Monthly Archives: April 2017

Event preview: Hands Off Syria

On Tuesday, April 11th, at 5:00pm, Stop War Coalition – Vancouver Coalition for Justice and Peace will gather in front of the US Consulate, on the traditional, unceded, occupied territories of the səlil̓wətaʔɬ (Tsleil-Waututh), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), and xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam) Nations to host an emergency rally denouncing the US bombing of Syria as well as Canada’s “full support” to Trump’s open-ended escalation. See here for the Facebook event.

Since its onset, the conflict in Syria has been marked with its utter devastation – several hundred thousand have been killed, millions more have been displaced, and massive destruction has been wreaked upon the homes and schools and infrastructure of the nation. The war in Syria by nature is a proxy war, with the US and other powers playing a critical role in funding groups friendly to their interests, ensuring the continued destabilization of Syria. Now, just as peace talks between the Syrian government and the opposition forces are underway in Geneva, the war has reached a new critical juncture. After years of bombing Syria, the US has finally openly and unilaterally attacked the Syrian government, with complete disregard for the national sovereignty of Syria, for any international law, or for the consequences of its actions.

Those who support the US attack on Syria have short memories. Remember the US invasion of Iraq, the false pretext of weapons of mass destruction used by the Bush administration, and the utter havoc that was wreaked upon that nation., Even today Iraq remains dangerously unstable. Iraq still suffers from the devastating loss of life, loss of infrastructure, and introduction of fierce sectarianism that the American invasion brought upon it.

Remember the US attack on Libya. Even today Libya remains in the grips of an unending civil war, and just like Iraq, Libya remains devastated because of US actions in the region.

Remember how the US shamelessly used chemical weapons and napalm in Vietnam, in Korea, how the radioactive uranium dumped by the US army even today poisons the landscape of Iraq – and now, after causing untold death and pain around the world with its use of weapons of mass destruction, the US would claim to be the champion of the innocent against the use of chemical weapons?

And remember Trump, how Trump openly endorsed the reckless use of nuclear weapons against America’s enemies, how Trump openly called for the murder of the families of those he called terrorists, how Trump turned away the refugees of the Syrian war, calling them all terrorists, and now it is Trump that would be the man to protect the innocents suffering in the conflict in Syria?

There is no place in the world that the US has intervened where it can be said that it has brought a better future. There is no single country where the US has intervened for any reason other than to protect its own interests. There is no reason any of us should support US intervention in any part of the world.

The anti-war movement has been stagnant in recent years, and it is time we revived it. There is no better time but now. There is no more appropriate moment. It is time for all anti-war activists to stand up, and say no to war, no to war in Syria, no to war in any other nation.

We demand the US keep its hands off Syria. We demand that Canada keep its hands off Syria. We denounce the US bombing of Syria, we denounce Canada’s full support of the US bombing, and we denounce imperialist intervention in any part of the world.

Come join us and bring your signs and your drums and your voices! Come join us at the US consulate at 1075 West Pender St., at 5:00pm, at April 11th, and say NO to war in Syria.

HANDS OFF SYRIA!

This article was also published on Rebel Youth.

Groups that have currently endorsed the rally:

  • Fraser Valley Peace Council
  • The UBC Social Justice Centre
  • The Young Communist League – Vancouver
  • Coalition Against Bigotry – Pacific
  • Siraat
  • Plan Peace
  • International Socialists Vancouver
  • Frente Para La Defensa Hugo Chavez
  • Occupy Vancouver
  • The Talon UBC
  • Socialist.ca
  • CODIR
  • Canada Palestine Association
  • ILPS Canada
  • Migrante BC
  • Canada Philippines Solidarity for Human Rights
  • Solidaridad con Ayotzinapa Vancouver
  • Canada-Cuba Friendship Association (CCFA)
  • Alliance Against Displacement

BDS court case verdict and the surrounding campus politics

On Thursday March 30th, 2017, BC Supreme Court Justice Frits Verhoeven delivered his ruling regarding the BDS court case against the AMS, dismissing the petition brought forward by UBC Commerce student Logan Presch. The litigation attempted to prevent the AMS from proceeding with a referendum, which was put forward by the student group Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights (SPHR), involving the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. The referendum was originally scheduled for a March 6th to 10th poll during the general elections  when the voter turnout was 11,219. This would have made it easier for the BDS referendum to meet the quorum set out in AMS bylaw 4.4 (b), which requires it to be supported by 8% of the active student body before it is adopted. However, it was delayed due to the litigation and is now an online vote from April 3rd to 6th.

On Monday March 27th, the court case resumed after being adjourned by Justice Margot L. Fleming on March 8th. Justice Frits E. Verhoeven took over the hearing for Justice Fleming. Retired CUPE lawyer, Paul Tetrault, was granted right of audience by Justice Verhoeven and joined the case as an agent for SPHR president Jordan Buffie. Lawyer Howard A. Mickelson, representing Presch, spent most of the day on Monday laying out his argument against the AMS decision to proceed with a referendum regarding the Proposed Question:

Do you support your student union (AMS) in boycotting products and divesting from companies that support Israeli war crimes, illegal occupation and the oppression of Palestinians?

Mickelson revealed on Tuesday during the rebuttal that he is doing the work pro bono and told the Talon that the issue “is a matter of public interest.” He recalled visiting Israel recently, talking to people about the legality of the settlements in the West Bank and the bulldozing of houses, and he concluded that the situation is “a very complicated and nuanced problem.” Mickelson stated that his goal is to move the conversation “to a less polarized place” and claimed that “the BDS referendum and the nature of the question (with reference to war crimes) is a polarizing form of debate.” The Talon also reached out to Tetrault following the verdict and he commented that the “the settlements in the West Bank are totally illegal” as ruled by the International Court of Justice in 2005. Furthermore, he proclaimed that the BDS movement is a tool for advocates of Palestinian human rights to take action and insisted that “you cannot have dialogue between two unequal forces. Mr. Mickelson is… claiming that we are just talking about two equal forces here, not an occupied people and an occupier.” He gave an analogy:

Imagine if the reverse were true that somehow Palestinians were occupying this land that belonged to Jews and they were setting up Palestinian-only settlements and putting the Jewish people into small villages and not allowing them to move. How would the world react to that and how would Mr. Mickelson react to that?

Mickelson decided to abandon his first submission that the BDS referendum violated Section 2(e) of the AMS Constitution which is to “promote unity and goodwill amongst its members” by creating a “toxic and divisive” environment on campus, calling the submission “extremely controversial”. The Talon reached him by phone in Hawaii after the verdict and questioned him about that decision. He stated that this argument was a “hot potato” and that it was not “fair to put it in the court’s hands with such a limited period of time.” Tetrault responded to this reasoning by stating that “he dropped [the first submission] because the courts basically indicated to him that it was an impossible argument to make.” He stated that Mickelson’s original argument attempted to assert that any decision or debate on campus that led to divisiveness was contrary to the AMS constitution. Tetrault proclaimed that if that was the case “you could never have any issue debated that would cause controversy, division or vigorous debate. That is clearly ludicrous and clearly contrary to the whole notion of the university itself. There was never any merit to the argument.”

Two of the affidavits that the petitioner had originally relied upon to argue this claim were filed by Hillel employees, including Executive Director Rabbi Philip L. Bregman and Program Director Sam Heller. The Chief Executive Officer of the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver, Ezra S. Shanken, has previously congratulated Heller for his “leadership” on an anti-BDS campaign. Hillels at campuses all over the world often disseminate Israeli hasbara (propaganda) and talking points, and have taken a central role in opposing BDS on campuses. The Talon reached out to Rabbi Bregman for a comment but did not receive a reply.

Nevertheless, in Justice Verhoeven’s ruling, he dismissed the relevance of the affidavits that claim the BDS referendum has created a “toxic environment” on campus, stating “they are not directly relevant to the issues before the court.” Mickelson instead decided to rely on his second and third assertions, namely that the referendum contravened AMS Bylaws and Code. He attempted to include some of the evidence from his first argument to persuade the judge to invalidate the AMS’s decision to proceed with the referendum based on some irregularity.

He argued that the AMS Bylaw 4.2 has an implicit requirement that the ‘yes’ or ‘no’ must be meaningful and contested that the Proposed Question was ambiguous thus not capable of being answered “yes” or “no” violating the bylaw that states:

The text of the referendum shall be drafted to ensure that the question is capable of being answered “yes” or “no” and if in the opinion of Council a petition for a referendum does not meet this requirement, Council shall forthwith refer the referendum to the Court to prepare a clear and unambiguous question.

On Thursday March 30th, Justice Verhoeven rejected this proposition in his ruling. He quoted AMS President Ava Nasiri’s affidavit where she states that the Student Council “is of the opinion that the Proposed Question is capable of being answered ‘yes’ or ‘no’”. Additionally, the opinion of the legal counsel in 2015 was that the same referendum question was not ambiguous.

Justice Verhoeven proclaimed that “the AMS Bylaws and Code allow for the society to be used as a vehicle for political expression.” He referenced past referendums that have dealt with other world affairs, including one in 1967 involving the Vietnam War, another in 1952 dealing with abortion, and one in 1987 which addressed a movement to boycott companies associated with the apartheid regime in South Africa. Furthermore, Justice Verhoeven stated that “an AMS referendum may form part of the robust and vigorous political debate that is often seen on university campuses.”

The case law relied upon by the petitioner to argue the violation of AMS Bylaw 4.2 dealt with zoning and money bylaws that the judge ruled are substantially different in nature from the case at hand. The judge also rejected that the word “meaningful” should be read into Bylaw 4.2 as Mickelson had argued. The judge noted that the bylaw does not prohibit a vague and ambiguous question from passing and acknowledged that this may lead to some issues as to how the AMS should implement a successful referendum. But after citing some case law referring to bylaw structure, Justice Verhoeven ruled that it is not the court’s job to “fill gaps or improve upon” a Society’s bylaws.

Furthermore, the judge agreed with the petitioner that the Proposed Question is a “loaded one”, which is intended to lead to a particular answer. The question states that Israel commits war crimes, conducts illegal occupation, and oppresses Palestinians, and that some companies support these policies. The judge noted that the question compels a person of conscience to vote ‘yes’ and makes one who votes ‘no’ feel as if they are supporting “war crimes, illegal occupation and oppression.”

Justice Verhoeven then recognized the controversial nature of the Proposed Question may lead to strife on campus and that it is the duty of the AMS to ensure the “safety and security” of students, as well as the promotion of “respectful debate.”

He ruled that the AMS did not violate its bylaws by allowing this referendum question to move forward.

The second argument that the petitioner relied upon was that the AMS violated Code of Procedure IV Article 4.2 (c) which requires a referendum question to state that it will cause the student society to break a contract with a service provider. Justice Verhoeven rejected this argument as well. He cited Buffie’s assertion that the AMS will not be required to break a contract if the referendum is successful.  He stated that the question was broadly drafted to allow the student society a range of possible actions and to catalyze discussions about future AMS purchasing decisions. Furthermore, AMS President Nasiri’s affidavit stated the position of Council that the Proposed Question “does not require the AMS to break any current contracts.”

Therefore, Justice Verhoeven ruled that the AMS did not contravene its Code of Procedure.

The Petitioner’s order to halt the referendum relied on sections 104 and 105 of the BC Societies Act. An injunctive relief was sought concerning 104 (1) (a), but the judge ruled that that section does not apply in these circumstances. He stated that it was not necessary for him to decide whether or not the AMS or its president was considered a person under this section of the Societies act, as Mickelson had contended.

Justice Verhoeven quoted a previous case, Sarjit Singh Gill v. Khalsa Diwan Society which states “The court is always reluctant to interfere in the internal affairs of any corporate body. The respondent society should be left to govern itself in a democratic fashion and make its own decisions, including what may be seen by some of its members to be mistakes.” He emphasized the relevance of that comment and stated that “an order of the court could be seen as interfering with the free and democratic process of the Alma Mater Society and could be seen as intruding into political issues or taking sides. A great deal of caution is required on the part of the court.” However, he mentioned that, if illegalities were present, the court would have had the jurisdiction to intervene. Justice Verhoeven then dismissed the petition.

Tetrault reacted positively to the court verdict and stated that “the courts basically rejected the attempt by the pro-Israeli forces on the UBC campus to shut down [the] debate… [The verdict] was a very good decision for free speech, student union independence and I think it will discourage people from going to court to decide political issues.”

Rabbi Bregman responded to the ruling by telling The Canadian Jewish News that he was “disappointed” and claimed that “we really won the battles, because the judge didn’t disagree with any of our arguments… So we go forward fighting this nefarious referendum aimed at marginalizing and demonizing not only Israel but by extension, those who support Israel.” UBC law student Eric Webster contested this assertion by telling the Talon “the judge thoroughly rejected all of their arguments. I acted as agent for Eviatar Bach in the case and I heard the judgement,” he proclaimed. “The idea that the judge didn’t disagree with their arguments is not only patently false, it is contrary to common sense. If you lose a lawsuit, the judge disagreed with you.”

SPHR issued this statement following the court verdict:

SPHR is delighted with the Supreme Court’s decision regarding the petition against the AMS. We are pleased to see the Court taking the position that the AMS did not violate their bylaws regarding our proposed referendum question. The question, as determined in 2015, is clear, unambiguous, and factual. The judge affirmed the importance of the democratic functioning of the AMS, and that the courts must hesitate to intervene. This is an important precedent for BDS campus campaigns. The Court did not allow ideological opposition to stifle free debate. We were initially disappointed that the AMS did not take a position regarding the claim that the question creates a “toxic and divisive environment”. This argument was however dismissed by the petitioner, who decided to continue arguing solely on procedural grounds. The judge’s permission of SPHR and a student as additional parties allowed to clarify that, far from being mutually exclusive with dialogue, the referendum helps to promote serious and engaged discussion of an important political issue. Unfortunately, these legal proceedings have delayed the referendum past the general elections, which means it is imperative UBC students vote, and vote well. VOTE YES on April 3rd-7th.

&

Remember to vote online at https://amsvoting.as.it.ubc.ca/, from April 3 to April 7, and to vote well: Vote YES to BDS, for Freedom, Justice and Equality!

 

A Palestinian’s response to Koby Michaels’ Op-ed

Dear Koby Michaels,

I’m writing this open letter to inform you and those who have read your article that your intentions behind writing it was not that of genuine fear, but of an ideological impetus to preserve your privilege.

You benefit as a colonizer of unceded Coast Salish territory, and also Palestinian land if you make use of Israel’s Law of Return, which allows for automatic citizenship for Jews. Your qualms about your safety on walking around campus during a fair democratic BDS referendum is unfounded, and frankly, offensive to those who genuinely feel unsafe.

The article you’ve presented is a strawman argument, made to paint BDS in an anti-Semitic, hateful light to the benefit of the colonially charged ideology embodied by the “No” campaign. It seems you did not bother to even go through the BDS website, or you willfully ignored it. Either way, I’ll go through what BDS aims to achieve through peaceful boycott and financial pressures.

First, “ending its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the Wall”. I fail to see how that makes you – a Jewish Canadian – feel unsafe on campus. Aggressive Israeli expansion into sovereign Palestinian lands, as per the Oslo accords, is a direct violation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 242, which underlines the “inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war and the need to work for a just and lasting peace in the Middle East in which every State in the area can live in security.”. It should concern you that people’s rights are being infringed upon, rather than the boycott of companies who explicitly profit from said people’s suffering.

Second, “recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality”. Again, I fail to see how that makes you – a Jewish Canadian – feel unsafe on campus. There are over fifty discriminatory laws in Israel between Arab and Jewish citizens. That is a fact. The fact that fighting inequality is seen as a threat upon your safety on a multicultural liberal campus speaks loudly to your privilege.

Third, “respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN Resolution 194”. 700,000 Palestinians were expelled from their indigenous homeland and made refugees by colonial forces in 1948, the year Israel was established as a state. That number has now risen to over 7 million, including both refugees and internally displaced people. Generations have been born into and have seen nothing but refugee camps. They have no place to call home, with their ancestral land denied to them. They are treated as human fodder. It is simply unethical to deny these people the right of return, the right to the homes that were forcibly taken from them. Again, to see this as a threat to your safety speaks volumes.

I write this to you as a Palestinian student attending UBC. I have submitted this anonymously in fear of my safety. As to not be turned away at the borders of my ancestral home land when visiting family for my online activism as has occurred to numerous Palestinian activists. I fear for my safety to support my people’s struggle for equal rights. BDS is our way of doing that in a peaceful manner. To deem that threatening to your safety on campus is to spit in the face of not only Palestinians, but all oppressed minorities seeking peaceful self determination.

Your grievances have no factual basis. I have no sympathy for your crocodile tears.

A Palestinian at UBC.  

I would like to thank the Talon for publishing my article. I would like to note that this article was originally intended for The Ubyssey as it was a response to an article on there, however The Ubyssey did not deem my request for anonymity as “urgent” enough to grant it. I hope free speech will prevail and all opinions can be expressed freely without fear for personal safety.

Event preview: Evening of sharing stories and experiences written by Canadian immigrant women

On Tuesday, April 4th, from 7 PM – 8:30 PM, nine Canadian immigrant women will share how pieces of their personal history have brought them closer to, or farther from, the feeling of belonging. Three hundred chairs have been set out for newcomers to Canada in the Alice MacKay Room on the Lower Level of the Vancouver Public Library’s Central Branch, as way of launching new anthology Wherever I Find Myself (Caitlin Press 2017).

Some examples of these true stories include:

  • a woman takes on the complex and often baffling nuances of the English language
  • a Ugandan refugee and her family settle in Canada only to find their father is forever changed
  • a Filipino woman recalls her fear when her parents are forced to leave them alone in a dangerous situation
  • a woman from Burma re-discovers her history and culture in spite of being told that “there is no room for the past in this bright new world”

These are the portraits of women attempting to navigate unfamiliar landscapes, and their desire to be accepted despite differences in accent, sexuality, skin colour, or taste in food. Readers at the book launch include Sarah Munawar, Jianna Faner, NikNaz K., Esmeralda Cabral, Onjana Yawnghwe, Jasmine Sealy, Abeer Yusuf, Gina Roitman, and editor Miriam Matejova.

This event is free, open to the public, fully accessible, and includes free childminding services during the program — storytime by a children’s librarian. Copies of Wherever I Find Myself will be available for sale though purchase is not necessary for entry. More information is available at caitlin-press.com, by emailing michaeld@caitlin-press.com, or by phoning 604-831-7024. Here is the Facebook event.

About Caitlin Press

Caitlin Press publishes culturally significant books, including fiction, non-fiction (both historical and creative), and poetry. Occasionally we will produce a children’s or young adult title. Wherever I Find Myself is the third in a series of anthologies by and about Canadian women. Caitlin Press reflects the diverse cultures, histories and concerns of BC, bridging the gap between the urban and the rural. Caitlin also remains committed to its feminist origins by publishing bold works by and about BC women for a local and national readership. 

About Miriam Matejova (editor)

Miriam Matejova is a writer and researcher, currently pursuing a PhD in Political Science at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. Originally from Bratislava, Slovakia, Miriam has moved to Canada as a young adult in pursuit of higher education. Although Canada has been her home for over a decade now, Slovakia has stayed in her heart as well as in her creative writing. Her work has appeared in The Globe and MailHer CircleThe Inconsequential and several travel magazines. Her story “Proti Komu” (“Against Whom”) has been published in a Slovak anthology of award-winning fiction. She is also one of the contributors to Caitlin Press’ This Place A Stranger: Canadian Women Travelling Alone.