Archive for the ‘News Articles’ Category

Indigenous lives matter

April 16, 2018

by Janet Nicol

This February, a visibly all-white jury acquitted Gerald Stanley of second degree murder in the death of Colten Boushie, a 22 year old man from Red Pheasant First Nation reserve in Saskatchewan and even dismissed the charge of manslaughter, accepting his defence that the gun fired accidentally. Thousands of Canadians – indigenous and non-indigenous – took to the streets in cities across the country, with slogans including ‘I am Colten’ and ‘No justice, no peace’.

I deliver a short report on this case and its aftermath in the current issue of New Internationalist magazine.

Women’s march – 2018

March 8, 2018

Check out the latest issue of Our Times magazine for my report on this year’s women’s march in Vancouver. (Winter, 2017-18)

Women’s Union Video, Fight For $15 & Retail Action Network

May 27, 2017

by Janet Nicol

Watch for my labour notes in the upcoming spring issue of Our Times magazine on…..

a short history video about women’s participation in the BC Government Employees’ Union. The video is available on youtube and has been energizing female members to become more involved in their union.

Also in the notes is an update on the ‘fight for $15’ – an initiative by the BC Federation of Labour to raise the minimum wage so non-union workers can cope with the high cost of living.

Tied with this campaign is the advocacy work of the Retail Action Network on behalf of non-union workers in Victoria.

If anti-immigrant sentiment is on the rise in Canada…..

May 5, 2017

How can we fight it?

by Janet Nicol

With the rise of anti-immigration attitudes in the United States and Europe, where does Canada stand? It’s an important question, given recent polls showing Canadians are less tolerant than we like to think.

A survey by VanCity Credit Union revealed 82 per cent of visible minorities in Vancouver said they have experienced some form of discrimination. And 11 per cent said these experiences were traumatic enough to prompt thoughts of moving to a new location.

To read the full article, which includes a look at anti-racism campaigns in Surrey, BC and Ontario, check on the print issue of Canadian Immigrant magazine, available at no cost at public places around Vancouver. The article is also on line at –

BC Schools Project: Day of Mourning

April 27, 2017

By Janet Nicol

Teaching the next generation of workers how to be safe on the job is becoming an annual event in BC high schools, through the Day of Mourning BC Schools Project. Launched last year, the safety campaign aimed at young people originated with John Decaire, a social studies teacher at Cariboo Hill Secondary, in Burnaby.

“I was struck by the number of people who die or are injured on the job in Canada,” Decaire says, referring to the more than 1,000 work-related deaths in Canada each year. He was also struck by how it is workers under 25 who make up one-third of those who sustain workplace injuries.

Decaire realized many students work at part-time, precarious, non-union jobs, and so receive inadequate training, supervision, or instruction about their rights — including the right to refuse unsafe work. “Our society places much importance on Remembrance Day,” Decaire says, “but more people die on the job in Canada.”

To see the full article on line at “Our Times” magazine. The link is

BC teachers’ Supreme Court win

March 2, 2017

by Janet Nicol

After more than a decade of arguments in three different courts and thousands of dollars in legal costs, the determination of 41,000 unionized teachers in British Columbia finally paid off when Canada’s highest court ruled in November that the provincial government’s contract stripping in 2002 was unconstitutional.

So begins one of several global news stories loyal New Internationalist readers can feel good about, as the magazine celebrates its 500th issue this March, 2017. I interview BC Teachers’ Federation President Glen Hansman about the impact the win has on teachers, education and all working people.


Measuring Peace in a Dangerous World

December 31, 2016

by Janet Nicol

Is the world becoming more dangerous? The answer is ‘yes’—a qualified ‘yes’, according to research results of the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP), a non-profit think tank based in Australia.

“The world is getting less peaceful,” explains IEP Director Michelle Breslauer in a Skype interview from a New York office, “but that’s based on the time period we have been measuring. Since 2008 we have seen a decline in peace—not throughout history. That’s an important qualification to make.”

The Institute established an annual Global Peace Index (GPI) ten years ago, measuring negative peace in countries around the world using 23 indicators related to levels of militarization, societal safety and security and on-going conflicts. “Those 23 indicators are really looking at fear or direct violence,” Breslauer says.

According to the 2016 report, Iceland is ranked as the most peaceful country among 163 independent states and territories and Syria, the least. Canada is in eighth place.

More of my interview with Breslauer is available in Peace magazine, January-March 2017 issue, available on news stands and at


#Welcomerefugees campaign one year later: Syrian refugees settling in as Canadians

November 26, 2016

by Janet Nicol

Canada made history one year ago, offering 25,000 Syrian refugees hope and peace in a new country. The first group of refugees landed in December 2015, with the remainder arriving over the following few months in cities across Canada. Among them was the Al Shanabani family, government-assisted refugees (GARS), who landed in Vancouver. They quickly found a home, signed up for English language lessons and found daycare facilities for their two daughters.

Lending them a helping hand in their journey has been another Syrian refugee — Mohammed Alsaleh.

“I have been living on the front line for the last two years,” Alsaleh says, “first as a refugee and then helping refugees.”

Alsaleh was among the first wave of 200 Syrians who came to Canada two years ago. Since last December, he has been employed as a settlement worker at ISSofBC Welcome Centre in Vancouver.

“I am so lucky to be in a position in which I can help people resettle in this country,” Alsaleh says. “However, it is very challenging.”


Mohammed Alsaleh has turned his own Syrian refugee journey into a career helping other refugees. Photo by Elton Hubner

The settlement journey

When Alsaleh first welcomed Nedal and Taghreed Al Shanabani in his office, he showed them a chart with a curved line. You will experience four stages, he told them — a honeymoon period, culture shock, adjustment and adaption.

“I make sure every family I work with knows about the curve,” Alsaleh says. “It’s normal. You need to make some adjustments to reach settlement. When people know this has been scientifically proven and everyone goes through this, they feel more comfortable. This gives motivation to adjust to settlement.”

For the Al Shanabanis, learning English has been the main goal. “The day-to-day language barrier is a challenge,” Nedal says. “I feel deaf as I hear words around me but don’t comprehend.”

Still, Canadians have made his family feel at home in many ways. “We have received an amazing welcome, by the government and at the public level.”

He is also grateful to his Canadian landlords, Sheldon and Eileen, and says Sheldon is assisting him with driving lessons.

When Al Shanabani lived in Syria, he was a farmer and a driver. “In time I would like to drive a truck or bus here,” he says.

Taghreed says she will also search for employment once she is more fluent in English. “I would love to work with children,” she says. She wants to make sure her daughters, Rimas, 3, and Reetaj, 1, have educational opportunities.


The Al Shanabani family came to Canada as government-assisted refugees from Syria last year. Photo by Elton Hubner

Hoping for Canada

Originally from Daraa, Syria, the family endured President al-Assad’s military attacks when soldiers began employing tanks, ground artillery and fighter jets against civilians. They escaped to Jordan six months later, along with extended family members. “The [refugee] camps were horrible,” Nedal says. “We had some savings and were able to rent a house.” They registered with the United Nations Refugee Agency along with millions of other displaced Syrians. Unable to seek employment because of refugee status, the Al Shanabanis became dependent on others for financial assistance.

Two years later, they received a call from the United Nations. “We felt so happy,” Nedal says about the offer to immigrate to Canada. “There was hope for a future for us and our children.”

Alsaleh understands his clients’ feeling of hope. He was in his fourth year of studies to become a doctor at a university in Homs, Syria, when his education was interrupted by the civil war.

“I had been doing my best to be vocal against human rights violations in Syria and I was documenting what was happening, taking videos and putting them online,” he says. “This resulted in my imprisonment and my torture by the Syrian dictatorship of Assad. After being released, I fled the country.”

Alsaleh adds: “I lost all hope. I was out of Syria, losing everything, starting without my family who were left behind, my education and my friends.”

Then he got his own phone call from the United Nations with an offer to immigrate to Canada.

“That single phone call made a difference in my life,” Alsaleh says. “It gave me hope again.”

On Nov. 25, 2014, he left Lebanon.

“I entered the airport as a refugee, but walked out of the terminal in Vancouver as a permanent resident of Canada,” Alsaleh says.

“The first conversation I had in English was at the Starbucks near the Welcome Centre.” He started working more on his English and looked into volunteering opportunities.

He volunteered at the free clinic run by ISSofBC to assist people with income taxes. “I was helping greet clients, showing them around and making sure their income tax was done,” he says. Alsaleh had only been in Canada for three months and it felt good to “give back” so soon.

“By volunteering I was able to make friends, to build my own network, and overcome so many barriers, such as culture shock and loneliness,” he says.

“When I came in 2014, there wasn’t a lot of awareness [about the Syrian crisis],” he says. “When people knew more about the plight of the Syrian people — when the picture of little Alan Kurdi appeared in September of 2015 — this changed everything. This small sad moment, which is a shame that humanity will carry forever — a three-year-old who drowned in the sea — it is really amazing how this has changed everything.”

Supporting refugees

Alsaleh’s advocacy for refugees is unrelenting. This September he helped organize a conference for 60 Syrian youth, aged 15 to 25, at the Welcome Centre to “amplify their voices.”

“We wanted to have an open free space for youth to come and connect with each other, share experiences and share the good things about their transition here to Canada,” he explains.

“They brainstormed together to get their recommendations out there and to make sure the next wave of young refugees have a better experience coming to Canada.”

Alsaleh says their main concerns are housing, education and English language training. “Also they had concerns about their financial situation because the government-assisted refugees are provided with allowances equivalent to the welfare rate, which hasn’t been updated since 2007. There is a struggle on that front.”

He said he has only just paid back his own government loan for transportation to Canada and medical test costs. This debt is another concern voiced by participants.

Alsaleh understands firsthand the emotional trauma refugees have experienced.

“This is something that should be highlighted,” he says, “the mental aspect of the settlement movement and the fact that we are dealing with a population that is so vulnerable and who have exceptional experiences with war, with violence, with so many unimaginably bad things. It is a key component of our work in terms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) support for our clients. We provide one-on-one counselling for refugees within the first week of their arrival.”

Because it is a sensitive issue, ISSofBC calls the counselling a “wellbeing” meeting. “We make sure that refugees know in their first week here, there is support. Someone is there to listen to their needs and anxiety when they are ready.”

The war has been going on for five years with no end in sight, a painful realization for Syrians now living in Canada.

“Prince William was here in the Welcome Centre,” Alsaleh says, recalling the British royal couple’s visit to British Columbia this past September. “He met with a Syrian family, and I had the honour of being the interpreter. He asked the Syrian family about what was happening (in Syria) and the scale of destruction. They shared with him that it doesn’t look promising.” The Prince asked Alsaleh for his opinion, too. “I shared with him the same sentiment. That it is very complicated and getting worse.”

More hope offered

Looking forward, about 1,500 government-assisted refugees, including Syrians, are expected to arrive in B.C. by the end of this December, most settling in Metro Vancouver. The federal government is also in the process of accepting Yazidi refugees living in Iraq who have been targeted by ISIL militants. The Yazidis are a Kurdish-speaking religious minority who used to live mainly in northern Iraq.

“Canada has a tradition in helping refugees,” Alsaleh says. “This is something we have witnessed in the 1970s with the Ismailis and in the 1980s with the Vietnamese. It is happening now with the Syrians. It is history in the making. It is Canadians practising their amazing tradition of offering hope.”

When Alsaleh was younger, he dreamed of becoming a doctor. “I wanted to become an oncologist because I lost two cousins to cancer in high school,” he says. “Now I am doing something as rewarding — helping people start over in Canada. This balances everything for me.”

Re-published from Canadian Immigrant magazine, December 2016 issue and available on line at

Sexual Assault and the Law

October 15, 2016

Where Do We Go From Here?

by Janet Nicol

Since the verdict in the Jian Ghomeshi trial last March, burning questions have arisen about the legal rights of women who experience sexual assault and violence.

The case touched off a renewed debate about how the courts treat sexual assault. Experts and activists are now calling for legal reforms, a shift in judicial and societal attitudes, and greater support for women’s crisis centres.

Fortunately, feminist lawyers and sexual assault experts are starting to map out what justice could look like if it were to give rape victims greater agency. In the upcoming issue of Herizons, I asked three experts—Vancouver Rape Relief ’s Lee Lakeman, YWCA Vancouver’s Lisa Rupert and law professor Janine Benedet for some ideas on how that could start to happen.

The full article is available in Herizons magazine, October, 2016  and on-line at the magazine’s website at



Note: This article was inspired by a YWCA-sponsored event about the Ghomeshi verdict in Vancouver earlier this year. Seating was at full capacity and women (and men) of diverse ages expressed a keen interest in legal reform.

Unlearn and learn again

September 21, 2016

Unlearn and Learn again – Lessons from Central American Educators

by Janet Nicol

“Unlearn-and learn again.” This is the philosophy of Daysi Marquez and Esperanza Tasies, educators from Central America who delivered non-sexist and inclusive workshops to BCTF teachers this past spring.

“We have to unlearn, so young people have a new vision of the world,” says Marquez, a secondary chemistry teacher in Honduras.

“It’s hard to change institutional structures,” says Tasies, a sociology professor in Costa Rica, “but you can make changes in the classroom. You can change students’ attitudes. Research shows this.”

A popular teaching activity which Tasies and Marquez shared with BC teachers is called “My Grandmother Told Me.” Participants were asked to write about an unforgettable event in the life of their grandmother, or other female elder, including the year which the event occurred.

Forming a circle-by-date sequence with Tasies in the centre, participants shared their grandmother’s story, starting with the earliest year. After each telling, Tasies taped the participant’s text to a spiral-shaped form, indicating the date sequence, drawn on flip- chart paper on the floor.

The result was an oral and visual collection of stories depicting women’s survival, strength, and endurance. Many contained “hidden” histories and injustices about women’s work and social lives.

“We all face inequality,” Marquez observes. “Men as well as women share the responsibility to create equality.”

As for differences between women teachers in Canada and Central America, Tasies says when Canadian participants are asked “who are you?” they use words such as “feminist, professional, and fighter,” while teachers in Central America describe their identity as “caring, a listener, and looking after others.”

Regardless, Tasies believes people need to listen more effectively. “There is a saying,” Tasies says, “It is better to have a big ear rather than a big voice.“

Rote learning, not critical thinking, has been the typical educational approach in Honduras. “This creates a submissive population,” Marquez says. Marquez says teaching critical thinking, as embedded in the non-sexist and inclusive workshops, helps improve the quality of life for Honduran youth coping with gendered violence, widespread teen pregnancies, and the highest rate of HIV-Aids in Latin America.

Both women are strong supporters of public education and teacher unions. Privatization of schools and the weakening of teacher unions in their region-and in North America-is a concern. “The non-sexist and inclusive workshops help strengthen our union,” Marquez believes. “We are supported by our members so the union executive is more supportive too.”

The sharing of cultures went both ways. While giving a teacher workshop in Kamloops, Tasies says she learned more about the painful legacy of Canada’s residential school system when her hosts, David Komljenovic, president of the local teachers’ union, and Paula Naylor, a member of the BCTF International Solidarity Committee, escorted her to the Secwepemc Museum. Tasies viewed a First Nations sculpture depicting a hostile adult and a frightened child whose eyes are covered by an eagle’s wings. “This is so the child won’t see anything ugly,” Tasies explains.

Tasies and Marquez concluded their Canadian trip by attending a conference of the Tri-National Coalition in Defense of Public Education, held at the University of BC. Delegates from teacher unions in Canada, the United States, and Central America shared experiences and strategies to strengthen public education in the face of hostile government attacks. The hard-working dedication of diverse teacher-delegates provided an uplifting conclusion to Tasies and Marquez’s visit.

As both women concluded, “There is sisterhood and solidarity among Canadian teachers and us. This shows there are no borders among teachers.”

The non-sexist and inclusive pedagogy project is a result of a 15-year collaboration between Central American teacher unions and CoDevelopment Canada, a nongovernmental organization that the BCTF supports. 

For more information about the non-sexist and inclusive curriculum (in Spanish), go to

Reprinted from BCTFTeacher magazine, September/November, 2016


A mural at COPEMH (Association of Secondary Teachers of Honduras).