Friday, June 22, 2007


On Saturday 2nd June, Basics community activists organized a meeting of members of the Lawrence Heights community to discuss housing conditions, the City’s proposed “revitalization” of the neighbourhood and organize a response to issues faced by the community.

Since the winter months, Basics activists conducted door-to-door surveys with residents that outlined the unacceptable living conditions and issues brought on by the negligence of the landlord – Toronto Community Housing Corporation.

• 94% of those surveyed said that building conditions in TCHC housing units in Lawrence Heights are average to poor

• 79% said that TCHC responses to requests for maintenance or repairs is average to poor, including delays and long wait times before problems are fixed (if they ever are)

• Over 50% stated that TCHC and security officials do NOT treat people with respect

• 75% said that they have little say in what goes on in the community

The delayed and unmet repairs, disempowerment and disrespect faced by tenants is also at the heart of the issue on the so called “revitalization”. Several residents present at the meeting reported that TCHC representatives told them that no repairs would be done in Lawrence Heights units there is no value in making repairs to an area that will be demolished in the near future through the “revitalization.”

The meeting also addressed the results of the Regent Park “revitalization” which resulted in displacement of the community, a reduction of 400 subsidized units and possible health hazards (construction debris) for the remaining community. For TCHC to continue to try to tell residents that ‘there is no plan’ and that ‘they will be listened to’ in the face of this sort of information shows that they are simply continuing their record of ignoring tenants and putting tenant needs behind the company agenda.

Community members at the meeting heard about examples of successful tenants and residents associations in addressing the issues of the community. Community members agreed to move to organize self directed, independent Residents’ Association that is not affiliated with TCHC.

Only with an independent and united body will TCHC residents be able to make improvements to housing conditions, reduce wait times for repairs, demand accountability to residents during the City’s “revitalization” and address issues that the community faces.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Immigrant Workers Organize Accross N. America For May Day

Across North America, immigrant workers, workers of colour, and their supporters came out in record numbers for this year’s May Day.
May Day started in 1886 as a commemoration for workers killed by Chicago police during a demonstration demanding an 8 hr work day and the later execution of several worker organizers on fraudulent charges. International workers day is celebrated as a holiday everywhere in the World and is a day when workers go to the streets to demand peace, equality and justice.

In Los Angeles, over 100 000 workers - largely comprised of Latinos - assembled in MacArthur Park during marches calling for the recognition of the rights of undocumented workers. The immigrant workers movement has been organizing to fight the Bush administration’s offensive against Mexican and Latino undocumented workers in the Southern US. Their work has included a massive show of working peoples power in 2006 with a day-long strike and demonstration that had the participation of millions across the United States.

This year’s L.A. demonstrations were met with force from the notoriously racist and brutal Los Angeles Police Department (L.A.P.D). Hundreds of riot police attempted to break up the peaceful demonstrations with batons, shields and rubber coated bullets.
According to eyewitness accounts, hundreds of people “were shot, beaten by night sticks and run out of the park.” Calls from Latino and progressive organizations to fire Police Chief Bratton have been largely ignored by the Mayor of Los Angeles Antonio Villaraigosa.

Sizeable demonstrations were held in Canadian cities as well, including a rally in Montreal that attracted 2000 workers. Hundreds of radical demonstrators staged a breakaway from the more conservative trade union led rally and marched to a nearby military base where they denounced the war in Afghanistan.

In Toronto, May Day organizing took place on the weekend beginning with a demonstration of workers, students and activists calling for the recognition of undocumented workers in Canada. Over 2500 people filled Christie Pitts Park calling for the end to the deportation of undocumented workers and their families that began under the Liberal governments and has continued under Harper’s Conservatives.

Also on the weekend, progressive Latino group Pa’delante organized a workshop at San Lorenzo Church on organizing in the Latino community around workers rights and livable wages. After addressing the mass of 150 workers and family members, organizers spoke with members of the community urging an organized response within the Latino community aimed at getting people to mobilize for a livable wage.

The increasing level of activity on and around May Day from workers in North America shows the rising level of consciousness and organization among working people. The government knows this, and they think that they can ‘discourage’ this by using measures like police brutality against the people. The people must show the police, the government and the bosses that they will not be deterred and that the struggle will continue.

Gov't Budgets: Cop Salaries and War Put Ahead of Working Class Families

The weather wasn’t the only thing that was cold for Toronto’s working people this spring, as all three levels of government introduced budgets that gave little to working families in the City.
The Federal government passed a Budget which accelerated the implementation of the $5.3 Billion Canada First defence plan so that the Canadian Forces will receive $175 million in 2007–08, in addition to over $100 Million for bonuses and services to veterans of this current war. In addition, they passed over $80 Million more for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (the Canadian CIA), $102 million in additional funds for Correctional Service of Canada and $10 million for the Canadian Police Research Centre. All of these hundreds of millions thrown around for war and policing, and no money for a National child care program to help working families find affordable child care.
Still saddled with the funding provincial social programs that the province refuses to pay the bill for, the City produced a budget that proposed a 3.8% increases in the property taxes (paid by tenants in rent and homeowners through direct taxation) and a decrease in social services.
In fact, the initial Budget recommendations had slated the closure of 7 outdoor pools and 11 indoor pools in Toronto schools where Parks currently runs its programming. These recommendations came just a week before the salary disclosures of public employees was released showing that 2010 City employees made over $100 000 including 708 police. Compared to 2005, only 1193 City employees made over $100 000 of which 279 were police.
The huge increase of almost 300% in police making over $100 000 does not even include officers being directly for time paid directly by individuals and businesses for private events and functions.
Right-wing Councillors and the media point to increased expenses but don’t mention that Police have been given more than $800 million in operating dollars and have also spent $21.1 Million in overtime. So when you see Police at demonstrations or public events, know that constables are making $58/ hour while detectives get paid $66/ hr.
Toronto is one of the safest cities in one of the safest countries, but we are also seeing that people are getting poorer. Safety in working class communities is best addressed through addressing the increasing levels of poverty, particularly amongst our youth whose unemployment rates are consistently double that of older workers. Some of those dollars spent topping up Police officer salaries should be spent in the community employing youth for good jobs, as well providing increased services to people.

Will Police Cameras Stop Crime In Toronto?

After last year’s media panic surrounding a rash of gun crimes in Toronto and the recent tragic shooting death of a 15-year old boy, many people are concerned: about the safety of their communities. The police have been heavily promoting the installation of security cameras as a solution to crime in Toronto and are moving forward with plans to install security cameras in several areas in the GTA. Locations for the new surveillance technology include the downtown club district and several poor (and predominantly black) areas in North York and Scarborough. But do security cameras really make for safe communities? The experience of Britain shows otherwise.

The scale of government surveillance in Britain is difficult to truly comprehend. With over four million security cameras, Britain is the must watched society on earth. Cameras are everywhere: in the streets, subway and bus stations, airports, taxi cabs, shops, restaurants, bars, and public housing areas. The average Londoner will be on camera more than 300 times in a single day. Wherever you go, you are under the eyes of the state.
Many cameras do more than just watch. Increasing numbers of cameras are linked to software programs designed to record car license plates that cross reference the plate number with lists of “suspicious persons” or check for outstanding parking fines or other infractions. Efforts are currently underway to create large-scale facial recognition programs that would make an anonymous walk in public a thing of the past. Other programs analyze body language to detect “abnormal behavior” and alert monitors. For example, if you happened to be waiting for a friend while standing near a bank machine, you would quickly draw the attention of the authorities because your motions don’t match those of someone using a bank machine.
The surveillance program is also incredibly expensive. The British government spends between 150 to 300 million pounds (340 to 680 million dollars Canadian) of taxpayers money on the surveillance industry, pleasing the corporations that supply this technology to no end. In Toronto, police plan to spend $2 million. While not a major expenditure, these funds will only cover a six month pilot project of 15 cameras. Any large scale permanent project would quickly run into the tens of millions or more.
Surveillance is intrusive and expensive, but is it at least effective? While early studies commissioned by the police were wildly enthusiastic about the potential of surveillance technology, more rigorous independent studies have shown the results to be far less impressive. In a review of 22 different studies, the British Home Office found that security cameras are good for protecting cars, but not for protecting people. When cameras were placed in parking lots, vehicle crimes (mainly thefts) were significantly reduced. But when it came to preventing violent crime or crime in city centers or public housing areas the cameras had little to no impact.
Some areas even reported negative results from security cameras going up. When security cameras were installed in high-rent commercial districts crime in the area dropped, but only because crime was displaced to nearby poor residential neighbourhoods. In short, the amount of crime didn’t decrease, it just moved next door. As long as the root causes for crime were ignored, the best security cameras could do is displace crime.
When one looks at the British experience, it becomes clear that Toronto police want to spend millions of taxpayer dollars to stop the types of crime in the types of places were security cameras will have the least impact. This raises the issue, what else could this money by spent on? Criminologist have found that proper street lighting and keeping areas in decent repair have a far greater impact on crime than security cameras. Yet Toronto Community Housing is notorious for taking forever to repair burned out lighting, repair vandalism, or fix broken locks. The government also continues to do little about the lack of decent jobs in our communities, driving some people into criminal activity just to survive.
We need to demand that all levels of government deal with the root causes of crime in our communities and not waste our money on ineffective, intrusive, and expensive surveillance cameras! We need jobs, decent housing, and healthy communities!

Lawrence Heights: Residents Speak Out!

AMAL is a 23 yr-old single parent with two children living in Lawrence Heights.

Amal: I used to live in Regent Park, so when you talk about revitalization…Regent Park’s the first thing I think about. That’s why I ended up living at Lawrence Heights, so when I think about Revitalization, I think about moving.

I think Lawrence Heights is an excellent location, if this was going to be revitalized and made into houses that you can buy and own it would be excellent—and be in the millions. If you look at the location where we’re at, houses are up to $500,000. So in terms of revitalization I just think they’re kicking the poor out…to communities that don’t have that much services; in terms of TTC, that accessible.

[The “revitalization] is a bad thing, in the sense that not a lot of people will come back to the community. I think a lot of people are going to be kicked out to other communities that are really far and not accessible to services. Whereas in Lawrence Heights we have that privilege: we have two subway stations; we have two big malls; we have a library. So I think we’re getting kicked out and for me personally, living at Regent Park, coming to Lawrence Heights and now hearing revitalization, I think it’s the further and further I move out. I can say for my family that we don’t have a choice. Where is home for us? Home is a place where you have decisions and you can always come back, but that’s not happening. We constantly have to be moving because of revitalization.

And not only that, living at Regent Park you come to find out that only half the houses that are going to be revitalized are going into subsidized units—half! If not half then less than half.

[Current TCHC estimates are that only one third of units will be rent geared to income! - editor.]

BASICS: How will this affect the Somali community?
With revitalization will people be split up?

AMAL: I think with anybody that would happen, not only Somali. People who’ve been raised here knowing their families and what not, have to leave…I have to emphasize: we have no choice in the matter. The only thing you have a choice in is the next place that you choose to live in. So that disturbs me. I think that’s the one thing people don’t look at.

BASICS: If it was your choice what would you make happen?

AMAL: Well one thing I would have is—upgrade these houses. These houses haven’t been upgraded from God knows when. We live in an environment that is infested with cockroaches, with rats. And for the parents of Lawrence Heights I would want to change that so that it would have more of a “home” feeling. More of a status that you feel comfortable living in subsidized housing.

BASICS: Did any one really consult you about the redevelopment?

AMAL: No. I just know that it’s going to happen. Nobody got to vote on it. It’s not a choice and that’s what disturbs me. Being a person that is marginalized already and TCHC with their approach as “community-based” and “tenants have rights” when in fact we don’t, and can’t even express the fact that we don’t want to move.

TANISHA is a 20 year-old 1st-year student at York University who grew up in Lawrence Heights.

TANISHA: Revitalization is a hot topic right now because people are starting to hear about it. However, I know that this is a project that has been planned for years now. So it’s weird to me that the actual residents who have been living here for years are just hearing about it. I don’t feel that we are given enough opportunities to get involved and have our voices heard when it comes to the revitalization project and what’s gonna be happening to our houses. These are houses we’ve been living in for years. These are houses that we’ve raised our children in. And knowing that they will be teared down soon, and knowing that we might have to move elsewhere, there’s just too many questions that are not being answered. And too many loopholes within the planning process, according to the residents here. Because no one is really talking to us and giving us straight forward answers about what is happening.

BASICS: Do you think a resident’s association could be formed out of this problem?

TANISHA: I can definitely see something like that, maybe a resident organization. But more specifically a youth forum or organization. Because, believe it or not, the youth here take a significant role among the population of Lawrence Heights and we have very strong opinions that need to be heard. So it would be nice to have a youth forum in particular, that creates an outlet for youth to have a say in revitalization.

The number one fear personally, is our sense of family that we have developed over such a long period of time now, is going to be broken. That security and knowing we all know each other and take care of each other here in Lawrence Heights, is going to be broken up. Because we will be sent to different areas of Toronto and our community won’t be as tight-knit as it is now and has been. Regardless of the Somali, Caribbean, Eritrean, or Indian youths, we are all one community and everyone takes care of each other.

Here in Lawrence Heights because many of the members have known each other for such a long time, we know our neighbours, we know our neighbours children, we have a common set of values where we all kind of think alike or we experience the same issues as other members of our community. And I just feel with the revitalization, having an influx of so many different people coming in from different areas; from different socio-economic backgrounds, there’s gonna be too many people with too many different sets of values. And the issues that we might be facing, the new people might not have faced those issues and vice versa.

Gentrification is all I have to say. Everyone should look that word up. With revitalization, there is a lot of economic profit that will be made for the city and for other organizations as part of the development and planning process. And I hope that the message gets out that this community is about so much more than just poverty, money or economics. There’s a lot of talent in this community, there’s a lot of artists in this community, there’s a strong sense of family.

Hands Off Satur Ocampo!

Congressman. The image evokes fancy offices with big leather chairs, powerful and wealthy members of the elite in expensive suits making deals. For Satur Ocampo, a congressman in the Philippines, his position has led in a very different direction: to a prison cell and the danger of assassination. Ocampo’s pro-people politics and leadership of the Bayan Muna (People First) party-list has earned him the ire of the government of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and placed his freedom and life in grave danger.

Ocampo, the son of landless peasants, has a long history as a political activist fighting for social justice. As a student during the late 1960’s he was a founding member of Kabataang Makabayan (Patriotic Youth) and the Movement for the Advancement of Nationalism. When the Marcos military dictatorship took over the Philippines in 1972, Ocampo went underground and was instrumental in the foundation of the National Democratic Front, uniting the forces fighting to overthrow the dictatorship.

In 1976, Ocampo was captured by the fascist government and for the next nine years held in various prison camps where he was regularly and brutally tortured. Even in the camps he continued to organize, leading protest actions by thousands of political prisoners. Despite his long imprisonment and cruel treatment, the military courts set up by the dictatorship could not convict him of any crime. After nine long years of captivity, Ocampo escaped from prison and rejoined the underground movement.

With the fall of the dictatorship in 1986, Ocampo resurfaced as the lead negotiator for the NDF with the new civilian government of Corazon Aquino. Hopes were high for a peaceful settlement to the civil war in the countryside. These hopes were dashed when Aquino ordered the military to open fire on peasant demonstrators during a rally against Aquino’s policy of fake land reform. 18 farmers were killed and scores more injured. The peace talks collapsed and Ocampo returned to the underground until he was captured again in 1989. Again the courts could not convict him and after three years in prison he was released.

Popular pressure by the common people of the Philippines forced the government to allow the social movements to form party-lists to run in elections. Ocampo was a founding member and leader of Bayan Muna party-list and was elected to Congress in 2001 and again in 2004. The Filipino people saw tangible results in the form of the Overseas Voting Act and Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act, legislation introduced by Bayan Muna and enacted into law. Ocampo spearheaded the Legislators Against War alliance to oppose the American war in Iraq and elsewhere as well as the Legislators-Businessmen-People’s Forum to protect Philippine businesses and agriculture from the destructive effects of globalization.

The Arroyo government, more concerned with protecting American business interests and the power of local elites, has responded to Bayan Muna’s success with repression and violence. They attempted to silence Ocampo with trumped-up multiple murder charges allegedly committed in 1984 – while Ocampo was still in prison! The weakness of the state’s case was proved in April when the Supreme Court criticized the state’s case as “defective” and ordered Ocampo released on bail, even though the charges were non-bailable. Despite this victory, Bayan Muna members and supporters are still being arrested, beaten, kidnapped, or murdered by security forces.

Bayan Muna is not the only group facing repression. Rep. Crispin Beltran, a 75 year-old labour leader and member of Anakpawis (Toiling Masses) party-list has been held for 16 months in a military prison hospital, also under trumped-up charges of rebellion against the Marcos dictatorship 25 years ago. There has also been an escalation in the number assassinations, particularly against members and supporters of progressive party-lists, trade unions, peasant, womens, and indigenous peoples associations, human rights monitors, and even members of the clergy.

The method of killing is repeated over and over again: two young men on motorcycle shoot their victims in broad daylight in close proximity to a military or police camp. Witnesses to assassinations are themselves killed in “mop up” operations. While all evidence points towards state security forces as the perpetrators investigations are done only for show, arrests are incredibly rare and convictions rarer still. After 840 killings and 200 disappearances since Arroyo’s taking office, only three low-ranking soldiers have ever been charged.

On a business trip to China last year, Prime Minister Harper promised the Canadian people that he would not “sell out important Canadian values - our belief in democracy, freedom, human rights” for the sake of trade and investment. Yet with $1.5 billion in trade between the Philippines and Canada every year, the Canadian government has failed to use its influence to pressure the Arroyo regime to stop harassing and killing their political opponents. People in this country must demand that their government stop supporting the Arroyo regime!

Somalia: More African Blood For Oil?

While receiving much less publicity and scrutiny than the interference and occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan, the interference in the affairs of Somalia has a similar history and the same motive – oil and profits.
The war currently raging in Somalia is not simply one of one African peoples against another, Ethiopians against Somalis. When Ethiopia invaded Somalia on December 28, 2006, it was the interest of transnational companies represented by the United States government who were calling the shots.
In the 1980s nearly two-thirds of Somalia was allocated to the American oil giants Conoco, Amoco, Chevron and Phillips by the pro-American President Mohamed Siad Barre. In 1991, Siad Barre was overthrown and the country was left without a central government and in certain disorder. The all but Conoco left the country at that point, although many of those companies had eyes towards returning.
In 1993, President Bill Clinton authorized a 30,000 troop invasion into Somalia, but fled not long after the ‘Black Hawk Down’ incident left eighteen Americans dead at the hands of local Somali forces. At this time, Canada also had directly military presence as ‘Peacekeeper’s in Somalia, culminating in the highly publicized murder and torture of a Somali male by Canadian soldiers who were permitted into the military despite their obvious white supremacists tendencies such as having swastika tattoos.
Somalia remained without a central government and in a state of instability until 2006 when a grass-roots Islamic movement consolidated into the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) took over two-thirds of Somalia, including Mogadishu. Within 6 months the United States conspired with its ally, Ethiopian dictator President Meles Zinawi, to overthrow the local government and restore a foreign-backed regime.
On the 4th of December 2006, a US military official met with the Ethiopian president to decide the fate of Somalia. Two days later the United Nations recognized the illegitimate ‘transitional government’ in exile in its attempt to undermine international recognition for the government of the UIC in Somalia. Within days Ethiopia began attacks within Somali against the UIC, eventually leading to a full-scale invasion of some 15,000 troops bound for Mogadishu.
By January 8, the United States was also fully engaging in the illegal war, launching air strikes killing many people in the various parts of the country. All told, many thousands of Somalis have died at the hands of the Ethiopian, American, and transitional government forces since December.
In April 2007 alone, as many as 2000 Somalis were killed by brutal military attacks and The United Nations Human Rights Commission – an arm of the same international body which helped orchestrate the current chaos in Somalia – has recently reported that more than 400,000 people have been internally displaced. Indeed, Somalia’s humanitarian crisis on a similar scale as Iraq today, and all within a matter of a few months.
So why are Western countries and their companies interested in Somalia? Somalia is not only a potential source of hydrocarbons (oil, natural gas), but the Gulf of Aden off the coast of Somalia is a vital shipping route for Saudi oil. Canada was one of a number of nations and oil companies who participated in a World Bank/UN Development Programme study of the petroleum potential of the area.
Given this history and as a partner in the brutal campaign to secure resources and profit from working people across the World (ie. Afghanistan, Haiti) it’s no surprise that Canada has, through its support for the illegitimate government installed by the US-backed Ethiopian government once again brought instability and violence to the Somali people.
Minister of Foreign Affairs Peter McKay safely expressed his approval for the United Nations resolutions which were designed to only strengthen the power of foreign forces in Somalia. More recently, Liberal Members of Parliament in Toronto including Judy Sgro have been canvassing support for the Ethiopian-backed government.
Working people in Toronto, not only those of Somali descent need to speak out against the Government of Canada’s role in supporting and carrying out oppression and bloodshed to fuel the pockets of the wealthy. Its our young people that they send to kill and die, and its our money that they use to fund their projects.

Draft Military Manual Targets First Nations

In what General Rick Hillier called, “a glimpse of the future”, the military recently released a draft of its new counter-insurgency doctrine that shifts the focus of the military towards the suppression of “insurgencies” – including not only Taliban forces in Afghanistan but also the popular democratic movement in Haiti and First Nations groups in Canada struggling for their land treaty rights.

First Nations leaders reacted with shock and outrage when they learned that the Mohawk Warrior Society was listed as a potential “insurgent group”. According to the manual, this would make its member fair military targets for deception, ambush, and assassination!

“The rise of radical Native American organizations, such as the Mohawk Warrior Society, can be viewed as insurgencies with specific and limited aims,” the manual states. “Although they do not seek complete control of the federal government, they do seek particular political concessions in their relationship with national governments and control (either overt or covert) of political affairs at a local/reserve (‘First Nation’) level, through the threat of, or use of, violence.”

For all the military’s fear mongering about the supposed threat of the Mohawk Warrior Society, Canadians should remember that the violence between the First Nations and the government has been markedly one-sided. Protest actions by First Nations groups such as those at Oka, Kanestake, and Gustafsen Lake during the 1990s, or more recently at Caledonia, Grassy Narrows, and Tyendinega, were only launched after decades (and in some cases centuries) of legal negotiations and government stonewalling. The hyper-aggressive police and military responses have included the use of hundreds of tactical assault troops, helicopters, surveillance planes, armored personnel carriers, land mines, tear gas, tens of thousands of spent rounds of live ammunition, mass arrests, incidents of torture, and the shooting death of unarmed protester Dudley George.

In their quest to dehumanize resistance, the document downplays the critical role that the popular support plays in supporting an insurgency, claiming that “insurgency is not a movement or a people”. Yet the example of Iraq proves otherwise: there are more than 300,000 soldiers and private mercenaries in Iraq today – a country less than half the size of Ontario far more than required to crush a few rogue elements or ‘extremists’. It takes hundreds of thousands of troops to only begin to try to destroy mass movements and peoples. And if history is any guide for the future, we know that armies almost always fail to succeed in crushing united peoples movement.

At the same time, in what it calls the “hearts and minds” campaign, the document emphasizes the psychological aspect of warfare. What this document shows is the degree to which the Canadian government and military manipulates so-called non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to achieve their foreign policy objectives. It stresses the importance of getting to know the culture of the people under occupation and the use of NGOs as a way to create loyalty to the foreign occupiers. That NGOs are willing to be used by occupation forces and puppet governments to achieve military objectives should make Canadians very skeptical of the thousands of NGOs in this country who receive government funding to do their work.

Canadians should understand that the new counter-insurgency doctrine will not be limited to fighting foreign uprisings. It is hard not to notice the increased troop presence in Canadian cities alongside the aggressive recruitment campaigns in Canadian high schools, colleges and universities. Just last year the Canadian military participated in a week-long urban warfare exercise in the city if Winnipeg, training over 500 Canadian reservists alongside 40 American counterparts, in the strategy of urban warfare in Canadian cities.

While the military has been backpedaling on the report and now claims that all references to First Nations groups will be removed in the final version, this does not change the fact that Canadian military is being transformed from a body equipped for fighting inter-state wars into a body more readily able to fight against popular movements. Canadians need to take this document as a very serious expression of the future direction of Canadian foreign and domestic policy. Clearly, the government and the military know something that Canadians are not being told. Canada’s military is supposed to be for defending our country, so why is it developing policies for subjugating popular resistance movements, both at home and abroad?