Saturday, November 28, 2015

Fleeing the Enemy

Fleeing the Enemy

Campbell, JoshView ProfileLeader Post [Regina, Sask] 06 Feb 2010: G.1.
[...] the Russian conductor hopes to leave some passengers behind at every stop. "Everybody is just running from the field to the train ... the last cabin is open and all the soldiers are standing there," she says, referring to the men in green uniforms standing above her flailing arms.

Full Text

Copyright Southam Publications Inc. Feb 6, 2010

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Why I am Pro-life and am NOT voting Conservative...

In January 2007 I landed my first Canadian teaching job at my alma mater Notre Dame in Wilcox, SK. There I would live a dream of teaching Christian Ethics to young people. While I was preparing to teach a class dedicated to the subject of morality I remember reading a section of the text book called "A Seamless Garment: having a consistent pro-life ethic." While I don't remember the specifics of that section, I do remember its gist: being pro-life doesn't mean that you are just anti-abortion or against euthanasia. It means that from the womb to the tomb, you are a person who defends and advocates for life. This means that you would be equally against capital punishment, war and any economic policies that would seeks to exploit the poor and concentrate wealth into the hands of the few. And with Pope Francis' new encyclical on ecology, I would dare say that this brand of pro-life would also apply to defending and advocating for all of Creation.

Promoted by American Catholic Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, inspiration for the "seamless garment" came from the Gospel crucifixion account where Roman soldiers decided to cast lots (ancient dice tossing) over Jesus' robe instead of tearing it into pieces. Bernardin took this story and applied it as a metaphor for having a consistent pro-life Christian morality. The idea was that, while certain things may be more important than others, all issues that threaten human life are interwoven and Christians must take them all seriously.

My concern is that, while abortion is a significant piece on that seamless garment of life, it has been ripped off of the robe to the exclusion to all other assaults on life. Christian Right wing organizations such as Canada Family Action exploit this garment shredding by telling voters to "Do [their] part to make sure [Canada] remains a nation that supports life" by voting Conservative. I find this really confusing when on their pamphlets they make it clear that the Conservative Party, "Will not initiate legislation on abortion." (See attached picture at the bottom for full table that Canada Family Action released; doesn't include Green party position which fully supports a woman's right to choose but allow individual MPs to make personal decision based upon their consciences and their constituents)

Personal story: In 1998 I marched down a Washington D.C. main street towards the Capitol. In my hands were small wooden sticks extending out from a miniature casket representing one of the 30 years that abortion was legal in the U.S. I said nothing during the march, just walked in humble reflection thinking about the great mass of lives lost through abortion. At one point I was yelled and screamed at by pro-choice mobs demonstrating on the sides of the streets. I was only 19 years old. A couple of years later I learned that abortion was not just an issue "out there" but something that had taken place within my own family. Believe me, abortion is not an issue that I have not thought about or have taken lightly.

Following the lead of both Catholic and Evangelical churches that I attended, I continued my zeal for pro-life activism. And then, in 2006, as part of my teaching degree, I decided to teach for a year in Kampala, Uganda. It would be a year where I would begin to learn how complicated and unjust the world's political and economic systems were. 2006 was also the last time that I would vote Conservative. Part of the reason I voted Blue was because I thought that the party would actually take some action on abortion.

It was during the brief reign of Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin in 2004 that Stephen Harper made his position on abortion known:  "I've been clear. A Conservative government led by me will not be tabling abortion legislation. It will not be sponsoring an abortion referendum..."

Harper said his own views on abortion fall somewhere "in-between the two extremes," and that he would oppose any bill limiting provincial funding to abortion services, again asserting that this is a health matter and under provincial jurisdiction. (see for full article)

These are clearly the words of a leader who has no desire to make abortion a high priority issue. And so it really frustrates me when Christians say that they are voting Conservative because it is a pro-life party. Individual Conservative MPs can say all they want about being pro-life, but at the end of the day Harper will not allow them to do anything to change abortion laws in Canada (see National Post story).

Now, I'm not saying that I have the same stance as I did in 2006 on abortion. In fact, I probably agree more now with Harper's stance and even more so with Elizabeth May, also a Christian (, who believes that all life is sacred and that abortion needs to be an option for those women in difficult positions where there seems to be no other way out. May says that, instead of reactive solutions, we should be looking at the root causes: "What kind of programs and strategies do we need to have to reduce the number of legal abortions that take place?"

I can get behind legislation that would help create these type of preventative strategies and programs. And I also appreciate a leader who is seeking to create dialogue on a difficult issue rather than muzzle the consciences of those within her party.

Weaving the abortion fabric back into the seamless garment as a whole will help us see that high abortion rates are a symptom, much like capital punishment, stricter jail sentences, tougher immigration laws, increased military campaigns, poverty, exploitation of both Aboriginal and Third World peoples, and environmental degradation. While they are unique, all of these issues are inextricably linked to the fundamental human vices of greed and selfishness. And without a doubt, the greatest feeder of these evils is an unfettered capitalist system which instructs us to compete and consume, no matter what the cost.

In a recent speech that he gave at the World Meeting of Popular Movements in Bolivia, Pope Francis spoke to the evil of an unbridled market which, rather than serving humanity, make us servants of money:

In referring to the injustices that all people, and especially the poor, face Francis says: "These are not isolated issues. I wonder whether we can see that these destructive realities are part of a system which has become global. Do we realize that that system has imposed the mentality of profit at any price, with no concern for social exclusion or the destruction of nature?"

He continues:

"The earth, entire peoples and individual persons are being brutally punished. And behind all this pain, death and destruction there is the stench of what Basil of Caesarea called “the dung of the devil”. An unfettered pursuit of money rules. The service of the common good is left behind. Once capital becomes an idol and guides people’s decisions, once greed for money presides over the entire socioeconomic system, it ruins society, it condemns and enslaves men and women, it destroys human fraternity, it sets people against one another and, as we clearly see, it even puts at risk our common home."
(full article at

And so, if Canadians continue to desire such an economic system where there are clear winners and losers then by all means, vote for Stephen Harper. But before you do, consider what the Pope is saying (and I'm not saying he is telling us who to vote for but what values to support): the most anti-life movement right now is the unfettered global capitalist system in which Harper, and some other parties, live, breath and move. And when it comes to abortion, I would ask this: Which party is going to effectively address the root causes of abortion, which include poverty, education access and domestic support (a recent study found that 69 % of abortions in the US are chosen by women who live below the poverty line)? This, my friends, is the most pro-life party and it is definitely not the Conservatives.

In case you missed my main point here it is: when it comes to the specific issue of abortion, even though certain parties are pro-choice, their social and economic policies will create a Canada in which fewer abortions take place. And as a pro-life person, is not the point to save more humans? Given the choice of a government that cloaks anti-family policies in pro-life rhetoric or one that has a pro-choice stance and encourages social programs that help the struggling mothers who are more prone to choose abortion—the typical abortion patient these days is a twenty-something single mother of colour (see Abortion Demographics article)—I would take the party that is actually reducing the amount of abortions, not abortion access.

And when it comes to "seamless garment of life" that I referred to earlier which encompasses justice, war, poverty, and the environment, the Conservatives record is quite poor. In a recent article entitled "The Conservative Vision of Social Justice" former Conservative MP Monte Solberg admits that, when it comes to governing, the Cons have it "half-right."

"While almost any Conservative Member of Parliament could provide you with a credible argument for the Conservative Party’s approach to reducing taxes or getting tough on crime, I would wager that almost none could justify the current ambiguous approach the government takes to spending half its budget in addressing social problems," writes Solberg.

In other words, while they have thrown money at social programs, Solberg admits that the Conservatives, and other governing parties, have done a poor job in effectively addressing issues such as addiction and homelessness. 

Solberg says he saw this first hand when, as the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development, he confessed to "having very little idea" of the effectiveness of government funding to the Salvation Army to get people off the streets. 

Solberg identifies the financial costs of social breakdowns of things like families, educational underachievement and crime as issues that are never raised for serious discussion in Canada. 

Tackling such issues preventatively, rather then consequentially (think Harper's 86% increased prison costs since he came to power), could save a lot of money, not to mention all of the social and emotional costs for Canadians.

Solberg concludes: "if the Conservative Party is serious about reducing the size of government, lowering taxes and improving productivity, the most obvious place to begin is to address Canada’s social ills more effectively."

Well said Mr. Solberg. Thank you for your honest exposition of Prime Minister Harper and his Conservative party's biggest weakness: It's lack of compassion. 

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

ELA 10A assignment

Previously we looked at how the Capitol’s reaping advertisement used propaganda techniques to convey their point-of-view (POV) to the citizens living in the districts of Panem. Now you are going to take what you learned both from Noam Chomsky’s 10 strategies of media manipulation and the Center for Media Literacy’s five critical thinking questions and apply them to an advertisement/commercial of your choice. Working in partners, you will represent your research in the following manner: A. You will write a five-paragraph inquiry research report which includes the following in each paragraph: 1. An introduction which includes a focused thesis statement; a revealing story or quotation; important background information such as the manipulation strategies or critical thinking questions that you will be referencing; interesting or surprising facts; reason for choosing that particular commercial/advertisement. 2. Refer to one of the media manipulation or critical thinking questions and provide examples of how they are used in that particular commercial/advertisement. 3. Refer to the second media manipulation or critical thinking questions and provide examples of how they are used in that particular commercial/advertisement. 4. Refer to the third media manipulation or critical thinking questions and provide examples of how they are used in that particular commercial/advertisement. 5. Provide a conclusion that re-affirms your thesis statement in the introduction. A good idea here is to repeat what you feel is your strongest point on how that particular commercial/advertisement is using media manipulation to convey its message. For the research report you will be using MLA style. Be sure to use credible sources for your research (news articles and journals from reliable outlets). B. For the second part of this project you will be producing a counter-ad to the one that you just critiqued in your inquiry report. The idea behind the counter-ad is that you will be seek to convey the truth behind the message of the particular commercial/advertisement that you have critiqued. A good guide for this will be to look at the five critical thinking questions and try to represent your ad from the alternative viewpoint (ex. Question 4 asks: What POV is missing or omitted from this message? In your counter-ad you could make sure that the missing POV is included). There will be more information, including a rubric, to come on this assignment. For today your goal should be to research commercials and begin your critique. I will ask you to have a topic and your critique questions or media manipulation strategies by the end of class today.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Potash Corp of Saskatchewan sponsors "We Day" while sidelining Sahrawi's

I find it interesting that the February 27 corporate sponsor of Free the Children’s “We Day” in Saskatoon is a company which is believed to be indirectly contributing to one of Africa’s most controversial territorial conflicts. At We Day, an event which encourages youth to make positive changes both at home and abroad, PotashCorp of Saskatchewan’s (PCS) CEO Bill Doyle was in attendance to “define food security for kids and describe what potash is used for.” The Star Phoenix quoted him: “We need to respond to the challenge of zero hunger, because one person is too many.” A truism indeed. But what Doyle didn’t share with the crowd of 15,000 youth was that PCS has been one of a handful of mining companies black listed by Western Sahara Rights Watch (WSRW), a human rights group, for propping up an occupation that is in contravention of a 1975 International Court of Justice ruling. Since 1975, Western Sahara and its indigenous Sahrawi people have been occupied by neighbouring Morocco. Instead of purchasing phosphate rock directly from a Sahrawi owned and operated firm, PCS pays Moroccan mining company Office Chérifien des Phosphates $100 million annually, claiming that its actions have directly benefitted the “local population” (made up of Sahrawi and occupying Moroccan’s who have now called the region home since 1975). In a letter addressed to Bill Doyle in October 2008, WSRW states that, “to this day, no state or international organization recognizes Morocco’s sovereignty over Western Sahara” and that the United Nations have ordered for the ending of this “illegal occupation.” (To this day, PCS still hasn’t responded to the letter). The Moroccan occupation, which is propped up by companies like PCS, has hindered the Sahrawi people from exercising their right to self-determination of the territory and all the rich resources that it holds. With approximately 165,000 Sahrawi’s living in camps just inside Algeria--including many children who suffer malnutrition--and the others inside the Moroccan occupied part of Western Sahara, perhaps PCS should consider taking their money and their message of food security for kids to those who need it most. The full WSRW letter can be seen here: And it should be noted that both Yara International and The Mosaic Company (leading sponsor of the Saskatchewan Roughriders’ stadium) have both stopped purchasing phosphate from Western Sahara for ethical reasons.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

True Grit?

Last night I watched the film "True Grit", a modern re-make of an old John Wayne film. While I did appreciate a lot of the humour and interplay between the three main characters — played by Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon and up-and-comer Hailee Steinfeld — there were a couple of scenes that disturbed me. And what disturbed me the most was not so much the scenes, but the audiences reaction to them. The fact that I was watching the film in The Woodlands, Texas — a wealthy suburb of Houston — made me wonder if the audience would have reacted different in my home of Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada.

In one of the first scenes of the film three men are hanged — two white men and a Native American. Both white men are allowed an opportunity to say their last words while the Native American is not even allowed one sentence before the floor gives way and the noose tightens around his neck.

At the moment the Indian was silenced most people in the audience started laughing. I thought it was a bit strange but shrugged it off. After all, this was probably an accurate depiction of how Indians were treated at the time.

The next time Native Americans were in the film was a scene in which Bridges, who plays a crusty U.S. Marshall named Rueben "Rooster" Cogburn, comes upon an old log shack in Indian country. There are two Native American children whom Cogburn proceeds to kick and push around without apparent reason. While this was likely historically accurate and in keeping with the brash character of Cogburn, I wondered whether it was really necessary in the movie. What shocked me the most and the person I was watching the film with, also a Canadian, was the laughter that erupted from the audience watching the movie. We wondered if we had missed something?

Neither of us found it funny that a grown man was bullying and kicking around children. Was the audience laughing because these were Indian children. What if I was a Native American watching that movie and hearing everyone laugh? Just because it is historically accurate doesn't mean it's okay to laugh. In fact it should be the opposite. Dominant society should be ashamed.

But then I wondered how Canadian audiences reacted to this scene? One person I knew watched the movie in Canada and said she didn't remember the audience laughing at this scene.

In Regina, where I live there is quite a high proportion of Aboriginal people (Aboriginal is a term which includes First Nations, Metis and Innuit). Aboriginal is a pc term that most Canadians use rather than Native Canadian or Indian, although some people still use the terms to identify themselves. Many Aboriginals have moved off of reserves and into cities like Regina.

Down here in The Woodlands, I have yet to see a Native American. I don't know how many actually live in the state of Texas. According to one website there are three federally recognized tribes in Texas. Whether they live on reserves or in main cities I am not sure. From my limited perspective they seem to be pretty much invisible both in reality, in media and any form of advertising. It makes me wonder where these people have gone? Are they invisible?

Almost a year ago, Guardian reporter Chris McGreal covered a story on U.S. President Obama's pledge to improve the lives of Native Americans. It is an excellent piece of journalism that I would encourage anyone to take a look at. It can be found at McGreal visits a reserve in South Dakota and talks to people about their lives and frustrations.

As a Canadian, I don't want to make it sound like our hands are clean of any injustice against indigenous peoples. Far from it. The effects of residential schools and systemic racism against indigenous people are still very evident in Canadian society.

I just wonder where the Canadian dialogue about indigenous issues sits in relationship to the United States?

The first time I really realized how badly indigenous people of North America were treated was strangely in Rwanda, Africa. I recall visiting the genocide museum in Kigali, Rwanda and reading about the history of world genocides. Movies like "Hotel Rwanda" brought the killing of 800,000 Rwandans into the public eye. Likewise, many movies have been made about the killing of six million Jews and other minorities in Germany. What shocked me was the killing of 14 million indigenous people in North America and 15 million in South America. This was not talked about in my schooling nor have I seen it depicted in many Hollywood movies.

What do you think?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

PotashCorp tentacles reach Africa

Have you ever known something that you think the whole world doesn't know about?

In my case it happened this past month when the news of a possible Potash Corp takeover by BHP Billiton covered every headline. It seemed as though every day we were bombarded with government announcements of whether or not PCS doors would be open. When the emphatic "NO" came from Mr. Clement's mouth, many Saskatchewanians breathed sighs of relief. But not I.

Only weeks before I learned that PCS had globalization tentacles which reached to a largely unheard of region in northwestern Africa. The region is called Western Sahara and it is an occupied territory of Morocco. How it got this way is a tribute to its dark colonial past.

In 1975 — after almost 100 years of rocky colonial rule — Spain withdrew its forces from a hotly disputed territory they called Spanish Sahara. Located southwest of Morocco and northeast of Mauritania, the area now called Western Sahara is home to Moroccan settlers and the indigenous Sahrawi people.

Following Spain’s exit in 1975 the Sahrawi claimed that the territory belonged to them. This resulted in conflict and bloodshed between a Sahrawi guerilla army known as the Polisario Front and neighbouring countries. Though Polisario was able to defeat Mauritania forces they were overpowered by Morocco to the north. As a result Morocco rules the territory in theory, even though the African Union and over 80 governments consider the territory a sovereign state.

In addition to territorial issues, the Western Sahara is rich in many minerals and resource including oil, fish, and of special interest to the PotashCorp, phosphate. An official with Western Sahara Rights Watch (WSRW) — a Western Sahara advocacy group — said that the region boasts one of the highest deposits of phosphate in the world. The fact that it is high quality, easily mined (only three feet underground), and in great abundance has attracted multi-national companies.

Enter the US-Canadian fertilizer producer Potash Corp, considered by WSRW the largest importer of phosphate from Western Sahara in the world. If i understand it all correctly Potash Corp ships the phosphate from the Western Saharan coast to Louisiana and onto Los Angeles where it is processed with ammonia and Saskatchewan potassium to make inorganic fertilizer.

Now this wouldn't be a problem if the Sahrawi people were benifiting from this phosphate extraction, but the reality is that Morocco is reaping all of the economic rewards. It is actually more likely that Morocco would give Western Sahara self-governing status if there were no resources to be had.

In 2002, a United Nations contract lawyer concluded that while the existing exploration contracts for the area were not illegal, "if further exploration and exploitation activities were to proceed in disregard of the interests and wishes of the people of Western Sahara, they would be in violation of the principles of international law."

This caused some multi-national companies such as Total S.A. and Norwegian fertilizer company Yara to leave, but has not deterred the continued extraction of phosphate by the Potash Corp.

WSRW says that companies like Potash Corp will receive no penalty for this because the UN Security Council will not place an embargo on Morocco because one of its members, veto-wielding France — which has strong ties with Morocco — will not do so.

Having understood a lot of this back-story it became very difficult for me to watch the news everyday and see that nobody seemed to pick up on this. Thus, while we are happy that our sixth largest company is staying home thousands of Sahrawi suffer under a government given money by the very corporation we love.

Needless to say, I found myself perplexed and disturbed by the ignorance and am in the process to try to do something about it. I am realizing that it takes work to get people to talk about stuff like this.

Canadian journalist Cecil Rosner once said that when you do any kind of investigative work like this you have to keep an open mind. I'm trying to do that. Maybe PCS is not aware of all of this? Or maybe there is another side to the story? Hard to say right now, but I'll try to keep you posted. Because if one of our biggest companies is contributing towards an international injustice then Canadians deserve to know about it.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010