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PeaceTalks: What does the relationship between democracy and disinformation mean for Canada's election?

“The point of modern propaganda isn't only to misinform or push an agenda. It is to exhaust your critical thinking, to annihilate truth.” ― Garry Kasparov

A recent survey conducted by the Canadian Journalism Foundation found that 40% of respondents struggle to differentiate between real and false news stories. Many will recall the robocall scandal of the 2011 elections, directing Ontario voters to erroneous polling locations.

Meanwhile, Facebook Canada has refused to take down doctored content during the federal election campaign, while Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg have ignored the subpoena to testify before the International Grand Committee on Big Data, Privacy and Democracy in Ottawa.

As we enter into a federal election season here in Canada, it raises the question of what role online media, propaganda, and disinformation will play. With many individuals increasingly aware of targeted ads, Facebook’s controversial data collection, and numerous other disinformation issues, it’s hard not to feel overwhelmed.

At the end of June, PeaceGeeks hosted our forty-first PeaceTalk, to discuss this topic and attempt to bring some clarity and insight into disinformation — and what it means for Canada’s elections this autumn. Our panel included John Gray, the Co-founder of Mentionmapp and Misinfosec Working Group (Lead Contributor) at Credibility Coalition, Lindsay Sample, the Managing Editor at The Discourse, and Chris Tenove, a post-doctoral research fellow at the University of British Columbia.

Chris Tenove began our talk with a short presentation on disinformation and what the term encompasses. For Chris the definition given by the European Union is the best, stating that disinformation is “verifiably false or misleading information that is created, presented and disseminated for economic gain or to intentionally deceive the public and may cause public harm.” By contrast, misinformation is the unintentional sharing of misleading information.

Chris then divided disinformation into what he refers to as clear and fuzzy cases, explaining how this is still a “new universe” that is being discovered. Clear cases are the very obvious examples of manipulation such as false stories and claims, doctored images, bots, and fake accounts. Fuzzy cases are more difficult to identify, and encompass a wide range of topics such as distorted claims, hyper partisan or polarizing memes, online ads-leal but targeted, or leaks of private documents.

The issue with this extensive list is that it is not exhaustive, and we are still learning about the different forms disinformation can take. In an attempt to manage disinformation the Canadian government has implemented new election laws and large online platforms known to be heavily used prior to the campaign period have banned political ads until the writ is dropped.

Addressing such heavy topics can feel daunting, but despite this Lindsay Sample highlights the importance of journalism and the role journalists play in preventing mis/disinformation from spreading. Sample stated how fact checking alone isn’t going to change the game, it’s the first step but more facts aren’t going to solve polarization. She discussed how when we see certain topics, we are often responding with emotion, and therefore feeding facts to the issue will not always provide a solution or resolution. Instead, we have to learn how to actively engage in a meaningful way with people who disagree. The Discourse explores these different routes to engage in meaningful conversation.

The audience was left with an important thought to keep in mind, as individuals, communities and groups we can get worked up over a specific incident or event. This can divert our attention from other very important topics, that are less emotionally charged but can alter Canada’s political decisions. As we enter the elections period here in Canada, we must ensure that despite the  “big issues” we also pay attention to topics that are left on the back burner but important to how the elected party will make decisions for the next four years. 

As the evening came to a close, for many it left one big question: how do we engage with disinformation in a proactive way for the purpose of combating it?

Here’s where our forty-first PeaceTalk left off:

  • If you choose to engage, be prepared for all sides of the argument. There are a plethora of opinions and some may not align with you.
  • Do your research and make conscious decisions before reposting something.
  • Stay informed! If something seems questionable, look at reliable studies and garner a better understanding of the topic.
  • Don’t shy away from participating in conversations about disinformation! Actively engaging even with the idea of disinformation can help raise the awareness of misleading or false claims.
  • Ask questions when consuming media in all its various forms: does what I’m reading/seeing/hearing make sense? Does it seem like a fair claim? Is there evidence for the claim/statement being made?

For this PeaceTalk, we created a question wall and invited attendees to add their questions before, during, or after the talk. Some of the topics that popped up many times included: vulnerability to misinformation, social media's influence on elections (in Canada and in other countries), how we can learn from other countries’ successes, and potential solutions to mis/disinformation.

In order to give you the best responses, we’re compiling a ToolBox (with the help of our panelists) of some helpful resources to advocate for accuracy of information across the media. Below, you can find links to publications that were mentioned at the talk, as well as websites to help combat disinformation.

Information ToolBox:

Try out this game and test your disinformation skills!

Missed the talk? Watch it here.

Check out our awesome photos from the event here.

Follow our Panelists on Social Media:

This article was written by PeaceGeeks staff member Kate Morford.

Jul 23, 2019
Category:

PeaceGeeks Jordan team member named a United Nations Alliance of Civilizations Fellow!

Our Meshkat Community Digital Engagement Officer Tasneem was recently accepted as a candidate for the 2019 United Nations Alliance of Civilization Fellowship Program! The UNAOC was formed in 2005 for the purposes of exploring the roots of polarization between contemporary societies and cultures, and to recommend a practical vision and strategy for actionable approaches to this issue. The UNAOC identifies four priority areas of action: education, youth, migration, and media. The Alliance’s activities are build around these key themes.

The goal of the annual fellowship program is to “foster intercultural understanding by engaging with young civil society leaders from Europe, North America, the Middle East, ad North Africa.” The program takes place over a two week period of extensive travel, and fellows are provided with comprehension tools to help them “understand the plurality and the complexity of their surroundings,” and to “get an extensive grasp of their host country’s culture, politics, society, religion, and media.” As part of the program, Tasneem will travel from Amman, Jordan, to the United States, Germany, and Spain in October! The UNAOC fellowship aims to challenge perceptions and deconstruct stereotypes, empowering participants to become better “equipped to position themselves as informed stakeholders and develop cross-cultural partnerships while bridging divides between people from different faiths and cultures.” The fellowship program addresses issues related to Intercultural Dialogue, and this year, the thematic focus centers around the role of women in peacemaking and conflict prevention. This theme aligns closely with the UNAOC mandate and priorities as well as the UN Global Agenda.

We are prouder of Tasneem than words can express! Our summer intern Kate Morford, based in our Vancouver office, chatted with Tasneem in Jordan over the interwebz and asked her a few questions about her big news.

Tasneem is from Zarqa, a region slightly east of the Jordanian capital of Amman. Prior to joining the PeaceGeeks team as a Digital Engagement Officer for the Meshkat Program last year, Tasneem worked with a community-based organization called Qaf. Qaf is a non-profit organization, and the name in Arabic is an acronym of three words which translate to “leadership, excellence, and intellect.” Qaf’s projects focus on promoting a culture of dialogue and acceptance of the “other” among youth, and on channeling the energy of youth toward voluntary and community work. Qaf hosts book and film discussions, convening public dialogues and lectures, and conducting workshops. Qaf has worked with over 1,500 youth since its inception in 2017. Qaf joined Meshkat’s National Alliance in 2018, and Tasneem joined the PeaceGeeks team! Tasneem believes the intersection of art, technology, and peacebuilding is the space in which sustainable and positive social change occurs. At PeaceGeeks, Tasneem manages the digital content of the Meshkat project in Jordan, facilitating website and social media content and engagement with the online communities. Tasneem also lends a hand across all of our Meshkat initiatives, including the Peace Awards, the Artists-in-Residence program, and capacity-building workshops.

Tasneem is most looking forward to meeting new people and having her perceptions and perspectives challenged by her travel and interaction with communities in regions of the world she hasn’t yet explored. One of her goals going into the program is to write about her experiences and especially the people and communities she encounters. She is most looking forward to exploring Berlin, Germany.

“Women make up half of the world’s population,” Tasneem reflects. “It’s insane that half of the people across the planet do not have half the say when it comes to peacemaking. Women have a major and essential role to play, and they can only do so if they are empowered to contribute. Women know the meaning of loss, grief, pain, and love, and the effects of conflicts on their lives. Women have demonstrated how powerfully they can advocate for peace and social justice. The women’s peace movement in Liberia in the early 2000s played an enormous role in ending 14 years of civil war that claimed the lives of 250,000 Liberians. Those women were armed with only their faith and white t-shirts, but they were instrumental in the election of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the first female president of a country on the African continent." 

Please join us in giving Tasneem a heartfelt congratulations! We're so thrilled for her and we can't wait to follow her along her UNAOC journey in the autumn! 

Find out more about PeaceGeeks' Meshkat Community Program in Jordan here

 

This article was written by PeaceGeeks staff member Lauren Hyde.

May 7, 2019
Category:

A word after a word after a word is power: from Australia to Jordan and back, stories that move us

In “Spelling Poem,” Canadian author Margaret Atwood writes “a word after a word after a word is power.”

The phenomenon of storytelling has a unique ability to transport us from our reality to another through multiple mediums from podcasts, to television shows and films, good old-fashioned books, and the most ancient and universal method, conversations.

Its greatest power lies in its ability to connect our own perspectives to a much larger picture, opening up the big wide world and bringing it into our living rooms, through our headphones, and providing through inspired imagination a sense of connection with other people, narratives, and experiences. Sometimes the events of our world, both past and present, feel far removed from ourselves. When we lack understanding or relatability, we lack compassion and empathy. These fundamental emotions are key to connection between individuals and communities, and lead us to a more cohesive coexistence. Stories left untold deepen the divide between people. Stories heard expand horizons far beyond frames of reference.

Australia

This week, Behrouz Boochani, refugee and detainee on the Australian government-sanctioned but unlawful Manus Island detention centre, won the 2019 Victorian Prize for Literature for his book No Friend But the Mountains: Writing from Manus Prison. Boochani’s work was transcribed, incredibly, by hundreds of texts via WhatsApp over a period of five years.

In Australia and around the world, coverage of refugees and the Manus Island and Nauru detention centres is highly politicised. It is a story half told, with devastating results in the form of skewed views on refugee rights, and what demonstrates responsible government action. In many instances, we do not even know it is happening, let alone what is happening.

Boochani takes back this narrative, and makes it impossible to ignore. Boochani moves us through his first-hand experience, his endurance and survival of the horrific treatment of refugees on Manus Island, while providing deeply personal insights into life in detention in its many forms.

In his early days on Manus Island, Boochani’s pain is shared through poems. He writes:

“Days without any plans
Lost and disoriented
Mind still caught up in the waves of the ocean
Searching for peace of mind on new plains
But the prison's plains are like a corridor leading to a fighters' gym
And the smell of warm sweat everywhere is driving everyone insane.”


Some of the details of life in detention are surprising, and provide an insight into Boochani including his affinity with nature which built part of his survival toolkit. Speaking of the flowers after the rain, Boochani muses:

“[The flowers are] dancing incessantly, breathing heavily, gasping as through in love with the cool ocean. I love those flowers. A zeal for resistance, a tremendous will for life bursting out from the coils and curves of the stems.”

Boochani’s story is personal, and through his voice we truly connect to him. He teaches us more about the world, and what’s happening in the dark, hidden corners. And his story urges us towards greater empathy, and voicing our intolerance of unethical and unjust treatment of refugees.

Canada

Here in Canada, the importance of storytelling has been formally acknowledged as part of the National Apology to Indigenous People in 2008. The official documentation of stories as the cornerstone of the National Truth and Reconciliation Centre began with an attempt to capture the experiences of survivors of Residential Schools. More than 6500 accounts were shared; there are 80,000 residential school survivors alive in Canada today. These experiences have been preserved and shared, as part of a reconciliation with the past and an acknowledgement of how it continues to shape Indigenous-settler relations in Canada today.

These stories are told in creative ways: last year, the novel Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese was adapted into a motion picture. The film’s director Stephen Campanelli, saw the film as an opportunity to keep the conversation about reconciliation going. He hoped it would give people a more in-depth opinion, and a call to action. In interviews with the Canadian Press, Campanelli revealed that he had sparked a hopeful dialogue with Hollywood veteran Clint Eastwood:

"He [Clint Eastwood] was like, 'What? You Canadians did this?' I said, 'Yeah, believe it or not.' He said, 'How come no one knows about this?'
I said, 'Well, they will soon."'

One of the main characters of Indian Horse is actually the quintessentially Canadian game of ice hockey: an activity that permeates the lives of almost all Canadians in some way, shape or form. Hockey is relatable, familiar. Hockey serves as a guiding hand for lead protagonist Saul Indian-Horse through his experiences of suffering and survival during his time in residential schools: lifting readers and viewers out of the dark intermittently, offering hope, and a point of reference.

Jordan

PeaceGeeks’ Jordan project, Meshkat Community, is committed to tell stories for the purpose of starting conversations and inspiring initiatives to build peace in a region that’s been deeply affected by political extremism and conflict. Meshkat is an ancient Arabic word for “alcove in the wall,” where candles or lanterns were placed to safely illuminate living spaces. Meshkat aims to illuminate alternative narratives to violence through storytelling in art mediums.

Meshkat hosts workshops, art and content incubation programs, artists-in-residence programs, collaborative networks and online engagement tools for local artists, activists, and digital content producers to create and amplify content that promotes social inclusion. This content challenges the hate, violence, extremism, and polarization of other prolific online content in the region, and is hosted on their Arabic language website.

One of Meshkat Community’s current artists-in-residence, Banan Zeraid, recently completed her short documentary "Little Feet." Following the story of Tim, a young Syrian boy, Zeraid tells the tragic tale of a child labourer denied of his basic rights. For Tim, change is not easy, and his journey is long and difficult but worthwhile. This is the message Zeraid looks to share with viewers to advance children’s rights and education in Syria. Zeraid’s short film is just one of many recent works coming out of the growing Meshkat Community.

PeaceGeeks is proud to support young talents, artists and creative works of the Meshkat Community promoting tolerance and encouraging community harmony through relevant and relatable stories.

As important as the stories from Behrouz Boochani, Richard Wagamese, and Banan Zeraid are, our responsibility to seek out, read, watch or listen these tales in our commitment to learn more and drive positive action is imperative.

Learn more:


Amelia Mitchell is a PeaceGeeks volunteer and contributing writer. Thanks to Tasneem Ma’abreh for contributions about Meshkat Community. This article was edited by PeaceGeeks staff Lauren Hyde.
 

Feb 13, 2019
Category:

2018 in Review

A few days before the start of the New Year, I had the opportunity to visit PeaceGeeks HQ in Gastown, Vancouver, to talk with Digital Projects and Fundraising Manager Cherrie Lam about all that PeaceGeeks accomplished in 2018.

The general feeling surrounding the past year was one of tremendous growth, along with the inevitable growing pains that accompany rapid change. While 2017 was marked by a winning streak for the organization—a Top 5 placement in the Google.org Impact Challenge and two new projects being greenlit by the Canadian Government bookended the year—2018 was defined by the intense challenge of living up to these commitments.

This challenge was accepted with alacrity. PeaceGeeks, running previously with just three full time staff members, finished the year with a complete team for the first time in its seven-year history. A full time developer works on the Google Impact Challenge-funded app for newcomers, transferring the design in-house. Marketing, communications, fundraising, and further project management support also came aboard. A team is now consistently working in Jordan, dedicated to the Meshkat Community Project, and regularly collaborates with the Vancouver office. PeaceGeeks, at the beginning of the New Year, finds itself moving from a small, volunteer-based organization, to a fully professional NGO.

As is par for the course, this rapid transition has been nearly as stressful as it has been exciting. Cherrie discussed the pressure to succeed that naturally accompanies the shift from a quirky startup to a more professional and skilled organization. Cherrie reminisced about the “good old days” when PeaceGeeks was mainly focused on small passion projects and relied heavily on volunteers: while neither of those qualities has changed about the organization, it is now working on significant publicly and privately-funded projects that have firm delivery dates and high expectations; projects that have the potential to be game changers in the peace-tech industry.

PeaceGeeks is developing an app for newcomers and refugees to the Metro Vancouver area. With an anticipated launch date of March 2019, the stakes are high to come away with an application that will fulfil the vision for what is required by the parameters of the Google.org Impact Challenge and government funding. The team spent most of 2018 referring back to their collaborative community ethos and consulting, conversing, and cooperating with partners and advisors on the project. After creating, scrapping, re-working, refining, and hair-tearing, the the project is progressing toward a clean, simple, effective, and user-friendly final product that the team and its partners are proud of and excited to share.

In Jordan, the PeaceGeeks team operates three principal programs: Meshkat Community, Artists-in-Residence, and the annual Peace Awards. Funded by the Government of Canada through 2020, Meshkat strives to promote alternative messaging defined by acceptance and tolerance online to combat the prevalence of hate and extremism in digital content in the region. The Artists-in-Residence program nurtures bloggers, filmmakers, and photographers to address critical community challenges and spark important conversations to create unity and advocate for positive change. The annual Peace Awards celebrate outstanding individuals who contribute to a safer, more inclusive community.

PeaceGeeks also took time in 2018 to transform its foundations in terms of what the organization stands for and how its mission and values translate from theory into practice. The PeaceGeeks team, led by a dedicated Board of Directors, determined to fully shape and understand their core statements in order to move forward with cohesion and intention. The organization now has a more concise and accessible byline: PeaceGeeks builds digital tools to empower communities in the pursuit of peace.

So what does the coming year hold for PeaceGeeks? The organization is continuing to refine its mission and values, with a reorientation of the signature speaker series “PeaceTalks,” to be more engaging and relevant to the contemporary socio-political climate and the Vancouver community, where the talks are hosted. The launch of the newcomer app in March will kickstart the project into a new phase defined by user feedback, marketing, and community engagement to ensure the app reaches its full potential of usability and positive impact for newcomers. Still a quirky startup in many ways, PeaceGeeks will continue to seek new and innovative funding opportunities to facilitate and expand its project base.

With a transformative year under its belt, PeaceGeeks is up and running with a refreshed momentum and the tools it needs to carry forward for the long term. With a full and diverse team of Board members, staff, volunteers, and a strong network of community partners, PeaceGeeks is providing digital empowerment tools to immigrants and refugees in British Columbia, challenging hate and extremism online in Jordan, and engaging with the Vancouver community to raise awareness and foster dialogue about peace technology and its potential to make the world a better place. 

There’s much work to be done, and a lot to look forward to in 2019.

Daniel Morton is a PeaceGeeks volunteer and contributing writer.

Jan 7, 2019
Category: Media

Refugee family reunited after years apart just in time for Christmas

Mohammed Alsaleh arrived in Canada as a Syrian refugee four years ago, at the end of November. He fled Syria in early 2014 and spent most of the year in transit in Lebanon, before winning a lottery to be sponsored by the Canadian government. It was month before Christmas when he touched down in Vancouver, and Mohammed describes that winter season as a period of “prolonged jet lag.” After years of living through constant war and conflict, imprisonment, torture, and displacement from his home and family, he doesn’t remember anything about Christmas 2014, his first on Canadian soil. Operating in survival mode, the thought of having his family in Canada with him seemed, at the time, nothing short of impossible.

Mohammed considers the following year his first “real Canadian Christmas,” which he spent with new friends, part of a life he built from scratch, a life that would look very different from what he had in Syria, where he was attending school to become a doctor. Though he was surrounded by his network of new friends and thankful to be settling into a more secure life here, Mohammed longed for his family to be able to share in the joys of the season with him. “During the holidays particularly, you feel far away. You miss your family,” he says. “I was sad I couldn’t celebrate with my family, and I wished I could be with them. I always wished that.”

Remembering Christmas in Syria

Mohammed reminisces about Christmases spent with his family in Syria and his Christian community. “Before the war, there was a lot of diversity in Syria,” Mohammed recalls, “There was peace and harmony between people from different religions, and with different beliefs – like in Canada.”

Prior to the outbreak of war in 2011, Christmas in Syria comprised familiar activities including taking children to visit Santa Claus, and admiring the Christmas light displays. “On Christmas Eve, the whole sky lights up with fireworks,” Mohammed shares, “[the holidays were] always celebrated with family.”

The onset of war changed everything. There was neither time nor resources for celebrations, and on Christmas Eve the sound of fireworks was replaced with the sound of gunfire. “Instead of fireworks, there were planes, bombs, and death in the sky," Mohammed remembers.

The path to reunion

After multiple imprisonments for political activism, which included documenting and broadcasting videos and images of military brutality, and being caught in possession of satirical caricatures of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad in his med school dorm room (those belonged to his roommate), Mohammed was forced to flee the country to protect his life. Separated from his mother, brother, sister-in-law, and two younger sisters, who made their way as refugees to Turkey, Mohammed ended up in Canada alone.

After several years apart, he determined that the dream of being reunited with his family should become reality. So he set to work. Engaging with his professional and volunteer networks through the Federal Refugee Sponsorship Training Program, and the Immigrants Services Society of British Columbia, Mohammed began raising the necessary funds to bring his family safely to Canada.

By the end of 2017, Mohammed had raised $60,00 - a combination of his own savings, a successful GoFundMe campaign, and significant contributions from an anonymous couple moved to action by his family's plight.

A holiday wish come true

Mohammed's family finally arrived as privately-sponsored refugees on October 17th this year. Mohammed became a permanent Canadian resident just two days before, on October 15th. “I feel like I’ve come full circle,” he says. “Arriving alone as a refugee, and now, as a Canadian, welcoming my family as refugees,” Mohammed beams with pride. “Bringing them to Canada is the greatest accomplishment of my life.”

Mohammed is thrilled to introduce his family to his friends and his life here just in time for Christmas. Already, they’ve decorated a Christmas tree, and have gone to Capilano Suspension Bridge in North Vancouver to see the Christmas Light Festival.

A new year, a new chapter

“No matter who you are, there’s something about the promise of a new year to be excited about,” says Mohammed. “There’s time for reflection, and an opportunity to start fresh.”

Mohammed’s New Year’s hopes are for his family to have a successful transition and settlement in Canada. His youngest sister will attend junior high, and his other family members are enrolled in English classes.

Arriving in a new country, especially arriving as a refugee or displaced person, and not knowing the language, the culture, or any people there, not knowing how to get around, or what support services are available or how to access them, is intensely daunting. Fortunately for Mohammed’s family, they have him and his self-made support network to rely on as the foundation of their settlement into life in Canada.

Services Advisor Pathways

PeaceGeeks’ Services Advisor Pathways project looks to support new arrivals in a similar way. Canada welcomes an average of 300,000 migrants each year. Access to information for newcomers is one of the top barriers to resettlement today. Launching in March 2019, the Pathways app is being designed in partnership with immigrants, refugees, and community service providers, and will help newcomers more effectively navigate their settlement. The app will be piloted in Metro Vancouver, which is home to 153,000 newcomers to Canada, will be available in seven languages, and will be updated by local service providers regularly in order to remain accurate and informative. Find out more about the project here: https://peacegeeks.org/pathways

What can you do?

The holidays are not always an easy time for everyone, but Mohammed views them as a universal occasion, and an opportunity to coalesce around singular issues to give back to our communities and make them a better place for all. Newcomers to Canada are amongst the most vulnerable population groups for whom winter and the holidays are uniquely challenging.

Mohammed’s ideal for an inclusive holiday season starts with smalls steps from all of us: “educate your children. Remind them to wish their classmates from immigrant families ‘Happy Holidays.’ You don’t know what they might be going through. We can all do that, to our colleagues and neighbours too. Share happiness with those around us.”

This year, as you purchase gifts for your friends and families, please consider making a small donation to programs that will provide refugees with a holiday meal or support year-round. You can also donate to PeaceGeeks, which will go directly toward our Pathways app project and our other peacebuilding projects here in Canada and in Jordan and the Middle East North Africa (MENA) region.

PeaceGeeks wishes Mohammed and his family, all refugees and newcomers, our partners, donors, and volunteers, and their families a Happy Holidays.

PeaceGeeks interviewed Mohammed two years ago. You can read more on his story here: https://peacegeeks.org/news/interview-mohammed-alsaleh-fighting-oppression-syria-building-life-canada-advocating-refugees

If you, or someone you know, are having a hard time over the holidays, selected support services in Vancouver are:

Amelia Mitchell is a PeaceGeeks volunteer and contributing writer.

Dec 20, 2018
Category: Media

PeaceTalks: Threats to independent journalism as the DRC heads towards its next elections

“It's not a Canada problem or a Congo problem, it’s a humanity problem.” - Babaluku, Congolese Rapper & Rights Activist

Though widely underreported, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is in the middle of a political crisis.

On 23 December 2018, the DRC will hold its next presidential and parliamentary elections. The Congolese people will determine a successor to President Joseph Kabila, the incumbent since 2001. Tensions are high: in the last decade, Africa has faced an alarming trend of presidential term limit extensions, leading to political violence all across the region.

For Kabila, his second and final presidential term was slated to expire at the end of 2016. Kabila promised to hold elections by the end of 2017 — a broken promise as elections are only now happening this month.

Congolese citizens await the change of government with anticipation and optimism, but the elections also bring a sense of fear. The DRC hasn’t experienced a peaceful power transition since 1960. Recently, violent clashes between government and rebel forces are becoming increasingly common, spilling into the North Kivu and Ituri provinces, affecting a growing number of civilian populations. Attacks on local villages have resulted in the deaths of hundreds of people, displacing thousands to other cities within the DRC, and across the border into neighbouring Uganda.

On October 24th, PeaceGeeks hosted our 40th PeaceTalk at the HiVE coworking space in downtown Vancouver in collaboration with the SFU African Students' Association and Bunia Actualité, an independent news organization operating in the DRC.

The talk, titled Intersection of Independent Journalism and Elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo, brought a closer look to the challenges and opportunities facing the DRC and independent journalists.

The talk featured Don Wright, Amnesty International’s National Outreach and Coordination Manager, King Solomon, a refugee and student at Simon Fraser University who helped found Bunia Actualité, Babaluku, a Ugandan rapper and community youth activist and social entrepreneur, and Luc Malembe, journalist and Director of Bunia Actualité, who teleconferenced in from the DRC. The talk was moderated by Peter Wood of the David Suzuki Foundation.

Don Wright opened the dialogue with an overview of Amnesty International’s work responding to violence faced by journalists around the world, highlighting that professional foreign press and local agents alike are, in many regions around the globe, being “cracked down upon,” facing threats of imprisonment, and in some cases, even death.

Wright also highlighted the role Canada and its mining companies play in social conflicts in the DRC. Canada’s interests and holdings in the region include $40 million USD in annual imports, and $4.5 billion USD in mining-related assets. Wright added that many locals in the rural regions of Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America are regularly jailed -- or killed --  for attempting to protect their home environment from Canadian mining companies.

King Solomon, who emigrated as a refugee from the DRC to Canada in 2009, spoke to his personal experiences with the socio-economic and political crises. His testimony was emotional as he expressed the shame he felt at running away from the place he had called home his whole life.

Solomon helped to establish the website buniaactualite.com, one of the few independent news organizations in the DRC. Since its conception in October 2017, the grassroots news organization Bunia Actualité has gained significant traction both on its website and its initial Facebook page (started in 2015) which has over 111,000 followers.

Using an interactive online map, Reporters without Borders, which ranks the level of freedom of the press in countries across the globe, Solomon pointed out the vast instability and restrictions against free journalism in the world, and especially in post-colonial regions that continue to experience conflict.

Malembe, a well-known political commentator in the DRC, called in via teleconference to share his personal account of being imprisoned and threatened on several occasions for writing openly. Malembe was jailed for a month in the city of Bunia’s central prison in December 2017 for participating in a protest against the President.

“Today, [the DRC] is one of the most repressed countries for journalism in Africa,” Malembe said. Along with directing Bunia Actualité, Malembe also founded one of the largest civil rights movements in the DRC, called LUCHA, which translates in English to “Fight for Change.”

Malembe noted that the introduction of technology and online forums have allowed for independent journalism in the DRC because writers are no longer tied to offices that can be physically targeted. But efforts to control and repress these outlets have increased as well.

More than 150,000 citizens rely on the internet to learn about what is happening in their region. However, with lack of access to modern equipment, citizens face many technological barriers. Malembe called for action from Canadians to help overcome and solve these obstacles in order to help bring to an end the constant state of violence and war.

Babaluku, rapper and Founder of the Bavubaka Foundation, highlighted the importance of language, art, and music in connecting and mobilizing citizens, especially youth, to become advocates for peace within their communities. The Bavubaka Foundation is a Ugandan organization committed to restoring hope and healing in communities, using music and the arts to empower a new generation of  leaders in Uganda and all of Africa to use their voices to affect positive social change.

Reflecting on his work with youth, Babaluku discussed one of the biggest challenges he faces, that many do not see the significance of their efforts and do not believe they can contribute even within their personal communities, let alone globally. Their feeling of invisibility and powerlessness discourages their involvement in art and design, which Babaluku believes is key to overcoming crisis and violence. He emphasized that it is the artists, designers, and musicians leading the conversation for change.

A Ugandan-Canadian, Babaluku underlined that these political and humanitarian crises are global and borderless issues. “It’s not a Canada, problem or a Congo problem, it’s a humanity problem,” he stated. He did add that, as Canadians, we need to take responsibility for creating solutions and helping vulnerable communities, especially encouraging youth to realize their potential. Babaluku touched on the much-needed support from global allies to find a realistic and beneficial position within their foreign affairs policies to assist with tackling human rights crises.

The questions central to the DRC situation are also increasingly relevant here in North America:

What does it take to ensure an honest and fair election in a country strife with corruption, exploitation, and armed conflict? Can elevating the voices of independent journalists foster transparency and open dialogue, or simply increase polarization in an already divided nation?

The panelists left the audience with a the following action items:

  1. Spread the word. What’s going on in the DRC, whether it’s the upcoming elections or the intensive Canadian mining operations in the Congo, is not widely considered on the Canadian or global stages.
  2. Contact members of parliament to hire an ombudsperson to look into and raise awareness of the impacts of Canadian mining companies abroad.
  3. Donate to bridge the digital divide. Organizations like Bunia Actualité are looking for more resources, such as equipment and capacity, and support to sustain independent journalism. Learn how you can donate your old smartphone to equip local independent journalists to effectively report what’s happening on the ground in the DRC at www.cellsforchange.com.
  4. Watch this video by Yole!Africa: https://vimeo.com/288555974, shared by Babaluku at the talk. Yole!Africa is a cultural centre for youth in the DRC started by internationally-acclaimed filmmaker and activist Petna Ndaliko Katondolo, in order to provide alternative education opportunities and empower youth to thrive and promote peace in spite of conflict in the region.
  5. Engage youth here at home. Seek opportunities in your communities to teach and share your passions with youth to help them become community builders.

Kiara Scott is a PeaceGeeks volunteer and contributing writer.

Dec 12, 2018
Category: Thematic Issues

#GiveItUp4Peace Fundraiser & PeaceGeeks 5 Year Anniversary!

Guest Speaker:
Date:
Nov 3, 2016
Time:
Venue:
The Hive Vancouver

Join us as we wrap up our month-long #GiveItUp4Peace campaign and celebrate our success! Together we'll share our stories from the month over beer and appys.

Celebrate our annual #GiveItUp4Peace Campaign and help PeaceGeeks with our final push to raise $50,000 so we can help those displaced by conflict to improve their own lives through better access to critical services.

Did we mention there will be Dagaraad Brewing beer and some tasty food from The Pint & Smart Mouth Cafe?!

Featuring a photobooth generously donated by our friends at imageCube

Silent auction items include: 

1. Harbour Air package for a flight for 2 anywhere out of Vancouver
2. Whistler package with 2 nights at a hotel in Whistler and a $50 gift card from The Keg
3. Pamper package with hair salon, manicure/ pedicure & necklace
4. Health Package that includes 1 month at Revamped Fitness and 2 tickets to the Gluten Free Expo
5. Gastown Package including gift certificate to Nuba and 2 tickets to an Escape Room
6. Sports package with Whitecaps Tickets & video games
7. Geeks Package with Hive Hot Desking and Camp Tech
8. Pubs package, with gifts from The Pint, Storm Crow and Original Joes
9. Living History Package, which includes a coffee conversation with a newly arrived Syrian refugee couple in Vancouver

Keep an eye out on facebook and twitter for more information about the event!

Tickets Available by Donation to PeaceGeeks, minimum donation of $10

Please note donations over $20 are eligible for a tax receipt.
 

Event Video:
Thank You To:
Nov 3, 2016
Category: Fundraising
Time 2:
6 PM

Rape, A Crime Against Humanity

A 28-year-old Saudi woman was recently sentenced to 200 lashes and 6 months in jail for being gang raped. The crime had occurred in 2006. The woman, known in the media as “the girl from Qatif,” was 19-years-old. She was kidnapped, along with her male companion, and raped 14 times by a gang of seven. And to clarify my opening statement, she was actually sentenced for breaking Sharia law, by being alone with a male who was not a relative. Originally condemned to 90 lashes, the girl from Qatif had her sentence increased on appeal for drawing international media attention. Her male companion was also gang raped, as well as sentenced to 200 lashes and 6 months in jail.

The Qatif rape case is one of the more shocking cases. First, that the perpetrators were convicted at all is the exception to the rule. It is estimated that globally, less than 5 percent of all rape prosecutions actually lead to a conviction. Moreover, most rape crimes go unreported. Victims are reluctant to speak out for fear of being stigmatized or targeted for retribution. Furthermore, while most countries have legislated against rape as a criminal offence, many lack policies for enforcement, leading perpetrators of sexual violence to enjoy impunity. In countries such as Kenya and India for example, the police tend not to readily involve themselves in matters of rape. This is especially true when the victim is poor. Such norms contribute to a climate of impunity, and the expectation that rape is both normal and inevitable.

The average rape victim comes from the poorest and most vulnerable communities in society. In Canada, for example, Aboriginal women are 3.5 times more likely to be victims of violence, including sexual violence, than non-Aboriginal women. The average rape victim is also female. Often, she is a young girl. But men and boys are also, not uncommonly, victims of rape and sexual abuse. Similarly, anyone can be a perpetrator of a sexual crime, particularly when that person is in a position of power.

People are raped in every country; yet it happens more often where sexual criminals enjoy impunity. Victim blaming is one such tactic. With legal maneuvering, the girl from Qatif was in effect found guilty for being the victim of a crime. Unfortunately, Saudi Arabia is not the only country with draconian laws that injure victims and discriminate against women. In Somalia in 2008, a 13-year-old girl named Aisha Ibrahim Duhulow was publicly stoned to death for “adultery” after being raped. Needless to say, women who live in countries where adultery is illegal are terrified to report a rape for fear of being indicted. This allows rapists to get away with their crime. In less extreme circumstances, victim blaming is more implicit, though no less prevalent. Anyone who has experienced an attack and been asked whether she was wearing “revealing” clothing knows this all too well.

Yet nothing contributes more to a climate of impunity than the sanctioning of rape as a deliberate tactic of war. Rape has always been an unfortunate product of war. Scholars now recognise that rape has been and is currently used as a strategy to control and destroy opposing communities. A witness testimony of prisoners in the Trnopolje concentration camp during the Bosnian war remarked on its effects:

“They could [explain] when somebody steals something from them, or even beatings or even some killings. Somehow they sort of accepted it… but when the rapes started they lost all hope. Until then they had hope that this war could pass, that everything would quiet down. When the rapes started, everybody lost hope, everybody in the camp, men and women. There was such fear…”

In Bosnia in 1992, rape was used explicitly as a strategy for ethnic cleansing. Women were targeted so they could give birth to Serbian babies. The same tactic was used in 1971 by the Pakistani army during the Bangladesh Liberation War, and more recently by the Janjaweed in the Darfur region of Sudan. Rape as a tool of war is used to sow terror, destabilise the community, and exert control. Today, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is deemed the worst place in the world for sexual violence. Near-constant violence in certain regions has led to extremely high (though wildly underreported) incidences of rape and sexual violence, which then spill over into stable areas free from conflict. It is estimated that 48 women are raped every hour in the DRC.

According to international human rights law, rape perpetrated on a mass scale is a crime against humanity, which makes it prosecutable under international law. In 1996, Canada’s Honourable Louise Arbour was appointed Chief Prosecutor to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR). These ad-hoc tribunals prosecuted agents of the state for instigating mass rape as an act of genocide. An estimated 250,000 women were raped in Rwanda during the 1994 genocide, and approximately 60,000 women were raped during the Bosnian War from 1992-1995.

I had the chance to speak to Louise Arbour about the difficulty of prosecuting rape as a crime against humanity. She articulated that while the legal basis for such a definition was set in the Geneva Convention and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the difficult part was in drawing attention to rape when so much death and other atrocities had occurred. And the “really difficult part was in prosecuting rape as a crime of genocide.” In doing so, Madame Arbour has fought against the impunity with which heads of state have allowed the bodies of women, girls, boys, and men, to be used as casualties of war in the most horrific sense.

Arbour also stressed the difficulties encountered as a prosecutor in gathering evidence for crimes of rape when victims were so reluctant to speak about their experiences. Rape is a horrific crime in all manners and definitions, and at all times. Communities must fight against the stigmatisation connected to rape victims. We must work together towards healing and ending impunity for sexual offenders.

Groups that seek to empower women, such as the Women’s NGO Secretariat of Liberia (WONGOSOL) which PeaceGeeks helps to promote, will strengthen social bonds and de-stigmatise crucial issues. Civil society, with organisations like Amnesty International, must constantly put pressure on states to enforce their own laws against rape crimes and fight back against draconian laws which prosecute the victim. Indeed, international pressure led Saudi King Abdullah to, in the end, pardon both the girl from Qatif, and her male companion. If we recognise the prevalence of rape within societies, we can fight against it. We can end impunity for those who perpetrate one of humanity’s most grotesque crimes.

Apr 1, 2015
Category: Issue Briefs

PeaceTalk #22: Ebola: Their Problem or Ours?

Guest Speaker:
Dr. Michael Rekart, Ian MacKay, Dr. Mark Tyndall, Kent Bubbs Jr.
Date:
Nov 5, 2014
Time:
6:00 - 7:30PM
Venue:
HiVE Vancouver

With a rising death toll of 3,800+ and over 8,000 suspected cases, the Ebola epidemic spreading in West Africa is the worst in history. With an incubation period of up to 21 days and more unknown and undiagnosed cases to count; who’s problem is this, how did we get to where we are, and where do we go now?
Join BCCIC, PeaceGeeks, and an exciting panel on November 5th to learn about this issue, ask questions, and join the discussion on this burning global issue. Questions we will discuss include:

  • What could an international response look like? What is Canada’s ideal role moving forward?
  • Who should be involved and how? What needs to be done moving forward?
  • What factors contributed to the Ebola outbreak and what can we expect the lasting impact to be on those areas affected?

Speaker Biographies

Dr. Michael Rekart is a Clinical Professor of Global Health at the UBC School of Population and Public Health.  From 1985 to 2010, he was the Director of the STI/HIV Prevention and Control Program for British Columbia. For two and a half decades, Dr. Rekart led BC's public health response to sequential HIV outbreaks in gay men, injection drug users and heterosexuals, as well as the public health effort to control North America’s largest outbreak of heterosexual syphilis. In May 2014, Dr. Rekart returned from a 1 year mission for Medecins sans Frontieres (MSF - Doctors Without Borders) in Swaziland, Africa, and he is preparing to embark on another MSF mission to Sierra Leone in December 2014 where he will work on Ebola.

Ian MacKay is a Nursing student, from Squamish BC, attending school at Douglas College, and a volunteer with the Samaritan’s Purse in Liberia. In 2012 he founded The Peace Life Project Foundation, a non-profit humanitarian foundation providing education and basic health care to children in the Democratic Republic of Congo. In addition, he has provided humanitarian relief in Haiti, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Philippines and more recently Liberia. Ian spent his summer as a first responder to the Ebola crisis in Liberia. He strives to continue to advocate and educate on the global Ebola crisis. Ian’s passion for helping others extends to the ski hill, where for the past four years he has volunteered as a ski patroller at Whistler Blackcomb.

Dr. Mark Tyndall is a Director at the UBC Centre for Disease Control. Dr. Tyndall obtained his MD and FRCPC in Internal Medicine from McMaster University and completed an Infectious Diseases Fellowship at the University of Manitoba. He received a Doctoral degree in Epidemiology from Harvard University with a focus on health and human rights. He has lived and worked in Nairobi, Kenya on HIV transmission as part of a WHO collaborative project. For over a decade, he has led community-based research projects with a focus on HIV, poverty and drug use in Vancouver and Ottawa. Dr. Tyndall is an author on more than 200 academic papers and has been a strong advocate for evidenced-based public health policy. He has received several academic honours during the course of his career, including a Michael Smith Foundation Senior Scientist award, and the Distinguished Medical Research Lecturer Award and Master Teacher Award from the UBC Faculty of Medicine.

Kent Bubbs Jr. is a trustee of the Universal Outreach Foundation. He is a native to the Sea to Sky and got seriously involved with Universal Outreach Foundation (UOF) 8 years ago. He and his wife Landis live full time in Liberia and focus on 3 sectors: Water and Sanitation; Education and; Economic Development. Presently they are refocusing on the fight against Ebola with the development of a campaign called “Beat Ebola Now”. This is a community level program that brings information and sanitation techniques relevant to Ebola into the communities.

Moderator Biography

Michael Simpson is the Executive Director of BCCIC. Michael Simpson recently undertook the role of Executive Director with BCCIC after fourteen years working with a Canadian NGO in Africa, Latin America and South America. He has worked in Sierra Leone, Nigeria, and visited Guinea as well as other West African countries. Formerly a documentary film  producer, Simpson has a wealth of experience on the ground in the developing world working on a wide range of issues from human rights to environmental and social sustainability with an emphasis on post-
conflict development.

Event Video:
Thank You To:
Partnership With:
Oct 15, 2014
Category: PeaceTalks
Time 2:
6 PM

Apply to Partner with PeaceGeeks by October 10

Are you ready to partner with PeaceGeeks?

PeaceGeeks is looking for grassroots organizations in developing and conflict- affected areas who are interested in using technology to protect human rights in their community. We believe that grassroots organizations understand these types of issues better than anyone else and we would like to help your organization create the right solutions to them. We therefore invite you to learn more about what PeaceGeeks does and how partnering with us can make a difference in the work that you do. Partnership applications are accepted on a rolling basis, but we have an upcoming project in-take, for project starting in October! If you are ready to get started, please submit your project by September 30, 2014!


What PeaceGeeks Does:

  • We create and deploy new websites for our partners based on their needs. (See Amani section below);
  • We help our partners to increase awareness of their organization locally and internationally by providing communications and design consulting that improves their branding and online presence;
  • We assist our partners in protecting the privacy of their information, and that of the people they help, from anti-democratic governments and groups;
  • We provide our partners with social media and communications training that enables them to more effectively share information with their community, supporters, and organizational partners;
  • We provide our partners with feedback on how effective their website is at communicating important information and suggest how it could be improved


The PeaceGeeks Promise:

PeaceGeeks has a record of reliably providing services to its non-profit partners and it promises
that by partnering with us your organization will be able to:

  • Present itself professionally to current and potential supporters
  • Create more awareness of your work and the issues at home and abroad
  • Collect and present data that shows the impact of your work
  • Have a website that is easy to manage and keep up to date
  • Have a new or improved online presence

 

Are you Eligible to Partner with PeaceGeeks

You are if you:

1. Are a grassroots, non-profit organization based in a developing or conflict affected area.
2. Have a demonstrated track-record focused on the promotion of peace, human rights or accountability.
3. Possess content to populate website (such as photos, videos, newsletters, articles, documents stating mission, vision, programs etc.)
4. Have team resources able to commit to at least 5 hours per week to this project.
5. Experience using computers and the internet.
6. Can provide two references from independent organizations who can testify to your organization’s track record.

We do not partner with organizations that:

1. Are involved in partisan politics.
2. Have links to terrorist activities.
3. Engage in religious proselytizing or conversion activities.
4. Are based in the Global North and do not have partner organizations in the Global South (i.e. organizations based in the Global North that run projects in the Global South)

How to Apply:

To partner with PeaceGeeks please follow our quick two-step process that will help us to
understand your needs and how we can help you:
1. Apply to be a PeaceGeeks Partner
2. Submit a Project Request

About PeaceGeeks

PeaceGeeks is a Canadian non-profit organization that builds technology partnerships with grassroots, non-profit organizations in developing and conflict-affected areas to transform their efforts to promote peace, human rights and accountability. Established in 2011, we have worked with groups in Uganda, Kenya, South Sudan, Burundi, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Egypt, Palestine, Nepal, Philippines and Indonesia who focus on a range issues including gender-based violence, engaging youth in peacebuilding and development, empowering women through self-sufficiency and building networks of women in leadership. We have an established team of over 200 volunteer professionals experienced in fields such as web and software development, graphic design, communications, marketing, project management, social media and online security. Please see our website for more details.

Sep 24, 2014

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