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June in Review

Issue: 52 Section: Month in Review Geography: Earth

July 1, 2008

June in Review

Oil hits high, food crisis worldwide, conflict over nuclear

by Dominion Staff

Climate activists in Britain occupied a train carrying coal. They hoisted a banner declaring "Leave It In The Ground!" referring to the coal headed to the country's biggest power station. Photo: Climate Camp 08

Oil prices hit an all-time high of $137 in early June. The federal competition bureau filed charges against 11 companies for fixing the price of gas in Quebec. Air Canada cut 2,000 jobs, citing rising fuel costs. Firms in Arkansas were revisiting the possibility of a four day work week to address rising transportation costs. Fisheries workers in Nova Scotia predicted that the impact of rising fuel costs would be catastrophic, adding that many have already stopped fishing as a result of costs. Canada Post couriers said that rising fuel costs come out of their salaries. The impact of gas prices on remote communities is devastating, said the chief of the northern Manitoba First Nation of Pukatawagan, adding that requests for relief funding from Indian Affairs have not been answered. School buses in Maryland began driving shorter routes, making for longer walks to the bus stop for children. Rising food prices, due to increased demand for biofuel and incereased transportation costs, fuelled inflation. GM cited a lack of demand for inefficient trucks when it announced the closing of an Oshawa truck-assembly plant, eliminating 2,600 jobs. There was speculation in Russia of founding "OPEC 2," a smaller oil cartel consisting of oil-producing countries that could be "capable of really influencing the market." A top NASA scientist told journalists that CEOs of energy companies which put out disinformation about fossil fuels and climate change should be put on trial for "high crimes against humanity and nature." Faith Biro, chief economist of the International Energy Agency said that oil production is falling short of demand by 12.5 million barrels per day, about 15 per cent of global demand. "I think we should leave oil before it leaves us," said Biro.

Celebrating the House of Commons motion to let war resisters stay in Canada.

Climate activists in Britain swarmed a train carrying coal to Britain's biggest power station. The 40 activists occupied the roof and hung a banner declaring, "Leave it in the ground."

The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) said it expects tar sands output to increase Canadian oil production to "at least" 4.5 million barrels per day by 2020. Output in 2007 was 2.7 million barrels per day. Protesters disrupted a CAPP meeting in Calgary, challenging them to drink water collected downstream from tar sands extraction sites, where First Nations communities have reported major increases in cancer rates.

Standing Buffalo Dakota First Nation in Saskatchewan went to a Federal Appeals court to stop a major pipeline from Alberta's tar sands to the US from crossing their territory, saying it could harm the land, wildlife and traditional sites.

A conference of US mayors passed a resolution calling for a ban on the use of energy from excessively environmentally damaging sources like the tar sands. Alberta officials called the resolution "misguided."

Government officials announced that Canadian Forces would support the Afghan National Army in providing security for a proposed natural gas pipeline through war-torn Kandahar if the Afghan government asks for help. The US is strongly backing the pipeline as part of a broader energy-related geopolitical strategy. Canadian officials stressed that Canada had no part in planning the pipeline although a recent report published by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives noted that "Canadian Members of Parliament and officials have participated in regional energy meetings; but in government speeches and media reports, it’s as if no meetings have ever taken place."

The social organizations and municipalities of Bolivia's Cochabamba region announced plans to expel the US Agency for International Development (USAID) from its lands. The organizations said that USAID has been funding groups that seek to undermine the Bolivian political system to promote US values. "It can not be that, on one hand, they say they are cooperating and, on the other, they are causing so much damage, fanning confrontations between Bolivians," a spokesperson said when announcing the decision.

A new bill co-sponsored by US Senator Joseph Lieberman would provide $544 billion in new subsidies to nuclear power projects. A Lieberman aide described the plan as "the most historic incentive for nuclear in the history of the United States." The measure in embedded in a climate change bill, though critics say that the full "nuclear fuel cycle," from mining to milling to fission, generates significant levels of greenhouse gases.

Saskatoon-based Cameco announced an investment of $123.8 million into new uranium enrichment technology, and politicians and critics voiced opposition to potential plans to build a nuclear power plant in Saskatchewan.

Seven hundred people, nearly every one opposed to uranium mining, attended an information session in Moncton, New Brunswick. During a similar session in Fredericton, 250 roudy attendees heckled speakers. "We wanted answers from elected officials," said one attendee. "We wanted to know what the process is going to be. We want to know why we're not being listened to."

Eight Algonquins from the community of Barriere Lake and four non-native supporters occupied Transport Minister Lawrence Cannon's offices, demanding a that the government initiate a legitimate leadership reselection process. The Canadian government has forcibly imposed a minority faction on the community. According to some community members, the move was the government's way of avoiding its obligations under an agreement it signed to give the community a share of resource revenues, and the right to be consulted about hydro projects and logging that take place on their traditional territory. Six demonstrators were arrested after they refused to leave the offices until they met with Cannon.

Mohawk leaders in Tyendinaga have suspended land claim negotiations after federal officials said they would not consider buying property currently owned by non-aborigials. Mohawk leaders say the 400 hectares on Lake Ontario's Bay of Quinte was never surrendered.

The St’at’imc Youth Movement released a statement voicing their opposition to the 2010 Olympics, which they say will occur on illegally occupied St’at’imc territory. The statement emphasizes the importance of the land for the survival of the St'at'imc People: "...[O]ur systems are not based on economic gain, but spiritual, physical, and mental well being, this includes a sense of belonging to where we come from."

The CBC reported that BHP Billeton may have to pay a “hefty” fine of $100,000 for a tailings spill at the company's diamond mine on Akaitcho Dene territory (Northwest Territories) that spread 4.5 million liters of processed kimberlite tailings and treated sewage over nine acres of tundra and a frozen lake. Such a fine amounts to little for BHP, whose profits from Ekati alone were $188,000,000, and their overall profits were over $13 billion in 2007.

Dene people are also worried about the dust clouds coming up from tailings ponds of the Giant Mine near Yellowknife, which closed in 2004. The companies that operated Giant, including Falconbridge, Pamour, Royal Oak Mines and the Miramar Mining Corporation, are not responsible for cleaning up the site, while the federal Indian and Northern Affairs Department is on the hook for $300,000,000.

J.D. Irving Ltd., a New Brunswick logging company, lost a court challenge, and will stand trial for the destruction of blue heron nesting habitat. In 2006, the company built a logging road through a known blue heron nesting area, where it is said to have destroyed eight nests. The company had launched a constitutional appeal, in an attempt to overturn legislation protecting migratory birds. If found guilty, fines of $1 million and up to three years of jail time could apply.

High profile environmentalist Tre Arrow, who was arrested in Canada on March 13, 2004, will spend two more years in jail after pleading guilty in June to the destruction of logging trucks on the west coast of the US. On June 3, a statement from Tre was posted on a site supporting the activist who says, "As long as i am able, i will do what i can to help preserve the last remaining wild places while helping to restore the damage this one race has caused."

Another person died after being tasered by Canadian law enforcement. Jeffrey Mark Marreel was shocked with the electric stun gun in Turkey Point, Ontario. Police were called when witnesses say they saw Marreel standing in the middle of the street waving a large piece of metal, threatening to hit cars. Since 2003, at least 21 Canadian's have died after being shocked with a Taser.

A series of public hearings investigating the alleged killing of more than 20,000 Inuit sled dogs by the RCMP between 1950 and 1970 began in Iqaluit. Since the Inuit relied on their dogs for their nomadic life, killing the sled dogs would force them into settlements.

A debate raged about the effect of biofuel production on world food prices, with major biofuel producers USA and Brazil arguing that the effect was minimal. UN and International Monetary Fund representatives argued that up to three quarters of an estimated 40 per cent rise in food prices was driven by new demand from biofuel markets.

According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), 37 countries—20 in Africa, nine in Asia, six in Latin America and two in eastern Europe—currently face exceptional shortfalls in food production and supplies. Political unrest linked to food markets has developed in Morocco, Uzbekistan, Yemen, Guinea, Mauritania and Senegal. The FAO director expressed dismay at the lack of food aid. "How can we explain to people of good sense and good faith that it was not possible to find $30 billion a year to enable 862 million hungry people to enjoy the most fundamental of human rights: the right to food and thus the right to life?"

The Red Cross warned of increasing food riots, saying that violence related to food supplies had already occured in Haiti, Egypt and Somalia.

Massive flooding in the American midwest also fed into a global increase in food prices. A confluence of factors, including increased demand, decreased supply, and chaos in real estate and banking investments, is leading to what is being called a "perfect storm" of grain prices.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez cited major reforms, including handing over "idle land" to peasants and the creation of a massive food bank, as reasons the country has been able to weather the current food crisis.

Analysts examined the history of Haiti's current food crisis, noting that while the country was once "nearly self-sufficient," IMF-mandated cuts to import tariffs led to a disastrous fall in local rice production as subsidized US product flooded the market.

A growing number of migrant farm workers come to Canada every year "under conditions that amount to indentured servitude," according to a new study by the Centre for Policy Alternatives in BC. "Migrant workers are often housed in substandard conditions, are not allowed to choose who they will work for, and cannot stand up for their basic rights without fear of being sent home."

The United Food and Commercial Workers Union opened an office in Quebec to offer support for migrant farmer workers and advise them on their rights. The office is the first of its kind in the province that is 'home' to the second-largest temporary migrant population in Canada.

Workers at Mayfair Farms in Portage la Prairie, Manitoba ratified the first-ever contract to cover migrant farm workers in Canada. "Equal labour rights for migrant workers is now more than a concept. It's a contract," said United Food and Commercial Workers Canada National President Wayne Hanley. In Quebec, three other bargaining units made up of migrant farm workers are in the process of securing a first contract. In Ontario, the UFCW is waiting for a decision on a constitutional challenge it launched against the province's ban on agriculture workers forming unions for the purpose of collective bargaining.

General Motors announced its intention to shut down an Oshawa truck-assembly plant, eliminating 2,600 jobs. The move came after the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) union voted to approve a contract which accepted pay cuts and another plant closure but purportedly guaranteed no other job cuts through 2011. GM says there are clauses in the contract which allow it to shut down the plant.

The CAW organized a blockade of General Motors headquarters to protest the plant closure, keeping white-collar workers from entering the building for 12 days. Amidst rumours of rank-and-file talk of wildcat strikes, and widespread anger among autoworkers, CAW leadership promised more protests.

Over two dozen members of the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty disrupted a Toronto council meeting to denounce the city cutting some 350 beds from local homeless shelters. The action came following an overnight protest camp in Allan Park. During the rainy night, police officers moved in to shut down the makeshift campsite, cutting down the protesters tarp and slashing it so they could not put it back up.

Members of the Anti-Poverty Committee protested outside the nomination of current Vancouver Mayor Sam Sullivan (Sullivan lost the nomination by a slim margin). They brought a golden shopping cart full of pop bottles as an award for Sullivan, whose administration has seen significant drops in affordable housing, despite promises to the contrary. While APC members chanted and handed out leaflets outside, one woman entered the room and managed to pour a pitcher of soda on the outgoing mayor.

A lawyer launched a constitutional challenge in British Columbia. Catherine Boies is taking the city of Victoria to court over the municipality's laws banning the homeless from camping in public parks. The case claims that the city is violating the homeless' Charter right to security by not providing enough room in shelters, and is therefore obliged to allow them to use public land to fulfill that right.

According to a recent study, the richest 10 per cent of Canadians have a significantly higher negative ecological impact than the rest of the population, using 66 per cent more resources than the average Canadian household. "Clearly ecological impact is stongly related to income," said one of the study's authors. "Greenhouse gas emissions policies should reflect that reality or risk being less effective and unfair to low- and middle-class Canadians.”

Sixteen lakes across Canada have been slated for use as taillings ponds under Schedule Two of the Fisheries Act. According to Elizabeth Gardiner from the Mining Association of Canada, turning lakes into toxic waste dumps is “really the safest option for human health and for the environment."

A delegation of Mexican activists and their Canadian supporters protested at Canadian mining company Metallica’s Annual General Meeting in Toronto.

The Tambogrande mining project in Peru appears to be back on the table. This, despite the fact that five hundred community members in the town of Sandia occupied the Untunca mine to protest it, and there are reports of a fraudulent community referendum in Cajamarca.

Montreal author Rawi Hage won the world's single largest literary prize. The Beirut-born 44-year-old was awarded the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, worth some $158,000, for his 2006 book DeNiro's game. The novel, Hage's first, follows two friends in 1980's Beirut during the Lebanon Civil War as they deal with living in a city and country wracked by internal violence. Hage, who grew up in Lebanon during the civil war, moved to New York in 1982, and has lived in Montreal since 1991.

L'Association pour une Solidarité Syndicale Étudiante (ASSÉ), a Quebec-wide student federation representing over 42,000 students, voted to join the international boycott campaign opposing the Israeli apartheid. ASSÉ is the first major student union to join the boycott in Canada.

Israel conducted a large scale military exercise in the Eastern Mediterranean involving several dozen warplanes. Military observers believe it was a show of strength in preparation for a possible attack on Iranian nuclear reactors. The exercise came following Israel's bombing last year of a Syrian nuclear facility, and despite official US intelligence reports stating Iran has suspended its nuclear activities.

Ten non-violent resisters went to court for attempting to dialogue with executives of Canada's self-proclaimed top military manufacturer, L-3 Wescam in Burlington, Ontario. The protesters were charged with trespassing in November. Their action followed on the heels of the October 30 bombing of a school that killed 80 Pakistani children. Protesters say the targeting device that shot a Hellfire missle into the students' school was designed and manufactured at Burlington’s L-3 Wescam.

The US military released six of the eight soldiers originally accused of massacring 24 Iraqi men, women and children in Haditha in 2006, after their charges were dismissed by a US judge. The move sparked outrage across Iraq, particularly among relatives of the victims who were killed in what has been described as a revenge attack on civilians following the explosion of a roadside bomb.

The Canadian Parliament passed a motion to allow US war resisters to apply for permanent resident status in Canada and cease all deportation orders against them. Corey Glass, 25, who signed up for the US National Guard in 2002 after he was assured he wouldn't have to fight overseas, faces deportation from Canada on July 2. In 2005 Glass was sent to Iraq and says the war he was participating in was "illegal and immoral." He and about 200 other war resisters are currently seeking refuge in Canada.

Forty thousand new homes are set to be built on crown land in northern Alberta. The province has announced the new housing project in Fort McMurray as a way to ease the ongoing housing crunch that's resulted from the booming housing industry: the number of houses in the town has doubled over the past year to 65,000.

The possibility of municipal water privatization in Saint John, New Brunswick was put on hold after a proposal to hear a presentation about a "public private partnership" was voted down by city council.

A report released by an array of human rights groups accused the United States government of blocking $54 million of international loans in order to apply pressure for political change in Haiti. The loans were intended to provide clean drinking water, but the US was not happy with the elected Haitian government led by Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who the US (along with Canada and France) helped oust in 2001.

Brazilian President Lula de Silva visited Haiti, prompting demonstrations across Brazil, in Mexico City and San Francisco, protesting against the 4 year occupation of Haiti by UN troops led by Brazil.

Father Gerard Jean-Juste, a Catholic priest who was imprisoned in 2005 and called a "Prisoner of Conscience" by Amnesty International, was cleared of all charges brought against him. Jean Juste is an outspoken supporter of Famni Lavalas, the political party of ousted Haitian president Jean Bertrand Aristide.

Canada signed its fourth Free Trade Agreement (FTA) in the Americas (after NAFTA, Costa Rica and Chile) with Peru.

Negotiations for the Canada-Colombia FTA were
finalized. No version of the text has been made public. Shortly after the signing of the agreement, paramilitaries threatened the Canadian embassy in Bogotá, for giving asylum to witnesses in Colombia’s ongoing “para-politica” scandal.

Five men have been sentenced to 780 years in prison for the Río Negro massacre that took place on March 13, 1982. The sentence has been called “bittersweet,” as the intellectual authors of the genocide in Guatemala, like Rios Montt, remain free.

In Venezuela, president Hugo Chavez announced that he would revise Venezuela’s new intelligence law, as various articles in the new text were potentially unconstitutional.

Two radio broadcasters were assassinated in Oaxaca, Mexico. Death squads continue to patrol the region.

After a month of debate and almost 30 amendments, the North West Territories parliament unanimously passed a consensus budget. Though the budget originally projected major cuts and job losses, significant opposition by labour and opposition MLA's brought "massive concessions."

The West-Asian state of Georgia decided to outsource hospitals and medical insurance in a bid to reduce government costs and increase "competition." Private businesses are able to take over the hospitals for free with the number of hospitals to be reduced by 60 per cent.

East Timor's president suddenly and inexplicably released a number of war criminals.

Ohio Democratic Congressman Dennis Kucinich introduced 35 articles of impeachment against President Bush. Democrats unanimously voted to refer the bill to Judiciary Committee where it is expected to die. Most Republicans voted for a debate and vote, assuming that few Democrats would actually back Bush's removal.

Barack Obama declared, "Look. I am a pro-growth, free-market guy. I love the market".

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Comments

Tar Sands

I agree the development of these tarsands create real environmental issues. The real problem is our consumption. If people didn't use so much energy driving SUVs then we wouldn't need this stuff. I found an interesting website at www.canadasoilsands.ca that has a great forum debating the issues with the tarsands. Though it is apparently an industry site they have no qualms opening this debate to everyone's opinion whether they may like it or not.

Are we about to see a repeat

Are we about to see a repeat of gas prices during the summer of 08? I hope they stop climbing soon!

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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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