Fight for your civil rights – staying silent is not an option

by Cameron Ward

Cameron Ward photo by Harrison Ha, www.harrisonha.com

On August 1, 2002, Vancouver lawyer Cameron Ward was wrongfully searched, handcuffed, arrested and jailed for planning to throw a pie at then Prime Minister Jean Chrétien. Cameron subsequently sued the Vancouver Police Department and his jailers. The final result was the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision on July 23, 2010, that Canadians have the right to sue for monetary compensation if their constitutional rights are violated. This is Ward’s story of his eight-year ordeal and ultimate vindication.

On April 17, 1982, the day I saw Queen Elizabeth and Prime Minister Trudeau sign the new Canadian Constitution on the front lawn of the Parliament Buildings, I felt I was watching history being made. As a second year law student attending the University of Ottawa, I realized the Charter of Rights and Freedoms was an important new piece of legislation that would redefine many aspects of Canadian life. I had no inkling, however, that some 28 years later I might be making a bit of Charter history myself.

On July 23, 2010, the Supreme Court of Canada issued its decision in Ward v. City of Vancouver, unanimously declaring that Canadians may have the right to sue for monetary compensation if their constitutional rights are violated. How did I, a Vancouver civil litigation lawyer, end up as a party in a case some commentators are hailing as a significant development in the law pertaining to civil liberties?

To answer that question, we must go back to the evening of November 25, 1997. I had received a call at home from a client who said she was in jail in Richmond, after being arrested in connection with the APEC summit at UBC, and would I please come quickly to help? It turned out that my client was one of dozens of people arrested at UBC that day by overzealous members of the RCMP, who had pepper sprayed and detained student demonstrators alarmed that their campus was playing host to the likes of President Suharto of Indonesia and President Jiang Zemin of China. Many speculated that Prime Minister Jean Chrétien or his aides had been responsible for the police crackdown and two years of high-profile public hearings ensued.

I continued to act as legal counsel for many of the student complainants and, as a result of the attention the case received, I became something of a lightning rod for those with grievances against the police. My practice changed and I found myself frequently representing the families of those who had died at the hands of the police or those who had been injured by police conduct. A year later, for example, I found myself representing people who had been injured by police batons at the so-called “Riot at the Hyatt,” which was not a riot at all, but one of the most egregious examples of police brutality I have witnessed. A squad of Vancouver crowd control police emerged from the breezeway under the Hyatt Hotel on Burrard Street and began indiscriminately clubbing protesters who had congregated there to protest a speaking engagement by Prime Minister Chrétien. I also represented the families of Jeff Berg, Tom Stevenson and Robert Bagnell, men killed by Vancouver police in separate, unrelated incidents.

All of this was difficult, challenging and frustrating work and it probably didn’t make me any new friends in the police community, or, for that matter, in the legal community, where most prefer to believe the police can do no wrong. While I have always respected the work of police officers, they do enjoy enormous power and I firmly believe they must be held accountable when that power is abused. The only effective check on police misconduct, in my experience, is the civil justice system, and my cases on behalf of a variety of plaintiffs attracted some public attention.

This was the context for the events that transpired on August 1, 2002, a day I will not soon forget. Prime Minister Chrétien, of APEC and Hyatt fame, was once again in Vancouver, this time to conduct an opening ceremony at the new Millennium Gate on Pender Street. On my way to the office, I stopped and parked my car at a meter. It was before 10:00 AM. Out of curiosity, I wandered over and watched a bit of the ceremony. I was struck by the level of security, heavy even by APEC standards, and was a bit unnerved by the sight of police on rooftops with automatic weapons. I became bored by the speeches and left, walking briskly in the direction of my car.

A Vancouver police officer confronted me and demanded, “Were you planning to throw a pie at the Prime Minister?” I looked at him incredulously and said, “No, of course not.” While I may have had my differences with Mr. Chrétien, it would never have occurred to me to plaster him with meringue. In the same forceful tone, the police officer then said, “Show me your ID.” I suppose it was the lawyer in me that responded with “Why?” I knew that, in my country, police did not have the right to demand identification from a pedestrian in the street without some legitimate reason for the request. It seemed my answer was not the one the officer wanted because I immediately found myself in handcuffs. Two more officers arrived and I repeatedly asked them whether or not I was under arrest, without receiving an answer.

I grew frustrated and began asking to call a lawyer. Again, I received no answer. Realizing I had my cell phone in my pocket, I reached in with one hand and took it out and began punching in a number. One of the police officers promptly took it away. I was searched and my wallet and keys were removed. I heard the police officers call my identification in.

I continued asking, over and over again, if I was under arrest and could I call a lawyer? The police ignored these requests and I became more and more frustrated. I was trying to convey that there had been a misunderstanding, but they would have none of it. Remembering that one of my clients had once escaped a trip to jail by attracting attention to his plight while detained on the street by police, I began to raise my voice in the hope that a passer-by would come to my aid. I felt helpless; the police were ignoring me and I couldn’t summon help by telephone, so what was I to do?

A police wagon was called to the scene and I was unceremoniously deposited inside. Still in handcuffs, I was driven to the jail and left in the stationary wagon for what seemed like an interminable time. I could see police walking around outside and I shouted for help. They laughed.

After a while, I was taken out of the wagon by one of the officers involved in my arrest. He showed me my possessions and told me, for the first time, that I was under arrest “for investigation of assault on the Prime Minister.” I shook my head in disbelief and asked again to call a lawyer. The request was denied. “There is no privacy here,” I was told. I responded, “I will gladly waive my right to privacy; let me call a lawyer,” but I was getting nowhere.

I was taken into the jail. I began repeating, “I want to call a lawyer.” I must have made this request 30 times over the course of an hour and I was getting no closer to exercising my right to contact counsel. The sergeant in charge of the jail grew impatient, saying, “We can do this the easy way or the hard way.” I was deposited in a large cell for a while, presumably to discourage me from asking for a lawyer. I gave up and was soon taken to a smaller room where two large men with blue rubber gloves told me to take off all my clothes. This was getting uncomfortable. I noticed my knees trembling as I disrobed, but couldn’t tell whether it was from fear or cold. I suppose it made little difference. When I was standing only in my briefs, I decided to again speak out. “Look, I am a lawyer; I know what the law is and it’s against the law to strip search me,” I said, with as much bravery as I could muster.

A conference ensued between the men wearing the gloves and “sergeant hard way.” I was spared further embarrassment and was allowed to dress, albeit without my shoelaces. I was taken to a cell marked “INTOX” and the door closed heavily behind me. I looked around. I was alone in a tiny, concrete cell that measured about one metre by two metres. It was completely barren, save for a video camera in the top corner of one wall. I sat on the cement floor and waited. Many hours passed. I remained alone, staring at a blank cement wall with smears of dried blood and perhaps other bodily fluid, contemplating my fate. I knew I had done absolutely nothing wrong and had certainly not assaulted the Prime Minister, but hey, why was I here? I thought to myself, “The World Trade Center attacks of September 11 were less than a year ago. Does someone think I am a terrorist? Will I get out of here?” I am not necessarily claustrophobic, but as I sat, uncomfortably, in that confined space, with all kinds of thoughts running through my head, I realized I would probably sign just about anything in exchange for a promise to be released.

Finally, I was removed from the cell. Two detectives met me at the booking desk. One said, “You were arrested because you matched the description of someone who we had information was going to throw a pie at the Prime Minister. We arrested him and realized you were not involved.”

“What,” I sputtered. “When did you arrest him? I’ve been here all day.”

“That’s all I can tell you,” the detective said. “We’ll take you to your car now.”

“Thanks,” I replied. “I’ll show you where it is.”

“That won’t be necessary. We have it.”

I was driven to an impound lot and told not to touch anything, as there were other “crime vehicles” within. I got in my car and drove home. I had no sooner walked in the door than a friend called and told me he had seen me on the evening news, in handcuffs, being put in a police wagon.

That was distressing. I consulted a lawyer friend and we decided to seek an immediate apology from the Vancouver police. They refused and published comments making matters worse so I lodged a formal complaint with the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner and sued the police and jailers.

The police complaint was investigated by Abbotsford police and dismissed as “unsubstantiated.” I pressed on with the lawsuit. A week before trial, I offered to drop the case and walk away in exchange for an apology. The defendants refused and a six-day trial ensured, resulting in the judge awarding me a total of $10,100 in damages for my unlawful detention, the unreasonable search of my person and the unreasonable seizure of my car.

The defendants appealed to the Court of Appeal and to the Supreme Court of Canada, losing in both instances. They probably spent hundreds of thousands of dollars over the eight-year process. I had my own counsel, Brian Samuels, who generously devoted hundreds of unpaid hours to my case. It was quite an education.

What did I learn? I learned how powerless one can be in the face of authority. The police officers that dealt with me that day were arrogant and rude and clearly felt they could abuse me as they saw fit. I also learned first-hand how daunting, time-consuming and expensive it can be to try to vindicate oneself. I am now even more acutely aware of and sensitive to violations of constitutional rights.

Would I do it again, knowing what I know now? Unquestionably, yes. Staying silent is not an option. When our rights as citizens in this democracy are violated, we must stand up and fight for them. Civil rights and liberties are under assault and are being eroded daily in this country. If we turn the other cheek, we will lose all that we cherish and hold dear.

Visit www.cameronward.com

Honouring democracy – fighting the HST

One volunteer’s experience collecting signatures for the FightHST petition

by Brenda Stephenson

Bill Vander Zalm with a group of FightHST petitioners in North Vancouver.

I was just going along with my friend to keep her company at a rally at Kitsilano High School. Admittedly when she mentioned that the HST would result in less money in my pocket, I paid attention. Historically I do not get involved with protests, being inclined to join a group of people who are “for” something, rather than “against” (see group photo opposite).

Former premier Bill Vander Zalm’s message had a clear ring of integrity and sincerity.  I did not hear or feel an intention to “fight” or to “resist” anything. Rather he invited volunteers to come together to stop the implementation of a bad tax that would cause financial struggle for people already stretched beyond their limits.

I felt like he was speaking to me – a retired senior citizen on a very low fixed income. After the rally I happily signed the petition and eagerly registered to become a canvasser to collect signatures for the petition.

The following are a few of my personal experiences in the HST Initiative Petition campaign. Without a doubt, one of the most rewarding and liberating experiences in my life. What I learned from this intense and demanding project is more than I can write about here.

I feel very privileged to be a part of the first successful Citizens’ Initiative in British Columbia since it came into force in 1994.  No other province in Canada has such referendum and recall legislation.

Thank you, Mr. Vander Zalm, for introducing this legislation when you were Premier allowing citizens of BC to exercise the democratic right to express their opinions about new legislation between elections, and to recall politicians who are not listening to their constituents.

The original Fight HST group headed up by Chris Delaney and Bill Vander Zalm created a highly motivated human organization to accommodate the desires of BC voters and send a clear message to the government – STOP THE HST NOW.

One highlight that impressed me in this province wide adventure was how eagerly individuals from all walks of life and all political parties joined together to generously and graciously volunteer their energy and valuable time for this worthy cause.

Strangely, Vancouver was the last area in BC to achieve their targets – I don’t know why – leave that to the strategists to figure out. What was so gratifying was that canvassers in nearby ridings spent time canvassing here until we met our targets.

They arrived in vans or cars in large groups; they came in pairs independently and canvassed on busy street corners. They joined our canvassers in the pouring rain at City Square collecting signatures until they were soaking wet, then, finally heading home for relaxing hot baths. Their generosity leaves me speechless.

Volunteers not eligible to sign the petition also helped.  One, a 16 year-old Vancouver high school student assisted official canvassers in Point Grey.  His job was to qualify people for eligibility to sign (they had to be on the Elections BC voters list), and then locate their ridings (each of the 85 ridings required a separate petition page to sign, maps were used to determine), which sped up the signing process. His motivation was to learn more about the BC electoral process and to gain experience as a volunteer for credits at school. He was thrilled to take part in such a significant history-making event.

Over 6,500 volunteers were approved by BC Elections as Canvassers to collect signatures for the petition. Some of those approved were invited to act as Regional Organizers and Team Captains to motivate and support the thousands of individual canvassers.

Together, with their impressive talents, expertise, perseverance, persistence, patience and sincere desire to exercise their democratic rights, they achieved incredible results.

They exceeded expectations and petition signature targets. First the BC Elections 10% required for every riding in the province, then the internal campaign’s 15%.  On June 30 the fightHST petition was submitted to BC Elections. The results show many ridings exceeded 20% of the registered voters. This is a higher percentage of registered voters than many MLAs got elected with. This truly makes the fightHST petition a peoples’ democratic non-confidence “vote” against the Harmonizing Sales Tax. The hated HST has already caused massive Disharmony.

More campaign highlights that warmed my heart: Personally, the joy of receiving a phone call from my son in Toronto after he and my five-year old granddaughter were surprised to hear my voice on the car radio (CBC Radio and TV had interviewed me at the Vancouver Public Library one rainy day during he campaign).

Many local businesses offered us shelter from the weather while canvassing. A local delicatessen owner provided food and beverages for one of our team meetings; another local coffee shop provided coffee and snacks for our Sunday petition counting group.

On another day, while using the parking lot to meet visiting canvassers from Surrey, Delta, White Rock and Langley, we waited under the canopy of the grocery store because once again it was a rainy day. While handing out supplies and signs to our visiting canvassers, a security van pulled up, a security guard jumped out and ran over asking to sign the petition. Then he got back into his van and drove away. I was very grateful, realizing that he was going out on a limb for us. Also as soon as customers noticed that we were canvassers for the HST petition, they inundated us with requests to sign.  

The majority of the public were so kind and grateful for petitions being available at central signing locations. We were asked why we were not door knocking because many had expected us to show up at their homes. We did try to get into apartment buildings and condominiums but found that some managers and strata councils decided not to allow us in to canvass door to door, nor set up tables in their lobbies. I feel badly for those people who could not leave their homes, but it was out of our control. Given more time and more canvassers we would have collected even more signatures.

The experience of working with volunteers has accelerated my personal growth in leaps and bounds. I have nothing but pure love and admiration for every volunteer, and every person who signed the petition.

I encourage every one of you reading my account to get involved and pressure the current provincial government to honour the wishes of the citizens of BC. Get directly involved now, because if Premier Campbell and his MLAs attack the honour and good name of the thousands of average people in BC who volunteered to fight the HST, then they are not responding to the wishes of the people and should be turfed out of office. We can use the recall aspect of the same Referendum and Recall legislation to achieve this. They get their power from us, the voters. It would be irresponsible and unaccountable if these MLAs choose to just ignore the largest petition campaign in the history of BC.

The people have spoken. The voters, do not want the HST. Recall your Hated Sale Tax.

Visit www.FightHST.com

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.”

www.geoffolson.com

A green tax revolt

EARTHFUTURE by Guy Dauncey

We all hate the HST, right? It’s now a populist campaign, led by former Premier Bill Vander Zalm, who has, by the way, also predicted the HST will expand to take in the US and Mexico and eventually be controlled from Brussels, Belgium, as part of a conspiratorial New World Order.

The HST has its pros and cons, but maybe we’re being blinded by it and missing the real target. To explain why, let me step back for a moment. Under the PST, various ‘good’ things are exempt, including bicycles and renewable energy equipment. That makes sense. But so are transport fuels and residential heating fuels: – oil and gas.

Under the HST, the only exemptions are those on a federal Department of Finance list that does not include bicycles or renewable energy equipment. So these exemptions have to go, along with almost everything else. However, the exemptions on transport and residential fuels are permitted and will remain.

So, this summer when virtually everything we buy in BC carries the full HST of 13 percent, fossil fuels for transport will be exempt. They will receive a seven percent tax break – twice the level of the 3.5 percent carbon tax.

One might ask BC’s MLAs why it’s so important to subsidize fossil fuels above all else. Is it not a glaring contradiction to the aim of reducing air pollution, traffic congestion, and greenhouse gas emissions, and making BC a clean energy leader? Even if the petition to stop the HST succeeds, the seven percent fossil fuels subsidy will remain in the PST.

The BC Sustainable Energy Association has pondered the contradiction and prepared a solution. We propose eliminating the seven percent subsidy to fossil fuels, increasing the price of fuel for transport and residential heating by seven percent, and using the income to create two new funds: one for Healthy Transportation worth $300 million a year, and one for Healthy Housing worth $200 million a year.

To counter the loss of the seven percent subsidy, the funds would be used for programs that would enable people to reduce their travel and heating costs by up to 20 percent.

From the Healthy Transportation Fund, we could invest $65 million a year on new cycling infrastructure; that’s 20 times more than the $3 million promised for cycling in the 2010-2011 budget.We could invest $135 million a year in transit, allowing local communities to use the funds for increased services, reduced fares, improved shelters or electronic timetables, as they saw fit. This would be in addition to the $173 million that was promised for transit in the same budget. We could also invest in pedestrian improvements, ride sharing, car sharing, video-conferencing, electric cars and eco-driving education. With every initiative, we could reduce air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions and traffic congestion and enable people to save money on their travel costs.

From the Healthy Housing Fund, we could invest $100 million a year in an expanded LiveSmart program, helping people make their homes more energy efficient. This would be in addition to the $35 million the government recently committed to restore LiveSmart over three years, enabling an eightfold expansion of the program. This would create a lot of new skilled trades jobs, as well as reducing people’s home energy bills.

Yes, it’s a green tax revolt – a tax revolt in reverse. We’re saying, “Let’s eliminate the subsidy and use the income in positive ways that everyone can benefit from.” That includes pick-up drivers in the rural Cariboo where cycling and transit may not be an option. By making ride sharing really easy, they could pick up the phone and cut their travel costs in half.

For this to succeed, all three major political parties must embrace the idea so that it does not become a political football. Can that be achieved? It might take a miracle, but it’s also good common sense. Why subsidize the bad things? That certainly makes no sense.

Guy Dauncey is president of the BC Sustainable Energy Association. The Vancouver Chapter meets the first Wednesday of every month at Vancouver City Hall, 453 Wes

The HST

It will cost everyone more: students, workers, pensioners, young, old and YOU

 

Note everything that effects you and write beside it your weekly/monthly yearly cost for those items – then multiply by 7% MORE to see your total HST tax hit!
Restaurant meals 
Cable TV
New Homes(some rebates applicable) 
Non-prescription meds 
Telephone
Computer servicing 
Propane / Natural gas 
Hockey tickets
Some groceries 
Hair cuts 
Used cars / trucks 
Membership fees 
Movies / Theatre 
Financial Services 
Bus fares 
Magazines/ newspapers 
Rentals / Strata fees(indirectly affected) 
Taxi fares 
Airline tickets 
Golf fees 
Music lessons 
Insurance 
Spa services 
Massage therapy 
Resort packages 
Parking 
Coffee shops 
Fast food – Beverages 
Dry cleaning 
Appliance repair & maintenance
Vitamins 
Dietary supplements 
School supplies 
Photography
Home maintenance 
Health equipment 
Consulting services 
Storage lockers 
Moorage 
Campgrounds 
RV parks 
Condo management fees 
Fishing charters 
Compost 
Naturopathy 
Reflexology 
Veterinarian 
Admission Fees 
Skiing 
Home renovations 
Painting 
Real estate fees 
Bicycles 
Accounting 
Architects 
Legal fees 
Concert Tickets 
Funeral services
Chinese medicine 
Marketing services 
Safety equipment 
Helmets 
Life jackets 
First aid kits 
Smoke detectors 
Fire extinguishers 
Energy equipment 
Insulation 
Solar power 
Attractions / Events
List is a guide only, and is subject to change depending on what the Liberals decide to do. www.fightHST.com

 

HST just another heist

by Bill Woollam

A newspaper columnist recently mentioned “the way the government brought the HST in, leaves more than a little to be desired.” Yes, that method has ‘hopelessly poisoned the well.’

He also mentioned there is an “apparent widely held prejudice against business and industry.” He stated that the majority of people earn their incomes and benefit from the taxes which big business contributes. However, that is where the truth becomes a little hazy in my view.

Firstly, it is the corruption and greed due to deregulation, out-sourcing of labour and the avoidance of tax contributions that have concerned citizens wary of big business today.

Presently, a multi-national oil corporation (Imperial Oil) is lobbying the federal government to drop the requirement for secondary, safety-drill-shafts in oil-extraction projects in the Beaufort Sea. These secondary safety shafts provide pressure relief in case of any oil ‘blowout’ and are considered vital in the Gulf of Mexico projects, yet, due to costs, are now undesirable in the Canadian north.

Similarly, when the BC provincial government out-sourced the building of a BC ferryboat to Germany, we sent the $500 million expenditure out of province and put our own shipyard workers on unemployment insurance. The tax-paying public lost out on the benefits of in-province recirculation of almost three quarters of a billion dollars. Instead, we have public school and elderly care-home closures.

Over the last 10 years, we have witnessed the lies and falsified evidence used to take Canadians into two illegal wars in the Mid-East – wars that seem to benefit no one except the military/industrial complex and the contractors who feast off the billion dollar rebuilding contracts.

The World Health Organization is presently answering for its insidious activities concerning the ‘bogus’ flu pandemic. This alleged independent organization, by making changes to the term “pandemic,” allowed pharmaceutical companies to bilk the tax-paying public across the Western world out of billions of dollars for an unnecessary and untested vaccination program. BC is sitting on $20 million worth of unused and unnecessary swine flu vaccine. Note: Those vaccinated for seasonal flu are more susceptible to the swine flu.

And lest we forget the revolving door of Monsanto executives and Food and Drug Administrative positions, where government and industry are so intertwined that the genetic seed and herbicide industry is wreaking havoc on Canadian and American crops that were once uncontaminated. The genetically manipulated seeds don’t produce well without the expense of the additional products. What a nice business arrangement.

Regarding the issue of corporate taxation, free trade has been nothing but a free ride for corporations to avoid paying domestic taxes and domestic labour costs, i.e.: eliminating the working class of Canada by producing the cars, lumber, ships, furniture and appliances all outside of Canada. Free trade seems more like a corporate give-away, where the expense of health, safety and environmental standards can be avoided by setting up in Mexico or China.

Here on Vancouver Island, we have witnessed the international Catalyst pulp/paper giant refusing to pay its local taxes. Also, due to the American protectionist tariff charges at the BC/US border, BC is left without a lumber mill industry. Now, we are left shipping out raw logs to American and offshore plants to be processed.

Due to unregulated and known corrupt banking practices, the banking cabal has bilked the taxpayers of billions more for bailouts, while banking corporate executives have maintained their multi-million dollar bonus plans.

These corporations have no intention of paying fair wages to the Canadian or American working class and intend to pay little in local/domestic taxes. It all comes under the guise of ‘being competitive on the global market.’ My response to all this corporate pandering is to ask what good is a cheaper car or truck made offshore when there is no local employment to pay for the ‘free-trade’ product?

Is it not understandable how Canadian healthcare and education services have become underfunded when government collects increasingly less taxes from the corporate sector? Even in America the IRS collected no income taxe from the likes of Exxon and General Electric.

The HST will not result in any reduction in costs to the consumers by the manufacturers; those tax savings will be kept by big business.

A letter to all British Columbians

by Bill Vander Zalm

What began as a simple tax protest has turned into an outright demand for democracy from an increasingly out of touch and dictatorial government in Victoria.

Our petition has exploded onto the scene in BC, with tens of thousands of signatures in just the first two weeks. We have already met or exceeded our targets in a number of ridings around BC, but people continue to sign in an effort to send a bigger and bigger message to government:

“We want democracy! We want to be heard! We want the politicians we elect to serve us, not the other way around!”

Much of this movement is a reaction to the unbelievably arrogant and intractable statements by the premier and many of his MLAs. News 1130 Radio on April 15 reported the following statement by the premier: Premier Gordon Campbell says it doesn’t matter how many signatures the “No” forces gather.  “The HST has been done.  We are moving forward with it…”

It doesn’t matter how many citizens sign the petition? It doesn’t matter how many people oppose his policy? It doesn’t matter how many voters reject the direction of his government? They are going to do it anyway?

Does that sound like the Canada we all once knew? Does that sound like the freedom and democracy our ancestors fought and died for in two successive world wars? What is the point of electing MLAs to represent our wishes in Victoria if all they do is represent Victoria’s wishes to us instead?

I want to encourage everyone who cares about democracy in BC to sign our petition. We had originally hoped to get 15% of registered voters’ signatures (more than the 10% required) in every riding to ensure victory. But now, many are saying they want to go even higher to send the government a message.

From Nanaimo to Kelowna, to Kitimat and Courtenay, to Williams Lake and White Rock, to Salmon Arm and Cranbrook, and all points in between, people are signing in droves. In the North Peace, they have already signed 30% of the registered voters there. That is more people than actually voted for the government in the last election!

The Citizen Initiative petition is the greatest tool we have ever had to hold the government’s feet to the fire. It is the greatest chance we have ever had to tell the politicians that BC and Canada is a government of and for the people, not a country of people of and for the government.

BC is the only province in Canada with Initiative and Recall legislation. Nowhere else can citizens mobilize to oppose their government. When the law was written, it was designed not to work. But that was back in 1992, before anyone could anticipate the rise of the Internet and social media. This time, we have the means to have it work, the enthusiasm to see it work, and the people to make it work!

Keep signing the petition. Let’s get as many signatures as we can. And please remember to volunteer. If everyone does a little, no one needs to do a lot.

Let’s send the government a message they will never forget!

To sign the petition or to volunteer as a canvasser, please go to the Fight HST web site where you will find postings on petition gathering sites for each town/region of the province, as well as the forms needed to volunteer.www.fighthst.com. If you don’t have a computer, your local library can help.

This month’s cover: A contextual reframing and some meandering thoughts on Avatar and the Internet

by Geoff Olson

 

The defunct humour magazine National Lampoon once ran a regular feature called “Professor Kennelworth Explains the Joke.” The professor dissected groaners about farmers’ daughters and animals walking into bars. He parsed their structure and determined why they were funny. Of course, if you have to “explain” any joke, you’re in trouble.

I feel a bit like Professor Kennelworth. On the way to production, this month’s cartoon morphed into a cover. We gave a few people a preview of the image and it generated a lot of comment. Some loved it, some were indifferent and a few thought there was too much noise in the signal. But funny? More like attention getting.

The original cartoon makes the intent a bit more plain – BC’s conservative premier has transformed into his erstwhile enemy: the “tax and spend liberal,” who tosses money at megaprojects and leaves the taxpayer holding the bag. Campbell’s introduction of the HST was the classic pig in lipstick – a tax said to be “revenue neutral” while impacting the wealthy less than the middle class, including small provincial businesses avowedly championed by the BC government. With one decision, Campbell has managed to alienate both the left and the right.

And how can someone pitch their image as a carbon-taxing champion of the environment while simultaneously endorsing salmon farms and run-of river projects? That must be every bit as confusing as being a disabled marine, waking up in the body of a 10-foot tall, blue humanoid with a tail. In terms of pop-culture memes, Avatar’s imagery is uppermost in peoples’ minds these days – another reason it was made into a cover. Director James Cameron has created more than a lush, sci-fi allegory in 3D. It is a game-changer. This pricey production represents a tectonic shift in the arts and the culture as a whole.

How so? Let’s look at the plot, without too many spoilers. Far from the strip-mined Earth, a mining corporation seeks out a new source of wealth and finds it on a Moon-world called Pandora. Unfortunately, the inhabitants insist on staying put, on top of an underground motherlode of “Unobtanium.” In seeking a solution, the mining corporation, a kind of interstellar Halliburton, turns to its private security arm, a kind of interstellar Blackwater. A disabled ex-marine infiltrates the humanoids’ society by taking on their form, in a genetically engineered Na’vi body used as a remotely controlled device. But when he attains a deeper understanding of the Na’vi’s fierce but united community, naturally embedded in their Pandoran environment, his sympathies change.

Cameron’s film has caused a great deal of controversy for its themes on religion, race, the environment and foreign policy. Critics have included the Vatican, US marines, non-smokers and the politically correct. The film endorses a nature-based spirituality, a kind of pantheism inflected by complexity theory. It hints that our interconnections with other living things are the central foundation for our existence. It suggests that gnosis can take many different forms and that we are alike more than we differ. It defends the notion that peace is more desirable than war. It argues against the exploitation of others for profit and because it’s technically feasible. And, as a film, it’s one hell of a ride.

Such themes are rarely examined in mainstream media, in any significant depth, and when they are, they are often qualified, diminished or summarily rejected. Yet these are the same themes that are heavily endorsed in the alternative media, and especially on the Internet. Mainstream media, and their increasingly antiquated point of view, are in retreat. Avatar is following the belief-systems of a new generation that is getting the vast amount of its news, information and entertainment on the web. Hollywood is tracking its future audience and James Cameron has thrown its weight with the young, to the tune of a half-billion dollars. It’s a gamble that’s already paid off at the box office.

The authoritarians in the military and organized religion can scream all they want, but it’s too late to close the barn doors. The Internet – a mixed bag of blogs, videos, online gaming, porn, rabble-rousing, B2B and B2C services – is getting too big and profitable to control in its entirety, along with belief systems that depart in radical ways from both secular and religious norms. Even if the powers that be want to put a saddle on this distributed intelligence, there are 12-year-olds out there who can launch bots, find proxies and penetrate firewalls with a few keystrokes. For good or bad, the young will always be faster and better than the old in this milieu.

The balding guardians of the status quo are losing control. It’s happened before, most notably during the Gutenberg Revolution when the first printed bibles became available to the Christian flock. The church no longer had an exclusive hold over scripture, which could be freely interpreted by anyone capable of reading.

There is good and bad in all of this. The traditional print media – at least in terms of newspapers – is on the way out. Bookstores are failing and the broadsheets are flailing. Steve Jobs’ announcement of Apple’s iPad has brought speculation that this will save the old-school news and book business. But when significant numbers of publications pull up stakes in the ink-and-paper world and decamp to cyberspace, they are on the same playing field as 911truth.org and lolcats.com, where the old models for mass persuasion and marketing no longer hold. There’s an entire generation that’s been raised on getting their information for free. That’s the world traditional media is going to have to navigate, one where you can’t sell to people who aren’t interested in buying. (Especially if it’s more political platitudes about war on the planet and its people.)

The print world won’t be entirely demolished by this Permian-style event – but there will be much extinction among the dinosaurs. Avatar is all about the tree shrews. So are we.

www.geoffolson.com

Privatizing compassion – Squeezing a profit from HandyDART

by Dean Brown

A chilling rain falls in the Vancouver night. I sit in a bus outside St. Paul’s Hospital preparing to board a group of kidney dialysis patients and take them home. Exhausted by their ordeal of being hooked up to a machine for four hours, some of them shuffle forward on their own steam, determined and steady in their step, not too advanced in the disease. Some are slumped half asleep in a wheelchair. They are quiet, leaning on my arm, humbled by the unwanted circumstance of kidney failure.

dollar

It’s a busy and sunny afternoon at GF Strong Rehab Centre. All sorts of passengers board and unboard my bus. Some are in complicated chairs with respirators, gamely overcoming head injuries. Some wobble along with walkers while others dart around in sleek, manual wheelchairs, long recovered from that devastating back injury. There are myriad mobility aids that need to be folded, secured, tied down and belted.

My passengers include a federal civil servant, clearly a professional in his prime, who needs me to attend to that one simple but crucial detail of opening his front door; an old man, who although unsteady in his gait and sometimes incontinent, insists on attending night school; a woman, who, post-stroke, insists she is fine and then collapses weeping into the snow and must be lifted onto her porch.

Someone will fall asleep, perhaps even fall unconscious, and need step-by-step assistance to their front door. And they’ll get it, all for the price of a single zone bus ticket. In our corporatized, networked, worked-out, buffed, polished and gleaming city of glass, we can sometimes avoid the world of the imperfect and the slow or those who have been humbled by circumstance, age or something unwanted and unexpected. We might manage to bypass the people who can’t just stroll down the street and board a bus, jump into their shiny SUVs or run up a set of stairs. But there it is, that less than perfect world, and we’ll all be surprised when we arrive there too.

However, there is an effective and civilized resource that currently serves those who find themselves outside the fast paced norm. A long-standing part of the transit system, HandyDART is a Metro Vancouver-wide service that offers people a connection to movement, life, dignity, work and recovery and to being human. 

I’m a HandyDART bus driver. Driving for HandyDART is to navigate through a series of different cities within Vancouver itself – the Vancouver of schedules, appointments, heavy traffic, and of hurry. The Vancouver of the imperfect. The Vancouver of back alleyways, back entrances and of residential streets. Of passengers that need constant attention and those who can operate their own chairs, thank you very much. All these cities demand a level of care, competency and attention that remains high, every day that I drive. 

Perhaps you have heard that we are on strike. This is the reason: Translink recently privatized the operation of HandyDART, a publicly funded transit system that is, by nature, heavily subsidized. The motive is profit, a powerful force. And to generate this profit, the new, private operator, MV Canadian Bus, wants to lower labour costs.

It’s a lot to swallow. The company wants to pay HandyDART workers much less than other transit workers, reduce their benefits, and strip away a pension plan that provided some measure of security for the future. The HandyDART labour force has a sterling reputation (ask virtually any HandyDART passenger) and a high skill level and it is dispirited and dismayed by such treatment. MV Bus is a large US company and at some of its operations south of the border, staff turnover approaches 100 percent annually. What kind of future is being offered to us here?

What is the nature of our right to movement? Is it less when we are less than perfect? Look into the polished glass city and ponder the unexpected. 

I am angered that the ideology of profit is being forced upon HandyDART, to the detriment of workers and passengers. HandyDART users, vulnerable for many reasons, have the right to be attended to by a workforce that is skilled and adequately paid.

Got something to say to Translink? Email Martin Lay, director in charge of accessibility, at martin.lay@translink.ca Contact your local mayor and express your concern. Translink is ultimately accountable to a council of Metro Vancouver mayors.

Charter for Compassion

The Charter seeks to change the conversation so that compassion becomes a key word in public and private discourse, making it clear that any ideology that breeds hatred or contempt, be it religious or secular, has failed the test of our time.

 

The Charter for Compassion is the result of Karen Armstrong’s 2008 *TED Prize wish and made possible by the generous support of the Fetzer Institute. It will be unveiled to the world on November 12.

The Golden Rule requires that we use empathy – moral imagination – to put ourselves in others’ shoes. We should act toward them as we would want them to act toward us. We should refuse, under any circumstance, to carry out actions that would cause them harm.

The Charter, crafted by people all over the world and drafted by a multi-faith, multi-national council of thinkers and leaders, is a cry for a return to this central principle so often overlooked in our world. It reminds the faithful that, in the past, leading sages of all the major traditions insisted that the Golden Rule was the essence of religion, that everything else was “commentary” and that it should be practised “all day and every day.” They insisted that any interpretation of scripture that led to hatred or disdain was illegitimate and that exegesis must issue in practical charity. 

Like the Charter of Human Rights, this Charter for Compassion is a yardstick against which the laity as well as religious and secular leaders can measure their behaviour; it can empower congregations to demand a more compassionate teaching from pastors and preachers; it can mobilize youth, who have seen at a formative age what happens when bigotry becomes rife in a society; it can make interfaith understanding a priority; inspire exegetes, scholars, educators and the media to explore the role compassion has played in the traditions, and ensure that compassion is a focal point in the curricula of schools, colleges and seminaries.

The Charter seeks to change the conversation so that compassion becomes a key word in public and private discourse, making it clear that any ideology that breeds hatred or contempt, be it religious or secular, has failed the test of our time.

We need everybody to participate – atheists, Buddhists, Hindus, Christians, Jews, Muslims – everybody! Our polarized world needs to see compassion practically implicated – politically, socially and economically – and show that in our divided world, which so often stresses difference, compassion is something on which we can all agree.

About Karen Armstrong

Karen Armstrong is one of the most provocative, original thinkers on the role of religion in the modern world. Armstrong is a former Roman Catholic nun who left a British convent to pursue a degree in modern literature at Oxford. She has written more than 20 books around the ideas of what Islam, Judaism and Christianity have in common, and around their effect on world events, including the magisterial A History of God and Holy War: The Crusades and Their Impact on Today’s World. Her latest book is The Case for God. Her Her meditations on personal faith and religion (she calls herself a freelance monotheist) spark discussion, especially her take on fundamentalism, which she sees in a historical context as an outgrowth of modern culture.

In February of 2008, Karen Armstrong won the TED Prize and wished for help in creating, launching and propagating the Charter for Compassion.

Made possible by the Fetzer Institute

A private operating foundation based in Kalamazoo, Michigan, the Fetzer Institute engages with people and projects around the world to help bring the power of love, forgiveness and compassion to individuals and to community life.

The Institute’s work rests on a deep conviction that each of us has the power to transform the world by strengthening the connection between the inner life of mind and spirit with the outer life of service and action. While the Fetzer Institute is not a religious organization, it honors and learns from a variety of spiritual traditions.

www.fetzer.org

*A project of the TED Prize

TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design. It is an annual conference, which brings together the world’s most fascinating thinkers and doers, who are challenged to give the talk of their lives (in 18 minutes). TED.com makes the best talks and performances, the ideas worth spreading, from TED available to the public, for free. The TED Prize is designed to leverage the TED Community’s exceptional array of talent and resources. It is awarded annually to three exceptional individuals who each receive $100,000 and, much more important, the granting of “One Wish to Change the World.”