of Stone".

    The haunting song was on my mind when I heard of a movie called "The Magdalene Sisters", written and directed by Peter Mullans. It's very good, and of course, extremely disturbing.

    That movie was inspired by a documentary about the Laundries called "Sex in a Cold Climate," directed by Steve Humphries, which I haven't seen yet.

    The movement to remember the women whose lives were stolen from them by the Magdalene Laundries is powered, in large part, by adopted people searching for their biological roots. Many Irish and English adopted people have learned that their mothers were sentenced to these asylums for the crime of being pregnant with them.

    Justice for Magdalenes and The Magdalene Story are run by survivors and searchers. Well worth a visit.

    retired archbishop: we didn't know raping children was a crime

    This has to be one of the more horrific indictments of the systemic abuse perpetrated and covered up by the Catholic Church that I've ever seen.

    From The Freethinker:
    Today we learn that a retired Catholic Archbishop in the US is claiming in a soon-to-be-published memoir that he did not comprehend the potential harm to young victims or understand that the priests had committed a crime.

    Rembert G Weakland: "We all considered sexual abuse of minors as a moral evil, but had no understanding of its criminal nature."

    Also cogent analysis from Atheist Revolution, tying Weakland's statements to the recent revelations of widespread abuse of Irish children in Catholic-run institutions, and of course, the subsequent conspiracy to cover it up.

    Back to The Freethinker:
    Weakland, who retired in 2002 after it became known that he paid $450,000 in 1998 to a man who had accused him of date rape years earlier, said he initially:
    Accepted naively the common view that it was not necessary to worry about the effects on the youngsters: either they would not remember or they would 'grow out of it'.

    Weakland's critics allege that, when he was Archbishop of Milwaukee, he had tried to cover up some of the widespread abuse that had taken place in the diocese – in particular by overseeing an evaluation in 1993 of Father Lawrence Murphy, one of those prosecuted for abuse.

    A 2003 report on the sexual abuse of minors by clergy in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Milwaukee revealed that allegations of sexual assaults on minors had been made against 58 ordained men, who were under the direct supervision of the Archbishop of Milwaukee.

    By early 2009, the Archdiocese of Milwaukee had spent approximately $26.5 million in attorney fees and settlements to victims.

    Weakland's words are contained in his memoir, A Pilgrim in a Pilgrim Church – and have infuriated those who suffered at the hands of the clergy.

    Said Peter Isely, Midwest director for the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP:
    It's beyond belief. He's either lying or he's so self-deceived that he's inventing fanciful stories. . . These have always been crimes.

    * * * *

    I'm fortunate that, through my activism and volunteer work around sexual assault, I've heard the stories of child sexual abuse and recovery from survivors themselves. So I have a very clear mental picture of the terror, the core insecurity, the shame, the confusion, the mental illness - and the long, long, painful recovery - that survivors endure.

    The people I knew had done a lot of healing work and had made it through. Many people aren't as lucky. Child sexual abuse is closely linked to a lifetime of poverty and "disorganization," a technical way of saying "a fucked-up life": traumatic and unhealthy personal sexual history, substance abuse, homelessness, violence, suicide.

    The stories I heard made me ashamed of working so hard to heal from my own one-time experience of sexual assault. I know the drill - "it's not a contest," as therapists and social workers love to say - and each of our pain is real and unique. The fact of someone else's child sexual abuse doesn't make the fact of my rape any less real. But I'll tell you, I found myself thinking, what happened to me was nothing compared to this. I marvelled at their strength and resiliency, the human will to survive and transcend.

    On the Catholic Church child abuse scandal, Irish edition, The Freethinker is very strong, worth reading.

    As always, full credit is due to the survivors. They have have resisted vast, powerful forces that demand their silence, but they have refused to be silent.

    Thanks to both James and Allan for sending the Weakland story.


    in which 6th-grade students need their parents' written permission to hear the words "harvey" and "milk"

    [Redsock guest post]

    At this point, all you can do is bang your head on your desk (my emphasis).
    The American Civil Liberties Union on Wednesday [May 20] threatened to sue a San Diego County school that refused to let a student present a report on slain gay rights leader Harvey Milk until her classmates got permission from their parents.

    David Blair-Loy, legal director of the ACLU of San Diego County, said the principal of Mt. Woodson Elementary School in Ramona violated the free speech rights of 6th-grader Natalie Jones, who was the only student in her class prevented from giving an in-class presentation.

    According to Blair-Loy and Natalie's mother, Mt. Woodson Principal Theresa Grace concluded last month that the subject of the girl's project triggered a district policy requiring parents to be notified in writing before their children are exposed to lessons dealing with sex.

    After the principal sent letters to parents alerting them about the "sensitive topic," Natalie was allowed to give her 12-page PowerPoint report during the May 8 lunch recess but not in class, Blair-Loy said. Eight of the 13 students in the class attended, he said.

    In a letter to the Ramona Unified District on Wednesday, the ACLU demanded that school officials apologize to Natalie and clarify its sex education policy. It also wants the girl to be given the chance to present her biographical account of Milk's life and death again in class.

    "It's not about sex, it's not about sex education. It's a presentation about a historical figure who happened to be gay," Blair-Loy said. ...

    Natalie's mother, Bonnie Jones, said her daughter was inspired to choose Milk as the subject of her research report after seeing the movie "Milk," which earned Academy Awards for actor Sean Penn and screenwriter Dustin Lance Black.

    "First my daughter got called into the principal's office as if she were in some kind of trouble, and then they treated her presentation like it was something icky," Jones said in a statement.

    "Harvey Milk was an elected official in this state and an important person in history," Jones added. "To say my daughter's presentation is sex education because Harvey Milk happened to be gay is completely wrong."

    It's unclear if the other five kids in the class were forbidden by their parents to hear the report or whether they had other plans during lunch.

    A PDF version of Natalie's report can be found here. I don't care if you are 4 or 94, you do not need anyone's permission to click on that link.

    "we've always done torture... the bush boys were only different in their open pursuit of this agenda"

    The Bush sins are unoriginal. We've always done torture. We've always been at war with a dehumanized (and usually dark-skinned) other . . . The cocky Bush boys were different only in their open pursuit of this agenda.
    -- Robert Koehler

    I've written copiously of my disgust for US liberal hand-wringing about how "America has lost her way" under the Cheney Administration, the amnesiac faction of the pseudo-left that insisted on seeing the invasion of Iraq as unprecedented. (Shall we ask the people of Vietnam, Iran, Guatemala, Congo, Cuba...?) These same liberals' willingness to believe a new person in the White House with a "D" next to his name would be the answer to the nation's problems was similarly maddening. It's as if everyone was born in the year 2000 and never read a history book.

    Now, the willingness of so many Democrat-voting USians to accept whatever Obama does is correspondingly sickening. It's OK if the US doesn't prosecute the people who ordered torture, it's OK if the Guantanamo prisoners aren't given real trials, it's OK if the evidence of torture is not made public. Why? Because Obama said so.

    I never expected Obama to change US foreign policy, so I don't find his positions surprising or disappointing, merely disgusting. But I might have expected US activists to push Obama a little harder, or at least not to praise him for doing exactly the opposite of what he should!

    Maybe they just can't face their disappointment, and their shame at their own gullibility. It's easier to fall into line and believe Father Obama Knows Best.

    Or maybe they know they'll never get active and fight for real, radical change, so they simply abdicate their responsibility.

    Or maybe they're stupid. I don't know.

    Progressive change doesn't happen from the top down. In the US, it's never happened that way. No matter what the issue - from the abolition of slavery to equal marriage, and everything in between - social progress in the US has come about only one way: through people's movements. Grassroots activism, first at the radical edge, then moving more to the mainstream - citizen pressure - pushing, pushing, pushing - by every means possible and necessary - until the movement finally reaches a tipping point of cultural attention, and drags those in power along with it. At which point the powerful steps in front of the movement and pretends to be a leader.

    Obama Lovers say that this time it's different. Waiting For Obama, they say, is not top-down change, because the Obama people are organizing the grassroots. That's when I realize we're speaking completely different languages.

    I understand that the Obama organization wisely and shrewdly did community organizing to get their man elected. But let's not confuse that with a people's movement demanding change. When the top organizes the community, all you get is a very agreeable populace. A positive approval rating. While the top does whatever it wants because no one is demanding they do otherwise.

    After the US election, I linked to a piece by a grassroots organizer and activist, also a US-to-Canada immigrant, my friend Tom Kertes: Let's Not Get Organized by Barack Obama. (Looks like it's no longer online, so the link goes to my own post with excerpts from it.) In it, Kertes writes:
    Had community organizers in the 1960's allowed themselves to be co-opted by John Kennedy, Barack Obama might not have been allowed even to vote, let alone to lead the Democratic Party as President of the United States.

    * * * *

    I found this excellent essay by journalist Robert Koehler at Common Dreams, and clicked through to the author's website, Common Wonders, which I had never seen before.
    The reason we must keep the torture issue alive is not to exact a small measure of comeuppance from the Bush administration zealots who bent the law till it screamed, but to alter the course of history.

    Thus the filing of disciplinary complaints a few days ago against 12 Bush administration lawyers, who crafted the quasi-legal justifications that made waterboarding a household word, has significance well beyond the case for their disbarment. This action, taken by a coalition of citizen organizations — from the ACLU and Vets for Peace to the Libertarian Party of West Virginia, 200 groups in total, claiming a membership of more than a million people — represents, as I see it, American citizens' furthest reach of patriotic sanity.

    The Bush sins are unoriginal. We've always done torture. We've always been at war with a dehumanized (and usually dark-skinned) other, whom we have simultaneously attempted to kill and, in our armed righteousness, "save."

    The cocky Bush boys were different only in their open pursuit of this agenda. They had no need for nuanced, bipartisan hypocrisy and flaunted the shadow ops of empire as perfectly legitimate tools of government. With the declaration of an endless war on terror and much of the media on their side, they almost succeeded in legitimizing the premise that the commander-in-chief and his designated agents are beyond all law, and ushering in a strange new American oligarchy.

    This effort collapsed of its own hubris, as we all know, and now Hope and Change, the Bobbsey Twins of the Democratic Party, skip merrily through the wreckage, disavowing the obvious cruelties of the last eight years and urging us to "move forward" — while the extra-legal pursuit of America’s strategic interests, as defined by the defense establishment, retreats quietly to the background.

    Uh, excuse us, Mr. President. The mandate you've been given is a little bigger than that, to the regret (I fear) of the Washington establishment. We want to purge the Bush era from the national soul. We want the words "never again" to hum with meaning. We want a new relationship with the world and we want our “strategic interests” to line up with our ideals, not merely because it's right but because it's the only way we'll ever be secure. And for this to happen, we have to look squarely at the truth of who we are and who we have always been.

    The failure of the Bush administration to remake America — and the fact that the crimes of its attempt to do so are indelibly part of the public record — present us with the best opportunity we've ever had to confront our national flaws, at least those that flow from the bete noir known as American exceptionalism, and begin making substantive changes. All that’s lacking right now is the will. Believe me, it won’t come from the top.

    "There's a vise grip on D.C.," said Kevin Zeese, executive director of Voters for Peace and a leader in the effort to make Bush officials accountable for trying to circumvent both the U.S. Constitution and international law in order to legitimize torture. The Justice Department has sat on it for five years; Congress is paralyzed by its own complicity; and President Obama lacks the leverage to buck the defense establishment even if he has the inclination (and it's not clear he does).

    We won't take the country back all at once, but we have to start somewhere. And it begins with accountability. This is why I applaud the coalition's filing of complaints with state bar licensing boards against these dirty dozen Bush administration attorneys: John Yoo, Jay Bybee, Stephen Bradbury, Alberto Gonzales, John Ashcroft, Michael Chertoff, Alice Fisher, William Haynes II, Douglas Feith, Michael Mukasey, Timothy Flanigan and David Addington. In addition, the coalition is calling for impeachment proceedings against Bybee, now a sitting federal judge.

    I don’t know how much of the truth will ever come out, in a way that cannot be ignored (think Germany, think South Africa), but my hope is that we begin a process that gets at all of it, that pries open every secret grave: the CIA torture research of the 1950s; the Phoenix Program of the Vietnam era; the overthrow of the governments of Iran, Guatemala and Chile; the torture training at the School of the Americas; the Reagan era complicity with the thug regimes of Central America; and so much more.

    These are all products of American exceptionalism, the belief that our brutality is always benign. Where once we killed to spread the word of God, we now kill and torture in the name of democracy — and in the Bush era, we did both, a fact underscored by the recent revelation that Donald Rumsfeld's special intelligence memos to Bush had inspirational photos (an American tank at sunset, e.g.) and Bible verses on the cover: "Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground . . ."

    Perhaps the antidote to this self-righteous lunacy is to be found at the coalition Web site: disbartorturelawyers.com. It will happen again if we don't stand up to it now.


    in which a wingnut is tortured for six seconds and changes his mind

    From The Raw Story. I've posted only the gist because Muller's language offends me too much to reproduce here.
    Chicago radio host Erich "Mancow" Muller decided he'd get himself waterboarded to prove the technique wasn't torture.

    It didn't turn out that way. "Mancow," in fact, lasted just six or seven seconds before crying foul. Apparently, the experience went pretty badly -- "Witnesses said Muller thrashed on the table, and even instantly threw the toy cow he was holding as his emergency tool to signify when he wanted the experiment to stop," according to NBC Chicago.

    . . . .

    "I wanted to prove it wasn't torture," Mancow said. . . . The upshot? "It is way worse than I thought it would be, and that's no joke," Mancow told listeners. "It is such an odd feeling to have water poured down your nose with your head back...It was instantaneous...and I don't want to say this: absolutely torture."

    "Absolutely. I mean that's drowning," he added later. "It is the feeling of drowning."

    "If I knew it was gonna be this bad, I would not have done it," he said.

    Video here.

    In case you missed Christopher Hitchens' earlier demonstration of why waterboarding is torture, or want a refresher, I blogged about it here, with a link to his story.

    antonia zerbisias is pro life

    Antonia Zerbisias is pro life. So am I! Aren't we all?

    Great post here.



    Search string of the day:

    Anybody notice anything different?

    may 26 vigil for war resister dale landry

    On Tuesday, May 26, Toronto-area supporters of US war resisters will gather outside the Federal Court to show support for former US soldier Dale Landry. Dale was granted leave to appeal the IRB's negative decision in his refugee claim.

    Dale is a principled and outspoken activist on behalf of peace, and for all other war resisters. He lives in the Parkdale section of Toronto and works at reBoot Canada, a nonprofit company that provides computers, training and technical support to charities and low-income people. Dale is an active member of the War Resisters Support Campaign, and I'm honoured to call him my friend.

    Dale is profiled in this story in the Dallas Observer, and this story from Guelph (he's the one of the left).

    If you're in Toronto on Tuesday, please join us for a vigil in support of Dale, and if you can, attend the hearing.

    When: Tuesday, May 26, 8:30 a.m.
    Where: Federal Court Building, 180 Queen Street West (west of University)
    Subway: Osgoode

    in which i temporarily stop writing but continue blogging

    If you've noticed a sudden drop in original material on wmtc lately, just imagine me cranking away at this graduate school application.

    It's funny that I end up working on this right up until the deadline. Under my usual and preferred methods, I'd begin in February for a mid-April deadline. But here I am beginning on May 19 for the extended May 29 deadline. But it's fairly easy and straightforward, and everything is coming together nicely.

    I'll use this as an opportunity to post a few things that have been sitting in my inbox for a while, and to highlight other people's great writing, like Glenn Greenwald and Greg Mitchell, two heroes for truth and justice.

    Greenwald: Terrorists in Prison: is there anything the Right doesn't fear?

    Mitchell: The (Unsurprising) Psychic Toll of the War in Iraq.

    More soon.


    the best-kept secret of the US war crimes: crimes against children

    Michael Hass the author of over thirty books on government and politics, and has had a long academic career at US and international universities. His most recent book is George W. Bush, War Criminal? The Bush Administration's Liability for 269 War Crimes.

    Here's an excerpt from a recent post on his blog Atheo News.
    The best kept secret of the Bush's war crimes is that thousands of children have been imprisoned, tortured, and otherwise denied rights under the Geneva Conventions and related international agreements. Yet both Congress and the media have strangely failed to identify the very existence of child prisoners as a war crime. In the Islamic world, however, there is no such silence. Indeed, the prophet Mohammed was the first to counsel warriors not to harm innocent children.

    The first example of war crimes against children, which are well documented, occurred during the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, when the children's hospital in Kabul was bombed, its patients thereby murdered, contrary to the Red Cross Convention of 1864. Other children were killed as "collateral damage" during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, contrary to the Geneva Convention ban on indiscriminate killing in wartime, though numbers of dead are unknown. During spring 2004, during the assault on Falluja, Iraq, some 300 children, including peaceful demonstrators, were killed. Their dead bodies were filmed live on al-Jazeera Television throughout the Arabic-speaking world.

    In 2008, the Bush administration reported to the UN-assisted Committee on the Rights of the Child that the United States from 2002 had detained 2,400 children in Iraq and 100 in Afghanistan, though another source claims that the figure for Afghanistan is at least 800 boys, aged 10 to 15, from whom as many as 64 were sent to Guantánamo, of which there were 21 as of May 2008. That month, the Committee upbraided the United States for charging minors with war crimes instead of treating underage persons as victims of war. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed's two children, aged 7 and 9, were separately detained to intimidate him to confess.

    While detained, several children have been brutalized and tortured. At Abu Ghraib, American guards videotaped Iraqi male prisoners raping young boys but took no action to stop the offenses. Perhaps the worst incident at Abu Ghraib involved a girl aged 12 or 13 who screamed for help to her brother in an upper cell while stripped naked and beaten. Iraqi journalist Suhaib Badr-Addin al-Baz, who heard the girl’s screams, also witnessed an ill 15-year-old who was forced to run up and down Abu Ghraib with two heavy cans of water and beaten whenever he stopped. When he finally collapsed, guards stripped and poured cold water on him. Finally, a hooded man was brought in. When unhooded, the boy realized that the man was his father, who doubtless was being intimidated into confessing something upon sight of his brutalized son.

    Read more here.

    One of those children, of course, is Canadian citizen Omar Khadr.

    letter to supporters from war resister andré shepherd

    André Shepherd is a US war resister who applied for asylum in Germany in November, 2008. As he awaits a decision from Germany's Federal Office for Migration, he released this statement to his supporters.
    Dear Friends and Supporters:

    I want to use this time to extend my heartfelt thanks for everything that you all have done. It touches my heart to see so much love and support that you have shown me. The numerous efforts from some many people around the globe have given me the strength to continue on this difficult path. My appreciation goes out to all of you.

    Currently we are awaiting a decision from the Federal Office for Migration in Germany, as to the ruling on this case. This could last several more months as they must carefully consider the arguments presented on the legality of this conflict. I as well as my lawyer feel that the law is on my side since the American Government's reasons to the war have been found to be without merit on all levels. Provided the decision is against us, I resolve to take this fight to the next level, i.e. bring this before an open court.

    It is in everyone's best interest to be aware that this fight is not about a single soldier's bid for freedom; rather it is about whether or not the United States intentionally violated International Law and ultimately its own laws regarding Wars of Aggression. Since the answer is so obvious, it should only be a matter of time before we get a ruling to that effect. Nevertheless, we have to remain vigilant in our efforts to claim victory.

    For the last six months, we have been fighting not only for my freedom, but to lay the foundations to bring about the end of these Wars of Aggression. It is important to consider that although the War on Iraq is the centerpiece of our arguments, we need to take a closer look at the War on Afghanistan as well. Since Washington has opted to escalate the war in Afghanistan, many articles on the subject have since been published, showing that once again we are not being told what we ought to about the nature of this conflict.

    It saddens me to say that we have once again been hoodwinked into thinking that the actions of our leaders were made purely by "good intentions". After reviewing numerous amounts of information, reviewing soldiers' stories as well as speaking with a member of the Afghanistan Parliament Malloli Joia I have come to the conclusion that the War in Afghanistan is just another one of the Powers that Be's war for profit. We must sound the alarm on the destructive nature of this war, as well as the crimes against humanity being perpetuated.

    On the campaign front, things are going quite well. We have collected around 3,000 signatures for solidarity to the cause. We also have collected money through the fundraising campaign to help cover the legal costs for this historic fight, but we still need your help. We have received letters from around the world from people from all walks of life, blessing me with thoughts and prayers of support. We have traveled throughout different regions in Germany, attending events and conferences that feature not only me, but other soldiers from around the world who have also decided to resist our Governments imperialistic designs. The media coverage was also overwhelming, with this story being featured in numerous major news outlets, such as Der Spiegel, Die Frankfurter Rundschau, Democracy Now!, Courage to Resist, and hundreds of others.

    Even though we have made quite a splash on the world stage as of late our work is not done. We plan to build on our successes as well as pushing the envelope a little more in order to get the decision makers' attention. I ask each and every one of you to please get involved by spreading the word to as many people as possible. I also would like to ask everyone on both sides of the Atlantic to write their representatives in Government asking their leadership to look into this case and to report back to you on the progress. I sincerely believe with the combination of public support as well as the rule of law, we will be victorious.

    In closing, I wish to thank all of you again for the wonderful show of support that you have provided. Our future looks very bright despite the obstacles that lie ahead. In the near future I will have a website that will make it easier for everyone no matter where you are living to be able to follow this case and to be able to see how you can help. May God bless all of you.

    Until next time,

    Sincerely, André Shepherd

    Learn more and sign a petition in support of André here.

    reminder: war criminals coming to toronto, meet and greet them

    This Friday, May 22, join the Toronto Coalition to Stop the War for a public forum: Why George Bush should be charged with war crimes.

    Speakers will include:

    Michael Mandel, professor of international law, Osgoode Hall Law School, York University, author of How America Gets Away With Murder: Illegal Wars, Collateral Damage, and Crimes Against Humanity,


    Chuck Wiley, a 17-year veteran of the US military who refused to participate in the Iraq War, is currently seeking refuge in Canada, and is a member of the War Resisters Support Campaign,

    among others.

    Join a public forum to hear international law experts and civil liberties campaigners explain the myriad of crimes committed by the Bush administration, and to find out how Bush could formally be charged with war crimes in Canada. Also find out how other US leaders — including former US president Bill Clinton, who will appear with Bush on May 29 — could be charged with war crimes, too.

    Public forum:
    Friday, May 22 at 7:00 p.m.
    Steelworkers' Hall
    25 Cecil Street, Toronto

    Then, next Friday, May 29, the day of the Bush-Clinton visit, join a city-wide rally to demand that Bush be charged and arrested for war crimes.

    It's bad enough that Stephen Harper's Canada is not a haven for war resisters. Don't let it be a haven for war criminals!

    Rally: Friday, May 29, 2009, 3:00 p.m. - 6:00 p.m.
    Metro Toronto Convention Centre
    255 Front Street, Toronto



    spinal network, 4th edition

    The new Spinal Network is out! The best resource guide for people who use wheelchairs has been re-issued, and it's better than ever.

    I wrote and edited the Sports & Recreation section of this book, plus a few profiles for other chapters. I edited the Sports chapter of the previous edition, but this time (ten years later) I had more autonomy and responsibility for the whole section. I thoroughly enjoyed the project, and I'm very proud of the results.

    You can see the beautiful smiling face of Canadian athlete Chantal Petitclerc on the cover here (click to enlarge, it's worth it), and the Table of Contents and Introduction here.

    I wish I could show you the title page, as it's the first book where both Allan and I are officially listed. He made us all look good with some some amazing emergency proofreading, and our editor was good enough to give him the credit.

    Spinal Network is a book we all hope we'll never need, but any of us might one day, or we may know someone who does. It's written for people with new spinal cord injuries or new diagnoses, or people whose conditions have progressed and are now wheeling instead of walking. It's written with compassion, humour and hope, but above all, it's written with honesty and truth.

    wmtc/jos in the globe and mail again

    Our family continues to get our point across in the G&M. John Ibbitison said the Bush era "has returned to haunt" Obama. Allan headed to his keyboard.
    Your front page headline claims the Bush era has returned to haunt Barack Obama. After only a few months in office, Mr. Obama has argued that photographic and video evidence of torture by the U.S. military should remain a secret, has agreed that any government official who ordered and approved of torture should be immune from prosecution, and has stated he will continue holding military "trials" for inmates at Guantanamo Bay. Mr. Obama's lawyers have argued that these inmates, including Canadian citizen Omar Khadr, should not be considered "persons" under the law. Far from being haunted by the Bush era, Mr. Obama seems more than content to continue it.

    Allan Wood
    Mississauga, ON


    more on hunting for jesus: donald rumsfeld and the full armour of god

    Further to this post about the US's Christian Crusade in Afghanistan, have you seen this? Via ThinkProgress and many other places.
    In a lengthy article on Donald Rumsfeld's rocky tenure as Defense Secretary, GQ published never-before-seen cover sheets from top-secret intelligence briefings produced by Rumsfeld’s Pentagon. Starting in the days surrounding the U.S. invasion of Iraq, the cover sheets featured inspirational Bible verses printed over military images, "and were delivered by Rumsfeld himself to the White House" to the president, "who referred to America's war on terror as a 'crusade,'" GQ writes. Below are some examples of the Bible quotes (view the images here):

    "Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand." [The quote appears over an image of a tank at sunrise]

    "Commit to the LORD whatever you do, and your plans will succeed." [The quote appears over an image of a soldier in Baghdad]

    "It is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men." [The quote appears over an image of Saddam Hussein]

    "Open the gates that the righteous nation may enter, The nation that keeps faith." [The quote appears over an image of tanks entering an Iraqi city]

    GQ's Robert Draper writes that when colleagues complained to the Pentagon official who came up with the cover sheets, he replied, "'my seniors' — JCS chairman Richard Myers, Rumsfeld, and the commander in chief himself – appreciated the cover pages."

    Go here to follow links to photos.

    two observations, part two: activism and community

    I have no idea if this observation can be said to accurately compare New York and Toronto, or is peculiar to New York and my Toronto experience is more common.

    Since becoming active in the war resisters movement in Canada, I find myself part of a community of activists, people who know each other from all different related movements, see each other at all different events, and who regularly socialize together.

    Political meetings and events almost always have a social component, and people regularly go out together after the event.

    We never did this in New York.

    In successive cycles of activism in New York City - reproductive rights, sexual assault, youth issues, sexual assault (different work) and domestic violence, AIDS work (briefly) and back to reproductive rights again - I never experienced this.

    I always made a friend or two through these various groups, including some close and lasting friendships. But the group as a whole didn't socialize. After the meeting, we all went our separate ways. The most you'd do is walk with someone out of the meeting to the subway.

    The coordinating committee of the Haven Coalition often met at coffee shops. We lived and worked in far-flung corners of the city, so we tried to share the travel burden. But even then, we'd have a meal together, and we'd talk and laugh a little, but when the meeting was over, it was over.

    Here, a meeting ends, and people go to a pub. Not everyone goes every time, but a gathering place is announced, and everyone is welcome.

    It took me a while to adjust. I used to attend weekly meetings but mostly kept to myself. As I've adjusted to the social aspect, I've made more friends, and I'm happier. Funny how that works.


    i will not make common ground with the enemies of human rights

    Today at Notre Dame University, President Obama said:
    So let us work together to reduce the number of women seeking abortions. Let's reduce unintended pregnancies. Let's make adoption more available. Let's provide care and support for women who do carry their children to term.

    For any woman who freely chooses to carry an unintended or unwanted pregnancy to term, more power to her. But she's no better or purer or more moral than a woman who terminates her unwanted pregnancy.

    "Making adoption more available" isn't going to make abortion go away. No one and nothing is going to make abortion go away. It's not a sin, it's not a crime, and it's none of anyone else's damn business.
    When we open up our hearts and our minds to those who may not think precisely like we do or believe precisely what we believe — that's when we discover at least the possibility of common ground.

    Memo to Barack Obama.

    When those people stop trying to control other people's bodies, and when they stop trying to force their religious beliefs on the rest of society, I'll consider discovering the possibility of finding common ground with them.

    Until then, there's a war on. Women's bodies are the battleground, and we will defend our rights with every weapon available to us.

    The right to control one's reproduction is not "women's rights". It's human rights. I will not make common ground with the enemies of human rights.

    two observations, part one: canadians are still so nice

    It's been a long time since I've written a post comparing life here in Canada to my former life in New York City. This is no longer "my new life": it's just my life. In a few months, we'll have been here four years. The Transition Complete sign is no longer even visible in our rear-view mirror.

    Every so often, though, something reminds me that what's become commonplace was once amazing.

    When we first moved here, I was constantly flabbergasted at how nice everyone was. When you're moving to a new country, there are so many business details to take care of. We had to get our SIN cards, our health care cards, our shiny wonderful new Permanent Resident cards. We had to open bank accounts, buy a car, set up utilities, have cable installed. And on and on and on.

    Without exception, every person we dealt with was polite, friendly and helpful.

    Here's a story I always tell. When we arrived at our little rental house in Port Credit - lets see if I can do this without choking up, thinking about who's missing - there was an electricity bill waiting for us. We paid rent for a month before we moved, so the bill wasn't unexpected, but $420? That can't be right.

    Now, in New York City, calling ConEd is not a task to be undertaken lightly. You'll want to have a good night's sleep and appropriate amounts of caffeine in your system, or maybe Xanax. I knew I had to call the utility company, but I was dreading it. I took a deep breath and girded myself for battle.

    "Hi, I have a problem with my bill."

    "Hi, how are you today?"

    "Uh... fine thank you. I have a problem with my bill."

    "All right, why don't you give me the account number and I'll take a look." I give her the number.

    "The account is only one month old, and no one was living at this location during that month, but I've been charged $420."

    "Oh my, that does seem like a lot of money! Let me see... Are you new to the area?"

    "Yes, I am."

    "New to Mississauga?"

    "I'm new to Canada. We actually just arrived today."

    "Today? How exciting! Welcome to Canada!"

    . . . I'm almost too puzzled to respond. "Uh, thank you."

    "Where did you move from, if you don't mind me asking?"

    "Uh, no, we moved from New York City."

    "Oh my, from New York City to Mississauga, now that's a big change, eh?"

    I'm thinking, where am I? Who are these people?

    The representative then cheerfully and politely explains that because we have no credit history with the company, they are asking for a deposit, which will be held in escrow, earning a small amount of interest. After a year has passed, I'm to call again, and the deposit will be credited to my account.

    "I'm so sorry you didn't know about this. I hope it's not a big problem for you?"

    "No, no, it's fine."

    "Is there anything else I can help you with today?"

    "No, thank you."

    "Good luck settling in, and welcome to Canada. I hope you and your family will be very happy here."

    When I hung up, I related this story to Allan. We looked at each other, puzzled. I have a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore.

    And this is how it went - everywhere.

    Now I'm used to this. It's made me friendlier. It's made me take an extra moment to add a little friendliness to a business transaction. It's not the ten minutes of small talk that I associate with small town life and so dislike. But it's not the slam-bang-next! that you get in New York.

    * * * *

    Over time, I also came to see what might be the flipside of all this politeness. I've written about the indirectness, the passive-aggressiveness that I find so maddening here.

    I prefer to have more clear communication than I get with so many people in Canada. If USians are accused of being brusque, they are also more direct and straightforward, more likely to say what they mean. And if Canadians are more polite, they are also more indirect, more likely to speak in code. (With the usual disclaimers for generalizations and exceptions.)

    I've blogged about this enough, I don't need to go into it again. But I see that over time, I may have started to focus on the downside, the indirectness, more than the upside, the politeness.

    Something happened recently that made me recall how nice everyone is here.

    As you may recall, the law firm where I work on weekends recently cut our transportation benefit, so I now take a GO bus home on Saturdays and Sundays. I always sit in the front to avoid motion sickness, so I hear whatever comes over the driver's dispatch radio.

    Frequently - not every day, but often - a driver calls in with a passenger's special need. "I have a passenger at Square One who is trying to get to the University of Guelph. The Guelph bus doesn't run on Saturday. Can anyone help him?"

    Another driver's voice is heard: "I can pick him up at Square One and get him to Airport Road. It will be about an hour, but I can definitely get him."

    The dispatcher asks, "Can anyone help him at Airport Road?"

    Another driver responds, "I will be at Airport Road at 21:40. I can take him as far as..."

    The conversation continues until a route is mapped out whereby the passenger will ride a series of GO buses and slowly make his way to the University of Guelph.

    I've never heard anything like this. I've never heard public transit employees take their jobs so seriously, or go out of their way for passengers like this.

    * * * *

    Here's a New York City memory for contrast.

    In the 1980s, the subways were pretty bad in New York. This was somewhere between the graffiti era of the 1970s and the improvements of the 90s. (I see people are worried about it again.)

    Hundreds of miles of track were being relaid and bridges were being rebuilt, so there was a lot of re-routing going on, often unexpectedly. Subway cars were gradually being replaced, but there were more decrepit, filthy cars in the system than shiny new ones.

    The signage was horrendous, both in stations and on the actual trains. I used to say you have to know where you're going to get anywhere; you had to know the system to use it. You'd be walking through some maze of corridors and stairs connecting various lines, you'd get to an intersection, and all of a sudden: no more signs. Or you'd find yourself on a platform that said "Broadway Local," "Broadway Express," and "Nites Only". What is now the #1 train went by something like seven different names.

    The PA systems either didn't work at all or were completely inaudible. You'd be sitting on a train and you'd here, "Attention passengers, attention passengers. This D train will now be running on the grrthpwmpzthp track beyond thpdgrzyz Street. Any passenger wishing to go to bzzztkcrtz or zzzztpgdthp, you must exit at rjzzzzzp Street."

    Remember, in New York City, many different trains run on the same track. You don't just wait on a platform and get on whatever train comes; you have to see if it's your train. Then there's the perennial question: is an R train running on a D track now a D train? Well, it depends who you ask.

    So there I was at Jay Street-Boro Hall in Brooklyn, switching from an F train to an A train. A subway pulls in. It has the big blue A on one car, a purple F on another car, an orange F on yet another car, then two more cars with As.

    I find the car with the transit operator leaning out of his window and ask, "Is this an A train?"

    He replies, "Can't you read? What does it look like?"

    Ah, New York.

    I won't say that all New York City transit workers were quite that polite and helpful in the 80s. Let's just say his answer wasn't so unusual.

    Sitting on the GO bus, listening to the drivers coordinate a travel schedule for the dude trying to get to Guelph, I thought of this and chuckled to myself.

    I also thought of it when I read this post by Impudent Strumpet.

    * * * *

    PS: the discussion in comments on this post is great.