Sunday, October 31, 2004

NRDC mobilizing for federal Wuskwatim panel

Canada's Minister of the Environment will soon be receiving a barrage of letters urging him to appoint a federal panel to review the social, economic and environmental impacts of both existing and proposed hydro projects in Manitoba. As part of its campaign to protect Boreal Forests in Manitoba, the US-based Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is asking its BioGem supporters to send these letters to demonstrate the public's concerns about damage from hydropower dams on the boreal's wildlife, forest ecosystems, and communities. The letters also ask the Manitoba government and Manitoba Hydro to honor their commitment to mitigate damage caused by existing dams - and halt new hydro developments until an independent panel reviews the cumulative impacts of dam and transmission line construction and operation. Visit NRDC's Heart of the Boreal BioGem web page, people in Canada can send letters through the NRDC site; letters can be adjusted to reflect our concerns.

Sunday, October 24, 2004

Why Ms Hiscocks is my heroine

(cut and pasted from the Ottawa Citizen)

A jury admitted yesterday it was hopelessly deadlocked in the trial of five people who occupied a house during G8 protests in Ottawa in 2002. Following a three-week trial, and three days of deliberations, the jury told the court it was "unable to agree" on a verdict on 18 of 20 charges against Nicholas Ackerley, Rachelle Sauve, Amy Miller, Amanda Hiscocks and Dan Sawyer. The only verdicts reached were acquittals for Mr. Sawyer and Ms. Hiscocks on a charge of criminal mischief causing damage. All the accused were charged with break and enter, two counts of criminal mischief and one count of obstructing a police officer. They defended themselves. "Obviously, we're very pleased," said Mr. Sawyer. "It seems the jury, or at least some members of the jury, took what we were saying to heart. There must have been a very heated debate in that jury room. I only hope now that debate occurs across the city." The accused admitted they occupied, i. e., squatted, at 246 Gilmour St. between June 26 and July 3, 2002, when a massive police intervention finally evicted them. The house was privately owned and was vacant for seven years. They argued a severe housing "crisis" made the occupation necessary, and that there was a "greater community need" for the house, a need that effectively trumped the owner's right to leave it vacant. Crown Attorney David Elhadad argued the defendants simply broke the law, no matter their intentions. In the end, the jury refused to convict on any charges. "I think this will get people talking, and that's a good thing," said city councillor Diane Holmes, whose ward takes in Gilmour Street, and who was at the courthouse. "Affordable housing is a terribly important issue for this city, and this will highlight the issue. As for what they did, I guess even the jury had a hard time deciding it was wrong." The owner of the house, Richard Davis, testified he obtained the house as part of his mother's estate, of which he is co-executor. He said it needed major repairs, which he was never able to afford. He said it was vacant during the final years of his mother's lengthy illness, and during the years immediately following her death, when the estate was being settled. He denied the house had been abandoned, and said it was for sale at the time the defendants occupied it. He testified an offer to buy the house was even on the table in June 2002, but could not close because of the occupation. He said he eventually sold the house for much less than that offer. The house has since been torn down. He said earlier in the week a deadlocked jury, or outright acquittal, would send the wrong message to the community. "How can someone take over your house?" he asked. "I agree homelessness is an important issue, but that doesn't mean you take away someone's home. That's not the way to find a solution." The defendants yesterday said that might be exactly how to find a solution. "It's time the city looked at a use-it-or-lose-it bylaw," said Mr. Sawyer. "If you don't use your property, then in areas where there is a lack of affordable housing, and a need for it, then maybe the city should step inand do something." The Crown attorney has until Dec. 3 to decide whether to retry the defendants.

Friday, October 22, 2004

Arctic native leader gives a warning

An Arctic native leader offered a passionate plea to the U.S. government and its citizens Wednesday to aggressively combat climate change. Addressing a Senate Commerce Committee hearing on global warming, Inuit Circumpolar Conference Chair Sheila Watt-Cloutier said the Inuit are already suffering dramatic changes to their Arctic environment. Watt-Cloutier, who represents the 155,000 Inuit in Greenland, Canada, Alaska and the Russian Federation, described the Inuit struggle as "a snapshot of what is happening to the planet." "We find ourselves at the very cusp of a defining event in the history of this planet," Watt-Cloutier told the senators. "The Earth is literally melting." Inuit hunters and elders have been observing changes to their environment for decades, Watt-Cloutier said, including unpredictable weather, melting of permafrost and glaciers, decreasing sea ice, as well as the presence of new species such as barn owls, robins and mosquitoes never seen before by the Inuit people. "If we can reverse the emissions of greenhouse gases in time to save the Arctic, then we can spare untold suffering," said Watt-Cloutier. "Protect the Arctic and you will save the planet," she said. "Use us as your early warning system. Use the Inuit story as a vehicle to reconnect us all so that we can understand the people and the planet are one." Committee chair John McCain, an Arizona Republican, said a recent trip to the Arctic showed him that "these impacts are real and consistent with earlier scientific projects that the Arctic region would experience the impacts of climate change at a faster rate than the rest of the world."

Wednesday's hearing was part of an ongoing effort by McCain to rally more support for the climate stewardship bill he and Connecticut Democrat Joe Lieberman have coauthored. "We are the first generation to influence the climate and the last generation to escape the consequences," McCain said. The Arizona Senator's legislation would require some sectors of the U.S. economy to enact mandatory reductions of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions - the leading greenhouse gas. The bill was defeated in the Senate last October by a vote of 53 to 44, but supporters of the legislation said the vote was a watershed moment in the U.S. debate over the issue of global warming. It was the first action on the issue by the Senate in six years. McCain said he is determined not to abandon the proposal, but he acknowledges the bill has little support in the House or within the Bush administration. Although a new report from the White House on climate change cited studies that linking rising temperatures to human activities, "officials have said there is no change in the administration's policy position," McCain said. President Bush is loathe to enforce mandatory greenhouse gas emissions reductions on American industries and has repeatedly questioned the science that points to the effects of these emissions on the climate. Few doubt global warming is an international concern, but critics of the administration note that the United States, which is responsible for more than 25 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, must play a leading role in efforts to limit consumption of fossil fuels. New Jersey Democrat Frank Lautenberg said it is politics - not science - that is prohibiting U.S. action on global warming. "I am disturbed by the administration's shifting position on climate change," Lautenberg said. "We need leadership at the top and we are not getting it."

The hearing included testimony from authors of two recent studies that indicate failure to curb global warming could have devastating effects. One study, published in August in the journal "Science" shows that heat waves in North America and Europe will become more intense, more frequent and longer lasting during this century. The second study, published in August in the "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences" details how global warming will bring California a dramatic increase in extreme heat and heat-related mortality and significant reductions in Sierra snowpack, with cascading impacts on water supply. The California study focused on two scenarios and showed that significant changes in temperature are likely regardless of what is done in the immediate future to reduce emissions. "The greenhouse gases that we are emitting today will reside in the atmosphere for decades, perhaps for a century - that makes this a pressing problem," said study coauthor Daniel Cayan, a research meteorologist, with Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California at San Diego. Under the study's lower emissions scenario, summer temperatures in California will still rise 4 to 5 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century, with the length of the heat wave season extending from an average of 115 days in a year to 149 to 162 days But if nothing is done to curb the use of fossil fuels, summer temperatures rise a dramatic 7.5 to 15 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the study, with the length of the heat wave season increasing to 178 to 204 days. "It is pretty clear that when we think of our kids and their kids they will be wanting to deal with the lower emissions scenario," Cayan said. Watt-Cloutier told the commitee that the observations of the Inuit are backed by the findings of Western scientists, in particular the work of the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (ACIA).

The ACIA is an international team of 300 scientists, experts, and indigenous residents of the Arctic region who are preparing a comprehensive analysis of the impacts and consequences of climate variability and changes across the region. Their final report is slated for release this November - Watt-Cloutier said the Bush administration is blocking the ACIA from publishing its recommendations for action as a standalone report. She says the move is driven by politics and is a bid to remove pressure on the United States to engage in specific greenhouse gas emissions reductions. The scientific analysis contained in the report paints a worrying future for the Inuit The ACIA has found that in Alaska and western Canada, the average winter temperatures have increased by as much as 3 to 4 degrees Celsius over the past 60 years. During the past 30 years, Arctic sea ice extent has decreased, on average, by about 10 percent, and this change has been 20 percent faster during the past two decades. Continued melting of sea ice will lead to significant changes in the surface reflectivity, cloudiness, humidity, exchanges of heat and moisture, and ocean circulation, in particular along coastlines and near ice margins. Watt-Cloutier said two major conclusions of ACIA report are that marine species dependent on sea ice face an uncertain future and that global warming will disrupt - and potentially destroy - the Inuit culture. Warmer climates could bring insects with diseases the Inuit have never known and the species they depend upon - such as the polar bear - are unlikely to survive if global warming continues unabated. "The ancient connection to our hunting culture may disappear within my grandson's lifetime," Watt-Cloutier said. "My Arctic homeland is now the health barometer for the planet."

(originally posted here.)

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

What happened at CSIS today

Six people were arrested today following a sit-in in the lobby of the building that houses the Toronto offices of Canada's national spy agency, CSIS. The group, made up of folks from Burlington, Hamilton, Dundas, Durham, and Toronto, had been seeking a meeting to discuss the secret "evidence" which has been used to detain five Muslim men a collective 164 months, or 13 and a half years, behind Canadian prison bars without charge or bail.

Sponsored by the Campaign to Stop Secret Trials in Canada, the group chose the date of October 20 because it marks three years in solitary confinement for secret trial detainee Hassan Almrei, a Syrian refugee held in Toronto's Metro West Detention Centre and one of the five Muslim men currently detained without charge or bail. Next week in Ottawa, secret trial detainee Mohamed Harkat will attend the public portion of his secret trial, after which the judge will retire with CSIS and government lawyers to discuss the evidence (if any exists) without Harkat and his lawyer present. Mohammad Mahjoub, held since June 2000 in Toronto, is currently in solitary confinement; Mahmoud Jaballah has been detained since August,2001, and Adil Charkaoui detained since May, 2003.

"We sit here because we have tried just about every channel available to us," the group wrote in a statement. "But time is not on ourside. These men are shadows of their former selves, often broken in body,and scarred in spirit. Their families are traumatized, their communities fearful. And each day they wake brings the same nagging question: why are they being held behind bars, and why is Canada attempting to deport them totorture?

"We sit here not because we despair, but because we hope. Perhaps our willingness to take some risk, to practice some truth-seeking, Gandhian non-violence, will open some minds, some hearts, some souls, to the crime ofsecret trials in Canada and the pain they have inflicted on individuals, families, communities."

The group were charged with failure to leave premises when directed as well as engaging in a prohibited activity on private property and released shortly after their arrests. Those arrested and charged are Kirsten Romaine, Rae Mitchell, Diana Ralph, Chris Shannon, Barney Barningham and Matthew Behrens.

About ten people entered the lobby shortly after 11 am and sat on benches that they imagined were for... well... sitting. Security came within a few minutes to ascertain why they were sitting on those benches.

"Because benches are made to be sat upon," explained one. A member of the group called upstairs to CSIS requesting that a meeting be held immediately to discuss transfer of the secret "evidence" to the lawyers of the detainees, so they can defend their clients. Other security officials showed up to make extensive explanations about the fact that, even though CSIS is a federal government agency, it is housed in a building that is "private property."

Police were eventually called in and, after asking them almost a dozen times to leave, were eventually forced to make arrests.

One particularly interesting exchange between a resister and a police officer went like this:

officer: Well, you'll have your 15 seconds on the news tonight.
resister: I hope these men will be released.
officer: Are they illegal immigrants? What are the charges?
resister: No charges. They're refugees and permanent residents, and this could now be done to citizens.
officer: Well, it could be me or you next.
resister: Yes, it could be, that's why we're doing this. We're trying to generate public support for these men.
officer: I think it's very important tthat you're doing this. If the public doesn't know about this, these men could just disappear. It happened in Chile, it could happen here.
resister: We think they should get a fair and open trial so they can defend themselves. There must be checks and balances.
officer: I agree, there must be checks and balances.

Another arrestee reports that the arresting officer apologized for having to make the arrest, for after having heard about the reason for the protest, the officer felt a sense of shame that he would be hauling such folks out of the CSIS building.

The six plan to contest the charges, a right that thus far remains unavailable to the five secret trial detainees.

For more info: call (416) 651-5800, write Campaign to Stop Secret Trials in Canada, PO Box 73620, 509 St. Clair Ave. West Toronto, ON M6C 1C0, click here, or email

Sunday, October 17, 2004

Roma refugee in solitary confinement and on hunger strike

Adrian Dragan, a Roma refugee that has been held for 16 months awaiting removal to Romania, has been put into solitary confinement at Fraser Pre-trial in Coquitlam, BC, after refusing to sign documents that he is willing to return to Romania. He is a Roma (also known as "Gypsy") and faces serious danger and repression if removed to Romania, where Roma people are regularly attacked and persecuted. In fact, Adrian renounced his citizenship in Romania in 1993 to condemn the racism against Roma there, and since he does not have formal citizenship, he is now being held in jailed limbo, without rights as a citizen in either Canada or Romania. Canada has already tried once to send Adrian to Romania, but he was refused at the Romanian border. Since he is no longer a citizen of Romania, it would have been against international law to force him to enter, so he was sent back to Canada and is now in continued detention by Immigration Canada. Liviu Maior, the Ambassador of Romania to Canada, has stated in writing that “pursuant to the Romanian and international laws, the stateless person Adrian Dragan has no more legal connection with Romania... Romania would receive the stateless person Adrian Dragan only as a result of the latter's express will.” And yet Canadian officials persist unable to deport him and refusing to release him. As a stateless citizen, Dragan has no homeland and no country of residence. As a signatory of the United Nations’ 1954 Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons and the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, Canada has an international duty to accept and protect stateless people.

for more information contact
No One is Illegal Vancouver: (604) 682-3269 x 7149
Ontario Coalition Against Poverty: (416) 925-6939

Friday, October 15, 2004

Monsanto victory plants seed of privatisation

This story was originally written by Stephen Leahy for Inter Press Service (Brooklin, Canada) October 5th, 2004. I cut and pasted it from

Canadian farmers' traditional right to save seeds is being threatened by proposals to collect royalties on virtually all such seeds following agribusiness giant Monsanto's victory over grower Percy Schmeiser.

A recent review of Canada's entire production and regulatory system for the seeds farmers plant looked at ways to collect payments (royalties) on seeds the growers save from their own crops, to link crop insurance to the use of purchased certified seeds and to increase intellectual property protection for seed companies.

"It's a fundamental shift in agriculture to the privatisation of seeds," says Terry Pugh, executive secretary of Canada's National Farmer's Union (NFU). "There are no benefits (in this) for farmers."

Formally known as the Seed Sector Review, Pugh described the process as an industry-driven restructuring of Canada's seed production system. Companies such as Monsanto, Syngenta, Bayer and Dupont, which dominate Canada's seed industry, are pushing for "deregulation" and increased profitability, he added in an interview. The essence of the review is to turn growers into consumers of seed from producers of seed. "Farmers can't believe this is happening," added Pugh.

Various regulations in Canada's laws have long protected farmers from unscrupulous seed sellers by requiring that new varieties of wheat and other grains pass a merit test. Before they could be sold to farmers their makers had to prove they offered better yields, improved disease resistance or agronomic performance.

Until the 1990s most of the research into new seed varieties was done either by government researchers or publicly funded university plant breeders. To encourage corporate seed research, Canada created the Plant Breeders Rights Act (PBR) in 1990.

Under the PBR when farmers bought certified (high quality) seed from a company they could save seed from their crop for their own use the following year but could not sell it to anyone else. This seed saving for a farmer's own use could continue indefinitely but growers were technically prohibited from selling it.

In fact, after several years most farmers felt free to sell what they felt had become "common" seed. And seed companies did not particularly object as long as farmers did not try and pass off what they felt was lower-quality or impure seed as one of their registered varieties.

That is all about to change as Canada's federal agricultural department appears more interested in protecting the profits of seed companies than farmers, says Paul Beingessner, a third-generation grain and livestock farmer near Truax in the province of Saskatchewan.

"There's lots of seed trading among farmers here. We rarely buy certified seed for cereals. It's rarely better seed and just not necessary," Beingessner said in an interview.

If Saskatchewan spring wheat growers had to buy certified seed each year, it would increase their costs by an average of 1,400 Canadian dollars (1,110 U.S. dollars) per farm, he calculates. He estimates that five percent of all wheat and barley growers in the province, the heart of Canada's "bread basket," buy new seed.

The proposals in the Seed Sector Review are an attempt to force more farmers to buy certified seed from the seed companies, says Beingessner. "It's a money grab, pure and simple."

The royalty provisions would also mean that farmers would one day have to pay royalties on traded seed. Bill Leask, executive director of the Canadian Seed Trade Association, one of four groups that initiated the review, would hardly use those words but feels those who bring new varieties to market should be rewarded for their efforts.

"It costs between one and two million dollars to create a new variety of seed," Leask said in an interview. The CSTA says it has 577 million dollars in sales annually.

While he acknowledges that new varieties are only possible because of the breeding efforts of farmers over the past millennia, Leask argues "today's seeds are nothing like they were then, and are long ways from the seeds of 50 years ago."

The review's final recommendations will soon be put before the government but they do not include a royalty provision for saved seeds, Leask says. "The NFU is completely wrong about this. There are no royalty provisions in Canada."

However, the seed industry does think royalties have merit and would like to look at such a proposal in the future, he adds.

Although the Seed Sector Review began in 2003, it is consistent with a push for corporate control of seed, best illustrated in Monsanto's May 2004 Supreme Court victory over Saskatchewan farmer Percy Schmeiser, both Pugh and Beingessner believe.

Monsanto alleged that Schmeiser illegally saved its genetically engineered "Roundup Ready" canola (oilseed rape) in 1997, after the firm obtained plants from his farm the following year that contained its patented genetics.

Throughout six years of litigation, Schmeiser steadfastly maintained his fields were contaminated by pollen from a neighbour's Roundup Ready canola fields and by seeds that blew off trucks on their way to a nearby processing plant.

Despite widespread evidence of contamination on many other farms, the Supreme Court determined the farmer infringed on Monsanto's legal rights under Canada's Patent Act by 'using' the company's patented gene when he harvested and sold his crop.

That decision remains highly controversial.

Recently Rene Van Acker, a University of Manitoba agricultural expert, wrote to tell the Supreme Court that seed samples from Schmeiser's contested 1997 crop that he tested were not 95-98 per cent Roundup Ready canola, as Monsanto claimed. Rather, the amount of Roundup Ready canola in the crop varied between three to 67 percent, depending on the sample tested.

Other research has shown that Roundup Ready canola has spread widely, and now shows up in ditches, schoolyards and city lots. Even the purest, certified non- genetically engineered canola now contains up to 4.9 per cent Roundup Ready content, Van Acker writes.

Moreover, the researcher says he cannot find any documents that substantiate Monsanto's claim that Schmeiser's crop was 95 percent contaminated.

At the heart of the debate over ownership of seeds is the principle of a farmer's right to save seeds. The Schmeiser case and the recommendations of the Seed Sector Review are completely contradictory to the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources, which came into force this summer, says Pat Mooney of the ETC Group, a Canadian non-governmental organisation (NGO) that was heavily involved in the treaty negotiations.

"The treaty is very strong on farmer seed saving. Canada was the first country to ratify the treaty," Mooney told IPS.

In Leask's view the treaty is all about protecting the rights of indigenous people in developing countries, who have saved seeds for centuries. In Canada there is no legal right of farmers to save seed, he argues.

The review recommends the government acknowledge farmers' "privilege" to save seed for their own holdings, an approach Leask supports. "I don't think farmers ought to have a legal right to save seeds," he adds.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Trial of Anti-World Trade Organisation Arrestees

In July, 2003, approximately 238 people were arrested in a mass roundup by Montreal police in the Green Zone (a popular education space) during the protests against the World Trade Organization's Mini-Ministerial. Minors either had their charges dropped, or were ticketed. The remaining arrestees face the charge of "illegal assembly." There will be four separate group trials, a French trial for Montreal-area protesters, and three English trials, for Montreal-area anglophone protesters, for protesters from the Maritimes and USA, and for protesters from Ontario to BC. The French trial for Montreal-area protesters will begin next week, at the Municipal Court, from October 18th to the 22nd. Several protesters will be defending themselves against the charges, and will be actively making motions and cross-examining witnesses. Please support the WTO protesters, either with your attendance in court,or by offering a donation to offset legal expenses. For more information email or 514-409-2049.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

To paraphrase Helena Norberg Hodge: As the effects of economic policies that ignore the needs of people and ecosystems become glaringly apparent, rebuilding community and local economies becomes more and more urgent. The global market economy is mostly made up of speculative investors and giant transnational corporations which, by their very nature, have but to generate maximum profits in as short a time as possible. The market economy, characterised by absentee ownership and foreign direct investment, results in rising social and environmental breakdown (with regards to Cape Breton Island, keep in mind all the illegal logging, the innumerable illegal quarries, the endangered status of cod, and the toxic Tar Ponds). However, even though business and government leaders continue to push their outdated economic models on the world, resistance is growing by leaps and bounds. New coalitions are bringing together indigenous people, labour unions, environmentalists, farmers (and rural people), and students from the minority-world* and the majority-world** alike. This growing resistance is further strengthened by many thousands of grassroots initiatives that are reweaving the fabric of community, restoring ecosystems and rebuilding localised economies.

From the mouth of Gael Garcia Bernal: the conclusion is that it's ridiculous how the borders exist. They're administrative, terrible, bureaucratic borders that don't do more than separate people and benefit a few. One of the best things you can learn from a trip is that borders don't exist and that you can be anywhere.

* rich overdeveloped “First World”
** “Third World”

Sunday, October 10, 2004

Callout for indigenous environmentalists in the Atlantic provinces

The Sustainable Campuses Project of the Atlantic Sierra Youth Coalition (SYC) is looking for indigenous participants. Leave your comments here or contact Jeremy Ewing at Check this all out on the web The project is just beginning and your participation at this time could have an enormous effect.

For the SYC sustainable campuses listserve (to stay in the national loop) go to:

Saturday, October 09, 2004


I'm starting this blog on a whim, with a vision. A fantasy. I want to reach out into the corporatized, globalized internet and draw out voices. I want to find more people out there who love real democracy and champion the causes of environmentalism. By "real democracy" I mean neither electoral showbiz nor market economics (nor industrialism nor capitalism)… Real democracy is participatory self-government by consensus. I believe that localised, grassroots democracy is necessary to generate ecological society.