Drawing the line

Cartoon: Stephen Harper paints a forest with a swath of oil sands industry

The best editorial cartoonists in Canada gather in Québec

by Geoff Olson

• Dave Rosen knows a thing or two about humour. In 2011, the Montreal-based satirist released The Stephen Harper Colouring & Activity Book. For five years, he wrote and produced a weekly comedy spot for CBC Radio called What Happened? For nine years, he was the regular editorial cartoonist for the English alt-weekly the Montreal Mirror. His last cartoon for the publication was of Quebec premier Jean Charest on the beach, holding a seashell to his ear and hearing the clang of pots and pans.

The cartoon appeared on June 21 of this year. The next day, the parent company Quebecor pulled the plug on its publication. Rosen discovered through Facebook he was now without a steady cartooning gig, for the first time in 20 years.

“Seven full-time jobs vanished, dozens of freelancers suddenly no longer had rent money,” he wrote on his blog. The corporate move was a bit of a puzzle to the satirist and his fellow expendables. Just a month earlier, Transcontinental discontinued its struggling Montreal alt-weekly the Hour, which was already down to a single editor and a single freelance columnist. “So for all intents and purposes, the Mirror had the Anglo alt weekly market to itself. And the paper, though it wasn’t pulling in the advertising bucks it once did, looked healthy and viable. But not viable enough for Quebecor.”

Rosen’s parent company cited the growing popularity of digital media for its decision to close shop at the Mirror. “Of course, it that were true, you’d think they’d have developed the paper as an online platform and held onto the sweet demographic that made up its readership (primarily 20 and 30-somethings) for its advertisers.”

These are the kind of stories that unnerve people who make a living poking fun at authority figures. If the axe can fall in such a commercially counterintuitive way on two print publications in Montreal – a city arguably the Canadian epicentre for arts, culture and street-level agitation – what hope is there for other “content creators” across Harperland? Will the bean-counting Dementors descend on them next?

Things look rather grim across the media landscape, but is the light at the end of tunnel a train or a glowing formation of digital tablets? Editorial cartooning may be a disposable art form with a short shelf life, but its continuing existence may be one gauge of a functioning free press.

Last June, over 50 cartoonists from both sides of the border gathered in Montreal for a conference of the ACEC (Association of Canadian Editorial Cartoonists). The four-day event was organized by the grey eminence of Canadian cartooning, Terry Mosher (“Aislin”), his wife Mary Hughson and freelance cartoonist Wes Tyrell. Museum curators, archivists, academics ad publishers gave presentations, as did political figures Gilles Duceppe, Justin Trudeau and Paul Martin. The event was marked by fine words, good food and excellent company.

There was also talk about the changing fortunes in the newspaper industry. Although a number of the gathered ‘content providers’ are clinging by their fingernails to their regular gigs, they consider themselves a bit better off than their colleagues in the US, where there’s been a decade-long war of attrition on newsroom staff.

With some notable exceptions, US editorial cartoonists churn out material with a homogenous, Pulitzer-seeking style. In contrast, Canadian editorial cartoonists, like our homegrown stand-up comics, are outsiders on the periphery of Empire, which may account for our idiosyncratic styles of drawing. The Francophone element also contributes to this distinction. Quebecers recognize that beaux-arts and belly laughs are not mutually exclusive. Hence the honours and awards heaped upon Quebec-based cartoonists like Aislin and Serge Chapleau, who are regarded by fans as living institutions.

Cartoon: a riot policeman points at a large poster of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and tells an Occupy protestor - this has to come down.
Dave Rosen, Montreal Mirror

I drew my first political cartoon in primary school in 1972, as part of an assignment in current events class. My subject was the Nixon administration’s carpet-bombing of Cambodia and I portrayed Tricky Dick as a scowling bird of prey with a laurel of peace in his beak, sitting on a large, black egg with the tailfins of a bomb. I like to think my published work over the years has made a small difference, if only to give readers a break from the media’s daily disaster-feed. Most cartoonists share this sentiment, yet we worry that graphic novelists and CGI animators are the tree shrews and that we’re the dinosaurs, waiting for the fatal meteor strike from the accounting department.

Aislin, whose white hair and penetrating gaze gives him the demeanour of a large barn owl, dismisses the idea of an approaching Permian extinction event for scribblers. A staffer with Montreal’s Gazette since the early seventies, he predicts that online publications will replace newsprint entirely in another three to five years. Yet he also believes that political cartooning will continue to survive online. He likens the transition to “moving from a rickety old house to a brand new condo – with a spectacular river view! The only problem (as with all new media) is this: How do we pay the mortgage?”

Monetization problems aside, the full-colour, political cartoon’s immediate hit of infotainment seems like a perfect fit for smart phones and tablets. Last year, a small collection of BC activists threw together the massively popular website shitharperdid.com a pre-election compilation of Tory offences accompanied by a simple drawing of Harper fondling a kitten like a James Bond villain (based on an actual Tory promo photo).

Like Aislin, Vancouver’s Province cartoonist Dan Murphy is a “long run optimist” on the future of political cartoons. He points to the case of Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist David Horsey, who was staff cartoonist at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer when its print version collapsed. Horsey then got a call from the L.A. Times, asking him to become their exclusive web cartoonist.

L.A. Times had a hunch,” Murphy observes. “Cartoons are pop in papers so they’re likely to be pop on papers’ websites. The Horsey web-only cartoon gets the most web hits on the site now. Ditto Aislin’s at the Gazette’s site. And, with the last couple of Photoshop versions, you can cobble together an animation – soundtrack, imported vid and movie steals, cartoons/text that moves – easily enough and convert that into a website bit.”

Software tools like Flash can extend and amplify the artist’s vision for a wider audience. Murphy’s most well known creation appeared online rather than offline: a mashup of a current Enbridge television advertisement, with animated oil spills interrupting scenes of a petroleum-based paradise in British Columbia. After Murphy’s parody was pulled off the Province website, it took off on YouTube. As of late July, it had been viewed 54,089 times. In contrast, the original commercial posted to YouTube by the pipeline company had a mere 2,630 hits.

According to the Edmonton Journal, “editorial cartoons by the Journal’s Malcolm Mayes attract more page views than any other piece of content on the website.” So why don’t publishers put their cartoonists’ work front and centre online? Although editors vary in temperament, editorial cartooning seems to be endured rather than encouraged by management. Perhaps one problem is that the political sentiments of the average Canadian caricaturist lie somewhere between Stéphane Dion and Jane Fonda, while the editorial position of many Canadian newspapers ranges somewhere between Barbara Amiel and Genghis Khan.

Protesters defend themselves with shield-size cell phones
Liz França, Brazil, first prize winner 2012 Canadian Committee for World Press Freedom (CCWPF).

Given today’s political and economic climate, what should be the purpose of the contemporary editorial cartoon? “Foremost – a means of dissent,” Dan Murphy replied by email. “States, corporations, institutional political parties have big budgets for promotions, can erect big PR statues to try to legitimize their vision. A political cartoon is graffiti around the base of those statues. The wittier, the funnier – the more memorable, the more powerful.”

Rosen, the former cartoonist for the Montreal Mirror, is more skeptical of the editorial cartoon’s prospects. “Dan Murphy’s [Enbridge] experience, while it shows how a good satirist can draw attention to hypocrisy by speaking truth to power, also demonstrates how fragile is our right to speak out, dependent as it is on media outlets that focus on the bottom line above all else.”

Rosen independently came up with the same tagging metaphor as Murphy, but with a different angle. “As newspapers disappear, so too does that little soapbox on the editorial page reserved for cartoonists. That independent voice, which so dangerously uses wit and ridicule to make its points, is in danger of extinction. I think some form of visual satire will always exist in human society, as it always has. But in the future it may be relegated to partisan websites and the undersides of highway overpasses, like so much impotent graffiti.”

Professional scribblers have long had the most leeway in the newsroom. If the editorial writers and columnists are the courtiers, then cartoonists are the court fools. (For that reason, the annual compilation of the best Canadian political cartoons is called Portfoolio.) Editors and cartoonists collude in the notion that they are just trafficking in harmless humour and for the most part they are. Occasionally, a sharp, well-constructed cartoon can act as a graphic lightning rod for public opinion, but if there’s a golden age for the art form, it’s either long gone or yet to come.

By the late seventies, the baton of public satire had been handed to the edgy minds behind Saturday Night Live, SCTV and National Lampoon. Today’s culture of snark is dominated by late-night TV and its current masters Stewart and Colbert, whose fast-paced, joke-stuffed programs outshine old-school newsprint through sheer, McLuhanesque megawattage. Even the editorial cartoon itself has become a target of parody: the satirical online newspaper The Onion regularly features an op-ed travesty by a mock Tea Party reactionary, who spoon-feeds the reader with clumsy, clichéd drawings.

According to a recent report in the Columbia Journalism Review, “six companies dominate TV news, radio, online, movies and publishing. Another eight or nine control most of the nation’s newspapers.” The media consolidation is even more advanced in Canada, with a handful of megacorporations doling out the bulk of the nation’s infotainment. Needless to say, this pattern of vertical integration doesn’t help advance independent thinking in journalism. You’d have to look very hard to find a cartoon critical of the media monopoly it appears in, or any of its subsidiaries.

Not surprisingly, for organizations that depend on ad revenue, there are institutional pressures to keep the laughs within mutually understood boundaries. Every cartoonist develops a second sense about which ideas his or her editor will accept or reject. The restrictions on free speech begin within the precincts of the cartoonist’s own skull. (The best satirists, like Aislin, skate the fine line between the sayable and unsayable.)

That unruly graphic beast that once helped bring down New York’s Boss Tweed during the first Gilded Age has been defanged and declawed in many North American publications. In other parts of the world, The Line King still has the power to disturb tyrants and their lackeys.

At a luncheon in Montreal, Richard Russell told ACEC members how he was working in community development projects in Sri Lanka when he heard the story of a cartoonist working for the nation’s last communist paper. He had “been beaten and stabbed and his house ransacked… all in front of his family,” Russell recalls. He reached the artist by phone in the hospital and asked what he could do. The man simply asked that if they killed him, to please take care of his children. At that point, Russell launched the Cartoonist Rights Network. The 20-year old organization, based in Washington, D.C. is still active.

From Syria to China and beyond, artists who make a sharp point about power sometimes invite the blunt force of the state. Russell was surprised to learn the story of ACEC member Shahid Mahmood, whose name was reportedly on a US no-fly list. The soft-spoken Muslim architect, who grew up in Pakistan and was cartoonist for Pakistan’s national newspaper Dawn, now lives in Toronto. He has received death-threats from Islamic fundamentalists for his depiction of the Taliban as Koran-reading apes, but it’s his savage cartoons denouncing US foreign policy that haven’t likely won him fans at the other end of the ideological spectrum. Mahmood says he was barred from a domestic Air Canada flight in 2004 and was interrogated by Interpol at an airport in Chile in 2011.

Official secrecy keeps him from learning the full details of his case, but he believes his ongoing surveillance began after his communications with the family of Daniel Pearl, the Wall Street Journal reporter kidnapped and beheaded in Pakistan in 2002. “I’m shocked to learn this and we are dumbfounded that the American no-fly protocol can stumble its way into Canadian sovereignty quite so easily,” Russell said of Mahmood’s experience with Air Canada.

Harper has prisons for poor and mentally ill
Malcolm Mayes, Artizans

Canada has many fine cartoonists working at the top of their game and it would be as wrong to diminish their importance as to exaggerate their influence. The media landscape has never been more seismic, and long-standing traditions in journalism are crumbling on both sides of the border as the ground heaves. National Public Radio recently revealed that the Tribune, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Houston Chronicle and the Chicago Sun-Times had outsourced some of their local reporting to US content provider Journatic. The company employs 140 Filipino workers to retype police blotters, comb public records and reformat press releases, to be forwarded to a team of 200 US freelancers and 60 full-time staffers for assembling into stories. (Many reports from Journatic have appeared in print with fake bylines.) It’s not inconceivable that someday computer algorithms will replace outsourced workers in assembling simple news reports. Yet it seems doubtful there will ever be a “bot” capable of executing a worthwhile political cartoon, other than in the sense of killing it. It is simply too human a habit.

At an ACEC luncheon in Montreal, former Prime Minister Paul Martin spoke about the importance of political cartoonists and their work. “You people have the ability to reach Canadians in a way no one else does…. with your talent to draw and to make a point,” he told the audience. It was a gracious sentiment from a man who had been hammered like a loose plank by the nation’s scribblers. His remark offers a clue to the right place of this graphic art form in a healthy democracy: never at rest. It should always be suspended in a field of contending forces, between the creator’s imagination, the editor’s judgement and the target’s legal defences. When a political cartoonist’s name ends up on a no-fly list, it’s a sign this delicate democratic balance is under threat.

As of late July, Dave Rosen has spent almost a month looking for work in his field, while maintaining his blog (www.takeoutallthewords.blogspot.ca). “In that time, I have confirmed for myself the sad truth that no one wants to pay for editorial cartoons anymore,” he tells CG. “The websites I’ve approached simply won’t pay. They want free content, unfortunately because of precedents set by freelance writers who use the sites primarily for self-promotion.

“Thus it’s likely, at least for a while, I too will have to go the free route, if only to keep my work in front of the public. For how long and whether it will lead to paying work, that I can’t say. But I still have things to say, regardless.”

www.olscribbler.wordpress.com

cartoon by Dave Rosen, Montreal Mirror

What is Health Canada up to?

by Nick Mancuso

portrait of Nick Mancuso

• Since 2010, over 20,000 herbs, vitamins and food supplements have been removed from shelves in natural health stores across Canada. In some cases, SWAT teams raided the premises of Canadian naturopaths and healers and removed safe and effective healing products. Some practitioners have even been indicted and face criminal charges.

As a proud Canadian, I am outraged this is happening here, enforced by the very agency mandated to protect the health and well being of Canadians. How can we justify these fascistic actions and what are the root causes? Health food stores are closing down and businesses are being destroyed while, for the most part, the Canadian public doesn’t have a clue. High-quality herbs and vitamins are being replaced by low-dosage, inferior products made by pharmaceutical companies and Health Canada is going along with it. In fact, it is leading this shameful charge, pushed though by international pharmaceutical interests and the Codex Alimentarius of the United Nations and all GATT signatory countries. And it is all happening right under our noses.

Who is responsible and how can essential human liberties, guaranteed by both the Bill of Rights and the Canadian Constitution be crushed and shoved aside? What happened to our right to heal ourselves and the democratic oversight of a sovereign nation to protect the life and well being of its citizens? How can the Harper government justify this to the people who elected it into office, supposedly for the common good? It can’t. And it’s pretty clear to this Canadian that vested interests and international drug agendas, pushed through by global trade, are at the root of it.

Recent statistics show pharmaceutical drugs are responsible for over 750,000 deaths a year from toxic side effects and are now the leading cause of accidental deaths, having superceded car accidents. They are also the fourth leading cause of deaths in hospitals, after cancer, heart disease and strokes. On the other hand, there is zero evidence that vitamin C or any herbal supplement produced with good manufacturing practices (GMP) has ever caused a fatality. And yet vitamins and supplements are being refused NPN numbers (a license to sell) and removed from stores.

In the US, TV ads for pharmaceutical drugs feature young, healthy, happy people prancing about in bathing suits, a marketing ruse to distract viewers from the addenda of the side effects of these drugs, which, by law, must be listed. While Wall Street and the banks reach record profits and Big Pharma fairly crows with success, people become weaker and sicker, poisoned by endless tons of toxic pesticides, herbicides, GMOs and radiation. And government departments like Health Canada, which, after all, are just doing their jobs, prosper and hide behind the secretive actions that make this nightmare possible. But aren’t we all responsible for what is happening in Canada? And if we do let it happen, how can we then stop it?

The day may soon arrive when fully 70 percent of all natural remedies will have been removed from stores, replaced with toxic, watered-down, ersatz versions, which might cause serious harm.

It’s your body, not the government’s. It’s your health, not your doctor’s or Health Canada’s. It’s your inalienable right to choose life. Inform yourself. Be aware and wake up. Don’t let the bad guys win. Learn more at www.naturalhealthfreedomcanada.com

Tell your Facebook buddies and inform your friends. Take peaceful action and tell Health Canada and the Harper Government that Canada is still a free nation: I, ___________, as a citizen of the sovereign and democratic nation of Canada strongly protest the actions of Health Canada against the natural health industry and demand that Health Canada rescind its actions and make the government of Canada make fair and equitable compensation.

Nick Mancuso’s international career in show business spans 40 years. He has appeared in over 300 movies and is best known for his Genie-award winning performance in the Canadian movie Ticket to Heaven. He is also a painter and published poet and author. He recently produced and performed his one-man show God is a Gangster at the European Theatre Festival in Timisoara. His film The Last Gamble won Best Picture at the New York International Film Festival. Mancuso is a health activist and one of the founders of PowerHealthRadio, which he hosts. Watch Nick Mancuso’s Youtube video entitled Natural Health Freedom Canada Presents. Go to www.youtube.com and search for Natural Health Freedom Canada.

Shingles vaccine stats misleading

Watch out for the marketing spin

DRUG BUST by Alan Cassels

The people’s briefing note on prescription drugs

Portrait of columnist Alan Cassels
• Judy M., who lives in Victoria, sent me an email asking what I knew about a vaccine to prevent a truly nasty condition called shingles. Being the third such request I’d received in as many weeks, I figured it was time to take a closer look at the shingles vaccine. Shingles, also known as herpes zoster, can cause a serious and very painful rash.

Judy’s friend Jane was urging her to get vaccinated for shingles. Jane’s husband Stan had a case of shingles that Stan described as “worse than anything he has ever known, including spinal surgery.” Sometimes, open sores accompany the rash and the pain is so severe people have trouble walking and sleeping. In rare cases, the complications of shingles can last for months and sometimes years.

That fact surely caught Judy’s attention. In fact, she admitted she had a profound fear of the disease having seen her aunt go through postherpetic neuralgia where the pain continues to last even after the rash and blisters have disappeared. In her opinion, any level of pain seems bearable if you know it will eventually end, but the thought of living with such pain for life made a compelling argument for getting vaccinated.

So what could I say about the vaccine called Zostavax being promoted to prevent shingles?

I always like to start my research by looking at the pointy end of things: the marketing. If there is one principle in play, it’s that the marketing diverges from the science. And since the advertising is what patients and physicians will likely see first, that’s a good place to start. The ads for Zostavax, made by drug giant Merck, lay out the hook in bold letters: “Have you had your shingles vaccine yet?”

In typical marketing style, that innocent question is driven home by the fear factor, reminding us that this is something we all need to be worried about. In smaller print, the ad says, “In Canada, it is estimated that nearly 1 in 3 people will develop shingles in their lifetime.”

Ok, if true, this establishes that shingles doesn’t seem to be such a rare condition. Most of us who have had chicken pox as children are susceptible and it usually strikes people over 60, though no one is really sure how or why this happens.

Many of us know someone, maybe our mother, friend or neighbour, who has a horror story to tell about the unbearable pain shingles can deliver. I didn’t have to go far to hear some anecdotes. I asked my mother about it and learned that she had had shingles a few years ago that lasted several weeks, which included three visits to the hospital and incredible pain across her stomach. Treatment for shingles usually involves antivirals (drugs such as acyclovir), which, if given early enough, can help shorten the length and intensity of the rash.

The vaccine marketer captures the disease’s potential for serious pain with graphic ads featuring a lot of flames and thorns with a clear and unspoken question: “Do you want your life to be a living hell?”

Now that we’ve established the nastiness of the disease, the first question has to address the science: “Does the Zostavax vaccine work?”

If a vaccine is about protecting you from a disease, you need to know your likelihood of getting the disease in the first place. One study from the British Medical Journal says that for people over 50, approximately two to three people out of a thousand per year get shingles; that increases to about eight per thousand for those 70 and over. The average doctor with 1,500 patients in his care would see about three to five cases per year.

A 2005 study in the New England Journal of Medicine enrolled over 38,000 people over 60 and reported that, over three years, the vaccine Zostavax “reduces the occurrence of herpes zoster by 51.3%.”

Wow. So if you know 100 people who got vaccinated, the vaccine would prevent half of them from getting shingles, right?

Wrong. Remember, if the average doctor sees five cases a year in his practice and he manages to reduce that load by 50%, he’d only see maybe 2.5 cases per year. But how many thousands would he have to vaccinate to prevent those other 2.5 cases? A lot.

This study of the vaccine, which was a gold standard, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial, measured the incidence, severity and duration of the pain caused by shingles. Let’s focus on just one of those: incidence. Basically, how many people were prevented from getting shingles?

The study noted there were 315 shingles cases among those vaccinated and 642 among placebo recipients, concluding that it reduced the rate of shingles by 51.3 percent. Another way this is expressed is in “1,000-person years” where the effects are examined in 1,000 people for one year. The study found that the vaccine dropped the rates of shingles per 1,000 person-years from 11.12 (those on placebo) to 5.42 (those given the vaccine).

What this means is the vaccine ‘helps’ about 5.7 people per thousand per year (11.12 minus 5.42= 5.7). Where did the “51.3 % reduction” come from? Well, when you drop the rate from 11.12 to 5.42, that’s about half the rate, or a 51.3% reduction.

To summarize, here are two ways of presenting the same data: 1) “The vaccine helps five people per thousand vaccinated. Or 2) “The vaccine helps 50% of the people vaccinated.”

Hmmm. You can imagine which one gets the most traction with the marketers.

So let’s talk cost. If you have to vaccinate 1,000 people per year at $150 a shot, it would cost $150,000. That’s a fair bit of money to save five people from getting shingles. In other words, the cost of avoiding shingles is about $30,000 per person per year.

Does that sound like a bargain? Depends on whom you ask. If you asked Judy’s friend Jane, she’d probably say that not seeing her husband in such pain is “priceless.” If you ask governments to pay for the vaccine, seems they think it’s too high a price to pay and it isn’t covered in BC. It’s not that the vaccine doesn’t work; it’s that it hardly works.

And that’s before you wander into the other side of the equation: the vaccine’s potential for adverse effects. By August 2011, in the US, the federal Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) had received 442 serious vaccine adverse reports following Zostavax vaccination, including 36 reported deaths. While these are ‘associations’ and not causations, it still makes one pause before hitting the “jab” button. The kinds of serious shingles vaccine reactions included things like joint and muscle pain, fever, abnormally swollen glands and so on.

Some might ask, “Is it possible the vaccine can actually cause shingles?” A good question to which there is no definitive answer, but rashes akin to chicken pox are mentioned on the vaccine’s label as one of the potential adverse effects.

At the end of the day, facts can be twisted in any way to make a point, especially when the ‘point’ comes at the end of a syringe.

But back to Jane who was caring for her husband and his very nasty bout of shingles. Seeing Stan in such pain was enough for her. She begged Judy and her other friends to get vaccinated. She went and paid the $150 to get herself vaccinated.

And a few weeks later? You guessed it; she too came down with a new diagnosis.

That’s right, shingles.

Alan Cassels is a pharmaceutical policy researcher at the University of Victoria and the author of Seeking Sickness: Medical Screening and the Misguided Hunt for Disease (Greystone, 2012). You can follow his interests on Twitter at AKECassels or read more of what he’s writing about at www.alancassels.com.

Ecocide was to be the 5th Crime Against Peace

A photo of the earth from space with a giant post-it note saying - To do: Save the Planet

– UN documents

by Polly Higgins

• Imagine my surprise when a journalist called me a year ago to ask for my comment on the news that a law of Ecocide had been considered an international crime over 15 years ago. All we had was one document that referred to three countries that had objected to it being included as Crime Against Peace.

Today, we have a paper trail that takes us back to 1972. The call to make Ecocide an international crime is nothing new; over 7,000 people took to the streets in Stockholm in 1972 to demand that ecocide be a crime. It was the time of the Vietnam War and world leaders had met in Stockholm to resolve environmental issues at an international level for the first time. At the same time, The People’s Forum brought together some of the top experts of the day to discuss Ecocide.

Fast forward a decade; 1985 saw the flame of the Law of Ecocide burn brightly again. Most significant was the draft “Code of Crimes Against the Peace and Security of Mankind” (precursor to the Rome Statute), which included Ecocide. For a further 11 years, the UN partook in concerted debate, discussion and research. One researcher even drafted the Ecocide Convention. What happened next is set out in the research paper, Ecocide is the Missing 5th Crime Against Peace.

Recently, the Human Rights Consortium at the School of Advanced Studies, University of London, launched The Ecocide Project, which will continue to unravel the question as to why it was shelved. Dr Damien Short, who has taken up the post of Director of the Human Rights Consortium said, “The paper provides a foundation of understanding on which we must build; there is more vital work to be done.” The report draws attention to the preamble of the draft Ecocide Convention, where there is the explicit recognition that Ecocide is not always a crime of intent and that Ecocide is caused in both times of war and peace.

“Man has consciously and unconsciously inflicted irreparable damage to the environment in times of war and peace.” These words have as much relevance today as they did when they were written in the draft Ecocide Convention in 1973.

My dream is for a world of peace, a world where mass damage and destruction no longer exists. I believe we can live in peaceful enjoyment where both people and planet are put first.

Portrait of Polly Higgins

Like the name of the research paper, Ecocide is the Missing 5th Crime Against Peace, just imagine that when we close the door to mass damage and destruction, a new door will open. When it does close, our world of conflict will end. What will open is the door to the world of peace.

Polly Higgins is a lawyer, barrister and the author of Eradicating Ecocide and Earth is our Business. Polly proposed to the United Nations that the law of Ecocide be the 5th Crime Against Peace. Visit www.sas.ac.uk/hrc/projects/ecocide-project for more information about The Ecocide Project. Download the research paper at www.eradicatingecocide.com

planet image © Wisconsinart

Thank you all!

A throng of people march behind the Walk or Peace banner

The Walk for Peace was a huge success!

Photo and article by Alastair Gregor

• On Saturday, June 30, approximately 2,000 Walkers for Peace met at Kitsilano Beach (Arbutus and Cornwall) and joined together in unity to celebrate peace, on the 30th anniversary of Vancouver’s very first Walk for Peace in 1982.

 

We were welcomed to the land by Elder Henry Charles from the Musqueam First Nation, who blessed the land, and we also received a spiritual blessing delivered by Métis grandmother, pipe carrier, sundancer and singer Aline LaFlamme. Aline’s energy and words were inspirational: “We will show the way by going first. We will walk with love, honour, respect and compassion for all things in creation, including ourselves.”

At 1:00 PM we walked together, led by Fanny Starchild and Ross Barrett of the Carnival Band. United as one in peace, we walked along Cornwall Avenue, over the Burrard Street Bridge, west along Pacific, and south on Bute Street and crossed over Beach Avenue to gather in the natural amphitheatre of Sunset Beach Park. By the time the first walkers arrived, the festivities had already started on the main stage. Wonderful performers, speakers, entertainers and musicians delighted the crowd throughout the afternoon.

It was a beautiful afternoon celebrating and sharing peace and those who participated realized you cannot come to peace by just warring against war. We walked together in unity towards peace. Our slogan in 1982 was – and still is today – “There is no way to peace, peace is the way.”

We are continuing our work towards our next event and we are looking for sponsors who wish to come on board and help cover costs or share in kind. We greatly appreciate your endorsement.

We wish to thank our many volunteers and sponsors who fulfilled the role of Peace Ambassadors and helped to make the event so special.

  • Media sponsor Common Ground Magazine: http://commonground.ca/ Read more inside!
  • Rev. Bruce Sanguin (Canadian Memorial Church and The Centre for Peace) for providing the space for our organizational meetings.
  • The Mayor’s office and the City of Vancouver for providing the Proclamation.
  • Vancouver City Engineering for providing plumbing and the Parks office for rebuilding the Peace Flame and providing fresh water for the event.
  • Daniel Sabina and the great staff at Show Max Event Services (604-639-4629)
  • Ronnie Novak at Cats Eye Video www.catseyevideo.com (604-224-2466)
  • Ehren Salazar designed our Walk for Peace shoe logo – thank you.
  • General Paint – thank you Rob.
  • Mr. Edit in North Vancouver for transcribing 1980s video to digital.
  • Ishi Roberts Dinim for 30 years of inspiration and digital editing.
  • Damien Gillis for such great film editing.
  • SML Printing on Broadway for handbills and flyers.
  • Myron Pajak, Dream Classic Charter Service (604-831-6445), for providing the classic vehicle that transported the veterans across the bridge.
  • PacBlue Printing for the large outdoor Walk for Peace banner.
  • Parallel Rentals Inc., Burnaby, 604-436-1418.
  • Canada Wide Communications, 604-980-9071.
  • The Teamsters Local 155 for event security – awesome guys!
  • The BC Federation of Labour.
  • The Flower Factory at 3604 Main St. for their Peace Wreath 604-871-1008
  • RE/MAX Realty & Selina Jansen for their lovely tents.
  • Laura-Leah Shaw RE/MAX Crest Realty Westside 604-551-9297 (please support a ‘cruelty-free’ world). Thank you Laura-Leah for transporting the huge peace sign.
  • Kelli Turner from Vancouver Ambulance Service, for watching over us.
  • Grady Mercs from Paul Mercs Concerts for great organization and promotion.
  • Florence Etienne for feeding us all such incredibly delicious Vegan food.
  • Mo Khani from Canada Green Pack (eco-server.ca).
  • http://www.suprememastertv.com/ be Vegan make Peace.
  • All our performers: Ross Barrett and the Carnival Band, Ta’Kaiya Blaney, Drew Rouse, Corinthian, Rachel, Sean, Kelsang, Lynn McGown & Michael Pratt, Mel Hertig, Hannah, Tony & Adrian, Suzan Law & Laura Swift, Woody Coward, David Laskey and Ed Livingstone of VANA, B.E.A.R and Mahara Brenna thank you! and especially Neil Weisensel for arranging such a fine performance with house band Peace in the City!
  • To many of our wonderful organizational volunteers without which the event would not have been the same: Hazel Bell-Akoshi for her passion, Gerald Sze for his astute accounting, Lloyd and Felicia for everything! Thank you Phil Watson, Jillian Skeet, Sonya Weir, Hila Russ, Herb Barbolet, James McDonald, Chris & Reimer Kroecher, Dheera, Jake, Mary, David, Elizabeth, Paalin and Jeffery. Thank you all, and especially to Fiona Crossley, Mary Guilfoyle and Sandra Tait (Golden Seeds Event Marketing, 604-336-4212), whose help was invaluable.

And to Joseph Roberts, publisher of Common Ground Magazine, whose vision and dedication to peace sparked this event. Thank you for your inspiration.

And to you, our Peace Ambassadors, banner wavers, on-the-day volunteers, thank you, thank you for your belief that your actions can and do make such a significant difference.

And to all those who walked for Peace on June 30, 2012, and continue to Walk for Peace each day, thank you all for being willing to step forward and be the change you want to see. If we have inadvertently omitted anyone from our list of supporters and helpers, we apologize.

Youtube videos of our Walk for Peace:

From Ronnie Novak:

From SummerInHamburg:

From Zepfancouver:

From Iqbalishani:

Thrive Living TV – Katherine of “RawsomeChef.com” Interview at the Walk:

Some great photos by Bruce Yu – our Vegan friend:

Photographs are available for viewing and through our Flickr page. Please send yours for us to upload:

Alastair Gregor was the event director for the Walk for Peace event, live@commonground.ca

Teens travel to India to study with the Dalai Lama

A western woman sits on a mat in a line of Buddhist monks

by Michele Hall

• Vancouver’s Teen Journey is heading to India to study with the Dalai Lama. After four years of life-changing programs where young people discover their unique power and gifts, Teen Journey now welcomes the invitation to connect with some of the planet’s wisest people.

Teen Journey founder Ela Rezmer created Teen Journey in response to the challenges her own two sons faced as they headed into adolescence. She saw that modern society has virtually no processes or rites of passage to help teens navigate through one of the most important times in their life. “Young people need to experience the depths of the human soul. Only then can they tap into their own strength and wisdom to become responsible participants in our global culture,” Rezmer notes.

This fall, in conjunction with the Inkarri Multicultural Association led by Juan Ruiz, teens will travel to the Gaden Shartse Monastery in southern India where they will live with the monks and receive daily teachings from the Dalai Lama, as well as work with Juan in Pneuma Breathwork and his Path of Knowledge. “This is a rare opportunity,” says Rezmer. “Not only will they travel to a different culture but, more important, being with thousands of monks praying and meditating deeply nourishes the growing soul.”

The two-week program (begins November 2012) is limited to 20 people 18-21 years of age. Registration ends September 15. Contact Ela Rezmer at 604-780-3400 or visit TeenJourney.org

Michele Hall is a former CBC TV producer, ghostwriter and co-author of three books. She also had the foresight to enrol her teenage daughter in the Teen Journey program. WhatWorksMedia.ca

Join Kirtan Vancouver on August 18

A group of people in colourful dress celebrating

• Kirtan is one of the oldest yoga traditions of the world. It is a call-and-response chanting genre that helps us connect with ourselves, focus our attention and achieve harmony between mind, body and spirit. Being a part of the Yoga of Sound, Kirtan produces sound waves, which you follow with your awareness. Think Omm!

Kirtan Vancouver Events Society (Kirtan Vancouver) is a non-profit, grass-roots organization dedicated to making Vancouverites more aware of how breathing, chanting and Kirtan can bring about significant, positive changes in health and wellness. The event is put on entirely by a volunteer board of directors. In its first year in 2010, thousands of people attended, affirming that Vancouver was seeking this powerful form of meditation.

On August 18, Kirtan Vancouver, presented by OrganicLives™, is bringing some of the world’s most beautiful souls and voices to its stage. The event will be MCd by the well-known, local, talented Rekha Sharma with performances by Karnamrita Dasi, Jeffrey Armstrong, Sandra Leigh (Give Peace A Chant), Sparrow and more. OrganicLives™ is an organization dedicated to promoting organic, sustainable, fairly traded food.

A portion of all proceeds will be donated to Food for Life, a non-profit organization that supplies free, nourishing, plant-based meals to the Vancouver Downtown Eastside homeless and to women’s shelters and victims of natural or manmade disasters.

Check out Kirtan Vancouver’s Facebook page at www.kirtanvancouver.com. Come share your energy and light with them on August 18 at 2nd Beach at Stanley Park, 3-9PM. Just announced: Win 2 tickets to Wanderlust Whistler at Kirtan Vancouver. Free yoga in the park, 1PM.

Lakes research next to be nixed

Portrait of David Suzuki

SCIENCE MATTERS by David Suzuki

• We can’t live without clean water. Canada is blessed with an abundance of lakes and rivers and has a global responsibility to manage them well. But if we really want to protect freshwater supplies and the ecosystems they support, we must understand how human activity and natural disturbances affect them.

The world-renowned Experimental Lakes Area in Southern Ontario has served as an outdoor laboratory for this purpose since 1968. By manipulating and studying conditions in 58 small lakes and their watersheds, scientists there have made many discoveries about the effects of human and natural activity on freshwater ecosystems and fish. Over the past 45 years, they’ve taught us about the impacts of acid rain, mercury pollution, nanoparticles, nitrogen overload, climate change and fish farming.

That’s about to end. The federal government announced it will close the unique facility in 2013. It’s an odd decision, especially considering it costs just $2 million a year to operate – one-tenth the cost of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s security detail and about the same amount the government spent during the 2010 G20 Summit in Toronto to build a tourism pavilion with a fake lake. To make matters worse, it will cost taxpayers $50 million to shut the ELA down!

In an open letter to government, senior scientists point out “research conducted at the ELA has been instrumental in the development of environmental policy and legislation both nationally and internationally.” We often hear how Canada “manages” its natural resources, but how can we do that without sound knowledge about the intricacies of the water cycle?

The timing is also odd. The ELA is being shut down as the government eviscerates laws and regulations designed to protect freshwater and marine habitat and resources with its omnibus budget bill. Included in the bill are changes or cuts to the Fisheries Act, Navigable Waters Protection Act, Species at Risk Act and Canadian Environmental Protection Act and a complete gutting and rewriting of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act.

Changes to the Fisheries Act are especially troubling. Habitat protection has been removed and the focus has shifted to economically viable and aboriginal fisheries only. That has some former fisheries ministers worried. In a letter to the prime minister, Conservatives Tom Siddon and John Fraser and Liberals Herb Dhaliwal and David Anderson wrote, “Canadians are entitled to know whether these changes were written, or insisted upon, by the minister of fisheries or by interest groups outside the government. If the latter is true, exactly who are they?”

It’s a valid concern. Postmedia obtained government documents showing that Enbridge, the company behind the dual Northern Gateway pipeline proposal, lobbied the government heavily before the changes were brought in. Documents also indicate pressure from Enbridge was partly responsible for the government’s decision to pull out of a joint marine-planning process on the Pacific North Coast between industry, First Nations, citizens’ groups and conservation organizations.

One can’t help but notice that many recent cuts and changes are aimed at programs, laws or entities that might slow the push for rapid tar sands expansion and pipelines to the west and south, along with the massive sell-off of our resources and resource industry to Chinese state-owned companies, among others. Any research or findings that don’t fit with the government’s fossil fuel-based economic plans appear to be under attack.

Development is important, but when it’s focused on a single polluting industry, at the expense of other economic priorities and the environment, it doesn’t make sense. When industry and government go to such extreme lengths to promote a shortsighted and narrow interest, it’s an affront to the democratic traditions that Canadians of all political stripes have built over the years.

Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Editorial and Communications Specialist Ian Hanington. Learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org

China’s one-fingered artist

FILMS WORTH WATCHING by Robert Alstead

• It’s easy to forget that many Chinese teenagers know nothing about the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989; just ask any young Chinese immigrant to Vancouver. Given China’s huge and fast-growing economic and military power, there’s ongoing pressure for it to open up, but as documentary Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry reveals, freedom of speech is a long way off.

Portrait of Ai WeiWei creating a circular piece of art
Ai Weiwei. Courtesy of Mongrel Media.

Activist-artist Ai came to prominence when having designed the Bird’s Nest stadium in Beijing, he denounced the 2008 Olympics as an “empty event,” certainly not for the poor people evicted from the stadium site. The burly artist has been a constant thorn in the side of the PRC, holding up his trademark middle finger to the government’s censorship regime. Propelled by his social media activities and his brash wit, Ai has earned superstar status. “Beijing’s Andy Warhol” has held celebrated exhibitions in London and Munich and been feted by the media worldwide.

Director Alison Klayman’s intimate portrait charts Ai’s recent activity until his disappearance last year, when he was held in secret detention for 81 days by the police as part of measures to pre-empt a Chinese Spring. The documentary captures Ai very much in his milieu, whether touring with his entourage (lots of meals) or working the net in his Beijing studio surrounded by his cats. He is a physically large and indomitable presence with a disarming humility and frankness when talking about his life and work. We meet his proud mom who worries to tears despite Ai’s soothing noises about her boy’s brushes with the authorities. His wife talks briefly and the appearance of his illegitimate infant son later in the film gives rise to some memorable shots of him in the field of porcelain sunflower seeds installation at London’s Tate Modern.

Ai’s response to the 2008 Sichuan earthquake – an event that initially left him “speechless” – is at the heart of Klayman’s film. When the Chinese government refused to acknowledge that thousands of children died when “tofu-”constructed schools collapsed on top of them, Ai supporters went from village to village building a list of 5,835 victims. Ai distributed the list online and covered a huge wall of the Haus der Kunst in Munich with brightly coloured satchels spelling out the words of a mother of a quake victim: “She lived happily for seven years in this world.”

The police seem never far away, watching and documenting on camera. Ai’s response is to document back. When assaulted during a police night raid, he creates a firestorm of protest with a photo sent out via Twitter. When he subsequently has emergency surgery for a cerebral haemorrhage, he shares a series of photographs of himself from his Munich hospital bed captioned with stoic wit. Later, when the authorities decide to destroy his Shanghai studio on a flimsy pretext, Ai lampoons the injustice by turning the occasion into an open-invitation party serving crab – “crab” being synonymous with “censorship.”

As Ai suggests, he’s like a chess player, except the rules of this game keep changing. Given the pressure, Ai’s calm resilience is impressive, something the doc traces, in part, to his boyhood experience of his poet father’s humiliations and his years as a student in New York, as much as his bullish personality. Klayman’s achievement is in providing a detailed depiction of how China suppresses dissent and how one man has become such a potent voice of resistance, as the David and Goliath battle continues to play out across a kaleidoscopic media landscape.

Robert Alstead writes at www.2020Vancouver.com.

Quiet your busy mind

UNIVERSE WITHIN by Gwen Randall-Young

Portrait of Gwen Randall-Young


Have you ever been listening to a song and it suddenly became so irritating you had to flip to the next song? If you had continued listening, you would have become annoyed and irritable. Sometimes your thoughts are like that when you are worrying, replaying an incident or reliving past hurts.

With a listening device like an Ipod, we program the music and we are in control of what we hear. Interestingly, with our minds, we have not consciously programmed the content and most often it controls us. Unless we are practising mindfulness, our thoughts can be like a series of bad dreams we have while awake and we can’t wake up from them.

The mind is great at taking a thought about a financial worry, a job or relationship concern and creating all kinds of worst-case or “what if?” scenarios. A worry thought is like a little fire and each possible negative outcome we imagine is like throwing another log on the fire. It keeps getting bigger and we may well have more than one of these infernos going at the same time.

And they’re not just worry thoughts; sometimes they are what I call “bully thoughts.” This is when we beat ourselves up and think of all the ways we are not good enough or we compare ourselves to others who we think have it better.

All of these thoughts have a way of taking over our consciousness like a propaganda machine. But it is not only our thoughts that are affected. Our mood and emotions are coloured by these thoughts and our physiology is affected too; stress chemicals are produced in the body and our immune system is suppressed.

Our view of the world and sense of reality are impacted by our thoughts. If we think people cannot be trusted, we will be suspicious and guarded in our dealings with others. If we argued with a partner and we keep thinking of all the things we do not like about him or her, we only make things worse.

For some, the problem is not so much the content of the thoughts, but rather the quantity of thoughts. They just cannot turn off their thoughts even when trying to sleep.

All this thinking about problems can be helped by learning to press the “mute” button on our minds. We can think of it as “thought stopping.” Our thoughts actually take us away from our true self, whereas, when we stop thinking, we can tune in to our essential selves.

It is like when you see mountains or a beautiful lake and you just stop and look. You take a deep breath and feel so peaceful. It is partly the scenery that makes us feel so good, but it is also the fact that we have momentarily stopped our thoughts. Meditators know this; that is why they spend time just sitting in silence.

If you do not meditate, you can simply practise using your imaginary “mute” or even your “delete” button when you are having negative thoughts. If it is a busy mind that keeps you agitated, learn to give it time-outs. At sleep time, turn it off completely. (Go to www.gwen.ca for a sound clip of hypnosis for “Quieting the Busy Mind.”)

Gwen Randall-Young is an author and psychotherapist in private practice. For more of Gwen’s articles and information about her books, Self Care CDs and the new Creating Healthy Relationships series, visit www.gwen.ca. See display ad this issue.