Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Attawapiskat: could economic sanctions against Canada work?

Recently the James Anaya, the UN special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, issued a statement Tuesday saying he wrote to the Harper government Canada to express my deep concern about the dire social and economic condition of the Attawapiskat First Nation, which exemplifies the conditions of many aboriginal communities in the country." More

NDP MP Charlie Angus has urged that Anaya visit Attawapiskat to view the living conditions there for himself. In an open letter to Anaya, he urges the rapporteur to visit some First Nations communities personally. Angus goes on to outline a long list of inequities and human rights violations that have plagued not only Attawapiskat, but other First Nations communities, everything from tainted water to chemical spills to inequities in access to education. His letter also outlines how differently the government responds to these crises in First Nations communities compared to how it has responded to similar crises in non-native communities.

But ultimately – even if Anaya visits, he cannot force sovereign governments to enact or change policies, and can only issue reports to publicly shame the government before the international community.

And the Harper government has so far dismissed Anaya’s letter as a publicity stunt.
The Harper government will never move on human rights issues for the sake of human rights.
In my fantasy world, I would love for the UN Security Council or even individual states to impose economic sanctions against Canada, targeting those resources extracted from First Nations traditional territory where no resource revenue sharing agreement is implemented. Diamonds, lumber products, oil all resources commonly extracted from traditional lands. Every year multinationals, provinces and federal governments earn millions of dollars, through revenues or tax revenues, while First Nations land claims remain unsettled, and the communities fall further into poverty and dependence.

It's only through settling these economic agreements that have cut First Nations from their traditional source of wealth, the land, and kept them from participating in the transition to the modern methods of extracting wealth that First Nations can ever escape poverty and dependance. First Nations know this. ANd to some extent they have gained support among some industries. Industries want certainty about thier ability to conduct business and do not want to be embarrassed or have people panning their products for human rights abuses. But it's not happeneing quickly enough, and the process gets little support from governments who seem determined to get the best deals for industry regardless of whose rights or what social/environmental concerns they must step on to get deals for thier buddies and their own take of the revenues.

It’s true that sanctions don’t always lead to a quick resolution of issues, but they do create internal and diplomatic pressures on governments. Whether it’s South Africa, the former Yugoslavia, Libya, Haiti, or Iraq, sanctions may not bring about immediate compliance but they have been a first step in forcing dialogue and convincing governments to come to the negotiating table. Besides what else can you do with a government like Harpers that governs without a social or moral conscience besides hit its pocket books and those of its corporate friends?


Friday, December 16, 2011

Is there a precedent for an Attawpiskat win in court?

A few people have asked us if a First Nation has ever successfully used the courts to kick out a Third Party Manager before. The answer is yes.

In 2001 a First Nation in Ontario, the Pikangikum First Nation, asked for a judicial review after Indian Affairs refused to provide funding to the community unless it’s chief and council surrendered control to a Third Party Manager. It took two years, but in December 2002 a federal court ruled that Indian Affairs acted improperly when they assigned an outside financial manager for Pikangikum.

In that case Pikangikium had submitted audits which had passed for the two previous years. Justice O'Keefe called Nault's decision requiring Pikangikum to enter into a co-management agreement, "patently unreasonable." He overturned the Department’s decision to install a Third Party manager saying that the Department did not follow its own directives which say they must give notice - written or oral reasons - describing the difficulty or default before imposing co-management, and therefore did not allow for meaningful discussion.

The scenarios sound similar. We'll see how the arguments play out in court.


Canadian Democracy and willful blindness

It was the Liberals who proposed as part of their attack ads that Harper was a man with a “secret agenda.”

I considered these attack ads (as I consider all attack ads) pure trash. Harper was upfront about both his policies and politics, from mega-prisons and the elimination of the gun registry to his contempt for the press and his intention to push policy through the house as quickly as possible. I didn’t like it. But a majority of voters did. That’s democracy. So I just have to suck it up for four more years.

Howls from the both the centre, the left - and that includes myself - have helped me develop sympathy and compassion for fellow Canadians on the right. Now we know how it feels to be steamrolled by a majority government whose values we despise – this must be how right-wingers felt through all the years of Liberal government. (Not that I haven’t been steamrolled by the occasional Liberal policy, but I didn’t wake up every day knowing I would hate every single thing they would ever do). I never knew how those on the right side of politics felt. I get it now. Mea culpa for my past arrogance. It’s your turn to gloat my right-winged friends.

But while those on the right, cheerfully celebrate their policy wins – everything from putting the “royal” back in Navy to cancelling Kyoto (and while those on the left seethe) we have become so separated by the debate over political values, that we seem no longer able to intelligibly discuss the serious erosion of our democratic rights.

I am not talking about gazebos and the type of disgusting pork-barreling that is contemptuous, but that all parties engage in, to the point that we see it with a level of eye-rolling cynicism that we ave learned to accept such things as ‘politics as usual.” Rather I am talking about the unprecedented and serious erosion of our democratic rights: consistently limiting debate on bills, withholding information from the opposition and the public, and the proposal to hold Parliamentary committees in camera. These infringements on our rights as citizens in a democracy need serious examination by all Canadians regardless of political stripe.

I am beginning to wonder where we are going with all of this. It’s certainly a slippery slope.(I am not quite ready to join the tinfoil hat club that equates greater internet policing powers and mega prisons as a sign that blogging dissidents like me will find ourselves in jail.) An attempt by any government to entrench itself in power, not by the good government, but by eroding elements of democracy that typically inform the public is wrong. If this is what this government has done after sitting in power for four months, what will be the case in four years?

Conservatives cheering on their political wins have a right to do so, while people like me shake in anger. Sure. Make me suffer. Consider it payback time.

But if you equally cheer on the Harper government’s erosion of our democratic rights and principals, you are just being willfully blind. I wish I could find a more intellectual source to quote, but alas it was best said in Revenge of the Sith by Padmé as she watched Emperor Palpatine tell a cheering Senate that he had taken all power away from them to form a Galactic Empire “So this is how liberty dies... with thunderous applause.”

And we too, on the centre and the left, are willfully blind if we trust that some future Liberal or NDP government will willing reverse changes that insolate their parties from public scrutiny.


Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Welfare Indians vs over subsidized urban dwellers

A friend of mine posted this on Face Book when I saw it and thought it should be shared with Crazy Bitches R Us. It puts a little perspective to all those who accuse First Nations people who want to believe that Indians got it good. ....I new about a study like this conducted many many moons ago so it's nice to read an updated study.

Status update
By Occupy Saskatoon

Combined, our three levels of government (federal, provincial, municipal) spend about $24,000 a year for programs and infrastructure for each person living in Toronto.

Attawapiskat, on the other hand, which is only funded by one level of government - federal - received $17.6 million in this fiscal year, for all of the programs and infrastructure for its 1,550 residents. That works out to about $11,355 per capita. And of course, food, gas, construction materials, teachers' salaries, etc., are all much more expensive in isolated, northern communities like Attawapiskat.

People often forget, when talking about costs of delivering programs and services to First Nations, that almost all those costs are paid from one pot: Aboriginal Affairs. By contrast, non-Aboriginal Canadians receive services from at least three levels of government.

Here are the total expenditures per level of government for Toronto residents. The first figure applies across the country, the second applies across Ontario, and the third applies across Toronto:
* The 2010 federal budget expenditures were $280 billion or about $9,300 for each Canadian (including Torontonians)
* The 2010 Ontario budget is $123 billion in expenditures or about $9,500 for each Ontario resident (including Torontonians)
* The 2010 Toronto budget is $13 billion, or $5,200 for each Toronto resident

Some additional points to consider:
Indian Affairs (now Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, or AANDC) has capped expenditure increases for First Nations at two percent a year since 1996. Yet:
* The Aboriginal population has been growing at a rate closer to four percent a year, so per-capita support is falling behind.
* In that same period, the number of staff employed at AANDC has grown from 3,300 in 1995 to 5,150 in 2010, an increase of 156 percent. (Source: Indian Affairs)
* Those salaries, plus consultants fees for people like third-party managers, come from the program dollars that should go to First Nations.
* Consultants (including lawyers and accountants) receive 1,500 contracts per year from AANDC, worth about $125 million. (This does not include fees that First Nations pay directly using sources other than AANDC funding). (Source: Toronto Star)
* One of these sets of fees, taken away from other AANDC budgeting and provided instead to consultants, is the payment for third-party managers.
* Another recent and publicly disclosed example of third-party-manager fees is those being paid for Barriere Lake. When the community took political action on some of its issues, Canada imposed third-party management. The accounting firm is paid $600,000 per year, according to Indian Affairs Records. (Source: Toronto Star).
* Almost every time a First Nation goes into third-party management, it comes out with as much debt as it had going in - or more. This is a good indicator that the problem is not fiscal mismanagement, it's the insufficiency of resources to deliver the programs needed. (Source: what we hear and see from our own clients)
* Each First Nation has to file, on average, 160 reports per year to AANDC. The Auditor General says the problem is not under-reporting, its over-reporting -- because of the resources and administration needed to service AANDC's bureaucratic requirements. (Source: Federal Auditor General)

Lorraine Y. Land is a partner with OLTHUIS, KLEER, TOWNSHEND, L.L.P., in Toronto


Tuesday, December 13, 2011

De Beers decision to dump sewage into Attawapiskat played role in current housing crisis

In case you missed it, see the full APTN story here.

I just note I think it's an important story because of all the haters on the Globe and Mail and CBC sites that have posted ugly, racist and totally unsubstantiated claims in the comments section, blaming the Attawapiskat residents about the condition of their homes.

Of course true racists never let the facts in in the way of hating, do they?


Attawapiskat: Minister Dum-dum the Red Cross won't swallow your spin.

A quick observation.

In the media Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Dumdum wanted to convince reporters that he and his staff - who were so incompetent that they didn’t know there was a disaster at Attawapiskat in the first place – had the matter well in hand. (I guess the spinners had to make the choice: do we tell the public didn’t care if people died, or do we play dumb?) He said they had sent staff and supplies up to Attawapiskat.

According to Chief Spence, the only help Indian Affairs sent was two bureaucrats who showed up with a box of donuts.

Glad to see the Red Cross speak up – as a neutral party in between. According to John Saunders most of the supplies and help that’s gone to Attawapiskat comes from the $30,000 donated by Canadians. However, Indian Affairs did let the Red Cross take a few roll away cots and some sleeping bags out of a storage they have in Timmins.

Thus I have given the Minister a new middle name to go with his nickname. He shall henceforth be known as Minister John “Big Help” Dumdum.


Monday, December 12, 2011

Thoughts on the political circus around Attawapiskat

Sometimes you have to laugh, or cry. Today I did a bit of both.

Minister Duncan's (aka Minister Dum-dum's)performance and lack of knowledge about his file meant his press secretary had to rescue him from a press conference. Liberal Aboriginal Affairs Critic Carolyn Bennett said he was in so far over his head that she “almost felt sorry for the Minister who seemed “unable to act, unable to make a decision.”

CTV veteran reporter Craig Oliver said the Minister looked like he was “at the end of his rope.” He went on to say the Minister’s aides were interrupting, and whispering answers in his ears. Check out APTN’s report here.

Perhaps this is another occasion where Mr. Duncan can blame NDPer Charlie Angus for not whispering the answers in his ear.

But this scenario calls for more than just pointing fingers at the Conservatives.

The Liberal Party – in defending Attawapiskat looks absolutely two-faced. Today in Question Period Bob Rae questioned why the government allowed Attawapiskat to go under 3rd Party Management when the Auditor General pointed out as early as 2003 that the system was expensive and problematic. Wideye and I happened to catch it together and we nearly fell over laughing. Really Mr. Rae - you just found the 2003 report now?

I guess the Liberals were too busy to read it whilst they were in power, and steam-rolling First Nations communities with Third Party Managers. Now that the Liberals are the third party and have a little more time on their hands they finally got around to it.

Hey Mr. Rae the Liberals also put a 2 % cap on First Nations education. To quote NDP Charlie Angus (who is quickly becoming my favourite politician ever) “I wouldn’t want you to get caught flat-footed.”

Just saying.


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