charlotte

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

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

Tuesday: Shooting and Mass Protests

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday Morning: A Gun or a Book?

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday Night: State of Emergency

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* Featured image: CNN screengrab

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*Featured image credited to Chris Schwartz, Government of Alberta

Fredua Boakye

“Growing up, people were always telling me that I was the ‘whitest Black kid’ they knew because I loved ‘white rock music’ like Radiohead and Dead Kennedys,” says Fredua of Bad Rabbits. He laughs, and quickly responds to them: “But you can’t ‘act a colour,’ and Rock & Roll culture isn’t reserved for X race. But I will say this until my dying day: Rock & Roll was created by a Black Queer woman named Rosetta Tharpe.”

Fredua is the frontman of Bad Rabbits, and I had the honour to speak with him about race, rock, and his thoughts on being a Black American in 2016.

Fredua tells me that conversations of race and belonging within his scene have always been a part of his consciousness, explaining the common lamentation among young men of colour that he was never “Black enough” for the Black kids, and “too Black” for the white kids.

“I considered myself a hybrid from the jump because nobody on either side liked me… The only kids who accepted me in school were the punk rock kids.” For Fredua, this embrace of the punk scene of the late 80s led to an early and profound appreciation for bands like Bad Brains, Dead Kennedys, and Public Enemy.

The moment of clarity that gave Fredua a real understanding of how he could fit into the Rock scene came when he saw Fishbone and Living Colour music videos, with Black musicians like Kendall Jones and Vernon Reid “not rapping, not singing, just jamming with guitars. When people said I was the ‘whitest Black guy’… There was nothing ‘white’ about what I was doing. Period. I was doing what I saw, and that was a Black person playing this music.”

When I asked Fredua about conversations of race in his current role as the frontman of a multi-ethnic band in a scene dominated by white dudes, he emphatically affirmed that there has never been racial tension at a Bad Rabbits show, as people are too busy having a good time. It’s when he stops making music for people to dance to, and starts talking about things that make him angry and upset – like the ability for police to routinely kill Black people with impunity – that tempers begin to flare.

Fredua explains, “There are probably a bunch of my fans that are inherently racist, and I know this because I’ve argued with them. They’re the types that grew up thinking Black people are supposed to only be entertainers or basketball players. When they see me speaking my mind it’s suddenly ‘Fredua, you’re an entertainer, you shouldn’t be talking like that!’ People are angry at the fact that I have the nerve to talk about things going on instead of making a song for them to dance to.”

In response to the recent spate of highly-publicized killings of Black people by police, Fredua posted a video to his personal Facebook page in support of the #BlackLivesMatter movement.

Fredua tells me that the response from most friends and fans was positive, but one fan came out of the woodwork to leave the following comment: “I follow you because I think your old band was awesome, but let’s be honest, this militant black guy thing isn’t working out for anyone.”

Fredua explains it’s no skin off his nose – people who see him not as a Black human being, but strictly an entertainer aren’t real fans anyway. The reluctance of white peers and fans to see him as anything but a stage presence has bothered Fredua since he first started singing: “I look back at school, and I mean, I did chorus for the girls. Don’t get me wrong,” he says with a laugh, “The girls loved my voice. But they didn’t love me. Because I didn’t look like them.”

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I asked Fredua if these reactions to his showmanship bother him when he looks back on them, and he is quick to point out that he’s one of the lucky ones. “I lived out my dream. That dream was to make music and act like a damn fool for the rest of my natural life, and I don’t have to worry about aging because I found the fountain of youth through music. I have a beautiful house and a beautiful wife and a beautiful dog and I get to do something I love all the time.”

Fredua mentioned that Bad Rabbits has a new album one year in the making that will have more anger in it than previous records. He describes some of the album’s lyrical content as “two year’s worth of anger,” much of it directed toward the issues that we spoke about.

The new album, American Nightmare, is planned to drop in September, but will likely end up coming sooner. When I naively asked if the early release was due to the urgency of the message, Fredua’s voice dropped to that sacred place where the spirit meets the bone:

“This is the thing that kills me about this issue of police brutality,” Fredua says calmly, but with palpable fury. Cops are always gonna kill people. As long as there’s a justice system that lets these people kill someone and go about their day, there is never gonna be any type of change. This country is hell bent on keeping things the way it is – to keep the haves and the have-nots, the white and the Black, the Us and the Them, separate.”

The footage of the recent shootings and lack of legal action against the officers involved has made it abundantly clear to the public that it is possible to kill a Black person with little to no consequence. Black activists like Fredua, understandably furious that their lives are proven to be worth less than white victims of similar violence, are routinely portrayed by mainstream media as “armed-and-dangerous Black Power rebels,” seconds away from violence.

Fredua (Second from left) with Bad Rabbits
Fredua (Second from left) with Bad Rabbits

In an interview with The New Yorker, Black Lives Matter co-founder Alicia Garza explained that this image is “a battle that we are consistently having to fight. Standing up for the rights of black people as human beings and standing against police violence and police brutality makes you get characterized as being anti-police or it has you being characterized as cop killers, neither of which we are.”

Fredua expressed a similar frustration, explaining that “it’s easier for news channels like CNN, MSNBC, and FOX to show footage of angry Black people on TV than it is for them to show smart Black people with an idea. Nobody is listening to the solutions we’re trying to offer. And the picture they put up of the shooter in Dallas? A pissed-off black man with a dashiki and a fist up? That puts a target on my fucking back!”

Despite all of the difficult topics that came up in our conversation, Fredua’s determination to keep performing and thriving as a Black man in America in 2016 shines through. His concluding statement was one of hope:

“I was raised by two West African immigrants that came to this country on an American dream…I’m gonna make sure that I achieve it through them with my voice. That dream was to have a prosperous, peaceful, God-fearing life. I will die for that. I’m not afraid for a shooter coming to my show, I’ll jump in front of any bullet to protect a fan. I’m gonna do what I do until I die. I will literally die for this.”

Aftermath. by Andrea Dworkin. presented by Waterworks Theatre, Montreal.

This year marks the 10th anniversary of Andrea Dworkin’s death. On September 26th, 2015 she would have been 69 years old. Opening on September 17th and running until the 27th, Montreal Theatre company Waterworks will be presenting a world premier full staging performance of Aftermath.

Based on a text written by Andrea Dworkin after her drug-rape in Paris in 1999. Her life partner, well known author and activist John Stoltenberg, found the original document on her computer.

“…what I discovered was a 24,000-word autobiographical essay, composed in twelve impassioned sections, as powerful and beautifully written as anything Andrea ever wrote. It was searingly personal, fierce and irreverent, mordantly witty, emotionally raw. It was also clearly not a draft; it was finished, polished as if for publication.”

The piece was edited and cut in half to about 90 minutes and directed by Stoltenberg and Dworkin’s longtime friend and collaborator Adam Thorburn. It was performed as a staged reading in New York by Maria Silverman in May of 2014. “At each step in putting this theater project together, I have wished I could talk with Andrea about it. I would want to tell her how the words she showed no one are now reaching and affecting audiences in live performance,” Stoltenberg writes.

The Montreal production is being directed by Waterworks artistic directors Tracey Houston and Rob Langford and being performed by Montreal actor Helena Levitt as Dworkin.

We’ve heard of this type of story before, more recently with the Bill Cosby allegations and Jian Ghomeshi spectacle where the victim’s creditability was brought into question. “If she can’t remember everything, then maybe it didn’t happen.” It was so long ago, maybe she’s a little sketchy on the details” ad infinitum.

In the text, Dworkin refers to the drug Rohypnol and GBH. “This isn’t an aspirin in your drink. It’s not like getting drunk. It’s not like getting high. This is so easy for the boy. This is so simple for the boy. This is foolproof rape. The gang who can’t shoot straight can do this kind of rape. You can do this hundreds of times with virtually no chance of getting caught. I think how easy this evil is to do.” She goes on to describe how powerless one is to fight back from this kind of rape even after the fact, when there is no memory to report or very little if any evidence left behind.

Aftermath is a very passionate, personal account of Dworkin’s life, family, work and thought process that very few people not familiar with her writings have yet to see or be aware of. Stoltenberg explains, “[Dworkin’s] stirring writing ranges dramatically over many themes—her aspirations when she was young, her erotic and romantic relationships, the marriage in which she was battered, her understanding of the connection between Jews and women, her take on President Clinton’s behavior, her deep commitment to helping women, her critique of women who betray women. And the fact that Aftermath is acted means audiences get to hear an emotional dimensionality in Andrea’s voice that in life she shared only with me and her closest friends—trenchant and oracular, as the public knew her, but also tender, sardonic, sorrowful, vulnerable, funny.”

Rob Langford and Tracey Houston, founders of Montreal’s The Waterworks Company (Palace of the End, Gidion’s Knot, Glory Dazed), a troupe committed to staging the best of contemporary playwriting by women, found out about Aftermath last year from Stoltenberg’s Twitter feed, Langford contacted Stoltenberg, proposing to give Aftermath its first full staging here in Montreal.

Aftermath runs September 17th to 27th, 2015, at the Centre culturel Georges-Vanier, 2450 Workman, Little Burgundy, a couple of blocks northeast of the Atwater Market. METRO: Lionel- Groulx.

A special première takes place on September 17th at 8pm; the show runs over the next two weekends Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 4pm and 8pm, and Sundays at 4pm. Post-show talkbacks, with special guests, will take place throughout the first weekend.

Admission is $18 / $13 (buyer chooses price). Tickets are available, via Eventbrite, 
at waterworksmontreal.com, or at the door.

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On December 6th, 1989, 14 women lost their lives simply for living them the way they wanted to, while being female. The anniversary was yesterday, but you probably already know that.

It’s important to remember what happened and remember the victims. If we can avoid mentioning what’s-his-name in the process, all the better. But we should never forget why he did what he did.

If this was an isolated incident that we, as a society, have really learned from, and our annual commemoration of it has successfully prevented anything similar from happening, then we should just pat ourselves on the back, keep the 6th sacred and go about our lives the rest of the year.

But that’s not the case, now is it? Gendered violence is still very much a part of our society. I could sit here and bring up Julien Blanc, GamerGate and the countless native women who go missing and turn up dead to prove my point,  but I don’t want to and I shouldn’t have to. If you don’t believe that misogynistic violence is still a very real threat, then you’re either an idiot, a perpetrator, or you just haven’t been paying attention.

If it’s the latter, then maybe one day a year isn’t enough. We’re still living in a world where what happened at Ecole Polytechnique on December 6th is still a possibility and variations of it are a frequent reality. This isn’t restricted to a single date on the calendar. Violence against women and tragedy can happen just as easily on December 6th as it can on December 7th, January 23rd or June 14th.

We should keep commemorating the anniversary of this tragedy, but if we want to change a fundamental flaw in our society, we should realize that any day, including today, December 7th,  is a good day to remember:

Geneviève Bergeron
Hélène Colgan
Nathalie Croteau
Barbara Daigneault
Anne-Marie Edward
Maud Haviernick
Maryse Laganière
Maryse Leclair
Anne-Marie Lemay
Sonia Pelletier
Michèle Richard
Annie St-Arneault
Annie Turcotte
Barbara Klucznik-Widajewicz

May they rest in peace

antirape_Chris-Hacking-flickr

Trigger warning, this article discusses sexual assault and rape.

After a 26-year old woman was sexually assaulted by a taxi driver a few weeks ago, the police told her that she had been the third victim of such an attack since July, and went on to find out that she was one of 17 similar cases currently being investigated this year. As if these facts were not hard enough to swallow, Montreal police spokesperson Laurent Gringast went on to suggest a number of ways women can protect themselves against predator cab drivers, which included not taking a cab when they are under the influence and taking a picture of the driver’s badge and sending it to a friend via text message.

According to canadianwomen.org, half of all women in Canada have been assaulted at least once, either physically or sexually, since the age of 16. Half of all women. At least once.

The website also goes on to explain sexual abuse (for those who are unfamiliar with the term, which seems to be the case here) as “Using threats, intimidation, or physical force to force [someone] into unwanted sexual acts”.

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So why, then, is it so easy to blame the victim? She was going home too late. She had drunk a few too many beers. And, of course, she hailed the cab right off the street instead of calling it in, so she was obviously looking for trouble.

The real problem with victim blaming, though, is not one of petty sexist allegations. The biggest problem remains that many women are so afraid of being judged, that they cannot even admit that they were raped, primarily because of the sexist statements leaving the mouths of police commissioners themselves.

How are women supposed to feel safe in a world where they are taught how not to get raped, instead of being insured true security over their own bodies and their minds?

One young woman, Desiree Armstrong, recently came forward to the media about her own assault story, but only after it was revealed that the police were investigating 17 similar cases. When she had reported the assault to the police, they wouldn’t take her seriously, because she had been drinking. While the police went on to say that they may ask an intoxicated person to file a report the next morning, Armstrong maintains that she was not told that, and has since moved to British Columbia.

Leading my own mini-investigation, I took to Facebook to ask my 363 ‘friends’ if any of them had any personal experiences with taxi-driver assaults. Thankfully, not too many people responded, save for two girls – one of them had a friend who had been raped by a taxi driver two years ago, and the other mentioned that she once rode in a cab with a nab who refused to take payment from her and instead insisting that “if [they] kissed/fucked, [they]’d be even.” She then went on to leave the cab without paying since the driver had refused to take her money.

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I myself, on the other hand, remember one particular night a few months ago. It must have been around three o’ clock in the morning. I was dying to get home after a long night out. A cab driver saw me standing on the sidewalk and motioned at me to come over. I entered his car and told him I needed to get home, but had no money. I had, indeed, been very intoxicated that night and had definitely not been thinking straight, so it sounded normal to me when the man said “Don’t worry, I’ll take care of it.” My idea of the world being full of good people rooted firmly in mind, I replied with, “Really? Wow, that’s so nice of you. Are you serious?” Then he said “Yeah, yeah,” in his weird accent and kind of pointed towards his pants, or something. I don’t remember this part with too much detail, but I remember him saying “You know?” And then I realized that he was suggesting that I pay him in some type of sexual “favor” in return for my “safe” trip home. I suddenly got scared and left the taxi, feeling quite shaken.

While I wouldn’t call my story abuse, because I was obviously given the opportunity to say no, it did leave me feeling extremely paranoid. I can only imagine what these women have been through, but what I can’t imagine is what type of “men” these cab drivers must be in order to abuse a woman in her weakened state, especially when she is intoxicated or tired after a long day, and itching just to get home safe. I am wondering why we are investigating the type of women in these stories instead of the type of men conducting these crimes. I am wondering how it is supposed to be encouraging, at all, for a woman to be told not to take a cab home if she is intoxicated (what else is she supposed to do?), or that she is now expected to always take a photo of the taxi driver’s badge to maintain her own security.

Expecting a reality where women are totally and completely precautious of everything they do is not only unrealistic but completely hypocritical. We can secure ourselves behind bulletproof glass, but that doesn’t stop people from still shooting at us. And sometimes the bulletproof glass isn’t so bulletproof. And sometimes women get raped, no matter how cautious they are. Conditioning women to believe that they are the problem takes the limelight away from the real problem, that is, the assaulters themselves. Causing fear can induce more self-built security, yes, but it is the blindness towards inequalities that will continue to perpetuate the problem, time and time again.

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We’re in the thick of it, there’s nothing else to say. All the international credibility gained out of Canada’s decision not to intervene in the Second Gulf War under Jean Chrétien’s leadership was lost in the blink of an eye, when Harper announced Friday that Canada would be sending its troops into combat (airstrikes specifically, no ground troops at this time). The thing is, Canada’s “official” intervention is only two days old, but it is already gearing up to be a disaster of gigantic proportions, and ultimately an utter failure that will only delay, but not prevent, the coming of another ISIS.

Canada might have given its green light for a full scale intervention only two days ago, but the coalition of the willing — which ironically includes Saudi Arabia and Qatar, two of the patrons of the radical interpretation of Islam promoted by ISIS — has been on the ground for around a month now. What are the conclusions that can be drawn? After one month, what is the future for this war? What new day is dawning on the horizon?

Well, to say the least, it’s a very dark one. The black clouds that arose from the ruins of the Kurdish bastion of resilience, Kobane, gave us, spectators, a little glimpse into the future of this mission.

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The women of Kobane have armed themselves to fight against ISIS.

As thousands of Kurdish fighters held back the reoccurring, never-ending assaults of ISIS against the town, Turkish tanks stood still — not much of a surprise —and Western jets flew on by. The battle of Kobane is a central one for the survival of the Kurdish struggle within northern Syria. Unfortunately the lightly armed Kurds are fighting against the much stronger ISIS forces, ironically, using American artillery and weapons to besiege the town.

The hypocrisy of the Western forces and of their Turkish allies is obvious. They most certainly see this so-called humanitarian intervention, first and foremost, as a means towards an end: the eradication of the PKK and any viable Kurdish autonomous authority in the region.

In one of my articles concerning the conflict I wrote extensively about the “revival” of the Kurdish struggle for self-determination and their project of asymmetric federalism. There, I referred to their struggle and to this project as an alternative form of governance for the peoples of the region and a strong vaccination against the rise of organizations such as ISIS. Three weeks down the path of war, and it seems like Kobane will fall within a matter of days, or even hours, even though this humanitarian intervention was supposed to prevent such a tragedy from happening.

One month into this humanitarian intervention, and the American State Department has already announced that it was anything but humanitarian anymore. The White House announced today that civilian protection policy does not apply to the airstrikes in Syria. Apparently, protecting civilians in areas under rebel control from the wrath and vengeance of Syrian government forces is not part of the plan either. Within the past month much of the ground that was lost during the past three years by Assad has been regained. The bloodthirsty and mad dictator, whom the interventional community vigorously condemned for the usage of chemical weapons against his own people, is on cloud nine.

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Can you believe it? The Americans are actually winning Assad’s war for him. Instead of mobilizing and building strong alliances with the secular and progressive sections of the Free Syrian Army, we actually bombed them last week. So much for wining “hearts and minds!” We’re actually losing them, as the ISIS ranks are filled with thousands, if not tens of thousands of young disenchanted Westerners, who turned to radicalism after years of discrimination and racism, and after years of seeing on the TV their Muslim sisters and brothers suffer excruciating pain in Iraq, Palestine or at the hands of any other Western backed dictatorial regimes.

Radicalism’s fuel is war, and unfortunately, through this war, we have swelled the reserves of hatred, of anger, of despair and of pain, everything ISIS was born out of, to last for a generation or two. If you believed the magical fairytale that whatever is happening was a humanitarian intervention, that we, the West, the ardent defenders of human rights, were on a courageous crusade against evil, that just like communism and fascism, this totalitarian evil of radical Islamism had to be quelled, you were wrong. Don’t be fooled. We are reviving ISIS. We created the conditions for it. We are reenacting them as we speak and what will come out of this third intervention in the Middle East might be more horrendous than anything our imaginations can grasp.

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“A few days ago in Hong Kong, students went down the streets and they’re protesting against the Chinese government’s recent decision to undermine Hong Kong’s democracy by stating that the candidates that [the Hong Kongese] would vote on in 2017 must be approved by Beijing, prior to election,” said Michael Law to me at the solidarity event that took place at McGill University last Wednesday on October 1.

Law was one of the people who arranged the said solidarity event, which was the first one to be held in Montreal. All around the globe, other Hongkongers who are living abroad are organizing similar events to show their solidarity with what is happening back home.

“We’re staging rallies to show that we are in solidarity with the students and protesters in Hong Kong. We’re allies of democracy and human rights,” Law added.

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From the solidarity event on October 1, at McGill University

Alex Liu, the North American representative of the Black Island Nation Youth Front — one of the leading student protest groups and advocates for democracy, human rights and political transparency — was also present in the crowd.

“The fact that the government is above the law is unacceptable; this is best demonstrated by the excessive violence the Beijing-appointed government has used against its own people. Peaceful protestors have been subjected to tear gas, water guns and the government now even threatens to use military forces against the protesters,” Liu said. (Alex Liu’s full speech can be found here.)

The fear of having to face the Chinese military is real. Hui Peng, who is from mainland China, expressed that what is happening in Hong Kong is similar to what happened in China 25 years ago, at Tiananmen Square. Yet he still expresses hope.

“There are some things that are familiar, and some that are different. This time, the people there, they are more disciplined. They know that they are not going to fight and they peacefully argue for their rights. I think there is hope. And what we can do is to urge the government to talk with the people, with the students, to work out a solution to what’s now happening in Hong Kong,” he said.

The Chinese government has declared the peaceful protests illegal, and Chinese media has claimed that these events have been organized by foreign powers to upset the political stability of the country. Yesterday, however, things escalated. Anti-Occupy mobs started attacking the demonstrators, while the police stood by and watched.

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From the solidarity event on October 1, at McGill University

Yet what we say here does not matter too much. What we need to hear is the voices of those who are fighting for democracy, those who are fighting for their rights. Below you will be able to read the raw words of students who are currently in Hong Kong.

Joei Chan

“I’ve always identified myself as a Hongkonger, and whenever asked the question why we consider Hong Kong different from China, I proudly explained how we enjoy a high degree of autonomy, have different governments, different legal systems and most of all, we enjoy freedom of speech, freedom of press, freedom to use the Internet and freedom of demonstration and assembly. None of those claims, unfortunately, seems to hold true anymore. Hong Kong is my home. It is, however, ceasing to be the home I’ve loved, known and recognized.

Many question the effectiveness of OccupyCentral and laugh off people who expect to change China’s mind as ‘naïve’. But I cannot be more impressed by how posts after posts regarding the protests have flooded my newsfeed and Whatsapp since yesterday, and that even the most politically apathetic of us are provoked to speak up in face of appalling, heartbreaking injustice.

The certainty of death doesn’t prevent us from living. The unlikelihood of victory shouldn’t prevent us from fighting.”

Joei Chan
Demonstrators in Hong Kong, photography by Joei Chan.

Edwin Cheung

“The biggest challenge of participating in the Umbrella Revolution is never the tear gases or the police, but your parents who don’t support it. When you think you are doing the right thing for the future of Hong Kong, they don’t appreciate and even do or say anything to make you stay home. I hope all Hongkongese should understand what is happening in Hong Kong and why Umbrella Revolution is necessary.”

Ken Lee

“Hong Kong had changed a lot since 1997, the return of sovereignty to China. The mainlanders (China residents) keep flooding in, affecting our daily life. I think this time, Hongkongers had enough. Everything we had — justice, freedom of speech — became nothing but just a word. This time, the government has pushed too far by using excessive force against unarmed students/protesters.

I feel really sad and disappointed seeing Hong Kong’s government become like this: ignoring citizens’ voice.”

Bridget Clancey

“I am a supporter of universal suffrage and for real democracy in Hong Kong. Students came out last week beginning with the boycott of classes to make a point to the government that we care very much about what is happening, and also it is a very good opportunity for us students to learn about what really is happening in Hong Kong. This is due to the fact that actually HK students and citizens weren’t really politically aware before.

As the Occupy Central movement started Sunday night, a lot of people criticized that the organizers took advantage of students’ innocence, but actually we cannot disagree more. We have our independent minds to analyze what is happening at the moment, we know that illegally occupying roads is risky as we might be caught, yet we continued because we know that if something wasn’t done now, we would regret it in the future when it’s too late to change.

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Photo taken in Hong Kong by an anonymous source.

As for violence used by the police, I just had a change of opinions. Before yesterday, although I’ve also witnessed how heartless policemen could be by exercising violence, but I would say that they also have their orders, that even when some of them were inhumane by purposely removing their goggles and spraying pepper spray right into people’s eyes; even when I didn’t agree with what they did, I sort of understood what was going through their minds. But after two incidents, I couldn’t help but feel hopeless about the atmosphere in Hong Kong.

The first incident was on Sunday, right before the series of tear gas was used. As I was leaving (I’d heard it would be dangerous), I saw a group of policemen, all geared up with weapons, protection and half of them had long guns loaded with rubber bullets.

At that moment, I could imagine what could have brought the police to have decided in using such violent measures. What were they planning to do? Did they really think they could chase away the 40,000 people a kilometer ahead of them?

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Photo taken in Hong Kong by an anonymous source.

And then this girl came up to the group of policemen. She was a student. She walked right up the them and asked several times why they planned to use violent measures. She begged them not to go on ahead ’cause there were many students, as a lot of participants were students. She cried and begged and tried to stop the policemen with words. However, after a couple of minutes, they simply ignored her and after the command was given by the head police, they ran forward.

At that moment, the only thing that came to my mind was what happened in June, when that one single man stood in front of a whole train of tanks. That girl was so brave, yet it must be so terrifying to be in her shoes, she was so powerful yet so weak. The moment the police ran forward into the the direction where the crowd was running down from where they were, it seems very much like a battle field to me. I didn’t understand how the police could continue hitting people or using tear gas when we have nothing to use really to defend ourselves. And we weren’t violent, we didn’t even have weapons, as we had all along stressed that we are peacefully occupying the roads and wouldn’t do it by force.

The second incident was what happened yesterday (it’s Saturday morning here now). In short, the opposing group came to make trouble, hitting people and sexually harassing girls of our side. The police condemned us, not them. We did nothing wrong. We were the victims yet the police had ‘ joined forces’ with the other side, which was pro-China, and didn’t act like a policeman should. There are many examples from yesterday of police catching the persons making trouble and then secretly letting them go at the corner of the street. How is this justice? Who can we depend on now?

Though all this is heartbreaking, I try to pull myself together, because these are the times when they want to break us, but we would stand strong in demanding what we want. If we don’t start now, if we give up now, I really don’t see when we could have the opportunity to demand for universal suffrage again.”

Photos by Cem Ertekin, unless stated otherwise.

vince li

Given the highly charged atmosphere surrounding the debate on Vince Li specifically and the issue of Not Criminally Responsible murderers (and what to do with them) more broadly, I feel it is necessary to preface this article with a statement of both heartfelt sincerity and incredulity. I shouldn’t have to say this, but advocating for the sensible rehabilitation of criminals, both insane and otherwise, deference to expert authority and common sense thinking is not the same thing as advocating for a murderer over the rights of the victim and his family.

Vince Li is being granted the right to go on an unsupervised half hour walk outside the grounds of his psychiatric hospital and a number of politicians, notably heritage minister and Manitoba MP Shelley Glover, have decided to feed the public’s fear of psycho killers by announcing their belief that this constitutes an egregious threat to public security. Common sense says otherwise, but ‘smart’ politics says it’s always best for a politician to stoke the public’s misplaced concern and present themselves as both community protector and advocate for ‘real’ justice.

At a press conference to announce federal stimulus spending for the city’s 375th anniversary, the heritage minister and former police officer stated, emphatically, that her government will pass legislation that would incarcerate Vince Li and people like him for the rest of their natural lives. As one might expect, she presented her argument almost as a kind of vengeance for Tim Mclean and his family, whom she further emphatically sympathized with.

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The scene of the tragedy (via screengrab)

I too have nothing but sympathy for the family of Tim McLean. I’m willing to bet what happened to him, what Vince Li did to him, was perhaps the single worst thing to ever happen to a human being on Canadian soil. It sickens me. I feel awful; for Tim’s family and for everyone on that bus that tragic night.

But therein lies the crux of the matter. This is a tragedy. Vince Li did not murder Tim McLean per se. Vince Li was in a deep psychotic state and completely disconnected from reality. He may have been like this for days, perhaps even weeks prior.

Criminal psychiatrists concluded that he acknowledges he killed Tim McLean, but – and this is crucial – that he was unable to form the necessary mens rea. In essence, court experts determined he is not criminally responsible because he lacks a guilty mind, and in common law establishing the case of a guilty mind is fundamental in a murder case.

A traditional first or second degree murder charge would be impossible to prosecute because Vince Li believed he was commanded by god to kill an assassin who planned to kill him. In Mr. Li’s convoluted, sick mind he believed he had been chosen by his creator to save humanity from an imminent alien invasion. He had been hearing ‘the voice of god’ for four years prior to the killing of Tim McLean.

The simple fact is Vince Li was an undiagnosed paranoid schizophrenic who killed an innocent person while in a deep psychotic state. The presiding judge accepted the diagnosis and remanded Mr. Li to a maximum security mental health facility where, for a while, he was in 24-hour lock-down, sedated, medicated and on suicide watch.

Over the course of the last few years he has responded exceptionally well to treatment. Heavily medicated, he has been brought out of the psychotic state and returned to normalcy.

As part of his rehabilitation process his file is reviewed annually by the Manitoba review board, a body whose purpose is to determine whether or not he’s responding well to rehabilitation and treatment and whether he poses a threat to himself or others. Year after year they found that he was not a threat and granted him privileges. First it was escorted walks on the grounds of the hospital. Then supervised walks into the town of Selkirk. Then supervised visits in other small towns.

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Where Vince Li lives now

At each step of his rehabilitation a chorus arose over social media accusing the provincial government, the correctional and mental health services and many others of everything from incompetence to advocating for a murderer (a preposterous, if not insane notion). It has demonstrated both the public’s contempt of expert opinion and their belief our criminal justice system is deeply flawed, and politicians, ever vigilant, have jumped on the bandwagon.

It’s expedient for a government that has shown nothing but contempt for government scientists, climatologists, environmentalists, academics of all variety, subject matter experts, jurists, the honourable opposition (etc.) to so inappropriately question the thinking and decisions of the Manitoba review board. Ms. Glover is a heritage minister, a Tory cheerleader, not a criminal psychiatrist. What right does she have to question the integrity and competence of the dozens of people most directly involved in this case?

Let common sense reign.

Vince Li has no money and no bus or taxi driver in Selkirk is going to come pick him up. He has a half hour to walk outside the hospital. That’s fifteen minutes in one direction before he has to turn around and go right back.

If he decides to use this new privilege, he does so knowing he lacks protection. Up to now he’s been escorted everywhere by a peace officer and a nurse. If he goes for a walk off the grounds he does so knowing he risks being attacked if not killed.

We can feel safe knowing he knows this, because he is no longer psychotic, his schizophrenia is under control. He exists in our world and knows the public is absolutely terrified of him.

If he decides to use this privilege the hospital, as part of its due diligence, would have to alert local police. Ergo it’s highly unlikely Vince Li would be completely unsupervised.

He wouldn’t have a police escort right next to him, but I think it’s safe to assume either the Selkirk police or the RCMP would have two armed officers follow him from a short distance. I don’t think he’ll be able to spontaneously demand he go for a walk. There’s likely a lot of paperwork and bureaucracy to go through.

At the press conference Minister Glover indicated that, because of her time as a police officer in Manitoba, she ‘knew how hard it was to keep track of dangerous offenders.’ Perhaps. But not in Vince Li’s case.

He is still incarcerated. He sleeps at the psychiatric hospital. As a consequence of his infamy he will only ever sleep in institutions or halfway houses for the rest of his days.

The fear that Vince Li will one day be released into the general populace, to get a job and an apartment, is completely ludicrous. He’s unemployable. He’ll never be able to rent his own apartment, he has no family to support him.

So it begs the question, what are we really afraid of? He is a ward of state forevermore. He is thoroughly supervised. There’s no way he could ever go off his medication as long as he remains institutionalized, and as long as he’s medicated and lives in a controlled environment (which as I already mention is his only option) he’s no threat, not to himself nor anyone else.

Some people are nonetheless incensed. They believe that Vince Li either should’ve been killed on the scene by responding police officers or spend the rest of his days under total lockdown in a maximum-security prison.

I think these people believe mental illness is a kind of trick used by the truly guilty to escape harsh punishment. I don’t know which is crazier, killing and cannibalizing a man you believe to be an alien assassin because god told you or thinking that a human being could be in their right mind and do such a thing.

Suffice it to say there are a lot of people who would lose their careers if they’re wrong about Vince Li. Literally dozens of people would immediately find themselves without the jobs they worked so hard to become experts at. I don’t think anyone in his or her right mind would risk so much on a whim.

None of the experts advocating for this new privilege would risk their careers unless they were absolutely certain Vince Li is no longer a threat to the public. They’re all aware of what needs to be done to ensure public safety, they have all the controls in place to ensure he stays medicated and that public security forces are aware of where he is at all time.

As a society, we can’t allow ourselves to be commanded by fear and ignorance. We must approach the unknown and the tragic with a desire to understand and to learn.

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Li’s victim Tim McLean

We only do Tim McLean a disservice if our approach to mental illness is to simply incarcerate those who are indeed not criminally responsible for their actions. If we want to ensure he didn’t die in vain, then we must do all we can to treat mental illness seriously and develop the mechanisms by which treatment is rendered affordable and illnesses of the mind are de-stigmatized.

We only make the problem worse when we allow politicians to disregard expert opinion and basic, open, transparent common sense. We do ourselves harm when we allow common sense to be trampled by the fear mongering of politicians who exploit tragedy for personal gain.

middle class

Recently, in the House of Commons, “middle class” has become the favorite buzz word, omnipresent in every debate related near or far to the current state of the Canadian economy. “The middle class is hurting” is an almost daily remark uttered from the Liberal corner of the house as is the question “What is this government doing for the middle class?” Every dip or bounce in the GDP or in economic indicators resuscitates the urge of many parliamentarians to take care of this vital and yet fragile section of Canadian society.

But no one has ever cared to define what middle class means in this day and age. Before claiming to be the champion of the middle class, one has to first identify what the middle class truly is and if the notion of middle class is the same as when the concept was first coined.

The truth is that in many ways the middle class as a sociological entity was born in the post WWII period, built in many ways as a consequence of the Spirit of 45, which is brilliantly portrayed in Ken Loach’s documentary of the same name. This Spirit of 45 was the motor behind a blueprint to sap the economical and social foundations that had bred fascist and extreme right-wing ideologies in the first place.

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Scene from The Spirit of 45

Through communist, socialist, social-democratic forces during the first post-WWII decade, the foundations of the social state were laid: universal public health, universal access to post-secondary education, social insurance and more. This social welfare state is the engine that allowed the development of a new kind of social class which was universally described as the middle class.

This development of capitalism with a human face went hand in hand with the construction of a mass consumerist class and here is where the dichotomy begins. Even though the accession of the middle class was enabled by the construction of a social welfare state, the majority of individuals of the middle class never considered themselves as the product of the social welfare state, or a product at all, because of the lack of class conciseness within the so-called middle class, the middle class never truly existed.

To form a political or social class, one must first identify with the bonding aspects that supposedly connect individuals to one classification or another. So what are the unifying aspects of the middle class in economical, social or political terms? None, if there were some before, they hardly exist today.

Unlike the working class, which is historically united around organized labor movements or expresses its political force through labor parties or the farmers which organized farmer organizations, be they unions, coops or political parties (the NDP is the alliance between those two social groups and political forces), the middle class has never succeeded in organizing around a certain set of values and principles. So the subsequent question is: if the middle class is not a class by definition, what meaning should give to this notion of middle class?

silent majorityOne interesting historical aspect is that the development of the middle class as a notion that is intertwined with the neo-liberal revolution spearheaded by Thatcher and Reagan in the 1980s. At the time, the middle class was used as a synonym for the “silent majority”that was against taxes, against welfare fraud and thus against the social welfare state as a whole, against government in many ways and inherently individualistic, only preoccupied by economic matters. Here taxpayers and middle class are interchangeable. In the Canadian context, in many ways the consequent “common sense revolutions” of Mike Harris in Ontario and of the Reform Party on the federal level used the same rhetoric and couched their legitimacy on the shoulders of an invisible middle class.

Today, global austerity, the tyranny of balanced budgets and growth as an end in and of itself use the same logic and are supposedly championed by the middle class. To be the “champion of the middle class” is to not challenge the reckless economic ideology that is at the root of the global recession despite the hardship of hundreds of thousands of Canadians, the true non-silent majority.

The middle class as a notion is the worst enemy of everyone who in purely economic terms is middle class, in between the affluent sections of society and the disenfranchised.

The motion that we are seeing today is the motion of disenfranchisement of the middle-class as a direct reaction to the advent of modern capitalism. Through austerity policies and the dictatorship of profit and the markets, the social welfare net which had been the motor of the ascension of the middle state is under assault.

There is a complete disconnect between the economical reality of most middle class families today in Canada and the reality portrayed by politicians in the House of Commons. In that sense, the middle class is a complete abstraction, with no ties to reality.

The middle class is anything and everything you want it to be, you can make it say what you want, however you want and when you want it and because it’s unrepresented, without a physical link to everyday reality, it will never contradict you. The Liberal and the Conservative parties fight in a meaningless debate to represent the silent majority of Canadians, the hurting middle class that needs jobs and economic growth, while on the other hand is okay with slashing corporate taxes and hand-outs for multinationals. Really, the middle class is Disneyland for political demagogy, it’s the link that reconciles the irreconcilable.

living wage

The truth of the matter is that today a clear majority of Canadian households barely survive from paycheque to paycheque. In this reality where a living wage is an unforeseeable utopia, a majority of Canadians are indebted to their necks and most of my generation will start their professional careers with an already unhealthy amount of debt and in precarious jobs positions.

This is the reality of the majority of Canadians and these elements constitute the new social class of the 21st century: the precariat.

The middle class of yesterday is the precarious unemployed youth of today, the minimum wage slaves, the young families struggling to provide a standard of living for their children. These are the tens of millions of Canadians that have fear for their future and their financial stability.

The notion of middle class cherished by many politicians is but an abstraction, it superimposes itself upon this dreaded reality with the objective to make it disappear. Forget your real situation, because as long as you considered yourself middle class, trust us and there will be a better tomorrow for you and me.

Little do they know that the prosperity and the growth they talk of created the dismay of the middle class as a tangible reality, as something to look forward to.

Now we are all precarious.

Art by Guerrilla Comunicacional

It’s that time of the year again, the time for review of the year articles, the top 10s of 2013, the political winners and the political losers. Unfortunately this article is not going to take such a clear cut stance, but it will make reference to one of the most important tends in this past year, the rise of the socialist alternative.

2013 most certainly could go down in the memories of progressives, radicals, rabble-rousers and revolutionaries as just another dull year within an infinite sea of rampant victorious capitalism. Some might say, as always amazing movements were bread in these past 365 days but none of them gave birth to anything of substance.

And such could be said of almost every year since Fukuyama, oracle in chief of the new world order, announced the  end of history. For Fukuyama and the neo-liberal guard, the fall of the wall of Berlin and the collapse of the Soviet Bloc coincided with the ushering in of a new age, a never changing age of relentless growth and prosperity, an age in which any alternative to capitalism was dead in the egg.

From the onset, Fukuyama’s divination seemed quite fragile. It foresaw a utopia on earth, but never answered the question, for whom?

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Was this the end of history? Some think so, but is that changing in 2013?

Certainly since 1989 the rapid growth of global capitalism is due to the erasing of almost every from of regulation: regulation of the financial markets or regulation of trade. In this new world the main enemy is any barrier to the complete freedom of multinationals and corporations.

In pure economic terms there is no doubt that these past decades have been fabulous for the GDP and NASDAQ and all their siblings within the family tree of economic indicators. The wild 90s and 2000s were la belle époque, but not the end of history.

For its proponents and ardent defenders the end of history was not, in any way shape or form, the end of inequality or the dawning of a more just world, quite to the contrary. For those that crafted the doublespeak rhetoric of the end of history, it literally meant that, like it or not, capitalism was here to stay. The only alternative, communism, had crumbled and thus from now on consumerism was a synonym for freedom, capitalism was liberty and inequality was the natural way of things.

On the other hand any “alternative” to the new modus operandi was thrown into the dustbin of history alongside “communism” (insert here Stalinism). Any movement that spoke of a greater redistribution of wealth or fought for the defense of the social welfare state – or as Franklin Delano Roosevelt called it, the right to an adequate standard of living – was trash.

For the neo-liberal elite, the welfare state is seen as the final frontier, a regulation of society at large that must be abolished under current standards. Thus ‘left-wing’ movements, be they social-democratic, socialist or any other alternative tendency, have been struggling for relevance in this new age and some have chosen the path of least resistance and decided to implement the norms and dictates of the end of history, somehow thinking that this would make them relevant again.

Hand in hand with this loss of relevance goes the alienation of many groups in society that have lost for faith in the democratic system in its entirety. A democratic system that offers no substantial alternative breeds in itself disaffection and apathy, slow is the death of democracy as we know it.

Michelle Bachelet during the most recent presidential election in Chile
Michelle Bachelet during the most recent presidential election in Chile

And yet the 2008 crisis has planted the seeds of something new. The world has been rocked by popular discontent voiced in different ways, in very different parts of the globe. And the year 2013 was no different with continued uprisings in Europe against austerity –the dismantling of the welfare state through brutal “structural adjustments”– uprisings in Turkey against the privatization of public spaces, here in Canada protests, led by First Nation, Inuit and Metis communities, erupted against environmental degradation for short-term profit.

But most importantly, 2013 was a year in which many struggles gained concrete victories amidst great aversion.

In Chile, Camila Vallejo, Gabriel Boric, Giorgio Jackson and Karol Cariola, leaders of the student protests that have rocked the country since 2011, were elected to parliament. Vallejo was elected on a communist ticket and that party, after the last legislative elections, has the biggest percentage of seats since the time of Salvador Allende.

Still in Chile, Michele Bachelet was reelected to the highest position in the country with a whopping 62 percent of the vote, the biggest percentage for a presidential candidate in the history of the Chilean left. Madame Bachelet was elected on a platform to continue to roll back the reforms that were ushered in under the military junta of Pinochet and to implement universal free post-secondary education.

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From Kshama Sawant’s twitter, campaign for 15 dollars minimum wage

One of the greatest victories of 2013 surprisingly had for a backdrop the United States of America. For the first time since the great depression, a major American city elect an openly socialist candidate to office.

Kshama Sawant was elected bringing to the center stage of American politics the struggle for a living wage instead of a minimum wage, rent control and higher taxes for the wealthiest. The victory of her grassroots movement is the embodiment of the Socialist Alternative that in 2013 started to dawn.

In Europe, splinter left-wing groups that offer a true alternative to the neo-liberal status-quo championed by center-center right and center-center left wing political parties are on the rise. Syriza the ‘radical’ left-wing coalition of several left-wing political parties is now given the lead in the polls. Syriza’s leader Alexis Tsipras, has been endorsed by the European left to lead a new anti-austerity coalition in the upcoming European elections.

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Syriza founding congress picture by Eleanna Kounoupa Creative Commens on Flickr

Here in Montreal, Projet Montreal more than doubled its seats in city council and has become, for the first time in history, official opposition. A coalition of progressives from all walks of life and Quebecois left-wing political tendencies has shown the way for left-wing movements to link social movements and grassroots politics to a prominent place on the political spectrum.

For these reasons the year that is now coming to end was a very fruitful one in which the alternative to this current system of savage capitalism grew in an extraordinary manner, and announced the return of history.

For this reason we have much to look forward to in 2014.

A Luta Continua

justin weed

Justin Trudeau supports the legalization of marijuana. Not only that, he’s not afraid to admit that he’s smoked the odd joint himself. Unless Tom Mulcair and the NDP do something about it, it may just make him Prime Minister.

I don’t say this lightly or even enthusiastically, far from it. I’ve been an ardent NDP supporter for years and with my party poised to take power for the first time ever, to lose by being outflanked from the left by a right-leaning centrist with a good head of hair would be disastrous.

What’s worse is that as an MP, Trudeau both voted for Bill C-15 which imposed mandatory minimum sentences and smoked at least one joint. That hypocrisy will probably be forgotten or ignored by some voters, potheads aren’t known for their memory but they do turn up at the polls (Colorado and Washington, anyone).

While Trudeau may be a hypocrite, he’s a hypocrite who knows good electoral strategy when he sees it. He has nothing to lose and everything to gain.

The only voters he’ll alienate are those in Harper’s Alberta base, people who will vote Conservative no matter what. He won’t lose the Ontario hockey moms who may have voted for Harper last time for economic reasons, in fact he may gain support from those who know their kids will probably experiment with the drug once or twice and don’t want to see them in jail for smoking a joint.

Meanwhile, supporting outright legalization will undoubtedly steal votes from the NDP in their former BC base and maybe even in their current stronghold of Quebec, if voters can get by the last name Trudeau. While a political battle between the love of ganja and hatred of the man who put tanks on the streets of Montreal being directed at his son may be interesting to watch, it doesn’t have to happen at all.

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During the NDP leadership campaign, a reporter asked Mulcair if he would legalize pot if Prime Minister and he said no (the party has since reaffirmed its commitment to decriminalization), they would need to run studies first. I strongly suggest that he quietly commissions whatever studies he feels are needed now so the next time someone asks him if he also supports legalization he can answer with an emphatic yes.

It will also be a much more honest yes than Trudeau could possibly give. If both leaders support pot legalization, then the one who did so after conducting the research he said he would do would seem like and be a much better choice than the guy who voted with Harper to harshly punish people who enjoyed what he enjoyed and only embraced legalization when it was clearly a good move electorally.

If the NDP want to remain the only alternative to Harper, then they need to at the very least match the Liberals on social issues. Surpassing them with progressive economics won’t be enough if they lose progressive ground on the next hot button social cause.

Canada is a centre-left country and has always been. A neo-con majority government is just good strategy by the Conservatives and not an indication of changing values.

It seems like the Mulcair and the NDP, closer to power than they ever have been before, may have forgotten that. I fear both removing socialism from the party’s constitution and Mulcair’s views on legalization both walk on the same cold feet.

I know that I’m probably more radical than your average voter but I can see how removing a word, even one that doesn’t carry the same negative connotations here as it does in the states, isn’t the end of the world. If the competition aren’t calling themselves socialist, then socialists who want to vote for a party that has a chance will still vote NDP, word or not. Standing on the wrong side of history when it comes to marijuana legalization, on the other hand, is inexcusable for a party that needs progressive support to win.

If the NDP acts swiftly and comes out with a pro-legalization stance backed by scientific research, then they will, forgive the pun, smoke out Trudeau’s hypocrisy.

Otherwise, pro-pot voters may get lost in the haze and make Trudeau PM.

* Top image by MontrealSimon.blogspot.ca

Drugs

* This post originally appeared on QuietMike.org, republished with permission from the author

The Canadian Drug Policy Coalition (CDPC) issued a report last week titled “Getting to Tomorrow: A Report on Canadian Drug Policy.” The report calls for our Conservative federal government to change its National Anti-Drug Strategy and decriminalize all drugs for personal use and legalize and regulate marijuana for adults.

The authors of the report (Connie Carter and Donald MacPherson) recommend that Canada reform its drug policy and regulations to include evidence-based approaches to drugs, with the hope of eliminating the stigma and discrimination around the substances.

Evidence-based approaches are not in our Conservative Government’s vocabulary or ideology. If it were, not only would our drug policies be vastly different, but our environmental and economic policies would be as well. You can’t expect a government so hostile to science to embrace facts of any kind.

Speaking of hostility, since Stephen Harper first came into office seven years ago, his party has been nothing but antagonistic towards all forms of drugs. Our law and order government has increased fines and jail time for drug offences and even introducing mandatory minimum sentences for all sorts of drug felonies.

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The “lock them up and throw away the key” approach runs in conjunction with the conservative belief that drug addiction itself is criminal.

Harper has continually tried to close North America’s only safe injection site. Vancouver’s “Insite” has proven repeatedly that these sites reduce crime, overdoses and the spread of HIV. Insite has even helped addicts to kick the habit.

A four-year study released last year suggests both Ottawa and Toronto would benefit from supervised drug injection sites, but all attempts to create them have been blocked by then Health Minister Deb Matthews. Other critics of these new safe injection sites included former Ottawa police chief Vern White and ironically Toronto Mayor Rob Ford.

It’s just like our Government to keep moving in the opposite direction despite Stephen Harper admitting last year in South America that the drug war has been a failure. “What I think everybody believes, is that the current approach is not working. But it is not clear what we should do.” He said.

Well, if the status quo isn’t working and it isn’t clear what to do about it, why does Harper’s government continue to dismiss every type of alternative? Do the deaths of 60 000 Mexicans or the record number of incarcerated Americans not convey a message to him? Does he not understand that it’s cheaper to treat those trying to quit?

The CDPC report also recommended an increase in health and social services for addicts and social users alike. Services such as housing and treatment for drug addicts and increased support for educational programs about safer drug use must be in the cards. The report essentially advocated an increase of treatment centers and safe injection sites.

It’s understandable that a certain portion of the population might be skeptical of decriminalizing all forms of drugs, particularly the elderly and religious. The longevity of drug prohibition coupled with decades of anti-drug propaganda has left a lasting impression on our aging populace. It’s no wonder the call for change is coming mainly from the younger generations. I’m not entirely sure what religion has against drugs, but I imagine it has something to do with the purity of the soul.

If we weighed the pros and cons of decriminalizing drugs, you’ll find the argument is fairly one sided. The primary reasons to support decriminalization are cost and health. Canada spends more than $4 on enforcement for every $1 we spend on the health related to illegal drugs ($400.3 million – $88 million).

Cartoon-War-on-DrugsIf you factor in courts and corrections, we spend $2.3 billion annually. Roughly 50 000 people are arrested and charged every year resulting in 400 000 court appearances. This is just bad policy given that $1 spent on treatment will achieve the same reduction in the flow of cocaine as $7.3 spent on enforcement.

With all the money allocated to enforcement, those who want to quit or be treated are the ones who continue to suffer. Now, what kind of “moral” society spends more money locking people up than they do to treat sick people?

In Canada, we have public health care and we don’t have private prisons, I can’t understand where the motivation to keep drug users and dealers in prison is coming from. The only real argument to keep drugs illegal is that drug use would increase, but how real of an argument is that? Even if it’s true, at least we would have more funds to treat those addicted.

I was a drug user throughout my late teens and twenties. I can tell you the legality of drugs didn’t come into play when I did them. If anything, it attracted me to them. Do people still believe that keeping drugs illegal will keep rebellious teens from trying them?

Honestly, from what I remember back then, I was pissed off at everything (still am!). My parents instilled a good set of morals upon me, but no government was going to tell me what I can and can’t do. If only our Conservative government could receive the same morals I got, maybe we’d have more treatment centres and less prisons.

montreal casino

This post originally appeared on TaylorNoakes.com, republished with permission from the author

So Loto-Québec is planning on introducing drinking on the floors of the province’s four casinos as part of a broader effort to update and modernize the casinos to
increase revenue and draw higher attendance. Currently both are down, prompting the péquiste health minister (?) to state “it’s time we got our heads out of the sand and ensures our casinos can be competitive.” As it stands, Québec’s casinos are the only casinos in North America where the consumption of alcohol is not permitted on the gaming floor.

When the Casino de Montréal opened in 1993 it was a bit of a big deal. It was supposed to be classy. The restaurants were top-notch, the chefs and wine selection unbeatable. There was even a dress code – jackets and ties for men, no hats, no jeans etc.

I think this is something we should maintain. Everything about our casino, as initially intended, was almost designed to de-emphasize the gambling:

It’s not a big gray box. It doesn’t disorient the patrons by omitting windows. It invites patrons to step away from the gaming, to go outside and get some fresh air. These are design elements we should continue to value.

There’s no doubt our casino and state-regulated gambling is useful – it funnels money from the people’s pocket back into the government purse. Loto-Québec is a
provincial crown corporation whose mandate is ‘to operate games of chance in the province in an orderly and measured way’ and I would argue strongly they do a
generally good job, even though I’m morally opposed to the practice in the first place.

I suppose it’s not so bad if it’s rich tourists who are losing their money – they can afford it.

But all too often casinos wind up preying, even if indirectly, on the poorest elements of society. The people most desperate for a financial break are all too often those with bad finances and who exercise poor jugement with their money. And whereas there once were controls, like the dress code and limitations on drinking on the playing floor, these have been shelved to accomodate the poor yet regular patrons who provide the bulk of the casino’s revenue during a prolonged period of economic instability, such as we’re experiencing right now.

Why look to locals as our main source of casino revenue? And why isn’t Montreal’s casino generating money specifically for our own needs?

The city could use revenue generated by the Casino de Montréal more immediately and doubtless more efficiently. As it stands today this money is sent to Québec City, where I suppose it’s moved back into general revenue. This doesn’t help us much at all, yet Montréal is on the hook for nearly every negative repercussion from casino operations in the city – everything from the social problems associated with gambling addiction in our poorest neighbourhoods to the inevitable suicides and road accidents that happen on the otherwise deserted junction of Ave. Pierre-Dupuy and the Pont de la Concorde.

So let’s do something different.

The city ought to take in a greater share of our casino’s revenue, but we can’t argue this position unless we’re willing to provide our own plan to increase attendance and revenue. Thus, I would argue strongly that the city should look to acquire the single greatest missing piece from our casino’s master plan – a hotel – and assist in redeveloping the Casino de Montréal with a new hotel and resort component. This in turn could be part of a larger plan to increase the use and revenue generated by all the diverse functions of Parc Jean-Drapeau.

ile jean drapeau
Inter-island Channel, Parc Jean-Drapeau

But where would we build a hotel? Ile-Notre-Dame doesn’t have much space to support a large hotel and construction may render the island temporarily unusable.

Permanently mooring a cruise ship or ocean liner within proximity of the casino presents us with an interesting possibility to get everything we need for a major
casino expansion without having to build much. It would allow us to rather suddenly put a lot of hotel space more or less in the centre of the city’s park islands.

Rather than building new we simply tow a full expansion into position. It would look good, it would be exceptionally unique and would further serve to provide a lot of direct financial stimulus for our otherwise underused (and at times worn-down) Parc Jean-Drapeau.

I’ve often felt that this grand playground lacks any unifying cohesiveness – it’s simply the space we put all the stuff we can’t place elsewhere. We’ve purposely
concentrated a lot of diverse entertainment in one space and have done well in maintaining that space’s utility within the public conception of the urban environment. Yet it’s still very detached, isolated even, from the rest of the city.

I feel a floating hotel solves more than one problem, using the location’s relative isolation to its advantage. For locals and people from the region, it could provide a much-needed ‘urban resort’, a place to get away from it all that’s oddly located in the middle of everything.

For foreign tourists or families on vacation, it provides a hotel in a controlled environment almost exclusively dedicated to family friendly activities. Re-
instituting the dress code and prohibiting drinking from the gaming floor in this newly expanded casino could serve to help sell the image of a classy and unique
vacation experience catering to a wide variety of tastes.

Think about it: Parc Jean-Drapeau is a large multi-use park with a considerable natural component, occupying roughly the same amount of space as Mount Royal Park (2.1 square kilometers). It features, among others, a beach, an aquatics centre & rowing basin, manicured parks and trails, an amusement park, a historic fort and a premier outdoor concert venue. Placing a hotel in the middle of it, associated with the aforementioned casino, would surely drive up revenue not only for the casino but everything else going on at the park as well.

It could conceivably make the park more useful during the winter months and provide sufficient new revenue so as to redevelop the Biosphere, Helene-de-Champlain
restaurant and give the whole place a facelift too. And I don’t think it would take much of anything away from the city’s existing hotels as, from my experience, Parc Jean-Drapeau is nearly exclusively used by locals, being perhaps a little too detached for tourists.

For your consideration, this rather handsome looking (and famous) ocean liner, the SS United States, can accomodate 5000 people and is in desperate need of a buyer to keep her from the breakers:

SS-United_States
SS United States by Wikipedia contributor Lowlova

Definitely worth reconsidering, in my humble option. If you happen to be looking to buy a cruise ship, look no further.

420 Parliament Hill 2013 13

3… 2… 1… 4/20! And with that, the smoke floated en masse up towards the emblematic clock tower that signifies Canadian parliament. Even though I didn’t smoke, my thick wool jacket smelled otherwise.

The approximately 10 000 people that gathered on Parliament Hill to mark 420 / 4:20 / 4/20 or simply Weed Day was the most ever in Ottawa according to organizers. The legalization of weed in small amounts last November in Colorado and Washington is mostly to thank. There, marijuana is now legal if you are over 21, smoke in private and possess less than one ounce. That is, unless the FBI comes knocking at your door because the US government has not ok’d the reform.

420 Parliament Hill 2013 12

Meanwhile, Canada, one of the top producers of marijuana in the world, still maintains strict laws against the consumption of earth’s most popular drug. In fact, sentencing has been increased by the Federal Omnibus Bill C-10, which adds stricter six-month mandatory minimum sentences for anyone who grows six or more marijuana plants.

In an open-letter to Prime Minister Harper last year, The Global Commission on Drug Policy, one of the world leaders on the study of drug use across United Nations member countries, attacked the Canadian government’s weed crackdown. “Canada is at the threshold of continuing to repeat the same grave mistakes as other countries, moving further down a path that has proven immensely destructive and ineffective at meeting its objectives,” wrote the Brazil-based organization.

420 Parliament Hill 2013 10Thus, this year, more than being a day to see who can roll the fattest joint, or dawn the most outlandish weed paraphernalia (see Facebook album for victors), 4/20 on Parliament Hill was meant to be more of a political demonstration in favour of legalization.

“I am the Justin Trudeau of marijuana,” joked Precious Chong, daughter of one of the most famous pot-smokers in Canadian history, Tommy Chong of Cheech and Chong fame. She MC’d the day’s events from a podium in front of a backdrop of neon-jacketed police officers. Like the new Liberal leader, she is following in the giant footsteps of her father. Also like Trudeau, she supports the legalization of marijuana.

While members of Trudeau’s Liberal party and the Green party did attend, they did not deliver any speeches in support. Chong, however, was joined on stage by other Canadian weed-leaders who have received a major boost to their campaign since a British Columbia $25 million lottery winner injected $1 million to the legalization movement.

“How do we get people who don’t smoke or don’t like to smoke to support legalization?” shouted a pro-legalization leader from the podium. “Get ‘em to smoke one!” responded a grey-haired woman from the crowd.

420 Parliament Hill 2013Even at the biggest celebration of weed of the year there wasn’t a unanimous decision on legalization. Three men who hid their names told the Ottawa Citizen that they don’t want to see their green legalized because new taxes would stack prices.

Despite the growing attention to legalization in Canada, it was hard to take the rally seriously when a guy dressed up as a massive bong was distributing skunk suits to rallying stoners. Still, what can you expect when most of your prospective voters are blitzed out of their minds?

While the Ottawa rally was completely peaceful and calm save for when a stampede swarmed the Trailer Park Boys as soon as they showed up (they were there despite Kathryn May reporting in the Ottawa Citizen that they weren’t), the 4/20 rally in Denver, Colorado, which was expected to be the largest in history at 80 000 smokers, was thrown into chaos shortly after 4:20pm when gunshots injured three people. All victims are expected to survive.

Not very peace and love of you Colorado.

* photos by Joel Balsam, for more, please see our Facebook page

 

Tiananmen Square

The world’s most ambitious social engineering policy may be coming to end. A state-own Chinese think-tank, China Development Research Foundation, concluded that China’s One-Child policy needs to stop. In its report last November, the think-tanked recommended a national two-child policy for 2015 with the elimination of limits to birth by 2020. China’s leader, Xi Jingping, has also indicated undertaking a revision of the policy.

If it does get scrapped, it would conclude a controversial chapter in China’s history. Since the policy was adopted in 1979 it has faced protests from the outside world and human rights observers over practices of forced abortions and inspired infanticide.

China also faces growing gender disparity issues largely because of the one-child policy. In most countries, women make up the base of the pyramid and men the tip at the top. Because of Mao Zedong’s social engineering, the pyramid has turned upside down.

There are fewer women who are at the tip of the pyramid, rising up the social stratus and a massive male population at the base of the lower economic strata. This has considerably strained Confucianist traditional family values in the nation.

Career women are suddenly more selective with life partners, preferring a partner that is their equal in a respectable profession. Beijing has responded by demonizing single women. Women, especially in their 20s (and close to their 30s) are targeted in Chinese propaganda campaigns.

Zhongdian, one child posterA television show called “30” was produced to project the stressful lives of single 29 year-old career women known as “leftover women” who suffer from the miseries of the dating world. Women have an expiry date of 30 years and afterwards men no longer find them “desirable.”

The show drives home the idea that women should leave stressful careers to have husbands pamper them. Intelligent women see through the façade but during the holidays their traditional parents expect them to bring home male breadwinners. So much so that agencies have started up “rental boyfriends” services.

Essentially, it is what it sounds like: fake boyfriends for a day to meet the client’s family. The industry has been so widely successful that popular films and television shows have spawned romantic and comical storylines of clients and rental boyfriends falling in love. It also raised awareness among parents who try to catch their children in a lie by asking elaborate details of their relationship backstories.

Likewise, for men the demand has fueled the emergence of bridal headhunter agencies. These agencies scout prospective women, in malls and shops, soliciting young attractive women into dates with wealthy clients.

But for the poor and populous men, they will have tougher times finding girlfriends since wealthy businessmen snatch them all up. Chinese men, generally, seek less-threatening paragons of femininity. Consequently, men are increasingly marrying socially “lower” ethnic Chinese women, minorities like Koreans or finding brides abroad. In other words, women are marrying up, while men are marrying below their social status.

Another criticism of the one-child policy has been the legacy of the “little emperor” complex and “4-2-1 problem.” The policy has left parents putting only one egg in one basket, in a manner of speaking. The only child across China is often spoiled and has poor relationships with their parents in the future. In addition, “4-2-1 problem” places pressure on the only child in adulthood to provide support for his or her two parents and four grandparents.

China is further renouncing its welfare efforts to care for retired seniors. The onus ultimately falls on retiree’s savings, charity and their only child for financial assistance. Consequently, China recently enacted a mandatory parental visitation policy as a result of rising neglect by adult only children.

Coupled by a cutthroat economic reality deteriorating Chinese family bonds, the problem has exacerbated to such alarming rates that there has been escalation of parental abuse and inheritance theft. While it was enforced to curb social maladies related to overpopulation the economy and environment, the one-child policy has produced a nest of other social maladies.

It is almost certain that Xi Jianping will remove the one-child policy. However, it is equally wise to install a two-child policy this year rather than two years from now. Given the already manifested aftermaths of one-child it would be prudent to nip it in the bud.

* Images by Andrew Turner (top) and Adrian Zwegers via Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons