ACORN Canada Kicks Off Convention in Montreal

DSCN0012Montreal       Close to 250 people from all over Canada had rolled into McGill University on the rise of Mount Royal overlooking the city. Three school buses came from Ottawa, vans and cars from Nova Scotia 14 hours away, a coach bus from Toronto, and flyers from British Columbia. There was even a delegation from ACORN International in the USA and a team from Local 100 that drove up from Dallas and Little Rock. Members were camped out in the lobby in their red t-shirts and on the sidewalks outside of the residence hall like it was a summer action camp.

They were all ready and chanting their local slogans as they entered the ballroom on Sunday morning ready to roar. They were met with welcome and exhortations by one speaker after another, beginning with Adrian Profitos, an ACORN member from Ottawa now living in Montreal and helping organize ACORN’s newest chapter there. A delegation from our longtime allies, the Immigrant Workers Center, brought cries of “shame, shame” from the members as they detailed the exploitation of workers by temporary employment agencies that now number 5000 in the Montreal area. A machinist leader from the FTQ, the Quebec labor union council,  had the crowd laughing when he told the members that he had apologized to his young children when he had left this morning that he would not be watching cartoons with them because he had to give greetings to some “corporate crowd.” The punch line was that “I could not have been more wrong,” as the ACORN members hooted and hollered.

Aside from ACORN Canada leaders, the most riveting speaker, setting the tone for the convention was Mike Palecek, the National President of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers or CUP-W, as it is called. The union has been our staunchest ally on the remittance justice campaign and has joined us enthusiastically in fighting predatory lending by banks and payday lenders. The postal union envisions an expansion of the post office capacity as a postal bank, common in some other countries as well as adding the ability to handle money transfers as not only good for low and moderate income families as ACORN does, but a way to protect and keep postal members working by offering more services. There is a lot of excitement in Canada now about the startling upset by the New Democratic Party in the western province of Alberta after 40 years of rule by the Conservative Party and whether or not that signals change in the election coming in four months nationally. Palecek sensed that this was a crowd hungry for change and he stoked the fires.

In the afternoon, buses of members fanned out across the city to a huge response in neighborhoods regardless of our faltering French to talk to people about supporting ACORN’s “Internet for All” campaign to bridge the digital divide. Members reported enthusiastic support and real anger over cost, quality, and access. With hearings pending in Ottawa on this issue, the support in Montreal opens up an important front.

ACORN’s convention is not about parties and parades, but outreach and action, and it is moving and inspiring to see the members join together to get the job done.

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Canada Leads the Way in Demanding Remittance Regulations!

Remittance Fees Toronto March 2 2011- 2New Orleans By late Tuesday night the last report was in from Vancouver putting a cap on actions across Canada in Hamilton, Toronto, and Ottawa in freezing and rainy weather as ACORN Canada (www.acorncanada.org) members stepped out to demand of federal authorities in Ottawa and provincial administrators in Ontario and British Columbia that the costs of remittances simply had to be regulated to put a stop to predatory pricing.  The actions were widely covered on Global TV, Chinese and other language papers, the Metro Ottawa with a front page picture, and as far away as The Fast Forward Weekly in Calgary.  Migrant and immigrant workers and families understand that this issue is huge, costly, and demands immediate resolution.  (Details in the reports posted at www.acorninternational.org entitled Past Time for Remittance Justice and the supplemental report, Looking the Other Way:  The Absence of Remittance Regulation)

Importantly in Vancouver there was a commitment from the chief staff person in the Finance Ministry to meet directly with ACORN Canada leaders to see what needed to be done to vet the issue and move forward.  With a new Premier taking office this week, members are crossing their fingers that they might actually be heard on this huge issue dealing with money transfer organizations like Western Union, MoneyGram, and others.

Members in Toronto were literally locked out in the cold by police at the behest of the provincial government in Ontario at Queen’s Park.  There seems to me more interest in the Hollywood concept of The King’s Speech than in Queen’s Park listening!  Police and bureaucrats claimed the demand to meet with the Minister of Finance and present an “unauthorized” letter was past the pale, forcing the members with flags, bullhorns, and chanting to call out to supporters passing by and post the letter to the minister from in front of the government’s own building.  “Hey,” politicians seem to be saying in Ontario, “what do we care about the problems of a bunch of new Canadian immigrants?”  Indeed!

DSCN0764The report from ACORN Ottawa head organizer, Jill O’Reilly, elegantly and concisely describes what nearly 30 members faced at the federal level in pressing the demands:
“CUPW joined us with their national president. SEIU Canada local 2 staff joined us as well
We got press in Ottawa Metro, major free daily paper. We got local press in the Ottawa EMC, which publishes Thursday.

Leaders Michelle Walrond and Adrian Profitos went up with no trouble to commissioner’s office Ursula Menke at the FCAC. She wasn’t in or the deputy commissioner. So we spoke with their media relations person who tried to shove us off to the minister’s office. But members stayed firm and they promised us a meeting and to look at our info. We asked them to pass on the message to Ursula and her office that she needs to recommend a 5% cap on banks for remittance fees to the minister, etc.

Remittance Fees Toronto March 2 2011 - 1 The woman we dealt with was a little shaky and the press came up and took some good shots. the building management called the cops on top of the cops I already spoke with this AM. We turned out approx 11 cops. who were super nice and pissed that the building management called in more of them when we already notified them.”

All in a day’s work as other countries in the ACORN International federation also move to step forward with the same demand in the seven other countries where our members face the same issues.

Another step forward, as momentum continues to build around the world for remittance justice and it becomes clear there’s no stopping us now!

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