Saturday, December 29, 2012

Idle No More

"Idle No More"... Sounds catchy... and for the majority of First Nations people it resonated... Activism in First Nations is not a foreign concept; and historically speaking not as well organised as their brethren counterparts in the United-States. Grievances, annoyances, disturbances, made by First Nations in general have not been effectively reported by national newspaper syndicates. As coordinated efforts by Indian bands across Canada made themselves manifest, the federal government's position (Conservative or Liberal) have always been one of division. Reiterating the Indian Act is not the focal point of this article, but it must be said that in regards to Indian Affairs; this act has been the only official document in which federal Indian Policies have been made available to First Nations.
            Political pundits have been dismissive and a "let's wait and see" approach by most Canadian media syndicates proved to have acerbated the escalating discontent among First Nation activists. Instant dissemination of their protest through national media attention was of importance; with the added aim of projecting their displeasure over the latest series of proposed amendment bills being passed by the Conservative Government.
        Notwithstanding their challenges; Facebook, Twitter and other social media apps has been more adaptable in propagating the "Idle No More" campaign. The nature and sheer numbers connecting to "Idle No More" official groups on Facebook alone has forced the issue to be fought in a forum not easily anyone. The validation of such an organization through social media outlets such as Facebook might seem less disingenuous; perhaps even thought of as the unofficial diatribes of ignorant blusterous people preaching on their "soap boxes."
             Milada Rysan of the Calgary Herald said in an article on Dec 21st, "I am tired of the rhetoric of the Idle No More movement. It started when one woman on a remote reserve saw a comment on Facebook, and, without knowing anything about it, sent copious e-mails and then it went viral."1 adding "Aren't there any thinking people in the native communities who see issues in a real light and point out the brainwashing of the masses of predominantly young people? Isn't there anybody to say "wait a minute," what exactly are we asking for? Confrontation and threat of militant action will only be a dangerous step backward, and negate all positive developments. This is not the way civilized societies deal with problems in the 21st century."
            Milada Rysan is entitled to her personal opinion however any self-respecting journalist would attribute and reference her article based on opinions of members of the public who wish to go on the record; and the editor of the Calgary Herald should be more mindful as to what is actually being reported as per what is based on one journalist's personal views on the issue. Journalistic integrity aside, articles in newspaper syndicates such as the Calgary Herald continues to further fuel First Nations anger; and promotes the issues of First Nations as invalid, ignorant and based on false information.
       The Edmonton editorial of December 20th was more reflective of the current situation,"But if we are ever to tun the corner on this chronic national embarrassment, the frustration itself must not be dismissed. By almost instantly creating a national protest movement that has included road blockades and urban demonstrations, Idle No More has done the country a considerable favor by spotlighting a problem ... even if poor choices by some in more influential positions have played a role in creating the status quo. And third, it’s difficult to blame aboriginals for pointing the finger at the Canadian government, when that body is, institutionally, the one that created the current system and that is responsible for the residential schools that had such a catastrophic effect on native peoples and their relations with the rest of society. But does legitimate frustration among First Nations people translate into sound proposed solutions? That is to say, do the protesters have a good road map forward? Many Canadians may argue “no,” having come to the secret suspicion that the reserve system itself is part of the problem.”
       Incendiary comments made by Christie Blatchford’s article in the Calgary Herald epitomize the disdain and open skepticism towards reserves and Indian past federal policies in the media, "The bureaucracies, federal and provincial, which purport to serve First Nations often, make a mess of it. The Indian Act clearly breeds dependence and learned helplessness both, and infantilizes native people. The millions that flow every year to First Nations-Attawapiskat alone,the prime minister said last year at the time of the housing emergency, has received $90 million in transfer payments since the Conservatives were elected in 2006- seems to do nothing to raise the aboriginal standard of living. First Nations governance itself often offers a less than pretty picture,"3 said Blatchford.
         Blatchford does not articulate who and which political government instituted the Indian Act. She instead focuses her attention to last year's Attawapiskat housing crisis and the subsequent transfer payments as proof positive that Chief Spence is somehow manipulating the "Idle No More" movement and the raw emotions of First Nations Peoples for political gain. Whether or not Blatchford's opinion is correct is not at issue. The pursuance of Chief Spence motives to stage a hunger strike in conjunction with the movement is not at issue. What is of importance is the relation and descriptive validity and personal resonance First Nation Peoples attribute in regards to Chief Spence's act of activism...on the record.
          Blatchford may believe Indians are too damn ignorant and biased to comment and support the behavior of such a "shady" character; however it is not her or anyone else in the media to question the intent of "Idle No More" without attribution and quotable persons directly involved in the movement of affected by it. Blatchford further added in her article, "So, while Chief Spence and others, may long for "nation-to-nation" discussions,  there is I think a genuine question as to whether there's enough of aboriginal culture that has survived to even dream of that lofty status, or if the culture isn't irreparably damaged already. Smudging, drumming and the like do not a nation make. It is tempting to see the action as one of intimidation, if not terrorism: She is, after all, holding the state hostage to vaguely articulated demands. But if she were to die on Harper's watch, it would not only be tragic, but also disastrous. There is no end to the stupidity bred  by hunger strikes when even friends and family argue that death becomes the person starving."
          This statement is not reporting the news. It is merely stating her opinion as to the legitimacy of First Nation's ability to identify themselves as Treaty Indians at all. Furthermore according to Blatchford, it smacks of conceit for Chief Spence to position her hunger strike ultimatums directly at he feet of the Prime Minister Harper. Again, I fail to see a single attributable source in which support such statements made by Blatchford.
            First Nations Chiefs and activists would characterize such arguments as racist, and not nearly illustrative of the continued efforts by Conservatives to pass the “White Paper” of 1969 through the back door by amendment bills such as B-C45.  Mobilization efforts were well under way prior to “Idle No More” as the Assembly of First Nations special chiefs meeting in Gatineau, Québec on December 4-6, 2012 attested, “There is little the country can do if First Nations unite and decide to rule their own destinies. Now it’s time to push back,” said Ovide Mercredi a former national chief of the Assembly of First Nations during the conference. Mercredi added, “Parliament can pass all the laws they want. We’ll just ignore them. They’ll try to enforce them, but who’s going to do that? The RCMP? 4
        Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief, Derek Nepinak articulated specifically his frustration over the process involved with Ottawa; “I’m tired of seeing our people run over by all of this. If First Nations ignored treaties the way Ottawa does, the legal foundation of Western Canada’s property laws and resource industries would be thrown into chaos. It’s time First Nations people step up and tell their leaders what other measures to take up.” 5
            The underestimations of Harper in regards to the incremental aggressiveness of First Nations ability to mobilize and focus on one targeted issue; exemplifies the overwhelming degree of nonchalance the Conservatives Party and Conservatives across Canada seem to adopt as it pertains to Indian issues. Braydon Mazurkiewich, former President of the Manitoba Progressive Conservative party’s youth wing stated on Twitter, “Lord Have Mercy”…If they build a reserve inside this city (Winnipeg) I think this will be the last straw and will finally leave what is becoming the laughing stock…of the country,” 6 adding “Oh shit. Well, maybe we’ll have cheap cigarettes?”
       Astonishing is probably the mildest form of criticism I would attribute Mr. Mazurkiewich’s comments; sadly the under-current stereotyping and racist comments made by Conservatives is very common. If a Conservative elected member feels that such public comments made in regards to a Federal Court ruling explaining the failure of the Federal Government to “…force the federal government to reckon with First Nations treaty rights concerning such properties,” 7 said Kush and Rabson, then to what degree can we realistically ascertain exists within Canadians who share the same philosophy expressed by Braydon Mazurkiewich?
        Examples abound, for instance Québec Conservative Senator Patrick Brazeau said in the Ottawa Citizen on December 28th, in an article by reporters Teresa Smith and Natalie Stechyson, "The sad reality is that there are a lot of people who would like to meet with the prime minister but...there is a chain of command within our parliamentary process," said Brazeau on Wednesday, "The minister involved in this particular issue has extended his invitation and has opened his door to meeting with Chief Spence, and I think that she should think twice and perhaps think hard about the opportunity that is being presented to her." 8
           Perhaps the patience and faith in due process involving federal cabinet ministers has been somewhat eroded; an act of setting aside due protocol is maybe what is best under the existing circumstances. Prime Minister Harper will not publicly acknowledge Chief Spence's request; as the nation-to-nation clause clearly contravenes Mr. Harper's position as to what needs to occur for First Nations. Assimilation within Canada; not existing as a sovereign entity within Canadian borders.
            Nathan Klippenstein is a teacher residing in Winnipeg and seems critical as he was part of a contingent of drivers who on December 15th were impeded by a blockade organized by the Sandy Bay First Nation on the Trans Canada Highway, "As I understand, the intention was to garner support  for their cause regarding omnibus budget Bill C-45. I can report unequivocally that if failed miserably. The 40 minute delay caused by a detour did nothing to neither further anyone's understanding of their ongoing plight nor do anything to make us want to look further into the many genuine issues they currently face. As I am sure some of the activists will report the intention was to  "inconvenience" us as they too have been "inconvenienced...well that's just plain petty and infantile response." 9
          "Idle No More" is provoking Canadians of all professions to partake in a national conversation, via newspaper comments, social media and among their own communities. It is also focusing worldwide attention to First Nations issues and how the Conservative government of Steven Harper will address the growing public social civil unrest across the country, "Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan is quoted in the British media referring to the "Idle No More" grassroots movement stating, "That's social media, so we'll just have to see where that goes," said Content and News Director James Murray in a December 21st, 2012 editorial, adding, "It is a statement that demonstrates that the Harper Conservatives are following an ages old adage- Democracy is where the people don't vote in a new government, they vote the old one out. John Duncan and the Conservatives in their understanding of the new medium of social networking and Facebook are showing their 'best before date' and representation of being a little to far out-of-touch with today's Canada."
     According to Murray, the Conservatives are experiencing significant memory lapses in judgement, "In the case of the Conservatives, the voters sent a message for several elections to the Liberals that their term as the ‘National Governing Party’ was over and that the party needed a complete overhaul. The initial degree of trust in the Conservatives was not that high so the voters gave them a pair of minority governments before finally kicking the Liberals to the curb. That John Duncan could utter the idea “that’s social media, so we’ll just have to see where that goes” is a demonstration that the Harper Government has in only a very short time in office already hit the point that the Liberal Government before them were at after eight years in power." 11
        Indeed as to why Conservatives have done away with such "grassroots" ideology maybe due to the belief that "He who has the gold makes the rules" and Canadians at large, though they may bicker and grow angrier by the PMO's "modus operandi" still have another three years before seeking another majority mandate before the Canadian public. Time enough; to sweep the Idle No More movement out of the Canadian consciousness...or will it? 
       Tim Groves is an investigative researcher and journalist based out of Toronto and does not believe so, "Spread through social media and fueled by both the current and historic treatment of First Nation communities by the Canadian government, the Idle No More movement has spread across the continent and around the globe. Within Canadian borders over 100 events have taken place, including rallies, flash mob round dances, teach-ins and blockades. Actions have been held in every province and territory of Canada.   Solidarity rallies and flash mobs have taken place around the world. Over 30 events have been held in the United States, across the continent and in Hawaii. Solidarity rallies were also held in Stockholm, Sweden, London, UK, Berlin Germany, Auckland, New Zealand, and Cairo, Egypt, and messages of support have come from Croatia, Ukraine and Palestine.” 12 
          Groves believes the added pressures by international solidarity movements in support for “Idle No More” may be the antecedent to more civil unrest in Canada, "These blockades may be a sign of things to come. A group known as Turtle Island Movement has called for January 5th to be a day to shut down Canadian border crossings, "To show the government that we are willing to escalate this to a point where we shut down the country." Groves may be correct in his current assessment insofar as the progressive momentum undertaken by grassroots First Nations People. A spiritual comparative to "Wounded Knee" as it were, only more profound.
            It requires a certain amount of courage to post and associate your name and geographical area when making replies on media reporting by conglomerates such as the National Post, the Globe and Mail, the Winnipeg Free Press, ET AL. Being vulnerable to instant retributive, often negative feedback is not an easy thing to confront. There are many who choose to brave this issue by sheer belief in what they have to communicate is something worthwhile and of importance. Those who continue to be heard and express their opinions articulately in social mediums, newspapers, internet blogs, have the ability to transform change through the ballot box. "Idle No More" may be the single determining factor in which may bring about the political arena from newsprint to acts of activism on the scales of the Civil Rights movement of the 1960's in the United-States....

  4.  Free Press, Aboriginal leaders call for action on legislation, by Alexander Paul
  5. Free Press, Aboriginal leaders call for action on legislation, by Alexander Paul
  6. Free Press, Reacting to decision on Kapyong, by Bruce Owen
  7. Free Press First Nations 1, Ottawa O, by Larry Kush and Mia Rabson
  8.  OTTAWA CITIZEN, POSTMEDIA NEWS, by Teresa Smith and Natalie Stechyson, Fasting chief should meet Aboriginal Affairs minister, Aglukkak says…

    9.Free Press, Letter of the Day, Blockade, ‘petty and infantile’

   10.James Murray in the Thunder Bay editorial,

   11.James Murray in the Thunder Bay editorial,


Thursday, December 27, 2012

What are our options in Canada?...

   What the Reform Party achieved in respect to Canadian politics; was the organizational structures of the "grassroots" movement; having sufficient control over a resonating message designed to harness an overall feeling of Canadians not being "heard". It was the east against west mentality, and the notion of being forever saddled with a Liberal government spurred on the Conservative agenda to re-define itself. Reform-Conservative-Ultra-Right-consortium; pushed, dragged, bickered until some sort of cohesion ignited a permanent solution-that of Steven Harper. 
    Jean Chrétien is not a perfect man and as such not a perfect politician. Whatever personal views Chrétien might have had as a man, would certainly have permeated to some degree; into Liberal policies of the day. What strikes me as of paramount importance was the value attributed to Parliamentary protocols and procedures; and the enviable consequences of defending his-and his party's decisions to the Corps of the Canadian Press. Would the continuance of a Liberal Prime Minister ushered the degree of disillusionment and apathy currently among Canadians in general? I would venture a qualified "no".
    As Canadians we tend to distance ourselves from Americanisms; as latest figures of 2.5 billion dollars was spent by the Obama campaign of 2012. American elections is an exercise of projection, the ultimate prize at all cost. We smirk and doubt the legitimacy of statehood in the United-States; and yet we bemoan our inability to create a proper balance between federal/provincial responsibilities in which affect us all. It is this disconnect within our political entities and the absence of any uniform consensus; which make Canadians froth at the mouth.
    Recognition is one thing, acceptance is another. As disenchanted "we" may be with Harper's governance; political options seem to be unattractive and therefore not of "value". Where are Canadians expected to hang their "proverbial hat?" Is it a mere question of senate reform? Of representation by population? Allowing sovereignty-association in Québec?  Outcomes are many; as are consequences of any proposed changes in political structures. Canadians seem to have a clear understanding of what they want and do not want. What is less obvious is what they can live with and what they cannot. Individually we conform to our realities. We have minimum obligations to ourselves and to what values we choose to adopt. As a country, Canada is now at a "crosswords". Multiculturalism mandates a wide berth of patience and flexibility; federally and provincially speaking.
    Is the resolve  to make the necessary changes to our political systems strong enough? As Canadians; open rebellion against the rule of law has ceased long ago. We seem to contend ourselves with the sentiment that ultra-right agendas under Conservatism and the Prime Minister's Office is the preferred course of action; amid economic uncertainties. Or have we been convinced that no possible stewardship under either the Liberal or NDP could offer tangible solutions which resemble more closely to the people's will?  
    The repatriation of the Constitution in 1982 supposedly demonstrated Canada's level of maturity; it inferred that we had allotted ourselves enough time to have sufficiently "cleaned house"... We could reclaim our country founded on the ashes of colonialism, slavery, and imperialism....Or have we? It has been 30 years since Repatriation and still have major cultural and political challenges. John A. McDonald and Alexander McKenzie  seem to be beacons of Canadian pride and examples of  good governance to be admired and repeated. Repetitions which have continued to nullify the validity of First Nations treatises,  the intransigence of true multiculturalism, and the avoidance of past deeds made on behalf of future Canadians. Her foundations are not unblemished. The stains of cultural genocide of a People still lingers and the cries of the French continue to clamor a dream. Those who emigrate to this country acclimatize themselves to this reality we call Canada. We welcome their wealth, knowledge, and potential as we discriminate was is foreign.We demand assimilation if it be contrary to pluralistic Canadian concepts. 
     A correction has to occur, we either suffer the consequences of 21st Conservative policies of Steven Harper or allow other political parties to lead and offer alternatives. New foundations can be built upon universal tenets we can all adopt; based on cooperation, partnerships and recognizing that the rights of the few out way the rights of the many.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Sandy Hook Elementary School

 Honor student, no criminal record, parents well educated, shy, reserved, and bordering on the (genius) twenty-year-old Adam Lanza’s1 ultimate act before his death has shaken Americans…Their core beliefs in regards to faith, ideology and inherent rights references to the 2nd Amendment of the Constitution; is yet again re-examined.

It is critical to retrospectively make clear distinctions between the culture of guns in the United-States and mental illnesses; in which create very sick, delusional, diabolical, mechanical individuals. Although (connecting the dots) would logically associate both issues in the most recent massacre which occurred at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut on December 14th; 2012 it is not a predetermining factor in willful destructive behaviors by mentally ill persons.

There exist 312.8 million people living in the United-States; of which 4.3 million American are members of the NRA with annual revenues of $205 million dollars; investing in the Republican campaign to the tune of $10 million dollars. There are approximately 40-45% of American households who possess a gun; which loosely translates into roughly 47-53 million people. Figures showing the use of a gun among adults accounts for 30-34% (or 70-80 million) Americans. 2

2005 statistical data indicates a 75% of the 10,100 homicides committed using firearms were done by the use of handguns, compared to 4% (rifle use) and 5% (shotgun use). In addition, the percentage of Americans purchasing handguns for self-protection has risen considerably,

“Over 50,000 homicides and suicides occur each year in the United States, making them among the leading causes of death, particularly for young people. In 2001, homicide was the second leading cause of death and suicide the third for persons 15–24 years of age. Approximately 60 percent of all homicides and suicides in the United States are committed with a firearm.” 4

The “right-to-carry” laws in some states in the USA have predominantly held fast the assumption, in which deterrence carries and diminishes the risk of becoming a victim. Economists such as John Lott have long subscribed to this ideology. The “disconnect” in American policies pertaining to independent States lies in the regulation of new gun control legislation; conjunctive with Federal laws passed by previous administrations,

'President Obama signed a law permitting people to carry guns into National Parks. He did not protest when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states and local governments could not overrule citizens’ federal right to bear arms or when legislators in Louisiana and Arizona passed laws allowing people to carry weapons into churches and bars, respectively.'4

Causal connections vs. mental illness related gun homicides are increasingly difficult to corroborate. Too many variables exist in associating gun regulations in conjunction with violent crime rates in the United-States. The British Journal of Medicine review of 1999 expressed the view in which homicides incidents caused by the larger segment of the mentally ill are rare; and should not be subjective to legislation designed to further entrench stigmatized perceptions that the mentally ill- should be institutionalized for life-.

‘There seems little doubt that, based principally on public fears after homicides, there is a sense of needing some sort of action. There are many justifications for reviewing the principles and practice in the provision of most mental health care and treatment in the community, but presumed homicidal tendencies of a people with a mental disorder need not be among them… There is, nevertheless, embedded in the homicide figures a small but important problem for which mental health and social services must find a better solution. Some groups of people with mental disorder are at statistically higher risk as a group of being violent to others than the general public, but it is vital to understand the size and nature of the risks involved ’ 5

Attacks of this nature in the United-States puts aside logical assertions and furthers the need to identify, neutralize and find solutions in order to re-introduce balance within society. Americans are seeking as sense of normalcy, reclaiming their streets, communities and restoring the moralities of pre-world war two America. The accelerated rate of technological progress which governs societal parameters has grown too rapidly; the introduction of new systems of delivery designed to make our daily lives more productive has given rise to other sources of physical and mental threats previously deemed minimal. Editor-in-Chief Emeritus of Psychiatric Times, Ronald W. Pies, argues,

Laws may also reflect society's wish to reduce the likelihood of certain types of injurious behavior, even while realizing that this wish may not be fulfilled. There are, of course, always people with evil intentions who will ignore the law--but that is no reason to omit or expunge the law. Research might show, for example, that laws against private citizens possessing shoulder-fired missiles do not, by themselves, prevent certain people from illegally obtaining and firing these weapons. Nevertheless, we would still have a strong ethical justification for keeping such laws on the books. Similarly, even if we could not demonstrate that laws banning production and private ownership of rapid-fire, semi-automatic weapons actually reduced mass shootings, a civilized society would still have sound ethical reasons for retaining these laws.
That is, these laws legitimately reflect society's value judgment that no good will come from the possession of such destructive weapons by private citizens--and that much harm may ensue. We can agree, as a society, that an individual “right to bear arms” should be respected, under recent interpretations of the second amendment. Yet we may still insist that stockpiling semi-automatic weapons against a hypothetical totalitarian state is no answer to the here-and-now reality of the carnage on our streets. Placing sensible restrictions on firearms—such as eliminating the sale of semi-automatic weapons—has been advocated by groups as politically diverse as the American Psychiatric Association and the International Association of Chiefs of Police. 6

 Economist Richard Florida’s views offer a different analogy according to journalist Ezra Klein,

'…Higher populations, more stress, more immigrants, and more mental illness were not correlated with more deaths from gun violence. But one thing he found was, perhaps, perfectly predictable: States with tighter gun control laws appear to have fewer gun-related deaths. The disclaimer here is that correlation is not causation. But correlations can be suggestive.'7

Individualistic freedoms are prized above all else in American dogma; this dictum is best reflected by the US. Civil War; state law is sacrosanct. The rising numbers of Americans affected by mental illnesses illustrated by acts perpetrated by Lanz should be made apparent; greater resources need to be invested in order to better serve the afflicted and society at large. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) essential services for mentally ill people in the United-States are non-existent,

'Even during the best of economic times, youth and adults living with mental illness struggle to access essential mental health services and supports. Services are often unavailable or inaccessible for those who need them most. One in 17 people in America live with a serious mental illness such as schizophrenia, major depression, or bipolar disorder. About one in ten children live with a serious mental disorder. From 2009 to 2011, massive cuts are projected in 2011 and 2012. States have cut vital services for tens of thousands of youth and adults living with the most serious mental illness. These services include community and hospital based psychiatric care, housing and access to medications… Medicaid funding of mental health services is also potentially on the chopping block in 2011. The temporary increase in the federal funding of Medicaid through the stimulus package will end in June 30th 2011. Medicaid is the most important source of funding of public mental health services for youth and adults, leaving people with mental illness facing the real threat of being cut off from life-saving services.'8

These causal determinants within state and federal legislation are the primary, empirical data base sources of information; when examining the financial degree of responsibilities given to entities designed to protect and offer vital services within a community. NAMI data on state-by-state mental health cuts are astounding; to the tune of 1.8 billion; 9 for instance in the state of Connecticut a decrease of 6.7% in health expenditures were recorded in the 2009-2011 fiscal year.  The projected loss of federal Medicaid funds for 2012 in Connecticut stands at $204 million. In retrospect one cannot nullify the importance of these figures as in pertains to the Sandy Hook Elementary School Massacre.

NRA proponents would like to disassociate acts committed by Adam Lanz as the causal determinant (i.e. getting mom’s lawful purchased guns) and instead lay responsibility in different directions. Mental Health advocacy institutions would illustrate the gradual dismissal of state and federal support towards the mentally ill. Society at large would demand to be properly safeguarded by acts of violence which attack the basic tenets of American values by state and federal legislation; by whatever means.

Perhaps Adam Lanz has sufficiently acerbated the American psyche into action; indeed… citizens either in America or anywhere else have felt the consequences of ignoring the sick, the poor, the mentally disturbed, and the disenfranchised.  

'The challenge that lies ahead is one of further specifying the form of the relationship of mental illness and community violence and testing theorises of how this relationship can differ across subgroups of mentally ill persons. Uncovering a broad relationship does not in itself promote sounder policy or more effective services. However, continued integration of research and service provision sensitive to what this relationship means in the lives of people with mental illness could move towards this goal.'10 

10 Assessing the evidence of a Link Between Mental Illness and Violence Edward P.Mulvey, Ph.D.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

The Canadian Museum of Human Rights (CMHR) is currently reshaping the environment of its exhibits in lieu of public opinion in which hosting a gallery predominantly focused on eighty genocide displays is not good business; according to communications director Angela Cassie, “People said this gallery felt like a little shop of horrors,” Assistant Communications Manager Maureen Fitzhenry agrees, “Planners don`t want visitors to get so depressed they would be compelled to leave.” Generally speaking, a museum of this setting has a responsibility to make its viewers uncomfortable, forcing a wider view of atrocities perpetrated by man in the name of religion, race, and creed.

Arguments such as “…the museum cannot be depressing,” made by (CMHR) president and CEO Stuart Murray, adding the comment made by a scholar’s concerns, “I hope to hell this is not a museum of human wrongs,” misses the mark. If it be not a museum of human wrongs than what is it designed to convey?

 Director, National Museums Liverpool, David Fleming stressed that, “Museums are-or should be-mirrors- of society…essentially they and we are constructs of the societies in which we live, and those of us who are fortunate enough to live in democracies should respect this.” In this respect Fleming is correct; museums cannot operate as it once did. The meanings, the purpose of museums are an extension of the human experience; and as such it must be made transparent. The function and societal purposes of museums such as (CMHR) in Winnipeg have to contend with its delivery methods.  Which stance will the (CMHR) adopt?

Ideologically, “Museums seek to transform visitors by opening up new lines of thought, by revealing often hidden truths, by demonstrating human immorality and suggesting, implicitly or explicitly, that there has to be an alternative.” 1 When we ponder the nature of museums we often remind ourselves of the educational element, “Human rights museums proclaim themselves to be about human rights whereas human right museology is about a form of practice: one that proclaims the social vocation of the museum and incorporates practices other than those traditional to the museum: i.e. teaching about citizenship practices and methods of activism.  However, when it presents exhibitions and programs on human rights, the museum provides its own interpretation of the historical events and current standards of the rights in question.” 2

The (CMHR) has not been able to avoid the differentiating opinions of such a proposition articulated by Carter and Orange. As a whole, it should be made relevant in regards to human rights issues relating to Canada. The genocidal issues of the 20th Century aside, the focal reality of the North American Indian within British North America is and should be the essence of the museum.

“For example, if the CMHR were to advocate for the right of indigenous peoples to the highest attainable standard of health by developing a program and exhibit showing the present poor health conditions of indigenous peoples, it might affect the public’s view of what is acceptable practice in Canada and abroad. It would not be unreasonable to expect that a dialogue between civil society and governments would ensue. The museum’s advocacy might cause a ripple effect that could lead to a change in citizen and then state behaviour.”3

Attributing greater genocidal importance in view of another is ethically immoral. However the distinction in a contextual setting is crucial; and should be recognized.  Granted such a stance might create disconnect with the federal/provincial governments which financially sustain such projects; and incur public mistrust as cost overrun are added to the public purse and be made the responsibility of taxpayers.  As the (CMHR) nears completion, the intransience of all affected parties to form a cohesive united front as to the purpose, mandate and focal approach of the museum’s structure will reflect negatively on the host city. An issue of special distinction according to Carter an Orange, “The issue of museum governance is particularly important when dealing with human rights…it must address the complexity of their mandate and their funding…”4 

A Winnipeg resident such as “LRT” articulates opinions in which merit answers; and for the betterment of the museum as a whole needs to be resolved,

 “What I am concerned about (aside from the cost overruns and the inability to finish the project), is the possible and probable slanted take The (CMHR) has on Human Rights. For instance, the Friends of the Museums have run numerous studies in regards as to what Canadians actually want in the museum, in terms of Human Rights abuses, and awareness of Human rights. Every survey that has been conducted has never placed the Holocaust as the #1 exhibit that Canadians want to see. Yet, the CMHR has ignored the wishes of Canadians, and it looks like the Holocaust will be the premiere exhibit of display, despite the #1 choice of the plight of the Aboriginal people. There are several other examples of groups being excluded or marginalized, but I will leave it at that. I support Human Rights and would love to see honor the wishes of Canadians but I have the feeling this will only occur with a complete overhaul of the CMHR staff, and to disband "Friends of the museum.”

Fleming agrees, “There is the sense that when any one activity dominates in the museum, it can become problematic. When we recognize that memorial and reflective spaces enable different forms of learning from didactic or informational ones, the need for incorporating a multiplicity of presentation styles becomes evident.”5

According to most Winnipeggers blogging and responding online; the overwhelming view of the (CMHR) is far from positive and has anti-Semitic undertones. A Winnipeg citizen under the handle “Satan Devil” said “Must be one of the Zionists who is profiting from this monstrosity. No sane person supports this waste of space and money. The Forks was supposed to be a green space; where it has now become a concrete jungle with the two middle fingers in the air for all of us taxpaying zombies. The bridge and this monstrosity will be there in the skyline giving the taxpayers the double bird for years to come, while the Asper’s and their friends are laughing all the way to the bank. How can you be getting paid if the place is not even open?”

Winnipeg Sun opinion columnist Tom Brodbeck illustrates well the cost overruns and the endemic perceptions in which the taxpayer’s purview is paramount, unquestionable and beyond reproach, “The beleaguered (CMHR) fraught with delays, massive cost-overruns, funding shortfalls and high-ranking resignations-won’t open until 2014 at the earliest. But that hasn’t stopped museum brass from bulking up its taxpayer-funded workforce, which now stands at sixty-eight employees with an annual payroll of $5 million. That’s up a net eight staff from December 2011. Those positions and sixty-one others now make up the museum’s ballooning workforce, which has grown from fifty since March 31, 2011 and they’re all paid for by taxpayers. The museum is a federal crown corporation and it’s now taking on the bureaucratic girth that we see in most government agencies. The goal is not only to build a museum; it is also to build a bureaucratic empire… there is very little accountability to taxpayers. Most of these “deals” are finalized behind closed doors without any public input.”

Either purposely or not Mr. Brodbeck does not believe in examining the value of such an endeavour; for one simple reason… according to Brodbeck and his audience there is no value in building such an establishment.

The (CMHR) is a reality, it skeletal frame built. As to the contents, structure and vision of the museum it all remains to be unveiled. It will be up to future generations and Canadians as a whole; who will determine its validity within the global perceptivity of such endeavours.  It may become the beacon of hope, understanding and acceptance every human being should be made to comprehend the value of such a structure. Time will tell…

 1,2.3. 4 National Museums: New studies from around the world (Routledge, 2011)

Friday, November 30, 2012

Politicians...mandated to pursue the "common good" or not?

           Complaining about the state of politics and politicians in Canada is a familiar refrain in which we all succumb to whistling Dixie in the wind. Confused? Don`t be, you are not alone. The ideology that our elected officials are more intelligent, self-motivated, and free of bias, prejudice and possessing a higher degree of moral fiber; compared to other Canadians is simply absurd.
Politics is the fluidity of a wide consensus of ideals and base moral tenets in which we identify ourselves; as do we all transform, mobilize and evolve so should the ideals of government policies which govern Canadians on multiple governmental levels. Expecting politics to remain stagnant, unable or unwilling to adapt to its citizenry; resembles the behaviours of a child wishing everyone could be able to see his imaginary friend…forever.
Canadians who choose to represent a constituency and elected by a democratic mechanism; have the responsibility to be themselves. Politicians are not exclusively, morally and ethically "beholden" to their constituency. One cannot be all to everyone; as any politician cannot represent the views of every constituent within his constituency. Therefore why do we still mandate such a position from our elected representatives? Columnist Andrew Coyne is of the opinion that,

Politics is about packs; the more ruthless, more disciplined, more pack-like of the parties mauls the others into submission. It prizes loyalty, not before all other virtues, but to their exclusion. We hunt together, the aspiring politician is told. Stick with the pack. And so each learns to scrape and smear, to manipulate and deceive, to promise one and threaten another, exactly as he is told. That is how institutional power is won. Everyone understands that. What is interesting is what happens when power collides with principle: when the pack confronts, not another pack, but a determined individual of conscience. Nothing has prepared the pack for this. Faced with someone they cannot frighten, and who does not want anything from them, they are bewildered. All of their normal tactics and approaches are suddenly useless. All of their power turns to dust.”

An interesting concept to be sure; however do we still have the obligation to support such a tenet in the 21st century? If we “understand” how institutional power is won than we ought to change the laws in which it governs us all. And to that end we must examine how the apex of the Prime Minister`s Office political reach, extended to persons responsible to develop policy; transmit communications and influence the manner in which independent 3rd party institutions analyze federal government behaviours within Canada.
According to former Pierre Elliott Trudeau policy adviser, Brian Flemming,

“What remains are increasingly efficient and ever more powerful prime minister’s offices with their staffs of policy advisers, media spinmeisters and pollsters, all beholden personally to the prime minister for their status and paycheques. As a result, many once great offices of state have become dignified shells of their former selves,”

To that end what have we created?  Something resembling the governance of ancient Rome; with one difference we do not excise the power of the Roman forum. Canadians have no appetite for violence; do not feel comfortable in massive public demonstration of civil disobedience such as the Civil Movement of the 1960’s in the USA. We seem to endure such injustices and hope for the best. A hope that changing political affiliation from one party to the next will usher the kind of social revolution we so desperately seek. As Donald Savoie explains,
“The country’s constitutional democracy is based on the supremacy of Parliament, the system’s legislative branch. But while the executive branch has expanded its power and while the judicial branch has grown in influence with the advent of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the people’s forum, where democracy’s blood flows, has atrophied.

We grow angrier more despondent and as a result Canadians resort to re-distribute their vote in the rhetoric of extremism often found in political parties such as Alberta`s Wild Rose Party or the Péquiste party in Québec. What are we to do with the “One man rule?” If the Opposition Parties themselves cannot or lack the political will to fight outright injustices made by the PMO’ Office; then do we not deservingly merit to be “enslaved” by the very measures put in place in the Charter?
We snide and made contemptuous farces, made a mockery of Canadians in the province of Québec, who legitimately assembled “en masse” wearing masks, banging pots and pans; publicly, unilaterally, sending a message to the provincial Liberals that laws made to control, limit, and define what constitutes as a  lawful public demonstration is undemocratic.
We moan and cry foul when leaders and ministers elected to politically operate within the mandate of their political platforms; go astray and purposely renege on promises made. Thus creating the illusion and perhaps instilling the fears of Canadians have… a reality. Losing faith in the sanctity of political office and therefore in politicians, in all three levels of government. Duff Conacher renowned author and one of the founders of Democracy Watch stipulated in an article published in iPolitics,

“Given the number of people hurt in various ways by this dishonesty, and how damaging lying is to reasonable, democratic debate, you would think that passing a law requiring honesty in politics would be a top priority of politicians across the country. In an Elections Canada survey in 2000, the highest-ranked reason for decreased interest in politics by non-voters was “false promises/ dishonesty/lack of confidence in politicians” while the second-highest ranked change that would make non-voters more interested in politics was “more honesty, responsibility, accountability” in government; an Elections Canada survey in 2006 found that 60% of non-voters were turned off to politics because of dishonesty and other reasons. Judges have ruled in lawsuits filed against promise-breaking politicians that voters are naive to believe election promises, and so they have refused to punish misleaders. And believe it or not, the federal Conservative government’s so-called “Federal Accountability Act” (FAA) actually decreases accountability significantly by deleting the honesty rule from the rules that apply to the Prime Minister, Cabinet ministers, ministerial staff, Cabinet appointees and senior government officials (and the Conservatives failed to include 22 other promised measures in the FAA and may not fully implement the FAA.

In 2011 we have yet again elected (a majority no less) a Conservative (Reform Party?) government promising sweeping reforms; introducing legislation to render the PMO’s Office accountable, to continue its political agenda in reforming the senate, equal representation, etc…Did it occur?  As Marc Jarvis, doctoral candidate and co-author of Democratizing the Constitution: Reforming Responsible Government suggests we need, “…to correct the institutional imbalance in power that exists between prime ministers and Parliament in Canada.
We continue to witness the steadfast support of western provinces nursing the “us” against “them” in respect to West vs. East dominance of federal politics; furthering the polarization of Canadians and demanding a re-examination of the “first out of the post” rule.
What exists within our society that impedes Canadians to cultivate the “political citizen” within our midst? There needs to be a shift in the way we perceive the nature of politics and politicians. We need to emphasize the merits in the pursuance of independent thought, and promoting a political culture in which public service is valued, nurtured and of significance. To this end “political citizens” should be cultivated and encouraged to seek higher office; to be properly remunerated and afforded some latitude in which they can continue to function within their respective family environment.
Of note, politicians should have increased “independent” political mobility within a tripartite government system. According to Alison Loat, co-founder and executive director of Samara, the key lies in improving the political and civic engagement within Canada,
“…to them, it is often the way political parties manage themselves, their members and their work that drives this dysfunction. Some of the greatest frustrations these MPs faced during their political careers came from their own parties. MPs repeatedly spoke of how decisions from their leadership were opaque, arbitrary and even unprofessional, and often ran counter to the MPs’ desires to practice politics constructively. It would be easy to dismiss these as words of a few bitter partisans, but that would be inaccurate. Almost without exception, these former parliamentarians spoke with reverence at the opportunity to serve in Parliament, and looked back on their experience as time well spent. In fact, they consistently said the work of Parliament was critical to the way Canadians live together. Given what these MPs are saying, perhaps we should be asking different questions. Is it true Parliament is broken or dysfunctional? Or is it more accurate to say our political parties are?”
This brings us to the electorate itself; why do we continue to tolerate voter apathy in Canada? Yes being dissatisfied with political parties is understandable. To publically argue as a whole that we do not believe that our “votes” does not affect real change in Canadian politics is equally relevant. However purposely avoiding not to vote under these point of views, does not negate the responsibility of all Canadians inherently possess; in having the obligation to do so. Robin V. Sears, a former diplomat for the province of Ontario articulates this issue in this manner,

Per capita, Canada has more of its citizens abroad than any developed democracy, more than two million. Most of them don’t vote. Canadians are free to sulk, to sit on the sofa and sneer at political choice, to let others choose their leaders for them. In Ontario, for the first time, this year we slipped below a majority of citizens deciding in favour of the polling booth over the couch. Democracy requires legitimacy. A genuinely free citizenry choose their governors to make tough choices on their behalf. When indolence or deliberate vote suppression tactics mean that fewer than half of the electorate chooses their government, we are at the edge of a slide toward illegitimacy.

Nudging tactics may construe a higher rate of voters to the polls, as former research analyst for the Library of Parliament, Amanda Clarke suggests,   

“The theory of “nudge” underlies this proposal – a creative and clever means of encouraging individuals to vote by strategically altering the context in which the decision to vote or not is made. To be sure, nudge tactics will likely do little to encourage participation among those who abstain from voting out of a genuine dislike for electoral politics. However, for the large numbers of people who do not vote because of apathy, a lack of information and motivation, or administrative barriers, nudges may be all we need to facilitate participation. Simple solutions to complex problems are rare — Canadian policy-makers should be nudged to recognize them when they come along.”
Ultimately the process, in which we operate, must be made fully operable in between elections within the Canadian citizenry. A venue which facilitates communication between elected officials and voters must be accessible, user friendly and convey the essence of truthfulness as being paramount according to MP Carolyn Bennett,

Things have turned out worse that anyone could have imagined. Parliamentary Committees aren’t given the budgets to travel or develop the capacity for e-consultation. This year the committee study on OPEN GOVERNMENT was denied a budget for consultations designed to enable the members to talk to Canadians about their needs! ‘Democracy Between Elections’ must mean that citizens have a genuine opportunity to shape public policy not just at the ballot box. A majority government should not mean ‘central command and control’ for four years where the only ideas considered emanate from the Prime Minister’s office. The relationship between elected representatives and citizens should also reflect that the ‘sum is greater that the parts’. The foundation must be a deep belief that citizens know what is working and what is not. Elected representatives also need much more meaningful mechanisms to tap into the expertise that exists across the country in almost every area of public policy. We must take seriously our responsibility to harvest observations and good ideas that could help many, many people.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012


Zionism is not synonymous with being a Jew; and a Jewish identity does not lie inclusively within the Torah. Since the end of 1919, the evolution of Zionism had slowly made its way into the consciousness of the modern world we know today. In relation to the escalation of violence between Arabs and Jews in Palestine; an examination of British Foreign Policy within the territory is a contextual must in understanding today's mitigated Middle East problem. Israel is not perfect, and as her violent beginnings into statehood, is an attestation to the rest of us; that we collectively lost any moral or legitimate grounds to criticize her birth in the aftermath of the Holocaust.  The current state of affairs has been further aggravated by foreign policies of several nations, over several decades in which time have irrevocably created an impasse in the Middle East.
 We no longer have the fortitude to publicly acknowledge the repercussions of past and current foreign governments within Palestine. Becoming anti-Semitic bystanders is not an option; neither is supporting ultra-orthodox political or faith based Israeli governmental policies aimed at subjugating ethnic Arab Palestinians within the region.  One thing is certain; permitting political, racial and faith based doctrine espousing the destruction of Israel by Hamas (or any other terrorist cell) sponsored by Arab States -will not further the cause of peace.
It is an old game, played on an even older parcel of land; and blood is its price. As we witness another temporary truce which will not further the cause of peace, but will only achieve a semblance of victory for those who measure such things; the West must face this truth. The Arab world must willingly, forcefully, militarily, impose its will on terrorism. It must irrevocably crush it among its people. It must accept Israel’s right to live in peace. It is easy to say these things will never come to pass. It is easy to hate, easy to destroy, easy to die. If we do not see the merit in living, if we do not have the political will to coerce a meaningful lasting agreement in the Middle East; if we are so far removed that we simply do not care until we ourselves in the West, experience the kind of day-to-day living conditions in Palestine, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, than we deserve retribution.