Here is my (Jessica Bell’s) take on the top 10 activist stories of 2013, in no particular order. Let these victories be an antidote to cynicism, hopelessness and apathy. Activism works. Activists win. Looking forward to seeing what’s in store for 2014.
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1. Greenpeace’s Campaign to Free the Arctic 30
Earlier this year, Greenpeace activists attempted to board an oil platform to stop Russian oil company, Gazprom, from drilling in the Arctic. That was awesome enough. But what really kicked the Arctic campaign into high gear was Russia’s unwise decision to illegally detain and charge 30 activists who were on board Greenpeace’s Arctic Sunrise ship. Greenpeace turned a scary situation into a campaign opportunity (they kind of had to) and organized around the clock and around the world to pressure Russia to release their activists.
With the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, set to begin in two months, this December Russia, in a bid to improve its human rights record, granted amnesty to 29 of the 30 Greenpeace activists. Russia also released two members of the feminist punk band, Pussy Riot. Canadian activists, Alexandre Paul of Montreal and Paul Ruzycki of Port Colborne, Ont., were part of this amazing Greenpeace team.
2. First Nations Say No to Fracking on their Territory
The Mi’kmaq and Elsipogtog First Nations have been campaigning for over two years to stop gas fracking by Texas-based SWN Resources on their traditional territory in New Brunswick. On October 17 the RCMP violently removed activists who were blockading to stop SWN Resources from exploring. Rubber bullets were fired, guns were drawn, elders were hurt, and 40 people were arrested. Violence can often lead to a strong response, and five police cars also caught flame. It took violence and drama for the national media to finally pay attention to this ongoing campaign, and the critical issues of First Nations land rights and the environmental harms caused by fracking for gas.
“We don’t want shale gas here,” said Susan Levi-Peters, a former chief. “We have been asking for consultations for three years now and nothing has happened. Instead they just put our people in jail.” The courts have ruled that governments must accommodate and consult First Nations on matters that affect their treaty rights.
The Newfoundland and Labrador Government placed a moratorium on fracking this November, however, the New Brunswick Government is still supportive of this fracking project. SWN Resources has finished its exploration work for the season and it remains to be seen if they will return. Listen to CBC’s report on the protest.
3. McDonald’s Employee Budget Put to Shame
McDonalds was lambasted by the media for setting up a finance calculator and website to help their employees get by on the poverty-level wages that McDonalds paid them. Some of the website’s tips included: get a second job, eat food in small bites so you can feel full on less food, and sell Xmas gifts on EBay. (Now you know senior management at McDonalds isn’t doing this!) Low Pay is Not Okay took great advantage of this wonderful opportunity to expose how multibillion dollar corporations were underpaying workers. (Okay, this isn’t a Canadian example, but I worked at McDonalds as a teenager so this one feels personal.)
4. Supreme Court Strikes Down Dangerous Anti-Prostitution Laws
On December 20, the Supreme Court of Canada struck down three of Canada’s prostitution-related laws on the grounds that it threatened sex workers’ constitutional right to safety and security. The laws that were struck down included the ban on keeping a brothel, making a living from prostitution, and street soliciting. Although prostitution in Canada is legal, it is illegal to do things to make the practice safer, like being indoors, hiring bodyguards for help and screening clients.
To quote the New York Times, “Sex-trade workers in Canada stepped up their fight for safer working conditions following the serial killings of prostitutes by Robert Pickton in British Columbia. Pickton was convicted in 2007 of killing six women whose remains were found on his farm outside Vancouver. Years earlier, authorities had closed down a Vancouver house for sex workers that many had considered a safe haven just as the disappearance of several prostitutes began raising fears that a serial killer was prowling the streets.”
Here’s hoping this tragedy doesn’t happen again. Read the full text of the ruling.
5. Chief Spence’s Hunger Strike Helped Kick Idle No More Into High Gear
Attawapiskat First Nation Chief Theresa Spence ended her six-week-long hunger strike on January 24, after members of the Assembly of First Nations and the Liberal and New Democrat caucuses agreed to back a list of commitments supporting aboriginal issues. Read the commitments here. Chief Spence had camped on an island in the Ottawa River not far from Parliament Hill, in an effort to convince the Conservative Harper Government to meaningfully consult and accommodate First Nations about legislation (Bill C45) that harmed the environment, their land and their rights.
Her protest attracted worldwide attention. She was one of many hardworking people who contributed to organizing nationwide protests under the Idle No More banner. The Idle No More movement calls for, among other things, increased environmental protections and more respect for First Nations treaty rights. First Nations rights is Canada’s civil rights movement. I’m looking forward to hearing more about Idle No More in 2014.
6. Edward Snowden Tells the World the U.S. Government is Spying on Them
An interview with Edward Snowden. “I don’t want to live in a society that does these sort of things” Edward Snowden.
Edward Snowden’s release of 200,000 documents exposed the intrusive nature of phone and internet surveillance gathered by the U.S. and its western allies. Snowden’s expose also revealed that the Canadian Government spied on Brazil’s Mines and Energy Industry, and that the Canadian Government allowed the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on world leaders at the controversial G8/G20 summit in Toronto in 2010.
This action is amazing because it had impact; it exposed information about the National Security Agency that the world did not know. Snowden will go down in history as one of America’s most consequential whistleblowers, alongside Daniel Ellsberg and Chelsea (formerly Bradley) Manning.
Snowden’s life was transformed, and not for the better. As the Guardian newspaper describes it in its article on Snowden (the paper declared Snowden person of the year) “Forced to go on the run, he ended up in Moscow where he now lives in a curious Julian Assange-like limbo, unable to leave Russia for fear of arrest, extradition to the US and a prosecution that would threaten a long jail sentence.” It is this personal sacrifice that also makes this action such a powerful one.
7. Quebec Superior Court Rules Migrant Farm Workers Have Right to Unionize
In May, the Superior Court of Quebec has upheld a lower court ruling that struck down as unconstitutional a section of the Quebec Labour Code that denied collective bargaining rights to workers on farms that have three or fewer employees working on a year-round basis. The law, challenged by the United Food and Commercial Workers Canada union, had kept thousands of seasonal workers on Quebec farms from being able to effectively unionize and bargain. Agricultural workers in many provinces are granted fewer workplace protections than employees in other sectors.
In Alberta, for instance, they aren’t even covered by the province’s Occupational Health and Safety Act.
8. Toronto Becomes Canada’s First Sanctuary City
Supporters fill City Council during the vote. The policy passed 41 to 3.
In February, Toronto City Council become the first Canadian city with a formal policy allowing Toronto’s estimated 200,000 undocumented migrants to access critical services, such as health care, schools, shelters, and more regardless of immigration status. The vote put Toronto in the same league with 36 American cities, including Chicago, New York City and San Francisco that already have such policies.
9. A Small Dose of Justice is Served Three Years After The G8/G20 Protests
A video showing Adam Nobody being beaten up during the G8/G20 protests. In December, Toronto police officer, Const. Babak Andalib-Goortani, was found guilty of assault with a weapon for beating protester, Adam Nobody, during the G20 Summit in Toronto back in 2010. Adam Nobody ended up with a shattered cheekbone, an eye swollen shut, and a broken nose. He spent three days in hospital and underwent a several-hour-long surgery to repair his broken nose. Three years later, and the still unremorseful police officer was sentenced to 45 days in jail and suspended from the police force without pay.
During the G8/G20 Summit, more than a thousand people engaging in peaceful protest were threatened, rounded up, stripped of their belongings and detained in filthy conditions on a scale never before seen in Canada. Many people were beaten by police. The police have been subject to a lot of valid criticism in recent years. They are continually called to task for targeting black people, and their internal investigations unit responsible for investigating the police is a ‘toothless tiger’.
This is one of those rare instances where the police were held accountable. Well done to Adam Nobody and his legal team for persevering with the case. And kudos to the Toronto Star for doggedly reporting on the issue of police accountability long after other media outlets moved on. On a less positive note – although instances of police brutality were common during the G8/G20, just one other officer, Const. Glenn Weddell, was charged with assault, and he was acquitted in May.
Toronto will not be getting a mega casino in downtown Toronto, thanks to the groundswell of progressives in the City who stood up and said no. Rob Ford was into the mega-casino, and Las-Vegas based MGM Resorts was among the companies actively lobbying for its approval. But in the end, the people won out. The grassroots campaign gathered over 22,000 petitions and placed over 3000 lawn signs across the city. The motion to approve the casino lost, with 40 councillors voting against, and only 4 voting for it.
11. Honourable Mention: Duffy Does More to Hurt the Conservative Government Than Just About Anyone
This isn’t an example of amazing activism but I’m including it because Mike Duffy has done more to embarrass the Harper Conservative Government and propel the movement to abolish the Senate than just about anyone. Duffy made Harper look like a bully and a liar by refuting Harper’s assertion that he knew nothing about his own chief of staff giving Duffy $90,000 to repay travel expenses that Duffy allegedly improperly claimed. Duffy also accused Harper of threatening to kick him out of the Senate if he didn’t quit the Conservative Caucus. Nothing has been proven in court, but it sure looks bad. The RCMP continues to investigate. Get more information on the expense scandal is here.
That’s my highlights. What are your top activist stories for 2013?