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May in Review

May Day celebrated, Morgentaler remembered, Enbridge disrupted and evicted

by Media Co-op Contributors

Marchers in Vancouver joined hundreds of thousands around the world in a march against agri-business and chemical giant Monsanto. PHOTO: D.M. Gillis
Marchers in Vancouver joined hundreds of thousands around the world in a march against agri-business and chemical giant Monsanto. PHOTO: D.M. Gillis
May Day was alive and well in Toronto, and in cities across the country, this year. PHOTO: Kevin Konnyu
May Day was alive and well in Toronto, and in cities across the country, this year. PHOTO: Kevin Konnyu

Dr. Henry Morgentaler, a physician and abortion provider who played a key role in ensuring the decriminalization of abortion in Canada, died at age 90. Unlike their handling of other well-known but polarizing figures who have recently passed away, the mainstream media had no qualms about questioning the doctor’s character following his death.

Thousands of people in cities across Canada, including Saskatoon, Halifax, and Vancouver, joined tens of thousands worldwide in a global March Against Monsanto to protest the environmental and health impacts of the chemical giant’s products.

The campaign to stop the reversal of Enbridge’s Line 9 pipeline, which would bring tar sands crude to the east coast of Canada, continued in Sarnia, ON, where dozens of protesters marched on and disrupted an investors’ conference at a local hotel. Inside the conference, Aamjiwnaang First Nation youth activist Vanessa Gray disrupted the keynote, holding up a banner reading “You are killing my generation!”

Hundreds of Montrealers marched from the four corners of the city as part of an annual Status for All event in support of migrants’ rights. This year, the march voiced support for the ongoing Solidarity City campaign.

In Vancouver, Idle No More activists held a march to mark the death of Elijah Harper, a Cree activist and former Manitoba MLA. Harper gained recognition for standing up in the legislature, holding an eagle feather, to block the passing of the Meech Lake Accord.

Over 1,200 people in Toronto came out to support May Day this year, as several actions and protests marked the annual festival of workers’ rights. The day's main rally and march focused on solidarity actions with garment workers in Bangladesh and striking workers at Porter Airlines. At Queen’s Park, Occupy Gardens provided trainings, dances, speeches, and hot food to dozens of protesters who eventually dug up sod and grass and began creating a makeshift garden. Meanwhile, torches blazed at May Day actions in Vancouver, spirits were high at a May Day rally in Halifax, and, as per tradition, Montreal police turned out in force to celebrate workers’ rights with a little rough-housing.

As US-based Forage Genetics Inc. announced it is nearly ready to send genetically modified alfalfa to market, Canadian farmers and environmentalists continued to voice their opposition, highlighting the lack of clarity about the potential impacts of genetically engineered alfalfa and citing the high risk of contamination of non-GMO alfalfa, which could harm a Canadian export market valued in the tens of millions per year.

The Gitga’at First Nation has instructed Enbridge to leave its territory, after the company and a team of oil spill response surveyors showed up uninvited during the nation’s annual food harvesting camp, a time of rich cultural activity and knowledge sharing. After Gitga’at councillors voiced their displeasure at not being consulted by Enbridge on an oil spill response survey, company representatives were instructed to leave Gitga’at council chambers and territory.

Terrorism charges were dropped in a year-long case against four Montreal students who were accused of throwing smoke bombs in the city’s underground Metro last May. The incident prompted the complete closure of the Montreal Metro for the first time since 1989, bringing rush hour to a standstill. The terrorism charges were drawn from the controversial post-9/11 Anti-Terrorism Act, which has been criticized as “deceptive, useless, and dangerous” by the Ligue des droits et libertes. The UQAM Arrestees Support Committee called the high-profile charges a political tactic designed to “isolate and marginalize” participants in the Quebec student movement.

Rising rents and a spate of small-business “renovictions” in Vancouver included the announced closure of the social justice cafe Rhizome and the announced relocation of VIVO Media Arts Centre from its home of 39 years. Radical bookstore and resource centre Spartacus Books, now in its 40th year, was evicted from its home in the Downtown East Side by AARTI investments, who acquired the property late last year. Two weeks later, Spartacus was unevicted and its lease reinstated until summer 2014. The unexpected reversal may be related to the ramping up of anti-gentrification activity in Vancouver, which ranges from the three-months-and-counting Pidgin Picket and hunger strikes to an anonymous arson attack on a condo development. The condo fire occurred the day before AARTI withdrew Spartacus’ eviction notice.

Workers and locals at the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union's (NSGEU) biennial passed the hat, the union matched the donations, and all told just over $11,000 was raised to cover the costs of living for recently dismissed Just Us! baristas Shay Exnuga and Elijah Williams. Exnuga and Williams allege they were dismissed from the Halifax cafe because of their attempts to unionize--a contravention of the Trade Union Act. Their complaint is now before the Nova Scotia Labour Relations Board.

Three other baristas at Just Us! are alleging the coffee co-op failed to give them breaks. The Labour Standards Code of Nova Scotia states that employees are legally entitled to “a rest or eating break of at least one-half hour” for more than five consecutive hours worked.

As the vast majority of prisoners being held at Guantanamo Bay are currently engaged in a hunger strike, members of the Halifax Peace Coalition went without food in their own solidarity strike. They also attempted--unsuccessfully--to deliver a letter of protest to the Consulate General of the United States, which had shuttered its office doors earlier in the day. Of the 166 prisoners currently being held at Guantanamo Bay, a US military spokesperson recently noted that 100 were on hunger strike. Prisoners' lawyers estimate the number to be even higher, with some saying upwards of 130 prisoners are striking.

Saskatoon residents gathered for a demonstration outside Jenny's Bridal Boutique to show support for Rohit Singh and for transgender rights in Saskatchewan. Singh, a transgender woman, visited the boutique to try on dresses in preparation for her wedding, but faced discrimination from the shop owner.

Supreme Court Justice Richard Wagner denied six prominent sex worker groups the opportunity to intervene in the Bedford v. Canada appeal, a constitutional challenge to three prostitution laws that criminalize sex work. The excluded groups include three international sex worker organizations, as well as the POWER-Maggie’s-Stella coalition, the only intervenor applicant representing sex workers from all sectors of the sex industry and multiple geographic regions in Canada. The appeal will be heard at the Supreme Court of Canada on June 13, 2013.

PM Harper’s bodyguard Bruno Saccomani was tapped to become Canada’s ambassador to Jordan. According to the Toronto Star, Saccomani, a member of the RCMP, faces several ongoing investigations for workplace harassment.

Eight riot police and one activist were injured during a protest in northern Greece against a Canadian gold mining project. The Vancouver-based company, Eldorado Gold, has faced opposition to the mine since its approval by the Greek government in 2011.  Eldorado Gold is responsible for multiple gold mining projects in Greece, which locals say have already impacted their forests, land, water, and democratic process. In Ottawa this month, executives from Eldorado Gold joined an audience to hear delegates from Greece speak about the impacts of the mine. Attendees were reminded that any Canadian citizen with a Social Insurance Number is automatically invested in Eldorado Gold through the Canadian Pension Plan.

Chile’s President Sebastian Piñera, who is also one of the country’s richest men, met with Stephen Harper in Ottawa this month. Harper pledged to increase economic and security cooperation with the Andean nation, while Piñera specifically mentioned Toronto’s Barrick Gold, noting Barrick’s controversial Pascua-Lama project has “not complied with everything set forth in [the environmental] assessment.”

Migrant rights activists in Mexico visited various points along the railroad tracks used by Central Americans migrating to the US. Mass kidnapping, murder, and extortion by organized crime are all too common along these routes, where criminals operate with total impunity. In a report they produced following their visits, the activists stated “all of Mexico is a graveyard for migrants.”

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