Monday, June 23, 2008

Open Letter to my MP

An open letter to Maurice Vellacott, MP

Dear Mr. Vellacott;

Here are some of my thoughts in response to your Summer, 2008 mail out to constituents:

1) The announcement that VIA Rail will be giving free travel passes to Defense Department employees and Canadian Forces personnel during July was news to me. I must say that I fail to see the reason for granting such a privilege to one sector of the population and not to others. Do our defense forces really merit the honour that is implied here, above, say, teachers or nurses or bridge builders?

I won’t get into my own disapproval of our presence in Afghanistan, except to say that a claim that our soldiers are there in defense of our country is a stretch; terrorism has never been a primary danger to Canadians, at least not when compared to domestic crime, traffic accidents, natural disasters or disease and addictions. Let’s honour the people who struggle daily to overcome these real dangers for a change.

2) Thank you for reprinting in whole the article by Michael Den Tandt of Sun Media, even though it is nearly a year old by now. I appreciated the inclusion of the following quotes:

Canada is [losing the communications war]. The military and the media deserve some measure of blame for this. Mainly though, responsibility falls to Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Even as he struggles to sell the Afghan mission to an increasingly uneasy public, his mania for control is stifling the truth about what’s happening there.”

“The five officials from foreign affairs, the 10 RCMP officers engaged in training Afghan police, the head of the CIDA mission in the province (with a budget of $39-million this year alone), are not allowed to speak to the media. According to multiple sources here, they have been gagged by the Prime Minister’s Office. Figure that one out.”

Including these quotes in your publication one flip of the page away from “Stephen Harper is a Leader . . . Stephane Dion is not” takes some courage. One might arrive at the misconception that a great leader is one with a “mania for control,” but that surely was not your intent.

3) I was puzzled by your inclusion of the “Trials and Tribulations” article from the Canadian Shooting Sports Magazine, which basically outlines ways to stymie a government official who requests permission to inspect one’s firearms to ensure that their security complies with the regulations. Are you not a member of the government that is responsible for the regulations on gun safety? Are you not a member of the government that is responsible for ensuring that these regulations are adhered to?

(Was it just a coincidence that the hunter photographs you chose to accompany the article are all of females with guns, exhibiting their kills?)

4) Lastly, I’m not impressed by the personal attacks on Stephane Dion despite the fact that he doesn’t possess the same “mania for control” of Stephen Harper. Your leader has ridiculed the carbon tax scheme here in Saskatchewan, a stance that matches nicely with that of our current Premier. But the status quo that both are trying to window dress for public consumption is not leadership at all, and the viciousness of Mr. Harper’s attack seems to me to be an indication of his suspicion that his perceived weakness on environmental issues may become the nub of the next election campaign.

Have a nice day,

George Epp

cc. Rt. Hon. Stephen Harper

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Sorry, Sorry, Sorry . . .

South Saskatchewan River, Saskatoon

While we’re apologizing . . . ©

By George Epp

A few days ago, Stephen Harper and the other party leaders apologized to the Aboriginals, M├ętis and Inuit of Canada on my behalf (except for those in Newfoundland & Labrador, Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick). They told them I was sorry for the policy that took their children away from them and put them into boarding schools with the express purpose of forcefully assimilating them into the culture, religion and language of the colonials invading the continent.

Well I’m deeply sorry that that was done. But I find myself wanting to get more off my chest than just the residential school issue, which was horrible enough. So here I offer to the Aboriginal people and their descendants in ALL of Canada, a few more apologies:

1) I’m sorry that I benefited from the process that saw you marginalized by an imperialist and ethnocentric power—in your own country, and failed to recognize that fact.

2) I’m sorry that I continue to live on land that was stolen from you and then sold to others, and finally to me.

3) I’m sorry that you are still not considered worthy of the same property rights as other Canadians.

4) I’m sorry that when one of your women—a bright, influential health-care administrator—attempted to reserve a meeting room at a Winnipeg Hotel, she was presumed to be a prostitute and was told to take her trade elsewhere. (Apply this apology as needed to the thousands and thousands of incidents like this that whittled away at your self esteem and self confidence, and for which my protests were far too weak and half-hearted.)

5) I’m sorry that land agreed to be yours by virtue of signed treaties was confiscated in many places whenever the government felt a need for it.

6) I’m sorry that I didn’t punch my neighbour in the mouth for you when his truck was vandalized and he jumped immediately to the conclusion that it was “those damned Indian kids from the trailer park.” (Multiply this apology by several thousand, on second thought.)

7) I’m sorry that when one of you is discussed, you are an “Indian” and when a neighbour is discussed, he is a “person.”

8) I’m sorry that we have not done enough to focus on the basics of health and education as stepping stones to dignity and equality, and have reverted instead to a welfare and indigence model.

9) I’m sorriest for the fact, however, that despite the magnitude of the apologies, the conditions in which you find yourselves will probably not change noticeably, because the ones who made them are good at words, but not so good at doing what’s right.

10) I’m sorry that I belong to the group that precipitated the apology. I hope I can be a contributor to any group that forms to make real changes.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Another reader response - on incarceration vs restorative justice

Hi, George:

The John Howard Society is a world wide prisoner advocacy organization. After I retired from work, I chaired the Manitoba John Howard Society, and spent four years on its national body. The experience strongly affirmed what I already believed about our penal justice system, and it provided me with empirical evidence that I would otherwise not have.

Re prisons:

I've come to thoroughly disrespect the established practice of incarceration. Here are some reasons :

- Broadly speaking, punishment almost never achieves the goal of deterrence. Our usual punishment for offenders is incarceration and we find that most people in prison have been there before. (Remember school detentions? It could have been easily predictable that the same kids were always there.) Punishment, or its threat, works only as long as the punisher is present. "If prisons worked, the United State would be the most crime free country in the world".

- A study done a few years ago at Manitoba's Youth Centre (a lock-up) showed that for every gang member who spent time there, two new gang members came out. A recruiting station.

- About ten years ago the federal government did a study on the relationship between length of sentence and the likelihood of recidivism. It found that the longer the sentence the more likely it was that the offender would offend again. !

- The following example is anecdotal, has been told to me many times: It's easier to get drugs (including alcohol) in prison than out. (I heard of a guy who became an alcoholic in prison. When he was released, one item topped the list of things to buy, borrow, or steal.)

- If it's vengeance we want, I have little to say except that at least the lash is gone.

There are a few good alternatives to incarceration. Here's one: "Restorative Justice"

Restorative Justice is slowly getting government recognition -- if for no other reason, it's much cheaper. Restorative Justice is the one process I know of that regularly has measurable, positive results. The rate of recidivism, for example, improves with inmates who are given the choice of being active in its educational classes and individual counseling... I like it for lots of other reasons. Check it out. There's lots of info about Restorative Justice on the net.

HN, Winnipeg

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Some interesting reader responses

From friend and reader, JB

Trickle down economics

I am somewhat familiar with the economics of Vietnam having lived there for a number of years. After 1986 when Vietnam changed its policies at the 6th party Congress, foreign companies were allowed to invest and set up factories. It took a while but by the mid 1990s there were many corporations that took advantage of low wages and generous government tax laws.

The 4th generation phenomenon occurred. Companies that invested in Japan first, moved to Taiwan and South Korea when wages in Japan rose. They then fled to Thailand, Indonesia, and Malaysia. Now that wages are too high there to make a maximum profit, Nike and dozens of other companies have moved to Vietnam. I have visited factories in the south of Vietnam. Poor villagers prefer the Nike jobs because the conditions and wages are much higher than in locally owned companies. This may sound strange but this is what people told me. Are there unfair practices? Of course. Are people dismissed when they complain? Yes. Even so, there is no problem getting people to work.

So does trickle down work? Probably yes and no in Vietnam? The people benefit and have disposable income. While that is happening lax environmental laws allow companies to dump untreated wastes into rivers and streams. Short term gain at a long term expense. This phenomenon repeats itself everywhere



From friend and reader, JY

response to your blog question , especially 3rd and 4th points - I read
this issue of Wired on way home from Ontario, intrigued by perspective