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July In Review

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Issue: 47 Section: Month in Review Geography: Canada Topics: social movements

August 1, 2007

July In Review

Anti-Canada Day, taking corporations to court, and striving to pie Alberta's Premier

by Hillary Bain Lindsay, Dru Oja Jay

Anti-Canada Day events were held across the country on July 1, expressing support for indigenous sovereignty and self-determination. Photo: Ange Sterritt

Organizers in Vancouver and Montreal held Anti-Canada Day demonstrations on the first of the month. In Vancouver, over 200 people took to the streets and blockaded train tracks. Several Canadian flags, painted with the words "No Justice on Stolen Native Land," were burned. In Montreal, demonstrators highlighted their opposition to CN's current lawsuit against three Mohawk activists at Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory, and expressed their support for Indigenous sovereignty and self-determination. A banner read, "When Justice Fails, Block the Rails!"

Aboriginal women from across North and South America marched through the Mohawk community of Kahnawake near Montreal to protest against Ottawa's refusal to adopt the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The declaration upholds aboriginal people's land rights and ways of life. Only one other country, Russia, has refused to support it at the Human Rights Council.

A National Day of Action was held in Australia protesting the government's plan to impose police-military control over about 70 Indigenous communities across the Northern Territory. The takeover, which the government says is a response to widespread sexual abuse, is being seen by many as a land grab that will exacerbate the shocking social conditions facing the Northern Territory’s Aboriginal population.

Chevron called the $6 billion lawsuit the US firm is battling in the Ecuadorian courts a "legal farce" and said it would challenge any ruling against the company. The class-action suit filed by 30,000 Indigenous people is for cleanup costs for the jungle region where Texaco Petroleum Co. spent three decades extracting oil before it merged with Chevron in 2001. “The environmental clean-up alone is likely to surpass $6 billion, and that does not include health and personal damages for tens of thousands of people who live in the area," said Pablo Fajardo, a lawyer for the plaintiffs. "This could dwarf any other damages claim in environmental law, as well as in any civil case that resulted in an actual judgment.” Chevron's vice president for Latin America criticized the "unfair trial and lack of due process" in Ecuador, but critics point out that the case was originally filed in New York federal court in 1993, and the company fought for years to move it to Ecuador, finally getting its wish in 2002. "Since it is losing on all the facts, it is fighting back in the only way it can, by attacking the process itself," said another lawyer for the plaintiffs, Alegandro Ponce. "Chevron should stop its misinformation campaign and pay up for the damage it has caused.”

The Ka'agee Tu First Nation in the Northwest Territories won a court case against the federal government for violating the Ka'agee Tu's right to meaningful consultation when in 2005 it approved Paramount Resources' application to drill several new oil wells in the Cameron Hills area. A lawyer representing the First Nation said "[The Canadian government] doesn't consult with the communities, it doesn't comply with its legal duties, and the regrettable result is the communities are forced to take their resources, hire lawyers, [and] go to court in order to force Canada to comply with the law."

Five thousand agricultural workers from Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras and Panama have filed a lawsuit against Dole Fresh Fruit Co. and Standard Fruit Co., now a part of Dole, claiming they were left sterile after being exposed in the 1970s to the pesticide known as DBCP. The lawsuit claims Dow and Amvac knew about DBCP's toxicity as early as the 1950s but continued to use the pesticide outside the United States. The Los Angeles County Superior Court will hear the case, which legal experts say raises the issue of whether multinational companies should be held accountable in the country where they are based or where they employ workers. A verdict in favor of the workers could open the door for others to file similar claims in the U.S., where juries are known for judgments more favourable to labourers.

US Congressional Democrats introduced resolutions “condemning the President, Vice President and other administration officials for misconduct relating to the war in Iraq and for their repeated assaults on the rule of law." Critics have called the censure ineffectual; the resolutions are symbolic, and bring no legal consequences.

Anti-war leader Cindy Sheehan and several activists were arrested outside the office of Rep. John Conyers. The contingent refused to leave after Conyers said he would not pursue impeachment of George Bush and Dick Cheney. Polls show that a slight majority of Americans currently support pursuing impeachment. Sheehan has said that she will run against Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic House Speaker, in the next election, due to Pelosi's refusal to support impeachment. "I am committed to challenging a two party system that has kept us in a state of constant warfare for the last 60 years," said Sheehan.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert confirmed that the United States is planning a significant increase in military and defense aid to Israel, to the tune of $30 billion over the next ten years. The new package amounts to a 25% increase in military aid. Washington is also reportedly preparing a $20 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia because of its concerns over Iran's nuclear program.

Alberta's Premier Ed Stelmach narrowly missed getting pied in the face while serving up pancakes at Calgary's Annual Stampede Breakfast. The protester cried out, "I think it's pretty cozy for the Premier to be eating breakfast when people are homeless on the streets," while being dragged away by police after missing her target and hitting a security guard with the chocolate cream pie instead. The breakfast was attended by a number of advocates for the homeless as well as an individual dressed in a Batman costume who called himself "No Tar Man" and demanded an end to the development of northern Alberta's oil sands. Four years ago at the same event, then-premier Ralph Klein was hit in the face with a pie.

Alberta Premier Stelmach narrowly missed getting pied a second time, this time with a banana cream pie in Calgary. The pie thrower, Donna McPhee who also wished to draw attention to homelessness, was waiting outside a television station where Stelmach was being interviewed, but he left using another door. McPhee was left standing with a pie without a politician - until Calgary mayor walked out the door. "He was going to be on the list anyway, so why ruin the pie?" said McPhee.

Royal Dutch Shell announced it would pump $27 billion into the Alberta tarsands. The plan is consistent with Shell's vision for Canada, announced in January, to expand its oilsands business with its partners fivefold, to 770,000 barrels a day.

Chief of the State Environmental Protection Administration in China (SEPA), Zhou Shengxian, said that public discontent with pollution "has resulted in a rising number of 'mass incidents'" -- an official euphemism for riots, protests and collective petitions. This month, two hundred thousand people in the province of Jiangsu were cut off from tap water for 40 hours due to an industrial chemical spill and hundreds of farmers blocked a highway in Sichuan province demanding $1.1. million in compensation, accusing an aluminum company of leaking chemicals that contaminated grapes and other crops. Twenty-six percent of the length of the China's seven main river systems had pollution of grade 5 or worse, making it unfit for human contact. About 460,000 Chinese die prematurely each year from breathing polluted air and drinking dirty water.

South African police fired rubber bullets to break up crowds protesting against a lack of municipal services in the country's biggest black township Soweto. The protest was the latest in a string of often violent clashes between residents and police in black townships around Johannesburg and in the central Free State province. Residents are demanding better housing, faster access to electricity, clean drinking water and sewage facilities. Despite faster economic growth, wealth is still not trickling down to the poor, prompting action to uplift a "second economy" characterized by sprawling city slums and poverty that is fuelling some of the highest rates of crime in the world.

Eight protesters were shot dead in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh in India by police. The demonstration was part of a three-month campaign demanding land for the poor. Protesters were reportedly throwing stones at police as they approached the tent where the protesters were gathered.

The group "Saving Iceland" has stepped up its campaign against heavy industry, and the aluminum industry in particular, with road blockades, banner drops and a protest camp. Several arrests have been made but the group warns that they are "not through with this summer's actions." According to the group's website, 30 per cent of aluminum is produced for military use. Saving Iceland is accusing the state broadcaster of slander for allegations that activists from the group receive payment for being arrested.

A nationwide protest that that has drawn the support of education workers, construction workers, farmers and miners in Peru has resulted in the death of three people and the detention of over 100 union leaders. Demonstrators are calling for a fairer distribution of wealth and have held protests blocking roads and closing airports. Currently 44 per cent of Peruvians live poverty. Under pressure from demonstrations, the President apologized for not doing enough for the country's poor. "I would have loved to do a lot more," he said, and promised to do more in the future.

At least 12 people were injured and 59 arrested when Honduran police violently cleared several roadblocks set up by protesters demanding a new mining law. The demonstrators are demanding a law that forbids open pit mining, including the use of cyanide, mercury and other toxic substances. Among other demands, they are calling for community involvement in any decision to open a mine, and for companies to carry out measures that mitigate the impact of mining on the environment.

Opponents of Canadian mining operations in Ecuador are "facing death threats and attacks" according to a report released by Amnesty International. The report comes at a time when Canadian mining company Ascendant Copper Corp is facing controversy and resistance to a copper-molybdenum mine in an ecologically sensitive region of northwestern Ecuador. Earlier this week, Ecuador's Ministry of Energy and Mines ordered Ascendant to stop its community-relations work, saying it was "intended to divide the community." Ecuador's anti-corruption watchdog also urged the government to investigate alleged irregularities in the Ascendant land deals, saying speculators snapped up 18 properties earmarked for use as farmland, and sold them within weeks to the mine at prices 40 to 50 times higher than they had paid.

The Algonquin First Nations, occupying a proposed uranium mine site in eastern Ontario, are being sued by the mining company, Frontenac Ventures Corporation, for $77 million dollars in damages. In their Statement of Claim the company says the protests have been “threatening” and “intimidating.” Those occupying the site say the protest has been peaceful and "completely non-violent and non-threatening" from the beginning

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