charlotte

Forty-four hours after the police shot and killed another person of colour, Charlotte (North Carolina) is under a state of emergency. One man is on life support and the mayor is raising the possibility of imposing a curfew amidst calls for peace and demands fo22-09-1r answers.

It all started Tuesday with a despairingly familiar scenario: a police officer fatally shot a 43 year old black man named Keith Lamont Scott for questionable reasons. Police claim that the man had a handgun that he was refusing to drop. Eyewitnesses claim that Scott was only holding a book and that he tried to get out of his truck with his hands up.

Tuesday: Shooting and Mass Protests

One thing is undisputed: it ended with Keith Lamont Scott being shot four times at 3:54 PM. The shots were fired by Brentley Vinson, a black officer of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police.

Family and eyewitnesses soon took to social media to spread their version of the events. Three hours later, people were already taking to the streets and demanding justice.

Three hours and 45 minutes after the shooting, police stated that the protest was turning violent, and that one officer was injured while trying to de-escalate a situation.

The Mayor of Charlotte, Jennifer Roberts, issued a first statement urging the community to stay calm. A few minutes later, she issued another one to announce a full investigation into the shooting of Keith Lamont Scott, saying that the community deserves answers.

Around 11 PM, police ordered the crowd to disperse and deployed tear gas. Clashes with police continued throughout the night. A group of protesters shut down Interstate 85. Different sources report rocks thrown at police cars, two trucks looted, and two fires started.

However, even the Mayor said that the mass protest, in a park, was peaceful. The rioting and looting that happened near the interstate and downtown was the doing of a small group of agitators.

Wednesday Morning: A Gun or a Book?

On Wednesday morning, CMPD Chief Kerr Putney held a press conference to share the police’s conclusion. Officers approached Scott while they were trying to execute an arrest warrant for someone else. Putney said that Scott exited his vehicule, then got back into it before coming out with a gun in his hand and ignored orders to drop it as he advanced towards police officers.

“The officers gave loud, clear verbal commands that were also heard by many of the witnesses […] to drop the weapon,” claimed Putney. “Despite the verbal commands, Mr. Scott exited the vehicle as the officers continued to yell at him to drop it. He stepped out, posing a threat to the officers, and Officer Brentley Vinson subsequently fired his weapon, striking the subject.”

The CMPD (Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department) recovered a gun at the scene and insists there was no book. Later in the day, a photo of the crime scene where a gun can be seen reached the media. The source of the photo is unclear, but the initial tweet of a local reporter says it’s from CMPD.

The family of the victim is convinced that this is not how it happened. They say Keith Lamont Scott was a disabled father of seven children, well-known and liked in his community. They believe he “wouldn’t have it in him to hurt a policeman.” According to them, he was sitting in his truck and reading while he waited for the school bus to drop his kids off.

Witness Tahesha Williams says she saw Scott get out of the truck unarmed with his hands up.

Wednesday Night: State of Emergency

Peaceful protests rapidly degenerated. One man ended up on life support and the city was put under state of emergency.

Around 7 PM, on Wednesday, Scott’s wife addressed the protesters, encouraging them to keep the peace: “Please do not hurt people or members of law enforcement, damage property or take things that don’t belong to you.”

Two dozen people reportedly sat silently for a while in front of a Bank of America building, holding up Black Lives Matter signs. A peaceful crowd of men, women and children gathered in Marshall Park before marching through the city. You can read a detailed account of the night in Charlotte Magazine. However the atmosphere easily tipped into chaos. Tear gas and explosives joined the game before 8 PM.

At 8:30 PM, someone was shot somewhere near North College and East Trade streets. The city soon tweeted that the shooting was “civilian on civilian. CMPD did not fire shot.” The victim is currently on life support.

One eyewitness, Minister Steve Knight of Missiongathering Christian Church in Charlotte, shared his skepticism: “It was an ambush. The victim was shot while he stood between two ministers, and we believe he was shot by police. We would like to see surveillance video from the surrounding area that may have captured the shooting to determine who was responsible for the shooting.”

Later that night, while police used rubber bullets to disperse protesters, the Governor Pat McCrory declared a State of Emergency. He dispatched the National Guard and State Highway Patrol troopers to help local law enforcement.

Gov. McCrory had very harsh words for the protesters since the first night. Incidentally, he also recently passed a law to restrict viewing of police body cam and dash cam recordings. Essentially, he signed off on a bill to take police recordings off public records, effectively allowing law enforcement to keep them from media or citizens.

Now

Thanks to this, the dash cam footage of Scott’s death will probably never be publicly released. Chief Putney said that they would try to accommodate the family’s request to see it, but that he had no intention of releasing it “to the masses.”

“Transparency’s in the eye of the beholder,” he said on Thursday. “If you think we should display a victim’s worst day for public consumption, that is not the transparency I’m speaking of.”

He also warned that the recording did not definitely show Scott holding a gun.

Also on Thursday, Mayor Roberts appeared on ABC news to convey three messages: the city is fine and open for business (do not panic), the majority of protesters was peaceful (we’re on your side) and the possibility of imposing a curfew will be discussed (yes, we can do that because of the State of Emergency).

“A peaceful protest, and many folks do want to express their views peacefully, turned into something else last night,” said Roberts.

The Department of Justice just sent four members of their Community Relations Service to Charlotte. Attorney General Loretta Lynch gave a press conference this morning, assuring that they were “monitoring the matter” and that they were looking into the circumstances of Keith Lamont Scott’s death.

* Featured image: CNN screengrab

graham-james-released

On September 15, 2016 Graham James, the former junior hockey coach convicted of sexually assaulting players he coached in the nineties was granted full parole after seven years in prison. His victims included retired NHL stars Theo Fleury and Sheldon Kennedy, whom James repeatedly assaulted by abusing his position as coach. Though James has admitted that he cannot change his attraction to young people, he has promised never to put himself in a position where he can hurt kids again.

The courts are doing their best to make sure he keeps his promise for the terms of his parole include no contact with anyone under the age of eighteen, no contact with the victims or their families, and he’s not allowed to work in any job or profession involving minors.

We all know that Graham James is a pedophile who probably should have remained in some form of incarceration for the rest of his life.

This article isn’t about him.

It’s about the laws protecting Canada’s young from sexual assault.

The laws against sexually assaulting minors are found in the Canadian Criminal Code and come in two forms. The first are laws themselves, the second are as circumstances in which the penalty for the crime increases if the victim is under the age of consent.

As per the Canadian Criminal Code, the age of consent is sixteen years old. Anyone under that age cannot legally consent to sexual activity.

Anyone who for a sexual purpose, touches directly or indirectly or with an object, a part of the body of someone under the age of consent is committing a crime and looking at a minimum sentence of one year in jail and a maximum of fourteen years. The same penalty applies to anyone who invites, counsels, or incites someone under sixteen to touch someone’s body part for sexual purposes. It also applies if a person touches or incites someone under under the age of sixteen to engage in sexual touching when he or she is in a position of authority and the young person is in a dependent position or where the nature of the relationship could be construed as exploitative. The only possibility of a lesser sentence is if the offender gets a summary conviction, which is considered less serious and reduces the sentence to a minimum of ninety days and a maximum of two years.

The Criminal Code also protects minors from bestiality. Bestiality in the presence of someone under sixteen or inciting someone under sixteen to commit bestiality is punishable by a maximum sentence of fourteen years and a minimum one year in jail. Once again, there is the possibility of being tried on summary conviction in which case the person will face a minimum ninety days or a maximum of two years.

For exposing oneself to a minor the penalties are a lot lighter. Exposing oneself consists of flashing your genitals to someone under the age of sixteen and will get the offender up to two years in prison or a minimum ninety days in jail. If the offender is lucky enough to get a summary conviction, he or she is looking at a minimum of thirty days or a maximum of six months.

Sexual Assaults are where the age of victim will increase the sentence for the crime. If the victim is over sixteen, the maximum sentence is only ten years. If the victim is under sixteen, it’s the same fourteen years maximum and minimum one year as for other sexual offenses involving minors. If a weapon or something used as a weapon was part of the assault, the fact that the victim was under sixteen takes the penalty from a maximum of fourteen years to a life sentence.

Defenses for sex crimes against minors are limited.

Unlike adult sex crime cases, an offender cannot claim the victim consented to the activity if the victim is less than sixteen years old. There is an exception to this, however, in the case of accusations of touching or inciting to touch or exposing genitals for sexual purposes.

If the victim is over fourteen years old but under sixteen and the accused is less than five years older and not in a position of authority or any other exploitative relationship with the person, he or she can claim the person consented. Someone who did any of those things at the age of twelve or thirteen cannot even be accused of the crime unless the person was in a position of trust or authority towards the victim.

It is NOT a defense to argue that the accused believed the victim was sixteen or more at the time of the activity unless the accused took “reasonable steps” to find out the age of the victim. The attempt to use this as a defense comes up a lot in Men’s Rights’ Activist discourse when jerks try to get out of a rape charge by claiming that because the victim had fully developed boobs and was wearing makeup, the rapist had every right to think the activity was legal.

The laws and judicial practices when it comes to rape in Canada need an overhaul.

If you have any doubts, look at the language used in the Canadian Criminal Code. In the section on sexual assault, the victim is always referred to as a “complainant”. While in legalese, the word means a plaintiff in legal cases, to laymen the word starts with “complain”. Since language shapes the way we think, using a word like that to describe a victim creates the unconscious belief that rape victims are not victims but complainers.

No matter the age, a rape victim is just that, a VICTIM, and despite what a certain judge in Alberta would have you believe, it’s NEVER, EVER the victim’s fault.

* Featured image: Graham James released from prison

20-09-3

Forty police officers will be equipped with body cameras this autumn in the Montreal boroughs of Montréal-Nord, Plateau Mont-Royal and Lachine. This is the second phase of the SPVM’s portable camera pilot project.

The first phase saw around 30 SPVM agents wearing body cams in public locations (mostly in the metro) where they frequently intervened in civil violations.

The pilot project is a test run, limited in numbers and time. According to Journal Métro, an unspecified number of officers will wear body cameras starting September 29th and 12 officers in Montréal-Nord will do the same as of October 15th. Lachine is also going to participate.

The total number of officers involved in the project will be around forty. All cameras will be removed in February 2017. The SPVM will then proceed to public consultations to hear what citizens think of the experiment.

Police organizations hope that the installation of body cameras will provide court evidence and give a fuller picture than the “partial” videos circulating on social media. Those who are worried by police abuse hope it will improve accountability and transparency in law enforcement.

The Minister of Public Safety approved the project and officially designated the SPVM as the leader of the pilot experiment for the province, according to the SPVM’s website. In other words, the results will be communicated to the Ministry of Public Safety and possibly serve as inspiration for similar projects across the province.*

How it works

The SPVM officers with body cameras will be identified by special badges. They also must verbally warn people that they are being filmed as soon as possible.  Officers can deactivate or deviate the camera at the demand of a person who wants to protect her privacy, but they are under no obligation to do so.

Footage of an intervention will be accessible to courts and to the police officers, once they have submitted their general report about the filmed intervention. Any person or media who wants to see the footage can make a demand through the provincial Access to Information law.

The cameras will not be rolling the entire time. The officers wearing them will be responsible for starting the recording when the “rules of engagement are met”, which means before an intervention. The SPVM website says that the deactivation of the camera should be an exceptional measure only, but there is no clear rule about what constitutes an exceptional situation. A spokesperson for the SPVM, contacted by phone, specified that strip-searches will never be filmed. Officers can also choose to stop recording in order to de-escalate a conflict with a subject who doesn’t want to be filmed. Although there is no formal rule, “the key words to take into consideration are the dignity and vulnerability of the citizens”.*

Available data and the importance of correct usage

Although this is the first initiative of the sort in the province, similar projects were implemented elsewhere in Canada, while some American police forces have adopted body cameras on a definitive basis.

The city of Victoria in BC started the first Canadian project in 2009. Toronto Police have been running one for just about a year and used their experience to give a few pointers to the SPVM.

Calgary also started a pilot project in November, with the confessed ambition of becoming the first Canadian city whose police force is fully equipped with body cameras. However, Calgary’s enthusiasm and program were cut short due to equipment problems and concerns over its cost.

The cost of the equipment remains one of the major concerns for all cities. Toronto estimates that getting body cams on roughly 3000 officers could cost around $85 million over 10 years.

Despite this, the projects have all yielded some very positive results. Research across US and Canada showed that cameras seem to reduce violence from both citizens and police officers. In some cases, the usage of force by police decreased by 60% when they were wearing the cams.

A study published in September 2015 examined 3 698 field reports in Mesa, Arizona to compare the situations with body cameras and situations with no body cameras. They found that officers with cams performed fewer Stop-and-Frisks and fewer arrests, but initiated interaction with citizens more often than their counterparts.

Researchers at Cambridge and RAND Europe brought an important nuance to the positive results with a study on 2122 officers across the U.S. and U.K.

Their results were puzzling as they seemed to associate the use of body cameras with an increase in violent interactions. However deeper analysis revealed that the increase in violence was associated with officers using the cameras at their own discretion.

The officers were instructed to keep the cameras on at all times and to immediately warn subjects that they were filmed. When those rules were followed, use of force decreased by 37% on average.  When they weren’t, the use of force was significantly more frequent than when there was no camera at all.

Recent laws around the accessibility of these footage have also raised concerns. As this WIRED article nicely explains, filming police but not allowing the public to see the footage is becoming more and more frequent. That is not what transparency is.

In other words, body cameras work if their use is properly supervised and regulated. But leaving too much discretionary power to the officers wearing them can have the opposite effect.

Police officers want them

The Fraternité des Policiers de Montréal has been advocating for the use of body cameras since 2013.  The idea came in the aftermath of the student protests of 2012, when citizens started routinely filming police interventions. Many such videos made the rounds on social media, arousing public scrutiny and criticism of police methods.

Yves Francoeur, president of the Fraternité des Policiers de Montréal, had previously stated that his organization was “always favorable to this” since they would rather have their own footage then the “partially taken videos” often filmed on smart phones. Other groups of police officers, including the Quebec City Fraternity and the SQ syndicate, have expressed their support for similar reasons.

The SPVM says that the project’s two primary goals are increasing the transparency of police interventions and ameliorating the public’s trust in the police service.

* The article was updated after SPVM’s public relations team called back with additional information on September 21st.

stm

For over a decade, the primary focus of the Montreal Transit System (STM)’s security efforts has been to catch and fine fare dodgers. Yesterday, one of their main tactics was ruled to be a human rights violation.

You may have seen them. Groups of security guards trying their best to come across as a paramilitary unit standing in Metro stations.

They’re not doing that to stop harrassment of women passengers, assault or other real crimes that happen in the metro. Sure, they can do something if any of those situations occur, but the STM’s track record on those issues isn’t that great. Ask yourself: do you feel safer knowing that the person next to you on the Metro platform isn’t some violent creep or that they paid $3.25 to get to where they are standing?

The main reason the guards are there isn’t for passenger security. It isn’t even for the STM’s financial security. They’re not trying to catch fare jumpers in the act. They want to catch them when they leave the train and fine them for not having a proof of payment (some form of active buspass in an Opus card or a ticket).

This isn’t to prevent fare jumping, it’s to capitalize off of it. STM Security is no longer primarily a security force, they’ve become a revenue-generating collection agency. Is it any wonder these so-called security stops occur frequently in Metro stations that serve poorer neighbourhoods?

They board busses, too, checking everyone’s receipt (I guess we can call it that, they do). It’s supposed to be random, but I’ve experienced it twice on the same bus route, the 129 heading east from the Cote-St-Catherine area. I’ve never experienced it on the 24 just having passed through Westmount.

Recently, the STM implemented the “honour system” as a pilot project on the 121 route which travels along Côte-Vertu. All the bus doors open (these are long accordion buses) and you can get on without pinging your pass or ticket. While this is a good idea, how long do you think it will be before this honour system route becomes the main recipient of STM “Security” inspections (if it isn’t already)?

Violation of Human Rights

For me, and probably for many other transit users who did pay, proving your payment to “security” is annoying, especially if there is a risk of missing a connecting bus or metro because of the delay. It’s also a little bit intimidating. For those who did pay, but neglected to keep their ticket/receipt because they simply didn’t know the system, they could end up paying $100 or more.

For Municipal Court Judge Randall Richmond, it’s also a human rights violation as it doesn’t allow for the presumption of innocence. The judge ruled yesterday that the STM’s practice violated Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The STM’s lawyers had argued that this was similar to preventative arrests of drunk drivers, which is considered a justifiable violation of the Charter “in a free and democratic society”. Judge Richmond didn’t agree that drunk driving and fare jumping were equivalent offenses. Because they’re fucking not!

The STM is appealing the decision. Because, of course. This is the same organization that thinks skipping out on a three dollar fare or paying it but forgetting to keep that little piece of paper they give you is the same as risking the lives of people on the road. This is the same organization that thinks revenue generation is security.

A New Vision for the STM?

The STM has made some advances recently. I did enjoy my ride on the new Azur train and even experienced air conditioning on a bus. I understand that they need money to function, but their approach to getting that money is all wrong, in fact, their view of what they are is all wrong.

A public transit system is a public service. It can and should offer its riders nice things. It is not a for-profit business and should not be treated as such.

If public money is paying for the STM, the return on investment for us should not be in the form of more revenues going into public coffers. It should be in the form of better busses and metros, accessible to all, meeting the needs of the population, ideally free of charge for the rider, though that last part may take a while.

For the moment, I’d be happy with an approach to security that was focused on all passengers feeling and being safe, regardless of whether or not they paid. What we’ve got for now is only designed to make us feel on edge.

coderre-cut-the-mic

Some politicians are fortunate enough, or charismatic enough, to have their own Mic Drop moment. The kind of no-nonsense moment they will be remembered for fondly. Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre, on the other hand, just had a Cut the Mic moment, literally.

It happened at a Ville Marie Borough Council meeting. Thanks to Gerald Tremblay, the Mayor of Montreal is the defacto Mayor of the Ville Marie Borough as well, but that’s a story for another day.

Resident Kim Doucet was speaking out against Breed-Specific Legislation (BSL) and Coderre’s proposed ban on pit bulls. Members of the public are allowed to ask questions at council meetings and Doucet had already cleared it with Borough officials that she would deliver a statement, about a minute and a half in length, before getting to her question.

A little over a minute into her statement, this happened:

Predictably, people started sharing the video of what had happened. According to Radio-Canada, the video, through all the uploads on multiple platforms, was seen over 40 000 times. Coderre’s demand to “cut the mic” was amplified through the megaphone that is social media.

When Coderre took matters, and a jackhammer, into his own hands last year and decided to personally destroy the groundwork for one of Canada Post’s misguided Community Mailboxes, he came across as, well, kinda cool. When he was lowered into our sewer system to personally inspect raw sewage being sent directly to the St-Laurence, it came across as a damage control photo op. Now, ordering that Doucet’s mic be cut, he just looks like an asshole.

And a misguided one at that. Not only was Doucet following the rules of the council meeting, she was making a very good point about how BSL has never worked, a point Coderre didn’t want to hear. Well, she shared her full statement in a video, if you want to hear what the Mayor refused to.

It’s important that you do. Because, when the dust has settled, what are people going to remember? A soundbite that evokes Coderre’s lack of patience for people who disagree with him. The focus won’t be on his sheer populism at the expense of what a large chunk of the population he supposedly serves wants. It won’t be on his willful ignorance of the fact that Christiane Vadnais, the woman whose death caused this whole mess was probably not even killed by a pit bull.

No, we’ll be talking about Coderre being a dick to a citizen. By demanding that Doucet’s mic be cut, he has raised the volume considerably on his own lack of respect for the people he is supposed to serve. It’s up to the rest of us to make sure that the issue he was trying to silence doesn’t get drowned out in the process.

* FTB is currently conducting a poll on the proposed Montreal Pit Bull Ban and Breed-Specific Legislation. You can still vote.

dawson-college-maisonneuve-entrance

Today is the ten year anniversary of the Dawson Shooting. This may sound cliche, but I really can’t believe it has been a decade.

I remember exactly where I was when I first heard about it. I was in a dep, I won’t say which one to avoid linking them in any way to a tragedy.

I had the day off and was working on building a website. I was hungry and went in for a snack. They had the TV on.

I wouldn’t resume my project until the following evening. I turned on the TV when I got home and was glued to the coverage from that point on.

This wasn’t the first school shooting Montreal had survived. It also didn’t have the scope of mass tragedy that came with Polytechnique Massacre.

I was too young to fully comprehend Polytechnique when it happened, only that something terrible had occurred. But Dawson. I was a Dawson graduate.

I didn’t hang around the cafeteria when I was a student. I hung around Conrod’s and smoked cigarettes just outside the de Maisonneuve entrance.

The same spot where, on September 13, 2006, eight years and a few months after I graduated, Kimveer Gill would begin his shooting spree. A spree that would end with Gill dead by his own gun after being shot in the arm by police, 16 people injured, many more traumatized and 18 year old student Anastasia de Sousa tragically murdered.

It was very real for me. If this was a decade earlier, I would have been there. It was significantly more real for people who were there and lived through it directly. This includes some people I know now even thought I didn’t know them at the time.

This was something that happened not just in our city, but in our community. I’m sure quite a few people reading this either know someone who was there or were there themselves.

As with any school shooting there are broader issues that should be and were discussed at the time and still are being discussed, sadly, ten years later. People not getting the mental health services they need, while getting the semi-automatic weapons they absolutely shouldn’t have.

But this wasn’t just about the broader issues. This was, to me anyways, something that happened here. At a school I had attended and still walk past. I now live a few blocks from Dawson. I didn’t at the time of the shooting.

I remember getting stopped by Alexis Nihon security a few months after the shooting and asked what I was doing. Alexis Nihon Plaza is across the street from Dawson and is from where Gill planned his attack. I explained that I was simply passing through to catch a bus and that was that.

When I was stopped, I happened to be wearing a black shirt and black jeans, similar to what Gill was wearing under his black trenchcoat when he carried out the shooting. It occurred to me a while later that my unfortunate and unintentional wardrobe choice that day was the reason for my being stopped. I’m not a fan of profiling, but this time I got it. People were still on edge.

A major event had occurred across the street from where this security guard worked. Maybe he was on duty that day and still regretting not having done something to stop what had happened.

A few weeks ago, there was a news story about how there was finally a crosswalk leading from Alexis Nihon to Dawson’s de Maisonneuve entrance. At the time, I hardly gave it a second thought. But now, realizing that today is the anniversary, that small bit of urban planning news carries a huge symbolic weight: life, Dawson and the surrounding community continuing.

There was a ceremony today. The focus was on Dawson’s resilience as well as better gun laws. Events like this are important so people don’t forget. Somehow, I don’t think I or anyone I know ever will.

 

notley-at-stampede

Alberta officially started its path to reach a minimum salary of $15 an hour by 2018. The cabinet passed the legislation to launch the phased hike on Tuesday.  This surprisingly progressive move will make Alberta the province with the highest minimum wage in the country, and by far.

On October 1st, Alberta’s minimum salary will go from $11.20 to $12.20. It will rise to $13.60 in October 2017 and finally reach $15 on October 1st 2018.

The government has already reduced the gap between the general minimum wage and the one for servers and bartenders (these employees are generally paid less to compensate for the tip they receive) by half. The gap will be completely eliminated next month.

Premier Rachel Notley had promised to raise the minimum wage during last year’s provincial elections. She is now following through with it, despite backlash from business groups and other parties.

Unsurprisingly, detractors of the hike have predicted terrible consequences for the economy.  The opposition is convinced that unemployment will soar and small businesses will burn. Representatives of small businesses have launched a petition against the $15 wage. It should be noted that, despite popular beliefs, research has failed to prove a clear correlation between job losses and minimum wage hikes.

Notley’s party, the Alberta NDP, have relentlessly defended the hike as a necessity.

“Every Albertan should be able to afford rent, transportation and food. These increases will help insure that low wage earners can at least meet their basic needs,” said Labour Minister Christina Gray, when the plan was outlined in June.

There are approximately 305 000 Albertans currently living on minimal wage. According to the government’s numbers, almost two thirds of them are women. 44% have children under eighteen and 7% are single parents.

In 2015, 3.1% of Albertan workers were on minimum wage, but a much larger percentage, currently paid under $15 an hour, will be positively affected by the hike.

The proportion of workers on minimum wage is twice as high in Quebec.  In August, Minister of Finance Carlos Leitao made it very clear what he thought of raising the minimum wage. According to him, $10.75 is within the “advisable range” and the slight readjustment made every year for inflation is more than enough. “I don’t see why we would accelerate this process,” he declared to the Journal de Québec.

He was responding to Alexandre Taillefer, a businessman who gained notoriety through the TV show Les Dragons. Taillefer had called for a $15 minimum wage during the World Social Forum. Parti Québécois and Québec Solidaire are also supporting this idea.

*Featured image credited to Chris Schwartz, Government of Alberta

male-birth-control-pill

The male birth control pill. We hear about it all the time, but it never seems any closer to becoming a reality. A recent Google News search cropped up almost a million results. Headlines like A Male Birth Control Option Promises to Be Available Within 5 YearsMale contraceptive pill ‘a step closer’ to hitting market and Birth Control for Men-It’s Loooooong Overdue flood the page.

I get it, the logic behind a male birth control pill makes sense. The contraceptive burden shouldn’t fall entirely on women, men should have a more substantial stake in family planning, the more available and accessible options, the better. Makes sense.

In a perfect world, where gender-parity means more than Trudeau’s gender-balanced cabinet — a largely symbolic move that attracted more applause than it did actually address gender inequity in Parliament — male contraception might even translate into fewer unplanned pregnancies, safer sex, you name it.

But the problem with the conversation around contraception for men is mostly frustrating: it ignores the power imbalances and patriarchal structures that make legislation and policy around women’s health so important in the first place.

Something like 99 per cent of women in the United States have used birth control methods at least once in their lives. And guess what, Canada doesn’t even record statistics on women’s contraception usage. As recently as 2013, Canadian researchers had to use American statistics to estimate trends in contraception.

Don’t let our lack of statistical analysis fool you, Canadian women are certainly still accessing contraception. Last year alone, the sexual health clinic at the Middlesex-London Health Unit provided nearly 28 000 low-cost contraceptives, including upwards of 500 doses of emergency contraception. But despite widespread usage, provincial health plans still do not fully cover birth control, because Canada remains the only country in the world with healthcare that does not cover pharmaceuticals. Most women access birth control through supplemental health insurance, provided by employers.

A recent Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ) study found that most Canadian employers do not routinely cover the cost of contraception. Insurance coverage varies widely, and while some plans are comprehensive, there is no national standard for contraception coverage.

The Public Service Health Care Plan provides coverage for federal employees through Sun Life, but only covers oral contraceptives. The same plan provides up to $500 in reimbursement for erectile dysfunction drugs. Several plans omit birth control coverage altogether, including the supplemental insurance for employees of Save on Foods. For women without supplemental health coverage, especially women with precarious immigration status, the cost of unsubsidized birth control can be preventative.

The male birth control pill won’t do much to change that.

Why? Aside from the obvious legislative and policy implications, the real reason is that financial obstacles don’t just exist on the demand side of the equation. Birth control methods are expensive to research, develop, and test through clinical trials. And Big Pharma, an industry that spends over $635 million lobbying the United States Congress (which exceeds the amount spent by Wall Street and the oil and gas industry combined), hasn’t developed a new contraceptive method for women in decades.

Most of the new birth control methods available, like the IUD, were developed outside of the commercial sector and eventually bought by Big Pharma companies, who spent their money on marketing. In other words, the companies with the resources and finances to invest significant sums in women’s health prefer to sit back and wait until something pops up on the market that they can buy to expand their portfolios.

This is all to say that when healthcare in Canada finally provides some sort of comprehensive pharmacare plan, when Big Pharma starts spending more on developing better, more effective, and safer birth control options for women, when the Federal government starts to fully cover birth control, when all hospitals and schools are required to provide women and girls with access to birth control, then maybe we can start worrying about a male option.

Until then, the male birth control pill seems like just another way to put on our blinders, shirk our responsibility to ensure women have access to contraception, and, like always, turn our attention towards men.

* Featured image: YouTube

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The Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) has been in the news lately over its announcement to loosen the rules requiring Canadian television productions to have pre-dominantly Canadian talent. Despite the CRTC’s claim that allowing productions to have more foreign artists will open the door to new talent and have more International and Canadian co-productions, Canadian artists like the members of the Canadian Guild of Professional Screenwriters are criticizing the move as having long term negative financial and cultural repercussions for Canada and its artists.

To most of us, the CRTC is that annoying organization that issues fines and cuts Canadians off of those great Superbowl Ads. It’s the government body that keeps Canadians stuck with sometimes inferior quality TV shows due to Canadian Content requirements established by law that force networks to reserve a certain amount of airtime to Canadian productions, be they ads or shows.

But the CRTC is also the body that helped keep great shows like Royal Canadian Air Farce, Kids in the Hall, DaVinci’s Inquest, and Nikita on the air for as long as they were.

Why does the CRTC do this?

They are required by law.

The CRTC is the government body responsible for enforcing, among other things, the federal Broadcasting Act and Canada’s anti-spam laws.

The Broadcasting Act sets out the broadcasting rules and policy for all of Canada, specifically with regards to television, radio, and any other means of broadcasting programs and ads. According to the Act, Canada’s broadcasting policy includes that the Canadian broadcasting system be effectively owned by Canadians, that said system operate primarily in English and French, and defining the system as a public service for the purpose of maintaining and enhancing Canada’s national identity and cultural sovereignty.

The Broadcasting Act also says that the Canadian broadcasting system should “serve to safeguard, enrich and strengthen the cultural, political, social and economic fabric of Canada” by providing programming that reflects Canadian opinions, attitudes, ideas, and values.

According to the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission Act, The CRTC consists of a maximum of thirteen members named by the government for a term of five years with a possibility of re-appointment. Members have to work on the committee full time and cannot become a member of the CRTC if they are not Canadian citizens or ordinary residents of Canada.

They also cannot be named to the CRTC if they have a conflict of interest because they are involved in a telecommunications firm directly or indirectly as an owner, shareholder, director, officer, or partner OR if they have any financial interest in a telecommunications company or are involved in the sale or manufacture of telecommunications apparatus. The law does provide for an exception to the latter rule if the telecommunications stuff being sold is an incidental aspect of a retail or wholesale business which a potential member is involved in. Where a potential Commission member has a forbidden financial stake they can still be named to the CRTC provided they get rid of said stake within three months.

The current chairman of the CRTC is former Montreal lawyer Jean-Pierre Blais whose term ends in 2017.

In order for the CRTC to enforce Canada’s broadcasting policy, it has been granted various powers by the Broadcasting Act.

The main powers are control over who gets a broadcasting license and the ability to make regulations regarding everything from ensuring that Canadian programs and ads get a certain amount of airtime to setting what constitutes a Canadian program.

It’s their discretion over what constitutes a Canadian program that is now coming under fire. Canadian programs and co-productions are eligible for federal government money which by extension comes from Canadian taxpayers.

A production that does not qualify as Canadian as per the definition set out by the CRTC is not eligible for federal funds.

The current eligibility requirements for a production to count as Canadian are high, resulting in more Canadian screenwriters, actors, and directors hired for Canadian television shows. The CRTC’s proposal is to lower those requirements, opening the door to more non-Canadian talent at the expense of Canadian artists.

The obvious counter argument is that it should be the best person for the job, but if the law says that the goal of the Canadian broadcasting system is to work for the benefit of the Canadian people and present their point of view, government funds should go to productions that employ a lot of Canadians.

To do otherwise would result in the CRTC violating the very law that empowers it.

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The National Energy Board cannot be allowed to review any projects until it’s completely reformed, pleaded 50 organizations in a letter sent to the Prime Minister on Wednesday. Signatories argue that the NEB has lost the legitimacy to approve massive pipelines like TransCanada’s Energy East or Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain.

“We are calling on you to put aside the fundamentally flawed work that has been done by the NEB to date. Overhaul the NEB, renew the confidence of Canadians in the federal government’s pipeline review process and, only after this has been accomplished, assess these projects in an atmosphere that is not plagued by the legacy of the Harper era.”

The letter is signed by multiple environmental activist groups, as well as the WestCoast Environmental Law Agency and the Aboriginal People’s Council.

Last week, the NEB was forced to suspend consultations on the Energy East Pipeline when it became clear that the concerns over the neutrality of its commission board were not about to die down.  The National Observer had previously revealed that two of the three commissioners on the board had covertly met with Jean Charest, then acting as a lobbyist for TransCanada.

The NEB first denied that it happened, then apologized for it but allowed the review to continue with all commissioners still on board. Last week, after protesters successfully disrupted the consultation in Montreal, the NEB agreed to suspend the Energy East consultations while they decide what to do with the two problematic commissioners.

A Band-aid over a bullet hole, claim the harsher critics of the NEB.

“Of course the board members who acted inappropriately should recuse themselves, but this will not solve the credibility gap that is plaguing the pipeline review process in Canada,” argues the letter.

The Problematic History of  the NEB

Misconduct of commissioners is not the NEB’s biggest problem; its entire history is. The National Energy Board Act is a 1985 reworking of legislation from the early sixties. It was meant to evaluate the safety and the practical matters of energy infrastructures. This only changed four years ago when Stephen Harper abolished the Environmental Assessment Agency and assigned the NEB to take over part of its duties.

It’s now clear that the NEB’s structure has failed to adapt to its new mission.

Commissioners of the NEB are politically appointed and many of them have been employed by oil businesses at some point in their careers.

Their public consultations are often criticized for their lack of accessibility. Anyone who wants to be heard must prove that they are directly affected by the project in question and register several months in advance.

The scope of their assessment is limited to direct consequences, which is in itself an archaic concept. Modern environmental assessments cannot refuse to consider impacts of oil production or tar sands development or of an increasingly oil-dependant national economy. All these matters are classified as upstream activities or downstream effects and as such, they are not considered by the NEB.

All of this might explain why the National Energy Board only rarely rejects a project. It had even approved (under 200 or so conditions) the Northern Gateway Pipeline, despite overwhelming opposition from the communities near its path. In fact, the appeals court later reversed their decision, judging that aboriginal communities had not been adequately consulted.

The NEB’s credibility is more than a little compromised. A CBC poll from last march suggests that 51% of Canadians have little or no confidence in the National Energy Board. People from Quebec and British Columbia, respectively affected by the Northern Gateway and Energy East, were most skeptical.

Just a couple of days ago, Ipolitics’ Chris Wood published a particularly scathing opinion piece on the matter: “The NEB is obsolete, an anachronism, a captive service agency for one particularly toxic, last-century industry, rather than a police force for the public interest. Increasingly, it’s also a laughingstock.”

“Modernization” in progress

The government recognized that the National Energy Board review process was facing a crisis of confidence long before the mess of the Energy East consultations. In fact, “restoring the population’s trust in the National Energy Board” was a key promise of the Liberal electoral platform.

An expert panel is already mandated to examine the National Energy Board’s functioning as part of a large review of environmental regulations launched this summer. They should provide the Ministry of Natural Resources with a report full of recommendations about how to modernize the NEB by January. These recommendations, if the government decides to listen to them (which is not a sure thing, history tells us), should be implemented by June 2018. Interim measures have been defined, but they do not seem to alter much of the process.

Meanwhile, the assessments of Energy East, Trans Mountain and other projects mostly piloted by NOVA Gas Transmission and Enbridge are allowed to go on unimpeded.

Environmental groups are pressing Trudeau to be consistent. Now that he has recognized that the NEB needs to be modernized, he should not allow it to take such major decisions until it is.

* Featured image from More Canada! Twitter

money-in-politics

There has been quite a bit of talk about money in politics lately. Thanks in part to Bernie Sanders, we all know about the obscene amounts of money donated anonymously through SuperPacs to political candidates in the United States.

But the problem isn’t limited to the States, and it’s also not limited to major national campaigns. In fact, it has permeated even the most basic elements of our representative democracies.

There’s a phrase I saw, or rather re-saw, recently in a meme, and I’ve been thinking about it for a few weeks, now:

“If it’s inaccessible to the poor, it’s neither radical nor revolutionary.”

I have been trying to reconcile this with my long-held view that internet media can be revolutionary. There are good arguments both for and against the notion. When it comes to party politics, though, things become a little more cut and dry.

Application Fees for the Top Job

On Monday, Projet Montréal, arguably the most progressive political party in the city, officially began its search for a new leader. There were, of course, rules. Understandably, you have to be legally eligible to be a candidate for Mayor of Montréal (because that’s what the job essentially is) and you have to have already been a member of the party (fair play, considering they want to weed out people running just to disparage the party).

But there’s more: you also need to have previously donated at least $300 to the party and must raise between $5 000 and $30 000 during the campaign. Yes, there are financial requirements for prospective candidates.

On one hand, I understand that a City Councillor who owes their better-than-average paying job, in part, to a party, should give a little back. I also realize that for many, $300 isn’t all that much money.

However, these requirements limit the field to those who are already elected or have enough money lying around to make that $300 investment. If someone doesn’t, sure they can borrow it off their friend, but then they will be beholden to their friend. Sure, it’s not like owing Walmart or Imperial Oil, but it’s still owing a contributor.

When it comes to raising money during the campaign, it does make sense that a well-funded campaign will do better than a poorly funded one, so I imagine any candidate for leadership will try to raise money. But making it a requirement effectively works against someone who has an idea of another way to succeed (an excellent social media campaign, for example).

It’s not that foregoing raising funds in lieu of another approach will work. It’s that someone who has that idea should be given the chance to succeed or fail with it.

That said, you do not have to be a member of a political party to become Mayor, you can run as an independent. That’s not the case everywhere, though.

You Need to Lead a Party to be Prime Minister

The Federal NDP will also be holding its leadership race in the near future. The NDP also has rules for candidates wishing to enter (at this point, just proposed rules):

  1. Leadership hopefuls need to collect 500 signatures from party members in different regions of the country. Makes sense.
  2. Half those signatures need to be from “female-identified members” and 100 need to come from “other equity-seeking groups” which means visible minorities, Aboriginal Peoples, members of the LGBTQ community and people with disabilities. Yes, sure, absolutely. The more representative, the better.
  3. There is a $30 000 entry fee. Wait, what? Some people don’t make that in a year!

30 grand for a chance to be NDP Leader? That’s like taking three huge steps forward and then 30 000 steps back when it comes to inclusivity, especially when you consider that those the NDP is trying to include in the voting process are more likely to be those who can’t afford the leadership registration fee.

Former candidate Cheri DiNovo brought this issue to the forefront, refusing to officially enter the race and pay the fee. While she said she could probably raise the money, no candidate should have to in order to run.

And she’s absolutely correct. The only people who can afford to spend $30 000 on a job application when getting the job isn’t a sure thing (and a PM or MP’s salary isn’t either, even if you do get the job) are those who are already wealthy, are already elected officials, or those who know enough donors to raise the money from.

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No matter how you cut it, there is a huge personal economic restriction placed on people not already part of the political process who want to throw their hat in the ring. Sure, anyone can get involved, but the limits to the higher levels aren’t based on experience, they’re based on personal finances.

And unlike municipal politics, you need to be the leader of a political party to become Prime Minister of Canada. Not sure what the other major parties charge to run for leader, but if the progressive, left NDP is any indication, PM is a job inaccessible to those who don’t have or can’t raise large sums of money.

Until someone with hardly any cash can successfully run for mayor or PM on a party ticket, party politics remain inaccessible to the poor and therefore cannot be considered radical or revolutionary.

dakota access pipeline protest

As the Sioux of Standing Rock persevere in their legal battle against the Dakota Access Pipeline, the promoters are resorting to violence to disperse peaceful protesters.

Energy Transfer Partners’s private security attacked the protesters with pepper spray and dogs on Saturday, near the camp set up by indigenous activists in Southern North Dakota. The same day, the company bulldozed sacred burial grounds on private land.

A video report from Democracy Now! shows a group of persons trying to disperse the crowd with dogs and pepper spray. We can see several protesters who have clearly been maced in the face and a man showing the bloody dog bite on his arm.

Activist Martie Simmons, who was present, tweeted that six protesters, including a pregnant woman were bitten. Four private security guards and two guard dogs were injured, according to the local Sheriff’s Office (Morton County). The nature of the injuries suffered by the dogs and the guards were undisclosed but eyewitnesses affirm that the dogs were out of control, and bit the guards too.

Police say they received no reports of injured protesters.The sheriff’s office confirmed there was no officers present at the confrontation.

Indigenous resistance to the DAPL

Standing Rock’s Sioux tribe has organized opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline ever since the project first became public two years ago. The trajectory of the pipeline is set to skim their reserve and cross the Missouri River twice, causing concerns about water contamination and protection of cultural heritage sites.

Thousands of indigenous people from the US and Canada responded to the call of the Sioux of Standing Rock and set up camps near the Missouri River. Over a hundred tribes are represented in what became known as the oil protest camps, what could be one of the biggest assemblies of Indigenous Peoples this century. Non-native activists also joined the ranks.

Meanwhile, the Sioux of Standing Rock are suing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for fast-tracking construction permits without consulting them.

The DAPL is a $4.88 billion pipeline that should conduct half a million barrels of crude oil per day from the Bakken Oil fields of North Dakota to Illinois. The pipeline will be just under 1900 km long and run through four states.

According to the Chairman of the Sioux Tribe of Standing Rock, Dave Archambault II, the pipeline threatens the lives of the people on the reserve and of the millions of people living downstream on the Missouri River, as well as ancestral Sioux sites.

“We never had an opportunity to express our concerns. This is a corporation that is bulldozing through,” Archambault told Democracy Now!.

His tribe is currently challenging the permits of Energy Transfer Partners in federal court on the grounds that the promoters did not adequately consult First Nations. They called for an emergency, temporary stopping of the construction on Tuesday, claiming that the company is already desecrating their burial sites. The federal court will announce its verdict on September 9th.

A Canadian Company

The DAPL is co-piloted by the American company Energy Transfer Partners and the Calgary-based Enbridge. Enbridge is no stranger to controversy, as it was recently forced by Canada’s federal court to give up on the Northern Gateway pipeline for similar reasons.

The $7.9 billion pipeline meant to export Albertan petroleum to the west coast had first been authorized by the Conservative government, despite the strong opposition of the native communities near its trajectory. However a federal appeal court revoked the permits in July, ruling that the Enbridge had not adequately consulted the affected aboriginal communities.

In 2015, Enbridge broke records by racking up $264 000 in fines from the National Energy Board, mostly because of safety and environmental hazards. However, the NEB ended up cancelling most of the fines due to lack of evidence.

Enbridge incidentally made the news today for acquiring Spectra Energy. The $37 billion transaction, if it is approved by appropriate authorities, could make Enbridge the biggest player on the North American market of energy infrastructure.

projet montreal logo

Projet Montréal is now officially searching for a new leader. So if you want to throw your proverbial hat in the ring to become the next head of the Official Opposition party in City Hall, you have until mid October to do so.

That is, provided you are already a member of the party. Leadership candidates can only be people who are registered members of Projet Montréal as of today, a move presumably to stop haters from messing the party up from the inside.

To run for leader, you also need to be eligible to be a candidate for Mayor of Montreal (understandably), plus you would have had to have made a donation of at least $300 to the party. You also need to raise at least $5000 in donations from members and non members, with leadership run expenses capped at $30 000.

If you want to vote for the leader instead of becoming the party boss, it’s a little more affordable and you have a bit more time.  You need to already be a member or sign up as one by November 4th. Former members who haven’t renewed for over a year have until November 19th to do so if they want a say in who will challenge Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre in 2017. One year Projet Montréal memberships cost $10.

Luc Ferrandez officially kicked off the contest today with a press conference and video. The Plateau Borough Mayor became Interim Leader of Projet Montréal in October 2014 but has already announced that he won’t be seeking the party’s top job on a permanent basis. Saint-Édouard City Councillor François Limoges is the only declared candidate so far.

This is Projet Montréal’s first leadership race. Co-founder Richard Bergeron had led the party since its inception in 2004, taking it from one elected city councillor (himself) to Official Opposition status. Bergeron quit the party shortly after the 2013 Montreal Municipal Election to sit as an independent and be part of Coderre’s Executive Committee.

The Projet Montréal Leadership Election will be a Universal Ballot and take place at a special convention on  December 4th, 2016.

mmiw highway of tears

The national inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW) officially starts today.

Less than two years ago, the killing of hundreds of indigenous women and girls wasn’t “really high on [the] radar” of Canada’s Prime Minister.

Yet here we are, with a new government chanting a very different tune, kicking off a national inquiry with a budget bigger than promised. But the long awaited hearings are not yet about to start, warned the Chairwoman Marion Buller. “I just hope the public expectation is somewhat qualified by the fact that tomorrow we’re starting at square one,” she told the CBC on Wednesday.

Here is a list of the most important things you should know before they actually start:

What exactly is the Inquiry About?

Indigenous women and girls disappear and get murdered at a much greater rate than any other group in Canada. It’s been like this for at least thirty years and it’s been happening across the entire country. Yes, it is a proven fact and no, it can’t be explained away by high criminality and poverty on reserves.

In 2014, a report published by the RCMP brought this alarming fact to the public’s attention. It documented 1017 homicides of indigenous women between 1980 and 2012. This is 4.5 times what has been recorded for the general population.

For the same period, the RCMP’s counted 164 unsolved disappearances of indigenous women. However, even this alarming number is probably a gross underestimation, considering the general distrust between police forces and native communities.

The accounts of police forces failing to follow criminal leads or to investigate suspicious deaths are countless. CBC investigated 34 cases filed as accidents or suicides, despite the families of victims being convinced otherwise. They found signs of foul play for many of them. A Globe & Mail investigation found that indigenous women were seven times more likely to be murdered by a serial killer than non-indigenous women.

The real number of murdered aboriginal women and girls between 1980 and 2012 could reach around 4000, according to the Native Women’s Association of Canada.

What will the Inquiry do?

The Commission’s mission is to investigate the systemic causes of the high rates of violence against indigenous women and girls and to make recommendations about how to remove them. They will look into underlying factors for the greater aggression and vulnerability of aboriginal women, such as economic, historical, institutional, sociological or cultural factors.

In order to do so, the commission will reach out to families, survivors and community members to hear their “experience and views, including recommendations” and require the testimonies of whoever they see fit. It might also set up regional committees formed of loved-ones and survivors to address specific local situations and issues.

It will review existing reports and research about the issue at hands and related matters.

The federal government will allocate two years and $53.86 million to the process. An interim report should be produced in Fall 2017 and a final one by the end of 2018.

What can the commission do?

The commission is supposed to act completely independently of the government. As per the National Inquiry Act, it has subpoena power, meaning it can legally oblige people to testify or hand over documents.

Provinces and territories have also agreed to let the Inquiry address matters that fall outside federal jurisdiction, like child welfare and policing.

However, the Inquiry cannot determine any civil or criminal responsibility nor lead to accusations. Furthermore, it was announced in early August that commissioners can’t force police to reopen cases, to the disappointment of many families who are still waiting for answers.

Who is on the commission?

The government appointed five indigenous commissioners to lead the inquiry. They are from different corners of Canada, but none are from Atlantic Canada. Four have careers in law, one is a key figure of aboriginal activism in Quebec who has also served as deputy minister of Quebec’s status of women.

The chief commissioner, Marion Buller, was the first indigenous female judge of BC’s provincial court. She has advanced law studies and a bachelor’s degree in anthropology. She was a pioneer of numerous battles for aboriginal rights, including the formation of the First Nations Court of British Columbia in 2006. Thanks to her, First Nations’ members in BC can now choose to be judged by this court focused on rehabilitation and reconciliation with the community. She lives in Port Coquitlam (BC) but is still member of the Mistawasis band in Saskatchewan.

What to watch out for?

The terms of reference set for the Inquiry make it clear that the focus will be on prevention and solutions. Advocates and families of victims want that, of course. But they also want answers and accountability.

The negligence and mishandling of indigenous cases by the police is a key issue. However, the terms of reference do not make any specific mention of investigating police forces. Instead, they talk about “systemic causes” and “institutional policies and practices”.

Many worry that those broad terms will allow commissioners to stay clear of touchy subjects that might ruffle too many feathers, like direct criticism of police work.

Indeed, there is no shortage of systemic causes and Institutional policies contributing to the vulnerability of indigenous women. The Indian Act, centuries of under-funded health, education and justice services in indigenous communities, residential schools, reserves… pretty much everything that happened since 1492.

We don’t need the national inquiry to tell us that Canada has treated First Nations like shit and is still doing so in many aspects. We might need it to tell us why a certain case was closed or if the disappearance of a native child is treated with the seriousness it deserves.

The Minister of Indigenous affairs, Carolyn Bennett, said that the terms of reference are so broad only to give the maximum latitude and independence to the commissioners. Let’s hope they use this latitude to fully address the faults in the functioning of our courts and police work, and not to skirt over the less comfortable issues.

Another thing we should be looking for is who will really cooperate with the Inquiry. Who will demand to be heard, who will come willingly and above all, who –if anyone- will be subpoenaed into it.

Chief Commissioner Buller has expressed to CBC that she is “cautiously optimistic” about getting full cooperation from the police. Past evidence suggests that police forces are not very receptive to being investigated, but well, there’s a first for everything.

A recent statement by Commissioner Michèle Audette also signaled a possible development for Quebec.

Chief of the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador, Ghislain Picard wanted Quebec to have its own inquiry on missing and murdered indigenous women. The Minister of Justice had refused, pleading that the emotional cost of testifying twice for families and victims was too high. However, Audette says that a provincial inquiry could coexist with the national one, if it had a clearly different mandate.

She said this to La Presse on August 31st, so we’ll have to see if anyone will push on the door she just opened. Maybe, optimistically, this will lead to a more transparent way of looking into the abuse of indigenous women by police forces in our part of the country. Enquête’s uncovering of the behaviour of SQ agents in Val-d’Or certainly made it clear that the issue needs to be addressed, and the police-investigating-police method we’re currently using is not good enough.

* Featured image via WikiMedia Commons

ecoqc

On Tuesday, the National Energy Board (NEB) announced the suspension of all their consultations on the Energy East Pipeline after opposition to both the pipeline and the assessment process hit a new high in Montreal.

The first of the three scheduled panel sessions in Montreal was aborted as soon as it started on Monday morning after protesters irrupted the proceedings in the Centre Mont-Royal.

A few people disrupted the assembly, brandishing banners and chanting for about thirty minutes before the police forcefully removed them. Three people were arrested. In a communiqué published later that night, the NEB called the incident “a violent disruption […] which threatened the security of everyone involved.”

Multiple activist groups, MNAs and Mayor Coderre himself have been asking for the National Energy Board assessment of Energy East to be suspended since concerns over the integrity of two commissioners have been raised. It was recently revealed that Lyne Mercier and Jacques Gauthier had secretly met with a TransCanada lobbyist – who happened to be none other than Ex-Premier Jean Charest- in early 2015.

The Front Commun Pour la Transition Énergétique (FCPTE) organized a “greeting committee” for the Montreal consultations on Monday. Environmentalists, but also some political representatives (namely from Québec Solidaire) were present.  Carole Dupuis, member of FCPTE and general coordinator of the Regroupement Vigilance hydrocarbures, described the protest as coloured and joyful.

In a short phone interview, Mrs Dupuis said that her organization had no plans to interrupt the session. According to her, the incident was the initiative of a lone individual that gathered spontaneous support:

“Actually a man ran to the front and then others joined him to chant slogans.”

After the no-go session of Monday, the NEB announced the postponement of the session scheduled Tuesday, citing security concerns. Finally, on Tuesday afternoon, they stated that all consultations are suspended until they decide what to do with the two commissioners who met with Charest:

“Given that two motions have been filed asking for the recusal of Panel Members, and given that the Board has invited written comments by September 7, 2016 on the these motions, the Board will not proceed with further Panel Sessions until it reaches a decision.”

What’s the problem with the National Energy Board?

A couple of days before the NEB arrived in Montreal, Coderre joined the calls for the suspension of the consultations. He said he was “ill at ease” with the fact that two of the three commissioners had met with Jean Charest.

Lyne Mercier and Jacques Gauthier, along with the director of the NEB, met with Charest while he was working for TransCanada, in January 2015.  The NEB first did not disclose that it had a meeting with a TransCanada lobbyist.

When it was discovered, they insisted that the subject of Energy East had not come up in the discussion. But thanks to the Access to Information Act, the National Observer got hold of some documents that proved the exact opposite. Handwritten notes from one of the participants included mentions such as “safety of the pipeline”,  “economy needs investment” and “what profits for Quebec?”.

The NEB apologized for lying but refused to remove Gauthier and Mercier from the Energy-East committee, until now. All appearance of partiality aside, the deficient French platform and the lack of accessibility of the NEB’s consultation have also been criticized.

Prior to 2012, the NEB had no experience whatsoever with public consultations. It’s only when the conservatives adopted a mammoth law abolishing the Canadian Environmental Assessment agency that the NEB’s role was redefined.

The National Energy Board is an independent federal organisation. Its purpose is to regulate the oil, gas and electricity projects that have international or inter-provincial reach. Although it often gets heaped with organisations like BAPE (Quebec’s Bureau of Environmental Public Hearings), its mandate is fundamentally different.

The NEB is foremost mandated to evaluate the safety and the practical aspects of the projects.

In 2014, it ruled that it did not have to consider upstream activities or downstream results in its assessment of a project. In other words, the consequences of EE on climate change, oil dependency or tar-sands development will not be examined by the NEB.

The Energy-East Pipeline: A Quick Rundown of the Facts

Energy-East pipeline is a TransCanada project destined to transport oil from Alberta to New Brunswick. The idea is to convert 3000 km of an old gas pipeline and extend it by 1600 km, to have a brand new 4600 kms of pipeline transporting 1.2 million oil barrels daily. It’s worth $15,7 Billion.

Eshko Timiou, Wiki creative commons
Eshko Timiou, Wiki creative commons

It will run through six provinces and under 860 watercourses, including the Outaouais River and the Saint-Lawrence River.

The divisive aspect of the pipeline climbed to new levels as other pipeline projects (namely Keystone XL) fell through, leaving EE as the last route to export Alberta’s massive oil production.

Supporters of the project argue that it would allow Alberta to boost up the exploitation of its tar sands and at the same time allow the rest of Canada to drastically reduce its oil imports from Europe, the Middle-East and Africa. TransCanada is also promising the creation of numerous – if temporary- jobs throughout the country.

 

Associated Minor Scandals

However, the oil travelling through the pipeline is not destined for Canadian consumption. Only a meager percentage of the product would be treated in Quebec’s refineries and the rest would be exported overseas from New Brunswick.

BAPE public consultations have also taught us that the oil will be extracted partly from Alberta’s tar-sands and partly from North Dakota. As Alexandre Shields once pointed out, Energy East will, to some extent serve to transport US oil to other US territories.

Environmental groups have raised red flags about the rivers affected by the pipeline’s trajectories. One of the primary sources of concern is the form of the oil in transition: a substance called dilbit. Dilbit is diluted bitumen that is easier to transport than crude oil, but it is very difficult to clean up in the event of a spill.

It is especially risky in rivers, where it rapidly sinks to the bottom before it can be recuperated. A detail that might be even more challenging in the often iced water of the Saint-Lawrence.

I personally believe this pipeline is an overall terrible idea and I could easily write another 6000 words about all the reasons why this project has been a complete trainwreck so far. Now I know this has been dragging on, so let’s take a moment to revisit some of TransCanada’s greatest moves:

  • Trying to build a port in an endangered species’ nursery
  • A leaked “press strategy” that erred somewhere in the area of barely-legal-and-definitely-unethical.
  • Refusing to comply with Quebec’s environmental law
  • Failing to provide proper documentation in French
  • Providing such unreadable gibberish in lieu of the documentation required by federal law that the NEB had to ask them to start over.
  • Responding that they will have something ready by 2018 when commissioners of the BAPE pointed out that they had no clear strategy in the case of an oil spill in the Saint-Lawrence.

* featured image from ÉcoQuébec’s twitter account: “greeting committee” for the NEB consultations on Monday

drinking water

Since the Denis Coderre administration seems to be all about conservation these days, I thought I would conserve a little web space and tell two Coderre-related stories in the same post. Are they related in any other way? I’ll let you be the judge. Here goes…

Coderre to Consider Charging Montrealers For Water Use and Trash Collection

According to a task force Montreal City Hall put together last February, the best way to encourage business in the city is to charge residents for water usage and trash collection. The group presented its recommendations last Monday and Mayor Denis Coderre is considering them.

The group wants the city to fast-track water meter installation in commercial buildings and introduce them, along with fees for picking up garbage, to residential buildings. The committee also proposed that the city have construction crews work 24/7 to complete projects on major arteries and bring in an overall customer service attitude when dealing with businesses.

While the last two suggestions sound like things that will, in fact, help local businesses, the first two come across as a cash grab. Instead of dealing with problems that affect business, the think tank is suggesting that the city get extra cash from residents.

One thing residential water meters and fees for trash collection have in common is that they can both be sold as a way to help the environment. While it’s true that some people who live in this city waste water and throw away too much trash, it’s also true that the city really doesn’t care, unless they can make a buck off of it.

Banning single-use plastic bags is an environmental policy. Charging five cents for a single use plastic bag is a greenwashed cash grab, pure and simple.

You can point to lower water consumption in places like Toronto all you want, but we all know that’s not the point. It’s collecting cash, this time, officially at least, to help out the business community.

If it’s about money, before changing the very concept of major city trash pickup and water delivery, we should be sure there isn’t an easier way to make or save some public cash.

Coderre’s Obsession with Pieces of Granite as Public Art Continues

Yesterday, a new work of public art was revealed in Lasalle. It has three things in common with the last piece of public-funded art Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre touted: it involves placing slabs of granite in the middle of nature, it is quite expensive and it is unpopular.

The Au Grand Dam installation in Parc des Rapides (screengrab from CTV Montreal)
The Au Grand Dam installation in Parc des Rapides (screengrab from CTV Montreal)

Au Grand Dam cost $680 000 and features large slabs of concrete and marble placed somewhat haphazardly on top of each other in the middle of the beautiful Parc des Rapides overlooking the equally beautiful rapids of the Lachine Canal. While some, like former Prime Minister Paul Martin, tout that it represents the history of the canal and exploration in Canada, others see it as a bit of an eyesore in the middle of such natural beauty.

Public funding for the arts is important. Especially when it comes to helping out emerging or underground artists do their work and not starve in the process.

While this particular installation smacks of cronyism, it does have some historical and possibly some artistic merit. However, it seems to be part of a pattern that Montrealers got wind of a few months ago. Back in June, Denis Coderre announced that he would be placing much smaller and much more expensive ($3.45 Million) pieces of granite (without marble, this time) in the shape of tree stumps on Mount Royal and other locations.

While we can question or even mock the Coderre Administrations seeming undershaped granite in nature-focused approach to public art, we must also ask if there is anywhere else the money could be spent. Anywhere our municipal government desperately wants funds to the point they would charging residents for basic services to get it.

Can you think of a place?

* Featured image by Angus (Flickr Creative Commons)