After coping with serious illness over the past year, I have accepted the frustration and pain of having to put parts of my life on hold. I have gotten significantly better in the last couple of months and particularly the last few weeks. I will soon return to my thesis. I am well enough now to visit my sister who is town from Boston this week - something that I could not do in a real way a few months ago. I am well enough to read and write again. I have recovered the core of my existence.
Everything has looked brighter recently and I have been filled with hope. My frustrations surrounding my limited ability to participate in life as fully as I would like have been tempered with the knowledge that, in time, I will be able to more fully re-engage with living.
Organizing an emergency protest in solidarity with the people who have been illegally treated and detained by the police at the G20 summit is not something that can wait. And, I simply do not have the physical capacity to do this. I can tell you that of all the things I have endured in the past year, incapacity at this time is one of the most heartbreaking and angering of the experiences. Moving along through a paced recovery, I occupy myself with many mindless diversions. Yesterday and today, I feel I am failing as an activist, a comrade and a human being.
All I can do is attempt to assist in disseminating some of the reports from people on the ground. All I can do is thank my comrades and tell you that I am reduced to sobbing as it eats at my soul to not be able to physically stand in solidarity with you.
I will continue to distribute information on this blog, on my Tumblr account and on Twitter - @joannecostello. If I can help anyone in any socially mediated way, please contact me.
WE ARE CALLING AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. IN THE MEANTIME, DISTRIBUTE THIS LINK AS WIDELY AS POSSIBLE.
We (i.e., Justin Giovannetti and Lex Gill) are both able and willing to testify in front of a court of law, tribunal or hearing to attest to the validity of these statements. Much of this is now recorded on video and we have some contact information for the victims. We will NOT consent to contact with any police representatives (municipal, provincial, or federal) nor will we consent to speaking to other security agencies (CSIS, Canadian Forces, etc.). We can be contacted at lex.gill [at] gmail [dot] com, or jackgiovannetti [at] gmail [dot] com.
We just got back to our computers and are frantically writing this message. It is 4:45 a.m. on Monday morning. We are the only people who seem to know the extent of this story. Coffee and adrenaline keeping us going. When we got to Queen and Spadina after leaving the Convergence Centre raid today, we had already been blocked off by police lines. It was pouring rain, and we could hear a confrontation taking place further down the street. The cops didn't care whether or not we were media -- in fact, we heard that media was forced to leave before we arrived. Police acted violently and with sheer disregard for the law, attacking peaceful protesters and civilians unrelated to the protest. Tired, frantic, and feeling defeated, we came home and posted the message before this one.
We then did the only thing left to do, and headed to 629 Eastern Avenue (the G20 Detention Centre, a converted film studio), where detainees from the demonstrations were being taken. We knew people were being released sporadically so we grabbed as many juice boxes and granola bars as we could afford and set off with medical supplies. Journalists were basically absent, showed up only to take a few seconds of video, or simply arrived far too late to be effective.
It is next to impossible to set the scene of what happened at the Detention Centre. Between the two of us we estimate that we spoke to over 120 people, most of whom were released between 9:30 p.m. and 4:30 a.m. Despite not knowing each other, the story they tell is the same. It goes like this. Most were arrested at three locations: the Novotel on Saturday evening where the police arrested hundreds of peaceful protesters (look @spaikan on Twitter); Spadina/Queen's Park all day Saturday and early Sunday, as people were arrested all over the downtown for many different (and often bogus) reasons; and the University of Toronto, where hundreds of Quebecers and others were woken up and arrested at gun point early Saturday morning.
What follows is a list, as detailed as we can make it in a blog post, of what we saw and heard.
People were held for up to 35 hours with a single meal. None seemed to have received food more than twice daily, the meal they did receive was a hamburger bun with processed cheese and margarine described as a centimeter thick. Detainees had to create loud noises for hours to receive any food at all. All reported feeling more ill and dehydrated after eating than before. Some vomited and received no medical attention when they did. Water was not provided with the meal.
Inadequate water, as little as an ounce every 12 hours. Although some people reported receiving approximately an ounce (a small Dixie cup) of water every three hours, most seemed to have received far less than that. They had to create loud noises and continuously demand water, only to receive it up to an hour and a half later. Sometimes rooms with over a dozen people were only given a handful (four or five) cups of water and forced to share. Some reported the water as yellow-coloured and smelling of urine, which they didn't drink.
Facilities over-capacity.There were many reports of "cages" filled with 40 people, though a police officer told one detainee that they were intended for groups of no more than 15 to 20. Each cage had a single bench, with only enough seating for five people. There was only one toilet in each cage and it was without a door. Women were creating barriers with their bodies for others to create some semblance of privacy.
Major delays in processing.Many detainees were told that the only reason they remained at the Centre was due to unexplained delays in processing. Most detainees seemed to go through a three step system whereby they were put in an initial holding cell, only to be moved to a second cell after meeting a Staff Sergeant in a board room. This is where they were told what they were arrested for. Eventually they were moved to a third cell before release. This process seemed to take no less than 10 hours. Others were never told why they were arrested and never signed any documents. A few were released immediately upon arriving at the Centre and were never processed. Some were never brought to a cell, only made to wait in a line to be let out.
Inconsistent charges. Groups arrested at the same time and for the same behaviour were given different charges, with some let out and others given court dates. Many felt the police simply assigned a charge or did not know why they were being arrested. Some charges were changed or dropped before the detainees were released.
People put in solitary confinement. Most of the openly queer detainees reported to have been transferred to a "Segregated Zone." In cages built for one, couples of men and women were held. A lesbian is reported to have spent nearly 10 hours alone. Another woman said she was kept alone in a large cell for hours, asking to be moved the whole time.
No pillows or mattresses to sleep. No bedding was ever provided for detainees, who were told to sleep on bare concrete floors. Detainees were stripped of all but a single shirt and legwear. Many said they could not sleep during their day long detentions.
Unsanitary and unsafe living conditions. Many of the floors of the cages were covered with dirt and the residue from green paintballs used to identify suspects in crowds. Vomit was also on the floor and no cleaning of the cages took place.
Police intimidation of released detainees. With many of the detainees released and standing across the street from the detention centre, getting food and water from community volunteers while waiting for friends, police stood menacingly across the road. Almost all the detainees were frightened by the police presence and feared an attack. The police used the headlights of rental Dodge Caravans to light up the crowd, citing a need to "keep them visible."
Non-stop light exposure/loss of natural light rhythm/sensory deprivation. Detainees emerged with a broken day/night cycle, being deprived of all connection to the outside world or any other time-based events (ie. set eating times). While in their cages, detainees were subject to constant light.
Exposure to extreme cold.Detainees complained of the air conditioning in the building being very high. Many of them said that they were frozen and asked for blankets, a request which was always refused. Due to having only a single layer of shirt and sleeping on concrete floors, the cages were extremely cold.
Sexual harassment of women and Queer people. We heard many first-hand accounts of cat-calls and crude sexual comments directed at women from police officers at the Centre. Some women faced inappropriate sexual contact (including one girl who was forced to endure a police officer covering her body with detainee number stickers in order to touch her), and rough handling from police officers. Openly Queer boys were told to "straighten up," and there was at least one completely nude strip search preformed on a young woman with no reasonable explanation. It is unclear whether the strip searches that took place were consistently conducted by members of the same gender. It is also unclear as to whether any Transpeople, if detained, were put in cells of a gender of their own determination or in cells of a police gender assignment.
Youth as young as 15 in adult cells. Youth (under 18) detainees were held in the same cells as adults, some of whom had not been charged at all (and thus it could not be justified that they were being held on adult charges). A 16-year-old was held in an adult cell for at least 12 hours, the police were fully aware of his age, and his parents were at no point contacted.
Denial of legal counsel. When detainees asked to see lawyers they were told that they would receive legal counsel at a later time or at the time of processing. Often, these times went by and no legal counsel was provided. Those released without charge were told to avoid contacting lawyers. Most detainees said they were never informed of their rights.
No phone call. About only one in ten of the detainees we spoke to had been given access to a phone. Others were promised access at a later time and never received it. There was a father waiting outside for his 20-year old son who had been arrested Saturday afternoon or evening, and had yet to receive a call. Many of the detainees were told that only 20 phones were available in the building, holding over 500 detainees at the time. The offices of legal counsel also had no landlines.
Belonging stolen/damaged.Most detainees reported that at least some of their confiscated belongings were not returned to them, including passports, wallets, credit and debit cards, money, cellphones and clothing. When detainees were escorted outside the Centre, many were made to walk on the street without access to their shoes (sealed in thick plastic bags only returned at the limit of the Centre's property). Some shoes were missing entirely. At least one extremely visually impaired detainee's glasses were put with his belongings and were severely damaged when he recovered them (ie. broken in half).
Threats of assault/harassment.Many detainees, but especially French Canadian detainees (who were not served in French), were taunted and threatened with assault. Homophobic slurs were used by guards and one was told that if he was ever seen again in Toronto the cop would attack him. Other degrading comments were made, including telling detainees that they "looked like dogs."
Obviously illegal civilian arrests. Some civilians who were completely uninvolved in the demonstrations were arrested while exiting subway stations in the downtown core. Some were arrested after illegal searches of cars turned up "dangerous goods" (like books about activism and lemon juice). One fully-uniformed TTC streetcar driver was arrested for hours. He had been ordered out of his streetcar by riot police and was immediately arrested. We wish we were kidding.
No access to medication or medical treatment. While doing medical support, Lex met at least two people who had been denied medication. The first was a woman who said that she was pre-diabetic and needed medication for nausea and dizziness. She was denied access to medical treatment, despite the fact that by the time Lex found her she was extremely faint, barely conscious, and had difficulty sitting up. The second was a young man who was prescribed anti-psychotics and had missed several doses (he did not, however, have an episode at the time Lex met him). We heard stories of at least one person with Type 2 diabetes inside the Centre who had been deprived of insulin and fell unconscious. Many stories of a man handcuffed to a wheelchair, missing a leg (and his prosthetic) came from the released detainees. One recently-released detainee had four extremely poorly done stitches on his chin and was uncertain as to what shots (whether tetanus or anesthetic, or both) he was given. He was given the stitches at the time of his arrest and the wound was still bleeding badly (we had to sterilize it and applied gauze).
AbandonmentDespite all of the above mentioned crimes against detainees, most notably including medical issues, the Toronto Police had no plan for the detainees after they were released. They were simply escorted off the property and told to leave. Many had no idea where they were, had no access to a phone, had not eaten in a day, had no identification or money on their person, and were nowhere near mass transit. Had community volunteers and fellow released detainees not been present to assist them, we fear that some could have faced life-threatening medical emergencies or death.
We will be continually updating this blog over the next few weeks. Please share this with everyone you possibly can. People must know what has happened in Toronto. For those of you attending the Jail Solidarity rally tomorrow, please distribute this link widely.
Justin Giovannetti and Lex Gill
'Conditions at G20 Dentention Centre are illegal, immoral and dangerous' by Justin Giovannetti and Lex Gill via The Dominion.
In an excellent article titled 'Eat, Pray, Spend: Priv-Lit and the New, Enlightened American Dream,' Joshua Saunders and Diana Barnes-Brown analyze the enlightenment industry and a new genre of literature -- "priv-lit"-- which the authors define as:
"literature or media whose expressed goal is one of spiritual, existential, or philosophical enlightenment contingent upon women’s hard work, commitment, and patience, but whose actual barriers to entry are primarily financial. Should its consumers fail, the genre holds them accountable for not being ready to get serious, not “wanting it” enough, or not putting themselves first, while offering no real solutions for the astronomically high tariffs—both financial and social—that exclude all but the most fortunate among us from participating."
Saunder and Barnes-Brown explain,
For decades, self-help literature and an obsession with wellness have captivated the imaginations of countless liberal Americans. Even now, as some of the hardest economic times in decades pinch our budgets, our spirits, we’re told, can still be rich. Books, blogs, and articles saturated with fantastical wellness schemes for women seem to have multiplied, in fact, featuring journeys (existential or geographical) that offer the sacred for a hefty investment of time, money, or both. There’s no end to the luxurious options a woman has these days—if she’s willing to risk everything for enlightenment. And from Oprah Winfrey and Elizabeth Gilbert to everyday women siphoning their savings to downward dog in Bali, the enlightenment industry has taken on a decidedly feminine sheen.
It will probably take years before the implications for women of the United States’ newfound economic vulnerability are fully understood. Present reports yield a mix of auspicious and depressing stats: The New York Times, for example, reports that more than 80 percent of the jobs that have evaporated were held by men, and the proportion of married women who made more than their husbands rose from 4 percent in 1970 to 22 percent in 2007. That’s not much of a gain, though, considering that U.S. Department of Labor statistics from 2008 show women still only making roughly 75 cents for every dollar made by men. Yet even as reports on joblessness, economic recovery, and home foreclosures suggest that no one is immune to risk during this recession, the popularity of women’s wellness media has persisted and, indeed, grown stronger.
“Live your best life!” Oprah Winfrey intones on her show, on her website, and in her magazine, with exhausting tenacity. Eat kale. Lose weight. Invest in timeless cashmere. Find the perfect little black dress. But though Oprahspeak pays regular lip service to empowerment, much of Winfrey’s advice actually moves women away from political, economic, and emotional agency by promoting materialism and dependency masked as empowerment, with evangelical zeal.
As Karlyn Crowley writes in the recent anthology Stories of Oprah: The Oprahfication of American Culture, Winfrey has become the mainstream spokesperson for New Age spirituality because “she marries the intimacy and individuality of the New Age movement with the adulation and power of a 700 Club–like ministry.” And not surprisingly, it was the imprimatur of Oprah’s Book Club that made Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia the publishing phenomenon it now is. More than 5 million paperback copies of the book are currently in print, though the first printing of the book, in 2006, was a modest 30,000 hardcover copies. The Wall Street Journal estimated that the book would make more than $15 million in sales by the end of 2007, and the book stayed on the New York Times bestseller list for more than 155 weeks.
Eat, Pray, Love detailed Gilbert’s decision to leave an unsatisfying marriage and embark on an international safari of self-actualization. (Publisher Viking subsidized the “unscripted” yearlong vacation.) Gilbert ate exotic food, meditated in exotic places, and had exotic romantic interludes; both culture clashes and enlightenment ensued, as did Gilbert’s ham-fistedly paternalistic attempt to buy an impoverished Indonesian woman a house. The book could easily have been called Wealthy, Whiny, White.
It’s hardly reasonable to demand that every woman who wishes to better her life be poor, or nonwhite, or in some other way representative of diversity in order to be taken seriously. But Eat, Pray, Love and its positioning as an Everywoman’s guide to whole, empowered living embody a literature of privilege and typify the genre’s destructive cacophony of insecurity, spending, and false wellness.
Interestingly, the popularity of this media has not only persisted in the face of the recession but grown stronger. The authors suggest that, "if self-helpy is on the menu, people seem to be buying it, or at least buying into it." They further explain:
The spending itself is justified by its supposedly healthy goals—acceptance, self-love, the ability to heal past psychic wounds and break destructive patterns. Yet often the buzz over secondary perks (weight loss, say, or perfect skin) drowns out less superficial discussion. Winfrey, again, is a chief arbiter of this behavior: As Stories of Oprah contributor Jennifer L. Rexroat points out, Winfrey presents herself as a “de facto feminist” with a traditional American Dream background who refuses to succumb to wifedom and enjoys pampering herself. Sometimes that involves espousing the works of spirituality writers Gary Zukav or Eckhart Tolle, who both appear regularly on her show. Sometimes it means talking about weight gain and self-loathing. Sometimes it necessitates buying a diamond friendship pinkie ring.
It’s no secret that, according to America’s marketing machine, we’re living in a “postfeminist” world where what many people mean by “empowerment” is the power to spend their own money. Twenty- and thirtysomething women seem more eager than ever to embrace their “right” to participate in crash diets and their “choice” to get breast implants, obsess about their age, and apply the Sex and the City
personality metric to their friends (Are you a Miranda or a Samantha? Did you get your Brazilian and your Botox?). Such marketing, and the women who buy into it, assumes the work of feminism is largely done. Perhaps it’s because, unlike American women before them, few of the people either making or consuming these cultural products and messages have been pushed to pursue secretarial school instead of medical school, been accused of “asking for” sexual assault, or been told driving and voting were intellectually beyond them. This perspective makes it easy for the antifeminism embedded in the wellness jargon of priv-lit to gain momentum.
The authors provide examples of an industry that blogger Sadie Stein describes as "pink-hued, candy-coated girly spirituality."
In fall 2009, the Los Angeles Times ran a piece about well-off women (and some men) leaving their full-time jobs to meditate in seclusion for three years, to the tune of $60,000 a year. Another feature on young, female self-help gurus (their exact qualifications for guruhood remain murky) charging hundreds of dollars an hour to advise other women on spirituality and eating well was granted prime real estate on the front page of the New York Times’ Style section.
Sarma Melngailis, a New York restaurant owner who writes about eating raw and organic food on the blogs welikeitraw.com and oneluckyduck.com, promises her readers—most of them women—that if they can just give up their Dunkin’ Donuts coffee and replace it with her $9 coconut water and $12 nut-milk shakes they, too, can be happy and healthy. (She’s very consistent about plugging her products’ ability to combat hangovers and sexify one’s appearance, too.) The now-famous Skinny Bitch cookbook franchise plumbs even more sinister depths in its insistence that women can stop nighttime snacking with the oh-so-simple fix of hiring a personal chef with vegan culinary training. Actor Gwyneth Paltrow’s web venture, GOOP, uses catchy, imperative section headings (“Get,” “Do,” “Be”) and the nonsensical tagline “Nourish the inner aspect” to neatly establish a rhetorical link between action, spending, and the whole of existence. Even Julie and Julia, the blog that became a book that became a hit movie, is complicit in spreading the trend. Julie Powell’s story—that of an ennui-ridden professional whose journey of self-discovery involves cooking her way through Julia Child—features one-meal shopping lists whose cost rivals standard monthly food-stamp allotments for many American families.
The authors argue that contrary to claims of empowering women, priv-lit reinforces historical, patriarchal ideas that women are inherently lesser or broken.
Priv-lit perpetuates several negative assumptions about women and their relationship to money and responsibility. The first is that women can or should be willing to spend extravagantly, leave our families, or abandon our jobs in order to fit ill-defined notions of what it is to be “whole.” Another is the infantilizing notion that we need guides—often strangers who don’t know the specifics of our financial, spiritual, or emotional histories—to tell us the best way forward. The most problematic assumption, and the one that ties it most closely to current, mainstream forms of misogyny, is that women are inherently and deeply flawed, in need of consistent improvement throughout their lives, and those who don’t invest in addressing those flaws are ultimately doomed to making themselves, if not others, miserable.
While priv-lit predates the current recession by at least a few years, the genre’s potential for negative impact is greater these days than ever before. Today’s “recessionista” mind-set promotes spending quietly over spending less. Priv-lit takes a similar approach: Hiding familiar motives behind ambient lighting and organic scented candles, the genre at once masks and promotes the destructive expectations of traditional femininity and consumer culture, making them that much harder to fight.
The enlightenment industry must always cultivate anxieties and problems to market its products to consumers.
The story priv-lit tells is that true wellness requires extreme sacrifices along economic, family, and professional lines, but those who make them will be rewarded and attain permanent enlightenment of one kind or another. (The best recent example is Gilbert herself, since she was rewarded twice over for her globe-trotting victories in her spiritual memoir—she married a hot Brazilian man and landed another bestselling book, 2010’s Committed, as a result.)
Unfortunately, that story is a lie: As one purveyor of high-end life-coaching services (who, for obvious reasons, wishes to remain anonymous) comments, “In our line of business, we have a saying: ‘Don’t fix the client.’” Once mentors teach clients to attain freedom and enlightenment, they can say goodbye to the high premiums they earn by telling clients they need more help.
“One of the brilliant parts of the self-help genre as a whole is that there are these various contradicting threads or themes, all woven together, and emphasized differently at different times,” says Dr. Micki McGee, a sociologist and cultural critic at Fordham University and the author of Self-Help, Inc: Makeover Culture in American Life. “Self-improvement culture in general has the contradictory effect of undermining self-assurance by suggesting that all of us are in need of constant, effortful (and often expensive) improvement. There is the danger of over-investing in this literature not only financially, but also psychologically.”
The drive to consume in spite of economic constraints is fueled by the desire to obtain or reflect social status through conspicuous consumption.
McGee, who in researching her own book spent five years immersed in self-help literature, is quick to point out that this tendency toward spending for self-improvement is long-standing. But in the current economic climate, the real financial implications for those who do, or try to, invest in these ways may be worse than in healthier economic times, while the spending itself may be growing all the more fetishized. Since the late 1960s, economic phenomena such as wage stagnation combined with the increasing costs of housing, medical care, and other basic necessities have meant that, for most Americans, time really does equal money. “Increasingly, people who actually have the money to take a year off and travel in India or go to a thousand-dollar yoga retreat are in short supply,” notes McGee. “In the context of the recession, we’re seeing an emphasis on simplicity and frugality, but embedded within that emphasis is a subtext of consuming more”—imported, she points out, from contemporary self-help literature of all kinds.
McGee links the persistence of these counterintuitive ideals to the phenomena of social stratification written about by French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu. In his landmark 1984 book Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste, Bourdieu explained that cultural and aesthetic preferences both indicate and shape class stratifications, because trends in these preferences seemingly map individuals’ positions in social hierarchies. As McGee puts it, within status-quo class systems, “Taste and other types of cultural capital are emblematic of both status attained and status putatively deserved.” So those who pray at the altar of priv-lit operate under the false assumptions that 1) investing concretely ensures attainment of elite socioeconomic status and 2) having invested demonstrates the deserving nature of those who do. In times of financial stress—when those who want exist in even greater proportion to those who have—this feedback loop may be intensified, because the desired is that much more unattainable and the consequences of failure, namely the implication that those who do not get their lives together according to the prescribed boundaries of priv-lit will end up being so utterly screwed up that they risk losing their jobs, houses, or independence, among other things—seem that much worse.
Instead of empowering women, the enlightenment industry cultivates women as one-dimensional consumers.
Priv-lit has transformed Virginia Woolf’s “Room of One’s Own” into an existential space accessed by way of a very expensive series of actual rooms—a $120-an-hour yoga studio, a cottage in Indonesia, a hip juice bar on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. The genre is unique in that it reflects an inversion of its own explicitly expressed value system: Priv-lit tells women they must do expensive things that are good for the body, mind, or soul. But the hidden subtext, and perhaps the most alluring part of the genre for its avid consumers, is the antifeminist idea that women should become healthy so that people will like them, they will find partners, they’ll have money, and they’ll lose weight and be hot. God forbid a dumpy, lonely, single person should actually try to achieve happiness, health, and balance for its own sake. It’s the wolf of the mean-spirited makeover show or the vicious high-school clique in the sheep’s clothing of wellness.
The authors call for narratives that reflect the realities of women's lives.
The truth is that many of us are barely holding on to the modest lives we’ve struggled to create, improving ourselves on a diy basis, minus the staggering premiums, with every day we get up, go to work, and take care of ourselves and our families. Priv-lit is not a viable answer to the concerns of most women’s lives, and acting as though it is leads nowhere good. It’s high time we demanded that truer narratives become visible—and, dare we say it, marketable.
If more women become willing to put aside their fears, open their eyes to cost-free or inexpensive paths to wellness, and position themselves as essentially worthy instead of deeply flawed, priv-lit could soon migrate to a well-deserved new home: the fiction section. And once that happens, we might just succeed in showing that for every wealthy and insecure woman who can pony up to reach great heights of self and spending, there are thousands more whose lives are comparatively uncharmed, who are happier working with creative and healthy alternatives instead of spending on what they’re terrorized into wanting, and whose stories will, someday, be valued for the strength they communicate, not the fantasies they sell.
'Eat, Pray, Spend: Priv-Lit and the New, Enlightened American Dream' by Joshua Saunders and Diana Barnes-Brown, Bitch
'Former Carrie Bradshaws Form Ashram' by Sadie Stein, Jezebel
'Seeing Yourself in Their Light' by Allen Salkin, New York Times
'Are Women Getting Sadder? Or Are We All Just Getting a Lot More Gullible?' by Barbara Ehrenreich, Barbara's Blog
When the Brazilian wax trend swept North America, I played the game. I thank God that I am too old for the latest packaging trend: Vajazzling.
Although, admittedly, there does not seem to be a cultural age limit on "looking fine on the vagine."
A website for "what moms are talking about" - MomLogic - describes the process of going "bare with flair."
The process is simple: First, you're vigorously waxed down there. Then, Swarovski crystals (or your own jewels) are placed on your nether-regions, in an artful design of your choice. The whole process (including waxing) costs $115 and lasts about five days.
Of course, while women go to great lengths and costs to remove undesirable hair, they are also entrenched in the battle to secure their "crowning glory." While it is undesirable to have hair on your body, a large head of hair is seen as desirable and sexy. In Good Hair, Chris Rock discovers that women pay $1000 for their weaves in addition to to the costs of attaching and maintaining the locks!
And, if it weren't enough that women are busy removing hair down there and adding hair up there, a new fashion trend encourages women to sport clothing made of hair.
Kate Moss wears a Maison Martin Margiela jacket made of blonde hair in one of several special covers for the May issue of V Magazine.
Inspired by the trend, America's Next Top Model recently had the contestants model outfits made entirely out of hair.
You have to hand it to the capitalists: they have us nailed between internalized oppression and conspicuous consumption.
It is my hope that many of you who struggle with your hairy lot in life will learn to accept, and even embrace the man that you are. Being hairy isn’t something to be ashamed of – if it’s the way you’ve been made, it’s part of what makes you, you.
So, people, what will we do about these hairy - and hairless - situations?
I have chosen to write this blog entry after failed attempts to get the mainstream media in Calgary to follow up on Andre Picard's article on pelvic exams that are reportedly performed on women under anesthesia in spite of a lack of explicit consent.
In October of 2009, I had exploratory surgery during which several large growths of endometriosis were found on my uterosacral ligaments and, subsequently, removed through cauterization.
I first experienced the intense pain of endometriosis in September of 2007; it seized my body for a couple of weeks and then disappeared overnight. An ultrasound was done but nothing was found.
In October of 2008, the pain returned with fury. I was in and out of the E.R, had multiple pelvic exams, a CT scan and, still, nothing was found. I was sent home with morphine. I attended classes and wrote my final papers for the semester pressed with pain and foggy with narcotics. Most fortunately, the pain subsided mid-December and my health was returned to me for a period of time.
In June of 2009, I began to experience intense pain near my tail bone. Again, I was in and out of the E.R. Now that the pain was manifesting in my back, I was repeatedly sent to the minor emergency department with the assumption that I had a back problem in spite of the fact that I had a clear bone scan. Again, I was put on narcotics and left to wait for an MRI that was not scheduled until October. When I finally got in to see my OB/GYN, he was reluctant to perform surgery because my pain was not consistent with the "Carnett's Test." (Incidentally, the academic literature describes this test as a tool in diagnosis but little research has been done on the predictive value of the test.)
I told my OB/GYN that I would find another surgeon to perform the surgery if he did not. He agreed to the surgery, scowling at me as he popped into the reception area where I was filling out the necessary paper work.
After my surgery, my OB/GYN came into my recovery room and apologized for his skepticism; he noted that my endometriosis was too deep for him to feel in a manual exam before skulking out of the room.
Like many other women, I was angered when I read Andre Picard's article in the Globe and Mail which revealed that many women are given pelvic exams under anesthesia in spite of a lack of explicit consent. Picard reports on Dr. Wainberg's research in Calgary:
When Dr. Wainberg took a position as a resident at Foothills Hospital in Calgary, she decided to study the issue further. She and fellow researchers polled 102 women who were patients at the Calgary Pelvic Floor Disorders Clinic.
The results – reported in The Medical Post and in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology – are as fascinating as they are troubling.
Dr. Wainberg and her team found that fewer than one in five women were aware that a student might do a pelvic exam in the operating room. At the same time, 72 per cent expected to be asked for consent before such an exam was done.
The patients – unlike medical educators – seem to be quite clear on the concept of informed consent.
What is particularly troubling is the medical professions quick defense of the current guidelines which state:
As pelvic examination under anesthesia is a component of most pelvic surgeries, consent for pelvic examination by medical trainees is contained within consent for a surgical procedure.
Rather than taking Wainberg's study as evidence that the current guidelines are not sufficient for the process of informed consent, medical professionals are providing knee-jerk defense of current practices. For instance, Dr. Wilson, head of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Calgary, writes:
In Calgary, patients give written consent for medical students to be involved in their surgical care, including medically necessary examinations, and patients are specifically informed before surgery, by the surgeon, that they may be examined by a trainee. If a patient objects, their wishes are honoured.
A medical student can only undertake a pelvic exam if the exam is required as part of surgery and the student is part of the surgical team.
Dr. Sara Wainberg's paper discussed women's attitudes to pelvic floor examinations being undertaken by medical students, in relation to consent. The concern expressed by a number of scholars is whether implicit consent for pelvic-floor exam under anesthetic, by a trainee, as recommended by the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada guidelines, is sufficient.
Certainly, surveys of attitudes and beliefs can lack validity. For instance, there may be little correlation between one's beliefs about their abilities in mathematics and their performance on a math quiz.
But, here's the thing - attitudes are a pretty critical measure of the success of informed consent. If a bunch of women were not aware that they were agreeing to pelvic exams by medical students then they were not properly informed.
On the issue of informed consent, it is the person who is doing the consenting whose beliefs are paramount. Clearly, women do not realize that they are consenting to medical students performing pelvic exams. Indeed, in my case, I had upwards of ten pelvic exams in a year before arriving at exploratory surgery. As a layperson, I did not imagine a pelvic exam would be part of the surgery- had we not arrived at surgery because pelvic exams were not providing answers? Also, I am confused about the "medical necessary" component of this language. If my surgeon performs the medically necessary exam, aren't subsequent exams by students redundant?
My anger has less to do with the pelvic exam itself, but the notion of "implicit consent" and the reaction from some medical professionals, including dismissive remarks about women's "attitudes." Maybe, if my attitudes and beliefs were given more weight in the first place, my pain would have been taken more seriously and I would have received treatment sooner. My experience with endometriosis sure as hell reinforced my formerly shaky belief that: I am the expert on my own body.
Given the historical mistreatment of women by the medical profession and ongoing societal violence against women, one would hope that both the national association and local medical departments would choose to pay a little more attention to women's beliefs and attitudes, as well as our explicit demands for respect of our boundaries.
Let me conclude with some of the comments on Picard's original article that I found on an internet discussion board for medical students in Canada:
I've done bimanuals on patients during gyne surgery, but they are usually consented for an "exam under anesthesia" as part of their surgery. I've never seen them done unnecessarily, and they are almost always indicated prior to any gyne surgery. It's never a "parade of medical students" it's only those who are scrubbing to assist (so usually a resident and a med student. I do agree though that there should be more explicit consent, and women should be told that an exam will be done after they are anesthetized by the surgeon and assistants.
So, in the context of pre-operative and intra-operative evaulation, a vaginal exam is invasive, yet OPEN SURGERY isn't?
This guy is an a55hole.
as a few people have mentioned, the issue is not with the pelvic exam itself, but with the lack of consent.
i don;t know how many of you have been present when a woman is consenting for gyne surgery, but honestly, how often have you heard the surgeon mention that a pelvic exam is done while she's under anaesthetic? I've never heard anyone explicitly say this (let alone mention the fact that the exam will be done by the surgeon, 2 residents, and one or two medical students). Usually it's like "risk of bleeding, infection, perforation, converting to open, etc etc"
i've felt uncomfortable doing these in the past (though never declined to do one). i'm not going to be an obs/gyne, so knowing whether the uterus is ante or retroverted is not useful knowledge really. besides, we get to do pelvic exams on AWAKE, CONSENTING patients as part of our rotation anyway.
i agree the article promotes some fear-mongering, but it's not without it's merits. if it was my mother or girlfriend going in for surgery, i wouldn't want my classmates doing unnecessary pelvic exams.
Clearly, there are is a lot of confusion - whether the exam is less invasive than the surgery itself or whether doctors know that pelvic exams are routinely part of pelvic surgeries is absolutely irrelevant to the issue of informed consent.
Do women realize they are consenting to pelvic exams under anesthesia?
It appears that women do not realize that they are consenting to medical students performing pelvic exams and current guidelines and practices fall short of achieving informed consent from women undergoing medical procedures.
I strongly suggest that the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada revise their guidelines and educate students and doctors about this issue. Clearly, "implicit consent" is not amounting to informed consent. Moreover, it seems that a larger discussion is needed about respect for patients, appreciating women's expertise on their own bodies and recognizing patients' rights to set their own boundaries as ridiculous as they may seem to some students and doctors.
Watching the news coverage of the current situation in Haiti is overwhelming. I feel very helpless, as I'm sure many do, and yet I take the seemingly insufficient step of donating online. When I consider the historical and current oppression of this region, I shut off emotionally because I know I am implicated in the tragedy...The only place to begin is with the seemingly insufficient steps of further educating myself and speaking out in the spirit of solidarity. So, I begin...
In his article Haiti, "Classquakes," and American Empire, Paul Stree writes that geographer Kenneth Hewitt coined the phrase "classquake" to describe 20th century earthquakes' differentiated pattern of destruction which fell mainly on slums and poor rural villages.
I have selected some excerpts on the article, but encourage you to read it in its entirety.
The earthquake catastrophe in Haiti is being portrayed on the national and local evening news as a natural disaster that has elicited a virtuous humanitarian response from the inherently noble and benevolent United States.
It’s about bad geologic (and cosmic, as in “acts of God”) forces versus good Uncle Sam, that fine democratic friend of the poor and downtrodden around the world.
“This is an opportunity,” the editors of The New York Times arrogantly proclaim today, “for President Obama to demonstrate how the United States shoulders its responsibilities and mobilizes other countries to do their part” (NYT, January 14, 2010, A28).
But Haiti’s agony and the role of the U.S. is much more complicated than the childish morality play being broadcast on the Telescreens.
Earthquakes are natural developments, but vulnerability to them is richly anthropogenic (“man made”) and is not spread evenly across the fractured and intersecting global landscapes of race, class, and empire. As Mike Davis pointed out in his 2006 book Planet of Slums, a chilling expose of the atrocious living (and dying) conditions that US.-led neoliberal capitalism has imposed on the ever more mega-urbanized poor of the global South: ”Even more than landslides and floods, earthquakes make precise audits of the urban housing crisis…seismic destruction usually maps with uncanny accuracy to poor-quality brick, mud, or concrete residential housing...Seismic hazard is the fine print in the devil’s bargain of informal housing…”
The “relaxation” of regulations on housing planning and construction combines with the concentration of much of the South’s urban population “on or near active tectonic plate margins” to put millions in peril.
“Seismic risk is so unevenly distributed in most cities,” Davis learned, that one leading “hazard geographer” (Kenneth Hewitt) coined the phrase “classquake” to describe 20th century earthquakes’ “biased pattern of destruction,” which fell mainly on “slums, tenement districts, [and] poor rural villages.”
Davis’ (and Hewitt’s) analysis clearly applies to the current Haitian tragedy, vastly magnified by the desperately impoverished and informal, unregulated housing conditions of masses of marginalized people in and around the sprawling slums of Port au Prince. In that city’s most notorious slum, Cite-Soliel, David noted, population densities are “comparable to cattle feedlots” crowding more residents per acre into low-rise housing than there were in famous congested tenement districts such as the Lower East Side in the 1900s or in contemporary highrise cores such as central Tokyo and Manhattan.” 
The hyper-concentration of poor Haitians in seismically hyper-vulnerable subs-standard housing in and around Port au-Prince, it is worth noting, is a direct outcome of U.S. trade policies that undermined Haitian small farmers, sending rural residents into and around the capital city.
A reformist priest named Jan Baptiste Aristide threatened Washington’s vicious neoliberal regime when he won Haiti’s first free election in 1990. Aristide came to office with strong support from the poor majority. His hostility to U.S.-imposed misery led Washington to move to undermine his regime from the outset. Aristide was removed in a U.S.-supported coup in 1991 but returned amidst popular upheaval in 1994. The Clinton White House initially backed the coup regime even more strongly than did George Bush I. Thanks to its rhetoric about “democracy” at home and abroad, the militantly corporate-neoliberal NAFTA-promoting Clinton administration felt compelled to pretend that they backed Aristide’s return to power in 1994. The Clinton Pentagon and State Department delayed that return for two years and made it clear that Aristide’s restoration to nominal power depended upon him promising not to help the poor by offering any further challenges to Washington’s “free market” economics. “By 1994,” Chomsky explained last year, “Clinton decided that the population was sufficiently intimidated, and he sent US forces to restore the elected president – that’s now called a humanitarian intervention – but on very strict conditions, namely that the president had to accept a very harsh neoliberal regime, in particular, no protection for the economy.” 
In February 2004, the U.S. and France – Haiti’s traditional sadistic masters – joined hands (along with Canada) across their supposed great cultural divide to support another military coup. This U.S.-directed putsch exported Aristide to Central Africa.
Under the Woodrow Wilson-fan Barack Obama, as under George Bush II, Washington has banned Aristide from revisiting region. Obama sided with the corrupt Haitian elite by refusing to act against the shutting out of Aristide’s popular party (Family Lavalas) from Haitian elections in the spring of 2009. 
Washington has responded to the heavily racial-ized imperial “classquake” with Pentagon military “assessments” while China, Venezuela, and Cuba have acted promptly with direct humanitarian assistance and human solidarity. Look for the imperial masters to seek “disaster capitalist” (Naomi Klein) opportunities in the terrible tragedy in Haiti, which has been suffering the shocks and aftershocks of world capitalist empire since the end of the 15th century.
Recommended organizations for 'on the ground' donations from Canada Haiti Action Network
Haiti, "Classquakes," and American Empire by Paul Street, via ZNet
Our Role in Haiti's Plight by Peter Hallward, The Guardian
Haiti Disaster Capitalism Alert by Naomi Klein, via ZNet
January 18, 2010 in Activism, Capitalism, Development, Economics, Empire, Environment, Imperialism, Neo-Colonialism, Oppression, Racialization, The Voices of Others | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)
In an article written in 1969, Willis argues, "For women, buying and wearing clothes and beauty aids is not so much consumption as work. One of a woman’s jobs in this society is to be an attractive sexual object, and clothes and make up are tools of the trade. Similarly, buying food and household furnishings is a domestic task; it is the wife’s chore to pick out the commodities that will be consumed by the whole family."
Being self-consciously occupied is an effective means of social control; our world is kept so narrow that we are marginalized from important political discussions.
This point is touched on in Sarah Haskins hilarious and tragic review of advertisements marketing to women in 2009.
'Women and the Myth of Consumerism' by Ellen Willis
It has been a time of endings and beginnings for me. A long battle with months of infections came to an end and now I begin a new battle as my muscles resist a rude awakening as I return to regular mobility. A relationship ended and now I go forward refusing to fear that I am unlovable because I have a chronic illness. I have also parted ways with a political organization as I grow more confident in my own convictions and seek a politics of authenticity that begins with relationships in my own community. Finally, as someone who was raised as an atheist, I have begun to discover my own spirituality in ways that inform my daily choices and political perspective.
I have found nourishment in the pages of Starhawk's Dreaming in the Dark: Magic, Sex and Politics. She writes,
We must also demand that our politics serve our sexuality. Too often, we have asked sexuality to serve politics instead. Ironically, the same movements that have criticized sexual repression and bourgeois morality have themselves too often tried to mold their sexual feeling to serve the current political theory. This tradition includes 19th century revolutionary asceticism, the New Left's demand that women practice free love (meaning sex without involvement), the fear of lesbianism in the early women's movement, and the mandatory separatist line taken by some in the later women's movement. Too many generations have asked: What do my politics tell me to feel? The better question is: What do I, at my root, at my core, desire?
I have found myself in political organizations that are drowning in their own academic rhetoric. Let me say it plainly: if you refer to yourself as the "left intelligentsia," you have little to contribute to a popular movement let alone a revolution.
Lerner's call for a politics of meaning resonates with me. We have to return to the basic building blocks of community: "people respond to an inner need, not to a commitment to an abstract idea, nor the sense that someone else ought to be treated differently..."
In my own process of soul searching, Starhawk's emphasis on symbols and images guides me to Frida Kahlo's work.
I stare at this image - The Two Fridas.
I find an essay on her work by Jeanette Winterson titled 'Live Through This':
The victory is more than personal. It is a victory offered to everyone who looks at her pictures. If you can see yourself as the centre, and not as the edge, if you can see yourself as many-minded, protean in possibility, which is the vision of the self offered by Kahlo, then there is a chance at freedom. In our world, most people feel powerless, their lives determined by others. Here is a woman who should have been powerless, her body determined by injury, yet who recreated herself. Her paintings have a moral and spiritual dimension that goes beyond a simple confrontation with the moment. They hit the questions all of us have to ask: 'Who am I? What am I? How can I be free?'
When Kahlo first came out of hospital, she lay in a four poster bed with a small mirror hanging from it. She looked in the mirror and she saw herself. That is what she painted. She could not look outside, and so she looked inside. Communism, Fascism, Imperialism, war, none of these things passed her by, but she could not be a young man up a stepladder painting the world. Action and art are sometimes the same thing, sometimes not.
I sometimes literally feel imprisoned in my body and it makes me uncompromising about my freedoms in other aspects of my life. I see so many "healthy" people living in fear. They may support radical ideas, but they are not radicals.
While Winterson's closing thoughts are on art, they apply to politics more broadly:
I love Kahlo's work because it puts the personal right where it should be - at the centre. She is always self-conscious, never self-indulgent. True to herself, never lost in herself. If you believe, as I do, that art contains the whole world - its inside as well as its outside - then debates about autobiography, or documentary, or realism, soon become false. What matters is not autobiography, but authenticity. Not documentary but witness. Not realism, but reality. What matters is that the work takes us nearer to ourselves and further towards an understanding of life in all its complexity. Kahlo is a great artist because that is what she does.
So, I patiently wait for my body to strengthen. I wait to go out with people to rally, laugh, cry, fuck, sweat and fight. I crave an animated existence. I am ready to lay down my books and revisit another form of learning...
'Left Needs Soul Searching' by Murray Dobin, The Tyee
Starhawk. (1997). Dreaming in the dark. Boston: Beacon Press.
Winterson, J. Live Through This. Modern Painters. (June 2005) p. 98-103
As many of you know, the Canadian national anthem actually begins:
Seriously, is that an acknowledgment that this land was stolen from indigenous groups?
Growing up, I took it to mean our land of origin or natural land...What did you think?
Anyway, studying migration over the past few years in world that cannot be described as anything other than a system of global apartheid, I have become leery of nationalism and associated holidays.
I've been slowly making my way through Yves Engler's recent book 'The Black Book of Canadian Foreign Policy' which is described as follows:
This book could change how you see Canada. Most of us believe this country’s primary role has been as peacekeeper or honest broker in difficult-to-solve disputes. But, contrary to the mythology of Canada as a force for good in the world, The Black Book of Canadian Foreign Policy sheds light on many dark corners: from troops that joined the British in Sudan in 1885 to gunboat diplomacy in the Caribbean and aspirations of Central American empire, to participation in the U.N. mission that killed Patrice Lumumba in the Congo, to important support for apartheid South Africa, Zionism and the U.S. war in Vietnam, to helping overthrow Salvador Allende and supporting the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile, to Haiti, Iraq and Afghanistan today.
Anyway, I have to work today so I don't have time to develop this entry as much as I would like to...but I will leave you with a recent article by Todd Gordon which analyzes Canada's official response to recent events in Iran, Honduras and Peru in an article titled 'Acceptable Versus Unacceptable Repression: A Lesson in Canadian Imperial Hypocrisy.'
June has been a difficult month for progressive activists around the world. Mass protests in Iran and indigenous blockades in Peru were met with heavy repression, while a left-of-centre President in Honduras was ousted in a military coup. What these tragic events do offer us, however, is a very clear perspective on Canadian foreign policy.
Consider the Canadian response to the events in Iran. Canada issued three press releases on the events in Iran, all by Foreign Affairs Minister, Lawrence Cannon. The first was on June 15 after the repression against the protests challenging electoral fraud began. It called for an investigation into the allegations of fraud by the Iranian government and condemned the government’s move to ban protests.
On June 21, after perhaps the worst day of violent repression of protesters in Iran up to that point by government security forces and the government-aligned militia, in which more than a dozen people were killed, Canada issued a sharp condemnation of the Iranian government. In the press release, Cannon stated that:
“Canada condemns the decision of the Iranian authorities to use violence and force against their own people … The Iranian people deserve to have their voices heard, without fear of intimidation and violence. Canada condemns the use of force to stifle dissent, and we continue to call on Iran to fully respect all of its human rights obligations, both in law and in practice, and to conduct a thorough and transparent investigation into the fraud allegations.”
A third statement was released on June 25 calling for the release of political prisoners and personally criticizing the Iranian official put in charge of the investigation of the detained reformist leaders.
But what did the Canadian government say following the first rumblings of a potential military coup against the moderately left wing Honduran president, Jose Manuel Zelaya, on June 25? Nothing. As of the evening of June 29, it had issued one rather tepid press release late on June 28, more than 12 hours after the coup became known outside Honduras.
And what did the Canadian government say when over 50 indigenous activists in Peru were gunned down on June 5th by military and police forces for protesting their government’s free trade policies? Nothing. The massacre of indigenous protesters in Peru, many of whose bodies were then dumped by police in a river, didn’t rate any mention at all.
So why does Iran rate a sharp rebuke, but a military coup in Honduras and brutal repression in Peru inspire cautious condemnation and silence respectively?
Canadian Economic Interests versus Human Rights
For starters, the Iranian government is a part of the “Axis of Evil” in the war on “terror,” of which Canada is an eager member. Thus Iran is a fair target for criticism when it moves to crush dissent, as it should be. (Though we should be mindful that the interests of Canada, like those of the U.S. or U.K., aren’t necessarily a democratic Iran but a compliant one; one need only look at the history of foreign intervention in Iran in the 20th century to be skeptical about the intentions of imperial powers.)
But the situation is different when it comes to Honduras and Peru.
In Honduras, Canadian corporations – largely, though not exclusively, in mining – are major economic players. According to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, from 1996-2006 Canada was in fact the second largest foreign investor in the Central American country. Mining companies like Goldcorp, Yamana and Breakwater Resources benefit from a mining law passed in the wake of Hurricane Mitch in 1998 that strongly favours foreign corporations over the rights of local communities. The mining law and Canadian investments, particularly Goldcorp’s San Martin open pit mine, have been the target of large demonstrations and blockades over the last few years by indigenous peoples and small farmers whose lands and livelihoods are threatened by the expansion of – well documented – ecologically-disastrous Canadian mining.
In active support of Canadian capital (and foreign capital more generally) in Honduras, the Canadian government has supported, through the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), structural adjustment (now described as Poverty Reduction Strategies). Structural adjustment is aimed at the neoliberalization of the Honduran government and its public policies. Among other things, CIDA committed $1.5-million from 2004 to 2010 toward a program at the Universidad Nacional de Honduras to assist in the development and implementation of the country’s Poverty Reduction Strategy process. The Canadian government has also been pursuing a free trade agreement (FTA) with Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua and El Salvador.
It should come as no surprise, then, that social movements opposed to mining investment and reactionary mining laws are a threat to well-established Canadian interests in Honduras. President Zelaya was also not on the best of terms with the mining industry. In his inaugural address in January 2006 he declared a moratorium on the granting of new mining concessions. While by no means stopping existing exploration or halting operational mines, this move was nevertheless seen as a threat to the security and stability of mining in the country, and industry officials responded with lobbying and advertising campaigns to push their interests.
Zelaya’s tenure also saw the adoption of a minimum wage increase, measures to nationalize energy generation plants and the telephone system, and Honduras’s entrance into the Venezuelan-initiated Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas, a political and economic formation that seeks to counter imperialist influence in the region.
Against this backdrop Zelaya, supported by trade unions and social movements, called a vote for June 28 to determine if a majority of Hondurans wanted to have a referendum during the upcoming elections in November on convening a constitutional assembly. If called, the constitutional assembly would seek to replace the current constitution, adopted in 1982 by a brutal American-backed military regime, with one more inclusive and democratic. Such a constitution could very well further jeopardize mining interests in the country.
But the vote – to decide whether or not to have a referendum – was strongly opposed by the anti-Zelaya-dominated Congress and Supreme Court and by the military, all of whom claimed it’s illegal. Their efforts to block the vote in the days leading up to it brought thousands of Hondurans onto the streets, as the first concerns about a potential coup were raised. But early in the morning of June 28 the military made its move, violently detaining Zelaya at his house and then deporting him to Costa Rica. Anti-Zelaya President of the Congress (and fellow member of Zelaya’s Liberal Party), Roberto Michelletti, read a letter of resignation later in the day allegedly signed by the ousted President, but Zelaya denies signing the letter. The military occupied the country, establishing checkpoints at the entrance of towns, while the national telephone system, cell phone service and the energy grid has been shut down in a number of areas.
The threat to the interests of the Canadian government and corporations has subsided, at least for the time being.
And so the Canadian government is much cagier around the situation in Honduras than it is with respect to Iran. The Organization of American States (OAS) did pass a resolution on Friday June, 26, after the first rumblings of a coup were heard, which called for the maintenance of democracy and the rule of law. Yet, at the same time, in the special session of the OAS Permanent Council on the situation in Honduras held that same day the Canadian representative remained silent. Foreign Affairs and International Trade issued no press release on the 26th or the 27th condemning the clear threat to Honduran democracy.
A press release was finally issued by Peter Kent, Minister of State for the Americas, very late in the evening of June 28. While Kent condemns the coup d’état, he “calls on all parties to show restraint and to seek a peaceful resolution” to the crisis, as if all parties, including Zelaya and his supporters, are responsible for the military-orchestrated coup or are equally unrestrained in their actions. This position is echoed in the Canadian representative’s statement to the OAS Permanent Council following the coup on the 28th. Canada has thus far failed, furthermore, to call for the reinstatement of the Honduran President, placing it politically behind the United States, which has called for Zelaya’s return, in its response to the coup.
Non-Response to the Massacre in Peru
In Peru, meanwhile, Canadian companies have over $2.3-billion in investments, ranking fourth among foreign investors in general but first in mining, according to Foreign Affairs and International Trade. In an effort to strengthen the rights of Canadian capital in the Andean nation and lock in its access to Peruvian resources, Canada signed a free trade agreement with Peru late in 2008.
CIDA has also been busy at work in Peru, spending over $24-million between 2002 and 2009 on public sector reform (aimed at “improving efficiency”), developing new institutional and regulatory frameworks in the hydrocarbons sector (promoting “international private sector investment”), and reform in the mineral sector. Export Development Canada (EDC) – a government credit agency designed to finance Canadian foreign investment – recently posted a permanent representative for the Andean Region in Lima. EDC President, Eric Seigel, proclaimed that “EDC intends to become a permanent member of the Andean financial community, supporting growth for both Andean and Canadian companies operating in the region.”
And so Canada said nothing when Peruvian President, Alan García, sent in a 600 strong police and military force – including armoured personnel carriers and helicopter gun-ships – to crush a blockade of a major highway by 5,000 indigenous activists. The military and police assault led to the deaths of fifty protesters and the disappearance of many – possibly hundreds – more, according to indigenous organizations. Nine police officers were also killed during the assault when indigenous people fought back in self defense against the massive government show of brutal force.
While Canada remained silent about the repression in Peru, it couldn’t contain itself when, a mere two weeks later, Stockwell Day, Minister of International Trade, proudly announced that legislation to implement the Canada-Peru FTA was passed by parliament. But it was precisely the neoliberal and Free Trade policies of García that sparked the blockades in the first place. García, who has a long history of violence and political corruption that led to his exile in the 1990s, has moved to open up large swathes of indigenous land in the Amazon to foreign resource companies, sweetening the deal for Canadian and other foreign companies with low tax and royalty rates and cheap government-subsidized electricity rates.
The result, predictably, has been a steady growth of Canadian and other foreign resource firms in the Peruvian Amazon, and increasing confrontations between them and indigenous communities. Canada’s FTA with Peru, along with the American FTA, will only intensify the conflicts surrounding resource development and indigenous land.
If it’s Good for Canadian Business…
It’s no accident that the Canadian government quickly and sharply condemns some instances of repression, such as that in Iran, while it ignores or tepidly responds to others. If it’s good for Canadian business, then it’s okay. This is imperialist Canada in the developing world: exploit people and their resources to make a buck, and if some repression is required along the way, well so be it. This isn’t just an American act; it’s a Canadian one too, and it’s becoming all too familiar.
It’s also worth noting here that Canadian involvement in Honduras and Peru (and many more countries besides) extends beyond investment interests and financing neoliberal reform. Canada has also trained Honduran and Peruvian military personnel through the Military Training Assistance Programme (MTAP). The MTAP provides language, officer and “peace support” operations training to roughly 1,300 military personnel from sixty-three different developing countries a year. According to its Directorate, the MTAP serves to “promote Canadian foreign and defence policy interests.” It “uses the mechanism of military training assistance to develop and enhance bilateral and defence relationships with countries of strategic interest to Canada.”
It happens to be the case that many of the participating countries are ones with which Canada has, or is hoping to develop, strong economic ties and which have troubling human rights records, including Peru and Honduras.
The reality of Canadian involvement in the third world is an ugly one, and deserves greater attention from the Canadian Left. The Honduran and Peruvian situations are not the exception to the rule of Canadian foreign policy. They represent the normal practice of the Canadian government defending Canadian business interests against the human rights of workers, poor communities, and indigenous peoples.
'Acceptable Versus Unacceptable Repression: A Lesson in Canadian Imperial Hypocrisy' by Todd Gordon via New Socialist
A Different Picture of O Canada:
The Black Book of Canadian Foreign Policy by Yves Engler
In October of 2005, Amy Steele - a notable writer in Calgary - wrote the following piece about a pro-life campaign that misled women to believe that an abortion could cause breast cancer:
And the executive director of the Calgary Birth Control Association Sexual and Reproductive Centre, Pamela Krause, questions the motivation behind the campaign.
The pro-life group LifeCanada has launched a website (www.abortionbreastcancer.ca) and has put up 38 billboards across Canada, including three in Alberta, to get their message across. The billboards feature the breast cancer ribbon used by the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation and state "Stop the Coverup."
Joanne Byfield, president of LifeCanada, says her organization decided to launch their campaign because it’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month. On its website, the organization argues that women who have abortions have an increased risk of breast cancer because they are delaying childbirth and breastfeeding. Both breastfeeding and giving birth to a child at an earlier age have been proven to reduce the risk of breast cancer.
This is something Canadian women should be aware of," says Byfield. "This link has been studied for over 50 years. There are 50 some studies that do show an increased risk, and by and large women are not told about the possibility of an increased risk of breast cancer when they choose to have an abortion. We think that is unconscionable.
LifeCanada alleges on its campaign website that there’s been a major coverup of the link, and Byfield says that’s because "abortion is a sacred cow in this country."
"In Canada, to challenge the status quo on abortion makes you a complete pariah," says Byfield. "Just because we as a group do not think abortion is good for women and children does not mean everything we say can be discounted as biased and everything pro-choice groups say is truth."
However, Boychuk says the society carefully monitors and weighs all scientific evidence on cancer.
"Our number one priority is providing women with the best information that is available and we’re there to serve them and give them support in terms of reliable information that’s science based," says Boychuk.
Boychuk says if women want "reliable" information on breast cancer they should go to www.cancer.ca.
Krause agrees there is no conspiracy to hide information from women and describes the LifeCanada campaign as "unfortunate."
"There is nothing hidden from women who make the choice to have an abortion," she says. "The difficulty is research can be found and statistics can be developed around any issue from a particular bias, and I believe they’re operating from a specific bias."
In response to this article, Dan Bidulock - the new VP Academic of Graduate Students' Association at the U of C - wrote the following letter to FFWD magazine:
Let's all follow the example of Pamela Krause, executive director of the Calgary Birth Control Association. She questions LifeCanada's motives in campaigning to link breast cancer with abortion. I don't know about cancer or alleged coverups, but I can think of two things that might motivate the monsters over at LifeCanada to spread these "lies": women's health and the welfare of unborn babies.
Every day children are sacrificed to the gods of convenience, economy, and whim in numbers that would make Montezuma himself cringe. We're a long way from the jungles of ancient Mexico, yet the savagery continues. How is murdering the most helpless among us accepted and even lauded in our society? LifeCanada's claims of breast cancer aside, there are hundreds of couples in this province alone that would adopt an unwanted baby. Abortion is selfish, senseless, and dehumanizing to both mother and child.
I am just going to make three comments about this letter and then consider the implications of this type of reasoning for someone who holds the position of VP Academic.
So, it seems that the new VP Academic believes the ends justify the means.
Bidulock will fit in well, however, with the current executive of the GSA. Incidentally, he lost the general election, but effectively harassed the true winner out of her position with the help of the executive. You see Bidulock supports the GSA's anti-CFS agenda and certainly appears comfortable employing unethical strategies to meet political agendas. For certain, the GSA uses its own unethical tactics to push their agenda of de-federation from the Canadian Federation of Students.
I have seen firsthand how the executive flat out lies about the CFS, while also explicitly acknowledging that they REFUSE to invite the CFS to visit the campus to respond to any concerns U of C students may have, including those of the executive.
And while I cannot provide evidence (note: this claim could be false), I was told by a former staff member of the GSA that the executive conspired to remove all the information pages about the Canadian Federation of Students from the day planners that the CFS supplies as part of the services that students pay for with their CFS levy each year. In fact, according to the staff member, the children of the Executive Director were hired with student funds to tamper with student property.
I encourage everyone with a day planner to check to see if the CFS pages have been removed from your planner.
Finally, students should know that the GSA passed a motion in April to no longer pass on the money levied from students to the Canadian Federation of Students. So while students' accounts will show that a levy was collected for the CFS, the GSA will actually not pass on the money collected in the name of the CFS. Misleading? Yes.
Instead students' money will go into a "reserve fund" until 2015 at which time the Graduate Representative Council will decide what to do with the "fund." So know that money is being taken from students while denying them the benefit of CFS services. And likely students' will not receive any benefits of the levy since the fund will likely not be used until after paying students have graduated!!!
See what I'm saying about lack of integrity when it comes to the means this executive will employ to achieve its myopic political goals?!