Northern Lights

by Barry Weisleder

The December 2007 edition of “Northern Lights,” a regular column from Canada by Barry Weisleder, appears in the San Francisco-based monthly newspaper Socialist Action. To subscribe to the newspaper, please visit the SA web site:

The Mounties often zap their man

The stun gun death of a Polish immigrant on October 14 at the hands of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) has drawn worldwide condemnation. At least seven official investigations are underway into the electronic weapon and its increasing use by cops.

If not for a private video, initially confiscated by the federal police, but released in November, showing RCMP using a Taser on Robert Dziekanski, the death of the 40 year old man might have been swept under the rug.

The Taser fires 50,000 volts of electricity into its target. Dziekanski, who spoke no English, was distraught over waiting ten hours in the secure baggage area of the Vancouver airport. He was unarmed. Police zapped him twice only 30 seconds after they encountered him, without being able to understand a word he was saying. Two beefy officers held him down. He died soon after.

According to a review of 606 Taser incidents, from March 2002 to March 2005, by the Canadian Press, 79 per cent of those hit were not in possession of a weapon. The figures, compiled from hundreds of partially censored pages filed by RCMP officers, reveal a pattern of Taser use as a quick means to subdue low-risk prisoners, drunks and unruly suspects. Most of the incidents were recorded in western Canada where the RCMP act as the provincial police force. Many of the incidents involved aboriginal persons.

Although the Taser is supposed to be an injury-free alternative to pepper spray, batons and guns, its more frequent use has resulted in a growing incidence of severe burns, lacerations and deaths.

Amnesty International has long urged police to stop employing what it calls “electro-shock weapons.” It cites 17 deaths in Canada and more than 280 in the United States. “Although coroners have attributed most such deaths to other causes, the Taser was found to have been a cause or possible contributory factor in more than 30 of the deaths.”

The RCMP is to submit a review of its Taser policies to federal Conservative Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day. After the death of Dziekanski, Day told a Kelowna, British Columbia audience that he wishes Canadians would be as outraged over impaired driving deaths as they are over the death of a Polish immigrant shot with a Taser by police.

So much for any suspense over Day’s likely take on the Taser review.

But there’s more to this matter. As Toronto Star columnist Thomas Walkom observed, Dziekanski was also a victim of post-9/11 hyper-security propaganda.

“Civility and common sense demanded that airport officials let his mother enter the baggage area to search for the son she had mistakenly advised to await her there; security demanded that she be kept out. The result was classic and illustrative: Thanks to officialdom’s decision to put security first, Dziekanski was safer. But he was also dead.”

Clearly, it’s time to abolish use of the Taser, and stop treating immigrants like criminals.

NDP defeated after 16-year reign in Saskatchewan

Sixteen years of New Democratic Party government in the western prairie province of Saskatchewan ended on November 7 when the right wing Saskatchewan Party captured 37 seats to the NDP’s 21.

The Liberal Party was shut out in the vote that left neighbouring Manitoba as the only province in Canada still led by the labour-based NDP.

Technically, the Saskatchewan Party is a new party. Actually, it was formed in 1997 as a coalition of Conservatives and Liberals following the break up of the disgraced Saskatchewan Progressive Conservative Party whose 10 years in government eventually landed 14 Conservative members of the Legislature in jail for fraud and breech of trust.

For its part, the NDP brass should know by now that trying to be all things to all people often results in being nothing much to anybody. In an attempt to under cut the growing popularity of the Saskatchewan Party, NDP Premier Lorne Calvert attempted to appear more conservative. He promised tax cuts and private-sector wage restraints.

In the opinion of Ken Rasmussen, director of the Johnson-Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy at the University of Regina, the tactic backfired big time.

“The NDP moved to the centre of the right and that had people thinking, ‘Why not vote for the real thing?’” he said.

Brad Wall, 41, the Premier-elect who managed to convince voters that he was not planning to privatize provincial services and public corporations, began his election night victory speech with the unintentionally ironic expression, “And now for something completely different.”

What happened to Employment Insurance?

The workers’ movement fought for and won employment insurance (E.I.) some 50 years ago to help workers survive bouts of unemployment. But by making it much harder for unemployed Canadians to qualify for benefits, Ottawa turned E.I. into a rich revenue stream that contributed more than 70 per cent of the funds required to balance the budget in the 1997–98 fiscal year, according to a new study.

In other words, the federal government eliminated its deficit largely on the backs of the unemployed. Since then, successive Liberal and Conservative regimes kept the E.I. premiums it collects well above the total E.I. benefits it issues. To be precise, there were $51 billion more in premiums than in payments, say economists Monica Townson and Kevin Hayes for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

Astonishingly, they found that “two out of every three working women who pay into E.I. don’t receive a single penny in benefits if they lose their jobs.”

Only four in ten unemployed men qualify for benefits.

Thus, E.I. is just a tax that helps fund many things, but least of all the unemployed.

The apparent reason for this absurdity is that the eligibility rules “seem to be based on the standard male job of full time, full year.” The rules simply ignore the many people working at occasional or part-time jobs.

But more to the point is the underlying reason for such rules. Essentially, it is a corporate agenda designed to destroy past social gains, to make workers desperate enough to work at any job and at any rate of pay, and to subsidize business at the expense of the rest of us.

All the more reason for the NDP and the Labour movement to take up the fight for a much lower qualifying threshold (the report suggests 360 hours of work within the past year, or an average of at least 360 hours of work in three of the past five years), along with a pay out at 80 per cent of insured wages, for up to 52 weeks per claim.

Momentum grows in bid to Free the Cuban 5

The largest North American conference yet held in the ongoing campaign to free the five Cuban political prisoners, imprisoned nearly a decade in the United States for their anti-terrorist activities, took place in Toronto, November 9–10. Participants came from across English Canada, Québec, the U.S., Argentina and Cuba.

A highlight was an inspiring public rally that drew 400 people to the council chambers of Toronto City Hall to hear attorney Leonard Weinglass, Cuban Ambassador Ernesto Senti, Elizabeth Palmeiro (wife of political prisoner Ramon Labanino), organizer Gloria La Riva, Judge Claudia Marcom, among others.

The weekend was capped by separate meetings on November 11 of the Canadian and American Cuba solidarity networks. Those bodies made concrete plans to advance the effort to Free the Five, and to defend revolutionary Cuba from its enemies in imperialist high places.

Below are the texts of the two declarations issued by the “Breaking the Silence,” Freedom for the Cuban Five Conference. Please copy and circulate widely.

To our dearest Brothers, Co-fighters, Compañeros and Heroes Antonio, Gerardo, Ramón, Fernando and René,

“The truth must not only be the truth, it must be told.” — Fidel

We gathered this weekend, Nov. 9–10, to break the silence surrounding your most important fight against terrorism and for all of humanity. We are more than 250 people who gathered in these two days as members of the National Network on Cuba (U.S.), Canadian Network on Cuba, La Table de Concertation de Solidarité Québec-Cuba and many independent people interested in advancing your cause, which is the cause of all human beings. This is the first conference where these groups have come together and we know, based on our unity and commitment to the Cuban Revolution and to your case, this conference is the start of many. Our conference tackled many important issues surrounding your cause: the legal injustice, the abuse of human rights and the continued struggle for your freedom.

We know the truth, and now our task is to make sure it is told. This conference is a turning point to reinforce our commitment to continue fighting until the day you are free and to continue telling your story after you are free.

With love and solidarity,

Breaking the Silence: Solidarity Conference for the Cuban 5
(Organized by: The National Network on Cuba (U.S.), Canadian Network on Cuba & La Table de Concertation de Solidarité Québec-Cuba).


We, participants in the two-day conference held in Toronto, Canada, “BREAKING THE SILENCE: Solidarity Conference for the Cuban Five” issue this call to all people of good will who want a world of peace and justice:

1.      To increase the momentum developed in countless movements around the world to free Gerardo Hernández, René González, Ramón Labaino, Antonio Guerrero and Fernando González, five Cuban anti-terrorist political prisoners incarcerated in the United States since 1998, whose only crime was to work to prevent planned terrorists acts of Miami-based, anti-Cuba groups responsible for nearly 3500 deaths and thousands of injuries in Cuba since 1959.

2.      To join together in an immediate response and a “Week of Free the Five” actions whenever the decision of the Atlanta federal appellate court is reached.

3.      To support the formation of an international commission for the rights of family visits to help secure U.S. visas for Adriana Perez and Olga Salanueva to visit their husbands who they have been prevented from seeing for nine years, and to issue timely visas to all family members. To distribute the “100 Women in Each City” petitions for women to sign demanding the right of family visits for Adriana and Olga.

4.      To demand the extradition to the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela of the terrorist Luis Posada Carriles whose acts included the bombing of a Cubana civilian airliner that caused the death of all 73 people aboard in 1976.

5.      To call on the U.S. government to end its double standard on terrorism, to cease its plans to change the constitutional order of Cuba and to end the blockade.

6.      To pressure the Canadian government not to cooperate with U.S.-imposed “security” requests but rather to expand its bilateral relations and strengthen its independent foreign policy towards Cuba.

7.      To call for organizations all over the world to urge their elected officials (parliamentarians, mayors, etc.) to sign letters and petitions addressed to the U.S. Attorney General, U.S. Ambassadors and Ministers of Foreign Affairs to demand justice for the Five and their families.

8.      To join together in broadening the international campaign to free the Cuban Five, to incorporate more youth, to link with other social movements including movements in support of political prisoners, and to engage in more frequent actions to “break the silence” of the mass media on the rights of the Five and their families.

Issued and adopted on November 10, 2007 at : “BREAKING THE SILENCE : Solidarity Conference for the Cuban Five,” at Toronto, Canada, organized by the Canadian Network on Cuba, la Table de Concertation de Solidarité Québec-Cuba, and the National Network on Cuba (U.S.) and attended by hundreds of activists and prominent figures in the struggle for constitutional and human rights.