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May in Review

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Issue: 51 Section: Month in Review Geography: Earth

June 3, 2008

May in Review

A 1,850 km walk, phony foreign weddings, Sean Bell protesters arrested

by Dominion Staff

Wiradjuri elder Neville Williams of Lake Cowal, Australia, in Montreal. Williams and other Indigenous leaders from the South Pacific traveled to Canada to confront Barrick Gold at its AGM in Toronto. The group demanded compensation for human rights abuses perpetrated by the company in its operations overseas.

Photo: Allan Cedillo Lissner

The Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada (CEP-FTQ), representing 260 employees locked out by a Petro-Canada refinery in Montreal since November 2007, denounced what they called the company's attempt to persuade an employee to start a mutiny within union ranks. "Such actions are not only unacceptable but also illegal," said CEP-FTQ National Representative Daniel Cloutier. According to the CEP-FTQ, Petro-Canada had attempted to bypass official union negotiators during contract negotiations.

The Beaver Lake Cree Nation filed a lawsuit against the Alberta and federal governments for more than 16,000 infringements that are contributing to the destruction of the environment, the loss of traditional areas, and the decline in wildlife populations within their territory. "The Governments of Canada and Alberta have made a lot of promises to our people and we intend to see those promises kept," said Chief Al Lameman. "Governments and industry ignore our concerns. This is our home. This is where we live. We have a responsibility to our children, and to our children's children, to see that the lands where the Cree live, and will always live, remain inhabitable."

"Roses for Sean Bell" at the People's Justice March on the streets of Queens, NY. The demand: justice for Sean Bell and all victims of police brutality, and community control of the police. Photo: Michael Gould-Wartofsky

In New York more than 200 people were arrested in a day of protest over the acquittal of three police officers in the killing of Sean Bell. The unarmed 23-year-old died after police fired fifty bullets on the morning of what would have been his wedding day. Among those arrested was Bell’s fiancée who was followed by a large crowd who kneeled in prayer and counted from one to fifty to mark the number of bullets shot by police. "I need some questions answered," said one protester. "One police officer shot 31 times, and he was found not guilty of excessive force. So I need to know what the number is that makes it become excessive force."

General Motors (GM) permanently closed its Windsor, Ontario transmission plant. After the plant closes in 2010, no GM plants will remain in Windsor, once known as "The Automotive Capital of Canada."

The Permanent People's Tribunal (PPT) gathered in Lima, Peru, for its second session on European Transnational companies in Latin America. The Tribunal spent a week collecting evidence and testimony surrounding the actions of more than twenty European Corporations who stood accused of violating human rights and destroying the environment. The final ruling resolved in part "to morally and ethically sanction the companies as well as the political, economic, financial, productive and judicial conducts and practices of the neoliberal model, implemented and permitted by the States and the Institutions of the European Union."

Barrick Gold’s Annual General Meeting in Toronto was beamed around the world via a live webcast, but statements by Indigenous delegates attending the meeting were cut from the webcast. Indigenous leaders from Papua New Guinea (PNG), Australia, and the United States traveled to Canada to attend the shareholders’ meeting, calling on investors to divest their shares in protest of Barrick’s alleged violations of human rights in its mining operations overseas. Jethro Tulin from the Enga province in PNG demanded that the 5,000 families living in danger around the Porgera mine site be relocated. “When will Barrick finally pay fair compensation to the families who have lost their loved ones to the guns of your security forces, to the rape victims, to the families who have lost members in your open pit and in the waste dumps and who have drowned in your river of tailings?” The leaders also presented statements to the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in New York. Soaring gold prices and a timely decision to ditch its corporate hedge book paid off for Barrick in the first quarter as the world's top gold miner posted stronger earnings despite weaker production.

Dozens of protesters from Honduras, Guatemala and Canada lined the street outside the hotel in Toronto where another Canadian mining company, Goldcorp, was holding their AGM. "What is the price of life as opposed to the cost of gold?" asked Fausto Valiente of Guatemala, who accused the company of polluting groundwater, damaging homes and ignoring the will of 18 indigenous communities who oppose Goldcorp’s operations on their land.

Quebec politicians and commentators used the occasion of hockey-related riots to call for increased powers for police. "It is necessary that the police have all the powers that they want," opposition leader Mario Dumont told journalists. Writing in La Presse, Yves Boisvert said "there must be a show of force [and] active retaliatory steps" to stop future riots. Crowds destroyed five police cars and damaged an additional 12 following a first-round playoff victory by the Montreal Canadiens.

Two Canadian forces reservists were were sentenced to 10 years in jail for their role in the beating death of homeless man Paul Croutch. Homeless men in Toronto are nine times more likely to be murdered than their housed counterparts.

In the largest labour strike since the invasion of Iraq, ports along the West Coast of the US—all twenty-nine of them—were shut down as some 25,000 dockworkers went on a one-day strike to protest the war. "I hope that this will be an example to other workers that we have the power, we've got to use it," said Jack Heyman of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, "And that's how we can bring this war to a halt."

The Sinkan refugee camp in Myanmar has 39 blue, evenly-spaced tents, a team of white-uniformed doctors and nurses, white UN Toyota Land Cruisers, and a group of Japanese diplomats inspecting the camp. Ten minutes down the road, in the town of Kyauktan, hundreds of people line the riverbank “in living conditions scarcely superior to those of animals.” Local monks provide the only institutional help available to these refugees and hundreds of them sheltered in the monastery's prayer hall until government authorities forced them out. Only seven United Nations representatives have managed to make their way through red tape and visa requirements and out of Yangon, Myanmar's former capital, in order to head out to the delta region. Recent reports estimate that more than 130,000 people are dead or missing from Cyclone Nargis that hit the country's Irrawaddy delta. Damage totaled to USD$10 billion; it was the worst natural disaster in Burmese history.

The Harper government announced a plan to deploy teams to foreign countries to research elaborately staged phony weddings. The Department of Citizenship and Immigration says that some people are using 'marriages of convenience' to settle in Canada.

Stephen Harper and his cabinet have exempted contracts with Parliament and Canada's spy agency from oversight by a new ombudsman's post. Opposition MPs were taken by surprise at the exemptions, saying they were unaware the Senate, the House of Commons and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service would be excluded from the ombudsman's statutory duty to review contracts for "fairness, openness and transparency."

Faustino Vinluan, a 72 year old Filipino immigrant living in Surrey, died of lung cancer while his brothers waited for visitor visas. Vinluan had hoped to spend his final months in the company of his brothers, but their visas were denied based on fears the brothers would try to stay indefinitely in Canada.

An Algerian refugee who has lived in sanctuary in a Montreal church for more than two years launched a hip-hop album. Abdelkader Belaouni collaborated with Muslim-American rapper 23 (Tu-Three). "This is one of the rare opportunities that Abdelkader has to express himself to the outside world, having been stuck between four walls for over two years," explained Mostafa Henaway from the Committee to Support Abdelkader Belaouni.

The Lubicon People were denied participation in the Alberta Utilities Commission hearing on TransCanada's application to build a major gas pipeline across unceded Lubicon territory.

American folk singer, song writer and champion of the working class Bruce "U. Utah" Phillips died in his sleep at the age of 73. After first being diagnosed with congestive heart disease in 1995 Phillips wrote, "Don't give our world up. It needs to grow, yes – but subtly, out, through, under, quietly, like water eroding stone, subversive, alive, happy."

Puvirnituk, an Inuit village in Nunavik, is suffering from a housing crisis. With a growing population of 1,500 and only a few hundred homes available, residents say the shortage is fueling violence, substance abuse and death; 2008 has brought five suicides in as many months.

Hundreds of labour activists attended a Blue Jays game at the Rogers Centre in Toronto to draw attention to the city's only major non-union sporting venue and the concession workers employed there. Aramark recently took over the contract to provide concession services at the Rogers Centre and has designated all staff as probationary employees even though many have worked at the venue for years.

Twenty-two members of Grassy Narrows First Nation completed their 1,850 km walk from Kenora to Toronto. The group was joined by members of the Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug (KI), Ardoch Algonquin First Nations and other aboriginal leaders from across Ontario to protest mining exploration on disputed native lands and to call for the immediate release of First Nations leaders jailed in recent months for protesting mining in Ontario. The walk culminated in four days of activities in Toronto including a march and "Sovereignty Sleepover" in Queens Park.

Six leaders from Kitchenuhumaykoosib Inninuwug have been temporarily released from jail, having been imprisoned since early March for peacefully resisting platinum exploration in their territory. They have to report back to the Courts on May 29. Their lawyer Chris Reid stated, “We’re asking the Court of Appeal to send a message to the government that they need to change the mining law or this is going to happen over and over and over again.”

One of the most contentious aspects of Mining Law in Ontario and other provinces is the Free Entry system, which is the subject of a new report titled “Mining Exploration Conflicts in Canada’s Boreal Forest,” by the International Boreal Conservation Campaign.

This year's sockeye salmon catch from the Fraser River is expected to be 'dismal,' meaning a food shortage for many First Nations people who rely on the fish for up to one third of their diet. The catch has been decreasing for years, blamed partly on climate change and the river's rising temperature. "It's going to be a difficult summer, probably especially in remote communities," said Eduardo Jovel, director of the UBC Institute for Aboriginal Health.

A motion seeking the mandatory labeling on foods containing genetically modified components was defeated in the Canadian House of Commons. Over 40 countries around the world have successfully implemented such requirements and polls reveal that the majority of Canadians support mandatory labeling of GE foods. Almost all Conservative party members voted against the motion while most Bloc and NDP members voted in favor.

Sixty-two striking members of the United Steelworkers Union (USU), who say they're fighting for a fair and decent contract from CIBC, delivered a message to the company's Toronto headquarters. "[The Strikers] are not asking for anything extraordinary or out of line. But, after four months, their struggle has become a living, breathing symbol for all bank workers," said USU Ontario/Atlantic Director Wayne Fraser. "This is an important fight that, with support from consumers and others who believe in fairness and decency, may benefit all underpaid bank employees who help put huge profits into bank CEOs' pockets." The CEO of CIBC takes home nine million dollars a year.

BC Supreme Court Justice Ian Pitfield exempted Insite, North America’s only legally operating safe injection site, from Canada’s drug laws until the end of June, 2009. The decision buys another year for Insite. Many health professionals, community activists, and Vancouver residents would like to see such supervised injection facilities become permanent.

A raid of a meatpacking plant in Iowa resulted in the detainment of nearly 400 of the slaughterhouse's 968 employees. Federal officials arrested hundreds of undocumented immigrants working at the plant. "We feel strongly that these kind of overdramatic theatrical raids are done for political purposes and fail the test of legitimate law enforcement," said a union spokesperson.

A US Supreme Court Ruling gave the go ahead for three class action lawsuits, filed against corporations that allegedly aided and abetted South African military and security forces during the Apartheid era. The suits were filed under the Alien Claims Tort Act against corporations including ExxonMobil, UBS, Deutsche Bank, General Motors, IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Bank of America, General Electric, BP, Citigroup, and Ford. Canada has no such legislation, making it near impossible to bring such cases against Canadian corporations that operated in South Africa between 1948 and 1994.

The Serpent River First Nation, whose waters and territory have already been negatively affected by the Elliot Lake uranium mines, issued a press release demanding “decisive action from the Ontario government on a list of matters pertaining to development in their traditional territory including the exploration of minerals, especially uranium.”

May 15 was a solemn anniversary for Palestinians and their supporters. It marked 60 years since yawm al-Nakba, or the Day of the Catastrophe, when over 750,000 Palestinians were forced from or fled their homes when Israel declared its independence. Independent media from Canada, the US and Occupied Palestine marked the day by holding a joint broadcast, Radio Free Palestine.

Childcare workers in Halifax gathered at the Nova Scotia legislature to protest their low wages. The CUPE local that represents childcare workers says the average pay is nine dollars an hour, which works out to less than the low income cut-off in Canada of about $22,000.

Retired US Army Sgt. Adrienne Kinne revealed that the Palestine Hotel in Iraq – which US forces bombed in 2003, killing two journalists – was in fact listed as a potential target by the American military. The shelling of the hotel, which was known to house international media covering the war, killed Reuters cameraman Taras Protsyuk and Jose Couso, cameraman for the Spanish television network Telecinco. Kinne, an intelligence officer, also told Democracy Now! that part of her work involved eavesdropping on journalists staying at the hotel in the lead up to the war.

Al-Jazeera cameraman Sami al-Haj was released from Guantanamo Bay prison after over six years. Al-Haj, who was captured in 2001 in Pakistan, was held in the American military without charge and was allegedly subjected to torture and over 200 interrogation sessions. The 39-year-old was immediately flown back to his native Khartoum, in Sudan, where he received medical treatment. He had been on a hunger strike for over a year to protest his arrest.

Former US president Jimmy Carter told an audience at a UK literary festival that Israel has 150 nuclear weapons. Carter was giving a talk at the Hay-on-Wye festival in Wales about the need for diplomacy in dealing with Iran’s nuclear ambitions. While estimates on how many weapons Israel holds range from 50 to 400, the Israeli government has repeatedly refused to confirm whether it has a nuclear arsenal. This was the first time a US president has openly acknowledged that Israel has nuclear weapons.

A native community near Sudbury is suing the Canadian and Ontario governments for $550 billion. Representatives of Whitefish Lake First Nation say that their reserve boundaries were drawn on a far more limited territory than was agreed to when a treaty was signed in 1885.

Forty poor families took over a parcel of land on the outskirts of Buenos Aires and began establishing a community. While land occupations are common, observers note that this group, called Tierra y Libertad, makes decisions collectively by popular assembly. While building homes, a bakery, and two community buildings, Tierra y Libertad has been resisting eviction attempts.

Dunkin' Donuts pulled an ad featuring TV personality Rachel Ray wearing a black and white silk scarf. Th scarf bears resemblance to a keffiyeh, a traditional headdress worn by Arab men. Fox News commentator Michelle Malkin praised the company’s response: "It's refreshing to see an American company show sensitivity to the concerns of Americans opposed to Islamic jihad and its apologists."

In Lebanon, armed clashes between Hezbollah-led opposition groups and US-backed pro-government forces led some commentators to accuse the US of instigating a civil war. "This is very much similar to what is happening in Sudan, in Palestine, in Iraq, in Afghanistan and Somalia, [where] the United States is basically instigating and funding civil wars," said political science professor As'ad AbuKhalil.

Reformed election finance laws have kick-started a campaign for the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC). The CLC's new political strategy has three main areas of work: municipal politics, issues advocacy, and "Better Choice" campaigns keyed to federal elections.

In Chicoutimi, Quebec, 400 teacher's assistants voted over 89 per cent in favour of joining the Public Service Alliance of Canada. The new union members established some priority objectives: pay for all hours worked, suitable salary increases, safe working conditions and protection of intellectual property.

Justice officials in Nunavut signed a deal that will double the number of inmates serving time in Ontario facilities while local authorities search for ways to relieve chronic overcrowding at the territorial jail. A new territorial jail is scheduled to open in Rankin Inlet in 2011. As well, a separate women's facility in Iqaluit is expected to be ready next year.

The Pentagon announced plans to build a new, 40-acre detention complex on the main American military base in Afghanistan. The plan reveals the United States intends to hold prisoners overseas for years to come, though US officials say the "driving factor" behind the move is "the highest standards of treatment and care." Some current detainees have been held without charge for more than five years and about ten prisoners are juveniles.

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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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