Sunday, November 30, 2008
Today’s media events revealed the CPC releasing a transcript of a phone call into the NDP’s caucus meeting teleconference that was held yesterday. The party is trying to spin some kind of scandal out of the fact that Layton revealed that they had had earlier discussions with the Bloc regarding working together in common cause. Who cares! They are both opposition parties dealing with a minority government so this is just normal procedure. This is not proof of “secret, shady meetings to reverse election results” or a plan to launch a “massive power grab” from the ruling Conservative party.
I couldn’t believe the words coming out of Pierre Poilievre’s mouth. They were easy to remember because he just kept repeating the same talking points and they were ridiculous. Unfortunately, the progressive voices on the web are getting fixated on whether listening to, taping and distributing the tape to the media is an illegal action. I think that such a focus is exactly what Harper and his strategists were hoping for.
I don't disagree that it's unethical to tape and leak it to the media even if you were invited to listen in on the proceedings. And if you were not invited, there is definitely cause to pursue an investigation, since wiretapping still remains illegal. But a word of advice: any actions the NDP takes with respect to the legality of obtaining the tape or the ethical bankruptcy in distributing it, should be undertaken quietly and after the Harper government has been toppled. If their actions were criminal, the crime won't go away.
The media will be more than thrilled to have a scandal to focus on and will have a field day over some “wintergate” or “coldgate” event. Such a focus would detract from the current impression that the opposition parties are committed to making government work for Canadians while the Conservatives are not.
Harper is going back to his Rovian book of dirty tactics. But this time I think most Canadians are more likely to see them as signs of desperation. We don’t need to hurl accusations of illegal wiretapping to bring Harper and his Conservatives down. Demonstrating that the opposition parties have no recourse but to lose confidence in Harper’s ability to govern is key.
The opposition parties have successfully convinced the public that their concern is not only with his proposed changes to party election financing and union rights, but with his overall lack of vision or commitment to present an action plan to deal with the economic hardships that Canadians know they are facing. That’s why they didn’t back track when Harper stated that that these new policies would be shelved. Harper is spinning his wheels to find a way to hold on to power and so far, his flaccid attempts to stop the opposition have failed.
Giving the media a chance to focus on an impending lawsuit only serves Harper in my view. I'm sure Harper and his supporters are probably hoping the media and blogosphere gets in a tizzy over the NDP demanding an investigation.
The bottom line is that Harper is better equipped at handling accusations of scandal than those of ineptness. He's been like teflon on every other scandal raised in the past two years because he recognizes that a steady non-reaction is better politics than an over-reaction. Chretien is also gifted with the same reflexes.
An angry Jack Layton is the worst thing that could happen when the idea of a coalition government is picking up momentum. The Winnipeg Free Press (fairly right wing) closed today’s snapshot poll reporting 69% in favour of a coalition government.
Having the media spend the week focused on whether the taping was illegal, unethical or inept (on the part of the NDP) would be a shot in the arm for Harper. It's bait, and the whole news item should be buried as fast as possible.
So let me get this straight.
Jack Layton, foreseeing a time when a progressive coalition of opposition parties would be a go, smooths the way with the Bloc Québécois beforehand. Here's a transcript of a conference call (possibly obtained criminally by the Conservatives) that lays it out.
This preliminary work saves the Liberals the trouble of having to start cold on a deal with their Quebec nemesis. It allows Layton, in effect, to bring two parties to the table. And he was able to establish at the outset that the BQ would not be an actual coalition partner.
Very astute politics. And the irony of getting the BQ on board isn't lost on Layton either:
I’ll just say one other thing about the issue of the Bloc: nothing could be better for our country, than to have the fifty members who’ve been elected to separate Quebec to actually helping to make Canada a better place. I think we just approach it on that basis, and say we’re willing to make Canada happen, here’s other things that we’re going to be investing in and transforming together, they’re willing to work with us, we’ll accept that offer. What will be important to point out is that this will be an NDP-Liberal coalition, which is supported by the Bloc, with policy ideas that the coalition is bringing forward.
But oh, the faux-outrage! Assorted Tory trained seals, hangers-on and media lackeys have broken into a near-deafening chorus of whines and angry accusations. There was only silence from those same quarters, of course, when Stephen Harper was shopping around for coalition partners in 2004.
Harper was supposed to be the one with the chess skills, even if they deserted him recently. But at this point it looks like Jack Layton is no mean player himself.
On with the progressive coalition talks. Bring. Them. Down.
Furthermore, I used the Conservative Party of Canada's handy-dandy website for that purpose!
Does that mean I'm tactically opportunistic or that I'm democratically astute?
Note: I wrote about subverting the CPC website during the election campaign back in September. During these recent events, the strategically savvy Dipper Chick has taken steps to fully develop its potential for advancing the Progressive Coalition. Oh, and go sign the petition too, at The Galloping Beaver.
Jim Flaherty stated this morning that he would bring forward a budget on January 27. There's still no official talk of proroguing Parliament until then. But it's unlikely that a dribble of Conservative crumbs will assuage the opposition at this point. Coalition talks are still underway. Proroguing would just be postponing the inevitable. If anything, these concessions should embolden the other parties still further. Don't blow it, guys.
Meanwhile the Cons are out begging for money to prevent what the guardian of their war-chest, Irving Gerstein, is ludicrously calling the "hijacking of Canadian democracy." Perhaps the Blogging Tories should follow Ezra Levant's example, and install PayPal buttons. There's one born every minute, after all.
That will impress the Canadian people. In the middle of an economic crisis The Harper cuts and runs. It would be comical if it weren't so serious.
The pieces will stay on the board for a while longer--but it's still end game.
Saturday, November 29, 2008
Ve need ein Iron Man!
I am disgusted. I am ashamed. I cannot believe we have a system in this Country that makes that even remotely possible. The Bloc needs to go, the opposition needs to go. We need to elect a Leader, and reps from all Provinces, and that’s it. Yes, there will be a lot of people that won’t like that. Most of them will be looking for a real job.
62.3% steal government from 37.7%
Witnessing the backroom maneuverings now occurring in Ottawa, I cannot help but feel as if the vote I cast just weeks ago is about to be stolen from me, as Stephane Dion and the Liberal Party plot to overturn the results of our last election.
I think it's astoundingly undemocratic that Liberals and NDP would presume to topple the Conservative government just weeks after Harper's clear win in a general election, and just days after the opposition supported the Conservatives' throne speech.
Something is happening here
I want to sound informed and reasonably well-read about the current constitutional crisis, but I have a confession to make: I have no idea what's really going on.
The Commie, the Separatist or the Failure. Do you honestly think Canadians would choose either over Stephen Harper, sweaters and all?
Don't bogart that joint...
[The Governor-General] will conclude that this is just a partisan move. She will most likely be advised that she must call an election because partisan politicing [sic] is not a basis to allow a coalition.
Fear and loathing
You blazing morons. You are as dangerous as hell.
So, Stephane/Bob/Mike, Jack and Gilles; go ahead and spit in the face of an electorate that recently rejected all of you - I'll enjoy 5 weeks of your comedic posturing as you leap to your extinction.
Hey! We've got more outraged Canadians than you do
What is important now, beyond all else, is that the rest of the country hears us. Not as Conservatives, but as outraged Canadians. The media must hear us loud and clear within the next week or so, because they are trying to assess whether there is any popular legitimacy to this coup.
While the Speech Warriors™ strain at that gnat, Canadian Security Intelligence Service operatives have been trying to recruit spies in the First Nations community, with their usual combination of threats and inducements.
The direct approach doesn't seem to have panned out so far. Maybe some black ops in the future?
Meanwhile, the "free the neo-Nazis" brigade are still fussing about important stuff, like Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act.
Friday, November 28, 2008
[Samisch-Nimzovich 1923: White to move and lose]
Playing chess with his opposition, Stephen Harper has blundered into zugzwang--a position in which any moves he now makes will eventually be fatal. Never mind the frantic blustering of his old UCal-pal Barry Cooper, presented as a dispassionate expert by--who else--CTV. He's done like dinner.
Harper will be out of power in a few days--his just-announced plan to postpone the inevitable will not save him. Canadians will have proportional representation in all but name: a new government will replace one that a clear majority of Canadians rejected at the polls.
How did it come to this? Blind arrogance, hubris, an uncharacteristic misreading of his opponents? At the recent Conservative Convention in Winnipeg, Harper counseled patience to his rank-and-file, but he appears to have failed to take his own advice.
His entire strategy now lies in ruins. First he managed to madden and unite the opposition by threatening to bankrupt it with a well-timed (or so he clearly thought) repeal of public funding. His next move was to remove that proposal from play, expecting the forces arrayed against him to back off, and thus exposing them as narrowly self-interested.
But he gave them no marge de manoeuvre. The opposition parties could not permit themselves to be bankrupted. But neither could they allow themselves to back off once that threat was removed. Harper outsmarted himself by trying to corner his opponents. There is only one way out of a corner.
By forcing a coalition dialogue to happen, Harper let the genie out of the bottle. Coalition talk has its own momentum. It takes a major event to bring feuding parties into alignment. A threat to their survival is one of those events that can trigger new ways of thinking. Now anything is possible. A paradigm shift is taking place right before our eyes.
The potential here is simply enormous--as are the risks. The Trudeau-Lewis social accord of the early 1970's proved to be disastrous for the NDP, as Trudeau played his own superior game of chess with consummate skill. When the NDP went along with him, they were made to look like sell-outs; when they opposed him (and we've seen some of this same spin recently) they were made to look destructive and irresponsible. In the next election, the NDP was devastated.
But there are new players on the scene now. The NDP has a long memory, and will engage more skillfully, I believe, in the new statecraft. Working in coalition will be a learning experience, but it will be for the Liberals too.
The opposition parties have been virtually frogmarched into government by Stephen Harper. They will need a plan, and a public pledge to work together for a reasonable period. There is no reason why they cannot provide both to the Governor-General.
Let them govern, and let them govern well.
UPDATE: Sign the open letter!
Indeed. Vive la liberté d'expression! And let Adam Smith's invisible hand of the free market deliver some well-deserved jabs to those deserving pricks.
The doll's light-blue body, which comes with a set of 12 needles and a manual explaining how to put a curse on the president, also features some of Sarkozy's best-known quotes and gaffes: "Work more to earn more" reads one quote, a slogan from Sarkozy's presidential campaign. "Get lost, you poor jerk," reads another, a swipe Sarkozy took at a bystander at a farm fair who refused to shake his hand.
In keeping with the often meticulous nature of French officialdom, the ruling Friday was very specific. The distributor of the dolls, K&B Editions, was ordered to write the notice that will be distributed with the doll in black block-lettering and it must say exactly this: "It was ruled that the encouragement of the reader to poke the doll that comes with the needles in the kit, an activity whose subtext is physical harm, even if it is symbolic, constitutes an attack on the dignity of the person of Mr. Sarkozy."
Now, just imagine if this fellow had pulled off a majority?
What remains at this point? Abolishing the right to strike in the federal public service. A restraint package--in a time of recession.
An undemocratic anti-labour move, and an exercise in Herbert Hoovernomics.
A coalition still sounds like a fine idea. In fact, even a better idea now, because the Cons won't be able to claim that the other parties acted only out of narrow self-interest.
Bring. Them. Down.
H/t A BCer in Toronto
UPDATE: The National Post has taken down the item--out of embarrassment?
Here is the full text:
Posted: November 27, 2008, 9:11 PM by Kelly McParland
On November 10th, the National Post posted on its Full Comment Web blog a column entitled “Ezra Levant: Canada’s free speech enemies to lay Remembrance Day wreath,” which included a link to another Web site that
suggested lawyer and human rights activist Richard Warman had posted an
offensive item on the Freedomsite website about Senator Anne Cools.
The National Post has no evidence to support this allegation against
Mr. Warman and it hereby retracts any suggestion that Mr. Warman
manufactured any statement about Senator Cools. The National Post
apologizes for any embarrassment this has caused Mr. Warman.
[H/t commenter John B]
Thursday, November 27, 2008
In case readers need reminding, this year is the 91st anniversary of the Russian October Revolution. Last night I attended a panel discussion with the suitably wordy left-wing title, The Rise and Fall of the Soviet Union: Lessons for 21st Century Struggles.
Ah, nostalgia. I knew two of the three panelists from forty years ago. Ian Angus, now an eco-socialist with a website well worth checking into, represented the Socialist Project, about which I know very little, except that it's neither a "tendency" nor a think-tank. Read all about it here. Danny Goldstick was there, affable as ever, a University of Toronto philosophy professor and member for some time of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Canada. The third discussant was a young sprout (well, relatively young, anyway) from the International Socialists, Benoit Renaud.
The crowd of a dozen-and-a-half or so included one fellow I knew forty-five years ago. Gosh, maybe I was involved in that Russian Revolution thing too. I can't remember.
I don't really know what I had been expecting. Fossils emerging from their limestone? The finer points of doctrine aired once again for a small but knowledgable audience? Some strategies for twenty-first-century social change, based upon the errors, crimes and incompetence of Stalin and his uniformly grey successors?
I was pleasantly surprised, to some degree at least. The first off the mark was Danny Goldstick, whose "mistakes were made" line is fairly typical of the Communist Party, and always has been. (To his credit, he did speak out at the time against the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, which cost him his Central Committee seat for a while, but he weathered that storm.) He listed all of the undoubted pressures on the nascent USSR--foreign armed intervention (including Canadian), civil war and so on--that led to the Stalinist nightmare.
It was all downhill after that: "devastating, criminal purges," World War II with the loss of 20 million Soviet citizens, nuclear blackmail and an arms race that nearly bankrupted the country. After decades of battering, the working class, said Goldstick, was discouraged from militancy, and workers "expected to have things done for them." (Or to them, he might have added.) This state of dependency allowed capitalism to be restored, he said. Massive unemployment and hunger in the 1990s was offset by oil revenues to some extent, but with the current global economic meltdown and the plummeting price of oil, we can expect widespread misery once again in what was once the USSR.
(Wait! Where are the "lessons?" I came for the lessons!)
It was a mistake, said Goldstick, to believe that there is a social system called "socialism." What we call "socialism" is transitional, intermediate, precarious and fragile. In the case of the USSR, power was taken from the workers without resistance. The Soviet Union was not a workers' democracy: workers were not in charge.
The lessons? Never take things for granted. Avoid the "utopian delusion" of social-democracy: workers, not governments, will change society. And reject rigid categorization, he said, "as I was prone to do."
The bottom line for socialists today? "Capitalism will destroy us if we don't destroy it."
Ian Angus was next. He remarked on the changes in the way Canadian socialists are going about things these days: there he was, a former Trotskyist, sitting side-by-side with a member of the Communist Party, almost unheard of back in the day. He welcomed the end of the former "sectarian silos."
Angus spent much time describing the early post-revolutionary period, one of Durkheimian effervescence (my observation, not his). What is a revolution? Quoting Trotsky, the "direct interference of the masses in historical events." People formed councils (soviets) of their own everywhere--if there was a line-up for food, a "line-up soviet" would appear.
There was a massive reorganization of property. Managers of factories were elected. The Red Army functioned as a huge school, teaching literacy and other subjects. In the countryside, peasants voted to return to a system of village commons. National minorities were recognized: the government brought in a policy of "indigenization" (now called affirmative action), and published and offered services in 44 languages.
The environment was given legal protection, with forests preserved as "monuments of nature." Endangered species were protected, and, despite the hunting culture in that part of the world, limited hunting seasons were legislated. Women's rights were enshrined in law. Homosexuality was removed from the criminal code.
It was a period of mass democracy, he said, although the Kronstadt sailors might not have agreed.
But "the old society had its revenge." Forced collectivization and periodic purges took a frightful toll. Women's rights were curtailed in 1936; homosexuality was made illegal again in 1933. A conservative caste had seized control, and it remained in power until the USSR collapsed.
Lessons? Be aware of the nature of Stalinism; but learn, also, about what the revolution at least initially achieved. A better world, Angus concluded, is possible.
Finally Benoit Renaud: and he began with basic principles. 1: Be relevant. 2: Be a tribune of the oppressed. 3: Be organized.
With respect to (1), when Lenin alighted from his train in St. Petersburg, he did not whip up the crowds with slogans like "Down with alienation from the means of production! Down with commodity fetishism!" Instead he spoke directly to the people's concerns at the time: "Land, bread and peace." Principle (2) means speaking up against all forms of oppression--security certificates, Islamophobia, rendition and so on. Principle (3) means building as big an organization as possible, coordinated internationally.
Renaud called for the re-building of the Left, and spoke perhaps a little over-optimistically of new parties already arising from the remnants of previous ones. He noted the wide-based popular movements for social justice and the environment, and suggested that the initial success of the 1917 revolution could inspire new activists.
Question period, and I was first up. With the benefit of nearly a century of history to go by, I asked, what do you think of democratic centralism?
A very long discussion followed, and more questions along the same lines, and it was at this point that I began to be impressed. Angus and Renaud were strongly critical. Indeed, Angus spoke best on this, referring to "toy bolshevik parties," one of which he once belonged to, while Renaud talked of levels of discipline that were completely unnecessary, but whose rigours somehow made those who submitted to them more "revolutionary."
Goldstick, on the other hand, had some time for the notion. He contrasted democratic centralism with the Conservative party, whose recent policy resolutions weren't even binding, he said, on the party leader. (Suddenly I became even more strongly opposed to the concept!) Someone pointed out that it was relatively easy to move from "democratic" to "centralism," but much harder to move back.
I managed to get a second question in: what organizing principles should socialists adopt today? I wanted to hear a denunciation of vanguardism, but that wasn't explicitly forthcoming. However, two of the panelists spoke of their hard-won "humility," and admitted that the way forward, organizationally, is not at all clear. Indeed, Angus said that his most difficult lesson to learn was that there is not one organizational model that fits every circumstance--no two revolutions, as he put it, are alike.
Which in a way is where I came in. I was glad to discover that I am not alone in having no real sense of how we should organize ourselves to bring about social change. To hear these seasoned left-wingers talk the same way was oddly reassuring. There was a refreshing candour in the way two of them (not members of parties) presented themselves, with respect to their own previous dogmatism and their current state of uncertainty. No blueprints, no one-size-fits-all revolutionary schemes.
But all, in my view, was still not well.
While I have no doubt that a number of experiments in mass democracy took place in the aftermath of 1917, Lenin himself, in my view, was less than democratic in his impulses:
We are not utopians, we do not “dream” of dispensing at once with all administration, with all subordination. These anarchist dreams, based upon incomprehension of the tasks of the proletarian dictatorship, are totally alien to Marxism, and, as a matter of fact, serve only to postpone the socialist revolution until people are different. No, we want the socialist revolution with people as they are now, with people who cannot dispense with subordination, control, and 'foremen and accountants'.
The subordination, however, must be to the armed vanguard of all the exploited and working people, i.e., to the proletariat.
Well, hold on a minute: which is it? An armed vanguard or the proletariat? And that, of course, is the nub of the problem.
Where are the mechanisms that would make the government of the day accountable to the people? The CPUSSR was convinced (as the above quotation makes clear in its conflation of "vanguard" and "proletariat") that it spoke for the people. But--isn't this obvious?--only the people can speak for the people. Anyone genuinely representing "the people" does so by permission, not by analytical ability, knowledge, and sheer commitment to the cause. Democracy we need, not philosopher-kings who know what's best, and what we really want if we could just clear away all that false consciousness.
In other words, Lenin himself does not escape censure for what eventually transpired. Stalinism was an accident waiting to happen, just as the lack of functioning democratic union procedures permitted the rule of a Jimmy Hoffa or a Jackie Presser or a Hal Banks, in tandem, of course, with vicious intimidation to keep the proles in line.
Nor was I entirely satisfied by the tendency of some speakers to rummage around in Marx and other classical writers to find some scrap of text that had been missed on the first pass, some warning that, if heeded, might have prevented tragedy. I exaggerate, but only slightly. We shall not find where the October Revolution went off the rails in the pages of Marx, but in a pitiless review of the very structure of party and government at the time, with their centralizing, statist, bureaucratic tendencies that inevitably nipped popular democracy in the bud.
In other words, we need to leave far more of the Soviet project behind than the speakers seemed willing to. But, as noted, I was encouraged to see the shedding of old dogmatisms, the confessions of uncertainty, the tentative discussions of how to move forward. All we need now are the people. :)
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
[Given the new trial of David Ahenakew for hate speech, I thought some readers might be interested in an article that my late partner and I put together over three years ago. It still, at least to me, holds up. --DD]
What possessed David Ahenakew, decorated war veteran, respected First Nations elder, member of the Order of Canada, to say what he said back in 2002? Has anyone bothered to enquire? Amid the chorus of condemnation, from First Nations leaders, politicians, the Canadian Jewish Congress and B'nai Brith, not a solitary attempt at an explanation appears to have been made.
I'm not referring to wine and anti-diabetic meds, Ahenakew's own excuse. All these did was release something already present. The form it took on release was classic anti-Semitic discourse, a blather of deeply wounding remarks. Once it was all caught on tape, of course, it was game over: an entire lifetime of achievement was wiped out in one day, as though it had never existed.
On the day in question, Ahenakew was addressing a group of members of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations, and somehow the subject of Israel came up. He opined that the US and Israel were likely to cause the next world war, a view that, in far more nuanced terms, is a commonplace among critics of American foreign policy in the Middle East and of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians. We talk of "destabilizing," but Ahenakew was never one to mince words.
Confronted by a reporter afterwards, Ahenakew threw all caution to the winds, as we know, and consequently he attracted an avalanche of opprobrium that has finally buried him. And no one seems to care why he did it.
A little background, courtesy of This Magazine's Alex Roslin. Ahenakew's Cree forebears signed Treaty 6 back in 1877, giving up their vast hunting territory for a small reserve and $5 per person. Farming didn’t work out for them, and starvation and TB soon made their appearance. Indian agents physically abused those who asked for food. In other words, this was just another drearily familiar instance of the slow genocide that Indians, in South and in North America, have suffered for centuries.
Ahenakew was born in the midst of the Great Depression, one of fourteen children. Like many young men without tremendous prospects in a predominantly white society, he joined the military and fought in Korea. He stayed on in the forces, leaving as a sergeant in 1967.
That was a turning-point for him: "I could see that what was happening to our people was the same kind of exploitation and degradation I had seen in Korea and Egypt," he said in 1974. A career in First Nations politics began. Within a year of getting a job at the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations, he became its youngest chief ever, and was re-elected four times. Along the way he picked up an honorary doctorate from a college he helped to found, and an Order of Canada membership, and he became the founding leader of the Assembly of First Nations in 1982.
But Ahenakew, as a former military man of long standing, held the blunt and reactionary views of so many of the brush-cut set. "He was a bigot in his thinking," a friend said. John Lagimodiere, a First Nations newspaper editor and publisher in Saskatchewan, referred to his "us-and-them kind of talk." The Saskatchewan Star Phoenix’s native affairs columnist, Doug Cuthand, said that Ahenakew's "attitudes towards not just the Jews, but other races and women were fairly backward." Indeed, he had angered First Nations women’s groups in the past by supporting discriminatory Indian Act provisions that stripped women of their status for marrying whites, while native men who married white women kept their status.
Like a Greek tragedy, events seemed to move inexorably to their climax. Ahenakew's view of the world was shaped by both his heritage and his extensive time in the military, neither of which were likely to teach subtlety or agreeable opinions. His life was fuelled by a passionate commitment to the cause of First Nations people, and an unquenchable anger that is entirely understandable. Put a microphone in front of such a person, and you might not like what you hear. In fact, you almost certainly won’t.
For some reason we expect minority leaders to be saintly, with broad, inclusive views--Gandhis, Martin Luther Kings, Cesar Chavezes, Chico Gomezes. We see them as representing their people, which they do, but exemplifying all that we hold true and dear, which they very often don't. We like to identify with charismatic leaders struggling against injustice, but we insist on conflating their lives with our own traditions of saints and martyrs, and we expect them to act accordingly.
We feel betrayed when such public figures are revealed to be merely human. We are angered by any trace of vulgarity, of close-minded thinking and speaking, of bad behaviour, of violent confrontation. We will have our saints, damn it, and heaven help any of their spokespeople who fail to conform. Martin Luther King was our kind of leader; but, folks, Malcolm X was their kind of leader.
We don't get to choose here. We have to take Ahenakew warts and all. Of course First Nations leaders were appalled by his remarks. So was I. Of course there would be consequences. And so there were. But are we not seeing just a hint of a double standard in all this?
John Lagomodiere put the case clearly to Roslin: "If we went wild like that every time someone said something derogatory about aboriginal people, we’d never stop. I think it was overblown." Media coverage was an "outrage," said the vice-chair of the FSIN, Lawrence Joseph. "All of that was said in private to a reporter who pursued it. It should not have even been pursued. We were there to talk about the criminal activities of the government in making Indians sign consent forms for [health] care, a very serious issue, but instead, it’s garbage that hits the news and the front pages." "I feel bad that it was brought out the way it was because it gives people another excuse to lower our category," said Sam Sinclair, a former president of the Metis Association of Canada.
What coverage do First Nations receive in Canada? Perhaps we need to take a lingering look at that question. This is a country where the Lubicon have been battling for a land settlement for decades, betrayed by successive Liberal governments, while their ancestral lands have been ravaged and polluted by multinationals, and tuberculosis has infected one-third--yes, you read that right--of the community.
This is a country where the rights of the Nisg'aa in BC were put to a vote. This is a country where Dudley George was slaughtered by a police officer during a non-violent occupation by native people of their own lands in Ipperwash, and where it took years even to get a public inquiry. This is the country where "starlight tours" took place in Ahenakew's home province. This is the country that deported Leonard Peltier to the USA, where he remains America's perhaps best-known political prisoner.
But what grabs the headlines? Compare the coverage of these and countless other outrages against First Nations peoples to the attention paid to stupid, anti-Semitic remarks by one First Nations leader. Could this simply be a way of collectively excusing ourselves for our centuries of neglect and ill-treatment? Putting a sharp focus on one bigot, instead of writing the eminently newsworthy stories that need to be written about the daily lives of native people in Canada today?
And could it be--could it just be--that the mind of David Ahenakew has been warped, twisted and bent out of shape over the years by the very forces that now triumphantly announce his downfall?
Reading the normally erudite and urbane Robert Sibley in today's Ottawa Citizen, one would think that a recent initiative at Queen's University (if it's actually taking place) represents nothing less than the end of Western civilization. Forget Islamism, terrorism, natural disasters and the current absence of sunspots: six students at Queen's, hired as "facilitators" to address prejudice in the student body, are the tipping point.
To re-cap: the idea, as reported, is that trained students would, if they overheard the use of racial slurs and what-not in public places on campus, engage the offenders in conversation in order to urge a more progressive perspective. This Herculean task--the campus presently is home to 20,000 students, more or less--has been seen by the Right as tantamount to...well, let's let Sibley speak for himself:
[I]t amounts to the imposition of Marxist and left-radical agendas to the exclusion of others. In other words, the program's real purpose is to promote the supposedly progressivist ideologies of radical feminism, gay rights, multiculturalism, and, lest we forget, anti-westernism (read: anti-Americanism and anti-capitalism).
This isn't free speech; this is indoctrination. Will students who tell a self-inflated facilitator to butt out be directed to a course of social therapy? If some poor student uses the words "Islam" and "terrorism" in the same sentence, will he be reported to the human rights commission?
I have no idea how Sibley sleeps at night. He sounds here like one of those unfortunates who searches his closet upon retiring, checks under the bed and uses a night-light. Because this, frankly, is raving, as is the hed: "Beware Of Secret Police On Campus." Good grief.
As I have noted before, the Queen's program is the very epitome of "responding to speech with more speech," a U.S. First Amendment concept much beloved by Canada's Speech Warriors™. There is no official sanction in the mix: no exercise of power or authority, other than the students' ability to engage and persuade.
But for Sibley, this will produce nothing less than "an intellectual chill" at Queen's. Which means, boiled down, that people should be able to use the n-word in the student cafeteria free of any argument. Why is it that the only speech that the Sibleys of this world seem to want to protect is hate speech?
Turning now to Carleton University, the university students' association has decided that their annual
Let me note right off the bat that CUSA goofed on the facts. While motions (as any good procedure-freak knows) do not depend upon the Whereases, but only the Be It Resolveds, the former set the tone of the discussion, and in this case they contained the claim that cystic fibrosis is primarily a disease of white men. A minute or two Googling should have put that matter to rest, but (as I unwisely suggested at Damian's), suppose, for the sake of argument, that the facts were as stated. Would the CUSA decision then be morally wrong?
The CUSA motion, in any case, did not object to white males being beneficiaries--the objection was that (allegedly) the benefits of this charity drive would accrue almost exclusively to white males, which is a different matter entirely. For a charity event, CUSA wanted to choose instead a charity whose beneficiaries would be universal. Cancer research, for example, benefits humanity regardless of colour or gender; so do umbrella charities like the United Way.
The problem with charitable giving, of course, is that it's zero-sum: a dollar for cancer is a dollar withheld from CF; a dollar for CF is a dollar withheld from MS. Charities are in competition for a pool of donor funds. If CUSA is planning to contribute a similar amount to the pool next year, it seems to me that no harm has been caused whatsoever.
But of course the "white males" reference struck a chord with the Right. What about breast cancer and AIDS, they thundered. Don't they hit specific populations? Of course they do: but the annual homecoming charity event has never collected for those worthy causes. If the new event were to raise funds solely for sickle-cell anemia or Tay-Sachs research, the baying chorus might well have a point. But there's never been any suggestion that the CF drive will be replaced by one of these other campaigns.
Indeed, as it turns out, CUSA has been looking at their charity drive for some time, with an eye to choosing a local cause:
CUSA president Brittany Smyth said the idea of changing next year’s orientation fundraiser to focus on a different charity, perhaps a local cause, first came up about a year ago.
She said that the part of the motion that refers to why Shinerama has been cancelled is irrelevant, not part of the official meeting record and simply reflects the rationale of the councillor who raised the motion.But conservatives, who prize the right to make individual choices when those choices are conservative ones, see in this non-issue a perfect opportunity to advance their own contempt for freedom and inclusiveness. While there is, admittedly, some thoughtful commentary at Daimnation on this occasion, there is also the usual trollish spittle. For example, this comment is too typical of conservatives who are asked to think and reflect (note the inevitable allusion to physical violence, always the last refuge of a conservative who is losing an argument):
Dr. Dawg is an idiot provocateur and communist. That is a spin off of living in a civil society where it is a crime to slap a fool like him upside the head to get him to shut up once in awhile.
Ah, the dream of freedom. If only we could abolish the Criminal Code and let conservative thugs have their way with people who disagree with them.
Meanwhile students on university campuses will ask their questions, have their debates, find their own way in the world. And the moralizing right-wing busybodies from the outside, with their contempt for inclusiveness and their occasional taste for violence, will go on making mountains out of molehills, creating tempests in teapots, making waves in the bathtub--doing their best, in other words, to make their petty politics relevant in a world that's growing increasingly resistant to their prejudices and hatreds. Do they have any idea of just how foolish and spiteful they sound?
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
In addition--and this will hardly be a comfort to the Warriors--Moon calls for not one but two national regulatory agencies, provincial police hate speech teams to monitor the Internet, a snitch line, and, if repeal of Sn.13 is indeed contemplated, changes to the Criminal Code to make prosecution of hate speech easier, and more enforcement of "under-utilized" Criminal Code provisions.
Bask in your victory, folks, and I wish you many more of them.
Turning now to other news, more revelations today about two beige Canadian citizens marooned abroad with the complicity of the Harper regime: Abousfian Abdelrazik and Omar Khadr.
On the return of Omar Khadr to his country of birth and citizenship, none other than national security expert Wesley Wark has some blunt words about the Conservative position on this matter:
Conservative MPs on the [parliamentary sub-committee on international human rights] laid out the government's case. It consists of a farrago of claims including the idea that the opposition is merely playing politics with the issue, that any Canadian effort to secure the release of Mr. Khadr would reflect badly on Canada's "commitment to impeding global terrorism," and that, in any case, trying Mr. Khadr in a Canadian court would be difficult and unprecedented.
The most gob-smacking of these arguments is the notion that bringing Mr. Khadr home would make Canada look soft on terrorism. Look soft to whom exactly? The unwritten subtext is the United States. Somehow many other countries who argued for and secured the release of their citizens from Guantanamo have not suffered this label, Britain and Australia foremost among them.
The Conservative policy has hit a realpolitik wall. The United States has a new president-elect, Barack Obama, who has committed his government, repeatedly, to the closing down of Guantanamo Bay. Even if this promise is delayed in its execution, the trial of Omar Khadr will never lead anywhere; its wheels will come off, just as so many others are doing at Guantanamo Bay.Check out the whole article.
The dogged Paul Koring, meanwhile, has more on the disgraceful treatment of another of our citizens, Abousfian Abdelrazik, currently marooned in Sudan. The sleazy officials running Foreign Affairs, it is now revealed, denied consular assistance to Abdelrazik when he was being led off for interrogation by Sudanese police and the FBI, the latter telling the terrified captive that he would never see Canada again if he didn't "fully cooperate." Specifically, Sean Robertson, whom I have mentioned before, gave explicit orders that this Canadian be left on his own: "Mission staff should not accompany Abdelrazik to his interview with the FBI," he commanded.
The continuing pattern of deceit by Foreign Affairs--and a dreary tale of moral corruption it has proven to be--is not merely a matter of some rogue officials doing their thing. The Harper government has been in this up to its eyeballs: Koring has repeatedly shown that it is fully in the loop.
The secret documents that Koring got his hands on reveal that "senior officials" have advised the government that Abdelrazik has every right to come back to his country, and that there is no evidence linking him to terrorist activity. But, as Abdelrazik's lawyer notes, "there is some kind of complicity between the Canadian and the American security and intelligence authorities.... [T]he Harper government would rather bow to pressure from the Americans than do the right thing."
Which, I think, just about sums it up.
Monday, November 24, 2008
Strike One: A "real court" upheld a CHRC ruling against neo-Nazi Terry Tremaine.
Strike Two: The RCMP completed its investigation of the CHRC for allegedly hacking into a private citizen's wireless internet account, and found no evidence to support the allegation. Ezra Levant exploded into a foaming frenzy upon hearing the news. He prefers to believe the neo-Nazis down at Stormfront, and insists that hacking did so take place, it did, it did, it did so too.
"The only question is whether that hacking reached the level of a crime; the RCMP thinks it didn't."
Uh, no, Ezra, that's not how it works, and as a lawyer you know better than that. Hacking is a crime. There's no magic point at which hacking becomes a crime. The RCMP didn't find evidence to support the allegation of hacking, period. Deal with it.
Strike Three: Dr. Richard Moon, who conducted an internal review of CHRC procedures with respect to the agency's investigation of Internet hate speech, has submitted his report.
The Speech Warriors™ have been eagerly awaiting this moment, having carefully hedged their bets: if it condemned the CHRC's procedures, this would be welcomed with applause, trumpets and banners; if it failed to do so, it would be because Moon was in a conflict of interest, it was an internal review by the CHRC, the mandate was too narrow, etc., etc.
Indeed, Ezra Levant attacked the report before it even appeared [h/t commenter truewest]. Not being blessed with foreknowledge, however, I actually had to wait to read it.
There's something in here for all sides of the debate to like and to dislike, as it turns out. Moon's measured analysis requires careful reading--one shouldn't just just skip to the conclusions. Some extracts:
The goal of ending prejudice in the community cannot be accomplished through censorship. The purpose of hate speech law must be more narrowly defined as the protection of the members of an identifiable group from the risk of violence that results from expression that threatens, advocates or justifies violence. While it is unrealistic to imagine that more familiar forms of discriminatory expression can be censored out of public discourse, the failure to ban the extreme or radical edge of prejudiced speech – that which threatens, justifies or advocates violence – carries too many risks, particularly when it is directed at the members of a racist subculture or occurs in a context in which there is little opportunity for response. This narrower purpose offers a better account of the actual practice of hate speech law in Canada, which focuses on the most extreme and hateful instances of expression. The small number of section 13 cases that have been sent by the CHRC to the Tribunal, and in which the Tribunal has found a breach of the section, have all (or almost all) involved expression that is so extreme and hateful that it may be seen as advocating violence against the members of an identifiable group. (28)
Most religions have something to say about how we should act towards others and the kind of community we should work to create. For these reasons, religious beliefs or values cannot be insulated from debate and criticism, even that which is harsh and uncivil. The criticism of religious belief cannot be restricted without undermining our commitment to freedom of expression. To count as hate speech against a religious group, the communication must target the members of the group, attribute to them certain dangerous or undesirable traits, and call on others to take violent action against them. However, the line between an attack on the group, which may sometimes amount to hate speech, and an attack on their beliefs, which cannot be restricted, may not always be easy to draw. (30-1)
Moon recommends the outright repeal of Section 13--or revision to it. As support for repeal, he argues that the current interpretation of Sn. 13 is already so narrow that it coincides, more or less, with the requirements of the Criminal Code's hate speech provisions. If it is repealed, he favours revising the Criminal Code to prevent the nullification of the law by provincial Attorneys General, who may presently withhold consent to proceed.(33) He makes a number of other proposals as well for increased reliance upon the Criminal Code provisions:
In the fight against hate on the Internet, police and prosecutors should make greater use of section 320.1 of the Criminal Code, which gives a judge power to order an Internet service provider (ISP) to remove “hate propaganda” from its system. Each province should establish a provincial “Hate Crime Team,” composed of both police and Crown law officers with experience in the area, to deal with the investigation and prosecution of hate crimes including hate speech under the Criminal Code. (2)
In effect, he is proposing that much of what we would lose on the CHRC roundabout we would gain on the Criminal Code swings.
But most of the report, in fact, is taken up with the suggested revisions of Sn.13, and they make quite a bit of sense. If revision is the preferred alternative, he would restrict the language of the section to refer only to the advocacy of violence; and he would add an explicit intent requirement. Indeed, such a requirement would trump a truth defence, which he therefore does not propose adding (36-7).
Moon ventures into troubled water at one point: "In my view, a truth defence is not required because hate speech is necessarily untrue." (37). This is a little confusing, but his citation of Chief Justice Dickson on the previous page indicates a similar position on Dickson's part. The Chief Justice, in Keegstra, stated: "I find it difficult to accept that circumstances exist where factually accurate statements can be used for no other purpose than to stir up hatred against a racial or religious group." Anyone familiar with the sordid history of the Southern states knows better: using inflammatory rhetoric to emphasize the race of a Black person accused of raping a white woman, whether the charge was true or not, was sufficient to set off the lynch mobs.
But the objection to a truth defence is better stated immediately afterwards. No doubt thinking of Zundel's 1985 trial, Moon writes:
A truth defence will enable a respondent in a section 13 case to repeat her or his odious claims and make them the subject of legal contest. The focus of the case will shift to historical, sociological or psychological claims that are simply window dressing for more basic assertions about the dangerous or dishonest nature of the members of certain groups. While these claims will ultimately be repudiated by the tribunal, during the hearing they will be presented as debatable interpretations of events and actions.
Turning to the current procedures employed by the CHRC in investigating complaints under Sn.13, Moon makes what I believe to be very sensible recommendations, which in fact should be put into effect in provincial and territorial jurisdictions as well.
He makes the point that, as currently constituted, Sn. 13 requires dedicated activists (are you listening, Richard?) to breathe life into the section. In his view (38-9), this is unsatisfactory: the CHRC itself should take on the carriage of a case once a complaint has been submitted. One of the positive results of doing this, he argues, would be a more effective screening mechanism at the outset: complaints that are not simply vexatious or frivolous, but are not likely to meet the bar required for them to be upheld, can be weeded out instead of proceeding to the Tribunal. Bravo!
The Speech Warriors™ will not be happy with his further recommendations. Moon wants ISPs and the print media (oddly, the electronic media are exempted without explanation) to be accountable to the public in regard to hate speech. He proposes a national regulatory body for ISPs (41) and mandatory Press Council membership for newspapers (41-2). He makes an excellent general point in this respect:
The familiar refrain of those who oppose the censorship of hate speech or group defamation is that the answer to bad speech should be “more speech” – hate speech should be answered, not censored. But if we are serious about the “more speech” answer, then we must think about the real opportunities individuals and groups have to participate in public discourse and respond to speech that is unfair and discriminatory...
A newspaper is not simply a private participant in public discourse; it is an important part of the public sphere where discussion about the affairs of the community takes place. As such, it carries a responsibility not to defame or stereotype identifiable groups within the Canadian community. (41-42)
There is much here to chew on. Moon's proposals are clearly a balancing act between free expression on the one hand and social responsibility on the other. His impulse is democratic, and his report is a substantive contribution to the on-going debate.
I hope that revision rather than repeal is the chosen alternative primarily because the Tribunal offers relative ease of access to justice by the general public. The proposed revisions would not only streamline the process, but allow the screening out of ill-founded complaints from the start. In any case, a new round of discussions has now been ignited. One hopes that the Speech Warriors™ will focus on the substance of the report rather than engage in their usual personal attacks, but I'm not holding my breath.
"The steps being taken to appoint a new chairperson to the [Commission] are based solely on finding the best person for this demanding job," he said.
Conservatives, of course, will lap this stuff up. Why should anything but qualifications matter? they will ask. Surely it's racist to hire on the basis of race or ethnicity, right? And then we'll get the inevitable out-of-context quote from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.:
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
I listened to that speech live, incidentally, and I am fully familiar with its substance and with the context in which it was delivered. Dr. King was referring, optimistically, to a time in the future when racism would not even be a memory, a time in which all the scars of that vicious imposition had been erased.
That time is not now.
There is a difference between colour-blindness and merely keeping one's eyes shut. One doesn't have to fall into the excesses of identity politics to recognize that the effects of being racialized don't disappear overnight when overt discrimination becomes illegal. Poverty, despair, hopelessness, and major social problems including substance abuse and suicide, are all fallout from generations of ill-treatment by church and state. The playing-field isn't level, and it won't be for generations to come. It's disingenuous at best, racist at worst, to claim that it is.
Some find it convenient to blame the First Nations for the legacy of problems that Europeans left them: it's an obvious way to avoid responsibility for helping to put things right. But, on the other hand, decades of wildly shifting government policies--from assimilation to creating dependency to "benign" neglect--have made matters worse. Clearly First Nations are not the authors of their own misfortune, but they must be the authors of their own future. And this--the creation of just such a future, not the year-after-year maintenance of a Third World present--should be assisted by humane, well-crafted policies and the necessary resources.
In other words, there is some distance to go before "character" alone will determine one's social fate. We do not live in a world of equal opportunity: some of us happened to be born well behind the starting-line, and others halfway down the track. And the degree to which these accidents of birth can be traced to policies, laws and differential treatment in the past and in the present is the degree to which we must all assume our share of social responsibility.
That means, among other things, working together to get rid of systemic barriers--structures that prevent positive change, that perpetuate past inequities and hierarchies. And one of those barriers is a concept of "qualifications" that is abstract, ahistorical and inherently biased.
When I was a union official I once debated Strahl on CFRA on the question of affirmative action in the federal public service. The government of the day had brought in the Employment Equity Act to help address the obvious lack of representation of various groups within the public service and the employee complements of private employers. Strahl's view was that "merit" alone should determine who gets a job. Did that mean, I asked, that the underrepresentation of visible minorities and Aboriginals in the federal public service was entirely due to their lack of merit? I recall that he struggled with that one.
The concepts of "merit" and "qualifications" can prove to be heavily-laden value-judgements, not merely tools to assess measurable skills. "Finding the best person," were the words that Strahl used. What qualifications should be required to fill the job of chairing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission? Technical mastery of administrative detail? Analytical ability? Of course. But what about lived knowledge? Isn't it crucially important for the head of the Commission to be intimately, intuitively aware of his or her subject-matter? Or do Europeans, once again, know best?
None of this, of course, will cut any ice with the minister. Chuck Strahl has never had much time for aboriginal people. Here is a sampling of comments he made before Harper gave him his current portfolio:
- On gravel excavation by the Cheam Indian band: "I do not even think the land they scalped the gravel from is theirs." (The Canadian Index, May 17, 1999, Volume: Vol. 10, No. 14)
- On Native people: "In a recent Chilliwack Progress article, Strahl compared Cheam band members to 'children.'" (Canada News-Wire, September 13, 1993)
- On concerns that aboriginal programs for substance abuse, anger management and family violence were not being offered at a prison: "Strahl said he has little empathy for [this] position. Strahl said there is [sic] plenty of attempts to be sensitive to aboriginal culture in prison to the point at which other inmates, who are not aboriginal, are bitter about it. "If I got a letter like that, I wouldn't put it on my high-speed to do list." (Chilliwack Times, November 22, 2002)
- On aboriginal fishing rights: "The government has an obligation to all of its citizens, not just to select groups," said B.C. Reform MP Chuck Strahl. "It cannot allow the courts to draw racial boundaries through Canada's national resources." (Windsor Star, October 16, 1999)
- On the Nisga'a agreement: "Let us look at this Nisga'a treaty one more time. First of all it creates a state within a state, an idea which I think the Bloc Quebecois would find fairly palatable. This is sovereignty association in the heart of British Columbia." (Chuck Strahl, Hansard, May 4, 1999)
Obviously he was just the man, in Stephen Harper's eyes, to be the overseer (if I may use that term) of First Nations peoples in Canada. In office, Strahl quickly distinguished himself by vetoing a school for aboriginal kids in Attawapiskat: perhaps he believes that education is wasted on those savages.
And now the validity of the hard-won Truth and Reconciliation Commission, already in trouble before it's even underway, is under serious threat from this same government minister. The notion that such an investigation could be led by someone who has literally not walked a mile in First Nations moccasins is spurious to the point of fraud. If it's qualifications that are at issue, it is glaringly obvious that being raised as an aboriginal is a sine qua non to carry out a job that will require the utmost in sensitivity and the keenest awareness of cultural cues, nuances and meanings.
Make no mistake: pretending that someone whose only knowledge of aboriginal life is second-hand could be the appropriate leader of this extraordinary initiative is either stupid or racist. And Chuck Strahl is not a stupid man.