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Archive for September, 2011

ISLAMOPHOBIA

Posted by strattof on September 25, 2011

Islamophobia, noun: hostility toward Islam and Muslims; prejudice against or fear of Islam and Muslims; anti-Muslim racism.

In 1997, the Runnymede Trust, a British anti-racist research institute, published a report on Islamophobia, which it defined as ‘an outlook or world-view involving an unfounded dread and dislike of Muslims.’ The report shows how Islamophobia has four distinct, but inter-connected and mutually reinforcing aspects: social exclusion, violence, prejudice, and discrimination.

The 2001 Stockholm International Forum on Combating Intolerance recognized Islamophobia as a form of racism alongside xenophobia and anti-Semitism.

In 2004, Kofi Annan told a UN conference on Islamophobia that ‘when the world is compelled to coin a new term to take account of increasingly widespread bigotry, that is a sad and troubling development. Such is the case with Islamophobia.’

In 2011, the Center for American Progress published a report on Islamophobia, which it defined as “an exaggerated fear, hatred, and hostility towards Islam and Muslims that is perpetuated by negative stereotypes resulting in bias, discrimination, and the marginalization and exclusion of Muslims from…social, political, and civic life.

EXAMPLES OF ISLAMOPHOBIA

  • The murder of 77 people in Norway by Anders Breivik to protest what he perceived as the Islamization of Europe: Breivik believed his killing spree would set off a civil war in Europe which would culminate in the expulsion of Muslims. Will Nordic-looking males now receive extra scrutiny at Canadian airports? 
  • The initial assumption of many western news outlets that the attacks in Norway were carried out by Islamic extremists: Even after Breivik had admitted to the killings, the Leader-Post ran an opinion piece singling out radical Islam as the real source of violence (‘Canada is just as vulnerable,’ July 26 2011). As a point of fact, only 3 out of 249 terrorist attacks in Europe in 2010 were perpetrated by Islamist groups. None of the acts of terrorism that have occurred on Canadian soil have been carried out by Muslims.  
  • The ideas of Mark Steyn, who for many years had a regular column in Maclean’s: According to Steyn, Europe is becoming a ‘Eurabia,’ overrun by Muslims. In fact, less than 5% of Europe’s population is Muslim. In his manifesto, Breivik cites Steyn as one of his influences. Will Mark Steyn soon find himself under CSIS surveillance, his name on a no-fly list? 
  • Media reporting on ‘honour crimes’: The media sensationalize such crimes and at the same time fail to place them in the broader context of violence against women. The result is to stigmatize a minority group as having an immoral culture. Violence against women is not just a Muslim problem. It is a serious problem throughout Canadian society. According to Statistics Canada, 51% of Canadian women have experienced at least one incident of physical or sexual violence since the age of 16.
  • The hullabaloo over veils: Why are so many non-Muslim Canadians upset or even angry when we see women veiled?  Canadian women who claim to be feminists seem to be particularly disturbed. Does the veil threaten ‘our freedom’? But freedom to do what? Wear a bikini but not a niqab? Why are so many of us calling for a burqa ban? Strict decrees either way deny Muslim women autonomy and agency. Why would a Muslim woman choose to wear a veil? Here’s how Erum Hasan, a social justice advocate based in Toronto, answers that question: ‘for identity, cultural values, political symbolism, anti-consumerism, protection, countering the hyper-sexualization of women or religious belief.’ 

STEPHEN HARPER AND ISLAMOPHOBIA

In a recent interview with CBC’s Peter Mansbridge, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said the biggest security threat to Canada is ‘Islamicism’ or ‘Islamic terrorism.’ In employing these terms, Mr. Harper demonized an entire religion and promoted hatred and fear of those who follow that religion. 

As we have already seen, the data does not support Mr. Harper’s implication that most terrorists are Muslims. To repeat: None of the acts of terrorism that have occurred on Canadian soil have been carried out by Muslims.  

According to Mr. Harper, an act of terrorism occasionally ‘comes out of the blue’ from a different source. Such, in his view, is the case with the killings by Anders Breivik. But Breivik did not come from nowhere. As his manifesto clearly indicates, his views were shaped by the writings of western anti-Muslim individuals and organizations. Mr. Harper’s demonization of all Muslims will help to create more terrorists like Brievik.   

In speaking of the killings in Norway, Mr. Harper did not use the term ‘Christian terrorism,’ even though Breivik, a self-described Christian, considered himself one of the ‘warriors fighting for the preservation of European Christendom.’ Such inconsistency in labeling indicates an underlying prejudice.  

Radical Christianity, like radical Islam, is a dangerous ideology. Most Muslims, like most Christians, reject terrorism as being opposed to the core principles of their religion.  

AN ISLAMOPHOBIC CHECK LIST

Check your views of Islam against the Runnymede report’s list of anti-Muslim racist views:

1.   Seeing Islam as a single monolithic bloc, static and unresponsive to new realities.

2.   Seeing Islam as separate and other–not having any aims or values in common with other cultures.

3.   Seeing Islam as inferior to the West–barbaric, irrational, sexist.

4.   Seeing Islam as violent, aggressive, threatening, supportive of terrorism, engaged in ‘a clash of civilizations.’

5.   Seeing Islam as a political ideology, used for political or military advantage.

6.   Rejecting out of hand criticisms made of ‘the West’ by Muslims.

7.   Using hostility towards Islam to justify discriminatory practices towards Muslims and exclusion of Muslims from mainstream society.

8.   Accepting anti-Muslim hostility as natural and normal.

SOURCES AND RESOURCES

Reports

 Books, Newspapers, and Magazines

  • Rukhsana Khan, Wanting Mor: A novel suitable for ages 15-90, available at Regina Public Library (RPL).
  • Monia Mazigh, Hope and Despair: My Struggle to Free My Husband, Maher Arar: A book available at the RPL.
  • Sheema Kahn’s articles in the Globe and Mail, many of which have been collected in a book: Of Hockey and Hijab: Reflections of a Canadian Muslim Woman, available at the RPL.
  • Sumayya Kassamli, ‘Solidarity in Islamophobia: Holding the State and the Left Accountable,’ Briarpatch, January/February 2011: Available online. 
  • Erun Hasan, ‘Blanket Condemnations: Contested Feminisms and the Politics of the Burqa,’ Briarpatch, March/April 2010: Available online. 

 Essays on the Internet

  • Mohammad Fadel, ‘Islam, Gender and the Future of Multicultural Citizenship.’
  • Glen Greenwald, ‘The Omnipotence of Al Qaeda and Meaninglessness of Terrorism.’
  • Naheed Mustafa, ‘My Body Is My Own Business.’

 Books for Children

  • Rukhsana Khan, The Roses In My Carpets and Big Red Lollipops: Suitable for 5-9 year olds and available at the RPL.

 Television and Movies

  • Little Mosque on the Prairies, by Zarqa Nawaz: Weekly on CBC TV.
  • Me and the Mosque, by Zarqa Nawaz, National Film Board, available at the RPL. 
  • My Name Is Khan: A feature film available on DVD at the RPL.

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TREATY 4: 137th ANNIVERSARY

Posted by strattof on September 15, 2011

Today, September 15, is the 137th anniversary of Treaty 4. On September 15 1874, Cree and Saulteaux First Nations and the Canadian government signed Treaty 4 at Fort Qu’Appelle. Additional signings occurred in 1875, 1876, and 1877.

Treaty 4 was negotiated by the Canadian government in order to gain land for European settlement, agriculture, and industry, as well as for the transcontinental railway that would run through southern Saskatchewan.

A key demand of the Cree and Saulteaux First Nations was for education. Since the buffalo had nearly vanished from the prairies, they wanted to acquire new tools that would ensure a strong and prosperous future. 

Under Treaty 4, the Cree and Salteaux First Nations relinquished most of current day southern Saskatchewan. In return, they received small parcels of land, as well as long-term government commitments in a number of areas, including education.

The Treaty Commissioner, Alexander Morris, promised the Treaty would last “as long as the sun shines and the water flows.”

WE ARE ALL TREATY PEOPLE

All southern Saskatchewan residents, whether Aboriginal or non-Aboriginal, benefit from Treaty 4. Mosaic Stadium, for example, is situated on Treaty 4 land. So too are Wascana Park, the Cornwall Centre, and all the rest of Regina.

For the past 137 years, the Cree and Salteaux First Nations have kept their side of the Treaty 4 agreement. The Canadian government, on the other hand, has frequently failed to recognize its treaty commitments. Education, “the new buffalo,” as Blair Stonechild terms it, is one of the areas in which the government has broken its treaty promises.

BROKEN PROMISES: EDUCATION

 RESIDENTIAL SCHOOLS: 1884–1996

Under Treaty 4, the government promised “to maintain a school on the reserve, allotted to each band, as soon as they settle on said reserve.” Instead, the government implemented the genocidal residential school system, with the aim of assimilating First Nations into European-Canadian society–of “killing the Indian in the child.”

Attendance at the schools was compulsory for all children aged 6-15. Parents who failed to send their children willingly had their children taken from them forcibly.

Students were required to live on school premises and most had no contact with their families for up to 10 months at a time and sometimes for years. The attempt to force assimilation also involved punishing the children for speaking their own languages or practising their cultures.

All students at residential schools experienced cultural abuse. As is now well known, many students were also subjected to physical and sexual abuse. A lesser known fact is that the mortality rate at some schools reached 69%–caused by overcrowding, poor food and sanitation, and a lack of medical care.  

In 2008, Prime Minister Stephen Harper apologized to First Nations for the residential school system.

RESERVE SCHOOLS: 2011

●Schools on reserves are funded by the federal government, while non-reserve schools receive their funding from the provinces. ●The federal government typically provides less money for schools and education than do the provinces. When this happens, the provinces usually do not top up federal funding. ●As a result, many First Nations children and youth get an unequal education just because they are First Nations and living on a reserve. 

  • A child who attends school on a reserve is funded between $2,000 and $3,000 less than a child in a provincial school.
  • Unlike provincial governments, the federal government does not provide any funding for libraries, computers, extracurricular activities, special education, endangered languages, or the development of culturally-appropriate curricula.
  • Because of underfunding, many First Nations schools are in poor condition and present health concerns, including overcrowding, extreme mould, high carbon dioxide levels, sewage fumes, frozen pipes, unheated portables.
  •  Only 20 of Saskatchewan’s 142 on-reserve schools are in good condition.

Is it any wonder that the high school graduation rate for on-reserve schools is Saskatchewan is just 38%, as compared to 90.5% for schools in the provincial education system?

According to the website of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada,The Government of Canada is committed to ensuring that Aboriginal peoples enjoy the same education opportunities as other Canadians.”

SHANNEN’S DREAM

Shannen’s Dream is a campaign for safe schools and equal education for First Nations children. It was founded by Shannen Koostachin of Attawapiskat First Nation, who, in her short life, worked tirelessly to try to convince the federal government to give First Nations children the same educational opportunities as other Canadian children. Tragically, Shannen was killed in a car accident at the age of 15.

TAKE ACTION

  • Find out more about Shannen’s Dream by going to http://www.fncfcs.com/shannensdream/
  •  Ask Federal Minister of Aboriginal and Northern Affairs, John Duncan, why a child who attends school on a reserve is funded between $2,000 and $3,000 less than a child in a provincial school. Let him know that you want the Canadian government to live up to the claim stated on his ministry’s website: The Government of Canada is committed to ensuring that Aboriginal peoples enjoy the same education opportunities as other Canadians: Duncan.J@parl.gc.ca or 613-992-2503.
  • Send the same message to Prime Minister Stephen Harper: pm@pm.gc.ca or 613-992-4211.

“It is unacceptable in Canada that First Nations children cannot attend a safe and healthy school. It is unacceptable in Canada for First Nations education to languish with outdated laws, policies and funding practices that do not support basic standards. It is time for fairness and equity”

Shawn Atleo, National Chief, Assembly of First Nations.

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HOMELESS IN REGINA

Posted by strattof on September 11, 2011

There is a housing crisis in Regina. ●The city’s population is growing. ●House prices have shot up. ●Rents have skyrocketed. ●Apartment vacancy rates have plummeted.  

Hardest hit are those on low and fixed incomes (minimum wage workers, seniors, recipients of social assistance), along with single parents, young people looking for jobs, new Canadians, and students.   

While there is lots of construction going on in Regina, very little of it is devoted to housing that is affordable for low and middle income individuals and families. 

HOMELESSNESS IN REGINA: 10 KEY FACTS

1.      As many as 3,401 men, women, youth, and families in Regina used one or more of the 19 shelter services during 2010. This number only reflects those who are absolutely homeless or roofless. Many others double bunk, couch surf, or live in overcrowded, unhealthy conditions. Some even live in garages or cars. These latter groups could easily double the number of homeless people in Regina.

2.      On average, 22 women and children stayed in shelters for victims of violence each month in 2010.

3.      The average number of beds in city shelters occupied on a daily basis rose from 187 in 2008 to 270 in 2010–a 44% increase.

4.      Between 2006 and 2010, the average resale price of residential homes in Regina increased by 86%.

5.      Regina’s apartment vacancy rate was 0.7% in April 2011 and has remained at or below 1% since 2008. In April, there were only 74 vacant apartments in the city. 

6.      Between April 2008 and April 2011, the number of apartments in Regina decreased by over 500, due mainly to the conversion of apartments to condominiums.

7.      Since 2006, average rents in Regina have increased by 9% a year.  Between 2006 and 2010, average rents in Regina went up 43%.

8.      The average monthly rent for a one bedroom apartment in Regina in April 2011 was $770, an increase of $53 (7.4%) a month from the previous year. Assuming a 40-hour work week for 4.34 weeks a month, individuals earning the minimum wage of $9.50 an hour would spend approximately 46% of their before-tax income on rent for a one-bedroom apartment. The Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation defines “Affordable Housing” as costing a household 30% or less of its before-tax income.

9.      A recent Salvation Army survey reported that one in five Saskatchewan adults has come close to or has actually experienced homelessness at some time in his/her life.

10.  Last winter, Carmichael Outreach put out a call to citizens of Regina to donate used tents–a last option for people.

PROVINCIAL HOUSING STRATEGY

Last month, the Government of Saskatchewan announced a new eight-year housing strategy: A Strong Foundation–The Housing Strategy for Saskatchewan. For including “Support Individuals and Families in Greatest Housing Need” as one of the “five strategic directions,” the government is to be commended. However, there is little in the plan that offers such support:   

  • According to the plan, the “private market is the main provider of housing.” This is despite the fact that the plan recognizes that the private market has little interest in providing affordable housing: “Although housing starts are up considerably, demand for affordable housing remains high as most new housing is targeted at higher-income households.”
  •  For the most part, the provincial government does not anticipate direct involvement in financing, constructing, or regulating housing. For example, while the plan recognizes that an increasing number of households are in “core housing need (pay too much and/or live in crowded conditions and in units in need of repair),” there is no mention of rent controls or rent roll-backs to improve affordability or support those in need.
  •  “Individuals and families in greatest housing need” are usually looking for rental housing and lower rents. There appears to be little in the plan that will benefit such individuals and families. The plan’s only strategy in this regard seems to be to increase the supply and availability of single family dwellings–with the hope that this will assist the rental market.
  •  The main beneficiary of this plan is likely to be the private sector: developers, contractors, real estate agents. Those in greatest housing need are unlikely to benefit.

As Premier Brad Wall keeps reminding us, “Saskatchewan is leading the nation in economic growth.” Why then are so many people homeless or in core housing need?

WHAT THE PROVINCIAL GOVERNMENT CAN DO

As the Government of Saskatchewan’s new housing strategy rightly states, the provincial government cannot solve all of Regina’s or the province’s housing problems. For that to happen, all three levels of government would have to be involved. However, the province can do more than is indicated in the strategy:

1.   Pass rent control legislation.

2.   Develop affordable housing units through the Saskatchewan Housing Corporation.

3.   Put 1% of all natural resource royalties into housing.

4.   Provide funding to municipalities that endorse a Housing First policy. Housing First is, according to the government’s housing strategy, “an approach to address homelessness by providing permanent (as opposed to temporary accommodation such as emergency shelters) affordable housing and support services to chronically homeless individuals who have been homeless for extended periods of time.” It is based on the belief that once people have access to stable, affordable, and adequate housing, they can begin to address other challenges. It costs 4-10 times more per day to provide emergency, health, and police services than to provide housing.

Make housing for those in greatest housing need

an issue in the upcoming provincial election.

SOURCES AND RESOURCES

  • Hirsch Greenberg, Rebecca Schiff, Alaina Harrison, and Mark Nelson, Homelessness in Regina: 2010 Report, University of Regina, 2011. To read this important report, google Homelessness in Regina: 2010 Report and click on “The Homeless Hub.” 
  • Government of Saskatchewan, A Strong Foundation–The Housing Strategy for Saskatchewan, August 2011 (available on line).
  • The Salvation Army: Giving Hope Today 2010 (available on line).
  • CHMC Rental Market Reports

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HAPPY LABOUR DAY

Posted by strattof on September 2, 2011

Labour Day is an annual holiday to recognize the economic and social achievements of workers. In Canada, it traces its origins to December 1872 when a parade was staged in support of the Toronto Typographical Union’s strike for a 58-hour work-week. Since 1894, it has been celebrated on the first Monday in September.

Today, Canadians tend to treat Labour Day as the last holiday weekend of summer. But whether we are barbequing on the patio or cheering on the Riders in the Labour Day Classic, we can take a moment to acknowledge the many accomplishments of Saskatchewan workers. We might also spare a thought for the many challenges faced by the province’s workers, in particular those who work for the minimum wage.

THE MINIMUM WAGE: COULD YOU LIVE ON IT?

Today, September 1 2011, the minimum wage in Saskatchewan went from $$9.25 to $9.50 an hour. This 25¢ increase won’t do much to help low-income earners’ frail standard of living.

  • It is the first increase in Saskatchewan’s minimum wage since May 1 2009. A mere 2.7% rise, it does not keep pace with the increase in the Consumer Price Index (CPI) in Saskatchewan, which over the same period went up by 4.1%.
  • Nor does a 2.7% increase in the minimum wage keep pace with the rate of rent increases in Regina. Since May 2009 the average cost of a two bedroom apartment has gone from $832 to $897, a 7.8% increase.
  • The average monthly rent for a one bedroom apartment in Regina in April 2011 was $770, an increase of $53 (7.4%) a month from the previous year. Assuming a 40-hour work-week for 4.34 weeks a month, individuals earning $9.50 an hour would spend approximately 46% of their before-tax income on rent for a one-bedroom apartment. The Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation defines “Affordable Housing” as costing a household 30% or less of its before-tax income.
  • From May 2009 to July 2011, food prices went up by 4.6%.  
  • From 2009-2010, there was an increase in the number of minimum wage workers using the Regina Food Bank. Across Canada, 1 in 5 of the total food bank users is a family in which someone is working full-time.

 WHO WORKS FOR THE MINIMUM WAGE?

The minimum wage was originally implemented in Canada to protect women from being exploited as cheap labour. To this day, it serves as an important tool for protecting vulnerable workers.

  • Approximately 31,000 people, or 7.3% of the labour force, earn the minimum wage or less in Saskatchewan.
  • 60% are women.
  • 38% are between the ages of 25 and 55.
  • 40% work in the retail trade, while 27% work in accommodation and food services.
  • 78% work in permanent jobs.

As Premier Brad Wall keeps reminding us, “Saskatchewan is leading the nation in economic growth.” Why then does Saskatchewan have the 5th lowest minimum wage in Canada?

BOOM AND BUST, OR EXCESSIVE INEQUALITY

The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. In Saskatchewan, income inequality has increased dramatically over the past three decades, with the wealthiest 10% of families making the greatest gains.  

  • Between 1976 and 2006, the richest 10% of Saskatchewan families increased its share of earnings from 23% to 28% of all earnings in the province. In contrast, the share of earnings of the bottom 50% of families declined from 26% to less than 20%.
  •  In 2006, the richest 10% of Saskatchewan families had after-tax incomes of over $110,000, while the poorest 20% had incomes of less than $17,626.
  •  In 2006, the median income of the poorest 10% of Saskatchewan families was $15,400.
  •  In 2006, the poorest 20% of Saskatchewan families received only 6% of all Saskatchewan after-tax income. In contrast, the richest 20% received 40% or 6.5 times as much.

Minimum wages are one of a set of tools in the battle against poverty and excessive inequality. Who would be against raising the minimum wage and at the same time be uncritical of the wages of CEOs? In 2010, the CEO of PotashCorp took home $11,264,973, while a full-time minimum wage worker earned $19,240.

How much inequality is too much inequality?

WHAT CONSTITUTES AN ADEQUATE MINIMUM WAGE?

1.   For the minimum wage to remain adequate over time, it must be indexed either to the CPI or the annual change in average earnings–as are other government programs such as Old Age Security, the Canadian Pension Plan, and Employment Insurance. In May, the Saskatchewan government turned down the recommendation of the Saskatchewan Minimum Wage Board that the provincial minimum wage be indexed to the CPI.

2.   However, indexing only works if there is an adequate minimum wage to begin with. One way of achieving adequacy is to raise the minimum wage until it equals or exceeds the poverty line or low-income cutoff (LICO). By this measure, Saskatchewan’s 2010 minimum wage of $9.25 ($19,240) was inadequate for the majority of its minimum wage workers, as the LICO before tax for a single individual living in an area with a population of 100,000 and 499,000 was $19,496. (The discrepancy would be much greater if the LICO was able to take into account the extraordinarily high rate of rent increases in the province’s urban centres.)

3.   Another way to achieve adequacy is to start with the highest minimum wage in Saskatchewan history. That was in 1976 when the minimum wage was, at $2.80 an hour, worth 118% of the poverty line. Indexed to the CPI from 1976 through 2010, the minimum wage in 2010 would come to $10.45. Indexing to the increase in average earnings would result in an even higher minimum wage: $11.13 an hour.  

TAKE ACTION

  • Find out more about the minimum wage by reading a new report from the Caledon Institute of Social Policy: Restoring Minimum Wages in Canada. Also read Boom and Bust: The Growing Income Gap in Saskatchewan by Paul Gingrich. Both are available online. Much of the information in this leaflet is taken from these publications.  
  • If you work at a secure job, think about joining with others in a one-hour strike on behalf of minimum wage workers.
  • Make the minimum wage an issue in the upcoming provincial election. Tell the candidates in your constituency you want Saskatchewan’s minimum wage to meet the criteria of adequacy.

From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.’

Karl Marx

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