Saturday, November 29, 2008

Death by Terrorism... versus Death by Capitalism

For those who have grown up in a country like Canada, it's difficult to imagine what things must be like in Mumbai at the moment. For the families of the victims, there is anguish and anger - at the loss of their loved ones, at the perpetrators, and at the politics of terrorism which punishes the innocent. Unlike 9/11 in the US, terrorism in India is an ongoing phenomenon, yet because the terrorists struck Mumbai - where western influence is in evidence everywhere - this is big news. Mainstream media are doing their usual comprehensive coverage, with step-by-step explanations of the timeline of events, human interest first-hand accounts, and the local connection (any Canadians who were victims).

As we ponder the tragedy of death under these circumstances, there is an unrelated story which is buried under the Mumbai headlines. In Nassau County, NY, a temporary worker was trampled to death at a Wal-Mart, when hundreds of impatient shoppers literally broke down the doors to take advantage of the 5:00 AM start to "Black Friday" sales. There was no malice in this death, no anger. No one intended for anyone to get hurt. People simply wanted bargains.

I've been in life-threatening crowd situations a few times. It is a terrible feeling to realize that a crowd is out of control, frightening to see the potential for disaster and death so close. When a large crowd of people presses forward and those at the front have nowhere to go, either the barrier containing the crowd will collapse, or people will get crushed. I've experienced tightness of breathing from the pressure, and had that flash of memory from news reports of similar incidents when people described how the deaths occurred. If you fall, you're not getting up again. There's no space to manoeuver, and those behind you are being pushed forward, trampling anything underfoot because the crowd is so dense and tight that no one can see their feet or the ground.

However my life ends, please - if it's not a natural death, at least let it not be inconsequential. We hope our lives will have value, that we can make a difference in this world. It would be nice to leave this world in a similar manner. Most of us will die of old age, or perhaps of illness. But we don't tend to imagine dying a senseless, meaningless death. I'm not talking about accidents; I'm referring to the "Darwin Awards" stuff, or the flukes that sometimes end up on the internet "news of the bizarre" sites - like getting a piano dropped on your head. I don't need to be eaten by lions while helping starving children in Africa. But could my death have some purpose?

The Mumbai terrorism victims were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Their deaths weren't exactly accidental, but their loved ones might see it that way. At the moment, it may be hard to attach meaning to these deaths. But when, one day, the terrorism ends, the Mumbai incident will have played a part - if only in increasing the desire to end strife and achieve peace. These deaths, then, may one day have purpose, even if they seem not to right now.

The Wal-Mart death has no such meaning. A man is dead, and for what? So that a few people could get a 50" plasma for $800? How much of a saving is that? How many people saved money on xmas gifts? I wonder if the people who saved money at Wal-Mart today will stop to think about the part they played in this incident.

Not that the Wal-Mart shoppers should take the blame alone. In learning all about "Black Friday", I am amazed at the stories of people pushing, elbowing, and grabbing merchandise out of the hands of others. What have we become? We may think we are motivated by the need to save money, especially in these hard times, but that is just an excuse - and a cop out. In capitalist society, our number one motive is greed. Would you rather be nice to a fellow citizen, or save a couple of bucks?

In the Wal-Mart death, there is potential for meaning. Just as the deaths of 11 people at The Who concert in Cincinnati led to the demise of "general admission" seating ("festival seating" in US dialects), so perhaps this death will result in significant changes to "Black Friday" sales. (Canadian Boxing-Day sales are similar, but the savings are not as good, so the sales don't create the same frenzy. It's a kinder, gentler madness. But the concept and the greed are still there.)

We live in the age of the internet; don't tell me a substantial portion of this can't be done online. I don't even care what the solutions are, but when we are reaching the point of fist-fights - and deaths - over sales merchandise, it's time to put a stop to it. Let's not let one more person die because of our greed for a bargain. If we can prevent that, this year's Wal-Mart death will not have been completely meaningless.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Gay Bashing is a Hate Crime

On November 3, Jane Currie and her partner, Anji Dimitriou, were assaulted by a man as they were picking up their children after school. The same man had verbally abused them on previous occasions. This time, the man swore at Anji, accused her of talking to his child, spat in her face, and then attacked her without warning. When Jane intervened, she was hit as well, until other parents intervened. Jane needed four stitches to close cut on her cheek; both have black eyes. Mark Scott, 43, was charged with two counts of assault causing bodily harm.

Jane and Anji want Mark charged with hate crimes. Oshawa Police are reported to be "investigating", but say that charging someone with hate crimes is usually up to the Crown attorney's office.

Why is this being debated? The fact that a physical assault is accompanied by slurs such as "fucking dyke bitches" cannot be a coincidence. Violence against a person based on race, religion, or sexual orientation is a hate crime. Being a lesbian is not a crime; attacking someone for no other reason than that she is a lesbian is. Can anyone really imagine the public reaction if a straight couple, picking up their children from school, had been viciously beaten simply because they were straight? Keep in mind also how the public would have reacted if a man had viciously beaten a single woman.

As I continue to ponder the significance of Remembrance Day, it occurs to me that the gay community would do well to recognize the importance of its own remembrance - of the accomplishments made by those who fought the battle for gay rights, and the acknowledgement that the battle is not over. Americans celebrate the election of their first black president, and yet the same election put up barriers to gay marriage in Arizona, Arkansas, and Florida, and rolled back the right to gay marriage in California. While gays in Canada appreciate how far ahead we are in acceptance from the straight community, the assault on Jane and Anji is a disturbing reminder of the neanderthals still out there whose ignorance and hatred can lead not only to violence, but the creation of a new generation of bigotry. Remember, Mark Scott is a father.

June 2009 seems a long way away; we still have to get through winter. But come the end of June, gays will be out in the streets, celebrating another Pride week of parties and festivities. For those who are too young to remember Stonewall in NYC and the bathhouse raids in Toronto, Pride Week is just an excuse to party. But it is much more than that. It is our Remembrance Day. It is a reminder of the days when it was ok to openly discriminate against gays, when gays had to fear being "out" in public, when being gay was looked upon as a disorder, when we had to fight for our rights. Today we have to fight complacency, and remember that the atmosphere we enjoy did not exist 30 short years ago. And clearly, we are not at the finish line yet.

One day, gay activism will be obsolete. In the meantime, there is work to be done.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Who or what are we honouring today?

Remembrance Day takes me back to my teaching days. I could never ignore such an occasion, with everyone walking around wearing poppies, and soldiers in uniform on the streets, on tv, and in newspapers. As a grade one teacher, it was an opportunity and a duty to introduce an important concept and start a foundation for further learning. I maintain that there is almost nothing you cannot teach 6-7 year-olds, as long as you remember their vocabulary and level of knowledge. So every year I taught a big lesson about Remembrance Day.

It was not, of course, about glorifying war or the military. It was about honouring the people who fought for our country and our freedoms. No one understands that better than I do; my Father and uncles all fought for Canada during WWII.

For young children, we want to downplay violence, and also have to be sensitive about fear of death. So I would talk about the wars of the past, and that our hope for the future was that those wars would never happen again. I taught about the concept of learning from our mistakes. That wasn't idealistic, nor overly hopeful; I don't know many who expect another world war.

While we have come a long way from the world wars, today we have an army in Afghanistan. We very nearly sent soldiers to Iraq. So-called "free" countries have taken part in the invasion of Haiti, where Canada helped remove a democratically elected leader. We intend to continue the occupation of Afghanistan, where conditions have worsened instead of improving, and where our soldiers are not wanted. We have abandoned our reputation as an international peacekeeper. Canada's own General Hillier removed all doubt about that when stated that a soldier's main purpose is to kill.

Today's Toronto Star online has a video link featured prominently, in which a young man with a creepy skull t-shirt says that "Canadians have a new-found respect for the military." Eh? Not in my world. While I do believe a lot of people enter the military with the best of intentions, the Iraq, Afghanistan, and Haiti debacles - among others - have painted grim portraits of the military and the difficulty some soldiers face trying to do the right thing in the face of orders to the contrary.

The entire recognition of Remembrance Day rings hollow as Canada continues to occupy Afghanistan. The PR machine, including media, military, and government officials, tells us that we are there to do good; there is overwhelming evidence that that is not the case. And while Obama has supported American troop withdrawal from Iraq, he wants to divert troops to Afghanistan and step up the fighting there.

Harper and Obama are not committed to peace; on the contrary, they are committed to war. And so, on this November 11, 2008, what are we teaching our children? What are we honouring?

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Life gets in the way...

There's so much to blog about, with the US election days away and the Republican clown-car/horror-show drama in the news daily. It's been difficult to decide what to blog about: Republicans purging Democrats from the voter lists, Republicans claiming the misspelling of "Obama" on ballots as "Osama" was a typo, Republican racists using the word "nigger" at McCain rallies...

But I've been short the time or energy to blog.

Three weeks ago, as my family was planning the usual 20-person Thanksgiving weekend dinner, my brother-in-law had a stroke. He had been ill with cancer (terminal), but this was unexpected. He made some good progress in hospital, regaining movement on his right side. But Thursday he took a turn for the worse. He passed away Sunday.

I've spent some time in the hospital over the past few weeks, and although you don't have to look too hard to see the flaws in our health care system, I am grateful, once again, to be living in Canada and not the US. Maybe I'd have forgotten that if McCain wasn't in the headlines daily, claiming the American health care system is the best in the world. When you go to see someone in the hospital, you should be thinking about how to care for that person, not how to pay for the care.

I'm grateful for the kindness of the nurses at the Scarborough Hospital. A friendly face makes all the difference when you and a loved on are dependent on their care.

Now there's a hole in my heart. It's easy to regret not having spent more time with Ian. He was one of the nicest guys I've ever met.

There are no prayers. I came to terms with religion long ago (in another hospital, in fact). What is religion if you only pray when you need something? For myself, I'm ok with the idea that there is no afterlife, that when my time is up, that'll be it. It's more for others that I hope there's something more. Ian deserves more than this.

Taken from us too soon. We love you, Ian.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Palin Campaign's Quote of the Day

If you're running for the vice-presidency of the US, but are too stupid to understand (or bother finding out) what the job entails, you'd better at least look good in front of the cameras. Sarah Palin understands this - if nothing else. So lest the common American think they can be like her - or dress like her, think again. Joe the Plumber will need to raise his rates if he wants to be able to spend $150K on his wardrobe, as it was revealed Palin has done with the support of the Republican campaign.

The shopping spree included two trips to Neiman Marcus, in which she spent half that money. How the hell do you spend $75K in just two shopping trips on clothing? I couldn't do that if I tried.

Defending the criticism, MacCain/Palin spokesperson Tracey Schmitt gives us the quote of the day: "It was always the intent that the clothing go to a charitable purpose after the campaign."

Charity? Such as Sally Ann, or Goodwill? Well, I feel, oh, so much better. Because there's a lucky homeless woman who can really use a pair of Manolo Blahniks, especially with winter just around the corner.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

My Argument with CTV

Before the 2008 federal election fades into memory, I need to document an issue that cannot be forgotten. It is the scandal over CTV's coverage of the Stephane Dion interview, and more importantly - how CTV used the footage to attack Dion and the liberal campaign.

For the record:
Steve Murphy, CTV's interviewer, asked a hypothetical question about what Dion might have done had he been prime minister. The problem is that the question is phrased badly. Dion actually appears to understand the words, but is unclear as to exactly what Murphy wants to know. Dion attempts to answer more than once, but stops for clarification and asks to start over. Although Murphy assured Dion the outtakes would not be shown, CTV executives overrode the decision and aired the entire footage uncut.

The implication here is that Dion's English is not good enough and/or that he is indecisive about the economy as indicated by his inability to answer. I use the word "implication" here, because the viewer is not simply left to infer these things; CTV insidiously leads the viewer to think something is significantly wrong, by prefacing the airing of the footage with a disclaimer that has all the sensationalism of a breaking scandal. It is despicable. (To view the entire clip on YouTube, see the link at the end of this post.)

The facts:
1) Interviews are stopped and re-started all the time, and then edited before airing. To insist on airing the outtakes proves CTV's conservative bias.
2) Dion is being persecuted with a language double-standard. Harper's French is not good and he has asked for questions in French to be repeated, but he has never been challenged or criticized for this.
3) The problem is not with Dion's comprehension, but with the poor phrasing and faulty grammar by Steve Murphy.

The CONS jumped on this footage, naturally, and claimed that this proves Dion can't lead. Unfortunately, language bias is one thing that flies with the right-wing. The damage was done.

The Toronto Star, to their credit, published an article dissecting the language of the footage and showing why the problem lay in Steve Murphy's phrasing. Below is the article in its entirety.

Dion interview shows need to extend clarity to journalism

J. Fred Kuntz

In journalism, the story you get is often only as good as the questions you ask.

On Thursday, Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion was interviewed on CTV. His performance, seen by some as showing him in a muddle, was denounced by Prime Minister Stephen Harper as proof that Dion cannot lead on the economy.

I've reviewed the video and, in my opinion, it was not Dion who was confused, it was the CTV interviewer.

Anyone can verify this by watching the interview on YouTube.

The first time, the interviewer asked Dion what "would you have done" on the economy, if he were prime minister, "now." Look at that carefully. The verb tense "would have" suggests Dion was asked to say what he would have done in the past; but the word "now" could suggest he was asked what he would do today.

These are two different questions. The first asks: Could government have averted this economic trouble? The second asks: can the current mess be fixed?

Dion rightly asked for clarification: Was he being asked what he would have done if he had been prime minister since the previous election?

The interviewer said no, he was not asking what Dion might have done for the past two-and-a-half years, but rather, if he were to act "right now."

Just to be sure, Dion asked whether the interviewer meant if Dion was elected on Tuesday.

The interviewer explained that he meant "hypothetically" right now, at this very moment. Dion said that he would take the question to mean "today," not after the election and not since 2006.

But just as Dion was about to answer, the interviewer, apparently backpedalling, interjected that he wanted to know what Dion "would have" done.

Moving along, Dion began to answer that he would launch his 80-day plan to boost the economy. But he stopped mid-sentence, displeased with the erratic opening to a pre-taped broadcast. He asked whether they could start over.

The interviewer agreed to a fresh start, a commitment that CTV may have dishonoured by airing the aborted segment.

On second try, the interviewer launched a new wave of confusion, making the question more about the past. He asked Dion, if he were prime minister "now" (present tense), "what would you have already done" (in the past) that Harper "hasn't done."

This was baffling. Had the interviewer regretted saying just moments prior that he meant "today" and, on reflection, preferred to reframe the question as a hypothesis about the past?

Dion paused, then asked just what time frame the interviewer was trying to place him in, this go-round. Now? A week ago? Three weeks ago?

The interviewer, getting fuzzier, said, "No. No. If you were prime minister during this time already." But what did he mean by "this time already"?

Turning away from the interviewer, Dion asked an aide off-screen for clarity. However, she was just as unclear, answering that the time frame was "when Stephen Harper was prime minister." As we know, Harper has been prime minister since 2006.

Dion asked whether she meant since "two-and-a-half years ago."

She replied: "At any given time." In my view, that's a shrug. It could mean two years ago, it could mean today. Dion was no farther ahead.

It was as if the whole studio had gone down the rabbit hole into Wonderland. Several people, including Dion, began laughing.

They began a third time.

One could argue Dion should have sidestepped the fog, saying anything he liked about the economy. He might have taken a cue from vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin, who proved adept in the U.S. debate at ignoring a question.

But Dion, remember, was champion of the Clarity Act, a law requiring any Quebec referendum on separation to pose an unambiguous question. This Liberal leader may be willing to answer questions, but he does demand questions be clear.

It's a fair requirement of any on-air interviewer, or newspaper reporter, for that matter.

J. Fred Kuntz is editor-in-chief of the Toronto Star.

CTV eventually published their defense. In the typical manner of Harper conservatives, they ignored the facts and real issues, and pretended they had a duty to show the footage:

"We decided that it was important that CTV News not hide anything during an election campaign," said president Robert Hurst.

"Central to the campaign was the argument and the issue that here's a guy who's running to be the prime minister of Canada, and he's being criticized for his inability to communicate effectively in English and that was very evident in the interview that day," added Peter Mallette, a senior news producer in Halifax.

The interview, restarted four times because Dion didn't understand a question about the economy from anchor Steve Murphy, was originally broadcast in the Maritimes, but later seen across the country. That night, Murphy said the network had told the Liberals it would not broadcast the fumbling start.

Toronto Star readers chimed in with some good retorts, calling attention to Steve Murphy's poor grammar:

"How many lunches would you have eaten if you were now two-headed?" That's a grammatical equivalent to the question that the CTV interviewer asked Mr. Dion. So the confusion began with the interviewer's inability to construct a question with a logical sequence of tenses.
Michael J. Sidnell, Kingston

Dion hit the nail on the head when he later paraphrased the question as, "You're prime minister today, what will you do yesterday?"
Linda Genova, Toronto

I must ask Mr. Murphy, "If he were not a reporter now, what would he have done in his interview with Mr. Dion last Thursday?"
Duff Sprague, Rossmore

And finally:

Up until Thursday evening, I have always felt that CTV provides exceptional, first-rate programming. However, reading the transcript and viewing Stéphane Dion's interview with Steve Murphy, I also would have been confused about the ambiguity in time frame and verb tense Steve was asking about.

And CTV sank to a despicable level of broadcasting when they decided to air the entire segment instead of respecting their commitment to give Dion a fresh start and discard the earlier portion. We should all boycott CTV until Stéphane Dion gets the apology he deserves!

Hilda Swirsky, Toronto

Before this election, I was unaware of CTV's conservative bias. Talk about a quick education! This whole debacle has made me sick. I don't think there's any doubt that CTV swayed many viewers to avoid voting liberal. It's not just that CTV is biased; it's that they used their influence to appeal to the lowest common denominator: conservative bigots.

I won't be watching CTV any time soon.

YouTube clip of Steve Murphy starting the interview with Dion:

Troops out of Afghanistan!

Q. Faced with the depressing prospect of another term with Harper - what to do?

A. Get out on the streets and demonstrate.

Four days after our election, demonstrations were held across the country to demand that Harper honour the wishes of the majority of Canadians. In Toronto, we rallied at Queen's Park, and then marched through the streets to voice our thoughts. Bring the troops home now!

Harper had stated before the election that he would run the country as if he had a majority, whether he got one or not. He'd already been behaving like a dictator, so I don't know what will be different. What is clear is that we have to forge ahead and keep pressuring the government to do all the right things:

• Respect the will of parliament.
• Respect the will of the Canadian people.
• Bring the troops home.
• Let the war resisters stay.
• Stop persecuting Muslims. Either the Secret Trial 5 need to be charged - or they should be freed unconditionally.
• Give Omar Khadr a fair trial - in Canada.
• Fund the arts, not the military.
• Let cities have some of their tax money back.
• Protect women's rights - including reproductive rights. No debate on abortion.
• Restore Canada's reputation as free, fair, and peaceful.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

How would you describe Stephen Harper?

Come on, people, we need a good adjective. Or a noun. I'm so tired of reading about all of the offensive things he's said and done, and getting more and more frustrated. The idea of another term is discouraging, but in the event we get another tory govenment, let's be well-prepared. Can you contribute a good descriptor?

This is not a contest; we should amass a nice inventory of words and phrases to have on hand in case we need them. If you've been reading this blog, you might know my current favourite is fuckwad. Post your suggestions or favourites in comments or email me.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Canadians do so care about the arts!

Toronto's 3rd annual Nuit Blanche, a celebration of contemporary art, was held Saturday night, from dusk all the way to dawn. I was out with friends - and hundreds of thousands of other people. There were a few problems: technical glitches, mistakes on official maps that were widely distributed, a couple of exhibits that didn't make it through the night. But the worst problem was overcrowding. There was no way to contain the masses from spilling off the sidewalks into the streets. Drivers adjusted accordingly - because they had no choice. During peak hours, some streets were almost impassable for cars, and minor gridlock occurred as impatient drivers got stuck in intersections. On this night, pedestrians took back the streets; when the lights turned green, people stepped off the curbs and any cars in the intersections were staying there until the lights changed again. On Queen St. between University Ave. and Nathan Phillips Sq., where parade barriers were set up on the edge of the sidewalk to keep pedestrians off the street, people simply walked on the outside of the barriers, taking up part of the curb lane. We were out in force, and nothing was going to stop us.

My point? Simply that hundreds of thousands in this city proved Stephen Harper wrong. We are ordinary Canadians, and we love the arts. We are not the elite. We are not going out to sip champagne and nibble on caviar in some exclusive gallery. We are out to have fun celebrating something that many wish was not contained to a single night each year. We are families, young children, students, the elderly. We are of all ages and races.

If you're going to spend our money on something, spend it on the arts, and not the military!

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Stop making fun of Sarah Palin!

I had heard all about Tina Fey's parody of Sarah Palin on SNL. I saw snippets and finally went to to watch the entire skit. It's hilarious even if you haven't seen Palin herself. Then I kept searching the web, and saw (1) a clip of the Palin interview by Katie Couric, and (2) Tina Fey's second SNL appearance recreating the Couric-Palin interview.

This is not parody or satire. It is a re-enactment. Most of Fey's responses are taken directly from the real interview. It is more of a public service to get across to a wider audience - primarily the young or indifferent who may not have bothered to watch Palin on tv, but hopefully will vote - what a colossal moron she is.

So stop with the parodies. Sarah Palin is hilarious all by herself. We don't need comedians to make jokes about her; what we need is more recreations, replays, and impersonations which depict her as she really is. Only then will people understand how dangerous it is to consider putting in one of the highest political posts in the world, a right-wing religious nut with little knowledge of politics, no experience with or awareness of foreign relations, no analytical skills, and an inability to form a halfway coherent or articulate thought of her own. How funny would that be?

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Some Political Definitions

As our election draws near and I hear more and more political discussion, it keeps occurring to me that it would be handy to have a political dictionary. I'm sure there is one already, but I'm thinking more along the lines of how the terms actually function, not what historians, politicians, or grammarians dictate as what you should believe. Here, then, are my first two submissions for such a reference book.

Wasted Vote
Someone told me in the last election that voting NDP was a "wasted" vote. Hey - if you take the time to vote, then there is no such thing as a "wasted" vote. In a true democracy, you vote for the person you want to see elected - end of story. When did "democracy" get redefined to mean voting for a person/party you don't believe in, just so a worse asshole doesn't get elected? If you are eligible to vote and you don't bother to, that is a wasted vote.

Fiscally Conservative
I started to hear this phrase around the lead-up to the last election. As in, "I'm liberal, but fiscally conservative." I'd never thought I'd heard anything so ludicrous - especially when it comes from gays. You mean, if they handle the country's finances well, you're willing to overlook the fact that they want to discriminate against you, restrict your rights, treat you like a second-class citizen, and perpetuate myths - such as that gays are child molesters? Way to go. Fortunately for us, the myth of conservatives as being better at handling money has been shot to hell south of the border, with the US incurring record debt, spending trillions on the useless Iraq invasion, and now socializing bad investment failure while leaving homeowners with failed mortgages out to dry. The Bush administration has become an international laughing stock, and McCain and Palin are showing with each successive interview and sound bite that they easily have the potential to continue the trend. Yay capitalism! And now, Canadians have seen the usual cuts to social programs and the arts, while our own conservatives spend $22B on the military. Is this what you meant by "sensible spending"? I don't actually mean to suggest that the term "fiscally conservative" come to be associated with managing money so badly that people see you as incapable of running a lemonade stand at the end of your driveway. I just don't want to hear the phrase any more - not from people who expect to be taken seriously.

Monday, September 22, 2008

The Good Guys Win One

Jeremy Hinzman, the first Iraq war resister to go public with his fight to stay in Canada, today won a stay of deportation, along with his wife, Nga, and their two children (one of whom was born here recently). The War Resisters Campaign held a meeting to discuss the decision this evening, and the mood was jubilant, although there is still a tough fight ahead. With Harper ignoring his obligations to the Canadian people (Parliament voted on June 3 to allow the resisters to stay; Harper's refusal to honour the vote smacks of dictatorship), we are now possibly looking at a political game for the next couple of weeks; the government will try to dodge the issue and consider how to continue to refrain from taking action while simultaneously avoiding any moves that will result in negative press. For today, all that matters is that the Hinzmans' deportation order for tomorrow is void.

Harper's refusal to have a heart is not surprising - I don't know if there was a time when I didn't think he was an asshole - but it's been discouraging. I rushed home from work today and then turned around and rushed out to the 6:00 meeting. Although the news broke some time after 4:00, I knew nothing until I walked in the door. I have to admit, I wasn't expecting good news, so to be told "they got a stay" was more than a little overwhelming. I was unable to talk for a couple of minutes.

In this tough and ongoing campaign, time out to show some appreciation. Huge thanks to:
Alyssa Manning, Jeremy Hinzman's lawyer, who was brilliant in court today
Michelle Robidoux and Lee Zaslofsky of the War Resisters Support Campaign, who never seem to stop going...
The Quakers, who have been so kind and welcoming, and who have provided continuous support for the resisters - especially when they are arriving and getting settled - and also for the campaign workers (they provided a lovely dinner tonight)
Alex Lisman, who has been documenting the campaign and providing video, including the film Let Them Stay as well as video clips on YouTube
Laura of wmtc, who reports every development on her blog, including when and where to take action to aid the campaign
Olivia Chow, who introduced the motion in Parliament, and continues to speak out on the issue
• The International Socialists, who have been non-stop supporters and proponents in the fight to keep the war resisters in Canada
• All of the other supporters who have come out to meetings and demos. Every one of you is significant in helping to show the complacent, unaware, mainstream public that this is an important issue
The war resisters themselves - some of the most courageous and wonderful people I've met. They have suffered enough; they deserve to get all this shit behind them, and to live peaceful and happy lives

As was stated more than once in the meeting: we have the law on our side, and we have the facts on our side. (Not to beat a dead horse, but we also have a majority.) The opposition results in repeating the same, tired, shallow arguments. They are beating their fists. Unfortunately, some of them hold the power to effect change. It is up to us to keep up the fight, and keep this in the spotlight. Don't let them get away with injustice. People want the war resisters to stay in Canada.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Harper Rejects Financial Aid for Cities

Remember the above headline? It was also posted under the phrase: "Harper to Cities: 'Drop Dead'". Although Harper may never have used the more colourful phrasing, the point is clear. Billions of tax dollars leave our major cities. Think about the millions of people in Toronto alone, and the tax dollars they generate. Then think about our transit system (the most poorly funded in North America), our crumbling roads and bridges, and reports you hear - that the work done on repairs is only aimed at maintaining them, not replacing aging infrastructure. And we don't have the money to deal with this, a problem that will eventually affect every one if us.

A year ago, a major bridge collapsed in Minneapolis. Remember that? City officials in Toronto were quick to reassure us that our bridges and roads were safe. Why did they need to reassure us? Because we are well aware that our infrastructure is not in good shape. And now, after the listeriosis crisis, I wonder about the state of our regulatory and inspection systems, which Harper is working to dismantle and de-regulate, so that big business can earn its capitalist dollars without the burdensome task of maintaining proper health and safety standards.

Harper has made it clear that he doesn't care. He doesn't care about cities - where the majority of Canadians live. He hates Toronto. And the tax money which he refuses to give up to fix and improve our cities is going to the military - $22 billion to Afghanistan, for no other reason than to make George Bush happy.

If Harper had good business sense, he would invest in our cities. Instead, we are losing ground globally in the tourism business (Toronto's main industry), and that affects service industries, puts more of a strain on social services (or puts more people on the street, which is worse for tourism), decreases consumer confidence and spending, which affects other industries, and leads us into a downward spiral. You'd think politicians who put big business on top of their priorities would understand all this. And this is who the right-wingers want to elect? Go figure.

Interestingly, when I did a Google search to review the "Drop Dead" article, the page that came up had Harper's photo at the top, under a banner ad screaming, "They've Gotta Go!" The ad was for Toyota and refers to clearance of end-of-year models, but it's one of those happy, ironic coincidences that make me smile. Yes, Harper and his Regressive Conservatives have got to go. Now.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Dangers of Fighting in Afghanistan

My friend at wmtc posted this morning about the "sacrifice medal" which is being awarded to Canadian soldiers who are killed in Afghanistan. In the news is a Regina man who was told his son would not be awarded the medal, because he was accidentally killed by a fellow soldier. Apparently, the medal only goes to soldiers killed or wounded as a direct result of hostile action. Although I don't think our troops are helping the overall situation and should be withdrawn, I do think the majority of our soldiers had good intentions and wanted to honour their country; I think if medals are to be given out, the cause of death should not matter.

But there is a more significant fact to come out of this story: of almost 100 Canadian soldiers who have died, 13 will not be getting the medal. That's 13. Does that figure not bother anyone? Hey, Canadians! If you get deployed to Afghanistan and end up getting killed, the chance of it happening by accident are greater than 10%! "Sorry, buddy. Didn't mean to shoot you. Buddy?"

To hell with "red Fridays", yellow ribbon car magnets, and all of Harper's other propaganda. Afghanistan is worse off than before they were invaded. Occupation forces are not wanted by the Afghanis. Almost 100 Canadians are dead, and our forces hold the dubious distinction of having the highest death rate of the occupying forces.

Support our soldiers; bring them home. Right now.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Democracy Now! Tell Harper to Act on Behalf of the War Resisters!

Once again, the facts:
1) The majority of Canadians want the American Iraq war resisters to be allowed to stay in Canada.
2) A majority in the House of Commons voted to allow the war resisters to stay.
3) Harper himself stated (on April 13, 2005), "The Prime Minister has the moral responsibility to respect the will of the House."
4) Harper and the conservatives have continued to ignore the above facts and have allowed the deportation of one war resister; another is to be deported on September 23.

This Saturday, September 13, there will be protests across Canada to demand action from our fuckwad of a prime minister.

Click here to find out how you can join a protest in your city.

The decision to allow Viet Nam draft dodgers to stay in Canada was only made after public outcry and protest. What are you waiting for? If you are in Toronto, I'll see you at Lake Devo at 1:00 pm.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Persecution of Muslims Continues in Canada...

A week ago, I was trying to plan a trip to Ottawa to celebrate my friend's husband's birthday. Moe turned 40 in August. Unfortunately, he was unable to attend his own party. The authorities would not allow it. Why? Because Mohamed Harkat is a Muslim, and has been accused of being a terrorist.

Never mind that those behind the accusations have never charged Moe with any crime. He spent 43 months in prison under a security certificate, and has only been granted bail on the basis of the most draconian conditions. He must wear a tracking bracelet, and must be accompanied at all times by his wife, Sophie, or her Mother. Visitors must have a criminal record check and be cleared before they can visit Moe. A surveillance system at their house was a prerequisite to his bail. He is not allowed to leave the house unless his outing has been previously cleared by CSIS (and even then he is shadowed by CSIS agents). Moe cannot even use a public washroom without being accompanied.

The entire time Moe was in prison, he received no dental work. As a result, he now needs thousands of dollars of work on his teeth. Because of the bail conditions, neither Moe nor Sophie is able to work. They also have mounting legal bills from the years that this case has dragged on.

What kind of country do we live in, that this is allowed to happen to a person? The government sanctions these injustices by allowing them to pass unchallenged. The concept of innocence until proven guilty has long ago ceased to be a guiding principle of our legal system. If there is sufficient evidence to charge someone with a crime, do so. But let us not sit by with apathy while the innocent are harrassed and treated as animals.

I am sending Moe and Sophie a monetary donation (not my first). This time I hope it can help pay for part of his dental work. If you can contribute, please mail a cheque (payable to "Justice for Mohamed Harkat Committee") to:

Justice for Mohamed Harkat Committee
c/o 22 Rue Dalpé, Apt. 6
Gatineau   QC     J8Y 2Y5

I will be posting a more detailed report of the security certificate cases soon. It is imperative that Canadians - and the rest of the world - learn the details of this travesty of justice.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

My Canada Includes Americans.

Having been born and raised in Canada, I've experienced my fair share of anti-American-ism. We live in the shadow of the elephant, and we resent it. No one pays attention to us. Other countries think we are part of the US. We are mistaken for Americans when we travel.

There are plenty of negative stereotypes of Americans (Americans are fat and obnoxious!), and we help perpetuate them. Yet we know they are false. Canadians express disapproval/dislike/disgust for things American, but when pressed, we usually admit it is the American government we dislike, not the people. Hell - like many Canadians, I have relatives and many friends in the US (even a former boyfriend), and the people we know tend to be far removed from the stereotypes. The more people you meet, the more you realize that stereotypes are bullshit.

Lately, this phenomenon has been reinforced in spades. I've met quite a number of Americans who have chosen to immigrate to Canada. Some have come of necessity - to escape the gay-persecution coming from religious fundamentalists and George Bush (the religious fundamentalist). Others simply don't like where their country is heading, and/or like what they see here (better health care, more than two political choices, more tolerance for diversity, etc.). These people were ostracized for criticizing the US when they were living there: "If you don't like it, then leave". (Oddly, the same people who told them to leave now call them "cowards" and "traitors" for leaving. Tell you what: how about you get your thoughts on the same page and then get back to us.)

The US's loss is Canada's gain. These people are far from cowards; they have packed up all of their belongings and savings, left dear friends and family behind, and moved to a new country, many facing a job hunt and an uncertain future. Because many are moving for reasons of political ideology, they tend to be intelligent, progressive, outside-the-box thinkers. They show a strong commitment to making this move work. As a lifelong resident of Canada, I fear they will learn about all the problems we have, and once the honeymoon is over, pick up and go back. Yet many of them express how happy they are here; one after another, they tell me: "You don't know how bad things are there."

One important subset of this group is the war resisters, who are not only refusing to participate in the illegal and immoral war in Iraq, but in publicizing their cause they are teaching Canadians about the realities of the conflict and about the Bush administration's actions and motives. Too bad more Canadians aren't listening. Although the majority of Canadians support them, as do a majority in the House of Commons, Harper is running our government as a dictatorship and refusing to honour his obligation to let them stay in Canada. You can bet those of us involved in or supporting the campaign will be screaming loudly about this during the upcoming election.

Anyway. I think about my life in Toronto, and how many people of diverse backgrounds and lifestyles I know. Chinese-Canadians, British-Canadians, Pakistani-Canadians. Add to that American-Canadians. We don't tend to think of those from the US as hyphenated Canadians. When they become citizens, we simply think of them as Canadians. Yet they are not the same as us, and their background and history should not be taken for granted or forgotten. Because of my new friendships, I am being forced to re-evaluate my prejudices, and pay more attention to that tenuous Canadian/American relationship that will always be a part of our lives. I continue to learn. And unless things in the US take a quick change for the better, I have a feeling we are going to be meeting many more American immigrants in the months and years to come.

A big welcome to those who are just arriving. Also, happy anniversary to wmtc, celebrating 3 years here!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Visibility of Racism

I was alerted to the picture above by a friend who is currently living in Switzerland. It's an anti-immigration poster. To North American sensibilities, it is shocking how blatant the racism is, even after hearing about anti-immigration sentiment (directed largely at Muslims) all over Europe.

Of course, this is not to say that we don't have racism over here. We often have to look harder to find it, but there are Canadian- and American-based neo-nazi sites and forums. Do a Google search for "stormfront". I sometimes visit them just to see what they are talking about. The smarter racists (an oxymoron?) will claim pride in race/culture, but that façade falls away quickly when you read the comments on these sites, which rarely talk about pride and instead are obsessed with hatred and stereotypes so crude, they make stories about the deep south in the 50s sound progressive. I'm not kidding; you couldn't make this shit up if you tried.

I don't believe we'll see an end to racism in my lifetime. I think we need to accept it and continue to deal with it. I'm not talking about being complacent; I'm talking about continuing the fight against it. The fight is never-ending, which is why I'm an activist.

My fantasy would be that all racists might have, say, blue skin, so that we would be able to identify them easily and know who to avoid. The reality is that racism is something that many people know not to reveal. It slips out now and then, sometimes when and from whom you least expect it.

There is a long-standing argument about whether it is better that racism be open or hidden. I have heard that in many parts of the US, visible minorities (most often blacks) still suffer fairly open discrimination; in these cases, many victims of racism say that at least they prefer to know where the racists stand. I've also heard many reports of racism in Canada against visible minorities, but in many incidents there are no open comments - no "hard" evidence. Racism hits the headlines in Canada when a whistle-blower inside an organization makes a public claim of discrimination (which will be immediately denied), or a private email with incriminating comments is mistakenly misdirected. Yes, we do have systemic racism in Canada. But we like to keep it quiet.

Call it Political Correctness if you want, but I prefer it our way. In this day and age, I am comfortable with the idea that racists feel they have to keep their thoughts behind closed doors, that they have to fear being "found out", that they know their attitudes are not acceptable in the mainstream. Keep them on their toes. If they want to teach hatred to their children, they'll also have to teach that these attitudes are not tolerated by the majority.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

New: A Shameful Period in our History, Now with Even More Shame!

The WWII internment of Canadians and Americans of Japanese descent was deplorable. In 1988, the governments of Canada and the US both apologized (albeit belatedly, long after many of the victims had died) and provided monetary compensation - although nothing comparable to the value of the victims' material losses (especially in adjusted dollars), to say nothing of the emotional suffering.

Wartime racism is understandable. It still does not justify actions which violate civil liberties. But the wartime logic of the interment has always made some sense to me. In anticipation of a Japanese attack on the west coast of North America, the governments wanted to move those of Japanese descent away from the coast. (* See bottom of this post for an explanation of why this logic was so flawed.)

So imagine my surprise in learning about wartime interference by the US government in other countries' affairs. This completely invalidates the aforementioned "logic". This is not news; it's just the first I am hearing about it. Another sorry example of imperialism...

U.S. went after Japanese in Peru in WWII

Country deported thousands who had never been to States

Leslie Josephs, Associated Press
Sunday, August 10, 2008
(08-10) 04:00 PDT Lima, Peru

Augusto Kague was only 12 when the U.S. government reached far south to his Peruvian farming town and tore his family apart.

It was January 1942 - a month after Japan attacked the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor, killing 2,400 and drawing the United States into World War II. The roundup of 110,000 Japanese Americans had begun.

But internment efforts went far beyond U.S. borders.

Kague's father, a Japanese immigrant in Peru, was whisked away by security agents, one of 2,264 men, women and children of Japanese ancestry arrested in Latin America and shipped off to U.S. camps. They were interned under the guise of securing Western Hemisphere interests, including the Panama Canal. About 800 were used in prisoner swaps with Japan, turned over to a country that some - as Latin American-born descendants of Japanese immigrants - had never seen.

Now, 20 years after Japanese Americans won redress for their imprisonment, a small community of Peruvians continues to seek justice with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union and a grassroots activist effort based in Northern California.

The group thought it had a breakthrough when a U.S. House Judiciary subcommittee set a July 31 hearing on a bill that would mandate an investigation into the internment of Japanese Latin Americans and propose remedies.

But the hearing has been canceled, and a spokesman for U.S. Rep. Xavier Becerra, D-Los Angeles, the bill's sponsor, said it's unclear when it would be rescheduled.

"This was a big violation of human rights and they don't want to recognize that," said Kague, now 78. "We just have to keep waiting. I've been waiting a long time already."

The hearing would have been just one step in a decades-long battle. The U.S. government didn't include Japanese Latin Americans when agreeing in 1988 to apologize and pay $20,000 to interned Japanese Americans. The government offered $5,000 and an apology 10 years ago as part of a settlement agreement for a lawsuit filed on behalf of Japanese Latin Americans.

While some took the settlement, Kague was one of hundreds who refused it as unfair. His youngest brother, who was born in a Texas internment camp, got $20,000 as an American citizen.

Three more lawsuits were filed and thrown out, according to the Campaign for Justice, a Bay Area coalition seeking redress. The campaign in 2003 also filed a redress petition with the human rights arm of the Organization of American States that is still pending.

Like their counterparts in the United States, imprisoned Japanese Latin Americans had little ties or allegiance to Japan. Kague's father cooked Peruvian food in his own restaurant. His mother was the daughter of a hacienda owner in northern Peru. The children spoke Spanish and only a few words of Japanese.

Brazil, Panama, Bolivia and other Latin American countries deported people of Japanese ancestry and allowed the United States to strip them of their citizenship.

But the prejudice was particularly virulent in Peru, where many Japanese arrived in the late 1800s mostly to farm and by the 1940s ran thriving businesses.

"Some of the wealthy families of Peruvian society were always jealous of the progress of the Japanese," said German Yaki, 76, who spent a year in the Crystal City, Texas, internment camp.

Yaki's father was a car salesman for General Motors in Lima when the police hauled him away Jan. 12, 1943. Months passed with no word before the family received a letter.

"He said: 'I don't know where I'm being taken. But one thing's for sure: I'm no longer in Peru,' " Yaki said.

Women and children joined the men in prison camps after losing their breadwinners.

Kague's mother fell behind on payments and lost the restaurant. She sold her jewelry and her furniture and, before long, they were homeless.

It took almost three years before she was able to board a U.S. Navy ship with her six children to New Orleans and reunite the family in Crystal City. A seventh child was born in camp.

When they arrived, internees were stripped of their passports and sprayed with DDT, a now-banned pesticide.

"We were sprayed down like we were animals," Kague recalled.

After the war, their home countries didn't want them back. Many went to work in labor camps for New Jersey's Seabrook Farms and were eventually granted work permits.

Alicia Nishimoto, 73, whose father was a cotton plantation owner from Peru's central coast, spent 18 months in Crystal City with her family. Her parents did not have Peruvian citizenship and had one option: to return to her father's hometown of Hiroshima, where the United States had just dropped an atomic bomb.

"There were some people who still had not recovered," she said in a telephone interview from California, where she now lives. "You'd see them on the street. There was no medication. They had maggots on their bodies."

Kague was one of very few able to return to Peru because his mother was a native. His parents in financial ruin, Kague helped support them by taking a job 900 miles from his family in a small bodega in Lima. He's now a successful restaurant owner in the port of Callao.

Many in the community worry that time is running out for the redress fight.

Grace Shimizu, whose father was taken from Peru and interned in Texas, has campaigned vigorously, appearing before Congress several times.

A Bay Area resident and one of the founding members of the Campaign for Justice, Shimizu notes her father died in 2004 without receiving compensation.

"For us, time is of the essence," she said. "Our people are dying."

This article appeared on page A - 4 of the San Francisco Chronicle

• Japanese immigrants (like all of my grandparents) came to North America to find a better life. Why would they be loyal to Japan, to the point of acts of sabotage against their adopted countries?
• The majority were (like my parents) born in Canada and the US. They were citizens, not immigrants.
• In most cultures, the term "first generation" refers to the first generation to be born in a country, not the first to arrive. Japanese culture is one of the few to regard the immigrating generation as the first; this is built into the language. It is an indication of loyalty for one's country. This is a minor point, but seems ironic in light of the suspicion and accusations levelled against the community.
• After the fact: no Japanese-Canadian or -American was ever charged with sabotage or treason. Right-wing nutcase Michelle Malkin's relatively recent claims to the contrary are based on long-refuted "evidence".

Saturday, August 16, 2008

A letter to Minister for Citizenship and Immigration, Diane Finley

Dear Ms Finley:

I just watched the video on YouTube in which a man walks into a meeting to confront you about the IRB decision to deport Iraq war resister Jeremy Hinzman. First of all, it is regrettable that any Canadian citizen should have to interrupt you in a meeting in order to get a response. You have continually refused to meet with war resisters and their supporters on this important issue, which affects hundreds of people currently in Canada.

Secondly, the man in the video points out that a strong majority of Canadians support the war resisters and feel that they should be allowed to stay in Canada (repeated polling confirms this). As you know, a majority in parliament also voted to allow the war resisters to stay. Your response refers to a "system" and a "process" for these cases, and that you expect people to "obey the rules" and "respect all of our laws". What you fail to address is that you yourself and the Conservative government are not respecting the system and process in place in parliament, nor are you respecting the will of the Canadian people. On April 13, 2005, Stephen Harper himself said, "The Prime Minister has the moral responsibility to respect the will of the House". In refusing to honour the majority vote to allow the war resisters to stay in Canada, you and Stephen Harper are showing a lack of respect for democracy itself.

The war resisters have not made the decision to come to Canada lightly. They are disrupting their lives, and in some cases alienating family and friends. Yet they are committed to their refusal to fight in an illegal and immoral war. As a result of their strong commitment to their morals and their desire to do the right thing, they have also shown a commitment to contribute to Canadian society, finding jobs, paying taxes, and helping to publicize this issue - which is not always easy as many of them suffer PTSD as a result of the things they have seen or were forced to do while in Iraq. They are the kind of immigrants this country needs, not the kind we should be turning away.

I would be very interested to hear you address this issue.

Jeremy Hinzman was the first Iraq war resister to go public with his fight to be allowed to live in Canada. He and his family have been ordered to leave Canada by September 23, or be deported. Robin Long has already been deported and is now in jail in the US. Our fight to get Harper to do the right thing continues. In Toronto, there will be an emergency public meeting of the War Resisters Support Campaign on Wednesday, August 20, at 7:00 pm at the Steelworkers Hall, 25 Cecil Street. September 13 will be a pan-Canadian day of action. In the meantime, call the conservative scumbags or send an email:

Stephen Harper

Diane Finley
905.701.1881 / /

It's stuff like this that makes me resent the "honourable" title that gets used for MPs.

As always, thanks to Laura at wmtc for the information, and for keeping us updated.

PS: here's the video, for those who haven't seen it.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Hiding Racism behind the Banner of Political Correctness

The photo above of the Spanish Olympic men's basketball team, taken for Spanish courier company Seur, shows the entire team stretching their eyes in an attempt to look more Asian. The ad is running only in Spain. The action was the idea of the photographer. Another photo shows Spain's women's team doing the same thing; last week, a photo appeared of four members Argentina's women's football team doing the same.

Of course, the action was done in jest and was not intended to offend. The Spanish team has apologized; the sponsor has not, and does not intend to withdraw the ad. The IOC is satisfied with this.

Not surprisingly, response has been quick: international media have condemned the photos as racist; the defense of the photo claims that critics are only being "Politically Correct".

A quick history: when I was a child, and someone made a remark that offended someone else, it was appropriate to apologize, and hopefully learn from the mistake. We took other people's feelings into account. If something was likely to offend someone else - especially on the basis of race, sex, etc. - you simply avoided making the offending remark. As an example, we used the term "eskimo", but later replaced it with "Inuit" when the people who the term refers to pointed out that "eskimo" is inappropriate. (There are some issues with the use of "Inuit", but the point is that we opened a dialogue and addressed the issue.) Somewhere along the way, however, the concept of Political Correctness was invented. And the problem was that the issue became one of language, policed by self-appointed "experts" - never Linguists - who had no business making decisions about language, let alone imposing them on the general public. Today, everyone who cries "racism" gets slapped with the "PC" label. At best, incidents of racism get muddied; at worst, true racists hide behind PC as an excuse to use slurs with impunity.

What is important here is not what the photographer, team, or sponsor intended, but rather whether anyone is hurt or victimized by the action. Do Asians feel slighted by it? Not all will, of course (which means that the anti-PC crowd will find a non-offended Asian to hold up as a champion of their cause). But if some are, then there is a problem.

I remember when Rosie O'Donnell got in trouble for her "ching chong" remark. I remember first reading about the incident. It took my breath away. I was instantly transported back to childhood, to re-live every racist slur I've ever had directed at me. This basketball photo is no different. It represents the behaviour of 5 year-olds, who don't know any better. But 5 year-olds don't come up with this shit on their own; someone teaches it to them - someone who is ignorant of the damage such actions do, or worse, intends to do the damage. It is the ignorant who pass on racism by teaching it to the next generation. If this ad is allowed to pass without criticism, apology, or - most importantly - the realization that this is a mistake to be learned from, then we risk passing on racism to the next generation.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Mosque helping Khadr accused of terror links

So says the title of today's article in the Toronto Star. Once again, and as with all of the accusations of terrorism against Muslims, I wanted to see the evidence. Here is the only elaboration of "evidence" in the article:

Lead prosecutor Howard Piafsky told the court that the Khadr patriarch Ahmed Said Khadr, who was believed to have close ties to Osama bin Laden and many of those charged in the so-called Toronto 18 terrorist plot, often visited the centre and used its facilities.

Note "believed to have close ties". Note also "and many of those charged in the so-called Toronto 18 terrorist plot" (need I point out that none of these men have been convicted?). And this constitutes "terror links"?

It's no wonder that so many people remain ignorant, and that Muslims continue to be targeted by racists.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Particularly offensive advertising

I've long been puzzled by a particular advertising strategy: the one in which the advertiser purports to know about someone's life and/or history - specifically, your Dad's. Buick used this strategy, claiming to have been "your father's car", thus appealing to a sense of tradition and brand loyalty. Great: I should ignore consumer reports and recall records, and blindly buy a car just because my Dad supposedly did. Actually, he did own a few Buicks. He also owned some Pontiacs, an endless stream of Fords, and later, Toyotas and Hondas. The Buick years are not remembered fondly for reliability and maintenance-free driving.

Another advertising offender was Canadian Club, which was supposedly my Dad's drink of choice. That annoying ad strategy is back today, appearing on Facebook. The ad says:
"Your Dad Rocked.
He did what he wanted, when he wanted. Follow his lead."

I'm then urged to become a fan of Canadian Club.

Who comes up with this shit? Hey, "idea people": you don't know dick-all about my Dad. My Dad is a great guy, but he never struck me as "doing what he wanted, when he wanted". He was much too busy working and helping my Mom raise six kids. How are we not supposed to feel excluded when advertisers create this Dad-stereotype which doesn't fit the image that probably the majority of the population have of their Dads? And how are we supposed to feel about being excluded?

Stereotype-Dad played football in high school, graduated university, probably married his high-school sweetheart, and lives in a big house with a white picket fence. If there is a photo of stereotype-Dad, he is white. (I could never shake the feeling that stereotype-Dad was part of a university fraternity that didn't admit blacks or Jews, and if that's the image I have, the advertising idea people can blame themselves - it's their own contrived image.) My own Dad, on the other hand, had his Mother die when he was a baby, was on his own and out working for a living before his mid-teens, was put in a prison camp during WWII, joined the army to fight for Canada when he was permitted, and met my Mother when his army buddy brought him home during the war. So excuse me if I have trouble picturing my Dad when I see these stupid ads.

You know what? My Dad does rock: for loving me unconditionally, for raising me with a sense of security, for making all the sacrifices he did for family, and for teaching me to always persevere. These are the things I will always remember about my Dad. Fuck the whiskey and luxury cars.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Yet another international incident *unrelated* to terrorism

It was all over the news on Friday: a Qantas jumbo jet flying over the South China Sea makes an emergency landing in the Philippines after explosive decompression. Upon landing, a large hole is discovered on the underside of the plane, from the cargo hold. From the Toronto Star's article, here is the fourth paragraph:

"An official at the US Transportation Security Administration, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the incident was not domestic, said initial reports show it was not related to terrorism."

I found this mention jarring. It was an interesting piece of news, but the possibility of terrorism had not entered my mind. Is it foremost on the minds of most Canadians? Media have a responsibility and obligation to give the public information relevant to every story, and to answer our questions. So if most people are indeed thinking of terrorism when they read stories like this, then the mention is appropriate.

Nowadays, however, media are increasingly being accused of trying to shape public opinion by manipulating both what gets reported and how it is fed to the public. It is not a stretch to say that most media are guilty of editorializing throughout papers or tv programs (which is why I no longer make a point of reading/watching the editorial pages/programs).

I write about this now because for me, this is the third time in recent memory that an accident headline has been closely followed by the mention of "no terrorism". This, in itself, can be manipulative - putting terrorism in the minds of ordinary Canadians and making it the first thing we think about in every news incident. If you pay attention to this issue, governments worldwide - including, of course, the Bush and Harper governments - have been pushing this angle to make it easier to sell their citizens on increased military spending and extended occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan.

For trauma victims, new trauma can indeed renew memories of their past trauma. So in the two recent incidents in NYC, in which construction cranes collapsed, citizens near to the disasters were reported to have feared the worst when they heard a big crash. But for most of us, I don't think this is the case... unless the government and media propaganda is getting through to us.

Omar Khadr: an issue not of guilt or innocence, but of the right to justice

Saturday's rally in Toronto for Omar Khadr was a success. It drew a large and diverse crowd, despite some heavy rain and a severe thunderstorm watch. It was nice to see the Muslim community so well represented, as they are the community being targeted worldwide, but it made me feel good to see so many non-Muslims out in support. And as speeches by a number of prominent speakers finished, the sun came out to dry everyone off and we marched in a circle up and down the sidewalk on University Avenue, opposite the US consulate, while passing drivers honked in support.

I've seen the usual conservative opposition to bringing Khadr back to Canada from Guantánamo. The most vocal opponents are, of course, the bigots and those who think immigrants to Canada are all criminals (these people have clearly never looked into the immigration point process to see how difficult it can be to come and live here). But there is also a segment of the population which thinks that Khadr doesn't deserve support because his family have been painted in the mainstream media as pro al-qaeda.

One of the speakers summed up the problem very concisely and eloquently; I hope I do him justice as I paraphrase. The point is this: in a free and democratic country, justice is not reserved for those we like. Are you listening, Mr. Harper?

I don't know whether Khadr is guilty of the allegations claimed by the US authorities. I only know that he will not get a fair trial through the kangaroo court system set up by the US military and the Bush administration. Harper wants Khadr to rot in Guantánamo; he is the youngest inmate there, and Canada is the only country which has not obtained release for its prisoner(s) there.

Some Canadians still think of countries in the middle east as barbaric places where there is no democracy, freedom, or human rights. Yet Bush and Harper have made the US and Canada into places where those things have been violated. If we continue to allow Harper to be Bush's lap dog, if we sit at home and say nothing, if we don't speak out against these wrongs and these atrocities, then we need to stop thinking of Canada as a better, free and democratic place.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Enjoy life.

My frequent and numerous calls for justice come from a desire for peace, kindness, compassion, and happiness for victims - and for all of us. That said, I balance my activism with as many positives as possible. I would hope that everyone would. Take a break. Laugh loudly and often.

Accordingly, here is a brilliant and inspiring little video, passed on to me by my Spanish teacher, Abdel. The guy in the video has a website too. Enjoy!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

What we miss, because we live in Canada

Ok, so it's not that I didn't know Bill O'Reilly was a wingnut. But I hadn't known the depth of it. In surfing links from friends' blogs, I just came across, and these choice quotes (just a selected few of many):

• On the September 13, 2005, broadcast of The Radio Factor, O'Reilly claimed that "many of the poor in New Orleans" did not evacuate the city before Hurricane Katrina because "[t]hey were drug-addicted" and "weren't going to get turned off from their source." O'Reilly added, "They were thugs."

• On the August 16, 2006, edition of The O'Reilly Factor, O'Reilly argued extensively for "profiling of Muslims" at airports, arguing that detaining all "Muslims between the ages of 16 and 45" for questioning "isn't racial profiling," but "criminal profiling."

• During the September 19 [, 2007] edition of his nationally syndicated radio program, discussing his recent trip to have dinner with Rev. Al Sharpton at Sylvia's, a famous restaurant in Harlem, Bill O'Reilly reported that he "had a great time, and all the people up there are tremendously respectful," adding: "I couldn't get over the fact that there was no difference between Sylvia's restaurant and any other restaurant in New York City. I mean, it was exactly the same, even though it's run by blacks, primarily black patronship." Later, during a discussion with National Public Radio senior correspondent and Fox News contributor Juan Williams about the effect of rap on culture, O'Reilly asserted: "There wasn't one person in Sylvia's who was screaming, 'M-Fer, I want more iced tea.' You know, I mean, everybody was -- it was like going into an Italian restaurant in an all-white suburb in the sense of people were sitting there, and they were ordering and having fun. And there wasn't any kind of craziness at all."

Holy shit. I'm having Margaret Wente and Christie Blatchford over for tea, and to give them fucking tolerance awards.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Mormons get dragged into the 21st century...

... kicking and screaming.

A firefighter-style calendar featuring shirtless mormons has created controversy in the mormon community (surprise!). Does their bible state that men can't pose in calendars? Are they not allowed to take their shirts off? Are mormon women not allowed to view their husbands as sex symbols when they make love? Are mormons only allowed to take personality into consideration when choosing a mate?

Oh well. There's no stopping progress...

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Good news and bad news, as your Prime Minister continues to ignore democracy...

As part of a day of action across Canada, I took part in a war resisters demonstration this evening. In Toronto, we formed a human chain along University Avenue, all the way from Queen Street to the US consulate. I'm keen to hear an estimate of the numbers who turned out; standing as part of a human chain, you can't really get a feel for how large the crowd was. But it was clear to me that there is a lot of support for the cause, as indicated by the numbers of passing drivers honking horns - especially taxi drivers. Well - that, and the consistent evidence from polls which show that a clear majority of Canadians want the war resisters to be allowed to stay in Canada.

I was worried that a lot of people who had planned to come out for the demo would bail at the last minute, as word spreads that Corey Glass - whose imminent deportation was scheduled for tomorrow - has had his deportation stayed indefinitely so his appeal can be heard. The demo and the fight are no less urgent as news also spreads that war resister Robin Long has been imprisoned and is to be deported, possibly as soon as Monday. So it was great to see such a good turnout.

Our scumbag of a Prime Minister is still playing from the Bush rule book, defying the will of the people and pretending he hasn't heard of democracy. He has a mandate to implement the motion, as passed in the House of Commons, to allow the war resisters to stay.

Once again, please call and remind Harper to do the right thing.
• Prime Minister Stephen Harper (613.992.4211,
• Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Diane Finley (613.996.4974,,

Sunday, July 6, 2008

A Letter to the Prime Minister

Dear Mr. Harper/ Ms Finley:

Polls consistently show that the majority of Canadians want the American war resisters to be allowed to remain in Canada. As you are well aware, a majority in the House of Commons also voted to allow the war resisters to stay.

Mr. Harper, did you not once state (on April 13, 2005), in the House of Commons, "The Prime Minister has the moral responsibility to respect the will of the House"?

As a Canadian, the very least I expect is that my own Prime Minister respect the concept of democracy. That means you have a moral obligation to implement the House of Commons motion to allow the war resisters to stay in Canada, and also to stop the deportation of war resister Corey Glass on July 10.

Three days remain until war resister Corey Glass is to be deported.
Phone or email Prime Minister Stephen Harper (613.992.4211, and Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Diane Finley (613.996.4974,,

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

On Tipping, and Workers' Rights

As one of my first jobs, I bussed tables at a busy restaurant downtown. Although never a server myself, I worked closely with the servers, and as part of the payment structure of this particular restaurant, received a cut of the servers' tips, which - during a lunch rush with seven servers - was often substantial. In Ontario, restaurant servers can be paid below minimum wage because they receive tips to supplement their income. At restaurants that are expensive and/or busy, servers can make a great deal of money.

Working in foodservice, I became acquainted with advantages and disadvantages of this system, including: the injustice of diners who don't tip fairly (either because they are stingy or because they may be from countries where restaurant servers are not tipped); the use of tips to show appreciation or displeasure; and servers who are rude to customers and wonder why they earn less than their coworkers. (An aside: I've read that Americans think Canadians are lousy tippers. But where I worked - in Eaton Centre, where a large part of the clientele are tourists - servers regarded the American tourists as lousy tippers. Maybe it's a problem with tourists in general?)

Recently, I met friends for dinner and drinks on a patio at a pub. The place wasn't full, but it was busy with a large party inside. Our server was polite and amiable, but... absent. Throughout the night, we had to flag him down for every request or refill; he was completely cooperative, but not attentive. He did the bare minimum; at no time did he check in to see how we were, ask how our food was, or find out if we wanted anything else.

A little background here: all five of us are socialists, and are well aware of the struggle for workers' rights. Many socialists will support workers' rights unconditionally. So at the end of the night, when I suggested an adequate but not generous tip, one of my friends pointed out that restaurant servers are underpaid, and that the tip should not be contingent on the quality of service. I was caught off guard by this view, but becoming involved in activism in general has taught me to challenge and question the same old opinions I have held for many years. Should servers be given a standard tip, regardless of how they perform their duties?

• Consider other professions: lawyers, doctors, teachers, non-commissioned sales people, plumbers, and construction workers, to name a few. All are paid a standard salary - some with performance-based perks (as a private school teacher, I received some pretty nice gifts at xmas and year-end). But none are dependent, daily, on their customers' - or anyone else's - behaviour, for their pay. Why should restaurant work be any different?
• Servers' tips are frequently divided, with shares going to other employees who don't have contact with the customers. Should cooks or dishwashers be punished because the server might be incompetent?
• Should a worker in a shitty job in a shitty workplace be punished for being unable to smile? The right-wing viewpoint that anyone in capitalist society can climb to the top doesn't jibe with the reality of the worker living below the poverty line (often an immigrant, or a single mother - or both) who works two or three jobs to make ends meet, and doesn't have the time or resources to hit the pavement to find something better.

• There is a class of worker - typically actors or college students - who may also need their money for basic living expenses, but who come in with certain expectations and perhaps a sense of entitlement as to what they "deserve" out of life. This is a gross generalization, but what I refer to is the type of person who can easily look for a different line of work if need be. They are not desperate to make ends meet, and often their income is blown on luxuries. A number of people I've worked with spent much of their disposable income on recreational drugs. It is often this type who seem to think the tip at the end of the meal is mandatory, rather than voluntary. That very attitude is something that gets my back up, and leaves me struggling to decide how much to pay at the end of the meal.
• The system is imperfect, but so are many of our society's structures. Those who take on a job as a restaurant server know at the outset what the payment system entails, and have to realize that the gratuity portion of their income is never guaranteed.
• If every customer paid a full 15% to every server, regardless of quality of service, it would remove any incentive for servers to do their jobs well.

Back to the case of my recent pub night: it could be that management erred by not ensuring enough staff were on duty, in which case it is the management that should be blamed for poor service, and not the servers. (It seemed to me that the restaurant was well staffed.) But a short-staffing situation can be partly rectified if the server explains the situation to the customer, which I have witnessed on occasion, and a warning to the customer can be very good PR: it sets up the customer's expectations in advance, calls attention a difficult situation, and prevents the build-up of resentment through the stay.

This past weekend, we had an annual Pride pub meet (at the same pub every year). The place is always busy on Pride Saturday, and there is never enough staff. Yet a friend commented on the fact that he has noticed how the staff are always cheerful despite conditions, and the service is always more than adequate. In addition to being gay-friendly, they are always efficient and more than accommodating to help us squeeze a large group onto their busy front patio. For this kind of service, I am always happy to tip generously. Shouldn't there be a distinction for this kind of service?

In thinking this through over the last week or so, what I realize is that there are two situations: the underpaid worker who needs the tips for actual survival, vs. the young, able-bodied person who seeks a server position with the specific intent to earn part of their income tax-free, and is not willing to adjust behaviour to the often heavy demands of such a job. It's not that hard to recognize the distinction between the two. I already make a point of generously tipping the former in most cases, although I'd still have trouble leaving a full tip if the service were really nasty. In the case of the latter, though, I am not convinced that anyone deserves to be given the free "pass go and collect $200" card.

I don't think we should follow tradition for its own sake. In an imperfect system, I think I've settled on a happy medium. But I'm open to other ideas...

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Day of Action: July 2

The majority of Canadians support the Iraq war resisters' bid to stay in Canada. The majority in parliament voted to allow them to stay. Yet Stephen Harper has not moved to implement the motion. Doesn't he believe in democracy?

It was our actions - phone calls to Stephane Dion and Liberal MPs - which finally got the Liberals onside in this fight, which led to the victory in the House of Commons. Now, we need to do the same with Harper and the Conservatives. And the clock is ticking: Corey Glass is scheduled to be deported on July 10th, unless we can move the Conservatives to act.

I made my first phone call to Stephane Dion during the earlier campaign, and was surprised at how easy it was. Someone took my comments and said they would be passed on. They didn't ask me for any personal information. The call was over in about a minute.

On July 2, please call! It can make all the difference. Tell them to:
• stop deportation proceedings against Corey Glass and all US Iraq war resisters, and
• implement the motion adopted by Parliament to allow US Iraq war resisters to apply for permanent resident status.

Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Diane Finley:
• Ottawa office 613.996.4974
• constituency office 519.426.3400

(Thanks to Laura at wmtc for the information.)

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Introducing John McCain

For those of you like me - for whom any tv appearance by American Republican politicians necessitates changing of the channel to anything else (even desert-island reality tv) - you may not have listened closely to John McCain. One thing is certain: if McCain gets into the white house, depite the damage he'll do, he will provide us with four more years of Bush-style amusement. Take a look here (it's just over 3 minutes), and in particular, note his comments about the economy in the second half.


Sunday, June 22, 2008

Happy Pride!

As Pride Week begins in Toronto, I have to comment on a recent incident in the music world. Last week, at a concert in Norway, a spectator threw a shoe at Queens of the Stone Age frontman Josh Homme (is that really his name?). He responded by calling the spectator a "chicken shit fucking faggot". After news media labelled him "homophobic", he released a statement which the media referred to as an "apology", but which in reality is anything but. In his words:

"My gay family & friends, as well as myself, KNOW I am not a homophobe. For years now I've known gay is not a choice; one's skin color doesn't determine one's intelligence level; & red hair doesn't mean you're someone's stepchild. You see, it's not the words, it's their intent. I never said, nor suggested, that being gay is wrong, but apparently, based on your outrage to my flu-infused rant, you do!"

Blaming illness, he launched this rambling rant (the above is just a short sample) against the critics who called him "homophobic". He also plays the "I have gay friends" card, and attributes the criticisms to being PC, implying that on this basis, the entire issue can and should be dismissed.

The thing is, the key to the problem is right in his statement: "it's not the words, it's their intent". Homme intended to insult and degrade the spectator, and he used the word "faggot" to do so. When you use a derogatory term like "faggot", you derogate the people it refers to, and for no reason other than that they are gay. The implications of the word do not vanish simply because you say you mean well, or because you have friends who are gay.

Homme says all the right things - that being gay is not a choice, that being gay is not wrong, and that it is genetic (something we are all increasingly aware of - see the latest news about the study of brain symmetry in gay men and straight women). And I do accept that he is not to be lumped into the category of men who physically attack gays. But his words indicate a disconnect - one that his gay friends would do well to note.

The gay community long ago took ownership of the word "faggot", in retaliation for its use as a slur. Gays can use the term without negative connotation, and sometimes with affection. Straights with close ties to the gay community can sometimes use the word in the same sense, but its use in this sense can be easily misunderstood and should be done with extreme caution.

The sad thing here is that Homme is concerned only with attacking his critics, instead of dealing with the people who have been offended - some of whom are undoubtedly his fans. Would it have killed the guy to have simply acknowledged that he had hurt some people, and to have said he was sorry?

And for those who are still unsure: if he had used the word "nigger", we wouldn't even be bothering to have this debate.

Have a good Pride Week.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Creating Terrorism

Canada's current, sensational "Paintball 18" case of alleged terrorism continues to look more and more like the Project Thread fiasco (outlined in my previous post). It looks less like a (gasp) sleeper cell every day, and more like an excuse to create headlines.

Police mole paints altered picture at terror trial
Crown will have a tough time arguing campers were serious threat

June 17, 2008
Thomas Walkom
Toronto Star

Alter the perspective and everything changes. In the first full-fledged trial coming out of the case of the Toronto 18, the Crown is arguing that a youth (who cannot be named) participated in a "shocking and sensational" terrorist plot "to cause harm and death by attacking innocent lives."

But in a Brampton courtroom yesterday, RCMP informer Mubin Shaikh – the government's star witness – acknowledged that while this particular youth may have been an unsuccessful shoplifter (he was caught – twice), he knew nothing about alleged schemes to blow up buildings or behead politicians.

Rather, Shaikh said, he knew the young man as a quiet, shy, considerate teenager – a recent convert to Islam – who wanted to please the alleged ringleaders of the alleged plot but who, in the main, was just trying to fit in.

And he described the antics of those attending a Washago training camp as a comedy of errors, where the alleged jihadis melted holes in the soles of their running shoes, locked one vehicle's keys in the car, almost set a sleeping bag on fire and – instead of keeping a low profile – did doughnuts in a Canadian Tire parking lot.

This is the same Mubin Shaikh who said last week that this alleged training camp was actually quite serious and not just an exercise in "picking daisies."

But that was when he was being questioned by Crown prosecutor John Neander.

Yesterday, under questioning from defence lawyer Mitchell Chernovsky, Shaikh agreed that, really, nothing much happened during the December 2005 camping trip.

He said a recorded lecture on jihad played to the group of teens and young men was so boring that some dozed off.

He said the so-called military training consisted of getting the campers to march up and down a road to keep warm.

He said that when an illegal handgun was used for target practice, the youthful campers were "freaked out" by the noise.

He agreed that the campers wore camouflage outfits mainly to protect their clothes during paintball games.

Last week, Shaikh testified that one of the alleged ringleaders gave a long allegorical speech in which he spoke of the need for Muslims to bring down "Rome" – which the RCMP informer said was a reference to the U.S.

Yesterday, Shaikh acknowledged that many of those present – including the person now on trial – wouldn't have a had a clue what the speech meant.

And he summed up the Washago adventure with these words: "Nobody knew what they were doing ... Idiocy seemed to be a constant theme."

For the man on trial, now 20, this may be crucial evidence.

The Crown argues that his actions, including shoplifting, were part of a conscious effort to support terrorism.

But Shaikh described the youth as someone who was never told anything about anything and who was valued by the so-called ringleaders mainly because he worked hard.

By way of contrast, Shaikh has maintained that the ringleaders themselves were trying, in their own inept way, to concoct a dangerous plot.

That theory will be tested when the remaining 10 adults who still face charges come to trial – probably some time next year.

But when that does happen the Crown may find it difficult to argue that an enterprise described in part by their own star witness yesterday as "idiocy" represented a serious terrorist threat.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Terrorism in Canada: A Primer (Part 1)

In August 2003, 24 Muslim men in Toronto were arrested by Canadian law enforcement in a joint RCMP/CIC operation dubbed "Project Thread". The police alleged that the men, all students of the Ottawa Business School (actually in Scarborough, a Toronto suburb), were linked by a common "thread", hence the not-so-clever name (not so clever, as the "thread" would quickly unravel).

News media in Canada and around the world quickly trumpeted the story. Terrorism in Canada! The police had a "van load" of evidence, confiscated from the accused men's premises. The men would surely be found guilty. The evidence was solid, we were told.

I was dismayed. Was this really happening in my beloved country? Apparently so, as much as I wanted to deny it. So I reluctantly resigned myself to the fact that we appeared to be entering a scary new era.

But unlike some of my friends, coworkers, and acquaintances, I was not ready to simply condemn the accused. My parents were victimized during WWII, when rampant, government- and media-sanctioned wartime racism led to the unjust imprisonment of the entire Japanese-Canadian community. The one thing my parents have taught me is not to discriminate on the basis of race, or appearance. So - guilty these men might be, but first I wanted to see the irrefutable evidence.

And irrefutable the evidence appeared to be - especially post 9-11:
1) The accused had "airplane schematics".
2) Some had photos of "strategic landmarks".
3) One had a photo of himself at an "Al-Qaeda training camp".
4) One was taking flying lessons, and had filed flight plans taking his plane over the Pickering Nuclear facility just outside Toronto.
5) One man was spotted "scouting out" a nuclear facility.
Put this all together, and it sounds frightening indeed. It certainly seems undeniable. On this basis, many Canadians likely formed opinions about the men's guilt.

Less than a week later, the above evidence and the accompanying "van load" had fallen apart:
1) The "airplane schematics" were actually promotional posters of airplanes. A father of one of the accused worked for Lufthansa, and gave his son the posters for his walls. Most of the men - students, remember - did not have much money, and certainly not for luxuries such as artwork for their apartment walls.
2) The photos of "strategic landmarks" were souvenir posters of the CN Tower.
3) The photo of one man at an "Al-Qaeda training camp" was actually a vacation photo of the man on a hunting trip.
4) One man had come to Canada to fulfill his dream of becoming a pilot. Student pilots are only allowed to fly single-engine aircraft, and single-engine aircraft are not allowed to fly over water. Thus, flight plans for student pilots routinely follow the shoreline. Guess what? If you follow the shoreline of Lake Ontario from Toronto, it takes you over the Pickering Nuclear plant. This is a common flight plan for students and the information is not a secret.
5) The man who was supposedly spotted "scouting out" a nuclear facility was later determined to be in Pakistan at the time he was allegedy spotted.

A week after the arrests, a spokesperson for the RCMP admitted that there was no reason to suspect that any of the accused was in any way involved in terrorism. A happy ending?

Not at all, unfortunately. Despite evidence and conclusions by the police that there was no case here, the men continued to be held in prison for weeks or months. They were terrified, and were mistreated by guards and other prisoners. These men were imprisoned indefinitely, without charges (an exact parallel with the Japanese-Canadians during WWII). And Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) sought to deport all of them, as a result of their enrollment in the Ottawa Business School.

What was the crime here? The men were seeking to improve their education and better their chances at employment. One already had an MBA, but was taking a computer course because he had been advised that the IT field was burgeoning and would help his job search. But after they had enrolled, the Ottawa Business College stopped holding classes. It was taking tuition money and handing out diplomas. It was engaged in fraud. For this reason, CIC set out to deport the men. That's right: these men were victims of fraud, and they were being deported specifically because of it.

Evidence of discrimination? Leading up to the arrests, the police had obtained the Ottawa Business School's records. Of 400 people enrolled in the school, the only students investigated were Muslims with the name "Mohamed". No other students were investigated, nor was the owner of the business school, despite orchestrating the fraud. During the initial arrests, as the men were pushed to the floor and had guns held to their heads, they were asked, "Are you Pakistani? Are you Muslim?"

The police and the media had both played into post 9-11 Islamophobia, and for the most part, the public bought it. The terrorism accusations were front-page news. Yet a week later when the accusations were abandoned and the terrorism cases became simple immigration cases, there was little discussion in the media. The damage had been done, and little attempt was made to undo it.

What happened in the Project Threadbare case is despicable, and casts doubt on the reputation Canada has for welcoming immigrants and being a place of multi-culturalism. It should make us all question how committed we are to diversity and tolerance. And given the blatant violations of human rights, it should be clear that we need to take action to prevent this from happening again. Unfortunately, it has already happened again, and there is no sign it is about to stop. (More coming in Part 2.)

For more information on Project Thread, and the campaign which sought justice for its victims, Project Threadbare, don't miss this film, coming up this week:

Thursday, June 19th, 2008
7:00 - 9:00 PM
Mississauga Library, Noel Ryan auditorium
(Mississauga City Centre)