CSEC's rigged election scare an excuse to invade our privacy

7 September 2017 - 11:54am
Civil Liberties WatchPolitics in Canada

Had someone other than the current White House occupant won the 2016 U.S. election, Justin Trudeau would be in serious trouble. But with Trump the standard by which so many politicians are now measured, the sheer mediocrity of the Trudeau administration has yet to be properly appreciated.

Indeed, anyone seeking public approval need only raise a question or two about Trump and they are suddenly elevated in the eyes of folks who should know better. Even war criminals like George W. Bush, who make tepid comments about the need for Trump to respect the press, garner thought pieces about the need to "reconsider" their legacy of mass murder and torture.

While Trump certainly provides the major power players the distraction they need to pursue their own vicious agenda -- note that despite all the chaos emanating from the most famous Twitter feed of the 21st century, the stock markets are stable and absent of panic -- the alleged "Russian interference" in the U.S. election has become for many a primary focus for opposing Trump and seeking his removal. If Trump were not the outwardly racist and sexist boor that he is, more could appreciate that his policies are not outside the realm of what passes for standard operating procedure in Washington or Ottawa, where climate change denial, colonial practices, militarism, mass surveillance and detention, deportations, corporate welfare, and other similarly nefarious daily practices continue regardless of who holds the title of Prime Minister or President.

On this side of the border, all Trudeau needs to do is tweet about welcoming refugees or show up at a Pride parade and all of his sins are forgiven or ignored, despite the fact that, for example, his refusal to cancel the Safe Third County Agreement continues to pose a lethal risk to refugees (including the Haitians who Trudeau began deporting long before the Trump-Haitian refugee influx). Similarly, as Trudeau basked this summer in rainbow flags, LGBTQ2 folks in Saudi Arabia faced the death penalty with the full support of Trudeau, who approved and continues to defend a $15-billion weapons deal for the regime.

But because he isn't Trump, people breathe a sigh of relief and point to the validation of puff pieces in Esquire, Rolling Stone, and the Washington Post that hail Trudeau as the last best hope for humanity. Should we survive this epoch, objective historians will be aghast at the cognitive dissonance.

Annoying self-adulation

This annoying self-adulation -- a smug Canadian white supremacist nationalism that has a similar 1960s corollary to when Canada was wrongly portrayed as a peacemaking haven for draft resisters; all the while Canadians contributed more per capita to the murder of Vietnamese people than Americans, and an elder Trudeau refused to cut off weapons and other industrial exports that fuelled the war -- is also reflected in some of Canada's more dangerous institutions, which are also playing the "we're good guys because we're not Trump" game. Indeed, while Trump bars trans folk from the military, here we have a military whose generals are cheered for marching in Pride parades while their membership continues to suffer outrageously high rates of male violence and homophobia.

In the "We're not Trump, so we must be good for democracy" sweepstakes, agencies that are traditional enemies of civil liberties have jumped on the bandwagon too, stressing that their mandates are to uphold the very institutions they undermine through illegal acts, including complicity in torture, defiance of court orders and mass surveillance. 

One of the finer examples of such dissonant thinking came out in June, when Canadian media breathlessly and uncritically reported on potential cyber threats to Canada's next federal election in 2019. Jumping aboard the "Russians stole the U.S. election" claptrap, the secretive Communications Security Establishment-Canada (CSEC) produced what was deemed a "stark" report about the potential for a threat which the report itself notes did not exist in 2015 and appears to be a mere blip of a possibility in 2019. Its laughable title, Cyber Threats to Canada's Democratic Process, produced much bully pulpit rhetoric from Karina Gould, minister of democratic institutions, who promised, "We will approach our shared challenge ahead in a very Canadian way: working together, co-operating, and with a steely resolve. We will continue to put the security of Canadians and Canadian democracy first."

CSEC Chief Greta Bossenmaier spoke in grand terms as well, noting, "Today is the first step. For the first time in the world, a democracy is informing the public about cyber threats." Bossenmaier's claim, a nose-stretcher at best, was nonetheless quoted without comment.

CSEC undermines democracy

The first irony lost on the media was that CSEC is among the growing number of state security institutions that pose a major risk to anything remotely resembling democratic practice in Canada. After all, this is an organization that mishandles information it illegally collects on Canadians, refuses to disclose the nature of its access to personal information held by Canadian telecommuncations corporations, illegally collected data in Canadian airports by data mining the activity of travellers, admits that it "incidentally" spies on Canadians, even though that is not part of its mandate, worked diligently with the U.S. National Security Agency to eliminate data encryption protections, and "accidentally" shared tons of personal data on Canadians with other intelligence agencies for years.

In keeping with state security practice, the report is based on carefully crafted scare tactics that present numbers appearing far higher than they actually are. For example, we learn that 13 per cent of national elections held around the world this year had been allegedly targeted for cyber interference (which CSEC bases not on its own research, but on newspaper articles). While that seems substantial, a little bit of research reveals how insignificant it actually is. As of the date of the report, there had been 34 elections (a number that also includes a series of referenda), which, at 13 per cent, means the real number of those allegedly affected was four. This is the kind of subterfuge that marks a report that proudly hails its adherence to accuracy, transparency and due diligence.

Nonetheless, for an organization that is constantly violating our personal privacy and sharing our communications with state security partners in the Five Eyes alliance, the report is a valuable propaganda tool with which it will seek to further increase its powers to control and monitor internet communications, all in the name of preserving democracy against malevolent actors.

Lost on all politicians and those making decisions about new legislation to grant CSEC unlimited powers to "preserve our democracy" is the fact that the report itself is built on three highly flawed assumptions.

The first assumption is that "elections are at the core of any democracy." No proof is provided to back up this claim about those billion-dollar advertising sprees, in which personalities, prefabricated sound bites and slogans, and utterly useless phrases ("He's got our back," "Help the middle class") become the normative discourse. The real core of a democracy is an engaged, educated, participatory citizenry that demands accountability and transparency. As historian Howard Zinn famously remarked, "Voting is easy and marginally useful, but it is a poor substitute for democracy, which requires direct action by concerned citizens." When these core direct action values actually are engaged, however, they immediately draw the interest of CSEC, CSIS, the RCMP, the War Dept., and others who spy on, infiltrate and attempt to disrupt such grassroots democratic processes.

Indeed, it was members of the Trilateral Commission, who, investigating how to take back power from the social movements of the 1960s and 1970s, famously wrote in The Crisis of Democracy that the dangers to "democracy" come "not primarily from external threats… but rather from the internal dynamics of democracy itself in a highly educated, mobilized and participant society...There are also potentially desirable limits to the indefinite extension of political democracy." In other words, governments and their corporate masters rely on a quiet, accepting population to enforce policies which benefit the rich few and exploit the many.

Since the 1970s, there has been a great effort on the part of many institutions concerned about maintaining and expanding corporate rule to celebrate and reward selfishness and apathy. The Trilateral Commission concludes, "The effective operation of a democratic political system usually requires some measure of apathy and non-involvement on the part of some individuals and groups." Of course, democracy for the rich and powerful looks very different than it does for the vast majority of the population. The fact that so few people vote is not a reflection of apathy, however; it in fact seems to symbolize the fact that political parties offer so little choice in the first place that most people shrug and conclude that all politicians are the same. As Simon and Garfunkel sang in the famous Mrs. Robinson verse about going to the candidates' debate: "Laugh about it, shout about it, when you've got to choose, any way you look at this you lose."

Flawed assumptions

Assumption two is that political parties and politicians "represent the interests of voters." An objective overview of the political party structure in Canada would indicate that the only parties that might actually speak to and act on the concerns of those most hurt by the cruel economic system that governs Canada are excluded from debates, marginalized as "fringe" parties by the media and other politicians, and subjected to state security surveillance and disruption. (Those with less than fond memories of the 2015 election may recall a certain "left-wing" party taking it as a matter of principle that balanced budgets would be a clarion call for the electorate.)

Assumption three is that "The media is where discourse between politicians and voters most often occurs." But the amount of media concentration in corporate hands makes any real discussion of issues outside of very narrow limits impossible. CSEC reminds us that we have the right to "freely engage, challenge and propagate ideas in public" and that freedom of the press is also protected, though this might come as a surprise to The Independent's Justin Brake and Vice Media's Ben Makuch, both Canadian journalists facing jail time for doing their jobs.

"For democracy to work, citizens need to trust that the process is fair, that politicians are not beholden to foreign or criminal interests, and that the media is not influenced by foreign or criminal interests attempting to sway voters and the outcome of the democratic process," CSEC declares.

Nowhere is there any indication that voter cynicism and mistrust of the electoral process might be inspired by the record of Canadian politicians themselves. Nowhere is there mention of Pierre Poutine, robocalls, corporate contributions, public relations firms, and standard electioneering techniques that have always marked Canadian elections, which are designed not to honour the will of a fully informed and engaged voting public, but rather to deceive people into supporting a particular image that they might feel comfortable with at the top of government.

Yet CSEC believes the glorious act of Canadian democracy is under threat from nefarious foreign actors. They refuse to accept that the system itself is the problem, and not any outside effort to influence it. Indeed, Trudeau came to power promising a proportional representation that would better reflect the final vote tally. But once ensconced with a majority, Trudeau has decided that keeping that majority takes precedence over people's desire for a slightly more representative system. You don't need Russian hackers to generate cynicism and mistrust within the populace; Trudeau does a great job on his own.

CSEC also warns gravely of cyber disinformation campaigns, yet what of the incessant disinformation (otherwise known as promises) that emanate from the mouths of politicians? One need only look at the daily barrage of propaganda coming out of the Trudeau team on issues ranging from climate change (they want to mitigate the scourge, but approve pipelines and energy megaprojects that exacerbate the problem); they speak of a new nation-to-nations relationship with Indigenous peoples while continuing to act in contempt of a Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruling that almost 600 days ago called on them to end racially discriminatory practices against 165,000 Indigenous children.

No transparency

The CSEC report relies to a great degree on what is calls "classified intelligence," and while on the one hand declares there is little to no threat, on the other, states that they will not "provide an exhaustive list of cyber capabilities, or the way that adversaries could deploy them, as the activities of Canada's cyber adversaries would take chapters to catalogue." But if the threats are so exhaustive and demanding of our attention, why are we asked to take their word for it, and why have Canadian media so pathetically parroted such statements without digging deeper?

While CSEC praises the importance of an open democracy, it also ignores the annual report of the Information Commissioner on the Access to Information Act, which again criticized Trudeau for backing away from promises of more information, not less, emanating from the halls of government. As the report states:

"In March 2017, the government announced its plans to delay the first phase of the Act's reform, citing the need to 'get it right.' Our investigations reveal, once again, that the Act is being used as a shield against transparency and is failing to meet its policy objective to foster accountability and trust in our government.

"Budget 2017 contained no funding for transparency measures and, sadly, there is no direction from the head of the public service regarding transparency, likely meaning there will be minimal impact on the culture of secrecy within the public service. To top it off, institutional performance in relation to compliance with the Act is showing signs of decline, while Canadians' demand for information increases."

Nor does CSEC have any qualms with new anti-democratic powers under the state security bill C-59, introduced this summer. Even the government's own internal analysis of the bill notes that:

"Considering the information about individuals that can be aggregated, and the things that can be learned from such aggregations using modern technologies and then offered for sale by data-brokers, CSEC's acquisition and use of such information ... has the potential to affect privacy interests protected by section 8 of the Charter."

As fall discussions begin about new legislation that further inhibits the rights of all people in this land, the Trudeau regime and his fawning media gallery can be relied upon to point south and hint that Trump-like actors may be produced in Canada if we don't give the spies everything they want. To succumb to such disinformation would be the true threat to democracy.

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.

Photo: Eshko Timiou/Wikimedia Commons

Like this article? rabble is reader-supported journalism. Chip in to keep stories like these coming.

CSECTrudeau governmentJustin Trudeau's promisesprivacy rightsmass surveillancesecurity agenciescanadian democracyMatthew BehrensSeptember 7, 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 continues Harper assault on human rights Those still intoxicated by the dream of a world without Harper don't want the fresh perfume of Trudeaumania to be erased by the cold facts of reality. But it's time to acknowledge some hard truths.Trudeau's bombing carries on Canada's 25-year war against IraqFor 25 years, the Iraqi people have served as a convenient geopolitical punching bag. Justin Trudeau is proving no different, waging an air war against Iraq with 47 air strikes since last October.

B.C. is revamping its human rights system. How can it ensure justice is served?

7 September 2017 - 10:12am
Civil Liberties Watch

In August, the new B.C. government took an important step: it decided to reinstate the B.C. Human Rights Commission, dismantled by the long-governing Liberals 15 years ago. This was not the first time that B.C.'s governments have taken a run at the human rights system. This year's NDP announcement mirrors its restoration of the Commission in the 1990s after it was previously abolished by the Liberals in the Social Credit Action of 1983

And good on the NDP for their persistence! Human Rights Commissions across the country play an important public advocacy role. They keep a watchful eye on larger system-wide problems -- the myriad ways in which groups of people who are protected under provincial human rights legislation can be discriminated against. In Ontario, the Commission has been responsible for engaging in public consultations and preparing policies that help guide our society towards a fairer, less discriminatory society for people who have faced marginalization historically and still do today.

These policies are invaluable guidance in particular to those charged with guarding against discrimination under Ontario's human rights legislation -- housing providers, employers, contracting parties, service providers, and vocational associations. On nearly a daily basis, at Iler Campbell we are consulted by housing providers in particular on how they can best meet their obligations under Ontario's Human Rights Code by providing assistance to a tenant or co-op member to accommodate a physical or mental health disability. The key to the answer to these questions often lies in the Commission's Policy on Human Rights and Rental Housing or one of its other valuable publications. 

The Ontario Commission's role is separate from the role played by the Human Rights Tribunal, which decides whether individuals have experienced discrimination or harassment because of their personal characteristics -- called "grounds" -- on a complaints-driven basis. When tribunals decide that there has been discrimination or harassment, they order the responsible party to pay monetary damages to the victim to compensate them for, among other things, the injury to dignity that we as a society have decided is not acceptable. 

But this was not always the case. Before Ontario reformed its system in 2008 into a direct access one, the Commission had two roles: the proactive, public advocacy and education role that it still has; and a second reactive role. It received and investigated individual complaints of potential Human Rights Code violations and forwarded those it determined had merit to the Tribunal for adjudication. Litigation is a drain on resources for complainants, the ones accused of discrimination, and adjudicative bodies alike. Before 2002 in B.C. and 2008 in Ontario, their Commissions' gatekeeper function ensured that valuable adjudicative resources were spent hearing those cases where breaches were most likely, and that the cases considered were those bested suited for the formal adversarial environment of the Tribunal. 

Before 2002, the B.C. Commission sent only about 15 per cent of complaints to the Tribunal for a hearing, according to the Times Colonist. In Ontario, the pre-2008 figure was much lower still -- 5-7 per cent -- as reported by Cornish, Faraday and Pickel in their 2009 book, Enforcing Human Rights in Ontario.  Under "direct access," any person who feels that they had been discriminated against, harassed, or reprised against on the basis of any protected ground in any relationship covered by the Code, can apply directly to the Human Rights Tribunal for adjudication without the blessing of the Commission. 

The problem with the old system was that claims would sometimes languish for years in the Commission's investigative pipeline. By the time the Commission determined them worthy of adjudication, claimants and respondents alike were tired by the process, but more problematically, people had moved on, and evidence was less readily available, if at all. Not ideal for a proper hearing and determination of rights. Direct access to the Tribunal was intended to fix that.

We are now nine years into the direct access system in Ontario, and for many of our clients, it has been only a qualified success. Faster, yes. More accessible, probably. But a more proper use of resources resulting in more just outcomes? Likely not. While it is true that complainants (called applicants) have to provide a more detailed application now, with more facts and a clearer sense of their desired remedy, removing the gatekeeper means that all those cases that would have been  dismissed by the Commission now require respondents to take expensive and time-consuming steps to deal with -- and that includes those claims with no merit whatsoever. For our clients, largely non‑profits, charities and co‑ops, these steps require counsel and despite our best efforts to contain costs, they redirect valuable third-sector resources from important community-building or other progressive activities. 

In 2012, Ontario's Ministry of the Attorney General released its report on the first three years of the direct access system. Its author, Andrew Pinto, a well‑known human rights lawyer in Toronto, addressed the issue of screening claims in the report. He noted the differences between the B.C. and Ontario systems: where the B.C. legislation allows its Tribunal to dismiss all or part of a claim at any time after it's filed, with or without a hearing under specified circumstances, Ontario's is more restrictive. The Code requires that before any claim is dismissed, an applicant is entitled to an oral hearing. Recognizing the potential for abuse, just two years into the new system, the Tribunal introduced a new process to allow respondents, or the Tribunal on its own, to schedule a hearing to determine whether a claim should be dismissed because it has "no reasonable prospect of success."  These summary hearings, however, are expensive to request and to prepare for, and the Tribunal has adopted a practice of allowing them to proceed only after mediation has failed, adding considerably to representation costs.  

More troubling still, is that, in our experience, it is increasingly common for housing co-op members to use the Code to resolve community disputes or situations where they feel aggrieved for reasons unrelated to Code grounds. Ours is a narrow focus, but I fear that the same is true for other sectors. I am confident that most people would not be reduced to this kind of abuse of important protections for our least advantaged members of society. But among some bad apples, the word is out that without a gatekeeper, it's likely that a claim will get as far as mediation and that claimants may walk away with some bucks and the satisfaction of knowing that their beef has gained the full attention of  the respondent they have named. The cost, however, is considerable both for the respondent and for the Tribunal itself. There are no cost consequences to claimants, even when they choose to withdraw their application part‑way through the process, as recently happened with one of our clients. That is, they are not responsible for any of the legal costs associated with their wild goose chase.

We wait now to see how B.C. will revamp its system and in particular, what role it will give its Commission, drawing, I'm sure, on its own prior experience and those from other provinces, including Ontario. Of paramount importance, I hope, will be directing resources to ensuring justice. We look forward to Ontario one day tweaking its system to better achieve the same goal.

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.

Photo: Angie Torres/flickr

Like this article? rabble is reader-supported journalism.

pro bonoBC human rights tribunalhuman rightsHuman Rights Commissionshuman rights complaintsontario human rights tribunalPro BonoCelia ChandlerSeptember 7, 2017Access to justice crisis: 15 years too long to wait for solutionsThe Canadian Bar Association has set targets for 2030 to equalize access to civil justice, but that's a long wait for large‑scale system change and to address the significant negative consequences.There's no shortage of issues a human rights commission could tackle in B.C.Without a Commission, B.C. has no public institution that can take steps to prevent discrimination, educate the public, initiate inquiries on systemic issues, and promote human rights compliance.Bill C-16 introduces transgender protections but keeps Harper's damaging human rights legacyProtection of transgender rights is long overdue. But does Bill C-16 go far enough in undoing the Harper government's damage to equality rights in Canada?

Changing the landscape of education

7 September 2017 - 8:45am
September 7, 2017Pushing up the sidewalk: Creative ways of teaching in a regimented systemHow well are our students being prepared to solve the world's problems? Three teachers share their perspectives.

Race relations, civil rights and the Rat Pack

6 September 2017 - 7:22pm
David PeckSeptember 8, 2017face2faceAnti-RacismArts & CultureUS Politics

Sam and Face2Face host David Peck talk about his new film premiering at TIFF, race relations in America, courage and why Sammy Davis Junior was the greatest entertainer of the 20th century. 

Sam Pollard is an accomplished feature film and television video editor, and documentary producer/director whose work spans almost 30 years. His first assignment as a documentary producer came in 1989 for Henry Hampton's Blackside production Eyes On The Prize II: America at the Racial Crossroads. For one of his episodes in this series, he received an Emmy. Eight years later, he returned to Blackside as co-executive producer/producer of Hampton’s last documentary series, I'll Make Me A World: Stories of African-American Artists and Community. For the series, Pollard received a Peabody Award.

Between 1990 and 2010, Pollard edited a number of Spike Lee’s films: Mo' Better Blues, Jungle Fever, Girl 6, Clockers and Bamboozled. Pollard and Lee also co-produced a number of documentary productions for the small and big screen: Spike Lee Presents Mike Tyson, a biographical sketch for HBO for which Pollard received an Emmy; Four Little Girls, a feature-length documentary about the 1963 Birmingham church bombings that was nominated for an Academy Award; and When The Levees Broke, a four-part documentary that won numerous awards, including a Peabody and three Emmy Awards. Five years later, he co-produced and supervised the edit on the follow up to Levees, If God Is Willing And Da Creek Don’t Rise.

Since 2012, Pollard has produced and directed Slavery By Another Name (2012), a 90-minute documentary for PBS that was in competition at the Sundance Film Festival; August Wilson: The Ground On Which I Stand (2015), a 90-minute documentary for American Masters; Two Trains Runnin, (2016), a feature-length documentary that premiered at the Full Frame Film Festival; and The Talk: Race in America (2017) for PBS.

Sammy Davis, Jr.: I've Gotta Be Me is the first major film documentary to examine Davis's vast talent and his journey for identity through the shifting tides of civil rights and racial progress during 20th-century America. Sammy Davis, Jr. had the kind of career that was indisputably legendary, so vast and multifaceted that it was dizzying in its scope and scale. And yet, his life was complex, complicated and contradictory. 

Davis strove to achieve the American Dream in a time of racial prejudice and shifting political territory. He was the veteran of increasingly outdated show business traditions trying to stay relevant; he frequently found himself bracketed by the bigotry of white America and the distaste of Black America; he was the most public Black figure to embrace Judaism, thereby yoking his identity to another persecuted minority. 

Featuring new interviews with such luminaries as Billy Crystal, Norman Lear, Jerry Lewis, Whoopi Goldberg and Kim Novak, with never-before-seen photographs from Davis's vast personal collection and excerpts from his electric performances in television, film and concert, Sammy Davis, Jr.: I've Gotta Be Me explores the life and art of a uniquely gifted entertainer whose trajectory blazed across the major flashpoints of American society from the Depression through the 1980s.


For more information about David Peck's podcasting, writing and public speaking please visit his site here or check out the site of his podcast on film, social change and much more.

With thanks to producer Josh Snethlage and Mixed Media Sound.

Image Copyright: Sam Pollard and Thirteen Productions. Used with permission.

Like this podcast? rabble is reader/listener supported journalism.

civil rightscivil rights movementEntertainmentsammy davis jrsam pollardToronto International Film Festival

Why Quebec's Bill 62 is wrong: An alternative view on the niqab debate

6 September 2017 - 12:44pm
Chris Watson

Last week, my friend Tom Parkin published on rabble a very well articulated essay about the current debate within the NDP leadership race over how New Democrats should respond to Quebec's Bill 62 and its proposal to bar some women in the Muslim community from giving or receiving public services.

Among the four leadership candidates, Guy Caron, and for at least a day or so, Niki Ashton, have spoken to this issue, saying that what is critical is that New Democrats respect Quebec's right to pass this law even if we don't like it. This must be the NDP response, they argue, because of our commitment as a party to the Sherbrooke Declaration and to asymmetrical federalism in Canada. 

Ashton appears to now be distancing herself from her original response to the issue, but Caron, and now Parkin, go to some lengths to argue that while the rest of Canada may not fully appreciate it, Bill 62 is about expressing Quebec's historic and progressive commitment to secularism in the public sphere.

And finally, it also looks pretty much like all those within the party who are taking this view see it as the touchstone of one's recognition of the strategic importance of Quebec support to any future hope of the NDP ever regaining its 2011 glory or some day forming a government in Canada at the federal level.

I would like to offer an alternative view. 

But before I get there, I worry that some well-intentioned readers will dismiss what I am going to argue by thinking: Chris Watson is just old school and doesn't understand the importance of Quebec to the NDP long-term strategic mission. Actually, I believe strongly that support in Quebec is a strategic necessity to any hope of the NDP ever forming a federal government. And, I have long held that view even at the expense of being politely chastised by then leader Alexa McDonough who asked me to stop wasting the party's money by investing it in Quebec. I was also, in late 2004, among those who led the opposition to a proposal made by some members of caucus and senior political staff, including Ed Broadbent and some of Jack Layton's most senior advisers, that we should cancel the planned 2006 NDP federal convention in Quebec City and move it to a location in English Canada. But I digress.

Today, the only appropriate, and indeed, critically necessary, response by the NDP to Bill 62, should be to say it is wrong, on principle, and should not be passed in any form, despite anyone's interpretation of the Sherbrooke Declaration, or the fact that it may be supported by many Quebec progressives.

Ask yourself: what is it that's really on the line? What's really at stake in this debate? Is it primarily Quebec's commitment to secularism and our party's commitment to asymmetrical federalism?

I think not.

I believe what is really at stake is Quebec and Canada's and the NDP's commitment to the equality and dignity of persons and the freedom of expression, freedom of association and freedom of religion. 

I am not a religious person myself, but I know I don't want to live in a society where, were I to become one, I might risk persecution and ostracization by the state for doing so.

To suggest that Quebec's secularism is more threatened by a tiny handful of women who choose to practice their faith, than it is by, let's say, the huge crucifix that hangs over the Speaker's chair in the National Assembly, would be laughable were it not so pathetic.  

Is it not tragically ironic, not to mention hypocritical, that in the name of secularism we're being asked to deny civil rights on the basis of religion?

Guy Caron tells us that because our party has adopted the Sherbrooke Declaration and its inherent commitment to asymmetrical federalism, we are obligated to respect Quebec's right to pass this legislation and, I think he believes that because Bill 62 is motivated by secularism, it is not objectively a racist and discriminatory bill, not as bad as it might otherwise be.

I disagree. If someone is, by law, denied public services because they practice their religion, does it make it less wrong because the law was motivated by secularism rather than hatred? Does the motivation really even matter?

The Sherbrooke Declaration and, accordingly, the NDP's understanding of asymmetrical federalism, are very clear. (And I agree with both.) Quebec has the right to pass its own unique legislation in areas of provincial jurisdiction. Caron himself has said as much, acknowledging that Quebec would not be allowed, for example, to pass legislation to restore the death penalty.  In this case, I believe that Caron and others are resting their case on a superficial and somewhat convenient interpretation that Bill 62 is a law about how to deliver and receive public services within Quebec and therefore falls under provincial jurisdiction.

But let's be frank. This law is not really about public services. It is about using state authority to prevent some members of society, a small, mostly non-white, religious minority, from practising their religion in a way that some others find strange, threatening or even offensive. Some go so far as to suggest Bill 62 does a favour to those women who, on their own, are supposedly unwilling or incapable of standing up to the men in their community who make them wear the niqab against their will. Really? Does the fact that some people cannot understand why a person would choose to wear a niqab make this the only plausible explanation?    

Many point to the "progressive" motivation of those who support Bill 62. I am prepared to accept that these voices are not driven by racism but by what they believe is a necessarily vigorous attachment to secularism. But so what? As V.I. Lenin so aptly wrote decades ago, "the road to hell is paved with good intentions," and Bill 62 is a case in point. 

What matters is not the emotional or political feelings that drive this initiative. What matters is a sober-minded assessment of its actual impact on individuals and on the character of the society in which we live.

Looked at that way, it should be inescapable that what Bill 62 amounts to is the imposition of a race- and religious-based standard to apportion social entitlements. And, if that is so, surely it becomes quite appropriate to label it as objectively racist and unacceptable by Quebec or any other province, at any time, anywhere in Canada.   

Sometimes, it helps all of us find our way through a tricky political terrain if we situate the question at hand in a larger political context. If we do that with Bill 62, we will situate it in a Quebec that has, in just the last eight months, seen violent murders and car bombings of innocent persons for the crime of being Muslim. In the bigger picture, we'll situate it in a world in which Marine Le Pen, Geert Wilders, Donald Trump and others are championing xenophobia and racism and trying to set one part of society practically at war with the other.  

In that light, how can New Democrats think for a moment that what is most important in this debate is defending the right to pass anti-human rights legislation. Let's all give our heads a shake, rise to the occasion and do what's morally right and what humanity demands of us. And let's refuse to accept a false dichotomy whereby we can choose equality and human rights or asymmetrical federalism, but not both.

Chris Watson was NDP National Director from 2002 to 2004, working under leaders Alexa McDonough and Jack Layton. He is now on staff with the Canadian Union of Public Employees and does their government relations work in Ontario.

Like this article? Please chip in to keep stories like these coming.

Israel's war of textbooks comes to Canada

6 September 2017 - 8:54am
September 6, 2017Israel's war of textbooks comes to CanadaIsrael's school textbooks have the same and sometimes worse problems than Palestinian school textbooks.

WATCH: Putting profits before safety at Pearson airport

6 September 2017 - 8:42am
YouTubeHumberto DaSilvaLabourSeptember 6, 2017Best-of-the-net

Teamsters Local 419 has been on strike for over a month. The employer, Swissport, is an airport ground handling multinational. Swissport is using barely trained replacement workers with perfunctory security clearances to scab the work. There are daily incidents of safety and security violations. What will it take for the Airport Authority to put the safety of the travelling public before the profits of a multinational corporation?

Chip in to keep stories like these coming.

swissportbaggage handlersToronto airport workersstrikeairport grounds crew

B'nai Brith's shameful attack on Niki Ashton

5 September 2017 - 5:09pm
Yves Engler

B'nai Brith claim to speak for Jews in general, but in reality defend Israel no matter what that country does.

The group's recent attack against NDP leadership candidate Niki Ashton was a brazen attempt to use the decimation of European Jewry to protect Israel from criticism and follows a formula used so often most now see its hypocrisy.

Last May the self-declared human rights organization slammed the NDP leadership contender for "Standing in 'Solidarity' with Terrorists" because Ashton attended a rally for Palestinian prisoners on a hunger strike where someone had a photo of an individual B'nai Brith calls a terrorist. But, that attack failed when Ashton refused to back down and actually became more forceful in her support of the Palestinian cause.

Since then Ashton has sent out emails to join the party to elect "a leader that will stand up for Palestinian human rights" and demanded an end to the "occupation of Palestinian lands," blockade of Gaza and "abuse of Palestinians' human rights." She called for an outright ban on goods produced in illegal Israeli settlements and expressed some support for the broader Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. Ashton told Jacobin that "many inspiring activists across the country are doing great work on this front, decrying human rights abuses, decrying injustices, and putting forward a plan for change, including through the BDS movement. The NDP needs to be a strong voice in support of the work that so many activists are doing."

In response to an Independent Jewish Voices/Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East questionnaire to the four NDP leadership candidates she said:

"I support the important work of civil society in pursuing justice through non-violent means, including calls for boycotts and divestment. Similar tactics were used effectively against apartheid South Africa in the 1980s, and BDS today can play a constructive role by encouraging a just resolution. It is the role of governments to respond to pressure from civil society and to be a force for positive change. In 1986, Former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney responded to social movements by implementing sanctions against South Africa, and we face a similar ethical and moral responsibility to listen to those who are struggling for peace and justice."

"Like any other country, sanctions against Israel should be considered when it consistently fails to meet international law and obligations, particularly in relation to the occupation which has denied rights to the Palestinian people for half a century. I support looking into targeted sanctions to put strategic pressure on the Israeli government."

Ashton’s increasingly strident statements in support of the Palestinian cause obviously angered B'nai Brith. But, they kept quiet for three months, perhaps hoping they could find something worse than "terrorism" to connect her to. Having failed to deter Ashton from expressing support for the Palestinian cause by associating her with "terrorists," B'nai Brith brought the Holocaust into the race. At the end of last month they put out a press release headlined: "NDP Leadership Candidate Endorsed by Holocaust-Denying Community Leader." Ashton's supposed transgression was having her picture taken with Nazih Khatatba at a campaign event in Toronto. B'nai Brith accuses Khatatba of defending armed Palestinian resistance and "engaging in Holocaust denial."

The evidence presented of Khatatba's Holocaust denial is a 15-second interview he gave at an event commemorating the Nakba (Palestinian catastrophe) last year. (In response to B'nai Brith's press release, Khatatba posted on Facebook, "I recognize the genocide of more than six million Jews in the Nazi Holocaust. What I did say in the interview was that there were Jewish groups who experienced massacres in Europe and then went to the Middle East and perpetrated massacres there.")

Presuming B'nai Brith's translation is accurate and that relevant context wasn't omitted from the video they produced of the interview, Khatatba's comments were definitely historically inaccurate. The ethnic cleansing of 750,000 Palestinians in 1947-48, displacement of another 300,000 in 1967, the half-century illegal occupation of the West Bank, repeated assaults on Gaza, etc. are an immense injustice. Still, they don't equal what the Nazis did to European Jewry.

Of course it's not uncommon for social justice activists to make hyperbolic or historically inaccurate claims in their zeal to advance a cause. But, they are rarely accused of sinister intentions for doing so.

As I detail here, B'nai Brith has accepted or promoted more significant distortions of Jewish suffering when it served Israel's aims. The group aggressively backed the pro-Israel Stephen Harper regime despite government officials repeatedly minimizing the Nazi Holocaust. In 2009 Immigration and Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney said "Israel Apartheid Days on university campuses like York sometimes begin to resemble pogroms," and told a European audience that pro-Palestinian activism spurred anti-Jewish activities "even more dangerous than the old European anti-Semitism." Similarly, in May 2008 Canwest reported: "Some of the criticism brewing in Canada against the state of Israel, including from some members of Parliament, is similar to the attitude of Nazi Germany in the Second World War, Prime Minister Stephen Harper warned."

In a backdoor way B'nai Brith's reaction to Khatatba's historically inaccurate comments explain them. When Zionists repeatedly use 70-year-old Jewish suffering in Europe to justify their ongoing oppression of Palestinians is it any wonder some Palestinians seek to minimize Nazi crimes against Jews?

The attack on Niki Ashton is a stark example of the "Holocaust Industry" Norman Finkelstein outlined 15 years ago. B'nai B'rith should be ashamed.

Image: Facebook/Edmonton Strathcona Federal NDP

Chip in to keep stories like these coming.

Challenging the corporate propaganda machine

5 September 2017 - 8:46am
September 5, 2017How can we fight corporate propaganda?The social, environmental, and financial excesses of the corporate elite are becoming more obvious all the time, making it easier to expose their antics and fight back.

Labour Day message: unions are good

4 September 2017 - 1:13pm
September 4, 2017LabourLabour Day message, unions are goodIt’s Labour Day this week and the message is that unions are good for individuals, for communities and for society at large.Labour D

Labour Day message, unions are good

4 September 2017 - 9:48am
Dennis Gruending

I first joined a union when I was nineteen years old. On my first day out of school for the summer, I traveled in my old Chevrolet to one of the potash mines under construction near Saskatoon. The man at the entrance gate told me that if I wanted to work there I would have to join one of the unions. I drove into the city, borrowed some money from my aunt, and went to the union hall to sign up. I was soon a member of the Construction and General Workers Union and working at the mine as a carpenter’s helper.

In the many years since, I have belonged to half a dozen unions and staff associations, including some now called by new names, such the United Food and Commercial Workers, Unifor, and the Canadian Media Guild. I was always pleased to have a union to negotiate salary and working conditions on my behalf with an employer who was more powerful than I was as an individual. That allowed me to concentrate on the work at hand and that was fine with me. In my last job, before I retreated to my study, I worked for the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC), this country’s union central.

Good for communities 

While I was there the CLC’s researchers found that unionized workers earned more per hour than non-unionized workers, if only by a modest amount, and that was true in every province and territory. Being in a union was especially important for women and younger workers, who earned more than workers in non-unionized workplaces. It didn’t end there. Many of the benefits first achieved by unions for their members now apply to many other workers as well, including workplace safety standards, parental leaves, vacation pay and protection from discrimination and harassment.

But it’s not all about the individual workers. Unions are good for communities too because members spend their pay cheques at home. Cities and towns with more union members support a richer mix of businesses and services – everything from dentists to daycare. These services benefit everyone in the community.

Societal impact

Unions have a broader societal impact as well. They and their members were long-time advocates for Medicare, which was achieved in the 1960s. They were instrumental in pushing for the Canada Pension Plan and in recent improvements to it, which benefits every retired Canadian – whether or not they ever belonged to a union. For Labour Day in 2017 unions are launching a campaign calling for universal prescription drug coverage for all Canadians. Pharmaceuticals are the fastest growing cost component in health care, and the CLC says that 3.5 million Canadians can’t afford to fill their prescriptions.

All too often the image of unionized men and women is framed by a small, but influential group of corporate lobbyists. They claim that unions are greedy on behalf of their members and that they are always on strike. In fact, we are not talking about CEO-type salaries here but simply about living wages that will support families and communities. And strikes are rare. I was never once on strike in the 45 year span during which I belonged to one union or another – although I have walked the picket lines with people who felt that they had no alternative but to withdraw their labour.

Popes for unions 

It was more than 100 years ago that Pope Leo XIII issued a teaching document called an encyclical supporting the right of workers to create unions to protect their interests. The pope was shocked by the hardships and abuses spawned by the industrial revolution. Among the abuses today are those accompanying globalization, which has fostered an assault on wages, benefits and working conditions, along with environmental degradation  on a global scale.

The Atlantic, a U.S.-based magazine, recently published an article about the value of unions. The magazine was reacting to the populist anger which Donald Trump was able to marshal among disgruntled workers. Many of them once belonged to unions, but now only a small percentage do.  Those workers are now isolated and atomized and thus more susceptible to demagogic manipulation. “When unions work as they should, they serve important social functions,” says the article in The Atlantic. “[Unions] can smooth the jagged edges of globalization by giving workers bargaining power . . . Perhaps most important, they offer workers a way to be heard.”

I no longer belong to a union but I am proud to have done so.  Canada’s workers can walk with their heads up on Labour Day.

Celebrating a different kind of Labour Day in Alberta -- one with something to celebrate!

4 September 2017 - 2:07am
David J. Climenhaga

Today is Labour Day, which in recent years has become a traditional season for attacks on the rights of working people, in particular their right to bargain collectively.

These most often take two forms:

The most common is publication of misleading analyses of the supposed harmful impacts of laws that protect working people's rights, produced by market-fundamentalist think tanks and reprinted uncritically by mainstream media, often with accompanying news stories and supportive screeds by reliably conservative staff columnists.

Some of these will probably appear today in your local daily newspaper, assuming, of course, that it still has a Monday edition.

The second is in the form of calls by so-called conservative politicians -- who are in fact neoliberal politicians, a term the meaning of which we can all now agree upon -- for laws that restrict the rights of working people, especially their right to bargain collectively.

This is likely to be especially true in a year like the one we are now living through, in which here in Alberta various neoliberal politicians are competing to lead a conservative political party, in this case a United Conservative Party.

In the past, I have characterized this blitz of vilification of unions and the important work they do in society as a kind of 48-hour hate, truly Orwellian in the use of terminology meant to convey the perfect opposite of what the words mean on their face.

Still, as it happens, the news is not particularly bad in Alberta in 2017, owing to the presence of a New Democratic Party government in office, however tenuously.

As Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, wrote in a rare pro-labour opinion piece in the Edmonton Journal Saturday, recent changes to the Alberta Labour Code have made it "a little easier" for working people in this province "to exercise their constitutional right to join a union and bargain collectively with their employers."

The emphasis should be on the words a little easier. Because the changes introduced into law by the government of Premier Rachel Notley three months ago are pretty tame, and do not go as far as they could to protect the fundamental right of working people to associate and bargain collectively.

Just the same, passage of the Fair and Family-friendly Workplaces Act at 2 a.m. on June 6 was significant, if only because it finally dragged Alberta labour law into the 20th Century -- only 17 years into the 21st!

The act brought common practices in other provinces that have worked well for decades into use in Alberta, where labour-relations laws had come to be the most backward in the country under successive Progressive Conservative governments.

Changes brought forward by Labour Minister Christina Gray included introduction of first-collective-agreement compulsory arbitration, a mechanism for requiring employers to negotiate in good faith with newly unionized employees seeking a first contract, and a provision that means a secret-ballot vote will not be required if at least 65 per cent of the employees in a workplace verify their membership in a union.

The changes to legal protections provided by the province for non-union workers were more ambitions -- which is not a defence of past Conservative governments, but recognition of how far behind the legal rights of non-union workers in Alberta had fallen.

These included an extra week of job protection for maternity leave, to 16 weeks, protected leave for parents to look after sick children, and new requirements to ensure employees are compensated when they work overtime.

Despite the dire predictions and screeches of protest from business owners’ collective organizations and conservative politicians, there was little in the bill that corporations and conservative parties aren’t already living with quite comfortably in most Canadian provinces.

As McGowan reminded us in his op-ed, "The people who light their hair on fire about unions are the same ones who said tax cuts for the rich would bring prosperity for everyone (instead, they brought rising inequality); that budget cuts could end recessions (instead, they ended up making them worse) and that de-regulation would strengthen the economy (instead, it brought us things like the global financial crisis of 2008)."

Elsewhere things are not so good. The march of "right to work" laws and other right-wing economic nostrums continues across the United States, while President Donald Trump enacts measures in the name of American workers that in reality are meant to help only American billionaires.

Here in Alberta, conservative politicians vow to deliver the same Trumpian policies if they return to power -- including eliminating most or all of the baby steps toward mainstream labour laws taken by the NDP.

Well, that's a topic for another day.

This morning at 11:30, trade unionists from throughout the Edmonton area will gather for the 28th year to serve burgers to anyone who needs a meal at Giovanni Caboto Park. The Edmonton and District Labour Council's annual Labour Day BBQ, part of the union movement’s strong charitable tradition, is an activity that would be made illegal under the unconstitutional laws proposed by some conservatives.

Similar events will be happening in cities across Alberta and Canada.

Albertans can be proud we have taken small steps forward for all working people, including those without the benefit of a union to protect them. Come what may, we can protect those modest gains, at the ballot box, in the courts and in our workplaces.

We can be grateful too that Canada's courts remain committed to the rights of working people, as for the most part does Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's Liberal federal government, even if UCP politicians in Alberta want to turn back the clock to the 19th Century.

So this Alberta Labour Day is different -- we have something to celebrate. And that’s something to celebrate!

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

Join me for a win on Labour Day

1 September 2017 - 10:10pm
Barb Byers

Dear rabble visitors:

On this Labour Day I wish you all the chance to be an activist in your organizations and your communities. I wish everyone the passion and the opportunity to create greater democracy in our communities and in our country. For decades I had the privilege of being active in the labour movement and I know the importance of sharing the stories of communities struggling for justice. I know the importance of countering corporate media -- the same media that for years cheered on Harper's agenda and now remains shockingly uncritical of Trudeau’s many neoliberal policies. I know the importance of rabble.ca. 

Will you join me in supporting rabble.ca and keeping this crucial news site going and growing?

For over 15 years I have been visiting (and giving a monthly donation to ) rabble.ca, "news for the rest of us." I love that rabble covers labour news (and not just "business" news). I love that rabble has been a loud voice for women's rights (and as an organization, has always been led by women).  I love that rabble puts Indigenous struggles front and centre. I love that rabble is community supported, that it is my fellow activists and organizers and community workers who keep it going.

All activists know that it takes many, many people doing many things to effect change. Make no mistake, we need to be active to have a progressive independent media and we need that progressive independent media to build a more just democracy. I'm asking you to do a fairly simple act. Chip in what you can to rabble.ca. A modest monthly donation from you and others who care about social justice will have a big effect. Then I'm asking you to ask one other person you know to support rabble.

If we all do our part (and ALL donation levels are welcome), we win. We win against those interests who want to see progressive voices shut down. We win the opportunity to fight against the disinformation we hear too much of in daily news cycle. We win a platform for social justice.

Please go to rabble.ca/donate right now and make it happen.

In Solidarity,

Barb Byers

Why little strikes matter

1 September 2017 - 10:18am
September 1, 2017Job action at Pearson Airport shows why little strikes matter700 workers at Toronto Pearson International Airport have been on strike since July 27th. This little strike has larger ramifications for airport industrial relations and its 50,000 workers.

Hundreds of Londoners turn out for anti-racist protest

30 August 2017 - 10:21am
August 30, 2017Anti-RacismHundreds of Londoners turn out for anti-racist protestLondon police estimate that some 500 counter protesters turned out to protest a rally organized by white supremacists, Islamophobes and other hate groups who were vastly outnumbered.stophatecaON

Mental health-care facility didn’t do enough to protect injured worker: unions

30 August 2017 - 10:08am
Meagan Gillmore

A fine levied to an Ontario mental health-care centre after a nurse was critically stabbed by a patient in 2014 has drawn sharp criticism from unions representing health-care providers.

The Royal Ottawa Health Care Group was ordered to pay $75,000, plus a 25 per cent victim surcharge that will be put in a government fund to assist crime victims, for violating the provincial Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHS). The sentence was handed down on Aug. 16.

Justice Richard T. Knott of the Ontario Court of Justice found that the Royal Ottawa did not properly reassess the risk of workplace violence as often as needed to protect workers from violence in the workplace, as required by the OHS. The Royal Ottawa faced five charges under the OHS, but was acquitted of the other four in April.

The charges relate to an Oct. 10, 2014 incident at Brockville Mental Health Centre, a specialized mental-health facility. Patient Marlene Carter stabbed a nurse with a pen after the nurse took her to the bathroom. The nurse was sent to hospital with critical injuries. She recovered and returned to work. She has recently retired.

Carter had assaulted many nurses since she'd arrived at the centre from a Saskatoon federal correctional facility in August 2014. She returned to Saskatoon in April 2016, and is again in a correctional facility, a statement the Royal Ottawa issued about the incident says.

The employer needed to do more to protect workers' safety, said Vicki McKenna, vice-president of the Ontario Nurses’ Association. It was "ridiculous" that the employer chose to spend thousands of dollars fighting the case in the courts instead of putting in place proper safety procedures, she said.

McKenna said employers need to provide better safety training to staff, and make sure there are enough staff to care for patients.

But the Centre says the fault lies with society's failure to care for inmates, especially women who have mental illnesses.

A.G. Ahmed, the forensic psychiatrist responsible for Carter's treatment, was not available for an interview before deadline. But in a statement released on Aug. 21, he defended the Centre. Carter came to Brockville in poor health, after spending two-and-a-half years in constraints, the statement says. The restraints, combined with time in solitary confinement, only compounded her complex mental illnesses, already worsened by a brain injury.

The statement describes Carter as a woman prone to violence and severe delusions that would cause her to hit her head against concrete until she bled. According to the statement, she believed seeing blood was the only way she could guarantee her children's safety.

Despite this, Carter was improving at the centre, the statement says. Carter was part of a pilot project where two beds would be dedicated to federal inmates. (The project has ended, news reports say.) Carter was being helped, despite inadequate funding and no unit dedicated to female inmates. Now that she’s not at the centre, Ahmed expressed concern that she won’t get the care she needs.

"We sent her back to the environment she came from," he said in the statement. "Every good thing she had here, the hope we had for her recovery, was taken away."

In January, Justice Knott said the centre had adequate safety procedures. According to the Brockville Recorder, staff were well-aware of Carter's history of violence behaviour, and that the centre’s policies were enough to protect workers, if they were used properly. But the judge said staff could have revisited Carter’s care plan more often.

No one can deny many of the centre’s patients have complex health needs, said McKenna, who said the justice system’s problems need to be fixed. But the centre and other employers need to take responsibility for their duties to protect their staff, and patients.

“At the end of the day, this organization is where this individual was at this point,” McKenna said.

"I agree that people need to be in appropriate settings, but if you do have an individual that is placed in your institution, then you do need to ensure the safety of your patients and the staff. That’s what didn’t happen."

The ONA was not the only union expressing disappointment with the decision. The Ontario Public Service Employees’ Union (OPSEU) called the fine "a slap on the wrist." In a statement released shortly after the sentencing, union president Smokey Thomas said the province needs to do more to protect workers in mental health-care facilities, warning that a lack of mandatory safety requirements in these centres puts workers at risk for injury, and possible death. Thomas is a member of the government’s Workplace Violence Prevention in Health Care Leadership Table.

Meagan Gillmore is rabble.ca’s labour reporter.

Image: Wikipedia

Like this article? Please chip in to keep stories like these coming.

Debate over monuments really a conflict over public space

29 August 2017 - 7:35am
August 29, 2017Ridding our public spaces of the architects of Canada’s genocideThis isn't really a struggle over monuments, it's a struggle over public space: does the public have a right to determine what is placed our public spaces?

Hundreds of Londoners turn out for counter protest

29 August 2017 - 7:08am
Meg Borthwick

Hundreds of anti-racist activists showed up at London's City Hall on Saturday for a highly organized counter protest. London police estimate that some 500 counter protesters turned out to protest a rally organized by white supremacists, Islamophobes and other hate groups who were vastly outnumbered.

Most notably, PEGIDA Canada came with signs and parade marshals dressed in paramilitary gear, earning the derision of anti-hate protesters. PEGIDA is an acronym for Patriots of Canada Against the Islamization of the West and has its origins with the German nationalist far right PEGIDA (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West).

Tensions ran high, with two arrests, but the rally was largely peaceful, despite provocation. One incident occurred when a white nationalist confronted a woman who was walking past him with an anti-hate banner. He began yelling at her to stop attacking him, no doubt hoping to get police involved in what was an orchestrated provocation against a peaceful protester. The woman was seen trying to get away from the nationalist, who refused to speak to rabble. In addition, when approached, a PEGIDA member in paramilitary gear also refused to speak to rabble and said his group had instructions to not converse with journalists. One anti-Islam pro-Israel protester did, however, agree to speak to rabble.

Mark Vandermaas, who is with the group Israel Truth Week, said “I'm very distressed that the mayor is dividing the city into non-whites vs whites, left vs right." This was in response to London Mayor Matt Brown's recent announcement that there was no room for white supremacists and other hate groups on city property. Vandermass sent an email to Brown and City Council stating, "it seems to me that you may be slandering many Canadians who share an honest and grave concern about the role of Islamic ideology in spreading hate and violence in the world."

As part of their mission, Israel Truth Week states that Jews are owners, not occupiers and that they are planning to train 10,000 Zionist freedom fighters to combat the "lie" of Israeli occupation of Palestinian land. Vandermaas referred to counter protesters as  "alt-left radicals" who have "committed numerous and serious assaults on innocent conservatives."

London District Labour Council president Patty Dalton begged to differ. "We are very concerned about the rise of racism, neo-nazism and fascism." Dalton goes on to say that many people place the origins of the rise in hate groups being connecting to the campaign and election of U.S. president Donald Trump. "We need to be sure to stand up and oppose hate. I'm just so thrilled to see so many people out in peaceful demonstration because as you know there have been many incidents of  tragic and violent events that have come about because of this rise." 

An important contribution to the peacefulness of the London event was careful planning and two de-escallation workshops conducted by Christian Peacekeeper Teams (CPT). CPT provided practical tools to activists to prevent violence and keep safe, both the night before the rally and the morning of. In addition, London anti-hate activists got together in the days before the rally to make signs, drums and noise makers.

A well-attended event, the anti-hate work party, held at London bookstore Bread and Roses, also helped build solidarity among the numerous groups attending Saturday's event. "I'm here to make drums and noise makers," said Roberta Cory, the chair of the Council of Canadians London chapter. "This is something we've really lacked in past protests. It's a lot of fun and of course we get some volume in our protests." 

Also attending the work party was Judith McRea, the daughter of immigrants from Burma (Myanmar). "After the Second World War my father and his family were refugees. You have these white supremacists coming out, saying 'Oh, these refugees are coming in and they're taking our jobs, and I can't sit back and do nothing. If I did, I might as well sit back and join them."

London activist and urban farmer Celeste Lemire explained why she was attending the anti-hate work party. "The alt-right ... no, I don't like that term 'alt-right'. The neo-nazis and racists and the bigots will be drowned out. I want them to  know that there are a lot more people against them than supporting them." Lemire sits on the steering committee of the Council of Canadians London chapter.

While there were a number of groups rallying, the issue most prominent was criticism of Islam, and positioning Islam as a violent and misogynist faith that was gradually "taking over." A woman attending the rally with her husband held a sign comparing violent quotes from the Qur'an to parts of the New Testament, neglecting the Old Testament, which is chock full of punitive violence. She withheld her name and when asked about the insignia on her and her husband's t-shirts said they were "just Christians." 

She said, "Muslim people do not like Christians and do not like Jews. I don't preach hate, but they do." She went on to say that "It's so nice when we go to Toronto. There are Muslim ladies there who have found Christ, and are so grateful that they don't have to wear head scarves and can go swimming in a bathing suit." A little jaw-dropping, but not unexpected. Still, the rally and counter protest were remarkably free of violence with the exception of two arrests.

One of those arrested was Bailey Lamon, a London activist and member of the Pirate Party of Canada. She was held by police for spitting in the face of an anti-Islam protester and was later released without charge. "PEGIDA organized this rally, your typical racist, Islamophobic types," she said about an hour before her arrest and detention. "A bunch of us are here to counter that with messages of love and unity and we're just here to tell the bigots that we won't tolerate hatred in this city."

Image: Mike Roy

Like this article? Please chip in to keep stories like these coming.

Canada should support Palestinian refugees

28 August 2017 - 8:48am
August 28, 2017Why should Canada support Palestinian refugees?There are strong historic and political reasons for Canadian aid to Palestinian refugees, despite what critics might say.

Small Canadian cities standing up to hate

25 August 2017 - 8:47am
August 25, 2017Two small cities talk about stopping hateMost of the coverage of demonstrations against white supremacy are from big cities. We hear from two small cities -- Barrie and London Ontario.