When the Council of Canadians formed 20 years ago, its main goal was to stave off the new world economic order imposed by the United States when then Prime Minister Brian Mulroney told a room full of businessmen in New York City that Canada was now, ‘open for business’. The CoC was formed in response to concerns from middle-and-working class Canadians that their sovereignty was under threat from big US business. Canadians said they wanted to do something about it as activists at the grassroots level.
With 100,000 members from coast to coast to coast and 75 communities hosting chapters of grassroots activists, the Council of Canadians has often been called Canada’s ‘unofficial opposition’. At the very least, it is a strong, non-partisan watchdog organisation. The CoC receives no government or corporate funding and is sustained entirely by members and foundation grants.
Since its inception, while engaging in a number of highly visible and successful national campaigns (see www.canadians.org), the Council of Canadians has grown and matured to proudly now call itself an internationalist organisation. Its international solidarity work has taken its spokesperson, Maude Barlow, and staff, to South Africa, Bolivia, Japan, Uruguay, Guatemala and Mexico, where support has been given to indigenous and community movements seeking to protect their lands and waters from corporate globalisation.
Not only should Canadians enjoy the right to decent public services, but all communities around the globe struggling to protect their rights to a healthy environment, to sustainable local economies, freedom from being robbed and ripped off by international trade regimes, and true sovereignty must be supported. A better world IS possible, and its diversity of spirit and expression is something to be admired and respected.
That line of reasoning resulted in strong alliances with Indigenous communities in Canada. In 2001, the Council of Canadians was invited to support the struggles of Stat’imc and Secwepemc Peoples in BC to protect their watersheds and traditional territories from ski resort developments. These developments threaten to completely destroy sacred ceremonial sites, animal habitats, and pristine watersheds. Since 2001, the CoC has worked with traditional land users and community activists from these two nations to support their Aboriginal Title and Rights arguments to protect their lands.
The CoC has received some criticism from settler communities located near disputed territories and other non-natives for its position. These people will say that the CoC should work with local governments and band councils to find resolutions, or in other words, to leave it to the negotiators. There are two responses to those criticisms.
The first is that the CoC works with community activists in 75 communities across Canada, most of which find themselves at extreme odds with their own elected representatives. Never does the CoC ask city councillors, MLAs or MPs for permission to meet and talk with the grassroots. Should the CoC have asked Vancouver Mayor Larry Campbell or Councillor Peter Ladner for permission to work with anti-Walmart or anti-RAV activists? Clearly not. Why should the organisation behave differently in Aboriginal communities? When invited by the grassroots to support work on a shared area of concern, we will do so under the community’s direction.
Secondly, the CoC receives regular accolades for supporting indigenous struggles in the so-called third world. CoC members would find it extremely hypocritical if the organisation were to turn its back on similar struggles here in Canada. As the CoC and its members fight for economic and cultural sovereignty from the United States and international trade regimes and independence to set its own foreign policy it is also right to support the struggles of Indigenous Nations to do the same.
Many settler communities are making the links between their own struggles to protect their local ecosystems and create sustainable economies and the rights of other communities – both international and Indigenous – to do the same. So, in actual fact, there has been a tremendous level of support from CoC members and chapter activists for this solidarity work.
Our most common shared areas of concern involve water, food security, peace, and development issues, such as ski resort development and mining. Other Council of Canadians national campaigns cover national and international water issues, factory farming, food security, fair trade, Canada-US relations, energy and healthcare. You can bring your energy and skills to one of 32 BC-Yukon chapters (or any of the 75 national chapters) by contacting the Council of Canadians National Office in Ottawa.
The Council of Canadians is proud to participate in the 16th annual Under the Volcano Festival.
in the BC-Yukon Region:
toll free: 1.888.566.3888 / local: 604.688.8846
Tara Scurr, BC-Yukon Regional Organiser for the Council of Canadians.
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