Canada is a secular society, but we are a society that has recognized that secular laws and practices can coexist with many people’s religious beliefs and expressions. It is why in Montreal, for example, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs and seculars live together in relative harmony. If Quebec Premier François Legault gets his way, this might all change.

Legault and his Coalition Avenir du Quebec party ran on a platform of promising to bar people who wear religious symbols from positions of authority in the province. They are attempting to do this with Bill 21.

This article is not going to discuss how the CAQ is so clearly pandering to the most disgustingly racist, xenophobic members of Quebec society. It is not going to talk about how the Bill represents the longstanding dispute between welcoming, diverse, multicultural Montreal and the rest of Quebec.

This article is going to talk about what Bill 21 actually contains and the very real fallout for the Quebecois affected if the bill passes. For the purposes of this article, “Quebecois” means anyone living in Quebec (and not just people descended from the original French settlers).

Bill 21 contains important changes to the Quebec Charter of Human Rights, a quasi-constitutional law enacted in the 70s that contains some of Quebec’s strongest protections against discrimination. As the Quebec Charter is only quasi-constitutional, it can be changed by a simple act by the National Assembly.

Bill 21 changes section 9.1 of the Quebec Charter from:

“In exercising his fundamental freedoms and rights, a person shall maintain a proper regard for democratic values, public order and the general well-being of the citizens of Québec.

Section 9.1 Quebec Charter of Human Rights, current text

to:

“In exercising his fundamental freedoms and rights, a person shall maintain a proper regard for democratic values, state laicity, public order and the general well-being of the citizens of Québec.”

Proposed version of Section 9.1 of the Quebec Charter of Human Rights

The change thus creates an obligation among citizens to have respect for democratic values, state secularism, public order etc. in the exercise of their fundamental rights and freedoms under the Quebec Charter. It does not, however, abolish section 10 of the Quebec Charter which states that:

“Every person has a right to full and equal recognition and exercise of his human rights and freedoms, without distinction, exclusion or preference based on race, colour, sex, gender identity or expression, pregnancy, sexual orientation, civil status, age except as provided by law, religion, political convictions, language, ethnic or national origin, social condition, a handicap or the use of any means to palliate a handicap. Discrimination exists where such a distinction, exclusion or preference has the effect of nullifying or impairing such right.”

Section 10 of the Quebec Charter of Human Rights

The Charter also forbids discrimination in “the hiring, apprenticeship, duration of the probationary period, vocational training, promotion, transfer, displacement, laying-off, suspension, dismissal or conditions of employment” based on the aforementioned grounds. As these sections of the Quebec Charter remain on the books, any institutions that enforce Bill 21 could find themselves open to legal action under said Charter which also states victims’ rights in such cases:

“Any unlawful interference with any right or freedom recognized by this Charter entitles the victim to obtain the cessation of such interference and compensation for the moral or material prejudice resulting therefrom. In case of unlawful and intentional interference, the tribunal may, in addition, condemn the person guilty of it to punitive damages.”

Quebec Charter of Human Rights

Matt Aronson, a lawyer in Montreal says that “if a state funded institution practices discrimination as an employer, causing damages to a citizen, it’s possible that not only could a citizen sue to have the discrimination stopped, they may even be able to sue for punitive damages. Now, there is a section of the Quebec Charter that allows for rights and freedoms to be limited in scope by laws, but that would be a fairly difficult retort to state sanctioned discrimination.”

As a result, the government can and will find itself open to costly lawsuits if Bill 21 passes as increasing numbers of people have publicly committed to fighting back.. The English Montreal School Board, for example, has publicly stated that they will not enforce the Bill, and a public protest in scheduled on Sunday, April 7th, in Montreal.

True to Legault’s election promise, Bill 21 bars government employees from wearing religious symbols in the exercise of their functions. This is the list of employees who will be affected – I am including the full list so people fully understand how many will be hurt if this law passes:

  • Judges, clerks, deputy clerks, and sheriffs
  • Members of the Comité de déontologie policiere – the group responsible for holding police to account for misconduct
  • Members of the Commission de la fonction publique
  • Members of the Commission de la protection du territoire agricole
  • Members of the Commission des transports du Quebec
  • Members of the Commission Municipale
  • Members of the Commission quebecoise des liberations conditionelles
  • Employees of the Regie de l’energie
  • Employees of the Regie d’alcools, courses, et jeux
  • Employees of the Regie des marche agricoles et alimentaires du Quebec
  • Employees of the Regie du batiment du Quebec
  • Employees of the Regie du Logement
  • Members of the Financial Markets Administrative Labour Tribunal
  • Members of the Administrative Tribunal of Quebec
  • Chairs of the Disciplinary Council
  • Commissioners appointed by the government under the Act Respecting Public Inquiry Commissions and lawyers and notaries working for said commissioners
  • Arbitrators appointed by the Minister of Labour in accordance with the Labour Code
  • The Quebec Justice Minister and Attorney General
  • The Director of penal prosecutions
  • Lawyers, notaries, and penal prosecuting attorneys
  • Peace officers who exercise their functions mainly in Quebec
  • Principals, vice principals, and teachers of educational institutions under the jurisdiction of the school boards

It must be noted that the law does contain a grandfather clause allowing all current employees wearing religious symbols to keep their current jobs. That said, anyone hoping for advancement would have to choose between their faith and a promotion to even be considered a candidate for one.

In addition to barring people wearing religious symbols, Bill 21 also demands that some government employees keep their faces uncovered in the exercise of their functions, a provision clearly meant to exclude women who choose to wear the niqab. Those affected include:

  • Members of the National Assembly (MNAs)
  • Elected Municipal officers except in certain Indigenous communities
  • Personnel of elected officers
  • Personnel of MNAs
  • Personnel of the Lieutenant Governor
  • Commissioners appointed by the government under the Act respecting public inquiry commissions
  • Persons appointed by the government to exercise a function within the administrative branch including arbitrators whose name appears on a list drawn up by the Minister of Labour in accordance with the Labour Code
  • Peace officers who work mainly in Quebec
  • Physicians, dentists, and midwives
  • Persons recognized as home childcare providers
  • Anyone else designated by the National Assembly
  • Employees of government departments
  • Any bodies receiving government funds
  • People and bodies appointed in accordance with the Public Service Act
  • Employees of municipalities, metropolitan communities, and intermunicipal boards, and municipal and regional housing bureaus with the exception of some in Indigenous communities
  • Employees of Public Transit Authorities
  • Employees of school boards established under the Education Act
  • Employees of public institutions governed by the Act respecting health services and social services
  • Employees of bodies in which most of the members are appointed by the National Assembly
  • Institutions accredited under the act respecting the Ministere des Relations Internationales
  • Private family-type resources governed by the Act Respecting Health Services

In addition to barring certain government employees from having their face covered in the exercise of their functions, the law also requires certain people to show their faces in order to receive government services “where doing so is necessary to allow their identity for security reasons.”

The law does make an exception where the face is covered for health reasons, a handicap, or requirements tied to their job. The law also says that there will be “no accommodation or derogation or adaptation,” which means there are no exceptions anywhere.

Bill 21 not only alters the Quebec Charter of Human Rights to exonerate the government from open acts of discrimination, it also applies the Notwithstanding Clause of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Notwithstanding Clause allows governments to bypass articles 2 and articles 7 to 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms simply by including in a discriminatory law an article stating that said law applies notwithstanding the Charter.

Articles 2 of the Canadian Charter deal with fundamental freedoms including the freedom of conscience and religion, and articles 7 to 15 deal with legal rights including the rights to life, liberty, and security of the person, equal treatment before the law, and the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. Article 30 of Bill 21 states that it applies notwithstanding these articles of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, though the Notwithstanding clause has a failsafe in it requiring the government to renew the law in five years or open itself to legal challenges when that time expires.

That said, all hope is not lost. The law is currently tabled, meaning that the National Assembly has begun to consider it. It has not, as of the publication of this article, passed.

That means there is still time to resist. If you value our province’s protections against discrimination, contact your members of the National Assembly and pressure them as you never have before.

Point out that Quebec has a labour shortage and alienating and barring people won’t work to solve it. Tell them that the scores lawsuits they’ll face will be more expensive than any benefit they hope to gain if the Bill passes.

Tell them that if they want a truly secular state, all towns and streets and institutions bearing the names of Catholic saints should be changed immediately. Let them know how ridiculous their position is.

The fight is only over if we the people give up, so keep fighting.

Featured Image: Screengrab of François Legault defending Bill 21 in a Facebook video

The past few weeks have been insanely eventful on the political scene. In the US, the Americans are dealing with a president who is a white supremacist, a misogynist, and a fraudster seeking to keep the poor fighting each other so he and his fellow billionaires can enrich themselves with the very institutions established to protect the people. We Canadians would love to point and laugh, but unfortunately, we have a scandal of our own to deal with.

The buzzword up here is actually a name: SNC Lavalin. This article will give a crash course on what is going on and what it means.

Founded in 1911, SNC Lavalin is one of the leading engineering and construction firms in Canada, handling everything from infrastructure to clean energy projects. Though they operate internationally, their head office is in Montreal and they are a major employer in Quebec and thus highly regarded in the province.

Since 2015 SNC Lavalin has been in hot water with prosecutors and the RCMP. This is due, in part, to their dealings in Libya from 2001 to 2011, where they are alleged to have paid out $48 million in bribes to public officials in the country in an attempt to influence the government. The RCMP’s investigation also alleges that the company defrauded Libyan businesses of $130 million, actions in violation of the Corruption of Foreign Public Officials Act which criminalizes giving loans or bribes to a foreign public official “in order to obtain or retain an advantage in the course of business.”

In addition to the charges related to the SNC Lavalin’s activities in Libya, the company is also facing charges for a bribery scheme involving a $127 million contract to fix the Jacques Cartier bridge. In 2017, the former head of Canada’s Federal Bridge Corporation pleaded guilty to accepting $2.3 million in bribes from SNC Lavalin in relation to the contract.

The company is thus facing charges of corruption and fraud which, if convicted, could result in SNC Lavalin being barred from bidding on federal contracts for ten years. SNC Lavalin has maintained that they will cooperate with authorities but claim that the people involved are third parties or are no longer with the company.
In February 2019, prosecutors were ready to start bringing charges against SNC Lavalin.

SNC Lavalin in turn was seeking to avoid criminal charges via the new Deferred Prosecution Law passed in June 2018. Under this law, corporations can avoid criminal prosecution with a Deferred Prosecution Agreement (DPA) in which they must cooperate with the Crown and the courts including paying penalties and reparations, giving up any benefits acquired because of their crimes, stop their wrongdoing (obviously), and adopt any compliance measures.

Agreements are allegedly to protect employees from layoffs, as well as shield shareholders who knew nothing of the crimes while holding corporations to account for them. In order to be eligible for such an agreement, the crimes must be economic in nature, did not cause serious bodily harm, and there must be a reasonable likelihood of conviction for the offenses.

Unsurprisingly, SNC Lavalin was the first company to seek such an agreement under the new law. There was, however, a hitch. Under the law, the Attorney General of Canada must consent to the negotiation of the agreement.

This is where Jody Wilson-Raybould comes in.

Until she was switched to be the Minister of Veterans affairs in January 2019, she was the Attorney General of Canada. According to her testimony before the House of Commons at the end of February 2019, she experienced a:

“Consistent and sustained effort by many people within the government to seek to politically interfere in the exercise of prosecutorial discretion in my role as the attorney general of Canada, in an inappropriate effort to secure a deferred prosecution agreement with SNC-Lavalin.”

Jody Wilson-Raybould in the House of Commons

The accusation is that the Prime Minister’s office repeatedly pressured Wilson-Raybould to offer SNC Lavalin a Deferred Prosecution Agreement and that if such an agreement were not offered, there would be serious political consequences. As Attorney General, Wilson-Raybould had oversight and discretion over whether to intervene in cases that might be prosecuted by the Crown.

The director of public prosecutions, Kathleen Russel, informed Wilson-Raybould in September 2018 that her office had decided not to invite SNC Lavalin to negotiate a Deferred Prosecution Agreement. By September 17th, having reviewed the materials, the then Attorney General decided not to interfere, despite the pressure from cabinet members and their staff about what this would mean with regards to Quebec and the upcoming election.

In January 2019, Wilson-Raybould was informed by the Prime Minister that she would be moved or shuffled out of the position of Attorney General to that of Minister of Veterans Affairs. Shortly thereafter, in February, she resigned from the Trudeau cabinet. Shortly thereafter, Gerald Butts, Prime Minister Trudeau’s principal secretary resigned over the SNC Lavalin affair. On March 4, 2019, Treasury Board president Jane Philpott also resigned from the Trudeau cabinet.

Why is the Prime Minister so bent on protecting SNC Lavalin?

Simple: it’s an election year and SNC Lavalin plays an important role in the Quebec economy. If SNC Lavalin falls, there is a concern about the economic consequences for the province. Trudeau needs Quebec to win the and is clearly concerned that acting against its prized engineering firm will affect his chances victory in November.

Given all the scandal this has caused, protecting the SNC Lavalin may not have been worth the trouble after all. Only time will tell.

Featured image via TechCharts.net

First, let’s talk about our existing rights as workers.

On June 12, 2018 the National Assembly passed legislation changing Quebec labor law, presumably for the better. Some of the changes came into effect immediately, others only as of this January, and others as of May 2019. This article will discuss those changes, what’s missing, as well as provide a crash course on the existing rights of workers in Quebec.

When I was looking for a job I, like many others, had my CV up on a couple of job search websites with a profile indicating that I was actively looking for work. Within a couple of days of posting my CV I was bombarded with phone calls from companies asking me to come in for an interview for customer service work. Upon arriving at the interview I was given the ugly truth: the “job” that was being offered was commission-only and there would be no base pay for my work.

According to Quebec’s Act Respecting Labour Standards, all jobs in Quebec have to pay a wage. That means that whether you sell something or not, for example, your employer still has to pay you.

So these jobs are either illegal or have found a way around the law, possibly by not considering their workers to be employees, but rather independent contractors. If it’s the latter, then be aware that you also won’t be eligible for benefits like paid vacation.

If you are confident enough in your selling skills you feel you can get by this way, then by all means, give the “job” a try. Just be aware that you will also not be able to avail yourself of the important legal protections outlined in this article.

The minimum hourly wage employers must pay you is set by the government and currently stands at $11.25 an hour. As of May 2019, the minimum wage jumps to $12 an hour. Those who make minimum wage with tips will see their hourly pay increase to $9.80 per hour in May.

You are not considered to be paid unless the amount can be deposited within two days of receipt. If you get a call asking you to come in for an interview for customer service work, be sure to establish whether or not you will be paid a wage for your work so you don’t waste your time.

Quebec’s human rights laws also include protections for employees. According the Quebec’s Charter of Human Rights, employers are not allowed to discriminate in “hiring, apprenticeship, duration of the probationary period, vocational training, promotion, transfer, displacement, laying-off, suspension, dismissal or conditions of employment” on the basis of “race, colour, sex, gender identity or expression, pregnancy, sexual orientation, civil status, age except as provided by law, religion, political convictions, language, ethnic or national origin, social condition, a handicap or the use of any means to palliate a handicap.”

The only time the law allows for discrimination on any of the above is if the organization is a non-profit, charitable, religious, or other organization devoted exclusively to the well-being of a given ethnic group.

In addition to paying you and not being a discriminatory douchebag, here’s a couple of other things your employer must do:

  • Allow you to do your job. That doesn’t just mean giving you access to your workspace, it means protecting your health, safety, and dignity in a way that’s consistent with the nature of the work.
  • If your boss decides to fire you, they must give you a reasonable notice of termination, taking into account, once again, the nature of the employment, the circumstances in which the work is carried out, and the duration of employment.

If your employer infringes on your rights, you have a couple of options. You can try to resolve the dispute privately with them, you can go to the Commission des normes, de l’équité, de la santé et de la sécurité du travail (CNESST – what we still call “Normes de travail”), or, if it’s a case of discrimination, you can go to the Quebec Human Rights Commission.

If you choose to resolve the dispute with your employer amicably, be sure to speak to a legal professional or the CNESST’s information line before you sign anything. There are lots of affordable and pro-bono legal services available in Montreal. Contact one.

Important Changes to Quebec’s Labour Law

Under the old law, employees were entitled to three weeks of paid vacation after five years working for the same employer. As of this January, you only have to have worked for said employer for three years in order to get three weeks paid vacation. It also allows for more paid time off for illness and or if you’ve been a victim of domestic abuse or sexual assault.

Under the old law, employees had ninety days to report psychological harassment at work, and sexual harassment was not considered a form of said harassment. As of June 12, 2018, sexual harassment falls under the definition of psychological harassment, and victims have up to two years to report the incident, presumably to ease their fears of immediate reprisals.

As of January 2019, employers must have a psychological harassment policy in place as well as complaint management procedures. The CNESST even has a guide available online for employers to help establish such policies and practices.

The new rules also address absences for family reasons, with the definition of “family” expanded to include the family of a spouse or partner. Under the new rules, employees are allowed up to five days off following the death of a loved one instead of the one day under the old law.

The changes also allow employees up to sixteen weeks a year to take care of a loved one, with more time allotted if the person in need of care is a minor.

Another significant change to the rules is that employees have a legal right to refuse to work more than two hours beyond their normal work hours. This change is clearly meant to address the issue of unstable working hours, forcing employers to give at least five days notice if they want their employees to work more than the aforementioned two hours.

The changes, brought in by the previous provincial government, are a step in the right direction. Unfortunately, they’re incomplete.

They fail to address the increasingly common practice of treating long term employees as temporary hires to avoid paying them the wages and benefits of a permanent hire. Ideal labor legislation in Quebec would penalize employers with workers that have been with them a year or more without permanent employee status.

The government that voted in the changes to Quebec labor law has been voted out. We have a new government in place that wants to fix the labour shortage without bringing in new people.

If the government wants to encourage people to fill vacancies their advice to employers should be simple: treat your workers nice and pay them better.

It’s the holidays and that means food, family, and tons more ways to get into trouble. I’m here to help.

This article is going to be a guide on how to get through the holidays with the least amount of damage to your life, property, and freedom. For the purposes of this article, the laws mentioned will pertain primarily to Montreal. Check online for your city’s particular rules and regulations.

Let’s start with fires

Between cooking accidents, overloaded sockets, and highly flammable wrapping paper, the risk of fires is higher around the holiday season. There is also the matter of fireplaces, which I will tackle first.

In the City of Montreal it is no longer legal to use fireplaces and other solid-fuel-burning devices. Those who wanted to keep using their fireplaces had until October 1, 2018 to have them modified to conform to certain environmental standards. Those who have not and still use their fireplaces in the City face stiff fines.

Now let’s tackle the kinds of fires that could happen and what to do about them. It should go without saying that you should keep your smoke alarms on and with fresh batteries. It should also go without saying that if a fire is particularly large you’re better off calling 911. If it’s something you think you can handle, here’s how.

Grease fire

This is the kind of fire that generally happens on the stove when oil gets too hot. The quickest and best way to put out such a fire is to smother it. That means covering the pot or pan with a lid or other pot big enough to cut off the fire’s oxygen supply, making it die out.

Electrical fire

Electrical fires are common during the holidays due to overloaded sockets and powerbars. If there’s an electrical fire, turn off the device and unplug it, then smother the fire with a blanket or use a Type C fire extinguisher.

DO NOT USE WATER TO PUT OUT GREASE OR ELECTRICAL FIRES. Water conducts electricity, thus putting you at risk of an electrical shock. Using water to put out a grease fire can cause the oil to splash, thus spreading the fire.

When to use water?

Trash fires.

If it’s your Christmas tree that caught fire, determine the nature of the fire and go from there. The bigger the fire, the better off you are calling 911.

Once the fire is out, open as many windows as you can to get the smoke out and turn on a fan to help it along if you have one.

Now let’s talk about alcohol

Family time will undoubtedly lead to an increase in alcohol consumption so to reduce the risk of deaths on the road, we need to talk about Canada’s drunk driving laws.

As it stands the legal blood alcohol limit is eighty milligrams of alcohol in every hundred milliliters of blood. Driving with a blood alcohol level over this limit is a criminal offence.

The government recently updated its drunk driving laws and they are now stricter than ever.

Under the new law the police can demand a breathalyzer test from anyone they pull over (the fact that this will likely exacerbate racial profiling by the police is another can of worms altogether). Those who refuse to take the breathalyzer test can be charged with impaired driving.

In addition, the Bolus defense – a defense by which you can raise a reasonable doubt as to whether you were driving impaired by arguing that you had just consumed the alcohol and therefore had not absorbed it enough to be impaired – is no longer a viable defense in drunk driving cases.

Refusing to take a breathalyzer test comes with a fine of two thousand dollars for a first offense. A first offense for driving over the legal limit comes with fines ranging from a thousand to twenty-five hundred dollars depending on how high your blood alcohol concentration was above the legal limit. Subsequent offenses lead to automatic jail time.

That said, drink responsibly. If you’re drunk, sleep at a friend’s house, get a lift, or take a taxi or Uber. If you insist on going home that night, call Operation Red Nose at 514-256-2510. They’ll send a volunteer to drive you home. If you’re a woman, best to take a cab or Uber with someone you know given the risk of sexual assaults by drivers and how little the police have taken them seriously in the past.

Speaking of sexual assault…

It’s time to talk about consent

Between the booze, the Mistletoe, and New Year’s Eve, the risk of sexual assault is high, so here’s a reminder of how consent works – though I find it utterly tragic that I need to keep issuing these reminders.

Consent is defined as the voluntary agreement to engage in the sexual activity in question.

Consent can be withdrawn at any time. That means that if – for example – your partner wants to stop and you keep going regardless, the sexual encounter is no longer consensual and becomes sexual assault.

There is no consent if the person is too young, too drunk, or unconscious. If the person is consenting to something drunk that they wouldn’t have consented to sober, they are probably in no position to consent. If you have any doubts, DON’T do it.

You’re not only fucking someone over physically and psychologically, you risk bringing in the New Year with a charge of sexual assault.

Last but not least, if you feel compelled to use fireworks on New Year’s Eve, do so responsibly. Every New Year’s Day reports storm in of people blowing their fingers off and setting fires because they didn’t know how to use the pyrotechnics they bought for the occasion. Check your city’s by-laws on fireworks use, read and follow the instructions on all the fireworks you buy, and don’t light anything while impaired.

Happy Holidays Everyone! Play Safe!

* Featured Image by Joe Buckingham via WikiMedia Commons

November 20, 2018, can be seen as a sad day in the US and for women around the world in the fight against Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). A US federal judge Bernard Friedman ruled against banning a practice that harms millions of young women globally.

His ruling found a 1996 US federal law banning FGM unconstitutional, allowing the two doctors charged under it to go free. This can only be seen as a great defeat for the millions of young girls and women who have suffered due to this harmful act.

Female Genital Mutilation is the act of changing or altering the female genitals for non-medical reasons but rather cultural ones. However, it is seen across the globe as a violation of human rights against girls and young women alike .

FGM, or Female Circumcision as it is also called, is a practice that goes back thousands of years in many countries, communities and in many cultures around the world. When it started is unknown, but the root of it is to control female sexuality, conception and to continue to build a strong inequality between both sexes.

FGM/C may differ depending on the countries and regions but the results are still the same. Women are subjected to a lifetime of problems regarding their physical and mental health. Many lose their desire for sexual pleasure, have complex deliveries often resulting in Cesarean section; along with a number of different medical problems, that may arise from the use of unsterilized equipment. This practice can have serious complications leading to the death of some young girls and women as a result.

There are many types of FGM/C; but there are three forms most often practiced:

The first consist of the partial or total removal of the clitoris and the prepuce. The circumciser pulls the clitoral glans with her thumb to remove it.

The second form is complete or partial removal of the inner labia and clitoris. The clitoris is the organ that allows the female to enjoy pleasure during sexual activities.

The final form, which is considered to be the most severe of the three, is the removal of the total female genitalia. Once done, the vagina is then sewed closed with the exception of a hole often the size of a pencil tip for the passage of menstruation and urination.

Not only is the act rather harsh, but girls and young women are more likely to get infections and countless other problems because of unsterilized equipment. They are often faced with diseases such as fistula and numerous other disorders and infections.

It is estimated that between 125-150 million young women have been subjected to this practice. It happens all over the world, though predominately in African countries.

Although, FGM/C can be harmful to a women’s health not all women would like for this practice to end. Some people in many countries and regions where this act is practiced consider it a rite of passage or a celebration of coming of age for young women.

FGM/C is sometimes compared to male circumcision. Male Circumcision is the act in which the male foreskin that is covering the head of the penis is removed from the male penis.

Both of these customs can cause physical and mental pain and a lifetime of complications. However the female version of this custom is deemed, by many, to be much more severe because, unlike their male counterparts, many females who have this procedure done never experience sexual pleasure or any sensation other than pain in their vaginal area.

The males that are circumcised can experience sexual sensation and any pain they feel usually dissolves after a while. Whereas many females who have experienced the procedure have a lifetime of pain and complications. Some women who experience this procedure feel as though they are missing part of their body.

In many countries and regions where the act of FGM/C has become illegal, there are classes and lectures on the consequence of FGM/C. When young women attend these classes, they are becoming educated on the severity of this practice.

Unfortunately, not all young women have a choice in this matter. This is why the recent US ruling on FGM/C can be seen as a sad one and as a step backwards especially since organizations such as UNICEF, Plan Canada and numerous others are working tirelessly to educate communities where FGM/C is still practiced about the effects on young girls and women around the world.

* Featured image by World Bank Photo Collection via Flickr Creative Commons

Recreational cannabis is now officially legal across Canada. We are the second North American country to do this, with Mexico having decriminalized marijuana for personal use in small amounts in an attempt cut back on drug violence. It must be said that legalization should not be taken as an invitation to smoke weed more often, and that while recreational use is legal, it is not without restrictions.

I’m here to help.

This article is a brief crash course on the legalization of cannabis and how it will be implemented in Quebec. Other provinces have set their own rules so if you’re reading this from outside of Quebec, you’d best contact the local government about it or give it a google.

The new laws divide cannabis into two categories: cannabis and illicit cannabis.

Illicit cannabis is cannabis is that is sold, produced, imported, or distributed by anyone not allowed to do so under the federal Cannabis Act and corresponding provincial acts. In Quebec, it is the Société Québécoise du Cannabis (SQDC), a subsidiary of the Société des Alcools du Québec (SAQ), that can legally sell marijuana and marijuana products in Quebec.

They open their first 12 stores at 10am today (in Montreal people have been lining up since 4am) and have already started selling online. They have three strains for sale: indica, sativa and hybrid. They won’t be advertising their products in the window as advertising cannabis products remains illegal.

The SDAQ website has a list of all locations across Quebec and the three Montreal locations are:

  • 970 Ste-Catherine Ouest (near Peel downtown)
  • 9250 Boulevard de l’Acadie (near Marché Centrale)
  • 6872 St-Hubert (in Rosemont-La Petite Patrie)

Private dealers’ activities will continue to be illegal under the new law. While the legal stores will offer dry bud, oils, pre-rolled joints, oral sprays, as well as pills, they will not be offering edibles. Prices will start at five dollars and fifty cents in order to be competitive with the black market.

Though the federal law says that it is legal to possess and cultivate up to four cannabis plants for personal use, in Quebec it is illegal and carries a fine between two hundred and fifty and seven hundred and fifty dollars. This is undoubtedly a measure to ensure the Province’s monopoly on sale and distribution.

As of midnight, it is legal to possess up to 30 grams of legal cannabis or cannabis products in public. The government measures these amounts according the weight of dried cannabis.

The federal government has published a list indicating what a gram of dried cannabis would be equivalent to in other products:

  • 5 grams of fresh cannabis
  • 15 grams of edible product
  • 70 grams of liquid product
  • 0.25 grams of concentrates (solid or liquid)
  • 1 cannabis plant seed

In private residences it is legal to possess up to 150 grams of cannabis – once again using a measure of dried cannabis as a reference to determine amounts. This maximum applies regardless of how many people are living in the residence at any given time. That means that if you are, for example, living with three other roommates, you are legally only allowed total of 150 grams in the household, amounting to 37.5 grams each if you were divide the cannabis evenly between you.

If you were living alone, that 150 could legally be all yours. However, the law also says that you cannot have that amount in multiple residences, meaning that the maximum you would be allowed to possess stays at 150 grams regardless of whether or not you have multiple homes.

Anyone who exceeds the 150 gram limit is looking at fines ranging from $250-$750. Similar fines are in place for possession of cannabis on the premises of educational institutions and childcare and daycare centers, though there is an exception for student residences at college-level institutions.

Minors cannot legally possess or distribute cannabis and there will be strict penalties for people caught selling or giving it to them. In Quebec, the age of majority is 18 years old (in many other provinces it’s 19). Cannabis has to be stored in a place that is not easily accessible to minors. Minors caught in possession or giving cannabis are liable to a fine of $100.

With regards to where you can smoke it, the rules are similar to those for cigarettes. There is no smoking on the grounds of health and social services buildings, on the grounds of post-secondary schools, and places where activities for minors are provided, with an exception in the latter if activities are in a private residence.

It is also illegal to smoke it in most enclosed public spaces, the common areas of residential buildings containing two or more dwellings, private seniors’ homes, palliative care facilities, and tourist accommodation establishments. Smoking marijuana is also illegal in restaurants and other places offering meals for money, casinos, public transportation, and in the workplace unless said workplace is in a private residence.

Anyone who breaks these rules is looking at fines ranging from $500 to $2250.

There are, however, exceptions, as health and social services centers, seniors’ homes, and palliative care facilities can set up enclosed rooms for the purposes of smoking cannabis. Same goes for the common areas of private residences containing two or more dwellings.

Cannabis is officially legal now Amidst all the celebrations, remember the rules.

The Quebec elections are over and we are about to have a new government. People fed up with Philippe Couillard and wary of the sovereigntist messages of Québec Solidaire and the Parti Québécois took their votes elsewhere, putting François Legault and his party, Coalition Avenir du Québec (CAQ), in office.

Many people are scared, and they have every reason to be. The CAQ ran on an aggressively secularist, anti-immigration, right-wing nationalist (within Canada) platform.

The day after the election, people’s worst fears were confirmed when Legault announced that he would use the Canadian constitution’s Notwithstanding Clause to bar civil servants from wearing religious symbols. To use a popular Quebecois expression, ça commence ben mal (we’re off to a bad start).

For all those in despair, I want to give reasons to hope. This article will look at a couple of the CAQ’s more controversial policies, the legality of them, and the ways we can fight back within the system.

Immigration

One of François Legault’s most controversial statements during the election was that he would expel any immigrants Quebec that failed to pass a French and “Quebec Values” test within three years of their arrival.

Here’s the thing: Quebec cannot legally do that.

The decision on whether or not to expel immigrants is federal jurisdiction. This is not to say that Quebec has no discretion in matters of immigration. One of the ways people can immigrate to Canada is via Quebec’s immigration programs such as Quebec Skilled Worker, Quebec Investor, or Quebec Experience, all of which have limits set by the provincial government on how many people they are willing to accept.

These programs do not guarantee you permanent residence (PR). Once you have a Quebec certificate via one of these programs, you can apply for permanent residence.

The application for PR will be assessed by a federal Citizenship and Immigration (CIC) officer and they get the final say as to whether or not you get permanent residency, not Quebec. It is also the CIC that has sole jurisdiction to issue expulsion orders.

Notwithstanding Clause

As previously stated, François Legault announced on Tuesday that he would be willing to invoke the Notwithstanding Clause to ban government employees from wearing religious symbols. In Quebec, that would apply to everyone from teachers to doctors to public transit workers, cops, and civil servants.

It should be said that if the new government is truly committed to secularism, they need to take down all the crosses in public buildings, a gruelling and expensive task given Quebec’s history with the Catholic Church. It must also be said that their rules should include forbidding anyone in civil service from wearing a cross or crucifix.

Fortunately for people whose faith dictates the wearing of visible symbols, the Notwithstanding Clause is not the magical failsafe Islamaphobes and anti-Semites seem to think it is and it will not allow a government to do what it wants indefinitely.

The Notwithstanding Clause is Section 33 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It says:

“Parliament or the legislature of a province may expressly declare in an Act of Parliament or of the legislature, as the case may be, that the Act or a provision thereof shall operate notwithstanding a provision included in section 2 or sections 7 to 15 of this Charter.”

Section 2 of the Charter deals with freedom of religion, freedom of expression and the press, and freedom of association and peaceful assembly. Sections 7 to 15 deal with such rights as “life, liberty, and security of the person” and protection from arbitrary detention, search and seizures, and other rights in criminal and penal proceedings.

Most importantly in this case, article 15 entrenches the right to equality before and under the law “without discrimination and in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age, or mental or physical disability.”

The Notwithstanding Clause allows governments to keep a law in place that violates these rights provided they expressly declare that the legislation in question applies notwithstanding the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

This declaration by a government would not apply indefinitely. According to paragraph three of the Clause, said declaration “will cease to have effect five years after it comes into force or such earlier date as may be specified in the declaration.”

There is good reason for this entrenched delay.

The Notwithstanding Clause is generally applied by provincial governments in the face of the courts striking down controversial legislation on constitutional grounds. The five-year delay allows said governments to rework the law so it conforms with the Charter in cases where the courts do not give them such a delay.

Quebec, for example, used the Clause to keep Bill 101 in place after the Supreme Court struck it down, using the five years to rewrite the law to fit the Charter. Once the five years is up, the government can choose to re-enact a declaration as per the Clause and the delay restarts.

That said, there is a catch, because guess what else happens every four to five years? Elections.

Using the Notwithstanding Clause is a hugely unpopular move. Canadians have embraced The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms as a way of using the courts to protect them from, for example, xenophobic laws enacted by governments.

A legal challenge to Bill 62, the law enacted by the Liberals barring the wearing of religious symbols by government employees and people using government services, is currently underway and will likely be struck down by the courts. The CAQ can use the Notwithstanding Clause to keep the law in place if they wish, but it might cost them a second term.

The CAQ officially take office once Quebec’s Lieutenant Governor, J. Michel Doyon swears them in and names François Legault as our Premier. Many of us are scared and angry so let’s turn this anger into action and use our power as the people to curb their worst ideas.

* Featured image of François Legault on election night via YouTube

It is an unspoken truth that anyone who chooses not to live as a hermit is going to have to deal with neighbors.

Young people know them as the grouchy old people who call the cops on all their parties. Old people often see them as a source of noise. In the best cases, people can live next door or in the same neighborhood or building without ever having to involve a landlord, a lawyer, or the cops.

This article is not about that. I am here to talk about the worst neighbor behavior.

Ideally you should always confront an offending neighbor and try to settle things amicably. If you are afraid of going about your daily life due to their behavior, it’s time to swallow any fear about confrontation and speak to them.

If that fails, here are some common neighbor problems and what to do about them. Please note that the municipal laws mentioned are strictly for Montreal, so if you live elsewhere, you will have to consult your own city’s bylaws for some of these.

Noise

It should be said that not all noise complaints are valid. If you live near a commercial street with bars, clubs, theatres, or restaurants, you should expect a fair amount of noise around your home.

It must also be said that some people phone in noise complaints for purely vindictive reasons because they’ve decided they don’t like their neighbors and want to make it impossible for them to entertain guests or listen to music in their homes. Take comfort in the fact that people who make those kinds of complaints do so often and are unlikely to be taken seriously by police.

If you call 311 – the City of Montreal’s information hotline – they’ll tell you that you cannot make a noise complaint between 7 am and 11 pm. Unfortunately, that’s not true, so be prepared to argue about it.

Most municipal bylaws assess noise complaints based on a question of reasonability.

Let’s say a rich neighbor is making cosmetic renovations to the outside of his home, the work has been going on every day from eight am to six pm for over a month and the workers aren’t using any sort of muffling equipment on their noisy machinery. That’s clearly an unreasonable amount of noise. Call 911 and complain. They’ll send the cops to put your selfish neighbor in their place.

Now imagine living in an apartment building where your upstairs neighbor sings opera loudly late at night and it’s lovely… But only if you’re a horny cat seeking a mate. If you can’t get them to quiet down directly, speak to your landlord. As a tenant you are entitled to “peaceable enjoyment of the premises” and an extremely noisy neighbor would violate that.

To make sure your landlord gets notice of the problem, you may have to send them a formal letter via registered mail (be sure to keep the receipt for the Rental Board). In said letter, give the landlord a reasonable amount of time to fix the problem – say eight days.

If your landlord refuses to deal with it and the matter is serious enough, you can take action with the Quebec Rental Board, which generally rules in favor of tenants. They can force your landlord to reduce your rent, let you claim damages from the landlord, or in the worst case, cancel your lease.

Before phoning in a complaint, ask yourself if the complaint is reasonable and consider the consequences. Some complaints against businesses can result in fines that can ultimately destroy them. A tragic example is Divan Orange, a beloved showbar in the Plateau that had to close its doors when the fines it incurred because of noise complaints from neighbors crushed it financially.

Harassment, Peeping, and Other Privacy and Safety Violations

This is a problem that particularly affects women, people of colour, and sexual and religious minorities. Neighbors can make your life a living hell if they find you sexually attractive or have some idiotic and highly toxic notions about your people. Fortunately, in Canada there’s more than one way to address the problem.

Take the case of Elie El-Chakieh and Hellen Christodoulou, a couple of engineers who moved into a home in Laval. Initially their relationship with their neighbor, Daniel Noel, was civil, but it quickly devolved over mutual complaints of bylaw violations. Instead of handling things like an adult, Noel’s behavior quickly became toxic and he began engaging in racial harassment against El-Chakieh, who is of Lebanese descent.

Noel also accused El-Chakieh of spousal abuse, and of being a pedophile. He called the RCMP and immigration to find out the couple’s immigration status, and even contacted their professional orders and academic institutions to try and discredit them professionally.

El-Chakieh and Christodoulou decided to sue. On April 22, 2018, a Superior Court judge ordered Noel to pay them $50 000 in damages, calling his behavior “low, vile and repugnant.”

That said, suing isn’t your only option. You can also file a complaint with the Quebec Human Rights Commission which is charged – along with the Human Rights Tribunal – with enforcing the Quebec Charter of Rights. If your neighbor is hurling slurs at you and engaging in other harassment based on your race, religion, or gender, give the Commission a call and file a complaint. If they think your complaint is serious enough they’ll launch their own investigation and possibly bring your case to the Tribunal to seek “any appropriate measure against the person or to demand, in favour of the victim, any measure it considers appropriate at that time.” (section 80 of the Quebec Charter).

Now let’s say you have a neighbor who constantly makes lewd comments about you, asks invasive inappropriate questions about personal matters, peeps into your windows, or has a creepy tendency to always be nearby when you leave or come home.

If you’re a woman living alone, you have every reason to consider this kind of behavior to be a threat to your safety. Fortunately, the behavior falls under the Criminal Code’s definition of harassment which can include:

  • Following you from place to place
  • Repeatedly communicating with you directly or indirectly, or communicating with people who know you
  • Watching your dwelling or place where you work, carry on business or happen to be

If a neighbor does this, call the police. Keep track of any proof you can. If he sends texts or emails, save them. Film him watching you. Take photos of him peeping. If convicted, the neighbor in question is facing at least six months in jail or a five thousand dollar fine, and at most ten years in prison.

Property Disputes

Property disputes can be summed up with two words: land and money.

Let’s say you have a neighbor who is stubbornly claiming that their property line ends fifty feet onto what you believe is yours.

The solution? Hire a surveyor.

A land surveyor will check public records and maps to confirm the correct property lines and for an extra fee they’ll put down stakes or a button in the land indicating the boundary between each property. Feel free to claim half the surveyor’s fee from your neighbor.

Which brings us to money disputes, which often come in the form of arguments about shared expenses, such as that of hiring a land surveyor, or clearing snow from a shared driveway. The solution: hire a lawyer and let them tough it out with your neighbor.

If the money your neighbor is claiming is less than fifteen thousand dollars, you can fight it out in small claims court. The clerk of the Court of Quebec now offers a service either by phone or in person to assist people to preparing to face off in small claims.

In an ideal world, neighbors would be the kind who bring you soup when you’re sick and always have milk and sugar to lend you in a pinch. In the real world you need to remember that you have legal ways to nip the worst neighbor behavior in the bud. Use them when you need them.

Free trade is a pet topic of protesters across North America, and with good cause. Those in favor of it point to the reduction of trade barriers as improving economies that allow for greater access to inexpensive goods. Those against it point out that it destroys local businesses and industries as well as mom and pop shops loved by communities who abandon them in favor of cheaper goods and services. Though Canada seems very much in favor of free trade, many of our industries such as dairy rely on protectionist policies imposed by the government to keep them alive.

The notion of free trade has been in the news lately not just because of the Orange Misogynist’s blathering about the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) between the US, Canada, and Mexico, but also with regards to a recent Supreme Court decision on interprovincial trade. Before I go into the decision itself, we must discuss how the case got to the Supreme Court.

Gerard Comeau is a resident of New Brunswick who lives not far from the border to Quebec. In October 2012, he drove across the border into our fair province and stocked up on liquor from three different stores. Booze, as it turns out, is pricier in New Brunswick and Comeau decided he would save some money by buying elsewhere.

There was, however, a problem.

New Brunswick’s Liquor Control Act has a limit on how much alcohol you can buy out of province. Their law makes it an offense to “have or keep liquor” above a certain amount that was purchased from a Canadian source other than the New Brunswick Liquor Corporation, the New Brunswick equivalent of the Société des Alcools du Québec (SAQ).

The RCMP in the New Brunswick town on the border were concerned about the number of residents often going to liquor stores in Quebec in breach of the law. With the help of their counterparts in Quebec, they started keeping track of New Brunswickans doing so.

One of these people was Gerard Comeau.

On his way back from an October 2012 trip to buy booze in Quebec, he was stopped by the RCMP. The cops found large quantities of beer and spirits in excess of what the law allowed. Comeau was charged under the New Brunswick Liquor Control Act and was issued a fine of two hundred and forty dollars plus administrative fees. Comeau in turn decided to fight it, arguing that the provision of the Liquor Code was unconstitutional.

The Constitution Act of 1867 was written with a lot of considerations in mind. Before confederation, Canada was just a bunch of separate British colonies. As separate colonies they all had powers to impose tariffs on goods brought into one colony from another.

The country was being formed as the United States was going through the Civil War and there were concerns about the economic effects of the war on the new Dominion of Canada. One of the ways the fathers of confederation sought to solve this is by adding section 121 to the constitution. It is on the basis of this provision that Gerard Comeau decided to fight his fine.

Section 121 of the Constitution Act of 1867 says:

“All Articles of the Growth, Produce, or Manufacture of any one of the Provinces shall, from and after the Union, be admitted free into each of the other Provinces.”

Comeau and his legal team argued that the penal provision of the Liquor Control Act under which he was charged violates this provision of the constitution. To back up this argument, a historian was brought in to discuss why section 121 was included in the Constitution Act of 1867, formerly known as the British North America Act.

With the help of this historian who acted as expert for the defense, Comeau argued that section 121 was basically a free trade provision and therefore “no barriers can be erected to impede the passage of goods across provincial boundaries”. The trial judge agreed and acquitted him. The Crown appealed but the appeal was dismissed, so the Attorney General of New Brunswick as well as the Attorney Generals across Canada appealed to the Supreme Court.

The question the Supreme Court was charged with was whether section 121 of Constitution Act of 1867 bars any impediment to interprovincial commerce.

The Supreme Court said no.

In their decision they point out that to take the aforementioned interpretation of section 121 of the Constitution Act of 1867 is to ignore the years of legal precedents created by the courts as they were charged with interpreting the law. Doing so would not only undermine the Canadian legal system but effectively strip federal and provincial powers of their ability to legislate trade in Canada.

Aside from Quebec which relies in part on the Civil Code, most provinces in Canada rely on past legal decisions in order to interpret current ones. The higher the court, the more binding the decision on lower courts, a concept called stare decisis or “stand by things decided”.

The court went on to point out that past legal decisions on the subject point to section 121 only forbidding laws that explicitly impose tariffs on goods moving between provinces but that it should not be interpreted as to ban legislative powers from imposing laws that have the incidental effect of limiting interprovincial commerce.

Critics of the decision were hoping the Supreme Court would take a tougher stance in favor of protecting Canadian beer from the effects of free trade. Others think that this provision will make section 121 of the Constitution increasingly obsolete.

That said, Comeau is obviously going to have to pay his fine, but I imagine it pales in comparison to his legal fees.

* Featured image by Allison Caterall via Flickr Creative Commons

One of the greatest health threats in North America is the opioid crisis. Since 2015 it has caused about five thousand deaths in Canada alone. Indigenous communities have been ravaged by the epidemic. National and provincial governments are being forced to take the matter in hand.

The fight has manifested itself in changes to healthcare policy, and class action lawsuits against Purdue Pharma, the drug company that allegedly pushed OxyContin™ and OxyNEO™ via marketing tactics that minimized the risks associated with the drug. In the US authorities have launched criminal investigations into Purdue’s marketing tactics and many Canadians are demanding that our leaders follow suit.

Purdue Pharma has offered settlements to plaintiffs across Canada. The suit made the news recently because a judge in Saskatchewan rejected the settlement in March. This article is going to give an overview of the opioid crisis in Canada, what this has meant for victims, and for chronic pain sufferers. I will also go briefly into the nature of addiction based on the newest available research on the subject and talk a bit about how class action lawsuits and corporate criminal liability work with regards to this particular case. Please note that I am not a doctor or a psychologist or a crisis worker, and I welcome comments from them on how best to address this epidemic.

In 1996 Purdue Pharma released its new painkiller OxyContin™. Purdue used an aggressive marketing campaign to encourage doctors to prescribe it, calling it a safe and effective means of treating pain with minimal problems. Unfortunately the drug is highly addictive and overdose deaths began to climb steadily over the next three decades. In February 2018 Purdue finally announced that they would stop “promoting opioids to prescribers” in the United States, but sadly that policy does not extend to Canada, the branch of which- Purdue Canada – operates independently.

Most opioid addicts like Ben Miller, one of the plaintiffs suing Purdue, became addicted to OxyContin™ by being legally prescribed it for pain. His doctor prescribed the drug while he was living in Ontario in 2007 and he became addicted. According to court transcripts from 2013, Miller was addicted to OxyContin™ until the end of 2011 but continues to struggle with the risk of relapse into addiction. Most accidental opioid poisonings in Canada happen with seniors, many of whom were taking the medication as prescribed.

That said, there has been another group suffering under Canada’s opioid epidemic, and it’s one that is seldom talked about: chronic pain sufferers. These are people with long term back problems, bad knees, fibromyalgia, non-fatal forms of MS and other pains the sources of which are difficult or impossible to treat and with pain levels that can spike under cold or humid weather conditions.

For many, opioids like hydromorphone are the only effective drugs to treat acute pain episodes, but with new awareness about the dangers of opioids, attempts to get a prescription are met with suspicion and often disdain. Safer medicines like marijuana and other cannibinoids, which have proven effective for treating pain with low addiction risks, are still treated like dangerous drugs due to their criminalization and physicians often refuse to prescribe them. Those who succeed in getting a referral to Montreal’s only cannabis clinic have to pay up to two hundred and fifty dollars just for the consult.

Daisy suffers from chronic back pain exacerbated by cold, humid conditions. Despite the opinion of two physicians and her psychologist that she is not an addiction risk, attempts to renew her pain medication when she needs it are often met with suspicion. Though she takes it as prescribed, pharmacists in the past have treated her like a junkie when she seeks a renewal. Unfortunately many people going to emergency rooms for pain across Canada are often pumped full of opioids and sent home without the necessary referrals or tests to find out the source of the problem.

New research into the nature of addiction indicates that it is a complex disease with social and biological traits. There is a scientific consensus that addicts have underactive dopamine systems – the system of neurotransmitters that control the pleasure and reward centers in the brain – and have a lesser capacity to enjoy their everyday lives. They suffer from anxiety and depression and have poor support systems and resources to cope.

Most drugs act by filling the brain with pleasurable dopamine. As a person continues to use the drugs, the brain adapts and produces less dopamine, forcing the addict to take more. That said, studies have confirmed that recovering addicts that do so in a supportive, loving community environment are less likely to relapse.

The lawsuit against Purdue Pharma contends that:

  • From 1996 to 2001 the company claimed that OxyContin™ was safer than other prescription opioids
  • Prescribed usage of the drug leads to addiction requiring more frequent and higher doses
  • Discontinuing use of the drug causes severe withdrawal symptoms that can last weeks or more
  • Concerns about addiction have been known to Purdue Pharma since 2003 when the Government Newfoundland and Labrador launched an OxyContin Task Force to deal with the rising number of deaths from the drug

Purdue Canada has offered to settle the class action lawsuit for twenty million dollars, a pathetic sum when you take into account the cost of legal representation for the plaintiffs and the fact that provincial health insurers tasked with dealing with the epidemic will be getting a large part of this.

Ontario, Quebec, and Nova Scotia approved the settlement. Judge Barrington-Foote of Saskatchewan rejected it, pointing out that for the court to approve a class action settlement, it must be satisfied that the settlement is “fair, reasonable, and in the best interests of the class as a whole.” Judge Barrington-Foote felt the settlement was too small to be considered as such.

If the government launches a criminal investigation into Purdue Pharma, it will have to decide whether to seek indictments of individuals within the company or of the company itself. If the latter, the prosecution will have to meet the criteria for corporate criminal liability set out by the Supreme Court in Canadian Dredge and Dock Co. v. The Queen [1985], specifically:

“that the action taken by the directing mind (a) was within the field of operation assigned to him; (b) was not totally in fraud of the corporation; and (c) was by design or result partly for the benefit of the company. ”

The opioid crisis is a complex problem that needs addressing to avoid further loss of life. Our governments are coming up with action plans to fight it. Here’s hoping that their plan doesn’t hurt those in pain.

Featured image by Psiĥedelisto via WikiMedia Commons

Environmental law is a fairly new topic in legal discourse. It is only in the past hundred years or so that humans have been made aware of the environmental consequences of their actions and even now there are forces in our society that demand that said consequences are negligible or worth ignoring. It is, however, impossible to ignore and even major polluters like Exxon Mobil have come to acknowledge their role in climate change.

This article is going to give a brief overview on the rules that punish polluters in Canada and then focus on the punishments individuals might face in Canada for certain kinds of pollution.

Environmental law is one of those fields of law that covers almost every kind of law there is. Rules to protect the environment can be found in agricultural law, federal fisheries legislation, rules governing industry, civil law, municipal law, and even criminal and international law.

In Canada, large scale pollution is regulated by the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, the Federal Fisheries Act, the Criminal Code, and provincial laws such as the Quebec Environmental Quality Act. In the cities, it is municipal by-laws that control the nuisance caused by littering and other forms of pollution.

Some types of pollution by individuals will result in fines, whereas others can lead to lengthy prison terms. So let’s talk about those.

For the purposes of this article, I will focus on Montreal municipal laws. Other cities on the island such as Westmount and Cote-Saint-Luc have their own sets of rules.

In the early two thousands, the City of Montreal tightened its rules regarding littering resulting in outrage from citizens, landlords, and business owners. Under the new by-law, tagging and other forms of graffiti on public roadways, sidewalks, and buildings on public property can result in a fine of a hundred to a thousand dollars. The same goes for leaving broken motor vehicles on public property as well as dumping garbage in public waterways.

The by-law elaborates by specifying that everything from garbage, to ashes, to flyers, syringes, and bandages count as things prohibited from being dumped on public property. There are exceptions to these rules with regards to graffiti on public property in which a person can get authorization from the City of Montreal, presumably to make room for artists to beautify the city with murals and other works of art.

The new by-law takes penalties for littering even further, with punishments for throwing garbage and other forms of waste on public property ranging from sixty to a hundred dollars for a first offense. That means that the seemingly mundane act of throwing your coffee cup or cigarette packet on the ground could land you a hefty fine if you’re caught. Fines for a second offense range from a hundred to three hundred dollars, and for every subsequent offense it’s a fine of three hundred to a thousand dollars.

Recently, the City of Montreal has also opted to crack down on the use of wood burning fireplaces. Montreal is one of the oldest cities in Canada so the presence of houses with indoor fireplaces is inevitable. Unfortunately, they’re dirty and polluting and studies show that they don’t actually warm your house that much.

In 2017 the City of Montreal adopted the By-law Concerning Solid Fuel Burning Devices and Fireplaces. Under the new by-law those in possession of fireplaces or other solid fuel burning devices may not use them in Montreal as of October 2018 unless they are certified to emit no more than 2.5g/hr of fine particulate matter into the atmosphere.

The fines for use of fireplaces after the deadline range from a hundred to five dollars for a first offense, five hundred to a thousand dollars for a second offense, and a thousand to two thousand dollars for every subsequent offense.

The by-law does however allow for exceptions in cases of major power outages and other natural disasters in which a fireplace may be the only source of heat. The rules also do not apply to devices used for food preparation – so charcoal barbeques are fine, as well as for commercial use or in places where authorization to install such a device in a building for commercial use was authorized. Those with fireplaces have the option to either stop using it, or have it replaced and declare it to the City.

In order to face jail time for polluting, the offense has to be quite severe. For example, anyone who, as per the Criminal Code, “makes a device or possesses, uses, transfers, exports, imports, alters or disposes of nuclear material, radioactive material or a device or commits an act against a nuclear facility or an act that causes serious interference with or serious disruption of its operations,” with intent to cause death, serious bodily harm, or substantial damage to property or the environment is facing life in prison if found guilty.

Laws punishing polluters are in place for a reason. Pollution not only tarnishes the beauty of our city, but it makes the environment you live in less healthy, putting all of us at risk. Until we come up with cleaner, more sustainable ways to do things, we need to keep these laws in place and think twice before littering.

Gun control is a hot button issue right now thanks to thousands of kids in the US. On March 24th, 2018, high schoolers, parents, and teachers across America took the trauma of surviving or hearing about school shootings and turned it into righteous anger at the people who govern them. They marched on Washington in numbers that made the Orange Egotist’s inauguration look like a One Direction concert on a school night.

The demands of the marchers were simple ones: stop taking money from people who value guns over lives. Make assault weapons less accessible to those who want to turn their anger on the world around them. Stop ranting about the importance of child safety while doing nothing to ensure it.

They recognize that their government is too well compensated by the gun-obsessed losers in the US and that dramatic action is needed. They want background checks, and licensing, and all sorts of other measures to ensure that dangerous people do not get access to guns.

What they are asking for is what we Canadians consider to be the bare minimum. On March 21, 2018, federal Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale introduced Bill C 71 which would beef up Canada’s existing gun control legislation.

This article is going to give you a crash course on gun control in Canada, specifically with regards to individual rights to gun possession.

Gun control is governed primarily by two laws: The Canadian Firearms Act and the Canadian Criminal Code. They define different kinds of weapons under Canadian law and set out rules regarding which weapons are legal in Canada and under what circumstances.

The Canadian Criminal Code defines a weapon as anything used, designed to be used, or intended for use in causing the death or injury to any person, or for the purpose of intimidating them. This includes firearms and anything used, designed to be used, or intended to be used to bind or tie someone up against their will.

That said, not all weapons in Canada require a license.

Only firearms, prohibited firearms, restricted firearms and weapons, and prohibited devices require a license under Canadian law.

A prohibited firearm is any handgun with a barrel equal to or less than 105mm in length and is designed to discharge a 25 or 32 caliber bullet. Prohibited firearms also include sawed off shotguns and automatic weapons.

Prohibited weapons include switchblades or any other knife with a blade that can open via hand pressure to a button or other mechanism, as well as any other weapon considered prohibited but which is not a firearm.

A prohibited device includes any part of or accessory to a weapon that is considered prohibited. It also includes handgun barrels equal to or less 105mm in length, with an exception allowed for competitive sport shooting weapons required by the rules of the International Shooting Union. Anything used to silence, muffle, or stop the report of a firearm is also considered a prohibited device.

A restricted firearm includes any handgun not considered a prohibited firearm and has a barrel less than 470 mm in length. It also has to be capable of discharging ammunition in a semi automatic way.

Restricted weapons are any weapon considered as such that is not a firearm. Crossbows generally fall into this category (apologies to any medieval weapon enthusiasts).

In order to have access to any such weapons, you have to apply for a licence as per the Federal Firearms Act. You are considered ineligible for a licence if in the interests of the safety it is best you not possess a weapon or ammunition.

It is generally up the chief firearms officer named by the Federal Public Safety Minister or a provincial court judge to decide eligibility. In determining applications for licenses, they generally look at the following criteria and whether or not these apply over the last five years prior to the application:

  • Have you ever been convicted of or received a discharge for offenses in which violence against a person was attempted, used, or threatened?
  • Have you ever been convicted of or received a discharge for firearms or other weapons offenses?
  • Have you ever been convicted of criminal harassment?
  • Have you ever been convicted of certain drug related offenses?
  • Have you ever been treated at a hospital, mental health institute, or psychiatric clinic for a mental illness that was associated with threatened or attempted violence (this fact is looked at regardless of whether or not an applicant was confined at the aforementioned treatment facilities)?
  • Is there is a court mandated prohibition order barring you from possession a weapon?

Once these criteria are assessed, a person must successfully undergo the “Canadian Firearms Safety Course” for the class of weapon for they want a license for and pass the corresponding exam. They also must fill out forms and provide character references.

The more dangerous the weapon for which a license is being requested, the more likely the references will be checked. Firearms themselves have to be registered with the Firearms Registrar.

It must be noted that the Firearms Act does have exceptions including those rights guaranteed as per existing aboriginal or treaty rights.

Bill C 71 proposes a few changes to the Canadian Firearms Act and the Criminal Code.

The new law proposes to do away with the five-year limit on criteria for licenses set out in the Firearms Act. It also requires that any firearms seized by or surrendered to peace officers due to a prohibition order be automatically forfeited to the Crown unless the order specifies otherwise. The remaining rules pertain primarily to grandfather clauses written into the Firearms Act in order to protect those legally possessing firearms at the time the law was put into force.

If the law is passed, C 71 will come into force in the summer of 2018. The law is likely to pass because unlike the leaders to the south, Canadians care about protecting each other from gun violence.

* Featured image by Steve Rainwater via Wikimedia Commons

Endangered species are a pet cause for many and a nuisance for many others. Social media is regularly flooded with a barrage of memes, online petitions, and articles about species on the brink of extinction due to natural or man-made causes. On March 9th, Quebec’s caribou population came into the spotlight when the Couillard government announced that they would not spend money to save them in Val D’Or.

According to the provincial Minister of Forests, Wildlife, and Parks Luc Blanchette, it would cost seventy six million dollars over the next fifty years to protect the habitat of caribou in the region. The caribou in the area have been on steady decline since the 1950s due to the logging industry.

The government had originally planned to move the remaining animals to a zoo in 2016 but that idea was withdrawn when environmental groups pointed out that the animals would not survive in captivity. The government has deemed saving them too expensive, so instead the government plans to focus on saving other caribou herds in the province.

As it stands, Canada’s caribou are considered endangered under Canada’s Species at Risk Act (SARA). While it is tragic that the animal that adorns our coinage is at risk, this article is not about them. It is about endangered species in Canada and what rules are in place at the federal and provincial levels to ensure their survival.

Sadly, protecting endangered species is not a simple matter in Canada, and we partly have the federalist system to blame. According to the articles of our constitution specifying federal and provincial jurisdictions, all waterways and marine life matters as well as land not claimed by the provinces are federal, whereas the management and sale of public lands in provincial territory, the exploration of non-renewable natural resources, and “the development, conservation and management of non-renewable natural resources and forestry resources in the province” are provincial. In cases where there is a jurisdictional conflict, the federal government takes precedence.

The current federal law to protect endangered species is the aforementioned Species at Risk Act which was enacted in 2002, though some of its provisions only came into effect in subsequent years. The main goal of the act is to prevent species from becoming extirpated or extinct. Extirpated as per the act means that the species is no longer found in Canada and “extinct” means the species no longer exists at all.

It has jurisdiction only over federal land, aquatic species, and migratory birds. Federal land only makes up about four percent of provincial land in Canada and even then, only areas classified as Critical Habitat are protected under the law. The federal act allows species to be classified as “at risk” or “not at risk” with assessments done by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada.

The Committee consists of experts, academia, politicians and aboriginal representatives and has the task of assessing the status of Canadian wildlife species; their recommendations for the classification of a given species are then passed on to the federal government. Their science-based findings are publicly available.

Once the Committee has classified a species, it must do a reassessment every ten years to see if the ones at risk are still at risk. The criteria they use are those established by the United Nations’ Red List for critically endangered, endangered and vulnerable species.

According to Environment Canada’s website, as of 2017 there are currently five hundred and twenty-one species of plants and animals classified under the Species At Risk Act as being at risk of extinction or extirpation in Canada. Once the Committee has established those at risk, it’s up to the government to decide whether or not to adapt their action plan to save a species by introducing measures such as incentives to support people helping to protect species at risk, awards and recognition programs, public awareness programs, and protecting habitats.

In Quebec, endangered species fall under the Act Respecting Threatened or Vulnerable Species. It mandates the Minister of Sustainable Development, the Environment and the Fight Against Climate Change to carry out research regarding species that need protection or whose habitats need protection, establish programs to promote their survival, and delegate and enter into agreements with the people they delegate to in order to implement these measures. The Minister can also, with the government’s assent, lease or acquire land by expropriation for the protection and management of threatened or vulnerable plant species.

For those of you unfamiliar with expropriation, it is the process by which the government decides to take land for itself by offering the owner(s) compensation based on what the property is valued at. The value of the land is determined by government appraisers. In cases where the owner feels the indemnity they are offered is insufficient, they will often turn to private appraisers and attorneys to seek fairer compensation.

Several private appraisers in Montreal told me that this is quite common, and in some cases cities will even halt development on a given parcel of privately owned land for ecological reasons, resulting in them being sued for “disguised expropriation”. It is in this respect, among others, that endangered species protections can be a nuisance for some.

The Quebec government can also be gifted or left land in a will for the sake of protecting vulnerable species.

It is up to the aforementioned Minister of Sustainable Development, the Environment and the Fight Against Climate Change and the Minister of Forests, Wildlife and Parks to come up with a list of threatened or vulnerable species in Quebec, how they should be identified, and where they are located.

The law does have exceptions and allows for parties to act in spite of it if an exemption is written into government regulations, if activities are carried out in accordance with government standards, the activity is required for educational or scientific purposes, or if activities are being carried out to repair damage caused by a catastrophe or to prevent it.

The government, like those who adopt it as a pet cause, recognizes the importance of protecting Canada’s vulnerable species as part of the fight against climate change. Let’s keep electing governments that continue to do so.

* Featured image by By Mickael Brangeon(Peupleloup) via WikiMedia Commons

One of the cornerstones of any liberal democracy is a judiciary that is independent, fair, and free from bias. Unfortunately, judges are human beings and therefore vulnerable to having the same prejudices many of us have.

An ideal government will name judges that can separate their own preconceptions from what is fundamentally right and legal in rendering their decisions. Unfortunately, this is not what happened in the case of former Alberta judge Robin Camp, and it is clearly not what happened in the case of Judge Eliana Marengo.

Her story is one that shows the dangers of aggressive Quebec Islamaphobia and racism masquerading as legal secularism.

In February 2015, Rania El-Alloul went to court to get her car back after it had been seized by the SAAQ. The issue was a simple one, but Judge Marengo turned a molehill into a mountain by refusing to hear El-Alloul’s case unless she took off her headscarf, inappropriately comparing the hijab to hats and sunglasses which are not permitted in court.

El-Alloul was not wearing a headscarf. She was wearing a hijab mandated by her faith, which she politely told the judge. Judge Marengo in a recording of the proceedings said that the court is a secular space, mentioning that there is no cross on the wall of the courtroom. She then reprimanded El-Alloul, refusing to hear her case because she was “not suitably dressed” as per the regulations of the Court of Quebec.

As there is no record of Judge Marengo denying others their day in court due to them wearing visible crosses, clergy collars, or a kipa, it is most likely she refused El-Alloul because she is Muslim.

Judge Marengo gave El-Alloul two options, she could take off her “headscarf” or request a postponement and consult a lawyer. El-Alloul refused to remove it and thus far, her case has yet to be heard.

When the story broke, numerous complaints were made to the Quebec Conseil de la Magistrature (“the Council”), the organization responsible for disciplining provincially appointed judges in Quebec. The complaints came not just from El-Alloul herself, but from many others unrelated to the case who felt the judge’s conduct was inappropriate of her high office.

Prime Justin Trudeau expressed his disapproval of Marengo on Twitter, saying:

In February 2016, the Council decided to form a committee to investigate Judge Marengo’s conduct. Marengo, for her part, tried to block the investigation into her conduct by challenging the legitimacy of the Council itself. She claimed that the refusal to hear El-Alloul amounted to a judicial decision that must be addressed in an appeal and that to investigate her via the Council would be a violation of judicial independence.

Fortunately, the Superior Court of Quebec sided with Council the following year. Marengo appealed the decision but the Quebec Court of Appeal agreed with the Superior Court.

An investigation into Judge Marengo’s conduct is now underway or will be soon.

How exactly does the Quebec Conseil de la Magistrature work?

It’s a lot like the Canadian Judicial Council responsible for investigating federal judges.

In addition to administrative duties and a general responsibility to improve the justice system in the province, the Quebec Conseil de la Magistrature is responsible for investigating the conduct of judges sitting on the Court of Quebec, the Professions Tribunal, and the Human Rights Tribunal. It has 16 members consisting of eleven judges, one justice of the peace, two lawyers, and two members of the general public.

They generally conduct investigations in response to complaints filed with them. Complaints to the Quebec Council can be filed online via their website.

Like their federal counterpart, the Conseil cannot overturn judicial decisions or verdicts as those have to go through the appeals process. All the Quebec Council can do is reprimand a judge or in the worst cases, recommend to the government that the judge be removed from the bench. In their investigations, the Council must consider the Judicial Code of Ethics, a set of rules governing the behavior of judges in Quebec.

Judge Marengo will likely be investigated with regards to whether her conduct violated articles two and eight of the Judicial Code of Ethics which have been used to reprimand the racist behavior of judges in the past. They read as follows:

  • 2. The judge should perform the duties of his office with integrity, dignity and honour.
  • 8. In public, the judge should act in a reserved, serene and courteous manner.”

Judge Eliana Marengo’s behavior towards Rania El-Alloul was unacceptable. Not only did it deny an innocent woman her day in court, but it is also against the values of diversity and freedom from discrimination Quebec supposedly embraces.

Here’s hoping the Council agrees.

* Featured image of the Palais de Justice in Montreal by Jeangagnon via Wikimedia Commons

Protesters in Montreal are no longer required to provide a route to police. The Quebec Superior Court invalidated section 2.1 of Municipal Bylaw P-6 which was added at the height of the Maple Spring student protests in 2012 by then-Mayor Gerald Tremblay.

Over the past few years, Montreal Police (SPVM) used this provision to kettle and ticket protesters and to stop marches minutes after they started. The annual Anti-Police Brutality March being a frequent target.

The Quebec Superior Court had already invalidated Section 3.2 of the bylaw, the provision banning masks at protests, back in 2016. In the same ruling, the court put some restrictions on 2.1, but didn’t eliminate it entirely.

Not content with a partial victory, the plaintiffs, which included protest mascot Anarchopanda, decided to appeal. Today they won and the problematic parts of P-6 are gone and the court’s decision is effective immediately.

“Let’s not forget that this victory belongs to our comrades who take to the streets and risk police and judicial repression to fight for all our rights,” Sibel Ataogul, one of the lawyers fighting the appeal said in a Facebook post, adding: “Despite victories, judiciarisation is not the solution. Only the struggle pays.”

* Featured image by Chris Zacchia

It must be said that there is no issue more personal than that regarding our health care and family planning choices. It must also be said that in a country that constitutionally recognizes the equality of men and women, the choice of family planning method – which could include abstinence, the pill, condoms, IUDs, or abortion – is NOBODY’s business but the person directly affected by them.

Our government is responsible for upholding the constitution, which includes making sure that groups that do not recognize people’s constitutional right to make their own decisions regarding their healthcare will not get public funds. The Canadian federal government has made this clear via their recent announcement regarding the Canada Summer Jobs Program (CSJ).

The Canada Summer Jobs Program is an initiative by the federal government to encourage employers to take on summer students at the secondary and post-secondary levels by offering to subsidize the students’ wages for them.

The subsidy works for public and private employers as well as non-profit organizations and small businesses and has several priorities including the supporting employers who hire students from underrepresented groups such indigenous Canadians, the disabled, and visible minorities, and those that support opportunities in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) for women. Applications for the subsidies must be made by potential employers, though recently the Trudeau government added an additional catch to the program’s requirements.

Those who apply to the CSJ program now have to attest that:

“Both the job and the organization’s core mandate respect individual human rights in Canada, including the values underlying the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms as well as other rights. These include reproductive rights and the right to be free from discrimination on the basis of sex, religion, race, national or ethnic origin, colour, mental or physical disability, sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.”

The federal government’s website adds the recognition that women’s rights are human rights and that their rights include “sexual and reproductive rights — and the right to access safe and legal abortions.”

This announcement was never meant to turn Canada into the next front in the battle between those that believe people have a right to their choices and those who do not. That issue was already settled in the early 90s when, following the Supreme Court striking down Canada’s abortion laws in 1988, the Senate voted against a new abortion law put before Parliament by the Mulroney government. Public opinion confirms this, for according to a 2017 Ipsos poll, 77 percent of respondents feel abortion should be permitted.

The announcement was simply meant to be a way to fix a subsidy issue after the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada published a report indicating that federal funding was going to anti-abortion groups in the summer of 2016. Federal Employment Minister Patty Hadju’s office then put out a statement apologizing for the oversight and stating that “no such organizations will receive funding from any constituencies represented by Liberal MPs.”

All the Trudeau government is doing is obeying the law by enforcing the gender equality statutes in the Canadian Charter of Rights by making anyone who does not conform to them ineligible for Federal funding.

It is Conservatives who have turned this minor subsidy issue into a religious crusade about abortion. The fiasco that followed is not an ideological debate about religious freedom but rather the result of some groups’ anger at losing government money they feel they are entitled to.

Organizations like The Southern Alberta Bible Camp who have publicly said “we don’t believe abortion is right” stand to lose about $40 000 in subsidy money if they refuse to sign the aforementioned attestation.

Conservative leader Andrew Scheer has accused the Prime Minister – a self-proclaimed “proud feminist”- of imposing his views on faith groups. This is the same Andrew Scheer one of his supporters assured me would not take on abortion rights in Canada following his election to leadership of the party.

“I believe that the federal government should respect the freedoms that Canadians enjoy to have different beliefs and that by imposing personal values of Justin Trudeau on a wide variety of groups is not an appropriate way to go,” Scheer has said.

The government has not said that groups that openly condemn abortion and LGBTQ2 groups cannot operate in Canada. As per our religious freedoms and right to freedom of speech guaranteed in the constitution, they can do as they please within reasonable limits prescribed by law. All the federal government has done is said that they cannot get government money to hire young people to help them do it.

Since the Conservatives have turned this into an abortion issue, let’s look at those that claim to believe in women’s equality and still be pro-life.

Despite the claim of many conservatives, one cannot recognize the constitutional right of women’s equality to men and be pro-life at the same time. It is not feminism these self-proclaimed “pro-life feminists” are embracing, but rather benevolent sexism.

The reason is this: the most secular anti-abortion arguments rest on the unspoken notion that women are not strong enough, mature enough, or intelligent enough to make their own decisions regarding their reproductive health. They are welcome to every freedom men have, except with regards to their deeply personal reproductive choices. ]

They will use arguments about sex selective abortions to make this point, while completely ignoring the numbers and whether or not the procedure was necessary to save the woman’s life. It is the same kind of benevolently sexist argument the most vicious secularists make in Quebec when trying to force Muslim women to stop wearing the hijab or niqab: the infantilizing argument that presumes that no woman is capable of making such a decision of her own free will but rather makes difficult decisions out of selfishness, impulsivity, or external pressure.

It is a notion that must be recognized for what it is: a contradiction of the notion of gender equality entrenched in Canadian law.

Those who stand to lose funds as a result of this will be doing so because their mandate does not fit with that of the Canadian government. We also need to ask how much the federal government will be checking up on those who do sign the attestation.

Is this an administrative rubber stamp where people can attest to one thing and do another? Or will the federal government take steps to make sure that those who do get the funds stay true to their attestation?

Without any sort of checks, the attestation is meaningless.

If it is meaningless, then groups who really want to the money to hire a student to distribute photos of fetuses outside clinics should have no trouble signing it.