A CBC piece about a billionaire named Victor Dahdaleh who received an honorary doctorate from York and who was also named in the Panama Papers is making the rounds.
In case you missed it, the Panama Papers are a massive leak by an insider at a shadowy Panama-based law firm which was founded by a nazi-turned-anti-communist-wannabe-spy that now specializes in helping the wealthy hide their money in overseas accounts. A massive consortium of investigative journalists sorted through the unprecedented leak and revealed a huge web of tax evaders and criminals (as well as lots of people who got awful tax advice from their lawyers). What they managed to show was the ways in which the super-wealthy use an intricate web of shell corporations, shadowy law-firms and secretive off-shore banks to hide financial transactions, shelter their untold wealth from taxation, payout bribes, run guns, and generally avoid the rules that the rest of us have to play by.
The Panama Papers were big news and led to the fall of Iceland’s president so you probably heard of them, but I will forgive you if you didn’t hear about Victor Chu getting an honorary doctorate from my alma mater, the University of King’s College. The awarding of that doctorate happened this spring, a month and a half after the Panama Papers leaks were made public. Apparently he also gave the commencement address and told the graduating class to make sure that robots always serve humanity and that humanity is never forced to serve the robots. This is just what I was told, I wasn’t there.
Chu has absolutely no connection to King’s and a very tenuous connection to Nova Scotia. It’s also not entirely clear what sort of contribution to academics or culture he’s made or how he’s related to the academic mission of King’s. The other recipients of honorary doctorates this year were noted French poet/philosopher/theorist Michel Deguy whose work is often taught in the Contemporary Studies program and successful King’s alum/poet/editor/McCain’s heir Gillian McCain; two people with obvious connections to the academic mission and/or history of the College. (Who knew that one of the authors of Please Kill Me went to King’s?!)
Chu’s biography on the other hand touts his first million dollar financial transaction at age 12, his role on corporate boards and his various investment successes. King’s of course awards degrees in the humanities & social sciences, science, and journalism and has no business school. (but hey, as another Asian dude who graduated from King’s: big shout to Asian dudes getting that parchment. I guess.)
His biography also mentions two of the companies that he owns: First Eastern Investment Group (a private equity firm) and Victor Chu & Co.. Which is where the Panama Papers come in: First Eastern was a client of Mossack Fonseca from 1991 until 2013 and used the firm to register in the notorious tax haven of the British Virgin Islands. Chu is also an officer of a real estate holding company called First Eastern that used the law firm to register in the British Virgin Islands (this company was still actively registered there as of 2015 – the last year that the consortium was able to obtain data). He is also an officer of Kwong Wah Investment which used Mossack Fonsesca to register in the Virgin Islands (that business is also still active as of 2015). One of the two other officers of Kwong Wah is the not-at-all-shadowy-sounding “Deep Bank Limited.” Chu is the founder of CMEC GE Capital China Industrial Holdings Ltd. which used Mossaca to register in the British Virgin Islands until 2000. In case you feel like his connection to grey-market offshore banking isn’t explicit enough: the clearly named Victor Chu China Investment Limited was registered in the Virgin Islands in 1992 and was active as of 2015. Chu appears to be directly connected to at least five businesses who registered in the Virgin Islands using Mossack Fonseca, three of which are still registered there. He is listed under two slightly different names that share the same address. None of this was particularly secret and he was mentioned in a Guardian piece on the leaks nine days before King’s graduation.
Sinochem and the Chinese State
People I’ve talked to have said that Chu was very nice and so far my very limited research has turned up no suggestion that his companies were directly involved in the worst kinds of criminal activity associated with the Panama papers. I do want to make it 100% clear that I am not suggesting he has done anything at all illegal.
It is perhaps worth mentioning that Chu is the founder and CEO of Sinochem Investment LTD. (the biography on the King’s website does not mention this company) As far as I understand it – and I am not at all an expert on the corporate structures of private equity firms trying to work in China in the 1990s – Sinochem Investment LTD is a venture capital firm that’s main function is to provide western investors with private equity opportunities in China. In order to reduce red-tape and transaction costs firms like Sinochem Investment LTD enter into relationships with existing Chinese firms (usually state owned), sacrificing some autonomy for the opportunity to provide investors with cheap access to Chinese markets. The liberalization of the Chinese economy means that this is less of a necessity now, but I understand that it was basically the only way for private equity firms to be able to get foreign capital into China during the 1990s.
Anyway, as I understand it Sinochem Investment LTD (under a different name until 2003) was a partnership between First Eastern Capital and the state-owned Sinochem Group (known as China National Chemicals Import & Export Corp during the 1990s), a similarly named but separate business. I believe but can’t confirm, that Sinochem Group was ultimately the owner of Sinochem Investment LTD. Sinochem Group is a vast conglomerate that owns several hundred subsidiaries and manufactures a ton of different things: its one of the largest oil companies in China, it produces fertilizer, latex gloves, all kinds of stuff. There are nine companies with the word Sinochem in their name in the Panama Papers database. Sinochem Investment LTD is not one of them.
The Sinochem connection is worth noting for a few reasons. First, like most Chinese state-owned companies in the last 30 years Sinochem has terrible track record on just about everything other than making money. In 2005 the company was implicated in an oil-for-food scandal in Iraq and a 2015 explosion in Tianjin at a warehouse owned by two Sinochem subsidiaries killed over 100 people after company officials found a corrupt safety inspector to okay their dangerously unsafe facilities. (There is no evidence and no one has ever suggested that Chu had any involvement at all in either of these incidents)
Second, part of the fallout of the Panama Papers was a deep crackdown on dissent and journalism in China as the Chinese elite try to head off any discontent caused by the revelation that well connected businessmen and Communist Party officials and their family members were using offshore banking to hide their obscene wealth from a citizenry which has largely seen their lives get worse from China’s rapid embrace of capitalism in recent decades. The Chinese government ordered newspapers and other media outlets to not talk about the leaks and even went so far as to block all online discussion of the Panama Papers. On a related note, King’s is very proud of its journalism school.
Real graduates who study hard, participate in the social and academic life of their institutions, take on massive and unsustainable debt and earn their degrees have their name and degree title mentioned briefly. People with no connection to the institution have long citations of their accomplishments read out in an attempt to impress the crowd and stroke the egos of these potential future mega-donors. One honorary degree recipient’s citation often takes as long to read as it takes the entire graduating class of the History of Science Program and the Early Modern Studies Program to have their names read and to cross the stage. At a time when the people who actually make up the university community ought to be honoured, universities are trying to make fundraising pitches.
Of course, receiving a degree at the same time as someone like Michel Duguy or Stephanie Nolen (who is a fantastic and decorated journalist and who received an honorary doctorate and gave a very nice commencement address during my own graduation from King’s in 2009) can add something special to the occasion for many graduates and it can allow a university to publicly define its academic and social mission. However, these worthy attempts to recognize the contributions of great scholars, journalists and public servants are no more common than pandering to the rich in the hope that they may drop some crumbs.
Universities increasingly use honorary doctorates to try to grease the fundraising wheels and get wealthy individuals, their companies and their friends to donate some money. Money the universities need because of a decades long decline in public funding caused by governments crying poor due to a lack of tax revenue. So our institutions of higher learning give honorary degrees to the world’s richest people to try to convince them to donate some money to survive a funding crisis which is caused by rich people actively working to avoid paying taxes. Sometimes they dodge these taxes through off-shore banking, sometimes they don’t have to because they can strong arm elected officials into setting marginal tax rates for the rich and large corporations at constantly decreasing levels.
Sometimes the universites even accidentally end up giving an honorary Doctorate of Civil Law to some random businessman with no substantive connection at all the College or its academic mission but at least five connections to a shadowy law firm implicated in a global banking scandal that brought down a president and caused a government to double down on squashing dissent. I guess these things happen.
I am not a journalist. I would love for a real journalist to dig deeper into Halifax’s connections to the Panama Papers, but I am not the person to do that.
I also want to make it 100% clear that I am not suggesting that Victor Chu or anyone else did anything illegal or that there is any evidence to suggest that they did.
Tyler Richards was shot last weekend. At the time he was the fifth person murdered in Halifax in 2016 (a count that has now risen to seven). He was the first of three people to be murdered last week. I knew Tyler. I didn’t know him well, but I knew him in the way that you know people in Halifax. When I was a teaching assistant at King’s I shared an office with eight other TAs and contract instructors that was in the King’s gym. Tyler had just signed with the Rainmen and I was a season ticket holder. Tyler was the only player who I would see in there on off days or the morning before afternoon practices shooting threes for hours on end. So we talked – never too deeply but we talked and I knew him. I was friends with people he went to high school with and we talked about them. He was in his first year as a pro and at the time I was at the tail-end of my unhealthy obsession with minor-league hoops so he would ask me for scouting reports on upcoming opponents (he may have just been nice and humouring me).
He was one of a handful of young local players that the Rainmen tried to bring in over the years but he was the first one who felt like he truly belonged in the league. His early games were rough but he became a valuable player off the bench. We talked about that and we both agreed that it was because he knew what he was going to have to do to stick around on the team: he’d have to not make mistakes on the court, hit open threes and above all else play defence. He spent hours in the gym making sure he’d hit those threes and hit almost 40% of them in games. He stopped trying to do too much and cut down on turnovers. He harassed opposing ball handlers and fought through screens harder than any of the guys from the Division I programs.
But he made mistakes off the court. They’re well documented and the violent acts are impossible to defend. He forced the team’s hand and made it impossible not to cut him. I ran into him once since then and we made small talk. Next I would hear about him he had been shot dead in a house in the West-end in what appears to be a drug-trade related murder. I knew Tyler. I didn’t know him well but I knew his flaws and his shortcomings and his charm and his gifts. Tyler didn’t deserve to die.
Dan Pellerin was stabbed to death in August of 2014. I knew Dan. I went to high school with Dan and we played soccer together for Dartmouth High. He was a grinder. He fouled hard and he’d play through injuries. He wasn’t the most skilled player but he was solid in a way that a lot of guys playing on the backline of a high school team weren’t: He was a solid passer, knew how to hold a defensive line and he rarely lost his mark. He dove in on tackles sometimes but if he got beat he chased the person down rather than hanging his head. He never played at a particularly high level but he loved soccer. He loved talking about it and playing it and he cared about it. He was the kind of guy you want as a team mate. After high school we lost touch – I went to university and had stopped playing soccer, he stayed in Dartmouth and started a family before moving out west to work to try to make ends meet. He came home and his best friend stabbed him to death one night near a community centre in North End Dartmouth. I knew Dan. We hadn’t seen each other years but I knew him. Some of my former classmates claimed that before he went to Alberta to work Dan was involved in the illicit economy that so many people need to rely on to survive, I have no idea if any of that was true, but it doesn’t matter. I knew Dan and he didn’t deserve to die.
Jefflin Beals was murdered in October 2011. He was shot near Trinity-Bellwoods Park in Toronto the night of Nuit Blanche, that city’s big outdoor art festival. I knew Jefflin. We played junior high basketball and touch football together. He was always small but was a hell of a point guard and unlike me he would go on to have an excellent high school career. I was a good athlete but not a great basketball player, Jefflin was a fucking prodigy.
Because there was a player on team who hated coming off the bench we used to start small with four guards and I’d come off the bench. I was fine with that. I just wanted to win games. That player was one of Jefflin’s good friends at the time. In our last playoff game (I think it was at Caledonia) we were way behind at halftime and felt demoralized. I remember an awkward silence in the locker room and Jefflin looking at the coach and saying that I needed to start the second half and not come out. The rest of them could score he said, but they needed me to grab rebounds and play defence. He was right but I sure as hell wasn’t going to say it. The coach paused for a second, I looked across the room and saw Jefflin glaring at his friend as if to say “Don’t disagree or protest,” and the coach said I was starting the second half. We came back from a big deficit to send the game to overtime after Jefflin picked off a pass that would have lead to a winning basket for the other team in the final seconds of regulation. We lost the game but I still remember those minutes in the locker room despite not remembering much from 15 years ago. He was the best player on the team by a wide margin and he went to bat for me and at the same time told me exactly what I needed to do not to betray him on it. He didn’t need to trust me or stick up for me but he wanted to win as much or more than I did, so he spoke up. I took it to heart and to this day the only reason people don’t hate playing pick up with me is because all I do is defend and try to grab every rebound within fifteen feet of me.
He wanted to win and he willed himself into being a better basketball player than his size ever should have allowed him to be. But he couldn’t will himself out of the life he found himself in. He had numerous drug convictions. The same year that I graduated from university and went off to start grad school I heard from an old friend that someone tried to shoot Jefflin in a drive-by over a drug-trade dispute. I knew Jefflin. One time 15 years ago he spoke up for me at a junior high basketball game and it stuck with me my whole life. He didn’t deserve to die.
On the choices we make
In the last five years I know three young men who have been murdered. All three were rumoured to have been involved in the drug trade. All three I knew from sports. All three deserve to still be alive. I’ve been sickened in the last week with comments insinuating that because the most recent shooting deaths in Halifax involved people allegedly involved in the sale of illicit drugs that they brought it upon themselves. I heard it when Jefflin died. I heard it when Dan died. Everytime I hear it I know that it’s bullshit.
We make choices, but those choices are constrained by the structures we live under. The choices I’ve made that make me safe – to go to university (twice), to live in downtown Halifax, to work for political organizations that pay me a living wage – are choices that were available to me. Those choices aren’t available to everyone and the politics, economics and geography of this city put hard constraints on the choices people get to make and to pretend otherwise is to fundamentally misunderstand what violence is.
I knew those three people through sports and I remember all three of them because they were relentlessly hard workers. We tell kids that the lessons of sports translate into life success. Teamwork, hard work, sacrificing for others, commitment, practice, leadership: these are all things that are supposed to be the great lessons of youth sports. I was a teammate of Dan and Jefflin and I watched Tyler for years – you can’t tell me that the three of them didn’t work hard and sacrifice for others in sports and in life. But I was born to parents who went to university and were able to give me a middle class upbringing. I grew up a bit further south in Dartmouth. I was born half-white and half Asian-instead of black. (Dan was white, but the victims of reecnt gun violence in Halifax have been disproportionately black) So my hardwork has given me access to much more than their hardwork ever could and my many mistakes have cost me much less than their mistakes cost them. They didn’t deserve to die just because they were unlucky enough to be born into a system where the odds were stacked against them from the start.
I don’t blame working class and poor people who find themselves involved in illicit activity to make ends meet. I blame a system that so limits their available options that they sell drugs to support families or to build a better life. I blame a system that says that we will always have a class people who are poor and the best you can do is hope that you’re not a member of that class.
On race relations and urban renewal
At the rally Against Violence on Sunday there was a series of early speakers including politicians emphasized personal responsibility. Thankfully about the halfway point a series of speakers starting with Tendai Miyoba Chiganze-Handahu and including El Jones and Isaac Saney injected politics into the conversation. (If you weren’t there then you really should watch Chiganze-Handahu’s remarks) One of the things that some of the later speakers all pointed to is that the violence we’ve seen is the result of structural exploitation and oppression. Importantly they highlighted the need to reject the incorrect stories that place collective responsibility not on structural factors but on problems within the black community including damaging racist rhetoric around black on black violence and the nature black families.
The violence we’ve seen lately has disproportionately impacted Halifax’s black community, but to blame that on problems which are internal to that community fundamentally ignores the deep structural inequality built into Halifax’s economy, its politics and even its geography.
A local blowhard recently claimed online that this is happening despite improvements in Halifax’s “race relations” and “urban renewal.” This sort of language dodges political questions; that is to say, it avoids confronting questions of power. Who has power? What do they do with that power? How is that power contested? Who is exploited and who profits from exploitation?
To say that urban renewal is improving is to ignore he important and obvious question: whom does urban renewal serve? Halifax has been undergoing an unsustainable building boom for at least the last five years both downtown and in suburbs. To look at a moment when a young black man was gunned down in North Preston and not connect it to the uneven distribution of wealth in this city is astounding. North Preston was an area settled by black loyalists in the 1700s and 1800s and is largely cut off from the rest of the city due to its distance from the peninsula and a lack of proper public transit access. Importantly, many of the descendents of those initial loyalists have never been given proper legal title to land that has been in their families for centuries. The result is legal instability and the inability to sell land (or even transfer it to family members) at a time that downtown and suburban property owners are making huge profits buying, developing and selling property. We have overwhelming evidence from the United States that the inter-generational wealth gap between white and black is tied directly to home ownership and government policy.
Blindly praising urban renewal requires one to ignore the fact that while a wealthy developer received hundreds of millions of dollars to build a hotel and convention centre from all three levels of government the Liberals have cut funding from a 33 year old African Nova Scotian run community organization that helps people Preston and Cherrybrook find jobs. In recent budgets we’ve seen no new funding for public housing, no new money from the province to improve public transit to Halifax’s working class and poor suburbs, and no additional support to create jobs in predominantly black or poor neighbourhoods. The province refused to provide help to Harbour City Homes, a north end Halifax co-op which provides co-op housing for low income residents. It requires overlooking the huge battle that community groups – largely organized by black and indigenous community members – waged to be allowed to use a closed down public school instead of having it sold to a company owned by two of Halifax’s richest real estate dynasties. It requires one to forget that the developers won. Halifax is geographically segregated along lines of race and class and there is no evidence that current construction boom does anything at all to reduce those problems.
Gentrification and urban renewal exist within a broader economic system in which uneven development across space is not an accident but a necessary aspect. Urban renewal by private developers is not a solution to the problems that plague places like Spryfield, Preston and the north ends of Halifax and Dartmouth but an integral part of a process meant to generate profit for some people at the expense of others. This city isn’t working for everybody and until we acknowledge that this is a political problem that requires political solutions nothing is going to change.
Likewise, the language of race relations ignores the actual problem. The problem is not about how members of various races get along with each other. The problem is white supremacy. While “race relations” may be working in Halifax for middle aged white people, for many of us large scale improvement is not so obvious. This is the city where our newspaper of record published this monstrosity just a few weeks ago, stoking the flames of racist and xenophobic hate. This is a province where the education system continues to fail black students. A province where one hour from Halifax an interracial couple had a cross burned on their lawn. A city where international students still find themselves subject to racist taunts and overcrowded and illegal housing. A province where African Nova Scotians face an unemployment rate of 14.5% and are less likely to have a university or college education when compared to the population as a whole. A province where African Nova Scotian and Mi’kmaq communities are far more likely to suffer the impact of toxic industrial and government pollution. And most obviously, this is a city where three black men were gunned down last week. Fuck your race relations, let’s talk about white supremacy.
On what comes next
I am sick of seeing a report of a murder on twitter or facebook and wondering if it will be someone I know. But more than that I am sick of hearing about another murder in this city at all. Tyler didn’t deserve to die. Jefflin didn’t deserve to die. Dan didn’t deserve to die. The reason they didn’t deserve to die is not because I knew them. They didn’t deserve to die because no one deserves what happened to each of them.
The solutions aren’t easy or simple. Their causes are bigger than this city. In the long run, as long as we have a system which protects the right of the few to exploit everyone else in the name of profit we will continue to have poor neighbourhoods, too few jobs and inadequate social programs for those in need. But in the short and medium term there is real hope to reduce the violence.
The solutions need to come from the communities affected. The CeaseFire program has shown real success so far in reducing violence immediately without subjecting black and poor neighbourhoods to further police harassment or sending more people to prison. It’s also run by people from neighbourhoods and communities which have to live with violence, with policing and with poverty. It’s important not just that programs be in place to stop violence but that these neighbourhoods are able develop community infrastructure and that jobs created by these programs go to people who live there.
De-escalating violence through programs like CeaseFire is an important short term fix but in the medium term all levels of government need to listen to what people have been saying for years: there needs to be new job programs (eventually leading to full employment), improved social services, better public transit, non-carceral forms of justice, more teachers and support workers in public schools, and a renewed commitment to affordable, high quality public housing. We need programs which work to challenge structural inequality and offer immediate relief. These programs will all be incredibly expensive, but I dare you to tell me that John Bragg or Frank Sobey or Joe Ramia keeping a bit more of their ridiculous wealth is more important than the lives of the people who were murdered this week. I fucking dare you.
On Sunday Dr. Isaac Saney spoke shortly after Chiganze-Handahu. Unlike too many of Halifax’s academics Saney is deeply embedded in the social movements of this city. He’s also a brilliant and fiery speaker with a commitment to radical politics. He called on the crowd to remember the legacy of the late Burnley Jones, Halifax’s greatest political organizer. Specifically he recalled Jones’s commitment to an independent and radical black politics to challenge the status quo and make demands on the state that cannot be ignored. Here lies the most likely path forward. In the months and years to come we surely see the emergence of self-organizing in communities who have simply had enough. Indeed, we’ve already seen it with the announcement of African Nova Scotian activist Lindell Smith entering the city council race in District 8 and the increasing strength of Halifax’s various ACORN chapters creating a platform for Halifax’s poor to organize around political demands.
For those of who aren’t black or who aren’t poor or who don’t live in a neighbhourhood which has seen an up-tick in gun or gang violence our task is different. Working on your shit or unpacking your privilege may perhaps provide some comfort for you but it is not an organized political response. Instead we need to show up when we’re called to do so – that means bodies at rallies but it also means ensuring that our own elected officials have no choice but to allocate the resources that the African Nova Scotian community is going to demand. It means that we share our skills and our resources when asked – right now that means that candidates like Smith need donations and they need volunteers. He has to win in District 8 and no one who gives a shit can sit this one out. It means that we do not ignore the state and the resources which it makes available – projects of self reliance or building autonomous zones will not produce the resources needed to stem this tide of violence. Violence that needs to be dealt with right now. It means that we re-commit to the social movements we are members of and double down on the work needed to push them in radical directions committed to destroying white supremacy, capitalism and imperialism. When we need to fight our movements need to be ready. Right now they aren’t.
Beyond that I don’t have answers. All I know is that we’re still in a crisis and the response by all levels of government has been inadequate and made things worse. I know that the problems are structural and over-emphasizing personal choices will only make finding real solutions much more difficult. I know that the powerful in this city and this province have long and ongoing legacy of oppressing black people and ruthlessly exploiting working people. I know that they won’t give up the resources that the rest of us need without a fight.
But above all else I know that Tyler, Dan and Jefflin didn’t deserve to die.
A selection of Facebook comments from the Herald’s dangerously irresponsible article on the chain wielding, future throat slashers who according to the Herald’s intrepid scab reporter have invaded our shores:
On some other facebook groups the comments don’t make me feel any better about people’s willingness to believe an obviously inaccurate story when it re-enforces their racist world view:
This person with strong opinions on the matter and an interesting nickname does not at all appear to be motivated by xenophobia. Not in the least.
People who are already bigots are using this to re-enforce their twisted world view. Sloppy reporting and fearmongering has already become fuel for anti-immigrant garbage humans. Excellent work, Chronicle Herald scabs.
At 12:01 am this morning the newsroom strike at the Chronicle Herald officially entered its 12th week. To celebrate the occasion an anonymous scab reporter at the Herald wrote the craziest fucking thing to come out of the paper since the strike began. The story is absolutely incredible – by which I mean it lacks any credibility at all. But it’s also dangerous and xenophobic and plays into the worst stereotypes about muslims, children of colour and immigrants in general.
Racists will use this as proof that immigrants are some sort of otherworldy demons, children from a war torn region of the world who are trying to fit in in a new country have been slandered by anonymous parents talking to an anonymous hack reporter and the Herald has proven definitively that as long as this strike is ongoing it hasn’t just lost its title as Nova Scotia’s paper of record but that it is barely even a newspaper at all.
It’s hard to explain how fucking crazy it is so I will just show you my favourite quotes:
This here is “Missy.” She is one of the two parents quoted anonymously as the only sources to this story. Weirdly the other parent chose not to go by a pseudonym. But Missy always wanted to be called Missy, I guess. Also strangely the reporter does not appear to have tried to speak to the alleged assailants or their parents to get comment. Having once been a child I know that 100% of the things I told my parents in elementary school were completely and totally accurate and should have been portrayed as such in a major newspaper without any attempt by the reporter to verify or double check my story as told by my loving parents. Yup.
This is the fourth paragraph. A real newspaper actually published this! A REAL FUCKING NEWSPAPER PUBLISHED THIS PARAGRAPH. This is some Breitbart or Infowars shit. How did a reporter and an editor, even a scab reporter and scab editor, read this and decide that you can publish it? They assaulted her TWICE using a chain? On the playground? Two days apart they assaulted another student with a chain and tried to choke her to death?!
Was it the same chain? Was it hidden somewhere on site or did they carry it in their bags? Were they riding some sort of War Rig like in Mad Max: Fury Road? Why didn’t the reporter ask these question? Importantly our intrepid journalist friend did make sure to ask if Missy could confirm the size or exact work load limit of the chain. (I am going to go out on a limb and assume that she can’t do either of those things because it doesn’t fucking exist)
I almost don’t even want to acknowledge the idea that the kids yelled “MUSLIMS RULE THE WORLD!” It’s the most outlandish part of the story and the part that should have made the reporter hang up the phone. First, as the article later mentions, the kids don’t even really speak English. That’s an unlikely first sentence for an immigrant child and is more likely to come from the mind of a racist talking to an incompetent reporter. Second, it’s a pretty unlikely thing to just blurt out in heat of the moment. Don’t believe me? Try yelling “MUSLIMS RULE THE WORLD” out loud. Right now. Do it. And try not to laugh afterwards. Just listen to how fucking insane it sounds.
Yo maybe this one actually happened. Athletes love doing this shit and elementary aged kids love doing dumb shit while playing sports. But the reporter writing that “refugee students” do it is totally fucking irresponsible and tars all these kids with the same brush. That throat slashing motion also isn’t a big deal. Like it’s a thing kids should be told to stop doing because it is rude, but it’s only a big deal if you already assume awful things about the person doing it (or in this case if you already assume awful things about ALL THE REFUGEE CHILDREN AT THE SCHOOL BECAUSE THAT’S WHO THE IRRESPONSIBLE REPORTER IS IMPLICATING IN THIS GARBAGE ARTICLE)
What?! They cancelled all intramural sports because some kids may or may not have made an innocuous but rude hand gesture? That seems crazy! There must be a more reasonable explanation for this!
Oh. Well then. Carry on.
(But seriously, if that’s the explanation then maybe that throat slashing thing either didn’t happen or isn’t a big deal)
Yo, bullying is a real things and kids of any age should not be slapping other kids. Schools need to do something about that. But including this incident and to say that the person who slapped this kid did it because they are a refugee is totally… wait… This anecdote doesn’t say anything about the assailant being a refugee at all. This appears to be a totally unrelated incident that was just dropped in to make this xenophobic piece of garbage writing even more inflammatory. Christ all fucking mighty. What a disaster.
(also: why doesn’t she get a cool pseudonym?)
Oh I see. After Missy and the reporter accuse these refugee children of being monsters who choke innocent Canadian girls with chains of unknown strength and imply that they’re little ISIS executioners in training our anonymous journalist and pseudonymous mom think this is just a linguistic misunderstanding. Gotcha. Too bad there aren’t some sort of experts the scab reporter could call up and talk to about the challenges facing refugee children and the institutions that need to try to help them. That might provide some context and reality to this nightmare of an article and we wouldn’t want that.
I don’t want to link to an article at a struck newspaper so full text after the jump:
This is an incomplete but constantly updated reading list of left leaning analysis, contextual reading and other online resources concerning Bill 37, the NSGEU strike and the labour situation in Halifax. If I am missing anything feel free to comment and I will try to add it.
(Due to the difficulty in keeping up with every news piece that comes out I am limiting this to broader analysis, opinion and interpretation)
Heavy blow to workers signals high time for a unified left by Solidarity Halifax
Nova Scotia nurses are pulling the red cord on health care by Larry Haiven
Fixing what ails nurses in the health-care system by Ralph Surette
On Gender, Work and Bill 37 by Chris Parsons (me)
Bill 37 – Cutting Nova Scotia’s Unions off at the Knees by Larry Haiven
Bill 37: Taking away the voice of health-care workers in Nova Scotia by Adrienne Silnicki
Nova Scotia nurses raise important questions about health care by Stephen Kimber
Contextual pieces not related directly to the strike or bill but which may be helpful:
A Day Without Care by Sarah Jaffe
Strike for America: The CTU and the Democrats by Micah Uetrecht
For the third time in nine months the provincial government in Nova Scotia has moved to revoke the right to strike from unionized workers in Nova Scotia (in July 2013 the NDP government shamelessly did it to paramedics while the NSGEU silently watched, and in early March of this year the new Liberal government used coercive legislation to break the NSGEU’s own strike at Northwood Manor’s homecare division). The Liberals are introducing Bill 37 to crush a work stoppage and force nurses represented by the NSGEU in the Capital Health district off picket lines and back into understaffed nursing units.
(It is currently being stalled in Law Amendments committee through a combination of rank and file nurses stacking the speaking list and the NDP finally finding the vestigial backbone that had not seen use since 2008 and using procedural wrangling to keep the bill in committee)
The draconian overreaction by the state and the surprisingly militant response from the normally very conciliatory NSGEU has created a crisis for labour and the state in Nova Scotia. There’s no doubt there’s a showdown brewing with the province and capital on one side and the labour movement and its allies on the other. It’s a test for labour and the broader left in the province and for anyone interested in understanding politics, political economy or the nature of work in the province it’s a moment where a whole pile of problems, developments and dynamics are now laid out quite clearly.
The realities on the ground in Nova Scotia are startling: the province is threatening to revoke the most basic labour right (the ability to collectively organize and withhold your own labour) from 33,000 workers – almost half the union membership in a province where the labour movement is overwhelmingly concentrated in the public sector. The NSGEU, one of the largest unions in the province, have favoured binding arbitration and rejected militancy in recent years yet its rank and file are largely fed up and many of its members – mostly young, well educated women – are fired up and willing to push its leadership. To their credit, the union, like the Chicago Teachers Union before them, has made this strike about more than wages and instead focused the the role of properly funded public services, a strategy that is necessary for the survival of public sector unionism. The broader labour movement in the province has been quick to recognize the importance of this battle and is more progressive, more militant and better organized than it has been in years. Halifax’s left has consolidated in recent years and the socialist oriented Solidarity Halifax have had two years to consolidate its organization and its ability to intervene in this struggle may largely determine the viability of its project. The NS NDP, recently decimated in a general election, used back to work legislation in the sector less than a year ago but seem to be willing to provide parliamentary opposition to the Liberal’s plans.
Among all the dynamics that make this bill and the left and labour’s response to it so important is that the actions of this government are not simply an assault on the rights of organized labour. Bill 37 is an assault on the rights of women.
There is no way to look at this bill and the view that this government and its supporters take and not see this as based in large part on a gendered understanding of work. A legislature which is overwhelmingly male is sitting in a legislative chamber trying to make it illegal for health care workers – an overwhelmingly female workforce – to withhold their labour.
Bill 37 does not restrict the right to strike of a narrow band of emergency healthcare professionals – it restricts the right of a wide variety of people who engage in carework and jobs in the caring professions are overwhelming held by women (to say nothing of the unwaged carework of the home where women still carry the vast majority of the burden). The list of workers who lose the right to withhold their labour doesn’t just include nurses and paramedics: it includes home care, home support and even child care workers. This isn’t about over regulating the labour of essential emergency workers, its about destroying the labour rights of anyone engaged in care work and the vast majority of those people are not men.
In a recent-ish piece for Jacobin Magazine, American labour journalist Sarah Jaffe wrote that “While bosses, administrators, and politicians expect and tout the natural “caring” that women who work in care fields provide, [daycare worker Nancy] Harvey points out that it adds to their exploitation. “Kindness is taken for weakness,” she says.”
Just reading the comments sections on the Chronicle Herald or CBC websites makes it clear that these assumptions about women, work and care underpin the false outrage that justifies withholding the rights of an overwhelmingly female workforce: the women on strike would not go on strike if they really cared about their jobs or their patients. The women who are walking picket lines all night in front of province house in an April ice storm in order to demand that their new contract includes nurse to patient ratios do not really care about patients. The women who have dedicated their lives to a profession that puts them on 12 hour shifts with the sick, the dying, the elderly and the suffering do not really care about patients. Demanding fair wages, the right to control your own labour or the ability to ensure that your work place is safe is incompatible with caring because care work is not real work. And as we all know, women are naturally more into the caring part than the working part.
But in a world (and a province) where a larger and larger part of the work force is female and where most of the very few growth areas for employment are female dominated care professions the continued belief that care work is not real labour – or at least not the sort of labour that one can withhold, bargain over and receive a fair wage and adaquate benefits to perform – is increasingly incompatible with a desire to create a more just world. Workplace control, fair compensation, gender equality and respect for the dignity of all labour require us to recognize that work is gendered and that all people – regardless of their gender – ought to have absolute control of their work, including the right to organize together and to collectively withhold their labour.
The gendered dynamics of work and labour rights don’t exist in a vacuum. The context, particularly the regional context, also matters. And in Nova Scotia this has been a horrible year for gender politics: a high profile gang rape led to a teenage taking her life, an inexplicable tradition of “rape chants” at Saint Mary’s University became public, anti-choice ads appeared on public busses and in general it felt like there was a war being waged on anyone who wasn’t male. The general misogyny of our times is reflected in Bill 37.
The same logic that says women aren’t in control of their labour also underpins rape culture and the anti-choice assault on reproductive rights: the bodies of women – labouring bodies, libidinal bodies, reproductive bodies, living bodies – do not belong to women. The right to control those bodies and to decide when they labour, when they carry children to term and when and with whom they have sex are decisions not to be left to women. Instead bosses and men and the state are believed to be better arbiters of what is best for women and what women ought to be permitted to do.
The fight over Bill 37 tells us a lot about the world we live in: a world where the state can simultaneously tell us that public services are too expensive to fund in times of austerity but are so important than we need to take away basic rights to protect them. A world where the state and industry demand that labour maintain its end of the post-war labour settlement and abide by strict regulation but refuse to recognize the right to strike that helped define modern industrial legality. A world where rank and file members of unions are starting to force their leadership to abandon concessions and arbitration as a strategy.
It’s also a world where some work is more highly valued than other work and the ways in which we evaluate whose labour is really labour is always refracted through the lens of gender. Where you stand on Bill 37 says a lot about whose side you’re on – not just if you support bosses or workers, but also if you see care work as work worth defending and women as workers worth respecting.
Tonight I am remembering a radical and a man who recognized that white supremacy can’t be fought with niceties and who realized that words and negotiations won’t make the powerful give up any meaningful amount of power. A man who realized that strikes, bombs and guns were needed to bring down apartheid. A man who is still too often depicted in sanitized liberal terms and who in death will likely have his life’s work further sanitized and betrayed.
Let’s also remember that for much of his life the western media and politicians called him a terrorist, a murderer, a radical and a madmen at the head if a communist party with no popular support who should have been isolated, ignored and imprisoned.
I will also remember the thousands upon thousands of black South Africans who died before him – radicals tortured by police, workers whose picket lines were cut down with bullets, innocent people whose white murderers were never brought to justice, families that starved to death in a country with enough wealth to feed everyone, people who died in custody for refusing to turn against their comrades and countless others who were unfortunate enough to be born black and poor in a country and a world which don’t make it easy to be either.
I don’t have time to write anything smart about this, but it is too long to cram into a twitter post. So some quick facts which might not immediately appear related but actually are:
– Today the New Brunswick NDP has not only supported the RCMP’s brutal crackdown on the provinces First Nations and their allies, but actually called on Conservative Premier David Alward to refuse to negotiate with anyone resisting fracking until either activists remove all blockades or law enforcement clear them by force. So the NDP are not only failing to stand in solidarity with the province’s social movements, they want the provincial government to intensify the crushing of opposition to fracking.
– The Assembly of the First Nations Chiefs of New Brunswick have thus far actively called for more oil and gas exploration in the province and have refused to lend full support to the members of their Nations who have been protecting the commons along with their non-indigenous allies. Even gone as far as to criticize the activists on the ground for potentially costing the province and the First Nations monetarily. They have not (as far as I have seen) openly been critical of the role of private security forces or law enforcement in escalating the situation,
– The lawyer for the AFNCNB is Kelly Lamrock. For some inexplicable reason, the white politician has also been serving as the organizations primary spokesperson.
– Kelly Lamrock is a former Liberal Party cabinet minister who lost his seat and then joined the NDP. He is widely thought to be a key advisor to the NDP party leadership with the hope that he will both run in the next election and be able to move the party further to the centre-right to train to gain some ounce of political viability in New Brunswick.
– While still a student in New Brunswick, Kelly Lamrock was a central figure in fracturing the Canadian student movement in the mid-90s by organizing the Canadian Alliance of Student organizations in order to try to fracture opposition to the Liberal Party’s social policy review. Lamrock (along with at least one key figure in the Nova Scotia NDP) helped fracture the student movement in Atlantic Canada an attempt to separate it from its social movement routes and align more closely with small-l liberal lobbying efforts in the midst of a radical economic re-structuring of the Canadian welfare state to re-allocate more and more money to capital in the form of the Liberal Social Policy Review and the Harris Conservative’s reign of terror.
– So in the midst of the start of widespread austerity in the 1990s Lamrock helped lead an assault on a social movement that was at the centre of opposition to re-structuring by helping to organize a rival organization which would side with the state and condemn movement activists in exchange for a metaphorical seat at a non-existent table. In 2013 he is serving as lawyer, spokesperson and political strategist for an organization of leaders who are selling out their own members and trying to use this as an opportunity to push his new political party to the right and disassociate them from on-the-ground struggle and resistance.
Those are facts. Below us opinion, but it is opinion which is rooted in spending too much times in rooms with my generation’s Kelly Lamrock and from spending far too much time thinking about how people of my generation can look at the strategic disasters of the segment of 90s social democrats and liberals who truly believed that capitulation could be traded for access and that access could be traded for social change.
Lamrock is a thread that runs through the politics of our region from 90s to today. And he isn’t a bad guy – I have met him a few times and he is not a bad human being. For the purpose of trying to explain what I think is going on politically, I am willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that he believes that his political choices have been the best option for everyone they had an effect on, not just for him. What I am critical of is not his morality, but his political strategy. Even more than that, I am critical of the political strategy that he so perfectly represents.
There isn’t a singular villain here, but Lamrock is emblematic of the kind of liberal politics that he has practiced for decades: he sees social movements not as a vehicle for change but as a wedge. The Canadian Federation of Students of the early 90s and its social democratic positions against imperialist wars abroad and the slashing of corporate taxes and social spending at home was a tool to be use to make him and his policy wonk, big and small-L liberal cohort look reasonable. They wouldn’t just climb to the top of the latter, they would use the backs of the people doing hard organizing to get there.
Likewise, there seems to be a logic at play within the hyper-marginalized NB NDP that has led Lamrock, Cardy and their ilk to believe that the quickest way to convince the electorate that they aren’t radical is to be more opposed to the radicals than the government is. And remember, Thomas Mulcair and many of his provincial counterparts see the 2009 NS NDP’s victory as proof that if you can be un-radical and bland enough you can get enough votes to win. (In the defence of those still clinging to this belief, the Chronicle Herald’s new pay wall may mean that they haven’t actually realized that the voters of Nova Scotia decided that if you want bland and unprincipled you just vote for the real deal and elect the Grits. You get ten more free articles next month, so hold tight, fellas)
The lives of hundreds of people on the ground be damned, Lamrock is going to get his seat at the table. Even if he got there once (a real table! A cabinet tabe!) and did not manage to improve the lives of NB’s most vulnerable one bit.
The sad thing isn’t that he is at it again, it is that he is taking other people along for the ride. The leadership of the New Brunswick NDP want this and they deserve what they’re going to get. Desperation and no direction will take you to crazy places – an few places are crazier than alleged social democrats complaining that a Conservative premier isn’t clearing blockades fast enough.
But shame on the Chiefs of NB’s First Nations for letting the province’s Worm Tongue whisper in their ears and convince them that they can’t control the tide capitalist exploitation and that they just need to use the bodies of the members of their nations to ride it out for some sweet royalty checks down the road. It is obvious that it takes a special kind of heartless to see the people you claim to represent standing and singing for months on a road with the guns of a militarized law enforcement agency pointed at them and to still do nothing. But even if their wager is that selling out the most principled of their people will help them get to the mystical table then they are fools. The grass roots in their communities have had enough, the tides are shifting and they’ve misread them. And they’re following the advice of a man who not only has split loyalties at best, (it is possible to believe that their lawyer has shown throughout his political life that he has few loyalties, split or otherwise) but who has also spent two decades showing the strict limitations of exactly the kind of politics they’re engaging in.
The NB NDP and the Federation of the First Nations Chiefs of New Brunswick have dug deep into the 90s to find a political path, and they both hired the same guide: one who has walked that path his whole political life. But neither the chiefs nor Dominic Cardy have bothered to look at where that path leads, even though the answer is right there, whispering in their ears.
And just like so much of what passes for 90s nostalgia these days, the strategic snake oil they are being sold is flashy and bright but devoid of any real political content.
There are lessons to be learned from the past, but you don’t learn them by repeating the same unprincipled, unsuccessful errors that were so central to the success of the counter-offensive which beat back the first wave of Canadian opposition to neo-liberalism. But just like when students fought austerity alongside trade unionists, anti-war activists, welfare recipients and public healthcare advocates, there are still ambitious, white men with ill-fitting suits and vague politics whispering in ears and claiming that the first ones to capitulate will get the first scraps that fall from the table.
(Good lord, don’t sue me)