Reflecting on the Climate Strike: What Happens Now?

| Chantelle Spicer, Editor | It has been just over a month since the global climate strike on September 27th. It was reported that approximately 800,000 people across Canada stood up and called out for action on climate change that day. Though the majority of attendees turned out in Vancouver and Montreal, strikes occurred in nearly every city in the country, including Castlegar, Trail, and Nelson. Actions such as these are impressive, capturing the spirits and headlines, though most of the time only for a short time (a media cycle generally).

So what happened at the strike if we are to reflect on it? What has happened since? And where do we go from here?

It is apparent that masses attended for these events, ranging from labour unions to Indigenous rights leaders, but it was primarily students of all ages who showed up to demand change for their futures. However, the experiences of these events is not felt as a homogenous group of those calling for climate action.

Since September 27, a number of voices have been raised calling on racism within the environmental movement. In Canada this has been primarily been experienced by Indigenous peoples. One Indigenous attendee of the Montreal strike described hostile encounters with fellow strikers who expressed a variety of racist comments on the topic of land rights and justice. A recent climate action in Vancouver on October 25th saw similar statements on reddit, with some attendees not seeing the point of Indigenous speakers calling on justice over land rights in the narrative of climate change.

However, the fact remains that Indigenous communities suffer first. Displacement is a human rights violation because it destroys the cultural sustainability of communities that have existed in these places for thousands of years – and it is these communities at the forefront of combatting colonialism and capitalism. Examples of intersections between Indigenous sovereignty and climate change are everywhere (because they are inherently linked). This includes Standing Rock and #NoDAPL protests which centre on the idea of sovereignty. For a Canadian context, one can look to the Unist’ot’en through the jurisdiction of the hereditary chiefs of the Wet’sewet’en Nation, who stand against Coast GasLink operations on their traditional territories. The Secwepemc Nation is also their traditional territory from natural resource extraction through the Tiny House Warriors project, which seeks to halt the TransMountain Pipeline.

The September 27 strikes also saw political leaders joining in the marches in Ottawa, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Many other politicians of the sitting government sent out tweets of support for those marching. This did not escape the ridicule of their critics who have recognized 4 years of inaction on climate policy or actions, such as the national purchase of the TransMountain Pipeline, that experts have recognized as contributing to climate change and injustice.

The Liberal Party did not release a platform on the environment until September 25, with the first announcement of this occurring at the Climate Strike event, where Liberal plans for proceeds from the TransMountain pipeline to contribute to climate action. At a media event, Justin Trudeau pledged that a re-elected Liberal government would plant two billion trees over the next 10 years. That amounts to about $300 million per year and the Liberals expect that it will create 3,500 seasonal jobs in tree planting. The Conservative platform contains no targets for greenhouse gas emissions.

This may have been a sign of support or allusion to action to come (?); however, climate change, actions, or policies were barely mentioned during the 2019 Federal Election campaign by the Liberal party . When the topic of climate was brought up, discussion occurred primarily through the lens of taxes. This despite statistics that show 30% of Canadian voters considered this a top ballot-box issue. Completely absent from the nuanced topics of climate change within the campaign period included the loss of legislated protection over water, agricultural policy, and food sustainability (not to mention the aforementioned Indigenous land rights). With the re-election of the Liberals into a minority government on October 21, many are watching to see how accountable the parties are to these issues and actions required.

Even a surface-level critique of the Trudeau governments (in)actions on climate change show much lip-service paid to the idea of change, but very little accountability to the messaging. This is not just about analyzing directly climate-related policies, but also about examining the intersections of environmental policy and social issues. This includes federal government imposition of militarized RCMP units used against nations defending their traditional territories from natural resource extraction projects, the ongoing inaccessibility to post-secondary education (which would assist with transitioning workers to green energy sectors among other benefits), and the criminalization of poverty. The onus is on Mr. Trudeau to convince Canadians that his policies and the expected outcomes from them are credible and deserve support. The people of Canada, particularly the youth, are ready to hold the government to account on this.

Climate strikes have continued to happen around the world, with Greta Tunberg returning to Canada on Friday, October 25th before a crowd of over 10,000. This morning of action coincided with the filing of a lawsuit from 15 youths across Canada who declare that the federal government’s policies have contributed to high levels of greenhouse gas emissions and are making “dangerous” contributions to climate change. Further showcasing the power of youth in this movement, 27 youth with the group Our Time were arrested in the House of Commons on Monday morning after attempting to stage a sit-in to demand a Canadian “green new deal” be the first priority of all 338 MPs elected last week. They had 338 letters to deliver to the new MPs that listed demands including a cut to emissions in line with international scientific consensus, respecting Indigenous rights, creating good new jobs and protecting the most vulnerable people.

Groups such as Extinction Rebellion have also risen to prominence in the wake of global climate strikes. The group has its roots in UK western scientists calling for action on climate change, who first took hold of headlines for declaring a rebellion against the U.K. government, which it claims has not done enough to address the climate crisis. The group has stopped traffic in Oxford Circus, tied themselves to a train in the Underground, and vandalized oil company Shell’s headquarters. Here in BC, scientists have signed on in support of the call to action, along with chapters of Extinction rebellion opening up throughout the province. The group has taken significant criticism for its disruption to public transit (often viewed as a form of climate action) and the inaccessibility to the movement for many who would wish to participate (many marginalised groups are not in a place to be able to be arrested for actions taken by the group). Though controversial, the group has set precedents for protecting the right to protest following police action against protests that was ruled as unlawful.

So, where do we go from here in this recent rising up the climate-environmental movement? It is clear that youth/students are not just participating in these movements, but are leading them. In this role, we need to create and be a part of movements that are accessible to those who are most impacted by climate change and toxic environments, while also welcoming those in the center-right of the political spectrum. We need to ensure that our movements are anti-capitalist and anti-racist in nature. We need to ensure that we are not relying on marginalised groups to educate us, but instead that we act as good allies and uses any privilege we carry to lift up the voices of those marginalised by the system. We need to use our messaging and tactics strategically so as not to alienate potential members of our movements. We also need to ensure that our movements are allied with those we share principled relationships with such as the labour movement (including those of migrant workers), peace movements, and women’s rights movements. There is more power in these intersections.

Pop Art and the Art of Political Revolution by Shepard Fairey

Most importantly, we need to take part in ways that are true to ourselves. This includes recognizing that standing up in the streets is not the only form of taking part, nor even the most effective, given its unsustainable nature. It is about finding ways to take part every day – this can include writing op-eds in our local papers, becoming a monthly contributor to an organisation doing god work, making and putting forward art that takes on climate justice, and writing to your government representatives at all levels. The potential for taking action and making change and using your voice is endless, especially when united. By ensuring that youth and other participants in climate strikes find avenues such as these to engage in climate action, we are able to move beyond these big days of action to enshrining these actions within our every day life. It is not about the performance of revolution on one day, but the ongoing practice of revolution and people’s power within our everyday lives.


The Fight Against Fees: A Look Back on a Year of Student Activism

Part Two: Building Campaigns and Solidarity

| Chantelle Spicer |Following years of governmental neglect, mismanagement, and under-funding in post-secondary, students across the province are organising to fight back against ever-increasing fees. In the previous section, we discussed what brings students on campus to this fight and how we see our current educational culture. But how do we take these realizations and frustrations and turn them into powerful action?

Each organisation from our own SCSU to the SFU Tuition Freeze organisers to the UVic Graduate Student Society took a different tact to mobilize and address the needs of their fellow students. However, the need to recognize support and intersections with other organisations was foundational.

The Selkirk College Students Union began building consciousness and gathering support amongst students at the beginning of the 2018-19 academic year. This is the third year that the SCSU has organised around a tuition freeze campaign, which includes gaining solidarity within the local and campus community. Partners in solidarity on the issue of affordability in post-secondary and the freeze on Selkirk Tuition included CGEU Local 709, SCFA Local 10, USW 480, BCFS, West Kootenay Labour Council, Nelson and District Women’s Centre, West Kootenay EcoSociety, and Wait’s News.

Partners in solidarity from many labour unions in the region spoke at the Tuition Freeze Rally in January of 2019

President of the Selkirk Faculty Association Lui Marinelli states its important to recognize the role Selkirk plays in the region and its impact on students.

“Selkirk College is critical to our region in providing education to young and old, to prepare those now ready to work, to those who need to change their work, and to those who just want to learn. As tuitions increase, an education becomes less and less affordable and available. The administration needs to do more to find alternative sources of income to offset cost of living increases. The students have been burdened for far too long.”

Numerous reports show that this burden effects students well beyond their educational lives and into their careers, shaping the types of jobs they are able to take and where. A recent survey by the SCSU showed that even when finding summer work between semesters, 40% of student responders stated they were forced to find jobs outside of the Kootenay region. By partnering with labour unions, students not only strengthen their voices in calling for an affordable education, but recognize the link between their educations and future work experiences.

Samson Boyer, Director at-large with the SCSU explains besides the lived experiences and hopes of the students themselves, this solidarity is the heart of the Tuition Freeze campaign.

“The SCSU has had strong connections to our local labour unions for many years and have stood together on many campaigns. This solidarity comes from a place of mutual benefit, as many of our members come from a working class background and have to work to pay for their tuition. The fight for worker protection, rights and fair wages are battles that many students are thrown into and become committed not only to student issues but worker issues as well. The solidarity between students’ unions and labour unions is a vital one as students inevitably join the work force to pay off their student debt and they need a fair wage to do it.”

Student organisers with SFU Tuition Freeze Now also recognized early that this was not only a fight about affordability in education, but also reproducing larger social issues rooted in capitalism and exploitation within post-secondary structures. Every day, in institutions of higher education, students are offered a vision of the world that tries to legitimize this system, to keep it going – given tools to justify why this system is the best we can do, and why we, as students, should be thankful for our freedom. 

Tuition Freeze Now organiser Jorji Temple describes this, stating:

“Whether it’s the hereditary chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en or a group of undergraduate students, we’re told we are wasting our time, and not to bother – not to get involved. And if we do, if students at university resist in a meaningful way, there’s always security guards to escort us away, or police to arrest us. We’re spared the worst of the violence, and we become advertisements for the tolerant ‘free’ country that we live in. We have to interrupt students’ hopelessness about our futures and the future of our communities, and empower each other to resist – for ourselves, each other, and those who come after us.”

Tuition Freeze now organisers identified many community partners both on and off campus to call for more affordability in education, tying their work into larger movements in the city that address growing rates of inequality and injustice.

Activist and Vancouver city councillor Jean Swanson joined students in a rally in March.

“We have a huge wealth gap in our society. One thing that’s making that gap worse is rising tuition,” explains Swanson.

“It means wealthy people continue to have access to ways to get wealthier, while lower income folks either can’t access it or are saddled with debt. It’s absolutely possible to allocate wealth differently and many young folks know that. They’re at the centre of organizing for change because they’re feeling the effects and know we can do better. They’re working toward free tuition so post-secondary education is accessible to all.”

Student organisers from UVic tied their fight into inequality as well, specifically the impacts of tuition rate increases on students and community member already marginalized by current structures of post-secondary. An open letter to the UVic Board of Governors, students expressed urgency and dismay regarding the proposed increase to international student tuition fees that would be voted on at their March 2019 meeting. This letter clearly outlines the ongoing student outcry and protests to the decoupling of international and domestic student fees in 2017 and the increases and exploitation that followed.

Phillip Henderson, a student organiser with the UVic Graduate Student Society states that students on campus recognize:

“The steady hikes to tuition fees since the 1990s have resulted in one of two things: (1) a ballooning of private student debt, which results in a disciplining of the student population on campus and of the workforce post-graduation; and (2) those without financial means to risk taking on debt deciding not to go through post-secondary education at all.

This results in more homogenous and increasingly bourgeois student body – a phenomenon that is only deepened and exacerbated by the way in which institutions like UVic have chosen to target international students for such exorbitant increases because they lack the protected status afforded to domestic students. In this way, importantly, neoliberalization of education both relies on and reinforces processes of othering and of structural racism and xenophobia.”

It should be noted, that during the Spring 2019 term, students of Langara College in Vancouver were also organising through the efforts of the student club, Langara International Socialists (though I have ben unable to reach them for quotes and insights into their organising).

Student organisers in Vancouver also worked across campuses to raise awareness on a variety of issues from Indigenous sovereignty and the Uni’stot’en Camp to housing as a human right.

An event titled “Burn the Palaces: Tuition Freeze Now,” hosted by SFU Tuition Freeze Now took place in February and featured speakers Annie Bhuiyan and Kayla Phillips, from SFU Tuition Freeze Now and Left Alternative; William Lin a student activist at SFU in the 60s; Matt Rowan from the UBC Social Justice Centre; Bradley Hughes from Langara College and the International Socialists, and Vincent Tao of the Vancouver Tenants Union and Our Homes Can’t Wait Coalition.

This event was important in showcasing the importance and promise of cross campus solidarity in the long-term. Quentin Rowe-Codner of SFU Tuition Freeze now stated:

“As socialists and activists, we are all familiar with the all to common sight of a movement that we have helped build from the ground up reach an extraordinary peak, only to wane and lose momentum after the smallest of gains have been won. However, in practical circumstances, great efforts will still need to be made in order to retain support, momentum, and struggle. This is where cross campus solidarity comes into the mix. Having a central network of various campaigns allows for consistent organizing and reliable support when there is a urgency or lull in action.”

In our next instalment, “The Thick of It,” we will take a look at the culmination of campaigns themselves before Board of Governors and administrative responses to students standing up for their rights.

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Columbia River Treaty Negotiations: Communities, Observer Status, & Meaningful Consultation?

The contemporary history of the Kootenay region has been defined and transformed by development – both on the rivers and along side them. Though the dams are highly visible infrastructures on our landscapes, the stories of the people are less visible but their impacts are just as strong. With renegotiations of the Columbia River Treaty happening, it is an important time to consider what the impacts have been, could be, and how the people impacted by these decisions are considered within the treaty.

The Columbia River Treaty is a trans-boundary, water-management agreement between the United States and Canada, ratified in 1964 following years of negotiations that had begun in the 1950s. The treaty sought to optimize flood management and power generation, requiring co-ordinated operations of reservoirs and water flows for the Columbia River and Kootenay River, on both sides of the border. However, dams and power (both social and electrical) were not new to the region – beginning in the 1890s increased development brought to the area through mining, hydro development began to take place. From the first hydroelectric plant built in Nelson in 1896 on Cottonwood Creek, to the large BC Hydro developments on the Kootenay and Pend d’Oreille Rivers and the new power plants built by the Columbia Power Corporation, hydro development has long been a part of the region.

The Corra Linn Dam, located at the outlet of Kootenay Lake to the western end of the Kootenay River, was built in the 1930s

This is a also a long history of changing communities. Takaia Larsen, a History professor at Selkirk College, explains that the original Columbia River treaty negotiation forever changed transportation, work, recreation, and communication in the Arrow Lakes region. Historically people, both Indigenous and early settler communities, were more connected via waterways than highways. The impacts of the dams and flooded lands were extensive, forcing 2,300 people from their homes in the Arrow Lakes region. The dams took a heavy toll on the ecosystem, prior to construction the Columbia River was considered the world’s richest salmon river. Despite these far-reaching impacts, neither Indigenous people nor residents of the impacted communities were included in the original treaty negotiations.

However, when Treaty re-negotiations were announced in May of 2018, both the US and Canadian governments rushed to include public consultations in the process, as well as include previous consultations from the BC government in 2012-13. Announcements in April of 2019 also saw the Canadian government applauding its inclusion of the Ktunaxa, Okanagan and Secwepemc Nations who had been utterly excluded from the original 1956 Treaty. The Nations have been providing input and declaring their right to participate in decision-making through public consultations for decades.

Katrine Conroy, B.C.’s Minister Responsible for the Columbia River Treaty, stated at the announcement that “this is an important and unprecedented step in demonstrating our commitment to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and to our journey towards reconciliation.”

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, Chair of the Okanagan Nation Alliance expressed gratitude for the opportunity to ensure any new Treaty addresses the mistakes of the past.

“The original Columbia River Treaty in 1964 excluded our Nations, and wreaked decades of havoc on our communities and the basin. Canada’s unprecedented decision to include us directly in the US -Canada CRT negotiations is courageous but overdue and necessary to overcome the decades of denial and disregard. We welcome the government’s bold decision here.”

However, the Nations have been given only observer status within the process. MLA Conroy’s office has stated that having Indigenous Nations participate as official observers is unprecedented. “

There is no roadmap for exactly what this will look like, but our government and Global Affairs Canada are working closely with the Ktunaxa, Okanagan and Secwepemc Nations to determine the best approach.”

What is known for certain is that representatives of these three Indigenous Nations will be in the negotiating room and will observe negotiations between Canada and the U.S. They will also be actively participating in the break-out sessions during the course of the negotiation meetings. The Canadian government is currently finalizing an agreement with First Nations formally describing their involvement during the period of negotiations more generally, as well as protocols during negotiations sessions.

“Indigenous Nations are a key part of the process, Conroy’s office states. “They have been working closely with the governments of B.C. and Canada since February 2018, to develop and refine negotiating positions and strategies. This collaboration will continue as Indigenous Nations become observers at the Canada-U.S. negotiations.”

Furthermore, the Sinixt First Nation, who held great power and influence in the region prior to colonization and settlement, do not hold observer status within the re-negotiation. The Nation had (conveniently) been declared extinct in the region by the Canadian government in 1956 – just prior to the signing of the original Treaty. This eliminated a need for government consultation with the nation, eliminating any uncertainty in the progress of the project. The Nation is now held within the Colville Confederated Tribes in Washington.

As stated by Marilyn James and Taress Alexis in the book Not Extinct: Keeping the Sinixt Way, it disrupted the ability of the Nation to come back to their territory, carry out responsibilities, exercise influence, and maintain seasonal rounds.

Members of the Sinixt Nation following the BC Court of Appeals announcement confirming their rights and existence with their traditional territory in the Lakes region.

When the actions of the Treaty were implemented, the Sinixt were further removed from the landscape through folding and destruction of archaeological sites – up to 99% of the archaeological record were lost in the building of the Keenleyside Dam in Castlegar. It has also restricted the salmon from their traditional territories as well, further disrupting relationship and culture with the Sinixt Nation.

“To me, this stem of the Columbia River represents much more of what’s happening to us socially, politically, environmentally. It represents what is happened to this entire region.” ~ Marilyn James

Though the Sinixt Nation recently won a case for the BC Court of Appeals declaring their rights and existence within the Kootenay region, their inclusion in the Columbia River treaty re-negotiation must be put forward by the US government.

It is easy to see the difference between including Indigenous communities and actually listening to them. Consultation processes acrid the country that involve natural resource extraction are rife with lack of meaningful incorporation of Indigenous concerns. Even the observer status being applauded by the Canadian and BC governments is far from the nation-to-nation negotiations that would be a part of a decolonized process.

There have been moments in history where consultation processes with communities and industry have proven to be meaningful. A shining example of this is the Berger Inquiry of 1974, which was undertaken to investigate the social, environmental, and economic impact of a proposed gas pipeline that would run through the Yukon and the Mackenzie River Valley of the Northwest Territories.

Justice Berger heard testimony from diverse groups with an interest in the pipeline. Fourteen groups became full participants in the inquiry, attending all meetings and testifying before the commission. The inquiry was notable for the voice it gave to Indigenous people of the region, whose traditional territory the pipeline would traverse. Berger travelled extensively in the North in preparation for the hearings. He took his commission to all 35 communities along the Mackenzie River Valley, as well as in other cities across Canada, to gauge public reaction. In his travels he met with Indigenous leaders and citizens, non-aboriginal residents, and experts.

Berger’s report first volume was released on June 9, 1977 and followed with a second volume several months later. Titled Northern Frontier, Northern Homeland, the two-volume report highlighted the fact that while the Mackenzie Valley could be the site of the “biggest project in the history of free enterprise,” it was also home to many peoples whose lives would be immeasurably changed by the pipeline.

The result of this Inquiry and report was a ten-year moratorium to deal with critical issues—such as settling Aboriginal land claims and setting aside key conservation areas—before attempting to build the proposed pipeline. It also set the stage for many young Indigenous people of the region to feel and understand their power as leaders and partners.

One has to wonder where are Inquiries like this at a time of increasing Indigenous sovereignty, increasing inequality, and governments touting mandates and actions towards reconciliation.

Though far from the Berger Inquiry, Selkirk College and the Community Colleges of Spokane will be hosting the One River: Ethics Matter Conference at the Castlegar Campus on May 30 and 31. The sixth annual event invites those interested in new approaches to ethical governance of the river system to take part in two days of workshops, field excursions, expert panels and discussion. The conference is under the direction of the Ethics & Treaty Project, which is hosted jointly by the Center for Environmental Law & Policy and Sierra Club with support from the Columbia Institute for Water Policy. This is the first time the conference has been held in the West Kootenay, with previous gatherings taking place in Missoula, Revelstoke, Boise, Portland and Spokane.

“This is an excellent opportunity for people of our region to get a well-rounded look at the issues facing the Columbia River Basin,” says Jennie Barron, the Chair of Selkirk College’s Mir Centre for Peace and one of the members of the planning committee. “We are bringing together a diverse group of people from both sides of the border who care deeply about this river and what it means for the generations to come.”

Larsen encourages community members to participate in the process however they can, stating “the renegotiation is not going to change our region back. Archaeological sites will still be flooded, villages will still be under water – that damage has all been done and is a history impossible to overturn. However, the Columbia Basin Trust is a really important part of the region’s economy and this provides the only real form of redress for the damage caused by the original treaty.” 

Public consultations will occur throughout the region during 2019. However, given the international nature of the Treaty, as well as obvious power dynamics, how thoroughly and meaningfully community concerns and voices will

For more background information on the Columbia River Dams, please see the Touchstone Museum’s virtual exhibits.

For more information on the Berger Report, please visit https://www.pwnhc.ca/exhibitions/berger/


Organising Together: Canroots 2019

| Chantelle Spicer | Organisers from labour, the environmental movement, tenants’ rights, and youth advocates gathered together in Vancouver on April 13 & 14 for a conference to reflect on challenges and victories over the previous year and make plans moving forward. The event, Canroots West 2019: Together We Win put on by Organize BC, focused on the power of mass movements when they are able to work together, following the lead of those most affected by social inequities and marginalization. What many took away from the conference, myself included, was the pivotal moment we are in considering the visibility of climate change and ongoing social injustice within our communities.

The range of speakers addressed their area of expertise while also including the importance of organising together for change. Keynote addresses came from individuals with various social movement backgrounds including Sharmarke Dubow, City Councillor in Victoria, Musqueam women’s and land rights activist St’agid Jaadl, and Sophia Zaia of the Sunrise Movement, which is progressing the Green New Deal in the States. Many workshops and speakers spoke to the role of digital and social media in raising awareness within union membership or the public, but also the real need to move this awareness into real world action.

Nikita McDaniel of the Save Cottonwood initiative in the Kootenay region attended the conference and was inspired by the opportunities to learn from other social movements.

“Over the weekend, I feel like Canroots far exceeded my expectations. Not only did I get the chance to learn from the experience of the speakers, but I was provided with the opportunity to connect with and learn from the other attendees. I was astounded by all the efforts being expended to solving the more complicated issues we face. In being surrounded by this wealth of knowledge, I came home revitalized and with a new view for my own campaign to save Cottonwood and Apex.”

Of particular interest to me were workshops and conversations surrounding the labour movement and their role in cross-issue organising and consciousness raising. Over the past decades, unionization in Canada has been on the decline – in 1958, more than 50% of BC’s workers were unionized, but by 2014 the unionized labour force had shrank to 30%. So how do labour unions stay relevant not only for their membership, but also better address larger social issues we all face together? How do we raise awareness and mobilize all workers regardless of unionization rates?

First up on my conference schedule were Emma Pullman and Stefan Avlijas, campaigns and communications organisers from the BC Government Employees Union. The heart of this presentation was also my heart – reminding us all of where we come from historically as a labour movement to inform how we move forward through this second gilded age. Avlijas spoke to the disconnection many workers feel within their workplaces as labour unions have grown in size and merged. In many cases, this has severed the person-to-person relationship that are key to mobilizing and organising. The focus then becomes how do we meaningfully reconnect workers to each other, their rights, and their context in the realities of intersecting issues – all of which centres around the need to raise class consciousness.

Foundational to this is shifting union structure away from bureacractic leadership and putting power back into the hands of the workers. Organisers within the BCGEU have seen meaningful leadership coming from their members on issues that matter to them such as housing, climate change, and the opioid epidemic.

“No collective agreement can fix affordable housing or climate change. We need to use labour unions as vehicle for building class consciousness within our membership to make this kind of large scale change. Its not happening in secret, like the bargaining process, its out in the open for all to join in,” stated Avlijas.

With this in mind, union Locals organised regular opportunities for workers to get together to discuss issues and solutions for the problems they see around them, making the union about more than bargaining and entering workers in the campaigns and conversations.

It is my hope that unions increasingly undertake this kind of foundational work to inspire and (re)connect their membership, but also for the membership – for workers – to demand more of their unions. This is point is particularly driven home by recent BCGEU defence of a two-tier pay scale for community-base social service workers. In recognizing the need to organise with and between other social movements, so to do we need to work for the rights and equality of all workers.

Also on the program was an opportunity to hear from long-time union leaders Marie Pantellis and Harjeet Dahmi from the Hospital Employees Union, who spoke to organising women of colour within an unstable industry. HEU employees were highly impacted by Bill 29, which was introduced by the Liberals in 2002, allowing the province to tear up the B.C. Hospital Employees’ Union contract and led to the layoff of more than 8,000 unionized health-care workers. Though Bill 29 was repealed in 2008 after being declared unconstitutional, it left a legacy of exploitation amongst hospital workers such as contract flipping (the practice of terminating existing unionized employees under one contract and then hiring the same employees for lesser wages and benefits under a new contract), leading to highly precarious employment for workers already marginalized by existing systems.

Pantellis and Harjeet spoke to a very different kind of union and organising style than that expressed by the BCGEU. In the case of HEU workers, the vast majority of their membership are women of colour who live and take part in their own community and cultures (many of which are hesitant to take part in union activism), many speak English as a second language, and work 2-3 jobs. This means that organisers become a part of community and family life, building lasting relationships of trust. It also means that organisers must have an understanding of the cultural reality for their workers (ie. will their husband allow them to join the union, to rally, or protest?) However, once organised, the workers are quick to build a community, creating more worker-led, worker centred mobilizing.

The second day opened with conversations about transitions into greener economies through the Green New Deal, which has been making headlines in the States and now in Canada as we move towards a federal election. The central pillars for this deal, as related by speaker Sophia Zaia, include equity seeking initiatives to ensure justice and opportunity for all communities. The success of policy and industry change on this scale will require the coming together of all mass movements, unifying their power.

In hearing of the Green New Deal, I am always hopeful, but left uneasy in my belief that reforms of this magnitude are not possible under a capitalist system. With exploitation of workers and the land at its heart, I do not believe it is possible to reform capitalism in a way that makes space for justice and equity. Despite reforms coming from federal and provincial BC governments over the past 3 years – changes many viewed as hopeful – the realities of inequality for many people on the ground has not shifted at all.

No one recognized this more fully than keynote speaker St’agid Jaadl, who humbled me with her honest and open conversation with the audience from her perspective as an Indigenous activist. “I am often tired,” she sated. “I look around and see the need for change in my people, in my community, and feel the weight of the effort required and the strength of colonialism. We cannot rely on governments to make this change – no matter right wing or left wing…its all part of the same bird. It takes a constant reminder that there are others working beside me – my ancestors, communities in all corners of our country, allies I cannot even imagine – to keep going.”

Like the theme of the Canroots conference implies, this kind of allyship and cross-equity work is integral to success in organising moving forward. There needs to be a recognition across all social movements that principled relationships need to be built to ensure social justice is at the heart of our work. I think it was important for me as an advocate to hear from and about the people on the ground working to enact change in their own way, reaching out to others in solidarity to make bigger change….the concentric circles of hope, learning, and work.

It will be interesting (and important) to see how (and if) these conversations become a part of larger national conversation with the impending Federal election. In many cases, our lives and the environments we know depend on all incorporation of profound hope, critical reflection, and meaningful change into policies at all levels of government (…or a revolution).


The Fight Against Fees: A Look Back on a Year of Student Activism

Part One: Why We Fight

| Chantelle Spicer |Following years of governmental neglect, mismanagement, and under-funding in post-secondary, students across the province are organising to fight back against ever-increasing fees.

Decreased operational funding for post-secondary institutions has resulted in capitalist funding models that view students as consumers and undermines the values of a post-secondary education to our communities. This shift in how we view and publicly support education through funding is a violation of social contract that has existed in Canada since the Second World War, whereby working class families could rely on their ability to send their young people to post-secondary.

Instead, what families and young people are facing is institutional and public policy culture that requires individuals to shoulder all the costs of education. This results in students being deterred from entering post-secondary due to fear of debt, escalating drop out rates due to financial burden, or debt loads averaging $34,500 at graduation. On top of these costs are things we all share as a community – decreasing affordability or accessibility of housing, food insecurity, and lack of child care.

For many this means not even considering a post-secondary education as a reality in their lives or plans. Selkirk College Students’ Union Chair, Santanna Hernandez, did not believe that higher education was attainable for her as an Indigenous woman. Now, completing her Bachelors of Social Work with an Indigenous specialization, she recognizes that this is more than personal, but part of a larger conversation of accessibility nation-wide. 

“As someone who found post secondary inaccessible until my adult years, I want to ensure anyone who wants to access post secondary has the opportunity. We need to continue to fight so no one grows up like I did thinking it was out of reach.”

Students at Selkirk College attend the Board of Governors meeting for the vote on increasing domestic student tuition fees.

This neoliberal post-secondary structure has resulted in decreased accessibility to education for may working class students and communities already marginalized. It has also resulted in exploitation of whole demographics of students.

Phil Henderson, a student organiser at the University of Victoria recognizes the insidious impacts of this, stating: “this results in more homogenous and increasingly bourgeois student body – a phenomenon that is only deepened and exacerbated by the way in which institutions like UVic have chosen to target international students for such exorbitant increases because they lack the protected status afforded to domestic students. In this way, importantly, neoliberalization of education both relies on and reinforces processes of othering and of structural racism and xenophobia.”

Organisers with the Tuition Freeze Now campaign from Simon Fraser University speak to this further, stating: 

“We are students who find ourselves within institutions that exist to reproduce a complex social system. This system is based on the gendered exploitation of more than half the population and the dispossession of Indigenous peoples, and it sustains it through white supremacist violence..the world we find ourselves in is not organized for equity or fairness.”

Students rally together as part of the Tuition Freeze Now campaign during the SFU Board of Governors meeting

Though many reading this do not need an education on issues facing students, building a consciousness about the systemic issues facing students is important. Having an understanding that issues faced by students are shared and fought against is also important. In the face of growing inequality in our society and removed decision-making happening within institutional governance, knowing there are those out there fighting for rights to education can provide perspective or inspire further action.

During the 2018-1029 academic year, student groups at the University of Victoria, Simon Fraser University, Langara College, and our own Selkirk College students fought for a tuition freeze, one of the first steps towards acknowledging the cost of education and the need for affordability. This series will provide voices of student organisers on the frontlines of fighting for student rights as they move forward with intent towards affordable and accessible education. The shape of these campaigns played out uniquely according to the environment of each campus and directive of organisers, though all show dedication to providing a socialized system that allows our community members to pursue their goals through a quality post-secondary education.


Identifying Realities Faced by International Students in Post-Secondary

International students come to Canada for an opportunity to access one of the top ranked countries for higher education globally. Yet 16 years of flat or reduced core funding to universities and colleges has resulted in institutions being forced into a reliance on ever- increasing fees charged to international students.

Currently, British Columbia hosts almost one-third of all international students in the country. The province has experienced the largest increase in proportions of international students at institutions of any province: between 2004 and 2013 the proportion of international students increased by 6.7% (from 10.9% to 17.6%). Unprotected by a legislated cap, as domestic students are, international student fees at universities in BC have risen 538% since 1991.

It is clear that the value and impact of international students extends much farther than the campus at which they are studying. International students contribute to the local economy on things such as living expenses, arts and culture, and recreation. According to a report for Global Affairs Canada, it is calculated that in 2015 these expenditures totalled $3.12 billion in annual spending, contributing to over 26,000 jobs. This is a direct contribution of $1.77 billion to the provincial GDP and over $176 million in income taxes. With this data, it is easy to see the ways that the federal and provincial governments rely on international education as a crucial export to boost their respective economies; however, without regulation this is a highly unstable situation, which could collapse without warning.

Though important, it is not economies that this article is concerned with, but rather those impacted by the exploitive nature of international student fees – the students themselves – and the needs for better supports and protections.

Across the province, one of the biggest financial challenges facing international students is the inability to properly budget for a 4-year degree. In any given year, fees may increase by as much as 9-18% with increases based on whatever the institution deems required to balance its budget. This is an unsustainable model that often results in students struggling to stay in BC to finish their studies.

At Selkirk College, international student tuition fees were frozen during the 2017-18 academic year, though a recent Board of Governors decision will have incoming students will facing a 10% increase in May.

A secondary challenge to the current policy context is that there are no notice requirements for fee increases. Institutions are able to implement substantial fee increases with only a few weeks of notice, leaving students scrambling for resources from their home countries. Unlike domestic students, international students who fail to obtain the necessary resources face not only removal from their courses and programs, but also removal from the country – oftentimes tens of thousands of dollars in debt and no degree to show for it.

“The reality is that students are in search of a better life for themselves and families; Canada provides that opportunity, and so they risk everything,” states Yasmine Monrose. If Selkirk College wants to create and promote a healthy campus environment, they need to take this into consideration when planning and strategizing for the academic year.”

The stressors that international students face are similar to those faced by domestic students, ranging from access to safe and affordable housing to employment support to counselling. However, these issues are compounded by feelings of isolation and culture shock. Students and their allies are currently putting pressure on institutions to offer the support international students need, rather than focusing on increasing the numbers to meet financial need.

Monrose encourages the Selkirk community to do better for international students stating: “In essence, Selkirk College needs to be aware of the gravity of the issues facing international students. International students have very limited choices for assistance. As a result, they rely solely on the college for support in dealing with these issues. Therefore, the college needs to ensure that the activities held on campus are inclusive and expose students to various cultures that exist on campus.”

“As an Indian student, I know what issues I face,” says Ramanjeet Kaur in speaking about a event today that invites community members to learn about and discuss the realities international students face in our communities. “We want to address this openly so that everybody gets a better understanding and we can take action on issues.”

Kaur says challenges faced by international students include accommodation, employment, transportation and acceptance. Many of the issues are not unique to international learners, but due to the cultural differences, difficulties can become compounded. Students want to let those interested know a little bit more about themselves and how they navigate both challenges and opportunities.

Institutions are aware of the pressures international students face and the ongoing work that is required to alleviate this. At Selkirk College, a number of supports are offered that specifically target the need for inclusion. This includes assistance with immigration, accommodations, and employment supports. This spring a 2-year international student education plan will begin to be implemented, which will encourage more inclusive structures within curriculum. 

Rhonda Schmitz, the Director of Student Development, explains that Selkirk College is always seeking new ways to support international students.

The Selkirk College community will engage in meaningful dialogue with all employees and students to enhance our understanding and awareness of the rich rewards of inclusion and diversity and we plan sharing our learnings with interested community partners through a variety of communication strategies, such as presentations and social media.”

Research has shown that when institutions take these actions to embrace diversity and create socially supportive school contexts, this can improve the social inclusion and academic success of not just international students, but all students. The benefits of this will be seen in the long term: international students who feel better integrated and greater belonging in their community are much more likely to complete their studies, and are more likely to stay after graduation and become part of British Columbian society and labour force.

“In many ways, Canada is a very tolerant country, but the quickest way for that to break down is when people stop talking,” Janzen, an instructor in the Peace and Justice Studies department states. “Immigration and race are two topics on which people have very strong opinions, and yet at the same time, we seem to be very hesitant to talk about them, outside anonymous online forums. We need to develop safe spaces where we can come together to have important conversations, while at the same time, get to know each other.”

Selkirk College Students Union, along with partner unions in the BC Federation of Students, are currently campaigning on this issue through “Fairness for International Students,” which highlights the need for support and to raise awareness around those most exploited by the current system. The BCFS undertook extensive research to contribute to the campaign, which recommends amendments to the Tuition Fee Limit Policy to include regulations that provides protection for international students and a provincial educational plan that includes supports for international students to assist in their cultural, social, and academic integration.

Santanna Hernandez, Chairperson of the SCSU explains that it’s important for domestic students to stand up for fairness for international students.“What domestic students do not realize is that our education needs international students. Not only are we richer for getting to know these incredible people from around the world, but due to drastic under funding from the government many institutions are dependent on international students and therefore would not exist for domestic students to attend. This system needs to be fair for all students, as we all contribute to our educational and broader communities in many – and equal – ways.”

An event this evening seeks to provide community members an opportunity to discuss this nuanced and important topic more in depth. International students who are part of the Peace Studies 101 class will share their experience and those in attendance will be encouraged to bring forward questions. The event runs from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Friday, March 29 at St.Rita’s Church in Castlegar (513 7th Avenue).

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Podcast Playlist

| Chantelle Spier | Over the last 10 years, podcasts have increasingly become the way we obtain news, share ideas, and explore concepts. Though radio itself seems to be on its way out in many regions, podcasts have spawned new independent broadcasting companies as well as provided a format for established outlets. Here are a few different shows to spark or expand on an interest.

If you are at all curious about the world around you, this is an amazing place to start digging for answers and stories. From technology and architecture to sounds and objects, host and network Radiotopia founder, Roman Mars, explores the life of our designed world, and how it affects us. Since the show’s humble beginnings in 2010, Mars and his staff have been bringing us well-researched and thought-provoking shows—without a single repeat. Since then, the show has gained great notoriety, having 150 million downloads through iTunes.  Not only that, if you enjoy the podcast version of the show, check out the website, where many more stories exist in both audio and article form (https://99percentinvisible.org). Even though the podcast has come a long way, it is still an independently produced show, supported by donations from droves of loyal and loving listeners.

Where to Start: My personal favourite episodes are “Wild Ones Live,” which takes on a topic not often covered by 99PI – the wilderness, and “The Mojave Phone Booth,” the epic story of one man’s relationship with a remote telephone booth. I’m also a huge fan of the episode, “The Revolutionary Post,” which explores the foundations of the US Post in relation to creating America. There is no bad place to start, and the vast archives never feel out-of-date.

The CanadaLand broadcaster presents a variety of podcasts that provide nuanced critiques of Canadian media and politics. Not only do you, as a listener, get a more in-depth examination of an issue, but also an understanding of how we come to understand that issue through media representation. The main show, CanadaLand, hosted by journalist Jesse Brown, is a weekly exploring everything from media coverage of climate change to government actions towards reconciliation (or lack thereof) to how different media outlets cover elections (ie. who owns what media). Other shows include the recent investigative coverage of issues regarding police and violence in Thunder Bay, Ontario and Commons, which is marketed as a politics show for people who hate politics.

Where to start:   Given that these are primarily news shows, listening to the most recent episodes is the most relevant; however, a lot of the topics covered are ongoing issues within Canadian media and politics. I thoroughly enjoyed the Thunder Bay podcast, which was the broadcasters first foray into deeply investigative journalism. The realities for residents of Thunder Bay, particularly Indigenous folks, comes through in the expert storytelling and facts presented. A list of their podcasts can be found at: https://www.canadalandshow.com/podcasts/

Ologies host Alie Ward breathes a lot of life and enthusiasm into a range of scientific fields from biology to anthropology – and some ‘eulogies’ you have never heard of! Each episode is an interview with an individual who is an expert in their field of study, giving “ologists” an opportunity to share their passions, answer listener questions, and provide us an opportunity to explore a topic we have perhaps never thought of. This show is regularly in the Top 10 science podcast downloads – and for good reason. Science and scientific research are often inaccessible to the general public, hidden behind journal paywalls and jargon, so this show is very valuable to increasing public understanding on a range of topics. Don’t be fooled by Alie’s silliness as a host – she is a powerhouse of scientific knowledge and knowledge activism as a correspondent for the CBS series Innovation Nation, and host of “Did I Mention Invention?” on the CW, as well as having written for L.A. Weekly and the Los Angeles Times. 

A major bonus of this show, besides being generally amazing, is that it is entirely funded by listeners through Patreon and merchandise sales. This means not only are there are no ads, but the accountability to listeners is strong with this one.

Where to start: With an extensive backlog, there is no wrong answer here, so don’t be daunted! Recent favourite episodes of mine have included Kalology (beauty standards) – the follow up bonus minis ode to this actually made me cry on the bus its so powerful – Corvid Thanatology (crow funerals – how cool!), and Selenology (study of the moon).

Modern Love is a podcast presented by NPR and the New York Times and offers listeners personal stories about the intricacies of love in today’s world. “Modern Love” is a long-standing column in the NYT and this podcast provides host Meghna Chakrabarti and editor Daniel Jones the opportunity to go deeper, sharing some of the best stories about love today. 

Ranging from familial to intimate partner relationships, each episode is a deeply personal and beautifully reading contributed by a fellow listener and brought to life by a celebrity voice. In a world of increasingly complex personal relationships within technology, this show is a reminder of our humanity within interactions.

Where to start: Some of the episodes are pretty tear-inducing, such as the episode “Learning Humanity from Dogs” (the unconditional love of dogs always makes me cry anyway) read by Ethan Hawke, while others, like the “Hunter-Gatherer Parking Division” read by Jason Alexander, have made me chuckle. Other episodes provide some insight into complex issues, such as “Maddy Just Might Work,” which explores the complexity of coming out as a transgender parent.


“Justice” is Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Year

What did this mean in 2018?

| Chantelle Spicer | Editor at-Large of the online dictionary, Peter Sokolowski, states that the word “justice” is the 2018 ord of the year, having regularly appeared in the top 20 loo- ups of 2018. The online traffic around this word is up 74% from 2017 searches, with spikes occurring at certain points of the year when current events sparked interests. Though it is a word much used, how it is used may have encouraged thousands of people to look deeper into the word. Given the many philosophical or culturally understandings of “justice,” as well as the ramifications this can have in many lives, perhaps it is time we all begin to examine the idea a little more closely.

This year, news stories that circulated around the idea of justice included Kim Kardashian’s advocacy of criminal justice reform, credibility of the American Justice Department, and Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s sexual assault testimony in the appointment of now-Justice Kavanaugh – all of which have far more to do with injustice than justice.

Dr. Cristine Blasey Ford is sworn in to provide testimony regarding sexualized violence perpetrated by Brett Kavanuagh. Her testimony sparked worldwide solidarity and criticism regarding structures for reporting of violence and the #WhyIDidntReport movement.

We don’t have to look far to find those examples in Canada either. One which stood out in the headlines this year were the criticisms surrounding  the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) Inquiry. In response to decades worth of calls for action regarding the 1,200 (-4,000)* missing and murdered women and girls, the Government of Canada (finally) launched the entirely independent inquiry in September 2016. However, from the onset, the inquiry received criticism from Indigenous families, communities, and organizations on a number of fronts. Following on the heels of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, there are fears this is may be another instance of Indigenous communities being asked to share their stories – many of which are heartbreaking and horrific – to an official body that has no authority to offer any form of justice for women and may, in fact, further victimize families. This lack of authority is entrenched in the overarching mandate and jurisdiction of the commission, which cannot recommend that police re-open cases (though they aim to report instances systemic police bias or wrong-doing when heard during testimony). Furthermore, many families across Canada have reported facing many challenges in receiving support and resources – a promise made to families and communities at the onset of the Inquiry’s testimony period.

At the final testimony session given on December 10, 2018, Sunsan Frazer, a lawyer representing Families for Justice, stated:

“Families need to make sure that their loved ones did not die in vain. The death, the disappearance, has to have some meaning. And everyone who came before you to tell you their truth — that truth has to have meaning.

Those stories have to ground your report. Those tears that were cried have to have a purpose. People gave themselves to you completely, without reservation and at a great personal cost.”

The final report for the MMIWG Inquiry is scheduled for June 30, 2019.

artwork by Jon Labillois (http://jonlabillois.com), member of Member of the Listuguj Migmaq First Nation Band in Gaspe Quebec. This piece utilizes images of Indigenous women lost to violence in Canada.

Another aspect of justice to consider is: who has access to it? As seen in the MMIWG Inquiry, justice is something that can be offered (or not) – that it is not an inherent right, but may, in fact, be owned by the Canadian government and justice system and used however it deems fit at that time.

West Coast LEAF (Legal Education and Action Fund – an organisation focused on an equal and just society for all women and people who experience gender-based discrimination) published its annual report card on the province’s actions regarding the UN Convention on Ending Discrimination Against Women on December 6th. This report gauges the province’s compliance with UN recommendations from year to year, providing a yearly baseline of accountability. This year, LEAF assessed a C- grade, up from a D+ in 2017. This grade represents ongoing concerns regarding access to BC’s legal aid system, which continues to be under-resourced and incapable of meeting the public demand for legal assistance. The report shows that in January 2018, “Legal Services Society (LSS) publicly stated that it was refusing approximately 60% of applicants, 70% of them women, and that its level of coverage for family law matters fell far short of the nationwide norm.” For a number of reasons, this particularly affects Indigenous women, individuals with disabilities, and migrant workers. (to see more of the report find it at http://www.westcoastleaf.org/our-work/cedaw-report-card/)

Those who have faced violence in relationships may experience the most challenges to accessing justice (beyond even reporting the violence), which range from court delays to gaining assistance navigating the legal system. Though steps for improved access to justice were made, including the creation of an office for an independent Human Rights Commissioner, many more steps need to be taken before we could begin to call this “the justice system.

If we cannot find justice through our legal system, or if that form of justice does not meet one’s personal interpretation of justice, where do we turn? In recent years, restorative justice has been a focus of much conversation and work, though it has been a part of the legal system for over 40 years. This work is based on an understanding that crime is a violation of people and relationships, with principles of restorative justice being rooted on respect, compassion and inclusivity. Meaningful engagement and accountability are foundational the process, providing an opportunity for healing, reparation and reintegration for all parties involved. Restorative justice can take various forms and may take place at all stages of the legal system. It does have its critics, who call it “too soft” or lacking the integrity to make sweeping changes to society given the fact that it only works on a small, personal scale or case-by-case basis. However, this flexibility, opposed to the rigid framework of the formal legal system, may be its greatest strength, allowing for multiple understandings of what justice can mean – putting the ownership of justice into the hands of the people. This idea can be further explored through the idea of social justice, which is a concept defined as “the way in which human rights are manifested in the everyday lives of people at every level of society.” This intrinsic and shared vision of justice is shared by a wide range (if not all) equity-seeking social movements who seek to see social justice represented though taxation, social insurance, public health, public school, public services, labor law, and the regulation of markets.

One could go on about the various forms of injustice that have gone on in the past year, of the powerful rallying cries of those seeking justice that have occurred to date – and will continue to as we, as a society, demand more. As this article is written, treaties regarding Wet’sewet’en traditional lands are being violated for LNG projects, millions of people in Canada are living in poverty, survivors of sexualized violence live in silence – none of this looks like justice….and none of these actions are slowing down. In the coming year, as we seek to understand justice better (keep looking it up folks!), to demand it,  hopefully those who are the gatekeepers of justice will relinquish their hold….or maybe we will just take it anyway.

* Due to lack of proper or standard reporting mechanisms, it is difficult to gauge how many Indigenous women and girls have been affected by extreme violence. The official number recognized by Canada is 1,200. However, Annita Lucchesi, a doctoral student at Alberta’s University of Lethbridge, recently set up an online, national database which has already gathered 3,000 names.

Feature photo of Lady Justice created by Eddie Calz (https://www.deviantart.com/eddiecalz/art/Justice-604261220)

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Van Life: Moving House

| Callum David Pengelly|
What if the house you built with your own two hands was capable of moving to any forest, lake, or city? That is exactly what the tiny living movement is making possible.

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FEATURE: Kootenay Studio Arts – Jewelry

Kootenay Studio Arts (KSA) at Selkirk College’s Victoria Street campus will be putting on it’s annual Year End Show and Sale on June 22nd and 23rd this year.