Monday, November 30, 2009

Incredibly stupid units

I reported some time ago how Chris Shaw had renamed the RCMP's 2010 Olympics Integrated Security Unit (ISU) to "Incredibly Stupid Unit", as a tribute to this law enforcement group's ability to shoot itself in the foot for no apparent reason. In particular, the ISU made recent headlines for allegedly harassing a student whose only crime was to know Chris Shaw.

Well, it appears that the Canadian Border Services Agency has just snatched the gold from the ISU in the highly contested "stupidest law enforcement agency" competition.

Award-winning American independent journalist Amy Goodman was on her way to Vancouver last Wednesday to give a talk about her latest book. She was stopped at the Canadian border and grilled for an hour and a half about her intentions in Canada. What the border officers really wanted to know is if Goodman was planning to talk at all about the 2010 Olympics. Problem was, Goodman had no plans whatsoever to talk about those Olympics, not knowing - yet - that there was much to talk about.

Back in her New York offices a few days later, a very upset Goodman who just couldn't wrap her mind around why the Canadian border officers were so obsessed with the Olympics, decided to do what American investigative journalists do best - investigate the matter.

She was not impressed with her findings. Police harassment, stifling of people's rights to freedom of expression, broken Olympic promises, eviction of low-income residents - it all came out like a big Olympic lava flow. Not to mention, of course, intimidation of foreign journalists on their way to a completely unrelated event.

And so this morning, quite logically, she dedicated a large portion of her daily news show Democracy Now! to the civil rights issues surrounding the Vancouver 2010 Olympics. She invited who else but Chris Shaw himself, along with civil rights lawyer David Eby, to explain to her hundreds of thousands of viewers and listeners worldwide what the hell is going on in Vancouver.

That broadcast is priceless. Enjoy!

The Vancouver Olympics civil rights question is now front and center in America's independent media news rooms, thanks to the fine work of the Canadian Border officers. Anti-Olympic protesters could not have done a better job. This is truly extraordinary. Where in the world do they recruit those people?


Friday, November 27, 2009

Olympics: City in damage control

Betty Krawczyk protesting the Olympics. Photo John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

A few weeks ago, I blogged about the lawsuit that Chris Shaw and Alissa Westergard-Thorpe brought against the City of Vancouver with the assistance of lawyer Jason Gratl. The legal challenge was over the City’s anti-Olympic protest bylaw, which according to the two plaintiffs violated the people’s right to freedom of expression under the Canadian Charter.

I had commented back then on the relevance and brilliance of that lawsuit which could only result in two possible outcomes:
  • either the bylaw would be repealed and the Canadian Charter would come out strengthened;
  • or it would be upheld and the crowd control agenda of the corporate-government complex would be exposed in broad light.
Well, as it turns out we may just be getting the best of both worlds. The City of Vancouver has announced yesterday that it will amend the bylaw to remove some of its most offensive and anti constitutional content. By the looks of it, it will be neutered out of relevance if not repealed altogether. In response, Chris Shaw indicated that he is not prepared to withdraw his lawsuit. His comment to me in an email this morning was that “we have not seen the report to Council and, of course, still don't know what Council will do. In my view, the bylaw changes are not yet sufficient to withdraw the lawsuit.” In effect, he is not letting go until the government's crowd control agenda is fully exposed.

This stunning victory that Shaw may be about to obtain is a vivid reminder to the rest of us demoralized, apathetic and broken down activists that when you are right, you just don't give up. In this instance, all it took was two determined individuals and one lawyer, and a strategic piece of the Olympic repressive apparatus is about to take a humpty dumpty nosedive. Better still, it appears that a solid civil rights coalition is now forming around Shaw in response to this botched attempt by the City and Province to clamp down on our basic freedoms.

One can only wonder what on earth City Council was thinking when they voted this bylaw from another time. First, they sold out to the brutal demands of the transnational corporate complex which owns the Olympics. Now, they are going in damage control after realizing in a panic that Shaw and Westergard-Thorpe’s challenge is not going away. They are tripping all over themselves. What an ugly sight, coming from people of the progressive left who entered this arena with the best intentions and were supposed to bring – ahem – “change” to Vancouver civic politics.

My hat down to COPE councilor Ellen Woodsworth who had both the moral compass and political savvy to know that this thing was way too smelly to write her name under it. She is a true leader and will continue to receive my enthusiastic support.

As for the Vision Vancouver councilors, I have one question. Yeah I love the Burrard bridge bike lane. But is that really all you've got?


Thursday, November 26, 2009

Fisheries Act applies: judge

Port Hardy. Photo Tourism Port Hardy.

From Alexandra Morton. Please distribute widely:

Hello All

We are one step closer to applying the laws of Canada to salmon farming! It was a pivotal day in court. Although it is only one more step towards enforcing the laws of Canada on fish farmers, it was essential if we are to bring reason to this situation.

In September I laid charges against Marine Harvest for illegal possession of juvenile wild salmon. This came after months of correspondence with Fisheries and Oceans, asking them to uphold the Fisheries Act and lay a charge themselves.

Today was our third court appearance. The first two were simply to set dates, and then extend those dates so that the Department of Justice could review the details of the case. Today's appearance was a "process hearing" with a judge to lay out the charge and our evidence. The judge could either have refused to issue a summons, or approve the charge.

Today in Port Hardy, the judge approved the charge and a summons will be issued to Marine Harvest to appear in court and the trial could proceed.

There are several directions this could take from this point:

1. The Department of Justice could take the case over and run the case. My lawyer, Jeff Jones and I are hoping this will occur as this is truly David against Goliath, a tiny North Island law firm working Pro Bono to date, against a multi billion dollar international corporation. A round of applause for Jeffery and Marianne Jones they have done so much already!

2. If the Department of Justice takes the case, they could proceed to trial where all evidence can be heard, and a Judge will rule on the merit of the case. Or, the Department of Justice can stay the charges and the case is closed without a trial.

3. Jeff Jones and I might have to run the trial ourselves. While this seems a good idea, the reality is a tidal wave of paperwork that could overwhelm his firm, even though this appears to be an extremely straightforward charge which many fishermen have faced. However, well funded corporate defendants can stretch a trial out for days if not weeks, making it extremely costly for a private citizen to enforce the Fisheries Act.

In any case we are setting precedence. Canada cannot manage its fisheries in a sustainable way unless the laws about how many fish are caught are enforced. Over-fishing is a global problem, it is not sound management to allow salmon farmers unlimited access to BC wild fish.

Thanks to all of you for all your support. If you know anyone who would like to join us in signing the letter to the Minister of Fisheries to PLEASE ENFORCE THE FISHERIES ACT, the letter is still on our website Until the Federal government is willing to uphold the laws of Canada we will continue to do what we can to fill the void.

My deepest thanks to all of you, we face tough stretch ahead, but once again the courts have agreed with our position.

A remarkable film will be released next week on the Global impact of salmon farming, here is the trailer.

No individual can right the wrongs we have wreaked on our planet. Thank you all for being with me on this.



Friday, November 13, 2009

Salmon warriors

BC fish farm. Photo McLean's

As the middle-aged First Nation woman stood up from her wheelchair to speak, the hundred or so people in the room went mute. The tension was palpable. Somehow we knew that we were about to catch hell.

My name is Telquaa, she started with a broken voice. I don't look very strong but I like to think of myself as a woman warrior. When I was a kid I fished salmon with my mother. There were salmon everywhere. My mother would carry two huge salmon at a time on her shoulders. I never thought we would see the end of the salmon. I am happy to see so many people gathered tonight for the salmon. But you are waking up too late. Well, wake up more! Don't let that fish farm thing scare you. Your people brought this upon our people. Now you need to work very hard to bring the salmon back. You have ways, money, knowledge, legs, brains, but what you need is a heart. You have to do it for us. Our people need this bad. Help us!

After that, the only person brave enough to pick up the mike was a humbled Rafe Mair who said that this was the most important speech he had heard in years. The rest of us could only respond with thunderous applause. The last time someone spoke to me like that, I thought as I frantically jolted down what I had just heard, was Harriet Nahanee a few weeks before she died at the hands of the BC justice system.

The occasion of Telquaa's spontaneous cry for help was the premiere of Damien Gillis' latest documentary Farmed Salmon Exposed and the ensuing panel discussion at the SFU Segal Centre on November 12. This film is in my opinion Damien's best production to date. For those familiar with Damien's acclaimed Power Play series on the BC river privatization scandal, his new documentary brings a change in both scope and style.

Damien traveled to Europe and South America to get original footage and a broader understanding of the impact of the fish farm industry in countries such as Norway, Chile, Scotland, Ireland, the Shetland Islands, and Canada of course. Viewers come out of this film with two essential pieces of knowledge. Fish farms are a planetary calamity, not just a local BC one. And they are a social and economic disaster, not just an environmental one, wiping out entire coastal communities in their wake.

And why should we be surprised? If we have learned anything from the past thirty-year regime of neoliberal ideology, it is that environmental protection and social justice are one and the same struggle. This necessary convergence is brought home in a compelling fashion in Damien’s film. While I very much enjoyed the fire of his previous documentaries, I think I like this factual, analytical, almost detached style even better.

The visual drama characteristic of Damien’s work is still very much alive in Farmed Salmon Exposed. For example the last scene of the film – it’s after the credits, make sure you hang around – has a Michael Mooresque tone to it as Damien runs after a Norwegian fish farm baron asking him some hard questions and is answered with slamming elevator doors. But there is more to it than just good footage. The coherence of the fish farm industry’s agenda, its iron grip over weak governments worldwide, its relentless destruction of ecosystems and contempt for the most basic rights of workers and communities, are deconstructed in a way that everyone can understand. This makes Damien’s film an educational and thus deeply democratic enterprise.

One of the panelists, Hereditary Chief Robert Joseph of the Broughton Archipelago Territory, had the following comment for Damien: you are a salmon warrior and I thank you for that.

So true. We are a salmon nation, and I met some of its finest warriors yesterday night. Damien and Rafe Mair and Chief Robert Joseph and the other panelists. Chief Bob Chamberlin of the First Nations Leadership Council. Alexandra Morton who was not there physically but in everyone’s minds and hearts. The folks from the Wild Salmon Circle who hosted this event and are just ordinary people like you and me who became fed up with fish farm bs. And the woman warrior Telquaa, of course.

The Wild Salmon Circle people, a crafty bunch, had a surprise in stock for us. As the panelists and audience were engaged in discussion, they passed around paper and pens, and they challenged us. Write a letter to your Member of Parliament. Write it now. Yes, while you are talking and listening. Come on, you are smart people, you can multitask.

We obliged. A hundred people started writing letters on the edge of their chairs, against a wall, on a book or a backpack. “Dear Hedy,” I wrote. Hmm… “Me again.” Gawd, she must be so tired of me sending her letters about the salmon. What’s the angle going to be this time? Oh, I know! “We need to somehow derail the upcoming Judicial Inquiry to ensure that it does not turn into a polite, formal, empty legal exercise. I want you to relentlessly hunt down the Conservatives in the corridors of Parliament building and put their feet to the fire. This is not about reason. This is about force. We must force government to hear reason”, etc.

This must have been one of my better letters written to an MP, yet it took me about 6 minutes to write it. Such is the power of spontaneity. Don’t trash this one Hedy, it’s a keeper.

Yeah, I guess I must be a salmon warrior. You who are reading this, are you a salmon warrior too? Well then wake up more! Write a letter to your MP. Then post it on your Facebook. Join the Wild Salmon Circle if you haven’t done it yet. Talk to your friends and family until their ears fall off. Get up and fight!