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Canada’s real international shame — and it’s not Ford November 23, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Canada petroleum, Canadian Mining, Environment.
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Roger’s note: the author ends this article by lamenting the damage done by the Harper government to “Canada’s global reputation.”  What needs to be added to this are the damages themselves done not only to our environment but to the thousands of human beings who suffer at the policies of this mean-spirited and imperious government.

 

Canada has become the target of unprecedented international condemnation as one of the world’s worst polluters.

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The international community is unimpressed with Canada’s environmental record, which for some includes the oilsands industry in Alberta.

 

Jeff McIntosh / THE CANADIAN PRESS

 

 

When will this horrid scandal end? Can someone please turn the channel? Shamed on the world stage and ridiculed by many, Canada has been exposed in recent days as a country with political leadership that is greedy, self-indulgent, incompetent and dismissive of our children, as well as woefully captive of special interests.

And I’m not referring to Rob Ford. His 15 seconds of fame — as “The Crack-smoking Mayor Who Knocked Down Granny,” as London’s tabloids described him — will end one day. Just keep breathing deeply.

 

I mean, in tabloid terms, another story: “The Short-Sighted Canadian Government That Robbed Our Children.” And, sadly, its legacy may never end.

 

What makes it worse is that this comes at a time when the government of Stephen Harper faces criticism for blackening Canada’s reputation in foreign policy in other areas as well.

 

Although it hasn’t received the media attention of the Ford soap opera, Canada in the past week has been the target of unprecedented international condemnation as one of the world’s worst polluters. These reports have coincided with a major UN climate change conference in Warsaw, Poland.

 

One after another, accusations have been directed at the Harper government for being an international deadbeat when it comes to climate change and the environment.

 

The Washington-based Center for Global Development ranked Canada dead last among the 27 wealthy nations it assessed in terms of environmental protection. Every other country has made progress except Canada, according to the group.

 

A report issued this week by the Europe-based Germanwatch and Climate Action Network placed Canada at the bottom of an international list of countries in tackling greenhouse-gas emissions, ahead of only Iran, Kazakhstan and Saudi Arabia.

 

By any measurement, this is not how most Canadians want their country to be seen internationally in an area so crucial to Canada as the environment. This challenges the conventional wisdom — often reflected in current political debate and media coverage — that Canadians have tired of the environment and climate change as public policy issues.

 

According to a new survey released last Monday, Canadians increasingly believe — six in 10 — that climate change is real and caused by human activity, which is the highest level since 2007. But they are losing faith in government to address the issue. The survey was conducted by the Environics Institute for Survey Research and the David Suzuki Foundation.

 

These results were broadly consistent with another national survey released in early November that showed that three out of four Canadians were concerned about climate change but many were critical of how the federal government handled the issue. The poll was sponsored by the Canada 2020 think tank and the University of Montreal, and was conducted by Leger Marketing.

 

The Canadian government’s handling of climate change is part of a pattern. Domestic political calculations here in Canada — rather than any high-minded sense of Canada’s international obligations — seem to drive the Harper government’s foreign policy decisions.

 

How else to explain Canada’s unquestioning support of the Israeli government? The price of that has been to relegate Canada to irrelevance in the Middle East.

 

How else to explain Canada’s abrupt decision a year ago to pull its embassy out of Iran? The price of that has been to eliminate any possibility Canada can be a factor in the current nuclear negotiations. Even Britain is now taking steps to reconcile with Iran.

 

How else to explain Harper’s decision to boycott the recent Commonwealth conference in Sri Lanka in response to pressure from Canada’s Tamil community? The price of that was to sideline Canada from the human rights debate at the conference. In contrast, British Prime Minister David Cameron, who attended the conference, was able to challenge directly the Sri Lankan government for its handling of the Tamil minority.

 

The Rob Ford scandal has been a genuine black eye for Canada. His continuing presence on the political scene is as mystifying to foreigners as it is embarrassing to Canadians. But one day, thankfully, Ford will be gone.

 

In a variety of areas including climate change, the damage being done by the Harper government to Canada’s global reputation is a stain that will stay with us for much longer.

 

Tony Burman, former head of Al Jazeera English and CBC News, teaches journalism at Ryerson University. (tony.burman@gmail.com )

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Lac Mégantic: Don’t Blame the Engineer July 29, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Canadian Mining, Energy, Environment.
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Roger’s note: If a welfare mom get caught shoplifting to feed her children or a Black youth is apprehended with a few ounces of marijuana, depending upon the jurisdiction, they could face years in prison.  If elected politicians backed by avaricious capital enact legislation creating risks to thousands that result in massive deaths, they face no consequences.  This is a metaphor for our capitalist economic system where profit trumps human life.  This is not free enterprise.  it is profit, greed and oppression backed by the so-called law.

How easy it would be to lay the blame for the tragedy in Lac-Mégantic on the engineer who ran the train. But the real responsibility lies with the governments on both sides of the border who have deregulated their transport sectors, gutted freshwater protections and promoted the

(Photo: Ryan Remiorz/AP)spectacular growth and transport of new and unsustainable fossil fuels.

Starting back in the 1970s, the US government deregulated rail transport, allowing deep staff reductions, the removal of brakemen from trains and lower safety standards for shipping hazardous materials. Canadian governments followed suit and allowed the railways to self-regulate safety standards and continue to ship oil in the older, accident-prone tanker cars of the kind that crashed into Lac-Mégantic.

Just last year, Transport Canada gave Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railways the green light to run each train with just one engineer, which explains how one man came to be in charge of 72 cars and five locomotives carrying combustible energy through inhabited communities.

The Harper government, meanwhile, has gutted environmental regulation and freshwater protection in order to speed up the development of the Alberta tar sands.

Its victims include the Fisheries Act, the Navigable Waters Protection Act and the whole environmental assessment process. Ninety-nine percent of all lakes and rivers in Canada, including Lac-Mégantic, are no longer protected from pipelines carrying bitumen or fracked oils near, around or under them.

The Quebec government estimates that at least 5.6 million litres of crude oil has escaped into the environment.

Both the American and Canadian governments have chosen to subsidize and promote the production of fracked oil and gas as well as heavy oil from tar sands operations over conservation and alternative, renewable sources of energy. The tankers that slammed into Lac-Mégantic were carrying shale oil from the Bakken fields in North Dakota, a deposit being mercilessly mined, as are many other sites across North America, in spite of their direct threat to local water supplies and human health.

The energy industry has plans to increase production in the Alberta tar sands five-fold, and is now shipping raw, unrefined bitumen, diluted with heavy chemicals, across the continent, by pipeline, railcar tankers and on ships on the Great Lakes. Shipments of oil by rail have increased by 28,000 percent since 2009 and barges and ships carry almost 4 million tons of oil and petroleum products (about 4 billion litres) to or from U.S. Great Lakes ports every year and more between Canadian ports.

Some are using this tragic rail accident as an argument in favour of the controversial oil pipelines. But pipelines also pose a serious threat to human health and the environment when they carry hazardous materials. The International Energy Agency says that pipelines spill far more oil than rail.

On average, in Alberta alone there are an average of two spills every day — over 770 spills every year. The danger of increased shipments of tar sands oil across the Great Lakes cannot be exaggerated.

The combination of a dramatic increase in North American fossil fuel production combined with deregulation of modes of oil and gas transportation and the removal of almost all protections for Canada’s freshwater heritage is a recipe for further accidents, spills and tragedies. Those who do not learn from their mistakes are bound to repeat them.

All across the country, we are in mourning for the victims of this accident. The very least we can do for the families and friends of lost loved ones in Lac-Mégantic is right the wrongs that led to that terrible night.

Child prostitution: The scourge of Colombia’s mines June 2, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Canadian Mining, Colombia, Human Rights, Latin America, Mining, Women.
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Roger’s note: When this story was sent to me in Spanish by Carmen I began an Internet search to find it in English, and here it is.  Knowing that Canadian mining companies are notorious for various abuses in Latin America and Africa, I suspected that the mines referred to in the article has a Canadian connection.  A further search led me to a Canadian Mennonite site’s (http://mennocolombia2013.wordpress.com/tag/mining/) report of its mission in Colombia, from which I excerpt the following:

Three different ministry groups spoke of the sobering reality of life in the villages:

  • dilapidated housing,
  • extreme poverty,
  • ecological devastation of pristine jungles and polluted rivers clogged with toxins – all from Canadian Mining firms operating in the area.

 

colombian-girls

Prostituted girls on the streets of Medellín, Colombia. The crime-pocked streets of that cocaine-infested city are not the only places in that land where children are sexually exploited and enslaved, as El Tiempo’s sub-editor, Jineth Bedoya Lima, reports:

Mireya’s life has been so rough, violent and bitter that at 13, she already feels 40. A night of “bad business” left her with a scar that outlines her right eyebrow, runs down her cheek, and ends near her mouth. “I had 72 stitches, but I worked on the scar with mortician’s paste, and it doesn’t look so bad,” she says, looking at herself in a tiny piece of glass that she uses for a mirror.

Her days are full of glue, which she sniffs to forget the hunger and the abuses of the clients, or the long work days with drunken miners and assailants in the clandestine camps in the lowlands of Atrato, between Murindó (Antioquia) and Carmen del Darién (Chocó).

In these ancestral lands copper and gold aren’t the only things being exploited. There are bodies which have not even reached their maturity, which are also being used by human trafficking networks, forced prostitution, and sexual exploitation. But that’s not all. El Tiempo has also documented how, in mining regions throughout Colombia, criminal groups are doing a parallel trade which does not limit itself to extortion or deforestation.

Behind the mining titles which have generated so much controversy in the last year, behind illegal mining and armed groups taking advantage to maintain a source of financing, there is a crime which no one has attacked and which, for those regions, is practically part of the landscape. Officials assured us that wherever there are masses of men, there is prostitution, and since it is the oldest profession in the world, there is no cause for alarm.

But the truth is that dozens of girls, none of them over 16, have been enslaved sexually and are now part of a statistic that no one has clearly counted. There is no plan on the part of the state to save them from exploitation.

Mireya began travelling by bus every Wednesday from a corner in the neighborhood of Cuba, in Pereira, when she was 11 years old. Her mother, who is in jail for selling bazuco [cocaine paste] and marijuana in a “stewpot” in the centre of the city, sold her to a man who was recruiting “workers”. That was in March of 2011. “I don’t know how much money Mona [Mireya’s mother] got, but she packed a t-shirt for me, some underwear, a pair of shorts, and she gave me a thousand pesos to tide me over along the way.” That day Mireya began her journey, from the hands of the man who bought her, into horror and abuse.

Her story just flows, as if she were telling what had happened on a bad day and remains paradoxically imbued with a profound innocence. Her youth helps her to rise above the assaults she suffers, because she believes that this is the life she “must” live. The girl only nods her head when asked if she knows that she has rights and that the law is supposed to protect her.

After several days’ journey, in March 2011, Mireya was brought together with 11 other minor girls. She remembers that “one of them had just turned nine years old and still talked baby talk”; the five who were virgins were separated from the group and on Saturday night, were brought to four miners. “They were more or less old. First they made us drink aguardiente [hard liquor, similar to whisky], and later…it all began.” No tears. This girl’s words are only laden with desperation.

One could say that Mireya is a survivor of what is happening in one sector of Careperro. This mountain is home to one of the largest gold deposits, and experts say that it is the entryway to a gigantic vein of copper that crosses the Andes, all the way from Chile.

There are now 16 legal mining titles in the zone, which span territories of black and indigenous communities, most of them in the hands of a US-based company, where there is a relative degree of control. However, around the illegal mines, which have no legal title, there are camps on the weekends which play host to young girls and teens who are offered in mobile brothels.

“In the towns where the mines are, near the municipal offices, the brothels are outside the towns, in houses, and it’s easy to control them, but in the mines which are in the middle of the mountains, you can get away with anything,” said an army official of the zone.

And one of the bottlenecks of the problem is which responsibility each authority bears. “We’re not competent to deal with minors. That’s the responsibility of the police,” said the soldier. Meanwhile, the police say that the mines are in rural areas difficult to access, which are the jurisdiction of the army. So the prostitution networks can operate widely, without problems, and with an often permissive attitude from the civil authorities.

But this is not only a problem in the border regions of Chocó and Antioquia. In Córdoba, in the area of Nudo de Paramillo and in Ayapel, there are also centres of sexual exploitation. And in the northeastern zone and the valley of Cauca, near the gold mines, there is another critical point.

The final point is in Guainía, where the extraction of coltan has also unleashed a wave of prostitution, which is not new but which in recent months has affected several indigenous communities, because their girls have ended up being exploited.

The paradoxical thing about this illicit growth is that no functionary wants to talk about it publicly, “because there are no documented cases”, but when one turns off the recording device, they acknowledge the problem and even tell stories of what goes on in their zones.

How do these networks of sexual exploitation and forced prostitution function near the mines? A source from Army Intelligence has been documenting for several months how from Cartagena, Pereira, Medellín, Armenia and Cali, there are “hooking offices” moving minors and prostitutes up to 26 years of age.

The most alarming thing is that these criminal networks have built encampments near the mines, to “offer entertainment services to the workers”. They tell this to the girls to justify the abuses.

“The information is fragmented because the interviews we’ve managed to do have taken place in security centres, and we have to admit it: at the moment we take into custody a demobilized guerrilla, a prisoner or an informant, the first priority is to ask about illegal groups, drug or weapons trafficking. But rarely or never do we pay attention to women’s issues,” admits an investigator.

His frankness makes clear that there is no plan to confront the problem.

From the testimonies of several young girls and teenagers, El Tiempo has reconstructed the routes the exploiters take for “supplying” the demands of hundreds of miners who, according to the police, spend all their weekly earnings on liquor and prostitutes, many of them underage.

One route is the one between Cartagena and Antioquia. The intermediate point where the girls are collected is in Turbaco; there, generally, a bus takes the “express route” to Caucasia, and from there, they travel in public vehicles to Nechí, El Bagre, and Zaragoza.

“Last November 8 we had a situation at a checkpoint with several minor girls. They were heading for El Bagre (near Cauca), in a minibus. When we asked them why they were there, they claimed they were just passing through; later they said they had signed on as waitresses on a finca [large estate], but we already knew what was going on. We turned them over to the police, and they, in turn, to the ICBF. That’s all we know,” said a soldier. Even now he doesn’t know what happened to the girls.

Another infamous route for girls runs from Cartagena to Córdoba. Some get off at Ayapel; others, in the city of Montería and from there, to Valencia and Nudo de Paramillo. The modus operandi is the same: a bus or minibus, a fake story, and in the end, a camp or a house for abuse.

From Medellín there is another route, which carries girls to Chocó, or northeastern Antioquia, to Segovia and the Cauca valley, and from Medellín and Pereira to the edges of Antioquia and Chocó.

The authorities are also investigating what is happening to indigenous girls in the coltan-mining zone of Guainía, as well as the likely sale of minors, by their parents, in the emerald-mining area of Boyacá. But the drama of these girls is not only in the camps where they are enslaved and abused.

The chain of horror begins in the same streets where they are recruited. In the centre of Medellín, for example, the “Convivir” (extortion gangs) get paid a percentage of the girls’ earnings for letting them stand on a street corner. The girls are offered security in case a client doesn’t pay, and if they make trouble while under the influence of glue fumes, they are beaten and kicked out of the block. But these delinquents, who claim to maintain control of the streets, are the same contacted by the heads of the networks who seek “merchandise” to traffick into the mining areas.

“Without a doubt, most of the trade in the mines is controlled by the Urabeños. They buy girls in Cartagena or Medellín. Their own mothers offer them, and they make money off them,” says one of the investigators documenting cases. And in Antioquia, there is a name which everyone knows and remembers painfully: Jhon Jairo Restrepo, alias “Marcos”, formerly of the Carlos Alirio Buitrago Front of the ELN guerrillas. Now he is the chief of the Urabeños in the northeast, and one of the victimizers of girls and women.

But civil authorities claim not to know anything about him. At least, so says the mayor of Segovia, Jhony Alexis Castrillón, who would only say that “in this town there is no prostitution, because the women are very hot and don’t need to be paid.”

The same saddening response comes from various other entities of the state: “There is no sexual exploitation here,” said a functionary of the Centre for Attention to Victims of Sexual Violence (CAIVAS), to the police in Medellín.

And the case of “Marcos” in Antioquia repeats itself in Chocó with three men who each have four aliases, and who have taken it upon themselves to provide the “services” of minor girls in the camps less than three kilometres from the mines.

“They picked me up in Pereira, they took me on a bus to Chocó, all the way out into the jungle. I was there for two months in the camp. Four other girls travelled with me, but I never saw them again, I don’t know what happened to them…” says a 15-year-old girl, who was just 14 in the middle of 2012, when she was taken to the Atrato valley.

“Mile”, which she says is her street name, keeps looking around her as she speaks. Her sadness is evident as she tells what those eight weeks were like. “The guy who picked me up in Bolívar Square told me I would have food and a bed, and that I’d be paid at the end of the month. And I did have that, but at the end of the first two weeks, Leo (as she calls the man) passed me a hundred thousand pesos and told me that was the payment.

The next month, the same thing happened. “Mile” decided to take a risk and asked one of the miners, who was heading to Pereira, to take her along, and that she wouldn’t charge him anything for going to bed. He agreed. “The bus stopped before arriving in Pereira, the guy was asleep, and I stayed behind, I didn’t go back…”

She decided not to return to her city for fear that Leo would come back to kill her, and now she is on the streets of Medellín. Her body bears the marks of clients, thieves and drunks, who forced her at knifepoint to comply with any number of aberrant requests.

“Lots of things happen in the mines. In many parts of the country lots of things happen, but here the authorities and everyone say that we’re the whores…I, for example, feel like I’m not a person anymore…this happened to me and there’s nothing I can do.”

Translation mine.

I cried while I was translating this, much as I did during the last chapter of The Table Dancer’s Tale, which is also full of stories of girls prostituted by their own parents. Many of them are well under legal age, too. The difference between Mexico and Colombia is that the Mexican girls tend to work out of established houses, bars and nightclubs, which are more or less controlled environments, within the reach of local police; the Colombians are subjected to truly horrific conditions, in jungle encampments near the mines, which are in remote mountain locations and thus so much harder to escape. The police and the army both turn a blind eye, and only rarely intercept a “shipment” of human “merchandise” bound for the mining camps. How hard do the authorities need to be hit over the head to realize that this is a pervasive problem? Or are girls just so disposable in Colombia that literally anything goes, and that it’s “normal” for their own mothers to sell them to mafiosi? Do they rationalize the situation the way one brothel keeper in the stories of Gabriel García Márquez did, by writing over the doors of the establishment that the girls worked there because “they are hungry”? How many more girls are going to be exploited before someone makes the necessary political and economic changes that will make prostitution unprofitable for the traffickers who enslaved them?