Tag Archives: Guantanamo

Why Canada is Racist

It’s a shameful fact that I’d like to see less of, that Canada is racist. I’m lucky enough to have been raised without racism. I don’t understand it. But then some of it is subtle. It’s not always about the color of a person’s skin but a person being other, not one of us. Outsiders need not apply.

Canada’s own interior racism (or should I say racial profiling) includes the interment camps for people of Japanese ancestry during WWII. Those people were uprooted for fear that because of their original nationality, even if they were born here, that they would betray Canada to Japan. Guilty by association, and in fact guilty even if innocent. These people lost homes and livelihoods and many of them never regained their properties. Vancouver’s Japantown is nonexistent these days.

Even older than that was of course the treatment of various First Nations bands (once called Indians and called Native Americans in the US). Many people were corralled onto reservations. While BC’s west coast fared better and many bands had fur and trade deals with early settlers and the Hudson’s Bay there were still many infringements on the culture including the nefarious residential schools. In some cases, First Nations people were punished if they used their own language, did their own rituals or anything else that represented their culture. They were also physically, emotionally and sexually abused. As well, many people were uprooted from where they lived and in the case of some Inuit, promised all sorts of things to move farther North to protect Canada’s sovereignty, where life was extremely hard and isolating.

We could say that these are issues of the past but the truth is no country is completely free of racism and bigotry. Canada still has many issues with First Nations where they are treated as second class citizens and live in appalling conditions. People of color (whether Native or black or…) are still arrested or harassed more frequently by some police departments. Prostitutes are still treated as if their lives don’t matter. After Willie Picton’s rampage and disturbing murders of so many street workers over the years and the lackadaisical attitude of the police in searching for these missing women (some who were First Nations on top of that), at least some police departments pay more attention now.

So you could say we’re trying to improve. And I would like to think on an individual level that most people are decent and treat people equally. It’s how I was raised. I never called someone a name because of the color of their skin or their race. I’ve dated men of all colors. I have what I call a soft racist friend. She works with and gets along with people of color and other races but she would never think of dating one.

It is something that everyone as an individual must be constantly aware of and try to curb. We can all fall into an “us and them” mentality and it’s insidious and dangerous. But we could say that our country at least has a human rights policy and upholds international standards of protecting the rights of the individual and helping those who are subjugated whether children, women, racial minorities, religious groups or any persecuted group. You could say that about a country but Canada is sliding a slippery slope toward a dictatorial regime.

I can’t yet draw comparisons to Hitler’s Germany and his persecution and murder of millions of Jews, Gypsies and homosexuals. (Yes, those three groups were targeted.) But if Steven Harper’s nearly totalitarian clutch on his ministers continues and his blatant disregard for the rights of Canadians continues, I won’t be far off.

Canada is hiding its face in shame over the issues of the following people and their problems. Suaad Mohamad was stuck in Kenya for three months when she went to visit her mother and was accused of being an impostor by Canadian consular officials.  Anab Issa took her autistic son Abdihakim Mohamed to Kenya to see if it would help him. He was not allowed to return and Issa was told that he wasn’t her son. Sound familiar? Then there was Abousfian Abdelrazik stuck in Sudan after being accused of being an Al Qaeda confidante of some sort. Cleared of charges by CSIS and the government, still Harper’s Conservatives would not let the man back in the country. Abdelrazik jumped numerous hoops but lived at the Canadian embassy and was in limbo for years, denied time and again his passport.

Debra Martin was jailed in Mexico, accidentally embroiled in her boss’s dealings. She was the cook I believe. When media finally got involved Canada sent a private jet for her release. Omar Khadr, the only person of a western nation and the only Canadian, still resides in Guantanamo and Harper and his henchmen are challenging yet another court ruling that they are infringing on Khadr’s rights.

Worse than that, they’re taking on the nightmarish doublespeak of 1984 and censoring such words as “child soldier,” “gender equality” and “international humanitarian law.” What’s next? Women are just incubation machines? Our elected members of parliament will not be allowed to say Khadr was a child soldier. What happens if they say this? Are they shipped of to a gulag or Guantanamo and never heard from again. Sure, governments change laws but it seems the Canadian government is changing the law to get their way. They’re doing it on the sly and they’re doing it against those they consider “other.” And they are setting a dangerous precedent toward bigotry and racism.

And what do all of these people have in common? They were Canadian citizens who went abroad and were abandoned by their government. What do all of these people except Deb Martin have in common? They’re brown skinned, with foreign sounding names and probably most of them are Muslim. Why do we even know about many of them? Because the media had to start pointing out what the government wasn’t doing. What does this say about the Canadian government? They’re willing to abandon you if you go abroad and you’re not white with a last name like Smith or White. I could be okay should I fall afoul in another country but I’m a woman and the government could be changing wording so that instead of saying “woman” we will soon say “second class citizen.” I certainly have faith in their racism and bigotry but not in them protecting humanitarian rights.

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Big Brother IS Watching, You and You and Me

George Orwell, like a fair number of science fiction  writers (Clarke, Heinlein, Asimov, Dick and others), visualized some aspect of a future world, perhaps an alternate world but created a story nonetheless that had some essence of things to come.

As Wikipedia says: The novel has become famous for its portrayal of pervasive government surveillance and control, and government’s increasing encroachment on the rights of the individual. Since its publication, many of its terms and concepts, such as “Big Brother“, “doublethink“, and “Newspeak” have entered the popular vernacular.

Indeed, the phrase “Big Brother is watching” is synonymous with too much government control, or the totalitarianism that Orwell feared. After 9/11 and the right-wing paranoia of the Bush administration we saw the rise of Homeland Security, where people’s rights were taken away. Some disappeared into Guantanamo without anyone knowing where they went, without any legal aid or advice. Others, while flying through the US, were shipped off to other countries for torture, regardless of what their citizenship was.  The phrase “Homeland Security” is reminiscent of the Fatherland (Hitler’s Third Reich) and the Motherland (Communist Russia). Though these last two are examples of extreme right wing and extreme left wing governments, they both encompass a totalitarianism and the circumventing of the rights of the individual, for the greater good, for the country.

It used to be that a camera trained on you and watching your every move was considered an invasion of privacy. Many years ago, before Homeland Security, my boyfriend had a friend in Calgary that worked for the local telecommunications company (at that time AGT–Alberta Government Telephones). He could not say what he did but it involved hidden cameras trained onto the streets outside the buildings. Every war commander knows that the way to break the enemy, to overcome them, is to either hinder or monitor their communications.  So every wise nation protects its communications and every ambitious or suspicious nation spies on its perceived enemies and communicates what it sees.

There are numerous instances of spy planes and spies. We accept that that is what countries do. There are cameras on you at the border or at your bank machine, to protect you. There are cameras on the roads now, webcams we call them, that show us the line-up at ferries, or freeways, or intersections, or borders. These are all informative pictures that we can use to plan around daily obstacles. But that is not their main purpose. They are surveillance methods to watch and control people, and to identify someone should there have been an accident, a murder, an escape.

There are those that argue that we need the greater security. We need protection from the evil terrorist/mugger/alien/your favorite bad guy. And yes, we do need some form of security, but there comes a time when government or police forces are also watching too much and our individual freedom is curtailed. I would say there is not one person who has not committed a small crime or infringement, whether it’s lying, cheating, jaywalking, running a yellow light, or drinking too much. Which means, that we’re all human and if allowed our little indiscretions, will most likely not make the bigger ones.

When I worked for Nokia, there were cameras everywhere. Corporate espionage is high. However, with all those cameras in the halls and the reception area, they were not allowed to train cameras on our workspaces, nor in the bathrooms. I’m not sure what the exact law it but watching someone 24/7 is not allowed. The head of security also told us that though they viewed all video footage they could not report on such things as two people having sex in the office. This video footage was only for such crimes as theft and breaking and entering.

Sarnia, Ontario is upset over a US surveillance balloon that watches over the river. The company claims it can be used for disaster planning, and other situations that arise. However, the mayor of Sarnia says that when the balloon (with camera inside that can see for 5 miles) first went up the company said it was for Homeland Security, but now they sing another song and say it’s not trained on Sarnia and it’s just research.

Google Earth has already heard concerns about their filming of much of the world, down to vans with cameras driving on the streets. And that many of these cameras take a picture of everything on the street, including you getting into your car, coming and going, and in some cases right into your windows to see what you’re up to. Sure, they claim it’s inadvertent but the pictures of us are showing up everywhere, even if we eliminate You Tube.

The 2010 Olympics will see a gigantic increase in security forces in and around Vancouver. They will be putting up many more cameras than are already up, by government and private businesses. After the Athens Olympics all extra cameras were supposed to come down. Instead the police turned them into citizen surveillance systems. Hello, Big Brother. BC’s privacy commissioner has promised that we won’t have the same situation.

Taken from A Report on Camera Surveillance in Canada: “Despite the growth in CCTV, there is not convincing  research evidence that it aids in deterring, responding to and investigating crime.” That’s just one study but the Big Brother security folks want to sell cameras and keep their jobs and probably think we should live in a society that watches your every move and therefore you must behave. http://www.surveillanceproject.org/files/SCAN_Report_Phase1_Final_Jan_30_2009.pdf

There is a group counting the cameras in Greater Vancouver before the Olympics so that people can, in general be aware of how much surveillance there always is. But if you plan to come to the Olympics and actually venture anywhere public in Vancouver, you can bet that you’ll be filmed. In fact, there is probably not a street in any commercial area that doesn’t have one camera or another. It’s pretty impossible to remain invisible these days unless you’re in the boonies. Big Brother is here, and is watching all of us right now.  And maybe, just maybe, Big Brother likes to watch.

 

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Happy Barackobamaday

It’s got a certain ring to it, doesn’t it?

It’s Obama Tuesday and the end of an old regime is being punted far and wide. We must not forget to thank George Bush. After all, he’s given us such lovely catch phrases as “axis of evil,” “war on terror,” and not new to him alone but well beaten into the ground: “weapons of mass destruction,” except these ones were make believe.

But then, George should have known what they looked like because which country is the only one to have ever used a weapon of mass destruction? Why the US of course, on Hiroshima. And therefore you’d think he would have a few fellas who would know what they looked like, but even they couldn’t find any in Iraq.

We can thank George for invading other countries, for incarcerating prisoners of war in Guantanamo without voice, counsel or aid because he called them terrorists. Sure, some may have been but without any legal aid, how do we know? George’s voice and his catch phrases made me cringe so much I couldn’t stand listening to him.

We can thank George for bringing the US dollar to its lowest point in recent history. And though it could be argued he’s not directly to blame for these things, I’m sure there is lots of correlation between the highest price of oil, the financial crashes, oh and the highest number of troops dead since Viet Nam. Thanks, George. You’ve made sure you won’t be forgotten and you’ve replaced tricky Dicky as the most reviled president ever. Yep, that makes you number one. In fact, Al Capone kinda looks nice in comparison.

Let’s not forget that Georgie has also brought us very close to World War III, with threats to Iran and Korea. But that’s all right, he knew he was right and God was on his side (weren’t the Crusaders saying this as they skewered men, women and children too?), and he has remained unrepentant. There’s seems to be one light burning in the dim fog of George’s eight-year folly; he did supposedly bring more aid to a beleaguered and often overlooked Africa. No one is pure evil (I hope.)

In Vancouver, pubs and cafes are planning on holding Barack parties tonight. Remember, this is Canada where we don’t make a fuss if a movie star walks by us and we don’t party crazily for our own (lackluster) politicians, let alone a US president. But let’s face it, next to George Bush, even Nixon could have done better. That Barack Obama is charismatic, good looking and a great orator certainly doesn’t hurt. That he seems to have integrity and is of mixed race is even better. He will hopefully not be (possibly never could be) as bigoted as Bush’s regime. (Does anyone remember hurricane Katrina and the reticent aid there?)

But Barack has a huge pile of doo-doo to clean up and George even wrecked the shovels. That’s a lot to carry and he’ll be walking a tightrope between not fulfilling the wild dreams and wishes of Americans and in doing what he can with a now much more limited budget. I doubt he’ll be perfect. We are, after all, human. But I really hope Barack will keep his religion far from his politics. It’s fine to be religious, just not to push that into your governance.

Barack, I wish you well. The hope of not just a nation falls on your shoulders, but the hope of the world. We know you’ll pull us back from the brink of suicidal, egomaniacal war. But you have corrupt systems left, right and center to deal with (let’s see, car companies, oil companies, CIA, FBI, weapons manufacturers, fundamentalists, NRA, etc.) and they make up some of the foundation of good ole America.

I’ll raise a toast to Barack tonight as a light that can only get brighter. And I’ll say so long, Georgie. Don’t let the White House gate whack your ass on the way out. Hope your resume is up to date. But who knows, maybe we’ll see you in the news again when they charge you with war crimes.

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Omar Khadr, Politics and Guantanamo

From CBC’s website: http://www.cbc.ca/news/background/khadr/omar-khadr.html

On March 31, 2008, Senator Romeo Dallaire added his name to the growing list of people calling for the Canadian Government to do more to get Omar Khadrout of Guantanamo Bay and back into Canada. Khadr has been held without trial at the U.S. military prison there for five and a half years. He’s being tried for the murder of a U.S. soldier in Afghanistan in 2002, and questioned repeatedly about his own and his family’s links to al Qaeda.

There has been much ado about Omar Khadr, the child soldier caught during one of the Afghanistan raids by US forces. He’s the only Canadian still held at Guantanamo Bay and is finally, supposedly coming to trial. But there are complications. Part is that he was a brainwashed teenager who believed in fundamental Islam. The Canadian government hasn’t wanted to dirty its hands and his family here has come across as unsympathetic in their support Al Qaeda beliefs.

However, there are some fundamental aspects to war and Guantanamo Bay that I’m finding hard to fathom. Guantanamo, holding pen for people on the wrong side of George Bush’s crusade. I’m betting that 90% or more of them have brown skin. I’m betting a fair number are Muslims. Today CBC was talking about the unwanted in Guantanamo Bay. Nine hundred people have been processed through there in seven years. And most of those people were innocent, probably living quietly now and too afraid or ashamed to mention what happened, that the US made a mistake, a huge mistake There are another five hundred still there and most of them will never be charged. What to do with them.

Well, the US is trying to send them off to other countries or their home countries, to settle back in. But the US will not send people to a country that has other human rights issues. Does anyone else see the irony in this?Hello? What was being held for seven years without representation or a trial? Putting the people on Guantanamo Bay instead of US soil doesn’t excuse US policy and the military for infringement of rights. We could call this one of the biggest follies in recent history. George Bush’s little rug under which to sweep the dirty politics.

Now, of those people who don’t want to go back to their home countries (because they’d be tortured) or the US won’t send them, well they’re stuck waiting for some other country to help the US clean up its mess. The US, for some odd reason, doesn’t want to actually repatriate any of these people in the US. Come on, CIA, you can watch those potential bad guys right on your own doorstep.

Okay, so Guantanamo is made up of a mixture of several groups. Some are people picked up as suspected terrorists. You can bet that anyone they thought for sure was active was already shipped to a country with “soft” human rights when it comes to prisoners, and that those people were already tortured for information.  Just look at Canadian citizen Maher Arar, who after being sent to Syria by US officials for torture, was found to be innocent. Even after that, the US refuses to give him an apology. http://www.cbc.ca/news/background/arar/

We know there are many other innocents, people in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong color skin, who ended up in Guantanamo. There are also those who have fought against the US in Afghanistan or Iraq. Hmm, let’s see, the US invaded Iraq and Afghanistan. Not to say that there wasn’t huge subjugation and injustices perpetrated against those citizens but I always thought that soldiers (whether paid or volunteer) were taken as prisoners of war. Those taken, say, in WWII, who were Nazis, were usually released back at the end of the war. Those who had committed unspeakable humans rights violations were tried for those crimes that contravened the Geneva Convention.

So, what about those people in Guantanamo? Are some awaiting an end of an endless war? Are some awaiting trial? It’s a pretty grey no-man’s land there. But let’s look at Omar Khadr again. He was a soldier recruited/influenced/brainwashed at a young age to fight. He was in a firefight when he was taken. Soldiers against soldiers in Afghanistan. But he’s being tried as an adult (they had to wait several years for that) for terrorism? For war crimes? There have been many child soldiers from Somalia. I have a friend in Massachussetts who helped raise four who were teenagers when they were freed and re-socialized. Those men all went on to university. What does Omar Khadr get?

What’s the difference? Religion. If we take the religious fear/bigotry/misunderstanding out of the picture we still have a teenage boy who was caught up in a war, fighting in battle. It’s pretty difficult to remove it completely, obviously but when someone is treated differently than other child soldiers and other soldiers because of fear and hatred, well it really puts into question the human rights abuses of the US. I wonder if George Bush will be tried for war crimes when all is said and done? Probably not. There is a bigger fear than religious bigotry and that is of the US setting an embargo against your country or riding slipshod over the Geneva Convention to suit its ends. Which country was it that used a nuclear device?

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