Friday, August 26, 2011

Blacklisting artists is Franke-ly un-Canadian

When a great Canadian ascends the world stage, our nation is supportive. Actor, author, athlete, artist, or academic, we take vicarious pride in world recognition of our home-grown talent, like Christopher Plummer, Margaret Atwood, Wayne Gretzky, Emily Carr or Marshall McLuhan. We celebrate our Nobel laureates, Olympic gold medalists, platinum-selling recording artists, and Oscar-winning directors.

But of late have been exceptions of a disturbingly political nature. When the International Panel on Climate Change won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007, our government failed to recognize Canada’s prominent IPCC contributors; luckily the Green Party stepped up, spearheading a congratulatory ceremony on Parliament Hill (which Harper’s cabinet boycotted). Author and academic Michael Ignatieff was not lauded, but instead mocked in political attack ads, for his years as a respected Cambridge and Harvard professor. And now a Canadian artist is censored and blacklisted simply for challenging our government (through her art) to be more active on the climate file.

Through visual essays, Franke James blends science and art with storytelling, using their power not to preach but to engage viewers’ minds and hearts. She explores and illustrates topics like disaster preparedness, forest preservation, the health and environmental impacts of salon hair-dyeing, and of course, climate change. Her work is colourful, entertaining, accessible and informative. Not only that, it’s in demand internationally.

Canadians working abroad count on consular support. Whether a businessperson, artist, or whatever, our national brand grows when other countries appreciate us. Sometimes this involves government grants or lobbying, other times just the rubber stamp of approval from an embassy and some help reaching local media. The bar is set by quality, not political loyalty.

Or at least, that’s how it was. Under the Harper regime, things have changed. For having the audacity to challenge some Harper policies (or lack thereof), James has been blacklisted overseas. Not only was a promised $5000 grant pulled, she is denied even the basic support Canadian efforts abroad depend upon, and receive as a matter of course.

What’s worse, the foreign service has actively campaigned against her! A planned European tour was kiboshed after they “warned” her European corporate backer to pull sponsorship or face damage to their company. Without even token consular approval, private backing is difficult to secure; in the face of such threats, impossible.

For exercising her democratic rights of political expression and free speech, for questioning Harper’s tar sands promotion, she is branded as “speaking against the Canadian government.” James is neither an insurgent nor a rebel inciting violence – she is merely a thought-provoking artist.

If you’d like to learn more, or see what our government doesn’t want seen, visit and decide for yourself if your Canada includes the blacklisting of artists.

Originally published as my Root Issues colum in the Barrie Examiner under the title "Does your Canada include blacklisting artists?" .

Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is an educator, father, volunteer, and politician.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Taters over craters: Quarry a bad use of land

When the combined powers of corporations and government seem to overpower all, don’t despair; recall the triumph of the fight to stop Dump Site 41.

That campaign succeeded because so many stakeholders came together: environmentalists, farmers, First Nations, scientists, and concerned urban and rural citizens. Elected officials eventually saw the writing on the wall and put more stock in public demand than in “no worries” reports from corporate consultants.

Linking arms in a coalition of caring, we prevented the potential poisoning of one of our cleanest water sources and sent notice that we are serious about reducing waste. Even better, stakeholders learned to work together effectively, and continue to do so as new corporate or government actions threaten the clean water, air, and soil so vital to our health and lives.

The new threat on the horizon is the Melancthon “mega-quarry”, a proposal to create the largest quarry in Canada, churning 2,316 acres of prime spud-growing land to gravel pit and limestone extraction. The project’s scale is staggering: 4000 truckloads in and out each day, an area 1/3 the size of Orillia scoured deeper than Niagara Falls. In digging 200 down feet, far below the waterline, the operation will need to pump out 600 million litres of water every day, forever. That’s almost ¼ as much water as is currently used by all Ontarians.

Over many years, Highland Companies bought up land on the pretext that they would continue the traditional use of potato farming. Now, their application reveals they don’t have any requirement to preserve farmland, or restore it after digging it up. Instead, Ontario’s Aggregate Resource Act puts gravel ahead of food. In response to this concern, Ontario’s Minister of Natural Resources Linda Jeffrey quipped that the post-quarry land would make a nice golf course!

Highland believes that after the quarrying, “crater-farming”, requiring perpetual pumping, will somehow be a viable operation. Such fantasy boggles the mind. As Green Party leader Mike Schreiner has noted, our politicians must put food first.

There are many threads in the community struggle to save our soil, water and air from this threat, and this Saturday (August 20th) is a chance to engage your spirit in this cause. From 10 am to 2 pm Anishnabek First Nations and the North Dufferin Agricultural Community Taskforce will host a prayer lunch near Stayner, open to all faiths and nationalities. For more information, email or call 705-305-0125.

Another key upcoming event is Foodstock on October 16th, an outdoor festival/protest featuring 70 of Canada’s to chefs preparing local foods to highlight the value of our farmland over quarrying. More details to come, but save the day in your calendar for a delicious way to show your support for taters over craters.

Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is an educator, father, volunteer, and politician.

(Written for my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner)

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Sorry world, we're doing Asbestos we can

Written for my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner, printed under the title "Exporting asbestos a hypocritical practice"

Those who thought majority government would mean the end of Stephen Harper’s iron grip on his caucus are surely disappointed by Canada’s disgusting behaviour on asbestos.

On June 24th, our government embarrassed us to the world by standing alone to block asbestos from being placed on the UN’s list of hazardous substances. If you thought asbestos was an issue of the past, with today’s relevance only being its costly removal (including from Parliament Hill), you were wrong. It’s actually mined in a few locations in Quebec (including the town of Asbestos), and our government not only allows this, they spend our tax money and harm our international reputation promoting for export something we’ve decided is too dangerous to use here in Canada.

Listing it as a hazard would not ban the mining, export or trade of our asbestos. It would just provide notice to other countries that it is dangerous, allowing them to ban its import (if they chose) without penalty. It would inform countries that there are no safety protocols sufficient to eliminate the catastrophic risk of working with this substance.

Our government’s facetious excuse, that other countries should be responsible for regulations to protect their citizens from our poison, is the height of hypocrisy. It even contradicts the views of their own Libertarian wing, who prefer that such things not be regulated, allowing users to make their own informed decisions. But here our government is telling other nations to make regulations, yet refusing to give them the information they would need to make an informed choice.

But that’s where we get to the issue of muzzling the caucus. Chuck Strahl, former Conservative cabinet minister, is slowly dying from asbestos-related lung cancer. He’s not alone; according to the Worker’s Compensation Board, nearly a third of workplace-related fatalities are due to asbestos exposure. He dared to speak out against Canada’s pro-asbestos policies while in government, but his strongest messages have come now that he is retired and beyond political penalty. His son, who succeeded him to the apparently hereditary Chilliwack-Fraser Canyon seat, has been silent on the issue, as befits a backbencher under Harper’s watchful eye.

Even more disturbing is the silence from neighbouring Simcoe-Grey’s MP Kellie Leitch, MD. Where is the good doctor’s ethical commitment to put health above all other concerns, including political advantage? Outside of Harper’s caucus, the medical profession is rather united on the best course to deal with asbestos: a total ban. This position is endorsed by the Canadian Medical Association, the Canadian Cancer Society, and the Canadian Public Health Association. Could Dr. Leitch not put aside crass politics to speak on behalf of public health? Or is that too much to expect in Harper’s Canada?

Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is an educator, father, volunteer, and politician.

UPDATE: The Examiner received and published an excellent letter in response to this column. I believe it is worth addressing this issue again soon in another column. I will copy the letter below, as it will eventually fall off the Examiner site. I offer my condolences to the writer, and my respect for taking the time to tell her vital story.

MORE UPDATES: Two more letters in the Examiner on asbestos, and an article in the Globe & Mail echoing my key points.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Even the Barrie Examiner editorial stance now supports mine!

STILL UPDATING: At 5, this is now more letters than I've seen on any other topic in recent memory.

Debate over as far as asbestos is concerned

(RE: 'Exporting asbestos a hypocritical practice' in the Aug. 11 edition of the Examiner)

Erich Jacoby-Hawkins' column hit home.

On Sunday Aug. 8, my mother died of mesothelioma, a rare cancer that is caused from exposure to asbestos.

My sister and I were with her as she struggled through the day, breath by breath, each one a little more shallow than the previous. We knew what to expect as my father had died the same way only four years before. He worked with chrysotile asbestos, manufacturing insulation and pipes.

This is the same asbestos that is being exported to Third World countries where they, too, make insulation and pipes.

There is no cure, at present, for mesothelioma. There is no relief for mesothelioma. Although the latency period is anywhere from 10 to 50 years, once it shows up on a cat scan it is already too late.

Anyone diagnosed with mesothelioma will likely die in four to 18 months. My mother died in four months. She did not work with asbestos. It was brought home on my father's clothes, skin and hair.

Because it is an air-borne substance, she breathed it in when she shook off his clothes before washing them.

But once in the home, we all breathed it in, unknowingly. It is only now that we are starting to see those with para-occupational exposure getting sick and dying.

My four siblings and I are all at risk. The risk factor varies from child to child. It is determined on the number of years of exposure.

Everyone in the medical industry knows the risk of occupational and para-occupational exposure, including Simcoe- Grey MP Kellie Leitch.

The column was correct. Anyone more concerned about a political career over the health of the public is a hypocrite.

But perhaps Ms. Leitch misread the oath she should have taken as a doctor? Perhaps she should have signed the hypocritical oath instead of the Hippocratic Oath which states 'causing no harm...'.

Ms. Leitch must choose.

She must either stand up in Parliament and declare that because of her training as a doctor she cannot support the exportation of asbestos to India and other developing countries, or she must ask the medical association to revoke her license.

My mother fought courageously throughout her dying. She was selfless in the end, hoping that others would not have to suffer as she has.

Neither here, nor in India.

Heidi von Palleskre