Category Archives: Politics

Vancouver Island Hippies: Top Security Threat for 2010?

Vancouver Island hippies in their natural habitat
Vancouver Island hippies in their natural habitat.

February 11, 2009

According to the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, protestors are the number one security threat to the 2010 Games. So maybe that explains why officers with the Integrated Security Unit are running around Victoria trying to convince hippies to spy on each other.

But the cops may find that peaceniks and bohemians are too street-smart to play spy games. Vancouver Island long-hairs know better than to give information to police, especially when it’s obvious that no crime has been committed.

“I said to the officer, there’s no way I am going to snitch on my friends!” bookstore owner Robert Garfat tells me, a little indignantly.

The long-time Vancouver Island resident was shocked when he was approached earlier this month by RCMP constable Mike Smook of the Integrated Security Unit. Smook wanted information about Victoria’s No 2010 activists. But it’s not snitching, according to Smook – the police just want to use his eyes and ears.

Garfat was troubled by the encounter and unsure if he should tell others, but then made up his mind that people should know what the police are up to.

“My feeling is that we should say something because if they’re going out into the community trying to intimidate people and to try and co-opt people into becoming informants, that’s like Big Brother,” he says.

A second local activist — who asked not to be named — says the police have come to his door asking to speak to all the residents, as well as taking pictures of everyone who came and left the building.

“None of those questioned had any arrests or previous charges,” the young man says. “The cops friggin’ bothered us for no good reason other than owning literature that is in opposition to the Olympics.”

Others in the community have similar stories. According to several people who contacted us privately this week, the RCMP has succeeded in recruiting at least one informant – a child of 15. She has been cooperating with police for months, they said.

Leaving aside questions of whether this is legal or ethical, the tactic is troubling. If Victoria social justice advocates are so dangerous, isn’t it risky to send a child to spy on them? And if they’re not dangerous, why spy on them at all?

We should all be aware that the police are not gathering information so they can hand out commendations for being great social-justice activists and good citizens. They are gathering information that will potentially put people in jail — preemptively — to prevent them from getting a message to the world about the social conditions here. Why are so many people homeless? Why are so many people in poverty? Why is there a lack of decent housing across B.C. on the reserves? Why are we still destroying old-growth forests for sports events? These are the questions we want to get out to the world, and we believe the police are trying to stop this from happening.

Conducting surveillance and recruiting informants in the absence of any crime violates the Charter, in my opinion. Domestic spying without a clear law enforcement objective does not help national security – it just intimidates citizens who have done nothing wrong (besides criticizing the government.). Fishing expeditions are not legal. Prior restraint on free speech is not legal. Warrantless wiretaps are not legal either, or at least they weren’t the last time I checked.

In fact, we have the right to associate with whoever we want, even with people who criticize the Olympics or take governments to task for ignoring poverty, homelessness and the ongoing effects of racism in our society.

Police statements in the media about ‘consulting with activists’ are nonsense. Their clumsy and heavy-handed attempts to meet privately with individuals are causing controversy, intimidating activists and sowing distrust in the community. There are serious concerns that the police may resort to coercion and bribes to try and force people to inform on their friends.

A committee founded by members of the BC Civil Liberties Association tried to meet with the ISU for an exchange of views and advice, but backed out on finding it was an exercise in frustration.

“It hasn’t been easy when dealing with the authorities,” said Michael Byers, UBC professor and BCCLA member. “With respect, we have pretty much hit a brick wall.”

“In my view, the ISU … has lost sight of those human rights principles and have focused excessively on the search for “perfect security.”

Alissa Westergard-Thorpe, a member of the Olympic Resistance Network in Vancouver, was approached by police last month. She has this to say: “The ORN is not interested in talking with police about the conditions under which we exercise our rights to assembly and expression. They can read the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”

And if the police can’t be bothered to read the Charter, maybe we should read it to them — real slow, so that they understand.

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Filed under Olympics, Politics, Zoe Blunt

Live Nude Animals

Sat, 20 Oct 2007

Derrick Jensen’s captive audience: A discussion with the author about his latest book

I loved animals as a child, but I didn’t like zoos. I found them disturbing and depressing. They smelled like shit and death. But then, adults considered me far too sensitive and sentimental toward animals. When I was five years old, I had what you might call an emotional breakdown after watching my father beat the family cat almost to death in our living room. That was the home life the cat and I shared, back then.

Nowadays, there are laws against abusing animals (and children, for that matter). Zoos are no longer squalid prisons where animals languish and die in solitary concrete cells. Bright, clean cages — complete with natural-looking foliage and ventilation — invite you to peer in at the inhabitants. But still, I am not comfortable visiting them.

Derrick Jensen knows why. He tells us: “Zoos are about power.” And he quotes an admirer of zoos: “You show power by keeping an animal captive; how much more powerful are you if you kill it?”

Jensen is best known for the wildly popular Endgame: The Problem of Civilization, a massive two-volume diatribe on the need to dismantle civilization now, before it self-destructs and takes the natural world with it. His books and lectures dissect our culture’s disease — systemic violence, industrial capitalism and environmental exploitation.

Endgame overturns the mass delusion that our western industrial society is the most peaceful, plentiful and benign in the history of the world. Of course, the majority of the ugliness is exported or otherwise invisible to most of us. We can still rationalize that Western Civ is the acme of human achievement — at least while the oil holds out and the climate is somewhat stable. About ten more years, Jensen figures.

In a world full of violence, brutality against animals is rarely acknowledged. Since shit flows downhill, and humans automatically out-rank monkeys, tigers, sharks and house cats, we get away with murder. For example, Jensen notes that people kill thousands of sharks every year. But when a shark kills a person, a whole country goes into a frenzy. It’s exactly the same dynamic with Canada’s bears, cougars and wolves.

Jensen reminds us we have wiped out 90 percent of the large fish in the oceans already, and great apes and great cats are likely to be extinct in a matter of years. “We should consider that this culture destroys the wild everywhere faster than ever before,” Jensen writes. “We should consider that this culture is killing the planet.”

Thought to Exist in the Wild: Awakening from the Nightmare of Zoos is Jensen’s latest book, movingly illustrated by photographer Karen Tweedy Holmes with stark monochrome portraits of captive animals. Here, Jensen compares consensual exchanges between human and non-human animals with the dynamics of captivity. “Incarcerating animals in zoos is to entering into relationships with them in the wild as rape is to making love,” Jensen writes.

And like rape, there must be some warped instinct that compels people to do it. “Humans visit zoos because we need contact with wild animals,” Jensen states. “We need wild animals to remind us of the enormous complexity of life, to remind us that the world was not made just for us, to remind us that we are not the center of the universe. We need them to teach us how to live.”

I talked to Jensen at his home in Crescent City, California earlier this month. Here are some highlights of our conversation.

Zoe Blunt: You’re saying zoos are bad for animals and bad for humans?

Derrick Jensen: It should be obvious why zoos are bad for animals. Remember the last time you went to the zoo and you saw the bear that had gone insane and couldn’t stop pacing? It drives them crazy, it would drive anyone crazy.

They keep telling us that zoos are good for education, and that is bogus on so many levels. What we learn is you can take an animal out of the habitat and still have the animal. It teaches us that living creatures are discrete machine parts that can be pulled out of boxes. It teaches us there’s an unbridgeable gap between us and them – a gap with a moat and a cage. It teaches us about our perceived superiority.

This kind of messianic language [zoo proponents] use – “The animals teach us, they are ambassadors.” Fuck that, they’re not ambassadors, they’re prisoners. Zoos are prisons. Living in captivity deprives animals of their homes, and deprives them of their parents. A common way to get zoo animals is to kill the parents and take the children.

Blunt: If not for education, then why do zoos keep animals?

Jensen: Why? Because it’s big money. More people attend zoos than all sporting events combined. They’re amusement parks with live attractions. Zoos are fundamentally pornographic. The animals are there for my use, my entertainment, my gratification.

Blunt: Live nude animals?

Jensen: That’s exactly what they are. Instead of a stripper on a pole, instead of a roller coaster, you can see an animal in a cage.

Blunt: What do you think about British Columbia’s new spotted owl captive breeding program?

Jensen: My position on captive breeding, as I say in the book, there are circumstances where captive breeding is necessary. That said, it is obscene to take northern spotted owls from the wild and to use that as an excuse — which is all it is — to destroy their habitat. Words cannot express how vile that is. In this case, it’s a disgusting, immoral crime against nature. It’s an excuse to rationalize further deforestation for the timber industry.

Instead of zoos, people should just go outside, and bring their children because it’s especially important for children to see wild animals. And not just in Alaska or Central America, but in the irrigation ditch behind your house.

If a child wants to see a bear, we have to tell them, “I can’t show you a bear, people wiped them all out here. I could have showed you a spotted owl five years ago, but now they’re gone.”


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Filed under Animals, Derrick Jensen, Politics

Dumb Asses Run Our Province

Thu, 18 Oct 2007


The BC Legislative Assembly (“The Ledge”) is a huge gothic fortress where we keep the idiots who make our laws and count our tax money. The Ledge is built on a former Songhees Nation village site in Victoria, the provincial capital, and it’s filled with old-timey crap like some truly hideous murals from your great-granddad’s generation showing the glorious domination of the white man over the naked savages. (Really!)

This week, the Ledge opened the fall session with fresh evidence that our democratic leaders have shit for brains. After years of debate, the assembly voted last spring to get rid of those asinine paintings. But guess what? The murals are still there. So when a high-ranking First Nations leader visits the Ledge, as Tsawwassen Chief Kim Baird did Monday, the bare-breasted slave girls are covered with curtains. Maybe this is a way of showing respect, like hiding the porn mags under the bed when Mom comes to visit. But you can’t stop yourself from pulling them out again as soon as she leaves, can you?

Inside the Ledge, Kim Baird was all agog over the brand-new treaty the province negotiated with the Tsawwassen First Nation to settle their land claim. Outside, a couple hundred indigenous people were royally pissed off. And it wasn’t just the usual rants about treaties extinguishing aboriginal rights, etc, etc. No, this time Vancouver Island native groups are furious that a huge chunk of Gulf Islands fishing territory that has been theirs for thousands of years – and recognized by the Douglas Treaty in 1852 – is being handed over to the Tsawwassen First Nation. Whoops!

The new treaty – which still needs to be approved by the Ledge – pits neighbour against neighbour for the masters’ amusement, but the game is rigged. First Nations participating in the BC Treaty process win cash and prizes, and non-participating nations with overlapping claims lose big-time. The whole stupid mess will soon be winding through BC’s Supreme Court, where the Sencot’en Alliance filed suit against the province in September.

We tried to crash the Visitors Gallery, but it was full and a hundred steely-eyed Commissionaires were patrolling the outer perimeter. One turned us away brusquely as journalists wearing fresh-stamped ID badges skipped past the blue ropes and into the inner sanctum. “But we’re journalists, too!” we insisted. “No, you’re not,” he snorted. “Not unless you have Press Gallery credentials.”

Later Monday, Premier Gordon Campbell scared the hell out of our friend Carolyn K while she was hanging around the side of the Ledge. Gordo suddenly “came sneaking out the back door” with his two bodyguards, startling her. Carolyn notes he didn’t look drunk or coked up, but he is freakishly pale, like an albino or a cave-dwelling lizard. “He’s so white,” she shuddered. “They must put a ton of makeup on him to make him look human on TV. He’s incredibly creepy.”

BC Premier Gordon Campbell was a lot less pale but much more drunk shortly after his arrest in Hawaii for driving under the influence a couple winters ago.

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Captive breeding of spotted owls “obscene”

Wed, 26 Sep 2007

Spotted owl fledglings
Spotted owl fledglings

Capturing and breeding spotted owls is “obscene” and a “crime against nature,” charges Derrick Jensen, a best-selling author, environmental activist and lecturer scheduled to visit Vancouver and Victoria in October.

“I’m not unalterably opposed to every captive breeding program,” Jensen explained by phone from Northern California. “That said, it is obscene to take Northern Spotted Owls from the wild and to use that as an excuse – which is all it is – to destroy their habitat.”

“In this case, it’s a disgusting, immoral crime against nature. It’s an excuse to rationalize further deforestation for the timber industry,” Jensen said.

Environmentalists accuse the BC government of failing to protect spotted owl habitat in its recovery plan while implementing a controversial captive-breeding program. Near Pemberton, a research camp is monitoring attempts to capture a spotted owl while logging carried out under BC’s small business Timber Sales Program clearcuts the owl’s home territory.

Two owls captured earlier this year are living in large cages in Langley and North Vancouver. The entire Canadian population of spotted owls is estimated at 17, and the birds have not previously bred in captivity.

“It is obscene to encourage small business at the expense of a species,” Jensen said. “This culture forgets what the real world is. They think it is industrial capitalism.”

“It is insane – by which I mean out of touch with reality – to promote industrial activities that harm the real world. Because the real world is the source of life,” Jensen asserted.

Jensen speaks in Vancouver on Friday, October 19, 8 pm at the Ukrainian Cultural Hall, 154 East 10th Ave. He visits Victoria for the first time on October 20, 6 pm at the David Lam Auditorium at the University of Victoria.

More news about the spotted owls, Jensen’s visit, and the research camp will be posted here this fall.

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Notes for the Next First Nations Day of Action

Mon, 23 Jul 2007

Canadian flags burn during Day of Action
Canadian flags burn during Day of Action

How a grassroots revolt eclipsed a national protest

By any measure, highway blockades upstaged the marches and rallies on Canada’s Aboriginal Day of Action in June. Weeks of high-profile controversy climaxed on June 29, when small groups of protestors took over roads, rail lines, and the country’s news headlines.

In the media, open conflict between “radical” and “moderate” indigenous leaders got plenty of airtime, although the underlying political issues received little attention. The issue of “violent” and “illegal” protest was the top story.

As early as May 15, Prime Minister Stephen Harper was warning that “violence — or the threat of violence — will kill any public sympathy for getting on and fixing this problem.” On June 28, Phil Fontaine made a last-ditch appeal to aboriginal people and non-aboriginal people not to use the national day of action as an opportunity for “violent confrontation and illegal road blockades.” But despite all the warnings, at the end of the day, no incidents of violence were reported.

Nonetheless, news writers across the country tagged Shawn Brant, the leader of the Tyendinaga Mohawk blockade in Ontario, as a “hothead” (National Post) “rogue” (CBC) and “militant” (Canadian Press). CP went further, calling Brant a “lone voice advocating militancy” — ignoring the dozens of Mohawks standing with him and hundreds more behind barricades across the country.

Against this backdrop, the AFN were positioned in the media as moderates. The national organization formed in 1982 as a way for chiefs and bands to advocate for treaties, land rights, education, development, health, housing, and more. But the AFN doesn’t represent all indigenous people: non-status natives are left out, for example.

The AFN initiated the Day of Action last December when the Special Chiefs Assembly passed a proposal calling on Canada to “respect the fundamental human rights of indigenous peoples to ownership and legal recognition of a rightful share of all natural resource wealth in Canada.” Chief Terrance Nelson of the Roseau River First Nation in Manitoba sponsored the resolution. By May, Nelson and the band were promising to block the CN Rail lines through the Roseau River reserve.

In the weeks leading up to the protest, Phil Fontaine, the Grand Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, tried to rein in the blockaders. But Fontaine himself had to admit he couldn’t control what individual chiefs and bands choose to do. “Many of our communities have reached the breaking point. The anger and frustration are palpable,” he told reporters in May.

Fontaine, along with Harper, argued that blockades are counter-productive because they don’t win support from the public. There is much more than public image at stake, however. Fontaine and other AFN leaders may have been aiming to win the hearts and minds of Canadians, but for the blockaders, the day of action had a different goal: to squeeze the government and corporations until they are willing to make real change. Blockades are economic actions, not media stunts, but they still got the lion’s share of the camera time.

They also got the government’s attention. Threats of action spurred the government into moving to resolve outstanding issues that have festered for generations.

On June 12, Harper, Fontaine, and Indian Affairs Minister Jim Prentice announced a proposal to overhaul the native land claims system. One week later, the Conservatives settled the Roseau River land claim, prompting the AFN’s action leader to cancel the CN Rail blockade in Manitoba. And on June 30, the government designated former diplomat Janet Zukowsky as a special representative to the Barriere lake Algonquin community, days after members of that First Nation set up camp on Parliament Hill.

Astute observers will note the new initiatives do not address widespread poverty on reserves, and they don’t provide help for employment, health services, drinking water, or education. The announcements also fail to address a key demand of First Nations: implementation of the Kelowna Accord to immediately address living conditions on reserves.

First Nations leaders warn if the status quo doesn’t change, many more protests are on the way.

“What Shawn Brant did is nothing compared to what is going to happen in the future if we can’t give our people hope for the future,” Nelson told delegates at the Alliance of First Nations annual general meeting in July.

In fact, a second wave of protests started only days after the National Day of Action. Writers for Warrior Publications, a west coast-based group, slammed the AFN as colonialist collaborators and called for a boycott of the Day of Action. The Warriors announced separate Anti-Canada Day protests against a system they describe as corrupt – a system that includes treaty negotiations, the band councils, and the AFN itself.

Activists in Montreal, Guelph, Vancouver and Saanich, BC organized blockades and protests on a smaller scale than those seen two days earlier. But the Anti-Canada Day protests failed to deliver the media punch of the Day of Action protests, coming as they did after most editors had wrapped up the native issue and moved on to other news priorities.

As summer temperatures climb, First Nations unrest continues. In BC alone, three more civil disobedience actions began in the first week of July. Members of the Sechelt Band occupied their band office demanding the chief resign after he accepted an apology from RCMP officers who pepper sprayed a crowd of soccer fans. In Lytton, band members blocked the highway to protest loss of ferry service that left a community isolated. And a long-simmering dispute within the N’quatqua First Nation erupted again when protestors blocked an old-growth logging operation in Blackwater.

What the National Day of Action achieved was a flash point — a focus and an impetus for activists. But as Fontaine learned, once people are galvanized into action, they may not be willing to fall into line behind their leaders.

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Day of Action in Pictures

Tue, 3 Jul 2007

Across Canada, First Nations people rallied, marched, blocked roads, and risked arrest to protest the Conservative government’s lack of progress on poverty, education, health, housing, environment and other issues affecting indigenous people. The National Day of Action on Friday, June 29 turned into a long weekend of action, as the protests rolled on to include anti-Canada Day events on Sunday and Monday.

What we haven’t heard is news about how the national Assembly of First Nations, a government-sponsored and approved organization, was eclipsed by local grassroots activists, despite the leaders’ attempts to rein in more radical natives. I’m putting together that analysis this week, but in the meantime, here’s the story in photos.

Phil Fontaine, Grand Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, told natives to abandon their plans for blockades and stick to “peaceful protests” (rallies and marches.) His advice was ignored by many.

Shawn Brant, an activist with the Mohawk Nation, looks exhausted as he talks with reporters on an Ontario highway. The Mohawks launched their blockades the night before the official Day of Action.

A group of Mohawks used a school bus and a campfire to shut down this highway and the Canadian National Rail line for 12 hours. A second highway was also blocked.

A young man flying a Mohawk Warrior flag leans out of his truck to peer at a news photographer at the blockade.

This masked warrior is ready for a smoke break. Masks protect the identity of activists who may be subject to police harassment for protesting.

Members of the Tsartlip First Nation and their supporters block a road on Vancouver Island on Monday to protest low standards of living and problems with the British Columbia Treaty Process. Almost all of BC is unceded First Nations territory, and dozens of land claims are languishing while the land is logged, mined, and developed with no regard for aboriginal rights and title.

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Happy Prisoners’ Justice Day!

Fri, 10 Aug 2007

Millions of people incarcerated, loss of rights, institutionalized violence and abuse – not much to celebrate, but special events are scheduled in Vancouver and Toronto. August 10, 2007 marks 32 years of Prisoners’ Justice Day.

Today, Mohawk blockader Shawn Brant gets a bail hearing. Shawn turned himself in to RCMP after he helped block a highway and railroad line on the Aboriginal Day of Action on June 29. The blockade was part of a nation-wide protest demanding action on native poverty, rights abuses, and government neglect. He’s been in jail in Napanee, ON since July 5.

Oregon forest defender Tre Arrow is fasting and meditating in his cell in Victoria, BC. Tre says informants and FBI agents set him up with false charges of eco-sabotage, and he is fighting extradition to the US. He’s been in maximum security in Canada for over three years without a trial.

John Graham, an American Indian Movement activist, is also fighting extradition to the US. He is being held in the maximum-security North Fraser centre in Port Coquitlam, BC while the Supreme Court of Canada considers his final appeal application. The FBI wants to charge John Boy with the 1976 murder of fellow AIM activist Anna Mae Aquash. The case relies on “flimsy and trumped-up evidence” and ignores the fact that before her death, an FBI agent threatened to kill Anna Mae for not cooperating with a heavy-handed investigation of AIM.

Raging Granny Betty Krawczyk is raising hell behind bars about prisoners’ living conditions at the Allouette Correctional Centre in Maple Ridge, BC. Inmates are routinely denied basic necessities like food, water, showers, and clothes for extended periods. Betty got ten months for standing in front of a bulldozer at Eagleridge Bluffs in West Vancouver two years ago, a sentence that shocked the community.

Take a moment to remember Harriet Nahanee, the First Nations grandmother who died earlier this year after serving time in jail for the Eagleridge Bluffs protest. The province has so far refused to hold an inquiry to examine if abysmal conditions at a jail in Burnaby, BC contributed to her death.

Support your favourite prisoner today! They are in there for us. We are out here for them.

What is Prisoners’ Justice Day?

…August 10, the day prisoners have set aside as a day to fast and refuse to work in a show of solidarity to remember those who have died unnecessarily — victims of murder, suicide and neglect.

…the day when organizations and individuals in the community hold demonstrations, vigils, worship services and other events in common resistance with prisoners.

…the day to raise issue with the fact that a very high rate of women are in prison for protecting themselves against their abusers. This makes it obvious that the legal system does not protect women who suffer violence at the hands of their partners.

…is the day to remember that there are a disproportionate number of Natives, African-Canadians and other minorities and marginalized people in prisons. Prisons are the ultimate form of oppression against struggles of recognition and self-determination.

…the day to raise public awareness of the demands made by prisoners to change the criminal justice system and the brutal and inhumane conditions that lead to so many prison deaths.

…the day to oppose prison violence, police violence, and violence against women and children.

…the day to publicize that, in their fight for freedom and equality, the actions of many political prisoners have been criminalized by government. As a result, there are false claims that there are no political prisoners in north american prisons.

…the day to raise public awareness of the economic and social costs of a system of criminal justice which punishes for revenge. If there is ever to be social justice, it will only come about using a model of healing justice, connecting people to the crimes and helping offenders take responsibility for their actions.

…the day to renew the struggle for HIV/AIDS education, prevention and treatment in prison.

…the day to remind people that the criminal justice system and the psychiatric system are mutually reinforcing methods that the state uses to control human beings. There is a lot of brutality by staff committed in the name of treatment. Moreover, many deaths in the psych-prisons remain uninvestigated.

Abolish double bunking!

Abolish 25 year sentences!

Abolish solitary confinement!


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Who’s Killing Canada’s Environmental Movement?

Sat, 21 Jul 2007

Update: The Canadian Environmental Network is off the chopping block, the group announced July 23. A belated decision by the Environment Ministry to release the needed funds has saved the organization for another year. “I am grateful to the environmental movement for rallying to our support last week, when our survival was in question,” said CEN chairman Steve Rison in a news release. Meanwhile, dozens of other eco-organizations await news of their fate. For some – like the Climate Change impacts research group – it’s too little, too late.


The rumour mill had the bad news first, of course. Early this year, I heard reports that Environment Canada staffers were sitting idle at their desks with nothing to do, because funding for their projects was canceled

Now we hear that a wide range of eco-groups funded by the government may be headed for extinction.

John Baird, Minister of the Environment, received hundreds of emails this week pleading for the restoration of funding to organizations and networks that depend on Ottawa’s handouts to survive.

The response from government indicates it has merely mishandled budget items it considers a low priority. Minister Baird has not yet weighed in personally, but early this week a spokesperson said the funding is under review.

On Thursday, spokesperson Mike Van Soelen seemed to be backpedaling. “This is an annual process and we’re moving forward as the department does every year to evaluate and make decisions.”

“We may be a few weeks behind where we were in a typical year,” Van Soelen added.

Some dispute the government incompetence excuse, noting similarities to how Conservatives have slashed programs in the past.

Liberal MP Geoff Regan said, “It reminds me of the way the Harper government treated literacy groups last year. It seems like the Conservatives aren’t interested in any groups that don’t fit their neocon ideology.”

Whether this is a typical screwup or not, groups that expected funding way back in April haven’t seen a dime. Some professional envirocrats have already abandoned their posts, while others are in a panic over empty bank accounts and unpaid staff salaries.

And it’s not just Environment Canada choking off the cash flow – last week Natural Resources Canada suspended funding for its climate change network.

The Canadian Climate Impacts and Adaptation Research Network closed its doors on June 30 after the federal agency quietly scuttled funding for its six regional offices and seven research sectors. Studies on adapting to rising sea levels, changing forest zones, and threats to drinking water have now run dry.

Robin Sydneysmith tells me the group didn’t get cut for lack of results or poor performance. “The network was, by and large, deemed effective by two or three audit/reviews, and was a leading example of a very ‘made in Canada’ approach to dealing with and responding to climate change,” Sydneysmith explains in an email.

All that changed when the funding was pulled for the network. “At least the national headquarters was able to keep going for one more year, but it is effectively a ‘bodiless head,’” Sydneysmith laments. “Much good will, momentum and social capital has been lost.”

A final message from CCIARN BC says, “We remain committed and involved in furthering climate change research, especially at the community level where adaptation ultimately takes place. “

Meanwhile, Canadian Press reports another national group is facing the same crisis.

The Canadian Environmental Network, a backbone of communications within Canada’s environmental movement, has warned its staff they may be laid off next week because of federal funding cuts.

The CEN is not well known because it is non-political and does not take a stand on issues, but it plays a vital role for hundreds of environmental groups, especially smaller ones that don’t have the budget for networking and communications.

Steve Rison, chair of the group’s board of directors, warned staff their jobs were at risk in an e-mail obtained by The Canadian Press.

In the memo, he says operational funding is normally obtained annually based on an April-to-March fiscal year, but no funding has been received since April 1, nor is there any assurance it will be provided.

Rison says in the memo that the group’s executive director, Susan Tanner, is working without pay because there is no money for her salary.

Losing the Canadian Environmental Network could affect 800 or so grassroots groups, plus dozens more that rely directly on Ottawa, including:

The EcoAction Community Funding Program which provides financial support to community groups for projects “that have measurable, positive impacts on the environment,” in the words of the Environment Canada web site.

Learning for a Sustainable Future, which “works with educators from across Canada to integrate the concepts and principles of sustainable development into the curricula at all grade levels,” also according to the official web site.

The Atlantic Coastal Action Program set up by Environment Canada 1991 “to mobilize local communities to address their own environmental and developmental challenges.” The programs supports 16 local groups throughout the four Atlantic provinces.

Regan condemned the government for starving Atlantic groups while the government sits on a multibillion dollar surplus.

“These are all groups that are working to preserve and enhance our coastal ecosystems. That’s incredibly important. We’re talking here about restoring and sustaining key watersheds and adjacent coastal areas,” Regan said.

Oh, but don’t lose hope just yet. Decisions are still pending, and the rumour mill is working overtime. The latest speculation says the Ministry may restore funding to previous lackluster levels, thanks to a furious outpouring of emails and phone calls.

Either way. this past week has helped to show who has the guts to carry on even after the funding is gone, who’s willing to push back, and who flees like a rat from a sinking ship.

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Tree Huggers Gone Wild!

Tue, 12 Jun 2007

A fast photo rewind of the Wild Earth Rendezvous and the latest Bear Mountain actions.

First up is Cristina, Wild Earth’s volunteer coordinator, with an awesome display of dexterity and teamwork in defense of Bear Mountain at the World Naked Bike Ride in Victoria on June 9.

Photos: Clare A. (Click for the full-size image.)

The banner crew hijacked the parade and led the crowd to the BC Legislature.

Another volunteer climbed a tree and hung a billboard-sized banner next to the Trans Canada Highway on June 8.

Back at the Wild Earth rendezvous and action training last week, the wildflowers were blooming.

Photos: Red Cedar.

Hala’qwit, the Ditidaht First Nation song keeper, welcomed the campers with his daughter.

GNN’s Frank The Stimulator Lopez shared some laughs with Qwatsinas, a Nuxalk hereditary chief, at the Guerrilla Lounge.

Niki admired the giant Sitka Spruces.

“My name is Matthew but they call me John.” Hala’qwit’s nephew.

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Direct Action is the Antidote to Despair

Mon, 21 May 2007

Training camp teaches more than just protest tactics

Alex Patterson unbuckles the harness he’s been wearing since breakfast. The young man’s khaki pants are smeared with dirt and his hair is festooned with moss and bits of bark. He shakes out the straps of the harness and untangles the dangling ropes and clips. A second tree-climber steps out of the woods, sweaty but smiling, and gives Patterson a pat on the back. “Thanks for the lesson, man. That was awesome,” the young woman says as she turns toward the kitchen tent. “Right on. Come back tomorrow if you want to learn stirruping,” Patterson calls after her.

In front of the kitchen, a large yellow signboard proclaims, “Welcome to Wild Earth.” A second board lists the day’s workshops and ferry schedule. Three people are chopping potatoes and onions for dinner. Another strums a guitar. Two youngsters chase each other around the picnic table. On the other side of the meadow, a crowd of people mills around before forming into two lines. On a signal from the non-violence trainer, one group moves forward, shouting, waving fists, and even pushing members of the second group, who say little but hold the line by keeping their arms linked together. After a couple of minutes, the trainer calls a halt and the two groups switch roles.

The Wild Earth gathering at Newcastle Island Provincial Park in June 2006 marked seven years of training and networking for eco-action in BC. Since 1999, organizers say eight hundred people have attended seventy-five workshops on topics ranging from civil disobedience to indigenous rights. The annual “boot camp” is hosted by an independent, ad hoc group of volunteers. A grant from Rainforest Action Network covered the cost of climbing gear and transportation in 2006. Most of the food and supplies are donated by the community.

After hearing about the gathering for the first time in 2006, Patterson decided to hitchhike from Ontario to British Columbia to teach others how to climb trees. Patterson is a veteran of the Red Hill tree sits that blocked a highway project near Hamilton, and he believes more forest activists should embrace non-violent action.

“Direct action is the first and last line of defense,” Patterson says. “It’s the only way people at the grassroots level can really affect things. It sidesteps all the layers of bureaucracy and legal barriers created by people in power in order to keep themselves in power and prevent us from creating meaningful change.”

When the situation requires blockades and tree sits, forest activists need to know which strategies work. That’s why training is so crucial, Patterson says. “Whatever the moral and ethical issues of direct action, there’s very important tactical issues. If people don’t know how to do this stuff, they come to confrontations unprepared. And if we’re not prepared, the police take us to jail.”

Chief Qwatsinas (Ed Moody), of the Nuxalk Nation’s House of Smayusta, is traveling from Bella Coola to Vancouver Island to deliver a Wild Earth keynote address on problems with the Great Bear Rainforest agreement. Qwatsinas has spent more than thirteen years fighting to protect the coast, starting in 1994 when the Nuxalk invited Greenpeace to their traditional territory to witness large-scale clearcut logging. The following year, Greenpeace teamed up with the Nuxalk and other environmental groups to launch the Great Bear Rainforest campaign.

“I still remember back quite a while ago when Greenpeace was first developing; they were really brave and believed in what they’re doing,” Qwatsinas recalls. “And then it slowly began to change. The centre has shifted.”

In 1997, Nuxalk members and their allies – Greenpeace, Forest Action Network, Bear Watch and People’s Action for Threatened Habitat – blocked logging operations on Roderick Island, King Island and Ista, which is sacred to the Nuxalk as the place where the first woman came to earth. Two dozen Nuxalk people were arrested that year, including Qwatsinas.

Now, he says, the protests are more timid. “A lot of people are scared of tactics from the other side, arresting tactics and reporting tactics. You develop a criminal record from being a part of the action.“

But Qwatsinas is not intimidated. “If that’s what it takes, to be labeled a terrorist, then let’s save the trees.”

Qwatsinas and the House of Smayusta did not sign on to the Great Bear Rainforest agreement, which was announced in February 2006. He feels the compromise gives away too much of the forest, and he says the rate of logging has on the coast has increased dramatically in the past year.

“It’s talk and log,” says Qwatsinas. “It’s not a victory. Everyone loses.”

In the past few years, BC’s long tradition of non-violent resistance to forest destruction has virtually disappeared. Qwatsinas blames Greenpeace for pulling the plug on the blockades during the Great Bear negotiations.

“They made the Central Coast an environmental-protest-free zone,” Qwatsinas says. “We can’t go out and blockade or protest. We’re neutralized, really. They’re handcuffed. How are you going to set forth your demands at the table when your will is broken?”

But compromise is not an option when defending sacred land, and Qwatsinas predicts the recent lull in peaceful resistance won’t last. “I think people will start to realize what’s going on and start to create those movements. I think direct action will start to blow back into the picture again. There’s only so much abuse and sacrifice the wildlife and the environment can take.”

Vancouver Island activist and Wild Earth presenter Ingmar Lee agrees that grassroots action is crucial when it comes to real change. “The successes have come from individual grassroots efforts that have basically bypassed the entrenched bureaucratic environmental institutions that have been sucking up the enviro-buck and just not getting the kind of accomplishments we need,” Lee says. “In the Gordon Campbell world, we have to confront – directly confront – and go out there and take it on ourselves to defend the forests.”

Lee understands the need for no-compromise action. As a key member of the campaign to save Cathedral Grove from a misguided parking lot, he spent over two years helping to coordinate a campaign of road-blocking and tree-sitting that ultimately forced the province to back off.

Wild Earth organizer Tim Dobbyn has committed a big part of his life to the training camp. “I think direct action works because it is immediate,” the 23-year old North Vancouver resident explains. “Indirect methods can work, but they take more time; time forests and people don’t have, in some cases. Direct actions also raise the consciousness about issues, bringing more attention and more hands to help.”

Dobbyn attended the first Wild Earth gathering in 1999, when he was 15. Now the campout is a family event, with his partner Fern and his two small children. He says, “Wild Earth 1999 was the first environmentalist event I ever went to, also the first time I ever skipped school for more than one class, the first time I went camping without my parents — a major formative event in my life.”

For Dobbyn, the training camp teaches more than just protest tactics. “We’re here to strengthen bonds with friends, make new friends, learn new skills and ideas, and build radical community.”

The Wild Earth Rendezvous takes place June 1 – 7 at a backcountry forest camp southwest of Cowichan Lake on Vancouver Island. More than two dozen workshops are scheduled. Admission is by donation and includes meals, snacks, and childcare for the week. More information and directions are available online at the Wild Earth Blog.

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