Two youth in the ridings of Guelph and Kitchener-Centre are participating as independent candidates in the provincial election on the basis of putting forward their demands in defence of rights. People's participation in politics is typically presented as limited to merely voting, but these two youth reject this sideline role and have come forward to ensure that the issues on which they are fighting every day are given standing in the election.
Julian Ichim, running in the riding of Guelph, is a well-known anti-poverty organizer who has been active for many years in opposing the anti-social offensive. Julian works tirelessly to affirm the rights of all by virtue of being human, especially the most vulnerable in the society. He leads work of street-involved and homeless youth and others to develop their defence organizations, and the programs and infrastructure they require. He opposes the law and order agenda of the Harper government, which treats the problems caused by the exploitative economic system as matters to be solved with state violence. Julian points to the need for governments to stop paying the rich and increase investments in social programs in order to change the direction of the economy and as a starting point to recognize the right of all to heath care, education, recreation, housing and social programs they require in order to affirm their quality of being human. A society is duty-bound to guarantee livelihoods for all, Julian points out. As part and parcel of this work, Julian militantly opposes efforts by the state to criminalize organizers such as himself and his peers. He actively works against this criminalization and upholds the human right of all Canadians to organize on the basis of their conscience.
Mark Corbiere is running in the riding of Kitchener-Centre. Mark is a Native youth and anti-poverty activist who is known and respected by his peers and all those who are concerned about the well-being of the youth. He organizes the youth to work as a collective in defence of their rights and the rights of others on the basis that no one should be left to fend for themselves when they face issues of poverty, homelessness and discrimination. Whether it be local events in Kitchener or mass rallies to oppose the oppressive policies of the G8/G20 countries, Mark makes sure that the interests of the youth and people are defended. Mark's work to defend the rights of all is an extension of his commitment to uphold the hereditary rights of the First Nations.
Out of his experience, Mark has seen the necessity for democratic renewal so that people themselves become the decision makers. It is only by having decision making power that people can provide for themselves the solutions to the problems they face, whether it be resolving the historical issue of native land rights on a just basis, to putting an end to homelessness and poverty, Mark points out.
Speaking to the situation in Ontario and the necessity
for people to
become politically active in defence of their rights, Mark condemns the
fact that the
people of Ontario are being made to pay for the economic crisis caused
by the monopolies. While big business gets tax cuts and bailouts even
though their activities worsen the economic and financial crises, every
see their taxes increase while social services are cut and jobs
disappear. Mark says this is not right and, to make matters worse, he
says, when people oppose these
reckless activities they face increasing state violence."There is an
alternative!" Mark says. "Together, we
can build a society that provides the rights of all with a guarantee!"
These youth recognize the necessity for collective political action to defend their rights and build the necessary organizations that can carry out this work. Take for example the recent founding of the group "For the People" in Guelph. Julian informs that on August 28, members of Guelph's downtown community organized a barbecue and public meeting where it was decided to create a group to defend the rights of the people. The Facebook page for the group explains that For the People is a direct action anti-poverty group that is focused on defending the rights of all people. Its guiding principles are: putting the needs of the people first and taking up social responsibility. In taking up its social responsibility, the group defends the right of every member of the community to access the basic necessities required to sustain life, and opposes discrimination based on gender, sexuality, age or income. "We believe that human rights are not something that can be given or taken away, nor are they something that must be earned, but rather they are everyone's birthright, something they have by virtue of being human," the group states. In practice, it carries out food servings (every Sunday at 4:30 in St. George's Square), harm-reduction outreach, fundraisers, direct actions, Ontario Works casework and other activities.
Ontario Political Forum
salutes both Julian Ichim and Mark Corbiere and all those working with
them on their campaigns for boldly participating in this election and
for making their politics known and setting an example for everyone to
take up. Their work to organize the youth to defend their rights by
defending the rights of all is the most important contribution they
could make to the people of Ontario for whom the well-being of the
youth is very precious. We call on everyone to support these youth,
including their bid for election. Only by putting responsible people
like Julian and Mark in office, those who every day show their ability
to tackle the problems the youth face, can a new direction of caring
for the youth be set for Ontario.
2004 May Day conference organized by Kitchener-Waterloo Youth Collective.
Youth Participation Livens Up
Julian Ichim speaks at all-candidates meeting in Guelph, September 20, 2011. (Guelph Mercury)
Julian Ichim, independent youth candidate for the riding
of Guelph in
the provincial election participated in a September 20
all-candidates forum focused on the issue of poverty. It was held at
the Italian Cultural Club and hosted by
the Guelph & Wellington Task Force for the Elimination of Poverty
Coalition for Social Justice. Julian himself is running on an
anti-poverty platform to
defend the interests of street youth and others who are especially
alienated from the political process because of their economic
Also present at the forum were incumbent Liz Sandals representing the Liberals, James Gordon for the NDP, Steve Dyck of the Green Party, Greg Schink of the Progressive Conservatives and Drew Garvie of the Communist Party.
Julian was the first candidate to arrive at the event and took the opportunity to greet people and engage them in discussion about the issues facing them in this election. He spent time discussing poverty and how the issues present themselves in people's day to day lives.
In his opening statement, Julian pointed out his direct work to deal with poverty issues as a member of the collective For the People which is dedicated to serving free food and providing other services for the poor and homeless in Guelph. He also works to politicize marginalized youth. Julian demonstrated that those who are involved in the fight for the rights of all on a daily basis are the most fit to represent their collectives, not politicians who are removed from the issues. He called on all candidates to join them at the Sunday food servings so that they could see the reality of poverty and hear the demands of people.
During the forum, Julian passionately defended the need for social assistance and other programs to solve poverty. In response to other candidates who described poverty as a complex issue, Julian responded: "poverty is not a complex issue; it can be solved by investing in after-school programs and education in the communities that need funding to combat the root causes of poverty." He challenged the Liberals for their cuts to programs like the Special Diet Allowance, an additional payment of up to $250 per month for those on social assistance to address dietary needs. He also called out the Liberal candidate for refusing to meet with anti-poverty activists to discuss their concerns. He called on people not to be silenced and to speak out against the Liberals and hold them to account for their wrecking of social services for the poor.
In his closing statement, Julian encouraged people to
vote on October 6 with their conscience and to resist threats
perpetuated by political parties to vote based on fear of another
candidate or their party. He was congratulated by many who attended the
forum for taking a just stand on the issues.
Julian's participation in this and other meetings,
including one hosted by the Guelph
Mercury and another at Guelph University have been
well-received, with participants appreciating his insights,
straightforward delivery and his commitment to turning his words into
On Sunday, September 25, the Guelph anti-poverty organization For the People held its weekly serving of free food in St. George's Square. Sunday's meal was notable for the fact that all the candidates running in the riding of Guelph for the provincial election were invited to come and take part in the event to meet low income residents in the riding. Independent candidate Julian Ichim, who is a member of For the People, was the only one who attended. Speaking to the Guelph Mercury, Julian stated, "This week we invited the different candidates who, during the anti-poverty forum stated they cared about poverty -- to come and hear what people actually have to say, and actually meet poor people." The impoverished should be listened to during the campaign, he said, adding, "We believe people have the right to decent food, so we do this every week, regardless."
The invitation was sparked by Liberal incumbent Liz Sandals' remarks at a September 20 all-candidates meeting centred around issues of poverty. Julian posed a question to Sandals based on his experience organizing low-income people on the issue of the Special Diet Allowance. He asked why Sandals refuses to meet with constituents around this issue. Sandals' contemptuous reply was that she is busy and does not have time to deal with "mobs."
The dictionary defines a "mob" as: "A large crowd of people, esp. one that is disorderly and intent on causing trouble or violence; common people collectively: a contemptuous term; Informal. a gang of criminals ..."
For someone whose very job description is to represent and meet with all her constituents, criminalizing a section of her constituents as a "mob" is at the very least fundamentally anti-democratic and grossly negligent, Julian pointed out. It is a retrogressive outlook that is a feature of a slave society and the civil death it imposed on those deemed inhuman and unworthy of rights, he said. It would not be a problem if it were only a random individual who thinks like this he added. However, it is a problem because it is typical for those in power to stereotype poor people so as to shirk the social responsibilities that governments are duty-bound to take up. It must be vigorously opposed. How can such a person be considered fit to hold office, Julian asked. Sandal's contemptuous dismissal of the concerns of the youth and the poor make it clear what kind of Ontario is wanted by the Liberals and other parties who seek to champion the rich and the monopolies, he stated, adding, "An attack against one is an attack against all! Reject attacks on poor people and refuse to accept the civil death that Sandals and the Liberals condemn us to!"
Youth Detention Centres
Youth detention centres in Canada reveal the injustice inherent in our class structured society. Not only are youth incarcerated based on class, but national minority youth are disproportionately represented among the detainees. For many youth, inequality, poverty, lack of prospects and exclusion from political decisions transform crime into a rational choice for attaining their goals. Many incarcerated national minority youth come from poor working class neighbourhoods in Toronto, such as Malton, Jane-Finch and Jamestown, areas where unemployment, underemployment, poverty, violence and police racism are not uncommon. Jailing the youth does not make them healthy nor does it solve the social problems of our society. The detention centre only breaks their spirit.
Over the years the Canadian people and youth have experienced the anti-social offensive of governments of various stripes that has undermined the possibilities for the youth to become productive members of society. Communities need more social programs to guarantee the right to education, housing, recreation facilities and a livelihood -- good schools, community centres, housing, training centres and jobs that provide a living at a Canadian standard. In the absence of this, the youth become desperate and gravitate towards anti-social activities, and many eventually find themselves incarcerated. The money to invest in such programs for the people of Ontario, specifically the most vulnerable sectors, is available. However, the Ontario government under the McGuinty Liberals has as a priority ensuring that $10 billion a year in interest alone goes to pay the province's money lenders. This is the capital-centred, anti-human and anti-youth position of the Ontario government.
Spending more money on jails and police is not the solution to the problem of youth crime. To do so is anti-science as it does not address what the people, especially youth, really need. The anti-social agenda of the previous Progressive Conservative government of Mike Harris has continued with the Liberal government.
The anti-social agenda of the state, which has such adverse effects on communities, including poverty and crime, has been concealed by various governments in Ontario through legislation such as the 'Safe' Schools Act (which has been rehashed and given another name). According to Bart Lubow, Director of the Juvenile Justice Strategy Group, research has shown that low education and crime are connected. If kids are pushed out, and many youth in Ontario have been in the last decade with the 'Safe' Schools Act, "we increase odds of youth engaged in criminal activity." Lubow points out that cuts to education funding push the poorest and most challenging youth out of the school system quicker.
"Behavioural challenging" and suspensions cover up the lack of funding in education and the effects of the neoliberal policies that have been and continue to be unleashed with dire effects on the working class and the most vulnerable youth in the province. Funding for more teacher assistants, social workers, psychologists and smaller class sizes are needed to address and ameliorate the growing problems faced by youth today.
In the Griffin Centre Report (2005), Jane-Finch youth put forward their demands for increased "investments in new social infrastructure in high needs neighbourhoods, sustainable funding for existing and new social service investments to help local citizens and community groups develop ownership of their communities and become active participants in the development of solutions to local community problems."
Sandra Carnegie-Douglas, president of the Jamaican-Canadian Association, said that the black community's main problem is systemic poverty, which gives rise to the desperate conditions many youth face and leads them to join gangs and commit crimes. The Jane-Finch community has been one of the hardest hit in terms of the anti-social offensive which started with the NDP under Bob Rae. The level of poverty in the community has increased as the various levels of government that have followed continue with their anti-social, anti-people, anti-youth policies.
In 2009, youth held various anti-poverty rallies in the Jane-Finch area in front of the Ontario Social Services Centre to demand as a right the increase in social assistance and to allow people to have funds to live at the highest standard of living that a society can provide. Various organizations, such as the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty, No One Is Illegal and the York Federation of Students attended these rallies to show their support for the residents and youth in the area.
According to The Jane-Finch Neighbourhood Action Plan Report (2005) and youth researchers, the Jane-Finch area is facing serious difficulty, including unemployment and despair, racism, classism, and deteriorating living conditions. The ruling circles claim not to know the answers to the root causes of youth crime, and instead choose to squander money to increase law enforcement and build more jails as the federal Harper government is presently doing. This chaotic, anachronistic society we live in is derived from the exploitative social relations that are being upheld by the politicians of the rich and their spokespersons. Unemployment, poverty, marginalization, lack of prospects, poor housing, racial profiling and humiliation engender violence. The youth are reacting to their social conditions and, as mentioned previously, when there are no prospects it is understandable why they join gangs. The capitalist state, irrespective of the level of government, is violent in its failure to fund the needs of the people and youth. This violence by the capital centred state is violence of omission, whose only aim is to serve the rich and the monopolies.
Part of the problem is that there is no mechanism in place to have the people of Ontario and Canada at large initiate policies and execute them in their favour so that problems, such as youth crime can be rectified. Instead, the system is preserved so that the people and youth continue to be marginalized and their views blocked. This is why it is important to have the youth discuss these issues and organize politically in order to have a vision of an alternative to the present conditions.
In 1920, American socialist and union leader Eugene Debs said, "Capitalism needs and must have the prison to protect itself from the (lower-class) criminals it has created "
On September 6, 1995 Dudley George, a member of the Kettle and Stony Point First Nation, was shot by Sgt. Kenneth Deane of the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) as he was upholding his hereditary rights to the lands of his people that had been expropriated by the Canadian government in 1942 to build a military base. A subsequent government inquiry in May 2007 could not cover up that responsibility for what led to Dudley's death lay with the OPP, the government of former Ontario Premier Mike Harris and the federal government.
At the time of his shooting, the Canadian state through the police, media and politicians tried to characterize Dudley and all those who took the bold stand to refuse to be intimidated by the OPP as "extremists," in order to justify their state-organized violence and cover up the Natives' just demands. Today the Canadian state refuses to deal with First Nations on a nation-to-nation basis, and continues its attempts to sow division and criminalize the struggle for the recognition of First Nations land claims and hereditary rights as "extremism" and even "terrorism." This shows the importance of taking a bold step in defence of the rights of all and not permitting the people to be divided -- it is the Canadian state that uses fascist violence to sort out political differences, not the people.
Today, Ontario Political Forum pays deepest respects to Dudley's memory and pledges itself to realize his cause of justice for all First Nations.
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