Category Archives: Off-Topic Tuesday

Trudeau’s reaction to Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s report provokes both hope and skepticism

The residential school system which was imposed upon generations of Indigenous people across so-called “Canada” is a permanent stain upon the history of this land.

The full extent of the horrors suffered by the children forced into these brutal institutions was for decades denied, then downplayed, then shrugged off as ancient history.

Former Prime Minister Stephen Harper did his best to put an end to discussion of the matter by offering a formal governmental apology, an apology that was clearly shown to be hollow when his government refused to cooperate with the survivor-funded Truth and Reconciliation Commission when it embarked on a systemic inquiry of residential schools some six years ago.

The TRC today released the final volume of its report on the residential school system. You may recall that the summary of their report, issued with 94 recommendations, was released with great fanfare back in June, on the eve of a federal election, and, in a pathetic commentary on white fragility, managed to make waves for its use of the term “cultural genocide” to describe the practice of forcibly removing Indigenous children from their parents, punishing them for speaking their languages, teaching them their customs were barbaric and savage, and employing extreme physical and sexual violence against them in an effort to make them conform.

One other moment from that event which sticks out in my memory is when TRC Chair Justice Murray Sinclair called for a national inquiry into murdered and missing Indigenous women, and the whole room stood and applauded except for Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt, whom Thomas Mulciar side-eyed the fuck out of.

The change in tone from the Conservatives at the release of the report’s summary to the Liberals at the release of the full report is night and day. Here’s what Prime Minister Trudeau had to say today:

But here’s the thing: at this point, the difference is only one of tone, and that needs to be pointed out, again and again, relentlessly, because saying nice and comforting and agreeable things is what politicians are best at, and what ultimately matters least. Harper was willing to say the nice and comforting and agreeable things when he apologized for the residential school system, and he had no compunctions about thereafter decimating funding for Indigenous people, refusing to consult First Nations on major resource extraction projects which affected them, refusing to meet hunger-striking Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence, and enacting policies which made it much more difficult for Indigenous people to vote.

Similarly, the Liberal Party doesn’t exactly have a sparkling history when it comes to Indigenous issues, including under the current Prime Minister’s father and his then-Indian Affairs Minister (and future PM) Jean Chretien. As Cree writer Harold Cardinal put it back in his 1969 book “The Unjust Society”: Continue Reading

The Canadian government’s constantly changing climate goals

“Everybody has thrown out numbers and different targets, and what they’re going to do and what is going to happen…What we need is not ambitious political targets.”

– Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, CBC interview, October 10, 2015

“[On] the question for framing the temperature goal, we support reference to striving for 1.5 [degrees Celsius of warming] as other countries have said…If we want to achieve this temperature goal, everyone needs to be part of this. We need maximum participation where everyone puts their best efforts forward.”

– Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna, Paris COP21 summit, December 7, 2015

How the hell do we square these two statements with each other?

Because make no mistake about it, a temperature target of 1.5°C is both an ambitious target and a political one.

Major industrialized nations, including the United States and the European Union, favour a target of 2°C. The 1.5°C target, favoured by nations in the Global South, and particularly low-lying and island nations, is the more ambitious of the two targets on the table during Paris negotiations, as it requires a much more rapid transition away from major sources of carbon emissions. It is a matter of life or death for hundreds of millions of people living at or near sea level: Continue Reading

NEB consultation process with First Nations is bureaucratic racism at its most absurd

A vital legal issue which has emerged from the ongoing battles over major pipeline projects across Canada revolves around the government’s constitutional duty to consult First Nations on energy and resource extraction projects which impact their territories.

The National Energy Board (NEB), a committee of appointees charged with reviewing proposed energy infrastructure projects, has been holding these consultations on the government’s behalf. Not good enough, say many First Nations; they assert that they have a treaty right to be consulted directly by government, on a nation-to-nation basis, rather than by an arms-length bureaucratic entity widely viewed as a rubber-stamping sinecure for well-connected energy/pipeline industry professionals.

One band, the Chippewas of the Thames First Nation, is pushing its challenge over lack of proper governmental consultation all the way to the Supreme Court in relation to Enbridge’s Line 9B, a case that I’ve covered in some detail here before.

There was some initial hopefulness after the election of Prime Minister Trudeau that the new government would take a different approach in this regard. They made encouraging noises about ratifying the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and Trudeau instructed his new Natural Resources Minister, Jim Carr, to “modernize” the NEB process to ensure it is more “inclusive” and “confidence-inspiring”.

However, APTN revealed today that there will be no additional consultation of First Nations beyond the NEB’s process, a real blow to hopes that Trudeau was serious about establishing meaningful nation-to-nation relations.

But issues with the NEB’s consultation of First Nations go far beyond the question of whether they are the correct body to be conducting this process, constitutionally speaking. The actual process of consultation itself is a bureaucratic absurdity, with the byzantine (and frankly racist) rules governing which kind of evidence can be presented and when dictated largely by the energy and pipeline companies pushing these projects.

Just take a look at this: Continue Reading

Thoughts on Paris: radicalization, overt vs subtle racism, war profiteering, and more

I’ve been thinking a lot about what happened in Paris – and more specifically, what people have said about what happened in Paris on the Internet. Here’s a serious of disconnected and unfinished thoughts on the subject.
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In the popular Western imaginary, the figure of the jihadi is rife with internal contradictions. The jihadi is in some scenes a mindless automaton, thoughtlessly carrying out the orders of a far-away mastermind; in others, he (and they’re almost always hes) is driven by a fanatical medieval religiosity; in others still, he is the vision of purest evil, a miniature Hitler whose body count may be in the tens instead of the tens of millions but who is nonetheless a genocidal maniac.

Lost amidst all this frenzied fear and loathing is any real sense for why anybody might actually want to become a jihadi, why somebody might want to commit the kinds of hideous crimes we witnessed this week.

We now know with a fair amount of certainty that all of the men involved in the killings in Paris earlier this week were European nationals. All of them were born and raised in either France or Belgium; most were the children of immigrants. Some of them, like Bilal Hadfi, who blew himself (and nobody else) up with a suicide vest outside of a stadium, were up until a few years ago typical European young men, fanatical about nothing more serious than their favourite football teams. What makes these people turn to violent extremism?

Well, let’s start off with the obvious. Young Muslim men who feel accepted and valued in their communities, who have opportunities to live a good and fulfilling life, who are treated as equals by their peers and the institutions they interact with, who are free to pursue their religion and practice their culture, or not, as they please, who in effect are not stigmatized for being young Muslim men, are not exactly the type of people who are likely to run off and join ISIS.

I think we can all agree on that, right?

Well…what does that imply, then? Continue Reading

TPP update – Liberal support looking more certain, despite dire warnings

For months now, I’ve been writing about the Trans-Pacific Partnership without knowing precisely what of provisions were contained within it.

Negotiated under intense secrecy, the TPP has for a long time been like an ominous raincloud on the horizon, looming and threatening in an indistinct and distant way. Occasionally a draft chapter would make its way into the hands of Wikileaks, and experts in the field would carefully parse through the dense legal language and pronounce the agreement dangerous and a threat to (sovereignty/democracy/the environment/ labour/creativity/etc.), but for all intents and purposes the TPP was a black box.

That in itself was reason to be suspicious. The high-level access to negotiations which was granted to over five hundred of the world’s largest corporations, and the complete and total lack of access granted to pretty much every other affected group, was a pretty strong tell as to whom this deal was going to favour.

As you’ve likely heard, the full text of the deal was finally made public last week. And now that we can actually read the damn thing, all the experts who thought they were alarmed before are having to redefine their definition of “alarmed” to accommodate their new levels of alarmedness.

Chris Hedges, for instance, says of the deal that it is “the most brazen corporate power grab in American history”, adding:

These three agreements [the TPP, TTIP, and TISA] solidify the creeping corporate coup d’état along with the final evisceration of national sovereignty. Citizens will be forced to give up control of their destiny and will be stripped of the ability to protect themselves from corporate predators, safeguard the ecosystem and find redress and justice in our now anemic and often dysfunctional democratic institutions. The agreements—filled with jargon, convoluted technical, trade and financial terms, legalese, fine print and obtuse phrasing—can be summed up in two words: corporate enslavement.

And before you go and call Hedges an alarmist, consider these facts: 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

“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

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!

The Unkillable Trans Pacific Partnership

This is one of those times that I hate being right.

A few weeks back, with negotiations over the Trans Pacific Partnership on the rocks after representatives from Japan and the NAFTA countries failed to reach an agreement on auto policy, some pundits were saying that a deal this year was now looking impossible, given the election timelines in various TPP member countries. But I wasn’t so sure:

Given how high the stakes are and how close the deal is to slipping away, I have a funny feeling that we’re going to see some desperate last-minute negotiations. And if Harper slips in the polls, it wouldn’t be surprising if he thought that cobbling together a “major trade deal” in the final weeks of the election campaign was the path to victory. Never mind about what’s actually in the damn thing – the public won’t get to read it, by some accounts, until four years after it’s ratified.

If you’re attending all-candidate meeting or if you get your door knocked by canvassers, please consider bringing up the TPP. And for all our sake, don’t vote for any candidate who supports this terrible deal. Meanwhile, watch out for a hastily-thrown-together negotiating marathon sometime within the next two to three weeks. There’s too much potential profit on the table for the major players in this negotiation to let this opportunity slip away.

Literally two and a half weeks later, we’re on the eve of – guess what? – a hastily-thrown-together negotiating marathon. Continue Reading

Corporate hubris hits an all-time high – so why aren’t we hearing more about it?

It seems like you can’t walk a block without tripping over a headline about corporate wrongdoing or scandal these days.

One that flew below my radar for several days was the ongoing fury surrounding Volkswagen. I saw vague headlines about recalls and fines, but figured it was just another of those all-too-common shoddy manufacturing stories. When I finally heard the details, I was shocked.

In case you missed it, Volkswagen engaged in a multi-year conspiracy to cheat on emissions tests for its diesel vehicles. Over eleven million vehicles were programmed to detect when they were being tested for emissions, and to engage a special filter in those circumstances to bring their emissions in line with government standards. Outside of e-tests, though, the vehicles went back to emitting up to forty times as much as the legal limits of dangerous emissions – a practice that has likely results in the deaths of hundreds, if not thousands, of asthmatic folks and other people with lung conditions, as well as contributing immeasurably to the pollution of our atmosphere.

This isn’t a case of a few bad apples. This is a widespread, deliberate attempt by engineers, designers, executives, and scientists at Volkswagen to do an end run around regulations, all so they could market their cars as being more fuel efficient.

As the CBC points out, this isn’t the first time that car companies have known about a dangerously fatal flaw in their vehicles and not taken action. To my knowledge, though, this is the first time that such a flaw has been deliberately engineered into the design of vehicles. Volkswagen has put their profitability ahead of the health and lives of the public with this action – it’s a disgusting affront and it shouldn’t be allowed to go unpunished.

A big question a lot of people have is: how widespread is corporate behaviour like this? Lambert Strether at Naked Capitalism points out that Volkswagen’s model could have a broad application: Continue Reading

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