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Archive for January, 2015

WE CAN ELIMINATE POVERTY

Posted by strattof on January 25, 2015

In the past ten years, Saskatchewan’s economic expansion has benefited the province in many ways.  But some people in the province have been left out and every day must scrounge to obtain food, clothing, and shelter.  Increased shelter costs have made life very difficult and unhealthy for those with low incomes.

There is no sound reason why the benefits of economic expansion cannot be shared by all.  Let’s work together to ensure this happens and make Saskatchewan a model of how poverty can be eliminated.

KEY POVERTY FACTS

  • 128,000 Saskatchewan residents live below the low income or poverty line. That’s 13 per cent of the province’s population.
  • In Regina, 26,000 persons, 9 per cent of the city’s population, live below the poverty line.
  • 9,000 Regina children, 1 in 5, are in poverty. In Prince Albert, North Battleford, and in rural areas, towns, and the North, as many as 1 in 3 children live in poor households.
  • Living alone increases vulnerability to low income. In Regina, 1 in 5 unattached individuals live in poverty.
  • The Aboriginal low income rate is 30 per cent in Regina, much greater than the 10 per cent rate for non-Aboriginal persons. Across the province, 1 in 3 persons with Aboriginal identity live in low income households.
  • In 2011, 24 per cent of Canadians with disabilities lived in low income households.
  • Recent immigrants to Regina have a poverty rate of 30 per cent.
  • In 2012, over 40 per cent of persons living in female lone-parent families in the province were in poverty.
  • Employment at a minimum wage job means a worker is in poverty. In 2012, full time work at minimum wage meant an income of $19,760 or $1,000 less than the poverty level for a single person.
  • Since 2007, Regina food and rent costs increased by 45 per cent, while the minimum wage increased by only 28 per cent.
  • In 2012, the low income line was $20,784 for a single person and $41,568 for a family of four, using the Low Income Measure – After Tax.

3 EFFECTS OF POVERTY

  1. We know that poverty hurts families and children in low income households. But we don’t always know that it costs everyone – in lost economic potential and health care costs.  Saskatoon’s Poverty Costs campaign estimates that poverty cost Saskatchewan $3.8 billion in heightened service use and lost opportunities in 2010.  That’s 5 per cent of our gross domestic product.   Among the costs are $420 million in increased health care usage and over $50 million in criminal justice system costs.  See povertycosts.ca for the full report.
  2. Studies show that people living in poverty are more likely to suffer from diabetes, heart disease, injury and/or poisoning, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and mental health concerns than those with secure incomes. Poor diets and housing not only cause stress but can create health problems such as asthma and bronchitis.
  3. We know that child poverty can have long term effects – impairing the health of children and making education and success in life more difficult to achieve. It hurts all of us.

POVERTY IS WRONG

Let’s eliminate poverty because it’s wrong that some Saskatchewan residents don’t have enough to live in dignity.

Here are some of the ways that poverty and its ill effects could be eliminated:

  • A guaranteed basic income for all – an income enough to make sure that no child or family is in poverty.
  • A universal and accessible child care program.
  • Adequate and affordable housing for all.
  • Employment that pays a Living Wage.

WE CAN ELIMINATE POVERTY

Saskatchewan’s poverty rate has declined since 2005.  This shows that progress can be made in reducing poverty and that there need not always be poor among us.  While these last ten years of economic expansion have led to a decline in provincial poverty rates, there is still a long way to go.  Let’s get the poverty rate down to 0.

Make your views on poverty elimination known.  In the October 2014 Speech from the Throne, the provincial government announced a Poverty Reduction Strategy.  To make suggestions to the Advisory Group on Poverty Reduction, suggesting ways to eliminate poverty, email

povertyadvisorygroupss@gov.sk.ca

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AGAINST WAR & ALL VIOLENCE

Posted by strattof on January 15, 2015

As our banner states, Making Peace Vigil is “against war & all violence.” We are appalled by the killing of the journalists at the Paris newspaper Charlie Hebdo. We are equally appalled by the killing of people in Iraq by dropping bombs on them. We want peace!

  • Peace is not the absence of conflict. Rather, it is a commitment to resolve conflict in a non-violent manner.
  • Making peace is hard work. It requires identifying and resolving the root causes of conflict.
  • Peace is inextricably intertwined with justice. There will be no peace until there is justice.

FREEDOM OF SPEECH: A BASIC HUMAN RIGHT

There is general agreement that the Charlie Hebdo cartoons about Islam are offensive and racist. Many western leaders and media outlets have, however, defended the cartoons’ publication by upholding freedom of speech as our highest principle.

Freedom of speech is a core principle of democratic societies, upheld by the Declaration of Human Rights: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression” (Article 18).

LIMITS ON FREE SPEECH

In practice, however, all societies place some limits on free speech.

In Canada, for example:

  • Child pornography is illegal.
  • Libel laws prevent us making harmful false statements about other people.
  • Although sexist speech is not illegal, very few people are upholding the free speech rights of the Dalhousie dentistry students who made misogynistic facebook postings about their female peers. Most people are calling for their punishment.
  • Anti-Semitic speech is also not illegal in Canada. However, because most of us find it abhorrent ‒ as undermining our basic values ‒ it is, in effect, banned from mainstream media and political discourse by social pressure.

DOUBLE STANDARDS

Like anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim speech is not illegal in Canada. However, unlike anti-Semitism, it appears very regularly in our mainstream media and political discourse. For example:

  • The Charlie Hebdo cartoons have been reprinted in the mainstream media in Canada.
  • Prime Minister Harper regularly uses the words “Islamicism” and “Islamic terrorism,” thus demonizing an entire religion and promoting hatred and fear of Muslims. 

FREE SPEECH: A COVER FOR RACISM

Is the free speech defence of Charlie Hebdo a cover for anti-Muslim racism? (In 2009, Charlie Hebdo fired one of its cartoonists for his anti-Semitism.)

ISLAMOPHOBIA

“Islamophobia” is the name given to anti-Muslim racism. A 2011 Center for American Progress report defines “Islamophobia” as “an exaggerated fear, hatred, and hostility towards Islam and Muslims that is perpetuated by negative stereotypes resulting in the bias, discrimination, and the marginalization and exclusion of Muslims from…social, political, and civic life.”

3 MORE EXAMPLES OF ISLAMOPHOBIA

  1. Use of the word “terrorist”: For example, in 2014, there were three “lone wolf” attacks in Canada. Two ‒ the fatal shooting of a policeman in Quebec and the attack on Parliament Hill ‒ were carried out by “recent converts to Islam.” A third ‒ the fatal shooting of three Mounties in Moncton ‒ was the act of a young man from “a good Christian family.” Only the first two were labelled “terrorist” by the Harper government and the media. In our society, terrorist = Muslim.
  2. Refugees from Syria: ●The war in Syria has displaced 10 million people. In 2013, Canada committed to resettle 1,300 Syrian refugees by the end of 2014. Only 700 had arrived as of December. ●Recently, the Harper government said it planned to resettle up to 10,000 Syrian refugees in the next two years, giving priority to “persecuted ethnic and religious minorities.” In practice that would mean Canada would offer refuge preferentially to Christians and other minority communities. The majority of those affected by the war are Sunni Muslims. 
  3. The hullabaloo over veils: Why are so many non-Muslim Canadians upset or even angry when we see women veiled? 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.

SOLIDARITY

If we are disinclined to say “I am Charlie Hebdo” because we do not want to identify with racist speech, we might consider saying “I am a war victim” to show our solidarity with all the people in the world being harmed by armed conflict.

AN ISLAMOPHOBIC CHECK LIST

Do you hold any views or attitudes like these?

  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.

You may want to check your views and think again. Those listed have been identified as particularly damaging by the Runnymede Trust, a British anti-racist research institute.

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THE LEGACIES OF JOHN A. MACDONALD

Posted by strattof on January 8, 2015

January 11 2015 will mark the 200th anniversary of the birth of John A. Macdonald, Canada’s first prime minister. The federal government is spending close to $1 million to celebrate Macdonald and his legacy, which includes:

  • Negotiating Canadian Confederation in 1867;
  • Overseeing the completion of the transcontinental Canadian Pacific Railway in 1885, which convinced BC to join Confederation and stopped US annexation of the province.

As a result of these accomplishments, Macdonald is often hailed as the father of the Canadian nation. They are not, however, Macdonald’s only legacy.

MACDONALD’S OTHER LEGACY: RACIST AND GENOCIDAL POLICIES

We are taught in school about Macdonald, the nation-builder. By the time we are teenagers, most of us know about Macdonald’s fondness for drink and the bribery scandal that forced his resignation. We may also know of the racist head-tax he imposed on the Chinese immigrants who helped build the railway.

Almost erased from history, however, have been his racist and genocidal policies against Indigenous peoples.

CLEARING THE PLAINS

In 1878, Macdonald implemented a policy of starvation, with-holding food from First Nations living in Canada’s vast resource-rich prairie region until they moved onto reserves. In Macdonald’s words: “We are doing all we can by refusing food until the Indians are on the verge of starvation.”

The goal of the policy was to clear the plains of First Nations so as to make way for the transcontinental railroad and make the plains available for white settlement.

Thousands died as a result of this genocidal policy.

MAKING RESIDENTIAL SCHOOLS GOVERNMENT POLICY

Macdonald was a passionate advocate for residential schools. In 1879, his government founded a publicly funded residential school system. In 1884, it made school attendance compulsory for all First Nations children. Thousands of children died from neglect, abuse, malnutrition, and disease while attending these schools.

Genocide, as defined by the United Nations, includes:

  • Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
  • Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group.

Canada’s residential schools, the last of which closed in 1996, constituted genocide.

HANGING OF LOUIS RIEL

Like Macdonald, Riel is a father of Confederation. As part of his struggle for Métis rights, Riel negotiated the terms under which Manitoba joined Confederation in 1870.

Macdonald had no interest in Métis rights, but only in securing land for white settlement. At his insistence, Riel was executed by the state in 1885 for his part in the North West Rebellion.

CANADA IN THE 21ST CENTURY

Why bring to light these disturbing truths about Canada’s founding? We need to know about our history because it forms the basis of on-going white settler privilege and the worsening of conditions for Indigenous peoples.

In terms of policies toward Indigenous peoples, how different is Canada today from Macdonald’s 19th century Canada?

21ST CENTURY RACISM

  • The health gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in Canada, set off by Macdonald’s starvation policy, persists. Life expectancy for Indigenous peoples is 7 years shorter than for non-Indigenous Canadians.
  • Funding for schools on reserves lags behind that of other schools by between $2,000 and $3,000 per student. Is it any wonder only 40% of on-reserve students graduate from high school, compared to 88% of other students?
  • Imprisonment is a recurring theme in the experience of Indigenous peoples. Residential schools were essentially prisons for children. Today, Indigenous people are vastly over-represented in the Canadian prison system. Studies show that Indigenous people are sentenced to longer terms; spend more time in segregation and maximum security; and are less likely to be granted parole.
  • 1,180 Indigenous girls and women have gone missing or been murdered in the last 30 years. The Harper government refuses to hold a national public inquiry. What if 1,180 white women had been murdered or gone missing?
  • Gaining access to resources on First Nations land remains a priority of the Canadian government. It is the reason Canada continues to refuse to honour the Treaties it signed with First Nations. It is also why the Harper government has mounted an attack on existing environmental protections that stand in the way of resource development on First Nations territory. 

Each of the above is an indication of systemic racism in Canadian society, which has the effect of maintaining white privilege.

JUSTICE IN CANADA

Indigenous peoples have been struggling for justice ever since the beginning of the European colonial occupation in the 1600s. The rest of us need to support their calls for Treaties to be honoured; for self-determination and sovereignty; for resource-sharing; for truth, restitution, and reconciliation. For justice!

SOURCES AND RESOURCES

BOOKS (available at Regina Public Library)

  • The Inconvenient Indian, Thomas King (2012).
  • Clearing the Plains: Disease, Politics of Starvation, and the Loss of Aboriginal Life, James Daschuk (2013).
  • Indivisible: Indigenous Human Rights, Joyce Green, ed. (2014)
  • The Comeback by John Ralston Saul (2014).

ARTICLES (available online)

  • “When Canada used hunger to clear the West,” James Daschuk, Globe and Mail, July 19 2013.
  • “What Canada committed against First Nations was genocide,” Phil Fontaine and Bernie Farber, Globe and Mail, Oct 14 2013.
  • “A Twelve-Step Program for a Post-Colonial Future,” Joyce Green and Michael Burton, Canadian Dimension, Nov ‒ Dec 2013.
  • “Should we really be celebrating Sir John A. Macdonald’s birthday?” by Avvy Yao-Yao Go Brad Lee, Toronto Star, Jan 13 2014.
  • “Pedestals and Politicians,” Christopher Moore, Canada’s History, April – May 2014.
  • “Old Macdonald,” Stephen Marche, Walrus, Jan ‒ Feb 2015.

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