The case of Joshua Boyle and his wife Caitlan Coleman is one where the questions are more important than the answers.

Just over five years ago, Boyle and Coleman were backpacking in Afghanistan when they were taken captive by the Haqqani, one of many Islamic extremist groups in the region. They were held for five years, during which Coleman was raped and forced to miscarry, Boyle was beaten, and one of their three children – all of whom were born in captivity – was beaten with sticks.

When they got back to Canada, Boyle and his wife were hailed as heroes. Their picture appeared in all the major news sources as the couple that survived being prisoners of Islamic militants. They got to visit with Prime Minister Trudeau and even now the photo of our leader bouncing Boyle’s youngest on his knee circulates online.

Unfortunately, the Boyle case is a perfect demonstration of how quick society is to make heroes of people without knowing all the facts. On January 3, 2018 Joshua Boyle, the same guy we all saw as a heroic survivor of militants was arrested on fifteen charges including assault, sexual assault, illegal confinement, uttering death threats, misleading police, and forcing someone to take a noxious substance. Boyle will be facing serious jail time if convicted of any one of these crimes.

Court orders prevent details like the identity and gender of his accusers for their own safety, which means it is difficult to form a hypothesis of what happened. However, with speculation based on what we do know about Boyle’s story, it is possible to construct an alternate narrative to the one the public has been fed entirely through Boyle’s own account of events in Afganistan and when the family returned home.

It’s one that posits that maybe Boyle wasn’t such a hero after all.

For your consideration…

What do we know about Joshua Boyle and Caitlan Coleman?

Joshua Boyle is thirty-four years old and he is Canadian from New Brunswick. Caitlan Coleman is American from Pennsylvania. The rest of what we know is mostly what Boyle has been telling the press on the couple’s behalf. That said, there are a lot of questions Boyle and Coleman need to answer.

Why were they backpacking in the most dangerous parts of Afghanistan so soon after the war?

Boyle claims that their goal was purely humanitarian. They wanted to help those villagers in areas of Afghanistan where no aid worker would dare to go.

However, the circumstances under which they attempted to help people make their alleged goal questionable at best. Though they were aware that the area they were traveling in was dangerous, they made no secret of their destination, making them easy pickings for anyone with malicious intent.

This is not to suggest that they intended to be taken captive by militants, but they certainly did nothing to prevent it.

Why did Coleman agree to accompany her husband on this trip?

Caitlin Coleman was five months pregnant when captured and the area of Afghanistan they were traveling in is not known for its enlightened attitudes towards women. Though one would think her safety and that of her unborn child would be top priorities, she put herself and her baby at risk by accompanying her husband into hell.

Why has no one spoken directly to Caitlin Coleman about what happened to her and her husband in Afghanistan?

Most of what we have heard about their family’s ordeal has come from the lips of Joshua Boyle. Though Caitlin Coleman endured the worst torments during their captivity – forced miscarriage, sexual assault, and being forced to witness the abuse of her child – her husband is still speaking for her.

Coleman’s story is just as important as that of Boyle’s and her experience is unique as the only adult woman in this saga. When she was speaking to Maclean’s a few weeks before her husband’s arrest, Joshua Boyle refused to leave the room, as though he were controlling Coleman with his presence.

Why no one has speculated if she has been victimized by her husband is odd given how little she has been allowed to say publicly. Her behavior goes beyond that of a demure religious woman and is more indicative of someone living in fear and possibly suffering from mental health issues.

Why did Joshua Boyle provoke his captors?

According to Boyle, he was regularly pressured to join his captors in their cause. Instead, he, a practicing Muslim, woke up early and prayed loudly, waking his captors up and effectively accusing them of being bad Muslims. He regularly called them “munafiq” or hypocrites and annoyed his captors so much they raped his wife to punish him.

Anyone with a lick of sense knows you do not provoke your kidnappers, and that Islamic militants are notorious for mistreating female captives. Boyle’s actions indicate either extreme stupidity, insanity, or a selfish disregard for the safety of himself and his wife.

Though Joshua Boyle’s behavior did not merit the brutality with which he and his family were treated, anyone held captive by people known for their brutality would tread VERY carefully in their presence.

The case of Joshua Boyle and Caitlin Coleman is an ongoing one. As more facts come to light, public sympathy for Boyle wanes. He seems increasingly like a manipulative attention-seeker who would do society good in an environment where he could no longer hurt people.

As his star falls, we begin to see the real victims: Caitlin Coleman and her children.

* Featured image: CTV video screengrab

On April 13, 2017 our parliament began its first reading of Bill C-45, The Cannabis Act. Recently this bill was passed in the House of Commons and has now been submitted to the Senate for debate and voting. If it passes in the upper house, the Governor General will provide their royal assent and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will have successfully legalized cannabis in Canada.

Justin Trudeau made a lot of promises to get into office. He promised to fix unemployment for Canada’s young people, but chickened out, informing hoards of his voters after the election that they should get used to temporary employment with poor wages and non-existent benefits. He promised election reform, but cowardly backed out of that, undoubtedly realising that our problematic system worked in his favor.

All we have left to hope for from him is cannabis legalization. If the Prime Minister fails to do this, he’ll prove to his voters that he’s nothing but another corrupt politician with a pretty face.

The cannabis bill does what Trudeau promised: it legalizes cannabis. Unfortunately, the bill shows the haste in which the Liberals are desperate to fulfill at least one of their election promises. There are glaring holes in the law, which, if permitted to pass, will leave the courts and their discretion to fill them in.

The goal of the Cannabis Act is to provide legal access to cannabis and control and regulate its production, distribution, and sale. It has strict rules with criminal penalties for selling marijuana and accessories to minors, and like with tobacco products, also prohibits packaging, displays, and ads that would make it attractive to people under the age of 18.

It also sets up a licensing system, as well as one for federal inspections to make sure only those with permits are distributing and selling cannabis products, and sets up a system of fines and jail time for various violations. The Act also calls for the establishment of a cannabis tracking system, a sort of national registry of people legally authorized to “import, export, produce, package, label, send, deliver, transport, sell, and dispose of cannabis.”

Cannabis legalization is a good thing. Historically cannabis laws were used to persecute Mexicans and hippies and scientists have been reluctant to study marijuana’s health benefits due to the stigma and criminal charges connected with the plant. Legalization will facilitate more studies on its medical use for everything from chronic pain to post traumatic stress, as well as its effects on youth, aging and fetal development.

It should, however, be said that those who want access to marijuana will find a way to get it, and a black market for the drug will continue to flourish if illegal prices remain reasonable. The only way legal cannabis could reduce the black market for the drug is if legal prices for it remain competitive with those of illicit sources. One palliative care patient I spoke to was offered a prescription for medical cannabis products from her physician but was informed that it would cost her between two hundred and three hundred dollars a month for a product she could get for half that amount on the street.

The law tries to limit access to cannabis accessories such as bongs, pipes, and vapes, an attempt that is clearly impractical as most of these items can easily be used for tobacco products. Though the law indicates that enforcement will be left to a federal minister, it does not say which one will be put in charge. As cannabis is a topic in which health care, criminal justice, science and technology, environment, and international trade cross, any federal minister could be put in charge.

Perhaps the most glaring hole in the law is its failure to address those currently serving time, indicted, or on remand for marijuana related offenses that would be legal if the Cannabis Act passes. If the act passes, those charged with marijuana possession will find themselves facing or serving punishments for acts that are no longer against the law.

If the Cannabis Act fails to address this, Canada’s court system will find itself inundated with applications from people arguing that their punishments are unconstitutional. This will not only cost Canadian taxpayers millions in court costs, but also leave a very important clarification up to the discretion of federally appointed judges.

The Cannabis Act is rushed, and it’s incomplete. Though for once the Prime Minister’s heart is in the right place, his government should have taken the time to create as thorough a legalization bill as possible.

Our only hope is that the Senate recognizes this and sends the government back to drawing board to add the missing pieces of the law. If it does not, many people will have a very unhappy new year.

* Featured image via Ground Report (Creative Commons)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was elected because of a lot of promises he made. He promised electoral reform and greater political transparency, but then backtracked and chickened out. He won the young vote by promising to improve employment opportunities, only to tell Canada’s youth less than a year into his term that they should get used to temporary employment with lousy pay and no benefits. There is, however, one promise our leader made that he actually seems to be following through on, and that is the legalization of marijuana in Canada.

As it stands, marijuana is still considered a controlled substance under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA) which works with the Canadian Criminal Code to control drug offenses. Drug offenses are usually lumped into two categories, possession related – which can result in up to six months in prison for a first offense, and supply related – which can result in at least of five years in jail less a day.

Trudeau’s plan is to legalize pot by July 2018 and he’s told the provinces to get ready. Though Quebec is pleading for more time to set up the necessary administrative bodies and laws to control the sale and distribution of legal marijuana, they recently tabled a bill to get the ball rolling.

The law in question is Bill 157, An Act to constitute the Société québécoise du cannabis to enact the Cannabis Regulation Act and to amend various highway safety-related provisions.

As indicated by the law’s title, the organization that will control the sale and distribution of legal cannabis in Quebec will be the Société québécoise du cannabis, which will be a subsidiary of the Societé des Alcools. Its mission is carefully worded as “to ensure the sale of cannabis from a health protection perspective” and keep consumers buying it legally “without encouraging cannabis consumption”, language undoubtedly chosen to alleviate the worst fears of those opposing legalization.

In order to carry out its functions, the Société québécoise du cannabis will be able to buy cannabis for commercial purposes from a producer that meets certain government standards. It will also be able to operate cannabis retail outlets, sell it online, and authorize people to transport, deliver, and store the cannabis on the Societé’s behalf. It will also be able to set the price of what they sell. Employment by the Societé will be conditional on their personal integrity and the obtainment of security clearance.

In addition to rules governing the Société québécoise du cannabis, the law contains the new Cannabis Regulations Act, which sets out specific rules regarding cannabis possession and consumption under legalization in order to “prevent and reduce cannabis harm”. To this end, minors will be prohibited from possessing pot or pot products, and those caught with five grams or less will be committing an offense subject to hundred dollar fine with larger fines for subsequent offenses.

Adults will be prohibited from having more than a hundred and fifty grams of pot, and anyone who breaks this rule will be looking at a fine ranging from two hundred and fifty dollars to seven hundred and fifty dollars. The new law also forbids cannabis products in schools at every level from preschool to adult ed with similar fines for violations.

Cannabis has to be stored in a safe place that cannot be accessed by minors. People will be allowed to have and cultivate up to three plants for personal use, but having more than said plants will result in a fine for a first offense, with the amount doubling for subsequent offenses.

The rules regarding the actual smoking of pot are similar to the restrictions imposed on tobacco smokers. You will not be able to smoke in any enclosed health or social services institutions, nor will you be able to smoke pot on the grounds of post secondary schools. Pot smoking is also prohibited in any enclosed spaces where childcare or activities for minors is provided, though there is an exception if activities are held in a private residence.

You cannot smoke pot in any enclosed spaces where “sports, recreational, judicial, cultural or artistic activities or conferences, conventions or other similar activities are held”. Marijuana smoking is also prohibited at parties that are by invitation only, the enclosed spaces of non-profit organizations, as well as the common areas of residential buildings containing more than two dwellings and workplaces.

This is just the tip of the iceberg, as the list of spaces where pot smoking is prohibited is quite long. The fines for breaking these rules will range from five hundred dollars to fifteen hundred for a first offense.

Despite the restrictions on pot smoking in enclosed spaces, the law does allow certain places to set up smoking rooms exclusively for the purpose of consuming cannabis on their grounds. These include facilities maintained by health and social services, common areas of seniors’ residences, and palliative care facilities.

It should be noted that Bill 157 is worthless until the federal government passes the promised cannabis legalization bill. Until it does and the provincial governments know for sure what’s in it, no law regarding the distribution and consumption of marijuana can be enacted.

That is why Quebec’s law has been tabled, meaning that it’s simply been taken into consideration, not passed. It is probable that when the federal government’s legalization bill is presented in Parliament, Bill 157 will have to be changed to accommodate any federal rules as the central government maintains control over criminal law.

Despite the whining of critics paranoid about children getting their hands on weed, Canada for the most part seems united on the subject of legalizing mostly harmless and widely used herb. Here’s hoping our governments do it right.

It is utterly disgusting that in 2017 we still need to have conversations about the unacceptability of sexual harassment and sexual assault. Though our laws guarantee equality of the sexes and freedom from discrimination, the fact that so many Canadians shared the hashtag #MeToo indicates that sexual harassment and assault are still very much a problem.

For those unfamiliar with the #MeToo movement, it started with reports that movie producer Harvey Weinstein sexually harassed and assaulted the women he worked with. The hashtag was used to show the magnitude of the problem of sexual harassment and assault, the idea being that if every victim shared it on their social media feed, society would finally understand how vast the problem is.

This article is a primer on sexual harassment and assault in Canada.

Sexual harassment is a form of harassment based on the person’s sex. According to the Quebec Institut National de Santé Publique, legally a victim must prove three things in order to prove sexual harassment:

  1. “Unwanted sexual behaviour
  2. That manifests itself repeatedly, and
  3. That has adverse effects on its victims.”

The behavior can be anything from words to actions to posters, but for the victim it has to feel “targeted and unwelcome” with adverse effects. In Quebec the behavior has to be repetitive and harassment can manifest itself in being denied raises or promotions in retaliation for refusing sexual advances, or sexual behavior in the workplace that creates a hostile environment for the victim(s).

Legal recourse for victims of sexual harassment can consist of filing a complaint against your employer with the Commission des Normes de Travail (CNT), filing a civil liability suit against their harasser, or lodging a criminal harassment complaint which could get the offender up to ten years in jail. The employee could also, where applicable, file a complaint for psychological harassment with the Commission de la santé et de la sécurité au travail (CSST) and request compensation if the harassment is so severe he or she can no longer work.

Now let’s talk about sexual assault and consent.

Sexual assault is any application of force to another person that is sexual and without the other person’s consent.

Consent is the voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity. It can be withdrawn at any time, and there is no consent where the victim was coerced, incapable of agreeing to the sexual activity due to their age or, for example, because they’re unconscious, or if someone agreed to the activity on their behalf.

There is also no consent if you abuse a position of power or trust, or of course, if the person expresses lack of consent. Passivity does not constitute consent.

Without consent, there is sexual assault. The penalty for sexual assault in Canada is a maximum penalty of five years, or if a weapon was used causing bodily harm, a maximum of ten years.

Myths

That said, we need to debunk a few myths:

  • MYTH: A woman’s behaviour or style of dress provokes sexual assault

The argument goes like this:

“If she’d been more modest (in dress or behavior) this never would have happened.”

No behavior or manner of dress excuses sexual assault.

Arguments about behavior and dress shift the blame from the assaulter to the victim, and reinforce toxic gender stereotypes against men and women by claiming that sexual assault is a woman’s problem, and that the reason assaults happen is because men are horny aggressive beasts who can’t control themselves and women provoke them.

Here’s a wakeup call: conservatively dressed people get assaulted, as do less conservatively dressed people. Quiet, modest people get assaulted, as do the bombastic and loud. Men get assaulted, as do women. To quote the Ontario Coalition of Rape Crisis Centers:

“Offenders are solely responsible for their own behaviour.”

  • MYTH: Sexual Assault is over reported

Less than ten percent of all sexual assaults are reported.

There is a huge stigma associated with reporting assaults, making harder on the victim than on the offender. This is likely because our culture still lacks a proper grasp of what constitutes consent. As a result victims are often interrogated and dragged through the mud about their behavior before and after the assault, rather than their attackers.

  • MYTH: It’s not Sexual Harassment if the victim does not complain about it

The unequal relationship that often exists between employees and their harasser will often lead to silence for fear of causing conflict that could jeopardize their job.

  • MYTH: Sexual Harassment and Sexual Assault are Women’s Problems

Men are often the victims of sexual harassment and assault, though it is likely that the available numbers about it are a modest estimate due to under-reporting.

The stigma associated with males reporting their victimization is likely because our society still adheres to notions of toxic masculinity. Toxic masculinity pushes a narrow and repressive notion of what it means to a man, specifically that any display of stereotypically feminine traits, such as emotional vulnerability or even being victimized makes you less of a man. According to a 2015 article in Psychology Today, the men most likely to be victims of sexual harassment were those who deviated from stereotypical notions of masculinity by being members of a sexual minority or being involved in feminist causes. Men who challenged traditional gender roles were also more likely to be victimized.

It should be said that even if sexual harassment and assault were strictly women’s problems, it does not lessen importance of fixing the problem. If we as a society recognize that women are fully human, a problem that affects only them must be recognized as a problem that hurts us all.

It should also be said that gender segregation is not a solution because it puts the onus of avoiding harassment and assault on the people who are victimized. This encourages and exacerbates a culture of victim blaming.

So what is the solution?

We need to teach people about consent as early as possible, that means teaching kids about the importance of personal physical boundaries and evils of sexism and unwanted touching. The lessons should be taught to all genders and not just to girls as they generally are now.

Schools should have a zero-tolerance policy about sexual harassment and assault and even something we used to think of as a common joke – snapping bra straps – should be recognized as a form of assault and punished accordingly. Our education ministries would be wise to consult experts on sexual harassment and assault to better develop these policies and education programs.

The rules in Quebec about sexual harassment need to change.

Under our current rules, isolated incidents of sexual harassment are not considered as such, and they should be, particularly if the actions or words of the offender are significant enough to make a work environment hostile for the victim. A boss who tells a female employee “fuck me or you’re fired” and does not pursue it further should be seen as just as much of a harasser as one who regularly makes sexist jokes around his or her coworkers.

Last but not least, we need to better screen judicial appointees and law enforcement to ensure that, for example, people like former superior court judge Robin Camp are NEVER allowed to decide a rape case.

Law enforcement needs to be better trained to treat the victims like victims so they’re not so scared to come forward. Anyone lacking proper knowledge and empathy to deal with issues of sexual violence should be made to undergo sensitivity training and pass an exam to secure their position. Those who fail should be denied employment.

Sexual harassment and sexual assault are problems that affect us all. There’s no avoiding it, and there’s no denying it.

It’s time we fight it.

On July 24th, 2017, the verdict many Canadians had long been waiting for finally happened. Winston Blackmore, leader of the fundamentalist Mormon sect in Bountiful BC and a Bishop of the Community, James Oler, were found guilty of polygamy.

After the verdict was read, Blackmore said publicly that:

“I’m guilty of living my religion and that’s all I’m saying today because I’ve never denied that.”

This article isn’t about Winston Blackmore or the despicable acts of pedophilia and misogyny – with girls as young as fifteen pressed into plural marriages and by extension sexual relationships with men often old enough to be their grandfathers – masquerading as religion within the confines of the Bountiful community. It is not about the fact that those outside the community who defend Blackmore under the guise of religious freedom are likely either misogynists, pedophiles, or both.

This article is about polygamy and polygyny.

Before we begin, we have to define our terms as words like polygamy, polyandry, polyamory and polygyny often get confused.

Polygamy is the practice of having more than one wife or husband at the same time.

Polyandry is the practice in which a woman has more than one husband.

Polyamory is the practice of pursuing one or more romantic relationships at the same time.

Polygyny, which is by far the most common, is the practice in which one man takes multiple wives.

Though polygamy is illegal as per the Canadian Criminal Code, the law typically only comes into play in cases of polygyny.

The provision against polygamy can be found in section 293 of the Canadian Criminal Code which says that:

(1) Every one who

(a) practises or enters into or in any manner agrees or consents to practise or enter into

  • (i) any form of polygamy, or
  • (ii) any kind of conjugal union with more than one person at the same time,
    whether or not it is by law recognized as a binding form of marriage, or

(b) celebrates, assists or is a party to a rite, ceremony, contract or consent that purports to sanction a relationship mentioned in subparagraph (a)(i) or (ii),

is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years.

In addition to making polygamy an indictable offense, the law limits what kinds of defenses can be used against such a charge. The law says that proof of consent to a polygamous marriage is inadmissible as evidence as is proof that the marriage was entered into for the purpose of having sex.

The law also provides that participating in a marriage knowing that the other party is getting married against their will is liable to the same five year penalty as for polygamy, as is participating in a marriage with a party under the age of sixteen, something that comes into play a lot in Bountiful as many of the girls pressed into marriage are as young as fifteen. People who solemnize the marriage in violation of the law could face a two year prison term.

In an attempt to save themselves from prosecution, the heads of Bountiful BC brought their demand to practice polygyny to the Supreme Court of British Columbia. They did so under the guise of religious freedom, as their sect of Mormonism – the mainstream Mormon Church has disowned them and their twin, the Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints in the US – believes that in order to get into heaven, a man has to have at least three wives.

The case they brought is called a Reference case, in which you can ask the court to give their opinion on a legal issue. The federal government, for example, has used reference cases to decide issues like the terms by which Quebec can separate from Canada.

In 2011 the Supreme Court of British Columbia decided in favor of keeping Canada’s anti polygamy laws on the grounds that society was better served by keeping these laws in place despite their violation of religious freedom. In their decision, the courts looked at the documented consequences of polygyny which included:

  • Increase in crime rates, as the demand for more wives for a small handful of men would result in most women going into marriages with high status men. The result would be a large pool of low status unmated men whom studies confirm commit more crime.
  • Decreased male parental investment as men having so many wives and so many children have less time to spend with each child.
  • Exacerbated gender gap and decreased age of marriage as the demand for more wives drives the age of marriage down and the desire of polygynous husbands to ensure the paternity of their children within said unions leads to the curtailing of the freedoms of women and girls.

There is also the notion that polygyny hurts the economy as women stuck in plural marriages are often so busy having children or stuck in situations where their movements are controlled and as a result many don’t work. Without a job, there is no income and when women have no income, they cannot spend and consume, and consumption is what fuels the economy.

That said, there are factors that the court failed to consider, such as that polygyny increases the likelihood of the negative consequences of inbreeding. As communities tend to be closed, polygynous unions ultimately result in everyone being genetically related to everyone and cousins marrying one another. The result, as can be seen in the case of Short Creek on the Utah/Arizona border in the United States, is the increased likelihood of genetic defects in offspring.

Historically polygyny was used to secure power and make sure that women had someone to care for them when men were scarce. Today it’s a way for perverted old men to abuse girls and women under the guise religiously ordained rights. Canada’s polygamy laws exist to protect half the population from men like these.

Let’s keep it that way.

Land lines are a dead technology.

People are increasingly realizing that it’s more practical to carry a phone with you all the time than to rush home agonizing over whether or not you missed an important call. With the proliferation of the mobile phone came the spread of providers competing for your business and until recently, companies have been taking advantage.

In 2013, that all changed when the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), a federal administrative tribunal responsible for regulating and supervising broadcasting and telecommunications, created the Wireless Code of Conduct which explains your rights as a mobile consumer and the rules your wireless company must obey.

On June 15, 2017, the CRTC came out with new rules specifying the obligations set out in the Wireless Code of Conduct.

Here’s a crash course on the Wireless Code and what those rules are.

Your wireless service provider must communicate with you in plain language. Written contracts and any related documents such as privacy and fair use policies must be written in a way that is clear and easy to read and understand. That means that they cannot draft contracts and related documents in a way that would dupe you into agreeing to something most wouldn’t have had they fully understood it.

The terms of your contract regarding voice, text, and data services cannot be unilaterally changed without the account holder’s consent. You are allowed to cancel your wireless contract within fifteen days and return your device to the provider in near-new condition at no cost, provided that at the time of the cancellation you used less than half of your monthly usage limits.

Wireless providers have to set out the prices in the contract and specify if they include taxes. They cannot charge you extra if you purchased a plan with unlimited services and they cannot limit an unlimited plan unless the fair use policy clearly specifies when they can and those conditions are met.

Your wireless provider must notify you at no charge when your device is in another country and clearly explain the ensuing rates for talk, text, and data. You can opt out of these notifications at any time. They cannot charge you more than a hundred dollars per monthly billing cycle for data roaming unless you have clearly given prior consent, and this billing cap must come at no charge to you, the consumer.

For data overage charges – data used over your data plan’s limit – the rules set the cap at fifty dollars unless you expressly consented to paying more. This cap cannot come at any charge to you.

Where family or group plans are concerned, these caps apply on a per-account basis regardless of how many devices are attached to the plan.

No More Locked Devices

Your wireless company cannot charge you for any device or service you did not expressly purchase, and as of June 15, 2017, unlocking fees are now illegal.

The aforementioned fees are what cell phone companies would charge to unlock your phone should you try decide to switch wireless providers. That means that before the CRTC’s decision, if you chose to switch wireless providers, you couldn’t just swap out the sim cards and keep using your current device. You would have to pay your old company a fee to unlock your phone.

Wireless providers justified the charges as a way of ensuring the device was paid for should the consumer decide to switch providers before the end of their contract. The CRTC has decided that this is illegal as it puts an unfair limit on competition between wireless providers.

As per the CRTC’s ruling as of December 1, 2017 you have the right to go to your wireless provider and have your devices unlocked free of charge. Any new devices you get must be provided to you unlocked from now on.

If your device is lost or stolen and you notify your wireless company immediately, your wireless provider must suspend your service at no charge. You’re still obligated to pay any charges incurred before the company got notice that the device was lost or stolen, the monthly fee, and if you choose the cancel the contract, any cancellation fee. If you find your device or replace it, you can notify your service provider who has to restore your service free of charge.

If you decide to cancel your contract early, the company can only charge you a cancellation fee. No other penalties apply and wireless companies have to calculate the cancellation fee based on criteria set out in the Wireless Code of Conduct. You can cancel your contract at any time by notifying your service provider.

Penalties for the Providers

Now let’s say your wireless provider does not obey the Wireless Code; what do you do? What kinds of penalties will the company face?

If your Wireless Service Provider does not respect the Wireless Code, you can file a complaint with the Commissioner for Complaints for Telecommunications Services, which is charged with administering it. If the complaint falls within their mandate, they’ll get in touch with your provider and ask them to try and resolve the matter with you and get back to them in thirty days.

Once the provider gets back to them, they’ll try and assess if the issue has been resolved to your satisfaction. If it hasn’t, the Commissioner will assess if the issue can be resolved informally. Your complaint can be rejected or dismissed at any stage of the proceedings.

If the Commissioner decides your complaint has merits, they can recommend that your provider take action or refrain from doing so. This can include anything from an apology to stopping collections activity, to compensating you up to five thousand dollars for any losses or inconvenience suffered.

Both you and your wireless provider can decide whether to accept or reject the recommendation. If your provider rejects it, the Commissioner will assess the reasons and make a decision as to whether to maintain or modify their recommendation. If the decision is accepted by you, it becomes binding on your service provider. If you reject the Commissioner’s decision, your service provider does not have to obey it.

It’s not an ideal solution, as it’s a long process to try and get fairness from wireless providers all too ready and willing to take advantage of consumer naivete, but at least there are checks in place.

A cell phone is a modern necessity. Don’t get screwed by the providers.

* Featured image by John Fingas via Flickr Creative Commons

Last month’s 2017 Federal Budget contains some good news for fans of housing rights. Despite this, the the new pan-Canadian National Housing Strategy (as yet unreleased) may risk excluding our most vulnerable citizens (women, racialized communities, seniors, etc.) by refusing to recognize that housing is a basic human right and needs to be part any comprehensive housing policy.

Minister Bill Morneau actually did mention housing rights in his address on March 22nd, something that is unheard of in the House of Commons from a ruling government, let alone a Liberal Finance Minister. Standing at his desk, he declared a “National Housing Strategy to protect every Canadian’s right to a safe and affordable place to call home.”

At the risk of indulging my own paranoia, though, there is something fishy about the fact that Morneau specifically mentioned the word “RIGHT” in English but that this was nowhere to be found in the official Hansard version in French. Make of this what you will. I hope it’s simply a translation error but…

The budget also offered a very promising sum ($11 billion) over 11 years for the National Housing Strategy and renovations and repairs required by affordable housing stocks. That may seem like a huge number, but it should be kept in mind that this figure will be divided into several federal/provincial/territorial programs, and only for as long as the Liberal government stays in power.

11 years is an eternity in federal politics. Further, almost half of that amount ($5 billion) will be going to a new national fund for housing, managed by the Canadian Housing and Mortgage Society, and they have yet to announce how that money will be spent.

Despite the crisis, no money was set aside for the development of new social housing stocks.

Quebec will receive a part of the $3.2 billion allocated for services related to housing. At the same time, between 2019-2020, only $255 million will be provided annually to the provinces.

Aside from these investments related to the National Strategy on Housing, the federal government foresees other sums that touch the housing crisis. Notably, they are re-investing in the Homelessness Partnering Strategy, which had been cut under the previous government. This money will finance life-saving frontline services that help sustain people living on the streets every day.

The government will be investing a further $101 million in the national strategy against gender based and sexual violence, something that will likely help the many organizations that offer refuge and other forms of housing to women who are victims of violence.

Ultimately, we will have to wait for the unveiling of the National Housing Strategy later this year to see how and if the promises made by the Trudeau government in housing will be implemented. It’s only then that we will know how the $5 billion, reserved for the National Housing Fund, will be spent. We will also see whether the government’s talk of the right to housing is merely words, or whether it will be a central part of the government’s national action plan for housing.

In movie treason trials, a person facing a cruel, usually male, judge and screaming prosecutors is accused of betraying their country while they plead innocence and national loyalty. Sometimes the trial will end in a hanging, other times it will end by firing squad, and still others end with electrocution. Rarely is the accused set free.

In real life, treason cases are a lot more complex.

Despite the enhanced vigilance of Canadian and American law enforcement in the face of terrorism, people are rarely prosecuted for treason.

Since Canadian and American criminal laws have their roots in the British legal tradition, it’s time to look at how we and our southern neighbors define the crime and how it should be prosecuted.

In Canada, treason is defined in our Criminal Code.

There are two types of treason: regular, called simply treason and high treason.

High treason is defined as committing one or all of the following acts if you are a Canadian citizen:

  • Killing or attempting to kill the Queen (Canada’s de jure head of State) or causing bodily harm leading to her “death or destruction”
  • Maiming, wounding, imprisoning, or restraining the Queen
  • Making or Preparing for War Against Canada
  • Assisting an enemy at war with Canada or assisting any armed forces Canadian forces are fighting regardless of whether those armed forces are at war with Canada

Treason is defined by one or all of the following acts:

  • Using force or violence to overthrow the Canadian government or the government of a province
  • Communicating “without lawful authority” scientific or military information or sketches, plans, or documents of a scientific or military character that you knew or ought to have known could be used by an agent of another state against Canada
  • Conspiring to commit the above and manifesting an intention to go through with it via an overt act
  • Conspiring to commit high treason and manifesting an intention to commit it by an overt act. Conspiring with a person to commit treason is considered an overt act.

The law not only defines the crime itself and the penalties, but also who can be convicted of either kind treason and under what circumstances.

According to the Criminal Code, the rules on treason apply to Canadian citizens.

A crime of high treason can be committed while in or outside of Canada, as can acts of regular treason.

A conviction for high treason carries the penalty of life in prison.

The penalty for regular treason is a bit more complex.

If you’re convicted of using force or violence against Canadian government or province with the intent to overthrow it, it’s life in prison. The penalty is the same for communicating military or scientific information, documents etc. knowing or having ought to know that they could be used by another country or even conspiring to do so and manifesting intention to carry it out by an overt act while Canada is at war with that country. If you communicate or conspire to communicate this stuff when Canada is not at war, the penalty becomes a maximum of fourteen years in jail.

The penalties for treason are heavy in Canada as in most countries, so the rules of evidence and procedure are extremely strict in these cases.

Proceedings against people accused of violent attempts to overthrow the government have to take place three years or less after the alleged crime was committed. For overt acts of treason, the words of information expressing the overt act have to be laid under oath before a justice within six days of the alleged overt act, and a warrant for the person’s arrest has to be issued within ten days of that.

There can be no conviction for treason on the evidence of only one witness unless that witness’ testimony is corroborated my material evidence.

Only two people in Canadian history have been tried and convicted of treason.

The first is the Métis leader Louis Riel, who was hanged in eighteen eighty five.

The lesser known, Kanao Inouye aka the Kamloops Kid, was responsible for interrogating and torturing Canadian Prisoners of War in Japanese occupied Hong Kong during the Second World War. He was convicted of war crimes and sentenced to death by a British war crimes court, but his lawyer successfully appealed on the grounds that Inouye was a Canadian citizen and therefore could not be considered a war criminal. Inouye was instead tried for treason and hanged by the British Hong Kong Supreme Court in 1947.

In the United States, the laws regarding treason are similar. As the nation was born in defiance of the British Monarchy which had been known to charge people of the crime willy nilly, the crime of treason is clearly and strictly defined in the US Constitution.

Article III, section 3 of the constitution defines treason as:

“…levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort.”

As in Canada, the rules for a conviction on the charge of treason in the US are strict. American law requires the testimony of two witnesses to the crime or a confession in open court to convict someone of treason.

As in Canada, convictions for treason are rare. Most civil war veterans, for example, were granted amnesty by the US government instead of facing treason charges. In some cases, such as that of Iva Toguri D’Aquino, the trials and investigations were corrupt and ultimately resulted in presidential pardons and apologies.

The penalty for treason in the US can be imprisonment or death.

With the implications of treason so heavy, it’s no wonder people are rarely charged with the crime. However, with the revelations of the Orange Administration’s willful conspiring with the Russian government to corrupt their elections and push an agenda hurting the American people, the only question left is whether law enforcement in the south will grow a pair and prosecute those clearly guilty of the crime.

Of all of the Orange Racist Misogynist’s cabinet picks, Betsy DeVos is among the most controversial. Nominated as US Secretary of Education, she was incapable of answering basic questions about education during her confirmation hearings and could not even denounce guns in schools because of the alleged threat of bears.

DeVos was confirmed only because Vice President and Religious Fundamentalist Mike Pence was the deciding vote. She is so unpopular that many parents have protested outside schools she’s visited.

It’s time we talk about the government’s role in education, so today we’ll compare Canada to the US.

In Canada education falls strictly to the provinces.

In Quebec, education is the domain of the Ministère de l’Éducation et Enseignment supérieur.

Originally run by a single minister, the department was split in 2016 and the responsibility of running it is now shared between the Minister of Education, Recreation and Sports and the Minister Responsible for Higher Education.

The main goals of the Ministère include promoting research and education and contributing to the scientific, cultural and professional education of the people of Quebec. Its main law is the Loi sur le Ministère de L’Éducation, du Loisir, et du Sport, which in its preamble recognizes that all children have the right to an education and that parents have the right to choose where their kids go to school.

The law also includes the recognition that groups have the right to establish their own independent educational establishments and if said establishments serve the common good, they are entitled to governmental support. This recognition has come under fire in recent years as many religious schools have failed to provide basic education to their students in favour of religious teaching useless outside of their communities. In 2014 a former Hasidic Jew attempted to sue the province because he was taught only Torah (the main text in Judaism) at a school in Boisbriand, claiming the government failed to get him the basic education guaranteed by law.

Despite its guarantees, the Ministère’s own laws undermine its goals for it is also charged with the enforcement of the education provisions of the Charte de la Langue Française, Quebec’ main language law. Though the government is supposed to recognize the right of parents to choose where their kids go to school, the Charte imposes strict rules on whether or not a child can get an English education in the province. The Ministry also dictates course material in primary and secondary schools, and advises the government on Education policy.

Then there’s the Ministers themselves.

Quebec’s Minister of Education, Recreation and Sports is Sébastien Proulx, is an experienced politician and lawyer. Notable highlights from his time in office include investing government funds to refurbish arenas and curling clubs and his refusal to push for more extensive changes in a high school history curriculum developed by the former PQ government. The course has been widely criticized for leaving out the contributions of the Anglophone and Allophone Quebecois.

The Minister Responsible for Higher Education is Hélène David, former Culture Minister and University Professor. In light of recent sexual assaults at the University of Laval in Quebec City, she has pledged to fight rape on campus and sponsor initiatives to teach consent.

It should be noted, however, that while she seems to be doing well, her reputation is hardly pristine. As former Minister of Culture she was pushing the signage debate in 2016 when no one wanted to hear it.

As in Canada, education in the United States is primarily a State and community matter. The US Department of Education’s mission is to promote student achievement and ensure equal access to education to prepare them for global competitiveness. The Department, however, can only do so through scholarships, fellowships, and by demanding accountability of its schools through its budget.

The Department of Education’s main activities consist of distributing federal funds for education and monitoring that money. It gives fellowships to individuals for research into disabilities and rehabilitation and offers grants to schools for low income students to fund their education.

In order to keep parents informed and measure student progress, the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) requires annual state wide assessments. This helps keep schools accountable.

Now let’s talk about Betsy DeVos.

Despite her vacant claim about supporting accountability, the Michigan philanthropist seems to be against it.

She is in favour of Charter schools, which are independently run public schools granted a lot of flexibility in how they operate in exchange for high academic accountability. They can apparently be started by anyone who submits an application to the state and have been widely criticized as being sloppy for-profit establishments.

DeVos has no experience in education and neither she nor her children went to public school. What she has is money and the 200 million she donated to the Orange campaign got her this cushy job.

Fortunately, unlike the Canadian model, the US Department of Education has so little power DeVos is unlikely to do much damage.

* Featured image: FreeImagesLive.co.uk via Creative Commons

2016 is ending and we can collectively agree it’s been a shitty year. Cops are spying on journalists, our Prime Minister has turned his back on the young people who elected him, comedians are being punished for their jokes, and icons from Prince to Bowie to Muhammad Ali to Carrie Fisher have left us. In the legal world it’s been an ongoing ugly parade and with the year FINALLY coming to an end, it’s time for a recap of some of the major legal issues affecting us this past year.

Syrian Refugee Crisis

The ongoing crisis in Aleppo has led to tons of refugees fleeing Syria. Unlike the US where debates regarding the refugee crisis were fraught with concerns about terrorism and an emphasis on keeping victims of Aleppo out, the Trudeau government took the moral high ground and pledged to welcome twenty-five thousand Syrian refugees. The Canadian government ended up going above and beyond this pledge and have thus far taken in thirty-eight thousand seven hundred and thirteen Syrian refugees.

Trans-Pacific Partnership

On February 3, 2016, Federal Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland signed the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement on Canada’s behalf. Canada’s participation in the treaty was negotiated by the Harper government before its colossal defeat by the Liberals in 2015. Whether Parliament ratifies the agreement thus legally binding Canada remains to be seen.

Uber Crisis

Montreal taxi protest (photo Chris Zacchia)

Quebec cities were rife with cab drivers protesting Uber, a car service that is not bound by the ridiculous and expensive rules that must be obeyed by taxi drivers and company owners that specify everything from pricing and car specs to what the driver wears. In September 2016 Uber made a deal with the Quebec government which included Uber acquiring 300 taxi permits and obliging drivers to get a class 4C license and insurance. With the cab industry in Montreal already flooded, it remains to be seen whether this tentative deal will create peace between taxi companies and Uber.

Panama Papers

In April 2016 the decryption of the Panama Papers revealed the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca to have helped many of the world’s wealthiest people hide their assets from governments. Those named included terrorists, CEOs, politicians, and athletes. Canadian tycoon and political wannabe Kevin O’Leary is dismissive of the papers, possibly because he too is hiding wealth from Canadian taxpayers for his own benefit.

Anti-Vaxxers and Naturopathic Remedies

David and Collet Stephan were convicted of failing to provide the necessaries of life for failing to get their son medical attention for bacterial meningitis. As the Stephans are anti-vaxxers distrustful of modern medicine, their 19-month old boy Ezekiel was instead treated with echinacea, garlic, onions, hot peppers and horseradish. By the time he was brought to a hospital it was too late and the boy died. David Stephan has since been sentenced to 4 months in prison while Collet to 3 months of house arrest. They have been ordered to bring their kids to a medical doctor once a year and a nurse every 3 months.

OQLF

Quebec Culture Minister Hélène David announced modifications to Quebec language laws that would force businesses with trademarked non-French names to add French to their signs. Though the proposal is clearly in retaliation for the government’s legal defeat against Best Buy in 2014, it remains to be seen whether the changes will go through in a province exhausted and fed up with language and cultural debates.

Ghomeshi Verdict

In May 2016 former CBC radio host Jian Ghomeshi signed a peace bond to settle a sexual assault trial. Though for many this is a slap on the wrist, his former victim Kathryn Borel celebrated the bond as a public acknowledgment of Ghomeshi’s guilt. The 12 month long bond guarantees Ghomeshi will go to prison should he violate its terms and does not limit the prosecution from going after him for other sexual assaults.

Mike Ward

Mike Ward (photo Cem Ertekin)

In July 2016 Montreal Comedian Mike Ward was ordered to pay $42 000 to a disabled kid and his mother for making fun of him in one of his jokes. The verdict, which Ward has sworn to appeal, has turned the Quebec Human Rights Commission from a means of social justice to one of censorship. No one has questioned why the kid went after Ward and not the bullies who used his joke to hurt him, but it’s likely due to Ward’s celebrity status and wealth.

Pitbull Ban

Following the death of a Pointe-Aux-Trembles woman after she was mauled by a dog, the City of Montreal has adopted a ban on dangerous breeds. The ban is hugely unpopular and has resulted in protests, the latest being the SPCA’s refusal to take in dogs following the Quebec Court of Appeal’s reinstatement of the ban after the Superior Court overturned it.

STM Fines

On September 7, 2016 the Municipal Court of Montreal ruled that fines given by STM rent-a-cops to people unable to produce their transfer is unconstitutional. The STM has vowed to appeal the decision.

Judge Robin Camp

In November 2016, Judge Robin Camp was recommended for removal from the bench by the Canadian Judicial Council following an inquiry into his conduct during a rape trial. Though the judge promised to reform, his behavior demonstrated such contempt for victims of sexual assault the Council ruled no amount of sensitivity training would repair his damage to the judiciary’s reputation.

Seafood and Civil Liability

In May 2016 Simon-Pierre Canuel ingested salmon at a bistro in Sherbrooke sending him into anaphylactic shock. He is now suing the restaurant and waiters for $415,000 though his negligence regarding his food allergy and rumours that he has tried to scam restaurants in the past make it unlikely he will get the full amount.

This past year has been full of legal debates that are as fascinating as they are numerous and outrageous. For every dispute brought before courts and councils we come closer to what we all strive for: a just society.

In 2017, let’s aim for just that.

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

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

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

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

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

Family Sponsorship

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

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

Wrong.

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

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

come_to_canada_online_tool_en

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

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

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

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

Wrong!

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

Skilled Workers

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

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

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

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

Do you need a lawyer to help you immigrate?

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

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

* This post was updated November 16th, 2016

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

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

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

No Cells, No Radio and No Help

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

10-fevrier

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

History repeats itself

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

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

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

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

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

First Nations Policing Program Called into Question

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

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

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

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

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

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

* Featured image via netnewsledger.com

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.”

In this podcast, panelists Ellana Blacher, Cem Ertekin and Vincent Simboli discuss for one last time the Presidential Elections happening in the US, the spoken word scene in Montréal, the Dakota Access Pipeline and more in our News Roundup segment. Plus the Community Calendar and Predictions!

Host: Jason C. McLean

Producer: Hannah Besseau
Production Assistant: Enzo Sabbagha

Panelists

Ellana Blacher aka Joy Low-Key: Spoken Word Artist and FTB Contributor

Vincent Simboli: FTB Contributor

Cem Ertekin: FTB Managing Editor

 

*US Election Report by Hannah Besseau

LISTEN:

WATCH:

Microphone image: Ernest Duffoo / Flickr Creative Commons

It happened. Justin Trudeau has gone from the Selfie Prime Minister to the Photobombing PM. At least that’s what it seemed like yesterday.

He was speaking (and I use that term liberally, he really didn’t get to talk much) at a Youth Labour Forum in Ottawa. Most of the assembled crowd, though, seemed less interested in Trudeau’s platitudes then they were in speaking up on his inaction or potentially wrong action on several fronts.

They were upset over what his signing onto the Trans-Pacific Partnership would mean for their job prospects and the effects of “precarious work” which Trudeau said is now a fact of life. They also challenged Trudeau on his broken election promises, saying “we don’t have dialogue with liars.”

At one point, a group of attendees literally turned their backs on the PM because they felt he had turned his back on them. This led to the image you see at the top where it looks very much like Trudeau is an unwanted part of the photo.

Overall, it hasn’t been a great couple of weeks for Trudeau. On Monday, about 200 protesters showed up on Parliament Hill upset with the prospect of our Prime Minister approving the Kinder-Morgan Pipeline. Close to 100 of them were arrested.

Last week, just after celebrating one year in office, Trudeau made the argument that the fact that he won the last election meant electoral reform was no longer urgently needed. The irony of this stance wasn’t lost on many, including Hill Times cartoonist Michael De Adder:

trudeau-rigged-system-trump-cartoon

Trudeau Had a Long Honeymoon

Up until a few weeks ago, things had been running real smoothly for our PM. Sure, there were attacks, but most of the ones which garnered major media attention came from the right and were over ridiculous things like him posing for shirtless selfies or progressive things like an MP (who has since passed away) trying to make the lyrics to O Canada gender-neutral.

The only time the NDP made a go at him that garnered mass coverage, it failed. It was supposed to be about his strongarm political tactics, but it ended up being about the physical movements of his actual arm, or elbow, when in Parliament.

That’s not to say there weren’t valid progressive reasons to criticize Trudeau over the past year. This self-proclaimed feminist let the previous Harper Government’s arms sale to Saudi Arabia go through and even relaxed our policy to make it possible.

Meanwhile, the Trudeau Government’s attempts to “modernize” the National Energy Board have amounted to nothing more than committees studying problems with no concrete action. The NEB, of course being the organization that Harper had chosen to evaluate pipeline proposals after abolishing the Environmental Assessment Agency.

So, progressive criticisms of Trudeau, until recently, have been focused on Harper policies that the Liberal Government has been ineffective in getting rid of. Not nearly enough to ruin Trudeau’s mainstream progressive cred at home, given the fact that his government has made some significant improvements on what the previous administration was doing.

It also hasn’t been anywhere close to something that could spoil his rep abroad. I constantly see Facebook friends living in the US and other countries as well as foreign progressive media jealously praising our Prime Minister and wishing he could be their head of state.

I always want to burst the bubble, but then think better of it, because at least his rhetoric is better than what 90% of politicians they have to deal with spout. Fortunately, Jesse Chase wasn’t as cautious when he wrote about Canada and our superstar PM in The Guardian.

While I don’t think Trudeau’s honeymoon with the world will end anytime soon, especially given the nastiness in the US Presidential Election, his sunny ways love-in with progressive Canadians may be about to come to an end. The downfall started when when he clearly stated that a $15/hr minimum wage was not a currrent goal of his administration.

Think about that for a second. This is now part of the official Democratic Party platform in the US. Sure, Bernie Sanders forced the issue and pushed Hillary Clinton in that direction, and there’s no proof that she will actually fight for it if elected. But if a corporate centrist running to be leader of a centre-right country can be cajoled into running on a $15/hr minimum wage, then what business does the self-billed progressive global heartthrob leader of a centre-left country have in rejecting it?

It was a long honeymoon for Trudeau, but is it now really over, or at least ending? Does the Emperor now really have no clothes, and not in a fun shirtless selfie kinda way? Maybe.

Dear Mr. Prime Minister

Now, I’d like to shift gears and speak directly to our Prime Minister Justin Trudeau:

Dear Mr. Prime Minister,

Take a look around you, sir. The people turning their back (literally) on you and the people being arrested for getting a little too close to your place of business aren’t Conservatives. They aren’t even jaded lefties like me who vote NDP, sometimes while holding our noses because the leader is not progressive enough.

These are your people. People who voted for you in hopes that you would change things. They wanted to get rid of Harper and his rhetoric, which you have done, but, most importantly, they wanted to throw his policies away, too, and you, sir, have failed to do that.

Does your feminism include arms sales to Saudi Arabia because it’s 2016? Are Kinder-Morgan and Harper’s NEB part of your sunny ways? Have you given up on improving the condition of workers in this country? Can you really use your government’s popularity as an excuse to backpedal on electoral reform when that popularity seems to be waning, or rather plummeting, among former ardent supporters?

I’ll admit I was skeptical of you from the start and I’m sad to report that you have justified my skepticism. I’m a lost cause for you, but it’s not too late, though, for you to win back your former voters and live up to the false impression many have of you. It’s not that hard, either.

Just make your policies match your rhetoric and you can continue the honeymoon until the next election. Otherwise, the honeymoon’s over and things are gonna be kinda awkward before they’re downright unpleasant.

Halloween is this coming Monday and we can expect a hearty mix of cute kids in costumes going door to door for candy and drunken idiots who think a cheap dollar store mask excuses obnoxious behavior. Despite the occasional incidents of idiocy, Halloween is by no means dangerous. The holiday the night before is an entirely different matter.

Devil’s Night, also known as Mat Night here in Quebec, is a night for pranks and mischief. It is celebrated throughout Canada and US and is believed to date back to Ireland in the 1880s. Though originally a night for fairies and goblins, it has evolved into a night for pranksters. Some believe the custom of handing out candy on Halloween developed in an attempt to appease jokers with sweets in order to spare their property.

In Quebec, Mat Night used to be celebrated by taking people’s doormats and switching them, ringing doorbells and running off, and by leaving a flaming bag of dog feces on someone’s doorstep. For those unfamiliar with this particular prank, the prankster fills a paper bag with dog poo, puts it on someone’s doorstep, lights it on fire, rings the doorbell, and runs away. When the occupant opens the door and sees the fire, they will presumably stamp it out, thus ruining their shoes.

Other common Devil’s Night pranks include egging people, toilet-papering houses, dumping rotten produce on front porches, smashing pumpkins, covering cars in shaving cream, and tipping garbage cans. In the US, the nature of the prank depends on the location.

In rural areas, pranksters tip outhouses and open the gates of livestock pens. In Detroit, Devil’s Night is a night for arson and was undoubtedly the inspiration for the setting of the 1994 film The Crow. Arson is so prevalent on this night in Detroit that in 2008, the mayor recruited thirty thousand volunteers to try and prevent the mayhem.

Mischief in Canada comes with a price. Laws against mischievous behavior make what might seem like a harmless prank an indictable offense with serious penalties.

The crime of mischief is a property offense, meaning it’s a crime that affects people’s stuff, not their person. In order to be guilty of the crime of mischief, an offender has to have willfully destroyed or damaged property, rendered the property “dangerous, useless, inoperative or ineffective”, obstructed, interrupted, interfered with the lawful use, enjoyment or operation of the property, or interfered with a person’s lawful use, enjoyment, or operation of it.

Mischief laws also apply to computer-related offenses. That means that if you’re the type to stay in on Devil’s Night and prefer to pull your pranks from behind your computer screen, you might still be criminally liable.

The law specifically prohibits the willful destruction or alteration of computer data rendering data meaningless, useless, or ineffective, obstructing, interfering, or interrupting the lawful use of the data, and interfering with a person’s lawful use of said data or denying that person access to information that they are legally entitled to.

The penalty for mischief varies according to the degree of danger involved. If the prank endangered someone’s life, the prankster is liable for life in prison. If the prank damaged property worth five thousand dollars or more, the prankster is looking at a prison stay of up to ten years unless the prosecution agrees to a summary conviction, which has a lesser penalty. Where the value of the damaged property is less than five thousand dollars, the maximum penalty is two years imprisonment unless you get a summary conviction.

If you play a prank at a location that has meaning for society, the penalties for mischief change.

Religious properties such as churches, mosques, synagogues, temples, cemeteries associated with them, and objects on their grounds are protected by specific anti-mischief laws. If the prank was motivated by bias, prejudice, or hate based on religion, race, colour, or ethnic origin, the offender is looking at a maximum prison sentence of ten years, regardless of the value of the property. Just as in other mischief offenses, it is possible to get a summary conviction, but unlike regular mischief offenses, a summary conviction for this kind of prank comes with a maximum sentence of eighteen months.

The penalties for acts of vandalism on War Memorials vary. If the prosecution opts to charge the prankster with an indictable offense, the offender is looking at a maximum of ten years in jail. If it’s a summary conviction, the penalty is a maximum of eighteen months. Unlike other mischief offenses, this one comes with a minimum punishment: a fine of a thousand dollars for a first offense, at least fourteen days in jail for a second offense. Every subsequent offense will get a prankster thirty days in the slammer.

As with everything, there are good, harmless pranks, and there are bad ones. The good ones are funny for all involved, prankster and victim, and require a maximum cleanup of a hose, some water, and maybe a trash can. The bad ones leave permanent damage to both public and private property and to our collective consciousness by making people frustrated, angry, and feeling unwelcome and unappreciated.

This Devil’s Night, in the wake of heated cultural and political debates, economic strife, and disputes between young and old, it is time to remember what the holiday is really all about: a bit of harmless fun to keep people on their toes.

* Featured image via YouTube screengrab