Fatuous, Dangerous, Utterly Irresponsible

by Eddie Ford

We call for the immediate legalisation of all drugs.

Few issues generate so much irrationality as the question of drugs. Rather we get tabloid-driven, moralistic sound and fury, where small things like facts and evidence are blindly ignored – indeed, themselves become objects of righteous condemnation. Naturally, the government – and, of course, the Tory government-in-waiting – is compelled to join the ‘anti-drugs’ mob, locked as it is into the unwinnable ‘war on drugs’, a prisoner of its own myths and desperate rhetoric.

Hence on becoming prime minister, Gordon Brown promptly – and stupidly – declared that cannabis was “lethal” and, following a media frenzy about the supposed dangers of ‘skunk’, insisted that cannabis be re-reclassified from its then current official governmental status as a class C drug back to the more ‘dangerous’ class B it had been prior to David Blunkett’s 2004 regrading (or downgrading). While the ‘anti-drugs’ Daily Mail was cock-a-hoop at this development, this Alice-in-Wonderland comment set the tone for the Brown administration’s thoroughly backward and reactionary approach to the whole issue – which, in just about every respect, has been more irrational than the one pursued by Blair or the previous Tory government (yes, including Margaret Thatcher). Continue reading

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Stephen Harper’s Illusions

by Fidel Castro Ruz

The leader of the Cuban Revolution, Fidel Castro, said in his latest written reflections that the Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the US President Barack Obama should be questioned about what position will they assume towards the Malvinas issue in the upcoming Americas Summit.

I think –and I do not intend to offend anyone- that this is how the Prime Minister of Canada is called. I deduced it from a statement published on “Holy Wednesday” by a spokesperson of the Foreign Ministry of that country. The United Nations Organization membership is made up by almost 200 States –allegedly independent States. They continuously change or are forced into change. Many of their representatives are honorable persons, friends of Cuba; but it is impossible to remember the specifics about each and every one of them.

During the second half of the twentieth century, I had the privilege of living through years of intensive erudition and I realized that Canadians, located in the northernmost region of this hemisphere, were always respectful towards our country. They invested in areas of their interest and traded with Cuba, but they did not interfere in the internal affairs of our State. Continue reading

Refugee Policies Should Be Evidence-Based

by Susan McGrath

Photo: 2010 Legal Observers/Flickr

Canadian policy-making on refugee issues is ignoring the evidence of leading researchers in the field. Empirical research that would improve refugee legislation and the practices of our refugee determination system is being overlooked to the detriment of refugees and the Canadian public.

A key example is the immigration detention process.

Professor Delphine Nakache of the University of Ottawa recently completed a detailed 100-page report on the Canadian immigration detention system managed by the Canada Border Services Agency. The research methodology was comprehensive including site visits, key informant interviews, and a review of government reports and academic literature. Ms. Nakache drew on key international and domestic legal principles to review Canadian practices and looked at statistics on who is detained and on the system’s cost.

Her research raises a number of concerns about the current system including its legality and practices.

Ms. Nakache points out that international human rights law requires that immigration detention should be the exception rather than the rule; must be in accordance with the law and not arbitrary; and that the detention conditions be humane.

Her findings are disturbing. Refugee claimants including women, children, and people with mental health issues are being detained in prisons across the country including high-security prisons where they must wear prison uniforms, may be handcuffed and shackled when moved for medical treatment, and their access to legal counsel and communications is severely limited.

CBSA detention facilities are not sufficient for the number of people that they choose to detain so local, provincial, and federal jails are being used resulting in inconsistencies in services and jurisdictional tensions.

Ms. Nakache’s efforts to determine how many refugee claimants were being detained were not successful because of the inadequacy of CBSA statistics; they do not distinguish between refugee claimants and those whose claims have been denied nor do they count minors detained with their parents.

She found inconsistencies in decisions made by CBSA officers across the country; the likelihood of being detained appears to depend on the port of entry where the asylum seeker arrives.

Similarly, she was unable to comment on the cost effectiveness of the system because of the lack of available, up-to-date data. The information she did uncover suggests that detention is very expensive. The cost of detaining the 492 men, women, and children from the MV Sun Sea is over $22 million. Treating these people as regular claimants would have been considerably cheaper and certainly more humane.

Canadian system not charter compliant

Ms. Nakache’s study builds on the 2011 work of U.K. researcher Alice Edwards who studied international law governing detention and provided a critical overview of existing and possible alternatives to detention drawn from research in five countries including Canada.

She concludes that there is no empirical evidence to give credence to the assumption that the threat of being detained deters irregular migration or discourages persons from seeking asylum. Threats to life or freedom in an individual’s country of origin are likely to be a greater push factor for a refugee than any disincentive created by detention policies in countries of transit or destination.

She also found that over 90 per cent of refugee claimants and people awaiting deportation comply with the terms of their release from detention and that the alternatives to detention are a significantly cheaper option.

Australian researcher Amy Nethery confirms that two decades of immigration detention in Australia have not deterred asylum seekers arriving by boat. The rise and fall in the numbers of arrivals correspond with the rise and fall of people movement globally.

In addition to being ineffective, detention is extremely expensive and is harmful to those detained. A recent systematic study of refugee claimants in detention by Janet Cleveland and colleagues at McGill University shows that even short-term detention has a negative impact on the health of both adults and children that may persist long after release.

The evidence shows that the Canadian detention system is flawed and not compliant with the Canadian Charter; detention is not a deterrent to people seeking refuge and is detrimental to their well-being; and, alternatives to detention are cheaper, effective, and more humane. But the CBSA continues to detain on average 5,000 men, women, and children every year. The proposed bill, C-31, Protecting Canada’s Immigration System Act allows for refugee claimants who arrive in groups to be subjected to mandatory detention for up to a year.

Government policy-making should be based on empirical evidence not false, misleading, and often egregious assumptions about the motivations and behaviour of people legally seeking the protection of our country. The perils of ignoring such knowledge are too great — legally, socially, and economically.

Canada has a strong network of academic and practitioner researchers across the country working on forced migration issues, and they are linked with international colleagues. The Centre for Refugee Studies at York University has been producing leading research for almost 25 years and is hosting the global refugee research network of over 1,000 members. The now-defunded Canadian Metropolis project has five university-based research centres across the country with over 600 researchers focused on migration and settlement issues.

The March 9 virtual conference of the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers brought together 250 academics and practitioners from six different sites across the country to debate the proposed refugee legislation.

The upcoming May conference of the Canadian Association for Refugee and Forced Migration Studies at York University is to feature over 120 research presentations.

Canadian policy-makers have a rich resource of refugee research to draw on and our refugee policies and practices need this knowledge and expertise if they are to be legal and humane.

Susan McGrath is the director of the Centre for Refugee Studies at York University. This article was first published in Embassy Magazine.

Heavy-Handed Response to Protest a Worrying Trend

by Rick Gunderman

One of the chief wonders that modern technology has produced, at least as far as activism is concerned, is the ability to document undeniable video evidence of police brutality. Previous victims of police violence had to rely chiefly on procuring eyewitnesses, and even then it was the word of a handful of private citizens against that of a police officer. The occasional sympathetic judge notwithstanding, victims were routinely denied justice.

A disturbing trend, however, is the relative absence of any real outrage over police brutality when the victims are protesters.

A simple search of YouTube for videos of police violence against Occupy protesters will yield countless results, few of them showing police acting in “self-defence” or using “reasonable force”.

Demonstrators at past G20 summits will remember the hostility of security forces. The Toronto summit in 2010 produced a record number of mass arrests, with 1,105 people arrested and 99 criminal charges laid. The price tag for this display of state power was over $2 billion.

Protests across Europe, notably in Greece, Spain and the UK, have all produced scenes of heavy-handed security forces brutalizing protesters. Rarely is there any visible evidence of what the victims might have done to require such a response.

The fight against tuition fees and education costs has been forefront on the international progressive struggle, particularly in countries without universal post-secondary education. Attempts to raise tuition sparked riots in the United Kingdom in 2010, and most recently students in Quebec have mobilized to fight against steep increases in the costs of education.

The struggle in Quebec shows a lot of promise. Students from both English- and French-speaking universities have joined together in protest, and previous mobilizations in that province have produced results. Their current target is the right-wing, reactionary Charest Liberal government. The increasingly centrist (and in some cases, right-wing) Parti Quebecois has demonstrated little willingness to take up the struggle or even offer more than isolated token gestures of solidarity.

Provincial politics in Quebec, previously among the most left-leaning and progressive in all of North America and especially among the non-Spanish speaking countries, has experienced a major right-ward drift in the last decades, ostensibly in the name of “moderation”. Revolutionary activists recognize any appeals to “moderation”, “middle ground” and other empty slogans as pure class collaborationism. This correlates with the abandonment of the socialist, then later social democratic, principles of the Quebec independence movement in a bid to court “moderates” to help them achieve their goal. Carrying on this tradition today in Quebec is Quebec Solidaire, a federation of socialist and left parties, including the Parti Communiste du Quebec, but the PQ and the Bloc Quebecois have lost much of their dedication to left-wing goals.

In the grander context of Quebec history, the sovereignty movement had firm working-class roots and faced themselves against the largely English-speaking bourgeois class in Quebec. As the sovereignty movement brought the grievances of poor, working, Francophone Quebecois to the forefront of Canadian politics, centrist and right-wing forces alike saw the value in placating their demands, but not through the methods they largely demanded.

By employing methods of raising the political, economic and social standing of Francophones in Canada as a whole and in Quebec in particular, the Liberal and Conservative Parties federally and the Liberal Party provincially produced the convenient side effect, intended or not, of introducing bourgeois elements into the sovereignty movement.

The sovereignty movement having led most of the progressive, working-class and anti-oppression struggles in Quebec, the debasing of its pro-worker program had the profound impact of robbing the progressive, revolutionary and democratic movements in Quebec of their most valuable allies. The PQ and BQ have since fallen into irrelevancy, as recent elections suggest, and they have nothing to blame but their abandonment of class struggle.

Within this context, the increasing willingness of right-wing and centrist elements in Quebec politics to call on security forces to repress left-wing demonstrations becomes less mystified. Student protesters on Champlain Bridge in Montreal, for example, are facing arrests and charges with no visible support coming from the PQ.

A similar trend of abandoning class struggle swept through the social democratic and democratic socialist parties in most of the developed world in the 80s and 90s, with the “Third Way” of Tony Blair’s Labour Party in the UK epitomizing this effect. The responses of British police, whether under the Labour Party or the Conservative Party, are similarly heavy-handed.

Other places in Europe experience similar responses, but to radical movements that still have some vitality. The French progressive movement has been historically very radical, and the responses of the various historical reactionary states in France have been consistently violent. The place in Europe where the communist movement is today in arguably the best position, leading a broad section of democratic and revolutionary elements in society, is Greece. The confrontations between demonstrators and police there are notorious.

This shows a desire by the reactionary forces that rule the liberal democratic states of the West in the name of the people but in the interests of the capitalist class to repress radical, progressive, revolutionary politics, both dormant and active.