Monthly Archives: October, 2015

Hallowe’en special: there’s nothing scarier than the police

This week I couldn’t seem to go a day without hearing a horror story about police brutality, hubris, abuse of power, intimidation, or sexual violence.

The most pervasive one was, of course, the now-notorious incident in South Carolina, in which a white police officer seizes a seated young black girl from her desk and hurls her across a classroom, because she (apparently) didn’t immediately comply with his order to leave the room. The girl, reportedly grieving the recent death of her mother, was then charged with “disrupting a classroom”; the classmate who filmed the video has, absurdly, also been charged with disrupting a classroom.

This whole violent attack was disgusting, pure and simple. (I say this based purely on the descriptions I’ve read of the assault, because I myself haven’t watched the footage, nor do I intend to. I likewise didn’t watch Eric Garner’s slow suffocation on a New York City sidewalk, or look at the photos of Mike Brown’s body left lying in the hot Ferguson streets for hours after his extrajudicial execution. I read about these things, and that’s disturbing enough for me.)

Speaking out against such abuse can be costly, though, as superstar film director Quentin Tarantino found out this week. At a New York City rally against police brutality organized by a group called Rise Up October, Tarantino said:

“This is not being dealt with in any way at all. That’s why we are out here. If it was being dealt with, then these murdering cops would be in jail or at least be facing charges. When I see murders, I do not stand by. I have to call a murder a murder, and I have to call the murderers the murderers.”

The backlash against Tarantino from police apologists was immediate and intense. The national police union, echoing calls from the NYPD, LAPD, and departments in Philadelphia, Chicago, Houston, and New Jersey, has called for a boycott of Tarantino and his forthcoming film. Media coverage has largely fallen in line with the police angle, repeatedly falling back on the supposed insensitivity of the timing of the protest, which took place within a week of the on-duty death of an NYPD officer. In an attempt to make the protest appear out-of-bounds radical, the ostensibly left-leaning Guardian quotes the rally’s organizers as saying that police brutality amounts to a “genocidal assault on black and Latino people in this country”.

Lost amidst all this furor is the reality of the situation, which is that police Tarantino’s words are completely accurate: officers in the United States routinely get away with murder, and nothing is being done to deal with this dire crisis. Continue Reading

Miley Cyrus is a better scientist than the folks at BC Min. of Resource Stewardship

One would think that any politician who’s been in the public eye as long as B.C. Premier Christy Clark would have heard of the Streisand Effect.

In case you don’t know, the Streisand Effect refers to situations in which, by trying to prevent people from hearing about a thing or taking an argument seriously, you actually cause that thing or argument to become much more widely known and accepted than it ever would have been if you’d just kept yer mouth shut to start with.

Such was the case when, around a month ago, Clark waded into a feud with international superstar Miley Cyrus.

Cyrus (who, let’s be clear here, is in some senses a badass pop icon and in other ways is extremely problematic), shared a post on Instagram to her literally millions and millions of followers about the horrors of British Columbia’s wolf cull, encouraging people to sign a petition. (You can see her post and read some reaction here.)

Now, if Christy Clark had just let the whole thing blow over, it would’ve been quickly forgotten. Because petitions, y’know…

The wolf cull was extremely controversial when it was initially announced. The cull, which involves shooting wolves from helicopters, is ostensibly designed to protect decreasing caribou populations, a claim that ecologists and activists hotly disputed. Nonetheless, the cull was implemented in early 2015, and the issue had largely faded from public awareness when Cyrus brought it up again.

Premier Clark, apparently just hungry for a headline, fired back at Cyrus the very next day, saying that the pop star didn’t know what she was talking about, scientifically speaking, and that Cyrus should “stick to twerking“.  Continue Reading

Surprise! The TPP is gonna screw us over!

From the CBC:

At the initial briefing offered to journalists, TPP negotiators said Canadian health and safety regulations would apply.

“The TPP fully protects Canada’s right to maintain and implement measures to ensure food safety for consumers, as well as to protect animal or plant life or health,” a trade department spokesman wrote CBC News.

But further clarification recently revealed that doesn’t mean dairy producers outside Canada have to follow the same rules Canadian farms do.

Most notably, it’s illegal in Canada to administer bovine growth hormone (rBST) to boost milk production in dairy cattle. But there’s no such restriction in the U.S.

No new certification or inspection regime appears set to screen milk destined for import into Canada. It’s also unclear whether U.S. milk would be segregated at Canadian processing facilities, or simply mixed with Canadian product.

Aside from being yet another compelling reason to go vegan, this latest revelation clearly demonstrates the power of the TPP and similar “trade” agreements to undercut the power of the Canadian government to regulate products on the market based on legitimate safety concerns.

Want more? Check this one out: Continue Reading

Trudeau, Obama, and the dangers of the cult of personality

In 2011, when Stephen Harper led the Conservatives to a majority government, his party amassed 39.6% of the national vote.

Much was made of the fact that roughly 60% of voters had (supposedly) voted against Harper and his Conservative Party.

And yet, in the aftermath of this year’s election, in which Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party secured a mere 39.5% of the popular vote, we hear no such protestations.

There is, however, just as strong a case to be made that the remaining 60% of voters actively voted against the Liberal Party, just as much as they voted for their respective parties of choice.

For Conservative voters, the choice was made starkly clear by Stephen Harper himself: this election was a fight between continued Conservative rule, with their supposed fiscal responsibility and dedication to national security, and the rule of the feckless Liberals, who would irresponsibly lead the nation into deficit and out of a vital war against Islamist jihadism. One can debate the accuracy of this framing of the campaign, but there is no denying that these are the terms in which many Conservative-supporting Canadians viewed the situation. They accordingly, and dutifully, voted against Liberal rule, just as they also voted for four more years of Harper & Co.

For supporters of the NDP and the Greens, though this election seemed on the surface to fundamentally boil down to a referendum on Stephen Harper, they chose to stand by their parties despite the fact that, from a short-sightedly “strategic” point of view, the party most likely to dethrone the Conservatives was the Liberals. This strongly implies that they felt there were meaningful differences between the Liberals and their opponents on the left, differences significant enough that they outweighed the “strategic” imperative of defeating Harper. Which is to say, they voted against the Liberals as much as they voted for the NDP or the Greens.

And lastly, for the Bloc’s hard core of support, the Liberals are of course the old enemy. Trudeau père presided over the first referendum and sent the army onto the streets of Quebec and Montreal during the FLQ crisis, and there is precious little enthusiasm for Trudeau fils amongst the sovereigntist camp. In addition, Gilles Duceppe’s shameful race-baiting fear-mongering niqab-bashing ultimately drew a hard line between the Bloc and the Liberals (as well as the NDP and the Greens), and there can be little doubt at this point that the rump of Quebec nationalists contains within its membership a sizeable contingent of openly xenophobic racists who, obviously, actively voted against the Liberal Party just as surely as they voted for the slowly dying Bloc Quebecois.

So Justin Trudeau will take office this November with a level of support which is comparable to that of Stephen Harper when he embarked upon his first and only majority government. Continue Reading

New government expected to act on Indigenous issues, thanks to tireless activism

CW: rape, violence against women, anti-Indigenous racism, police brutality

For those who still don’t believe that we urgently need a national inquiry into the issue of murdered and missing Indigenous women, consider the following:

Earlier this week, it emerged that the British Columbia Minister of Transportation, Todd Stone, and staff working under him, as well as the deputy chief of staff in Premier Christy Clark’s office, had intentionally deleted government emails relating to the so-called “Highway of Tears”, a stretch of Highway 16 notorious for being the site of the disappearance and/or murder of up to 40 women, most of them Aboriginal women, over the past forty years.

The revelation further established the B.C. provincial government as an impediment to resolving the longstanding issue of #MMIW. In the province of Robert Picton and the Highway of Tears, one would think that the government would be more responsive to these concerns, but instead we see bureaucrats and politicians primarily concerned with covering their own asses – and perhaps the asses of law enforcement in the province as well. Just two years back, Human Rights Watch issued a report accusing the RCMP of systemically abusing and raping Aboriginal women in British Columbia, an allegation made on the basis of widespread specific accusations from Indigenous women and girls. The RCMP at the time did not comment on the allegations, and are the law enforcement agency currently tasked with reviewing the B.C. government’s handling of records relating to the Highway of Tears.

Though the timing was coincidental, the parallels with the B.C. situation are clear in a story coming out of Quebec today: eight officers with the Sûreté du Québec were suspended after allegations of sexual assault and abuse against Indigenous women.

In the Quebec case, the probe into the police was led by the provincial Ministry of Public Safety, but conducted by the SQ on its own members – a detail which hasn’t escaped the government’s critics.

These two examples are not isolated incidents. They’re part of a systemic pattern of behaviour. In this country, the lives of Indigenous people, and especially Indigenous women and girls, are considered by many, including many authority figures in government and law enforcement, to be worthless.

This has been a problem for a very long time. Indeed, total disregard for the value of the lives of Indigenous people is the foundational injustice of this colonial nation. The contemporary environment of extreme violence towards Indigenous women is but the latest manifestation in a multi-generational campaign of slow cultural and physical genocide against First Nations peoples.  Continue Reading

Why did the NDP lose so badly? Here’s a close look at some popular explanations

There really isn’t a good way to spin it. The NDP lost hard on Monday night.

When the election started in early August, they were leading in the polls and poised to form government for the first time in their long history. Eleven weeks later, their support had cratered; rather than building on their 2011 outing, their most successful ever, they instead lost more than half their caucus, including many of their most experienced and well-known members.

Instead of moving from Stornaway to 24 Sussex, Thomas Mulcair is now house-hunting at considerably less prestigious addresses, no doubt grateful to even still have his job after a relatively close race in his riding of Outremont.

That’s the kind of meagre consolation NDP stalwarts are offering each other these days. It could have been worse – at least Mulcair didn’t go full Ignatieff and lose his own seat!

There has been the digital equivalent of a ton of ink devoted to the question of What Happened To The NDP, and I wanted to take a close look at a few of the more popular explanations today. As we’ll see, most are at best incomplete and at worst completely unfounded.

The most easily discredited of these theories was quite prominent in the final month or so of the campaign: the notion that the NDP lost because their stance on the niqab was at odds with the majority of the electorate, especially in Quebec.

This one is transparently false. First of all, a close reading of the data shows that the party’s numbers were slipping several days before the issue shot to prominence in the first of the two French-language debates.  Continue Reading

“A difference of tone”: in most ways that matter, Prime Minister Trudeau will be no better than Harper

“The biggest difference between a party led by me and one by Stephen Harper will be one of tone.”

Justin Trudeau

Our soon-to-be-sworn-in Prime Minister spoke those words way back in April 2013, when he was in the midst of the Liberal leadership contest, and that was the moment when I was officially done with him.

Not that I didn’t have issues with former Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s “tone”, or his “style”. (And let’s just take a moment to savour that phrase: “former Prime Minister Stephen Harper”. Just rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it? Add a “disgraced” at the beginning for maximum enjoyment!) Harper’s “tone” was pretty consistently condescending, bullying, mean-spirited, and paranoid. A change of tone in politics would be pretty nice, I suppose.

But if “tone” is the biggest change we get when Justin Trudeau moves (back) into 24 Sussex, then all this hullabaloo about “real change” amounts to nothing but a steaming mountain of bullshit. Because “tone” was the least bad thing about Harper’s tenure in the PMO.

Unfortunately, in many respects, our PM-to-be’s platform aligns with the outgoing Conservative Party on several critical issues.

Let’s look at a few of them, shall we? Continue Reading

Does it really matter who wins the election tomorrow?

This was the week that the campaign jumped the shark.

I’ve almost started a few posts with that line, but I had a funny feeling I’d need it for later. It’s like when I’m asked to rate your pain on a scale from one to ten; no matter how badly it hurts, I’m saving my “ten” in case it gets worse.

I’m glad I waited, because good god what a weird final week it’s been. Let’s just take a minute, for instance, and appreciate the fact that Rob friggin’ Ford and his bully brother Doug actually just hosted a Conservative Party rally for Stephen Harper. Ok? Letting that sink in?

The party of law and order, the party that literally just this week was publishing shady ads in Chinese and Punjabi warning people that Justin Trudeau was going to peddle pot to your kids and flood your neighbourhood with junkies, the party whose leader recently made the absurd statement that marijuana is “infinitely worse” than tobacco, on one of the very last days of a campaign in which it’s fighting for its life, basically held the #elxn42 iteration of Ford Fest, with recovering alcoholic/crack addict, racist, and alleged extortionist Rob Ford in attendance despite allegations from his former chief of staff that he was a habitual drunk driver while mayor emerging earlier that day, and complete with a barn-burner of a crowd-warmer speech by failed mayoral candidate and former big-time hash dealer Doug Ford, a man who has publicly expressed interest – during this very election campaign! – in taking Stephen Harper’s job if the Cons should happen to lose.

I mean, at a certain point, words fail. “Absurd” doesn’t really cut it, does it?

It must speak to the desperation within the Harper camp. They’re obviously hoping that some of that Ford Nation magic will rub off on their campaign, which is questionable logic to me. How many hardcore Ford fanatics were thinking of not voting Conservative?

At this point, Harper’s trying every trick he can think of to cling to power. This week, the Cons called in all their favours with Postmedia and the Thompson family to secure across-the-board endorsements from virtually every major daily in the country, including the single most absurd endorsement of all time, in which the Globe and Mail endorsed the Conservatives while calling for Stephen Harper’s resignation.

Following up on the furor over the seemingly bought-and-paid-for endorsements, today people in cities across Canada woke up to newspapers wrapped in full-page ads in the style of Elections Canada notices proclaiming that “Voting Liberal will cost you“: Continue Reading

Billionaire media barons endorse Stephen Harper for Prime Minister

Most of the time, there’s a polite fiction in mass media that the obscenely wealthy billionaires and hedge funds which control 90% of the newspapers and TV stations don’t dictate what positions their properties take on major issues. Not everybody believes it, but it’s also an easy thing to just kinda forget about.

Every once in a while, though, the mask comes off, and the heavy hand of ownership makes itself felt.

That was the case these past few days, as across the country, newspaper after newspaper issued torturously worded, illogical, ill-informed, half-baked endorsements of Stephen Harper and his Conservative Party.

For those of you who aren’t up on the intensity of media concentration in Canada, here’s a post I did on it a few months back, or, here’s media ownership summed up in a single simple diagram:

For the record: a private holding company called The Woodbridge Company now wholly owns the Globe, while the Star is technically owned by TorStar, which at one point had a minority stake in the Globe, as did Bell. (It’s cozy at the top.) Continue Reading

Problems at the polls widespread during advance voting

Elections Canada, beset by funding cuts and prohibitive restrictions on their ability to promote voting, warned their workers a few weeks ago to keep their eyes open for dirty tricks this election.

Already, after four days of advance polling, there are signs of some serious systemic issues.

Massive line-ups in opposition-leaning ridings.

Widespread and inexplicable issues with voter registration. (Seriously, click through and read some of these stories, especially those first two links.)

Even reports of multiple pre-marked ballots.

Maybe folks are just being paranoid, seeing a vast Conservative conspiracy lurking behind every delay and glitch – but a little paranoia is justifiable when the ruling party has committed electoral fraud in each of its three election victories, and then went on to underfund the agency charged with investigating electoral fraud.

What we do know is that the more obstacles there are to voting, the more difficult it will be for folks to vote, especially for folks who are time-strapped or have mobility issues or who basically aren’t super-determined and assertive.

Whether these issues are caused by the poor level of funding for Elections Canada or behind-the-scenes malfeasance or some combination of the two, this pattern of events is extremely worrying and completely unacceptable.

If you’re going to vote on Election Day, leave yourself as much time as you can to vote, keep your eyes open for any issues with your ballot, and be sure to share anything questionable that happens to you on social media. These stories become all the more powerful when there are many of them!

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