Monday, June 15, 2015

Photo essay: Toronto rally against cuts to refugee health

Today was the fourth annual and largest day of action against cuts to refugee health—organized by Canadian Doctors for Refugee Care and with support from other health providers, students and refugee advocates.

In 2012, then Immigration Minister Jason Kenney announced drastic cuts to the Interim Federal Health Program, claiming it would save money and promote fairness. These cruel cuts targeted the most vulnerable people, and scapegoated them for the government’s $36 billion cut to healthcare. As Dr. Mark Tyndall said at the time, “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.” Following occupations of Conservative MP offices, and an open letter by leading health organizations, the first rally mobilized health providers--doctors, nurses, midwives, and others--in more than a dozen cities across the country.

The government ignored this overwhelming medical advice and went ahead with their cruel and costly cuts, with predictable results. Following documented cases of refugees suffering from a denial of care, the second annual day of action in 2013 mobilized health providers in 19 cities across the country. The movement was growing both in numbers and in tactics—with the Canadian Doctors for Refugee Care and Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers launching a charter challenge against the cuts, and prominent Canadians signing an open letter.

While the government dismissed well-documented cases of refugees suffering from their cuts, the following year there was published evidence of the widespread impact of cuts. The study “The Cost and Impact of the Interim Federal Health Program Cuts on Child Refugees in Canada” found that the admission rate of refugee children doubled after the cuts—proving that when you deny people primary care it makes them sicker and requires costlier hospital care.

Health providers kept mobilizing, and in the wake of the third annual day of action in 2014 the Federal Court issued a scathing ruling against the cuts that reflected the growing opposition. Justice Mactavish found the cuts were “cruel and unusual”: “The 2012 modifications to the [Interim Federal Health Program] potentially jeopardize the health, the safety and indeed the very lives, of these innocent and vulnerable children in a manner that shocks the conscience and outrages Canadian standards of decency...I have found as a fact that lives are being put at risk.”

But rather than reverse their cruel and costly cuts, the Harper government has wasted over a million dollars to appeal the ruling—debunking their own bogus claims about “cost savings.” As Dr. Meb Rashid, medical director of the Crossroads Clinic at Women’s College Hospital and Co-Chair of CDRC said, “Many Canadians will find it appalling to know the Conservative government is spending $1.4 million dollars in legal fees to deny health coverage to a vulnerable population rather than using that money in the most efficient and compassionate manner, which would be to simply provide important health services to refugees.”

This year’s rally took place in 20 cities across the country, a sign the government’s bogus arguments are failing and solidarity with refugees is growing. As Dr. Tatiana Freire-Lizama, who came to Canada as a refugee, said to the Harper government at the Toronto rally, “if you think you can drive a wedge between refugees and the rest of the population, you are wrong. There is no ‘us’ and ‘them.’” This solidarity will continue through mobilizing, legal battles, and the upcoming federal election—to force whoever is elected to repeal the cuts to refugees and expand healthcare for all.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Line 9: exporting oil, ignoring consent

Any day now, Enbridge could begin using the 40-year old Line 9 pipeline to pump toxic tar sands to the east coast. While Line 9 ends in Montreal and Enbridge claims it is for domestic use only, residents in Maine have exposed Big Oil’s ultimate goal of export. Meanwhile, an upcoming legal appeal by the Chippewas of the Thames First Nation has highlighted the lack of consultation and violation of their rights.

When the pro-oil National Energy Board approved Enbridge’s Line 9 plan last year, they refused to consider tar sands production upstream, dismissed climate change effects downstream, restricted consultation, denied indigenous sovereignty, minimized the risk of a spill, admitted negligible jobs, and ignored climate job alternatives. But there’s a persisting myth that Line 9 will be for domestic use and not export—leading some to counterpose support for the “domestic pipeline” Line 9 while opposing the “export pipelines” like Northern Gateway and Keystone XL. But Enbridge’s claims around Line 9’s purpose are as sincere as their approach to consulting First Nations whose territories their pipelines cross.

Enbridge's “Trailbreaker” project proposed to reverse the flow of two pipelines: first use the 40 year old Line 9 (owned by Enbridge) to pump tar sands from Sarnia to Montreal; and then use the 64-year old Portland-Montreal Pipeline (owned by Imperial Oil and Suncor, who have major stakes in the tar sands) to pump tar sands from Montreal to Portland, Maine for export.

As the Globe & Mail reported in 2011: “Critics are worried the Westover plan – which Enbridge calls ‘Phase I’ – is only an initial foray, a notion supported by industry sources who on Thursday confirmed that discussions are underway toward expanding the Enbridge proposal to potentially carry Alberta oil to Atlantic tidewater. That idea, which was contemplated in 2008 but shelved during the economic downturn, could substantially extend the breadth of North American refineries – both on the East Coast and the Gulf of Mexico – accessible to Western crude producers. Doing so would also require flipping the direction of another pipe, the Portland Montreal Pipe Line, which currently transports crude from Maine to Quebec. Officials with Portland Montreal say they are in talks to do just that. ‘We’re still very much interested in reversing the flow of one of our two pipelines to move Western Canadian crude to the eastern seaboard,’ said company treasurer Dave Cyr. ‘We’re having discussions with Enbridge on their Line 9 and what it means to us.’”

In 2012 a number of environmental organizations published the report Going in Reverse: the Tar Sands Threat to Central Canada and New England. As they documented: “While Enbridge now seems to have dropped the ‘Trailbreaker’ name, it appears to be approaching the project section by section, still with an effort to bring tarsands eastward...There are several reasons to believe that Enbridge may also pursue reversing the flow direction for at least one of the Portland-Montreal pipelines in order to bring tar sands from Alberta to the Maine coast: 1) previous public comments by oil industry executives; 2) permit applications at associated pumping stations and pipelines; and 3) the shifting dynamics of the oil market.”

Because they want to win support for Phase I of the reversal by selling it as a “domestic pipeline,” Enbridge has denied the ultimate goal of export. But actions south of the border speak louder than words.

Protect South Portland
For more than two years residents of South Portland, Maine (terminal to the Portland Montreal Pipeline) have been mobilizing against tar sands, and exposing Big Oil. As Mary-Jane Ferrier, spokesperson for Protect South Portland, explained in an interview: “In 2009 the pipeline had applied for permit for reversal, which lapsed in 2013. The lapsing of this permit became public. We realized they got the permit from the city without any kind of scrutiny. Someone found the design drawings showing 70-foot smokestacks built on our waterfront. It really exploded on the public. The Natural Resources Council and 350 Maine had a big march in Maine in January 2013 against bringing tar sands through the pipeline. We then got 4,000 signatures for a citizens’ initiative on the ballot, when we only needed 900.”

Using familiar tactics, Big Oil argued that opposing tar sands would destroy jobs and the economy, and spent three quarters of a million dollars to defeat the vote. But the campaign continued—despite threats from the American Petroleum Institute to sue the city, and attempts to stack meetings to quash votes. In July 2014, City Council voted in favour of a Clear Skies Ordinance, which bans the loading of crude oil onto tankers in South Portland’s harbor.

As Mary-Jane Ferrier wrote, “A year and a half of planning, strategizing, mobilizing, persuading and doggedly attending meetings was about to come down to an end. On July 21, we packed the auditorium again. Long lines of people who wanted to speak formed. The meeting seemed to go on forever as, one after another, people went to the podium, some in wheelchairs, or with walkers, some with babes in arms, boys and girls who, to get to the mike, needed a chair to stand on. It was as if they wanted to bear testimony to something sacred happening. This city was about to speak up for the earth. When the 6-1 vote in favor was announced the auditorium erupted in cheers, hoots, laughter, even some dancing and a lot of hugging. I found myself in tears.”

There have been similar campaigns along the east coast of the US. After the NEB approved Line 9 last year, more than a dozen communities in Vermont voted against the reversal of the Portland-Montreal pipeline. While continuing to deny its intentions to pump tar sands to Maine for export, Big Oil is continuing to fight local communities. In February of this year Portland Pipe Line Corporation filed a lawsuit in Federal Court against the City of South Portland—and a legal defense campaign is under way.

Chippewas of the Thames
Regardless of the ultimate destination of oil going through Line 9, it and other tar sands projects violate indigenous rights. The Chippewas of the Thames First Nation have appealed the NEB’s approval of Line 9 because they were not consulted—a problem as old as the pipeline itself. As Myeengun Henry of the Chippewas of the Thames First Nation explains, “Line 9 has been flowing light crude oil through Chippewas of the Thames traditional territory for 40 years without our consent. It is time for industry and governments to honour the treaties and wampum belt agreements. Indigenous nations and all residents of Canada are responsible for the safety of our Mother Earth!”

Enbridge appears prepared to start pumping toxic tar sands through Line 9 even before the result of the legal appeal. So last month the Chippewas of the Thames filed an application to stay order, explaining “The Applicant will suffer irreparable harm as a result of losing its opportunity to reasonably participate in consultations regarding their constitutionally protected Aboriginal and Treaty rights if the stay is not granted.” Reinforcing how little it cares about consent, Enbridge responded that “this lack of expedition on the part of COTTFN is manifestly prejudicial to Enbridge and provides sufficient reason along for the Board to dismiss the Application…Equity comes to the aid of those who are vigilant and not those who, like COTTFN, sleep on their rights.” As part of its patronizing and colonial response, Enbridge cited decisions against the KI and Musqueam nations—and the NEB shamefully, but not surprisingly, sided with Enbridge. As Ontario Regional Chief Stan Beardy responded, “First Nations rights are not subject to industry or government timelines. Enbridge position alienates First Nation partners and makes it impossible to work together in a mutually respectful way…The problem with Line 9 is not unique.”

Indeed, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission includes a specific call to action for corporations to respect Indigenous land rights: “We call upon the corporate sector in Canada to adopt the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as a reconciliation framework and to apply its principles, norms, and standards to corporate policy and core operational activities involving Indigenous peoples and their land and resources. This would include, but not be limited to, the following: Commit to meaningful consultation, building respectful relationships, and obtaining free, prior, and informed consent of Indigenous peoples before proceeding with economic development projects.”

Climate action
Despite attempts by Big Oil to trample on local communities and Indigenous rights, the climate justice movement is continuing to grow—led by Indigenous communities defending their land, and with growing support from the labour movement demanding a new kind of economy.

As the Toronto and York Region Labour Council recently wrote, “We don’t have to choose between the economy or the environment. Real climate action means investing in mass public transit, clean energy infrastructure and affordable housing. It means expanding low-carbon sectors like health, education and sustainable agriculture. By taking real climate action, we can create an economy that is more fair and equal and offers hundreds of thousands f good new jobs. We want an economy where workers win, communities have more democratic control, and those most impacted and impoverished are the first in line to benefit. An economy that honours Indigenous peoples’ rights and recognizes their role in protecting the land, air and water for everyone. An economy that respects the limits of the environment made clear by climate science.”

Take action:
* sign the petition supporting the Chippewas of the Thames First Nation
* on June 15 hear a panel of speakers from the Chippewas of the Thames, 7pm at Friends House (60 Lowther)
* on June 16 join the court support rally, at 180 Queen Street West: 9:30am pack and courts (7th floor) and 11am join the support rally outside
* on July 4 join we>tar sands actions across the country, and on July 5 join the March for Jobs, Justice and the Climate