I had high hopes for the mayor of Montreal. I thought that in all the discourse about Bill 21, Mayor Valérie Plante, the leader of Quebec’s most multicultural city, would take a stand against it.
Instead, despite evidence that applying the law will only hurt Muslim women and prevent the Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, and Sikh people of Montreal from participating fully in our democracy, Mayor Plante has publicly stated that despite her objections to it, she will uphold Bill 21.
As a citizen of Montreal, I was overjoyed to see that we had finally elected a female mayor. I thought that as a woman elected to head the most multicultural city in Quebec, you would do what is necessary to stand up for the people you were chosen to lead. It is therefore disappointing to see that you have publicly stated that while you disagree with Bill 21, you will enforce and uphold it.
I understand that your position is difficult. As a woman in politics you are under greater scrutiny than your male peers, and as leader of our City you feel obligated to uphold the law. But history does not remember those who enforced unjust laws while wringing their hands in supposed discomfort. History remembers those who stood up in the face of them and said NO.
According to a 2011 study by Statistics Canada, 5.6% of Montrealers are Jewish and 9.6% are Muslim. Another 1.3% of the city’s populations are Hindus and Sikhs. All of these people will be affected by this law and thus denied a chance to assimilate and participate fully in our democracy. In these troubled times, they turned to you for guidance and in response you have turned your back on them. We therefore implore you to reconsider your position and prove yourself to be the leader we know you can be.
Stand up and say the City of Montreal cannot and will not enforce Bill 21.
After a train exploded in 2013 in the small town of Lac Mégantic, killing 47, many of the mourning families turned to the American justice system in hopes of getting better compensation. Four years later, the three firms representing them have charged them around $40 million in total, despite doing virtually nothing, according to information gathered by Radio-Canada’s Enquête.
40 of the 47 families have contracts with the Garcia Law Group (GLG). According to Radio-Canada, they have paid them between 10 and 15 million so far, with nothing to show for it. The firm is based in Southern Texas and owned by Wilfrido Rogelio Garcia. It was first registered there only a month after the Lac Mégantic accident.
Despite what his clients believe, Garcia is not even a lawyer. In fact the only lawyer on the firm’s payroll seems to be his daughter, Maria Garcia. GLG’s modus operandi is to pressure grieving families to sign contracts, so they can resell their cases to lawyers.
“They said to me that with some plane crashes in Europe, [Garcia] or his people were there in less than 24 hours. They were proud of that,” said Michele Whitmore, who once worked on a contract with GLG, as quoted by Radio-Canada. Garcia found clients in the aftermath of at least four plane crashes, in Peru, Greece, Russia and Indonesia, where the number of casualties ranged from 48 to 129.
GLG was the first law firm to get to Lac Mégantic after the tragedy They approached the families of victims and invited them to meetings to convince them that GLG could seek justice for them through the American system.
Ginette Cameron, who lost her daughter Geneviève in the explosion, remembers Garcia asking her several times if she would like another mother to live through what she lived through. She and her husband signed the same day.
Experts agree that such behaviour is against every deontological code. According to Bill Edwards, a lawyer interviewed by Radio-Canada, it is plainly illegal. Reporters have been unable to speak to anyone from Garcia Law Group.
Enquête’s full report will air tonight at 9pm on Radio-Canada.
* Featured image: Google Street View of the address listed on the Garcia Law Firm PLLC website
Student politics may not seem like the most interesting of ‘current affairs’ to follow. That’s understandable. After all, if you are not a student, a lot of the things that students care about don’t really matter to you. That can be contested, however.
I have two strands of student politics in mind. One of them actually takes place within campuses, with elected student representatives doing their business. There is, however, a broader sphere of student politics, which actually involves lobbying governments, provincial and even federal.
Let us focus on the federal level for today, because what is happening right now is some Westeros-level political intrigue. The Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) is the largest student association in Canada. Basically, student unions from universities are able to become members of CFS; just like how individual labour unions can unite under a larger confederacy. From the Pacific to the Atlantic, 81 student unions are members of CFS; but here’s the kicker, not all of them want to be members anymore.
What usually happens, if you feel like you want to stop being a member of a federation? If you are a large union yourself, you hold a referendum, asking your constituency, “Hey, do we want to keep on being members of this thing?” Your constituency says either yay or nay, and then you go on your merry way.
See, that’s not how CFS rolls. In CFS, first you need to hold a petition, collecting hand-written signatures of 20 per cent of your members. Then, you need to send this document full of hand-written signatures to CFS, where CFS will count the number of signatures, and determine whether or not the signatures are ‘legible.’ That is, if they receive the petition and that it doesn’t get ‘lost.’
Anywhere during this, CFS may just declare your petition to be invalid on any of the reasons I’ve stated above. In the case of McGill University’s Post-graduate Students’ Society (PGSS) – the case I’m most familiar with – the invalidation of the petition was brought to the Quebec Superior Court; where the judge presiding compared the situation to a ‘bad marriage.’
But that’s not all! Even if you manage to get the petition in, and force CFS to recognise its validity, holding a membership referendum itself is extremely restricted. Everything and anything that the people campaigning to leave CFS say must actually be approved by a CFS appointed overseer before it’s released to the public. The rules of the game are set by CFS. If there is any violation, CFS will declare the referendum invalid. And then, you cannot petition for a referendum for another five years!
I’ll get to the financial aspect of this entire spiel momentarily.
On their website, CFS says that there are four student unions in Quebec that are its members. What it doesn’t say is that all four of them are struggling really hard, or have been lucky enough to leave CFS. Concordia’s student unions also are struggling with CFS, and they’re in much more of a pickle than PGSS.
The University of Toronto’s Graduate Student Union (UTGSU) also tried to leave CFS, and last November they held their own referendum. Allegedly, 66 per cent of the eligible voters voted no to CFS, but they failed to meet the quorum of 1606 people, by seven people. Because seven people failed to vote, UTGSU cannot hold a referendum for another five years.
There are a bunch of other examples, but I’m not gonna bore you with details. You can find details here, and here if you want to be bored, or if you are genuinely curious about this, for which I thank you.
What does that mean? I promised I’d talk about finances, so here’s finances. CFS charges its member unions $13 per student per year. UTGSU has roughly 16 000 members. That makes $208 000 per year. UTGSU cannot hold another referendum for five years. The cost of failing to leave CFS, therefore, is $1 040 000.
But wait, there’s more! I mentioned before that some student unions take this to the court. You can imagine, easily, that legal fees for running years long legal battles against a federation the size of a medium city (CFS has a total of roughly 1.5 million students under its umbrella). Conversely, CFS also needs to pay legal fees. Where does that money come from? That’s right! The very students they are suing!
But why do student unions want to leave CFS? What the hell is wrong with it? To be perfectly fair, CFS does have some interesting campaigns. For instance, they have a campaign called “Let People Vote,” which essentially involves CFS lobbying against the federal Bill C-23. Bill C-23 is law now, so clearly their lobbying did not work – perhaps, along with other reasons, but still.
I’m just going to give you a few seconds to let the irony of having a campaign called “Let People Vote” while making it extremely difficult for people to hold referendums sink in.
Going back to Quebec in specific, CFS has not been active in la Belle Province since 2010. That year was crazy in terms of CFS politics, because some internal leadership disputes caused the provincial wing of CFS – aptly called CFS-Quebec – to leave CFS. Or rather CFS disowned CFS-Q. Or perhaps CFS-Q transformed into something called Rassemblement des associations etudiantes? It was more or less all of this.
CFS did create a new Quebec wing, however the actual members from Quebec (namely Dawson Students’ Union, Concordia Students’ Union, Concordia Graduate Students’ Association, and PGSS) were not part of this new wing. So there was no Quebec representation in the National General Meeting of CFS.
Also, CFS has a national general meeting, where they make decisions about the regulations regarding leaving CFS. With no Quebec representation, it’s obvious why problems may arise.
I’ll cut to the chase. If this was about the small labour unions or local political parties trying to leave their federal umbrella organizations, but actively denied their right to free association (that is, freedom to become or stop being a member of any organization/club/whatever of your desire), it would make top news – political party more so than the labour union, but I digress.
There are unimaginable political games happening within the realm of student politics, and it is mostly going under the radar. If these stories ever appear in mainstream media, they are treated as trivial. In fact, CFS still retains its title as the ‘legitimate’ voice of student concerns on a federal level, yet with all these legal battles against it, its lack of accountability, and overall shadiness shows to me that it should be otherwise.
The news that came after the ‘grand’ deliberation of the jury last night in response to the shooting of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown by white police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, MO wasn’t one bit surprising. It did, though, feel like an electroshock of seismic magnitude.
Although it’s obvious that a judicial system that gives the same definition of ”personhood” to multinational corporations as it does to an actual person is rigged and corrupt to the core, it was a shocking verdict given the public outcry revolving around the case, the popular mobilization and the massive sensitization campaign that swept like wildfire throughout communities in the United States.
It seemed more like a sermon on the benefits of the system: St. Louis County prosecutor Bob McCulloch’s tone was that of a bureaucrat, dishing-out bunches of reports, pharisaic evidence and physical proof, in his attempt to make us believe that officer Darren Wilson was right to murder in cold blood an 18-year-old Afro-American male for the crime of stealing a box of cigarillos. McCulloch said time after time that the accounts conveyed by the witnesses were contradictory, that it was all speculation and that, all in all, the legitimate fear that Afro-Americans (and others) have of the judicial system (one that not that long ago was the firewall of segregation) were unfounded, in other words, ridiculous.
McCulloch, a white, middle-aged man, was standing in front of the cameras last night speaking from the top of his altar down to the amassed crowds of Afro-American residents of Ferguson. It was the perfect metaphor for the hypocrisy of the entire situation. The subaltern can’t not speak. That was the message that rang out, the message that was supposed to quell once and for all the riots that had engulfed the impoverished St. Louis suburb since mid-August.
McCulloch was merely the avatar of a system, the message wasn’t his or that of the members of a jury, it was the message of law. Once McCulloch, from his prestigious position, with all the lights and the cameras driven on him, spoke, that was the word of ”god”: the word that would twist, turn and bend reality to fit its image that we had adjusted for it. In this reality, the people of Ferguson — their anger, their sorrow, their sense of alienation, their profound frustration — don’t fit within the canvas. It’s almost as if this new deity of law could remake events to suit its own pre-established narrative.
It was a thorough investigation, they say, and out of the 162 000 cases that involved grand juries in 2010 only 11 decided not to return an indictment. But beyond that, there is a profound difference between indictment and conviction. In no measure was it the Grand Jury’s role to convict officer Darren Wilson of murder or manslaughter, voluntary or involuntary but to examine if there were grounds to… Were there grounds? I wonder…
Is the fact that a police officer shot an unarmed teenager several times with forensic evidence that the teenager was shot in the back considerable grounds for indictment? Is the fact that there are several contradictory accounts of the events sufficient grounds for a more in depth investigation through a full trial? The fact that the corner store from which Michael Brown supposedly stole the infamous box of cigarillos that would cost him his life denies that they called in law enforcement, is that grounds for indictment? Maybe the fact that his corpse was left 4 1/2 hours in broad day light, terrorizing the entire community, is reason for indictment on the grounds of negligence?
Forget all of that. There are sufficient grounds in the fact that every 28 hours, an African-American is shot dead by American law enforcement or vigilantes. Let’s shed a bit of light here. Michael Brown’s death is not the first and not the last brutal murder of a young Afro-American at the hands of the police and thus Officer Wilson should have been indicted and convicted within this framework. Unfortunately, the message sent back from the grand jury’s non-indictment was clear: it’s okay for the police to use lethal force against subaltern groups.
It’s okay for Americans to exploit the working force of millions of ”illegal” immigrants and treat them inhumanely. It’s okay for American law enforcement to kill in cold blood young and poor African-Americans, such as 12-year-old Tamir Rice who was shot dead while in a playground, playing. It’s okay to take the poor and toiled to court when they fraud welfare, but when the banks make millions in bonuses and stash them off in the Bahamas to avoid taxation, it’s also okay. It’s illegal in most places to smoke or deal weed to a make a few extra bucks but when too-big-to-fail financial institutions launder blood money from cartels, that’s okay.
This is the state of our judicial systems, that the mainstream media uphold this veil of ideology that casts law as the ultimate truth and the maker and breaker of reality. What is law is truth, what is law is real, all the rest is nonsense…
But ”law” is nothing else than the crystallization of subjective interests. You only have to look at those who benefit from the law, you only have to take a look at the barriers that allow some to have a greater access to justice than others, to see that law is merely the crystallization, in many ways, of ideology.
In this sense, the grand ideal of the American Dream found its wreckage on the rocks of the grand jury. The ideology that uses the symbols of equality, liberty and freedom in practice abides by the notion that some are more equal than others, that everyone has the right to speak but only a few to be heard and if you’re never heard, the question is did you ever speak in the first place?
Law is always the structuring framework of ideology. Example laws vary in countries with different ideologies and forms of law vary in different times, but law is always the subject of the reigning ideology and the economic and social elites. That’s why banks used tight debt laws as leverage on the poorest sections of American society and yet no law could jail the bankers that knowingly, maybe even willingly, instigated the economic downturn.
Law is a silex shaped by ideology, a tool of legitimization of violence, used to keep the subaltern under the grip of the ideological apparatus. Law defines what violence is legitimate in Webberian terms and what violence isn’t, what special interests can use coercive force and what forces have to be denuded of their coercive force.
That’s why the tears, the anguish, the blood, the misery and the voices of the subaltern are rarely taken into account in ”legal” terms. We are tricked into believing that Lady Justice is blind-folded. Justice isn’t blind, it’s blinding.
The case of the Calgary Freeman on the land Andreas Pirelli, who declared his rented property a sovereign embassy, is both hilarious and sad. Funny in that it involves a comically delusional dickhead whose bizarre understanding of contract law and massively misinformed personal philosophy led him to violate his lease with the owner of the property on the grounds that he had claimed the duplex as his sovereign territory. He later attempted to bill the landlady for the “improvements” he had made to the house, by means of an invoice issued by his phony corporation.
Fortunately, the real law doesn’t recognize ridiculous crackpot legal theories as a defense and the man was evicted. It transpires, this particular jack ass has a history of this kind of behaviour, including an assault charge against him for an incident involving a former landlady in Montreal.
For those who don’t know about the spectacular lies of the Freeman-on-the-land movement, I invite you to visit Wikipedia to learn more about their conspiratorial beliefs. Basically, If I can oversimplify their childish theories, these folks try to shirk their legal obligations by claiming that there is a distinction between natural persons and their legal persons. While the latter is subject to all the laws you and I are because of their birth certificate ( wtf?!?) the former is not, because he (they’re almost invariably angry white males) has the status of a sovereign person or Freemen-on-the-land and doesn’t enter into contracts with the state or abide by its laws.
This has been used to justify all kinds of crazy stunts, such as driving without a license, stiffing your ex-wife on child support and, most alarmingly, keeping illegal firearms. Is it any wonder that the FBI consider them to be a terrorist organization?
Sad in that it represents a growing phenomenon of what one judge in Alberta charitably dubbed Organized Pseudolegal Commercial Argument Litigants (OPCAs) in the case of what law nerds now regard as the legal equivalent of a cult classic of Canadian Jurisprudence. Meads vs. Meads was a more or less typical case of divorce, with an unusual twist: one of the litigants Mr. Meads was a so called Freeman-on-the-land (like our weirdo in Calgary) and refused to recognize the jurisdiction of the court (or, for that matter, Canada) over him.
In his wonderful opinion, the judge tried in vain to comprehend the logic of Mr. Meads. He also shed light on a major source of headaches and frivolous lawsuits for courts especially in Common Law countries. These idiots try to bring down the state, at great cost to the taxpayer and themselves, with a wide variety of invalid legal tactics and claims.
The one thing that all of these half-baked legal schemes seem to have in common is that they are promoted by self-styled legal gurus who sell their pseudo-legal crap online and at conferences. Meanwhile, the unsuspecting fools that lap up their nonsense make life miserable for legal professionals by contesting every aspect of the legal system.
It should be said that the arguments made by Freeman-on-the-land closely resemble those of their now mainstream and equally obnoxious political brethren the American Tea Party. In fact, the judge in Meads vs. Meads observed that “the memberships focus is strongly anti-government and has libertarian and right wing overtones. Christian rhetoric is common”.
Doesn’t it sound like he’s describing the current GOP and its leading dim bulbs in a nutshell? It’s downright scary to think that many of them support politicians like Republican congressmen and presidential hopeful (thank God he repudiated his Canadian citizenship) Ted Cruz in his quixotic quest to defund and destroy Obamacare. These people, whether tea baggers or Freeman on the landers, hate government and will do everything in their power to see it fail.
The issue of HIV-status disclosure has been a hot topic recently in Canada. Yesterday, 31-year old Steven Boone of Ottawa was charged with three counts attempted murder and aggravated sexual assault after not disclosing his status to his sexual partners before having unprotected sex. Two charges were ultimately dismissed, while more have since been filed in Ottawa and Waterloo.
The case first became news in 2010 when Boone’s picture was released to the media after a then-17-year-old came forward and he tested positive after having had unprotected sex with Boone several times. Several other victims came forward, and more charges were filed. During the trial, the Crown brought forth transcripts of online chats where Boone lied about his status and sought out HIV-negative men to have sex with, leading to the higher charge of attempted murder.
AIDS activists worry that the criminalization of non-disclosure will cause people who might be infected to remain in the dark about their status. “This just sends a terrible message. Why would you want to know if you could be criminalized, if you could end up in prison for the rest of your life?” asked Dr. Mark Tyndall, who testified as an expert during Boone’s trial.
Boone’s conviction comes only a month after the Supreme Court ruled that people are not required to disclose their HIV status if the “realistic possibility of transmission is negated”, which in this case refers to a low viral load and proper condom use.
This is an update to the landmark 1998 decision that established that failure to disclose one’s status combined with failure to use protection constitutes “significant risk of harm”, and could result in a charge of aggravated sexual assault. The maximum penalty for aggravated sexual assault in Canada is life in jail, although no one has received the maximum sentence so far.
The Canadian Aids Society spoke out about last month’s ruling, calling it unjust and “a major step backwards for public health and human rights”.
They point out that the arbitrary notion of “significant risk” blatantly ignores scientific evidence that is even more apparent now than the original ruling in 1998. They are worried that people who exercise responsibility and take the proper precautions could still be prosecuted under the new law.
“People living with HIV need more health and social supports; they don’t need the constant threat of criminal accusations and possible imprisonment hanging over their heads. Similarly, people not living with HIV need to be empowered to accept responsibility for their own health, and not proceed under a false sense of security that the criminal law will protect them from infection,” they wrote in a media release.
Intentional transmission of HIV can also lead to criminal prosecution in the United States as well as most European nations. By contrast, in the areas of the developing world where rates of HIV and AIDS are more widespread, there are no laws regarding knowingly infecting someone with the virus.