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February and March in Review

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Issue: 50 Section: Month in Review Geography: Earth

April 15, 2008

February and March in Review

Tar Sands Snags, Uranium Mining, and The Dominion's First Roadshow

by Dominion Staff

The next generation: Currently, five per cent of Afghan girls attend school.

In the midst of Alberta’s provincial election campaign, incumbent Premier Ed Stelmach was confronted on a campaign stop in Fort McMurray by Mikisew Cree resident George Poitras. Poitras publicly accused the premier of dismissing evidence of accelerated rates of cancer within Fort Chipewyan and other first nations communities downstream from tar sands projects. Pressure from first nations organizations within the province has been mounting upon the provincial government in recent weeks. At a meeting in Calgary on February 25, first nations chiefs from across the province passed a resolution calling for a moratorium on new developments within the tar sands; 200 residents of Fort Chipewyan staged a rally outside Alberta’s legislature days later. Most made a 600-kilometre drive in order to attend the rally. The community of 1,200 has seen the deaths of six of its residents to cancer over the last month alone.

Students at York University have won a significant victory after University President Mamdouh Shoukri announced that York would be adopting a 'no sweat’ policy for its clothing and apparel. The announcement followed a two-day sit-in outside Shoukri’s office by members of the Sustainable Purchasing Coalition, after organizers demanded to personally present a petition signed by over one thousand York students. York becomes the 17th Canadian university to adopt a ‘no sweat' policy, which will require companies to set minimum labour standards before the University will buy their products. These codes of conduct are a form of large-scale consumer pressure designed to assist apparel and textile workers who struggle for better working conditions.

In Colombia, 40,000 people marched in Bogota calling for the government to rein in paramilitary forces throughout the country. Marchers at the demonstration, organized by the National Movement of Victims of State Crimes, carried photographs of the thousands of individuals who have been killed or disappeared by paramilitary organizations throughout the country. Paramilitary organizations such as the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) have had close ties to Colombia’s military over the last few decades, and have carried out an average of 600 political killings each year since 2002. The demonstration occurred in the midst of the controversy surrounding Colombia’s military attack within Ecuador, which killed several members of the FARC-EP, the leftist rebel political organization, including Paul Reyes, FARC chief ideologue. Although the attacks were later condoned by most mainstream commentators in the United States, including both Democrat frontrunners Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, the act drew the ire of Colombia’s neighbours, particularly Presidents Hugo Chavez of Venezuala and Rafael Correa of Ecuador, and nearly provoked a regional military crisis.

At Seneca College, just outside Toronto, cafeteria and janitorial staff – members of the food service union UNITE HERE – began a strike, demanding improvements in wages and benefits. The workers, employed by the multi-national food service giant Aramark, earn just above minimum wage, and receive little in benefits while facing "abusive behaviour by supervisors." The strike followed Aramark’s offer of a raise of ten cents per hour, which workers have called "ridiculous." "We voted – 100 per cent – to take strike action, because these poor working conditions can't go on," said Andy Chui, a janitor at Seneca's Markham campus and member of UNITE HERE’s Aramark bargaining committee. "This company makes a lot of money and we're simply asking for a living wage and to be treated with dignity and respect."

Mikisew feel the rare cancers discovered in Fort Chipewyan, a community downstream from Fort McMurray, are being ignored by the federal government. Tory leader Ed Stelmach disagrees. Photo: raise my voice

Aramark employees at the University of Toronto also staged a rally, demanding the company honour their contractually required wage increases and that Aramark end retributive practices against union leaders. Aramark’s website claims the company’s total sales amounted to $12.4 billion last year.

Leaders and representatives of Indigenous communities in Guatemala refused to participate in a workshop held by the Canadian Foundation for the Americas (FOCAL) and their local counterpart, the Indigenous Development Fund (FODIGUA). The workshop, titled "Economic Opportunities and Indigenous Development," to have taken place in Guatemala City, was co-funded by Canadian mining companies Goldcorp and Skye Resources, the Mining Association of Canada (MAC) and the Prospectors' and Developers' Association of Canada (PDAC). FOCAL's stated objective was to provide a space for Indigenous peoples in concessioned or active mining areas to dialogue with private sector and government representatives. However, Indigenous community representatives withdrew from the meeting unanimously, stating in a press release that "the position of Indigenous communities with respect to mining in Guatemala... has been manifested through more than 17 community referenda (consultas) which have rejected mining activity."

Following Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence, thousands of Serbs took to the streets in Bosnia and Serbia, as well as in cities in Europe and North America, to protest the immediate recognition of Kosovo’s independence by the United States, Britain and France. Vigils were also held by the Serb minority within Kosovo. In a state-organized rally in Belgrade in late February, 200,000 people demonstrated against the unilateral declaration of independence. At the end of the demonstration, approximately 1,000 descended upon the US embassy, setting it aflame. While thousands of Kosovar Albanians greeted the declarations with celebrations in the streets in Pristina, Serbian president Boris Tadic angrily condemned the declaration, arguing that it represented a violation of UN Resolution 1244, which stated in 1999 that Kosovo would remain a state within Serbia. Little evidence exists to suggest the billions of dollars that have been pumped into Kosovo by NATO powers since 1999 have benefited the region’s population. Electricity is intermittent throughout the province, clean water is almost non-existent, and corruption is rampant within Kosovo’s government.

Mass protests in Haiti marked the fourth anniversary of the US- and Canadian-backed coup d'état which saw the removal of the democratically elected government of Jean Bertrand Aristide. Tens of thousands took to the streets in Port-au-Prince, calling for the return of Aristide to Haiti, and denouncing raids by Brazilian UN troops in poor neighbourhoods earlier in the month. These demonstrations are widely viewed as evidence of the continuing strength of the Lavalas movement within Haitian politics. Actions denouncing the coup were held in over forty cities worldwide.

A new study of living conditions of women in Afghanistan has found that, in most areas, the status of women has remained the same or worsened. Eighty-seven per cent of Afghan women have experienced violent attacks, often of a sexual nature, while 60 per cent of marriages reported in the study were forced. The report, conducted by the UK-based NGO Womankind, found that only five per cent of Afghan girls currently attend school.

For the first time since occupation by foreign troops began, an Afghan newspaper has called for a "firm date" on the departure of foreign troops, according to a Reuters report. An editorial published in Anis, a government-run newspaper, claimed that Afghan President Hamid Karzai was under the influence of foreign powers, and that government appointments are subject to review by foreign governments. "If the world does not pay attention to this matter, soon the fire of Afghanistan will burn the region and a situation will emerge that will be unimaginable for anyone," the editorial warned.

The head of the second-largest mining company in the world drew protests when he was asked to lecture on sustainability at Dalhousie University in Halifax. Sir Mark Moody-Stuart, chairman of AngloAmerican, is also the former head of Shell Oil's Nigerian operations. "This company... is responsible for forcibly displacing hundreds of subsistence farmers in northeastern Colombia," said one protester. Owned in part by AngloAmerican, the Cerrejon coal mine, the largest open-pit mine in the world, expanded its operations after the Indigenous and Afro-Colombian village of Tabaco was destroyed by bulldozers in 2002.

About 50 residents of the African-Nova Scotian community of Lincolnville and their supporters marched two kilometres from their town to blockade a nearby dumpsite. The Lincolnville dump is the second landfill built in the area. The protesters demanded the dump be shut down, and called for an "end to environmental racism," drawing parallels to the fate of the former Halifax community of Africville, which was destroyed in the 1960s in what many see as an exercise in racist municipal planning. Many residents have complained that the dumpsite poses a clear health hazard to Lincolnville residents. Resident James Desmond noted that the site has been a dumping ground for, among other substances, transformers from power poles, which he believes have leached PCBs into the ground. Said Desmond, “I’ve seen dead horses, I’ve seen dead carcasses, I’ve seen a little bit of everything going in and around that dump.”

Canadian mining company Cameco Resources is attempting to expand its uranium mining operation near Crawford, Nebraska, and is requesting the use of an additional 2.4 billion gallons of water per year from the High Plains aquifer. At the historic Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, a recent spate of brain seizures, cancers, miscarriages, and birth defects has been linked to previous radioactive spills. Cameco claims it has cleaned up all radioactive material that entered the water supply.

Recent reports indicate that shareholders of pipeline company TransCanada are taking the company to task over its "mismanagement" of the issue of aboriginal land rights in its dealings with the Lubicon First Nation in northern Alberta. In letters between TransCanada legal counsel and Lubicon advisors, TransCanada had previously refused to "alter project timelines" in order to address Lubicon concerns. Several UN committees have issued rulings upholding Lubicon rights to the land; however, the rulings have been ignored by the governments of Alberta and Canada.

Boise, a major supplier of paper to office supply chains OfficeMax and Grand & Toy, has agreed to stop using materials that originate from traditional use areas in Grassy Narrows, Ontario. Abitibi/Bowater, the world's largest paper company, has been clearcutting trees from the traditional land of the Grassy Narrows community and selling the pulp to paper suppliers. Boise made the decision after a campaign initiated by the Rainforest Action Network targeted stores supplied by the company.

Canada’s Bank of Nova Scotia is now owner of the second largest “mega-bank” in Guatemala, as well as additional banks in the Dominican Republic, after their purchase of Grupo Altas Cumbres of Chile. The acquisition was announced on February 4. Terms of the sale have not been released.

Algonquin leader Paula Sherman agreed to stop protesting a planned uranium mine on Algonquin land near Sharbot Lake, Ontario. Sherman, a single mother of three, and Robert Lovelace, both co-chiefs of the Ardoch Algonquin First Nation, were sentenced to six months in jail and fines for disobeying a court injunction granted to mining exploration company Frontenac Ventures. Both admitted to their involvement in protests on the property upon which Frontenac hopes to build the uranium mine. Although Frontenac Ventures had obtained the approval of the Ontario government, Algonquin communities in the area had not been consulted or notified before Frontenac began destroying trees and rocks on their territory. Protesters from both the Shabot Obaadjiwan and Ardoch Algonquin First Nations occupied the disputed site from late June to mid-October last year. The occupation ended after the Ontario government agreed to mediation talks, but began again this month after talks failed.

Robert Maurice, one of Toronto’s 70,000 reported homeless people, died of exposure at the age of 50. Maurice had housing at the time of his death but, according to sources close to him, as a result of overcrowding and other conditions within the boarding home in which he had been staying, he remained on the streets. At the time of his death he had a broken leg and was walking on crutches. Two weeks earlier the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP), along with a number of agencies, had expressed concerns about the closing of over 300 shelter beds in Toronto, which has led to serious overcrowding in Toronto hostels. OCAP would stage a noisy, disruptive rally inside Toronto city council chambers after learning of Maurice's death. A letter from Maurice’s ex-wife to OCAP reminds Canadians that “anyone can be allowed to freeze to death this day and age; where Rob died was downtown, Bay & Bloor area.”

Tens of thousands of agricultural workers with tractors, cows and banners gathered at Mexico City's downtown plaza, the Zocalo, urging the Mexican government to renegotiate the rules in the agricultural sections of the North American Free Trade Agreement. These rules effectively do away with customs tariffs for corn, beans, sugar and milk starting in 2008. Governmental officials have recognized the agreement has helped commerce and the economy in Mexico but has not helped the agricultural sector, which suffers from low salaries and insufficient financial assistance. According to La Jornada, farmers’ leaders said they are planning to proceed with a national work stoppage which will include blocking roads, ports, airports and custom offices.

Fidel Castro resigned as Cuba's president of 49 years, at the age of 81. Castro’s rule was the longest in the world for a head of government, and his retirement saw the peaceful passage of power to his brother Raul Castro and a younger generation of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC). Fidel, who has not been seen in public since unofficially transferring his authority as leader of Cuba to Raul in 2006 due to illness, wrote to the Cuban people: “I am not saying goodbye to you. I only wish to fight as a soldier of ideas.”

Although "clean air" legislation has cleaned up the most visible smog-like pollution in industrialized countries, Lung Chi Chen of the medical school at New York University said microscopic soot particles from vehicle exhaust kills an estimated 30-40,000 people a year in the United States. Breathing the air in New York City is similar to living with a smoker in terms of risk from heart disease, he explained, and its effect on the human cardiovascular system is comparable to that on fish living in an oil spill. In fact, the most modern diesel and petrol engines with efficient filters generated the most dangerous particles (less than 2.5 microns in diameter).

Australian media reports on Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's government’s apology to members of the “stolen generations” – the Aboriginal and “half-caste” children who were forcibly removed from their parents by government authorities from 1900 to the early 1970s – left out the voices of 2,000 Aborigines from across the country who gathered in Canberra to protest the federal government’s Northern Territory (NT) police-military intervention. Natasha Moore, a 23-year-old social worker, travelled from Perth, Western Australia, to attend the demonstration. “[The NT policy] is a clear attack on Aboriginal people in remote areas who live in poverty and don’t have any real services. There was the report on child abuse but the government just used this as an excuse to intervene. The intervention is racist and discriminatory.”

A Federal Court has ordered an environmental review panel to justify its decision to allow a $7 billion tar sands project in northern Alberta to go ahead. The ruling, released Wednesday, comes after four Prairie environmental groups went to court in January to try to stop Imperial Oil’s Kearl project, claiming the federal-provincial review panel that approved the project had not adequately assessed the potential environmental damage. The Court ruled that this latest tar sands project approved for the Fort McMurray area must go back to an environmental review panel.

A Pakistani family who lived in a church for 18 months to avoid deportation was finally granted their freedom on the condition that they make a short drive. Hassan Raza, his wife and their six children spent most of the last year and a half in sanctuary in the Crescent Fort Rouge United Church in Winnipeg, afraid of being arrested and deported if they ventured outside. The family has been granted temporary resident status after negotiating a deal with federal immigration officials that required them to make a one-hour drive to the US border where, technically at least, they left Canada for a brief time and then re-entered.

Canada and the US have signed an agreement that paves the way for military forces from either nation to send troops across each other’s borders during an emergency, but some are questioning why the Harper government has kept silent on the deal. Neither the Canadian government nor the Canadian Forces announced the new agreement, which was signed on February 14 in Texas. The US military’s Northern Command, however, publicized the agreement with a statement outlining how its top officer, Gen. Gene Renuart, and Canadian Lt.-Gen. Marc Dumais, head of Canada Command, signed the plan, which allows the military from one nation to support the armed forces of the other nation during a civil emergency.

Israeli troops reportedly pulled out of northern Gaza after days of fighting that killed 130 Palestinians in the deadliest military assault on Gaza in years. The assault drew worldwide protests, but Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has warned the withdrawal of troops does not mean Israel’s military operation there is over. The clashes reached a peak after Israel sent in a regiment of ground troops in an operation dubbed “Hot Winter” that killed 77 Palestinians in two days, and 130 over five days. Of the dead, 39 were children and 10 were women. In addition, 370 children were injured.

More than 1,000 members of Toronto's Tibetan community and their supporters marched in the streets, some lying down in major intersections, to peacefully draw attention to human rights violations by China and censorship of the press in the face of rising civil unrest in Tibet. On another continent, three pro-Tibetan protesters face misdemeanour charges of disrespectful behaviour after disrupting the flame-lighting ceremony for the Beijing Olympics at Greece’s Ancient Olympia stadium. In the Tibetan capital of Lhasa, days of peaceful protests of the Chinese occupation of Tibet led by Buddhist clergy spiralled into riots on March 14, after Chinese riot police fired bullets and tear gas on protesters in an effort to control the city. In the ensuing chaos, mobs smashed and looted Han Chinese-run businesses and shops. Estimates put the number of dead between 22 and 140, with over 600 injured. Beijing has accused the exiled Dalai Lama of plotting terror in Tibet, while Jacques Rogge, head of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), refused to criticize China for its violent crackdown on demonstrations. Canadian Olympic rower Jake Wetzel expressed surprise that there has not been more of an international outcry about China’s repression of Tibetan protesters. "I guess it kind of shows how weak the position of athletes is in making a statement about these things when the international community can't really even condemn what's happening." Meanwhile, Toronto mayor David Miller will continue with a scheduled trade mission to China, whose stated goal is to build ties between Toronto and its sister city, Chongqing.

In Toronto, 1510 King Street West became the object of technical bickering between a neighbourhood residents’ group and the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB), when residents protested a development plan to turn the “Pope Squat” building into a rooming house. Abandoned in the 1990s, the building was occupied by the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP) during Pope John Paul II’s 2002 summer visit to Toronto. The building, which has a history of squatting and abandonment, has been sold by the city to a private individual, who received federal funding to develop rooming houses. Rooming houses – single-room rentals which share kitchen and bathroom facilities – are currently Toronto’s most inexpensive permanent housing option. Residents opposed to the King Street West development claim it will change the stability of the neighbourhood. In fact, many houses on the street were originally rooming houses, and have been converted into large private homes, and those conversions have already had the effect of changing the "stability" of the neighbourhood.

In Belgium, hundreds of peace activists were arrested after they attempted to breach North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) headquarters in Brussels. The activists were protesting military action in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as NATO’s use of nuclear weapons. Police in riot gear and on horses clashed with the protesters, using dogs, horses, pepper spray, clubs and water cannons to prevent the protesters from entering NATO grounds. Reports on the number of protesters arrested vary from 100 to 1,000. Organizers of the “NATO - Game Over” protest say that without this political and military organization, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan would not be possible. They also point out that according to international humanitarian law, nuclear weapons are illegal. NATO has 350 US nuclear weapons deployed in Germany, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, Britain and Turkey.

The vote by Liberal and Conservative MP's to extend Canada's mission in Afghanistan to the year 2011 was disrupted by chants within the House of Commons gallery by anti-war proestors. Two days later, hundreds of people took to the streets in 20 communities across Canada to protest the extended troop deployment. The Conservative motion passed by a vote of 198 to 77. The Liberals voted in favour of the motion, while both the Bloc Québécois and the NDP voted against.

To mark the fifth anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq, hundreds of marches, sit-ins and other protests were held around the United States. Among those actions were the Winter Soldier hearings, held over four days at the National Labor College in Silver Spring, Maryland. US soldiers who served in Iraq convened to give eyewitness accounts of the war and occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Up to one million Iraqis have been killed; 2.5 million people are estimated to be displaced inside Iraq; and more than two million have fled to neighbouring countries. Nearly 4,000 US soldiers have been killed and tens of thousands wounded. Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz estimates the overall cost of this war will be $3 trillion.

Two hundred members of the Students Against Israeli Apartheid (SAIA) and their supporters took over the Senate Chambers of York University. The protesters called on York’s President Mamdouh Shoukri to allow an open debate of the international campaign to boycott Israeli academic institutions seen to be complicit in the violation of Palestinian freedoms imposed by the Israeli army. These violations are said to include the closure of universities, restrictions of the movement of Palestinian students and faculty and, in extreme cases, the arrest, torture and killing of students. On exiting the Senate Chambers, the SAIA was met with a counter rally of pro-Israeli supporters. Undeterred, one SAIA member stated, “We will continue to organize for holding the debate about the academic boycott of Israel and to fight for our University to divest from institutional ties to Israeli Apartheid.”

The Cerrejon Mine Company in Colombia, owner of the world’s largest open-pit coal mine, recently received a final report from its own review panel. The company has been accused of failing to comply with basic human-rights norms with regards to indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities that have been forcibly dispaced as a result of its mining operations. The five-member panel, chaired by John Harker, president of Cape Breton University, recommends the company engage in the collective – rather than individual – resettlement of residents of future displaced communities. The panel also encourages the expanded implementation of social programs for affected communities and an increased transparency of company conduct if necessary trust levels are to be achieved.

After nearly five years of publishing on the web and in print, The Dominion launched Own Your Media!, a cross-Canada tour aimed at recruiting members and sustainers to the newspaper, which recently incorporated as a solidarity cooperative. Editor Dru Oja Jay and Managing Editor Stuart Neatby travelled from Antigonish, Nova Scotia to London, Ontario pitching the media cooperative to towns and cities east of the prairies. Jay continued west, presenting in communities from Winnipeg to Victoria, accompanied by Eva Bartlett, who organized simultaneous speaking engagements where she discussed her recent solidarity work in Gaza. The Dominion editors gave 24 presentations in 23 rural and urban communities in six weeks. Backed by the likes of Noam Chomsky, John Pilger and Naomi Klein, and facilitated by over 50 organizing volunteers, Jay and Neatby solidified a national network of individuals and organizations committed to supporting independent grassroots media in Canada. Jay said he was “surprised by how enthusiastic people were about the idea of local media cooperatives, especially in the prairies,” where The Dominion traditionally sees a smaller following. To find out more about the cooperative, to become a member, or to sign up as a sustainer, visit mediacoop.ca.

Own your media. Support the Dominion. Join the Media Co-op today.

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The Dominion is a monthly paper published by an incipient network of independent journalists in Canada. It aims to provide accurate, critical coverage that is accountable to its readers and the subjects it tackles. Taking its name from Canada's official status as both a colony and a colonial force, the Dominion examines politics, culture and daily life with a view to understanding the exercise of power.

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