Justice in society and justice in the SIU

February 2012

Our society defines justice for crimes by having someone put behind bars. We see this idea represented in television, movies, and other cultural media. According to our neoliberal conservative police state, we have somehow drawn a connection between incarceration and closure.

This is an extremely problematic way to view a criminal justice system.

An alternative would be the kind of preventative mea- sures that involve accessibility to education, keeping kids off the street so that they don’t grow up to be petty criminals and more importantly, rehabilitation. If you stick a child in the corner and don’t tell them why, will that keep them from making the same mistake twice? This is how our current system works, and this is why we have repeat offenders.

What if you take away those consequences and have no punishment at all? No rehabilitation, no prison sentence. You are neither satisfying the demand of the right wing justice system or its possible alternatives.

What you have instead is the system in place for officers of the law. You have no accountability, and no chance for reform because there are no efforts made to reform criminal offenders wearing a badge.

The majority of police-related incidents either go without investigation, or when they are investigated, leave the offending officer cleared of all charges, if any were laid.

Sylvia Klibingaitis was shot on her front lawn in October of this year because she threatened police officers with a large knife. The Ontario Special Investigations Unit (SIU) recently concluded, “There are no reasonable grounds to believe an officer with the Toronto Police Service committed a criminal offence in this case.”

In 2003, 67-year-old Mei Han Lee was struck and killed when a Toronto police constable suddenly accelerated into an illegal right turn. Constable Juan Quijada-Mancia, now a sergeant, was fined $500.

Enter the SIU, the organization that “conducts investi- gations of incidents involving the police that have resulted in death, serious injury, or allegations of sexual assault.”

It is the unit that it supposed to do for the police what the police do for civilians. While the SIU may most certainly be in- vestigating police incidents, very few officers face the same consequences a civilian would face, having committed the same crime.

When we see crimes like these, we demand justice. But what does that mean if the criminal is supposed to be on “our side”? What does that say to the victims and families of victims involved in incidences of physical, verbal and sexual assault and even death caused by the police, if those perpetrators are not crimi- nally charged and do not go to jail? It says that the system does not apply to criminals in uniform.

I do not believe its ineffective investigations are serving our police forces either. How can we have faith in people who suffer no accountability for their actions? How can those officers function effectively when they face no consequences?

Who is to blame? Not the police. I do not believe we should blame every person in uniform for the actions of the whole organization. I think that would be doing the same thing that the SIU does, but in reverse. We would just be as- suming guilt instead of assuming innocence.

No, instead we should look at each individual and their actions. Take them outside of the context of their badge and gun but keep them within the context of socio-political and socioeconomic power relations. Judge their words and actions as citizens, not just as cops, because I do not believe these roles should be mutually exclusive.

If a police officer rapes someone, or beats up a homeless person, it speaks to a greater societal condition, and the of- ficer’s actions should be considered as a product of that condition. That officer should then be subjected to the same system that prosecutes violence done by its citizens.

Now, what if “an OPP constable wearing a bulletproof vest and carrying a baton and pepper spray shoots and kills an intellectually challenged 59-year-old man holding a small pocket knife,” or “a Peel Region police officer sucker-punches a handcuffed prisoner and breaks his jaw in two places,” or if “two teens chatting on the grass in a public park are run over by a Durham Region squad car,” (all examples of reported incidents) and all of the officers are cleared by the SIU?

At that point you are looking at unnecessary violence that goes unchecked.

You are very simply seeing a message that Ontario officers of the law are above the law.

as published in the Ryerson Free Press, February 2012

Keeping politics on the streets: a post-election reflection

November 2011

I have to say, after all of those personal attacks, the slights against immigrants and the clever NDP ad involving a pair of bright orange pumps, the outcome of this years provincial election was decidedly anticlimactic.

I’ll admit, a small part of me did fear a conservative trifecta, the hat trick of doom.

But a larger part of me, okay the rest of me, was unabashedly hoping and praying for Andrea Horwath’s success. NDP supporters were disappointed when McGuinty was elected for the third time in a row.

Not as disappointed as we would have been if Hudak won, for obvious reasons.

I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again: we must not lose hope. We, the vaguely left, must do as we have always done and keep fighting.

We lost our champion in parliament, we missed our chance in the provincial legislature, we are still mourning the loss at the municipal level, but Toronto activists must not stop.

Even though we may not be changing the world overnight, even though we were disap- pointed, election-wise—it appears that we are still in a different place than we were last year. I believe that recent events indicate that the collective consciousness is moving towards a more progressive and inclusive system, socially and economically.

Sustainable initiatives are popping up, local produce is becoming more popular, being green is trendy. Protestors demanding change for our system that takes from the majority and gives to a minority are occupying the neighbourhoods of the highest rollers all over the world.

While corporations get more and more power, more and more people every day realize that our current system is not one that they can support.

Even though McGuinty was elected for the third time in a row, Harper got a majority and Rob Ford has control over the best city in Canada, I still believe progress is happening. Slowly, subtly, we’re moving forward.

I mean really, would any of us thought this time last year that an NDP candidate would actually have a chance in an election? That in itself is proof enough that we are doing some- thing right. So maybe we haven’t won the war just yet, but are getting a fair few battles under our proverbial and collective belt.

But we must not stop. And by we I don’t just mean activists. I mean everyone. Now that the election is over, don’t stop thinking about politics. Now that the Occupy Toronto protest is no longer headline news, don’t forget why people are still camped out at St. James Park.

Now that we’ve hit a lull, don’t forget that every second you are not screaming for your rights, stamping your feet and raising your fists, you are wasting a chance to build a better world for your children, your grandchildren, even your future self if we work hard enough.

I implore you to maintain your interest in our political situation. Even when all evidence of Jack Layton’s memorial has been washed away by the rain, when all of the Elections On- tario ads have left the TTC, if and when Occupy Toronto links are no longer coming up on our news feeds, stay on top of what’s going on.

This is a formal request for you to stay active. People need to realize that it is when things stop appearing on the news, we need to be paying the most attention.

The streets of our city have been a hotbed of activity. From last year’s G20 catastrophe, to Jack Layton’s death this summer, and finally with Occupy Toronto, it seems to be that in Toronto the political is now on the street.

Our public sphere is no longer a chamber of elected officials, which really hasn’t felt all that public in a while; indeed the public sphere is your status updates, your tweets, your blogs and your marches. It is the ground you walk on as you wave a placard and it is the air you are breathing as you sing your songs of freedom.

So let’s keep it that way. Let’s keep the Arab Spring and North African revolutions in mind. Let’s keep asking for the troops to come home. Let’s keep talking about service cuts in the city and representing the 99 per cent.

We must not let the current government or a culture of apathy define how we view the democratic system or how we view our country. All we have is the stolen land we stand on so we better make our voices heard. Discuss, participate and appreciate. Discuss the current situation, participate in the progressive movements in which you believe and appreciate the nature of your own potential to make a change in the place you live.

You must fight for your right to participate. You must demand your role. You are not sheep you are citizens. If you are not a citizen you are a resident. If you have no status, no one will hand it to you.

Fight for your existence or you will carry on unaware until our destructive and unsus- tainable ways finally reach our limit and the world, as we know it, crumbles around us.

Then what will you have? Nothing. What do you have now? Nothing. Better to know now while you can still do something about it.

as published in the Ryerson Free Press, November 2011

Riding out the Orange Wave: Why you should vote NDP in the provincial election

October 2011

It’s that time again. It seems like just weeks ago I was trying to decide whether or not to vote strategically the federal election or toss my vote away on the NDP, the party I actually support.

Most people that I spoke to agreed; the thing to do was talk NDP but vote liberal (basically anything to keep the Conservatives out of power).

Jack layton proved me wrong. He proved us all wrong by winning he official opposition position for the New Democratic Party.

He inspired hope for the future and restored some semblance of my faith in our parliamentary process. The thought of Harper having a majority didn’t seem so bad of someone like Jack layton was around to keep him in check.

Unfortunately, just months after his historic success, the leader of the NDP left us. But as anyone who was in downtown Toronto during the week of his passing could see, the hope he instilled during his life was still in our hearts, despite his death.

Now, in the light of the upcoming provincial election, we need to capitalize on what’s left of that hope, that energy. We need to keep it alive long enough for Andrea Horwath, NDP candidate for Premier, to ride what’s left of the orange wave and let it take her straight into our provincial legislature.

If there was a time that I would believe it were possible for the NDP to become the leaders of Ontario, it would be now, in the wake of Jack layton’s success last May.

He may not be around to physically support Horwath during her campaign, but his spirit, and the spirits he raised in generations of cynical, apathetic or disinterested voters was the greatest gift of support he could have given her.

I feel an incredible sense of urgency with this election.

If Andrea Horwath wins, and does well as premier, then she will have won a monumental battle for the vaguely left on the political spectrum.

If she succeeds, then serious progress will have one foot in the door to Canadian politics, the same door that Jack layton opened in the spring.

The NDP might have a chance to demonstrate decades of campaign promises, and show Canadi- ans that there is more to politics than the never-ending battle between the liberals and Conservatives.

“In this election you have a choice,” says Horwath, “you can stick with the status quo that’s just not working, or you can choose change.”

This election isn’t just about improving the circumstance of Ontario’s goods and services for the next four years, it’s about making the NDP a serious contender, and changing the way voters see Canadian political parties and the entire electoral process.

“People are thirsty for positive change,” says Horwath. And I pray she can give it to us. Now, we as voters now have our part to play. Don’t fall prey to the previous routine of underestimating the NDP and voting liberal. We’ve had liberal, we know we don’t want Conservative, so lets give the NDP a try.

The only way this will work is if all those thousands of people that lined up for layton’s funeral and wrote messages of love on city hall put that same faith they had in the man into his party. And in Andrea Horwath.

Jack layton may be gone but his official opposition still remains. Hope for Canada still remains. A progressive presence in parliament still remains.

Lets give Ontario that chance.

As published in the Ryerson Free Press, October 2011

IslamoWhat?!

October 2011

Dear Mr. Harper,

What is Islamicism?

Is there a Christianityism? Or a Judaismism? What is the difference between Islamicism and Islam?

In all my years of studying, exploring and practising my faith, surely I would have come across such a monumental distinction, or potentially relevant offshoot of what I thought was my religion.

Please Prime Minister, could you break it down for me?

See, I have a few ideas, but I’m not sure I’m on the right track. Is Islamicism like racism, but specifically against Muslims? ‘Cause that’s sure what it sounds like when you talk about it.

Or are you talking about religious fundamentalism? ‘Cause if you are, couldn’t you just say that? And if that is the case, where is the recently and specially coined term for religious fundamentalists that terrorize in the name of Christianity or Judaism or any other religion?

Why does Islam get a special term? Is it because it is so important to you, Prime Minister, to distinguish between terrorists and the rest of us? Because, you know, I think that’s kind of cool, that you would go through all that trouble to distinguish for the population that you don’t think all Muslims are a threat.

Because that would mean I’m a threat.

That would mean my parents, my grandparents, even my little cousins, are somehow threats to the country we call home, simply by virtue of our faith, the language in which we pray.

I’m sure that’s not what you meant. Because Mr. Prime Minister, if what you are really trying to say is that Islam is the threat to your oil-seeking conservative imperialist Zionist enterprise then I’m sure you would just come out and say it.

If you have the guts to justify the deaths of thousands of people every year—Palestinians, Afghans, and the Canadians that serve in your armies, surely you can admit that all of your talk of defence, security and justice is just a front for your racism, intolerance and Islamophobia.

Mr. Harper if you mean to say that every Muslim in this country is a threat to your security, your worldview and your peace of then that I dare you to come out and declare it.

Don’t add innocuous suffixes to make your words seem less hateful. Don’t make up words so you can avoid saying what your really mean.

You talk about security, but what about my security? What about protecting me from the hate-speech, the verbal violence that I have to fight every day when the topic of my religious persuasion comes up in conversation?

Then there is the physical violence, women assaulted because they are wearing hijabs, mosques vandalised, anti-Islam terrorism that goes unacknowledged.

Why is it that Norway’s recent tragedy, and attack by a white man was “out of the blue,” But “Islamic terrorism” is a constant and international threat?

Why is it that even though it has been reported that the perpetrator was actually targeting Islam and multiculturalism, his 1,500 page manifesto is being compared to “a jihadist manifesto,” a “a complete mirroring of al-Qaeda”? (Magnus Ranstorp, a terrorism expert at the Swedish National Defense Col- lege, told TIME.com. Read more here. )

Did you know Mr. Harper, that the Prime Minister of Norway made a public address in a mosque to show support and empathy to the Norwegian Muslim community?

He reached out to the Muslim community to strengthen bonds and com- bat Islamophobia.

What the hell are you doing? You’re just feeding the fire with your created “isms” and your talk of terror.

You know who the real terrorists are, don’t you? Mr. Prime Minister don’t you see that by perpetuating Islamophobia, by propagating fear and hate among your citizens you are alienating a good chunk of them?

I have enough trouble justifying the fact that I am even Canadian, being a woman of colour, never mind having to defend my faith from the assumptions people are left to make after watching conservative news broadcasts with im- ages of oppressed women and suicide bombers.

What I’d really like to ask you Mr. Harper, is when you say “Islamicism” could you just qualify who you are talking about? Either come out and say you are accusing all Muslims, from my 92-year old great-grandmother down to my future children, of being terrorists, or differentiate between religious funda- mentalism and religion.

And while I have your attention, could you please not generalize, essentialize and then demonize an entire faith? Unless your goal as Prime Minister is to lead a country full of fearful, accusative and ignorant people I suggest you lead by example.

Sincerely,

Haseena Manek

as published in the Ryerson Free Press, October 2011

His vision can still be won: A country mourns Jack Layton

September 2011

At 61, Jack Layton was by no means a young man. He had lead a long and full life compared to most.

But as the first NDP leader to make the New Democratic Party official opposition in Canadian history, I would say he still had a lot of life to live.

The one thing we can do, as Canadians, is to make sure that his visions and his hope and optimism for Canada’s future did not die with him.

This year’s federal election was a first in many ways. It boasted the a higher voter turnout than the previous election, but what’s more impor- tant, those votes changed the landscape of Canadian politics.

The majority of Quebec’s ridings were won by rookie NDP MPs, and rendered the Bloc Quebecois more or less obsolete as it lost party status for the first time since its first election.

The Liberal party, for so long considered Canada’s natural governing party, fell into third place.

Neither of the party leaders, Gilles Duceppe and Michael Ignatieff managed to secure even their own ridings, never mind a foothold for their parties in Parliament. Elizabeth May became the first green Party candidate to win a seat in the House of Commons.

As of May 2nd the view from Ottawa was a majority blue (how that happened I will never understand) but with a strong contrast of orange, and maybe a few drops of green.

But above all, the view was a hopeful one. for the first time in my living memory, there appeared to be a chance for reform in Canada at the federal level. I’m convinced the only person that could possibly inspire hope after seeing a conservative majority was Jack Layton.

His post-election speech was seriously awesome (in the biblical sense), I remember being at a loss in understanding how it was Harper was still in power, and there was Smiling Jack, up on stage, waving his cane like a banner, barely able to get a word in above all the cheering.

As far as I am concerned, Jack Layton won the election. He secured official opposition, a huge achievement, and was ready to use that influence to make some serious change in parliament.

Now that he has left us, we cannot lose that hope he had in the face of another term with Harper. If he could look to that future and still have hope, so must we as well.

I refuse to believe that without Jack Layton the New Democratic Party will fall from its current state of grace. We cannot allow his success to be fleeting. Though I feel this incredible despair with his passing. I be- lieve his winning the official opposition really was a historical moment and I pray that his hope and optimism (so refreshing in our culture of apathy) do not become a blip in Canadian political history.

In a letter to written two days before his death, Jack Layton said to the youth: “I believe in you. Your energy, your vision, your passion for justice are exactly what this country needs today. You need to be at the heart of our economy, our political life, and our plans for the present and the future.”

I hope that young people really acknowledge the importance of his accomplishments and recognize that we need to carry on in that same direction if we are going to see a change in the face of Canadian politics. We are at a tipping point. We can either carry on and really see a difference in Canada and its international role, or fall back to the same destructive, oppressive, conservative system.

To all Canadians, Jack Layton said: “ We can offer better futures for our children. We can do our part to save the world’s environment. We can restore our good name in the world. We can do all of these things because we finally have a party system at the national level where there are real choices; where your vote matters; where working for change can actually bring about change.”

Jack Layton may not have lived to make the changes he dreamed of and worked for, but he laid the foundation for it. He left us early, but he left us with an official opposition that can and will challenge the Harper government.

He left us with a totally new political terrain for Canada.

He left us further ahead than I think we have been in a long time, and finally, he left us with hope. Let us not give up that hope.

“Don’t let them tell you it can’t be done,” Jack closes his letter. In Jack Layton’s memory, let’s fight for a better Canada.

as published in the Ryerson Free Press, September 2011

Apocalypse now? There is plenty of evidence the world is coming to an end

June 2011

If you don’t think the world is ending, just flip through the average mainstream newspaper.

During the May long weekend, the front page of the Toronto edition of Metro shouted warnings of an impending apocalypse—apparently scheduled for May 21. The coverage focused on the California-based broadcaster Family Radio—the group predicting the end of days—and responses to its prediction by the wider public, including local environmentalists. Tom Evans, a spokesperson for Family Radio, suggested that, if the world didn’t come to an end on May 21, “God is a liar.”

If the predictions of Family Radio aren’t enough to convince you about the end of the world, there is plenty of other evidence. As you move past the usual Bible-thumping rhetoric, you will find countless signs that the world is going to the dogs.

It may not be the kind of fire and brimstone you’ve come to expect, or even flooding, earthquakes or mudslides (although there seems to be lots of that, too). But unless the world soon changes dramatically, I wouldn’t be surprised to see more frequent predictions of the coming apocalypse.

For instance, page ten of the Metro reports that former leader of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Dominique Strauss-Khan, is currently in jail for allegedly raping a hotel worker in New York City. Strauss-Khan, the man in charge of organizing monetary support for the developing world where IMF aid packages often exacerbate the exploitation and oppression of women, now stands accused of sexual assault. As a result of his million-dollar bail, Strauss-Khan is now being held under “elaborate house arrest” in a private Manhattan apartment with armed guards.

Then there is our favourite body-builder-turned-actor-turned-California Governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger—also known as “Conan the Republican” or the “Governator.” Schwarzenegger is now getting divorced following revelations about his 10-year-old love child that no one had ever heard of. Not surprisingly, his soon-to-be ex-wife Maria Shriver is now considering writing another book.

Speaking of books, one Hilary Winston has recently published her life story, originally titled My Boyfriend Wrote A Book About Me, a revenge novel about her various boyfriends, in response to a novel one of these guys wrote about her. According to the article, Winston’s work is no skin off his back: “He’s really egocentric. He likes the fact that I wrote a book about him.”

Finally, there is the ongoing release of video messages by Osama Bin Laden. It makes me wonder: is there a special branch of al Qaeda that gets paid to release and promote Bin Laden’s ante mortem video blogs? Honestly I would not be surprised if Osama was chilling on a Cali beach right now.

But don’t ask anyone in the CIA, because any employees sharing actual truths about bin Laden’s death face prosecution, according to a memo issued by CIA head Leon Panetta. You can read all about it in a tiny five-line blurb at the bottom of page 15, next to an ad for Crocs.

Bin Laden was the “justification” for the decade-long War on Terror, first in Afghanistan and later in Iraq. His death has been exploited by Obama to counter Republican accusations that he is soft on terror and to give US imperialism a reason to intervene in Pakistan, which is likely the next target on the US hit list.

You can read more of Bin Laden’s message on page 15 of the Metro: he “praised the mass protests that have toppled and shaken long-time rulers across the Arab world while trying to cast a role for Al Qaeda.” As far as I can see, this is an attempt to co-opt the brilliant and inspiring resistance in North African and Middle Eastern countries, connecting Bin Laden to a movement that has rejected his politics.

There was real-life twenty-first-century revolution in Egypt, and somebody decided it was a good opportunity to reinforce the supposed distinction between so-called “Islamic terror” and U.S.-backed terror.

“Though both Bin Laden and the West have generally supported protest movements in the Middle East,” reads the article, “their goals differ.”

No, I’m sorry, don’t even try it. Don’t take the removal of Hosni Mubarak and make it your own. That victory belongs to the Egyptian people, not to Bin Laden or any supposed terrorist support, and definitely not to Western support.

But that’s just it, isn’t it? We live in a world where newspapers print information that pleases the corporations that own them, where government “leaders” adjust policies to benefit destructive capitalism.

Finding the truth is tough: it’s hidden like gold. Only it’s not like gold because gold is something people kill for, and the truth is something people die for. Silently, people die, every day, every hour, every minute, all over the world, for war, for money, for sex slaves, for drugs and for worse. People are dying in Mexico, Sierra Leone, Palestine and here in Canada as well. But the majority of us continue along, fed simulated truths and simulated food, told to think less and shop more.

Is this any way to live? So unaware of our rights or the rights of our neighbours that we don’t even realize when they’re taken away?

It’s like living empty and soulless. This is why so many people are depressed nowadays—and why people keep predicting the end of the world!

Even sheep can sense the slaughter approaching, but we still don’t realize that the way we live is destroying the Earth. It is destroying our bodies and our minds. With every can of Coke, new pair of shoes, F-16 fighter jet and reality TV star, we are little by little robbing ourselves of our own humanity.

Something needs to change.

(Otherwise, I won’t be at all surprised if and when lightning bolts start falling from the sky.)

as published in the Ryerson Free Press, June 2011

Don’t hate on Kate: Why Canadians care about the royal wedding

May 2011

Obsession with celebrities is not something we’re unaccustomed to, but when it comes to the “wedding of the century,” it looks as if people have pulled out all the stops. British people and people on this side of the pond seemed to take the event very seriously. It was all over Canadian news, taking precedence over a recent bombing in Marrakesh’s main square, tornadoes in the United States and even the federal election.

Despite the thorough coverage, it seems that reaction among Canadians was mixed, from ambivalence to obsession.

Deirdre Bradd, 21, and a friend prepared for the big day by buying some bubbly and baking a “Congratulations Will and Kate” cake, which they enjoyed while watching the ceremonies (which started at 3:00 a.m. EST). “We wanted to feel we were celebrating with them,” says Bradd. “I think we were both more interested in the love story, rather than the relationship between England and Canada.”

Another Toronto student, Vivian Mak, thinks that relationships between countries are relevant. “Although it doesn’t really relate to Canadians, I think it is still of Canadian inter- est, because our association with England is a huge part of our history,” she says. “We live in a global society now where every country can very easily affect each other. We still remain in good relations with England, so why not be happy for them as well? Happiness doesn’t need a justified reason, and love is a universal component of humans, not just the future King and Queen of England.”

However, with all this emphasis on the people and their romance, we forget that Wills and Kate, as much as people might claim otherwise, are not exactly ‘ordinary people.’ Toronto resident Kayla Guida doesn’t think the Royal Wedding is a real love story. “I don’t believe in the Royal Wedding. It’s not based on true love the way a marriage should be. It’s choreographed based on politics and royal status.”

Someone else told me that the enthusiasm to see the wedding live comes from people just wanting to be a part of history, while others just “wanted to see her dress.”

I wonder: wouldn’t participating in last month’s first-ever SlutWalk (now popping up all over the world), or going out and voting in the federal election that was just days later, be a more relevant way to be a part of history?

“I think with Americans and Canadians, they really like the idea of princes and princesses,” says Stacey Rhodes, born in Australia but living in London. “And living out the fairy- tale wedding and life; they are all just extremely obsessed. It’s intense!”

Jessica Caballero, an employee at Westminster Abbey notes, “[P]eople love fairy-tales; the poor (well, middle-class) girl marries the prince, heir to a kingdom and-a-half.”

Is this keen interest just a projection of a childhood diet of Disney and Barbie? The closest we can get to a real Cinderella story?

But why are the Windsors and their history so captivating for Canadian audiences?

Many other countries have monarchies, many of which are still politically active. But days before our federal election, I flip on the local news channel and all anyone is talking about is the Royal Wedding, the first royal kiss, the royal dress, the earrings and especially the Queen’s outfit, as if they are the only royals, and the only monarchs worth talking about.

“I think Canadians, like many other countries, can trace links back to England,” continues Caballero, “whether it be family ties, or having been part of the empire or Commonwealth.”

Serena Hemraj, a high-school student living in Alberta, points out that “the British monarchy’s influence stretches around the world. Prince William’s grandmother is head of state of 16 Commonwealth countries.” Has Great Britain’s colonial legacy earned them the attention of the eyes around the globe? Or maybe the fact that so many other countries are interested in the affairs of their royal family is just evidence of the extent of the monarchy’s history of colonization.

I’m wondering: if we’re concerned with the ways the histories of our two countries are entwined, how can we not consider that the relationship is one tainted with bloodshed and genocide? Do those memories have a time limit?

Speaking of history, another popular opinion is that the Royal Family brings to mind another story, that of the British monarchy’s history of imperialism and colonization.

Mera Sivanesan, UK-born but raised in Toronto says, “speaking as a Sri Lankan Tamil woman who is part of the Sri Lankan Tamil Diaspora…the main reason why the bulk of that specific Diaspora was created was the war in Sri Lanka which, in turn, happened because of the legacy of British colonialism…why would I celebrate anything to do with the institution that caused this and so many other stories of dispossession, separation, exploitation and theft?

“We can’t take that wedding out of context, it’s not just a happy union between two people in love, its steeped in history… so I don’t buy the argument that people are watching it to just see that, it’s not true… We may be watching it for all the pomp and pageantry and glitz, but all of that stuff is predicated on the methods used to acquire such obscene amounts of wealth.”

Speaking of wealth, many people I talked to argued that the wedding was a welcome distraction during distressing economic times, but it was a distraction that cost millions. How can we not consider the irony in that?

I wish I could partake and enjoy the festivities, and be pleased for the happy couple, but with every glance at a newspaper that shows me the Royal Wedding instead of real world events, I think about the state of the world and Arundhati Roy’s words echo in my head: “Imperial Britain’s festering blood-drenched gifts to the modern world…”

Can’t get enough of the Royal Wedding? Check it outline: http://www.officialroyalwedding2011.org

as published in the Ryerson Free Press, May 2011

Top 8 Canadian immigrants of all time

April 2011

In honour of the Canadian Immigrant Magazine’s Top 25 Canadian Immigrants Contest, we have compiled a list of the Canadian immigrants that have contributed the most throughout of all of Canada’s short but illustrious history.

8. Spanish Flu

The only non-human immigrant to ever be awarded this honour, the Spanish Influenza Virus earns an Honorable Mention in this competition. Along with many other Eurasian viruses and diseases, the Spanish flu crossed the Atlantic on ships with the rest of the European colonizers and settlers. And just like the European colonizers and settlers, it explored the land from coast to coast, decimating indigenous populations as it went.

7. Hans Bernhardt

In 1664 Bernhardt came to Canada, earning an honorary place in Canadian history as the first recorded German immigrant. We recognize Bernhardt here not just because he is a special first, but because he illustrates that even though Cartier founded the first French settlement in the Americas only a hundred years before, any person arriving to Canada that was not English or French (sometimes also Scottish and Irish) would be deemed an immigrant, while the English and French (and Scottish and Irish) were simply pioneers. This deeply Canadian practice of snubbing anyone else that attempts to build a life in Canada has been wholeheartedly carried on through Canadian policy, practice and government. One notable partisan is Mr. Jason Kenny, current Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism.

6. Henry Hudson

The story of Henry Hudson, an English sea explorer, illustrates the excitement felt by Europeans discovering a new world and the glory in their ad- ventures. In the early seventeenth century, Hudson explored the East Coast of North America looking for passage to the East for the Dutch East India Company. The river he explored in that area was eventually named after him. In 1611, after spending the winter in James Bay, Hudson wanted to continue further West, but his crew, representing the only European explorers (other than the Vikings, see 2) to ever visit a foreign land and simply return, were apparently tired of the famous Canadian winter (I’m assuming they didn’t have toques or Sorels then), so they mutinied, and left Hudson, his young son and a few other crewmembers adrift in what was to become Hud- son’s Bay, and they were never seen again. Upon returning to Europe, the mutineers were not convicted and executed as most mutineers are, instead they were charged with murder and acquitted, being that they possessed information of the new world that was far more valuable to north American colonizers than was justice, another tradition that has wound its way into the Canadian judiciary and political systems and since remained.

5. Chinese-Canadian railway workers

We decided it would be pertinent to apply this honour to a group of people, and we would like to recognize the Chinese workers on the Canadian Pacific Railway for two reasons. The first being that they don’t appear to be formally recognized anywhere else. The second, that they are the first and only immigrant population to be actually requested by the Canadian government, who today prefers illegal and/ or temporary workers. BC politicians of the time pushed for an accommodating immigrant program for workers from the British Isles (an obvious preference) after being given a strict time limit to build the railway. But our then Prime Minister, much like our current Prime Minister, recognized the true value and opportunity in cheap foreign labour, and he (John A. Macdonald) can be quoted as saying, “It is sim- ply a question of alternatives: either you must have this labour or you can’t have the railway.” A true testament to early Canadian capitalism, Macdonald’s words illustrate the importance of making money over than domestic development needs.

4. Sir John A. Macdonald

Macdonald moved to Canada with his family at the tender age of five. Similar to many immigrant experiences in Canadian history, his family struggled to find financial footing in their new home, and young John was forced to leave school at 15, (he was unable to attend university), to help support his family. With no post secondary education, and no interest in learning a trade, the only option for the man who was to enter politics and eventually become the first Prime Minister of the Dominion of Canada was, apparently, law. Along with being a solid number four on our list and the first Prime Minister of Canada, Sir John A. Macdonald was also the first conservative Prime Minister in Canadian history. A tradition that is yet to expire, but we’ve all got our fingers crossed.

3. William Lyon Mackenzie

Mr. Mackenzie’s story is another classic tale of a struggling immigrant rising to make his own in a new and foreign land. Mackenzie left Europe at 25 be- cause he lacked stable employment. When he arrived here he worked on a canal in Lower Canada (present day eastern Quebec), and wrote for various local newspapers. He eventually established his own paper, the Colonial Advocate. His interest in local politics led to him running for office. This quintessential story of a newcomer in Canada peaked in 1834 when Mackenzie was appointed Mayor But Mackenzie only lasted until 1835 because he did not address the city’s debt or the need for public works another longstanding tradition.

2. Leif “the Lucky” Ericsson

Leif the Lucky was the first European to visit North America, likely responsible for establishing the L’ans aux Meadows settlement in present day Newfoundland. It is not a very well known fact that the first Europeans to visit North America were actually Vikings. This is probably because the Norse explorers did so hundreds of years before anyone else and did not steal, colonize and claim ownership of the land to the same extent of their later counterparts. Some have surmised that their apparent lack of ambition or interest in the land (occasionally mis- interpreted as an understanding that the land was previously inhabited and not theirs to take) was what kept them out of the history books. We recognize Ericsson here because after his genial first visit to North America, he came back (after having returned to Norway and converted to Christianity) this time with a priest, kicking off a long and far less friendly tradition of Euro- pean missionary work (also known as ‘forced conversion of the native heathens’ in some texts) in North America, South America, Africa, Asia, and the South Pacific Colonies, to name a few.

1. Christopher Columbus

The Top Canadian Immigrant Award of all time goes Christopher Columbus, a fifteenth-century Italian sailor. Though Columbus never actually made it to Canada in his lifetime, his extraordinary underestimation of the circumference of our planet lead to one of the most profitable mistakes in history for European colonization of the ‘Americas’. His famous navigational gaffe, landing him in the Bahamas instead of India, was the first of four famous voyages he made across the Atlantic, opening the door to colonization of North and South America and the decimation of entire indigenous populations. His infamous inability to distinguish between the cultures of North American indigenous peoples and those of India lead to the development of the terms‘American Indians’, or ‘Native Indians’. His well-lauded racism, rapaciousness and the genocide and land-theft that were born of it are still celebrated in the United States today on Columbus Day, an official holiday.

published in the devrEyeopener, annual satirical component of the Ryerson Free Press under Zsa Zsa McWilliams, History Editor, April 2011

Why Only One Month for Black History?

February 2011

Black History Month is a fine thing. It’s a time of year when it’s okay to remind people about racism, to talk about Rosa Parks or the Black Panthers. Just like Christmas, it’s a time when people are called out to show off their finest in moral fibre.

Well, fuck that.

The Salvation Army is around for the other 11 months of the year, and so are black people. It is not okay to just remember centuries of colonialism, ongoing oppression or the reality that racism, in fact, has not evaporated, for just 28 days.

Read complete article on the Canadian University Press website.

Will Canada ever leave Afghanistan? Harper extends mission for another three years

December 2010

Will Canada ever leave Afghanistan? This is a difficult question. I believe the answer is yes.

When attempting to answer this question, there are three things we must consider. First, Canada’s relationship to the United States; second, the reasons given for the military occupation of Afghanistan; and third, public opinion.

Canadian involvement in Afghanistan started in 2001, with a small contingent aiding the U.S.-led invasion, increasing slowly until today, where we have almost 3,000 troops, largely based in and around Kandahar, Afghanistan’s second largest city.

While it was Jean Chrétien’s Liberal government that initially gave support to U.S. opera- tions in Afghanistan with about a hundred Canadian troops, it has been Harper’s Conservative government that has increased support of the American initiative, continuing to extend the Canadian military presence in Afghanistan.

Despite Obama’s campaign promises to decrease the American military presence in Afghanistan, it looks as if the troops won’t be coming home anytime soon.

In Canada, as the previously announced term for the combat mission ends (mid-2011), the Harper government has managed to extend, once again, the mission by another three years.

While the majority of troops are to return to Canadian soil (or to another mission the government has yet to announce), about 950 troops will remain in a “training” capacity.

The newly extended, now so-called humanitarian mission, will have four main goals, at least according to the Canadian government: “investing in the future of Afghan children and youth through development programming in education and health; advancing security, the rule of law and human rights, including through the provision of up to 950 trainers for Afghan security forces; promoting regional diplomacy; and helping deliver humanitarian assistance.” The government elaborates its goals on a website called “Canada’s Engagement in Afghanistan.”

Now that our mission no longer appears to be a combat initiative, I believe it is less likely that the general public will find reasons to be opposed to Canadian military presence in Af- ghanistan.

Humanitarian missions and development initiatives are currently so popular with liber- als-wanting-to-be-leftist/Free-the-Children-but-go-fair trade/hippie/hipster youth culture that converting the mission mandate from war to development was probably the most clever PR move yet.

By playing up the “bring our troops home (preferably not in body bags)” angle, those op- posed to foreign occupation garnered much support. However, if people start to think that the newly extended post-2011 mission is a friendly and safe expedition, then it may become hard to convince them otherwise.

On the other hand, it appears the Canadian public is hardened by a decade of the “War on Terror.” A recent Canadian Press/Harris-Decima poll shows that the majority of Canadians are opposed to a continued military presence in Afghanistan, and will only tolerate the extended humanitarian mission if it there is no combative engagement.

Of those that responded to the poll, 60 per cent were opposed to having Canadian troops in Afghanistan. The poll also brings to light another reason why public opinion – and making our voices heard to the powers that be – is so important.

From this poll, we can see that once again the Harper government (this time supported by Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff ) is “paddling against the tide of public opinion.”

“It’s a rare instance…” says Harris-Decima chairman Allan Gregg, “where the two major parties have come together, knowing that they’re probably on the wrong side of public opinion, to do what they believe in their heart of hearts is the right thing.”

My question is this: how much longer can our government make excuses for a mission so obviously opposed by the majority of Canadians? While this would not be the first time public opinion is ignored for the sake of war and political power, we have to believe that our elected government will only be able to oppose us so openly for so long.

At the very least, Harper only has two years left in his term, and let’s hope opposition to his global affairs strategies will translate into general opposition at the ballot box.

Most Afghans want troops to leave their country. Read about the poll here: bit.ly/gPYnPZ

as published in the Ryerson Free Press, December 2010