Tag Archives: Politics

Road Kill

Thu, 10 Jan 2008

New highway blocked by protesting “Raccoons”
The barricade at the end of the road is decorated with freshly-planted poinsettias in a mound of earth. Yellow plastic sunflowers, two graffitied TV sets and an oversize truck tire line a meter-wide trench just past the pavement’s end. They mark the boundary between the city and a protest camp occupied by a new generation of Canadian environmental protestors: the Raccoons.

The Raccoons are a ragtag mob of irregulars holding back a major highway interchange project designed to service Bear Mountain, a sprawling golf resort in Langford, just west of Victoria, B.C. A few dozen dumpster-diving, trash-talking, anti-authoritarians with a passion for undisturbed natural places have built a camp in the path of the new highway. The proposed interchange cuts through a pocket of forest packed with natural and cultural rarities: a sacred First Nations cave, a seasonal pond, garry oak meadows, arbutus bluffs, red-legged frogs and chocolate lilies.

Right now the Bear Mountain Tree Sit looks like a gloomy, swampy hobo camp, dotted with tents, tree forts at dizzying heights overhead, and a giant teepee covered with tarps. “A tarpee,” notes one of the campers.

“This is the only example of eco-anarchist action in Canada right now,” says Ingmar Lee, a Victoria environmentalist and camp supporter. “This is the grassroots, and it’s a totally different kind of protest.” Hundreds of people in the community directly support the camp with donations of food, camping gear, and funds for legal defense.

Almost all the Raccoons are under 25, and some are veterans of the Cathedral Grove treesit protest, which lasted two years and ultimately defeated a B.C. Parks plan to cut down giant trees to build a parking lot. Here, the first platform went up in April. Five more followed, and they are staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Kicking the protest camp off public property is a sticky legal issue, and so far no one has moved to start a court case. But Stewart Young, the gung-ho pro-development mayor of Langford, is ramping up his criticism. The mayor’s rumblings peaked with Young accusing the campers of poaching deer and rabbits at the site.

Young said bylaw officers found a deer carcass near the camp in the woods. “We’ve respected their right to protest, but killing deer and rabbits is absolutely disgusting,” Young told the Goldstream News Gazette in December. The city directed the RCMP and conservation officers to investigate and lay charges if they find out who is responsible. No one has been charged.

Two neighbors who live adjacent to the forest said it’s not the campers who are killing animals. “There’s been poaching in this area for decades,” said an elderly neighbor on Goldstream Avenue who declined to give his name.

“We’ve called the conservation officers about deer carcasses a couple times a year ever since I’ve lived here,” said Ron Rayner, a long-time resident who lives just north of the camp and the TransCanada Highway. “It’s an ongoing problem.”

Langford resident Bob Partridge is “skeptical” about the mayor’s claims. He writes, “[J]ust now, as construction is supposed to begin on the Spencer Road Interchange, the protesters/activists who have previously been requesting donations of whole grains, have apparently suddenly become carnivores, slaughtering innocent animals in the woods of Langford?”

“Are we certain they are also not sleeping on duvets stuffed with spotted owl feathers?” Partridge asked sarcastically.

Some of the campers admit they eat deer, rabbits and even raccoons – but they insist they are not hunting . The meat is road kill collected from the TransCanada Highway, one tree sitter told A Channel News. Another pointed out the hypocrisy of building a highway that will mangle more animals, while simultaneously trying to cast the environmentalists as bunny killers. A third wondered aloud if Stewart Young was vegan.

RCMP and bylaw enforcement officers tell us the Raccoons are “guests of the city of Langford,” and they even allow them to have a campfire without a permit. Back in April, Young huffed to reporters, “They are on provincial land right now and it’s going to be a year or so before we get to the point of having to go there, so they can sit there as long as they want.” The protestors took him at his word and set up a kitchen, where they cook raccoon stew, venison steaks, and bunny burgers.

No doubt the tree sit gives Young a royal pain in the ass, but the blustery mayor has bigger fish to fry. Langford City Council, in a “special” meeting convened two days after Christmas, made the unusual move of adopting two new bylaws, rather than just giving them first reading. One bylaw authorizes borrowing $25 million to build the interchange, while the second exempts the process from the usual counter-petition process, which normally would give citizens the right to challenge a decision.

The community’s response is a roar of outrage. Many residents of Langford, it seems, are more irate about the apparent abuse of process than about the imminent loss of green space, wetlands, and rare species. Dozens of volunteers are joining forces to canvass the city with a (non-binding) petition to reject the bylaws.

Steven Hurdle of Langford is organizing the petition drive. “While Langford may have found a legal loophole in declaring the interchange a ‘Local Service Area’ to let them avoid the referendum, we can still win the political war,” he writes. “Langford council might find this an albatross that’s unexpectedly hanging around their neck as this issue drags on.”

Back at the camp, tree sitters and visitors are critiquing the City of Langford’s annual levee tour. Every New Year’s, politicos across the region open up their offices to the public, with free booze and food for all.

Well, not quite all. “They only had bag lunches for like 25 people,” one complains. “I got there at the end and there was no more food. So I took all the tea bags that were left.”

Another camper pipes up, “That punch was weak.”

“Yeah, the punch was watered down, so we had to drink more of it to get a buzz.”

“Yeah, that’s why we brought our own cups. We did it up proper with the cups.”

“We asked if we could take their poinsettias with us, but they said no. ”

Laughter. “We kept asking and we wouldn’t leave. Then after a while, they gave us the poinsettias just so we would leave.”

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The Saddest Pagan in the World

Tue, 25 Dec 2007

Singing the blues in Langford. Photo by Pete Rockwell.

Along with all the other shit that went down this past month, I got hit with the stomach flu, and that triggered fresh spasms of health problems. I’m on drugs now, but they’re not fun drugs. At least I don’t have to worry about getting fat.

The local paper has publicly labeled the Bear Mountain tree sit crew as tree-spikers, vandals, welfare bums, poachers, and outside agitators. The RCMP and city enforcement officers stepped up their harassment this week after the forest defenders dug a trench and built a barricade across the access road at the site of the new highway bypass.

The campers are in high spirits. Six platforms are now occupied by brave souls who are risking their freedom to protect the Langford Lake Cave, Spencer’s Pond, the wetlands, the screech owls, great horned owls, red-legged frogs and arbutus trees. Supporters and volunteers bring food, blankets, and cash donations. The legal defense fund is swollen with contributions as we brace for the inevitable court battle.

Physical and emotional distress have been keeping me away from the camp for long periods. But Saturday night, I was hanging out in the forest, watching low clouds fly across the face of the nearly-full moon, when the shout came from the road. Three RCMP cruisers pulled up at high speed, the lead car braking too late to avoid plunging partway into the trench at the end of the road. The headlights came straight at us, and then dipped down sharply. I thought, “Oh shit, they’re gonna be pissed.”

They were. I ducked behind the welcome tent as the officers stormed into the camp. “You’re all under arrest,” the biggest one boomed out, shining a high-powered light at the four young men in front of him. I hit the dirt, face down in the wet leaves and low brush right behind the tent.

Shouts, running feet pounding down the trail, and the rest of the crew booked it into the woods. “Don’t move!” barked the officer at the four standing their ground. “Everyone’s under arrest.” To another officer: “Take that crap down.” The second officer grabbed the makeshift tent and began to tear its tarp roof from the log beams. A few feet away, I cowered down closer to the ground, barely breathing. The lights shone back and forth, up and down.

Then my cell phone rang. I scrambled to shut it off. All the beams turned in my direction. “What’s that?” barked the officer. “Go check it out.” I melded with the mud and wet leaves at the base of a scrawny dogwood. The lights came closer. Then a shout from the woods pulled them away again.

I was plotting my chances of escape, so I could call the lawyers and bail the tree people out of jail. But there was no need. The cops held the men for half an hour, took their names and gave a lecture. No camping on the roadway. Then everyone was released.

Now I’m back home in the old farmhouse that I share with three other people and assorted visitors camping out on the living room couches. But there is only one bathroom. I keep a bucket with a tight-fitting lid in the bedroom, since my gut rot won’t let me wait around for a vacancy. The room is lovely, with a high ceiling and bay windows, and right now it stinks of shit and incense.

Thanks to the gastritis, the stomach flu, the stress and everything else, my immune system is shot to hell. My sinuses are oozing bright yellow snot and I’m woozy from fever. I’m broke and in debt.

It was obvious that there would be no Christmas for me this year.

But late last night, I heard a commotion on the porch. My friend Rose Henry was knocking on the door. “Merry Christmas,” she said. The man behind her was lugging a hamper filled with mandarin oranges, cranberry sauce, canned veggies, pasta, stuffing mix, candy, and even toilet paper. I almost cried.

One of the roommates got a turkey, and he’s invited a couple friends over for an orphans’ Christmas tonight. I’m making the stuffing.

It makes me think — even the saddest pagan in the world might find happiness at Christmas.

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Tree Sit Braces for a Showdown

Sun, 16 Dec 2007

From Infoshop.org and our December 15 press release.

Rally against the interchange, December 8, 2007. (Photos by Pete)

Bear Mountain Tree Sitters Bracing for a Showdown

Since April 2007, people have been occupying a large piece of land in Langford, British Columbia, Canada in order to stop the construction of a four-lane cloverleaf interchange. The interchange is being built to service the recent Bear Mountain developments (golf course, luxury homes, etc.). The land that is to be used for the road construction includes many culturally and ecologically sensitive sites including a large garry oak ecosystem, a sacred cave, a pond, and culturally modified trees. People have been resisting the Bear Mountain developments for some time, but the city of Langford and the developers have been plowing forward with their plans.

A series of visits from RCMP and Langford bylaw enforcement officers in the past few days has put the campers on high alert. On Friday, December 14, police walked into the camp and took photographs of everyone they saw. Bylaw enforcement officers also photographed people and the camp. Work crews removed two banners on Highway 1 Friday afternoon, and police threatened to arrest the campers if they interfered. A new banner was raised Friday evening.

The city is expected to demand a court order to remove the campers so interchange construction can begin. As of Friday, volunteers had raised five platforms to the tops of the trees, up to 120 feet (40 meters) off the ground, in an effort to stop the project so that environmental and cultural values can be protected. Another platform is set to be raised on Saturday, December 15.

In April, a loosely-organized group established a camp in the woods to protect the wetlands, forest, cave, and wildlife from the development. The area around Spencer’s Pond and the Langford Lake Cave at the north end of Leigh Road is valued by local residents as a park and green space. The new interchange is likely to decimate the cave, the pond, the underground geology and the diverse wildlife in the area.

Volunteers have conducted their own survey of the flora and fauna in the path of the new highway project. Some of the results are online at the Treesit Blog, along with maps, photos, background and links for more information.

Rose Henry (centre) speaks to the crowd about indigenous rights.

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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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Tree Sit Diary, Part 2

Tue, 4 Sep 2007

It’s the first weekend in September and I’m back at the tree sit near Victoria, BC. With the cold wind and light rain, it still feels like April. Almost five months after I first climbed up to the platform, the camp at the end of the road now boasts a motley assortment of tarps, tents, bikes, tables, stoves, coolers, and gear bags stretching across the hill above the tree house.

Langford cave. Photo: Kevin Slagboom

The legendary Langford Cave is guarded by a thirty-foot tripod over the entrance. In June, an elder from the Songhees Nation informed the campers and the city that the cave – a 40-meter-long karst cavity – is a place of cultural significance for indigenous people. He said the cave has a name in the Songhees language, but the Songhees keep their spiritual practices secret and he is not permitted to reveal the name of the cave.

This was a few weeks after city contractors showed up with a bulldozer, rock drills and welding equipment, intending to bulldoze a path to the cave and close it off with a concrete and metal grate. A dozen campers met the crew at the end of the road and politely refused to move aside and let them go to work. The tripod went up soon after, and the crew has not returned. Members of the Songhees and Tsartlip nations thanked us for defending the cave

Tripod over the cave. Photo: Clare A.

A couple hundred people have visited over the summer, including cavers, neighbours, botanists and birders. The bluffs above the camp are home to a rare and flourishing Garry Oak meadow. The oaks survive in a few undisturbed pockets on southern Vancouver Island, co-existing with wild camas and other wildflowers on rocky park-like knolls.

Garry Oaks covered with moss and lichen on the bluff above Langford Cave.

The sun has gone down and it’s dark under the tree canopy. I’ve strapped on the harness and clipped it to the rope that’s anchored sixty feet above, and I’m ready to climb the cedar again. Physically I’m in worse shape than last time, thanks to a flare-up of the chronic pain and weakness all down my left side. But so what? Paraplegics are climbing mountains these days. I could always sit at home and feel sorry for myself, but what good would that do?

I shimmy up the rope with no problems (hooray!) and clamber onto the platform. The tent and tarps look just the same. A couple dozen people have stayed up here since then, and everything is stowed away neatly, but I can sense their presence. There is new graffiti on the plywood.

Just because you fell and died

Doesn’t mean you didn’t fly.

— Lurch

Under the tarp below, the lamp is lit and a couple visitors are telling the campers about the roadkill deer they’re eating. This is the third or fourth deer they’ve found on the highway in the last couple months. Dozens of young people in Victoria survive without jobs or welfare by dumpster-diving and scavenging, and a few come out to the camp whenever they need a place to sleep or hang out.

Cars and trucks whir past on the highway. I turn on the flashlight and write. The small circle illuminates the white tarps and the red cedar tree that forms the centrepiece of the platform. The blackness beyond presses in. Eventually I switch off the light, crawl into the sleeping bag and sleep, deeply and completely.

Labour Day is cool and rainy – no surprise. Two new volunteers have arrived, full of enthusiasm for the camp and the tree sit. I rappel down to the ground and join them for breakfast – corn flour pancakes and tea made from vanilla leaf and nettles growing on the hill.

The proposed interchange route (in black) would blast right through the cave, the wetlands, and part of the Garry Oak bluff. Composite image courtesy of Rob Bowen.

Langford city staff told us last week that the interchange is going ahead as planned in spite of the outcry over protecting the cave, the bluffs, the wetlands, and endangered species in the area. The staff said they see no reason to consult with the public about the interchange project. We don’t agree, so we’re launching an unofficial Community Environmental Consultation this month.

The police are leaving the camp alone, but it seems clear that civil disobedience by itself won’t stop this misguided interchange project. The city could order us out at any time. That’s why I’ve been working my ass off consulting with lawyers, experts, activists and community groups. That’s why we’re bringing all their concerns forward in public – to put the government on notice that it’s no longer acceptable to disregard rare species, First Nations’ rights, and the will of the community when fast-tracking massive highway development projects. I’ll keep you posted as the battle grinds on.

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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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