Northern Lights

by Barry Weisleder


The May 2008 edition of Northern Lights, a regular column from Canada by Barry Weisleder, appears in the San Francisco-based monthly newspaper Socialist Action. To subscribe to the newspaper, please visit the SA web site.

CUPW (re)Turns Left

The nearly 700 delegates to the 23rd triennial convention of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers at the Ottawa Congress Center elected a new president on April 17 who promises to turn the page on concessions bargaining. He is Denis Lemelin, originally from Sherbrooke, Québec. He served as the Union’s 2nd National Vice President since 1999.

Lemelin defeated the incumbent, Deborah Bourque, by a margin of about 100 votes. He opposed the latest contract settlement with Canada Post which many members regard as concessionary, but which Bourque supported.

As well, contract opponents Gail Bossenberry and Phillippe Arbour defeated contract backers André Frappier and John Fehr for First V.P. and National Grievance Officer positions, respectively. For days the buzz on the convention floor reflected considerable tension and widespread disaffection over the latest two collective agreements with Canada Post. Negotiators were criticized for the union’s abandonment of severance pay, and its concession of low wage improvements, an erosion of job security, and the long span of the agreements. Not all of the relatively conservative incumbents were defeated by insurgent challengers, but they certainly were given a scare. For example, a last-minute candidacy by a Toronto CUPW non-delegate got nearly two hundred votes in opposition to the incumbent National Treasurer who had supported the controversial deal.

In other developments, delegates approved an ambitious Action Plan. It is centered on resistance to management’s vision of “the Modern Post” which includes the elimination of thousands of jobs and the possible deregulation of Canada Post.

CUPW broke new ground by supporting the international campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel until it recognizes the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination and the right to return to their homes as stipulated in UN resolution 194. The composite resolution (combining Resolutions 338 and 339), calls for an end to all acts of violence including military assaults and suicide bombings, demands that Israel immediately withdraw from the occupied territories in accordance with UN resolution 242 and tear down the Israeli–West Bank barrier, and calls on the Canadian government to increase humanitarian aid to Palestinians. It received overwhelming support after a lengthy debate on the convention floor, which was led off by Toronto delegate and Socialist Action member Elizabeth Byce.

CUPW now joins CUPE Ontario in the growing global boycott of Israeli apartheid, the first cross-country union in Canada to do so.

Delegates also voted to demand that the Canadian government immediately withdraw troops from the war in Afghanistan, and provide genuine humanitarian aid to the Afghan people. CUPW resolved to work with the Canadian Labour Congress and peace groups to build awareness about the real causes and effects of the war.

Another adopted policy extends greater autonomy to Québec regions of CUPW in the areas of union education, “social stewards,” women’s issues and international solidarity.

An additional positive sign was the receptiveness of CUPW members to the radical press. Delegates purchased over 90 copies of Socialist Action newspaper, plus one subscription, a number of booklets, and three tickets to the conference “A World in Revolt: Prospects for Socialism in the 21st Century” set for Toronto, May 22–25.

At a modestly attended SA public forum at the Congress Center on the topic “Recession, Regression and War — What is the Socialist Alternative?,” a high school student and a university student, both Ottawa residents, asked to join Socialist Action.

CUPW’s action plan may be found at CUPW represents 56,000 members in rural, urban and suburban postal operations and private sector bargaining units, from coast to coast to coast.

Will the postal workers’ rejuvenated militant spirit spread to others in our labour movement? It couldn’t come at a better time.

“Terror” case disintegrates

The Canadian cops’ “poster” case in the “war on terrorism” is falling apart. During the week of April 14, 2008, charges against four more of the “Toronto 18” were stayed. Along with the three men who were previously released, the case of the “Toronto 18” has now been whittled down to the “Toronto 11.”

Each of the remaining 11 men are still facing trial. As a result of the “wide net” cast by government, intelligence and police agencies in their quest to catch criminals and justify rising police and military expenditures, not to mention wars of occupation abroad, innocent persons continue to be harassed, interrogated, detained, arrested and incarcerated. The reputations of many have been smeared and lives ruined.

The witch-hunt was evident in the cases of Maher Arar and Project Thread. The Arar case, in which the victim was “rendered” to Syria for interrogation and torture by U.S. officials, with the consent of Ottawa, resulted in a public inquiry and Arar’s complete exoneration. In the less well-known Project Thread case, 24 South Asian men living in the Toronto area, were wrongly labeled as terrorists. They had their lives turned upside down. Ultimately, despite the media circus, no terror-related or criminal charges were laid. Most were deported on minor immigration offences.

It is now clear that the lives of seven more men and youths and their families have been irreparably harmed. Initially assumed to be part of the “Toronto 18” plot, accused of planning to behead Prime Minister Stephen Harper, seize MP s and blow up the CBC, some of them spent nearly two years of their lives in jail. The majority were held in solitary confinement for 23½ hours a day. They have now been released and charges against them stayed.

According to Toronto Star columnist Thomas Walkom, “The alleged terror training camp turned out to be a hapless adventure in the rain, one where participants spent much of their time in a local doughnut shop and where the ammunition for target practice was apparently provided by one of two paid RCMP informers.” It seems the “plotters” didn’t even know how to get to Parliament Hill, in Ottawa.

Ten of the initial “Toronto 18” remain incarcerated pending trial. Three men continue to be held in solitary confinement under conditions more severe than those to which the majority of Canada ‘s convicted murderers and rapists are subject. On April 15, a couple hundred people demonstrated outside a courthouse north-west of Toronto to demand that the men be granted bail and that, in accordance with the law, they be assumed as innocent until proven guilty. The labour movement and the NDP should demand no less, and ought to raise a hue and cry about it now.

Canada’s ethnic shift may force Tory retreat on immigration law

As if they didn’t already have enough trouble over the Chuck Cadman affair, NAFTA-gate, the cover-up of torture of Afghan detainees, 20 year old Canadian citizen Omar Khadr still held in Guantánamo Prison after nearly five years, and the RCMP raid on Conservative Party headquarters in Ottawa over allegations of violating the election expenses law, the federal Tories seem to be cruising for a bruising on their proposed changes to the Immigration Act. They aim to empower the Immigration Minister to increase discrimination against Muslims, Arabs and South Asians, while simultaneously promoting a “guest worker” programme to intensify the exploitation of migrant labour.

Tory policies are generating a rising chorus of outrage, which may force them to retreat, even as they try to make political in-roads into immigrant communities. Such in-roads should prove increasingly elusive for the not-so-subtle racists of corporate Canada, given the shifting composition of the population.

According to 2006 census data just released by Statistics Canada, the rise in the number of visible minority persons to more than 5 million, out of a population of 32 million, indicates how immigration has shifted away from Europe. About 80 percent of newcomers to Canada are from Asia, Latin America and Africa. The intake from Europe is down to 16 percent.

The top sources of immigration are China, India, Philippines and Pakistan. There are now 684,000 South Asians in Toronto. That’s more than the population of Hamilton.

Nearly 96 percent of non-whites live in urban centers, compared with 68 percent for the total population. Presently, the proportion of visible “minorities” is, in Toronto nearly 50 percent, in Vancouver 40 percent, and in Calgary 25 percent. It is not surprising that big urban centers, which provide a modicum of social, cultural and other supports, attract the bulk of newcomers — nor that those centers and their increasingly multinational working class residents are grossly under-represented in decent jobs and in official political life. This is precisely why labour and the NDP should make common cause with immigrants, seek to mobilize them now, and sharply press the Liberals to defeat the federal Tory immigration bill and force an election.

Solidarity with KI 6 and the Ardoch Algonquin First Nation

In February 2008, leaders of the Ardoch Algonquins were sentenced for contempt due to their unwavering opposition to uranium exploration on their traditional territory in eastern Ontario. Bob Lovelace, a Queen’s University professor and an Ardoch spokesperson, was sentenced to six months detention and fined $25,000 (with further costs against him and other community members pending). Chief Paula Sherman was fined $15,000. Leaders of the Shabot Obaadjiwan First Nation also face contempt charges.

On March 17th, the Chief and five members of the Council from Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug (KI), 400 km north of Thunder Bay in northern Ontario, were sentenced to six months in jail for their peaceful opposition to drilling for platinum on their traditional lands. Charges against former KI spokesperson John Cutfeet will be heard on May 5. The Aboriginal leaders say it is their responsibility to protect their lands from drilling.

Non-native property owners in southern Ontario have also been charged with contempt. They are protecting their own lands from mineral staking, as well as supporting the indigenous struggle. On March 18th, the Superior Court in Kingston dismissed charges against three of them, including Frank Morrison, but the next day, six other “settlers” were charged with contempt just for being in the vicinity of the mine site.

At least 11 other First Nations in northern Ontario have called for a halt to staking and drilling on their traditional territories. Twelve municipalities and two counties in southern Ontario have supported requests for a moratorium on uranium exploration and mining in the Ottawa River Watershed.

But Ontario’s Mining Act trumps local property rights and aboriginal claims. Its invasive Free Entry system allows mining companies to search for minerals, fell trees, blast, drill, build roads and shelters — all without any public consultation or environmental assessment.

Support for efforts to reform the Mining Act, and to free the jailed aboriginal activists, is extremely important now. A protest encampment in front of the Ontario Legislature, May 26–30, will dramatize this just cause. As KI 6 and Ardoch F.N. lawyer Chris Reid told a Toronto Socialist Action forum on April 25, “Don’t rely on lawyers and litigation. The mining companies win every time. Build a mass movement for political action to change the law and the powers that be.” We agree fully.

At the same time, it is necessary to raise the demand for nationalization of the mining industry and of the entire natural resources sector, under workers’ and community control. In most cases, this will mean aboriginal community control. Public ownership is the only way to introduce democracy and good local development into the equation of ecology and resource management in the interest of humanity.

Canadian Jewish groups challenge Zionist monopoly

More than a hundred people answered the call of the Alliance of Concerned Jews of Canada (ACJC) to attend its first-ever conference, March 28–30 at Steelworkers Hall in Toronto. It is a long-awaited sign of a small but important change in the Jewish community.

Participants came from all over Canada, including Jews, Muslims, Christians and atheists, as well as representatives from unions, religious organizations and social justice groups, from Halifax to Vancouver. They agreed to organize to put pressure on Israel to end its occupation of Palestinian territory and to form an organization that strives to provide a counterweight to the steady stream of pro-Israel, pro-occupation propaganda flowing from organizations like the Canadian Jewish Congress and other members of the Israel Lobby, as well as the major media and the Harper government.

Despite differences on a political solution for Palestine (One State versus Two States), the conference agreed on the urgency of educating Canadian public opinion and challenging the Harper government’s uncritical and aggressive support for the Zionist apartheid state.

“It is our aim to provide an alternative voice for Jewish and non-Jewish Canadians, wherever they live, who are inundated with information from only one side of the conflict,” said conference coordinator Diana Ralph, of Ottawa.

Journalist Naomi Klein (author of The Shock Doctrine) delivered the conference keynote address. She described how the government of Israel, in celebrating the sixtieth anniversary of its founding, is attempting to “re-brand” itself as a holiday destination. To do this Israel must play down its repression of Arab citizens and Palestinians and ignore the devastating effects of its so-called Separation Wall. “They are normalizing war and violence,” Klein said, stressing the “high level of security the Israeli Defence Force [IDF] is able to deliver. They’re saying, ‘come to the beach, we’ll keep you safe and secure.

Klein linked Israel’s repression of the Palestinian population to Washington’s “war on terror” and described how Israel has become an international specialist in the development and manufacture of surveillance hardware, crowd-control devices, and other high-tech policing technologies. Security has become “Israel’s main export, more than fruits or vegetables,” she emphasized.

Among the tactics the new organization will employ are: challenging dominant views of the crisis in Israel and Palestine in public forums, letters to editors, in demonstrations, by founding alternative campus organizations for Jewish youth, by speaking at synagogues about the 1948 expulsion of Palestinians and the seizure of their property (a time known by Palestinians as the Nakba, or Disaster), by supporting the work of Palestinian and alternative Jewish artists and writers, and by working with unions, peace groups and equity-seeking organizations.