House of Commons Votes to Protect War Resisters

Unfortunately, it’s non-binding. The Tories voted against the motion.

From the Canadian Friends Service Committee, the peace and social justice agency of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers):

Today, just after 3 pm, the House of Commons voted 137 – 110 in favour of the 3rd report of the Standing Committee on Immigration and Citizenship, which included this motion:

that the government immediately implement a program to allow conscientious objectors and their immediate family members (partners and dependents), who have refused or left military service related to a war not sanctioned by the United Nations and do not have a criminal record, to apply for permanent resident status and remain in Canada; and that the government should immediately cease any removal or deportation actions that may have already commenced against such individuals.

The motion is not legally binding on the Government to implement (the governing party is the Conservative Party of Canada of which every member voted against the motion). Most would say it is morally binding as it reflects the will of Parliament, which is to reflect the will of the people.

So, there will still be work to be done to pressure for its implementation (the focus now is really on the Government itself, as all members present from the Bloc, Liberal and NDP voted in favour – and all of these Party Leaders and high-profile MPs from these parties were present for the vote, which is significant).

Thanks to all of you for your terrific action, prayers, and persistence in helping this to happen. The War Resisters Support Campaign, in particular, is to be congratulated for their key role along the way.

Small victories are big steps, and we are closer to our desire to see all conscientious objectors receive the protection they deserve, particularly at this time the ones from the USA who refused to fight in Iraq.

Please monitor the “News and Events” section of http://www.cfsc.quaker.ca and the Campaign’s site – http://www.resisters.ca – for up-to-date information on next steps as the E-newsletter is not scheduled until end of June.

In Friendship,

Orion

Jane Orion Smith
General Secretary
Canadian Friends Service Committee (Quakers)

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A Fungus Among Us

For the apocalyptically-minded, another sign the end is near.  According to an article in the New Scientist, forget about cropland being diverted to feed SUVs (anyone want to talk about the morality of that?) Forget about droughts and export bans and food riots, forget about the new middle classes in China and India driving demand.  What we should be worrying about is fungus, black stem wheat rust, Puccinia graminis:

It can reduce a field of ripening grain to a dead, tangled mass, and vast outbreaks regularly used to rip through wheat regions. The last to hit the North American breadbasket, in 1954, wiped out 40 per cent of the crop. In the cold war both the US and the Soviet Union stockpiled stem rust spores as a biological weapon

Wheat rust has been around since humans decided brioche was preferable to grubs as the breakfast food of choice. The problem now: a new variant strain of wheat rust called Ug99 has emerged.  The strain was first identified in Uganda in 1999, and has spread into east Africa.  Fungicides are effective against rust, but are generally unavailable to poor farmers in the developing world, and are even limited in the first world.  Resistant varieties of wheat are being developed, but it may take as long as eight years to be produced in sufficient quantities for seed.  Ironically, agricultural techniques and high yield seed lines developed during the Green Revolution of the 1960s are contributing to the problem: wheat is grown far more densely than in the past, so fungus has a chance to get a foothold in damp, warm conditions.  The potential for an exacerbating food shortage is alarming, especially if it affects large wheat producing countries or places where life depends on a good crop.

The great fear, according to the article, is that wheat rust spores will be blown into central Asia, where wheat varietals are generally not resistant to the disease, and where its alternate host, the barberry (Berberis vulgaris) is native. This last is important, because it is on B. vulgaris and related plants that wheat rust swaps genetic information, producing new variants.  B. vulgaris, it should be added, is widely naturalized in North America.  A crop scientist (unintentionally engaging in humour) comments: “As if it wasn’t challenging enough breeding varieties that resist this thing. All I know is that what blows into Iran will not be the same as what blows out.”  True of many things, not just wheat rust.

Except the wheat rust has in fact been detected in Iran:

A new and virulent wheat fungus, previously found in East Africa and Yemen, has moved to major wheat growing areas in Iran, FAO reported today. The fungus is capable of wreaking havoc to wheat production by destroying entire fields.

Countries east of Iran, like Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, all major wheat producers, are most threatened by the fungus and should be on high alert, FAO said.

It is estimated that as much as 80 percent of all wheat varieties planted in Asia and Africa are susceptible to the wheat stem rust (Puccinia graminis). The spores of wheat rust are mostly carried by wind over long distances and across continents.

“The detection of the wheat rust fungus in Iran is very worrisome,” said Shivaji Pandey, Director of FAO’s Plant Production and Protection Division.

“The fungus is spreading rapidly and could seriously lower wheat production in countries at direct risk. Affected countries and the international community have to ensure that the spread of the disease gets under control in order to reduce the risk to countries that are already hit by high food prices.”

A glass for Robigus, please

I was only being half-facetious in referring to the apocalypse.  The links between wheat rust and religion go back to the dawn of agriculture, when crop disease spelled starvation and pestilence and wheat mysteriously and suddenly withering in the field was a sure indication of divine wrath. Robigus (meaning “mildew” or “wheat rust”) was a Roman god whose propitiation — by tipping a cup of red wine to ground, perhaps, in a conceit of colour or affinity — was necessary to prevent the blight. And long before Mars became a god of war, he concerned himself with fertility and crops, fields and boundary lines. “Neve lue rue, Marmar, sins incorrere in pleores,” cried the ancient Romans, when Rome was a collection of mudbrick huts encircled by a wooden palisade.  Let not blight or ruin attack, O Mars!  It is not a coincidence that March, the time of wheat sowing, was named for Mars. Or think of the dreams of Pharaoh, as interpreted by that likely mensch Joseph: seven heads of thin scorched wheat swallowing up seven full heads.

Maybe a sacrifice to Mars or Robigus might be in order.  Or maybe we should heed Joseph’s advice to Pharaoh, and stockpile for seven years.

A Christian, Persecuted

Several deep threads of irony lace the recent decision of the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal against Christian Horizons, a provider of services to people with developmental disorders.  The case involved a Christian lesbian named Connie Heintz, who left her job with this agency, and indeed was harassed out of it. Heintz found herself unable to comply with the agency’s employment contract — containing an explicitly evangelical Christian moral and religious agreement —  which essentially forbade her from engaging in homosexual activity.  Christian Horizons, which views itself as deeply evangelical Christian agency, and its work as an extension of Christian values, attempted to argue that as a religious organization it is exempt from the provisions of the Ontario Human Rights Code. This is despite the fact the agency receives some $75 million in financial aid from the provincial government to operate 180 group homes for 1,500 clients, none of whom (or their families), it might be added, are subjected to a similar moral or religious test. The Tribunal ruled Christian Horizons violated the complainant’s rights and ordered the agency to pay substantial damages as well as implement anti-discrimination policies and procedures. Bottom line: if you’re going to take public money and offer a public service, you need to abide by the Ontario Human Rights Code and the Charter of Rights.  The decision, despite claims of violation of religious freedom, is correct.

Way back in the dark ages, that is, the early ’90s, I knew an extremely personably and bright young Christian woman who worked for Christian Horizons, and who lived in some unholy terror that her employer would discover her lesbian relationship.  Her fear was palpable, and I can imagine the emotional torment the complainant went through.  Like my friend, Connie Heintz grew up in a serious, devout Mennonite household; only after a long struggle could she come to terms with being a lesbian.  She began a relationship.  She was confronted at work, and offered “restorative” therapy to make her “normal”.  And when she refused that a sadly familiar chain of events began, of work evaluations declining from exemplary to poor, and of highly suspect, circumstantial accusations of abusing clients and harassing another employee, before she finally left her employment.  

Reading though the 288 paragraphs (plus addendum) of the Tribunal’s decision one gets the sense of the conflicting rights and values involved, and the care by which the facts are weighed and adjudicated.  Irony seeps out.  Standard — if potentially illegal — human resources techniques of forcing an employee from a job by creating a poisoned work environment and setting up “conditions” for eventual dismissal hardly strike one as Christian, and it is perhaps surprising an organization that so aggressively bills itself as upholding Christian morality would countenance such behaviour, which is essentially deceitful and fraudulent.  There is then the larger inconguity of an organization like Christian Horizons, which according to its own mission statement is run with the admirable view to helping the marginalized, would so persecute a member of another marginalized group, in the name of Christian love.  Heintz’s own professed Christian belief and her ability to reconcile her faith and sexual orientation adds yet another layer of irony. This case boils down a Christian agency harassing a Christian out of her job — for being “insufficiently” Christian.  So much for religious freedom.  True religious liberty requires not only the freedom to practice one’s faith (or not), but toleration for dissent within an individual’s faith tradition.  Evangelical Christians do not speak for all Christians, nor do they hold the lockbox for doctrinal or moral purity.

(Note to Christian Horizons and others wanting to attack the Tribunal for this decision on the basis of religious freedom: the optics really suck on this one.)