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.

The Arab Spring: When will the bloodshed end?

I woke up this morning and walked my children to the bus stop. They were so excited to go to school and play with their friends that they wanted to arrive at the stop twenty minutes early. The bus driver was punctual, I kissed my boys goodbye, walked home and read about a 14-year boy who was killed in Bahrain.
When I was fourteen I remember reading a quote in Omni magazine by Joseph Stalin, “One death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.” So far the Arab Spring has claimed – according to Wikipedia, anyhow – anywhere from nearly 24000 to 54000 lives. The Economist offers a smaller number, excluding Libyan deaths as of July. Whatever the real number is – and I doubt anyone will ever know – there have been countless children like 14 year-old Ali Jawad Ahmad who were innocent victims.
I wonder what the parents of Ali are thinking now. Are their thoughts filled with as much anger as sorrow, as much hatred as grief? To have a son taken away like that after being hit by a gas canister must be an unbearable loss to live with. The road from an Arab Spring to an Arab Summer has its martyrs, but why must one of them be this child? If anything positive can come out of his untimely death, it’s to highlight the absurdity and cruelty of the violence being perpetrated on peaceful demonstrators. In Bahrain, where over 30 people have lost their lives in protests since February. In Yemen where it’s more than 200, in Libya where thousands have died, in Syria where the death toll is over 2200
When will the leaders in these countries have their WTF moment? When will they realize that by now, as long as there are people in their countries, there will be protestors in the streets demanding change? They will not back down. I hate to admit it, but the exit strategies led by Ben Ali in Tunisia and Mubarak in Egypt are proving themselves to be exemplary in comparison to the continued oppression we are seeing in Syria, Bahrain, and Yemen. When world leaders like President Obama (finally) state that “We have consistently said that President Assad must lead a democratic transition or get out of the way. He has not led. For the sake of the Syrian people, the time has come for President Assad to step aside,” you’d think Assad would listen. Then again, probably not. When Assad takes note of how Gadhafi has fled after viciously fighting, he has to wonder what his end game will be like.
There are far fewer protests in Bahrain than in Syria, but the grievances, the anger, and the desire to change, is just as present, and the same goes for Yemen.
King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa of Bahrain has offered to pardon some of the protesters, but many remain in prison, like my friend Abdulhadi al Khawaja. Worse, some civilians, like Abdulhadi, were tried in a military court, a mockery of justice. The independent fact-finding panel investigating alleged human rights abuses is set to release its findings at the end of October. The panel’s independence has been put into question seeing how the king set it up. With the death of Ali Jawad Ahmad, they need to critically examine police practices during the protests. Hopefully the panel’s recommendations will, at a minimum, describe the violations, identify the violators and propose actions for accountability and true reform.
The bloodshed must end. I do remember another quote from that Omni magazine all those years ago, this one from Aldous Huxley: “Maybe this world is another planet’s Hell.” I hope not.

We Will Not Be Silenced

Yesterday’s news was dire: Abdulhadi Al Khawaja, friend and human rights defender from Bahrain, had been sentenced to life in prison along with other protesters accused of plotting agains the government. A “mocking portrayal of justice,” wrote the Irish Examiner. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged the government in Bahrain to respect its international human rights obligations and allow those prosecuted to appeal their sentences. Even Barack Obama, known to tread delicately – wait, let me say feebly – on the subject of human rights in a country that hosts the US Fifth Fleet, said a few weeks ago, “mass arrests and brute force are at odds with the universal rights of Bahrain’s citizens.”

Where politicians fear to tread, it’s reassuring to know that human rights defenders will move forward with purpose and with determination to fight for what’s right. Dozens of human rights defenders here in Montreal for an annual human rights training program hosted by Equitas decided, of their own initiative, to demonstrate at lunchtime today to voice their condemnation at Abdulhadi’s life sentence at the hands of a military court. Abdulhadi, a former program participant, was instrumental in assisting Equitas to develop a human rights education program in the Middle East and North Africa.

The voices of these participants expressing their condemnation today are no different than the voices heard in Bahrain over this injustice; they are no different from the voices of human rights defenders and average citizens from around the world angered at the government of Bahrain’s oppression. The message is clear, our collective voices are strong, and we will not be silenced until justice takes precedence: Free Abdulhadi.

Related posts:
Demonstration by human rights defenders for Abdulhadi’s release