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August in Review

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Issue: 54 Section: Month in Review Geography: Earth, Canada

September 1, 2008

August in Review

$12 billion spent on Olympic security, $40 million cut to Canadian arts, 100 arrested in climate action

by Dominion Staff

[cc 2.0] Tents of climate activists overlook the coal-fired power plant that was the target of week long protests in England. Photo: Nick Buxton

Montreal police shot three unarmed men during a confrontation in a park in North Montreal. Fredy Villanueva, an 18-year-old Honduran immigrant, died shortly after he was shot. Residents in the area, which is among Montreal's poorest, have complained about systemic racially-based police harassment in the community. Montreal's Collective Opposed to Police Brutality (COPB) said that the Montreal police force and Quebec provincial police have a history of exonerating police officers who kill. Of 43 cases researched by COPB, the collective says that only two resulted in charges, and both officers were acquitted. Four days after the shootings, the police involved had yet to be questioned by investigators.

Hundreds of Bangladeshi garment workers attacked 15 factories, setting fire to several, vandalizing others, and blocking highways. Protests demanding unpaid back wages had gone unanswered, and several workers were beaten and shot at by private security forces. Sixty factories were closed down by the fighting, and some workers were paid their back wages.

Trade Unionists from Canada and Brazil met in Thompson, Manitoba, to discuss ways to support each other in negotiations with Vale, a Brazilian mining multinational company. In 2006, Vale acquired Inco, Canada's second largest mining company, for $18.9 billion. "We discovered that we have several issues in common with our brothers and sisters in Brazil, including concerns around compensation... the environment and relationships with local communities, and health and safety," said one United Steelworkers representative. Vale, the world's largest producer of iron ore, announced second quarter profits of $5.01 billion.

The Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) criticized a government move to limit "fast-tracking" of citizenship applications for "certain classes" of temporary foreign workers. "By restricting this benefit to only professional, technical and skilled occupations, the government is setting up a permanent underclass of unskilled temporary foreign workers," said AFL President Gil McGowan.

A massive chunk of arctic ice broke off of the Ward Hunt Ice Shelf in Canada's arctic, which scientists said is part of an ongoing, irreversible weakening of arctic ice brought on by climate change.

Two large tornado-like waterspouts formed in the Saint Lawrence River near Montreal. Waterspouts usually occur in tropical regions. The river also saw increased levels of red algae, likely caused by heavy rainfall, and which contributed to the deaths of marine life, including seabirds, Beluga whales and sturgeon.

California-based researchers reported that populations of frogs and other amphibians have declined precipitously, in some cases by as much as 98 per cent. They cited climate change as one cause among many. Rainfall also spurred growth in the earwig population in New Brunswick, where a state of emergency was declared during several major floods. Farmers on Prince Edward Island reported several cases of blight, a crop-damaging fungus that thrives in humid conditions. Cape Breton farmers feared losing crops if heavy rainfall did not subside. In Quebec, it was a disastrous year for strawberries, but wet condition led to a bumper crop of blueberries.

A report released by the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) estimated that 700,000 Canadians will die prematurely in the next two decades due to illness caused by poor air quality. This year, 21,000 Canadians will die as a result of polluted air, the CMA estimated.

Mohawk traditionalists and a group of Quebec farmers formed a coalition to fight the expansion of Quebec's Autoroute 30. Critics say the highway expansion will destroy land, raise dependence on the automobile, and increase pollution.

US-based agribusiness giant Monsanto divested from its bovine growth hormone (recombinant bovine somatotropin) products. The move comes after Monsanto's attempts to ban the labeling of milk as "hormone-free" was met with resistance from citizens at the state level.

Violence in Afghanistan was at its worst level since US forces invaded in 2001. Aid agencies reported that 260 Afghan civilians were killed in July. Two Canadian aid workers were killed in a Taliban ambush. The US Secretary of Defense endorsed a $20 billion plan to double the size of Afghanistan's army. The New York Times reported that the Taliban have demonstrated "a resilience and a ferocity" that is "raising alarm" in Washington and "other NATO capitals."

Fighting between Islamic separatists and government forces in the Philippines displaced over 130,000 refugees, and could lead to a humanitarian disaster.

Documents that show that the RCMP spied on feminist groups from the 1960s through the 1980s were discovered. Among the personalities appearing in RCMP reports was Maritime singer-songwriter Rita MacNeil.

US Congress reported that two thirds of US corporations paid no income tax in 2007 by manipulating data and using loopholes. Watchdog group Public Citizen also released research showing that oil companies avoided paying more than $1.3 billion in royalties due to a "bureaucratic oversight."

A group of cyclists began a 1,000 km trek from tar sands operations near Fort McMurray, Alberta, to Calgary to raise awareness of the environmental impacts of the tar sands. First Nations leaders and conservationists met for the Keepers of the Water conference, where they developed strategies to protect the Athabasca watershed, which has been heavily polluted by tar sands operations. Communities downstream from tar sands strip mines and plants have reported alarming increases in cancer rates.

Saskatchewan's government partially avoided the ire of protesters when they opted not to accept any of the bids for oil sands permits in the province. The government said the oils sands bids were not high enough, but accepted $243 million in conventional oil bids. New oil exploration in BC and Saskatchewan exceeded that of Alberta, where most of the oil patch rights have been sold.

Palestinian poet, politician and author Mahmoud Darwish died at the age of 67. Anticommunist dissident Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn died at 89. Singer, actor and creator the Shaft theme Isaac Hayes died at 65. Comedian and actor Bernie Mac died at 50. Pentagon Papers researcher Anthony Russo died at 71. The oldest Orca Whale on BC's south coast, known as Lummi, was missing and presumed dead at 98.

The food crisis in Haiti continued, where cakes made of mud have become a staple food, eaten for their temporary filling effect if not for their nutritional value. According to the UN, over half of Haiti's population is at risk of starvation, due to rising food costs and the decimation of the country's food production by International Monetary Fund-imposed reforms in the 1990s.

US hospitals are deporting immigrants after they are discharged, the New York Times reported. Companies like MexCare are providing hospitals with "medical repatriations," which are happening with "varying degrees of patient consent," the Times reported.

The Conservative Government's cuts to arts grants worth $40 million drew sharp criticism across Canada, with artists and promoters calling the move "disastrous" and signaling a potential "death knell" of local music industries.

Australia's government announced it would end its policy of jailing all asylum seekers.

Six hundred Canadian military personnel carried out Operation Nanook in Nunavut. The yearly military exercise is in part designed as a sort of "sovereignty patrol," according to Lt.-Col. Gino Chretien. The armed forces also held a panel discussion as part of the operation. According to Inuk Lawyer Aaju Peter, "I wanted to hear what the military and the police were doing with this whole assertion of sovereignty and how they were going about it. I also wanted to go to see how much Inuit representation there would be and what kind of questions that were going to be posed at this meeting. Unfortunately, I was on the only Inuit there."

Investigative journalists working for Mother Jones outed Mary Sapone, aka Mary McFate, a spy with National Rifle Association connections, who was active as a gun control and anti-gun advocate for years.

Evo Morales won an important victory in a recall referendum in Bolivia, giving him a strong mandate to continue with his party's political program. Prior to the referendum, violent protests by Morales' opponents, including clashes with police, forced Hugo Chavez and Cristina Kirchner from meeting with the Bolivian president in the city of Tarija.

Exxon Mobil reported record breaking profits of $11.7 billion in the second quarter of 2008. The US Supreme Court still has not ruled on whether or not Exxon will have to pay interest on the $507 million punitive award granted to the victims of the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska. The decision regarding the interest payment has been sent to a lower court. With interest, the payout would be closer to $1 billion.

Chevron and a consortium of oil companies signed an agreement with Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Danny Williams to develop the offshore Hebron-Ben Nevis heavy-oil project. Days later it was announced that Chevron "stepped aside" as project operator, leaving that job to Exxon Mobil.

Statistics Canada reported that 55,000 jobs were lost in Canada during the month of July. According to economist Jim Stanford, "National productivity hasn’t grown at all in the over two years since Harper came to power - the worst productivity performance for any administration in Canada’s post-war history."

Parks Canada defended their July 29 decision to allow the reopening of an historic zinc mine next to the Nahanni National Park Reserve. The Prairie Creek mine site is on a tributary of the South Nahanni River. The Dehcho First Nation, which has been negotiating with Parks Canada to expand the park to include the entire Nahani River watershed, was not consulted in the agreement made between the federal agency and the Canadian Zinc Corp.

Ehud Olmert resigned as Prime Minister of Israel, prompting calls for an early election from Binyamin Netanyahu's Likud Party.

In Venezuela, Hugo Chavez announced plans to nationalise the Bank of Venezuela, currently owned by Spain's Grupo Santander. Other sectors slated for nationalisation include cement and telecommunications.

Stephen Harper apologized for the Komagata Maru incident of 1914, when 376 Indians, including many Sikhs, were not allowed to disembark from their ship and were eventually forced to return to India, where 20 of the passengers were massacred by colonial police. The apology took place in Surrey, BC, and was immediately rejected by the 8,000 strong crowd and Sikh leaders, who demanded that an official apology be made in the House of Commons.

Speculation mounted that CanWest Global may take the company private. The company, which owns the National Post, daily papers across Canada and Global TV, has seen its share price decline 83 per cent over the last 18 months, and is carrying a debt of over $3 billion.

US scientist Bruce Ivans died in an apparent suicide after learning that he was to be indicted on charges relating to the anthrax that was mailed to members of US congress in late 2001, killing five people.

The state of Texas executed a Mexican citizen, José Medellin, and a Honduran man, Heliberto Chi. The execution of Chi was the sixth so far this year in Texas.

Alfred Heinz Reumayr, from New Westminister, BC, was sentenced in a New Mexico court to 13 years in prison, after pleading guilty to one count of terrorism for plotting to blow-up the Trans-Alaska oil pipeline. Reumayr was in custody for nine years, during which time he was extradited to the US, and is required to serve another four years.

In Mauritania, the army carried out a coup against the government of Hamdi Ould Mohamed el-Hacen, ending a one year period of democracy in the West African country. The coup was condemned by the African Union.

The International Criminal Court confirmed that they would open an investigation into the links between paramilitaries and government officials in Colombia as well as the extradition of Colombian paramilitaries to the US. Death threats against the Nasa people in Colombia's southwestern department of Cauca generated fear in Santander de Quilichao, where more than 25 people have been assassinated over the past two weeks. A bomb exploded at a street festival in Ituango, in the department of Antioquia, killing seven and seriously injuring 17.

In Guatemala, two masked men swerved in front of Amilcar Pop's car, drew guns and banged on the windows while yelling death threats. Pop is the president of the Guatemalan Association of Mayan Lawyers.

Fernando Lugo was inaugurated president of Paraguay, officially ending 62 years of rule by the Colorado party.

Mauricio Funes, the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) candidate and front-runner in the presidential race in El Salvador, announced that he would restore diplomatic relations with Cuba if he is elected in the March 2009 vote.

Canadian border services ordered Jeremy Hinzman and his family to leave Canada by September 23. Hinzman was the first US war resister to seek asylum in Canada.

Pervez Musharraf stepped down as president of Pakistan, in order to avoid impeachment and following pressure from the US and other western countries.

Prachanda (Pushpa Kamal Dahal), a Maoist leader, was elected prime minister by lawmakers in the Constituent Assembly in Nepal. Prachanda is a teacher and the former head of the armed insurgency in Nepal, which lasted 10 years and ended with a 2006 peace agreement. The Constituent Assembly abolished the monarchy in May of this year.

One hundred people were arrested and 46 charged in week-long protests against the Kingsnorth coal-fired power plant in England. German-owned Kingsnorth will be the first new coal-fired plant to open in England in more than 30 years. About 1,500 people took part in the protests; police presence was estimated to have equaled the number of protesters.

Twelve employees of SNC-Lavalin in Algeria were killed and fifteen injured in a car bomb attack near Bouira, 150 kilometres southeast of Algiers. The attack took place while the employees were on a bus traveling to the Koudiat Acerdoune water-treatment plant, being built by the Montreal-based corporation. The Montreal Gazette reported that it "was the first terrorist attack on SNC-Lavalin employees in 50 years of operating all over the world."

China hosted the 2008 Olympics and spent $12 billion on security, installing thousands of cameras and high-tech surveillance systems. Olympic organizers admitted to faking part of the fireworks and having a child lip-sync the national anthem on the television broadcast of the opening ceremonies. Lefty sportswriter David Zirin called the Games "the Olympics the West wanted: games where the grandest prize is not a gold medal but a glittering entree to China's seemingly endless army of potential consumers."

Forty homeless people were moved from Oppenheimer Park to three Vancouver hotels after BC Premier Gordon Campbell faced critical questions from Chinese media about homelessness in the city during his visit to the Olympics in Beijing. Housing advocates questioned Campbell’s assertion that Vancouver will overcome its homelessness problem by 2010.

The Ontario Coalition Against Poverty denounced the choice of the City of Toronto’s "Streets to Homes" program as a finalist for a World Habitat Award, calling it "a cover for an agenda of social exclusion in the service of upscale urban redevelopment."

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama stated, "finishing the fight against Al Qaeda and the Taliban” in Afghanistan and potentially also Pakistan “is a war that we have to win…. We need more troops, more helicopters, more satellites.”

Obama announced that he will share the Democratic ticket with Delaware Senator Joe Biden. Glenn Greenwald, remarked at Salon.com, "Biden is a reliable supporter of virtually every prevailing bit of conventional wisdom within the American elite political consensus, which is why his selection has been widely praised by the establishment."

Republican candidate John McCain announced Alaskan Governor Sarah Palin as his vice-presidential running mate. The choice of Palin came as a surprise, leading to the media once again labeling McCain as a maverick. But criticism about Palin's limited experience came quickly. The two leading Alaskan newspapers questioned McCain's decision, with the Anchorage Daily News quoting a Republican official as asking, "She's not prepared to be governor. How can she be prepared to be vice president or president?"

McCain, former chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, also offended Great Plains tribal leaders when he attended a rowdy motorcycle rally in South Dakota instead of responding to their invitations for discussion. Tribal concerns included the disrespect to nearby sacred site Bear Butte Mountain by rowdy events involving alcohol.

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favour of the Arizona Snowbowl ski resort, permitting artificial snowmaking using treated wastewater and the expansion of the resort on the San Francisco Peaks, sacred to many indigenous nations.

The Navajo Nation Environmental Protection Agency and the US EPA, along with other federal agencies, outlined a five-year plan to clean up 520 abandoned uranium mines and contaminated water in Dineh territory.

Indigenous demonstrators took over oil and gas installations in Peru, demanding that Congress revoke a law that facilitates the purchase of collectively owned land by mining and energy corporations. A week later, the Peruvian government issued a decree for three provinces, allowing it to send in the armed forces.

Norwegian Knighthood was bestowed upon Nils Olav, a penguin, at the Edinburgh Zoo and mascot of the Norwegian King’s Guard. In Killorglin, Ireland, a mountain goat was crowned King of Ireland for three days.

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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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