Saturday, November 22, 2014

David Suzuki writes letter to grandson arrested at Kinder Morgan protest on Burnaby Mountain

Left: David Suzuki. Right: Tamo Campos on Burnaby Mountain. Photo by Mark Klotz.


Environmental leader David Suzuki wrote a letter praising his grandson Tamo Campos, a co-founder of environmental and human rights group Beyond Boarding, after his arrest on Burnaby Mountain protesting Kinder Morgan's pipeline expansion work on Thursday. 

Here's the letter that Campos shared on Facebook: 

Tamo Campos is my grandson and I am very proud of him. He is doing what I would have done myself were it not a risk to my position as host of The Nature of Things on CBC.

The world is on a collision course with the things that keep us alive and healthy - the air, water, soil and variety of life. Corporations, especially those with head offices in some other part of the country or the world care little for the interests of local ecosystems or communities, except in so far as they interfere with the drive to maximize profit for shareholders. They have no obligation to protect local ecosystems or local communities. Their sole goal is to make as much money as they can get away with.

All over the world, local citizens and communities are standing up to protect their ecological, social and economic interests against these invading entities that behave like thugs, intimidating with SLAPP suits and using every legal tool, anything to keep on their destructive path while avoiding the important issues like climate change and threat of spills being raised by protesters.

I say all this to set the action of Tamo and others in context. Tamo is fighting for the world that will be left to his generation in the future. I believe what Kinder Morgan and companies like it are doing is an intergenerational crime but there are no legal precedents to pursue criminal charges on that basis.

Before corporations had become so powerful, every generation aspired to leave a better future to their children. That is not on the corporate agenda. I beg you to consider the fact that there are few legal avenues to protest what I believe is criminal activity of corporations like Kinder Morgan so citizens are being forced to participate in civil disobedience. Are we so blinded by the power and influence of corporations that their short sighted agendas are above consideration of their potential of catastrophic ecological and social consequences?

My grandson is taking an active role in the struggle for human rights, social justice and environmental protection, he is not a criminal. He has done this without attempting to ride on or hide behind my coat tails. He is a role model for young people today, inspiring them to get involved in issues of their future. I hope the court will be cognizant of this.

David Suzuki, Emeritus professor, UBC

Friday, November 21, 2014

RACHID GHANNOUCHI: How Tunisia Will Succeed

Nov 19, 2014 -- New York Times


TUNIS — In this time of great change in the Arab region, political struggles are often viewed exclusively through an ideological lens, creating the impression of a binary choice between Islamists and secularists. But the fundamental choice facing the citizens living through this tumultuous period in Tunisia, Egypt, Turkey, Iraq, Syria and Libya is not between Islamism and secularism, but between democracy and despotism.

The binary view also overlooks the considerable pluralism within the political trends in both Tunisia and other Arab countries. Islamists are not only diverse in type, but have also evolved over the last century. Whereas their primary focus was once on protecting religious freedom and defending an identity that had undergone repression, many Islamists have come to participate in political parties whose principal focus is economic and social programs aimed at protecting individual rights and achieving social justice.

For my own party, Ennahda (which means renaissance), the Oct. 26 legislative elections in Tunisia were not about the role of Islam in society. They were an opportunity to address issues of unemployment, more inclusive economic growth, security, regional development and income inequality — in other words, the bread-and-butter issues that matter to ordinary Tunisians. When Ennahda conceded defeat in the parliamentary elections to the Nidaa Tounes party last month, the atmosphere at our party headquarters was not downcast, but festive — a testament to our belief that this was nonetheless a victory for Tunisian democracy.

Establishing the people’s sovereignty through the ballot box was one of the most important aims of the 2011 revolution, and of the Ennahda party itself. Holding our second free and fair election was, regardless of the result, a key step to securing Tunisia’s long-term democratic future.

The dictatorships of Habib Bourguiba and Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali that together lasted nearly 50 years led to endemic corruption, repression of dissent and disastrous economic underdevelopment. Tunisia’s democratic transition involves establishing institutions that will protect the interests of citizens. Without the commitment of Islamists like Ennahda to dialogue, cooperation and compromise, Tunisia would not have remained the sole peaceful island in a turbulent region.

But democracy means more than just elections. Ennahda supports the concept of a strong civil authority, as defined in Tunisia’s Constitution, where the state is the guarantor of all freedoms and rights. This fabric, with a clear “made in Tunisia” label, is what will make the democratic transition succeed. And it includes the contribution of reformist Islam, to which my party adheres and which has argued, for more than 150 years, that democracy and Islam are not in conflict. Today, in Tunisia, we are proving that true.

Most of the political spectrum in our country is evolving toward more centrist and pragmatic politics. The reduction of the elections to an “Islamist/secularist” dichotomy is unhelpful and inaccurate. In fact, most secularist parties, including Nidaa Tounes, reject the label of “laïcité,” or secularism, as unhelpfully polarizing.

It would be a grave mistake to respond to the threat of terrorism and extremism by forcibly excluding religious values from public life. This kind of repression has been at the root of terrorism in our region. Under the former presidents of Tunisia, the institutions of mainstream reformist Islamic thought were shut down or restricted, leaving the way for extremist ideas to fill the vacuum.

Young people growing up in the Ben Ali era had no reference points for moderate Tunisian Islamic thought, and some turned to extremism. The threat of terrorism then became a convenient card the regime could wave every time the international community pressured it to respect human rights or introduce political reform. The mistaken bargain of maintaining stability in the Arab world by sacrificing freedom ended up undermining both.

The solution to extremism is not less freedom, but more. The solution to terrorism is not less religion; it is freedom of religion and the cultivation of moderate, balanced religious thought. Muslim democrats have an important role to play in combating the spread of extremist interpretations by upholding democratic values of freedom and pluralism.

In many countries in my region, losing power — through an election or otherwise — used to entail imprisonment, mass repression or worse. In some, it still may, but today, we have a new Tunisia, in which politics is pluralistic, our differences are resolved through mediation, and no individual party monopolizes authority.

Ennahda has demonstrated its commitment to consensual democracy: We shared power when in office and handed over power to a technocratic government to guarantee free elections. For next month’s presidential election, we have chosen to neither field nor back a candidate, because we judged that this abstention would help maintain the equilibrium necessary for the healthy development of our democracy.

Tunisia still faces a daunting task. The Constitution, with its vision of a separation of powers and newly accountable institutions, has yet to be implemented. The “truth and dignity” commission has just begun its work toward providing justice to the victims of the Ben Ali dictatorship; this process is vital to healing the wounds of the past.

Tunisia will need the cooperation of all political parties to tackle much-needed reforms of economic subsidies and public administration, and of our banking system and investment laws. Consensus has got us this far, but Tunisia will need an inclusive, democratic approach if it is to solve the problems that are the legacy of dictatorship.

Nearly four years have passed since a man named Mohamed Bouazizi so despaired of the system that he set himself on fire in protest. With every decision we make, politicians in Tunisia must never forget what he died for. We need to protect freedom and dignity, and provide hope and opportunity. This was the dream of the Tunisian Awakening, and it is how Tunisia will succeed today.

Rachid Ghannouchi, a Tunisian politician, is a founder and the leader of the Ennahda Party.

Five questions for Justin Trudeau, a year later

Posted November 19, 2014 - by Maude Barlow (Council of Canadians) 


One year ago today I wrote an open letter to Liberal leader Justin Trudeau. I asked him to clarify his position on restoring Stephen Harper's $36 billion cut to public health care, cancelling the two-year additional wait to be eligible for Old Age Security, and reversing the gutting of environmental protections for water. I also asked him to oppose export pipelines and to speak against both the Canada-European Union 'free trade' agreement and the Canada-China foreign investment protection agreement.

Mr. Trudeau has not directly responded to my letter published in the Globe and Mail a year ago, but in some of these areas we now know more fully his views. Unfortunately, these views do not always match the hope and aspiration for real change that Canadian voters will be seeking in next year's federal election.

Health Care

Last year, I wrote, "The Harper government has announced that it will remove $36-billion from medicare, cutting the annual funding increase in half and significantly reducing the federal share of health spending. Cash-strapped provincial governments will then have no choice but to privatize health services. The vast majority of Canadians oppose private health care. Will Justin Trudeau commit to a full funding partnership with the provinces and enforce the provisions of the Canada Health Act to maintain our public health care system?"

Despite NDP leader Thomas Mulcair vowing to use any budget surplus to cancel the $36 billion in cuts to health care, Mr. Trudeau has not made a similar promise. Indeed, the Liberals have not released a health care platform and Mr. Trudeau remains cagey on any specifics. Avoiding discussion on the issue and employing only feel-good rhetoric has led to the suspicion and deep concern that Mr. Trudeau will not be a strong advocate for public health care in Canada.

Employment

I stated, "Canadians are working longer than ever for less pay. The Harper government has added to their plight by raising the retirement age, reducing Employment Insurance eligibility, and expanding the use of foreign temporary workers. Now it is introducing regressive U.S.-style anti-labour laws. Will Justin Trudeau really stand up for the middle class by opposing these draconian measures?"

We are pleased that late last month Trudeau promised to roll back the Harper plan to increase the eligibility age for Old Age Security to 67 by 2023 from the current 65. And last month it was reported that Trudeau said he would scrap Harper's latest Employment Insurance reforms and start all over again. In terms of Harper's expanding the use of temporary foreign workers, Mr. Trudeau has stated, "I believe it is wrong for Canada to follow the path of countries who exploit large numbers of guest workers, who have no realistic prospect of citizenship."

Environment

I wrote, "This is the most anti-environmental government in our history. Mr. Harper has gutted every serious regulation protecting our freshwater heritage, leaving the vast majority of our lakes and rivers with absolutely no protection from pollution and exploitation. He has killed more than 3,000 environmental assessments on potentially hazardous projects across the country and shut down dissenting scientists and environmental groups. Would Justin Trudeau reverse these cuts to environmental protections and safeguard Canada’s water from abuse?"

While we have not seen details and solid promises, Postmedia News has reported, "Expect to start hearing more from the party about fresh water protections, as [Liberal deputy leader Ralph] Goodale cited broad consultation on how to best protect and maintain the quarter of the world’s fresh water that sits in Canada." That said, Mr. Trudeau has not committed to a ban on fracking which depletes and destroy local water sources, instead only "proper review and oversight" and evidence-based policies. And in terms of extreme energy projects on the Great Lakes, Mr. Trudeau has only said he will seek to balance economic development with environmental protections and respect for Aboriginal rights.

The gutting of fresh water protections and increasing resource development has also further exacerbated the lack of clean drinking water in Indigenous communities. While the Liberal Party has promised to protect and ensure clean drinking water for all Canadians, including First Nations, Mr. Trudeau has not yet backed that with a commitment to allocate the $4.7 billion needed to ensure the human right to water and sanitation is fulfilled in First Nation communities across this country.

Energy

I said, "The Harper government has abandoned the Kyoto Protocol, supported the massive expansion of the oil sands and promoted export pipelines. It spends more money on subsidies to the energy industry than it does on Environment Canada, and has cut programs that promote energy conservation and renewable alternatives. Justin Trudeau has said he wants to combat greenhouse gas emissions, but supports not only growth in the oil sands but also the Keystone XL pipeline. How does he square these competing positions?"

Unfortunately, Mr. Trudeau has not only not retracted his support for the 830,000 barrels per day Keystone XL tar sands pipeline (which would generate an estimated 22 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions a year), he is also now supporting another TransCanada pipeline – the 1.1 million barrels per day Energy East export pipeline. This 4,600 kilometre pipeline would generate 32 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions every year from the crude oil production required to fill it. That's the equivalent of adding 7 million cars on our roads. Mr. Trudeau has not yet squared his contradictory positions of wanting to both combat emissions while also supporting these climate-killing pipelines.

Trade

I wrote, "The Harper government has pulled out all the stops to negotiate powerful new trade deals that give transnational corporations more rights to dictate Canadian environmental, economic and social policy. Using NAFTA, eight different U.S. corporations are currently suing Canada for $2.5-billion in compensation. The Canada-EU deal [CETA] would give European companies similar rights, while the Canada-China deal [FIPA] would allow Chinese state-owned companies to sue Canada if any limit is placed on growth in the oil sands. Does Justin Trudeau understand how these trade and investment deals limit the democratic process, and will he follow Australia and Brazil in refusing to negotiate deals that give foreign corporations these rights?"

Unfortunately, Mr. Trudeau has been clear that he backs CETA, expressing support for the deal before it was even made public. He has said, "We are broadly supportive of CETA, though we have yet to see its details." When the agreement was finally released this past September, the Liberal trade critic reiterated his party's support for CETA and even expressed concern about the growing opposition to it in Europe. On the Canada-China FIPA, Mr. Trudeau's party noted "concerns about provisions of this agreement, particularly on the issues of transparency during arbitration, termination of the agreement, and the length of time the agreement is in force", but maintained the party also "sees benefits" and that the deal "marks a significant step in our trade relationship with China." While the Liberals called for public hearings and a discussion on FIPA at the trade committee, no Liberal votedin favour of an NDP motion calling on the government not to ratify the deal.

We are now less than a year away from the October 19, 2015 fixed-date federal election. With the writ for the election to drop in early September, we are already in the pre-election campaign period and just nine months away from the election actively getting underway. The electorate has a right to know now if Mr. Trudeau would be a substantive departure from the Harper agenda, an agenda increasingly rejected by the majority of Canadians, or if we can expect only a difference in style.

The Subjective Meaning of the Islamic Veil (SMIV) Scale - University of Guelph

Nov 21, 2014

(Sent out on behalf of Professor Saba Safdar)

Given the contentious issues surrounding the Islamic veil in Western societies and speculation of its symbolic meaning, in this research we anticipate to gain rich data on Islamic veils as markers of religious affiliation, ethnicity, social class, gender, nationality, empowerment, submission, social differentiation, and other relevant dimensions. It is also the goal of the study to examine the complex interplay between gender and religious identity of Muslim women in the Canadian context.

Specifically, the aim of this study is to shed lights on the meanings and significance of the hijab for Muslim women in Canada. It seeks to test and validate a scale that was developed by Safdar and Litchmore in 2013, measuring ‘Subjective Meaning of Islamic Veils’ (SMIV). There are no psychological scales that measure the meaning of Islamic veils and the SMIV scale would provide a much-needed tool for studying identity and religiosity of Muslim women in Canada.

We invite women who identify with Islam to participate in the study whether or not they wear hijab. The study takes approximately 30 minutes and is completely confidential. No identifying information is asked in the survey and participants may withdraw from the study as any time. The study has received ethics approval from the Research Ethics Board of the University of Guelph.

The link to the survey is: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/veilstudy

If you require any information, please contact the Principal Investigator: Prof. Saba Safdar at the University of Guelph. Email: ssafdar@uoguelph.ca.




Thursday, November 20, 2014

Muzzled scientists: The challenge of reporting on climate change in Canada

By Alexandra Theodorakidis -- Nov 20, 2014


On November 6, Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE) held an online chat, The Chill in Canada’s Climate Science, to discuss the growing issue of climate change scientists being muzzled by the Canadian government.

Moderated by CJFE’s executive director, Tom Henheffer, the event was held as part of the global campaign for the International Day to End Impunity. The two panelists for the discussion were Raveena Aulakh, environment reporter at the Toronto Star, and Tom Duck, a leading atmospheric scientist. The panelists discussed the increase in censorship that scientists working for the federal government face and the challenge this poses to informing the Canadian public of crucial scientific matters that affect them, such as risks posed by climate change.

Policy change

Duck said the current inability of scientists to discuss their research stems from a communications policy change made by the Harper government in 2007, in order to enforce tighter controls on interviews with Environment Canada scientists. In 2010, it was reported that media coverage of climate change had been reduced by 80 per cent. This is the result of federal scientists being forced to seek approval before speaking with reporters, including approval to written responses.

According to Aulakh, Environment Canada will also hide information, such as statistics on climate change, in the depths of its website; the information is technically present, but highly difficult for journalists to find, especially when working to a deadline. Responses to questions usually come in the form of emailed responses or interviews that are monitored and directed by a media relations representative.

Aulakh said she believes Environment Canada’s goal is to frustrate journalists to the point where they give up and abandon their stories. Duck added that it would seem the Canadian government is trying to “change the channel on the environment” by restricting information.

While Duck pointed out there were incidents of scientists being muzzled before 2007, he said he believes those were isolated events; the current government has made it the norm.

Oil sands, greenhouse gases and the economic agenda

Both Aulakh and Duck pointed to the example of Alberta’s oilsands as a reason for the federal government to want to muzzle its scientists. “When reporters write stories about studies that indicate the oil sands are…responsible for adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, it makes the government and the economic agenda look particularly bad,” said Aulakh.

Further proving the point that the federal government does not want the Alberta oilsands linked to emissions of greenhouse gases is the Canadian Revenue Agency’s (CRA’s) audit of 10 environmental charities. Several of the charities have spoken out, saying they believe the audits are being conducted on complaints filed by Ethical Oil, a pro-oilsands, not-for-profit, non-governmental organization. Ethical Oil began as a blog set up by Alykhan Velshi, currently director of issues management in the Prime Minister’s Office. The complaint made by Ethical Oil was that by speaking out against the oilsands, these charities were conducting political activity, prompting the CRA to “determine if they have crossed the line between public and political advocacy.” Charities being audited include The David Suzuki Foundation, Tides Canada and Environmental Defence.

Aulakh and Duck both argued that the message the federal government is sending through these audits is, “do not discuss the oil sands and their link to greenhouse gases.”

Risks to scientists

Most federal scientists are afraid to speak out for fear of losing their jobs. By creating a culture of fear, the government is guaranteeing most Canadians will remain ignorant on many issues related to climate change. A survey by the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada found that 90 per cent of federal government scientists do not feel they can speak freely to the media and that “faced with a departmental decision that could harm public health, safety or the environment, nearly as many (86 per cent) would face censure or retaliation for doing so.” Almost three-quarters of the scientists surveyed found that the restrictive policies of the Canadian government have inhibited Canada’s ability to create effective laws, policies and programs based on scientific evidence.

Canada’s Information Commissioner, Suzanne Legault, is currently investigating the federal government’s policies on scientists and the media after complaints that they are too restrictive and delay the release of vital information to the public.

Aulakh recalled speaking with a former scientist at the Experimental Lakes Area near Kenora, Ont., who said scientists there were told on multiple occasions not to speak with reporters about the work being conducted. According to Duck, even some non-federal-government scientists are afraid to speak out, as their funding comes from the Canadian government.

Effect on Canadians

Duck argued that by censoring information, the government is preventing Canadians from “fully exercising their democratic rights.” An editorial published in the New York Times in 2013 called the current policies of the Canadian government not just an attack on academic freedoms, but “an attempt to guarantee public ignorance.”

As a journalist, Aulakh said she has seen no progress on this issue, and if anything the situation is getting worse. Scientists want to discuss their research but are increasingly restricted by the federal government. Duck said he believes Canadians need to demand accountability and transparency from their government. Aulakh echoed this sentiment by saying Canadians need to support the environmental charities that are “sticking their necks out.”

The conversation ended with both participants saying a national conversation is needed on climate change, but that cannot happen when scientists are muzzled and environmental organizations are under threat.

To read the full live chat, click here.



Alexandra Theodorakidis is a former CJFE intern and current freelance journalist based in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter @AlexandraTheo.

The Gender of Lying: Jian Ghomeshi and the Historical Construction of Truth

By Beth A. Robertson -- Nov 20, 2014



On the evening of October 26th, I found myself staring at a computer screen, dumbfounded and confused. What I had unwittingly come across was Jian Ghomeshi’s bizarre facebook post that told a story of him being fired from the CBC because of his private sex life. He argued that he was let go when the CBC learned of his enjoyment of “rough sex”, and that a jilted past lover was attempting to launch a “smear campaign,” that recast his sexual tastes as non-consensual. AToronto Star article published shortly thereafter made the story even more bewildering, as it told of an investigation of Ghomeshi over the last several months involving not just one, but four women whose claims ranged from sexual harassment to violent abuse. Within hours, social media was filled with polarizing discussions of whether or not the allegations were true, with many people deciding to “side” with Ghomeshi. This seemed the case even as evidence mounted against Ghomeshi’s version of events, alongside sex activists and thinkers who problematized his claims that he was a sincere practitioner of BDSM.

A total of nine women have come forward since then to tell of violent sexual encounters with Ghomeshi, including Canadian actress Lucy DeCoutere, as well as author and lawyer Reva Seth.A formal police investigation of Ghomeshi has ensued. And now, a number of Ghomeshi’s staunchest advocates have toned down their once vocal support, the most famous being singer-songwriter Lights, who has since severed ties with Ghomeshi.

The unfolding scandal surrounding Ghomeshi has rightly led to broader discussions aboutwomen and sexual assault, perhaps the most pressing being how women are systematically disbelieved and even shamed when they do come forward. An important part of this story is the historical gendering of truth-telling and the consequences of this legacy for women, especially for those who experience sexual violence.

Steven Shapin, in his influential work A Social History of Truth, studies how the concept of factual knowledge historically took shape in seventeenth-century England, particularly examining the sort of person who could allegedly be trusted to provide a reliable account of the world. This person was the “gentleman” whom “one could trust to speak truth.” (xxvi) Due to class privilege, this particular type of man was less restricted, and thereby less influenced, by social pressures as a result of the power he wielded in the society more broadly. The gentleman was therefore in a position to speak truthfully, it was believed, rather than be unduly swayed by others. Shapin charts how this sense of trust shifted to institutional expertise in the modern era. Yet, considering how women were marginalized from such institutions (as Ruth Watts describes, for instance) this gendering of trustworthy knowledge never went away.

Much as Evelyn Fox Keller, Donna Haraway, Londa Schiebinger and others have identified, women were consistently placed at the margins of this truth-telling exercise, at best serving as metaphors for the natural world of which men, and particularly the male scientist, needed to explore and probe, even violently so. In fact, the language that was used to describe scientific fact-gathering often invoked misogynist and sexually violent metaphors, such as “the tearing of Nature’s veil,” as Fox Keller tells in her book, Secrets of Life, Secrets of Death.

In contrast to the active, diligent and uninfluenced upper-class man, women were positioned as the exact opposite. They were innately subjective and highly suggestible. More so, if women were perceived as not living up to certain standards of feminine respectability, they were construed as even less reliable. In other words, if a woman was sexually active, dressed or behaved in a particular way, or was judged to be too assertive, she was deemed untrustworthy. Not coincidentally, these same characteristics in a woman justified sexual violence against her, as historians such as Karen Dubinsky have illustrated.

With this history in mind, it is little wonder that so many jumped to Ghomeshi’s defense, even when their support implicitly cast his women accusers as liars. Reading Reva Seth’s account of the reasons why she did not go to police, including that she “had had a drink or two, shared a joint … and had a sexual past,” thus makes a bit more sense in light of how women have been viewed over hundreds of years. An historical distrust of women, particularly of women who are bold enough to speak up, runs deep in our society and plays a pivotal role in a culture where sexual violence against women is not only common, but disturbingly normal.

Beth A. Robertson, Ph.D. is an historian of gender, sexuality and the body who teaches with the Institute of Interdisciplinary Studies at Carleton University. Her SSHRC funded dissertation, entitled In the Laboratory of the Spirits: Gender, Embodiment and the Scientific Quest for Life Beyond the Grave, 1918-1935, examines a transnational network of interwar psychical researchers from the perspective of feminist technoscience and queer theory.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

American Indian Tribe Calls Keystone XL Vote An ‘Act Of War’

“Did I declare war on the Keystone XL pipeline? Hell yeah, I did,” said President Cyril Scott of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe. “I pledge my life to stop these people from harming our children and grandchildren and way of life. They will not cross our treaty lands. We have so much to lose here.”


As the U.S. Senate prepares to vote this week on a bill to force approval of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, which the House of Representatives already passed on Friday, American Indian groups who would be directly impacted by the tar sands project are converging on Washington D.C. to voice their opposition.

The Rosebud Sioux Tribe, whose territory in South Dakota lies along the proposed route of the pipeline,released a statement last week calling Congressional approval of the project an “act of war against our people.”

In a call with reporters on Monday, President Cyril Scott of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe vowed to fight back should the pipeline win government approval.

“Did I declare war on the Keystone XL pipeline? Hell yeah, I did,” said Scott. “I pledge my life to stop these people from harming our children and grandchildren and way of life. They will not cross our treaty lands. We have so much to lose here.”

Scott arrives in D.C. on Tuesday and plans to “rattle the doors” on Capitol Hill ahead of the evening vote. He said he hopes to draw special attention to the fact that the pipeline would cross one of North America’s largest fresh water sources, an aquifer that provides water for a full quarter of the nation’s farmland.

“I’m going to talk to every senator and anybody who will talk to me,” he said. “I will tell them, ‘It’s not a matter of if the pipeline will contaminate the Ogallala Aquifer, but when. And if you contaminate the aquifer, we can’t drink, we can’t grow crops. Where are we going to get our water, from Congress?’”

Besides the environmental threat of the pipeline, which Scott called an “atrocity against all humans,” the Rosebud Sioux say the U.S. government has not met its treaty obligations to ask the tribe for approval of projects that cross their territory. “The U.S. government does not consult us,” he said, noting that concerns brought to the Department of Interior and to the Department of State have been so far ignored. “We have a sovereign nation. We have our own constitution and laws here. But they violated my people’s treaty rights once again.”

Scott emphasized that the “war” he is declaring is a legal one, not a physical one. To bolster his tribe’s efforts, he is calling for a meeting of all the tribes in the Great Sioux Nation in the coming weeks. “When I was elected and took my oath of office, I said I would protect the next seven generations,” Scott told reporters. “I have that obligation not only as president, but as a warrior of the tribe.”

Native American activists across the US and Canada have been organizing for years to oppose the Keystone XL pipeline and other fossil fuel projects that threaten their land, air and water. O.J. Semans, a Rosebud Sioux tribal member with the voting rights group Four Directions, credits concern about the pipeline for boosting voting turnout by 5 percent this year compared to the last midterm election. “By participating in the process and electing individuals that understand our culture and protect our sacred land and water, natives can make a difference,” he told ThinkProgress.

But while tribal members make up 9 percent of South Dakota’s population, Semans acknowledged that they’re a constituency often ignored. “A lot of the voters in tribal country became a little upset because candidates don’t come around here until there’s an election,” he said. “They don’t work with us when they’re in office, just when they’re running for office.”

The Senate is scheduled to vote on the Keystone XL pipeline Tuesday evening. Party leaders note that the bill is just 1 vote away from the 60 votes needed to pass. John Thune (R-SD) is one of the sponsors of this week’s Senate bill to build Keystone XL and the state’s senator-elect Mike Rounds (R-SD) is a vocal supporter of the pipeline.

Semans said tribal members opposed to the pipeline have options both inside and outside the political process, including testifying before the state’s public utilities commission “about how destructive it is to our water,” suing the federal government for violating its treaties with tribe, and directly petitioning President Obama to reject the pipeline.

President Obama has suggested, but not confirmed, that he would veto the bill, but even federal approval could be stymied by courts and commissions in the states along the pipeline’s route.

Should all else fail, the Rosebud Sioux and eight other tribes in South Dakota have set up a “Spirit Camp”directly in the proposed path of the pipeline.

“We are using every alternative to protect Mother Earth,” said Semans. “We have been camped there for 6 or 7 months, and will stay until we get this resolved.”

When ThinkProgress asked about the difficulty of maintaining the camp through an abnormally frigid winter, Semans replied: “We’ll survive.”

Appeal for Deepan Budlakoti: Give the Gift of Health to Deepan

Dear friends,

We are pleased to announce the launch of a new fundraising campaign aimed at providing access to healthcare for Deepan. 

Like hundreds of thousands of other people living in Canada, Deepan is being denied healthcare because of immigration status. As you know, Canada is refusing to recognize Deepan's citizenship, and attempting to cast him out of his home society. Because Canada ties healthcare to immigration status, he finds himself among the ranks of those who are either denied healthcare entirely, or must battle with a bewilderingly complex bureaucracy to obtain even the most basic coverage. Even though the Federal Court ruled in July that the government's 2012 retrenchment from refugee healthcare was "cruel and unusual", and the government was forced to backtrack earlier this month, immigration status is still used to deny healthcare to Deepan and more than half a million other people excluded from status in Canada. 

Deepan is, of course, fighting this arbitrary withdrawal of a social right that he has exercised for more than 23 years in this, his home country. However, it is a long and uphill battle and in the meantime, Deepan has no coverage and no safety net. 

Where the state refuses to abide by the Rule of Law and encourages a blatantly discriminatory policy, we the community are compelled to act. Particularly so, because Canada is also refusing to grant Deepan a work permit, making it illegal for him to work in Canada, and thus impossible for him to contribute to these costs himself. 

This is why we have launched the campaign to Give the Gift of Health to Deepan this holiday season. We're asking you to give the gift of health by contributing to the purchase of health insurance for Deepan for one year. Insurance for someone in Deepan's strange and precarious position costs approx. $2200 per year. But that doesn't cover things like blood work, prescriptions, and other services not related to emergency situations. So we are asking for a bit more, just in case Deepan needs to go and see a doctor within the next year. In total, we are hoping to raise $3000 (which amounts to approximately $8.22 per day). 

Deepan’s campaign provides an opportunity for us to speak out against the cruel practice that now prevails in our country to deny those in need medical services based on immigration status. We encourage you to give the gift of health to Deepan this holiday season and to join us in trying to protect those that have been deprived health care by our government. For every contribution of $25 or more, Deepan will send you (or a person of your choosing) a personal thank you and holiday greeting card. Making a donation in someone else's name makes a great and meaningful gift for those you love. Cards will be sent as soon as possible after your donation is made. 

This holiday season, please give the gift of health to Deepan: http://www.gofundme.com/healthfordeepan

share this campaign widely!

We thank you, as always, for your ongoing support.

In solidarity,

The Justice for Deepan Support Committee

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

With omnibus Bill C-43, Conservative government going after most vulnerable yet again

Media Release

November 18, 2014


Toronto — After being stopped by the Federal Court from depriving refugee claimants and other non-permanent residents access to health care, the Conservative government is going after them once again by limiting their access to health care and social assistance.

In their proposed omnibus budget bill, C-43 sections 172 and 173, the Conservatives allow the provinces to deny social assistance to refugee claimants and others who lack permanent residency status.

For that reason, the Council of Canadians has joined over 160 organizations in an open letter to Finance Minister Joe Oliver today to oppose the stripping of refugee and non-permanent residents' rights.

“This move would make life miserable for refugees, vulnerable non-citizens, and those with precarious immigration status,” says Michael Butler, Health Care Campaigner for the Council of Canadians. “The Conservative government is needlessly spiteful to those who are the most marginalized and affected by poverty, those who need assistance the most. We are far from the Canadian principle of universal accessibility to social programs.”

Two months ago, a Conservative private member's bill, C-585, proposed similar changes, which were rolled into C-43.

The Council of Canadians will join the coalition of organizations who will be delivering the letter to Joe Oliver’s constituency office at 11:00 a.m. with Health for All and the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario.

For more information on the Council of Canadians' opposition, read our blog.

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