The history of colonization is dark. Indigenous peoples of Canada have been facing discrimination and racism since European setters began to occupy their land in the 1400s. Stolen land, the death of language, residential schools and centuries of abuse are still present in the Canadian justice system and in many Indigenous communities today.
Effforts to unveil the truths of systemic racism that run rampant in our society are a step in the right direction, but the media often misses the most obvious truths, the ones that lie right in front of our noses.
The death of George Floyd and Black Lives Matter movement took over the news last week, shining the light on systemic racism within the judicial system in the United States. Thousands have been taking to the streets, protesting against racism and for police reform. We must, however, remember not to shine the light too far away from our own.
Colonization is ongoing. Though the Wet’suwet’en Nation in British Columbia has never signed over their land to European settlers, their 22 000 km of land has never officially been recognized as their own, and protected under Canadian law.
That is why, last Friday, June 5th, On Friday, June 5th, a crowd of around 300 protesters gathered around the George-Etienne Cartier monument at Jean-Mance Park to protest the CGL pipeline in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en nation.
Last January and February, a string of nation-wide protests and VIA rail blockades halted access from Montreal to Toronto. Media presence had waned since the COVID-19 pandemic took over, but the fight is still far from over.
Though a landmark Memorandum of Understanding was signed that recognizes some rights of the Wet’suwet’en people, it does not affect the construction of the CGL pipeline, which is still opposed by Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs. The protest was organized by student groups that focus on environmental protection.
“Climate justice doesn’t exist without indigenous sovereignty and being in solidarity with the indigenous people especially here in Canada,” said John Nathaniel Gurtler, a Dawson student in environmental studies and an organizer of the event for La CEVES, Student Coalition for Environmental and Social Change in English.
The event was supposed to take place on that Sunday, but changed when the protests against the murder of George Floyd were organized for the same date.
“We see it as all sort of under the same umbrella of justice and fighting for people who have faced systematic racism,” said Gurtler. “The Indigenous people, just like Black people here in Canada, are people who have for hundreds of years faced racism and oppression and have been put aside.”
“What we need here is a real revolution for oppressed people. In Canada, it’s indigenous people, it’s not just black people,” Gurtler continued. “It’s all under the same umbrella of justice and showing up in solidarity.”
The CGL pipeline is set to run through 190 square km of traditional Wet’suwet’en land in Northern British Columbia. Though five out of six Wet’suwet’en elected band council members signed on to the CGL pipeline, the government never asked permission from the hereditary chiefs, who have had custodianship over the 22 000 km of unceded traditional land according to ongoing, pre-colonial tradition.
Last year, the Trudeau government ordered the RCMP to invade the Unist’ten camp – built on the borders of Wet’suwet’en territory during another contested pipeline project in 2010, where many other planned pipelines have been planned to cross over.
Wet’suwet’en territory is unceded; the Nation have never signed a treaty or agreed to share the 22 000 square km of traditional land they have had since before European settlers began to occupy their territory in the 1800s. In November 2019, the BC provincial government passed legislation to implement the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People’s Act. The declaration includes 46 articles, covering Indigenous culture, community, identity, health, and more.
The provincial government’s decision not to engage in meaningful discussion counteracted their implementation of the UN Declaration. Hereditary chiefs asked for UN intervention after RCMP invaded their camps. In January, a UN committee fighting racism urged RCMP officials to leave the territory.
The situation sparked national and international outrage. Nationwide protests throughout January and February led to the shut down of Canadian VIA rail trains, and international support from Indigenous communities and land defenders worldwide. The Kahnawake community in Montreal stepped forward, as well, with hints of the 1990 Oka crisis thick in the air.
Though the pipeline isn’t yet in the ground, already two oil spills are being investigated by the Office of the Wet’suwet’en. Though the CGP pipeline, widely contested both nationally and internationally, is still in its’ early phases, 500 liters of oil have leaked onto Wet’suwet’en territory.
“They haven’t even started putting the pipeline in and they have a big mess already,” said Marlene Hale, Wet’suwet’en representative at the protest. The spills occurred close to Morice river, where the locals fish, explained Hale.
Hereditary chiefs, whose traditional job it is to protect the land, and land defenders worry about the negative effects of the pipeline to the environment, and the effects it will have on future generations.
The situation is reminiscent of North Dakota’s Keystone pipeline, contested by Indigenous land defenders worldwide in fear of the repercussions of an oil spill that would affect members of the society, their drinking water and infrastructures. Over 380 000 gallons of oil spilled from the pipeline in November 2019.
Media presence of the anti-pipeline protests was strong in January and February, but quickly fizzled out as the COVID-19 pandemic began. The virus did not stop CGL pipeline workers from continuing construction.
The official website of the pipeline shows how far along each segment of the project is. Currently, 75% of the route has been cleared.
“The idea of the protest started during the pandemic when the federal government announced that they would be funding the pipeline project with up to 500 million dollars,” explained Gertler. “That happened sort of under the radar, and several of us said that this can’t happen. We were fed up with being behind our screens and we wanted to do something more direct.”
The issue is both environmental and social, tying in Indigenous land rights to misuse of the land.
The provincial government’s ability to supersede Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs’ wishes stems from the Indian Act. Though both the provincial and federal government have recognized Wet’suwet’en land as unceded during an MOU signing last month, land rights are still undefined.
“[The MOU] is a step in the right direction, but it doesn’t mention the Coastal GasLink at all, which is central to all of this,” said Gertler. “Even during the pandemic it was happening – while we were told to stay inside and limit ourselves to essential things, the pipeline, which is definitely not essential, is being built.”
“[It puts] indigenous communities in danger which are already at a heightened risk – communities that don’t have the systems in place to deal with outbreaks and don’t have running water sometimes to wash their hands,” he continued
“What we need here is a real revolution for oppressed people,” he added.
Protesters began the trek on wheels from the George Etienne Cartier monument at Jean-Mance around 7pm, after Marlene Hale, a chef from Wet’suwet’en nation who lives in Montreal, addressed the crowd.
“The RCMP still taunt us, laugh at us,” she said. “They pretty much just want us to have the COVID and go away and die.”
Though the situation induces anger, Hale maintained that it’s important to stay positive. “Choose your words carefully, what you say to your neighbors,” she said. “Don’t get people angry for any reason. Keep it here [at the protest].”
“When I do meditation, I’ve learned all the time is – there’s a positive time and there’s a negative side. And when it gets negative, just flush it.”
The 300 or so protestors rode down Parc Avenue, all the way across the city to Parc Maisonneuve in the Rosemont–La Petite-Patrie borough, masked up with signs attached to bikes. The 45 minute trek ended as the sun began to set in the park.
The June 5th date held extra importance. It was that day that the BC government held the trial for 22 land defenders who were arrested by the RCMP in February. They were not charged.
On the same day, Bill 61 – a law that criminalizes folk who choose to protest the CGL pipeline with a $25 000 infraction or jail time – was passed in Alberta, where the pipeline starts at Dawson Creek.
“There’s no way that these people who are often disadvantaged are going to be able to pay $25 000. So it’s terrible. It’s a disgrace to democracy and it’s terrible,” said Gertler.
While not everybody has the health to protest, organizer Albert Lalonde, spokesperson from La Ceve, said that folks can show support and solidarity by becoming educated on systemic racism and microaggressions, signing petitions, and donating money to funds.
“I think we see it as a responsibility to just be allies to those who have always been the land and water protectors,” he said. “We’ve stolen their land, and we must hand it back, it’s our responsibility. We have to stop this system of oppression that they have to deal with every day. Not doing so would mean that we are complicit, and this is not a thing we want, it’s not a thing we can accept. They have their right to self-determination, we’re on their land,” he said.
La CEVES plans to continue environmental and solidarity protests throughout the summer.
The agreement immediately recognizes that Wet’suwet’en rights and title are held by the nation’s own system of governance, and include a commitment to beginning negotiations on legal recognition of Wet’suwet’en title to their traditional land.
Chief Gisday’wa was one of the plaintiffs in the landmark 1997 Delgamuukw-Gisday’wa case, which led to a Supreme Court decision that recognized Wet’suwet’en system of laws that predates colonialism.
The deal was struck in February, amidst nation-wide protests in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en nation against the construction of the Coastal GasLink Pipeline, planned to run through 190 km of Wet’suwet’en traditional territory.
The slogans ShutDownCanada and All Eyes on Wet’suwet’en swept the nation in January and February, with protestors showing support from all around the Wet’suwet’en as rail blockades halted access from Montreal to Toronto in solidarity.
The 670 km long natural gas pipeline is planned to carry gas from a town in eastern BC to a liquefaction plant on the west coast of the province, where the gas will be exported to Asian customers. It is known as the largest private sector investment in Canadian history.
While five of six elected band council members agreed with the project, the hereditary chiefs, whose role within the nation is to make decisions over the land, say they never consented. The dispute made global headlines, with UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination called for immediate withdrawal as RCMP raided the Unist’ot’en camp with guns in tow.
The Wet’suwet’en are just one of many First Nations in the province that have been attempting to negotiate jurisdiction, recognition of ownership, and self-government since Europeans began to settle on their traditional land in the 1800s.
“This is not just an indigenous issue, this is a human rights issue, the rights for us to be who we are as Wet’suwet’en People,” Cheif Na’Moks said at the virtual signing.
The Wet’suwet’en have never signed a treaty or relinquished their rights to the 22,000km of land they have been inhabiting since pre-colonial times.
“There’s no turning back,” said Marlene Hale, a chef from Wet’suwet’en who led protests in Montreal. She says the MOU represents a step towards reconciliation.
“It’s a signal to the government that we may have agreed to start this work by starting the talks and negotiations,” she continued. “They will walk the path of reconciliation with us. That’s very important. The rights and titles will be recognized.”
In 1984, leaders of the Gitxcan and Wet’suwet’en First Nations took the BC provincial government to court to establish jurisdiction over 58 000 km of both land and water. The fight for recognition of ownership of the land had climbed to urgency when a hydroelectric project established by the BC government in the 50s caused major damage to the area of multiple First Nations groups, including the destruction of homes and of sacred burial ground.
As clear-cut logging projects were approved by the BC government, members of the Gixdan and Wet’suwet’en nations opposed the building of a second hydro project, the First Nations appealed the decision and the case eventually made its way to the Supreme Court of Canada. During the trial, The First Nations group provided evidence to their historical ownership of the land by using oral history; witnesses spoke in their own languages, using translators to tell the long history of the land and water in the territory.
Ceremonial songs and performances, reciting the adaawk, personal bloodline histories of the Gitxsan, and kungas, songs about trials between territories of the Wet’suwet’en.
The Supreme Court of Canada ruled oral history to be evidence of pre-colonial land ownership, and ruled that the right to the Nations’ land had not been extinguished.
The Delgamuukw-Gisday’wa case made headlines as the most comprehensive decision about Aboriginal title, which legally states that “the existing Aboriginal and treaty rights of the Aboriginal peoples of Canada are hereby recognized and affirmed”. While the case affirmed that the Wet’suwet’en may still have ownership of their land, any further decisions were not made.
The MOU, Hale said, “leads to a consensus on the government to implement the 1997 Supreme Court Delgamuukw-Gisday’wa [case] – it was really putting it official.”
The fight was still far from over. Land rights have yet to be clearly defined and articulated in court, even though it had been acknowledged that the Wet’suwet’en never signed over their land in a treaty.
In 2010, Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs and land defenders built the Unisto’ten Camp as a means to block the development of numerous proposed pipeline projects that would cut through the First Nation’s territory. Hereditary chiefs held their opposition to Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipelines, a pipeline project whose’ path was similar to the future CGL.
A permaculture garden and a traditional pithouse were built on site, bringing life to the conflict, used for shelter are included in the camp which lays at the exact point pipelines would cross into Unis’to’ten Wet’suwet’en territory.
Though the ENGP project never went through, the CGL pipeline was officially approved in 2015, with Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs remaining in opposition.
In 2014, Tsilhqot’in Nation in B.C. became the first to prove title to their land in court.
In another landmark Supreme Court ruling, provinces cannot unilaterally claim a right to engage in clear-cut logging on lands protected by Indigenous Peoples; they have to engage in meaningful consultation with the Aboriginal title-holder before proceeding.
“This is the first time I think that any of the governments have taken any real steps forwards towards trying to find reconciliation towards Indigenous Peoples,” said Chief Smogelgem during the MOU signing. “This is a significant time for our nation,” he continued. “It’s a significant time for everybody, all around the world. Not just because of the pandemic, but because of the work that we’re about to do today which is working actually towards true reconciliation. It is no longer a political catch phrase – this is something that is going into action.”
The 1876 Indian Act, which charted an assimilationist policy towards the Aboriginal peoples in Canada, made it illegal for Indigenous Peoples to raise money or hire lawyers for land claims. This was not lifted until 1951.
The Wet’suwet’en uses a “mixed governance system” that uses both hereditary and elected chiefs, who all play different roles within the community. The elected band council is a position that stemmed from the Indian Act to bridge Canadian government with First Nations. It is different from the traditional position of the hereditary chief, where hereditary chiefs attain governing power by consensus.
It is their job to protect the land and assure its safety for future generations, a continuation of the work of their ancestors that will be passed down to future generations.
“We always knew that we had 22 000 square kilometers of land,” said Chief Na’Moks at the virtual signing.
For Marlene Hale, May 14 is a new day to mark on the calendar – a celebration. “Wiggus – respect – rides high with our people,” she said. “And it was not respected, that word. It is now, it is existing and it is respected. By them signing, this wiggus has come to light again.”
“We’re here to make a future, because this is who we are. We’ve always held our integrity, we’ve always held our honesty, we’ve always held our respect. From this day forward, it has to be reciprocal. When we speak, we must be listened to. When we come to an agreement, it’s an agreement from the heart, the soul and for the future, and we have to do it for everybody.”
“When our children and grandchildren and great grand children look upon this day, I want them to look back on this for a smile on their face,” he continued. “Those ladies and gentlemen did it for us, and now we’re doing it for them. And it has to be done with honesty and hard work. Today the work starts, the real hard work starts. And there will never be another piece of legislation of policy that will ever silence the Wet’suwet’en again.”
It’s important to note that while the Memorandum of Understanding is an important step forward for aboriginal rights, it does not affect the Coastal GasLink Pipeline which is currently being built.
Featured image by James Hyett via WikiMedia Commons
For the first time, younger voters are set to overtake the baby boomers as the largest voting block in Canada, and it’s about time. The planet is dying due climate change, and wages have stagnated since the 1970s resulting in a wealth gap that is partly on generational lines.
While older people enjoy their golf courses and retirement nestegs, Millenials, Gen Xers, and GenYers who will never see the latter are increasingly frustrated and demanding change that helps them, not just their parents.
That said, only recently has there been a real drive to get younger people to vote, recognizing that their votes can finally make a difference. It is with this notion in mind that I write this article.
In this piece I’ll be giving a crash course on the main political parties, but not in the way you’d expect. Instead of discussing their platforms related to the economy and health care, I’m going to discuss the parties based on their plans and track records with regards to issues that concern younger voters: Climate change, LGBTQI2+ rights, and Income Inequality.
This is not to say these issues do not concern some older people. It IS to say that these are the issues that have not been sufficiently addressed for younger voters by politicians in the past.
For the purposes of this article, the main parties I’ll be discussing are the Liberal Party, The Conservative Party, the New Democratic Party (NDP), and The Green Party. Smaller fringe parties like Maxime Bernier’s People’s Party will be addressed in a future article.
First, as Montreal took to the streets yesterday, let’s talk about Climate change.
The incumbent Liberal party’s Climate change platform seems to benefit primarily the wealthy, with much of their programs targeting homeowners – when most young Canadians will never be able to afford to own a home – and corporations. Their platform in this regard includes:
Offering a $40 000 interest-free loan to homeowners and landlords to make their homes more energy efficient, with an additional Net-zero emissions home grant available to make clean living more affordable.
Cut corporate taxes in half for companies that develop products and technologies that produce zero emissions
Protect 25% of Canada’s land and ocean habitats by 2025 and work towards increasing that to 30% by 2030
Set a target of zero emissions by 2050
The New Democratic Party’s Climate Change platform seems far more ambitious than that of the incumbents, with plans focusing on punishing big polluters and investing in local clean projects. Their platform includes:
Declaring a climate emergency
Rolling back tax breaks given by the Liberal government to big polluters as well as abolishing current oil and gas subsidies
Reaching a target of carbon-free electricity by 2030, and 100% non-emitting electricity by 2050
Establishing a Canadian Climate Bank to boost investment in Canadian-made renewable energy technology, community-owned clean energy projects and the transition to renewable energy
The Conservative Party’s climate change policy seems far less comprehensive compared to the other parties, and leader Andrew Scheer’s absence from today’s climate marches is also quite telling. Their policy includes:
Getting rid of the carbon tax (though their website claims they are still committed to meeting obligations under the Paris Agreement)
Launch a green tech patent tax credit for businesses
Offering a green public transit tax credit to alleviate costs of public transportation and incentivize its use
Have Canada sign agreements allowing us to get credit for helping reduce emissions internationally
True to the party’s name, The Green Party has the most comprehensive climate change platform to address the climate emergency. Their platform includes:
Canceling the Trans Mountain Pipeline and other subsidies to fossil fuel industries, as well as denying approval to new pipelines, coal, oil, or gas drilling
Ramp up renewable energy targets, with a target of making a hundred percent of Canada’s electricity from renewable sources by 2030
Work with provincial governments, “ideally in partnership with First Nations” to determine which former oil and gas wells are best-suited to producing geothermal energy in order to turn liabilities into income-generating renewable energy
Ban the sale of internal combustion engine passenger vehicles by 2030
Though the Liberal Party has no official 2019 platform regarding LGBTQ rights, they do have an excellent track record when it comes to protecting sexual minorities in Canada. Aside from the symbolism of their leader marching in Pride Parades and raising the Pride flag on Parliament Hill, the government has made some dramatic improvements to LGBTQ rights in Canada.
This includes adding gender identity or expression to the definition of hate crimes in the Canadian Criminal Code, as well passing legislation to permanently destroy the past criminal records of people convicted for consensual sex with same sex partners if such sex would be legal today.
The New Democrats have integrated LGBTQ rights into their platform on fighting hate in Canada. Their list of the different forms of hate to be addressed include homophobia and transphobia, with their platform including better access for victims of hate crimes to services, support, as well as a say in court-related services that may impact their safety.
Their platform also includes establishing a National Working Group to fight online hate, and addressing radicalization though youth-focused community-led initiatives.
Symbolically, NDP leader Jagmeet Singh has been seen at Pride parades and drag shows, tipping generously at the latter.
On LGBTQ rights in Canada, it is the Conservative Party that has by far the most to answer for. Their leader, Andrew Scheer is a self-professed devout Catholic and social conservative who has criticized marriage equality on the record. He is also the only federal leader conspicuously absent from Pride marches.
When questioned about his current position on LGBTQ rights, Scheer has been extremely evasive, giving people just cause to fear that transgender and LGBTQ protections will be rolled back under a Conservative government. Also telling is the lack of a policy platform addressing this issue on the Conservative Party website.
Though the Green Party is being criticized as a greener version of the Conservatives, their LGBTQ platform is quite enlightened. It includes ending discriminatory blood donation bans, banning medically unnecessary surgeries on intersex children, and banning and condemning conversion therapy – which attempts to force a more straight binary form of sexuality and gender expression on LGBTQ people, despite wide disapproval from the medical and psychiatric communities – in all its forms.
Their platform also includes ensuring access to comprehensive sexual health care and gender affirming health care including hormone treatments, blockers, and surgeries.
This is the one that infuriates young people the most because surrounding the issue are criticisms from baby boomers that if we just bought less coffee we wouldn’t be in so much debt when they entered the job market at a time when you could afford a home with one minimum wage job as opposed to the many we need to afford basic expenses. That said, here is what the main parties are doing to tackle the issue.
The Liberal plans seem to benefit primarily middle class families when so many young people cannot even reach a middle class income. Their plans include:
Lowering cell-phone bills by 25%
No taxes on the first $15 000 of income earned
Cut the small business tax rate from 11% to 9%
Creation of a First-Time Home Buyer Incentive that would cut 10% off the purchase price of new homes
The NDP’s plan to tackle income inequality is far more comprehensive and seems to target all Canadians, not just the middle class. Their platform includes:
Universal prescription drug coverage for all Canadians regardless of job, age, health, status, or income
Investing five billion dollars to create five hundred thousand quality affordable housing units to address the affordable housing crisis, and waiving federal GST/HST for the construction of these affordable units
Expand public education “from kindergarten to career”
Free dental coverage for families making under $70 000 a year
The Conservatives plan to address income inequality has some similarities to that of the Liberals in that it centers on cutting taxes and regulations, though the nature of these cuts does not seem to vary depending on the means of individuals. Their plan comprises of:
A universal tax cut for all Canadians
Address the housing crisis by easing building regulations to facilitate the building of new homes
Build pipelines to create jobs
Exempt home heating bills from the GST
The Green Party’s platform recognizes the increasing precariousness of work and the growing gig economy that is exacerbating unstable incomes for younger voters. It also acknowledges the ongoing poverty rates. Their platform comprises of :
Establishing a Guaranteed Liveable Income program to replace current income supports including disability, social assistance, and income assistance with payments set at a liveable level for different regions across Canada
Set the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour
Design and implement a national mental health strategy to address the link between mental health and productivity
Enhance the use of Community Benefits Agreements to increase inclusion economic opportunities for people of color
Over the past twenty years there has been a lot of apathy among young voters who felt like their votes didn’t count. That is all about to change. For the first time in a long time, young Canadians have a chance to have their voices heard within the system, not just on the streets.
When you look back on 2016, you may think of all the greats we lost like David Bowie, Leonard Cohen and, most recently, Carrie Fisher and her mom Debbie Reynolds. You may also remember it as the year the UK decided to leave the EU or the year the US decided to leave its senses politically.
No matter how you saw it, though, you have to admit that quite a bit happened. With that in mind, we take a look back at 2016 in the News.
As this post had two authors, parenthetical initials indicate if the section was written by Jason C. McLean (JCM) or Mirna Djukic (MD).
2016 was the first year of the post-Harper era and it was an agitated one in federal politics.
Justin Trudeau’s popularity soared for a while, still largely carried by the expectations built during his campaign and his undisputable quality of not being Stephen Harper. To his credit, he did score some significant points in his first months in office by immediately opening the National Inquiry on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and rebuilding relationships with our neighbours (which gave us both the most hilarious handshake attempt of all time and the TrudObama Bromance).
One of the first flies in the ointment was the infamous #elbowgate incident in the House of Commons. Last May, the Prime Minister took it upon himself to escort Conservative Whip Gordon Brown through a cluster of opposition MPs in order to move the procedures along and accidentally elbowed NDP MP Ruth Ellen Brosseau in the chest. This was perhaps a fairly embarrassing show of temper for the PM, but it degenerated into something out of a Shakespearian comedy in the following days, with Trudeau issuing apology after apology and the opposition throwing words like “molested” around.
Inopportune elbows aside, the Liberals took quite a few steps during the year that caused the public to question how different they really are from their predecessors. Not only did they go through with the $15 million arms sale to Saudi Arabia, but they also quietly changed the country’s policies about export controls to ensure that they could continue to trade arms with shady regimes with a lot less obstacles.
As for the Greens, they started the year as the underdogs who were doing unexpectedly well. The increased attention, though, revealed a world of messy internal struggles. These started when the party voted in favour of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel. Leader Elizabeth May disliked this so much that she considered resigning. (MD)
Indeed, discrepancies between the government’s discourse and their actions accumulated throughout the year. None was more flagrant than their attitude toward pipelines.
The Liberals campaigned on promises to restore the trust of Canadians in the Environmental Assessment Process, “modernize” the National Energy Board and make Canada a leader in the worldwide climate change fight. Trudeau was the first to admit that the current environmental assessment protocols were immensely flawed and he mandated a committee to review them.
While still waiting for their conclusions, though, he had no problem with major projects still being approved by that flawed process. He had no comments when it was revealed that the NEB board members in charge of reviewing Energy East had secretly met with TransCanada lobbyists nor when indigenous resistance against various projects started rising.
If he thought that the population was on his side, or that they would remain passive about it, he was sorely mistaken. In August, the NEB consultations about Energy East were shut down by protesters. Anger and mistrust towards the NEB only grew after that, with environmental groups calling for a complete overhaul.
None of this stopped the government from approving two contentious pipelines in late November. Both Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain project and Enbridge’s Line 3 were officially accepted. Fortunately, they did reject Enbridge’s Northern Gateway, which was set to go through the Great Bear Rain Forest. (MD)
2016 was the year that saw the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe emerge victorious (for the moment) over big energy and the North Dakota Government.
In July, Energy Transfer Partners got approval for the $3.78 Billion Dakota Access Pipeline to cross the Missouri River at Lake Oahe, the tribe’s only source of drinking water. The plan also saw DAPL cut across sacred burial grounds.
The Standing Rock Sioux challenged this both in court and with water protectors on the front lines. They invited others to stand in solidarity with them and assembled the largest gathering of Native American tribes in decades.
Things came to a head on Labour Day Weekend early September when DAPL sent private corporate security to attack the water protectors with pepper spray and dogs. Democracy Now’s shocking footage of the incident got picked up by major networks and there finally was major media attention, for a while.
As more people joined the camp and solidarity actions, including Facebook Check-Ins from around the world, increased, corporate media interest waned. Meanwhile the Governor of North Dakota Jack Dalrymple activated the Emergency Management Assistance Compact, which brought law enforcement from ten different states to Standing Rock.
With most media focused on the elections, police used tear gas and water cannons on water protectors in freezing temperatures. The US Army Corps of Engineers sent an eviction notice demanding the camp be cleared by December 5th and roadblocks went up.
The Sioux Tribe’s infrastructure survived, however, and once 4000 veterans showed up in solidarity, the official stance changed. President Obama’s administration got the Army Corps to change its tune and deny the easement over Lake Oahe, meaning the DAPL will not go through Standing Rock, at least not until the Trump Administration takes office.
While their fight may not be over, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe did flip the script in 2016 and was even named FTB’s Person of the Year. (JCM)
Indigenous Issues in Canada
Meanwhile in Canada, indigenous issues did make their way a bit more to the forefront in 2016. The National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women finally got underway September 1st.
While long overdue, the Inquiry will be independent of the Federal Government and has a budget of $53.86 million to be spent over two years. While overall optimistic, some in Canada’s First Nations communities are concerned that the scope of the inquiry is too broad, making it easy to not investigate police forces and specific cases.
Quebec is considering its own inquiry. It’s needed, especially when you consider that the Sûreté du Québec (SQ) treated accusations that its officers were assaulting native women in Val d’Or by going after Radio-Canada and its journalists for reporting on the story and no one else.
Meanwhile, conditions in many First Nations communities continued to deteriorate. An indigenous police force in Ontario even recommended its own disbanding for lack of proper funding. (JCM)
The provincial government keeps slowly but steadily dropping in the polls. According to a Léger-Le Devoir poll conducted in November, the Liberals hit their lowest approval rating since the 2012 crisis. With only 31% of the intended vote, they are now barely 1% ahead of the PQ.
The fact that they did reach a budgetary surplus as a result doesn’t seem to have calmed the popular discontent. The shadow of past corruption scandals also remains.
Couillard assured the public that none of the scandals happened under his watch and that his administration is fully committed to fighting corruption. This commitment was, however, brought into question by a recent report which accuses the government of lagging behind on the Charbonneau recommendations.
In any case, the party was left in turmoil. It wasn’t long before another of its prominent figures left. Bernard Drainville, champion of the infamous Charte des valeurs, but also a major architect of the party’s policies and democratic reforms, decided it was time to call it quits. In a slightly surreal move, he announced that he was retiring from politics to co-animate Éric Duhaime’s notoriously salacious radio show.
Those who had hoped that his departure would help the PQ move toward a better relationship with minorities and immigrants were disillusioned by the conclusion of the leadership race. Veteran Jean-François Lisée and his divisive views on immigration won by a landslide, while the favorite, Alexandre Cloutier was left in the dust with Martine Ouellet and Paul Saint-Pierre Plamondon.
However, let’s not forget that Quebec’s political scene is not limited to the two major parties. In fact, a new player is preparing to enter it before the next election. FTB learned that a provincial NDP is in the works, hoping to provide the voters with a progressive option that doesn’t aim for Quebec’s independence. (MD)
Rape culture neither started nor ended in 2016, but it did seem to find its way to our newsfeed frighteningly often.
First came the disappointing conclusion of the Gomeshi trial in May. The fact that a celebrity with so much airtime on the CBC and elsewhere had been sexually harassing his colleague for years and committing multiple sexual assaults while his entourage and superiors turned a blind eye was outraging enough on its own. The fact that four counts of sexual assault and one of overcoming resistance by choking pretty much ended with a slap on the wrist from the court was worse. It made it very hard to keep pretending that our institutions and our society were not rigged to protect aggressors and silence victims.
Barely a month later, as if to demonstrate the scale of the problem, there was the Brock Turner case. Turner, a 20 year old student athlete at Stanford and a perfect mix of white, male and class privilege, was standing trial for raping a young woman on campus. Caught in the act by other students, he was found guilty. This could have landed him in prison for more than a decade, but he got six months in a county jail (he only served three).
A horrible event brought the discussion about rape culture a lot closer to home for many Quebecers in the fall. Multiple attackers entered the dorms of Université Laval and assaulted several students during one night in October. This sparked a wave of compassion and awareness with province-wide protests.
During a solidarity vigil in Quebec city, a young student named Alice Paquet revealed that she was raped by Liberal MNA Gerry Sklavounos back in 2012. Despite an onslaught of victim blaming and skepticism, Paquet decided to finally press charges, and her lawsuit is now in front of the Directeur des Poursuites Criminelles et Pénales. The latter will decide if the case goes to court. (MD)
US Presidential Election
For most of the year, politicos everywhere, including here in Canada, were glued to what was transpiring in the US Presidential Election. And for good reason, it was an interesting one, to say the least.
First there was the hope of some real and unexpected change in the form of the political revolution Bernie Sanders was promising. The upstart Vermont senator managed to go from basically nothing to winning 23 states in the Primaries and even got to meet with the Pope, but that wasn’t enough to beat the largest political machine out there and the Democratic Party establishment’s chosen candidate Hillary Clinton.
Meanwhile, Donald Trump, another upstart candidate, though one of the secretly pro-corporate and openly far-right variety, easily clinched the Republican nomination. With the exception of a bit of plagiarism on opening night and the whole Ted Cruz non-endorsement incident, the GOP Convention was quite unified behind Trump.
The Democratic National Convention was a completely different story. Sanders delegates booed speakers endorsing Clinton and connected to the Trans-Pacific Partnership and even left the room in protest when Clinton officially won the nomination.
The ensuing General Election campaign went back and forth for a few months with each candidate having their ups and downs. Clinton’s health rumours and Wikileaks revelations and Trump’s…well, his being Donald Trump.
Well, on Election Day, the unthinkable happened. The ideal “pied piper candidate” the Democrats had sought to elevate, because he would be so easy to beat, ended up beating their “inevitable” future President.
The bogeyman came out from under the bed and was elected to office. The joke went from funny to scary. Failed casino owner and third-rate reality star Donald Trump won the Electoral College vote and became President Elect of the United States.
As Trump started building his brand new bubble filled with climate change deniers, corporate execs and white supremacists, the fight against him in the streets started and shows no signs of stopping in 2017. The real question is now: will the Democrats change gear and become a progressive alternative or stay the establishment course that led them to defeat at the hands of an orange carnival barker? (JCM)
At least Montreal didn’t spend 2016 electing a frequently cartoonish populist who doesn’t listen to experts. We had already done that back in 2013.
This was the year, though, that our Mayor, Denis Coderre, really started to shine. And by shine I mean make Montreal nationally and even globally famous for some really bad decisions and ideas.
2015 ended with the Mayor dumping untreated sewage right into the river. With that out of the way, 2016 was going to be the year where we planned for our big 375th Anniversary in 2017.
Coderre’s focus was squarely somewhere else in the last half of the year, though. After a 55-year-old woman was killed by a dog in June, Coderre tabled rather extreme Breed-Specific Legislation aimed at pit bulls, despite no initial proof that a pit bull was the culprit (and the later revelation that it absolutely wasn’t).
There were protests and even international condemnation, including that of celebrities like Cyndi Lauper. Coderre would hear none of it, though, even ordering the mic cut on an citizen during a City Council meeting.
When the so-called Pit Bull Ban, officially the Montreal Animal Control Bylaw, became law in September, the proverbial other shoe dropped. People started picking up on some of the other aspects of it, in particular the fines and fees and the fact that it covered other breeds of dog and cats, too.
The SPCA got a temporary injunction on the “dangerous breeds” aspects of the law in early October which was overturned on appeal in December. The bylaw comes into full effect March 31, 2017, at which point the SPCA will no longer deal with stray dogs or accept owner surrenders.
In September, another project met with a legal obstacle. Turns out fines Société de transport de Montréal (STM) security officers were handing out constituted a human rights violation.
While the STM will be appealing the Montreal Municipal Court decision, for now at least, they’re not supposed to be sending out squads of transit cops acting as glorified revenue generators. In practice, though, we’ve heard reports they’re still doing it.
What was really surprising was that the SPVM got warrants for this surveillance. What was not surprising at all is how high this probably went. Police Chief Philippe Pichet must have known, and he was handpicked by Mayor Coderre a few years prior.
2016 continued the sad tradition of police murdering innocent people of colour for no good reason and getting away with it (for the most part). The Black Lives Matter movement also continued to speak out against these killings.
There were two such murders in early July very close together, to the point where it was possible to confuse notification of one with the other. Alton Sterling and Philando Castile died at the hands of police in different cities in different states within 24 hours of each other.
In Dallas, Texas, a lone sniper, not part of the peaceful protest, decided to murder nine police officers, which, of course, became a national tragedy and an excuse for the right wing to incorrectly attack BLM.
In September, following the police murder of Keith Lamont Scott, the city of Charlotte, North Carolina erupted. There were days of protest and the governor declared a state of emergency on the second night.
There is sadly no sign that any of this will change in 2017, especially given the positions of the incoming administration on race and police. (JCM)
Sadly, this year was marked by the continuing conflict in Syria. Dictator Bashar al-Assad has again been accused of deliberately targeting civilians. The carnage in Aleppo reached new heights as the regime’s forces renewed their assault, driving residents to send their goodbyes over social media.
Local groups have been fighting the rising terrorist factions in Syria, namely the now famous Kurd “women’s protection unit”, also known as YPJ. However, despite their important role, their status with the international community is on shaky ground. One YPJ fighter is currently detained in Denmark under terrorism charges. (MD)
So that’s our look back at 2016 in the news. Here’s hoping for overall more uplifting stories in 2017!
It happened. Justin Trudeau has gone from the Selfie Prime Minister to the Photobombing PM. At least that’s what it seemed like yesterday.
He was speaking (and I use that term liberally, he really didn’t get to talk much) at a Youth Labour Forum in Ottawa. Most of the assembled crowd, though, seemed less interested in Trudeau’s platitudes then they were in speaking up on his inaction or potentially wrong action on several fronts.
They were upset over what his signing onto the Trans-Pacific Partnership would mean for their job prospects and the effects of “precarious work” which Trudeau said is now a fact of life. They also challenged Trudeau on his broken election promises, saying “we don’t have dialogue with liars.”
At one point, a group of attendees literally turned their backs on the PM because they felt he had turned his back on them. This led to the image you see at the top where it looks very much like Trudeau is an unwanted part of the photo.
Overall, it hasn’t been a great couple of weeks for Trudeau. On Monday, about 200 protesters showed up on Parliament Hill upset with the prospect of our Prime Minister approving the Kinder-Morgan Pipeline. Close to 100 of them were arrested.
Up until a few weeks ago, things had been running real smoothly for our PM. Sure, there were attacks, but most of the ones which garnered major media attention came from the right and were over ridiculous things like him posing for shirtless selfies or progressive things like an MP (who has since passed away) trying to make the lyrics to O Canada gender-neutral.
The only time the NDP made a go at him that garnered mass coverage, it failed. It was supposed to be about his strongarm political tactics, but it ended up being about the physical movements of his actual arm, or elbow, when in Parliament.
That’s not to say there weren’t valid progressive reasons to criticize Trudeau over the past year. This self-proclaimed feminist let the previous Harper Government’s arms sale to Saudi Arabia go through and even relaxed our policy to make it possible.
Meanwhile, the Trudeau Government’s attempts to “modernize” the National Energy Board have amounted to nothing more than committees studying problems with no concrete action. The NEB, of course being the organization that Harper had chosen to evaluate pipeline proposals after abolishing the Environmental Assessment Agency.
So, progressive criticisms of Trudeau, until recently, have been focused on Harper policies that the Liberal Government has been ineffective in getting rid of. Not nearly enough to ruin Trudeau’s mainstream progressive cred at home, given the fact that his government has made some significant improvements on what the previous administration was doing.
It also hasn’t been anywhere close to something that could spoil his rep abroad. I constantly see Facebook friends living in the US and other countries as well as foreign progressive media jealously praising our Prime Minister and wishing he could be their head of state.
While I don’t think Trudeau’s honeymoon with the world will end anytime soon, especially given the nastiness in the US Presidential Election, his sunny ways love-in with progressive Canadians may be about to come to an end. The downfall started when when he clearly stated that a $15/hr minimum wage was not a currrent goal of his administration.
Think about that for a second. This is now part of the official Democratic Party platform in the US. Sure, Bernie Sanders forced the issue and pushed Hillary Clinton in that direction, and there’s no proof that she will actually fight for it if elected. But if a corporate centrist running to be leader of a centre-right country can be cajoled into running on a $15/hr minimum wage, then what business does the self-billed progressive global heartthrob leader of a centre-left country have in rejecting it?
It was a long honeymoon for Trudeau, but is it now really over, or at least ending? Does the Emperor now really have no clothes, and not in a fun shirtless selfie kinda way? Maybe.
Dear Mr. Prime Minister
Now, I’d like to shift gears and speak directly to our Prime Minister Justin Trudeau:
Dear Mr. Prime Minister,
Take a look around you, sir. The people turning their back (literally) on you and the people being arrested for getting a little too close to your place of business aren’t Conservatives. They aren’t even jaded lefties like me who vote NDP, sometimes while holding our noses because the leader is not progressive enough.
These are your people. People who voted for you in hopes that you would change things. They wanted to get rid of Harper and his rhetoric, which you have done, but, most importantly, they wanted to throw his policies away, too, and you, sir, have failed to do that.
Does your feminism include arms sales to Saudi Arabia because it’s 2016? Are Kinder-Morgan and Harper’s NEB part of your sunny ways? Have you given up on improving the condition of workers in this country? Can you really use your government’s popularity as an excuse to backpedal on electoral reform when that popularity seems to be waning, or rather plummeting, among former ardent supporters?
I’ll admit I was skeptical of you from the start and I’m sad to report that you have justified my skepticism. I’m a lost cause for you, but it’s not too late, though, for you to win back your former voters and live up to the false impression many have of you. It’s not that hard, either.
Just make your policies match your rhetoric and you can continue the honeymoon until the next election. Otherwise, the honeymoon’s over and things are gonna be kinda awkward before they’re downright unpleasant.
We just passed the mid-point in one of the longest Canadian Federal Election campaigns in a while. The stress of such a long campaign is starting to show, sometimes in quite hilarious ways.
Over the past few weeks, politicians and staffers alike have given us some moments that really make you do a double-take. Some are quite offensive, others are hilarious in how tone-deaf they are. All will make you wonder how supposedly seasoned political operatives could have let them slip by.
Harper’s 24 Hour Surveillance
When it comes to making your opponents’ greatest fears about you come alive visually yourself, no one beats Stephen Harper and the Conservatives. Afraid the CPC will take away your rights? Here’s a campaign sign advertising 24 hour surveillance with the image of a surveillance camera to really drive the point home.
Now, to be fair, there were some people vandalising election signs in Harper’s home riding of Calgary Heritage and it is illegal to vandalise political signage during an election. So, adding stickers to let would-be vandals know that they are being filmed and could be prosecuted does make sense.
That is, of course, until you remember that the potential audience for those stickers is all Canadian politicos on the internet. To dissuade a few people in Calgary with spray cans, the party behind Bill C-51 effectively advertised to the country that re-electing Harper meant 24 hour surveillance.
Gilles Duceppe Taking the Fight to Isis
Isis beware! Gilles Duceppe has you in his sights. The Bloc leader announced that a sovereign Quebec would fight the Islamic State.
This came as part of an announcement that the Bloc supports the Harper Government’s military mission in Syria. While that stance is a pretty desperate last-minute move to the right in and of itself, bringing Quebec sovereignty into the equation makes it a point of ridicule.
I don’t have to read the internet comments on this one to know what the general theme will be: just how Quebec is supposed to take on ISIS without a military of its own? Send the SQ to Syria?
If voters’ primary concern is engaging in foreign wars, they’re going to go with the guy who has already gotten us into them and plans to keep us there. And that’s not Gilles Duceppe.
Trudeau’s On a Plane!
This is a case of screwing up an announcement that should be run-of-the-mill. Due to the length of the campaign, the major parties with smaller war chests (all but The Conservatives) were only able to charter private jets to fly their leaders, staff and press around the country at the midway point. Until then, Mulcair and Trudeau had been flying commercial.
When they finally got their private, branded planes, the NDP and the Liberals announced it. While Mulcair was smart and made it part of a broader policy announcement of new aerospace jobs, Trudeau went the full-on the Andy Sandberg “I’m on a Boat!” route.
If you can think of a better way to prove your opponents’ criticism that you are out-of-touch and elite than bragging about your new private jet, please let me know. Otherwise watch this video and try not to have that Lonely Island song in your head:
The Bloc Going for the Xenophobic Environmentalist Vote
The Bloc makes a second appearance in this short list. Not surprising considering their whole campaign has pretty much been one big WTF moment from the time Gilles Duceppe became leader again without even a vote.
Have a look at their latest ad:
No, you’re not imagining things. In just 21 seconds, they went from slamming the NDP for their refusal to come out against pipelines to slamming them for their opposition to Harper’s attempts to ban the Niqab at swearing-in ceremonies for new immigrants.
Wedge issues are an effective way to mobilize a specific voter base. They work fine solo or in tandem with other issues that appeal to the same voter base like how opposition to marriage equality and a woman’s right to choose fit well together. The Bloc didn’t bring in Bush-Era Karl Rove, they brought in Rove drunk and passed off that the last cheque bounced.
I can only imagine the brainstorming session that went into this:
“So our attempt to get the xenophobe vote didn’t work and our play to the left to get pipeline opponents on board isn’t working either. I know, let’s try and appeal to both groups at the same time!”
“Hey, oil is black, and so are Niquabs. I’ll call the graphics department.”
This, of course, was followed by tears and reminiscing on how they once were the official opposition and came so close to being part of a coalition government.
Harper’s Old Stock Canadians
Thursday’s Globe and Mail Leaders’ Debate was, to be completely honest, kinda boring. Sure, there were some snarky comments exchanged, probably more than in the last debate, but overall just a lot of arguing over numbers. And then our current Prime Minister said this:
“So,” the internet wondered, “just what do you mean by old stock Canadians, Mr Harper?” Well, in Europe, “old stock” generally refers to the original inhabitants of the land, or longtime inhabitants. Like old English stock or old French stock.
So does that mean he was referring to the First Nations, whom his government has routinely screwed over? Nope. He clarified the following day that he was referring to Canadians who were “the descendants of immigrants for one or more generations.” And while he didn’t specify Western European descent, we all know he was talking about white people.
The racism and ignorance inherent in referring to people living on occupied land as old stock proves that Harper is a right-wing reactionary and a bigot with one small off-the-cuff remark. While it does qualify as a WTF moment, it also may help him solidify his base. Remember, his base is this guy:
I would have liked to include some WTF moments from the NDP and the Green Party but the Greens have been doing everything right this time around and the only NDP screw-ups are of the direction and policy variety and make sense if you know Mulcair and the party. No double-takes possible. But the campaign’s still going, so they may make the cut next time.
Got any of your own #elxn42 WTF moments? Please share them in the comments.
The number of pipeline proposals for Northwest BC that big oil companies have been making is astounding. Enbridge Pipeline, PNG Pipeline Looping Project, Pacific Northern Gas, Pacific Trails Pipeline, Coastal GasLink, Westcoast Connector Gas Transmission Project, Prince Rupert Gas Transmission Project… Some resources say there’s at least 11 of these proposals.
The environmental concerns of building pipelines through Canada’s ‘untouched’ lands aside, most of these projects encroach upon the unceded territories of Indigenous people, namely the Wet’suwet’en. For several years, the Unist’ot’en, a clan of Wet’suwet’en, have been struggling to keep the oil companies away from their territories. They have been successful so far; however, the RCMP has been intensifying its efforts to end their resistance.
Along with volunteers, the Unist’ot’en have set up a camp in the territory, setting up checkpoints all around it. They practice free prior and informed consent protocols, which essentially means that people at the checkpoints will ask any visitors their purpose of visit and what they’re bringing into the territory – like border control. If the hereditary chiefs do not approve the visitors, then they’re not allowed in the territory.
This is an ongoing struggle and, recently, after the RCMP once again tried to enter the camp but was refused, the campers have made a call out for solidarity demonstrations. It was following this that an “emergency demo” was organized to be held on July 24 in front of the Roddick Gates of McGill University, at the intersection of Sherbrooke and McGill College.
Around 20 demonstrators, five members of alternative media, and ten police cars showed up. Once the organizers believed that a critical mass was reached, the group started to march westward on Sherbrooke. Immediately afterwards, the police cars started to follow them, announcing that the protest was illegal, probably under P-6, but also – the recently popular – Highway Security Code article 500.1.
The group turned left on Mansfield, stopped in front of the CIBC building and gave a speech on why they were gathered. In a pamphlet handed out to passersby, the organizers say that “the situation at the Unist’ot’en camp in so-called British Columbia (B.C.) is moving towards an escalation point.”
They also called for justice for victims of police brutality, namely Sandra Bland and Paul Castaway. “We condemn the police’s differential targeting of the marginalized, racialized and low-income communities across Turtle Island,” they said.
After that, the group continued marching south on Mansfield, and turned west at Maisonneuve. They were able to march until Stanley, at which point one of the police cars overtook the group by going through the bike lane and blocking the street. Surely enough, that left the group completely surrounded in a mini-kettle.
According to The Montreal Gazette, the SPVM says that one person was arrested and eight were ticketed. One of the organizers who wished to remain anonymous, however, told me that six were arrested and three were ticketed. I also saw more than one person being hauled off in a police car; but, to be fair, I did hear the remnants of the group talking about people being released.
It’s insane, on its own, that people were arrested like that in the middle of the street and ticketed for protesting, but one of the people who got a ticket for being there was Matt D’Amours of Concordia’s The Link and a member of 99%Media. Matt was livestreaming the event until it was abruptly cut off by an officer of SPVM.
The ticket says that Matt has “occupied a road used as an alternate route for traffic diverted from a public highway, by placing an obstacle, so as to obstruct vehicular traffic on the road without authorization.” The obstacle in question, apparently, is Matt’s person.
“I find it to be a slightly dubious description of the offence,” Matt said. “And also, my name has been misspelt on this ticket.”