The Holocaust has nothing to do with abortion

12 April 2017 - 1:19pm
EducationFeminismFood & Health

 A video that compares abortion to the Holocaust was shown in March at a Catholic high school in Red Deer, Alberta, as part of a presentation by the anti-choice group Red Deer and Area Pro Life. Yes, that's right -- women who have abortions are equivalent to genocidal Nazis.

Not only is this comparison denigrating to women, it's a callous and thoughtless exploitation of the Holocaust. Frankly, it's anti-Semitic.

The presentation was recorded by a student during a mandatory Grade 10-12 religion class at the École Secondaire Notre Dame High School. The presenter moralized against abortion and said there's never a good reason for having one, and showed a three-minute video equating Hitler's Nazi Germany and its death camps with abortion -- "The Case Against Abortion, Personhood" -- from the U.S. extremist group Abort73. The video is amateurish, sensationalist, and filled with text (and typos) that make it unwatchable and incomprehensible. Who would think this was appropriate for high school students?

The student sent their recording of the presentation to Alberta's Minister of Education David Eggen, who said that, "Making an assertion between abortion and the Holocaust was quite fundamentally outrageous," and that Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools must investigate. However, a group called Accessing Information Not Myths (AIM) is calling for a province-wide investigation of Alberta's entire sex education curriculum. The Catholic schools are publicly funded after all, and must abide by provincial standards.

The Alberta education system seems to have a long-standing problem when it comes to teaching accurate, non-biased sex education. In 2014, an Alberta mother finally won a multi-year battle to stop the Edmonton School Board from allowing an anti-choice organization to teach sex education in public high schools, whose presentations included medical misinformation on the efficacy of contraception and a dismissal of the needs of LBGT students.

The recent presentation at the Red Deer Catholic School is an even worse repeat of a lesson not learned in Alberta. AIM founder Cristina Stasia said:

"The messaging in the video shown was irresponsible; it was medically inaccurate; it was theological. It was misinformation and it was myths. That's incredibly frustrating because there are resources that provide evidence-based information about abortion and reproductive rights, and none of that was shared with the students."

Previous record of propaganda

The anti-choice movement has been making the offensive claim for decades that abortion is analogous to the Nazi Holocaust. So I was surprised at the choice of videos in Red Deer, because there's at least two other films that try to make the case that Abortion equals Holocaust, and both are much more professionally done -- although equally offensive. One is the "180 Movie," which I had to stop watching after the first five minutes to save myself from throwing up. By all reports though, it's 33 minutes of pure anti-choice inflammatory ignorance. I trust the Anti-Defamation League, which called the film "cynical and perverse" and "one of the most offensive and outrageous abuses of the memory of the Holocaust we have seen in years." Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director and a Holocaust survivor, said:

"No Christian who understands Jewish suffering should resort to inappropriate comparisons to the Holocaust to send a message that abortion is wrong. This was one of the most painful chapters in human history. Must the memory of the 6 million and millions of other victims be continually misused and abused by those with another agenda?"

Another anti-choice propaganda film tries to make the same comparison. Called "Sing a Little Louder" and just 11 minutes long, I did manage to watch this one. The main scene is a cattle-car train filled with Jews on the way to a concentration camp, but the train inexplicably stops outside a Christian church where a service is taking place. Those on the train cry out in despair for help, while the churchgoers listen and do nothing. The priest and the congregation are uncomfortable but ignore the dreadful scene, singing louder to drown out the pitiful cries. When a child goes outside to look at the train, his mother hustles him back inside.

It immediately struck me that this is exactly what anti-choicers do -- they remain silent and turn away when women die from unsafe abortions, or when they are prosecuted and imprisoned for having abortions. At the end of the film, an image of a fetus is displayed without explanation. It made no sense. My main takeaway from the film is that those Jewish people in the cattle car had something in common with women who suffer and die from unsafe abortion -- both were victims of Christian or anti-choice obliviousness.

Illogical rationale for Holocaust analogy

It's illogical to use the genocide of Jews as a rationale to impose suffering and death onto women -- which is what happens when you restrict abortion. Anti-choicers are focused on fetuses, of course, which they think are equivalent in status to born people. In fact, fetuses are not people and cannot have human rights unless pregnant women don't.

The Holocaust is an unparalleled atrocity. It should not be compared to an unrelated ideological cause that seeks to impose forced childbearing (like Hitler did to "Aryan" women, by the way). The analogy is anti-Semitic because it takes advantage of and trivializes the suffering and deaths of real people whose killings were motivated by bigotry and hatred.

There is no plot by the world's women to commit genocide against fetuses. No pregnant person has an abortion because they're prejudiced against fetuses. This is true despite anti-choice laws in the U.S. that ban people of colour from having "race-selective" abortions on the assumption they will be racist against their own ethnicity.

Likewise, the analogy to the Holocaust implies that anti-choice proponents believe that women who have abortions are akin to Nazi murderers. They might claim that it's abortion providers who are guilty while women are blameless, but that means they assume women are coerced victims or incapable of making their own decisions, which is almost as insulting. The misconceptions of most anti-choicers reveal that they don't understand why women have abortions, an ignorance that is rooted in misogyny.

Peoples' reasons for abortion relate to the current circumstances of their lives, most commonly economic or partner issues or bad timing -- but almost all reasons boil down to the desire to be good parents to their existing or future children -- or not to be parents at all. Most women who have abortions already have children. The same person who has an abortion at one point in her life usually also has children at other times. The decision to have an abortion is an exercise of personal responsibility; it's about ensuring their survival and that of their families.

Moreover, women cannot be stopped from having abortions, which is why criminal laws always create a large underground market. Abortion rates are actually higher in countries that ban it, compared to countries with more liberal laws. The main difference between countries that allow abortion and those that don't, is that more women suffer or die in the latter countries, along with their fetuses. Apparently however, that's "pro-life" since the anti-choice movement praises countries that outlaw abortion while ignoring all the clandestine abortions that are still happening. Just like in the "Sing a Little Louder" film, anti-choicers stay silent and do nothing when women (and fetuses) die from unsafe abortion, or suffer complications, or have to travel to another country, or are imprisoned for having an abortion or even a pregnancy complication. Their plight is heartbreaking, which is why I've spent 30 years raising awareness about it and trying to change things.

Catholic schools are publicly funded in Alberta and some other provinces, but definitely should not be, given the indoctrination and lies taught there. Students at religious schools across North America are being subjected to showings of propaganda films like the three I've described. Young women are being given the message that they are Nazis if they require abortion care (since even anti-choice people require abortions.) Shaming and condemning women for their reproductive needs is a terrible oppression of their human dignity and rights, and can cost them their lives. Unfortunately, anti-choice ideologues show little compassion for those who suffer from the criminalization and stigma of abortion. Perhaps this blindness, coupled with their misplaced concern for non-sentient fetuses, has shaped their warped comparison of abortion to the Holocaust.

Joyce Arthur is the founder and Executive Director of Canada's national pro-choice group, the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada (ARCC), which protects the legal right to abortion on request and works to improve access to quality abortion services.

Image: Denis Bocquet/flickr

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sex educationCatholic schoolabortion rightsreproductive rightsAlberta EducationAnti-Defamation LeagueJoyce ArthurApril 13, 2017Cell phone video of Nazi comparison in Red Deer Catholic high school class on abortion should raise political questionsAlbertans deserve to know what opposition politicians would actually do about such situations in tax-financed schools.Christian doctors angry they can no longer abandon their patients A Christian doctors' group is throwing a tantrum over a new requirement that Ontario physicians must refer patients appropriately when they refuse to provide a health-care service.Empowering girls and young women in Nova ScotiaSusan Brigham and Cassandra McDonald talk about the Girls 2017 Conference happening in Halifax in March.

Holocaust denial is mainstream in Trump's administration

12 April 2017 - 7:46am
April 12, 2017Holocaust denial is mainstream in Trump's administrationSean Spicer reveals a lot about how Trump's team speaks to its base, and promotes their racist agenda.

NDP plan to change funding model for agricultural commissions is unlikely to much help farmers or the government

12 April 2017 - 2:28am
David J. ClimenhagaApril 12, 2017

Agriculture Minister Oneil Carlier, flanked by members of Alberta's 13 agricultural commissions, announced legislation yesterday that will allow the organizations to choose which dues check-off model they want to use to charge producers for the services they provide.

At an extremely sparsely attended news conference in the Legislature Building's media room yesterday, Carlier described the changes introduced with Bill 9, the Marketing of Agricultural Products Amendment Act 2017, as "supporting agricultural commissions by giving producers more autonomy to choose which service-charge model works best for their industry."

Boiled down, the amendment means the various check-off commissions -- whose members produce beef, barley, honey, canola, elk, lamb, oats, forage seed, pork, wheat, alfalfa, spuds and peas and beans, the latter two being one category, in case you were counting -- can decide if their dues are refundable or non-refundable.

That's important because under the act with much the same name passed by the Progressive Conservative government of premier Ed Stelmach in 2009, all commission charges were fully refundable if a producer, say a big feedlot that had been paying $2 for every head of cattle that passed through its gates, felt like filing the paperwork. So producers had to pay but, at the end of the year, they had the opportunity to un-pay.

Alberta was the only Canadian province that did things that way, supposedly to let producers express their satisfaction or dissatisfaction with their commission, in which their membership is compulsory if they sell that commodity.

Now -- if the commission can win a plebiscite to go to a non-refundable model, rules to be decided later -- dissatisfied members will in theory have the opportunity to vote in a new executive instead.

But this is the not really end of the story, and what remains is important, even to city folks.

Yes, the government of Premier Rachel Notley is still reeling from Bill 6, the necessary farm safety bill that nevertheless became highly unpopular in rural Alberta in 2015 and 2016. But it’s very hard to see how this bill is going to help either her government or many of the producers who have to pay check-offs to these groups.

For one thing, it seems likely that what Bill 6 will principally accomplish is further entrenching the largest, most powerful farm producers at the head of these organizations. This is especially true among beef farmers (though not necessarily, for reasons noted, beef feedlots).

What's more, since many producers see significant problems with the way elections are conducted by these organizations, the no-refund approach if ratified will mean that producers who are dissatisfied by the work of the commissions will not have a meaningful alternative to pulling their money.

That's also a problem for the government, it's said here, because so many of these commissions now function practically as auxiliaries of the Wildrose Opposition.

So, while I understand why the NDP is anxious to make some friends in the farm community after the Bill 6 debacle, it's extremely unlikely, a few photo opportunities notwithstanding, that Bill 9 is going to do the trick.

Indeed, there's a strong case they risk helping the opposition with this bill, and using check-offs from farmers who support them to do it.

If the commissions' voting structure isn't fixed -- farmers who are members of most commissions have to drive miles to a central town to vote -- this problem is likely to continue, or get worse. A simple postal mail-in ballot, on paper, could do the trick. Instead, one commission is talking about online voting -- not a good solution in an industry that still has members with dial-up Internet connections!

Then there is the matter of what these commissions do beyond politicking, which -- as far as I can see as a city boy with only a little stuff on his boots -- is not very much.

Mainly, they "market" products that, once they've passed the farm gate, have no more connection with the people who actually grew or raised them. That can mean some nice marketing trips to exotic locales for commission staff and leaders. Not so much for many farmers, though.

City folks should also be concerned because some of the commissions -- seemingly entranced by the corporate sectors of their industries -- are also pushing to have genetic material turned over to the private sector, and that means genetically modified food will be on your table sooner than later, whether you like it or not.

As went canola -- the oilseed developed with the support of Canadian taxpayers for which growers must now buy genetically modified seed from corporate patent holders -- so may go much else.

Sorry, I don't like annoying agricultural producers any more than the government does, but it would have been smarter and fairer to defund these commissions entirely than to allow them to continue on their current path, especially in a way that likely will strengthen the grip of the people who run them now.

Now, I mentioned that Carlier's news conference was sparsely attended. Regardless of whether or not I'm right about the value to Albertans of the 13 commissions, it's an absolute disgrace that I was literally the only person there with the intention of actually writing about the event. One reporter from an agricultural publication phoned in too.

The members of the Alberta Legislative Press Gallery, who jealously guard their access to politicians in the Legislature, apparently couldn't be bothered!

Agriculture is a $14-billion industry in Alberta if you go by farm gate receipts alone. It may be about all we have left when the second oil price shock hits -- you know, the one that could happen when petroleum demand dips again because of the forecast switch to electric vehicles.

Obviously, agriculture in Alberta deserves serious coverage by people who know what they're talking about.

As yesterday's news conference illustrated, agriculture is another sector of our society and economy that is being failed, and failed badly, by our foundering mainstream media.

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

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Food & HealthPolitics in CanadaAlberta politicsagricultureAlberta NDPWildrose PartyOneil CarlierRachel NotleyAgricultural CommissionsmediaDies Check-OffsBill 6Bill 9Ed StelmachProgressive Conservative PartyMarketing of Agricultural Products Amendment Act 2017

With Trump's attack on Syria, it's bombs away for the U.S., again

11 April 2017 - 9:42am
April 11, 2017It's bombs away for the U.S., againAs a rule, not long after taking office, U.S. presidents authorize overseas bombing. Donald Trump has just attacked Syria and his "global leadership" was met with approval from NATO states.

It's bombs away for the U.S., again

11 April 2017 - 9:39am
US PoliticsWorld

As a rule, not long after taking office, U.S. presidents authorize overseas bombing.

Harry Truman is the prime example, nuclear bombing Japan and razing North Korea.

Nixon devastated Laos, Cambodia and of course Vietnam (3 million dead).

Both Bushes bombed Iraq.

Famously Bill Clinton bombed a medicine factory in Sudan to distract attention from the Monica Lewinsky affair.

Obama sent U.S. bombers to Libya.

Donald Trump has just attacked Syria. His "global leadership" has met with approval from NATO states, Canada included, and Western media.

Left unmentioned was the U.S. violation of the UN Charter obligation to use military force only in self-defence (Article 51) or with approval of the Security Council (Article 42).

With the U.S. exercising its military prerogatives, the Trump gong show got a taste of being treated as a normal presidency by the media and Congress. Any boost to the president's approval ratings are not going to comfort those worried about the use of military force by an unstable personality.

For the Wall Street Journal, Trump has sent a needed message to Russia by bombing a Syrian airbase. The administration has demonstrated the U.S. will deal with Russia from a position of strength.

Trump's bombing foray is about domestic politics. The far-fetched scenario where the U.S. president was elected thanks to Russian hacking of his opponent, where he is obligated to Russian business leaders, and where he is a pawn of Putin the Russian autocrat, had to be laid to rest.

With his bombing of Syria, Trump changes the channel, and shuts up the "progressive" Democrats and compliant media peddling the "Trump is in the Russians' pocket" tag line.

By bombing Syria, Trump also establishes himself with the U.S. Army, Airforce, Navy and Marine Corp, the 17 U.S. intelligence services, and the foreign policy establishment -- the deep state -- who are the source of the " he is beholden to Russia" message and who no president opposes without consequences.

Wanting to deter expanded Russian support for Bashar al-Assad, the murderous Syria dictator, the U.S. foreign policy establishment urged President Obama to act militarily.

By refusing to bomb Syria, Obama sent a message to the deep state: provide me -- as U.S. president -- with something other than a military option.

Under Obama, the U.S. and Russia negotiated a ban on Syria using chemical weapons.

Claiming renewed use of nerve gas against civilians by the Assad regime, in violation of its specific undertakings, Trump agreed to do what Obama had refused to do.

With a swift, unilateral decision to hit a Syrian airforce base, Trump signalled his willingness to allow the deep state to conduct U.S. foreign policy.

U.S. armed forces are on the ground in Syria. Washington directs drone attacks.

In response to a 2011 democratic uprising protesting the dictatorship Assad inherited from his father in 2000 (and plans to pass along to his son), the Syrian president has been butchering his own people. Estimated deaths are over 400,000; registered Syrian refugees total over 5 million.

The abject failure of world institutions, opinion makers, governments, and the international left to come up with a strategy to stop the regime of terror visiting Syria is itself an abomination.

Political paralysis allowed the Russian military to step up its Syrian presence and defend its Mediterranean port facilities on the Syrian coast.

Active participation and support from Iran and Russia have amplified the atrocities committed by Assad.

The U.S. strategy has been to ally itself with Saudi Arabia and Israel, opponents of the Syrian regime, and to arm Islamist military groups who in normal circumstances would be considered "terrorists" by the U.S.

The short-sightedness of U.S. Arms for Jihadists policies is exceeded only by the incompetence of the EU to come up with an alternative strategy to oust Assad.

Faced with his own domestic "Muslim threat" Putin hoped to find an ally in Trump, who had declared himself ready to combat the Islamic State (ISIS) wherever and whenever.

Trump took the precaution of warning Russia (and through them, Assad) of the projected bombing mission, which in the event left a runway intact while taking out some Russian-supplied Syrian jets used to bomb opposition-held areas with little or no regard for civilian casualties.

U.S. bombing pre-empted UN supervised investigations into gas warfare in Syria. Use of chemical weapons by Assad was presumed not demonstrated. Both Russian and Syrian sources rejected the accusation the Syrian government was behind the chemical attacks.

Trump still refuses to admit Syrian refugees displaced by bombing (including now his own) to the U.S.

The U.S. bombing mission has put a temporary halt to a potential Putin-Trump bromance.

The Russians have nixed the Moscow and Washington deal to share Syrian air attack information designed to prevent military incidents.

The U.S. Secretary of State is on his way to Moscow for the usual "frank exchange of views" -- preferable to military exchanges with live ammunition.

The postwar dream of a multilateral world order based on respect for international agreements has co-existed with the reality of U.S. hegemony. Justice, peaceful resolution of disputes, and arms control are secondary to the American agenda, and await a working multilateral alternative to U.S. hegemony.

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

Photo: IS1 Kenneth Moll, USS Cape St. George via Matt Morgan/flickr

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War in SyriaSyriaU.S. foreign policysyria bombingU.S. politicstrump administrationarms controlDuncan CameronApril 11, 2017War's dubious claim of making a homelandThe fog of war obscures the truth from Vimy to Mosul and Allepo.The civil war in Syria: A case study in propagandaThe story we are told about the civil war in Syria is that it's a fight for freedom and democracy against a brutal dictator. Journalist Rick Sterling says this narrative is based on lies and fraud.There are good reasons to question everything we're being told about SyriaThere are no good guys in this war. But that doesn't mean that we shouldn't hear both sides of the story.

Against the global harms caused by Canadian mining

11 April 2017 - 8:59am
Scott NeighApril 11, 2017Talking Radical RadioEnvironmentFood & Health

On this week's episode of Talking Radical Radio, Scott Neigh speaks with Jamie Kneen. He is the communications coordinator with MiningWatch Canada, an organization that supports communities in struggles, does research, and works to change policies and laws, all with the aim of challenging, reducing, and preventing the many harms caused around the world by the Canadian mining industry.

Canada may be a pretty big place in geographical terms, but the country's population and its role in the global economy are quite a bit more modest. Well, that's mostly true. One major exception to this is Canada's mining industry, which even after the purchase of some of the largest Canadian mining companies by corporations based elsewhere in the last 15 years still accounts for something like 60-70 per cent of the total number of mining companies and the total number of mining projects in the world.

Mining, of course, has a much greater impact on the world than simply adding to the bottom line of a company, an industry, or a country. It also frequently causes immense harm -- to ecosystems, to communities, and to human health. The people who live on the land where mining takes place -- who, not infrequently, are that land's rightful Indigenous owners and custodians as well -- and who drink the water and breath the air that are at risk of contamination, quite often object to the mining taking place at all, or insist on greatly strengthened measures to reduce the risk. Yet this concern with life and well-being often points in very different directions than the drive for profit that motivates mining companies and the governments that support them. Again and again, all over the world, mining companies and governments run roughshod over local communities and their concerns, and proceed with mining projects that cause a great deal of harm to ecosystems and to people. Canadian mining companies have earned an awful reputation the world over for disrespecting human rights and the earth.

In this context, a little less than two decades ago, two series of convesrations converged. One was among large and small environmental groups, and a couple of Indigenous groups, in the Canadian context about some recent struggles against mining projects in different parts of the country, and the lack of infrastructure for preserving and sharing lessons, resources, and strategies from those struggles. The other was among international NGOs based in Canada and working primarily in the Americas but also in Asia and West Africa, who regularly encountered communities with concerns about proposed or existing Canadian mining projects in their countries. These NGOs had little expertise in mining issues, but wanted to be able to support communities, or at least point them towards resources. Out of these conversations, stakeholders from environmental, social justice, Indigenous, and labour groups in Canada came together to form a new organization: MiningWatch Canada.

For the last 18 years, MiningWatch Canada has worked with both Indigenous and non-Indigenous communites to "addresses the urgent need for a co-ordinated public interest response to the threats to public health, water and air quality, fish and wildlife habitat, and community interests posed by irresponsible mineral policies and practices in Canada and around the world." This has involved working with communities fighting to prevent, mitigate, or remdiate specific mining projects, particularly in helping them acquire resources and information, and build relationships with other communities engaged in similar struggles. It has involved doing research in a whole host of mining-related issues in a way that centres the wellbeing of communities. And it has involved working for changes to laws, regulations, and policies that govern mining practices and that shape what companies can get away with.

Jamie Kneen speaks with me about the Canadian mining industry, its impacts on the world, and the work of MiningWatch Canada. You can learn more about MiningWatch Canada here.

Talking Radical Radio brings you grassroots voices from across Canada. We give you the chance to hear many different people that are facing many different struggles talk about what they do, why they do it, and how they do it, in the belief that such listening is a crucial step in strengthening all of our efforts to change the world. To learn more about the show check out its website here. You can also follow us on FaceBook or Twitter, or contact scottneigh@talkingradical.ca to join our weekly email update list.

Talking Radical Radio is brought to you by Scott Neigh, a writer, media producer, and activist based in Hamilton (formerly Sudbury), Ontario, and the author of two books examining Canadian history through the stories of activists.

The image modified for this post was originally taken by Martin Roell and is used under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

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Cell phone video of Nazi comparison in Red Deer Catholic high school class on abortion should raise political questions

11 April 2017 - 1:56am
David J. ClimenhagaApril 11, 2017

When the doors were closed and outsiders weren't around, a publicly financed Catholic high school in Red Deer was teaching its students that abortions in Canada are the equivalent of the Holocaust in Nazi Germany.

Needless to say, the shaky video of a video called "The Case Against Abortion, Personhood," recorded on a cell phone by a student and reported yesterday by Global News, has resurrected the controversy about public funding for religious education in Alberta.

According to Global, Alberta Education Minister David Eggen informed Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools about the video "after a student contacted him." Eggen told media interviewers later "there is no place in a publicly funded school for a video comparing the horrors of the Holocaust to abortion."

We only know about this aspect of the education provided by anti-choice activists during a religion class at École Secondaire Notre Dame High School in the Central Alberta city because of the miracle of smart-phone camera technology and the eternally rebellious nature of high school students.

For this we can be grateful as it helps clarify the role activists played on this and other issues by tax-supported religious schools, which is a legitimate part of a broader debate about gay-straight alliances, student human rights and the use of limited tax resources in a secular society.

What we know is that medically inaccurate information and a highly tendentious comparison of abortion and the Holocaust was taught at one Red Deer high school.

What we don't know, however, is just as important:

  • How often is this kind of pernicious propaganda distributed in other publicly financed schools in Alberta?
  • Do our opposition politicians, who have made a big deal about what they see as the value of "choice" in education, think about the appropriateness of the specific message put forward in the movie played to students at École Secondaire Notre Dame?

Cristina Stasia, a University of Alberta gender studies professor and chair of AIM -- Accessing Information not Myths, a group devoted to addressing gaps in Alberta's sexual education curriculum -- told Global such presentations happen all over the province.

Unsurprisingly, an effort appears to be under way to pass the use of the offensive video off as merely a one-time problem with resource material shown by a volunteer instructor from a Red Deer group opposed to women's reproductive rights.

Guy Pelletier, chair of Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools conceded the reference to Nazi Germany was not appropriate, and said the board has had no difficulties in the past with Red Deer and Area Pro Life and that it trusts its school administrators -- points that don't answer the more important question of whether such materials are being used at other schools in the district.

"This wasn't the right video to bring into the school and we'll make sure it doesn’t happen in future presentations," he told a Global interviewer. (Emphasis added.)

The Anti-Defamation League, the U.S.-based international non-governmental organization that opposes anti-Semitism and supports human rights for all groups, describes such comparisons as "appallingly insensitive."

"We are outraged by their attempt to somehow create a moral equivalency between the Nazis' systematic murder of millions of Jews and others during the Holocaust with abortions," the ADL's New Mexico branch said in a news release published in response to a 2013 anti-abortion demonstration in front of an Albuquerque Holocaust museum. "Not only is such an analogy grossly inappropriate, it also trivializes the Holocaust and is deeply offensive to Holocaust survivors and the families of those who perished."

The second question is important because Albertans deserve to know what opposition politicians would actually do about such situations in tax-financed schools, not just what platitudes they would mouth.

Jason Kenney, just elected leader of the Progressive Conservatives, is known to have been a militant anti-abortion activist since he was in his 20s. He vocally supported public financing for religious schools and private schools during his campaign to lead the party.

Given this, he needs to make it clear how he would approach this question, as he has already made it clear how he would deal with students who choose to join a gay-straight alliance in their school.

Other political leaders should be held to the same standard, of course.

As a result of yesterday's revelation, a group called the Alberta Pro-Choice Coalition called in a news release for Alberta Education to develop "an explicit policy for all school boards regarding the vetting of outside agencies presenting curriculum to students."

The policy should ensure information provided by such groups is accurate, evidence-based and free of bias, the group said.

Correction, clarification, or something …

When I last talked about the Alberta Liberal Party leadership race on April Fools Day (by happenstance, not intention) I left readers with the impression Kelly Cundal, then one of two likely candidates for the leadership who had filed nomination papers, wasn't actually going to run.

It turns out, however, that Cundal is running for the party leadership after all, as is David Khan. Both of them are Calgary human rights lawyers, which considerably simplifies the job of describing where they're from and what they do. Both jumped into the race after Nolan Crouse, mayor of St. Albert and up to then the only candidate and presumed automatic choice, quit without explanation two days before nominations closed.

So, it’s official, there is a race -- and here's the proof! It remains to be seen if the contest will generate either heat or light. The party will announce the winner on June 4.

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

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British Columbians protest inequality in the lead-up to 2017 election

9 April 2017 - 3:38pm
April 9, 2017Heading into the provincial election, British Columbians demonstrate concern for inequalityMost British Columbians are also deeply worried about economic insecurity, inequality and the environment -- and want our political leaders to take action.

War’s dubious claim of making a homeland

7 April 2017 - 8:03am
April 7, 2017War’s dubious claim of making a homelandThe fog of war obscures the truth from Vimy to Mosul and Allepo.

Alberta's first woman premier calls for more than talk about the deplorable treatment of women in politics

6 April 2017 - 6:57am
April 6, 2017Alberta's first woman premier calls for more than talk about the deplorable treatment of women in politics

Trudeau Liberals Betray Open and Fair Government Pledges

4 April 2017 - 7:39am
April 4, 2017Trudeau Liberals betray open and fair government pledgesMeaningful changes to parliament are unlikely so long as a party with the support of only 40 percent of voters can form a majority government, and carry on without seeking support across party lines.

How to avoid repeating the mistakes of the TPP

2 April 2017 - 9:28pm
April 2, 2017How Canadians can ensure we never repeat the mistakes of the TPP Why did the TPP prove to be so unpopular among the Canadian public? And what needs to be done to restore public trust in future trade processes?

Apologies are not enough for Canada's complicity in torture

31 March 2017 - 7:50am
March 31, 2017Apologies for torture seem to be the hardest words The wording and delivery of the Trudeau government's March apology for its role in the torture of Canadian citizens are clear indications that Ottawa is not willing to make much-needed changes.

Terror has its roots in modern life and it touches all of us

31 March 2017 - 7:38am

There was a strange coincidence last week at the time of the car-and-knife attack on the houses of parliament in London by "lone wolf" Khalid Masood. In the U.S., "lone wolf" James Harris Jackson travelled to New York City "to kill as many Black men as he could," where he stabbed 66-year-old Timothy Caughman, a "can and bottle recycler" to death.

The victims were random, in both places. Both killers had tortuous, not dissimilar histories: in and out of British prisons, in and out of the U.S. army. The U.K. case was immediately assimilated to the Islamic terror model, the New York event fell into an amorphous hole.

They weren't precisely simultaneous. New York happened two days earlier but, because of a time lag and the instantaneous coverage from London, they felt like it.

These concurrences are unexpectedly common. In his fine recent book, The Age of Anger, Pankaj Mishra talks about "the most illuminating coincidence of our time:" when 1995 Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh occupied a cell beside the original World Trade Center bomber (in a failed 1993 attempt), Ramzi Ahmed Yousef. They became friends, recognizing themselves in each other.

"I never have [known] anyone in my life who has so similar a personality to my own as his," said Yousef, after McVeigh's execution.

Mishra's point is we let ourselves off the hook too easily by saying the core of terror today is Islam. These people identify elements they share in common: they are thoughtful (like Dylann Roof, who murdered Black worshippers in Charleston) and nostalgic (Jackson's "ideal society" was 1950s America). And they stretch far back in time. Their weirdly coherent, articulated violence echoes anarchist bombers and assassins of the 1890s as well as the nihilism and embrace of destruction reaching even further back.

Mishra traces it to the Enlightenment era, which detached individuals from communities and traditions, elevating them to autonomous status -- a burden that few, possibly none, can sustain in real life. Then came industrialization in the 1800s, which shattered rural neighbourhoods and economic stability. Mishra isn't nostalgic himself but insists a price had to be paid for these dislocations.

So the question isn't the tedious: When was he radicalized? It is: how did this mayhem become so normal over so much time? One thing or another can light the fuse but the fuse itself was laid long ago: there, then, here, globally.

Mishra punctures the smugness of self-serving ideologues, such as Trump or Kellie Leitch (or Bernier or O'Reilly), who say we just have to take down those Muslims and demand their imams apologize for each case of violence anywhere in the world.

It isn't really about Islam, he says, and I believe it. Dislocation and distress are ubiquitous.

I watched displaced rural Quebecers at the end of the Quiet Revolution sit in urban bars, sobbing uncontrollably for no clear reason; or Newfoundland outporters told by Joey Smallwood to "Burn your boats" because modernization and industrialization would look after everything. I've seen students go from buoyancy (Change is Good! Embrace it!) 20 years ago to deep uncertainty over their life prospects in the Internet era.

What's surprising isn't how much mayhem exists globally but that it isn't greater.

All it often takes is some insecure, angry voices to ratchet up the rhetoric -- a role regularly played, says Mishra, by writers and intellectuals. They are uniquely positioned to register modernity's lonely pressures: a desperate need for fame in the absence of other satisfactions; envy of rivals; Nietzschean resentment, fear your genius might vanish unseen.

The author of The Anarchist Cookbook, a breezy 1971 manual for making bombs and killing your enemies, died recently. In later life he disavowed the book; he didn't like that guy much any more.

Is there an antidote to the malaise initiated by those "vast and opaque processes of modernization?" Mishra is cautious. But most people don't share the particular vulnerable profile of intellectuals. They're grounded in basics, like family, friends, work. They'll settle for a little well-being, in lieu of grandiosity.

Why is Bernie Sanders the most popular politician in the U.S. today? What he promised wasn't a lot: you won't drown in your college debt and you won't lose everything if you get sick.

With a bit of care and solidarity, the nastier impulses of the species can, apparently, be beaten back. Or at least held at bay.

This column was first published in the Toronto Star.

Photo: Kat Northern Lights Man/flickr

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terrorismislamophobiaanarchismindustrializationModernityRick SalutinMarch 31, 2017Talking about 'radicalization' misses the pointWhat's the problem with "radicalization"? The process that leads to radical outcomes -- whatever they are -- is various and malleable. Their experience radicalizes people -- or doesn't.From honest dialogue to practical solutions: Discussing Muslim youth radicalizationWith the violence in Ottawa and Quebec, the discussion of youth radicalization has come back into the forefront. What are the root causes and what are the solutions?Militarism degrades, disrupts and destroys democracy As the Canadian government plays at fighting wars in Iraq/Syria and in eastern Europe, we see daily examples of how militarism ultimately degrades, disrupts and destroys democracy.

Apologies for torture seem to be the hardest words

30 March 2017 - 10:37pm
Civil Liberties WatchPolitics in Canada

Imagine that you live in a city where you must drive past the offices of individuals whose decisions and actions led to your torture. These individuals -- they might be called "violence workers" or "desk torturers" -- are celebrated as honourable people who acted in the "best of faith" even though they knowingly created false descriptions of you as an "imminent threat" to state security, landing you in an abominable dungeon.

These individuals, we are told, made "mistakes" when they knowingly passed along questions to your captors, despite cautions that sending such inquiries would inevitably result in further acts of violence committed upon your mind, body and spirit.

Despite clear evidence that they are complicit in your torture, none of them is ever held to account. Instead, they receive promotions, act as media consultants, and fearlessly await a thick pension at the end of their bloodstained careers. The immunity they enjoy in your case is the same immunity they are entitled to should they set someone else up for torture. After all, legislation on the books -- as well as their well-tailored self-image as do-gooders on the global stage -- grants them a free pass for whatever they do.

What sounds like a nightmare out of the Argentine junta or the Chilean dictatorship is in fact daily life for Abdullah Almalki, an Ottawa engineer who was wrongfully named a security risk, tortured for 22 months in a Syrian hellhole with the involvement of a variety of Canadian officials and government agencies, and forced to fight for an apology and accountability for well over a decade. (Also fighting for justice in related cases were Toronto's Ahmad Abou-Elmaati and Muayyed Nureddin, both tortured by proxy in Syria and, in Abou-Elmaati's case, Egypt too).

As he drives through Ottawa, Almalki cannot help but experience the surreal geography of complicity in torture as he passes the agencies responsible for his ordeal, including the RCMP, CSIS, Global Affairs, and the Justice Department. They were the subject of a long-running lawsuit whose settlement was announced two weeks ago.

A Friday five o'clock apology of sorts

What the Trudeau Liberals felt was a worthy apology for the damage that Liberal governments past and present had done to Almalki, Abou-Elmaati and Nureddin was issued on Friday, March 17 at 4:58 p.m. on a government website. There was no press conference, no moment of silence in the House of Commons, no release of tears from a prime minister never shy to shed them. Just a bland statement that went up as the media went home for the weekend, delivered in the same insulting way any abuser might end a relationship with a text message or Facebook announcement.

"On behalf of the Government of Canada, we wish to apologize to Mr. Almalki, Mr. Abou-Elmaati and Mr. Nureddin, and their families, for any role Canadian officials may have played in relation to their detention and mistreatment abroad and any resulting harm," says a statement issued by Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale and Global Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland. In an age when language is so degraded as to be meaningless, it is nonetheless important to examine the choices used here. "May" is a term that makes the role of Canadian officials sound speculative, despite the very clear findings of complicity in the O'Connor and Iacobucci Inquiries into the torture of Almalki, Abou-Elmaati, Nureddin, and Maher Arar, also of Ottawa. Would it not have better served the ends of justice and accountability to actually name the names and the specific criminal activities for which the apology had been issued?

In addition, the government avoids using the word "torture" in the same sentence as those who suffered torture. The anodyne "mistreatment" is yet another linguistic distancing from Canadian responsibility for such a horrific crime. This is typical of how the Canadian government and media have long treated these cases, always looking to employ anything other than torture. Indeed, in the Commissioner's Statement for the inquiry that cleared Almalki, Abou-Elmaati and Nureddin of any suspicion, former Supreme Court judge Frank Iacobucci never once mentions torture. Instead, he chose this important introduction to a catalogue of abuses to say how "unfortunate" it is that "in the struggle against terrorism, that mistakes of various kinds will be made," thereby falsely associating the three men with state security threats while insisting we be "very grateful to the many men and women" who "exercise their best judgment" in such matters.

But the record clearly shows that what happened to these men was not an unfortunate mistake. It was the logical outcome of a structural pattern of surveillance, racist profiling, harassment, and targetting for torture by proxy in overseas prisons.

While the Goodale/Freeland statement goes on to declare that Canada "strongly condemns abuse and torture of any kind and is committed to fulfilling its obligations under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to respect and protect human rights," it neglects to mention how it can actually fulfill that lofty commitment when it refuses to renounce the Harper-era torture memos (which allow for exactly the kind of information-sharing that led to the torture of Almalki, Abou-Elmaati and Nureddin in the first place). Nor does the statement explain how it dovetails with the torture-enabling Anti-terrorism Act of 2015 (a.k.a. C-51), which survives intact almost two years after it was passed.

Almalki's important caution

One cannot help but feel a certain sense of relief that an apology and compensation had been agreed to (terms of which are confidential), especially given these men and their families have fought such a long battle for recognition of the injustice done to them by the Canadian government. The three gentlemen whose lives were ruined by agencies of the Canadian government have shown nothing but dignity and grace in responding to this latest chapter in their long-running ordeal.

Indeed, Mr. Almalki issued a statement that declared:

"This is a victory for Canada and every Canadian who holds dear the Charter of Right and Freedoms, the rule of law, freedom, equality, and dignity. It is also a victory for those who abhor torture, arbitrary detention, bigotry and racism. This long-fought-for result will hopefully give hope to everyone who has been wronged. Hopefully, it will also boost their resilience, strengthen their resolve, allow them to have more patience and persistence, and help them to keep on keeping on, as a victory for justice is a victory for all of us."

But Almalki cautions that this long struggle cannot be wasted, hoping:

"[t]hat we as a country learn from such injustices and work to better our country by strengthening our human rights laws rather than weakening them. We must strengthen laws and institutions to preserve our liberties and freedoms, rather than compromising them. We must also hold government officials and government agencies accountable by demanding powerful, effective, real-time oversight of their activities, especially when human rights can so easily be abused in the name of national security."

Not even a week after the well-hidden apology was uploaded, however, the Trudeau government refused to strengthen a bill that created a national security committee of Parliamentarians, rendering it a toothless bit of window dressing with no power whatsoever to hold in check the abuses of agencies like CSIS, the RCMP, Global Affairs, Canadian Border Services Agency, Communications Security Establishment, and the Justice Department. The Liberals outright rejected amendments suggested by human rights groups, choosing instead to maintain their preferential option for the powerful and secretive.

Most significantly, the people responsible for these crimes go about their lives and their work, with one of them now perched as the Deputy Commissioner of the RCMP, Michel Cabana. With the recently announced resignation of Commissioner Bob Paulson, will Cabana, who directed much of the torture by proxy campaign, be next in line to lead Canada's national law enforcement agency?

No accountability

At a moment when the writings of Hannah Arendt are more crucial than ever (her book, The Origins of Totalitarianism, has become almost as popular as 1984 and Brave New World in these troubled times), the landmark title Eichmann in Jerusalem is worth revisiting not only for its famous "banality of evil" reportage, but also for her overview of how quickly Nazis were "reintegrated" into German society, NATO, NASA, and other so-called Western institutions following the Second World War. "It is one thing to ferret out criminals and murderers from their hiding places, and it is another thing to find them prominent and flourishing in the public realm -- to encounter innumerable men in the federal and state administrations and, generally, in public office whose careers had bloomed under the Hitler regime," she wrote in 1963.

And so it is for Canada in 2017, in which a whole infrastructure of complicity in torture remains firmly in place. Even the one body that is supposed to provide critical review of the actions of spy agency CSIS -- the Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC) -- finds itself on the spectrum of complicity in torture by praising in its most recent annual report how CSIS was handling its tortured intelligence (rather than properly declaring the practice of sharing torture-gleaned information patently illegal).

Similar long-sought apologies reveal the irony that after long struggles, the words finally come easy, but no serious change in governmental behaviour accompanies the "sorry." Whether that's the apology for crimes committed against Indigenous children issued by a Harper government that continued those crimes (now carried out under the Trudeau regime) or the apology given to torture returnee Maher Arar in 2006, the words have held a hollow feel because we have yet to witness the kinds of systemic change needed to prevent such criminality from recurring.

It's also disturbing that in the context of apologies, Canadian perpetrators of serious state criminality tend to be treated with kid gloves and sympathy (witness the abominable antics of Senator Lynn Beyak, who insists on praising the brighter side of genocide in Canada's first rendition to torture campaign, the residential schools program).

Indeed, headlines leading up to and following the release of the O'Connor Inquiry, which documented Canadian complicity in Maher Arar's rendition to torture, treated the RCMP as the real victim. "RCMP bracing for Arar report," led a Toronto Star headline in 2006, as if the Mounties were pitiless squatters waiting for a hurricane. Later in that same article, reporter Michelle Shephard wrote that "the report's anticipated blow to the RCMP's credibility comes on the heels of the international acclaim for the police force" following the Toronto 18 arrests earlier that summer. Shephard did not define how the RCMP had any credibility whatsoever after almost a century of illegal, repressive activity conducted against Indigenous people, labour unions, peace groups, and others engaged in the exercise of basic democratic rights.

On Dec 8, 2006, the Toronto Star editorialized that then prime minister Stephen Harper's job was to restore confidence "in the RCMP, an iconic national institution," as opposed to ensuring the Mounties would never again be engaged in torture complicity. The Globe and Mail similarly called the Arar saga one of the "great RCMP bungles," as if it were some unfortunate mistake instead of the result of a calculated, dangerous, racist game targeting individuals because of their faith and heritage.

When then-RCMP Commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli issued an apology to Arar, it suffered from the same linguistic deficiency as the Trudeau government's 2017 apology. Zaccardelli simply said sorry "for whatever part the actions of the RCMP may have contributed to the terrible injustices that you experienced." There was no mention of torture, and the actions of the Mounties were treated as speculative. The Toronto Star's headline that day also showed a particularly disturbing institutional bias: "Top Mountie's Tough Day."

The House of Commons did no better when it passed a motion in 2006 that made it sound more like Arar had experienced poor service at a restaurant than Canadian complicity in torture: "It is the opinion of this House that apologies should be extended to Maher Arar for the treatment he received."

RCMP and CSIS as victims

During the Arar Inquiry, the sense of RCMP-as-victim was no doubt prevalent throughout the force, as witnessed by statements of former "anti-terrorism" Mountie Ben Soave (who himself chose to resign from the force one day after an internal report found that sexual harassment allegations against him were substantiated, and warranted disciplinary action). "The bottom line is we should be proud of our front-line officers," he explained in defence of those called to testify at the inquiry. "If we put their necks on the chopping block it's the wrong message to send." When RCMP Commissioner Zaccardelli resigned (not because of complicity in torture, but rather because he appeared to lie about it before a Parliamentary committee), Soave moaned that the resignation was "a victory for terrorism, organized crime and the scum of the earth."

Liberal MP Wayne Easter similarly showed his sincere sympathies for the man who resigned as head of a torture-implicated RCMP, sighing, "I do feel badly for him. He's a career guy. He did this 24 hours a day."

Zaccardelli -- whose apology to Arar was mooted during a resignation speech in which the Commissioner said "there is not one moment, one decision or one circumstance of my career that I would change" -- went on to a comfortable position working for Interpol, while Soave runs a security firm "to help governments, corporations, law firms, and high net-worth individuals to effectively prevent and resolve issues."

CSIS has also played the victim game, with former agents complaining that any attempts by the courts to hold them within the boundaries of the law amount to a "judicial jihad."

Stay tuned: More torture on the way

The fact that the Canadian government was forced to go on the record and apologize for its reprehensible actions in these cases is significant and important. As Almalki declared, it is indeed a welcome victory that will hopefully boost the morale of others fighting similar battles. But the wording and delivery vehicle for the Trudeau government's March apology -- delivered shortly before very revealing court hearings were set to begin -- are clear indications that Ottawa is not willing to make much-needed changes in state security policy and institutions.

Equally disturbing is that young Muslims continue to report being subjected to intensive harassment and surveillance by Canada's state security agencies. How many of them will wind up in the shoes of Almalki, Abou-Elmaati and Nureddin? These young people have to think twice before Googling certain terms, since certain red flag words may result in a home or office visit from CSIS spies. They have to wonder about new "friends" who suddenly cozy up to them from out of the blue and start asking their opinion of Palestine: are they just political thinkers or undercover agents? They have to watch how they speak in any venue, and are not allowed to express anger or frustration. Indeed, that would peg them as "radicalized," an appellation which could make them the focus of a CSIS "disruption" exercise under C-51 that allows Canada's spy agency to do anything to them short of bodily harm causing death or violations of sexual integrity.

Muslims who travel to or have family in certain parts of the world, must also be prepared to be pulled aside in airports at home and abroad, especially if they have refused to spy on their imam for CSIS or because they may have posted political mater on their Facebook pages. Others may never even get on a plane because the Canadian government's so-called Passenger Protect Program (the no-fly list) prevents them from doing so.

When Justin Trudeau, Canada's chief keynote speaker, told the nation's Muslims following the terrorist attack on a Quebec City mosque that "we will grieve with you, we will defend you, we will love you and we will stand with you," he was disingenuous at best. It was another false promise that, like his March 17 apology, rings all too hollow.

It is only when an abuser shows how he has changed his abusive ways that his apology may be enfleshed with true meaning. That has not yet happened, which means our work is not done. It remains our collective task to dismantle the institutions of violence and abuse in this country, and to show real solidarity with their targets. Until then, unfortunately, what happened to Almalki, Abou-Elmaati, Nureddin, and Arar (among others) will likely continue.

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: Adam Scotti/PMO

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TortureAlmalkiislamophobiasecurity agenciesnational securityanti- terrorismMaher ArarMatthew BehrensMarch 31, 2017Trudeau's torture policies no different than Trump'sThe 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.Canada's torture consumers and the faux national security consultation Anyone 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.Troubled times ahead with new anti-terror legislationBill C-51 grants new powers to already hyperactive state security agencies, and baits as "soft on terror" anyone who questions the bill's necessity. Here is a primer on key provisions in the bill.

In Trump's America, your privacy is for sale

30 March 2017 - 10:45am
Civil Liberties WatchTechnologyUS Politics

Unless you're reading this column in a good old newspaper, odds are your Internet service provider (ISP) knows what you're up to. ISPs are the on-ramp to the Internet; it is through these gatekeepers that we all access the Internet. They set the price and the speed of your connection, but were legally prevented from sharing or selling details about Americans' personal Internet usage without permission -- until now. Through a resolution that narrowly passed both the House and the Senate on partisan lines, Internet privacy protections implemented by the Obama administration will be entirely eliminated.

Companies like AT&T, Comcast and Verizon now can sift through users' personal information, web browsing history, where and when they access the Internet and what they do while online, and peddle that private data to whomever is willing to pay. President Donald Trump, while obsessed with the imagined invasion of his own privacy (as indicated by his tweeted charge that President Barack Obama wiretapped him during his campaign), is expected to sign this bill into law, stripping privacy away from hundreds of millions of Americans.

"Americans pay for [Internet] service. They don't expect that information to be shared or used for other purposes or sold without their permission," Laura Moy said on the Democracy Now! news hour. Moy is the deputy director of the Center on Privacy and Technology at the Georgetown University Law Center.

"Americans absolutely need internet connectivity in today's modern era," Moy continued. "You need to go online to search for a job. You need to go online to complete your education. You need to go online often to communicate with your health care provider or conduct your banking." All of this communication, all of this Internet use, can be conducted from the privacy of your home. But don't think it is going to remain private. Your ISP can vacuum up your searches, your interests, what movies you watch online, your age, weight, Social Security number, medical conditions, financial troubles ... if you start searching online for a bankruptcy lawyer or for treatment for addiction, your ISP will add that to your profile.

"We want people to use the Internet, to view it as a safe space to communicate with others, to express their political viewpoints, to carry out these vitally important everyday activities, and to do so without fear that the information that they share with their internet service provider will be used to harm them in some way," Laura Moy concluded. That was the hope.

The Internet privacy rules that are being eliminated fill 219 pages, and were worked on at the Federal Communications Commission for over a year, supported by over 275,000 comments from citizens and advocacy organizations. They were published in the Federal Register last December. The effort to eliminate them was championed by Tennessee Republican Rep. Marsha Blackburn, who chairs the subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee that oversees the FCC. As reported in Vocativ, Blackburn, during her 14 years in Congress, has received at least $693,000 in campaign contributions from companies and individuals from AT&T, Comcast, Verizon and other industry members that stand to profit from the rules change.

Blackburn's willing partner in the repeal of the rules is the FCC's new commissioner, Ajit Pai, who used to serve as associate general counsel for Verizon. He was one of the two Republicans on the five-seat FCC during Obama's second term, and was promoted to FCC chair by President Donald Trump. According to the Los Angeles Times, Pai gave a speech last December in which he promised to "take a weed wacker" to another hard-won progressive victory, net neutrality. Immediately after the House voted to repeal the privacy rules, Free Press, the national media policy advocacy and activist organization, stated, "The broadband-privacy fight is the Trump administration's first attack on the open Internet. And now that it has a win on its hands, it'll be pushing for another."

It is absolutely shocking that Donald Trump, in the midst of his accusations that his own privacy was invaded by illegal wiretaps, is signing into law permission to invade, sell, trade and monetize the most private, intimate details of every Internet-connected American. This law is the ultimate hack: allowing corporations to take all of our information and sell it for profit.

In Donald Trump's America, the information isn't stolen by hackers in the dark of night. It is taken with the government's blessing. Unless people organize and fight back, the promises of the open Internet will fade away.

Amy Goodman is the host of Democracy Now!, a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on more than 1,400 stations. She is the co-author, with Denis Moynihan and David Goodman, of the newly published New York Times bestseller Democracy Now!: 20 Years Covering the Movements Changing America.

This column was first published on Democracy Now!

Photo: Anonymous Account/flickr

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The law is settled on sexual assault. When will the legal system catch up?

30 March 2017 - 10:23am

Over the past year, the treatment of sexual assault complainants in the justice system has received a great deal of mainstream media attention. Much of the coverage has focused on how unfairly sexual assault complainants are treated. Examples include:

  • The cross-examination of complainants in the Jian Gomeshi case and the judge's findings that inconsistencies in the complainants' testimony made them not credible.
  • Comments made by Justice Robin Camp during a sexual assault trial in Alberta -- asking why the victim didn't keep her knees together -- that ultimately led to his resignation.
  • A comment by a Nova Scotia judge that a drunk person can consent -- in a trial where the complainant was found by police unconscious and undressed in the back of a cab.

And then, just this past week, the Supreme Court of Canada released a one-sentence decision that sums up the exasperation at the failings of the justice system when it comes to sexual assault. 

In its R v. S.B. decision, the Supreme Court stated only that it agreed with all of the reasons provided by Justice Green of the Newfoundland and Labrador Court of Appeal in granting an appeal of the acquittal of a husband accused of sexually assaulting his wife. The Supreme Court did not feel the need to revisit the meaning and application of  rape shield provisions, which have been in place since 1992 to protect sexual assault complainants from having their entire sexual history put before a court during a sexual assault trial. The Supreme Court's brief decision, to me, communicated clearly that the law is settled on this issue. Whether or not people in the justice system, and society at large, can actually follow and respect the protections the law seeks to provide to sexual assault complainants is another matter.

The amendment to the Criminal Code, passed in 1992, colloquially known as the rape shield law, prevents evidence from being introduced about a complainant's previous sexual activity, other than:

"[t]he sexual activity that forms the subject matter of the charge, unless the evidence is of specific instances of sexual activity, is relevant to the issue at trial, and has significant probative value that is not substantially outweighed by the danger of prejudice to the proper administration of justice."

In 1992, just like in 2017, sexual history had nothing to do with the likelihood that a complainant consented to sexual activity, or with the complainant's credibility.

The main issue that was the subject of the appeal in R. v. S.B. was straightforward. The trial judge in that case allowed defence counsel to introduce two pieces of problematic evidence: sexually explicit text messages between the complainant and her affair partner, and a transcript of a sex video she had made with the accused, being her husband. Neither of these pieces of "evidence" was relevant to the actual issues at trial.

The trial judge thought these items were relevant to the complainant's credibility. In particular, the trial judge allowed the text messages to be read aloud in court, despite the fact that the complainant had already admitted to the court that she had lied to the police about having an affair.

The Court of Appeal as a whole disagreed with the trial judge, finding that:

"[i]n the circumstances of this case...where the unfaithfulness and the untruthfulness in [the complainant's] statements to police were admitted, reading out the texts had the effect of conjuring up the first of the twin myths which section 276 is intended to prevent, that because of her prior sexual activity (here, her unfaithfulness) the complainant is more likely to have consented to sexual intercourse with the accused on the occasions as charged, being a woman (to use an old phrase) of easy virtue."

Despite this finding by the Court of Appeal, only Justice Green found that the evidence admitted -- of prior sexual history -- was so prejudicial that it warranted a new trial on the charges. According to Justice Green:

"By prohibiting admission of sexual history evidence to support the inferences leading to the twin myths, parliament has signalled that because of the significant dangers of influencing the jury to engage in lines of reasoning based on those myths, it is not sufficient to allow them to hear it even with an appropriate cautionary instruction."

The Supreme Court agreed. But the trial judge's decision did its damage. The complainant has now had private text messages and a transcript of a private sex video made public. She has also had to endure cross‑examinations on these issues.   

Clearly, even after 25 years, the rape shield provisions have not succeeded in dismantling the hostile climate for sexual assault victims in the Canadian legal system. But I do take comfort in the Supreme Court's very direct statement granting the appeal. The highest court in Canada does not need to analyze, reiterate or rationalize the meaning of these protections. The law is settled on this point, even though practically speaking, the legal system may still be catching up.

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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canadian lawsexual assaultsexual assault shield lawsCanadian justice systemShelina AliPro BonoMarch 30, 2017With judges like Robin Camp, how impartial is Canada's justice system?An inquiry into the conduct of Federal Court Judge Robin Camp when he presided over a sexual assault trial raises some hard questions about the impartiality of the Canadian justice system.Sexual assault law in Canada: What women need to know It was 1982 before marital rape was acknowledged as sexual assault. A short overview of the Canadian law governing sexual assault, with an emphasis on the hazards women face.Power and policy: Building a responsible sexual assault strategy in CanadaAfter the University of British Columbia was widely criticized for its handling of sexual assault cases, it's making some changes. Other schools across Canada should take notice.

Working Canadians face 'death by despair' as labour insecurity grows

30 March 2017 - 9:12am

A recent report out of the U.S. raises questions about politicians' obsession -- in Canada and the U.S. -- with the state of the middle class and highlights why Donald Trump won the U.S. election. It is a sobering picture and scathing indictment of neoliberalism -- particularly so-called free trade. While the authors don't say so explicitly, the conclusion is inescapable: NAFTA kills.

The report, by economists Anne Case and Sir Angus Deaton (winner of the 2015 Nobel Prize for economics), talks about "deaths of despair" and reveals that:

"An epidemic of overdoses, suicides and alcohol-related illness is causing a surge in deaths among white Americans with a high-school education or less that now makes them more likely to die early than those who are black or Hispanic…"

The report reinforces many other studies documenting the devastating impact of nearly three decades of deindustrialization (read: NAFTA) and automation on Americans with high-school education or less. According to Dr. Case: "This doesn't seem to be just about income. This is about accumulating despair for these people." The numbers are hard to credit: "In 1999 white men and women aged 50-54 with a high school education had a mortality rate 30 per cent lower than Black Americans. In 2015 it was 30 per cent higher." (There was no indication that the situation for Black and Hispanic Americans actually improved.) The numbers are similar for all age groups from 25-64.

The gravity of the changes are unique to the U.S. where deindustrialization has been most dramatic and where slack labour standards, low unionization rates, a tattered social safety net and expensive health insurance make less educated workers extremely vulnerable. According to the two researchers, Canada along with Britain, the U.K., Australia and Germany are still seeing declining death rates.

They don't say why. But if you look at many of the conditions faced by working Canadians, it is easy to conclude that we are headed in the same direction, just more slowly. Maybe we have time to prevent "death by despair" in Canada but someone had better begin speaking up for those most vulnerable. Both the Liberals and NDP federally (and provincially) have been wringing their hands about the "shrinking middle class" -- failing to notice that when the middle class shrinks, its ranks drop down the economic scale to join the precariate. 

As I listed last November, Canada now boasts:

"[t]he largest income gap between rich and poor since the late 1920s; incomes that have been stagnant since the early 1980s; the second-highest proportion of low-wage jobs in the OECD (after the U.S.); the highest personal debt-to-income ratio in Canadian history … the continued loss of tens of thousands of the best industrial jobs; [and] welfare rates that deliberately punish the poor…"

We also have an EI system accessible to less than a third of workers who pay into it.

The effects are devastating. While we do not have death by despair, we have an epidemic of anxiety and depression -- grinding economic insecurity, widespread abuse of workers' rights because governments refuse to enforce labour standards, the virtual collapse of the kind of family life that was the norm 40 years ago and levels of job dissatisfaction not seen at any other time in the postwar period.

The 2012 National Study on Balancing Work and Caregiving in Canada, authored by professors Linda Duxbury of Carleton University and Christopher Higgins of the University of Western Ontario, reports on the (ever-worsening) work-life imbalance of thousands of individual workers:

"Almost two-thirds of us are working more than 45 hours a week -- 50 per cent more than two decades ago. Work weeks are more rigid, with flex-time arrangements dropping by a third in the past 10 years.... More than half of the survey's respondents took work home with them, putting in an average of seven extra hours a week from home. To top it off, only 23 per cent of working Canadians are highly satisfied with life. That's half as many as in 1991."

There is nothing to suggest that things have gotten anything but worse in the intervening five years. Just this week a report on bankruptcy out of Ontario reveals that the demographics of indebtedness are changing -- "[s]hifting to seniors with fixed incomes, single parents and millennials burdened with student-loan debt. Forced to cover debt with more debt just to pay for basic expenses, low-income earners are using payday loans and filing for insolvency at historic rates."Twenty-five percent of filers -- and 38 per cent of those under 30 -- rely on payday loans with astronomical interest rates.

If the recent Liberal budget is any indication, the state has no intention of easing the burden on young people, ensuring that the precariate will continue to grow. An analysis of the budget by Generation Squeeze, an NGO advocating for younger generations, points out that the budget earmarked $23,000 per person aged 65 and over, and $5,500 per Canadian under the age of 45. While that may be a somewhat crude comparison, any talk about fixing inequality without providing universal child care, low or free tuition, and a reversal of the "labour flexibility" measures introduced almost 25 years ago by Paul Martin is insulting.

Governments listen to those with the loudest voice and for three decades that has been Bay Street. There was a time when organized labour spoke loudly, too. It was responsible for successfully fighting for EI, social assistance, public pensions, fair taxes, workers' compensation and workers' rights through enforced labour standards.

One of those standards was the 40-hour week. Maybe the union movement should come out of its long slumber with a new slogan: "Bring back the 40-hour week." Anyone? Anyone?

Murray Dobbin has been a journalist, broadcaster, author and social activist for 40 years. He writes rabble's State of the Nation column.

Photo: DAVID HOLT/flickr

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