I had high hopes for the mayor of Montreal. I thought that in all the discourse about Bill 21, Mayor Valérie Plante, the leader of Quebec’s most multicultural city, would take a stand against it.

Instead, despite evidence that applying the law will only hurt Muslim women and prevent the Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, and Sikh people of Montreal from participating fully in our democracy, Mayor Plante has publicly stated that despite her objections to it, she will uphold Bill 21.

I have therefore drafted an open letter to our Mayor in both official languages which you can read below. You can add your voice to mine on change.org and I encourage everyone opposed to this law and the Mayor’s stance on it to send it to City Hall via their contact portal.

Dear Mayor Valérie Plante,

As a citizen of Montreal, I was overjoyed to see that we had finally elected a female mayor. I thought that as a woman elected to head the most multicultural city in Quebec, you would do what is necessary to stand up for the people you were chosen to lead. It is therefore disappointing to see that you have publicly stated that while you disagree with Bill 21, you will enforce and uphold it.

I understand that your position is difficult. As a woman in politics you are under greater scrutiny than your male peers, and as leader of our City you feel obligated to uphold the law. But history does not remember those who enforced unjust laws while wringing their hands in supposed discomfort. History remembers those who stood up in the face of them and said NO.

According to a 2011 study by Statistics Canada, 5.6% of Montrealers are Jewish and 9.6% are Muslim. Another 1.3% of the city’s populations are Hindus and Sikhs. All of these people will be affected by this law and thus denied a chance to assimilate and participate fully in our democracy. In these troubled times, they turned to you for guidance and in response you have turned your back on them. We therefore implore you to reconsider your position and prove yourself to be the leader we know you can be.

Stand up and say the City of Montreal cannot and will not enforce Bill 21.

We are counting on you.

Add your name to the petition

Featured Image: Painting by Samantha Gold

In light of the video going viral of Juliano Gray being brutally beaten by STM security at Villa Maria metro, the STM announced their plan to set up a committee to investigate complaints their security. As one of the witnesses to come forward about the Villa Maria incident, I have a unique perspective on their actions and I am here to share them.

A lot has happened since the incident on March 7, 2019. I’ve been on the news a few times, I’ve spoken to a city counselor, and I’ve had people point at me and say they saw me on the news. I’ve seen a copy of the STM’s report about the incident, forwarded to me by City Councilor Marvin Rotrand, and it reminded me of a quote from the comedian Groucho Marx:

“Who you gonna believe?! Me or your own eyes?!”

Though the report claims that they investigated the incident, not ONCE did the STM reach out to ask me about it, despite the fact that everyone from CTV to TVA somehow got my phone number. I am certain that the level of violence to which Mr. Gray was treated with had everything to do with his race.

In response to the notion that Gray was racially profiled, the STM’s report boasted of the ethnic diversity of their employees and the fact that they hardly get any complaints of racial profiling anymore, to which I say the following:

Having people of colour working for you does not mean that your white employees aren’t racist.

Montreal’s black community no longer bothers to file complaints of harassment and racial profiling by security with the STM anymore, because the STM almost always sides with their people. Instead, they tend to go directly to the Quebec Human Rights Commission, where they have a better chance of having their complaints taken seriously and treated fairly.

That said, the STM had better think REAL hard about how this committee will be set up, who it will be made up of, and who will be in charge of oversight.

If the STM is really determined to fix relations between their security and the public with this committee, the first act of good faith would be to ensure that they are NOT the ones in charge of overseeing it. If they are truly committed to showing that their security is there to help not harass, they need to make sure the committee is diverse. That means a committee that is made up of representatives of groups who feel they’ve been targeted in the past and is diverse in terms of ethnicities, faiths, ages, and genders.

It also means that the STM should not be paying the salaries of committee members, so members don’t feel that their paychecks are reliant on pleasing the STM. If they are truly committed to social justice, they need to make sure that the committee’s recommendations and decisions have teeth, so that any legitimate complaints against security result in actual suspensions and dismissals.

Many groups, including the Center for Research Action on Race Relations, a Montreal-based non-profit civil rights organization, have called for an external, independent complaints examination system to investigate complaints against STM security and they are right to do so. As long as the STM is handling complaints against their own people, there will never be justice for those harassed, assaulted, endangered or otherwise abused by their security.

Montreal police have informed me of what powers STM security guards actually have and the answer will shock you. They have as much police-like power as you or me, meaning that they can make a citizen’s arrest and detain anyone committing a crime.

The second the real cops arrive, they are legally bound to hand over the suspect. People have been highly critical of the STM’s demands to give their security more police-like powers, but at the same time people want STM security to be subject to the Code of Ethics of Quebec Police Officers.

Unfortunately, only those considered peace officers under the law can be held accountable under the Code, so we can either have STM security recognized as peace officers so they can be subject to the Code, or we can keep using other laws to hold them to account for their actions.

The STM is claiming that they are determined to improve relations between their people and the public.

I say: prove it.

Hand the establishment and oversight of this committee to people who will treat it as a real tool for social justice and not just as a pathetically meaningless PR move.

Luc Ferrandez, Borough Mayor of Plateau Mont-Royal since 2009, former interim leader of Projet Montréal and more recently the Executive Committee member responsible for Montreal’s large parks, is out. He announced that he is leaving politics in a Facebook post earlier today. He has already submitted his resignation and it goes into effect in June.

Frequently controversial and never afraid to say exactly what was on his mind, sometimes to a fault, his departure announcement was very on-brand:

He didn’t give a benign reason (spending time with his family, etc.) and then follow it up with a bunch of thank-yous to his colleagues like a typical politician would. Instead he attacked the Plante Administration’s environmental bona fides and then followed it up with a bunch of thank-yous to his colleagues in that same administration as only Luc Ferrandez would.

His Rationale

Basically,Ferrandez feels that the current city government isn’t doing all it can to protect the environment. He also feels that he is someone known for his commitment to protecting the environment. Therefore, as he explained, his continued presence in the administration maintained a “false image” that they were doing all they could.

For Ferrandez, all they could be doing is a pretty extensive list. It includes proposals Plateau residents might expect, like taxing all parking spaces, taxing all cars coming into downtown and increasing the size of green spaces. There are also proposed limits and taxes on petrol products coming through our port.

The most interesting part, though, is his plan to limit the height of buildings in certain areas, but increase the height of buildings near parks and Metro stations. Basically, it’s designed to limit the need for daily car travel, something that’s probably worth its own article, but not today.

A Double-Edged Sword for Plante

Now the focus is, has to be, on what his departure means for Mayor Valérie Plante and Projet Montréal. The next municipal election is still two years away, but running without Ferrandez on the ballot will definitely be a factor.

On one hand, this may help Plante city-wide. Last election, incumbent Mayor Denis Coderre made “in a Plante-Ferrandez administration” his go-to snide remark in debates, knowing that the Plateau Mayor’s reputation, bolstered by local corporate media, was something that could hurt his opponent in parts of the city that were markedly different than the Plateau.

In the Plateau, though, Plante’s party loses someone who was re-elected, along with his entire team of councillors, twice, each time a landslide victory. Replacing him won’t be the easiest task, and it’s one that Projet needs to accomplish soon, because when his resignation takes effect in June, they have a 120 day by-election campaign to retain control of the borough that has been at the core of the party for a decade.

Featured Image via Facebook

Last week we learned that Montreal’s transit authority, the STM, wants its security guards to have more “police-like powers” (whatever that means) despite recent incidents like the assault on a commuter at Villa Maria metro. The STM claims that this won’t involve arming the officers who patrol the Montreal Metro and STM buses with more than the nightsticks they already, have but it will come with additional training.

The people currently working security for the STM definitely do need to be re-trained, though not in the way I suspect the STM wants to do it. The first lesson in my school, after mandatory classes against racial profiling, would be called something like You’re a Security Guard, Not a Fare Collector!

That’s sadly not the mentality the STM has. You only need to look at the statements STM officials made while pitching the upgrade for their cops to see how they really don’t get what kind of organization they are running.

With countless references to “customers” and “customer experience” you’d think they were at the helm of a for-profit business instead of a public service. Doctors have patients, public transit organizations have commuters or passengers, hell, transit users would even work, but not customers.

The latest PR nightmare for the STM involves a woman who missed the last metro, where she could have paid to ride, because the out-of-town bus she was on arrived late. She couldn’t find any stores that were open to make change, so she boarded a night bus, explained her situation to the driver and asked if she could ride without paying. He said yes.

Two stops later, STM cops gave her a $222 fine and kicked her off the bus in the middle of nowhere with no way to get home. They kicked a woman travelling alone at night off the night bus in the middle of nowhere because she didn’t have the change handy to buy a ticket despite the fact that she had asked permission to ride for free given the circumstances.

How does that make anyone safer? It doesn’t. Actually, it’s the opposite. If the STM “security” (or Rambo ticket takers) hadn’t boarded that particular night bus, one woman’s ride home would have been a helluva lot safer.

Just as Juliano Gray, the victim of the assault at Villa Maria Metro, would have been safer if STM officers had not held him on the ground with his head dangerously close to the tracks. These are two recent incidents where the biggest threat to commuter safety turned out to be those charged, at least officially, with protecting it.

In the immediate aftermath of what happened at Villa, even before Gray came forward, STM spokesperson Philippe Dery was trying to defend the officers’ actions in an email exchange with CTV Montreal and failing miserably. Then, according to CTV he added: “In addition, the person did not have a ticket in his possession and refused to cooperate with our inspectors.”

His Hail Mary defense of brutality caught on video was to tell everyone that the victim probably didn’t pay for a ticket. Not only is it not justification for assault, it’s something that very few care about outside of the STM bubble.

There are real, honest to goodness, problems in the metro and on the bus. Harassment, creepy behaviour and worse. These are issues transit security should deal with. Fare jumping doesn’t even merit a blip on the radar, but it seems to be security threat number one for the STM.

Sure, this public service has a fee, one that most of us pay. While I believe public transit should be free, I know that not everyone is on board with that yet, but at the very least we can get on board with the idea that fare collection should not be the primary concern of those charged with protecting passengers and that we are passengers, not customers.

A safe commute is knowing that the person next to you won’t do you any harm, not that they paid for a ticket or pass. The STM brass needs to realize that fact and instill it in their security guards before trying to give them more power.

Canada is a secular society, but we are a society that has recognized that secular laws and practices can coexist with many people’s religious beliefs and expressions. It is why in Montreal, for example, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs and seculars live together in relative harmony. If Quebec Premier François Legault gets his way, this might all change.

Legault and his Coalition Avenir du Quebec party ran on a platform of promising to bar people who wear religious symbols from positions of authority in the province. They are attempting to do this with Bill 21.

This article is not going to discuss how the CAQ is so clearly pandering to the most disgustingly racist, xenophobic members of Quebec society. It is not going to talk about how the Bill represents the longstanding dispute between welcoming, diverse, multicultural Montreal and the rest of Quebec.

This article is going to talk about what Bill 21 actually contains and the very real fallout for the Quebecois affected if the bill passes. For the purposes of this article, “Quebecois” means anyone living in Quebec (and not just people descended from the original French settlers).

Bill 21 contains important changes to the Quebec Charter of Human Rights, a quasi-constitutional law enacted in the 70s that contains some of Quebec’s strongest protections against discrimination. As the Quebec Charter is only quasi-constitutional, it can be changed by a simple act by the National Assembly.

Bill 21 changes section 9.1 of the Quebec Charter from:

“In exercising his fundamental freedoms and rights, a person shall maintain a proper regard for democratic values, public order and the general well-being of the citizens of Québec.

Section 9.1 Quebec Charter of Human Rights, current text

to:

“In exercising his fundamental freedoms and rights, a person shall maintain a proper regard for democratic values, state laicity, public order and the general well-being of the citizens of Québec.”

Proposed version of Section 9.1 of the Quebec Charter of Human Rights

The change thus creates an obligation among citizens to have respect for democratic values, state secularism, public order etc. in the exercise of their fundamental rights and freedoms under the Quebec Charter. It does not, however, abolish section 10 of the Quebec Charter which states that:

“Every person has a right to full and equal recognition and exercise of his human rights and freedoms, without distinction, exclusion or preference based on race, colour, sex, gender identity or expression, pregnancy, sexual orientation, civil status, age except as provided by law, religion, political convictions, language, ethnic or national origin, social condition, a handicap or the use of any means to palliate a handicap. Discrimination exists where such a distinction, exclusion or preference has the effect of nullifying or impairing such right.”

Section 10 of the Quebec Charter of Human Rights

The Charter also forbids discrimination in “the hiring, apprenticeship, duration of the probationary period, vocational training, promotion, transfer, displacement, laying-off, suspension, dismissal or conditions of employment” based on the aforementioned grounds. As these sections of the Quebec Charter remain on the books, any institutions that enforce Bill 21 could find themselves open to legal action under said Charter which also states victims’ rights in such cases:

“Any unlawful interference with any right or freedom recognized by this Charter entitles the victim to obtain the cessation of such interference and compensation for the moral or material prejudice resulting therefrom. In case of unlawful and intentional interference, the tribunal may, in addition, condemn the person guilty of it to punitive damages.”

Quebec Charter of Human Rights

Matt Aronson, a lawyer in Montreal says that “if a state funded institution practices discrimination as an employer, causing damages to a citizen, it’s possible that not only could a citizen sue to have the discrimination stopped, they may even be able to sue for punitive damages. Now, there is a section of the Quebec Charter that allows for rights and freedoms to be limited in scope by laws, but that would be a fairly difficult retort to state sanctioned discrimination.”

As a result, the government can and will find itself open to costly lawsuits if Bill 21 passes as increasing numbers of people have publicly committed to fighting back.. The English Montreal School Board, for example, has publicly stated that they will not enforce the Bill, and a public protest in scheduled on Sunday, April 7th, in Montreal.

True to Legault’s election promise, Bill 21 bars government employees from wearing religious symbols in the exercise of their functions. This is the list of employees who will be affected – I am including the full list so people fully understand how many will be hurt if this law passes:

  • Judges, clerks, deputy clerks, and sheriffs
  • Members of the Comité de déontologie policiere – the group responsible for holding police to account for misconduct
  • Members of the Commission de la fonction publique
  • Members of the Commission de la protection du territoire agricole
  • Members of the Commission des transports du Quebec
  • Members of the Commission Municipale
  • Members of the Commission quebecoise des liberations conditionelles
  • Employees of the Regie de l’energie
  • Employees of the Regie d’alcools, courses, et jeux
  • Employees of the Regie des marche agricoles et alimentaires du Quebec
  • Employees of the Regie du batiment du Quebec
  • Employees of the Regie du Logement
  • Members of the Financial Markets Administrative Labour Tribunal
  • Members of the Administrative Tribunal of Quebec
  • Chairs of the Disciplinary Council
  • Commissioners appointed by the government under the Act Respecting Public Inquiry Commissions and lawyers and notaries working for said commissioners
  • Arbitrators appointed by the Minister of Labour in accordance with the Labour Code
  • The Quebec Justice Minister and Attorney General
  • The Director of penal prosecutions
  • Lawyers, notaries, and penal prosecuting attorneys
  • Peace officers who exercise their functions mainly in Quebec
  • Principals, vice principals, and teachers of educational institutions under the jurisdiction of the school boards

It must be noted that the law does contain a grandfather clause allowing all current employees wearing religious symbols to keep their current jobs. That said, anyone hoping for advancement would have to choose between their faith and a promotion to even be considered a candidate for one.

In addition to barring people wearing religious symbols, Bill 21 also demands that some government employees keep their faces uncovered in the exercise of their functions, a provision clearly meant to exclude women who choose to wear the niqab. Those affected include:

  • Members of the National Assembly (MNAs)
  • Elected Municipal officers except in certain Indigenous communities
  • Personnel of elected officers
  • Personnel of MNAs
  • Personnel of the Lieutenant Governor
  • Commissioners appointed by the government under the Act respecting public inquiry commissions
  • Persons appointed by the government to exercise a function within the administrative branch including arbitrators whose name appears on a list drawn up by the Minister of Labour in accordance with the Labour Code
  • Peace officers who work mainly in Quebec
  • Physicians, dentists, and midwives
  • Persons recognized as home childcare providers
  • Anyone else designated by the National Assembly
  • Employees of government departments
  • Any bodies receiving government funds
  • People and bodies appointed in accordance with the Public Service Act
  • Employees of municipalities, metropolitan communities, and intermunicipal boards, and municipal and regional housing bureaus with the exception of some in Indigenous communities
  • Employees of Public Transit Authorities
  • Employees of school boards established under the Education Act
  • Employees of public institutions governed by the Act respecting health services and social services
  • Employees of bodies in which most of the members are appointed by the National Assembly
  • Institutions accredited under the act respecting the Ministere des Relations Internationales
  • Private family-type resources governed by the Act Respecting Health Services

In addition to barring certain government employees from having their face covered in the exercise of their functions, the law also requires certain people to show their faces in order to receive government services “where doing so is necessary to allow their identity for security reasons.”

The law does make an exception where the face is covered for health reasons, a handicap, or requirements tied to their job. The law also says that there will be “no accommodation or derogation or adaptation,” which means there are no exceptions anywhere.

Bill 21 not only alters the Quebec Charter of Human Rights to exonerate the government from open acts of discrimination, it also applies the Notwithstanding Clause of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Notwithstanding Clause allows governments to bypass articles 2 and articles 7 to 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms simply by including in a discriminatory law an article stating that said law applies notwithstanding the Charter.

Articles 2 of the Canadian Charter deal with fundamental freedoms including the freedom of conscience and religion, and articles 7 to 15 deal with legal rights including the rights to life, liberty, and security of the person, equal treatment before the law, and the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. Article 30 of Bill 21 states that it applies notwithstanding these articles of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, though the Notwithstanding clause has a failsafe in it requiring the government to renew the law in five years or open itself to legal challenges when that time expires.

That said, all hope is not lost. The law is currently tabled, meaning that the National Assembly has begun to consider it. It has not, as of the publication of this article, passed.

That means there is still time to resist. If you value our province’s protections against discrimination, contact your members of the National Assembly and pressure them as you never have before.

Point out that Quebec has a labour shortage and alienating and barring people won’t work to solve it. Tell them that the scores lawsuits they’ll face will be more expensive than any benefit they hope to gain if the Bill passes.

Tell them that if they want a truly secular state, all towns and streets and institutions bearing the names of Catholic saints should be changed immediately. Let them know how ridiculous their position is.

The fight is only over if we the people give up, so keep fighting.

Featured Image: Screengrab of François Legault defending Bill 21 in a Facebook video

On Friday, Anjou Borough Councillor Lynne Shand had a problem with her eye, went to an emergency room, received, as she later called it, “excellent” treatment and then complained about it on Facebook the next day. The problem, for her, was that the doctor who treated her eyes was wearing a hijab.

In the post, Shand said that if it hadn’t been an emergency, she would have requested a different doctor. She went on to complain about the cross being removed from the Montreal City Council chambres and, in the comments, about the “Islamization” of Quebec.

The post has since been removed for obvious reasons, though not obvious enough, apparently, to Shand when she posted it. You can see screengrabs of it in this retweet and commentary by Montreal’s Mayor:

The inevitable political fallout is one thing, but for now, let’s forget that Shand is an elected official who shared her knee-jerk bigoted reaction online and focus instead on the reaction itself. She received excellent care, yet remained fixated on what the person who provided her such care was wearing.

The doctor didn’t try to convert her to Islam or insist that she would only treat her if she was also wearing a hijab. The doctor simply provided an excellent service. Again, Shand’s words, not mine.

This story could have served as an example of why letting people wear hijabs, kippahs and turbans to work, even when they work in a public institution, is a good idea. Instead, it is a perfect illustration of why the argument for Quebec Premier François Legault’s Religious Symbol Ban is as counter-productive as it is prejudiced.

How steeped in your own bigotry do you have to be to complain about a job well done? Would Shand have preferred a less-qualified optician not wearing a hijab treat her?

At my local grocery store, one of the cashiers wears a hijab. She’s always fast, even if I’m asking for cashback on my order, smiling and courteous.

I have never avoided her line. In fact, I have opted for it when it wasn’t too long and avoided the line of an employee not wearing religious garb of any kind but who I knew to be less effective.

If it was eye surgery instead of a simple grocery purchase, you’d better believe I’d apply the same approach and not care if the doctor had a cross necklace or was wearing a kippah or hijab. It’s whether or not they can do their job that counts.

If proponents of the Religious Symbol Ban can’t see that, they only need to look to Shand’s story to see how ridiculous they sound.

In the 2018 film Jennifer Lopez film Second Act, the main character is dealing with being passed over for a position because she does not have the educational criteria that are needed for the job. She then gets a job under the false pretense due to a fake resume. Despite not having the education she excels in the position until she is found out by her work colleagues.

While this is clearly fiction, I do wonder if it is it possible to succeed without higher education in today’s workforce or if being a skilled worker can make up for not having that degree?

A 2016 Stats Canada Survey shows that Canadians that complete post-secondary education has a better chance of getting higher pay than their non-secondary school counterparts by upwards of 40 to even 60 percent. But does not having a higher education limit what a person can do in the workforce? It’s true that certain profession such as doctor, lawyer, and nurse require higher education but can other professions be learned on the job?

Years ago, people would finish high school and go right into a trade because the jobs were more plentiful and there was no need for higher education especially since higher education was something hard to achieve for many if they did not have the finances. Skills were acquired on the job and many would work at those jobs until they retired and several were even promoted to management positions.

However, many things have changed. Now many skilled labour jobs are being sent overseas and many jobs that once required laboured workers have been replaced by machines. Therefore, more people are competing for the jobs that are left. Therefore, it is making it more difficult for everyone to find a job. This makes it even harder for those who do not have higher levels of education to compete with others who do.

Now more and more jobs require people to have a degree. But is that degree really necessary? Can a person with years of experience in the field be just as effective or even better than the person who has taken training in school?

Although not having an education does not assure you will not be successful, there are plenty of successful people who have not finished school and have gone on to have successful careers. While education is good to have, not having it does not mean that a person cannot, or rather should not, be successful too.

Today, the Plante Administration announced that after City Hall renovations are complete, they won’t put the crucifix back in the City Council chambers. Yes, this move is about secularism of the state, as the Mayor made clear:

“The crucifix is an important part of Montreal’s heritage and history, but as a symbol, it does not reflect the modern reality of secularism in democratic institutions.”

Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante at a press conference on March 20, 2019

Plante also reiterated that she still opposes Quebec Premier François Legault’s plan to ban public sector employees from wearing religious symbols like kippahs and hijabs. The state, for her, and for me, and for anyone who really thinks it through, is the democratic institutions, like the City Council. chambers and not the wardrobe of teachers and bus drivers who work for the government.

Or, to put it in other words, a council member wearing a crucifix and, say, a security guard wearing a turban in the council chamber are just two people expressing their personal beliefs through what they wear. A religious symbol on the wall, though, is the state aligning with the particular religion the symbol comes from.

Not everyone sees it this way. I’ve already seen quite a few internet comments decrying the move as an attack on our traditions and I’m sure there will be talking heads on TV tonight and columnists in Quebec’s dailies tomorrow pissed off about what Plante did as well.

I’m sure that a good chunk, if not most, of the people coming out in opposition to removing the crucifix today will turn out to be the same people who were screaming religious neutrality of the state when the topic was Legault’s plan. I’ve already seen some commenters try and spin it that Plante is just anti-Christian and pro-Muslim.

While few will be that openly bigoted, those that previously supported the religious symbol ban and now oppose the move to remove the crucifix should admit that it isn’t about secularism at all, but about assimilation. They just lost any progressive secularist cover they may have enjoyed until now.

Those that support Plante’s move, want to get rid of the crucifix in Quebec’s National Assembly as well and support Legault’s ban, well, at least you’re consistent. Those that oppose both the symbol ban and removing the cross, you’re consistent as well.

Those like me, and now Montreal’s mayor, who don’t want the state to dictate what teachers can wear and think a government chamber is no place for a religious symbol, our logic makes perfect sense.

Those who think we should ban all religious symbols but the Christian ones, you’re not secularists, you’re cultural fundamentalists. And you just lost your political cover.

On Friday, US President Donald Trump agreed to re-open the US Government for 15 days without funding for his much fetishized border wall, thus ending the longest government shutdown in American history.

Pretty much everyone knows that part, but not everyone knows the main cause of Trump’s sudden capitulation. At least I admittedly didn’t on Friday when I half-jokingly posted potential reasons on Facebook, including so the State of the Union could go ahead and Roger Stone’s arrest that morning by unpaid FBI agents.

Within minutes, a couple of FB friends, who had been following things a bit closer than I had, provided me with the real answer. It was one of those “of course” moments.

For weeks, we had been hearing about the back and forth in Washington between the President and newly elected Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. We had also been hearing about furloughed government workers struggling to make ends meet with no pay.

Those were the dominant shutdown narratives. But there were also stories of increasingly larger delays at US airports because unpaid air traffic controllers and TSA screeners were calling in “sick” for work in large number.

Then, on Friday morning, enough unpaid air traffic controllers failed to show up for work that no planes landed at or took off from Laguardia Airport for a little over an hour. The FAA had been forced to temporarily shut down half of of New York City’s air transit.

With the risk of this spreading to other airports, Trump re-opened the Federal Government a few hours later. It was essentially a strike, though an unofficial one, that forced the President’s hand.

This didn’t go unnoticed, at least not by people like AOC:

and Bernie:

Still, the dominant narrative is the one that focuses exclusively on the interplay between the politicians. Pelosi beat Trump. Yes, she did, and she executed the correct play of not backing down beautifully.

Pelosi gets credit, sure. But we shouldn’t ignore the workers who ultimately forced the President’s hand and ended the shutdown.

This was one of the most successful labour actions in recent US history and should not be forgotten. Sometimes people power trumps (forgive the pun) political machinations.

Featured Image: Kristoferb via WikiMedia Commons

On February 25th, voters in the British Columbia riding of Burnaby South may very well give Federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh a seat in the House of Commons. The prospect that they might not, though, has some openly speculating Singh won’t lead the party into the 2019 Federal Election if he loses.

Last Wednesday, former NDP Leader turned TV pundit Tom Mulcair told CTV’s Power Play that it would be very difficult for Singh to hold onto power if Burnaby South votes for someone else. He cited sources within the party to back up his statement.

Later in that same broadcast (the 40:40 mark to be precise), La Presse journalist Joël-Denis Bellavance told the panel that he knew of a pre-Christmas caucus meeting where they discussed a Plan B if Singh loses in Burnaby South. Basically, a new leadership election would be too expensive, so the party would force Singh to resign and the caucus would vote in a new interim leader that would take them into the 2019 campaign.

That’s right, some in the NDP think sending an unelected and officially temporary leader to debate Justin Trudeau on TV is a good idea. It’s actually the worst idea anyone has had in Canadian politics since the Liberals tried basically the same thing with Michael Ignatieff and failed miserably.

Sure, there were some differences. The Liberal Party establishment did let the leader their membership elected, Stéphane Dion, run in one election before replacing him with their hand-picked candidate and they did eventually go through the formality of letting membership officially elect Ignatieff once he was already in place with no challengers.

Still, the Liberal Party establishment’s choice failed worse than any other leader the party ever had in over a century. And that was with steps taken that the NDP establishment doesn’t even seem to want to attempt.

Bellavance mentioned Nathan Cullen and Guy Caron as possible interim choices. While Caron may be the current Parliamentary Leader, he didn’t just lose to Singh in the last leadership election, he finished fourth, so the party brass would probably go with Cullen, who didn’t run.

While Cullen may be a skilled debater and charismatic, he wouldn’t be able to overcome the fact that he wasn’t actually running for Prime Minister. Instead of “what I would do differently” he would have to talk about “what the person my party picks as leader and PM in a few months” would do differently.

Sure, if the NDP did win the election and form government with an interim leader, that person would probably become the actual party leader and PM very quickly, but there would still be no shaking the interim label during the campaign. It would be as if the NDP was saying “we won’t win, but vote for us anyways.”

Not only that, replacing a leader who had been on the job just over a year with someone else months before an election screams that the party is in disarray. Yes, the Ontario PCs did that and won, but they were already poised to win, not trailing in third place.

As a card-carrying NDP member, I didn’t vote for Jagmeet Singh in the last leadership election. In fact, I volunteered for one of his opponents, Niki Ashton.

That said, my fellow NDP members spoke and elected Singh as leader and I respect that. When we voted, it was to select the candidate to lead the party into the 2019 election, we all understood that.

When Tom Mulcair became leader, to say I was disappointed would have been an understatement. Still, I didn’t think that replacing him with someone else at the last minute before the election was an option, because it wasn’t.

Singh may still win the by-election. In fact, I suspect that talk of him losing is being amplified by the Liberals in hopes that the NDP will pull more money and resources out of places like Outremont and bring them to BC.

If he does lose, though, and resigns of his own accord, then another leadership race voted on by party membership is the only option if the party hopes to have any chance of maintaining what it has and gaining. If Singh loses in Burnaby South but wants to stay on as leader, then he should be allowed to do so and to run in 2019 as a party leader still looking for a seat.

NDP members knew he didn’t have a federal seat when they elected him. If he goes into the election running personally in some GTA riding where he is bound to win, then the party will do way better nationally than they would with a placeholder running as leader.

Pushing out a leader elected by the membership and replacing them with a handpicked party establishment favourite voted in by just the caucus is something that blew up in the Liberals’ face, and they’re the party of establishment insiders. Imagine what will happen if a party that is supposedly the progressive alternative pulls the same thing, and not very well.

* Featured image by ideas_dept via Flickr Creative Commons

Tourisme Montréal released a new promotional video a few days ago. It features…no wait, summarizing it can’t really do it justice. Just watch it for yourself:

In general, response has ranged from “WTF was that?” to polite attempts to find something positive about it. Even Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante said “Huh. Okay, that’s interesting interesting,” before adding that at least it was getting people to talk.

But will that talk and the video it is about work? Well, I suspect it will work wonders for singer Mathieu Samson’s career.

Curious, I googled him and found another video he released, without
Tourisme Montréal funding, but with the same cheesy 80s-inspired effects. He just got huge exposure doing something completely in keeping with the style he was already going for.

But will Tourisme Montréal achieve its goal with this video? The short answer is maybe. This becomes more apparent when you properly define what the goal of this particular video is.

The chorus of the song goes “Québec, Reviens-Moi” and the outdoor scenes are winter scenes. The goal clearly isn’t to bring people from Vancouver, the US and Europe here in June, but rather to suggest Montreal as a winter destination, possibly just a weekend destination, to people elsewhere in Quebec.

Understood as such, foregoing beauty shots of the city in favour of a giant, miniature and normal-sized Samson visiting places everyone in the intended audience already know about makes sense. They aren’t even going full cornball. If they were, there would have been a shot of our infamous “ugly”Christmas tree.

Instead, the cheap 80s effects are a fun way to remind Quebecers on a budget that an affordable and fun vacation is just a (relatively) short drive or bus ride away. Still, the video does drop the proverbial ball a few times.

It seems to harp, both lyrically and visually, a bit too much on the Ferris wheel in the Old Port. Sure, it’s open year round, but I live here and haven’t felt inclined to take a ride, can’t imagine it being as big a draw as they think it is.

Also, while the Habs are definitely a sellpoint for the city in general, bringing up the fact that we still have pro hockey here, as the video does in one verse, may hit a bit of a sore spot for people in Quebec City. Plus, do we really need the Big O to make an appearance?

While some might see this as akin to the National Anthem for the Rivière-des-Prairies–Pointe-aux-Trembles Borough the previous Coderre Administration paid $50 000 for out of our 375th Anniversary funds, it’s not. Sure, both are cheesy and municipally funded, but that’s where the similarities end.

The RDP/PAT anthem used (way too much) public money destined to promote the city as a whole internationally to placate some people in one borough. This video is a targeted campaign to bring a specific set of potential tourists to the city.

It may or may not work, but it’s not the vapid piece of hipster irony it comes across as to many, including me at first. Honestly, now after writing about it, I kinda like this video.

In light of the recent #MeToo Movement, several radio stations removed the duet Baby It’s Cold Outside, a holiday classic, from rotation. Some, like the CBC, later added it back.

Critics consider it inappropriate and suggestive of date rape because of a line the woman has: “Say, what’s in this drink?” If you are familiar with the early 1940s, when the song was written, you will realize that was said as part of harmless banter.

Things were simpler, people were nicer, and conservative morals reinforcing the stereotype of the good (chaste) girl were ever-present. Most people who were courting did not end their nights in bed together unless they were married, to do otherwise broke a social taboo.

So, it is really sad that the song is being perceived in any way but innocent and sweet banter between two lovers. Banning it is ludicrous, especially considering what other songs we have playing on the radio today.

If this song is banned, then half of the playlist should be banned too. Eminem’s Guilty Conscience, Robbin Thicke’s Blurred Lines, Eminem and Rihanna’s Love The Way You Lie, Jay Z’s 99 Problems and many other songs that convey mistreatment of women in one way or another still play with no protest to ban them.

It’s truly sad that a beautiful song that was written in the 40s as romantic flirtatious banter can be put through such scrutiny and judged by today’s standards while songs written a few years ago aren’t.

It is true that violence against women is an issue that needs to be exposed and spoken about on a more regular basis, but removing a holiday classic from radio play is not the way to go about it. Especially since there are far worse songs out there than Baby its Cold Outside.

November 20, 2018, can be seen as a sad day in the US and for women around the world in the fight against Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). A US federal judge Bernard Friedman ruled against banning a practice that harms millions of young women globally.

His ruling found a 1996 US federal law banning FGM unconstitutional, allowing the two doctors charged under it to go free. This can only be seen as a great defeat for the millions of young girls and women who have suffered due to this harmful act.

Female Genital Mutilation is the act of changing or altering the female genitals for non-medical reasons but rather cultural ones. However, it is seen across the globe as a violation of human rights against girls and young women alike .

FGM, or Female Circumcision as it is also called, is a practice that goes back thousands of years in many countries, communities and in many cultures around the world. When it started is unknown, but the root of it is to control female sexuality, conception and to continue to build a strong inequality between both sexes.

FGM/C may differ depending on the countries and regions but the results are still the same. Women are subjected to a lifetime of problems regarding their physical and mental health. Many lose their desire for sexual pleasure, have complex deliveries often resulting in Cesarean section; along with a number of different medical problems, that may arise from the use of unsterilized equipment. This practice can have serious complications leading to the death of some young girls and women as a result.

There are many types of FGM/C; but there are three forms most often practiced:

The first consist of the partial or total removal of the clitoris and the prepuce. The circumciser pulls the clitoral glans with her thumb to remove it.

The second form is complete or partial removal of the inner labia and clitoris. The clitoris is the organ that allows the female to enjoy pleasure during sexual activities.

The final form, which is considered to be the most severe of the three, is the removal of the total female genitalia. Once done, the vagina is then sewed closed with the exception of a hole often the size of a pencil tip for the passage of menstruation and urination.

Not only is the act rather harsh, but girls and young women are more likely to get infections and countless other problems because of unsterilized equipment. They are often faced with diseases such as fistula and numerous other disorders and infections.

It is estimated that between 125-150 million young women have been subjected to this practice. It happens all over the world, though predominately in African countries.

Although, FGM/C can be harmful to a women’s health not all women would like for this practice to end. Some people in many countries and regions where this act is practiced consider it a rite of passage or a celebration of coming of age for young women.

FGM/C is sometimes compared to male circumcision. Male Circumcision is the act in which the male foreskin that is covering the head of the penis is removed from the male penis.

Both of these customs can cause physical and mental pain and a lifetime of complications. However the female version of this custom is deemed, by many, to be much more severe because, unlike their male counterparts, many females who have this procedure done never experience sexual pleasure or any sensation other than pain in their vaginal area.

The males that are circumcised can experience sexual sensation and any pain they feel usually dissolves after a while. Whereas many females who have experienced the procedure have a lifetime of pain and complications. Some women who experience this procedure feel as though they are missing part of their body.

In many countries and regions where the act of FGM/C has become illegal, there are classes and lectures on the consequence of FGM/C. When young women attend these classes, they are becoming educated on the severity of this practice.

Unfortunately, not all young women have a choice in this matter. This is why the recent US ruling on FGM/C can be seen as a sad one and as a step backwards especially since organizations such as UNICEF, Plan Canada and numerous others are working tirelessly to educate communities where FGM/C is still practiced about the effects on young girls and women around the world.

* Featured image by World Bank Photo Collection via Flickr Creative Commons

Federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh just put a new face on the opposition to Quebec’s religious symbol ban: his own.

In an interview with CBC Radio Montreal’s Daybreak, host Mike Finnerty asked him about the new CAQ government’s promise vigorously enforce a religious symbol ban and fire civil servants (police, teachers, etc.) who wear religious symbols on the job. While most of the public focus has been on Muslim women who wear the hijab, Singh, a Sikh, who wears a turban and kirpan (Ceremonial dagger), would also be affected by this ban if he was a Quebec civil servant:

Singh responded to this the best way possible, Sure, he couldn’t very well have said that wearing a turban is fine for Prime Minister but not a schoolteacher, but it’s still good that he’s taking a solid stand. It’s also quite politically savvy of him to refer to the Quebec Charter of Rights and Freedoms when asked about the Canadian one.

This is way better than the “I don’t like it personally, but you’ve got to respect the courts” message former NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair put out during the last federal election. Sure, the Bloc Québécois was attacking the NDP over their opposition to the Harper Government’s challenge to a court ruling that allowed women to wear a niqab at citizenship ceremonies, but they were doing it viscerally and Mulcair responded with an appeal to respect judicial rulings and an attempt at partial appeasement.

Not sure what he was thinking, really. The staunch bigots were going to return to the Bloc regardless, unless the NDP changed its stance, which wasn’t going to happen. Progressives, on the other hand, were looking for stronger anti-Harper messaging.

Justin Trudeau, our current Prime Minister who won a Majority Government with more than a handful of seats in Quebec, including some former Bloc strongholds that had flipped to the NDP in the 2011 Orange Wave, had this to say on the subject at the time:

“You can dislike the niqab. You can hold it up it is a symbol of oppression. You can try to convince your fellow citizens that it is a choice they ought not to make. This is a free country. Those are your rights. But those who would use the state’s power to restrict women’s religious freedom and freedom of expression indulge the very same repressive impulse that they profess to condemn. It is a cruel joke to claim you are liberating people from oppression by dictating in law what they can and cannot wear.”

That was bold. That was principled. That’s what someone not politically timid and completely controlled by advisers who favour the safe choice says.

Too bad he turned out to also be a total shill for Big Oil, which, incidentally, was the other part of the Bloc’s attack on the NDP in 2015 (Muclair was kinda wishy washy on pipelines). The Bloc actually released an ad with an oil pipleline dripping crude that turned into a niqab.

Eco-left and hard right in the same ad. Only in Quebec, I guess.

This is a strange place politically. We embrace leftist ideals and inclusiveness on many issues, but then go and elect a reactionary provincial government that promises a form of exclusion that even Trump hasn’t tried.

I think Singh gets this. That’s why he made a point of mentioning his support of LGBTQ and women’s rights and that Conservative leader Andrew Scheer wants to head in the other direction along with his opposition to the religious symbol ban.

Singh, and everyone else, knows that the Bloc is imploding, this time with no outside help. He wants to make it clear to Bloc supporters jumping ship that voting Conservative means supporting a bunch of things that they may not be ready to get behind. They can’t greenwash or pinkwash their bigotry this time.

What’s most interesting, though, is how Singh is attempting to redefine the ban on religious symbols as anti-secular. During the interview (not during the clip above), he said:

There’s no way to say that you’re not supporting one identity or other, because there are certain identities that don’t require a kippa. But there are other identities that have headgear. I think it’s a hard argument to make, that one is more neutral than the other, because there’s always a certain tradition that may not have headgear and one that may or may not have a certain way of dress. I think that the point should be that we we have a society that is secular through the values that we promote — that sets freedom and access to justice for all. That there’s no barriers based on who you are. Those are the ways that we ensure that it is a secular society.

He’s right. Secularism means no state religion, not the state banning individuals, including those working for the state, from wearing the garments of their religion on the job while at the same time keeping a symbol of one religion on display in the National Assembly.

Singh is also reminding Quebecers that Muslim women who wear hijabs aren’t the only ones targeted by this ban. Sikhs who wear turbans like him and Jews who wear kippahs are also in the crosshairs, if not in the spotlight.

Will this bold strategy work? Honestly, who knows. Quebec politics are always a gamble.

Sure, a recent poll showed that nearly two thirds of Quebecers are in favour of a religious symbol ban, but that poll doesn’t show how many of them consider it an important enough issue to base their vote on. Maybe the CAQ won in spite of their bigotry, not because of it.

One thing is clear, though: trying to play it safe by appeasing the hard right while running as a left alternative is a recipe for disaster, especially in Quebec. When Mulcair tried it, he effectively turned Trudeau into the principled, inclusive opposition to the Bloc and, in the eyes of the rest of Canada, Harper. At least Singh won’t make that mistake.

Whether this stance translates into a better Quebec performance for the NDP has yet to be seen. Regardless, Jagmeet Singh speaking out against the religious symbol ban and redefining what it means is what the federal NDP needs.

* Featured image Creative Commons via OFL Communications Department

Yes, winter is coming, but this spring, Canadians will be able to legally stream Game of Thrones without a cable subscription. Crave (formerly Crave TV), Bell Media’s Netflix competitor, just added an extended package that includes all HBO and Showtime content, including new episodes and a feature called On Air that allows you to watch shows from those networks as they air on TV before they show up in the on demand menu.

You have to get the basic Crave subscription at $9.95 a month and then add the extended package for another monthly $9.95, so $20 a month plus tax for HBO and Showtime, plus a bunch of recent movies (including what looks like all of last year’s Best Picture nominees), shows like Star Trek Discovery, and original content like Letterkenny. There’s even a very interesting back catalog with classic sitcoms like Cheers, but no Night Court…like c’mon, someone pick up Night Court, please. 

It’s currently available on computers and mobile devices and will be available on Samsung Smnart TVs, Apple TV and other platforms as of November 15th. From the looks of it, it’s a better deal than Netflix.

While I’m clearly gleefully plugging this product, this article is not sponsored content, but rather rare editorial praise for Bell Media from a frequent critic. It looks like they have finally embraced the way a good chunk of the population consume TV and have stopped trying to push an old model on those who clearly don’t want it.

Even as HBO made all of their content available, with no strings attached, through their GO app in the US a few years ago, Bell, which owns the Canadian rights, refused to see the light. Sure, they made an app, too, called TMN GO, but you had to get a cable or satellite TV package first and then subscribe to HBO Canada on TV before you could pay the ten or so bucks for it.

So basically, in a lot of cases, the choice was pay over $100 a month on top of the cost of an internet connection to watch one show or risk getting an angry letter for illegally downloading it. Yes, HBO is much more than GOT, but that show’s the hook for people living in a post-cable world.

Bell was effectively ignoring a potentially huge market that they could easily get with no risk of losing the cable and satellite market they already have as a result. My friend’s parents who have been paying for a satellite package and HBO for years aren’t going to cut the cord just because the same content is now available in another format.

Meanwhile, people who don’t give Bell Media any money but still consume the content might be inclined to pay and go legit if presented with a reasonable offer and become customers Bell wouldn’t have any other way. Now, it looks like Bell Media has finally accepted and embraced that fact.

This will only help them promote original content, too, as it will now be running on the same platform as really popular shows. Come for Game of Thrones, stay for Letterkenny.

The future is an internet subscription and two to four streaming services. With the Crave expansion, Bell Media clearly wants a part of that future. Now if only they could add Night Court.

Only in Quebec could we bungle legal weed this badly.

The Société québécoise du cannabis (SQDC) is now considering closing stores because they can’t seem to keep their shelves stocked (UPDATE: The SQDC announced that they will be closing all stores on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays until further notice). You read that right, their solution to skyrocketing demand is to close stores, not get more product to meet it

This is an industry that has reaped millions in revenues for state governments in the US, money that can be used to fix roads, invest in new infrastructure projects and do better at providing essential services. And that was just through taxing sales, not even the governments selling the product themselves.

Here, it’s a government monopoly, which is something we’re pretty good at. You won’t catch the SQDC’s parent company the Société des alcools du Québec (SAQ) running out of whiskey, let alone all hard alcohol, in any of their many (much more than the SQDC) stores.

So did those tasked with setting up and running the SQDC actually think pot was a niche product only enjoyed by a handful, albeit a significant handful, of the population? Did they not realize that once the legal restrictions were lifted, it would rival alcohol sales or come close to it?

Well, maybe, but only if they were so much in their bubble that they limited their market research to data on people who didn’t mind telling a stranger that they enjoyed a product that was at the time illegal. Looking at the data from other places that legalized the plant would have been much more, um, logical.

If they weren’t completely out of touch, though, they would have anticipated that their planned rollout would not meet the demand. So, if that’s the case, either they just couldn’t get a proper operation up in time for legalization or they wanted to not be able to deliver.

If it’s the former, then, geez, c’mon guys, you had a few years to prepare for this. Does everything in this province have to operate at the efficiency of a construction project?

If it’s the latter, then why? Is it a moral thing? If so, then I’d like to point out that the Quebec Government actively promotes and profits from booze and gambling.

It can’t be that they want to help out your friendly neighbourhood dealer. If that was the case, they would have made it possible for people to apply for licenses to sell weed legally, thus eliminating by legalizing much of the so-called black market.

Could it be that they wanted legal cannabis to be difficult to get so people would seek other options and police would be able to continue to arrest and/or fine people (predominately marginalized people and people of colour) for selling what is now a legal substance also sold by the government? Nah, that’s just some wild conspiracy theory with a 90% chance of being true.

So, moving forward, the SQDC and the Quebec Government have two choices:

Open the Market

They could let people apply for licenses to sell weed and cannabis products, either through storefronts, with delivery or both. They wouldn’t have to close the SQDC, or even change it that much.

Government pot stores would be specialized the same way you can get beer and wine at every dep, but some brands only at the SAQ. The government would, of course, tax all sales.

Keep the Monopoly But Do It Right

First, make the supply overshoot the demand. I’m talking about more stores and more suppliers, in fact all the suppliers possible, provided they produce a quality product.

Then, it’s time to market. Yes, I know that marketing cannabis, or even selling t-shirts with the pot leaf on it, is now banned in Quebec, but that doesn’t help anyone. Why monopolize an industry if you don’t want it to thrive.

You’re a pot dealer now, Quebec, start acting like it! Hang photos of buds in the stores and let people smell the product…in the SAQ you can even taste-test wine. Have a points card and sell shopping bags with the pot leaf on it made of, wait for it…hemp! (You can have that idea for free, SQDC)

I do not write this as a pot smoker. In fact I don’t smoke weed. I write this instead as someone who never wants to hear a provincial politician say “How are we going to pay for that?” when an idea like free post-secondary education or a new metro line is floated.

It could be like living in a petro-state, except instead of reaping the benefits of the destruction of the planet’s climate,  we’d be reaping, and hopefully redistributing, the benefits of selling a product probably less damaging to society than alcohol, which has been legal for decades.

Pot is legal here. Time for Quebec to embrace that fact rather than being embarrassed by it and embarrass us as a result. At the very least, we should acknowledge that closing stores is not how you handle too much demand.

* Featured Image via YouTube screengrab