Showing posts with label canadian culture. Show all posts
Showing posts with label canadian culture. Show all posts

11.09.2018

11.11

11 anti-war books, parts 1 and 2.

11 anti-war songs.

Robert Fisk: "...Heaven be thanked that the soldiers cannot return to discover how their sacrifice has been turned into fashion appendage."

Why no red poppy, why no white poppy:
It's that time of year again, the week when no one dares show their face on Canadian television, or indeed in any public place in Canada, without a red poppy symbol dutifully stuck on their lapel. What was once (supposedly) a remembrance of the horrors of war drifted first into a celebration of war and finally into obligatory, reflexive display.

Many of my friends are wearing a white poppy today, and I wish them good luck with their campaign. I myself have no wish to display a physical comment on a symbol that is meaningless to me. It would feel like wearing a Star of David to show that I am not Christian.

There is only one symbol that can express my feelings about the war dead - the Canadians, the Americans, the Germans, the Japanese, the Vietnamese, the Guatemalans, the Africans, the Native Americans, the Iraqis, all my fellow human creatures - and the wounded, and the ruined, and the heartbroken, and the shattered witnesses - the millions of lives wasted - for conquest, for profit, for nationalism, for ideology, for imperialism, for nothing. That is the peace symbol I wear every day. And much importantly, inside, in my heart of hearts, there is my core belief that war is evil and we must oppose it.
Honour the dead by working for peace.

7.01.2018

happy canada day: a wish for a pledge

One unfortunate result of the current ascendancy of white supremacy in the US is the increase in Canadians' nationalism and self-love -- the strengthening of Canadians' conviction that our society is peaceful and democratic, our institutions benevolent, our kindness manifest in law.

We pat ourselves on the back while Trudeau spends our money trampling Indigenous rights, poisoning our water, and hastening climate catastrophe. We say "We're the greatest country in the world," while our most populous province has elected a false-majority, white supremacist government of our own.

So often, if Canadians can believe that it's better here than in the US, they are happy enough to stop there.

We can do better.

We must do better.

This Canada Day, let's pledge to push our governments -- and to educate our friends, family, co-workers, and ourselves -- so that Canada can live up to its reputation, a little more every day.

6.08.2018

on poppies, veterans, trolls, and doxing

First of all, I do not apologize.

I have nothing to apologize for. No one should apologize for having an unpopular opinion, or an opinion that the majority finds offensive.

Second, I said nothing disrespectful to veterans. My utter lack of respect -- my undying contempt -- is for rulers whose policies send humans into unnecessary armed conflict. Those rulers pay lip-service to "supporting" troops, while their policies ensure more humans will suffer from the effects of war.

If you're joining us in progress, here's what you missed. 

Before the election, I took all my personal social media offline. We knew that the opposition would dedicate vast resources to digging up or fabricating anything they could use against NDP candidates. For some reason, no one directed me to remove wmtc links from the Wayback Machine (i.e., internet archives). This proved to be a grave error.

A right-wing political hack who masquerades as a journalist received excerpts from some old wmtc posts from a troll source. I know this because Hack forwarded Troll's email to me, with the identifiers scrubbed.

Hack did what hacks do, and trolls did what trolls do. Hack kept this going for way longer than any of us expected, dedicating three columns to me, and mentioning my name in several other columns. Eventually it was reported on by more mainstream media.

The right-wing attack machine moved from candidate to candidate, digging up tiny bits of online fodder, distorting and quoting out of context, in a ludicrous attempt to portray the NDP as a hotbed of wacko radicalism.

Doug Ford and his party waged the worst kind of campaign possible: they obfuscated facts, and relied on lies, sloganeering, and mudslinging.

Andrea Horwath and our party were consistently positive, focused, truthful, and precise.

That the majority of voters in Ontario chose the former over the latter is profoundly disturbing.

Doxing

I thought I knew what it was like to be attacked by trolls, from early wmtc days. I was wrong. The trolls who attacked this blog were annoying gnats who could be easily batted away. The troll attack orchestrated by Hack & Co. was a whirling swarm of angry hornets, the size of a midwest twister.

Their weapons were the most vulgar kind of personal insults, and graphic threats of violence.

I have pretty thick skin and don't tend to take things personally. My union sisters and brothers often describe me as "fearless". But this was a form of violence, and it shook me.

I'm lucky that it didn't affect my outlook, my opinions, or my self-esteem. That's down to the amazing support I had -- from the party, from my union, from friends, and from strangers who agreed with my views and reached out to me. Because of this support, I was shielded from most of the invective. I saw only a small portion of it, yet that was enough to shake me. I felt that my personal safety was threatened. That's not easy to do to me.

It's difficult -- nay, impossible -- for me to understand this kind of behaviour. The whitehot anger, the fervor so easily ignited -- the immediate willingness to attack, the assumed entitlement to say anything to anyone, hiding behind the anonymity of the internet. The seeming inability to respectfully disagree. It is truly beyond my understanding.

What I think about poppies, militarism, and veterans


I wrote the now-infamous post about the poppy symbols at a time when Prime Minister Stephen Harper was flogging the war machine in Afghanistan. I have a deeply held opposition to war, and I wanted Canada out of Afghanistan.

I also link the symbolic poppy to the general militarism that infects our society -- where "support the troops" is code for "support the war". Militarism takes many forms, including recruiting in schools, honouring military members at sporting events, using weapons as entertainment, such as air shows, and for me, the ubiquitous poppy symbol.

Naturally I understand that the majority does not view the poppy symbol this way. Hundreds tried to enlighten me, as if somehow the view of the vast majority hadn't reached my ears. But guess what? I disagree.

I have never written or said anything that disparages veterans. On the contrary, the pages of this blog are replete with disgust for the governments that disrespect veterans by slashing funding for their health and rehabilitation. My "11.11" category is about peace. If wanting peace disrespects veterans, we are living in an Orwellian nightmare.

What supporting veterans should look like

I have no doubt that for some people the poppy is a potent symbol, and that they believe wearing this symbol shows respect and reverence for veterans. I have never suggested that other people shouldn't wear poppies. I simply choose not to wear one. (I don't refuse to wear one, as the memes said. I choose not to.)

To me, if we truly want to support veterans and military servicemembers, we must do two things.

One, create and fully fund a robust array of supports for people who have suffered from war, to support their physical and mental well-being. Our society does not do that.

And two, stop making war. Stop creating veterans. Search for ways to resolve conflicts that do not involve killing people. And never use war as a means to profit.

Until these things are done, you can cover yourself in poppies, and your "support" and "respect" will be as false as the plastic flowers you revere.

A final word about respect

I don't disrespect veterans. But I don't automatically respect someone because they are a veteran.

Many people contribute to our society through their work or their passions. Others harm our society with selfishness, greed, violence, and unkindness. When people are kind and generous, when they act with compassion and integrity, I respect them. When they do the opposite, I do not. This is as true for veterans as it is for teachers, social workers, nurses, or politicians.

People who hurl crude insults at strangers because they cannot abide a difference of opinion, but who claim to love freedom and respect veterans, are ignorant wretches. I don't respect them. I pity them.

4.01.2018

things i heard at the library: an occasional series: #28

With apologies to my man C. Dickens, it was the worst of customers, it was the best of customers.

Our Children's Department is short-staffed right now, and although that is stressful in many ways, there is a silver lining for me: I am needed more on the information desk, and that's my favourite place to be in the library. One day this week, I experienced a real study in contrasts.

From the desk, I looked over at the "activity centre" -- an educational-play area for parents and children -- and saw something sail through the air! It was a plastic play-thing of some sort and its arc was unmistakably thrown. As I started walking over, a parent intercepted me. He was holding the base of a small puzzle -- a square piece of wood -- and said, "This child is throwing things. He hit my child with this. I spoke to the father, and he said, 'They are children. That's what children do!'". I thanked him for letting me know and said I would take care of it.

I could easily spot the problem -- one stressed father and two children going wild. The boys -- ages roughly 5 and 3 -- took off out of the play area, running in different directions, both shrieking loudly, knocking things over, randomly grabbing books or whatever they could get their hands on and throwing them. The father took off after them, yelling. (He wasn't speaking English but I assume it was some version of "Get back here!".)

The older boy started running up the stairs -- i.e. out of the department to the rest of the library. At that point it got scary. The kids seemed completely out of control. The father was in pursuit of the younger boy, yelling at the older one.

I stood to the side and assessed the situation, trying to decide when it was time to call security, or alert staff upstairs that the child was on his way. After a lot of running and a lot of yelling, the man secured the younger child, and holding him sideways under his arm, like a football, and was able to run down the older child and get him them both into a large stroller.

I expected them to leave the library, so I was surprised when the father -- with both boys locked down -- headed in my direction. He was furious, sputtering. "This is a place for children! Children need to play! They need to run! What kind of a place is this where you do not let children be children!"

I tried to say that children can be children in the library, but it is not a place for running or for rough play. They cannot throw things, and they cannot strike other children.

"You exaggerate! I saw you talking to the man there! He is exaggerating!"

I tried a few times to interject, but he was too upset to listen. He ranted for a while about what a horrible library we have, and then left.

I think these were the wildest children I've ever seen in our library. I felt sorry for them and for their dad.

* * * *

About an hour later, another father and son approached the desk. The boy was holding a library card in his outstretched arm, our universal symbol for either a puzzle or a train to take in the activity area. I like to try to get the shy kids to talk to me, or at least smile, so I said, "You are giving me this card? What it is for?"

The boy seemed to say tr. So I said, "Trrr...?" thinking he was trying to say train.

The father said, "He is saying ahtr. It means train in Arabic." I completed the card-for-train transaction* with the boy, and said, "Ah yes, that is one of the Arabic words I know," and managed to say what I remembered for train station. "I was in Egypt last year, and before I went, I tried to learn a little Arabic."

The man's eyes lit up. "We are from Egypt! Where did you go? What did you see?" He wanted to know everywhere we went, and what we thought, and what we experienced. He loved that I learned some Arabic -- although he was a bit disappointed that I wasn't actually learning to read Arabic script.

We talked about the pyramids, and the tombs, and in general raved about the ancient civilization. He told me we must go to Sharm El Sheikh, and how uniquely beautiful the Red Sea is, and how wonderful his hometown of Alexandria is.

In response to my questions, he said his family has been in Mississauga since last July. They were previously in the US -- in New York City, doing a residency at Mt. Sinai Hospital -- but are doing much better here. "Here, there is everyone," he said. "Everyone is accepting. No one looks at you funny if a woman is wearing a hijab. People are accepting, are open, people want to live peacefully with their neighbours from all over the world."

My mind immediately flashed to some of the horror stories I've heard, the Islamophobic attacks that have made the news. I said, "I'm glad you're finding that. We love our diverse Mississauga."

He said, "I have seen a woman wearing a hijab, at a front desk, at a reception. My heart was so joyous. Not because I want women to wear hijabs, but because it means, it is OK here, you do not need to hide, no one will hurt you. It means, you can be yourself."

I said something about all of us being from somewhere else, if not us, our parents or grandparents. He immediately said, "Unless you are an indigenous person, we are all immigrants." I thought, did he get that from nine months in Canada? Impressive! (His English, by the way, was perfect.)

Another thing he loves about Mississauga is the large Arabic-speaking community. That has made it very easy for their family to settle in. The only thing they don't like is the "Middle Eastern food", which he said with quotes. He said they have tried all kinds of food -- Thai, Indian, Italian, Polish -- but the food that is supposed to be their own is always disappointing. "The tiniest little shop in Cairo has food so many times better!"

And this brings me to the punchline.

I told him we loved the food in Egypt, especially the dishes that are supposed to be fast-food. I couldn't remember the names of the two foods, but a quick google was all it took: koshary and hawashi. The conversation goes on and on, and then I need to help another customer.

A short time later, a woman comes to the desk, and says, "Hello, my name is Noor. You were speaking with my husband Tarek." We shake hands and greet each other warmly. "My husband said that you and your husband were in Egypt, and that you enjoyed the koshary. I will make some for you."

She will make some for me.

This woman, a stranger, my neighbour. She wants to cook something for me.

Naturally, I said, "Oh no, no, no, that is so kind of you, but no, I could not accept it. You are very nice to offer."

Again: she offered. She assured me. She wanted to. I must let her.

I thanked her profusely and steadfastly refused.

This went on for a bit.

Finally, she said, "I must insist. I will make it and I will be sad if you do not accept it. Right now, give me your number so I can call you when I have it. I will bring it in a container to you." She got out her phone to enter my number.

I gave in, and gave her my name and my cell number.

I'll let you know what happens.




* We used to keep trains out on the train table. They were a constant source of intense conflict, and they constantly disappeared. The card-for-train method works beautifully.

We do the same with puzzles and "book and play kits". This is common practice in all our libraries -- although the train table is unique in the system, because we have so much more space.

7.09.2017

a must-read if you're responding to ignorance and bigotry about omar khadr's settlement

In case everyone hasn't seen this yet, written by someone named Ben Feral Selinger.
July 6

Okay, I'm fucking sick of the idiocy and done with writing a diatribe every single time a friend posts about how they're upset that Trudeau is giving a terrorist $10m. You people are.... wilfully ignorant and hypocritical. Here's why. (And I thoroughly suggest reading the entire post. If you know me, you know I'm neither stupid, nor an apologist. I am pure fucking science, and this post is such. Read it before making an ass of yourself by posting about how we just gave a terrorist money).

The story (the facts we know).

* Canadian born Khadr was taken to Afghanistan at age 9, by his father. We don't know if he wanted to go, and we don't know why they went. There has been zero evidence put forth to suggest the trip had anything to do with terrorism. Regardless, as he was only 9, he had no choice in the matter.

* Khadr, aged 15, was found in critical condition following a firefight. The mission debrief report filed by the US troops stated that a middle aged man threw a grenade, which killed one US soldier. The grenadier was shot in the head and confirmed killed.

* Khadr was taken to Guantanamo Bay prison. No charges were filed against him at that time.

* Several years later, formal charges were filed. These charges were technically not even charges of war crimes, as if they were true, Khadr would be considered an enemy combatant during a time of war, and thus everything he was accused of doing, was legal under rules of engagement. He was denied access to a lawyer at this point and no trial date was set. He was held in detention and tortured for nearly 10 years.

* Nearly a decade later, an addendum to the original mission debrief was submitted, which identified the grenadier as Khadr by name. The original report was not rescinded. No one knows who made the addendum. No US personnel present during the firefight confirms the addendum. (at least I've not been able to find any).

* A week later, Khadr is offered a plea deal. The terms of the deal were to admit guilt to all charges and serve a few more years in a Canadian prison, or refuse to admit guilt and be denied trial indefinitely. (the latter portion is not confirmed by the US government, but let's be realistic here...)

* Khadr takes the plea deal, is transferred to Canada.

* Khadr sues the Canadian government for their involvement in his illegal detention, torture, and lack of a trial.

All of the above is true as far as anyone knows. That is the official story, from both the Canadian and US governments. They have said straight out that Khadr would not be offered a trial unless he took the plea deal. Just let that sink in for a moment.

Now let me ask you a question.

As a Canadian, what do you stand for? Do you believe that you, as a Canadian, have the right to be presumed innocent, until proven guilty, as well as the right to a fair and quick trial? I know this is hard for many of you to consider without jumping to "oh, but he's a terrorist, so fuck him, he's a traitor and doesn't deserve anything", but we'll get to that in a minute. Seriously consider this. Do you believe you have, as a Canadian, the inalienable right to everything laid out in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms?

If you do, but still think Khadr does not, because he is a terrorist, let me ask you; "How do you know he is guilty?" There was no trial for 10 years, and he was only offered a trial on the condition that he plead guilty. How do we, as Canadians, determine guilt? Have you read and understood the Charter of Rights and Freedoms? It's entire purpose is precisely to ensure that what happened to Khadr, is not allowed to happen. Period.

Now I know many of you still can't get past the "but he's a traitor so he doesn't deserve a trial" even though neither you, nor me, nor the US or Canadian government were able to provide ANY evidence whatsoever, of his guilt (no evidence was submitted during his trial, presumably because none exists), but that doesn't matter. Let me explain the problem to you.

You are worried that terrorists are trying to take away your freedoms as a Canadian right? They're trying to force their way of life upon us and we as Canadians, won't stand for that right?

Do you see where I'm going here? Presuming Khadr's guilt, with no evidence and without trial, is precisely what the terrorists want to do to Canada. Isn't that your concern? Does it not strike you then, that by saying that Khadr doesn't deserve a fair trial because he is a terrorist, with absolutely no evidence, nor a trial to prove the charges, that you are doing precisely what you are worried the terrorists are trying to do do us? A presumption of guilt, no trial, a decade of detention and torture. Is that not EXACTLY what you are worried terrorists are trying to do to us?

At this point, I don't think any of us should even be concerned about Khadrs innocence or guilt. He is inconsequential at this point. The REAL concern for all Canadians, is that our government denied a Canadian citizen his inalienable rights, guaranteed to him under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. They did EXACTLY what you are worried the terrorists are trying to do. If Khadr was guilty, a trial probably would have proven such, so why was he denied a trial?

For your information, the Canadian government did not simply offer up an apology and $10m for no reason. They were sued. Khadr filed a civil suit with the supreme court of Canada, and that court found in favour of Khadr, in that the Canadian government was in breach of Canadian and International law. Over half the money awarded will be going toward legal fees.

Think about it this way. Your government, was just successfully sued for war crimes. Crimes they committed not only against Khadr, but against the entire Canadian public. They assured us that we would all be given a fair trial, but now we know that is not true. They assured us that we will always be presumed innocent until proven guilty. We know that is not true. They took your money, money which could have been spent on building half a hospital or something, and spent it instead, on committing war crimes, and crimes directly against the Charter for which our country stands.

Now I don't know if Khadr is innocent or guilty and I don't know if that money will end up right back in the middle east, but before you get upset about that, I want you to consider this: Had the Canadian government offered Khadr a fair trial, regardless of his guilt, there would have been no civil suit and we'd have $10.5m more Canadian Pesos to spend on Moose shirts, or maple syrup flavoured hockey sticks.
All they had to do, was abide by our own legal doctrine, and this whole mess would have never happened.

In summation:

If you believe Khadr did not deserve a fair and quick trial, you are not Canadian. You do not stand for what Canada stands for. You are saying very clearly, that you don't care about evidence, treating people (who we presume are innocent until proven guilty) with basic decency, or your own or anyone else's right to a fair trial. You are, quite literally, openly supporting about half of Sharia law. You fuckwits.

Addendum: Hey guys. I had no intention of this post reaching such a wide audience. It was really just directed at my fellow redneck buddies (all very excellent folk but who I felt could benefit from the data). I've adjusted some of the language to suit a wider audience.

I appreciate the feedback (surprisingly generally positive), but bear in mind that with a post this widely shared, I cannot respond to the thousands of PM's flying at me. Feel free to re-share the post, or just copy/paste to your own feed to keep the conversation going. I absolutely do not need any personal attribution.
Thank you, Ben.

7.01.2017

thoughts on canada 150

It's Canada Day, this year dubbed Canada 150, with its own corporate brand and a carefully worded story of that number 150. We also have Canada 150+, which acknowledges that human cultures and societies have been living in what is now Canada for thousands of years.

I have mixed feelings about Canada Day.

First, I despise nationalism of all kinds, including the kind called patriotism. I used to make a distinction between the two (something I learned from my mother), but have come to feel that it is all the same: I am better than you because I live on this piece of land and you don't. In Canada, patriotism mostly translates into complacency, as if "we're much better than our neighbours to the south!" is good enough.

But more importantly, when it comes to Canada 150, are indigenous people. The very concept of Canada 150 excludes and erases the original inhabitants of this land. From an indigenous point of view, Canada 150 marks the beginning of colonialism, occupation, extermination.

This would be bad enough, if the horrors weren't still being lived right here, right now. A country that spends $500,000,000 celebrating itself should be able to bring clean water to everyone who lives here.* The Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women issue should be wrapped up by now, a shameful piece of history, not an ongoing battle. Governments should be thanking indigenous leadership on the environmental front, and trying to reverse the damage done to indigenous land and water by extraction industries.

Most of my leftist comrades eschew Canada Day for this reason, and are disgusted by Canada 150.

I agree. And yet... I have another perspective, too.

I love Canada in many ways. I am grateful that I was able to come here and begin my life anew. I love that Canada was an early adopter of equal marriage, and now leads the way in the rights of transpeople. I love Canada's public health care (and wish there was a whole lot more of it). I love that women (mostly) have full control over our reproductive lives. I love the multiculturalism, and the strong reaction when that value is transgressed. Of course there is racism here -- which only means Canadians are human beings -- but the kind of virulence and violence seen every day in the US would never be tolerated here on a large scale.

The indigenous perspective is big news here -- emphasized in the mainstream media and acknowledged by the top level of government. Many countries all over the world refuse to even acknowledge a colonial or genocidal past. Words without action are meaningless, but no action can begin without that acknowledgement; while words alone are insufficient, they are still significant.

I have spent most of my life opposing state power, and there's plenty to work on here, on every front -- peace, environment, labour, health care, gender equity. None of it is good enough. But if we widen the lens to view Canada globally, it's one of the best places to live on the planet. There's a lot I would change and fix, but if we could magically give everyone on the planet the quality of life enjoyed by most Canadians, it would be a vast improvement. (Of course, the planet would collapse, because its resources would be instantly depleted. But we're only talking metaphor here.)

Canada is far from perfect -- and Canadians know that, acknowledge it, and strive for better. Which in turn is part of why I love it here.

Canada 150 doesn't mean a lot to me. But there's no way around it. I love Canada. That's why I'll never stop criticizing it.



* To be fair, most of that money went to repairing and renovating infrastructure that will should last well beyond the July 1, 2017 party. Perhaps that highlights the issue even more starkly!


12.26.2016

travel safety in egypt vs anywhere else in the world

When I tell people I'm going to Egypt, they are happy and excited for me. Then, almost everyone asks me if it's safe there, and says, "Be careful." The recent incident in Berlin has caused me to reflect on why this is.

First: I am not complaining about friends expressing concern for my safety. I know that they are coming from a place of care and concern.

But they are also coming from a place of fear. The media has conditioned us to think of the Middle East as inherently unstable and unsafe. Add to that the violence during and after the 2011 Egyptian revolution, and western fears that US-backed dictator Mubarak would be replaced with a fundamentalist theocracy.

In Canada, there's also another layer: what I observe as a prevalent Canadian attitude about travel safety. To my mind, many Canadians are inordinately worried about safety when travelling. They are often timid about the world, risk-averse, people who value safety over adventure, and the known world over exploration. The majority of Canadians like their travel pre-packaged, predictable, and tame. As with all generalizations, exceptions abound, but I observe this on a regular basis.

The Canadian media stokes fears of travel, with sensational reporting on crime against vacationing Canadians, especially in Mexico. From what I can glean from news stories, some of this violence seems to be directed at tourists in heavily touristed areas. This CBC story sought to put the incidents in perspective, but CBC is among the worst offenders of sensationalist scare-stories about Mexico.

When my friends urge me to "be careful" in Egypt, I think there must be some measure of Islamophobia involved. I don't think it's conscious -- but I really don't know. We're traveling to "the Muslim world" or "the Arab world," as people say. To many people, that equates with danger.

When I traveled to Europe, no one expressed concerns for my safety, despite bombings in Paris, Madrid, and London in the not-distant past -- to say nothing of the murder rate in the United States. Yet Egypt is the only destination that has earned all the "be careful"s.

It's not that I haven't thought about the risk of going to Egypt and Jordan. I've been looking into the relative safety of this trip, off and on, for a few years. I came to the conclusion that for tourism, Egypt is safe enough. I assessed the risk as best I could -- and also assessed our age, financial situation, and the timing of this trip in our lives -- and decided now was the time. (I'm also hoping that we'll take advantage of tourism to Egypt still being depressed, encountering smaller crowds and better ease of travel.)

We flew to Ireland exactly two months after September 11, 2001, and just hours after a flight leaving from the same airport crashed and burned just after take-off. We could see the lights of the emergency crews from the runway. That felt a lot riskier than the trip we're planning now. And of course, the worst thing that ever happened to me happened while I was home, sleeping in my own bed.

In terms of specific trip planning, we did make a few concessions to safety. We've ruled out a few sites that seem too far off the beaten track, which in another place and time we might have trekked to. We were considering the Siwa Oasis, but it entails a long bus ride through the desert, and the oasis itself is right near the border with Libya. We're skipping things like that.

The way I look at it, there are risks everywhere. Life is risk. We risk life every day. The most important thing is to try to live life as fully and as meaningfully as possible.

4.30.2016

u.s. iraq war resisters: the struggle continues

Still war resisters. Still in Canada. Still fighting to stay.

So far, the change in government hasn't helped the Iraq War resisters who remain here, nor the ones who were forced out of Canada who would like to return. The Trudeau government could do this so easily. And yet.

The CBC Radio show "DNTO" recently did an excellent segment about the US Iraq War resisters and the fight - still going on - to let them stay in Canada.
When American soldier Joshua Key fled to Canada in 2005, he never imagined that ten years later he would still be fighting a war — against the U.S. army, against post-traumatic stress disorder, and against the Canadian government.

Key is one of an estimated 15 Iraq war veterans who are fighting to remain in Canada.

The resisters left home to avoid being sent back to a war they didn't believe in. Today, they fear they'll be sent to prison if they're deported.

On this week's DNTO, you'll meet modern war resisters. Each of their stories is unique, but they all have one thing in common: they wish to stay in Canada. Should they be allowed to?
Some segments:

Meet the war resisters desperate to stay in Canada.

Who's helping the war resisters?

The Brockway family: fighting PTSD and searching for home.

A photo essay about Josh Key.

The show is really worth hearing, and you know how I feel about radio. You can listen to the full episode here.

2.21.2016

u.s. election circus puts wmtc in the news again

About a month ago, I received an email from a film producer: Netflix is making a documentary about Americans who moved to Canada for political reasons, and asked if Allan and I would be interviewed. We spent a long time chatting with her, before being told that the film is being shot in Vancouver and we're not in it. Oh well.

A few days later, a writer called about a story for The Guardian, asking much the same questions. That interview resulted in this article: 'An alternative exists': the US citizens who vowed to flee to Canada – and did. This writer didn't use much of my interview, but I did get the last word!

Then someone at The Toronto Star noticed the Guardian story and did a long interview with me. That story came out yesterday: Disenchanted U.S. voters look with longing eyes to Canada, but few follow through.

The editors scrapped most of what I said about the differences between Canada and the U.S. I even gave them the bullet-point version: universal health care, didn't invade Iraq, no death penalty, no abortion law, one of the first countries to legalize same-sex marriage, a party to the left of liberal. A functioning democracy. A more secular society. On the other hand, no one mentioned Stephen Harper, so that was nice.

Funny thing about that Guardian story. The man in the photo is someone I used to work and hang with in the War Resisters Support Campaign. And we met through - wait for it - a radio interview about Americans who had moved to Canada for political reasons.

The Star article includes a link to this blog, so I figured I should write something.

1.31.2016

dispatches from ola 2016, part 1: choosing to walk a path

I attended OLA* for only one day this year, partly because I'm already missing so much work for bargaining and other union business, and partly because one day is often enough. There's a huge lineup of presentations, poster sessions, book signings, vendors, keynote speakers, tours, receptions, etc. - lots of etc. - but the presentations are the meat of the conference. Four presentations a day for three days is just too much.

As it happened, three of the four talks I attended shared a theme: bringing library services to underserved, marginalized, and socially excluded communities.

My first of the day was Choosing to Walk a Path: Library Services with Indigenous Peoples on Purpose. Monique Woroniak, from Winnipeg, a city with a significant indigenous population, first set the social and political context. It was a bit like being at our annual socialist conference: the presenter using the expression the Canadian state, as opposed to Canada, and speaking about settler colonialism as an ongoing structure, rather than an event in the past.

Woroniak showed an old family photograph from a few generations back, when her own forebears - as for many Canadian-born Canadians - were "settling" the prairies. She set the current context as the marked increase in "public expressions of indigenous sovereignty," beginning with Idle No More, but echoing through Canada with a heightened presence of indigenous literature, and in Winnipeg, with social spaces, a magazine, and other events.

I liked her explanation of the difference between diversity and anti-racism initiatives. Diversity programming celebrates multiculturalism - a commendable goal, and better than its opposite - but it leaves power structures unchanged. Anti-racism programming and services seek to create conditions to transform that power imbalance.

That can only happen with (what is now called) a "community development" model. Rather than think of ourselves and our institutions as experts - the holders of special knowledge or at least the keys to that knowledge - telling the community what we have to offer, we work to build relationships, so the community can tell us what they need.

What this looks like in practical terms, as far as I can tell, is not substantially different than a purposeful and meaningful attempt to be more inclusive, combat racism, and educate the public at large about a marginalized community. The difference, it seems, is how one arrives at that goal. And in a field where we are measured by statistics - how many materials circulated, how many people attended a program - this shifts the focus from end result to process.

The most important thing - something we talk about all the time in relation to youth, older adults, or any other population we serve - is not to tell people what we're doing for them, but ask them what they want us to do for and with them. Sounds simple, right? The reality is remarkably elusive. In the context of austerity budgets and skeletal staff, taking time to build relationships and focus on process might as well be a unicorn ride on a rainbow.

One minor note I found interesting was Woroniak`s take on the use of the word "ally". She said (I paraphrase), "You don't call yourself an ally. If a person from the community you are serving calls you an ally, then accept that as a great compliment, but you don't decide that." I'm not sure what to make of that, given that Idle No More shares "I am an ally" badges online.

Next up: Prisons and Libraries: A Relationship Worth Incubating.





* Officially the Ontario Library Association Super Conference, but always referred to as O-L-A, as if we are attending the organization.

6.07.2015

truth and reconciliation, past and present: why this matters to all of us

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada has just completed its week-long closing event in Ottawa. The Commission was part of the historic settlement between the Canadian Government and the survivors of the former Indian Residential Schools.
Its mandate is to inform all Canadians about what happened in Indian Residential Schools (IRS). The Commission will document the truth of survivors, families, communities and anyone personally affected by the IRS experience.

This includes First Nations, Inuit and Métis former Indian Residential School students, their families, communities, the Churches, former school employees, Government and other Canadians.
I don't know if this is well known outside of Canada, or outside of people who take a special interest in indigenous issues.

The divide between natives and non-natives in Canada is vast. Environmental activism - opposition to the tar sands, pipelines, fracking, and Canadian mining globally - offers prime opportunity for cooperation and engagement, but that generally involves only front-line activists.

No (normal, thinking, breathing) non-native person defends the brutality of the Residential Schools. No sane person can feel anything but grief, sorrow, and rage when learning about such a system. Some people experience disbelief that such a system was ever conceived, let alone built and maintained, not unlike our feelings about slavery or the Holocaust. Some non-Native people who grew up in Canada wonder why they didn't learn about Indian Residential Schools in their Canadian history class.

Despite this easily-activated sorrow, many non-Native Canadians wonder: "What does this have to do with me?" I have heard very sympathetic people note that their ancestors had nothing to do with the Residential School system: "My family were peasants farmers in Poland/Italy/India/China."

What does this have to do with us? We are Canadians. Whether through birth or by choice, we live in this country. We accept its laws, its culture, and its history. And like the history of so many places the world over, Canada's history includes the cultural genocide of its original people.

As non-Native people, we enjoy rights and privileges that were systematically and utterly denied to those original people. Indeed, this modern country of ours was created and built at their expense.

We cannot take pride in what's good about Canada, and not accept - or even acknowledge - the pain and loss embedded in its history. Every Canadian who celebrates Canada - its beauty, its tolerance, its diverse cultures; the humour, the music, the health care, the Charter - must know this Canada, too.

It doesn't matter if we personally or our direct ancestors were responsible for this. We are part of Canada, so this is part of us.

What does this have to do with us? We are human.

Promotional poster from TRC South Africa
I am fascinated by Truth and Reconciliation Commissions in general. I followed the hearings as best I could as they unfolded in both South Africa and Ireland. It's easy to be cynical about this process, especially when the current Government of Canada has a truly abysmal record on aboriginal issues (which, of course, goes hand-in-glove with its environmental record). But how else to move forward?

The course followed by dominant cultures and ruling classes the world over has been to bury, whitewash, and pretend. And when the issues continue to surface - when the past continues to poison the present, as it always will - those ruling classes either obstruct and imprison, or shrug and pay lip-service. Ignoring the past guarantees that it will never be past.

This is the societal equivalent of what each of us must go through to heal from our own past. A person who has not truly faced their past - whether in formal therapy, or through writing or art, or some other personal journey - will continue to be haunted by it. Only after an honest and full acknowledgement of their own anger and sorrow can a person move forward. Without that, we are forever trapped in, stymied by, prisoner of, our past.

The same goes for societies. Only through a honest, full, and public accounting is it possible to heal and move forward. Whether the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada will be effective for individual Native people and for First Nations, Inuit and Métis cultures as a whole, only those directly involved can determine, and only time will tell.

For more about Indian Residential Schools, in Canada and elsewhere, I recommend:
- Indian Horse, a novel by Richard Wagamese (wmtc review here)
- "Rabbit-Proof Fence," 2002 Australian movie
- "We Were Children," documentary about Indian Residential Schools (Available on Netflix; I have not seen it yet but intend to.)
- Broken Circle: the Dark Legacy of Indian Residential Schools: A Memoir, by Theodore Fontaine (and a list of related titles here on Amazon.ca)

4.01.2015

in which i remember a difference between the u.s. and canada or maybe between new york and everywhere else

I'm in New York for a few days, visiting my mom and some friends. Today at a Whole Foods, my mother said to the cashier, "Don't make the packages too heavy." And the cashier said, "OK."

I was a bit surprised. My mother is a very polite, friendly person. Yet I thought she sounded somewhat rude.

And then I thought, no, this is what people sound like here.

In Canada - even in Mississauga, where supposedly we're practically American - this same conversation "at the cash" sounds like this:

"Hi, how are you today?"

"Fine thanks, and you?"

"I'm doing fine. If you don't mind, could you please not put too much in any one package? I'm not very strong!"

"Oh sure, no problem. Is three bags all right? Or would you prefer four?"

"Three is fine, thank you!"

"Do you need help getting out to your car?"

"No that's fine, I'm good."

"Are you sure?"

"Yes, I promise, I can manage. But thank you for asking, that's very thoughtful of you."

"Have a great day."

"Same to you, thank you."

Maybe people sound like this all over the US, except in the New York City area. Or maybe... it's Canada.




11.11.2014

11.11: honour the dead by committing to peace

Robert Fisk, in The Independent:
But as the years passed, old Bill Fisk became very ruminative about the Great War. He learned that Haig had lied, that he himself had fought for a world that betrayed him, that 20,000 British dead on the first day of the Somme – which he mercifully avoided because his first regiment, the Cheshires, sent him to Dublin and Cork to deal with another 1916 "problem" – was a trashing of human life. In hospital and recovering from cancer, I asked him once why the Great War was fought. "All I can tell you, fellah," he said, "was that it was a great waste." And he swept his hand from left to right. Then he stopped wearing his poppy. I asked him why, and he said that he didn't want to see "so many damn fools" wearing it – he was a provocative man and, sadly, I fell out with him in his old age. What he meant was that all kinds of people who had no idea of the suffering of the Great War – or the Second, for that matter – were now ostentatiously wearing a poppy for social or work-related reasons, to look patriotic and British when it suited them, to keep in with their friends and betters and employers. These people, he said to me once, had no idea what the trenches of France were like, what it felt like to have your friends die beside you and then to confront their brothers and wives and lovers and parents. At home, I still have a box of photographs of his mates, all of them killed in 1918.

So like my Dad, I stopped wearing the poppy on the week before Remembrance Day, 11 November, when on the 11th hour of the 11 month of 1918, the armistice ended the war called Great. I didn't feel I deserved to wear it and I didn't think it represented my thoughts. The original idea came, of course, from the Toronto military surgeon and poet John McCrae and was inspired by the death of his friend Lieutenant Alexis Helmer, killed on 3 May 1915. "In Flanders fields the poppies blow/Between the crosses, row on row." But it's a propaganda poem, urging readers to "take up the quarrel with the foe". Bill Fisk eventually understood this and turned against it. He was right.
Read the whole piece: Do those who flaunt the poppy on their lapels know that they mock the war dead?

I'm the only person in my workplace not wearing a poppy. This is when I appreciate the Canadian quiet live-and-let-live attitude and aversion to potential conflict. I'm sure the absence has been noted, but no one says anything.

No white poppy for me, either. It has no meaning to me.

I just wear my peace button on my jacket as always, and wait for the collective brainwashing to blow over. When our masters give the signal, everyone can take off the fake poppy - made with prison labour - and create a bit more landfill. And another annual ritual of war glorification comes to a close.

Meanwhile, in my country of origin...

David Masciotra, in Salon:
Put a man in uniform, preferably a white man, give him a gun, and Americans will worship him. It is a particularly childish trait, of a childlike culture, that insists on anointing all active military members and police officers as “heroes.” The rhetorical sloppiness and intellectual shallowness of affixing such a reverent label to everyone in the military or law enforcement betrays a frightening cultural streak of nationalism, chauvinism, authoritarianism and totalitarianism, but it also makes honest and serious conversations necessary for the maintenance and enhancement of a fragile democracy nearly impossible.

It has become impossible to go a week without reading a story about police brutality, abuse of power and misuse of authority. Michael Brown’s murder represents the tip of a body pile, and in just the past month, several videos have emerged of police assaulting people, including pregnant women, for reasons justifiable only to the insane.

It is equally challenging for anyone reasonable, and not drowning in the syrup of patriotic sentimentality, to stop saluting, and look at the servicemen of the American military with criticism and skepticism. There is a sexual assault epidemic in the military. In 2003, a Department of Defense study found that one-third of women seeking medical care in the VA system reported experiencing rape or sexual violence while in the military. Internal and external studies demonstrate that since the official study, numbers of sexual assaults within the military have only increased, especially with male victims. According to the Pentagon, 38 men are sexually assaulted every single day in the U.S. military. Given that rape and sexual assault are, traditionally, the most underreported crimes, the horrific statistics likely fail to capture the reality of the sexual dungeon that has become the United States military.

Chelsea Manning, now serving time in prison as a whistle-blower, uncovered multiple incidents of fellow soldiers laughing as they murdered civilians. Keith Gentry, a former Navy man, wrote that when he and his division were bored they preferred passing the time with the “entertainment” of YouTube videos capturing air raids of Iraq and Afghanistan, often making jokes and mocking the victims of American violence. If the murder of civilians, the rape of “brothers and sisters” on base, and the relegation of death and torture of strangers as fodder for amusement qualifies as heroism, the world needs better villains.
The essay: You don’t protect my freedom: Our childish insistence on calling soldiers heroes deadens real democracy.

10.26.2014

kevin vickers, nathan cirillo, and canada's response to recent acts of violence

I've been thinking a lot about Kevin Vickers. By now the world knows Vickers' name: he is the sergeant-at-arms of the Parliament of Canada, and his quick thinking and courage undoubtedly saved lives. Vickers shot killed Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, who had already killed one person and appeared intent on killing others.

Vickers is a hero. But my thoughts of him are filled not with adulation, but with sorrow. Imagine going to work one day, a day like any other, and by the time the day is done, you have taken a human life. You have killed a man at close range. What could that be like? It would not be surprising if Vickers will grapple with flashbacks, night terrors, or other forms of PTSD. Despite Vickers' courage and his new celebrity, I'd bet that few of us would want to stand in his shoes.

I've also been thinking of Nathan Cirillo, because it's impossible not to. Although I consume very little mainstream media, a short dip into my Facebook feed is enough: the dog Cirillo left behind, the outpouring of public grief, the obligatory "Highway of Heroes" photos.

Cirillo was a victim, and he did nothing to deserve such a fate. I feel for those who knew and loved him. But what makes Cirillo a hero? Guarding a war memorial surely is not an act of heroism. Is simply putting on a uniform a heroic act? Cirillo's death was senseless and tragic, but it was not heroic.

Of course, hero is a word that's lost all meaning, joining ironic, obviously, and traumatized on the ever-growing list of words that are used so carelessly and so often as to lose all meaning. Hero just might claim pride of place at the very top of that list. But the hero-worship of anyone in uniform is part of the creeping militarization of our society.

I've also been thinking about violence, and how we choose to respond to violence. After the attacks of September 11, 2001, the US government constantly invoked fear in order to advance its agenda: war on people who had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks, repression of domestic dissent, spying on US citizens.

That response also included the widespread use of torture, and a concentration camp that, more than a decade later, still exists. Even if one believes, despite all facts and evidence, that the people of Iraq and Afghanistan were somehow responsible for the 9/11 attacks, the US's response was something like killing a mosquito with a hand grenade. By now it should be clear that the US government had its own agenda, and 9/11 provided the excuse.

Norway, on the other hand, chose a different path: it answered hate with love. After 77 people were massacred on Ut?ya island, the Norwegian government affirmed the open nature of Norwegian society and pursued charges against the perpetrator within the boundaries of Norwegian law.
These are the originals for the memorials which, from the 22 July anniversary, will be sent out to more than 50 counties across Norway, to commemorate the 77 people massacred by Anders Breivik, the far-right extremist who goes on trial this week.

On each of them, words have been carved from a poem by the Norwegian writer Laes Saabye Christensen that was recited at the memorial concert for the victims. This poem, with its message of peace, followed the tone set by prime minister Jens Stoltenberg in his address at the memorial service in Oslo cathedral two days after the tragedy.

"We are still shocked by what has happened, but we will never give up our values," Stoltenberg said. "Our response is more democracy, more openness, and more humanity." Norway, he suggested, would not seek vengeance as America had done after the 9/11 attacks." We will answer hatred with love," he said.

"It's a clear case where a politician strikes a chord," said Frank Aarebrot, a professor of politics at the University of Bergen. "The prime minister struck almost a Churchillian note in that speech. People were jubilant."

Norway has granted every legal right to Breivik, despite hearing in gruesome detail of how he coldly executed 56 of his victims with shots to the head, after attacking a Labour party youth camp on the island of Ut?ya, near Oslo.
Canada has a choice.

On one side stands fear, suspicion, bigotry, and repression, a society where people are feared and attacked because of their appearance and surnames, where people are afraid to exercise their right to criticize the government. On that side, too, stands war: the death and destruction of innocent people, citizens turned into shells of themselves because of what they've witnessed and what they've been asked to do.

On the other side stands democracy, freedom of expression, pluralism, inclusion, human rights, and peace.

What kind of country do we want Canada to be?

Do we want the Harper Government to decide that for us?

9.21.2014

will canada become a country continually at war? or, stephen harper gets his wish in iraq

I had been living in Canada but a few short months when Stephen Harper, as leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, formed his first minority government. At the time, this blog hosted an active and lively ongoing discussion about Canadian culture and politics, and my personal acculturation. I did not like Harper or his Conservatives, but I balked at what I saw as hyperbole from certain progressive people: Harper will turn Canada into the United States. I felt the two countries were different enough to make that particular magic trick impossible.

Now, almost ten years later, at least a portion of my friends' dire prophesy seems at the verge of coming true: Canada is becoming a country continually at war.

It's safe to say that during my lifetime, the United States has been continually at war.* North of the border, the view is different in scale, but is it different in kind?

As Prime Minister Harper prepares to send Canadian Forces into Iraq, we should look at Canada's recent history. Canada's "mission" in Afghanistan - never a war, merely a mission, implying a distinct purpose and goal, and a clear end-date - was slated to end in 2007. Harper extended Canada's military presence in Afghanistan three times, for a total of seven years, each time after claiming there would be no extension.

Now Harper claims that Canadian troops will be in Iraq only 30 days, and that the "mission" won’t expand. We have no reason to trust him, and so many reasons to not.

The Liberal Party of Canada, under the leadership of Justin Trudeau, has tossed aside the legacy of Jean Chrétien, who listened to the mass protests across Canada and around the world, and said no to Canada's military involvement in Iraq. Now, the former prime minister warns:
"The other side knows we are part of it. Of course if they refuse to act, the partners will say you are not keeping your word," Chrétien said. "You cannot be a little bit in it. You're in it or out."

Chrétien, while saying he didn't want to comment on the prime minister's decision, drew a comparison to the American war in Vietnam, which also started by sending in military advisers.

"You have only to [look at] the way the Americans got involved in Vietnam. They started with a few advisers," he said.
It seems that the Liberals, while styling themselves as progressive on reproductive rights and marijuana, doesn't have the courage to take a stand against military action and risk the inevitable taunts. (Remember "Taliban Jack"? People caught on... too late.)

The NDP is the only party of the major three who opposes Canada's military involvement in the latest US war. It's a wise, shrewd move for them, and a relief to progressive people, like myself, who have been having a difficult time supporting the party under Mulcair.

Canada is on the brink of a long, costly, deadly foreign war, and neither the Conservatives nor the Liberals feel the matter is even worth debating. As Mulcair said, referring to Harper, “This is the same person who, in 2003, wanted Canada to be involved in Iraq. He is finally getting his wish.”

Canadians, don't be fooled by rhetoric about protecting people from ISIS. Canada is marching in lockstep with the US military. And they're not bringing humanitarian aid.

Tell Stephen Harper you don't want Canada's military in Iraq: sign this petition and contact your MP.


* The US has been at war, continuously, for my entire life. Whether the military involvements were officially declared wars by Congress makes little difference: the Korean War and the Vietnam War were not official wars. In 1961, the year I was born, the US was already at war in Vietnam, though few Americans knew it. Since then, the US has had major military actions in: Laos, Cambodia, Congo, Panama, Grenada, El Salvador, Libya, Lebanon, Honduras, Chad, Bolivia, Colombia, Iran, Kuwait, Zaire, Sierra Leone, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Somalia, Haiti, Yemen, Afghanistan, Philippines, Pakistan, Jordan, Turkey, Mali, Uganda, Syria, and Iraq. This is a partial list, and many of these countries can be counted multiple times.

9.01.2014

what i'm reading: indian horse by richard wagamese, a must-read, especially for canadians

Indian Horse, by Richard Wagamese, is a hauntingly beautiful novel about an Ojibway boy's journey into manhood. It was the Readers' Choice winner of the 2013 Canada Reads, CBC Radio's book promotion program. But if you're like me and don't listen to the radio, you may have missed it. Don't miss it. Indian Horse should be widely read - by everyone, but especially by Canadians.

In a slim, spare volume, drawing vivid pictures with very few words, Wagamese brings you into the Ojibway family. They are struggling to hold onto their culture - and indeed, to keep their family physically together, as children are being abducted and forced into the so-called residential schools.

Saul Indian Horse, the hero and narrator of the novel, survives the residential school by finding solace and joy in an unlikely place: hockey. Hockey is an integral part of Indian Horse, and Wagamese has written some of the best description of sport I've read in a novel, seamlessly knitting the poetry of game into the narrative.

It's that seamlessness that makes Indian Horse so special. As the reader journeys through the different times of Saul's life - his original family, the residential school, the rink, a Native hockey team, anti-Native bigotry, and so on - the writing is never didactic, the information is never grafted on. We are always in the flow of the story, reading more with our hearts than our minds.

For non-Canadian wmtc readers, residential schools are a euphemism for the government and church-administered programs that attempted the forced assimilation of Native children. These "schools" are more properly thought of as forced labour and indoctrination camps. They were places of horrific cruelty and abuse. For many Canadians, they have become a symbol of a shameful past that continues to echo into the present. But when something becomes symbolic, in can lose its specific reality. Wagamese brings us into the reality as it was lived.

If you're someone who cringes at the idea of reading about the cruelty to children, I encourage you to read Indian Horse all the more. What you know of residential schools is likely gleaned from news reports, perhaps when the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was holding hearings. I strongly encourage you to read a First Nations writer's account. It's stark and honest, without being graphic or sensationalist. It's an important exercise in empathy, in bearing witness. It's an important piece of history.

But I assure you, reading Indian Horse does not feel like reading important history. It's one boy's journey, and it will move you.

1.05.2014

government destruction of environmental archives: the harper govt's war on facts marches on

At year's end, The Tyee reported that a memo - marked "secret" and first reported on OCanada.com - cast grave doubts on the Harper Government's claim that environmental archives were destroyed only after they had been preserved digitally. In other words, the memo proves what progressive and concerned Canadians have long known and suspected to be true.
A federal document marked "secret" obtained by Postmedia News indicates the closure or destruction of more than half a dozen world famous science libraries has little if anything to do with digitizing books as claimed by the Harper government.

In fact, the document, a compendium of cuts to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans that can be read in its entirety at the bottom of this story, mentions only the "culling of materials" as the "main activities" involved as the science libraries are reduced from nine to two. Specifically, it details "culling materials in the closed libraries or shipping them to the two locations and culling materials in the two locations to make room for collections from closed libraries."

In contrast, a government website says the closures are all about digitizing the books and providing greater access to Canadians -- a claim federal and retired scientists interviewed by The Tyee say is not true.
BoingBoing reports:
The destruction of these publicly owned collections was undertaken in haste. No records were kept of what was thrown away, what was sold, and what was simply lost. Some of the books were burned.
These actions must be seen in context of the Harper Government's ongoing and pervasive War on Facts. The Harper Government serves the interest of two groups: Canada's small but influential religious right, and the corporate elites, especially the very powerful extraction industries. And to keep these groups happy - or at least, when it comes to the religious right, mollified - the Government must appeal to the general public on an emotional, rather than factual, level. Evidence of this is all around.

The Government's war on immigration and refugees relies on denying facts and eliciting emotional reactions of envy, fear, and discontent: witness the "gold-plated" refugee health care plan that never existed, or Jason Kenney's frequent assertions that Roma and other persecuted peoples made "bogus" refugee claims.

Pouring taxpayer money into privatized for-profit prison schemes is all about denying facts (crime is at an all-time low) and playing on fears (liberal Canada was soft on criminals! criminals are coming to get you!).

And of course, there are the Big Lies. The war in Afghanistan is being fought to liberate women. Climate change doesn't exist. They have to deny and destroy a mountain of facts to support those whoppers.

What are the demise of the mandatory long-form census and the deep budget cuts to Statistics Canada if not a war on facts? Indeed, if government decisions are to be based on what's good for the energy industries and what social regressives want, then we'd better not keep accurate statistics. Statistics will only prove the depth and breadth of Harper's destructive effects on Canada.

Nothing makes the Harper Government's War on Facts more literal than its massive budget cuts to Library and Archives Canada, and its literal destruction of libraries. As Donald Gutstein points out in a 2012 Tyee story:
Why would the Harper government cut Canada's Library and Archives budget? Heritage Minister James Moore explained the 10 per cent overall cut would not hurt the agency because records could be digitized and made available to Canadians via the Internet.

But the 2012 budget cut the digitization staff by 50 per cent.
Gutstein enumerates the three overlapping motives behind the Harper Government's War on Facts. One, the need to "satisfy his party's evangelical base". Two, the drive for government-sanctioned, whitewashed history: cross-reference the celebration of The War of 1812 and Vimy Ridge, and my analysis of Discover Canada. And three, to silence voices that challenge the Harper Agenda.
Limiting access to Canada's actual archives makes it easier to promote revisionist histories like The Canadian Century, a book written by Harper government allies -- three libertarian economists with no formal historical training.

Authors are Brian Lee Crowley, head of the Macdonald-Laurier Institute in Ottawa, Niels Veldhuis, who now heads the Fraser Institute, and Jason Clemens, who once worked for the Fraser Institute and now is at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute. They are among Canada's elite economic conservatives.
In this sense, the destruction of the environmental archives is to be expected from this Government. The original story from PostMedia demonstrates how perfectly it dovetails with the Harper agenda.
The downsizing also includes the shutdown of federal libraries and millions of dollars in reductions to climate change adaptation programs. In total, the department estimates it will cut about $80 million per year from its budget by 2014-15, and over $100 million per year in the following fiscal year.

But the cuts coincide with internal advice from top bureaucrats that the government should instead be increasing its spending in the department to protect both economic and environmental interests, particularly for Coast Guard services which are facing cuts equivalent to about $20 million by 2014-15 and 300 full-time jobs.

“Rising marine traffic, technological changes, climate change impacts (such as fluctuating water levels), and extended shipping seasons are among the factors expected to continue to place increased demands on Coast Guard services,” said briefing notes prepared for the department’s deputy minister Matthew King in December 2012. “For example, there are demands for increasing icebreaking services on the Gulf of St. Lawrence and on the Great Lakes, for extending Marine Communications and Traffic Services, aids to navigation and ice breaking services in the Quebec North and Arctic for additional environmental response as well as search and rescue capacities in selected areas.”
I also note that more than a knowledge base and marine programs were destroyed. These budget cuts - and all budget cuts - represent massive job losses, making the lives of countless Canadians more precarious in a country that has already destroyed much of it social safety net.

The Harper Government says these budget cuts are necessary to eliminate a budget deficit... which speaks to the biggest lie of all: the fiscally conservative Conservative. For more on that subject: Harper is a fiscal conservative — except when he isn’t, and The Myth of Fiscal Conservatism. From the latter article, in Canadian Dissensus:
The idea of fiscal conservatism must be stripped bare and revealed for what it really is. It has no relation to budgetary probity and the wise use of public funds. Rather it is a rhetorical tool used to justify the selfish desire for tax cuts – regardless of the value – and provide intellectual cover for direct (or more typically indirect) regressive social policies and a more strident social conservatism. It is a tool of state retrenchment masquerading as prudent planning, of forcing governments to ‘live within their means’ while continuously reducing these means. It is a dishonest idea used by scoundrels. Sadly it is effective rhetoric. People still think Mussolini made the trains run on time.

11.11.2013

11.11: lest we forget, let's not forget: there is no glory in war.

For Canadians who fear and distrust the steadily growing militarism suffusing the culture of our country, two recent books are indispensable: What We Talk About When We Talk About War, by Noah Richler, and Warrior Nation: Rebranding Canada in an Age of Anxiety by Ian McKay and Jamie Swift.

Richler's book focuses on the re-writing and re-framing the distant past. And as the title (with its homage to Raymond Carver) suggests, Richler focuses on language. He analyzes how Canada's image of itself, in relation to war-making and the military, has been radically altered, bit by incremental bit.

The book is not a play-by-play of the process; Richler assumes you know the general outline and the major players. It's a deep analysis of the language and symbolism of a right-wing cabal intent on discrediting Canada's history of peacekeeping, and changing its national self-image through revisionist history, from the War of 1812 to Vimy Ridge to Remembrance Day, right on up to the recent "mission" - never a war, merely a mission - in Afghanistan.

The forces behind this movement shouldn't be powerful enough to affect such a massive and wholesale change. But they (a) are unchallenged on a wide scale, (b) are echoed uncritically in the mainstream media, and (c) emanate from government or with the weight of government behind them.

What We Talk About When We Talk About War is a dense book, and not particularly easy to read, but enlightening, and rewarding, and important.

McKay and Swift's book is also dense and veers towards the academic. Where Richler looks to the past of Pearson and peacekeeping with a clear admiration (although with his eyes open, and not uncritically), McKay and Swift see Harper's Canada as exchanging one set of myths for another, more dangerous master narrative.

Both books site the same group of academics, militarists, journalists, and politicians, ubiquitous in the Canadian media to anyone who has followed this shift: Bercuson, Granatstein, Hillier, Blatchford, and so on. McKay and Swift call them "the New Warriors". Both McKay/Swift and Richler decry the same trends. An uncritical view of history, a mass dissemination even of a historical record that has been proven false. A discrediting of the value of discussion, compromise, and peacekeeping. Worship of all things military, coupled with the jingoistic notion that criticism or even questioning is unpatriotic, and that genuine debate about the purpose of a war somehow puts Canadian troops at risk.

Why does any of this matter? This week in Canada, we see the slogan everywhere: "Lest We Forget". It might as well say "Let's Forget". Because under Harper and the New Warriors, Remembrance Day has become a collective act of forgetting.

Forgetting that millions upon millions of lives were lost for nothing.

Forgetting veterans and their families suffering from the effects of PTSD and traumatic brain injury.

Forgetting that war has never solved anything.

Forgetting that war is glorious only for those who stay at home and make speeches.

Forgetting that the peace that Canadians enjoy was not won on a battlefield, but hammered out through compromise.

Forgetting that what made Canada a great country, what gave Canada peace and prosperity, was not war. Never was war.

Lest we forget: never again.

11.08.2013

noah richler on the language of war propaganda, and the dishonesty of present ideology

From Noah Richler's What We Talk About When We Talk About War:
We have a duty to be honest and rigorous, with ourselves and with others, and to be able to brook contradiction and argument in our discussions of past wars and the present one in Afghanistan. But instead, in today's Canada, we have arrived at a point where the use of any language that is not euphemistic is greeted as an assault on the work of soldiers, on a singular view of our past, and therefore on the character of the nation itself. Ideology thrives. History hardly comes into it.

. . . .

Among the traditional words and phrases prone to high diction that [Paul] Fussell [author of The Great War in Modern Memory] lists are:

Friend... comrade

Obedient... brave

Earnestly brave... gallant

Cheerfully brave... plucky

Bravery considered after the fact... valour...

Not to complain is to be... manly

A soldier is a... warrior

The legs and arms of young men are... limbs

The dead on the battlefield are... fallen

The object of deliberate semantic confusion behind these turns of phrase is familiar to anyone who has followed the reporting on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Such deftly evasive and ultimately propagandistic terms have only proliferated over the course of a century in which mass communications have been on the rise and the best fightback of government needing to dampen the emotive effect of war's bloody truths spreading via newspapers, then radio, television and the Internet, has been to control words and images, and to the extent that is is able, the media that proffer then.

The first Gulf War and the earlier one in Vietnam added to the deflecting lexicon greatly, even before the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Collateral damage, a euphemism believed to have originated in the Vietnam War, is probably the most notorious of these terms. . . Friendly fire is another stellar euphemism (and one that has acquired a particular resonance in Canada) that describes the inadvertent shooting of one's own troops.

. . . An appendix to Fussell's list, easily added to after a trawl of the Web, would include these and others terms accumulated over the course of the Vietnam, Gulf and Afghanistan wars:

Torture... enhanced interrogation

Torture by interrupted drowning... waterboarding

Bomb... soften up

Bombing... air-campaign

The use of preponderant force against an enemy interspersed with a civilian, usually rural, population... asymmetric warfare

Lethal precision bombing... surgical strike

Journalists who cover a conflict in the prescribed company of armed forces and according to strict rules of censorship... embedded

Sending terrorism suspects to states that practise torture... extraordinary rendition

Prisoners... detainees

Popular uprising... insurgency

Escalation of a war going badly... mission creep

Occupation... liberation

Kill... neutralize

Government overthrow... regime change