Sunday, April 30, 2006

Crisis in Nepal

On Thursday evening I went to a meeting held by a newly formed organization called Canada Nepal Solidarity for Peace. It is a group formed by human rights workers, Canadian and Nepali, who are working to raise awareness of the on-going crisis in Nepal.

The photo here shows Nepalis celebrating the King Gyanendra's promise to restore democracy. While his announcement was certainly cause for celebration, many fear it is little more than words since he has not given up any of his power nor his control over the army.

Millions of Nepalis have participated in pro-democracy demonstrations and general strikes across the country calling for an end to Gyanendra's autocracy. Police and army have responded with bullets and tear gas. At the presentation on Thursday I saw photos of people who had been shot in the back while fleeing the police, as well as photos of people being beaten, dragged and killed.

Having grown up in Nepal, these images were shocking and very sobering. Although I have been vaguely aware of the situation, followed what little I could find in newspapers, I have not realized the gravity of the situations. Hospitals are overflowing with injured, while many others cannot afford treatment. Jails are over crowed with people arrested for participating in demonstrations. Thousands of them are injured and denied treatment. Amnesty International claims Nepal has the highest rate in the world of disappearances.

Yet even all these facts and statistics don't convey the situation. As so often in the face of such news, I feel helpless and discouraged. However, as was often mentioned at the meeting, the Nepali people have come together in a way that would never have been anticipated ten years ago - people from all professions, ethnic groups and castes marching together in solidarity. Women's groups are finding a new voice. And finally the world seems to be paying attention.

Although after September 11, 2001, Gyanendra declared the Maoist political party as terrorists and received $42 million worth of weapons, troop training and helicopters from the USA. That's not the kind of world attention the Nepali people need. International pressure is needed to urge the King to surrender power back to the people in the form of democratic parliament.

I have not in any way done this issue justice in my short blog. If you'd like more information, you can read Nepali online media such as You can also lobby your government to support Nepali political parties in forming a constituent assembly and re-writing the constitution. (Currently the King has veto power over Parliament and directly controls the army.)

I will post new developments on this situation as I become aware of them.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

A fan no more, Rick Mercer

So Rick Mercer walks into a bar.

That's not the beginning of a joke. On Thursday night I was in the hip little Elgin Street Freehouse with V when Rick Mercer walked in. Mercer, for those who don't know, is a comedy star in Canada. So popular in fact that in a recent poll 1 per cent of Canadians said he should be the next Prime Minister.

Rick Mercer walking into the bar - how cool is that? I don't remember what V and I had been talking about before he came in. After he was there all we talked about is ways I could get a photo of him on the cellphone camera, or what I would say to him if I could work up the courage to go over to where he stood at the end of the bar chatting with a couple of men.

I didn't want to just go up and say, "I think you're so cool, Rick Mercer. You're such a funny man." Then I remembered the newspaper poll. There's a conversation starter. He's always going on about politics on his weekly 'Mercer Report'. I'm sure he'd have something witty to say if I mention this to him.

My nerves twitching, I take the bill up to the bar and use this as a chance to stand beside Mercer.

"Mr. Mercer," I say. He turns and holds out his hand, which I shake.

"Nice to see you again," he says.

"Oh, we haven't met before. My name's Anita."

"You're sure we haven't met?"

"Absolutely. But I guess I have a dobbelganger out there." The waitress gives me the receipt to sign and Mercer interrupts her to order drinks for the two young guys sitting at the bar who he just introduced himself to.

"Did you hear that 1 per cent of Canadians think you should be the next Prime Minister," I say to Mercer. He mutters something in return.

"I think that's great," I add. "Did you read about that in the Globe and Mail."

"I did."

"What did you think?" Here's where he'll say something really funny, I'm thinking. I've set him up perfectly.

"Buzz off." Mercer says.

I'm so shocked I give a stupid smile and mess up my signature on the bill.

"That's right, buzz off," he says and turns his back to me, turns back to the young men.

I was crushed. Perhaps he thought I was a reporter under cover, some gossip columnist hoping he'd trash talk Harper or claim rights to the Liberal Party. But I was just a fan trying to make conversation.

A fan no longer. Mercer, you stink.

Take that.

Monday, April 17, 2006

book too hot for minister to handle

Not long ago I wrote about the Conservative government axing the environmental One-Tonne-Challenge program. Fifteen Kyoto research programs have also been cut. But it's not just programs being felled. People who say - or write - the wrong thing are being silenced too.

Mark Tushingham, a writer and scientist with Environment Canada, has written a science fiction novel called Hotter than Hell. It presents a scenario in which global warming has advanced and Canada and the US go to war over water resources.

Apparently this is not the kind of bedside reading Environment Minister Rona Ambrose wants people to know about - perhaps since her government is busy cutting environmental protection measures and building treaties with the US which gives them increasing access to our natural resources. So Minister Ambrose shut down the book's promotion event.

Just before Tushingham was supposed to speak at a book launch in Ottawa he got an email from the minister's office warning him not to attend. Officially, he had not followed proper protocol.

Minister Ambrose claimed there was "concern" that since Tushingham works for Environment Canada people may think he is a "government representative" - even though promotional materials for his book just described him as an Ottawa scientist.

If this doesn't raise concerns about censorship, I don't what does.

I've been on a letter writing kick lately. Perhaps I should drop a line to Minister Ambrose. Will her government be trying to silence others who write about potential consequences of irresponsible management of our environment? Will she be screening other book launches in the city? Or only those for books written by government employees? There are a lot of public servants in this city - should they all abandon any writing aspirations for fear that their topic of choice may offend the new government? The new government, I may add, which just passed whistle-blower legislation and has promised more transparency and accountability.

For more info:
cbc coverage
Toronto Star story

Saturday, April 15, 2006

botanical gardens

Last weekend we went to Montreal and visited the botanical gardens. Here are some of the photos V and I took.

Part of the exhibit was "Butterflies Go Free". This Heliconius hecale was so intent on sucking nectar he did not mind me taking his photo.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

a new challenge

The new Conservative government has abruptly dropped funding the One Tonne Challenge, an environmental initiative aimed at getting individuals to moderate their energy consumption.

Sure, the program had its critics. Rick Mercer's commercials - 'com'on, we're Canadian. We're up for a challenge' - may have seemed a little hokey. But individuals and communities across Canada have been signing up. If nothing else, this campaign has emphasized that everyone has a role to play in fighting global warming.

Forty communities received funding through this program to "engage their citizens in greenhouse gas reduction". The EcoAction Community Funding Program also funded environmental projects by non-profit, NGOs like Equiterre. A Google Search on One-Tonne Challenge will bring up sites for these Challenge projects in cities and communities across Canada: Toronto, Regina, Halifax, Waterloo, Whistler... Now all these projects are being axed. Felled like a clear-cut forest.

I admit, I have not done all I could have in the One-Tonne Challenge. I jumped on the band wagon a year ago - even sent out a challenge to all my friends and tried to get a pool going as an extra incentive to join ( I had intended to get everyone to do their second count last September and find our winner.

But here were are in April 2006 and I never did ask people for their second tally. After reading the news of One-Tonne's funding cut, I thought I would send around the site again and get people to quickly count their emissions before the government site goes down.

Too late. The site is already down. I must say, the Conservative government can move quickly.

So apologies to those who responded to my challenge last March. I should have gotten back to you sooner.

But it looks like we have a new challenge now: keeping our government from backtracking on the steps we were taking toward a cleaner environment.