My Scary Trip through Ukrainews, Victoria

When it comes to complex international issues, does following the news increase or diminish our understanding?

I want to talk about something that’s difficult to talk about in person: Ukraine. But not the actual place or events surrounding it, which I know less than nothing about. (Emphasis on less, an issue I’ll return to shortly.) I want to discuss the local Victoria aspect of “Ukraine”— which is more influential over my own life.

It seems we’re talking, writing and posting online about Ukraine a lot more than we used to. We debate what’s happening there, who’s to blame, and even about what actions we should be taking: providing financial support, boycotting, brokering negotiations, sending troops, the whole gamut.

So what caused this local cultural shift? Events in Ukraine? Many dramatic international events happen that we don’t talk about. And even though a million Canadians have some Ukrainian ancestry, many more have German or Irish ancestry, and I haven’t noticed any heavily-funded Victoria-Ukrainian PR operations. So I’m guessing it’s safe to suggest that this shift has been caused by the upsurge in news media reporting about Ukraine.

I find that extremely concerning because the reporting that’s reaching most Victorians tends to be misleading and utterly de-contextualized, and can’t be trusted as a basis for reasonable conversations. Read the rest at Focusonline.

From Compliance to Activism: A Mother’s Journey

Cindi FastThrough years of turmoil and confusion, Cindi Fisher’s enduring love for her involuntarily committed son gradually changed her from compliant mom to mental health civil rights activist. That’s when authorities banned her from even contacting her son. But could she be a bellwether of a coming nation-wide wave of protestors? Click here to read the full article at Madinamerica.com

“To Safeguard Against Tyranny”

Read deeper and BC Supreme Court Justice Susan Griffin’s ruling in support of teachers against the provincial government is about much more than just our schools.

It seems appropriate that the late-January BC Supreme Court ruling won by the BC Teachers Federation has received attention in our news media. But there’s an undercurrent that permeates Justice Susan Griffin’s Reasons for Judgment that hasn’t been discussed nearly as much as it should be: Her very worrying evaluation of the state of our democracy.

For those who haven’t been following the story, the BC Liberal government passed legislation in 2002 that seemed to be a blatant attack against the most basic civil rights of teachers to freely associate and take action collectively. It deleted hundreds of agreements from existing contracts and stripped the BCTF of virtually any powers to bargain on key issues about teachers’ working conditions—primarily with respect to the number of students in classes, and the learning environments for children with special needs. Those are issues that, obviously, do dramatically affect not just teacher working conditions, but also classroom management, children’s education, and probably the emotional state of many schoolchildren. So they’re issues worth discussing.

But the government legislated otherwise. It was as if your boss were not only to refuse your requests for office supplies, but were to suddenly threaten to have you dragged to jail if you so much as tried to discuss or negotiate issues concerning office supplies.

It wasn’t a reasonable approach from the government. And that’s what the courts said, too. In fact, the courts determined that the BC Liberals’ legislation violated teachers’ basic civil rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

But the provincial government ignored the courts. Repeatedly.

When, in 2004, the BC Supreme Court first struck down an arbitrator’s decision upholding the government’s legislation, the government simply re-wrote the legislation anew and made it apply retroactively. And for good measure, they wrote into this new version of the legislation that it would remain in force, “Despite any decision of a court to the contrary…” It was like kamikaze legislating: The BC Liberals enacted a law that was deliberately aimed at destroying the authority of our own legal system.

Read the rest at Focusonline.

 

Are Local Police Being Covertly Militarized?

Vancouver and Victoria police told academic researcher Adam Molnar they’ve started training in combat exercises with the US military. Police weren’t so forthright when Focus came asking.

Western Canadian police forces and the US military have been skirting laws on both sides of the border in secretive, controversial, urban-combat training exercises, says researcher Adam Molnar. Molnar recently completed his Political Science PhD thesis for the University of Victoria, titled “In the Shadow of the Spectacle: Security and Policing Legacies of the Vancouver 2010 Olympics.” His study provides a behind-the-scenes look into how the biggest peace-time security operation in Canadian history permanently re-shaped British Columbia policing with respect to governance, use of electronic surveillance, public order emergencies, and public-private partnerships. One of its most provocative chapters outlines the creation of the Vancouver Police Department’s “Military Liaison Unit,” and the spread of the model to other police departments including Victoria’s.

Molnar can’t disclose the names of the police sources he interviewed due to university research ethics requirements; however, he can discuss his research. Molnar says the Vancouver Police Department (VPD) Military Liaison Unit (MLU) was created in the early 2000s. Under then VPD Chief Jamie Graham’s direction, the MLU was intended to improve working relationships between the Canadian military and Vancouver police for the Olympics. In Molnar’s study, one VPD MLU official is quoted as saying that, prior to the Olympics, there was a long-standing “myopic viewpoint” that police and military shouldn’t work closely together. “Times have changed,” the official said.

And indeed, the official added, the VPD MLU garnered a flood of Olympics funding to hire personnel with battleground experience and become more well-equipped than many military brigades. The MLU also helped forge agreements between Vancouver police and Canadian Forces outlining jurisdictional and logistical responsibilities when operating together. Today, MLU training continues with major exercises occurring between four and six times per year at a US National Guard facility in Yakima, Washington, says Molnar, typically involving the US Department of Defense, US Army, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, and Washington National Guard, often working alongside Canadian Forces military personnel and police officers from Vancouver, Victoria and/or Calgary. Molnar says participants use live ammunition in “reality-based training” of “asymmetrical warfare operations” modelled on foreign military occupations and urban house-to-house tactical fighting. Police and military also train each other in their respective rules of engagement and use of force, explosives ordinance disposal, vehicle and person searches, prisoner handling, crowd control, building raids and room clearing, and counter-terrorism responses in urban domains.

Read more at Focusonline.

Police Chiefs: Public or Private?

BC’s Information Commissioner launches an inquiry into police chief associations.

Information and Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Denham has launched an inquiry into British Columbia’s two police chief associations. Denham is considering recommending to government that the BC Association of Chiefs of Police (BCACP) and the BC Association of Municipal Chiefs of Police (BCAMCP) should be declared governmental “public bodies” and be made subject to the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA). According to her December 6 “letter to stakeholders,” the Commissioner is also inviting public input about this possible recommendation until February 14, 2014.

The Office of the Information and Privacy Commissoner (OIPC) evidently has some of the same concerns about the associations that Focus has been reporting on for two years, as it’s become clear that these secretive associations have been doing everything from crafting the government’s policing legislation to ordering police media spokespersons around the province to promote the virtues of mass surveillance. “In my reflections on this issue to date,” Denham’s two-page letter states, “it appears that the policy argument in favour of such a recommendation is based on two related considerations.” Denham describes “the important public role that the Chief Constables and the Associations play in our society,” while “government and others treat the Associations as the focal point for contact with the Chief Constables on matters of public policy.” However, she points out, “the appropriate level of transparency of Association records can be achieved for FIPPA purposes only if a member of the public can request current and historical records from the Association itself, rather than relying on what might be piecemeal and incomplete records held by individual Chief Constables at any given time.”

What prompted this action? “We had inquiries, we had letters, we had calls, and we examined the implications of [freedom of information] and its application to these associations in some mediation files,” said Denham in an interview with Focus. “So we’ve had interest in the question. We’ve had evidence presented to us in relation to this question.”

Read the rest at Focusonline.