Ottawa Office Roundup: Spotlight on Gaza

The MCC Ottawa Office blog is trying something new, with a semi-regular News Roundup! We want to take the opportunity to share news stories, reports and resources from various sources around the web, with the goal of providing more background information and context on the countries and themes where MCC and our partners are working. We also want to speak to the role and responsibilities of the Canadian government, highlight what MCC is doing, and outline how you can get involved! The articles are drawn from a variety of sources and do not necessarily reflect the position of MCC.

Globe and Mail photo

A Palestinian child plays in an impoverished area of the Khan Younis refugee camp, southern Gaza Strip on July 29, 2018. MAHMUD HAMS/GETTY IMAGES

For this first Roundup we want to highlight the deteriorating situation in Gaza, primarily because our partners have reached out, speaking to the growing urgency and desperation of the situation and the people of Gaza. More than one million people in Gaza rely on humanitarian assistance to meet basic needs. The blockade that Israel imposed in 2007 has devastated the economy and brought unspeakable hardship for Palestinians. Now, as recent funding cuts from UNRWA, the United Nations agency responsible for Palestine, take hold—life for many is going from bad to worse.

A broad look at the everyday realities

Israel-Palestinian conflict: Life in the Gaza Strip, BBC, May 2018

In May 2018 the world was watching as numbers of causalities and deaths in Gaza peaked – this BBC article took the opportunity to outline the significant daily challenges within Gaza, most directly connected to the blockade, including: freedom of movement, the economy, schools on the verge of closure, insufficient access to essential medicines, food and water, and extremely limited electricity.

Israel tightens Gaza blockade, civilians bear the brunt, Oxfam, July 2018

In mid-2018, Israel tightened the blockade on Gaza even further, exacerbating the above-mentioned concerns, and it is the civilians of Gaza that are bearing the biggest brunt. In this report, Oxfam and others outline the realities and impacts for the people of Gaza, it provides a list of recommended actions for the Israeli government and Palestinian Authority, as well as the international community, of which most seek to address root causes of the situation, with a long-term view.

Long-Lasting impacts and the youth of Gaza

Gaza economy in crisis: World Bank report warns that it’s in ‘free fall’, Middle East Eye, via World Bank, September 2018

The recent report from the World Bank talks about a crippling and unsustainable economy in ‘free fall’, stifled by a more than 10-year blockade, as well as the impacts for Gaza’s youth, where the unemployment rate has risen to 70% despite high levels of post-secondary education.

Generation of children in Gaza on the brink of a mental health crisis, new research shows, Save the Children, June 2018

In Gaza, a generation of children is growing up knowing little else but conflict: a blockade, regular drone attacks and air strikes, the loss of home, or worse, the loss of family and friends. As the humanitarian situation worsens, reports like this one continue to draw attention to the long-lasting impacts of trauma and violence on children.

How to move forward: Addressing structural issues, and not just humanitarian issues

Cash-Strapped Gaza and an Economy in Collapse Put Palestinian Basic Needs at Risk, World Bank, September 2018

Although humanitarian and development support for Gaza is helping to meet urgent immediate needs, there is a need to address some of the root causes and structural factors. This report from the World Bank outlines the limits of humanitarian aid to bring real and sustainable change and growth to Gaza and outlines the push to move beyond merely sustaining life and the conditions as they exist today, to see long-lasting impacts and movement for the better.

Canada’s role and responsibilities, and moving forward

Canada pledges $50-million for vulnerable Palestinians, Globe and Mail, July 2018

In July, the Canadian government pledged $50-million to support vulnerable Palestinians in both the West Bank and Gaza. This announcement followed the Minister of International Development visiting the region, earlier in the month.

Canada gives $50-million to UN Palestinian refugee agency that U.S. calls flawed, Globe and Mail, October 2018

In order to help fill the urgent funding gap as a result of cuts to the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) which represents Palestinian refugees, Canada and other countries have pledged significant additional support for the situation. Of the $50-million pledged, $38-million will support programs in Gaza.

Why Canadian aid won’t really help Palestinian entrepreneurs, The Conversation, August 2018

As the previous section highlighted, aid is not enough. Humanitarian and development support will help sustain life, while continuing to uphold the current structures, which are stifling growth and long-term improvements in the lives and living conditions of the people of Gaza. While the increases in Canadian humanitarian aid are a positive step, they fall short of addressing the structures that sustain the humanitarian crisis.

MCC invites you to take action: Contact your Member of Parliament!

End the suffering of Gaza, MCC Ottawa Campaign, updated, Oct 2018

We, alongside our partners are calling for continued humanitarian support. But beyond this support, in order to build a peaceful and sustainable future for Gaza, we are calling for the end to the Israeli over a decade-long blockade, which is at the root of so much of the situation in Gaza. In 2018, as the blockade tightens, the humanitarian situation deteriorates.

ACT Today: Urge your MP to show compassion for Gaza! Ask him or her to:

  • Insist to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Prime Minister on continued humanitarian relief for the people of Gaza, but, more critically, that Canada support an end to the Israeli blockade on Gaza.
  • Support policies in keeping with Canada’s official commitment to promote the human rights of all people, including Palestinians and Israelis.

For more information and resources on the context in Palestine and Israel, and the work on MCC’s partners, see MCC’s A Cry for Home Campaign.

Rebekah Sears is the MCC Ottawa Office’s Policy Analyst

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Remembering the saints

All Saints Day is a Christian celebration in honour of the saints that have gone before, known or unknown. In many cultures and traditions across the world, families and friends gather to remember the “great cloud of witnesses who surround us”. Here in the Ottawa Office, we are sharing some of the saints and inspirations in our own lives, people who have encouraged us to continue in our work of advocacy and seeking justice.  As you read our examples, we invite you to also take a moment to reflect and honour those in your own life who have also inspired you.

The Saints that connect faith with justice

I grew up in the church, while also growing up in a family passionate about politics and advocacy. But I’d never connected these two spheres – faith and politics – until watching a movie (a Disney TV movie, of all things!) on the real-life story of Ruby Bridges.

The message in Ruby’s story was clear: Christ calls us to work for justice, and it’s a vocation inseparable from the call to love others.

Ruby Bridges

Ruby Bridges

In 1960 at age 6, at the height of the Civil Rights movement, Ruby became the first African American in New Orleans to participate in efforts to desegregate public schools. The reaction was swift and terrible. Every day for a year Ruby walked through a hate-filled mob of parents, children and community members, yelling degrading slurs, and even death threats.

Yet amidst the horror, Ruby’s reaction moved me beyond words. Instead of lashing out, she prayed for the mob, even as they degraded her dignity. Ruby and her family were committed to their fight for justice, as evidenced by their persistence and boldness, but this was combined with such humility and a choice to love when faced with hate.

Ruby’s example has left a permanent mark on my life in helping to frame my own vocation. The Christian vocation of justice is about confronting injustice clearly and without hesitation. Yet, in these confrontations, we must also reflect Christ’s humility and love, even in the face of hate.

Ruby’s brave actions led to the desegregation of all public schools in New Orleans, starting the following year.

-Rebekah Sear, Policy Analyst

“She didn’t die, she multiplied”

Berta Caceres was a Lenca Indigenous woman from Honduras who dedicated her life to stopping large scale invasive development in the Lenca territories of Honduras. She was the co-founder and coordinator of the Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH). Berta won the Goldman Environmental Prize in 2015, for “a grassroots campaign that successfully pressured the world’s largest dam builder to pull out of the Agua Zarca Dam” at the Río Gualcarque in Honduras.

Berta Caceres

“In defense of life, we resist.”

On March 2, 2016, hired assassins with connections to private security companies connected with protecting the dam project killed Berta Caceres. Those responsible have not yet faced justice.

Berta’s assassination is one of many, as Latin America is currently the most dangerous region in the world to be an environmental defender, yet because of her international recognition, Berta’s death has helped push this issue into the spotlight.  Many people refer to Berta as someone who did not die, but rather multiplied, like a seed being planted.

I remember Berta and I also remember all of the brave, ordinary people around the world who daily put their lives in harm’s way to protect the world we live in. I also remember that Berta’s work was not simply about protecting one river, but challenging the way society functions, through the lens of environmental protections.  As Berta said, “We should then build a society that is capable of co-existing in a just manner, in a dignified manner, and in a way that protects life.”

-Anna Vogt, Director

Quiet saints

There is a picture on the shelf behind my desk of two people whom I often think of on All Saints Day, though neither one would have wanted to be called a saint.

I met Margaret and Siegfried Janzen while doing an MCC service assignment in Petitcodiac, NB. Siegfried was pastor of the local Mennonite Church and Margaret was the pastor’s wife and so much more.

During the second world war Siegfried served as a conscientious objector, but afterwards both Margaret and Siegried served with MCC in Europe. Initially, they distributed food and clothing to refugees, but later directed the processing of over 10,000 refugees fleeing from repatriation to the Soviet Union. They even set up a hospital to help people pass the medical requirements to enter Canada.

Siegfried and Margaret Janzen, Petitcodiac NB

Siegfried and Margaret Janzen

After returning to Canada and raising a family, they retired to New Brunswick and Siegfried began pastoring and prison chaplaincy at the age of 65. For almost 20 years Siegfried visited inmates at Dorchester Penitentiary at least once a week to lead Bible studies and offer mediation and conflict resolution classes. Margaret baked cookies for ‘the boys’, visited inmates, provided a safe refuge for parolees and a permanent home for the wife of an inmate.

Siegfried was also instrumental in the development of a Peace Centre for the Greater Moncton Area.

I remember Margaret and Siegfried as quiet peacemakers and advocates, and while they have both passed away I try to keep their example before me each day.

-Monica Scheifele, Program Assistant

Canada and the Cuban missile crisis

By Monica Scheifele

Fifty-six years ago, the world faced the very real possibility of a nuclear war between the United States and Russia. On Oct. 14 that year an American spy plane flying over Cuba photographed the installation of a Soviet medium-range ballistic missile. For almost two weeks following that discovery, US President Kennedy and Soviet Union leader Nikita Khrushchev with their respective teams of advisors and diplomats wrestled with a crisis that could have resulted in nuclear war.

Cuban missile crisis

Up until recently, I’d never considered Canada’s role in these historic events. I’d only ever thought about the actions of the main players Cuba, the US and the Soviet Union. In my limited understanding Canada didn’t really have a part to play in this drama. Granted we were geographically close to the action but with limited clout on the political stage in comparison to the superpowers of the US and Russia.

In October 1962 John Diefenbaker was the Prime Minister of a Conservative minority government with Lester Pearson and the Liberals as the Official Opposition. The Social Credits and the New Democrats filled the rest of the House of Commons.

The Canadian government was only informed of the situation a few hours before President Kennedy shared the details of the crisis on television with the American people on October 22.  The Canadian government quickly acted to ensure that Canadian airspace and Canadian air transport facilities were not being used to transport Soviet weapons to Cuba. However, when the US asked the government to put Canadian troops on alert and raise the military threat level to DEFCON 3 to match that of the US military, Diefenbaker delayed acting resulting in divisions within his own cabinet. The delay may have stemmed from Diefenbaker’s dislike of Kennedy or as an effort to avoid actions that could escalate tensions.

Pearson and the Liberals fully supported the US from the beginning and commended Kennedy for bringing the matter before the UN Security Council, but Diefenbaker still called for independent UN inspectors to go to Cuba to survey the nuclear sites and verify the facts. Generally, Diefenbaker was supportive of American action during the crisis, but he did not offer the unequivocal support that Kennedy might have expected.

Eventually the Prime Minister did put Canadian troops on alert (only after the Canadian military had already put itself on alert), supported the US proposed NATO blockade or “quarantine” as it was called, and agreed to aid the United States if an attack occurred.

The biggest source of contention, though, was likely Diefenbaker’s refusal to allow nuclear weapons on Canadian soil. This was also a position strongly supported by the New Democratic Party of the day.

On Oct. 24 there were questions in the House of Commons about whether Canada had defaulted on an obligation in respect to the NORAD treaty by refusing the request of the United States to arm Canadian Bomarc squadrons with atomic warheads. The Minister of Defence claimed there was no default of the treaty. It wasn’t until Pearson became Prime Minister in 1963 that Canadian missiles were armed with nuclear warheads.

DiefenbakerAgain, it may have been his dislike of Kennedy or a sense of nationalism and a need to stand up to the Americans that led to the decision. However, Diefenbaker’s words in an update to Parliament on Oct. 25 suggest it may have been an effort to keep the crisis from escalating.

“It has been necessary and will always remain necessary to weigh the risks both of action and inaction in such circumstances. I need not refer to the record of Canada in two world wars, in the NATO alliance and in Korea and demonstrating the fact that Canadians stand by their allies and their undertakings, and we intend in the present crisis to do the same. On the other hand, we shall not fail to do everything possible to seek solutions to these problems without war. We shall seek to avoid provocative action. Our purpose will be to do everything to reduce tension.” – Prime Minister John Diefenbaker, House of Commons, October 25, 1962.

In the end nuclear war was averted and the underground bunker (now known as the Diefenbunker) built 30 km outside of Ottawa from 1959 to 1961 and designed to withstand the force of a nuclear blast was never put to the test of protecting Canada’s leaders.

Canada’s actions or in the case of the warheads, lack of action, may not have changed the outcome of the crisis. I like to think, though, that the Canadian government’s responses did help maintain some form of equilibrium and calm. Perhaps in light of new nuclear threats from North Korea and the US pulling out of the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty with Russia, Canada will again find a way to act as a stabilizing force.

Want to learn more about Canada’s current policy around nuclear weapons? Check out some of these resources:

Project Ploughshares Factsheet on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty

MCC Ottawa Office Notebook – Out of step with nuclear disarmament

Ploughshares Monitor Vol. 39 Issue 2 –  Statement to the 2018 Preparatory Committee of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty

International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons – Positions on the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons

– Monica Scheifele is the Program Assistant for MCC Ottawa Office

Human rights and the occupation of the Palestinian territory

by Leona Lortie, Public Engagement and Advocacy Coordinator, MCC Ottawa Office

In early September, instead of enjoying one of the few warm Winnipeg fall weekends, I spent my time knee-deep in legal conversations relating to Israel, Palestine and international law. It was an interesting, challenging, albeit at times despairing, weekend.

Experts from Canada, the U.S. and the Middle East came together to discuss the complex issues surrounding Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory. Sessions were broken up in topics relating to human rights law, solutions for the conflict, the role of Western governments, recent events in the region, and of course the role of international law.

One presenter who stood out for me was Michael Lynk, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the human rights in the Palestinian territory, who also opened the symposium with the keynote speech. Throughout the weekend he skillfully walked participants through the legal status and responsibilities of Israel as an occupying power over the Palestinian territories and introducing the four corners of the law of occupation.

Lynk argued that Israel has breached each one of the fundamental tenets of this international law. The occupying power, according to the law of occupation, must acquire no right or title of the occupied territory, return the occupied territory to its people within a reasonable period of time, rule in the best interest of the protected people living in the occupied territory, and act in good faith.

If we accept that Israel has breached the law of occupation, does this mean that it is violating international law? If so, has Israel then moved from a legal prolonged occupation to an illegal occupation?

I was particularly interested to hear discussions about Canada’s human rights record and our country’s rights and obligations within the international humanitarian rights framework. Canada does not have a great human rights record in general terms and economic relations with foreign governments seem to frequently impact our efforts in defending human rights internationally.

In the context of Canada’s rights and obligations under the Common Article 1 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, our country’s legal obligation is to take measures to put an end to on-going violations against international humanitarian law. It would be tough to argue that Canada has taken any significant measures when considering the on-going human rights violations against Palestinians.

DSC_0102 No Occupation

Israelis protest in Jerusalem

The role of civil society was especially highlighted during the final sessions and question periods. When our governments do not take measures to put an end to human rights violations, or the occupation of the Palestinian territory, we, the civil society, are the only ones left to act.

This left me reflecting on my role, as the average person in Canada. What options do I have to defend the human rights of Palestinians? I was inspired by closing words of the conference organizers who called upon us to find ways to fill the void of government action. Dr. Dean Peachy, a human rights professor at the University of Winnipeg, concluded, “It is not my place to suggest a solution, but it is my place to stand up for human rights. I am not neutral, I am for justice, I am for human rights, and I am for non-violent peacebuilding.”

If you are, like me, looking for ways to fill the void, one option would be to write a letter to your MP here or to learn more about the challenges Palestinians are facing living under occupation here.

The Global Compact – Part 2: Canada’s role and MCC’s advocacy asks

Over the last year, MCC UN Office staff, Kati Garrison (Program and Advocacy Associate) and Abby Hershberger (Program Assistant), have been following the process of drafting the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM) document (see Part 1 in this blog series). Both attended GCM negotiations to ensure to establish a connection between the high-level processes in New York with national governments, including the Canadian Mission, and MCC’s on the ground programs.

Throughout the GCM drafting process, Canada positioned itself at the forefront of the effort to create a framework that is beneficial to all. The MCC UN Office was pleased that many of Canada’s interventions addressed the importance of intersecting gender sensitive language in the GCM document. This contributed to a final draft that recognizes the additional challenges that women face when migrating. Many women and their children face obstacles when trying to confirm their nationality in a country of destination, which can leave them stateless and unable to access essential services. The finished text incorporates suggestions to remedying these challenges including, “ensuring that women and men can equally confer their nationality to children born in another state’s territory, especially in situations where a child would otherwise be stateless” (Objective 4e).

However, as we anticipate the installment of the GCM at the upcoming summit in Morocco in December, it is critical to keep momentum going behind member states like Canada and making the move from high level negotiations to practical steps. December’s summit will be more than just formalizing the GCM, as member states have been asked to submit proposals for specific actions to help put the principles of the compact in motion.

Leona and Bekah on Hill with Kati Garrison and Abby Hershberger from UN Office (2)

Abby Hershberger, Kati Garrison, Bekah Sears, Leona Lortie on Parliament Hill, August 2018

For that reason, at the end of August, Kati and Abby, along with MCC’s Ottawa Office staff, Bekah Sears (Policy Analyst) and Leona Lortie (Public Engagement and Advocacy Coordinator) reached out to Canadian Members of Parliament from various parties, to ensure the GCM and its principles were high on the Canadian government’s radar, and that Canada continues being a leader on global migration.

These are our three primary advocacy asks:

  1. Grant migrants access to basic services free from the risk of having their personal information shared with immigration enforcement officials.

Objective 15
The GCM acknowledges a shared responsibility among member states “to ensure that all migrants, regardless of their migration status, can exercise rights through safe access to basic services.”        

  1. Uphold the human right of non-refoulement.

Objective 21
Non-refoulement is a tenet of international human rights law that prohibits states from returning migrants to situations when there are “substantial grounds for believing that the person would be at risk of irreparable harm upon returning, including persecution, torture, ill-treatment or other serious human rights violations.” The principle remains contentious among some member states who want more control over how they conduct returns.

  1. Include civil society and migrant voices as integral components in implementing the GCM.

Implementation
The text of the GCM is lengthy and detailed, but the way member states implement the commitments will be the true test of the weight of its words. MCC, both the UN and Ottawa offices believe that effective action plans must include multiple actors, including civil society and migrant voices.

Our MCC team had productive and encouraging conversations with each MP office and is optimistic that Canada would indeed vote in favour of the GCM. We look forward to engaging in similar conversation in the month leading up to the GCM adoption in December with other member states and actors on the ground.

– By Abby Hershberger, Program Assistant, MCC United Nations Office

The time is Ripe for Canada to Support a Ban on Killer Robots

Killer Robots: they’re not just features of futuristic dystopian movies, even though I’m sure the first thing that came to mind was The Terminator!

Developments in Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology has increased exponentially in recent years, from Siri to self-driving cars to autonomous drones, able to reach remote communities. So much of this technology has been marketed as improving lives and creating opportunities for all.

However, many experts within the AI community have long argued about the dangers of limitless development and use of this technology; particularly when it comes to fully autonomous weapons, aka Killer Robots. It’s not about defunding or vilifying the AI sector, but rather about ensuring that such technology will never be used as a weapon – i.e. autonomous devises programmed to kill and destroy.

These experts have joined scientists, human rights, and disarmament advocates from around the world in a campaign calling on governments to commit to a total ban on the development and use of fully autonomous weapons (The Campaign to Ban Killer Robots).

stop killer robots event (2)

Last week (Aug 27-31, 2018), civil society and state actors participated in a gathering at the UN in Geneva to discuss the urgent need for a ban on autonomous weapons. Activists are calling for a global ban by 2019.

Considering this, where does Canada fit – what are Canada’s global responsibilities in the movement to ban Killer Robots?

  1. Canada’s claims as a global human rights leader demands it.

“We’re Canada and we’re here to help,” exclaimed Prime Minister Trudeau in his first speech at the United Nations in 2016. In this and other grand proclamations since, the Trudeau government established itself – in words, anyway – as a global leader in protecting universal human rights.

The evidence for significant human rights concerns – from international humanitarian law to the lack of trustworthiness and ingrained bias within the technology itself – is clear and speaks for itself.

Yet, where is Canadian global leadership against the development and use of killer robots? Since 2013 26 countries have signed onto the campaign, but no action from the Canadian government thus far.

Canada has yet to clarify its own policy on the development and use of autonomous weapons. From the 2017 Canadian Defence Policy – Strong, Secure, Engaged – in 113 pages, there is only one mention of autonomous weapons: “The Canadian Armed Forces is committed to maintaining appropriate human involvement in the use of military capabilities that can exert lethal force,” (pg 73). However, appropriate human involvement is never defined.

  1. Canada has clearly named AI as an economic priority/opportunity

In the 2017 Federal Budget, the Canadian government designated $125 million for investment in Canadian-based AI companies. The government sees an opportunity for Canada to become a leading innovator in AI technology.

Again, this is not to say that Canada should not invest in such industries. But with such emphasis put on innovation in AI as a priority, it is critical that the Canadian government equally emphasize the importance of global leadership in preventing the development of autonomous weapons.

If Canada could be a leader in the movement to ban land mines in the 1990s – even though Canada did not have nor use land mines – it is even more critical that Canada, a leader in AI technology,  use such influence to also call to ban the use of AI technology to development and use of autonomous weapons.

  1. The voices of the public and the tech community

Finally, some of the loudest voices in Canada calling for the government to support a ban on killer robots are those in the field itself, including AI researchers and developers.

In November 2017, five leaders in the AI field in Canada addressed several of these concerns in an open letter to Prime Minister Trudeau. Over 650 academics, practitioners, and developers then signed on. The Prime Minister has yet to respond.

“AI has tremendous potential to be a force for good in society,“ said Donna Precup, Canada Research Chair in Machine Learning, McGill University, in 2017. “As part of the AI research community, I think it is our moral obligation to ensure it continues to develop in this direction and prevent it from being mis-appropriated for harm.”

Polls in Canada and around the world show significant distrust of AI in general and even more definitive disapproval for their use in weapons. Canadians, and others around the world, are distressed at possible impacts on civilians and indiscriminate killings completely outside of any human control.

What are we waiting for?

stop killer robotsAs of now, fully autonomous weapons – Killer Robots – have not yet been fully developed or used in combat.

But as Paul Hannon, Director of Mines Action Canada argues, now is the time for Canada to come on board and ban such weapons pre-emptively, before they even see the light of day: “We know the revolution is coming and we know we can stop it, peacefully, without death or injury.”

Help to send the message: Take action in Canada and spread the word on the Global Campaign

By Rebekah Sears, Policy Analyst for MCC Ottawa Office.