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Current Events and Politics

Demonstration for Black, Indigenous lives sets up at Ottawa intersection

Organizers plan to stay at Laurier and Nicholas until city officials listen to demands

Advocates calling for changes to Ottawa’s budget, police policies and more say they’ll stay at an intersection near the University of Ottawa until the city listens to their demands.

The Day of Action for Anishinabeg and Black Lives is organized by a collection of groups including Justice for Abdirahman, formed after the death of Abdirahman Abdi during a violent arrest in 2016.

They’ve been at the intersection of Laurier Avenue and Nicholas Street since Thursday afternoon and say they plan to be there until the city and police start talking to them about meaningful changes.

“At the end of the day, we want folks to be enraged that they have to take alternative routes,” said Vanessa Dorimain, co-chair for Ottawa Black Diaspora Coalition and one of the demonstration’s organizers.

“We want folks to be uncomfortable. We want folks to be inconvenienced, because this is how we feel constantly living in this city and in this province and in this country.”

Dozens of people were at a protest camp in a central Ottawa intersection the morning of Nov. 20, 2020, calling for changes to the city’s policies and budget. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

List of demands

A list of 10 demands shared on social media by Justice for Abdirahman include calling upon city council to vote down a $13.2-million increase to the Ottawa police budget, changing police policies around dynamic entries and mental health call responses and ending racism in schools and the health-care system.

“We’re standing hand in hand together against the injustice that happened within our communities, and also to show the city that we will not take any more police violence,” said Ifrah Yusuf, co-chair of Justice for Abdirahman coalition and another organizer.

Canadians need to also be made aware that systemic racism is not something solely happening south of the border, said Dorimain.

While there was an outpouring of anger after the death of George Floyd at the hands of a police officer in Minneapolis, Dorimain said it’s not the same when there’s similar violence here in Canada.

“I think in Canada, especially, we act as if this doesn’t exist … but I mean, folks, it’s right here. We’re going through this every day right here. Be enraged at home because we’re going through it here,” she said.

“I think that it is a little bit disappointing that I feel like Canadians need to feel or need to see a boot on my neck in order for you to understand that racism is alive and well.”

Vanessa Dorimain, co-chair for Ottawa Black Diaspora Coalition, says the group plans to stay at the intersection until a dialogue is started with City of Ottawa officials and police about ending systemic violence and injustice. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

1 injured Thursday

Organizers said one person suffered minor injuries when the driver of a car drove into a line of protesters Thursday afternoon, and were disappointed some people were so impatient they couldn’t wait mere minutes.

They also said the response by police was slow.

“Police do not recognize us as an urgency. They do not protect our bodies. They do not care about our voice. They do not care about us and more importantly not meant to protect us,” said Dorimain.

As of noon Friday, Laurier Avenue was closed between Elgin Street and King Edward Avenue. Nicholas Street was closed from Daly Avenue to Highway 417, meaning drivers can’t get off the highway at the Nicholas exit.

In an email to CBC, the Ottawa Police Service said they were on scene Friday morning directing traffic and “ensuring the safety of those involved.”

Police said they were investigating Thursday’s incident and that there was no timeline for ending the roadblocks.

Organizers say there’s been an outpouring of support from the community who have donated a number of items, including food, coffee, tents and firewood. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

With files from Kimberley Molina

By: CBC News · Posted: Nov 20, 2020


Election result expected for Mi’kmaq reserve that launched tense lobster fishery

File: Sipekne’katik First Nation Chief Mike Sack.

HALIFAX — A Mi’kmaq chief who has battled for his band’s treaty right to fish lobster in southwestern Nova Scotia is expecting to hear today if he’s been re-elected.

Mike Sack is the incumbent in the community of Sipekne’katik, formerly known as Indian Brook, located about 65 kilometres north of Halifax.

Heather Knockwood and Kim Paul are the other candidates for chief in the community of about 2,770 people, and there are 36 people running for 12 council seats.

Sack gained national prominence after he officially opened a “moderate livelihood” fishery for his community on Sept. 17 in Saulnierville, N.S.

The band has argued the fishery is permitted by a 1999 Supreme Court of Canada decision based on treaties signed by the British Crown in the early 1760s.

A clarification of the decision in the Donald Marshall Jr. case says that Ottawa may regulate based on conservation, and if the infringement on the treaty is justified.

Sack has faced strong criticisms from non-Indigenous protesters who’ve said they are opposed because the fishery is operating outside the regulated season and may have a negative impact on lobster stocks.

A spokeswoman for the band said Tuesday that 982 ballots have been cast of the 2,000 eligible voters, with 772 people voting in person and 210 ballots received by mail.

The campaigning began 30 days ago with nominations in the midst of the startup of the St. Marys Bay fishery.

Sack has spent 10 years on council and if elected this will be his third term as chief, which carries a term of two years.

By The Canadian Press, Published Nov. 3, 2020.


Canadian military wants to establish new organization to use propaganda, other techniques to influence Canadians

Minister of National Denfence Harjit Sajjan (C) and Chief of Defence Staff General Jonathan Vance (R) listen as Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (L) speaks during a news conference January 9, 2020 in Ottawa, Canada. PHOTO BY DAVE CHAN / AFP

The plan comes on the heels of the Canadian Forces spending more than $1 million to train public affairs officers on behaviour modification techniques

The Canadian Forces wants to establish a new organization that will use propaganda and other techniques to try to influence the attitudes, beliefs and behaviours of Canadians, according to documents obtained by this newspaper.

The plan comes on the heels of the Canadian Forces spending more than $1 million to train public affairs officers on behaviour modification techniques of the same sort used by the parent firm of Cambridge Analytica, as well as a controversial and bizarre propaganda training mission in which the military forged letters from the Nova Scotia government to warn the public that wolves were wandering in the province.

The new Defence Strategic Communication group will advance “national interests by using defence activities to influence the attitudes, beliefs and behaviours of audiences,” according to the document dated October 2020. Target audiences for such an initiative would be the Canadian public as well as foreign populations in countries where military forces are sent.

The document is the end result of what Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Jon Vance has called the “weaponization” of the military’s public affairs branch. The document is in a draft form, but work is already underway on some aspects of the plan and some techniques have been already tested on the Canadian public.

But the office of Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan said Sunday that the plan, at least for now, is not authorized to proceed. Sajjan has raised concerns about some of the activities related to such influence and propaganda operations. “No such plan has been approved, nor will it be,” Floriane Bonneville, Sajjan’s press secretary, said after being asked by this newspaper about the initiative.

But a series of town halls were already conducted last week for a number of military personnel on the strategies contained in the draft plan.

The report quotes Brig.-Gen. Jay Janzen, director general military public affairs, who stated, “The motto ‘who dares, wins’ is as applicable to strategic communication as it is to warfare.”

The initiative also proposes the creation of a new research capability established to analyze and collect information from the social media accounts of Canadians, non-governmental organizations, industry and the news media, according to the report.

The Canadian Forces have already tested that capability earlier this year. This newspaper reported that a team assigned to a Canadian military intelligence unit monitored and collected information from people’s social media accounts in Ontario, claiming such data-mining was needed to help troops who were to work in long-term care homes during the coronavirus pandemic.

That initiative, aimed at people’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts, involved collecting comments made by the public about the provincial government’s failure to take care of the elderly. That data was then turned over to the Ontario government, with a warning from the team it represented a “negative” reaction from the public.

Military officers see nothing wrong with such collection of data as it is already in the public domain on social media accounts. They concede the team should not have been assigned to military intelligence, but under the new plan it will be controlled by the military’s public affairs branch.

But others have questioned how collecting information on the public’s views concerning Ontario Premier Doug Ford was even relevant to how the Canadian Forces were to care for elderly residents. In addition, concerns have also been raised on why the military turned over such data to Ford’s government and what became of it.

Sajjan requested an investigation be done into the data collection and has also limited at least temporarily some of what the military calls influence activities.

The military, however, noted in the plan that it will consult the federal privacy commissioner before it launches its collection of Canadians’ online information.

The public affairs enhancement plan reflects the military leadership’s view they can shape and direct the attitudes of Canadians if the right techniques are applied. “Defence StratCom will focus on effects and outcomes among key audiences and will provide clear direction on aligning actions, efforts and resources in pursuit of strategic objectives,” the plan added.

Some in the Canadian Forces already attempted to conduct a trial run of such techniques.

This newspaper reported in July the military had planned a propaganda campaign aimed at heading off civil disobedience by Canadians during the coronavirus pandemic. That campaign was to use similar propaganda tactics to those employed against the Afghan population during the war in Afghanistan, including loudspeaker trucks to transmit government messages. The propaganda operation was halted after concerns were raised about the ethics behind such techniques.

The public affairs enhancement plan also calls for harnessing the social media accounts of select Canadian Forces staff to push out pre-approved government and military messages to the public. Although the social media activity would be seen to be coming from the personal accounts of military personnel, it would actually be Canadian Forces public affairs officers behind the scenes crafting and coordinating the messages.

The enhancement plan also calls for improving links to military-friendly academics and retired senior military staff so they can be used to push out approved Canadian Forces messages either on social media or in their interactions with journalists.

Sajjan had originally approved the weaponization of public affairs initiative, started in 2015, along with a separate but significant expansion of military propaganda capabilities for various units. The Liberals outlined in their 2017 defence strategy policy the need for the Canadian military to become more involved in propaganda and information warfare.

But attempts to influence the public haven’t always worked out. Last year, the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Forces planned a public relations campaign to counter what bureaucrats and officers believed were false claims that the military had a problem with racists in the ranks. But that plan had to be scuttled after alleged racists and far-right sympathizers with links to military became involved in a series of high-profile incidents, undercutting the message of the PR scheme that the severity of the issue had been exaggerated.

As part of that PR effort, dossiers were created about journalists the military believed would cover the issue of racists in the ranks, including the CBC’s Murray Brewster. The dossier about Brewster, who has since broken a number of stories about the far-right in the Canadian Forces, contained transcripts of his interviews with senior military staff and the warning, “He’s familiar with the defence system, and his reporting, while factual, often emphasizes the mistakes and shortcoming of DND and the CAF.”

Bonneville said the minister did not and will not authorize the creation of the dossiers on journalists. She did not, however, provide an explanation on why the files were created by Canadian Forces staff.

In addition, under Sajjan’s watch, an invitation-only Facebook page has been created where serving and retired military and DND public affairs staff share information about journalists. There are more than 400 participants on the Facebook page, which is officially supported by the DND.

By David Pugliese • Ottawa Citizen, Published Nov 02, 2020


Indigenous land defenders at Caledonia site recall bitter 2006 dispute

A bus blocking Argyle Street South in Caledonia, Ont., as a group of labour councils and unions delivered food and support to land defenders at a land reclamation camp known as 1492 Land Back Lane on Tuesday, October 27, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Carlos Osorio

CALEDONIA, Ont. — The more things change in Caledonia, Ont., the more one group of long-standing land defenders says things stay the same.

Tense tableaus played out for months in the southwestern Ontario town in 2006 as Indigenous protesters clashed repeatedly with provincial police over the rights to land located near Six Nations of the Grand River First Nation. Fourteen years later, some of the same protesters are experiencing deja-vu as they take up similar positions to continue the same fight.

“It was very, very similar,” Skyler Williams, 38, recalls, standing by the intersection that divides the scenes of past and present protest sites. “I was much younger (in 2006), and so my back hurts a little bit more some days.”

The present-day dispute is playing out across the road from the scene of the 2006 protests at a proposed housing development known as McKenzie Meadows.

Williams has been acting as a spokesperson for the land reclamation camp known as 1492 Land Back Lane at the site of the project being led by Foxgate Developments Inc.

The 2006 occupation dragged on for months, prompting political mudslinging between the provincial and federal governments. The 2020 iteration passed the 100-day mark last month, with protesters showing no signs of heading home.

Work was underway last Thursday on a wooden shelter at the demonstrators’ tent camp that’s also home to lively pets, works of art in progress, small gardens and a campfire. Funds are being raised to build tiny homes as winter weather approaches.

Central to the Haudenosaunee land defenders’ fight is a 1784 agreement with the British known as the Haldimand Proclamation, promising lands along the Grand River they maintain were never surrendered.

Over his lifetime, Williams has watched housing developments pop up across the farm town of Caledonia, encroaching on the territory he and others are fighting to protect.

“We have to be able to say no,” he said. “If they’re going to continue to push into Six Nations territory and hem us in, you can expect resistance.”

Thirty-three people, including Williams, have been arrested since the protests began in the summer. Most have been charged with violating a court order.

Tensions flared again briefly in recent weeks when an Ontario judge issued a permanent injunction ordering people off the land indefinitely.

Hours after the Oct. 22 ruling, the demonstrators accused police of firing rubber bullets and using a stun gun, injuring two. Police, in turn, alleged protesters damaged a cruiser.

Blockades went up later that day, with portions of road dug up with machinery and a school bus bearing the words “Land Back Tours” parked in the middle of Argyle Street.

Signs of the standoff were still visible one week later. Provincial police cars were stationed near the Argyle Street bus blockade on Thursday and by the main entrance to the camp off McKenzie Road.

Three cruisers were parked a few metres from Nancy Chalmers’ driveway.

“I’m kind of sitting in the middle of this stew,” Chalmers said from her front doorway.

The Caledonia resident of more than 20 years said she sympathizes with her neighbours’ cause, but she’s frustrated with both the predictable cycle and the disruptions to her daily life.

“I just wish this would get resolved peacefully,” she said.

Caledonia mayor Ken Hewitt has taken a harsher line with the demonstrators, calling for their arrests.

He’s also asked the federal government to take a hand in negotiations.

Kahsenniyo Williams, Skyler’s wife, spoke about the aggression her family has faced during a spoken word poetry performance from inside the blockaded area on Thursday.

She performed for a university class via Zoom, with the Grand River as her backdrop, a waterway she calls “the map of the land that we’re responsible for.”

She said online connectivity has been helpful with reaching supporters who can’t make it down to the site.

“Everyone’s been doing the best that they can to manoeuvre through COVID, and it also opens up the opportunity for more creative settings,” she said.

But in-person supporters have trickled in as well, bringing fresh perspectives on the long-time fight along with supplies and companionship.

Jace House from the Quebec Algonquin community of Kitigan Zibi arrived last week. He was part of a community-led action this fall about over-hunting of moose in his area, and dealt with an injunction himself at the time.

He sees similar tactics being used against Indigenous land defenders across the country, and said he’s been welcomed by the people at the Land Back Lane camp.

“We really are in the same boat,” House said.

He said unity across Indigenous communities will be important as people continue advocating for their land, water, hunting and fishing rights.

“I think we’re all coming to the conclusion that the Canadian government’s not going to fix it for us, so we’re trying to do our best with what we have to just assert ourselves,” House said.

Haudenosaunee lawyer Beverly Jacobs said the federal government needs to get involved in resolving the dispute, starting with a moratorium on all developments.

“Canada needs to come to the table with the Haudenosaunee Confederacy and they need to negotiate,” the associate dean at the University of Windsor’s law faculty said by phone.

“The deeper underlying land issues need to be addressed. Otherwise, this is going to continue to be a cycle, because our people are tired of being silent.”

A statement from the office of the minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations said Canada is committed to “continuing to work collaboratively to address Six Nations’ historical claims and land rights issues.”

“We are actively working with the community and look forward to meeting at the earliest opportunity,” the statement said.

Seeds planted at the McKenzie Road camp have sprouted into tomato plants and sunflowers in the months since the occupation began.

When asked what he’d like to see on the land, Williams pointed to the return of natural life at the 2006 protest site which was eventually purchased by the province to end the dispute.

“Fifteen years have passed and all the topsoil has regrown, trees have grown there, animals are coming back,” he said. “If that’s what needs to happen, then that’s what needs to happen. Just to let nature take its course.”

By Holly McKenzie-Sutter, The Canadian Press, Published November 1, 2020


Sipekne’katik backs out of commercial lobster season citing fears over safety

The Sipekne’katik First Nation launched a moderate livelihood fishery from the Saulnierville wharf, seen here on Oct. 22. (Eric Woolliscroft/CBC)

‘Our people aren’t comfortable taking that big risk and especially risking their life for that,’ says chief