Friday, June 27, 2008

Rick Hillier named Chancellor of Memorial University?

Rick Hillier has just been named the Chancellor of Memorial University in Newfoundland. It is hard to fathom bestowing such an honour on a man who is ultimately responsible for the deaths of 83 Canadian soldiers and countless Afghani civilians. He also must take some responsibility for the deteriorating mental states of hundreds of soldiers and for the transformation of Canada’s Military role from peacekeeping into a force for imperial occupation of sovereign foreign states.

As Chancellor, Hillier will congratulate students as they walk across the stage at convocation. Many students will now be put in the awkward position of shaking hands with a man whose former job was to kill people.

And this isn’t hyperbole. Hillier’s words are used by enemies and supporters alike:

"These are detestable murderers and scumbags. They detest our freedoms, they detest our society, they detest our liberties." -- Hillier on July 14, 2005, on Osama bin Laden and Islamist terrorists in general.
He added:
"We're not the public service of Canada. We're not just another department. We are the Canadian Forces, and our job is to be able to kill people."

With such a narrow-minded analysis, it’s hard to see what he could possibly contribute to any academic institution.

When one considers the increased level of military recruitment on campuses, perhaps Hillier’s appointment is more understandable. His approach to expanding the Canadian Military has been marked by a rise in advertising in student newspapers and inside bathroom stalls. The expanded campus military recruitment as the war on Afghanistan presses on is undeniable and Hillier's appointment as MUN Chancellor is just one more step toward the university-military industrial complex, which we continue to monitor.

After paying massive tuition fees and going so far into debt, it will be the ultimate insult for convocating students to be congratulated with a shake of Hillier's right hand while he is passing out job applications for the military with his left.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Police to set up shop within high schools

It was reported today in the Toronto Star that steps are being taken to bring police into many of Toronto's high schools, in a low-key, dressed-down capacity. John Campbell, Toronto District School Board (TDSB) chair said that this would only mean “guys in blue slacks and golf shirts meeting with kids.” The move to physically introduce a police presence into schools is in response to a report on school safety commissioned by the TDSB that called for "positive police interactions with students".

Immediately after the story was uploaded to the Toronto Star's website people began, and continue, posting comments, many in disagreement with this move. Despite earlier assurances of dressed down police occupying inner city schools there was subsequently a response from Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair, that affirmed that police will, in fact, be in uniform and armed.

This past weekend, representatives of the Ryerson Free Press attended the Allied Media Conference in Detroit. One of the workshops focused on a partnership between high school students from Brooklyn and youth in Palestine. The students from Brooklyn identified with those in Palestine because of similar experiences of repression from the police state.

While the students recognized that the oppression of an occupying force is somewhat different from state repression, many of the students talked about how heavy police presence negatively affects their education. They talked about dealing with daily backpack searches, metal detectors and a police force that is outwardly racist and aggressive toward students. Other students from Detroit and Chicago chimed in and agreed that they too face similar experiences.

The TDSB’s weak efforts will likely not be enough to quell Torontonians’ legitimate concerns that establishing police outposts in Toronto schools is the first step toward United States-style school lock-downs. At best, this move sends a message to Toronto’s students that their schools have decided to monitor them, rather than giving them the opportunity to empower themselves.

It is time that the provincial and federal governments step up and provide the resources necessary to combat youth crime. This should be done, not through more security, but through programs that can engage and empower youth, with curricula that reflect students' realities, by elimination of the Safe-Schools Act and by addressing the real issues of poverty. A greater police presence may make the TDSB and Toronto Police feel better, but the long-term impact on students themselves is the most important consideration when opposing this policy.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Conservative Government Attacks Yet Another Oppressed Nation

The Canadian government is no stranger to colonialism. Recently, it has been oscillating wildly on the issue, from acknowledgment of its own past wrong-doings to its unilateral support for occupying powers in racially motivated conflicts overseas. The latest move came last Tuesday, when Stockwell Day entrenched the Conservative government’s anti-Tamil slant by adding the World Tamil Movement to its terrorist financing list, forcing Canadian institutions to freeze its assets.

The WTM denies any funding links to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and says it will fight the terrorist designation. Shortly thereafter, the Canadian Tamil Congress responded to the announcement in a press release reminding Canadians that the conflict in Sri Lanka is a complicated situation which requires an even-handed approach.

Few places in the world have known such a long history of colonialism, race-related civil conflict, and poverty. Since the British relinquished control of the island in 1948, severe clashes between the largely Buddhist Sinhalese (approximately 75% of the population) and the Sri Lankan Tamils have gripped Sri Lanka. The Tamils were on the wrong end of Sinhalese-inspired language and cultural reform policy, differential university entrance requirements, and anti-Tamil mob attacks. In response, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, or “the Tamil Tigers” were formed, and began to fight for separate nation. The ongoing violence on the island has lead many to call Sri Lanka India's fallen tear".

Canada is home to the largest population of Tamils outside of South East Asia. With over 300,000 Tamils living in Canada, most of them in Toronto, it is surprising that the federal government has named the WTM as a terrorist organization, thereby decisively choosing what is considered by many, an anti-Tamil position. The move to designate the WTM came just days after a Toronto-area university student, who was incidentally Tamil, was arrested in Sri Lanka for possession of an infrared heat detector, CDs, and mechanical grease.

If Canadians are keen to shed the image of oppressor and colonizer, their government would do well, at the very least, to be more balanced in its approach to international civil conflicts.