Thursday, 9 February 2017

M103: Racism and Galloping Paranoia


Private Members motion M 103 has been causing a bit of an uproar in certain circles in Canada. It seems a good time to have a look at it and see what it is, and what it isn't.

What is a Private Member's Motion?

To begin with, what is a private member's motion anyway? Private members are Members of Parliament (MPs) who are not ministers. They are often referred to as backbenchers because they typically do not sit in the front rows in the House of Commons. They are MPs from all the parties that are not Ministers. A private member's motion can address a wide variety of topics. This is, in effect, where your MP gets to represent you, the constituent. This is where local issues can be raised, or attention drawn to issues of importance to specific groups of Canadians.

For example, private member's motions were brought forward to address the problem of derelict and abandoned ships and boats, study how immigration can help maintain the economy of Atlantic Canada  and also to recognise Italian Heritage Month. These are things that various groups of Canadians are concerned about, but are not part of the official government agenda that was announced in the Speech from the Throne at the beginning of each session of Parliament.

A private member's motion, even if adopted by the House, has no binding authority. There can be discussion and debate, but the government is not required to enact any new laws as a result.

If a private member puts forward a motion, other private members can register their support for it. In the case of M 103, it was proposed by Iqra Khalid, a Liberal MP representing Mississauga - Erin Mills in Ontario. She is on several parliamentary committees looking at human rights and justice, both in Canada and internationally.  This issue fits well with her interests and responsibilities as a Member of Parliament. Her motion has been supported by other MPs, including Ron McKinnon (Coquitlam - Port Coquitlam), Raj Grewal (Brampton East), and Salma Zahid (Scarborough Centre).

The motion has been successful and has been put on the order paper, which means it is on the agenda to be presented and discussed in the House of Commons on Wednesday, February 15 for ONE HOUR. For a more detailed discussion of Private Member's Motions, please go here.

What does M 103 actually say?

The text of the motion is as follows:

That, in the opinion of the House, the government should: (a) recognize the need to quell the increasing public climate of hate and fear; (b) condemn Islamophobia and all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination and take note of House of Commons’ petition e-411 and the issues raised by it; and (c) request that the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage undertake a study on how the government could (i) develop a whole-of-government approach to reducing or eliminating systemic racism and religious discrimination including Islamophobia, in Canada, while ensuring a community-centered focus with a holistic response through evidence-based policy-making, (ii) collect data to contextualize hate crime reports and to conduct needs assessments for impacted communities, and that the Committee should present its findings and recommendations to the House no later than 240 calendar days from the adoption of this motion, provided that in its report, the Committee should make recommendations that the government may use to better reflect the enshrined rights and freedoms in the Constitution Acts, including the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Let's parse this. (A) The government should recognise the need to quell the increasing public climate of hate and fear. OK, that seems pretty straightforward. Six men died while at prayer in a mosque in Quebec City on January 29, 2017. There have been a number of attacks on mosques and against Muslims, most particularly against women wearing the hijab. Hate crimes against Muslims in Canada have more than doubled in the past 3 years. Is there a problem? Yes. Should the government look at it? Yes. Should the government look at ways to protect Canadian citizens? Absolutely. 

(B) Condemn Islamophobia and all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination and take note of House of Commons' petition e-411 and the issues raised by it. Ok, so what is petition e-411? It is an electronic petition sponsored by Pierrefonds-Dollard MP Frank Bayliss. This e-petition received some 70,000 signatures. What does it say?

 Petition to the House of Commons
Whereas:
  • Islam is a religion of over 1.5 billion people worldwide. Since its founding more than 1400 years ago, Muslims have contributed, and continue to contribute, to the positive development of human civilization. This encompasses all areas of human endeavors including the arts, culture, science, medicine, literature, and much more;
  • Recently an infinitesimally small number of extremist individuals have conducted terrorist activities while claiming to speak for the religion of Islam. Their actions have been used as a pretext for a notable rise of anti-Muslim sentiments in Canada; and
  • These violent individuals do not reflect in any way the values or the teachings of the religion of Islam. In fact, they misrepresent the religion. We categorically reject all their activities. They in no way represent the religion, the beliefs and the desire of Muslims to co-exist in peace with all peoples of the world.
We, the undersigned, Citizens and residents of Canada, call upon the House of Commons to join us in recognizing that extremist individuals do not represent the religion of Islam, and in condemning all forms of Islamophobia.

It says that Islam is a religion of peace and the actions of a very small group (ISIS, etc.) do not represent the majority. No more than the KKK and the Westboro Baptist Church represent all Christians. 

The motion asks that the government officially state that systemic racism and religious discrimination is wrong, and also acknowledge that Muslim DOES NOT equal ISIS terrorist. That seems pretty straightforward.

So the petition and motion are asking the Government of Canada to declare itself non-racist and non-prejudiced based on ethnicity or religion. Sounds like something most thinking rational Canadians could get behind, doesn't it? After all, to suggest that all Muslims are alike, some sort of heterogeneous Borg, is as absurd as suggesting that all Christians, Jews, Sikhs, Buddhists, or whatever, are like all others that share their faith. 

(C) Request that the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage undertake a study on how the government could (i) develop a whole-of-government approach to reducing or eliminating racism and religious discrimination including Islamophobia, in Canada, while ensuring a community-centred focus with a holistic response through evidence-based policy-making. This sounds a little more complicated. But it isn't really. "A government-wide approach to reducing or eliminating racism and religious discrimination". In crafting legislation, in hiring, and in conducting the business of governing, the government should be aware of ways in which racism and discrimination can creep in, and take pro-active steps to prevent this. That doesn't sound crazy or extreme. We are all Canadians and this is the government for all of us. Why shouldn't we expect equal treatment regardless of ethnicity or faith? And the motion says "including Islamophobia", not exclusively Islamophobia. Just as "Black Lives Matter" does not mean other lives don't matter. But one group is currently having a rough time, and so we should be particularly aware of their situation. 

"While ensuring a community-centred focus with a holistic response through evidence-based policy-making." This is an arduous sentence, but not incomprehensible. "Community-centred" - actions at the grass-roots level, real actionable policies to decrease discrimination within communities. "Holistic" - looking at the big picture, carrying this initiative through right across the country. "Evidence-based policy-making" - Using best practices and models to formulate policy, finding metrics to evaluate progress, and basing policy decisions on fact and science rather than emotion and conjecture. In short, creating rational fact-based policies across the country that focus on community as a building block to enhance acceptance and inclusivity and combat discrimination. Pretty hard to argue with that.

Request that the standing committee on Canadian Heritage undertake a study on how the government could (ii) collect data to contextualize hate crime reports and to conduct needs assessments for impacted communities, and that the Committee should present its findings and recommendations to the House no later than 240 calendar days from the adoption of this motion, provided that in its report, the Committee should make recommendations that the government may use to better reflect the enshrined rights and freedoms in the Constitution Acts, including the Canadian Charter of Rights and freedoms.  This is a long one. But fairly easy to understand. This part of the motion asks for a study to be done to better understand the drivers behind hate crimes, as well as to discover how vulnerable communities could be better supported. Then it places a deadline on the report of 240 days, or about 8 months. Finally, it directs the intention of all of these ideas towards better implementing and upholding the constitutional rights and freedoms of all Canadians.

What is the controversy around M 103?

The CBC tried to explain the controversy, quoting Rebel media and National Post contributor Barbara Kay who is concerned that criticising Islam could become a hate crime. This, she says, would infringe on people's freedom of speech and possibly lead to a blasphemy law similar to that in Sharia law in some Middle Eastern countries. I find this quite interesting in the wake of efforts by our previous Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, to criminalise criticism of Israel. At the time, if I recall correctly, Ms Kay thought this was a good thing. It all depends on where you stand and what you value, I suppose.

So, the leap was made from "We should all try to be nice to each other" to "They are going to impose Sharia Law and women will have no rights!" How did this happen?

Clearly, there is no mention whatsoever of Sharia Law in the motion. None. Zip. Nada. So how did this become about imposing Sharia Law in Canada? This is a classic example of galloping paranoia. There is also no mention of making Islamophobia illegal. Unlike when Harper wanted to make criticising the State of Israel illegal. Rational discussions between people who have the theological education to be able to speak about Islam objectively are not being threatened. What is being threatened is people's freedom to be ignorant assholes and hurt others in the process. And that really does not seem like a bad thing.

If you look at the comments following the CBC article cited previously, it is appalling that Canadians are spewing such ignorant and hateful nonsense. And it gets worse. Much worse.

The fake news and blogs are filled with vitriol:

Justin Trudeau to create Islamic State in Canada

Islamophobia to become a crime

Muslim lawmaker pushes Sharia blasphemy law

And there are so many more. This is shameful. This is not how civilised people in modern, civilised countries treat their neighbours and community members.

If you have read this far you know that this motion strives through education and research, to reduce hatred and violence in our communities. And not just for Muslims. Because many groups in our country are subject to discrimination. Indigenous people. Sikhs. Jews, Blacks. Asians.... Back in the day, immigrants from eastern Europe were vilified and persecuted. Before that, the Irish and Italians had a rough ride.

It's 2017. Isn't it time to put racial, ethnic and religious discrimination where it belongs: in the past?

This motion is not about about Sharia law. It is not about creating an Islamic state in Canada. It is not about suppressing people's rights. It is about upholding them. The right to live in safety and peace. The right to respect and consideration. The right to equality before the law. Nowhere in this motion is it ever suggested that Muslims should be given special privileges. It only urges that Muslims, and every other vulnerable group, have the same rights as white Canadians take for granted. And that doesn't cost any of us us anything. You don't lose anything by ensuring others have the same rights. Remember, human rights are not pie. The portions do not get smaller as they are shared among more people.






Saturday, 4 February 2017

I Am Tired

I'm tired. 

I'm tired of hate.

I'm tired of injustice.

I'm tired of watching the news and seeing another black child has been gunned down by American police for holding a water pistol.

I'm tired of seeing images of First Nation homes no one should have to live in.

I'm tired of hearing about how our Indigenous youth are killing themselves. Being deprived of clean water. Being deprived of necessary medical and dental treatments. Being educated in schools that do not meet Canadian standards.

I am tired of seeing homeless people on the streets of a country as wealthy as Canada.

I am tired of vigilantes and white supremacists and politicians stoking fear of anyone who isn't straight, white and "Christian".

I am tired of seeing homes and communities destroyed in the Middle East by western bombs.
I am tired of the angry and deluded "Jihadists" who kill and maim and blow people up, putting millions upon millions of peaceful Muslims in danger in the process.
I am tired of politicians who use rhetoric to instigate hate and violence and division.
I am tired of violence.
I am tired of reading about the latest weekly mass shooting in the US.
I am tired of finger-pointing and corruption and dishonesty.
I am tired of greed and imbalance and the stock-piling of vast wealth while others suffer.
I am tired of seeing images of children starving to death while there is enough to go around.
I am tired of those with minds too narrow or too indoctrinated to recognise scientific fact over mythology.
I am tired from still fighting for women's rights in 2017.
I am tired of those who would take away women's autonomy of person and put it in the hands of men who don't have any idea what women go through.
I am tired of predators and abusers and "Smile for me girl" callers.
I am tired of gangs and territories and people being afraid.
I am tired of animal abuse and child abuse and people who are so deluded they don't get their children vaccinated against killer diseases.
I am tired of reading about animals found with their muzzles taped shut, starving, or dead.
I am so tired of cruelty and hate and repression and the "me first" attitude.
I am so tired.
We are all so tired.
But this is why we cannot give in to our fatigue: Do we want our children to be fighting the same fights? Our grandchildren? Or do we want to, need to, struggle in every way we can, to make the world better? We have a responsibility to the future, to humankind, to life on this planet, to object, to protest, to speak out and spread the word wherever there is injustice.
So, take a rest. Breathe. And then get up and keep on fighting.

Friday, 3 February 2017

The Quagmire of Electoral Reform in Canada

In 2015, Liberal leader Justin Trudeau said this would be the last election under the broken first-past-the-post system in Canada. Now, in February, 2017, he says nothing is going to change in our electoral system. This is deeply frustrating to those who fervently want to see a system where they can feel that their vote counts, and they have representation in government. This feeling seems to be primarily based in places where progressives find that their riding will always elect a Conservative, thus leaving them unrepresented. Conservatives in progressive ridings probably feel similarly put out when they can't get their preferred party's candidate elected. However, the official CPC line has been opposed to electoral reform. It is seen as a huge threat because if you never get much more than 30% of the vote nationally, the progressive vote must be split in just the right way between the other parties for you to form a government. That is under f-p-t-p, but if any of the other proposed systems were implemented, it would be almost impossible, without a radical shift in the Canadian zeitgeist, for the CPC to gain power.

Referendum

To combat any change, the CPC called out loudly for a national referendum, knowing full well that such referenda are terrible tools for forming policy. The entire concept is unwieldy, for one thing. To effectively hold a meaningful referendum, the entire population would have to be educated on all of the possible new systems. Here is one attempt to clarify the different systems and how they would work. While it is not really all that complicated, it seems not enough Canadians actually care enough about the electoral process to learn, evaluate, and form an opinion. Only if we all learn and understand could a referendum be remotely meaningful. In ignorance, many people would vote the way their favourite party directed them to vote, or simply not bother to vote at all.

To add to this, there would be diverse and conflicting information about the impact any different system would have on our country. Some would be educated and measured, but some would border on the hysterical. I imagine the CPC would send out their usual biased polls: "Would you vote to keep our well-functioning electoral system as it is, and as it has served Canadians well for 150 years, or would you vote for an untested and more complicated system that could have dire ramifications for the Canadian way of life?" And then ask for money to help them fight this unnecessary, unwanted, and expensive change to Canada.

The CPC undoubtedly knew that the task of educating the general public would be onerous. They knew there is a natural tendency, when dealing with complicated issues, for people to go with the status quo. And with their mighty war chests, they can afford to put on a huge campaign in favour of voting against change. They possibly also felt that if the government's position was defeated in a referendum, this would be a launching point for a vote of no confidence. The Liberal government was, no doubt, also aware of these pitfalls.

The Hornet's Nest

I expect that before the election, Trudeau and his advisors did not realise what a hornet's nest this issue could be. They put themselves in a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" situation. If they changed the electoral model, the CPC and NDP would scream that they only did it to ensure they keep winning every election. The Liberals favoured one model, the NDP another, and the CPC wants FPTP. So no one would ever reach a consensus on what to do. If the Liberals brought in their preferred electoral system, the other parties would talk loudly about dictatorial government, changing this fundamental thing without a plebicite. On the progressive side, there is the strongly held opinion that the last election was, essentially, a referendum on this issue.

By withdrawing from electoral reform, the Liberals now have the other parties screaming that Trudeau broke his promise. Never mind that the CPC got exactly what they wanted all along. Are they happy? No. Of course not.

The Real Problem (s)

Our political system is set up to be adversarial. It's like people cheering on their favourite sports teams. Each party has a philosophy, it's true. But each party (and their followers) have even bigger egos. If one party puts forward an idea, any idea, the other parties will knock it down. Not because it would be bad for the country, but because the other party thought of it.  Governing should not be about power, or revenge, or ideology.  Governing should be doing what is best and right for the country. Governing should be working together with those who have different ideas to reach mutually acceptable policies that improve life for all Canadians. We have seen in the US what an intractable opposition party can do to suspend government's work. The GOP shut down the government there when they didn't get their own way.

Elizabeth May, leader of the Green Party of Canada, sometimes comments wistfully about a time when she first began working in public service, when consultation and co-operation were a major part of policy development. Government members would meet informally with members of the opposition parties and discuss how to create policies that all sides could support, in the interest of the country. And that is how it should work. Not everyone would get exactly what they wanted but significant issues would be addressed with reasonable accommodation. Surely that is better than a small group getting whatever they want and everyone else being unhappy.

The adversarial nature of politics in this country has been developing over a long time. It did not start with Stephen Harper, although he did push the "my way or the highway" approach to governance well along. The US is now further down that path, and no doubt Donald Trump will push it much further. While Harper was careful to not push too far too fast, Trump clearly is out of control and does whatever comes into his head, refusing advice from anyone except a small coterie of the like-minded.

Some form of proportional representation would force greater consultation and co-operation, potentially heading off any reprise of a Harper-style or Trump-style government in the future. Much like in a minority government, no one party would have sufficient power to force through unpopular legislation.  Some have worried that such a system would allow "fringe" parties too much voice and the entire legislative machine would bog down in attending to minutiae. This seems unlikely, as fringe parties are just that. If many people voted for them, they would be mainstream parties.

Ultimately, in an ideal system, MPs would be elected to represent their constituents' interests, rather than toe a party line. Like many Canadians, I have no representation in Parliament by the MP for my riding. He is CPC and I feel he would sooner spit on me than listen to what I think about things. He has been spectacularly unresponsive to letters I have written, and appears to vote with the party on all issues. Eventually, one is inclined to give up and be resigned to having no voice in Ottawa. And I believe a lot of Canadians, of every political stripe, have encountered these feelings. If we are to have a truly representative democracy, all people must be represented.

Which brings us back to the mechanics of making such a change, and why it failed.

There is the non-co-operation of those from the various parties who were tasked with coming up with a plan. CPC said no reform. NDP wanted mixed member proportional representation. Liberals wanted preferential ballot proportional representation. Stalemate.

Then there are Canadians, ourselves. Did we drop the ball when we were asked for our opinions? Did we fail to make the government and our opposition MPs see that we really want this? Or do enough Canadians want the old system to quash the idea? This analysis of the data gathered from MyDemocracy.ca seems to suggest otherwise. If, as the article says, about 80% of Canadians believe democracy in Canada could be improved, why has this fallen from the government's legislative plans? More importantly, what can Canadians who care do about it?

Given that a referendum would be a horribly divisive and unwieldy process, how can we let Justin Trudeau know that we are not pleased with his decision? For starters, we can write letters. Both to him and to our local MPs, however unrepresentative they may be. Being deluged with mail, especially real physical mail, has been known to shift political plans in the past. You can find contact information for your MP right here, just by entering your postal code. And remember, letters addressed to the House of Commons do not require postage.

You can also get involved with a group like Fair Vote Canada and see what events and actions are planned near where you live. You can sign the online petition at Lead Now Canada (either the primary national petition, or there are several set up now that are specific to a region or riding, or sign both!)

You can also give the government an earful here. They are asking for our opinions about what they are doing. So, tell them, already!

This is our country and our democracy. We have a responsibility to speak up when we are not happy with the direction our government takes. Bitching and moaning on FaceBook and Twitter doesn't help. Speaking directly to our MPs might.









Monday, 30 January 2017

Terrorism Has No Ethnicity or Religion


Terrorist:

NOUN


  • A person who uses unlawful violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims:
    ‘four commercial aircraft were hijacked by terrorists’
    ‘a suspected terrorist’
Terrorism:

NOUN


  • [mass noun] The unlawful use of violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims:
    ‘the fight against terrorism’
    ‘international terrorism’
- Oxford English Dictionary

I see no mention in either of these definitions of any specific racial, religious, or national identity. Indeed, the word first came into use during "The Terror", from September 5, 1793 to July 28, 1794. This was a part of the French Revolution which saw two rival factions, the Girondins and the Jacobins, struggle for control. During this time there were mass executions of "enemies of the revolution". Some 250,000 counter revolutionaries and another 200,000 republicans. Madame Guillotine was very busy.  

In recent years, however, governments have worked very hard to equate "terrorist" with those they do not like. The activities of genuinely abhorrent groups like Al Qaeda and ISIS have made this job simpler, there is no doubt. Muslims have been closely tied with terrorism. But so have indigenous people protesting the devastation of sacred lands. 

These carefully constructed stereotypes, Terrorist = Muslim or Terrorist = Environmentalist, have done significant damage to society and caused many innocent people to suffer. Not just in Canada and the United States, but around Europe as well. So, why do governments make these rash pronouncements? Simply, they further certain agendas. For example, when a man described as a recently converted radicalised Muslim hit and killed a soldier in Montreal, then-Prime Minister Harper was very quick to declare it "terrorism". Police shot and killed Martin Couture-Rouleau after he rolled his car some distance away. An example of the coverage can be found here and if you go to the comments, you can see how quickly the hatred, not just for this individual, but for Muslims in general, was expressed.

Two days later, Michael Zehaf-Bibeau shot and killed a guard stationed at the war memorial, then ran into the Parliament building where he was shot many times by a variety of law enforcement personnel. Zehaf- Bibeau had a long history of mental illness and drug abuse. Much later, a selfie recording was released showing him in his car prior to the incident, muttering a lot of incoherent things about Allah and the west's role in destabilising the Middle East. So, if he wasn't Muslim, if he had ranted about space aliens instead, he would not have been called a terrorist. He would just have been called psychotic. Here's the thing. People with extreme substance abuse, people with certain kinds of untreated mental illness, can experience psychotic breaks from reality. And these can be influenced by whatever they are ingesting media-wise. If they are playing a lot of video games, people might translate to the monsters in the game they play. If they are watching horror movies, they may be seeing axe-murderers everywhere. If they are ingesting propaganda from a hate group, whether it is ISIS or an alt-right skinhead group, that will have an impact on their mindset and behaviour. Vulnerable people can be subject to extreme outside influences. A discussion of this can be watched here. The CPC government milked this crisis for all they could. And they wasted no time in bringing in the contentious Bill C-51 which gave Canada's spy agencies sweeping powers and eliminated oversight on its activities. 

But then, there is the case of John Nuttall and Amanda Korody. After a lengthy trial, a judge found that this drug-addicted and vulnerable couple was entrapped by the the RCMP. Seems the police pushed them into planning an attack on the BC Legislature. Even took them out shopping for the components to make bombs, and paid for those items. 

The rumblings about terrorism had begun earlier, as Harper ramped up his campaign to have a war. He really, really wanted to be a war-time PM. You can watch the weird, creepy look of glee on Harper's face as the vote to deploy troops passed. We were bombarded with images of terrorists and told to be afraid. Very afraid. That nice Middle Eastern couple that runs the convenience store? They could be sleeper agents, lulling the community into a false sense of security until they get the signal from ISIS to blow up the local school. That young woman with the head-scarf on the bus? What is she hiding under her modest clothing? Probably a vest loaded with explosives. You see, the government only needs to suggest there is an identifiable threat and the waves of paranoia sweep outward. Middle Eastern people are bullied in the street. Mosques are targeted with graffiti, fire bombs, and pig's heads. And, eventually bullets.

This is the thing. If only brown people, or people who are known to be Islamic, are labelled terrorists when they go off their nut and do something terrible, it breeds hatred. When a white guy, like Dylann Roof goes off and shoots a bunch of black people in a prayer meeting, it isn't called terrorism. At worst, it is called a hate crime

When a white dude, like Alexandre Bissonnette, walks into a Quebec City mosque and opens fire, killing 6 and seriously injuring many more, he is not charged with terrorism. No, he is charged with 6 counts of murder and 5 counts of attempted murder. Why? Prime Minister Trudeau called it terrorism. And has been criticised for doing so. Why? Because he is not brown? Because his name isn't Middle Eastern? Because, instead of having links to ISIS, he has links to the American alt-right? Because Donald Trump was his hero and he was emulating what he heard on American media?

ISIS is a violent, despicable, hateful Terrorist group. But so is the KKK. And they are allowed to have meetings and rallies and marches and even advertise them. Why? Because they're really just a bunch of "good ole boys"? They lynched people. They propagate hatred. They embrace a twisted view of the world that says white people are superior. That a person's skin colour is indicative of their value as a human being.

The Westboro Baptist church is a hate group. They attempt to terrorise people because of, among other things, sexual orientation. Skinheads and Neo-Nazis and white supremacist groups are all hate groups. Terrorists by definition, depending on their activities. Are they illegal in Canada or the US? Why not?

Terrorism is not tied to any specific race or religion. It is a behaviour that is exhibited by many races and religions. We have been subjected to dog-whistle politics far too long. Either we start calling all the same behaviour terrorism, regardless of the ethnicity or religion of the perpetrator, or we stop using the term. It used to be called "hate crime". But I suppose that is not nearly as galvanising a term to drum up fear and support among the privileged white voters. No, hate crimes only strike terror into the hearts of those communities that are targeted. Not useful at all for pushing through draconian spying legislation and overwhelming police powers. Not useful for terrifying voters into supporting the party that says it will protect them.

Only when we begin to acknowledge that hatred and labelling based on ethnicity is wrong, counter-productive, can we begin to heal. Only when we realise that elected leaders can sometimes try to manipulate our emotions for their own ends, can we call them on it. In Canada, the tipping point came when the CPC introduced a Barbaric Cultural Practices Snitch Line as part of their re-election platform. Fortunately, enough Canadians were repulsed by this blatant display of racism to turf the CPC in 2015. But we must remain vigilant. The US has elected possibly the most vitriolic and divisive President in it's 200+ year history and his evil, hateful pronouncements are having repercussions here in Canada. Candidates running for leadership of the CPC to replace Harper echo Trump's message of mistrust and division and hatred. We must not go down that road. Terrorism is not Muslim or Environmentalist or First Nations. It is hateful violent action directed against a certain group. Whomever perpetrates it. If we cannot stomach calling white offenders terrorists, we better stop using that word altogether, because if we differentiate, we are all guilty of racism.











Saturday, 7 January 2017

CSIS needs to be reined in. Questions need to be answered.

I would like to draw your attention to the Federal court decision in November 2016, that declared it illegal for CSIS to maintain and analyse a massive database of information on Canadians who are not under any investigation whatsoever. You can read about it here. If that isn't horrific enough, apparently Minister of Public Safety, Ralph Goodale, is contemplating changing the laws so what CSIS is doing becomes legal. Read here.

I offer for your consideration, letters I have written to my MP, as well as Ralph Goodale, Prime Minister Trudeau, and the NDP Public Safety Critic, Matthew Dube. I don't expect any action or even response from my MP, because as far as I can tell he is a CPC bump on a log. And this was all okie-dokie while the CPC were in power.

But I want to urge everyone to write letters. This is C51 on steroids. The government has tabled legislation on oversight for CSIS, but it is not clear how effective this might be, or whether it has the teeth to reign in what appears to be a police state evolving behind closed doors.

Canadians need to speak out now. Let your MP and the Public Safety Minister and the PM know you are not pleased with this. It is unacceptable that a government agency is collecting data on us without oversight and without our knowledge. This is warrant-less surveillance. And it needs to stop.

What follows are my letters. You can copy and paste, or modify, or write your own. You can find your MP here using your postal code. You can choose to send a letter via email, or regular post to either their constituency office or their office at the House of Commons. Email is quicker, but paper letter letters might get more attention as they are in the minority these days. Remember, mail can be sent free to any MP at:

House of Commons
Parliament Buildings
Ottawa, Ontario
Canada
K1A 0A6

On to the letters:

To my MP (if you copy, make sure to address to your own MP and change the signature at the bottom):



Blake Richards
MP Banff-Airdrie
House of Commons
Parliament Buildings
Ottawa, Ontario
Canada
K1A 0A6

Mr. Richards,

In November, a Federal Court judge said CSIS violated the law by keeping electronic data about people who were not actually under investigation. The activity of collecting and retaining data, and conducting meta-analysis on such data began as early as 2006, and the CPC government received at least two briefings (one in 2006 and one in 2010) according to CSIS. The current Liberal government does not seem to have received a briefing, but was made aware during the legal proceeding that led to the Federal Court decision.

First, it is a serious assault on the privacy of innocent Canadians to maintain this database. Privacy commissioners across the country have called for the destruction of the database and cessation of this kind of data collection. There is no good reason or justification for CSIS collecting and retaining reams of information on Canadians who are not under investigation in any way.

What could CSIS need this information for? Who ordered this to be done, and why? If it was done at the direction of the CPC government, someone from the CPC needs to explain to Canadians what the purpose of this was, who issued the orders, and who oversaw the process. If the program originated within CSIS, without direction by parliament, the questions that must be asked include: Is CSIS answerable to Parliament and, by extension, Canadians? Why did CSIS feel they had a need or a right to intrude on the privacy of law-abiding Canadians? And, when will a stringent and effective non-partisan oversight body be introduced to regain control of CSIS' activities?

Second, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale is said to be pondering changing laws to make this intrusion on Canadians' privacy by CSIS legal. How can such a thing even be considered?

I am calling on you, as my MP, to address this by putting pressure on the CPC to explain the motivations behind this CSIS programme, and its history, AND to put pressure on the Federal Government to immediately direct CSIS to comply with the courts' ruling and destroy the database and cease contemplation of legalizing this activity. I also call on you to demand that the Federal Government immediately institute an effective, accountable, transparent real-time oversight system for CSIS.

Thank you


Norlaine Thomas

To the PM (again, change the signature if you are copying):

The Right Honourable Justin Trudeau
Prime Minister of Canada
Langevin Block
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 0A2

Mr. Trudeau,

In November, a Federal Court judge said CSIS violated the law by keeping electronic data about people who were not actually under investigation. The activity of collecting and retaining data, and conducting meta-analysis on such data began as early as 2006, and the CPC government received at least two briefings (one in 2006 and one in 2010) according to CSIS. Your current Liberal government does not seem to have received a briefing, but was made aware during the legal proceeding that led to the Federal Court decision.

First, it is a serious assault on the privacy of innocent Canadians to maintain this database. Privacy commissioners across the country have called for the destruction of the database and cessation of this kind of data collection. There is no good reason or justification for CSIS collecting and retaining reams of information on Canadians who are not under investigation in any way.

What could CSIS need this information for? Who ordered this to be done, and why? If it was done at the direction of the CPC government, someone from the CPC needs to explain to Canadians what the purpose of this was, who issued the orders, and who oversaw the process. If the program originated within CSIS, without direction by parliament, the questions that must be asked include: Is CSIS answerable to Parliament and, by extension, Canadians? Why did CSIS feel they had a need or a right to intrude on the privacy of law-abiding Canadians? And, when will a stringent and effective non-partisan oversight body be introduced to regain control of CSIS' activities?

Second, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale is said to be pondering changing laws to make this intrusion on Canadians' privacy by CSIS legal. How can such a thing even be considered?

I am calling on you, as Canada's Prime Minister, to address this by putting pressure on the CPC to explain the motivations behind this CSIS programme, and its history, AND to immediately direct CSIS to comply with the courts' ruling and destroy the database, AND cease contemplation of legalizing this activity. I also call on you to immediately institute an effective, accountable, transparent real-time oversight system for CSIS.

Your father wisely said, “The State has no place in the bedrooms of the nation.” I suggest the modern corollary is The State has no place in the private communications of the Nation. Obviously, your government inherited a lot of problems. Please don't make the paranoia and secrecy of the Harper Decade the new normal. CSIS needs to be reigned in and controlled. Act on your promise to repeal or revise C-51. Don't let your citizens be treated like criminals.

Thank you

Norlaine Thomas

To Ralph Goodale, Public Safety Minister (change the signature if copying):

The Honourable Ralph Goodale
Minister of Public Safety
House of Commons Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 0A6


Mr. Goodale,

In November, a Federal Court judge said CSIS violated the law by keeping electronic data about people who were not actually under investigation. The activity of collecting and retaining data, and conducting meta-analysis on such data began as early as 2006, and the CPC government received at least two briefings (one in 2006 and one in 2010) according to CSIS. The current Liberal government does not seem to have received a briefing, but was made aware during the legal proceeding that led to the Federal Court decision.

First, it is a serious assault on the privacy of innocent Canadians to maintain this database. Privacy commissioners across the country have called for the destruction of the database and cessation of this kind of data collection. There is no good reason or justification for CSIS collecting and retaining reams of information on Canadians who are not under investigation in any way.

What could CSIS need this information for? Who ordered this to be done, and why? If it was done at the direction of the CPC government, someone from the CPC needs to explain to Canadians what the purpose of this was, who issued the orders, and who oversaw the process. If the program originated within CSIS, without direction by parliament, the questions that must be asked include: Is CSIS answerable to Parliament and, by extension, Canadians? Why did CSIS feel they had a need or a right to intrude on the privacy of law-abiding Canadians? And, when will a stringent and effective non-partisan oversight body be introduced to regain control of CSIS' activities?

Second, in your role as Public Safety Minister, you are said to be pondering changing laws to this intrusion on Canadians' privacy by CSIS legal. How can such a thing even be considered?

I am calling on you, as Canada's Minister for Public Safety, to address this by putting pressure on the CPC to explain the motivations behind this CSIS programme, and its history, AND to work within the Federal Government to immediately direct CSIS to comply with the courts' ruling and destroy the database AND to immediately cease contemplation of legalizing this activity. I also call on you to work within the Federal Government immediately institute an effective, accountable, transparent real-time oversight system for CSIS.

Thank you

Norlaine Thomas



To Matthew Dube, NDP Public Safety Critic (change the signature if copying):


Matthew Dube
NDP Public Safety Critic
House of Commons
Parliament Buildings
Ottawa, Ontario
Canada
K1A 0A6

Mr. Dube,

In November, a Federal Court judge said CSIS violated the law by keeping electronic data about people who were not actually under investigation. The activity of collecting and retaining data, and conducting meta-analysis on such data began as early as 2006, and the CPC government received at least two briefings (one in 2006 and one in 2010) according to CSIS. The current Liberal government does not seem to have received a briefing, but was made aware during the legal proceeding that led to the Federal Court decision.

First, it is a serious assault on the privacy of innocent Canadians to maintain this database. Privacy commissioners across the country have called for the destruction of the database and cessation of this kind of data collection. There is no good reason or justification for CSIS collecting and retaining reams of information on Canadians who are not under investigation in any way.

What could CSIS need this information for? Who ordered this to be done, and why? If it was done at the direction of the CPC government, someone from the CPC needs to explain to Canadians what the purpose of this was, who issued the orders, and who oversaw the process. If the program originated within CSIS, without direction by parliament, the questions that must be asked include: Is CSIS answerable to Parliament and, by extension, Canadians? Why did CSIS feel they had a need or a right to intrude on the privacy of law-abiding Canadians? And, when will a stringent and effective non-partisan oversight body be introduced to regain control of CSIS' activities?

Second, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale is said to be pondering changing laws to make this intrusion on Canadians' privacy by CSIS legal. How can such a thing even be considered?

I am calling on you, as the NDP Public Safety critic, to address this by putting pressure on the CPC to explain the motivations behind this CSIS programme, and its history, AND to put pressure on the Federal Government to immediately direct CSIS to comply with the courts' ruling and destroy the database and cease contemplation of legalizing this activity. I also call on you to demand that the Federal Government immediately institute an effective, accountable, transparent real-time oversight system for CSIS.

Thank you


Norlaine Thomas

I have tried to make it easy, I hope many will let our elected representatives know how Canadians feel about this issue.

Thanks so much for our time and attention.

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Everyone is Equal (some are just more equal than others): A rumination on human rights

Conservatism is the dread fear that somewhere, somehow, someone you think is your inferior is being treated as your equal.  ~ Petr Kropotkin



I had yet another conversation recently, well, maybe "discussion" or even "argument" is a better way to put it, with someone who truly feels that recognising the rights of minority groups will take away rights from the majority. I have had this conversation many times with people online, and I struggle to understand why they feel this way.

It is, at face value, a very puzzling position. How can anyone imagine that recognising someone else's human rights will somehow take your own rights away, or even diminish them? Rights are not pie. The more people you share a pie with, the smaller each portion becomes. But rights are not pie. Rights are concepts, which contain no volume or mass and can, therefore, not be depleted.

But let's dig into it a bit. The assertion was, if everyone was guaranteed the same rights, it would cost those with privilege more to administer those newly-extended rights. A cost for which they would receive no direct benefit and, indeed, may make their own rights less valuable. You can't go saturating the market with rights, or rights will have no value at all. Except, rights are not a commodity, just as they are not pie. You cannot buy and sell human rights like you can buy or sell oil, grain, or pies.

Slavery is probably the greatest single example of the removal of human rights. Slavery enabled the buying and selling of humans and permitted these humans to be treated in the most appalling ways. The argument against abolishing slavery was primarily economic. Some were making a tidy profit in the importation and sale of slaves. Some relied on the source of unpaid labour to make their agricultural endeavours prosper. It was felt that if one region abolished slavery, they would be at a disadvantage selling their goods in competition with regions where the unpaid labour of slaves subsidised the industry.  Other arguments were raised, of course. The notion that black people could not manage on their own and the slave owners were doing them a kindness by keeping them was a particularly repugnant one. There was the fact that the Bible says nothing negative about slavery, so God must think it's OK. But, ultimately, greed was the overarching reason to want to maintain the status quo.

The thinking goes something like this: "If I give this slave human rights (or, more properly, acknowledge that this being is a person deserving of and entitled to human rights) then I will lose. I will lose my profit margin. I will have to seek employees and pay them wages. I will have to dramatically alter my management style to one that is far less efficient. I will have to work harder. Additionally, I will lose something that gives me status in my community: the number of slaves I own. I will have to put myself out to be polite, or at least not horrible, to these people. They will be putting their bums in the same seats I may want to sit in, drinking from the same water fountains, competing against me in the market, possibly even in politics. They may begin to think they can wear what they want, think what they want, say what they want, go where they want. They may even think they can marry into my people. In all these ways, I lose and they gain."

From a 2016 lens this seems a bit absurd. Or, is it? Britain abolished slavery in the British Empire in 1833. The United States abolished slavery in 1865, but only after fighting one of the bloodiest wars in that country's history over this very issue. It was not until the 1960s in the United States that "Jim Crow" laws requiring or validating segregation by race were beginning to be struck down. Even today, there exist racially segregated schools and neighbourhoods. Blacks face significantly more obstacles in obtaining loans and mortgages, accessing health care and education, and are far more likely to be convicted of a crime and to receive a harsher sentence than whites. President Barack Obama has had more opposition to his initiatives than any other president, simply because he is black. As I said, there was always a fear that blacks might compete politically. And they have. And, in winning the presidency, Obama unleashed the pent-up anxiety and rage and bias of more than a few generations of white Americans. Because they feel they are losing something if a black man wins something.

Then there is the accusation that if someone different from oneself; a woman, or a person of colour, or someone from a different ethnic or religious background, attains a position of authority, they will take away from those who have traditionally held privilege to give to those who are just like themselves. So, basically, people are afraid that these other people are going to do to us what we have have been doing to them for hundreds of years. And apparently what we have been doing to everyone else is pretty crappy, because the very idea incites terror in some.

In Calgary there has been a Muslim mayor for 6 years. There has been no dismantling or looting of churches and synagogues to build up mosques. There have been no special express queues for Muslims to get transit passes and library cards. There has been no bias towards Muslim businesses or neighbourhoods. Calgary police are not enforcing Sharia Law. Naheed Nenshi is quite popular and appears to be doing a fine job for everyone. Equally. He doesn't mention his faith. It doesn't come up unless someone else raises it. As CPC MP Jason Kenney did one time when he said in an interview, "it seems to me that it's the mayor and people like him who are politicizing it", referring to the niqab debate. Nenshi responded in his usual quick-witted style on Twitter, ""People like me", eh? Let's just assume @jkenney means "thoughtful people", shall we?" This launched the hashtag #peoplelikeNenshi which quickly began to trend across Canada.

Protectionism is frequently the underlying reason for keeping others out of the human rights club. "If we let more people have the rights I enjoy, it is going to make those rights more expensive." Like providing health care to refugees, something the Harper government cancelled, saying they are "bogus" refugees just coming here to steal your healthcare dollars.

That concept, that someone is always out to take something from you, is always present in these sorts of discussions. The extreme end are those people who have multiple locks, video surveillance, and private security hired to do drive-bys to check on your place and make sure no one is taking your stuff.

You would probably be hard-pressed to find Canadians who would admit to thinking slavery is a viable and efficient economic model. You might find quite a few more Canadians who feel the market should determine what people are paid for their labour, who hate the notion of a government-mandated minimum wage. Yet, labour supply outweighing demand means that without a legal minimum wage, employers could get away with paying people far less than it costs to survive. There will always be someone even more desperate, who will take even less money because it is more than they have right now.

"But life isn't fair!" Some people say. "If you work hard you will gain success. Like me." They say. "The government (and by extension, me, the taxpayer) should not be responsible for making everyone happy from the cradle to the grave."

What people who say these things don't take into account is that not everyone starts out at the same place. If you grow up in a middle class neighbourhood, and go to middle class schools, you are not starting from the same place as someone who grows up in a remote community with a generation-long boil water advisory and rats and chronic social problems born of a history of residential school abuse and disenfranchisement and a loss of cultural identity. You are not starting from the same place as someone who was carried over borders as a young child, away from falling bombs and collapsing buildings, only to spend several years in a refugee camp where there is no school and law and order mostly rests in the hands of those with the power and strength to enforce their will. You aren't even starting in the same place as the kid who grows up in a trailer park and mom maybe drinks some and dad could get out on parole next hearing, although it's always a bit crazy when he's home...

You are not starting in the same place as someone with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, or autism, or childhood cancer, or who suffers a disfiguring accident.

What if you cannot speak either of our official languages very well?

And what if you do grow up in a middle class neighbourhood but you are a member of a religion that has identifying observances; a turban, or hijab, for example? What if your name alone causes your resume to go on the "no" pile? Because some employers are reluctant to hire someone whose name might be hard to pronounce...

What if you are "different"? What if you find you have strong feelings for people of the same sex as yourself? What if you feel disconnected from the gender on your birth certificate?

What if, later in life, you have a catastrophic event or series of events in your life? A disabling mental illness? A marriage break-up? A terrible physical  illness? A down-sizing that causes you to lose your livelihood? What if these things happen to you in a constellation of misfortune? What if you lose your family or community support network and are utterly alone dealing with these things?

What if you come back from a war and you are changed, physically or mentally, by what you have endured?

Human rights encompasses all these scenarios. The right to not be treated as second-class citizens, freedom from abuse and persecution, the right to be treated like any one else under the law... The right to rent an apartment you can afford. The right to gain employment commensurate to your skills, without discrimination based on identity. The right to not be targeted by law enforcement. The right to safety and liberty of person. The right to be recognised as a Canadian with all that encompasses; health care, education, political franchise, and all the things those in higher socio-economic groups take for granted, like clean drinking water, protection by the police, equal consideration for employment, equal treatment in the courts, freedom from racial, religious, or sexual-orientation slurs and persecution, not being taken for moonlight rides by the police who are supposed to protect you, not disappearing between the cracks...

"But I worked for my money! Why should I help out all these lazy bums that expect us to take care of them?" Well, because it is easy to label people as lazy bums when you do not see the struggles they face. At a bare minimum, recognising their rights to be treated as humanely as you yourself would expect to be treated seems a no-brainer. Those of us with privilege in this society, in this world, could do with a boatload more humanity towards those who  can barely imagine being so well-treated.

Providing children with health care and dental care and water that is clean to drink should not be contentious in a country as wealthy as Canada. Providing struggling families with tools to raise their children in safety, like affordable daycare, skills training to get better jobs, parenting mentoring for those who did not have the advantage of growing up with capable parents... It is about the future, right?

We essentially slit our own throats if we deny our future, the children, all the advantages they could have in terms of health care, security, self-respect, safety...

And this country needs immigrants. Those of European descent have failed miserably in the reproduction department. We need people to be our doctors, lawyers, ditch diggers and burger flippers. We need more people and the rest of the world has more people who need a safe place to live. Sounds like a pretty equitable situation, right? But only as long as we can welcome them as equals. And that means extending the human rights we have to them. And extending the same human rights we take for granted to our own indigenous people. They will make up an ever larger portion of our population. And no one should be left behind. They are humans. Immigrants are humans. That's the cool thing about human rights. They are for every human. They are not pie. Acknowledging the human rights of another does not cut into or diminish the human rights resource.

Monday, 14 November 2016

Spin doctoring 101

There is a very clever thing that politicians, mostly on the right, but probably all across the political spectrum, do when trying to build support for an idea that would be very unpopular if presented in clear and honest terms. They spin it.

They take a concept like, say, keeping people they don't like because of their religion or skin colour or sexual orientation, out of the country. Now, most people in Canada would say, "That's terrible! That is racist/homophobic/xenophobic! That is not what we do in Canada! In fact, that is un-Canadian!"

"Un-Canadian" There it is. That's the hook. Based on some focus groups and watching social media, the spin doctors realize that Canadians are concerned about and actively dislike things they perceive as un-Canadian behaviour. Like racism. And hatred based on religion. And homophobia.

Alright then, they think. How do we frame what is a de facto filter to keep these people of colour, Muslims, and others we don't agree with out of the country in a way that sounds like we are actually supporting Canadian values and protecting the country from un-Canadian ideas?

To start with, let's talk about really abhorrent things that most people will agree are un-Canadian. Honour killings. Marrying 12 year old girls to old men. Female genital mutilation. Terrorism. Never mind that these things are already fully covered under our criminal code. Never mind that it is almost impossible to test people for their values. Never mind that if anyone is actually thinking, "Gee, I think I will move to Canada and do heinous deeds", they will probably lie about their values and intentions to get in. Never mind that the kind of in-depth interview process this screening would require would effectively shut off immigration because of the time and manpower it would take to conduct.

Because none of that is the point. The end-game here is to a) stir up hostility towards minorities (because the CPC is well aware that many of their base harbour deep suspicions about those who dress, look, speak, or worship differently from themselves), b) clog up the the immigration system to ensure that only those the CPC approves of can get in, and c) move public sentiment more in line with the alt-right nationalist view that Canada should be a white, Christian country.

And the strategy is brilliant. None of us want murderers, torturers, rapists, child abusers coming here to do their thing. Which makes this proposition so difficult to argue against. As a vague concept, screening immigrants for un-Canadian values seems like a good idea. But, what exactly, are un-Canadian values? Who gets to decide? Would prospective immigrants be asked if they are willing to convert to Christianity? If they accept creationism as a theory equal to or better than evolution? If they support pro-life and teaching abstinence in sex ed instead of teaching real biology? In short, will they be screened for "social conservative" values? Seems like a crackerjack way to increase the voter base.

Much talk has been given to "tolerance" and "diversity" being Canadian values that would be screened for. But, seriously, how tolerant and accepting of diversity is screening people to find out if they think just like you?

In practice, it is an unworkable plan. But that isn't the point. The point is to get Canadians dredging their deep subconscious for those racist, xenophobic, homophobic feelings and dragging them out. Putting them on display, much as the Trump campaign did in the US. Appeal to people's baser instincts under the guise of keeping us all safe. But, safe from what? If someone has a different complexion, believes in a different religion (or no religion), loves a different gender than the traditional, it does not mean they pose any threat to you. Tolerance, acceptance, and celebrating diversity are Canadian values. Screening for those who are different is not. Nor is stirring up latent fear, dividing people, plumbing for hatred.

We have to keep our eyes on the puck here and not be hornswoggled by clever spinning.