Friday, October 14, 2011

Let's stop the Canadian apartheid of First Nations

By Steven Chase, Globe and Mail, October 13, 2011
The head of Canada’s largest aboriginal group is denouncing the military for using its counterintelligence unit to keep an eye on native organizations and their protest plans, saying this implies such advocacy can be compared to terrorism.
The Canadian Forces’ National Counter-Intelligence Unit, meant to address “threats to the security of the Forces and the Department of National Defence” such as espionage, terrorists and saboteurs, assembled at least eight reports on the activities of native groups between January, 2010, and July, 2011.
Shawn Atleo, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, said he was offended to learn that native activism is considered “threatening to national safety and security” in Canada.
“The fact that Canada would expend national defence resources to monitor our activities amounts to a false and highly offensive insinuation that First Nation advocacy is akin to terrorism or threats to national security,” Mr. Atleo said in a statement. “The reality is that all of the events monitored in the documents released were peaceful demonstrations conducted with the full co-operation and notification of all relevant authorities.”
Critics on Thursday called for Canada to subject the military’s counterintelligence unit to monitoring by independent overseers in the same way that the Canadian Security Intelligence Service is scrutinized by the Security Intelligence Review Committee.
Navy Captain Dave Scanlon, a National Defence spokesman, said the Canadian Forces “do not spy on Canadians, nor do we monitor aboriginal or other groups.”
“We’re not keeping watch on aboriginal groups,” he said. “We’re keeping a watch on activities in Canada that could affect Canadian Forces operations. It doesn’t matter [which] group. It’s the activity that matters.”
He said when choosing what to watch, the counterintelligence unit also anticipates where it might be called on to help. The Forces insist the unit doesn’t do any snooping itself, but receives intelligence from other government agencies.
"We don't spy on people, only on activities"....is something we might read in Orwell's 1984. How dumb is that, as a public relations cover? Who is carrying out "activities" if it is not people?
There is no gender, race, ethnicity, language, history or culture to an activity.
There is a gender, race, ethnicity, language, history and culture to every person, and to groups of people who are, and have been documented to be, discriminated against in this country for centuries. The Canadian history of relations with First Nations people is so abominable as to have been legitimately compared with the former South Africa's apartheid, imposed on black Africans by white governments.
Governments of all stripes have been negligent in the treatment of First Nations people. That is not to say that any future negotiations must start from the position that aboriginals are and always will be victims. However, it does mean that the Canadian body politic has to recognize their legitimate human rights, including the right to clean water for their people, the right to adequate and accessible health care, the right to decent housing, to affordable housing, to jobs and to some form of self-government. And there is at least a century of work to do to accomplish these goals.
It is the perception of the urgency to achieve these goals that separates First Nations peoples from the Canadian people and government. On a scale of 1-10, (10 being most urgent) the Canadian people and government would rank these issues about a 1 or 2, whereas the First Nations people would rank the urgency at 10+. In reality, that leaves the First Nations peoples struggling to be heard, on the national stage, for air time, for negotiating time, for fiscal commitments, and for recognition and respect.
Why, for example, does the Harper government not commit that silly $30 million it has allocated to the celebration of the War of 1812, to the  resolution of First Nations grievances?There have been so many funding allocations from this government that trump any real commitment to First Nations issues, and this "slur" from the military, noted by Shawn Atleo, that peaceful protests by First Nations is akin to terrorism is legitimately considered a slap in the face to First Nations people.
Where is there more alcoholism in any single community than on First Nations reserves?
Where is there more diabetes in any single community than on First Nations reserves?
Where is there more unemployment in any single community than on First Nations reserves?
Where is there more family violence in any single community than on First Nations reserves?
Where is there more school drop-outs in any single community than on First Nations reserves?\
Where is there more untreated water, polluted water, unsafe water for drinking purposes, in any single community than on First Nations reserves?
And the military can call planning a protest by these same people analogous to terrorism? Let's get real.
It is long past due that this conditions need to be curtailed, reduced and even eliminated. And only by a concerted political effort of the will of the Canadian government, supported by the Canadian people, will these human rights grievances, or perhaps better, discriminations be eliminated.
This discrimination takes the form of "state negligence" in the case of the First Nations. And, if the case were to be brought to the Supreme Court of Canada, there would likely be a guilty verdict perhaps even of criminal negligence against the people and government of Canada.
Canadians from all provinces and territories should be ashamed, not only of the meeley-mouthed defence of the military on intelligence on "activities" by First Nations, but by the glaring negligence of all Canadian governments on this file, inspite of some serious attempts to resolve many of the difficulties over the last century.
(I invite your comments, via e-mail, to jta@kingston.net )

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