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Trudeau's torture policies no different than Trump's

24 February 2017 - 7:49am
Anti-RacismCivil Liberties WatchPolitics in Canada

The Trudeau government suffers from an acute case of cognitive dissonance, either failing to see (or cynically not caring about) the yawning gap between its lofty rhetoric and its actual policies. While a case can be made that this dissonance is apparent on many issues -- Indigenous rights, climate change, women's rights, poverty, racism, refugees and immigrants, electoral reform -- too many Canadians overlook the broken promises and embrace Trudeau simply because he is not Stephen Harper and, more recently, Donald Trump.

This allows folks like Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale to get away with remarkable statements like his recent pronouncement that:

"Torture is contrary to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, it's contrary to the Canadian Constitution, it's a violation of the Criminal Code, it's inconsistent with virtually every international treaty Canada has ever signed, including the Geneva Convention(s), and most importantly, Canadians find it abhorrent and will never condone it. Period."

Goodale's remarks followed Trump's ABC News interview in which the U.S. president said torture "absolutely" works and that his country's state security agencies need to "fight fire with fire."

While Canadians may indeed find torture abhorrent, that fact alone does not prevent the Canadian government from being up to its neck in torture complicity. Indeed, for decades, Canada's state security agencies have behaved exactly as if Donald Trump were their boss, playing fast and loose with the binding prohibitions against involvement in torture. Canadian officials can trumpet their opposition to torture all they like, but their policies reveal a different reality of, at best, turning a blind eye to the thumbscrews and electric shocks being employed by some of their closest allies.

Canada backs Ukraine's torture-tainted regime

For example, this week, the Canadian government confirmed it will extend its costly military "training mission" in support of a Ukrainian regime that Human Rights Watch implicates in arbitrary detention, torture, suppression of media, violence against women, a refusal to provide workplace protections for LGBT folks, and other "shared values."

At the same time, Trudeau has continued the Harper regime's policies of prioritizing economic interests ahead of human rights across the globe. One of the first overseas meetings War Minister Harjit Sajjan held was with his counterpart under the Egyptian regime, one brought to power by a coup that overthrew a democratically elected government. While Canada and Egypt cozy up on military matters (with the potential for increased weapons sales), neither Goodale nor Sajjan is stepping up to condemn the widespread torture and arbitrary arrest and detention of upwards of 40,000 people.

Sajjan himself knows a thing or two about torture. He is potentially implicated in acts of torture in Afghanistan, given his close working relationship with Kandahar Governor Asadullah Khalid (who was known to personally torture detainees in the dungeon underneath his guest house). Sajjan's "intelligence" is credited with the "kill or capture" of some 1,500 individuals. Given the rampant use of torture by the National Directorate of Security and other arms of the Afghan regime, it is highly unlikely that Sajjan did not know the bleak fate of those turned over by Canadian soldiers.

When the Harper regime shut down an investigation of Canadian complicity in the torture of Afghan detainees, then opposition MP Stéphane Dion told the CBC "the likelihood is very high" that Afghan detainees were abused in custody, adding, "I don't think Canadians will accept that it's over." But once the Liberals took power, they shifted gears. Given the opportunity to clear the air about Canadian complicity as well as his own role in Afghanistan, Sajjan -- despite the clear conflict of interest -- saw no problem in deciding whether a public inquiry should be held. Predictably, he refused to open one.  

Peggy Mason (a former Canadian Disarmament Ambassador to the United Nations and now head of the Rideau Institute) declared that the transfer to torture issue is "unfinished business of the most serious kind -- accountability of Canadian officials for alleged serious breaches of international and national law -- the only appropriate remedy for which is a public inquiry. What better way is there for this government to demonstrate its commitment to transparency and accountability than to call such an inquiry?"

Goodale refuses to rescind torture memos

Ralph Goodale, meanwhile, has refused to act on a Liberal promise to rescind the Harper-era torture memos, which granted CSIS, the RCMP, the Canadian Border Services Agency, the Communications Security Establishment, and the War Dept. a free pass to trade information with torturers. The widely respected International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) notes that the practice of trading in torture-tainted information:

"[u]ndermines the absolute prohibition on torture which entails a continuum of obligations -- not to torture, not to acquiesce in torture, and not to validate the results of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment."

In 2009, the ICJ condemned such policies in a report that declared:

"States have publicly claimed that they are entitled to rely on information that has been derived from the illegal practices of others; in so doing they become 'consumers' of torture and implicitly legitimize, and indeed encourage, such practices by creating a 'market' for the resultant intelligence. In the language of criminal law, States are 'aiding and abetting' serious human rights violations by others."

Of course, agencies of the Canadian government have long been consumers of torture, including the torture-by-proxy cases of numerous Canadian citizens. Two judicial inquiries -- one held completely in secret, and the other mostly behind closed doors -- nonetheless found that the Canadian government was complicit in the torture of Maher Arar, Abdullah Almalki, Ahmad Abou-Elmaati and Muayyed Nureddin. The torture occurred under previous Liberal governments in the years after 9/11.

All were wrongly labelled security threats, and subjected to torture-by-proxy in Syria and Egypt, whose torturers were provided questions by Canadian officials, with the complicity of the RCMP, CSIS, Global Affairs, the Department of Justice, and other agencies. While Mr. Arar received an apology of sorts from the Canadian government as well as compensation, the other three cases remain unresolved to this date. Mssrs Almalki, Abou-Elmaati and Nureddin, and their families, have been forced by the Canadian government to endure a 12-year legal struggle as they seek an apology, systemic changes and accountability, and compensation.

While the Harper government predictably fought the men and their families in court, the Trudeau government, elected on the wings of change, saw no reason to change course. Indeed, Goodale may condemn torture when it comes to the Trump administration, but he refuses to do so when it comes to the practices of agencies for which he is responsible. 

Goodale and Trudeau ignore the fact that on December 3, 2009, a majority of the House of Commons, including the Liberals and NDP, called on Prime Minister Stephen Harper to take specific steps to achieve justice in these cases. Harper refused to act, and eight years later, the Trudeau government continues to defend the torturers.

The text of that 2009 motion is worth remembering:

 "In consideration of the harm done to Mr. Almalki, Mr. Abou-Elmaati and Mr. Nureddin, the Committee recommends:

• That the Government of Canada apologize officially to Mr. Abdullah Almalki, Mr. Ahmad Abou-Elmaati and Mr. Muayyed Nureddin.

• That the Government of Canada allow for compensation to be paid to Mr. Almalki, Mr. Abou-Elmaati and Mr. Nureddin as reparation for the suffering they endured and the difficulties they encountered.

• That the Government of Canada do everything necessary to correct misinformation that may exist in records administered by national security agencies in Canada or abroad with respect to Mr. Almalki, Mr. Abou-Elmaati and Mr. Nureddin and members of their families.

The Committee recommends that the Government of Canada issue a clear ministerial directive against torture and the use of information obtained from torture for all departments and agencies responsible for national security. The ministerial directive must clearly state that the exchange of information with countries is prohibited when there is a credible risk that it could lead, or contribute, to the use of torture."

Needless to say, Liberals in opposition are not the same as Liberals in power. Mr. Goodale speaks a good line on international law, but refuses to recognize that as a signatory to the Convention Against Torture, Canada is required to "ensure in its legal system that the victim of an act of torture obtains redress and has an enforceable right to fair and adequate compensation, including the means for as full rehabilitation as possible."

A lengthy history of racism

The cases of Almalki, Abou-Elmaati and Nureddin present a face of Canada most refuse to recognize. That failure to see allows amnesia to cloud the still-unresolved cases of Omar Khadr and Abousfian Abdelrazik, also Canadians tortured with the complicity of their government. Equally concerning are the cases of security certificate detainees Mohamed Harkat and Mohammad Mahjoub, who are fighting deportation to torture in Algeria and Egypt, respectively, based on secret allegations from torture-tainted spy agency CSIS. All of them symbolize a long, ugly history of racism and human rights abuses that we tend to sweep under the rug.

Indeed, as the Truth and Reconciliation report revealed, the residential school system imposed on Indigenous children was, in certain respects, this nation's first venture into the world of rendition to torture. The kidnapping and secreting away of children from their loved ones, and the abusive treatment many were subjected to while under government and church control, rivals the 21st-century horror stories that have emerged from such scandalous places as Abu Ghraib, Bagram Air Force Base, and Guantanamo Bay. The fact that the sexual assaults, cigarette burnings, and broken bones inflicted on Indigenous children took place in a democratic country does not in any way differentiate their suffering from those Arab Muslims who have endured years of similar agonies under torture states abroad.

The Trudeau government's approach of defending those agencies and individuals responsible for torture complicity is -- like Obama's abysmal forgive-and-forget free pass to those Bush administration officials complicit in torture -- a grant of impunity that leaves in place a torture-enabling mindset. With no sign that anyone will be held accountable, such nefarious practices will continue. The practices of both Liberal and Conservative federal governments since 9/11 reveal how complicity in torture has had a corrosive effect on democratic institutions and decision-making.  The proof is in the actions of a prime minister who will shut down Parliament to avoid questions (as Harper did while under fire for Afghani torture), the refusal to initiate criminal proceedings against those found to have contributed to torture, or the insistence of state security agencies like CSIS and RCMP on absolute secrecy and zero oversight of their netherworld activities.

Torture and the Anti-Terrorism Act

The latest manifestation is one section of the Anti-Terrorism Act (a.k.a. C-51) that recalls the bone-chilling justification of torture by former White House counsel John Yoo (who advised "cruel, inhuman, or degrading" treatment is not torture, and the threshold for something to be deemed torture must be "serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death"). Under C-51, CSIS is advised that in the process of terror plot disruption, they cannot intentionally or through negligence cause "death or bodily harm to an individual," a vague statement considering the elastic definition of intentionality. (Bodily harm is defined as "any hurt or injury to a person that interferes with the health or comfort of the person and that is more than merely transient or trifling in nature.") It would seem that CSIS cannot be held responsible, therefore, if someone in their custody "accidentally" falls out of a helicopter or six-floor window.

As discussed in previous columns, Trudeau and his colleagues appear to take a perverse delight in a Trump administration that sets the bar so low that anything which is not Trump -- or which does not appear to be Trump -- is deemed praiseworthy and acceptable. Indeed, while Trudeau continues to endanger the lives of desperate refugees who risk freezing to death to reach Canada (through his refusal to rescind the Safe Third Country Agreement), Trump-despising editorialists at the Washington Post and New York Times position Trudeau as a man of light and hope in a time of bleak prospects. Given the Trudeau brand, all it takes is a smiling tweet for the U.S. media to swoon and the Canadian media to give him a pass. While the Toronto Star tallies Trump lies and deceits, this leading Canadian newspaper dedicates no similar space to the dishonesty emanating from Ottawa. Cognitive dissonance is contagious.

Matthew Behrens is a freelance writer and social justice advocate who co-ordinates the Homes not Bombs non-violent direct action network. He has worked closely with the targets of Canadian and U.S. 'national security' profiling for many years.

PMO Photo by Adam Scotti

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Trudeau governmentBill C-51Torturesafe countrysecurity agenciesLiberal Hypocrisytrump administrationMatthew BehrensFebruary 24, 2017Canada's torture consumers and the faux national security consultationAnyone following discussions on the ultimate disposition of the Harper regime's C-51 "anti-terror" legislation will soon be hearing a lot about "SIRC" -- the Security Intelligence Review Committee.Trudeau fears Trump's ire if he were to label the U.S. unsafeCanada and the U.S. have an agreement which states both countries are safe for refugees. If that was once true, it is not today. But Canada fears retaliation if it were to call a spade a spade.Populism and faux feminism: Marine Le Pen, Donald Trump and Justin TrudeauJustin Trudeau arrived in Washington on Monday with a plan to help Trump polish his image with women, even though Canadian women are still waiting for action on public child care from our feminist PM.

How inclusionary zoning stands to grow affordable housing in Ontario

23 February 2017 - 1:03pm
Politics in Canada

On December 6, 2016, the Ontario legislature passed the Promoting Affordable Housing Act, 2016, expanding the powers of Ontario municipalities to implement "inclusionary zoning," a requirement for developers to build affordable units when constructing new market‑rate housing. The Act changes the provincial Planning Act, RSO 1990, c.P.13, by obliging some municipalities, while making it optional for others, to adopt inclusionary zoning policies. A discussion on the adoption of the Act and debates surrounding its inclusionary zoning provisions can be found on our firm's blog.

These legislative changes come years after rising housing prices, lagging income levels and dwindling federal and provincial funding have created an increasing need for new affordable housing in Ontario. Significantly, according to the 2017 Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey, over the past 13 years Toronto's house prices have nearly doubled compared to household incomes, thus making market-rate housing unaffordable for an increasingly larger portion of the population. The same study also notes that nearby areas such as Hamilton and Oshawa are becoming unaffordable for middle‑income residents.

What inclusionary zoning will look like on the ground remains unanswered. By extension, it is difficult to predict whether the changes will have a significant impact on the need for affordable housing in Ontario. For example, it is unclear what an "affordable unit" means under the new changes and how affordable units will have to be priced. However, the province is slated to release regulations in early 2017 that will hopefully give some meat to its approach and allow municipalities to develop their policies and bylaws.

What is inclusionary zoning?

Inclusionary zoning is an umbrella term for a range of policy options for creating affordable housing units (both rental and owned units) in residential developments over a certain size. In some cities inclusionary zoning takes the form of mandatory requirements to include a fixed percentage of affordable units in new developments while other areas have voluntary programs. Developers are usually offered a package of incentives to offset the cost of providing affordable units.

Inclusionary zoning policies can result in mixed-income residential buildings that contain both market‑rate and affordable units, which can be helpful for municipalities seeking more economic integration of residents.

This tool is generally aimed at providing affordable housing for moderate-income or middle-income households who are priced out of rapidly rising real estate markets. It is not meant to create new social housing or provide housing for very low-income households, and is therefore seen as part of a broader toolbox for addressing affordable housing shortages.

What to expect for Ontario

Based on the changes to the Planning Act that were passed in December 2016, some municipalities will be required to authorize inclusionary zoning through zoning bylaws and official plan policies, while other municipalities will have the option of doing so. The province hasn't yet released details of which municipalities fall under either group, nor what exactly municipalities will have to include in the policies and bylaws they adopt. For example, it's not clear how much leeway municipalities will be given to determine the number of affordable units or the standards for those units. Although this signals the province's concern with increasing affordable housing stock, municipalities will likely have a significant role in determining how strongly inclusionary zoning is implemented.

When a municipality does adopt inclusionary zoning, it will have to create an "assessment report" that outlines local housing needs and how inclusionary zoning can help address them.

The changes also prohibit developers from providing cash substitutes to municipalities in lieu of building affordable units. This will ensure that affordable units are actually built, which the cash-in-lieu option doesn't guarantee. The province made this cash substitute prohibition despite the City of Toronto's official request for this option to be available to developers.

Developers will have the option to build off‑site affordable units in certain circumstances. This could defeat the goal of creating more mixed-income communities and off‑site options could reinforce the socio‑economic divide within communities if a developer building market-rate units is permitted to build affordable units across the city in a lower‑income neighbourhood. However, the Co‑operative Housing Federation of Canada (CHFC) supports the off‑site option for expensive new developments that would make the cost of providing affordable housing prohibitive. CHFC suggests that in such situations, allowing developers to build affordable units off‑site the market‑rate development could help non‑profits and co‑operatives build larger communities. 

Below is a summary of some of the questions that will hopefully be answered when the regulations are released:

1. Which municipalities must authorize inclusionary zoning and for whom will it be optional?

2. How will sale or rental price be set? For example, will the standard for determining affordability take into account median incomes of a particular neighbourhood?

3. What will be the threshold size of developments for triggering the inclusionary zoning requirement? The City of Toronto recommended that the requirement only apply to buildings of 20 units or more.

4. What will be the percentage of affordable units that must be built in a new development? Lower percentages will likely be more attractive to developers while higher percentages will increase affordable housing stock at a higher rate.

5. How long will units remain affordable? A limit such as 20 years, as suggested by the City of Toronto, would not provide long‑term security for residents of affordable units, especially in cities where housing prices continue to rise and incomes continue to stagnate.

6. Will municipalities have flexibility to allow adjustments for the size and quality of affordable housing units?

7. Lastly, what kind of incentives will municipalities offer developers to offset the cost of building affordable units? Some of the incentives offered in other areas include density bonuses (where developers are allowed to build higher, buildings with more units than municipal bylaws normally allow), fee reductions, tax incentives, and fast‑track approvals.

The attractiveness of incentives will influence the willingness of developers to build residential buildings that require affordable units. Hopefully the "assessment reports" that municipalities will prepare when implementing inclusionary zoning policies will address the community-level costs of incentives such as density bonuses. For example, allowing too many residential units in one area can overload community services such as schools, which don't have the capacity to accommodate the number of residents.

A successful inclusionary zoning program that grows Ontario's affordable housing stock will ultimately need to balance the needs of local communities while offering sufficient incentives to developers. Although it will not assist very low‑income households nor help address homelessness, inclusionary zoning should be effective in making it possible for moderate or middle‑income people to live in Ontario.

Iler Campbell LLP is a law firm serving co-ops, not-for-profits, charities and socially-minded small business and individuals in Ontario.

Pro Bono provides legal information designed to educate and entertain readers. But legal information is not the same as legal advice -- the application of law to an individual's specific circumstances. While efforts are made to ensure the legal information provided through these columns is useful, we strongly recommend you consult a lawyer for assistance with your particular situation to obtain accurate advice.

Submit requests for future Pro Bono topics to probono@rabble.ca. Read past Pro Bono columns here.

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Trudeau fears Trump's ire if he were to label the U.S. unsafe

23 February 2017 - 8:47am
February 23, 2017Trudeau fears Trump's ire if he were to label the U.S. unsafe Canada and the U.S. have an agreement which states both countries are safe for refugees. If that was once true, it is not today. But Canada fears economic retaliation if it called a spade a spade

Two polls and three byelections signal an interesting spell in Alberta politics ahead

23 February 2017 - 12:41am
David J. ClimenhagaFebruary 23, 2017ElectionsPolitics in Canada

Two polls were published this week by Mainstreet Research -- one on the state of Alberta politics, the other about British Columbia, where an election is scheduled to take place on May 9 -- and both could have significant implications for Alberta's New Democratic Party government.

On the face of it, Mainstreet's Alberta data looks bleak for the NDP and Premier Rachel Notley -- insofar as it shows the Wildrose Party in the lead among decided and leaning voters province-wide with 38 per cent of the decided vote, trailed by the Progressive Conservative Party with 29 per cent and then the NDP with 23 per cent. The Alberta Liberals and Alberta Party registered, but barely, at 5 per cent each.

A superficial assessment of the numbers certainly goes strongly to the narrative of the unite-the-right crowd behind former federal cabinet minister Jason Kenney's bid to lead the PCs, then roll them up and merge them with the Wildrose, that an election with a united party would be a slam dunk for the right. That's certainly how mainstream media played the results, and will continue to play them.

But as Mainstream President Quito Maggi conceded, if you consider the province's evolving electoral map, things may not be so simple. "It would be difficult to anticipate exactly what kind of government would form with these results without knowing the new riding configurations that are expected as a result of redistribution," he observed in the commentary accompanying the poll's results.

The demon-dialler telephone survey of 2,589 Albertans on Feb. 9 and 10 indicates support for Premier Rachel Notley's NDP is very strong in Edmonton -- 43 per cent -- and that's unlikely to change if Kenney keeps making noises on social media suggesting he supports massive cuts to the provincial budget. In Calgary, the PCs lead at 38 per cent with the NDP second. In rural areas, the Wildrose dominates. And we do have a first-past-the-post electoral system here in Alberta.

"The poll results support my argument that rural-based Wildrose has limited appeal big urban cities like Calgary, where the PCs still hold a considerable amount of support," political blogger Dave Cournoyer remarked yesterday. "As provincial electoral districts are redrawn to reflect population growth in urban areas, the Wildrose might need the PC merger more than PCs need Wildrose."

Cournoyer noted on his Daveberta.ca blog that if it's true the NDP has managed to hang onto 26-per-cent support in Calgary, that "leaves room for very guarded optimism for the governing party." Especially if the economy continues to pick up.

I agree, although I would suggest that for the NDP to succeed, the party's strategists would need to run a "Christy Clark campaign" that goes into the corners with elbows up and fully exploits the manifest weaknesses of Alberta's right-wing parties, even if that seems unrefined. The right will certainly be playing the same kind of game.

Speaking of B.C. Premier Christy Clark, Alberta's New Democrats would be just as happy with a victory in B.C. by Clark's cautiously pro-pipeline Liberals as with the much more skeptical B.C. NDP.

But Mainstreet's B.C. poll, released the same day as its Alberta results, suggests the universe may not be unfolding as the Alberta NDP would prefer on the British Columbia front. Indeed, according to Mainstreet, the results the company got from its 2,188 respondents on Feb. 18 and 19 indicate "deadlock and uncertainty" in Canada's westernmost province, which is now entering the pre-election hot zone.

OK, it too was a robo-call poll, and on a weekend to boot, but the results are still interesting, indicating that, province-wide, B.C.'s Liberals are in a dead heat with the B.C. NDP -- 37 per cent to 37 per cent.

The shocker, though, was how well the B.C. Greens appeared to be doing -- 17 per cent province-wide, but 22 per cent on Vancouver Island, traditionally NDP territory, and in rural areas.

So not only does this suggest "an incredibly close race," as Maggi put it, but it would be a tight race with characteristics that are bound to push the already skeptical NDP toward a harder anti-pipeline position that is not likely to do much to help Alberta New Democrats.

At the least, if such support for the Greens holds in future polls, it is bound to encourage the B.C. NDP to move toward the green side of the political spectrum.

Moreover, I suppose you can't rule out the possibility of a post-election NDP-Green coalition in the Legislature, which is probably the worst possible outcome from the Alberta NDP's perspective, or even a Green government.

On the other hand, these results leave the door open to a split vote between New Democrats and Greens, which could translate into a reprieve for the long-ruling Liberals.

Count on it regardless that all parties in Alberta, for once, will be watching the results next door on May 9 with intense interest.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau yesterday called byelections in five federal electoral districts -- including former PM Stephen Harper's Calgary Heritage riding and Kenney's former Calgary Midnapore riding. The other three are in Ontario.

Calgary Heritage and Calgary Midnapore are about the safest Conservative seats in Canada, and if that pattern holds true it will support the narrative just the same that Alberta is a conservative place bound to return to political equilibrium soon.

If something unexpected were to happen -- say, a Liberal victory in one of those two places -- it would certainly give the blogosphere and professional political spinners something to make a yarn out of!

It's a lovely thought. But don't hold your breath.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

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Trudeau fears Trump's ire if he were to label the U.S. unsafe

22 February 2017 - 10:26pm
Karl NerenbergFebruary 23, 2017Anti-RacismPolitics in CanadaUS Politics

Karl Nerenberg is your reporter on the Hill. Please consider supporting his work with a monthly donation Support Karl on Patreon today for as little as $1 per month!

One of the key areas in which the Trudeau government has differentiated itself from its Conservative predecessor is refugee policy.

The Harper government cut health care for refugees, demonized certain refugee groups, politicized appointments to the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB), and brought in a series of punitive so-called reforms to the refugee system the main intent of which was to reduce the number of refugees who reach Canada and make it harder for those who do get here to stay.

Justin Trudeau promised to change the channel on all that, starting with a bold commitment to bring in thousands of Syrian refugees. But the openly anti-refugee Trump regime south of the border has thrown a spanner in the works. That's because Canada has a safe third country agreement with the United States. Once asylum seekers have made refugee claims in Canada they can't try the U.S., and vice versa. The purpose is to prevent refugee claimants from shopping around -- which might be a legitimate aim if both countries were equally safe for refugees.

That may have been true when Obama was president, or even George W. Bush. It is patently not true today. Given the fact that a recent Trump executive order suspended admission of all refugees to the U.S., and banned everybody from seven predominantly Muslim countries -- be they asylum seekers, would-be immigrants or even just visitors -- those seeking refugee status who are now in the U.S. have the full right to feel fear. Many of those folks heard the Canadian prime minister's tweeted words of welcome to this country, and they want to take him up on his offer. If, however, they try to get into Canada at an official border crossing they will be sent back. When, on the other hand, they simply cross an open field and enter Canada where there is no border station, they can legally claim refugee status, and stay for as long as it takes for the IRB to determine their cases.

Canada's view, and that of the Geneva Convention on Refugees which we signed decades ago, is that once potential refugees are on Canadian soil -- however they got here -- they are entitled to Canada's full protection. The problem for refugees who try to enter at official border crossings is that until they are allowed into this country they are still, officially, on American soil. Thus, the safe third country agreement deems they must be turned away.

If Canada were to revoke safe third country status for the U.S., frightened and desperate asylum seekers would be able to come here without potentially endangering their lives and well-being. But the Trudeau government is not interested in provoking the Donald. The Liberals do not think President Trump would appreciate Canada labelling his country as unsafe. And so they are trying to argue that the safe third country agreement still works as it ought to. Here, for example, is what the new Immigration and Refugees Minister Ahmed Hussen told reporters on Tuesday:

"The Safe Third Country Agreement has been a really important tool in managing the asylum claims within both countries. It is a principle endorsed by the United Nations because we can’t encourage people to asylum shop … The domestic asylum system in the United States continues to meet international obligations with respect to access to hearings and so on, so the Safe Third Country Agreement continues to apply."

Trudeau says economy and human rights must be balanced

While it may be theoretically possible that non-political government officials in the United States are continuing to operate their asylum system in strict accord with the U.S.'s international obligations, anyone watching what is happening there would have to harbour serious reservations. The NDP does not believe the U.S. under Trump qualifies as a safe country, and nor do the Canadian Council for Refugees and Amnesty International. One suspects that the Trudeau government privately shares that view.

Indeed, if our neighbour to the south were not the world's domineering economic behemoth the Canadian government might quite happily abrogate the safe third country agreement. As it stands, Canada's pro-refugee prime minister says, these days, he has to worry as much about the economy as he does about  human rights, especially the human rights of people who do not live in Canada. In response to a question in the House from the NDP's Jenny Kwan, the PM put it this way:

"Canadians expect their government to do two things in regards to the United States and the world. We will stand up for Canadian values and defend the principles that have made this country strong, free and great, and at the same time, we will work to ensure the protection of Canadian jobs, opportunities for growth, and the success of our small and large businesses."

A bit later, speaking in French, Trudeau castigated the NDP, which, as he put it, "used to defend the rights of workers," for its willingness to "throw principles that protect jobs and create a good future for Canadian families out the window …"

Politically, the prime minister might be on solid ground. The average Canadian might be quite loath to risk antagonizing the current, mercurial U.S. president. Indeed, there is a significant portion of Canadian opinion that is not too keen on welcoming refugees in any great numbers, especially from Muslim countries. The Kellie Leitches of this country have a greater following than many of us might imagine. Nor is the media, in general, prodding the government to take a harder line with Trump.

And so the human rights community, which felt such affinity with Justin Trudeau when he swept Stephen Harper's passive-aggressive government out of office, is finding itself, once again, in opposition. The NDP, for its part, considers itself to have considerable affinity with the world of activists and NGOs, and is quite happy to act as their voice in Parliament. The hard question is: Would any Canadian party in power have the temerity, the chutzpah, to take on the fearsome Trump regime? 

Image: Twitter/realDonaldTrump

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Burning down the globe: Climate change denial in Canada's house

22 February 2017 - 5:30pm
Christopher MajkaFebruary 22, 2017Environment

You might think that even after virtually every scientist with expertise in the discipline agrees that human-induced climate change is not only real but a dire threat to the stability of our civilization and our environment; that after virtually every scientific academy on the planet concurs with this view; that after the phenomenal work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC, arguably the most thorough and extensive international scientific enterprise of all time) has definitively established the causes and consequences of this danger; that after 174 countries on the planet put their signatures to the Paris Agreement at the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference to undertake immediate action to try and halt this phenomenon; that after over a century of increasing global temperatures, and in recent years, record monthly and annual temperatures records; that after an increase in atmospheric levels of greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide by 42 per cent (from 280 parts per million (ppm) in pre-industrial times to over 400 ppm currently); that after a multitude of environmental impacts consistent with climate change; that there would exist no sane human being on the planet who would not only understand the reality of climate change, but also be highly concerned about it. You might think that.

And you would be wrong.

Climate change denial in our midst

Climate change denial is alive and well and living in Canada. It is useful to examine this phenomenon, how it is conducted and promulgated, what its effects are, and what we need to do about it.

A recent Canadian example is Lawrence Solomon's article "Finally it's safe for the whistleblowers of corrupted climate science to speak out" published on February 16, 2017 in the Financial Post. This opinion piece is a litany of untruths, unsupported assertions, red herrings, and concatenated nonsense. I won't subject readers to a tedious rebuttal of every error it promulgates. To illustrate the point let's simply look at one sentence in which Solomon claims:

"The Arctic ice cap hasn't disappeared, polar bear populations haven’t declined, hurricanes haven't become more common, malaria hasn’t spread, temperatures haven’t continued to climb."

Fact-checking Solomon's claims

• Solomon claims: "The Arctic ice cap hasn’t disappeared."

The facts are: Temperatures in the Arctic are at their warmest levels in at least the last 40,000 years. In January 2016 the extent of Arctic sea ice was at the lowest level for January since record keeping began in 1979.

The PIOMAS (Pan-Arctic Ice Ocean Modeling and Assimilation System) data shows that for every single month of the year from 1979 until the present there is a death spiral that in the very near future will lead to an almost complete seasonal disappearance of Arctic sea ice. [Figure 1]

For example, in September (the lowest seasonal ebb) of 2015, arctic sea ice volume had decreased to 5,000 square kilometers, a 70 per cent decline from 1979 levels in a mere 36 years.

To call this an enormous and precipitous decline would be massive understatement. NASA data [Figure 2] show a continuous decline since 1953. From year to year successive studies have almost invariably found that the decline in Artic sea ice is taking place even faster than originally forecast. To call this highly alarming would, again, be a significant understatement.

• Solomon claims: "Polar bear populations haven’t declined."

The facts are: A 2015 study by Jeffrey Bromaghin et al. in northeastern Alaska and the Northwest Territories of Canada shows that Polar Bear populations there declined by 40 per cent between 2001 and 2010 -- a staggering loss in less than a decade.  

The Western Hudson's Bay population of Polar Bears has decline by 22 per cent since the early 1980's. Polar Bears International forecasts that without action on climate change, two-thirds of polar bears could be gone by the middle of the century and the species could be extinct by the end of the century.

• Solomon claims: "Hurricanes haven’t become more common."

The facts are: In the North Atlantic the number of tropical storms has increased from 1966-2000 when they averaged 11 per year (about half of these reached hurricane intensity). More recently (2000 - 2013) that average has increased to 16 tropical storms per year (again, about half of these reach hurricane force). This is a 45 per cent increase. [These data are from the National Hurricane Centre of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.]

That said, climate models vary in terms of their projections of what the impact of climate change will be on hurricanes. Some models project little or no increase in frequency; others predict an increase. There is a complex tradeoff between intensity and frequency; i.e. there may be little change in the number of hurricanes each season, but they may be more intense.

Recent models developed by the U.S. National Climate Assessment and Development Committee forecast a 75 per cent increase in the number of category 4 and 5 hurricanes (the most intense ones) in the future as a result of climate change.

• Solomon claims: "Malaria hasn't spread."

The facts are: Malaria has not spread in recent years, however, this has nothing at all to do with climate change. Rather, what it has to do with are massive efforts during the past decade by groups like Malaria No More (which has conducted enormous anti-malaria campaigns in Senegal, Cameroon, Zambia, South Africa, Kenya, Chad and elsewhere distributing medicines, diagnostic tests, mosquito nets, and conducting education programs).

The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria has distributed 713 million insecticide-treated nets intended to stop mosquito-borne transmission of malaria, The Malaria Atlas Project at the University of Oxford has mapped weather and climate information relevant to the spread of malaria. The Malaria Policy Advisory Committee of the WHO (World Health Organization) is coordinating global efforts to eliminate the disease. And these are only some of the initiatives.

It's very clear that as climate change leads to warmer temperatures in tropical regions, a much larger region of the planet could become suitable habitat for the anopheline mosquitos that transmit Plasmodium falciparum, the microorganism responsible for malaria.

Can the various efforts now underway (eradication of mosquitoes, medical treatment, prevention of transmission (through mosquito nets), and education stem the tide? Only time will tell. [Figure 3: The yellow zone marks the current extent of malaria distribution in the world. The red areas show where malaria will be able to thrive by 2050 if climate change continues. Modeling by the UK's Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research.]

What is clear is that Solomon's claim that "Malaria hasn’t spread" is no indicator whatsoever of the progress of climate change, but rather of a extraordinary effort on the part of many NGOs and the WHO to address this disease.

• Solomon claims: "Temperatures haven’t continued to climb."

The facts are: NOAA (the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) data clearly show that in the last 116 years, temperatures have increased at an average of 0.07 C per decade. Since 1979 the increase has been much faster 0.25 C per decade. [Figure 4]

Worldwide, the decade 2006 - 2015 was the warmest on record since thermometer-based observations began in 1880. And in 2016 the trend continues. Higher-than average temperature anomalies occurred across the vast majority of the globe with the annually averaged global temperature at 0.94 C above 20th the century average. This is enormously concerning, particularly given that under the Paris Climate Change Accords the aspirational target limit of climate change by the year 2100 is 1.5 C above pre-industrial levels. We are already two-thirds of the way there.

The scientific consensus on climate change

Finally, let's examine one further nonsensical claim made by Solomon who says (without providing a source) that:

"Likewise, a much heralded claim that 97 per cent of scientists believed the planet was overheating came from a 2008 master’s thesis by a student at the University of Illinois who obtained her results by conducting a survey of 10,257 earth scientists, then discarding the views of all but 77 of them. Of those 77 scientists, 75 thought humans contributed to climate change.  The ratio 75/77 produced the 97-per-cent figure that global warming activists then touted."

Without a source cited who knows what he's referring to. Whatever it may be, it's clearly another straw man erected by Solomon: "alternate facts" that he hopes will make a non-existent case.

One much-heralded study (Quantifying the consensus on anthropogenic global warming in the scientific literature) published in 2013 in Environmental Research Letters by nine scientists from different universities and research institutes (none of whom are from the University of Illinois) in Australia, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada, examined abstracts of 11,944 peer-reviewed scientific studies related to climate change published between 1991-2011 and found that 97.2 per cent "endorsed the consensus position that humans are causing global warming." [Figure 5: Note AGW = Anthropogenic (i.e., human-caused) Global Warming.]

A second meta-study (i.e. a study synthesizing the research of other studies), Consensus on consensus: a synthesis of consensus estimates on human-caused global warming by 15 researchers in 2016 found that depending on the exact question asked, its timing and the survey's methodology, between 90 and 100 per cent of scientists support "the consensus that humans are causing recent global warming." [This meta-study examined 14 other separate peer-reviewed scientific studies conducted by investigators around the world.]

Dr. James Lawrence Powell, an illustrious geochemist, former college president member of the U.S. National Science Board, and author of 11 books examined all peer-reviewed scientific papers published between January 1, 1991 and November 9, 2012 that pertained to global warming and climate change. His research found 13,950 studies (authored by 33,690 individual authors). Of these only 24 (i.e., 0.17 per cent) rejected global warming/climate change. [Figure 6]

Powell then followed this up with a second study that spanned the interval November 12, 2012 to December 31, 2013 finding that of 2,258 peer-reviewed scientific papers. Of these, only one (i.e., 0.04 per cent) rejected global warming/climate change. [Figure 7]

As of 2016, 198 of the world's scientific academies from Albania, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Bangladesh, Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, Bulgaria, Cameroon, Canada, Chile, China, Croatia, Cuba, Czech Republic, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Egypt, EU, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Guatemala, India, Indonesia, Iran, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Kenya, Kosovo, Kirgizia, Latvia, Lithuania, Madagascar, Malaysia, Mauritius, Mexico, Moldova, Montenegro, Mozambique, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, Nicaragua, Norway, Pakistan, Palestine, Peru, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Senegal, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Sweden, Tanzania, Turkey, Uganda, United Kingdom, United States, Venezuela, Zambia, and Zimbabwe have all supported the consensus position that climate change is caused by human activity.

Independent data compiled by NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, the Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research in the U.K., the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) National Climate Data Centre in the U.S., and the Japanese Meteorological Agency spanning the time frame of 1880 to 2016 all show, with an extremely high degree of correspondence, a temperature anomaly (i.e.  a warming trend) of circa 1.0 C. [Figure 8]

It is almost impossible to imagine a scientific consensus that is so enormous, that encompasses so many researchers, so many studies, from some many scientific and academic institutions, that span the entire globe, and that is based on such enormous amounts of data from some many different sources is that surrounding climate change.

If we know anything with near certainty it is that climate change caused by human activity is occurring. And we know with ever-greater detail what the effects of this are and will be. And we know very clearly what the policy, regulatory, and technological solutions are to address this enormous threat to our planet. And, in the Paris Climate Change Agreement, we have a global framework within which to address this. The only remaining question is -- will humanity rise to the challenge and actually adequately address this dire threat?

Not if the Financial Post and Lawrence Solomon have their way.

Nonsense, baloney, twaddle, and claptrap

While based on nonsense, baloney, twaddle, and claptrap, Solomon's article makes every kind on nonsensical and hyperbolic claim imaginable, for instance that, "None of the billions spent on research amounted to anything -- none of the models proved reliable, none of the predictions were borne out, none of the expected effects materialized." He calls the work of the IPCC a "mega-fraud," accuses the NOAA "and other corrupted agencies" of generating a "blizzard of lies" concluding that, "The greatest scientific fraud of the century will thus be laid bare, along with its craven and corrupt enablers in government, academia, industry and the media."

Whew.

Virtually every claim made by Solomon in this "opinion" piece is wrong, flawed, misdirected, hyperbolic, or irrelevant -- sometimes all at once. To call it poppycock would be a kindness.

Which begs the question, what is such an article doing in print in any media outlet at all? What possible public interest could be served by publishing falsehoods? What media organization would possibly contemplate publishing such material?

The climate change denial movement

It's important to be clear as to what Solomon's initiative is a part of, namely climate change denial. This is a pernicious anti-science, anti-knowledge initiative every bit as dangerous as Holocaust-denial, the campaign that denied that tobacco smoke caused lung-cancer, evolution denial, and other campaigns that have attempted to convince citizens that black is white.

Climate-change denial is the most recent of these campaigns, extensively documented in publications such as Naomi Klein's This Changes Everything and elsewhere.  A full discussion of this movement is beyond the scope of this article but the salient outlines are simple and clear. It is promulgated by fossil fuel interests (Exxon and the Koch family foundations have been particularly prominent, but there are many others) who -- correctly -- understand that adequately addressing the climate change crisis means a phasing-out of fossil fuels, and hence an end to the enormous profits and power of this sector.

Exxon, Koch's et al. have poured millions of dollars into an orchestrated movement to counter the threat to the fossil fuel industry that shifting to more sustainable and renewable energy scenarios and technologies would lead to. This has resulted not only in aggressive lobbying and strident propaganda, but also to the creation of various institutes and think tanks (e.g., The Heartland Institute, Americans for Prosperity, the now-defunct Global Climate Coalition; in Canada groups like the Friends of Science that get funding from the petroleum industry and argue that the sun, rather than human activity, is responsible for climate change) to promulgate these views.

The tactics of these efforts borrow heavily in some instances from the long and concerted campaign by the tobacco industry to attempt to deny the linkages between the use of tobacco products and lung cancer (in some instances employing the same public relations firms and even rebranding purported "experts" on tobacco use into climate change "experts."

It's important to note that in addition to the extensive lobbying that such organizations have conducted to advance the fossil-fuel agenda, their media-relation efforts have been two-fold.

In part, in the classic tradition of disinformation and propaganda, this has been to convince the credulous (particularly those with meager critical abilities and/or inclined to conspiracy-theory thinking) that evidence for climate change is meager to non-existent and that all the efforts to understand the causative factors and consequences of climate change, and how to address it through regulatory and technological approaches -- from the massive studies and reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the twenty-year initiative under the aegis of the United Nations Framework Conventions on Climate Change -- have all been a gigantic con.

Nothing more than machinations by "elite" scientists solely concerned with promoting their own careers, coupled with deep, dark conspiracies of world government promulgated by hordes of United Nations minions intent on "world government." Solomon's article falls squarely within this tradition. And, given that one can fool some of the people all of the time … it does.

This doesn't, of course, penetrate to the large majority of people, nor do climate change deniers imagine that it will. The more modest, but politically effective, goal is simply to create doubt.

By casting up a smokescreen of bogus science, unsupported assertions, red herrings, discredited ideas, and abject nonsense -- presented however, with a pseudoscientific veneer -- it gives the impression that uncertainty exists in the scientific community about the reality of climate change and/or its causes and/or its consequences. That experts differ. That doubt remains. That conclusions are premature. That the jury is still out.

In other words, to attempt to pull the wool over the eyes of ordinary citizens conveying the impression that this is still an area where experts disagree and on which more study is required. The ultimate objective is to neutralize political action. If, deniers reason, you can sufficiently confuse people about climate change and its causes then they will not press their political representatives to act on it.

For some two decades, this has been the program. It's ultimately a losing strategy because it is impossible to hide the accelerating impacts of climate change even now, but the climate-change-denial industry (and its fossil fuel backers) are seemingly greedy even for short-term profit, as well as being utterly ethically bereft in their disregard of what runaway climate change would do to this planet and all of its inhabitants. It seems extraordinary to even speak of such things, but from the Nazi Holocaust to ideas of a "winnable" nuclear war, the world has never wanted for people who are morally bankrupt. We have to recognize that this is so and adapt our politics to the periodic emergence of such phenomena.

Responsible journalism

However incorrect, unsupported, and misguided Lawrence Solomon certainly has the right to hold and express his views.  The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (Section 2a) guarantees every Canadian "freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication." Similarly, the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights (to which Canada is a signatory) (Article 19) guarantees every person "the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers." Likewise, the Financial Post certainly has the right to publish whatever it deems fit.

However, should the Financial Post publish such material?

The Fourth Estate

The Fourth Estate (i.e., the media) is a key democratic institution. Without a free press and the guarantees of freedom of expression, a vital check on potential abuse -- by anyone including governments, corporations, the police, the justice system, political parties, organizations, and even private individuals -- would be lacking. Who would watch the watchers themselves? An independent and critical media that can not only expose wrongdoing, inform citizens, champion issues, and expose shortcomings, but also help create coherent communities is an indispensable social institution. In a study entitled Dead Newspapers and Citizens' Civic Engagement, Portland State University professor Lee Shaker found a substantial decrease in civic engagement in two cities (Seattle and Denver) that both saw the closure of longstanding daily newspapers. Good media organizations not only reflect the communities they serve, they help build them. And -- critically -- they have a responsibility to them.

In the context of reportage, media frequently understand themselves as impartial conveyors of information, classically by presenting both sides of a story (assuming that there are only two) and then letting the reader, listener, or viewer form their own conclusions. In editorial or opinion pieces, editors, journalists, or guests move beyond impartiality to offer their own views.

It's important that media engage with controversial issues, however -- and this is the critical caveat -- these must be issues that based on fact and evidence. Not on rumor, innuendo, fantasy, or fabrication. A media organization that presents falsehoods, disinformation, or propaganda disguised as truth, betrays its audience, its journalistic legitimacy, and its responsibility to society -- a very grave transgression.

It's worth noting that some responsible media have already adopted policies that frame the understanding that climate change denial is a bogus enterprise. For instance, when reporting on Donald Trump's claims that global warming is a hoax, The Washington Post pointed out that, "There is a scientific consensus that humans are causing the planet to warm." The BBC has also wrestled with the issue of its coverage giving what it calls a "false balance" to the climate change denial movement and "undue attention to marginal opinion." It has opted to instruct its producers to "severely limit the amount of air time climate deniers are given." In order to draw attention to this issue The Guardian has titled a major subsection of its Environment coverage "Climate Consensus -- the 97%" making explicit the fact that 97 per cent of climate scientists support the consensus position of climate change.  The media landscape in this regard is still changing slowly, however, it is changing. [Figure 9]

Legal theorists such as the University of Bergen's philosopher Tryve Lavik (See: Climate change denial, freedom of speech and global justice) are making the jurisprudential case that climate change denial should be made illegal.

"The main arguments are: Climate denialism is not beneficial because its main goal is to produce doubt, and not truth. Climate denialism is not sincerely meant, which is a necessary condition for John Stuart Mill to accept utterances. Climate denialists bring harm, by blocking necessary action on climate change.  Primarily they harm future generations and people in developing countries. Hence the case can be made in terms of global justice."

While the purveyors of journalism are not formally bound by a Hippocratic Oath like that of physicians, Walter Williams' Journalist's Creed written in 1914 has been translated into over 100 languages. It says (in part):

• I believe that the public journal is a public trust; that all connected with it are, to the full measure of their responsibility, trustees for the public; that acceptance of a lesser service than the public service is betrayal of this trust.

• I believe that clear thinking and clear statement, accuracy and fairness are fundamental to good journalism.

• I believe that a journalist should write only what he holds in his heart to be true.

I underscore this in making the point that climate change denial is not based on fact or evidence; rather it is a denial of fact and evidence; an attempt to replace truth with demonstrable falsehoods, disinformation, unsupported assertions, discredited ideas, innuendo, and conspiracy theory. And this is done the service of nakedly political objectives that are antithetical to the continued well-being of the planet and all its denizens, human and non-human alike. In Canada, we do not have a law such as the one in Bolivia that gives Mother Earth rights and personhood, but if we did, climate change denial will surely be at the top of the list of sanctioned activities.

Just as we consider it abhorrent to deny the Holocaust or to believe in the veracity of documents like The Protocols of the Elders of Zion; to refute the causative relationship between tobacco use and lung cancer; to deny the reality of evolution and the fossil record -- so too must climate change denial be understood as abhorrent. Media that continue to publish what are demonstrable falsehoods are abrogating their core responsibility to those who read, listen and watch their work.

This is precisely the point where the Orwellian nightmare of "newspeak" and "doublethink," enters the picture. In Fact or fiction: Are we living in an Orwellian era? published in The Globe and Mail, Brock University academic Tim Conley draws attention to the processes of disinformation. It's bad enough:

"When state leaders and spokespersons can invent crimes and massacres, denounce the media for departing even slightly from the official party line and dismiss scientific findings, citizens have to decide whether they will likewise engage in doublethink, learn the newspeak and concede that two plus two is whatever these authorities say it is."

But when media collude with the promulgation of "doublethink" (in this instance directed by the corporate state) this is a complete abomination. It is time we called this what it is -- lies. Harmful lies. As Daniel Patrick Moynihan once said, "Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but not their own facts." And when such "opinions" are demonstrably false, and will result in demonstrable harm, the media have an ethical responsibility not to promulgate them in a way that makes them appear as if they were otherwise. It's time Canadian media like the Financial Post started acting responsibly.

Christopher Majka is an ecologist, environmentalist, policy analyst, and writer. He is the director of Natural History Resources and Democracy: Vox Populi.

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White populist feminism makes intersectionality nearly impossible

22 February 2017 - 9:07am
February 22, 2017White populist feminism makes intersectionality nearly impossibleMainstream feminism espouses to speak for and on behalf of all women, but essentially speaks for and on behalf of white, middle-class, cis-gendered and able-bodied women.

White populist feminism makes intersectionality nearly impossible

21 February 2017 - 3:01pm
Cheryl ThompsonFebruary 21, 2017Feminism

Over the past few years, populist politics have been on the rise across the western world. Few, however, have noticed the rise of populist feminism, a mainstream feminism that espouses to speak for and on behalf of all women, but essentially speaks for and on behalf of white, middle-class, cis-gendered and able-bodied women.

As a feminist, critical race media scholar, populist feminism is, in my opinion, more detrimental to women than patriarchy. Where patriarchy, in a structural sense, is often defined in terms of (white) male domination, feminism is supposed to be geared toward the political, economic, cultural advancement of, and personal and social rights for, women. Populist feminism, however, tries to achieve this by either neutralizing any and all differences among and between women, or tries to speak for all women on matters related to their bodies, especially motherhood.

When Iqra Khalid, a Liberal MP stood up in the House of Commons on February 16, telling the country's elected officials that she had received more than 50,000 emails most of which were death threats and insults in response to M-103, an Anti-Islamophobia Motion that was tabled by the Liberal Party, the media was quick to insert white women such as Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly, Alberta Conservative MP Michelle Rempel and Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne into Khalid's story because they, too, have received "hateful," mostly sexist messages.

While it is important to shed light on the challenges facing women in public office, the idea that Khalid, as a Pakistani-Muslim Canadian woman, would have similar experiences to her white colleagues and that her life story would and could be measured against theirs is the very definition of populist feminism.

Instead of acknowledging her positionality as a racialized and visibly marked woman in a majority white federal government, her body, literally and figuratively, was whitewashed -- as though the threats she faces are of no greater or lesser significance than her white woman counterparts. This is disingenuous at best, insulting at worst.

The recent uproar over Beyoncé's pregnancy photographs and Grammy performance is also an example of how populist feminists believe that they are the arbiters and gatekeepers of "proper" public displays of "true" womanhood.

On February 2, Rosie Millard, writing for the online British newspaper Independent proclaimed, "Hey Beyonce, as a mum of four let me tell you this isn't what pregnancy looks like." In a February 18 article in the New York Post, Naomi Schaefer Riley also argued that in Beyoncé's case, having a baby "isn't a miracle." She then asked the question, "Why is it that in an era when women are constantly insisting that they should not be defined by their traditional, biological roles, we have fetishized motherhood to such an extent?"

These comments remind me of Linda Alcoff's 1991-1992 article, "The Problem of Speaking for Others," in which she wrote, "not only is location epistemically salient, but certain privileged locations are discursively dangerous."

In other words, when privileged women speak for or on behalf of the less privileged, it has the result of increasing or reinforcing the oppression of the group spoken for. While Beyoncé is certainly not an "oppressed" woman in terms of her socioeconomic class, racially, there are very few, if any, arenas in the public sphere of western culture where Black women's bodies are exalted, celebrated or idealized. The "we" in Riley's piece, therefore, reflects a desire to protect the parameters of (white) motherhood. It is not a neutral and fair critique of Beyoncé as a performer.

In 1991, when Demi Moore appeared nude and seven-months pregnant on the cover of Vanity Fair in an Annie Leibovitz photograph; and in 2012, when Jessica Simpson reprised this motif on the cover of Elle, people may have thought both images were distasteful, but there were no attacks on motherhood. When a black woman does the same thing -- minus the nudity -- populist feminists are outraged because it challenges the "we" and "us" of speaking for others.

Many of my students at the University of Toronto Mississauga who are racialized, queer, Muslim, and in some cases all of the above, often feel disconnected from today's feminism. They are tired of the lens for which populist feminists use to critique the actions and bodies of the non-white; they are also frustrated by the lack of intersectionality.

In 1995, Kimberlé Crenshaw argued that an intersectional approach to feminism is necessary if we are to account for the multiple identities that shape how the world is constructed. Similarly, in her book Body as Evidence, Janelle Hobson notes that if we are to dismantle the hegemonic discourses of race, class, gender and nation that frame our perceptions of feminism and seek to define what might constitute a feminist agenda, we will then be one step closer to building a global feminism.

If feminists continue to speak for all without recognizing the varying structures of oppression and cultural nuances that are interrelated, overlapping and inseparable, feminism as we know it will continue to silence the increasing numbers of women worldwide who are not white, middle class, cis-gendered and able bodied.  

Zora Neale Hurston, the African-American writer best known for her 1937 novel Their Eyes Were Watching God once said, "Sometimes, I feel discriminated against, but it does not make me angry. It merely astonishes me. How can anyone deny themselves the pleasure of my company? It's beyond me."

Why so many feminists still continue to deny themselves the pleasure of the company of all women is, too, beyond me.

Cheryl Thompson has a PhD from McGill University. She is the 2015-2016 Recipient of the Banting Postdoctoral Fellowship which she holds at the University of Toronto. She also teaches courses in Black Canadian Studies, Visual Culture, Media and Identity, and Transnational Feminism. She can be found on Twitter @DrCherylT.

Image: Facebook/Iqra Khalid

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Whenever, wherever Islamophobia raises its head, all of us need to push back

21 February 2017 - 1:19pm
Christina GrayFebruary 21, 2017Anti-Racism

On February 17, 2017, I was at work in downtown Toronto when I heard yelling coming from Dundas street. When I looked out the window to see who was making this noise, I was told that there was an anti-Muslim rally at the Masjid mosque.

I quickly got my jacket and a sign from a Muslim friend that was made for the #MuslimBan protests. These protests were only two weeks earlier at the American consulate, a few blocks away on University Avenue.

In the past few weeks, there has been an onslaught of attacks against Muslim people. We've seen this with the ban on people from seven Muslim-majority Middle Eastern countries from entering the U.S., the attack on the Quebec Mosque resulting in six men's deaths and with this recent anti-Muslim protest that happened in Toronto. These events directly affect my Muslim friends -- but they also affect us all.

Having witnessed these events, I've found myself thinking often of the famous quote by human-rights lawyer Alan Borovoy: "the freedom of no one is safe unless the freedom of everyone is safe."

I don't see myself as being safe unless my Muslim friends are also safe and able to freely practice their faith without fear. I'm not Muslim, but I want to live in a world where my Muslim friends are able to walk down the street and feel safe that they aren't going to be targeted because they may be wearing a hijab.

When I heard that there was an anti-Muslim protest happening, my heart hardened and I couldn't sit idly by and let this happen. I had to stand up against this vitriolic hate. I then took the sign and went downstairs to the mosque, but the protesters had already left. Within only a few minutes, this religiously targeted protest had dissipated.

I was left standing on the street with a poster that read "Peace Muslim. Humbled by the heart of the majority." In my brief time standing on the corner, a few people came to thank me for showing my solidarity with Muslims. I was touched by a random stranger who thanked me. In that moment, I felt a love and a kinship and intrinsically knew that there's a strong love for our community of Toronto.

In the past few weeks, we've seen the incredible amount of love from ordinary citizens who have taken to the streets, courts, airports, and mosques to shout our solidarity with each other for our inalienable human rights. As demonstrated, there's an imperative need to continue to raise our voices, be present, and stand up for our rights to be free, equal, and inclusive of all people regardless of faith, race, or ethnic origin.

Let's keep at it because we need to keep our hope alive, without it, we've given up and we can't let that happen.

Christina Gray is an Indigenous (Tsimshian, Dene, Métis) lawyer who is called to the bar in Ontario. Follow her on Twitter at @stina_gray.

This article originally appeared on Christina's blog.

Image: Christina Gray

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Ideas that work to promote sustainable small farms

21 February 2017 - 11:18am
EnvironmentFood & HealthPolitics in Canada

As I write this column, I am waiting for new census information to learn more about the current farming scene in Canada. The federal government is also cobbling together a budget that they have promised will include strong action on agriculture and food. I'm waiting for that as well.

I am hopeful (maybe I shouldn't be), but I also sense urgency.

As of the last census in 2011, there were fewer than 205,730 farms in Canada. In 1956 there were close to 600,000. Less than 1 per cent of the Canadian population operates farms. In the last 60 years, Canada has lost more than 66 per cent of its farmers. Each decade since 1941 has shown dramatic declines in the number of Canadian farms and farmers, as an industrialized model of agriculture has encouraged capitalization, land concentration, monoculture and specialization.

Prime agricultural land is disappearing as cities expand, and the debt load that farms carry is astonishing. The most recent stats show that well over half of Canadian farmers are over the age of 55 and less than 10 per cent are under 40.

Within the next decade it is estimated that 75 per cent of Canadian farmland will change hands.

Our farming future

The question is, who will farm? In a crunch, how would we even begin to feed ourselves, let alone anyone else?

Climate change may well be the coming crunch and it's already impacting food production in many parts of the world. As I think of the coming budget, I sense a need to reinforce some of the work and repeat some of the solutions that have been presented to the federal government. Will they get it?

Firstly, there are young people who do want to farm. In fact there have always been young people who want to farm. What we've been missing are solid federal policies that encourage new farmers and help retiring farmers transition their farms to a new generation.

So how do we go about doing that?

All farmers will tell you that new farmers need access to land, financing, training and knowledge, and markets. There are a lot of layers to farming, but there are plenty of farmers who know what is required. And they have been trying to get the message across for a long, long time.

It's not rocket science and there are visionary programs leading the way that deserve support. Like family farms, some of these programs are beginning to disappear because they do not have sustainable funding.

Programs need funding

One of these is FarmStart, a flagship non-profit that for more than 10 years has helped many, many new farmers. I was saddened when I went to its website last week, and began reading text written in the past tense. Turns out, I happened on the homepage the same day the text was re-written.

Here is an excerpt:

"FarmStart developed and offered flexible programs and services that provided new farmers with the resources, tools, and support necessary to get their businesses off the ground and to thrive. However, after 10 years, FarmStart is no longer able to offer our programs and services due to the lack of core or sustained funding."

Wow. That's clear. If you visit the FarmStart website, you will immediately note that this was a well thought out, respected, award-winning program, and it still could not get operational funding. It also pushed hard for the implementation of solid federal agricultural policies.

FarmStart also created an innovative program called Farmlink, an online platform that helps to link retiring family farmers with young farmers trying to get started. Farmlink will continue to operate for now, helping to match farmers and facilitate access to land for the next generation.

Christine Young, the founder and Executive Director of FarmStart explained in a recent conversation:

"We are closing and this is very much due to the lack of any kind of core or sustained funding -- in particular, any level of priority for farm renewal at the federal level. There are some provincial initiatives, particularly in the eastern provinces, but without a federal pillar or some level of investment, there will continue to be little or no capacity in the sector."

"There just isn't any clear recognition [by the federal government] of the need for farm renewal programs."

In the course of more than a decade, FarmStart touched more than 6,000 people, providing training programs, online platforms to connect farmers, and startup or "incubator" farm projects. It helped more than 60 new farmers get started, registered more than 3,500 people on Farmlink, and built a solid audience of people interested in pursuing agriculture.

While there was money to run the programs, there was never enough money to pay staff, cover rent, buy computers, or basically keep the lights on. Those costs are considered operating costs covered by core funding. And funders just don't do core funding these days. Go figure! When I spoke with Young last week, her passion for farm issues had not wavered. She immediately sent me a policy paper entitled "National Farm Renewal Initiative" that had been presented to the federal government and includes practical and necessary recommendations.

Non-profit models of support

As Young noted, there are some provincial programs helping small farmers get started, particularly in the eastern provinces. Nova Scotia, for example, has FarmNEXT, a new farmer loan program. And Québec has FIRA -- Fonds d'investissement pour la relève agricole as well as Banques de Terres, a government-funded agency providing new and retiring farmers with options for land transfer.

Across the country there are other small non-profits that serve as models of how to support new farmers and help retiring farmers transition their land. And there are also various organizations across the country that support knowledge-sharing and know-how, and also provide some access to land.

There are other land-linking organizations as well, such as a land-matching organization in British Columbia called Land Linking And Farmers.

In Ontario, Everdale has a farm-based program to encourage new entrants. The Black Creek Community Farm run by Everdale, north of Brampton, has a training school and production program that supports learning, producing and marketing.

As well, organizations such as Just Food in Ottawa, and other non-profits that encourage incubator farm projects such as Le Plateforme Agricole in L'Ange Gardien, Quebec, are a few examples of supports for small farmers.

And, peppered across the country, are small marketing cooperatives where producers have banded together to try and ensure they can connect with consumers and small businesses seeking quality, local food. One of these cooperatives is CAPE in Quebec, but there are others, including on the Prairies, where farms are larger and distances to cities much further.

A solid federal pillar

While these are important efforts that need support, much more needs to be done. The federal government needs to get with the program and recognize the importance of small and family farmers in this country. Low-interest loans, support for community land trusts, support for cooperatives and farmer-owned marketing structures, training and knowledge-sharing, decent prices for production: these are all required.

Without the solid federal pillar that FarmStart's Christie Young emphasizes -- to provide support and strong policies to sustain organizations and create federal agencies that invest in farm-renewal programs -- it all fills a bit like plugging a dike with your thumb.

There is no pension plan for retiring farmers, other than the sale of their land. Farm loans are almost impossible to get for new farmers wanting to start out in Canada. There are few financial organizations -- even credit unions which originally started to provide loans to farmers on the Prairies -- that want to risk loaning to new farmers. There is no solid program to support cooperatives, or the formation of land trusts to encourage stewardship and community farming.

Right now, there is no innovation or thinking outside of the box -- nothing beyond the usual land concentration, rural depopulation and the speculative "bigger is better" mentality.

The census data is on the horizon, and so is the federal budget. They will point to feast or famine.

Lois Ross is a communications specialist, writer, and editor, living in Ottawa. Her column "At the farm gate" discusses issues that are key to food production here in Canada as well as internationally.

Photo: Ian Muttoo/flickr

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sustainable foodAgriculture Policyfarming policyagriculture industryCanadian FarmersAt the farm gateLois RossFebruary 21, 2017Agriculture is part of the climate change solutionAgriculture can reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but it is going to mean putting stewardship and food production ahead of profit and expansion. It is possible.Hungering for commitments on a new Canadian food policyLois Ross is a communications specialist, writer, and editor, living in Ottawa. Her column "At the farm gate" discusses issues that are key to food production here in Canada as well as internationally.Need for national food policy intensifies as costs soar and food insecurity remainsThere should be no one suffering from food insecurity in a country as rich as Canada, yet this is a big issue. Here is why we need a national food policy that focuses on sustainability.

Trudeau moves right, crowds Conservatives on policy

21 February 2017 - 9:43am
February 21, 2017Liberals tack right, jettison progressive policy The hard-right turn in Canadian public life has been orchestrated by corporations that have had more success influencing politics than in doing business.

Liberals tack right, jettison progressive policy

21 February 2017 - 9:31am
EconomyElectionsPolitics in Canada

When the Canada-Europe trade deal known as CETA came up for vote in the European parliament February 15, the Progressive Alliance Group opposed it: 254 members of the European parliament voted no; 33 abstained; and 408 voted yes.

While in Europe championing CETA, a deal fostered by Stephen Harper, Trudeau lined up with the conservative Christian Democrats -- not the Democrats, or Socialists, or Green Party members. On key issues such as Indigenous rights, climate change, and protection of the marine environment from fuel spills, Justin Trudeau has his party moving right, taking positions defended by the Conservatives. Why is he putting his progressive image at risk?

The Canadian parliamentary system encourages it. In any era the government of the day responds to the Official Opposition by taking its language and using it against them. With the language come policy ideas and sometimes ideology as well.

When Trudeau abandoned his priorities to focus on Canada-U.S. relations he lined up with Conservatives. Both parties are intent on cozying up to Donald Trump in order to preserve Canada's valued free trade relationship with the U.S.

The Liberals are giving credence to myth. Canada never got a free trade agreement with the U.S. Not in the so-called 1988 bilateral FTA, nor in 1994 with NAFTA.

In both deals American protectionist legislation still applied. Under NAFTA protectionist law was privatized. Investor-state rules allowed private companies to sue governments for breaches of the deal.

Say hello to Canada, the most sued country in world trade history. 

The Liberal party once knew what was wrong with the Mulroney trade deals: they provided security of investment for U.S. absentee owners of Canadian resources, monopoly rights for patent holders, and entrenched restrictions on Parliament. Pierre Elliott Trudeau labelled the 1988 bilateral accord  "a monstrous swindle."

Now his son has engaged the perpetrator of the swindle as his counsel on dealing with the U.S.

Mulroney has responded by singing "When Irish eyes are smiling" for Trump, as he did for Reagan in 1985, initiating the "make friends with the White House" foreign policy era.

Unfortunately for the make-nice-with-Donald strategy, the U.S. president does not control how international trade works itself out. Individual trade disputes depend on a quasi-judicial U.S. process. As for the renegotiation of NAFTA, it will be done by someone reporting to the (yet to be confirmed) United States Trade Representative (USTR) with supervision by Congress, not just the White House.

Canadian business is vocalizing its predictable right-wing views. Former Liberal deputy prime minister John Manley runs the Business Council of Canada (BCC), made up of CEOs representing the 150 largest corporations operating in Canada.

Following the adage first coined by Winston Churchill, "never let a crisis go to waste," the BCC judge the election of Trump as an opportunity to push its favourite right-wing economics.

The Business Council CEO defines the election of Trump as a "competitive challenge" to Canada.

For Manley the Liberal government needs to respond with corporate tax cuts, deregulation, trade deals favourable to Canada, and going slow on climate change.

The Big Business message to Trudeau is: be more Trump than Trump.

Anyone who thinks the Liberals will not heed the army of corporate lobbyists carrying this message has not been paying attention to Canadian politics for the last 25-plus years.

The hard-right turn in Canadian public life has been orchestrated by corporations that have had more success influencing politics than in doing business.

When Justin Trudeau nixed the idea of proportional representation and banished electoral reform, he was tipping his hand as to an impending shift right.

Under current electoral rules, Liberals can win a majority in the next election by keeping the Conservatives down in Ontario. In order to do that, they need to win small "c" conservative voters.

Team Trudeau have decided they have less to fear from the NDP profiting from the Liberal shift to the right, than from disgruntled Ontario Tories getting out in big numbers to vote against them.

Duncan Cameron is former president of rabble.ca and writes a weekly column on politics and current affairs.

PMO Photo by Adam Scotti

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Trudeau governmentCanada-EU free trade dealcanada-u.s. tradeNAFTAbig businessright-wing ideologyCanadian electionsDuncan CameronFebruary 21, 2017Trumponomics unsettles Trudeau with threats to Canada-U.S. tradeWith the advent of Donald Trump, international trade has taken centre stage in U.S. politics. Trumponomics suggests that the rest of the world has been cheating the U.S. out of jobs and wealth.What happened to liberal politicians? Sadly, they got smart. Smartness has subtly insinuated itself everywhere -- except, apparently, among voters. Smart won't ever replace fair; that's just stupid.Trudeau prepares to cede Canadian sovereignty to U.S. border officialsBy conceding Canadian sovereignty to American border officials, the Trudeau government has crossed a bridge.

Quebec elites out of touch with rest of province on Israel

20 February 2017 - 2:21pm
Caroline BiotteauFebruary 20, 2017Gaza

The most recent poll regarding Canadian's attitudes towards Israel has just been released and the results are telling. Quite strikingly, far more Canadians have a negative view of the government of Israel than a positive one. Even more remarkable, Quebec respondents have a far harsher view of the government of Israel than their fellow Canadians.

Some have argued that Quebecers have always been more critical of the Israeli government, and more sympathetic to the Palestinians. This assumption was up in the air, however, when a survey by Crop-La Presse issued in 2014 during the Gaza conflict between Israel and Hamas found that the majority (64 per cent) of Quebecers chose not to pick sides in the messy flare up.

With this most recent poll sponsored by my organization, it is clear that regardless of what happened in 2014, Quebecers remain wary of the Israeli government. Of those who expressed an opinion, 57 per cent of Quebecers had a negative opinion of the Israeli government, as compared to 46 per cent overall in Canada. Only 16 per cent of Quebecers had a positive opinion, as compared to 28 per cent overall in Canada.

While this doesn't tell us whether Quebecers are pro-Palestinian, it does show that they are far more negative than other provinces when it comes to the Israeli government.

With survey results like these, one would expect Quebec politicians to be guarded with respect to relations with the Israeli government. This could not be more wrong. With Montreal mayor Denis Coderre's recent economic mission, Premier Philippe Couillard's upcoming one and a recent statement on Israel by CPC leadership candidate Maxime Bernier, it is easy to feel as if our political elite are detached from the population's concerns over Israel's human rights abuses.

Rather than asking Israeli leaders tough questions about violations of international law, Quebec leaders only seem to idolize Israel for being such an innovative and business-friendly country. This is especially the case for the particularly effusive Coderre, who came back full of praise for Israel following his economic mission to Israel and (symbolically) the West-Bank.

While having a negative perception of the Israeli government does not mean that Quebecers want their leaders to be anti-Israel, they still might prefer a more balanced approach.

Nobody can deny the fact that Israel has managed to achieve an impressive economic success and that their innovation sector is quite enviable. However, considering the fact that this country is repeatedly cited for violations of international law, and that Netanyahu's right-wing coalition government continues the illegal colonization of Palestinian territory, many Quebecers may believe that our politicians should not engage in a "business as usual" economic approach with Israel.

In China, Philippe Couillard experienced firsthand the difficulty of pursuing economic relations while being under pressure to denounce human rights violations. It is especially hard for premiers since because of the Constitution, Canadian provinces cannot lead their own international policies and diplomacy.

However, Quebec has found a way to circumvent this by engaging in various economic and cultural missions and investing in permanent delegations throughout the world. This broader role undertaken by Quebec political elites is not exempt from responsibilities -- and leaders like Couillard and Coderre need to find a way to achieve both: pursue economic motivations while making sure violators of international law are held accountable.

In the current international political climate, such proposals may seem like wishful thinking: economic incentives are almost always prioritized to the detriment of human rights issues. However, Western leaders are becoming more and more vocal about their disapproval of Israel's increasing settlements expansion, and ongoing disregard for Palestinian human rights.

It's time that Quebec leaders find a way to do the same, and these new poll results should give them all the incentive they need.

Image: www.premier-ministre.gouv.qc.ca

IsraelQuebecMaxime BernierDenis CoderrePhilippe CouillardQC

How many non-Albertans are behind misogynist online threats to NDP Premier Rachel Notley?

20 February 2017 - 1:46pm
David J. ClimenhagaFebruary 20, 2017FeminismPolitics in Canada

Is a disengaged and demoralized national conservative movement venting its frustration with the continuing popularity and generally progressive tone of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's Liberal government by focusing their anger on Alberta's NDP premier?

To ask this question another way, is there a substantial national component to the growing epidemic of violent -- and often misogynistic and heavily sexualized -- threats against Premier Rachel Notley and other prominent women in her cabinet and caucus?

Lots of theories have been advanced to try to explain the rising tide of threats against politicians in this province, and in particular against New Democrats who are women.

It's reasonable to assume that to one degree or another they may all be influencing the problem highlighted by the release of Alberta Justice Department statistics last week that showed Premier Notley is in fact the most frequently threatened premier in Alberta history.

These include, as discussed in this space last week, the following:

  • The contribution of social media to abusive political discourse by offering both anonymity and an accessible platform to extremists

  • The creation of online alt-right outlets devoted to promoting hatred and extremism, which offer a daily bulletin of targets to their readers

  • The tolerance for this kind of behaviour among mainstream media commentators and conservative politicians

  • The recent success of President Donald Trump's election campaign in the United States

  • Misogynistic attitudes in our society that are deeply embedded in our culture

But I've never seen it said anywhere in print that much of this vile and threatening commentary may be originating elsewhere in Canada from those people who are increasingly known in progressive Twitter-speak as RWNJs -- that is to say, "right-wing nut jobs."

Think about this, though. With enough nuts and flakes for a breakfast cereal recipe among the unappealing crop of candidates to replace former prime minister Stephen Harper as leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, what else is the perpetually angry brigade of RWNJs to focus on?

In other words, is it possible Notley and her cabinet's members are the unlucky recipients of abuse from a whole country's worth of perpetually disaffected right-wing extremists?

After all, if the Internet and social media do anything well, it's allowing people to communicate anonymously in "real time" at any hour of the night or day from any place on the globe.

We're talking about people who were perpetually angry with Prime Minister Trudeau back in the day for -- when you get right down to it -- successfully challenging Harper. This expressed itself as fury at nonessentials like the prime minister's hair -- which, every reasonable observer must admit, is much nicer than that of the previous PM, which looked, as the irreplaceable Heather Mallick once put it in her Toronto Star column, like "a living pulsing thing that would halve, leap on you and clap both sides of your head if you poked it."

This group is still very angry with Trudeau, of course, for daring to defeat their leader in a fair electoral fight, but their fury on that front has dissipated somewhat because of several factors. The biggest, of course, is that Harper's not around as an alternative. There is also the general sense that those who want to replace him aren't up to much, and the fact the CPC leadership race has several extremist candidates who for now are able to pander to the worst instincts of this group.

So, at least until a new CPC leader is chosen, a whole nation's worth of far-right wing-nuts (FRWNs?) can't really work themselves into their usual lather about federal politics.

So where do they focus in the meantime?

Well, if there's anything to this theory, for a lot of them, the focus has become Notley and Alberta.

If Canada's FRWNs have been paying attention, they'll have picked up that their hero, Harper, and his loyal lieutenant, Jason Kenney, are concentrating on Alberta as the most likely beachhead for their national counter-revolution.

And members of this group desperately need to be enraged at someone -- because unhealthy rage is one of the distinguishing characteristics of this segment of the populace, and indeed how such people frequently define themselves. (I'm mad as hell, yadda-yadda.)

So, what better target than an intelligent and articulate woman, the leader of a moderate centrist political movement that is, moreover, the only NDP government in the country. A politician who, once again, is challenging not just their extremist views, but their beloved, semi-retired Maximo Lider?

Now, look … this is just long-weekend speculation based on anecdotal observations. I can't provide statistics to prove a larger-than-expected number of threatening or abusive communications are being sent to Alberta NDP politicians from outside Alberta. Or, for that matter, to Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne from outside Ontario. But some of them most certainly are.

So the question, surely, is worth asking by people who have access to the data.

Alberta Justice should at least look to see how much of this garbage is originating outside Alberta's borders. I'll bet the answer will be a surprise -- perhaps even enough of one to derail the narrative that this is just Albertans frustrated with the faults of the NDP "letting off steam," as the Usual Suspects in right-wing media would like us to believe.

Obviously, not all such commentators are non-Albertans. I know people right in my own community who regularly say deplorable things about both Notley and Wynne on social media.

But even without verifiable statistics, it will be worth watching what happens once the interminable CPC leadership race is finally over. The tone here in Alberta may well improve.

After all, if one of the CPC's several Donald Trump clones is chosen as leader, Canada's loony right fringe will likely return to concentrating its rage on Trudeau's government in Ottawa.

And if someone who does not meet their exacting standards of bigotry and rudeness is chosen -- Michael Chong perhaps -- they may turn their fury on their own party.

Either way, the tone of public discourse in Alberta cannot help but improve!

Alberta politicsthreatssocial mediaAlberta JusticeJustin TrudeauRachel NotleyRWNJsDonald TrumpStephen HarperJason KenneyConservative Party of CanadaLiberal Party of CanadaAlberta NDPMichael ChongKathleen WynneAB

Truth before reconciliation: An interview with Nickita Longman

19 February 2017 - 7:02pm
February 19, 2017'I may never know what it looks like': 'Uncomfortable truths' line road to reconciliation in CanadaPhilip Dwight Morgan interviews Indigenous writer and activist Nickita Longman.

White people have no right to criticize Yusra Khogali's anger

17 February 2017 - 5:10pm
J. BaglowFebruary 20, 2017Anti-Racism

Yusra Khogali, a co-founder of Black Lives Matter-Toronto, has been in the news recently for calling Prime Minister a "white supremacist terrorist." She's had a few other interesting things to say as well in the recent past. She asks Allah to prevent her from committing violence. She refers to whites as genetically defective. She's really angry. And, from what I know second-hand about racism and misogyny, I don't blame her.

We can argue about the strategic usefulness of deploying inflammatory public rhetoric, shorn of context and explanation, that divides and excludes—I do, as a former union leader who knows what draws people in and what doesn't—but that isn't the issue. Khogali is expressing the anger of the oppressed, she has a right to do it, and she is accountable only to the people in her movement. White folks calling for her removal as a leader rather make her point. They would prefer that oppressed people remain polite and respectful and use their indoor voices at all times: otherwise these outside commentators feel uncomfortable. But put up their discomfort against the everyday racism, the personal and institutional violence, that is a Black person’s life experience, and there is simply no contest.

Besides, the content of her most recent remark bears a little attention. As others have noted, you can indeed argue her case against Trudeau. White supremacy is not just the ideology of Nazis. Terrorism is more than shooting up a mosque or a nightclub. Trudeau's refusal to accede to a court ruling and two compliance orders by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal continues to victimize First Nations children simply for being First Nations. His sale of arms to the Saudis, not to mention the training that the Canadian military throws in, is certainly terrorizing a lot of civilians in Yemen at present, as well as enabling the House of Saud's bloody rule at home.

Discomfort is the point at which we privileged white folks can either move forward or stay in place. Confronting and reflecting upon our own socialized attitudes is not infrequently unpleasant. This isn't a moral matter: we aren’t necessarily "guilty" of anything. Most of us simply sleepwalk in our privilege. But when we're called on it, we should be willing to learn.

Well, here is what I have learned, for what it's worth. Khogali's remarks take place in a context of oppression, and they should be interpreted in that manner. She's not just another talking head on a reassuring TV panel show: she's a pissed-off Black activist, every atom of whose being is engaged in resistance. Must we expect that she follow polite rules of discourse established by the very society that oppresses her? Very little real-world resistance is drawing-room. A lot of it can be raw and ugly. And the white liberal response is too often to wag a finger. They liked Martin Luther King for his non-violent resistance; Malcolm X and the Black Panthers, not so much.

But here is what King himself had to say about them:

First, I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can't agree with your methods of direct action;" who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a "more convenient season."

Shallow understanding from people of goodwill is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection. ~Letter from a Birmingham Jail

When I read Khogali's commentary, I'm not surprised or offended. Asking Allah to help her check her rage is hardly worth the ink spilled by affronted pundits attacking that Tweeted prayer. As for the alleged genetic defectiveness of white people, I have no reason to believe that she is not entirely sincere about that amalgam of pseudo-science and mysticism, but I can't help being struck by its ironic effectiveness. She is holding up a cracked mirror to hundreds of years of white pseudo-science about "race" and Blacks in particular, and just look at the shock and outrage she's been causing among the chattering classes. Three or so remarks! Imagine the emotions they might have caused to well up in us were the historical tables turned.

None of this is to say that anything goes, particularly if one is attempting to build a mass movement, but, rather, that we should try to understand how what we might regard as rhetorical excesses are generated by the very system that is now clutching its pearls. Can the subaltern speak? You betcha. And we won't always like what we hear -- but that's the whole point, isn’t it?

Image: Facebook/Yusra Khogali

ON

The West has been ripping off Africa for 700 years. Not the other way around

17 February 2017 - 2:30pm

According to The New York Times, Donald Trump's transition team wanted to know: "Why should we spend funds on Africa when we are suffering here in the U.S.?" Curiously enough, most Americans probably would have agreed with Mr. Trump that this was a real question. But they all share an entirely false premise.

America and the rest of the rich world have actually been ripping off Africa for the past 700 years, ever since the Portuguese began the slave trade, all the while insisting that Africa has been the beneficiary of this relentless exploitation. It's been one of the great hoaxes of the past millennium.

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Liberals' pension reforms fall woefully short for Canadian workers

17 February 2017 - 9:45am
Friday, February 17, 2017

While changes to the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) recently adopted by the current federal Liberal government offer some improvement, they do not go far enough.

The legislation includes an increase to the annual payout from 25 per cent to 33 per cent of pre-retirement earnings. In addition, the maximum amount of income covered by the CPP increases from $54,900 to about $82,700 -- once it is fully phased in. However, because the changes do not fully come into effect until 2025, most workers will not have saved enough or contributed a sufficient amount to the CPP and therefore many will be retiring in poverty.

For a government that claims its legislation is fact-based, it has clearly misread the facts.

The facts are:

While changes to the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) recently adopted by the current federal Liberal government offer some improvement, they do not go far enough.

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Why is Canada so offside with world opinion on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

17 February 2017 - 9:01am
Trudeau has continued Harper's blanket support for Israel in recent UN votes and in the process left Canada isolated from almost all other nations. Trudeau's pro-Israel stance offside with Canadians -- and hampers bid for UN seat

What happened to liberal politicians? Sadly, they got smart.

17 February 2017 - 8:51am
Friday, February 17, 2017

Whatever happened to liberals? Sadly, they got smart.

For this insight I'm indebted to U.S. journalist Thomas Frank, whose 2004 book, What's the Matter with Kansas? explained the success of right-wing populism in the George W. Bush years and whose recent, Listen, Liberal, described the Hillary Clinton debacle in advance. He lectured in Toronto last month. It served as a booster shot.

I was always perplexed by Obama's infatuation with "smart guys" like Bill Gates or Larry Summers. I'd assumed anyone who knows these certified smarties must also know they come with limits and are less than advertised.

Smartness has subtly insinuated itself everywhere -- except, apparently, among voters. Smart won't ever replace fair; that's just stupid.

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