Attawapiskat: Native people suffer while corporations mine riches
by Eric Kupka
It has been called Haiti at minus 40 degrees celsius. Attawapiskat, an isolated Cree First Nations community located near James Bay in northern Ontario, is enduring a severe housing crisis that is just the latest in a series of tragedies that have affected the health and well-being of its residents.
With a current population of just under 2000 people, Attawapiskat was established as a settlement of permanent buildings in the 1960s. In 1979, a diesel spill contaminated the soil near the community’s elementary school. The students suffered bad health effects and the school was ultimately condemned in 2000, displacing the students to portables, where they continue to learn today.
In the last five years, Attawapiskat has suffered through flooding, a power outage that forced the evacuation of the local hospital (because it had no backup generators) and a sewage spill that dumped waste into eight homes housing 90 people.
Meanwhile, since 2008, DeBeers Canada is mining diamonds at a site just 90 kilometers west of Attawapiskat. The contrast between the extraction of such wealth, utilizing the most modern facilities, alongside such deprivation led Attawapiskat residents to travel to Toronto in 2009 to confront DeBeers. They argued that the company had not lived up to its agreement to provide employment opportunities and building materials to the community.
The current crisis results from the growing number of residents, including babies and young children, living in tents or wooden shacks with no electricity, running water or toilets. With winter temperatures routinely dropping well below minus 20 degrees Celsius, heat is provided by improvised (and potentially dangerous) wood-burning stoves. Many of those lucky enough to live in houses have to deal with mould and overcrowding.
The NDP has been at the forefront of the response to this situation. Local NDP MP Charlie Angus spoke out about Attawapiskat’s challenges well before the present crisis. He recently twice visited the community, the second time in the company of NDP Interim Leader Nycole Turmel. (The NDP’s late Leader, Jack Layton, who visited in 2007, described the conditions he saw as “abominable.”)
Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper, on the other hand, initially reacted by blaming the leadership of the Attawapiskat First Nation, stating that the crisis was “unacceptable” in light of the funds provided by the federal government to the band. This led to the appointment of a private-sector consultant to manage the reserve’s finances, at a cost of $1300 per day, to be billed to the First Nation.
The situation in Attawapiskat is a reminder to Canadians that many of our First Nations’ brothers and sisters on reserves live in Third World conditions, inside one of the wealthiest countries on earth. Centuries of cultural genocide and indifference have left many First Nations communities struggling with alcoholism and solvent abuse, suicide epidemics, gang violence, substandard housing, contaminated water, unemployment, and abject poverty. This must end.
Socialists demand an immediate, robust and well-funded response to the housing crisis in Attawapiskat, along with a long-term, concerted, federal effort at resolving the dire conditions in which Canada’s First Nations continue to subsist. We demand that the mineral and other wealth of aboriginal lands be transferred out of the hands of multinational corporations and into the control of the First Nations’ communities on those lands.
Mounties spied on aboriginal protesters
by Barry Weisleder
When it comes to native housing, health, and education needs, Ottawa provides funding through an eye-dropper and at a snail’s pace. But where it concerns meeting the perceived “security” needs of capital and the state, the authorities act swiftly, generously, and without much regard for civil liberties.
In early 2007 the Canadian federal government created a vast surveillance network to monitor protests by aboriginal groups aimed at “critical infrastructure” like highways, railways, and pipelines, according to RCMP documents obtained through access to information requests.
An RCMP slide show, produced in the spring of 2009, reveals that its “intelligence unit” reported weekly to about 450 police, government and unnamed “industry partners” in the energy and private sectors. A Mountie spokesperson told the Toronto Star that the Aboriginal JIG (joint intelligence group) was dismantled, but “we cannot confirm that RCMP divisions are not performing Aboriginal JIG activities under another name of program.”
An annual Strategic Intelligence Report from June 2009 indicates that the spying focused at the time on 18 “communities of concern” in five provinces. These included First Nations in Ontario such as Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug (KI), Ardoch, Grassy Narrows, Six Nations and Tyendinaga, which carried out road and railway blockades and opposed mining and logging on their lands.
The JIG presented itself as a “central repository” of information about First Nations protests, assisted by an “extensive network of contacts throughout Canada and internationally,” and an undisclosed number of spies in the field acting as its “eyes and ears.” No price tag was specified for this “extensive” surveillance apparatus.
An RCMP submission to the Canadian Intelligence Security Service (CSIS) in April 2007 states: “There is a growing concern among high-level government officials and the policing community about the potential for unrest in aboriginal communities, and an increasing sense of militancy among certain segments of the aboriginal population.”
True enough. One example is the KI First Nation, in northern Ontario, which in 2008 prevented the establishment of a platinum mine by Platinex on their traditional territory. The Liberal Ontario government bought out the Platinex claim for $5 million—a sum that would cover the cost of building more than 20 modern houses in a remote northern aboriginal community.
In its sales pitch to the private sector, the RCMP slide show promotes the notion that the aboriginal intelligence unit can “alleviate some of your workload as we can help identify trends and issues that may impact more than one community.”
Now, can you imagine a federal police service that would gather information on, and arrest corporate violators of aboriginal treaty rights and land claims? Can you imagine the cops doing that, instead of spying on, harassing and jailing First Nations’ activists who defend their communities? In capitalist Canada?
No, neither can I.
Ottawa ignores Kyoto
by Barry Weisleder
A previous Liberal government cynically entered into it, and systematically violated it. The present Conservative government thumbed its nose at it from the start, and unceremoniously quit the treaty on Dec. 12. Despite its abject weaknesses, including low targets and unenforcability, the Kyoto Protocol still signifies the need to address escalating carbon emissions, climate change, and the dire threat they pose to civilization.
Negotiators from nearly 200 countries spent two weeks in Durban, South Africa trying to reach an agreement on a new climate treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol, which expires at the end of 2012.
The original treaty was a concession to the mobilizing power of the global environmental movement. Its limitations reflect the class nature of that movement, its failure to collectively articulate a socialist agenda—the prerequisite to democratic control and economic planning in harmony with nature.
The Harper Conservatives seem not to be troubled that their unilateral exit of Kyoto violates domestic law. The Kyoto Implementation Act, adopted by Parliament in June 2007, remains on the books. It was not rescinded. The latest Tory decision was not even debated. The law still requires Canada’s environment commissioner, Scott Vaughan, to inform Parliament annually of the government’s progress in meeting its targets under the climate accord. That is bound to be a bitter pill the government will want to ditch a.s.a.p.
After six years of Conservative rule and $9 billion budgeted to curb green house gases Canada’s output remains very high. Even if Prime Minister Harper keeps his promise to cut emissions by 2020 in lock step with the U.S., by 17 per cent from 2005 levels, Canada will continue to generate some 600 megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent annually. That is the same as in 1990, the Kyoto benchmark year.
Skepticism about the pledges made at the United Nations conference in Durban is no excuse for inaction at home. The United States, China, and India, the world’s biggest carbon spewers, pledged to negotiate a common binding agreement in the next few years. Even if they do, it won’t have much impact until 2020, which means another wasted decade in the drive to cap the rise in Earth’s temperature to a barely tolerable 2 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial era, instead of a disastrous 3.5 degrees.
But at least those governments acknowledge the problem and set themselves a target. Ottawa, on the other hand, closes its eyes and sticks its head into the dirty oil sands, failing even to provide tax incentives for renewable energy, or measures to curb coal-fired electricity, and car and truck emissions.
Liberal MP Justin Trudeau was certainly justified in denouncing Tory Environment Minister Peter Kent when Kent blamed an NDP MP for not attending the Durban conference. It was Kent who had barred opposition MPs from the Canadian delegation to Durban.
So, Trudeau was right to call Kent “a piece of shit.” But the same can be said for the whole Canadian establishment, from the hypocritical eco-posturers to the climate change deniers. The world is in a soggy mess, and time is running out, not only on capitalism but on the human species.
Will 2012 be year for Labour fightback?
by Barry Weisleder
The big business Conference Board of Canada predicts that 2012 will be a year of major labour-management strife across the Canadian state.
In a report released in early December, the Board points to Toronto, where the right-wing administration of Mayor Rob Ford has been waging a war on workers to cut costs, and to privatize city services. The report also noted that the Toronto District School Board is set to negotiate a new collective agreement with teachers in 2012 “on a course of bargaining that is unlikely to be resolved peacefully.”
In 2011, Canada Post workers staged rotating strikes, got locked out by management, and were ordered back to work by the federal government, which imposed a wage rate lower than management’s last offer. The threat of legislation kept Air Canada workers from striking, despite workers voting twice to reject management’s position.
According to McMaster University labour relations Professor Charlotte Yates, governments aren’t just trying to keep deficits in check; they are cutting for political reasons. Unions, per se, are the target. They believe they can succeed at this time knowing that the bosses are permitted to cut jobs without any real challenge from the working class, including its unionized sections. When postal workers challenged the Stephen Harper Conservative government agenda, the labour movement across the country failed to back them up with job action. The NDP filibuster in the House of Commons made many workers feel good, but it did not threaten to deter the government’s course of action.
The Conference Board is now worried that the potential for strikes in the public sector will be greater in 2012 because those workers gave concessions at the outset of the recession/depression in 2008. Rank-and-file frustration is rising. The average public sector raise will be 1.5 per cent in 2012—below the predicted inflation rate of 2 per cent. In contrast, private sector workers will earn an average raise of 2.3 per cent. Overall, workers’ wages have been falling or stagnant for over 30 years.
Health care workers in British Columbia, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba will be negotiating new collective agreements in 2012, as will employees at the Canada Revenue Agency.
By alerting its well-heeled members to potential labour conflict, and by countering the arguments that unions make (for example, that government revenues are down due to corporate tax cuts and concessions to the rich), the Conference Board is helping to get the Canadian capitalist class ready for the big fight ahead. But what is the labour leadership doing to get workers ready for this fight?
The Ontario Federation of Labour, at its November biennial convention in Toronto, promised to expose the one-sided class war being waged by bosses and their governments. But OFL leaders have no plan to challenge the rulers’ agenda with mass action in the streets and work places.
There is talk about a possible merger of the Canadian Auto Workers Union and the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers’ Union. A democratically conducted merger would be good. Much better than a raid, which too often is the resort of shrinking unions. But a merger is no substitute for organizing the unorganized, much less for an anti-concessions strategy.
Can workers fight back? Transit workers in York Region, north of Toronto, show that we can. Those employees of private bus companies that pay $7 an hour less than what Toronto transit workers earn, are in the third month of a strike for a wage and benefits catch-up. Their weekly mass pickets and bus occupations are attracting tremendous attention and inspiring considerable hope in broad sections of the working class.
They show the way forward—to a coordinated labour struggle against the bosses’ “austerity” agenda.
If 2012 is to be the year for a labour fight back, now is the time to start talking up the idea of a general strike. Nothing less than escalating, mass job actions are needed to stop the attacks on jobs, public services, and workers’ rights. And that’s what we need to win nationalization of the banks and big business under workers’ democratic control—to lay the basis for an economy that serves the majority.
U.S.-Canada treaty escalates attack on civil liberties
by Barry Weisleder
The Dec. 7 border agreement between Prime Minister Stephen Harper and U.S. President Barack Obama requires Canada to adopt more U.S.-style security measures, and to share more information on Canadians with American state authorities. This is contrary to the interests of working people in both countries.
Obama has agreed to ask the U.S. Congress for money to speed up truck and business traffic across the border. The funding may or may not be forthcoming. In any case, the price is too high. Heightened security means a stepped up war on civil liberties. Talk of security is a distraction from the capitalist system’s real economic malaise. It’s an excuse for more spending on police and the military, and less money to meet pressing human needs, like health care, education and housing.
So, what exactly is at risk in the latest deal? It’s not “privacy” in the abstract. Remember the U.S. no-fly list? Under the deal, Ottawa has effectively agreed to adopt it. This is the list that famously targeted, among others, the late U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy. It has already barred some innocent Canadians from air travel within their own country because their planned flight paths briefly crossed the U.S. The agreement to develop common “decision processes” for air screening can only lead to more folks being stranded.
Since the deal was announced, attention has focused on a new scheme for border exit controls. But bigger dangers lie elsewhere. For instance, the agreement commits the two countries to engage in more “informal information sharing.” Canada also agrees to change its laws, if necessary, to “provide the widest measure of (intelligence) cooperation possible.”
Maher Arar knows first-hand about such intelligence cooperation. He is the Canadian citizen who was arrested by U.S. officials during a New York stopover and sent to Syria to be tortured. As a royal commission later found, Arar’s ordeal was caused by exactly the kind of informal and wide-ranging intelligence cooperation that the new deal envisions.
Since 9/11, U.S. governments, regardless their political stripe, have hurt civil liberties. Washington spies on the most mundane habits of its people, including which library books they read. In at least one case, it carried out the extrajudicial execution of an American citizen. Its agents are no longer permitted to torture people on their own. But even Obama has refused to renounce the practice of so-called extraordinary rendition—sending suspected terrorists to third countries to be tortured.
The U.S. maintains a prison camp at Guantanamo Bay that, in the tepid language of a 2010 Supreme Court judgment, has engaged in the “improper treatment” of detainees, including a Canadian, Omar Khadr, captured by U.S forces in Afghanistan at age 15.
Sweden learned about the dangers of allowing American agents to operate on its soil. In December 2001, the Swedish government decided to deport two Egyptian refugee claimants whose asylum applications were refused. The Swedish Security Police accepted a U.S. offer to provide the plane to carry out the deportation.
When the Swedish officials handed over the deportees, after having searched them according to Swedish procedure, the Americans proceeded to cut off the two men’s clothes, dress them in jump suits and hoods, medicate them, and bundle them on board. They were transported to Egypt, where they were allegedly subjected to torture.
In a 2005 report, the Swedish ombudsman concluded that Swedish officials mishandled the case. They had allowed the American officials to operate on Swedish soil in a manner contrary to Swedish custom and possibly in breach of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which prohibits torture and inhumane and degrading treatment.
U.S. law and practices violate Canadian laws and norms. More to the point, the new border agreement threatens to diminish individual liberties already under attack. In the name of universal human rights, and working-class internationalism, the deal must be undone.