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Archive for December, 2012

NO ROOM AT THE INN: REGINA’S HOUSING CRISIS

Posted by strattof on December 14, 2012

The Christmas story is quite well-known: Mary and Joseph arrive in Bethlehem and find there is no room at the inn.

But how familiar are we with the current accommodation crisis in Regina. 2000 years later, there is still no room at the inn.

  • In 2010, over 3,400 people used one or more of Regina’s shelter services.
  • Many others double bunked, couch surfed, or lived in overcrowded, unhealthy conditions. Some even lived in cars or garages. These latter groups could easily double the number of homeless people in Regina.
  • Between 2006 and 2010, homeless shelter use in Regina rose by 44.5%.
  • In 2010, 83.7% of shelter users were unable to find a home to live in after leaving the shelter.
  • A fulltime minimum wage worker cannot afford a one-bedroom apartment in Regina.
  • The vacancy rate in Regina is currently 0.9%, which essentially means there is no rental accommodation available.

HOUSING IS A HUMAN RIGHT

Safe, decent housing is a human right.

  • It is protected under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which Canada signed in 1948: “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, [and] housing.”
  • The right to housing is also enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, signed into law in 1982. Because it puts their health and life at risk, homelessness breaches a homeless person’s Charter Section 7 rights to “life, liberty and security of the person.”

Neither the City of Regina nor the provincial and federal governments are in compliance with the human right to housing. If they were, there would not be a housing crisis in Regina.

CITY OF REGINA

When he was running for mayor, Michael Fougere said that he would make an affordable housing summit his “first priority.”  Nearly two months have passed since he was elected, yet there have been no housing summit announcements. It is never good to be homeless in Regina, but in winter it is deadly. 

PROVINCE OF SASKATCHEWAN

In August 2011, the province announced a new eight-year housing strategy: A Strong Foundation–The Housing Strategy for Saskatchewan. According to the plan, the “private market is the main provider of housing.”

Relying on the private sector to solve the housing crisis will only send more people out into the cold. The Saskatchewan housing market has been unregulated for 20 years. If it were in the interest of the private sector to provide affordable housing, it would already have done so.

GOVERNMENT OF CANADA

In 1973, the federal government instituted a national affordable housing program which, for the next decade, created about 20,000 housing units per year. In the 1980s, the federal government made spending cuts to that program. In 1993, it cancelled funding for new affordable housing altogether. The result has been the rise of mass homelessness over the last 20 years. Canada is the only G8 country without a national housing strategy.

SOLVING THE HOUSING CRISIS

The biggest causes of homelessness are

1. Financial: loss of a job, rent increases, a low or fixed income;

2. Lack of affordable housing.

To solve the housing crisis we need leadership from and intervention in the housing market by all levels of government. 

Here are some of the things each level of government can do:

CITY COUNCIL can

  • Require developers to include affordable housing in their plans or to pay a fee into an affordable housing account.
  • Deny applications for demolition permits when the apartment vacancy rate is under 3%.
  • Identify empty buildings that can be converted into affordable housing units and fund their renovation.
  • Offer to lease the land the province is selling in the city’s northwest under a no-fee lease arrangement. Along with the non-profit housing sector build affordable housing on it.
  • Put pressure on the federal government to develop a long-term national affordable housing program involving all levels of government.

THE PROVINCIAL GOVERNMENT can

  • Stop the sale of Housing Authority rental properties.
  • Build more affordable rental accommodation.
  • Allocate 3% of all natural resource royalties to affordable housing.
  • Put pressure on the federal government to develop a long-term national affordable housing program involving all levels of government.

THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT can

  • Develop a long-term national affordable housing program involving all levels of government.

 BOOM FOR WHOM?

Our city is experiencing unprecedented economic expansion. But this has not delivered good times for all. We could house everyone if we had the will to do so.

What kind of city do we want to live in?

MAKING ROOM AT THE INN: TAKE ACTION

During the holiday festivities, take the time to advocate for affordable housing. Let our political leaders know that you do not want to live in a city, province, or country that does not comply with right to housing legislation and that you want each level of government to take concrete action to address Regina’s housing crisis.

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INTERNATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS DAY 2012

Posted by strattof on December 12, 2012

CANADIAN HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS

Mohammad Mahjoub, Mohamed Harkat, and Mahmoud Jaballah have been detained in Canada for over a decade – but they have never been charged. All three men have spent years in prison, including time in solitary confinement, and then years under house arrest with their families.

  •  December 10 will mark the 10th anniversary of Harkat’s arrest.
  • December 10 will find Mahjoub in court in Toronto for a detention review, calling on the judge to free him from over 12 years of arbitrary indefinite detention.
  • December 10 will find Jaballah living under house arrest in Toronto with his 6 children. 
  • December 10 is International Human Rights Day.

  F  R  E  E    T  H  E    T  H  R  E  E

SECURITY CERTIFICATES

Mahjoub, Harkat, and Jaballah were all arrested under security certificates, a legal mechanism that allows the government to detain indefinitely, without charge, non-citizens (refugees, permanent residents, or foreign nationals) living in Canada and to deport them even when there is a risk of torture or death.

Under the security certificate regime:

  • The presumption of innocence does not apply.
  • Hearsay evidence is admissible.
  • Information used to detain those arrested can be kept secret.  
  • Much of the information comes from foreign spy agencies that are known to use torture.

 SECURITY CERTIFICATE DETAINEES

Mohammad Mahjoub: Still detained without charge since June 2000

Mahmoud Jaballah: Still detained without charge since August 2001; previously arrested in 1999, released and rearrested on the same information

Mohamed Harkat: Still detained without charge since December 2002

Hassan Almrei: Detained without charge 2001 – 2009; still no apology or citizenship

Adil Charkaoui: Detained without charge 2003 – 2009; still no apology or citizenship

STATEMENT BY MOHAMMAD MAHJOUB: NOVEMBER 2012

“For more than 12 years….I have been imprisoned without charge or trial….I’ve suffered an attempted sexual assault, contracted Hepatitis C in prison, twice been under imminent threat of deportation to torture, been locked up in a special prison for Muslims, and, when released from prison, I had my home turned into a worse prison with surveillance cameras and special doors, outings by authorization, 24-hour accompaniment, and curfews. To this day, I wear a tracking bracelet wherever I go….

Never in these 12 years have I been charged with any crime. Never has the secret information used to destroy my reputation been disclosed to me. Never have I been given the dignity of a fair and open trial.”

To read Mahjoub’s full statement, go to: www.supportmahjoub.org/independent-inquiry/  

“Canada risks complicity in torture by…denying fair process in security certificate cases.” – Alex Neve, Secretary-General, Amnesty International Canada

TAKE ACTION: FREE THE THREE

FREE THE MIGRANTS: END DETENTIONS

Although their cases are extreme, Mahjoub, Harkat, and Jaballah are only three of the thousands of migrants in Canada who are imprisoned because they don’t have citizenship.

Between 2004 and 2011, 82,000 people were locked up in immigration detention. At least another 13,000 have likely been imprisoned since 2011. These include children, as well as those jailed in maximum security prisons without access to service or programs.

BILL C-31: MORE INJUSTICE

Bill C-31, the Refugee Exclusion Act, was passed by parliament in June. It allows for the automatic detention of groups of refugees entering Canada. It is expected that this act will be put into effect in mid-December. As a result, increasing numbers of refugees – including children – will find themselves behind bars in Canada.

Free The Three actions organized in Vancouver, Calgary, Saskatoon, Regina, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, and Halifax.

Free The Three actions organized by People’s Commission Network: http://www.peoplescommission.org/en/

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THE HUNGER GAMES: Canada 2012

Posted by strattof on December 2, 2012

Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games trilogyhas been enormously successful, read by millions, including many Canadians. Set in the near future, it takes place in a country known as Panem, a post-apocalyptic totalitarian society established in North America following the destruction of our civilization.

At the centre of the story is 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen. We learn of her struggles, first to provide for her mother and beloved younger sister after their father’s death, and then to survive the Hunger Games, a nationally televised event in which children between the ages of 12 and 18 are required to fight to the death until there is only one remaining.

The Hunger Games is categorized as “young adult fiction.” However, its multitude of fans represents a broad demographic, extending from pre-teens to senior citizens. As many of them know, it tackles serious issues and offers a critique of contemporary society. What can The Hunger Games tell us about present-day Canadian society?

CLIMATE CHANGE

While The Hunger Games makes no explicit reference to it, it makes clear that climate change is responsible for the demise of North America. As the Hunger Games contestants are about to be selected in District 12, the mayor “tells the history of Panem, the country that rose up out of the ashes of a place that was once called North America. He lists the disasters, the droughts, the storms, the fires, the encroaching seas that swallowed up so much of the land, the brutal war for what little sustenance remained. The result was Panem.”

In its 2012 budget, the Harper government gutted environmental regulations in order to protect tar sands development. According to NASA climate scientist James Hansen, if Canada continues to develop the tar sands, “it will be game over for the climate.”

ECONOMIC INEQUALITY

Panem is an extremely unequal society. The people in the Capital live in unimaginable luxury, while those in the outlying districts, like Katniss and her family, are poor and starving. It is a classic case of what the Occupy Movement calls the 1% and the 99%.

Since the 1980s, inequality has been rapidly increasing in Canada, reversing the trend since the 1930s that saw increasing equality. Today:  

  • The richest 1% of Canadians earns 14% of total income, up from 8% in 1980.
  • The highest paid 100 Canadian CEOs earn 189 times more than the average wage, up from a ratio of 105 to 1 in 1998.
  • 900,000 households and 2.5 million people in Canada are too poor to afford adequate diets.
  • 1 in10 Canadian children lives in poverty.

Reducing Income Inequality: 5 Measures Governments Can Take 

1.   Increase tax rates on high incomes. In 1948, the top income tax rate for Canadians was 80%. Today it is just 43%.  

2.   Reverse corporate tax cuts.The federal corporate tax rate has been slashed from 28% in 2000 to its current 15%, a 46% tax rate cut.

3.   Raise the minimum wage to $12 an hour and then index it to inflation.

4.   Invest in affordable housing. Housing is the single biggest monthly expense for low to middle-income households.

5.   Introduce high quality universal early childhood education.

BREAD AND CIRCUSES

Panem, the name of Katniss’ country, refers to the phrase “Bread and Circuses.” Coined by a first century Roman writer, it describes how ruling classes pacify commoners by providing entertainment that serves as a distraction from their exploitation and subjugation.

In ancient Rome, it was gladiatorial contests that provided the deadly distraction. In Panem, it is the Hunger Games. What is it in our society? 

Collins has said that one of her main models for Panem’s Hunger Games was Reality TV programs such as Survivor. What her portrayal of the Panem games suggests is that, as well as diverting our attention away from the REAL issues, Reality TV also hardens viewers to violence, suffering, and cruelty.

WAR AND PEACE

The Hunger Games are a metaphor for war. We too send our young people off to kill other young people – in our case in other countries, such as Afghanistan. As Collins indicates, even the most brutal of the young fighters in her novels are creations of the adult world which programs them, almost from birth, to fight and kill.

The anti-war stance of The Hunger Games is also evident in the portrayal of the impact of violence on the young characters. Katniss suffers horrific physical wounds, but her mental and emotional scarring is even more disturbing: guilt, nightmares, flashbacks.

Spoiler alert: Another indication of the novels’ attitude to war is the resolution of the Gale-Katniss-Peeta love triangle in favour of Peeta, “the boy with the bread,” and not Gale, Katniss’ childhood hunting partner. A man so consumed with “rage and hatred,” Gale sees violence, no matter the cost, as the only way forward.  

The ultimate futility of armed resistance is, however, most clearly apparent when Coin, the president of District 13, the centre of the armed rebellion, begins to replicate the power plays of the Capital, dropping bombs on children and planning to reinstate the Hunger Games. Violence begets violence is Collins’ message. 

If armed resistance is not the way to respond to brutal, unjust power, what is? Collins’ answer seems to be a fostering of certain values – community, resourcefulness, self-sacrifice, love – combined with a strategy of revolutionary non-violence.

DANDELIONS

In The Hunger Games, dandelions are a symbol of hope, “the promise that life can go on, no matter how bad our losses.” Dandelions are also celebrated as a source of health-giving food. On the point of starvation, Katniss spies a dandelion and that evening she and her family feast on dandelion salad, along with the bread Peeta has provided.

In Regina, dandelions are considered noxious weeds to be eliminated with poisonous pesticides. The Canadian Cancer Society warns against the use of pesticides, citing research that links them to cancer and other serious health issues. Over 150 Canadian municipalities have banned pesticides. But not Regina. Here the pesticide lobby has more authority and influence than the Canadian Cancer Society.   

Posted in afghanistan, climate, environment, justice, peace activism | 1 Comment »