The legacy of Occupy Kamloops

No one knew what would happen next. We gathered in anticipation in front of the Kamloops Library on October 15, 2011. The Occupy movement was sweeping the globe and its reach extended to Kamloops.

Kamloops Library. Photo: David Charbonneau

These giddy times reminded me of the Hippy Movement of the 1960’s but these participants were more focused and clear-headed: no drugs, psychedelic music and free love.

More than 950 demonstrations were planned for that day in 82 countries on every continent, in every Canadian province, eight in British Columbia.

Seven years later, the euphoria faded and the legacy unclear, I wanted to capture the moment before it was a lost. When Professor Trish Archibald from the Social Work program at Thompson Rivers University invited me to write a chapter in an upcoming book, I jumped at the chance. She was assembling a team to write a history of social justice in Kamloops since the Second World War.

To research my chapter, I interviewed ten people involved with the camp at Spirit Square. I met with each of them at Red Beard Cafe on Tranquille. That location was appropriate, not only because I’m a regular but because it was only a block away from the original campsite. Back in 2011 when it was called Cowboy Coffee I would see the occupiers, camp-worn, visiting the washrooms.

They were willing and eager to tell me about the events that changed their lives. Cassie Tremblay was a major force in the camp. Her training as a nurse gave her the skills necessary for to day-to-day routine and regular meetings.

They hadn’t intended to occupy the park to begin with. But after five hours of talking at Library Square (after I had left) a core of seven to ten people wondered what to do with the pent-up enthusiasm. They decided to set up the camp at Spirit Square, went home and gathered sleeping bags, tents and camping gear, and met that evening at the Park.

The long hours at the camp gave people time to reflect more deeply about what they had committed to – the occupation of public land. Some visitors to the camp were motivated by the same principles: idealism, global solidarity, and wage disparity. Some were not; such as the homeless, those with addiction and mental health issues, even runaway kids.

As the days grew colder, the practical matters of the camp became more urgent; such the need for toilets and heat. But because they were occupying public land, permits weren’t granted. The daily grind took its toll and by November 15, 2011 the occupiers’ camp at Spirit Square was gone.

What is the legacy of Occupy Kamloops, I asked occupier Kevin Wicheknap? “The goals of Occupy have yet to be accomplished. All things are always in transition. Occupy brought people together who were concerned about the environment and inequality. It was unlike anything I have ever seen. It was inspiring. Now it’s like, where next? We’ve learned to walk.”

Years in the making, our book was released Monday. Other chapters include made-in-Kamloops solutions to social injustice regarding food security, education, housing, and poverty. Our book, Building Community in Kamloops, Social Justice in Action, is available at the Brock Activity Centre.

 

 

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Burn all books about Sir John A.

The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario doesn’t go far enough when they recommend the removal of former Prime Minister John A. Macdonald’s name from schools because of his role in the “genocide against Indigenous people.”

Image: Maryland Faerie Festival Blog

Macdonald established reserves in order to clear Indigenous people from the land to make way for the railway. He rationed food on reserves that led to malnutrition, disease, and the deaths of thousands.

He should be erased. Statues and monuments should be torn down. His image on our ten dollar bill should be removed. All traces of his memory should be expunged. Why should we honour such a racist?

I searched the TNRD library and found 12 books with offensive titles such as “John A.: the man who made us: the life and times of John A. Macdonald How could a killer shape Canada? And “Sir John’s table: the culinary life and times of Canada’s first prime minister.” Who cares what he ate while starving children?

I “borrowed” a digital copy from the TNRD library of “The destiny of Canada: Macdonald, Laurier, and the election of 1891.” In it I learn that Macdonald appointed Indian agents in the West who used open ballots to track who voted for whom to ensure the re-election of Tories.

As a symbol of our collective disgust of the treatment of Canada’s Indigenous people, the books should be burned. What a cathartic feeling that would give to Canadians in relieving our guilt at the treatment of Canada’s first people! A good date for the book-burning would be Guy Fawkes Night on November 5 when we would gather in public squares while bonfires raged. How therapeutic it would be to dance in the light of the flames as our national shame when up in smoke!

Public burnings of ten dollar bills would further expunge our blame, similar to the Chinese tradition of burning “joss notes (unofficial banknotes).” Whereas the Chinese do so as offerings to the deceased, wealthy Canadians and corporations could set examples of our collective outrage by burning large quantities of ten-dollar bills. Such burnings would fortify their images as good citizens.

The hard drives of people who downloaded borrowed digital copies from libraries should be seized (except for mine, of course, which is for the purpose of research only.) The names of those library patrons (except mine) who have borrowed hard and digital copies of books should be reported to the Ministry of Pure Thought.

The complete purge should start with Macdonald and continue with other villains such as Hector-Louis Langevin and Egerton Ryerson, who promoted residential schools; Edward Cornwallis, who placed a bounty on Mi’kmaq scalps; Judge Mathew Begbie, who ordered the hanging of chiefs of Tsilhqot’in Nation for defending their land; and Paul de Chomedey, who killed an Iroquois chief with his bare hands.

The cleansing of Canada’s spirit should continue with the re-writing of history. More than just the political leaders of the past are to blame. The majority of Canadians who voted for them are at fault. We cannot let the evil views of Canadians from the past to warp our values today! Those views cast an ominous shadow over Canadians. History should reflect who we are now, not the warped morals of the past.

It’s too late to decriminalize pot

Decriminalization of marijuana should have happened decades ago. Now it would only add to the confusion.

Marijuana users are caught in a legal limbo. The government intends to legalize marijuana before Canada Day, 2018, but until then it’s illegal. Then, like a light being switched on, what was once a criminal offence will not be.

Alberta Legalization of Cannabis Committee

Government intentions aside, police are going about their business. They arrested activists Mark Emery (the “Prince of Pot”) and his wife Jodie as reported by CFJC Today.

The Liberals have been dithering over decriminalization for decades and this Trudeau is no different. Pierre Trudeau could have decriminalized marijuana in 1979. Then Justice Minister Marc Lalonde was playing politics when he said that he would decriminalize it before the upcoming election if opposition parties would just fast track the legislation. He was doubtful that they would. “I’m not optimistic,” Lalonde said (Calgary Herald, Feb. 22, 1979).

The opposition parties took Lalonde up on his challenge, agreeing to fast tracking.  Both opposition leaders Joe Clark and Ed Broadbent sent me letters of approval for decriminalization. They were responding to letters I sent on behalf of the Alberta Legalization of Cannabis Committee. I helped organize the group in 1977.

Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau wrote me to explain how his government was trying to decriminalize marijuana. His government had initiated a bill in the Senate, Bill S-19, in 1974.”The Commons, however, was unable to find the time to give the bill further attention; so it died on the order paper when the last session of Parliament ended (January 17, 1978),” Trudeau explained.

In my letter to the Calgary Herald, I complained about Lalonde’s tardy pace: “Why does the government seem so reluctant to do what all agree must be done? If Lalonde wants us to believe that this is a demonstration of his government in haste, then it’s time to see what a new government in action; a government that will not fiddle while Canadians get burned (April 14, 1979).”

Lalonde had teased Canadians long enough with his promises of decriminalization. His government was defeated by Joe Clark’s Progressive Conservative Party in June 11, 1979.

Executive Assistant to Clark’s Minister of Justice wrote me: “Mr. Clark’s government is currently reviewing this and other issues with a view to formulating policies and setting priorities.” “Be assured, Mr. Charbonneau, that your comments will be given serious consideration by the Government as it continues its study of this important matter (Aug. 3, 1979).” However, Clark’s government didn’t last long enough to decriminalize marijuana.

A Globe and Mail editorial argues that the government should decriminalize marijuana before legalizing it because users are in legal purgatory: “Besides, there is no viable interim regulatory regime that could accommodate a quasi-legal retail market. But there is when it comes to personal possession. It’s called decriminalization.”

It’s too late for decriminalization. More legislation would only add to confusion. There is a simple solution –what the Dutch call “gedogen.” Police simply don’t enforce marijuana laws. Unlike the Netherlands, where the law has been ignored for 30 years, police only have to turn a blind eye for another year.

By the time the trekkers got to Kamloops

In April of 1935 they left their miserable camps and made their way to Vancouver. The camps had been set up in the middle of nowhere. Young men worked in the military-run camps for 20 cents a day under deplorable conditions in dead-end jobs with no end in sight.

Canada’s History Magazine

The camps were designed to harsh. Prime Minister Bennett had reluctantly set them up as a concession to the unemployed victims of the Great Depression. He was opposed to anything that looked like a handout, including even the appalling camps. He told a labour delegation in 1930: “Never will I or any government of which I am part put a premium on idles or put our people on the dole (Canada’s History magazine, August-September, 2016).”

The camps didn’t have to be that way, says historian Bill Waiser of the University of Saskatchewan. “In contrast to the American Civil Conservation Corps, a popular federal work-for-relief program across the border, the make-work projects and isolating conditions of the Canadian relief camps aggravated the gloom of the men who were in them.”

About fifteen hundred desperate men arrived in Vancouver and were warmly received. Huge public rallies and parades were held. On Mother’s Day in Stanley Park, three hundred women circled the men in the shape of a heart.

As is typical, provincial and federal governments wrangled over who was responsible for the men. Finally the men decided to take matters into their own hands and trek to Ottawa aboard boxcars. About one thousand left Vancouver in June of 1935. Governments made no attempt to stop them –convinced that the trekker’s tenacity would dissolve in the cold trip through the mountains.

By the time the trekkers got to Kamloops they were cold, hungry and dispirited. Unlike Vancouver, no warm reception awaited them. Nothing had been done to prepare for their arrival: Mayor W. J. Moffatt and the chief of police flatly refused requests for help.

Kamloops had problems of its own with hordes of desperate, unemployed men in formal camps and informal “hobo jungles” says Mary Balf, former curator of the Kamloops Museum, in her book Kamloops 1914-1945. In one case, on May 1, 1931, men flocked into the city to complain about the poor conditions in these camps. Police closed the bridge from North Kamloops to limit the numbers.

“The work camps continued rather haphazardly until the summer of 1936,” says Balf, “but never really worked well. . . frequently they were so badly managed that even the promised wages were not forthcoming.”

After 300 men joined the trekkers from Kamloops, they were revitalized. As word of the trekkers spread, they were soon regarded as folk heroes. Washtubs of stew awaited them when they arrived in Golden in June. Calgary citizens were struck by the youthful innocence of the men.

More men joined the trek in Alberta but not my father. He was in a camp in Jasper at the time building the national park. He never told me about the camp conditions in Jasper. Perhaps he preferred to forget the depression and the stigma of unemployment. Perhaps, like some of the projects in the U.S., the building of parks gave purpose to his work.

As the popularity of the heroic trekkers grew, the federal government began to worry that they might actually get to Ottawa. By the time they got to Regina, the feds decided they would go no further. On Dominion Day in 1935, Regina police and RCMP raided a rally attended by thousands of trekkers and supporters. A riot ensued with hundreds of injuries and two deaths.

The trek ended but not without a cost to the feds. In October of 1935, Bennett’s government was defeated. A year later the camps were closed down.

Pipelines are good politics, bad economics

New pipelines get politicians elected. However, they will remain empty; much like election promises that remain unfulfilled. There are good environmental reasons not to build new pipelines but the economics are rarely discussed.

broken-pipeline

First the politics. Workers in the resource extraction industry like new pipelines because they symbolize well-paying jobs. NDP leader Adrian Dix learned that bitter lesson in 2013 when he opposed the proposed Kinder Morgan pipeline and regular unionized workers flocked to the BC Liberals.

Prime Minister Trudeau understands the politics of pipelines when he approved three pipelines and placed one under review (Trans Mountain, Enbridge Line 3 and Keystone XL approved and Energy East under review.)

However, approval of pipelines does not guarantee that oil will actually flow. Thomas Gunton, Director of the Resource and Environmental Planning Program at Simon Fraser University, has done some number-crunching. His analysis suggests that we are going to end up with a lot of empty pipelines:

“Building all four projects would therefore result in 2.4 million to 2.7 million bpd [barrels per day] of excess capacity in 2025, equivalent to about four Trans Mountain expansion projects worth of empty pipeline space (Globe and Mail, January 12, 2017.”

To put these numbers in context, our current capacity for pipeline and rail is five million bpd. The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) forecasts that the current capacity will fill needs up to 2025. Note that this prediction is not coming from some environmental group but the very industry that produces the stuff.

Even existing pipelines may remain empty. The National Energy Board (NEB) projects that the price of oil price will drop by $17 a barrel. New climate policies that could further reduce production further.

Empty pipelines are expensive. Guess who’s going to pay for them?

“The capital cost of empty pipeline space would be about $25-billion, which would be borne by the Canadian energy sector in terms of higher tolls and by the Canadian taxpayer in terms of lower tax payments to government due to lower corporate profits. If current rail capacity is included, the surplus capacity would be even higher.”

You, dear reader, will pay for empty pipelines in higher fuel costs. The pipeline builders will recover the cost through higher tolls that oil producers will have to pay in order to move their fuel to market.

Politicians like to build monuments. Premier Clark is doing just that in proceeding with Site C dam. Like empty pipelines, transmission lines from the dam on the Peace River will remain empty. The market for electricity is flat and with conservation, consumption could be reduced by twice the output of the proposed Site C dam, according to the B.C. Sustainable Energy Association . They add:

“In its 2013 Integrated Resource Plan, BC Hydro assessed Site C and other possible resource options in relation to forecast energy and capacity needs over the next twenty years. BC Hydro concluded that Site C is needed for its earliest practical in-service date of 2023.”

Like the Egyptian pyramids, new dams and pipelines will create jobs but serve no practical purpose. The difference is that tourists will not flock to see them.

Organic crops and open-source GMO

Mischa Popoff of Osoyoos plans to grow an organic crop using genetically modified organisms. The organic label is not easily obtained but as a former organic farm inspector, he knows what’s involved. He spent five years certifying farms organic for some of Canada’s biggest agencies.

monsanto-hero

“I started in the organic industry in Saskatchewan,” Popoff told infotel.ca. “We converted our grain farm to organic in 1993 and I was totally opposed to GMOs. I thought they were evil incarnate. But over a five-year career as an organic inspector I learned not only are they not harmful, they reduce the impact of pesticides and synthetic fertilizers.”

Popoff may be determined but so are environmentalists.  They passionately believe that growing GMO crops is a corruption of the very essence of organic which suggests that food is not only pure and virtuous but good for the environment. It’s heresy to suggest the opposite.

Another heretic is Cathleen Enright executive at Biotechnology Industry Organization. She told Frederick Kaufman at slate.com that since 1996, transgenic crops have “reduced greenhouse gas emissions, reduced pesticide runoffs, and reduced farm-fuel use. Because of biotech, there is more carbon sequestration in the soil.”

Popoff is nervous about revealing the location of his crops because of death threats. “The crop is already in the ground but it will be two years before it’s certified organic,” he says. “I can’t tell you where it is because anti-GMO activists will vandalize the field. I’ve had death threats.”

Popoff is leading a group that say they will grow the world’s first certified organic GMO crop and he’ll use open-source GMO. A relatively new idea, open-source GMO is the agricultural equivalent of Linux, the open-source operating system that made computer programming a communal effort.

Monsanto is the Microsoft of food supply. Both corporations have tried to monopolize and monetize technology. Monsanto is evil, not because of technology, but because it has tried to create a monocultural future, with all its inherent problems, with no regard to agroecolgy.

While ranting at Monsanto may feel satisfying, the effect is like screaming at a deaf giant. The way to undermine Monsanto is to acquire the proprietary rights to food molecules. That can be done through licensing agreements that allow free use of genomes.

Cambia Technologies, an Australian biotech company that researches and develops GMOs, offered a licensing agreement for the free use of a technology called “transbacter.” Transbacter can be deployed to alter plant genetics. Its aim is not one specific modification for one specific corporate interest but to enable a slew of innovations.

There’s no shortage of potential application of open-source GMOs that would help billions on Earth: innovations in crops like cassava, millet, or teff. They’re small fish for Big GMOs “They are not interested in low-insecticide eggplants that would help clean urban water supplies in South Asia. There’s not enough money in it for them,” says Kaufman.

The challenge is to move the rhetoric beyond “Monsanto is evil” to a tactic that speaks the language of Big GMOs. “Of course, the party-line foodie dare not say anything positive about GMOs, at risk of being labeled a stooge of the foodopolists,” laments Kaufman.

Clash of law, politics, treaty rights, and technology at Site C dam

Protests continue at the Site C dam location on the Peace River despite a court that allows building.  The Supreme Court of British Columbia ruled in September that attempts by the Prophet River and West Moberly First Nations to quash an environmental certificate issued by the government were invalid.

site c

“I am satisfied that the petitioners [first nations] were provided a meaningful opportunity to participate in the environmental assessment process,” Justice Robert Sewell wrote.

That didn’t stop Arthur Hadland from blocking construction. The long-time politician and area farmer was charged with mischief after being arrested earlier this month. “I don’t want to be a hero,” Hadland told CBC News. “Someone has to speak for the river.” He’s a Peace River Regional District director and ran as an independent in the last provincial election. Pat Pimm, who won the riding for the B.C. Liberals, is in favour of the dam.

Helen Knott of the Prophet River First Nation is occupying an historic trading post site in protest of the construction. Knott and her group are committed to defending treaty rights, even if it means being arrested.

“It’s not necessarily anybody goes into it with that idea, like, yeah, we’re going to be arrested, right? It’s that, yeah, we’re committed to saving this tract of land and to, you know, actively use our treaty rights here,” she told CBC News.

Knott’s view epitomizes a clash of cultures in B.C. This province is unique in Canada in that only two historical treaties were signed with indigenous people. As a result the question of land ownership remained unsettled for much of B.C. until the Tsilhqot’in decision of the Supreme Court of Canada. It ruled that, yes, B.C. natives had aboriginal title to a 1,750 square kilometres region.

The implications of the Supreme Court ruling are unclear. Globe and Mail reporter Jeffrey Simpson says: “The court’s ruling was complicated, which might explain the variety of interpretations. It did say that the Tsilhqot’in First Nation had aboriginal title over a portion of the land it had claimed, but by no means all of it.”

B.C.’s aboriginal leaders have a different interpretation. The Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs and representatives of the First Nations Summit and the B.C. Assembly of First Nations argue that the ruling gives title to aboriginals over all of British Columbia, not just pieces where the courts decide title exists.

In a press release last June, First Nations affirmed that in one of four principles: “1) Acknowledgement that all our relationships are based on recognition and implementation of the existence of indigenous peoples inherent title and rights, and pre-confederation, historic and modern treaties, throughout British Columbia.”

In their view, in light of the ruling, nothing has changed from before European settlers came here.

From a technical viewpoint, there’s disagreement about the need for this dam. I argued a year ago that, while dams are an excellent complement to solar and wind, Site C will produce power that we don’t need now; especially not now that the scaled-down LNG plants won’t need the electricity. While the technology is sound, the location at site C isn’t at this time.