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John A. Macdonald statue ‘painful reminder’ of colonialism: Victoria mayor

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  • VICTORIA — A statue of former prime minister John A. Macdonald will be removed from the front entrance of Victoria City Hall as a gesture of reconciliation with First Nations, says the city’s Mayor Lisa Helps.

    Macdonald was the first prime minister of Canada and Helps said he was also a “key architect” of the residential school system.

    The decision, which must be approved by council, followed a year of deliberations and consultation with the local Songhees and Esquimalt chiefs and councils, she said in an interview Wednesday.

    “For people who are Indigenous who are coming into city hall, who may have been in residential schools, or their moms or grandmas or dads or grandpas were in residential schools, this statue is a physical manifestation of that painful colonial history that they themselves or their families have experienced,” Helps said in an interview.

    The decision to remove the statue is the first concrete action by the so-called City Family, made up of the mayor, two councillors, and Indigenous representatives, as part of city’s reconciliation program.

    Council will receive the report Thursday recommending the statue removal, and Helps said she can’t imagine it will be rejected since council gave the group a mandate to pursue reconciliation when it formed last year.

    While the statue is in storage, Helps said the city will continue a dialogue about how to tell a more complete story about Macdonald’s history that both celebrates his contributions as the country’s first prime minister at the same time as acknowledging the harm he caused.

    In a post on her campaign website, she points to the following statement that Macdonald made in the House of Commons in 1883, as evidence of his harmful legacy and thinking:

    “When the school is on the reserve, the child lives with its parents, who are savages, and though he may learn to read and write, his habits and training mode of thought are Indian.”

    “It has been strongly impressed upon myself, as head of the Department, that Indian children should be withdrawn as much as possible from the parental influence, and the only way to do that would be to put them in central training industrial schools where they will acquire the habits and modes of thought of white men.”

    Although Helps has an undergraduate, master’s and partially completed PhD in Canadian history, she said she is ashamed that she was unaware of the Father of Confederation’s role in developing residential schools.

    Helps said the city does not propose erasing history, but rather taking time to tell that chapter of Canadian history in a thoughtful way.

    The statue will be removed Saturday and stored until an appropriate way to “recontextualize” Macdonald is determined, she said.

    “History is always being retold and part of the act of removing this statue is the ability to tell a more fulsome history John A Macdonald played, both positive and negative, in the history of our country.”

    A cleansing, blessing and healing ceremony will be held in the space after the statue is removed and a plaque explaining its removal will be installed in its place.

    In the longer term, a piece of art representative of the Lekwungen culture, which includes both the Songhees and Esquimalt nations, will likely go in its place, Helps said.

    Victoria isn’t the only government or institution reviewing its celebration of Macdonald. In August, an elementary teachers’ union in Ontario issued a call to remove his name from schools in the province. And in May, the Canadian Historical Association voted to strip Macdonald’s name from one of its top writing prizes.

    Other historical figures have also come under scrutiny for their roles in the residential school system.

    The Office of the Prime Minister and the Privy Council was known as Langevin Block until Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had it changed. Hector-Louis Langevin, another Father of Confederation, argued that a separate school system for Indigenous youth was needed to assimilate them into Canadian Culture.

    Ontario’s public education system owes its beginnings to Egerton Ryerson, but he is also believed to have helped shape residential school policy through his ideas on education of Indigenous children. Indigenous students’ group and the Ryerson Students Union have called for Toronto’s Ryerson University to change its name out of respect for residential school survivors.

    — By Amy Smart in Vancouver

    The Canadian Press


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    Canada should do more to help women refugees worldwide: Oxfam Canada

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  • OTTAWA — Justin Trudeau’s self-proclaimed feminist government could and should be doing more to address gender-specific challenges faced by female refugees affected by wars and displacement.

    That’s according to a new report from Oxfam Canada, which takes a close look at how Canada provides international humanitarian aid and the gaps that exist when it comes to outcomes for women and girls in refugee situations.

    Canada has made great strides when it comes to making gender equality and feminism a key priority of its domestic and foreign policy agenda, but more can be done to help women being disproportionately affected by global crisis, the report says.

    “Currently, Canada’s international assistance funding is out of step with its ambition to be a world leader on gender equality and feminist aid and foreign policy,” the report states.

    “The fact that Canada’s international assistance spending is at a near historical low, merely reaching 0.26 per cent of gross national income, as compared to the UN aid target of 0.7 per cent, undermines its credibility and leadership on the international stage.”

    The study zeros in on areas where women in conflict zones are not getting the help they need or where efforts to improve gender equality in these areas are not being fully realized.

    Some of the findings are unsettling, including a statistic showing 25 to 50 per cent of maternal deaths in refugee camps are caused by unsafe abortions and related complications.

    This is due, in part, to a lack of adequate access to sexual and reproductive health services, which are often seen as a “second-tier” priority when people are forced to flee their homes due to conflict.

    “Our argument is that services are totally life-saving when you consider, for example, that last year 500 women and girls died during emergencies every single day from pregnancy and childbirth complications simply because sexual and reproductive health and rights weren’t a priority,” said Brittany Lambert, a women’s rights policy and advocacy specialist with Oxfam Canada.

    “These things should be prioritized from the very inception of these humanitarian responses and could save many lives.”

    Oxfam Canada also published findings last month following a series of interviews, focus groups and surveys of hundreds of women and men from the host and refugee communities in Bangladesh, suggesting Rohingya women and girls who survived genocide in Myanmar are facing new risks in refugee camps, notably when it comes to access to water and sanitation facilities.

    Some women are choosing to go hungry and thirsty and are restricting their children’s diets in order to limit their trips to these facilities to reduce risks of physical and sexual abuse and harassment, according to this research. 

    The organization is calling on Canada to develop a 10-year plan to achieve the United Nations aid target of 0.7 per cent of national income.

    It also wants Canada to establish a dedicated pool of 15 per cent of all its humanitarian aid to be specifically earmarked to address the needs of women and girls.

    “Right now the way Canada’s funding system works is that humanitarian assistance is aligned with the global humanitarian system priorities, which are things like shelter, water, food — but gender is not one of those categories,” Lambert said.

    “Women’s needs can be inserted into these categories but there are really limited funding opportunities to actually undertake programming that address gender inequality as a main goal so that’s why we’re calling for a stand alone pool of funding where Canada could actually fund this kind of feminist programming.”

    In addition, Oxfam Canada says the Trudeau government should take firmer action to ensure weapons do not end up in the hands of those who commit gender-based violence.

    Several international aid agencies, including Amnesty International, have said loopholes exist in Canada’s arms export policy that would allow arms sales to the United States — weapons which could end up being transferred to countries that abuse human rights.

    The government has announced several measures aimed at championing women’s issues both at home and abroad, including launching a feminist international assistance policy and a national action plan on women and government. Canada also disbursed more than $68 million in humanitarian assistance to support sexual and reproductive health needs in 2017-18.

    In addition, Canada has committed to increase its foreign aid effort by $2 billion over five years, which will bring total assistance to nearly $6 billion by 2021, says Global Affairs Canada.

    “We agree with the report that we need to ensure that the voices of civil society partners and affected communities, particularly women and girls, are included throughout the humanitarian response,” said the statement from Global Affairs Canada.

    “That is why Canada expects its partners to directly consult affected communities, and ensure that women and girls, in particular, are involved in the design of initiatives and decision-making processes that affect their lives.”

     

    —Follow @ReporterTeresa on Twitter.

     

    Teresa Wright, The Canadian Press


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    MP pays tribute to baby daughter on pregnancy and infant loss remembrance day

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  • OTTAWA — Conservative MP Tom Kmiec choked back tears as he recalled his infant daughter in a heartfelt speech in the House of Commons to mark national pregnancy and infant loss remembrance day.

    Kmiec’s daughter Lucy-Rose died in August when she was only 39 days old.

    MPs from all parties struggled to maintain their own composure as an emotional Kmiec used a member’s statement as an opportunity to thank the medical staff who cared for Lucy-Rose, the neighbours who brought his family food and support, and the parliamentarians who sent their condolences.

    Lucy-Rose died of Trisomy 13, a genetic condition that leaves babies with severe intellectual and physical disabilities. Also called Patau syndrome, only five to 10 per cent of babies diagnosed with it will live past their first year.

    “On this day, let us grieve with the parents who have lost a child, as well as the siblings who lost a lifelong best friend,” Kmiec said.

    Speaker Geoff Regan said he hoped Kmiec could see that love and support from the parliamentary family was around him.

    About one in five pregnancies in Canada ends in miscarriage.

    Congenital malformations and chromosomal abnormalities are the leading cause of death for babies under the age of one year. In 2016, 404 infants died of a congenital abnormality, according to Statistics Canada.

    In all, more than 1,700 babies died before their first birthday in 2016, 75 per cent of them before they were one month old.

    On Tuesday, the House of Commons human resources committee is starting to study the impact on parents of the death of an infant, including possible updates to parental leave programs and benefits.

    The study comes after a motion from Conservative MP Blake Richards, who identified shortcomings in the parental leave program when it comes to being compassionate to parents who are grieving.

    Kmiec urged MPs to hug their kids the next time they go home.

    “If they are old and have their own (kids), hug them anyway, even if they protest,” he said. “Life is too short and none of us knows when our time will come.”

    The Canadian Press


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