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

Alberta’s anti-protestor bill suppresses democracy and violates treaties, say critics

Canada’s laws have long been used against Indigenous Peoples

Critics are warning that a bill introduced by the Alberta government to impose large fines and prison time on people participating in blockades or protests that interfere with “critical infrastructure” suppresses democracy and violates treaties.

Austin Mihkwâw, a Samson Cree activist from Treaty 6 territory, says many of the industrial megaprojects that have and would be targets for civil disobedience are already violations of legally binding treaties, which did not entail surrender of the land and only allowed for its use “to the depth of a plow,” for example.

Indigenous sovereignty and title underlie the recent surge in blockades and protests.

The bill, introduced by Jason Kenney’s United Conservative Party on Tuesday, stipulates that no one shall “enter on” or “interfere” with critical infrastructure “without lawful right, justification, or excuse.”

“What do you define as justification?” asks Mihkwâw. “Protecting the water? Protecting the children? Protecting the future?”

While actions like railway blockades are already illegal under federal law, the Alberta bill allows for arrest without warrant. It also adds additional penalties, such as fines of between $1,000 and $10,000 for a first offence, and up to $25,000 for each subsequent offence. On top of fines, individuals may face six months in jail.

Bill follows weeks of solidarity actions

The new legislation comes after weeks of solidarity actions with the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs opposing the presence of pipeline company Coastal GasLink and the RCMP on their territory in northwestern B.C. People across the country have blockaded rail lines, ports, highways, and government buildings.

Premier Kenney blamed the recent decision of Teck Resources Ltd. to withdraw its application for the $20-billion Frontier oil sands mine on what he called a “general atmosphere of lawlessness” created by acts of civil disobedience — actions he also said are keeping Indigenous communities from moving from poverty to prosperity through resource development.

But Mihkwâw says the premier’s concern for Indigenous communities is not genuine.

“Jason Kenney has no right to act like he cares about the bands or Indigenous people,” he says.

The infringement on freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, and Indigenous title are all reasons the proposed law could be found unconstitutional.

Provincial and federal governments are only interested in Indigenous communities when they find it serves their purposes, and “the only time Indigenous sovereignty is acknowledged is through the colonial states they created,” he says, referring to the elected band council system imposed on First Nations through the Indian Act.

Indigenous sovereignty and title underlie the recent surge in blockades and protests. In the landmark 1997 Delgamuukw v. British Columbia decision, the Supreme Court of Canada affirmed the existing right of the Wet’suwet’en Nation to the “exclusive use and occupation” of their traditional lands, a right the hereditary chiefs are demanding be upheld through the removal of the RCMP and Coastal GasLink from their territories.

“You see these levels of civil disobedience because that’s a necessary way for them to advocate for their rights and themselves as well,” Mihkwâw says, adding that communities often fail to find justice through the Canadian legal system.

“The side of the law has never been on the side of Indigenous people,” he says, and throughout Canadian history are examples of profoundly unjust but legal measures such as the Indian Act and the residential school program.

Constitutional issues

The Alberta bill defines essential infrastructure broadly to include refineries, pipelines, mines, railways, highways, dams, waterways, communications systems, electric utilities, farms, and any land used in connection with said infrastructure. In addition to this extensive list, the bill allows for the provincial government to designate “buildings, structures, devices or other things as being essential infrastructure.”

This conflates public and private property, an important distinction when talking about Charter rights such as the freedom to peaceful assembly. Further, the bill could be used to clamp down on dissent by having the site of a protest declared to be “critical infrastructure.”

Though Kenney’s assertion that “urban green left militants” were responsible for Teck’s withdrawal doesn’t appear to be credible — the company cited regulatory uncertainty and economic concerns as the principal reasons — his rhetoric was no doubt successful in stirring up further animosity towards Alberta’s growing social and climate justice movements.

His government is relying on this divisive and antagonistic narrative that protesters are responsible for lost jobs to justify the need for sweeping penalties.

“Bills like this are deliberately designed to suppress democratic participation in our communities, and I think it’s truly abhorrent that the government is passing laws like this,” says Robert Miller of Extinction Rebellion Edmonton.

The infringement on freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, and Indigenous title are all reasons the proposed law could be found unconstitutional. The constitutional merit of the law, however, likely cannot be challenged until someone is arrested and charged under it — a condition Miller says many people would be happy to bring about.

“I think that there is going to be an appetite in our community, and even myself personally, to try and embarrass the government by getting willfully arrested, just to be able to have the standing to challenge them in court and demonstrate from a legal backing that it is unconstitutional.”

Online threats, racism causing fear for Indigenous women: MMIWG commissioner

Michele Audette says she wonders if Indigenous women feel any safer after commission’s final report

Michele Audette, one of the commissioners of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, said she hoped the more than 200 recommendations included in the inquiry’s final report last June would mean a better and safer future for children such as her granddaughter. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

Michele Audette feels disappointed when she looks online and sees a barrage of violent threats toward Indigenous women.

“It made me so mad that we tolerate this. There’s no real … reprimand,” says Audette, who was one of the commissioners for the national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

As she gently places her eight-month-old grandchild into her vehicle in Quebec City, Audette explains that she understood it would take time for governments and society to work toward the more than 200 recommendations included in the inquiry’s final report last June. The report called violence against First Nations, Metis and Inuit women and girls a form of genocide.

Audette had hoped the work would mean a better and safer future for children such as her granddaughter.

She wonders if Indigenous women feel any safer, especially with threats levelled during recent anti-pipeline protests, rail blockades and demonstrations.

In many of those cases, she feels that women are more often targets than men.

“Here again, status quo. We are not safe,” she says.

“For me, in 2020, it’s unacceptable.”

Bardish Chagger, Canada’s minister of diversity, inclusion and youth, has called racist taunts and threats directed at Indigenous people following recent protests horrible and ignorant. She says many Canadians are unaware of Indigenous history and rights.

Parallels to Idle No More

Erica Violet Lee, a community organizer from Saskatoon, says the treatment of Indigenous people in Canada has always been violent.

When they speak out about issues, “Canadian politeness” crumbles away, she says. It was similar during the Idle No More protest movement, which was started by four women in 2012.

“When Indigenous communities and nations exercise our inherent right to self-determination, we become troublemakers, ‘bad Indians,’ who don’t respect the Canadian rule of law,” Lee said in an email.

“But Cree laws and the laws of our lands say that we have a responsibility to act in situations of injustice and environmental devastation.”

Bardish Chagger, Canada’s minister of diversity, inclusion and youth, said many Canadians are unaware of Indigenous history and rights. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Lee recently attended a demonstration at a Saskatoon rail line in support of Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs opposed to a natural gas pipeline on traditional territory in British Columbia. She says some men began yelling at young protesters to jump in front of the trains.

She says she and the youth were called everything from “stupid” to “terrorists.” They also received death threats.

“How do we respond to that? We keep living,” Lee says.

During the pipeline protests, it was common to see online comments encouraging drivers to run over protesters. One photo showed blood on the front of a train with a laughing face emoji.

The SooToday news website in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., citing a rise in racism, closed its comment section on Indigenous stories in February.

“We have read your ignorant ramblings, your subtle, but hurtful racism,” editor Mike Purvis wrote in an editorial. “We have moderated your thinly (and not-so-thinly) veiled threats of violence.”

Online threats moving offline

Uttering threats is a criminal act. RCMP spokeswoman Catherine Fortin said in an email that a “hate-motivated incident,” such as name-calling or racial insults, may not reach the threshold of a criminal offence, but can still be reported to police.

Nickita Longman, a Saulteaux woman from George Gordon First Nation in Saskatchewan, says it has been inspiring to see Indigenous people across the country come together in protests, but it has come with alarming backlash.

The longtime activist and organizer, who lives in Winnipeg, says the most concerning aspect of online hate and threats toward Indigenous women is how often it goes unchallenged.

The cross-Canada demonstrations have for the most part been peaceful, she says, and women will not be swayed by threats.

“Until our inherent rights are recognized and respected to the fullest capacity, we will continue to resist,” Longman says.

“It is important to continue because our resistance has the capacity to dictate the future for generations to come.”

Her main concern is online rhetoric moving offline.

“The more these comments find space on the internet, the more they embolden people to act on them in person.

“As an Indigenous woman, that is by far the scariest part.” SOURCE

The Wet’suwet’en crisis has exposed deep-seated racism in Canada

Native communities do not hurt the economy – they bear the hurt of corporations ruining the land.

Supporters of Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs block access to the Port of Vancouver as part of protests against the construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline [Jennifer Gauthier/Reuters]

Supporters of Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs block access to the Port of Vancouver as part of protests against the construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline [Jennifer Gauthier/Reuters]

It is all well and good until the Indian mascots start talking back.

That has been an observation of mine, after years of public advocacy as a Native woman. Society likes us in caricatured form, they sometimes like us in regalia opening events, but once a Native speaks out in a way that challenges North American society, we are regularly, and sometimes violently, silenced.

We need look no further for an example of this than the current Indigenous-led infrastructure shutdowns in Canada, in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, who have refused passage of the Coastal GasLink pipeline through their territory.

Across what is now Canada, Native resistance is exposing an underbelly of racism, ignorance and historical denial. Following the Canadian government’s refusal to listen to the hereditary Wet’suwet’en chiefs’ rejection of the Coastal GasLink pipeline, hundreds of ongoing disruptions to transportation infrastructure have forced a reckoning on every level imaginable. Angry comments proliferate across online comment boards, death threats fill the inboxes of Native front-line resistors posting photos of solidarity actions with #WetsuwetenStrong and #LandBack hashtags.

Angry fossil fuel employees, their families, friends and citizens, concerned with economic security (but apparently not at all concerned with equality) call for violence upon Indigenous youth standing up for their long-suffering people, upon any and all Native peoples disrupting infrastructure trying to be heard, to be seen, to be respected.

“Yes, this is [a] threat,” I read in one Tweet replying to the Twitter feed of the Unist’ot’en (working in conjunction with the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs) Camp, along with instructions and an illustration for locating and approaching Indigenous blockades with a mask and baseball bat.

Hostility to Native resistance ranges from physical violence to basic supremacy themes – people who “live off our taxes” have no room to complain about anything. The incalculable contributions Native people made to both non-Native survival then and to the economy as it exists today are summarily disregarded. I suspect a vast majority of North America has little to no understanding of treaties made between fledgeling Western governments and Native Nations, or of what “unceded land” means.

While the US and Canadian constitutions are respected law, the treaties that literally ceded the lands those countries exist on today in exchange for basic services ensuring the survival of the people holding those lands are viewed as old news, as something to “get over”.

The desperate state of far too many Native nations should anger any patriot who believes in country; a glaring failure of the US and Canada to uphold their end of the contracts they signed. Instead, Native communities are a source of shame, of anger towards Native people, or intentionally ignored. The refusal of Native peoples to assimilate is a 500-plus year thorn in the side of colonisation and an affront to American exceptionalism.

The racism on display with regard to Wet’suwet’en is not a new phenomenon. It did not just suddenly appear because of incendiary stories about job layoffs (layoffs that were already in progress before the disruptions).

I recall how a group of men driving by an Anishinaabe woman walking down a pavement in Thunder Bay, Canada, allegedly threw a trailer hitch at her and struck her in the stomach. Barbara Kentner, 34, later died of her injuries. The man charged with her killing faces trial in April. Internet rumours attacking Barbara Kentner grew so malicious that the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) ran a piece debunking one claiming Kentner assaulted a child. The celebrations around the killing of Colton Boushie – a young Cree man shot in the head by a white farmer who was subsequently acquitted of his murder and manslaughter – was another moment that should have cued folks to the deep-seated racism towards Native people. So is the literal epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous women on both sides of the colonial border.

Throw in extractive industrial projects that hold the boon of hundreds of well-paying jobs, a way to keep food on the table, and that ignorance explodes to the surface. The Native person trying to protect their land, the deepest part of their identity, becomes an obstacle blocking a good job. Such a narrative benefits the company seeking its latest fossil fuel project. Stories of Coastal GasLink pipeline, Enbridge, TransCanada and many others’ failing profit margins, uncertain oil forecasts and lack of demand are buried. It has to be somebody’s fault, we are told, but it never seems to be the companies making these destructive choices.

I was born and raised in North Country; I grew up with loggers and miners, the folks who use their hands and backs for a living, as my family members and neighbours. Distrust and lack of understanding between rural communities and the Native folks nearby are a constant. Exploitation of the lands and waters we call home is also a constant. The jobs that pay well are usually jobs that require taking far, far more than we need, for shipment somewhere else.

When the mine finally gives out, it is our water that sits contaminated, our children that play on the soil with a spreading chemical plume below it. When the old growth timber is gone, it is our ecosystem that is disrupted, the wild game many of us still depend on that disappears. We bear the risk of spills, of explosions, of all the immediate risks of bodily harm associated with extractive industry. When Coastal GasLink bulldozes its way through the unceded territory against the authority of the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, it is our communities that bear that hurt and destruction, it is our people, our youth that carry those wounds and further separation between Native and non-Native neighbours.

We are at the point now where the climate crisis has extended serious risks outside of our local communities. The polar ice caps are melting, the Global South has rising seas and burning rainforests, North America’s own western seaboard is on fire for longer and longer periods in these recent times. It is not just our problem and reality any longer; it belongs to the whole of humanity.

In the realm of finger-pointing, it seems to me that blaming the Native taking a stand for our shared and only home might seem like the easiest thing to do, but it makes the least sense. Corporations are made of people, those people make decisions with enormous consequences. Governments are made of people, those people shape economic accountability, public policy and subsidise the future they want to back. Communities are made of people, we can collectively all do a lot better towards understanding one another and ending a vicious cycle of hatred.

It is the 21st century – surely we can do better than unchecked mega-corporations destroying our only home to make a buck. Investment in technology, in people, in education, in the forgotten, still-beautiful places that hold the remaining biodiversity and delicate ecosystems we all need to survive should be a no-brainer, one would think. One would hope.


Rise in anti-Indigenous racism and violence seen in wake of Wet’suwet’en protests

Vancouver police say hate crimes significantly under-reported

Casey Edgar-George has not been involved in protests that support the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs but has been subject to racist attacks online. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

As protests in support of Wet’suwet’en hereditary leaders continue to sweep Canada, hate experts say anti-Indigenous racism and violence is on the rise and should be addressed.

There’s a sea change at foot, with white supremacists and hate groups re-directing their attention to Indigenous people, says Evan Balgord of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network.

“So in the last two weeks or so, with the Wet’suwet’en crisis and with the solidarity demonstrations happening across Canada, we’ve seen a marked uptick in far-right activity,” said Balgord.

He’s tracked multiple social media posts calling for the murder or assault of demonstrators, with the primary targets both Indigenous people and their allies.

Balgord says race-based violence needs to be addressed by exposing those who commit it and he called on law enforcers to take a firmer line against those who threaten violence on social media.

It’s not just protesters who have been the target of hate.

Wendy Nahanee and her son Kiona were attacked inside their car last Monday, on their way to school, with the attacker yelling racist slurs and threats of violence at them. (Wendy Nahanee)


Wendy Nahanee was dropping her 14-year-old son Kiona off at school in Vancouver at 9 a.m. last Monday when the two faced a man yelling racist slurs at them.

“He said ‘you stupid Indians, you hurt people and now you’re going to get hurt,'” said Nahanee, who is of the Squamish Nation.

She believes she was a target because of her car, which is decked out in First Nations decals and motifs, and because she is visibly Indigenous.

The man continued to yell slurs and made a motion with his hand cutting his neck, then smashed a plastic wagon over her car for several minutes. Nahanee provided pictures and a phone number of a witness to the Vancouver Police department, which confirmed that a report was made. No charges have been laid.

‘No one deserves to go through this’

Steven Norn was also the subject of what he says was anti-Indigenous violence on a Vancouver street.

The Dene artist, who looks visibly Indigenous, was waiting at an intersection on foot with groceries when out of the blue, a man sucker punched him, possibly with a weapon, yelling, “don’t mess with the effing pipeline” as he fled the scene.

“He hit the right eye on my face, my glasses were completely destroyed and I have four stitches on top of my eyebrow and two at the bottom from the frames,” Norn said.

“No one deserves to go through this,” he added.

Balgord recommends naming those who post racial slurs or advocate violence on social media.

“On an individual and community level, I think we should be naming and shaming people who make racist posts so that there’s social accountability leading to social pressure,” he said.

He also added that people should demand law enforcement charge individuals who are threatening murder.

However, some say it’s more complicated for Indigenous people.

Casey Edgar-George says she is still shaken after receiving more than 600 racially fuelled online attacks and hopes more white allies will step in and speak up and help address anti-Indigenous racism. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

White allies can help

Casey Edgar George is a Vancouver-based therapist of the Nuu-chah-nulth Nation who said she received more than 600 death threats and racist slurs after writing ‘I really hope these land protectors are OK, sending love to all our protectors out there,” on an Instagram post of a video of a truck running through a bunch of protesters.

“Some were asking me if I forgot to drink my hand sanitizer today and others telling me to end my life,” she said.

But she doesn’t believe in publicly shaming racists and also doesn’t feel confident in the role of police to take crime toward Indigenous people seriously.

Rather, she feels it’s important for white allies to speak up for Indigenous people when they witness racism, especially online where most of the vitriol exists.

She encourages people not to read the comment sections of news stories about Indigenous people.

“Look to our ancestors for strength and to our future generations for hope, not at the comments used to suppress the power others know we have,” she said.

Hate crimes often not reported

Vancouver police have verified both Steven and Wendy’s reports but says VPD Hate Crimes investigators have not noticed a spike in hate-related incidents over the past two weeks.

Spokesperson Sgt. Aaron Roed says hate crimes and incidents have always been significantly under-reported.

But Balgord says people shouldn’t be overly alarmed.

“I think [anti-Indigenous racism] is something that we should all be taking a look at, but I wouldn’t want to portray that as if people are at an imminent risk of dying,” Balgord said. SOURCE


Getting kind online: the people standing up to cyberbullying

Cuthand: Modern-day treaty needed to end unrest

The party of Diefenbaker, Clarke and Mulroney is now acting like a right-wing fringe supporting vigilantism and racism.

Columnist Doug Cuthand

Columnist Doug Cuthand Liam Richards / Saskatoon StarPhoenix

The crises around the pipeline through Wet’suwet’en territory and the subsequent outpouring of support nationwide have isolated the Conservatives and placed them as the odd man out in the House of Commons.

On Tuesday, Prime MinisterJustin Trudeau’s speech was heckled by the Tories to the point that the speaker had to appeal for calm. When Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer spoke to rebut the prime minister’s comments, his speech was negative and clearly on the side of the pipeline developers. He called for the prime minister to end the pipeline protests and that the protesters should “check their privilege,” whatever that meant.

Meanwhile the other parties in the House including the Bloc Quebecois, the NDP and the Greens all supported the position that the government must proceed with dialogue and negotiations to settle the matter. They got together to discuss it further, but the Conservatives were not invited. It was obvious that Scheer would have nothing to offer and be a distraction.

The Conservatives’ position was clear: They wanted the government to take action to remove the blockades. While the Conservatives constantly refer to the rule of law, there is a long-standing practice in Canada that police forces are independent and not to be directed by politicians or a political party. To do otherwise would lead to a slippery slope toward a police state and totalitarianism.

Speaking of the rule of law, the Conservatives have ignored the fact that the Supreme Court has ruled that most of British Columbia has never been ceded by treaty and the title remains with the First Nations. In this case, the rule of law is on the side of the Wet’suwet’en.

West of Edmonton, a group of vigilantes took it upon themselves to take down a blockade of a railway right of way. This drew a tweet from Conservative leadership hopeful Peter MacKay, “Glad to see a couple Albertans with a pickup truck can do more for our economy in an afternoon than Justin Trudeau could do in four years.” This support for vigilantism was later taken down, but it is a reflection of the attitude that is prevalent in the Conservative camp.

Which leads me to ask, “What happened to the Conservatives?” The party of John Diefenbaker, Joe Clarke and Brian Mulroney is now acting like a right-wing fringe supporting vigilantism and racism. I doubt that those gentlemen would be welcome in today’s Conservative Party.

In the past, relations between the First Nations and the Conservative Party were usually positive. Mulroney supported the Treaty Land Entitlement Agreement for Saskatchewan which addressed a long-standing injustice over treaty land and was the largest land settlement in southern Canada.

In 1962, Diefenbaker extended voting rights to First Nations. His minister of Indian Affairs was Helen Fairclough who was Canada’s first female cabinet minister. Many First Nations voters, particularly in Saskatchewan, were Conservative party supporters.

Things changed for the worst in the 1980s and ’90s when the Reform Party came to prominence. It was a western-based party and its members discovered that attacking chiefs and First Nations was red meat to their base, so they pursued it. Rather than look at the potential of First Nations support, they chose to exploit us and our leadership.

The Reformers rebranded, and the Canadian Alliance united with the Progressive Conservatives. The Progressive was dropped, and the party became more like the old Reform Party. Gradually the Progressives or Red Tories were either forced out or left. The Conservatives are now a parochial right-wing party with roots in the West.

Canada is a nation that is built on the rule of law and common sense. Before a railway could be built across the new nation, the government had to make treaty with the First Nations of the plains. This process stopped in the mountains because the American settlers in British Columbia refused to see the need to deal fairly with the First Nations.

Today Canada is paying the price and the politicians and those in power know it. Now Canada must make a modern-day treaty that is fair to all sides or we will continue to have confrontation and unrest as the people defend their land against outside development. SOURCE


Why Indigenous Authority is Important to You

Photo: Unist’ot’en Camp/Facebook

What if one country, with massive economic control and a police force, invaded a land, installed its own government, and then arrested the representatives of the true government when they protested the plans of the country that colonized them. Imagine the Canadian outrage.

Why, then, is there no outrage when Canada does this to Indigenous Peoples?

In fact, the outrage is directed against those who try to pursue self-determination for their nation and people. Could it be that well-cultivated and widespread prejudice interferes with the moral capacity of the general population?

The hereditary chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en Nation, pictured here in 2018. Photo: Unist’ot’en Camp/Facebook

It must be said: Indigenous authority over their lands is important—important to all Canadians, important to you. Today, it is estimated that over a quarter of the world’s usable land, including the Amazon, is under Indigenous authority, governance and stewardship.  Though often ignored or unrecognized by colonial governments, this oversight has kept the land safe and productive for centuries. If the planet is to be saved from catastrophe, the authority of the People of the Land, the Indigenous Peoples, must be recognized and affirmed by the nations of this world.

In the Arctic, Indigenous authority is hindered in many ways, even when the territorial governments are largely run by Indigenous Peoples themselves. The full authority of traditional forms of oversight and stewardship have been minimized by the way outside governments, extractive industries and broader economic authorities and interests still determine the overall workings related to the land’s integrity and well-being.

If the collapse of our ecosystems is to be avoided, the strength of Indigenous authority must be returned. The moral framework is now the survival framework for our planet. There is no healthy future for our planet without the full recognition of Indigenous rights.

I will repeat it.

There is no healthy future for our planet without the full recognition of Indigenous rights.

Blockades and the politics of division

Image result for Winniped Free Press: Blockades and the politics of division

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister sent an email this week to Tory supporters entitled: “These illegal blockades.”

By  Niigaan Sinclair

“You’ve probably heard about the highway and rail blockades happening across the country,” Pallister wrote in the Thursday evening message, “including the one right here in Manitoba.”

Echoing actions in Ontario and Quebec, demonstrators had blocked commuter and freight travel west of Winnipeg to protest the RCMP removal of Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs and activists challenging the construction of a gas pipeline in northern B.C.

Pallister announced Wednesday his government would seek a court injunction to remove the Manitoba protesters from the rail line. By 2 p.m. Thursday, though, CN Railway had received approval of its own injunction and the occupation was ended.

Still, Pallister sent out his email four hours later.

“We respect the rights of protesters,” it proclaims. “But laws need to be applied.”

The message goes on to criticize Manitoba NDP Leader Wab Kinew for supporting “those behind the blockades,” alongside signing the “‘Leap Manifesto,’ a radical document calling for the shutdown of Canada’s entire resource sector!”

Actors, activists, and musicians launch the Leap Manifesto outlining a climate and economic vision for Canada during a press conference in 2015.

Actors, activists, and musicians launch the Leap Manifesto outlining a climate and economic vision for Canada during a press conference in 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/DARREN CALABRESE

For the record, the Leap Manifesto is an apolitical document created in 2015 by more than 60 Indigenous, social welfare, food, environmental, labour, and faith-based (mostly Christian) organizations, and committed to by more than 52,000 celebrities, activists, and Canadians.

The document is “a call for a Canada based on caring for the Earth and one another,” and asks signees to commit to honouring treaties, building locally-based energy infrastructure, and supporting immigrants and workers to enter environmentally-friendly sectors. It also calls on governments to fund “caregiving, teaching, social work, the arts, and public-interest media,” a national child-care program, and institute a universal basic income.

In fairness, the manifesto also calls for an end to fossil fuel subsidies, creation of a carbon tax, cuts to military spending, and adopting a national “polluter pays” principle.

Canada’s growing Indigenous prison population ‘a national travesty’

Opinion: Critics weigh in as federal correctional investigator says, figures show number of jailed First Nations people has reached historic highs

Since April 2010 the Indigenous inmates have increased by 43.4 per cent (or 1,265), whereas the non-Indigenous incarcerated population has declined by 13.7 per cent (or 1,549), according to the office of the Correctional Investigator of Canada. RATTANKUN THONGBUN / GETTY IMAGES

After 48 years of criminal defence work and advocacy for prisoners’ rights, Abbotsford lawyer John Conroy was staggered at the new numbers revealing the swelling tide of Indigenous people being kept locked up.

“I started practising in 1972 and I’m 72 years old,” he said. “How can things be worse? But they are. Here we are in 2020 and it’s worse than ever. I do not understand with the amount of attention and amount of information we have that we’re still in this situation.”

The appalling statistics suggest a modern, racially divided Bedlam.

Conroy pointed out “73 per cent of the men and 80 per cent of the women have the criteria for qualifying for a current mental disorder, 29 require follow-up with mental health services, 25 per cent have some kind of cognitive deficit, 10 to 23 per cent fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD), acquired brain injuries … it goes on and on and on.”

Indigenous people constitute less than five per cent of the population yet now they account for one-in-three of the men in jail, more than four of 10 incarcerated women.

On the Prairies, the numbers are worse — more than seven out of 10 are Aboriginal.

In 2017-18, Aboriginal adults represented three-quarters of admissions to custody in Manitoba (75 per cent) and Saskatchewan (74 per cent). Those provinces also have the highest proportion of Aboriginals, 15 per cent and 14 per cent, respectively.

Compared to 2007-08, admissions of Aboriginal males increased the most in B.C. (83 per cent), from 3,932 to 7,181.

Decades of well-meaning Indigenous legal policies have produced the opposite of what was intended — increasing incarceration rivenrac by racism — a visible disconnect between years of compassionate rhetoric and hard-hearted practice.

Abbotsford lawyer John Conroy, lead counsel in the Allard vs. Canada case that led to the new regulations.

Abbotsford lawyer John Conroy: ‘There are judges who are sending these people to prison and they seem to be disproportionately sending them to prison compared with non-Aboriginal people.’ HANDOUT

Having an Indigenous federal attorney general didn’t help — the numbers went up on Jody Wilson-Raybould’s watch as well.

The shocking report by the country’s correctional investigator, Dr. Ivan Zinger, asserts that the number and proportion of imprisoned Indigenous individuals has reached historic highs.

Providing independent oversight of the Correctional Service of Canada, with some 19,000 full-time employees and 53 institutions, Zinger says Indigenous custody rates have accelerated!

“The Indigenization of Canada’s prison population is nothing short of a national travesty,” Zinger added.

Since April 2010 the Indigenous inmates have increased by 43.4 per cent (or 1,265), whereas the non-Indigenous incarcerated population has declined by 13.7 per cent (or 1,549).

“There are judges who are sending these people to prison and they seem to be disproportionately sending them to prison compared with non-Aboriginal people,” Conroy noted. “Why are so many being sentenced to prison?”

Year after year, Zinger has documented that Indigenous inmates are disproportionately classified and placed in maximum security institutions, over-represented in use of force and self-injurious incidents, and historically were more likely to be placed and held longer in solitary.

Indigenous offenders serve a higher proportion of their sentence behind bars before being granted parole.

Worse, a national recidivism study shows it doesn’t help — Indigenous offenders reoffend at much higher levels, as high as 70 per cent on the Prairies.

When you look at the cases coming down the pipe, it isn’t hopeful.

Numbers from the Legal Services Society of B.C. indicate Indigenous people account for about one-in-three legal aid criminal cases and about one in four in family cases before the courts.

For some reason, in spite of all the hopeful and aspirational rhetoric, legal stakeholders refuse to recognize the reality of Indigenous Canada or the circumstances in which many Aboriginal people live.

“When you read the facts of the case, you can’t help but shake your head and say this guy never had a chance,” Conroy said.

A fundamental problem is that few native communities have the resources, the infrastructure or the capacity to handle violent offenders, so it’s very difficult for them to make a claim in court that they shouldn’t be jailed or argue for early release.

As a result, more and more Aboriginal men are “banished” across Canada — a medieval punishment legally meted out by Indigenous communities to keep away members it cannot control.

Similarly, detailed accounts ordered by the Supreme Court of Canada on the effects of colonialism and the social-economic circumstances of an Aboriginal offender — so-called Gladue Reports — are seen by some Indigenous advocates as valuable tools to assist judges in crafting appropriate sentences but in the prison bureaucracy they can be detrimental.

A report showing a history or prevalence of violence can cause a minor offender to be sent to a maximum instead of medium institution.

“Over my 25 years dealing with prison law, I have seen a big change from focus on helping a prisoner rehabilitate to managing potential PR problems,” veteran Vancouver defence lawyer Donna Turko said.

Various concerns are in play, she explained — judges can’t be too easy on violent offenders as native communities need protection, too, sentencing circles and diversion-style programs are scarce and parole boards seem increasingly afraid of public opinion and reluctant to release offenders. 

Vancouver defence lawyer Donna Turko: ‘Over my 25 years dealing with prison law, I have seen a big change from focus on helping a prisoner rehabilitate to managing potential PR problems.’ ARLEN REDEKOP / PNG FILES

Mostly, though, a shadow has always fallen between the rhetoric about and the reality of Aboriginal crime.

Consider a case in central B.C. involving an older native man who endured residential school and became a dysfunctional alcoholic living off the land. One day, he got very, very drunk and shot a woman.

He spent months in pre-trial custody, went in-custody alcohol treatment, took counselling training and, while out on bail for more than two years, acted as a counsellor in his community.

But he is facing a mandatory minimum sentence of four years and the Crown wants six years in a federal pen.

Instead, the defence wants a provincial sentence of less than two years with an additional conditional term in the community — that way he would be incarcerated close to his family, not shipped somewhere across the country.

Which will have a better outcome for the individual, which for the community?

If your aim is to punish and exact a measure of vengeance, a six-year term makes some sense — but if it’s long-term healthier citizens and communities, well …

“Bold and urgent” action is needed, Zinger said.

People such as Conroy have been ardently arguing that since the 1970s. It obviously hasn’t mattered. SOURCE


Murray Sinclair has tried for years to shock Canada into confronting colonialism. He’s not done yet

After leading landmark inquiries on racism in Manitoba, residential schools and police discrimination in Thunder Bay, this jurist turned politician says he’s learned that shocking words are sometimes best: Genocide. Apartheid. War. Now, he has more to say.


The words are so shocking, so evocative of foreign atrocities, that many Canadians are still unwilling to accept that they apply to their own country – words such as “apartheid,” “genocide” and “war.”

But after decades of research from his inquiries into racial abuses in the justice system and in residential schools, Senator Murray Sinclair never hesitates to use those terms – even when he knows they might spark a backlash.

“Sometimes the shock value is worth it,” he told The Globe and Mail.

“It’s about making people sit up and take notice. It’s about getting people out of their comfortable chair and getting them to think seriously about it.”

A strong case can be made that the 68-year-old independent senator and retired judge has done more than any other Canadian to educate the country about the painful realities that have dogged its history and institutions.

As chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada from 2009 to 2015, he documented the existence of cultural genocide in Canada’s residential schools. As a leader of justice and policing investigations in Manitoba and Thunder Bay, he exposed officials who were willfully ignoring racism in their police forces. And in his personal writing and speeches, Mr. Sinclair has hit even harder, describing a web of genocidal policies and apartheid laws that Canadian governments deployed in a “war” against Indigenous people – a war he says never really ended.

Although his formal inquiries have ended, his work is far from over. As he tirelessly follows a busy schedule of speeches across the country this year – including a recent one describing how Indigenous people were excluded from Confederation’s bargains – Mr. Sinclair continues to have an outsized influence in shaping Canada’s understanding of itself.

He sees himself as struggling to dismantle the legacy of a system that can be compared, in many ways, to the apartheid of South African history. Despite frequent hate messages on Twitter and Facebook, he continues to make that point on social media, shrugging off the anonymous attacks.

“There will be people who will always resist those statements,” he said in a two-hour interview in his Winnipeg office, symbolically located on an “urban reserve” under the authority of the Peguis First Nation.

“If you say that there’s been racism by white people against Indigenous people historically, you run the risk of white people standing up and saying, ‘No, we’re not racist.’ But if the evidence is there to support your position, you will also garner a level of support among the non-Indigenous population who will say, ‘Yes, we acknowledge it, so let’s get on with it.’”

At top left, Mr. Sinclair is ceremonially welcomed as TRC chair in 2009. The commission’s task was to learn what happened at the schools, such as Wabasca Residential School, whose unmarked graveyard is shown at top right. In 2015, commissioners unveiled the final report, shown at bottom right. Since then, Canadians have honoured residential-school survivors on annual Orange Shirt Days on Sept. 30, like the one shown at bottom left in Thunder Bay this year.  THE GLOBE AND MAIL, THE CANADIAN PRESS, REUTERS

His inquiries, beginning with the pioneering Aboriginal Justice Inquiry of Manitoba in the late 1980s, were prompted by tragedies and injustices: the deaths of young Indigenous people in Manitoba and Thunder Bay and in residential schools, neglected by the police and the courts and never properly investigated.

But from those tragedies, Mr. Sinclair found lessons that have shifted Canada’s public debates.

When he was appointed associate chief judge of the Provincial Court of Manitoba in 1988, he became the province’s first Indigenous judge and only the second in Canada. Within weeks, he was immersed in a hugely complex inquiry into the discrimination faced by Indigenous people in the province’s justice system. His relentless work to expose the barriers that hold back Indigenous people – and to find solutions – has scarcely paused in the three decades since then.

In interviews, he chooses his words carefully, speaking in calm and measured tones, even when his anger at historical abuses is clear. In speeches, he uses gentle humour and warm stories of his own family to make his points.

His goal is to reach Canadians who are open to learning about the country’s history – to give them “the sense that now they can talk about it, too.

“It’s not simply about confronting, it’s also about assisting. The intent from that is always, ‘So what are you going to do about it? So what should we do about it?’ Statements like ‘there’s racists in society’ that are not accompanied by ‘now what should we do about it?’ are not very helpful.”  MORE