Friday, January 30, 2009

'Hero dog' pulls another dog from oncoming traffic | L.A. Unleashed | Los Angeles Times

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Was Sir John A. our Best PM?
by Richard Gwyn
Of all of our 28 Prime Ministers since Confederation, we really remember just two: John
A. Macdonald and Pierre Elliott Trudeau.
This doesn’t mean that all the others (actually fewer than 28 in all because several
served twice) are forgotten.
Wilfrid Laurier will always be admired for his elegance and eloquence. Mackenzie King
always gets a high rating for leading Canada through the transition from an agricultural
society to an urbanized, industrial one and for creating a modern civil service.
Lester Pearson will never be forgotten for his achievements in peace-keeping and with
the Maple Leaf flag, and, far from least, for having won the Nobel Peace Prize. Even if
John Diefenbaker disappointed, a memory endures that he stirred up a somnolent
country and dared to challenge it with a Northern Vision.
Macdonald and Trudeau, though, stand apart from the rest. Both in a certain sense are
still alive. Both still stir emotions, and of all kinds-- of admiration and of anger, of love
and hate, of respect and of condemnation. We are interested in both, and feel strongly
about both.
Each is that Canadian rarity, a hero; each is also to quite a few Canadians, a villain—
Macdonald for executing Louis Riel, Trudeau for imposing the War Measures Act.
About Trudeau, the finest insight about him was that observation by the authors
Christina McCall and Stephen Clarkson that, “He haunts us still”.
Of Macdonald, it could be said: “He taunts us still”. Every good portrait of him captures
the amused, sardonic look with which he gazes outwards while calculating how to
manipulate and seduce anyone watching into becoming a Conservative.
There are parallels between their careers. Both lost just one election and then was
returned to office at the first available opportunity by an electorate relieved to get their
hero/villain back.
Neither could be fitted into the formula of a typical Canadian. With Trudeau, this was
more obvious: he always seemed as if he would be happier talking to some
incomprehensible European intellectual, or to a silent Buddhist monk, than to any actual
Macdonald broke an even more important Canadian rule. He had no interest in
pretending to be respectable and proper. He not only drank but he did this openly and
entirely unapologetically, once putting down a heckler by saying-- quite correctly-- that voters preferred, “John A. drunk to George Brown sober”.
There were parallels in their policies. The purpose of each was to build Canada. For
Trudeau, this meant patriation of the constitution and the Charter of Rights and
Freedoms, and bilingualism, and multiculturalism.

For Macdonald this meant Confederation itself, and afterwards the National Policy of
high tariffs to foster manufacturing here, and creating the NorthWest Mounted Police,
(today, the RCMP), and, above all, by fulfilling his impossible dream of a transcontinental railway. Besides building Canada, both were determined to save it. Trudeau’s life-long mission was to ensure that Quebec did not leave Canada.
Macdonald’s equivalent was to make certain that Americans did not take over Canada,
nor-- an equal threat as he saw it-- that Canadians did not slip southwards by reaching for cross-border free trade before Confederation had, in his phrase, “hardened from gristle into bone”.

Of the pair, time has actually been kinder to Macdonald than to Trudeau. Both were
widely loved in their day and the funerals of both were occasions for national mourning.

Trudeau, though, remains a controversial figure in contemporary terms while Macdonald
stirs kindlier thoughts and a readiness now to revel in his humour and his humanity
(academic historians do tend to be censorious about him).

Macdonald’s birthday—the evidence is unclear whether it actually was on January 10th
or 11th—will be celebrated this week in places as far apart as his home-town of Kingston and Vancouver. After writing this piece I will go down to Hamilton to talk to a group now staging its third annual event, while a fellow biographer, Charlotte Gray, will be doing thesame in Orillia.

Elsewhere, quite a few individuals across the country will, on the 10th or the 11th, raise a glass to Macdonald. More of us ought to do the same for Trudeau; except, of course, he drank very little.

Richard Gwyn is the author of the new, prize-winning, biography: John A; The Man Who
Made Us, of which he is now working on the second volume. Among his earlier works
was a biography of Trudeau, The Northern Magus.
Obamas Inauguration: Text & Video of His Address

Friday, January 16, 2009

This FAST FACTS by Elizabeth Comack ran as an op-ed in the Winnipeg Free Press in December.

Racialized Policing
From the very first day of the inquest into the shooting death of Matthew Dumas by a Winnipeg police officer, lawyer Robert Tapper took pains to emphasize that race had nothing to do with Matthew’s death. In her recently released report, Provincial Court Judge Mary Curtis agreed, concluding that Matthew died as a result of his own actions, not because of police racism.

Many might take solace in Judge Curtis’ conclusion, seeing it as affirming that the problem of Aboriginal-police relations in our city is really a problem ‘of’ Aboriginal people. But too many Aboriginal people in Winnipeg know otherwise.

For the past five months I have been engaged in a research project that has involved interviewing Aboriginal people about their experiences with the police. The initial plan was to conduct 30 interviews but more and more people kept coming forward, wanting to tell their experiences. We eventually stopped at 79 interviews.

What I have learned from these interviews is disturbing. Racist stereotypes and racialized practices were starkly evident in people’s accounts. Aboriginal men who live in the inner city are regularly questioned by police. When asked “what did I do wrong?” police typically respond, “you fit the description.” As one young man remarked, “Look at me. I look pretty much like every other male who lives in the North End.” Sometimes the men are taken to the police station several miles away, and then left to find their own way home upon release. Aboriginal women reported that they cannot even walk to the grocery store without being stopped by police, who assume they are prostitutes.

In this respect, the inner city is a “racialized space.” Just being present—and Aboriginal—within that space makes you suspect.

Other spaces in Winnipeg are racialized, but in a different way. One young man told of being stopped by police in the Tuxedo area and asked what he was doing there. He replied that he was on his way to visit a friend. The police responded, “how can you have a friend who lives here?”

Other reports of racialized practices are even more troubling. Accounts of the so-called “phone book treatment” came up regularly in the interviews. Apparently, when hit with a phone book, no visible bruises are left on the surface of the skin. The police seem to use this strategy—sometimes in the elevator of the Public Safety Building—to extract information from people.

Another disturbing practice involves the police driving Aboriginal people to the outskirts of Winnipeg and leaving them there—often in bitterly cold weather—to find their way back home. We know from Justice Wright’s inquiry in Saskatchewan into the death of Neil Stonechild that such practices occurred in that province. Manitoba appears to be no exception.

One man, now in his forties, recalled that between the ages of 10 and 13 he was picked up on at least ten occasions—by the same police officer—and driven to the outskirts. The routine became so familiar that the officer would say to him, “you know the drill.” He was to take off his shoes, which the officer would put into the trunk of the cruiser car, and then would be left to walk back to the city. After the first time this happened, he told his father what the police had done. His dad didn’t believe him. But on one occasion, when bending over to remove his shoe, he picked up a handful of pebbles and threw them in the officer’s face, giving him the chance to run away. When he returned home with the one shoe, his dad finally believed his account.

Drugs, gangs, and violence are pressing problems in the inner city. But the strategies that police use to deal with these problems are themselves problematic. Several people told of being picked up by police and coerced to tell them names of people involved in the drug trade. Several were offered money if they gave over names. As one respondent said, while he may be aware of drug activity in his neighbourhood, for him to “rat” in this way puts him in danger.

Part of the problem has to do with the racialized frames that police use to interpret situations. One man told of an incident when he was visiting with his stepsons. The family had been at home, having a celebration. At around 3 AM they headed to the nearby gas station to buy cigarettes. One of the stepsons was stabbed by another man. They managed to get the wounded young man back home and called for an ambulance. When police arrived, they wouldn’t listen when the father tried to explain what had happened. The police simply assumed that this was the proverbial “Aboriginal drinking party” that had turned violent.

Too many people spoke of the lack of respect shown by police. Words like “squaw” and “f’ing Indian” seem to be used regularly by police officers. And there is a definite silencing that goes on around police misbehaviour. People don’t speak out for fear of the consequences and because they fear that they won’t be believed, or nothing will be done.

These fears are well founded. Statistics collected by the Inner City Safety Coalition show that 38% of the cases investigated by the Law Enforcement Review Agency between 1996 and 2005 took over a year to be completed. Almost all complaints (89%) were either dismissed by LERA or abandoned and withdrawn by the complainant. Very few complaints result in action being taken to hold police accountable for their behaviour. Between 1995 and 2006 only 5% of cases were resolved informally and only 5% went to a public hearing before a provincial court judge.

These experiences of Aboriginal people provide us with a broader context for situating the death of Matthew Dumas—a context that is certainly coloured by race. Like too many young Aboriginal men, Matthew had been subject to a police stop because he supposedly “fit the description.” Knowing the fear, distrust—and resulting hostility—of police that prevail among Aboriginal people helps to understand why it might be that Matthew made the decision to run away from an officer. Sadly, the result was lethal.

The Dumas inquest took place over two weeks last June. In the months that followed, two more Aboriginal men—Michael Langan and Craig McDougall—died at the hands of Winnipeg police officers. How many more Aboriginal men will we lose before all of us can begin to acknowledge that racism is alive in Winnipeg?

Elizabeth Comack is a Professor of Sociology at the University of Manitoba and a Research Associate with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (Manitoba).

Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives-MB
309-323 Portage Ave
Winnipeg, MB
R3B 2C1
ph: (204) 927-3200
fax: (204) 927-3201
CAW Local 567

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Moses and his daughters Anak (R) and Aguil (L) along with sons
Dut (R) and Akeen (L) stop for a photo on Minto Street during the
construction of their new home in July, 2008.
The eBuilder
Issue 4, 2008

Habitat Family Bio: Moses A.

We will all face various challenges during our lives―whether they be the death of a spouse to financial hardship to relocating our household. But what would happen if you had to face all of them in a short period of time as well as being singly responsible for five children? Many among us wouldn’t have the personal strength to dig deep and overcome the obstacles. Some would throw their hands up in despair and let the challenges defeat them and their family, but Moses A. chose another path―perseverance and triumph.

Moses, a widower, along with his four children and a younger brother, arrived in Canada from Sudan in 2004 and set about rebuilding their life in Winnipeg. Employed as a teacher in the Sudan, Moses knew he wanted to continue working in education and quickly found work as a teacher’s aide, but even with fulltime employment, his salary came nowhere near the income needed to sustain a family of six in one of Winnipeg’s suburban neighbourhoods. Moses found a central Winnipeg apartment with three bedrooms and moved his family in.

Moses quickly learned that the neighbourhood was full of negative influences and was constantly on alert for gangs and drug dealers looking to recruit his children and brother. To help keep his kids out of trouble, Moses signed them up for programs with the Boys and Girls Club of Winnipeg as well as becoming heavily involved with Winnipeg’s Sudanese Parent Council.

In addition to the neighbourhood challenges Moses faces, the apartment itself isn’t adequate for his young family. With only one bathroom, there is often a line-up during the morning and quiet space for studying doesn’t exist. The family’s aged computer is located in a storage closet.

After being accepted into partnership with Habitat for Humanity Winnipeg, Moses tackled his sweat equity requirement with gusto and eagerly contributed 100 hours of hands-on time to the construction of his new Minto Street home. Moses and his family will take possession of their new 1200-square-foot side-by-side in late January, 2009. The new home has four bedrooms and two bathrooms and with a semi-finished basement, space for homework won’t be an issue.

When life’s next challenge comes your way, stop a moment and think about Moses and the challenges he’s persevered through and how wonderfully he has triumphed over them! Guaranteed you will find some inspiration from his success.