Pilgrimage for Indigenous Rights, a 600 km walk supports UN declaration

A group of people from various faith groups has walked 600 kilometres in a Pilgrimage for Indigenous Rights
Walking the talk. Photo courtesy Pilgrimage for Indigenous Rights

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) released its final report on Indian residential schools in June 2015. The TRC commissioners bluntly described those schools as instruments of “cultural genocide.” They were equally frank in describing the complicity of Canadian churches, which operated most of the schools on behalf of the federal government. Continue reading Pilgrimage for Indigenous Rights, a 600 km walk supports UN declaration

“Hypocrite” vs “celebrity environmentalists”, words fly in climate change debate

Bill McKiben, environmental activist says Justin Trudeau is a "stunning hypocrite" on the issue of climate change
Climate change activist Bill McKibben. Photo by Steve Liptay. Courtesy of 350.org

Well-known U.S. environmental activist Bill McKibben has caused a stir by describing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as a “stunning hypocrite” on climate change. “Trudeau says all the right things, over and over, “McKibben wrote in The Guardian. “But those words are meaningless if you keep digging up more carbon and selling it to people to burn, and that’s exactly what Trudeau is doing.” Continue reading “Hypocrite” vs “celebrity environmentalists”, words fly in climate change debate

Canada’s Vimy Ridge narrative, more trope than truth

Some Canadian politicians, journalists and historians claim that Canada was born in the 1917 battle at Vimy Ridge. Not so.
Canadian war graves at National Vimy Memorial.  Photo by Dennis Gruending

In recent weeks, there has been a wave of media coverage surrounding the centenary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge. The splendid Vimy monument in France provides a perfect backdrop for television anchors. There was also a crowd of thousands on the site, including the descendants of soldiers who fought there against the Germans, grizzled veterans of the Second World War and other conflicts, and hundreds of Canadian school children many of whose teachers had given them assignments related to the Vimy battle. One of the adolescents interviewed on television said that the Canadian soldiers had fought to preserve her freedom at Vimy in 1917. Continue reading Canada’s Vimy Ridge narrative, more trope than truth

Conservative leadership race, dog whistles and wannabe demagogues

The Conservative leadership race features dog whistle politics and wannabe demagogues
Conservative leader candidate, MP Kellie Leitch. Photo by Art Babych

The Conservative leadership race involves an unwieldy group of 14 candidates — only four of whom might be seen as fit for the office. They are former cabinet ministers, including the impressive Michael Chong, Lisa Raitt and Erin O’Toole, as well as Andrew Scheer, a former speaker of the House of Commons. Unfortunately, among them, only Chong is fully fluent in French. But each would encourage a bigger tent Conservative Party than was possible under former Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who came to politics through the hard-bitten Reform Party.

Still, it’s quite possible that none among these candidates will ever win. This competition is occurring at a time when right-wing populist parties in Europe and the U.S. are being led by people with little or no experience in public life. Rather than acknowledging their lack of knowledge, they simply flaunt it.

Here in Canada, there are at least two Conservative leadership contenders attempting to emulate politicians, such as U.S. President Donald Trump, who never held public office prior to becoming the commander in chief. One candidate is Kevin O’Leary, who actually lives in Boston and spends most of his time in the U.S., even while participating in a Canadian leadership race. Of course, he makes no apologies for just visiting. O’Leary is a fund manager and television personality, who happens to be short on knowledge of policy. He claims, for example, that he’d do away with unions even though the right to free association is enshrined in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

A second candidate attempting to channel Trump’s victory to her advantage is Kellie Leitch, an MP and former cabinet minister in a Harper government. Leitch, who had decidedly limited visibility, has — in the words of one political scientist — decided to “light [herself] on fire to get attention.” For instance, she invited profile by promising to pre-screen immigrants for their potential “anti-Canadian values.” Other candidates, in response, have accused her of playing “dog-whistle politics” and of being a “wannabe demagogue.”

Also running against the liberal “elites,” Leitch sent out a fundraising email immediately following the recent U.S. election. “Tonight, our American cousins threw out the elites and elected Donald Trump as their next president,” Leitch said. “It’s an exciting message and one that we need delivered in Canada, as well.” But Leitch is hardly an outsider. She is an orthopedic surgeon who has involved herself in Conservative backrooms and election campaigns for years. As for the common touch, back in January, Leitch responded to a question that she didn’t appreciate by snapping, “Please understand that I do have 22 letters at the end of my name, I’m not an idiot.”

A succession of Conservative leaders, including Robert Stanfield and Joe Clark, once attempted to create a more moderate and inclusive party. Former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney parlayed that effort into a decade in power. But under Harper, a right-wing cabal moved to the centre of power although governing did impose some discipline. Today, in opposition and disarray, the Conservatives just may turn to a self-described outsider — a “wannabe demagogue” — to lead them.

This piece ran with the United Church Observer on March 9,2017

CSIS spying on Canadians: needles and haystacks

The Liberal government promised to undo aspets of draconian anti-terror Bill C-51. We are still waiting.
Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale. Photo by Art Babych

In June 2015, the Conservative government passed the Anti-Terrorism Act, which is also known as Bill C-51. It gave sweeping new powers to Canada’s spy and security agencies. For example, the legislation broadened the definition of “security” in a way which could criminalize peaceful protests. It also permitted agents of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service to disrupt events preemptively rather than being limited to monitoring them. Continue reading CSIS spying on Canadians: needles and haystacks

At Machzikei Hadas synagogue, a rally against hate

More than 600 gathered for a multi-faith solidarity event in Ottawa to combat racism and xenophobia
Line up at Machzikei Hadas synagogue for multi-faith solidarity event. Photo by Dennis Gruending

On Nov. 19, I was among 600 people crowded into Ottawa’s Machzikei Hadas synagogue for a multi-faith solidarity event. Earlier in the week, someone painted racist and Nazi graffiti on two Ottawa synagogues and a mosque, as well as a United Church whose minister is a person of colour and the residence of a Jewish woman, who teaches in her home. Even in blustery weather, there was a long line outside of the synagogue. But once inside, I felt nothing but warmth. Continue reading At Machzikei Hadas synagogue, a rally against hate

‘Globalization of indifference’, ignoring the world’s refugee crisis

 

There are 65 million forcibly displaced people in the world. What are we doing about it?
Photo by Mstyslav Chernov/Wikimedia Commons

The world still faces a massive crisis over forcibly displaced people. In 2015, there were more than 65 million — the most since the Second World War. And half were under the age of 18. About 24 million of these people have fled their countries and are counted by the United Nations as refugees. A much larger number, 41 million, are internally displaced, forced to flee their homes but remain within the borders of their countries. In Syria, for example, 6.6 million people are internally displaced, which represents 30 percent of the population. Continue reading ‘Globalization of indifference’, ignoring the world’s refugee crisis

Religion and America’s election, Trump doesn’t do Beatitudes

Religion and the US election. Expect no Beatitudes from Donald Trump
Donald Trump speaking to media in 2015. Photo by Gage Skidmore

In her nomination speech to the Democratic National Convention in July, former U.S. Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton described her Methodist faith as the foundation of her activism. “[My mother] made sure I learned the words of our Methodist faith,” she said “‘Do all the good you can, for all the people you can, in all the ways you can, as long as ever you can.’” This is almost Sermon-on-the-Mount material, and one hopes that Clinton actually means it.

Trump and evangelicals

Meanwhile, her political rival Donald Trump says that he’s a Presbyterian. But in his nomination speech to the Republican National Convention, he only explicitly mentioned religion while praising evangelical Christians. “I would like to thank the evangelical community,” trump said, “because, I will tell you what, the support they have given me — and I’m not sure I totally deserve it — has been so amazing.” Continue reading Religion and America’s election, Trump doesn’t do Beatitudes