Connexions Digest #52 News Briefs

Compiled by Ulli Diemer

News Briefs published in the Connexions Digest #52, August 1990

CBC ad policy criticized
The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation is refusing to allow anti–nuclear activists to buy advertising time for ads opposing nuclear energy, claiming the subject matter is controversial and opinionated, and thus not suitable for advertising. The CBC will continue to run ads promoting the nuclear industry, however. The decision is being criticized by Students Opposing the Slowpoke (STOP) in Saskatoon, who say that they consider the pro–nuclear ads opinionated and biased since they convey the impression that nuclear energy is “somehow benign and safe.” STOP’s ads were intended to respond to commercials from the Canadian Nuclear Association, which spends $2.5 million per year on television and magazine advertising. According to STOP member Hermann Krebs, “If they allow one side, I can’t understand why they don’t allow the other side. We’re being shut out of reaching a large audience. We’re not getting a chance to get our message across.” STOP has received a letter from John Davis, the CBC manager of advertising standards, stating that the ads were refused because of the CBC’s policy “that the airwaves must not come under the control of individuals or groups who because of wealth, special position, etc. might be better able to influence listener or viewer attitudes.”

CBC losing national unity mandate
The Progressive Conservative government is dropping the section of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s mandate that requires it to “contribute to the development of national unity”. Some critics have cautiously welcomed the change because they say that the CBC has used the mandate to justify biased coverage of issues such as Meech Lake and free trade. On both issues, the CBC was widely seen as provided biased coverage promoting the government’s position in favour of free trade and Meech Lake. The federal government has said that the change to the mandate removes any pressure on the CBC to toe the government line. However, a number of opponents of the change have characterized it as another step in the government’s systematic gutting of institutions and policies that promote Canadian national interests, including VIA rail, the Foreign Investment Review Agency, and the National Film Board.

Book seizures challenged
The British Columbia Civil Liberties Association is challenging Canada Customs’ practice of banning or detaining books and magazines at the border. The association is seeking to have the seizures and delays stopped as contrary to the freedom of expression provisions of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. According to association president John Dixon, “hundreds and hundreds of books and magazines are stopped at the border.... What’s appalling is the number of absolutely inoffensive materials.” Owners of gay bookstores say that they are routinely singled out by customs officials. The Glad Day bookstore in Toronto has launched two lawsuits of its own: one to claim damages for business lost in delays in receiving materials due to lengthy decision–making by Customs, the other to challenge Canada Custom’s right to ban several books. In one recent seizure, a book by Canadian writer Jane Rule, destined for Glad Day, was held at the border although it had been sold in Canadian bookstores for 13 years.

Penguin destroys books
Penguin Books Canada has destroyed about 6,200 books and issued a public apology to settle a lawsuit by the capitalist Conrad Black. The book, Whose Money is It Anyway? The Showdown on Pensions, by Ann Finlayson, was reviewed in the December 1989 issue of Connexions (see CX3719). It describes how corporations, including one owned by Conrad Black, have repeatedly removed money from employee pension plans. All copies of the hardcover edition remaining in stock have been destroyed (not including the review copy in the Connexions office, now a collector’s item). A revised paperback edition has been issued with the offending comments removed. Black objected to a statement that he had engaged in “corporate banditry” in removing pension funds from Dominion Stores.

Post box rates hiked
Canada Post Corporation has imposed massive increases for the rental of post office boxes. The smallest size of box will go from $26.20 a year to $50 a year, with larger boxes ranging from $80 to $200. Canada Post justifies the huge increase by stating that “all Canadian households and businesses have access to one free method of mail delivery”. However, this is clearly not true for small non–profit associations, one of the most frequent users of postal boxes. Citizen groups and small publications which are too small to have their own office space frequently have no viable alternative to using a post office box. Using the home address of an individual member is usually undesirable because members often move and because of security considerations in the case groups that may attract “crackpot” opponents, such as feminist groups.

Landlord sues tenants
A Toronto landlord has launched a $1.5 million lawsuit against tenants who organized a protest about conditions in their building. Goldwin Properties Ltd. has filed a statement of claim alleging that tenant and co–operative housing representatives conspired to “interfere with the plaintiff’s economic relations... and to coerce a sale of the apartment building for an unreasonably low price.” Goldwin claims that the people named in the suit “inflamed the tenants and created an atmosphere of hostility” with the goal of placing Goldwin under duress so it would sell the building at a depressed price. Goldwin also complained that the tenant leaders had “orchestrated an extensive media campaign to damage the name and reputation of the plaintiff with respect to the state of repair of the building and the management of the building” thereby eroding the market value of the building. According to Michael Melling, president of the Federation of Metro Tenants’ Associations, one the people named in the action, “basically what we are being accused of is trying to help the tenants organize and secure their rights under law. The rest of the accusations are baseless.”

CIA set up Mandela
The U.S. government has been embarrassed by the revelation that the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) played a key role in setting up the 1962 arrest of Nelson Mandela. In a story that first appeared in the Atlanta Journal–Constitution, the CIA station chief in Pretoria in 1962 was quoted as describing how the CIA provided the South African government with the information it needed to capture Mandela. “It is one of our greatest coups”, said the station chief, Paul Eckel. Mandela spent 27 years in prison as a result of the arrest.

Unions plan cross–border links
Canadian and U.S. communications workers have agreed to co–operate against telecommunications companies that try to move to low–wage areas to avoid paying union rates. The Communications and Electrical Workers of Canada have formed an alliance with the Communications Workers of America to engage in joint action “to defend union and workers’ rights in North America, including Mexico”. The first concrete step is a joint organizing campaign directed at workers in a company that manufactures computer components in Ontario, Quebec, and New York state, which pays “substandard wages and benefits, exploits immigrant workers and threatens to move jobs every time the people try to organize.” The idea of the joint organizing campaign is to “create a situation where the company has no place to run to.”

Union urges fish boycott
The United Fishermen and Allied Workers Union is promoting a boycott of buyers of Canadian fish who export the catch to the United States at the cost of local jobs. According to union president Jack Nichol, the Canadian processing industry is being destroyed as fish are sold to the U.S. for processing rather than being processed in Canada. He is urging salmon fishermen to place large “pro–Canada fleet” stickers on their boats and to refuse to sell to U.S. fish buyers who truck the fish south for processing.

CAW get GST protection
The Canadian Auto Workers union (CAW) has successfully negotiated a precedent–setting contract with Air Canada that will give 3,200 employees protection against the inflationary effect of the proposed goods and services tax (GST). The agreement ignores calls from Finance Minister Michael Wilson for unions to accept wage increases less than the rate of inflation. Wilson has said that the high interest rates imposed by Bank of Canada governor John Crow will be continued until wages increases are dropped below the rate of inflation. CAW President Bob White said that workers will not take the blame for the federal government’s “stupid economic policies.”

Crow flying high
Bank of Canada Governor John Crow and senior members of his staff have been pocketing large pay increases even as they publicly demand that ordinary Canadians settle for less pay to combat inflation. The government refuses to reveal exactly what Crow himself is paid, even though his salary is paid by the taxpayer, but it has confirmed that his salary range is now between $162,000 to $243,000, up from the $120,000 to $150,000 range it was in three years ago. This amounts to an annual rate of increase between 12 and 21 per cent. The average salary at the Bank of Canada went up 24.2 per cent between 1985 and 1989, whereas the cost of living went up 16.3 per cent over the same period. The average weekly wage in Canada increased by only 16.1 per cent over that time period. In his reports, Crow has stated that wage increases averaging 5.25 per cent in 1989 and 4.5 per cent in 1988 are too high and are contributing to inflation.

165,000 factory jobs lost
Canada lost 165,000 manufacturing jobs in the first year of free trade, according to Statistics Canada. This amounts to almost 6 per cent of the sector’s total work force. Statistics also reveal that the trend is accelerating. In May 1990 alone, 43,000 factory jobs vanished. Manufacturers tend to place the blame primarily on high interest rates, while trade unions see free trade as being the main culprit. In either case, the figures indicate that the free trade era has been something of an economic disaster. Many of the job losses are expected to be permanent.

Free trade harassment charged
The United States has become even more aggressive in harassing Canadian exporters since the Canada–U.S. trade agreement came into effect, a Senate review of the bilateral deal has concluded. According to the Senate foreign affairs committee, Canadian goods are being met by various kinds of harassment at the border, ranging from increased inspections, to slowdowns, to court challenges.

U.S.–Mexico free trade talks
The United States has entered into preliminary free trade negotiations with Mexico. Because Canada is now tied into a free trade pact with the United States, this means that Canada would also in effect have free trade with Mexico without having any say on the terms and conditions of an eventual pact. One likely result is that U.S. car manufacturers, for example, would be able to get their parts from Mexico, where workers earn $1.60 an hour, rather than from Canadian parts suppliers which have substantially higher labour costs.

GM wants U.S. holidays in Canada
General Motors Ltd. wants Canadian employees to take U.S. holidays rather than Canadian holidays. The company has asked workers in Windsor to take Memorial Day rather than Victoria Day, U.S. Thanksgiving rather than Canadian Thanksgiving, and Independence Day rather than Canada Day. GM says that the holiday transfer would put the Windsor plant in a better competitive position to get a contract to manufacture Buick seat covers.

Furniture industry hurting
The Canadian Council of Furniture Manufacturers says that the Canadian furniture industry is in dire straits because of the free trade agreement, and that it may ask the government for emergency protection against the yearly tariff reductions which are designed to eliminate tariffs entirely by 1993. According to the Council, 24 Canadian furniture companies have gone bankrupt since the agreement came into effect, and another 32 firms have stopped producing furniture. Imports of U.S. furniture have increased 40 per cent, while exports to the U.S. have gone down 7 per cent. About 4,700 of 60,000 jobs have been lost so far in the industry.

Rail accidents up
The number of railyard accidents in Canada is up significantly from last year. A spokesman for a watchdog group, Harry Behrend of the Metro Toronto Residents Action Committee, puts the blame on the federal government’s deregulation of the rail industry. According to Behrend, the government is neglecting its responsibility to supervise rail safety. “They are letting the companies be their own patrollers.” “There is pressure on the government to make exceptions to the rule” because of competitive pressures on the rail companies, said Harry Gow, president of Transport 2000. “It is easier to make exceptions rather than providing assistance to railways to make them competitive.” Gow’s remarks were challenged by CP rail spokesman Paul Thurston, who said that “we conduct ourselves as if there was always a federal rail inspector watching us.” However, a report by the National Transportation Agency reveals that rail officials at several rail yards say that there is an “informal agreement with Transport Canada which allows 10 per cent of its cars to be found and placed in service despite one or more minimum–safety standards defects.” According to Harry Gow, the underlying problem is that “the overall structure of Canadian railways is crumbling away” under the pressure of government anti–railway policies.

More VIA cuts predicted
VIA rail is poised to make additional service cuts, according to Guy Chartrand, the Quebec region president of Transport 2000. Chartrand says that he has received information from VIA sources that among the cuts being planned would be that of the ‘Atlantic’ service between Montreal and Halifax, and the ‘Chaleur’ service between Montreal and Gaspe. Sherbrooke, Fredericton, and Saint John would be among the places losing train service. The cuts would be in addition to those last January, when almost half of VIA’s routes were axed. VIA spokesperson Paul Raynor said the reports were “more rumours and more speculation”, but didn’t deny them.

Research funding draining away
The Progressive Conservative government is deliberately letting scientific research in Canada die a slow death, critics say. A number of prominent scientists have gone public with instances of the bleeding of scientific research. They cite massive cuts to the budget of the National Research Council (NRC), which now receives $78 million less than it did six years ago, despite inflation. Canada now spends about 1.28 per cent of its gross domestic product on scientific research, compared to 1.43 per cent when the Mulroney government took office. By comparison, the United States spends 2.69 per cent, Japan 2.87 per cent. The Professional Institute of the Public Service, which represents 1,000 researchers, says that the government is engaged in the “systematic destruction of the NRC.”

Sunday shopping conflict
A labour arbitrator has ruled that Steinberg Inc. was wrong to discipline two Ottawa employees who opposed the company’s stand in favour of Sunday shopping. Despite warnings from their supervisor, the two continued to wear buttons that read “Say No to Sunday shopping,” and were eventually suspended. The ruling against Steinberg Inc. is an important affirmation of a worker’s right to freedom of expression because it shows “an employer does not have total control over an employee’s behaviour in the workplace,” said labour lawyer Harold Caley, who represented the two workers involved in the arbitration.

Nuclear facts and figures
After maintaining for forty years that the British nuclear power industry makes economic sense, the British government has finally been forced to admit that it is uneconomic. The truth emerged, ironically, because of the Thatcher government’s privatization drive. Its attempts to sell off nuclear power plants to the private sector failed dismally because no private company wanted anything to do with the plants without a guarantee of huge financial subsidies from the government.

Antarctic airfield
Britain has opened the door to tourism and possible mineral exploitation in the Antarctic by building an airfield at the remote Rothera scientific station 1,200 miles south of the Falklands. The airfield will allow people to get from London to Rothera in 48 hours instead of the five weeks it takes now. The British Antarctic Survey says it will make it possible for scientists to reach Antarctica more efficiently, but fears are being expressed that the airfield will also be used for tourism and as a base for mineral prospectors. The British government supports the Mineral Convention, which would allow mineral exploration in Antarctic.

Urine tests protested
The Seafarers International Union is urging federal transportation workers to protest against proposed federal legislation which would force workers to submit to mandatory urine and blood tests. According to union secretary Andrew Boyle, the proposed legislation is a violation of workers’ privacy rights. In addition, said Boyle, the tests are “notoriously inaccurate”. The union is distributing urine specimen bottles and urging members to “send a sample of your opinion” to the federal transport minister. At the Canadian Labour Congress convention in May, a resolution was passed which criticized increasing invasions of workers’ privacy, including mandatory drug testing, psychological screening, electronic surveillance and personal searches.

China admits torture
The Chinese government has admitted for the first time that some of its prisoners are tortured, injured, and die in custody. In the past, China has routinely dismissed such accusations from Amnesty International and other human rights organizations. A senior legal official, Liang Gouqing, said that in the fist quarter of 1990 2,900 case of ‘perversion of justice’ occurred, including death and injuries. Asia Watch has estimated that between 10,000 and 30,000 people are in jail for their part in last year’s pro–democracy protests, while many other political prisoners have been in jail for much longer periods. Many former prisoners speak of brutal treatment, overcrowding, bad food, routine beatings, denial of family visits, and torture.

Cree challenge settlement
The Grand Council of the Cree of Quebec has gone to court asking that the James Bay and Northern Agreement, the largest land claim settlement in Canadian history, should be declared null and void. The Grand Council has also asked the court for an injunction against any future hydro–electric development in the vast territory. “There is a very basic principle of contract law known as non–performance,” said James O’Reilly, the Crees’ lawyer. “The government has failed to fulfil its obligations under the agreement so it should be nullified.” He also argued that the agreement is invalid because the Quebec government does not have any legal rights over the natural resources of northern Quebec. Canada turned over large portions of the then–Northwest Territories to Quebec provincial administration in 1898 and 1912, but, said Mr. O’Reilly, the rights to natural resources on those lands were never assigned to Quebec. “The Cree have retained and never surrendered ancestral rights,” Mr. O’Reilly said.

Treaty still valid
The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that a 230–year old treaty giving Hurons in Quebec the right to exercise their customs is still valid. In a unanimous decision, the judges said that the treaty signed in 1760 is still in effect and that the province cannot prosecute Hurons for practicing native customs that violate provincial park laws. The case involved two brothers who had been charged with fishing. According to Native leaders, the decision strengthens their legal rights and lays the groundwork for several other court cases.

No base in Goose Bay
NATO Defence Ministers have scrapped plans to build a NATO Training Centre at Goose Bay, Labrador. The decision was hailed by Native groups and peace and environmental organizations. Federal Trade Minister John Crosbie reacted angrily, blaming the Innu for their opposition to the base. The Innu, said Crosbie, had been “extremely unhelpful, unproductive and unfeeling”. “Goose Bay lost out because of the Innu,” Crosbie said. Innu spokespeople were pleased, but noted that low–level flying would still continue in the area and might well intensify, even without the base.

ARMX on the march
Banned last year from Ottawa city property, ARMX, the controversial Canadian arms exhibition, has left the city of Ottawa and found a new home for its weapons trade show at the Carp Airport, located west of the capital. Richard Sanders, spokesperson for the Coalition to Oppose the Arms Trade (COAT), says activists will both protest and educate the public about the “immoral, unethical and evil side” of ARMX ’91. Contact COAT at 489 Metcalfe Street, Ottawa K1N 3N7 (613) 231–3076.

Women’s centres temporarily reprieved
The federal government has responded to strong pressure from women’s groups, and is restoring $1.2 million in operational financing to 74 women’s centres across the country, but only for a one–year “transitional” period. The government cut the operational or so–called core financing as one of the cost–saving measures announced in the federal budget. The cuts took effect April 1, and many of the centres have been on the verge of closing. However, $400,000 in cuts to women’s publications and national lobby groups will not be restored.

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Compiled news summaries published in the Connexions Digest, issues 50 – 54.

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