On November 9, 2017, the Quebec government passed Bill 144, An Act to Amend the Education Act and other legislative provisions concerning mainly free educational services and compulsory school attendance. The law, which comes into effect next summer, was enacted to tackle the ongoing problem of illegal schools and better regulate homeschooling in the province.

The trigger for this law is a lawsuit brought by Yohanen Lowen and his wife Shira. The two are former members of Tash, a Chasidic religious Jewish community in Boisbriand, Quebec. Lowen left his community over ten years ago and discovered that his education left him completely unprepared for life on the outside.

Though Lowen can speak Yiddish and read Aramaic, he did not know basic arithmetic, nor could he read and write English and French. He and his wife are suing the provincial government for failing in their legal obligation to ensure that they, like all other children in Quebec, receive a proper education.

The case is due to be heard next fall, with the Education Ministry and leading members of the Tash community named in the suit. It should be noted that while Lowen is unemployed and making up for lost time by working for his high school diploma, neither he nor his wife are seeking financial compensation. What they want is a declaratory judgment forcing the government to make people in religious communities teach their children the provincial curriculum.

The issues at play are threefold. First, there is parental discretion and the right of parents to choose the education that will best prepare their children to be functioning members of society.

There is also the issue of government supervision which prevents child abuse and deprivation by setting legal limits on said parental discretion. This why, for example, parents can be punished for starving their kids or beating them into comas.

The third issue is one of discrimination and religious freedom. Quebec is currently a hotbed of intolerance with laws like Bill 62 exacerbating existing prejudices and emboldening the most vile members of society into expressing their hatred openly. There are concerns that because Bill 144 was enacted primarily to tackle illegal Chasidic schools, religious Jewish communities will be the primary targets of the new law.

I had the privilege of speaking to a Modern Orthodox Jewish couple who both work as educators within Jewish schools approved by the province. Like many religious Jews, they keep Kosher, and the Sabbath, and codes of modesty, but unlike members of ultra religious communities like Tash, they do not avoid pop culture and modern technology.

The male half of the couple, a Rabbi, pointed out the difficulty with legislation like this as in Quebec most schools receive public funds, and that to receive it they have to conform to certain standards set by the province. He explained that religious communities like Tash believe they are providing their children with a proper education, but it is an education that will only serve them if they choose to remain within the community. The kids are taught with the assumption that they will never leave, and therefore are given no lessons that would allow them to thrive outside of it.

Yohanen Lowen would have been just fine had he chosen to remain in Tash. His decision to leave is what created problems regarding the education he got.

Both the couple and another Orthodox Jewish teacher I spoke to agree that certain subjects should be taught in all schools, particularly basic science, math, English, and French. They do, however, point out that some curriculum topics interfere with the most literal interpretations of religious texts.

Science, for example, conflicts with creationism. Moral education lessons that teach about other religions which would be perceived as fostering cultural sensitivity for the less religious would be perceived as making kids question their faith by these communities.

Sadly, Bill 144 does not contain anything requiring that a basic curriculum be taught to homeschooled kids, not directly anyway. What the law says is that parents who choose to homeschool must send written notice to the competent school board in their area and submit a “learning project” for approval.

It also requires that parents inform their kids of their rights under the Quebec Education Act, specifically those covered in articles 14 to 17 which cover the rights of children in receiving an education. This includes the right of all children to attend school from the age of 6 to the age of 16.

The new law requires that the government set standards for home schooled children and specify how the local school boards can monitor them. It allows inspectors designated by Education Minister to enter premises suspected of schooling kids illegally and collect information on the children and their parents. The law permits the Education Ministry official to access the health records of children to confirm their identities.

It is the last part of the law that homeschooling advocates like Noemi Berlus, president of Quebec’s homeschooling association, take issue with, feeling that it is a violation of privacy. Education Minister Sébastien Proulx claims that the law is in accordance with Quebec’s privacy rules.

It is the imposition of a standard curriculum that has religious Jews most concerned, as some have pointed out that such a law could force these illegal schools deeper underground by either not registering their children, or sending them to the United States where education is not as closely monitored.

As it stands, Bill 144 is vague, and it is perhaps that vagueness that gives reason to hope, as assessments by inspectors and school board officials could use their discretion to be more culturally sensitive. What must be remembered, however, is that vagueness can also pave the way for more intolerant interpretations.

If Quebec is truly committed to a message of tolerance, the law must be applied to everyone regardless of faith and care must be taken to make sure groups are not targeted unfairly.

I am sobbing reading about Danica Roem’s victory in Virginia. She not only is the first Transgender woman to be elected into Virginia legislature, she beat a shitty republican asshole who REFUSED to use her proper pronouns and only spewed hate for half a century. This man was about to overthrow a law protecting trans students from using the bathroom of their choice and then he was beaten by a trans woman!

She is also vegetarian and the singer in a metal band! I love her so much.

YES THERE IS HOPE! I am so proud of her. I agree that the government is flawed AF and needs to be overthrown with real direct change. This is it. We take over by winning. We get out and vote, we support those who are just and those who will represent US.

We are trans, we are queer, we are black, we are women, we are immigrants, we are disabled, and we are only strong if we are all together holding each other up. Danica has totally inspired a generation of kids who have never seen someone like them succeed. She gives them hope that it can change.

She is 33 years old, I am about to be 31, I have a lot of work to do. I can change the world too! We all have to. Right now!

It starts with home, it starts with letting people we love that it is not okay to hate! Families have been torn apart because people are refusing to accept racists and bigots into their homes. How can I serve a Trump supporter a vegan Thanksgiving feast?

My generation will not accept that bullshit. I recently ended a lifetime friendship over just this. Enjoy this song from the band The Specials. If you have a racist friend this is the time for the friendship to end!

Knowing that someone actually supports Trump is a deal breaker. His hate is so transparent that they have no excuse of ignorance.

Local elections are so important, the school board, the sheriff, the fucking mayor, why would people not want to have a voice? It has been 100 years since women gained the right to vote in the US.

The current run of old white men who are hate mongers is actually just a catalyst for the revolution. They are finally getting SO bad that people are getting up off the couch and taking to the streets.

It is November 9th, my mom’s birthday, and one year since Donald Trump was elected President. I can’t believe it’s been a year. Three more to go. Fuck! Will we make it? Nobody knows.

Facebook Memories showed me the photo I posted one year ago. It was the band of the Titanic playing as the ship sank. I felt hopeless.

Shortly after I felt extreme feminine rage and made my photo Xena Warrior Princess. Lucy Lawless is so hot and powerful. A true badass female, like Danica Roem, I would rather be her than a band playing as the water crushes those around them and the planks snap one by one. I know an icy death awaits but I am not going down without a fight, none of us are!

The race for Sheriff in my home county was a tough one. Many people I know got out to #FIREHOWARD and I really hope we succeeded. (Former( fingers crossed)) Sheriff Howard has been there for way too long, he is an open racist and Trump supporting scumbag.

Sheriff Howard (image: DailyPublic.com)

He wore his uniform to a Spirit of America rally and was surrounded by confederate flag waving assholes. People keep dying in the holding center and we need someone to stop it.

Bernie Tolbert , a black man, ran against him in an election so close that we still have to wait for the absentee ballots to be counted. Tolbert was the head of the FBI in Buffalo as well as the former head of security for the NBA. I just know that he is a big step in the right direction.

We must empower those who have always been put down. Now is the time for people of color, transgender humans, queers, and all of the others who have been oppressed for so long to take office and change this bullshit from the inside out.

It’s a long and epic boss battle. This is a multiplayer game folks, don’t put down that controller just yet!

How do I deal with the everlasting crush of the world crumbling down around me? I stay in my bed hole and cuddle with someone cute and my three cats. Wake up, bong, vegan yums, then maybe dye my hair blue. Plan the next show, listen to music, write as much as you can, and paint like humans are going extinct and all that will be left is the art we leave behind.

Politics really stress me out. This is a privilege, I know that. I can turn off the TV and chose not to read the newspaper. I can drown out my first world problems with hair dye.

I do not live in a war torn place. I am not beaten or threatened because of my skin or religious beliefs. I am free. I have a place to be warm and a person to hold, I have purpose and I need to help others rise up.

I live in a world where I can run around in half drag and scream because I feel like it. I expose myself and make people laugh. In other parts of the world I would be dead. Women can’t play music or even show their faces without being beaten or killed. People of color, transgender humans, and others do not have the luxury that I do.

I use my body as a tool, my burlesque is a voice. I will never be quiet about my politics.

My best friend told me that she almost didn’t have time to vote, but knew she needed to use her voice. She went. I am proud of her!

She voted in a room full of people of color and women. I held the door for an old white man with a Make America Great Again sticker on his car. At lease my vote cancelled his out.

That’s all we can do, show kindness even to the enemy, know the power of our collective voice, and push back when oppression strikes its poisonous hateful tendrils at those we love. Rise up motherfuckers, the revolution has already begun.

On Tuesday, November 7, 2017, Muslim groups and civil liberty advocates launched the constitutional challenge we all knew was coming. Last week, I and many others predicted that Bill 62 would be headed straight for the courts on grounds that it violates the freedoms guaranteed in Canada’s constitution and Quebec’s Charter of Human Rights.

I’m not going to go over the details of Bill 62 as I did that last week. Instead, let’s talk about the legal challenge.

The plaintiffs in the constitutional challenge say in their court filing that:

“Such blatant and unjustified violations of freedom of religion, as well as of the quality guarantees of the Quebec and Canadian charters, have no place in Quebec or Canada,” and that this cannot be justified in a free and democratic society.

The plaintiffs include the National Council of Canadian Muslims, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, and Warda Naili (formerly Marie-Michelle Lacoste), a convert to Islam who has chosen to wear the niqab as an expression of her faith.

The CBC spoke to some women who wear the niqab, something the Couillard government failed to do before passing Bill 62. For the most part they claim they have no issue showing their faces for identification and medical purposes, but that the law’s insistence that they show their faces regularly is not only humiliating them and forcing them to act in violation of their faith, but has also exacerbated the harassment they’ve experienced due to their beliefs.

The law, it seems, has sent the message to the most bigoted repulsive members of Quebec society that harassing a woman for how she dresses is perfectly ok. All you have to do is claim religious neutrality and secularism.

The motion filed in Superior Court on behalf of the aforementioned groups comes despite claims by Premier Philippe Couillard that Bill 62 was written to ensure its compliance with the Canadian and Quebec Charters. Quebec Justice Minister Stéphanie Vallée is also on the defensive, claiming the law only applies where uncovering one’s face is needed for communication, identification, or security. She’s said she believes the law will survive a constitutional challenge, though her confidence about this seems forced.

Other leaders in Quebec, including former Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre, newly elected mayor Valérie Plante, and the Quebec Association of municipalities have all come out against the law with one exception.

In a rare show of solidarity, Parti Québecois leader Jean-François Lisée has come out in support of the law, though he wanted even stricter secularist legislation. In spite of this, he too foresaw the constitutional challenge and has stated that a PQ government would use the Notwithstanding Clause to keep it in place should the courts strike it down.

The Notwithstanding Clause Lisée is so fond of is not the perfect fail safe the PQ leader makes it out to be. It is not a way for the Quebec government to flip the judiciary the legal bird should the constitutional challenge not go their way.

Section 33 aka The Notwithstanding Clause of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms says:

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

Sections 7 to 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms deal specifically with legal rights such as the rights of people charged with criminal conduct, as well as equality rights such as that of equal protection before the law and freedom from discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability. The clause allows governments to keep legislation that violates these rights in place provided they expressly declare that the law will remain in effect notwithstanding the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms…

…But there is a catch.

The Notwithstanding Clause also contains a rule stating that this declaration and the law it allows can only remain in effect for five years.

The delay was created so legislators could rework the law in question to make it conform to the Charter. The five-year delay is renewable, but even laws the most stubborn politicians take pride in are reworked after being struck down by the courts.

Bill 101 is a perfect example. The Supreme Court of Canada ruled it unconstitutional, so the Quebec Government invoked the Notwithstanding Clause. During that time, the law was tweaked so it conformed to the Canadian Charter of Rights, thus eliminating the need to renew the Notwithstanding Clause and preventing future legal challenges to it.

Lisée’s mention of the Notwithstanding Clause is an indirect admission that Bill 62 is unconstitutional and would not survive a legal challenge. Once the courts strike it down and all government appeals are exhausted, it is certainly within Couillard and any other elected provincial government’s power to use and renew Section 33, but the Canadian people’s embrace of their Charter rights would make it a highly unpopular move.

With the striking down of Bill 62 a certainty, the only question left is how much more hate Quebec governments want to push on us.

Usually when writing these election breakdowns, I always have to search for the silver lining. Not this time.  I’m very proud of Montreal.

First, we have elected a woman as Mayor for the first time in 375 years. And an extremely progressive woman, too.  Valérie Plante, a one-term City Counselor who rose to become the leader of Projet Montréal and in just a few months has unseated career politician, former federal cabinet minister and incumbent Mayor Denis Coderre who has now quit municipal politics after just four years in it.

This is a tectonic shift in Montreal politics which will have repercussions in both the provincial and federal political arenas. No surpise that Plante pretty much put Quebec City and Ottawa on notice, in the most polite way possible, during her victory speech.

As a whole, it was one of the most spontaneous, upbeat, fun and positive bits of political discourse I have ever witnessed. It was also a serious promise to focus on Montreal and bring everyone together to do it.

Definitely worth watching:

While Mayor of Montreal is a very powerful position in and of itself, a majority on City Council makes it that much easier for the winner to hit the ground running. Otherwise, they would need to form coalitions with independent councilors and those from other parties.

Plante would have been able to pull off the latter rather easily, given that pretty much everyone not running on Coderre’s team endorsed her for Mayor. However, that won’t be necessary, as Projet Montréal won 34 of the 65 seats available, giving her a majority.

Thanks to that, she has already started putting together her Executive Committee with Sud Ouest Borough Mayor Benoit Dorais as its President and has already started talking to Quebec officials and is planning to talk to Ottawa about getting more buses on the road and potential funding for the Pink line. It looks like things will move fast, which is great news for transit users, pet owners, cyclists, people who dislike wasteful spending but are fond of transparency and, arguably, all Montrealers.

Huge Borough Gains for Projet Montréal

Projet is also now quite strong in borough governments. Ten borough mayors belong to the party, eleven if you count Ville Marie (Downtown and Old Montreal), as the Mayor of Montreal also leads that central Borough Council.

As a Ville Marie resident, I found that particular setup annoying when Coderre, who was not our voters’ choice for Mayor (he finished third among Ville Marie voters in 2013), wielded power over the council made up entirely of the opposition. This time, Ville Marie voters chose Plante first, just like the city, so who we voted for is who’s in charge at both the city and borough level, a very welcome change.

Projet also holds the majority on the Ville Marie Borough Council with Plante’s co-candidate Sophie Mauzerolle retaining Sainte-Marie by a healthy margin and Robert Beaudry winning in St-Jacques over the three time Projet mayoral candidate who left the party he co-founded to run with Coderre. Definitely one for the Bad Career Moves Hall of Fame.

Voters in Peter McGill, my district, elected Cathy Wong, the lone Équipe Denis Coderre (probably gonna have to change the party name now) councilor in Ville Marie. While I was hoping for a clean sweep of the borough with Projet’s Jabiz Sharifan, I’m glad that at least Steve Shanahan, who abused his municipal office to run federally for Harper, lost.

Projet maintained complete control of the Plateau, Rosemont-La-Petite-Patrie and Sud Ouest. It wasn’t even close in most of those races. The party also swept places like Lachine and L’Île-Bizard–Sainte-Geneviève where they had no representation previously and made significant gains in boroughs like Outremont.

Perhaps the most significant local increase happened in the city’s most populous borough, Côte-des-Neiges–Notre-Dame-de-Grâce. It’s also the part of town hardest hit by Montreal’s traffic woes.

Former Gazette journalist Sue Montgomery unseated former provincial MNA and incumbent Borough Mayor Russell Copeman, who would have been President of the Executive Committee had both he and Coderre won. Peter McQueen won a third consecutive mandate in NDG by one of the largest margins of victory in the city and Magda Popeanu was re-elected to a second term in Côte-des-Neiges.

Voters in Loyola elected Projet’s Christian Arseneault, giving the party three of the borough’s five council seats. He beat out Coderre candidate Gabriel Retta with incumbent independent councilor Jeremy Searle finishing third. I guess calling constituents at 4am to argue with them and showing up at council meetings (allegedly) drunk will cause you to drop in votes.

Former Interim Mayor of the borough Lionel Perez was re-elected in Darlington, making him the only member of Coderre’s team on the Borough Council. Marvin Rotrand, the leader and only elected candidate for Coalition Montreal held on in Snowdon. With 35 years in office, it would take quite a bit to unseat him, though he only beat Projet’s Irina Maria Grecu by 576 votes. He also came out in support of Plante for Mayor during the campaign and just announced that this term will be his last.

It’s clear which party will be running the show in this major borough for the next four years.

The Changing Face of Montreal Politics

With political establishment heavyweights like Copeman and now-former Villeray–Saint-Michel–Parc-Extension Borough Mayor Anie Samson losing to political newcomers (though ones who have been very involved in their communities), the face of politics in Montreal is changing. Business-as-usual is now in the minority at City Hall.

The Old Boys Club mentality has been show the door both figuratively and literally. There are now more women in positions of power in the city than men. Another first for Montreal.

The new look also fortunately comes with a new, progressive attitude. Plante and Projet won because Montrealers from all over the city and from all walks of life rejected the bread and circuses to hide inaction approach that has guided our development for decades.

We’re on a path of ambitious, though realistic infrastructure development. One of sustainable and fair mobility and a locally-focused attitude. It’s a great time to be a Montrealer.

Wow, they’re actually admitting it. On-again/off-again Bloc Leader and die-hard soverignist Gilles Duceppe endorsed Denis Coderre, a staunch Liberal and federalist, in his bid for re-election as Mayor of Montreal.

During the last Montreal Municipal Election campaign in 2013, there were rumors that supporters of the Liberals (both provincial and federal), the Bloc Québécois (BQ) and the Parti Québécois (PQ) were secretly pushing Melanie Joly’s candidacy for Mayor, not in hopes that she would win, but that she would split the anti-establishment vote and prevent a Projet Montréal victory. Whether there was involvement from those forces or not, that’s exactly what happened: Coderre won and Joly was off to greener pastures in Ottawa.

But why would these seemingly divergent groups have a common goal? The argument goes that establishment parties would do anything to stop anyone loosely aligned, even in terms of who supports them, with parties like the Federal NDP or Québec Solidaire (QS) provincially.

While that may seem like pie in the sky conspiracy stuff, Gilles Duceppe just endorsed Denis Coderre and he said why. Mixed in with reasons/excuses like how he feels the Pink line is unrealistic and there are a couple of soverignist candidates on Equipe Coderre, Duceppe said that Plante and Projet were “too close to QS and the NDP.”

For decades, both the federalist provincial and federal Libs and the sovereignist PQ and BQ thrived on everyone being focused on the National Question and the division it brings instead of more pressing issues like the corporate dominance, austerity and, more locally, transit. Now that their dominance is threatened at the municipal level by an arguably leftist party with a dynamic leader who is concerned with making life in Montreal better above all, they are scared.

Moreover, they are getting desperate. Desperate enough, apparently, to get in bed together publicly.

Earlier this week, establishment press tried to make a big deal out of Projet Leader Valérie Plante not answering a question about how she voted in the 1995 referendum, a smart move considering this election is about Montreal, not the specter of sovereignty and both sovereignists and federalists can be found in both main parties running. I wonder if they will give equal play to Coderre getting an endorsement from a prominent sovereignist like Duceppe.

Probably not, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. Gilles Duceppe endorsed Denis Coderre. The other shoe has dropped.

This election is about the staus quo versus a new way of doing things and it only took the Liberals and the Bloc to make that crystal clear.

It wasn’t even close. Forget the Box readers have selected Valérie Plante, leader of Projet Montréal, to be the next Mayor of Montreal in our Municipal Election Poll.

This site doesn’t do editorial endorsements of politicians or political parties. Instead, we let our readers decide who we endorse through site polls. In this one, Plante had a commanding lead with 83% of the vote. “None of the Above” came in second with only 8% followed by incumbent Mayor Denis Coderre with 7%:

When we launched the poll, there were only two declared candidates. Since then Jean Fortier entered the race then dropped out to endorse Plante Also Dollar Cinema owner Bernie Gurberg (whom I was half tempted to vote for just so I could vote for a Bernie), YouTuber Tyler Lemco (the guy with the signs you can write on) and three others threw their hats in the ring.

If they were in at the beginning, they would have been on the list. While it’s true we could have added them as they entered and dropped the ball on that one, it’s also true people could have added them as options themselves. Plus, Plante was leading by such a large margin, it wouldn’t have changed who won.

While this is obviously not the vote that counts, for that one we’ll have to wait until after 8pm on Sunday, November 5th, it seems like the wider Montreal electorate is warming up to Plante as well. The latest polls show her in a tight race with Coderre and clearly on the upswing.

So that brings us to why. While I’m not sure what is in the heads of our readers, I also strongly support Plante, so will try to explain her popularity. Here are the three main reasons I think our readers chose Valérie Plante:

She’s Positive, Ambitious and Logical

Valérie Plante has big plans for Montreal. That much is certain. She wants to build a whole new metro line, the Pink line, with 29 stations. If that isn’t an ambitious, positive vision of Montreal’s future, I don’t know what is.

Funny thing is, it’s also a well thought out and costed plan where she knows where the money could come from and how long it would take to build. It’s also something that is needed, which anyone who rides the Orange line or NDG buses as rush hour can attest to.

When Coderre calls it pie in the sky, it’s funny, because the only thing he has to back the statement up is the fact that he’s on good terms with the provincial and federal Liberal governments and she’s not. While Plante’s party has long accused Coderre of “writing legislation on the back of a napkin” I suspect that in this case, it’s his reasons why the Pink line wouldn’t work that aren’t thought out…pie in the sky negation.

She’s Not Denis Coderre

While Plante clearly prefers going positive, her principal opponent’s negatives are definitely among the main reasons some may vote for her. She’s the only candidate with a realistic chance of beating Coderre, an electoral imperative for many.

To call Denis Coderre a divisive figure is a bit of an understatement. You either agree with him or he cuts your mic. Some admittedly love his style, but they probably haven’t found themselves on the opposite site of an issue he has put his bombastic personality behind, which is pretty much every issue he touches.

While he may win points for personally jack-hammering the cement for a community mailbox, he brings that same my-way-or-the-under-construction-highway mentality to defending the ill-conceived Pit Bull Ban, the much maligned Urban Rodeo, those damn granite fake tree stumps and the Formula E (we just found out, by the way, that over 40% of those in attendance got their tickets for free).

Coderre has brought Montreal international attention, but all too frequently that attention has come in the form of scorn (Pit Bull Ban) and ridicule (a national anthem for one borough, the tree stumps). Voting him out has become a necessity for many and voting Plante is the way to make that happen.

It’s important to note that Valérie Plante is also not Luc Ferrandez, though the two are on the same team. Coderre, however, wants voters outside of the Plateau to think that her and the Plateau Borough Mayor are the same person, having brought his name up in both debates.

While Ferrandez is well-liked with voters in the borough he oversees, at least liked enough to win re-election for himself and all of his counselors last election (so far, incumbency has not been a problem with Projet), his name sparks images of traffic calming measures and other plans that work in the Plateau but could scare some in other parts of the city.

Projet and Plante know that different parts of town have different needs and what is needed for streets just off St-Denis may not be the same thing streets just off Monkland or Notre-Dame need. Nice try, Denis, but Montrealers are smarter than that.

She Has a Montreal First Outlook

Plante versus Coderre isn’t like St-Viateur Bagels versus Fairmont Bagels. It’s closer to St-Viateur Bagels versus what passes for a bagel at Tim Horton’s.

While Coderre is focused on getting large corporations to set up shop here, Plante wants to focus on local independent business. And not just the ones currently hidden by construction, either.

Plante’s preference for the local comes to the forefront in other areas, too. Coderre is all about projects that he thinks will put Montreal “on the map” globally so to speak, whereas Plante is concerned with the lasting usefulness those projects will have for residents as well as their cost. The projects she offers, meanwhile, are for the benefit of Montrealers primarily.

Their approaches are probably most sharply contrasted when it comes to the prospect of the Expos returning. Coderre wants it to happen and is willing to commit to pay into a new stadium to make it possible. Plante likes the idea but pledged to hold a referendum on whether or not Montrealers want to pay for it first.

Plante summed up the difference in the English debate by referring to Coderre’s previous insistence that Major League Baseball needs to be respected: “I’m not attached to pleasing Major League Baseball, I want to please Montrealers. The needs are big, the wallet is small.”

Montreal is already a world-class city. We don’t need to appease the global, or even provincial, powers-that-be to prove it. Focusing on making things better for those of us who live here is what needs to be done. You don’t see New York City sucking up to Albany or trying to prove itself on the global stage, do you?

Plante knows this, FTB readers know this and I suspect Montreal voters know this, too. We’ll just have to wait until Sunday to find out.

FTB readers officially endorse Valérie Plante to be the next Mayor of Montreal. If you want to make it count and haven’t already voted in the advanced polls, find out how you can vote through the Elections Montreal website or a letter that came in the mail.

 

Four years after the Parti Québecois’ colossal defeat over their quietly racist but aggressively secular Charter of Values, and less than a year after a man entered a mosque in Ste Foy, Quebec and opened fire, the government we elected to spite them is bringing up a debate no one wanted to hear. Last week, the Quebec Liberals under Premier Philippe Couillard passed Bill 62, “An Act to foster adherence to State religious neutrality” and, in particular, to provide a framework for requests for accommodations or religious grounds in certain bodies.

It should be said right off the bat that this law is clearly a political ploy. The Couillard government is up for re-election in 2018. With scandal after scandal rocking his administration, he’s clearly given up on his base and is trying to attract the most secularist racist members of Quebec society who would otherwise vote for the Parti Quebecois.

It is also clear that it is meant to discriminate against non-Christians in Quebec. The law acknowledges Quebec’s history, but the decision to leave the cross up in the National Assembly means that their version of history leaves out the Jews, Muslims, and other groups that have made the province what it is today.

With all the talk about how this law will hurt people, we need to look at what it actually says.

The law applies to all employees of government departments, members of the Quebec public service, city employees with the exception of those governed by the Cree and Naskapi, public transit authorities, school boards, universities, and vocational colleges, peace officers, doctors, midwives, dentists, and anyone else appointed by the government. The employees of childcare centers and government-subsidized daycare centers are also subject to the new rules. Anyone seeking services from these bodies is also subject to the new law.

That means that contrary to the belief that the law will only affect public transport employees and people who work in government offices, teachers at all levels as well as doctors, dentists, and midwives will be subject to this law, as well as anyone who benefits from their help i.e. students, people who ride the bus or metro, and even people in need of medical care.

The law’s mantra is one of State religious neutrality, as the words “religious neutrality” are repeated constantly throughout its text. It requires that all employees subject to this law keep their faces uncovered in the execution of their duties. It also requires that anyone seeking services from employees bound by this law have their faces uncovered in order to receive them.

As only some Muslim women are required by their faith to keep their faces covered in public, the law is clearly written to prejudice them. However, as the law is pretty unclear. People with colds or flus who generously choose to cover their faces in public in order to avoid spreading illness could also find themselves denied services. The government is scheduled to put out a regulation clarifying certain aspects of the law in the near future.

Bill 62 does have some exceptions written into it. People who provide spiritual care and guidance in universities, vocational schools, and correctional facilities are exempt. Health professionals will not be barred from refusing to provide certain medical services that conflict with their spiritual beliefs. For everyone else, there is a process by which you can apply for accommodation on religious grounds, but it is a limited and complicated one.

Applications for accommodations must be based on the right to freedom from discrimination provision in the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms. Requests for accommodation will be handled primarily by the justice minister, who has to decide the request on the following grounds:

  • “The request is serious”
  • The accommodation requested is consistent with notions of gender equality, specifically that between women and men
  • The request is “consistent with the principle of State religious neutrality”
  • The accommodation is “reasonable and does not place undue hardship” on the state and the person seeking it has already tried to find another solution

Where the law would force someone to be absent from work, additional criteria must be taken into account:

  • The frequency and duration of the absences on religious grounds
  • The size of the body the person works for and the “interchangeability” of its workforce – in other words, if the person can easily be replaced, they will likely not be accommodated
  • The consequences of the person’s absences
  • The possibility of a modified work schedule or use of bankable hours and vacation days
  • Fairness regarding other personnel in said government body

More rules apply where the law affects school attendance. The criteria in this case include how a refusal to accommodate will affect compulsory school attendance, the schools’ basic mission to impart knowledge “in keeping with the principle of equal opportunity” and the ability of the school to provide the educational services required by law.

The arguments in favor of Bill 62 are twofold.

Couillard has publicly said that he should be able to see a person’s face when dealing with them, a remark that is not only culturally insensitive, but also rules out any exchanges done by phone or email.

The other argument is one of benevolent sexism masquerading as feminism, specifically that the law will somehow save women from oppressive religious practices. This presumes that women who wear a niqab are doing so because someone coerced them to, or they simply don’t know better. It’s an argument that infantilizes the women by making the presumption that they are not mature enough to make their own decisions about how to publicly express their faith.

This law does not save anyone. It robs them of their sense of agency. If a woman can only leave her house with her face covered and she is welcome at government funded institutions as such, she may feel comfortable going to a public library and grabbing a book on feminism. She may also be comfortable going to a sports center to take a self-defense class.

The law clearly violates the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms rules against religious discrimination and the freedom of religion and equality rights of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The moment this law comes into effect there is sure to be a constitutional challenge to it.

Let’s take comfort in that.

* Featured illustration by Samantha Gold

Vice President Mike Pence, you know the asshole who believes in “conversion therapy” was recently in my hometown of Buffalo NY to support another known fascist, congressman Chris Collins, and attend a thousand dollar a plate lunch at Salvatores, which is a gaudy, ugly decorated, and ridiculous in itself place. My one star Facebook review was taken down, interesting.

I wonder if women were allowed to attend since Mrs. Pence, aka Mother, was not there? Just in case you didn’t get the memo, this guy can’t eat in the company of any female if his wife is not there. No $1000 spaghetti and meatballs for Mikey today.

Protestors started the party with dancing. We wanted to recreate the big gay rave outside of Mike’s house during inauguration week in DC. “Daddy Pence come DANCE with us!”

Food not bombs brought tea and vegan chili. There were rainbows galore. I really think a sing a long of Danzig’s Mother while taking a knee would have been most appropriate as he passed.

The motorcade zipped by us so quickly. Like a flash from a movie. All of the cops shut down heavy traffic from all directions on one of our biggest intersections. Then came the black vehicles that looked ominous and official to say the least. There was also a random U-Haul… if I were him I would have totally rode in the U-haul.

We had to stay on the sidewalk, the cops said dance as much as you want. The counter protestors, alt right self militia assholes, stood on the perimeter with antiquated headsets that probably didn’t even work. They took photos of us and we documented them just the same.

They were so obvious. One man had a shirt on that said Karl’s Kar Klub… ummm when three things that should be spelled with a C are changed to Ks I have a feeling you are a flaming disgusting pig of a racist.

Another woman wore a yellow jacket and 90s apparel. She looked like a crazy church mom who would so nicely tell you to drink the Koolaid and strap up your white sneakers.

Another really confused me, he was a young white kid with dreads! If you can appropriate black culture then support a white supremacist scumfuck then you are an extra gross enigma.

One of the alt right jerks confronted me when I walked over to my car alone, “Are you supposed to be president trump?” “Yes” I responded. Then they asked if I was for or against him, I said VERY AGAINST, and then he laughed “Well the president doesn’t look anything like that!” “HOW DID YOU KNOW WHO I WAS THEN ASSHOLE?” I then proceeded to show him my chocolate skid marked tighty whities and walk away, that’s the president he voted for. Cheeto jesus with shitty undies.

So I saw Mikeyboy on tv at a machine company in Collins district later that day. He was talking about tax reform that would only help the rich while in one of the poorest rustbelt cites in the country, WTF? Just like everything else in this wretched regime it made no sense to me.

When people yelled “GET A JOB” at us from their giant gas guzzling cars I wanted to yell, fix our economy and stop raping the poor! I have two jobs and make time to fight for what I believe in because I must.

All and all it was a pretty non-eventful, peaceful protest. Queers for Racial Justice got us out there and informed. I was happy to be magically off work that day and ready to rumble, he has to know that he is not welcome here.

Haters and bigots can go fuck off, we will always be here to shut them down peacefully. I will happily not use my milk of magnesia stash today or take a rubber bullet to the guts.

We need to fight them with all we got. Get out there and physically protest! Make your everyday life a protest!

Respect my existence or expect my resistance! (That was my favorite sign there so I chose to carry it.) If you are an artist you better be making art about how this government makes you feel. It is our job to take them down.

Remember that people died at Stonewall so you can hold your girlfriend’s hand in public. We have come a long way and are in danger of getting those rights stripped by assholes in power. We must stand up for those who cannot. There was a transwoman in a wheelchair leading chants. We all need to be more like her!

I am dressing up like Donald Trump again this Saturday for The Stripteasers Haunted Whitehouse show at Nietzsche’s because nothing is scarier than our current political state in the US. I have been dubbed The Alec Baldwin of burlesque, and I am ok with that.

I hate being trump to be honest with you. Its hard to be an asshole, I am a method actor so I become the character. I will be sitting on stage on an actual toilet reading his actual stupid tweets all night long.

Twitter on the shitter, thats what we get folks. This is real life. Save us all…

Debate Season 2017 in Montreal is done. There were only two debates between incumbent Mayor Denis Coderre and challenger Valérie Plante of Projet Montréal (unless you count the informal one on Tout le monde en Parle).

There was one in French and one in English (more were offered, Plante accepted and Coderre refused). The French debate took place last Thursday at the Chamber of Commerce and the English one finished a few hours ago at Loyola.

If you came here to watch it, skip ahead to the video. If you want my analysis first (or after), here it is:

Admittedly, I came into this debate cheering for Plante, but she did not disappoint. She spoke with energy and a very positive attitude. Coderre was, well, Coderre. Gruff old school politician, and unabashedly so.

He had a very Coderre moment when talking about the Pink line. Instead of just shrugging it off as something that would never happen as he has done in the past, he went into why, boasting about his good relationship to the Provincial and Federal Liberal and laughing off Plante’s ability to get things done with just her “friends in Quebec Solidaire.”

While that quip clearly was intended to imply a connection between Projet and a provincial party some anglos may be wary of (Plante, fortunately, didn’t take the bait), it also exposed the Coderre mentality of “I’m buddies with the Liberals in power, so I can make things happen in the back room.”

Shouldn’t the Mayor of Montreal, elected representative of the people of Montreal, be able to deal with Quebec and Canada regardless of who they are buddies with? Do we really want to vote for the same Old Boys Club and expect change or do we want someone who speaks for us?

It also brings up the issue of how steadfast Coderre can be in his opposition to his buddy Couillard’s Bill C-62, something both he and Plante oppose. While Coderre tried to score points with Plante having to clarify her position, she turned the tide by talking about how neither she nor her opponent ever had to deal with the kind of discrimination this bill brings.

Coderre did have his moments, most notably by acknowledging that the debate was taking place on unseeded indigenous land and when talking about renaming Amherst Street, something Plante had also supports. I wish Plante had said an immediate yes when moderator Leslie Roberts of CJAD asked about also renaming Lionel-Groulx Metro, but both her and Coderre took a pass on that one and just said that there needed to be discussion.

The Pit Bull Ban, Montreal 375 spending and the Formula E were also topics. While I’m guessing who won these sections will fall in line with people’s existing picks, for those looking to be convinced, Plante did the best job of convincing, though when Coderre referred to the SPCA as merely a lobby group, he may have convinced some to vote Plante.

Watch the debate (in four parts) and vote on November 5th:

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:

Part 4:

On Friday morning, transit users stood at stops along the 80 du Parc South route wearing surgical masks and other face coverings to protest recently passed amendments to C-62. One Montreal bus driver honked his horn and covered his face in solidarity and now faces disciplinary actions from the STM (Société de transport de Montréal, the Montreal transit commission) as a result.

On Wednesday, the National Assembly voted for changes to the so-called “religious neutrality of the state” law which now require all those receiving provincial or municipal government services such as riding on public transit to do so with their faces uncovered. Basically, no niqabs on the bus.

The union representing Montreal transit workers say they don’t want their members to be stuck enforcing this law. They will be defending the driver at his hearing.

Meanwhile the STM says it is still “evaluating” the new rules but didn’t take that long to evaluate whether or not to try and punish the driver. He may get a reprimand or be suspended depending on factors like his work history.

The STM feels he made them look bad. If optics is what they’re concerned with, then they really aren’t looking at the full picture.

Going after a driver for showing solidarity with both a targeted minority and those transit users protesting the law targeting them looks real bad, especially when you consider that this driver will be among those tasked with enforcing that law. Bus drivers didn’t sign up to enforce the xenophobic will of the state.

Not taking a stand against C-62, something those you serve, Montrealers, don’t want, also looks real bad. The STM should have taken a cue from its union and made a statement against this unfair and bigoted legislation, at the very least from the angle that it puts them in a position that goes well beyond their mandate.

Of course, this is the same organization that censured Jacques the Singing Bus Driver of 165 fame and the guy who used to announce the stops on the 80 with a bit of location info (“St-Viateur, la rue des bagels”). While passengers seemed to enjoy a driver having a good time at work, STM killjoys shut them down.

I still don’t agree with those decisions, but at least I understand the mentality behind them. This time, though, the STM’s stance is indefensible.

If the police can wear camo pants for years because of a salary negotiation, then one bus driver has every right to honk his horn and cover his mouth for a moment to take a symbolic stand against state bigotry that may soon directly affect his job.

If more bus drivers (maybe the union as a whole) staged protests like this, which, by the way, don’t disrupt transit service one bit, it would send a powerful message. If the STM backed them, the organization would be on the right side of history.

The women who wear niqabs or burqas are the real potential victims of C-62, but it looks like the first casualty may be a Montreal bus driver showing solidarity.

This is not the time for nuance. This is the time to feel embarrassed as Quebecers and angry at our government for removing any illusion that we are one of the most progressive places in North America with just one letter and two numbers: C-62.

The National Assembly just codified bigotry and intolerance by passing amendments to Bill C-62 denying government services to people with their faces covered, in particular by a niqab or burqua. Once this goes into effect, women wearing the niqab will have to uncover when riding the bus, visiting the public library, the doctor or even their kids’ teacher.

As I said before it was passed, it’s like the Charter on steroids, even though it was passed by a government elected primarily as a protest vote against the Charter.

Quebec is the only place in North America with such regulations. That’s right, we not only beat other Canadian provinces to the punch but even the reddest of red states like Alabama and Arizona.

We did it all under the guise of supposed “religious neutrality of the state” in a room where a crucifix hangs front and center for all to see. The most ironic part being that a state imposing a dress code that targets one religion is being anything but neutral.

This denies essential services to women on the basis of what they wear. The government is telling women what to wear.

Claims that this has something to do with identification are about the dumbest defense I can think of. The only ID I need to ride public transit is my Opus Card proving I have paid. It should be the same for everyone.

Montreal Knows Best

The Quebec Government made this law, but it’s Montreal which will have to enforce it. Yes, Quebec City, Laval and other cities will be stuck with this task as well, but I’ll focus on Quebec’s official metropolis where opposition is the most fervent.

Our bus drivers, our teachers, our doctors and nurses and even our librarians will be tasked with implementing this hate-filled law. The only time a librarian should ever have to get restrictive is when someone is being too damn loud.

I can take a bit of solace in the fact that both major parties vying for control of the city are opposed to this monstrosity. Yes, Projet leader Valérie Plante had a bit of a political hiccup earlier today but swiftly clarified her position.

Here we ride on the bus and metro next to women wearing the niqab and it doesn’t phase us, it’s just a part of life. Here, women who wear the burqa send their kids to school like everyone else and have the right to meet with their kids’ teachers like anyone else.

Are there issues with public transit in this city? Absolutely. With education? Sure. With public libraries? Well, it’s called the internet and it’s causing them problems everywhere.

None of these places need a new problem tacked on, and that’s exactly what C-62 is. It’s turning an issue that really only people who have never seen someone wearing a niqab in real life or have an obsessive belief in assimilation in theory or are members of La Meute (our very own neo-Nazi group) care about into something everyone has to deal with in real life.

C-62 is a disaster that turns Quebec, known as a battleground for progress, into a backwater embarrassment that turns bigotry into law. Is it any wonder the Couillard Government also chose today to rename its council looking into systemic racism? Maybe they realized they had just taken part in that systemic racism themselves in a profound way.

Something needs to change and it starts with all of us. Post, contact anyone who voted for this, do anything you can. This may be embarassing for many (and it sure is for me) but it is also disastrous for some.

There’s something we need to talk about. The city of Montreal likes to position itself as a cultural mecca. They finance enormous already-profitable events, spend billions renovating large touristic spaces and pay millions of dollars to light up a bridge. All of that has economic value and I understand why they do it. But, tourism and culture are two different things.

The underground arts community is where every superstar has cut his, her or their chops and where real cultural evolution takes place before it works its way into mass media. Over the last few years, the city’s policies have inadvertently been hurting Montreal’s arts scene. Whether we’re talking about complications related to noise regulations, zoning bylaws or licensing issues, most people in the underground arts community have stories that paint a different narrative.

My story starts about eight years ago. Before Facebook became ubiquitous, independent artists and event presenters had one crucial and affordable way of promoting their events: posters. The city provided little to no space for community announcements and so artists and event presenters used public lampposts to promote their activities. The problem, of course, was that this was illegal.

A group of independent event producers that included Pop Montreal and the Montreal FRINGE Festival were so aggravated by repeated fines imposed by the city that they formed C.O.L.L.E., a working group to address the issue, in 2010. This allowed a conversation to start about a question that disproportionately effects underground creators, since most don’t have the means to buy expensive advertising space.

That same year, the Quebec Superior Court ruled Montreal’s anti-postering law to be illegal and unenforceable. The decision found that unless the city provides space for its residents to display posters and community notices, a regulation limiting their distribution on city property violated its citizens’ free speech rights. After this decision, the city stopped fining event presenters and bands, putting the question to bed temporarily.

The court’s decision gave the city six months to rewrite its postering bylaws. Seven years later, that has still not happened and public postering spaces have not been installed in numbers that come close to satisfying the court’s requirement – this despite numerous proposals and pilot projects presented to the city by members of its cultural community. City employees, though, have again started operating as if the activity were illegal.

I run a cultural business with a few different departments, one of which is a street marketing agency that distributes materials in print and digitally to indoor and outdoor spaces around Montreal to promote cultural activities. We have some clients that are big companies. But, most are independent festivals, labels, venues and artists with limited means. Postering can represent a significant portion of their communications and our work promoting their event on their behalf is unjustly effected.

The city seems to have overlooked this legal precedent and the moral imperative it sets out. Municipal employees seem to still believe that postering is illegal, a falsehood that prompts harassment from city works employees, garbage collectors and most often the police.

The city also prints and installs signage on lampposts warning would-be posterers of that activity’s illegality, citing a regulation that to the best of my research no longer exists – and if it did, it would be unenforceable. It spends time and money installing ridged lampposts meant to make postering more tenuous covered in anti-adhesive paint. It spends hundreds of thousands (and possibly even millions) of dollars every year hiring staff to rip posters off of its lampposts; money that is not counterbalanced by revenues from postering fines, which would be illegal to collect given the current legal context.

In short, this problem from 2010 has resurfaced in a slightly different context. Montreal is, to my knowledge, the only major city in Canada that does not provide public postering space to its citizens. There have been proposals presented by Montreal’s cultural community, including one from myself, which would, it should be noted, not only eliminate costs but generate revenue for the city and which I would be glad to talk more about. But, the city has never dealt with the problem despite the efforts of its creative class to resolve it.

Why should you care? There are three reasons. Firstly, it is your money being wasted. The city spends our tax dollars as it sees fit and bears a serious fiscal responsibility. There are so many city workers now charged with keeping posters off lampposts on major arteries in the city centre that posters are often torn down within the day or even a few hours.

Second, this is a liability for the city and it is your money that will be at risk should a group of citizens decide to sue the city for having supplanted their free speech rights.

Lastly, and this may even be the most important reason, it’s essential to recognize the cultural enrichment being withheld from the public. Emerging musicians, comedians, dancers and visual artists can’t afford to buy ad time on TV, the radio, in the metro or on the sides of city buses. Postering is the one analog real-world promotional avenue in a digitized media-scape that is accessible to our city’s artists and creators. It is affordable, democratic and honest.

I hope you’ll understand my frustration and please know that I’m available to continue the conversation. I’m confident that the municipal government is not indifferent to this issue, since we can all agree that Montreal’s place as a creative hub forms an essential part of the city’s identity. I would like to work to bring about solutions that strengthen our arts community and invite the city and its citizens to join the conversation.

Sincerely,

 

Jon Weisz
Founding Director
Indie Montréal

Valérie Plante and Projet Montréal want to expand the Montreal Metro with an entirely new line, the 29-station Pink line, which would run from Montreal North to Lachine, intersecting both the Orange and Green lines a few times and the Blue Line once. Her mayoral rival Denis Coderre doesn’t think it’s a viable solution to the city’s transit woes…is what I would have written if that was what he said.

Instead, Coderre did what he always does. He dismissed the idea outright, telling reporters that ” it’ll never happen” and comparing it to a joke you might hear at Just for Laughs.

I’ve been to Just for Laughs and I’ve also rode both the western and eastern ends of the Orange Line and the 105 bus at rush hour, they are not comparable. Overcrowding on public transit is not a joke. It’s something that someone running for or running to be re-elected to the post of Mayor of Montreal should care about.

So why does Coderre feel we shouldn’t even discuss it? Is it the price tag, which Plante estimates at $6 Billion? Well, she already knows where that money is potentially going to come from: the new federal infrastructure bank and two provincial funds, one specifically for transit and the other for infrastructure.

Also, it’s a little funny that a mayor who can spend $1 Billion on Montreal’s 375th birthday, double what Canada spent on its 150th, with some of that money going to eyesores like those granite tree stumps and a National Anthem for one borough, would have a problem funding a project that Montrealers could rely on for years or decades to come.

Could it be that Coderre feels the six year time frame proposed by Plante is unrealistic and would be too disruptive? He does, but forgets that the original two lines of the metro were built in four years and without a tunnel-boring machine, something that hadn’t been invented in the 60s.

If, by chance, he is implying that it can’t be done in that time-frame given the corruption Montreal’s construction industry is infamous for, well, even Jean “count the trucks twice” Drapeau’s record with the metro proves that it can. Yes, the plan is even corruption-proof (though I’m sure Plante and her team would work outside of a corrupt system).

Could it be that Coderre doesn’t want to upset the apple cart he’s holding for the powers-that-be in Quebec City? Bingo!

You see, the Société de transport de Montréal (STM) is part of the Réseau de transport métropolitain (RTM), a provincial body which runs transit in Montreal and the surrounding area including buses, metros and above-ground trains. So any new initiatives, say, a whole new line on the metro, needs to be worked out with the provincial authorities.

De-clogging Montreal’s existing transit infrastructure with new projects clearly isn’t the RTM’s top priority and why would it be? I wouldn’t expect the Mayors of Longueil or Laval or their representatives to push for it, that’s the Mayor of Montreal’s job.

Our current mayor clearly doesn’t want to stand up for what Montreal needs, if this comment from the press conference where he was dismissing the Pink line is any indication:

“Let’s be frank here, it’ll never happen. You cannot say that. There’s other things that we can do. First the Blue line, then through the planning we’re talking about to finish the Orange line.”

Okay, extending the Blue line east, fine (Projet wants that too, BTW). But finishing the Orange line? Um, last time I checked the Orange line was complete, at least on the Island of Montreal. Any new stops would have to be in Laval.

While I completely understand the RTM being concerned with this, the Mayor of Montreal shouldn’t be. Or, at the very least, our Mayor should be more concerned with the relief from the sardine can that is the Orange line at rush hour actual Montreal voters are asking for.

Public transit is not a joke. The concerns of riders aren’t jokes, either. Whether you support the Pink line as Plante and Projet have proposed it or not, at the very least, the concerns of transit users should be discussed, not dismissed and laughed off.

A more honest response from Coderre would have been: “It’ll never happen…as long as I’m Mayor!”

 

One of the ways to persecute is to rob people of their history. This was done by male historians seeking to undervalue the contributions of women. It was done by white historians seeking to confirm racist ideologies.

Now a group of all white judges has entrenched the power of a body created by a white majority government to rob the victims of residential schools of their history. On October 6, 2017 the Supreme Court of Canada made it legal for the authorities in charge of compensating the victims of the residential school system to destroy the records of the abuse after a given delay.

Before we get into why the highest court in Canada came to this decision, we need to talk about residential schools.

Residential schools refer to a system of schools established by the Canadian government and run by Christian religious groups in an attempt to assimilate the Native population into Canadian society. They operated in Canada from the late 1860s to the 1990s. Despite remarks by such insensitive racist imbeciles as Senator Lynn Beyak, the schools were a nightmare for the children and their families, the effects of which are still felt to this day.

During this period, children were ripped from their parents and forced to live at these schools where they were beaten, tortured, and raped in an attempt to wipe out their language, culture, and history. Parents who refused to give up their children were threatened with starvation. Survivor Ronnie Otter’s parents were told their winter rations would be withheld if they didn’t send their kids away.

Many of the victims who went as children are still haunted by memories of being forced into oral and anal sex, scrubbed raw with rough brushes, and fed food more fit for livestock. Though they were promised good schooling, they were given a fifth grade education and trained to do manual labour such as agriculture, housework, and woodworking, not unlike in the Bantu education system of apartheid South Africa.

In 2008, the Canadian government under Stephen Harper issued a much needed formal apology to the victims and their families. In the apology the Canadian government formally recognized that:

“…this policy of assimilation was wrong, has caused great harm, and has no place in our country… ”

It should be noted however that while Canada’s Anglican, Presbyterian, and United Churches have apologized for their role in what happened to the eighty thousand survivors and their families, the Catholic Church has not. The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops claims that the independence of individual dioceses and their bishops absolves them of any responsibility. It is both ironic and unfortunate that the authorities of a religion so dependent on symbolism are incapable of providing even a symbolic show of remorse so desperately needed by people tortured in their name.

That said, let’s talk about how and why the Supreme Court came to their decision.

The records referred to in the Supreme Court’s decision are specifically those from the Independent Assessment Process (IAP) resulting from the 2006 Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement.

The Agreement was the result of a consensus reached between the legal representatives of survivors, the Churches involved, the Assembly of First Nations and other aboriginal organizations and the Government of Canada on how to address the legacy of residential schools. It was brought on by numerous class action lawsuits against the Canadian government by the victims of residential schools seeking compensation and recognition for the persecution they endured.

Among the things agreed upon was a Common Experience Payment for all eligible survivors of the residential schools, a form of financial compensation for the victims of abuse at the hands of the government and the Churches acting in its name. Eligibility was determined by the Independent Assessment Process which entailed survivors disclosing extremely sensitive information about the abuse they suffered and the consequences therein. The information also included medical reports, hearing transcripts, and reasons for decisions in each case, all of which are held by the Government of Canada. The overall goal was to determine the credibility of each claimant and the harm they suffered.

As per the Supreme Court’s ruling, these records can be destroyed after fifteen years, though individuals can apply to have the information in their files preserved. The Court decided on destruction of the records after a certain delay for a few reasons, the primary one being that of confidentiality.

The Supreme Court decided that all participants in the Independent Assessment Process agreed on destruction of the information as part of the high degree of confidentiality of the process, the same way one would for a contract. Confidentiality was agreed upon in part to allow the victims to retain ownership of their stories and the horror of what they endured while maintaining their privacy. It was also to ensure the participation of religious organizations that would not have done so otherwise despite their active participation in the abuse.

The Court also stated that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission established as part of the 2006 Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement was for “creating a complete historical record of the residential schools system, and promoting awareness and public education of Canadians about the residential schools system and its impacts”. The court said that those who participated in the IAP were welcome to share their experiences with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and that the confidentiality rules ensured them that choice.

The decision appears to be based on preserving the dignity of Residential School survivors, but it has a flipside of destroying records of abuse that implicate the government and religious groups that should be held to account for what they did. Though a survivor may want to keep their experience confidential, that can change in fifteen or sixteen years whether or not they apply to preserve the records. At the end of the day, the only people this decision protects are the abusers and the people who allowed it by destroying the evidence.

That was quick. A lot quicker than most expected. On Sunday Jagmeet Singh won with over 53% on the first ballot to become the new leader of the Federal NDP.

He’ll be taking on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and that guy the Conservatives picked, Andy something I think (yes I know it’s Andrew Scheer, but did you without Googling it?), in 2019. It looks like we don’t have to wait two years for the media frenzy to start, though.

In the past few days, Singh has already generated quite a bit of coverage to say the least. There have been mainstream pieces focused primarily on his style and how this is really problematic for Trudeau, plus the obligatory right-wing attacks and commentary from those who supported other candidates for NDP Leader.

Full Disclosure: At the start of the leadership race, I had planned to cover and comment on it from the sidelines, that changed after I interviewed Niki Ashton. I was so impressed with her I decided to volunteer for her campaign and therefore stop writing about the contest on this site (my personal Facebook was another story). Now that the race is over, game on.

While Singh was not my first choice, he did win our reader poll quite handsomely. Speaking of handsome and charismatic, as I’m sure many will continue to do, I realize that having a style that can rival or even beat that of our selfie PM is an important step up for the NDP, but what about policy and the message Jagmeet is bringing to the table?

Image and Policy

Singh does have some propositions that strike me as quite progressive. Most unique to him, he wants to decriminalize possession of all drugs, period, and treat addiction as a public health issue rather than a criminal justice one. That’s a far cry from Tom Mulcair waffling on decriminalizing just pot and better than Justin Trudeau touting weed legalization while not overturning any convictions that happen before the legal status of the leaf changes, something Singh touched on in his first media scrum.

He also wants to decriminalize sex work and is a proponent of free post-secondary education. So far, so good.

Jagmeet is strong on social, racial and economic justice. For Singh, though, some of the NDP’s core issues are much more than talking points. He can (and did during his victory speech) offer personal stories of growing up with economic uncertainty and being pulled over countless times because of how he looked and the colour of his skin.

While he may not have been as strong against pipelines as some of his opponents, he did voice his opposition to Kinder-Morgan and Energy East in an interview with The Financial Post of all places.

All the NDP leadership candidates on stage following Singh’s victory (image: CPAC)

He wasn’t the only leadership candidate espousing progressive values in this race and wasn’t the furthest to the left, either. But it seems that this fact wasn’t lost on Singh. Before bringing his fellow candidates up on stage, he praised Ashton for her progressive stance and stopped just short of admitting she moved the discourse to the left, a sentiment he reiterated in his campaign’s email blast to NDP members on Monday:

“Niki has pushed the boundaries as a woman running for Prime Minister. Her courage to be unapologetically progressive and to engage a new generation has placed free tuition, climate change, gender justice, and unstable work on the federal stage. Thank you, Niki!”

He also thanked Charlie Angus for putting Native issues front and centre and Guy Caron for his “deep policy knowledge on (economic) inequality” before naming Caron his House Leader (Singh, an Ontario MPP doesn’t currently have a seat in the House of Commons) a few days later. It looks like he’s ready to listen, take what people liked about his now former opponents and integrate them with his own ideas.

He’s in it to win and become Prime Minister of Canada and if his subsequent actions match his current rhetoric, he just might, or at least lead the NDP back to Official Opposition status. This is a step up from Tom “My Way or the Highway” Mulcair.

This means that it’s up to all of us who supported other candidates to hold Jagmeet to his word and even guide him a little more to the left on some issues. He seems open to it.

There is a lot to like about Jagmeet Singh, but of course there are concerns as well.

The ‘Burbs, the Party Base and the Hangers On

Everyone knows that Singh brought a whole bunch of new members to the party, which is great. Many of them live in suburban ridings and could possibly add to the party base which would also be good.

If his plan is to mobilize them in hopes of swinging a few traditionally Liberal or Conservative seats to the New Democrats by changing the voting base without changing his national presentation, then great, good idea. If, however, he also plans to suck up to current Liberal and Conservative voters in those ridings by altering his image and message like Mulcair did, it won’t work and will turn off supporters elsewhere.

The NDP isn’t the party of middle class suburban continuity, it’s the party of big city and rural working class change. That’s what fuels and inspires the party base, the people who, really, can make or break an election.

The independent left-wing group Courage listed some of what progressives can celebrate in a Singh victory but also stuff to be vigilant about. The part that piqued my interest was the revelation that some people involved with the NDP’s move to the right under Mulcair were in the orbit of Singh’s candidacy.

Turning over a new leaf doesn’t just mean changing the face, it means institutional change behind the scenes as well. If Jagmeet truly wants to bring the party together and push a left-wing alternative to Trudeau, he should not only reach out to his opponents but the people who supported them, worked for them and volunteered for them as well (no, not talking about myself here, happily going back to journalism).

It’s not just what I hope for, it’s also good politics.

Oh Yeah, Racism

Jagmeet Singh was born in Scarborough, Ontario, a location that screams Canadiana about as loudly as Tim Hortons. When he speaks, he sounds like, well, someone from Ontario. When he speaks French he sounds like someone from Ontario who has put in the time and effort to learn the language out of respect for those Francophones listening to him.

That, of course, won’t stop the racists from having a serious problem with him because his skin colour is different from theirs. It also won’t stop the closet racists from using the fact that he wears a turban and a Kirpan (ceremonial Sikh dagger) to bring up some coded bigoted language about secularism and religious symbols while clutching their crosses.

The racist pushback started even before Singh won leadership. First there was the truly ignorant heckler at a Brampton event who started screaming about Sharia Law of all things. Jagmeet’s extremely chill response to this garnered him media attention globally and even caught the attention of US progressive outlet The Young Turks.

Then Quebec MP Pierre Nantel said that Singh wearing a turban was “inconsistent” with what voters in Quebec looked for in a leader. Honestly, Nantel sounds so much like a Bloc candidate that he should just join them and stop pretending he’s progressive.

Now, since the vote, the CBC’s Terry Milewski interviewed Singh and tweeted that Jagmeet refused to condemn Sikhs who held up posters of Talwinder Parmar, whom some suspect was involved in the Air India bombing. Never mind for a second that Milewski is infamous for his Samosa Politics series targeting the Sikh community, is the first question someone asks Justin Trudeau typically whether or not he condemns the Quebec mosque shooter or the FLQ?

Of course not. We assume correctly that Trudeau does condemn acts of terrorism. Why don’t we extend the same assumption to Singh?

I truly hope that the racists in Canada are as small and electorally insignificant a group as I think they are and that the only reason they seem louder is corporate media bolstering. I hope Canada and especially Quebec doesn’t prove me wrong.

Gonna Stay On Board

I became a card-carrying NDP member shortly before the Orange Wave and volunteered during that campaign. After Tom Mulcair took over, I remained an NDP voter but let my membership lapse. I knew that my input was not sought, though I offered plenty of it in posts on this site.

I re-joined the party specifically to vote for Niki. She didn’t win, but I’m not going to jump ship again, at least not right now.

Jagmeet is not Tom. Mulcair’s victory felt as though the most I could do was offer advice from the sidelines and hope for the best. Singh, on the other hand, seems like someone who wants to do what it takes to win and if he is convinced that keeping the NDP on a leftward trajectory will do that, then those hoping for a true progressive political change should all help him do that.

At the very least he’s a better choice for PM than Justin Trudeau.

This past Monday, after nearly three weeks of jury selection, the trial for Lac Mégantic began in Sherbrooke. Train engineer Thomas Harding, 56, railway traffic controller Richard Labrie, 59, and manager of train operations Jean Demaître, 53, all face forty seven counts of criminal negligence causing death. If found guilty, they will each face life in prison.

For those of you who don’t remember, here’s a recap of what happened on that fateful day in 2013.

On July 5, 2013 a Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway train carrying 7.7 million liters of petroleum crude oil arrived at Nantes, Quebec bound for Saint John, New Brunswick and the locomotive engineer parked the train. Another engineer was scheduled to take his place the next day.

The engineer contacted the rail traffic controller in Farnham, Quebec, and then the rail traffic controller in Bangor, Maine. To the latter, the engineer said the locomotive had been having mechanical difficulties throughout the trip, causing excessive amounts of black and white smoke. As they both believed the smoke would settle, they agreed to leave the train as is until the next morning.

Some time after the first engineer left, firefighters were called in to deal with a fire on the train. They shut off the locomotive’s fuel supply and the electrical breakers inside, as per railway instructions. Firefighters also met with a railway employee and track foreman who’d been sent to the scene, but neither had locomotive knowledge. They contacted the rail traffic controller in Farnham, and the train departed shortly afterward.

What happened next is rather technical unless you’re a mechanical engineer, so I’ll try to simplify it as much as possible.

Mechanical difficulties on the train got worse, affecting the brakes of the locomotive which are used to help regulate speed. At 1 am on July 6, 2013, the train headed downhill towards the town of Lac Mégantic. Without the locomotive effectively controlling its velocity, the train picked up speed. At 1:15 am the train derailed, spilling 6 million liters of crude oil and causing a large fire and multiple explosions.

Forty seven people died that night. Most were confirmed dead by the local coroner but some have not been found but are presumed dead, incinerated by the blasts. Two thousand people were evacuated from the site, forty buildings and fifty three vehicles were destroyed.

Aerial photographs of the site show over six blocks of scorched ground. The spill contaminated thirty-one hectares of land, and a hundred thousand litres of crude oil ended up in Mégantic lake and the Chaudière river via the town’s sewer systems, surface flow, and underground infiltration.

As with any disaster of this magnitude, heads must roll for it, figuratively, not literally. In this case, it is three former Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway employees who are on the chopping block, though not everyone agrees they are the ones who should be.

Some Lac Mégantic residents like Jean Paradis resent that the executives of the now bankrupt Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway are safely in the United States instead of answering to survivors in Quebec. Paradis was inside a bar when it happened and watched his friends die in the fire. He told Global News the rail company put making money above safety measures.

A train belonging to the now bankrupt Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway

“Security should be first, not third,” he said.

The Transportation and Safety Board of Canada (TSBC) seems to confirm the notion that the management of Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway are somewhat responsible for the disaster. Their report released in August 2014 following a lengthy investigation revealed many factors contributing to what happened which included:

  • Improper repairs
  • Mechanical issues i.e. things being bent out of shape, brakes not working, engine problems
  • “Weak safety structure”

Chemical engineer Jean-Paul Lacoursière of the University of Sherbrooke read the report and agrees that railway management should at the very least be called to testify at the trial. His impression is that the company did not make sure employees were properly trained, nor did they make sure they understood the training they received. He feels this lack of leadership, risk management, and ineffective training were all contributing factors to the disaster.

It is not the leadership of Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway or even the company itself that’s on trial. Superior Court Justice Gaétan Dumas’ instructions to the jury included a reminder that the railway company is not on trial, and that they must treat the defendants as if they were facing three separate trials for forty seven counts of negligence causing death.

The prosecution, led by Crown Prosecutor Valerie Beauchamp, plans to present thirty six witnesses. The trial is expected to go on until just before Christmas. The residents of Lac Mégantic, for the most part, just want to move on from what happened, equating the trial of Harding, Demaitre, and Labrie to holding generals responsible for losing a war.

As the town recovers, we must not forget who we lost in the disaster. Instead of speculating on the outcome of the ongoing trial, I’m going to conclude with a list of the victims below.

Let’s not focus on how they died, but remember them for who they were and how they lived.

Andrée-Anne Sévigny – Age 26
David Martin – Age 36
Michel Junior Guertin – Age 33
Éliane Parenteau-Boulanger- Age 93
Élodie Turcotte – Age 18
Geneviève Breton – Age 28
Guy Bolduc – Age 43
Henriette Latulippe – Age 61
Talitha Coumi Bégnoche – Age 30
Bianka Begnoche – Age 9
Alyssa Begnoche – Age 4
Jean Pierre Roy – Age 56
Jimmy Sirois – Age 30
Marie-Semie Alliance – Age 22
Joanie Turmel – Age 29
Gaetan Lafontaine – Age 33
Kevin Roy – Age 29
Marianne Poulin – Age 23
Marie-France Boulet – Age 62
Richard Veilleux – Age 63
Martin Rodrigue – Age 48
Maxime Dubois – Age 27
Melissa Roy – Age 29
Natachat Gaudeau – Age 41
Réal Custeau – Age 57
Stephane Bolduc – Age 37
Karine Champagne – Age 36
Sylvie Charron – Age 50
Yves Boulet – Age 51
Marie Noelle Faucher – Age 36
Kathy Clusiault – Age 24
Karine Lafontaine – Age 35
Diane Bizier – Age 46
Éric Pépin Lajeunesse – Age 28
Fréderic Boutin – Age 19
Yannick Bouchard – Age 36
Stéphane Lapièrre – Age 45
Roger Paquet – Age 61
David Lacroix-Beaudoin – Age 27
Mathieu Pelletier – Age 29
Jean Guy Vielleux – Age 32
Jo Annie Lapointe – Age 20
Lucie Vadnais – Age 49
Jacques Giroux – Age 65
Louisette Poirier-Picard – Age 76
Denise Dubois – Age 57
Wilfrid Ratsch – Age 78