Endangered species are a pet cause for many and a nuisance for many others. Social media is regularly flooded with a barrage of memes, online petitions, and articles about species on the brink of extinction due to natural or man-made causes. On March 9th, Quebec’s caribou population came into the spotlight when the Couillard government announced that they would not spend money to save them in Val D’Or.

According to the provincial Minister of Forests, Wildlife, and Parks Luc Blanchette, it would cost seventy six million dollars over the next fifty years to protect the habitat of caribou in the region. The caribou in the area have been on steady decline since the 1950s due to the logging industry.

The government had originally planned to move the remaining animals to a zoo in 2016 but that idea was withdrawn when environmental groups pointed out that the animals would not survive in captivity. The government has deemed saving them too expensive, so instead the government plans to focus on saving other caribou herds in the province.

As it stands, Canada’s caribou are considered endangered under Canada’s Species at Risk Act (SARA). While it is tragic that the animal that adorns our coinage is at risk, this article is not about them. It is about endangered species in Canada and what rules are in place at the federal and provincial levels to ensure their survival.

Sadly, protecting endangered species is not a simple matter in Canada, and we partly have the federalist system to blame. According to the articles of our constitution specifying federal and provincial jurisdictions, all waterways and marine life matters as well as land not claimed by the provinces are federal, whereas the management and sale of public lands in provincial territory, the exploration of non-renewable natural resources, and “the development, conservation and management of non-renewable natural resources and forestry resources in the province” are provincial. In cases where there is a jurisdictional conflict, the federal government takes precedence.

The current federal law to protect endangered species is the aforementioned Species at Risk Act which was enacted in 2002, though some of its provisions only came into effect in subsequent years. The main goal of the act is to prevent species from becoming extirpated or extinct. Extirpated as per the act means that the species is no longer found in Canada and “extinct” means the species no longer exists at all.

It has jurisdiction only over federal land, aquatic species, and migratory birds. Federal land only makes up about four percent of provincial land in Canada and even then, only areas classified as Critical Habitat are protected under the law. The federal act allows species to be classified as “at risk” or “not at risk” with assessments done by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada.

The Committee consists of experts, academia, politicians and aboriginal representatives and has the task of assessing the status of Canadian wildlife species; their recommendations for the classification of a given species are then passed on to the federal government. Their science-based findings are publicly available.

Once the Committee has classified a species, it must do a reassessment every ten years to see if the ones at risk are still at risk. The criteria they use are those established by the United Nations’ Red List for critically endangered, endangered and vulnerable species.

According to Environment Canada’s website, as of 2017 there are currently five hundred and twenty-one species of plants and animals classified under the Species At Risk Act as being at risk of extinction or extirpation in Canada. Once the Committee has established those at risk, it’s up to the government to decide whether or not to adapt their action plan to save a species by introducing measures such as incentives to support people helping to protect species at risk, awards and recognition programs, public awareness programs, and protecting habitats.

In Quebec, endangered species fall under the Act Respecting Threatened or Vulnerable Species. It mandates the Minister of Sustainable Development, the Environment and the Fight Against Climate Change to carry out research regarding species that need protection or whose habitats need protection, establish programs to promote their survival, and delegate and enter into agreements with the people they delegate to in order to implement these measures. The Minister can also, with the government’s assent, lease or acquire land by expropriation for the protection and management of threatened or vulnerable plant species.

For those of you unfamiliar with expropriation, it is the process by which the government decides to take land for itself by offering the owner(s) compensation based on what the property is valued at. The value of the land is determined by government appraisers. In cases where the owner feels the indemnity they are offered is insufficient, they will often turn to private appraisers and attorneys to seek fairer compensation.

Several private appraisers in Montreal told me that this is quite common, and in some cases cities will even halt development on a given parcel of privately owned land for ecological reasons, resulting in them being sued for “disguised expropriation”. It is in this respect, among others, that endangered species protections can be a nuisance for some.

The Quebec government can also be gifted or left land in a will for the sake of protecting vulnerable species.

It is up to the aforementioned Minister of Sustainable Development, the Environment and the Fight Against Climate Change and the Minister of Forests, Wildlife and Parks to come up with a list of threatened or vulnerable species in Quebec, how they should be identified, and where they are located.

The law does have exceptions and allows for parties to act in spite of it if an exemption is written into government regulations, if activities are carried out in accordance with government standards, the activity is required for educational or scientific purposes, or if activities are being carried out to repair damage caused by a catastrophe or to prevent it.

The government, like those who adopt it as a pet cause, recognizes the importance of protecting Canada’s vulnerable species as part of the fight against climate change. Let’s keep electing governments that continue to do so.

* Featured image by By Mickael Brangeon(Peupleloup) via WikiMedia Commons

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

Protesters in Montreal are no longer required to provide a route to police. The Quebec Superior Court invalidated section 2.1 of Municipal Bylaw P-6 which was added at the height of the Maple Spring student protests in 2012 by then-Mayor Gerald Tremblay.

Over the past few years, Montreal Police (SPVM) used this provision to kettle and ticket protesters and to stop marches minutes after they started. The annual Anti-Police Brutality March being a frequent target.

The Quebec Superior Court had already invalidated Section 3.2 of the bylaw, the provision banning masks at protests, back in 2016. In the same ruling, the court put some restrictions on 2.1, but didn’t eliminate it entirely.

Not content with a partial victory, the plaintiffs, which included protest mascot Anarchopanda, decided to appeal. Today they won and the problematic parts of P-6 are gone and the court’s decision is effective immediately.

“Let’s not forget that this victory belongs to our comrades who take to the streets and risk police and judicial repression to fight for all our rights,” Sibel Ataogul, one of the lawyers fighting the appeal said in a Facebook post, adding: “Despite victories, judiciarisation is not the solution. Only the struggle pays.”

* Featured image by Chris Zacchia

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.

As long as you have a bank account and an identity, someone will do their best to steal it. There is a myth that scammers only target the elderly because they’re technologically illiterate and so desperate for attention and that they are blind to being cheated. It’s a myth because it’s ageist and anyone can fall victim to a scam and be defrauded of their money, their credit, and their good name.

It’s the price we pay for being human, and for having access to modern technology. Being scammed does not make you stupid or naïve, it just means that are people eager enough to screw you for their or their client’s gain and they will use immoral and illicit ways to get it via the same things – email addresses, IDs, bank cards, websites etc., – we take for granted.

This article is going to be a little different than my other legal pieces. Instead of walking you through the law and the penalties for committing these scams, I’m going to focus on you – the potential victims. I am going to walk you through a few different kinds of scams and what to do if someone is trying to rope you into one. In cases where you may have already fallen victim to a scam, I will also provide some information on the action you can take.

We all know frauds and scams are illegal in Canada, but what many people don’t know is how they work and what you can do about them.

I want to help. So let’s talk scams.

Ponzi schemes are perhaps one of the oldest there is. Named after the con artist Charles Ponzi who operated the scam in the 30s, it’s a scam that presents itself as a wonderful investment opportunity. All you have to do is invest a ton of money and you’re guaranteed more money in interest.

The catch is that the business you are investing in doesn’t actually make any money. The interest cheques you are getting are actually the result of the scammer recruiting more people to invest. The scammer simply passes on some of the new investors’ money as the interest you allegedly earned on your investment.

It counts on the recruitment of more and more people. Once the scammer cannot recruit anymore, they’ll take the money and run, if they don’t get caught first.

A good rule to follow is that if an investment opportunity seems too good to be true, it probably is. If you’ve fallen victim to one, gather or print up all the information you have and contact the police.

Another common scam is the pyramid scheme. With a pyramid scheme, you’re offered a “great” business opportunity to “be your own boss”. With jobs in Canada paying poorly and with no benefits, more and more people are falling prey to these scams hoping to find a better lot in life.

Like Ponzi schemes, pyramid schemes rely on recruitment in order to survive, but unlike the former, the scheme is actually an illegal version of multi-level marketing. This means that they claim to exist for the purpose of selling products via independent distributors.

Legit multi-level marketing companies will disclose the different levels of earnings by people who join and the average earnings of a typical participant. With pyramid schemes, the products themselves are not what makes money. They rely on the sellers to buy a ton of the product first which they can sell afterward. The money comes from one distributor recruiting more distributors.

The ones the first distributor got to join will then buy the products in huge amounts hoping to sell them. The first distributor will get a cut of the money from the sale of all these products to the new distributors. This second batch of distributors will then have to recruit more distributors to buy a ton of the stuff so they can earn money off those sales, with some of it going to the first person, and the cycle continues.

If you are wondering if someone is trying to court you into a pyramid scheme and you’re thinking of signing up, look online before giving an answer. If the company is facing numerous accusations of being such a scheme, it’s best to stay away. Companies facing such accusations include Nu Skin and Herbalife, whose recruitment has decimated communities in the US.

If you’ve fallen prey to one, get out while you still can and report it to the police and the federal Competition Bureau which ensures that Canadian businesses operate legally and fairly.

Now let’s talk about a couple of computer scams.

When it comes to computer scams, there are a few prevention methods you can take. First, change your passwords often and make them as complicated as you can; that means using numbers, capital letters etc. The second thing you can do is back up all your files using a viable website, USB key, or portable hard drive, as viruses and malware are an inevitable part of having technology and often our data does not survive on infected machines.

Some of the most sinister scams are emails or text messages from companies that seem to be the legit ones you deal with such as your wireless or cable provider, your bank or a company like PayPal.They’ll claim that your account has been hacked or there has been some suspicious activity and that all you have to do is click on a link and log in to fix it.

With these schemes, they are not necessarily after your money but your personal information. It is therefore best to not click on the link provided. Take a good look at the email address or phone number the message is coming from and compare it to other legit communications you have gotten from the company. If you do mess up and click, check out the URL of the web page it sends you to, as the site may look the same, but the URL won’t be.It is very common for these scammers to use numbers and email addresses that are extremely similar to the real thing, so be diligent and contact the company directly just to be sure.

Another sinister computer scam is ransomware. This is a kind of malware that can infect your computer and lock it or encrypt your files unless you pay the scammer a ransom. A lot of these will claim to be from a legit law enforcement agency that has locked your machine saying you’ve been caught doing something illegal and have to pay a “fine”. That said, it’s the kind of malware that’s hard to prevent but there are a few things you can do if infected.

Though most scammers will unlock your computer once you pay, there’s no guarantee you’ll get your files back, so it is best to avoid paying the ransom. If however there is highly sensitive information on your device and you’d rather pay the money to get it back, pay it.

If infected, disconnect the computer from any other devices it can spread to. Take a picture of the ransom note using your phone or take a screenshot (if you can) in case you want to file a police report later on. Then you can take it to a computer repair shop – there are many – who will do their best to get rid of the malware and recover your data.

You can also try and or use a legit anti-virus or malware program to remove it and then do your best to recover any files.

Anyone and everyone can fall victim to a scam, but with a little knowledge, we can scammers less successful.

* Featured image by Jean-Etienne Minh-Duy Poirrier via Flickr Creative Commons

When it comes to criminal justice, it’s safe to say that pop culture has ruined its meaning in the minds of all but a certain few. Shows like Law and Order and CSI champion police and prosecutors, ignore or sugar coat endemic problems of racism, sexism, and LGBTQIphobia in law enforcement, and equally problematic, skew people’s understanding of how certain crimes are defined by the law.

The most obvious example is with regards to how the law defines first and second degree murder.

Though everyone is dreading the next 2018 celebrity death, we need to remember that ordinary people are dying too, and often in horrible circumstances. Nothing shows this more clearly than Montreal’s first murder of 2018.

This article will tell a little about the people involved and give a crash course on how first and second degree murder are defined in Canadian Criminal Law.

On January 28, 2018 at 11:15 pm someone called 911. A woman had been stabbed in the back at her home in the LaSalle borough of Montreal. Before she died from her wound, the 61 year old victim told police her daughter had stabbed her.

The daughter, 34 year old Meng Ye, was not unknown to the police as they’d been called to the home before when she’d been in psychological crisis. The mother of a one and a half year old has since been charged with first degree murder.

According to a former neighbor, the victim had a poor grasp of Canada’s official languages and though she seemed a rude person, there was nothing about her that would provoke someone to violence.

People’s general understanding of first degree murder is a murder that is planned and deliberate. A second degree murder is thought to be more spontaneous. There is truth to both definitions, but they are incomplete.

In Canada, first degree murder is where a person causes the death of another, having meant to kill them or cause them bodily harm that is likely to cause their death. It is also considered first degree murder if you do something that you know is likely to cause death and it does, notwithstanding the fact that you didn’t want anyone to die. The rules for first degree murder however do not end there.

You are guilty of first degree murder if you cause the death of someone while you are committing treason, sabotage, piracy, hijacking, and escaping or rescuing someone from prison or another form of lawful custody. It is first degree murder if you cause someone’s death during a sexual assault, while assaulting a peace officer, breaking and entering, robbery, arson, hostage taking, and kidnapping.

The death is considered first degree murder regardless of whether or not you intended to cause the death and whether or not you knew someone would likely die IF:

  • You meant to cause bodily harm in order to commit the crime or
  • You meant to cause bodily harm in order to facilitate fleeing the scene right after you committed or attempted to commit the crime

And the death ensued from the bodily harm.

The definition of first degree murder also includes causing the death of a person if the death resulted from you administering a stupefying or overpowering thing, i.e. you poisoned or sedated the person, for the purpose of causing bodily harm to commit the crime. It is also considered as such if the death is caused by bodily harm you inflicted on a person to facilitate you fleeing the scene or you intentionally made a person stop breathing so you could commit a crime and they died as a result.

Killing a peace officer of any kind or a warden or other prison employee is all considered first degree murder regardless of whether the murder was planned and deliberate. It is also considered first degree murder if you killed someone while uttering threats intended to make them fear for their safety or the safety of anyone they knew.

If you kill someone while committing an act of terrorism, the murder is considered murder in the first degree regardless of whether it was planned and deliberate.

Last but not least, if you had a contract in which you were compensated to kill someone, “assisted” in causing the death of that person, or were paid to counsel someone to kill the person, you are guilty of first degree murder. Same goes if you killed someone for the benefit of or on orders from a criminal organization or if you killed someone while committing another crime on their behalf.

Anything that is not considered first degree murder is second degree murder. As Canada has long since abolished the death penalty, those guilty of either degree of murder are facing a minimum sentence of life in prison.

What will happen to Meng Ye and her child remains to be seen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

For your consideration…

What do we know about Joshua Boyle and Caitlan Coleman?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why did Joshua Boyle provoke his captors?

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

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

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

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

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

* Featured image: CTV video screengrab

New Year’s Eve is coming and with it, parties, booze, and tragedies caused by idiots who cannot accept that they are too drunk to drive and jerks who willfully ignore the rules of consent. For those of you planning to party on New Year’s Eve, I’ve provided a short but concise list of legal tips to help start the year off without anybody getting hurt.

If you are drunk, do not drive.

This should go without saying as it’s not only the law, it’s common sense. If you’re caught for drunk driving and are lucky you’ll just get a fine and the suspension of your driver’s license. If unlucky, drunk driving charges can result in a jail term ranging from four months to life in prison.

When in doubt, don’t do it.

The legal definition of drunk has nothing to do with how you feel. It is an arbitrary standard: if you have more than eighty milligrams of alcohol in your system for every hundred milliliters of blood, you are considered above the legal limit.

You may feel perfectly fine and sober but that does not matter if a breathalyzer indicates that you are above this limit. The golden rule to follow on New Year’s Eve or any other time is: when in doubt, don’t drive. Sleep over, get a lift, or call a cab or Operation Nez Rouge to get home safe.

You’ll save lives, including your own.

Drunken consent is not legally consent.

Rapes happen all the time, and in environments where booze is free flowing, there is always that scum bag who says the victim agreed to sex even though said victim was very drunk at the time of the attack. If a person is drunk they are in no shape to consent to sexual activity. They are incapable of consenting to sexual activity because their ability to freely give consent was affected by the alcohol. If a person is in no shape to drive, they are in no condition to agree to sex with you, so do the noble, legal thing and don’t have sex with them.

If a person is unconscious, they cannot consent.

The inevitable result of too much drinking and partying is often a loss of consciousness. If a person is passed out, this is not an invitation to touch, grope, or spoon with them. If a person is too drunk to say “no” to whatever it is you want to do with them, they are also too drunk to say “yes”.

Their passivity does not equal consent. The legal definition of sexual assault is sexual touching without consent, so if a person is unconscious, keep your hands to yourself.

When in doubt, check in.

A lot of people find the idea of double-checking for consent an unsexy mood-killer. You know what’s really unsexy? Sexual assault and the ten or more years in prison you get if convicted.

When in doubt, check with the person you’re with to make sure they’re consenting freely to all of what you are doing together. Check often if you have to. It’s better than violating your partner and will keep you out of trouble.

Remember that fireworks are dangerous and cities usually have rules about where you can set them off.

New Year’s Eve can be a blast and to celebrate you may want to set off some fireworks. Do your homework first.

Fireworks are extremely dangerous and every New Year’s Day the news is filled with horror stories of people who blew their fingers off and burned their houses down. Remember that at the end of the day, fireworks are basically just explosives and are just as dangerous.

Read the instructions on the package, do not use them when drunk and be sure use them far from buildings and facing away from people. You should also call the city or check out your municipal website to make sure there are no bylaws in place forbidding the use of fireworks within city limits.

In Montreal it is forbidden to use fireworks, bottle rockets, or other pyrotechnics without authorization from the city. Failure to obey the laws could result in hefty fines and if there is property damage or people get hurt, you could also be looking at jail time.

The perk of adulthood is that we can welcome the New Year the way it was meant to be welcome: with a glass of something boozy and a kiss at midnight. Unfortunately it’s also one of the most dangerous nights to be out celebrating.

Let’s start this year off right by making sure our world is a little safer.


Tomorrow morning, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in the US is set to scrap Net Neutrality. Specifically, they plan to eliminate Title II protections that force the courts to treat internet access as an essential service.

John Oliver explains this distinction more in depth (if you haven’t seen this segment, you really should, even if you know about Title II):

In a nutshell, without this classification, Internet Service Providers (ISPs) would be free to restrict or slow down access to sites that cannot afford or refuse to pay a fee to be in the fast lane. They could also start bundling sites together the same way cable companies bundle stations and charge extra for packages.

The Nightmare Scenario

My guess is they would probably bring in a mix of the two.

First, imagine basic internet including major email providers and maybe the weather network and a few search engines. You could then add the Social Media package with Facebook, Instagram and Twitter for an extra fee, the news package with only mainstream sources for another fee. YouTube would cost extra and if you want Netflix, well you’d have to pay extra for it, above and beyond what you pay (or what your roommate, friend or ex pays, let’s be honest) to Netflix.

Don’t think this is possible? Look at this add for mobile internet packages in Portugal:

Meanwhile, smaller competitors, some widely used and relied on but not popular or potentially profitable enough to be automatically included in a package would take forever to load. If Verizon or Comcast can’t make an extra buck off them, why would they make it easy to access them?

While sites with primarily written content that use embeds for video and audio (like this one) may end up coasting underneath the throttling radar, others won’t. What about BandCamp? Vimeo? Crowdfunding sites? Gaming sites? How about sites that don’t use a lot of bandwidth but really irk the ISPs because of their content?

While the FCC is billing this as “Internet Freedom” it’s actually about letting a handful of companies restrict the freedom of everyone else. I have no problem with websites charging for their services or opting not to, they are already free to do that online. ISPs, on the other hand, should not be.

They don’t own the internet, we all do. Or no one does.

Yes, the ISPs may own the cables, but that only permits them to charge a rate for use of said cables. They have absolutely no business telling us what we can and can’t use the cables to access. No one tells you what you can and can’t say on a phonecall, the Internet should be no different.

Beyond the USA

While this may seem like an American problem, but it’s actually a global one as the internet is a global entity and America is a huge part of it. The biggest sites are American and so are most of the largest indie sites and non-profit sites.

Not only that, there are quite a few people that rely on or at least need some American eyes and ears for their livelihood: independent musicians, app and game developers, the list goes on. While their internet access may not be limited, their potential audience and clientele will be.

Meanwhile, the free flow of information and independent journalism could be seriously compromised, with stories about protest in the US not covered, or not properly covered by mainstream press not making it past someone’s computer or phone, let alone around the world. Likewise, smaller stories could have a hard time finding their way to interested people in the 50 states.

Then there’s the whole issue of American influence. Portugal may not set the global standard when it comes to the Internet, but the US does.

Here in Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau may have said he supports a free and open internet and is “very concerned” about the FCC’s attempt to roll that back in the States, but how long will that stance last? You can bet that Canadian ISPs are just itching to do what their American counterparts may be able to do very soon and will use what happens south of the border to influence lawmakers here.

So What Do We Do?

The first thing we can do is fight like hell to make sure these changes don’t pass, and by we I don’t mean me, at least not directly. Americans (those reading this and others) are the only ones who can contact their elected officials and the FCC to fight this at the source. There is also an online campaign to oppose the FCC’s intentions called Break the Internet.

If they aren’t successful, there’s the legal avenue, though that takes time, probably more time than it takes for ISPs to start changing the Internet forever. There’s also hoping someone (ie Elon Musk) decides to offer unobstructed access (he already wants to offer the world access through satellites) and thus make it unfeasible for ISPs to offer anything but the net as we know it even if they are no longer legally obliged to.

Hoping for a capitalist benefactor/Bond villain to save us all may only lead to disappointment. People outside of the US fighting hard to preserve Net Neutrality and those in the States fighting hard to bring it back (or creating some sort of pirate ISP) may be the only way to fight and win.

But if we do win eventually, or even if the ISPs lose tomorrow in the US (or in the near future), we need to talk about how to prevent this from happening again, because you know it will. This isn’t the first time I’ve written about a threat to Net Neutrality and it certainly won’t be the last.

Maybe it’s time to look to more radical solutions to preserve what we have and have had for years. Maybe it’s time to nationalize ISPs. At least, the very threat of such an action would scare the corporations who currently control access to the web to forever shut up about changing the rules. At best, we could end up with an internet that could never be changed.

For now, though, let’s hope that the FCC sees the light, or moreover, is forced to see it.

* Featured image: Backbone Campaign via Flickr Creative Commons

In a decision by the Quebec Court’s Youth Division last week, Judge Annie Savard awarded a mother full custody of her children. The kids, age 11 and 13, had been in foster care for ten years due to their birth mother’s inability keep a steady home and job, and her drug problems.

Now sober and reformed, the mother sought out her kids, only to find that they were being neglected and the foster home they were living in was filthy and vermin infested. Judge Savard agreed, and roasted Batshaw Youth and Family Centers, an organization established under Quebec’s Act Respecting Health Services and Social Services to oversee adoptions, child placements etc. for failing to fulfill their mandate where these two children were concerned.

This article is not about this decision. After years of living in squalor, the children and their mother have been through enough.

This is about youth protection in Quebec.

Youth protection is an issue where criminal laws and provincial civil and youth protection laws cross. Crimes that are committed against people under the age of 18 are punished more harshly than those affecting adults. Sentencing guidelines for young offenders as per the Youth Criminal Justice Act have, among others, the goal of instilling a sense of responsibility in youth.

For the purposes of this article, I am going to focus on cases where young people come to harm at the hands of their caregivers, the rights kids have, and the circumstances in which authorities intervene.

The main law in Quebec governing this matter is the Youth Protection Act (“the Act”). Its goal is to protect children – meaning anyone under the age of 18 – whose safety and development are at risk, and to supplement the Quebec Civil Code’s rules on adoption.

The authorities charged with enforcing it are the Director of Youth Protection or DPJ, the Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse established by the Charter of human rights and freedoms, and the Youth Division of Quebec Court.

Children’s rights as per the act include:

  • The right to receive an education from an educational body
  • Where the DPJ must intervene, the right to be treated with courtesy, fairness, and understanding in a way that respects their dignity and autonomy
  • During an intervention, the right to be provided with information and explanations in language appropriate to their age and level of understanding
  • In the DPJ’s interventions, the right to present their point of view and have their concerns heard
  • Where the child is placed with a foster family or rehabilitation center, the right to consult confidentially with his or her case worker
  • Unless the court decides otherwise, they also have the right to communicate confidentially with their parents and siblings
  • The right to have their identity kept confidential

Unless otherwise decided by a court of law, “the care, maintenance, and education” as well as ensuring the children are supervised lies with their parents.

Any interventions by the Director of Youth Protection have to be conducted in a way as to end and prevent the recurrence of any threats to a child’s safety and development. Said measures must also allow the child and parents to take an active role, where appropriate, in the decisions best for them. Any decisions made by the DPJ have to be made in the interests of the children and in respect for their rights, though they must also have the goal of ideally keeping the child within the family environment.

In cases where a child cannot be kept with their family and must be placed in an institution or foster care, measures must be taken so that the people important to the child, such as grandparents and extended family, can remain in contact. Even in cases where parents no longer care for their children, their involvement in their kids’ lives must be encouraged.

That said, let’s talk about how and when the DPJ can intervene.

The DPJ can inquire into any issue under their jurisdiction. They can and must intervene where the safety and development of the child is in danger. It is considered as such if the child “is abandoned, neglected, subjected to psychological ill-treatment or sexual or physical abuse, or if the child has serious behavioural disturbances”. A child is considered neglected if their basic needs are not met and the act explicitly states that ideological considerations such as notions of honour do not excuse abuse.

Anyone, especially professionals involved in child care, can refer a case to the DPJ. Pollyanna (name has been changed for privacy reasons), a retired social worker, described to me how the DPJ can intervene in cases referred to them from the public health care system.

Social workers at the CLSCs and hospitals will receive a file referred to them by a doctor or nurse detailing their reasons for suspecting a child is at risk. This can include signs of severe malnourishment, poor hygiene, physical abuse, unusual behavior from parents and children, and where files are referred to social workers from obstetrics, the age or behavior of the mom-to-be (i.e. she’s unusually young). It is then up to the social worker to decide whether or not to contact the Director of Youth Protection, but Pollyanna says she preferred to err on the side of caution and contact them anyway.

It is up to the Director of Youth Protection to investigate and decide whether or not to intervene. Pollyanna points out that like most public organizations in Quebec, the DPJ are understaffed and underfunded and therefore only intervene if there is sufficient evidence to support their involvement. In most cases, she said, they do nothing, though they do their due diligence and in emergencies will send someone immediately to deal with it.

Despite their best efforts, the system of youth protection in Quebec has room for improvement. Failure to acknowledge this and work to fix it will only lead to more cases of neglect and abuse.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On November 9, 2017, the Quebec government passed Bill 144, An Act to Amend the Education Act and other legislative provisions concerning mainly free educational services and compulsory school attendance. The law, which comes into effect next summer, was enacted to tackle the ongoing problem of illegal schools and better regulate homeschooling in the province.

The trigger for this law is a lawsuit brought by Yohanen Lowen and his wife Shira. The two are former members of Tash, a Chasidic religious Jewish community in Boisbriand, Quebec. Lowen left his community over ten years ago and discovered that his education left him completely unprepared for life on the outside.

Though Lowen can speak Yiddish and read Aramaic, he did not know basic arithmetic, nor could he read and write English and French. He and his wife are suing the provincial government for failing in their legal obligation to ensure that they, like all other children in Quebec, receive a proper education.

The case is due to be heard next fall, with the Education Ministry and leading members of the Tash community named in the suit. It should be noted that while Lowen is unemployed and making up for lost time by working for his high school diploma, neither he nor his wife are seeking financial compensation. What they want is a declaratory judgment forcing the government to make people in religious communities teach their children the provincial curriculum.

The issues at play are threefold. First, there is parental discretion and the right of parents to choose the education that will best prepare their children to be functioning members of society.

There is also the issue of government supervision which prevents child abuse and deprivation by setting legal limits on said parental discretion. This why, for example, parents can be punished for starving their kids or beating them into comas.

The third issue is one of discrimination and religious freedom. Quebec is currently a hotbed of intolerance with laws like Bill 62 exacerbating existing prejudices and emboldening the most vile members of society into expressing their hatred openly. There are concerns that because Bill 144 was enacted primarily to tackle illegal Chasidic schools, religious Jewish communities will be the primary targets of the new law.

I had the privilege of speaking to a Modern Orthodox Jewish couple who both work as educators within Jewish schools approved by the province. Like many religious Jews, they keep Kosher, and the Sabbath, and codes of modesty, but unlike members of ultra religious communities like Tash, they do not avoid pop culture and modern technology.

The male half of the couple, a Rabbi, pointed out the difficulty with legislation like this as in Quebec most schools receive public funds, and that to receive it they have to conform to certain standards set by the province. He explained that religious communities like Tash believe they are providing their children with a proper education, but it is an education that will only serve them if they choose to remain within the community. The kids are taught with the assumption that they will never leave, and therefore are given no lessons that would allow them to thrive outside of it.

Yohanen Lowen would have been just fine had he chosen to remain in Tash. His decision to leave is what created problems regarding the education he got.

Both the couple and another Orthodox Jewish teacher I spoke to agree that certain subjects should be taught in all schools, particularly basic science, math, English, and French. They do, however, point out that some curriculum topics interfere with the most literal interpretations of religious texts.

Science, for example, conflicts with creationism. Moral education lessons that teach about other religions which would be perceived as fostering cultural sensitivity for the less religious would be perceived as making kids question their faith by these communities.

Sadly, Bill 144 does not contain anything requiring that a basic curriculum be taught to homeschooled kids, not directly anyway. What the law says is that parents who choose to homeschool must send written notice to the competent school board in their area and submit a “learning project” for approval.

It also requires that parents inform their kids of their rights under the Quebec Education Act, specifically those covered in articles 14 to 17 which cover the rights of children in receiving an education. This includes the right of all children to attend school from the age of 6 to the age of 16.

The new law requires that the government set standards for home schooled children and specify how the local school boards can monitor them. It allows inspectors designated by Education Minister to enter premises suspected of schooling kids illegally and collect information on the children and their parents. The law permits the Education Ministry official to access the health records of children to confirm their identities.

It is the last part of the law that homeschooling advocates like Noemi Berlus, president of Quebec’s homeschooling association, take issue with, feeling that it is a violation of privacy. Education Minister Sébastien Proulx claims that the law is in accordance with Quebec’s privacy rules.

It is the imposition of a standard curriculum that has religious Jews most concerned, as some have pointed out that such a law could force these illegal schools deeper underground by either not registering their children, or sending them to the United States where education is not as closely monitored.

As it stands, Bill 144 is vague, and it is perhaps that vagueness that gives reason to hope, as assessments by inspectors and school board officials could use their discretion to be more culturally sensitive. What must be remembered, however, is that vagueness can also pave the way for more intolerant interpretations.

If Quebec is truly committed to a message of tolerance, the law must be applied to everyone regardless of faith and care must be taken to make sure groups are not targeted unfairly.

On Tuesday, November 7, 2017, Muslim groups and civil liberty advocates launched the constitutional challenge we all knew was coming. Last week, I and many others predicted that Bill 62 would be headed straight for the courts on grounds that it violates the freedoms guaranteed in Canada’s constitution and Quebec’s Charter of Human Rights.

I’m not going to go over the details of Bill 62 as I did that last week. Instead, let’s talk about the legal challenge.

The plaintiffs in the constitutional challenge say in their court filing that:

“Such blatant and unjustified violations of freedom of religion, as well as of the quality guarantees of the Quebec and Canadian charters, have no place in Quebec or Canada,” and that this cannot be justified in a free and democratic society.

The plaintiffs include the National Council of Canadian Muslims, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, and Warda Naili (formerly Marie-Michelle Lacoste), a convert to Islam who has chosen to wear the niqab as an expression of her faith.

The CBC spoke to some women who wear the niqab, something the Couillard government failed to do before passing Bill 62. For the most part they claim they have no issue showing their faces for identification and medical purposes, but that the law’s insistence that they show their faces regularly is not only humiliating them and forcing them to act in violation of their faith, but has also exacerbated the harassment they’ve experienced due to their beliefs.

The law, it seems, has sent the message to the most bigoted repulsive members of Quebec society that harassing a woman for how she dresses is perfectly ok. All you have to do is claim religious neutrality and secularism.

The motion filed in Superior Court on behalf of the aforementioned groups comes despite claims by Premier Philippe Couillard that Bill 62 was written to ensure its compliance with the Canadian and Quebec Charters. Quebec Justice Minister Stéphanie Vallée is also on the defensive, claiming the law only applies where uncovering one’s face is needed for communication, identification, or security. She’s said she believes the law will survive a constitutional challenge, though her confidence about this seems forced.

Other leaders in Quebec, including former Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre, newly elected mayor Valérie Plante, and the Quebec Association of municipalities have all come out against the law with one exception.

In a rare show of solidarity, Parti Québecois leader Jean-François Lisée has come out in support of the law, though he wanted even stricter secularist legislation. In spite of this, he too foresaw the constitutional challenge and has stated that a PQ government would use the Notwithstanding Clause to keep it in place should the courts strike it down.

The Notwithstanding Clause Lisée is so fond of is not the perfect fail safe the PQ leader makes it out to be. It is not a way for the Quebec government to flip the judiciary the legal bird should the constitutional challenge not go their way.

Section 33 aka The Notwithstanding Clause of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms says:

“Parliament or the legislature of a province may expressly declare in an Act of Parliament or of the legislature, as the case may be, that the Act or a provision thereof shall operate notwithstanding a provision included in section 2 or sections 7 to 15 of this Charter.”

Sections 7 to 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms deal specifically with legal rights such as the rights of people charged with criminal conduct, as well as equality rights such as that of equal protection before the law and freedom from discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability. The clause allows governments to keep legislation that violates these rights in place provided they expressly declare that the law will remain in effect notwithstanding the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms…

…But there is a catch.

The Notwithstanding Clause also contains a rule stating that this declaration and the law it allows can only remain in effect for five years.

The delay was created so legislators could rework the law in question to make it conform to the Charter. The five-year delay is renewable, but even laws the most stubborn politicians take pride in are reworked after being struck down by the courts.

Bill 101 is a perfect example. The Supreme Court of Canada ruled it unconstitutional, so the Quebec Government invoked the Notwithstanding Clause. During that time, the law was tweaked so it conformed to the Canadian Charter of Rights, thus eliminating the need to renew the Notwithstanding Clause and preventing future legal challenges to it.

Lisée’s mention of the Notwithstanding Clause is an indirect admission that Bill 62 is unconstitutional and would not survive a legal challenge. Once the courts strike it down and all government appeals are exhausted, it is certainly within Couillard and any other elected provincial government’s power to use and renew Section 33, but the Canadian people’s embrace of their Charter rights would make it a highly unpopular move.

With the striking down of Bill 62 a certainty, the only question left is how much more hate Quebec governments want to push on us.

Four years after the Parti Québecois’ colossal defeat over their quietly racist but aggressively secular Charter of Values, and less than a year after a man entered a mosque in Ste Foy, Quebec and opened fire, the government we elected to spite them is bringing up a debate no one wanted to hear. Last week, the Quebec Liberals under Premier Philippe Couillard passed Bill 62, “An Act to foster adherence to State religious neutrality” and, in particular, to provide a framework for requests for accommodations or religious grounds in certain bodies.

It should be said right off the bat that this law is clearly a political ploy. The Couillard government is up for re-election in 2018. With scandal after scandal rocking his administration, he’s clearly given up on his base and is trying to attract the most secularist racist members of Quebec society who would otherwise vote for the Parti Quebecois.

It is also clear that it is meant to discriminate against non-Christians in Quebec. The law acknowledges Quebec’s history, but the decision to leave the cross up in the National Assembly means that their version of history leaves out the Jews, Muslims, and other groups that have made the province what it is today.

With all the talk about how this law will hurt people, we need to look at what it actually says.

The law applies to all employees of government departments, members of the Quebec public service, city employees with the exception of those governed by the Cree and Naskapi, public transit authorities, school boards, universities, and vocational colleges, peace officers, doctors, midwives, dentists, and anyone else appointed by the government. The employees of childcare centers and government-subsidized daycare centers are also subject to the new rules. Anyone seeking services from these bodies is also subject to the new law.

That means that contrary to the belief that the law will only affect public transport employees and people who work in government offices, teachers at all levels as well as doctors, dentists, and midwives will be subject to this law, as well as anyone who benefits from their help i.e. students, people who ride the bus or metro, and even people in need of medical care.

The law’s mantra is one of State religious neutrality, as the words “religious neutrality” are repeated constantly throughout its text. It requires that all employees subject to this law keep their faces uncovered in the execution of their duties. It also requires that anyone seeking services from employees bound by this law have their faces uncovered in order to receive them.

As only some Muslim women are required by their faith to keep their faces covered in public, the law is clearly written to prejudice them. However, as the law is pretty unclear. People with colds or flus who generously choose to cover their faces in public in order to avoid spreading illness could also find themselves denied services. The government is scheduled to put out a regulation clarifying certain aspects of the law in the near future.

Bill 62 does have some exceptions written into it. People who provide spiritual care and guidance in universities, vocational schools, and correctional facilities are exempt. Health professionals will not be barred from refusing to provide certain medical services that conflict with their spiritual beliefs. For everyone else, there is a process by which you can apply for accommodation on religious grounds, but it is a limited and complicated one.

Applications for accommodations must be based on the right to freedom from discrimination provision in the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms. Requests for accommodation will be handled primarily by the justice minister, who has to decide the request on the following grounds:

  • “The request is serious”
  • The accommodation requested is consistent with notions of gender equality, specifically that between women and men
  • The request is “consistent with the principle of State religious neutrality”
  • The accommodation is “reasonable and does not place undue hardship” on the state and the person seeking it has already tried to find another solution

Where the law would force someone to be absent from work, additional criteria must be taken into account:

  • The frequency and duration of the absences on religious grounds
  • The size of the body the person works for and the “interchangeability” of its workforce – in other words, if the person can easily be replaced, they will likely not be accommodated
  • The consequences of the person’s absences
  • The possibility of a modified work schedule or use of bankable hours and vacation days
  • Fairness regarding other personnel in said government body

More rules apply where the law affects school attendance. The criteria in this case include how a refusal to accommodate will affect compulsory school attendance, the schools’ basic mission to impart knowledge “in keeping with the principle of equal opportunity” and the ability of the school to provide the educational services required by law.

The arguments in favor of Bill 62 are twofold.

Couillard has publicly said that he should be able to see a person’s face when dealing with them, a remark that is not only culturally insensitive, but also rules out any exchanges done by phone or email.

The other argument is one of benevolent sexism masquerading as feminism, specifically that the law will somehow save women from oppressive religious practices. This presumes that women who wear a niqab are doing so because someone coerced them to, or they simply don’t know better. It’s an argument that infantilizes the women by making the presumption that they are not mature enough to make their own decisions about how to publicly express their faith.

This law does not save anyone. It robs them of their sense of agency. If a woman can only leave her house with her face covered and she is welcome at government funded institutions as such, she may feel comfortable going to a public library and grabbing a book on feminism. She may also be comfortable going to a sports center to take a self-defense class.

The law clearly violates the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms rules against religious discrimination and the freedom of religion and equality rights of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The moment this law comes into effect there is sure to be a constitutional challenge to it.

Let’s take comfort in that.

* Featured illustration by Samantha Gold

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now let’s talk about sexual assault and consent.

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

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

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

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


That said, we need to debunk a few myths:

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

The argument goes like this:

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

No behavior or manner of dress excuses sexual assault.

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

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

“Offenders are solely responsible for their own behaviour.”

  • MYTH: Sexual Assault is over reported

Less than ten percent of all sexual assaults are reported.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what is the solution?

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

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

The rules in Quebec about sexual harassment need to change.

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

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

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

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

It’s time we fight it.

One of the ways to persecute is to rob people of their history. This was done by male historians seeking to undervalue the contributions of women. It was done by white historians seeking to confirm racist ideologies.

Now a group of all white judges has entrenched the power of a body created by a white majority government to rob the victims of residential schools of their history. On October 6, 2017 the Supreme Court of Canada made it legal for the authorities in charge of compensating the victims of the residential school system to destroy the records of the abuse after a given delay.

Before we get into why the highest court in Canada came to this decision, we need to talk about residential schools.

Residential schools refer to a system of schools established by the Canadian government and run by Christian religious groups in an attempt to assimilate the Native population into Canadian society. They operated in Canada from the late 1860s to the 1990s. Despite remarks by such insensitive racist imbeciles as Senator Lynn Beyak, the schools were a nightmare for the children and their families, the effects of which are still felt to this day.

During this period, children were ripped from their parents and forced to live at these schools where they were beaten, tortured, and raped in an attempt to wipe out their language, culture, and history. Parents who refused to give up their children were threatened with starvation. Survivor Ronnie Otter’s parents were told their winter rations would be withheld if they didn’t send their kids away.

Many of the victims who went as children are still haunted by memories of being forced into oral and anal sex, scrubbed raw with rough brushes, and fed food more fit for livestock. Though they were promised good schooling, they were given a fifth grade education and trained to do manual labour such as agriculture, housework, and woodworking, not unlike in the Bantu education system of apartheid South Africa.

In 2008, the Canadian government under Stephen Harper issued a much needed formal apology to the victims and their families. In the apology the Canadian government formally recognized that:

“…this policy of assimilation was wrong, has caused great harm, and has no place in our country… ”

It should be noted however that while Canada’s Anglican, Presbyterian, and United Churches have apologized for their role in what happened to the eighty thousand survivors and their families, the Catholic Church has not. The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops claims that the independence of individual dioceses and their bishops absolves them of any responsibility. It is both ironic and unfortunate that the authorities of a religion so dependent on symbolism are incapable of providing even a symbolic show of remorse so desperately needed by people tortured in their name.

That said, let’s talk about how and why the Supreme Court came to their decision.

The records referred to in the Supreme Court’s decision are specifically those from the Independent Assessment Process (IAP) resulting from the 2006 Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement.

The Agreement was the result of a consensus reached between the legal representatives of survivors, the Churches involved, the Assembly of First Nations and other aboriginal organizations and the Government of Canada on how to address the legacy of residential schools. It was brought on by numerous class action lawsuits against the Canadian government by the victims of residential schools seeking compensation and recognition for the persecution they endured.

Among the things agreed upon was a Common Experience Payment for all eligible survivors of the residential schools, a form of financial compensation for the victims of abuse at the hands of the government and the Churches acting in its name. Eligibility was determined by the Independent Assessment Process which entailed survivors disclosing extremely sensitive information about the abuse they suffered and the consequences therein. The information also included medical reports, hearing transcripts, and reasons for decisions in each case, all of which are held by the Government of Canada. The overall goal was to determine the credibility of each claimant and the harm they suffered.

As per the Supreme Court’s ruling, these records can be destroyed after fifteen years, though individuals can apply to have the information in their files preserved. The Court decided on destruction of the records after a certain delay for a few reasons, the primary one being that of confidentiality.

The Supreme Court decided that all participants in the Independent Assessment Process agreed on destruction of the information as part of the high degree of confidentiality of the process, the same way one would for a contract. Confidentiality was agreed upon in part to allow the victims to retain ownership of their stories and the horror of what they endured while maintaining their privacy. It was also to ensure the participation of religious organizations that would not have done so otherwise despite their active participation in the abuse.

The Court also stated that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission established as part of the 2006 Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement was for “creating a complete historical record of the residential schools system, and promoting awareness and public education of Canadians about the residential schools system and its impacts”. The court said that those who participated in the IAP were welcome to share their experiences with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and that the confidentiality rules ensured them that choice.

The decision appears to be based on preserving the dignity of Residential School survivors, but it has a flipside of destroying records of abuse that implicate the government and religious groups that should be held to account for what they did. Though a survivor may want to keep their experience confidential, that can change in fifteen or sixteen years whether or not they apply to preserve the records. At the end of the day, the only people this decision protects are the abusers and the people who allowed it by destroying the evidence.