Stephen Harper’s hit list, organizations whose funding has been cut or ended

The Conservative government, or the Harper government as it insists upon being called, has either fallen or engineered its own defeat and the election is upon us. This is perhaps a good time to take stock of who the Harperites have spent their time attacking in the past several years. (They have also lavished favour on their own, appointing them to be judges, to the Immigration Review Board, the CRTC or other federal agencies). The list of organizations that have been shut down and cut back, and the individuals bullied, is a long one and we can expect it to grow if, as seems likely, the Conservatives are reelected. I have written extensively about some of these actions, including the government’s attack on the ecumenical group KAIROS and the shameful treatment of the Rights and Democracy organization, but the following list, culled from on line sources, is more comprehensive.

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Father James Gray, Bush Dweller

By Dennis Gruending

Note: This writing is drawn from a chapter that I contributed to a recently-published book called Bush Dweller: essays in memory of Father James Gray, OSB.

Long after I had finished with my years at university, I made a list of the five teachers and professors who had been my best. Two of them were Al Gerwing, better known to us during my student days at St. Peter’s College as Brother Thomas, and Father James Gray. James taught English literature to first year university students at St. Peter’s and he was also editor of the Prairie Messenger newspaper. His workload must have been daunting. He was my professor for only one year but he was amazing and had a great influence upon my intellectual development and upon my decision a few years later to become a journalist and a writer.

I was his student in 1966-67, the first year in which university classes at St. Peter’s became co-educational. As I recall, there were six or seven women among the 25 or so students. It must have seemed an odd fit to the women because most of the males had been high school students at St. Peter’s just a year earlier, and we simply continued on with our adolescent habits. That might involve seeing how hard we could punch each other in the shoulder during a break between classes, or setting someone’s shoe laces on fire with a cigarette lighter while he was deeply engaged in a conversation during a coffee break.

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Bev Oda and the KAIROS fiasco

By Dennis Gruending

I have posted several pieces over the past year about the Harper government’s decision to deny project money to the ecumenical social justice group KAIROS. I have also written about CIDA Minister Bev Oda’s deceitful behaviour in the whole matter. For months this story was in the back pages of the newspapers and nowhere on television, but now the parliamentary chickens have come home to roost. Oda lied to a parliamentary committee in December and now the political opposition is demanding that she be fired and found in contempt of parliament. There is a longstanding tradition that ministers can duck, bob and weave in what they say but they cannot tell outright lies. Minister Oda and the government spent the week of February 14th trying to ride this out until the parliamentary break. What happened here, what does it mean and does it matter? KAIROS is an inter-church coalition that has been around for a long time. It is well respected and does good work internationally, particularly on social justice and human rights issues. KAIROS also has a habit of speaking its mind on public issues. It has offered criticisms of Israel for its treatment of Palestinians. KAIROS has also raised questions about the rapid development of the tar sands in Alberta and of certain environmental and human rights practices of Canadian mining companies working in developing countries.

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MP Tony Martin pushes poverty elimination strategy

By Dennis Gruending

Tony Martin was 11 years old when he emigrated from Ireland to Canada with his mother and six siblings in January 1960. His father had arrived nine months earlier to find work. Martin recalls arriving in Sault Ste. Marie Ontario in the dead of winter then making an additional eight-hour train trip to Wawa, the family’s new home. “I began my Canadian journey in a community where people took care of one another,” Martin says. “That was the kind of Canada that we came to know but it is now slipping through our fingers.” Martin, who is a devout Roman Catholic, was a three-term member of Ontario’s provincial parliament and has now been the NDP Member of Parliament for Sault Ste. Marie since 2004. He spoke on a recent winter evening to about 75 people at Centretown United Church in Ottawa about his crusade to eradicate poverty in Canada. “I said eradicate poverty, not reduce it,” Martin said. “This is key to me. He says it can be done if there is enough popular support for it and the political will. “Government has no greater responsibility than to look after people who are marginalized.”

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Reginald Bibby, Beyond the Gods and Back

By Dennis Gruending

Sociologist Reginald Bibby is probably Canada’s closest observer of religious trends. He has been polling on religious practices and attitudes since 1975 and has placed the numbers into context in several books beginning with Fragmented Gods in 1987. Bibby has just released another book called Beyond the Gods and Back, and he spoke about it recently at an Anglican cathedral in Ottawa.

Bibby says that for many years he accepted the secularization thesis commonly proposed by most sociologists and researchers. In its most simple terms, Bibby says, “secularization refers to the decline in the influence of organized religion.” There are a variety of ways to track this situation but the one most often used is the frequency of attendance at religious services. Using Gallup Poll results from 1957, and later his own survey data, Bibby found that weekly church attendance in Canada fell precipitously among the population from 53% in 1957 to 24% in 1990.

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Gabrielle Giffords, Tucson and the gun culture

By Dennis Gruending

On January 8th a young man Jared Lee Loughner opened fire with a Glock 19 handgun during a political event held in the parking lot of a Tucson, Arizona mall. He killed six people and wounded 14, including Democratic Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. He shot her in the head. She is being treated for a serious brain injury and is fortunate to be alive. The debate following this tragic event has focused on the “heroes” who attempted to disarm Loughner; on whether he is mentally ill; and whether the increasingly toxic language being used in American political debate might have prompted his actions. Hardly anyone, it seems, is having second thoughts about the fact that almost anyone in the U.S. can buy and carry a gun. President Barrack Obama studiously avoided that point in his otherwise eloquent speech at a memorial event in Tucson.

Far from having doubts about the disastrous effects of the nation’s gun laws, or lack of them, there were calls in the wake of the shootings to make it even easier for people to carry concealed firearms. Arizona state representative Jack Harper was quoted as saying, “When everyone is carrying a firearm, nobody is going to be a victim.” This implies that someone at the shooting scene who was armed would have shot Jared Lee Loughner before he killed and wounded others.

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Coptic Christians, al-Qaeda, The Looming Tower

By Dennis Gruending

Early on the morning of January 1 Coptic Christians were leaving Saints Church in the ancient Egyptian city of Alexandria after celebrating midnight mass. A suicide bomber waiting outside set off explosives that killed 21 people and injured almost 100 others. The attack also led to concern in Canada as Eastern Rite Christians prepared to celebrate their Christmas on January 7. More than 100 Canadian-Arab Coptic Christians had been named and threatened on an al-Qaeda affiliated website, allegedly for “defaming” Islam and attempting to convert Muslims. Despite the threats, most churches went ahead with services, although there was talk of added security by the RCMP and private firms. Back in Alexandria, Egyptian authorities were uncertain if foreign al-Qaeda operatives had slipped into the country or if the suicide bombing was the work of homegrown Islamic extremists.

Killing enemy combatants in wars is bad enough but killing unsuspecting civilians as they worship, ride buses or subways, travel on airplanes or eat restaurant meals is unspeakable. How can anyone or any ideology – religious or secular – justify these acts? The Quran does contain numerous exhortations to violence, and the same can be said of the Old Testament. But the general thrust of both books is that killing another human being is a great crime and that killing yourself (suicide) is also a crime. The Quran says that Muslims shall not kill anyone except as a punishment for murder.

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Dirty tricks at Rights and Democracy

By Dennis Gruending

The parliamentary season in Ottawa ended on a singularly tawdry note in December 2010. The government abruptly cancelled a scheduled meeting of a House of Commons committee that would have discussed an auditor’s report clearing a deceased president of the embattled Rights and Democracy agency of alleged wrongdoings. The allegations against Rémy Beauregard were made during and following a particularly tense meeting back on January 7, 2010, where recently-appointed members of the agency’s board of directors made accusations about financial mismanagement, not to mention their opinion that the organization was funding “terrorist” groups in the Middle East. Mr. Beauregard died of a heart attack in the early hours of the following day. It has now been shown that the allegations against him were baseless. The Globe and Mail newspaper has provided a leaked copy of the forensic audit that was to be discussed by the parliamentary committee. It cleared Mr. Beauregard. The irregularities, so darkly hinted at, had not occurred.

The International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development was created in 1990 by the Conservative administration of Brian Mulroney as an organization at arms-length from the Canadian government, with a mandate to support democracy-enhancing projects internationally. Its first president was Ed Broadbent, the former leader of the New Democratic Party and the second was Warren Allmand, a former cabinet minister in various Liberal governments. Mr. Beauregard was appointed in June 2008 by the Conservatives as president for a five-year term. He was a former executive director of the Ontario Human Rights Commission and had worked in the human rights field internationally as well.

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