Montreal Pride is upon us and with it the sights and sounds of people celebrating sexual diversity in an environment that is supposed to be safe and welcoming. Though in Canada we pride ourselves at our enlightenment on issues of sexuality and gender identity, we have still have a long way to go. Before we can move forward, we need to look at our past.

This article will look briefly at the history of LGBTQ struggles in Quebec and Canada, conduct a quick overview of current legislation, and do its best to present a picture of the status quo and what needs to be done to make our country safer and more inclusive.

During the British colonial period, homosexuality, known as “buggery” or “sodomy” was punishable by death. In 1861, the law was eased a bit and the penalty was changed to ten years to life in jail. Anti-gay laws almost always targeted men and the language of laws was kept intentionally vague in order to give huge discretion to law enforcement.

Starting in 1890, gays were generally charged with “gross indecency”, and between 1948 and 1961 changes to the Canadian Criminal Code were made, creating the categories of criminal “sexual psychopaths” and “dangerous sexual offenders”. Instead of persecuting rapists and pedophiles, the changes were disproportionately used to target gays. In addition, Canadian immigration law considered homosexuals an inadmissible class of immigrants.

The gay rights movement in Canada didn’t really gain momentum until the 1960s, when George Everett Klippert, a mechanic from the Northwest Territories, admitted that he was gay and had sex with men. In 1967 he was charged with “gross indecency” and sent to prison indefinitely as a “dangerous sexual offender”.

His conviction was sadly upheld by the Supreme Court of Canada.

While Klippert was rotting in jail, the British government opted to decriminalize certain homosexual acts. Taking a cue from our Mother Country, Pierre Elliot Trudeau, at the time Justice Minister for Prime Minister Lester Pearson, began pushing the omnibus bill, a bill that would amend the Criminal Code to decriminalize homosexual sex, legalize contraception, and increase access to abortion. When asked about it, Trudeau told the press:

“It’s bringing the laws of the land up to contemporary society I think. Take this thing on homosexuality. I think the view we take here is that there’s no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation. I think that what’s done in private between adults doesn’t concern the Criminal Code. When it becomes public this is a different matter, or when it relates to minors this is a different matter.”

The bill passed in 1969, and two years later, Everett Klippert was released from prison.

In 1977 Quebec passed its Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms, a quasi-constitutional bit of legislation and the first of its kind to openly ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Applicable to both private and public parties, the law bans discrimination in access to public spaces, contracts or refusal to enter into them, housing, and employment on the basis of many grounds including sexual orientation. The Quebec Charter also grants equal recognition, and bans harassment, and the distribution of discriminatory notices, symbols, or signs.

In 1978 Canada’s immigration laws were modified so homosexuals are no longer inadmissible.

In 1992, the ban on gays in the military was lifted. A few years later, in 1999, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that same sex couples are entitled to the same benefits and under the same obligations as opposite-sex couples for the social programs they contribute to.

In the summer of 2005, Paul Martin’s government successfully passed Bill C-38, the Law on Civil Marriage, allowing same sex couples the legal right to marry. Attempts by Conservatives to reopen the marriage debate have failed and continue to do so to this day.

Over the years the Canadian Criminal Code has evolved to include “sexual orientation and gender identity or expression” in its definition of hate crimes. The inclusion of gender identity or expression is a recent addition by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Hate crimes include public incitement of hatred, advocating genocide, and willful promotion of hatred, which carry penalties ranging from six months to five years in prison. In addition, sentencing guidelines for the courts now include the obligation to consider aggravating circumstances that could add to a sentence, including evidence that the crime was motivated by bias, prejudice or hate based on factors that include sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.

As it stands, life for Canada’s LGBTQ people is far from perfect. Many members of the LGBTQ community are still denied access to proper health care in Quebec and people are still being fired for being gay or transgender. Though the election of the orange bigot and the rise in hate crimes south of the border has bolstered support for LGBTQ groups, it has also given hatemongers in Canada the confidence to be more open in their hate.

Some Montreal institutions have to deal with homophobia in their recent past. Several groups have been calling on the City of Montreal and the Montreal Police (SPVM) to apologize for violent raids on gay clubs and parties in the 70s, 80s and 90s and just this year Projet Montreal City Councillor Richard Ryan and his party joined them. The raid on Sex Garage in 1990 was what sparked the movement that would ultimately lead to Montreal Pride.

Quebec launched initiatives in 2013 to fight homophobia, however queer people are still glared at in public for simply being themselves. Unfortunately, the one law that would firmly entrench LGBTQ rights – our constitution – still does not include protections for them, and partisan politics and the Quebec notion of us vs them where the rest of Canada is concerned will keep these protections from ever happening.

Protections for LGBTQ people are there but they could be a whole lot better.

This Pride, let’s do what the haters hate most – be out and proud and open and fabulous, while still firmly pushing for those changes Canada so desperately needs.

This past July, the town of Saint-Apollinaire voted against allowing their small Muslim community a space to bury their dead. In response, Quebec City has generously offered land for the building of an Islamic Cemetery.

This article is not about Saint-Apollinaire or Quebec’s obnoxious denial of its racism problem.

It’s about death, and how we deal with what’s left of the people we know.

Though we’re all affected by it, death and its technicalities are things we just don’t talk about…

…That is until someone we know dies.

When a loved one dies we do our best to make sure the person gets what they would have wanted. The late comedian George Carlin joked about wanting to be dropped from a plane and left wherever he landed even if it was the mayor’s lawn. Unfortunately, though we’d like to fulfill the wishes of even our most eccentric friends and relatives, the province of Quebec has rules about how a body can be disposed of after death.

The rules come primarily from Quebec’s Burial Act and the Act Respecting Medical Laboratories, Organ and Tissue Conservation, and the Disposal of Human Bodies and related regulations. Generally there are two common ways a body can be put to rest after death, burial and cremation, so this article will focus on those.

The law says that burials have to take place “in a cemetery lawfully established, except in cases otherwise provided by the law”. That means that if your uncle, for example, wanted to be buried at your family’s cottage, he couldn’t unless the land was a cemetery. This is undoubtedly to avoid any dispute as to what should be done with human remains should a property be sold or expropriated.

Cemeteries, it should be noted, are considered private property, and the land is at the disposal of the physical or legal person who owns it, subject to any restrictions imposed as a result of someone buying a burial plot on said land.

In cases not otherwise specified, coffins must be placed in a grave and covered with at least a meter of earth, but the Minister of Health and Social Services who is charged with the enforcement of said acts can make exceptions for special cases.

Burials cannot take place in a church or chapel currently used for religious purposes without the consent of the ecclesiastical or diocesan authority of the religious group who owns the space. In cases where such authority grants this permission, the law requires that the body be placed in a coffin with 2.5 kg of quick-lime or lime chloride and covered with at least 1.25 meters of earth or enclosed in masonry at least forty five centimeters thick. The quick-lime is likely required to neutralize the odor and speed decay.

Cremations can only be done by the holder of a funeral director’s permit allowing him or her to perform them. Crematoriums must be equipped and operated so as to prevent any risk of contamination and avoid to pollution. The law specifies that said crematoriums must have a firebrick oven “kept in good working order at all times”. If the funeral home has a columbarium – a place to keep urns of ashes – it has to be fireproof.

Though the government has its own rules, the faiths of the deceased come into play when deciding how to treat the remains. For the purposes of this article, I will do a crash course on the rules of the three most common Abrahamic faiths in Montreal: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. As there are so many sects of Christianity, I’ll focus primarily on Catholicism. Apologies to anyone who is outraged (though houses of worship shouldn’t permit trolls).

Judaism requires that a body be buried immediately after passing, or at most, the following day as the belief is that the soul remains in turmoil until burial. The body must be buried complete: with all its limbs and organs.

Islamic practices are a bit trickier as they vary according to interpretations of Islamic law, but there are a few common customs. As in Judaism, Muslims are buried and burials must take place as soon as possible after death, historically because in the days of poorer hygiene an unburied corpse posed a sanitation risk. If the death was not from natural causes i.e. assassination or freak accident, a burial can be delayed to determine cause of death.

Catholicism permits both burial and cremation, though in 2016 the Vatican issued new rules regarding how remains should be dealt with. At the end of October of that year, they said that ashes and bone fragments cannot be kept at home or divided among relatives as mementos as it deprives community of their right to respect the dead. They declared that Church authorities should designate special spaces such as cemeteries or church areas to hold them. Only in special cases can a bishop permit an individual to keep remains at home. Unlike Judaism and Islam, there is no time requirement as to when to bury or cremate the body. If for whatever reason as per canon law, a person cannot be buried in a Catholic cemetery, the law allows the person to be buried in designated ground adjacent to said cemetery.

If someone is not religious, their remains can be dealt with as they or their families wish subject to the confines of the law. Last summer, Quebec approved the practice of Aquamations, an eco friendly alternative to cremation that involves using a water based solution to dissolve the body, leaving the bones which are then pressed into powder. With its increasing popularity, many Quebec funeral homes are getting on the enviro safe bandwagon.

The act of putting our dead to rest has been a custom for thousands of years. It not only allows us to pay our last respects to those we knew, but also keeps the inevitable result of human death and decay from becoming a sanitation risk.

On July 24th, 2017, the verdict many Canadians had long been waiting for finally happened. Winston Blackmore, leader of the fundamentalist Mormon sect in Bountiful BC and a Bishop of the Community, James Oler, were found guilty of polygamy.

After the verdict was read, Blackmore said publicly that:

“I’m guilty of living my religion and that’s all I’m saying today because I’ve never denied that.”

This article isn’t about Winston Blackmore or the despicable acts of pedophilia and misogyny – with girls as young as fifteen pressed into plural marriages and by extension sexual relationships with men often old enough to be their grandfathers – masquerading as religion within the confines of the Bountiful community. It is not about the fact that those outside the community who defend Blackmore under the guise of religious freedom are likely either misogynists, pedophiles, or both.

This article is about polygamy and polygyny.

Before we begin, we have to define our terms as words like polygamy, polyandry, polyamory and polygyny often get confused.

Polygamy is the practice of having more than one wife or husband at the same time.

Polyandry is the practice in which a woman has more than one husband.

Polyamory is the practice of pursuing one or more romantic relationships at the same time.

Polygyny, which is by far the most common, is the practice in which one man takes multiple wives.

Though polygamy is illegal as per the Canadian Criminal Code, the law typically only comes into play in cases of polygyny.

The provision against polygamy can be found in section 293 of the Canadian Criminal Code which says that:

(1) Every one who

(a) practises or enters into or in any manner agrees or consents to practise or enter into

  • (i) any form of polygamy, or
  • (ii) any kind of conjugal union with more than one person at the same time,
    whether or not it is by law recognized as a binding form of marriage, or

(b) celebrates, assists or is a party to a rite, ceremony, contract or consent that purports to sanction a relationship mentioned in subparagraph (a)(i) or (ii),

is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years.

In addition to making polygamy an indictable offense, the law limits what kinds of defenses can be used against such a charge. The law says that proof of consent to a polygamous marriage is inadmissible as evidence as is proof that the marriage was entered into for the purpose of having sex.

The law also provides that participating in a marriage knowing that the other party is getting married against their will is liable to the same five year penalty as for polygamy, as is participating in a marriage with a party under the age of sixteen, something that comes into play a lot in Bountiful as many of the girls pressed into marriage are as young as fifteen. People who solemnize the marriage in violation of the law could face a two year prison term.

In an attempt to save themselves from prosecution, the heads of Bountiful BC brought their demand to practice polygyny to the Supreme Court of British Columbia. They did so under the guise of religious freedom, as their sect of Mormonism – the mainstream Mormon Church has disowned them and their twin, the Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints in the US – believes that in order to get into heaven, a man has to have at least three wives.

The case they brought is called a Reference case, in which you can ask the court to give their opinion on a legal issue. The federal government, for example, has used reference cases to decide issues like the terms by which Quebec can separate from Canada.

In 2011 the Supreme Court of British Columbia decided in favor of keeping Canada’s anti polygamy laws on the grounds that society was better served by keeping these laws in place despite their violation of religious freedom. In their decision, the courts looked at the documented consequences of polygyny which included:

  • Increase in crime rates, as the demand for more wives for a small handful of men would result in most women going into marriages with high status men. The result would be a large pool of low status unmated men whom studies confirm commit more crime.
  • Decreased male parental investment as men having so many wives and so many children have less time to spend with each child.
  • Exacerbated gender gap and decreased age of marriage as the demand for more wives drives the age of marriage down and the desire of polygynous husbands to ensure the paternity of their children within said unions leads to the curtailing of the freedoms of women and girls.

There is also the notion that polygyny hurts the economy as women stuck in plural marriages are often so busy having children or stuck in situations where their movements are controlled and as a result many don’t work. Without a job, there is no income and when women have no income, they cannot spend and consume, and consumption is what fuels the economy.

That said, there are factors that the court failed to consider, such as that polygyny increases the likelihood of the negative consequences of inbreeding. As communities tend to be closed, polygynous unions ultimately result in everyone being genetically related to everyone and cousins marrying one another. The result, as can be seen in the case of Short Creek on the Utah/Arizona border in the United States, is the increased likelihood of genetic defects in offspring.

Historically polygyny was used to secure power and make sure that women had someone to care for them when men were scarce. Today it’s a way for perverted old men to abuse girls and women under the guise religiously ordained rights. Canada’s polygamy laws exist to protect half the population from men like these.

Let’s keep it that way.

The liberal democratic criminal justice system is founded on the notion that people are innocent until proven guilty, no one gets imprisoned without just cause, and that everyone accused of a crime is entitled to a fair and speedy trial. That said, sometimes the justice system is not so just. Sometimes you get a racist or misogynist judge, and sometimes it takes so long for your case to actually go to trial that you are stuck in pre-trial detention.

We are going to discuss the latter problem.

The Quebec Justice System is suffering from a backlog, and it has been suffering from this backlog for over a year now. It is so problematic that some suspected criminals are walking free, while innocents rot in jail awaiting their trials.

In November 2016 four accused drug traffickers, one of which was Richard Hudon, a founding member of the Quebec Hells Angels, got a stay of proceedings because they had to wait over sixty months for their case to go to trial.

A stay of proceedings can be granted if an accused convinces the court that putting them on trial would be an “abuse of process” that would violate principles of fundamental justice guaranteed by our constitution. The effect of such stays is that the case may never be prosecuted, will never go to trial. This allowing the accused to walk free.

It is therefore only granted in cases of severe abuse. An excessive wait time for your trial can be a violation of your constitutional rights but fortunately, once a problem is recognized, the judicial system which is ever evolving gets to work trying to fix it.

The system got started in the summer of 2016 with the Supreme Court ruling in R v. Jordan.

Jordan was arrested in 2008 for his participation in a dial-a-dope operation in BC in which customers could call and order drugs delivered. Jordan spent two months in jail awaiting his trial, and another four years under restrictive bail conditions while awaiting trial.

In the Jordan case, the Supreme Court was asked to properly define section 11 (b) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms which says that “Any person charged with an offence has the right…(b) to be tried within a reasonable time”. The Supreme Court came up with the following rules:

  • Criminal trials in Provincial Court must be completed in eighteen months but that increases to thirty months if said trial was preceded by a preliminary inquiry
  • For cases to be heard in Superior Court, trials must be completed in thirty months
  • In cases where there is a claim that a trial occurring within this limit is deemed unreasonable, it’s up to the defense to prove it
  • If the trial takes longer to conclude than the eighteen or thirty month limit it presumed to be an unreasonable delay it’s up to the Crown (the prosecution) to prove otherwise

That said, Quebec and other provincial governments are under a lot of pressure to meet the Supreme Court’s criteria and make sure criminal trials are concluded more quickly.

The Quebec government and Provincial Justice Minister Stéphanie Vallée have been working to curb the delays.

In December 2016, the government announced that they were going to inject a hundred and seventy-five million dollars into the justice system over a period of four years in order to hire more judges, prosecutors, and support staff. They’re also launching an eighteen month pilot project to make lesser offenses non judicial with the plan of using community service instead of incarceration for offenders. In addition, on June 21, 2017, Justice Minister Vallée announced the hiring of twenty legal aid lawyers and support staff to deal with the backlog.

But Quebec cannot deal with the backlog alone.

Superior Court judges are needed to facilitate more trials, and Quebec is calling on the federal government to help. Unlike Provincial Court judges which are appointed by the provincial government, only the federal government can appoint them judges to the Superior Court. Quebec is asking for the appointment of ten new judges and the sooner they are hired, the easier it will be to address the backlog.

In the Jordan case the Supreme Court said that “The ability to provide fair trials within a reasonable time is an indicator of the health and proper functioning of the system itself.” Until the backlog is fully dealt with, we can safely say that our justice system is suffering from poor health. Fortunately, it’s a problem our governments are ready and willing to fix.

Let the healing begin.

* Featured image: the Quebec Court of Appeals in Montreal, via WikiMedia Commons

Land lines are a dead technology.

People are increasingly realizing that it’s more practical to carry a phone with you all the time than to rush home agonizing over whether or not you missed an important call. With the proliferation of the mobile phone came the spread of providers competing for your business and until recently, companies have been taking advantage.

In 2013, that all changed when the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), a federal administrative tribunal responsible for regulating and supervising broadcasting and telecommunications, created the Wireless Code of Conduct which explains your rights as a mobile consumer and the rules your wireless company must obey.

On June 15, 2017, the CRTC came out with new rules specifying the obligations set out in the Wireless Code of Conduct.

Here’s a crash course on the Wireless Code and what those rules are.

Your wireless service provider must communicate with you in plain language. Written contracts and any related documents such as privacy and fair use policies must be written in a way that is clear and easy to read and understand. That means that they cannot draft contracts and related documents in a way that would dupe you into agreeing to something most wouldn’t have had they fully understood it.

The terms of your contract regarding voice, text, and data services cannot be unilaterally changed without the account holder’s consent. You are allowed to cancel your wireless contract within fifteen days and return your device to the provider in near-new condition at no cost, provided that at the time of the cancellation you used less than half of your monthly usage limits.

Wireless providers have to set out the prices in the contract and specify if they include taxes. They cannot charge you extra if you purchased a plan with unlimited services and they cannot limit an unlimited plan unless the fair use policy clearly specifies when they can and those conditions are met.

Your wireless provider must notify you at no charge when your device is in another country and clearly explain the ensuing rates for talk, text, and data. You can opt out of these notifications at any time. They cannot charge you more than a hundred dollars per monthly billing cycle for data roaming unless you have clearly given prior consent, and this billing cap must come at no charge to you, the consumer.

For data overage charges – data used over your data plan’s limit – the rules set the cap at fifty dollars unless you expressly consented to paying more. This cap cannot come at any charge to you.

Where family or group plans are concerned, these caps apply on a per-account basis regardless of how many devices are attached to the plan.

No More Locked Devices

Your wireless company cannot charge you for any device or service you did not expressly purchase, and as of June 15, 2017, unlocking fees are now illegal.

The aforementioned fees are what cell phone companies would charge to unlock your phone should you try decide to switch wireless providers. That means that before the CRTC’s decision, if you chose to switch wireless providers, you couldn’t just swap out the sim cards and keep using your current device. You would have to pay your old company a fee to unlock your phone.

Wireless providers justified the charges as a way of ensuring the device was paid for should the consumer decide to switch providers before the end of their contract. The CRTC has decided that this is illegal as it puts an unfair limit on competition between wireless providers.

As per the CRTC’s ruling as of December 1, 2017 you have the right to go to your wireless provider and have your devices unlocked free of charge. Any new devices you get must be provided to you unlocked from now on.

If your device is lost or stolen and you notify your wireless company immediately, your wireless provider must suspend your service at no charge. You’re still obligated to pay any charges incurred before the company got notice that the device was lost or stolen, the monthly fee, and if you choose the cancel the contract, any cancellation fee. If you find your device or replace it, you can notify your service provider who has to restore your service free of charge.

If you decide to cancel your contract early, the company can only charge you a cancellation fee. No other penalties apply and wireless companies have to calculate the cancellation fee based on criteria set out in the Wireless Code of Conduct. You can cancel your contract at any time by notifying your service provider.

Penalties for the Providers

Now let’s say your wireless provider does not obey the Wireless Code; what do you do? What kinds of penalties will the company face?

If your Wireless Service Provider does not respect the Wireless Code, you can file a complaint with the Commissioner for Complaints for Telecommunications Services, which is charged with administering it. If the complaint falls within their mandate, they’ll get in touch with your provider and ask them to try and resolve the matter with you and get back to them in thirty days.

Once the provider gets back to them, they’ll try and assess if the issue has been resolved to your satisfaction. If it hasn’t, the Commissioner will assess if the issue can be resolved informally. Your complaint can be rejected or dismissed at any stage of the proceedings.

If the Commissioner decides your complaint has merits, they can recommend that your provider take action or refrain from doing so. This can include anything from an apology to stopping collections activity, to compensating you up to five thousand dollars for any losses or inconvenience suffered.

Both you and your wireless provider can decide whether to accept or reject the recommendation. If your provider rejects it, the Commissioner will assess the reasons and make a decision as to whether to maintain or modify their recommendation. If the decision is accepted by you, it becomes binding on your service provider. If you reject the Commissioner’s decision, your service provider does not have to obey it.

It’s not an ideal solution, as it’s a long process to try and get fairness from wireless providers all too ready and willing to take advantage of consumer naivete, but at least there are checks in place.

A cell phone is a modern necessity. Don’t get screwed by the providers.

* Featured image by John Fingas via Flickr Creative Commons

At the end of May it came to light that Karla Homolka, the Barbie of the Ken and Barbie Killers, was volunteering at her kids’ elementary school in NDG. Outrage erupted with some saying that Homolka was entitled to her privacy at least for her children’s sake, while others said that the nature of her past crimes should disqualify her from ever being around children.

For those of you unfamiliar with Homolka’s story, Karla and her husband Paul Bernardo went on a rape, torture, and murder spree in the early nineties. Her victims were all underage girls – Leslie Mahaffy, age 14, Kristen French, age 15, and Tammy Homolka, Karla’s own sister, age 15. Karla and her husband were eventually caught in 1993 and in exchange for a plea deal, she sold out her husband who is now serving life without parole.

In order to get this plea deal, she had to rat on Bernardo and convince the prosecution that she was a hapless pawn in his plan to rape, torture, and kill. Some time after the deal was struck a tape surfaced of the crimes demonstrating that Homolka was not only not a victim of Bernardo, but was a willing participant in the crimes.

She was released from prison in 2005.

This article is not just about Karla Homolka, though there should be no question that while her kids are certainly entitled to their privacy, she who raped, tortured, and murdered three girls should never be trusted around other people’s children.

This article is about our parole system.

Parole is a kind of conditional release from prison in which an offender can serve out the remainder of their sentence in the community.

The rules regarding parole in Canada are governed primarily by the Corrections and Conditional Release Act and the Canadian Criminal Code. The purpose of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act is to ensure that prisons are safe and humane and by assisting in the rehabilitation and reintegration of offenders so they can become law-abiding citizens.

The Act’s section on parole starts with reiterating that the purpose of any kind of conditional release is to ensure a just and safe society by making the best decisions regarding the timing and condition of release in a way that will best suit this purpose and the goal of rehabilitation.

The Parole Board of Canada (PBC) is the federal body with almost exclusive authority to grant parole. The Act allows for provinces to set up their own parole boards for offenders sentenced to two years or less, though only Quebec and Ontario currently have them.

The PBC can not only grant parole, but can also revoke it, or cancel a decision to grant it.

The Parole Board has to base their decision to grant parole on several factors including “the nature and gravity of the offence, the degree of responsibility of the offender, information from the trial or sentencing process and information obtained from victims, offenders and other components of the criminal justice system, including assessments provided by correctional authorities.”

Their decisions also have to be consistent with the protection of society.

Parole is granted only if the Board is convinced an offender will not pose a risk to society by re-offending if released from prison before their sentence is up, and if the release of said offender will actually facilitate the protection of society via their rehabilitation into a law-abiding citizen.

There are two types of parole in Canada.

Full parole means a person can finish out their sentence in society provided they obey certain conditions designed to keep them from re-offending and report regularly to a parole officer. Offenders in Canada automatically become eligible for parole by serving one third of their custodial sentence, with the exception of those sentenced to life without parole. Those offenders are only eligible after a number of years specified in their sentence.

Day parole means an offender can work or participate in community activities but have to go back to prison or a sort of residence at night. As per the act, an offender is typically eligible for day parole when they reach the date of eligibility for full parole.

Once a person is released and have completed their parole, they can theoretically get on with their lives, but that’s not as easy as it seems. Ex-cons often have difficulty reintegrating into society, and these difficulties often lead to recidivism. Fortunately, there are legal protections in place for former offenders. The Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms, which applies to both private and public entities in Quebec, forbids discrimination, stating:

“No one may dismiss, refuse to hire or otherwise penalize a person in his employment owing to the mere fact that he was convicted of a penal or criminal offence, if the offence was in no way connected with the employment or if the person has obtained a pardon for the offence.”

The question at the end of the day is does criminal rehabilitation work?

*Eve, who served four months for conspiracy to traffic narcotics and has since been pardoned, thinks that likelihood of rehabilitation depends a lot on the character of the offender and that the system is ineffective in determining who is a danger. She believes that Karla Homolka got off too lightly but accepts it because it resulted in Paul Bernardo’s life sentence. Though she pities Homolka’s children, Eve thinks that like any pedophile, Homolka’s crimes mean she’s not entitled to her privacy.

Rape, torture, and murder are three of the most heinous crimes there are. Any rate of recidivism for these kinds of crimes is cause for alarm, so while most ex-cons like Eve deserve to have their crimes forgotten, Karla Homolka most certainly does not.

*Name changed for privacy reasons

On June 1st, 2017, Premier Philippe Couillard announced that the time has come to reopen the constitutional debate in Quebec. The response across much of Quebec and Canada was: WHY?

As it turns out, the announcement is merely a confirmation of a promise Couillard made in 2013 when running for leadership of the province. Back then he boldly said he planned to get Quebec to sign the constitution by Canada’s 150th anniversary. As it stands, Quebec has never signed the Canadian constitution. In order to understand why, we need to go back in time.

(The story is a long one, so apologies to any history buffs who feel that vital information is missing.)

Before 1982, Canada’s constitution remained in London and only the British government could amend it. However, the act of getting permission from Great Britain became a purely symbolic act as Canada and other former British colonies asserted their independence. All Canada had to do was ask the British to amend their constitution and the crown would rubber stamp their request. Nonetheless, in the late 1970s and early 80s, Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, father of our current prime minister, came up with a plan to bring Canada’s constitution home.

Trudeau’s plan consisted of repatriating the constitution, modifying it by entrenching his charter of rights, what we now know as the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and establishing an amendment formula. In order to do so, he got provincial leaders together, one of whom was the father of the Quebec Sovereigntist movement, René Lévesque.

The goal was to get the provinces to agree to Trudeau’s plan. At the same time, the Prime Minister put the question of what was allowed to the Supreme Court in a case we now know as the Patriation Reference.

The Supreme Court had to answer many questions, but the main one was whether Ottawa was bound by law to get the consent of the provinces to amend the constitution. The Court said no.

Quebec wanted recognition of itself as a distinct society, a veto over constitutional amendments, as well as an opt out clause that would allow provinces an out of certain aspects of the constitution with some kind of compensation so they would not have to pay for any federal actions that were not in their interests. Lévesque and Quebec were denied, and the constitution was repatriated and entrenched without Quebec’s consent.

Two more attempts were made to get Quebec to sign the constitution, but both failed. As it has never consented to the current constitution, Quebec remains bound by it only because it remains part of Canada.

With Couillard’s announcement came the release of a two hundred page document outlining his government’s vision for Quebec and its place in Canada. The document cannot be called a plan because it sets no timeline for Quebec to sign and no step by step procedure his government would want to use.

The document has a lot of words, but says nothing of value.

It asserts the Quebecois identity as “our way of being Canadian” but when it comes to identifying the people of Quebec, the text limits them to four groups: French speakers, English speakers and the First Nations and Inuit. Allophones such as the Jews, the Greeks, the Italians, Eastern Europeans and the Asian communities who helped to build Quebec are almost completely left out.

The only time Allophones are mentioned in the text is in the context of “interculturalism” and “integration” which, when put together, sound dangerously like assimilation. Since Quebec policy treats Allophones as potential Francophones by making their children go to French school, this is hardly surprising. The text also fails to address the growing problem of Xenophobia in Quebec, which begs the question as to whether the document’s definition of the English Speaking Quebecois refers exclusively to white English-speakers in the province.

What Couillard’s document does do is reiterate what Quebec wants from a relationship with Canada as party to the constitution:

  • Recognition of the Quebec Nation
  • Respect for Quebec’s areas of jurisdiction
  • Autonomy
  • Flexibility and asymmetry
  • Cooperation and administrative agreements
  • Shared institutions

This is all sealed together with the assertion that Quebec’s “full and complete participation in Canada” must come from a “concrete and meaningful recognition” of the province as “the only predominantly French-speaking state in North America and as such, heir to a rich and unique culture that must be protected, supported, and developed.”

Couillard’s plan to reopen the constitutional debate has been met with mixed feelings.

Bloc Québecois leader Martine Ouellet acknowledges that it’s a political move but welcomes it as an opportunity to reopen discussions about Quebec sovereignty. Though the Parti Québecois has decided to put aside the issue of sovereignty for the time being, leader Jean-François Lisée commended Couillard for acknowledging the need to address Quebec’s place within Canada. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has more or less said it’s not a topic to be reopened, while Amir Khadir, an MNA for Québec Solidaire, claims it’s a ploy by the Couillard government to deflect attention from the scandals surrounding the Premier and his party.

It is Khadir’s interpretation of Couillard’s move that seems the most plausible. A simple Google search of Couillard’s name with the word “scandal” will reveal much about the shortcomings of his government. There is everything from the arrest of deputy-premier Nathalie Normandeau for corruption, to Quebec Health Minister Gaetan Barrette’s mismanagement of our health care system and Barrette’s defensive victim-blaming, to the police surveillance scandal, to the Bombardier executive bonus scandal available to learn about online. With his government up for reelection next year, there is much Couillard needs to deflect attention from.

Let’s not take the bait, and keep our eyes where they belong: not on a can of worms that should not be opened, but on the government holding the can opener.

On May 24, 2017 Quebec construction workers walked off the job after failing to sign a collective agreement with their employers. Though the provincial government threatened pass Bill 142 which would force them back to work the following Monday if they failed to do so, the Couillard government chose to table said bill and construction workers remain on strike.

Labour disputes are as Québecois as poutine and tire sur glace. No matter the time of year, some group from public prosecutors to hotel workers to teachers to nurses is always on strike because in Quebec we have an expression:

“Au Québec, on syndique!”

In Quebec, we unionize.

Though for many people labour disputes are nothing more than a public nuisance characterised by service delays and screaming picketers, unions play a vital role in protecting thirty to forty percent of workers in Quebec.

Historically, it was the unions that fought for living wages, reasonable working hours, and safer working conditions. Unions were at the forefront of Quebec’s Quiet Revolution that fought government corruption and the oppressive hold of the Catholic Church on the province.

Today unions and the laws that protect them keep big business from trampling all over their employees and no case says that better than the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision in 2014 in United Food and Commercial Workers, Local 503 v. Wal Mart Canada Corp..

We’ve all heard stories like this before.

Wal-Mart opens a store, treats its workers like garbage, and when they exercise their legal right to form an association to protect themselves the company fires the lot of them by closing the store. Wal-Mart always claims that it’s because the store in question wasn’t profitable and had nothing to do with the unionization of its employees. Normally companies like Wal-Mart get away with this sort of thing, but not in Quebec.

In Quebec we have the Labour Code, which establishes strict rules of what employers and employees can and cannot do when it comes to unions and collective bargaining. Though the Code provides rules on unions of employees and associations of employers, this article will focus on the unions.

The Labour Code defines a union or association of employees as a:

“a group of employees constituted as a professional syndicate, union, brotherhood or otherwise, having as its objects the study, safeguarding and development of the economic, social and educational interests of its members and particularly the negotiation and application of collective agreements”

Associations of employees can engage in bargaining with their employer(s) to establish a collective agreement, which is a written contract between them establishing the conditions of employment. These agreements are generally drafted, negotiated and signed when the union is formed, and when they’re up for renewal. That said, the Code has a series of obligations and rights for employers and employees.

Employees in Quebec have the right to belong to an association of their choice and can participate in said association’s formation, activities, and management. Employers and their representatives are not allowed to threaten or intimidate someone with the intent to scare them out of joining or participating in such an association. At the same time, associations of employees are not allowed to use those tactics to get a worker to join them.

Unions are not allowed to solicit membership during working hours, and they’re not allowed to hold meetings at the place of work unless they are certified by the Labour Tribunal and have their employer’s consent.

Employers are not allowed to “dominate, hinder or finance the formation or the activities” of the unions, a provision undoubtedly put in place due to Quebec’s long tradition of corruption. They are not allowed to refuse to hire someone for exercising their rights as per the Labour Code, and they’re not allowed to engage in threats, intimidation, discrimination, reprisals or dismissals for exercising those rights.

If an employer engages in these illegal behaviors, employees can file a complaint with Quebec’s Administrative Labour Tribunal within thirty days of the sanction or action. If the Administrative Labour Tribunal agrees that an employee tried to exercise their right under the Labour Code, any action taken against said employee by their employer is presumed to have been the result of attempting to exercise said right.

It’s then up to the employer to prove those actions were for a “good and sufficient” reason. If the Tribunal doesn’t buy the employer’s explanation, it can in turn order the reinstatement of the employee within eight days of the tribunal’s decision, and even order that the employer pay the employee an indemnity equivalent to the salary and benefits lost due to reprisals against them.

The Code establishes rules of how unions can decide to go on strike, voting procedures within the union, and the certification process in which the union applies for recognition by the Administrative Labour Tribunal to act as representative for the workers of a given employer. It describes who counts as a union member and procedures for negotiating a collective agreement.

What Wal-Mart was caught for is a violation of article 59 of the Labour Code that bars employers from changing the conditions of employment during the unionization process. The union successfully argued before the Supreme Court that closing the store was a prohibited change in employment conditions. The Court ordered Wal-Mart to compensate its former employees.

If all negotiations for a collective agreement fail, either the union or the employer or both can apply to government to force arbitration. Arbitration is somewhere on the legal spectrum between mediation and a trial. Like in mediation, both parties submit their dispute to a third with the goal of finding a decent solution for both parties, but like a trial the decision is binding. This typically happens in cases of serious impasse.

Though strikes in Quebec can be a public nuisance, labour laws and unions not only protect Quebec workers but also allowed us to spank Wal-Mart.

* Featured image: lifeinquebec.com

After years of tax exemptions, the religious communities in the City of Montreal are facing big tax bills. It has recently come to light that once exempt institutions like the Cote des Neiges Presbyterian Church are receiving tax bills from the City. Inspectors from the City of Montreal are now visiting churches more regularly, taking pictures and noting how every space in the church is used.

Municipal property inspections are nothing new. It’s how the City of Montreal assesses how to tax you and for how much. Religious institutions, however, are the exception.

According to the Quebec Act Respecting Municipal Taxation, a property “in the name of a religious institution… used by it or gratuitously by another religious institution… not to derive income but in the immediate pursuit of the religious or charitable objects” is exempt from all municipal or school property taxes. That means that as long as a given space is owned by a religious institution and is used exclusively for worship or other religious ends, it is considered to be exempt from property taxes.

The problem is that many religious institutions in Montreal don’t use their property exclusively for worship, hosting vital community organizations in available spaces within their buildings. The tax bills and increased inspections likely mean that the City is interpreting the law more strictly so that they can tax houses of worship for the spaces they don’t use for religious services and prayer.

The City of Montreal claims that they are simply trying to prevent people from defrauding the system, but not everyone agrees.

M, an expert on municipal assessments and taxation, said that they’re doing it because it will result in tax revenue from sources that weren’t providing any tax revenue before.

I asked M what the municipal assessors would be looking for when deciding how much to tax a religious institution.

“Proof that there are parts of a church that aren’t being used for worship,” he replied.

A room used for worship is tax exempt, a room used for anything else would hypothetically be subject to taxation.
I asked M if the City could tax some parts of a house of worship while exempting other parts of the same building from taxation.

“They can split the assessment, and they do. I’ve seen it before. They can send a bill that indicates the taxable portion and the non-taxable portion,” he said.

That begs the question as to whether facilities that while not used exclusively for worship, would be considered an essential part of any building, let alone a church. Though people rarely worship while on the toilet, for example, it should be considered an essential part of any space’s facilities and subject to any exemptions tied to a given space.

Though some have praised the City’s move to start taxing religious institutions as an assertion of the separation of church and state and a break for taxpayers, there is reason to believe the move will come at the expense of community organizations.

NDG City Councilor Peter McQueen points out that important community groups in NDG such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, the Boy Scouts and Girl Guides, as well as the NDG Food Depot and the NDG Community Council rely on the City’s churches to provide spaces for them to meet. He explained that this is because historically the churches were involved in charity work separate from the state.

I asked McQueen how he felt these groups would be affected by the new taxation rules.

“Terrible! I mean, if these groups had to leave the churches they’d be in a major quandary here in NDG.”

He said that if these groups had to find other places to meet, the City would have to step up and meet the demand. Currently in Cote des Neiges and NDG most community spaces are used for sports or borough offices. Houses of worship have until now been filling the need for spaces for these community groups to meet, but that may change with the new taxation rules.

At the end of the day, the issue comes down to one of money.

Will this move by the City of Montreal make the City more money, or cost it money in the long run?

Peter McQueen thinks it will end up costing the City, as it will have to step up to meet the demand for community meeting spaces that had previously been filled by the churches.

M thinks the City may choose to simply not fill that need, which would come at the expense of the community that relies on these groups to help the needy and provide safe activities for their children.

There is the additional risk that some congregations may fold altogether under the new taxation rules, as their dwindling flocks and basic expenses put houses of worship in the red before they ever see a tax bill. They can always contest the tax assessments in court, and there will likely be legal challenges if there are enough tax dollars involved.

At the end of the day, it will be the community that pays for this.

Currently one of the hardest things to do as a writer is cover the explosion of nepotism, treason, espionage, bigotry, misogyny, greed, and comical idiocy that makes up the 45th presidency of the United States. Nothing so pointedly demonstrates this difficulty than Allan J. Lichtman’s book The Case for Impeachment.

Allan J. Lichtman is a legend.

A distinguished professor of history at American University in Washington DC, he has successfully predicted the outcome of eight US presidential elections. In November 2016 he predicted that the Orange Con-Man would win the election, and that he would be impeached. It is therefore no surprise that Lichtman and his publishers worked to get this book out before any such proceedings could take place.

After a couple of introductory chapters explaining impeachment rules, Lichtman, chapter by chapter, launches into a full scale indictment of the Orange Buffoon.

It’s a good book, but it’s incomplete. It’s incomplete because it could have used the notion of impeachment to make a broader point about the state of American politics, but didn’t, and it’s incomplete because that Entitled Orange Bully damns himself too quickly for most writers to follow.

The book is focused and because of that, it’s an easy read. In each chapter Lichtman talks about Cheeto-Head’s conduct before and after taking office, ties it to a legal issue or an aspect of the President’s character, and then argues it as grounds for impeachment.

Before we get into the indictments in The Case for Impeachment, we need to talk about impeachment itself.

What is Impeachment?

Impeachment does not guarantee a removal from public office. It does not fire the president. What it does is act as a formal charge of misconduct that can be brought against the president, the vice-president, and all civil officers in the United States. The power to impeach is vested in the US Congress, consisting of the Senate and the House of Representatives, though only the Senate has power to remove an official from public office following an impeachment.

The process works like this: any member of either house in Congress can draw up articles of impeachment aka charges against said public official. The House can approve or reject article(s) of impeachment, usually following an investigation, by a simple majority vote. If the House votes in favor of impeachment, the accused is impeached.

The case is then brought before the Senate which holds a sort of trial. Each side can present witnesses and the president is allowed to use his own lawyer if he wants. If the one facing impeachment is the president, the case is presided over by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, currently Justice John Roberts, who has had clashes with the current president before.

Once the trial is heard, the case goes to the Senate, which acts as a sort of jury. It takes a two thirds majority in the Senate consisting of sixty-seven votes to remove an official. If convicted, the president would be removed from office and lose any privileges and immunities he had in office, and the vice-president would take over.

In the nineties, the House voted in favor of impeaching Bill Clinton, but because he was popular at the time, his opponents failed to get the sixty-seven votes needed to remove him, thus allowing Clinton to finish up his term.

Grounds for Impeachment

According to the US Constitution, the president can be removed from office “for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.” According to Lichtman, this has historically been given broad interpretation allowing for impeachment due to conduct before or after taking office. Lichtman also contends that a conviction for any of the aforementioned acts is not pre-requisite, just the fact that the president did them. That said, there is also the Emoluments clause in the Constitution that says that:

“No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States: And no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.”

An emolument is a salary, fee, or profit, and the notion of emoluments is especially relevant given the mounting evidence that the Orange Administration and the Russians colluded with one another.

Lichtman’s indictments of Nacho-Face are numerous.

He talks about the president’s war on women, mentioning sexual harassment charges and disgusting entitled behavior. Unfortunately, his chapter on the subject does not go far enough. He refrains from mentioning accusations that the president sexually assaulted a thirteen-year-old girl while at a party of now convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, a friend of the president who prided himself on procuring underage girls for rich men. It does not address the Orange Bully’s remark that women who get abortions should be punished.

Lichtman also talks about the president’s disgraceful business practices, pointing out that for a man claiming to be for getting jobs for working Americans, his track record suggests a preference for employing illegal immigrants because they’re more easily exploitable. He mentions the man’s denial of climate change, but perhaps unwisely implies that the Syrian refugee crisis was largely due to it, when we can all agree that drought does not make evil leaders do what Assad has done.

In an extensive chapter devoted to Russia, the author describes how deeply entangled the president’s businesses are with forces in Eastern Europe. He also devotes chapters to the Orange administration gross disregard for the Constitution, the law, and basic human decency.

One of the best things about this book is that it is fundamentally an American work. There are little to no comparisons with other countries or leaders and refrains from references to international history.

This perhaps is a mistake.

The Orange Administration is doing what stereotypical Republicans have dreamed of: an America where the poor look to people of colour and immigrants as the source of their misfortunes, allowing the upper one percent to hold onto their wealth by cutting their own taxes, effectively destroying American healthcare, education, employment, and infrastructure.

History has taught us that people eventually catch on to who is really hurting them, and as the French Revolution teaches us, a reluctance of the wealthy to help the poor leads to catastrophic civil unrest. If the White House isn’t careful, they may one day be faced with an angry mob and a guillotine.

It is appalling that in 2017 we still need to have a conversation about sexual consent.

In April 2017, Alexandra Brodsky published an article in the Columbia Journal of Gender and Law titled RAPE ADJACENT: Imagining Legal Responses to Nonconsensual Condom Removal. It brought to light the sinister practice of men taking off condoms without their partners’ consent (the slang term for it being “stealthing”). This practice does not exclusively affect women having sex with men, as gay men have also been victimized.

This article is not going to dignify the practice by calling it by its slang term as doing so trivializes a violation of a person’s right to bodily integrity and self-determination. It is not going to address the personal failings of those – usually MRAs – who advocate for or practice non-consensual condom removal, though it is HIGHLY tempting to do so.

This article IS going to revisit the notion of consent and discuss the practice of nonconsensual condom removal and the potential legal ramifications of it under Canadian criminal and civil law. This article will limit discussions to nonconsensual condom removal as I covered the topic of consent in detail in December 2015 and thus far those laws remain unchanged.

Consent is not transferable

By law, consent is the voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity. Without consent, sexual activity becomes sexual assault.

It is widely recognized that consent for one sexual act does not constitute blanket consent for any and all others. Consenting to vaginal sex does not mean, for example, that you also consent to anal sex. In the context of nonconsensual condom removal, agreeing to have sex with a condom does not mean you consent to have sex without one.

There is no consent if a person, having consented to sexual activity, “expresses, by words or conduct, a lack of agreement to continue to engage in the activity”. That means that a person has every right to stop things at any time, and continuing despite their reluctance constitutes sexual assault. This is notion is important as nonconsensual condom removal often happens right before re-penetration. That means that the guy in question will pull out, take the condom off, and then re-penetrate their partner.

If the victim catches the person doing this and demands a stop to the activity and the person persists, that person crosses the line between consensual sexual activity and sexual assault.

As Brodsky points out, most victims of nonconsensual condom removal only realized the condom removal at the moment of re-penetration, when their partner ejaculated, or because their partner told them the next morning.

Intent is important

When Brodsky interviewed victims of nonconsensual condom removal, what was telling was the behavior of their partners afterward. According to the article, the men were dismissive, and often refused to help pay for emergency contraception or STI testing even though pregnancy and STIs are potential consequences of not using a condom. In her research Brodsky went online anonymously to look at what proponents of nonconsensual condom removal had to say about it.

The motivation for the practice stems in part from the desire for increased physical pleasure, but what’s more problematic was that it also stems from the thrill of degrading their sex partner and their belief in men’s inherent right to violence and to spread their seed.

All of this is extremely important in the context of mens rea for determining guilt for sexual assault.

Most crimes in Canada have two aspects, actus reus – meaning the act of the crime itself, and mens rea- the ‘guilty mind’ referring to the knowledge, recklessness, or negligence of the perpetrator engaging in the crime.

In Canadian Criminal law, the mens rea required for sexual assault cases is whether the perpetrator knowingly, recklessly, or negligently engaged in the sexual activity without the victim’s consent. One could argue that the dismissive attitude of a man engaging in this practice towards his victim combined with online expressions of his belief in his right to remove the condom for whatever reason and his taking glory in the degradation of his partner by violating their consent would provide the needed mens rea.

If Canadian Criminal law will not recognize nonconsensual condom removal as sexual assault, there is always civil law.

The Quebec Civil Code recognizes the inviolability and integrity of every person. It also recognizes that every person has “a duty to abide by the rules of conduct incumbent on him, according to the circumstances, usage, or law, so as not to cause injury to another” and that should a person endowed with reason cause injury to another – be it bodily, moral, or material – that person is bound to make reparation for it.

Bodily injury in Quebec Civil Law refers to damages to your physical body, material injury refers to damages to your property, and moral refers to psychological damages. While not an ideal remedy for the violation of bodily autonomy and fear of unwanted pregnancies and STIs, a victim of nonconsensual condom removal could sue on one or all three of these grounds.

Any STIs or unwanted pregnancies that ensue could be argued as bodily injury, loss of a job to deal with the fallout, physical or mental, of the violation could be grounds for a demand for material damages, and the psychological impact of the violation could be cause for moral damages.

Birth control rebuttal

In response to recent discussions about nonconsensual condom removal, there have been lots of people claiming that if this practice is illegal, it should also be a crime to lie about being on the birth control pill. People claim laws are unfair to men given that in March 2017, an Ontario court ruled against a man who sued a woman who lied about being on birth control prior to them having sex. She got pregnant and he sued for psychological damages.

While there is no disputing the immorality of lying about being on birth control, there are some fundamental differences between lying about being on the pill and nonconsensual condom removal.

First, there is no online cult of women working to deceive men about being on birth control due to a belief in some inherent right the way there is one of men who feel entitled to spread their seed regardless of the wishes of their partner. It should also be noted that birth control sabotage is not performed primarily by women desperate for a baby, but by abusive male partners looking to make a woman more dependent on him.

Second, lying about the pill does not put the man at risk of STIs the way removing a condom without consent puts the victims at risk.

Brodsky points out the third when she discusses the danger of legally enforcing demands for full reproductive transparency, which is that it puts vulnerable people at risk, such as those who cannot take birth control for health reasons but are stuck with partners who demand sex but will not use condoms.

It should also be noted that the reason why the Ontario courts ruled against the man in the aforementioned case is because it was judged primarily on family law grounds. In Ontario, family law cases are assessed in ways to benefit children and not favor one parent over another.

His case was dismissed primarily for the sake of the child that resulted from the woman’s deception, but also because it became clear that the plaintiff’s issue was not the sex, but the ensuing unwanted parenthood and potential financial obligations connected to it. Given that, a better equivalent for this case would be that of a man who lied about being sterile or having had a vasectomy in order to have consensual sex without a condom which resulted in a pregnancy.

In cases of nonconsensual condom removal, the victims only agreed to a specific sex act, one with a condom. The removal of the condom nullified their consent, and the willful violation of that consent is just that, a violation.

* Featured image: Women’s Health

According to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau, young people should get used to temporary employment. That means that Generations X, Y, and Millennials should get used to badly paid uncertain employment with lousy or no benefits to speak of.

This article is not about how our Prime Minister rode the younger vote into office on a promise to fix unsteady employment. It’s not about the fact that Trudeau turned his back on young Canadians the same way protesters turn their backs on him.

This is about getting fired.

Dismissals are increasingly common as work gets more unstable. Fortunately, there are laws that protect people from the worst behaviors of employers.

In Quebec we have two main laws to protect employees: the Civil Code and the Act Respecting Labour Standards.

The Civil Code’s provision on dismissal says that if your period of employment is for an unfixed term, you are legally entitled to a notice of termination.

The notice of termination is a written document announcing that you’ve been dismissed from the job. If you’ve been working constantly at the job for three months or more, you are legally entitled to that notice.

The time between that notice and the day you are actually supposed to stop working depends on how long you’ve been there. If you’ve been working continuously at a job for between three months to a year, you’re legally entitled to one week’s notice. If you’ve been working one to five years, you’re supposed to get two weeks notice. For five to ten years of service, you’re entitled to four weeks notice, and for over ten years of service, you’re legally entitled to eight weeks of notice.

Most employers do not want you at the job after they’ve decided to fire you, and they are allowed to ask you to leave, but there is a catch. If they don’t want you working during the mandatory time between serving you the notice and the time you are legally entitled to, they have to pay you an indemnity equivalent to the wages you would have gotten for that period. That means that if you’re entitled to two weeks notice and they ask to leave right away, they owe you two weeks’ pay. It should be noted however that if your employer fails to give you that notice or indemnity, you are legally entitled to ask for it and should.

When it comes to the act of actually firing someone, there are only a few legitimate reasons an employer can use. They can fire you for misconduct, for having a bad attitude, for your lack of skills, insufficient performance, or your incompetence, all of which are considered “good and sufficient cause for dismissal”.

What employers cannot do is fire you as punishment for something they’ve already reprimanded you for. It’s the double jeopardy rule of employment law that means that if, for example, you screwed up at work and your boss suspended you for a week for your actions, they’re not allowed to fire you for the exact same mistake.

Employers are also not allowed to engage in “constructive dismissal”, known in French as “congediement deguisee” or disguised dismissal. This is the practice where instead of firing you outright, in which case they’d have to give you the proper notice, indemnity, and paperwork, your employer makes a unilateral and fundamental change to your employment without reasonable notice, thus making your working conditions so unpleasant that you quit on your own.

This includes, for example, cutting your hours by crazy amounts when you’ve worked a certain number of hours at this job for years, or unilaterally cutting your pay without explanation. If the changes to your working conditions are so dramatic you’ll have to quit your job to find conditions equivalent to the ones you had before, you can argue that you’ve been the victim of constructive dismissal. Constructive dismissal can also take the form of psychological harassment making your job so unbearable that you quit.

The almighty layoff is another way you can lose your job, but it does not carry the same stigma as dismissal. Permanent layoffs are related to the internal or economic life of the employer and supposedly have nothing to do with the employee(s) they let go – the sort of “it’s not you, it’s ME” version of dismissal. Reasons for layoff can include a decline in the company’s business, reorganization of the business, the implementation of new technology, or the sale of the business.

Regardless of whether you were terminated or laid off, the rules regarding notices of dismissal still apply. If you suspect your employer has mishandled letting you go, feel free to call the Commission des normes, de l’équité, de la santé et de la sécurité du travail at 1 844 838-0808 to see if you have any legal recourse.

If you decide to go after your employer for how they treated you, you have a few options. If you had two or more years of uninterrupted employment before being dismissed and feel that you were let go without a good and sufficient cause, you can file a complaint with the Commission des normes within forty-five days of your termination. The complaint must be in written form and failure to do so within that time makes you lose your right to pursue it.

The Commission des normes de travail can then act on your behalf to come up with some kind of agreement between you and your employer to ensure the law is obeyed. You also have the option of suing your employer in civil court. If you cannot afford a lawyer, remember that legal aid may be an option for you.

In this era of unstable employment, employees need to protect themselves more than ever. The next time you get let go, contact Normes de travail. You may have more rights than you think.

On April 13, 2017 the Orange Racist Misogynist US President’s Mar-a-Lago resort was found to have at least thirteen health violations.

This article is not about the current US President, who seems to waste too much time at a resort that improperly disposes of fish parasites and stores food on rusty shelves, thus causing health risks to his fellow wealthy white male gasbags.

This article is about food safety.

Anyone who has endured severe nausea, vomiting, cramping and diarrhea after what seemed to be a safe and pleasant restaurant meal knows that food poisoning and food safety are no laughing matter. Food poisoning can cause hours or even days of discomfort and in some cases, even death. It is for this reason that food safety is so important.

In Canada, food safety is a major priority and every food-related industry is affected. Since the process of food inspection spans farming to fisheries to restaurants to the production of processed foods, this article is going to focus specifically on restaurant and food service safety and inspection.

Food safety and inspections relating to restaurants and food services in Canada are generally handled by the provincial authorities, though when there’s a big city involved, the provinces often delegate to municipal authorities, as in the case in Quebec.

In Quebec, restaurant and food safety is handled by primarily by the Ministère de l’Agriculture, des Pecheries et de l’Alimentation (MAPAQ). MAPAQ delegates responsibility for food safety inspections in Montreal to the City of Montreal’s department of food inspection. Both organizations must enforce the Quebec Food Products Act.

The Quebec Food Products Act is a law that covers basic food safety in the province of Quebec. It defines food as anything that can be used to feed man or animals, including beverages but excluding anything alcoholic, which falls under the Act respecting the Société des alcools du Québec. Ice and bottled water are also considered food as per the act if they are intended for sale by volume or for preserving or preparing food. This information is not only useful for those charged with enforcing the law, but also handy for anyone arguing with a loved one about whether or not their favorite snack food is actually “real food”.

The term “restaurateur” as per the act refers to anyone who serves or sells meals or refreshments for consumption. This includes operators of schools and establishments governed by the Act respecting health services and social services, the Act respecting health services and social services for Cree Native persons, the Act respecting the Québec correctional system, and the Government and their departments or agencies.

The rules for food safety as per the Act are clear.

No one can prepare, keep for sale, purchase, sell, and resale or give as promotional items food that is unfit for human consumption, so deteriorated as to be unfit for human consumption, or if the safety of the food is “uncertain”.

Facilities used for food preparation and the vehicles used to transport it must be clean and sanitized. Machinery used in food preparation must be in good working order, designed for their intended use, and permit the cleaning and disinfecting of the machine when necessary. People involved in food preparation must comply with hygiene and sanitation rules prescribed by government regulations.

The City of Montreal’s Food Inspection Department has been around since 1927 and is now charged with enforcing the Act in the city. Their team of forty inspectors works to protect food consumers by ensuring the quality and safety of food prepared in restaurants, retail establishments, and in the transformation, preparation, storage, and distribution of food sectors. The City’s food inspection team is also responsible for temporary establishments, such as food stands set up for special events like the Montreal Jazz Festival, Grand Prix, and Just for Laughs.

The job of the inspectors is to inspect food and food related businesses and activities in terms of health risks and safety. They can also advise food business operators on good food safety practices, and conduct food quality and safety analyses.

As they have been charged by MAPAQ with enforcing the Act, the City’s food inspectors can charge and impose penalties on those in violation of the Food Products Act, which consist of fines ranging from two hundred and fifty dollars to two thousand dollars for a first offense, with fines increasing for every subsequent offense.

The City often imposes fines in response to complaints, which can be made by anyone witnessing unsanitary conditions at a restaurant or retail food seller, or following the consumption of food at an establishment that made the person sick. You can either phone in a complaint at 514-280-4300, or fill in an online form available at the City of Montreal’s website. In order to successfully submit a complaint online, all you need to provide are your name and contact info, the name and address of establishment, and the date and a brief description of the incident. The information provided is considered confidential and once a complaint is received, the City inspectors should respond within twenty-four hours.

Want to try a new restaurant or café but doubtful of its cleanliness? The City of Montreal has a page allowing you to see if a place has previously been cited for food safety violations. You can search for it according to the name of the place, the address, the street, city, or type of business. Just remember that a previous citation for health violations doesn’t necessarily mean the place is not up to code now.

The City of Montreal gets about 1900 complaints a year for everything from unclean conditions, to spoiled food, to vermin, to illness following food consumption. In a city that thrives on vibrant restaurant culture, food safety is a major priority, so don’t be afraid to give them a call the next time your food makes you sick.

* Featured image by Michela Simoncini, Creative Commons

Germany, Rwanda, Kosovo, Syria – what do these places have in common? They were and are the sites of some of the worst atrocities in our history.

On April 7, 2017 the Orange-Gasbag President of the US authorized military strikes against Syria. The attack was allegedly precipitated by the use of chemical weapons against civilians.

Though the Syrian government, led by president Bashar al-Assad, has denied responsibility for the chemical attacks, the insurgents he is fighting not only lacked the means to commit them, but the targets consisted of the rebel-held town of Khan-Sheikhan, and one of the medical clinics treating victims of the ongoing civil war.

This article is not about the US President’s hypocrisy, as he blames Obama for the situation in Syria and yet in 2013 tweeted:

It is not about the fact that the US military strike hit an almost empty airbase that had little impact on Assad’s reign of terror, or the fact that the Orange Blowhard’s administration has clearly seen the film Wag the Dog.

For those unfamiliar with the movie, it features a President on the brink of scandal whose advisors fabricate a war to win back support from the American people. With the evidence of treason against the Cheeto Administration mounting, it should be no surprise that they’ve thrown themselves into a war against a hugely unpopular world leader, especially given that said world leader is backed by Russia, the very state accused of hacking the American election. With evidence mounting that Russia was warned about the US airstrike, this move by Orange Administration is clearly just for PR purposes.

This article is about Crimes Against Humanity, Genocide, and War Crimes.

With refugees being turned away by xenophobic politicians in primarily white countries and military leaders breaking every rule in International Law, it’s high time we looked at how the world defines these crimes.

For this article, I’m going to use the Rome Statute, the treaty that established the International Criminal Court and has been in force since 2002.

The International Criminal Court, based in The Netherlands, is a permanent court that investigates and tries individuals charged with crimes against humanity. Their goal is to put an end to impunity for atrocities and acts complementary to existing criminal justice systems.

The Rome Statute, in describing the role of the International Criminal Court, provides detailed definitions of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.

Genocide is defined as any of the following acts “committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group”:

  • Killing members of that group
  • Causing serious physical or mental harm to members of said group
  • “Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part”
  • Imposing measures to prevent births within that group
  • Forcibly transmitting the children of said group into that of another group

Crimes against humanity are defined by the Rome Statute as acts committed as part of a “widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population with knowledge of the attack.” That means that for an act to be considered a crime against humanity, it has to be part of a widespread deliberate attack against civilians that includes one or all of the following acts:

  • Murder
  • Extermination
  • Enslavement
  • Deportation or forcible transfer of the population
  • Imprisonment
  • Torture
  • Rape, sexual slavery, forced prostitution, forced pregnancy, or forced sterilization or any other serious sexual violence
  • “Persecution against any identifiable group or collectivity on political, racial, national, ethnic, cultural, religious, gender” or other grounds
  • Enforced disappearances
  • Apartheid
  • “Other inhumane acts of a similar character intentionally causing great suffering, or serious injury to body or to mental or physical health.”

Unfortunately, the Rome Statute’s definition gender is binary, recognizing only male and female despite evidence that gender goes beyond the two.

War Crimes are defined as breaches of the 1949 Geneva Conventions, which establish a set of rules for humanitarian treatment in war. Article 8 of the Rome Statute has a sort of abridged version of the definition of war crimes, which include:

  1. Willful killing
  2. Torture or inhuman treatment, including biological experiments
  3. Willfully causing great suffering, or serious injury to body or health
  4. Extensive destruction and appropriation of property, not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly
  5. Compelling a prisoner of war or other protected person to serve in the forces of a hostile power
  6. Willfully depriving a prisoner of war or other protected person of the rights of a fair and regular trial
  7. Unlawful deportation or transfer or unlawful confinement
  8. Taking of hostages

The Statute lists other offenses as war crimes, including intentionally directing attacks against civilians and civilian objects even when they’re not military objectives.

Though it goes without saying that war crimes and crimes against humanity are indeed taking place in Syria, prosecuting war crimes is always a problem. As Larry May, Professor of Philosophy and author of the book Crimes Against Humanity: A Normative Study once wrote:

“We cannot prosecute on the basis of moral outrage alone.”

It is for this reason that rules on how to prosecute atrocities were established. However, in order to successfully do so, you need a certain degree of consent from the country the crimes took place in, as state sovereignty and the right to self-determination is the rule in our international system. There are no overarching laws to force countries to hand over their war criminals if they don’t want to subject them to international justice.

The International Criminal Court can only prosecute cases committed in a state that is party to the Rome Statute since 2002. The ICC has no jurisdiction in countries like the USA, China, and Russia who chose not to ratify the treaty, undoubtedly due to concerns about their own statesmen being prosecuted.

In this international crisis we have to remember that we are citizens of the world with a responsibility to shelter and protect the victims of atrocities and punish the perpetrators. At the same time, we must do our best to respect that the people of a country have the right to determine what is best for them. Let’s hope an influential someone in the White House remembers this too.

Until the recent election of the Orange racist misogynist, the public seems to have had mixed feelings about the press. On the one hand, people use it as a means of achieving justice via social pressure and shaming when our legal system fails them. On the other hand you have people unreasonably targeted in the court of public opinion thanks to the press and social media, ruining their lives before the courts can decide their innocence, liability, or guilt. On top of that, news websites are covered with politically or corporate sponsored pieces masquerading as real news that claim to be offering sound advice and information when they’re really just pushing products or agendas no one needs.

It is in this new age of juggling fake vs. real news that we as a society need to take a serious look at what real journalism is, and the laws and ethics of those who practice it.

The simplified definition of journalism is the occupation of a diverse bunch of people who write, edit, and distribute electronic, print, and audio visual material on subjects of public interest. People think of journalists as strictly doing the news, but most news websites have everything from the news, to animal sob stories, to entertainment stuff, to insight on fashion and tech trends to ranty editorial pieces.

That said, though the press is universally recognized as playing an important role in any healthy democracy, there is little in Canadian law explicitly protecting its members. Journalists are widely considered to be the watchdogs of our democracy, calling bullshit and demanding justice before everyone else, but there’s no special law guaranteeing their rights.

Most of the rights of journalists come from the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In Quebec, the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms and the Civil Code, and in the rest of Canada, case law.

In the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, we have article 2(b) which guarantees freedom thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press for everyone.

In the Quebec Charter, we have sections 3 and 9. Section 3 is a lot like 2(b) of the Canadian Charter in that it protects freedom of opinion and expression. Section 9 protects our right to the non-disclosure of our confidential information.

Last but not least in Quebec, we have civil law, written into our Civil Code and Code of Civil Procedure. The rule is that any evidence found to be obtained under circumstances that violate someone’s fundamental rights and freedoms can, to a certain discretionary degree, be rejected by the courts.

Journalists’ fight to protect their sources is one of the more frequent issues that come up before the courts, forcing our justice system to define the rights of the press outside of any definitive legislation.

In 2010 in Globe and Mail v. Canada (Attorney General), the Supreme Court was asked to come up with a way of deciding under what circumstances a journalist should be made to reveal their source.

Anonymous sources are extremely important for societal watchdogs as it allows them to get information from people in circumstances where their job, their reputation, or their lives would be jeopardized by publicly sharing the information themselves. On the other hand, you have the right of the authorities to know where important information is coming from in order to successfully resolve a criminal investigation, and the right of lawyers to have access to information and people in order to successfully defend their clients against criminal charges or lawsuits.

The Supreme Court in Globe and Mail used the Quebec Civil Code and the Canadian and Quebec Charters to come up with the following test as to whether a journalist should be made to reveal their source:

First, one must ask if the evidence resulting from making a journalist answer questions that could reveal their sources would be relevant to the case. If the answer is yes, the courts must consider the following four factors about the anonymous source:

  1. The relationship must originate in a confidence that the source’s identity will not be disclosed
  2. Anonymity must be essential to the relationship in which the communication arises
  3. The relationship must be one that should be sedulously fostered in the public interest
  4. The public interest served by protecting the identity of the informant must outweigh the public interest in getting at the truth

In addition to those rules and tests, you have the criminal code and the rules regarding civil liability.

Hate propaganda, public incitement of hatred, and promoting genocide are all criminal offenses in Canada.

If someone causes you damages such as those that could cost you your wealth or livelihood, damages that negatively affected your health, or damages that caused you psychological problems, you are allowed to seek reparations for those damages. People in Canada have successfully sued journalists and media companies for damages because their actions ruined their reputations and/or violated their right to privacy.

Outside the law, the press tends to regulate itself. Lobby groups like the Fédération professionnelle des journalistes du Québec put out codes of ethics for the profession that set out the rules they all should follow. This includes no plagiarizing, making sure to put out accurate information, and making clear distinctions between their personal opinions and the facts they present.

In an age where politicians feel free to accuse the press of undermining democracy, media literacy is more important than ever. We have a responsibility to keep our eyes open for the thinly veiled sponsored pieces and the ranty conjecture masquerading as fact.

Journalists who expose this to us are more important than ever and we need more rules to protect them. Politicians may not like reporters, but without them there’d be no democracy, and no one would know who they are. As Oscar Wilde once said:

“The only thing worse than being talked about, is not being talked about.”

Let’s keep the press free, so they can keep talking.

* Featured image by Pete O’Shea via Flickr Creative Commons

On March 23, 2017, M- 103 on “Systemic Racism and religious discrimination” passed in the House of Commons. The motion was introduced by Iqra Khalid, a Liberal MP from Mississauga Ontario and is considered to be Canada’s anti Islamophobia motion, though it has little worth beyond its symbolism.

The motion met opposition on both sides.

On the one hand you had white supremacists using the good-old “slippery slope” argument in which they claimed that passing the motion was one more step towards forcing Canada under Sharia Law. On the other side you had liberal Canadians – secular and religious, white and people of colour – decrying the gesture as being frivolous.

The motion is not a law.

The motion uses convoluted wording demanding that the government “condemn Islamophobia and all forms of systemic racism, and religious discrimination” when the motion has no power to do so. Believed to be a politically motivated act to get some pats on the back in wake the Quebec City Mosque massacre, the motion is also completely redundant.

Canada has a lot of protections against discrimination, and they’ve been in our legal system at least thirty years.

First, there’s the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the brain child of the late Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau when he repatriated our constitution from Great Britain in 1982. The Canadian Charter is entrenched in our constitution, which means that it has primacy over all other laws in Canada and any law deemed to be incompatible with it can be struck down.

The Canadian Charter lists our fundamental freedoms which include those of conscience and religion, of thought, belief, opinion, and expression, and freedom of peaceful assembly and association. It also contains our legal rights to life, liberty, and security of the person, and to equal protection before law without discrimination based on race, sex, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age, or physical disability.

The Charter only applies to government entities which include everything from Citizenship and Immigration Canada to public schools to hospitals. If a law is discriminatory, the Canadian Charter allows us to go to court to seek redress for the discrimination. Once one side proves the violation it’s up to the government to prove that the law is within reasonable limits as per the Charter’s main failsafe that allows legislation to survive in spite of itself because the ends justify the means.

Then there’s the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms.

Enacted in the 1970s, the Quebec Charter applies to both private and public entities. The Quebec Charter prohibits discrimination based on race, sex, colour, pregnancy, sexual orientation, civil status, age, religion, political convictions, language, ethnic or national origin, social condition, disability and the use of any means to ease it.

The Quebec Charter not only prohibits harassment based on those grounds, but also has provisions against discrimination in everything from access to public spaces, employment, and housing. It also prohibits the distribution or publication of notices, symbols, or signs authorizing discrimination. People whose rights have been violated as per the Quebec Charter can also seek redress via the courts and the Quebec Human Rights Commission.

Last but not least, we have the Canadian Criminal Code.

The Criminal Code has laws about hate propaganda and public incitement of hatred. Publicly advocating for genocide could result in a prison term of up to five years. Publicly inciting hatred and willfully promoting it in a circumstance other than in a private conversation could result in up to two years in jail.

Perhaps the most significant way our Criminal Code punishes hate crimes is via its sentencing guidelines. When the court must determine the sentence of an offender, it must consider a bunch of aggravating circumstances in order to decide whether to give the maximum or not. The first of these aggravating circumstances is:

“evidence that the offence was motivated by bias, prejudice or hate based on race, national or ethnic origin, language, colour, religion, sex, age, mental or physical disability, sexual orientation, or any other similar factor,”

Since our laws already punish hate crimes, what is it that the federal government could do to further fight racism and discrimination?

Here are a few ideas that would have greater impact than any frivolous motion at a time in which Canada’s visible and religious minorities are asking for more than symbolic acts to prove the government will protect them.

First, the federal government should make transfer payments to the provinces for education conditional in part on the inclusion of a history or social studies course at the primary or secondary level about Canada’s different cultural and religious communities and their contributions.

It is widely acknowledged that racism is a learned behavior. Education is the key to enlightenment and such a course could prevent kids from becoming hate mongering adults while giving provinces the funds to create the curriculum and fix existing courses that leave people other than the French and English out of Canadian history.

The federal government should also demand that the Implicit Association Test be mandatory for law enforcement as part of their entrance exams.

The Implicit Association Test was created by Harvard University and is useful for determining people’s hidden biases against, for example, a particular ethnicity or gender. Any candidates shown by the test to have strong prejudices against a particular group should be made to undergo training about the groups they’re biased about as a condition for their admission to law enforcement. This would help to tackle racial profiling and police brutality and weed out some of the racists from law enforcement.

Candidates for judicial appointments should be subjected to the same test as a condition of their appointment. Strong negative biases would result in mandatory training as a condition of their appointment. This would not only help with discrimination towards religious or visible minorities, but would also prevent judges like former Judge Robin Camp from ever hearing a rape trial.

Last but not least, the federal government could increase its support for organizations that actively fight discrimination. The Center for Research-Action on Race Relations would be a good one to start with.

Talk, like that in Motion 103, is cheap. The need for symbolism is over. It’s time the government took real action against hate.