Monday, April 20, 2009
Canada's empty seat is noticed
Monday April 20.09
Walking through the gates to access the Main Assembly of United Nations, you pass between the flags of nearly 200 some countries on the planet. This place works hard to be representative of the planet
Those headed to work in this building are speaking many languages; they are also as colourful as the flags lining the walk.
The aura of diversity and inclusivity in this place is also evident in the long walkways and hallways which host intriguing posters, photo displays and presentations. The hallway that takes our delegation to the Assembly Hall for example has a powerful set of panels that convey the horrific reality of the Trans Atlantic slave trade.
Walking alongside me are their descendants of this racist history who have come here to advocate for justice and reparations so that we can all move forward as equals.
Due to the large number of civil society organizations that have come to this conference, and limited number of seats in the Assembly Hall a badge system is in play. Every NGO delegation can only have one access badge to enter the Hall and these limited seats are further distributed between the ground floor and two upper floors that overlook the main hall.
Getting the single badge for our 11 person delegation requires me to line up each day at 7am. We share the badge so that interested members can enter for part of the day’s agenda each day. The conference proceedings are also broadcast into another Hall so others can monitor things via simulcast. At the same time, a number of side events are taking place addressing issues such combating racism in the world of work; migrant workers rights; transatlantic slave trade, or issues specific to the Asian community.
Inside the Assembly Hall, UN member country seats occupy three rows of the centre and face the podium where UN officials sit. Near the front of the alphabetically spread of countries is Canada’s seat, which for this conference will remain empty.
Canada’s seat is empty.
The Conservative governments’ decision not to participate in this conference long before a single paragraph of the draft outcomes text was even written, occupies the vacancy of the Canada’s seat in the Assembly Hall with disgrace. Throughout our time here, international comrades’ remark they once knew Canada to be a champion of human rights and now ask with puzzlement, “why is your government not here? “
Immigration Minister Jason Kenny had said Canada would boycott this conference early in 2008. One activist noted the term ‘boycott’ implies certain credibility as justification to shun participation. The Canadian government’s absence here carries no such integrity.
Canada’s decision to withdraw from a UN process intended to assess what each country has done to eliminate racism, discrimination and related intolerances since 2001 based on the DDPA is like a kid who opts to skip the test because they know they will get a failing grade.
Racism is pernicious reality for aboriginal peoples, African Canadians and racialized communities and newcomers in our workplaces and communities.
This reality is confronted on a daily basis for our communities who struggle with disproportionate levels of poverty, lack of access to decent work, education, housing and healthcare. All color coded inequalities that are on the rise in Canada. With economic conditions continuing to deteriorate, these equality seeking communities will continue to suffer disproportionately.
Today’s opening session included a powerful commentary by the Secretary General of the UN. In a just a few poignant sentences he outlined there comes a time in humankind affairs when we must stand firm on the fundamental principles that bind us. There comes a time when we have no other choice but to affirm and act in ways that demonstrate human rights and dignity for all – that time is now, he said.
He noted the immense challenges of our current moment in time are when the fight to eliminate racism must become a paramount concern. The Secretary Treasurer seemed to talking to Canada’s empty seat, when he said, “some nations, who by rights should be helping to forge a path to better future, are not here.” He made it clear exiting from the task is not an option, if you’re serious about changing the past and charting an equal future for all.
Despite the Canadian government absence our delegation will nonetheless work with other allies and lobby governments delegations that are here to strengthen the outcomes document which is intended to provide a follow up mechanism for governments to eliminate racism in their national action plans and policies.
We are also networking with talented civil society groups and nearly 60 representatives from other unions attending this conference under the banner of the International Trade Union Conference. Together we have analyzed the outcomes document and noted specific changes that would improve the national actions designed to eliminate racism, discrimination and related intolerances in the workplace.
I join a small group of ITUC comrades to condense our proposals for specific language into one page. The changes we are prioritizing would commit nations to adequately resource national initiatives; to urge States to sign on to relevant ILO conventions; to urge States to sign on and implement actions that will support the rights of migrant workers and their families; strengthen the capacity of labour inspectorates to identify discrimination that is based on race, gender, ethnic, religious or cultural identify at work and for the document to properly acknowledge the role of the labour movement in the struggle to eliminate racism and discrimination.
Because we only have one badge that enables access to the main hall where government delegates can be easily found, (though we have found ways to get a few additional badges) delegates take shifts working the room with our one pager advocating for these changes to the outcomes document.
The afternoon promises to be electric because the first speaker is the President of Iran…
More on that in the next post I hope ….
post by |Karl Flecker
CLC Anti-racism and Human Rights Dept.