Solutions Session Stirs Debate, Morale

Marco Procaccini

If you want peace, then stand up for social justice, human rights and sustainable prosperous economies. That was the general conclusion of Tuesday’s World Peace Forum session at the University of BC.

Entitled Toward a World with Peace and Justice: Where do we go from here, the session featured a seven-member international panel and an inclusive audience participation strategy plenary.

Ed Garcia, veteran human rights activist from the Philippines, set the tone for the three-hour forum outlining his experiences around the globe showing that the campaign for peace can’t be effective unless it is tied to struggles for freedom and social justice, ecological heath and prosperous democratic economies.

“When I was involved in peace efforts in Uganda, I remember a young woman who was opposed to us telling me ‘You can’t eat peace,’” he said. “That is the first lesson that we need to learn: that the quest for peace must be based on human rights and supportive of jobs and justice, food security, health and education, a healthy environment and liberation and liberty.”

All of the panel members agreed with this assessment, as did the audience in its 25 break-out groups afterward—and all of the panel reported its findings as to the main causes of wars around the globe: the capitalistic goals of governments (regardless of what they call themselves) and multi-national corporations to control natural resources, markets and labour.

Mike Khaembi, an activist with the Christian Coalition of the Congo, which is focused on peace-building and community economic development across religious and ethnic boundaries, said that while many people around the globe realize the control of oil supplies is the key cause behind wars in the Middle East, including the US invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, this situation is even more evident in many ways on the African continent.

“In the Congo, we face constant civil war, as multi-national corporations are feeding various factions to fight for control of the country’s resources…and the US government is expanding its military presence throughout Africa,” he said, adding that corporate financing is a key cause behind the violent factional wars across the continent, including the conflicts in Darfur, Ethiopia and Nigeria—and even played role in the 1999 massacre in Rwanda.

He says the peace movement needs to be more assertive in expressing its ideals, reaching out more to labour organizations and interfaith groups to, what he calls, “force democracy” on governments and corporations by being directly involved in politics and business decisions.

Dennis KucinichThese sentiments were largely echoed by panelists Maria Trejos, teacher and labour activist in Ecuador, and Iraqi teacher and author Nermin Alufti, who urged greater efforts at international solidarity and coordinated efforts between peace, social justice and labour groups across the globe—especially on economic restructuring and democracy. Alufti even suggested holding future peace forums in war-torn regions like Iraq or Colombia. This way we can directly defy the wars and those who cause them, she said, adding humourously, “you might get killed, but I will die with you.”

US activists Bob Wing, a journalist and publisher, and Medea Benjamin, of Code Pink and Women Against War, gave a summary of the state of the peace movement in their country. They reported that while the movement has grown rapidly, especially within the labour movement, and millions of US citizens have taken to the streets in protest, the Bush Administration has little formal political opposition, as the corporate media has almost completely censored these events and the Democratic Party leadership has remained silent on the regime’s foreign policy.

Benjamin lauded the NDP in Canada, despite its faults, wishing there was a similar social democratic political organization in the US. But she also stressed the importance of non-violent civil disobedience and grassroots community organizing, such as a planned hunger strike for the third week in September.

Wing added that strengthening the peace and social justice movements’ alliance with US labour and African and immigrant Latino communities, where opposition to the US government is the strongest, is key, and that anti-racism and mutual respect and economic and political democratization need to become central demands of the peace movement.

Economic democratization, sustainability and other socialistic ventures were also a priority for much of the estimated 300-member audience, as several groups reported these strategies had been lacking throughout much of the five-day forum. Issues around a greater focus on environmental degradation—largely caused by war and militarism—were raised, especially on global warming and greenhouse gases.

Peace Forum demo June 24 2006 Vancouver

Thousands march to open Peace Forum in Vancouver

Saturday, June 24th – Ten thousand and more Vancouverites marched under a sizzling summer sun to mark the opening of the 2006 World Peace Forum.
The steady stream of marchers carrying signs and banners from peace and church groups, community organizations, labour unions and professional associations wound their way through the streets of downtown Vancouver to the sound of bands, cheers, songs and even a troop of Brazilian samba dancers.
The marchers gathered at Vancouver’s Sunset beach where they heard US peace movement leader Cindy Sheehan, whose son was killed in Iraq while serving in the US military, tell the crowd “you should be proud. You are making peace happen.” Sheehan then embraced Iraqi journalist Nermin al-Mufti and said she shared the pain of Iraqis mothers who have also lost their sons and daughters to the current war.
Among the speakers were Dr Walden Bello, President of the International Forum on Globalization, who called on Canada to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan.
The rally ended with folksinger Buffy Sainte-Marie singing the 1960s peace anthem Universal Soldier to the delight of the wildly cheering crowd.


"Innocent Until Proven Guilty" Still the Canadian Way

The BC Civil Liberties Association, Canada’s most dyna mic and seasoned civil liberties body, called today for caution on the part of political and media commentators on the case of the 17 Toronto area men who stand accused of terror related offenses since arrests on June 2.

“Elected officials, security forces and the fifth estate have converged in their coverage of these allegations. The presumption of innocence is not a reluctant afterthought – it is the lifeblood of the relationship between the government and the citizen. Too many media stories and statements by Canadian politicians skirt perilously close to assuming the guilt of the accused,” said BCCLA president Jason Gratl. “Security forces should wait until a trial is finished before soliciting public approval and preening for the cameras. Unproven allegations are not a legitimate opportunity for image enhancement”.

While the BCCLA, like all Canadians, is supportive of law enforcement efforts to prevent crimes and to interdict conspiracies where they exist, we must always be aware of overarching necessity of ensuring fair trials.

“We are also deeply concerned by widespread media reports that the 17 accused were denied the opportunity to meet privately with their lawyers. Fair trials depend on the ability of the accused to retain and instruct counsel without the police or prison guards listening in,” said Gratl. “We call on all Canadians, but particularly upon politicians and news reporters, to keep this vital principle in mind as we go forward with whatever legal proceedings flow from the Toronto arrests. Democracy can be wounded by terrorist acts, but it can be dealt a fatal blow if we let ourselves undermine our commitments to fair trial, due process and the presumption of innocence.”

Bucking the National Trend: BC’s welfare cuts and poverty among lone mothers

Jane Pulkingham
BC’s newspapers are full of banner headlines about record housing starts, construction booms and decades-low unemployment. “The numbers don’t lie” proclaim the boosters of the province’s policy record. Well, they can lie by omission. There is a dark side to BC’s economic recovery. The persistence of poverty among plenty is striking.

Even though the overall poverty rate in BC dipped slightly in 2004 (the last year for which Statistics Canada has produced data), it remains the highest in Canada, and higher than the national average for almost every demographic group.

In fact, last month, the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights singled out BC, expressing particular concern, among other things, about a recent increase in poverty among single mother-led households.

The gap between Canada and BC is most evident in the alarmingly high poverty rates for lone mothers, something that tells us a lot about changes to provincial social policy priorities.
The latest figures from Statistics Canada show an improvement in the lot of Canada’s poor, especially poor lone mothers and their kids, over the last decade. Today, just over one-third (36%) of Canada’s lone mothers are poor compared to more than one-half (53%) in 1996. One-third is still too many. But it certainly beats one-half.

BC used to be part of this “good news” story. Until 2001, the poverty rate in BC had dropped faster and further than the national rate. Unfortunately, things shifted in 2001 when the poverty rate for BC’s lone mothers began to climb back up. With one-half (49%) of lone mothers in poverty in BC today, BC’s poverty rate is higher than the national average by a wide margin. In BC, poverty among lone mothers rose an astounding 15.8 percentage points between 2000 and 2004; in Vancouver, it rose a staggering 24 percentage points.

So why did lone mothers’ poverty rates in BC rise? The simple reason is that their incomes dropped due to a combination of unstable market incomes and declining government transfers.
To begin with, in 2000 median market incomes in BC were well below their national comparator. But matters got worse because nationally, lone mothers’ median market incomes rose every year except one (2001), while in BC no such trend is apparent.

But market income is only part of the story.

The other -- more important -- part of the story has to do with the impact of government policies. Here too, we have a “made in BC” story. During the 2001-2004 period, average government transfers to lone mothers declined by a whopping $2,300, compared to a national drop of only $200. The bulk of the transfer cuts in BC occurred in two years -- 2002 and 2003 -- when the government introduced sweeping changes to an array of social programs, including welfare. The net result was to reduce its financial commitment to lone mothers in significant ways.

Declining transfers is the key to understanding lone mothers’ declining after-tax income and rising poverty rates in BC. For lone mothers with welfare income and no earnings, cuts to welfare rates caused part of the decline in transfers. These cuts meant that they were (and are) poorer than they used to be -- the poverty “gap” (the difference between average incomes and the poverty line) among these lone mothers has grown. These changes, however, do not affect their overall poverty rate because their incomes already fell below the poverty line.

The poverty rate for lone mothers has risen because, prior to 2002, many single mothers could combine income assistance, paid employment and child support payments in such a way that, in the course of a year, their incomes could reach just above the poverty line. As of 2002, however, welfare benefit cuts and rule changes mean they can no longer do so.

Over the course of a year, a lone mother with one child saw her potential income decline by more than $3,900 because of these changes:

• welfare benefit rates were cut by $43 a month;
• people without a recognized disability are no longer eligible for earnings exemptions (BC is now the only province to not allow welfare recipients to keep any earned income), a rule change that costs many single mothers up to $200 per month; and
• the child maintenance exemption of $100 per month was eliminated.

Together, these changes explain why lone mothers’ after tax incomes plummeted and why they were catapulted into poverty in staggering numbers. As far as the market goes, the current economic numbers may be as good as it gets, but the market is failing lone mothers, and so is our government because of its failure to provide adequate income supports.

Dr. Jane Pulkingham is Chair and Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Simon Fraser University. She is a member of two SSHRC-funded research teams: the Economic Security Project, a partnership between SFU and the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives; and the UBC-based Consortium for Health, Intervention, Learning and Development.

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