Alberta’s Oil Sands are a Project of Colonial Violence


by Arij Riahi

In early July I traveled to Fort McMurray, Alberta. The booming oil town– sometimes renamed Fort McMoney– is located 400 kilometres northeast of Edmonton. It is also the very centre of the country’s largest industrial project.

As we drive deep into tar sands territory the trees on each side of Highway 63 get dark and flimsy. Only their skinny trunks are visible; their boreal foliage is blackened. Whatever the cause of their sickliness, the sight was an apt prelude.

I traveled to participate in the Healing Walk, a yearly event organized by the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation and the Keepers of the Athabasca, a group of First Nations, Metis, Inuit, and settler allies working for the protection of land, water, and air along the Athabasca River, which flows through the tar sands. The walk, based in ceremony and led by elders, lasted over six hours. Participants circled the petrochemical facilities of the Canadian oil producer Syncrude and witnessed the destructive impact of tar sands development.

The visuals are overwhelming. The landscape’s desolation scrolls as the environmental destruction speeds up. During the 14 kilometres of the Healing Walk, we must wear masks. Less than an hour after we begin marching, several people complain of headaches. At one moment, I took off my mask to lick my lips. A sulfurous taste greeted my tongue. I felt like I was soaking in the fumes of hydrocarbons. In the distance, a vertical tower spits into the sky smoke so thick and white that it mixes with the clouds to the point where it’s impossible to tell where one ends and the other begins.

The sight is undeniably shocking. However, the fact that indigenous nations are directly bearing the burden of this environmental destruction is downright offensive. Oil sands development has a disproportionate negative impact on First Nations, which are usually located in the vicinity of polluting facilities.

With the movement against tar sands growing and raising concerns about our oil dependence, it is time to open a frank conversation about environmental racism. It is time to talk about how environmental policy in Canada might be resting on colonial premises. Read more

Posted on by Arij Riahi in Can-Con, Racism 1 Comment

No Homophobes Project Launches PSA

nohomophobesby Jarrah Hodge

Back in December I interviewed Dr. Kristopher Wells of the University of Alberta’s project, which uses a website tracking homophobic language on Twitter to act as a “social mirror” drawing attention to everyday homophobia.

This week the campaign started a new phase by launching a PSA that asks why homophobic language is still widely used and often accepted. The language could be considered NSFW, so fair warning:

Global TV donated the PSA production and the clip was created by No Homophobes partner Calder Bateman. Jeff McLean of Calder Bateman told Global News: “We thought the PSA or the TV spot would be a visual representation of the tweets that are coming in on the website…Hearing it from these people is quite shocking.”

In a statement Wells said, “We no longer tolerate racist language, weʼre getting better at dealing with sexist language, but sadly we still see and hear homophobic and transphobic language in our society. While this language might not always be meant to be hurtful, we must not forget that words like “faggot” contribute greatly to the continued alienation and isolation of sexual and gender (LGBTQ) people, especially our youth.”

The PSA has already started getting international attention and will hopefully contribute to raising awareness and increasing constructive dialogue about homophobic language use in Canada and around the world.

Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Can-Con, LGBT Leave a comment

U of A’s “No Homophobes” Project Confronts Casual Homophobia

nohomophobesby Jarrah Hodge

The first time I visited it was an emotional experience. The site acts as a “social mirror”, capturing real-time use of homophobic slurs on Twitter, and it quickly becomes clear just how staggering a problem casual homophobia is.

I spoke to Dr. Kristopher Wells, Associate Director of the University of Alberta Institute for Sexual Minority Studies and Services, which started the project earlier this year, about how this relatively simple Canadian idea has had such a wide impact.

Wells told me that the idea for No Homophobes came out of research on casual homophobia and how it manifests in our public education system. EGALE Canada’s national national climate survey on homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia in Canadian schools, for example, found that 70% of LGBTQ youth hear phrases like “That’s so gay” every day in their schools. 10% of the time the phrases are actually coming from teachers.

“Sadly, for many LGBTQ youth this kind of casual homophobia is part of their daily reality,” said Wells.

The challenge was to put something together to bring public awareness to the issue of casual homophobia – not just in schools, but also in our society as a whole. The idea was to create a website that compiles tweets, using our four key words (“faggot”, “so gay”, “no homo”, and “dyke”), in real time, from all over English-speaking world. Wells and the iSMSS turned to their community partners, getting help from Calder Bateman in Edmonton and Burnkit in Vancouver to set up the website graphics and technical aspects.

Wells explained: “We wanted to do something different that was actually going to target and speak not only to youth, but also to the broader community – and we figured out pretty quickly that we needed to do something with social media, which is where most youth seem to live.” Read more

Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Can-Con, LGBT 2 Comments

Alberta Sex-Ed System May Be Deficient

The Global Forum on Men Who Have Sex With Men & HIV (MSMGF) has released the results of a  new global survey on HIV prevention strategies, which revealed that less than half of the world’s men who have sex with men (MSMs) have access to HIV prevention education.

The results aren’t terribly surprising but give a strong research backing to the anecdotal evidence about inadequate sex education and the wide variety of sex education information/programs people have access to, as we saw here in our open thread post on sex ed.

Canada might provide more school-based sex ed on the whole than the United States, but there are still strong variations based on provincial regulation and whether classes are provided by teachers or nurses. I had a pretty good experience with public school sex ed here in BC, but I have friends who got very little information. But of all the provinces, Alberta might be the worst, allowing parents to take their kids out of sex ed entirely if they object to the lessons.

Doctors Wells and Doherty from the U of A Faculty of Education outlined their concerns with Alberta’s sex ed system in the Edmonton Sun: ““This becomes a public health imperative,” Wells explained. “What kind of harm are we doing to our children by not providing them with this information?”

Indeed, points out:

Macleans is reporting on a cluster of syphilis cases in Alberta, including tragic cases of congenital syphilis that have left nine infants dead and adult cases of untreated syphilis leading to neurological and heart disorders. Unfortunately, the article’s author has buried the lede under a whistful account of 19th-century dramatist Henrik Ibsen’s syphilis play Ghosts.

Way down in the article’s second-last paragraph, the author gets to the point:

“Others wonder if conservative mores have been part of the drama. “Our sex ed is a patchwork, with little strong guidance from the top,” warns Pam Krause of Calgary’s Sexual Health Centre. “People are okay to deal with certain things, but we’re still suffering from a lack of normalization of the harder topics.” Even medical education in Alberta, she suggests, has allowed Victorian morality to interfere with the struggle for teaching resources.” 

Lest we forget, in 2009, Alberta passed Bill 44 forcing teachers to notify parents in advance about any classroom discussions of sex or religion, giving parents the right to opt their children out.

Instead of making sure kids in schools have comprehensive sex education, Alberta’s idea of making young people aware of STIs apparently involves unclear satirical ad campaigns like “Plenty of Syph”.


Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Can-Con, Feminism, LGBT Leave a comment

Alberta Finally Removes Homosexuality From Mental Disorder List

Came across this Edmonton Journal article via Queerty yesterday:

EDMONTON — Alberta continues to list homosexuality as a “mental disorder” along with bestiality and pedophilia, and doctors used the diagnostic code to bill the province for treating gays and lesbians more than 1,750 times between 1995 and 2004, government records show.

The province has known about the classification for more than a decade and the Conservative government first promised to change it in 1998. On Tuesday, Health Minister Gene Zwozdesky repeated that promise.

Seriously, Alberta? Seriously? The Canadian Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from its list of mental disorders in 1982, and the WHO did so in 1990. Keeping homosexuality on the books gives fuel for the arguments of homophobic fundamentalist groups and there’s no excuse for it to be on Alberta’s books 5 years after BC removed it from theirs, and 9 years after China agreed being gay doesn’t mean you’re mentally ill.

Luckily by the end of the day yesterday Alberta had announced they had removed homosexuality from the list of mental disorders. But even though the immediate issue has been dealt with, the realm of gender and sexual identity related to mental illness is still contested terrain. Pink News points out that most health bodies, including the APA and the WHO still list transsexualism as a mental illness rather than a medical condition, a factor which can contribute to the stigma facing trans people and the scrutiny they face when trying to access health services. France is the only country in the world to de-list transsexualism as a mental illness.

Here’s hoping it won’t take decades for places like Alberta and the rest of Canada to follow France’s lead.

Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in LGBT, Politics Leave a comment