Coronavirus: Racism and the long-term impacts of emergency measures in Canada

Asylum seekers cross the border from New York into Canada on March 18 at Hemmingford, Que., two days before Canada said it would now send those seeking asylum back to the U.S. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

The dangers to public health during the COVID-19 pandemic are terrifying, so it’s not surprising governments around the world are taking extraordinary measures to curb its spread, including closing borders to non-nationals.

Canada has become one of many countries to either partially or completely close their borders and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has also announced that Canada will no longer consider asylum claims.

We are living through an exceptional situation and governments are taking extreme steps as a result. At the same time, we know extraordinary measures can have enduring and profoundly damaging effects.

In Canada, the War Measures Act, the predecessor to the Emergencies Act (the legislation that Trudeau has considered invoking as part of the government’s response to the pandemic), was used on three occasions: during the First World War, the Second World War and the 1970 FLQ Crisis in Québec. On each of these occasions, there was broad support for its enactment and then subsequent concern about the scope of its application.

Thousands interned during WWI

During the First World War, 8,579 “enemy aliens” were interned  — the term referred to citizens of countries that were at war with Canada who resided in Canada — as well as hundreds of conscientious objectors.

In this photo from Dec. 9, 1941, two days after the attack on Pearl Harbor, a Canadian Navy officer questions Japanese Canadian fishermen while confiscating their boat in Esquimault, B.C. National Archives of Canada/THE CANADIAN PRESS 

Almost 22,000 Japanese Canadians were interned during the Second World War following the attack on Pearl Harbor and the declaration of war against Imperial Japan. About 75 per cent of those interned were Canadian citizens, including 13,000 people who were Canadian-born. Under the sweeping powers of the War Measures Act, the federal government confiscated their property — including land, fishing boats and businesses — and sold it at a discount, using some of the funds to pay for the costs of internment.

During the FLQ crisis following the kidnappings of British diplomat James Cross and Québec cabinet minister and deputy premier Pierre Laporte, the military and police conducted 3,000 searches, detained 497 people, including Québec nationalists and labour activists, in the pursuit of suspected accomplices. Only 62 people were ever criminally charged.

The fallout from all of these excesses was tangible: Ukrainian Canadians, who made up the bulk of the “enemy aliens” in the First World War, fought for decades to be recognized as full citizens; Japanese Canadians sought and received redress more than four decades after their internment; René Levesque and the Parti Québecois roared to power just six years after the FLQ crisis and very nearly achieved the separatist dream of an independent Québec in 1980.

And so with great power, comes great responsibility.

This old adage is all the more relevant if one considers the way many of the travel bans have been instituted along national lines: allowing citizens to move but restricting the movement of others.

Citizenship can be exclusionary

In efforts to combat the spread of COVID-19, lines of responsibility and accountability are being forcefully drawn around the lines of citizenship. This is troubling if one considers that citizenship can be exclusionary, especially when it creates hierarchies of priority and, seemingly, of human value.

It means, for instance, refugees and unaccompanied minors have been “effectively abandoned,” according to NGO workers in Europe.

Canada has won international praise over the last few years for its commitment to refugee resettlement in particular, as evidenced by the arrival of 25,000 Syrian refugees in a few short months.

But Trudeau has announced that due to these “exceptional times,” a new agreement has been signed with the United States that would see asylum-seekers crossing the border on foot returned to the U.S. This exceptional reaction goes against Canada’s commitments under the 1951 United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and a 1985 Supreme Court ruling that says refugee claimants have a right to a fair hearing (the Singh decision).

The implicit and explicit nationalism apparent in many state responses to COVID-19, including in the Canadian context, is not necessarily “contrary to our values” as some have argued.

Rather, some of Canada’s earliest restrictions on migration and mobility related to people who were “physically defective,” “feeble-minded” or “afflicted with any loathsome disease” to use the language of the 1910 Immigration Act. This same act effectively prohibited Black migration to Canada from the United States and the Caribbean on the basis of that they were “unsuited to the climate or requirements of Canada.”

A ban on Chinese immigration

Prior to that, the federal government used immigration laws in the forms of punitive taxes to exclude Chinese migrants who were considered undesirable, in part because of commonly held stereotypes that people from China were immoral, dishonest, unclean, disease-prone and would never assimilate. These perceived differences and the ineffectiveness of the original head tax led to a near total ban on Chinese migration from 1923 to 1947.

Structurally, Canada’s immigration system — and its subsequent and related border controls — was designed to exclude as much as to include. This remains the case today.

As we navigate our current public health issues, it bears contemplation not only about immediate challenges but also what will come after.

During the pandemic, there have been many disturbing stories of Asian Canadians being targeted and harassed because of racist perceptions about who they are and where they come from — a situation compounded by U.S. President Donald Trump’s deliberate, nationalistic and racist insistence to give the coronavirus an ethnic and geographic association.


It took Canada almost 80 years to officially apologize for refusing a ship carrying hundreds of Jewish refugees to land in 1939.
 

It is notable that this violence has been directed at people of Asian descent, even though the disease has been spread by travellers of many different ethnicities. This difference reflects the easy associations of otherness of the kind that shaped foundational exclusionary immigration laws and regulations and, apparently, continue to resonate in the present.

This is an easy moment to draw lines between us and them, to talk about “our neighbours” and “foreign travellers” as though they are not one and the same. But the long-term damage could be very great, particularly for racialized and vulnerable communities that have experienced the impact of exclusionary migration measures historically.

The decision to close the border to refugees is bitterly ironic in light of Trudeau’s 2018 official apology for the Canadian government’s exclusion in 1939 of Jewish refugees aboard the MS St. Louis.

The past and the future should be part of our thinking in the present. And to be clear, now is no time for nationalism. SOURCE

Canada faces a domestic violence crisis. CBC examines the problem

Every year, thousands of Canadians are harassed, assaulted or murdered by their intimate partners

Across Canada, there are 100,000 victims of domestic violence each year, and about 90 people die annually at the hands of their abuser. (Shutterstock)

This week we launch an in-depth series about the painful and pressing problem of domestic violence — and how as a society we might be able to change outcomes for victims.

Our motivation comes from stories like that of Sandra and Terry Finn, originally of Pigeon Lake, Ont. During their fifty-year marriage, Terry had become increasingly abusive and erratic according to friends and family. Sandra sought counselling at a local women’s shelter. Several times she resolved to leave her husband but always came back, praying the abuse would end.

On Aug. 22, 2018, Sandra was sitting in her car at a Home Depot parking lot  when her husband calmly approached, aimed a .38-calibre Colt revolver at her head and pulled the trigger – then stood nearby and smoked a cigarette. She died later that day. In January, Terry Finn was convicted of first-degree murder and is now serving a life sentence.

Every story of intimate partner violence and murder is different, but there are many commonalities. Consider that six in ten spousal homicides in Canada are preceded by a history of family violence, according to Statistics Canada. That means there were possible moments of intervention where victims, overwhelmingly women, could have been helped, perhaps saved.

That’s why the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the U.S. deems intimate partner violence to be preventable. That idea has increasing traction here in Canada as well. It’s obvious urgent action is needed: there are 100,000 victims of domestic violence each year, and about 90 people die annually at the hands of their abuser.

So, what steps would change the national conversation to one about preventing harm rather than regretting failure to protect?

Over the next week, we’re looking to answer that on CBC/Radio-Canada.

Together, the English and French networks undertook ground-breaking research and assigned teams in 20 cities across Canada. You will see and hear reports from local journalists on your local programs, as well as on The NationalThe Current and Front BurnerRadio-Canada’s in-depth coverage begins with a two-hour network special Thursday night.

Our project explores the laws that apply to domestic violence, the police who enforce them, the shelters that try to accommodate those fleeing abuse. And we look at programs that are making a difference in the U.S., U.K. and here in Canada. Throughout, our approach is to examine ideas that can change thinking around domestic abuse.

Many of these stories are difficult to read. Some may have an unsettling effect on individuals who have experienced personal trauma. If so, we encourage you to connect with agencies in your area who are ready to help.

If you need help and are in immediate danger, call 911. To find assistance in your area click here.

 

Women, children turned away from shelters in Canada almost 19,000 times a month

When abuse victims try to leave, there’s often nowhere to go, CBC investigation finds

Michelle, pictured here in Langley, B.C., had to call shelters in B.C.’s Fraser Valley multiple times before she was admitted because there was no space. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

One cold night in Montreal last December, Hamidah decided she’d had enough.

Her husband had become enraged while they were talking. He kicked her in the chest, knocking her down, and then punched her in the face several times while she was on the ground.

It wasn’t the first time he had hit her. It usually happened when she refused to have sex with him.

“Why are you beating me? Why are you doing this to me?” she recalls saying through her tears.

“And he said, ‘You don’t listen to me, you should do whatever I want … you should obey me. You don’t have any right to say no to me.'”

All the while, the couple’s four-year-old son was within earshot.

When it was over, Hamidah, who is 26, was left with a black eye and bruises all over her face.

She told her husband she needed some air. She took her son, went outside and called 911.

The two waited outside their home, in subzero temperatures, for over an hour.

When police arrived, they called five or six women’s shelters in Montreal. None had any room for Hamidah and her son.

She asked the police where she could go. An officer told her to keep calling shelters.

Holding her son’s hand as the snow fell around them, Hamidah started to cry.

Hundreds turned away

Hamidah is not her real name, and the CBC has agreed to protect her identity out of concern for her safety.

Her situation is not unique.

A sign on the wall at a transition house in Langley, B.C. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

 

A CBC News analysis reveals that in November 2019, an average of 620 women and children a day were turned away from domestic violence shelters across Canada. That’s nearly 19,000 times a month, if November was typical.

The true number is likely much higher.  Shelter workers in several locations told CBC that in fact numbers are lower in November, because women are reluctant to leave their families as the holiday season nears.

CBC’s data is also incomplete. CBC reporters heard back from just over half the 527 shelters we identified, meaning this figure does not include the people turned away from about 220 shelters.

In more than 80 per cent of cases, people were turned away because the shelter was full.

Not only is the number of people turned away each day in the hundreds, it is also growing. Statistics Canada figures show the number increased 69 per cent from 539 in 2014 to 911 in 2018, based on data from all of the shelters in the country.

Lise Martin, executive director of Women’s Shelters Canada, says a nationally coordinated approach is needed to help women and children fleeing domestic violence. ( Mathieu Theriault/CBC)

 

Calling a shelter for help is a big decision, and having to turn away women and children who are in danger has serious consequences, said Lise Martin, executive director of Women’s Shelters Canada.

It may mean someone with nowhere else to go is forced to live with their abuser longer.

Hamidah and her son went back home that night. They had nowhere else to go.

She called shelters the next day, too, but there was still no room for them. Some said they would call her if a space opened up, but none ever did.

‘It’s OK that he beats you’

She called her family in Afghanistan and told them she wanted to separate from her husband, hoping they would offer support.

“They told me no, it’s OK that he beats you,” she said. They told her she wouldn’t be able to make it on her own in Canada, as a woman, without her husband.

“I have no hope from shelters, no hope from my parents, no hope from my husband. I’m alone with all that stress and with my son … I was totally in a dark place.”

Hamidah decided she would end her own life.

Happening across Canada

Shelters serving women in Montreal are almost always full, said Manon Monastesse, executive director of the Quebec Federation of Women’s Shelters.

Women’s shelters in Quebec serve not only those fleeing domestic violence, but also victims of sex trafficking, forced marriage and some homeless women, Monastesse explained. The population is growing, and there have been very few women’s shelters built in the past decade.

Manon Monastesse, the executive director of the Quebec Federation of Women’s Shelters, says the number of women and children turned away from shelters in the Montreal area is a growing problem. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

 

But the problem is not limited to Quebec.

CBC’s analysis found domestic violence shelters are forced to turn women and children away in significant numbers in all of Canada’s major cities.

Nationally, the biggest contributing factor is a lack of affordable housing, said Martin, the director of Women’s Shelters Canada.

Younger women speaking up

This puts rents out of reach for many of the women who use the shelters and keeps some living with their abusers.

Another factor is greater awareness of intimate partner violence. Both Martin and Monastesse said shelter clients are increasingly younger women who are less willing to put up with abuse and are leaving relationships earlier than was the case in the past.

Even when women are able to get into emergency shelters, their stay is often limited to between one and three months. The lack of affordable housing makes it difficult to find somewhere to go after that and some women return to their abusers.

Michelle, whose last name CBC is not reporting, fled to a transition house in B.C.’s Fraser Valley after months of psychological and sometimes physical abuse.

But she had just 30 days to find another place to live and couldn’t find anything she could afford. Faced with what she was told would be a two-year wait for subsidized housing, she returned to her former partner, who said he had changed.

Michelle, pictured here at a Langley, B.C. women’s shelter, returned to her abusive partner when she couldn’t find affordable housing. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

 

Within months, the abuse started again and quickly escalated. Michelle began to fear for her safety. She called several women’s shelters, but they were all full.

“I have to survive again until I can … find a way into a transition house,” she recalled thinking. “What am I supposed to do? I was really scared.”

Last month, Michelle called a shelter just when a spot opened up and was told she had hours to take the available bed. She is now desperately searching for a permanent place to call home.

‘I have nothing’

On a cold December morning not long before Christmas, Hamidah woke up without hope.

She fed her son breakfast and dressed him. She asked her husband to take him to daycare.

When they were gone, Hamidah wrote a note, explaining she was ending her life “because no one understands me. I have no hope.”

She sent her husband a text message telling him she was about to commit suicide and asking him to take care of their son.

And then the world went dark.

Traumatic for shelter staff

Workers on the front lines who must tell women in need there is no room at the shelter say the experience is traumatic.

Chandra Evanson, who works at Dixon House in the Vancouver suburb of Burnaby, said staff turn away about half the requests for shelter they receive because there is no space. Sometimes this means refusing several people per day.

Chandra Evanson, who works at Dixon House in Burnaby, B.C., says having to tell women in need there is no room at the shelter takes a personal toll. (Submitted by Chandra Evanson)

 

“To say no to somebody who I know has children who may be returning to an unsafe situation is just extremely upsetting for me,” she said. “I don’t even know how to put it into words to know that a mom is struggling to protect her children and may not be able to do that.”

Evanson refers them elsewhere, but knows other shelters in Vancouver’s Lower Mainland are often at or near capacity as well.

National plan needed

What’s needed, Martin said, is a nationally co-ordinated plan to ensure women and children in danger have a safe place to go.

The federal government has the funds through the national housing strategy to build more shelters, she explained, but it’s provincial governments that are responsible for staffing and running them.

Provinces also fund programs such as counselling that are needed by abuse survivors, and crucially, subsidized housing.

The federal minister responsible for women and gender equality, Maryam Monsef, said in an interview with CBC News that the government has started work on a co-ordinated national plan to address gender-based and intimate partner violence, but she would not commit to a timeline.

Maryam Monsef, the federal minister of Women and Gender Equality, says the federal government is developing a national strategy on intimate partner violence. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

 

Part of that is support for subsidized housing through the national housing strategy, Monsef said, adding that she has heard the call from women’s advocacy groups to use some of that money to specifically help women and children fleeing domestic violence.

‘I am safe’

Hamidah could hear her husband speaking, but wasn’t able to move or talk.

Paramedics arrived and placed an oxygen mask over her mouth. They took her to the hospital.

“I told the doctor that I’m in a relationship that didn’t work for me and I want to go in a place where I cannot see my husband … if I go back to home, I will do the same thing, I will … end my life.”

A social worker met with Hamidah while she was in hospital and arranged a place in a shelter.

When Hamidah was discharged, the hospital called a taxi. But in the 10 minutes it took the taxi to get there, Hamidah’s husband and son arrived.

Her son was delighted to see her, yelling and smiling and hugging his mother. Hamidah couldn’t bear to leave him.

So she went home with her husband.

But in her hand was a tiny piece of paper, which she hid as soon as she got home: the address of the shelter.

Two days later, she went to a convenience store late at night, while her husband was at work. She called the shelter and asked if they still had a place for her. They did.

The shelter called a taxi, and Hamidah left with her son.

When she woke up in the morning, in a safe place with her son by her side, Hamidah said she felt something in her had changed.

“I have no stress. I am safe, I have hope, and my husband is not here.”

“It’s paradise for me.”

The two will be able to stay in the shelter until a subsidized apartment opens up.

In the meantime, Hamidah works as a cook and hopes to finish high school.

Sharing her story with others at the shelter and hearing their stories gave Hamidah courage to go forward, she said.

“We are strong and we are going to be strong.”

If you need help and are in immediate danger, call 911. To find assistance in your area click here.

SOURCE

FIVE THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT THE WET’SUWET’EN’S FIGHT FOR THEIR RIGHTS

Blockades of rail lines, roads, ports and more have been happening across the country in support of the Wet’suwet’en.

Public protest and round dance in Nathan Phillips Square in Toronto in support of the Wet'suwet'en Hereditary Chiefs

CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 Jason Hargrove

Public pressure is building through mass protests, road, rail and ferry blockades as people across the country are showing their support for the Wet’suwet’en’s right to choose what happens on their unceded ancestral land.

Coastal GasLink (formerly TransCanada) is proposing a 670-kilometre pipeline that would carry fracked natural gas from Dawson Creek to Kitimat in British Columbia where it would be processed in a new liquefied natural gas plant on the coastal shore. A portion of the pipeline runs through these Indigenous lands.

For years, Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs have been saying “no” to the Coastal Gaslink (CGL) pipeline project. When the corporation started moving onto the land, the Hereditary Chiefs asked them to leave. In response, the corporation obtained a court injunction and on February 6, armed RCMP officers forcefully removed the Hereditary Chiefs, Wet’suwet’en land defenders, and their supporters from their own land.

Here are five things you should know about the Wet’suwet’en’s fight for their rights:

1. The United Nations recognizes the rights of Indigenous Peoples and Canada must too.

The Council of Canadians supports Indigenous sovereignty, including the implementation of the United Nations Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).

UNDRIP clarifies the rights of Indigenous Peoples to Free, Prior, and Informed Consent regarding projects that impact their lands and livelihoods. It also clarifies that Indigenous Peoples will not be forcefully removed from their lands. The British Columbia provincial government passed UNDRIP into law in November 2019.

A UN committee has urged the federal government to withdraw the RCMP and immediately suspend work on the pipeline. The RCMP has offered to move its detachment near the Wet’suwet’en camps to Houston, but this is contingent on the Wet’suwet’en allowing CGL to continue to build the pipeline. This is contrary to the eviction notice and would not actually be a removal, as Houston is in Wet’suwet’en territory.

2. The Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs hold rights and title on ancestral lands that has been recognized by Canadian courts.

Infringing on this right jeopardizes the integrity of how the Canadian and British Columbian governments treat Aboriginal rights and title for the future.

In the 1997 case Delgamuukw v. British Columbia, Canadian courts recognized that the Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs hold rights and title over ancestral lands. The Hereditary Chiefs have spent years fighting for this recognition in Canadian courts, and achieving it lays the foundation for their ongoing stewardship of ancestral lands in line with the way their community has done for generations. CGL needs their consent to be able to continue building its natural gas pipeline.

It must also be noted that for 23 years, the Canadian government has failed to reconcile its laws and priorities to respect the Supreme Court’s ruling.

Placing a pipeline on this land would permanently alter the on-the-ground context for the rights and title of the Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs. It violates the principles that the Hereditary Chiefs have successfully fought to have recognized, which they have practiced for generations, and which allow them to continue to care for the land in ways consistent with their traditions. These traditions prioritize the health of the land for the future, which is important in the face of the climate crisis.

3. The authority of Hereditary Chiefs pre-date the authority of Band Councils.

Hereditary Chiefs represent different houses that make up the First Nation as a whole. Their titles are passed down through generations and pre-date colonization. According to the First Nations Drum, “the Wet’suwet’en nation is made up of five clans, and within those, 13 houses. The five hereditary chiefs representing the clans are all opposed to the Coastal GasLink pipeline running through their territory, while the elected council gave their go-ahead.”

The article goes on to state that, “elected chiefs and council generally hold authority over reserve lands and their infrastructure. Traditional chiefs oversee the territories and hold ceremonial and historical importance to First Nations.” This isn’t a question of taking sides, but of recognizing what the Supreme Court has decided – that it is the Hereditary Chiefs who have jurisdiction over Wet’suwet’en traditional territory.

The Indigenous electoral systems came as a result of the section 74 of the Indian Act, which Canada imposed on First Nations. “It was designed to eradicate the hereditary system and create something more recognizable for the western government,” the article adds.

Both Hereditary Chiefs and Elected Councils are working on behalf of their people and hold unique roles. CGL has exploited the differences of opinion related to this project by moving forward without consent from the full community. Using the injunction from British Columbia, CGL would permanently enforce that division and jeopardize the existing mechanisms for Indigenous Peoples to give or refuse consent.

The Wet’suwet’en Chiefs emphasize their right to protect their lands.

“The Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs have maintained their use and occupancy of their lands and hereditary governance system for thousands of years. Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs are the Title Holders and maintain authority and jurisdiction to make decisions on unceded lands.”

4. This is a clear example of corporate capture and how corporations have the power to override fundamental rights.

Government policies are aligned with the interests of Coastal Gaslink, a corporation that will profit from this pipeline as Indigenous rights are sacrificed.

In fact, permanently undercutting the Hereditary Chiefs’ rights and title seems to have been a longstanding corporate goal of Coastal GasLink, in part indicated by the fact that CGL asked local leaders to contract out of those rights for the future. The Canadian government is choosing to hold onto their colonial mandate, mobilizing state violence through the RCMP and corporate interests, instead of aligning government practices to reflect a proper nation-to-nation relationship. Governments – provincial and federal – could choose to honour the Hereditary Chiefs’ right to say “no,” respect that they have refused the pipeline, and shift Canadian legal systems to pave the way for a substantive and just reconciliation.

These events are an example of how governments assume that “Canadian interests” – or, in this case, the interests of a corporation – are prioritized, undercutting Indigenous rights and title, no matter how clearly those rights are recognized within Canadian law.

In addition, the climate crisis means we should be saying no to new pipelines, not allowing oil and gas companies to build them. We must move away from polluting energies, not build new infrastructure to move them. The Council of Canadians has a long history of supporting people and communities that want to protect their land, water and air from polluting extractive industries such as fracked natural gas.

Council of Canadians Campaigners standing in solidarity with Wet'suwet'en

5. Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs and their supporters have called for peaceful actions in support of their concerns.

Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs and supporters have asked for disruptive, but peaceful actions because they heighten pressure significantly for policy makers to change their decisions. The level of action makes it clear that people are no longer willing to allow colonial dispossession to take place, and that we support the right of Indigenous Peoples to Free, Prior, and Informed Consent, including the ability to say “no.” The historic injustices, including denying these rights, must end, and it will take people coming together to make that happen.

This moment builds on the history of Indigenous resistance to colonial actions. It is inspiring to see people around the world joining the Wet’suwet’en’s call to action. This situation is tense and complex in many ways, but it is also a way to say that ongoing colonization and dispossession can no longer be tolerated.

Ways to add your support:

There are many ways you can get involved and add your support. If you haven’t already, please write to your Member of Parliamentphone your MP, join local solidarity actions, or read the links below to learn more.

Other Resources:

Wet’suwet’en Crisis: Whose Rule of Law? (The Tyee, Feb 14)

The Wet’suwet’en, Aboriginal Title, and the Rule of Law: An Explainer (First Peoples Law, Feb 13)

Industry, government pushed to abolish Aboriginal title at issue in Wet’suwet’en stand-off, docs reveal (The Narwhal, Feb 7)

Wet’suwet’en: Why Are Indigenous Rights Being Defined By An Energy Corporation? (Shiri Pasternak, Yellowhead Institute, Feb 7)

Corporations don’t seem to understand Indigenous jurisdiction (D.T. Cochrane, The Conversation, January 16, 2019)

Unist’ot’en Supporter Toolkit

These Policies Could Help End Single-Parent Poverty in BC

Such poverty is largely a women’s issue, say advocates. But there are solutions.

COVER.Adrienne-Montani.jpg

Adrienne Montani of First Call says policy changes around education, parental leave could reduce poverty in single-parent families. Photo from First Call.

Only 20 per cent of British Columbia’s kids are from single-parent families. Yet they make up more than half of the almost 164,000 children in the province living in poverty.

And 85 per cent of low-income B.C. single parents identified as female in the last census.

“We can’t talk about child poverty without talking about women’s poverty,” said Stephanie Skourtes, a sociologist and board member for the non-profit Single Mothers’ Alliance BC.

“There’s this myth now that women are on par, equal or surpassing the rights, privileges and income level of men. And that isn’t the situation.”

According to the 2019 BC Child Poverty Report Card, released last week by First Call: BC Child and Youth Advocacy Coalition, 19.1 per cent of all B.C. kids live in poverty.

There are many reasons single parents are more likely to be poor. More of them are receiving welfare or disability assistance — 84 per cent of all families with kids receiving assistance are single-parent led. Those rates leave families below the poverty line.

And almost two-thirds of minimum wage earners in the province are women.

The report card notes lone female parents had a median annual income of just under $45,000 in 2017, compared to $62,550 for lone male parents.

The Tyee spoke to four anti-poverty organizations about solutions to single-parent poverty: First Call; the Single Mothers’ Alliance; West Coast Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF); and the BC Poverty Reduction Coalition.

All agree current government policies entrench single-mom poverty, and that racialized, Indigenous, transgender and disabled mothers are more likely to be in poverty and languish there for years.

Each new or changed policy must be viewed through a gender, race and ability lens in order to aid those living in the deepest, longest-term poverty, advocates noted. And government must monitor — and be accountable for, and transparent about — their policies’ impact on poverty.

Here are the solutions that emerged from the interviews.

Income

Increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour today — instead of waiting until 2021 — and index it to inflation. (It’s currently $13.85.)

Abolish lower minimum wages for positions like liquor servers, who now are guaranteed $12.70. Nearly 60 per cent of accommodation and food service workers, which includes liquor servers, were women in 2017. (Elba Bendo, director of law reform for West Coast LEAF, noted there are also “very high rates of harassment and discrimination in those jobs.”)

Increase income and disability assistance rates. A single parent with two children under six on income assistance would receive $28,820 in income assistance, Canada Child Benefit and B.C. Early Childhood Tax Benefit payments. Rates are higher for parents with disabilities, yet a lone parent with two kids under six would receive just over $33,820 including child benefits.

Change disability assistance rules to provide benefits to parents of children with complex needs who require 24/7 care. Those parents are now designated “expected to work,” which brings lower assistance rates. “You’re on regular assistance, but the fact that you can’t work, have trouble sustaining work, because of your child or you’re a full-time caregiver, is not recognized,” said Adrienne Montani, First Call’s provincial coordinator.

Education and training

Expand the B.C.’s Single Parents Employment Initiative. The initiative, launched in fall 2015, has provided thousands of single parents on assistance with funding to go back to school and pay for childcare and transit costs while continuing to receive income assistance. But there are limitations. Parents must enrol in a 12-month education program in a government-approved area of study, and childcare spaces and transit must be available in their area. Montani would like to see the program expanded to include four-year degrees, so parents have an opportunity to earn more money, and eligibility open to all parents.*

Provide single parents who aren’t receiving assistance more access to grants, scholarships and bursaries. Student debt forgiveness would also allow parents to spend their income on raising their families, not paying off loan debt.

Reform parental leave. Canada is well-known for its parental leave. But government-funded leave under the Employment Insurance system isn’t open to parents who didn’t work the required minimum hours before giving birth. “Women have more trouble hitting those eligibility thresholds,” said Montani. “And then there’s the issue of the adequacy of the benefit.”

Payments are limited to a maximum 55 per cent of your regular income. Advocates say we should be more like Quebec, which has its own parental benefits plan which provides up to 75 per cent of parents’ income.

Housing

Expand rent control. B.C. limits rental increases to the rate of inflation, but the limit applies to the tenant, not the unit. As soon as a tenant moves out, there are no limits on raising the rent. Bendo proposes rent caps should be tied to the unit, limiting how much a landlord can increase rent when a unit is vacated. Housing costs are a significant factor in single-parent poverty.

Expand the number of social and co-op housing units large enough for families. The average market rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Metro Vancouver last fall was $1,748, while a unit with three or more bedrooms rented for an average $2,063. For a single parent with two children on income assistance, rent would take almost 75 per cent of their income.

Increase transition housing for women experiencing domestic violence, and ensure it is accessible for trans, disabled, Indigenous and racialized women.

Childcare

Provide more licensed $10-a-day childcare spaces and make care available outside standard 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. operating hours. Many single parents work outside those hours.

Family law

Increase enforcement of child support payments. In 2014 the federal government estimated over $3.7 billion in unpaid child support was owed to parents.

Expand legal aid assistance to women in divorce or custody cases and in disputes over child support.

Invest more in prevention of domestic violence and supports for women fleeing abusive partners, including greater mental health supports for perpetrators and their families.

SOURCE

 

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip & Peter McCartney: Canada must stop violating Indigenous human rights for megaprojects

The RCMP are obliged to enforce a civil injunction obtained by Coastal GasLink pipeline against Freda Huson (right) and other Wet'suwet'en members.

The RCMP are obliged to enforce a civil injunction obtained by Coastal GasLink pipeline against Freda Huson (right) and other Wet’suwet’en members.

By Grand Chief Stewart Phillip and Peter McCartney

There’s no way around it—Indigenous peoples are the proper title and rights holders over their territories, and their human rights cannot be trampled just because a megaproject floats the dream of big money to investors.

The UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination recently called on Canada to immediately stop construction on three major industrial projects until affected Indigenous Nations have given their consent. The Coastal GasLink pipeline, Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, and the Site C dam have all been met with consistent opposition from many of the nations whose territories they would cross and infringe upon. Community members have been violently removed from their lands for asserting their title and rights and exercising their inherent right to control and develop their lands, territories and resources.

As we write this, the RCMP is preparing to descend upon Wet’suwet’en territory to clear the path of the Coastal GasLink pipeline, as the company recently won a court injunction that the RCMP is obliged to enforce. Meanwhile, land defenders who oppose the federally owned Trans Mountain pipeline have faced harassment, surveillance, intimidation, and violent arrest.

These events highlight the concerns of the UN for the rights and safety of Indigenous Peoples in Canada. Police violence and human rights violations are only likely to escalate unless political leaders step in. Their courage or cowardice will define whether reconciliation becomes yet another hollow promise to Indigenous Peoples or a chance to build this country upon principles of equality and respect—the way it should have been from the beginning.

We’ve visited the Tiny House Warriors, the Rocky Mountain Fort, and the Unist’ot’en healing lodge in the path of these megaprojects. Friends have told us how they’ve been turned away from local businesses, constantly harassed and surveilled by police, and even injured in violent arrests. It does not and should not have to be like this.

We can have an economy that reflects our values. There’s a right way to provide jobs and prosperity, but it requires patience, humility and prioritizing the relationships that we are trying to build. Indigenous Peoples have laws and governments that have been in place on these territories long before Canada’s. Respecting their right to make decisions about those lands means accepting our shared future in this place is more important than any one resource project.

For generations, Canada has proudly supported human rights on the international stage at the United Nations forums while consistently failing to apply the same moral compass here at home. If we are going to live up to our ideals rather than repeat the mistakes of the past, and if British Columbia is to advance its commitment to the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act, we must heed the call and stop Trans Mountain, Coastal GasLink and Site C. Only once we stop straining the fragile bonds between us can we move forward in partnership. SOURCE

‘What cost are human rights worth?’ UN calls for immediate RCMP withdrawal in Wet’suwet’en standoff

Experts say the world is watching to see if Canada heeds a call from the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination to immediately suspend work on the Coastal GasLink pipeline, the Trans Mountain pipeline and the Site C dam until ‘free, prior and informed consent’ is obtained from Indigenous peoples

Wet'suwet'en Coastal GasLink January 2019 Barricade

Police climb over a barricade to enforce the injunction filed by Coastal GasLink pipeline at the Gidimt’en checkpoint near Houston, British Columbia on Monday, January 7, 2019. The pipeline company was given a permit but the Office of the Wet’suwet’en, which has jurisdiction over the territory in question, has never given consent. Fourteen people were arrested. Photo: Amber Bracken

1990, Grand Chief Stewart Phillip was at a Lil’wat Nation blockade to stop clear-cut logging and the expropriation of Mount Currie reserve land when he got a taste of how far governments in Canada are willing to go to prevent Indigenous people from protecting their lands.

“The sniper team came in in two Suburbans and went up onto the hillside and one of the Lil’wat Mount Currey band members came riding across the creek on his horse, quite panicked and warning us that there was a sniper team being deployed in the trees,” Phillip, president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, told The Narwhal.

“We had witnessed the Suburbans coming in, but he actually saw the sniper team disembark and take up positions,” Phillip recalled. “I know that to be a standard tactic on the part of the RCMP.”

As tensions escalate in the stand-off between Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs and Coastal GasLink — with the company posting a 72-hour injunction notice allowing the RCMP to arrest anyone blocking access to its work site as early as Friday — Phillip said there’s “an urgency” for Canada to heed a call from the United Nations and immediately halt pipeline construction on Wet’suwet’en lands and territories.

“It’s a precarious situation,” Phillip said, pointing to a recent article in The Guardian disclosing the RCMP was prepared to shoot Indigenous land defenders in the dispute over construction of the 670-kilometre Coastal GasLink pipeline to ship fracked gas to LNG Canada’s export terminal in Kitimat.

LNG Canada project, Kitimat B.C. 2017

The site of the LNG Canada project in Kitimat B.C. in 2017. Photo: Garth Lenz / The Narwhal

UN says projects need ‘free, prior and informed’ consent

In a move Phillip called a “significant development,” the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has issued a triple-barrelled decision calling on Canada to immediately suspend work on the Coastal GasLink pipeline, the Trans Mountain pipeline and the Site C dam until “free, prior and informed consent” is obtained from Indigenous peoples.

The committee urged Canada to immediately cease the forced eviction of Wet’suwet’en peoples who oppose the Coastal GasLink pipeline and Secwepemc peoples opposed to the Trans Mountain pipeline, to prohibit the use of lethal weapons —  notably by the RCMP — against Indigenous peoples and to guarantee no force will be used against them. It also urged the federal government to withdraw the RCMP, along with associated security and policing services, from traditional lands.

In a two-page decision statement, the committee said it is alarmed by the escalating threat of violence against Indigenous peoples in B.C. and disturbed by the “forced removal, disproportionate use of force, harassment and intimidation by law enforcement officials against Indigenous peoples who peacefully oppose large-scale development projects” on their traditional territories.

Coastal Gaslink Pipeline RCMP Gidimt'en arrest

Police make an arrest January 2019 while enforcing the injunction filed by Coastal GasLink at the Gidimt’en checkpoint near Houston, B.C. Photo: Amber Bracken

“It’s somewhat frustrating and embarrassing that the UN has to chide the government of Canada and the provincial government with respect to what the rule of law is in this country in regard to Indigenous land rights, Indigenous human rights,” Phillip said.

“I think it’s a reflection of the ongoing arrogance of the Trudeau government, that somehow the Trudeau government feels it’s above the law and can just simply flout the law.”

As word of the UN decision spread, Alberta Energy Minister Sonya Savage called the United Nations an “unelected, unaccountable” body that has no business criticizing Canada’s energy megaprojects.

The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, the country’s largest oil and gas lobby group, issued a press release saying the UN committee’s two-page decision statement “reflects an embarrassing ignorance of Canadian law.”

‘If we think back to the Holocaust, all of that was legal under German law’

But Alex Neve, secretary general of Amnesty International Canada, said the whole point of the 18-member committee is that it’s comprised of unelected human rights experts appointed by UN member states.

“We want them to be there as objective, non-partisan, non-political experts who are going to look very closely at the situations that are brought to their attention, such as these three serious human rights concerns from Canada, and make the right assessments and make the right decisions entirely free from political influence,” Neve said in an interview.

Indigenous rights scholars point out the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination — whose implementation is monitored by the committee — holds signatories, including Canada, accountable to international human rights law.

They also note that the United Nations, with its overarching focus on human rights, was created in the wake of the Holocaust and other atrocities to ensure increased global scrutiny of human rights in individual countries, and that Canada championed the convention and was one of the first nations to sign on.

” … the process that was followed in Canada is failing … “

University of Manitoba law professor Brenda Gunn said Canadian law should not be used to try to protect or excuse actions cited by the UN committee.

“If we think back to the Holocaust, all of that was legal under German law. What this system is designed to do is to have people outside the state judging standards against something other than domestic law, to ensure that domestic law isn’t violating rights,” said Gunn, a Metis lawyer who provided technical assistance to the UN Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous People with regards to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

“What this committee is saying is that the process that was followed in Canada is failing to uphold Canada’s international human rights [obligations]. You wouldn’t expect this person to need to know Canadian law. All they need to know is the facts of what happened and compare that to their expertise of what is required under international law.”

Potential for ‘deep stain on Canada’s global reputation’

UBC professor Sheryl Lightfoot, a Canada Research Chair in Global Indigenous Rights and Politics, said the UN committee is pointing out that Canada’s law, policy and practice for consultation with Indigenous communities do not meet global human rights standards.

Canada has reported to the UN committee “regularly, routinely and enthusiastically” since 1970, the year after the convention was entered into force, noted Lightfoot, a citizen of the Lake Superior Band of Ojibwe who is senior advisor to the UBC president on Indigenous affairs.

“The one area that Canada stumbles on is once the CERD [Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination] casts its eye on Indigenous peoples’ human rights,” Lightfoot said in an interview.

“Canada is normally held up as a role model standard on this particular issue of eliminating racial discrimination.

This is one of the few times, and the notable times, where Canada is on the receiving end of negative news.”

The UN committee decision comes as Canada vies for a coveted seat on the UN Security Council, a bid Gunn said will fall under increased global scrutiny if Canada fails to follow the committee’s recommendations.

“While we may not hear public chastising of Canada in any international forum, there will be many conversations happening in the various lounges at the UN, and elsewhere, where states that Canada was counting on for support will be saying ‘well, what about this recent decision … how do we support a seat on the security council when Canada’s record on human rights continues to be questioned?’ ”

Lightfoot said a lack of action could  “create a deep stain on Canada’s global reputation.”

The committee decision follows landmark legislation passed by the B.C. government in November to implement the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP). The federal government has also promised to pass legislation to harmonize Canadian laws with UNDRIP by the end of this year.

Roland Willson, chief of West Moberly First Nations, called the decision a “validation for us.”

West Moberly First Nations and Prophet River First Nation are awaiting trial dates to determine if the Site C dam unjustifiably infringes on their constitutionally protected treaty rights, as the nations claim in civil actions filed two years ago.

Among many other impacts, the Site C hydro project will destroy Indigenous burial sites and other places of spiritual and cultural importance — including traditional hunting and fishing grounds — and poison fish with methylmercury.

West Moberly Chief Roland Willson

West Moberly First Nation Chief Roland Willson has been a vocal opponent of the Site C dam. Photo: Jayce Hawkins / The Narwhal

Site C dam called ‘cultural genocide’

Willson said West Moberly and Prophet River First Nations met with Gay McDougall, a U.S. lawyer who is the vice-chair of the UN committee, last year in Vancouver

“It’s not mass genocide that’s happening here. It’s cultural genocide,” Willson told The Narwhal.

“Ms. McDougall said to us, ‘Genocide is genocide. They’re destroying your culture and your culture is who you are as a people. So they’re killing you as a people’ … Our discussion with her verified that we’re right.”

Willson called it a “crime” to destroy the last tract of Peace River Valley available to Indigenous people to engage in traditional practices when there are cheaper and less destructive ways to produce power.

 “…The thought of [U.S.] President [Donald] Trump threatening to destroy Iran’s cultural sites, everybody’s up in arms about that, saying that should be considered war crimes,” Willson said.

“Well here they’re making a decision to destroy what’s left of an intact ecosystem, a vital piece of our culture.”

Article 32 of UNDRIP says governments “shall consult and cooperate in good faith” with Indigenous peoples through their own representative institutions, in order to obtain their free and informed consent prior to the approval of “any project affecting their lands or territories and other resources” — particularly in connection with the development, utilization or exploitation of mineral, water or other resources.

Site C construction. Peace River. B.C.

Construction of the Site C dam on the banks of the Peace River. Photo: Garth Lenz / The Narwhal

In a 2019 letter to the UN committee, a copy of which was obtained by The Narwhal, the federal government said it approached the Site C project “in a manner that is consistent” with obtaining free, prior and informed consent, a claim Willson called “hogwash.”

Willson said the federal government only met once with West Moberly and Prophet River First Nations about the Site C dam, for about 20 minutes.

The meeting, with former Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc, took place in Vancouver several months after the election of the Trudeau government in the fall of 2015, Willson said, describing the session as “our one avenue to talk about everything.”

Nations ‘conceded’ instead of consenting

“Conceding is far from consenting,” Willson said. “Every nation in Treaty 8 was opposed to Site C.”

But after the project — championed for decades by BC Hydro — received final B.C. government approval in December 2014, “some of the nations conceded to BC Hydro,” Willson said.

“Their decision was not free,” he said. “It wasn’t prior. It was after the fact.”

A letter Willson sent to the UN committee two months ago said many affected Indigenous peoples have not consented to construction of the Site C project, including Blueberry River First Nation, Prophet River First Nation and Fort Nelson First Nation.

“Not a single Indigenous group supported Site C before Canada had issued all major approvals, and some groups that signed an agreement on the project afterwards stated publicly that they had never consented,” Willson wrote.

Former B.C. premier Christy Clark infamously vowed she would push the Site C project past the point of no return, the letter noted.

“There was never any intent by Canada or British Columbia to consider alternatives offered by Indigenous peoples,” Willson told the committee.

The chief also questioned the notion that First Nations were given “informed” details about the Site C project.

“Bogus estimates about future energy demand were used during consultations by the Province of British Columbia and BC Hydro to manufacture a need for the dam and to disregard less impactful alternatives such as wind and solar,” he said.

“These estimates have now been debunked by the B.C. Utilities Commission, British Columbia’s own independent utilities regulator.”

‘What cost are human rights worth?’

Asked about the economic cost of suspending the three projects, Lightfoot said, “what cost are human rights worth?”

“That’s the question for Canada,” she said. “The CERD [Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination] is trying to bring to Canada’s attention that when dealing with human rights you have to consider all people’s human rights and consider them equally.”

Gunn said major resource projects like the Site C dam and the TransMountain and Coastal GasLink pipelines will continue to experience delays and court challenges until Canada does a better job of engaging and working with Indigenous peoples. The current situation doesn’t lead to greater certainty for anyone, she pointed out.

“It just leads to more divisions and more problems.”

Neve said the UN committee has made it clear on a number of occasions it is deeply concerned that industrial projects such as the Site C dam and Coastal GasLink pipeline are proceeding in ways that violate the rights of Indigenous people.

“It is unconscionable for Canada to just shrug our shoulders and ignore that,” Neve said. “It’s time to do what the UN is asking us to do.”

It’s not the first time the UN committee has called on Canada to suspend the Site C project, which would flood 128 kilometres of the Peace River and its tributaries in the heart of Treaty 8 traditional territory if the dam is completed in 2024 as scheduled.

In September 2017, the committee recommended that Canada immediately suspend all permits and approvals for the publicly funded $10.7 billion project, which will produce an average of 680 megawatts of electricity.

The committee also advised Canada to end “the substitution of costly legal challenges as post facto recourse in place of obtaining meaningful free, prior and informed consent of indigenous peoples.”

The UN committee issued a second rejoinder in December 2019 when it again cited a “lack of measures taken to ensure the right to consultation and free, prior and informed consent” for the Site C dam. It warned that construction without such consent would infringe on Indigenous peoples’ rights protected under the international convention.

The Narwhal reached out to Global Affairs Canada for a response to the UN committee’s decision. Global Affairs Canada — whose email signature touts Canada’s bid for a UN Security Council seat  — put us in touch with Heritage Canada.

Heritage Canada said it hoped to have a response for January 8, but no response was received by publication time.

Phillip said the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs will request a meeting with federal Indigenous and Northern Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett to discuss the decision.

“We’ll be speaking not only to the government of Canada but also to the provincial government and Premier [John] Horgan with regard to the CERD [Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination] report and its implications vis a vis Bill 41,” Phillip said.

He said the union doesn’t accept the notion that Bill 41, B.C.’s new UNDRIP legislation, will only apply to new resource projects.

“We don’t buy that. The law is the law.” SOURCE


Wet’suwet’en threatened with eviction from their territory

The situation is escalating in Wet’suwet’en unceded territory in northern British Columbia this week as they face eviction by the RCMP if they do not remove any obstacles that would prevent workers from getting to construction sites for a Coastal GasLink pipeline.

The Wet’suwet’en need you to act in solidarity with their defense of traditional territory in the face of development projects that have not received the free, prior and informed consent of their people.

ACT NOW in solidarity with Wet’suwet’en: 

1. Sign our partner RavenTrust’s letter to Coastal GasLink reminding the executives of the rights of Indigenous Peoples that are to be respected, and urging them to respect the eviction order from the Hereditary Chiefs.

2. Visit the Wet’suwet’en Supporter page and take action to support the land defense. There is plenty of information on how to visit the camp, fundraise, write letters to law-makers, and resources for education and solidarity work with your neighbours.

In December 2019, The UN Committee for the Elimination of Discrimination recognized that Canada did not obtain the consent needed to begin construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline in Wet’suwet’en territory.

The Committee instructed Canada to immediately halt construction and suspend all permits and approvals for the project, and urged Canada to withdraw RCMP and security and policing forces from the traditional territories.

Nevertheless, on December 31, 2019 a BC Supreme Court judge extended an injunction against the Wet’suwet’en, saying construction of the natural gas pipeline has been harmed by their defense camps. The hereditary Chiefs reject the Court’s decision based on their inherent, constitutional and human rights to govern their traditional territory under their own governance and legal systems and have once again ordered Coastal GasLink off their lands.

Thank you for speaking out today in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en.

Image result for logo amnesty internationalIn solidarity,

Ana Nicole Collins
Indigenous Rights Advisor
Amnesty International Canada

 

 

Whiplash for Canada at COP25

Protests against Canada in Madrid, Spain. Dec. 11, 2019. Photo by Indigenous Climate Action / Allan Lissner

Pity the poor staffers assigned to Canada’s negotiating team at COP25, they must be suffering whiplash.

Walk the halls of this sputtering summit and you’ll find UN delegates gratefully heralding Canada as a bulwark against the global tide of authoritarians and extraction populists ignoring climate calamity. You’ll run into climate advocates praising Canada’s pledge to go zero carbon. But step into a side conference and you’ll find a panel of carbon experts PowerPointing the pollution impacts of Canada’s rapidly expanding oil and gas industry. They’ve ranked Canada 55th out of the 61 biggest countries in the world, rating our performance “very low.”

Need some fresh air? Outside, activists from every corner of the world are protesting Teck Resources’ proposed mega-mine in the Alberta oilsands which the feds need to nix or approve in the next couple months. Canada’s delegates would probably rather stick near the negotiating rooms where observers praise them for pushing stronger international climate rules. Or maybe head over to the finance panel where the United Nations rep is showcasing Canada’s Just Transition strategy for coal workers as a model for the world to follow.

After a miserable day mired in the inanities of United Nations procedures, you might want to head over to the Canadian embassy for a quiet drink. But it might not be so quiet because there you will find Indigenous youth who have occupied the reception area in protest, calling out the government for authorizing pipelines despite First Nations opposition, and approving mega projects which threaten their homes and future.

Indigenous youth occupy the Canadian embassy in Madrid, Spain. Dec. 11, 2019. Photo National Observer

 

Canada’s experience at the Madrid COP is a bit of a microcosm of the country’s predicament. Canadians overwhelmingly want more ambitious action against climate change. Two-thirds of voters made that clear in the last election.

The federal government has brought in a package of climate legislation better than most in the world. Our electricity is among the greenest anywhere and is moving towards zero carbon. Provinces with good EV programs are selling electric cars as fast as dealers can get them on the lots.

In fact, 85% of the country is pretty much on track to meet the climate targets Canada pledged to the international community.

And yet, despite our tiny percentage of the world population, Canada is the ninth largest climate polluter in the world. The main reason is that we’re a top-five producer of oil and gas. Back when most of us hadn’t realized the climatic dangers of burning fossil fuels, we built an industry that is a true wonder of engineering and technology.

We should have recognized, even then, that the foundation of this engineering marvel was crushing human rights while poisoning, fragmenting and, in many cases, obliterating the land and territories of Indigenous people.

But most Canadians benefited greatly from the wealth generated by the fossil fuel boom. What’s different today is that we are belatedly reckoning with the brutalities of colonialism. And now we do know — we know the climate impacts of burning oil, gas and coal. But we are only just beginning to reckon with these fossil fuel impacts. We are phasing out coal use domestically. But with oil and gas, we are doing exactly the opposite — we are doubling down, massively expanding the industry year after year. Fossil fuel production has levelled off in most countries, but it is still growing globally. About 85 per cent of that global expansion of new oil and gas projects is happening in the U.S. and Canada.  MORE

Court to hear case on whether asylum agreement with U.S. violates charter

OTTAWA — A long-awaited legal look into whether the U.S. remains a safe country for refugees begins today at a Federal Court in Toronto.

At issue is the Safe Third Country Agreement that prohibits people from entering Canada from the U.S. —  and vice versa — at official border crossings and asking for asylum. It was signed by the two countries 17 years ago on the grounds that both are safe places and so those seeking sanctuary should apply in the first country they arrive in.

But as the U.S. has tightened its asylum rules and regulations in recent years, the deal has come under intense scrutiny over concerns that actions taken by the Trump administration no longer make the U.S. a safe harbour for those seeking asylum.

In turn, when Canada rejects people at the border, their charter rights are being violated, advocacy groups and the individual litigant in the case will argue this week as the Federal Court finally hears the challenge begun in 2017.

“Refugee claimants are being detained indefinitely, in conditions that are nothing short of cruel and unusual, simply for seeking protection,” reads one of the memos submitted to the court.

The legal challenge to the agreement was filed after a Salvadoran woman tried to enter Canada at an official border crossing to seek asylum, arguing she was being brutally targeted by gangs at home. She was told she was inadmissible because of the deal. MORE

Canada treats mining companies like the goose that laid the golden egg. What we get in return looks more like a goose egg.

View of Greek mine site

Mining enjoys massive government support in Canada. Politically, it’s treated as a preferred development option for remote communities and Indigenous peoples. Former Saskatchewan premier Brad Wall once said, “The best program for First Nations and Métis people in Saskatchewan is not a program at all—it’s [uranium mining company] Cameco.” The law backs this up. Mining companies still have rights to “free entry” in much of Canada, since mining is legally considered the “highest and best” use of land. Though these laws are being challenged by First Nations, today prospectors can stake claims and even drill or trench without any consideration for other land users, or in some cases, even private landowners.

There are also financial incentives to mine. The federal and provincial governments and territories spend hundreds of millions on road and power corridors to support mining projects, while supporting training for mining skills that are often not highly transferrable. Already low corporate tax rates are further reduced by accelerated capital cost allowances and deductions for exploration and development costs. “Flow-through” shares allow mining companies to pass exploration costs onto investors as tax deductions. And while they’ve been slowly getting better, Canadian jurisdictions still dramatically undercharge mining companies when it comes to setting aside money to clean up spills or for long-term environmental monitoring and rehabilitation.

All of this is justified publicly by the creation of jobs, contribution to GDP and exports—and taxes paid. Mining does create “good pay” jobs, though more of these are displaced from other sectors than the industry will admit. Mining does generate export earnings and boost GDP, though economists will argue about whether these really represent development, especially when what is being exported is raw materials with little value added. So, what of the taxes?

On paper, mining operations pay corporate tax and sales tax, among others, along with royalties (sometimes called “mining tax”) intended to compensate the state for the permanent loss of whatever resource is being extracted. Depending on the audience, mining companies will either brag or complain about the amount of tax they pay. They rarely explain how those amounts are calculated, much less compare them to what they might have had to pay if it weren’t for the lowered tax rates, tax holidays and exemptions. More egregiously, they also like to take credit for the taxes that their workers pay.

James Wilt, writing in The Narwhal in July last year, found that Canadian governments collect a smaller percentage of mineral value than almost any other jurisdiction in the world. There are a number of explanations for this, ranging from low tax rates to grace periods and tax holidays, as mentioned, to using a variable base for calculating royalties. Canada is unusual internationally, for example, in the extent to which it charges royalties based on profits rather than on the amount of mineral extracted, allowing for deductions and “profit-shifting” to diminish the amount owed.

In an extreme example, the CBC’s Rita Celli reported in May 2015 that in 2013-14, De Beers Canada paid the Ontario government $226 in royalties from its Victor Mine in Attawapiskat, the only diamond mine in the province. “The diamond royalty stirred a huge debate when the Ontario government suddenly introduced it in 2007,” wrote Celli. “Then-premier Dalton McGuinty promised it would enrich all Ontarians. He promised the money would be used to hire more nurses and keep class sizes small in schools.”

The low figure was due to De Beers having been allowed to write down its capital investment against the royalties. Tom Ormsby, De Beers’ vice-president of external and corporate affairs, told Celli the company started to pay millions in 2014. Its reports under Canada’s Extractive Sector Transparency Measures Act (ESTMA), in force since 2015, show it paid US$15.8 million in royalties in 2016 (on earnings of US$79 million) and US$11.3 million in 2017 (on earnings of US$205 million). The mine closed in early 2019. In other words, the mine probably generated almost nothing for the province for the entire first half of its production, and probably less than $100 million over its 11-year life.

Any assessment of the millions in taxes and royalties from mining operations has to include the overall value of the resource, as they remove many times more millions of dollars’ worth of metals. Any honest calculation also has to include not only the overall flow of money to governments, but also the subsidies, costs and liabilities, including social disruption and damage to local economies and the environment.

***

Internationally, the Canadian government takes the promotion of Canadian mining companies very seriously indeed. This is demonstrated by the fact that while Canadian and international civil society has been pushing for almost two decades for restrictions on the international activities of Canadian companies, the federal government has refused to recognize that illegal activity and human rights and environmental abuses are even happening, much less restrict them—or enforce the sole piece of legislation we do have, the anti-bribery Corruption of Foreign Public Officials Act.

At the same time, Canada provides massive support for transnational mining investment, both politically and economically. It helps explain why so many mining companies are domiciled in Canada, even if they have no Canadian operations, or even no Canadian directors, and regardless of who actually owns the majority of their shares.

Our embassies contribute “economic diplomacy,” which includes pressuring foreign governments to support favourable legislation and policies and helping build relationships between mining executives and foreign officials, such as mining ministers and state presidents. Canadian diplomats also provide support directly to companies, going so far as to help them comply with regulations and apply for permits. Even our development aid is skewed toward rewarding countries and regions that are willing to host Canadian mining projects, and assisting governments in administering mining laws so as to smooth the way for Canadian investment.

Economic support is both direct (investment from the Canada Pension Plan and Canadian Investment Fund for Africa, for example, or loans and political risk insurance from Export Development Canada) and indirect. Canada has built a massive network of tax treaties, bilateral investment treaties and free trade agreements that all serve to facilitate and protect Canadian investment, as well as allowing profits to be shifted through subsidiary companies to avoid taxation. It’s all perfectly legally, if you do it right.

The result is a ballooning offshore pool of wealth sitting in tax havens and secrecy jurisdictions in the Caribbean, Channel Islands, and even some U.S. states—wealth that is not taxed to benefit the countries it was extracted from, or even the country that worked so hard to facilitate it (in this case, Canada). Governments that try to protect their own people and ecosystems from mining destruction face the threat of multimillion-dollar lawsuits through arbitration provisions in those investment agreements.

To pick just one example, Eldorado Gold has been struggling for years to overcome committed local opposition to its planned Skouries open-pit gold mine in Halkidiki, northern Greece. Local people opposed to the massive project have raised objections over the destruction of a forest that is of immense cultural and historic significance—it is where local partisans gathered to strategize and mobilize against the fascists, and now serves as a focus for tourism, beekeeping, etc.—and the contamination of freshwater supplies (the ore is loaded with arsenic, among other things).

Chart showing Eldorado Gold profits from sites

They have also questioned the promised benefits for the Greek state—with good reason. A study led by the Dutch organisation SOMO (the Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations) found the company has structured its investment with tax avoidance in mind. Subsidiaries in the Netherlands will allow Eldorado to shift profits from Greece to the Netherlands and Barbados, minimizing exposure to taxes and leaving Greeks with little to show for the mine’s ecological, social and economic disruption. SOMO calculated this arrangement had cost Greece 1.7 million euros in lost tax in 2013-14 alone (nearly $2.5 million based on the exchange rate at the time).

A look at Eldorado Gold’s payments to governments, as disclosed under ESTMA, shows that as of 2018, the company made significant payments in Turkey, where most of its gold production is, but nowhere else. Not even Canada, where it is supposedly headquartered, but also where it now operates the Lamaque Mine outside of Val-d’Or, Quebec.

What we don’t know is how much the company should have paid in the absence of what the accountants call “aggressive tax planning,” or what the rest of us call tax dodging. Nor does this accounting show how much has been set aside as security bond for closure, cleanup, and possible spills and accidents.

It makes sense that Turkey, as the primary host of Eldorado Gold’s operations, should benefit most. It’s an open question whether the country benefits enough to compensate for the loss of its gold-bearing ore, not to mention the various forms of damage occasioned by mining or the liabilities it leaves behind. And it’s more than likely that the company has minimized its exposure to Turkish taxes.

But at the same time, there is clearly no direct return for Canada from all of the support we provide. If share value increases or the company pays dividends we can benefit as shareholders—through our pensions, RRSPs or the Canada Pension Plan. But clearly the loot is mostly being scooped up by others: well-paid company executives, the banks that finance all of this, and the legal, accounting and investment houses.

At the end of the day, the notion that mining is good for Canada is pretty dubious. The reality within Canada is much more complex than our governments and most of the media are willing to admit. In other parts of the world, the reality is that Canadian mining primarily benefits the mining companies, their local backers, and their financiers. Its contributions to “host” countries are variable and on balance generally negative. Despite all the effort from public officials, Canada hardly benefits at all. It’s past time we started to dismantle the legal, regulatory, financial and political support that feeds and sustains this false narrative. SOURCE