For Romeo Saganash, MP, a turning point

I am touched by the frankness and honesty with which New Democrat MP Romeo Saganash has chosen to address his “medical problem”, alcohol dependency, and I hope that he can work his way through the first acute phase of treatment with personal integrity and with the knowledge that millions of Canadians have his back.

Both as a Member of Parliament and a member of the New Democrat caucus, it is my duty to follow a code of conduct in keeping with my role as a Member of Parliament and the confidence that my constituents placed in me when they elected me.

Last Friday, my behaviour caused an unfortunate incident that delayed an Air Canada flight between Montreal and Val-d’Or. I want to apologize to the other passengers and staff for what happened and for any inconvenience I caused them. I would also like to offer my sincere apologies to Air Canada and the Aéroports de Montréal.

Neither fatigue nor stress can justify what I did. I need help to overcome a medical problem, a dependence on alcohol, like far too many other Canadians.

I am not looking at excuses, but I know that profound scars were left on me because of my time in residential school. I never shied away from that. The death of my friend and mentor, Jack Layton, also greatly affected me. Like him, I needed a crutch. The leadership race wore me out, on top of taking me away from my children and my loved ones even more often.

Life on Parliament Hill can be hectic and exciting, but it is also full of obstacles and pitfalls. Many of my colleagues can attest to this.

I have asked my leader to give me leave so that I can take the necessary time to treat this illness. I am deeply grateful for his support and the support of all my colleagues in this difficult period of my life.

I would like to thank the citizens of Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou for their constant support in this difficult period of my life and ask for their understanding. I can assure them that my office will continue to serve them and that my New Democrat colleagues will be available to help while I’m on sick leave.

My priority is to serve my constituents to the best of my abilities and it’s with deep humility that I say thank you and see you soon.

Youth for Christ partners with Winnipeg City Hall; Stephen Harper and ‘the Theo-cons’ – are we way past ‘scary’?

A dog-eared, repeatedly-read copy of The Walrus from a few years ago sits beside my comfy chair. Its cover reads “Stephen Harper and the Theo-cons: The rising clout of Canada’s religious right”

(Simon, in comments, points us to news of the author’s forthcoming book The Armageddon Factor: The Rise of Christian Nationalism in Canada)

I was reminded of the piece by my friend John in Ottawa who has a link, sans commentaires, to the article on his blog.

I commend it to your reading.

The article came to mind, again, when the Harper government’s scariness, again, broke through the Olympic celebrations.

I was invited to join a Facebook group which, too late this time, mobilized against government funding of a building in Winnipeg to be operated by the oh-so-inclusive name of Youth for Christ.

They’re not a new name in the conservative, evangelical Christian milieu and, as they themselves describe their work, they see nothing wrong with receiving public funds while proselytizing in any number of ways to the poor – immigrant, aboriginal, “at risk”.

Columnist Dan Lett of the Winnipeg Free Press, noting “the big-box Christian churches peppered around Winnipeg regularly mix politics and religion” takes us through some of the strongest misconceptions for and against public funding of such a centre.

Existing service providers, far from declining additional help in the troubled downtown, reasonably argue against this proposal.

With all the hallmarks of a George W. Bush “faith-based initiative” (which also received public money as often as Congress allowed it) this Youth for Christ initiative has some high-ranking government cheerleaders including Justice Public Safety Minister Vic Toews.

Check out Youth for Christ (Winnipeg)’s website and see if this sounds like your favourite municipal community centre.

Poilievre’s loose lips too close to ‘billions’ of misfiring brain cells

His normally booming voice hushed and his head bowed, Conservative school-kid Pierre Poilievre followed Principal Stephen Harper’s instructions today and apologized.  This apparently secured his position as a parliamentary secretary and the Principal gave him his Blackberry back.

The kid has made a habit of getting attention, bullying where necessary, always quick with an insult if it will get him on the news.

So, the morning of Parliament’s historic apology to survivors and family members of Indian residential schools, the whiz kid couldn’t pass up an opportunity to be on the never-controversial CFRA Radio in Ottawa:

His forced apology is not enough, although it seems to meet Prime Minister Harper’s standards. Like the much larger apology on residential schools, this one needs to be followed up with real change. I would suggest he spend part of his summer recess with the people of the Ardoch Algonquins and the Community Coalition Against Mining Uranium. Or maybe do a house-swap with a family for some vacation time in Kasheschewan or Fort Albany.

He might learn something.


The quiet horror of residential schools

As good a starting point as any, as the full gravity of the truth begins to come out, points assigned according to abuses suffered:

“Repeated persistent anal or vaginal intercourse — 45-60 points. Penetration with an object — 36-44. Repeated, persistent fondling –11-25. Simulated intercourse — 11-25. Nude photographs taken — 5-10.”

“One or more physical assaults causing injury that led or should have led to hospitalization — 11-25.

“Permanent or demonstrated long-term physical injury, impairment or disfigurement, broken bones. Examples include severe beating, whipping and second-degree burning –11-25 points.

“Being singled out for physical abuse by an adult employee which was grossly excessive in duration or frequency and which caused psychological harms … — 5-25 points.”


Gathering of Mother Earth Protectors and Aboriginal Day of Action: For the grandchildren

As today’s Day of Action march, from Queen’s Park to Toronto’s waterfront, brings to a close the Gathering of Mother Earth Protectors I am struck by the images and words of grandparents enjoying their rich First Nations culture with grandkids, something residential schools stripped away from them, of course, in their youth. Time and time again, speaker after speaker this week invoked their grandchildren as being uppermost in their mind as they fight to uphold treaty and basic human rights to carry on their way of life on sacred ancestral lands.  

A procession of First Nations representatives and settler supporters marched from Queen’s Park to Little Norway Park at Queen’s Quay and Bathurst.  Bob Lovelace spoke at the post-march rally just hours after he, along with the “KI-6”, was released from prison.


Naming colonial arrogance

I’m going to try to be more deliberate in following the issues of aboriginal rights which, frankly, don’t get the detailed national media coverage they deserve. 

The summer tourism season will present other opportunities for members, and settler allies, of the Algonquins of the Sharbot Lake area to engage in protest as they act against mining companies and also try to get legislation like the Mining Act revamped.

With Bob Lovelace and the KI 6 in prison, this video is a good primer on the dispute over uranium mining on First Nations’ land north of Kingston and why more settlers need to get involved in getting some action out of our governments.

On my last visit to the Perth area, in Lanark County to the east of Sharbot Lake, it was heartening to see signs of support for the First Nations on lawns and in fields.  The same can be said in other counties around eastern Ontario.  The mining of uranium is of concern to many people there – native and settler alike.

Here’s a link to the Community Coalition Against Mining Uranium

Then there are the on-going disputes over a gravel pit in Tyendinaga (the Deseronto area) and a new settler subdivision on disputed lands of The Six Nations of the Grand River in Caledonia.


World AIDS Day – Remember and then act

World AIDS Day has, for me, often been a day of reflection on the lives lost in my circle of friends – and there have been many.  A visit to Toronto’s AIDS Memorial reinforces that fact.


However, it is the fact that there are fewer friends dying nowadays – fewer names being added to the Memorial each year – that fires my passion for those who still only dream of receiving the medications we have. 

By “we” I mean those of us who are connected to the health care system.  There are still far too many, close to home and abroad, who are not.  IV drug users are too often seen as disposable, their needles not so much.  The rate of infection among our First Nations peoples, directly related to the way successive settlers’ governments have treated them, is a national disgrace.  As for the homeless, who really knows?  Toronto’s Daily Bread Food Bank, and others elsewhere I am sure, never seem to have enough in stock to meet growing needs. When people cannot eat well, no matter where they live, caring for other aspects of health loses its priority.

We still have much to do.

Canada’s Parliament, in the sunset days of Jean Chrétien’s tenure, passed federal legislation which would allow generic drug makers to manufacture cheap copies of expensive patent-protected medicines, which could then be sent to the poorest of AIDS-affected countries. This legislation has remained caught up in red tape for years (it was even renamed by the Conservative government so as to remove Chrétien’s name – that was important, right?) with the result that not one generic drug has left Canada.  (Today’s Star editorial has more to say, even some positive things, about Prime Minister Harper’s AIDS efforts.)

I am no more worthy or deserving of life-saving medications – available to me through a combination of private and public insurance – than those who do not even have access to TB cures, much less the ‘cocktails’ we take for granted. World AIDS Day allows us all to raise our voices over this injustice.

Join Canada’s First Nations’ ‘Day of Action’

2008 edition announced here.




As members and friends of Canada’s original peoples, aboriginal peoples, prepare for Friday’s Day of Action – be it peaceful protests or inconvenient blockades – we might all remind ourselves just how bad things are here for so many, and why they might be more than a little bit fed up!

CTV – First Nations communities in crisis: report

Members and friends of my faith community, Trinity-St. Paul’s United Church, will be joining the rally and march Friday at noon from the area near Convocation Hall on King’s College Circle (U of T) to Queen’s Park.


The Assembly of First Nations (AFN)[1] is calling on all Canadians to a National Day of Action to support Aboriginal struggles for justice and treaty rights on June 29, 2007. The National Day of Action is a day for Canadians and First Nations to stand together to raise awareness about the situation of First Nations and the solutions that will improve that situation. The day will call attention to the urgency of securing a better future for First Nations children through addressing poverty; and upholding respect, dignity and fairness for First Nations.

The United Church calls on the Government of Canada to honour First Nations treaty and land rights with the firm conviction that access to land and resources are central to ending poverty in First Nations communities in Canada.

Recognizing our own complicity in the attainment of First Nations rights in Canada, the General Council of the United Church of Canada is calling on its members to support First Nations justice and right relationship through:

Prayers or organizing a prayer vigil on June 29, 2007. The following United Church of Canada resources may assist with organizing a prayer vigil.

    1. A Healing Journey for Us All- Uncovering the Wounds of Empire: A United Church of Canada resource for Healing and Reconciliation.
    2. Toward Justice and Right Relationship. A Beginning: A Study Guide for Congregations and Church groups as they Forge New Relationships with First Nations Peoples
    3. Hear Our Voices, First Nations of Canada Speak: A four-part video study that explores the social, political, economic and cultural rights of First Nations
    4. That All May Be One: A Resource for Educating Towards Racial Justice


Contacting your local member of Parliament, the Prime Minister, and  the Minister of Indian Affairs to tell them you support justice and fairness for First Nations, and that you want the Government of Canada to work in partnership with First Nations to resolve long-standing issues. You can write the Prime Minister’s office at: Office of the Prime Minister, 80 Wellington Street, Ottawa K1A 0A2.


Discerning other appropriate solidarity actions in your context. Including getting information about the National Day of Action (June 29) in your area. You can get this information by contacting the AFN and/or your regional AFN office (information is available on the AFN website at

For more information on the United Church of Canada support for the day please contact  

Choice U. Okoro,  e-mail: 

Human Rights and Peace Justice, Global and Ecumenical Relations Unit.

3250 Bloor Street West, Suite 300 Toronto, ON M8X 2Y4 Canada

Tel: 1.800-268-3781 Voice Mail: 416-2315931 Ext. 4061 Fax 416-231-3103

[1] The Assembly of First Nations (AFN) is the national organization representing First Nations citizens in Canada.



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Continued student debt (in English or French) – ‘That’s Our Canada. Voilà Notre Canada’: Cons

Among the many ways the French language uses the new Harper government’s budget title “Aspire” are:

yearn for, yes, but also breathe in or inhale, or – worsesuck in or suck up.

(Check the Dictionnaire Français-Anglais at if you don’t believe me.)

This would account for the Bloc’s strategic no-brainer to support the budget.

Let’s see if the Harpocrites get a re-elected Charest government they would like in the Québec election or a minority parliament, like their own, the governing party to be determined later.

I also wait to see how federal Liberals in Québec justify, via endless nuance, voting against the Harper-Flaherty budget which makes such strides in addressing the ‘fiscal imbalance’ that is such a sore point in the province.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t necessarily want a federal election, at least not in the short-term (nor, let’s be real, do any of the opposition parties). In that sense, the Bloc is taking one for the entire opposition team. Frankly, I don’t want a vote in the fall, either, when the Ontario general election will be in full swing.


So, as of this evening’s respective party stances, the NDP can oppose the budget – and, by extension, the government – while delaying a federal election for tired partisans like me. Even better (for them), the Liberals can do the same. If ever there was a time for the Conservatives to break another little promise, and ignore their fixed election date way down the road, it would be soon.

The oft-repeated applause cue for sleeping Conservatives, during the Finance Minister’s budget speech today was, “That’s our Canada. Voilà notre Canada.”

Whither the environment and climate change? Enough with the green screens and EcoTrust™ feel-good announcements, Stephen (or Ballistic Baird)!

What about First Nations? Nothing!

Oh, and what’s Stephen Harper’s solution to high tuition fees now (and student debt for years to come)? Let parents sock away more money, and earlier, in RESPs.

The young parents I know, even the two professional income parents, are paying off mortgages or lines of credit needed to have one of them stay home with the kids since there’s precious little licensed, affordable day-care. There is no money, or very little, to sock away for the little tykes’ university years which – don’t kid yourself – are coming on quickly!

The ones who can afford to do such sock-stuffing, the über-wealthy, will get a nice tax break while the student loans for the rest will maintain a debtors’ economy for generations.

And, for that, we still can’t get a break on ATM fees?

Thanks to Jim Flaherty, “That’s our Canada. Voilà notre Canada.”

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UNAIDS Report Redux – no highlights

Is something, which we now know to be so preventable, so inevitable?

The days before December 1, World AIDS Day, are rarely filled with good news – despite attempts to put spin on the statistics released by UNAIDS. For example, overall (when taking into account the wealthiest nations) those infected with HIV are living longer thanks to antiretroviral medications. This means little to those who do not have access to these medications (mine are pictured here in their morning and evening pill cases).

Finding any good news in the overwhelming statistics – even the press releases are daunting – leads to comparisons of needles in haystacks.

It is impossible to give a hierarchy to the importance of the sad facts. The face of AIDS, worldwide, is that of a woman. Women cannot take control of the world fast enough. One of my own parochial biases, gay men, leaves me shaking my head and asking, “WTF, gay men?”

More discouraging than the 2.9 million lives lost to AIDS this year is the 4.3 million new infections. In short, the dead are being replaced, and then some, with the living ill. When, in the name of the 25 million who have died, will this staggering reality change?

When will prevention efforts in the gay community – or in the broader “men who have sex with men” category – start to see sustained changes in behaviour? It doesn’t take too many lapses of judgment, however caused, to get infected. 46 percent of new infections in Canada – that’s new infections – are accounted for here. So “MSM’ (that’s not mainstream media in the case of HIV/AIDS parlance) is still the most affected group in Canada, ahead of injection drug users (19 percent).

Does anyone not think that the link between increased infection rates in North America and the availability of life-saving drugs ought to make us deserving of a collective slap across the head? Sure there are sociological factors – like poverty, drug abuse and homophobia – to consider. But it makes me crazy to think that any gay men, the average supposedly being wealthier, better-educated, etc., might believe that testing positive is just a matter of taking a few pills! Don’t take this frustration as an indictment, either against gay men or the prevention programs. That would be far too simplistic and there are enough politicians who will advance such arguments.

How the newly-diagnosed look and feel as long-term survivors may be better than a lab mouse from the early years such as me – but no one can say that for sure. Besides, from Epidemiology 101, the more who are HIV-positive and sexually active the more will become infected as a result of even casual slip-ups in prevention. I do not believe that most young gay men nowadays, in modern western society, have all of the predispositions I might have had. Maybe I’m wrong. Yet, as I look back on my youth, I recall never much believing I’d live to be 40, and gay, (and that youthful immortality is almost universal) so I leave the what-to-do list to professionals.

The report points to increasing evidence of HIV infection among men who have sex with each other (there’s that MSM again!) in Cambodia, China, India, Nepal, Pakistan, Vietnam and Thailand, but it said few of these countries’ AIDS programs really address the problem of sex between males. The problem? Homophobia and head-in-the-sand denial – read enormous stigma – of homosexual behaviour.

Canada’s First Nations peoples remain over-represented in this country’s statistics, by which it is meant the prevalence rate is disproportionate to the size of their population. The infection rate is nearly three times higher than for non-Aboriginals. Canada’s overall total of 58,000 cases must seem laughable to many countries and yet the skewed impact on our First Nations gives us prominence which is only shameful!

Never before has HIV infected so many women and, hello, they find themselves in that situation largely as a result of infected men – who may, or may not, know their own HIV status. Worldwide nearly 18 million women are HIV-positive, a jump of more than one million compared with two years earlier. In sub-Saharan Africa, women account for 59 percent of people with HIV/AIDS!

Of course that area of Africa already carries the burden of the world’s AIDS infections -63 per cent or 24.7 million people — but in East Asia, Eastern Europe and Central Asia there are 21 per cent more people living with HIV than two years ago. Ten percent increases per year? That’s unacceptable!

Dig deeper and it gets worse. HIV spread fastest in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, with a nearly 70 per cent increase in new infections over the past two years; 15 percent over the same period in South and Southeast Asia.

After sub-Saharan Africa, Asia is the second-most infected region. Almost eight million people with HIV/AIDS live in South and Southeast Asia.

Again, is something so preventable so inevitable? Will those of us privileged to have the best medical care live to see this pandemic begin to decline?

Other links to explore (in addition to the many listed in the sidebar):

Healing Our Spirit – B.C. Aboriginal HIV/AIDS Society

Stephen Lewis Foundation

Canadian AIDS Society

Clinton Foundation HIV/AIDS Initiative


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Some encouraging news from Caledonia

**** Greetings my friends,

This message came in from non-Native supporter Cheryl Walker. Sounds like the meeting with non-Native supporters went very well. Here is the letter and article following.

Blessings to you all,

Wahela Bluejay

Yesterday’s public event in Caledonia was very positive, informative and respectful. For the first time in a long time I left Caledonia feeling like there really are a lot of good people in our community who are working to make a positive difference. It was great to hear all the strong voices in support of Six Nations, human and legal rights. People spoke out against the racism and trampling of aboriginal peoples rights by the government of Canada. Even the most hardened person in the room could not ignore the suffering Canada’s mistreatment of First Nations people has and continues to cause, when an audience member bravely shared with us a small part of how it has affected her life. There were many wonderful people who attended this event and participated in the open discussion period. The panel speakers were great and addressed the issue from many sides, the human perspective, the legal perspective, and the broader public moral and ethical responsibility to stop the abuse of power by a few. It was a very moving, informative and wonderful day.

fyi, Tom Keefer’s report on the event is below.



From: Tom Keefer

*please feel free to forward widely*

hey folks,

Here is a quick report about the Community Friends public meeting in Caledonia this afternoon. First off, the event was a major success by any measure. Over 120 people from across the Haldimand tract and beyond attended the three-hour event which was addressed by indigenous rights lawyer Kate Kempton, Caledonia resident Jan Watson and United Steelworkers of America Local 1005 President Rolf Gerstenberger.

More than $500 was raised as people reached deep into their pockets to make a solidarity donation for the reclamation site by passing the hat at the meeting.

There was also an excellent media presence including numerous local media outlets, CHCH TV and two different crews from the CBC. The CBC ran live interviews with Community Friends spokesperson Jan Watson and had a number of reporters present. Several documentary filmmakers were also present as were radio stations CKRZ, CIUT, and CFRU. Video of the entire forum will be available on the Autonomy and Solidarity web site by Tuesday evening.

The message from the speakers and participants at the meeting was unanimous in expressing support for Six Nations land rights and calling for the Canadian government to fulfill its obligations to indigenous people. There were half a dozen members from the Caledonia Citizens Alliance present at the meeting but they did not publicly address the arguments raised in support of Six Nations. Those Caledonians that spoke from the floor of the meeting stressed the importance of peacefully and honorably resolving the issue of Six Nations land rights and spoke out against racism and bigotry. Numerous people from Six Nations also attended the meeting and gave their perspective on the Canadian government’s history of broken treaties while also describing the racism and harassment that has been directed against them.

At the meeting union activists from the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, the Service International Employees Union, the Canadian Union of Public Employees, the Canadian Auto Workers, and the United Steelworkers of America also spoke out to support Six Nations. The meeting ended with a focus on discussing the ways in which non-native people could organize support for Six Nations within their own communities and workplaces.

A big thank you goes out to all the Community Friends members and supporters who made this event happen. Special thanks goes to all of those who did the work of going door-to-door in Caledonia to leaflet for the meeting in the weeks leading up to the event. We also want to thank the members of the Six Nations Confederacy who while reasserting their sovereignty over lands used as a parking lot for the Caledonia Community Fair handed out hundreds of our leaflets to the people going to the fair.

The struggle continues…

Tom K.

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