Friday, December 7, 2012

Ontario teachers and students step up the fight against austerity and Bill 115

On Monday, Ontario teachers will start rolling walkouts across the province against the draconian Bill 115, the "Putting Students First Act." But the best way to put students first is to support teachers against the Liberal government's anti-democratic austerity agenda.

The Ontario Liberals claimed Bill 115, passed in September, was necessary in order to balance a budget during the economic crisis. But this is after McGuinty wasted billions of dollars in corporate tax cuts. While the 1 per cent has been bailed out, the 99 per cent are facing cuts -- from imposing a pay freeze on teachers, denying universal childcare to parents and continually raising tuition for students.

Students have been at the heart of the fight against the Liberal's austerity agenda, including occupying the office of Glen Murray, Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities. As Cindy Brownlee, Director of Education and Equity for the Student Association of George Brown College said last April, "As a single mother nearing the end of my studies in early childhood education. I've joined today's occupation to demand that the Ontario government reverse their decision to increase tuition fees next fall."

In addition, students are not abstract or frozen-in-time. As one writer put it, "Today's high-school student without sports is tomorrow's college student racking up debt and next week's angry, unemployed or precarious worker."

Teachers are putting students first by resisting the austerity agenda that is undermining their futures.

In addition to imposing a pay freeze and removing sick days, Bill 115 strips teachers of their democratic rights to collective bargaining, and gives control to the Education Minister of the austerity-driven government. As one legal expert put it:

"You do not have to be a constitutional lawyer to conclude that this proposed legislation is an unprecedented attack on the civil liberties and constitutional rights and freedoms of educational workers. We should expect our governments to defend our constitutional rights and freedoms and to respect the constitutionally protected process of good faith bargaining between school boards and educational worker and teacher unions."

Instead, Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty broadened the attack on democracy from collective bargaining to social democracy. Proroguing the Ontario legislature is part of a pattern of undermining democracy to advance the austerity agenda -- from the federal Tories proroguing Parliament and imposing omnibus bills, the BC Liberals suspending the legislature amidst their campaign against teachers, and the Quebec Liberals imposing Bill 78 to attack the student movement.

The Ontario Liberals accuse the teacher strikes of harming students -- just like transit strikes are accused disrupting passengers and nurses strikes are accused of harming patients. This is a time-honoured, divide-and-conquer strategy to scapegoat workers for cutbacks: cut jobs and services, and then when service providers resist, blame them for the disruption and pit them against service users. But it doesn't always work.

The Tories are calling for firm action against teachers, but the vacillation of the Liberals show they have a better sense of popular opinion -- like the repeated waves of high school walkouts in support of teachers. At the end of September high school students also organized a rally at Queen's Park.

As grade 12 organizer Kayla Smith said "I have a message for Mr. McGuinty: repeal Bill 115. It bans the right to strike, it freezes the wages of teachers and cuts their benefits. There was no negotiation, there was no collective bargaining. Teachers feel disrespected and that is what we want to say today: you have to respect the teachers, negotiate and not just impose demands on them."

The same weakness that drove the Liberals to prorogue the legislature is making them ambivalent about their own legislation. McGuinty recently claimed that “teachers have a democratic right to strike in the province of Ontario,” -- after revoking that same right -- while contenders for the next leadership have criticized his attacks on teachers (though not promised to revoke it).

Education Minister Laurel Broten has narrowed the blame to union leaders -- which is ironic since the union bureaucracy has been trying to negotiate with the prorogued government, and its rank-and-file teachers whose rejection of tentative agreements set the stage for job action.

Rank-and-file activity and mutual community support are critical ingredients in resisting austerity -- as recent victories show. Rob Ford went after library workers, but because they had built a campaign around protecting library services they received widespread support and pushed back against the worst of job cuts -- protecting the services those jobs provide.

When Charest imposed Bill 78 on students, the Quebec student strike responded by broadening the movement to include all those concerned about basic civil liberties -- isolating the government in the process. Students didn’t wait for the next election, they mobilized picket lines and protests and reached out to the broader community. Through the process, teachers joined the movement -- from marching in demonstrations to strengthening picket lines -- which got rid of the government and its hated Law 78.

When Chicago's Democratic mayor Rahm Emanuel went after teachers, they didn't wait for the end of the election. In the midst of the election, they mobilized the networks with parents and students they had built over previous years, and launched a confident strike to defend public education -- and they won.

These three victories began years before the strikes, with rank-and-file organizing and outreach. Ontario teachers don’t have the same structures in place, but the high strike votes and high school walkouts have created the potential of building a broad movement to defend public education and the good jobs that provide it.

To put students first, we should join them and their teachers in walkouts, and join with everyone else at the January 26 protest outside the Liberal party convention.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Ford removed, the fight against austerity continues

Today Torontonians celebrate Rob Ford’s imminent removal from office, after he was found guilty of conflict of interest. This is the result of pressure from below and splits from above, and should give confidence to the fight against austerity.

The technical reason Ford has been removed from office (if his appeal fails) is conflict of interest, and there’s a detailed timeline of the legal proceedings. But like the removal of Richard Nixon in the context of the anti-war movement, what’s more important about the removal of Ford is the anti-austerity movement. Ford was elected just two years ago in a landslide victory that caught many off guard. Toronto had organized two massive anti-austerity movements—the 2009 city workers strike and the 2010 G20 protests—and yet Ford came to office attacking these movements, leading many to assume that Toronto had shifted to the right or that people were simply stupid.

Austerity and right-wing populism
But Ford’s victory was not a rebuke to those movements, but a result of them having no electoral expression. When the economic crisis began, “left-wing” mayor David Miller’s attack blamed city workers and provoked a strike in the summer of 2009, which opened the gate to Rob Ford’s backlash—just like Obama’s participation in the austerity agenda opened the terrain for the tea party movement. Ironically city workers received less support from council than they did in their strike against Mayor Mel Lastman, allowing Ford to lead an unopposed charge against workers.

While other candidates spoke about continuing the same policies, Ford was the only one who spoke to people’s anger at the crisis—though channeled in the wrong direction. Ford filled the electoral void with a right-wing populist campaign that abstractly spoke to people’s anxieties about the economic crisis (“respect” and “ending the gravy”), and promised not to cut any public services.

Ford was massively popular when he was first elected, for contradictory reasons, and would never have been removed from office without grassroots activism that exposed his agenda, mobilized support against it, and provoked splits on council.

Timeline of resistance
As I wrote in April, 2011:
“On his inauguration on a cold December day, 150 people protested. On his first council meeting, a temper tantrum about ‘left-wing pinkos by his invited guest Don Cherry sparked protest by councillors, while thousands of people across the city got ‘left-wing pinko’ buttons that they continue to wear with pride. In March organizers of International Women's Day confronted Rob Ford about his cuts to public services, and that weekend thousands marched for public services and jobs…On April 9 unions joined with student and community groups to bring 10,000 people into the streets of Toronto, transforming Ford's motto ‘respect for taxpayers’ into ‘respect for communities, public services and good jobs.’”

This mass demonstration so soon into Ford’s term exposed Ford’s hallow rhetoric and showed the desire to protect jobs and services—which continued through the summer. As I wrote in September of 2011:
“Instead of dividing the city, Ford's boycott of Pride in June backfired and isolated him. In July a petition by Toronto Public Library Workers Union became a lightning rod when Margaret Atwood called on her supporters to sign. On July 28, the first marathon deputations spoke overwhelmingly against cuts revealing that the so-called ‘Ford Nation’ of citizens demanding austerity was non-existent. Instead August revealed a "Jack Nation" as thousands of Torontonians covered City Hall in a rainbow of progressive messages to honour the life of Jack Layton and pledge to continue the fight for a better world. In September, hundreds gathered at local organizing meetings—the Stop the Cuts meeting in the west, and a town hall meeting in the east—to discuss the cuts and organize against them. Left councillors have reflected the growing anti-austerity sentiment—like Adam Vaughn’s critique of KPMG—while Ford's inner circle has started to crack, from Karen Stintz opposing library cuts to Jay Robinson opposing arts cuts.”

Ford’s falling popularity, as a result of grassroots organizing, also had provincial repercussions—derailing Ontario Conservative leader Tim Hudak’s election campaign. Ford scrambled to reassert his agenda but the resistance continued. As I wrote in January of this year,
“In September a poll found a majority of Torontonians in all wards were against the cuts and that Ford's popularity was plummeting. Ford announced a delay of some cuts, hoping the opposition would dissipate, but on September 26 a second labour/community rally organized by Respect Toronto brought thousands more to protest outside City Hall. In October and November, Occupy Toronto organized a series of marches to City Hall—hearing from library workers, social housing advocates and others against the Ford agenda—and on December 3 hundreds of labour and community activists held a mass meeting in Scarborough to protect jobs and services. This year of organizing by labour and community groups won a majority on council to revoke millions of cuts, as a third mass protest occurred outside City Hall.”

All this grassroots, rank-and-file organizing pushed council to pass an amended budget—a slap in the face to Ford—followed by further rebukes on everything from transit, to public housing, to plastic bags. Many of these came from people on the centre or right of council, showing increasing splits and power struggles that isolated Ford and facilitated legal proceedings against him.

Ford tried to revive his agenda by going after city workers. Despite the bitter experience of the 2009 strike, city workers from CUPE 416 and 79 gave a strong strike mandate, but received no lead from the leadership. Library workers, on the other hand, had built a strong campaign connecting the fight for jobs with the fight for services—and when they went on strike they received widespread support and pushed back against the cuts—showing how rank-and-file organizing, connecting jobs with services, is key to fighting austerity.

The struggle continues
Ford has vowed to appeal, and to run the next election if necessary. But if he is removed there’s no way the right-wing will back him next election. The arrogance that led to his conflict of interest speaks to the general overconfidence with which he has been ruling, one that misread his initial victory and triggered such broad opposition. The right-wing will try to reorganize around someone who can do a smoother jobs of promoting attacks on jobs and services.

Ford’s inner circle and right-wing allies are deserting him, but not his agenda. Karen Stintz, TTC chair, was a firm supporter of revoking transit workers’ right to strike; Doug Holyday, who will take over Ford’s position, has already been speaking on behalf of the increasinly-muzzled mayor and will try to revive his agenda.

The splits at the top that isolated Ford to the point of being vulnerable to a legal challenge have not ended the austerity drive against jobs and services that the rest of the right-wing on council shares. But Ford’s imminent departure from office does show that the austerity agenda is vulnerable to pressure from below, and should give confidence to rank-and-file movements to keep organizing and fighting back.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Resisting the Cancervative agenda

The Conservative government is denying chemotherapy to refugees and imposing carcinogenic tar sands on indigenous communities, as part of an oil-driven economy that puts profits above people and the planet. But there are growing movements demanding healthcare and a green future for all. 

Healthcare for All
Last spring, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney announced drastic cuts to refugee health. As his parliamentary secretary Rick Dykstra later admitted, "The current reform of the (Interim Federal Health Program) was part of the economic action plan, budget 2012, and was under budget secrecy; therefore, no consultation took place with provincial and territorial governments or medical and health care associations prior to the policy decision being made." 

When health providers found out about the cuts they responded with occupations and protests, and its clear their warnings and actions were justified: the federal Conservatives have denied chemotherapy to a refugee in Saskatoon who has stomach cancer. As Saskatchewan premier Brad Wall said, joining a growing number of provinces denouncing the cuts and covering the costs: "It’s unbelievable that some of the decisions that have been taken federally are having this impact on people who are clearly the most vulnerable, refugees who are obviously fleeing something quite terrible—that’s why they’re refugees."

The Conservatives claim that previously funded care was excessive and a drain on Medicare. Not only does the denial of chemotherapy show the cruel absurdity of this claim, but it comes at the same time as Prime Minister Harper has refused to meet with premiers to discuss the $36 billion he's cutting from the Canada Health Transfer (360 times the amount "saved" by cuts to refugee health). Refugee health cuts were designed to deprive care from refugees, and to scapegoat them for broader cuts to Medicare. Protests reversed some of the cuts to the Interim Federal Health Program, but further action is required to restore refugee healthcare and push back against the broader cuts. 

No Carcinogenic Tar Sands
While Conservative cuts are denying chemotherapy to refugees, tar sands are imposing cancer on indigenous communities. People in Fort Chipewyan, the community downstream from the tar sands, and their health providers have for years raised the alarm about high rates of rare cancer, which the Alberta Cancer Board finally confirmed in 2009. As George Poitras of the Mikisew Cree First Nation in Fort Chipewyan said back in 2009, "It's about time that we're getting these results confirming what we've been saying all along." The Conservatives have tried to ignore front-line communities and cut funding from scientists, but there is a growing indigenous-led movement against tar sands.

In 2009 a delegation challenged Harper at Copenhagen“Fossil fuel extraction from the tar sands are killing our people with cancer, killing our culture by destroying our traditional lands, and killing our planet with CO2,” said Eriel Tchekwie Deranger, member of the Athbasca Chipewyan First Nation and Tar Sands Campaigner for the Rainforest Action Network. Last year there was a mass protest on Parliament, and this year has seen further momentum against carcinogenic tar sands and their pipelines--including the Yinka Dene Alliance Freedom Train from the west coast to Toronto, the Defend Our Coast sit-in in Victoria, the PowerShift conference in Ottawa, the No Line 9 conference in Toronto, and the Unist'ot'en eviction of pipelines (which has called for solidarity actions next week).

Good Green Jobs Now
The "economic action plan" that brought cuts to refugee chemotherapy, and the tar sands bringing cancer to indigenous communities, claim to provide the economic benefit of jobs. But the fossil fuel industry is one of the least efficient job creators, and the jobs it creates undermine the health of workers and the long-term health of the planet on which we all depend. Instead, we need good green jobs, as Jim Britton, Regional Vice President of CEP (the union representing tar sands workers) said in the lead up to the Victoria sit-in: 

"We will be coming to Victoria not just to oppose Harper's vision of an economy based on exporting raw bitumen but to propose a very different economic vision for our country. We want a transition from dependence on fossil fuels that is fair to the workers in the sector, as well as a national energy strategy that includes good green jobs and long term energy security to Canadians."

According to a recent study there are much higher rates of breast cancer in women working in the auto plastics industry, part of the broader oil economy tied to the tar sands. But the movement against tar sands is starting to unite the labour movement with indigenous and environmental movements. As Susan Spratt from the Canadian Auto Workers said in the lead up to the Defend Our Coast rally: 

"The ongoing risks that these tar sands pipelines and tankers pose aren't worth any price. Tens of thousands of unionized and other jobs depend on healthy river and ocean ecosystems. On October 22 we will be standing in solidarity with thousands of working people in BC and our First Nations sisters and brothers." 

Faced with an oil-driven Cancervative agenda that cuts healthcare and spreads carcinogenic tar sands, growing movements of resistance and solidarity are raising the possibility of a future of indigenous sovereignty, healthcare for all and good green jobs.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

photo essay: "Don't attack Iran"

On October 6, 800 people marched through the streets of Toronto to oppose the looming war on Iran, organized by the Toronto Coalition to Stop the War and the Iranian-Canadian Community Council. There were a half dozen events across Canada, organized by the Canadian Peace Alliance and local peace groups, as part of an international day of action. Coinciding with the 11th anniversary of the the war on Afghanistan, a member of Afghans for Peace reminded the crowd in Toronto that the brutality of the Taliban was cynically used as a pretext for NATO's war for oil. Sold as a war for women's liberation, the war has only brought more misery to the people of Afghanistan. Now there's a new movement--combining previous anti-war movements with a new generation--growing against the next war.

As people chanted on the march, "They lied about Afghanistan, they lied about Iraq. They're lying again about Iran, so we say don't attack." In 2003 Stephen Harper supported the war on Iraq based on claims of weapons of mass destruction. But the only WMDs were US sanctions and war, which each killed a million people. The Iraq War was supposed to be a stepping stone to Iran, but the Iraqi resistance and the global anti-war movement stopped the US from advancing. So the US has resorted to proxy wars that Harper has also supported: Israel's attacks on Lebanon in 2006 and Gaza in 2009. The economic crisis has increased inter-imperial rivalry and the Arab Spring has shaken US control of the region, so it might gamble on another proxy war through Israel to reassert its dominance. Threats against Iran are based on a series of myths--like unfounded claims Iran is building a nuclear weapon, and that sanctions and war are necessary to promote peace. But sanctions have bolstered the Iranian regime's domestic control while increasing the suffering of ordinary Iranians--including Iranian-Canadians. Similarly a war would allow the Iranian regime to present itself as the protector of the nation, while undermining resistance movements and killing countless. As the Arab Spring shows, real regime change can only be accomplished by people in the region themselves. The best way people in the West can support them is by stopping our own governments from bombing them, which requires a broad and inclusive anti-war movement.  

Harper's war drive against Iran--supporting sanctions, declaring Iran and "Islamicism" the greatest threats, severing diplomatic relations, and pinkwashing the war--is part of a broader agenda of militarism including spending $490 billion on war instead of jobs, social programs and the environment. The war abroad is part of a war at home--including cutting healthcare for refugees, a campaign against US Iraq War resisters, and attacking a woman's right to chose. Queers for Social Justice mobilized for the Toronto demonstration to expose the pinkwashing and join with others in chanting "Drop Harper, not bombs."

At the start of 2003 Parliament consisted of a majority Liberal government supporting war, the Opposition Tories who supported war, and a small NDP that opposed the war. But people across the country built a mass anti-war movement in the streets, campuses, workplaces and neighbourhoods. Uniting under the simple slogan "Don't attack Iraq," the movement identified US war as the greatest threat, stopping the war as the greatest way to support the Iraqi people against their own regime, and a broad and inclusive movement as the method to do so. The NDP provided a megaphone for the movement, with Jack Layton speaking out against war and calling on people to join the demonstrations. Together, we stopped Canada from officially participating in the Iraq War, and if we remember the lessons of the Iraq anti-war movement we can stop Harper from joining the looming Iran War. For anti-war resources--including fact sheets, petitions, sample letters and resolutions, window signs and stickers, go here.

Friday, September 7, 2012

5 lessons from the Quebec student strike

The historic Quebec student strike has generated a number of lessons we can all take forward in the fight against austerity.

1. We can beat austerity
Premier Charest tried to raise tuition 75% to further the neoliberal assault on education and provoke students—hoping to use the resulting polarization right-wing populism to win another election. Students were subject to media attacks, ridicule from the Premier, police violence, and the draconian Bill 78—revealing the extent to which the 1% will go to impose austerity.
Yet the student movement remained united, mobilized wider support and built a historic movement that played a key role in running Charest out of office, out of his own seat, and securing the promise of the incoming PQ to abolish the tuition hike and revoke Bill 78 (law 12). In the process hundreds of thousands of students were educated in a semester of resistance that will shape struggles to come and have inspired people across Canada and around the world. Who’s laughing now, Mr. Charest?

2. Resistance is a process not an event
Though the Quebec Spring appeared to come out of nowhere for people outside Quebec, it has been a long time coming. Quebec’s history of resistance to national oppression has contributed to making it the site of the largest social movements of the last decade—from the anti-globalization protests of 2001, the anti-war protests of 2003 (which stopped Canada from officially participation), the mass May Day protest of 2004, and the mass student strike of 2005. The last strike, the latest in a history of student strikes in Quebec, trained a generation of student activists and defeated the government’s $103 million cuts to education.
This collective experience in Quebec became intertwined with the 2011 year of revolt triggered by the Arab spring to produce the “printemps érable.” The 2012 strike drew on local and global to build a mass strike from the ground up, department by department and campus by campus—an experience that can’t be spontaneously summoned but must be patiently built if we want to spread the Quebec spring.

3. Politics matter
It was not simply the scale of the attacks—from the 75% tuition hike to Bill 78’s attack on civil liberties—that spontaneously produced mass resistance, or the existence of general assemblies in the abstract. The politics that dominated the assemblies built the movement in a way that was both broad and radical. 
First, the movement was built in an inclusive way so as to mobilize the greatest amount of opposition. While many at the heart of the movement believe in free education, the strike was initiated on the simple demand of “stop the hike”, to mobilize the greatest unity on this primary demand—and the resulting mass participation allowed for people to radicalize. When Charest imposed Bill 78, the movement responded by appealing to all those affected to rally in defense of civil liberties. By doing so the student strike turned the tables on Charest and broadened the resistance—encouraging casserole demonstration by many who had previously not taken part in the protests.
At the same time, a simple basis of unity against tuition hike and Bill 78 were framed in a context against austerity that built alliances with other groups—from the April 22 earth day demonstration that linked the student movement with the environmental movement against Plan Nord, to the solidarity with the locked out workers in Alma. As a result the student movement became a broader social movement.

4. Left parties can amplify movements
The history of social movements in Quebec has given rise to the left alternative Québec solidaire, a “party of the ballot box and the streets”, whose one MNA Amir Khadir was able to be a megaphone for the movement—encouraging resistance Bill 78, and getting arrested while joining the protests. 
            The election was dominated by two opposite but reinforcing currents that squeezed QS: a "radical" abstentionism that counterposes the streets and the ballot box and dismisses the importance of QS—surrendering the electoral terrain to the right—and an “anyone but Charest” argument that bolsters the PQ. But the disillusionment with the PQ and Liberals meant that they both lost support, with a right-wing populism turning with the CAQ.
Despite these dominant currents, QS won two seats (with well known feminist Françoise David joining Amir Khadir), came in second in two others, and increased their percentage of the vote. Combined with the higher voter turnout, this represents an important increase in support for QS—a doubling of the vote from 2008. QS helped build the Quebec spring and was in turn shaped by it, with many students joining its ranks, and is in a stronger position to continue giving voice to the movements in the future.

5. La lutte continue
           This has just been the first chapter of the printemps érable. The support for the PQ is shallow, there is anger at the Liberals and false hope in the CAQ, like the ADQ before it, and all will show their united support for neoliberalism. The movement will need to keep asserting itself in the streets, campuses, neighbourhoods and workplaces, amplified by QS--to ensure the PQ maintains its promise of revoking the hike and the law, and to push the movement forward.
Unfortunately NDP leader Thomas Mulcair told his MPs not to support the student strike and then announced the NDP will run provincially—against QS. But the rapid spread of casserole demonstrations across the country shows the growing solidarity with Quebec and a desire to fight austerity locally. We need to learn the lessons of the Quebec spring by building broad movements from below, and having left parties that amplify and not dampen movements. 

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Support the Riveras, stop the deportation of war resisters

The Harper government is trying to deport US Iraq War resister Kimberly Rivera and her family September 20, the start of a renewed campaign against war resisters that undermines international law and Canadian democracy. But there is a campaign to support the Riveras and stop the deportations.

With massive demonstrations against the looming Iraq War in 2003, the Canadian government refused to participate—and Prime Minister Harper  admitted the war was “absolutely an error.” Recently Archbishop Desmond Tutu called for Bush and Blair to be tried for war crimes for a war that "has destabilized and polarized the world to a greater extent than any other conflict in history."

Under international law soldiers have the right to refuse participation in illegal conflicts such as Iraq, and the Nuremburg principles call on soldiers to refuse participation in such wars. During the Vietnam War, Canada welcomed US war resisters—both volunteers and conscripts—and resisters from the Iraq War have been coming to Canada since 2004. US veteran Kimberly Rivera left the Iraq War after experiencing the terrifying impact of the war on children. She came to Canada in 2007—becoming the first female US Iraq War resister—and lives in Toronto with her husband Mario and four children (Christian, Rebecca, Katie and Gabriel).

US Iraq War resisters have the support of the majority of Canadians—including human rights groups, student and labour unions, community and faith groups, environmentalists, authors and artists. This mass support has been reflected in two Parliamentary motions calling on the government to stop the deportations and to let war resisters stay.

Minister of Censorship and Deportation
Despite international law, Canadian tradition and democracy, and Harper's own statements against the Iraq War, the Harper government has deported war resisters to US prison—including Robin Long (who was separated from his family) and Cliff Cornell, who both received harsh jail sentences for speaking out against the war. According to Cliff’s lawyer, “because he spoke out against the Iraq war, Cliff's sentence is harsher than the punishment given to 94 percent of deserters who are not penalized but administratively discharged.” Threatened with a similar fate of being separated from his family and jailed for following his conscience and international law, resister Rodney Watson has been living in sanctuary since 2009.

Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, an early supporter of the Iraq War, has gone out of his way to try to deport war resisters. When the Rivera family was threatened with deportation in 2009, Kenney called war resisters “bogus refugee claimants.” This was not about supporting other refugees, as Kenney's cruel cuts to refugee health have since made clear. As the Canadian Council for Refugees wrote in an open letter: “It is highly inappropriate for you to express your opinions on how you believe IRB (Immigration and Refugee Board) members should make refugee determinations. To do so gives the strong appearance of political interference. Public comments such as yours only make IRB members’ jobs more difficult and threaten claimants’ rights to an unbiased decision…The Canadian Council for Refugees supports all war resisters from any country who refuse to engage in armed conflict that is contrary to international humanitarian law.” 

Kenney dodged responsibility for his campaign against war resisters when questioned in publicThankfully an emergency stay of removal was granted to the Riveras last time, and since 2008 there have been 10 federal court or federal court of appeal decisions in favour of war resisters.

Kenney has since amplified his intervention against war resisters by issuing Operational Bulletin 202, instructing immigration officials to flag US Iraq War resisters as “criminally inadmissible” (as opposed to criminal Conrad Black). In response, Amnesty International and Peter Showler (former Chair of Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Board) called on Kenney to rescind Operational Bulletin 202 because it “misstates the law and seeks to intrude on the independence of both IRB members and Immigration Officers.” 

Now there is a renewed offensive against war resisters beginning with the Riveras, who—before even receiving the decision on their application to stay on humanitarian and compassionate grounds—were given a deportation date of September 20. 

Support the Riveras, stop the deportation of war resisters
Last night's community meeting in Parkdale, where the Riveras and other war resisters live, spilled out into the streets as people marched to show their support for war resisters. We have two weeks to amplify the campaign to stop the September 20 deportation of Kimberly Rivera and her family, and to reaffirm that she was right--and so were we--to say no to the Iraq War.

*Ask Immigration Minister Jason Kenney to stop the deportation: call 613-954-1064, email or send this online letter.

*Contribute to the urgent appeal for funds.

*Friday September 14, 4:30-6pm will be a Canada-wide day of petitioning and leafletting. People in Toronto can meet at three locations: Carrot Common on Danforth ave, Trinity St. Paul Centre (427 Bloor St West, near Spadina), and Queen St. West and Dunn (Parkdale). Information from other cities will soon be available.

* Wednesday September 19, 4:30-6pm, there will be a peaceful demonstration outside the Federal Court Building at 180 Queen St. West, Toronto, to call on Kenney to stop the deportation of the Riveras.

*Follow the campaign for updates:

Monday, June 18, 2012

Photo essay: "Healthcare for refugee, stop the cuts now!"

From Inuvik to Vancouver to St. John's, people across Canada rallied today against a looming healthcare catastrophe: cruel and costly cuts to refugee health. In Toronto, more than 500 people took over both sides of the sidewalk outside the immigration office, spilling out into the street and getting solidarity honks from passing drivers.

The National Day of Action to Stop Cuts to Refugee Health Care, organized by Doctors for Refugee Care, mobilized the full range of health providers and other supporters of refugees and health care. There were rallies in more than a dozen cities, while the Opposition Immigration Critic Jinny Sims raised the issue in Parliament.

Since these cuts to the Interim Federal Health Program (IFHP) were announced by Immigration Minister Jason Kenney on April 25, there has been a groundswell of opposition. On May 11, physicians protested across the country, including occupying a Tory office in Toronto. The cuts are based on a number of bogus arguments (thoroughly debunked here)--that they will reduce costs, promote fairness, and protect public health. But the cuts will predictably produce the opposite outcomes, which is why they're being imposed.

On my way to the rally I met a refugee and mother of three who is scared of losing access to her life-saving dialysis treatment. Denying basic medical care to people who have fled war, torture, rape and persecution is both cruel, costly (forcing expensive ER visits with complications of untreated conditions) and dangerous. These cuts will kill.

If the Tories were so concerned about health equity, why not promote health for all? Instead, just a few months ago the Tories announced $21 billion cuts to health care--as part of a prescription for privatization. Austerity requires scapegoats, so the Tories are blaming refugees and the small IFHP program that covers their basic healthcare. As Dr. Mark Tyndall said at the Ottawa press conference today, "the government has used this issue to divide Canadians, pitting those who are dissatisfied with their own health coverage against refugees. Canadians are smarter than this. This is an attack on our entire healthcare system."

That hundreds of healthcare providers rallied on a monday afternoon shows how the government's attempts to whip up anti-immigrant hysteria is backfiring. The cuts are also exposing the government's other priorities--from prisons to fighter jets--which are consuming billions of dollars diverted from healthcare.

As many of the placards said at the Toronto rally, call or email Jason Kenney at 613-992-2235 or demand healthcare for refugees, stop the cuts now!

Friday, May 11, 2012

Stop cuts to refugee health

Toronto doctors rally outside Joe Oliver's office
Today doctors across the country took action against proposed cuts to refugee health. There were occupations of Tory offices in Winnipeg and Toronto, a rally in Ottawa and press conferences in other cities.

On April 25, Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney announced drastic cuts to the Interim Federal Health Program. These cuts, which are scheduled to take effect on June 30, are cruel, costly and a threat to public health. According to the Canadian Council for Refugees (CCR), the cuts to the Interim Federal Health Program (IFHP) will have the following impact: 
1. create two-tier system of refugee care in Canada, discriminating between refugee claimants on the basis of their country of origin
2. deny necessary medical care on  arrival in Canada to resettled refugees or accepted refugee claimants with acute health needs
3. institutionalize gender discrimination
4. deny long-term, essential medical coverage to individuals who are living in Canada in limbo
5. offload costs to provinces

As CCR President Wanda Yamamoto summarized, “Thousands of people now receiving medication for everything from epilepsy and childhood respiratory illnesses to cancer and AIDS will no longer have access as of 30 June 2012. Will it take some deaths for the government to change its mind?”

Bogus arguments
The Tories justify the cuts by claiming that they will promote fairness, save money and protect public health. But these arguments are bogus. Denying basic and medically necessary health care for people who have been forced to leave their countries to escape war, rape, torture and persecution is not fair, it is inhumane. Furthermore, as the CCR points out “the government’s own figures show that the per capita cost for refugee claimants under the IFHP is only about 10% of the average per capita cost for Canadians.” Refugees are not a drain on the system, and depriving of them of basic health care needs will not save money. Instead, denying people cost-effective preventive care will force them to suffer complications of untreated conditions, which is costly and a threat to public health. As infectious disease specialist Dr. Mark Tyndall wrote,
"there is not a health economist in the world who would tell you that restricting primary and preventive care is a cost saver. In fact, waiting until people require urgent care before intervening is contrary to everything we know about sound health economics. Does Immigration Minister Jason Kenney really believe that we shouldn’t treat someone’s high blood pressure, diabetes, depression or arthritis or offer pre-natal care to expectant mothers?"

Austerity scapegoat

The real purpose of these cuts are to scapegoat refugees for the austerity agenda. Just a few months ago the Harper government announced $21 billion in cuts to Medicare, part of a prescription for privatization. To distract from that they are blaming the very modest $84 million IFHP. As Dr. Tyndall wrote, “It is reprehensible that Minister Kenney is pitting Canadians who are dissatisfied with their own medical coverage, against refugees, as depicted in a shameless petition posted on his official website.”

Cutting refugee health is the sharp end of the wedge to cutting public health care. According to Michael McBane from the Canadian Health Coalition, “The dismantling of one of the oldest parts of Canada’s public healthcare system –health care for displaced persons who arrived in Canada following W.W. II – is symptomatic of the Harper government’s approach to health care. ‘Cut and run’ is their motto and changing the hearts of Canadians from compassion to contempt is their goal.” This goal is also being pursued by criminalizing refugees with Bill C-4 and Bill C-31.

A broad coalition of groups--migrant justice groups, labour and student groups, health and health care provider groups--will be necessary to stop these harmful cuts to refugee health. 

Monday, April 2, 2012

Photo essay: global day of action in Alma, Quebec

On March 31, 8,000 people—including striking students, workers from across Quebec, and contingents from Toronto to South Africa—converged in Alma, Quebec to support locked-out workers.

On New Year’s Eve, Rio Tinto locked out 800 workers in Alma—a town of 30,000 people, three hours north of Quebec City. The mining giant wants to contract out jobs so it can impose a 50% wage cut. But Alma workers have launched a campaign that has gone global—from California workers who had a successful strike against Rio Tinto, BC workers who have pledged $60,000 of their own wages, and Toronto Steelworkers who in early march took a bus 12 hours to the picket lines (for video footage, go here).

The solidarity for locked out workers is converging with the massive student strike. Alma workers have supported the Quebec student strike, and on March 31, students from Quebec (including the leadership of CLASSE, the group leading the group) joined the day of action in Alma. 

There were also contingents of trade unions from across Quebec, buses of steelworkers from Hamilton and Toronto, and workers from Kentucky, Los Angeles, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, Turkey, the Netherlands, and South Africa.

In the Arab Spring, the interaction between students and workers has been crucial: while students and youth groups were often the first in the streets in Tunisia and Egypt, it was mass strikes that finally drove out Ben Ali and Mubarak, and the revolutions have continued on campuses in workplaces with demonstrations, occupations and strikes. As Amir Khadir, one of the leaders of Quebec’s left-wing electoral party Québec solidaire, has explained in this video interview, Quebec’s “printemps érable” (which is translated as “maple spring” but in French sounds like “Arab spring”) includes both students and workers. The mass student strike is giving confidence to broader movements, from Earth Day protests on April 22 to the labour movement. In the last two weeks of March, Aveos workers blockaded a road in Montreal after being laid off, Air Canada workers went on solidarity wildcat strike in Montreal and Quebec City, and then the mass demonstration converged in Alma.

Canada’s 1% rules by dividing, including divisions across Canada and Quebec, but there is growing solidarity. For more information on the campaign, including video footage of the March 31 demonstration, go here. To hear a song one of the locked out workers wrote, go hereSo-so-so, solidarité!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

photo essay: Toronto IWD march

On March 3, women from across Toronto took to the streets for International Women's Day.

The march included labour and community groups, opposition from inside and outside Parliament/City Council, and people of all ages.

As the organizers explained, the austerity agenda is worsening the lives of women, who already face endemic problems of violence. "Over the past year, the 99% has faced attacks on our rights as workers and the right to decent jobs, while austerity-driven political agendas have moved forward to slash public spending, targeting the very services upon which we rely during times of economic uncertainty.  Women and other marginalized people are disproportionately affected by cuts to public services, which deepen socio-economic marginalization. Our services mitigate socio-economic inequity and are vital to an equitable society." 

This year's theme--"Reclaim our city: good jobs, services, dignity. Together we are stronger"--built on the organizing of the past year.

Women have been at the heart of resistance movements, from the Egyptian revolution to anti-austerity fights in Toronto. Last year, IWD organizers were one of the first to confront Rob Ford over his cuts that threaten women's access to public services. Since then a year of organizing has dented the Ford agenda--stopping some budget cuts, stalling the sell off of social housing, and leading to a rebirth of the public transit debate. Ford is trying to get around the opposition by attacking the jobs on which public services depend, like contracting out cleaners. The march connected the fight for public services with the defence of the jobs that provide them, and included cleaners and library workers at the front of the march--who are campaigning to save jobs and public services.

Slogans also make links were also made to broader issues, like "childcare not warfare". While Harper is wasting billions on fighter jets, battle ships and wars from Afghanistan and Libya to threats against Syria and Iran--he still refuses to fund a national, publicly-funded child care program.

The march passed by City Hall, where people left messages in chalk connecting local with global, from "save transit city", to "status for all", to "free Palestinian female prisoners" (for more information, come to Israeli Apartheid Week)

By uniting women and men from across the city in defence of good jobs, public services and dignity, IWD left a strong message for Ford, Harper and the rest of the 1%: expect resistance.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

“Defend our education: support teaching assistants”

Organized in just a week, hundreds of people representing a broad layer of the University of Toronto community united for the rally “Defend our Education: support teaching assistants”. As the Governing Council—the 1% on campus—met in a private meeting under chandeliers, the 99% on campus rallied outside in the lead up to CUPE 3902’s February 24 strike date.

Undergraduates were at the forefront of the rally. CUPE 3902 supported the student day of action against tuition fees, and students are reciprocating.  OPIRG-Toronto made a video supporting TA's, and "Undergrads for 3902" has organized a letter writing campaign. As one of their members explained, “we need a politics of solidarity. They support us every day of the year, and we need to stand with them when they need us. The interests are not opposed, they are aligned. We will not be crossing the picket line, we will be joining it.”

She and others brought 1000 letters signed by undergrads supporting CUPE 3902, and after demands from the crowd they were let through a police barrier into Simcoe Hall to deliver the petitions to the Governing Council. Meanwhile CUPE3902 hoisted a banner on helium balloons up to the window where the Governing Council was meeting.

Students wore stickers saying, “I hate my tuition, but I love my TA”. While tuition has been rising, so too have so too have tutorial sizes—a quarter have over 50 students, and a hundred have over 100 students. This undermines the ability of TAs to respond to undergrad’s educational needs, and reducing tutorial and lab sizes is a main demand of CUPE 3902. As an international student and member of CUPE 3902 explained: “We have been reduced to grading machines. If I’m in the fight it’s because I’m concerned about the quality of education at this university.”

As another placard read, “their working environment is our learning environment." CUPE 3902 is also demanding better graduate student funding, which benefits both grad students and undergrads. Because of insufficient graduate student funding (PhD students only receive funding for four or five years, when it takes an average of six years to complete), grad students need to take on extra jobs, undermining the time they have to devote to research and teaching. For international students who can only legally work on campus, this even threatens their ability to stay in the country. 

There was support from other unions on campus, including Steelworkers 1998 (administrative and technical workers), Unite HERE 75 (food service workers), CUPE 2484 (childcare workers). There was also a broader support, including a Toronto city worker from CUPE 416, Toronto Steelworkers, CUPE Ontario president Fred Hahn, and Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario chairperson Sandy Hudson—who led the crowd in chanting, “TAs and lecturers under attack, what do we do: unite, fight back.”

1) Contact Provost Cheryl Misak (416-978-2122, and Vice-President of Human Resources Angela Hildyard (416-978-4865, and tell them you support CUPE 3902. Copy so they know you support them
2) Stay updated: visit and follow @cupe3902
3) If there’s a strike: don’t cross the picket line, join it

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

photo essay: Feb1 student day of action

On February 1, students across the country took to the streets for a day of action, organized by the Canadian Federation of Students.

In Toronto, thousands of students from multiple campuses converged at the University of Toronto, marched through downtown and rallied at Queen's Park.

Students are facing skyrocketing tuition and massive levels of debt. 
On top of chronic education cutbacks and underfunding, students are being made to pay for the economic crisis they did not create. But as they chanted, "they say cut back, we say fight back", and "education is a right, we will not give up the fight."

In Ontario, Premier Dalton McGuinty campaigned on a promise to reduce tuition fees by 30%, but this only applies to a fraction of students. The size of the demonstration in Toronto, and the chants directed at McGuinty ("Dalton, you liar, tuition's getting higher") shows that students weren't fooled. In their thousands, students demanded a reduction of tuition fees for all, a dropping of the student debt, and an increase in education funding.

Students also made links with other issues, chanting and face-painting "drop fees, not bombs". The money for accessible education exists, but it's being wasted on fighter jets, tar sands, prisons, and tax breaks for the 1%.

The labour movement supported the day of action, including members of CUPE, Steelworkers, Toronto District Labour Council and the Ontario Federation of Labour.

This solidarity is crucial. More than 4,000 teaching assistance, graduate-student instructors, lab demonstrators, invigilators and writing instructors at the University of Toronto (represented by CUPE 3902) unanimously voted to set a strike deadline of February 24 if the administration fails to offer them a reasonable contract. They are asking for smaller class sizes, adequate compensation and better funding--in other words, they are trying to improve education.

There is already solidarity growing for CUPE 3902, from a campus organizing meeting drawing the links between students, TAs and food service workers, to an undergraduate-led campaign by OPIRG. As their video states, "CUPE 3902's proposals will improve the quality of education at UofT. What's good for CUPE 3902 members is good for undergraduate students." The February 1 day of action showed the strength and solidarity of the 99% on campus, which will be crucial in the weeks and months ahead to win accessible, high quality public education.