Frustration continues with lack of government action on aboriginal issues

By Greer Gemin

On July 1, Canada celebrated its 148th birthday with a party on Parliament Hill, and the overall theme of the event was, of course, promoting Canadian unity and pride. If a country is allowed anything for their birthday it should be a shot at some shameless self-promotion.

Canada is a country that prides itself on diversity and multiculturalism, and rightly so, given the wide range of people who have contributed and continue to contribute to its progress as a nation. With this is in mind, diversity through language, culture, and ethnicity is clearly an advantageous political strategy. But some would argue that the Canadian government has not made a sufficient effort to integrate this diversity into legislation. Particularly, aboriginal rights seem to be conspicuously absent from discussions about Canada’s future.

On May 28, The Globe and Mail reported on Supreme Court Chief Justice Beverly McLachlin’s speech towards Canada’s abuses of its aboriginal population where she called the use of the residential school system an attempt to commit “cultural genocide.” Many are calling this a statement of symbolic importance, as it allows educators to use a term which adequately describes the horrific experiences of residential school victims.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s apology regarding residential schools in 2008 was significant for being the first recognition of its kind, but we’ve moved past the point of needing only recognition. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission has given concrete recommendations as to how Canada can start repairing relationships ruined by aboriginal schools, and has made these recommendations known to both the government and the public.

In early June, Prime Minister Harper had an opportunity to act on one of the recommendations when he visited Pope Francis in Rome: the TRC’s call for an apology from the Roman Catholic Church for the role they played in residential schools. According to The Globe and Mail, Harper did not directly request this of the Pope during his visit.

It seems that the federal government is not forthcoming about plans to take action on the recommendations or other serious concerns affecting aboriginal communities, as was demonstrated at the end of June in the case of the Shoal Lake 40 First Nation.

According to The Globe and Mail, Manitoba and the City of Winnipeg have both committed to funding a permanent, all-season road connecting the reserve to the mainland. Without this road the community is isolated from essential services such as paramedics and home-care workers. In addition to their isolation, the community is afflicted by an aqueduct built to supply clean water to Winnipeg that has been diverting contaminated water to Shoal Lake 40 for a century. According to The Globe, Natural Resources Minister Greg Rickford would not say definitively that the federal government was committed to completing the funding they promised for the road, leaving the community feeling frustrated.

This recent frustration is particularly disappointing given that just this summer the closing events of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission were held in the nation’s capital between May 31 and Jun. 3. The sense of community and pride displayed at the “Honouring Memories – Planting Dreams” ceremony was particularly overwhelming. In preparation for the ceremony, children from all over Canada decorated paper hearts and sent them to be “planted” by children from the Ottawa-Gatineau area in the gardens of Rideau Hall. The designs varied in seriousness, ranging from playful quotes such as “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade” to solemn drawings, such as one of a faceless doll chained in a cave.

The theme of the day was “This Ending is Just the Beginning,” and it could not have been more appropriate. Generations of aboriginal culture were represented, from an older woman who wore a clan blanket, to two 11-year-old girls who were throat singing for the crowd. As well, the participation of young non-aboriginal Canadians and their commitment to recognizing and empathizing with the horrors of residential schools were promising for the future of Canada’s relationship with its aboriginal people. With a new generation of Canadians being brought up with awareness and understanding, change does not seem so difficult.

Canada isn’t the same as it was 148 years ago, and it shouldn’t be. We should take the opportunity of a 150th anniversary to honour the people who will shape Canada’s future – one that hopefully not only includes, but celebrates its aboriginal communities.

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By Nigel Lake

By Anakin78 at en.wikipedia [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
By Anakin78 at en.wikipedia [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Last month, Toronto mayor John Tory called on police to end the “illegitimate, disrespectful, and hurtful” practice of carding. Although Tory’s statement does not guarantee the abolishment of carding, his acknowledgement sends a message to the Toronto Police Service that it is an immoral practice.

In May, journalist Desmond Cole wrote for Toronto Life where he described his many experiences of police officers carding him — these included asking him for ID, searching him, and questioning him on what he was doing in a certain neighbourhood. Cole was one of the people with whom Tory had discussions regarding carding, crediting Cole as one of those who helped change his opinion of the police practice.

During Cole’s second year at Queens University, he was walking home at night with a friend, a white woman, when a police officer approached them and asked his friend directly if she needed any assistance. She replied that she did not, and the cop walked away.

Cole said he was shocked and angry that his “mere presence could cause an armed stranger to feel threatened on [his friend’s] behalf.” This officer’s interaction with Cole, and similar conversations between other police and civilians, are damaging. By racially profiling people, police are assuming that they are a threat to public safety, which marginalizes them. How can these people, in turn, trust the police when the police, only based on knowledge of skin colour, don’t trust them?

Another point Cole brings up is that “black people are also more frequently placed in maximum-security institutions, even if the justice system rates [them] as unlikely to be violent or to reoffend.” He then hits the nail on the head when he writes, “if [black people] are always presumed guilty, and if [they] receive harsher punishments for the same crimes, then it’s no surprise that many of [them] end up in poverty, dropping out of school and reoffending.” The point he is making is that it is a vicious, never ending cycle which is fuelled by racist stereotypes and a system which marginalizes the black community and other communities of colour.

The Toronto Police, however, take a different stance on carding. President of the Toronto Police Association, Mike McCormack, stated “carding is a proven, pro-active police investigative strategy that reduces, prevents and solves crime.” Police Chief Mark Saunders, Toronto’s first black police chief, is also against the abolishment of carding. Though he wants to end the “random” part of carding, he still stands behind this practice, believing it enhances public safety.

As a Torontonian who takes pride in my city’s diversity, I was very pleased to hear my mayor make his statement against carding. Although I have never been carded, stopped, or searched by a police officer, I have heard many stories from friends who have. It pains me to hear of their experiences and to read articles such as Cole’s. But I become infuriated if people believe carding is not a racist practice. The Toronto police state carding helps reduce and solve crime, yet they have never provided evidence to back this up.

Carding is racial profiling, simple as that. And the fact that it is implemented in today’s society shows us we still live in a world with racism. As Canadians, we take pride in being a welcoming, democratic and free society. Yet this blinds us from the fact that there are many societal ills which we adhere to; institutionalized racism being a very prominent one.

This all being said, Mayor Tory took a step in the right direction, albeit a small one. There is much work to be done to fix what has been broken by racism, and ending carding is only a drop in the ocean. We can’t just “start fresh,” as Tory suggests, on issues such as this. We must recognize the damage it has done, and also try to rebuild the trust between the police and the people. I love my city, and I believe that ending carding is a step in the right direction as we learn to thrive in our abundant diversity.

Journalists speak out against FHRITP trend

By Caroline O’Neill

FHRITP, an acronym for the vulgar moniker “f— her right in the p—-,” reached its peak notoriety in May when CityNews journalist, Shauna Hunt called out a group of men after one of them yelled the string of words during her live broadcast. Another member of the group defended the actions. He was later identified and let go by his employer Hydro One.

Hunt’s actions garnered attention and support from other journalists who have been subject to the trend. For the most part, female reporters have been the targets while simply trying to do their jobs. And while this story should have received attention long ago, Hydro One’s swift firing of Hunt’s verbal harasser solidified the phrase as no joking matter, but sexual harassment. However, like so many other news stories, once the momentum is lost the story is often forgotten.

But the trend still continues.

Earlier this month, CBC reported journalist Ashley Burke was heckled by two men who shouted the phrase while she covered a music festival in Montebello, Que.

Last week, Vice News reported that CBC sent a memo to its employees detailing a set of guidelines for its journalists to handle sexual harassment in the field. The Vice report described the memo as “paternalistic” and ultimately called it a poor excuse for handling harassment on the job.

The main point of the memo, at least as Vice reported, suggests, or perhaps, instructs its reporters not to engage their harassers because it could escalate into physical violence. Vice criticized the memo for asking its reporters not to shame harassers on social media. The article, which called the harassers idiots, said this suggestion undermines the CBC journalists who have come forward to publicly share their experiences.

Coming out of the Jian Ghomeshi scandal, CBC is clearly caught between a rock and a hard place. Any action the corporation makes, especially in regards to sexual harassment policy, will be scrutinized.

An inquiry into CBC’s dealing’s with the former Q host found management condoned Ghomeshi’s behaviour and failed to follow its own work place policies. The corporation vowed to do better in the future.

CBC has given its journalists a platform to confront #FHRITP. This includes a great piece by Morgan Dunlop and Tanya Birkbeck, who had both their newscasts interrupted by hecklers. The women explained how it hinders their work and why it cannot be brushed off as a joke.

However, as Vice reported, the guidelines seem to be inconsistent with how reporters have experienced and dealt with harassment.

The memo advises against its reporters calling out harassers on social media, despite the fact that following the June 18 incident, Ashley Burke tweeted footage from her confrontation and CBC later reported on the incident.

This appears to be an abrupt change in direction from how CBC has been handling the issue. Another suggestion encouraged journalists to leave a scene if it appeared to be hostile.

Instead of such suggestions, CBC needs to put in place better harassment policies that support reporters and show no tolerance for anyone humiliating journalists on the job.

Women should be empowered by their corporation to defend themselves while on the job, not be told to put up with inappropriate behaviour. Any victim of school bullying, myself included, will tell you keeping silent is the equivalent of saying it is okay to do it again.

Confronting harassers is not shaming them. It is a reminder that their journalism is worthy of respect — a reminder that they are worthy of respect. Confrontation is not engaging either. Engaging would be yelling out an equally vulgar expression.

Not standing for harassment shows there are consequences for impeding somebody’s work, on live television no less.

A Call to Freeze Arctic Drilling; why you should care that Shell is looking to drill once more

By Jordan Omstead

“Shell screwed up . . . and we’re not going to let them screw up when they try to drill in the Arctic again.”

Those were the words of former US Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar after a review of Royal Dutch Shell’s failed Arctic operations.

But that was 2012.

Three years later, Shell is on the cusp of entering the Arctic waters north of the Bering Strait again. The same seas where the company beached an oil rig, the Kulluk, risking the safety of its crew in an attempt to circumvent taxes.

Shell’s shady record was enough to cause significant controversy when the Obama administration recently approved the company’s plans to pick up where they left off in 2012. The same administration that places the possibility of an oil spill at 75 percent appears to think drilling in the Arctic is worthwhile.

The Kulluk drilling rig held over 500,000 litres of fuel and drilling fluid when it broke from its tow and ran aground — one of several cringeworthy moments in Shell’s 2012 Arctic expedition. On top of that, in July 2012 Shell’s oil spill response barge was barred from sailing after failing to meet US Coast Guard safety standards.

Licensed CC0 Public Domain

In November of the same year, the Kulluk’s sister rig, the Noble Discoverer, was tagged with 16 violations by the Coastguard — only ten days after the rig’s exhaust system exploded. All the while, a number of banks, insurance companies, and oil giants (or, the capitalist holy trinity) warned against the possibly disastrous consequences of drilling in the Arctic.

The twisted irony of drilling in the Arctic makes it all the worse.

In 2012, the North pole was warming twice as quickly relative to lower latitudes. As Vice reports, receding ice cover caused by rising temperatures provides greater opportunity for Shell to carry out their drilling expeditions.

In other words, if Shell and their oil buddies keep doing what they’re doing, drilling in the Arctic will only be more accessible in years to come.

Ben Van Beurden, CEO of Royal Dutch Shell, has acknowledged the threat climate change poses. In a recent interview on The Guardian’s “The Biggest Story in the World” podcast, Van Beurden expressed the need for constructive policy change around the burning of fossil fuels. He also reflected on the “personal journey” he took before arriving at the decision to resume drilling in the Arctic.

Using the phrase “personal journey” strikes me as odd for the CEO of an oil company to use as he has decided to drill in an extremely fragile ecosystem. Also, if Van Beurden believes there should be policy reform to counteract climate change, then in 2012, on what was the 14 million dollars of lobbying expenses spent?

After Shell’s Arctic missteps three years ago, the US government enforced a provision which required a third-party audit before Shell was allowed to return to the area. But as The Guardian reported this May, Shell handpicked and paid for the auditor.

Despite Shell’s boasting of industry-leading prevention and oil spill response capabilities, forgive me for not being wholly convinced. Former Shell engineer, Robert Bea, was quoted in National Geographic warning, Shell’s “ability to deal with an uncontrollable [spill] in the Arctic, even in the summer, is limited”.

If you aren’t concerned about Arctic drilling yet, then consider the nearest Coast Guard station with the personnel and equipment vital to a spill response is over 1,500 km away from Shell’s drilling site in the Chukchi Sea.

Perhaps above all, Shell’s decision to drill in the Arctic is a human right’s issue. Aboriginal communities around the Chukchi Sea depend on the hunt of bowhead whales; the migratory patterns of which stand to be disrupted by drilling. As the Guardian reports, the practice is more than just a cultural tradition. It provides relief from the astronomically high prices of food in those communities.

Moreover, the Dutch court ordering its government to reduce carbon emissions by 25 percent over the next five years calls into question not only the morality, but also the legality of Shell’s pursuit for fossil fuels. How, with the visible consequences of climate change and the effect drilling has on northern communities, can the extraction of fossil fuels be considered less than outrageous?

Shell considers the Arctic as the new frontier of energy. What’s important then, is that the frontier and its people are protected. Be that by a personal boycott of Shell, signing petitions, or protest, the Arctic is a valuable and vulnerable piece of the earth that needs all of us to work for its conservation.

School Dress Codes Are Fashioned From a Sexist Narrative

By Amanda Lam

Ranging from banning spaghetti straps to measuring the distance between the bottom of a skirt to a girl’s kneecap, dress codes are being used to turn sexism into policy. For young girls in school, dress codes are a tool used by school administrators and other community members to police young women’s bodies.

Some young women and allies have taken a stand in solidarity to speak out against the discrimination they face or object to; discrimination that comes solely based on sex. One recent example of this erupted in a Toronto high school when student Alexi Halket was sent to the principal’s office over her “inappropriate” outfit. In response, Halket organized a day of protest, called ‘Crop Top Day,’ aimed at fighting against the sexualization of women’s bodies.

On this day Halket’s campus was crowded with hundreds of young women and allies supporting her, and approximately 25 other Toronto schools experienced a similar day of protest with students donning crop tops to spite dress codes. Many participants took this opportunity to exchange stories about their experience with discriminatory dress codes and school administrators’ enforcement of these rules and policies.

Dress codes are not exclusive to schools, but also extend into the workplace and public spaces. On June 20, an eight-year-old girl was asked to cover up at a wading pool in a Guelph public park based upon the city’s policy which mandates all girls over the age of four must wear bathing tops. In contrast, her brothers continued to play topless.

School administrators argue that the way some young women dress is “distracting,” as if young men cannot help but objectify young women and their allegedly scandalous clothing. This “distraction standard” is one of the key messages propagated to uphold dress codes.

However, within this narrative, the dress code constructs young men as the victim in the sense that a young woman’s clothing choice could prevent them from paying appropriate attention to school work.

What has been truly frightening to me is that the message this argument sends mirrors the myth that men cannot help but sexually assault women because of perceived sexy attire.

With this thinking, women are held responsible for the way in which society objectifies and sexualizes them as they are simultaneously told they should be ashamed of their bodies. Men are exempt of responsibility for their behaviour while women are policed and held accountable for the actions of men around them.

Sexism woven into policies like dress codes is a problem in wider society. Rather than placing restrictions on children’s and teen’s clothing, schools and educators should encourage students to critically engage with society, focus on their school work, and to be safe while they express themselves. Deconstructing and removing unreasonable and sexist dress codes is a step in the right direction.

Movie Review: The True Cost

By Isaac Wurmann 

A man in India walked into the middle of his cotton field, drank a bottle of fertilizer, and died. He is one of 250,000 Indian farmers who have commit suicide in the past decade, and his horrifying story is one told in The True Cost, a new documentary about the consequences of the global fashion industry.

The film alleges these farmers kill themselves due to the stress of debts owed to corporations like Monsanto. To keep up with competition, many Indian farmers are forced to buy seeds and fertilizers from these companies, which can cost twice as much as alternatives. The cotton they grow is one of the most common products used to make the clothes we wear.

Director Andrew Morgan was compelled to create The True Cost after the 2013 collapse of the Rana Plaza garment factory in Bangladesh where 1,129 people were killed and thousands of others were wounded. It remains the deadliest garment factory disaster in history.

“For too long now, conversation around this topic has suffered from over-simplified blame games,” Morgan wrote in a statement on the film’s website. From growing cancer rates in rural Texas to political violence in Cambodia, the film documents some of the more complicated and distressing symptoms of the fashion industry.

Today, one in six people work in the garment industry, and three quarters of the deadliest sweatshop disasters have occurred in the past five years. This corresponds with the increasing consumption of clothing in America, which has grown by 400% in the past 20 years.

Licensed CC0 Public Domain
Licensed CC0 Public Domain

This dramatic spike in clothing purchases, and the culture within which it is entrenched, has a name: fast fashion. And garment workers overseas aren’t the only ones affected by this growing phenomenon.

By providing consumers with cheaper products, the fast fashion industry allows people to feel wealthier. But in reality, the middle class is becoming poorer because they are buying more, according to researchers quoted in the film.

Bangladeshi garment worker Shima Ahkter, who was interviewed for the film, knows first hand the dangers facing sweatshop workers in this competitive industry. “These clothes are made from our blood,” she said after being beaten for organizing a union in her workplace.

The True Cost had its Canadian premiere at the Ellice Theatre in Winnipeg, which remains its only featured showing in Canada. This puzzles the event’s organizer, Charyssa Erskine, who said she thinks more Canadian cities should be showing the film.

“We [Canadians] are big contributors to this whole issue as well. Joe Fresh is a Canadian company … and they were one of the number one culprits when Rana Plaza came down,” she said.

By the end of the film, it was clear there is an imminent need to recognize the hidden costs associated with buying even a single, simple item of clothing. But as the theatre lights rose on the crowd of well-meaning Winnipeggers, I couldn’t help but feel cynical.

An issue as entrenched and complex as this one can’t be solved by quick consumer fixes like shopping second hand. Instead, it will take political will to refuse to cooperate with corporations who deal in bloody transactions at the expense of consumer’s wallets and, more importantly, at the expense of people’s lives.

If given the chance, The True Cost is powerful enough to prompt a discussion about this issue that could influence even the highest echelons of power. The film forces viewers to confront their contributions to the harsh capitalist economy, and could make people think twice before their next shopping spree.

Irish ‘Yes’ Vote for Same Sex Marriage is Something to Celebrate

By Patrick Butler 

Licensed CC0 Public Domain
Licensed CC0 Public Domain

Last Saturday, Ireland became the first country to legalize gay marriage by popular vote.

It was an emancipating moment. And an incredible watershed for the country.

Until 1993, homosexual acts were illegal in Ireland. Most Irish were alive for that first victory 22 years ago.

But for a country where the Catholic church still wields so much historic and moral authority, and where that same church continues to categorically condemn gay marriage, last week’s “Yes” vote was a moment many never expected to see.

In a historic rejection of Ireland’s church leaders, a majority of voters decided to constitutionally protect gay marriage — over 62 per cent. In many parts of Dublin, over seven in 10 voters said “Yes” at the ballot box.

As with similar constitutional referenda in Ireland — on EU accession, European austerity measures and capital punishment — the “Yes” and “No” campaigns were hard-fought and high-profile.

But more so than in previous votes, in the days leading up to the same-sex marriage referendum, some of the fiercest campaigning happened online.

Young Irish voters, vastly more pro-gay marriage than their older compatriots, took to Twitter, Facebook and Instagram in droves. Hashtags such as #hometovote trended worldwide, with hordes of Irish travelling back to their former homes to make their mark on the country’s constitution.

Social media users propelled the campaign internationally, leading to a gigantic global following heading into the referendum and huge anticipation for Saturday’s result.

It was democracy in action. And it was beautiful to watch.

Ireland’s electorate took the tools it had at its disposal to promote the social change it believed in — what it felt was right.

In Canada, gay marriage became legal in several different provincial and territorial jurisdictions after a series of Supreme Court decisions beginning in 2003. Bill C-38, the Civil Marriage Act, which was enacted by the Martin government in 2005, made same-sex unions legal across the country two years later.

But the popular slant to last week’s result in Ireland made it something more satisfying than when Canada legalized same-sex marriage.

The 2005 Civil Marriage Act’s redefinition of marriage was an emancipating moment for Canadian gay, lesbian and transgendered people — just as Ireland’s “Yes” vote was last week. But the Irish referendum was also a collective action by the Irish people to show a traditionally marginalized portion of their population they belonged and they mattered.

It was a moment when Ireland, through a positive, common action, showed it accepted gay, lesbian and transgendered people as full members of its society.

It wasn’t the choice of a court, or of a government, or of a religious group. It was a huge majority of Irish voters. Millions of them.

And that’s something worth celebrating.

Mobilizing Media. Changing Lives.


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