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#41 - January 2008 Newsletter

I've been a street nurse in Toronto for 19 years. I have received the Atkinson Economic Justice Award which permits me to pursue my passions for nursing and working on homelessness and housing issues. In this newsletter I hope to report on my activities, create a link to a broader group of individuals who care about these social issues and encourage critical debate.



1. Shock Doctrine – Book Review

2. Peace on earth?

I’m sure that many of you use the holiday season and the New Year as an opportunity to contemplate life, relationships, the past and the future.  For me, this particular New Year marks just another year in a worsening homeless crisis here in Canada. 

Ten years ago, with close and trusting colleagues, I helped found the Toronto Disaster Relief Committee.  We wrote the State of Emergency Declaration calling homelessness a national disaster.

Ten years later, it is astonishing to me that these words from our disaster declaration remain truer than ever:

The homeless situation is worsening daily at an alarming rate, as the factors creating it remain unchecked.  Any delay in firmly and massively responding will only contribute to compounding the present crisis of suffering and death which is already an epidemic which no civilized society can tolerate.

I have had a difficult time understanding why Ottawa hasn’t done something. With homeless numbers growing in every community across the country and refugee camp conditions (think illness, disease and death), with repeated condemnations from the United Nations and hard evidence that the single most important solution is a national housing program, why has Ottawa only responded with band aids?

Then a book came along that was like a final piece to the puzzle.  I think it’s the most important book to read – period.  That book is The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, written by Naomi Klein.  I asked my good friend and mentor Beric German to write a review of the book for this newsletter.

1. Shock Doctrine – the new world order undressed – by Beric German

A book review - The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism by Naomi Klein (Alfred A. Knopf Canada, 2007).

Cathy Crowe gave me The Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein just prior to the holiday season.  It has been instructive to me.  Klein takes the reader on a journey with the handmaidens of modern capitalism and shows how ‘shock therapies’ are being unraveled throughout Canada and the world.

Ms. Klein outlines how the CIA shock therapies share the same ideological foundations as the modern maps for success of right wing economic policies.  The shock therapies are meant to erase any recollection of the past and leave a clean slate, or a brain without memory, with which to create a new blueprint.  In the case of shock therapies in use by the CIA and psychiatrists, the more often outcome was severe damage to the brain.  Similarly, shock therapy to economies have lead to not only the loss of social safety nets but wide spread deprivation and death.  The book is an examination of oft forgotten or the deliberately hidden ravages of the new global order.

We are introduced to Milton Friedman, the University of Chicago’s economics department in the 1950’s, and the whole school of thought for those referred to as ‘the Chicago boys’.  We are shown how the indoctrination from this origin is now spreading throughout the world.  This approach was behind the scenes that transformed Chile from the policies of Allende to those of Pinochet.  The apologists and the Chicago boys believed that all the torture and death lead to a great new Chile and they are proud of their creation. Chile is now one of their main banners.  The philosophy of the idea of a pure capitalism, devoid of the hindrances of social services and restrictions on the movement of capital, is not only poised to but is taking over the world, many countries at a time.

While reading Klein’s exposé people will learn of major historical and political events and their outcomes, such as what happened in the nations that were formerly part of the Soviet Union and the country of South Africa.  You may be ‘shocked’ by what the mainstream media didn’t and doesn’t tell us.

At home, Cathy Crowe and the Toronto Disaster Relief Committee had homelessness declared a national disaster in 1998.  The homeless disaster was a direct outcome of the shock doctrine working in Canada.  The demise of a national housing program being the primary policy ‘reconstruction’ that lead to this man made disaster.  The Shock Doctrine helps us to understand how national housing programs, state medical care, employment insurance and all social assistance are enigmas in the new world order - programs that should be privatized if they should exist at all.  At best some should be dealt with by private charity - some more soup cans in the food bank.

Is this the way the world has to run?  One of the new order’s ways of survival is to employ open violence, and while there is little for the poor, military budgets expand.  In Canada, the Harper government will spend $18.2 billion in 2007-2008 on the military and only $2 billion on existing, not new social housing. The Toronto Disaster Relief Committee is responding with a Housing Not War campaign.

Klein’s refreshing book may be able to help others construct a humane response to the Chicago boys’ painful shock therapy. 

Beric German is co-founder of TDRC and a long-time front line worker and advocate on homeless issues.

To view a short film by Alfonso Cuarón and Naomi Klein, directed by Jonás Cuarón click here.

2. Peace on earth?

On New Year’s Eve, my friend Rick Archbold and I were planning to go to a movie the next day – as long as he made his writing deadline.  When I asked him what he was working on he said he was writing a new final chapter to ‘the flag book’.  I Stand for Canada: The Story of The Maple Leaf Flag was published in 2002 and it is both an outstanding historical record and a pictorial overview of the history of how Canada got its maple leaf flag.
Another friend asked him: “What kind of new material are you adding?”  I blurted out – Afghanistan!  “Well yes,” Rick replied, “As a matter of fact, think of it, this is the first war Canada has fought since the Maple Leaf became our flag.”

Yes, Canada is at war in Afghanistan.  Since 2001, Canadian Forces have been fighting a war that has now lasted longer than World War II.  Not since the Korean War have so many Canadian soldiers been deployed to combat.  76 Canadian soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan (at the time of this writing).  75 young men and one woman have died violent deaths ranging from suicide bombings, roadside bombs, landmine explosions and death by suicide and friendly fire – all returning home in a maple leaf flag-draped coffin. 

Six years after the invasion began, the Afghanistan situation is no better than before the war.  Few Afghanis have access to clean water and electricity; poverty and unemployment are severe; hundreds of millions of aid dollars have gone missing; reconstruction projects have been abandoned; opium production is at record levels; women have little safety.  Thousands of Afghanis have died.

Yet on New Year’s Day Governor General Michaëlle Jean referred to our “multinational reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan” as part of our solidarity efforts in the world.  Reconstruction?  Reconstruction is not happening abroad in Afghanistan or at home, but a lot of money is being spent pretending.

Our military spending will reach $18.2 billion in 2007-08, the highest annual amount since World War II.  Much of this is being spent on military equipment intended for the war in Afghanistan, like the $3.4 billion for four military transport planes and $1.3 billion for 100 battle tanks.  That $4.7 billion for arms could have provided at least 30,000 affordable homes for homeless families.  The military budget now represents 8.5% of all Federal spending.  The Toronto Star reports that Prime Minister Harper intends to boost the Canadian Forces’ budget to $20 billion by 2010.  This flies in the face of housing activists’ long-time demand that an additional 1% of the Federal budget, approximately $2 billion, be put towards a new national affordable housing program.  Homelessness and hunger are well documented and the most painful expressions of the poverty here in Canada.  Surely, we should be demanding that our federal government put an end to it.  After all, as Gandhi stated “Poverty is the worst form of violence.”

If there is such a thing as a moral war, I don’t think this is it.

To sign the Housing Not War declaration or to learn more - go to


Thanks to Bob Crocker for editing and Dave Meslin for design.


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