By CHRIS DODD

A good many years before John A. Macdonald’s statue was pulled down from its perch in Montreal’s Dominion Square, my high school history class had a debate on the case of Louis Riel. In real life, Riel stood accused of high treason by the government of John A. Macdonald for the ‘crime’ of resisting the transfer of a Métis settlement to the Canadian government. Our class assignment was called: Riel. Hero or villain?

Riel, as you might remember, went onto become the villain in the real story. He was ordered executed by Macdonald and hung in effigy by my history class, which is regretful, since it was my part of class project to defend him. But what chance would a 15-year-old student have as the defender of minority rights when the only knowledge on the topic was gained from books written by English setters?

As an adult armed with knowledge obtained outside of the education system, it is now tempting to weigh Riel’s ‘crime’ against that of some of North America’s colonizers, whose actions are rarely put to such ‘hero or villain’ scrutiny. Take Christopher Columbus for example, accused of genocide, slavery and torture of the indigenous people of the Caribbean. He is celebrated as a hero in the United States, whose shores he never reached.

George Washington made it to Mount Rushmore despite owning slaves, who some history books prefer to call ‘domestics.’

Canada’s own John A. stands accused of supporting the starvation of First Nations people, instituting the residential school system, and condemning Riel to his death. Hero or villain? Well, when you see his face on your money, and his name on schools, highways, a mountain, and an airport, you know the verdict has been reached.

But there was no ‘hero or villain’ debate in my high school history class about Macdonald, although our teacher did throw in a few ‘fun facts’ about him just to make sure that Canadian history didn’t seem too boring. “Oh sure Macdonald was a drunk,” the teacher joked, and “Macdonald married his cousin too, but both of those things were fairly common in those days.”

“Even our heroes have warts,” our teacher said, a familiar refrain that is still heard today “but Canada needs heroes, and Macdonald built our nation,” so that was the end of the story. If only I could go back in time to ask some very uncomfortable questions about those ‘warts’ and the nation that Macdonald was trying to build. Somehow it was never mentioned in my class that Macdonald was the architect of policies so disturbing and inescapably racist that greater knowledge of this history would undermine Canada’s reputation as a tolerant society.

Macdonald recently joined a growing list of bronzed ‘national heroes’ felled by protesters around the world, from Confederate American leaders like Robert E. Lee to the British slave trade profiteer Edward Coulson.

British PM Boris Johnson accused demonstrators in his country of trying to “…censor our past,” and “impoverish the education of generations to come.” Donald Trump, being the American President who, when asked during a TV interview, was unable to recall the name of a single book he had read, somehow felt privileged to provide lectures on history, saying “We should learn from the history,’ to his partisans on Fox News, “and if you don’t understand your history, you will go back to it again.”

Reaching for the low bar with a more conciliatory tone than Trump, Quebec Premier Francois Legault called the Macdonald toppling unacceptable, but added “Of course we need to fight against racism, but that is not the way to do it…we have to respect the history.”

But this is the same Legault who insisted that systemic racism does not exist in Quebec, although it’s difficult to tell, since one sure symptom of systemic racism is the steadfast refusal to acknowledge it. But the ability to express such surefooted opinions on racism from those unlikely to experience it is a Canada-wide phenomenon, starting with education systems that entrench ideas about the British and French ‘founding’ of Canada at the expense of other perspectives. That is what makes Macdonald a hero and Riel the villain. It is also what makes these men lecturing about the need to respect history absurdly hypercritical.

Behind much of the ‘history’ of Canada is the uncomfortable truth that the original plan for Canada was as the North American version of 19th century Britain, designated one of the ‘White Dominions,’ a not so subtle way to distinguish Canadians from others in their global Empire that needed to be ‘colonised’ and ‘civilized.’ Canada’s First Nations stood in the way of that vision, especially since they held valuable land and incompatible cultural values.

The problem with not learning much of this in school and having to find it out for yourself (along with topics such as the existence of slavery in Canada, the wartime internment of Japanese Canadians, the segregation of racial groups on undesirable land such as Halifax’s Africville, the imposition Chinese head tax, and so much more) is that a large part of the population will never know much about them. The sad part about erasing parts of the past that don’t suit the dominant narrative is that it contributes to the ongoing marginalisation of non-White people in the country — in the present.

Still, it is an open question whether dismantling statues is the best way to reclaim history by those left out of it, or as an effective way to protest against racial inequality. Well, actually no, that question is already settled. Macdonald’s downfall has been universally denounced by the press and has provided red meat for the culture war. Such acts are referred to as ‘thuggery’ by some right-wing commentators. The latest example of ‘cancel culture,’ others cry. “An angry mob out to steal ‘your’ history and culture to impose their own,” shout many social media posts.

But how is it not also considered ‘cancel culture’ when the lack of diverse voices in Canada’s mainstream media means that popular opinion is often reflective of that same narrow range of views? Meanwhile, the history, struggles and accomplishments of minorities are minimalised, or even ignored.

These commentators should consider it a privilege not to have been subjected to the ‘cultural genocide’ of the residential schools system. The victims of that system might walk past a statue that reminds them that the country that ignores their history also honours a man who called their people ‘savages’ who ‘must be removed from their parental influence to acquire the habits and modes of White men.’ Is that not also part of the history we have to respect, M. Legault?

We can also question Prime Minister Trudeau’s reaction, saying that such acts of ‘vandalism’ are “…not advancing the path towards greater justice and equality in this country.” But how many concrete achievements toward these goals have been ticked off by the Trudeau government in its five years in office, to match all the talk about the strength of Canada’s diversity and reconciliation with its First Nations?

Action is what happens when people get tired of such talk. Marginalised groups turn to desperation only after they talk about their experiences and notice few people listening.

History has not been changed by pulling down statues of racists. But doing so opens a window for dialogue about history that would otherwise not take place. Such drastic action is often ‘plan B,’ as it is often said. Many other ways of raising awareness about issues of social injustice have been tried. But how has that been working out?

Featured Image: Still from CBC News Video

(Still from CBC News video)

Last Saturday, Defund the Police protesters, in solidarity with Black Lives Matter marched through the rainy streets of Downtown Montreal. When they arrived in Dominion Square, a group unrelated to the demonstration organization (no one knows who) pulled off something some have tried to do before: they took down the statue of Sir John A. MacDonald:

It was really beautiful how it played out. While it was the activists that pulled Sir John from his pedestal (not an easy feat), the statue was decapitated by the laws of physics themselves.

This statue needed to come down. MacDonald may have been Canada’s first Prime Minister, but he also laid the groundwork, both rhetorically and practically, for the institutionalized subjugation of the original inhabitants of this land and the cultural (and also very real) genocide that made it possible.

I could spend the rest of this piece talking about the details, but I won’t. We’re publishing an article about just that this weekend, and there are plenty of sources already available online with that info.

Also, no one will forget John A. MacDonald without the statue, we just won’t be celebrating him in Downtown Montreal — he is on our money after all!

Instead of the moral reasons for why the statue needed to come down, I’m going to put on my political hat, my very cynical political hat, and offer some free advice to our current politicians in power. I’m being practical here.

My real hope is that the statue doesn’t go back up. Ideally, something celebrating either our diversity or (even better) the First Nations replaces it and that there are no negative repercussions for the people who pulled it down (if they are ever identified). If I have to appeal to baser political instincts to make that happen, so be it.

So Far, Not So Good

For her part, Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante responded the same day of the incident with a strong condemnation of “acts of vandalism,” followed by saying that she understands and shares “the motivation of citizens who want to live in a more just and inclusive society” but that this is not the way, followed by a statement that the SPVM (Montreal Police) are gonna do what they gonna do:

Je déplore fermement les actes de vandalisme qui ont eu lieu cet après-midi dans le centre-ville de Montréal, qui ont…

Posted by Valérie Plante on Saturday, August 29, 2020

Now I am, for the most part, a Plante supporter, but this was the wrong way, politically, to respond. Of course she can’t be in favour of vandalism, but she could have said just that without the strong condemnation, and not even mentioned the SPVM (and behind the scenes told them to not bother investigating).

Instead she irritated her own base. The people who love Sir John and care about this above all else aren’t generally those who support Projet Montréal.

Meanwhile, Quebec Premier François Legault said that the statue will be “dusted off, restored and put back” where it was, presumably with the head re-attached. While I get that Legault’s base is right-leaning, last time I checked, Sir John A. MacDonald wasn’t one of their heroes.

While I believe Quebec Nationalism is just as colonial as the Canadian variety, this is one case where I kinda wished Legault’s latent sovereignist aspirations had reared their ugly head. Instead we found out that the CAQ is more interested in right-wing values of “law and order” than in Quebec values.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, on the other hand, sounded just like you would expect him to. He kept things in the conceptual: vandalism is not the way (appeal to the right), we need to examine the legacy of former Prime Ministers (appeal to the left) including his own father’s (make it personal). End scene!

Of course Trudeau won’t decide if the statue goes back up or not. And neither will Legault. It’s a municipal decision.

So the ball’s in Plante’s corner, and I strongly encourage her to drop it and then kick it back to the wall. She should only pick this particular ball back up when we are ready to move on to a different statue.

That is unless she wants to truly own the moment and either look for or propose other people to honour. But if she doesn’t, then inaction for the moment, in this case, is fine.

(Still from CBC News video)

The Statue Will Go

Getting rid of paint is one thing. Fixing then replacing a statue that has already been toppled and decapitated is a whole other ballgame.

It would be akin to being the administration that decided to spend money on commemorating Sir John A. MacDonald in the first place. In 2020.

This statue will be down for good eventually. If it gets replaced and the official process to remove it doesn’t work, you’d better believe protesters will take it down again…they clearly know how to do it.

Don’t let the unsanctioned way the statue came down justify putting it back up. The protestors did you a favour by accomplishing what the bureaucracy could not.

Sure, don’t support what they did officially, but don’t go after them either. Be a politician.

Recognize that your base wants the statue down, those who want it back up probably won’t vote for you anyways, and most people just don’t care enough for it to matter.

Do the smart political thing. It just so happens that it’s also the right thing to do.

Featured Image: Still from CBC News Video

Last Sunday, approximately 10 000 people took to the streets of Montreal demanding justice for George Floyd and all the other victims of racist police violence. This Sunday there’s another local protest against police brutality.

Before we go any further, I’d like to address what I knew every newscast would lead with the following day right after it happened: Yes, there was some looting. A bit of looting and some broken windows, nothing that should detract from the valid and necessary reason so many people were out, social distancing as much as possible during a pandemic.

Lenny Lanteigne, owner of Steve’s Music Store, the main target of the looters last Sunday, gets it. He told CTV that he thinks the protest was necessary and while he’s obviously not thrilled people stole his inventory, he knows what’s important. “They’re guitars, not human lives.”

In the US currently, there’s a strong argument that some of the rioting is actually quite necessary to be heard and affect change. In just over a week, the story changed from “the cops are fired” to “we’ve arrested one cop and charged him with third-degree murder” to (just yesterday) “we’re charging him with second-degree murder and the three cops who stood by with aiding and abetting second degree murder”.

The looting last Sunday in Montreal, though, came across more like a mini hockey riot with mostly white dudes using the opportunity to steal stuff than something tied into the message of police racism. The SPVM officers kneeling to put on their riot gear before teargassing the crowd (which preceded the looting), though, was a small reminder that the police here aren’t really all that different than those in the states.

We’ve Got A Long List Too

The protest last Sunday may have been in solidarity with demonstrations across the US and now across the world, but it was also demanding justice for victims of racist police violence in Canada and Montreal too. For every George Floyd or Eric Garner, there’s a Regis Korchinski-Paquet or Fredy Villanueva.

We also have a serious problem with Canadian police indiscriminately brutalizing Indigenous people. From the so-called “starlight tours” out west to a recent local incident next to Cabot Square where a Native woman in distress had to deal with 17 cops and the SPVM (Montreal Police) canine unit before getting an ambulance, it seems like our police don’t think that Native Lives Matter.

Or Black Lives, apparently.

In a CBC study of fatal encounters with police of all levels across Canada over 17 years, Black and Indigenous people were seriously over-represented when compared to the overall population. Meanwhile a 2019 report commissioned by the City of Montreal revealed that the SPVM was four to five times more likely to stop Black or Indigenous people than whites.

Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau did admit that Canada has a problem with police racism, after 21 seconds of awkward, probably staged, silence, while dodging a question about US President Donald Trump. Of course, anything that came after the 21 seconds, he knew, would get lost in the shuffle.

Quebec Premier François Legault, while supporting the protest, denied that systemic racism exists in Quebec. This from the man that, pre-pandemic, was all about systemically discriminating against minorities through Bill 21.

Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante, to her credit, admitted that systemic discrimination does exist in our city. The question now becomes what she is going to do to fight it.

After initially opposing outfitting police with body cameras, she now says it will happen as soon as possible. This is largely due to pressure from boroughs like Côte-Des-Neiges—Notre-Dame-De-Grâce and the public.

The Spotlight and the Shadows

Body cameras on police would be a welcome improvement, because unlike their counterparts south of the border, our police are camera-shy when it comes to race-based brutality. This helps our political leaders propagate the lie that violent and murderous police racism is a shameful American problem, but there are only a few bad apples here.

In the US, violent racist cops are brazen and kill in the daylight, either not caring who is watching or filming or hoping to be the next white supremacist champion or MAGA hero. George Zimmerman has fans and he wasn’t even trained.

Here, they’re just as brutal, but know to avoid the spotlight as much as possible. For the person on the receiving end, though, the result is the same.

With the only real-world empire most of us have ever known burning before our eyes and crumbling into a failed state, the kind the US would usually think of invading, it’s easy to get distracted. When we see peaceful protesters teargassed and assaulted by gleeful cops, it’s easy to forget that we have problems here too,

Solidarity with those fighting to get out from under Trump’s boot is essential, but remember that the underlying problem of racist police violence is a Canadian one, too.

The next Montreal Anti-Police Brutality Protests starts Sunday, June 14th at 11am at Place Emilie-Gamelin

Photos by IK (see the album)

“I called it! Liberal Minority Government.”

– Pretty much every Canadian political pundit on Election Night, professional or otherwise, and even me this time.

The 2019 Canadian Federal election turning out the way it did was, for the most part, about as predictable as Justin Trudeau taking selfies in the Montreal Metro the next day. The next few years in Canadian politics, though, are about as unpredictable as which metro lines will go down with service interruptions every other day.

When the Trudeau shine started to fade and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh’s popularity rose, the Liberals pulled the old strategic voting chestnut out of their playbook and ran with it. A Majority Government was now out of the question but the fear of Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer coming to power made a Liberal Minority Government almost inevitable.

Fear-based strategic voting helped to lower the NDP seat count in most of the country, including on the Island of Montreal, but a resurging Bloc Québécois undid what was left of the Orange Wave in Quebec. That last part is both the most unfortunate turn of events and a little bit unexpected.

I honestly had thought the Bloc was done for and irrelevant. But they found their relevance through an appeal to bigotry and now both the second and third-place parties in this Liberal Minority are right-wing.

Yes, the Bloc are progressive on some issues, most notably the environment, but their support of the xenophobic Bill 21 means they are not a progressive party. Secularism of the state means no state-imposed religion, banning public-sector employees from wearing religious symbols on the job is nothing more than an attack on customs that aren’t white and European in origin designed to appeal to bigoted fear of the “other” and latent Eurocentric white supremacist instincts.

Speaking of bigots, the People’s Party of Canada didn’t get enough people to vote for them to win them one seat, even leader Maxime Bernier’s in Beauce. So that’s a good thing.

Trudeau Has Many Options

Minority Liberal governments with a strong NDP (and despite losses, this NDP is strong, more on that later) have given us some great things in the past. Universal healthcare and the Canada Pension Plan are just a couple of examples.

These happened, though, because the NDP (and a few Red Tories) were able to force the Libs to the left. I’m not sure if the makeup of the incoming Parliament will offer the same sort of incentives.

In fact, Justin Trudeau may very well still be in the drivers’ seat as long as he switches up who rides shotgun depending on the bill. If it’s a social issue, say protecting LGBTQ rights, call on Singh and the NDP for support. SNC Lavalin investigation rearing its head again? Yves-François Blanchet and the Bloc have your back. Want to build a pipeline? Pretty sure Scheer and the Official Opposition Conservatives won’t oppose this one, officially or otherwise.

No wonder it was Trudeau selfie time the next day. While this doesn’t give him the same power his last majority did, he has the right setup to stay in power for a while and get most of what he wants done.

And he knows it. He’s already ruled out forming a Coalition Government and announced he plans to move ahead with the Trans-Mountain pipeline.

The Power’s in the Details

That doesn’t mean that the opposition parties are powerless, far from it. Their power, though, won’t be felt in what gets put on the table, but rather in the tweaks they get to make to proposed legislation in exchange for their support.

It’s also crucial for them to be the party that Trudeau needs support from. If he goes to the Cons, they’ll make him move to the right. If he goes to the NDP, they’ll make him move to the left. If he goes to the Bloc, they’ll just try and get some sort of special deal for Quebec.

The first vote will be on the budget, which is automatically a confidence vote. If Trudeau puts Trans-Mountain into it, there’s no way the Bloc or NDP could support it, so he’ll have to rely on the Cons, which will push the rest of the budget to the right.

If he leaves the pipeline out for now and adds a bunch of progressive things, then the NDP can push him just a bit more to the left. Yes, they’ll be making him look good, but also potentially getting a better deal for everyone.

I suspect that out of the gate, Trudeau won’t go to his right, because he knows another election will happen sooner rather than later. But honestly I really don’t know.

Opposition Leaders Should Be Safe

I have been hearing some talk from certain members of the opposition parties (except the Bloc, for obvious reasons) demanding their respective leader’s political head on a platter. While some of the “Scheer/May must go!” calls have merit and none of the calls to replace Singh do (more on that later), I suspect none of the opposition leaders are going anywhere.

Simply put, no one replaces a leader in a Minority Parliament unless the party establishment wanted them gone before the election (see Stéphane Dion). It’s just too risky, even for the well-funded parties (see Michael Ignatieff).

For the parties whose pockets aren’t as deep, paying for a leadership race and then potentially paying to compete in another election campaign a year later could be financially disastrous. Also, what happens if the government falls and your party doesn’t have a new leader in place yet?

Singh Has Reason to Celebrate

If you watched Jagmeet Singh talk on election night, it really came across as a victory speech (or at least it did until Scheer cut him off only to be cut off himself by Trudeau). And with good reason.

This wasn’t the decimation of the NDP many had predicted just a few months ago. There was a Singh Surge, it just didn’t turn into the wave New Democrats had hoped for.

I’m sure there will be arguments that the NDP should ditch Singh now because they pushed Thomas Mulcair out after he won more seats. Yeah, Mulcair’s seat count after the 2015 election may have been bigger, but he actually lost more seats than Singh did.

Mulcair went from a pre-election total of 95 seats, already down from the 103 the party won under Jack Layton, to 44 , meaning the party lost 51 seats (including a good chunk of the Orange Wave) on his watch. Singh, by contrast, went from 39 to 24, only losing 15 seats.

Singh may not have stopped the bleeding entirely, but he bandaged it up pretty well. Also, holding 24 seats with a Liberal Minority Government in power is potentially a more powerful position to be in than holding 44 seats with a Liberal Majority in place.

It’s important not to forget that while Mulcair may have been a solid Member of Parliament and even Deputy Leader, his tenure as leader was due to a deal he didn’t live up to his part of. The party let him move the NDP to the right and in exchange he promised them they would form government but they didn’t.

If you make a deal with the Devil and the best the Devil can deliver is third place, you get out of that deal as fast as you can. Singh, on the other hand, campaigned as a bold and progressive New Democrat, one Trudeau couldn’t outflank on the left, and did okay.

Yes, some solid Quebec NDP seats were lost and Alexandre Boulerice, the party’s Deputy Leader, currently holds the only New Democrat seat in Quebec, but Singh didn’t abandon us, at least not in his speech. He wants to win back what Mulcair lost and what he was unable to hold on to.

Now, with a Minority Parliament, who really knows what will happen next. It’s going to be an interesting few years (or months).

With the 2019 Canadian Federal Election looking like it might be a close one, we’re hearing calls for strategic voting once again. The narrative, coming mostly from Liberal supporters online is a familiar one: If you vote for anyone other than a Liberal, you’re helping to elect Andrew Scheer and his ultra-regressive Conservatives (or basically re-elect Stephen Harper).

The Liberals are acting like they’re still “Canada’s natural governing party” and the only alternative to the Conservatives. In reality, they’re the group who were in third place just five years ago until they vaulted to Majority Government last election, defying expectations.

This time, though, it looks like people are realizing that the Lib tricks are soo 2011. If the Liberals could jump like that, then if everyone who supports the NDP votes for the NDP instead of strategically, we might just have Jagmeet Singh as our next Prime Minister.

Minority or Coalition

Or, as the latest polling indicates, we may be headed for a Liberal Minority Government where the NDP could hold the balance of power, which would mean the NDP could force the Libs to the left on key issues. Even if Scheer gets the most seats, but not enough to form a majority, we could be looking at a Liberal-NDP Coalition Government, which could be interesting.

Such a scenario is a very real possibility, but don’t just take my word for it. Scheer clearly thinks a coalition could happen. So much so that he came out swinging against the very notion of it.

The Conservative leader is pushing the narrative that since the “modern convention” has the party that wins the most seats forming government, that needs to happen. He should ask former BC Premier Christy Clark if the “modern convention” helped her out at all.

We almost had a Liberal/NDP coalition government in 2008 but Stephen Harper prorogued Parliament. He knew that the break would give the Liberal Party establishment enough time to show Stéphane Dion the door.

Harper bet that the Lib brass would rather be in opposition with their handpicked leader Michael Ignatieff than let fluke candidate Dion elevate himself to PM and he was right. The coalition evaporated about as quickly as Liberal relevance under Ignatieff did the following election.

This time around, though, the Liberals are very much the party of Trudeau. Their goal is to keep him in power by any means necessary.

Obviously Trudeau doesn’t want to talk about a coalition before the votes are cast. Doing so would invalidate his party’s “only way to stop Scheer” narrative. But if it turns out a coalition with the NDP is the only way he can keep his job, he will take it.

Broken Promise as a Campaign Tool

Funny thing is, strategic voting wouldn’t even be a thing this time around of Trudeau had made good on his 2015 election promise to bring in electoral reform. He didn’t even try.

Why would he? Our current First-Past-The-Post system works very well for his party and the Conservatives. It was only when the Liberals found themselves in a crouch that he even brought it up.

Most electoral reform models involve switching from FPTP to some form of Proportional Representation. They have their strengths and weaknesses, which I go through in a post on my personal blog (so as not to get too sidetracked here) and also propose a model of my own.

The only party that will actually bring in electoral reform or at least put it to a vote in a referendum is a party that campaigned on it and then finds itself in power for the first time under the current system. Changing how it works is not just a promise to voters for them, but a way to ensure that their party and other smaller parties don’t continue to suffer the same disadvantage that kept them out of power for decades.

Therefore, Liberal and Conservative voters who support electoral reform voting for Jagmeet Singh and the NDP this election would, in fact, be a strategic vote. And it’s the only kind of strategic voting I can get behind.

For everyone else, let your vote, your real vote, count!

Featured image by ishmael n. daro via Flickr Creative Commons

Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Government is fighting the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal’s ruling that Ottawa compensate First Nations children taken from their families under the On-Reserve Child Welfare System. Two weeks before the election.

While I wasn’t surprised at all to learn that Trudeau has no plans of compensating these kids and their families, I was initially stunned that he did this during an election campaign. After all, campaigning like caring progressives and then turning your back on most of those who need your help when elected is pretty much the Liberal playbook.

Then I realized that October 7th, today, was a hard deadline for appealing the ruling. So platitudes about how we need to right this wrong without a direct commitment to respect the ruling during the campaign followed by a quick court challenge after winning re-election wasn’t an option this time. The tribunal had forced him to play his cards when some voting cards were still in the mail.

What Happened

In case you’re wondering what all of this is about, I’ll do my best to summarize:

The Federal Government disproportionately underfunded child welfare for children living on reserves as well as the reserves themselves. They then used the poor living conditions they created as an excuse to rip children away from their families and place them in foster care.

Basically, this was the forced assimilation of, and in some cases abuse of, native children ordered by the Government of Canada. Kinda like Residential Schools without the Jesus.

It Needs To Be Expensive

The tribunal determined that Canada owed each kid and some elder caregivers $40 000. That’s over $2 billion in total.

Sure, that’s a substantial amount of money and some will argue that it’s way too much to spend on righting a wrong of the past. They’re wrong on two counts:

First, this program started in 2006, so it’s very much a wrong of the present. Some of the victims aren’t even adults yet.

Second, and most important, it needs to be expensive. While no amount can properly compensate for the lost childhoods, a hefty price tag may make it more difficult for future governments to pull off the same thing or something similar.

The Government of Canada has been systemically repressing First Nations people ever since there was a Government of Canada. For about as long, well meaning descendants of white European settlers (aka mainstream Canadian voters) have been appalled at what the government did, but only after the fact.

If we make turning a blind eye to this gross injustice while it is happening prohibitively expensive, I suspect a good number of “Canadian taxpayers” might let their desire to avoid another $2 billion dollar fine fuel their moral outrage enough to stop the government from carrying out another racist attack on the First Nations or at least try to before it becomes another crime of the past we are so sorry about.

The Politics of it All

Justin Trudeau would rather that not happen. He’d love to talk reconciliation, get elected, and then deny the First Nations’ kids what we owe them. The Human Rights Tribunal made that impossible.

Andrew Scheer said, well, exactly what you would expect him to say. He’d fight the tribunal’s decision, too.

Both NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh and Green Party leader Elizabeth May said they will respect the compensation the tribunal determined.

Indigenous issues are among the main topics in tonight’s English Leaders’ Debate, so I look forward to our current PM getting challenged on this, as he should be.

Featured Image: A painting of Justin Trudeau by Samantha Gold

For the first time, younger voters are set to overtake the baby boomers as the largest voting block in Canada, and it’s about time. The planet is dying due climate change, and wages have stagnated since the 1970s resulting in a wealth gap that is partly on generational lines.

While older people enjoy their golf courses and retirement nestegs, Millenials, Gen Xers, and GenYers who will never see the latter are increasingly frustrated and demanding change that helps them, not just their parents.

That said, only recently has there been a real drive to get younger people to vote, recognizing that their votes can finally make a difference. It is with this notion in mind that I write this article.

In this piece I’ll be giving a crash course on the main political parties, but not in the way you’d expect. Instead of discussing their platforms related to the economy and health care, I’m going to discuss the parties based on their plans and track records with regards to issues that concern younger voters: Climate change, LGBTQI2+ rights, and Income Inequality.

This is not to say these issues do not concern some older people. It IS to say that these are the issues that have not been sufficiently addressed for younger voters by politicians in the past.

For the purposes of this article, the main parties I’ll be discussing are the Liberal Party, The Conservative Party, the New Democratic Party (NDP), and The Green Party. Smaller fringe parties like Maxime Bernier’s People’s Party will be addressed in a future article.

Climate Change

The tail end of Montreal’s massive Climate March Friday (photo Jason C. McLean)

First, as Montreal took to the streets yesterday, let’s talk about Climate change.

The incumbent Liberal party’s Climate change platform seems to benefit primarily the wealthy, with much of their programs targeting homeowners – when most young Canadians will never be able to afford to own a home – and corporations. Their platform in this regard includes:

  • Offering a $40 000 interest-free loan to homeowners and landlords to make their homes more energy efficient, with an additional Net-zero emissions home grant available to make clean living more affordable.
  • Cut corporate taxes in half for companies that develop products and technologies that produce zero emissions
  • Protect 25% of Canada’s land and ocean habitats by 2025 and work towards increasing that to 30% by 2030
  • Set a target of zero emissions by 2050

The New Democratic Party’s Climate Change platform seems far more ambitious than that of the incumbents, with plans focusing on punishing big polluters and investing in local clean projects. Their platform includes:

  • Declaring a climate emergency
  • Rolling back tax breaks given by the Liberal government to big polluters as well as abolishing current oil and gas subsidies
  • Reaching a target of carbon-free electricity by 2030, and 100% non-emitting electricity by 2050
  • Establishing a Canadian Climate Bank to boost investment in Canadian-made renewable energy technology, community-owned clean energy projects and the transition to renewable energy

The Conservative Party’s climate change policy seems far less comprehensive compared to the other parties, and leader Andrew Scheer’s absence from today’s climate marches is also quite telling. Their policy includes:

  • Getting rid of the carbon tax (though their website claims they are still committed to meeting obligations under the Paris Agreement)
  • Launch a green tech patent tax credit for businesses
  • Offering a green public transit tax credit to alleviate costs of public transportation and incentivize its use
  • Have Canada sign agreements allowing us to get credit for helping reduce emissions internationally

True to the party’s name, The Green Party has the most comprehensive climate change platform to address the climate emergency. Their platform includes:

  • Canceling the Trans Mountain Pipeline and other subsidies to fossil fuel industries, as well as denying approval to new pipelines, coal, oil, or gas drilling
  • Ramp up renewable energy targets, with a target of making a hundred percent of Canada’s electricity from renewable sources by 2030
  • Work with provincial governments, “ideally in partnership with First Nations” to determine which former oil and gas wells are best-suited to producing geothermal energy in order to turn liabilities into income-generating renewable energy
  • Ban the sale of internal combustion engine passenger vehicles by 2030

LGBTQ2+ Rights

2019 Montreal Trans Rights March (image Samantha Gold)

Though the Liberal Party has no official 2019 platform regarding LGBTQ rights, they do have an excellent track record when it comes to protecting sexual minorities in Canada. Aside from the symbolism of their leader marching in Pride Parades and raising the Pride flag on Parliament Hill, the government has made some dramatic improvements to LGBTQ rights in Canada.

This includes adding gender identity or expression to the definition of hate crimes in the Canadian Criminal Code, as well passing legislation to permanently destroy the past criminal records of people convicted for consensual sex with same sex partners if such sex would be legal today.

The New Democrats have integrated LGBTQ rights into their platform on fighting hate in Canada. Their list of the different forms of hate to be addressed include homophobia and transphobia, with their platform including better access for victims of hate crimes to services, support, as well as a say in court-related services that may impact their safety.

Their platform also includes establishing a National Working Group to fight online hate, and addressing radicalization though youth-focused community-led initiatives.

Symbolically, NDP leader Jagmeet Singh has been seen at Pride parades and drag shows, tipping generously at the latter.

On LGBTQ rights in Canada, it is the Conservative Party that has by far the most to answer for. Their leader, Andrew Scheer is a self-professed devout Catholic and social conservative who has criticized marriage equality on the record. He is also the only federal leader conspicuously absent from Pride marches.

When questioned about his current position on LGBTQ rights, Scheer has been extremely evasive, giving people just cause to fear that transgender and LGBTQ protections will be rolled back under a Conservative government. Also telling is the lack of a policy platform addressing this issue on the Conservative Party website.

Though the Green Party is being criticized as a greener version of the Conservatives, their LGBTQ platform is quite enlightened. It includes ending discriminatory blood donation bans, banning medically unnecessary surgeries on intersex children, and banning and condemning conversion therapy – which attempts to force a more straight binary form of sexuality and gender expression on LGBTQ people, despite wide disapproval from the medical and psychiatric communities – in all its forms.

Their platform also includes ensuring access to comprehensive sexual health care and gender affirming health care including hormone treatments, blockers, and surgeries.

Income Inequality

(Image via Press Progress)

This is the one that infuriates young people the most because surrounding the issue are criticisms from baby boomers that if we just bought less coffee we wouldn’t be in so much debt when they entered the job market at a time when you could afford a home with one minimum wage job as opposed to the many we need to afford basic expenses. That said, here is what the main parties are doing to tackle the issue.

The Liberal plans seem to benefit primarily middle class families when so many young people cannot even reach a middle class income. Their plans include:

  • Lowering cell-phone bills by 25%
  • No taxes on the first $15 000 of income earned
  • Cut the small business tax rate from 11% to 9%
  • Creation of a First-Time Home Buyer Incentive that would cut 10% off the purchase price of new homes

The NDP’s plan to tackle income inequality is far more comprehensive and seems to target all Canadians, not just the middle class. Their platform includes:

  • Universal prescription drug coverage for all Canadians regardless of job, age, health, status, or income
  • Investing five billion dollars to create five hundred thousand quality affordable housing units to address the affordable housing crisis, and waiving federal GST/HST for the construction of these affordable units
  • Expand public education “from kindergarten to career”
  • Free dental coverage for families making under $70 000 a year

The Conservatives plan to address income inequality has some similarities to that of the Liberals in that it centers on cutting taxes and regulations, though the nature of these cuts does not seem to vary depending on the means of individuals. Their plan comprises of:

  • A universal tax cut for all Canadians
  • Address the housing crisis by easing building regulations to facilitate the building of new homes
  • Build pipelines to create jobs
  • Exempt home heating bills from the GST

The Green Party’s platform recognizes the increasing precariousness of work and the growing gig economy that is exacerbating unstable incomes for younger voters. It also acknowledges the ongoing poverty rates. Their platform comprises of :

  • Establishing a Guaranteed Liveable Income program to replace current income supports including disability, social assistance, and income assistance with payments set at a liveable level for different regions across Canada
  • Set the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour
  • Design and implement a national mental health strategy to address the link between mental health and productivity
  • Enhance the use of Community Benefits Agreements to increase inclusion economic opportunities for people of color

Over the past twenty years there has been a lot of apathy among young voters who felt like their votes didn’t count. That is all about to change. For the first time in a long time, young Canadians have a chance to have their voices heard within the system, not just on the streets.

Voting day is October 21, 2019. GO VOTE!

You can also let us know who to endorse in the FTB Election Poll

Featured Image is a composite of four separate paintings by Samantha Gold

The Montreal Climate March is tomorrow. It’s part of the student-started global Climate Strike movement, but with so much official support and participation, not to mention cancelled classes, I’m not sure the strike label fits.

Regardless, 300 000 people are expected to show up, making this one of the largest protest since the height of the Maple Spring in 2012. Plus one of the biggest current international stars will be here.

Getting Around Town

If there ever was a day to decide to leave the car at home, walk triumphantly to the metro and then discover you forgot to bring your buspass, it’s tomorrow. Public transit will be free all day in Montreal as well as Laval and the South Shore (Metro is recommended as some bus lines will be re-routed), Bixis will be free until 3pm and driving through downtown is, well, not recommended.

You can find a more comprehensive list of road closures as well as school closures and re-routed buses via the CBC and you can find a mini editorial by me right now:

I’m all for making public transit free for a day to help out the planet, but if we really wanted to reduce our carbon footprint, we’d make make travelling by bus or metro more efficient and either free or affordable with free as the goal all the time. Making driving unappealing with traffic laws is one thing, but you’ve got to have a carrot, not just the stick.

The Deets

The Climate March starts at noon at the Sir George-Étienne Cartier Monument, aka where Tam Tams happens, on du Parc. There will be Bixi “valets” near the sarting point.

It will find its way to Place de la Paix on St-Laurent by 3pm. Organizers say people with mobility issues can join the march there.

The exact route is unclear, though some political operatives clearly think they know its first leg:

Organizers say that not divulging the exact route is for “logistical and security concerns” though a part of me hopes it is a subtle action in solidarity with previous protesters arrested for not providing a route. Or at least an homage to them, I’ll take what I can get.

Greta, the Mayor and the Pipeline Owner

Montreal hosted quite a few celebrities over the summer and is currently hosting a handful with POP Montreal, but the biggest international star in town this week is playing an early show on a Friday. Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swedish climate activist who has no problem slamming the UN and showing her complete contempt for the current US President will be speaking at the end of the march.

Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante will be giving Thunberg keys to the city and meeting with her after the march is over. She won’t be the only politician in attendance, though.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will also be marching, presumably in costume as one who cares about the planet (he does greenface now too). I wonder if Greta will confront him about the whole, um, you know, buying a pipeline.

Guess we’ll find out tomorrow, along with 300 000 people concerned about the future of the planet we all live on.

The 2019 Federal Election campaign is now underway, but before it even started officially, there were stories of the Green Party of Canada picking up support and poised for a breakthrough. This was largely at the expense of the NDP.

While I’m a card-carrying New Democrat and don’t plan on changing my vote, I’m always happy to see other progressive parties making inroads. The more the conversation veers left, the better for us all.

Unfortunately, this time, Elizabeth May’s success is fueled by a bigoted undercurrent that she and some in her party would rather the rest of us not notice. Plus some of their moves make it look like they are abandoning the left in favour of giving a coat of biodegradable green paint to some truly reprehensible stances.

Pierre Nantel’s Dubious Motives

Let’s start with Pierre Nantel. Member of Parliament for Longueuil – Saint Hubert first elected under the NDP banner as part of the Orange Wave in 2011. He announced a few weeks ago that he would finish out his term as an independent and run for re-election as a Green.

His rationale for leaving, as disseminated by the Greens to their email list (which, for some reason I’m on) is all about the environment. He didn’t cite any specific problems he had with the NDP’s environment platform, which is arguably more solid, or at worst, equally as solid, as what May and company are running on.

It’s also interesting that his concerns didn’t materialize sooner, given that getting elected as a Green was just as pie in the sky as getting elected as a New Democrat in Quebec at the start of the 2011 campaign. Guess he was just some misguided 48 year old kid who matured in the last eight years.

Or maybe, just maybe, Nantel’s defection has nothing to do with the fate of our planet, but rather what the current NDP leader wears on his head. Jagmeet Singh, a Sikh, wears a turban in keeping with his religion.

During the NDP leadership race, Nantel, aping Pauline Marois, told Radio-Canada that “ostentatious religious symbols are not compatible with power, with authority,” and that Singh’s bid for leadership doesn’t align with what Quebecers want to see from their political leaders. Sadly, Nantel’s bigoted views are what the Federal Green Party doesn’t mind seeing from its candidates.

Memo to Quebec Candidates: Try Not to Piss Off the Bigots

Bill 21, the CAQ Government’s new law that bars public sector workers from wearing religious symbols while on the job, will definitely be an issue in Quebec this election. The Greens would rather it not be.

While officially opposed to the legislation, the party has issued a directive to its Quebec candidates to avoid talking about it, if possible. Meanwhile, May has no problem with Green candidates supporting 21, a position the National Council of Canadian Muslims calls unacceptable and said so to her face.

It makes you wonder if official opposition to such a bigoted piece of legislation is worth anything if you let your candidates support it and discourage them from opposing it in the very part of the country where it actually affects people.

May’s New Brunswick Statement

Last week, we heard that 15 former NDP provincial candidates in New Brunswick had jumped ship to join the Greens. Then we heard that five of them didn’t and are quite upset their names were listed.

While this is an interesting political story, it’s also pretty standard brinkmanship and somewhat dirty politics. The part that’s relevant here is what Elizabeth May said about the possibility that racism played a part:

“Indeed, it may be a horrible reality that some people will not vote NDP because they are racist. I condemn these attitudes. But it is quite wrong to attack anyone who is disillusioned with the NDP by saying that the only reason they are disillusioned is because they are racist.”

– Federal Green Party Leader Elizabeth May

No. No it’s not wrong to attack someone if their racism factors into their reasoning at all.

Sure, there are completely valid reasons for being disillusioned with the NDP, even hating the NDP and Singh’s leadership, but if his brown skin or turban is one of them, then you are no longer someone making a political point, you’re just a racist. And it’s always okay to attack racism.

It’s also never okay to benefit from someone else’s bigotry, even if you’re not a bigot yourself. Even if it potentially increases your seat count.

Nazis Aren’t a Distraction, They’re a Threat

And then there’s Danny Celovsky, Green Party candidate in Bay of Quinte. That’s where, earlier this year, a man raised a Nazi flag over his property and Celovsky decided to try and stop a Twitter discussion and condemnation, arguing that fascism and even Nazism were distractions from the only real issue: climate change.

One part in particular was telling:

“I disavow the stupid fascist freaks called Nazis. Put them in jail. Covered? Now … let’s start solving the problems my kids futures face.”

Danny Celovsky, Green Party of Canada candidate, Port Quinte ON, Twitter, May 18, 2019

His kids’ futures. What about the futures of the children who aren’t so white and Christian. Climate change is a real threat to them, too, but so are Nazis.

Imagine if AOC or Bernie or any of the other proponents of the Green New Deal south of the border, people who have called climate change the greatest threat of our time repeatedly, came out and said that what happened in Charlottesville and the kids in cages on the southern US border with Mexico are distractions. It would never happen, because while their environmental bona fides are beyond reproach, so is their commitment to social justice.

That’s what a real alternative from the left needs to be. Climate justice and social justice go hand in hand.

Not Left. Not Right. So, By Default, Right

At this point, you might be expecting me to say something like: “The Greens aren’t real progressives. They’re just neoliberals playing to the left to get votes!” Well, that’s not what I’m going to say.

Our current Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, a neoliberal who likes to play to the left during elections to get votes if there ever was one, is clear in his opposition to Bill 21 and I can’t imagine him allowing anyone who thinks the rise of fascism and Nazism is a mere distraction to run, or continue to run for his party.

The Green Party slogan this election cycle is “Not Left. Not Right. Forward Together” and it’s a recipe for disaster. If you say “Not Racist. Not Anti-Racist.” you are essentially saying that racism is okay.

To illustrate this problem, let’s turn to another topic:

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer recently had to stress that his party would not re-open the abortion debate despite allowing individual members to try. Elizabeth May, meanwhile, said that despite the party’s official pro-choice stance, she wouldn’t stop anti-choice MPs from trying to open the debate.

Her party corrected her and she changed her tune later that same day, but if your party needs to issue a statement to correct the perception that you are to the right of Andrew Scheer, then you have a serious problem.

No matter how important the one issue you care about is (and the future of the planet is of paramount importance), you can’t ignore the rest. It’s not a distraction.

If Maxime Bernier woke up tomorrow and declared that he had been visited by three very white spirits and now believes that we need to stop climate change (dude’s loopy, could happen), he would still be a racist asshole. And, at this point, one I fear Elizabeth May would welcome to the cause.

Not All Greens

It’s important to note that quite a few people involved with and running for the Green Party are truly trying to be a progressive alternative to the mainstream political parties in Canada. In particular, I know that the Green Party of Quebec isn’t trying to bank on or ignore bigotry to get votes.

I also realize that a provincial party distancing itself from its national counterpart is risky. So is a federal candidate standing against their party’s leader on a particular point, while arguing for them to be Prime Minister because of a bunch of other points.

So I’m not calling on Green candidates and provincial parties to disavow their federal leader. I am, however, calling on potential Green voters to realize just who the leader is welcoming into the fold. And I’m calling on Elizabeth May and the federal Green leadership to, excuse the language, get their fucking shit together quickly.

People, myself included, have frequently warned the NDP against becoming Liberal lite. I never thought I’d have to warn the Green Party against becoming an eco-friendly version of the far right.

I really didn’t want to start this election campaign railing against the Green Party and I truly hope I don’t end it that way. Greenwashing bigotry is not how you save the planet, it’s how you marginalize yourself with voters who may otherwise rush to support you.

Featured image via CPAC

The past few weeks have been insanely eventful on the political scene. In the US, the Americans are dealing with a president who is a white supremacist, a misogynist, and a fraudster seeking to keep the poor fighting each other so he and his fellow billionaires can enrich themselves with the very institutions established to protect the people. We Canadians would love to point and laugh, but unfortunately, we have a scandal of our own to deal with.

The buzzword up here is actually a name: SNC Lavalin. This article will give a crash course on what is going on and what it means.

Founded in 1911, SNC Lavalin is one of the leading engineering and construction firms in Canada, handling everything from infrastructure to clean energy projects. Though they operate internationally, their head office is in Montreal and they are a major employer in Quebec and thus highly regarded in the province.

Since 2015 SNC Lavalin has been in hot water with prosecutors and the RCMP. This is due, in part, to their dealings in Libya from 2001 to 2011, where they are alleged to have paid out $48 million in bribes to public officials in the country in an attempt to influence the government. The RCMP’s investigation also alleges that the company defrauded Libyan businesses of $130 million, actions in violation of the Corruption of Foreign Public Officials Act which criminalizes giving loans or bribes to a foreign public official “in order to obtain or retain an advantage in the course of business.”

In addition to the charges related to the SNC Lavalin’s activities in Libya, the company is also facing charges for a bribery scheme involving a $127 million contract to fix the Jacques Cartier bridge. In 2017, the former head of Canada’s Federal Bridge Corporation pleaded guilty to accepting $2.3 million in bribes from SNC Lavalin in relation to the contract.

The company is thus facing charges of corruption and fraud which, if convicted, could result in SNC Lavalin being barred from bidding on federal contracts for ten years. SNC Lavalin has maintained that they will cooperate with authorities but claim that the people involved are third parties or are no longer with the company.
In February 2019, prosecutors were ready to start bringing charges against SNC Lavalin.

SNC Lavalin in turn was seeking to avoid criminal charges via the new Deferred Prosecution Law passed in June 2018. Under this law, corporations can avoid criminal prosecution with a Deferred Prosecution Agreement (DPA) in which they must cooperate with the Crown and the courts including paying penalties and reparations, giving up any benefits acquired because of their crimes, stop their wrongdoing (obviously), and adopt any compliance measures.

Agreements are allegedly to protect employees from layoffs, as well as shield shareholders who knew nothing of the crimes while holding corporations to account for them. In order to be eligible for such an agreement, the crimes must be economic in nature, did not cause serious bodily harm, and there must be a reasonable likelihood of conviction for the offenses.

Unsurprisingly, SNC Lavalin was the first company to seek such an agreement under the new law. There was, however, a hitch. Under the law, the Attorney General of Canada must consent to the negotiation of the agreement.

This is where Jody Wilson-Raybould comes in.

Until she was switched to be the Minister of Veterans affairs in January 2019, she was the Attorney General of Canada. According to her testimony before the House of Commons at the end of February 2019, she experienced a:

“Consistent and sustained effort by many people within the government to seek to politically interfere in the exercise of prosecutorial discretion in my role as the attorney general of Canada, in an inappropriate effort to secure a deferred prosecution agreement with SNC-Lavalin.”

Jody Wilson-Raybould in the House of Commons

The accusation is that the Prime Minister’s office repeatedly pressured Wilson-Raybould to offer SNC Lavalin a Deferred Prosecution Agreement and that if such an agreement were not offered, there would be serious political consequences. As Attorney General, Wilson-Raybould had oversight and discretion over whether to intervene in cases that might be prosecuted by the Crown.

The director of public prosecutions, Kathleen Russel, informed Wilson-Raybould in September 2018 that her office had decided not to invite SNC Lavalin to negotiate a Deferred Prosecution Agreement. By September 17th, having reviewed the materials, the then Attorney General decided not to interfere, despite the pressure from cabinet members and their staff about what this would mean with regards to Quebec and the upcoming election.

In January 2019, Wilson-Raybould was informed by the Prime Minister that she would be moved or shuffled out of the position of Attorney General to that of Minister of Veterans Affairs. Shortly thereafter, in February, she resigned from the Trudeau cabinet. Shortly thereafter, Gerald Butts, Prime Minister Trudeau’s principal secretary resigned over the SNC Lavalin affair. On March 4, 2019, Treasury Board president Jane Philpott also resigned from the Trudeau cabinet.

Why is the Prime Minister so bent on protecting SNC Lavalin?

Simple: it’s an election year and SNC Lavalin plays an important role in the Quebec economy. If SNC Lavalin falls, there is a concern about the economic consequences for the province. Trudeau needs Quebec to win the and is clearly concerned that acting against its prized engineering firm will affect his chances victory in November.

Given all the scandal this has caused, protecting the SNC Lavalin may not have been worth the trouble after all. Only time will tell.

Featured image via TechCharts.net

One of the cornerstones of any liberal democracy is a judiciary that is independent, fair, and free from bias. Unfortunately, judges are human beings and therefore vulnerable to having the same prejudices many of us have.

An ideal government will name judges that can separate their own preconceptions from what is fundamentally right and legal in rendering their decisions. Unfortunately, this is not what happened in the case of former Alberta judge Robin Camp, and it is clearly not what happened in the case of Judge Eliana Marengo.

Her story is one that shows the dangers of aggressive Quebec Islamaphobia and racism masquerading as legal secularism.

In February 2015, Rania El-Alloul went to court to get her car back after it had been seized by the SAAQ. The issue was a simple one, but Judge Marengo turned a molehill into a mountain by refusing to hear El-Alloul’s case unless she took off her headscarf, inappropriately comparing the hijab to hats and sunglasses which are not permitted in court.

El-Alloul was not wearing a headscarf. She was wearing a hijab mandated by her faith, which she politely told the judge. Judge Marengo in a recording of the proceedings said that the court is a secular space, mentioning that there is no cross on the wall of the courtroom. She then reprimanded El-Alloul, refusing to hear her case because she was “not suitably dressed” as per the regulations of the Court of Quebec.

As there is no record of Judge Marengo denying others their day in court due to them wearing visible crosses, clergy collars, or a kipa, it is most likely she refused El-Alloul because she is Muslim.

Judge Marengo gave El-Alloul two options, she could take off her “headscarf” or request a postponement and consult a lawyer. El-Alloul refused to remove it and thus far, her case has yet to be heard.

When the story broke, numerous complaints were made to the Quebec Conseil de la Magistrature (“the Council”), the organization responsible for disciplining provincially appointed judges in Quebec. The complaints came not just from El-Alloul herself, but from many others unrelated to the case who felt the judge’s conduct was inappropriate of her high office.

Prime Justin Trudeau expressed his disapproval of Marengo on Twitter, saying:

In February 2016, the Council decided to form a committee to investigate Judge Marengo’s conduct. Marengo, for her part, tried to block the investigation into her conduct by challenging the legitimacy of the Council itself. She claimed that the refusal to hear El-Alloul amounted to a judicial decision that must be addressed in an appeal and that to investigate her via the Council would be a violation of judicial independence.

Fortunately, the Superior Court of Quebec sided with Council the following year. Marengo appealed the decision but the Quebec Court of Appeal agreed with the Superior Court.

An investigation into Judge Marengo’s conduct is now underway or will be soon.

How exactly does the Quebec Conseil de la Magistrature work?

It’s a lot like the Canadian Judicial Council responsible for investigating federal judges.

In addition to administrative duties and a general responsibility to improve the justice system in the province, the Quebec Conseil de la Magistrature is responsible for investigating the conduct of judges sitting on the Court of Quebec, the Professions Tribunal, and the Human Rights Tribunal. It has 16 members consisting of eleven judges, one justice of the peace, two lawyers, and two members of the general public.

They generally conduct investigations in response to complaints filed with them. Complaints to the Quebec Council can be filed online via their website.

Like their federal counterpart, the Conseil cannot overturn judicial decisions or verdicts as those have to go through the appeals process. All the Quebec Council can do is reprimand a judge or in the worst cases, recommend to the government that the judge be removed from the bench. In their investigations, the Council must consider the Judicial Code of Ethics, a set of rules governing the behavior of judges in Quebec.

Judge Marengo will likely be investigated with regards to whether her conduct violated articles two and eight of the Judicial Code of Ethics which have been used to reprimand the racist behavior of judges in the past. They read as follows:

  • 2. The judge should perform the duties of his office with integrity, dignity and honour.
  • 8. In public, the judge should act in a reserved, serene and courteous manner.”

Judge Eliana Marengo’s behavior towards Rania El-Alloul was unacceptable. Not only did it deny an innocent woman her day in court, but it is also against the values of diversity and freedom from discrimination Quebec supposedly embraces.

Here’s hoping the Council agrees.

* Featured image of the Palais de Justice in Montreal by Jeangagnon via Wikimedia Commons

It must be said that there is no issue more personal than that regarding our health care and family planning choices. It must also be said that in a country that constitutionally recognizes the equality of men and women, the choice of family planning method – which could include abstinence, the pill, condoms, IUDs, or abortion – is NOBODY’s business but the person directly affected by them.

Our government is responsible for upholding the constitution, which includes making sure that groups that do not recognize people’s constitutional right to make their own decisions regarding their healthcare will not get public funds. The Canadian federal government has made this clear via their recent announcement regarding the Canada Summer Jobs Program (CSJ).

The Canada Summer Jobs Program is an initiative by the federal government to encourage employers to take on summer students at the secondary and post-secondary levels by offering to subsidize the students’ wages for them.

The subsidy works for public and private employers as well as non-profit organizations and small businesses and has several priorities including the supporting employers who hire students from underrepresented groups such indigenous Canadians, the disabled, and visible minorities, and those that support opportunities in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) for women. Applications for the subsidies must be made by potential employers, though recently the Trudeau government added an additional catch to the program’s requirements.

Those who apply to the CSJ program now have to attest that:

“Both the job and the organization’s core mandate respect individual human rights in Canada, including the values underlying the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms as well as other rights. These include reproductive rights and the right to be free from discrimination on the basis of sex, religion, race, national or ethnic origin, colour, mental or physical disability, sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.”

The federal government’s website adds the recognition that women’s rights are human rights and that their rights include “sexual and reproductive rights — and the right to access safe and legal abortions.”

This announcement was never meant to turn Canada into the next front in the battle between those that believe people have a right to their choices and those who do not. That issue was already settled in the early 90s when, following the Supreme Court striking down Canada’s abortion laws in 1988, the Senate voted against a new abortion law put before Parliament by the Mulroney government. Public opinion confirms this, for according to a 2017 Ipsos poll, 77 percent of respondents feel abortion should be permitted.

The announcement was simply meant to be a way to fix a subsidy issue after the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada published a report indicating that federal funding was going to anti-abortion groups in the summer of 2016. Federal Employment Minister Patty Hadju’s office then put out a statement apologizing for the oversight and stating that “no such organizations will receive funding from any constituencies represented by Liberal MPs.”

All the Trudeau government is doing is obeying the law by enforcing the gender equality statutes in the Canadian Charter of Rights by making anyone who does not conform to them ineligible for Federal funding.

It is Conservatives who have turned this minor subsidy issue into a religious crusade about abortion. The fiasco that followed is not an ideological debate about religious freedom but rather the result of some groups’ anger at losing government money they feel they are entitled to.

Organizations like The Southern Alberta Bible Camp who have publicly said “we don’t believe abortion is right” stand to lose about $40 000 in subsidy money if they refuse to sign the aforementioned attestation.

Conservative leader Andrew Scheer has accused the Prime Minister – a self-proclaimed “proud feminist”- of imposing his views on faith groups. This is the same Andrew Scheer one of his supporters assured me would not take on abortion rights in Canada following his election to leadership of the party.

“I believe that the federal government should respect the freedoms that Canadians enjoy to have different beliefs and that by imposing personal values of Justin Trudeau on a wide variety of groups is not an appropriate way to go,” Scheer has said.

The government has not said that groups that openly condemn abortion and LGBTQ2 groups cannot operate in Canada. As per our religious freedoms and right to freedom of speech guaranteed in the constitution, they can do as they please within reasonable limits prescribed by law. All the federal government has done is said that they cannot get government money to hire young people to help them do it.

Since the Conservatives have turned this into an abortion issue, let’s look at those that claim to believe in women’s equality and still be pro-life.

Despite the claim of many conservatives, one cannot recognize the constitutional right of women’s equality to men and be pro-life at the same time. It is not feminism these self-proclaimed “pro-life feminists” are embracing, but rather benevolent sexism.

The reason is this: the most secular anti-abortion arguments rest on the unspoken notion that women are not strong enough, mature enough, or intelligent enough to make their own decisions regarding their reproductive health. They are welcome to every freedom men have, except with regards to their deeply personal reproductive choices. ]

They will use arguments about sex selective abortions to make this point, while completely ignoring the numbers and whether or not the procedure was necessary to save the woman’s life. It is the same kind of benevolently sexist argument the most vicious secularists make in Quebec when trying to force Muslim women to stop wearing the hijab or niqab: the infantilizing argument that presumes that no woman is capable of making such a decision of her own free will but rather makes difficult decisions out of selfishness, impulsivity, or external pressure.

It is a notion that must be recognized for what it is: a contradiction of the notion of gender equality entrenched in Canadian law.

Those who stand to lose funds as a result of this will be doing so because their mandate does not fit with that of the Canadian government. We also need to ask how much the federal government will be checking up on those who do sign the attestation.

Is this an administrative rubber stamp where people can attest to one thing and do another? Or will the federal government take steps to make sure that those who do get the funds stay true to their attestation?

Without any sort of checks, the attestation is meaningless.

If it is meaningless, then groups who really want to the money to hire a student to distribute photos of fetuses outside clinics should have no trouble signing it.

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)

Last week, while everyone was busy looking at that nice picture of Obama and Trudeau amiably chatting it up in Little Burgundy, the government dropped Canada’s new “deliberately ambitious” National Defense Strategy. This includes a 73% increase of the military defense budget over the next ten years and replacement of the CF-18 fleet with 88 advanced fighter aircraft (instead of the 65 planes promised by the Conservatives).

Among all the usual reasons presented by the government for this rather dramatic hike, two stood out: the need to respond to NATO pressure and the need to assume more of a leading role on the international stage in response to the Trump administration’s isolationism.

Barack Obama and Justin Trudeau dining at Liverpool House in Little Burgundy last Tuesday

NATO requests that member states devote 2% of their GDP to national defense and Canada spends little more than half of that. By 2027, Canada’s defense spending will have jumped from $18.9 Billion to $32.7 Billion, which will be 1.4% of the GDP – still too little for NATO, but enough to significantly improve its status.

To be fair, in 2016, only five of the 28 members (The UK, the US, Greece, Poland and Estonia) actually reached NATO’s target. To be quite clear, the pressure to increase spending is coming from the US in particular. Donald Trump scolded NATO leaders last month for not committing more funds.

On the other hand, Trump’s unpredictable behaviour on diplomatic matters is a factor in and of itself.

“The fact that our friend and ally has come to question the very worth of its mantle of global leadership, puts into sharper focus the need for the rest of us to set our own clear and sovereign course,” said the minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland.

On Tuesday, while Obama was speaking in Montreal, Freeland presented the new policy to the House of Commons. And just like Obama spoke for an hour and a half about everything wrong with Trump without mentioning him, the Minister clearly depicted Canada’s new defense strategy as a countermeasure to Trump’s unreliability without saying so. This brilliantly written part of her discourse is a perfect example:

“Imagine a Canadian view that says we are safe on our continent, and we have things to do at home, so let’s turn inward. Let’s say Canada first. Here’s why that would be wrong…”

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland

She then went on to argue that Canada is facing many threats on the international front, mentioning climate change, but also, the dictatorship in North Korea, “crimes against humanity in Syria, the monstrous extremists of Daesh, and Russian military adventurism.”

Freeland also warned that relying on the umbrella of protection provided by the US would turn us into a client state.

Foreign and security policy analyst Srdjan Vucetic believes Canada increasing its defense spending is inevitable.

“While the demand for spending precedes Trump-induced uncertainties,” he argued, “the latter amplifies, especially in light of Freeland’s speech on Tuesday.”

Vucetic rather liked hearing Freeland admit “that the world is different now that there are no adults in the White House.”

Selling military spending to the Left

The Liberals aren’t forgetting the votes they got on the left of the spectrum in this rightward shift towards militarism. That’s why they’re packaging it as a soft criticism of the Trump Administration, something that is hard for progressives not to support.

Freeland also talked a fair amount about another popular topic on the left: fighting climate change, taking the opportunity to say that “Canada is deeply disappointed by the decision by the US Federal Government to withdraw from the Paris Agreement on climate.”

It’s logical that increased military spending will improve Canada’s pull on the diplomatic world which is necessary to influence the fight against climate change. However, the Liberal government has given us no reason to believe that they would ever use it to that effect. Despite talking a big game about the environment, they have done just as much for it as the Conservatives.

It wasn’t the only part of the Minister’s discourse that seemed like a diversion tactic meant to appease the Left.

“Now, it is clearly not our role to impose our values around the world. No one appointed us the world’s policeman,” Freeland assured the House of Commons, preemptively echoing potential critics. The statement is a little bit at odds with the very first paragraph of the official policy document praising Canadian military for “working tirelessly to (…) promote Canadian values and interests abroad” and the fact that her own discourse cares to point out how good and honorable Canadian values are.

While “impose” and “promote” are two distinct concepts, they have a way of blending in this particular context, considering no one actually fears Canada “imposing” its values through some sort of coercive force. All this to say that, as nicely as this statement plays to popular criticism, it is again devoid of actual significance.

The Liberals won the elections by playing up the contrast between them and the Conservatives. Instead of acting on that contrast, it looks like they’ve decided to play up their differences with Trump instead.

* Featured image: Canadian CF-18 via WikiMedia Commons

On June 1st, 2017, Premier Philippe Couillard announced that the time has come to reopen the constitutional debate in Quebec. The response across much of Quebec and Canada was: WHY?

As it turns out, the announcement is merely a confirmation of a promise Couillard made in 2013 when running for leadership of the province. Back then he boldly said he planned to get Quebec to sign the constitution by Canada’s 150th anniversary. As it stands, Quebec has never signed the Canadian constitution. In order to understand why, we need to go back in time.

(The story is a long one, so apologies to any history buffs who feel that vital information is missing.)

Before 1982, Canada’s constitution remained in London and only the British government could amend it. However, the act of getting permission from Great Britain became a purely symbolic act as Canada and other former British colonies asserted their independence. All Canada had to do was ask the British to amend their constitution and the crown would rubber stamp their request. Nonetheless, in the late 1970s and early 80s, Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, father of our current prime minister, came up with a plan to bring Canada’s constitution home.

Trudeau’s plan consisted of repatriating the constitution, modifying it by entrenching his charter of rights, what we now know as the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and establishing an amendment formula. In order to do so, he got provincial leaders together, one of whom was the father of the Quebec Sovereigntist movement, René Lévesque.

The goal was to get the provinces to agree to Trudeau’s plan. At the same time, the Prime Minister put the question of what was allowed to the Supreme Court in a case we now know as the Patriation Reference.

The Supreme Court had to answer many questions, but the main one was whether Ottawa was bound by law to get the consent of the provinces to amend the constitution. The Court said no.

Quebec wanted recognition of itself as a distinct society, a veto over constitutional amendments, as well as an opt out clause that would allow provinces an out of certain aspects of the constitution with some kind of compensation so they would not have to pay for any federal actions that were not in their interests. Lévesque and Quebec were denied, and the constitution was repatriated and entrenched without Quebec’s consent.

Two more attempts were made to get Quebec to sign the constitution, but both failed. As it has never consented to the current constitution, Quebec remains bound by it only because it remains part of Canada.

With Couillard’s announcement came the release of a two hundred page document outlining his government’s vision for Quebec and its place in Canada. The document cannot be called a plan because it sets no timeline for Quebec to sign and no step by step procedure his government would want to use.

The document has a lot of words, but says nothing of value.

It asserts the Quebecois identity as “our way of being Canadian” but when it comes to identifying the people of Quebec, the text limits them to four groups: French speakers, English speakers and the First Nations and Inuit. Allophones such as the Jews, the Greeks, the Italians, Eastern Europeans and the Asian communities who helped to build Quebec are almost completely left out.

The only time Allophones are mentioned in the text is in the context of “interculturalism” and “integration” which, when put together, sound dangerously like assimilation. Since Quebec policy treats Allophones as potential Francophones by making their children go to French school, this is hardly surprising. The text also fails to address the growing problem of Xenophobia in Quebec, which begs the question as to whether the document’s definition of the English Speaking Quebecois refers exclusively to white English-speakers in the province.

What Couillard’s document does do is reiterate what Quebec wants from a relationship with Canada as party to the constitution:

  • Recognition of the Quebec Nation
  • Respect for Quebec’s areas of jurisdiction
  • Autonomy
  • Flexibility and asymmetry
  • Cooperation and administrative agreements
  • Shared institutions

This is all sealed together with the assertion that Quebec’s “full and complete participation in Canada” must come from a “concrete and meaningful recognition” of the province as “the only predominantly French-speaking state in North America and as such, heir to a rich and unique culture that must be protected, supported, and developed.”

Couillard’s plan to reopen the constitutional debate has been met with mixed feelings.

Bloc Québecois leader Martine Ouellet acknowledges that it’s a political move but welcomes it as an opportunity to reopen discussions about Quebec sovereignty. Though the Parti Québecois has decided to put aside the issue of sovereignty for the time being, leader Jean-François Lisée commended Couillard for acknowledging the need to address Quebec’s place within Canada. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has more or less said it’s not a topic to be reopened, while Amir Khadir, an MNA for Québec Solidaire, claims it’s a ploy by the Couillard government to deflect attention from the scandals surrounding the Premier and his party.

It is Khadir’s interpretation of Couillard’s move that seems the most plausible. A simple Google search of Couillard’s name with the word “scandal” will reveal much about the shortcomings of his government. There is everything from the arrest of deputy-premier Nathalie Normandeau for corruption, to Quebec Health Minister Gaetan Barrette’s mismanagement of our health care system and Barrette’s defensive victim-blaming, to the police surveillance scandal, to the Bombardier executive bonus scandal available to learn about online. With his government up for reelection next year, there is much Couillard needs to deflect attention from.

Let’s not take the bait, and keep our eyes where they belong: not on a can of worms that should not be opened, but on the government holding the can opener.

Justin Trudeau was a man on a mission Monday. Canada’s global golden boy came to Washington ready to go head to head with Donald Trump, newly elected US President and international orange pariah.

First, there was the handshake. Trump’s grip and grin style is a classic, though awkwardly applied, power move: yank the unsuspecting fellow world leader in and only let go on your own terms.

Trudeau, a sometimes amateur boxer and full-time media savvy politician, was ready. He bound from the car and immediately grasped Trump’s shoulder, turning the President’s opener into a stalemate:


Then there was the joint press conference. While the focus was clearly on NAFTA and the plans Trump had to renegotiate it, reporters did ask about the infamous (and now officially suspended) travel ban. In particular, they wanted to know how the two leaders would square the circle that is their quite different approaches to refugees.

Trump dodged the issue, like, well Donald Trump. He talked about his Electoral College victory. At least he managed to mention an initiative for women in business without plugging his daughter’s clothing line. He’s, um, learning?

As for Trudeau, well, he spun it like a pro. First he talked about Canada accepting 40 000 Syrian refugees and then finished by saying that “the last thing Canadians expect is for me to come down and lecture another country on how they govern themselves.”

Mission accomplished. At least for Trudeau’s international reputation as a refugee-hugging progressive. He met the beast head on and prevailed. The memes, shared video and pics will attest to that:



As for his claim that a lecture is the last thing Canadians would expect him to bring, well, he’s right. After the NDP tried to get his government to publicly condemn the Trump travel ban, Trudeau dodged and refused. If he wouldn’t step up in the comfort of our Parliament, why would we expect him to in Trump’s home?

That doesn’t mean a good many of us didn’t want him to say something a bit more confrontational. Maybe he could have put the same energy and tact into fighting against arrogant and ignorant discrimination that he did into his photo-op handshake.

Criticizing the travel ban would not be akin to “lecturing another country” either. There are plenty of Americans vocally opposed to the executive order. Thousands of them took to the streets and the airports and quite a few can be found in both the legislative and judicial branches of the US Government and it’s the judicial branch that has the final say in the US, no matter what the President thinks.

But…diplomacy you may argue. Sure, fine, but Trudeau’s agree to disagree approach in the press is hiding a just agree but try not to talk about it one behind the scenes.

The day before Trudeau’s trip to Washington, the CBC reported on Bill C-23, the so-called Pre-Clearance Bill, which would give US Border Control agents the power to detain Canadian citizens on Canadian soil and even deny permanent Canadian residents the right to re-enter Canada. While this was, admittedly, originally negotiated by the Harper and Obama administrations, it’s Trudeau’s Liberals who are trying to make it law.

They’re doing so with full knowledge that they will be giving new powers to an agency that didn’t think twice about implementing an illegal, illogical and immoral ban. They’re also doing so in cooperation with an administration run by white supremacists who propagate myths equating refugees with terrorists.

Diplomacy is one thing. This is falling in line with the fascistic tendencies of the Trump Administration. Trudeau won the handshake battle on camera, but in reality, Trump’s power move prevailed.

And then there’s Keystone XL. At least, with this one, it’s something Trudeau has supported all along. He even went to Washington before he was Prime Minister asking President Obama to approve it.

Now, with a new President hell-bent on profit for energy companies regardless of the environmental cost, it looks like he will get his wish. Keystone was a key part of the joint statement the two released.

Coming across as a progressive environmentalist standing next to Donald Trump is easy. Living up to your international reputation here at home in reality, not so much.

I’ll leave it to The Beaverton to sum up the Two Trudeaus in this comedy skit:



He’s not as bad as Trump, nowhere near it. He may be the progressive hero the world needs, but that fiction is not what Canada has.