Saturday, September 30, 2023

Orange Shirt Day/Orange Is The New Black


National Truth & Reconciliation Day or, Orange Shirt Day, as it is more commonly referred to, is slowly starting to become a part of the national consciousness and that has to be a good thing on many levels. Sadly, it took the discovery of children's graves on the grounds of residential schools to finally give us a collective wake-up call but it worked. Through the story of a little 6 year old girl, who had her new orange shirt stripped off and taken away on her first day at the Mission school, we now have a recognizable symbol for the movement that is now engaged in a wide range of initiatives seeking redress for past wrongs.

And it's about time, because ignoring the abusive and discriminatory treatment of First Nations people is turning out to be a very expensive head-in-the-sand approach. The horrific, well documented, and ongoing saga of the residential school abuses has at long last wound its way through the legal system and survivors have been collectively awarded $3 billion in compensation. A further $23 billion was later awarded to First Nations for the discriminatory underfunding of Child and Family Services programs and to implement the Jordon's Principle, a child-first, needs-based policy to provide access to all government funded services to all First Nations children whether they live on or off a reserve.

Even before First Nations groups were tricked into surrendering title to their lands on the prairies, so that railways could be built and farming homesteads could be established, they signed away title in 1850 to land around Lake Superior and Lake Huron in a pair of agreements called the Robinson Treaties. Negotiated by William Robinson, the treaties provided the Province of Canada access to the north shores of Lakes Huron and Superior for settlement and mineral extraction. In exchange, the Indigenous people of the region got hunting and fishing rights that lasted until the lands were settled, a one time payment, and an annual annuity $1.60 per person with an "escalator clause" that would increase as the revenues from the lands increased. In 1874 the annuity was increased to $4.00 per person but never increased afterwards, in spite of the hundreds of billions of profits generated by industry since. In 2019 this led to a retroactive court claim that was settled in 2023 for $10 billion for the Robinson-Huron treaty. The Robinson-Superior treaty case is still ongoing but First Nations are asking for $100 billion.

In the 1870's, when the so-called numbered treaties 1-7 were being signed to provide land for settlers on the prairies, reserves were also set up for the First Nations people, along with the provision for seeds, some tools, and supplies in the event of crop failure. The reserves were to enable them to make the transfer to an agricultural way of life now that the bison had been wiped out and, in the beginning, many of the First Nation farmers were quite successful. However, their success soon led to settler animosity and, in 1889, the government introduced the Peasant Farm Policy which restricted the types of tools First Nations could use, how much they could grow, and what they were allowed to sell. Farms were reduced to 40 acres, machinery was forbidden, and all planting and harvesting had to be done by hand. These policies soon put most of the First Nations farmers out of business and their reserve farmlands were then sold by the government to new settlers because the government claimed they weren't using the land properly. 

As much as 20% of First Nations reserves were illegally sold off by the government between 1896-1911 and this continued up until the 1930's. To make matters worse the money collected by the government on the land sales wasn't always turned over to the band it belonged to. However, in recent years lawsuits were filed against the government to contest the illegal surrender of reserve land and, more than $3.5 billion has since been awarded to 56 claimants. This past August the Muscowpetung Saulteaux Nation alone was awarded $150 million, the maximum allowable. 

British Columbia has the distinction of being the only Canadian Province to not have signed any treaties with the First Nations to get them to surrender their lands. B.C. First Nations, having learned from the mistakes of others, will never surrender title to their land now but this omission has led to countless court battles over their rights to control what happens to their territories. (Delgamuukw, Tsilhqot'in, Nisga'a etc.) This past week the B.C. Supreme Court ruled that First Nations must be consulted before any mineral claims are made in their territories. This ruling promises to have a profound impact on the current system for awarding mineral claims and other resource development.

The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples provides a framework for reconciliation, healing and peace, as well as harmonious and cooperative relations based on the principles of justice, democracy, respect for human rights, non-discrimination and good faith, and this has been affirmed by both the Federal and Provincial governments. After all the court cases and residential school discoveries, surely it's time for all of us to realize the injustice needs to stop and we need to work harder and faster on reconciliation. Orange shirt day has been with us for three years now and every year more and more orange shirts can be spotted on the streets. The more orange the better because orange is the new black in this country and it's about time.

Saturday, September 9, 2023

Flying The Unfriendly Skies Of Air Canada

The latest complaint to surface about Air Canada has really taken first prize for customer abuse and it almost seems like the airline is running an internal contest to shock and awe its passengers. To try and force people to sit on a seat covered in vomit, throw them off the plane when they refused, and then make them pay for another ticket to fly home after threatening to put them on a no-fly list is like hitting a grand slam. Sadly this complaint is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to customer service with Air Canada, already at the bottom of the pile for North American airlines when it comes to reliability.

The tales of lost luggage, missed connections, lousy food, unsympathetic staff, and other horror stories plague all the airlines but the arrogance of Air Canada is in a league of its own and everyone has a favourite one they like to share. The fact that it's basically a monopoly is part of the problem but it's also the toothless/non-existent Passenger Rights in this country that allow Air Canada to flout its arrogance with such impunity. But it wasn't always this way.

In the good old days flying was an exciting pleasure, not something you fretted over and dreaded. Friends and family could join you for a farewell drink at the airport bar before you boarded your flight and there were often standby passengers at the boarding gate hoping to get a cut-rate seat on the airplane if the flight wasn't sold out. If you had a change of plans you could sell your ticket to anyone and the airline didn't care as it was yours to do with what you wanted. 

Nobody had to show any ID and you certainly didn't have to have your luggage torn open, your belt and shoes removed, and all your liquid toiletries stuffed into a separate plastic bag. Your baggage would always arrive at its proper destination and there wasn't a charge for bringing it with you. Overhead bins were for small carry on bags and briefcases, and there was even a closet to hang suits and coats. 

Once everyone was comfortably seated, with a decent amount of leg room, a pleasant looking stewardess with a friendly disposition would come around after take-off and ask if you would like a cocktail. On overseas flights drinks of course were free and, after a couple of hours, a tasty dinner would be served, complete with real cutlery, cloth napkins and your choice of wine. Then, when the dishes had all been cleared away, coffee and liqueurs would be served.

People used to get dressed up when they went on a flight, just like they used to when they went to work, most people were reasonably slim and trim so they fit into their seats, and flying was considered a step up from riding a bus. Not anymore. The cabin of a typical airplane now resembles a third world bus full of overweight passengers wearing beach wear and gym clothes and carrying bundles, baskets, and cages of half-dead chickens.

The trouble with airline travel is that, on top of the ridiculous security precautions everyone has to endure, it has become a race to the bottom. Everyone is looking for the cheapest ticket rather than the best service and, as a result, the whole experience has deteriorated into a glorified bus ride (unless of course you can afford to travel first class) with airlines doing everything they can to cut costs. Add to that a lack of competition and you have a perfect storm for guaranteeing a miserable experience.

There's an old saying that it's the journey not the destination that counts and with airline travel such a frustration it's no wonder train travel is making a comeback and cruising is more popular than ever. Yes airline travel is quicker but it's certainly not as pleasant and, with airline travel contributing to 10% of global emissions, it's not very environmentally friendly either. Sadly there's no going back to the glory days of air travel but the skies can be a lot more friendly if we simply avoid having anything to do with Air Canada.