Monday, December 27, 2004

Please take a moment to sign this petition

I don't know if it makes any difference, but it's worth trying.

I am not at all against practicing Shari'a in Canada. Muslims have any rights to do that like Jews and members of other faiths. But, I am strongly against family laws and unjust treatment of women imposed under Shari'a, because of this:

Life under sharia, in Canada?
By Margaret Wente

Homa Arjomand knows what it's like to live under sharia law. In Iran, she endured it until someone tipped her off that she was about to be arrested and imprisoned. Many of her activist friends had already been tried and executed. She, her husband and two small children (the youngest was barely one) escaped on a gruelling trip by horseback through the mountains. That was in 1989.

Today, she lives in a suburb northeast of Toronto. Her job is helping immigrant Muslim women in distress. And
now she is battling the arrival of sharia law in Canada.

"We must separate religion from the state," she says emotionally. "We're living in Canada. We want Canadian secular law."

Sharia law in Canada? Yes. The province of Ontario has authorized the use of sharia law in civil arbitrations, if both parties consent. The arbitrations will deal with such matters as property, marriage, divorce, custody and inheritance. The arbitrators can be imams, Muslim elders or lawyers. In theory, their decisions aren't supposed to conflict with Canadian civil law. But because there is no third-party oversight, and no duty to report decisions, no outsider will ever know if they do.

These decisions can be appealed to the regular courts. But for Muslim women, the pressures to abide by the precepts of sharia are overwhelming. To reject sharia is, quite simply, to be a bad Muslim.

Ms. Arjomand's cellphone is constantly ringing — with calls of support, or calls for help, or updates on various crises. A client of hers has just that day died of cancer, leaving behind a nine-year-old daughter. The husband was brutally abusive, and now the dead woman's family is terrified that he's going to take the daughter, who was born in Canada, and go back to Iran. Ms. Arjomand has been trying to get Children's Aid to intervene.

In the burgeoning Muslim communities around Toronto, it's customary to settle family disputes internally, by appealing to an imam or an older person in the family. "I have a client from Pakistan who works for a bank," Ms. Arjomand tells me. "She's educated. She used to give all her money to her husband. She had to beg him for money to buy a cup of coffee. Then she decided to keep $50 a month for herself, but he said no."

They took the matter to an uncle, who decreed that because the wife had not been obedient, her husband
could stop sleeping with her. (This is a traditional penalty for disobedient wives.) He could also acquire a temporary wife to take care of his sexual needs, which he proceeded to do. Now the woman wants a separation. She's fighting for custody of the children, which, according to sharia, belong to the father.

The law permitting a sharia court was passed in 1991, when Ontario sought to streamline the overloaded court
system (and save money) by diverting certain civil cases to arbitration, including arbitration conducted on religious principles. Jewish courts have operated in the province this way for many years. "People can agree to resolve disputes in any way acceptable," said Brendan Crawley, a spokesman for the Ontario attorney-general. "If they decide to resolve disputes using principles of sharia and using an imam as an arbitrator, that is perfectly acceptable under the arbitration act."

Promoters of Islamic law in Canada have been working toward this goal for years. Last fall, they created the Islamic Institute of Civil Justice, which has already chosen arbitrators who have undergone training in sharia and Canadian civil law. The driving force behind the court is a lawyer and scholar named Syed Mumtaz Ali, who was quoted last week saying "to be a good Muslim," all Muslims must use these sharia courts.

Many Muslims, including many women, are enthusiastic about giving Islamic law an official place in Canada, and they emphatically deny that it will harm women's interests. On the contrary. They insist that under Islam, a woman's rights are protected. "We follow the Islamic law, secure with a perfect sense of equality between the sexes," wrote Khansa Muhaseen and Nabila Haque in a letter to the Toronto Star, where the sharia debate has been raging fiercely.

Opponents of the new tribunals argue that the government's imprimatur will give sharia law even greater legitimacy. Sharia law is based on the Koran, which, according to Muslim belief, provides the divine rules for behaviour. What is called sharia varies widely (in Nigeria, for example, it has been invoked to justify death by stoning). The one common denominator is that it is strongly patriarchal.

Alia Hogben is president of the Canadian Council of Muslim Women, a pro-faith group with members from every Muslim culture. But the council was never consulted about the new sharia courts, and it strongly opposes them.

"This is a very difficult position for us to be in because we are believing women," says Ms. Hogben. "But to apply Muslim family law in Canada is not appropriate." In Britain, she adds, the government has flatly rejected councils for sharia law.

Both Ms. Hogben and Ms. Arjomand — the former an observant Muslim, the latter not — are lobbying hard for Ontario to change the arbitration law.

When Ms. Hogben's family came to Canada 50 years ago, the Muslim population was tiny. In the 1970s, she and
her husband started a tiny mosque in Toronto that they shared with Albanians and Bosnians. Today, Canada's Muslim population numbers more than 600,000, and many Muslims live in self-contained enclaves where there is little interaction with the outside world. Ms. Hogben welcomes the stronger sense of identity among Muslims now. But she warns that many of the new arrivals have brought with them a far more rigid version of Islam. "A lot of money is being poured into North America from very traditional groups from Saudi Arabia and Libya," she points out. These groups are not known for their tolerance of other versions of Islam, or for their progressive attitudes toward women.

Immigrant women are among the most vulnerable people in Canada. Many don't speak English, are poorly educated, and are isolated from the broader culture. They may live here for decades without learning the language, and stay utterly dependent on their families. They have no idea of their rights under Canadian law.

Both Ms. Hogben and Ms. Arjomand say that we are sacrificing these women on the altar of multiculturalism.

"This is an abuse of multiculturalism, says Ms. Hogben. "There is a lack of courage [on the part of governments], and also a fear of offending Muslim sensitivities."

"I chose to come to Canada because of multiculturalism," says Ms. Arjomand, who gave up a career in medical science to work with women who are victims of abuse. "But when I came here, I realized how much damage multiculturalism is doing to women. I'm against it strongly now. It has become a barrier to women's rights."

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

TASC Members convicted for defying Queen's Park lifetime ban

In a decision which does not bode well for the civil rights of demonstrators, an Ontario Court judge has concluded that then-House Speaker Chris Stockwell was justified in issuing his lifetime ban against five members of Toronto Action for Social Change because such a draconian measure was "within the bounds of the recognized category of parliamentary privilege of the 'ejection of strangers from the House and its precincts' when he issued the bans."

"I find that I do not have the jurisdiction to review the actions of the Speaker in any manner, including under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms," Judge J.W. Bovard wrote.

Despite a Crown request to issue $500 fines against the five members of TASC, the defendants argued for and won an absolute discharge. The group plans to appeal the decision to Ontario Superior Court.

The latest judicial decision is part of a six-year battle that began with a protest against the Harris government's severe cuts to social programs. Water-soluble stage blood was thrown on the outside walls of the Ontario legislature on the third anniversary of the 21.6% cut to social assistance on October 1, 1998. Five of those attending the protest were banned for life; two of those arrested, who had not been part of a series of prior protests at Queen's Park, were not banned. The latter fact led us to conclude that those banned were clearly singled out for our lengthy history of persistent and well-publicized legislative protests.

Members of TASC had argued that the crucial question before the courts was whether the Speaker, under the guise of parliamentary privilege, has absolute, unaccountable power and immunity so that any decision that he
makes -- and the consequences which flow from that decision -- are not reviewable by the courts either on the merits, or within an inquiry into the scope of his parliamentary privilege. Such absolute power opens the door to abuses of power. Indeed, parliamentary privilege in this case was used to uphold an unconstitutional end, denying a group of people the right to attend at Queen's Park for ANY purpose, on pain of arrest, for almost six years.

Judge Bovard argues that this use of parliamentary privilege was necessary to ensure the proper functioning of the legislature and ensure the dignity of the house, even though there was no disruption to the legislature, and even though the cuts which were being protested had resulted in dozens of deaths to that moment.

Bovard's reasoning is dangerous and reminiscent of those earlier liberal judges who, though concerned about the potential violations of institutions such as slavery or denial of the vote to women, nonetheless upheld them because they had been around for a long time and were deemed by the powers of the day as necessary to the "proper and dignified" functioning of those societies.

"The evolution of the human rights law, as seen for example in The Charter of Rights and Freedoms, has not caused Parliament to modify this privilege to allow review of it under the Charter or any other human rights legislation," Bovard declared. "I conclude that to date, the privilege of 'ejection of strangers from the House and its precincts' is in force as it always has been and I do not agree that the Charter or any other human rights legislation can modify it."

During the trial, one of the defendants had asked whether, if the Speaker were anti-Semitic and banned Jews from the legislature, such a decision would be protected by Parliamentary Privilege. The Speaker's representative refused to answer the question and the judge refused to allow it to be repeated, perhaps realizing that the only answer was "yes."

Indeed, when power is unaccountable and unreviewable, such arbitrary and draconian measures as lifetime bans are likely to result.

Bovard ignored a wealth of case law which contains warnings about such abuses. As one judge put it in the Supreme Court's Operation Dismantle case, "Men can exaggerate the extent of their interests and so can the Crown. The servants of the Crown, like other men animated by the highest motives, are capable of formulating a policy ad hoc so as to prevent the citizen from doing something that the Crown does not want him to do. It is the duty of the courts to be as alert now as they have always been to prevent abuse of the prerogative."

Another Supreme Court case, Little Sisters, states, "Unfortunately it would seem that whenever the Crown is granted statutory power that can be used abusively then, on occasion, it will indeed be used abusively."

Perhaps most important was Bovard's rejection of the reasoning in the Federal Court of Appeal's ruling on the Vaid case, concerning a driver for the federal House Speaker whose claim of racial discrimination as the basis for a job dismissal was, in the Speaker's reasoning, not capable of review since the reasons for the firing were protected by Parliamentary privilege.

The Vaid case stated that blind obedience to the use of parliamentary privilege "would also give provincial legislatures and Parliament permission to indulge in human rights violations under the disguise of a properly-functioning legislative body. Furthermore, it would eliminate an important incentive for parliamentarians to act in accordance with the principles of equality and human dignity enshrined in the Charter and human rights legislation.

Later in the Queen's Park ban decision, Bovard says "once I decide that the Speaker was acting within the ambit of a recognized parliamentary privilege when he issued the bans, his actions are beyond Charter scrutiny."

After Bovard gave today's ruling, which resulted in convictions for the Queen's Park Five -- Matthew Behrens, mandy hiscocks, Father Bob Holmes, Donald Johnston and Sandra Lang -- he invited submissions on sentencing for defying the ban. Crown Counsel Tom Galligan said that we had acted "unreasonably under the circumstances" when we defied the ban on Martin Luther King Day of 1999, and asked the judge to impose $500 fines on the defendants.

"$500 is 20 dollars less than what thousands of single people were forced to survive on monthly after the Harris government's first round of cuts in 1995," countered defendant Matthew Behrens.

Asked to speak to the issue of punishment for conviction, Behrens stated: "I don't believe this is a question for punishment. I think that six years of being unable to protest at Queen's Park on pain of arrest while their policies cause the bleeding of the people of Ontario is punishment enough. We have made a contribution to the functioning of democracy by doing the research and spending the time debating the issues here in court, trying to engage the powers that be in finding a just solution to the issues at hand and those issues still affecting people, such as some in the court this morning, who are still banned from Queen's Park.

"Finally, as anyone stepping around the frozen bodies of the homeless this frigid morning can see, the legacy of the policies that led us to the October 1, 1998 protest and the subsequent ban continues to remain a blood-soaked one.

"I think I can say, certainly on my behalf and on behalf of my fellow defendants, that I am proud of the protest which led to the ban, of the history of nonviolent protests which led to that ban, and proud of our defiance of that ban and upholding of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms on Martin Luther King day.

"Regardless of your ultimate decision, I will continue to work against the arbitrary and unaccountable abuse of power, whether by a Speaker at Queen's Park in banning demonstrators or an immigration department jailing Muslims on secret evidence for years on end -- for it is in the latter instance that we see the ultimate path of where all this could lead. I therefore propose an absolute discharge."

Asked whether his financial situation allowed him to pay the $500 fine, Behrens responded, "regardless of my income, my conscience would not allow me to pay it."

Defendant mandy hiscocks also addressed the court, declaring: "You made it quite clear in your decision that people who work at Queen's Park have special privileges. Obviously, we knew that already. How many of them are men? How many of them are white? How many of them are homeless? But on top of all of that, they're also not even bound by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. And according to this court, that's just fine. That's as it should be.

"Parliamentary Privilege is meant to keep the courts and the legislature separate, but in fact they teamed up quite nicely against the public in this case.

"The Constitution is law, and by proceeding with these charges the Crown has ensured that the Speaker remains above it. I refuse to help fund the Attorney General to uphold this system of privilege and inequality. I will not under any circumstances pay any fine, and I propose a discharge."

Father Bob Holmes told the judge, "I am disappointed that this court does not believe it has the jurisdiction to review the actions of the Speaker of the House in any manner.

"The Judgment states, 'The Speaker's duty is to ensure that nothing occurs within the Legislative Precincts which impedes the proper functioning of the Legislative Assembly.' It is not his duty to curtail creative, nonviolent public witness drawing the attention of both the legislators and the public to the needs of our poorest citizens in Ontario.

"Far from impeding the proper functioning of the Legislative Assembly, we sought to inform the Legislative Assembly so that it could in fact function properly.

"I believe the decision to ban us from Queen's Park was made out of fear that we might well expose the fact that the Legislative Assembly was in fact functioning in an improper manner with respect to its most vulnerable citizens.

"Finally, I too would propose the suitability of an Absolute Discharge in this case given the importance of raising this issue in the courts for the people of Ontario."

Attorney John Norris, representing Donald Johnston and Sandra Lang, noted "this matter is very dated, it is the second trial this group has faced after being acquitted the first time, with the second trial occurring only because of a Crown appeal." Norris said our efforts to have the ban lifted are relevant given the significant amount of work that went into getting the ban removed before defying it. "This was clearly an attempt to create a test case, and this was the only way to litigate the issues," he said in reference to the defiance of the ban.

Galligan responded that he did not feel the efforts we made to lift the ban were in any way significant, claiming TASC "made it difficult or impossible for the Speaker" to deal with ways of removing the ban, adding TASC wanted to be the one that made the rules.

Judge Bovard stated that sentencing is always difficult,, and noted that the group did not breach the ban "out of malice or a careless disregard for the law," and noted that the only way we could address the ban was by challenging it and getting it into the courts.

He said members of the group were never violent and had a history of doing good community work. "They care about the disadvantaged and bear no ill-will to anyone even if they disagree with them." Bovard said that the group were not motivated by selfish reasons and that protests were "a crucial dynamic of a democratic society," adding such nonviolent protests "strengthen our society."

"The ban was a serious and heavy consequence for the group," he noted before granting the absolute discharge.

Members of TASC are determined to take the fight against the arbitrary abuse of power represented in the lifetime ban to the next level, and to the Supreme Court if necessary. As the Globe and Mail reported attorney John Norris saying outside of court, the case is unique inasmuch as it marks the first time that a speaker's privilege has been used as the basis for a court prosecution. "It's certainly extending the power of the Speaker in a way that we've never seen before in our constitutional history."

There will no doubt be significant costs associated with such an appeal. Anyone wishing to contribute towards those costs can send cheques to Toronto Action for Social Change at PO Box 73620, 509 St. Clair Ave. West, Toronto, ON M6C 1C0. Put "Queen's Park Ban" in the memo portion of the cheque.

P. S. have a pleasant winter solstice everybody - Timothy

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Professor canned for releasing paper on corn contamination

A well-respected and popular professor at the University of California in Berkeley has been fired after publishing a scientific paper regarding the uncontrolled contamination of irreplaceable native Mexican corn varieties by genetically engineered corn. Dr. Ignacio Chapela, whose corn contamination article was published in the science journal "Nature," was denied his tenure due to pressure from the biotech company Monsanto on the University (the UC Berkeley tenure review panel had actually voted almost unanimously to approve his tenure). Professor Chapela has been told to have his office cleaned out by December 31. Sign a petition to demand a review of Dr. Chapela's tenure denial. Sign here...

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Statement by Remedios Fajardo

Representative of Wayuu Indigenous Rights Organisation
La Guajira, Colombia

"The coal that is mined in El Cerrejon, located on indigenous Wayuu and Afro-Colombian lands in Colombia, comes to Salem to provide electricity, benefitting this city. We want to tell the people of Salem that this coal has its origins in violence. Our communities have suffered greatly. Their human rights have been violated, their territory has been usurped, their houses destroyed and demolished, and they have had to shed their blood in order for this coal to arrive in Salem and other parts of the world (such as Cape Breton Island - Timothy). The acts that have been committed by El Cerrejon could be considered as war crimes, and they should be condemned by the world. PG&E has an indirect responsibility, for it is using a mineral that comes from the sacrifice of communities like Tabaco (destroyed last summer) and other communities that arte threatened with destruction, like Tamaquito, Roche, Chancleta and Patilla. We beg the city of Salem to express their solidarity with us, because we have a relationship with them because of this situation. Salem can influence PG&E. We would like PG&E, as a customer of the Cerrejon mine, to demand justice for the people who live in the mining zone, who were born and raised in the zone, and who have lived their lives there."

For more information click here or here.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Emergency appeal to support the Zanon workers in Patagonia

By Avi Lewis and Naomi Klein

Dear Friends,

We’re writing to ask your help in defending an inspiring and courageous workers’ struggle in Argentina.

The Zanon ceramic tile factory, a democratic, worker-run factory in Patagonia, is facing a serious threat of eviction, and the workers have asked us to gather international support for their struggle.

To sign the petition, please click here:

And for more information, read on...

For those of you who have seen our documentary, The Take, the Zanon factory, and Argentina’s wider movement of worker-run companies will be very familiar.

For those of you who haven’t, this new movement of some 15,000 workers in almost 200 democratic workplaces is building hope and a concrete economic alternative in the rubble of Argentina’s disastrous experiment with orthodox neoliberalism in the 1990s.

Recovered companies are run by assembly: one worker, one vote. In most of them, workers have decided that everyone should receive the same salary. They are proving the viability of an economy run on an entirely different value system, and they are growing.

In the past year, Zanon has increased its workforce from 300 to 450: a 50% increase. What multinational corporation or national government could boast of such a dramatic rise in decent-paying employment in the middle of an economic crisis?

And Zanon has cultivated a deep and mutual relationship with the surrounding community. For 20 years, the poor neighbourhood of Nueva EspaƱa, across the highway from the factory, has been asking the provincial government for a health clinic. Zanon workers took a vote earlier this year, and in 3 months built and opened a brand new community health facility.

But now the provincial government is threatening to send in the Gendarmeria to remove Zanon’s precious machines. This is an illegal order, since this force is Federal, intended to police Argentina’s borders. On a second front, the Federal judge presiding over the bankruptcy of the former owner is refusing to recognize the Zanon workers’ co-operative (called FaSinPat – short for ‘Fabricas Sin Patrones’, Factories Without Bosses.)

The former owner received millions in public subsidies, and still amassed a huge debt and bankruptcy: he has since been removed from his own board of directors for “accounting irregularities”. The workers’ co-operative, on the other hand, is a major success: it is now producing 380,000 square meters of ceramic tiles a month – a level of production higher than when the former owner closed the factory - and the workers do it without the huge public subsidies (300,000 pesos per month) that he used to receive.

The Zanon workers have told us that a massive international petition in support of their struggle could make a key difference with the various levels of courts and governments.

Zanon’s highly successful combination of direct action and direct democracy is a precious example of that other world that is possible, that is growing before our very eyes.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Two Environmental Actions

Action Number One

Two weeks ago Organic Bytes blew the whistle on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for a proposed toxic chemical monitoring study on low-income children. The extreme toxicity of the chemicals are already known and many of them are already banned in Europe. Such a large number of people signed the Organic Consumers' Association (OCA) petition (50,000+) and forwarded it to their friends in the first 48 hours, that the OCA website server temporarily crashed and the EPA asked the OCA to stop the petition. The OCA will not stop until the chemical corporations are disinvited in having a hand in the biased study, low income families are no longer targeted, and consumers learn the truth about the dangerous chemicals. If you haven't already done so, please sign the petition at

Action Number Two

On Nov 18th, Greenpeace launched a crossborder campaign against Kimberly-Clark. Already over 1600 faxes have been sent to Kimberly-Clark headquarters demanding an end to ancient forest destruction. The response has been so great that the organiser received a voicemail from Kimberly-Clark representative who asked Greenpeace to change the fax number we all are sending to. They want to direct faxes away from the head office because it looks bad for the company. Greenpeace refused. So,if you haven't yet sent a free fax, please do so now: