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2017 Kick-Ass Activist: Peyton Straker

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For Yellowknife’s Indigenous youth looking to learn more about their cultures, Peyton Straker highlights the importance of land-based education

Peyton Straker was a five-time high-school dropout when she took a job as an Indigenous support worker at the public school board in Yellowknife. Straker, 23 and Anishinaabe, knew from experience many of the ways the education system failed her. As a youth she felt displaced in schools where she couldn’t see herself reflected in the curriculum, and often instead of feeling supported, Straker got the message in school that she was somehow a problem.

When the job first came up online, Straker thought, “That sounds terrible, and I also am really under-qualified for that,” she says. She applied anyway, hoping to make a positive change. “Two weeks later I was starting the job.”

Straker began reading and learning about land-based education when she was 17. She completed an intensive immersion course at the Northwest Territory’s Dechinta Bush University, where she camped in a small isolated group, studying decolonization and experienced her first moose hunt. “Seeing the way that being on the land informs your decolonization process and your identity was what made me decide that that was what I wanted to do,” she says.

When the new position required bringing absent students back to school, Straker decided instead to go about creating something new. But it wasn’t easy. In her first days on the job she inquired about her budget. The response: “You don’t have one.” As the only person in a job that no one had ever done, Straker turned her focus toward getting what she wanted: money to improve cultural education for youth. Though she had never filled out a funding application before, she raised enough to buy a snowmobile and other supplies, and gave birth to the Traditional Mentorships Program.

The program’s purpose was to connect youth more deeply with land-based ways of life, and nurture cultural resilience. Run by and for Indigenous people, Straker saw it as an opportunity to create something she didn’t have when she was young. At first, she wrestled with questions about the school system: “Is a conventional colonial space really a space for decolonization?” she asked. “But whether or not I think that it’s the appropriate place, it’s where the kids are.”

Most teachers and parents were supportive. The students in the program would leave class from half a day to overnight to take part. “The teachers were not worried about them missing their book work,” Straker says. “It didn’t mean they got extra homework. It was just part of their week, and it was valued just as much as their science class.”

Although most of her students had some traditional knowledge, Straker noticed it was patchy. She wanted the program to give youth tangible skills they could use into adulthood. “The whole point of our knowledge systems is to pass them on,” she says. From trapping and fishing to Inuit games, the students immersed themselves in opportunities, including a week-long moose-hide tanning camp. “We also wanted to give the students the opportunity to see that the land isn’t far off, it’s not way out there somewhere,” she adds. “We live in Yellowknife. You walk across the street and you’re on one of the biggest lakes in the world.”

Straker was able to grow the program and hire one of her own former instructors, Kyle Enzoe, to teach. “It was an opportunity for us to also create jobs within the community for people who have knowledge that you can’t put a number on,” says Straker. “It’s very hard to get paid to share your traditional knowledge.”

Enzoe’s involvement gave the kids in grades 6 to 8 an opportunity to connect with someone not much older— Enzoe was 33—who was both deeply traditional and modern at once. Enzoe holds the most knowledge of anyone she knows when it comes to the land and trapping. At the same time, “He has Facebook,” Straker says.

Since its inception, the Traditional Mentorships Program has had a far reach. Straker often presents about land-based education at conferences. After seeing the positive changes this type of education had in her own life, she wants to do the same for others. “I’ve seen my life completely transform and change the more that I’ve fostered my reciprocal relationship with the land,” she says.

Although land-based education can seem trivial to some, without it Straker says she wouldn’t have ever understood why land matters. “I didn’t see myself within the land, and I didn’t see the land within myself,” she says.

She has seen similar transformations in others. “All of our collective issues within the Indigenous community—none of them exist without the land, and without land disputes.” Any conversation meant to further reconcilitation or create spaces for Indigenous youth must involve a land base, she says. Still, there is a lack of funding for such education.

If the government wants to make more money, Straker says, educating people puts them in a higher tax bracket, and that’s what land-based education has the capacity to do. “It can change our economy and our knowledge economy in the North,” she says.“Funding is really, really necessary, and it’s hard to get our hands on.”

Aside from her work at the school board, Straker also spends time making jewelry from animals she and Enzoe have harvested using traditional protocol. She’s also part of a collective called ReMatriate that works to interrupt culturally appropriative fashion and take back control over Indigenous women’s visual identities. Straker’s work is a powerful reminder of the importance of the land and its place in people’s lives—another reason for greater education.

First published in Jan/Feb 2017 issue of This Magazine

https://this.org/2017/01/25/2017-kick-ass-activist-peyton-straker/

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Why Maritimers are rallying against chemical forest sprays

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The chemical, glyphosate, is controversial for its propensity to cause cancer

Protests erupted across Nova Scotia this fall when forestry company Northern Pulp was approved for its latest round of aerial herbicide sprays. The controversial chemical, glyphosate, is banned in parts of Europe and for forestry in Quebec due to questions around its propensity to cause cancer.

In the Maritimes, glyphosate’s recent history is troubling. Rod Cumberland, the former chief deer biologist for the Natural Resources department in New Brunswick, found that glyphosates are a major contributor to the province’s deer population collapse. It wasn’t until after he retired in 2012 that he made his research public. Company J.D. Irving, responsible for spraying most of New Brunswick’s glyphosates, subsequently attacked his research. Last year, former N.B. chief medical officer Dr. Eilish Cleary was working on a study of glyphosates when she was placed on leave and then fired. Meanwhile, former provincial premier, Dr. John Hamm, chairs Northern Pulp’s mill board.

“You need governments that are going to be strong enough to stand up to these industries,” says Lenore Zann, the Truro, N.S.-area MLA who’s rallying against the spraying. But in a region under economic pressure, reigning in such industries is often easier said than done. “[Northern Pulp] has threatened to leave a number of times,” adds Zann. “Anytime anybody tries to get serious about pushing them on their environmental footprint.”

Glyphosate is Health Canada approved, and is registered in more than 130 countries. It’s commonly used in forestry, agriculture, and along rail and power lines. It was introduced by Monsanto in the 1970s, and accounted for just under a third of Monsanto’s earnings last year.

While the human health impacts of glyphosate remain up for debate, its effects on forest health are more straightforward. Cumberland’s research showed that New Brunswick’s deer population collapsed because glyphosates kill a main food source: hardwoods. Forestry companies such as Northern Pulp spray to encourage conifer growth, which they harvest, by killing off competing species. The result is a less resilient forest.

“If a bug comes in, like the spruce bud worm for instance, it’s going to wipe everything out,” says Zann, noting that the spraying is a symptom of an outdated approach to forest management that places fibre output above forest health. “You’re basically turning everything into a monoculture,” Zann continues. “If they say there’s no other way, I say bullshit—you just have to want to find them.”

First published in Nov/Dec 2016 issue of This magazine

https://this.org/2016/12/06/why-maritimers-are-rallying-against-chemical-forest-sprays/

Seeking the magic ingredient

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Along with a cultural history favouring chosen families, GLBT* people hold an openness to creating new family forms. Some of this comes with biology, and some comes from social-political pressures. For many queer parents-to-be, finding sperm is a key part of planning a pregnancy.

Lesbian cis partners and single queer uterus-possessing parents are some of the most likely queer families to seek sperm when they decide to have kids. Trans parents of any gender, depending on hormones and biology, may find themselves looking as well.

So how do queer parents who need sperm get started? There are legal issues, relationships and roles to define, costs, and preferences to consider. The two basic routes to acquiring sperm are through either a sperm bank or a known donor.

“Unknown donor sperm is often seen as desirable because it allows lesbians to parent with autonomy and security,” writes Joanna Radbord in her 2010 paper GLBT Familes and Assisted Reproductive Technologies. Radbord is a Toronto-based lawyer who has won awards for her focus on GLBT* legal equality. The issues can be expanded to include queer parents of other genders too. She says unknown donor sperm is the route most lesbian partners take.

While it does protect the parents legally, unknown donor sperm is costly and sometimes ineffective. There’s also a shortage of ethnically-diverse donors in the Canadian sperm pool because of how it’s set up.

Known donors

Sperm from known donors provides less legal security, but is a do-it-yourself route many prospective queer parents are choosing. Although some believe there is a legal risk of prosecution with self-insemination, Health Canada has stated the intention of the Assisted Human Reproduction Act, which governs these activities, does not intend government involvement in the private matter of home insemination.

“If it’s a classic turkey baster at-home insemination, no one’s ever been prosecuted for that and I don’t imagine that anybody would be,” says Karen Busby, professor in the faculty of law at the University of Manitoba. Busby’s work focuses on GLBT* legal issues and she’s been key in shaping Manitoba’s laws on same-sex relationships, which are the most comprehensive in North America.

Her advice to people using known donors is, “Make sure you talk as much as possible with the known donor about what expectations are and then see a lawyer to write up an agreement.”

She refers to such agreements as “arrangements,” and is clear that what they do is express the intentions of the parties involved. Without consulting a lawyer, she says, people are unlikely to cover all of the issues they need to. But if push comes to shove and there’s a legal dispute, this contract is not what’s going to determine a judge’s decision. In family law, a court will never ask the question, ‘What were the contractual arrangements?’ The court will always ask the question instead, ‘What’s in the best interest of the child?’ says Busby.

A Montréal donor, who wishes to remain anonymous for the sake of the couple he’s helping, did just this and drew up an agreement in consultation with lawyers and the couple.

“The idea was for me to give up all rights and responsibilities to the extent that the law makes that possible,” he says. “The parents, i.e. not me, will have full freedom—they’ll be considered the legal parents, they’ll have custody, they’ll be allowed to move with the child if they want to. They’ll cover all the costs.”

Interestingly, a known donor is technically unable to give up child support rights because it falls under the rights of the child.

And although technically issues could arise, Busby points out many people using known donors don’t have agreements drawn up, and most of the time things work out just fine.

It gets more complicated if those using known donors also have problems conceiving. “The law around sperm donation is absurdly restrictive in my view, because if you’re not in a sexual relationship with the person, the sperm must be held in quarantine for six months before it can be used,” says the Montréal donor.

After the tainted blood scandal in the ’80s, the Canadian government became extremely risk-averse to the possibility of HIV, and so fertility clinics operate under a law that says they have to hold sperm for six months and re-test donors. The law also ends up being homophobic, because straight couples are allowed treatment right away, since they’re considered to be in contact with each other’s fluids anyhow. Even if someone has been previously trying with a donor’s sperm for months, the clinic must quarantine it if they’re not in a sexual relationship.

In the Montréal donor’s case, the couple had hoped to have his sperm frozen and shipped to another part of the country, but barriers became excessive. He discovered his sperm dies when frozen, something that happens to some sperm and not other, and researchers are unsure why. “The [quarantine] law is self-defeating in a way,” he says. “It probably drives people to… bypass the clinic system entirely.”

…talk as much as possible with the known donor about what expectations are and then see a lawyer to write up an agreement.”

This is particularly the case if someone wants to use a gay man’s sperm for conception. Sperm donation for gay men is only allowed with special doctor’s permission, a relic of homophobic policies from the ’80s. This means it can only easily be used if someone has no trouble conceiving and does not have to go through fertility clinics.

Unknown donor sperm – issues to consider

Another reason people use fertility clinics is to access sperm from an unknown donor. The process usually begins at a doctor’s office with a referral.Importantly, human rights legislation prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or marital status for those seeking reproductive assistance. As of August 2012, trans rights are protected in Manitoba as well.

Because most fertility clinics were set up to treat infertile heterosexual couples, there are varying levels of awareness when dealing with GLBT* clients.

The Toronto-based LGBTQ Parenting Network has some tips for queer people navigating the clinics. The network’s guidebook on assisted human reproduction notes the “norm” for clinics is heterosexual, cisgender clients who are partnered or married with access to two incomes.

This can mean intake forms lack appropriate places to record gender identity, sexual orientation, relationship status or family configuration. The counsellors at the clinic may not understand realities specific to GLBT* reproductive choices and parenting plans. This will vary widely by clinic.

Know that fertility clinics are privately-operated and most of their services are not covered under Manitoba Health.

Also know that the technology exists for HIV-positive people to conceive and give birth to children without transmission. As of August 2012, the guidebook notes, there were six clinics in Canada offering pregnancy support services to HIV-positive people.

Family law is presently receiving an update in Manitoba to recognize that some children have more than two legal parents. This will open the way for queer families to include more people on a child’s birth certificate. While some people reproduce as couples, others wish to have their donor and maybe his husband or partner involved in the child’s life. Still others have family forms as unique as the relationships they negotiate. While family law across Canada is uneven and unprepared to deal with this reality, it’s evolving and beginning to catch up.

First published in Winnipeg’s OutWords Magazine, Aug 2015

http://outwords.ca/2015/issue-fall-2015/seeking-the-magic-ingredient/


–Larkin Schmiedl is a freelance writer living and working in Vancouver, B.C. He loves to write about social and environmental justice, especially when it comes to other queers.

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March 13, 2016 at 11:02 pm

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People who do Good Stuff: Jen Sungshine

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The youth LGBTQ advocate who preaches love and celebrates diversity

SPREADING LOVE AS AN ACTIVIST can be a tricky balance to achieve, especially for those who do in-depth social justice work in a world rife with pain. Addressing injustice through education is emotionally demanding work and can be disheartening. But co-founder of Love Intersections, Jen Sungshine, practices love with intention. Her work focuses on raising public awareness to address racism in the queer community—something she does through conversation, empathy, and patience.

Sungshine and co-conspirator David Ng started Love Intersections as a blog after witnessing racist misconceptions in Vancouver’s queer community. In 2014, the Vancouver School Board was at work crafting its transgender inclusion policy. When a group of Chinese-Canadian parents opposed the policy, many in the white LGBTQ community responded by expressing ideas such as “people of colour are more homophobic.” Sungshine, who’s queer and Taiwanese, realized something needed to shift.

“We really needed to change that stereotype,” she says, “and we really needed to change that narrative.” She decided to put her artistic skills to work and create a visibility campaign. The result was a series of 15 posters displaying queers of various races, backgrounds, genders, and orientations, printed in the languages of those involved, plus English. The large posters were put up mainly in bus shelters across Vancouver in 2015.
And now, this year, Sungshine and Love Intersections will be doing even more. A recently completed online crowdfunder raised over $5,900—enough money to expand the project. Sungshine will help create two more themed campaigns with posters and videos, along with colleagues and volunteers from Love Intersections and partner organization Our City of Colours, another Vancouver group that addresses issues facing LGBTQ people from a variety of linguistic and cultural communities.

She plans on adding between 15–30 new posters to the mix. The plan is to take the project to schools and community centres, and also outside of Vancouver, raising visibility for queer and trans Indigenous people and people of colour (QTIPOC) throughout B.C. and beyond. “We would love to just invite the community to give us ideas on what the next two things can be,” says Sungshine.

Besides serving on Our City of Colour’s board, Sungshine makes art, works as a contract facilitator for Vancouver’s Out in Schools running anti-homophobia and -transphobia workshops in schools, and does communications and outreach with the University of British Columbia’s Institute for Gender, Race, Sexuality and Social Justice. In all of this, her focus remains committed to learning and teaching, and being an example of someone who “calls in” instead of “calling out.” This means that Sungshine prioritizes connection over criticism, and relationship-building over critical politics. But it doesn’t mean she isn’t fiercely passionate about what she does. And she stresses many approaches are valid and needed.

As a facilitator who works mainly with people from very different backgrounds, she regularly faces the challenge of how to talk about social justice issues like gender, race, and sexuality in a language that will make sense to a variety of people. Most often, she says, it’s simply about meeting people where they are, which may seem like a no-brainer, but can be challenging in the sticky and emotionally fraught territories of discussing oppression, particularly one’s own.

“One of my worst nightmares when I facilitate a workshop is to do so with a group of activists who are all on the same page,” she says. “Once you get folks who are different, there’s tension. And for me as a facilitator, tension is gold.” Out of that tension emerges possibility—and out of conflict, comes possible change in people’s perspectives, she adds.

“Seeing the world through a lens of love has really allowed me to connect with people I never would have connected with without it. I think it’s very easy to be very negative, or to be critical.” Sungshine believes by putting care and empathy into the world, she gets to see others shine—and to be inspired and inspire in turn. Her work is healing her as a person of colour, as a woman, as a queer woman, and as a femme. “It’s people who are the driving force of the work. Social agents of change—they’re like superheroes or something.”

Check out loveintersections.com to see posters and videos from the project and learn more.

 

First published in the Jan/Feb issue of This Magazine

https://this.org/2016/01/08/the-people-do-good-stuff-issue-jen-sungshine/

Written by larkinschmiedl

March 13, 2016 at 10:10 pm

Queer polyamory

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Dreaming the road to freedom

Among the many ways to do relationships, polyamory stands out in many people’s minds as an ideal version of perhaps unattainable freedom. But for polyamorous people, it’s a practical kind of freedom that exists in a context of deep intimacy.

Most polyamorous people stress the importance of communication, knowing limits and needs, and hashing out a relationship that fulfills the deeper desires of all involved. Openness and accountability are values most aspire to.

And while some see poly as their orientation, others use it to describe how they structure their relationships.

The thing most polyamorous relationships have in common is their capacity for multiple honest loves.

There are other kinds of non-monogamy: open relationships, swinging, polygamy and, of course, cheating, but these are distinct. While some open relationships overlap with poly, “open” is often used to describe sexual activity outside a couple.

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Bram Singleton and Anlina Sheng are each involved in polyamorous relationships.

 

Why polyamory?

“I first learned the word [polyamory] seven years ago, and it was kind of a revelation because there was finally a label for this stuff that I was already doing,” says Sheng, who is 33 and the founder of PolyWinnipeg, a local group that holds monthly talks and events. “I’ve been doing non-monogamy pretty much my entire dating life.”

Sheng’s style of poly involves separate relationships that can be described as “Vs.” The relationships are called this because one person is linked to two or more other partners, but those partners aren’t linked romantically with each another.

“I like it when everyone can be comfortable with each other and spend time with each other, but it’s not particularly important to me to do the big happy family style of poly,” they say.

For the most part, they’ve considered themselves a solo poly person, highly valuing their independence and autonomy.

While this is one form of polyamory, there are more closely knit relationship scenarios that others—like Kyle, a 24-year-old Winnipegger—aspire to. Kyle’s polyamorous roots began about a year ago when he entered a triad relationship, joining an existing couple. Although it didn’t work out, he learned a lot.

“What I found from that was, as a person who identifies as bisexual, having a male and a female in the same relationship with me really allowed me to pursue both halves of myself.”

He describes it as feeling complete and is looking for a three-person relationship in the future. “It’s kind of like a monogamous relationship except that it has a requirement for one more person,” he says.

Kyle’s also open to being part of a quad—a four-person unit—and the idea of a poly family appeals immensely. He sees the benefits as being an abundance of support and intimacy.

I first learned the word [polyamory] seven years ago, and it was kind of a revelation…

He describes watching a movie with his boyfriend at home while their girlfriend went on a date. She’d come home and tell them how it went, and if it wasn’t good, they’d support her. “We’d give her a big hug, and we’d make some more popcorn, and we’d start another movie,” he says. “It felt good to encourage my partners to go out and find more people.” He felt a sense of both liberation and comfort in this safety net.

Mitra, who helps run a polyamory group in Edmonton, has identified as poly for more than five years, since she was 25. And she didn’t get into polyamory on purpose. “I had actually thought that I would choose monogamy,” she says. But when she fell in love with a poly man, she began to ask herself some questions. She realized poly seemed more difficult to do in the world, but the inconvenience didn’t outweigh the emotional benefits.

“My life partner and I have a very open approach where we don’t give each other permission to do anything. We are free to do whatever we wish,” she says. With a foundation of open communication, respect and consideration, Mitra has the freedom to allow whatever develops romantically and sexually with anyone else. She also avoids the use of terms like “primary partner” because it implies other relationships would be secondary. Her life partner lives with his wife, and they’re Mitra’s neighbours. Mitra also has other partners.

Part of polyamory’s beauty is its insistence upon openness regarding desires. It’s certainly not for everyone, but the skill set polyamorous people need to develop to be successful can benefit any relationship. Communication, learning the specifics of your own needs, desires and boundaries, and hearing those of a partner deeply are skills that cultivate intimacy. Learning to negotiate agreements and create realistic expectations are useful for anyone. Understanding jealousy triggers is good work as well. All of these are necessary for good poly relationships, and too often in default monogamy, the work to build these connecting skills is left undone.

As soon as you enter into a poly relationship, the entire rulebook goes straight out the door

Tips to a happy poly life

“I think the one thing that people should remember is not to make any assumptions,” says Mitra. Because polyamory is so different from other social norms, you can’t assume what the other person thinks, believes or wants. She warns that even if people think they’re not making assumptions, they probably are. That’s something to be conscious of.

Kyle has a similar tip. “It’s all about communication. As soon as you enter into a poly relationship, the entire rulebook goes straight out the door. There are no rules because we didn’t grow up with any kind of media to guide us through this kind of process. So if you’re really not comfortable with hashing out exactly how you feel about everything, then it’s going to end badly. Talking, talking, talking about everything is vitally important. There’s a lot more risk involved, but there’s a lot more reward too. Poly relationships can be explosively fun, but they can also explode.”

Kyle suggests defining the power structure of a relationship from the get-go: is it equal partners, primary/secondary, or something else?

Sheng advises knowing your own needs and desires, being able to set boundaries, and understanding what you can control and what’s not appropriate to control. It’s also important to remember that polyamorous people are not more enlightened or superior. That assumption is untrue and obnoxious.

What to watch out for

A bad first experience with poly doesn’t mean polyamory isn’t for you, says Sheng, although it’s OK if it isn’t. They recommend learning from other’s mistakes and remembering to do what feels right. “Don’t let anyone tell you there is one true way to do polyamory,” they say.

Sheng’s seen people put up with things they would never tolerate in monogamous relationships and advises new polyamorists-to-be to keep themselves safe. “I see a lot of particularly young bisexual women who are targeted by couples who are looking to date as a triad, and who get treated horrendously badly,” Sheng says. Don’t put up with anything that ignores your instincts and invalidates your experiences. If you feel there’s something wrong, there probably is. Polyamory does not equate to finding a way to accept being unhappy. Abuse can come in any relationship and it can be confusing for a new poly person to untangle and navigate the forms that abusive manipulation can take.

Resources

Whether new to polyamory or not, having a support network of other polyamorous people can be valuable.

The PolyWinnipeg group has a Facebook page that lists events and other items of interest for local poly folk. The group holds regular PolyTalks as well as social events like potlucks and games nights. There’s a high representation of queer and trans people, and events are usually free and held in queer and trans-friendly locations, says Sheng.

The Winnipeg Polyamory Discussion Group on Yahoo!Groups is devoted to discussing the emotional, social and political issues related to being involved in mature, ethical, non-monogamous relationships. Its emphasis is on the Winnipeg community, and the group is inclusive of all styles of poly, all genders and all sexual orientations.

Seeing deep, heartfelt desires materialize because we are able to express them should be something anyone can do. Whether that looks like polyamory, monogamy, or something else, the lessons from polyamory can lead us all deeper into our own personal versions of freedom.


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Eight Things I Wish I’d Known about Polyamory: Before I Tried It and Frakked It Up, by Cunning Minx

Minx also hosts the popular Polyamory Weekly podcast, which is kink-positive and pansexual, and can be found at www.polyweekly.com.

 


 

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Opening Up: A Guide to Creating and Sustaining Open Relationships, by Tristan Taormino

Part advice and part interviews with polyamorous couples, this book covers several styles of non-monogamy, including polyamory, swinging and poly for single people. There’s a companion blog at www.openingup.net.

 


 

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The Ethical Slut: A Practical Guide to Polyamory, Open Relationships & Other Adventures, by Dossie Easton and Janet Hardy.

The authors dispel myths and cover all the skills necessary to maintain a successful and responsible polyamorous lifestyle.

 


 

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More Than Two: A practical guide to ethical polyamory, by Franklin Veaux and Eve Rickert.

Veaux also runs www.morethantwo.com, with links to many excellent resources.

 


 

First published in OutWords Magazine, Oct 2014

http://outwords.ca/2015/issue-winter-2015/queer-polyamory/


 

–Larkin Schmiedl is a freelance writer living and working in Vancouver, B.C. He loves to write about social and environmental justice.

 

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March 13, 2016 at 8:51 pm

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Tories in review: Environment

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Examining Stephen Harper and the Conservative Party’s dismal environmental track record, full of broken promises and missed opportunities for a greener Canada

WHEN IT COMES TO THE ENVIRONMENT, Stephen Harper doesn’t have a hidden agenda—he’s always been upfront about his healthy-industry-over-healthy-Earth policies. In 2006, for instance, in his first speech outside Canada after he was elected as prime minister, he called Canada an “emerging energy superpower,” suggesting his intention to expand oil sands production. “And that has been his environment policy,” says Keith Stewart, PhD, who teaches energy policy at the University of Toronto and campaigns with Greenpeace Canada.

Since that first speech, Canada’s international environmental reputation has shifted quickly under the Harper Conservatives. We were once considered an influential environmental leader, but now are what famed environmentalist Bill McKibben calls, “an obstacle to international climate concerns.” That’s thanks to several major changes, the breadth of which we’ll review here.

INTERNATIONAL EMBARRASSMENT
After signing the Kyoto Protocol on carbon pollution in 1997, Canada withdrew 14 years later in late 2011. It’s the only country to have done so. Then in 2013, the government pulled out of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification—and again has done so solo. Established in 1994, the convention is a key legally-binding international agreement addressing environment, development, and sustainability. Listen: you can hear Canada’s diplomatic credibility crumbling.

DEMOLISHING LAWS
In 1992, the Government of Canada enacted the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, created to evaluate and mitigate negative environmental effects possibly caused by industrial projects. In 2012 the entire act was repealed and replaced with “CEAA 2012.” The new version applies to a much smaller scope of projects, expands ministerial discretion, and narrows the scope of assessments. The Canadian Environmental Law Association called this “an unjustified and ill-conceived rollback of federal environmental law.”

After the change, nearly 3,000 environmental project assessments were cancelled. As a result, environmentally- harmful projects will face less red tape in gaining approval. “It’s streamlining the review process for our pipelines,” quips Peter Louwe, communications officer for Greenpeace Vancouver.

RUINING PROTECTIONS
Besides weakening The Fisheries Act to the point where it doesn’t protect most fish, the Cons have also rewritten The Navigable Waters Protection Act so that it no longer protects most lakes and rivers. “There is no environmental protection for our waters unless there’s a commercial aspect to it,” says Louwe. Since Canada contains 20 percent of the world’s fresh water as well as the world’s longest coastline, changes to these acts are of worldwide concern.

SILENCING SCIENCE
After Environment Canada senior research scientist David Tarasick published on one of the biggest ozone holes ever found over the Arctic in 2011, he was forbidden to speak with media for nearly three weeks. Once given permission, his calls were supervised by Environment Canada officials. In speaking of the incident, he wrote to a reporter, “My apologies for the strange behaviour of EC [Environment Canada],” adding if it were up to him, he’d grant the interview.

All federal scientists now face regulations from Ottawa deciding if they can talk, how, and when. Approved interviews are taped, and often approval is not forthcoming until after deadlines have passed. When this happens, journalists receive government-approved written answers. Between 2008-2014, the federal government cut the jobs of more than 2,000 scientists. In 2014, it announced plans to close seven of its 11 Fisheries and Oceans Canada libraries.

HIT ’EM WHERE IT HURTS
Environment Canada, the government department charged with protecting the environment, is quickly having its capacity drained. Between 2010- 2012, the federal government cut 20 percent of its budget (made official right after the Cons became a majority), and from 2014– 2017 another 28 percent will be cut. This translates to hundreds of job losses and lost programs.

Environment Canada’s ozone-monitoring program, host to the world’s archive of ozone data and relied upon by scientists worldwide, had several monitoring stations closed due to lack of funding, and the lone person running the archives was laid off.

The list goes on: the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy, which has provided research on sustainable development since 1988, and was established by a previous Conservative government, is no more. Also included in the cuts: Monitoring for heavy metals and toxic contaminants, the Climate Action Network, Sierra Club of B.C., The Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences, and many other organizations.

AUDITS
Meanwhile the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) is auditing charities. In 2012 the government tightened rules and created a special budget so the CRA could check on charities’ political activities. EthicalOil.org, founded by Harper’s aide Alykhan Velshi, made a series of complaints to the CRA about environmental groups. The David Suzuki Foundation, Tides Canada, Equiterre, and Environmental Defence, three of those EthicalOil.org targeted in its complaints, were audited—though the government denies any link with CRA’s activities.

THE KICKER
“I think C-51 should just be repealed because of the way it targets First Nations and environmentalists,” says U of T’s Stewart. This piece of legislation, adopted in June, adds power to security agencies collecting information on anything that “undermines the security of Canada,” including interfering with economic stability or “critical infrastructure.” It also gives the Canadian Security Intelligence Service power to react to these perceived threats. Many environmentalists and activists believe this means them. An RCMP document obtained by Greenpeace labels the “anti-petroleum movement” as a growing and violent threat.“There’s not much more damage that one person would be able to do to the environment of a country,” says Vancouver’s Louwe, referring to Harper.

And yet, the Harper government hasn’t managed to build any pipelines. In the face of such blatant injustice, Canadian people have risen up, building a stronger environmental movement that is not only more resolved, but broader, including people from a wider range of backgrounds and interests than before. And Stewart points out that although this government has done a lot for industry, the more obvious it becomes to the public that its government is acting as a cheerleader for big oil, the less social licence industry has in people’s minds. And this means that whatever the legacy of the Harper government leaves us, it also leaves a more politicized, involved, and activated country of people who will do what it takes to protect what matters.

 

First published in Sept/Oct 2015 issues of This Magazine

https://this.org/2015/09/21/tories-in-review-environment/

Written by larkinschmiedl

March 13, 2016 at 7:28 pm

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Tories in review: LGBTQ rights

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Looking back at the Harper Conservative’s nine years of attacks on LGBTQ rights in Canada

OVER THE PAST SIX YEARS, Stephen Harper’s Conservative government has—surprisingly—become an outspoken champion of gay rights worldwide. In 2009, Harper arranged a private meeting with Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni to urge him to drop a controversial law that would imprison homosexuals for life. In 2011, Immigration Minister John Baird not only launched a pilot program taking up the cause of gay refugees, but took it upon himself to call out an entire meeting of Commonwealth leaders, 41 of 54 of which have anti-gay laws on the books. And so on.

Yet, at the same time, rights on paper don’t always translate into lived rights. And, despite our reputation as a supposed LGBTQ leader, Canada itself is still missing important on-paper rights. Over the past nine years, our federal government’s actions when it comes to LBGTQ rights have been inconsistent—even confounding.

Here in Canada, for instance, queer youth are grossly misrepresented amongst the homeless population, accounting for 25–40 percent. Members of the federal Conservative Party have also actively blocked the advancement of trans rights at home with endless delays of Bill C-279, which seeks to give transgender people basic Charter protections. The back-and-forth doesn’t stop there: The feds cut funding to gay organizations, such as the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network in 2012 and Pride Toronto in 2010—yet a 600-person gay Conservative party called Fabulous Blue Tent was thrown in 2011 to bring gay Conservatives together during the Party’s convention. That same weekend, the Tories passed a resolution supporting religious organizations’ refusal to perform same-sex marriages. Previously, in 2005, Harper had campaigned on the promise to repeal same-sex marriage.

And, it doesn’t stop there. Here, we examine the Conservatives sad, confusing track record:

TRANS RIGHTS
Within the Conservative Party, there are LGBTQ-supportive caucus members, but they are in the minority, despite the now-biennial Fabulous Blue Tent party. When Bill C-279—to grant transgender Canadians equal protection under the law—passed through the House of Commons, only 18 of 155 Tory MPs voted in favour. Conservative MP Rob Anders called it a “bathroom bill,” insisting its goal was to give creepy men access to women’s washrooms. All other party MPs who voted were unanimously in support of C-279.

The bill is currently sitting in the Conservative-dominated Senate, and will almost surely be killed at election time—having to retrace its process through the House again. Now more than 10 years in the making, this would be the second time the bill was forced back to square one. Yet, if passed, it will give trans people legal recourse against things such as being fired and being denied housing, and will also make sky-high rates of violence punishable as hate crimes.

HARPER TRIES TO MOVE BACKWARDS
Opposing queer rights is nothing new for Harper. Early on in 1994, he fought plans to introduce same-sex spousal benefits in Canada. In 2005, after same-sex marriage was legalized, he promised to bring legislation defining marriage as “the union of one man and one woman.” When this plan was defeated shortly after his election, he decided to leave the issue alone, saying, “I don’t see reopening this question [of marriage] in the future.”

FUNDING CUTS
After more than 20 years of federal funding, the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network faced cuts in 2012 because it “may have used the funds for advocacy.” After receiving a “significant portion of its funding from Ottawa” over its entire existence, the organization sought renewal of the same funding but the Public Health Agency of Canada rejected 16 of its 20 proposals.

In 2006, shortly after taking power, the Conservative Party also cut the entire budget of a program called Court Challenges, which had made public funds available for individuals launching human rights challenges in court. Used by those making challenges on the basis of sexual orientation and more, the fund had helped homosexual couples secure spousal benefits and achieve equality protection. Harper’s chief of staff from 2005-2008, Ian Brodie, used his PhD to argue the program unfairly empowered homosexuals and other minority groups. The Conservatives had killed the program in 1992 originally, only to have it revived by the Liberals. Now the Cons have resuscitated it, but with a narrowed focus on only linguistic minorities.

PROGRESS, PR, OR SOMETHING ELSE?
Canada’s immigration office under Harper worked with Iranian Railroad for Queer Refugees to fast-track 100 gay Iranians into Canada, saving them from possible execution. Harper also personally lobbied Uganda’s president in 2009 over a law that would imprison gay people for life. Canada even gave $200,000 to Ugandan groups to fight the law. Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird has made repeated international public statements condemning countries that criminalize homosexuality, and during the 2014 Olympics Baird and Harper spoke out against the Russian “gay propaganda” law that makes it illegal for anyone to distribute gay rights materials.

Yet, speaking against the criminalization of LGBTQ people is not the same as active support. In regards to Russia in particular, Ontario Conservative MP Scott Reid, who chairs the Commons’ subcommittee on international human rights, said it’s an issue of freedom of speech. Saskatchewan Conservative backbencher Maurice Vellacott said he believes LGBTQ folks should have basic protections, but that he wouldn’t want his kids exposed to “homosexual propaganda.” These attitudes offer insight into the mixed messages of the Conservative Party when it comes to queer rights. Whatever its motives are for this dissonance, the fact remains there’s a lot of work to be done in this country before queer liberation becomes a reality.

 

First published in Sept/Oct 2015 issue of This Magazine

https://this.org/2015/09/25/tories-in-review-lgbtq-rights/

 

 

Written by larkinschmiedl

March 13, 2016 at 7:01 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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