What to Read; What to Watch

 

It’s not every day that we read a book about a black cop from north end Halifax.  But that is exactly what we have in Black Cop:  My 36 years in police work, and my career-ending experiences with official racism.  The author is Calvin Lawrence.  He (with co-writer Miles Howe) weaves a devastating and vitriolic narrative about his 8 years with Halifax police – and his nearly thirty years with the RCMP.  BlackCop_FullCover-WITH-FLAPS.inddFor starters, he points out the reason he was hired by the Halifax police in 1969,  was that a year before Rocky Jones and others in the black community had invited the Black Panthers up to Halifax.  For the first time there had been a meeting for blacks only at the north end public library.  For the first time, the cops were scared of the actions and attitude of  the black community.  Halifax police decided to hire Lawrence and a black friend just out of high school.  By the way, Halifax’s first black cop was hired only in 1967 – so we can see just how the deep the racism in the police – let alone in fire, or the transit services – ran.

The segregation in Halifax Lawrence details is gut-wrenching.  Though his father worked on the trains as a porter, most of his friends’ parents worked as cleaners, or were forced to go “cap in hand” (as he writes) to the whites in the wealthy south end of the city;  there the black men had to beg to do odd jobs for a pittance.  As a teen, Lawrence hung around his favourite street corners of the north end with his friends “playing the dozens.”

“The term refers to the days of slavery when substandard slaves would be sold by the dozen, which was considered the deepest of insults. Playing the dozens, in the modern day, meant throwing insults at each other and learning to take it without becoming physical or taking the game too seriously.” (p.29)

The book looks at racism and the denial of rights, fairness and promotions Lawrence and his fellow black cops endured.  This is a must-read book. I for one would love to meet Calvin Lawrence one day; he now lives in Ottawa.

weissHolocaust to Resistance: my journey by Suzanne Berliner Weiss (Fernwood) is an excellent book in all ways.  Weiss was hidden in a French orphanage during World War II.  She did meet her father once, but never saw her mother after becoming a hidden baby.  In the 1940s, she was fostered, but the foster home relationships broke down.  She lived a grim life.  By 1950 she was adopted by well-to-do Jewish couple from New York City, who specially went to Europe to adopt her.  As the only child  – she was given everything but not a lot of love or understanding.  She did not belong — and part of the book deals with her efforts to find any of her birth relatives.  Her teen years were spent in rebellion; she even served a stint in jail.  Somehow she felt the need to help change the world, and by the late 1960s she became a political and a trade union activist.

Her eventual move to  Toronto was serendipitous and allowed her to continue her  left-wing activism and advocacy.   Despite her French background, and her connection to the Holocaust, she disparaged Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians.  Indeed Weiss is an energetic member of Independent Jewish Voices- Canada (as am I).  She  turns the worn phrase of “never again” against Israel to counter its murderous record against the Palestinian people in Gaza, and the West Bank, and to fight for their human and civil rights.  Weiss’s book stands out as important contribution to  Holocaust literature  – do buy it and read it.

I’m not so fond of American films usually, but I, Tonya is an exception.  It is the back story of championship figure skater Tonya Harding and the 1994 “incident” with Nancy Kerrigan which ended Harding’s skating career.  This film is brilliantly acted.  It moves quickly; the script is excellent.  tonyaThe difficult and violent life of Harding is laid bare for everyone to see in this 2017 film.  You can borrow it at the Halifax library.  Here is the trailer:    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d2iy5y0YjGM

I’m not a fan of Holocaust films.  However, I was intrigued and excited to watch the series The Devil Next Door, produced by Netflix.  This documentary series goes a long way to explain the US arrest and Israeli detention of John Demjanjuk, demjanwho was identified as Ivan the Terrible, an SS prison guard in at least two death camps during World War II.  After the war, he, his wife and young daughter emigrated first to Indiana, then to Cleveland to live a quiet, and unexamined life.  Though Ivan the Terrible was responsible for more than 27,000 deaths, when he was arrested in the US, he was an obedient and hardworking factory worker at a Ford plant in Cleveland, Ohio.

This series has original film footage from the trial in Jerusalem back in the late 1980s; and looks in-depth at what happened both inside Israel, and inside the US.  The question of identity is front and centre, since the horrible crimes had been committed 40 years prior – how reliable were the now elderly witnesses?  the_devil_next_door_limitedseries-publicity_still_-_h_2019_One thing that comes across clearly is the need for the Israeli court to convict.  As persecuted European Jews sought safety in Israel post the Holocaust, the judiciary and the Israeli government had to “believe” the witnesses that Demjanjuck was in fact one and the same as Ivan the Terrible.  There are good interviews with lawyers (on all sides) from the trial; interviews with at least one judge and insights about the high stakes’ game of prosecuting war criminals.   I highly recommend this series.  Trailer is here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J8h16g1cVak

What to do with $20 million in Halifax – hint: don’t build a stadium

What  can we do with $20 million?

HRM Council has voted to give $20 to SSE (Schooner Sports and Entertainment) toward a football stadium.  A stadium is for people (read: men and boys) who wish to pay to watch professional football.  Let’s not pretend a stadium is for something else.

Here are 5 big ideas that HRM could do with $20 million instead of building a stadium:

  1. Breakfast programs in every school for every student who wants to eat

Nourish NS estimates that a school breakfast program costs $1.00 per student.  In consultation with the Halifax Regional Centre for Education (which encompasses 20mill-1the former Halifax-Dartmouth School Board), Nourish NS sets out the menus and the costs for school breakfast programs in Halifax-Dartmouth.  There are 52,000 elementary and secondary students in HRM.  At $1.00 a day, times 174 school days each year, it would cost just over $9 million per year to give all students in HRM a healthy and varied breakfast.

  1. Build 200 Affordable apartments in HRM

US sites indicate that to build one unit in an apartment building costs from $64,000 to $85,000.  The price includes appliances, carpeting, counters, cabinets, light fixtures, windows, wiring, etc.  Given materials and labour tend to cost more in NS, I suggest we take the average which is $75,000 per apartment, and add on another $25,000 to round off the cost to build each apartment $100,000.  $20 million dollars would buy 200 apartments True the cost of land is not included in the estimates, but we know the province and HRM have land to sell.  Just like the province or HRM will probably make a land deal for the stadium, we can hope they will give the land for affordable housing.20-mill-apt

  1. Add more buses and bus routes to Metro Transit

Each new bus costs about $550,000$20 million could pay for 30 new buses.20-mill-bus

  1. Help to pay for heating and electricity

A few years ago, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives-Nova Scotia  (CCPA-NS) introduced the idea of a Universal Service Program (USP).  The program would cover the baseload electricity and heating needs for households earning under $40,000 per year, if energy costs exceed 6% of the household’s income.  The USP program to assist 25,000 low income households in Halifax-Dartmouth would cost $16 million.20mill-heat

  1. Subsidize high quality affordable child-care

For many years daycare advocates have called for a publicly-run child-care system.  Mount St Vincent University economics professor, James Sawler, says that, for example, every $1 Quebec puts into early childhood education, the province gets back $1.05, and the federal government gets back $0.45 in taxes.  This is because quality, dependable child-care increases women’s ability join the workforce, and increases their incomes.  With better incomes, women then pay more taxes.  Putting $20 million into a public child-care system (like our school system) would be a step toward high quality, affordable care for all families who want it.20-mill-kids

 

Whither the NDP, Part II — Rana Zaman wins the NS Human Rights Award

How can it be that an officially nominated federal candidate gets dragged through the mud; is accused of writing anti-semitic tweets; is then turfed from being a candidate for the NDP – then wins the most prestigious Human Rights Award in Nova Scotia?

Don’t ask me – ask the NS Human Rights Commission and Partners for Human Rights.  They made the decision that today saw Rana Zaman awarded the Individual Award for Human Rights at a touching ceremony with hundreds of guests at the O’Regan Hall in Halifax Central Library.zaman-1

With Sandy Greenberg (left), me, and Larry Haiven

The program brochure described Rana as a  “Muslim immigrant from Pakistan… an award-winning social activist who volunteers on several boards and works at the grass-roots level with marginalized communities.  She collaborates with individuals, families and communities to address issues such as systemic poverty, sexism, racism, bullying and other human rights issues.”

Does anything in those lines signal that the NDP was right to strip her of the nomination for the federal seat in Dartmouth-Cole Harbour?

Perhaps the NDP disagreed with other points in today’s glossy brochure noted as the reasons for giving Zaman the award.

“Rana is driven with the desire to see unity and solidarity amongst all communities during a time when divisiveness and negative rhetoric is on the rise.  She is devoted to building bridges through compassion, understanding, and patience.  She puts herself out there to be the connector for anyone in need.”

At today’s ceremony, there were several other award winners including Trayvone Clayton, who received the Dr Burnley Allan “Rocky” Jones Award.  Clayton’s contributions focus on his community organizing work in Uniacke Square, his work to ban street checks and his desire “to uproot anti-Black bias in policing.”zaman-3

The African Nova Scotian Decade for Persons of African Descent Coalition (ANS DEPAD) received a Human Rights Group Award.   The coalition’s mission “is to build strength and health across ANS communities and forge a renewed collaborative positive working relationship with governments, ANS organizations, and our community that will create conditions for all people of African ancestry in NS to thrive.”

Rana Zaman was not only given an award but it is clear that the impact of her community work and dedication was of a very high quality.

To say the least, this should be embarrassing for the NDP.  In late June, two months after winning the federal NDP candidate for Dartmouth-Cole Harbour, Zaman received a phone call from Melissa Bruno, then the National Director of the NDP.   The problem was that year-old tweets by Zaman sharply condemning Israel’s wholesale shooting of unarmed Gazans gathered at the separation wall had been “discovered”.  Bruno told Zaman the tweets were “unacceptable” and “anti-semitic” and Zaman could either rescind her nomination, or she would be removed by the NDP within a few short hours.

Zaman apologized to the Jewish community and others for hurtful comments: “My emotions at the sight of so many innocent Palestinians being shot, maimed or killed during the March of Return overwhelmed me. I have learned an important lesson, the need to be mindful…” Still the NDP removed her.zaman-2Christine Hanson, Director and CEO of NS Human Rights Commission (right), Rana Zaman

Since that day not one leader or leading member of the NDP has contacted her, or apologized for what the Party did to her.

Clearly Zaman remains driven by doing good, and by her deep understanding of human rights and dignity for all.

In November, Zaman won The Coast magazine’s Silver Prize for being the Best Activist in Halifax, second only to super-activist El Jones.  Today’s award – though well-deserved — must be bittersweet for Zaman.  Rana Zaman is a woman of colour who worked hard to win the NDP nomination, and clearly had so much to give – yet the NDP refused to give her a chance.  And has yet to say sorry.

For a sympathetic and informative examination of Zaman’s tweets see Stephen Kimber’s column here:  http://stephenkimber.com/can-we-talk-about-israel-and-the-palestinians-no/

 

Canadian Refugee Adjudicator asks woman claimant why her husband just didn’t kill her

 

Decision-Maker (Member) at the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada

Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada – Refugee Protection Division
Calgary (Alberta), Vancouver (British Columbia), Ottawa (Ontario), Toronto (Ontario), Montréal Island (Québec)
PM-06
$94,121 to $107,619

For further information on the organization, please visit Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada

Closing date: 11 April 2019 – 23:59, Pacific Time

Who can apply: Persons residing in Canada and Canadian citizens residing abroad.

 

Ontario lawyer Yonatan Rozenszajn snagged one of the well-paid jobs (featured in the posting above) as a chairperson for Canada’s refugee claimants’ hearings, under the aegis of the Refugee Protection Division (RPD) of Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB).

In April 2019, Rozenszajn heard the case of a Nigerian woman, Halima Alari*, who fled her ex-husband to come to Canada.   She stated he had beaten her severely on many occasions especially when she was pregnant with a girl-child, as he wanted a boy.  He pursued her to another city where she had moved to escape him. After hearing her evidence, Rozenszajn asked  “Why does he keep on harassing you? If he really wants you to be gone, why doesn’t he just kill you?”

Shocked, Alari had no comeback.  Later she told Global News  “The judge made me feel as if I’m …. dead…. Like I’m not existing… like I’m a piece of trash.”

Alari felt demeaned because Rozenszajn treated her with contempt; the racist and misogynist treatment he meted out was totally unacceptable.  Especially so in light of the written guidelines for adjudication which include gender-related claims of fear of persecution, and the special problems women face when “they have had experiences that are difficult and … humiliating to speak about.”

Ultimately Rozenszajn did not believe Alari; he rejected her claim. Alari is appealing his decision.

 

roz-1

Candidate Yonatan Rozenszajn (left), 2015

Global News reported that in the last three years, adjudicators at the IRB Toronto office rejected 63% of the vulnerable person applications they received.  The Montreal office rejected 22% and the Vancouver office only rejected 6% of these cases. This begs the question about unequal treatment by IRB judges.  Overall, acceptance rates for individual judges ranged from 95% to 10%.  In my former life as a university professor, when I was department chair, I was told I had to monitor the range of professors’ grades. Too broad a range of grades called the whole process into question.

Rozenszajn’s insulting and demeaning conduct did not sit well with Hilary Evans Cameron, a law professor at the Centre for Ethics at the University of Toronto.  She explained  it is crucial that refugee claimants must be “presumed to be telling the truth” until proved otherwise.  Rozenszajn’s comments suggest he did not even start Alari’s  hearing with that presumption. Farrah Khan, a sexual violence support worker, insisted the refugee board “isn’t doing its best to protect its most vulnerable claimants”.

Who exactly is the white and entitled Yonatan Rozenszajn?  A lawyer from the Hamilton area, Rozenszajn was born in Israel.  In the 2015 federal election he ran for the Conservatives in the riding of Hamilton Centre, where he placed a distant third.  The NDP won the riding and the Liberals placed second.  During the election Jason Kenney, former Prime Minister Harper’s former Minister of Defence, stumped for Rozenszajn at an all-candidates meeting in Hamilton.  At the meeting he seemed to echo Kenney’s hard line that continuing to bomb Syria was the only way to defeat “terrorism”.   Of the NDP and the Liberals, Rozenszajn said, “They do not understand how to deal with these threats adequately.. [the other parties would put Canada at risk on the altar of ideology.”roz-2

Photos of Jason Kenney shaking hands at all Candidate’s meeting in Hamilton, Ont., 2015

After running unsuccessfully for the Tories, Rozenszajn was appointed to adjudicate IRB hearings. roz-4

Appointments to adjudicator jobs at the IRB are often political.  Another appointee, Lubomyr Luciuk, was re-appointed in 2018, after serving a two-year term in the late 1990s.  Luciuk could be called a cold warrior.  An avowed right-winger, he wrote in a 2015 article that his Ukrainian parents spent years in a “DP camp” after World War II  before being allowed to emigrate to Canada.   He recommended prospective immigrants spend years in a holding camp before getting the ‘privilege’ to come to Canada.  He also supported the idea that immigrants should be allowed to settle only where the Canadian government directed them to live, until they paid back their passage to Canada.  Luciuk believed that’s what “all real refugees want.”  Of course that is absurd.  The immigration template used in 1948 would be wholly racist if used now, 70 years later.   In the wake of WWII, nearly all immigrants were white and Christian (with a smattering of Jews).  Refugees were all European.  Canada eschewed all Japanese migrants, though they had suffered terrible misery after the Americans dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

lubo1In 2001, Luciuk wrote an op-ed article that appeared in four Canadian newspapers “How ‘Refugees’ and Terrorists Get into Canada.”  In part he wrote:

“Be a liar. That is the first lesson most claimants who come before the Immigration and Refugee Board learn. How? Well, first of all, bring no identity documents, or use fake ones. Be vague about who you are, where you came from …  repeatedly [insist] that you face nothing less than torture or even martyrdom if you return. Repeat this mantra. Practice looking downcast. Cry. Unless you are an utter imbecile you stand an excellent chance of getting … refugee status in Canada.”

A professor of political geography at the Royal Military College of Canada, Luciuk prided himself on being called “Dr No,” because he rejected 90% of refugee claims he  heard between 1996-98.  He boasted he “rarely encountered a real refugee.”

A spokesperson for the IRB said the Board had never seen the 2001 article, and that “the IRB does not support the content or tone of that article.” After a review by the IRB, Luciuk’s contract was not renewed for 2019.

Still, problems abound over the comments by Yonatan Rozenszajn.  Claimant Alari called Rozenszajn’s questions an “egregious violation” of the IRB’s guidelines for cases that involve sexual assault and domestic abuse.  The IRB has guidelines here.  Recently, the IRB admitted that Rozenszajn’s comments could be “construed as insensitive” and suggested he needed extra training. The IRB is now reviewing Rozenszajn’s decision.

So who gets these high-ticket appointments? Turns out that in 2011, half-way through the Harper era, 90% of appointees were Tories. Most claimants were denied by 30 Tory-appointed board members. And one Tory appointee, David McBean did not approve a single refugee claim in the 169 cases he heard.

But McBean must have done a good job according to Jason Kenney, then Harper’s Minister of Immigration.  McBean got a second five-year term.

I’m not suggesting that Kenney, or any Immigration minister is a puppet master who pulls strings and gets the immigration judges to do the party’s bidding.  They don’t have to.  The judges or chairpersons have a particular mindset and a general loyalty to the politics of the government who appointed them.

Currently there are 38 vacancies for chairpersons.  If everything goes according to plan, Trudeau’s new Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino is obliged to fill the vacancies.  Will political partisanship be the winner?

 

* Halima Alari is a pseudonym.

 

 

 

Women as Targets for Men’s Rage

Maybe what comes out of the Montreal Massacre – 30 years later is this: women are targets for men’s rage.

No matter what women do, or women say – women who stand up to men, or say no to men or confront men (whether actually, or potentially or symbolically) become targets.  Of course shooting women, or killing them with knives or cross-bows is extreme.  Still it happens.

Back to 25 year old Marc Lépine in Montreal on that snowy Dec. 6  thirty years ago.  Before he opened fire, Lépine shouted: “You’re all a bunch of feminists, and I hate feminists!” One student who survived, Nathalie Provost, protested: “I’m not feminist, I have never fought against men.” Lépine shot her anyway.

montrealHalifax commemoration of Montreal Massacre 6 Dec. 2019: at the tree to the 14 women victims, at the Engineering Building at Dalhousie University. 

What this shows is that women – even if they don’t openly challenge men — are seen as the enemy by misogynists, and “incells” and many other men.

They say women have come a long way. What the last three decades of “progress” have delivered are that even today between 2 and 3 Canadian women are killed by their intimate male partners every week of the year.

In divorce, women suffer declines in their household incomes, their standard of living and often lose their housing— in comparison to their ex-husbands.

Women are still a long way from easily obtaining abortions in two out of three Maritime provinces.  Health Canada, in its 2016-17 Annual Report, wrote that New Brunswick’s lack of coverage for abortions “remains a concern.”   PEI refused to provide abortions at all  until 2016, when the government allowed a clinic to open.  In PEI, medical abortions are restricted to the first 9 weeks; surgical abortions are allowed only until 12 weeks and days.

In the last 20 years, the wage gap between men and women has shrunk by only 5.5%.  On average, men earned 18.8% more than women in 1998, and only 13.3% more in 2018.  It still means women make 87 cents for every $1 that men do. Women have barely made a dent in the struggle for equal pay for work of equal value (also known as pay equity).  Pay equity has all but fallen off the negotiating table when trade unions bargain and legislated pay equity is in retreat. The federal Liberals promised childcare in their budget as far back as 1993, and 26 years later too many women cannot work, or attend school, because there is a paucity of affordable childcare right across the country (except for Quebec).

While women suffer from out and out discrimination, in terms of earnings, jobs and opportunities, men continue to act as their gatekeepers and their bosses, both at home and at work.

The fact is that even speaking openly about rebelling against men, against husbands, against fathers, against bosses – can be dangerous.  Maybe not a capital offence, but an offence nonetheless—with often violent repercussions.

Thirty years ago, the media – taking its cue from the police — ignored the message in Lépine’s suicide letter.  The media in English and French Canada insisted Lépine was a crazy man—that the fact that the14 murder victims  were women  meant little.   Francine Pelletier, was and is still a leading Quebec journalist who was herself a target of Lépine when police found his  “annex” –his list of feminists he had planned to kill –had he had more time.  Thirty years ago, Pelletier  agreed that Lépine’s actions were  highly political and that he knew exactly what he was doing that Dec. 6.

“I always felt those women died in my name. Some of them probably weren’t even feminist,” Pelletier said, “they just had the nerve to believe they were peers, not subordinates of their male classmates.”

What to Read, What to Watch….

Vivian Gornick is a New York based writer. She first came to my attention 30 plus years ago when her book The Romance of American Communism was published.  It is her best and most inspired book — all about the “fellow travellers” Communists of the 1940s and ’50s. Her book about her relationship with her mother and the past is also worth reading.  Fierce Attachments.  Her newest book, The Odd Woman and the City:  a memoir is excellent, but not as political or incisive as the American Communism book.  In the Odd Woman, Gornick walks the streets of New York, anywhere and everywhere, and eavesdrops on conversations, witnesses violence of cops, sees all the goings on in NYC — and describes them.  She also tells about relationships she’s built with writers and artists, and those are very lively and interesting. All the books are at the Hfx library.

Ever heard of the Bechdel Testfor films? Many of you have.  The Bechdel Test measures how seriously women are treated in primarily US films.  The test requires the film has to have at least 2 named women in it– who talk to each other about something other than a man.  Well I just saw The Irishman on Netflix.   Though parts of the film are pretty good, overall it fails the Bechdel Test and more.  This Scorsese film is the story of Jimmy Hoffa, warts and all.  And the disputed story of his disappearance (murder) in the 70s.  Not that his disappearance is contested, but no one is talking about how and where he died.  The acting is pretty good, but like most American films, the actors are encouraged to over-act sometimes.  The story about the union and its goodwill  is weak and not very exciting (compared to the reality of some unions) and the role of women is absurdly portrayed.  If you’re not too tired, it can keep your attention — just barely.  And did I talk about gratuitous violence? Well it’s very evident.   irish

The Christmas tapes…shoppers’ fate and corporate fortune

 

On Nov. 11 it wasn’t there, but on Nov. 12 it was.

On Nov. 11 there was “Abide by Me”, on Nov. 12 it was “Frosty the Snowman.”

I’m talking about the not-so-small matter of Christmas Carols.  In case you haven’t noticed, they start Nov. 12 in almost all retail stores in the province.

The store manager at one Lawtons in Halifax, shook his head when I asked why they started the carols more than six weeks before Christmas.  He told me, “The staff here don’t like it either. But head office sends us a Christmas cd and we got to play it.”

But look around.  Eight days ago, in my local Lawtons I pointed out three Chinese students; several racialised people and a bunch of white people shopping.  The manager sighed and told me if the shoppers don’t like it, the staff hates it.  “Drives us crazy,” he admitted. He tore off a corner of a box which held a gross of SmartiesTM and wrote down the phone number for head office’s customer services.  Handing it to me, he muttered, “Good Luck”.frosty2

Well, on the up side, head office did not give me the run-around.  On the down side,  Laurence Fromm, District Operator for 14 Lawtons stores in Nova Scotia, told me there would be no changes to playing six weeks of Christmas music.  “I grew up in the retail environment,” he told me.  “I’m used to it. Christmas is our biggest season in retail.  We’ve played the music at this time for quite a few years.”

Besides, “it’s not all religious music—the religious aspect is not strong,” Fromm said emphatically.  When I challenged him, he insisted there were seasonal favourites “that have nothing to do with the Christian religion.”

Still he chuckled when I asked him if it was true that no one ever played Frosty the Snowman on January 15th.  “No that’s true,” he admitted.   He agreed that Frosty was part of the Christmas music package—even though it was more “generic”.

When I complained that staff and shoppers had to hear the same 20 or 30 Christmas songs on a loop for days on end, he replied that Lawtons always had music so staff and shoppers are used to hearing it “over and over on a loop.”lawtons

“It bothers some, but not everyone,” Fromm insisted. “Sales mean a lot. I take your point about multiculturalism.”  But of course it’s all about increasing sales and the business of Christmas.