The administration of newly elected mayor Valérie Plante is off to a good start. She cancelled the traffic-inducing ridiculously expensive publicity stunt called the “Formula E” races and in a move long overdue, has appointed an Indigenous Commissioner to the city’s administration. Her choice for the post is Cree lawyer Marie-Ève Bordeleau.
This article is about her, the importance of her appointment, and who she will help.
When people think of Montreal’s indigenous community, they unfortunately think of alcoholics and panhandlers that work primarily in the city’s downtown core.
Their stories are much more than that.
The city was founded by Indigenous people, and the suffering of much of the community is a direct result of the impact of colonialism. Though a 2015 survey indicates that Natives make up one-point six percent of Montreal’s population, they make up over ten percent of its homeless.
Indigenous Montrealers face discrimination at every level from accessing basic health care to finding a place to live. Many renters in the city refuse to lease to Indigenous Canadians and those who do are usually slumlords. Quebec police forces have earned a reputation for treating them more severely than whites, and the city’s Indigenous support groups have been calling on the municipal authorities to cooperate with them to make Montreal a better place for their people.
The idea of appointing an Indigenous Commissioner is not a new one. In January 2017 then-mayor Denis Coderre announced that he would appoint one following a meeting he had with aboriginal groups. At the same time, Coderre promised to run an aboriginal candidate in the upcoming election and have native staff members on his campaign.
The city’s indigenous groups were justifiably skeptical, as white politicians have a long history of promising action to Native communities with no follow-through. True to their skepticism, Coderre did none of this and thankfully Mayor Plante is working to fix it.
Montreal’s Indigenous Commissioner has a lot of work to do. Appointed for a term of three years, she is tasked with developing a reconciliation strategy for the city of Montreal with regards to its Indigenous population. She must also advise the mayor on the best ways of building bridges between the city’s administration, its indigenous population, and the rest of the citizenry. She must lead working groups consisting of representatives from municipal departments on how best to include indigenous perspectives in the drafting of laws and regulations.
On top of all that, the Indigenous Commissioner must address the issue of homelessness within the community. As the newly appointed commissioner has said, it’s really “a project of collective healing.”
The appointment of an Indigenous Commissioner to the municipal administration is a big deal as it is a recognition that Montreal cannot continue to neglect its Native population. It must, however, be stressed that the importance of this appointment goes beyond symbolism and one glance at Marie-Ève Bordeleau’s impressive resumé confirms this.
Who is Marie-Ève Bordeleau?
Marie-Ève Bordeleau is a lawyer from Senneterre who studied at Université Laval. Her father is Cree from Waswanipi and her mother is Quebecoise.
After graduating law school, she was selected by The Pacific Center for Public Integrity, a non-governmental organization, to work with Indigenous communities in Fiji. From there, Bordeleau worked at the firm of Morin and Murdoch where she worked Indigenous law cases that required her to travel throughout the reserves in the Baie James area. She was also involved the in 2015 Val D’Or crisis in which provincial police were accused of abusing indigenous people, especially women, in their custody.
Perhaps the most significant characteristic of our new Indigenous Commissioner’s career is the clear dedication to improving the lives of Indigenous people.
In 2016 she started a mobile mediation service for Indigenous communities with her colleague, Martha Montour. It’s office is located in Kahnawake and offers mediation services – a way for two parties in a conflict to work out their differences in a structured environment outside a courtroom – in the fields of family law, labour law, as well as between Indigenous organizations and tribal councils.
Bordeleau has also traveled across Canada consulting with those who run shelters for Indigenous women fleeing family violence and has met with their directors and aid workers in order to develop legal tools to best help them. In the interviews she’s given, she expresses her outrage at the discrimination faced by Native women.
In 2016 she told Droit Inc., an online legal journal, that she thinks the Commission on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women is a step in the right direction for the Federal government, but like all Indigenous people dealing with a mostly white government, she knows their intentions are good but they still must prove themselves through action.
What Bordeleau has constantly stressed is that Indigenous communities need more resources, including greater access to grants and subsidies and financing parity between the institutions and organizations of these communities. She has noted in the past that one key to healing relations between Indigenous communities and provincial and federal governments is that the latter formally recognize that the problems facing Canada’s Indigenous people are due to the impact of colonization.
Montreal’s new Commissioner of Indigenous Affairs is more than just a symbolic post. It is an indication that the city is truly committed to healing relations with its Native population and working actively to improve their lives. Mayor Plante could have appointed any Indigenous leader to the post, but instead she chose a woman whose career has been distinguished by its proven commitment to recognizing and fixing the problems facing her people.
If anyone can promote healing between Montreal and its Indigenous community, it’s Marie-Ève Bordeleau.
With her at the helm, there’s hope for the future.
One of the ways to persecute is to rob people of their history. This was done by male historians seeking to undervalue the contributions of women. It was done by white historians seeking to confirm racist ideologies.
Now a group of all white judges has entrenched the power of a body created by a white majority government to rob the victims of residential schools of their history. On October 6, 2017 the Supreme Court of Canada made it legal for the authorities in charge of compensating the victims of the residential school system to destroy the records of the abuse after a given delay.
Before we get into why the highest court in Canada came to this decision, we need to talk about residential schools.
Residential schools refer to a system of schools established by the Canadian government and run by Christian religious groups in an attempt to assimilate the Native population into Canadian society. They operated in Canada from the late 1860s to the 1990s. Despite remarks by such insensitive racist imbeciles as Senator Lynn Beyak, the schools were a nightmare for the children and their families, the effects of which are still felt to this day.
During this period, children were ripped from their parents and forced to live at these schools where they were beaten, tortured, and raped in an attempt to wipe out their language, culture, and history. Parents who refused to give up their children were threatened with starvation. Survivor Ronnie Otter’s parents were told their winter rations would be withheld if they didn’t send their kids away.
Many of the victims who went as children are still haunted by memories of being forced into oral and anal sex, scrubbed raw with rough brushes, and fed food more fit for livestock. Though they were promised good schooling, they were given a fifth grade education and trained to do manual labour such as agriculture, housework, and woodworking, not unlike in the Bantu education system of apartheid South Africa.
In 2008, the Canadian government under Stephen Harper issued a much needed formal apology to the victims and their families. In the apology the Canadian government formally recognized that:
“…this policy of assimilation was wrong, has caused great harm, and has no place in our country… ”
It should be noted however that while Canada’s Anglican, Presbyterian, and United Churches have apologized for their role in what happened to the eighty thousand survivors and their families, the Catholic Church has not. The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops claims that the independence of individual dioceses and their bishops absolves them of any responsibility. It is both ironic and unfortunate that the authorities of a religion so dependent on symbolism are incapable of providing even a symbolic show of remorse so desperately needed by people tortured in their name.
That said, let’s talk about how and why the Supreme Court came to their decision.
The records referred to in the Supreme Court’s decision are specifically those from the Independent Assessment Process (IAP) resulting from the 2006 Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement.
The Agreement was the result of a consensus reached between the legal representatives of survivors, the Churches involved, the Assembly of First Nations and other aboriginal organizations and the Government of Canada on how to address the legacy of residential schools. It was brought on by numerous class action lawsuits against the Canadian government by the victims of residential schools seeking compensation and recognition for the persecution they endured.
Among the things agreed upon was a Common Experience Payment for all eligible survivors of the residential schools, a form of financial compensation for the victims of abuse at the hands of the government and the Churches acting in its name. Eligibility was determined by the Independent Assessment Process which entailed survivors disclosing extremely sensitive information about the abuse they suffered and the consequences therein. The information also included medical reports, hearing transcripts, and reasons for decisions in each case, all of which are held by the Government of Canada. The overall goal was to determine the credibility of each claimant and the harm they suffered.
As per the Supreme Court’s ruling, these records can be destroyed after fifteen years, though individuals can apply to have the information in their files preserved. The Court decided on destruction of the records after a certain delay for a few reasons, the primary one being that of confidentiality.
The Supreme Court decided that all participants in the Independent Assessment Process agreed on destruction of the information as part of the high degree of confidentiality of the process, the same way one would for a contract. Confidentiality was agreed upon in part to allow the victims to retain ownership of their stories and the horror of what they endured while maintaining their privacy. It was also to ensure the participation of religious organizations that would not have done so otherwise despite their active participation in the abuse.
The Court also stated that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission established as part of the 2006 Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement was for “creating a complete historical record of the residential schools system, and promoting awareness and public education of Canadians about the residential schools system and its impacts”. The court said that those who participated in the IAP were welcome to share their experiences with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and that the confidentiality rules ensured them that choice.
The decision appears to be based on preserving the dignity of Residential School survivors, but it has a flipside of destroying records of abuse that implicate the government and religious groups that should be held to account for what they did. Though a survivor may want to keep their experience confidential, that can change in fifteen or sixteen years whether or not they apply to preserve the records. At the end of the day, the only people this decision protects are the abusers and the people who allowed it by destroying the evidence.
On Wednesday indigenous artists and community organizers lead the festivities across the country. In Montreal, there was the obligatory event at tourist-heavy Place des Arts as well as a celebration in Cabot Square, which is perhaps quainter, but much more organically attached to Native Montreal.
“There is a very strong native presence across the city today, but it just reminds us of the importance of this presence 365 days of the year,” said Quebec minister for Native Affairs Goeffrey Kelley in a short address to the crowd at Cabot Square.
All afternoon, Cabot Square was alive with Hoop dancing, traditional singing and rock music. Spectators could also visit various booths to try their hands at indigenous crafts, stop by the reading tent or buy handmade jewelry or clothes.
Performers from all nations
For Alexandra Loranger, the co-host of the event and a specialist in indigenous rights, celebrating Indigenous Day in Montreal is all about sharing and learning from one another. “It’s important for me to be here today to be able to celebrate my identity and at the same time to discover others,” said the Attikamek jurist, underlining the diversity of the artists present.
Moontee Sinquah and his two sons came all the way from Arizona to open the show with an impressive spectacle of traditional hoop dancing, immediately attracting a supplementary crowd of curious onlookers.
The notorious Buffalo Hat singers continued the show with more traditional music. Aidan Thorne and Antopola performed calmer, more modern sets.
One of the highlights of the show was Kelly Fraser, a young Inuk singer from Nunavut, who brought the crowd to their feet with a pop mixture of English and Inuktitut. The Mohawk group Corey Diabo Band closed the show with a lively rock performance.
“It’s so beautiful to see so much people and so much pride,” commented Aidan Thorne, a Concordia student from the Cowichan First Nation in BC. Thorne, who also goes by the name of Little Fire, describes his music as Canadian soul.
One day a year
For Toronto native and member of the Ojibwe Nation Cedar-Eve Peters, it was beautiful to see all the diverse native cultures represented and celebrated for one day of festivity. It was also a harsh reminder of their unnatural erasure in everyday life.
“Living in Montreal or Quebec, I find that people get more blatant with racism, so when we have events like this it’s great because we have people from all walks of life come through and they are actually genuinely interested in what’s going on,” she said.
Indigenous Day is a rare opportunity for her to sell her own crafts and jewels, while enjoying the various performances of other indigenous people. “It’s a good day to share that knowledge and to keep traditions alive. It’s great, but I don’t know, I feel like there shouldn’t just be one day of the year of recognition. Every day of the year we still exist.”
Alexandra Lorange agrees that there is a lot to be done in the city and the province to keep Native people out of oblivion on the other 364 days:
“I tell myself we’re taking small steps, slowly but surely… but I do think we’re behind and we could do a lot more. We could see [indigenous culture] on a more equal footing, and not from the perspective of a majoritarian society that allows a small moment for native people to be there.”
She believes that the media have to do their part to get there, and start covering indigenous affairs in their entirety, not just their problematic parts. “Today, all the mainstream media – at least on the anglophone side – have received the invitation and they are not here,” she noted, “that’s a real shame, because it’s something very constructive that is happening.”
Jules Beaulieu, who was also selling his own creations in the square, commented on the common erasure of Native history. “I’m here because for me, it is important to remember that indigenous people have been here for a long time. 150 and 375: that’s European, people have been here for ages,” he remarked, referring to the summer-long celebrations for Montreal’s 375th and Canada’s 150th anniversaries.
In an effort to reclaim the Native history of Montreal, Marie-Ève Drouin-Gagné from the ethnography lab of the Milieu Institute at Concordia began a project of photovoice in which indigenous users of Cabot Square are invited to tell their own stories about the square through photos and captions: “The idea was also to go with the 375th; saying this is kind of a colonial narrative. So what about making some space for other narratives that are often untold?”
Today is not National Indigenous Day anymore, but indigenous people are still here. And we should all find a way to keep in mind that their identity is not a Christmas decoration to be put away until next year’s holiday.
When you look back on 2016, you may think of all the greats we lost like David Bowie, Leonard Cohen and, most recently, Carrie Fisher and her mom Debbie Reynolds. You may also remember it as the year the UK decided to leave the EU or the year the US decided to leave its senses politically.
No matter how you saw it, though, you have to admit that quite a bit happened. With that in mind, we take a look back at 2016 in the News.
As this post had two authors, parenthetical initials indicate if the section was written by Jason C. McLean (JCM) or Mirna Djukic (MD).
2016 was the first year of the post-Harper era and it was an agitated one in federal politics.
Justin Trudeau’s popularity soared for a while, still largely carried by the expectations built during his campaign and his undisputable quality of not being Stephen Harper. To his credit, he did score some significant points in his first months in office by immediately opening the National Inquiry on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and rebuilding relationships with our neighbours (which gave us both the most hilarious handshake attempt of all time and the TrudObama Bromance).
One of the first flies in the ointment was the infamous #elbowgate incident in the House of Commons. Last May, the Prime Minister took it upon himself to escort Conservative Whip Gordon Brown through a cluster of opposition MPs in order to move the procedures along and accidentally elbowed NDP MP Ruth Ellen Brosseau in the chest. This was perhaps a fairly embarrassing show of temper for the PM, but it degenerated into something out of a Shakespearian comedy in the following days, with Trudeau issuing apology after apology and the opposition throwing words like “molested” around.
Inopportune elbows aside, the Liberals took quite a few steps during the year that caused the public to question how different they really are from their predecessors. Not only did they go through with the $15 million arms sale to Saudi Arabia, but they also quietly changed the country’s policies about export controls to ensure that they could continue to trade arms with shady regimes with a lot less obstacles.
As for the Greens, they started the year as the underdogs who were doing unexpectedly well. The increased attention, though, revealed a world of messy internal struggles. These started when the party voted in favour of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel. Leader Elizabeth May disliked this so much that she considered resigning. (MD)
Indeed, discrepancies between the government’s discourse and their actions accumulated throughout the year. None was more flagrant than their attitude toward pipelines.
The Liberals campaigned on promises to restore the trust of Canadians in the Environmental Assessment Process, “modernize” the National Energy Board and make Canada a leader in the worldwide climate change fight. Trudeau was the first to admit that the current environmental assessment protocols were immensely flawed and he mandated a committee to review them.
While still waiting for their conclusions, though, he had no problem with major projects still being approved by that flawed process. He had no comments when it was revealed that the NEB board members in charge of reviewing Energy East had secretly met with TransCanada lobbyists nor when indigenous resistance against various projects started rising.
If he thought that the population was on his side, or that they would remain passive about it, he was sorely mistaken. In August, the NEB consultations about Energy East were shut down by protesters. Anger and mistrust towards the NEB only grew after that, with environmental groups calling for a complete overhaul.
None of this stopped the government from approving two contentious pipelines in late November. Both Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain project and Enbridge’s Line 3 were officially accepted. Fortunately, they did reject Enbridge’s Northern Gateway, which was set to go through the Great Bear Rain Forest. (MD)
2016 was the year that saw the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe emerge victorious (for the moment) over big energy and the North Dakota Government.
In July, Energy Transfer Partners got approval for the $3.78 Billion Dakota Access Pipeline to cross the Missouri River at Lake Oahe, the tribe’s only source of drinking water. The plan also saw DAPL cut across sacred burial grounds.
The Standing Rock Sioux challenged this both in court and with water protectors on the front lines. They invited others to stand in solidarity with them and assembled the largest gathering of Native American tribes in decades.
Things came to a head on Labour Day Weekend early September when DAPL sent private corporate security to attack the water protectors with pepper spray and dogs. Democracy Now’s shocking footage of the incident got picked up by major networks and there finally was major media attention, for a while.
As more people joined the camp and solidarity actions, including Facebook Check-Ins from around the world, increased, corporate media interest waned. Meanwhile the Governor of North Dakota Jack Dalrymple activated the Emergency Management Assistance Compact, which brought law enforcement from ten different states to Standing Rock.
With most media focused on the elections, police used tear gas and water cannons on water protectors in freezing temperatures. The US Army Corps of Engineers sent an eviction notice demanding the camp be cleared by December 5th and roadblocks went up.
The Sioux Tribe’s infrastructure survived, however, and once 4000 veterans showed up in solidarity, the official stance changed. President Obama’s administration got the Army Corps to change its tune and deny the easement over Lake Oahe, meaning the DAPL will not go through Standing Rock, at least not until the Trump Administration takes office.
While their fight may not be over, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe did flip the script in 2016 and was even named FTB’s Person of the Year. (JCM)
Indigenous Issues in Canada
Meanwhile in Canada, indigenous issues did make their way a bit more to the forefront in 2016. The National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women finally got underway September 1st.
While long overdue, the Inquiry will be independent of the Federal Government and has a budget of $53.86 million to be spent over two years. While overall optimistic, some in Canada’s First Nations communities are concerned that the scope of the inquiry is too broad, making it easy to not investigate police forces and specific cases.
Quebec is considering its own inquiry. It’s needed, especially when you consider that the Sûreté du Québec (SQ) treated accusations that its officers were assaulting native women in Val d’Or by going after Radio-Canada and its journalists for reporting on the story and no one else.
Meanwhile, conditions in many First Nations communities continued to deteriorate. An indigenous police force in Ontario even recommended its own disbanding for lack of proper funding. (JCM)
The provincial government keeps slowly but steadily dropping in the polls. According to a Léger-Le Devoir poll conducted in November, the Liberals hit their lowest approval rating since the 2012 crisis. With only 31% of the intended vote, they are now barely 1% ahead of the PQ.
The fact that they did reach a budgetary surplus as a result doesn’t seem to have calmed the popular discontent. The shadow of past corruption scandals also remains.
Couillard assured the public that none of the scandals happened under his watch and that his administration is fully committed to fighting corruption. This commitment was, however, brought into question by a recent report which accuses the government of lagging behind on the Charbonneau recommendations.
In any case, the party was left in turmoil. It wasn’t long before another of its prominent figures left. Bernard Drainville, champion of the infamous Charte des valeurs, but also a major architect of the party’s policies and democratic reforms, decided it was time to call it quits. In a slightly surreal move, he announced that he was retiring from politics to co-animate Éric Duhaime’s notoriously salacious radio show.
Those who had hoped that his departure would help the PQ move toward a better relationship with minorities and immigrants were disillusioned by the conclusion of the leadership race. Veteran Jean-François Lisée and his divisive views on immigration won by a landslide, while the favorite, Alexandre Cloutier was left in the dust with Martine Ouellet and Paul Saint-Pierre Plamondon.
However, let’s not forget that Quebec’s political scene is not limited to the two major parties. In fact, a new player is preparing to enter it before the next election. FTB learned that a provincial NDP is in the works, hoping to provide the voters with a progressive option that doesn’t aim for Quebec’s independence. (MD)
Rape culture neither started nor ended in 2016, but it did seem to find its way to our newsfeed frighteningly often.
First came the disappointing conclusion of the Gomeshi trial in May. The fact that a celebrity with so much airtime on the CBC and elsewhere had been sexually harassing his colleague for years and committing multiple sexual assaults while his entourage and superiors turned a blind eye was outraging enough on its own. The fact that four counts of sexual assault and one of overcoming resistance by choking pretty much ended with a slap on the wrist from the court was worse. It made it very hard to keep pretending that our institutions and our society were not rigged to protect aggressors and silence victims.
Barely a month later, as if to demonstrate the scale of the problem, there was the Brock Turner case. Turner, a 20 year old student athlete at Stanford and a perfect mix of white, male and class privilege, was standing trial for raping a young woman on campus. Caught in the act by other students, he was found guilty. This could have landed him in prison for more than a decade, but he got six months in a county jail (he only served three).
A horrible event brought the discussion about rape culture a lot closer to home for many Quebecers in the fall. Multiple attackers entered the dorms of Université Laval and assaulted several students during one night in October. This sparked a wave of compassion and awareness with province-wide protests.
During a solidarity vigil in Quebec city, a young student named Alice Paquet revealed that she was raped by Liberal MNA Gerry Sklavounos back in 2012. Despite an onslaught of victim blaming and skepticism, Paquet decided to finally press charges, and her lawsuit is now in front of the Directeur des Poursuites Criminelles et Pénales. The latter will decide if the case goes to court. (MD)
US Presidential Election
For most of the year, politicos everywhere, including here in Canada, were glued to what was transpiring in the US Presidential Election. And for good reason, it was an interesting one, to say the least.
First there was the hope of some real and unexpected change in the form of the political revolution Bernie Sanders was promising. The upstart Vermont senator managed to go from basically nothing to winning 23 states in the Primaries and even got to meet with the Pope, but that wasn’t enough to beat the largest political machine out there and the Democratic Party establishment’s chosen candidate Hillary Clinton.
Meanwhile, Donald Trump, another upstart candidate, though one of the secretly pro-corporate and openly far-right variety, easily clinched the Republican nomination. With the exception of a bit of plagiarism on opening night and the whole Ted Cruz non-endorsement incident, the GOP Convention was quite unified behind Trump.
The Democratic National Convention was a completely different story. Sanders delegates booed speakers endorsing Clinton and connected to the Trans-Pacific Partnership and even left the room in protest when Clinton officially won the nomination.
The ensuing General Election campaign went back and forth for a few months with each candidate having their ups and downs. Clinton’s health rumours and Wikileaks revelations and Trump’s…well, his being Donald Trump.
Well, on Election Day, the unthinkable happened. The ideal “pied piper candidate” the Democrats had sought to elevate, because he would be so easy to beat, ended up beating their “inevitable” future President.
The bogeyman came out from under the bed and was elected to office. The joke went from funny to scary. Failed casino owner and third-rate reality star Donald Trump won the Electoral College vote and became President Elect of the United States.
As Trump started building his brand new bubble filled with climate change deniers, corporate execs and white supremacists, the fight against him in the streets started and shows no signs of stopping in 2017. The real question is now: will the Democrats change gear and become a progressive alternative or stay the establishment course that led them to defeat at the hands of an orange carnival barker? (JCM)
At least Montreal didn’t spend 2016 electing a frequently cartoonish populist who doesn’t listen to experts. We had already done that back in 2013.
This was the year, though, that our Mayor, Denis Coderre, really started to shine. And by shine I mean make Montreal nationally and even globally famous for some really bad decisions and ideas.
2015 ended with the Mayor dumping untreated sewage right into the river. With that out of the way, 2016 was going to be the year where we planned for our big 375th Anniversary in 2017.
Coderre’s focus was squarely somewhere else in the last half of the year, though. After a 55-year-old woman was killed by a dog in June, Coderre tabled rather extreme Breed-Specific Legislation aimed at pit bulls, despite no initial proof that a pit bull was the culprit (and the later revelation that it absolutely wasn’t).
There were protests and even international condemnation, including that of celebrities like Cyndi Lauper. Coderre would hear none of it, though, even ordering the mic cut on an citizen during a City Council meeting.
When the so-called Pit Bull Ban, officially the Montreal Animal Control Bylaw, became law in September, the proverbial other shoe dropped. People started picking up on some of the other aspects of it, in particular the fines and fees and the fact that it covered other breeds of dog and cats, too.
The SPCA got a temporary injunction on the “dangerous breeds” aspects of the law in early October which was overturned on appeal in December. The bylaw comes into full effect March 31, 2017, at which point the SPCA will no longer deal with stray dogs or accept owner surrenders.
In September, another project met with a legal obstacle. Turns out fines Société de transport de Montréal (STM) security officers were handing out constituted a human rights violation.
While the STM will be appealing the Montreal Municipal Court decision, for now at least, they’re not supposed to be sending out squads of transit cops acting as glorified revenue generators. In practice, though, we’ve heard reports they’re still doing it.
What was really surprising was that the SPVM got warrants for this surveillance. What was not surprising at all is how high this probably went. Police Chief Philippe Pichet must have known, and he was handpicked by Mayor Coderre a few years prior.
2016 continued the sad tradition of police murdering innocent people of colour for no good reason and getting away with it (for the most part). The Black Lives Matter movement also continued to speak out against these killings.
There were two such murders in early July very close together, to the point where it was possible to confuse notification of one with the other. Alton Sterling and Philando Castile died at the hands of police in different cities in different states within 24 hours of each other.
In Dallas, Texas, a lone sniper, not part of the peaceful protest, decided to murder nine police officers, which, of course, became a national tragedy and an excuse for the right wing to incorrectly attack BLM.
In September, following the police murder of Keith Lamont Scott, the city of Charlotte, North Carolina erupted. There were days of protest and the governor declared a state of emergency on the second night.
There is sadly no sign that any of this will change in 2017, especially given the positions of the incoming administration on race and police. (JCM)
Sadly, this year was marked by the continuing conflict in Syria. Dictator Bashar al-Assad has again been accused of deliberately targeting civilians. The carnage in Aleppo reached new heights as the regime’s forces renewed their assault, driving residents to send their goodbyes over social media.
Local groups have been fighting the rising terrorist factions in Syria, namely the now famous Kurd “women’s protection unit”, also known as YPJ. However, despite their important role, their status with the international community is on shaky ground. One YPJ fighter is currently detained in Denmark under terrorism charges. (MD)
So that’s our look back at 2016 in the news. Here’s hoping for overall more uplifting stories in 2017!
The Nishnawbe Aski Police Service (NAPS) took a startling position during the inquest into the suicide of Lena Anderson in the back of one of its police cars. On Wednesday, they asked the five members of the jury to recommend that their service either be brought under the Police Services Act before April 2017, or disbanded.
The inquest shone a grim light on the deficient resources of the largest First Nations-administered police service in the country and the role it played in Anderson’s death. NAPS board chair Mike Metatawabin told the inquest that there was no point in keeping the service when it didn’t have the resources to fulfill its duties.
“Enough is enough. We can’t do this all the time where you promise something and then turn around and say you can’t do it,” he said, as quoted by CBC.
No Cells, No Radio and No Help
Lena Anderson, a 23 year old native woman, died in the back of a police car on February 1st 2013 in the remote aboriginal community of Kasabonika Lake in Northern Ontario.
Earlier that night, Anderson’s daughter had been apprehended by a child welfare worker after being found drinking at a party in Kasabonika Lake First Nation, where alcohol is prohibited. Anderson became frantic when she learned the news, to the point where Cst. Jeremy Swanson took her into custody for her own safety.
Since Kasabonika doesn’t have proper holding cells, the standard practice is to hold detainees in the passenger compartment of the police cruiser until they are let go or transported out of town. Swanson said that he intended to release Anderson once she had “sobered up”.
During his testimony, he recounted how he tried to contact the other officer over the radio but couldn’t get through. Since NAPS uses an old radio system instead of the modern ones that would have allowed him to leave a message to a dispatcher, he had no way of getting assistance without leaving the car.
According to Swanson’s notes, he left Anderson in the car for 16 minutes while he stopped at the door of a local social worker to get her to try to contact an off-duty officer. When he came back, the young woman had hung herself with a drawstring from her pants.
“I checked for a pulse. There was nothing…I tried to yell as loud as I could. No one was coming to help me.”
Swanson cut her down but the conditions made it impossible to “perform CPR efficiently.”
He got the social worker, Tina Nevins, to alert the nursing station that they were coming. Still, nobody was waiting for them outside when they arrived, so Swanson “carried and dragged Lena to the building, and started yelling for help.” Anderson was pronounced dead 45 minutes later.
When Swanson was asked about alternatives for holding detainees in the absence of cells, he said “there should be cells. Otherwise there shouldn’t be police officers, because they can’t do their jobs.”
History repeats itself
On Thursday, the coroner’s council issued 27 recommendations to avoid future incidents. The coroner’s office’s recommendations are not binding, contrarily to the jury’s. They stopped short of endorsing the idea of disbanding the NAPS, advising instead the jury to be careful in how far they take their recommendations.
They largely insisted, however, on the importance of ensuring that First Nations communities have access to the same level of policing and services as other communities.
“Lena Anderson would be alive today,” said NAPS legal councillor Julian Falconer in an interview with a local paper. “She died in 2013, because of the very same problems the jury identified in 2009.”
The NAPS board chair also referred to the failure to follow up on the 2009 recommendations in his emotional testimony: “For me it’s heartbreaking, heartbreaking that we’re still here, we’re still waiting, we’re still trying to make it better.”
First Nations Policing Program Called into Question
As per the First Nations Policing Program (FNPP), aboriginal communities in Canada are either policed by the RCMP or by a self-administered police service.
The Nishnawbe Aski police service is the largest First Nations police force in the country, with over 134 uniformed officers. Those 134 officers are in charge of 35 communities, spreading from Thunder Bay to James Bay.
First Nations administered police forces like NAPS were first instated when the FNPP was created in 1992 and their legal framework has not been updated since then.
They are mostly constituted of micro-sized services mandated to serve remote communities under provincial police regulations. In 24 years, 58 such services were created. Twenty of them were disbanded due to various crisis and failures. Recent government research found that the diminutive size of these services was a primary cause of their failures.
Metatawabin and Falconer, with Swanson’s lawyer, Mike Maher and the lawyer representing the Anderson family, Christa Big Canoe, all called the entire First Nations policing program into question:
“From the perspective of my client, if they’re not willing to put their money where their mouths are, we just need to fold the whole program.”
A little over a week before the 2016 US Presidential Election and the Hillary Clinton campaign finds itself in the midst of another potentially damaging email scandal. Yesterday, FBI Director James Comey wrote a letter to several congressional committee chairs informing them that the bureau learned of the existence of new emails pertinent to the now closed investigation into Clinton’s private email server.
It turns out that they were investigating allegations Anthony Weiner (remember him, Carlos Danger) sexted a fifteen year old girl. They were looking at one of his computers and found emails to and/or from his now ex-wife, current Clinton Campaign co-chairwoman and former State Department Deputy Chief of Staff Huma Abedin.
The emails are related to Abedin’s boss in some way, but Comey won’t say how. He also won’t say if they are potentially damaging or merely irrelevant communications that need to be logged for procedural reasons.
This has, of course, led to speculation that it could shift the result of the election in Donald Trump’s favour as much as it has led to anger at Comey and Weiner (some of the anti-Weiner tweets are actually quite funny). It has proven to be quite the distraction.
I’m not talking about distracting from whatever Donald Trump has been saying or new revelations from his past proving again he is exactly the creep we all thought he was. I mean it has, but that’s not the point.
The biggest Clinton scandal in the past few days isn’t Friday’s letter about emails, it’s what happened Thursday in Brooklyn.
Clinton Silent on Standing Rock
Water protectors from Oceti Sakowin, the Seven Council Fires, and the Standing Rock Sioux Nation entered her campaign headquarters demanding that Clinton break her silence and speak out against the Dakota Access Pipeline.
“We are coming directly to Hillary at her headquarters because as the future president, she is going to have to work for us,” Gracey Claymore said, “and we want her to uphold the treaties and her promise to protect unci maka (Mother Earth).”
Despite the size of the demonstration and the way that Claymore treated a Clinton victory as a foregone conclusion, campaign staff refused to even take a letter the protectors had written to the candidate. Around the same time this was happening in New York, militarized police started moving in on the protectors in North Dakota.
Trying to Keep Things Quiet
In case you haven’t been following this story, and it’s understandable given the mainstream media’s focus on political scandal, the largest convergence of Native American tribes has been happening near the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota for months. They are there to oppose the Dakota Access Pipeline’s planned route through unceded Sioux territory.
Building this section of the $3.8 billion pipeline would mean destroying sacred burial grounds. It also poses a huge risk to the community’s drinking water (and that of other communities downstream as well, it is the Missouri River, after all) in the event of a spill. And spills happen quite a bit in North Dakota, even when they aren’t reported, as the Associated Press found out.
Tresspass charges against Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman were dropped in favour of “riot” charges before she was ultimately acquitted. Emmy-winning documentarian Deia Schlosberg may not be so fortunate, as she still faces 45 years in prison for filming a protest.
President Obama did order construction stopped on all federally owned land until environmental impact could be fully assessed, but the results are still weeks away. So with the injunction overturned for now, construction resumed and the protectors decided to move directly in the path of the pipeline instead of just nearby.
Massive Police Escalation
Last Monday there were over 100 arrests and then, on Thursday, local and state police in full riot gear and armored vehicles equipped with sound cannons descended on the protest. They were joined by law enforcement from six other states brought in through the Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC), something that is designed to be used for disaster relief.
And just what state of emergency prompted North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple to activate EMAC? Potential loss of revenue by a private pipeline company.
Agent Provocateurs, the proverbial oldest trick in the book. But these water protectors have read that book, too and know how to spot people who clearly don’t have the best interests of their community at heart.
A company wants to build a pipeline on land that belongs to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.
The tribe, not wanting their sacred burial sites destroyed and not wanting to drink oil-soaked water (and also not wanting others to drink oil-soaked water) oppose the pipeline and invite other tribes and non-native allies to join them.
The company hires private security to attack water protectors with pepper spray and dogs.
Local authorities charge journalists for reporting on what happened.
The Governor declares a state of emergency and sends in militarized police from his state and other states to stop peaceful protectors.
Armed agent provocateurs are used
Human beings standing up for everyone’s water are held in dog kennels to protect the profits of a private company.
This is happening now. Silence from Clinton is disturbing and sad. Silence from Trump, well, that’s probably a good thing. The last thing we need is some speech about how he would make “the best pipelines” before digressing to talk of China.
It’s quite unfortunate that the Clinton Campaign is more concerned with a handful of emails than their silence on Standing Rock and DAPL. The real sad thing, though, is that they’re probably doing the politically smart thing.
As long as the electorate is privileged and ignorant enough to care more about emails than the treatment of their fellow human beings and the future of the planet they live on, too and the water they drink, too, what’s happening at Standing Rock won’t be the top story.
It is, though, what’s really being hidden by Hillary’s emails. So this post did deliver on its click-bait and switch headline after all.
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.
The federal government decided to get involved in the campaign to return the remains of two members of the Beothuck Nation, currently exposed in an Edinburgh Museum, to their native Newfoundland.
Chief Mi’sel Joe, of the Conne River Mi’kmaq band, and the Newfoundland and Labrador government have been trying for years to repatriate the skulls and burial goods of two members of the extinct indigenous nation of Beothucks. The vestiges were taken from a grave site in Newfoundland in 1828.
The National Museum of Scotland had responded that it would only consider a claim made by the federal government in association with a Canadian National Museum. So Ottawa quietly joined the fight.
On Wednesday, CBC News got hold of a letter written by Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly to the director of National Museums Scotland (the parent association of the National Museum of Scotland, which is in Edinburgh).
“As the Government of Canada is committed to reconciliation with its Indigenous peoples, I am writing to inform you that it is now involved in this matter,” said the letter. “The Government of Canada considers this matter to be of considerable importance.”
The message was sent on May 29, as a notification to the NMS that Canada intended to put in an official request to claim the Beothuck remnants. CBC just got access to it through the Access to Information Act.
Chief Mi’sel Joe, the most prominent figure of the campaign, was happy and surprised to learn that Ottawa had taken this unusual initiative, reported CBC.
The Fascinating History of Beothucks
The Beothucks were the original inhabitants of Newfoundland. They cohabited with the Mi’kmaqs, and for a while, with European settlers before being declared extinct in 1829. There is no doubt that the arrival of the Europeans played a great role in their extinction, which certain historians call a genocide.
The remains currently in Edinburgh are those of Nonosabasut and his wife Demasduit, believed to be the aunt and uncle of the last known Beothuck, a woman named Shanawdithit. Their story is quite fascinating.
In 1818, conflicts between settlers and Beothucks were frequent in Newfoundland. One night, in retaliation for the theft of their fishing equipment, the local colony sent nine armed men to storm a Beothuck camp near Exploits River. Demasduit, wife of the leader Nonosabasut, was captured. Her husband was killed while trying to protect her and her infant son died a few days after.
Demasduit was taken into the colony and lived with a priest who gave her the white name of Mary March. Some unsuccessful attempts have been made to return her to her tribe in the summer of 1819. She died of tuberculosis one year later. Her body was retrieved by her tribe and placed in a burial hut, beside her husband and child.
According to Wikipedia, there was only 31 Beothucks remaining at that time. A Scottish explorer found the bones and other vestiges about nine year later.
Why so Quiet?
A briefing note addressed to Joly (presumably also accessed through the Access to Information Act) said that getting involved in the repatriation of the remains in Scotland “would be consistent with the government’s commitment toward reconciliation with Canada’s Aboriginal people… Return of these remains, or a concerted effort to have them returned, would be a high profile demonstration of that commitment.”
This begs the question of why this high profile demonstration has been exceptionally discreet so far. It’s possible that they wanted to avoid the diplomatic complications of a highly publicized feud between Scottish Museums and the Canadian government.
“The department is still assembling all of the elements required by the trustees of the museum in Edinburgh, in order to ensure the case is complete and as strong as possible,” said Pierre-Olivier Herbert, spokesperson for the department of Heritage.
Other Remains in Canada
It’s also possible that they didn’t want to wake the sleeping matter of the remains of 22 Beothucks in possession of various Canadian museums. In 2012, Mi’sel Joe had declared to the CBC that returning those remains to Newfoundland is “the respectful and right thing to do, for anyone.” At the time, Ottawa’s Canadian Museum of History, where the remains of ten individuals lie, had named lack of resources as the reason for their failure to be proactive in the matter.
According to more recent statements of spokeswoman Éliane Laberge, they have received no formal request from Indigenous groups.
* Featured Image: A portrait of Demasduit, one of the last Beothucks of Newfoundland
Looks like the Sûreté du Québec (SQ)’s union have a new strategy for dealing with the allegations of systemic police abuse against aboriginal women: sue the ones who made them.
Seven months after Radio-Canada (French CBC)’s program Enquête aired shocking testimonies of aboriginal women describing widespread abuse of SQ officers in Val d’Or, charges could finally be filed…against Radio Canada. The Journal de Montréal is reporting that The Association des policiers et policières provinciaux du Québec (APPQ) voted in favour of suing the national broadcaster during a congress held last week.
APPQ Communication officer Laurent Arel denied that the mandate specifically targets Radio Canada. According to him, the members voted “for the association to give itself the means of defending the rights of its members,” but FTB is still awaiting specifications about what those means could entail and what rights did Radio Canada threaten. Arel didn’t confirm nor deny that a lawsuit is on the table.
Growing Evidence and Lack of Police Progress
Politicians and the public called for an inquiry following Enquête’s bombshell report. Eight SQ officers were suspended and Montreal’s police force (SPVM) was chosen as “an independent entity” to investigate the allegations.
Since the original report aired, Enquête received a growing numbers of alarming new testimonies from aboriginal women all across the province, allowing them to do a follow-up report in March. Despite this, the SPVM has yet to pursue any criminal charges.
Some will argue that lack of SPVM action proves how unreliable Enquête’s findings are, which incidentally provides grounds for a defamation lawsuit. But such an argument would have to ignore how often this is the unsurprising outcome of police investigating police actions.
The SQ union initially and fervently opposed the opening of any public inquiry, arguing instead that body cameras and electric Tasers were the only changes they needed to implement to improve their relations with aboriginal communities. Now that they may be suing Radio-Canada, we’re left with a heavy question: are they more interested in preventing these stories from getting out or preventing their officers from abusing native women?
Of all the groups in the Canadian Mosaic, none has been more cheated and worse treated than our First Nations. First Peoples is the generic term applied to all indigenous communities in Canadian Territory and First Nations encompasses all except the Inuit and Metis.
They make constant headlines due to their mistreatment by police, activism, and health crises. Their most recent headline, however, was about the Trudeau government’s budget for 2016.
In the proposed federal budget the government promised eight point four billion dollars over five years to help Native communities. The budget also included an additional two billion for First Nations’ water and wastewater systems and two point six billion for primary and secondary schools on reserves.
National sentiment about First Nations people varies. In primary and secondary school students are taught the myth of the “noble savage” and the magnitude of what governments did to the First Nations – what we now know as “Cultural Genocide”- is glossed over.
But this article isn’t about how abominably Canadian and provincial governments have treated First Nations. It’s not about how residential schools run by religious institutions systematically ripped Native children from their families and attempted to wipe out their language and religion through abuse.
This is about Native Rights.
The rights of Quebec’s First Nations stem primarily from The Royal Proclamation of 1763, the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement of 1975, the Constitution Act of 1982, the federal Indian Act of 1985, and a few Supreme Court cases.
The Royal Proclamation of 1763 ended a war between Britain and France. As part of the ensuing treaty, France ceded all of its Canadian colonies to Great Britain. The Proclamation put Canada’s First Nations under protection of the Crown and reserved any land not included within the newly acquired colonies or Hudson’s Bay Trading Company’s territory for their use.
Anyone who settled on this land had to move and no one could purchase land from the Natives except the British government. If the Natives agreed to a land sale, the sale had to be finalized in a public assembly, the purpose of which was to ensure the legitimacy and prevent “dissatisfaction” and “reasonable cause of discontent” among indigenous people.
The James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement of 1975 was an Aboriginal land claim settlement. It was negotiated in 1975 by the Quebec government between itself, the federal government, the Quebec Hydro Electric Commission, the James Bay Energy Corporation, the James Bay Development Corporation, and the Cree and Inuit. Another agreement in 1978 included Quebec’s Naskapi Indians in a similar treaty.
The purpose of these was to ensure Quebec’s dominion over lands in the north. It created three classes of land: Category I – consisting of lands reserved exclusively for the use of Quebec’s Native Groups, Category II – lands in which Natives have exclusive hunting, fishing, and trapping rights but “no special right of occupancy” and Category III – which made up the bulk of the territory in the agreement and did not grant Natives any exclusive rights except sole rights to harvest and trap certain species.
Though one of the alleged goals of these agreements was to clarify the position of Native groups in the north of Quebec and ensure their survival, the language used suggests that it was more about asserting Quebec’s dominance over the land, people, and natural resources. The principal provisions of the 1975 Agreement frequently use the word “surrender,” a word that conveys a message of conquest not of union and mutual accord. The subtext is that Quebec’s Native communities are ceding all their rights to a larger, more powerful entity that wants the land and natural resources, and in exchange they get two hundred and twenty five million dollars to be paid over twenty years, as well as roads, social and medical services, and police forces.
The Indian Act of 1985 was an amended version of a discriminatory Federal law. The new law removed the discriminatory provisions and defines who is considered Native. Only those registered as Indian in the federal Indian registry are considered as such.
Eligibility is determined by parentage and membership in a recognized Band; for example, if you are a member of a federally recognized Native Band and/or have a parent who was eligible for registration, you can be registered. The law also defined the Reserves which are legally held by the federal government for the use and benefit of Native Bands.
The Constitution Act of 1982 guaranteed existing Aboriginal and treaty rights. Though Canadian law has made a lot of promises to Natives, authorities and individuals have made numerous attempts to usurp Aboriginal land. It took legal challenges for the authorities to officially recognize and acknowledge their rights.
In 1984 the Supreme Court of Canada in Guerin v. The Queen recognized that Aboriginal rights existed prior to the Royal Proclamation and Indian Act. The majority judges declared that Indian land was inalienable and the Crown is legally obligated to deal with the land in a way that is fair to the Indians. In 1990 the Supreme Court in R v. Sparrow said the Crown has to act in Natives’ best interests and must justify any legislation that infringes on or denies their rights.
Canada’s First Nations are still recovering from the institutionalized oppression they were and are still subjected to. Though Native women are disappearing left and right, the largely white police and RCMP are dismissive. It’s only thanks to public reports and ensuing outrage that the people sworn to protect us are finally taking the problem seriously.
A scandal involving police harassing and raping Native women finally forced the Quebec government to pay attention. It took reports on suicide epidemics and photos of grisly rashes on children in Native communities for the federal government to act. Though the laws are there to protect our First Nations, sometimes those sworn to enforce it need a kick in the ass.
And sometimes the threat of bad publicity is all the kick you need.
Shit just got real. Last week McGill University received a notice of seizure from Kahentinetha, one of the Mohawk woman titleholders, or kahtihon’tia:kwenio, of the land the school sits on, in fact they are titleholders for the whole island of Montreal, which used to be known as Tiohtià:ke.
Montreal’s own internationally recognized English academic institution which has stood for 194 years has done so on land that never belonged to it in the first place. Also, according to Kahentinetha, the school still owes the $1.7 million it borrowed from the Six Nations Trust Fund, though they claim they paid that amount back to the Federal government.
Now the title holders have finally had enough of McGill’s BS and want the squatters out. But why send a seizure notice to this one institution? It makes sense if you look at the school’s history and recent comportment.
Militarism, Experiments and Anglo Dominance
McGill University was the brainchild of an illiterate slave owner who wanted the English colonists to dominate the French. James McGill was told that the best way to accomplish his goal was to establish an institution of learning. So he left his fur-trading fortune to do just that.
Ever wonder why the campus gym was originally called the Arthur Currie Memorial Gymnasium and Armoury? Well, that’s because it served as both leading up to World War 1. Ever take in an Als game at Percival Molson Stadium? It’s named for a McGill student from a prominent family who was recruited on campus to fight in a war which killed him.
The evidence of McGill’s military involvement is everywhere on campus. Initial development of the atomic bomb even took place on campus under the supervision of Ernest Rutherford who now has a building named after him
McGill was also used by the CIA in the 1950s. Dr Ewan Cameron conducted secret agency-funded LSD experiments on unsuspecting patients in the McGill-controlled Allan Memorial. Doing acid for fun is one thing, being given it without your knowledge so some so-called doctor can observe you for the CIA is a whole new level of despicable and unethical.
In recent years, McGill doesn’t seem to have changed its colonialist pro-military tune much. Following hazing scandals (Dr. Broom) and an attempted, unconstitutional ban of protest on campus, it now looks like the University is actively trying to hide any current association with militarization.
Student Cadence O’Neal wanted to know about the University’s involvement with military contractors CAE, Bell Helicopter, Bombardier, Lockheed Martin, Textron, General Atomics and others. She filed an Access to Information request and the case is currently before Quebec’s Commission on Access to Information. McGill is trying to withhold 8944 emails between these contractors and the CFD Lab which specializes in the research and development of 3-D modelling software for the aerospace industry.
Enough is Enough
It’s no small wonder that the actual titleholders of the land have had enough. McGill has been getting away with far too much over the years and refuses to change its ways.
They won’t display the Hiawatha Belt Flag on National Aboriginal Day out of “risk of losing the privilege” of flying the McGill flag but have no problem replacing their colours with the flag of the Queen of England when the Gouvenor General pays a visit. They have also refused requests to move the Hochelaga Rock, commemorating the Mohawk village that once was here, to a more prominent location.
With that level of unwarranted indifference on the small stuff and a history of pretty atrocious big stuff, the time has come for McGill to deal with their landlords.
Panelists Pamela Fillion and Cem Ertekin discuss Fantasia (includes a segment from a forthcoming interview with the director and star of We Are All Still Here), zombie movies, a zombie apocalypse, the very real actions of Montreal police stopping a Unist’ot’en solidarity protest and Just for Laughs. Plus the Community Calendar.
After nearly two years fenced off, Cabot Square, or as many know it, that park you run through to catch your connecting night bus at Atwater, is open to the public once again. It looks different, and by all indications, it will be different than what it was before.
As someone who, for years, saw this space as a stopover on my way home but now lives very close to it, I am definitely interested in what it has become and what it will be. More importantly, what will happen to the largely homeless native people who lived in the park for years?
On The Surface
The new Cabot Square, located between Atwater and Lambert-Closse, Ste-Catherine and Tupper, feels bigger. The sidewalks surrounding it, where people wait for busses, seem wider. There are also plenty of new bus shelters around the square.
A good portion of the park is now paved with stones gelled together and treated to form a somewhat smooth surface for walking or cycling. There are new benches, some standing alone and some integrated into decorative concrete dividers.
As for actual nature, it is somewhat sparse. Islands of grass and other sorts of vegetation surround the trees in the park. There is also a garden of flowers and other plants covering most of the south of the square, right up to the sidewalk.
The entrance to Atwater Metro (via tunnel to Alexis Nihon) is where it always was. The small kiosk that was once a restaurant on the northwest corner is now being called the Vespasienne and will be used again in the redesign.
There are also water fountains, a giant chess board, freestanding historical slide viewers and free WIFI. In the brief time I was able to check things out yesterday, it felt like there really was life in the park.
The revamped Cabot Square will play host to cultural activities, quite a few of them, in fact. There will be swing dancing, yoga classes, movie nights and even Shakespeare in the Park.
I’m trying to imagine catching a flick or enjoying the Bard as people wait for or run for their bus just meters away and coming up short. This is, after all, a major transportation hub, day or night. I also wonder how yoga can work in a space that isn’t exactly the mountain or even a regular park but rather a glorified large traffic island downtown with people criss-crossing through it all the time.
That’s the skeptic in me speaking. I honestly hope it works. The city is looking to host three such events a day, so maybe they know something I don’t.
First Nations Included
This project initially seemed like gentrification designed to evict native people who had been living in the park for years. They will not be excluded; at least that’s the plan.
Meanwhile, half of the Vespasienne will be a coffee shop called the Roundhouse Café run by L’Itinéraire and employing homeless and at-risk people. The other half of the building will serve as an office for an outreach worker to help natives in the park going through difficult times.
Making this happen was a bit of an uphill battle at times. Nakuset Shapiro of the Native Women’s Shelter told CKUT’s Native Solidarity News (Cabot Square discussion starts at 46 minutes) how the city needed to be encouraged and assured that this support plan would work.
Regardless of what brought us here, Cabot Square is now re-open and it promises to be an interesting addition to Shaughnessy Village and the city in general as well as a development that respects the people who frequented the original park.
Will that turn out to be the case? Time will tell. For now, all I can tell for sure is that now we can once again cut through the park to catch a bus.
This is the premier edition of the FTB Podcast, a bi-weekly panel discussion with reports, interviews and more. Over the next few months, topics will range from news items, politics, social issues, music, arts and more from Montreal, Quebec, Canada and the world.
In our first episode, we discuss the anti-police brutality march, Bill C-51 and a proposed name change for the McGill Redmen.
Host: Jason C. McLean
Producer: Hannah Besseau
Irkar Beljaars: Producer of Native Solidarity News on CKUT, Mohawk journalist and writer.
Arturo Vasquez: NGO consultant working with human rights and indigenous communities in Mexico, Political Science major at Concordia. To inquire about his consultation services, please send him an email: arturovasques (at) outlook (dot) com.
Drew Wolfson Bell: Sports Editor at the McGill Daily, third-year Education student
Anti-Police Brutality March Report by Cem Ertekin
Microphone image: Ernest Duffoo / Flickr Creative Commons
Creating sustained and respected dialogue between Indigenous communities and settler society has long been a struggle in decolonization movements. Most recently, the approval of the Northern Gateway pipeline in BC exemplifies the damage that the lack of dialogue, and by extension, free, prior and informed consent, can do.
A new initiative, Skills for Solidarity, is attempting to work on mending, or at least, beginning a dialogue by exploring the relationship between Indigenous Peoples and non-Indigenous Peoples in Canada. The initiative plans to offer a free program designed to “renew the relationship between nations” by exploring shared histories and offering tools for solidarity work.
There’s still a long battle ahead toward decolonization, however perhaps Skills for Solidarity could be considered a step toward it. The full modules and program syllabus are listed on the initiative’s site (part of leadnow.ca).
On June 17, after years of resistance from environmental groups, citizens, and opposition parties, the Conservative government signed and approved the Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline. The pipeline, which stretches across Alberta and British Columbia, has been in the works for the last few years, despite many Indigenous communities and Canadian scientists coming out to oppose the plans Enbridge has lain out. The fact that the government is ignoring these communities, sadly, should surprise no one.
The pipeline, which is $7.9 billion dollar project, will see the shipment of crude oil to Asian markets. The Toronto Star remarks will put Canada on the path to becoming a “global petropower,” something the big business loving Conservatives no doubt envision for Canada’s future.
However this is just another example of the voices of citizens being lost in the government quest to appease big business. The pipeline’s approval will affect all peoples in Canada, especially those who reside in the affected areas. We all know too well the devastating effects of oil spills. Look no further than the 2010 BP oil spill to see the devastation caused. Since the newly greenlit project was proposed, there has been fierce opposition from environmental groups as well as ordinary citizens who fear the damage the pipeline could have on one of the most beautiful areas of the country.
The coverage on the pipeline appears to be generally focused on these environmental concerns, which are extremely important, and the approval signifies a total disregard for environmental issues by the federal government. However, something that also should not be overlooked is that it’s also, not so shockingly, another example of this government’s continued role in colonialism across this country.
Harper’s Conservatives, with the approval of the pipeline, are continuing to drive home the message that Indigenous peoples in Canada are to be ignored. The Northern Gateway pipeline will cross large amounts of unceded territory, without the consent of many of communities that reside on the land.
While it should be noted that agreements do currently exist between Enbridge and around 60 per cent of the Indigenous groups who will see the pipeline cut through their land, this still means there are groups that have not agreed and will therefore have to face the pipeline crossing through and destroying their land, without their consent.
While the continued ignorance of Indigenous populations across the country is hardly new news (one only needs to look at the total lack of action over missing and murdered Indigenous women to see the level of government concern for Indigenous rights), the Northern Gateway pipeline is yet another case that cannot be ignored.
However the fight is far from over. Five lawsuits are currently on the table against the pipeline, and three of the five come from First Nations groups in British Columbia. The pipeline project also is not scheduled, according to accounts, to begin construction until 16 months from now – a great deal of time that could see growing opposition.
Canadians should make their voices heard about the pipeline through whatever means are at their disposal. Over the next few weeks it can be guaranteed that there will be demonstrations against the project in cities across the country for people to make their voices heard. If you are more of an armchair activist, you should also be in contact with your MP – there will be an election in 2015, and no doubt the pipeline will become an election issue. The NDP and Liberals are currently claiming that they will fight the issue in parliament.
With support from wider swaths of the Canadian public, there is the chance that the pipeline could be halted. This is something that would be beneficial to all Canadians, especially those who will watch their land be destroyed if the pipeline comes into fruition.