Jason C. McLean and Dawn McSweeney discuss the COP-15 UN Conference on Biological Diversity currently underway in Montreal: the protests, the politicians and what conferences like this can actually do for the environment.

Follow Dawn McSweeney @mcmoxy on Twitter and Instagram

Follow Jason C. McLean @jasoncmclean on Twitter and Instagram

It’s taken decades for dumpster diving to nudge from the fringes to the mainstream. Hell, ten years ago, it wasn’t even the explicit goal of the practice.

When it was mentioned in the media, dumpster diving has always been something of a caricature: a bit part in stories of folk on society’s edge: the homeless, the penniless student, or the militant environmentalist.

Well, like local chicken and artisan popcorn, dumpster diving might have been bound to hit hipsterdom–or even possibly policy debates–once it got the prescient Portlandia’s treatment.

Pardon the pun: when it comes to vegetable-burdened garbage vehicles, 2014-15 has been the tipping point

From the reach of European Ugly Fruit & Veg campaigns to global glee when French banned supermarket waste.

The prominence of food waste might have reached the pinnacle last week: UN delegates were served a haute cuisine tasting menu of dumpster fare—prepared by elite American chefs, notably Dan Barber himself.

The delegates, including Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, munched on Landfill Salad, which, to quote the menu, consisted of:

  • vegetable scraps
  • rejected apples
  • …chickpea water

Next up, “BURGER & FRIES,” elegantly described in the roped menu: “off-grade vegetables, repurposed bread…cucumber scraps…”

The food was no doubt fascinating and faultlessly executed; witness:

“cocoa husk custard” dessert created with parts of cocoa beans usually discarded when making chocolate

Though food waste has long been a global crisis, its recent win seems due to piggybacking on something much more glamorous: climate change. Now that the two are finally seen as utterly inseparable issues, world leaders and mainstream media have a safe bet trumpeting the cause.

To what end?

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It’s hard to know if it’s too late, or if such events are anything more than fun food writer fodder. Certainly scholars and academics seemed markedly split. Some saw it as gimmicky or simply elitist, while others welcomed the PR for its far-flung benefits.

However we should be wary that it remains to be seen what really happens from this stunt.

European leaders, for example, who dined on Barber’s dumpster bites were likely unphased: they’ve been part of the swift sweep of the food waste over their political and industrial landscape—from the supermarket waste ban in EU debates to corporate responsibility measures in many of its largest supermarket chains.

Here in Canada, it’s much less obvious what effect—if any—such food waste celebrity status will have.

For someone small-minded like me, my mind goes to dumpsterized celebrity chef speculation. Who would be our nominee to stage similar recycled meals for Canadian leaders?

Perhpas Chuck Hughes digging through empty wine bottles in an Old Montréal alley, spinning out some renewed mullusk-shell bisque laced with dregs of private imports from his bacs de recyclage. Or a blazer-clad Mark McEwan scrubbing still-crisp carrots from the bins of his high-end Toronto store, repurposing them in day-old baguettes from his in-house bakery, all with a skeptical scowl.

Of course, none of this would happen here. If anything, we can hope for more events like Metro Vancouver’s mass free lunch of “rescued” food. In true low-key Canadian fashion, the 5000 people this event fed got one tenth the press ink of Chef Barber’s 20 precious plates.

Downplaying splashiness, however, goes hand in hand with Canada’s habit of downplaying food security altogether, to the point that we’re embarrassingly lagging behind other industrialized countries. Lest you jump to CPC-blaming, know that it’s far from just a diplomatic problem. It’s just as seriously a societal and cultural one. Old illusions of boundless natural resources and agricultural surpluses remain firm, not to mention the fact that most Canadians are urban-concentrated, downplaying rural and remote food crises: “out of sight, out of mind.”

Food Secure Canada, the leading umbrella group of scholars, advocates and policy coordinators when it comes to food issues, have been trying to hammer the severity of the issues for years.

With elections looming, it’s even more striking that the UN & Dan Barber style mega-attention on food waste remains mostly lacking here. Campaigns such as Eat, Think Vote, an initiative meant to bring citizens and their riding candidates together for a meal to discuss Canadian food issues, have helped nudge the issue forward, evidenced by some discussion at this Monday’s debate.

The nefarious effects of cosmetic produce took years longer to come to Canada after Europe, and even to this day, has trickled to market in frustratingly tentative fashion. My previous notes on the our slow-moving supermarket industry is helped by, for example Moisson Montréal’s widened food recuperation operations in Québec. Yet these are drops in the bucket, largely outside the mainstream mind or political debate.

It remains to be seen how this UN splash will speed up the Canadian progress on food waste

No, it’s not April 1st, no FTB has not turned into the Onion and yes, you did read the headline correctly. Stephen Harper is to be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Yes, that Stephen Harper. The Prime Minister responsible for Canada’s unprecedented shift of focus from peacekeeping to full-on militarization. The man whose administration ruined Canada’s reputation internationally and even got us kicked off the UN Security Council.

This is the same Stephen Harper who clearly isn’t interested in bringing any sort of peace or justice to the homefront, either. He’s set out to augment our prison population by increasing sentences for small drug offenses, re-criminalizing sex work and criminalizing acts of dissent like wearing a mask at a protest.

Clearly there are many reasons why he should not win or even be considered for a prize of peace. But, to be fair, let’s look at the reasons for the nomination, in this case put forward by B’nai Brith:

“Moral clarity has been lost across much of the world, with terror, hatred and antisemitism filling the void,” B’nai Brith Canada CEO Frank Dimant said in the organization’s press release, “throughout, there has been one leader which has demonstrated international leadership and a clear understanding of the differences between those who would seek to do evil, and their victims. More than any other individual, he has consistently spoken out with resolve regarding the safety of people under threat — such as opposing Russian aggression and annexation of Ukrainian territory — and has worked to ensure that other world leaders truly understand threat of Islamic terrorism facing us today. ”

If you read between the lines, it’s pretty clear  “the differences between those who seek to do evil, and their victims” refers to Harper’s unwavering support of Israel’s humanitarian crisis-inducing assault on Gaza. Now even if your blinders are so thick that you feel this attack is justified, arguing that support for and encouragement of a military action makes someone a man of peace takes a logical leap much greater than the Canadian North, which, by the way, Harper is also trying to militarize.

The same goes for Russia and Ukraine. Even if you think someone is on the right side of a conflict, being on any side instead of working for a solution should automatically disqualify you from winning a peace prize.

War is not peace. Orwell’s 1984 was meant as a warning, not a guide.

So, while Harper clearly shouldn’t win, stranger things have happened. Barack Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize before he had a chance to do anything. At least it was for the hope of peace in his campaign speeches and not for his drones.

Unless Harper does a complete about-face on most of his policies real soon, I think it’s important that we let the Nobel people know that Harper is in no way a man of peace and completely undeserving of this award. Looks like others feel the same way. There’s already a petition asking the Nobel committee to reject Harper’s nomination.

This is great, but maybe we should go one step further and think of our own Canadian nominees for the prize. It shouldn’t be that hard to find someone more deserving of a peace prize than Harper. If you have any suggestions, please leave them in the comments, or, at the very least, sign the petition.

We shouldn’t let our national embarrassment of a warmongering Prime Minister be celebrated as a man of peace. Even the very suggestion of such an accolade needs to be stopped and quickly.

Ethan Cox is a Montreal-based writer and political organizer. He was formerly FTB’s news editor and the Quebec director of Brian Topp’s NDP leadership campaign. He is currently a special correspondent reporting on the Maple Spring for Rabble.ca where this post originally appeared.

Quebec students and allies outraged over the repressive and anti-democratic nature of Bill 78, its municipal companion Bylaw P-6, and other extreme police tactics, including political profiling and preventative arrests, are about to get some very heavy duty backup.

One might even say vindication?

In an opening address to be delivered today to the 47 member UN Human Rights Council, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay will express her “alarm” at ongoing attempts to restrict freedom of assembly in Quebec.

Her speech, a draft copy of which was obtained by UN Watch, will also express “concern” over similar restrictions in Russia (Russia’s law limiting protest was passed shortly after Bill 78, prompting some to speculate it was modeled on Quebec’s legislation) and “deep concern” over such restrictions in Eritrea.

In diplomatic terms alarm is a far more severe word than concern, making Canada’s restrictions on protest the most troubling to the UN agency.

In a speech running to several pages in length, and highlighting human rights issues in dozens of countries, the situation in Quebec warrants a single, albeit explosive, paragraph.

“Moves to restrict freedom of assembly continue to alarm me, as is the case in the province of Quebec in Canada in the context of students’ protests”.

This expression of alarm will likely lead to Canada’s inclusion on the UN watchlist of countries which the agency believes are not upholding their international obligations with respect to human rights, a list which includes Syria, Zimbabwe and Pakistan.

UN Watch, an organization best known for attacking any criticism of Israel by the UN as anti-Semitic or disproportionate, dedicated most of their release announcing the leaked speech to attacking Pillay’s criticism of Canada in similar terms.

It criticized Pillay for mentioning Canada, but not the situation in China or Cuba, and concluded that “…the UN commissioner is making a big mistake by sending the message that countries that have blots on their system – if indeed the Quebec law is a blot – are even worse than countries where the blot is the system”.

But of course she is sending no such message, and the inference that she is is a convenient fiction. It does not follow that anyone who has the temerity to mention the situation in Canada, or Palestine, is in some way delegitimizing the serious human rights threats faced in any other country.

The speech’s focus on Canada, Russia and Eritrea is in response to recent developments in these countries. It seems more than logical to focus on developing threats to human rights, rather than rehashing criticisms of countries like China, which the UN agency has severely criticized on many occasions in the past.

It is a particularly rich criticism of a speech where attention is paid to human rights situations in over a dozen countries, and Canada occupies only one paragraph.

UN Watch are correct that Canada has a much better reputation on human rights than many other countries, which makes it all the more alarming, and demanding of international attention, that we are now taking such a significant step backwards in our dedication to these rights.

The truth is that many in this country have done their best to bury their head in the sand as the situation in Quebec has descended into what can only be described as repression. Ask anyone if they approve of preventative arrest, profiling people for detention on the basis of a political symbol, mass arrests of peaceful protesters or indiscriminate use of force by police and their answer will be an emphatic no.

But our concern for fellow human beings in countries like Russia, China and Saudi Arabia seems to end at our shores. Call it denial, perhaps we simply can’t accept that such things are happening here in Canada, but the silence in the media and among the population at large has been deafening.

It is no exaggeration to say that the situation in Quebec is the most serious threat to our fundamental rights, as articulated in the Quebec and Canadian Charter, and the International Declaration of Human Rights, that we have seen in decades.

That is why the Quebec Bar Association, representing the province’s lawyers and prosecutors, has taken the unprecedented step of condemning Bill 78. It’s why over six hundred lawyers in full robes took to the streets of Montreal to protest the situation, a first in Quebec history.

It’s time to take our heads out of the sand and give them a stiff shake. Edmund Burke said “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men [sic] to do nothing”, and right now there are an awful lot of good men and women doing nothing.

Our rights are not ironclad, they depend on our vigilance against even seemingly minor assaults. In this case we should be able to find common cause across partisan or ideological lines. This is not a left-right issue, but an assault on freedoms we all hold dear.

With her criticism, and Canada’s inclusion on the UN watchlist, Ms. Pillay has shone a light on our situation. What’s happening in Quebec is now the talk of the international community, Jean Charest our international embarrassment.

We need to take a stand, and send a message to the authoritarian-minded among our leaders that any erosion of our rights will be met with stiff resistance.

Pundits on the right love to invoke the sacrifices of our soldiers. Well, our soldiers died in two world wars for the rights and freedoms we enjoy, and which we have chosen to codify in our Constitution. Many also died defending these rights at other times in our history, such as during the Winnipeg General Strike of 1919, or the red scare of the 1950s.

Our rights were not granted, they were taken. Fought for over generations. They come to us drenched in the blood of our forebears who laid down their lives for them. A moments inattention and decades of blood, sweat and tears can be taken from us, without our noticing our neck is slit until we turn our head.

“To you from failing hands we throw the torch; be yours to hold it high” goes the famous line from In Flanders Fields. Will we be the generation which allows that torch to fall? Our brave youth are in the streets of Quebec every night, paying the price to stand against an unjust law. They need our help.

If there was any doubt in our minds that what is going on in Quebec is a grave threat to our most basic liberties, the attention of the UN should serve as a wake up call.

The question is, what are we going to do about it?


You can also follow me on Twitter: @EthanCoxMTL

When the United Nations was created back in 1945, it was supposed to succeed where the League of Nations had failed. While there has been some success since the war of wars, there have also been countless failures. In part because of inaction (Sudan), apathy (Rwanda) and the inability to enforce international law (USA, Israel, Palestine).

Last week we saw another failure; Russia and China came together in a twin veto to shoot down a UN Security Council resolution that would have backed an Arab League plan for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step aside. The goal was to grant legitimacy to an Arab League plan aimed at ending almost a year of bloodshed which started with an anti-Assad uprising.

The failure of the Security Council does not come as a surprise given that Syria is a close ally and key weapons importer of the veto-wielding Russians. Time and time again, we’ve seen the five permanent members of the Security Council use their veto power to protect their own interests regardless of the human or monetary cost.

The permanent five which include Great Britain, China, France, Russia (Soviet Union) and the United States have enjoyed their absolute power since the end of World War II. Together the P-5 have used a veto 263 times since 1946 with Russia leading the way with 127. It is important to note, however, that the Soviet Union issued 119 of the 127, mostly in the first decade of the UN’s existence.

While the notion of having the Permanent members yield veto power was originally a Soviet insistence, having lived through the last thirty years you’d have thought it was an American invention. The Americans first used a veto back in 1970, but since 1984 they have vetoed UN Security Council resolutions more than the other four nations combined.

Of the 80 resolutions the US has vetoed, more than half were related to the Middle East with a majority of those going toward protecting Israel. The other three nations; China, France and Great Britain rarely use their veto power and when they do, it is usually in conjunction with another.

The "P-5"

These five permanent council members just happen to be the five biggest nuclear powers in the world. They also just happen to be five of the six biggest arms dealing nations on earth. Essentially, those responsible for keeping the world secure are in the business of selling guns and WMDs for profit. Furthermore, they are in a position to block any resolution that would hinder those profits (or any other) regardless of the consequences.

There has been talk of some UN reform, especially in the last ten years or so, but with little result. The United Nations Security Council cannot continue to function as though the Cold War never ended, it must be reformed to reflect the changes the world has seen in the last 65 years.

One idea passed around a few years back was to expand the Council by another five permanent members, likely including Germany, Japan, Brazil, India and perhaps a member of the Arab League and/or African Union. Germany and Japan, both on the losing side of World War II, contribute the second and third most money to the United Nations, while Brazil and India both contribute the most peacekeeping troops.

The inclusion of these states (the G4 as they are called) seem like a no-brainer given their contributions, but it would do very little to fix the underlying problem of the Council, that being inaction. In fact, if these new members were to inherit the same powers as the original five, things would get dramatically worse.

If I had my say on how to go about reform, I would probably start with funding. Instead of allowing nations to contribute what they think will gain them influence, I would have each nation contribute the same percentage of their GDP whatever that might be.

Second, I would strip the P-5 of their veto power. It would be harder for them to look after their own interests and other nations would find it harder to hide behind them for protection. Quite frankly, I’m not above dismantling the Security Council completely in favour of having the general assembly vote on security resolutions. It’s a big world after all; every country should have a voice.

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Rob Ford, new mayor of Cal...er...Toronto

I must admit, I’m a bit confused. I’m not quite sure what I’m supposed to write about here. It’s a year-in-review piece, so at least the time frame is solid, but the subject matter, hmm, that’s another story.

You see, I don’t really have a clear beat. I started off 2010 as a theatre writer, but now that’s done by others and occasionally me, at least when it comes to burlesque shows (heh heh, but seriously, check out my reviews of Blood Ballet and Glam Gam). I do write about news and politics, even in this space, but I’m not the only one, so this can’t be a year in the news piece.

I could write about the year it was for FTB. (and in fact I will, but that’s coming up New Year’s Eve, not here.) So I guess I’m just going to have to talk about the year in random things that caught my attention.

It seems somewhat appropriate that I’m confused, because 2010 sure was a year of confusing things. While Calgary took a few steps forward and elected (by all accounts) progressive lefty Naheed Nenshi, Canada’s first Muslim mayor, Toronto took about fifty steps back and basically elected Rush Limbaugh in the form of anti-homeless, anti-cyclist loudmouth Rob Ford. The City of Montreal, under the direction of Gerald Tremblay, still wants to destroy the Red Light District, at least there was some good news last week that developer Angus may throw in the towel and let the venerable Café Cleopatre continue to exist.

Meanwhile in Quebec, Jean Charest and his cronies (before facing a sham commission) banned the wearing of religious head coverings when trying to use government services and made those services, even those that are supposed to be free, a little more expensive. This drew considerable protest, but you wouldn’t know it by reading The Gazette.

People are not impressed: photo of the anti-Charest budget protest by Chris Zacchia

At least Stephen Harper’s consistently a douchebag. He did up the ante a bit this year, though, by going all police state on peaceful protesters and the City of Toronto during the G20, using tactics that would have made Homeland Security and the CIA under Cheney (er, Bush) blush.

Harper’s new nemisis the UN took a step backwards, too, by condoning the baseless executions of gays and lesbians. At least Haiti decided not to allow Wyclef Jean to run for president, though their elections didn’t go all that smooth, regardless.

The good stuff: Buffalo Infringement Festival photo by Jason C. McLean

Even closer to home, things have been strange. Despite being a fresh, new and alternative media source, we’re still following Justin Beiber on Twitter and last time I checked we’re now following Paris Hilton, too. At least it gives me the opportunity to use the Biebs, Paris, Jean Charest and Islam as keywords in the same post, which is fun.

I did have quite a bit of fun this year, actually and got to report on it, too. From checking out the Brooklyn music scene first hand and getting a sarcastic kick out of the lone tea partier in Times Square to experiencing the unique joy that is the Buffalo Infringement Festival, 2010 has been quite a ride.

I guess my New Year’s resolution (or at least my public one) will have to be focus on the positive, still write about the negative (cause it’s important) and embrace the confusion.

Not quite the case at the UN today

I’ve always kinda liked the UN. Yeah, they’re a tool of the west, but every now and then they do decide to take a stand and not back really silly wars of imperialism like Iraq or let something that actually tells the truth about what Israel’s doing in Gaza such as the Goldstone Report get published or embarrass Harper by kicking Canada off the Security Council. Now, though, they’ve gone and royally screwed the pooch.

Surprisingly, the west is not the cause at all this time, but that’s not to say that they didn’t play a part or rather not play enough of a part, to stop what amounts to a license to nations to arbitrarily execute gays and lesbians. Due largely to African, Middle Eastern and Carribean nations, the General Assembly’s Third Committee on Social, Cultural and Humanitarian issues voted to remove the term “sexual orientation” from a resolution addressing extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions.

The US did speak out against the measure to remove protection from LGBT people, but it clearly didn’t do enough. Mark Bromley, chair of the Council on Global Equality told The New Civil Rights Movement that US support for capital punishment effectively tied their hands on this issue. While this may be true, I don’t think they cared enough to voice the type of opposition necessary to block it.

After years of flexing its economic and military muscle to get its way on areas of extreme self-interest, the States refused to be the international bully that for once was needed. The rest of the west didn’t help out much, either. It’s sad.

It’s even sadder for countless people who can and unfortunately will now be executed with impunity because of the gender of the person they choose to love. Yes, the dark ages are alive and well in the 21st century and now they’re sanctioned by the UN.

What’s happened has happened, what happens next is crucial. There’s a petition you can sign here directed at the UN which is a good start, but putting pressure on politicians in various countries, especially the states, to do something to get the UN to reverse its decision is probably more important.

To paraphrase the Godfather: “Just when you thought we were out of this black hole of ignorance, the UN pulls us back in!”

For the past sixty or so years, Canada has been on the United Nations Security Council a total of six times, about once a decade. Every time they have been up for nomination they have been elected to a high profile, high power position on the fifteen member council. That is, until this past Tuesday when they were beat out by Portugal for the last remaining seat.

Instead of seeking a better understanding as to why The Harper Government failed to grab a seat for the first time since the UN’s inception, Canadian Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon decided to place the blame solely on the back of Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff.

“This is a government that for four years has basically ignored the United Nations and now is suddenly showing up saying, ‘Hey, put us on the council,'” Ignatieff said last month, “Don’t mistake me. I know how important it is for Canada to get a seat on the Security Council, but Canadians have to ask a tough question: Has this government earned that place? We’re not convinced it has.”

I’m no fan of Mr. Ignatieff, but he’s no more responsible for losing this seat than I am for JFK’s assassination. Since when does the 191 member UN listen to the ramblings of an unheard of opposition leader over the actual Government of Canada? And if they did listen to Ignatieff instead, what does that say about the Harper government?

Fact is Ignatieff was correct in questioning Canada’s earning of the position. In the four years of Conservative rule, what have they done? Let’s see… They have abandoned the Kyoto Protocol, cut bilateral aid to several developing countries throughout Africa, Latin America, and Asia (limiting assistance to just 20 countries). They have taken soldiers away from peace keeping missions, a roll Canada used to be identified with and put them toward the Afghan Mission (a NATO mission) and let’s not forget Harper’s unabashed support for Israel in the Middle East.

“I do not in any way see this as a repudiation of Canada’s foreign policy,” Lawrence Cannon said, “The principles underlying our foreign policy, such as freedom, democracy, respect for human rights and the rule of law, were the basis of all our decisions.” Big deal… this day in age most countries around the world share those same principals including Canada’s competition for the council membership, Germany and Portugal.

Simply stating our moral fiber is the basis for our decisions does not make them the right decisions. African ambassadors for instance, pointed to a series of Canadian positions on African debt relief to the Conservative government cutting funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency and accusing it of having terrorist links.

Council members are supposed to be chosen on the basis of their contributions to international peace and security, Afghanistan alone simply doesn’t cut it. Under Stephen Harper’s watch Canada has lost its standing in the world and there are no signs of it returning.

The Harper Government, just like the former Bush Administration seems to have a problem when it comes to accepting responsibility for failure, instead choosing to shift the blame elsewhere or flat out denying there is a problem in the first place. This kind of politicking makes the politicians look like kids and tries to make fools of ordinary Canadians.

“Don’t play this blame-game stuff with Canadians. It’s an insult to their intelligence.”

Wow… Ignatieff was right twice!