bernie-birdie

You may have seen that meme. The one contrasting two Bernie Sanders rallies.

In the first image, taken when he was still running for President, Bernie’s in a stadium surrounded by thousands of people. In the second, he’s promoting Hillary Clinton to about 150 people in what looks like some sort of auditorium:

bernie-solo-bernie-hillary

So, what happened? Did Bernie really drop that far in popularity in such a short time? No, he didn’t. By most accounts, he’s still one of the most popular politicians in the US.

I suspect the sharp attendance drop isn’t due to the speaker but rather the subject matter. It’s not what the thousands who flocked to him in the primaries want to hear him say, or at least not what will motivate them to come out in droves and hear him speak.

Think of a famous musician or band that you and quite a few others adore. They’ve got so many hits, but they also have that one album that really seems out of place. Now imagine they were going on tour and promised just to play songs from that one album very few like.

Sure, some may show up. Diehard fans and those few who actually do like the obscure material. But it won’t be anything like the attendance they would get on a regular tour.

It’s not that people no longer like the artist, they just don’t like the tunes they’ll be playing. It’s not that people no longer like Bernie, it’s just that they really aren’t fans of “We have to all vote Hillary to stop Trump.”

Now some of those Bernie fans staying home may very well vote for Hillary Clinton to prevent a Trump Presidency. They’re just not super excited about doing it.

DNC Logic Fail

It could have been easy for the Democrats this election cycle. They could have picked someone who inspired people by the thousands. Those who flocked to Obama in 08 but felt disappointed overall by the result were ready for Bernie to be the next phase, the one that would actually make the change happen. People who never voted before, or never voted for a major party before, were ready to do so for Bernie.

Problem was that the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and establishment Democrats already had their nominee (the leaks proved it). They didn’t want Bernie to run for President under their banner, but they did want the people who flocked to him to vote Democrat in November.

bernie-sanders-hillary-clinton

The Dems thought they had the perfect solution: rig the Primaries against him, then convince Sanders to come on board and support Clinton. They had to make some concessions in the platform to do so, but it didn’t matter, once elected, they could do what they wanted to.

They got Bernie on board, so why didn’t their plan work? Surely all these people were just following a charismatic leader and would continue to follow him wherever he led them.

That thinking by the DNC is why America now faces the prospect of a reality TV star turned Twitter troll turned cornball fascist actually becoming President. The Democrats couldn’t see outside of their own bubble of top-down leadership and cult of personality.

If they had looked deeper, just a bit deeper, they would have remembered that Bernie Sanders had been saying the same things in pretty much the same way for decades. None of it had received much response outside of Vermont until 2015. They would have realized that it was only after the Occupy Movement happened and people began searching for a political voice that was aligned with their thinking that Sanders went from being someone people knew (and loved) in Burlington to a political phenom that millions wanted to see in the White House.

The movement that backed Bernie existed before it became Bernie’s political revolution. The people involved chose him as their champion and he agreed. When he stopped speaking for them and started speaking for Hillary, it was the end of that unofficial contract. They had chosen Bernie as their representative, they never chose Hillary, even if Bernie did.

You can co-opt a progressive politician. You can’t co-opt a progressive, bottom-up movement. The only thing you can do is embrace it and let it tell you where to go. The DNC clearly didn’t think of that, and now they’re paying for it.

Bernie’s Movement in Pieces

Now, Bermie’s movement is fragmented politically. Some have followed Bernie and gone to Hillary. Revolution later, stop Trump now, presumably. Others are supporting Green Party Presidential Candidate Jill Stein, which makes most logical sense policy-wise.

A few, though, are outright voting Trump, I’m guessing to give the middle finger to the DNC, also probably all white. Some have chosen Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party, which really confounds me. He’s like the anti-Bernie on many issues.

Yet, there are more who plan to simply write in Bernie’s name on the ballot and others who plan to stay home, or go to the bar, on election  day.

clinton-trump

So this huge block of voters that would have all voted Democrat? They’re not a block anymore. Also, those volunteers that would have campaigned for Democrats up and down the ticket provided Bernie was at the top? Not gonna happen. Huge opportunity missed.

Instead, the Democrats’ path to retaining the White House relies on their traditional supporters and the fear of a Trump victory. Currently, Clinton and Trump are pretty much tied, with Clinton losing in key battleground states. Sure, it’s only by a little bit and tonight’s debate may turn that around, but the fact that it is even a contest is the real problem, a problem that the DNC could have avoided.

With all of the former Berners added to those who always vote Democrat added to those who fear a real life version of Idiocracy, Trump wouldn’t have stood a chance. The debates would have just been icing on the cake.

People want to vote for something. Now they have to vote against something and that’s never a good situation.

As for Bernie, he’ll draw the crowds once he starts playing the hits again.

 

 

coderre-cut-the-mic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

notley-at-stampede

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*Featured image credited to Chris Schwartz, Government of Alberta

male-birth-control-pill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* Featured image: YouTube

govt-grant-permits-06-09

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Problematic History of  the NEB

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Modernization” in progress

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

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

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

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

* Featured image from More Canada! Twitter

money-in-politics

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

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

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

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

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

Application Fees for the Top Job

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You Need to Lead a Party to be Prime Minister

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

dakota access pipeline protest

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

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

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

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

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

Indigenous resistance to the DAPL

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Canadian Company

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

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

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

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

projet montreal logo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

mmiw highway of tears

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

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

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

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

What exactly is the Inquiry About?

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

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

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

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

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

What will the Inquiry do?

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

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

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

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

What can the commission do?

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

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

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

Who is on the commission?

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

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

What to watch out for?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* Featured image via WikiMedia Commons

ecoqc

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s the problem with the National Energy Board?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Associated Minor Scandals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

drinking water

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

Coderre to Consider Charging Montrealers For Water Use and Trash Collection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can you think of a place?

* Featured image by Angus (Flickr Creative Commons)

naked trump statue the emperor has no balls

Question:
Is the recent guerrilla art installation Emperor Has No Balls (nude Trump statues in various parks) just an example of body shaming or does it get a pass because the subject, Trump, is obsessed with sexist body norms for women?

Answer:
As an American citizen I am embarrassed and abhorred that someone like this has gotten so far in our obviously flawed political system. He is the actual Republican nominee for President of the United States.

He is a racist, sexist, bigoted meanie face. All of his beliefs and moral stances are foolish and full of shit, he is not a politician, he is an ego maniac celebrity, a money grubbing monster, and downright evil doer. BUT, he is a human being.

While I do think he is an idiot and I want to see his campaign crash and burn, I do not believe in body shaming or making fun of any of his physical attributes. You are only as beautiful on the outside as you are on the inside, so obviously he doesn’t have much to work with. Judge him on his idioic ideas and not his lack of genitalia.

I don’t want to be shamed for my imperfect body so I will never do the same to another human. The piece features fat shaming and transphobia.

There is no pass when it comes to body shaming. I am a firm believer in two wrongs don’t make a right. If I judge him for being a jerk I can’t go right back and be a jerk in response, we must Love Trumps Hate to move on.

This publicity stunt got his name in the news again, the dumb people are still seeing his name. In good or bad context doesn’t matter, it’s in their impressionable minds. The stunt made headlines.

Although, on one hand I do believe that people should have a sense of humor. Public art is made to stand out, make people think. Trump’s naked body has nothing to do with his political agenda. I do agree that he would be a terrible president, and would probably erect similar statues of himself anyways.

I have dressed up like Trump in the past, mocking him and being satirical. I was a parody, a personification of his idiocracy and “perfect hair.”

Trump wins every time someone says or types his name, I am feeding the machine by even writing this article. He is an “even bad press is good press” believer.

He pulls this stuff out of his ass just to rile people up. He excites the hate mongers and ignites the protesters into a fury. Justice has not been served by erecting the larger than life nudes, he honestly probably really loves them, and will have the whole collection in one of his mansions.

Activist art crew Indecline was in charge of this public art frenzy, naked Trump statues appearing in many major cities: Seattle, New York, San Francisco, Cleveland, and Los Angeles- to protest the Republican presidential nominee. At 11 am in each city (8 on West coast) two people dressed like construction workers carried out this 6’5″, 80 pound sculpture under a blue tarp and then literally glued it to the ground and disappeared into the crowd.

Each statue was beautifully hand painted by an artist known as Ginger, a Las Vegas based horror artist (that admits he was once a Trump supporter, then wisened up as the campaign got more out of control). Ginger is known for his monsters, and Trump is a monster.

Once the tarp was removed mayhem insued. So many selfless were taken, one was “jerked off” by a homeless man, another was dragged into a nearby art gallery, but most were taken down by the police. The new goal is to make them for high end galleries and restaurants, willing participants.

Tiny penis and no testicles were the main attraction. Although art is subjective and takes liberties, it is not confirmed whether he actually has testicles in real life or not. He definitely suffers from foot in mouth disease and is a raging sociopath, but that is beside the point.

The Emperor Has No Balls is part of Indecline’s 15 years of art as activism, usually sticking to murals and graffiti. They are responsible for the Rape Trump graffiti on a fence at the US Mexico border. They knew that larger action needed to be taken as the Trump campagn was a real thing, he is the nominee, wow, this is happening!

Everytime I turn on a TV or look at the news I get sick, I worry that this impending doom is the final apocalypse. What will he do as our commander in chief? Not saying I love Hilary Clinton or anything, but COME ON! He is the worst, it’s a joke that has gone too far, and at OUR EXPENSE!

They started to think about how dictators were memorialized in giant statues throughout history. Illama Gore’s infamous drawing of naked Trump got so much attention (even the artist being assaulted due to her work) that it was a clear inspiration for this project.

Trump’s campaign did not comment on the statues. Of course not…

* Featured image: Naked Trump statue in Union Square, NYC

Got a question for Cat? Ask it: Cat@ForgetTheBox.net

bike-montreal

A young cyclist died after a collision with a truck on Monday afternoon in Montreal. The driver didn’t see the 24 year old woman when he made a right-turn at the intersection of Iberville and Rosemont. The opposition in City Council, along with advocacy group Vélo-Québec, are calling, once again, for enhanced protective measures for cyclists.

“It’s terrible,” said Luc Ferrandez from Projet Montréal, as quoted by Radio-Canada. “We are lagging behind. And Mayor Coderre is the mayor of these citizens who are getting hurt and who are dying. He should do something.”

Coderre responded by underscoring the work that is already being done on some intersections to make their configuration safer for cyclists. He also reminded the opposition that some changes have already been implanted in the existing regulations (namely law 107).

The issue keeps resurfacing as accidents keep happening. A few times a year, a cyclist gets run over and the city council promises that they are working on ensuring fair and safe sharing of the road.

Now, there is another phantom-bike to add to the city’s rapidly growing collection.  At the rate we’re going, they will soon be as much of a banal part of our urban landscape as the infamous orange cones.

Rising Accident Rates

Montreal is by far the Canadian city with the biggest number of cyclists and the largest number of bicycle lanes. While there is no doubt that Montreal’s bike culture is alive and well, the same can’t be said for its cyclists.

The number of bicycles on the road is on the rise and so are the number of accidents. There were 763 recorded bike accidents in 2015, including three lethal ones: a 16% increase compared to the previous year.

In fact, a study published in 2015 crowned the city as the Canadian queen of bike accidents. According to the Pembina Institute, Montreal has seven bike accidents for every 100 000 rides; much more than all the other large population centres in the country. In fact, a bike ride in Montreal is seven times more likely to come to a brutal end than it is in Vancouver.

These findings were based on data from 2008. However, considering that both the number of bicycles on the road and the rate of accidents have risen since then, the current numbers are probably even worse.

We Need to Keep Up

But wait, isn’t Montreal the most bike-friendly city in North-America, or something? Well, it was.

In 2013, Montreal ranked as the 13th most bike-friendly city of the world in the Copenhagenize Index. It was the only North American city in the top 20. But we’ve been slipping since then and Minneapolis (Minnesota) has surpassed us.

Montreal desperately clings to the 20th spot in this year’s ranking.

As population growth and air pollution put more and more pressure on urban centres, cities around the world are wising up. Investing in biking infrastructure is not progressive and cool anymore; it’s necessary.  It seems that our political leaders have failed to recognize that in today’s context, not going forward means falling behind.

Quebec’s ambitious plan of reducing its greenhouse gas emission by 38% in the next 14 years does not even contain any consideration for encouraging cycling as alternative transportation. And the strategy it put forward instead to address car-related pollution is being called into question.

According to the City of Montreal’s own numbers, there are now 1.3 Million bike riders on the Island. Consideration for their safety should amount to more than a couple of days of indignation after every tragic accident.

Getting our respectable number of protected lanes connected into a coherent network, and, for the love of God, ensuring their proper maintenance, would be a great place to start.

As the Copenhagenize Index recommends:

“Better winter maintenance is a must, cycle tracks along main arteries should be a no-brainer (especially with the shocking state of the asphalt on the roads), and feel free to borrow traffic-calming inspiration from Paris and Barcelona.”

* Featured image: homeexchange.com

burkini

Ed’s Note: Following publication of this article, The Conseil d’Etat (State Council), France’s highest administrative court, ruled that burkini bans were “strictly illegal”

France is enhancing its reputation as a racist country. The mayor in Cannes has banned the use of the burkini on its public beaches. Other French cities have followed suit and there is some talk about Quebec doing the same. Everyone knows that adopting such a ban in Quebec would be disastrous.

It’s time to fully discuss why.

The burkini is in essence a full body wetsuit with a head and neck covering and sometimes a sort of over dress. The arguments in favor of such bans in France have been those of secularism, anti-terrorism and ironically, “good morals.” Sadly, these bans only serve to alienate Muslims and encourage the kind of behavior in many non-Muslims that could only be called immoral.

One Montreal lifeguard described the complaints she got when women came to the public pool in burkinis.

Many whiners would claim the burkini wasn’t a real swimsuit and that Muslim women were swimming in their dirty pajamas. The complainers, the most vocal of whom were white middle aged men and seniors, would argue that if Muslim women could wear it to swim, it would encourage others to wear whatever they wanted to the pool. She described one incident she witnessed at a pool in Ville Saint Laurent where one such man spat on a woman wearing a burkini and told her to

“Leave and don’t come back, Dirty Arab!”

When officials at the pool confronted the man and told him to leave, pointing that the first rule of pool use was that it was a safe and respectful environment, he claimed that spitting on her was ok because the woman was already dirty.

This kind of behavior is only going to increase if a burkini ban is imposed as bigots will see such a law as carte blanche to continue to express their hate. Fortunately, Quebec and Canada have laws against imposing a ban like those in France and any such ban would surely be challenged in the courts the moment the government would try to enforce it.

burkini underwater

First, we have the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which is part of the Canadian Constitution and is therefore among the highest, most entrenched laws in Canada.

The Charter not only guarantees freedom of conscience and religion, but also the right “to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability” (my underlines).

The law applies to any and all actions by the government and anyone acting on the government’s behalf. If a law is successfully challenged under the Canadian Charter, the courts will strike it down or keep it in place to avoid chaos, thus giving the government a chance to enact another law that better conforms to the Charter.

The Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms also has protections against the laws like burkini bans.

The Quebec Charter is considered a quasi-constitutional law, meaning that though it’s not entrenched in the constitution and was enacted like any other law, it is considered one of the highest laws in the province and is enforced as such. Unlike the Canadian Charter, the Quebec Charter applies not only to the government and anyone acting on its behalf, but also to private parties.

The Quebec Charter guarantees “freedom of conscience, freedom of religion, freedom of opinion, freedom of expression, freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association.” It also guarantees freedom from discrimination, distinction, and exclusion based on race, colour, sex, pregnancy, sexual orientation, civil status, age except as provided by law, religion, political convictions, language, ethnic or national origin, social condition, a handicap. Since the burkini is an expression of one’s faith and culture, the right to wear it would certainly be protected under the Quebec Charter, which means that the government and any private establishment that would bar women wearing it would be breaking the law.

Whenever bans of anything religious are brought up, there is always someone who raises a secularist feminist argument. They’ll claim that such bans are good for women because they’ll free them from dress codes that oppress them.

The problem is that bans like these don’t free women.

They rob women of their sense of agency.

If a faith or culture, be it strict Islam, Mormonism, or Satmar Judaism, for example, forbids women from doing anything outside the home without being covered from head to toe, any law that keeps them from engaging in activities in those coverings is going to hold them back and make them more reluctant to participate in secular society, not less.

Instead of shaming women for dressing in a way that their faith or culture dictates, we should be expressing friendly curiosity and a sense of welcome.

A woman who feels safe taking a swim in a public pool in a burkini will feel safe going to a library to maybe pick up a copy of The Feminine Mystique, and maybe one day take a self-defense course (if she hasn’t already done these things).

Whether a woman is covered up of her own free will or under the pressure from an abusive family or religious leader is none of anyone’s business unless her safety and the safety of her children (if any) are in jeopardy. The only thing we can do is make sure that all women feel safe enough to make their own choices about their bodies, whether that choice includes remaining covered up or not.

Banning the burkini would only exacerbate tensions between secular society and Muslims in Quebec. After the disaster of the proposed Secular Charter, now is a time to heal rifts, not make them worse.

* Images via WikiMedia Commons

brexit video food

The British vote to exit from the UK, better known as Brexit, which took place a few months ago, is admittedly quite a complex issue. Many have tried to explain it in terms of history , socio-economic conditions and politics, but none have tried to explain it with food. That is, until now.

With their new video How to Make Cucumber Sandwiches, Töad Meädow, a collective based outside Buffalo, New York, does just that. The group “wants to encourage people to become producers of artistic content, rather than rampant consumers” and with this video they’re doing just that.

It’s a funny, sometimes irreverant, take on Brexit, mixed in with a brief history of other places leaving the UK. There’s even a bit on the Levesque-era Quebec sovereignty movement.

The short film was directed by Damon Hudac and produced by Melissa Campbell, who also appears in it. They hope to “bring light to this enormously important world event,” according to a press statement:

“We would like many people to see and talk about it. Basically, through history, many countries have attempted to separate from the UK as well as many other groups separating from their larger oppressive controlers. This is a light hearted look with a very serious message.”

Also, you really should cut off the bread crust. Enjoy!

donald trump

Narcissistic racist misogynist scam artist Donald Trump is running for President. While everyone initially thought it was a publicity stunt and a joke, Trump has become the sole Republican candidate.

We are now realizing it is not a joke. There is a very real possibility that this man – who says whatever he wants without checking facts, who lets his campaign people assault journalists and then gaslights them and any witnesses, who has called Mexicans drug dealers and rapists, threatened the mass deportation of Muslims, and has claimed that soldiers who are captured don’t deserve to be called heroes – will become president of the United States of America.

But don’t fret, America.

Hope is not lost.

And you can partly thank your Founding Fathers.

The Founding Fathers were not perfect. They said that “All men are created equal” when what they meant was “All men are created equal except for women, blacks, Hispanics, and Native Americans.”

It took almost a hundred years after the Declaration of Independence for slavery to be abolished and almost two hundred for women to get the vote. In that time, Native Americans were brought to the brink of extinction in mass genocide campaigns and those of Spanish origin were forced off their land.

Despite all their shortcomings, the Founding Fathers provided the United States with one very important aspect of your political system.

They gave you a failsafe.

They gave their new country a system of government that would make sure that its leader would not have absolute power once elected.

They did this with the creation of Congress.

Congress is the American federal legislature consisting of two houses: The House of Representatives, and The Senate. Senators and members of the House of Representatives – known as Congressmen – are elected by the people of their respective states. Senators are elected for six-year terms, and Congressmen for two-year terms. Any federal bill proposed in the United States must get through these two houses in order to become law.

That means that if Donald Trump tried to do something ridiculous (besides running for President) like proposing a bill that would force Mexican Americans to pay for that wall he’s proposing, the bill would have to be passed by Congress in order to become law. If both houses vote against the law, the bill dies.

If there is one thing this election has taught us thus far, it’s that American politicians are united in their dislike of Donald Trump. Democrats are outraged and insulted by his very presence in the elections. Republicans are embarrassed by him. Both sides recognize how preposterous Trump’s policy ideas are and their representatives may be in the best position to save America from itself.

Now let’s say Trump doesn’t like a proposed law. Let’s say Congress decides to pass a law forgiving debts accrued by people who needed to pay for health care. Congress passes the bill and Trump gets wind and decides to tell the bill it’s fired by using his Presidential Veto to kill it. If Congress is really determined to pass a law vetoed by the president, there is a failsafe for that too.

Congress can overturn a presidential veto with a two thirds majority vote in both houses. This may seem like a tall order in a country where Democrats and Republicans can’t agree on anything, but it’s possible a reality TV show star has finally found something to unite them. The possibility that Congress can come together to overthrow a presidential veto isn’t that outlandish provided the one using the veto is Donald Trump.

Now let’s talk about nukes.

There has been a lot of talk about Donald Trump’s gung-ho attitude about nuclear weapons. From all reports, he clearly has no understanding of why using nuclear weapons is dangerous and should be avoided. Fortunately for the world, the buttons for launching the nukes are protected by the US military, and Trump seems to be doing everything he can to alienate them.

Yes, some veterans’ groups have come out in favour of Donald Trump. They don’t like that the US is cutting back on its military and think that Trump would somehow restore it to its former glory.

But there are many in active service who are deeply incensed by Trump’s remarks about the military. They are insulted by his claim that attending New York Military Academy gave him “more training militarily than a lot of the guys that go into the military.” They are insulted by his claim that Senator John McCain, a former naval officer who was captured by the North Vietnamese and tortured for six years, is “not a war hero” because he got captured.

Most know that Trump got the rich-boy ticket out of serving in Vietnam. And they are not going to let this man do what he wants if he becomes Commander-In-Chief.

On August 4, 2016, a group of veterans showed up on Capitol Hill to urge Republicans to withdraw their support of Donald Trump. Alexander McCoy, a former sergeant in the marines told reporters:

“Donald Trump’s reckless ignorance about America’s responsibility to the world shocks me to the core … I am done listening. I have heard enough.”

Fortunately, many in active service have heard enough too.

If Trump succeeds at rallying enough self-hating women, racists, and wealthy people to vote him into office, we can take comfort in the fact that American nuclear weapons are guarded by people sworn to protect their country.

The military is made up of people who are trained to recognize when someone is dangerously unfit for command and unable to make rational decisions. The military is trained to recognize when someone is endangering their country and the world and to act accordingly to stop them.

People are scared of Donald Trump, but we can take comfort in the fact that America has a system in place that can save it from itself. Let’s hope they don’t have to use it.