From the equality of rights springs identity of our highest interests; you cannot subvert your neighbor's rights without striking a dangerous blow at your own. Carl Schurz

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Should We Just Up And Close Food Banks ?

That's what Elaine Power, an associate professor at Queen’s and some one who has spent more than a decade researching hunger and volunteering at food banks, recommended in her column that appeared in Monday's Globe and she is not alone in that belief.
Food banks have become a serious obstacle in the fight against poverty. By promising to “end hunger” by feeding hungry Canadians, they provide a comforting illusion that no one is hungry – or if they are, it’s their own fault. They shelter us from the harsh reality that millions lack the basic necessities of life.
She is bang on in her assessment that Food Banks let us all off the hook citizen,corporation and government alike. Not only do they not treat the disease of hunger, they don't even tackle the symptoms in any real way. Despite being staffed by caring and dedicated people, due to a lack of donated supplies and of course ever increasing demand they still for the most part only supply 2-3 days of food a month to each of the approximately 900,000 Canadians who turn to Food Banks every month.

So is her prescription the right one,I don't know, but what I do know is that we are failing in our duty to ensure no one goes hungry in this supposed land of plenty.

A Basic Living Income coupled with a Housing Benefit  both of which have been studied and appear to be workable and affordable could in all likelihood eliminate hunger in Canada altogether. 

Here are some stats on Food Bank use from Hunger Count 2010

Working Poor
People with jobs constitute the third largest group of food bank clients, at 11.4%. The loss of full-time jobs during the recent recession and the expansion of the low-wage economy has generated more working poor who are unable to meet basic needs for themselves and their families.

In 2010, 37.8% of food bank clients were under 18. Child poverty has remained at the same level for two decades, despite the fact that the federal government commited to end child poverty by the year 2000.

Families with children
Over half of households who turn to a food bank for assistance are families with children. More than half of this number are single parent families, with 80% those headed by women The single parent family is still one of Canada's most economically vulnerable groups.

Rural Canadians About half of the food banks participating in HungerCount 2010 are located in rural communities (defined as having populations of fewer than 10,000 people).

Persons With Disabilities
Those receiving disability income supports now make up the second largest group of food bank users, according to the 2010 HungerCount report (15%). Disability support is not enough to help the disabled provide for themselves. These numbers are only going to worsen ,since Canada has a rapidly aging society and life expectancy is increasing.

Seniors accessing food banks across Canada is a sad reality. HungerCount 2010 reports that seniors accounted for 7.2 % of adults assisted by food banks in a typical month.

Recipients of Social Assistance
In 2010, 50.5% of those assisted by food banks in Canada were receiving social assistance. This suggests that social assistance rates in Canada are not sufficient to ensure food security for low-income Canadians. According to the National Council of Welfare, welfare rates across Canada continue to fall below Statistics Canada Low Income Cut-Offs.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Thanks for Nothing: KPMG and the Review that Wasn't

When asked by Councillor Mary Fragedakis if they had considered  the long-term costs of cutting support to BIAs or the economic benefits of arts funding or social services, KPMG's answer was a short and not so sweet,no, we weren't asked to consider the impacts of our recommendations.

In fact according to the Star it appears they did very little for the money the city paid them,relying mostly on city staff reports and talking to a few managers.In effect their report was merely an echo of work already done by city staff. So it appears that Mayor respect for the taxpayers Ford spent that 350 grand to provide cover for and to lend legitimacy to his own slash and burn agenda.

One prestigious international consulting firm contacted by the Star said they would not have accepted the contract.

Just one more example of how the Fords will spare no expense when it comes to "saving" taxpayers money. I don't know how much more of the Fords brand of respect for the taxpayers we can afford.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


While teens like Ashley Smith and Gleb Alfyorov with mental health issues continue to die in prisons, McGuinty closes the only long term residential treatment unit in the province that was dedicated to dealing with youth. Need I say anything more.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Stephen Harper and CETA or Why Let Facts Get In The Way Of Ideology

You would think embarking on negotiations towards perhaps the most sweeping trade deal this country has ever entered into, you would want to conduct some studies into it's impact on Canadians.If you're an ideologue like Harper, apparently not. Two years and eight rounds into the process our government still hasn't bothered to commission a single study of CETA's potential impacts.

Actually there is a study out there that our government is relying on,only one problem though,it was commissioned by the EU. That's right a study brought to us by the folks on the opposing side of the negotiating table. Thankfully there is a Canadian study that our government could refer to.The only problem for them is that unlike the EU study it doesn't rely on false assumptions like full employment and every penny of Canadians savings being invested inside Canada,therefore it's conclusions don't support Harpers ideology and his precious trade deal with the EU

If you're a bit of a wonk like I am here is the Jim Stanford's study Out of Equilibrium done for the CCPA or if you actually have a life and still wish to review Out of Equilibrium, Alison over at Creekside has posted  two short videos of a presentation by Jim Stanford.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Vandana Shiva: The Future of Food

"Let the seed be exhaustless, let it never get exhausted, let it bring forth seed next year." - peasant prayer

Dr.Shiva been sounding the alarm bells about food insecurity and the monopolization of the worlds seed supply by a handful of corporations such as Monsanto for decades now. It is long past time that we not only heed her message but join her on the front lines of the battle to rescue our food supply from those who have put it at great risk in the name of power and profit.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Before Wisconsin there was Puerto Rico

Governor Scott Walker's actions in Wisconsin brought the NeoLiberal agenda into the mainstream conscientiousness. Many were surprised by the viciousness with which Walker implemented his agenda yet we shouldn't have been surprised at all, he was merely aping Puerto Rican Gov.Luis Fortuno's tactics that he used in inflicting this agenda on the citizens of the Island.

Starting in 2009 Fortuno while making deep cuts in corporate taxes also stripped unions of bargaining rights,laid off tens of thousands of civil servants,privatised government on a massive scale and raised tuition fees, making education too expensive for many, leading to much unrest in the streets and on the campuses of the US territory.

As always happens with NeoLiberalism and austerity the people suffer tremendously.Puerto Rico is on pace to have the worst economic performance in the world, has the highest rates in the US for Unemployment,poverty,murder and foodstamp usage.No one should be surprised here for this is always the end result of the NeoLiberal austerity for the masses and handouts for the corporations agenda.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Canada-EU Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement - A Primer

If you think NAFTA is bad, just wait until you see what is being proposed in negotiations for The Canada-EU Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA). CETA is a far-reaching trade deal that could touch on nearly every aspect of Canadian society.

The CETA aims to remove government regulations over such things as public purchasing, environmental standards, public services, domestic-content rules and so on.

With the CETA,  a trade agreement would for the first time apply directly to Provinces, and cities,crown corporations,  school boards, and hospitals,binding them to it's provisions in some extremely dangerous ways. For instance CETA would contain a section similar to NAFTA's chapter 11,exposing them to potentially bankrupting lawsuits for making policy decisions that benefit their constituents but may harm the profitability of some EU corporation.

Another proposal on the table is a provision that says anything not listed as exempt from the free trade agreement would be automatically covered. Which means that if a city or province fails to list any of the thousands of programs they deliver,that program is covered by the deal and open to privatisation.

The CETA would prohibit governments at all levels from spending tax dollars to encourage local development.  Bids would have to be open to EU companies with the cost of the bid the only consideration allowed. 

The EU is demanding access to our Crown corporations, such as electric and water utilities. Big Pharma is at the table demanding extended patent rights which will lead to massive increases in the cost of drugs, placing enormous strain on our healthcare budgets, potentially further increasing the threat of privatisation. Pharma isn't the only industry at the table,in fact big business are the only ones being consulted and briefed on CETA by the Harper government.

Of course we are told that this abomination will lead to increased employment and standards of living for all Canadians,which is exactly what they said about NAFTA  and we all know how that turned out. Studies to the contrary suggest that a free trade deal with the EU would cost us somewhere between 28,000 and 150,000 jobs.

This video offers an introductory glimpse into the CETA and what's at stake for us if this deal is signed.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Canada has become a nation of Dupes

Ever get the feeling that you're working harder and not only getting nowhere but falling behind , well that's because unless you're rich or a high level executive , you are.

In the past decade wage gains and I use the term gains in the loosest manner possible, have been even lower than during the Great Depression. From the years 2000 to 2009 the average wage increase was 4% yet during the Depression the average increase was 5%. I know that sounds counter intuitive but there is a possible answer to why this has occurred.

During the Depression Unions were still a force giving workers bargaining power resulting in higher wages, however during the last decade and beyond as Union membership has declined so have wages.Some may pass this off as a mere coincidence,I don't. Workers and the masses in general have never received any benefit from those in power without a putting up a mighty fight ,once too many of us abandoned the battlefield our bosses busied themselves in regaining lost ground and man have they ever succeeded.

Lest you think things are starting to improve the annual pace of wage increase in June was 2%, far below the reported rate of inflation of 3.7%. That inflation number of 3.7 is a work of pure fiction. Just look at the rapidly rising costs of gas, electricity and food and ask yourself if that number bears any semblance to your reality.If you're like me and those I know it doesn't come close. As for the wage side of the equation I haven't seen a "raise" equal to or greater than  even the fictionalised rate of inflation in well over a decade and that is true for the vast majority of the people I have talked to.

Yet we are incessantly bombarded from the likes of Stephen Harper with the message that the greatest threat to the economy is greedy workers. This is understandable of Harper for he is a devout disciple of NeoLiberalism. He pursues this vile philosophy with an evangelical zeal and will likely never be deterred from his quest for the Holy Grail. What truly irks though is that he and his ilk are, as witnessed during and after the Postal lock out, cheered on in their quest by their victims.

These dupes are so intent on seeing everyone suffer their fate that they can't see that they are in fact cutting off their own noses to spite their faces and that the only way out of this horrible mess  is to support all workers in their quest for a fairer share of the pie. The point that must be hammered home to them is that if you keep lowering the ceiling eventually you'll need to lower the floor in compensation. Hopefully some day they will figure out that simple equation.

With our economy artificially propped up by China's massive appetite for our commodities, Harper and his army of dupes can maintain their fiction that things are alright and getting better, however like all booms, China's will go bust someday.When this happens and their wall of denial crashes down around them, it's  a given that the dupes will react with fury and anger, the question is who will they blame.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

"Aging Out" : A recipe for despair

One of the leading causes of homelessness among youth in Canada is the so called "Aging out" of foster care.Aging out is a term that reeks of whitewashing ,lets call it what it truly is, the abdication of our responsibility to vulnerable youth.

With suicide rates among homeless youth that are more than ten times the national average for Canadian youth, and mortality rates that are eleven times greater, this abdication is a death sentence for many of these kids. While it may be true that given their histories of abuse and abandonment, homelessness isn't likely the sole cause of these numbers they do indicate that we must continue to offer support for these kids long after they "age out".

Over one-third of these kids never finish high school and many don't have jobs. Their rate of arrest, health problems, and welfare dependency are far higher than the population as a whole - as is their rate of homelessness.

Several studies have found that 30% to 49% of youth experiencing homelessness have been involved in child protection services or foster care in their lives Echoing these numbers Covenant House estimates that over a third of the homeless youth it encounters has been in foster care..According to the Toronto Community Foundation  there are between 1,500-2,000 homeless youth  in Toronto alone on any given night; approximately 10,000 different youth at any point in a year.

With the cost of keeping a youth in the shelter system estimated $30,000 – $40,000 a year and over $100,000 per year to keep one in jail, surely we can find the money to do the right thing and not run away from our responsibilities as parents. Yes parents, we as a society have taken on that role in these kids lives, and parenting is a lifelong commitment.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Canada's largest mental health institutions: Prisons

Decades ago recognizing that the institutionalisation of the mentally ill was cruel,unjust and counter productive, we started closing these facilities and embarked on a policy of community care.Well it appears that we have come full circle.

The numbers are sobering, from the annual report of the Office of the Correctional Investigator of Canada, the number of mentally ill offenders in the federal prison system has more than doubled in the past decade, with approximately 36% of male prisoners and more than 50% of female inmates showing some form of mental health issues.

Because of their illness, prisoners with mental disorders are more likely to run afoul of prison rules, which often leads to institutional charges and long periods in segregation. Segregation is particularly harmful to those dealing with mental health issues as Howard Sapers, the Correctional Investigator of Canada.states in his report.

In the past year, I have been very clear on the point that mentally disordered offenders should not be held in segregation or in conditions approaching solitary confinement. Segregation is not therapeutic. In too many cases, segregation worsens underlying mental health issues. Solitary confinement places inmates alone in a cell for 23 hours a day with little sensory or mental stimulation, sometimes for months at a time. Deprived of meaningful social contact and interaction with others, the prisoner in solitary confinement may withdraw, «act out» or regress. Research suggests that between one-third and as many as 90% of prisoners experience some adverse symptoms in solitary confinement, including insomnia, confusion, feelings of hopelessness and despair, hallucinations, distorted perceptions and psychosis.

The United Nations Human Rights Committee has said that the practice may, in some instances, be a violation of international law, amounting to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

The use of prolonged segregation for managing prisoners can rarely be justified. There is growing international recognition and expert consensus that the use of solitary confinement should be prohibited for mentally ill prisoners and that it should never be used as a substitute for appropriate mental health care.

“We are primates, we are made to socialize, but in segregation you have no contacts, you can't speak to anyone. My friend died three months ago, he hung himself in the hole. Now I am in the hole. Sometimes you look at what you got and take it from there. If all you have is boredom, sometimes just getting excited and creating commotions (see Ashley Smith) is better than nothing. I am starting to crack... I am so bored and so cut off from interaction I can't take it anymore. I can't even see another man's eyes when I speak to him, can you imagine what that feels like?”
(A segregated maximum security offender in his own words, November 2009.)

Some more sobering numbers. In some maximum security institutions, as much as a third of the population can  be in segregation.There were over 7,600 placements in administrative segregation in 2008–09. The average number of accumulated days in segregation is 95. The long-term segregation population (over 120 days) is growing, and snapshot data from April 12, 2009, shows that 177 inmates had spent more than 120 days in solitary. Close to 40% of inmates spent more than 60 days in segregation. This would test the sanity of even the most stable of minds,add in mental health issues and the end result can only be one of greater harm.

Segregation isn't the only form of abuse in our prison system, as we have seen in the Ashley Smith case some of the techniques used to restrain prisoners who are "acting out" border on torture. I like many Canadian am outraged by her treatment, but in case you think that this may have been an isolated case, here is a case summary from the report. What you are about to read is to me anyways reminiscent of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay. 

Case Summary: In the period just prior to conditional release, a female offender engages in a number of self-harming incidents that increase in both severity and duration. Despite documented mental health concerns and poor institutional adjustment, she spends the vast majority of her sentence in segregation. On almost every occasion of self-harm, her behaviour is met with overly restrictive, punitive and security-based interventions that often necessitate use of force, including the adoption of the standing control restraint technique to manage her. (This technique requires the offender to stand, in leg irons and high profile rear wrist locks, until self-injurious behaviour ceases, which can be hours.) In this case, pressure was applied to the rear wrist locks to induce discomfort when she was not compliant or had attempted to drop to the floor. Despite a number of consultations between Region and National Headquarters on the best method/ technique to restrain this offender from self-injuring, it appears that a comprehensive clinical management plan to address this offender's chronic mental illness was never fully implemented. Significantly, the challenging “adjustment” behaviours that this offender presented while in custody have virtually ceased since her conditional release into the community.

I seems clear to me that we don't need to build more prisons, instead what we need to do is invest in mental health in a very significant way. Do this and not only will we be doing the right and proper thing but at the same time freeing up space in our prisons eliminating the need for more prisons even as Harper and his gang ramp up the already too high rate of incarceration in this country.Would this not be a better use of our tax dollars?