Northern Lights

by Barry Weisleder


The November 2006 edition of Northern Lights, a regular column from Canada by Barry Weisleder, appears in the San Francisco–based monthly newspaper Socialist Action. To subscribe, get the details at the SA web site.

Rescind the Anti-Terrorism Act
Release the Prisoners

October was a tough month for the enemies of civil liberties. Ontario courts twice struck down aspects of Canada’s sweeping so-called security and anti-terrorism laws. These judicial decisions were a limited reflection of public outrage over abusive police practices.

Justice Douglas Rutherford ruled out part of the Anti-Terrorism Act that defines “terrorist activity” on political, religious or ideological grounds.

Justice Lynn Ratushny decided that the Security of Information Act, used by the RCMP to harass an Ottawa Citizen journalist, is so vague, broad and open to abuse that it violates the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The courts also barred Ottawa from trying to deport Mahmood Jaballah, 44, a “terror suspect,” to a country where he might face torture. Judges have also ordered non-Canadians accused of terrorism who have been held for long periods without being charged or deported to be released into the community under strict supervision.

Earlier, the RCMP got a well-deserved black eye from the Maher Arar affair.

But five years after its adoption in 2001 under a Liberal majority, the current Tory minority government wants Parliament to grant a five year extension to the most egregious provisions in the Anti-Terrorism Act. A House of Commons sub-committee reviewing the Act urged that preventive arrest (for up to a year without charge) and investigative hearings (with power to compel testimony, while offering no protection against self-incrimination) should be maintained. Conservatives and Liberals who dominate the sub-committee voted yes; NDP and Bloc Québécois members disagreed.

An October 25 Toronto Star editorial pointed out that “Since 9/11 police have successfully investigated and charged terror suspects without relying on these Draconian measures.” It calls for an end to these provisions, but not for the release of all those jailed without charge, nor for an end to the political offensive that targets Arabs, Muslims and minorities and that seeks to justify wars of occupation in Afghanistan and the Middle East. Evidently, the Star is content with war and repression so long as it is conducted on the basis of conventional statutes.

Only by linking a stubborn defence of civil liberties to an equally firm opposition to imperialist interventions abroad, can the interests of working people be advanced. More rigorous action by the labour movement, and a more consistent stance by the NDP on this front, are urgently needed to reverse the trend towards repression and war.

Protests Focus on Canada’s Imperialist War

Though the turnout was generally lighter than last Spring, anti-war protests across Canada on October 28 nonetheless represented an important step forward. It was the first time the broad movement, led by the Canadian Peace Alliance, le Collectif Échec la guerre, the Canadian Labour Congress and the Canadian Islamic Congress, focused its attention on Canada’s imperialist war in Afghanistan, clearly demanding ‘Troops out now’.

Despite stiff winds and cold, rainy conditions across central and eastern regions, close to 2,000 demonstrated in Montréal, nearly 1500 in Toronto, 500 in Ottawa, 150 braved a snowstorm in Edmonton, over 1500 marched in downtown Vancouver, and another 500 rallied in Victoria, British Columbia. In all, 37 communities across Canada saw protest actions on October 28.

In Toronto anti-imperialist sentiment was reflected in contingents and banners that decried the Canadian state’s anti-democratic role in Haiti and its complicity with Israeli apartheid. War resistors, Muslim groups, labour unions and student organizations carried their own placards and distributed buttons and flyers.

NDP leader Jack Layton addressed the enthusiastic rally that preceded the march, but his message was not fully in sync with the crowd nor with his own party’s adopted policy. Instead of demanding the withdrawal of all Canadian soldiers now, Layton emphasized ending the “combat mission” in what he refers to as the “Kandahar fiasco” in southern Afghanistan. Instead of reflecting NDP policy which calls for Canada to leave the NATO alliance, Layton said “let’s connect with our NATO partners” and “help lead a drive for a political solution to bring lasting peace to the region”. This implies a prolonged stay, not to mention ongoing meddling by today’s foreign occupiers.

Layton projected “a new role for Canada on the ground in Afghanistan, a balanced role whose priorities are security, aid and reconstruction.” Unfortunately, this paves the way to a permanent military presence. Finally, Layton’s seemingly innocuous appeal for “building a truly independent foreign policy — not imported from Washington” suggests that the main problem is subservience to the U.S. rather than the substantial material interests of the Canadian imperialist corporate elite — class interests which happen to coincide with those of their US counterparts.

Ever since the September 8–10 federal NDP convention in Québec City, Layton has been backpedaling on the party’s Afghanistan policy. To hold the leader’s feet to the fire, the NDP Socialist Caucus is circulating the following resolution for debate and vote at NDP and labour gatherings at all levels across the country:

“Whereas the 2006 NDP federal convention voted overwhelmingly for “a safe and immediate” withdrawal of Canadian troops from Afghanistan,

And whereas NDP federal Leader Jack Layton spoke on CBC radio on September 23/06 to “clarify” his stand on the issue, indicating that he favours withdrawal of Canadian troops only from the war theatre in Kandahar, and that he supports the continuation of the “3D approach of Canadian foreign policy” — which is the policy of the previous Liberal government, “Defence, Development and Diplomacy” — in other words, the ongoing foreign occupation and control of the country, arguably designed by the Liberals to secure a pipeline route for Jean Chrétien’s friends in the oil patch.

Therefore Be It Resolved that this body demands that the Federal NDP Leader and Parliamentary Caucus adhere to the convention-adopted ‘troops out of Afghanistan now’ policy;

And Be It Further Resolved that this body commits itself, and calls on the NDP leadership at all levels, to mobilize for the biggest and broadest possible participation in mass protest actions against the wars of occupation in Afghanistan and Iraq.”

While opposition to the disastrous ‘mission’ in Afghanistan grows, along with associated difficulties (NATO’s non-deployment of additional forces in the south, the rising Canadian death toll, and lack of fresh replacements), the Harper government was quick to commit Canada to the developing imperialist campaign against North Korea.

Foreign Affairs Minister Peter Mackay said Canada would stand with its allies to ensure that new sanctions against North Korea are enforced. MacKay said it was too early to suggest whether Canadian warships could be dispatched to enforce the U.N. embargo on specified forms of trade and travel, plus inspections of all ships arriving and departing with cargo. But he did insist that Canada, as a Pacific Ocean country, has a “direct” interest.

Perhaps this helps to explain the Conservatives raising the so-called ‘defence’ budget to $20 billion by 2010 from $14 billion, and boosting the military to 75,000 regular personnel. Extended and more diverse overseas ‘missions’ are the order of the day for Canada’s ruling class which wants to have its slice of Empire pie, and eat it too.

Israeli Apartheid targeted by Toronto Conference

In the wake of the latest Lebanon war, in which invading Israeli forces where stymied by popular resistance, and after years of escalating brutality against Palestinians, the collapse of the Oslo accords, and the recent election of the formally two-state rejectionist political party Hamas, interest in organizing opposition to the Zionist state and its US big brother has mushroomed globally. The following is a slightly edited version of a news release reporting on a remarkable gathering in Toronto:

Over 600 people attended the landmark conference, Boycotting Israeli Apartheid: The Struggle Continues, held October 6–8 in Toronto. The conference represents a watershed moment in the Palestinian solidarity movement, with leading anti-apartheid activists from Palestine, South Africa, Canada and England addressing the way forward in the global campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions.

Jamal Juma’a, coordinator of the Stop the Wall Campaign in Palestine, told the opening night rally that the burgeoning boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement represents a powerful and practical act of solidarity with the Palestinian struggle. He emphasized that this movement would succeed as it had in South Africa, "We promise you we will not give up. We will stand firm on our land; Israeli apartheid will fall."

Salim Vally, chair of the Palestine Solidarity Committee in South Africa, gave a powerful analysis of Israeli apartheid and its resemblance to the South African situation. He stressed that the solidarity movement to isolate the South African apartheid regime was built by grassroots and popular forces organized throughout the world. That same challenge faces the Palestinian boycott, divestment and sanctions movement today.

Betty Hunter, General Secretary of the UK Palestine Solidarity Campaign, and Jonathan Rosenhead, Emeritus Professor at the London School of Economics and member of the British Committee for Universities in Palestine, spoke to the conference on the lessons of Palestine solidarity work in England. Discussions focused on the boycott campaign launched by British academics against Israeli apartheid as well as the growing support amongst British trade unionists for a BDS campaign.

The conference was organized by the Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid (CAIA), a broad movement formed in response to the call by 171 Palestinian civil-society organizations in July 2005 for the international community to implement a comprehensive boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) strategy against apartheid Israel as the focal point of solidarity efforts with the Palestinian people.

The conference developed a detailed program to move the BDS campaign forward in different sectors. Over 75 people attended a lively session on labour unions and the campaign against Israeli apartheid, in which veteran anti-apartheid activists from the South African struggle presented lessons on how to build support for the campaign among workers and in trade unions. A Canada-wide student network was launched to deepen the BDS movement on campuses across the country. Individuals from different parts of Toronto formed neighborhood committees to carry the campaign forward at a local level. Workshops were also held on media, research, art and cultural boycott, and faith-based communities.

Robert Lovelace, Co-Chief of the Ardoch Algonquin First Nation, closed the conference with a powerful comparison of the experience of colonialism in Canada and Palestine. He expressed his solidarity with the Palestinian movement for self-determination, and pledged to continue to strengthen the links between indigenous activists in Canada and the Palestine solidarity movement.

To become involved in the campaign against Israeli apartheid, contact CAIA at endapartheid@riseup.net  or through www.caiaweb.org .

OCAP Activists sue Toronto Cops — and win!

In July of 2000, Stefan Pilipa, Gaetan Heroux and John Clarke of the Ontario Coaltion Against Poverty (OCAP) were arrested as alleged 'leaders' of a 'riot' one month earlier at the Ontario Legislature in Toronto. Over fifteen hundred people had come to Queen's Park to demand that a delegation of homeless people be allowed to address the Legislature.

When police moved to disperse the crowd, using mounted units and riot cops, a confrontation ensued. The Crown Attorney's Office alleged it was a pre-planned riot. The jury trial that was employed to try and to convict the three, under reactionary and antiquated sections of the Criminal Code, fell apart when the jury became deadlocked and could not reach a verdict.

During their arrests, the three OCAP members were subjected to unjustified strip searches and were not brought before a Justice of the Peace for a bail hearing within a time deemed reasonable. The judge at their Jury trial found that their constitutional rights had been violated. His decision continues to be used by defence lawyers throughout Canada as an important precedent.

After the trial was over and the charges were no more, the three brought an action against the police in Small Claims Court. Last week, Clarke (who was subjected to three improper body searches) was awarded $10,000 and Pilipa and Heroux $5,000 each. It is an important result that opens the door for many victims of police abuse and violence to seek civil damages and avoid dealing with the useless police complaints mechanism. That the abuses that gave rise to the lawsuit occurred in the context of an attempt to silence political opposition, the homeless, and victims of poverty makes this victory especially sweet and important.