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January in Review

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Issue: 49 Section: Month in Review Geography: Canada Topics: Mining, social movements, Indigenous

February 4, 2008

January in Review

News from social movements

by Philip Neatby, Dru Oja Jay

Kanahus Pellkey of the Native Youth Movement and Dustin Johnson of the Ts'mksiyen Nation. Photo: Maya Rolbin-Ghanie

Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug (KI)-- aka "Big Trout Lake"-- Chief Donny Morris announced that he is ready to go to jail to defend his community's sovereignty. "I'm prepared to give myself up if the court decides I've disrespected the November ruling to allow Platinex on our land. I'm prepared to acknowledge that," Morris stated in a press release. Two years ago Ontario-based mining company Platinex sued the KI First Nation for $10 billion for preventing mining on their land in the far northwest of Ontario. In November 2007, KI withdrew from the legal proceedings, citing over $600,000 in debt accumulated while fighting the province and Platinex. Morris' contempt of court charges stemmed from an encounter with Platinex, where the chief escorted officials from the company back to their plane, and threatened to file trespassing charges if they came back. Observers expect the people of the remote fly-in community to continue to resist attempts by Platinex to mine their lands. Future resistance, however, is unlikely to be undertaken through the courts.

Six Nations leaders have put towns and cities along the Grand River on notice that the land still belongs to the people of Six Nations. The stretch of land, which extends from Lake Erie to the area lying to the northwest of Toronto, was granted to the Six Nations Confederacy in the 1784 Haldimand Proclamation. "There's no more of this sweeping it under the rug. It's not OK to steal land anymore and we're going to make people aware of that," one representative told the CBC.

Three hundred supporters of Jeremy Hinzman and Brandon Hughey, the first two war resisters to cross into Canada after refusing to deploy to Iraq with the US military, gathered in Toronto calling upon the Canadian parliament to pass a motion allowing them to remain in Canada. The rally was attended by Liberal foreign affairs critic Bob Rae, as well as Toronto NDP MP Olivia Chow. Similar rallies and actions were held in 11 cities across the country. Days before, a rally of 50 Iraq veterans gathered at the Canadian Embassy in Washington urging the Canadian government to provide sanctuary to all military service personnel looking to escape deployments with the US military. In November the Canadian Supreme Court refused to hear the cases of Hinzman and Hughey, on the grounds that they had previously been turned down by the Canadian Immigration and Refugee Board, which considered the illegality of the Iraq war under international law inadmissible. There are at least 30 war resisters in Canada at the moment.

A group calling itself the Wreath Underground vandalized buildings on Vancouver's University of British Columbia (UBC) campus. The group released a communiqué, taking credit for the actions and opposing commercial and Olympic-related developments that resulted in the destruction of public space on campus. The action comes in the context of an ongoing campaign by Students for a Democratic Society UBC (SDS-UBC) to prevent further privatization of public spaces on the UBC campus. SDS-UBC says the University's development plan's purpose "is to make the centre of campus a corporate/private space to which students only have access as customers or condo owners/renters." SDS-UBC is organizing a conference in March entitled "Resisting the University," which will address "privatization and commodification of education."

Hundreds rallied and marched in Montreal in support of Abdelkader Belaouni, a 40-year old blind Algerian refugee who has been living in sanctuary in St. Gabriel's Church for over two years. Solidarity pickets and embassy visits were also held in most major cities across Canada and in several cities internationally, including Tokyo, New York, Beirut, Paris, Durban, and London. Belaouni's supporters were demanding that federal Minister of Immigration Diane Finley grant a stay of the deportation order, and grant him permanent resident status in Canada. Belaouni fled Algeria's brutal civil war in 1996, arriving first in the United States. He came to Montreal in 2003 and applied for refugee status. His application was rejected by Immigration and Refugee Board judge Laurier Thibault, who had close to a 100% rejection rate amongst refugee claimants. Belaouni entered sanctuary in early 2006, and has since received international support for his case, including from Laibar Singh, currently in sanctuary in Vancouver. Said Singh in a statement issued days before the solidarity march: "The Canadian government says it raises its voice for the less fortunate around the world but if it can't see us, who can it see?"

Solomon Islands Prime Minister Derek Sikua affirmed his full support of the Australian-dominated occupation force, known as RAMSI. The force, consisting of over 2,000 soldiers, along with bureaucrats and "advisors," who took effective control of much of the Islands' state apparatus, including prisons, police, courts, public service, and central bank. Critics called the move a "neo-colonial" effort to "safeguard Australian corporate interests and maintain its regional domination." Former Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare had angered Australian diplomats when he moved to roll back some of RAMSI's powers over spending and pave the way for an eventual withdrawal. He was ousted in a parliamentary vote, and replaced with a Sikua-led coalition, which has been enthusiastically current pro-occupation.

Despite Canada's official stance of non-participation in the invasion of Iraq, another Canadian general has been sent to work with the command group overseeing the US-led occupation and counterinsurgency war. Brigadier-General Nicolas Matern of the Special Forces is the third Canadian general to serve in the command group, as part of an inter-military exchange program. According to a report from the US State Dept., "the governments of the United States and Canada collaborated on a broad array of initiatives, exercises, and joint operations that spanned virtually all agencies and every level of government."

An anti-Olympics speaking tour visited 18 cities and Indigenous communities, calling attention to destruction caused by development fuelled by the Olympics. "There is an infrastructure being created for 2010 that will result in the further destruction of mountains and valleys that are traditionally Salish, St’at’imc, and Squamish territory," said Dustin Johnson. Resistance to "Sun Peaks" development on Secwepemc lands, one of many areas affected by the Olympics, extends back a decade. There have been dozens of arrests, and government-supervised destruction of a house and two traditional sweatlodges. Johnson and Kanahus Pellkey of the Native Youth Movement are calling for direct action to shut down the Olympic Games.

This map show the Haldimand Tract (aka Grand River Territory), granted to the Six Nations Confederacy in 1784, and the current Six Nations reserve.

Itchy the Bedbug, Creepy the Cockroach and Chewy the Rat will be the official mascots of Vancouver's Poverty Olympics. Organizers, who hope to draw attention to Vancouver's "world class poverty," decried the lack of funding for social housing and the devastating effect of rapid gentrification on Vancouver's vast population of poor and homeless.

A recent report estimated that between 8,000 and 15,500 British Columbia residents are "absolutely homeless," while an estimated 39,000 are "inadequately housed." BC Forest and Housing Minister Rich Coleman had previously estimated the number of homeless at roughly 5,000.

A Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) report warned of the possibility of "violent protests" during the Olympic Games in 2010. The heavily-censored public version of the report has raised concerns about "how far CSIS will go." "We're more than a little worried about the potential for infiltration of non-profit societies and legitimate protest groups," a representative of the BC Civil Liberties Association told the Canadian Press. The Anti-Poverty Committee (APC) is one of the groups targeted by police and intelligence agencies. APC representative Mary Claremont said, "This is what we have been protesting... the coming Olympic police state. People thought we were nuts, but look, from 40 kilometers of electric fence, surveillance cameras, civil city, CSIS... it's here."

A group of academics and media watch groups filed a complaint with the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), alleging that media coverage of the attempted deportation of Laibar Singh was "not accurate... or comprehensive". CBC TV, CBC Radio, CKNW, CTV, and Global TV are cited in the complaint, which states that Singh was falsely said to have come to Canada "illegally" or that he "was illegal" in Canada prior to taking sanctuary. The complaint says that repetition of falsities despite widely available accurate information "fuelled ignorance in the public sphere and has negatively influenced perceptions of Mr. Laibar Singh and all asylum seekers to Canada."

Security Certificate detainee Mohammed Harkat was seized, then released again by Police and Canadian Border Services agents. Widely referred to in media reports as a "terrorism suspect" Harkat is being held without charges under Bill C-3, "anti-terrorism" legislation passed after September 11, 2001. "I think it's a political move," Sophie Harkat told the Ottawa Citizen in an interview, adding that the government seeks to "stir fear" in the leadup to a vote over bill C-3. If the government does not vote to renew Bill C-3 before the end of March, existing security certificates--including the one under which Harkat is being held--will be struck down, in keeping with a Supreme Court ruling that found the legislation unconstitutional.

Alberta tar sands giant Suncor has given final approval for a plan to increase output by 200,000 barrels per day in a $20 billion expansion project. The company says that the increase is part of a plan to double the company's output to 550,000 barrels per day by 2012.

Energy company TransCanada has moved forward with plans to build a natural gas pipeline across unceded territory belonging to the Lubicon Cree. In a letter to TransCanada, Lubicon legal counsel F. M. Lennarson wrote that the "response of the Lubicon people is that they are the aboriginal owners of the land that TransCanada wishes to violate with this huge new pipeline." The pipeline will transport natural gas to the tar sands, allowing for expanded tar sands processing capacity.

Ecuadorian officials revoked a total of 587 mining concessions effectively cancelling Canadian-based Ascendant Copper’s bid to the controversial Junin Project. The transnational corporation is under intense scrutiny for impacts on local communities and environmental degradation. Human rights lawyers contend that the mere purchase of the mining concession is in breach of community members’ rights, and Ecuador’s constitution.

Canadian mining financier Frank Giustra was at the center of a political scandal in the United States involving Bill Clinton and a mining deal in Kazakhstan potentially worth tens of millions of dollars. According to the New York Times, Giustra gained access to Clinton's inner circle after he donated $31 million dollars to the former US President's foundation. Giustra subsequently accompanied Clinton on a trip to Kazakhstan, where he signed a deal that "stunned the mining industry, turning an unknown shell company into one of the world’s largest uranium producers," according to the Times.

George Habash, Palestinian leader, and founder of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), died January 26th, 2008 at the age of eighty-two after six decades of struggle. Habash dreamt of Arab unity and an end to the dispossession of Palestinians. Seen by supporters as “the conscience of the Palestinian revolution,” Habash effected his politic treating the poor for free as a medical doctor, and through the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the largest secular resistance group in Palestine. U.S., Canadian, and Israeli governments have branded Habash as a terrorist for bombings and hijackings carried out by the PFLP during the 1970’s. Many Palestinians, however will remember Habash as a man who “embodied Palestinian and Arab aspirations.”

Despite reports of rising environmental consciousness among Canadians, car ownership and usage is on the rise. A study conducted by Statistics Canada found that 74 per cent of Canadian adults made all of their trips by car. A similar study in 1998 found 70 per cent using cars for all of their trips, while the number was 68 per cent in 1992. The study found a strong connection between low density neighbourhoods and high car use, while those living in high-density neighbourhoods were relatively far less likely to use cars.

Representatives from Venezuela's grassroots social movements gathered to discuss ways to advance a grassroots socialist agenda, while addressing growing bureaucracy within the Chavez-led government. "There is a reformist sector that has been working internally to construct a force to build a counterweight to the revolutionary sector that is in the government," said one participant. Another spoke of a "return to the street," adding "we didn't realize that the bureaucracy isolated us from this reality and this deterioration in which we are living."

In response to the ongoing Israeli siege of Gaza, a convoy of Arab and Israeli peace activists held a demonstration of between 1500 and 2000 at the Eretz border crossing, calling for an end to the Israeli siege of the Gaza strip and the immediate lifting of the blockade of badly needed medical equipment, fuel, and food. The demonstration, which was organized by organizations such as Gush-Shalom and the International Coalition Against House Demolitions, was held in conjunction with the delivery of 5 tons of food aid to the border crossing near Gaza city. A demonstration of 200 Palestinians was held in Gaza at the same time, from which speeches were broadcast to the Eretz gathering via amplified cellphones. The Israeli military barred the aid supplies from entry into Gaza, ordering that they be stored at a nearby Kibbutz. Organizers have pledged to petition the Israeli supreme court in order to allow the aid supplies to be delivered to Gaza, where 83 Palestinians, including 16 children, have died due to the ongoing Israeli siege.

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