Birthday wishes: world peace and all that crap

Yay, 42nd birthday coming up soon. The day means more for my kids than it does for me, primarily because they hide my gifts around the house and write clues to help me find them. I don’t really want anything, but I will probably get a bookstore gift card and some beer. Perhaps a Star Trek novelty toy. I don’t wish for things anymore, at least not like I used to when I was younger. Back then:
  • By the ages of four, five, and probably six, I wished that my father would come back to life, but deep down I sort of knew that wasn’t going to happen.
  • By 10 or so I wished for an X-Wing fighter, I got it and it’s still somewhere in the basement. But I don’t play with it anymore (please, I’m a Star Trek fan).
  • By 16 or so I wished for a role in a Star Trek movie. Hasn’t happened yet but I’m enthused by my chances thanks to the reboot. Also wished for innumerable chance encounters with plenty of girls I had crushes on. As best I recall, nothing panned out, but I don’t really care about that now.
  •  By 20 I wished I’d never opted to study applied mathematics and physics in university. Anyone sane would wish for that too.
  • By 24 I wished for Kraft Dinner, a Dunkin Donuts doughnut, and a Molson Dry. Those were days when I lived in Africa and my food and drink options were quite limited.
  •  I used to wish for world peace.

Ha! World peace. As if. Nowadays let me be more practical:

  1.  I wish for the immediate release of Abdulhadi Alkhawaja, human rights defender who was arrested, beaten, jailed, and sentenced to life in Bahrain for defending the rights of others. Plenty of other innocent people are being held in prisons in Bahrain and also deserve to be released. Abdulhadi has been on a hunger strike now for over forty days.
  2. I wish the Syrian government would stop the bloodshed. One life lost is one too many. Ten thousand deaths in one year are unfathomable.
  3. I wish the Canadian government would do a better job of fulfilling its human rights obligations to the poorest of our nation, including the First Nations.
  4.  I wish the Canadian government and other rich nations would do their part and commit to the 0.7% pledge, whereby this small percentage of a state’s gross national income goes towards overseas development assistance. Canada’s percentage is hovering around 0.33%.
  5.  I wish that local non-governmental organizations working to protect the rights of others get the support they need to continue their work. This applies just as much in Canada as it does for small NGOs helping in rehabilitation and reintegration efforts of former child soldiers in Africa and elsewhere. These organizations are doing great work without all the fanfare.
  6.  I wish that all the nasty guys on the International Criminal Court’s list are caught and put on trial the way Thomas Lubanga was.
  7.  I wish governments, businesses, and average folks in a position question human rights abuses and violations do so more adamantly than ever before. I wish they could realize that there are solutions to nearly 10 million children under the age of five dying yearly from preventable diseases, there are ways to prevent the hundreds of thousands of women and girls who die yearly from pregnancy-related complications, and there should be more public outrage against millions of people dying in conflicts around the world.
  8.  I wish some people would stop arguing about rights that aren’t worth arguing about, like gay rights. They’re just rights, please accept them and do your best to “get it.” There is no ambiguity in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “all human beings are born equal in dignity and rights.” Please find something better to do – plant some flowers or go ride a bike, but stop getting riled up over nothing.
  9. I wish people would stop thinking that poverty, disease, and climate change aren’t “their problems” – they’re everyone’s problems, and they will be our children’s problems too. Only they’re bound to get worse by the time our kids are as old as us.
  10. I wish people would care more and hate less.

Oh boy. I might wish for a beer while I’m at it. Make your life better, make someone else’s life better.

Dear Santa, here’s my human rights Xmas wish list

Dear Santa,
I know you’re busy this time of year. I’ll spare you the usual “peace around the world” stuff I used to wish for as a kid before reality set in. Let me be brief. Here’s what I’d like from you this Christmas:

  1. Now that Harper has a majority, I realize that completely removing the Conservatives from Ottawa is an unreasonable wish. Instead, could you at least make them smarter? Let them rethink adoption of the new crime bill, scrapping the gun registry, abandoning Kyoto, and please, pretty please with sugar on top, let them respect, protect, and fulfill all human rights of the First Nation people of this land.
  2. You might as well give the opposition NDP members of parliament a little more teeth since you’ll be in the neighbourhood. Kinda went downhill after Jack left us.
  3. Do me a big favour and get rid of president Bashar al-Assad in Syria. Government forces have killed about 5000 demonstrators this year alone, and it doesn’t look as though he will have a change of heart anytime soon.
  4. While you’re in the region, could you make sure the Kingdom of Bahrain has elections for a new Prime Minister? He’s been kicking around the kingdom since 1971. It seems rather excessive. I left my job after nearly ten years – you know, I liked my job, but it felt good to move on. See if he can too.
  5. Since you’ll be in Bahrain, why not release all those prisoners who have been detained since the uprisings in February? My friend Abdulhadi Alkhawaja was sentenced to life in prison – could you spring him out of jail? 
  6. I’ve noticed on YouTube that police officers in Egypt are getting quite good at beating the crap out of unarmed protestors. Why not give them all a training course in maintaining order without all the violence? Everyone can play nice if they try hard enough.
  7. The Occupy movement has fizzled over the past few weeks. I’m not sure it’ll go very far over the winter months, at least in places where it can get pretty cold (I know, I know: not as cold as your place). Nonetheless, could you find us (as in we the 99%) a suitably inspiring figure who will reinvigorate us and decisively and confidently lead us to action that will bring about real change? That elf of yours who wanted to be a dentist had a lot of gumption, is he free?
  8. It’s easy to forget about Mugabe down in Zimbabwe, but let’s face it: he’s way past his expiry date. Go ahead and cast a magic spell on him or something so he decides to fess up to the violence he caused over all these years and step down. Let democratically-elected leaders get on with the business of rebuilding that beautiful country.
  9. Getting rid of Mugabe would also give an opportunity to bring in an era where gay rights are fully recognized as human rights. You may only be able to do so much in Zimbabwe, so if you had to focus your attention somewhere, may I suggest you go to Cameroon and Uganda for a start and have those in power change legislation criminalizing homosexuality with harsh sentences.
  10. Now that I think of it, Yemen doesn’t get as much airtime as other hotspots in the Middle East, but listen: I’ve got some friends there, they do good stuff to help promote girls’ rights. The current climate there is not favourable to their work. President Saleh promised he’d step down. He’s apparently taken leave now, so can you make sure there is a transition to a better system of governance? Maybe give all prospective leaders an Xbox or something to make them happy; it’s a price worth paying.
  11. President Obama has been a bit of a letdown lately. I don’t expect him to live up to all the things he said he’d do upon entering office, but let him at least close Guantanamo Bay and give the “enemy combatants” fair trials.
  12. There’s still no snow in Montreal. It’d be nice to have a white Christmas for the kids.
Thanks Santa. Keep up the good work.

Speaking out against pieces of sh*t in Canada and abroad

Matt Price of the Huffington Post recently wondered in a blog why more Canadians aren’t losing it like Trudeau. The reference was to Trudeau’s recent outburst in the House of Commons calling Canada’s Environment Minister Peter Kent a “piece of shit.” The guy who stole my wallet last month is a piece of shit; Peter Kent is not. At least he shouldn’t have been called that in the House of Commons. Mr. Kent was more cowardly than shit-like. He was in no position to criticize NDP environment critic Megan Leslie for not attending the Durban climate conference. It was his government that prevented any delegates from other parties to attend the conference.

While I don’t think the House of Commons is the place for such language, I applaud Mr. Trudeau for bringing more media attention to the policies and practices our government is taking, apparently without much objection from many of its citizens. The Canada that the current government is creating is not one to be proud of, from reneging on the Kyoto Protocol, cutting funding for abortions, scrapping the gun registry, passing a crime bill that will likely do more harm than good, losing a seat on the UN Security Council, and systematically marginalizing aboriginal rights. For that last one, the UN special rapporteur on indigenous peoples James Anaya contacted the Canadian government about the “dire social and economic condition” about the Attawapiskat First Nation. The response from the government’s Aboriginal Affairs Minister: the special rapporteur’s statement “lacks credibility.” Smells like shit, and it’s not coming from the UN.

How does this “lack credibility”?

Don’t think this is going unnoticed, here in Canada or abroad. Fifteen years ago, I travelled to other countries and could be assured of a smile every time I said I was Canadian. Nowadays, most people frown, hesitate before speaking, and finally ask me: “What’s wrong with your country now?”

There’s plenty wrong with our country, but I’m also aware (and deeply thankful, but not thankful to this government) for the liberties I have. I can criticize the government because it’s my right. I don’t live in fear of being arrested or assaulted by the police if I say something against the government. I have freedom, I have liberty, I have freedom of expression, and I realize as I reflect on the realities in other countries that I don’t exercise my freedom of expression enough. I might not get to the point where I start name-calling government officials, but I should be more vocal about the things I care about. When it comes to respecting the human rights of all Canadians (and our right to a clean environment is intricately linked to our human rights as individuals and groups), it is shameful that the government dismisses any criticisms, from opposition parties to public outcry to the United Nations, and ploughs ahead with its own agenda. This is not a Canada I am proud of. This is not my Canada.

Blatant disregard for basic human rights – Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states we all have the right to life, liberty and security of the person – continues to tarnish progress in Canada and elsewhere in the world, even in this year of the Arab Spring. The death toll in Syria is over 5000 since protests began, violence has erupted again in Egypt following elections, and the oppression continues in Bahrain. When I think back at the year’s events, as so many of us do as the year’s end approaches, there is one issue above all that upsets me the most, and recent events have only made things worse. I am still angry at the arrest, imprisonment, mistreatment, and unfair trial of my friend and human rights defender Abdulhadi Alkhawaja, currently serving a life sentence in Bahrain for defending the rights of others. His daughter Zainab, clearly demonstrating very peacefully against the government at a roundabout last week, was handcuffed, dragged into a police van, and arrested. This is wrong. His arrest was wrong, her arrest is wrong; both should be free. Her lawyers were told yesterday, “What trial?” as they appeared in court. The leadership in Bahrain should think of implementing the recommendations put forward by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry. When will the violence end, when will the common denominator that bonds us all – our humanity – be enough to stop the hatred? When will those in positions of power admit to their weaknesses, mistakes, and human rights violations so we can move on with our lives and focus on bettering ourselves and helping each other rather than oppressing those who dare to speak of human rights for all?

To those who have fought to claim your own rights and protect the rights of others, I respect and envy your courage. You are the voice of the fed up, the tired, the pissed off, the oppressed, the violated, the hurt. Speak up so that more can be inspired.