Canada’s Tarnished International Reputation

MP Cathy McLeod was on CBC Kamloops this morning (Sept. 2, 2014) promoting a “Roundtable” meeting today, on the federal Conservatives program on “Maternal Health”, at the Kamloops offices of the Canadian Red Cross.

Canada’s commitment to address the issue of maternal health is laudable.   Certainly, the need is pressing. The world has cut maternal, infant and child mortality in half in the past 25 years, a huge advance. Yet much of that came before the Muskoka Initiative (2010). Today, some 6.6 million children under age five, half of them newborns, still die every year from preventable or treatable causes. At present, the UN is falling short of its goal to cut maternal deaths by three-quarters by next year, and those of children under five by two-thirds.

But, despite the federal Conservatives commitment, the Initiative lacks transparency, as a recent critique in the Lancet reported. An accounting of how and where the funds are being invested, the respected journal reported, is all but impossible to get.

Canada has also avoided or sent confusing messages on the critical issue of contraception and abortion, which experts say is part of the full range of maternal health. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that 120 million women around the world want access to family planning. But contraception is not properly on the table with this government. Fewer women and girls will be saved if a full range of sexual and reproductive health services are not provided to those most in need.

Unsafe abortion kills tens of thousands of women a year, but many more are maimed and affected for the rest of their lives.   We need to offer a full range of maternal health services like other partner countries do.

The Conservative government’s record on foreign aid is flawed. On their watch, Canada’s aid program, currently $5.6 billion, has declined by more than $800 million in real terms, slipping to a meager 0.27 percent of our GDP. That’s well below the donor country average and target of 0.7 percent.

Meanwhile, the Conservatives have unleashed the Canada Revenue Agency to audit, some would say harass, organizations such as Oxfam because they do not always agree with the government.  This impedes the ability of humanitarian and human rights agencies to advocate on issues such as poverty prevention and to help those in need around the globe.

More broadly, Canada’s International Reputation has been tarnished, by the federal Conservatives.   Canada has been recipient of the International “Fossil of the Year” several years running. We failed to win a seat on the UN Security Council.  Multilateralism and our hard-earned reputation as a balanced, credible voice and power-broker has suffered hugely. Bellicose rhetoric is not a responsible form of foreign policy for a middle power like Canada.

On Gaza, it is hard to comprehend why the Conservative government ignored an appeal to bring injured and maimed children from Gaza to Canada for medical treatment.   In a letter to the PM, the Leader of the Official Opposition, Thomas Mulcair, wrote:

I am confident that any action by your government to help enable the humanitarian initiative will receive support among all federal political parties Many Canadians are asking themselves what can we do to help…to achieve peace, we must refuse to hate. Only in that spirit can we hope to bring people together to forge a just, secure and lasting peace.”

More urgently, children of Gaza are desperately in need of help, they are innocent victims, of a long-standing conflict.

Canada was once a highly respected and credible voice in international affairs. It is increasingly marginalized and not taken seriously.   That has to change if we are to be a truly global and serious player.

 

Bill Sundhu, Federal Candidate (Kamloops-Thompson-Cariboo), The New Democratic Party of Canada.

 
 

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SAS v France: Le Droit a manifester religion, Est-ce que l’existe en France?

Cette semaine, La Cour Europeenne des Droits Humaines (ECtDH) en SAS v France a decide que la Loi 2010-1192 interdisant la dissimulation du visage dans l’espace publique ne viole pas la Convention Europeenne des Droits Humaines. Le jugement continue les developpements et changements de la jurisprudence historique avoir besoin de plus consideration. En particulier, la conclusion que le droit de pratiquer une religion pourrait restreindre ou limiter la justification de “vivre ensemble” est le developpement s’inquieter si ce droit d’avoir signification.

Le loi etait la reaction du gouvernment Francais sur la “laicite”, le principe de societe seculaire. La Loi etait d’interdit la dissimulation du visage en public. Le jugement est different des decisions precedentes de la Cour Europeenne au sujet du droit des femmes Islamiques de pratiquer leur religion en portent son vetements religieu parce que cette loi en France imposer totallement et entier prohibition de s’entendre aussi a la sphere sociale.

En general le jugement est equilibre, raisonnable et pourvoit au besoin des considerations du gouvernement Francais que les justification pour interdit les droit des femmes Islamiques a pratiquer leur religion etait raisonnable pour la surete et laprotection publique et respecte pour les valeur de societe c’ etait l’ouvre et democratique.   Ce principe compris respecte pour le minimum assortiment necessites a vivre en societe ou vivre ensemble.

Les juges ont decide qu’ils n’acceptent pas que l’interdiction de la“burqa” ou du “hijab” etait fondee sur les objectives de protection des droits et libertes des autres. Specifiquement, dans le context d’ egalite de genre ou de sexe, la Cour a dit, que ce n’est pas possible d’interdire une practique defendue par les femmes, compris le applicant. C’est la meme chose les valeurs de la dignite humaine. Alors, le jugement n’ acceptait pas que les droits egalite des femmes ou dignite humaine etaient violes. Cette raison etait differente des decisions de la Cour historique avec la Turquie et Suisse que cette practique etait etablir dans Coran et etaient en conflit avec le droit d’egalite des femmes.

Mais, le jugement de Cour en SAS v France, a accepte que la practique de porter la “burqa” ou le “niqab” juger n’est pas compatible avec societe Francaise, avec les idees de communication sociale et la necessite de vivre ensemble. Donc, l’ interdiction de la “burqa” etait proportionnel aspirer et l’objectif de la France. Ils ont trouve que le droit n’etait pas viole et ils donnaient le “marge d’appreciation” a France.

C’est difficile de reconcilier la raison, en particilier que la practique religieuse ou d’un religion, que c’etait negatif ou une denonciation.   Le jugement crees le risqué le majorite voudraient dicter que les minorite assimilee pour “vivre ensemble” contre les aspirations de pluralism, tolerance et a la esprit large.

Est-ce que possible de passer le jugement de signification de porter echarpe sur la tete ou imposer leurs opinion sur le applicant?   La Loi interdite du porter les vetements religieuxe comme la “burqa” ou le “hijab” dans la sphere sociale et peut-etre quelques des contextes et facons de vivre sont prives. Ou est les droits des femmes Islamique pour manifester leur religion?

Est-ce que le jugement a risqué assimilation contre diversite et ouverture de societe democratiques? Donc, est-ce que le droit de religion existe, du tout?   Le droit de religion peut-etre etait erode? Ce sont les problemes pour la loi dans le futur. Ces questions sont difficile et ne sont pas finies.

 

 

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Le Grand Marches d’Aix-en-Provence

La ville d’Aix-en-Provence a un Grand Marche tres interessant colore et bien organise. Le Grand Marche est situe sur trois places, qui sont uniques et belles. Le Cours Mirabeau est la grande allee d’Aix-en-Provence avec de belles fontaines, les batiments ont belles et anciennes belles architectures, et les stands a vendre beaucoup des differnets choses d’Provence; vetements, bijouterie, d’arts, chausssures, les sacs de cuir, les t-shirts, etc.   C’est un tres jolie marche dans un cadre tres agreeable. Mais, mon impression c’est n’est pas tres unique.

Le deuxieme position un Grande Marche est des plantes vert. Je choissais l’ecrit de la troiseme position, le Marche situe en Place Hotel de la Ville.   Il est tres beau lieu. Le Hotel de Ville est dominee le place et le jolie fontaine lieu en central.   Les cinq phrases de la Republique sont ecrivont sur les mur de la Hotel de Ville: liberte, egalite, fraternite, probite et generosite.   La sculpture de la region etait represente par l’homme qui represente le fleuve, Le Rhone, et la femme, la riviere La Durence.

Les stands sont toute uniquement le marche alimentaire; des legumes, fruits, fruits de mer, fromage, et epices.   Ce Marche est mon favori.   Tous sont des produits de Provence.   Ils sont tres frais, arromatiques et le presentation est attractive.   Les coleurs sont brillantes, vivantes comme les peintures des Impressionistes. C’est surement un lieu qui les a inspire.

Les marchands sont tous locaux et independants.   Ils representent la philosophie et l’effort d’avancer et de favoriser la production locale. De plus, c’est aussi un sujet economique, social ou responsibilite environmentale est de plus en plus importante pour toute le monde.

 

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France 2014

J’ecris ce Blog en Francais. Il reflete mon sentiment et je pense que pendant mes etudes de la langue Francaise que je prends a l’ Institut des Etudes Americaines a Aix-en- Provence.

 

Pour moi, je suis venu sept fois en France. C’est un pays special pour moi. Je sens quelques fois que je suis ne en France dans une autre vie. J’aime la France depuis ma premiere visite en 1983 quand j’ai voyage avec mon sac a dos (“backpacking”) après mes etudes de droit. J’ai toujours ete attire par la France et cette fois mon fils est avec moi et nous etudions ensemble. C’est une autre raison pour que ma visite soit speciale.

 

J’aime beaucoup la culture, l’histoire, la facon de vivre des Francais. J’ai une bonne experience. Un autre raison c’est aussi que la langue Francais est la langue officiel de mon pays. Mais, quelque fois, je pense que pour les citoyens du Canada n’a apprecient pas l’aspect de notre histoire et n’essayez pas d’ apprendre suffisament le Francais. Oui, c’est parce ce que nous avons occupe le Canada avec les Americains et nous avons beaucoup des pressions pour preserver notre culture et notre independance. Les influences des Etats Unis est tres fort. Mais, je suis tres fiert que mon pays ait deux langues officielles, pour notre histoire uniquement, et mon Canada y compris le Quebec aient une culture Francais. C’est une motivation pour moi de ameliore mon Francais en plus et confortablement.

 

Cette fois, nous sommes arrives a Nice.   Comme toujours la ville de Nice est tres jolie.   La mer est azure, brilliante et les couleurs vivantes. Il y a beaucoup de touristes et en particulier les retraites – ils ont le temps et l’argent – c’est la realite demographique dans l’Ouest du monde. Mais, je suis interesse d’observer la jeunesse, ses attitudes, sa mode, et sa musique.   Aussi, j’observe que les gensse promenent dans la ville, pour faire du shopping, diner avec des amis ou leurs familles. Je pense que plus les enfants sont avec leurs famille et plus tard dans la soiree. Peut-etre, il reflechissent plus librement et ont une attitude plus agreeable.. C’est mieux, car je pense de notre attitude de culture Anglaise n’est pas bonne pour nos enfants. Toutes les autres cultures comprennent les enfants et avec leur famille des occasions de diner et de faire des fetes. Je prefere cette facon de vivre. C’est mieux et agreeable.

 

Nous sommes restes deux jours en Nice, puis nous sommes alles a Aix-en-Provence au Centre des Etudes Americaines. Notre voyage par train etait en retard cause greve! Quand nous sommes arrives, c’etait different a la Gare d’Aix et après quelques confusions mon hote de famille nous a retrouves a la Gare. Depuis mon arrivee, je n’ai pas de surpris. Le Francais a de bonnes manieres , il est sympathique.

 

J’aime marcher 25 minutes le matin pour aller a l’institut. C’est l’opportunite pour moi de faire des observations et reflechir a nos experiences. Je trouve que les vitrines des magasins et boutiques sont belles et les plus belles du monde. Et les jours prochains, je voudrais observer les gens et leur facons de vivre.

 

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The Komagata Maru & The Lessons of History

100 YEARS AGO, the 376 passengers of the Komagata Maru were refused entry into British Columbia by Canadian authorities.  They experienced racism and hostility, hardship and deprivation: they were unable to land, lacked food and water, denied medical care, unable to communicate with their family, and denied access to lawyers.

The passengers were legally entitled to land as British subjects, but Canada had a policy of “White Canada Forever.”  A naval ship was sent to forcibly escort the passengers out of Vancouver harbour to the cheering of mobs that had gathered on the shore.

Now, 100 years later, the story of the Komagatu Maru is being honoured and remembered as a historical event that occurred at a time when “Our country looked very different”.

What is the lesson of history that we should take from that sad episode?

First: There are many today for whom changes are not evident.  The federal Conservative government has made sweeping and controversial changes to the immigration, asylum and refugee system, and the rules for Canadian Citizenship.   Many of these changes are a step backward.   They are discriminatory and amount to modern exclusion (the Komagata Maru was about exclusion).

Second: Too many politicians make nice speeches at memorials and anniversaries such as the centenary of the Komagata Maru or apology for the Chinese head tax or exclusion laws.   These same politicians do not pay enough attention to modern discrimination and exclusion.

The past repeats itself. 

Canada’s acceptance of refugee claims has dropped significantly due to exclusionary barriers.

The civil war in Syria, now into it’s 4th year has produced millions of refugees.  Canada has agreed to accept only 1300 Syrians and has not admitted that number.

In August 2010, 492 Tamil refugee claimants made a three month journey from Sri Lanka to British Columbia.  The claimants – including 49 children and their mothers – were forced into detention centres amidst a national hysteria over “illegals”, “queue jumpers”, and “potential terrorists.”  Many remain jailed, many have been deported.

The Conservative government has made sweeping changes to the immigration and refugee system.

–       Strict laws make It harder to get citizenship and easier to lose it

–       A new refugee system that restricts legal avenues for refugees and mandatory jail for “irregularly arriving” refugees, including children        as young as 16 years

–       A moratorium and quota on sponsorships of parents and grandparents, and reduced quotas for spouses

–       Conditional residency for spousal sponsorships

–       Minimum income to sponsor family members increased by 30%

–       Increase in the number of temporary foreign migrant workers, who are vulnerable to abuse

–       Refugee claimants have had their health benefits, like emergency treatment for life threatening ailments, cut

 

At a time of reflection to remember yesterday’s injustices, it is vital to stand against those happening today.

Many Canadians have their own family story of escape from persecution and refuge on these shores.   It is a story that is integral to our country’s history and identity.

The Conservatives also amended the law to close the door on most refugees by invoking a “safe third country” rule.   This is eerily echos the “continuous voyage” requirement used to bar the passengers of the Komagata Maru, 100 years earlier.   

Ironically, while regressively restricting immigration and asylum laws, and appeal and judicial review procedures; the federal government negligently permitted the temporary foreign workers program to be terribly abused.   Canada needs immigrants, and immigrants acquire rights and responsibilities, they pay taxes and become Canadians.   Temporary foreign workers are abused, suppress wages and employers do not hire or pay better wages to Canadian workers.   

Immigration may not be at the top of concerns for many Canadians.   The priority for many is jobs and making ends meet.  However, immigration and a fair tradition of asylum is integral to growing our economy and a humanitarian obligation.

“If we do not learn from the mistakes of history, we are doomed to repeat them.”  Santayana.

 

 

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Why Human Rights Matter to Today’s Politics

                                           “If a nation values anything more than freedom, it will lose its freedom;
                                           and the irony of it is that if it is comfort or money that it values more,
                                           it will lose that too.” W. Somerset Maugham

I recently participated in the Broadbent Institute’s inaugural Progress Summit in Ottawa. On the long flight back home, I began to scribble notes on the back of a newspaper – about the state of modern politics – the discontent of Canadians, the prevailing political discourse, and the relevance of human rights to the politics of today and to our freedoms.

Canada continues to be at or near the top of the rankings of UN Human Development Reports, and yet Canadians seem more discontent than ever. They know that the process of dismantling their economic and social rights is underway and unabated. The big market economy and capital roams freely through out the planet and with little or no regulation. The excesses of Wall Street that brought the world economy to near collapse in 2008 have been met with little consequence, few prosecutions, gaping holes in the regulatory regime and massive profiteering by the bankers and CEO’s – income inequality is increasing. How did we get here?

The drive for economic and social rights emerged from the massive deprivations of the 1930’s and the mass violence and deaths of millions in WWII. World leaders understood that humanity required a moral and legal foundation of a whole group of universal rights – indivisible, interdependent, and interrelated – as a common standard of achievement for all peoples. These rights were indispensable for peace, justice and stability. President Roosevelt had called for the US to adopt an Economic Bill of Rights:

                                             “true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and
                                             independence.  Necessitous men are not free men.  People who are hungry
                                             and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made”

Roosevelt’s speech reflected the broad spectrum of political thought from politicians across the globe, including conservatives, liberals, and social democrats. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights led to treaties enshrining core political, civil, economic, social and cultural rights. The economic and social rights were not merely lofty ideals and add-ons, but a practical response and hard-headed doctrine to strengthen and enable civil and political rights. Canadian politicians joined other democracies to create the modern welfare state as one way of incorporating all of the rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration. This decision shaped the lives and formed the social and political identity of modern Canada for decades to follow – the one my generation grew up in.

At the heart of this vision is the belief that access to health, work, education, housing and democratic participation is an obligation of modern states for every person. Up until the late 1970’s states tried to provide this – leaders believed and set about to deliver the social necessities that were essential to political and civil rights. Ordinary families, working people, immigrants, women and minorities made many advances. Governments undertook their responsibilities to provide basic social rights of health, education, retirement, worker’s rights, and to advance equality and tolerance. Those were prosperous times and more shared in that prosperity. The movement toward more equal societies led to better societies.

So, what happened? We should not be surprised at the level of discontent that Canadians feel today. They are understandably concerned about the future. There has been and continues to be a systematic destruction of the social and economic rights that had become the norm in the early decades of the post war era.

Thatcher, Reagan, the Chicago School of Economics emerged. Big money entered to influence the political discourse and process. The so-called middle way was replaced. Thatcher declared there was “no society”, only individuals. Governments began to cut programs and spending. Taxes were cut. Bill Clinton cut welfare programs that Roosevelt had advocated and he deregulated the financial industry. Conservatives rolled back equity programs designed to assist the disadvantaged. The market was elevated to mythical status and governments stepped out of the way. Tax cuts were given an almost religious status of virtue, conversely taxes demonized. Tax revenues fell more heavily toward individual taxes and less on corporate taxes.

Millions of children and families live in poverty amidst tremendous affluence. Inequality increased and continues to grow. Workers have been squeezed and concessions became de riguer. Two income families are the norm and many families still barely hang on. Families led by a female single parent live significantly in poverty. Social mobility has decreased. The public commons and regulatory regime are sacrificed for corporate interests. Environmental standards are either eroded or inadequate to address the challenges of health, climate change and economic diversification. The political leadership continues to assert the private sector will alleviate problems. Crisis of confidence and citizen disempowerment comes to mind.

Hard won economic and social rights – human rights – are under attack. Globalization does present new challenges and opportunities. The idea of human rights is the universal and global idea of our time. Human rights emerged out of the ashes of war and mass suffering. Surely, we cannot afford another global political and economic crisis.

The founders of the modern welfare state understood that the best guarantee of stable democracy, for peace and security, was that equitable levels of economic and social rights were essential and that the market economy required major involvement by governments if these rights were to be obtained. Global trade is a reality and we live in a global economy – we have never been more inter-connected – there is a revolution in mass communication, information and exchange. Innovative policies at the political level can ensure that trade and capital flows are fairly regulated to ensure human needs and rights are upheld and advanced.

Leadership that is far-sighted and committed to justice and advancing human rights is the best answer to furthering broad based economic prosperity and social advancement. Failure to address these profound trends – the withering away of social and economic rights – will risk the peace and stability that was forged after the harsh lessons of history. Human rights – social, economic, political, civil and cultural rights – are integral to human well-being, progress, peace and stability.

The Universal Declaration states, “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.”  This is what progressives can rally upon,  stand up for such principles and rights, and fight for a more equal and just Canadian society.

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Canada’s “Fair Elections Act”: What Is It Really About?

The right to vote and the integrity of the voting process is at the heart of democracy. Governments derive their legitimacy from a fair and free right to vote. Democracy and elections to not belong to any one party, nor is organizing or controlling elections the right of the government. Elections are too important to leave any one party or government. Advanced democracies leave that responsibility to independent officers and election commissions.

Canada is universally held up around the world as a country where elections are fair and democratic. So, what is it about our election laws that motivate the Harper government to ram through Bill C-23?

The Harper Conservative spin machine points to voter fraud and the need for stiffer penalties. There is no real threat or evidence of voter fraud. And, even if there was those investigations and prosecutions should be undertaken by independent offices such as Elections Canada.

Bill C-23 proposes major changes, with major implications. It is more than 250 pages long. I will attempt to deal with a few key areas:

1.     The government’s Bill would eliminate vouching (voters would also be barred from using the information card Elections Canada mails to the voter). The Supreme Court of Canada found alleged voting irregularities in a Toronto riding involved mistakes and oversights on the part of officials. It concluded, even those voters who had been vouched for, acted in good faith and were legitimate. Irregularities do not necessarily equate to fraud.

Are the Conservatives’s proposals proportionate to the problem? The government grossly exaggerates and distorts the evidence to justify the elimination of vouching. Many experts warn that this measure would likely discourage and disenfranchise thousands of voters – youth, the poor, homeless, seniors in care facilities, and minorities.(1) The ACLU has warned of US style voter suppression, “They show up, they wait in line, they get to the front of the line and hear, ‘Sorry, you can’t vote, you’ve gotta go home. And then that person says, “Ah screw it, I don’t have time.’”(2) Or, does not have the requisite ID. As for fraud, political insiders misdirecting voters with “robocalls” is a bigger problem, than vouching irregularities.

2.     The Bill does create new offences and fines, but it also substantially reduces the independent investigation powers of Elections Canada. It proposes moving the Commissioner out of Elections Canada and into the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions. It would restrict how the Chief Elections Officer and the Commissioner communicate and creates a barrier between the two, including what they may tell the public about matters or individuals under investigation. How does dividing up one office and authority for investigations improve ability to investigate and pursue wrongdoers?

3.      Bill C-23 eliminates the ability of the Chief Electoral Officer to consult with Canadians and disseminate information on electoral democracy, to publish research and information programs, and civic engagement. This includes public outreach to counter declining voter participation by encouraging people to vote, such as engaging young people and new Canadians to vote and in participatory democracy. That is healthy for a democracy; the government’s proposals erode the health of our democracy.

4.      Bill C-23 allows a political party to exempt from campaign spending limits the cost of contacting previous donors. This is a blatant attempt to favour the Conservatives who have the largest and deepest list of past donors. The cost of outreach to new donors would be a campaign expense. The Conservatives have an obvious advantage over their opponents. This and other “minor” proposals combined are an end run around limits on election expenses. Remember the adage, “Follow the money.” It is a partisan and huge campaign spending loophole, and not something that helps advance democracy.

5.      Bill C-23 would introduce more partisanship, even dangerous aspects. It proposes that the winning party in each riding have the power to nominate the riding’s central poll supervisors. Yes, you read it right! These are the people who are in charge of the polling place. Under the current law, they are selected by non-partisan officials of Elections Canada. The new law risks mischief and bias.

The Bill also provides that parties be given a post election list of eligible voters who cast ballots – sounds not so bad in theory – but, raises concerns about voter privacy rights. Currently, parties do try and monitor who has voted on election day to get out their vote. But, shouldn’t voters and their participation remain private in the hands of Elections Canada and not a political party? There is potential of misuse of that information for improper and partisan purposes.

The Harper Conservative government is the most partisan in modern Canadian history, and while some may even contend hyper partisanship has a place in politics, it has no place in updating something as important as election laws. The UK electoral commission was consulted extensively before changes to election laws. That’s how it should be in a modern democracy, but apparently not with the current federal government.

This is the new normal in Ottawa; laws being rammed through parliament. The Harper government is using closure as a way to end debate.

As a lawyer, I might suggest that the some of the new provisions would not ordinarily survive constitutional challenge in the Supreme Court, but that determination would likely not occur until after an election – one manipulated and designed to help re-elect the Conservatives. But, this is not an ordinary government – after all, this is a government that tries to stack the courts with Conservative and partisan judges, hence the Marc Nadon fiasco. Could Vic Toews be next in line for appointment to the highest court? PM Harper just appointed the highly partisan and abrasive Toews to the Manitoba Court of Queens Bench. Is it so far-fetched to think we are on our way to the Canadian judicial version of the Scalia, Alito and Thomas. Remember Bush v. Gore? There is no impediment to Harper appointing judges like Toews, as there was in the SCC case with a Quebec geographical and civil law requirement. Since 2006, this government has been appointing more conservative judges, keeping it under the radar, incrementally changing the judicial culture and pool for future appointments to the highest courts.

Our tradition of Conservatives, Liberals and New Democrats respecting basic rights and norms, including the right to vote and have a say, is being eroded by the Harper Conservatives. The compliant backbench does not seem to have the backbone or integrity to speak up for Canadians and basic democratic practices.

This is a fundamental issue of democracy. All fair-thinking Canadians would put democracy and electoral fairness above the interests of any political party. Where does your Member of Parliament stand on Bill C-23?

The Conservative government’s (Un)Fair Elections Act appears to really be about undermining electoral participation and public debate. It is US Republican-style voter suppression and winning elections unfairly.

(1) 120,000 voters based on 2011 election;
(2) Witold Walczak, Legal Director ACLU, Canadian Press, February 16, 2014.

* Reference sources also include: Draft Bill C-23, CBC “The House”, Globe & Mail, National Post, Huffington Post, rabble.ca, Lead Now, Broadbent Institute.

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Need for equal society has never been more apparent

Originally published by Kamloops This Week (December 31. 2013):

“Issue facing Kamloops in 2013 & 2014: What were they? What will they be?”

The biggest issue is an evolving one, what kind of city and community are we going to be? The emergence and visibility of commercial and retail hubs in different areas of the city was distinctly noticeable in 2013 – such as Dallas, especially the North Shore, and future plans for mixed development at TRU – through the hard work and vision of business, civic and citizen groups. Much effort has gone into shifting Kamloops from a resource dependent community to one with a more diversified economy over the past 25 years. It is a large spread out city and still heavily automobile dependent. These hubs and a move towards densification will improve accessibility, attractiveness and increase the diversity of areas within the city. However, the holiday season brought home more visibly the plight of many in our midst, across our city, that are struggling to make ends meet – child poverty and hunger is real in our city. Food bank usage has become permanent. More working and middle class families are struggling. Growing inequality – an unraveling – is an emerging issue for our city, as it is across the continent.

It is the same issue: for 2014: How can we find positive solutions and move towards a happier, fairer future? Our region, province and country remain overly dependent on resource extraction for wealth, decades after recognizing our vulnerability to a “too many eggs in one basket” economy. Profound economic shifts and the great recession – with a lack of good paying jobs and cutbacks – has resulted in a growing inequality. Too many people live in insecurity. This creates negative pressures and it is dividing our communities. It will take responsible leadership, respectful dialogue (not “us versus them”), and unity of purpose to look into the future and make proper decisions. Creating the new jobs of the future economy and leaving a positive future and healthy environment for our children is the challenge of this generation – it will require wise investments and hard choices.

Inequality is bad for our economy and our environment. Societies with a bigger gap between rich and poor are bad for everyone in them – including the well-off. Almost everything – from life expectancy to mental illness, unsafe communities to children’s educational performance – is affected not by how wealthy a society is, but how equal it is. More equal societies are healthier and more successful.

The choices we make, how we live, our economic system and governance policies will determine what kind of city, country and people we will be. These are issues for 2014, including right here in Kamloops.

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Canada’s Conservatives: Debasing Democracy

Canadians should be deeply concerned at the erosion and debasement of democracy by Canada’s federal Conservative government.

Using CSIS and the RCMP to spy on environmentalists, including seniors in a Church basement in Kelowna and the all-native high school basketball tourney in Prince Rupert, all the while cozying up to energy companies; to complicity in spying on leaders at G-8 and G-20 summits while using force to suppress democratic protests; NSA type intrusions into the private lives of Canadians; manipulating and stacking advisory committees on food safety, the environment and judicial appointments; stifling parliamentary debate, omnibus bills, prorogation and vicious personalized attacks on political opponents.

It is inflicting harm on our democratic culture.

The muzzling of government scientists, weakening independent governmental watchdog agencies, and attacks on Kevin Page – the outgoing and highly effective Parliamentary Budget Officer – who exposed the real costs and truth behind government budgetary numbers are further examples of debasing of responsible and accountable parliamentary governance.

Canada’s declining image on international human rights and climate change – being designated as international “fossil of the year” – is a blight on it’s historic and hard-earned image as a respected and responsible global player. It is reflective of a government that does not listen to voices, at home or abroad.

The sordid display during parliamentary Question Period, by the PM’s right hand man, Paul Calandra, refusing to answer questions and defying the Speaker, is a new low. It shows a disturbing contempt for parliamentary principles and practices. It is more than unaccountability; it reflects an arrogance and bully political culture that says, “We are perfect, you are worthless.”

Conservative MP’s and Senators do what they’re told or keep silent, their loyalty to the party seemingly greater than respect for fairness and rights. These are issues that transcend party affiliation; they are integral to respect for democracy and ought to concern all Canadians – irrespective of political stripe. Power corrupts. As the song goes, “You don’t know what you’ve got, ‘til it’s gone.”

We should all be concerned.

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Submission: Vanished and Missing Aboriginal Women (Inter-American Commission on Human Rights)

Inter-American Commission on Human Rights
Attention: Dinah Shelton, Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

Dear Professor Shelton:
Re: IACHR: Canada – Vanished and Missing Aboriginal Women – Investigation

I am a Canadian lawyer, a former judge and a member of Kellogg College, University of Oxford (Mst. International Human Rights Law 2010). I have thirty years experience in criminal justice and human rights, including working with aboriginal persons and issues in British Columbia. I am also currently the criminal law duty counsel for the Haida Gwaii (formerly Queen Charlotte Islands), islands off the northwest coast of British Columbia. Due to the small population and remoteness of the islands, the islands are served by a circuit court that is held one week each month. I end up dealing with perhaps 90% of the criminal law cases that come before the court on Haida Gwaii.

My purpose in writing is the draw your attention to serious issues that affect aboriginal persons, including especially women who come before the criminal justice system, and their vulnerability along the “Highway of Tears” of northwestern British Columbia.

Many of the persons who come before the criminal courts live with poverty, addiction or disabilities. This may include those with mental health needs, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Disorder, and especially Aboriginal persons, who are disproportionately over-represented among Canada’s prison and criminal justice population.

Canada has been governed by the Conservative Party led by PM Stephen Harper since 2006. A major platform of the Conservative government has been a “law and order” agenda, with more than thirty criminal law bills having been passed since coming to power, the intention of which without exception has been on harsher and mandatory jail sentences. These legislative changes have been the most extensive in more than 40 years of criminal law legislation or reform. The changes have been driven by ideology and politics; not based on evidence and contrary to the views of most criminal law experts – they also are contrary to the general trend in most western countries.

These criminal law amendments have taken a heavy toll especially upon aboriginal offenders, indigenous families and communities. The general hardening of attitudes has also permeated the judiciary, including approach to sentencing. Broadly speaking, Aboriginal offenders have borne the brunt of these legislative changes and mandatory minimums.

The judges that regularly sit on Haida Gwaii are generally sensitive to over-incarceration of aboriginal offenders, but their hands are tied by the mandatory minimums or lack of suitable local facilities. Nationally and provincially the picture is bleak; too many judges are either unwilling or incapable of properly considering alternatives to incarceration for Aboriginal offenders, despite critical rulings from Canada’s highest court.

For example, if you are arrested on Haida Gwaii, the sheriffs will fly from the mainland to collect the arrested person, fly the person back to the mainland (City of Prince Rupert) and then transport him or her 800 kilometers, if they are denied bail or imprisoned, to Prince George where the nearest provincial jail is located. Upon release, the person must then make their way 800 kilometers back to Prince Rupert and catch the ferry from the mainland that departs for Haida Gwaii twice a week. That person, if she is female, will make this 800 kilometer trip back to her reserve via the “Highway of Tears” — where Aboriginal women have gone missing over the years.

For many minor offences, mandatory minimum jail sentences can be as low as 14, 30, 60 or 90 days. Alternatives to incarceration are either not legally available because of the mandatory minimums or due to the general hardening of attitudes within actors of the criminal justice system. In most communities, a sentence of less than 90 days may, with judicial recommendation, be served at the local police station on weekends – this is particularly effective with persons who have employment or family responsibilities. This option is not available on Haida Gwaii because the police (RCMP) take the position they cannot afford to pay the overtime costs required to watch weekend prisoners. The government does nothing to alleviate this disparity and the result is all sentenced offenders on Haida Gwaii must serve their incarceration at the Prince George Regional Correctional Centre. Visits from family members are prohibitive due to the distance and costs involved.

Mandatory minimum sentences are not only expensive and bureaucratic, they create huge consequences for affected persons, such as disruption and government ministry removal of children from single parents because their sole caregiver has been arrested, loss of home, loss of job, or loss of ability to provide food derived from hunting and fishing for families. We have a very sad and disturbing history of neglect and abuse of aboriginal children in government foster care.

After serving their sentence, offenders are given a bus ticket by the British Columbia Correctional Service to make their own way home, including along the “Highway of Tears” of northern British Columbia. Women are highly vulnerable and open to prey. They spend hours in small town bus stations along the way often with little or no money – that is if they do not hitchhike. When they do make it to the coast, at Prince Rupert, they must sometimes wait for the twice-a-week ferryboat to take them back to Haida Gwaii. Some persons do not have a place to stay and are again vulnerable. Some are breached on probation orders for failing to comply with curfews, reside in an appropriate place, or for consuming alcohol or drugs – this only compounds and increases their criminalization and more jail time. The impact upon communities and families is only more pronounced when longer and more punitive sentences are imposed for more serious offences.

A further compounding factor is the police culture or tendency of too often seeking the pre-trial detention of person’s accused of a crime. Since the Haida Gwaii is remote and only served once monthly by a circuit court, all arrested persons are subject to a bail hearing – usually conducted by police officer with a Justice of the Peace, via telephone to suburban Vancouver. Unless the accused is sophisticated and able to line-up a defence counsel via telephone, they go it alone and are highly disadvantaged. I also am surprised at how often the Justices of the Peace, who reside hundreds of kilometers away in a large city, lack understanding or knowledge of the distances and lack of facilities available to such persons. Too many accused persons are detained pre-trial (estimates are 50-60 % of all provincial prisoners are on remand). Poor people are at risk of pre-trial detention at higher rates because they lack the financial resources to, for example, post monetary bail or lack suitable housing or employment. Aboriginal persons are disproportionately affected by these factors.

My main purpose is to emphasize that Aboriginal women are especially vulnerable, as they travel back home along the “Highway of Tears” upon custodial release. Canada has a sad record of missing or vanished aboriginal women.

There is also the aspect of systemic and racist discrimination. The harsh and punitive legislative changes passed by Canada impact most greatly the poor, mentally ill, those suffering from addiction, and certain racial minorities – especially Aboriginal persons. For many such persons daily life is already a struggle. Poverty and lack of employment are very real problems. The impact of the legislative changes is causing extreme hardship and it is unjust. And, most significantly it places Aboriginal women at increased risk of harm and predation. It risks making an unsolved problem, even more problematic.

Although, I have referenced the example of Haida Gwaii based on my work experience on the circuit court, the issue and concerns are of much wider application. Canada has a naive and self-serving narrative of a progressive leader on human rights and racial equality. Denial of racism is entrenched in the national narrative and culture. I submit, that the criminal justice system is infused with racial bias and underlying the law and legal system is an entrenched and hidden racism. Canada has failed in its human rights and constitutional obligations to its Aboriginal peoples. It’s criminal law and justice system is imprisoning Aboriginal men and women at a disturbing rate. And, in its worst aspects, it risks or results in the death and disappearance of aboriginal women. Indifference can also be a breeding ground for injustice and harm.

I humbly thank you for your consideration and sincerely hope that my letter will be of assistance in adding context and perhaps a different perspective to your investigation and considerations.

Yours truly,
Bill Sundhu.

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