Rank and File.ca Perspectives

Check out the latest Rank and File.ca perspectives articles by Dan Bouchard (CUPE 2544) and Amanda Moravec. Dan talks about the tragic cases of Amanda Todd and Rehtaeh Parsons. Amanda reflects on the death of former British PM, Margaret Thatcher, on April 8, 2013.

Sad Eyes of the Innocent

By Dan Bouchard

A large part of the reason I became a union executive within my CUPE Local was because I wanted to stand up to the bully and assist our members in their time of need. Some issues I become so passionate about that I want the world to stand up and pay attention. As the proud father of two seventeen-year-old girls, the following issues strike to the very core of my being and I hope that readers take a few moments to follow the attached links.

On October 10, 2012 a young woman named Amanda Todd committed suicide at her home in Port Coquitlam, British Columbia. She was found by her parents. Amanda was just shy of her seventeenth birthday.

Shortly before taking her own life, Amanda had posted a nine minute YouTube video, “My Story: Struggling, Bullying, Suicide and Self Harm”, in which she was shown flashing a series of cards depicting her experiences with being a victim of cyber bullying.

The video shows a beautiful, smart, young woman striving for acceptance and redemption.
Melancholy music accompanies Amanda flashing these cards which tell an emotional story of how she made an innocent mistake and became the victim of abuse at the hands of her peers, and how the abuse became so bad that she began using drugs and alcohol. She even made earlier attempts at ending her own life by drinking bleach. The video also speaks to how she returned home from the hospital only to find abusive messages about her failed suicide attempt.

Amanda Todd’s YouTube recording is extremely emotional. It quickly reached “viral” status after news of her death, with over one million views from around the world. Her story is truly an eye-opening one of youthful naiveté, torment, self-abuse and loneliness. It brought the issue of cyber-bullying to a heightened sense of awareness.

Ultimately, Amanda was not able to overcome the torment she continually suffered, even after switching to multiple schools and multiple towns. Such is the power of social media.
The RCMP and British Columbia Coroners Service launched investigations into the suicide. Responding to the death, Christy Clark, the Premier of British Columbia, stated her condolences online and suggested that a national discussion needed to take place on the topic of criminalizing cyber-bullying.

A motion was also introduced into the Canadian House of Commons to propose a study of the scope of bullying in Canada, and for more funding and support for anti-bullying organizations.
Fast forward to April 4, 2013 in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, where Rehtaeh Parsons also took her own life after months of living with the pain of being bullied.

Rehtaeh was reportedly the victim of sexual assault committed by four young men in November of 2011. Rehtaeh was only fifteen years old at the time. Not only was Rehtaeh degraded physically and emotionally by the after effects of this traumatizing experience, but the boys released photos of the incident online.

This was reported to the Halifax police and the RCMP. During the investigation Rehtaeh became the victim of relentless taunting and bullying. Eventually, she fell into a deep depression, switched schools, and checked herself into a hospital for six weeks to improve her mental health.
At the conclusion of their investigation a year later, in consultation with the Crown attorney’s office, the police determined that there was insufficient evidence to lay charges against the alleged offenders.

On April 4, the cross became too much to bare for young Rehtaeh, and her mother found her hanging in the bathroom at their home. Just two days later, on April 6, Leah Parsons and Glen Canning made the heart-wrenching decision to remove their daughter from life support in order to preserve her organs for donation.

Nova Scotia’s Justice Minister Ross Landry initially stated that the investigation into Rehtaeh’s alleged rape would not be re-opened. After hearing from furious Nova Scotians, he overturned his stance and stated that he would be conferring with his staff to determine how the case could be reopened.

Ramona Jennex, Nova Scotia’s Minister of Education also called for an assessment into how the Halifax Regional School Board may have mishandled the case.

Both Amanda Todd and Rehtaeh Parsons’ tragic stories of harassment, despair and intimidation, due to cyber-bullying are all too common and we need to think about how we can change the legal system and the culture that allows this to happen.

People must understand the power that Facebook, Twitter and other social media have over society. Although it does have the ability to do much good such as take down a crooked government like the one in Egypt, it also has the power to claim the life of an Amanda Todd or Rehtaeh Parsons.

At each of our CUPE, General Membership Meetings, we read our Equality Statement. One paragraph in particular resonates here: “As unionists, mutual respect, cooperation and understanding are our goals. We should neither condone nor tolerate behaviour that undermines the dignity or self-esteem of any individual or creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive environment.”

This paragraph stands out for me in light of the tragedies vis-à-vis Amanda and Rehtaeh. As both a unionist and a father, I feel a moral obligation to stand up for the rights that both young women no longer have the ability to fight for.

Please visit Justice for Rehtaeh site to learn more.

Dan is the Recording Secretary for CUPE 2544, which represents 1,500 custodians, maintenance workers, food service assistants, and school attendants employed by the Peel District School Board (PDSB). Dan has worked at the PDSB since February 6, 1989 and is currently the Building Leadhand at T.L. Kennedy Senior School in Mississauga, Ontario. Information about CUPE 2544 can be found at www.cupe2544.ca.

Thatcher’s Ghost Torments Us Still

By Amanda Moravec

This past week, world leaders paid their respects to Margaret Thatcher. Like many other conservatives, Prime Minister Harper reflected on Thatcher’s impact on his political and ideological development. “I recall with pride,” he wrote, “her eloquent portrayal of the philosophical groundings of the principles that have – and I hope forever will – unite the British and Canadian peoples.” In case there was any uncertainty about what those principles are, he quoted Thatcher: “The ideals which our two countries share…we have striven first to win, then to preserve, that freedom and justice without which life has neither dignity nor meaning.”

Thatcher’s greatest political achievement, for which she is fondly remembered by conservatives in Canada and around the world, is to have confronted and broken British wage militancy and the power of the labour left. Prime Minister Harper, Foreign Minister John Baird, Treasury Board President Tony Clement, and many more in the Conservative Party caucus were profoundly shaped early in their intellectual formation by Thatcher’s politics and ideology.

While Canadian conservatives since Mulroney have distilled lessons from Thatcher’s legacy, more recently, it has been the United Kingdom that has looked to Canadian politicians for ideas. Prime Minister David Cameron has drawn inspiration from Paul Martin’s record as Minister of Finance, when Canada embarked on the deepest and most widespread cuts in program spending among the leading industrialized countries. Celebrating the Canadian experience with fiscal retrenchment was intended to support the Cameron government’s argument that austerity is compatible with economic growth. However, the reality has been far different, with the UK’s wrenching cuts resulting in a double-dip recession and threatening a third.

Despite the UK economy’s woes, there are grounds to think that Britain is again becoming a useful reference point for Canadian economic policy. As a reminder of Thatcher’s legacy, one remarkable aspect of the UK’s economic slump has been relatively stable employment combined with falling real wages. Despite very weak GDP growth punctuated by recession, Great Britain’s employment growth has been above average for the OECD (unexpected given the austerity program), and labour-market participation has remained relatively high. At the same time, prices have outpaced modest nominal wage growth; UK productivity growth since 2007 has been even worse than Canada’s, yet falling real wages have held down unit labour costs.

This has been a long time in the making. Under Thatcher’s rein, UK union density fell 20%, before falling a further 20% under John Major’s rule. In the last decade, UK union strength has continued to fall faster than in Canada, where union density decline has been much more gradual. Union strength, at least measured by the capacity to defend real wages, has been visibly lacking in the UK’s current slump.

Harper’s government may be watching UK developments as it confronts Canada’s economic growth and competitiveness challenges. Since the end of 2008, Canada’s current account has been in deficit, as Canada’s merchandise trade surplus with the United States caved in amidst the US recession. The exchange rate appreciation over the past decade has devastated Canadian manufacturing, and the shift in the share of output to the resource sector has been a drag on productivity growth.

In response, the Canadian government has implemented reforms designed to increase labour-market ‘flexibility’. Changes to the Employment Insurance program have increased pressure on unemployed workers to accept lower-paying jobs, and the massive expansion of migrant workers in Canada (combined with changes to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program that permit lower pay) have added to downward pressures. Conservatives have also aided non-union contractors by rescinding the Fair Wages Act that established a floor under construction wages. Their pattern of intervention (Air Canada) and non-intervention (Vale Inco, Rio Tinto and Caterpiller) indicates their principled support for employers confronting union militancy. In the Canada Post lockout, the government set an example by imposing a settlement that was lower than the employer’s offer.

Canada’s employment growth in the recovery has led the G7, as the government never tires of reminding us. Yet median hourly wages, adjusted for inflation, have fallen since 2009, and workers are being asked to do more with less almost everywhere in this grinding ‘recovery’. The legacy and inspiration of Thatcherism live on.

Amanda Moravec studies business at the University of Western Ontario in London, Ontario.

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