Thursday, March 23, 2006
Thousands have lived without love, not one without water – W.H. Auden.
Photo: Ottawa Mayor Bob Chiarelli declares March 22 World Water Day in Ottawa.
The City of Ottawa marked World Water Day on March 22 with a small gathering of politicians, representatives from NGOs, religious leaders and concerned citizens in the foyer of City Hall.
Mayor Bob Chiarelli read the resolution city council passed unanimously that said access to clean water is a basic human right.
He also used the occasion to remind the federal government of the fiscal imbalance.
“Part of the infrastructure deficit we are talking about is infrastructure for water,” Mr. Chiarelli said. “Municipalities are the ones who must deliver the goods – clean, safe water.”
“Our lack of a national water policy leaves us vulnerable,” said Susan Howatt, national water campaigner for the Council of Canadians.
“We need a national water policy that supports municipalities to upgrade their water infrastructure, that bans bulk water exports and sets national clean drinking water standards,” said Ms. Howatt.
Organizers of the event walked to City Hall carrying water jugs to symbolize what millions of poor people in developing countries must endure in order to access potable water.
Sangita Patel, a program officer with Foster Parents Plan Canada understands the issue completely. She manages education projects in West Africa where the organization builds latrines and wells at school sites to promote hygiene and health for students.
“Water contamination is a very serious issue, particularly in the rural areas,” said Ms. Patel. “In some cases it is a major determinate of children attending school, particularly young girls. The distances they have to go each day to collect water means there is not time for them to go to school.
It is a safety concern as well. These young women are travelling (long distances) alone, unattended, to get water,” said Ms. Patel.
“As a child-centred organization, we fully follow and endorse the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (which includes access to safe water),” said Ms. Patel.
Paul Compass of the church-based social justice movement Kairos said: “The price of water has increased dramatically and has been made inaccessible to the poor. This practice of privatization has grown dramatically on every continent. We see in western countries particularly, a prevailing and unjustified mistrust of municipal drinking water. That has been nurtured by powerful advertising and marketing programs by multi-national companies.”
“The bottled water industry is a scam,” said Ms. Howatt. “Bottled water is municipal water dressed up differently.”
Ottawa South Liberal MP David McGuinty warned: “The debate around water is only just beginning. I predict that (over the next several years) Canada will be under enormous pressure to ship water all over the world.”
“There is a real fear that under NAFTA and GATS the Government of Canada cannot ban bulk water exports,” said Ms. Howatt.
“Canadians care about water,” said Ms. Howatt. “The number two issue that generated correspondence with the prime minister’s office last year was bulk water exports. It was after missile defence. Not gay marriage. It was not legalization of marijuana; it was water.”
According to CIDA, the Canadian government invested more than $60 million on water-related programs in the 2003/2004 fiscal year.
In addition, CIDA supports the achievement of the water targets in the UN Millennium Development Goals.
In particular, CIDA supports the goal of halving, by 2015, the proportion of people unable to reach or afford safe drinking water and who do not have access to basic sanitation.
The international observance of World Water Day is an initiative that grew out of the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro.
Monday, March 13, 2006
Last December, I had the opportunity to see the film Shooters at the new Canadian War Museum in Ottawa. I also interviewed the film's producer – James O'Regan – about the film and his reasons for making it. What a fascinating story it turned out to be. Photo: Gunner and Canadian Film and Photo Unit dispatch rider Brian O'Regan (centre) with two Russian soldiers. Germany, April 27, 1945. Photo by Frank L Dubervill.
Two weeks before Christmas 2005, Ottawa filmmaker James O’Regan presented Canadian veterans and their families with a gift – his film about the Canadian Film and Photo Unit, entitled Shooters.
Addressing a small crowd of about 60 people in the Barney Danson Theatre in the new Canadian War Museum, Mr. O’Regan, 53, spoke passionately about his 49-minute film and his efforts to complete it in time for Year of the Veteran.
Mr. O’Regan stumbled upon the project by chance, when several years earlier, he attended a dinner that would have a major impact on his life.
“The story of the Canadian Film and Photo Unit (CFPU) was unsung,” said Mr. O’Regan. “About seven or eight years ago, my family and I were attending a flak artillery battery reunion dinner and on the table was an honour roll and in it was a story about my father finding a can of film on Juno beach on D-Day and getting it back to the beach commander. And it was the iconic film of that day – the landing craft with the doors opening. And I said, that’s a great story, how come I never knew that?” Mr. O’Regan recalled.
“At that time I realized that we know a lot about the war, but we don’t know a lot about how it was documented,” he said.
CFPU was formed in 1941. Comprised of enlisted men and women, its objectives were to film Canadian troops in action and supply the Department of National Defence (DND) and media outlets with theatrical newsreels and still photographs.
As it turned out, Mr. O’Regan’s father, Brian, was a gunner who became a motorcycle dispatch rider for the unit.
“I felt there was something here to be investigated further,” said Mr. O’Regan. Once I got my Dad talking, my brother and I decided to go over to France with him, get a local camera crew and film him telling these stories at the actual spots. He thought that was a good idea. So I started to put something together to pitch it. Then my Dad caught a spot of cancer and died in February 1999,” he said.
Unfortunately, Mr. O’Regan does not have any on-camera interviews with his father.
Undeterred, Mr. O’Regan immersed himself in researching the history of the CFPU and pitched his documentary film idea to Canadian television. As is the case for many a Canadian filmmaker, he could not get any broadcaster to commit to the project (which would have helped trigger the flow of money).
“DND was interested in the story (because of the heritage value) and they were trying to find a way to help me with their own operations, but every time they thought they had a solution, (then finance minister) Paul Martin would cut $400 million out of DND’s budget,” said Mr. O’Regan.
That meant Mr. O’Regan’s film kept getting pushed a little further down the list of priorities for DND.
“Eventually, Bill Grant, who shot the D-Day footage and Ken Bell who shot the colour D-Day footage, died on me,” said Mr. O’Regan.
Using his own money, as well as money borrowed from his family, Mr. O’Regan began to film the surviving members of the unit who he could afford to travel to. He was able to locate the survivors because the unit had held a reunion in 1986, which Brian O'Regan had attended; and because Brian O'Regan had kept addresses and phone numbers of the members.
Mr. O’Regan interviewed four members of the unit for Shooters, including Charles “Bud” Roos – the first Allied cameraman to set foot on the beach on D-Day. Sadly, Mr. Roos died on February 8, 2006.
Mr. O’Regan was able to get footage of the unit from DND without charge. He wanted to use other newsreel footage, but could not afford to pay for it.
“Stock footage is $25 US per second and I used a lot of seconds,” he said.
Library and Archives Canada helped him out with research and provided him with video footage of the unit’s first production – Wood for War.
Included in Mr. O'Regan's documentary is Bill Grant's stunning footage of Canadian soldiers disembarking the landing craft on Juno Beach. The sequence, which captures two winds of the hand-cranked Eymo 35mm newsreel camera (approximately two minutes running time) is one of several CFPU scoops that were shown around the world.
What is equally amazing is how the world ever got to see the film in the first place.
“My Dad (who was 19 years old on D-Day) was pushing his motorcycle off the landing craft and up on the beach,” recalled Mr. O’Regan. “As he approached the seawall, he noticed this can of film in the sand. He knew what it was because he was trained. It was exposed film because it had tape around it and it had Grant number one written on it. Not finding either Bill Grant or the press bag, he took the film back to the beach commander who put it on the next boat back to London and it was in the war office by 1 p.m. That was the first film back from Normandy. If you look at the war record at the Archives, the talk is there were “whoops and cheers” at the sight of that film,” said Mr. O’Regan.
“It is a remarkable piece of film. Whenever we see something about D-Day we only see the shot of the landing craft’s door opening, and that’s about six seconds,” he added.
For Mr. O’Regan, there were “whoops and cheers” when DND and an Ottawa post-production house – General Assembly – agreed to help him out with finishing the film.
“Every step was a challenge,” said Mr. O’Regan. “This should not have taken seven years. I could not find the people to support it. In January 2004, I showed a rough cut to the current army news team in Ottawa and DND then committed to seeing that the film was completed in post.”
Mr. O’Regan wanted to use Takin’ Care of Business from Bachman-Turner Overdrive and Flip, Flop and Fly from Downchild Blues Band in Shooters. He obtained permission from the musicians but not the music publishers. Andrew Hugget from General Assembly scored the film for him.
Despite finally having a finished product, he could not get Shooters into any film festivals. Another problem was finding a Canadian service provider to make DVDs on demand. He ended up going with the U.S. company CustomFlix.
DVDs are also available from the boutique at the Canadian War Museum. To date, he has sold 56 copies.
Shooters has had some television exposure but not enough to turn a profit.
Mr. O’Regan soldiers on despite carrying a significant debt load.
In addition to working as an actor, writer, producer and director, he is currently doing non-film related work in Ottawa to pay off his film debts. He has an agent in Los Angeles trying to find a buyer for two of his feature comedy screenplays.
Regardless of what projects develop next, Mr. O’Regan is proud of his film. It is a moving portrait of the men who shot both still and moving images of Canadians in action in the Second World War. Those survivors of CFPU who have seen the film have praised it and Mr. O’Regan’s efforts to bring their story to life.
It is a good thing he worked so hard to tell their stories. All of the unit's camera original footage was destroyed in a fire at the National Film Board of Canada's Montreal office years ago. The only footage that remains consists of 16mm black and white prints of the 106 CFPU newsreels.
The newsreels tell the stories of Canadian troops at war, but Shooters describes the experiences of a small group of dedicated people behind the camera who risked their lives to get the stories out.
Friday, March 10, 2006
More than 100 Tibetans and their supporters gathered on Parliament Hill Friday to mark the 47th anniversary of the forced exile of the Dalai Lama.
Tibetan nationals came from Montreal and Toronto to join in the peaceful demonstration and demand China stop what they call the oppression of the Tibetan people.
They also called on the federal government to become more involved.
“After five rounds of talks (between Tibet and China), Canada must significantly increase its pressure on China to peacefully resolve the Tibetan issue,” said Tenzin Dargyal of the Canada Tibet Committee.
“We are confident the Tibet issue will continue to enjoy strong parliamentary support in this new government,” he added.
Conservative MP Jason Kenney (Calgary Southeast) said: “There are many members of Parliament in Canada and throughout the world who stand in solidarity with you and with all Tibetans in exile and with Tibetans who still live in Tibet who have undergone persecution. For those who have simply stood for basic human rights in Tibet, we must stand in solidarity with them.”
Also on hand in the cold rainy weather was the Deputy Leader of the Green Party of Canada, David Chernushenko, who cautioned China that with the 2008 Summer Olympics coming, the eyes of the world would be on China and its human rights record.
Speakers praised the Dalai Lama and exiled Tibetans for their resolve and expressed hope for a peaceful settlement to come out of the current negotiations.
The crowd wore traditional Tibetan costumes with Free Tibet written on their black hats. Carrying flags and photographs of friends and family who remain in Tibet, they listened intently to the speeches.
In addition to the Tibetans, many Canadian university students were there, as was Ivonka Survilla, president of the Rada (council) of the Belarus Democratic Republic in exile.
“We ourselves are fighting against a dictatorship,” Ms. Survilla said. “We have come here to show our support to the courageous people of Tibet who are dealing with a very grave situation at home.”
In a press release the Dalai Lama said: “A positive atmosphere cannot be created by one side alone. As an ancient Tibetan saying goes, one hand is not enough to create the sound of a clap.”
There are approximately 120,000 Tibetans living outside of Tibet. Of those, 3,000 live in Canada.
University of Ottawa hosts an afternoon for Nepal.
The situation in Nepal is desperate – widespread human rights violations, a repressed media, and recent municipal elections that have been described as fraudulent – have lead this once peaceful country to be now known as one of the world’s “hot spots,” according the a panel of experts at a meeting at the University of Ottawa on Feb. 18.
The panel discussion – called Democracy, Peace and Human Rights in Nepal – was sponsored by Harmony International and the Canada Forum for Nepal – two groups actively seeking to bring about change to the besieged Asian country of more than 27 million people – 40 per cent of whom, live below the poverty line, according to The World Factbook.
The panelists included: former foreign affairs minister and human rights activist Flora MacDonald, former secretary-general of Amnesty International Canada, Roger Clark, rural development specialist Krishnahari Gautam, media specialist Faruq Faisel and moderator Richard Harmston.
“There is an absence of human rights in Nepal,” said Mr. Harmston. “We are witnessing a failing state.”
Ms. MacDonald said: “When I was there last year, we were warned not to stop (our vehicles) in Katmandu. We could not walk alone. When I first went to Nepal (many years ago), I so enjoyed being able to walk the streets of the villages without fear. It was calm and peaceful in those days,” she added.
The days of peace and tranquility are long gone. More than 13,000 people have been killed in the 10-year conflict between the ruling monarchy and the Maoists.
Ms. MacDonald supports the International Crisis Group’s recommendation that King Gyanendra take up the United Nations Secretary-General’s offer to broker and monitor a durable bilateral ceasefire.
The lack of democracy in Nepal goes back a long time. The country has been ruled by monarchs for generations. In 1996, Maoist rebels began a violent insurgency campaign against the government in an attempt to establish a so-called Peoples Republic.
This has lead to widespread human rights violations, according to Mr. Clark.
For two years beginning in 2003, Nepal had the highest rate of reported disappearances in the world. Many dissidents have been rounded up and have not been accounted for, according to Amnesty International. The use of torture and the recruitment of child soldiers have also been documented by the human rights group.
“Human rights violations occur in areas where access to information is withheld,” said Mr. Clark. “Newspapers have been closed – the technique is to shut down all media opportunity. More journalists have been arrested there in the last two years than in any other part of the world,” he added.
“Nepal’s problems are the world’s problems,” said Mr. Clark. “The world must become engaged there.”
All members of the panel urged people to write to Canadian media outlets as well as their members of parliament in order to raise awareness of the grave situation in Nepal.