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I am very honoured to have been featured in the Georgia Straight again. Please direct your comments directly to the article and spark up some discussion! Thanks, Scott

A whole bunch of activists came together last Saturday afternoon for a Flashmob to End Global Poverty. The United Nations Millennium Development Goal review summit wrapped on Tuesday, so we decided we would make some noise for the Millennium Development Goals! Check it out!

Photo Credit - Ben West

Over ten years ago at the United Nations Millennium Summit 189 world leaders came together at the turn of the Millennium to make the most important commitments of our generation. The political climate for change was just right. The economies in the Western World were strong and progressive leaders like Bill Clinton, Kofi Annan and Nelson Mandela were centre stage. Coupled with the symbolism of the Millennium, conditions were perfect for a framework that would eliminate extreme poverty as we know it by 2015. We are now beginning the race to the finish line. With only five years left to fulfill these commitments leaders sat down earlier this week at the United Nation’s Millennium Review Summit.

The Millennium declaration back in 2000 stated that all leaders would strive to “free all men, women, and children from the abject and dehumanizing conditions of extreme poverty”. Despite widespread pessimism, this declaration was possible within the fifteen year timeframe the leaders put forward. With ten years of broken promises and negligible progress by most measures of Millennium Development Goals, we can still do it. We have the ability to drastically reduce poverty by 2015.

To put things into perspective, according to a recent Oxfam International press release, providing comprehensive education for children in all the poorest countries would cost 16 billion dollars per year. In total, all the rich countries combined donations are sitting at 4 billion per year. A recent article in the Toronto Star calculates that Canada’s recent corporate tax cuts will cost our country 12 billion dollars in foregone revenue each year. In 2008, Canada dolled out 4.78 billion in Official Overseas Development Aid. This is about one third of the aid we committed back in 1970. In fact it was Canada with Lester B. Pearson at the helm who called the world to make the same commitment forty years ago. The Millennium Development initiative as held on to this benchmark ever since. In short, there is enough money, resources and skills available to accomplish these goals. What is lacking is the will.

I am not going to ignore the fact that many countries in the developing world, specifically in sub-Saharan Africa have systematic corruption and internal conflict. This however, is not a good enough reason to turn our backs on the possibility for progress. After spending time in Uganda, India and Southeast Asia with several development organizations I witnessed many of the obstacles to development. In the vast majority of cases it is due to the lack of long term commitments and far too much money being channelled through governments with no mechanism of accountability. Divert this through grassroots community based organizations and the situation becomes much brighter. To dig further into the roots of corruption we can look at the rifts generated during the cold war. Don’t forget the massive multinational grab for resources by massive corporations. When accosting corrupt dictators, we have to ask who is signing their cheques.

I have seen top performing elementary schools in Uganda operate with only for only a few thousands dollars per month. I have met tons of incredibly gifted Ugandans with the skills and willingness to seize their destiny and work tirelessly for a brighter shared future. With unprecedented wealth and technology, we have everything necessary to put an end to the 50,000 preventable poverty deaths that occur each day. It’s high time to bury the scepticism that is plaguing the mandate of the Millennium Declaration.

With the net increases in the world’s wealth and I am more optimistic than ever that progress is possible.  As citizens of a historically and geographically privileged country, we have an incredibly opportunity to join the movement for change. Within a few clicks of a mouse, you have the email address for your Member of Parliament and with that, the power to lend your voice to an incredibly powerful movement. There are many groups, associations and online actions to join. From hitting the streets, to joining a local advocacy group, it’s time to stand up and make some noise for the Millennium Development Goals.

It’s just an accusation, but not out of the realm of possibility. I’ll leave it to you to decide… It might also be useful to point out that Omar al-Bashir (President of Sudan) is the only head of state ever charged with Genocide.

Sudan: North guilty of using LRA rebels to destabilize south? – Afrik-news.com : Africa news, Maghreb news – The african daily newspaper.

Northern Sudan has been accused of employing rebels of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) to unsettle southern Sudan and the Darfur region ahead of the south’s independence referendum scheduled for January 9, 2011. But an official from the LRA, which has embarked on a mass recruitment, has debunked the claims and suggested that they are rather seeking a peace deal with the region.

The accusation comes a day after members the Darfur rebel Liberation and Justice Movement (LJM) were attacked by militiamen of the LRA in western Sudan.

“A group of LRA attacked our forces in Dafak in South Darfur yesterday, Their language was one of the ways we knew they were LRA. They probably have a relationship with the government of Sudan,” Haydar Galucuma Ateem, vice president of the Darfur rebel Liberation and Justice Movement (LJM), was quoted by Reuters.

According to LJM officials, the attackers were identified as LRA rebels after they left some of their belongings behind as they escaped into Central African Republic, a neighboring country. Other reports claim that two small groups of about 20 young LRA rebels carrying small arms shot and killed one LJM soldier before retreating into dense forest in remote South Darfur.

But Justine Labeja, a leading member of the LRA, has denied the allegations saying “I don’t see the reason why LRA should go up to Darfur to look for another rebel [group] to attack them. You know, on this planet, anybody is free to say anything about anybody. That is why I’m saying it’s a baseless statement or accusation”.

“The accusation they are talking about is very easy to send a monitoring team to go and verify what happened, why and where exactly […] If it was found that LRA did that, they have to account for it because what we know [is that] LRA has become so many on this planet, especially in the region.

“You can find LRA in Sudan. You can find LRA in Congo and you can find another LRA in Central African Republic. But, [of] all these, which one are we talking about?” Justine Labeja is quoted as saying by VOA.

South Sudan

And south Sudan, which engaged the north in decades of civil wars over ideologies and resources until a 2005 peace deal ended the combat, has accused the northern government in Khartoum of arming the LRA to destabilize the semi-autonomous region ahead of the south’s referendum for independence scheduled to take place on the 9th of January.

Groups of LRA soldiers frequently attack south Sudanese villages near the border with Democratic Republic of Congo, according to the United Nations and south Sudan government. The UN has also indicated that over 25,000 people have been forced from their homes by LRA since the beginning of 2010.

While Uganda has also joined in the chorus to accuse Sudan’s central government in Khartoum of providing support to the LRA, although northern Sudan deny the charges, US-based Human Rights Watch has warned that the rebels have gone on a massive recruitment campaign in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic.

“Many of the young people in the area say they [Northern Sudan] are arming the LRA,” adds Ateem, the Darfuri LJM vice president.

LRA wants ceasefire?

However, LRA official Justine Labeja argues that his “group has often been used as a scapegoat for selfish different political reasons” whilst insisting that “the leader of the LRA rebels wants a ceasefire with the governments of Sudan, Uganda and the Central African Republic to jump-start the peace process ahead of south Sudan’s referendum scheduled for January 9 next year,” he told VOA news.

The LRA, headed by war crimes suspect Joseph Kony, moved into remote areas in neighboring countries like Sudan and Central African Republic, after coming under pressure from the Ugandan army.

The LRA leader has been on the run since December 2008 when regional states launched a hunt to arrest him after he refused to sign a peace deal with Kampala.

The LRA is known for their abduction of child soldiers and extreme brutality. And there is an arrest warrant by the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued to LRA commanders, whose tactics include mutilating their victims by cutting off their lips and ears.

Wow, it has been nearly five years since I have stepped into a University classroom. Needless to say, my first day at Simon Fraser University today was very exciting and much anticipated. I have been offline for almost three three weeks, so there were many shocks to myself in the pipe on this Sunny September 8th. On the activist front, there is so many issues to catch up on and I am so far out of the loop I don’t even know where to start, but when in doubt, blog!

Before my summer hibernation, the backlash against the assault on Canadian Civil Liberties at June’s G8/G20 in Ontario was buzzing, but since then Pakistan has been hit by a huge flood, the Sahel Region of northwest Africa is facing a huge food crisis and locally, some five hundred (or just under) tamil asylum seekers landed in Vancouver. While I don’t have too much to say, as I have been starved of news in the past weeks, I wanted to give them a brief mention as I attempt to cure my writers’ block.

Where I stand on all issues is no surprise, we need more aid from individuals, but especially from our Governments for Pakistan and the Sahel region. In the case of the Tamil Asylum seekers, we have to step back and realize that we are a settler nation. As Canadians, we are all only a few generations away from where these asylum seekers are today. Are we going to be haters or do we stand for something greater? Thanks to Duncan Campbell, a freelance journalist reporting from Vancouver with the Guardian for being a straight shooter in his recent article, “Sri Lankan Tamil refugees spark racism row in Canada”.

My flat tire

When I hoped off my bike after work this afternoon, it wasn’t the sunniest of the days. Sunshine aside, being able to zip around the city at high speeds without the rain pelting down is reason enough to “carpe diem” and head for Stanley Park. After a quick snack and bumping into an old friend, I decided to head back to homestead only to find my bicycle tire went flat. Drat! I had built my routine around my new wheels. Finding out that I missed the bicycle repair shop by 20 minutes, I decided to hit up the local market for some tasty dinner options.

As I loaded my bike up with the groceries, I immediately started laughing (inside my head) that loading up and pushing vegetables on a bicycle in Vancouver requires a very specific set of circumstances, where in Uganda it’s not only routine but a lifeline as pictured below.

This segue certainly put things into perspective. Spending an hour walking my decrepit bike from Stanley Park and to the vegetable market this afternoon was an inconvenience, it did not however, bear any dire consequences. I could have left my bike in the park and it would not have impacted my overall mobility or my financial situation drastically. I could have called a cab, or stopped at a restaurant for food and paid my with my credit card. Not only that, I did not have to carry water! That is the largest difference that came to mind as I walked the streets of Vancouver and compared my lifestyle to many rural Ugandans I met last year.

All in, it was kind of fun having people flash me strange glances as I pushed my bike down the streets with fruits and vegetables draped from the handlebars. If only everyone knew how common an activity this is in many parts of the world.

A Police Car  is set on fire while Riot Police Stand Back and Watch

A Police Car is set on fire while Riot Police Stand Back and Watch. Photo by Deborah Mensah-Bonsu/Torontoist.

Canadian Politics | Scott Andrews: For Distribution July 2, 2010

Yesterday marked Canada’s 143rd Birthday. 2010 has been brimful for our juvenile nation, though we have not behaved well this year. I am an extraordinarily proud Canadian, I believe that Canada can be great, but this July 1st, less that one week after the largest mass arrest in Canada, I am embarrassed.

Canada has accomplished many great feats in the past, many of which I share with people when I am traveling and think of when I sport our Maple leaf. A Canadian invented peace keeping, we see health care as a human right and in the past we have opened our doors and provided safe homes for refugees. Canadian forces stood their ground in 1994 when one the most devastating Genocides in Human History swept through Rwanda, and in 2003 we clenched our jaw and told George Bush that we will have no part in his invasion of Iraq.

Fast forward to 2010 and we live in a much different Country. In 2004/2005 Canada started tapping into the Athabasca Oil Sands, which became commonly known as the “Tar Sands”. In 2006, Canada cut funding to all Women’s groups who engage in advocacy. Just a few months ago our minister of finance bragged “We are staying on course to having the lowest corporate income tax rate in the G7 by 2012.″ To top off the emetic assault on Canada’s working class, this weekend marks the debut of the HST – a consumer tax, which by all definitions is regressive, ie: hurts poor people. The bill for the Vancouver 2010 Olympics was nearly 50% greater than our entire annual Overseas Development Assistance.

Two weeks ago I was in Toronto with Oxfam Canada for their National Assembly and for the lead up to the G20 meetings. On Saturday June 18th, I took part in a peaceful protest rallying against Canada’s imposition of the “Gag Rule” which bars funding to groups in the third world who provide safe abortions (The Global Gag Rule prohibits US family planning assistance to foreign non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that provide abortion-related information or services, even if these services are legal in their own countries and are funded with their own money. The rule prevents NGOs from even participating in public debates or speaking out on issues concerning abortion.)  Our rally pictured below featured a few hundred activists taking to the streets and participating in a rally. We were met by dozens of Police on bicycles who did not let us take one step on the road. After participating in a Gaza Solidarity march in Vancouver a few days earlier, I was shocked at how overbearing these police were. The events that took place the following weekend, however, are the reason I am not wearing a Maple Leaf on my chest this Canada day.

Maternal Health Rally June 18th Toronto

Peaceful Maternal Health Rally June 18th Toronto

I was back on the West Coast for the Vancouver Peoples’ Summit, so I was fortunately spared the baton and the substandard detention cells. With Canada having spent one billion dollars on security for the G20 summit, $12 million per hour, The French Prime Minister Nicholas Sarkozy was quick to announce that he will do next year’s G8/G20 for one tenth the cost. Amidst so many recent cuts to social spending, a billion dollars on security is not only a slap in the face, but an indicator as to what kind of a society our government is looking to create. A police state that makes no attempt to tackle the underlying causes of poverty and crime is not the type of Canada I want to be a part of.

To dig a little further into what exactly happened last weekend on the streets of Toronto, a few inconsistencies begin to emerge. The mainstream media has been repeating the images of the “black bloc” protestors who lit two police cars on fire and broke several windows in the financial district of Toronto. For those of you unfamiliar, black bloc protesting is a tactic (not a group) which entails wearing black clothing and balaclavas to hide your identity, often with violent intent. It goes without saying that violent protest at the G8/G20 is counter productive and absolutely unacceptable. Peaceful demonstrations on the other hand have been pivotal in turning the tides in the civil rights movements, women’s emancipation and in the ongoing struggle for universal human rights. From the actions of the Toronto Police during this monumental summit, the target was undoubtedly the peaceful activists.

With 20,000 police and a one billion dollar budget, it would seem that stopping the violence that was taking placed shouldn’t have been too much of an issue. This rings especially true when we consider the violence happened right in the middle of the financial district in downtown Toronto. Joe Wenkoff, a photo journalist recounts his first hand experience in a video posted online.

“At the end of the Protest reached Queen and Spadina at around three o’clock, somewhere between seventy five and one hundred black bloc members rallied. They left the main protest and started quickly back down Queen street heading east. On the way they encountered two police cars, with the police in them, which they attacked – broke windows. There were riot police at the intersections at each street that went South from Queen street into the Financial district, but they did not engage the protestors, they just watched them go smashing windows and spray painting.

From there they turned south on Bay street and started into the Financial district. There were three police cars abandoned in the intersection and King and Bay. The black bloc started smashing the police cars and set one of them on fire. After around fifteen minutes they walked North on Young street smashing windows along the way. There were no police to be seen anywhere. The streets were full of people just doing normal things. At 4:20 they reached College where they smashed more windows on their way back to Queen’s park. They also smashed some windows at a police station. When they arrived back at Queen’s, they had all huddled in a circle to remove their black clothing and then after I lost track of them – they all blended into the crowd with the peaceful protestors.

After about half an hour, the riot police began moving into the protest zone in Queen’s park. Another group of riot police came from behind Queen’s park and surrounded the protestors. They squeezed the bystanders and protestors as they pushed us back, hitting us with batons. They hit me in the back and my field producer in the hand, breaking his finger. They were also pepper spraying the protestors at that time. We knew we were going to follow the black bloc, so we wore helmets for protection. But we ended up needing them for protection from police more so.”

After only short reflection, it is very clear that police were not interested in stopping the violence. From Joe’s videos it is very clear that the riot police waited at the intersections and watched the protestors smash the police cars that were strangely abandoned in the middle of the road. Nine hundred people were arrested, but consider the fact that the police allowed the black bloc to disperse into the crowd.

Having witnessed the police set up a week prior to the G20 summits and bearing witness to the security during the Olympic Games in Vancouver, I am outraged. Outraged at a very strategic and political display of force that aims to subvert and discredit civil society. This Canada Day I am taking the day to reflect on the fact that I cannot take for granted that my country respects the rule of law and values human rights. In this situation of manufactured chaos and panic we forget that an active civil society strengthens democracy. If you have taken the time to see past the thirty second clip brought to your familiar media conglomerate and pieced together the puzzle, please speak up and lend your voice to the chorus that is calling for accountability for what happened Saturday June 26th on the streets of Toronto. To quickly take action, join the Facebook group and sign the petition on Amnesty International’s website demanding a Public Inquiry into the Toronto G20.