The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) has made a lot of headlines in the past year. Canadian participation in it was negotiated by the Harper government just a month before its colossal defeat by the Liberals. It was signed on Canada’s behalf by our International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland on February 3rd of this year.

People in favour of the TPP say that it will result in job creation, innovation, and give Canadian companies access to international markets. People against the TPP are worried that Canadian industries like maple syrup, dairy products and poultry will suffer when the market is flooded with inexpensive competitors from participating countries.

People are worried about job loss especially in Canada’s auto industry and that enforcement of the intellectual property rules within the agreement will come at the expense of Canadian innovation. Others consider Canada’s participation to be the lesser of two evils and that it’s better to be a part of something than be left out.

This article is not going to cover all of the TPP because the text of the agreement is six thousand pages long. It IS going to give you an overview of three of the main components of the agreement and a quick tutorial on how treaties work.

When a government representative signs a treaty on Canada’s behalf they are not legally obligating Canada because they don’t have the power to do so. Canada is a democracy and all laws and treaties have to be approved by our parliament made up of the House of Commons and Senate.

When Chrystia Freeland signed the TPP on Canada’s behalf, what she was actually agreeing to was that her government would put the TPP before our Parliament to debate, discuss, and vote on its ratification within the two year deadline of the agreement. It is only when a country ratifies a treaty that it becomes legally bound by it. If our Parliament decides that the TPP is rubbish and votes against ratification, Canada won’t be bound by it. If it votes in favour and ratifies the agreement, we will be.

Now Let’s Talk About Labour

People in favour of the TPP say that it will result in improved working conditions by making countries enact and enforce labour laws that are fair to workers and there is some truth in that. Under the labour provisions of the TPP, parties are required to enact laws that guarantee the right to collective bargaining, the elimination of forced and child labour, minimum wages, reasonable working hours, safety, and the end to discrimination with regards to employment. The rules also state that countries aren’t allowed to weaken or reduce legal protections for workers in order to encourage trade or investment. These all seem like great ideas but there are problems with the language used.

Though parties to the TPP have to adopt laws against discrimination, the agreement doesn’t specify what kinds of discrimination are prohibited, and the vagueness of the language leaves participating countries too free to deny women, LGBTI people and visible and religious minorities basic labour rights.

There is a dangerously reluctant tone to these provisions. Parties have to enact and enforce fair labour laws but only to ensure a level economic playing field. The subtext seems to be: “we don’t give a shit about our workers and if we could make our stuff cheaper by paying them less we would, but since we can’t, you can’t either or it wouldn’t be fair.”

Now Let’s Discuss Competition

The TPP competition policy is designed to create a level economic playing field. It requires that parties adopt competition laws that punish anti-competitive business practices including the unauthorized use of consumers’ personal information. They also establish procedural rules for contesting a charge of violating those laws, the burden of proof being on the state claiming the violation.

On the surface the rules seem fair, but when you think about how much Canadian industries like dairy benefit from government protection, the dangers of such an agreement becomes clearer. However, the policy does provide for exceptions if a country’s chosen exemptions from competition laws are transparent and based on public interest.

Last But Not Least We Must Address the TPP’s Intellectual Property Rules

Critics of the TPP claim that it is written to favour countries like the US who have a lot of patents and copyrights and aggressively demand their enforcement. And the critics are right.

Though the TPP reinforces the clause of the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Agreement (TRIPS) permitting countries to violate drug patents in states of emergency, the bulk of the provisions of the TPP are geared at protecting patent and copyright holders. They call for countries to establish civil and criminal penalties for copyright infringement that will even include prison terms.

Though in Canada the authorities generally don’t go after people who illegally download music and movies for personal use, the TPP could change all that. The provisions allow copyright holders to sue violators for monetary damages including legal fees. Our legal system is already overtaxed and participation could create an even greater backlog of cases to the detriment of Canadians seeking justice.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership is a damned if we do, damned if we don’t debate. Most experts agree that it will be beneficial for Canada but only marginally. As the Trudeau government does its best to clean up the mess Stephen Harper left behind, now is an opportunity for them to put our country back on the map and regain our place as the world’s moral authority.

That means making sure that if we ratify the agreement we do it on OUR terms, without bending over and throwing Canadians workers and businesses under the bus in the name of international cooperation.

It means not sacrificing our state sovereignty and our values. This is their chance. Let’s see if they take it.

Creative Commons - Loavesofbread

The news that came after the ‘grand’ deliberation of the jury last night in response to the shooting of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown by white police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, MO wasn’t one bit surprising. It did, though, feel like an electroshock of seismic magnitude.

Although it’s obvious that a judicial system that gives the same definition of ”personhood” to multinational corporations as it does to an actual person is rigged and corrupt to the core, it was a shocking verdict given the public outcry revolving around the case, the popular mobilization and the massive sensitization campaign that swept like wildfire throughout communities in the United States.

It seemed more like a sermon on the benefits of the system: St. Louis County prosecutor Bob McCulloch’s tone was that of a bureaucrat, dishing-out bunches of reports, pharisaic evidence and physical proof, in his attempt to make us believe that officer Darren Wilson was right to murder in cold blood an 18-year-old Afro-American male for the crime of stealing a box of cigarillos. McCulloch said time after time that the accounts conveyed by the witnesses were contradictory, that it was all speculation and that, all in all, the legitimate fear that Afro-Americans (and others) have of the judicial system (one that not that long ago was the firewall of segregation) were unfounded, in other words, ridiculous.

ferguson verdict

McCulloch, a white, middle-aged man, was standing in front of the cameras last night speaking from the top of his altar down to the amassed crowds of Afro-American residents of Ferguson. It was the perfect metaphor for the hypocrisy of the entire situation. The subaltern can’t not speak. That was the message that rang out, the message that was supposed to quell once and for all the riots that had engulfed the impoverished St. Louis suburb since mid-August.

McCulloch was merely the avatar of a system, the message wasn’t his or that of the members of a jury, it was the message of law. Once McCulloch, from his prestigious position, with all the lights and the cameras driven on him, spoke, that was the word of ”god”: the word that would twist, turn and bend reality to fit its image that we had adjusted for it. In this reality, the people of Ferguson — their anger, their sorrow, their sense of alienation, their profound frustration — don’t fit within the canvas. It’s almost as if this new deity of law could remake events to suit its own pre-established narrative.

It  was a thorough investigation, they say, and out of the 162 000 cases that involved grand juries in 2010 only 11 decided not to return an indictment. But beyond that, there is a profound difference between indictment and conviction. In no measure was it the Grand Jury’s role to convict officer Darren Wilson of murder or manslaughter, voluntary or involuntary but to examine if there were grounds to… Were there grounds? I wonder…

Is the fact that a police officer shot an unarmed teenager several times with forensic evidence that the teenager was shot in the back considerable grounds for indictment? Is the fact that there are several contradictory accounts of the events sufficient grounds for a more in depth investigation through a full trial? The fact that the corner store from which Michael Brown supposedly stole the infamous box of cigarillos that would cost him his life denies that they called in law enforcement, is that grounds for indictment? Maybe the fact that his corpse was left 4 1/2 hours in broad day light, terrorizing the entire community, is reason for indictment on the grounds of negligence?

Forget all of that. There are sufficient grounds in the fact that every 28 hours, an African-American is shot dead by American law enforcement or vigilantes. Let’s shed a bit of light here. Michael Brown’s death is not the first and not the last brutal murder of a young Afro-American at the hands of the police and thus Officer Wilson should have been indicted and convicted within this framework. Unfortunately, the message sent back from the grand jury’s non-indictment was clear: it’s okay for the police to use lethal force against subaltern groups.

It’s okay for Americans to exploit the working force of millions of ”illegal” immigrants and treat them inhumanely. It’s okay for American law enforcement to kill in cold blood young and poor African-Americans, such as 12-year-old Tamir Rice who was shot dead while in a playground, playing. It’s okay to take the poor and toiled to court when they fraud welfare, but when the banks make millions in bonuses and stash them off in the Bahamas to avoid taxation, it’s also okay. It’s illegal in most places to smoke or deal weed to a make a few extra bucks but when too-big-to-fail financial institutions launder blood money from cartels, that’s okay.

This is the state of our judicial systems, that the mainstream media uphold this veil of ideology that casts law as the ultimate truth and the maker and breaker of reality. What is law is truth, what is law is real, all the rest is nonsense…

But ”law” is nothing else than the crystallization of subjective interests. You only have to look at those who benefit from the law, you only have to take a look at the barriers that allow some to have a greater access to justice than others, to see that law is merely the crystallization, in many ways, of ideology.

In this sense, the grand ideal of the American Dream found its wreckage on the rocks of the grand jury. The ideology that uses the symbols of equality, liberty and freedom in practice abides by the notion that some are more equal than others, that everyone has the right to speak but only a few to be heard and if you’re never heard, the question is did you ever speak in the first place?

Law is always the structuring framework of ideology. Example laws vary in countries with different ideologies and forms of law vary in different times, but law is always the subject of the reigning ideology and the economic and social elites. That’s why banks used tight debt laws as leverage on the poorest sections of American society and yet no law could jail the bankers that knowingly, maybe even willingly, instigated the economic downturn.

Law is a silex shaped by ideology, a tool of legitimization of violence, used to keep the subaltern under the grip of the ideological apparatus. Law defines what violence is legitimate in Webberian terms and what violence isn’t, what special interests can use coercive force and what forces have to be denuded of their coercive force.

That’s why the tears, the anguish, the blood, the misery and the voices of the subaltern are rarely taken into account in ”legal” terms. We are tricked into believing that Lady Justice is blind-folded. Justice isn’t blind, it’s blinding.

A luta continua.

Photo used under Creative Commons by Loavesofbread

Legally speaking, I’m not Canadian.

What I am, however, is a university student in Canada. I’ve made the conscious decision to leave my home country behind, and come here so that I could find myself a “better” life, whatever that might be. My reasons are my own, and may not be reflective of everyone’s; but that does not change the fact that I am not the only international student in this country.

The usage of the term “international student,” however, is a form of branding. It separates you from the rest of the population, and hovers over your head as a constant reminder that you do not really belong here. It can be argued that individual universities try their best to make sure international students feel like they belong; but what ends up happening is that you end up feeling like you belong to your university, and not necessarily to your province, let alone Canada.

tuition

The fact that international students are expected to pay more than Canadian students does not help rectify this problem, at all. For instance, at McGill University, the tuition fees for international students are roughly $18 000 per academic year, while Quebec residents pay around $4000.

A Quebecois student could complete four Bachelor of Arts degrees for the same amount of money it takes for an international student to complete a single degree.

Ignoring all the social and cultural impediments that might make international students feel alienated; this simple fact is enough to make international students feel as if they’re nothing more than just another source of income for their universities, if not their province.

Let me get one thing straight, before I go any further. Education is not a privilege, not even post-secondary education. Within the context of the capitalist system, in which not having a university degree is unfortunately the equivalent of being unqualified to work, education has to be a right. Education has to be accessible.

“Why not stay in your home country?” I can almost hear you asking. Not all countries are equal. Not all countries can offer the quality of education that most Canadian universities can. Yet the capitalist system is the same everywhere. Is it not the right of any young person to seek the education that might make them have a shot at a decent life? If they feel trapped, if not suffocated, in their own country, why shouldn’t it be their right to choose a new life?

And no, just because I am an international student, does not mean that I have to pay more. No form of economic dire straits can justify that, but it has been the norm in the past, and it is still the norm. Back in 1996, Quebec’s attempts in increasing student fees failed due to student backlash; however international student fees were still increased.

Mcgill_University_(Arts_Buildings,_closeup)
The Arts Building of McGill University

Another place where you can see the normalization of more expensive international tuition fees is Quebec’s relationship with McGill University. According to McGill, they are required to give more than $50 million of their tuition revenues from out-of-province and international students to the province.

You might say that this is to be expected in the context of the budget cuts, and the general economic crisis that is wreaking havoc across the globe; but that’s a very cheap answer. How do you account for countries that can actually manage to do this? In France, for instance, education may not be free, as students are still expected to pay between €150 to €750 per year, but at least all students are treated equally. It does not matter whether you are French, or Turkish, or Canadian.

France’s economy is not significantly better than Canada’s. In fact, in some aspects Canada is faring better than France. So, how is it that France is able to treat all students equally, while Canada is struggling really hard with this?

Furthermore, because of my status as an international student, I am still hesitant about actively seeking my rights, and in some instances I cannot even do that. Why? Because the only thing that makes me “legal” in this country is a piece of paper attached to my passport. And whatever I can or cannot do in Canada is all written on that little piece of paper.

For instance, on that little piece of paper I’ve just mentioned, it is stated that I need to be a full-time student at my academic institution. Say that I want to run for an executive position at my student union, so that I can be in a position of power from which I can actually have a shot at changing things. As far as McGill is concerned, I have to be a part-time student in order to be an executive at my student union. You can see why that is problematic.

Even if I want to do small things, say create a campaign, or organize a protest or something along those lines; the system makes me hesitate. It is normal that I pay extra. It is normal that I bear the burden of a government’s mismanagement of their budget.

It is normal that I pay extra, because studying here is a privilege that has been bestowed upon me by the benevolent government of Canada.

This is but one of the symptoms of a culture based around the idea that citizenship is a privilege that is earned. “Canadianness” should not be a blessing given by the government, which dictates what rights I can ask for. The irony of asking for permission to live in a “post-colonial” country aside, where I am from should not have anything to do with what rights I have. Does my non-Canadianness destroy the very essence of your nation? If that’s the case, then good.

This article was originally published in April of 2012 but it seems fitting to take a look at it again!

Last week, my colleague Quiet Mike laid out the reasons why it’s a good thing the Canadian penny will soon be a thing of the past.  On a strictly logical level, I agree with him.

It doesn’t make sense to spend 2 1/2 cents producing something that is only worth one. Also, bars, buses and other common elements of our commerce don’t take pennies already.

However, on a deeper level, I mourn the loss of the penny. Can you blame me? It’s been with me my whole life.

While I may date myself when I say that I (vaguely) remember a time before toonies (the first time I got one as change I thought it was a chocolate coin), I think it’s safe to say that we are all familiar with the penny. Things change, and sentimentality isn’t enough to defy logic & economics. But, by losing the penny we are also forever altering or outright losing aspects of our lives.

Finding pennies in the couch is the first to go. Remember rooting through your sofa and finding enough change to make the difference in a purchase of a pack of smokes or a carton of milk? That will no longer be possible in a few months.

Next, what will happen with the take a penny, leave a penny tray. The beauty of such an insignificant denomination of currency is in its utter insignificance. Will there be a take a nickel, leave a nickel jar? Maybe with inflation some day, but probably not anytime soon.

But the single most significant loss is not so much economic as it is cultural. Penny for your thoughts? What does that mean? Nothing. Your thoughts now mean nothing.

What about people named or nicknamed Penny. Their names, while remaining cool and romantic (never met anyone named Penny, but I’m sure I’d love her if I did) are also now obsolete references.

What about references in songs. One of my favourite songs from my late teenage years came from a forever unknown NDG band named Lint (a friend’s old high-school band) and had the indelibly powerful and mood setting lyric “Just like a penny on the tracks…” (I can’t remember the follow-up line, but the rhyme was “turn back”)

Whether or not you have a better example, the penny has an element of nostalgia and can take you back to a specific time and place. The penny has permeated our popular culture and, dare I say, our very souls.

Stephen Harper, the Royal Canadian Mint and even the proprietors of the take a penny trays can’t take that away. Correction, they can’t take that away from this generation or even the next generation, but a hundred years from now, we’re looking at pennies being the new bootleg alcohol, 8-track cassette or paperboy.

Interesting. Someone who almost relishes and at the very least hopes to gain from the disappearance of the printed word lamenting the loss of the penny.

But you know, I can’t see anything better replacing this icon, so it’s a loss.

And that’s my two cents…whatever that means now.

* Currency porn photos by Phyllis Papoulias

On Saturday, October 15th, over a thousand cities around the world, including Montreal, will fuel the “Occupy Movement” by hosting, or intensifying, their very own “Occupy (insert city here.)” The occupation of these various cities will go on for as long as it takes for our governments to acknowledge that there is a problem with our economic systems.

If your reading this, you’ve heard about Occupy Wall Street

Maybe you’re even super gung-ho about it and embrace the movement with every inch of your being? Maybe you have been watching the live streams coming out of the various occupied cities, maybe you have joined the Facebook groups and have read all the latest related articles and blog posts. Maybe, just maaaaaybe you’ve even bought a t-shirt. If that’s the case, great! Stop reading – go dust off your sleeping bag and make a sign for Saturday.

But maybe you’ve heard of it and don’t entirely get it, and aren’t really sure if you support it. That’s okay too but if you’d just give me a couple minutes of your time, I’d really like to use this platform to explain why your participation in this movement will make your life and the lives of the vast majority better.

In order to understand the ‘Occupy Movement,’ we need not focus as much at its specific so-called origin vis-à-vis Adbusters, however interesting, but rather we must examine the origin of it’s underlying motive.

The motive for the Occupy Movement is inequality. Point final.

The occupiers are those who feel abused by the systematic inequality and injustice that is perpetuated by the current economic system. A system that lends to the growing disparity between the super rich and the super poor and between the super rich and the middle class, who are on their way to becoming the super poor. A system that places the interest of corporations over those of the people they are sworn to protect. The occupy movement is made up of people who feel disenfranchised and ignored.

This inequality is fuelled by an insultingly minute level of corporate financial regulation and growing corporate welfare, regressive tax policies that target the middle class instead of the rich, loose monetary policies, anti-trust laws, manipulation of the financial system and government corruption by entrenched corporate influence. The skeptic need look no further than the 2008 financial crisis for evidence of this lack of regulation. And then again at the ensuing exploitation of the un-responsible middle class for an example of corporate influence over the government.

When we look at the Occupy Movement, we must not forget the damage the American financial system has thrust upon the global economy in the past years. We must also not forget, as Canadians, our dependence on and role in, the American economy.  But the Occupy Movement isn’t just about opposition to the ripple effect of unfettered American capitalism. What about Canada, why occupy here?

Most of us don’t have a clue that income inequality is actually growing at a faster rate in Canada than it is in the US. Most of us don’t realize that Canada has had one of the fastest growing rates of income inequality since the 1990s. Canadian household debt has reached a record high (1.5 trillion) and the poverty rate in our rich country is hovering at around 10%. That ol’ gap between the rich and poor just keeps on growin’ and is showing no sign of stopping.

The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives reported that, in the land of bacon, maple syrup and beer commercials, “the…richest 1% took almost a third (32%) of all growth in incomes between 1997 and 2007.” In the 50s and 60s, they only took 8% of income growth. Since the 1970s, the richest 0.01% has almost quadrupled its income. The CCPA also found, that our “generation of rich Canadians is staking claim to a larger share of economic growth than any generation that has preceded it in recorded history. An examination of income trends over the past 90 years reveals that incomes are as concentrated in the hands of the richest 1% today as they were in the Roaring Twenties.”

In one day, the top CEOs in Canada make more money than the average worker does in one year. Between 1995 and 2007, the average salaries of CEOs went up 444%, while our salaries  haven’t  budged in the last quarter century. They aren’t working any harder, they are just getting paid more, much more.

“Canada’s elite has managed to convince decision-makers that if they kept more of their income, they could create more wealth for everyone. After thirty years, the evidence shows that trickle-down economics was a hollow promise and a costly social experiment,” writes Armine Yalnizya.   Yes, the Canadian economy is growing. But at what cost?   To learn more about economic injustice and income inequality in Canada check out the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives report.

This inequality is in large part the result of the absence of a sense of government accountability to the people who they are supposed to serve. Democracy has been perverted and ultimately overridden to serve the interests and agendas of the richest 1%. The Occupy Movement is about re-democratizing democracy, about putting power back in the hands of the  99%. It is about forcing the 1% to stop handing us crumbs and finally take the needs of the rest of us seriously.

According to Maxwell Ramstead, of Occupy Montreal, “The problem is that there’s no way to vote against the banking system and the dominance of the financial sector.  That’s what [the Occupy Movement] is about. This is about opening a public space where we can voice our opinion and discuss issues that have not been accessible through traditional avenues.  People say the movement has no specific demands, that’s missing the point.  The point is to allow critical discourse to happen, to compare demands and solutions with other citizens, and to voice our opinions in a non-violent manner.”

Things have been crappy for a very long time, so why now? Maybe we just needed the time to grow the balls? Maybe we were inspired by the Arab Spring? Whatever the reason, we have reached our breaking point.

If you come out to Occupy Montreal, that means there will be one more person. Instead of adopting the apathetic, “Oh, there will be tons of people there already, they don’t need me,” attitude, think of yourself instead, as that one more person that makes all the difference. A movement is made up of thousands of those, ‘one more people.’ There is no such thing as too many.

This is the beginning of something big, a revolution hopefully. A revolution takes a lot of people, with lots of drive and lots of time to achieve. So many people have sacrificed so much to put this together, they have given up time and money, and some have quit their jobs. All you have to do is show up!

If you are still not 100% convinced, that’s cool, come out on Saturday or any day after that and check it out for yourself. Talk to people, ask questions, have a discussion. Make up your own mind, not from the sidelines but come and see what it’s really all about.

Occupy Montreal needs you! The world needs you. We will only be as strong as our numbers. On saturday bring warm cloths, food, generators, audio-video equipment, walkie-talkies, tents, tarps, blankets, batteries, solar chargers, first aid kits, maintenance equipment. Bring everything you can and everyone you know.

The people united, will never be defeated!

Occupy Montreal happens in Square Victoria starting tomorrow, Saturday, October 15th starting at 9:30am. More info can be found on the Facebook event page