The Failures & Dangers of the Pre-Pandemic Economy, Part II: Retrenchment or Reset?

“May you live in interesting times”: an ancient saying attributed to the Chinese. Ironically, it is a curse that life is better in “uninteresting times” of peace and stability than times of trouble and turbulence.  We are now in “interesting times”, COVID-19 has profound global impact and shocked us out of complacency.

The virus has exposed the gaping holes of our economic and social system.  The prosperity and stability of the post WW II era in western countries was eclipsed by a pre-pandemic economy that failed us in many ways, resulting in gross income inequality and insecurity of precarious work.  Middle class and worker incomes have stagnated while huge swaths of wealth are more and more held in the hands of the few – the top tier, the 1%.  In turn, billionaires buy influence and dominate political and economic power.

Governments that embraced neo-liberal ideology slashed spending and taxes, outsourced to the private sector, relaxed regulation and eroded public health and services – whilst lacking the resources required at hand at a time of urgent need. 

The ideological denigration of government and public institutions has contributed to public cynicism – voter turnout declined and the insidious role of private money further accelerated the capture of political power and levers of government.  Economic insecurity has provided fertile ground for fear and division, the scapegoating of minorities and immigrants and the rise of diversionary dog-whistle politics or worse – demagogues and authoritarianism – such as Trump, Bolsanaro, Orban and Erdogan. 

COVID-19 has accelerated exposure of the inequities and fears.  We are at historic crossroads.  Which direction will we go? That’s a tough one – it could go either way.  Does it risk economic depression or calamity with governments choosing more austerity? Already powerful voices are calling out the deficit and “debt” – for a retrenchment.  Or, does it show that the right has little to offer after decades of “Government get out of the way!” and the worship of the market.  In Canada, New Zealand, Scandinavia, and Germany, among others, we are witnessing collective action, government and the public sector reiterating the role of government in crisis and helping their people to survive and get through the crisis. 

Canada is rich country. It’s also clear we always had the resources.  The pandemic has exposed “ugly truths”.  Polls show four-in-five Canadians agree COVID-19 has revealed problems of the elderly and vulnerable Canadians and troubling inequality in our society.   This is the result of choices and ideology – of priorities and values, of how resources and wealth is apportioned in society.

Governments have the capacity to help shape a better future.  Public investments and strategic initiatives in infrastructure, public transit and universal broadband, pharmacare and dental care, diversification with renewable energy and a Green New Deal, affordable housing, improved minimum wage and benefit standards, ensuring supply chains and food security vital to national security, training and supports to transition displaced workers and education investments for a modern and adaptable workforce, a national strategy to address an aging population and child poverty, and universal child-care.   

“How will you pay for it?” critics will opine. How much are we willing to pay to live in good and prosperous country?  By reforming the taxation system and making it fair and progressive.  Challenging the view that any tax is a bad tax.  We could consider:

  • A wealth tax: A well-designed wealth tax would address risk of wealth transfers out of country and contribute back to the health and well-being of a society that has provided the wealthy so much;
  • An inheritance tax:  The boomers, the largest demographic sits on substantial assets to be bequeathed and a modest inheritance tax would support growing demands on health care and assist the younger generation which will bear the burden of supporting an economy with a demographically aging population;
  • Raise the GST 2% back to 7%, before Harper cut it and generate $15B annually;
  • Close unfair legal tax loopholes and create an elite division to aggressively go after large-scale tax evasion and offshore tax havens.  PBO conservatively estimates $240B Canadian stashed away in tax havens and $25B annually leaving the country;
  • Consider increasing the capital gains tax to back 75%, before Liberals reduced it.  Why should human labour be taxed fully and capital less so?   
  • Incentivize and reward innovation.  End subsidies to fossil fuel and polluting industries;
  • Create a National Commission, like the Carter commission more than 50 years ago, to modernize the entire tax system. The economy, technology and society have changed drastically since then. This is long overdue.

As for the national debt, we should not be fooled by the old scare “the cupboard is bare”.  Borrowing costs for government are extremely low, governments have a very long time frame to manage debt and much of the debt we are adding is owed to ourselves.  The Globe & Mail editorial, “At no time in history has Canada been able to borrow so much for so little.  Which is fortunate, because at no time since the last war has Canada needed to borrow so much, so quickly.”1  Increasing revenue permits strategic investments, avoiding drastic and brutal cuts, and reduces the debt.  

“The ideological denigration of government and public institutions….Economic insecurity has provided fertile ground for fear and division, the scapegoating of minorities and immigrants and the rise of diversionary dog-whistle politics or worse – demagogues and authoritarianism – such as Trump, Bolsanaro, Orban and Erdogan.

The evidence and research is clear, we pay a high price for inequality.  And, it is dangerous.  It breeds resentment which in turn fuels anger and extremism.  The more equal a society, the more successful it is.  Conversely, “almost everything – from life expectancy to mental illness, violence to illiteracy – is affected not by how wealthy a society is, but how equal it is.” (Pickett & Wilkinson). Even the IMF is warning states to raise taxes on the wealthy to tackle inequality. (7-1-20) The success of post war Keynesian economics may be making a comeback.

This is a revolutionary moment in politics, the choices we make will shape political direction and societal views on policy issues for decades.  This is the time for swift and meaningful change – a Great Reset.  Good ideas and beliefs are not enough, it requires organized and collective action.  Progressives must be ready for the challenge. Let the debate begin.  Our collective future will depend on it.

  1. Globe & Mail, 28-4-2020
  2. Wilkinson & Pickett, The Spirit Level, Why Equality is Better for Everyone, Penguins Books, 2010.
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The Failures & Dangers of the Pre-Pandemic Economy: How Did We Get Here? Part I:

We Canadians live in one of the richest societies in the history of the world. A Canadian, John Humphrey, was instrumental in the creation of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, including right to social security and a standard of living adequate for health and well-being – food, clothing, housing and medical care, necessary social services, and education. Canada pledged the full realization of these human rights. (1)

So, how is it that homelessness, hunger and food banks have proliferated and the scourge of child poverty remains in our midst? Affordable housing is out of reach for workers and the middle class in many of our cities. Over half of Canadians live paycheque to paycheque. Forty percent have no retirement savings.

Income inequality is at historic levels not seen since before the Great Depression. The top 1% gained a majority of national income before 2008 and gained almost all the additional income created in the so-called recovery. Why is this important? Increased inequality results in slower growth, lower GDP and greater instability. It undermines and threatens democracy. It breeds fear, resentment and scapegoating. In the aftermath of the horrors and lessons of the Second World War, US President Roosevelt warned:

“Necessitous men are not free men. People who are hungry and out of
a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made. In our day these
economic truths have become accepted as self-evident.”

So, how did we get here, to an economy and political outcomes that are failing us?

Margaret Thatcher said that, “there is no such thing as society and Ronald
Reagan said that government is not the solution to our problem; government
is the problem. These stupid slogans marked the turn away from the post-war
period of reconstruction and underpin much of the bullshit of the past forty
years.” – The New Yorker, May 2020.

These are not accidental accretions, it is about values and ideology – power and influence of moneyed interests that dominates the political system, reinforces itself at every turn – for the benefit of the oligarchs and plutocrats, with their well-resourced think-tanks and media conglomerates.

For decades, the neo-liberals have demonized government and propagated a religion of tax cuts. Austerity at every level has eroded our key institutions and programs designed to help people.

[NYTimes.com, Illustration by Andrew Rae, 20-6-17]


In Canada, in 1982 the MacDonald Commission urged neo-liberal policy, calling for “free trade” and curtailing the welfare state. The 1987 Conservative budget cut taxes on the wealthy and NAFTA restricted the rights of the state to regulate business and corporations. The 1995 budget included a 40% cut in transfers to provinces by 1997 – for health, welfare and education. Paul Martin and the Liberals abandoned Keynesian economics. In 2000, the Liberals broke their promise to restore 50% of future budget surplus to restore funding cuts, instead cutting $100 Billion in taxes over 5 years. More than 30% of the tax cuts went to the top 5% of income earners and more than 70% to the top 30%. Corporate taxes were cut more than 35%. Cuts to unemployment and welfare impacted the provinces ability to reduce poverty. (2)

The deficit scare was used to justify and mobilize political messaging for the actions taken. Other OECD countries such as Finland, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Australia reduced their deficits less quickly than Canada, but neither did they reduce their national government spending to the degree Canada did, as a percentage of the economy.


For a brief interlude in 2004, the NDP led by Jack Layton was able to pressure a Liberal minority government to reverse a proposed $4.6 Billion cut in corporate taxes to instead spend money on affordable housing, public transit and education.

The election of the Harper Conservatives accelerated the attack on the progressive state. Child-care program cuts were accompanied by a cut in the corporate tax from 22% to 15% resulting in $10 Billion reduction in government revenues within 3 years. The political optics of boutique tax cuts resulted in disproportionate benefits to those with higher incomes. The GST was cut 2% with a loss of $15 Billion in annual government revenue, while it may have been politically popular, polls suggested it have been better used to fund infrastructure to cities and towns. By 2010, the Conservative finance minister boasted that the federal tax revenue to GDP was the lowest since 1961 – an era prior to the great nation building programs such as Medicare, Canada Pension Plan, Old Age Security, Employment Insurance, expanded post-secondary education and social assistance. (3)

Tax cuts do not pay for themselves. The incomes of average Canadians have stagnated for the past 40 years, the benefits have gone hugely to the top percentile, accompanied by cuts to public services vital to the well-being and progress of the country and it’s people. There has been a massive increase of income inequality and a growing disconnect by the top 1% to the struggles and needs of the majority of the population.

What lessons can be learned from the financial crisis of 2008 and the crisis of COVID-19? Why should it matter?…It threatens social stability and undermines democracy. We require a bold way forward to a new economy and political choices that are better for the Canadian people and the country, a more promising, egalitarian and prosperous future.

Some ideas to accomplish this, will follow in Part II…

(1) Articles 22 & 25; (2) Source: Alex Himelfarb & Jordan Himelfarb, editors, “Tax is Not a Four Letter Word, A Different Take on Taxes in Canada”, Wilfred Laurier University Press, 2013. (3) ibid.


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Human Rights & Emergency Powers

COVID-19 has reached almost every country in the world. Politicians may be tempted to use extraordinary powers. It is necessary for governments to counter the spread of COVID-19, which is itself a human rights responsibility. Governments must protect rights to health and life.

Human rights were designed for hard and exceptional times and to protect the vulnerable and prevent abuses. They are hard fought rights that arose in the aftermath of the ashes of WWII and crimes that shocked the conscience of humanity.

In my country of Canada, already some politicians have been quick to urge invoking the Emergencies Act. Thus far, the Federal government to it’s credit has resisted the temptation, although the opposition parties had to forstall a hidden provision in a financial relief bill that would have given the Liberals unlimited discretion in spending authority to the end of 2021 and enormous unchecked political advantage – usurping a fundamental role of parliament.

 

 

To invoke emergency powers, international human rights law puts the onus on a state to demonstrate:

1. existence of compelling circumstances and state interest;
2. necessity, reasonableness, proportionality, and temporary use;
3. having exhausted less restrictive and alternative measures;
4. non-discrimination;
5. ensuring and protecting core minimum rights;
6. participation of individuals and affected groups in the decision-making process.

Limitations on rights must include being “determined by law” and “solely for the purpose of promoting the general welfare in a democratic society.”1

On March 16, 2020, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights urged all states to “avoid overreach of security measures in their response to the coronavirus outbreak and reminded them that emergency powers should not be used to quash dissent.” Authoritarian leaders such as Victor Orban of Hungary and Duterte of the Phillipines have used the pandemic as a cover to further erode human rights and democracy. Kashmir has been under severe lockdown for months preceding coronavirus and at risk of even more severe measures. Democracies die behind closed doors. History tells us that emergencies have been used as a pretext for power grabs by authoritarians.

Canada’s Quarantine Act and provincial emergency measures, which are less restrictive and intrusive on civil liberties appear to be working and with reasonableness. However, this is accompanied by risk and concerns of domestic violence and abuse for women and children. Marginalized persons, Indigenous persons, racialized persons and minorities are at greatest risk of law enforcement abuses or societal injustice. Media reports substantiate incidents of racial discrimination and targeting of persons of Chinese descent.

The politics of Emergencies can be manipulative and tempting. Canadians have memories of then Canadian PM Pierre Trudeau invoking the War Measures of Act in response to two high-profile kidnappings in Quebec in 1970 by FLQ separatist extremists. The measures were popular with the majority of the public. And, they were excessive, infringing on rights and misused by law enforcement and some politicians. NDP Leader Tommy Douglas opposed the use of Emergency powers and paid a price in loss of popular support. History and historians, however, proved Douglas’ principled stand to be right.

At times of crisis, democracies are in need of courageous leaders; our democracies are stronger and the obligations of human rights upheld. In a letter to Thomas Jefferson in 1816, John Adams wrote, “Power must never be trusted without a check.” Public transparency, media coverage, and honest political debate ensure that any restriction on rights meets legal and human rights standards – for legitimate public health goals.

We have a duty to take care of each other, to protect human rights. Let’s keep the human in human rights, while curtailing the spread of COVID-19.

1.  International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Art. 4

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COVID-19: Canada’s Emergency Benefit & Wage Subsidy – Gaps & Concerns.

COVID-19 is a public health and economic crisis. Governments are urgently responding to avoid an economic depression and social instability.

The government of Canada has announced a number of programs, including the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) and to wage subsidies of up to 75% of employee wages.  The two programs alone are in the tens of billions of dollars.

(Photo from the Atlantic magazine)

The CERB was announced last week and it is a direct benefit of $2000 per month to help with loss of income due to the COVID-19 crisis and it is an improvement on the two EI related benefits announced earlier. However, CERB does nothing for many Canadians, such as students and graduates about to enter the job market, those unemployed for a longtime, anyone who earned less than $5000. This gap in support especially leaves out the homeless, marginalized and most vulnerable segments of our society. This omission is a moral and policy failure.

These are just some of the people who won’t qualify for the benefit.

If you’re self-employed and your income is significantly reduced, but you’ve managed to make a partial income, you appear to be ineligible. For example, if you normally make $2500, but now making $250, you likely do not qualify. You also won’t qualify if you voluntarily stopped working.

Canada has more than 500,000 post-secondary students graduating in the next couple of months, many of them would not have made $5000. They are entering the workforce for the first time and left without this income support – and, there are no jobs.

The Federal Wage Subsidy, like the CERB is well-intentioned, but not without significant concerns. It is one of the most expensive federal programs ever.

It is estimated that the subsidy of 75% for companies with a 30% revenue decline would cost $6.3 billion a week, and over $80 billion over three months (CD Howe Institute). This is more than all the major federal transfer programs for an entire fiscal year – not three months – to the provinces and territories for social assistance, health, equalization and so forth.

Much is unclear about this program. It should go to those companies that need it most: small and medium sized businesses and non-profits. Large corporations, many of which are profitable and had earnings in the hundreds of million or billions of dollars could also receive large subsidies. They don’t need it. What if employers do not pay the remaining 25% to their workers? What if banks, rental companies defer payments from customers and renters and require payment later? Do they still qualify? What if companies pay out huge bonuses to executives or do share buy-backs? What if industries which were already in decline such as oil companies or due to poor business decisions, that has little to do with COVID-19 – can they still step in and use the subsidy? What about numbered or anonymous companies? 

There should be concern about waste, misuse and corruption. For large companies and employers, it could be examined on a case-by-case, where necessary.

There’s no question that the federal government has a crucial responsibility to help Canadians get through this crisis. The CERB will be an essential help for many families. As for the wage subsidy, implemented properly it can be a beneficial program. It is imperative that the program not be misdirected and that it goes to those businesses that really need it, because we’re all paying for it.

The federal government is means-testing programs for individuals – the most vulnerable and poorest Canadians will not get the CERB – all the more reason to scrutinize the wage subsidy and ask if it is being used for proper policy objectives and if it’s the best use of public emergency money.

Many Canadians have been advocating for social programs such as universal pharmacare, childcare, affordable or tuition free post-secondary education, dental and eye-care – for decades.

A Universal Basic Income payable to all would cost less, be easier to administer than the complexity of various different programs coming from the Federal government, and have significant benefits. The UBI could then be taxed back based on progressive taxation next year. But, that is a topic for another day and post.

The Liberal government has, however embarked down a different pathway and the need for financial assistance is immediate. There are many gaps and valid questions that arise about the CERB and Wage Subsidy programs. It is our role as Canadians to ask those hard questions, demand transparency and responsible use of public funds.

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SPEECH by BILL SUNDHU: “Walk To Embrace Diversity”, on the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, Kamloops, BC, March 21, 2019.

The Charter of the UN is based on the principle of the dignity and equality inherent in all human beings. It recognizes that Racism is repugnant to the ideals of any human society. This is a dark time for human rights. The time for platitudes and touchy-feely speeches on diversity has passed. “There comes a time when [we] must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but we must do it because Conscience tells [us] it is right.”[1] If my words make anyone feel uncomfortable then I can only hope it is an opportunity to ask hard questions of ourselves – open our hearts and minds; to question some of our preconceived notions and assumptions. That’s not a bad thing – for, we all have blind spots and prejudices.

The United Nations proclaimed the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in 1966. Every year, March 21 is recognized as a day where the international community can come together in an effort to eliminate ALL forms of racial discrimination.

Racist extremist movements based on ideologies that seek to promote populist, nationalist agendas are spreading in various parts of the world, fueling racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, often targeting migrants and refugees.

We condemn nationalist populism and any form of racial superiority ideology that advances exclusionary or repressive practices and policies that harm individuals or groups on the basis of their race, ethnicity, national origin and religion, or other related social categories.

We can all agree on that. But, that’s not enough.

 

Inflammatory language and dog-whistle politics are creating a climate of fear – and must be denounced. Islamophobia and white supremacy when unopposed – spreads and it kills.

When political leaders refuse to name and disavow it, or give space to those who preach it – they normalize it.

Real Leaders use their platform to call out and oppose – they don’t use it to empower white supremacists – for wedge votes and the desire for power. And, you can’t invoke “Canadian values” tests, “barbaric practices”, “Old Stock Canadians”, refuse to condemn Islamophobia (M-103), use coded language, and play fast and loose with the facts and policies on migrants and refugees. You can’t hang out with Islamophobes and racists and aspire to be good leaders for our country. Never mind the votes, condemn it.

It’s not enough to express condolences and condemn violence and murderous acts of hate when they occur. It’s too late. And, we’re sick and tired of “thoughts and prayers.”

Silence and doing nothing is also a choice. Indifference is the breeding ground of injustice. The Nobel laureate, Elie Wiesel, reminded us:

“Always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence
encourages the tormentor never the tormented.”[2]

Leaders make your choice. Never mind the votes. Condemn it.

Whether its islamophobia, anti-semitism, white supremacy, misogyny, transphobia, homophobia, or xenophobia, we’ll be standing up and speaking out against hatred. All of Canada’s political leaders – local and national – should do the same.

But that’s not enough.

Keeping the peace and security, of individuals and groups, avoiding threats and violence is only a bare minimum.

What is our responsibility?

Racism is a pernicious evil. It is an affront to human dignity. It is a negation of the human personality. It is still with us. And, it hides and manifests itself in varied and complex – insidious ways.

The comedian Chris Rock, says all his white friends, only have one black friend. Think about that, for a moment. “The more contact we have with each other and learn about one another, the less likely we are to fear one another. This may sound trite, but the more we know about other groups, the more likely we are to pass that information on to one another and improve social cohesion. In turn, we are better able to identify and challenge those bent on dividing society.”[3] It is our collective responsibility as diverse societies to recognize our diversity and to uphold the human rights of others from those that would undermine or attack our fellow human beings.

Does a person’s colour or appearance affect who you imagine as your leaders – your MLA, MP, Provincial Premier or Prime-Minister? Does socialization in white supremacy or colonial history result in your predominantly imagining white persons in positions of power or is that the default position? Does the workforce of the city of Kamloops truly reflect the diversity of the street and our community? These are uncomfortable topics. But, if we don’t ask the right questions, we might not find the right answers to a more humane and inclusive society.

Because doing nothing is not good enough.

(Walk for Diversity, Kamloops Immigrant Services Society, 2019)

In a pyramid, every brick depends on the ones below it for support. If the bricks at the bottom are removed, the whole structure comes tumbling down. Indifference, minimization and veiled racism – not challenging racist jokes or putdowns, saying “why can’t we just get along”, a white ally speaking over POC, tokenism or claiming reverse racism, victim blaming, and paternalism are examples – of the lower level bricks – of the pyramid of racism and discrimination. Racism must be confronted at its roots, so it does not incubate and grow.

We need an antidote to complacency. And, we have to stop thinking about racism as someone who says the N-word or its equivalent. The academic Robin DiAngelo writes,

“Why is it so hard for white people to talk about racism – they just don’t
listen…Day in and day out, most white people are absolutely not receptive to
finding out the impact on other people. There is a refusal to know or see, or to
listen or hear, or to validate.”

They will insist, ‘Well, it’s not me’, or say ‘I’m doing my best, what do you want
from me?’ She defines this a white fragility – the inability of white people to
tolerate racial stress. This, she says, leads to white people ‘weaponising [their]
hurt feelings’ and being indignant and defensive when confronted with racial
inequality and injustice. This creates a climate where the suggestion or accusation
of racism causes more outrage among white people than the racism itself. And if
nobody is racist, she asks, why is racism still a problem? What are white people
afraid they will lose by listening? What is threatening about humility on this topic?”[4]

“Racist beliefs and practices are frequently invisible to everyone but those who suffer from them. Too often (white) Canadians tend to dismiss evidence of their racial prejudice and their differential treatment of minorities… The discomfort or denial of racism is so habitual…that to even make the allegation of bias and discrimination and raise the possibility of its influence on social outcomes becomes a serious social infraction, incurring…wrath and ridicule. This discourse has become a central rhetorical strategy. It functions as an expression of resistance to forms of social change. Demands of marginalized minorities…are discredited as an ‘overdose of political correctness’.[5]

“Contrary to what some people think, racialized people are often reluctant to relate their experiences of racism. Few enjoy recounting incidents in which they felt humiliated. People tell their stories at great risk.”[6]

Some of us will even have experience or knowledge of those persons who wrap themselves in the garment of being a moderate or progressive ally. And, he or she might defensively and falsely accuse a POC or Indigenous person of having called them a racist on the slightest or mistaken pretext. This person then expresses his or her outrage and (white) fragility by holding out the racialized person for public shaming. This is a kind of narcissism where the white person plays the victim, twists the story and is complicit in racism. Attacking these racialized voices and person is not only a denial of racism, it is suppression.

In his famous letter from the Birmingham Jail, Reverend Martin Luther King Jr, warned of the real danger:

“I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers.
First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely
disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable
conclusion that the [Negro’s] great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is
not the white citizen’s councillor or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate,
who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which
is the presence of justice; who constantly says: ‘I agree with the goal you seek, but
I cannot agree with your methods of direct action’; who paternalistically believes
he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical
concept of time and constantly advises [the negro] to wait for a ‘more convenient
season.’

“Shallow understanding from people of goodwill is more frustrating than absolute
misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more
bewildering than outright rejection.”[7]

In the spirit of brotherhood and sisterhood – we embrace each other – and we must listen and do so carefully. The consequences of our actions for others are a far more important consideration than feeling good about ourselves. We can learn from each other.

Racism and discrimination exists in every society. The challenge is to be true to the values we profess – on which we claim our country is predicated – and to ensure our ideal of equality and human rights. St. Augustine said, “Hope has two beautiful daughters. Their names are anger and courage; anger at the way things are, and courage to see that they do not remain the way they are.”

We need courage to deliver on the promise of equality, non-discrimination and human rights. It is a test of our commitment to true equality and justice. Our rights are interdependent, inter-related and indivisible. We need each other. We need a community that values and needs everybody, for a great life, and common future together.

Please look to a person next to you, and say “I am here for you.” Do it now.
Because we are here for each other today, tomorrow and every day – in solidarity. We All Belong Here. Peace and Love, to each and every one of you.

Thank you.

#FightRacism

[1] Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.

[2] Elie Weisel, The Night Trilogy: Night, Dawn, the Accident, Hill Wang Farrar Strauss & Giroux, 2008.

[3] https://theconversation.com/the-psychology-of-fear-and-hate-and-what-each-of-us-can-do-to-stop-it-113710

[4] Robin DiAngelo, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/feb/16/white-fragility-racism-interview-robin-diangelo

[5] Frances Henry and Carol Tator, The Colour of Democracy: Racism in Canadian Society, 3rd edition, Thomson-Nelson 2006, pp. 22-29, 352.

[6] Report of the Ontario Commission on Systemic Racism in the Ontario Criminal Justice System, 1995, Toronto: Queen’s Printer, p. 35.

[7] Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., Why We Can’t Wait, A Signet Book, the New American Library, New York, 1963, pp. 84-85.

 

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On Climate Change: Trudeau is duplicitious and irresponsible

Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau portrays himself as the leader of progressive values. His public relations team has spun his smiling visage onto pages of magazines and the daily’s of western capitals as a symbol of progressive change – the anti-Trump of the western world. Trudeau recently had the stage as host and the Presidency of the G7 Summit in Charlevoix at a staggering cost of $605 million.

Image result for canada climate change photos

Climate change, the greatest challenge of our time, was one of Canada’s professed priority areas for the G7 Summit. The final statement of the G6 reaffirmed their “strong commitment” to the Paris Agreement, and a “just transition” to a low-carbon economy.  The final text, however, was weak in meaningfully addressing the looming crisis, especially since the G6 was freed from seeking agreement with the USA, given the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord. Here was an opportunity for Justin Trudeau to show – a better world is not just possible – it’s necessary.

The final statement professed to reach carbon neutrality “over the course of the second half of the century,” rather than by 2050 — a target widely seen as critical for meeting the Paris Agreement’s goals. There was no mention of their earlier pledge to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies.   Canada provides $3.3 billion in subsidies annually and has just bought a $4.5 billion pipeline. The International Monetary Fund put the total value of Canada’s indirect energy subsidies at a staggering US$46 billion in 2015.

What is Canada’s climate record?

Canada stands out – for the wrong reasons! While emissions in Japan and the US (excluding emissions from land-use, land-use change and forestry “LULUCF”) rose approximately four percent between 1990 and 2015, Canada’s emissions surged by 18 percent, the largest increase in the G7.

The European G7 states lead the way in reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Between 1990 and 2015, France, Germany, Italy and the UK each reduced their emissions — and met their Kyoto targets During the same period, emissions in Canada, Japan and the US rose.

Canada: +18.13%

France: -15.71%

Germany: -27.90%

Italy: -16.71%

Japan: +4.28%

U.K.: -36.40%

USA: +3.51

The European countries had also set a target of reducing emissions by at least 40% below 1990 levels by 2030 and a reduction of 80-90% below 1990 by 2050. Instead, Canada committed to reduce emissions by 30% below 2005 levels by 2030 and 80% by 2050. Canada chose 2005 because it was heavy emitter and laggard post 1990.

The reality: Canada is on target to increase GHG emissions by 2030, from 1990! If all countries followed us the global temperature would rise 3-4C (http://climateactiontracker.org/countries/canada.html).

Canada’s federal governments, under both Stephen Harper and Justin Trudeau, support fossil fuel industries and extraction arguing that there must a gradual transition, that the economy and jobs would suffer if too rapid a slowdown or halt on were placed on the “Oil Sands”. It would hurt the economy and there would be less money for health care, education and social programs they warn. Justin Trudeau hauls the phrase “the economy and environment go together” every chance he gets – we know, we’ve all heard it, ad hominem.

Between 1990-2016, all the G7 countries experienced real economic growth – including those whose emissions declined. There is no correlation between reducing emissions and declining economic performance. Germany and the UK beat Canada’s economic performance in terms of real GDP growth per capita, and yet they reduced their emissions and generated more wealth.

The true test of climate leadership is the ability of the G7 to demonstrate real change – reducing GHG’s and genuinely transitioning their economies – thereby harnessing global ambition and action, including by China, India, Brazil and other emerging economies. In this regard, the Liberals phrase “Canada is back” rings hollow. Canada is a wealthy country with enormous talents. Evidence that our economies can thrive while emissions fall strengthens the leadership and credibility of the G6 or G7 to show the way forward.

By contrast in 2015, Canada was also the top emitter among the G7 in per capita terms   In future decades, Canada will need to find other ways to accelerate and reduce emissions from the rest of the economy and that will have pose steeper financial costs and difficult political choices, given its procrastination and failure to adopt meaningful measures. The cost will be borne by future generations, and not just economic costs – at risk of an overheated planet – with detrimental affects to air, land and waters. The destabilizing affects on countries and populations will force migrations and engender conflicts and wars. No country will be immune to the global impacts.

Actions speak louder than words. Justin Trudeau and his Liberals say a lot of the right things – they just don’t do them. Trudeau’s duplicity betrays Canada and future generations. It will hurt a lot more down the road. That is not what responsible governments and leaders do.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Targeting Child Soldiers: When, If Ever?

In 2001, in Sierra Leone, a number of soldiers from the Royal Irish Regiment were taken prisoner by a group comprised mostly by armed children called the West Side Boys, as the Irish Regiment had been reluctant to open fire. They were held hostage for two weeks, when an assault was launched by an SAS unit supported by helicopters, resulting in estimates of 25 to 150 dead among the West Side Boys. During the Sri Lankan civil war, government aircraft bombed what was allegedly an LTTE training camp, killing a reported 61 children and youth many of whom were girls. The LTTE were known to use child soldiers and the Sri Lankan government took the position that if a child took up arms, then he or she could be targeted and killed.

The use of child soldiers remains widespread, including direct participation in hostilities. This raises two legal questions: firstly, whether a child soldier is a combatant like any other combatant, and secondly, if so whether the means or response used to target them follow the same rules as for an adult combatant.

Imagine a child soldier storing arms and provisions, at a nearby camp, with a rifle near to him, but not in hand. Alternatively, imagine a child soldier in civilian clothing charging towards government troops firing an automatic weapon (think of Uganda’s civil war). Can the government troops target the child soldiers as if he or she is an adult?

We know children can become ruthless fighters and commit harm, same as adults. The International Criminal Court and Ad-Hoc Tribunal for Sierra Leone decisions have confirmed the crime of recruiting and using child soldiers. The Geneva Conventions [Article 4 (A), 1949] provide definitions of what a combatant is under international law. One might surmise that gaps in law, might not make any apparent distinction to characterize a child soldier as anything other than as a combatant.

There is a generalized legal duty to respect and protect children in armed conflicts and to not use children in hostilities. Clearly, there is a moral basis that children remain children even if they participate in hostilities. Even in war, the right to injure an enemy is not unlimited. International law prohibits unnecessary injury and suffering. It is limited by what is necessary to achieve a legitimate military objective. For example, this principle has resulted in the prohibition of a certain weapons such as poison or anti-personnel mines.

International humanitarian and human rights law have norms that demand special protection for children against harm. War might be a necessary evil, but there are may be unnecessary evils in the pursuit of war. Direct targeting of children may be permissible to the extent that it is a necessary evil, when there is no viable alternative and there is necessity for the attack to prevent serious harm to others or self. Otherwise, it ought to violate treaty and customary prohibitions of unnecessary harm or injury.

A child with the LRA in Uganda charging toward government or international troops while firing a rifle can be targeted using force. It seems unlikely there is any other way of stopping the attack such as wounding or capturing the child soldier. On the other hand, spotting a child soldier, by drone, working or asleep at an arms depot with a rifle nearby, warrants that the targeting of this child be clearly demonstrated and that there is no alternative that would be less harmful. Otherwise, it would be unjustifiable and prohibited.

This is the sad reality of modern hostilities and it challenges, not only our morality, but also the imperative of creating legal norms that minimize harm to children – who themselves are terrible victims of conflict and war.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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P.K. Subban trade and the fracture with Les Canadiens

PK

 

July 2, 2016

Mr. Geoff Molson,President & CEO – Club de Hockey Canadiens

Dear Mr. Molson:

P.K Subban trade and the fracture with Les Canadiens

After 49 years as a devoted and passionate fan (religiously) of the Montreal Canadiens, I write to advise that I am disassociating myself from my beloved “Les Canadiens”. I am broken-hearted by the decision to trade P.K. Subban. It is an egregious and narrow-minded decision.

My love and devotion for the Montreal Canadiens is deep and personal. I grew up in a small town in central British Columbia (Williams Lake). My parents were immigrants from India and I discovered Jean Beliveau at 9 years of age. He and Bobby Rousseau were my first favourite players. My father was severely disabled when I was 10 years old, we experienced many hardships – but, through it all I found excitement, wonder and joy, and hope through my devotion to the Canadiens. I read every book about Les Canadiens: Georges Vezina, Howie Morenz, Maurice Richard, Guy Lafleur, Larry Robinson were among the heroes of my childhood and youth. I could recite every statistic, draft pick and prospect. My favourite Habs team was the 1971 edition, the incredible way they won the Stanley Cup (rookie Dryden in goal, Beliveau’s final season, Mahovlich’s 14 goals, and Henri Richard’s tying and gaming winning goals in game 7 in Chicago). I used to pray for the team, and even cry with bad defeats. Those were the beliefs and dreams of a young boy.

Then came youth and adulthood. Through it all, no matter where I found myself in the world, I managed to find a radio, newspaper or internet connection – staying up all night to catch a game, news of the draft, or of UFA signings.   I became a father and among my son’s first words were “Saku”. My family are huge fans, immersed in the Montreal Canadiens. We speak French. We have the jersey’s, action figures, go to watch and cheer our Habs in visiting arena’s, belong to the fan club, buy the books (Yes, we also read Roch Carrier’s books every night to our kids) and we subscribe to the French hockey broadcasts.

The Montreal Canadiens were not just any traditional hockey team. They represented my vision of my country – French and English working and winning together, grace, fire-wagon hockey, progressive, worldly, classy.

P.K. Subban is much more than a dynamic, highly talented, elite hockey player. He grew up a Habs fan, realized his dream to play for the team he loved, he embraced the tradition and legendary history, he loved the fans and they loved him. He knew and respected what the uniform and team meant, to millions around the world.

Subban represented what I wanted to see as the captain of the Montreal Canadiens. He represents team progress, the new Canada. He is “urban, the son of immigrant parents and black – all demographic categories underrepresented in the world of hockey.”[1] He was transcendent – articulate, passionate, artistic in play, connected to the legendary players and tradition of the bleu, blanc et rouge, the soul of the team – a torch-bearer.

PK is refreshing and authentic in an era of clichéd, boring, millionaire athletes. The traditionalists, “old stock” Canadians, and old-boys network of hockey do not like difference and they engaged in their propaganda and prejudices. You had a unique and remarkable young man, the kind of personality and symbol the game needs to grow and for your legendary franchise to yet again be at the forefront, a leader for the game of hockey and the face of the Montreal Canadiens. This week he was sent away in a “hockey trade”?  What nonsense. Nor, is this akin to the Chelios or Roy trade. Nashville got the better player, and you lost much more than a hockey player.

This feels different; it is not the same for me anymore. The light burns much less brightly; it is a fracture. I am sad, it feels like I have lost a part of myself, something I love and believed in has become something else and I don’t like it. You have become like the rest, just a business, not a symbol or a something we can believe in. You let your GM and coach run a remarkable young man, great hockey player and symbol out of town.

It is over for me with Les Canadiens. Adieu.

Yours sincerely,

Bill Sundhu.

 

[1] Jonathon Montpetit, CBC News, “P.K. Subban, Ron Maclean and hockey’s culture wars”, Jul 01, 2016.

Official website of P.K. Subban: http://www.pksubban.com/

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(Part II): Arusha & the ICC: What’s going on?

Part II:

This is a follow-up the my Blog posting on having attended the Regional Seminar of the International Criminal Court (ICC) held in Arusha, Tanzania.

As is often the case, the most interesting and captivating discussions are those that take place informally during breaks and after hours. In Arusha, the discussions included the recent unveiling of charges against Daniel Ongwen, a notorious Lord’s Resistance Army Commander, the war crimes prosecution of Ahmed Al Faqi Al-Mahdi for attacking historic monuments and buildings in Mali, and the impending judgment in the long running trial of Jean-Pierre Bemba, a former VP of the DRC, accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

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The al-Mahdi case is historically significant as it focuses solely on the war crime of intentionally directing attacks against “cultural property”. The deliberate and wanton destruction of historic mausoleums and buildings dedicated to religion caused severe harm to the religious practices, historical heritage, and cultural identity of the people of Timbuktu, Mali, and African heritage. The Prosecutor claimed “the loss of such irreplaceable physical embodiment of history and culture was felt by the whole of humanity, and at the expense of future generations. This case underscores the seriousness of such crimes, and the necessity to hold perpetrators accountable.”

The ICC Prosecutor has subsequently revealed that on March 1, 2016, Mr al-Mahdi explicitly expressed before ICC Judges and in the presence of his lawyers, his wish to plead guilty. He did so during the course of the confirmation of charges proceedings, at a point where the proceedings were in closed session. This has now been made public.

The al-Mahdi case is also the first time that a suspect has expressed his intention to plead guilty to criminal conduct for which he is being prosecuted by the ICC; an admission of guilt, provided for in article 65 of the Rome Statute.

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In the days following the Arusha meetings, the International Criminal Court (ICC) has found Jean-Pierre Bemba guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Central African Republic more than a decade ago. The verdicts focused on the responsibility of a military commander for the actions of his troops, as Bemba commanded a private army of 1,500 men who went on a spree of murder, rape and pillage. The charges – two of crimes against humanity and three of war crimes – stem from his militia’s intervention on the side of CAR’s then-president Ange-Felix Patasse in the neighbouring country’s civil war.

Bemba’s long-running trial was the first at the ICC to feature allegations of systematic sexual abuse by soldiers in a conflict. I am proud to say that I played a tiny part in the court eventually accepting gender and sexual violence (rape) as a component of the crimes against humanity. I contributed to an amicus brief submitted to the court on behalf of the Women’s Gender Initiative in 2009. The court proceedings and trial dragged on for years. It is gratifying to see the development of law in recognizing the particularly heinous use of sexual violence as a weapon of war and conflict. Summing up the case against Bemba in November 2014, prosecution lawyer Horejah Bala-Gaye told judges that Bemba’s forces “raped their victims at gunpoint anywhere and at any time”. In preparing the brief, I recall, the allegations included that men, women and children were all raped – in one case three generations of the same family were gang-raped by MLC soldiers who held them at gunpoint and forced relatives to watch.

The ICC’s governing “Rome Treaty” is based in the core principle of ending impunity for the worst kinds of crimes that shock the conscience of humanity.

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(Above: I’m joined by legal colleagues from Kenya.)

Another case that is attracting much interest and chatter, in international criminal law and human rights circles, is the unveiling of 70 charges of war crimes against Dominic Ongwen of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). They include keeping sex slaves and recruiting child soldiers. Ongwen was himself abducted by the LRA when he was just 10, and joined the ranks of thousands of other child soldiers. However, over time he managed to rise through the ranks of the LRA, to carry out multiple attacks and working his way to the top of the group.

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Julius Nyerere, father of modern Tanzania

Ongwen was the former deputy to rebel leader Joseph Kony who remains on the run despite a massive international manhunt. Ongwen unexpectedly surrendered to US special forces in the Central African Republic. An intriguing feature of this case is that Ongwen was himself taken as a child and indoctrinated into the LRA cult and ideology. That surely presents the defence the opportunity to argue this, as perhaps a mitigating factor at sentencing, if he is eventually convicted. The moral and philosophical aspects of Ongwen’s abduction at tender age of 10, and the impact on his subsequent conduct,  will no doubt generate interesting discussion and scholarly analysis.

What is significant about these cases is not so much the development of the law or jurisprudence but rather the sense that international criminal justice seems to be on the march in its task of speaking truth to power. We have the prosecution of parts of the leadership of non-state groups that have wreaked significant destruction and misery, a judgment against a former Vice President of a state, and against a leader of an entity claiming to be a state.

More in the next Blog, including the targeting of child soldiers and the distinct legal and moral issues that arise with child soldiers.

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Of course, a Safari is a must do!

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Arusha Cultural Centre – Beautiful painting.

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On Visiting Arusha for Seminar of ICC

I recently travelled to Arusha, Tanzania for a Regional Seminar of List Counsel of the International Criminal Court (ICC).

The International Criminal Court became operational in 2002 and has jurisdiction over the most serious crimes of concern to the international community, that shock the conscience of humanity: war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. The crime of aggression will be added to its jurisdiction in 2017.

I am on the Court’s List of Counsel and was invited to a Regional Seminar of the ICC held in February at Arusha, Tanzania. The Arusha Seminar was intended to improve the visibility of the court, particularly in light of the background politics, and to improve accessibility for African based List of ICC Counsel and prominent members of the legal profession. Arusha is also the where the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda is based.

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The ICC has come under criticism, led by the African Union. They argue that the court is biased against Africans, who account for all the cases tried by the court thus far. Supporters of the Court point out that several of the cases were referred to the court by African states themselves or the UN Security Council in the cases of Darfur and Libya.

In 2011, after Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto, his deputy were put on trial, the African Union, in a direct swipe at the ICC, declared immunity for sitting heads of state. Nairobi accused the ICC of being neocolonial and targeting Africans. Charges against Kenyatta and Ruto have since dissipated due to witness recanting or disappearance.

This was the background in which the Arusha ICC Seminar occurred. Here are a few random musings from my attendance:

Most Counsel, including the African lawyers, expressed strong support for the ICC and a universal, independent legal institution to prosecute individual crimes of responsibility committed in leadership capacity. A small minority, that one suspected might be politically connected to governing regimes in their home countries, led the criticism.

There was discussion of the Malabo Protocol that contains an extensive and ambitious list of crimes. It establishes the African Court of Justice and Human Rights and to extend the jurisdiction of the court to try 14 different crimes: the four crimes contemplated under the jurisdiction of the ICC and also crimes such as corruption, trafficking in drugs or persons, terrorism, mercenarism, and unconstitutional change of government. Thus far, there are only five ratifications of the Protocol.

The ICC statute is predicated on a core principle of Complementarity, recognizing that individual states have primary responsibility for prosecuting mass crimes of violence, including the crimes under the jurisdiction of the ICC. It is only if a state is unable or unwilling to investigate or prosecute, that the ICC will accept jurisdiction and prosecute. Accordingly, the Malabo Protocol need not necessarily be viewed as undermining the ICC, so much as consistent with the principle of Complimentarity.

Attendees included prominent actors such as an ICC judge, Chief Justices, Ministers of Justice, representatives of Regional Systems such as the African Court of Peoples and Human Rights, the Pan-African Legal Union, and civil society such as Amnesty International, and media. The Seminar was heavily focused on education and training, enhancing legal skills and knowledge, and a mock trial. I played the role of defence counsel assigned to cross-examine a child witness and victim in a factual scenario similar to events in DRC or Cote d’Ivoire.

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The best part of any such gatherings is meeting people. In this case, it was an honour and privilege to meet fellow legal counsel from across Africa, conversing in English and French, sharing legal experiences, and making new friends. I was impressed with the quality, dedication and courage of the counsel from Africa. At the end, I gave myself a couple of extra days to explore and sight-see, including a visit to a national park and a walkabout with a park ranger. It was an enriching experience and I felt I barely scratched the surface of what Arusha and Tanzania had to offer.

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More musings to follow on the ICC and international criminal law in a subsequent blog.

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