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Posts Tagged ‘Human Rights’

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.

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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.

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Oxfam Canada Pailwalker in VancouverSaturday April 24th at 10:30am Oxfam Volunteers marched 6 kilometers from the Vancouver Art Gallery to the Earth Day Celebrations at Jericho Beach. We collected signatures and raised the profile for our local advocacy work and our partners overseas. We were joined by prominent labor leader from Haiti, Duken Raphael who was visiting with Haiti Solidarity BC. For photos of the event please visit the Picasa Album. For more information about Oxfam’s campaign and work overseas, please visit Oxfam Canada’s website. You can also leave a comment for me or join Oxfam’s Advocacy and Outreach Committee for Monday night meeting in Vancouver. We meet nearly every Monday at 6:30pm at the Oxfam Office on the downtown east side.

In Solidarity,

Scott Andrews

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Well I am still buzzing from this weekend’s Bridging the Gap conference. It was hosted by Engineer’s Without Borders and featured a wide array of inspirational and influential speakers. I had a chance to present to a room filled with new faces eager to engage in issues of Human Rights and International Development. This meeting of young activists is the marquee event in International Development and is entirely volunteer driven. Check out the pics below and stay posted for more updates.

All the best,

Scott

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Today we celebrate the 61st anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We can stand and look back at this document and everything it stands for with incredible pride and know there is international consensus that “[a]ll human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights”. Canadians can look even further back in history and celebrate Ninety years of Women’s suffrage. These two important monuments are not to be taken lightly and it is not my intention to dismiss them, though I want to take this December 10th to measure our reality to their proclamations with respect to Women.

Oxfam International cites that the number one indicator of whether you will be living in poverty is your gender. The 2008 Federal Election in Canada set the record with a whopping 22% for Women represented in Parliament. Globally one out of every three women has been beaten, forced into sex or otherwise abused in her lifetime. Women bear the brunt of the burden associated with climate change. To add salt to the wound, upon election in 2006 the Conservative Government seized funding for women’s groups that do advocacy, lobbying and general research.

In Canada the emancipation of Women is a work in progress at best, but this is by no means a mainstream perception. It is dangerous to look at the UN Declaration of Human Rights and Women Suffrage as the metal for a job well done. On the contrary we must look at a document like the UN Declaration of Human Rights as a benchmark, an target to work towards. My experience with Oxfam’s We Can Campaign in West India really opened my eyes to the extent to which we marginalize the issue of Gender discrimination and Violence Against Women.

We Can Change Maker Meeting in the Gujarat Province of India

The We Can Campaign was developed in South Asia. The Campaign makes use of a very uniquely Ghandian of grassroots mobilization. The idea is to educate others on the issues of Gender discrimination and how it can lead to Violence Against Women and then each member of this campaign takes a pledge. Once taking the pledge you become a Change Maker. The pledge confirms your commitment to speaking out against violence against woman and all forms of gender based discrimination, but each Change Maker pledges to speak to five other people about Violence Against Women. I interpreted this as signing up five other change makers – absolutely brilliant! To give you some perspective of the scope of this campaign in India, the Gujarat district (1 of 30+ districts) had signed on 96,615 change makers in just two years. Further to that incredible accomplishment, each district was mandated to hold 1000 change maker events within a six month period; nearly unfathomable but in true form the Gujarat district had no problem reaching this number.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing for me is the transfer of this Campaign to British Columbia. A campaign developed in the ‘Developing World’ exported and implemented in a ‘Developed Country’. The British Columbia We Can Coalition was launched in the lower mainland in late 2007/early 2008 and has generated some incredible momentum. It began with only three organizations and has grown to become a coalition of over 50 organizations. Recently a incredible website was launched for the BC Coalition with an incredible set of online tools as well as the downloadable workshops and resources for teachers.

This anniversary marks some great achievements but we must not forget what lies ahead. Gender based violence lurks behind closed doors and is often diluted in our psyche by being labelled as a ‘domestic problem’. It is important for men to participate in this discussion and continue to actively raise our awareness of this issue rather than passively accepting this deeply rooted discrimination. I encourage everyone who reads this to sign on and register as a change maker with the BC We Can Campaign and be ready to challenge yourself. A special thanks goes to Anastasia Gaisenok and Miriam Palacios for engaging me with this campaign so that I can change my actions and perspectives and ultimately speak out against Violence Against Women. In the words of the former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan,

“Violence against women is perhaps the most shameful human rights violation, and it is perhaps the most pervasive. It knows no boundaries of geography, culture or wealth. As long as it continues, we cannot claim to be making real progress towards equality, development and peace.”

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