Al-Jazeera in Canada – A win for media diversity and democracy


A year ago,, along with several other groups, rallied people from across Canada to contact the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) in support of Al Jazeera English’s (AJE) application to broadcast in Canada. Of the approximately 2,800 public comments submitted to the CRTC, all were in favour of AJE except 40 parties who filed comments in opposition to bringing the broadcaster to Canada. Last fall, Open Media advocates celebrated the approval of the AJE application. The CRTC directly cites the input it received to back up its decision, showing once again that citizen input can sway the regulator to do the right thing.

While Canadians looked forward to having access to a new, independent public broadcaster in Canada, many worried that AJE would be unable to convince cable and satellite companies to carry the station. For many, the wait is over, as AJE officially began broadcasting in Canada on Bell TV, Rogers and Vidéotron on May 4 of this year. The best offering is from Videotron, which gives customers a three-month free preview of AJE until August 4 and AJE is part of every package the company offers. Cable and satellite customers can learn more about how to order the new channel by visiting

AJE will open a Canadian bureau this month and two journalists have already been hired. As big media seem increasingly unable or unwilling to invest in hard news and investigative journalism, this development couldn’t come at a better time. AJE offers a high standard of journalism and a diverse perspective that Canadians and the Canadian government need to hear.

While adding a dose of diversity and quality information to Canada’s concentrated media ecology is enough cause for celebration, how AJE pursues this market will make a big difference on its net effect. For example, if AJE pursues collaborations with Canada’s independent media outlets, it could provide a powerful leg up for organizations like, StraightGoods, TheMark and others.

Imagine the power of a partnership where these online indie news outlets help AJE reach Canadians online, while AJE helps get these organizations out to TV viewers across the country. This sort of cross promotion could provide a new critical mass of readers for online independent media. If AJE takes on this role, it really could reinvigorate Canada’s media ecology.

This is a great win, but unless you’re a Videotron customer you’ll need to go out of your way to specifically order and pay extra for AJE. Rogers is only offering AJE à la carte in a test phase for $2.79/month (claiming it will consider packages once there is high customer demand); it is not included in any of its themed packages and it does not offer a free preview of the new channel. AJE is available at Bell TV à la carte for $3/month; it is also part of an international news package (though Bell is not advertising this inclusion) and there is no free preview. For us in the West, Shaw is not currently carrying it and Telus and AJE are still in negotiations.

Distributors (excluding Videotron) should take a number of actions, including those noted below, so Canadians can take advantage of this opportunity for improved quality and diversity of news coverage:

1) Offer customers a free preview of Al Jazeera English.

2) Offer Al Jazeera, not only à la carte or stand alone, but as part of themed packages such as news and learning packages, multicultural and other general and special packages.

3) Advertise the existence of the new channel on their website and other marketing endeavours.

It does not make sense to force Canadian customers who already pay for a huge number of channels to pay for AJE in addition to any of these packages, especially packages for news and other relevant themes.

TV subscribers should demand access to AJE from cable and Satellite companies. To find out how, visit

Steve Anderson is the national coordinator for the Campaign for Democratic Media. He has written for The Tyee, Toronto Star, Epoch Times andAdbusters.

Water: life’s foundation

NUTRISPEAK by Vesanto Melina

Water is the essence of our body’s circulatory system and that of the planet’s. In our bodies, a loss of 10 percent of our fluids can be fatal. However, with an increase of 83 million people on the planet every year, water demand will continue to escalate unless we change our use of this precious substance. It is expected that in 15 years, 1.8 billion people will live in regions of severe water scarcity.

Today in coastal BC, a shortage of water seems unlikely. Our tap water tastes good and it is abundant and safe to drink. Unless you enjoy throwing money away, you need not buy bottled water. Whereas, the average adult drinks just 1.5 litres of water per day (including tea, juice and coffee), in BC we each use 490 litres per day, excluding the water used by industry and agriculture. Toilet flushing and bathing each account for 30 percent of our home use. BC residents use much more than the Canadian average (330 litres) and more than many other developed countries. In underground aquifers in Abbotsford and Langley, water levels are already dropping.

What can you do?

Take an interest in food security: Motivated by an appreciation for locally grown food, food security groups are forming throughout BC. Local government and citizens work together to support agriculture. It’s not easy, though. When a $40,000 acre of BC farmland can be worth a million dollars if zoning is changed to allow development, politicians are under pressure to look the other way and make the easy, short-term decision. To see how hot the issue has become, search “food security bc” on the Internet. Harold Steves of Richmond has campaigned for decades to save local farmland and he sees that we must begin acting like we may have to grow all our own food in the not too distant future, instead of relying on produce from California and Chile.

FarmFolk/CityFolk Society: Executive director Heather Pritchard supports local and organic farming and helps young people get into farming.

Support positive government initiatives: By 2020, the BC government plans to increase the province’s water efficiency by 33 percent ( page 54). A BC government plan to meter and manage the province’s dwindling water supply has started up in the Okanagan and is coming to the Fraser Valley. “Metro Vancouver 2040: Shaping Our Future” is a draft that is being considered for adoption by municipalities in the Lower Mainland; it includes protection of agricultural land.

Join the Council of Canadians: This inspiring and resourceful group urges governments and corporations to consider the long-term consequences for humans and the environment in matters of water, resources and more. and

Choose a diet that is increasingly plant-based: Two-thirds of North America’s water is used to grow food; a plant-based diet uses significantly less water. Animal agriculture demands tremendous amounts of fresh water for animal feed. While requirements vary with location and irrigation, on average, it takes about 100 times more water to produce a pound of beef than a pound of wheat. A vegan’s supply of food requires less water for one year than a meat eater’s does for one month.

A plant-based diet helps prevents water pollution. Agriculture is the biggest polluter of North America’s water systems, exceeding the damage from sewage treatment plants, urban storm sewers and pollution from contaminants in air. Factory farms and their manure production (too much to return to distant farmland) lack sewage systems or treatment plants; they poisons rivers, taint the water with hormones and breed dangerous pathogens.

Your dietary choices can help protect against desertification; overgrazing is the world’s leading cause of desertification and it takes nature about 3,000 years to produce the six inches of topsoil needed for a crop, yet intensive farming causes us to lose farmable soil. When land is overgrazed, soil is compacted, losing its ability to absorb water. When heavy rains fall, the topsoil is carried away.

Vesanto Melina is a local dietitian and co-author of the new Becoming Raw as well as the Raw Food Revolution Diet, Becoming Vegetarian, Becoming Vegan, Raising Vegetarian Children and the Food Allergy Survival Guide. For personal consultations, phone 604-882-6782 or visit


1. Flow: 
2. Becoming Vegetarian by Vesanto Melina and Brenda Davis
3. National Geographic, April 2010. Water: our Thirsty World 

Foods that heal

ON THE GARDEN PATH by Carolyn Herriot

Once our personal connection to what is wrong becomes clear, we have to choose. We can go on as before, recognizing our dishonesty and living with it the best we can, or we can begin the effort to change the way we think and live. 

– Wendell Berry

Scientists once believed that it was the vitamin, mineral, fibre and enzymes of plant foods that prevented malnutrition and disease. However, for many years now, researchers have recognized that diets high in fruits, vegetables, herbs, grains, seeds, nuts and legumes prevent diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, cancer and high blood pressure.

In the 1990s, it was discovered that plants manufacture elements as a defence against attack from harsh sunlight, oxidation, viruses and bacteria, insects and disease and background radiation. These elements, known as phytonutrients, are neither vitamin nor mineral, but are part of the plant’s defence system as the plant ripens and sets seed.

Phytonutrients are now known to protect many immune functions in the body – blood, skin and organs – from the daily onslaught of toxic chemicals and carcinogenic compounds prevalent in our modern world. Researchers estimate there are between 30,000 to 50,000 phytonutrients, although only 1,000 have been isolated to date; of these, a mere 100 have been analyzed and tested. In the future, plant disease prevention will be at the forefront of nutritional research worldwide.

Important sources of phytonutrients

  • Garlic, onions, scallions, shallots and chives (potent sulphur compounds)
  • Extracts of bilberry, ginkgo biloba, milk thistle, grape seed and skin
  • Siberian ginseng
  • Green tea
  • Flax seeds, hemp seeds, evening primrose oil
  • Broccoli, Swiss chard, spinach
  • Dandelions
  • Globe artichokes
  • Extra-virgin, cold-pressed olive oil and borage oil
  • Peppers, red beets
  • Apples, grapes and fresh melons
  • Strawberries and blueberries
  • Pink grapefruit, lemons, oranges, tangerines, limes (pulp and rind)
  • Sea vegetables (dulse, wakame, kombu, nori)
  • Fermented soy beans

Until the last few decades, grains were eaten whole and regarded as “the staff of life.” When wheat germ and bran are discarded during processing, only a fraction of the original health value remains. (Whole-wheat flour contains 96 percent more vitamin E than white flour.)

Omega-3 fatty acids

Essential fatty acids are important for everyone, but they are especially important for normal brain development in children. Much of the grey matter of the brain is made up of fat, specifically omega-3 fatty acid docosahexaenoic acid. DHA plays an important role in the composition of the myelin sheath, the protective wrapping around the nerve cells that signal chemical messages in the brain.

Soil degradation, industrial food production, poor dietary habits, processed food and pesticide residues on food result in diets being deficient in the essential nutrients needed for good health.

As many as 5.3 million people in the US are living with Alzheimer’s. Alzheimer’s and dementia triple healthcare costs for Americans age 65 and older. Every 70 seconds, someone develops Alzheimer’s. Alzheimer’s is the seventh-leading cause of death. The direct and indirect costs of Alzheimer’s and other dementias to Medicare, Medicaid and businesses amount to more than $148 billion each year.

It’s important to maintain an appropriate balance of omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids in the diet, as they work together to promote health. Omega-3 fatty acids generally reduce inflammation while omega-6 fatty acids tend to promote inflammation. The typical North American diet contains 14 to 25 times more omega-6 fatty acids than omega-3 fatty acids, and many researchers believe this could be a significant factor in the rising rate of inflammatory disorders.

In contrast, the Mediterranean diet consists of a healthier balance between omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. It is low in meat (high in omega-6 fatty acids) and emphasizes foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, fish, olive oil, as well as moderate wine consumption. Many studies have shown that followers of the Mediterranean diet are less likely to develop heart disease. Sounds OK to me!

Carolyn’s new book The Zero Mile Diet – A Year-round Guide to Growing Great Organic Food (Harbour Publishing) is now

Top foods Phytochemical Recommended intake
Broccoli/spinach Isothiocyanates 2 cups/week
Carrot/cantaloupe Phthalides 1 cup/week
Flax Seed, olive, avocado Lignans 1 tsp. oil per day
Garlic/onion Allicin 1 clove/day
Green Tea/wine Catechins 1 cup/glass/day
Soy/green peas Isoflavones 1 cup soymilk or ½ cup/day
Strawberry/grapes Ellagic Acid 1 cup/week
Tangerine/orange Liminoids 1 whole/day
Tomato/red Pepper Lycopenes 1 whole or ½ cup/day
Whole Grains/wheat Germ Phytates ¼ cup/day


Be true to yourself

UNIVERSE WITHIN by Gwen Randall-Young

The moment we begin to fear the opinions of others and hesitate to tell the truth that is in us… the divine floods of light and life no longer flow into our souls. – Elizabeth Cady Stanton

Again and again, over the years in my work I have encountered people who, to varying degrees, are over-concerned about what others think of them. In one sense, this is not surprising, for from our earliest school days, if not before, we are constantly being evaluated.

A report card would come home three times a year grading us on how well we performed – not only academically, but also athletically, artistically, musically and socially. Early on, we could see that those who were given a high score also received positive attention and seemed highly valued; they were often set up as examples for the rest of us to follow.

When we got older, we saw television commercials and magazine ads, which seemed to set a standard for what we should look like, what we should eat, drive, wear and perhaps even think.

In high school and beyond, most often one must conform to fit in and this may carry on into the workplace and even in the neighbourhoods in which we live. It may even be present in our extended and nuclear families.

What has transpired over all these years is the build-up of ego’s need for approval and its idea that pleasing others is the way to maintain the level of approval it requires. To upset someone or to behave in ways that would cause them to think less of us is terrifying for ego. Ego often even worries about what complete strangers might think.

The problem for the individual caught in this ego trap is that they spend inordinate amounts of time analyzing potential words or actions, trying to tailor them to what they think others would like to hear or see. After the fact, they then spend hours, if not days, reviewing what they said or did and worrying that someone may have judged them negatively.

In all of this, there is no room for being one’s authentic self or living one’s truth. Often, this results in depression, anxiety, anger or resentment. After all, we come here as pure souls, each individual and unique. We come to learn, but also to share the gift of who we are.

No one has all the answers or is perfectly evolved. It takes all of us working together to figure it out. Sometimes, simply speaking our truth raises the level of awareness in all who hear it.

It is not easy to shift from being ‘other-directed’ to ‘self-directed.’ Those around us may expect conciliatory or pleasing behaviours from us and take it personally when we decide to take our power back and be ourselves.

If we fail to do this, we are doomed to a life of frustration, uncertainty and unhappiness. It is like we are always on trial. We become so busy thinking about what others think that we have no time to think about who we are and what we want in life. For some, an entire life has been lived for others and they know no other way.

At some point, however, they realize they are not happy and even when they are, it is short-lived. The stress and tension of worrying about what others think may eventually create health problems. Before it gets to this point, it is time to break free.

We owe it to ourselves to allow ourselves to be the person we naturally and authentically are. We can start by simply noticing when we are thinking about what others might think of us or worrying about their evaluation. We can also notice when we are saying what we think the other wants to hear, rather than speaking our real thoughts.

Find the courage to be real and to deal with the possible disapproval of others. You came to this world to be you – not to be what others think you should be.

Gwen Randall-Young is an author and psychotherapist in private practice. For articles and information about her books and CDs, visit www.gwen.caSee display ad this issue.

Birth and rebirth


Catalina Saavedra plays a long suffering servant in the gently uplifting The Maid.

The Maid (La Nana), which just opened, is one of those films you could watch as straight drama or as a film that could have you in stitches. The tone is ambiguous, adding a certain mysterious quality to the film, although it takes some time to see where it is going.

Virtually the entire film is spent with Raquel (Catalina Saavedra), a surly, live-in housemaid who tends a large, upper-middle class family in Santiago, Chile. We meet Raquel in the opening frame, having a birthday meal, alone, at the kitchen table. While her blank, unsmiling expression reflects a physical and emotional exhaustion from a workload that involves everything from waking and putting the children to bed, to washing and cleaning, to serving at the dinner table, the dullness behind her eyes comes from more than just being overworked.

This becomes apparent when Mrs. Valdez, out of concern for Raquel’s health, tries to hire a second maid to help her long-suffering servant; Raquel suffers from dizzy spells and painful headaches and yet has an almost sociopathic resistance to help. Ignoring her maid’s stubborn ways, Mrs. Valdez proceeds to hire the second maid. The subsequent tension within the house creates some strange and amusing interactions involving, among other things, a kitten, locked doors and a model of a tall ship (the elusive Mr. Valdez is a serious model hobbyist).

Considering the amount of time we spend with Raquel, we don’t learn a great deal about her, at least not initially. It’s as if 20 years of washing and scrubbing have erased her history. Even when out shopping on her day off, she moves in a kind of automatic way. She lives for her work.

Small things take on major significance. Raquel is inflexible, territorial and incommunicative. In short, a royal pain in the butt. Yet she’s clearly dedicated to the Valdezes and they respond by treating her like family. Even Raquel’s strange antagonistic relationship with the teenage daughter seems to stem from a kind of twisted familial rivalry.

Sebastián Silva dedicated his character study to two maids employed by his family while he was growing up. Through handheld camerawork and flawlessly naturalistic performances from his cast, he creates a fly-on-the-wall intimacy with, and an obvious fondness for, his subject. He captures the humour in Raquel’s obsessive behaviour, while leaving enough scope for Raquel to open up later and quietly transform after an unexpected turn of events.

The tone is interesting. There’s a sense of everything being quite ordinary yet slightly off-kilter and one has the feeling that the action could detour at any moment into something more extreme. Instead, Silva merely teases with elements of genre filmmaking. What remains is a restrained, humorous, and, latterly, a gently uplifting piece about a working class woman’s renaissance.

The theme of birth and motherhood is tackled in Rodrigo Garcia’s dramaMother and Child (4th), a drama that weaves together the experiences of three separate women. The film has been heaped with praise for navigating the clichés that come with such territory and for wringing great performances from Annette Bening, Naomi Watts and Kerry Washington: Bening as a middle-aged woman who still obsesses about the baby daughter she gave up for adoption 37 years ago; Watts as the abandoned daughter, now a hardened, ambitious lawyer; and Kerry Washington as Lucy, a woman desperate to have a child, even if it means adopting.

Finally, Oliver Stone proves once again to be a lightning rod for controversy with his latest project South of the Border. Out on the 25th, the documentary began as a profile of Venezuelan president and champion of popular socialism Hugo Chavez and ended up as a glowing portrait of South American leadership and a critique of US mainstream media.

Robert Alstead made the Vancouver documentary You Never Bike He writes at

Gulf oil disaster a costly lesson

SCIENCE MATTERS by David Suzuki with Faisal Moola

It could never happen here. That was Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s assurance in the wake of the massive oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, which he referred to as “an environmental catastrophe unlike anything we’ve seen in quite a long time.”

The company behind the spill off the US Gulf coast, British Petroleum, has three licences to drill for oil in the Beaufort Sea in Canada’s Arctic. BP and other companies have asked our federal government to relax environmental regulations around Arctic drilling. And BC is still pushing to get the federal government to lift a moratorium on drilling off the West Coast. There’s also a plan in the works by Enbridge to build a pipeline to carry oil from the tar sands to the BC coast, where it will be put on oil tankers for ocean shipping. Questions have also been raised about the safety of an offshore well that Chevron has started drilling off the coast of Newfoundland. It will be deeper than the one in the Gulf of Mexico.

We’ve been assured many times that the technology is safe, but the Gulf disaster shows that no technology is foolproof. Can we really afford the risk?

President Barack Obama has halted plans for further oil drilling in the Gulf until an investigation is completed (although, according to the Center for Biological Diversity, the US has approved 27 other offshore drilling projects since the spill) and California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has implemented a similar moratorium on drilling off that state’s coast. Canada, however, has no plans to halt East Coast or Arctic drilling, and the BC government continues to push for drilling off the West Coast. When a disaster of this magnitude occurs, we should stop to re-examine the state of our own programs that might have similar risks so that we can find ways to avoid harming our oceans and coastal communities.

BC’s coast, which is known worldwide for its rich biodiversity and vibrant tourism industry, is particularly vulnerable to the impacts of an oil spill. A spill would be carried quickly by the nutrient-rich currents, possibly washing up on the mainland, Vancouver Island and Haida Gwaii coasts. A spill or leak could threaten orcas, salmon, birds and many other plant and animal species, as well as devastating our fishing and tourism industries.

Is this the price we’re willing to pay for a polluting and diminishing source of energy? Oil may seem inexpensive compared to some forms of energy, but if you factor in the costs of these real and potential disasters, not to mention the everyday pollution, it’s not such a bargain.

One surprising response to the spill comes from proponents of the Alberta tar sands who see the Gulf disaster as a boon. A cartoon in the Edmonton Journal pictured US President Obama standing in the Gulf with oil on his hands, saying, “On second thought, the Alberta oilsands ain’t so bad…” The tar sands have been linked to ecological, social and medical problems, including toxic water pollution and excessive greenhouse gas emissions – and none of that is altered by the Gulf spill. The disastrous consequences of ocean oil spills may be more immediately apparent, but land-based drilling can also cause environmental damage. Leaks, spills, blowouts, fires and explosions are more common than many people realize.

A more thoughtful response to the spill would be to recognize the huge risks associated with the kind of energy we use and the way we get it. Clearly, the negative costs of tar sands and deep ocean resources should point to the need to work toward a carbon-free energy future.

The problems are only going to get worse as we reach peak oil, when the most accessible sources of oil are all but gone and we must rely even more on the dirtier and harder to reach supplies in the deep ocean or tar sands.

We can’t stop using fossil fuels immediately, but we should see this latest disaster as an opportunity to look at the costs of our energy use and where we should go from here. Clearly, we must wean ourselves from oil and gas as we make the transition to cleaner sources of energy. If we were wise, we would go more slowly with the resources we do have – in the tar sands, for example – and use the revenues to fund research and development of clean energy.

Learn more at

Haiti before and after the quake

A tale of aid gone wrong

by Geoff Olson
photos by Elaine Briere

David Putt, a retired agrologist/geologist from Nelson, BC, stands before a display of artwork from Port-au-Prince. The semi-abstract masks, hammered from oil drums, seem to radiate a comic, defiant spirit. “Arts are alive and well everywhere, and they’re a part of people’s daily lives,” says the grey-haired, soft-spoken Putt, pointing to the pieces he and his partner, photojournalist and filmmaker Elaine Brière, brought back from Haiti. The masks add a Caribbean touch to the living room of Brière’s East Vancouver home, which is decorated with photographic prints from around the world. Putt attests to the incredible spirit of the Haitian people, in spite of what they went through. “It was one of the most remarkable things to me,” he notes.

Putt, who came to Haiti to work with the NGO Pure Water for the World, was in the basement of an office building in Port-au-Prince when the earthquake hit on January 12. Terrified, he and two co-workers dove under a rickety table. Although the building was damaged beyond repair, it did not collapse. Everyone inside survived, and after a seeming eternity of quaking, they gathered outdoors, shocked and shaking. Putt looked to the horizon, at a cloud of dust so thick it completely obscured a nearby valley where many dwellings had come down. He could see the hill above, in the greener, leafier neighbourhood where the wealthy lived. “Every few moments a wall or a house up there collapsed,” he remembers. “Maybe 20 minutes after the quake, we saw a large building crumble and slide down the hill, those trapped inside screaming as it went.”haitian billboard

After retrieving water from the building, Putt and a co-worker set out for home in the gathering darkness. “At first it was eerily quiet except for a few on the street crying, a few others moaning in the wreckage. Even the children were quiet. Bodies and some of the badly injured were already being laid out on the street – one had to be careful not to step on them in the dark. Groups had gathered and some began singing, hymns mostly, often in a beautiful, otherworldly chant and response that I found chilling and comforting at the same time.”

As other observers noted at the time shortly after the quake, some Haitians consoled themselves by singing through the nights.

Immediately following the 7.0 earthquake, which devastated the capital city of Haiti, the global media networks went into high gear. For two weeks – a lifetime in the 24-hour news cycle – viewers were bombarded with footage and reports of Haitians mourning their dead and rescuing the lucky few who survived the wreckage. The quake ultimately claimed 230,000 lives, injured 300,000, and rendered 1,000,000 homeless.

In the brief period in which global attention was fixed on Haiti, international relief programs segued into Live-Aid style philanthropy. At a certain point, it seemed this carnival of altruism became less and less about Haiti and more about us – best evidenced by the self-congratulation of performers and pundits in the developed world, singing these poor black people back to civilization, and away from mother nature’s random acts of unkindness.

This isn’t to diminish the very real concern of people around the world, who extended a helping hand to the Haitians. It’s not as if the aid was unnecessary or unappreciated. It’s just that the Bono-Rhiannon showmanship melded smoothly with Bush-Clinton statesmanship. The telegenic charity further concealed, rather than revealed, the Caribbean heart of darkness midwived by western powers long before the quake.

Haiti is frequently described as the poorest country in the western hemisphere, notes Canadian political philosopher Peter Hallward, author ofDamming the Flood: Haiti, Aristide, and the Politics of Containment. “This poverty is the direct legacy of perhaps the most brutal system of colonial exploitation in history, compounded by decades of systematic postcolonial oppression,” he notes in a January 2010 article in The Guardian.

Haiti takes its name from the language of the Taíno, the indigenous people who were wiped out through a combination of European-imported disease and the killing sprees of Christopher Columbus’ soldiers.

The Republic of Haiti became the first independent country in Latin America, in 1804 – a black-led republic conceived in the world’s only successful slave revolt. At the time, the colonial powers were all slave-owning societies and they did not recognize the republic for decades. And although slave-owner Thomas Jefferson supported the emigration of American slaves to Haiti, he also felt a republic of emancipated negroes might send the wrong message to the toiling, sweating property of American plantation owners.

Even before the earthquake reduced Port-au-Prince to stone-age conditions, the average life expectancy in Haiti was 57 years, with the lowest caloric intake per person in the western hemisphere. While I admired the collection of Haitian art, Elaine Brière handed me a book of photos, open to a picture of a young girl making what appear to be mud pies. “These are not ordinary pies,” the text reads. In Port-au-Prince, women and girls fashion them and sell them in the streets. They are made from salt, water, flour and mostly dirt. The patties are dried in the sun and sold at markets to the poorest of the poor who are fully aware of the ingredients. “When asked why the poor would knowingly eat the dirt pies, a girl responded in the most matter of fact way, ‘So they won’t die hungry.’”

Brière saw such mud pies for sale in the streets of Haiti, just weeks before “Le Tromble,” as the earthquake was known in Creole. She left just days before the quake, while her partner David Putt stayed to assist with the aid efforts.

Eight days after the quake, Putt emailed Brière, noting his efforts in delivering aid were becoming more desperate. The US military had claimed the airport and he couldn’t understand the holdup. “There was a huge amount of traffic on the road but most was not aid related,” he wrote. In the chaos of central Port-au-Prince, there was little evidence of relief. “All day long, heavy helicopters whack, whack, whack across the skies above Champs de Mars (the Parliament Hill of Haiti) – I counted 22 in two hours on Sunday. They never land. I have met no one, local or aid worker, who knows where they are going.”

It was day eight since the quake. Where were the food and the medical supplies? Putt wondered. “Canadians have rioted in Vancouver and Montreal over things as simple as the Stanley Cup. People have been stoically holding on here under conditions unimaginable,” the retired geologist wrote. On the second Saturday after the earthquake, he got word that medical supplies were piling up at the Canadian base and the military would have to stop bringing in more unless some were picked up.

He turned up the next day with an empty truck, with all his necessary documentation, including ID showing that he was with an NGO. But all he could get from the Canadian military were phone numbers of CIDA (Canadian International Development Agency) back in Ottawa – an absurd response, given the problem finding any working phone lines. He left with nothing. At the gate, he watched as a youth group running a clinic was turned away, even though they were led by a doctor making an emergency request for medicine, with all his credentials in order.

Putt puts the SNAFUs he saw down to a lack of coordination between the big NGOs and all the different military units. In an April 23 article posted at the Common Dreams website, aid worker and Seattle school teacher Jesse Hagopian echoed Putt’s observations, having witnessed similar misadventures in relief response from the US side.

“Regrettably, the most prevalent explanation in the media for the sluggish delivery of aid was that authorities anticipated rioting by the violence-prone Haitian people. This well-worn, racist narrative attempted to transform Haitians from victims of an earthquake to perpetrators of a security threat. However, my wife and I didn’t see a single instance of rioting or violence in the week we were there,” Hagopian writes.

Early on, the US could have exercised the option to use C130 transports to drop supplies in Port-au-Prince, but Secretary of Defense Robert Gates rejected this option, insisting that “air drops will simply lead to riots.” Putt sees this attitude in the context of the Americans’ terror-alert culture of fear, although their institutionalized paranoia is not completely disconnected from reality, in the case of Haiti.

According to Putt, “The US military has a long history of crushing resistance to oppression in Haiti – a lot of Haitians dislike them intensely and the upper echelons of the military and their civilian minders must know it. Given that context, I am not surprised that they were excessively preoccupied with security when they arrived in Haiti and when they finally ventured out it was in ridiculously over-armed convoys. That did eventually change with time after the quake.”

The UN has its own – and very recent – history of violent repression in Haiti, notes Putt. “They’re seen as an occupying force by most Haitians. When they dare to enter Cité Soleil [the largest, poorest slum in Port-au-Prince] it’s always with guns cocked and waving at the ready. So again, it doesn’t surprise me that their large military contingents, the agents of the repression, were also preoccupied with security in the immediate aftermath of the quake. To me, both the US and UN approach was in good part a response to the enmity they had brought on before.

“US Repression of Haiti Continues” is among Project Censored’s top 25 censored news stories for 2009. Prior to the earthquake, the US government planned to expropriate and demolish the homes of hundreds of Haitians in the shantytown of Cité Soleil, the epicentre of organization for the Fanmi Lavalas party, to expand the occupying UN force’s military base. The base is intended to house the soldiers of the UN Mission to Stabilize Haiti (MINUSTAH).

“Cité Soleil is the most bullet-ridden battleground of the foreign military occupation, which began after US Special Forces kidnapped and exiled President Jean-Bertrand Aristide on February 29, 2004. Citizens have since been victimized by recurring massacres at the hands of MINUSTAH,” according to Project Censored.

Haiti’s 200-year history does not paint a picture of good intentions from foreign powers. Back in the mid-1700s, France derived half its gross national product from its colony in the Caribbean, “the jewel of the Antilles.” True independence was never part of the colonial or postcolonial script. In July 1825, King Charles X of France dispatched a fleet of 14 vessels with thousands of troops to reconquer the island. As a result, the embattled first President of Haiti, Jean Pierre Boyer, agreed to a treaty in which France formally recognized the independence of the nation in exchange of reparations. The price, 150 million francs, was estimated for profits lost from the slave trade.

In 1838, France reduced the price to 90 million francs, which, by 1947, was paid by Haiti in full, and with interest many times over. During his tenure, Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide travelled to France to petition for the return of the reparations, but was rebuffed by the French government.

Aristide, a former priest with a hankering for liberation theology (a form of Christian social activism inspired by Christ’s compassion for the poor) won two thirds of the popular vote in the 1990 general election. He was displaced in a 1991 military coup and was returned to power by the Clinton administration in 1994, under the condition he not steer the nation away from US-engineered free trade policies, which turned out to conflict with his desire to lift his people “from absolute misery to a dignified poverty.” The former priest vacated the presidency in February 1996, the scheduled end of his five-year term, but was re-elected by massive popular support in 2000. In 2004, Aristide was overthrown a second time, in a foreign military intervention that involved Canada, the US and France and received authorization from the United Nations Security Council.

Reports about Aristide are confusing and contradictory. Some US media outlets have painted him as a thief and drug-runner, who stole millions of dollars from the country and used paramilitary forces to threaten opponents. The Wikipedia entry on Haiti cites a number of sourced accusations against the former priest, but adds, “the accuracy of the information is questionable and may have been concocted to discredit Aristide.” Certainly, the former priest was no worse than the violent despots that have ruled Haiti, since its inception, with the tacit or active approval of foreign powers. From 1957 to 1986, the family dynasty of Baby Doc Duvalier ruled with an iron fist, turning the island into a torture chamber through the dreaded Tonton Macoute police force.

In a March 9 interview in Counterpunch, MIT media critic Noam Chomsky claims the US and France, “the two traditional torturers of Haiti,” kidnapped Aristide in 2004, “after having blocked any international aid to the country under very dubious pretexts, not credible grounds, which of course extremely harmed this fragile economy. There was chaos and the US and France and Canada flew in, kidnapped Aristide – they said they rescued him, they actually kidnapped him – they flew him off to Central Africa, his party Fanmi Lavalas is banned, which probably accounts for the very low turnout in the recent elections, and the United States has been trying to keep Aristide not only from Haiti, but from the entire hemisphere.”

Whatever Artistide’s merits were as a leader, the party that elected him into power, Fanmi Lavalas, is now barred from participating in general elections. That’s a fact worth remembering whenever foreign dignitaries and diplomats trot out their boilerplate pieties about advancing democracy in Haiti.

Chomsky adds there has been a very explicit program by US AID and the World Bank to destroy Haitian agriculture and speed the flight of rural villagers to the urban centre, where sweatshops absorb the influx of desperate labourers. “They gave an argument that Haiti shouldn’t have an agricultural system, it should have assembly plants; women working to stitch baseballs in miserable conditions. Well, that was another blow to Haitian agriculture, but nevertheless even under Reagan, Haiti was producing most of its own rice when Clinton came along.”

In the Clinton years, things got even worse for Haitians. During the ‘92 US presidential election campaign, the former governor of Arkansas promised to help the country and allow fleeing Haitians to take refuge in the United States. Yet after the election, Slick Willy began to interdict refugee ships and return the scared and starving passengers back to their homeland.

The latest occupant in the Oval Office has given no sign that hope and change are long-term goals for Haiti, certainly not after he appointed Bill Clinton to oversee US relief efforts in Haiti, along with George W. Bush, who presided over the federal non-response to homeless blacks after Hurricane Katrina.

In the past, gunboat diplomacy has kept Haitian experiments in self-autonomy in check. Today, barbarians with briefcases accomplish this goal through firm handshakes and spring-loaded agreements. The infamously punitive neoliberal reforms of the so-called “Washington Consensus” force the country to lower its protective tariffs, eliminate social services and incur even greater debt through bank loans. The lower tariffs allow Haiti’s food markets to be swamped by staples from heavily subsidized US agribusiness and the increased austerity means even greater privation for the population, more than half of which struggles along on less a dollar a day.

The IMF and World Bank cancelled $1.2 billion of Haiti’s debt last year, and in January, the World Bank waived Haiti’s $38 million debt payment for five years, while offering a $100 million loan, interest free until the end of 2011. As it rebuilds from the earthquake, Haiti will still be a debtor nation. The IMF and World Bank – ‘Thing One and Thing Two’ in this tale of Fat-Cat-in-a-Hat capitalism – are not about to give up on Haiti.

And now, months after the earthquake, things are returning to the Haitian level of normalcy, which means the usual political instability. In mid-April,The Observer reported that angry Haitians are arming themselves against the government, after watching most of the quake relief benefit the wealthy elite. Certain politically unpalatable areas that needed relief the most, like Cité Soleil, were studiously avoided by most NGOs in the critical days after the quake, claims David Putt.

Along with the US and France, Canada has played a significant role in political interference in Haiti, including the nabbing of Aristide. Recovering from what he experienced during his post-quake relief adventures, Putt says he’s having difficulty managing his anger – that is, anger at Canada’s political culture of wilful blindness, where few of us venture outside our safety zones, whether mental or geographic. He notes the irony that, after the volcanic eruption in Iceland, local newscasters broadcast scene after scene of air travellers stranded at airports, some sleeping with heads on their luggage, as if something terrible had happened to holidaying Canadians. Yet far below the contrails painted across blue Pacific skies by charter flights, some of the descendents of history’s only successful slave revolt are literally reduced to eating dirt.

“I was surprised by how proud people in Haiti are,” says Putt. “There is a real pride in their history, in knowing that they had a successful revolution, and there’s a pride in having resisted ever since. Everybody had a go at them, the Germans, Spaniards, French, British and Americans.”

In spite of their suffering – or perhaps because of it – some Haitian street artists are still capable of producing the kind of artwork that would find pride of place in most year-end art-college shows. Looking at the charming symmetry and sly humour of Putt’s collection of Haitian masks, I think of a line from the 13th century Persian poet, Rumi: “Gold becomes more and more beautiful from the blows the jeweler inflicts on it.”

“I was astounded at what a rich culture it is,” Putt says with a mix of admiration and sadness, gazing at the masks on the wall. “Its absolutely unique. There is vitality to the culture. In parts of Latin America, especially the poorer people, there is a beaten down feel about the society. Whereas Haitians, against all reason, seem to hang on to hope.”

Get ready for the great pharmacy war

Lessons from Greece and Ontario

DRUG BUST by Alan Cassels

If you’ve been paying attention to the news, you’ll have some inkling that Greece is in big trouble. Saddled with an enormous public debt, an economy in the tank and a culture attuned to institutionalized tax evasion, poor little Greece is getting the screws put to it by the world’s bankers, forcing it to embark on making major changes to how it runs and funds its public services.

Leaders of European Union countries, urged on by the US, have been trying to prevent a Greek tragedy of mammoth proportions, namely the scenario where Greece slides into bankruptcy and takes most of the EU, and for that matter, the world, with it.

As a bystander to this unfolding Greek drama, I find myself wondering which lessons the rest of the planet might take away from watching Greece face imminent bankruptcy and take desperate measures to rescue itself. The drastic cuts to public expenditures, clawbacks on pensions, cuts to wages and forcing citizens to pay their taxes – which, currently, only about 50 percent of Greeks do – are massively unpopular and have led to near insurrections and violent civil disorder in Athens.

In terms of healthcare, the Greek government announced last month it was slashing the amount it would subsequently pay for more than 1,500 medicines. What will the drug companies do – stop selling drugs to Greece? I doubt it; they’ll just have to sell their drugs on terms that are favourable to the buyers.

With the introduction of competitive drug pricing and cuts averaging 30 percent, Greek pharmaceutical companies will take a major hit to their profitability, but the savings on medications will be a huge boon to the citizens of Greece who have seen their collective drug spending grow by more than 60 percent between 2005 and 2009. These new cuts will reduce that growth to about 1.5 percent per year.

Closer to home, in Canada’s biggest province, we are witnessing the troops massing as the provincial government in Ontario’s takes on retail pharmacy in an attempt to reduce the amount government and private payers will pay for generic drugs. Seeking lower prices, as is being done in Greece and Ontario, is all about trying to get better value for dollar for healthcare spending, which we expect all governments to do. And the target this time is not the drug companies, per se, but retail pharmacy.

Not only are there high profits from selling drugs in Canada, but basic generic drugs, which are often of much greater value compared to their branded counterparts, are also more costly in Canada than in other parts of the world. Ontario pays between 25 to 75 percent more for generic drugs than many other countries, including the US and the UK.

In fact, most people won’t know that Canadian patients and drug plans pay some of the highest prices in the world for off-brand drugs. An average month’s worth of a generic drug in Canada sells for about $50, yet Walmart in the US can sell the same drug – often from the same manufacturer – for $4 and still make a profit. If that’s the case, why are Canadians paying more than 10 times than they should?

That’s a good question, but, in my opinion, the easy analysis rests on the fact that a lot of money can be saved when the buyer starts questioning the value they are getting. Do you pay full cost for brand name drugs when generics are available for 30 to 50 percent less? Of course not. Do you allow drug companies to bribe pharmacies to carry their products? Maybe not.

At least, that’s the answer from the Ontario government, which is recognizing that “generic drug rebates” – a fancy name for bribes – by generic drug companies to pharmacies are very costly; the practice costs Ontario taxpayers about $750 million per year.

What are “rebates,” you ask?

Well, in the good old days, if you were a generic manufacturer, the way you got the pharmacy to stock your product – as opposed to the product of the five other generic companies hovering nearby – was to make it more attractive than the next guy’s. A friend who works in generic sales told me how things go down:

“You go in and tell the manager that if he shifted to your generic version of heartburn medication, you would give him some loyalty rewards you’ve got in the trunk of your car. Maybe a new television set or a video camera or VCR to sweeten the deal? Basically, our job [as salespeople] was to encourage the pharmacy owners to use our product. Did we use expensive gifts to get the pharmacy to stock our drug? Of course we did. We did this all the time and it was, in fact, the way we did business.”

Because hauling around gifts for pharmacy owners became too much of a hassle, the “rebate” system soon replaced it. Here, instead of selling a generic bottle of pills to the pharmacy for $100, which, for example, was what the payer would pay, you sell one bottle for $100 and then give the pharmacy four additional bottles at no cost. Sort of a “buy one, get four free” type of deal. Since the pharmacy pays for only 100 out of 500 pills, the pharmacy makes some serious coin.

Even if the generic company is making a sacrifice by giving bottles of pills away at no cost, it could still be making a healthy profit. Savvy pharmacy owners have become very skilled at extracting the best kind of rebate from the generic drug maker that they can. Some sources tell me that rebates – or kickbacks as you might call them – can be as high as 90 percent, even higher if you are a bigger pharmacy with serious buying power. Which is to say the $100 per month you might pay for that generic heartburn pill may have cost the pharmacy owner $10. Not bad work if you can get it.

A clever pharmacy manager will work one generic manufacturer against another to try and get the best “rebate” possible. The bigger the pharmacy, the more likely it will get a better deal. Right now, the biggest drug store chains, like Shoppers Drug Mart – with about a third of Canada’s pharmacy business – can bully generic companies with impunity. Who is going to risk losing their business? This is called being competitive and considered an honest virtue in the world of business.

Generic drug company “rebates,” which often go under the name “professional allowances,” constitute the kind of legal bribery the government in Ontario is trying to stop.

Since truth is the first casualty in any kind of war, you can imagine the threat to profits by the pharmaceutical retailers is being dressed up as a national scandal, an affront to the dignity of the pharmacy profession, as well as a threat to patient health, with seniors dying in the streets, unable to get their prescriptions filled.

Yeah, right.

By the way, haven’t you noticed that whenever any industry, company or profession related to healthcare has its profitability threatened by government action, the tired old “threat to patient safety” meme gets repeated ad nauseam, in an attempt to extract some sympathy from the masses? We Canadians shouldn’t be fooled.

Retail pharmacy in Canada is one of the most lucrative businesses going and if you don’t believe me, ask yourself why you continue to see – in almost every city – a pharmacy being built on every corner. Since 2006, 140 new pharmacies have been built in Ontario alone. In 2009, Ontario paid $750 million for rebates and these rebates are widely considered to be the main reason generic drug costs are rising so fast in Canada.

Ontario hopes that going to war with retail pharmacy will save millions through lower costs for generic drugs, yet the real fear in the industry is whether this noxious government strategy will soon spread to the rest of the country. If you are going to war, you start looking for allies. Last month, the Ontario Minister of Health sent a letter to other Canadian health ministers asking them to coordinate around similar cost-saving schemes. This kind of thing needs to be supported and applauded.

Let’s be clear; pharmacists are highly valued and key members of the healthcare team. They do a fantastic job of informing consumers about how to use drugs appropriately. Most pharmacists are honest, upstanding citizens, keen to make a positive difference in people’s health. But retail pharmacy is a business and an increasingly lucrative one. Governments know this and a sincere government that wants to build a sustainable healthcare system will strive to get the best value for its money out of its drug budget.

Speaking of value for money, on May 20, the world’s biggest selling drug, Lipitor, (atorvastatin) which is used to lower cholesterol, became generically available in Canada.

The Ontario government will likely pay 50 percent of the brand price for atorvastatin. Quebec will follow. With over $1.4 billion in annual sales in Canada, the generic version of this drug could save Canadians more than $700 million. That’s a serious amount of savings with no loss of any health benefit. Will other provinces get in on the deal? That depends on how much they want to save for their constituents, but one thing is fairly obvious; a lot of money can be saved for consumers and taxpayers if governments want to play hardball, like they are doing in Ontario and Greece.

When there is so much fat to be trimmed from public drug plans, cutting social programs and other essential government services seems cruel and nonsensical.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Bravo to Greece and Ontario, for showing us that going to war to get the best drug prices for consumers and taxpayers is a conflict worth engaging in.

Alan Cassels is a modern-day Jonathan Swift wannabe, as well as a drug policy researcher at the University of Victoria and the author of The ABCs of Disease Mongering. Read his other writings at

People power is rising

WRITING ON THE WALL by Joseph Roberts

June, with the most daylight hours of any month, is calling us to action.

The time has come to stand up for our community, environment, democracy, our planet and ourselves. June, like the song Rise Up by Parachute Club, quoted in this article, captures the essence that now, people’s time has come.

We want power
We want to make it ok
Want to be singin’ at the end of the day
Children to breathe a new life
We want freedom to love who we please

In 1984, Rise Up won the Juno Award for Single of the Year. George Orwell who imagined a different 1984 said, “Speaking the Truth in times of universal deceit is a revolutionary act”.

Talkin’ ‘bout the right time to be workin’ for peace
Wantin’ all the tension in the world to ease
This tightrope’s gotta learn how to bend
We’re makin’ new plans
Gonna start it again

A huge empowerment is happening. People are no longer pacified by the mass media colluding with government, banks, Wall Street, nor do we still believe in the official story line with its corruption, out-right lies and broken promises. We want accountability, and we want it now.

That is why thousands walked on Vancouver Island with Alexandra Morton to protect the wild salmon migration routes from open-net fish farms. At the event’s culmination on the steps of the BC Legislature, Vicki Husband, Order of Canada recipient, one of Canada’s most well known and respected environmental heroes, announced to the celebratory crowd that they were the largest mass environmental demonstration in BC’s history. Find out your next step at

Fight HST

That also is why over half a million registered BC voters have already signed the fightHST petition to stop the Hideous Secret Tax that would transfer a 1.9 billion tax burden from corporations onto the middle class and poor. You can still sign this petition until July 5. Be part of this historic referendum and recall action, more information at

With companies in the Gulf of Mexico making millions per day cleaning the oil spill, business as usual has become disaster capitalism. Remember the war to end all wars that did not end all wars, remember Laos the nine years of constant bombing in a secret war, remember Vietnam, remember Enron, remember who killed the electric car and remember Katrina … lest we forget. Oil companies, like drug companies or drug pushers, addict and financially enslave. Ignorance is not bliss, its ignorant.

Here is a quote from Kevin Daum, founder of Save the Oceans Inc, about the Gulf of Mexico oil spill and the protracted, expensive clean up.

 “You need to know how oil spills are currently being cleaned up, why they cost so much and how they could be cleaned up to minimize the damage using the technology that would have minimized the harm and cost. Let me break this down into simple steps for you starting with plugging the hole(s). What they are doing is trying to make a super duper capping device that allows them to control the spill and keep pumping oil. So far it’s not working and there are some pretty impressive reasons/excuses why this is not working. Let’s apply some common sense to this problem. Find a barge, fill it with cement, tow it over the hole, sink it and problem solved. Is that too simple? A couple of day’s work and a little expense to minimize a major disaster. Please tell me that this is just incompetence.”

“…I could go on and on for pages and pages with the complete utter nonsense surrounding spill cleanup yet the bottom line is always the same. The environment is destroyed along with the local economy, lots of oil is left behind and then the lawyers get to jump in and make lots of money to add injury to insult. Don’t believe me? Just take a trip up to Alaska and ask Dr Riki Ott her opinion on the subject. She wrote the book on that Exxon spill fiasco.”

“…I’m trying to get you to understand that the whole thing is a big media event to make you believe that it’s really a lot harder to deal with the problem then it really is. The problem is that this is being done at your expense. All spills can be quickly rendered non-sticky and recovered at less than 10% of the cost of the current fraudulent and amateur methods being used.” For the full article and video go to

Now closer to home, here is a news flash: “Calgary, Alberta, May 27, 2010 – Enbridge Inc. (TSX:ENB) (NYSE:ENB) (Enbridge) announced today that it has filed an application with the National Energy Board for the construction and operation of the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline which involves a new twin pipeline system between Edmonton, Alberta and a new marine terminal in Kitimat, British Columbia to export petroleum and import condensate.”… Patrick D. Daniel, President and Chief Executive Officer, Enbridge Inc. said, “It’s an important step forward in the thorough and comprehensive public review that will provide opportunities to learn more about the project and to provide input to the Joint Review Panel.”

Well, many more think it is a dangerous step backward that needs to be stopped. Let us be clear Mr. Daniel, CEO, we don’t want a stinking pipeline, the toxic Tar Sands crude, or a supertanker port on our coastline. We don’t need to “learn more” from your PR flacks. It looks like you front for lots of money, so please don’t tarnish our landscape or ocean with a proposed pipeline. Instead your company could invest in solar energy, windmills, electric cars, a better bicycle, clean water systems for the poor, organic food, something decent that will leave a more healthy living legacy for our children.

Chris Hedges, an American journalist, war correspondent, Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle (2009) authour, recently wrote The Greeks Get It.

“Here’s to the Greeks. They know what to do when corporations pillage and loot their country. They know what to do when Goldman Sachs and international bankers collude with their power elite to falsify economic data and then make billions betting that the Greek economy will collapse. They know what to do when they are told their pensions, benefits and jobs have to be cut to pay corporate banks, which screwed them in the first place. Call a general strike. Riot. Shut down the city centers. Toss the bastards out. Do not be afraid of the language of class warfare—the rich versus the poor, the oligarchs versus the citizens, the capitalists versus the proletariat. The Greeks, unlike most of us, get it.” 

“What is happening in Greece, what will happen in Spain and Portugal, what is starting to happen here in states such as California, is the work of a global, white-collar criminal class. No government, including our own, will defy them. It is up to us. Barack Obama is simply the latest face that masks the corporate state. His administration serves corporate interests, not ours. Obama, like Goldman Sachs or Citibank, does not want the public to see how the Federal Reserve Bank acts as a private account and ATM machine for Wall Street at our expense. He, too, has helped orchestrate the largest transference of wealth upward in American history. He serves our imperial wars, refuses to restore civil liberties, and has not tamed our crippling deficits. His administration gutted regulatory agencies that permitted BP to turn the Gulf of Mexico into a toxic swamp. The refusal of Obama to intervene in a meaningful way to save the gulf’s ecosystem and curtail the abuses of the natural gas and oil corporations is not an accident. He knows where power lies. BP and its employees handed more than $3.5 million to federal candidates over the past 20 years, with the largest chunk of their money going to Obama, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.”

The Greeks got it right…who’s next?

So what is a person to do about all this manipulation and deception?

We want lovin’ we want laughter again
We want heartbeat
We want madness to end

Information is power. At your fingertips you have a road map for prevention, recovery and empowerment. Find common ground to connect your outward networking with the inward journey to your soul, where beauty, love and wisdom dwell.

It’s time for a celebration
Everbody’s time has come
Spirits time has come …
rise and show your power…

Power to the people, where it rightfully belongs.

Join us.

Who will really benefit from a digital strategy?


You probably haven’t heard about it, but, as you read this, the government is in the final days of its efforts to gather input from Canadians about the country’s digital future. At a major conference on May 10, with tiered levels of access to leaders in industry and government, Industry Minister Tony Clement announced a 60-day consultation on a digital economy strategy.

The consultation, which runs until July 9, will inform government policy around key issues, such as media ownership, Internet openness, broadband access, cell phone rates and competition, support for digital media production and much more. Clement’s choice to announce the consultation at an industry conference seems appropriate, considering the audience the process appears to be targeting.

What about society?

To frame and inform the consultation, the government produced a paper outlining the key issues it intends to address. The document is narrowly framed in the language of efficiency and competition, which speaks to the government’s approach to digital policy: the emphasis is on “maximizing reliance on market forces,” through protection of the “legitimate interests” of Internet service providers and other industry players. According to the government’s website, “it is business that must lead the charge and execute the game plan.”

There’s a reason and also now clear evidence as to why the government only began this consultation after getting its marching orders from a series of closed-door meetings with industry groups. It appears the government believes that what’s best for Canada’s business community, or rather big business, is best for Canada. Why else would it choose to call it a digital economy strategy rather than a digital society strategy? Does digital policy not have social or cultural implications?

Narrowing the public

The easiest way to figure out whom the government wants to hear from in this consultation is to look at the questions being asked. For example, one of the main questions participants are asked to respond to in the consultation is “What would a successful digital strategy look like for your firm or sector?” Another key question is “What would best position Canada as a destination of choice for venture capital and investments in global R&D and product mandates?”

Does the government expect average Canadians to answer these questions? Does it think these are the kinds of questions that will tap into Canadians’ passions, aspirations and ingenuity concerning digital media? Considering the way this consultation is framed and structured, it seems largely inconceivable that anyone would be surprised by the tepid response the consultation has garnered so far. Corralling input into a narrow, ideological framework with what appears to be pre-determined outcomes is hardly a way to inspire participation.

More of the same

We’ve been here before. In 2005, a Telecommunications Policy Review Panel (TPRP) was appointed to make recommendations on some of the same digital policies under consideration in the current consultation. The TPRP public consultation process was perhaps more inviting, but more for industry groups rather than citizens and public interest organizations.

Content analysis of the TPRP’s consultations’ submissions is revealing: aboriginal, consumer, women’s and community groups represented only 15.5 percent of the total submissions while industry groups accounted for 60.1 percent of submissions. The TPRP’s recommendations, which very much fall in line with the government’s current consultation framework, is at least party responsible for Canada falling behind other OECD countries in terms of Internet access, speed, cost and openness. Will we allow industry-centred digital policy to let us down again?

The policy being developed right now will change Canada forever. The government’s approach, which allows for minimal public involvement in this short consultation process, demonstrates the urgent need for a citizen-centred initiative to counter the government’s industry framed consultation.

Steve Anderson is the national coordinator for the Campaign for Democratic Media. He has written for The Tyee, Toronto Star, Epoch Times andAdbusters.