On Thursday morning, Françoise David officially announced her immediate resignation both as Gouin’s MNA and as Québec Solidaire’s spokesperson.

At a press conference in her home riding, she explained that she was exhausted from politics, but insisted that her optimism and confidence in her party remain unaltered. “I take this decision with regret, but also with serenity,” she assured.

Although she had implied in September that the next provincial election would probably be her last, her departure mid-mandate comes as a surprise. She will not seek the transition allocation provided to MNAs who cannot finish their mandate.

“Why not hold on until the 2018 general election? It’s simple: I don’t have the strength anymore,” she admitted at the start of her allocation. Although she would have wanted to finish the electoral cycle, she came to the conclusion that she had to quit to avoid a burn-out.

“I know many are disappointed today, but I dare to hope that people will accept this decision, which became unavoidable for me. I also ask them to have confidence in Québec Solidaire for the next steps,” she pleaded. She restated her certainty that others, young, enthusiastic and full of the energy she once had, were ready to pick up the torch.

As for her own future plans, for the time being, they amount to getting some rest, some family time, and reflecting on future actions. “There will most certainly be future actions,” she vowed “I want to continue being useful to society.”

David might be giving up politics, but she is not giving up her fight for a better society: “One thing is clear: I do not intend to keep quiet in the face of injustice, intolerance, sexism, racism and the destruction of the planet.”

The next step

“We won’t replace Françoise, because Françoise is irreplaceable,” declared the president of QS Andres Fontecilla. He conceded that the party will have many challenges to face in the wake of the departure of one of its pillars and co-founders, but also insisted that they were up to it.  “We have the confidence and the ambition to respond to Quebec’s thirst for change,” claimed Fontecilla. Both he and David underlined the successes of the party in recent years.

However, in a very practical sense, QS will have to replace Françoise David. Fellow MNA Manon Massé is currently assuming her role as spokesperson and will be until the party votes for a replacement at their annual congress. They will also have to prepare for the byelections in Gouin, for which the timetable and candidates should be announced shortly. This will be a vital for QS, as they risk losing one of their three seats in the National Assembly.

 

“I didn’t choose the boot, the boot chose me!” – Vermin Supreme

Vermin Supreme is an incredible character, a friendly fascist, a tyrant you can trust. He is an internet meme, a pop culture reference, an incredible performance artist and political symbol of hope.

He is my candidate! I agree with the platform that everyone must brush their teeth, the zombie apocalypse is near, and a pony would be so fun.

I have seen him in the news for years, always thinking who is this man? Running for office in New Hampshire and President of the good ol’ USA. I never in a million years would think I would get to hang out with him.

I knew the Victory Tour was coming to Mohawk Place in Buffalo on its way to Washington DC and figured I would check it out, but then a good friend of mine texted me, saying they needed couches to crash on. As incredible it would be to have THE VERMIN SUPREME on my couch, I hooked them up at the hostel where I work so they would be more comfortable.

I really did not know what to expect from the show. Local activist band The Blood Thirsty Vegans opened the show, then the adorable Rob Potylo sang some politically charged and just plain fun songs (my favorite being Hot Dogs and Apple Sauce) to lead into Vermin Supreme.

He started the show with the Star Spangled Banner done in an experimental noise style with a megaphone. There were a lot of sing-a-longs including a depressing ballad called Psycho Kitty, a song about crabs, and an introduction to Spud Head a baby doll with a matching booted head. He also read some pony erotica from his book I Pony.

I felt like a little girl again clapping along and laughing out loud. The show was a glorious escape from reality, it was art for art’s sake, it was FUN during a dark time. He made me laugh on the edge of the apocalypse.

That is who I want for president, not some asshole who doesn’t know how to smile and never made art in his poor excuse for a life. Fun and love reigns supreme, not hate and violence.

I wish that all politicians remembered how to be kids, remembered that if you run fast enough you can fly. He ran down the icy sidewalk screaming like a madman, I was inspired. Told me a story of him doing the same thing naked and stone sober at a Rainbow Gathering. Everyone thought he was just a spun out hippie, or a wiley homeless man, definitely some kind of uncharted crazy.

Then he puts on the boot and gets asked to take selfies in the hundreds. He was at ROTFL Con and met THE keyboard cat and Scumbag Steve (among others), Grumpy Cat was still a happy kitten then. Vermin has been a performance artist for years, this character just stuck, he became Vermin Supreme, even legally changing his name.

He says that it’s great to be him because he lives life inconspicuously and then puts on the boot for celebrity status. It is amazing that once you do something people notice you. It takes an act of ridiculousness to get people’s attention, then you can give them the 1-2 punch of ideology and compassion.

NYC performance artist Matthew Silver is the only other artist that I have met who has this effect on the art world and people at large, and he is going to be Vermin’s Vice President. I am excited to see them interact with each other. I remember coming across Matthew while in New York during the Occupy Wall Street movement and The Slut Walk, he stood there in his underwear spouting sonnets of love.

He made me smile. I remember watching him get harassed by the police, and he turned it right on, he has the right to do this! Then I knew he was a performance artist and not another lost soul. I was monumentally impressed. The spontaneity, wackiness, and love with these two combined will be off the charts.

I even enjoyed the merch they sold. His tour manager wore a shirt that said “I Love Butt Drugs” which is apparently a real drugstore somewhere in Indiana. They sold wind up penises, embellished ties, glitter tooth brushes, and other random goodies.

All and all I was completely amused and inspired. It was yet another reason for me to truck on to DC this weekend. I will wear my gold glittered Vermin Supreme the dye tie with pride.

All you have to do to be an artist is to make art! Live it! Breath it! Be insane about your art, put your heart and ideals on display and you will connect with the people. As a performance artist I must allow myself to break free. I must allow my naked self to baffle the buffoons, to sparkle in the face of absurdity and the obscene. Nobody can teach you how to be yourself, you are the only one who can brighten your individual light.

Vermin Supreme became an icon when he put the boot on his head because that’s when people listened (and maybe everyone secretly wants a pony). What is my boot?

I am so excited to go to Washington DC this weekend for the Inauguration Protest and The Million Woman March. This is a scary time and we must stand together to face this evil. A tyrant has been appointed by the redneck racists and the Russians, he is putting the 1% in charge and stripping the rights of everyone else in the name of god and profit.

I have been asking myself WHY AM I GOING? Why am I going to Washington DC to protest? Because I simply must! Yes, I wish I would have gone sooner, tried to stop this unstoppable evil, but the only time is right now.

I have never been to my nation’s capitol, and this is the time to go, front row seats to the end of the world. I don’t want the world to burn like at the end of Fight Club, I just want people to love! I want everyone to be safe and have healthcare, be allowed to love and live in peace, put an end to war and oppression, equality for all humans.

Black Lives Do Matter. Immigrants build this country so we must welcome them with open arms. We need safety for our Trans brothers and sisters, support for the mentally ill, homes for the homeless, rehabilitation for the addicted, happiness for the sad, food for everyone, clean air and water, a better environment, and an education system that will encourage and expand young minds.

A pony would be nice too, it would be more environmentally friendly than a car, give us all great companionship and a sense of responsibility and love for another life. Plus ponies are just so darn cute. I would eat carrots with mine all day long, brush her mane, and listen to punk music with her (cuz that’s what she likes). Maybe I will name her Warrior Princess Cherry Rainbow Buttercup Sinclair?

I am going to Washington because while I do recognize that it is important to rise up in your own communities, sometimes you must converge with your comrades and organize to resist! Direct action is the only way to disrupt evil. Reach out a hand and help! Clean something, feed someone, and respect the beautiful diversity of humanity.

Every person in every city needs to stand up and speak out! Even if you voted for Trump you must realize how dumb this is. He is based in pure hate and has no business being in the White House. All of his promises are bullshit.

President Obama received so much criticism, but will go down in history as an eloquent human who made a difference in our world. He is a great father, husband, and humanitarian that helped open the doors for social change.

I am going to Washington to help end racism, hate in all forms, oppression of women, and war. I have been reading about how the Million Women March has not been as inclusive as it should be to women of color, which unfortunately has been a problem with feminism since the first wave.

White female privilege is real. Just because I am a woman does not cancel out the fact that I am white. White women threw black women under the bus when it came to the vote, even making them march at the back of the line!

Similar things are happening with this march. Even the name was appropriated from a march organized by black women in 1997.

We cannot segregate our feminism! That is as demeaning and shitty as T-bag grabbing pussies. ALL PUSSIES ARE EQUAL and deserve respect and a voice! All women need to hold hands and fight back, we are stronger united.

I am getting into a van with a variety of women, some of which I do not know very well, but have been activists their whole lives. Others, like me, are going to their first large scale protest. We all care, we all want change, we are all scared, we are all willing to speak up and be strong for each other.

Of course it is scary. I do not trust the police, I do not trust the military, or the terror of Trumpocalypse, and what he and his scumfuck cronies are going to do with our precious world.

I know that I will have my water bottle half filled with water and the other half filled with milk of magnesia, just in case they pepper spray me. I will have impermeable layers and protective face masks in case of tear gas.

I am not going to Washington to set fires or cause physical destruction. I am going to burn down the evil with my words and artistic presence. I am going to create a better world for the future for the children who already exist (and those yet to come).

I am speaking up while I still can, before all of my rights are stripped, before I am too old or sick to stand tall. I am going now because I must be there. You cannot cower in the face of adversity, you must look it in the eye and smile. You must hand it a flower and give it a hug, you must show evil that there is another way.

Vermin Supreme inspires me because he is out there doing it! He is living proof that the revolution is real and we are allowed to have fun even though the ship is currently sinking.

Laughter saves lives, activism opens eyes, and everyone has an artistic voice. Find your boot, your power source, put it on, and change the fucking world!

In February of 1990, Barack Obama was the first black person elected to head the Harvard Law Review. The presidency of the Review is considered the highest student position at Harvard Law School.

It’s therefore fitting that in his final days as the first black person to hold the highest office in the United States, Barack Obama has gone back to his roots by publishing a piece in the Harvard Law Review. His essay is called The President’s Role in Advancing Criminal Justice Reform and was published on January 5, 2017.

The article is many things. It’s well written and it’s footnoted so you never have any doubts as to where Obama is getting his facts from or whether he’s making them up. It puts faith in you as a reader because there’s never a word wasted. On the other hand it also requires you to do some visual acrobatics because his sources are cited within the text, requiring you to skip over the citations to read the rest of what he’s saying.

His piece is also a little self-aggrandizing, but unlike the incoming president, all the things Obama says are substantiated by facts. He highlights his tackling of racial profiling as a legislator in Illinois and all sources indicate that he did just that.

In 1999 he proposed a bill against racial profiling after hearing that police were pulling over drivers simply for being black. When the bill failed, he revised and reintroduced it over and over again until it passed in 2003, making a point of publicly saying that “race and ethnicity is not an indicator of criminal activity.”

He also mentioned pushing for the videotaping of police interrogations as a requirement for interrogations and confessions in all capital cases. A measure he helped to pass in Illinois.

Chart from the Harvard Law Review essay

As President, he used his power of clemency to pardon or reduce the sentences of 231 people, many of whom had been punished for minor, non-violent drug crimes under tough anti-drug laws. The impact of this gesture is huge, for unlike other pardons, presidential ones wipe away the legal consequences of previous criminal convictions.

Obama hints at his frustrations battling a Republican Congress determined to undermine him during his presidency. Though he successfully passed the Fair Sentencing Act in 2010 which eliminated mandatory minimum sentences for simple possession of crack cocaine thus reducing excessive punishments imposed on people of colour, he had no such luck with the Smarter Sentencing Act.

The Smarter Sentencing Act was a bipartisan – meaning supported by both Democrats and Republicans – bill that would have reduced mandatory minimum sentences for some nonviolent drug offenses from twenty years to ten, and given judges greater discretion regarding whether or not to impose said sentences.

Despite support across party lines, many Republicans were skeptical of the bill and it never made it to the floor of Congress. The same happened with the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, a law that would have reduced more mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenses and offered credits to prisoners who participate in rehabilitation programs. The Republicans tabled that one to death in November 2015.

Despite Obama’s frustrations with Congress in his attempts to pass progressive criminal justice reform, he constantly highlights his respect and faith in the American people and the rule of law.

In a none-too-subtle warning to the incoming president, Obama writes that the President “does not and should not decide who or what to investigate or prosecute.” He praises red states like Georgia, Texas and Alabama for reducing sentences and investing the money saved on incarceration in other public safety programs that help those affected by mental illness and substance abuse, many of whom had previously ended up in jail.

At the same time Obama highlights all the problems with the American Justice System: the systemic racism, overly harsh penalties for non-violent offenses, the excessive use of solitary confinement, and the economic problems caused by the US’ excessive use of incarceration. He points out that the US incarcerates 25% of its population and that the cost of maintaining so many prisons and the people within it is both “unnecessary and unsustainable.”

Though Democrats are widely accused of being fiscally irresponsible, it’s Republicans that always seem to be pushing for harsher penalties that increase the American prison population, thus straining state and national budgets regardless of whether or not it makes people safer. Obama quotes Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates who pointed out in November 2016 that every dollar spent on excessive sentences is “a dollar we don’t have for investigating emerging threats, from hackers to home grown terrorists,” a point that is especially relevant amidst widespread acknowledgement that the Russian government hacked the election to get an orange bigot into office.

Obama’s article reflects his awareness of the higher standard he was constantly being held to. In America people still seem to expect women and visible and sexual minorities and younger people to perform worse than middle aged white men at the same jobs, no matter how despicable and lazy individuals of the latter are.

Though the United States has less unemployment, a decreased federal prison population, and more people with health care due to Obama’s efforts, entitled rich white men are still questioning whether or not he was a good president. Obama clearly knows that he had to be beyond reproach during his time in office and while he did not achieve all he had promised – Guantanamo Bay has yet to be closed, for example – as a president he came pretty close despite all obstacles.

Regardless of what Barack Obama did or did not achieve, the one thing to take from his article is a warning that all the good that he did in his attempt to do right by the American people is in danger of being undone when a racist misogynist Russian puppet takes office on January 20, 2017.

When you look back on 2016, you may think of all the greats we lost like David Bowie, Leonard Cohen and, most recently, Carrie Fisher and her mom Debbie Reynolds. You may also remember it as the year the UK decided to leave the EU or the year the US decided to leave its senses politically.

No matter how you saw it, though, you have to admit that quite a bit happened. With that in mind, we take a look back at 2016 in the News.

As this post had two authors, parenthetical initials indicate if the section was written by Jason C. McLean (JCM) or Mirna Djukic (MD).

Canadian Politics

2016 was the first year of the post-Harper era and it was an agitated one in federal politics.

Justin Trudeau’s popularity soared for a while, still largely carried by the expectations built during his campaign and his undisputable quality of not being Stephen Harper. To his credit, he did score some significant points in his first months in office by immediately opening the National Inquiry on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and rebuilding relationships with our neighbours (which gave us both the most hilarious handshake attempt of all time and the TrudObama Bromance).

One of the first flies in the ointment was the infamous #elbowgate incident in the House of Commons.  Last May, the Prime Minister took it upon himself to escort Conservative Whip Gordon Brown through a cluster of opposition MPs in order to move the procedures along and accidentally elbowed NDP MP Ruth Ellen Brosseau in the chest. This was perhaps a fairly embarrassing show of temper for the PM, but it degenerated into something out of a Shakespearian comedy in the following days, with Trudeau issuing apology after apology and the opposition throwing words like “molested” around.

Inopportune elbows aside, the Liberals took quite a few steps during the year that caused the public to question how different they really are from their predecessors. Not only did they go through with the $15 million arms sale to Saudi Arabia, but they also quietly changed the country’s policies about export controls to ensure that they could continue to trade arms with shady regimes with a lot less obstacles.

As the year went on, the government kept up the progressive discourse that got them elected, but too often failed to follow it up with actions. The Prime Minister even blatantly went back on his promise of electoral reform, driving the last nail in the coffin for a good portion of increasingly disgruntled voters.

This year was not any less turbulent for smaller parties.

The NDP was licking its wounds and doing some soul-searching after their grueling 2015 loss. Fortunately, many members signed an open letter recognizing how disastrous their electoral strategy of aiming for the middle ground was and declaring their desire to go back to the unashamedly leftist positions they used to hold

As for the Greens, they started the year as the underdogs who were doing unexpectedly well. The increased attention, though, revealed a world of messy internal struggles. These started when the party voted in favour of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel. Leader Elizabeth May disliked this so much that she considered resigning. (MD)

Canadian Pipelines

Indeed, discrepancies between the government’s discourse and their actions accumulated throughout the year. None was more flagrant than their attitude toward pipelines.

The Liberals campaigned on promises to restore the trust of Canadians in the Environmental Assessment Process, “modernize” the National Energy Board and make Canada a leader in the worldwide climate change fight. Trudeau was the first to admit that the current environmental assessment protocols were immensely flawed and he mandated a committee to review them.

While still waiting for their conclusions, though, he had no problem with major projects still being approved by that flawed process. He had no comments when it was revealed that the NEB board members in charge of reviewing Energy East had secretly met with TransCanada lobbyists nor when indigenous resistance against various projects started rising.

If he thought that the population was on his side, or that they would remain passive about it, he was sorely mistaken. In August, the NEB consultations about Energy East were shut down by protesters. Anger and mistrust towards the NEB only grew after that, with environmental groups calling for a complete overhaul.

None of this stopped the government from approving two contentious pipelines in late November. Both Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain project and Enbridge’s Line 3 were officially accepted. Fortunately, they did reject Enbridge’s Northern Gateway, which was set to go through the Great Bear Rain Forest. (MD)

Standing Rock

2016 was the year that saw the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe emerge victorious (for the moment) over big energy and the North Dakota Government.

In July, Energy Transfer Partners got approval for the $3.78 Billion Dakota Access Pipeline to cross the Missouri River at Lake Oahe, the tribe’s only source of drinking water. The plan also saw DAPL cut across sacred burial grounds.

The Standing Rock Sioux challenged this both in court and with water protectors on the front lines. They invited others to stand in solidarity with them and assembled the largest gathering of Native American tribes in decades.

Things came to a head on Labour Day Weekend early September when DAPL sent private corporate security to attack the water protectors with pepper spray and dogs. Democracy Now’s shocking footage of the incident got picked up by major networks and there finally was major media attention, for a while.

As more people joined the camp and solidarity actions, including Facebook Check-Ins from around the world, increased, corporate media interest waned. Meanwhile the Governor of North Dakota Jack Dalrymple activated the Emergency Management Assistance Compact, which brought law enforcement from ten different states to Standing Rock.

With most media focused on the elections, police used tear gas and water cannons on water protectors in freezing temperatures. The US Army Corps of Engineers sent an eviction notice demanding the camp be cleared by December 5th and roadblocks went up.

The Sioux Tribe’s infrastructure survived, however, and once 4000 veterans showed up in solidarity, the official stance changed. President Obama’s administration got the Army Corps to change its tune and deny the easement over Lake Oahe, meaning the DAPL will not go through Standing Rock, at least not until the Trump Administration takes office.

While their fight may not be over, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe did flip the script in 2016 and was even named FTB’s Person of the Year. (JCM)

Indigenous Issues in Canada

Meanwhile in Canada, indigenous issues did make their way a bit more to the forefront in 2016. The National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women finally got underway September 1st.

While long overdue, the Inquiry will be independent of the Federal Government and has a budget of $53.86 million to be spent over two years. While overall optimistic, some in Canada’s First Nations communities are concerned that the scope of the inquiry is too broad, making it easy to not investigate police forces and specific cases.

Quebec is considering its own inquiry. It’s needed, especially when you consider that the Sûreté du Québec (SQ) treated accusations that its officers were assaulting native women in Val d’Or by going after Radio-Canada and its journalists for reporting on the story and no one else.

Meanwhile, conditions in many First Nations communities continued to deteriorate. An indigenous police force in Ontario even recommended its own disbanding for lack of proper funding. (JCM)

Quebec Politics

Couillard struggling during a TV interview

The provincial government keeps slowly but steadily dropping in the polls. According to a Léger-Le Devoir poll conducted in November, the Liberals hit their lowest approval rating since the 2012 crisis. With only 31% of the intended vote, they are now barely 1% ahead of the PQ.

This is undoubtedly linked to the fact that the real impact of the budget cuts in public services started becoming more apparent. In a memorable interactive interview with Radio-Canada last June, Premier Philippe Couillard was confronted with an onslaught of people suffering from his austerity measures. Some had lost their jobs and others were overwhelmed healthcare workers and angry parents.

The fact that they did reach a budgetary surplus as a result doesn’t seem to have calmed the popular discontent. The shadow of past corruption scandals also remains.

Couillard assured the public that none of the scandals happened under his watch and that his administration is fully committed to fighting corruption. This commitment was, however, brought into question by a recent report which accuses the government of lagging behind on the Charbonneau recommendations.

If the PQ is now breathing down their necks in the polls, it is hardly due to their own accomplishments this year. In fact, the Parti Québécois spent most of 2016 trying to find a new leader after the freshly elected Pierre-Karl Péladeau resigned, citing family reasons. His excuse, standard as it might be, is not very hard to believe, considering he was later found to be stalking his ex-wife and is now in a grim legal battle against his late girlfriend’s ex.

In any case, the party was left in turmoil. It wasn’t long before another of its prominent figures left. Bernard Drainville, champion of the infamous Charte des valeurs, but also a major architect of the party’s policies and democratic reforms, decided it was time to call it quits. In a slightly surreal move, he announced that he was retiring from politics to co-animate Éric Duhaime’s notoriously salacious radio show.

Those who had hoped that his departure would help the PQ move toward a better relationship with minorities and immigrants were disillusioned by the conclusion of the leadership race. Veteran Jean-François Lisée and his divisive views on immigration won by a landslide, while the favorite, Alexandre Cloutier was left in the dust with Martine Ouellet and Paul Saint-Pierre Plamondon.

However, let’s not forget that Quebec’s political scene is not limited to the two major parties. In fact, a new player is preparing to enter it before the next election. FTB learned that a provincial NDP is in the works, hoping to provide the voters with a progressive option that doesn’t aim for Quebec’s independence. (MD)

Rape Culture

Rape culture neither started nor ended in 2016, but it did seem to find its way to our newsfeed frighteningly often.

First came the disappointing conclusion of the Gomeshi trial in May. The fact that a celebrity with so much airtime on the CBC and elsewhere had been sexually harassing his colleague for years and committing multiple sexual assaults while his entourage and superiors turned a blind eye was outraging enough on its own. The fact that four counts of sexual assault and one of overcoming resistance by choking pretty much ended with a slap on the wrist from the court was worse. It made it very hard to keep pretending that our institutions and our society were not rigged to protect aggressors and silence victims.

Barely a month later, as if to demonstrate the scale of the problem, there was the Brock Turner case. Turner, a 20 year old student athlete at Stanford and a perfect mix of white, male and class privilege, was standing trial for raping a young woman on campus. Caught in the act by other students, he was found guilty. This could have landed him in prison for more than a decade, but he got six months in a county jail (he only served three).

A horrible event brought the discussion about rape culture a lot closer to home for many Quebecers in the fall. Multiple attackers entered the dorms of Université Laval and assaulted several students during one night in October. This sparked a wave of compassion and awareness with province-wide protests.

During a solidarity vigil in Quebec city, a young student named Alice Paquet revealed that she was raped by Liberal MNA Gerry Sklavounos back in 2012. Despite an onslaught of victim blaming and skepticism, Paquet decided to finally press charges, and her lawsuit is now in front of the Directeur des Poursuites Criminelles et Pénales. The latter will decide if the case goes to court. (MD)

US Presidential Election

Painting by Samantha Gold, buy the original on eBay

For most of the year, politicos everywhere, including here in Canada, were glued to what was transpiring in the US Presidential Election. And for good reason, it was an interesting one, to say the least.

First there was the hope of some real and unexpected change in the form of the political revolution Bernie Sanders was promising. The upstart Vermont senator managed to go from basically nothing to winning 23 states in the Primaries and even got to meet with the Pope, but that wasn’t enough to beat the largest political machine out there  and the Democratic Party establishment’s chosen candidate Hillary Clinton.

Meanwhile, Donald Trump, another upstart candidate, though one of the secretly pro-corporate and openly far-right variety, easily clinched the Republican nomination. With the exception of a bit of plagiarism on opening night and the whole Ted Cruz non-endorsement incident, the GOP Convention was quite unified behind Trump.

The Democratic National Convention was a completely different story. Sanders delegates booed speakers endorsing Clinton and connected to the Trans-Pacific Partnership and even left the room in protest when Clinton officially won the nomination.

The ensuing General Election campaign went back and forth for a few months with each candidate having their ups and downs. Clinton’s health rumours and Wikileaks revelations and Trump’s…well, his being Donald Trump.

Then it looked like it was finally over for the Donald with the release of the Access Hollywood tape. That was the last straw for several prominent members of the Republican establishment. Was the GOP going to implode?

Well, on Election Day, the unthinkable happened. The ideal “pied piper candidate” the Democrats had sought to elevate, because he would be so easy to beat, ended up beating their “inevitable” future President.

The bogeyman came out from under the bed and was elected to office. The joke went from funny to scary. Failed casino owner and third-rate reality star Donald Trump won the Electoral College vote and became President Elect of the United States.

As Trump started building his brand new bubble filled with climate change deniers, corporate execs and white supremacists, the fight against him in the streets started and shows no signs of stopping in 2017. The real question is now: will the Democrats change gear and become a progressive alternative or stay the establishment course that led them to defeat at the hands of an orange carnival barker? (JCM)

Montreal Politics

At least Montreal didn’t spend 2016 electing a frequently cartoonish populist who doesn’t listen to experts. We had already done that back in 2013.

This was the year, though, that our Mayor, Denis Coderre, really started to shine. And by shine I mean make Montreal nationally and even globally famous for some really bad decisions and ideas.

2015 ended with the Mayor dumping untreated sewage right into the river. With that out of the way, 2016 was going to be the year where we planned for our big 375th Anniversary in 2017.

By June there were already approved proposals for really ugly granite fake tree stumps for Mount-Royal and a national anthem for the borough of Rivière-des-Prairies–Pointe-aux-Trembles. How was the city going to pay for all of this? In August a task force gave the Mayor one option: taxes on water consumption and trash collection.

Coderre’s focus was squarely somewhere else in the last half of the year, though. After a 55-year-old woman was killed by a dog in June, Coderre tabled rather extreme Breed-Specific Legislation aimed at pit bulls, despite no initial proof that a pit bull was the culprit (and the later revelation that it absolutely wasn’t).

There were protests and even international condemnation, including that of celebrities like Cyndi Lauper. Coderre would hear none of it, though, even ordering the mic cut on an citizen during a City Council meeting.

When the so-called Pit Bull Ban, officially the Montreal Animal Control Bylaw, became law in September, the proverbial other shoe dropped. People started picking up on some of the other aspects of it, in particular the fines and fees and the fact that it covered other breeds of dog and cats, too.

The SPCA got a temporary injunction on the “dangerous breeds” aspects of the law in early October which was overturned on appeal in December. The bylaw comes into full effect March 31, 2017, at which point the SPCA will no longer deal with stray dogs or accept owner surrenders.

In September, another project met with a legal obstacle. Turns out fines Société de transport de Montréal (STM) security officers were handing out constituted a human rights violation.

While the STM will be appealing the Montreal Municipal Court decision, for now at least, they’re not supposed to be sending out squads of transit cops acting as glorified revenue generators. In practice, though, we’ve heard reports they’re still doing it.

The Montreal Police (SPVM) were also in trouble this year. They were caught spying on at least four journalists in November. Famed whistleblower Edward Snowden even mentioned this story ahead of his livestream talk at McGill University.

What was really surprising was that the SPVM got warrants for this surveillance. What was not surprising at all is how high this probably went. Police Chief Philippe Pichet must have known, and he was handpicked by Mayor Coderre a few years prior.

The Mayor said he stands by his police chief before cancelling an investigation into the matter.

Coderre probably wants Montrealers to forget good chunks of his 2016 and focus instead on 375th celebrations, then vote him back in near the end of the year. The opposition has another idea, though.

Official Opposition party Projet Montreal held its first ever leadership race in fall 2016 culminating in the election of Valérie Plante early December. (JCM)

Black Lives Matter/Police Killings

2016 continued the sad tradition of police murdering innocent people of colour for no good reason and getting away with it (for the most part). The Black Lives Matter movement also continued to speak out against these killings.

There were two such murders in early July very close together, to the point where it was possible to confuse notification of one with the other. Alton Sterling and Philando Castile died at the hands of police in different cities in different states within 24 hours of each other.

This prompted solidarity protests across the US. There was also an impromptu BLM sit-in during the Toronto Pride Parade and a couple of Montreal marches which highlighted that racist police violence was not just an American problem.

BLM sit-in during Pride Toronto, photo Hector Vasquez (BlogTO, Creative Commons Licence)

In Dallas, Texas, a lone sniper, not part of the peaceful protest, decided to murder nine police officers, which, of course, became a national tragedy and an excuse for the right wing to incorrectly attack BLM.

In September, following the police murder of Keith Lamont Scott, the city of Charlotte, North Carolina erupted. There were days of protest and the governor declared a state of emergency on the second night.

There is sadly no sign that any of this will change in 2017, especially given the positions of the incoming administration on race and police. (JCM)

Syria

Sadly, this year was marked by the continuing conflict in Syria. Dictator Bashar al-Assad has again been accused of deliberately targeting civilians. The carnage in Aleppo reached new heights as the regime’s forces renewed their assault, driving residents to send their goodbyes over social media.

The Anti-ISIS coalition lead by the US is also responsible for a lot of civilian casualties. Amnesty International and the official opposition of al-Assad even called for a suspension of their airstrikes after they were reported to have killed between 100 and 200 civilians in the region of Manbij over two months.  This number is now confirmed to have surpassed 300, although the US still refuses to acknowledge it.

Local groups have been fighting the rising terrorist factions in Syria, namely the now famous Kurd “women’s protection unit”, also known as YPJ. However, despite their important role, their status with the international community is on shaky ground. One YPJ fighter is currently detained in Denmark under terrorism charges. (MD)


So that’s our look back at 2016 in the news. Here’s hoping for overall more uplifting stories in 2017!

Panelists Katie Nelson, Cem Ertekin and Jerry Gabriel join host Jason C. McLean for a look at the big worldwide, national and local stories of 2016. Plus 2017 Predictions!

Panelists:

Katie Nelson: “Paid professional social justice warrior”

Cem Ertekin: FTB Managing Editor and contributor

Jerry Gabriel: FTB contributor

Host: Jason C. McLean

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

Report by Hannah Besseau

Recorded Sunday, December 11, 2016 in Montreal

WATCH:

LISTEN:

 

Microphone image: Ernest Duffoo / Flickr Creative Commons

Carl Paladino is human garbage.

Carl Paladino’s ACTUAL answers: (see the rest of the article)

1. What would you most like to happen in 2017?
“Obama catches mad cow disease after being caught having relations with a Herford. He dies before his trial and is buried in a cow pasture next to Valerie Jarret, who died weeks prior, after being convicted of sedition and treason, when a Jihady cell mate mistook her for being a nice person and decapitated her.”

2. What would you like to see go away in 2017?
“Michelle Obama. I’d like her to return to being a male and let loose in the outback of Zimbabwe where she lives comfortably in a cave with Maxie, the gorilla.”

My city is making INTERNATIONAL NEWS because of a deadbeat politician spewing racially charged hate and transphobic bullshit. First Carl told people if they didn’t like what he said then they can suck it, again getting racist about one of the editors of The Buffalo News when they attempted an interview. He then retracted all of his statements, saying someone else sent that email, or wait, maybe he sent it but it was supposed to go to friends, not Artvoice. Yea, ok bud

He said that people just didn’t get his sense of humor. Oh we got it, you are racist and horrible. This isn’t the first time he has made remarks like this about the Obama family either.

Paladino has been doing dirty business in Buffalo for years. The fact that he was voted in to any kind of position ever is a discredit to our citizens.

He is an open ally of Donald Trump, going on his political tour with him and all. I remember seeing his monstrous glare at the Trump rally (I was at the protest across the street but could see the big screen).

Maybe it is also a sign that the now former coach of the Buffalo Bills Rex Ryan was also fired this week. He was the person who announced Trump. Anyone who supports Donald Trump and the racist mysogynist hate filled America he represents is dead to me.

He used to come to a local lesbian bar, Roxys, where I performed burlesque with The Stripteasers. One night he was in with a bunch of his goon friends and one of the men attempted to insert a bottle into one of the dancers while she was performing. He then complained to the owner for being kicked out! This man is a testament to what kind of person Carl is. I was disgusted but not surprised when I saw his comments in Artvoice.

I want to thank Artvoice for exposing him, but still think that what they do is no longer worth reading. Often having images of president elect hate monger Trump on the cover.

I remember once upon a time when Artvoice was a credible publication, that’s until it was purchased by the uber republican Niagara Gazette and a there was a complete shift is staff. It was once an awesome art publication that is now on the decline, posting any kind of garbage that will get clicks and has nothing to do with art.

Back in the day, when he was running for governor in 2010, a group of my friends and I dressed like ninjas and destroyed Paladino signs. This man is a waste of space and a perfect example of the impending apocalypse according to a Trump regime. He has been the herpes of our local politics.

He is also very anti gay, saying that it is not the way god created us. Paladino had stakes in several former gay clubs in Buffalo, including Cobalt and Buddies II. Patrick Paledino, his youngest son, was a homosexual, and tragically passed away after a car accident in 2009.

How could he talk so much hate about his own family? This is the kind of man who should not have power.

It makes sense to me that Carl Paladino grew up in East Lovejoy, on the edge of the East Side of Buffalo. That is also where I grew up, and honestly, people there are DISGUSTING!

There is so much blatant racism and hate spewing from a neighborhood called LOVE and JOY. This is a place where they openly destroyed property and threatened any black family trying to move into the neighborhood.

He is a vulgar loser, he is INSANE, an ego tripping monster, and he spews lies and hate. He says the middle class wants to take back the government.

Buffalonians are done with Carl. He does not represent us and cannot have a say in our children’s education. He is a bully and must be suspended.

I remember seeing all of the Trump signs, and being so sad knowing that this meant racists and hate mongers lived in my city. It hurt even worse when members of my own family openly supported him. Then Carl Paladino was elected to the school board and the antichrist won the presidency. I wanted Austin Harig, he was an 18 year old high school senior running for real change, not Carl, not ever! Whats next?

On Thursday December 29th residents protested in Niagara Square and later at a special city hall board meeting. The resolution stated that if Carl Paladino does not resign within 24 hours they would petition to the NY Education Commissioner Mary Ellen Elia to remove him. She has not commented. The disrespectful and inexcusable comments reflect negatively on the Buffalo Board of Education.

Two board members – Patti Pierce and Larry Quinn are Paladino supporters and only want him to apologize. Pierce went a step further and made this brilliant comment thinking he deserves forgiveness: “take a page our of the horrific massacre that happened in Charleston, SC, where nine innocent people in a house of worship were slain by a hateful, hate-filled man.”

Everyone gasped except for one woman who left shouting that is was offensive to use murdered African American church goers in this moment. Who would say these things? How can you use an unspeakable tragedy to excuse this bag of shit?

Quinn also stood up for him, saying that other member of the school board feel similar. WRONG, dude, the majority if the school board is black. Patti and Larry ALSO need to be taken off the school board, we cannot stand for this!

School board members need to set the standard for good behavior and be a positive example for children. We have to get him out as soon as possible, all of the slime is rising now that Trump is elected. It must end!

These assholes think they are safe hating out in the open. They are not ashamed of their hate and think its just a big joke. This is real life Carl, and we are mad as hell.

He says he won’t step down, I say “Bye Felicia!” Thousands have signed petitions to boot him as well as the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. If he does not willingly resign this could be a painfully slow process.

We all need to take this as a reminder to get involved in politics. Apathy allows this to pass as acceptable. We need to be motivated to make change in our own community and stop the hate.

A few weeks ago, there were reports that US President-Elect Donald Trump had been refusing daily intelligence briefings. His response was basically that he is a smart guy already:

“I don’t have to be told — you know, I’m, like, a smart person. I don’t have to be told the same thing in the same words every single day for the next eight years.”

Forget, for a moment, that he completely missed the point of daily intelligence briefings and weirdly took the story personally and got defensive about it. Let us assume that he is “like, a smart person” who knows what he’s doing.

Now consider a presumably unrelated story about how the incoming administration is handling its Environmental Protection Agency transition and the full picture becomes much clearer.

Trump isn’t building a wall, he’s building a bubble.

This isn’t the famous Washington Bubble, the one that led all the insiders to believe that another Clinton was the right choice for the Democratic nomination and a surefire winner in the race to the White House, especially if she wasn’t running against a Bush. The same bubble that said a candidate with a big enough scandal couldn’t survive in a House or Senate race, let alone be elected President.

No, he burst that bubble. And while many establishment types on both sides of the aisle are trying desperately to rebuild it, the President Elect is busy building a completely different bubble.

No Daily Intelligence Briefings

Trump isn’t the first incoming President to reject daily intelligence briefings. George W. Bush did that, too. The neocons he surrounded himself with were’t thrilled with the constant talk of Al Queda when they “knew” the real threat was from Iraq (How did that work out?) .

Maybe Trump doesn’t want to hear any intelligence briefings that would contradict his belief and much argued campaign talking point that the biggest threats to America are Muslim immigrants and undocumented Mexicans. He doesn’t need some stuffy CIA operatives telling him that the real threat is elsewhere, maybe even with someone he is doing business with.

Instead, he’ll listen to Alex Jones and his incoming National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. Flynn is someone who very well may listen to Jones himself. A noted Islamophobe, he once claimed that he personally saw signs in Arabic along the US/Mexico Border, which, of course, do not exist.

Trump wants the information he gets to mirror the half-truths and complete falsehoods he campaigned on. The only way for that to happen is if he gets his info in a bubble, a bubble he is helping to build.

When the Science Doesn’t Fit, Change the Scientists

Trump appointed Climate Change denier and man who sued the EPA twelve times, Scott Pruitt, as the agency’s new head. Then he put the man who couldn’t remember the name of the Energy Department but still wanted to dismantle it, Rick Perry, in charge of it.

Those antagonistic picks are in keeping with most of Trump’s cabinet choices so far. They’re really just the tip of the iceberg, though (assuming there still are icebergs in a few years).

A couple of weeks ago, Trump’s transition team asked for the names of Energy Department employees and contractors who “have worked on forging an international climate pact as well as domestic efforts to cut the nation’s carbon output.” Fortunately, the Energy Department did deny the request, but it looks like a purge is what Team Trump is going for.

If a purge is imminent, it will signal not only that Trump really does believe, as he once tweeted, that climate change is a scam invented by China, but that he doesn’t want to hear any expert opinion that contradicts that talking point.

It’s not just threats to the country that can’t enter the bubble, it’s threats to the planet, too, apparently.

What Happens When the Bubble Bursts?

Ask any economist and they will tell you that bubbles burst. Come to think of it, anyone who has tried, as a kid or youthful adult, to catch a bubble and keep it whole can tell you the same thing. Trump’s bubble is no different.

Just because Trump doesn’t want to hear about Climate Change doesn’t mean the climate will stop changing. Just because he doesn’t get to hear someone telling him every day that his plan to fight terror will only cause more of it, doesn’t mean it won’t.

At some point, the Trump bubble will burst. The question is will he realize it and change his ways or at least his policies and the people he has around him, or will he stay the course and instruct his acolytes to rebuild the bubble at all costs?

George W. Bush’s bubble burst twice. The first time was on 9/11. At first, it seemed, he started listening to outside voices. But soon enough, Bin Laden was a job for the next guy and he was going to war with Iraq.

The bubble was rebuilt, even Katrina couldn’t puncture it. The financial crisis of 2008 did burst it again, but by that point, he didn’t care. It was a problem for the next guy to deal with.

While all indications are that Trump will behave in a similar fashion, we can all (and I mean the whole world) only hope that when the bubble he is building does burst, he will surprise us all again (the way he did when he won) and do the right thing.

Unlikely, sure. But the alternative (think nukes) could be catastrophic.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Did We Get Here?

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

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

clinton-sanders

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

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

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

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

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

What Needs to Happen Now in the Democratic Party

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

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

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

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

What Needs to Happen Now Outside of the Echo Chamber

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

cop22-enviro-can

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where does Canada stand in Marrakesh?

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

No Cells, No Radio and No Help

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

10-fevrier

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

History repeats itself

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

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

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

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

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

First Nations Policing Program Called into Question

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

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

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

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

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

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

* Featured image via netnewsledger.com

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

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

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

The Refugee Hotel Trailer from Chris Wardell on Vimeo.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

refugee-hotel-2

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

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

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

El pueblo unido jamás será vencido.

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

Poster by Rashad Nilamdeen.

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

The Stock Market is the first to crash.

The House.

The Senate.

down-with-the-ship

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

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

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

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

trump-parody

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

warrior-feminist

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

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

bernie-nodapl

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

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

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

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

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

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

Food for thought:  Dave Chappelle and Michelle Obama 2020?

MICHELLE/CHAPPELLE for President: Make America Safe Again.

dave_chappell

I need a nap before work.

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

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

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

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

2016 US Election Results Watch Parties in Montreal

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

Here are a few:

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

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

us-elections-hope-progress-pabst-cans

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

us-election-night-groove-nation

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

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

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

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

Watch the 2016 US Election Results Online

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Surveillance technologies have outpaced democratic control.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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