I had high hopes for the mayor of Montreal. I thought that in all the discourse about Bill 21, Mayor Valérie Plante, the leader of Quebec’s most multicultural city, would take a stand against it.

Instead, despite evidence that applying the law will only hurt Muslim women and prevent the Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, and Sikh people of Montreal from participating fully in our democracy, Mayor Plante has publicly stated that despite her objections to it, she will uphold Bill 21.

I have therefore drafted an open letter to our Mayor in both official languages which you can read below. You can add your voice to mine on change.org and I encourage everyone opposed to this law and the Mayor’s stance on it to send it to City Hall via their contact portal.

Dear Mayor Valérie Plante,

As a citizen of Montreal, I was overjoyed to see that we had finally elected a female mayor. I thought that as a woman elected to head the most multicultural city in Quebec, you would do what is necessary to stand up for the people you were chosen to lead. It is therefore disappointing to see that you have publicly stated that while you disagree with Bill 21, you will enforce and uphold it.

I understand that your position is difficult. As a woman in politics you are under greater scrutiny than your male peers, and as leader of our City you feel obligated to uphold the law. But history does not remember those who enforced unjust laws while wringing their hands in supposed discomfort. History remembers those who stood up in the face of them and said NO.

According to a 2011 study by Statistics Canada, 5.6% of Montrealers are Jewish and 9.6% are Muslim. Another 1.3% of the city’s populations are Hindus and Sikhs. All of these people will be affected by this law and thus denied a chance to assimilate and participate fully in our democracy. In these troubled times, they turned to you for guidance and in response you have turned your back on them. We therefore implore you to reconsider your position and prove yourself to be the leader we know you can be.

Stand up and say the City of Montreal cannot and will not enforce Bill 21.

We are counting on you.

Add your name to the petition

Featured Image: Painting by Samantha Gold

The national inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW) officially starts today.

Less than two years ago, the killing of hundreds of indigenous women and girls wasn’t “really high on [the] radar” of Canada’s Prime Minister.

Yet here we are, with a new government chanting a very different tune, kicking off a national inquiry with a budget bigger than promised. But the long awaited hearings are not yet about to start, warned the Chairwoman Marion Buller. “I just hope the public expectation is somewhat qualified by the fact that tomorrow we’re starting at square one,” she told the CBC on Wednesday.

Here is a list of the most important things you should know before they actually start:

What exactly is the Inquiry About?

Indigenous women and girls disappear and get murdered at a much greater rate than any other group in Canada. It’s been like this for at least thirty years and it’s been happening across the entire country. Yes, it is a proven fact and no, it can’t be explained away by high criminality and poverty on reserves.

In 2014, a report published by the RCMP brought this alarming fact to the public’s attention. It documented 1017 homicides of indigenous women between 1980 and 2012. This is 4.5 times what has been recorded for the general population.

For the same period, the RCMP’s counted 164 unsolved disappearances of indigenous women. However, even this alarming number is probably a gross underestimation, considering the general distrust between police forces and native communities.

The accounts of police forces failing to follow criminal leads or to investigate suspicious deaths are countless. CBC investigated 34 cases filed as accidents or suicides, despite the families of victims being convinced otherwise. They found signs of foul play for many of them. A Globe & Mail investigation found that indigenous women were seven times more likely to be murdered by a serial killer than non-indigenous women.

The real number of murdered aboriginal women and girls between 1980 and 2012 could reach around 4000, according to the Native Women’s Association of Canada.

What will the Inquiry do?

The Commission’s mission is to investigate the systemic causes of the high rates of violence against indigenous women and girls and to make recommendations about how to remove them. They will look into underlying factors for the greater aggression and vulnerability of aboriginal women, such as economic, historical, institutional, sociological or cultural factors.

In order to do so, the commission will reach out to families, survivors and community members to hear their “experience and views, including recommendations” and require the testimonies of whoever they see fit. It might also set up regional committees formed of loved-ones and survivors to address specific local situations and issues.

It will review existing reports and research about the issue at hands and related matters.

The federal government will allocate two years and $53.86 million to the process. An interim report should be produced in Fall 2017 and a final one by the end of 2018.

What can the commission do?

The commission is supposed to act completely independently of the government. As per the National Inquiry Act, it has subpoena power, meaning it can legally oblige people to testify or hand over documents.

Provinces and territories have also agreed to let the Inquiry address matters that fall outside federal jurisdiction, like child welfare and policing.

However, the Inquiry cannot determine any civil or criminal responsibility nor lead to accusations. Furthermore, it was announced in early August that commissioners can’t force police to reopen cases, to the disappointment of many families who are still waiting for answers.

Who is on the commission?

The government appointed five indigenous commissioners to lead the inquiry. They are from different corners of Canada, but none are from Atlantic Canada. Four have careers in law, one is a key figure of aboriginal activism in Quebec who has also served as deputy minister of Quebec’s status of women.

The chief commissioner, Marion Buller, was the first indigenous female judge of BC’s provincial court. She has advanced law studies and a bachelor’s degree in anthropology. She was a pioneer of numerous battles for aboriginal rights, including the formation of the First Nations Court of British Columbia in 2006. Thanks to her, First Nations’ members in BC can now choose to be judged by this court focused on rehabilitation and reconciliation with the community. She lives in Port Coquitlam (BC) but is still member of the Mistawasis band in Saskatchewan.

What to watch out for?

The terms of reference set for the Inquiry make it clear that the focus will be on prevention and solutions. Advocates and families of victims want that, of course. But they also want answers and accountability.

The negligence and mishandling of indigenous cases by the police is a key issue. However, the terms of reference do not make any specific mention of investigating police forces. Instead, they talk about “systemic causes” and “institutional policies and practices”.

Many worry that those broad terms will allow commissioners to stay clear of touchy subjects that might ruffle too many feathers, like direct criticism of police work.

Indeed, there is no shortage of systemic causes and Institutional policies contributing to the vulnerability of indigenous women. The Indian Act, centuries of under-funded health, education and justice services in indigenous communities, residential schools, reserves… pretty much everything that happened since 1492.

We don’t need the national inquiry to tell us that Canada has treated First Nations like shit and is still doing so in many aspects. We might need it to tell us why a certain case was closed or if the disappearance of a native child is treated with the seriousness it deserves.

The Minister of Indigenous affairs, Carolyn Bennett, said that the terms of reference are so broad only to give the maximum latitude and independence to the commissioners. Let’s hope they use this latitude to fully address the faults in the functioning of our courts and police work, and not to skirt over the less comfortable issues.

Another thing we should be looking for is who will really cooperate with the Inquiry. Who will demand to be heard, who will come willingly and above all, who –if anyone- will be subpoenaed into it.

Chief Commissioner Buller has expressed to CBC that she is “cautiously optimistic” about getting full cooperation from the police. Past evidence suggests that police forces are not very receptive to being investigated, but well, there’s a first for everything.

A recent statement by Commissioner Michèle Audette also signaled a possible development for Quebec.

Chief of the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador, Ghislain Picard wanted Quebec to have its own inquiry on missing and murdered indigenous women. The Minister of Justice had refused, pleading that the emotional cost of testifying twice for families and victims was too high. However, Audette says that a provincial inquiry could coexist with the national one, if it had a clearly different mandate.

She said this to La Presse on August 31st, so we’ll have to see if anyone will push on the door she just opened. Maybe, optimistically, this will lead to a more transparent way of looking into the abuse of indigenous women by police forces in our part of the country. Enquête’s uncovering of the behaviour of SQ agents in Val-d’Or certainly made it clear that the issue needs to be addressed, and the police-investigating-police method we’re currently using is not good enough.

* Featured image via WikiMedia Commons

On November 23, 2015 the Arts and Science Federation of Associations (ASFA) of Concordia University reached a settlement with a former executive who accused them of discrimination and harassment based on her ethnicity and gender. The executive is known under the pseudonym “Mei Ling” to undoubtedly discourage harassment from misogynist and racist trolls and supporters of her harassers.

She sought $30 000 in damages after discovering a Facebook conversation about her between two male executives that was left open on a shared computer. The conversation made sexist and racist comments about her, referring to her as a “chink slave,” “bitch” and “whore” and joking about having her impeached if she didn’t have sex with them. Her complaints also include being excluded from executive events, being denied an award before she’d even applied for it and being the only executive not to receive a bonus.

She, with the help of The Centre for Research-Action of Race Relations (CRARR), a civil rights advocacy group, filed a formal complaint with the Quebec Human Rights Commission and the Youth Rights Commission last March. Though a settlement – which includes an undisclosed sum, a public apology and a promise to set up a task force to address the issues arising from the case – was reached with the ASFA, Mei Ling told the press she has every intention of pursuing her harassers individually before the Quebec Human Rights Commission. An investigation is currently underway.

This article is not about the fact that Mei Ling’s harassers are clearly racist misogynist slime who have no place in any position of authority.

It is not about the fact that Concordia’s refusal to give her justice and address the issues of misogyny and racism directly make them an accomplice to the harassment she received, and that the settlement reached is clearly an acknowledgment of their guilt.

This is about the reach of the Quebec Human Rights Commission and the Human Rights Tribunal.

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The Quebec Human Rights Commission and the Human Rights Tribunal are the organizations charged with the enforcement of the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms. This law was enacted in the 1970s and prohibits, among other things, discrimination based on “race, colour, sex, pregnancy, sexual orientation, civil status, age except as provided by law, religion, political convictions, language, ethnic or national origin, social condition, a handicap or the use of any means to palliate a handicap.”

Though the Quebec Charter isn’t part of the Canadian Constitution and therefore can technically be changed by a simple act by the Quebec legislature, it is considered a fundamental “public order” law with quasi constitutional status. This means that it can’t be trumped by other laws or contracts unless said laws provide even more rights and freedoms than the Quebec Charter and even contains a rule stating that all other laws can’t violate articles 1 to 38 (regarding fundamental rights, freedoms including judicial and political rights and freedom from discrimination) unless the other laws specifically say that they apply in spite of the Charter.

quebec commission logoUnlike the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms which applies only to the government and anyone acting on its behalf, the Quebec Charter applies to all violations of rights and freedoms, including those that occur between private parties. That means that even if your harasser is a private business or some jerk on the street, he could still find himself before the Human Rights Tribunal while the Human Rights Commission demands an explanation and compensation on your behalf.

It works like this: your rights are violated, so you go to the Human Rights Commission and file a complaint. The Commission then conducts an independent investigation. If the Commission decides there are legal grounds and evidence justifying the complaint, it then decides the best course of action which could be the negotiation of a settlement between you and the violator, submitting the dispute to arbitration, or referring the issue to the Human Rights Tribunal.

If the Commission goes to the Tribunal, it can seek “any appropriate measure against the person or to demand, in favour of the victim, any measure it considers appropriate at that time.” (section 80 of the Quebec Charter). This could not only include compensation for material damages but also any grief (known as moral damages) you experienced as a result, and even punitive damages if the violation of your rights was clearly intentional.

Take the case of Richard Zilberg. He’s a Jewish hairstylist who worked for a spa in Montreal. In 2012 he filed a complaint with the Human Rights Commission when his boss Iris Gressy told him he’d no longer be scheduled on Saturdays, his busiest workday, simply because he’s Jewish and shouldn’t work on the Sabbath.

Zilberg, like many Jews, does not keep the Sabbath and rightly felt that his level of observance was his decision alone. The Human Rights Commission agreed and asked that the spa pay him $17 500 in damages: $12 500 for loss of income and $5000 for moral damages. In addition, the Commission recommended that Gressy pay Zilberg an additional $2500 out of her own pocket for her intentional violation of his civil rights. Gressy has since refused to pay and is planning to go to the Tribunal.

Then there’s the case of Lettia McNickle, a black waitress working at Madisons New York Grill & Bar in Montreal who was given less work due to her natural braids. She claims racial discrimination. Though the chain’s head office has since issued an apology, the restaurant, which had initially agreed to mediation, has since withdrawn. With the support of CRARR, McNickle too filed a complaint with the Human Rights Commission and an investigation is scheduled.

To many, the Quebec Charter may seem like excessive policing of individual behaviour, but it and the bodies made to enforce it have their place in a society where suing someone on your own is so expensive. It’s an additional protection from harassment and discrimination and gives recourse to people who would otherwise have none.

Here at Food & Drunk, we often talk about what’s going on locally. Yet to frame the city’s food beat, it’s important, once in a while, to place things in a global context. As I did last year, I wanted to take a moment to look back at what mattered in food in 2014.

Here’s an eclectic list of eight touch points.

1. 3D printed food

2013 was the year 3D printing became a household term (even if not yet a household object). In 2014, it began to gain culinary traction. From its origins in simple sugar solutions, we started to see applications ranging from pizza to nursing home meals to interactive art installations.

2. Eating insects

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Protein-rich and as-of-yet untapped by global foodways, insects were in the news this year thanks to several startups seeking to exploit their nutritional value. Though many cultures around the world would hardly find this innovative or newsworthy, the Western press started to take a new global movement seriously—one that includes entomologists, chefs and urban agrarians.

Montreal even hosted an international conference on comestible bugs as part of the Future Food Salon (after all, we are the proud home of the Insectarium…remember?). Prediction: we’ll not only see edible insects in the headlines in 2015, but also on our plates.

3. Restaurant no-shows

What was once simply a thorn in a restauranteur’s side became a person to name and shame in 2014. The “shame on no shows” movement gathered great steam, only to fizzle out quickly. However, whether by design or organic growth, a message had stuck. Diners suddenly seemed more conscious of the economic ramifications of this erstwhile frivolous act (especially to small businesses).

In the process, Quebecers were forced to confront the antiquated laws that hinder restaurants, placing them on an oddly unequal footing with similar services and outings (such as hotels or concerts).

4. Aboriginal “fusion” cuisine

In 2013, Newsweek asked the US: “When will Native American cooking finally get its time to shine?

In Canada, the answer came sooner than expected. 2014 heralded a tipping point of sorts for the fusion between aboriginal cuisines of many types and mainstream Western cuisine. We saw Rich Francis show his stylings on Top Chef Canada, Doug Hyndford’s self-described “Métis-fusion” garner national attention in the Gold Medal Plates, and restaurant openings such as the Painted Pony Cafe in Kamloops and Borealis in Toronto.

The movement is only just beginning however. Though US-based, this interview with Chef Loretta Barret Ode of the Potawatomi Nation sheds some light on the issues and opportunities involved.

5. Séralini’s GMO study republished…amidst yet more skepticism

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CRIIGEN’s hotly-debated GMO study was republished this year, albeit in a new journal, after a momentous 2013 retraction by Elsevier. If you haven’t yet heard—in some way, shape or form—about the Séralini affair and the utter furor it has provoked on all sides—start with the Wikipedia entry.

The most valuable contribution of the Séralini affair is how it got us talking, thinking and strategizing about our relationship to genetic modification. How we interpret its influence in our midst. In our lives. In our environment and our bodies.

I’m the last to pronounce on whether it truly was dodgy science or not, but it’s impossible to refute that, by virtue of the controversy alone, the study has had a greater impact on popular consciousness (and even legislation) than almost any other in recent memory. For this alone we should be grateful, as it guarantees we’ll stand up and pay attention to the multiple ways in which the effects of GMOs can be interpreted. It’s not hard to predict that GMO studies will be held to ever-higher standards and thus reveal ever more useful data—in part thanks to the Séralini affair.

6. Haute (or hipsterized) meatballs

We should have seen this coming. In the last few years, meatballs have slipped onto hipster, even fine dining, menus. This year the meatball hit pitch fever. Meatballs were extolled left and right by celebrity chefs. Meatball restaurants opened in New York, Toronto and LA. Meatballs were made on virtually every episode of Top Chef. And to cap it all off: we got our very own Meatball House on Notre-Dame.

7. School lunches

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Kids eat a significant portion of their meals at school. We all know that a bad childhood diet has links to diabetes and obesity. What could possibly be “controversial” about making school lunches healthier…especially over a gradual ten year span? Ask House Republicans in the US. The latter group pulled out every stop to block reforms to the National School Lunch Program, despite the almost laughingly benign nature of the changes. For example, one “hotly contested” rule merely asked that sodium levels not surpass the total of a six-pack of chicken nuggets with a side of fries at Burger King. Despite the ugly resistance, talk of school lunches soon went viral which, ultimately, might be a subtle win for Michelle Obama’s initiative.

8. Cooking (and provisioning) as a human right

One of the most significant (and underreported) food stories of the year came out of Jordan, where the UN’s World Food Program built a supermarket inside the Azraq refugee camp. The camp, on Jordan’s northern border with Syria, might be the fastest-growing in the world, with a population that is estimated to quadruple to 40 000 in the next few years.

In providing refugees with the semblance of a “more normal life,” the WFP publicly challenged its own long-trodden distribution strategies. In turn, it forced many observers—privileged people from afar— to challenge outdated notions of food aid.

Selecting and cooking one’s own food, even in dire situations, was finally brought to the forefront as a key strategy in maintaining human dignity, morale and even life. It was such that John McKenna penned a highly thought-provoking article in The Guardian questioning whether cooking should be considered a human right. Food for thought indeed.

Thus ends Food & Drunk’s eclectic look back at food in 2014. We’d love to hear what you would add to the list! Leave us a comment below or Tweet @ForgetTheBox or @JoshDavidson.

We look forward to covering more food issues and trends in 2015!

We’re in the thick of it, there’s nothing else to say. All the international credibility gained out of Canada’s decision not to intervene in the Second Gulf War under Jean Chrétien’s leadership was lost in the blink of an eye, when Harper announced Friday that Canada would be sending its troops into combat (airstrikes specifically, no ground troops at this time). The thing is, Canada’s “official” intervention is only two days old, but it is already gearing up to be a disaster of gigantic proportions, and ultimately an utter failure that will only delay, but not prevent, the coming of another ISIS.

Canada might have given its green light for a full scale intervention only two days ago, but the coalition of the willing — which ironically includes Saudi Arabia and Qatar, two of the patrons of the radical interpretation of Islam promoted by ISIS — has been on the ground for around a month now. What are the conclusions that can be drawn? After one month, what is the future for this war? What new day is dawning on the horizon?

Well, to say the least, it’s a very dark one. The black clouds that arose from the ruins of the Kurdish bastion of resilience, Kobane, gave us, spectators, a little glimpse into the future of this mission.

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The women of Kobane have armed themselves to fight against ISIS.

As thousands of Kurdish fighters held back the reoccurring, never-ending assaults of ISIS against the town, Turkish tanks stood still — not much of a surprise —and Western jets flew on by. The battle of Kobane is a central one for the survival of the Kurdish struggle within northern Syria. Unfortunately the lightly armed Kurds are fighting against the much stronger ISIS forces, ironically, using American artillery and weapons to besiege the town.

The hypocrisy of the Western forces and of their Turkish allies is obvious. They most certainly see this so-called humanitarian intervention, first and foremost, as a means towards an end: the eradication of the PKK and any viable Kurdish autonomous authority in the region.

In one of my articles concerning the conflict I wrote extensively about the “revival” of the Kurdish struggle for self-determination and their project of asymmetric federalism. There, I referred to their struggle and to this project as an alternative form of governance for the peoples of the region and a strong vaccination against the rise of organizations such as ISIS. Three weeks down the path of war, and it seems like Kobane will fall within a matter of days, or even hours, even though this humanitarian intervention was supposed to prevent such a tragedy from happening.

One month into this humanitarian intervention, and the American State Department has already announced that it was anything but humanitarian anymore. The White House announced today that civilian protection policy does not apply to the airstrikes in Syria. Apparently, protecting civilians in areas under rebel control from the wrath and vengeance of Syrian government forces is not part of the plan either. Within the past month much of the ground that was lost during the past three years by Assad has been regained. The bloodthirsty and mad dictator, whom the interventional community vigorously condemned for the usage of chemical weapons against his own people, is on cloud nine.

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Can you believe it? The Americans are actually winning Assad’s war for him. Instead of mobilizing and building strong alliances with the secular and progressive sections of the Free Syrian Army, we actually bombed them last week. So much for wining “hearts and minds!” We’re actually losing them, as the ISIS ranks are filled with thousands, if not tens of thousands of young disenchanted Westerners, who turned to radicalism after years of discrimination and racism, and after years of seeing on the TV their Muslim sisters and brothers suffer excruciating pain in Iraq, Palestine or at the hands of any other Western backed dictatorial regimes.

Radicalism’s fuel is war, and unfortunately, through this war, we have swelled the reserves of hatred, of anger, of despair and of pain, everything ISIS was born out of, to last for a generation or two. If you believed the magical fairytale that whatever is happening was a humanitarian intervention, that we, the West, the ardent defenders of human rights, were on a courageous crusade against evil, that just like communism and fascism, this totalitarian evil of radical Islamism had to be quelled, you were wrong. Don’t be fooled. We are reviving ISIS. We created the conditions for it. We are reenacting them as we speak and what will come out of this third intervention in the Middle East might be more horrendous than anything our imaginations can grasp.

“A few days ago in Hong Kong, students went down the streets and they’re protesting against the Chinese government’s recent decision to undermine Hong Kong’s democracy by stating that the candidates that [the Hong Kongese] would vote on in 2017 must be approved by Beijing, prior to election,” said Michael Law to me at the solidarity event that took place at McGill University last Wednesday on October 1.

Law was one of the people who arranged the said solidarity event, which was the first one to be held in Montreal. All around the globe, other Hongkongers who are living abroad are organizing similar events to show their solidarity with what is happening back home.

“We’re staging rallies to show that we are in solidarity with the students and protesters in Hong Kong. We’re allies of democracy and human rights,” Law added.

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From the solidarity event on October 1, at McGill University

Alex Liu, the North American representative of the Black Island Nation Youth Front — one of the leading student protest groups and advocates for democracy, human rights and political transparency — was also present in the crowd.

“The fact that the government is above the law is unacceptable; this is best demonstrated by the excessive violence the Beijing-appointed government has used against its own people. Peaceful protestors have been subjected to tear gas, water guns and the government now even threatens to use military forces against the protesters,” Liu said. (Alex Liu’s full speech can be found here.)

The fear of having to face the Chinese military is real. Hui Peng, who is from mainland China, expressed that what is happening in Hong Kong is similar to what happened in China 25 years ago, at Tiananmen Square. Yet he still expresses hope.

“There are some things that are familiar, and some that are different. This time, the people there, they are more disciplined. They know that they are not going to fight and they peacefully argue for their rights. I think there is hope. And what we can do is to urge the government to talk with the people, with the students, to work out a solution to what’s now happening in Hong Kong,” he said.

The Chinese government has declared the peaceful protests illegal, and Chinese media has claimed that these events have been organized by foreign powers to upset the political stability of the country. Yesterday, however, things escalated. Anti-Occupy mobs started attacking the demonstrators, while the police stood by and watched.

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From the solidarity event on October 1, at McGill University

Yet what we say here does not matter too much. What we need to hear is the voices of those who are fighting for democracy, those who are fighting for their rights. Below you will be able to read the raw words of students who are currently in Hong Kong.

Joei Chan

“I’ve always identified myself as a Hongkonger, and whenever asked the question why we consider Hong Kong different from China, I proudly explained how we enjoy a high degree of autonomy, have different governments, different legal systems and most of all, we enjoy freedom of speech, freedom of press, freedom to use the Internet and freedom of demonstration and assembly. None of those claims, unfortunately, seems to hold true anymore. Hong Kong is my home. It is, however, ceasing to be the home I’ve loved, known and recognized.

Many question the effectiveness of OccupyCentral and laugh off people who expect to change China’s mind as ‘naïve’. But I cannot be more impressed by how posts after posts regarding the protests have flooded my newsfeed and Whatsapp since yesterday, and that even the most politically apathetic of us are provoked to speak up in face of appalling, heartbreaking injustice.

The certainty of death doesn’t prevent us from living. The unlikelihood of victory shouldn’t prevent us from fighting.”

Joei Chan
Demonstrators in Hong Kong, photography by Joei Chan.

Edwin Cheung

“The biggest challenge of participating in the Umbrella Revolution is never the tear gases or the police, but your parents who don’t support it. When you think you are doing the right thing for the future of Hong Kong, they don’t appreciate and even do or say anything to make you stay home. I hope all Hongkongese should understand what is happening in Hong Kong and why Umbrella Revolution is necessary.”

Ken Lee

“Hong Kong had changed a lot since 1997, the return of sovereignty to China. The mainlanders (China residents) keep flooding in, affecting our daily life. I think this time, Hongkongers had enough. Everything we had — justice, freedom of speech — became nothing but just a word. This time, the government has pushed too far by using excessive force against unarmed students/protesters.

I feel really sad and disappointed seeing Hong Kong’s government become like this: ignoring citizens’ voice.”

Bridget Clancey

“I am a supporter of universal suffrage and for real democracy in Hong Kong. Students came out last week beginning with the boycott of classes to make a point to the government that we care very much about what is happening, and also it is a very good opportunity for us students to learn about what really is happening in Hong Kong. This is due to the fact that actually HK students and citizens weren’t really politically aware before.

As the Occupy Central movement started Sunday night, a lot of people criticized that the organizers took advantage of students’ innocence, but actually we cannot disagree more. We have our independent minds to analyze what is happening at the moment, we know that illegally occupying roads is risky as we might be caught, yet we continued because we know that if something wasn’t done now, we would regret it in the future when it’s too late to change.

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Photo taken in Hong Kong by an anonymous source.

As for violence used by the police, I just had a change of opinions. Before yesterday, although I’ve also witnessed how heartless policemen could be by exercising violence, but I would say that they also have their orders, that even when some of them were inhumane by purposely removing their goggles and spraying pepper spray right into people’s eyes; even when I didn’t agree with what they did, I sort of understood what was going through their minds. But after two incidents, I couldn’t help but feel hopeless about the atmosphere in Hong Kong.

The first incident was on Sunday, right before the series of tear gas was used. As I was leaving (I’d heard it would be dangerous), I saw a group of policemen, all geared up with weapons, protection and half of them had long guns loaded with rubber bullets.

At that moment, I could imagine what could have brought the police to have decided in using such violent measures. What were they planning to do? Did they really think they could chase away the 40,000 people a kilometer ahead of them?

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Photo taken in Hong Kong by an anonymous source.

And then this girl came up to the group of policemen. She was a student. She walked right up the them and asked several times why they planned to use violent measures. She begged them not to go on ahead ’cause there were many students, as a lot of participants were students. She cried and begged and tried to stop the policemen with words. However, after a couple of minutes, they simply ignored her and after the command was given by the head police, they ran forward.

At that moment, the only thing that came to my mind was what happened in June, when that one single man stood in front of a whole train of tanks. That girl was so brave, yet it must be so terrifying to be in her shoes, she was so powerful yet so weak. The moment the police ran forward into the the direction where the crowd was running down from where they were, it seems very much like a battle field to me. I didn’t understand how the police could continue hitting people or using tear gas when we have nothing to use really to defend ourselves. And we weren’t violent, we didn’t even have weapons, as we had all along stressed that we are peacefully occupying the roads and wouldn’t do it by force.

The second incident was what happened yesterday (it’s Saturday morning here now). In short, the opposing group came to make trouble, hitting people and sexually harassing girls of our side. The police condemned us, not them. We did nothing wrong. We were the victims yet the police had ‘ joined forces’ with the other side, which was pro-China, and didn’t act like a policeman should. There are many examples from yesterday of police catching the persons making trouble and then secretly letting them go at the corner of the street. How is this justice? Who can we depend on now?

Though all this is heartbreaking, I try to pull myself together, because these are the times when they want to break us, but we would stand strong in demanding what we want. If we don’t start now, if we give up now, I really don’t see when we could have the opportunity to demand for universal suffrage again.”

Photos by Cem Ertekin, unless stated otherwise.

On September 18, the Scottish nation went to polling stations all around their country to decide whether they would become an independent country or not. Turns out, 55% of those who voted wanted to stay in the United Kingdom (UK).

We have to interpret this result carefully. After all the difference between those who voted yes and those who voted no is about 400 000 people. This is not a small number; it represents 10% of the entire electorate. If you compare this with Quebec’s similar referendum in 1995, where the referendum failed by a mere 1%, you start to see the difference.

The 10% means that there was, apparently, no chance for the vote to go either way. It indicates a clear decision made on part of the Scottish nation, and it is very important to emphasise this. The referendum was not a victory for the British government, nor a loss for the Scottish government. It was a statement made by a nation in a democratic context.

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At least, that’s what they say.

Using human rights rhetoric, we can say that the victory here belongs to the concept of right to self-determination: the idea that the nations and peoples of this world have the right to decide their own fate. Even if the Scottish nation voted not to become an independent country, the fact that they were able to vote on it sends a clear message to the world: it was their decision.

Assuming that governments are the sole “official” representatives of nations, this is the only definition we can work with.

Thinking within the Western paradigm of countries and governments, this is all very great. Let the people vote and let them decide whether they want to be ruled over by a government of their own peoples, or a government of other peoples. However, we need to realise that the right to self-determination only matters for those who already have power.

Take for instance Crimea and their referendum to choose between Ukraine and the Russian Federation. The Crimeans overwhelmingly voted in favour of joining the Russian Federation. This is exactly where the picture gets a bit muddy, when the politicking of people in power is mistaken for the decision of a nation. Was it actually the average Crimean’s desire to become a part of the Russian Federation, or was it ex-President Viktor Yanukovich’s hesitance to say no to Vladimir Putin?

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Propaganda poster from Crimea. “On March 16, we will choose.”

The Crimean referendum happened within the context of a military occupation. Pro-Russian forces were occupying the parliament, when they decided to hold their referendum.

For the average Scottish person, the fact that Scotland will remain a part of the UK does not change much. But for Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond, the referendum also means that he has lost the chance of becoming the president of an independent state. And even if Scotland had become independent, Queen Elizabeth II would still remain the queen of Scotland.

Nevertheless, Scotland has made its decision; or more importantly was able to make a decision. There are other nations out there who cannot even get to that stage; let alone discuss the finer implications of the right to self-determination. The Catalonians living in Spain are denied their right to hold a referendum by the Spanish government, and the Kurds in Turkey cannot even openly talk about self-determination.

The world of politics loves to pacify people by making them believe their choices matter. The human rights rhetoric is the most perfect tool of legitimization in the 21st century. Argue that you are doing things to protect the rights of your nation, and for the betterment of the people you represent; and everybody seems to forget that you are in a position of power, and anything you do is technically in order to protect that position.

In 1941 at the height of the Second World War on an island in many ways similar to Lampedusa, the island of Ventotene, two leaders of the resistance movement against fascism and members of the Italian Communist Party Altiero Spinelli and Ernesto Rossi, were held captive. Their captivity in many ways resembled what thousands of North Africans, Sub-Saharan Africans and Middle Easterners live on a daily basis in one of the hundreds of identification and detention centers that populate the European coastline.

Spinelli and Rossi would write one of the most influential documents  in favor of Pan-Europanism, The Ventotene Manifesto. The manifesto would be illegally smuggled on to the continent and distributed throughout the Italian resistance. The ideal of a socialist federal union of European peoples became a central idea to many resistance movements throughout the European continent, the hope and the aspirations of a war-torn generation of Europeans would be embodied within the manifesto.

While captive on the island of Ventotene, Spinelli and Rossi vowed to rid the peoples of Europe of the chains of poverty and misery, to liberate Europe from the grips of fascism, but also build a society in which “never again” would the European social and economic situation allow for the flourishing of Nazism or Fascism. Fast forward 72 years later. The remote Mediterranean island of Lampedusa is a pearl, home to what Trip Advisor acclaimed as the world most beautiful beach in 2013, it’s a corner of paradise within a sea of hell.

Since 1988, within the waters and washed-up northern shores of the Mediterranean, almost 20 000 migrants have lost their lives. Lampedusa has become infamous throughout the world as the ‘Guantanamo of Europe.’ In the past two months Lampedusa has become, even more so than it already was, the center-stage of a continual tragedy that is the European Union’s blatant disregard for human rights, their disregard for the situation of thousands of migrants that brave horrible conditions in the hope to find a better life in Europe.

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Lampedusa shipwreck victims (Image: Noborder network via Flickr, Creative Commons licence)

On the 3rd of October of 2013, 359 bodies were recovered from the worst recorded migrant shipwreck in recent history, several other bodies were never found. A mere two months later, Lampedusa was rocked by another tragic event, this time concerning the treatment of the detainees at the identification and detention center for illegal migrants on the island.

Hidden video footage surfaced throughout the internet showing several detainees having to strip and be ‘hosed down’ by security guards. This is not the first time that Lampedusa and the European immigration boarder security under the hospice of Frontex have been openly criticized for their treatment of migrants.

Frontex was founded in 2005 as a semi-private organization with the mandate to help the several different member-state boarder security coordinate their operations, on paper. In reality, Frontex is a paramilitary organization that functions in parallel to all other European security organizations and is accountable to no one, under only nominal surveillance from European elected officials and after several scandals has shown no will in upholding any basic standard of human rights.

The creation of Frontex, the privatization and militarization of Europe’s boarders, is a clear indication of the rise of neo-liberalism within Europe. And in reaction to neo-liberalism, an almost equal rise of xenophobia and extreme right-wing groups.

The first is the neoliberal, fostered by right-wing movements within the European Union, that have pushed for the deregulation of the labour market, of the banking system and the downsizing of the social state. On the other hand this same neo-liberal movement has pushed for the destruction of all barriers to ‘free-trade.’

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Frontex is the perfect metaphor of the rampant neo-liberalism that has infected Europe.  Under the mantel of ‘austerity’ the European right-wing has tried to recraft the European ideal from its original purpose, embodied in the Ventotene manifesto, that of building a common European society based on protecting the dignity and the social and economical well-being of all.

The reaction provoked by the  rise of neo-liberalism in Europe is the undeniable rise in extreme right-wing rhetoric unknown on such a scale since the pre-WWII period.  The economical fluctuations that have left so many Europeans in misery was produced by the same neo-liberal ideal that made the “Mediterranean a cemetery” in the words of the Maltese prime minister.

In a recent meeting in Brussels, the leaders of the European Community joined forces to continue persecuting migrants at sea instead of addressing the issues of lamentable conditions within the detention centers or actually create a more ‘humane’ policy for migrants upon their arrival in the Shengen zone. As per usual, with every conference in Brussels the outcome is more austerity, austerity on the land, austerity on sea.The fight against austerity must then be one conducted on land and by sea.

Lampedusa is our Ventotene, Lampedusa is the embodiment of everything that has went wrong on the path of European construction. The EU is currently a prison, a financial one, one in which the will of the markets trumps the will of the people. Xenophobic, racist and nationalist discourses are on the rise, neo-fascist paramilitary groups are once again flourishing.

These fascist for many offer an alternative to the establishment, to neo-liberalism. Unfortunately they are the armed-wing of neo-liberalism, the armed-wing of corporatism.

The European left must stand with the migrants of Lampedusa and others scattered throughout the Mediterranean, we must re-appropriate the European ideal and build in this day and age a society that fulfills the principals of the Ventotene manifesto. Lampedusa is a major crack within the walls of Fortress ‘neo-liberal’ Europe, time to tear down the walls.

Mohamed Harkat’s hearing last week at the Supreme Court of Canada wasn’t just held behind closed doors, but was, for the first time in the 138 year history of the Court, held in a secret location known only to those directly involved to the proceedings. The reason given for this unprecedented, undemocratic and arguably unconstitutional measure: national security!

Harkat is the latest refugee to be subjected to the security certificate system introduced by the Liberal government and used extensively by the Harper regime since they came to power in 2006. He has been under house arrest for over 11 years now, fighting the government’s attempts to deport him in court.

The crown alleges that he was a member of an Al-Qaeda sleeper cell and that the evidence against him is very strong. The trouble is, in the security certificate process, CISIS, other intelligence agencies and the Minister of Immigration are not obliged to reveal the details of their case, only a summary of it. As Mr. Harkat’s lawyers argue, this violates Mr. Harkat’s rights under the Charter (specifically the right to fair trial in section 11(d) and section 6).

What’s at stake here is much greater than the fate of one man, however tragic that fate might be. At issue are fundamental questions of Canadian justice and common law.

According to the crown’s position, there is a different and lower standard of proof being applied against Mr. Harkat than the normal one applied to Canadian citizens. As a result, what would typically be inadmissible evidence in court because it was obtained illegally (say by torture) is acceptable in these security certificate trials. In 2007, the Supreme Court actually ruled against this type of evidence in the Charkaoui case.

Harper’s amendments to the system are hardly reassuring. The so called “Special Advocates” who will be appointed by the State to test the quality of evidence against the accused are constrained by the rules surrounding this type of hearing which prevent them from even sharing what they have seen with their clients.

If the tragic case of Maher Arar has taught us anything, it is that government ministers cannot be trusted to make the right decision in cases involving deportations and Security Certificates. It is absolutely imperative that precautions be taken to ensure that their judgments be made accountable to Parliament and the public by eliminating secret trials.

The Harper government must comply with the recommendations of Amnesty International and the Special Senate Committee on the Anti-Terrorism Act and repeal the provisions in Immigration Refugee Protection Act that enable ministers to deport non-citizens to countries where they run the risk of being tortured on the basis of obscure evidence.

This past Saturday, Greenpeace Canada held vigils in Toronto and Montreal in order to draw attention to the fact that two Canadians, Alexandre Paul and Paul Ruzycki, are rotting in a Russian jail cell awaiting their show trial for protesting against drilling for oil in the Arctic by Gazprom, Russia’s massive transnational energy corporation. The charges against them you ask? PIRACY!!!

That’s right. According to the authoritarian logic of the Putin regime, these eco-activists’ peaceful protest was actually an act of criminality and violence against the state of Russia on the high seas. And they are no less guilty then such memorable pirates as Captain Blackbeard or the Somalis behind the hijacking of Maersk Alabama.

Piracy under international law (unlike so much else in that area) is one of the oldest and most well-defined crimes. Basically the International Convention on the Law of the Sea holds that piracy is act of robbery or criminal violence, at sea, land or air. Seeing as none of these folks were armed, it’s hard to understand where the Russian authorities are coming from in this case. Conversely, the Russian commandos that seized their ship (the Arctic Sunrise) and captured the crew, were armed to the teeth.

Meanwhile, the Australian Liberal Government (actually they’re conservatives, how confusing is that?) has publicly denounced the detention of their nationals by the Russian government on the pretext of piracy. Their foreign minister has already registered her concern with her Russian counterpart about the treatment of their nationals who were involved in the incident. Greenpeace claims that Colin Russel is stuck in a cell 23 hours a day and has not been able to contact his wife or family, in violation of his human rights.

In Ottawa, however, barely a word about the matter from Stephen Harper and our Foreign Minister John Baird, beyond the standard promise, by a flak for the Foreign Affairs Department, of “consular services” for our Canadians being detained indefinitely by a judicial system that notoriously disregards universally recognized principles of international law and basic human rights. Don’t take my word for it, just watch the HBO documentary on the Kafkaesque trial of Pussy Riot (Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer).

I guess this is yet another example of Harper’s indifference towards anyone who doesn’t share his well-documented love affair with the oil industry (ironically, Russia is Canada’s rival in extracting oil and gas reserves in the Arctic sea) even when the people in question are Canadian citizens with rights he is sworn to protect.

Everyone is getting upset about the China-Canada Foreign Investment Protection Agreement. Activists and critics say it will undermine Canadian democracy, it will subvert our economy, it will destroy our environment and it will sell away all of our energy resources. Leadnow.ca even put together a petition, got over 60 000 signatures and brought it parliament. Everyone is talking about how bad the free trade agreement is for Canadians, as if we are some abstract nationalist entity.

Canada has signed dozens of FIPAs with dozens of countries. From an economic view, they are good. The rich get richer. There is no doubt the elite in Canada and in China will benefit from this. Their capital investments will be protected.

It is the workers we need to be concerned about. And no one is talking about it.

This isn’t just a Canadian problem as many lead us to believe. This won’t sell the reigns of our economy to China.

There are no drooling, top hat wearing, Chinese capitalists looking east across the Pacific waiting to control our country. If anything, the top hats are on Bay Street. This is to protect global capital against the concerns of worker rights and environmental protection in both countries, not just Canada.

For those that wish to wrap themselves in the flag and use this as a wedge issue, please stop. We must contextualize this as global and we must fight.

Chinese workers deserve the same rights as Canadian workers. The environment in China should be protected with the same rigour as the environment in Canada. By allowing FIPA participants to sue the other country if investments are compromised, we are compromising our rights and values and we are compromising the dignity of people around the world.

FIPAs are an attack on workers and the environment around the world. It puts investments, profits, before everything else. It treats workers, the environment and democracy as an unconsidered externality, an annoyance.

We can fight this and we can win, but not at the expense of breeding irrational contempt for our brothers and sisters in China.

* photo by PMO

 

Ethan Cox is a Montreal-based writer and political organizer. He was formerly FTB’s news editor and the Quebec director of Brian Topp’s NDP leadership campaign. He is currently a special correspondent reporting on the Maple Spring for Rabble.ca where this post originally appeared.

Quebec students and allies outraged over the repressive and anti-democratic nature of Bill 78, its municipal companion Bylaw P-6, and other extreme police tactics, including political profiling and preventative arrests, are about to get some very heavy duty backup.

One might even say vindication?

In an opening address to be delivered today to the 47 member UN Human Rights Council, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay will express her “alarm” at ongoing attempts to restrict freedom of assembly in Quebec.

Her speech, a draft copy of which was obtained by UN Watch, will also express “concern” over similar restrictions in Russia (Russia’s law limiting protest was passed shortly after Bill 78, prompting some to speculate it was modeled on Quebec’s legislation) and “deep concern” over such restrictions in Eritrea.

In diplomatic terms alarm is a far more severe word than concern, making Canada’s restrictions on protest the most troubling to the UN agency.

In a speech running to several pages in length, and highlighting human rights issues in dozens of countries, the situation in Quebec warrants a single, albeit explosive, paragraph.

“Moves to restrict freedom of assembly continue to alarm me, as is the case in the province of Quebec in Canada in the context of students’ protests”.

This expression of alarm will likely lead to Canada’s inclusion on the UN watchlist of countries which the agency believes are not upholding their international obligations with respect to human rights, a list which includes Syria, Zimbabwe and Pakistan.

UN Watch, an organization best known for attacking any criticism of Israel by the UN as anti-Semitic or disproportionate, dedicated most of their release announcing the leaked speech to attacking Pillay’s criticism of Canada in similar terms.

It criticized Pillay for mentioning Canada, but not the situation in China or Cuba, and concluded that “…the UN commissioner is making a big mistake by sending the message that countries that have blots on their system – if indeed the Quebec law is a blot – are even worse than countries where the blot is the system”.

But of course she is sending no such message, and the inference that she is is a convenient fiction. It does not follow that anyone who has the temerity to mention the situation in Canada, or Palestine, is in some way delegitimizing the serious human rights threats faced in any other country.

The speech’s focus on Canada, Russia and Eritrea is in response to recent developments in these countries. It seems more than logical to focus on developing threats to human rights, rather than rehashing criticisms of countries like China, which the UN agency has severely criticized on many occasions in the past.

It is a particularly rich criticism of a speech where attention is paid to human rights situations in over a dozen countries, and Canada occupies only one paragraph.

UN Watch are correct that Canada has a much better reputation on human rights than many other countries, which makes it all the more alarming, and demanding of international attention, that we are now taking such a significant step backwards in our dedication to these rights.

The truth is that many in this country have done their best to bury their head in the sand as the situation in Quebec has descended into what can only be described as repression. Ask anyone if they approve of preventative arrest, profiling people for detention on the basis of a political symbol, mass arrests of peaceful protesters or indiscriminate use of force by police and their answer will be an emphatic no.

But our concern for fellow human beings in countries like Russia, China and Saudi Arabia seems to end at our shores. Call it denial, perhaps we simply can’t accept that such things are happening here in Canada, but the silence in the media and among the population at large has been deafening.

It is no exaggeration to say that the situation in Quebec is the most serious threat to our fundamental rights, as articulated in the Quebec and Canadian Charter, and the International Declaration of Human Rights, that we have seen in decades.

That is why the Quebec Bar Association, representing the province’s lawyers and prosecutors, has taken the unprecedented step of condemning Bill 78. It’s why over six hundred lawyers in full robes took to the streets of Montreal to protest the situation, a first in Quebec history.

It’s time to take our heads out of the sand and give them a stiff shake. Edmund Burke said “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men [sic] to do nothing”, and right now there are an awful lot of good men and women doing nothing.

Our rights are not ironclad, they depend on our vigilance against even seemingly minor assaults. In this case we should be able to find common cause across partisan or ideological lines. This is not a left-right issue, but an assault on freedoms we all hold dear.

With her criticism, and Canada’s inclusion on the UN watchlist, Ms. Pillay has shone a light on our situation. What’s happening in Quebec is now the talk of the international community, Jean Charest our international embarrassment.

We need to take a stand, and send a message to the authoritarian-minded among our leaders that any erosion of our rights will be met with stiff resistance.

Pundits on the right love to invoke the sacrifices of our soldiers. Well, our soldiers died in two world wars for the rights and freedoms we enjoy, and which we have chosen to codify in our Constitution. Many also died defending these rights at other times in our history, such as during the Winnipeg General Strike of 1919, or the red scare of the 1950s.

Our rights were not granted, they were taken. Fought for over generations. They come to us drenched in the blood of our forebears who laid down their lives for them. A moments inattention and decades of blood, sweat and tears can be taken from us, without our noticing our neck is slit until we turn our head.

“To you from failing hands we throw the torch; be yours to hold it high” goes the famous line from In Flanders Fields. Will we be the generation which allows that torch to fall? Our brave youth are in the streets of Quebec every night, paying the price to stand against an unjust law. They need our help.

If there was any doubt in our minds that what is going on in Quebec is a grave threat to our most basic liberties, the attention of the UN should serve as a wake up call.

The question is, what are we going to do about it?

 

You can also follow me on Twitter: @EthanCoxMTL

Craig Scott photo from CTV

As a New Democrat, nothing makes me prouder than to hear that the latest edition to the team blew his nearest rival (Gritty Grant Gordon) out of the water, in his resounding victory (nearly twice as many votes!) in Toronto-Danforth’s recent by-election. Jack’s spirit can rest easy knowing that his riding is still in good hands, and that his successor will continue his valuable work there. As a academic constitutional/human rights lawyer I couldn’t be more proud that my fellow dippers in that riding chose one of the best international human rights lawyers this country has ever produced to represent them.

The second point is the focus of my column this week. My apologies to those of you who have come here looking for Stanley Cup Playoff predictions (incidentally, if the Habs are out, I really can’t be bothered). Scott has had just about one of the most distinguished careers imaginable for an academic human rights lawyer, and it’s so rare in these anti-intellectual times to see what is sometimes called a “public intellectual” of his caliber throwing his hat in the ring, in the grand tradition of a Charles Taylor or Pierre Trudeau. So when it does happen, I think it’s worth celebrating. After all, if they all received as rough a reception as the highly egg-headed liberal leader Michael Ignatieff, then we will no doubt be surrendering our political culture to the cretinous conservatives and their flat-earth-society-logic.

What makes Craig Scott so special? It is quite simple: the length and breadth of his career. He’s accomplished much more than mere ivory tower accolades or publishing. Apart from graduating from Oxford and London School of Economics with a bachelors and a masters in law and teaching at one of the most elite law schools in the country (Osgoode Hall), Scott’s most impressive feat may have been his remarkable efforts to support the African National Congress’ case for including socio-economic rights in its post apartheid constitution.

To this day, one of the only constitutions in the world to effectively erase the traditional hierarchy between classical civil rights (freedom of religion, expression, etc.) and the basic human rights long recognized as crucial internationally, but seldom respected at the national level (right to education, housing, etc.). In doing so, South Africa is blazing a trail in creative interpretation and application of what might be called the next generation of human rights law.

Speaking as someone who has devoted the better part of the past seven years to studying the law, I think it’s high time that people recognize that these human rights are on the same level as those rights that we have achieved widespread consensus on since at least the age of revolutions (i.e. US and French). The fact that these sometimes involve spending of tax payer’s money is no argument against their enforcement.

Consider that the right to a fair trial costs the state hundreds of millions of dollars every year, but we regard it as inviolable, nonetheless. Besides, can we realistically expect people to exercise their right to vote or their freedom of expression properly without the right to a decent education? As the message being conveyed by protesters to the government of Quebec, as I write this, goes: education is not a privilege it’s a right that all of us should enjoy.

Finally, Scott worked, along with several others eminent legal minds, on the critically important fact finding mission that investigated the massive injustice suffered by Maher Arar at the hands of various government agencies both here and in the US. The result of his research can be found in the highly influential Report of The Events Relating to Maher Arar, which documents the gross incompetence of the RCMP, CISIS and other government so called “intelligence” that rendered an innocent Canadian to Syria to be tortured.

With the government’s growing threats to our human right of privacy (C-30) and our right to habeas corpus (see my previous column on the expansion anti-terrorism act), we need a strong advocate of human rights like Scott on the Hill more than ever!

This Thursday and Friday the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies (MIGS) will be hosting a conference on the media’s role in halting Mass Atrocities and to mark the 10th Anniversary of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) initiative by the United Nations.   For those familiar with the terrain of activism in mass media, it is common knowledge that spreading awareness is one of the keys to preventing crimes and injustices. With video cameras and editing equipment being so accessible, as well as youtube, twitter and facebook as means to broadcast facts and opinions, there are now more independent journalists and filmmakers than ever. With more eyes and lenses watching what people are doing, it is harder for people to commit mass atrocities without going unnoticed.

For those unfamiliar with the term ‘mass atrocities’, it is an umbrella word for genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing – an unpleasant topic that a lot of people prefer not to think about but is something that can never be forgotten as it has already claimed millions of lives in the past century. For those who survive it is essentially the worst thing imaginable, a real life hell on earth. So at the very least it is our responsibility, as members and consumers of the media, to open up our eyes and ears to what is happening around us and use the media as effectively as possible to help prevent future mass atrocities.

The conference will feature expert speakers who will share their first hand experience with this horrific and important topic. One of them is Romeo Dallaire, a Canadian senator, author and retired General. Some might remember him best from the documentary “Shake Hands with the Devil” where he returns to Rwanda to tell his story of the 1994 genocide, or the Hollywood film “Hotel Rwanda” where he was played by Nick Nolte.

There will be many other experts to discuss the role of media in preventing mass atrocities, one of them is Professor Frank Chalk, head of the Political Science department at Concordia University and Director of MIGS. “We’re at the point now where there are so many Tweets, Facebook messages, and SMS texts that trying to read them in a crisis is like trying to drink water from a fire hose.” says Professor Chalk.

The conference will have 16 speakers and four panel discussions; “The Responsibility to Report: Can the Media Make a Difference”, “From Streets to Tweets: Harnessing the Power of Social Media and Technology”, “The Link Between the News Media and Governmental Leadership” and “R2P in 2011: Libya, Syria and Sudan”.

For journalists and members of the media who can afford the $80/ day fee ($65 for students) I highly suggest attending this conference. As an activist and filmmaker, I believe, with a strong and independent media we can help prevent future mass atrocities from occurring ever again. In many ways, the conference echoes the voices currently occupying wall street, “the whole world is watching”, which is making it a lot harder for people to get away with committing and enabling such grotesque crimes against humanity. Together we can help prevent more real life “hell on earth” situations.

October 20th at 6:30 PM (registration 5:30-6:30 PM)
October 21st at 8:55 AM (registration 8:00-8:55 AM)

For full details please visit the MIGS website