Tuesday, February 24, 2009

David Ahenakew's Seven Year Saga

Freedom of Beliefs and Opinion, or Incitement of Hatred?
The Sputnik - February 26th, 2009

After seven long years, two controversial trials and a hotly debated appeal, David Ahenakew finally received the verdict he feels he deserves. Provincial Court Judge Wilfrid Tucker handed a verdict of not guilty on Monday, clearing Ahenakew for the second time of the charges to wilfully incite hatred. Although Justice Tucker described Ahenakew’s statement against Jews in 2002 as ’revolting, disgusting and untrue’, he did not find that the crown managed to successfully prove that the statement was intentioned to incite hatred.

While Ahenakew heaved a sigh of relief over winning another legal battle - perhaps not the last as a result of his careless, bitter diatribe - a collective gasp of surprise echoed beyond the courtrooms where the verdict was handed down. Just as the disgraced, former senator’s statements were found to contravene article 319 in the Criminal Code of Canada in 2005, so did the verdict of not guilty contravene the public’s consensus on the matter. How was he found not guilty?

Article 219 stipulates that to be found guilty of the crime, a person must : 1) communicate statements, 2) in a public place, 3) incite hatred against an identifiable group, and 4) in such a way that there will likely be a breach of the peace. Now, consider the context within which the alleged crime was committed by Mr. Ahenakew; The controversial statements - among others, Ahenakew’s famous labelling of the Jews as ‘diseases’ that Hitler was trying to clean up during the Holocaust - were made during a recorded interview with a reporter following a public assembly. Prior to the interview, Ahenakew had just given an expletive-laden speech concerning public health of the First Nations People. He was supposedly fired up and was further provoked by reporter James Parker’s questions. The backdrop of the story alone provides several issues that are so pervasive they are almost unnoticeable to Ahenakew.

Ahenakew’s main defence was that the statements were made during a private conversation. To begin with, Ahenakew was fully aware that he was speaking to a reporter. Throughout the media’s coverage of the case, it was not mentioned anywhere that Ahenakew had insisted on going off the record. Seen in this light, it seems almost foolish for Ahenakew to plead innocence of Parker’s intentions and ignorance of how his obviously explosive statements might be transpired by the reporter.

The next pertinent point to consider is the venue of the alleged crime; The Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations health conference where Ahenake gave his equally bitter speech was a public gathering. Members of the media were in fact invited to come as observers. If Ahenakew were to plead innocence by invoking the 1982 Charter of Rights and Freedoms - particularly the right to freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression - I might have been partial towards his case, albeit with a few bones to pick. Any individual is afforded his or her own opinion and belief, and rightly so. But for someone in a highly esteemed and public official position such as Ahenakew’s to harbour such hateful sentiments - not to mention freely expressing them during past occasions - is nothing short of flirting with danger.

Like dirty secrets, such sentiments are bound to make themselves known sooner or later through our communicative faculties. The flaw, I would say, that brought about his downfall was Ahenakew’s lack of subtlety in expressing or concealing his sentiments. I do not for an instance support anti-Semitism. I am, however, an ardent supporter of article 2(b) of the Charter. It was Ahenakew’s personal right to hold such beliefs as he did, but I truly feel that it was wrong of him to transmit those beliefs either intentionally or unintentionally, if that is at all possible. Given the context, it is inevitable that his views would be made public. To issue such statements in such a context and later plead innocence, I think, implies a certain degree of malicious intent to incite hatred.

Among the many manoeuvres made by Ahenakew’s legal defence team - one of them being a claim that his anger was possibly caused by his insulin imbalance - one proved intriguing to me as student of journalism. Doug Kristie, Ahenakew’s lawyer, initially demanded that similar charges were brought upon the reporter, James Parker. Assuming that Ahenakew was in fact guilty of inciting hatred, Parker - by reporting and making the statements public - played a part in that incitement. Logically, if Parker had not reported on it, Ahenakew’s now famous statements would not have reached a wider audience than those present during the conversation. Technically, I think that argument may hold water. However, although Parker may have transgressed some ethical boundaries in his reporting, several points stand in his favour.

In the case of a recorded conversation, prior consent is required of only one party involved in order for the contents of the recording to be usable. This does not mean that the recording may be broadcasted. However, Parker did broadcast the interview and Ahenakew claimed that he did not consent to being recorded. This is perhaps where Parker may done himself a disfavour and put his ethical practices as a journalist in a harsher light.

Technicalities aside, let’s assume that Parker reported on the interview only in print. His report would still reflect Ahenakew’s anti-Semitic view which could eventually find their way towards a welcoming audience somewhere. What if Parker had taken this into consideration and refrained from reporting on Ahenakew. Would such sentiments done less harm if they were left unnoticed, ignored, unchecked? I would argue that it will do even more harm once they are disseminated into the public after years of festering in secret.

While his methods were questionable, I think Parker’s reporting on the controversial issue did a big favour to the Canadian public - while it stirred controversy - and one liable to continue for several more years - we were made aware of the presence of such malice in an influential figure in our society. The ensuing public outcry and Ahenakew’s subsequent removal from office was a result of that report. I think Parker deserves a collective pat on the back, at least, for having the guts to break the rules for the greater good.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Residents of Brantford Burn a Candle for Peace in Palestine

The Sputnik - January 7th, 2009

A fire is burning despite the cold night. Matches were passed around while candles were lit from hand to hand. As traffic along Brant Avenue slowed down to a trickle, a flurry of activities was causing a stir near the statue of The Unknown Soldier at the corner of Brant Avenue and Dalhousie Street. The Palestinian Association of Brantford (PAB) recently held a candle light vigil near the statue on Saturday evening. Their aim was to peacefully protest against Israeli aggression on Palestinians and to raise an awareness regarding the escalated conflict on the Gaza strip.

The dawn of 2009 saw Palestine shrouded in a familiar cloud of anxiety. Peace talks between Hamas and the Israeli Government failed yet again resulting in both parties engaging in air attacks which lasted for nine days and saw hundreds of Palestinian civilians dead. On Saturday, Israeli troops officially began a ground invasion of the Gaza strip at around 8 p.m. under cover of darkness. Israeli troops bisected the city in their efforts to locate and destroy Hamas’ military stronghold. The Associated Press reported that at least 20 Palestinians have been killed since the ground invasion began. Many fear that the number will increase as Israeli forces progress in their efforts.

An estimated fifty people attended the vigil to support the peaceful protest. They included local Muslim families as well as students from Laurier and Mohawk College. Supporters stood at the street corner holding placards, waved the Palestinian flag and chanted ‘One, two, three, four! Stop the killing, stop the war!’. Several motorists passing by showed their support by sounding their horns and waving their hands at the protesters. One protester passed out flyers to motorists stopping at the traffic lights. The flyers contained information regarding the situation in Gaza and how the Canadian Government can help end the conflict.

‘It’s a crime against humanity’ says Mohammed Chaudary, a resident of Brantford and ardent supporter of the Palestinian cause. ‘You tell me, anywhere in the world [do] you bomb a place of worship. Everybody’s telling them[Israeli government] to have a seize fire, let people live in peace but yet since they have the power, they think they can do anything. Just murdering women, men, kids, old and young.’ Mr. Chaudary’s passionate speech echoes the feelings of many. There has been world wide outcry of protests since the Israeli invasion began on Saturday.

Hamas claims that they began air strikes as a retaliation against the blockade that the Israeli Government imposed on the Gaza strip even while both parties were engaged in peace talks. Mohammed Chaudary believes this to be true. ‘When somebody comes to take your home, what [are] you going to do? You will resist!‘ he says.

Sumaiyah, a Palestinian-born resident of Brantford tearfully relates how her family living in the Gaza strip have been deprived of the basic amenities of clean water and electricity for the past nine months as a result of the blockade imposed by the Israeli Government. Born in 1948, she has been a witness of Israeli aggression on Palestinians all her life.

‘Israelis want land with no people…nobody understand[s] this. And they have been trying to do this for 61 years,’ says Sumaiyah. She expresses fear for the lives of her family members who currently live in the Gaza strip. Sumaiyah explains that the oppression of the Palestinian people by the Israeli government will not end as long as there is Israeli presence in Palestine. ‘We go from war to another war….the problem is not Hamas. They(Israel) need the land. What do babies [have to] do with Hamas?’ she asks.

Many Non-Government Organizations world wide have been untiringly calling for their respective governments to condemn Israel’s invasion of Palestine and for people to rally together and take action anyway they can. The candle light vigil held by the PAB is one of those efforts to bring peace to Palestine and bring the world‘s spotlight onto their plight. As one protester puts it, ‘I’m here to give my support. When people see this [protest], they will know about it and then maybe they will do something.’

WLUSU Is Cooking Up A Winter Storm

The Sputnik January 7th, 2009

Students, get ready to be hit by a blizzard - a blizzard of fun, that is! WLUSU has a whole week of delectable activities planned for Laurier Brantford beginning January 26th. Amanda Flanagan, head of the 2009 Winter Carnival Executive Committee, likens the carnival to a second O Week where there will be a lot activities that students can get involved in, have loads of fun and win some prizes. Although, different from O Week, students will get the chance to form their own teams of ten to 15 members with two captains heading each team. ‘It’s going to be a week of random activities,’ says Amanda, and teams can have their members participate in activities that interest them and according to their availability. Keeping in mind that students still have classes to attend, WLUSU has a schedule of events so that students can make the most of the activities planned. ‘We don’t expect students to say, “OK, I’m not going to class for a week because it’s Winter Carnival”.’

The carnival’s flexible structure will most certainly help facilitate students’ participation in it’s activities. Amanda explains that the carnival will be a good chance for students to get to know one another. She feels that Laurier Brantford needs to boost it’s school spirit, and the Winter Carnival’s main objective is geared towards just that. ‘I find that [is] extremely important in Brantford because we don’t have varsity teams.’ Amanda explains.

Students can look forward to such fun activities as a cheer-off competition, a fort-building competition, some relay races and regatta games. There will also be a scavenger hunt where, at the beginning of the week, teams will be given a list of items which they will collect and hand in at the end of the week. Each item will carry different points. Amanda hints that the items may vary from maybe a pen to a goat. Teams will have to exercise their full resources to secure such item as a goat! ‘I feel like I can say with confidence that the winter carnival has something for everyone.’ Indeed.

Although the Winter Carnival is a continuing tradition at Laurier Brantford, Amanda explains that this is the first time that there has been a concerted effort to organize it into a full week of events. ‘Winter carnival every year has been so different that you could call it so many different things,’ says Amanda. WLUSU began planning for the carnival way back in November when it was still warm and sunny. It’s executive committee was hired to better organize specific components of this year’s event. ‘Last year’s was just thrown together at the last minute,’ Amanda recalls. Of this year she says, ‘…we took the structure out of Waterloo campus and kind of brought it here(to Laurier Brantford).’

Teams intending to participate are required to register at the Peer Connect Desk on either January 19th or January 21st. There will be a registration fee of $15C for each team. According to Amanda, there are already two full teams registered to participate and she expects there to be a lot more in the coming week. She hopes the Laurier Brantford Winter Carnival will continue with the support of the student body. ‘It’ll just be our tradition from here on out,’ she says with a determined nod. With WLUSU’s hard work and Laurier Brantford students’ participation, this annual event promises to be the start of a tradition that we can all be proud of.