Saturday, October 26, 2013

New crisis in Syria as polio strikes

World Health Organisation launches a massive immunisation programme as 22 children succumb to crippling virus

Andrew Buncombe -- Oct 27, 2013

Health experts are urgently trying to vaccinate almost 2.5 million children in Syria against polio after the war-ravaged country reported its first suspected cases of the debilitating disease for 14 years.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) last week revealed it was investigating the cases of 22 children with suspected polio in the Deir Al-Zour province of Syria, where two-and-half years of civil war have severely undermined health services and disrupted immunisation programmes. At least 500,000 children are estimated to have missed vaccinations because of the situation. READ MORE....

In Uzbekistan, ‘slave labour’ used to harvest cotton

Oct 26, 2013

In Uzbekistan, this time of the year is the cotton harvest. It is also a time fraught with peril.

One warm evening this month, Safarboy Karimov was at a public meeting in the western region of Karakalpakistan where he was humiliated by government officials for not picking enough cotton. At least one official said he would be better off hanging himself if he couldn’t meet the quota.

A few days later, the father of four committed suicide. He was found hanging from a tree.

On Sept. 15, Amirbek Rakhmatov, 6, suffocated beneath a heap of raw cotton in the Bukhara region, also in western Uzbekistan. Amirbek had not gone to school that day. Instead, he went to a cotton field to help his mother, who had been “mobilized” by the government for the harvest. As she picked the white fluffy cotton balls, he climbed into a trailer and fell asleep. The other workers didn’t notice the little boy and dumped raw cotton on top of him all day.

The child’s body was found at a raw cotton storage facility.

Steve Swerdlow, a Central Asia researcher for Human Rights Watch, has read and heard about these incidents. “It is very tragic but all too common,” he says.

Uzbekistan, he says, sponsors slave labour, forcing more than 2 million of its people, including children, to pick cotton every harvest for little or no pay.

“We don’t see it anywhere else in the world,” says Swerdlow. “It is very tough to escape it.”

Most of the cotton — about 70 per cent of the harvest — goes to China and Bangladesh, two of the world’s largest garment exporters.

While more than 130 apparel brands and retailers have pledged not to use Uzbek cotton, consumers can’t know for certain that the bedsheets, towels or T-shirts they buy aren’t tainted by slave labour, says Matt Fischer-Daly of the Cotton Campaign, a coalition of labour and human rights activists and agencies.

“The way you can move toward that situation is to ask the brand or retailer where the cotton is from,” says Fischer-Daly. “Let them know you can’t shop there if they don’t know where the material is from.”

National duty

Uzbekistan, once part of the former Soviet Union, is a dry, landlocked country in Central Asia. Islam Karimov, 75, has been president since 1990, having won three consecutive elections that were widely considered to have been rigged. Karimov’s Uzbekistan is infamous for its use of torture, violent suppression of dissent and persecution of human rights activists.

Uzbekistan has significant gold and uranium deposits, as well as natural gas reserves. But it has gained its notoriety from cotton.

It is the world’s fifth-largest exporter of cotton, earning $1 billion (U.S.) annually in exports to China, Turkey, Russia, the European Union and Bangladesh.

This year, Uzbekistan expects to harvest 3.35 million tonnes of cotton between September and November. Its citizens will be forced to pick the crop — as they have been since 1991.

Uzbeks must perform hashar — national duty — which the government defines as supporting the cotton harvest. Authorities force adults in the public sector — teachers, doctors, nurses — as well as vulnerable citizens and schoolchildren into the cotton fields. They are threatened with physical violence and the loss of jobs, social benefits and even their pensions. Others are threatened with public humiliation.

Those who are not “mobilized” into the fields, typically business owners, are expected to help with gas, buses and in any other way possible.

Schools and public offices can close for months, says Patricia Jurewicz, director of the Responsible Sourcing Network, which monitors global cotton production.

Harvesters live in filthy barracks without access to potable water. They miss work and school and often get sick as they try to meet daily quotas, for little — perhaps $1 a day — or no pay. Many tell of working past midnight, returning to the fields at 5 a.m.

Farmers are told to grow cotton and if they fail to meet harvest quotas they can be evicted from their land, says Jurewicz.

Fischer-Daly, who was in Uzbekistan for two weeks during last year’s cotton harvest, saw “how deeply embedded the forced labour system is. We saw local and regional officials verbally and physically abuse farmers and students.”

An International Organization for Migration report says 27 per cent of Uzbeks are labour migrants — they have “migrated to other countries to work, as they cannot take care of their families in Uzbekistan,” says Fischer-Daly.

For those left behind, there are punishments for not meeting quotas, there are beatings and arrests.

Sometimes, there are deaths.

Terrified to talk

Swerdlow was the director of the Tashkent office of Human Rights Watch until it was closed by the Uzbek government in late 2010. He says he was one of the last NGO workers to be expelled. He now lives in a neighbouring country and works hard to get information out of Uzbekistan.

It isn’t easy.

“We write our reports by talking to activists on the phone and getting videos.”

The organization published a report in January that said forced labour was widespread during the cotton harvest.

It is not clear, however, how many people die every year, Swerdlow says. “We only get fragments.”

There are suicide notes left by those who fail to meet quotas, accidents in fields, deaths from exhaustion.

Families are too terrified to talk. “They know they are being watched, they know what they say is being recorded.”

Swerdlow remembers the case of Nodir N., a university student who died after being run over by a tractor as he left a field late one evening in 2011. Although the circumstances are still unclear, witnesses reportedly said he was exhausted.

“How will this stop? Maybe with more international pressure,” says Swerdlow.

Or if countries like China and Bangladesh stop buying.

More than 130 international apparel brands and retailers, including Gap Inc., Ikea, Lululemon Athletica Inc. and Walmart, have pledged not to use Uzbek cotton. The pledge is a statement of concern for the issue.

Loblaw and Hudson Bay Company have not signed the pledge.

However, the companies that have signed still risk having Uzbek cotton in their products.

Tracing it from field to factory isn’t easy.

Cotton is mostly shipped from Uzbekistan to China and Bangladesh via sea routes. Once it reaches its destination, it goes to textile mills, then dyeing units and eventually to factories, where it used to produce knits, towels, denim and corduroy.

Swerdlow says NGOs are working with individual brands to closely monitor the supply chains in countries like Bangladesh, to determine whether Uzbek cotton is still finding its way into their clothing lines.

But the one way retailers can guarantee there is no Uzbek cotton in their products is by checking legal documents in their supply chain, says Fischer-Daly.

“From the trader to cotton thinner to textile manufacturer and to the cut-sew facility, companies can ensure through documents that there is no (Uzbek) cotton.”

It is feasible, he says.

Some retailers, like C&A, a Dutch fashion chain, have made it mandatory to have country of origin for all fibres on their purchase orders, says Fischer-Daly. Others have cut ties with suppliers known to use Uzbek cotton.

A couple of months ago, when news started trickling out that Bangladesh had signed an agreement with Uzbekistan under which it would buy one-third of Uzbek cotton, a group of apparel associations, including the Retail Council of Canada and the American Apparel and Footwear Association, wrote to the powerful Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association. They demanded information on what the Bangladesh association was doing “to ensure that any cotton procured through the MOU (memorandum of understanding) is free of forced labour and child labour.”

More recently, major North American and European retailers, including Walmart and J.C. Penney, vowed to boycott garments from Bangladesh if they were made from Uzbek cotton.

Except it would be hard for them to really know.

Environmental disaster

The Uzbekistan government’s pursuit of cotton profits has also caused an inland sea to almost disappear.

About 50 years ago, the Aral Sea, located between northern Uzbekistan and southern Kazakhstan, stretched across an area of 68,000 square kilometres and was surrounded by smaller lakes, marshes and wetlands. It was the world’s fourth-largest saline lake.

Today, it is 15 per cent of what it used to be.

The United Nations’ Environment Program calls it one of the most staggering disasters of the 20th century.

And it was completely caused by humans.

Cotton is a thirsty crop. In Uzbekistan, almost 20,000 litres of water are required for each kilogram of cotton harvested.

White Gold: The True Cost of Cotton, a recent report by the U.K.-based Environmental Justice Foundation, examined the demise of the Aral Sea.

The Aral Sea gets its water — or used to — from Amu Darya and Syr Darya, two rivers that originate in the Tajik-Afghan mountains and flow through the plains of Uzbekistan. But Central Asia, especially Uzbekistan, has withdrawn as much as 80 per cent of the water from these rivers, so nothing ever reaches the Aral Sea.

Currently Uzbekistan accounts for 56 per cent of regional water demand — primarily for the 1.47 hectares on which it cultivates cotton — yet the Environmental Justice Foundation says up to 60 per cent of water diverted for irrigation doesn’t reach the fields. Instead, it is lost in the rotting network of canals and pipes.

The death of the Aral Sea has uncovered hundreds of square kilometres of former sea floor, an area equivalent to more than 6 million football fields. What is left now is dry mud flats contaminated with salt and pesticide residues.

“There is substantial cost of cotton, including the Aral Sea,” says Miriam Diamond, a professor with the department of geography, chemical engineering and applied chemistry at the University of Toronto.

She says the Aral Sea is dead.

Cotton production, meanwhile, continues in Uzbekistan.

No Woman, No Drive

Why Muslims should love secularism

Though secularism is widely misunderstood as anti-religious and iconoclastic, all it means is the neutrality of the state on religious affairs

Hussein Ibish
Hussein Ibish
By Hussein Ibish, Now. October 22, 2013 
Muslims should love secularism. But very few of them do, largely because they misunderstand what it stands for and would mean for them.
Secularism as an English term – in contrast to the French concept of laïcité – simply means the neutrality of the state on matters of faith. This bears almost no resemblance to the way in which most Arabs understand the term, whether translated as ‘almaniyyailmanniyya, or even dunyawiyya.
Secularism has become strongly associated in the Arab and broader Muslim worlds with atheism, iconoclasm, and anti-religious attitudes and policies. And in the process, one of the most important pillars of building tolerant, inclusive, and genuinely free Muslim-majority societies has been grotesquely misrepresented and stigmatised.
The first of these experiences was the overtly anti-religious attitude of the government of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, which was presented as “modernisation” and “secularism.”
The second is the objectionable and noxious French concept of laïcité, which also tends to be more anti-religious than neutral. This association has been particularly exacerbated by “secular” laïcité laws in France and elsewhere that oppressively prevent Muslim women from covering their hair in public spaces such as schools.
The third, and perhaps most damning of all, has been the misappropriation, abuse, and discrediting of “secularism” by regimes that placed Arab nationalism at the center of their authoritarian ideology. Socialist, communist, and fascist Arab regimes oppressed, abused, and waged wars against their own peoples and each other in the name of, among other things, “secularism.”
None of them were properly secular, of course, but they certainly were anti-Islamist. And that has set up the present-day dichotomy in contemporary Arab politics in which not only Islamists, but also many ordinary Muslims, instinctively mistrust secular politics.
The Syrian dictatorship is a perfect case in point. In the name of “secularism,” among other things, it is waging a brutal war of repression. But for various reasons, high among them Western and Arab government negligence, the opposition has become increasingly Islamist. The consequence has been increasing numbers of religious minorities, particularly Christians, reluctantly siding with the dictatorship, while growing numbers of Sunni Muslims are siding with various Islamist groups. Faux-secularism and Islamism mutually provoke and promote sectarianism.
What devout Muslims need to understand is that real secularism alone offers them something most of them seem to badly want: freedom. If there really is no compulsion in religion, only a secular society can provide that. Only in a secular system can Muslims be free to practice Islam exactly as they see fit. Any “Islamic” polity will of necessity be imposing a particular version or interpretation of Islam, which is an extremely heterodox set of traditions.
The claim that secularism is really just Christianity in disguise is manifestly false. The language is European, inherited from the Enlightenment. But both Western chauvinists and anti-Western demagogues badly misread the fact that although the specific language of modern human rights and freedoms is, for historical reasons, currently packaged in Western terms, this hardly means that they lack non-Western cognates, origins, or bases.
Since at least the 10th century, most Muslim societies have distinguished between political and religious authority, and it’s absurd to claim that religious freedom originates only or even mainly as a concept from the Protestant Reformation. There are deep roots in both traditional and modern interpretations of Islam that lend themselves to political secularism.
The Islamist project of trying to obliterate traditional heterogeneity within Islam and establish religiously-oriented states is misguided and totally inappropriate. In many Muslim-majority states, there remains a vast range of diversity of doctrine and practice that must be accommodated for even the Muslims to be free in religion. This is to say nothing of Christians, Jews, atheists, agnostics, and others who also have a right to freedom of both religion and conscience.
What would be the spiritual virtue of religious dogma that is imposed by the state? It would produce, at best, a false religiosity in many, practice without belief, and mere pretense. Religious leaders generally don’t care what people really believe (because they can never really know that) and instead concentrate on what people can and cannot do. But when such authority is asserted by the state, it demeans and abuses the very concept of faith by mandating the pretense of belief by force of law.
Secularism offers Muslims religious freedom, religious authenticity, and religious meaning. Imposing or privileging religion through state power invalidates all three. Muslims must recognise secularism as the only real path to religious freedom, rather than confusing it with an attack against religion.
Some Muslims can claim to have come by their suspicions about secularism honestly, through a series of unfortunate historical contingencies. But that doesn’t change the fact that, for all their fears, they should not only want, but in reality need, genuinely secular societies.
Hussein Ibish is a Senior Fellow at the American Task Force on Palestine.

The Undisputed Truth "Smiling Faces Sometimes" (1971)

Smiling Faces Sometimes Lyrics



Smiling faces sometimes pretend to be your friend
Smiling faces show no traces of the evil that lurks within
Smiling faces, smiling faces sometimes
They don't tell the truth uh
Smiling faces, smiling faces
Tell lies and I got proof

The truth is in the eyes
Cause the eyes don't lie, amen
Remember a smile is just
A frown turned upside down
My friend let me tell you
Smiling faces, smiling faces sometimes
They don't tell the truth, uh
Smiling faces, smiling faces
Tell lies and I got proof
Beware, beware of the handshake
That hides the snake
I'm telling you beware
Beware of the pat on the back
It just might hold you back
Jealousy (jealousy)
Misery (misery)

I tell you, you can't see behind smiling faces
Smiling faces sometimes they don't tell the truth
Smiling faces, smiling faces
Tell lies and I got proof

Smiling faces, smiling faces sometimes
They don't tell the truth
Smiling faces, smiling faces
Tell lies and I got proof
(Smiling faces, smiling faces sometimes)
(Smiling faces, smiling faces sometimes)
I'm telling you beware, beware of the handshake
That hides the snake
Listen to me now, beware
Beware of that pat on the back
It just might hold you back
Smiling faces, smiling faces sometimes
They don't tell the truth
Smiling faces, smiling faces
Tell lies and I got proof

Your enemy won't do you no harm
Cause you'll know where he's coming from
Don't let the handshake and the smile fool ya
Take my advice I'm only try' to school ya

IMPORTANT READING: A comprehensive analysis of the omnibus Bill C-4

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty tabled Bill C-4 on October 21, 2013. The bill is an act to implement certain provisions of the budget and other measures put before Parliament on March 21, 2013. It marks the second federal budget implementation bill this year, and the fourth omnibus budget bill introduced in the House in the past two years.

The Bill is 308 pages in length, contains 472 separate clauses, and amends or repeals 70 legislative measures. Two days after tabling the massive Bill, the government introduced a time allocation motion to limit debate on the bill to five days at second reading. ​This bill will have a major impact on many areas in the daily lives of Canadians and thus its implications should be thoroughly understood. ​

You can read an analysis of the bill at the following ​link​, which is provided by the Marxist-Leninist Daily:

Dozens of Saudi Arabian women drive cars on day of protest against ban

Activists say at least 60 joined call to allow female drivers – making it country's biggest ever demonstration against the ban. READ MORE....

Bosnian activists erect 'guerrilla memorials' to war crimes victims

By Daria Sito-Sucic Oct 26, 2013

SARAJEVO (Reuters) - Bosnian activists put up "guerrilla memorials" overnight to Serbs, Muslims and Croats killed in the 1992-95 war, in protest at the denial of war crimes by authorities in the Balkan country.

In a synchronized action, they erected identical marble plaques in three towns across Bosnia in the early hours of Saturday.

The memorials in the southeastern town of Foca, the central town of Bugojno and the southern town of Konjic all bore the text: "So that it never happens again. In memory of the victims of war crimes committed in the area of (Foca, Bugojno or Konjic)." READ MORE.....

Muslims gather food for First Nation

By: Staff Writer

Posted: 10/26/2013

It's a long trip from Winnipeg on James Bay, but that's not stopping Manitoba's Muslim community from delivering 1,588 kilograms of food and disposable diapers to the needy in Attawapiskat First Nation.

Attawapiskat is a remote community in northern Ontario.

"Attawapiskat has been in a state of emergency," said Hussain Guisti, with the Zubaidah Tallab Foundation.

This is the fifth year the foundation is donating food to remote aboriginal communities. It's the first time it's gone this far afield, said Guisti.

He's spoken to Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence, who made headlines with a hunger strike to draw attention to poor housing and other problems First Nations face.

"She said, 'We have 100 people homeless and 400 families who rely on social welfare,' " Guisti said. The money families receive to live on lasts only until the middle of the month, he said.

"They have to rely on bread the rest of the month," he said. "That's Third World poverty."

Guisti is rounding up the donations from members of Manitoba's Muslim community to mark Eid al-Adha, the feast of sacrifice, to show gratitude to God and to provide for the poor and needy.

Eid-al-Adha marks the conclusion of the hajj, or pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia.

Many Muslims who are not performing the hajj celebrate by making charitable donations, visiting friends and family and enjoying festive meals.

By Tuesday, the charity had collected 175 kilograms of ground beef, 75 kilograms of lamb, 109 kg of prime beef, 12 kg of eggs and 227 kg of chicken, said Guisti. He's also gathered 50 boxes of disposable diapers that weigh more than 4.5 kg each and will be rounding up milk, rice, flour, potatoes and carrots for the community.

This weekend, he's hauling as much as he can 1,400 kilometres by trailer to Timmins, Ont., where Thunder Air has offered the charity a discount to fly 1,588 pounds of freight into the community 500 kilometres north of Timmins.

Attawapiskat, with a population of close to 1,800, is talking about starting a food bank, said Guisti. The deposit from Manitoba donors will give it a boost he said.

"This is helping out."

Court rules Mahjoub’s rights violated but security certificate ‘reasonable’

A Federal Court judge has upheld the national security certificate imposed on an Egyptian man who has been in prison or under house arrest for 13 years.

By: The Canadian Press, Published on Fri Oct 25 2013

The branding of an Egyptian man as a terrorist threat to Canada is reasonable even though the government violated his constitutional rights, Federal Court ruled Friday.

The ruling upholds the national security certificate Ottawa imposed on Mohamed Mahjoub that has severely restricted his freedom for the past 13 years, even though he has never been charged with any crime.

Judge Edmond Blanchard also issued a declaration that Mahjoub's “right to a fair trial pursuant to . . . the Charter and right to be free of unreasonable search and seizure have been violated” but opted against any further orders.

“Except for this declaration, no further relief is granted for the above violations,” he wrote.

Mahjoub was not immediately available to comment, but the ruling shocked his lawyer, Yavar Hameed.Blanchard gave no reasons for his decision to allow time for them to be scrutinized for any possible security issues.

“It doesn't make sense,” Hameed said minutes after the ruling late Friday.

“A violation of rights to a fair trial and abuse of process are serious matters, so the fact that this hasn't amounted to a stay of proceedings or other relief is very surprising.”

Mahjoub, 53, a Toronto father of three, has been fighting government allegations that he was a ranking member of a terrorist group in Egypt that may never have existed, the Vanguards of Conquest.

He also worked on an agricultural project in Sudan run by Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in the early 1990s. His lawyers have maintained it was a legitimate business at the time.

Mahjoub has been under a national security certificate, which allows for indefinite detention without charge or trial, while Canada tried to deport him to Egypt, where he says he would be tortured.

What emerged over years of hearings is, among other things, that the Canadian Security Intelligence Service destroyed the original records it used as a basis for claiming Mahjoub poses a threat.

In addition, the spy service admitted foreign agencies that provided intelligence to Canada were linked to torture, but made no effort to filter out the information.

Security officials also admitted they repeatedly listened in to Mahjoub's calls with his lawyers in violation of the sacrosanct concept of solicitor-client privilege.

Hameed said he hoped the written reasons would clarify the apparent contradiction in Blanchard's decision.

“The fact that the court has recognized the existence of abuse is significant but our view has been and remains the level of abuse in this file is unprecedented,” Hameed said from Ottawa.

“I don't know of any other certificate file or any other file that has even approached the level of abuses that we've seen in this matter.”

Mahjoub arrived in Canada in 1996 and was accepted as a refugee. He was arrested in June 2000.

Released in 2007 under stringent house-arrest conditions, he opted to return to prison two years later rather than subject his family to the intrusive restrictions.

In 2008, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled the security certificate regime unconstitutional, but the government amended the law, and reimposed one on him and four other Muslim foreigners.

Mahjoub was finally released in November 2009, again under rigid bail conditions. Since then, the courts have eased the restrictions substantially.

Nearly two million sign petition to free Greenpeace activists

By staff writers
25 Oct 2013

Twenty-eight Greenpeace activists, a photographer and a videographer are still being held in custody by the Russian authorities.

Charges of 'piracy' have been dropped against them, but they still face many years in prison for 'hooliganism'.

The Greenpeace petition to the Russian authorities to free them is rapidly moving to two million signatories.

The Arctic Sunrise had been part of a peaceful protest against energy giant Gazprom, which is poised to drill for the first oil to come out of the icy waters of the Arctic.

Using a helicopter and ropes, armed Coast Guards illegally boarded the ship and held those on board under armed guard whilst they towed the ship to shore.

The Greenpeace team were then remanded for up to two months by a court in Murmansk.

The authorities said they needed time to investigate possible charges of piracy. On 23 October 2013 they changed those charges to hooliganism, which carries up to seven years in jail. This is a wildly disproportionate charge and is an assault on the right to peaceful protest.

"Please send an urgent email to the Russian Ambassador in London and demand the immediate release of these peaceful protestors," the NGO has appealed to supporters and members of the public.

“The piracy charges originally brought in this case were patently absurd – but these new charges are no better. Hooliganism is a serious criminal offence in Russia, and it is not one that those engaging in peaceful protest should be prosecuted under,” commented John Dalhuisen, Europe and Central Asia Programme Director at Amnesty International, yesterday.

Under Russia’s Criminal Code, hooliganism charges can only be brought against those using weapons to commit gross violations of public order on the grounds of hatred for a particular racial, ethnic, religious or social group.

The provision is vague and open to abuse, and Amnesty believes it should not be applied in this case.

“This Russian roulette of criminal charges must stop. The Arctic 30 activists must be released immediately and the Russian authorities must halt their ill-founded attempts to criminally prosecute them,” said Dalhuisen.

“The Russian authorities have an ulterior motive behind their repeated attempts to use criminal charges, when, under Russian law, only administrative offences might apply to the detained Greenpeace activists. They want to send a strong message that protests, however peaceful, won’t be tolerated and any infringements, however minor, will be met with severe penalties.”

The “hooliganism” charge was also brought against members of the Russian punk band Pussy Riot last year.

* Sign the petition to free the activists here:

Friday, October 25, 2013

Cabinet Position

Damage done: How Harper has hobbled and maimed future governments

"Calling Harper a visionless incrementalist is currently a popular trope for the opposition parties and liberal pundits. However, they should not lose sight of the fact that Harper’s goal could be to handcuff and constrain government far beyond his own tenure. In that respect, he may turn out to be a visionary after all," writes Fraser Harland and Mark Dance.

Stop Mainstream Canada's Apathy Toward First Nations Abuse

Shahla Khan Salter -- Oct 25, 2013

One week ago, First Nations community members in New Brunswick, from the Elsipogtog and Mi'kmaq tribes blocked a road, in protest. The blockade was formed in an effort to prevent the passage of vehicles, belonging to American shale gas company SWN Resources, which is engaged in development in the area.

First Nations activists and others worry that the company's activities will cause fracking, damaging the environment, and poisoning the water.

In response, RCMP arrested at least 40 First Nations community members. It was reported that police attempted to break up the protest using dogs, pepper spray, fire hoses, tear gas, rubber bullets and snipers.

It was further reported that the protesters included women, seniors and children. Approximately five RCMP police cars were torched and equipment belonging to the company removed. Reports conflict on who caused the damage to the vehicles -- protesters or an RCMP informant.

What happened in New Brunswick is not an isolated incident. READ MORE.....

Alberta Government Found in Contempt of Its Own Laws in Oil Sands Project Review

Clear Need to Outlaw Politicized Project Reviews

by Peggy Morton Oct 25, 2013 

The Marxist-Leninist Daily 

Court of Queen's Bench Justice Richard Marceau has delivered a scathing indictment of the Alberta government. On October 1, he found the government in contempt of its own laws for excluding two organizations from participating in an oil sands project review because of their opposition to oil sands projects.

Under the Environmental Protection Enhancement Act (EPEA), any person who may be directly affected by an energy project application may submit a written Statement of Concern under the EPEA and the Water Act. The Oil Sands Environmental Coalition (OSEC) made an application under this law regarding a proposed expansion to a Southern Pacific Resource Corp. in-situ oil sands project near Ft. McMurray. OSEC raised a serious concern based on a technical review that the MacKay River could run dry in winter if the project were approved. The project would require up to 1.7 million litres of fresh groundwater daily.

OSEC holds a recreational lease through a contract with Métis Local 63 on lands used for camping, hiking, fishing, wildlife, viewing and swimming, located directly downstream from the project. It was therefore directly affected and entitled to participate in the hearings. Two members of OSEC, the Pembina Institute and the Ft. McMurray Environmental Association sought a judicial review of the decision to exclude the affected organizations.

Alberta Court of Queen's Bench Justice Richard Marceau threw out the 2012 decision to refuse OSEC's application to participate in the regulatory approval process. In his judgement, he included Alberta Environment's briefing note in full, stating, "In my view the entire process in this case is so tainted by the 'Briefing Note' that in arriving at my decision, I need only refer to the applicants' contention that the Director breached the principles of natural justice by taking into account improper and irrelevant considerations."

The briefing note made it clear that the decision to exclude was made because the organizations were considered to be critical of oil sands development, and concluded that they were less inclined to "work cooperatively" than in the past.

"It is difficult to envision a more direct apprehension of bias. The director's decision breaches all four principles of natural justice," Justice Marceau stated. "The briefing also contradicted policies that are supposed to encourage public participation in the oilsands regulatory process," Justice Marceau added.

Court documents also show that Southern Pacific Resource had written to the government in 2012 asking that the environmental groups' statement of concern be rejected.

The facts revealed in this court case show very clearly where the Alberta government was headed when it passed Bill 2, the Responsible Energy Development Act (REDA) in December 2012. The old legislation was already very restrictive in who could participate in hearings, and the government acted in contempt even of this narrow window for citizen participation. REDA has even more restrictive clauses, and applicants will now have to prove that they are "directly and adversely affected." Further, it contains no guarantee that a hearing will take place at all, much less the right of citizens to participate. REDA has also removed the right to present evidence and argument, see information presented by other parties, and cross-examine witnesses.

The fact that resource exploitation is taking place on public lands and that these are the traditional homelands of the First Nations and Métis is not even recognized. The fact that it is the hard work of the working class applied to the bounty of Mother Earth which creates the wealth and that the workers must have a say is not recognized either. Instead, the concept of the public interest has been completely disappeared from the new legislation, restricting regulatory participation to private interests. The legislation no longer contains a purpose section establishing a framework regarding what constitutes the public interest or public good. The concept of the public interest has been overwhelmed by monopoly dictate. REDA strengthens the arbitrary powers of the executive to act on behalf of the most powerful private interests, the oil and gas cartels. Cabinet or the Minister will set policy and direction through regulations, which can be changed at any time by the executive power without legislative approval or oversight.

Finally, REDA explicitly states that there is no legislative oversight of the arbitrary powers of the executive, and no obligation to report annually, either publicly or to the Legislature. The Regulator will review its own decisions, eliminating the quasi-judicial body which did so in the past.

Redford responded by citing the government's prerogative to decide who can participate in hearings. This shows clearly that the old institutions established to sort out and accommodate competing interests have been completely wrecked and private interests have overwhelmed government and all its institutions. Organizing for the defeat of these governments and blocking the energy monopolies have become the urgent agenda facing the Workers' Opposition, First Nations and all who are taking a stand against nation-wrecking.

Mohammad Mahjoub's security certificate deemed reasonable by Federal Court

Earlier today the Federal Court Decision ruled that Mr. Mahjoub's security certificate has been deemed reasonable. It has been thirteen years and four months, but Justice Blanchard has just condemned Mr. Mahjoub to more years of dete tion without charge or trial. However, the court did recognize that their have been violations of his charter rights, specifically the right to a fair trial.

*In Toronto, supporters are gathering at 5:45pm at 180 Queen West (Federal Court) to show our support and solidarity for Mr Mahjoub, the other security certificate detainees, and all those who face immigration detention.*
“The Federal Court had the opportunity to do the right thing today, instead it once again passed the buck to the Supreme Court. No one supports this system any more, but the Federal Court has failed to catch up with the times. We will continue to support Mr. Mahjoub until justice is served,” said Victoria Barnett, from the Justice for Mahjoub Network.

“The decision of the Federal Court today is an utter disappointment. It entrenches 13 years of abusive treatment against Mr. Mahjoub and bases itself on torture tainted information that is an affront to the Charter, human rights and common sense and legal reason. There are multiple grounds for legal appeal in this decision that will now need to be addressed to the Federal Court of Appeal,” said Yavar Hameed, one of Mr. Mahjoub’s lawyers.

In a strong show of sup
port for Mr. Mahjoub, over one hundred beautiful solidarity messages and photos have been sent and are now online: 

A more detailed update will be sent out shortly.

Will Harper's Love for Big Business Turn Ugly?

Oct 23, 2013

by Yves Engler

The Harper Conservatives have forcefully championed the interests of international investors and corporations, but it has not been enough for the "greed is good" business pundits who earn their living pimping the interests of the rich and powerful.

Last November a Canadian Business headline asked "Is Canada closed to foreign investment?" while more recently there's been a number of apoplectic commentaries about Ottawa blocking an Egyptian billionaire from acquiring Winnipeg-based MTS Allstream on national security grounds.

In a particularly hyperbolic column the National Post's Andrew Coyne complained: "investors in this country should be on notice. Their assets are protected by neither law nor policy, but are vulnerable to whatever whim or grudge crosses the government's mind. They may be confiscated, in whole or in part, at any time and for any reason. Or, indeed, for no reason."

Coyne can't be serious. Anyone who pays even cursory attention to the news knows that the Conservative government is an unabashed supporter of corporations and foreign investors. Their policy moves designed to favour those interests are many.

The Conservatives have slashed environmental oversight; attacked workers and labour unions; opened Canada's telecommunications sector up to majority foreign ownership; tripled the financial threshold at which point the federal government must do a "net benefit" test of a foreign corporate takeover. On the international stage they've done almost everything possible to support Canada's huge mining industry.

The Conservatives established diplomatic relations with a country simply to advance mining interests (Mongolia), signed a free trade agreement largely to protect Canadian miningcompanies (Peru) and obstructed international efforts to reschedule a poor country's foreign debt after the government revoked a Canadian company's concession (the Congo).

They've also ploughed tens of millions of "aid" dollars into supporting controversial mining projects and were recently caught spying on Brazil's Mines and Energy Ministry in an apparent bid to aid the many Canadian resource companies active in that country. Partly to protect Canadian mining investments in Africa and Latin America, the Conservatives have gone on a foreign investment promotion and protection agreement (FIPA) signing spree. They've already concluded five FIPAs' this year and are negotiating with another 12 countries.

Modeled after the North American Free Trade Agreement's Chapter 11 investor state dispute process, all these FIPAs' give corporations the ability to bypass domestic courts and sue governments in private investor-friendly tribunals for lost profits. But the Canada China FIPA signed last year is particularly onerous.

Once adopted, future governments will be locked into the accord for a whopping 31 years. With only slight hyperbole explains: "If FIPA passes, China's companies can take over Canadian resources and then sue Canadian governments in secret, if the government does anything that threatens the company's profits."

The Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) the Conservatives have negotiated with the European Union is an even bigger sop to international investors. The Council of Canadians' trade campaigner Stuart Trew points out: "if ever cancelled by either party CETA's investment protections would live on like a zombie for 20 years, five years longer than in the [China] FIPA."

While the final text of the accord has yet to be made public, leaked negotiating documents suggest it was the Conservatives who pushed the EU for an investor state dispute settlement process in CETA. The Ontario NDP claims: "The inclusion of an investor-to-state dispute settlement process in CETA is, in fact, one of Canada's only requests in the negotiations."

The Conservatives pushed for an investor state dispute process even though there's been a growing backlash to these highly undemocratic accords. Recently Australia, India, South Africa and many Latin American countries have all stopped signing investor state treaties or are revising existing ones.

The Conservatives also don't seem to care that Canada has been sued more than any industrialized country under investor state accords. The federal government is currently facing over $2 billion in outstanding lawsuits under NAFTA's investor dispute process.

In one example, Indianapolis based pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly announced a "Notice of Arbitration" that it will sue Canada for $500 million because Canadian courts invalidated its patent for the ADHD drug Strattera and antipsychotic drug Zyprexa.

The courts found that Eli Lilly's drugs failed to fulfill the promises the company made when the patents were filed and thus invalidated them. Washington-based Public Citizen explains: "[Eli Lilly] presumes to declare what Canada's standard of patentability policy should be -- that Canada must issue a patent and allow a drug firm to charge monopoly prices if an invention simply claims utility without demonstrating it. This is a critical point: Eli Lilly is asking the NAFTA investor-state tribunal to award compensation for a violation of its investor rights because Canada enforced its patentability standards, even though the underlying NAFTA provisions covering patents provide signatory countries flexibility to determine their own substantive standards for patentability."

Clearly, big business has gotten almost everything it has wanted from Harper's Conservatives. What should we learn from the fact that it still pushes for more? Perhaps a simple truth about capitalism: There is never enough profit.

Everyone who understands there are limits to growth needs to think about this. Capitalists are never satisfied. They always want more. That's the way of the system.

The current Canadian government is just a small part of the problem we face.

Can Fracking Showdown on Native Land Help Break Canada's Cycle of Colonialism?

"Canadians hear recycled propaganda as the mainstream media blindly goes about repeating the press releases sent to them by the RCMP designed to portray Mi'kmaw protestors as violent and unruly in order to justify their own colonial violence," writes Leanne Simpson.

A Muslim Sexologist Answers Some Questions

Fatima El-Hajj is a 24-year-old sexologist in Copenhagen, and she's a devout Muslim. Since opening her practice a couple months ago, she's been overwhelmed with clients who trust her knowledge about the relationship between Islam and sexuality.

El-Hajj reports that much of her job involves correcting misconceptions and addressing her clients' confusion about sex. Because it is a taboo to discuss sex, people are limited to trusted relatives or friends and misinformation spreads easily.

In an interview for Vice, El-Hajj explains her initiation to studying sexuality. READ THE INTERVIEW HERE

Monsanto's Very Bad Week: Three Big Blows for GMO Food

Friday, 25 October 2013 12:26By Ocean Robbins, AlterNet | Op-Ed

It hasn't been a good week for Monsanto and the rest of the biotech industry.

Just three days ago, Mexico banned genetically engineered corn. Citing the risk of imminent harm to the environment, a Mexican judge ruled that, effective immediately, no genetically engineered corn can be planted in the country. This means that companies like Monsanto will no longer be allowed to plant or sell their corn within the country's borders.

At the same time, the County Council for the island of Kauai passed a law that mandates farms to disclose pesticide use and the presence of genetically modified crops. The bill also requires a 500-foot buffer zone near medical facilities, schools and homes -- among other locations.

And the big island of Hawaii County Council gave preliminary approval to a bill that prohibits open air cultivation, propagation, development or testing of genetically engineered crops or plants. The bill, which still needs further confirmation to become law, would also prohibit biotech companies from operating on the Big Island. 

But perhaps the biggest bombshell of all is now unfolding in Washington state. The mail-in ballot state's voters are already weighing in on Initiative 522, which would mandate the labeling of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Knowing full well that 93 percent of the American public supports GMO labeling, and that if one state passes it, many others are likely to follow, entrenched agribusiness interests are pulling out all the stops to try to squelch yet another state labeling effort.

As U.S. Faces New Scrutiny on Drones, U.N. Report Finds Hundreds of Civilian Deaths in Pakistan

Transcript here

Disturbing Highlights from ‘Confessions of a Drone Warrior’

by Rania Khalek on October 25, 2013

Journalist Matthew Power wrote a chilling piece for GQ profiling Brandon Bryant, a former drone operator who flew Predator drones for the US Air Force until his conscience couldn’t take it anymore. I highly recommend reading the entire article because it sheds much needed light on the secretive drone strike process. Nevertheless, I’ve highlighted the parts that stood out to me the most.
Bryant’s description of his first kill caused knots in my stomach. The video game-like disconnect that reduces the murder of human beings to the disappearance of their infrared heat signatures—which appear “ghostly white against the cool black earth” when they’re alive—on a TV screen, is unsettling on so many levels.
After firing his first hellfire missile at complete strangers from the safety of a Las Vegas, Nevada, Air Force base, Bryant watched a disturbing scene unfold (emphasis mine):
“The smoke clears, and there’s pieces of the two guys around the crater. And there’s this guy over here, and he’s missing his right leg above his knee. He’s holding it, and he’s rolling around, and the blood is squirting out of his leg, and it’s hitting the ground, and it’s hot. His blood is hot. But when it hits the ground, it starts to cool off; the pool cools fast. It took him a long time to die. I just watched him. I watched him become the same color as the ground he was lying on.
That was in 2007 when Bryant had just turned 21. By 2011, his scorecard, or “list of achievements,” had reached 1,626 “Total enemies killed in action.”
Bryant goes on to detail another strike that he’s certain killed a child. But the higher ups refused to acknowledge it, convincing themselves that it was a dog rather than a little kid.
“We get this word that we’re gonna fire,” he says. “We’re gonna shoot and collapse the building. They’ve gotten intel that the guy is inside.” The drone crew received no further information, no details of who the target was or why he needed a Hellfire dropped on his roof.
Bryant’s laser hovered on the corner of the building. “Missile off the rail.” Nothing moved inside the compound but the eerily glowing cows and goats. Bryant zoned out at the pixels. Then, about six seconds before impact, he saw a hurried movement in the compound. “This figure runs around the corner, the outside, toward the front of the building. And it looked like a little kid to me. Like a little human person.”
Bryant stared at the screen, frozen. “There’s this giant flash, and all of a sudden there’s no person there.” He looked over at the pilot and asked, “Did that look like a child to you?” They typed a chat message to their screener, an intelligence observer who was watching the shot from “somewhere in the world”—maybe Bagram, maybe the Pentagon, Bryant had no idea—asking if a child had just run directly into the path of their shot.
“And he says, ‘Per the review, it’s a dog.’ ”
Bryant and the pilot replayed the shot, recorded on eight-millimeter tape. They watched it over and over, the figure darting around the corner. Bryant was certain it wasn’t a dog.
If they’d had a few more seconds’ warning, they could have aborted the shot, guided it by laser away from the compound. Bryant wouldn’t have cared about wasting a $95,000 Hellfire to avoid what he believed had happened. But as far as the official military version of events was concerned, nothing out of the ordinary had happened. The pilot “was the type of guy to not argue with command,” says Bryant. So the pilot’s after-action report stated that the building had been destroyed, the high-value target eliminated. The report made no mention of a dog or any other living thing. The child, if there had been a child, was an infrared ghost.”
Just imagine how often a scenario like this plays out, how often innocent people, children, are killed by US drone strikes, people who the world will never know even existed. I suppose such callous disregard for the lives of “the other” is necessary conditioning in a nation perpetually at war, but for fuck’s sake, what if it was your kid?
Bryant also spent time flying drones over Iraq from Balad Air Base, often targeting insurgents. As Power notes, “One of the issues with targeting insurgents was that they often traveled with their families, and there was no way to tell who exactly was in any given building.” This aspect of drone strikes does not receive nearly enough attention. The fact that the US targets individuals for execution while they’re driving in their cars or sleeping at home, likely with their families, is criminal and justifying it is tantamount to arguing that civilians are fair game based on their proximity to suspected militants. (Children have been killed due to this outrageous mindset.)
Power goes into great detail about the psychological impact of Bryant’s job. He suffers from severe PTSD just like a combat soldier, which is tragic. But not to worry, there are twisted sociopaths out there with a potential fix for the drone operator’s guilty conscience. On drone operators with PTSD, Power writes, “[T]o mitigate these effects, researchers have proposed creating a Siri-like user interface, a virtual copilot that anthropomorphizes the drone and lets crews shunt off the blame for whatever happens. Siri, have those people killed.”
That’s just sick!
When Bryant first went to the media with information about his time as a drone operator, the backlash from the military community was overwhelming. He spent hours reading mean comments about him on social media and scouring the comments sections of articles. Eventually, he’d had enough and responded (emphasis mine):
>I’m ashamed to have called any of you assholes brothers in arms.
>Combat is combat. Killing is killing. This isn’t a video game. How many of you have killed a group of people, watched as their bodies are picked up, watched the funeral, then killed them too?
>Yeah, it’s not the same as being on the ground. So fucking what? Until you know what it is like and can make an intelligent meaningful assessment, shut your goddamn fucking mouths before somebody shuts them for you.
So there you have it, directly from a drone operator. The US bombs funerals. Even more disturbing is the industry profiting off of drone warfare.
“By 2025, drones will be an $82 billion business, employing an additional 100,000 workers,” reports Power.
Drones have the potential for good. They could be adapted to help monitor wildfires and assist in search in rescue operations. Instead, their primary purpose has been to spy and kill.
As much as I appreciated the GQ article, I’d like to know more about drone strike victims, both the dead and those who have survived. This Tuesday, October 29, a Pakistani family of drone strike survivors will be addressing congress at a briefing held by Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.). I will be there live-tweeting and will post about it on Dispatches from the Underclass. Stay tuned.