Sunday, November 26, 2006
Photo: A prison cell in the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Thousands of people were killed here during Pol Pot’s regime. Human Rights Watch has called torture the leading moral and political question of our time.
Torture – it is not something most residents of Ottawa think about every day, but for Farah Nojoumi, it is something she spends much of her time helping people overcome.
Ms. Nojoumi, who emigrated from Iran in 1993, works as a clinical counsellor with the Ottawa Community Immigrant Services Organization (OSISO).
Last Wednesday, she made a presentation to about 60 health care professionals about the impact of war and torture on children and youth.
“Torture completely changes the family dynamic,” said Ms. Nojoumi. “Parents who have been tortured or suffer from war trauma are not good role models.”
On top of that, many of their children lack the necessary coping mechanisms to understand and deal with such extraordinary circumstances. They are often poorly educated and suffer from phobias, anxiety or fear.
Ms. Nojoumi cited a case she worked on as an example. A woman (nationality unknown) gave birth to a baby boy while she was in jail and subjected to torture. After a year, the boy was removed and sent to live with his grandparents. The boy was very aggressive and difficult to deal with. The mother and child were reunited five years later when the woman was released from jail, but they were not successful in reconnecting with each other. A year later she immigrated to Canada and five years later, she had enough money to bring him here (against his wishes). Problems followed and the Children’s Aid Society became involved. After awhile, Ms. Nojoumi started working with him and eventually, the boy became more communicative and responsive and was able to graduate from high school.
During the question and answer discussion that followed, Ms. Nojoumi offered her audience some advice on how to deal with people who have suffered war trauma and torture.
“Never assume that torture survivors are safe here in Canada,” said Ms. Nojoumi. “Remember that survivors are always at risk of being re-traumatized.
There are other factors affecting survivors: post-immigration difficulties in Canada; language issues; culture shock; difficulties adapting to winter; no peer support and employment and housing difficulties.
OCISO provides services in 10 languages. They see about 300 clients per year and estimate that up to 20 per cent of their clients have been victims of torture.
JP Melville, a cross-cultural education co-ordinator at OCISO, says that despite getting good support from all levels of government, there is room for improvement – especially in the area of mental health.
“Young people feel disenfranchised,” said Mr. Melville. “We are bringing in people with skills but not investing in them. We also need to provide more employment and family support,” he said.
In 2005, Canada took in more than 262,000 immigrants according to Statistics Canada. About 8,000 came to Ottawa.
Approximately, 80 per cent of prime working-age immigrants found employment within two years of their entry to Canada. However, only 48 per cent of principal applicants in the skilled worker category were able to find work in their field, according to Statistics Canada.
Thursday, November 23, 2006
How many Canadians does it take to screw in (an energy-efficient) light bulb?
According to a recent survey by Climate Action Network, we are not even trying. Canada ranked 51st worst (out of 56) in terms of climate change initiatives.
To add insult to injury, Canada was awarded the “Fossil of the Day” award at the recently completed United Nations Climate Change Conference in Nairobi, Kenya.
Here in Canada, the Conservative’s Clean Air Act was met with a “thumbs up” from big business and a resounding “thumbs down” from environmentalists. Opposition parties demanded it be sent to committee for changes, saying it would not survive second reading in the House of Commons.
The problem with the Clean Air Act is it does not provide a way for Canada to meet its Kyoto Protocol targets of reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to a level six per cent below 1990 levels by 2012.
And therein lies the problem – what to do about Kyoto?
“We won’t be the only country not to make our Kyoto targets,” said David Chernushenko, Green Party candidate for Ottawa Centre in a telephone interview.
“But is it Canadian to say, ‘at least we are not the only ones,’” he added.
Aaron Freeman, a policy director at Environmental Defence said:
“Even if you do not believe we can meet our Kyoto targets, it is still incumbent on Canada to do whatever it can to reduce GHG emissions and to do so quickly. Our backing away from Kyoto will have a very significant affect internationally.”
Canada got a dressing-down in Nairobi for not being clear regarding making its Kyoto targets. Environment Minister Rona Ambrose used part of her speech to the delegates to attack the previous Liberal government’s failure to act on Kyoto in a timely manner.
While some criticized her for airing domestic grievances in public, many applauded her for letting the world know what the Conservatives inherited when they took over in Ottawa.
The Liberals had 13 years to enact significant climate change legislation and when they finally released their Project Green, environmentalists assailed it for relying too much on voluntary reduction in emissions.
What will happen if Canada fails to meet its targets and decides to cut and run?
“If we don’t meet our target in the first compliance period (2008-2012) there may be no repercussions at all – if we don’t sign on to the extension of Kyoto,” said Ian Richler, an environmental lawyer with Gowling Lafleur Henderson.
“Canada can’t simply walk away; but all we would have to do is give written notice,” said Nick Schneider a policy analyst at The Fraser Institute. “The earliest Canada could withdraw is February 16, 2009. Withdrawing would be easy, but dealing with the political ramifications would not be. However, since the penalties are effectively non-binding it seems more likely that Canada will remain party to the protocol, but will simply not meet the target in round one – in fact, Mr. Harper has stated that this is what will happen,” said Mr. Schneider.
There is a way out of this mess but it is fraught with political landmines. The government had previously stated it would not use the Clean Development Mechanism – which allows industrial countries to earn emissions credits by financing clean technology projects in developing countries – but it may have to reconsider that decision.
Critics (including many Tories) have called the carbon market a waste of money that will not reduce emissions in Canada or create jobs here.
“The Conservatives have played a very disingenuous PR game on the carbon market front,” said Mr. Chernushenko. “Someone who didn’t like the carbon market has been spinning this false impression that it was just throwing money away. I like to remind everyone that we are all in the same greenhouse right now. We can achieve our Kyoto targets by reducing GHG emissions in another part of the world and that has the same positive impacts for Canada as if we were to do it right next door,” Mr. Chernushenko added.
There are other options for Canada as well. Lately, the government has shown increased interest in the Asia-Pacific Partnership (AP6), which includes countries that did not sign on to Kyoto.
“Anything that is voluntary and gets countries working together is good,” said Dr. Jay Lehr, science director at the Hartland Institute, in a telephone interview from the United States.
“Clearly that is better than the silliness of Kyoto. The best thing that could come out of Nairobi would be to recognize that meeting Kyoto standards for 98 per cent of all the countries is hopeless and adopt a more reasonable approach and continue to study the evidence,” said Mr. Lehr.
While Mr. Schneider thinks Canada should be involved in the AP6 dialogue, he cautions putting too much into it just yet.
“The disadvantage of AP6 is that it is still in development, much like any future round of Kyoto,” said Mr. Schneider. “Therefore, with no comprehensively developed plan past 2012, it’s not about joining one or the other - because right now, neither truly exists. A range of competing or complementary policies also provides the opportunity to experiment with alternative arrangements that may be more effective,” said Mr. Schneider.
Whether Canada sticks with Kyoto or moves on, the issue of adapting to climate change looms large, yet rarely gets mentioned.
“For the longest time it was almost heresy to talk about adaptation because we were trying so hard to prevent it from happening,” said Mr. Chernushenko. “It was like admitting defeat to talk about adaptation. It is already happening and it is time for Canada to have a strategy to help the many people and sectors adapt to the reality that climate change is coming and prepare as best we can to the anticipated changes. Everyone thinks of temperature, but it is going to be a long list – coastlines, ecosystems, rainfall, insects,” said Mr. Chernushenko.
“We cannot control our climate,” said Mr. Lehr. “Let’s study it and adapt. That’s the best we can do. Any money we spend trying to control the climate is foolish and absurd.”
Meanwhile, out in the oil patch, energy companies have pushed profits (and Canada’s GDP) to new levels, yet they are easy targets when it comes to finding a GHG boogeyman. While they account for much of the emissions produced in Canada, many are diversifying and implementing emission reduction targets of their own.
“Suncor has had a plan on climate change since before Kyoto became a household word,” said Brad Bellows, a spokesperson for Suncor. “Energy efficiency in our operations and investments in renewable energy are two cornerstones of this plan. As of the end of 2005, our GHG emissions per barrel had declined by about 50 per cent from 1990 levels,” said Mr. Bellows.
Environmentalists have called on the industry to become carbon neutral, which will greatly help Canada meet its GHG emissions targets.
Mr. Bellows believes CO2 capture and storage will be key to this, but right now the technology is not ready.
Is this the end of Kyoto?
“I don’t know if it is the end of Kyoto yet,” said Mr. Chernushenko. “Part of me says I hope not because at least Kyoto is a structure and a framework to work with, but another part of me says does it really matter if it is the end of Kyoto, as long as it is replaced by real action?”
Tuesday, November 07, 2006
Photo - An Afghani girl lines up at a World Vision Project in northern Afghanistan. Photo courtesy Philip Maher, World Vision.
The battle for the hearts and minds of the people of Afghanistan may come down to who can promise them a full stomach.
Afghanistan is Canada’s biggest aid recipient - $100 million per year - yet critics complain that Canada is too focused on a military solution to the country’s problems rather than a development one.
When International Development Minister Josée Verner visited Afghanistan recently - at the end of Ramadan – the only coverage was a staged photo-op of the minister handing out school bags to Afghan girls. The minister did not visit any of the reconstruction projects funded by Canadian taxpayers, apparently due to bad timing.
It was not Canadian diplomacy’s finest hour.
On top of the diplomatic problems, there are military ones.
The Taliban – ousted by the military might of the United States five years ago, has returned to Kandahar – thanks, in part, to the perceived “welcome mat” that exists on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, where they are able to launch an insurgency against NATO troops.
Insurgency is a coward’s war – dress like civilians; live in civilian areas; use illegal weapons (anti-personnel landmines); use civilians as human shields; then go in and recruit the despondent after NATO air strikes have killed their loved ones.
Part of the problem is NATO’s – there are simply not enough boots on the ground. Canada is trying to get NATO partners to increase their troop levels, but, so far, requests have mostly fallen on deaf ears.
And even if that were to happen – most observers, both civilian and military, agree on one very important point – there is no military solution to the problems in Afghanistan.
Putting more troops on the ground is the last thing Sid Lacombe wants to see. The co-ordinator of the Canadian Peace Alliance wants Prime Minister Stephen Harper to pull Canada’s military out of Afghanistan.
“The main thing Canada did wrong was to follow George Bush into a ill-fated state-building operation,” said Mr. Lacombe in a telephone interview from Toronto.
“You have a former oil executive as a president; he pulls in some of the worst warlords into his government and we decide to support his mission. The only moral choice to improve the situation is to pull the troops out.”
Mr. Lacombe is not alone in his thinking.
Recently, thousands of Canadians participated in anti-war rallies across the country. Many believe Canada went to Afghanistan with no plan and no exit strategy.
“Most Canadians support balanced, clearly-defined missions that focus on long-term security and peace,” said NDP Leader Jack Layton at a rally in Toronto.
“But this is not such a mission. For each $1 we’re spending in Afghanistan, only 10 cents goes to aid and reconstruction, while the other 90 cents goes into combat,” said Mr. Layton.
The Senlis Council, an international think tank that was in Ottawa recently to unveil its policy paper that calls for a new approach in Afghanistan, supported that figure.
The council’s lead researcher and founder, Canadian lawyer Norine MacDonald (who currently lives in Kandahar) says focusing on counter insurgency and forced poppy eradication instead of poverty reduction, health care and other essentials is hurting the international community’s efforts in Afghanistan.
“Kandahar is a complete war zone,” said Ms. MacDonald. “We are absolutely losing the hearts and minds campaign.”
It is difficult to know where to go from here. How long will the Canadian public tolerate their soldiers being picked off one-by-one by roadside bombs planted by an invisible enemy? How do you get aid and reconstruction projects going in the middle of a war zone? What will the international community think if Canada unilaterally pulls its troops out?
Dr. Mohamed Elmasry, president of Canadian Islamic Congress believes the only way to break the cycle of violence and get aid and development going is to have a peace conference.
“We call on the Canadian government to press forward for a peace conference under the United Nations, where all parties will be around the table – including the Taliban, tribal leaders, Afghanistan’s neighbours, the Afghan government and other Muslim countries,” said Dr. Elmasry in a telephone interview.
“The original Canadian mission in Afghanistan was supposed to be a 3D mission – defence, development and diplomacy,” said Dr. Elmasry. “We feel strongly that the last two Ds are missing. If we keep in this mode of operation, 2009 will come around and Canada will have no legacy in Afghanistan.”
Leaving behind a failed state with a massive drug problem is not something anyone in the West wants to contemplate, but after five years of military intervention, the situation may be at a tipping point.
“Westerners have brought the look of the rich to the poor, but none of the benefits,” said Professor John Polanyi, of the University of Toronto.
According to the World Factbook, more than 50 per cent of the population lives below the poverty line and the unemployment rate hovers around 40 per cent.
Despite billions of dollars going into Afghanistan, most people still do not have basic services. Because of the country’s limited infrastructure and the fact that 80 per cent of the population lives in the 38,000 villages that are dispersed throughout the country, it is difficult to distribute aid.
The situation is critical in Kandahar because of the ongoing battles between NATO forces and the Taliban. Many NGOs will not go to Kandahar because of the lack of security.
“We do not have any programs in Kandahar right now,” said Dirk Booy, executive vice president of World Vision Canada. “Right now, it is an insecure environment and World Vision, as a humanitarian organization does not want to put its staff into that kind of a situation. If the situation becomes stable and secure for humanitarian aid organizations to work, World Vision would be happy to meet the needs of the people,” said Mr. Booy.
The Senlis Council believes one of the ways to meet the needs of the people and improve the quality of life is to initiate a village-by-village poppy licensing system – run by the community – and develop a Fair Trade brand of Afghan morphine and codeine for medical and scientific purposes.
“Many of the people we met in the refugee camps had had to leave their villages because they had lost everything when their crops were eradicated,” said Ms. MacDonald.
“The Taliban have seen a political opportunity in the anger against the NATO presence that eradication triggered and used that to their advantage in building political support in the south,” she added.
Ms. MacDonald thinks poppy licensing would play and important role in establishing the rule of law, by reducing the amount of opium getting into the illegal marketplace. This may be difficult to put into practice since the Taliban and other warlords control much of the multi-billion dollar per year poppy production. It is unlikely they will give up this easy source of income without a fight.
In the meantime, the need for aid continues to grow.
Mr. Booy urges Canadians to think long term and beyond Kandahar.
“Obviously Kandahar is in the minds of Canadians because of what is going on there, but there are over 5.9 million Afghanis that need food aid right now,” said Mr. Booy. “The need is great in other parts of the country as well. Children are losing their lives because of lack of access to clean water and health care and food.”
Believing that brainpower is more powerful than firepower, the Canadian Islamic Congress recently created the Capt. Nichola Goddard Scholarship (named after the Canadian soldier killed by the Taliban last May).
“(We did this) not only to honour her but also to send a message to the young minds of this country that we need an army – not an army to go fight and kill, but an army of political scientists who are trained in conflict resolution,” said Dr. Elmasry.
Photo - Anti-war rally, Ottawa, Oct. 28, 2006.