March 17, 2010: Interview withMarya Folinsbee G8/20 People’s Summit Coordinator

Marya Folinsbee
G8/20 People’s Summit Coordinator

Listen to the interview and full program here: 68-The_Shake_Up-20100317-1200-t1268823600

Basic Principles of Activities of the People’s Summit 2010

The 2010 G8/G20 Summits, set to take place in Ontario (June 25-27, 2010) presents Canadian civil society organizations and groups with an opportunity to strengthen our collective voice and lend cohesion to our efforts on the environment, poverty, human rights and social justice.

The actions and policies of the G8/G20 and their member-states have significant impact on millions of lives the world over, and with this, comes an opportunity for us – a diverse civil society, including community-based organizations, non-governmental organizations, public, media and other groups – to work together to educate, empower and ignite positive change we would like to see in our world.

The following represent basic operating principles which will guide the work of the 2010 People’s Summit toward our objectives:

  • To facilitate the participation of a broad spectrum of civil society and directly affected communities in a fair and democratic process.
  • To conduct effective advocacy, education, awareness building and community organizing work through joint civil society proposals on global and local issues around the 2010 G8/G20 Summits.
  • To facilitate proactive advocacy, education and awareness building activities when it is not possible to make joint proposals or reach agreement through discussion.
  • To conduct its activities in a democratic** manner, while striving for consensus among all participants.
  • To prioritize community building amongst organizations and directly affected communities, as well as achieving results through collective activities.
  • To promote solidarity through peaceful activities.
  • To respect a diversity of tactics, for which individual organizations will be responsible.

**What we mean by democracy is the full participation of a diversity of voices and a recognition of the importance of space for disagreement as a necessary part of a democratic process. Though we strive to reach consensus, we realize that differences of opinion can be harnessed in positive ways. A democratic process will give equal voice to participating groups and will seek to be aware of and upfront about issues of power.


The Great Economic Debate Canada Needs and Is Failing to Conduct: James Laxer

The global economy is undergoing a dramatic transformation, the greatest since the decline of the British Empire as the world’s leading economic power. At their peril, politically active Canadians are failing to analyze the transformation and its consequences for Canada.

With the political stage in the United States dominated by the sputtering Obama administration and the ever more extravagant behaviour of the Tea Party movement, insufficient attention is being paid to the underlying reality that the United States is in decline as an economic power. No matter how well or how badly the decline of the U.S. is managed—and this will matter—the shift to a new global economic order is underway.

Meanwhile in Canada, the Harper government, with little coherent opposition from the parties that hold the majority of seats in the House of Commons, is proceeding to tighten Canada’s economic ties with the United States. During the period of parliamentary prorogation, the Conservative government extended the right of U.S. firms to bid on provincial and municipal contracts in Canada in the most significant extension of NAFTA since the trade deal began in 1994. The step was taken by the Harper government to enable Canadian firms to bid on the tail end of contract offerings at the state level in the U.S. under Washington stimulus spending plan. (In an earlier post, I critiqued the Harper government’s initiative.)

Now the Harper government has signaled that it soon plans to open the door to a massive influx of foreign investment and foreign control in the areas of telecommunications and the mass media.

The Harper government’s strategy is to end stimulus spending, keep taxes low for the wealthy and for corporations and to seek the fuller integration of the Canadian and U.S. economies.

What are the Liberals and the NDP doing?

Not much.

They criticize the Harper government initiatives by going after their peripheral details. What they have not done is to attack them at their very centre. They have not explained what needs to be explained—that the course Canada is now on will be catastrophic for the Canadian people in coming decades.

If you step back from the debates on Parliament Hill and take in the wider reality, it is overwhelmingly apparent that massive change is coming in the global economy.

Take for instance the recent attack on American economic policies by China’s Premier Wen Jiabao. Wen took sharp aim at Washington, saying that the U.S. is failing to rebuild its own economy and to maintain the value of the dollar. China, whose foreign reserves exceeded $2.4 trillion at the end of 2009, held nearly $900 billion of those reserves in dollar-denominated U.S. government Treasury Bills. What Beijing fears is that the U.S. is engaged in policies that will sharply reduce the value of the dollar and that this will not only slash the value of the Treasury Bills China holds, it will close off much of the U.S. market to Chinese exports.

Last year, Chinese officials speculated that the epoch in which the U.S. dollar serves as the world’s reserve currency is coming to an end.

The current warnings from the Chinese government could force up interest rates on U.S. Treasury Bills and that would worsen the already perilous fiscal crisis in which the U.S. government finds itself.

In my view, China’s relationship with the United States is bound to change with Chinese wages rising and the American ability to import on the same scale as in the past falling.

It’s part of the transition of the global economy that our politicians are failing to debate. A future generation of Canadians will be bound to ask what they Hell our leaders were doing. Their anger will more likely be directed at the centrists and left-wingers who should have known better, and did nothing, than at the ideological conservatives who insisted on going down with the U.S. Ship in which they believed so deeply.

Go to the blog site to read excerpt from Laxer’s latest book: Beyond the Bubble: Imagining a New Canadian Economy, published by Between the Lines Publishing in November.




MARCH 19, 2010

4:00 p.m. – Gather at the “Spirit of Detroit”, Woodward at Jefferson, Downtown
4:30 p.m. – Rally and Speakout Against War and For Jobs, Income, Housing, Healthcare and Education
5:00 p.m. – March thru Downtown to Central United Methodist Church, 23 E. Adams
5:30 p.m. – Light Refreshments at Church
6:00 p.m. – Roundtable Discussion on “How to End War and Win Social and Economic Justice”

This year marks the 7th anniversary of the U.S. military invasion and occupation of Iraq. During the course of the war 4,400 troops have been killed and over 42,000 wounded. Hundreds of thousands more have suffered lifelong injuries and disabilities.
In Afghanistan, since 2001, over 1,000 U.S. troops have been killed and thousands wounded. The Obama administration has announced the deployment of tens of thousands more troops to kill and maim the civilian population.

More tragically, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, Afghans and Pakistanis have died as a result of the U.S. and NATO occupations. Millions more have been injured and displaced.

At the same time in the U.S., over 15 million have lost their jobs, homes, healthcare and access to quality education. The government has bailed out the banks, insurance companies and automotive firms to the tune of trillions of dollars. Just think how many jobs could have created with these funds. How many homes could have been saved? The 50 million people living without health insurance could have access to quality care. Hundreds of schools could have remained opened in Detroit and throughout the state of Michigan.

Join us in our efforts to build a powerful movement to end all imperialist wars and provide housing, jobs, income, healthcare and quality education to everyone in the U.S.

Michigan Emergency Committee Against War & Injustice (MECAWI)
Moratorium NOW! Coalition to Stop Foreclosures, Evictions & Utility Shut-offs
Fight Imperialism Stand Together (FIST)

Endorsed by:

The Michigan Coalition for Human Rights Youth Board

The Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality

Coalition to Restore Hope to DPS

For More Info:  313.671.3715/313. 887.6466



Detroit Town Hall Meeting
Speak Out for Jobs!

Saturday – March 27, 2010 – 1 PM
Central United Methodist Church
23 E. Adams, 2nd floor

At the height of the Great Depression of the 1930’s President Roosevelt created the Works Progress Administration (renamed later as the Work Projects Administration) on April 8th, 1935.  It was funded by the Emergency Relief Appropriation Act of 1935.  The WPA put over 8 million unemployed people to work directly and was the largest employer in the United States at that time.

Today, with tens of millions of workers – especially youth – unemployed, we need a real, public jobs program, NOW!  We can’t wait for some imaginary future jobs from the banks and corporations who have already been bailed out with trillions of our tax dollars.

The government can and must open hiring halls in every neighborhood and get people back to work.  In the 1930’s the Detroit WPA built Western High School and City Airport and upgraded the Detroit Zoo among many other projects.  There is plenty that needs doing immediately in Detroit – repairing roads and bridges, cleaning parks, insulating and fixing up thousands of vacant homes so no one is homeless or without heat.

The Full Employment Act makes it the government’s duty to put everyone to work – it’s the law!  Let’s organize and tell the politicians – A REAL, PUBLIC JOBS PROGRAM NOW!

Sponsored by: Moratorium NOW! Coalition to Stop Foreclosures, Evictions and Utility Shutoffs; Michigan Emergency Committee Against War & Injustice



Urban Agriculture: Opportunities and Challenges

Local food production, organic farming, urban landscape innovation

Windsor, Ontario, Canada – March 10, 2010 – Landscape Architecture specialist

Karen Landman will present “Urban Agriculture: Opportunities and Challenges” to the public at 7pm on Thursday March 18 at the University of Windsor.

Ms. Landman will address the opportunities and challenges of sustainable living

through urban food production while discussing urban agriculture, land

stewardship, food systems and urban ‘greening’ projects in other communities.

A professor in Landscape Architecture at the School of Environmental Design

& Rural Development, University of Guelph, she has a background in landscape

architecture, planning and development, and cultural geography. Landman has

had a design practice for over 20 years, specializing in planting design. In 2007, she was the recipient of the Ontario Agriculture College Distinguished Professor Award. Her current research interests include green infrastructure, urban agriculture, local food systems, urban to rural linkages, community landscape-stewardship planning, and especially the linkages between design and planning.


• Thursday March 18th

• 7- 9pm

• Room 115

• School of Visual Arts, LeBel Building

• University Of Windsor

(South West Corner of Huron Church Road and College Ave.)

All students and community members are encouraged to attend this event to gain

valuable insight into establishing Urban Agricultural Projects for our West Windsor community.

This event is hosted by University of Windsor, Green Corridor in support of

the Campus Community Garden Project.

Contact: !

Rod Strickland

Green Corridor

!362 California Ave.!

Windsor, Ontario

Canada, N9B 2Y7

519.253.3000 ext 2849

Campus Community Garden Project  fund-raiser event: Dinner and Presentation on Urban Community GardeningWe invited two people from Detroit to talk about their experiences with building a community garden in the city of Detroit (Georgia Street) for our first fund-raiser event on Friday, March 26 @ 6:30 pm.  The Green Bean Café (2320 Wyandotte Street West, Windsor) is going to host this fund-raiser event, which means delicious food will be on our plates.  A brief documentary from the Georgia Street Community Garden will also be shown and raffle prices will await you. The costs are $15 for students and $20 for non-students.  More details will be send out through the CCGP listserv and facebook.  Please contact me or Nicole if you wish to purchase a ticket, have any questions, or would like to be on our email list.  Take care and hope to see you soon,

CCGP Links:
to Vision Statement: U Win CCGP Vision Statement

to Working Groups: U Win CCGP Working Groups

to Facebook Group:

to Resource Sharing Wiki (from the Facebook Group):

Socialist Project • E-Bulletin No. 327
March 17, 2010

Cadillac Fairview:
Where was the Labour Movement?

Sam Gindin

On March 5, 2010, after a conflict that stretched over almost 9 months, the maintenance and skilled trades workers of CEP (Communications, Energy & Paperworkers Union of Canada) Local 2003 working in office towers in downtown Toronto voted to accept an offer from real estate developer Cadillac Fairview. The victory was bittersweet. On the one hand, the Cadillac Fairview workers had forced an arrogant corporation to return to the table and to do so with a substantially improved severance offer. On the other, the workers went through hell to get there and at the end of the day the jobs and the bargaining unit were lost.

Though the struggle of the workers was inspiring at many levels and could point to a partial victory, the same could not be said for the response of the broader labour movement. In this regard, the outcome was clearly negative. The movement had been tested and found wanting. When a corporation with a portfolio of $17-billion takes on a unit of 61 workers and arbitrarily sacks workers and gets rid of the union, it is the labour movement as a whole that is being challenged. Allowing this to happen without a serious pushback effectively exposes the labour movement as a paper tiger. It encourages corporations to be still more aggressive – if this is happening in unionized plants, it’s not hard to imagine what is happening in non-union workplaces and to much more vulnerable part-time and contract workers (a hint of this was evident in the recent lockout of SEIU – Service Employees International Union – workers at the Woodbine Racetrack).

Unless and until the movement collectively figures out how to reorganize itself to match what it is up against in these times, things are going to get a lot worse for working people. Before turning to what such an alternative response might involve, it’s useful to summarize some of the background to the Cadillac-CEP conflict.

The Company

Cadillac Fairview is “one of North America’s largest investors, owners and managers of commercial real estate.” This includes 84 properties, the most prominent of which are the Toronto-Dominion Centre and Toronto Eaton Centre, the Pacific Centre in the heart of downtown Vancouver, the Chinook Centre in Calgary and Fairview Ponte Claire in Montreal. Cadillac is fully owned by the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan (OTPP). The Plan’s fund includes monies contributed not just by the government as employer but also the teachers, yet its decisions are independent of any teacher or union control.

In May 2009, the company announced it would outsource or get rid of 20-30% of the workforce. It refused to increase severance payments for those whose jobs would be lost beyond the legally mandated minimum levels and – astoundingly even in this era of corporate extremism – it asked all the workers to give up their seniority and reapply for their jobs with six-month probationary periods. If subsequently dismissed, severance pay would be based on their new seniority, not the seniority they previously had. When the workers refused, the corporation waited until the agreement was over and on that day, June 14th, 2009, Cadillac Fairview locked out and replaced all the workers. A month later the company officially fired them. (On December 10, 2009 the corporation went so far as to use a Toronto by-law to force the workers to shut down their shelters outside the TD Centre).

The decisive factors to Cadillac’s bottom line are trends in real estate values and corporate occupancy; the labour costs of the workers who maintain Cadillac’s shopping malls and office buildings are marginal to its profitability. In the first stages of negotiating the latest agreement with Local 2003, worker concessions weren’t even raised. Then the financial crisis hit and Cadillac was under pressure to cut every corner possible. Because it could do very little about the larger economic issues or affect its relationships to other businesses, it looked to place the burden on its workers. That it expected little or no serious response from the labour movement as a whole left Cadillac Fairview more confident in this attack.

Cadillac Fairview’s turn to gutting worker’s rights wasn’t, in other words, about its survival or even about any significant impact on its profitability. It was about leaving more for its executives and stockholders. Ultimately, Cadillac Fairview acted as it did because it could.

The Workers

In 1960, a group of workers separated from their international union and formed the Canadian Union of Operating Engineers and General Workers. That union was subsequently a founding member of a new national body, the Canadian Council of Unions in 1968. In 2003, they joined the Communication, Energy and Paper Union of Canada – itself the product of a merger between three unions that had broken away from their U.S.-based parent in the 1970s to move beyond the limits of American-style unionism.

CEP members walk the picket line, with supporters from UNITE-HERE.

In the thirty years before the last round of negotiations Local 2003 had many conflicts with their employer but no strikes. In this round of bargaining and especially as the implications of the financial crisis became more apparent, the local’s demands were extremely modest. The corporation was obviously not looking for a settlement but a chance to break the union and even before the lockout began, the union had filed a bad-faith bargaining charge against the corporation – a charge that the courts subsequently decided merited a labour board hearing. The local set aside any new demands and accepted the corporation’s decision to outsource work, concentrating its bargaining on getting decent severance packages for those losing their jobs. The local of course rejected transferring existing work to lower-wage categories and the outrageous corporate demand for everyone to give up seniority and ‘re-apply’ for their jobs.

While the union rejected the company agreement, it did not look to go on strike; it offered to keep working until a new agreement was reached. Cadillac Fairview wasn’t however interested. As for the union’s labour board complaint, the company’s lawyers were able to get this put off until April 2010 (another example of the thin justice the law offers workers and a contrast to the speed with which companies get injunctions and bankers get government attention).

Once on the street, the local ran 24-hour picket lines for six months and then continued picketing Monday-Friday through the rest of the strike. It organized some 15 solidarity rallies with folk and freedom singers including over 1000 supporters during the OFL Convention and a morning rush hour blockade. Knowing full well that the residents of the TD Centre in the heart of Bay Street were not going to respond sympathetically – the local organized a series of creative disruptions in the TD Centre – from launching huge banners and messages on helium balloons to parading through the crowds with giant grim reaper puppets and a daily barrage of air raid, ambulance, and police sirens. And with its limited resources, it spread its leafleting to other Cadillac properties.

The Settlement

On February 26, 2010 – more than eight months after the lockout began – the national union, CEP, informed the workers that the company had come around to a bargained end to the dispute and that an agreement (details withheld) had been reached which would be voted on the following week. What got Cadillac Fairview to the table was first, the stubborn determination of the workers to continue fighting and keep the issue alive. Second, it was pretty obvious that the now approaching labour board hearings would concur that Cadillac Fairview had blatantly disregarded the province’s labour laws. Though this was coming late in the day and a ruling restoring workers to their jobs seemed out of the question, the expected ruling and its publicity did put some pressure on the company to end the conflict.

That pressure was primarily manifested through the owner of Cadillac Fairview, the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan. The Pension Plan administrators had been increasingly criticized for their anti-social investments on a number of fronts (from water privatization in Chile to investments in the arms trade) and so it was sensitive to the additional negative attention it would receive as the hearings proceeded. Reliable sources suggest that the Pension Plan administrators basically told Cadillac Fairview to settle before the April hearings.

The ratification meeting was held on March 5, 2010. Though a minority of the workers remained angrily opposed, a clear majority voted to accept it. This was not surprising. By then almost half the workers had other jobs and were not interested in returning. Others simply didn’t want to work for Cadillac Fairview anymore and preferred to get a good severance package. Of those who did want the jobs again, few considered getting them back as being realistic at this stage. And the severance the corporation had been forced to offer was in fact quite significant: basically triple and in some cases more than four times the legislated minimums. The workers could therefore leave Cadillac Fairview with the dignity that comes with having taken on the fight, forced an insensitive corporation to retreat, and made – albeit qualified – gains.

The Labour Movement

The failures of the labour movement didn’t lie in any lack of sympathy for the Cadillac Fairview workers or unwillingness to demonstrate periodic support. The CEP continued to pay strike pay. The Teachers’ unions publically expressed their anger and frustration at the involvement of ‘their’ pension fund in attacking Local 2003. The OFL highlighted the strike at its convention and brought its delegates out to an impressive demonstration at the TD Centre. The Toronto and York Region Labour Council (TYRLC) – one of the most progressive in the country if not on the continent – tried to generate further solidarity. And a small number of individual union activists regularly came down to the TD Centre to join the picket line.

None of this, however, spoke to the imbalance in power confronting a particular group of workers, the changing context in which workers are struggling, or to the serious implications of such conflicts for all workers. The movement seemed to be going through the traditional gestures of solidarity, rather than moving to the kind of creative and radical collective actions that might actually represent a winning strategy.

There was, for example, no clear determination on the part of CEP (perhaps overwhelmed by massive job losses and demands for concessions elsewhere) to make this struggle into a province-wide crusade against Cadillac Fairview, especially at a moment in time – the financial and housing crisis – when financiers and large developers were so discredited. Nor was there any strategic determination on the part of labour that the weak link was the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan and the consequent need to raise the stakes by joining with others also fighting the narrow use of the Plan to maximize returns (including dealing with the need, at a minimum, for workers to be able to block their pension money being used to break unions).

There was no tactical consideration given to how to overcome the media’s disinterest in a struggle that was becoming invisible. This could only have been addressed with the kind of direct actions that the media couldn’t ignore and the local couldn’t pull off on its own – such as sit-ins backed by mass outside support, at the tenants of Cadillac Fairview that might be most sensitive to public opinion (like the TD Bank), or directly at the offices of the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan. Though Cadillac Fairview could comfortably ride out the occasional protest, there was no plan for sustained and escalating tactics to get the message across that far from fading away, the conflict would be escalated and become increasingly prominent.

Toward Class-Based Struggles

The strike revealed not only the fragility of union rights in the province and the weakness of one local going it alone, but pointed to a broader strategic failure in the labour movement. The crisis we’ve been experiencing is not only about plant closures, concessions and attacks on public sector workers and social programs; it’s also about a crisis within the labour movement. The movement has been under attack for some three decades now and has emerged with lower expectations and a narrower sense of possibilities. That it was working people, rather than the economic elite, that is coming out of the Great Financial Crisis of 2008-10 on the defensive speaks volumes about the state of our movement. We have not come to grips with is that what we face isn’t just a series of specific problems confronting particular workers, but an assault on workers as a class and the corresponding need for a class response.

What might this mean? To begin with, this is not just a Canadian problem: it is one facing workers everywhere. It goes far beyond ‘bad leaders’ and gets to the most difficult and intimidating questions. Not only do we need to figure out how to defend ourselves in a new context but – because defence is not enough (those with power will eventually wear you down) – how we simultaneously organize ourselves to transform a society that has become a barrier to human solidarity and progress.

History puts this in some perspective. In the 1930s, workers came to the conclusion that the main form of unionism then, craft-based unionism (which only organized skilled workers), was inadequate to what they faced. They essentially invented a new organizational form that brought all workers in a sector together: industrial unionism (‘reinvented’ might be the better term since such unionism had earlier roots, but it was only in these years that industrial unionism came into its own). Industrial unionism, including its extension to the public sector, was always limited by the fact that, while it brought groups of workers together, it didn’t organize workers as a class. This didn’t prevent workers from making major gains, especially when economic growth could be taken for granted and the fight was over the distribution of that growth. But once growth slowed down and in response corporations and governments became more aggressive, the limits of this form of organization were exposed.

The labour movement did not, however, move on to new forms and this is what must now be placed on the agenda. Fragmented as we are, we’re sitting ducks. We need to develop new organizational forms that see workers as members of a larger class. Workers have interests that go far beyond their workplace – class is expressed in all aspects of our lives from the schools our children attend to the health care we receive to access to public transportation, to the environment. Moreover, those in the same boat as us are not just unionized workers but all those who don’t have capital to live off – non-union workers, the unemployed, new workers coming to Canada, the disabled and the poor.

It is not obvious what such new forms might be. But one such form – now being experimented with under the auspices of the Greater Toronto Workers’ Assembly – tries to bring workers together on a class-based, community-rooted basis. This means gathering activists from across unions and community campaigns with the hope of linking up to other such formations that might subsequently be built in other cities and communities.

This does not mean that unions are irrelevant: unions continue to have a vital role and in the context of broader organizations like the Assembly, the relevance of unions can even be greater. But that can only happen if unions are themselves transformed. This is not just a matter of replacing leaders and introducing more radical rhetoric. If unions are to act to build class power, then everything about them will have to be changed. Unions will have to re-examine their priorities, and strategies, how they conduct strikes and campaigns, the focus of their research departments and the content of internal education. They will also need to rethink the relationships of leaders to their members and the depth of internal democracy, as well as links to other unions and potential allies in the community. And it means expanding customary visions of social justice to naming what we are fighting against – capitalism.

Experience suggests that few union leaders are ready to take on the risks and responsibilities this entails. It also suggests that on their own and in the face of economic uncertainties, rank-and-file workers are unlikely to develop the confidence to force such internal changes. Such revolutions inside unions can only happen through worker activists drawing strength from the creation of networks across workplaces (and across unions) and with support outside the unions. Part of the work of the new class organizations raised above is to facilitate and support such networks.


Looking back to the struggle at Cadillac Fairview, Steve Craig – the Chief Steward of the unit – concluded that “people need to realize that we do have power. Corporations need to feel the heat and workers need to crank it up.” The Cadillac Fairview struggle showed that groups of workers will and can fight but also that this is not enough. We need a new kind of labour movement that can amplify Craig’s sentiments. If the left doesn’t develop new organizational forms and strategies, corporations and states will exhaust the best in the working class and unions will drift toward simply accommodating to what they face – getting the best deal in the circumstances without challenging the ‘circumstances’ – while workers adjust their private lives, out of necessity, to individual survival. The status quo is disappearing as a choice. We will either make the leap into new forms of class mobilization or find ourselves continuing to slide into ever more ineffective stances to defend the gains of a receding past. •

Sam Gindin is the Visiting Packer Chair in Social Justice at York University, Toronto.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~(((( The   B u l l e t ))))~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

March 3, 2010 with Sheena Cameron, Dan Nardon, Paul Chislett, and guest Vito Signorile

I interviewed Georgia Luyt, an organizer with Israeli Apartheid Week at York University. IAW, as she explains, is meant as an educational effort to inform Canadians on the plight of the Palestinians and the reality of how they are marginalized, humiliated, and denied basic human rights, in effect suffering the same effects as Blacks in South Africa during the Apartheid era. Since the interview, the MPPs in the Ontario legislature, including the NDP and with only 30 members of the entire legislature present, voted to condemn IAW for being tantamount to hate propaganda. Also, Michael Ignatieff also condemned the effort. There is a concerted effort to denounce any criticism of Israel in Canada and we must all speak out for the freedom to decry injustice wherever it may occur.  Here is our conversation…Georgia Luyte of York University and Israeli Apartheid Week

Our in studio guest was Vito Signorile, retired academic and peace activist.

The following contain links and information on Israeli Apartheid Week.


Yves Engler Introduction: Canada and Israel: Building Apartheid

Most Canadians believe our country acts and has acted as an honest broker or peacekeeper on the world stage. While this belief may indicate a widespread desire for a democratic and humanistic foreign policy it often does not reflect reality. My Black Book of Canadian Foreign Policy was a broad overview of the subject. This work, on the other hand, is an attempt to understand Canada’s role in one of the world’s longest standing conflicts. To develop a peace-promoting altruistic Canadian foreign policy, the first step is to understand the past and current reality. Only then can we demand change. The aim of this book is to educate Canadians about what has and is curently being done in our name in an important part of the world.

Thousands of books describe various aspects of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict. Only a handful detail Canada’s ties to the dispute and most do so from a pro-Israel perspective. This is the first book to focus on Canadian support for the dispossession of Palestinians, for a state building a nation in favour of one religion, and for the last major European colonial project.

I believe most Canadians want their government to uphold the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, support multiculturalism and oppose colonialism when determining our foreign policy. Yet, in many respects Israel represents the antithesis of these principles. It proclaims itself the nation of one religion. It controls millions of people lives without allowing them to vote. It refuses to allow hundreds of thousands of people born in the land of Israel and their descendents from becoming citizens or even visiting the country. In many ways Israel’s current reality resembles the worst of Canada’s colonial past.

Still, this book is not about Israel, or the nature of Zionism. It does, however, begin with the position that Israel is an “apartheid state”. [Israeli apartheid: a beginner’s guide, 4] In recognition that this analysis is controversial in some quarters, a short explanation is necessary.

In Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid former U.S. President Jimmy Carter argues that Israel’s policies in the Palestinian territories constitute “a system of apartheid, with two peoples occupying the same land, but completely separated from each other, with Israelis totally dominant and suppressing violence by depriving Palestinians of their basic human rights.” [Palestine: peace not apartheid?, 215] On numerous occasions Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu has compared the treatment of Palestinians to Blacks under South African apartheid. The 1973 UN International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid described the “inhuman acts” of apartheid as:

  • Any legislative measures and other measures calculated to prevent a racial group or groups from participation in the political, social, economic and cultural life of the country … including the right to work, the right to form recognized trade unions, the right to education, the right to leave and to return to their country, the right to a nationality, the right to freedom of movement and residence.
  • Any measures, including legislative measures, designed to divide the population along racial lines by the creation of separate reserves and ghettos for the members of a racial group or groups … the expropriation of landed property belonging to a racial group. [Israeli apartheid: a beginner’s guide, 4]

Certain aspects of Israeli reality fit this definition. Israel’s laws are fundamentally racist, forcing citizens and institutions to make racist decisions. “Legal apartheid is regulated in Israel,” notes Uri Davis, by “ceding state sovereignty and investing its responsibilities in the critical area of immigration, settlement and land development with Zionist organizations constitutionally committed to the exclusive principle of ‘only for the Jews’.” [Apartheid Israel, 48] With quasi state status the World Zionist Organization, Jewish Agency and Jewish National Fund are constitutionally committed to serving and promoting the interests of Jews and only Jews. [Apartheid Israel, 48]

Zionist forces expelled 87% of the Arab population from the soon-to-be Jewish state in 1947/48. [Israeli apartheid: a beginner’s guide, 33] This was the first major act of apartheid waged against Palestinians. Refusing to allow them to return is an ongoing form. Since its establishment Israel has been in a state of emergency to keep the properties of Palestinian refugees in the hands of the state and the Jewish National Fund. [Israeli apartheid, 126] This theft is sanctified by the Absentees’ Property Law of 1950. []

Most of the land Israel grabbed from Palestinians is off limits to the Arabs that remain in Israel. A fifth of the population, Arabs are legally excluded from owning 93% of Israel (not including the occupied territories). [Israeli apartheid: a beginner’s guide, 49] They are also politically disenfranchised. Between 1948 and 1966 the Arab sectors of Israel were under martial law and today political parties that oppose the Jewish supremacist character of the state are outlawed. [] 7 (a) of Israel’s Basic Law stipulates that “A candidates’ list shall not participate in the elections to the Knesset if its objects or actions, expressly or by implication, include… negation of the existence of the State of Israel as the state of the Jewish people.” []

In addition to legal structures that discriminate against the indigenous Arab population, government services prioritize Jews. Despite making up 18% of the population, Arab Israelis receive about 4% of public spending. [Israeli apartheid: a beginner’s guide, 53] A March 2009 report found that the “government invested [US] $1,100 in each Jewish pupil’s education compared to $190 for each Arab pupil. The gap is even wider when compared to the popular state-run religious schools, where Jewish pupils receive nine times more funding than Arab pupils.” [] According to Israel’s National Insurance Institute, half of all Arab Israeli families live in poverty compared to 14 percent of Jewish families. [The Electronic Intifada Nov 30 2009]

In the West Bank, Israeli apartheid should be obvious to even the most blind. The population has been pushed into bantustan-like enclaves, encircled by a massive wall, had their water and land appropriated, and are subjected to daily humiliation at military checkpoints. For more than four decades supposedly democratic Israel has dominated the West Bank population without allowing them to vote in national elections. In Gaza 1.5 million Palestinians — many of whom were forced from their homes in 1947/48 — live in a giant prison cut off from the world by the mighty Israeli military.

In fact, Zionism is an expansionist settler ideology. For more than a century the Zionist movement has steadily usurped Arab land. Many Zionists believe Eretz Israel (the land of Israel) includes the West Bank, Gaza and much more. The 450,000 state-supported settlers illegally installed in the West Bank and East Jerusalem are an expression of this expansionism. [] So is Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights, which was captured from Syria in the 1967 war.

To achieve its aims this expansionist ideology requires military might. Israel has bombed Syria, Palestine, Jordan, Egypt, Sudan, Lebanon, Tunisia, Iraq and threatens to bomb Iran. Israeli military historian Zeev Maoz explains: “Between 1948 and 2004, Israel fought six interstate wars, fought two (some say three) civil wars, and engaged in over 144 dyadic militarized interstate disputes (MIDs) that involved the threat, the display, or the use of military force against another state. Israel is by far the most conflict prone state in modern history. It has averaged nearly four MIDS every year. It has fought an interstate war every nine years. Israel appears on top of the list of the most intense international rivalries in the last 200-year period.” [Defending the holy land, 5] Later in Defending The Holy Land: A Critical Analysis of Israel’s Security & Foreign Policy, Maoz notes: “There was only one year out of 56 years of history in which Israel did not engage in acts involving the threat, display, or limited use of force with its neighbors. The only year in which Israel did not engage in a militarized conflict was 1988, when Israel was deeply immersed in fighting the Palestinian uprising, the intifada. So it is fair to say that during each and every year of its history Israel was engaged in violent military actions of some magnitude.” [Defending the holy land, 231] Maoz concludes that, “None of the wars — with a possible exception of the 1948 war of Independence — was what Israel refers to as Milhemet Ein Brerah (‘war of necessity’). They were all wars of choice or wars of folly.” [Defending the holy land, 35]

This book will argue that, from the beginning, Israel was primarily the creation of European/North American sociopolitical forces, including Canadian ones. Ideologically, Zionism’s roots come from Biblical literalism and European nationalism. Both also played significant roles in Canadian history. Zionism can be described as the ideology of the last major European settler movement. Canada is also a “settler state”, which made Israel a familiar face and garnered it support.

This book will also describe the important role Canadian diplomats played in the 1947 UN negotiations to create a Jewish state on Palestinian land. Uninterested in the welfare of the indigenous population, Lester Pearson chaired two different UN bodies discussing the issue and Canada’s representative to the UN Special Committee on Palestine, Ivan C. Rand, pushed a partition plan bitterly resisted by Palestinians. After the UN-backed partition vote Canadians supported efforts to expel Palestine’s Arab population. Hundreds of Canadians fought in the 1947/48 war, while many more financed and procured weapons. During the war 700,000 Palestinians were driven from their homeland and Israel conquered 24% more territory than it was allocated in the already generous partition plan.

This book will argue that, unmoved by Palestinian suffering, Canadian diplomacy continued its one-sided backing of Israel after the 1948 war. Ottawa actively supported Israel before, during and after the 1967 war, for instance. A number of studies in the 1980s found Canada to be among Israel’s best friends at the UN. While, on occasion, Canadian pronouncements and UN votes have supported Palestinian rights, rarely have the different arms of Canadian foreign policy provided concrete support. Canadian intelligence and military services have been one-sided advocates of Israel. The Canadian Security Intelligence Service works closely with Mossad and many Canadian weapons-makers ship their products to Israel. As well, private charities support Israeli militarism and every year Canadians send hundreds of millions of dollars worth of tax-deductible donations to Israeli universities, parks, immigration initiatives etc. More controversially, millions of dollars in private money, often subsidized by Canadian tax write-offs, is funnelled to illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

Ontario Legislature Hansard: Thursday Feb. 25

Mr. Peter Shurman: I move that in the opinion of this House, the term “Israeli Apartheid Week” is condemned as it serves to incite hatred against Israel, a democratic state that respects the rule of law and human rights, and the use of the word “apartheid” in this context diminishes the suffering of those who were victims of a true apartheid regime in South Africa.

Ms. Cheri DiNovo: Before I begin, I want to dedicate these comments to someone that many of us knew and loved: a campaign manager, union activist, social justice activist and my campaign manager, who passed away on February 4, Julius Deutsch.

Julius asked me to officiate at his funeral, a funeral attended by some 500 people. The mayor spoke, among many others. And one of the things that Julius said to me before he passed away was when I asked him if there were any regrets in his life-and he lived three lives, not one. He said, “I never got to go to Israel.”

I also want to dedicate these comments to my sister-in-law, who is Muslim and has travelled extensively in the Middle East, and to my church, because many of you know I was a United Church minister before I was elected to this position.

At Emmanuel Howard Park United Church, we did a number of firsts for a Christian church. The first thing we did was that on Holy Thursday-with many churches now, it’s a tradition to do a Christianized reproduction, if I can say that, of Seder supper. What we did was a really Jewish Seder supper. We invited a Rabbinic friend to come in and to really walk us through, to have us experience what Jesus experienced on Holy Thursday.

The very Sunday after 9/11, we were the first church outside of Riverside in New York to recognize that what happened in 9/11 was going to be problematic for our Islamic neighbours. We invited Jami Mosque, the oldest mosque in Toronto, to come and worship with us that Sunday, and they came-a whole busload of them came. It was the first time anything like that had ever happened. They sat in our pews, we worshiped together, and we started a fast and friendly dialogue.

What I think we want on this issue, my friends, what we want in the Middle East and what we want in the world is the same, independent of our religious stripe, and that is peace. We want peace. We don’t need inflammatory language on either side of this issue. We don’t want it. We don’t need it. We reject it.

Is “apartheid” an inflammatory term? Absolutely. There are lots of inflammatory terms flying around about the issue in the Middle East-lots of them on all sides of that issue. They are not helpful. They detract from the cause we’re all engaged in, and that is peace.

I spoke to a number of people about this very issue before I stood here today and how really to deal with it. I heard from many Muslims-Muslims who have lived in Israel and lived in other places in the Middle East-and many of them said the same thing to me: “We are not vested in that term. We don’t like that term. We’d like to talk about ending the occupation. We’d like to talk about the wall. We’d like to talk about substantive issues.” And these are both Jews and Muslims, both in and outside Israel. We don’t want to talk in inflammatory terms, and that’s what this motion speaks to.

It was interesting that one of the Muslims, a well-respected one, and I won’t drag his name out, said that, really, just like you heard from the member from Thornhill, Israel is one of the few if not the only real democracy in the Middle East. He said, having been a struggler for rights in Iran, “Certainly I’d rather live as a Muslim in Israel than in Iran at the moment.” And I think he speaks for many Muslims and certainly many of us-certainly as a woman.

As a woman who had the great good fortune of being the one to perform the first legalized same-sex marriage in North America, I know that the rights of LGBT people are important to me. They’re important to me, and they’re important to my constituents. So I look around the world as to where those rights are upheld, and it’s problematic. There are not too many places. We’re very much engaged, some of us, in the situation in Uganda right now. But I wouldn’t want to hold up any other place-I mean it’s a little freer in Israel than it is some of the places that surround Israel in that regard. This is problematic.

But one thing I will say, and I’ll say it to my friend from Thornhill, in terms of symbolism, one of the best things we can do in this House, dealing with a motion like this, is to reiterate what we all share, to reiterate the binds that bind us. I have to say, having been a studier of theology, having my doctorate in theology and having read all of the scriptural precedents, that there is nothing in any of our scripture-Muslim, Jew or Christian-that does not call on us all to treat our brothers and sisters, independent of their religious background, independent of where they come from, as just that, brothers and sisters, with love-to extend a handshake and to avoid anything that would cause us to learn to hate each other, to propagate hatred or to propagate anything that would add to the deaths of children, for example. That’s why, when I stand here, I do so with some trepidation.

I’ve also heard the discussion, and I don’t think there’s validity to it, that this sort of motion does not belong here. I think, in a sense, it does. We are a place that is symbolic, in part at least. I know I have motions on the order paper that talk about the rights of Tibetans. We, as provincial representatives, really don’t have a lot to say about the rights of Tibetans, but we should say something about the rights of Tibetans, just as we should say something about the rights of all people who have legitimate grievances in the world. We should say something about it as human beings, never mind as political representatives.

Some have talked about peace-but, yes, peace with justice, absolutely. There’s no true peace without justice for everyone.

Certainly our federal New Democrats have a policy, a pretty widely supported policy, and that is the two-state solution. I don’t differ from that policy as a member of provincial Parliament. I think a two-state solution is the way to go.

But more importantly than talking about the politics in this place, what we really need to do is to talk about how to move from here as brothers and sisters, particularly at this time.

So here’s the thing. Israeli Apartheid Week: Does this help advance any cause? Even some friends that I have-and I have many-on the far left who have experienced real life in their home countries in the Middle East, and again mainly and mostly Muslim friends in the organization I’m thinking of, are very skeptical about such a term as “apartheid” when applying it to Israel.

First of all, as the member from Thornhill has pointed out, it’s not historically accurate any more than it would be to call Canada an apartheid nation because of our history with our First Nations people, although people have, right? It doesn’t help further the conversation. It doesn’t help First Nations people. It doesn’t help Muslims or Palestinians to talk about Israel as an apartheid nation. It doesn’t help Jews. It certainly doesn’t help Christians to use that term, and they support that.

The movement, though, is what I’m concerned about. I almost thought as I stood here that we should really start in prayer, because when you talk about such divisive issues, what I’m used to doing, coming from my background, is you start with prayer even if it’s in a multi-faith context, because you start where you share, and that’s with prayer. Just like in the Seder supper, you always pray for your enemies first. You pray for the Egyptians in the Seder supper. You pray for those that you have a contention with.

What I would suggest to all those on campuses is that instead of engaging in inflammatory language, instead of using terms that divide, we perhaps begin the discussion somewhere else. Perhaps we talk about what we do agree on and how we can move forward so that people’s lives could be saved. That is what we all want. What we all want to reiterate, and to go back to where I started, is peace-peace with justice, but peace. What we all want is safety. What we all want is what the member from Thornhill has in his riding, which, if I remember correctly, is a synagogue next to a mosque next to a Tibetan temple next to a Christian church. We want what we model in Canada. We want this for our neighbours around the world, in part. Not that we’re perfect-far from it-but we want what is so graphically shown in our city.

We want all faiths to work together. We want all peoples to work together. We want to take the level of rhetoric down at least a notch or two and to start seeing each other the way we see ourselves. That is what the Torah calls us to do. That is what the Christian Bible calls us to do. That is what the Quran calls us to do. That is what my Buddhist, Sikh and Hindu neighbours call us to do. That is what we are called to do-dare I say it?-by God. That is what we are called to do.

Ontario MPPs Ignore International
Denounciations of Israeli Apartheid

Shourideh Molavi

On February 25, a group of Ontario Members of Provincial Parliament (MPP) voted unanimously on a motion to “denounce” this year’s Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW). Claiming to send a message of so-called “moral suasion” to all “fair-minded Ontarians,” Peter Shurman, the MPP who tabled the motion, argued that the mere application of the phrase ‘Israeli apartheid’ is “about as close to hate speech as one can get without being arrested.” In what seemed a veiled threat of possible arrests in the future of those accusing Israel with the crime of apartheid, Shurman moved on to state that he was “not certain” that its use “doesn’t actually cross over that line.”

Israeli Apartheid Week, March 1-7, 2010 –

To make the case for curtailing the use of this phrase, random online blogs not associated with IAW are quoted, after which a barrage of name-calling which vilify the organizers as “propagandists” and “liars,” and label IAW as “pure garbage” and “toxic” follow. Once tabled, a range of bizarre anecdotes of relatives, neighbours and friends who support the Zionist project were presented by various NDP, Liberal and Conservative MPPs as reasons for supporting this blatant censure of freedom of expression. Other than a letter written by Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath, distancing the NDP from the motion, there was little disagreement.

Israeli Apartheid: Not an Analogy

Of course, campaigns to stifle criticism of Israeli crimes of apartheid are not new. A similar unity by senior Canadian Members of Parliament and university administrations surfaced during last year’s IAW with the financial blackmail of local community organizations and campus groups, bureaucratic harassment of trade unions supporting Palestine solidarity groups, vilification of respected community leaders, baseless accusations of anti-Semitism aimed at capturing and ending all criticism of Israel – an all-encompassing umbrella that would also capture dissenting Jewish and Israeli voices – and with elaborate attempts to stifle organizing on campuses by denying space for lectures and panel discussions, and banning the official poster of the initiative.

Evidenced by a series of academic lectures and presentations welcomed with packed rooms of students of the Zionist-Palestinian conflict during last year’s IAW, their united effort failed.

As a result, this year, Ontario MPPs are not interested in a political discussion. Realizing that public dissent and discourse in the face of continued infringements of human dignity and blatant violations of international law cannot be muted easily, the argument is now that there is no issue with debating the Israel-Palestine conflict, instead, “the problem is the name Israeli Apartheid Week.” The concern lies with the mere use of the word ‘apartheid’ to describe the Israeli system of occupation, expulsion, exclusion and exploitation.

So, what is the issue with the term ‘apartheid’? Ontario MPPs seem to argue that the term has an expiration date. Apartheid, Shurman says, “was only ever applied in one historical case and remains applicable only to that one period of South African history.” We cannot condemn the racial discrimination embedded in the system of laws, institutions, structures, policies and practices which regulate the relationship between the State of Israel and the Palestinian people until we invent another term. In other words, people of conscience are asked to ignore the elephant in the room.

On this note, the record is clear. Palestinian, Israeli, and international academics, legal scholars and solidarity activists are not arguing that apartheid South Africa is an exact replica of Israeli apartheid. In fact, it would do the MPPs and their supporters some good to read “Not an Analogy: Israel and the Crime of Apartheid” by Hazem Jamjoum of the Badil Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights. In this piece, Jamjoum argues that while points of similarity and difference between apartheid South Africa and Israeli apartheid are outlined with great detail by prominent scholars and solidarity activists, apartheid is a political and legal system that could be practiced by any state. He moves on to point out that even with regards to the legal definition of apartheid, the 1973 adoption of the International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid by the UN General Assembly explained that the definition of the crime of apartheid was not limited to the case and borders of South Africa. In other words, there is no basis for the argument that apartheid refers exclusively to a particular government, period of rule, or moment in history.

MPPs Malign the Work of
International Legal Figures, Academics

Charging Israel with the crime of apartheid was not concocted by the organizers of IAW. Defining Israel’s institutionalized domination and multifaceted system of control over the Palestinian people as apartheid is the result of an informed position held by a range of Palestinian, Israeli, and international academics, religious figures, journalists, politicians and other persons of conscience.

On numerous occasions, John Dugard, the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories has asserted the fact that Israel’s ongoing military presence is not a ‘normal’ type of occupation; a controlling force over a territory after a period of violent conflict. Instead, Dugard points out that what Palestinians experience on a daily basis is described as “the regime of a colonizing power under the guise of occupation which includes many of the worst features of apartheid.”

Former President of the United Nations General Assembly, Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann, compared Israeli violations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip to “the apartheid of an earlier era,” urging the international community that “we must not be afraid to call something what it is.” Also, in a recent article, former national director of the American Jewish Congress and of the Synagogue Council of America, Henry Siegman, argued that “Israel’s relentless drive to establish ‘facts on the ground’… have succeeded in locking in the irreversibility of its colonial project” and as a result “Israel has crossed the threshold from ‘the only democracy in the Middle East’ to the only apartheid regime in the Western world.”

The extensive list of prominent Palestinian, Israeli and international intellectuals, politicians, academics, journalists, religious figures, and solidarity activists who have used the term apartheid to describe Israel and its policies of exclusion also includes Archbishop Desmond Tutu, British-Israeli Professor Avi Shlaim, Israeli Professor Oren Yiftachel, Palestinian-Jewish Professor Uri Davis among others.

If charging Israel with the crime of apartheid is the issue, then these Ontario MPPs would also advocate the silencing of these prominent figures along with the organizers of IAW.

The Suasion to Support Israeli Apartheid Week

Evident from the motion passed by this group of MPPs is their hypocrisy. There is complete neglect of Israel’s blatant disregard for Palestinian life, and its ongoing violations of international law, international humanitarian law and human rights – all of which has been thoroughly documented by several human rights organizations. Rather, these MPPs have decided to reward Israel for its belligerence by taking steps to censor informed criticisms of the Zionist project by human rights organizations and persons of conscience. No doubt, Premier Dalton McGuinty’s upcoming trade mission to Israel on May 23 is part of the reward-package.

And it does not stop here. Conservative Member of Parliament Tim Uppal, recently declared his intention to introduce a motion before the House of Commons condemning IAW, the planned series of informed lectures and panel discussions, and, by extension, the charge of Israeli violations with the crime of apartheid. In this context, supporters, participants and organizers of IAW will attempt to address Israel’s systematic violations of human dignity, which the Ontario Premier and this group of MPPs seem to have excused. Supporting IAW this year means continuing to assert the need to hold Israel accountable for its recalcitrance, its military adventurism, and refusing to yield to efforts by elected officials to intimidate and silence advocates of human rights. •

Shourideh Molavi is based in Toronto, and writes regularly on Israeli crimes of apartheid.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~(((( The   B u l l e t ))))~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Parliament Resumes

Detainee abuse will come back to bite Harperites

Minority parties could work together to hold MacKay and Cannon in contempt.

Dateline: Monday, March 01, 2010

by Stuart Thomson

OTTAWA, March 3, 2010 — Parliament is likely to pick up right where it left off, by demanding to know more about the role of senior ministers in the Afghan detainee scandal.

The House of Commons request for government memos regarding the transfer of Afghan detainees was temporarily stymied by prorogation. Now the issue will be at the forefront when the House reconvenes.

The Special Committee on the Canadian Mission in Afghanistan sees the documents as essential in establishing a timeline of who knew what, and when they knew it. If the Committee finds strong evidence that members of cabinet were aware that Canadian soldiers handed over prisoners to Afghan forces — knowing they would be tortured — it would have serious repercussions, possibly even a referral to the international war crimes tribunal.

There are essentially two options for action. In both, opposition MPs have one overarching tenet of parliamentary democracy on their side: the supremacy of Parliament.

“You can go the route of finding the cabinet minister[s] involved in refusing to disclose the documents in contempt of Parliament, which in a minority parliament the opposition parties could easily do because they’re a majority,” says Duff Conacher, the Director of Democracy Watch, a watchdog group advocating for democratic reform and accountability.

The cabinet ministers in question would be Peter MacKay, Minister of Defence, and Lawrence Cannon, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Trade.

The consequences could be extreme as expelling a minister or asking the speaker to censure him, and would take a simple majority vote to pass.

“If the minister doesn’t [disclose the documents] expel the minister. If another minister doesn’t, you can expel him too,” says John Chenier, director of The Lobby Monitor, an Ottawa publication on lobbying and public policy.

Although expelling a minister is technically possible, Conacher doesn’t think it will accomplish anything except maybe to annoy the Canadian public.

“It’s a kangaroo court. It doesn’t resolve anything. And you’re not going to get the documents either,” he says.

Conacher says that the only real solution to the problem is to refer the issue to the Supreme Court of Canada. This would provide clarification on which documents, and how much of those documents, House committees can demand to see.

A Court decision would also solve the ongoing conflict between the parliamentary counsel, who advises that committee members should be allowed to see the memos but with greater precautions than normal, and the government’s lawyers, who say that the request can be denied on national security grounds.

The process of referring the issue to the Supreme Court could be expedited, because the arguments on both sides have already been written, and the Court is likely to recognize the urgency of the matter.

The case could reach the court in a matter of months, rather than years, and could be initiated by the government or, in a less direct way, by the opposition parties.

Paul Dewar, NDP Foreign Affairs critic and a member of the special committee, was averse to taking the issue to the courts.

“We shouldn’t have to [go to the courts]. We’ve seen this government use the courts to delay. We can’t delay on this question.,” he said at a press conference on Feb. 3.

Dewar was speaking to reporters after announcing that he had sent a letter to Attorney General and Justice Minister Rob Nicholson demanding that the committee be allowed access to the documents. Dewar believes that Nicholson, in his capacity as Attorney General, has a responsibility to Parliament that goes over and above his responsibility to Cabinet.

If Nicholson denies the request, Dewar says that the opposition parties will move to hold the government in contempt and censure the ministers responsible for withholding the documents.

“We need to hold the government to account and if they are not going to provide access to these documents, hold them in contempt because they clearly would be,” he said.


  • May 2005: Canada begins negotiations of a detainee transfer deal with Afghanistan. Up to this point, detainees were passed on to American troops who then shipped them to Guantanamo Bay.
  • December 2005: A transfer deal is signed by Rick Hillier while the federal government is embroiled in a federal election. Stephen Harper’s Conservatives would defeat Paul Martin’s Liberals and go on to form a minority government.
  • May 2007: The government signs a new detainee transfer deal, admitting that the old one was inadequate. The move comes in response to a growing scandal regarding Afghani detainees who claim they were tortured after being transferred by Canadian troops. The new agreement includes provisions such as follow-up visits to Afghani jails and better protections for detainees.
  • November 2009: Richard Colvin, a former diplomat in Afghanistan testifies to the Military Police Complaints Commission with further allegations of torture by Afghani interrogators.
  • February 3, 2010: Paul Dewar, MP-NDP, requests an unredacted copy of memos regarding treatment of detainees from Justice Minister and Attorney General Rob Nicholson. Dewar says that if Nicholson, as Attorney General, says no to the request then the government would indisputably be in contempt of parliament.
  • March 3, 2010: Parliament to resume after a six week prorogation. Document requests, like Private Members’ Bills, survive prorogation and remain when parliament resumes.

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