Humanists for Social Justice and Environmental Action supports Human Rights, Social and Economic Justice, Environmental Activism and Planetary Ethics in North America & Globally, with particular reference to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other Human Rights UN treaties and conventions listed above.


USDA to Fully Deregulate Monsanto's Genetically Engineered Alfalfa

USDA to Fully Deregulate Monsanto's Genetically Engineered Alfalfa
Universal Gene Contamination of Conventional/Organic Feed, Milk, Meat and Other Products to Follow

USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack announced this afternoon that the agency will fully deregulate Monsanto's controversial genetically engineered alfalfa. The choice was favored by the biotech industry and one of three options identified in the USDA's Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) released last month.

USDA could have maintained regulatory status over the perennial crop that is so important as forage for the livestock industry. Or they could have chosen a limited regulation strategy with bans on the planting of GE alfalfa seeds in seed growing regions to attempt to limit the contamination of alfalfa seed stock by foreign DNA from Monsanto's crop (alfalfa is pollinated by bees and other insects and has a pollination radius of five miles). Instead, the agency, under heavy pressure from the biotech sector, chose total deregulation. Over 250,000 public comments were received during the FEIS process, with the vast majority opposing deregulation.

Vilsack did announce that the USDA would establish a second germ plasm/seed center for alfalfa in the state of Idaho to try and maintain GE-free strains of alfalfa. They currently operate such a facility in Prosser, WA. He said the FEIS process brought home two key points to USDA: choice and trust.

The Center for Food Safety, supported by The Cornucopia Institute and others, has been embroiled in a court case fighting the release of GE-alfalfa. Cornucopia is a formal plaintiff in the case. The legal matter has been on hold while the USDA completed its court-ordered EIS. Opponents of GE-alfalfa may soon determine their "choice" and resume the legal battle.

Genetic engineered crops, animals and food are banned in organic agriculture. Many conventional alfalfa and seed producers also have expressed their opposition to Monsanto's new crop. Like organic producers, they do not want their strains of alfalfa contaminated by foreign DNA. Monsanto has aggressively pursued farmers for damages when they have discovered evidence of their patented DNA in their conventional crops.

Planting of GE-alfalfa could begin this spring as Forage Genetics (owned by Land O' Lakes) has millions of pounds of Monsanto's seed in storage.

AHA Action Center: US Abortion Bill

AmericanHumanistAssociation Action alert
Last week Congressman Chris Smith (R – N.J.) introduced the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act (H.R. 3), a bill which would severely limit abortion access to those relying solely on government healthcare. Currently, federal law restrictions on government funded abortions include exemptions for rape, incest, and instances in which the mother’s life is in danger. H.R. 3 seeks to restrict its rape exemption to 'forcible rape' only.

This vague language not only disregards instances of statutory rape and rape involving drugs, alcohol, and hindered mental capacity, but calls into question the definition of 'forcible rape' which isn’t defined in the federal criminal code, nor by the bill’s authors, is also undefined by many states, leaving the question of what 'forcible rape' is, and what circumstances, if any, qualify.

If enacted, H.R. 3 would also financially target private insurance companies offering abortion coverage, and introduce new taxes for individuals and businesses that purchase insurance policies offering coverage as well.

These restrictions would leave tens of thousands of women across the United States unable to access the assistance they require. The American Humanist Association is committed to protecting the rights of women, as well as keeping medical care accessible. Please take a moment to contact your Representative and tell him or her to oppose H.R. 3 today. (enter zip code via this site above)


Vermont Considers Ending Corporate Personhood

Vermont Considers Ending Corporate Personhood
On the one year anniversary of the Citizens United decision Vermont lawmakers introduced a measure to revoke the granting of personhood rights to U.S. corporations. It's a calculated push back against a particular strain of 14th Amendment jurisprudence and raises some interesting questions.

The idea of corporate personhood is a fairly well-established point--see, for example, Metropolitan Life Ins. Co v. Ward which engrained the idea that corporations are "persons" for purposes of 14th Amendment analysis. But a "person" for purposes of 14th Amendment analysis is not the same thing as a "citizen". That might seem like a fine point important only to lawyers, but the implication is that corporations do not typically enjoy the privileges and immunities afforded citizens (Western and Southern Life Ins. Co. v. State Bd. of Equalization of California.)

This point got completely confused as a result of the Citizens United decision which held that, as a result of corporate personhood status via the 14th Amendment, corporations also enjoy First Amendment protections and can therefore spend unrestricted amounts of money as political speech.

States that have pushed back against this influence have typically done so by tightening corporate disclosure laws, essentially forcing "daylight" into the books so that shareholders and consumers know which candidates receive the largesse of a particular corporation. As witnessed with the campaign against Target, for example, those disclosure laws have success in whipping up outrage but perhaps

Vermont's tactic is unusual in that it goes right to the heart of the legal fiction of corporate personhood. If it is successful it will likely face legal challenge and run right up against the supremacy clause. But forcing the issue is important, especially given the exuberance of the Roberts Court with regards to corporate interests at the expense of all else. And if other states follow suit we could be witnessing the beginning of a campaign for constitutional change that has some legs.

Bring Pirate Fishing Vessels out of the Shadows! Petition to UN

Bring Pirate Fishing Vessels out of the Shadows!
Just this week, EJF has been documenting the illegal activities of an industrial trawler, destructively bottom-trawling within the Inshore Exclusion Zone (IEZ) of Sierra Leone in West Africa. As with many illegal vessels, it was hiding its identity by covering its name with fishing nets and it is unclear what flag the vessel is flying. We have seen this vessel before so we know its name, but ownership information is hard to come by; according to our investigations, the company listed by a shipping website as owning the vessel doesn't even exist! The current lack of transparency means that it is very difficult to trace fishing vessels as they change their names and their flags to avoid detection and sanctions.

"Pirate fishing operators" steal with impunity and devastate marine environments, often using banned fishing gears, targeting protected species and fishing with high levels of bycatch - the accidental capture of species including seabirds, sharks, turtles and other endangered wildlife. Without a Global Record of Fishing Vessels, it's difficult to identify offending vessels and even harder to penalize the true owners.

This important step would bring much needed transparency and accountability to the oceans, providing a clearer picture of vessel ownership, their histories and the size and capacity of each country's fleet.


Scientific American: A modest proposal for curbing homicides: Socialism

Scientific American: A modest proposal for curbing homicides
Someone sent this link to our Humanist Blog in Toronto... this is an excerpt only...
...The idea was inspired by the evolutionary psychologists Margo Wilson (who died in 2009) and her husband Martin Daly, both of McMaster University in Ontario. In their 1988 book Homicide, often upheld as the gold standard in applying Darwinian theory to social problems, Daly and Wilson pointed out that males have always committed the vast majority of homicides. The reason, the psychologists contended, is that our male ancestors fought fiercely for "control over the reproductive capacities of women," which resulted in an innate male tendency toward violent aggression.
Although today lethal aggression can (often) lead to imprisonment or execution—both of which hamper reproduction—it would have promoted genetic fitness in societies predating the rule of law, according to Daly and Wilson. As evidence of their evolutionary thesis, Daly and Wilson noted that modern men kill blood relatives much less often than they kill unrelated females out of sexual jealousy as well as male rivals and even the children of other men. (One of Daly and Wilson's best-known findings is that stepfathers are many times more likely than biological fathers to kill their children.)
Males, and especially young males with few prospects, also kill nonrelatives to achieve status and "resources"—by committing armed robbery, for example, or shooting a rival drug dealer. Like other evolutionary psychologists, Daly and Wilson struggled to explain variations in behavior among individuals and societies. For example, the homicide rate of their homeland, Canada, is only about a third that of its neighbor, the U.S. Rates of homicide also vary widely from region to region within each country. Why?
I heard Daly and Wilson propose an answer to this puzzle at a 2009 meeting on aggression that I reported on for Scientific American; they also presented the hypothesis in this 2001 paper (pdf). The best predictor of high homicide rates in a region, they asserted, is income inequality. As a measure of such inequality, Daly and Wilson employed the so-called Gini index (named after its originator, the Italian statistician Corrado Gini), which ranks inequality on a scale ranging from 0.0 to 1.0. A region in which everyone has exactly the same income would have a Gini score of 0.0, whereas a region in which one person makes all the money has a score of 1.0.
Daly and Wilson found a strong correlation between high Gini scores and high homicide rates in Canadian provinces and U.S. counties. High Gini scores predicted homicides better than low average income, high unemployment and simpler measures. Basically, Daly and Wilson were blaming homicides not on poverty per se but on the collision of poverty and affluence, the ancient tug-of-war between haves and have-nots. The income-inequality hypothesis, Daly and Wilson asserted, can account for the "radically different national homicide rates" of the U.S. and Canada, the latter of which has more generous social-welfare programs (including universal health care) and hence fewer economic disparities.
Naturally, some researchers have reported data that fail to support the income-inequality theory of homicide. But I find it persuasive, especially because it points toward an attractive solution to high homicide rates: a more equitable economic system, perhaps with higher taxes for the wealthy and more generous welfare programs for the poor. In short, socialism. I hope that opponents of gun control will consider this modest, alternative proposal for reducing lethal shootings.

Top USDA bee researcher also found Bayer pesticide harmful to honeybees

Top USDA bee researcher also found Bayer pesticide harmful to honeybees
Remember the case of the leaked document showing that the EPA’s own scientists are concerned about a pesticide it approved that might harm fragile honeybee populations?
Well, it turns that the EPA isn’t the only government agency whose researchers are worried about neonicotinoid pesticides. USDA researchers also have good evidence that these nicotine-derived chemicals, marketed by German agrichemical giant Bayer, could be playing a part in Colony Collapse Disorder—the mysterious massive honeybee die-offs that United States and Europe have been experiencing in recent years. So why on earth are they still in use on million of acres of American farmland?

According to a report by Mike McCarthy, environment editor of the U.K.-based Independent, the lead researcher at the USDA’s own Bee Research Laboratory completed research two years ago suggesting that even extremely low levels of exposure to neonicotinoids makes bees more vulnerable to harm from common pathogens...

Pettis’s study focused on imidacloprid, which like clothianidin is a neonicotinoid pesticide marketed by Bayer as a seed treatment. The findings are pretty damning for these nicotine-derived pesticides, according to McCarthy. He summarizes the study like this:
The American study ... has demonstrated that the insects’ vulnerability to infection is increased by the presence of imidacloprid, even at the most microscopic doses. Dr. Pettis and his team found that increased disease infection happened even when the levels of the insecticide were so tiny that they could not subsequently be detected in the bees, although the researchers knew that they had been dosed with it.
(Evidently) Pettis hasn’t spoken to U.S. journalists about his unpublished neonicotinoid research. But he did appear in a 2010 documentary called The Strange Disappearance of the Honeybees by U.S. filmmaker Mike Daniels, which has been screened widely in Europe but not yet in the United States, McCarthy reports. Pettis’ remarks in the film are what alerted the European press to his findings on neonicotinoids.

The grassroots group Food Democracy has a petition asking the EPA to ban Bayer’s toxic pesticide clothianidin.  It is instructive to read the comments in this article too - as some beekeepers have alternate opinions.



Millicent Gaika, pictured here, was bound, strangled, and repeatedly raped in an attack last year. But brave South African activists are risking their lives to ensure that Millicent’s case sparks change. Their appeal to the Minister of Justice has exploded to over 140,000 signatures, forcing him to respond on national television.

'Corrective rape' is based on the outrageous and utterly false notion that a lesbian woman can be raped to 'make her straight', but this heinous act is not even classified as a hate crime in South Africa. The victims are often black, poor, lesbian women, and profoundly marginalised. But even the 2008 gang rape and murder of Eudy Simelane, the national hero and former star of the South Africa women's national football team, did not turn the tide. And just last week Minister Radebe insisted that motive is irrelevant in crimes like 'corrective rape.'

If enough of us join in to amplify and escalate this campaign, we could help get urgent action to end 'corrective rape'. Let's call on President Zuma and the Minister of Justice to publicly condemn ‘corrective rape’, criminalise hate crimes, and lead a critical shift against rape and homophobia.

South Africa is the rape capital of the world. A South African girl born today is more likely to be raped than she is to learn to read. Astoundingly, one quarter of South African girls are raped before turning 16. This has many roots: masculine entitlement (62 per cent of boys over 11 believe that forcing someone to have sex is not an act of violence), poverty, crammed settlements, unemployed and disenfranchised men, community acceptance -- and, for the few cases that are courageously reported to authorities, a dismal police response and lax sentencing.

This is ultimately a battle with poverty, patriarchy, and homophobia. Ending the tide of rape will require bold leadership and concerted action to spearhead transformative change in South Africa and across the continent. President Zuma is a a Zulu traditionalist, who has himself stood trial for rape. But he condemned the arrest of a gay couple in Malawi last year, and, after massive national and international civic pressure, South Africa finally approved a UN resolution opposing extra-judicial killing in relation to sexual orientation.

This is a human catastrophe. But Luleki Sizwe and partners at have opened a small window of hope in the fight against it. If the whole world weighs in now, we could get justice for Millicent and national action to end 'corrective rape':  Sign here

Anti-Depressants Affecting Montreal Fish

Anti-Depressants Affecting Montreal Fish
According to a recent research study about 25 percent of Montreal residents take an anti-depressant, and human waste that enters the Montreal sewage system contains these drugs. The system is similar to sewage treatment facilities in other major cities around the world, so there is some chance a similar effect may be occurring there as well. The Montreal system treats solid waste but does not disinfect wastewater, so anti-depressants are present in the system, which empties into the Saint Lawrence river ecosystem. Researchers found anti-depressants accumulate in fish and can alter their brain activity.
“We know that antidepressants have negative side effects on human beings, but we don’t know how exactly these chemicals are affecting the fish, and by extension, the Saint Lawrence River’s ecosystem. Nevertheless, we are seeing an impact on the river’s ecosystem, which should concern cities everywhere,” said Dr. Sébastien Sauvé. (Source:
Last year research conducted in England discovered a similar scenario, but with shrimp instead of fish. Dr. Alex Ford from the University of Porthsmouth revealed anti-depressants in wastewater released into rivers and estuaries have probably already altered shrimp behavior making them more likely to be eaten by predators. So when Dr. Sauvé referenced the impact on the whole St. Lawrence river ecosystem, that is a very real possibility.
If trout behavior was altered as significantly as the shrimp’s was in England, they may not play their normal role any longer and their habitat could also change. Additionally, whatever species consume them when they are alive or dead could be affected....It isn’t known exactly if the anti-depressants are having negative effects on Montreal fish, but in humans they can cause decreased libido, weight gain, nausea, dizziness, insomnia, dry mouth, blurred vision, nervousness and constipation.


Letter to Obama re GMO alfalfa : Act Today Or Kiss Your Organics Goodbye

Food Democracy Now | Act Today Or Kiss Your Organics Goodbye!
After years of bureaucratic wrangling, Secretary Vilsack and the Obama administration are only days away from approving Monsanto’s genetically modified (GMO) alfalfa. If approved, GMO alfalfa will fundamentally undermine the entire organic industry overnight. In addition, the USDA says American consumers don't care about the contamination of organics.
Please join us in calling on Secretary Vilsack and President Obama to stand up for organic family farmers by rejecting the approval of Monsanto's GMO alfalfa. Tell them to protect organic integrity and seed biodiversity over corporate profits.

I urge you to immediately reject the approval of Monsanto’s genetically engineered Roundup Ready alfalfa. The U.S. Supreme Court has already acknowledged that the economic risks from genetic contamination, as well as the risk to the environment of gene flow, are real concerns. The USDA has a responsibility to protect farmers and consumers and should refuse the biotech industry’s demands for deregulation...If approved, the contamination of organic and conventional alfalfa crops is scientifically certain to happen. Once contaminated, organic and conventional crops will lose their economic value and this threatens the livelihood of family farmers who have responded to market signals regarding the valid concerns of the negative health and environmental impacts of genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

Already the CEO of the largest dairy cooperative has stated that approval of Monsanto’s GMO alfalfa “threatens the very fabric of the organic industry.” Once undermined, consumers will lose faith in USDA approved organic products. As head of the federal agency in charge of protecting farmers, any decision to approve GMO alfalfa threatens to destroy the fastest growing and most profitable segment of agriculture today and thus runs counter to the mission of the agency you are sworn to uphold.


Harper's oily case for 'ethical oil'

Harper's oily case for ethical oil |
First of a series on the politics of oil and Canada's climate change goals.
Stephen Harper and Environment Minister Peter Kent think they have come up with a game changer on the environment. When you hear about the many issues surrounding the development of the Alberta bitumen sands, they want you to answer that in spite of all that, Canada's "ethical oil" is the best, considering the alternatives.

"Ethical oil" is the notion that Alberta bitumen is an "ethical" source of energy that Americans should choose compared to oil from OPEC countries like Saudi Arabia, Iran, Nigeria and Venezuela where, it is alleged, oil production assists dictators and human rights abuses. The "ethical oil" idea is the brain child of right-wing spinner Ezra Levant whose book by the same name is the speakers' notes for PM Harper and Kent.
Let's sort out the spin. Ethics are a human guide to action based on a moral code governing our appreciation of right and wrong. Conservatives have their ethics; I have mine. But there is nothing ethical or unethical about oil, or bitumen, and there is no such thing as "ethical oil."
 There are, of course, substantive environmental, social and economic issues about bitumen production, from greenhouse gas emissions and toxics to exporting jobs down pipelines. And these issues have nothing to do with human rights in OPEC countries.
Even if we accept that ethics vary according to the moral code we carry, keeping one's commitments is fundamental to most ethical frameworks. That happens to be an ethical problem for Harper's government which is at the root of Canada's disrepute in international climate change conferences. His government not only failed to keep its treaty commitments, it didn't even try. To have done so would have required regulating our oil industry's greenhouse gas emissions....


Ethics of Erasing Memory

Ethics of Erasing Memory
Ethics of Erasing Memory - Podcast
Sunshine of the Perfect Mind? - a bioethicist discusses Erasing Memories.

Neuroscientists have identified a chemical that can erase the connections between brain cells, essentially wiping out memories. Although it can't target specific experiences, like a traumatic event, its existence raises a lot of big ethical issues. In this interview, we asked Art Caplan to help us sort them out. He's the director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania.

WikiLeaks Unveil Vatican's Secret Approval Of GMOs

WikiLeaks Unveil Vatican's Secret Approval Of GMOs
As the debate over whether or not GMOs are fit for public consumption waxes hotter all over the world, the Catholic Church has been conspicuously silent on whether or not it endorses this biotechnology.

Despite this attempt to remain publicly neutral, WikiLeaks recently uncovered a transmission from Christopher Sandrolini, a U.S. diplomat to the Holy See, that demonstrates the Vatican's clandestine approval of genetically modified crops.

"Recent conversations between Holy See officials and USAID and EB representatives visiting the Vatican confirmed the cautious acceptance of biotech food by the Holy See. Vatican officials asserted that the safety and science of genetically modified foods would eventually be non-issues at the Holy See" reads the memo.

GMO Journal's Deniza Gertsberg writes that while in 2000, the Pontifical Academy of Sciences gave its preliminary approval, and more recently, some of its vocal members have openly endorsed GMOs, the Holy See, in its public communiqués, always went the way of Switzerland. Despite the transmission's startling dismissal of scientific research that points to GMO's dangerous health and environmental impacts, it does acknowledge that their widespread adoption would be disastrous for farmers, especially those in developing nations.

"...the main issue for the Church will continue to be the economic angle of biotech food. Many in the Church fear that these technologies are going to make developing-world farmers more dependent on others, and simply serve to enrich multi-national corporations," the memo continues.

Gertsberg writes that rather than shocking anti-GMO advocates, the cables merely "reaffirmed what many already believed, namely that the Vatican supported GMOs and that a more hearty endorsement from the Holy See is likely in the foreseeable future. Furthermore, WikiLeaks cemented for many the understanding that US diplomats around the world are pushing GM crops as a strategic government and commercial imperative."


Belo Monte would be a project bigger than the Panama Canal, flooding at least 400,000 acres of rainforest, displacing 40,000 indigenous and local people, and destroying the priceless habitats of countless unique species -- all to create power that could easily be generated through investments in energy efficiency.

Pressure on President Dilma against the dam is rising, the President of Brazil's Environmental Agency just resigned, refusing to issue Belo Monte a construction license and challenging strong political pressure to go forward with this disastrous project. Environmental specialists, indigenous leaders and civil society, agree that Belo Monte will be a massive environmental scar in the heart of the Amazon.

Construction could start next month - let's raise the pressure on President Dilma to stop this dam! Sign the petition now, before the bulldozers move in -- it will be delivered to Brasilia.


Harper’s embrace of ‘ethical’ oil sands reignites 'dirty' arguments

Harper’s embrace of ‘ethical’ oil sands reignites 'dirty' arguments

Stephen Harper is embracing the notion that Canada’s controversial oil sands are an “ethical” source of energy, strengthening his support of the maligned resource and kicking off a new chapter in the debate over what critics call 'dirty oil'...

The Prime Minister told reporters Friday that his government wants to “explain to the world” that petroleum from Western Canada’s oil sands is superior in respects to crude from other countries...

'It’s critical to develop that resource in a way that’s responsible and environmental and the reality for the United States, which is the biggest consumer of our petroleum products, is that Canada is a very ethical society and a safe source for the United States in comparison to other sources of energy.'

The Prime Minister’s comments build on newly minted Environment Minister Peter Kent’s declaration this week that the oil sands are an 'ethical' source of energy and one that should take priority in the U.S. over foreign producers with poor democratic track records or those that use petrodollars 'to fund terrorism.'

Canada’s tarry resource has acquired a reputation as an environmental scourge outside the country due to its greenhouse-gas-intensive extraction methods and the ensuing damage inflicted on surrounding ecosystems. The Harper government is working to ensure that what Mr. Kent calls a 'bad rap' doesn’t persuade U.S. legislators to take steps to thwart exports from Canada or scare off investment in the oil patch. Environmentalists and members of Congress have campaigned against U.S. approval for TransCanada’s proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry oil sands bitumen to U.S. Gulf Coast markets...

The 'ethical oil' defence adopted by Mr. Harper and Mr. Kent echoes a notion advanced by conservative Calgary author Ezra Levant in his 2010 book, Ethical Oil: The Case for Canada’s oil sands... Mr. Levant has helped popularize the argument that oil-sands petroleum is ethically superior to petroleum produced by countries such as Saudi Arabia and Venezuela and other regimes with dubious environmental and human-rights records. By comparison, he argues, Canada is environmentally responsible, peaceful, offers its workers fair wages and respects human rights... (However) A report by scientists at Canada’s Royal Society last month painted Ottawa as an absentee oil-sands overseer and lamented Alberta's weak regulatory system, adding both governments' efforts haven't 'kept pace' with development.

Bjork rallies Iceland against B.C. natural resources company

CTV British Columbia - Bjork rallies Iceland against B.C. natural resources company - CTV News
Great new word: "Outvasion" - M

Icelandic singer Bjork is forcing a Canadian energy company with a business presence in her country to "hear the music" of Icelanders opposed to foreign ownership of their country's resources. The eclectic musician launched a three-day karaoke marathon on Thursday in the capital of ReykjavDik as part of her campaign "to win back the country's natural resources."

Vancouver-based Magma Energy Corp. (TSX:MXY) boosted its interest in Iceland's HS Orka power plant operations to 84.2 per cent last August and to 98.5 per cent the following month. The acquisition is not sitting well with Bjork and others who want Iceland's natural resources to be publicly owned and governed.

Bjork is trying to get 15 per cent of the population -- about 35,000 people -- to sign a petition that would force the government to consider revoking the takeover. More than 20,000 people have signed so far, and the singer says she is hopeful that the remaining signatures will be gathered during the karaoke marathon.

"For 100 years, good people protected our natural resources and public interest," the petition says. "In the 'outvasion' period, the sale of natural resources and irresponsible access to them began. Now it is time to stop that unfortunate development."


Ottawa: Save Old Growth Beaver Pond Forest

A candlelight vigil in Ottawa's Beaver Pond forest on Jan. 1 marked the start of the United Nations International Year of the Forest -- and the last time people may be able to gather in its lush greenery before it's clear-cut.

Cutting down trees to make way for residential subdivisions is nothing new in Canadian cities. Most cities have processes by which citizens can voice their concerns, but these often find in favour of landowners despite local, provincial, national and international statements made about protecting the natural environment.
In the case of the Beaver Pond forest, located just 20 minutes west of Parliament Hill, cutting down trees seems at odds with the UN theme of "Celebrating Forests for People." Residents use this forest for walking, mountain biking and cross-country skiing. It's an accessible part of the South March Highlands, a 1,100 hectare wilderness area.

The forest is ecologically significant. The South March Highlands contain Ottawa's only old-growth forest and is home to 10 distinct habitats. At least 679 species live there, including 440 native plant species, 164 types of birds, and 75 mammal, fish, amphibian and reptile species....Ontario's Ministry of Natural Resources has classified the South March Highlands as a candidate Area of Natural and Scientific Interest (ANSI) for its life sciences value and wetlands, but this hasn't stopped development in parts of the Highlands.
A senior elder in the Algonquin First Nations, William Commanda, called the South March Highlands an "ancient and sacred site for the Indigenous people of the Ottawa River Watershed." Archaeologists have found artefacts estimated to be 10,000 years old -- twice the age of the pyramids in Egypt -- as well as ancient stone circles, including one in the Beaver Pond forest.
The City of Ottawa and the Ontario Ministry of Tourism and Culture have ignored these discoveries, citing their acceptance of a 2004 developer-commissioned study that reported no archaeologically significant finds. The federal government has remained silent, and no one is looking at what is still undiscovered but will be lost once the land is bulldozed and blasted.
No one disputes the South March Highlands' ecological, cultural and recreational value. But the city is building an extension to the nearby Terry Fox Drive highway through the Highlands, and private developers are building subdivisions. One of the developers, KNL Developments -- a partnership of builders Urbandale and Richcraft -- owns much of the Beaver Pond forest, which it purchased in 2002, and it plans to clear the trees in the second week of January.
A group of residents and supporters formed the Coalition to Protect the South March Highlands. Paul Renaud, a coalition spokesperson, says that the South March Highlands situation "is emblematic of the struggle for biodiversity in Canada." He states, "This is a national issue. We're talking about an area for which there is a land claim, from an aboriginal perspective; it's also a statement about biodiversity... that is literally in the backyard of Parliament."
 The coalition has tried to get municipal, provincial and federal authorities to take responsibility for that biodiversity and heritage... Last year, it launched a judicial review and then appeal of the Terry Fox Drive extension. By late 2010, it looked like the City of Ottawa might actually save the Beaver Pond forest. City Council had voted to try to obtain 29 hectares from KNL through a land swap and purchase. But Ottawa's new Council, elected in the fall, voted in December to protect only 2.4 hectares.
Community representatives contend that the City still needs to address inadequacies in previously taken environmental and archaeological assessments and storm water management plans before it allows tree removal. But so far that hasn't happened.
The situation reveals systemic problems. Development has been piecemeal, so individual development plans and assessments don't take into account the ecological integrity of the whole area. Under its official plan, the City has the responsibility to purchase and protect natural areas, but has no funds in its Environmental Lands Reserve. Still, Renaud says, the city budgets hundreds of millions of dollars for infrastructure and very little on protecting natural and culturally significant areas. He suggests that "green infrastructure is something the city ought to be formalising.
Renaud also suggests there`s a conflict of interest in the current system of "proponent-driven" environmental assessments in Ontario and elsewhere in Canada where developers fund the assessments. The coalition has also challenged the environmental screening procedures for the Terry Fox Drive, which was planned for 2013 but fast-tracked to 2010 to access federal infrastructure funding.
The coalition is exploring the possibility of having the South March Highlands incorporated into the federal Greenbelt. The National Capital Commission has said that at least one of the three scenarios it will present in early 2011 through its Greenbelt Master Plan review will include the Highlands. A final decision, though, may come too late for the Beaver Pond forest.
In the absence of government action, people are taking matters into their own hands. The coalition has prepared a stewardship plan to maintain the Beaver Pond forest as a natural and ecotourism site, drawing on community expertise and various funding sources. It has also offered to work with the developer to preserve the land and to establish a charitable land trust to which land could be donated.
Similar approaches are being tried elsewhere in Canada. For example, Mary Lake is a tract of Dry Coastal Douglas Fir Ecosystem on Vancouver Island near Victoria. The Mary Lake Conservancy has established a website where people can donate $10 to symbolically "purchase" a square metre of land. They're using social media to spread the word to potential donors. The conservancy adds that asking for a small amount allows "nearly everyone" to participate.
If communities organise and governments and private owners respond, there's hope that for groups trying to protect Canada's biodiversity and heritage, there will be light at the end of the tunnel. For the Beaver Pond forest, that light may be extinguished unless action is taken quickly.
Denise Deby is an Ottawa-based writer


Bees and Pesticides - Petition againt Bayer's Neonicotinoids in EU/US

AVAAZ:  Recent years have seen a steep and disturbing global decline in bee populations -- some bee species are now extinct and others are at just 4% of their previous numbers. Scientists have been scrambling for answers. Some studies claim the decline may be due to a combination of factors including disease, habitat loss and toxic chemicals. But new leading independent research has produced strong evidence blaming neonicotinoid pesticides. France, Italy, Slovenia and even Germany, where the main manufacturer Bayer is based, have banned one of these bee killers. But, Bayer continues to export its poison across the world

If we can get European and US decision-makers to take action, others will follow. It won’t be easy. A leaked document shows that the US Environmental Protection Agency knew about the pesticide’s dangers, but ignored them. The document says Bayer’s "highly toxic" product is a "major risk concern to non target insects [honey bees]".

We need to make our voices heard to counter Bayer’s very strong influence on policy makers and scientists in both the US and the EU where they fund the studies and sit on policy bodies. The real experts -- the beekeepers and farmers -- want these deadly pesticides prohibited until and unless we have independent studies that show they are safe. Let's support them now. Sign the petition

We can no longer leave our delicate food chain in the hands of research run by the chemical companies and the regulators that are in their pockets. Banning this pesticide will move us closer to a world safe for ourselves and the other species we care about and depend on.

Bee decline could be down to chemical cocktail interfering with brains
$15 Billion Bee Murder Mystery Deepens

Free Burma’s Political Prisoners | Human Rights Watch

Free Burma’s Political Prisoners | Human Rights Watch
The elections held on November 7, 2010 in Burma were widely seen as a sham poll designed by the military government to entrench its rule with a civilian façade. Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, whose National League for Democracy handily won the previous election in 1990, was prevented from running this year. Having spent 15 of the past 21 years under house arrest, she was only released on November 13, one week after the elections.

Although Aung San Suu Kyi has finally been released, more than 2,100 political prisoners remain in jail in Burma. These prisoners include members of the political opposition, human rights defenders, labor activists, artists, journalists, internet bloggers, as well as Buddhist monks and nuns.

Now is the time to renew the call for Burma’s government to release all political prisoners in Burma. Please sign the online version of this petition, at the link above and make your voice heard. Your support can help the people of Burma. (Note, you may select Canada/Not in USA).


Wikileaks update: Psychologist Organization Protests to Gates on Bradley Manning's Solitary Confinement

Psychologist Organization Protests to Gates on Bradley Manning's Solitary Confinement
Psychologists for Social Responsibility (PsySR), a non-profit organization of psychologists committed to social change and social justice, has written a letter to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, protesting “the needless brutality of the conditions to which 23-year-old PFC Bradley Manning is being subjected” at the Marine Corps brig at Quantico, Virginia. ..
Isolation is truly a form of torture, and one often practiced in the so-called civilized world. A vicious form of solitary confinement known as “Special Administrative Measures” or SAMs were imposed by the Bush Administration Department of Justice on Syed Fahad Hashmi, and renewed by Attorney General Holder under President Obama. The SAMs meant Hashmi was kept in 23-hour lockdown and isolation before trial for three long years.
While it is used to break and control prisoners in America’s Supermax prisons, when used on accused prisoners, such as the detainees at Guantanamo, it can be used to “exploit” the prisoner. Such “exploitation” is a key component of torture programs, as the torture regime seeks not just information, but ways to manipulate prisoners for political benefit, or for use by intelligence agencies. Recently, Wikileaks’ Julian Assange told Sir David Frost on Frost’s interview program that airs on English AlJazeera that he believes the tortuous conditions of Manning’s solitary confinement are meant to force Manning to implicate him in supposed crimes against the American government.

US action: Support Free Access to Birth Control

Support Free Access to Birth Control - The Petition Site
  • Target: US Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius
  • Sponsored by: CREDO Action
We have a chance to make birth control for women free by designating it preventative health care -- but we'll have to ensure the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) listens to women and not Catholic Bishops when it comes to women's reproductive health.

The White House has repeatedly failed to counter conservative initiatives that leave women without comprehensive health care. HHS's refusal to make birth control free for most women as long as it's designated as "preventative health care" is only the latest blow to women's reproductive health.

Fortunately, HHS is revisiting this decision. But the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops testified at the first meeting of the decision-making panel -- why would they weigh in on what qualifies as preventative health care for women? Tell the Secretary of HHS Kathleen Sebelius to listen to women, not Catholic Bishops, and recommend providing free access to birth control.


U.S. Military Spending Equals Rest Of The World Combined - Canadian Petition for Dept of Peace

U.S. Military Spending Almost Equals Rest Of The World Combined

The United States spends almost as much on the military as every other country in the world combined, according to Nicholas D. Kristof, writing in the The New York Times.

• The United States spends nearly as much on military power as every other country in the world combined, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. It says that we spend more than six times as much as the country with the next highest budget, China.

• The United States maintains troops at more than 560 bases and other sites abroad, many of them a legacy of a world war that ended 65 years ago. Do we fear that if we pull our bases from Germany, Russia might invade?

• The intelligence community is so vast that more people have 'top secret' clearance than live in Washington, D.C.

• The U.S. will spend more on the war in Afghanistan this year, adjusting for inflation, than we spent on the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Mexican-American War, the Civil War and the Spanish-American War combined.

There's another issue here too: having a strong military is important, but so is diplomacy. And as Kristof also points out, the U.S. military now has more people in its marching bands than the State Department has in its foreign service.

So - what about a department of peace? There is a long-standing initiative in many countries to established Ministries, Secretariats and Departments of Peace, rather than War and Military aggression. Here is a link to the United States Department of Peace Initiative.

Here is a Canadian Campaign (thanks to Terri):
"In this season of "Peace and Goodwill" the Canadian Department of Peace Initiatives is launching an on-line DoP petition".

This is to promote awareness of CDPI campaign asking the federal government to establish a Canadian Dept of Peace. Click on the link below to show your support:and/or sign the petition.

The campaign runs until January 31st. We are making a push for this campaign during the Holiday Season, and then a reminder in the early New Year.

We look forward to your signing the petition and disseminating it widely to friends and colleagues who are on your email lists and social media networks (facebook and twitter).
The petition is also posted on CDPI facebook page


Conscious Activism Doc Series - University of Toronto

Conscious Activism Doc Series | Hart House - University of Toronto - Jan 26 - March 2

This fall, Hart House continues its tradition of free programming that engages the mind, awakens the spirit and acts as an incubator of thoughtful exchange. Starting October 20th, Hart House is pleased to present the second annual Conscious Activism Doc Series - a call to action for the curious and the concerned.

Born of a desire to address injustice, each of these documentaries is an exploration of the complex relationship between social justice, spirit and activism. Following on the success of last years series, Hart House has selected 4 award-winning documentaries that represent a diverse landscape spanning local, national, and global issues of social justice.

Don’t miss this opportunity to engage with local, national and global perspectives on human rights while connecting with others in your community who share your curiosity and concern.