Saturday, May 28, 2005

Problems with Iraq's new government

After all the optimism in the runup to the Iraqi elections in January, the last few months have been a real disappointment. The new government has been so plagued by infighting that it took over two months just to agree on naming a few ministers to their posts. And, the new government has been the subject of criticism due to underrepresentation of certain groups (Sunnis, etc.), and the disenfranchisement of some Christians in the election due to technical problems at polling stations.

Over the next few months, this same government is supposed to form a constitutional committee to write the country's new constitution. Given the complexity and importance of this task, and seeing how the simple task of choosing the government ministers was tied up in so much infighting, I do not feel very hopeful that they will be able to formulate a new constitution in a reasonable amount of time.

Part of the problem in Iraq seems to be the political system that was put in place. Instead of copying a system that works well (such as what we have here in America), it seems the political system in Iraq seems to have been modeled after the system in Israel, which itself is tied up in infighting. In Iraq, like in Israel, seats were distributed to political parties based on the percentage of the popular vote each party brought in. Unfortunately, in Iraq, this meant that if certain areas have low turnout (due to ongoing violence or other reasons), those regions were underrepresented the resulting government. What would have worked better in Iraq would have been a system where the country was broken up into electoral districts, with each district electing one representative, and the president (or prime minister) being chosen separately by a popular vote. In this situation, even in those areas like Fallujah and Mosul where ongoing violence prevented many people from going to polling stations, there still would have been a local representative elected, and I expect the government would have better represented a cross-section of the Iraqi population.

Another problem in the current government is the high threshold (two thirds) necessary to appoint the government ministers, which was the cause of much of the delay over the last two months. In other countries using an assembly for their government (Canada, Britain, India, etc.) a simple majority is all that is needed. Setting this threshold too high is a good recipe to form a government that is so hobbled by infighting that it does not get anything done.

A third problem is that the prime minister was appointed by the assembly, and not directly elected by a popular vote. We have the same problem in Canada, Britain, and other countries, and what it does is impugn the independence of the assembly members. In Canada, each member of parliament (MP) in the ruling party is generally forced to vote along with the prime minister's wishes. If he fails to do so, the prime minister (as the leader of the party) can throw the MP out of the party, forcing him to sit as an independent, and virtually assuring that he will lose his seat in the next election. The "Ad-Scam" corruption scandal that is embroiling Canadian politics now is a product of this lack of independence. In the United States and other countries, this problem is avoided by directly electing the president by a separate popular vote than that for the assembly members.

I hope that Iraq will be successful in fixing some of these deficiencies when they formulate their new constitution in the coming months - their ongoing stability and prosperity as a nation will depend on it.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Tasteless Photos

Over the past few days, the Sun newspaper in London, and the New York Post (both owned by Rupert Murdoch) published a series of photographs of Saddam Hussein in prison, including one on the cover showing Saddam in his white underwear:

Friday's New York Post Cover Page Posted by Hello

Now today, there were more pictures published, this time of the man known ostensibly as "Chemical Ali", and of Dr. Huda Ammash, dubbed "Mrs. Anthrax" by the American press and "Chemical Sally" by the British press.

Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not a fan of Saddam either. But, no matter how little I may like the man, publishing these photos is just plain tasteless and wrong. Saddam is in prison - powerless to stop someone from taking a picture of him, and powerless to choose his own clothes to wear (the underwear he is pictured in was likely prison-issued). Knowing this, all that publishing these pictures is likely to do is create public sympathy for Saddam, as it is difficult to look at these pictures and not feel an ounce of pity for the man.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Racism in America (Part II): New Orleans

In my last post, I wrote about some good news about racism in the United States, and how my wife and I have traveled through many places in this country and not experienced any problems with racism. Today's post is about one of the places I did experience problems.

New Orleans is an interesting place. It is home to the French Quarter and its famous Bourbon Street, where one can find all sorts of jazz clubs and bars that are open all night, for its annual Mardi Gras celebrations, and for a rich history. I have been to New Orleans a number of times on business and to attend conventions, and each time I had fun, but there was always an undercurrent that made me feel a bit out of my element.

During one of my visits, I figured out what that element was. I was eating dinner with some other Canadian colleagues, who were with me in New Orleans for a conference. "You know something interesting," I remarked to one of my colleagues, "I have been here for an entire week, and have not seen a single interracial couple the whole time I've been here."

"You know," my colleague replied, "it's funny. I didn't notice until you pointed it out, but now that I'm thinking about it, I haven't seen any either."

"Me neither," remarked another colleague.

When you are in an interracial relationship, you tend to notice other interracial relationships. They are like a bellweather for racist attitudes. Everywhere you have more than one ethnic group, you have interracial relationships - the question is how open the interracial couples are about it. If they experience a lot of problems, they will tend to keep their relationship a secret, but if they don't, you will tend to see them walking together on the street, eating together in restaurants, and talking together in bars. In New Orleans, I saw none of that, and was unsure why.

The next trip to New Orleans, I found out for myself. I was there for a conference, and I had brought my wife and oldest child with me, and everywhere we went together, I could feel the stares: eyes, drilling into me like laser beams. My wife and I would be walking down the street, past some people going the other way, and I'd feel that sensation, only to turn around and see the people we just passed with their heads turned, gawking at us. White or black, it didn't matter who we passed, it felt like everyone was staring at the two of us. In one clothing store, I made the "mistake" of giving my wife a hug and telling her I love her, and we were asked by the shopkeeper to either "stop it", or leave.

Then, there were the comments, and what surprised me is that almost all the negative comments were directed at my wife by other black people. One person commented that my wife was a "traitor to her own race" for being with me, another called her a "sellout". I couldn't believe it - these weren't even people we knew, or were even talking to, just people we were walking past on the street.

When I got back to Canada, I told other people about the experience I had in New Orleans, and most were surprised - they had never heard about this side of New Orleans. For me, I was surprised that I would experience racism in a place like New Orleans, which is best known for its good jazz music, lively night scene, and a fun, relaxing atmosphere. But, apparently, I am not the only one to have experienced this type of problems. A recent study found that black customers at Bourbon Street bars were more often charged more money for drinks, more likely to have minimum drink purchase policies applied to them, and more likely to have dress code policies applied than white customers.

What was also surprising to me was that the racism I experienced in New Orleans was so obvious, and yet in other places like Birmingham that have a worse historical record for race relations were very welcoming to us. This is both strange, and very sad, because there are many other things to like about New Orleans.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Racism in America (Part I): The Good News

When I was growing up in Canada, I had always thought that racism was a quintessential American problem. I remember watching the movie Mississippi Burning and feeling thankful that I had been raised in Canada where we did not have such problems (or so I thought). The movie Jungle Fever caused me even more consternation: my wife and I are an interracial marriage (she is black, I am white), and our kids are half and half. And, I know that no matter how much the rednecks out there may hate black people, they would probably hate an interracial couple even more.

It is difficult to describe the mental transformation you go through when you are in a mixed-race marriage. Like any marriage, part of your spouse rubs off on you, and part of you rubs off on her. First of all, you stop thinking about yourself, your spouse, and everyone else in terms of race: I do not look at my wife as black, and she does not think of me as white; we are both just people. My wife has become comfortable in situations where she is the only black person around, to the extent she doesn't even notice unless someone points it out. Likewise, I am very comfortable in situations where I am the only white person in a large crowd to the extent I usually won't notice. However, as the husband of a black woman, and the father to mixed-race children, I find I have become much more sensitized to callous remarks someone might make about them.

About five years ago, when I was living in Canada, I had a job offer to move to Atlanta, which after a good deal of discussion with my wife and family, I decided to accept. I must admit, my interracial marriage really made me apprehensive about making that move. After all, Atlanta is in the "Deep South", an area where many people proudly fly the Confederate flag, and within a two hour drive of Birmingham, Alabama (the location of several violent incidents during the 1960s civil rights movement).

In the two years we lived in Atlanta, my fears all proved to be unfounded. My wife and I received nothing but true Southern hospitality everywhere we went. We both attended a very large and predominantly white Southern Baptist church (my wife was actually the one who picked the church after the kind reception she had received when she had first visited there), and all of us felt very welcomed throughout our time there. In our church, my wife was one of only three or four black people in a congregation of nearly two thousand, and yet despite that, she felt completely at home in that place, and was never made to feel otherwise. In the entire time we lived in Atlanta, we did not experience a single racist incident: no hostile stares, no rude comments, no shoddy service in restaurants, nothing. Not even once.

A few months after we arrived in Atlanta, we decided to take a day-trip out of town to visit the Civil Rights Museum in Birmingham (a very worthwhile trip for anyone interested in the subject). I admit, I was a bit apprehensive about traveling to Birmingham, knowing what had happened there in the 1960s, but again, my fears proved unfounded. I was welcomed like a friend at the Civil Rights Museum, and even had the privilege to shake hands with the father of one of the black girls who had been blocked from attending a white high school by the governor of Alabama himself in the 1960s. On the way back to Atlanta, we stopped for dinner at a Cracker Barrel restaurant outside Birmingham, and received very good service and a welcoming environment. Our waitress (a 20 something blonde-haired white woman) even made a comment that it was nice to see the two of us there together, and that we made an attractive couple. I remember driving back from Birmingham trying to imagine the mentality that led to the violent confrontations in the 1960s, and thinking to myself how far that place had come. My family and I visited Birmingham a couple of times while we were living in Atlanta, and like Atlanta, we never experienced a single racist incident: no hostile stares, no rude comments, no shoddy service in restaurants. Not even a single incident.

The one thing that was noticeable in Atlanta was that people working in restaurants and other service establishments would tend to notice my wife and I, and would tend to remember us the next time we visited that establishment. In most cases, this resulted in us getting better service: the places we frequented were more likely to recognize us as regular customers and give us preferential treatment because of this.

About three years ago, we moved to New York, and found more of the same. In fact, my wife and I have traveled through many parts of the United States and have generally received a very warm welcome everywhere we have gone. As a mixed couple, we are a lightning rod for racism, and have felt that lightning strike us a few times. However, in all our travels in America, we have only been to one place where we received a negative reaction towards us (which will be the topic of a future post).

I personally think the United States, and in particular the "Deep South" gets a bad rap when it comes to racism. From my own personal experiences, most of this reputation appears to be undeserved. While America is not a perfect place, it has made a huge amount of progress on the front of racism, to the extent that an interracial couple like my wife and I can travel around to many different places and not be made to feel different from any other married couple.

In 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. made his famous "I have a Dream" speech, in which he dreamed, "that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slaveowners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood," and, "that one day the state of Alabama, whose governor's lips are presently dripping with the words of interposition and nullification, will be transformed into a situation where little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls and walk together as sisters and brothers." While I cannot speak for all of Georgia and Alabama, the parts of both states my wife and I spent time in seemed to have fully achieved Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream. This is truly an admirable accomplishment, for which these Southern communities should be very proud.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Quran Desecration at Guantanamo Bay

Last week, Newsweek Magazine published an explosive article that revealed how American interrogators in Guantanamo Bay had desecrated copies of the Quran, including this paragraph:
Investigators probing interrogation abuses at the US detention centre at Guantanamo Bay have confirmed some infractions alleged in internal FBI e-mails that surfaced late last year. Among the previously unreported cases, sources tell Newsweek: interrogators, in an attempt to rattle suspects, flushed a Koran down a toilet and led a detainee around with a collar and dog leash.

The bit about the Quran being flushed down the toilet was picked up and reported by al-Jazeera, resulting in protests and riots throughout the Middle East, including riots in Afghanistan that resulted in several deaths.

And now, this week, Newsweek published a retraction in which it asked, "how did Newsweek get its facts wrong?"

A more appropriate question is "did Newsweek really get its facts wrong?" Or, did Newsweek buckle under pressure from the US government and its own knowledge that the story was uncorroborated. Newsweek's retraction never actually said they'd uncovered proof that their article was wrong, just that it was uncorroborated. It is important to note that "uncorroborated" does not mean inaccurate, it simply means a story that does not have a lot of evidence backing it (such as a report from a single source with no other evidence). Supermarket tabloids (National Enquirer, the Star, etc.) make lots of money by publishing uncorroborated stories - some turn out to be true, some turn out to be wrong. But, for mainstream news media, the standards for what is publishable are generally higher.

Many Christians may read this and wonder what the big deal is - after all, if someone flushed a bible down the toilet, it would not raise much of a concern among Christians, since for Christians, the bible is just a book. However, for Muslims, each copy of the Quran is considered sacred, much like the Catholics and other Christian branches consider the communion hosts (bread, water, and wine) consecrated after they have been blessed. This is taken so seriously that in a Catholic church, these items are stored in a special vault called the tabernacle. Muslims give each copy of the Quran the same level of reverence, and will not even allow their hands to touch a Quran unless they have first gone through a ceremonial cleansing ritual. Thus, the reaction of a Muslim to a Quran being flushed down the toilet is similar to the outrage one might expect from a Catholic who learned that someone broke into his local church and flushed the communion hosts down the toilet or urinated on the altar.

One big contributing factor to this strong negative reaction is that it can easily be seen to be part of a pattern of disrespect of the US towards Islam. Consider if a story came out that an interrogator in a prison in Mexico, or Germany, or Brazil flushed a Quran down the toilet, there may be some shocked reactions, but no angry protests, because people would tend to think of it as an isolated incident by a single interrogator. For the United States, however, this was not viewed as too surprising, given the headlines we've grown used to seeing over the past several months: male prisoners being made to simulate sex acts with each other in Abu Ghraib, allegations of a female interrogator pretending to smear an inmate with menstrual blood in Guantanamo Bay, using an historic minaret as a sniper post, etc. With all this, flushing the Quran down the toilet sounds like a logical next-step. While some people were shocked at the Newsweek article last week, I don't think there was much surprise from anyone. In that light, this week retraction was actually more of a surprise than last week's revelations.

Guantanamo Bay is not a vacuum, and whatever interrogation techniques are used there will eventually become public knowledge. In that light, the US military needs to realize that it is engaged in a war against terrorists, not a war against Islam, and even though the majority of the terrorists they are fighting now are Muslims, there are millions of other Muslims around the world who do not support those terrorists. Using steps in an interrogation that are an affront to the prisoner's religion can easily be considered an insult to all Muslims, and a slap in the face to Muslims who have supported the US efforts thus far. When these actions become public-knowledge, they serve only to undermine America's war on terror, bolster terrorist support, and erode support for America's actions in the Muslim world.

This war on terror would be so much easier to win if America would stop shooting itself in the foot....

Saturday, May 14, 2005

More Abu Ghraib fallout

A few days ago, it was announced that Janis Karpinski, the commander of the miscreants who had perpetrated the Abu Ghraib fiasco, was being demoted from brigadier general to colonel for "seriously lacking" performance, and for lying about a shoplifting arrest.

A good start, but not far enough. Colonel is still a very senior rank in the military. Also, Major General Geoffrey Miller, who was in charge of the Abu Ghraib facility, has not been punished at all for his role in this fiasco.

It is interesting in the Abu Ghraib fiasco that most of the punishments have been doled out to individual participants, and not to the commanders who created the environment in which these abuses took place. One basic rule of delegation - it is possible to delegate the execution of a task, but it is not possible to delegate responsibility for it. If your subordinate screws up, that subordinate is responsible for it, but so is the superior, and along with responsibility goes accountability. As an IT director, I am held accountable by the company I work for, not only for my own performance, but also for the performance of all of my subordinates. If my subordinates make a mistake, I am held accountable because I failed to adequately supervise them, failed to properly set bounds in which they were to operate, or failed to ensure my people were adequately trained for the tasks they were executing. And, if I allowed a fiasco of the magnitude of Abu Ghraib to occur under my watch, whether I was aware of it while it was happening or not, I would be summarily fired. I do not understand why the US military does not hold its commanders up to the same standard as the private sector holds managers.

Abu Ghraib did significant damage to the credibility of the US military in Iraq, alienated many of the people in Iraq who had previously supported their efforts, bolstered the support of the insurgents, and provided new motivation for terrorists. How many American soldiers and Iraqi civilians have been killed over the past several months because of this? It is for this exact reason that the people responsible for Abu Ghraib, and especially the commanders who set the stage for this abuse, deserve to be punished.

Personally, I think a suitable punishment for both Miller and Karpinski would be to demote both of them to private, send the newly minted Private Miller and Private Karpinski back to Abu Ghraib, and allow them to spend the next few months scrubbing toilets in the prisoners' cells. Of course, the US military is not as much of a believer in poetic justice as I am, and I doubt if we will ever see anything close to this.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Guantanamo Bay: Justice delayed is justice denied

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post called Guantanamo Bay: the Decline of American Ideals.

Last week's Time magazine has a very interesting article about a book from Erik Saar called Inside the Wire, a first-person account of the conditions inside the Camp Delta prison in Guantanamo Bay, where Saar served as a military translator for six months.

Here is an excerpt from the Time article:

A doctor was kneeling next to the detainee, and Adam went and knelt next to him. I heard them telling the captive, a Bahraini named Halim, that he was going to be all right. On the ground outside the shower I noticed a pool of dark red blood; the detainee had apparently cut his wrists with a razor. Sitting on the cellblock steps was a trembling National Guardsman, a kid of no more than 19, trying to calm his nerves with a cigarette.

An MP summoned me over to the shower. There was another puddle of blood, with more smeared on the wall. I realized that the blood on the wall was writing. The senior officer asked me to translate. "Sir, it reads: 'I committed suicide because of the brutality of my oppressors,'" I said. The young soldier cowering on the steps had been tasked with monitoring the detainee. When he heard me, he looked horrified. I could see he was blaming himself for the carnage, and I walked over to him. "This wasn't your fault," I said.

Saar goes on to talk about how there have been a large number of suicide attempts by detainees in Guantanamo Bay, many of which were categorized by the military as "manipulative self-injurious behavior" or "self-harm incidents", including one type called "hanging gestures". Hanging gestures??? Ahh... "newspeak", fresh out of the book 1984. George Orwell would be so proud. Next, you'll hear about how the guards are helping prisoners to lose weight on the trendy "Hunger Strike Diet Plan".

Let's think about this for a minute: how desperate does a man really need to be to take his own life, to throw away his entire future on Earth for nothing? That man would need to feel like he is living through hell on Earth, with no prospects for ever leaving this man-made hell.

I had mixed feelings reading this article. On one side, it is easy to feel a sense of vindication, knowing that some of the miscreants who perpetrated 9/11 are rotting in this place. No punishment is too severe for those bastards. On the other hand, it is troubling to think that some of the people who have been swept up into this pit may not be so deserving. Some of the people in Guantanamo Bay did nothing wrong except fighting for the wrong side in a war, and some may have not even done that. Over the past two years, a number of people have been taken from Guantamamo Bay and handed over to their home countries, only to be released without charge. How many more innocent people were swept up with the guilty, and are still rotting their lives away in the hell of Guantanamo Bay?

The American justice system was built on the premise that it is better to let a hundred guilty men go free than to wrongfully convict one innocent man. However, in the war on terror, the focus on protecting Americans from terrorists seems to have flipped this principle on its head: that it is better to imprison a hundred innocent men than to wrongfully release one guilty man.

What is needed to set this right is speedy trials for those men who are imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay, to divide the innocent from the guilty. Let the guilty ones rot in jail, but let the innocent ones go back to their families. Many of the prisoners in Guantanamo Bay have been imprisoned for nearly four years, without trial, without seeing their loved ones, and without any indication of when they may have their day in court. Dragging this process out does nothing but to delay freedom for innocent men, and jeopardize the government's case for convicting guilty men as witnesses' memories fade. It is time to get this justice process moving for prisoners in Guantanamo Bay.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Marine cleared in Fallujah mosque shooting

Yesterday, it was announced that the US marine who shot a wounded and unarmed man in a Fallujah mosque would not be charged. To quote the Guardian:

Major General Richard Natonski, commander of the 1st Marine Division, said the marine corporal had acted according to the rules of engagement, and that it was a common tactic of insurgents to lure US troops by faking injury or death.

"He has determined that the actions of the marine in question were consistent with the established rules of engagement, the law of armed conflict and the marine's inherent right of self-defence," a statement on the US marine corps website said yesterday.

I expect this turn of events is probably going to produce a very angry reaction by some people in Iraq, and it is easy to understand their anger.

Let's consider the reasoning behind this marine being cleared in this incident...

The US justice system (including the military justice system) is built around the principle that it is better to free a hundred guilty men than to wrongfully convict one innocent man. Thus, the standard of proof is quite high - one must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt (consider O.J. Simpson). Also, for a person to be guilty of a crime means two factors must be present, actus reus (the fact that the person committed the crime), and mens rea (that the person intended to commit a crime). In other words, if you do something bad, but your intentions were good, you are not guilty.

In the case of this marine, the actus reus part is obvious - he admitted he shot the man, there is a video showing him shooting the man, and forensic evidence shows that the bullet came from his gun. But, that is only half of the equation. The other part, mens rea, is where the question lies... did the marine intend to kill an unarmed man? Or, did he think, at the time, that the man was a threat? In this consideration, it is irrelevant as to whether the man was actually armed or not, all that is relevant is whether the marine thought he was armed.

Consider the following:

  • A wounded enemy can be more dangerous than a healthy enemy: A healthy enemy's main goal is self-preservation, however if an enemy is mortally wounded, he may be quite willing to do something that would hasten his own death as long as he can take one or two of your guys with him. A wounded soldier holding a hand grenade, and releasing it when the enemy soldiers come close is not unheard of, even in past wars.
  • Insurgents have sometimes faked death/injury to trick US soldiers into getting close to them: Unfortunately, this makes a soldier more likely to question whether a wounded insurgent is really wounded, or just faking it to trick the soldier into getting close.
  • The insurgent's left arm was hidden behind his head: The marine could not see if he was hiding a weapon, or perhaps a grenade.
  • The soldier only had a brief moment to make the decision to shoot: The marines were in a battle, and had just retaken this building from insurgents. The marine's own life was in danger every moment he was in that building. Perhaps in a different situation, he would have reacted differently.
It is obvious that shooting the unarmed man was a mistake, but was it a criminal act? If the marine honestly thought that the wounded insurgent was a threat, the answer is no. And, if a prosecutor cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt in front of a court martial that the marine's did not think he was a threat, the answer is also no.


That's the logical side of this story, but as I write this blog post, I cannot help but feel a nauseous, queasy feeling roiling up from the pit of my stomach. An unarmed man died in this incident, and while he was certainly not innocent, there are a number of other Iraqis who have died in similar incidents who were killed by US soldiers being a bit too quick with the trigger finger.

Najma wrote an angry post today about this marine being cleared of charges. It is easy to understand her anger if you remember that back in November, her sister's father-in-law was killed in a similar incident in Mosul. To quote Najma's sister hnk about that incident:

The place in which he got shot in was an opened area and there were no shelters to protect them from fire, there was a shop near by, the shop owner asked them to enter his place till the fire stop but he refused probably because he was worried about his family, he continue to walk, infront of him about 100 m away there was an american stryker, it was in his way home . the American soldiers who were in that stryker shot him in his thight, the bullet cause a severe bleeding
He subsequently bled to death, as the bullet had severed his femoral artery.

I am probably safe in assuming the soldier who shot Najma's father-in-law was never charged. In fact, I am sure the only reason the case against the marine involved in the Fallujah mosque shooting went as far as it did was because NBC correspondent Kevin Sites was there with his video camera. Knowing this, it is quite easy to understand why Najma would be angry seeing this marine escape charges for this incident. It should also not be surprising that a number of other people in Iraq may share similar feelings.

As for me, I am feeling rather torn over this incident. On one side, I can understand the logic behind how the marine was cleared of charges, but at the same time it is difficult to reconcile this logic with the fact that an unarmed man was killed.

Perhaps the best analogy I can think of is police shootings. A number of shootings have happened here in New York City where a child with a toy gun was shot and killed by a police officer who thought it was a real gun; so many of these shootings that New York State has banned the sale of dark-colored toy guns throughout the state. In the case of these police shootings, for justice to be served, it is necessary for us to put our queasy feelings aside and look objectively at the facts, and assess what the mindset of the police officer was at the time he pulled the trigger. In the vast majority of these cases, the police officer was cleared, since even though the child was not armed, the police officer legitimately thought he was at the time of the shooting.

I expect the marine corporal involved in the Fallujah shooting was cleared for a similar reason as these police officers who shot innocent children armed with toy guns. But, like these police officers, I am sure that marine wishes he had hesitated a bit more before making that decision to pull the trigger, and he will probably be haunted by that decision for many years to come.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Racism in Canada

Earlier today, I was shocked to read a troubling story in the Globe and Mail about a large commercial vegetable farm, "Centre Maraîcher Eugène Guinois Jr.", in Quebec that was cited by the Quebec Human Rights Tribunal for applying racist segregationist policies at their farm. Here is a link to another article (in French) from a different newspaper that goes into a bit more detail.

According to the Globe and Mail article, black workers were subject to regular workplace hostility, forced to eat in a separate cafeteria from white workers, made to use toilets so filthy the cleaning staff refused to enter them, and when eating outside, relegated to picnic tables located near the toilets. The "whites-only" cafeteria was fully furnished, while the "blacks-only" cafeteria was substandard, with no heat, sinks, running water, microwave, refrigeration facilities, or proper toilets. This one paragraph from the Globe and Mail article sums things up nicely:

Even company supervisors admitted the facilities for black workers were sub par. In her defence testimony in front of Judge Pauzé, Jocelyne Guinois, the owner's daughter, said the cafeteria didn't have a sink, soap or even running water, but had several hoses outside that the workers could use. She said the extra cafeteria was constructed specifically for day labourers, partly because "white workers complained that their food smelled bad."

"Several hoses outside that workers could use"..... WHAT THE HELL?! These workers are humans, not cattle.

I remember a few years ago watching the movie Mississippi Burning and thinking to myself how lucky I was to be born in Canada where we did not have these types of problems. Sadly, it seems I was just deluding myself.

While the judge was particularly harsh in her words in her judgment, the penalty she assessed was a mere slap on the wrist for these racist scum: just $12,500 Canadian dollars for one plaintiff, and $10,000 for another. Here in the United States, the judgment would have been in the millions for something this egregious.

The scum who own and manage this commercial farm are a total disgrace: a disgrace to Canada, a disgrace to Quebec, and a disgrace to everyone who buys and eats their produce. I say that people need to hit them where it hurts: in the wallet. If you care about this issue, you just need to call the headquarters for your local supermarket and ask them if they or their suppliers buy their carrots or lettuce from "Centre Maraîcher Eugène Guinois Jr.", refer them to a copy of this Globe and Mail article, and suggest that they should buy their vegetables elsewhere. For me, I hate racism, and I would not want to know that the money I was spending on groceries was going to fund it.

There's nothing like a good old-fashioned boycott to get the point across.

[Update - May 3, 2005]

Here are some links to grocery store contact forms and emails for anyone who would like to drop them a note about this issue. Just click on the link below, type what you want to say (including a link to this post or one of the newspaper articles listed above if you like), and click submit. If enough people do this, I think it will get the attention of these grocery store chains.

A&P (Canada & USA): Also owns several other brands including Dominion and Food Basics.
Pathmark (USA)
Stop & Shop (USA)
Costco (Canada & USA)
Publix (USA)
Winn-Dixie (USA)
Loblaws (Canada): also owns Zehrs

If anyone can think of any more, please post a comment and I'll update the list.

Haloscan comments

Earlier this week, I changed my blog's comments over to Haloscan, which I think has some better functionality than the basic comments that come with Blogger. Unfortunately, this means all the comments on the earlier blog entries are now inaccessible.

Hopefully, there will be enough new comments from my readers to replace them (hint, hint).