Joanna Palani, a 23 year old fighter of the YPJ, the famous Kurd “Women’s protection unit”, is currently detained in Denmark, presumably for terrorism. The YPJ is an all-female brigade of the Syrian Kurdish forces, engaged in the fight against ISIS.

In a video posted to Facebook on Wednesday, Palani says she is currently in prison in Denmark. She says she doesn’t know for how long, but “it could be two years.”

“I need your help to spread the news that the YPJ is not a terrorist organization,” she pleads.

The YPJ is part of the YPG (also known as the People’s protection unit), which is the armed force of the Kurdish Region of Rojava in Western Syria. They have been widely recognized as instrumental in the fight against ISIS in Ìraq and Syria. They most notably played an important role in taking back Kobane from terrorist control in 2015.

Palani is a Danish student, born in a refugee camp in Iraq. She comes from an Iranian Kurd family of Peshmerga fighters (the armed force of Iraq Kurds). Last year, she abandoned her studies in Copenhagen to fight with the Peshmergas and with the YPJ.

Both organizations are significantly backed by the US and generally acknowledged as legitimate military units. However, when Palani returned to Denmark while on permission after fighting for a year, she was forbidden to leave the country and her passport was confiscated.

Danish police told the Russian channel RT that Palani was suspected of wanting to leave the country to participate in activities that could threaten Denmark’s national security. She hasn’t been able to return to the YPJ since. The only information about her arrest to date is the short video she filmed herself.

The confiscation of her passport, and, presumably, her subsequent detention, are supported by legislation intended to stop Danish citizens from joining jihadist groups abroad. Some argue that Denmark is courting Turkey’s help to keep refugees out of the EU and, therefore, included the YPJ, a group Turkey doesn’t like, as a group to watch out for.

David Romano, a political science professor at Missouri State University, formerly of REMO, the réseau du Moyen-Orient du CERIUM (Université de Montréal), told Forget the Box that he can’t speak to Danish motivations as it would simply be “speculating about behind-closed-doors Turkish pressure” but did have this to say about YPJ/YPG:

“In the court of public opinion, they are certainly pretty legitimate — empowering women, protecting minorities, fighting ISIS, etc… The U.S. does back them, so that is an indirect indicator as well. High level U.S. officials meet publicly with YPG leaders, and U.S. special forces are embedded with them (along with many Western volunteers). Russia calls for them (via their political parent, the PYD) to be included in peace talks on Syria, and only Turkish objections prevent this.”

So you may have seen that Time Magazine named Donald Trump its 2016 Person of the Year. This announcement was greeted with vocal condemnation and almost equally as vocal reminders that this isn’t an endorsement but rather an acknowledgement of the cultural and political impact Trump had in the US and around the world.

Given the fact that Time was going primarily on mainstream media narrative, Trump winning makes perfect sense. He did dominate the news coverage in 2016. If you have a problem with the result, then you should have a problem with the way the corporate media filter operates.

Instead of complaining, though, let’s simply take away that filter and see what we get. Forget the Box is going to name its own Person of the Year for 2016!

Like Time, we’re looking for the individual or group of connected individuals that had the biggest impact on our culture in the past year. Unlike Time, we’re not limiting our view of cultural impact to what is represented in the mainstream press. Social and indie media play just as big a role in our decision.

We’re giving everyone a chance to vote and are starting with some likely choices. As we’re based in Montreal, some are local and Canadian. We’ve also included Trump as a choice to be fair. If your choice is not on the list, simply state it in the comments below and we’ll add it to the options.

We do reserve the right to reject suggestions. We also reserve the right to make an editorial decision and give Person of the Year to someone other than the top vote getter, while still acknowledging who got the most votes. We probably won’t do that, but we will if the winner is Harambe (I mean, seriously, internet).

Anyways, here’s the poll, you have a week to vote. Then we’ll proudly announce FTB’s 2016 Person of the Year:

Who should be FTB's Person of the Year?

View Results

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Neda Topaloski, one of the FEMEN activists who disturbed the 2015 Montreal Grand Prix, had her second and final day in court today. As per FEMEN’s usual tactics, Topalski protested bare-chested during the high profile event, and in a national first, she is now facing criminal charges for it.

“We’re in Canada and there’s no precedent for such cases. Our bodies are our banners for our values and ideas. It’s the first time there is an attempt to criminalize them,” explained Topaloski in a phone interview with FTB on Thursday morning. According to her, it’s the state of democracy and freedom in Canada that is at stake in this trial.

Topaloski was arrested on June 4th 2015, after she appeared topless in front of one of the showcased cars on Crescent Street and yelled “Montreal is not a brothel!”

She was referring to the sexual tourism that doubles or triples every time the high profile Grand Prix is organised in Montreal. She was initially charged on four counts, but the charges of indecency and exhibitionism were dropped last week. The crown is thus going forward with charges of mischief and disturbing the peace.

Topaloski claims FEMEN’s actions are a non-violent form of political expression and should not be criminalized. “Seeing activism as disturbance of peace is absolutely perverse, because expression doesn’t trouble peace, violence troubles peace,” she argued.

She was also accused of mischief. The crown alleges she dented the hood of the car she was leaning on during the stunt. The activist says that this is “absolutely impossible.” She notes that the Grand Prix is always full of pictures of women sitting on cars for publicity purposes and that none of them faced such accusations.

The Grand Prix: “A powerful lobby”

This is the first time a FEMEN protest has resulted in criminal charges in Canada, despite several public actions of the same sort. Topaloski believes that she is only being prosecuted this time because She managed to “sully the image of the Grand Prix.”

“It bothers this powerful lobby and it is because of their pressure that we are charged this time, but not the time that we were in the Canadian parliament, nor the time we were at the National Assembly in Quebec.”

In April 2015, Neda Topaloski interrupted a press conference about Law 20 at the National Assembly. She irrupted topless on stage to protest against the new law’s failure to prioritize free and accessible abortion.  She had done a similar act on Parliament Hill in Ottawa to protest C-51 just a few weeks earlier.

Allegations of excessive use of force

On Wednesday, Topaloski’s lawyer immediately moved to have all the charges thrown on the grounds that the arrest was unlawful. She argued that the Grand Prix’s private security made an excessive use of force.

“It was more than an arrest; I was dragged on the floor, still topless, they pulled my hair out…” recalls Topaloski. She highlights that their behaviour was wildly different from what she has seen from police officers in similar situations.

“[The security guards] were trying to prove that they were the guys in control of the situation and of the value of women. They used that situation to abuse, physically and violently.”

A video of the arrest was submitted to the court as proof. Although she is not sure of this move’s potential success, Topaloski explained that it is important for her to “shed light on those who perpetuate violence rather than those who protest for equality and are repressed and targeted by violence because of it.”

The court will probably not reach a verdict today, but Topaloski says she trusts that “common sense” and “constitutional rights” will prevail: “I have the law and the constitution on my side. Therefore, I hope that the judge will be able to recognize this.”

 

Panelists Cat McCarthy and Der Kosmonaut discuss political art following the Trump victory and the legacy of the late, great Leonard Cohen with host Jason C. McLean.

News Roundup Topics: Pence at Hamilton, Montreal Police spying on journalists, historic building burned, Sarkozy losing power and the International Infringement Conference.

Panelists:

Cat McCarthy: Burlesque performer, artist and FTB contributor

Der Kosmonaut: Spoken word artist, author and blogger

Host: Jason C. McLean

Producers: Hannah Besseau (audio), Enzo Sabbagah (video)

Reports by Hannah Besseau

Recorded Sunday, November 20, 2016 in Montreal

LISTEN:

WATCH:

Microphone image: Ernest Duffoo / Flickr Creative Commons

“The government’s response to the recommendations of the commission is, thus far, unsatisfactory,” concluded the first report of the public monitoring committee on the Charbonneau Commission.

One year after the commission ended, only 15 of its 60 recommendations have been implemented “in a satisfying manner.” Nine have been partially followed and 36 have yet to be responded to. “The government must do better,” urged committee member Martine Valois in a press release.

The committee looks harshly upon Quebec’s approach to two of Charbonneau’s leading recommendations.

The first is the creation of an independent authority to regulate the management of public contracts. The Autorité des marches publics (AMP), as defined by bill 108, “will have neither the independence nor the powers and functions necessary to act effectively,” states the report.

The committee still supports the creation of the AMP. However, it denounced the limited scope of its functions and its lack of coercive powers. It further asserted that the method for selecting the director endangers the AMP’s independence.

The committee also criticised bill 87, sold to the public as significant protection for whistle-blowers. The bill already caused controversy by not covering municipal nor private sector employees and encouraging internal denunciation instead of transparency.  This bill and other measures intended to regulate the professional workplace “clearly do not go far enough,” the committee estimated.

The government’s best effort was in the area of cleaning up political financing. They fulfilled 8 out the 12 recommendations in that regard.

This is mainly a result of bills 83 and 101, adopted in June. Thanks to those, party chiefs and MNAs are increasingly forced to take responsibility for their team’s financing practices. Also, loans to politicians must now be under $5000 at the municipal level and under $25 000 at the provincial level.

The public monitoring committee for the Charbonneau Commission is a popular initiative. It has seven official members from various backgrounds, including Westmount Mayor Peter Trent and ex Liberal MNA Gilles Ouimet. Three professors, one ex-researcher of the Charbonneau Commission and the president of Transparency International Canada also sit with them. It will produce a second follow-up report on November 23rd 2017.

When ex-Minister Natalie Normandeau was arrested last March, the Couillard administration had declared its strong commitment to implementing Charbonneau’s recommendations. Members of the cabinet have not yet reacted to the follow-up report.

You may have heard the term alt-right quite a bit lately. It has been everywhere ever since President-Elect Donald Trump appointed Steve Bannon to a senior adviser position. Bannon had bragged about turning Breitbart “News” into “a platform for the alt-right” when he was CEO of the website.

But just what is the alt-right? The easiest explanation is that it’s a new term for white nationalists, which is, itself, a whitewashed term for white supremacists. So basically racist, xenophobic, misogynistic, Islamophobic anti-Semites with suits and computer skills.

Of course, many in the alt-right movement argue vehemently that this is not the case. Bannon himself even told the Wall Street Journal last Friday that he has “zero tolerance for the anti-Semitic, racist elements of the alt-right.”

Bannon’s claim, though, is called into question by the headlines that appeared on Breitbart when he was in charge and completely debunked by what happened this weekend in Washington.

On Saturday, the National Policy Institute was holding its annual conference in the Ronald Regan Building. Most of the speeches were subdued, but after dinner, when most of the press had gone home, Richard B. Spencer, the man who had originally coined the term alt-right and is considered a leader of the movement, took the stage.

The Atlantic still had their camera rolling and caught a speech that began with Spencer shouting “Hail Trump!” and many in the crowd responding with Nazi salutes. Spencer also brought back the old Nazi term for media detractors “Lügenpresse” and applied it to the US media.

As if not subtle at all references to the Third Reich weren’t enough, Spencer also went on to defend racial inequality and suppression of minorities as some sort of right with complete ignorance of American history.

If you already know about racism in the so-called alt-right and what a Trump Presidency is bringing with it, you don’t need to watch this nastiness. If you know people who aren’t convinced, though, this video can be a real eye opener to what they really are supporting or brushing off:

President Trump. President Donald Trump. Yes, a few months from now that will be an actual thing people say. For now, he’s President Elect, but sadly, he is no longer a joke and he never should have been. We need to keep fighting Trump.

The over-the-top reality star will soon be Commander-in-Chief of the largest military in the world. Islamophobia, racism and misogyny have been part of American politics for a while, but they just went uber-mainstream with Trump’s win a little over a week ago.

What’s now frighteningly apparent is that his alt-right (really a fancy way to say white nationalists with computer skills) base, emboldened by his win, are voicing their bigotry and hatred and scaring the crap out of immigrants, visible minorities and anyone that doesn’t fit into their white supremacist, misogynistic and anti-Semetic worldview.

Swastikas are showing up all over the US, people are being attacked, middle schoolers are even chanting “build that wall” and making school a frightening place for some of their classmates. Buzzfeed has even put together a tracker of racist incidents in the US since the Trump victory.

While Trump did tell his supporters to stop it with their racist attacks and graffiti, his early staff choices send the opposite message. He just appointed Steve Bannon, who ran Breitbart “News” as CEO until joining the Trump campaign, his top policy adviser. Bannon had proudly declared Breitbart to be a “platform for the alt-right” and oversaw the publication of articles with incredibly nasty headlines.

Just a taste of the nastiness (image: gizmodo.com)
Just a taste of the nastiness (image: gizmodo.com)

There is also now word that Trump will, in fact, be creating a Muslim Registry. One of his supporters even cited American internment of citizens of Japanese origin as precedent.

Throw in promises to break US climate agreements and the prospect of a second Supreme Court pick after he fills Scalia’s seat and you get a picture that is terrifying for people of colour, the LGBT community, women and the planet.

How Did We Get Here?

President Trump is bad news, that much is clear. But why is this now a reality? It’s because no one took his candidacy seriously. Comics thought him running would produce gold for them, but no worries, because, of course he wouldn’t win. Pundits, same thing. Even I didn’t take him seriously at first.

But we’re not the only ones. The establishment of the Democratic Party clearly didn’t consider Trump as a serious threat, either, despite their public rhetoric. They even tried to push both him and Ted Cruz to the top of the GOP heap thinking they would be easier candidates to beat than Jeb Bush.

clinton-sanders

It’s true that Trump’s core support came from xenophobic racist misogynists and they’re now the ones strutting and scaring the shit out of everyone,  but this “basket of deplorables” weren’t the only ones who voted for him. If they were, the electoral map would have looked quite different. The bigots are still a minority.

It’s white working class voters in states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Florida and now Michigan that tipped the balance this time around. It’s not that their privilege blinded them to what a Trump Presidency could mean, it’s simply that Trump’s obvious bigotry meant less to them than the prospect of losing jobs due to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) did. Some lifelong rust belt Democrats who voted Obama twice and supported Bernie in the Primaries switched to Trump in the General.

A truly selfish act, to be sure, and an ultimately counterproductive one. Stopping the TPP is probably the first campaign promise Trump will break.

There was also a real feeling of dissatisfaction with the political establishment which Trump, posing as a populist, was able to tap into. If the choice had been between a right-wing, xenophobic pseudo-populist and a real left-wing populist like Bernie Sanders, Sanders would have easily won.

This election also proved that standard political tactics like a good ground game and mainstream media support are now less important than huge rallies and a solid social media strategy. Trump ran an unconventional campaign, so did Sanders. Clinton played it business as usual and lost.

What Needs to Happen Now in the Democratic Party

It’s all water under the bridge, now, but that water is what people need for drinking and bathing, so we can’t ignore how we got here and Democrats can’t ignore the mistakes they made. If they do, they are bound to repeat them.

The party establishment didn’t just lose. They lost to a third-rate PT Barnum who only ran to get a better TV deal with NBC. They lost to a man who admitted to being sexual predator during a national radio interview and who has bragged on tape about sexual assault. They lost to their dream opponent. They lost to Donald Fucking Trump.

If that’s not the impetus Democrats need to show their leadership the door, I don’t know what is. Now is the time to replace everyone at the top who pushed for Clinton over Sanders in the Primaries. Progressives need to take over the Democratic Party…soon!

If there is pushback, and there will be, fight it. If the pushback from the DNC establishment succeeds, it might be time to think about a new party. Even as President, Trump may end up destroying the Republican Party and there could be room for a new party in the two-party system.

What Needs to Happen Now Outside of the Echo Chamber

I had thought, as did many, that if he won, protests against Trump would start on day one of his Presidency. I was wrong. They started less than 24 hours after he won the Electoral College vote and became the President Elect.

From mass marches in New York City, Chicago and around the country to high school students walking out of class, people are voicing their displeasure with an impending Trump Presidency and what it will mean for them and their communities. This needs to continue.

Anti-Trump Protest NYC (image CBS)
Anti-Trump Protest NYC (image CBS)

No, the whole “just accept the election results” line or the “give him a chance” attitude don’t fly in this case. First, he’s already shown us by appointing Bannon that he blew his chance to change the tone to a more President of all Americans one. Second, protesting the government, or even an incoming government is never wrong, in fact, it’s a right.

If Clinton had won and stepped too far to the right with her picks, I would expect progressives, even those who voted for her, to be challenging her every step of the way. Now with Trump living up to the worst nightmare scenario fears and his most fervent bigoted supporters having their day in the sun, protesting has become a necessity.

An  election does not give the winner immunity from protest in a democracy. When the President Elect is promising to usher in a downright dangerous environment for marginalized groups, those groups and their allies should challenge the President Elect any way they can.

As for tactics, hitting the streets, boycotting Trump-aligned brands and calling out racism and misogyny can all be effective. Right here in Montreal, there is a Stop Bannon Phone-a-Thon putting Americans living here in touch with their local elected officials. There is also a solidarity action in the US encouraging people who aren’t the target of persecution (ie. white people) to register as Muslims if Trump enacts a registry.

While I like the idea behind the move to impeach Trump, I’d like to remind those behind it that success would only lead to President Mike Pence, who, in many ways, is just as bad if not worse.

I would recommend aligning anti-Trump protests with other groups fighting against the things that this incoming President stands for. Solidarity with the #NODAPL protesters, for example, would be a great first step.

Politicians, other people and the mainstream media not taking Trump seriously during the Primaries and the General Election is what got us here. We can’t afford not to take the threat of a Trump Presidency seriously now. It’s time to fight.

 

A young Inuit woman addressed the assembly at the UN Conference on Climate Change on Canada’s behalf this past Wednesday in Marrakesh.

Maatalii Okalik, president of the Inuit Youth Council, accompanied the Minister of the Environment Catherine McKenna to the 22nd Conference of the Parties on Climate Change (COP 22) where she pleaded for the world leaders to take native communities into account.

“With your continued leadership that will define our future on climate action, I am hopeful that it is done in cooperation with Indigenous peoples,” Okalik said.

Okalik’s brief allocution was showcased in Canada’s national statement. The Minister introduced her as “an incredible young leader for the Canadian Arctic and a strong voice for Inuit youth.”

The liberal government seems determined as ever to display its good intentions to include indigenous communities in its decisions, at least on social media. On Tuesday, McKenna shaed a picture of Okalik on a stage with several indigenous leaders on Snapchat. The picture was captioned “Amazing panel on Indigenous role on climate action. I want Canada to be a leader on this.”

cop22-enviro-can

According to National Post, the Canadian delegation in Marrakesh comprises around 17 representatives from various indigenous groups.

The Assembly of First Nations (AFN) decided to send its own delegation to Marrakesh. Manitoba Regional Chief Kevin Hart and Elder Francois Paulette of the Dene Nation are both attending. Their mission is to ensure that First Nations have “a strong voice” in the plan for climate action.

“First Nations are in a unique position to be leaders in climate change initiatives because of our knowledge of the sacred teachings of the land. We must not be situated as passive recipients of climate change impacts. We must be agents of change in climate action,” Elder Paulette declared in a communiqué.

Chief Hart, who is also co-chair on the Chiefs Committee for Climate Change, insisted on the importance of indigenous rights and responsibilities being fully recognized.

Both he and Okalik alluded to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Although the Canadian government officially supports this treaty, the Trudeau administration deemed it “unworkable” as a Canadian law.

Although Trudeau is not attending this year, Canada sent a sizable delegation. Several provincial Premiers and environment ministers are there, including Quebec’s Philippe Couillard and David Heurtel. Union representatives as well as environmental advocacy groups like Equiterre and Ecojustice Canada are also there.

Where does Canada stand in Marrakesh?

COP 22 is a two week long event that will end on Friday the 18th. Its purpose is to form strategies to reach the goals set one year ago in Paris for reducing greenhouse gas emissions (GHG).

In November 2015, freshly-elected Justin Trudeau arrived at the COP 21 with nothing but the timid goals set by the Harper government: bring GHG emissions down to 30% under 2005 levels before 2030. But according to the grapevine, Canada will revise its ambitions upwards. Greenpeace Canada told La Presse Canadienne that Canadian officials in Marrakesh said that the new goal was to bring GHG emissions 80% below 2005 levels before year 2050.

The measures to be deployed in that regard are vastly unknown. Last month, the federal government announced that all provinces and territories will have to implement a carbon tax of at least 10$/ton by 2018, to reach 50$/ton in 2022. Canada had already promised $2.65 billion over five years to help developing countries access and create clean technologies.

On Wednesday, the government announced a contribution of $2.5 Million to the Climate Technology Centre and Network to that effect. The CTCN is an agency created by the UN to help emerging countries access and develop new technologies, both to fight climate change and to deal with its effects.

The government also promised an investment of $1.8 Billion to “mobilize” the private sector to do the same.

A more detailed national strategy is awaited in the next couple of days.

 

On November 8, 2016 the United States of America elected a racist, misogynist, rapist scam artist as President. Prior to the election people spoke of how, if this KKK poster child were elected, they’d promptly move to Canada.

The tone of many in the US was similar to that of Judith Viorst’s hero in the popular children’s book, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible No Good, Very Bad Day who pronounces after every misfortune that’s he’s going to move to Australia.

There has been no mass migration of Americans to Canada yet, despite Cheeto-head’s election (I refuse to call him by name because he has an orgasm every time he is mentioned in the press), but people in the US have been looking into it. On November 8th Citizenship and Immigration Canada’s (CIC) website crashed.

Contrary to popular belief, it’s not that easy to move to Canada. In order to spare CIC and Immigration Quebec’s websites, I’m going to give you a crash course on Canadian Immigration law and the programs through which one can come here.

For the purposes of this article, I’m going to go over the main, less expensive paths to permanent Canadian Immigration, leaving out temporary programs like student and visitor’s visas and work permits, however, it is important for prospective residents to maintain their legal visitor status when applying for permanent residency.

Family Sponsorship

The main federal program in which someone can permanently immigrate to Canada is family sponsorship. The Federal Government administers this program in all provinces except Quebec. The Quebec Government is in charge of the federal program for applicants seeking to move to the province and have their own criteria in some cases.

Family sponsorship becomes the most popular program when a candidate threatening the fundamental freedoms of Americans runs for election. Many believe that all you have to do is marry a Canadian and presto! You’re in, right?

Wrong.

Family sponsorship allows Canadian citizens or permanent residents to bring their spouse, common-law or conjugal partner, and/or children to Canada. The definition of what constitutes a spouse and children is available on both the CIC and Immigration Quebec websites.

In order to sponsor someone, you need to prove you have the money to meet the person’s basic needs such as food, clothing, and shelter, support them financially for a given period of time so that they don’t need to seek financial help from the government. Veracity of the relationship is weighed more heavily, though, than the financial status. In order to qualify to be a sponsor, you have to be a citizen or permanent resident age 18 or older.

come_to_canada_online_tool_en

If you yourself were sponsored as a spouse and became a permanent resident less than five years earlier, you cannot be a sponsor. You are also ineligible if you have declared bankruptcy which has yet to be discharged. If you have an outstanding immigration loan, you won’t be granted a sponsorship application.

You cannot be a sponsor if you have been convicted in Canada or abroad of sexual or violent crimes or threats of committing them or if you are in default of court ordered alimony payments.

In Quebec, you cannot be a sponsor if you are a current welfare recipient, the exception being if you receive benefits due to your age or a disability that keeps you from long term employment. Sponsors in Quebec are also forbidden from sponsoring a spouse who is under the age of consent in Canada (16).

Let’s say requirements are met and all the right forms and documents have been submitted. It should just be a couple of months before the person can move to Canada, right?

Wrong!

Processing times vary depending on what country the sponsored relative is coming from. At the federal level, the government is currently working its way through a backlog of applications. If you are sponsoring your American spouse, for example, you both could be waiting at least 14 months for processing, but that time will also allow CIC to assess you as a sponsor.

Skilled Workers

* Ed’s Note: Changes were recently made to the Quebec Skilled Worker Program, adding additional hoops to jump through, including when you apply, that aren’t mentioned in the text below. The Quebec Government lists some of them on their website.

Then there is the Quebec Skilled Worker Program. The program allows you to get a Quebec Selection Certificate (CSQ). By itself, the CSQ is worthless, but it does make it easier to become a Permanent Resident. Only when you become a Permanent Resident can you actually move to Canada.

The CSQ program is a points system based primarily on you (and your spouse’s) education, age, work experience, and knowledge of French and English. You can get a copy of the evaluation grid online but remember that the government changes the grid every few years.

In order to get points for language proficiency, you must provide the results of French and English tests recognized by the Quebec government, and documents in a format other than Immigration Quebec’s preferred format can lead to delays or a refusal of the application. Unfortunately, the government also has a quota of how many CSQ applications they accept annually, so check the website regularly to make sure it’s not too late.

Do you need a lawyer to help you immigrate?

Not really; it’s just a matter of correctly filling out forms, getting the right documents and fees together, and sending them to the right place on time. All of this information is available online. However, if you have trouble with one or both of Canada’s official languages or are contesting a decision, it’s better to get the advice of an expert. There are scores of qualified individuals working in this field who can help you.

The process is long and annoying but if you get here, we promise to welcome you, eh!

* This post was updated November 16th, 2016

The Nishnawbe Aski Police Service (NAPS) took a startling position during the inquest into the suicide of Lena Anderson in the back of one of its police cars. On Wednesday, they asked the five members of the jury to recommend that their service either be brought under the Police Services Act before April 2017, or disbanded.

The inquest shone a grim light on the deficient resources of the largest First Nations-administered police service in the country and the role it played in Anderson’s death. NAPS board chair Mike Metatawabin told the inquest that there was no point in keeping the service when it didn’t have the resources to fulfill its duties.

“Enough is enough. We can’t do this all the time where you promise something and then turn around and say you can’t do it,” he said, as quoted by CBC.

No Cells, No Radio and No Help

Lena Anderson, a 23 year old native woman, died in the back of a police car on February 1st 2013 in the remote aboriginal community of Kasabonika Lake in Northern Ontario.

10-fevrier

Earlier that night, Anderson’s daughter had been apprehended by a child welfare worker after being found drinking at a party in Kasabonika Lake First Nation, where alcohol is prohibited. Anderson became frantic when she learned the news, to the point where Cst. Jeremy Swanson took her into custody for her own safety.

Since Kasabonika doesn’t have proper holding cells, the standard practice is to hold detainees in the passenger compartment of the police cruiser until they are let go or transported out of town.  Swanson said that he intended to release Anderson once she had “sobered up”.

During his testimony, he recounted how he tried to contact the other officer over the radio but couldn’t get through. Since NAPS uses an old radio system instead of the modern ones that would have allowed him to leave a message to a dispatcher, he had no way of getting assistance without leaving the car.

According to Swanson’s notes, he left Anderson in the car for 16 minutes while he stopped at the door of a local social worker to get her to try to contact an off-duty officer. When he came back, the young woman had hung herself with a drawstring from her pants.

“I checked for a pulse. There was nothing…I tried to yell as loud as I could. No one was coming to help me.”

Swanson cut her down but the conditions made it impossible to “perform CPR efficiently.”

He got the social worker, Tina Nevins, to alert the nursing station that they were coming. Still, nobody was waiting for them outside when they arrived, so Swanson “carried and dragged Lena to the building, and started yelling for help.” Anderson was pronounced dead 45 minutes later.

When Swanson was asked about alternatives for holding detainees in the absence of cells, he said “there should be cells. Otherwise there shouldn’t be police officers, because they can’t do their jobs.”

History repeats itself

On Thursday, the coroner’s council issued 27 recommendations to avoid future incidents. The coroner’s office’s recommendations are not binding, contrarily to the jury’s. They stopped short of endorsing the idea of disbanding the NAPS, advising instead the jury to be careful in how far they take their recommendations.

They largely insisted, however, on the importance of ensuring that First Nations communities have access to the same level of policing and services as other communities.

The inquest into the Kashechewan fire deaths of 2009 brought essentially the same recommendations forward, but they still haven’t been followed.

“Lena Anderson would be alive today,” said NAPS legal councillor Julian Falconer in an interview with a local paper. “She died in 2013, because of the very same problems the jury identified in 2009.”

The NAPS board chair also referred to the failure to follow up on the 2009 recommendations in his emotional testimony: “For me it’s heartbreaking, heartbreaking that we’re still here, we’re still waiting, we’re still trying to make it better.”

First Nations Policing Program Called into Question

As per the First Nations Policing Program (FNPP), aboriginal communities in Canada are either policed by the RCMP or by a self-administered police service.

The Nishnawbe Aski police service is the largest First Nations police force in the country, with over 134 uniformed officers. Those 134 officers are in charge of 35 communities, spreading from Thunder Bay to James Bay.

First Nations administered police forces like NAPS were first instated when the FNPP was created in 1992 and their legal framework has not been updated since then.

They are mostly constituted of micro-sized services mandated to serve remote communities under provincial police regulations. In 24 years, 58 such services were created. Twenty of them were disbanded due to various crisis and failures.  Recent government research found that the diminutive size of these services was a primary cause of their failures.

Metatawabin and Falconer, with Swanson’s lawyer, Mike Maher and the lawyer representing the Anderson family, Christa Big Canoe, all called the entire First Nations policing program into question:

“From the perspective of my client, if they’re not willing to put their money where their mouths are, we just need to fold the whole program.”

* Featured image via netnewsledger.com

The Chilean refugees who arrived in Canada in the 1970s and 1980s, particularly in Montreal, have been a community that has captivated me throughout the past two years. I was therefore ecstatic to have the opportunity to see The Refugee Hotel staged at The Segal Centre. Despite some awkward translation into English and a difficult script to work with, the play is an excellent one that I recommend – particularly after yesterday’s events in the USA.

These brave Chileans who came across the oceans were faced with two choices; the first being to trust that everything would be okay for them in Chile if they kept their heads down, stayed in line, and trusted that the military would “make Chile great again”. The second: to restart their entire lives in a country with a new language, new food, new music, and of course, the omnipresent “Canadian values” (still searching for a definition of those, other than the ability to properly cross-check someone).

Teesri Duniya Theatre’s production of The Refugee Hotel does its sincere best to answer these questions. The script draws from author-and-playwright Carmen Aguirre’s lived experience as the child of Chilean refugees growing up in 1970s Canada. It’s an impressive story made even more poignant by its autobiographical basis.

The Refugee Hotel Trailer from Chris Wardell on Vimeo.

This is one of the reasons that it is so frustrating to review this play. Though the premise is admirable, Aguirre’s play shortchanges itself by trying to fit too many facets of the Chilean refugee story, and indeed, the story of human migration, into two short acts.

At the centre of the play are Jorge (Pablo Diconca) and Flaca (Gilda Monreal), a married couple who represent two sides of the resistance movement in Chile. Jorge is something of a milquetoast pacifist anarchist accountant, while his wife is a firebrand Marxist active in the MIR (the Revolutionary Leftist Movement).

Their two children escape with them to a hotel in Canada, where they meet other Chilean refugees subjected to inhuman torture in the Carabineros’ concentration camps. The rest of the play progresses at a slow pace as each rediscovers their humanity and intimacy, one-by-one in a frustratingly perfect way.

By “frustratingly perfect,” I mean that of course the mute girl is coaxed into to talking at the end of the second act, and she falls for the man who talks with her first, and of course they end the play with a freeze-frame photo motif. The play’s unfortunate dives into clichés keep it from developing serious critiques.

Jorge and Flaca’s struggle to be intimate once again despite the horrific sexual torture that the Carabineros inflicted upon her is a topic that is criminally underrepresented in works of art; and even less so is it approached sensitively. An exploration of that theme alone would have made for a powerful and moving production, but Aguirre’s insistence on shoehorning so many important themes into the play means that extraordinarily difficult trauma from torture is treated as nothing more than a plot point. For example, two suicide attempts that happen within two minutes of another are treated as comedic moments.

Moreover, I felt that the repeated flashbacks to scenes of torture in the Estadio Nacional de Chile are not used to explore the characters’ motivations and histories, but rather as punctuation marks for the drama as a whole.

The play is being performed at the Segal Centre, which bills itself as the heart of Montreal’s Anglophone theatre culture. This presents an interesting double-edged sword for the actors in that they are reading from a script originally written in Spanish, for an English-speaking audience in French Canada.

Certain recurring parts of the script (such as the nickname for Jorge, “Little-Big-Bear”) sound awkward in English where they would have made perfect sense in Spanish (“Osito Grande,” better understood as “Teddy Bear”). On a larger scale, the familiar words, particularly “desaparecido,” used to articulate the brutality of the Pinochet regime are lost in translation.

Furthermore, the play misses opportunity to develop a more nuanced comedic character in Bill O’Neill, the enthusiastic Québécois hippie who helps the guests at the Refugee Hotel find work. In the Spanish script, he speaks with comically poor but confident command over Spanish, but in this English adaptation, his dialogue sounds like a 19th-century caricature – “Army me take to stadium. Bad men take Bill!”

Other than awkward phrasing, this makes the characterization of Bill difficult for the audience, as he is repeatedly referred to (kindly) as “the only gringo who speaks Spanish.” In poor translation, Bill’s character shifts from that of a Canadian activist with a sincere wish to improve his Spanish and act in solidarity with Chilean refugees into a buffoon.

This is the part of reviewing that I do not enjoy. The story itself is captivating, and the curation behind the set design and music choices was phenomenal. I just wish that the story was more focused on one or two of these families, instead of a script that leaves several important facets of post-traumatic stress equally unexamined.

All of this is not to say that I did not find the play enjoyable and tastefully performed – in fact, the actors did a stellar job working with an awkward script, and the set direction was simple and elegant. I give a special commendation to the Set Designer, Diana Uribe, who placed the beds of the hotel at an upright 90º angle, which allowed the actors to remain part of the action, while staying true to the stage direction to lie supine.

The music choices, namely the major-key Victor Jara folk ballads that accompanied scenes of horrific torture in the Estadio Nacional may have been shocking to people unfamiliar with Chile’s musical history – but it seems a deliberate nod to the famous Cueca Sola spot produced by the Anti-Pinochet Campaign during the 1989 plebiscite made famous by Pablo Larraín’s 2012 film. This is made all the more poignant by the fact that Victor Jara was tortured to death in the Estadio Nacional, specifically targeted and brutally murdered for his popularity and beliefs.

Speaking with the actor who played Jorge, Pablo Diconca, I learned that many of the cast came into this production with the explicit goal of putting faces to the communities so left behind by history. Diconca is a Uruguayan-born Montrealer who has been an integral part of the local theatre scene since his arrival in Canada at 19:

“I can not ever forget the fact that I have an accent, and I will always have one. This has restricted me as an actor – I have played drug dealers, murderers, and taxi drivers more than I can count,” Pablo told me. “When I came to Canada, I refused these roles out of principle…but with time, I came to realize that acting is my passion, and that by being on stage, this is how one becomes involved in the local culture and community. One must put their heart into acting. It becomes easier when the script is [about] something you already have in your heart. I was invited to be a part of this cast, and I didn’t see how I could turn it down. This is a play that can help to open minds.”

Teesri Duniya’s Artistic Director and co-founder, Rahul Varma, explained to me that he chose to stage this play as a way of “challenging the notion that 9/11 of 2001 divided the world into pre-9/11 and post 9/11…there have been so many other 9/11s, such as the 9/11 of 1973.” Rahul is of course referring to the military coup in Chile that took place on September 11, 1973, where the Chilean Air Force bombed downtown Santiago and assassinated the democratically-elected head of state, Salvador Allende.

refugee-hotel-2

Rahul continued, referencing the current Syrian refugee crisis, “I thought that this play brings certain realities of the past and connects them to what is currently happening.  The idea is to look into what has happened – why is it that refugees are coming to Canada? Why do people leave their homes elsewhere?”

According to their website, Teesri Duniya Theatre “is dedicated to producing, developing and presenting socially and politically relevant theatre, based on the cultural experiences of diverse communities.” They are an incredibly important part of Montreal’s Arts community and I am thrilled to see that they took it upon themselves to tell the story of an underrepresented and important part of Canada.

As we draw to the closing of this play’s run at the Segal Centre, as well as the dawning of an unprecedented dark cloud over North American immigration politics, it is important to remember the lessons left by Chilean-Canadians’ struggles in and out of their homeland. I salute Teesri Duniya Theatre, The Segal Centre, and the cast and crew of this production for shining a light on the challenges faced by refugees in a sensitive and responsible manner despite an unaccommodating script.

El pueblo unido jamás será vencido.

The Refugee Hotel is playing until Sunday at The Segal Centre (5170 ch. de la Côte-Ste-Catherine). Tickets available here.

Poster by Rashad Nilamdeen.

Protests, like potholes, are a year-round occurance in Montreal. The economy is in the toilet, tuition costs are on the rise, and Prime Minister Trudeau has turned his back on the young people whose coattails he rode into office.

Young people voted for Trudeau hoping that he would help stabilize employment in Canada only to be told to get used to temporary, low paying jobs without benefits. Quebeckers voted for Philippe Couillard hoping to do away with the Parti Québecois’ message of aggressive xenophobic secularism and language issues only to find the provincial government raising the language and signage disputes people are sick of. Municipal austerity measures are coming at the expense of the pensions our blue collar workers worked so hard for.

Votes don’t seem to count anymore and the cynicism pushed by bitter columnists is proving true. With the government ignoring the reason they were voted into office, people are forcing the government to listen by taking to the streets.

Everyone from students to cops to healthcare workers to Native leaders are taking to the streets with pickets, hoping to have their voices heard. Like the potholes, the City of Montreal has a pathetic track record of dealing with protests, reverting to persecution rather than reasonable negotiation. To our elected officials, protesters are not frustrated human beings with legitimate concerns but noisemakers and disruptors.

Laws Used Against Protesters

With the cops using their authority to assault people desperate to be heard, it’s time to look at the laws the government uses and overuses to suppress dissenters.

Let’s start with the Canadian Criminal Code.

Protesters are commonly charged with assault, harassment, mischief, unlawful assembly, and obstructing police officers. Since I addressed mischief in my piece on Devil’s Night, let’s look at the rest.

Assault is defined as applying force directly or indirectly to another person without their consent. The penalty is up to five years in prison unless the person is tried on summary conviction, which carries a lesser penalty. If a weapon is used in the assault, the penalty increases to a maximum of ten years, or if tried on summary conviction, a minimum of eighteen months. Since the definition of assault is so vague, it can range from hitting or kicking, to simply pushing and shoving.

Harassment is the act of engaging in conduct that would make a person feel harassed, which includes following them, repeatedly communicating with them, and watching their workplace. As protests often occur in front of government buildings where elected officials work, and repeated communication is the only way they feel they can be heard, it is far too easy for those ignoring them to call it harassment. Harassment is a serious charge, with a maximum penalty of ten years in prison, and its broad definition bears the risk of overuse.

Unlawful Assembly is when three or more people get together for a common purpose and their group causes the surrounding neighborhood to fear a disturbance of the peace. Unfortunately many protests, even peaceful, are noisy. An unlawful assembly charge, which fortunately only runs the risk of a summary conviction, is applied willy nilly by authorities to punish protesters.

Obstructing a police officer is a charge that became popular against protesters this past summer when people stormed the National Energy Board (NEB) hearings to voice their dissent against the proposed Energy East pipeline. To be convicted of this charge, the prosecution has to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a person resisted, willfully obstructed, or did not assist a public or peace officer in the execution of his or her duties. The penalty is up to two years in prison unless there is a summary conviction.

Protesters are also punished with municipal bylaws.

The municipal bylaw used to punish protesters is bylaw P-6, formally called the “By-law concerning the prevention of breaches of the peace, public order and safety, and the use of public property”.

The bylaw was added to by former Mayor Gerald Tremblay in 2012 following the massive student protests against tuition hikes. Article 2.1 of the bylaw requires assemblies, parades, or gatherings in public places to disclose their itineraries to authorities prior to the event. Article 3.2 of the bylaw makes it illegal for protesters to cover their faces with a scarf or hood without a reasonable motive.

Both of these articles were ruled unconstitutional by Judge Chantal Masse of the Superior Court on June 22, 2016, following a successful challenge by Julien Villeneuve, a CEGEP professor who attended the protests in a panda costume.

Laws that Protect Protesters

We know about the laws used to punish protesters. Now let’s talk briefly about the laws meant to protect them and all of us.

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms entrenched in our constitution guarantees freedom of thought, opinion, and expression. It guarantees freedom of peaceful assembly, and freedom of association. It also guarantees the right against arbitrary detention. In spite of this, protesters are arrested left and right and their protests, no matter how peaceful, are punished as being unlawful.

Then there’s the Quebec Charter, a quasi-constitutional law entrenched in Quebec legislation. Like the Canadian Charter, it guarantees freedom of assembly and association.

Our criminal laws are also in place to protect, yet they are used to suppress protesters not keep them safe. Police officers who act prematurely by shooting rubber bullets and smashing people with batons rarely see any consequences for their actions, confirming the protesters’ belief that they are there to persecute, not protect.

Protests may be a public nuisance but they are a necessary one. As long as the government refuses to listen to the people who elected them, the protests will continue. As long as people feel voiceless, they will take to the streets to make sure they are heard.

For every time the government betrays the ones who voted for them, hundreds pickets will spring up. The act of listening and communication is the key to most conflict resolution. If politicians want the protesting to stop, they have to start listening.

* Featured image by Cem Ertekin

Welcome to my nightmare. This can’t be real, weird night to say the least. I keep thinking that I am going to wake up. I can already feel the cold.

The Stock Market is the first to crash.

The House.

The Senate.

down-with-the-ship

As the night went on, and the results came in I began to tear up, I found an old black tutu and fashioned some veils so we could mourn the death of our free world. This is it. Worst case scenario.

Clinton wasn’t the answer clearly, but no, NO! Not this. Nobody is ready for the Halocaust 2.0, WWIII, it’s the plot to a video game or blockbuster flick. I’m ready for the rise of the machines or zombies, a good ol fashioned alien invasion, not this, Back to the Future predicted it, so did The Simpsons, 1984 is 2016, 9/11 and 11/9 are synonymous.

A racist bigot mysoginist narcissist was just elected President of the United States.

So many people fought and died for our collective rights only to jump a million steps back.

trump-parody

I dressed like him, a parody, to show the abject evil of our world. I was hopeful and danced to Loser by Beck,  my alternate song was It’s the End of the World as We Know It by REM. Soon will I live in a world where I am not free to mock him? Not free to express my anger?

Well, what’s new? For a country that was initially founded on the displacement and blatant thievery from Native Americans and then the subsequent enslavement of a whole race of people on top of sexual oppression and obvious lack of education.

The world is not flat. This land is NOT made for you and me. If the bees die, we all die. If we all die, the world will flourish again. Make the world great again with a full wipe out of humanity. The apocalypse has already begun. It’s too late, the cogs are in motion. First David Bowie died, then Prince, now this? Fuck 2016. They beamed up to home base before the shit hit the fan. Another reason why I am never having children.

Is this like a drunk Vegas wedding? Can we get an annulment? Is it that easy to IMPEACH the Cheeto stained antichrist?

I want to fight, life is in the middle of a battlefield, come home, to nothing but wreck and ruins, a poorly styled man, evil to the core, the Big Apple is full of maggots. Trump Tower must burn. The White House is changing to The White Power House, since you know the KKK endorsed candidate has been elected.

OK so stage 1, I cried hysterically. I got my period this morning in one angry clot and just couldn’t handle the results without a veil, shrouded black hole of utter despair. I needed whiskey.

Stage 2, Pure madness. Blind furious rage and energetic super force. Hell hath seen no fury like a woman scorned. Try and grab my pussy motherfucker! Whiskey kicked in (and a Trump supporter walked into the bar).

warrior-feminist

Stage 3, Calming down, realizing that no matter who got voted in we were fucked. The system is corrupt and it’s all just puppetry. I am sober and alone with my cats. My boisterous comrades have retired for a sleep. I must write and make art, I must say something or watch it all burn.

I can’t help but wonder WWBSD? What Would Bernie Sanders Do? My tender hearted socialist Jew. I hate to say that I think he would have had a better chance to get to the “not so intelligent” and obviously hateful majority of our VOTING population. He is a white male, they like that. I loved his politics and kind nature. War and hate is not the answer.

bernie-nodapl

I know a lot of people who opted to forfeit their right to vote in protest. I also know a lot of third party voters and Sanders write ins. This is not their fault! Then I also know a few Trump supporters, it disgusts me, I blame their vile hate and privilege. It all needs to just stop. I am about to blow chunks.

It is sad to say that Americans will vote in this piece of garbage over a woman, who admittedly is qualified, questionable but qualified. It is a pure outrage and I call for immediate impeachment.

Jill Stein you are my girl! Baraka is also awesome. I wish our third party was a viable option.

CAN WE JUST FDR STATUS BARACK OBAMA? THIS IS AN EMERGENCY!!! FOUR MORE YEARS

Canada’s immigration website is down due to the election results, I don’t blame them. We all have to get out before the wall keeps us in forever.

Mass exodus now. Riot in the streets. Anarchy defeats whatever this is.

Food for thought:  Dave Chappelle and Michelle Obama 2020?

MICHELLE/CHAPPELLE for President: Make America Safe Again.

dave_chappell

I need a nap before work.

So this is it. Call it the series finale for American Democracy. Call it The Thrilla with Far Too Much Vanilla. It’s the 2016 US Presidential Election and it will be resolved tonight (in theory).

I’ll never complain about the length of a Canadian campaign again. This site alone has published 21 posts on the subject and spoke about it numerous times on our podcast and most of our readership can’t even vote in US elections.

From the spark of revolutionary Bern in the primaries to the threat of a smug orange mushroom cloud in the general, we have been paying attention. Canadians like me, people around the world, Americans living abroad, some right here in Montreal and of course those living in the 50 states have been closely watching, reading and posting about the developments.

Tonight will be no different. The question becomes, will you be taking in the results alone or with others. In both cases, there are plenty of options:

2016 US Election Results Watch Parties in Montreal

If you want to watch the election results pour in and either celebrate or commiserate with a room full of people, there are a bunch of places in Montreal where you can do just that.

Here are a few:

US Election Results Viewing Party @ Chez Boris: Usually, this Parc Avenue breakfast and lunch place isn’t open much past 7pm. They made an exception during the recent Presidential Debates and it was a success, so they’re doing the same thing for election night.

I like that the place is open specifically for this event, which means those in the room are also only there to watch the election results. They’re promising deep fried oreos, Icelandic-style veggie dogs and hot dogs and an election-themed costume contest and bingo. Details and a rather funny description are available on their event page, and also this, one of my favourite event images so far:

us-elections-hope-progress-pabst-cans

Chez Boris, 5151 Ave du Parc, 7pm – 12:30am

Democrats Abroad Montreal Election Night Party @ Sir Winston Churchill Pub: This is probably not the best place to ironically wear your Make America Great Again hat. Also, probably not the most pro-Jill Stein crowd in town. If, however, you’re waiting with anticipation for Hillary to smash that glass ceiling, this group of people watching the results at Sir Winston’s are very much “with her” as well.

Democrats Abroad Montreal and Democrats Abroad McGill are hosting an election night party, as they did for the debates. If you happen to be looking away from the screen or even outside having a smoke when a state turns blue, don’t worry, the cheers of the crowd will let you know what happened.

Sir Winston Churchill Pub, 1459 Crescent, 6:30pm – midnight

OCSM US Election Pub Night @ Burgundy Lion: The Oxford & Cambridge Society of Montreal has a section of tables reserved at the Burgundy Lion Pub. This is a group that hosts events for Oxford and Cambridge alumni living in Montreal, so it’s sure to offer a much more academic perspective on the vote south of the border

Burgundy Lion, 2496 Notre Dame Ouest, 6:30pm – 3am, Ask for the O&C tables or Martine Verdy. Please RSVP with Professor Gerald Ratzer at gerald.ratzer@mcgill.ca

US Election Night Party @ Groove Nation: If groove is in the heart and politics is in the head, then Groove Nation is putting together a package deal for election night. The venue most known for live shows and dancing will be showing live election results on a giant screen.

According to the event page: “Whether you are for, against, or abstaining, you are welcome to join us for drinks and debates. Whatever happens at the end, at least it will finally be over! We think.” They’ve also got a good image:

us-election-night-groove-nation

Groove Nation, 410 Rachel Est, 6:30pm – 3am

Election Night at Casa : America’s Final Rose Ceremony 2016: Casa del Popolo has probably one of the best names for an election results watching event I’ve seen. It’s also the event which takes into account the psychological effect this election has had on people. They’re offering free community support along with $4.50 pints and $3.50 shots.

DJ Christina Bell will be spinning tunes, the results will be shown on a giant screen and there’s no cover. There are also “no jerks or Trump supporters allowed”.

Casa del Popolo, 4873 Boul St-Laurent, 9pm – 3am

Watch the 2016 US Election Results Online

If you’re not so sure if you can contain your reactions in public or would just prefer take the results in at home alone or with friends, there are options other than mainstream news outlets. Here are a couple:

The Young Turks: I love this team. They’re biased and don’t hold their opinions back. They were pro-Bernie in the primaries, but now their main host and network co-founder Cenk Unger as well as most of the other pundits on the panel plan to vote Hillary, while remaining critical of her. A few are backing Jill Stein. They all hate Trump.

If you’re looking for solid analysis from a progressive perspective, they have it. They also will be reporting the results as soon as they come in. Generally once two of the major outlets predict a winner in a state, they announce it as well.

The Young Turks will be streaming live from 1pm to 1am and possibly longer on YouTube and Facebook.

Democracy Now: Amy Goodman is the paragon of independent journalists. She, along with Juan Gonzalez, will be hosting live election night coverage featuring up-to-the-minute results not only on the race to the White House but also for the US Senate and the US House of Representatives as well as ballot initiatives across the country, including California’s push to legalize recreational weed.

DN is not op-ed, in fact, it’s known for objective journalism. What I love about them, though, is how, through their selection of topics to cover and guests to have on, they present information that rarely gets a hearing outside of progressive circles. I trust them to focus on what’s really important this election as well as the the big stories everyone will be covering.

Democracy Now! will be livestreaming on their site election night from 7pm to midnight.

No matter where you’re watching, here’s hoping you get the results you were looking for. That, and let’s also hope it’s a lot smoother in four years.

* Donald Trump painting in featured image by Samantha Gold. Buy the original on eBay

* Special thanks to my FB friends for helping me assemble this list

Thousands of people lined up on the McGill campus Wednesday night waiting hours for a chance to be part of a videoconference with Edward Snowden.

(No, not the guy from Wikileaks, that’s Julien Assange and the only thing they have in common is an outstanding warrant against them for leaking information that the American government wanted kept secret. Snowden revealed that the government agency he worked for, the NSA, was spying on ordinary people on a scale that is neither legitimate nor legal. Basically, he proved that the US and many other countries, including Canada, engaged in mass surveillance. This means the government collects things like your phone records, your videos, your internet data, regardless of whether you are suspected of criminal activity or not.)

You might have missed the videoconference because you were among the thousands of understandably irritated fans left outside after both auditoriums were filled. Maybe you decided to go home after almost getting trampled for the third time in the line-up. Maybe you stayed home to watch the Cubs win.

We can’t recreate for you the distinct Rock Show feel of the overexcited line of people randomly cheering and periodically lurching forward in a panic to get inside, nor the barely concealed distress of the moderator as the video entirely cut off after random people started joining the video call.

The event did not run smoothly by any stretch of the imagination. Less than half of the people who lined up got inside the building. The conference was more than an hour late and the organizers managed to make the Google hangout public, which let to technical difficulties of frankly comedic proportions.

The fact that AMUSE/PSAC, the association representing 1000 members of support staff (most of them also students) at McGill was on strike and picketing arguably didn’t help matters. They became the prime target of the people’s frustration.

However, Edward Snowden himself came to their defense. He encouraged the people present to “hear them out” and reminded the audience of how hard being a dissident could be.

Mishaps aside, the conference happened and Snowden managed to say a lot of interesting things during it. Here are a few of them.

“Surveillance technologies have outpaced democratic control.”

Mass surveillance was a lesser problem when it wasn’t so easy. Not so long ago, it took a whole team to track one person’s activity. Now it’s the opposite. One lone government official can easily track the activities of many people.

The safeguards against the abuse of this power have not developed as quickly. This means that Intelligence agencies have less accountability than ever, while their powers keep growing thanks to evolving technologies.

“This inverts the traditional dynamic of private citizens and public officials into this brave new world of private officials and public citizens.”

This, Snowden says, is perfectly illustrated by the recent revelations about the SPVM spying on Patrick Lagacé. It was revealed earlier this week that the SPVM and the SQ have put the La Presse reporter and at least six other journalists under surveillance in an effort to discover their confidential sources. Snowden called it a “radical attack on the operations of a free press” and “a threat to the traditional model of our democracy.”

But the actions were authorized by the court. For Snowden, this is a sign that the “law is beginning to fail as a guarantor of our rights.”

Intelligence officials have overtly admitted that they would interpret the word of the law as loosely as they could to fit their interests, regardless of the actual intent of the law. In practice, this translates to using anti-terrorist measures to spy on environmental activists or getting access to a journalist’s internet data through a bill meant to fight cyber-bullying.

 “How do we ensure that we can trust intelligence agencies and officials to operate the law fairly? The answer is we can’t.”

We can’t trust intelligence officials to respect the spirit of the law; in fact, we can’t even trust them to respect the law itself, argued Snowden. Intelligence gathering programs have broken the law more than once, he reminded, often without consequences.

“What we can do,” he continued, “is put processes in place to ensure that we don’t have to.” He believes the key of these processes is an independent judicial authority able to oversee intelligence gathering operations and prosecute them when needed.

Canada actually has the weakest intelligence oversight out of any major western country.”

Now they’re not the most aggressive,” he conceded, “they don’t have the largest scale, but…. no one is really watching.”

The powers of the Canadian Security Intelligence Agency (CSIS) have drastically increased in the last 15 years.  Law C-51, in particular, allows them to decide under any motive – however far-fetched – who constitutes a threat to national security and can thus be spied on. “The current Prime Minister did campaign to reform [C-51] and has failed to do so,” reminded Snowden.

The resources to oversee the CSIS, meanwhile, have decreased. The office of the Inspector General, which used to be a major part of it, was simply cut by Stephen Harper. This left the Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC) as the sole entity reporting to parliament on intelligence agencies. Its members are politically appointed.

CSIS is not the only intelligence gathering agency. The Canadian Border Security Agency, Global Affairs Canada and the National Defense Department all have the power to infringe on the rights of people, including the right to privacy, in certain circumstances and there is no credible authority overseeing them.

Retired Deputy Director of Foreign Intelligence Kurt Jensen pleaded for changing this situation in an article published last January. “Remember the old adage of who will watch the watchers? In Canada the answer is no one,” he wrote.

Since then, the government has started a process to review the oversight of intelligence gathering operations. Public hearings about the matter have started in September. Incidentally, this week, a judge ruled that the CSIS has been unwittingly conducting illegal mass surveillance since 2006.

The conference ended on an inspirational note, with Snowden addressing the students:

“We can have a very dark future or a very bright future but the ultimate determination of which fork in the road we take won’t be my decision, it won’t be the government decision, it will be your generation’s decision.”

I will be attending the Montreal Infringement Festival this year and simultaneously protesting the World Fringe Conference. Everyone who tried to attend the conference from both the Montreal and Buffalo Infringement Festivals have been denied without reason.

Why do we scare you so much? If you want to have a well run festival you must know the counterculture you have excluded. Fringe artists are supposed to be cutting edge and on the fringe of new and exciting artistic expression. They must pay money to be part of the festival. Politically motivated acts are not welcome due to the chance of pissing off sponsors. Censorship and corporate sponsorship are evil.

The Montreal Infringement Festival was created by Donovan King in 2004 after the St. Ambroise (a beer company) Fringe censored the artist in 2001. The sponsor Can-West Global, a media company that owns the Montreal Gazette was to blame.

The theatre critic from the Gazette wanted a free ticket to Car Stories (experimental politically charged interactive street theatre where the audience moves and becomes the show) and after being told “no” caused a stink and decided not to cover the festival until the artists were ejected. The festival not only kicked the artists out but also refused to pay them their ticket sales after a sold out week or reimburse the registration fee associated with the Fringe trademark.

The following year Infringement spread to Buffalo. Infringement is a non-profit, non-hierarchal, grassroots art festival. It is a revolution that brings together independent, free spirited, and often controversial and experimental expression.

live-painting-infringement
Donovan and I Montreal Infringement 2014

Donovan King attended the World Fringe Congresses in Edinburgh in 2012 and 2014 . He was invited as a representative of the infringement festivals. This year he the conference is in his hometown and he was denied access.

This is a blatant disrespectful slap in the face. Donovan was excited at the prospect of attending the 2016 Congress to continue the conversation in his home city and to try and finally resolve issues.

He has written and performed pieces that criticize the Fringe Festival and its ethics. Other artists have combined efforts to artistically challenge their exclusion from the St. Ambroise Fringe through culture jamming. The festival has responded with the complete exclusion of activist artists.

The police are called whenever there is a protest, even though the right to protest in Canada is protected by their constitution. Instead of communicating we are shunned, this cultural battle that has gone on for well over a decade and it must end now!

This year for the 3rd World Fringe Congress Donovan proposed a workshop on strategies to help ensure safer artistic festivals after unfortunate instances of sexual assault and discrimination against disabled people at recent Fringe Festivals. We need to create policies to ensure safety and inclusion of all people in our festivals.

He wrote a letter to the new Fringe CEO, Ms. Shona McCarthy, in response to the rejection of Infringement representatives:

“I find it really unfortunate that my colleagues in Buffalo are being rejected simply for being associated with me. It is important to remember that these artists simply wanted to do Fringe theatre until they were threatened by the Fringe in NYC, who claimed to control a Fringe trademark. Instead, they started an infringement festival, just like we did because of the Canadian trademark that prevented us from doing a populist form of arts we have been doing since we helped found the Fringe in Montreal. We are about as Fringe as it gets – if people won’t let us play in their ‘official’ festival, we are going to do it ourselves, just like the artists who invented the 1947 Fringe Festival in the first place.”

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Infringement Festivals accept and celebrate all artists

The Canadian Association of Fringe Festivals (CAFF) also threatens unfounded legal action against any independent artists who try to use the word Fringe without their permission. This is the antithesis of creative expression. There is an exclusion of artists actually on the fringe of societal norms.

The Infringement Festivals do not fit corporate agendas and are not allowed to voice creative solutions to critical questions. In order to spark our own counter conversation there will be a World Infringement Congress on Saturday November 19th in Montreal.

Infringement is about community, inclusion for all, challenging unjust politics, celebrating diversity, and changing the world through artistic expression. Buffalo comrades should make the trip.

My last performance with Candy Ass was incredible
My last performance with Candy Ass Cabaret

I will be exposed and covered in corporate logos for the world to see and performing with The Candyass Caberet at the historic Cafe Cleopatra. I have been one of the visual arts organizers, a participating artist, and performer in the Buffalo festival for years and am also proud to say that I won the 2017 poster contest.

I am dedicated to the conservation of artistic integrity worldwide. My paintings have been ripped off walls and people have walked out of my performances. If people are offended then you are doing it right.

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Buffalo stands with Montreal to protect Infringement

I was surprised when I saw a giant ad and schedule for the Rochester Fringe Festival in a local Buffalo art publication. This is Infringement territory! We celebrate diversity and the pure unedited brilliance of local artists.

Try to tell me that what we are doing is wrong, that bringing the community together and celebrating the beauty of unity, artists of all walks of life and experience standing side by side making the world stronger, exposing children to art, collaborating with our neighbors and connecting to out of town artists who will soon become family.

Authentic and exhilarating politically charged art, discrediting idea of art as a commodity and fighting for the rights of all humans, and challenging mainstream ideas. No budget, totally volunteer run, guerrilla music, burlesque, dance, theatre, visual arts, poetry, comedy, and under the radar art that defies all categorization.

It is my everything, a citywide sprawling sweet escape from reality. I will fight for the integrity of this festival and others like it to the end.