Do you hear the people sing?

Les-Miserables-Movie-Poster-LargeBy Jessica Squires

Since December 25, social media have been buzzing, especially on the left, about the movie Les Misérables, with Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway. With good reason: it’s hard not to be inspired by a movie full of red flags and revolution. There are also lessons for the left in the story, which is always a good thing. But Les Misérables is also, simply, a fine movie.

Warning: spoiler alert.

Victor Hugo, the poet and novelist, was also a radical intellectual at a time in France when the bourgeoisie was still a force for political change. He participated in several revolutions, and was elected to the National Assembly twice: after the 1848 revolution, and after the Paris Commune.

During his life, he broke with the Catholic Church over its indifference to the plight of workers. Hugo wrote his novel, Les Misérables, while he was in self-imposed exile in England. While there, he also wrote two political pamphlets against the dictator Napoleon III, only returning to France after the Paris Commune and the beginning of the Third Republic in 1870.

The events of Les Misérables are based on the ill-fated revolution attempt—the Paris Uprising—of 1832. Following the riotous revolution of 1830, which succeeded in drastically reducing the power of the monarchy, a movement largely made up of students hoped to repeat the past and finish the revolt against poverty and the desperate living conditions of Paris’ burgeoning working class.

The students in the film’s events clearly have Hugo’s sympathy. Their desperate last stand and revolutionary anthems on the barricades at dawn don’t fail to evoke tears from the sternest viewer.

The mistake the students made was to assume the people would rise spontaneously to follow them. But past mistakes are mistakes in retrospect, not necessarily for those who made them. The students of 1832 were trying to reproduce what they had, in fact, experienced: a largely spontaneous uprising of the masses. The working class movement and the selling-out by the bourgeoisie with the development of capitalism were only just beginning to be observed, let alone theorized.

So when a student leader sings a lament for his lost comrades, the audience laments with him; and when Hugo’s heroes Valjean and Fantine sing about their own motivations for their actions—love—the audience can’t help but agree. Love, and passion for ideas, is a potent mix.

Today we know more about how movements work, especially since the further development and solidification of capitalism. But we, in 2013–after the Arab Spring, Occupy, the Printemps Érable, and now Idle No More–are inspired by the events of 1832 in Paris as few other stories to hit the big screen have been able to inspire.

Jackman and Hathaway are brilliant. Russell Crowe’s Javert is solid, Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen are hilarious, and the performance by relative “unknowns” Eddie Redmayne and Samantha Barks in the roles of Marius and Eponine are flawless. Les Misérables uniquely combines the raw emotional power of musical theatre with the immediacy and intimacy of film as well as the hyper-realism of contemporary cinematic techniques. So see it on the big screen while you can.


Resistance in Bahrain: worker’s struggles

bahrainworkersBy Yusur Al Bahrani

Workers, and other protestors who have been participating in the demonstrations since February 14 (even before that) are diverse. They come from different religious and political backgrounds. Some of them had never participated in any protest before February 14, but were outraged by  continuous oppression and discrimination. The decision to go on protests and later on strike was driven by the mass movement of people across Bahrain, but was faced with the regime’s brutality. Bahrain, a small island located in the Persian Gulf, is the home to the US Fifth Fleet and is the West’s ally in the region.

Economic inequality in Bahrain
The Bahraini revolution is just like any other legitimate revolution in the world­­: it is driven by people’s revolt against ongoing exploitation and oppression, in this case by the Al-Khalifa ruling family.

The population in Bahrain is 1,323,535 including more than 600,000 expats. Bahrain’s GDP is high- per capita (PPP): $27,300. However, this does not mean that people are living in good conditions. According to a report released in 2004 by the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR), around half of Bahraini citizens living in the oil-rich region are suffering from poverty and poor living conditions. The gap between the very rich and the poor is significant.

The miserable conditions that the majority of the Bahraini population suffer from arise from different issues–social, economic and political–but they all stem from Al-Khalifa ruling class that has been in power for more than two centuries. According to BCHR, poverty in Bahrain is mainly caused by unequal distribution of wealth, waste of public money, financial and administration corruption, poor planning and exploitation of foreign workers (who constitute 60 per cent of the labour force). The main issue behind the deteriorating conditions of workers in Bahrain is the accumulation of wealth and resources in the hands of a small group of people— mainly the ruling family and loyalists.

Sacked workers
People in Bahrain have many reasons to protest in the streets and occupy the Pearl Roundabout (which is the equivalent to Tahrir Square in Egypt). There could be no real democracy without solving the economic problems. Al-Khalifa will stay in power as long as they are able to control the population economically, politically and even socially. Many Bahraini workers decided to go on strike. However, the regime exceeded all levels of expectations regarding brutality. On the other hand, there were others who didn’t go on strike, but the regime repressed them for participating in protests.

For instance, officials at Batelco, Gulf Air, Bahrain Airport Services and APM Terminals Bahrain said they laid off more than 200 workers after their absence during a strike in March 2011. Al Wefaq opposition group stated that Bahraini firms fired hundreds of Shia workers who participated in pro-democracy protests. According to Amnesty International’s annual report about the violations committed during 2011, at least 4,000 people who stayed away from their jobs during or were believed to have participated in the protests were sacked or suspended–including 300 from the state-owned Bahrain Petroleum Company.

Teachers persecuted
The state has gone  as far as arresting and torturing activist workers who participated in the pro-democracy protests. Teachers who were calling on strikes and protesting have been one of the most targeted groups in Bahrain. As some eyewitness students describe, classrooms are depressing places while many teachers and students are spending their days behind prison bars.

Mahdi Abu Dheeb and Jalila Salman were arrested for calling for a strike, in their role as trade union leaders. Salman, the acting president of the Bahrain Teachers’ Association (BTA) was released on November 25, 2012. However, Abu Dheeb, the previous president of BTA remains detained facing five years in prison sentence. He is behind bars for exercising his rights to freedom of expression and for demanding reforms to the educational system. Salman and Abu Dheeb, along with other detained teachers were tortured and ill-treated. In addition to torture in prison and solitary confinement, Abu Dheeb reported that even the pro-government nurse who took him to Al Salmaniya hospital to get necessary medical treatment had beaten him on the way to the hospital.

Medics persecuted
Amongst the workers who are struggling are the medics who were detained, tortured, and lost their jobs for treating injured protestors and for participating in peaceful protests. On February and March 2011, at least 95 health workers were detained during regime’s crackdown on pro-democracy protestors. Many of the medics’ charges were quashed, while others were released on bail. However, nine medics still face charges.

On October 2, 2012, six medical professionals were arrested. Security forces raided their homes at dawn. The re-arrest followed the decision on October 2012 of the Bahrain Court of Cassation to uphold the sentences imposed upon nine medics. During what’s known as National Security period, the Bahraini authorities used torture as a method of obtaining confessions from detained activists including medics. All confessions were obtained under torture. Authorities continue to use this method on some detainees. Roula Al-Saffar was one of the health professionals sentenced by a military court to between 5 and 15 years in prison in September 2011. A civilian court on appeal acquitted her. Following her arrest on April 4, 2011 she said that she was tortured in detention.

She described to Amnesty International what happened to her during the Criminal Investigation Department interrogations:
“A woman officer entered the room and said ‘I will blindfold you and I will deal with you now’. Then three men entered the room and started hitting me… She had an electric device in each hand and hit me with it on both sides of my head at the same time. I felt dizzy and lost consciousness. I don’t remember what happened straight after. Then they took me to another room and one of them called me a whore and insulted my family… On the third day she gave me electric shocks again and she asked if I went to the strike. Another woman started slapping me. She cut my hair with scissors. Then they burned my hair on the sides. They hit me and sexually harassed me by putting their hands all over my body… This continued for four or five days.”

Other workers
All workers— teachers, medics, farmers, fishermen, journalists, etc. suffer from the exploitation and oppression of Al-Khalifa regime. Fishermen, who are surrounded by water from all directions (as Bahrain is an island) can hardly fish anymore. All waters are private properties of Al-Khalifa and their rich loyalists. They are living in poverty despite the resources around them.

Farmers have not enough resources and Al-Khalifa ruling family had confiscated the lands of their ancestors. Those who are working in the fields find farming a very tough task despite Bahrain’s rich soil. Journalists are jailed for reporting about the ongoing violations. Other workers in different fields are substituted by foreign workers in an attempt to marginalize the Shia majority.

Those who were sacked from their jobs after the protests are suffering from deteriorating economic conditions. They continue to protest for their right to return to work. The only way to help the working class in Bahrain to achieve their goal in having real democracy is to break the wall of silence and demand an end to the West’s support to the oppressive Al-Khalifa regime.

Ontario austerity and rank-and-file resistance

J26By Carolyn Egan

The attacks on working class people and the poor are intensifying as we witness the passage of “right to work” legislation in the state of Michigan which was once the heart of union strength in the United States. In Ontario Tim Hudak, the leader of the Progressive Conservative Party, is calling for the same. The Liberal government has passed Bill 115, which allows it to impose concessions contracts on teachers and educational workers, taking away their democratic right to collective bargaining.

We had previously seen the federal Conservatives legislate against postal workers, airline workers and rail workers, removing their right to strike. Corporations and governments at every level are set on a course to take away the gains that workers have achieved over past decades.

In Toronto Mayor Rob Ford came to power denouncing public sector workers and the “gravy  train” of public services which “we could no longer afford.” A major fight back from the broader labour movement and the community was able to stop many of the cuts but there were still significant loses. CUPE 416 and 79, which represent city workers, accepted concession contracts.

The library workers went on strike for over two weeks and pushed back the worst of the attacks with broad community support and active participation of the rank and file. We also saw the Machinists at Air Canada stage a wildcat strike in support of suspended workers that had “slow clapped” the federal minister of labour who had legislated against them. The work stoppage spread from Toronto to British Columbia and Quebec.

The Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario has been calling rotating one day strikes across the province effecting every school district. Polls show that 47 per cent of the population supports the teachers while 35 per cent do not. We are in a major fight for the hearts and minds of workers and the communities they serve.

These actions give a glimpse of working class power and shows the spirit of resistance that we saw in the Occupy movement and the Quebec student strike. Both young and old are taking to the streets and picket lines to defend their rights but the fight must be broadened.

The January 26 rally called by the Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) for 1pm at the Liberal Party Convention in Toronto is an important step forward. Public and private sector unions are coming together against the austerity agenda and attacks on unions.

Unfortunately the Ontario Public Service Employees Union  (OPSEU) which has withdrawn its support from the OFL is calling its members out to a separate rally in the morning. This is unnecessarily divisive and is putting the squabbles of union leaders over the interests of the members. Some OPSEU members are organizing to join the afternoon rally in solidarity with the broader labour movement which is an important step forward.

This important march and demonstration rally must be built and followed up upon.  At a recent meeting of the Toronto and York Region Labour Council a motion was passed calling for a steward/activist assembly on March 2. The assembly will bring rank-and-file workers together to initiate a major campaign to organize in our workplaces and engage as many members as possible in the fight against the anti-worker agenda.

The meeting was very spirited and workers came forward recognizing what was at stake and pledging their support to engage with their fellow workers. The intent is to take the offensive and fight for greater organizing rights, stronger labour laws and living wage policies. The only way that this can succeed is if rank-and-file workers take up the challenge, push for action, and show the way forward by building a strong fight back in every workplace.

Indigenous women’s resistance: from residential schools to Idle No More


Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence on hunger strike

By Abbie Bakan

Idle No More emerges from a long period of resistance in indigenous communities. One of its central features is the strong role of women leaders – like the four women who initiated the campaign and Chief of the Attawapiskat First Nation in Canada, Theresa Spence. It is not coincidental that Spence is a survivor of the residential school system.

The movement has galvanized attention to the continuing oppression of indigenous peoples in Canada and internationally. But for indigenous communities, this is not a new story.

In an affidavit dated January 14, 2012, Spence addressed a case before the federal court between the Attawapiskat First Nation and the Canadian government, as represented by the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development. The case is in regard to government control of reserve housing through third part management.

Spence’s words deserve quotation:

“I attended a residential school as a child. Most of the adults in our community over the age of 35 also attended residential school.…Our community and families were threatened with charges, imprisonment, and the withholding of funding if children were not surrendered to Canada to attend the schools. The rationale used by Canada…was that our families and community were incapable of caring for us and educating us adequately….Canada promised our families and community that we would be well taken care of and educated at the schools. We were not cared for….Moreover, many, perhaps most, of our members who attended residential school were physically, sexually and emotionally abused while in the care of Canada. Residential schools are one of many direct and catastrophic experiences that have taught the First Nation and its members that it is not safe to surrender our autonomy and decision-making to Canada.”

The tragedy of Canada’s residential school system is now well documented, thanks to the insistence of indigenous survivors. The extensive network of boarding schools for indigenous children involved Christian denominational churches and the federal government in a complex program of forced assimilation.

John S. Milloy’s important book, A National Crime: The Canadian Government and the Residential School System, 1879-1986, retells the shameful history. This study is based on Milloy’s research associated with the 1996 Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples.

Late Victorian British settlers approached indigenous peoples with the aim of “civilizing” those who were considered “savage”. According to Deputy Superintendent Duncan Campbell Scott, in charge of the Department of Indian Affairs between 1913 and 1932, education was “the most complicated Indian problem”. As Milloy summarizes:

“In the vision of residential school education, discipline was curriculum and punishment was pedagogy. Both were agents of civilization; they were indispensable to the ‘circle of civilized conditions’ where the struggle to move children across the cultural divide would play itself out in each school situation, child by child, teacher by teacher.”

The residential schools were preceded by day schools. An example is the High River school, in High River, Alberta, 37 kilometres south of Calgary. The school was opened in 1884, directed by missionary Father Lacombe with support of the Catholic Church and the Canadian state.

This was the same year that Frederick Engels’ Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State was published. The experience of egalitarian gender relations among the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) of upstate New York inspired the work of American settler Lewis Henry Morgan. He documented an alternative to the stifling oppressive sexual practices that characterized Victorian England. This was the experience that animated Marx’s notes on Morgan’s work, and provided the basis of Engels’ Origin.

It was also the experience that the residential school system was consciously designed to destroy in indigenous children. Lacombe insisted that day schools were ineffective, as children went home to what was considered the “permissive” culture of their parents.

When good weather came, almost all of the school’s 25 pupils stopped attending. Candy and toys failed to lure them back. The children suffered, according to Lacombe, from being too “proud and set in their Indian ways”.

Compulsory residence was the solution. This went along with a regime, as Lacombe advised, of “coercion to enforce order and obedience.” Harsh repression was considered a necessary counter-measure to the influence of indigenous parents.

There was also concern to ensure against “retrogression” upon graduation. Boys and girls were strictly trained according to western gender norms. The 1887 Deputy Superintendent General of Indian Affairs, Lawrence Vankoughnet, advised then Prime Minister John A. Macdonald that residential schools were a “good investment” in Canada’s future. As Milloy aptly summarizes:

“It was their goal after all to produce not only civilized young men integrated into the non-Aboriginal labour force, but civilized families. In the Victorian view, women were the centre of that most important institution, and motherhood was the most formative socializing element.”

The residential schools were literally intended to break the influence of the powerful women of Canada’s First Nations and destroy the teachings of generations.

This oppressive relationship continues in the current conditions of the Canadian state. And the ongoing resistance of the powerful women of Canada’s First Nations is rising in the Idle No More movement. Like Engels in 1884, socialists today still have much to learn.

Shut down the tar sands, no matter who owns them

The tar sands development in northern Alberta is an ecological nightmare, and an insult to indigenous land rights. This nightmare and this insult are profoundly Canadian – shaped by Canadian corporations and Canadian government policies.

In December 2012, the federal government approved the decision of the share holders of tar sands oil company Nexen to allow itself to be taken over by the state owned Chinese oil company, China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC). At the same time the federal government was in secret negotiations on a free trade deal with China, that they would not allow to be debated in parliament. This lead to much discussion about the role of the Chinese government owned corporations in Canada.

Opponents to the trade deal and the take over of Nexen, rightly point to the human rights record in China, and a system that allows even less democracy to its citizen then even Canada’s. Some have gone further and see a danger that the relationship between Canada and China could become the opposite of the traditional relationship between a rich country and a poor country. That Canada could somehow become a colony of China.

In May 2012, Nikki Skuce from ForestEthics Advocacy, analyzed the ownership of corporations exploitng the tar sands in her report, entitled “Who Benefits? An Investigation of Foreign Ownership in the Tar Sands.” Based on share ownership of oil companies, she comes to the conclusion,“the vast majority of tar sands production is not owned by Canadians,” and singles out the growing role of “rising Chinese Investment.” In the section on China she claims that this is “positioning Canada as China’s resource colony.” The conclusion of the article is that the majority of profits and jobs created by the tar sands are being shipped outside of Canada.

Elizabeth May, leader of the Green Party, while highlighting concerns about the trade deal between Canada and China, also came to the conclusion that Canada would “become the resources colony in that context.”

Canada does have a colonial history, but Canada is the colonizer. This is a story of colonial violence, carried out by the newly created Canadian state, directed against the Cree, Assiniboine, Métis and other peoples, as Canada used force to consolidate its developing capitalist economy. Canada is not a victim of colonialism, but is rather a colonial power in its own right.

That is unlikely to change, China might be undergoing a massive industrial revolution, but it remains a society far more impoverished than Canada.

In this context singling out China’s role in the oil fields runs the risk of opening the door to racism in the environmental movement.

In an article on his blog, Paul Kellog, disputes that control over the tar sands is predominately in non-Canadian hands. Using Statistics Canada data going back 60 years he shows that Canadian companies have increased their share in the Tar Sands so that they now account for around two thirds of those companies. While acknowledging that the majority of shares in companies responsible for the horror of the tar sands are not owned by Canadians, he points out that it is the one or two largest share holders that effectively control a company. He argues that in the case of tar sands oil companies that control still remains in Canadian hands.

However final control over the oil sands does not rest in the hands of the corporations exploiting them. It is shared between the Alberta government, the Canadian government and the irrational market. The recent boom in the tar sands occurred only because oil prices have risen. Capital, no matter of what nationality, goes where the profits are, when oil prices decline, so will the tar sands. In addition there can only be mining if the provincial and federal governments allow it. The tar sands have been developed due succession of Liberal and Tory governments who have put profits before people.

This argument over who has the control and who is getting most of the profit and where the refining jobs are located leaves out the most important question: how can we build a movement to shut down the tar sands and replace those jobs with even more, better paying climate jobs?

It doesn’t matter where the profits from the tar sands are going, exploiting this resource is destroying the immediate environment where the mining is going on, it is poisoning the rivers nearby and it is contributing to the climate change that already kills 140,000 people a year according to the World Health Organization.

Our movement needs to be completely clear – the tar sands are a Canadian creation, and it’s our responsibility to shut them down.

Kenney’s ‘safe’ country list is dangerous for refugees

kenneyBy Ian Beeching

On December 15 the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism announced a list of 27 Designated Countries of Origin (DCO) of which refugee applicants will be given half the time to prepare for a hearing in 30-45 days, will have no right to appeal at the Refugee Appeal Division of the IRB and will be denied even the most basic of health services. Should the Federal Court be asked to review a negative decision, no stay of removal will be granted, effectively negating the court before it has the chance to deliberate. “Denying claimants access to an appeal, based solely on the country from which they have come, is unequal and unfair treatment. It may lead to mistakes going uncorrected and refugees being forcibly returned to a risk of persecution,” Gloria Nafziger of Amnesty International Canada.

Countries on the list are Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom, United States of America.

Criteria for a nation to make the list are at least 60 per cent of claimants from the country must have withdrawn and abandoned their own claims, or least 75 per cent of claims from a country have been withdrawn, abandoned, and rejected by the IRB. Minister Kenney asserts “we are ensuring that genuine refugees fleeing persecution will receive protection more quickly, while, at the same time, failed asylum claimants from generally safe countries will be removed much faster.”

Despite the auspice of creating a streamlined system, Minister Kenney has in fact dismissed the very real human rights abuses of countries on the list including the United States of America and Hungary. The Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers, sated the DCO’s is “arbitrary, unfair, and unconstitutional,” calling it a “travesty” that violates the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Roma Refugees

European history has been full of discrimination against ethnic minorities and even the most appalling atrocities of the Second World War were not enough to shake Europe of its racial prejudices.  The Roma (gypsies) people have historically been enslaved, subjected to ethnic cleansing, persecution, discrimination, and prejudice, continuing to date to face discrimination and poverty throughout Europe–including Hungary where they are the largest minority.

In 2011, more than 4,000 Hungarian nationals applied to Canada as refugees (representing 17 per cent of claimants), and 20 per cent of those to receive full hearings were accepted as legitimate refugees. Hungary being on the DOC puts severe limitations on legitimate Roma refugees seeking asylum.

Roma face constant threat of eviction throughout Europe, segregation in education and as late as 2004 in several countries Roma women were forcibly sterilized. The independent ombudsman, Otakar Motejl, of the Czech government identified dozens of cases of coercive sterilization between 1979 and 2001. The Czech Republic has been called on by the Council of Europe to end segregation of Romani in schools. The European Court has found the teaching of limited curriculum in segregated schools to be discriminatory.

In France “Repeated forced evictions have disastrous consequences on Roma’s health, education and ability to secure an adequate standard of living. Forced out of one informal settlement after another they end up in ever poorer housing conditions, forced to sleep on the streets and in tents until they manage to build another makeshift home,” said John Dalhuisen Europe and Central Asia Programme Director at Amnesty International.

Kenney has stated it is suspicious the Roma seek refugee in Canada when they have free movement in the EU “The European Union—we’re talking about countries that have protections for human rights every bit as strong as Canada’s, countries like Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom—all of these countries believe that claims from Hungary are manifestly unfounded.” But according to Peter Showler, director of a refugee law research forum at University of Ottawa: “The fact of the matter is they cannot seek asylum in other European Union countries. There is an agreement in place that you cannot seek asylum in another EU country. That’s a straightforward fact. That’s a binding agreement among EU countries.” The longest a Roma can be in another EU country without employment is three months. “They are undereducated, stigmatized Roma from Hungary. Their chances of finding employment in these other countries is very low.”

After the 2010 election of Hungarian nationalist party FIDESZ in 2010, a Roma refugee applicant reported his people being scapegoats for the country’s weakened economy. Hungarian police subjected him to random street searches. He reported discrimination at work and his children would be beaten up at school for being Roma. In a youtube video from  August 2012 neo-nazi groups can be seen marching against the Roma.

The Case of Bradley Manning

Despite the torture method of water-boarding being officially banned in America in 2009 the legacy of torture continues. Case in point is the handling of accused wikileaks whistle blower Bradley Manning.

Veteran constitutional attorney Michael Ratner explains Mannings description of being kept in a cage in Kuwait “There were two cages. He said they were like animal cages. They were in a tent alone, just these two cages, side by side. One of them had whatever possessions he may have had; one of them, he was in, with a little bed for a rack and a toilet, dark, in this cage for almost two months.” The United Nations special rapporteur on torture, Juan Mendez has stated that “solitary confinement is a harsh measure which may cause serious psychological and physiological adverse effects on individuals regardless of their specific conditions.”

Bradly Manning describes the effect of being caged “For me, I stopped keeping track. I didn’t know whether night was day or day was night. And my world became very, very small. It became these cages.”

Further solitary confinement of nine months at Quantico military prison was justified as suicide watch despite the forensic psychiatrist at the base Capt William Hocter stating he was at no such risk: “I had been a senior medical officer for 24 years at the time, and I had never experienced anything like this. It was clear to me they had made up their mind on a certain cause of action, and my recommendations had no impact.”  Prison regulations state that “when prisoners are no longer considered to be suicide risks by a medical officer, they shall be returned to appropriate quarters.”

For the nine months Manning had little to no contact with other people, was kept in his cell for more than 23 hours a day, was checked every five minutes, slept on a suicide mattress with no bedding, had his prescription glasses taken away, had the lights kept on at night, and had the toilet paper removed. Manning received such treatment for being accused of downloading and distributing classified material of which 4.2 million Americans had security clearance.

War Resisters

The United States remains a military aggressor in the world. From the illegal war and occupation of Iraq under false pretext, the bombing of Pakistan and continued occupation of Afghanistan to the extrajudicial assassinations of its own citizens abroad there is a clear obligation for soldiers to refuse orders under the UN Charter, the Geneva Conventions, and the Nuremberg Principles.

On June 3, 2008 and March 30, 2009 Canada’s Parliament Voted “that the government immediately implement a program to allow conscientious objectors and their immediate family members (partners and dependents), who have refused or left military service related to a war not sanctioned by the United Nations and do not have a criminal record, to apply for permanent resident status and remain in Canada; and that the government should immediately cease any removal or deportation actions that may have already commenced against such individuals.” Despite this the Harper government continues to deny refuge to American war resisters–ignoring Parliament, imposing Operational Bulletin 202 to flag them as “criminally inadmissable”, and now putting them on a list of “safe” countries–in order to deport them to jail in the US.
When Kenney went after war resister Kimberly Rivera, there was an outpouring of opposition, which in just two weeks organized demonstrations across the country and 20,000 signatures against her deportation. This broad-based organizing–mobilizing trade unions, student organizations, and faith and community groups–needs to expand in order to stop Kenney’s anti-refugee policies.

Fracking dangerous

By John Bell

There is a fortune of fossil fuel underfoot, wherever a layer of shale rock forms part of the bedrock. All that is required to release the fuel–mostly natural gas–is to break up that rock layer by injecting massive amounts of pressurized fluids. The process is called hydraulic fracturing, better known as fracking. And there are potential fracking shale beds under much of North America. Along with creating billions of dollars in potential profit, more and more evidence is emerging that fracking creates a legion of environmental problems, from depleting the water table, to poisoning ground water, to causing earthquakes.

Like extracting synthetic crude from the Tar Sands, releasing gas through fracking is difficult and expensive. The method has been used on small-scale local projects for decades, but now fracking, along with increased exploitation of coal, is the centerpiece for US energy policy. US government data shows that the fossil fuel industry intends to drill more than 100 new wells this year.

Fracking uses huge amounts of water. Industry sources admit a single well may use over 5 million gallons over its lifetime. Some of the most heavily exploited fracking areas, like north Texas, are in semi-arid plains regions where the subterranean aquifer is the only water source. Though surely not the only cause, fracking contributes to the on-going drought that has plagued the US mid-west in recent years.

The fluids used in fracking are a combination of water, sand and chemicals. Energy corporations do not publicly report what chemicals they use. There are many instances where toxic wastewater has migrated back into the local aquifer, poisoning well water for entire communities.

Additionally, natural gas can be released into the water table. The documentary film “Gasland” introduced the frightening image of people being able to ignite the gas and flammable waste coming out of their kitchen taps.

Every fracking injection creates a mini-earthquake. They often trigger local fault lines to cause more serious quakes. Some areas, like Guy, Arkansas, have experienced hundreds of quakes, dubbed “swarm” quakes. Not severe enough to individually cause surface destruction–the largest Arkansas quake had a magnitude of 4.3–there is concern that buildings are being weakened and may become dangerous.

These quakes do allow gas and toxic wastewater to escape from their shale strata, into aquifers or even escaping to the surface. Health problems result from water and air pollution.

Many European countries have banned or placed temporary moratoria on fracking. In the US, communities (Pittsburgh and others) and entire states (Vermont, New Jersey) have at least temporarily halted fracking. This results from growing grassroots opposition.

Meanwhile the gas and oil industry defends the practice, and has forced a compliant federal government to exempt them from serious environmental scrutiny.

BC’s partial moratorium
On the day a moratorium on fracking in the Sacred headwaters region of British Columbia was due to expire, Shell Oil, the Province of BC and the Tahltan Central Council came to an agreement to extend the moratorium indefinitely.

On December 18, 2012 a four year moratorium on oil and gas exploration was due to expire. In 2004, Shell acquired rights to natural gas and petroleum covering over 4000 square kilometers in north west BC. This region know as the Klappan Valley or the Sacred Headwaters, is the origin of the Skeena River, Nass River and Stikine River. During that year and the next Shell drilled three exploratory wells. Opposition to the project lead Shell to stop drilling and then in 2008 to agree to a four year moratorium on exploration.

This decision by Shell to end its exploration in the area and for the Liberal government to agree to issue no future petroleum and natural-gas tenure in the area, comes due to the well organized opposition to this project as well as the still growing opposition to the Enbridge Northern Gateway Oil pipeline.

Across North America there has been rapid growth in natural gas drilling, so much so that the price has dropped and as a consequence the number of new wells being drilled has also declined.

It is this combination of the determined and spreading opposition to the Enbridge pipeline and the lowering gas prices that drove Shell out of the Sacred Headwaters.

The ban does not extend to other shale-bearing areas of BC, and the province and fossil fuel industry still plan to use fracking to release gas, to be liquified and shipped to Asian markets by supertankers.