28 December 2015

The Courage to Become Yourself

It has been so very long since I did a short film review that I thought now might be the time. I’m highly focused on the whole cinematic experience (ambiance, pre-show trivia, etc.) beyond just the film or the performances, but I do this only to try to be entertaining. Maybe a little political, too, and most certainly shallow about some other aspects.

Step aside Caitlyn. The character in this film, Lili Elbe, is presented as a true pioneer in the trans experience. What starts as a single evening lark for a portrait artist and her husband, a landscape artist, in 1920s Denmark ends up exposing something deeper that has been going on for a lot longer than Gerda realizes. Her husband is gradually lost in the transformation into Lili, who was always inside him, and the exploration for medical assistance leads through all sorts of scary psychological elements to someone on the cutting edge (if you’ll pardon the pun) of new surgical interventions to help Lili to feel like she identifies with her body and the disguise of the accident of her birth in male form is shed.

Eddie Redmayne does an excellent portrayal of Einar and Lili. Swedish actress Alicia Vikander as Einar’s wife Gerda probably has the most emotionally challenging part to play, the spouse who is left behind by the transformation, even as she remains as lovingly present aa she is allowed to be.

A couple of smaller roles took my breath away as well, for much shallower reasons. Ben Whishaw seems to be in everything I am watching — including my dreams! — like the TV series London Spy, the latest Bond film Spectre and two more films on my list to see, Suffragette and In the Heart of the Sea. If he runs out of film and television projects, that space is still open in my dreams. In this film, he plays Henrik, a homosexual (say that with your best accent, emphasizing the “s” and the “x”) who sees Lili on her first night out (the lark) and is interested in the man beneath the dress. Let’s put him over in the “friend” column.

Equally dreamy is Matthias Schoenaerts as Hans. I saw him a couple of years ago (oh dear, almost three!) in De rouille et d’os and gushed about his brutish beauty in that film here. In The Danish Girl, he is Einar/Lili’s childhood friend and crush, author of a kiss that was not so much forgotten as filed away for future reference. He is refined and unflappable and seems most ready to step up for Gerda, should she show any inclination toward that, while remaining caring and supportive of Lili. Good thing I have plenty of dream space available. We’ll chalk him up as “next”.

I thought overall it was a sensitive exploration of the topic with the limitations of the time period. Like most movies, we are seeing people who don’t have a lot of cares about finances, which kind of sets them apart from the rest of us. Social challenges are so much easier to confront when you are not also trying to scratch out a meagre existence, but can dash off a few new paintings to sell to support your lifestyle and your travel, not to mention your surgery. Gerda could have had more space for her part of the story, but it was fascinating to watch Lili, sometimes as Einar and sometimes as herself, learning to move like the women around her and trying (unsuccessfully) not to be too obvious about it.

The cinema experience was interesting, too. When I got there for an early afternoon screening on a Sunday during this holiday period, the place was teeming with high-energy children. It was a good thing I had chosen to see a film that came with a warning screen on the ticket-buying machine (“Are you sure you want to see this movie…it’s not for children!”), as not one of those children was present in the room where my choice was projected.

There were also no danishes, so I’m glad I found the film itself satisfying.

22 December 2015

18th AIDSiversary

Now my diagnosis is old enough to order a drink in a bar.

It’s a funny thing, remembering that moment that really changed my perception of a lot of things in my life. It was the beginning of the “cautionary tale” that I tell when sharing my life experience with others — don’t wait as long as I did to get tested, it will make your life more difficult.

But there are other elements that stick with me, most of which I have written about before:

  • The horrible sensation of suffocating with pneumonia, especially venturing into the cold.
  • My doctor sending me to the emergency with a note that I read on the way (kind of took the edge off the news).
  • My friend Doug coming to get me and going back into the cold to get my prescription filled.
  • The bronchoscopy and the night in a hospital bed with oxygen recovering the strength to go home.
  • My friend Maychai taking me home that second time, leaving me with a lovely dinner of holiday leftovers.
  • The short call with my parents (I still couldn’t breathe well) with an easy disclosure because of how positively they had reacted to my coming out many years earlier.
  • The daily phone calls I got through the holidays from the immune deficiency doctor checking on my pneumonia recovery.
  • The easy consent to the HIV test when I already knew what the result would be.
  • The secondary shock of the first CD4+ count (it was 4).
Those little snapshots of a crazy time that changed my life. I think about them anew each year at this time. How about some updates?
  • Not being able to breathe remains one of the things that scares me the most, so I’m very proactive about protecting myself from respiratory illnesses (vaccines, baby!).
  • My doctor has now retired and I am seeing another doctor. I’m left, however, with a lasting appreciation of my doctor’s respecting my stupid decisions along the way to not be tested for HIV, even as he gently pushed me to. That respect gave me the confidence that is so very necessary in a doctor-patient relationship.
  • We lost Doug in 2014 and I miss him every day. I do go through cycles of seeing different friends more or less often over time, but I will always appreciate the easy comfort I feel with them, and the sense that I can count on help when I need it. A solid circle of friends is so precious.
  • I remember the nurse who found me a bed in the hospital the night after my bronchoscopy when I was too weak and oxygen-deprived to go home and take care of myself. He was doing his job, but doing it well and with compassion, and I will always appreciate that.
  • More friends. Maychai was my colleague and continues to be my friend. I don’t see her enough, but I always have a lovely time when I do.
  • The unreservedly positive reaction I got from my parents to my coming out as gay was so important to me. After years of anguish and fear of rejection, I got their loving support and I knew 16 years later that my HIV diagnosis was not something I had to hide from them either. I don’t have Mum anymore, but I have Dad and I enjoy talking to him every week and visiting him, though less often than I should.
  • So many of our encounters with the medical system can seem devoid of actual human feeling — they are understaffed and overwhelmed — that it is always a refreshing surprise to be on the receiving end of someone going out of his or her way to check up on you. That almost everyone has a story about that one health care provider (or more) who went the extra distance and provided a touch of humanity in a time of distress is so much truer an indication of the humanity that is there every day.
  • When you’re ready for something, it’s always easier. I spent quite a number of years resisting taking an HIV test because I feared it would be positive and didn’t know if I could handle it, even with the solid support network I had and continue to have. You can really do anything with support and a crisis like the one I lived 18 years ago really underlines that for me.
  • I still have a low CD4+ count. It isn’t 4, but more like 260, still lower than it ought to be and low enough for me to be able to cling to a bit of my personal pessimism. But beyond the odd cold that lasts longer than it should and a couple of bouts of gastro-intestinal problems after travel to exotic places I have been pretty healthy this whole time and never had to stop working.
I know that some in my community will balk at my use of “AIDS” as opposed to HIV, but I have that badge (had my AIDS-defining illness), so choke on it, kids! I use it for the shock value, for the recognition it gets among the less-informed. I also use it knowing that its meaning has changed: AIDS used to be a prognosis, and not a good one; now it is a diagnosis and while that is also not good, it is entirely possible to leave it behind and find your health.

And just to do that thing that drives me crazy when uttered without explanation: getting HIV has had some positive impacts in my life, if you’ll pardon the pun, but impacts that you can also get without the HIV, but with a little introspection and reconsideration of values.

Happy AIDSiversary to me!

21 November 2015

Space and Time (and Fate)

Lest Carly Simon write a song about me, let me first say that I already know that this whole thing is NOT about me. Very aware of that.

As it happens, I was in Paris a week before the recent attacks and ate at a restaurant with friends just down the street from one of the attacks. In fact, we finished dinner and walked right past the café Cosa Nostra at about the same time as the attack took place, but we were there a week earlier.

Just something to mull over in my head.

28 October 2015


There is something deeply dissatisfying about the results of our federal election last week. Oh, it isn’t that after more than two months of plugging away at my 78 Tory Wrongs series I suddenly fell silent. It also isn’t that the party I wanted to win didn’t, and actually lost ground.

No, the thing that frustrated me the most is the manner in which our almost-former Prime Minister vacated the stage. He stood up on election night and delivered his final address to his supporters in the room in Calgary and to the country via the live TV coverage, but he didn’t say that thing many of us were waiting to hear. He didn’t announce his resignation, but instead sent that in a letter to a Conservative Party official. A whimper if there ever was one.

At least (grasping for straws) the Conservatives just missed out on triple digit representation, with just 99 MPs elected.

Now I’m not so petty as to have only that reaction to the election results. I still have a healthy skepticism about the progressiveness of the Liberal Party, which has a lot of historical baggage to overcome, including a fair amount of running as progressives and governing from the right, but I am willing to give them a chance to follow through in their promises, or at least the ones I feel okay about. After all, anyone would look left wing next to Darth Vader and a pack of parroting storm troopers, right?

I will admit that I am rather disappointed in the outcome in Québec, with more Tories and more Bloc MPs elected, largely on a wave of intolerance on the issue of the niqab. Not since Bernard Landry made his famous remark about the federal branding on everything to which it had contributed — « les petits bouts de chiffon rouge » — has a small piece of cloth that is relatively rare to find covering an actual face had such political repercussions. It was probably a smaller vote shift than it might have been a couple of weeks earlier, but that plus the fact that so many of the races were three- or four-way contests led to the defeat of a number of those Orange Wave NDP MPs from 2011.

So what about the NDP? Yes, going from 103 seats in 2011 to 44 in 2015 is quite a blow. I would point out a couple of things about that 44 number (neither of them having anything to do with Chinese superstitions about the number 4). First, that’s ten more seats than the Liberals had after the 2011 election. Second, that’s the second best result ever for the NDP. Little consolation, I know, but let me add the fact that the NDP candidates in Québec won in 16 ridings and came second in 32 ridings, third in 29 ridings and fourth only in one, while the first, second, third and fourth numbers for the Conservatives were 12, 5, 11 and 50 and for the Bloc were 10, 11, 30 and 25. The Bloc also came fifth in two ridings. Not bad for a party that had only one MP from Québec before 2011.

And here comes that schadenfreude again — the Conservative candidate in my riding barely squeaked into fourth place with a whopping 4.1% of the vote.

18 October 2015

#78 Welcome Back, Felon

How did this guy get back into the country? Was it some kind of secret approval by our law and order government?

You might remember the little spat between Conrad Black and Jean Chretien. Mr. Black wanted very much to take a title in Britain, something that Canadian law has not permitted for quite some time (since 1919). To become Lord Black of Crossharbour, he renounced his Canadian citizenship, moved to England and took up his title and a seat in the House of Lords.

In the meantime, things were happening in his business life that would bite him right in the…US. He was charged with a number of counts of fraud and with obstruction of justice. These charges and the sentences related to them were reduced on appeal and he eventually served 37 months in prison in the US for one count of fraud and one of obstruction of justice. Upon his release, he was deported from the US and cannot return there for 30 years.

He returned to Toronto, where he had lived before, and I am wondering just how that might have happened. We have a federal government that gleefully deports people who are not citizens who are found guilty of criminal offences, even when those people have lived in Canada for most of their lives and have little connection to the country of their citizenship. They now do the same for anyone who has refugee status and who commits a crime while in Canada. Believe me, they would have difficulty re-entering the country.

Not so Lord Black of Crossharbour? He has been stripped of his membership in the Order of Canada and the Privy Council because of his criminal conviction, has renounced his Canadian citizenship, but seems to be living long term in Toronto.

Tough on crime indeed.

Let’s be clear that I don’t think Conrad Black is a danger to Canadian society (well…not that way, anyway…and his experiences seem to have helped him develop some very pertinent insight into the justice system that more people should listen to). I do, however, think there is a glaringly obvious double standard when someone who has renounced his citizenship and served time for a felony abroad seems to be able to come back without question while we are spouting zero tolerance and deporting permanent residents for smaller crimes.

Let’s also note that the non-citizen in question seems to have endorsed the leader of the Liberal Party, telling his old Bay Street buddies that they have nothing to fear from Justin Trudeau. Not sure if I would be welcoming that vote of confidence if I considered myself a “progressive” party.

Further reading here and here

Very tough on crime
but the enemy of our
enemy is home

17 October 2015

#77 “Queue-jumping” for Their Lives

The substantive things that the outgoing federal government has been doing to attack the rights of refugee claimants who somehow make it to Canada (we’re a little far for thousands arriving on boats) pale in comparison to the tactics used to try to turn Canadians against these people.

“Illegal” “Queue-jumpers” “Bogus refugee claimants” are just some of the terms that have come out of the mouths of government ministers, including Ministers of Immigration. If you think about how the government will clam up when one of its own is accused of fraud or influence peddling (the issue is “before the courts”), you have to wonder how it can be that a Minister of Immigration and Citizenship can describe people whose cases are waiting to be heard by the Immigration and Refugee Board can be described in such terms.

It’s all a part of the political game that tries to stir up fear of the other to unify those who feel afraid of differences. The queue-jumping accusation is meant to appeal to people who might be immigrants who are waiting for family members to be able to join them here. It’s clever, really, to be able to play the “stranger among us” card to people who may have arrived here relatively recently. It strikes me as not very credible that a process that unfolds here with a very specific system of hearings has anything to do with the giant backlog of applications for family reunification from around the world.

I guess the only way to really get in first and not be demonized is to buy your way in as an “entrepreneur” class immigrant. That sounds fair.

Further reading here

If I call you names
I can distract from my own
incompetence, right?

16 October 2015

#76 Safer Persecution

A couple of days ago, this list referred to the abbreviated process for refugees from “Designated Countries of Origin”, also know as the “Safe Countries List”. The courts have ruled that differential procedural fairness to be unfair, as we saw then.

But what are these safe countries and why might they produce any legitimate refugee claimants? Let’s pick out a couple of situations and explore them a little further.

Mexico. Not only is there a lot of violence in Mexico, an ongoing was between the police and drug lords, but outside of certain cities, it can be very dangerous to be a gay man or a lesbian…any sexual minority, in fact. And sometimes the officials who are supposed to be protecting you are part of the problem. Surely these cases merit hearing?

Romani people in Hungary, the Czech Republic or Romania. All three of these countries are on the safe countries list, but all of them have some serious problems with the treatment of their Romani citizens. Rampant discrimination, poor living conditions and little recourse to better their prospects because of widespread negative attitudes that are not effectively countered — and are sometimes propagated — by these countries’ governments. These, too, are worthy of hearing, I should think.

It’s all well and good to want to streamline the process and to try to “weed out” the people you think are making false claims, but you really can’t do that without listening to their stories.

Further reading here and here

We don’t believe you
because of our own story
about your country

15 October 2015

#75 Some Citizens Are More Equal

Let’s see if you can guess from its name what the “Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act” does. If you guessed “weakens Canadian citizenship for those judged unworthy", you’d be right!

This clever ruse by the outgoing government is going to have its judicial test sometime soon, but not before the election. The move to strip one young man who was born in Canada and then did something that he himself describes now as having been stupid has come conveniently near the end of the election campaign, after the government has whipped up a lot of fear of “those people”, however you might want to define that.

Whether or not the law withstands the coming Charter challenge, you would have to say that its application in the current case is a bit of a stretch. This young man’s parents immigrated from Pakistan more than three decades ago. In order to become Canadian citizens, they were obliged to renounce their Pakistani citizenship, as that country did not allow dual citizenship at the time. Their son, now convicted of participating in the “Toronto 18” plot and sentenced to eighteen years in prison, was born and raised in Canada.

The federal authorities seem to have decided that he has access to Pakistani citizenship because Pakistan has changed its laws on dual citizens and now permits the practice. There is no suggestion in any of the reports I have seen that his parents have, or that he has, sought to gain this supposedly accessible Pakistani citizenship. Just someone’s interpretation that it is available, so he can be stripped of his Canadian citizenship.

And before we all jump to the conclusion that this is another “old stock” / “new stock” problem, let’s just point out that a Canadian born in Canada without dual citizenship who dares to marry a foreigner and thereby gains the possibility of a second citizenship should watch his or her back. (Old Stock, stick to your own, I guess.)

I’m waiting for them to try to deport a first nations person married to a former foreigner — that would be the ultimate in political colonial theatre, no?

Further reading here and here

Our theory is that
you could go elsewhere, so we
will make you do it

14 October 2015

#74 Due Process Lite

The outgoing government must be getting a little tired of this whole “constitution” thing. Unconstitutional this, overbroad that…will it never end? Not even defunding the Court Challenges Program brought it to a stop.

The Tories have tried for quite some time to demonize refugees as “queue jumpers “ (more about that later), but they tried to “streamline” the rejection process — er, the adjudication process — by depriving some refugee claimants of the right to appeal. Needless to say, the two classes of refugee claimants thing, each with a different level of procedural rights, didn’t go over very well in the courts.

So those darned “activist” judges gave back a right of appeal to people claiming refugee status from countries the government and the partisan-appointed adjudicators consider to be safe. Foiled again!

Further reading here

Surprise! You can’t take
all the rights to appeal from
a class of people

13 October 2015

#73 See the World and Vote No More

When people travel and see the world, they tend to broaden their perspectives on many issues. When they live somewhere else, the effect can be even more pronounced. Not that it isn’t possible to have an entirely illusory experience of a foreign country, confined to a resort or to some kind of sheltered residential situation.

A large number of countries with expatriates living around the world make provisions for these people to vote, and some even provide for representation for the populations of their citizens abroad. Not Canada. Not anymore.

No, the recent changes to the Elections Act (the so-called “Fair Elections Act”, another example of the over-the-top and inaccurate naming of legislation by the outgoing government) have specified that Canadians who have lived outside the country for more than five years do not have the right to vote. Those who have lived outside the country for less than five years will also face some additional hurdles in terms of the identification and other information they must provide.

The judge who first declared these provisions unconstitutional was unconvinced by the government’s argument that Canadians who don’t live inside the country don’t have to live with the consequences of the laws adopted by Parliament on a day-to-day basis, so they shouldn’t be allowed to vote. I guess they forgot about the federal government also being responsible for foreign affairs, which tends to touch those people more than the Canadians who stay at home.

Unfortunately, the first judge’s decision was overturned on appeal and the request to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada will not be heard in time for expatriates to vote this time around. I suppose that the lesson is that democracy is really only applicable to those the government determines to be worthy of it.

Further reading here

If you dare to live
outside the “greatest country”
your vote is forfeit

12 October 2015

#72 Not There to Help You with Your Rights

Canada used to have a Court Challenges Program. Recognizing that minorities seeking to have their rights recognized in the courts might not have the means to do that (it can cost many, many thousands of dollars), the program began in the late 1970s for language minorities and then was expanded by the Mulroney government in 1985 after the equality provisions of the Charter came into effect. The program helped to shape and define the application of the Charter in Canada.

As a funding program, it was a sitting duck for a hostile government. All that was required was to not fund the program, and that is exactly what was done when the Prime Minister took power in a minority government in 2006. It must be rather frustrating that challenges under the Charter have not dried up and have actually served to invalidate a number of the outgoing government’s legislative actions.

Maybe if they paid more attention to what the courts were saying they wouldn’t have that problem having their laws affirmed. But their victory is still partial: they are impoverishing those whose rights are violated on the road to having their laws thrown out.

Further reading here

We pass what we want
and you shut up and take it
or pay the challenge

11 October 2015

I have voted. Have you?

This is a long post, and that was an understatement. Apparently even after two months of election ranting (and another week to come) I still have more to say. Do bear with me…

When this election campaign started in all its infamy — longest campaign ever in Canada and all that — I was pretty sure that I would vote NDP. Along the way, there have been various twists and turns, dérapages and scandals, a bunch of “withdrawn” candidacies from all parties due to current or past statements of their now former candidates, and I have done a lot of reflecting on how I would vote, beyond that first impression. Care to join me on my reflection tour? (I promise to tell you at the end who I decided to vote for.)

It will not come as a surprise to you, especially if you have explored elsewhere on my blog lately, that I never had any intention of voting for the Conservative Party. In fact, I have given myself the task of enumerating one thing they have done wrong since taking power for every day of this overly long campaign. It was frighteningly easy to come up with 78 Tory Wrongs, as I like to call them, and there are others that surged forward in the course of this campaign that I didn’t have time to cover or that I wrote about in posts outside the list. The summary of the 78 Tory Wrongs, complete with links to each article, can be found here. The disgusting diversionary “debate” on the niqab I wrote about separately and in French here.

So, Mr. Daniel Gaudreau, for whom I have seen a grand total of ONE poster out there on the street, don’t wait up for my support. Oh, and it’s interesting that you didn’t bother to put up any posters of your leader…scared of the inevitable defacing?

At a certain point in the campaign, the media started buzzing about how Justin Trudeau and the Liberals were outflanking the NDP to its left. What? The party that voted for Bill C-51, the sacrifice of our individual rights in the name of fighting the illusory terrorist threat on our soil, and holds some other distinctly centre-right views (like the privatization of public services, namely in the form of public-private partnerships of major infrastructure projects, as outlined here).

The supposed outflanking took place on the issue of incurring or not a deficit to invest in infrastructure projects. I’m not sure that I have seen anything else that might have been characterized as “left-wing”, so that’s a whole lot of “credibility” to be hanging on a single issue. During the campaign, Mr. Trudeau has sought to exploit this perception by painting the NDP “obsession” with balancing the budget (I’ll get to this when I talk about them) as being a plan to cut social spending. I’ve never heard that from the NDP. It actually troubles me more that the Liberals seem to think balanced budget necessarily means cutting social spending, something they did with gusto in the 1990s. So when Mr. Trudeau promises that they will come back to balancing the budget by the end of their term in office, is he promising cuts to social services? Track record (of the party, for sure, not his personal one) says yes.

Another illustration of ideological bent can be found in the party’s approach to childcare. Mr. Trudeau thinks the NDP plan (which is largely based on a rather successful, if underfunded, approach in Québec) is unrealistic, and his critique of what the Conservatives have done revolves around their sending those cheques out to everyone. His solution is to means-test the sending of those cheques. Means-testing is a potentially humiliating approach to the delivery of assistance, compelling people to prove they are underprivileged in order to get help. Some people won’t do that (pride) and will not get the help they deserve to get. When a benefit such as this is distributed universally and taxed back through a truly progressive tax system, the wealthy don’t get to keep it, but no one has to beg for it.

I have some character and democracy concerns about Mr. Trudeau, too. When the Senate spending scandal was heating up, the Liberal Party took a funny turn with Mr. Trudeau announcing one morning that the Liberal Senators were no longer members of the Liberal Caucus. The Liberal Senators themselves seems to be rather taken by surprise by the announcement. Now, I’m no fan of the Senate, and certainly not of those who seem to be milking the system for a lot of money in reimbursed expenses, but in my mind, leadership is not about going into your own corner, making a decision and then imposing it on everyone else. I thought that was the thing we all detested the most about how the Conservative government seemed to be working over the years, although there are many rival characteristics in the contest for “thing we detested the most”.

And then along came the niqab “debate” during the campaign. Yes, I will acknowledge that Mr. Trudeau said some of the right things about issues of personal freedom and protecting minority rights, but you have to admit that he mostly kept his head down and let Mr. Mulcair take the heat for his stance on the issue. Standing by quietly mouthing an unpopular, but correct, opinion is also not leadership in my eyes. Also, what’s with suspending (actually removing) a candidate for saying something positive about marijuana when your platform says you want to legalize it? Nonsense!

I will confess that I have never once in my life voted Liberal, but there has been nothing in this campaign or in the recent positions they have taken that moves me to think that they alone can offer something that I can’t find elsewhere. In fact, when the Liberals and the NDP are referred to in a single breath as “the progressive parties”, I choke a bit. The Liberal Party might be very progressive on a number of issues, and especially in comparison to the Conservative Party, but on the whole, they are as aligned with Canada’s business elites as the outgoing government, and that is not good news for the poor and the working class.

Ms. Christine Poirier, with your fresh new baby and your goth-vampire posters (but they do look lush), you, too, can catch up on your sleep in relation to my vote. I can’t imagine how difficult it has been for you to campaign with a newborn, so I’m sure that the sleep will come in handy.

The Green Partyparty of two at the door to the House of Commons cafeteria — has done some surprising things over the last years. I have some lingering doubts about Elizabeth May that stem from a position she has taken in the past about a woman’s right to choose an abortion, but I have a number of friends who insist I have that wrong, that it is some kind of misunderstanding. I would need a very clear statement on that from her. I will recognize that she seems to have had a positive impact in her time as an MP — she has been lauded by others there on both sides of the house — and she seems to have reasonable positions in the debates from which she has not been excluded. A shout out to her creativity, too, for live-tweeting her participation when she wasn’t invited into the room. Of all the party leaders, Ms. May’s French needs a lot of work if ever the party is to attract my support. She has made an effort and she needs to keep that up.

And here’s where I do that thing I least like about our electoral system: look at her party’s chances of winning in my riding, which are approximately zero (and that's rounding up). I have been proud in the last few elections when the Green Party has placed fourth here, ahead of the fifth place Conservatives, but they may be slipping to fifth this time around. Not a place to park my vote at this time. If we manage to change our electoral system to include at least an element of proportional representation, I will definitely take a more serious look at the Green Party. I should be able to say WHEN we change our electoral system, as all parties save one seem to have included that in their platforms, but after the election, parties that have benefitted from “disproportional” representation seem to develop amnesia or sudden concerns with the workability of such a system. (I’ll be watching that issue over the next four years).

Again here, I am sorry to disappoint Mr. Cyrille Giraud with the news I did not vote for him. He made a valiant effort at expanding the rainbow beyond just green, especially on the posters he put up in our gay village, but I left no colour at all in the space next to his name. Sleep soundly.

It might surprise you to know that this anglophone has been in the habit of voting for the Bloc Québécois, since the 1993 general election and even including the 2011 general election. In a bye-election in 1990, I actually worked for the NDP candidate while Gilles Duceppe was elected for the first time under an unofficial Bloc banner (the newly formed parliamentary party had not yet been recognized). Even while working for his opponent, I gained a lot of respect for Mr. Duceppe, who, in the atmosphere of the death of the Meech Lake Accord, could have stood wrapped in the Québec flag and said nothing else, but instead spoke out about poverty and housing issues, among many other things.

I was proud, too, when he became the Leader of the Opposition, and I think he did a good job of criticizing the then Liberal government from the left, making it move a bit left to compensate. He also travelled across the country to better understand what people in other provinces wanted and needed, without having any electoral interests to defend in those places. I gave him a last vote in 2011, despite the looming orange wave, because I felt like I owed him that gesture of respect for all that he had done.

A few things have changed since then. He came out against the student strikes in 2012 — the massive and admirable mobilization of students to reject the increase of tuition fees. Despite everything their opponents have said at the time and since, the demonstrations were huge, peaceful and creative and really made me proud. Like any social upheaval, there will always be a few people on the margins, or on the front lines of the opposition, who will commit or provoke a few acts of violence, but for me that spring — le Printemps Érable — was a magical and inspiring time. I have never been so proud of our youth. To denounce them, to ask them to return to class and accept the shift of costs that was being imposed by the government, was not worthy of the man I had so respected.

Then came this election. A party that vaunts its democratic values does not live up to those when its leadership can change overnight without so much as a vote. I, like many others in our riding, opined that this election was about something else, about ridding us of a regressive government, and not about the issues dearest to the heart of the Bloc Québécois. And then came the niqab “debate” and I started to understand that my own mean reinterpretation of the Bloc slogan “On a tout à gagner” We have everything to gain (my version “On n’a plus rien à perdre” We have nothing left to lose) was not, in fact, correct. They had dignity, respect and civility to lose and in my eyes, it is gone. It might seem odd, for me, an affirmed atheist who also considers himself a feminist, to defend the right of someone to wear what is broadly seen as a garment that symbolizes the oppression of women in a certain religious or cultural tradition. But unpopular beliefs and despised minorities are exactly what things like the Charter of Rights are supposed to protect, and attacking, demonizing and excluding the supposed victims of oppression in the name of “liberating” them will never be a helpful strategy.

This time, I hope that Mr. Duceppe, who is the candidate in my riding, does lose a little sleep over the loss of my support. I’m disappointed by the turn in the election and what that says about my fellow citizens (that extends beyond Québec to the rest of the country, too). The Tory dividing tactic taken up with such zeal by the Bloc nauseates me.

If you have made it this far, you might conclude that I chose to vote NDP, and you wouldn’t be wrong. At the beginning of the campaign I thought I might be able to vote without holding my nose, but even their campaign has left me wanting something more.

First off, the apparent obsession with a balanced budget. I understand how the NDP gets pushed into that kind of fixation with proving its fiscal responsibility by the strangely undocumented reputation of left wingers to run up debts. All of the historical analyses of the US and Canada that I have seen show the most right wing governments running up the largest debts, usually by depriving the government of revenues and cutting programs, except for military spending, while the more centre or left wing governments tend to maintain the revenue streams and the programs without going on any war equipment spending binges. At the same time, Mr. Trudeau is not wrong about this being a good time to borrow at low interest rates, and a particularly appropriate time to give the economy a kick start with some badly-needed spending on our crumbling infrastructure. Still, I understand how the NDP cannot allow itself to take such a position, as its opponents and the media would jump all over the “free-spending lefties”.

Another thing that truly rubs me wrong is the removal of a few candidates because of their past statements in favour of the Palestinian people. No one advocated violence, just peaceful resistance and adherence to international law, denouncing the plainly illegal things the Israeli state has done — and continues to do — in its occupation of Palestinian lands, things that make the lives of ordinary Palestinians more difficult and more dangerous. There’s no excuse for this kind of cleaning out of that point of view from the party, and I’m pretty sure the party platform on international issues is more supportive of the Palestinian cause than that.

I have also not been thrilled with the whole issue of the managing of expenses and the censure of the party by a House of Commons oversight committee. While I recognize that that censure was the product of political manoeuverings by the Tories and the Liberals, the whole issue of the satellite offices and their being paid for from public funds, yet mixed with partisan staff as well…this just doesn’t sit well with me. Whatever was done may well have respected the rules, but I don’t feel comfortable with dancing at the edge of legal, especially when one of the big political issues of our time is how we have lurched from the Liberal sponsorship scandal to the Tory bending or breaking of the election rules by various means to the Senate expense scandal that involved entitled Senators from both of those parties. I don’t want even a faint whiff of questionability around a party I would support.

What brings me back, despite the shift rightward toward the centre of the Canadian political spectrum, is the question of core values. On two issues during this campaign, we have seen Mr. Mulcair take principled positions that would not be popular, and he did this because they were right: the issue of the NDP’s Sherbrooke Declaration and, of course, the niqab.

The Sherbrooke Declaration was a resolution of the NDP to recognize that, in the case of a hypothetical future referendum on Québec sovereignty, a result of 50% plus one is sufficient for a victory. This, of course, in relation to the so-called Clarity Act, adopted after a near miss in the 1995 referendum, which sought to put the goal further out of reach without actually being clear about the acceptable level of a vote that would be required. Despite all the pandering by the other parties (except the Bloc, of course) to the ROC (Rest of Canada), there is an acceptable international standard for this kind of referendum, and we have just seen it play out in Scotland. The rule, accepted by all parties to that vote, was 50% plus one. You might want to be worried about the legitimacy of your united country if the only way to maintain it is to say that more than the international standard of democratic victory has to be attained to go another way.

On the niqab issue, Mr. Mulcair, in my eyes, did extremely well, and the reaction of a population of which I am not particularly proud may well cost him the election. To his credit, he has not backed down from the principled position he took, has not fallen silent, has not backed away or tried to temper it. Setting aside the fact that the court decisions to date have been about the Harper government trying to adopt regulations that exceed their powers under the current law and regulations (and they had plenty of time to do this the right way, but failed to), Mr. Mulcair defended the role of our Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which is (in my words, not his) to protect the most despised minority from the arbitrary will of the majority, even at the height of its unpopularity. However one feels about the niqab (I am no more comfortable than anyone else with the idea that a woman should hide herself for either “modesty” or protection from uncontrolled men), I have to say that banning it and requiring it are two sides of the same coin of telling women what to wear. And if anyone thinks that the women who wear this garment are oppressed, but their answer is to vilify, demonize and exclude them, I’d have to ask if they are not now being oppressed from all sides, and wonder how that might help them. Mulcair gave a calm and rational speech about this the day before the first French debate and I have to say he regained my respect at that moment.

Regained, you ask? I have run hot and cold on Mr. Mulcair for a long time. He was, after all, a Liberal cabinet minister in the Québec government of Jean Charest, a former Tory. That’s not the best start for a politician in my eyes. In the last four years, he has shown himself to be quite effective as the Leader of the Opposition, in the face of a government which seems to know no bounds in its efforts to lie and cheat, suppress information and attack its opponents. A principled but unpopular position on a hot issue in the middle of a campaign is something I can respect. Did I make a decision on where to put my vote based on the leader alone? No. I also trust the party and the caucus to resist any centralizing tendencies, should they emerge. I trust this team to have principles and to live by them. They are not perfect, but in my eyes they are the most trustworthy. And lest I be misunderstood, I know that there are people of principle in all of the parties (but don’t ask me to name one in the outgoing government…partisan shot). As a whole, however, I trust the tendencies of the NDP more than I trust the rest.

Ms. Hélène Laverdière, I would say rest easy, you have my vote, but I want you to fight tooth and nail for another week to make sure you return as my MP.

So yes, I voted. And I voted NDP. Did you vote?

#71 The Sanctity of Bathrooms

Top secret fact: I have ONE bathroom in my apartment.

I don’t know what drove them to do it, but the outgoing government was extremely determined to downgrade the capacity of Statistics Canada to understand the population and follow the trends. They did this by eliminating the mandatory long-form census and replacing it with a voluntary household survey t5hat statisticians agreed would not provide the same quality of data.

The census is conducted in Canada every five years. Before the government cancellation of it, the long form version was distributed to every fifth household (I may be slightly off on that one); everyone else completed the short form. Every time, there were a handful of people who resisted the mandatory completion of their census declaration, and these people could be prosecuted under the Statistics Act.

When the government acted to eliminate the mandatory long-form census, they claimed there were lots of complaints (never quantified or substantiated) that pushed them to do that and started repeating their catch phrase that the government has no business knowing how many bathrooms you have. They then also made the mistake of pretending that the head of Statistics Canada had assured them that the quality of the data would be equivalent, which he had not done. As a point of personal and professional pride, Munir Sheikh publicly distanced himself from that attributed statement and resigned his post. Canada’s census was also removed as a source of reliable comparative information by international statistics bodies.

I guess in a world where you can invent an outcry and falsely attribute statements to a professional in his field, you just don’t need reliable data.

Further reading here

Classified plumbing
made-up statements and bold lies
Now that’s governing!

10 October 2015

#70 Retroactive Enabling

After the École Polytechnique shootings in Montréal in 1989, there was a movement that succeeded in pushing the federal government of the day to put into place a registry for long guns in Canada. Many are the critiques of the efficiency or inefficiency of setting up the registry, but as time went on, police consulted the registry a lot, even thousands of times per month, if I am not mistaken.

I remember when my father filled out his declarations (he had two or three hunting rifles which had helped feed us during the years we were less well-off growing up), and how there were elements of checking on mental health and the status of the person’s marriage — things that you would want to know when someone has a weapon. I don’t recall his thinking that the form was particularly intrusive, but that might have faded from my memory.

The outgoing government always had a fetish about ridding the country of what they called the “unreasonable” and “expensive” long gun registry, and they finally voted to do that once they got their majority in Parliament. The story doesn’t end there, however.

Québec, having been the source of the first pressure to put into place the registry, considered setting up its own registry in reaction to the abolition of the federal one, and this idea had pretty widespread support. They asked the federal government to maintain the data pertaining to Québec and then they sued to stop the federal government from destroying it. The temporary injunction Québec got required the federal government not only to preserve the Québec data, but to maintain it. That isn’t what happened.

After the federal government eventually had the injunction overturned and had the court’s permission to destroy the data, we found out that the RCMP had already destroyed the data under pressure from the government. That would be deliberate disobedience to a valid court order, not something that you might expect from a government with a “law and order” agenda.

Not to worry, though, as the government fixed this by adopting a law exonerating the RCMP for its illegal destruction of the data before getting court permission to do so, and included those provisions in an omnibus budget implementation bill. Because it was all about the budget and the economy, right?

Further reading here

Ordered the police
to break the law, then fixed it

09 October 2015

#69 Can’t Prevent Harm

There’s an interesting behind-the-scenes war going on against progressive organizations in Canada. I mean “interesting” in the sense of the ancient Chinese curse “May you live in interesting times”. The war is all about the portion of an organization’s activities that are characterized as “advocacy”.

I am talking only about organizations that are registered charities, permitted to issue tax receipts for donations. This status is vital to many organizations in a time when we have so many governments — including, not surprisingly, our outgoing federal government — backing away from services that help the poor and the sick, or that address many other social issues. When the government doesn’t fulfill its role in these matters, individuals are called upon to give to registered charities to step in and do the work that needs to be done.

Advocacy is often seen as a necessary part of addressing social ills, as it is generally directed at changing the policies or other practices that are causing the social ill. As you might expect, the outgoing government doesn’t see it that way. There is a limit about 10% of a charity’s revenues that can be used to advocacy, and even that must be justified. I have filled out charitable declarations in the past (thankfully, my current organization decided at its founding that it would not be a registered charity in order to be free to take political actions) and I can attest to the increasing detail that is to be found in these sections of the annual declaration. Did you write to a sitting politician? Did you issue public statements? It goes on and on.

Oddly, and surely by luck of the draw, most of the organizations facing detailed audits of their activities are those that are at odds with the policies of the current government. That is one stroke of bad luck for them, and good luck for small-c conservative think tanks like the Fraser Institute, which is somehow fulfilling a charitable purpose in making policy recommendations. Hmmm.

The height of ridiculousness, however, came to light in the case of Oxfam Canada. It seems that the Canada Revenue Agency objected to the goal of “preventing poverty” that was listed among the organization’s charitable purposes. In their reasoning, working with people who are not yet poor is not charitable; you have to wait until they are poor and then try to help them.

Curative interventions or ongoing handouts have never been the best way to address social problems. If you can do something to help people avoid problems, you have done something more durable in its positive impact on society. Revenue Canada, however, has all the power, and Oxfam was compelled to bend or lose its capacity to solicit donations from the public to support its work.

That’s one way to head off positive social change, I guess.

Further reading here

Don’t teach me to swim
saving me from drowning is
the charity’s role

08 October 2015

#68 Forever AND a Day

Unhappy, perhaps, with the way the justice system keeps rejecting its mandatory minimum sentences, or the way the National Parole Board works, the outgoing government has also enacted changes that would bring us into line with the society that most jails its citizens — particularly those not of the majority ethnic group —the US of A.

When I have heard of sentences in the US of imprisonment for hundreds of years, I can’t help but snort derisively. Do they keep the corpse in there until the time is up? Are they just trying to ensure the profitability of the privately-run for-profit facilities that are gradually replacing state-run correctional institutions? Well, the Tories seem to want to take us in those directions, too. Hence the over-the-top-named “Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders Act”.

They are now prescribing consecutive, rather than concurrent, sentences for serious crimes. Now, I’m not going to say that serious crimes shouldn’t have serious consequences, but there are measures that are more laughable than effective, and serve only to throw away lives that might otherwise have been recuperated. When you crowd prisons with extra people because of your mandatory minimum sentences and then you make it possible for people to be sent there for many lifetimes, you are saying that there is no amount of programming that might help the person readapt to become a productive member of society at some point in the future. You are also giving a big vote of non-confidence to the National Parole Board, which determines prisoners’ readiness for release, but I guess that would be reasonable if you had stacked that body with a bunch of people who are not there for their professional capacities, but for their affiliation to your party.

Take the case of the young man in New Brunswick who went on a rampage and killed two RCMP officers. A terrible crime, and he was justly convicted of first degree murder. First degree murder in Canada carries a mandatory life sentence, with no possibility to apply for parole before having served 25 years. At year 25, release is certainly not guaranteed, as there is an assessment of the prisoner’s readiness to resume a peaceful and productive life in society before and doors are opened. The 24-year-old convicted of this crime was sentenced to life imprisonment, but the period of parole ineligibility was calculated with the consecutive rule: 50 years before being eligible to apply for parole.

Now this guy will be 74 before he is allowed to apply for parole, providing he survives that long in the prison environment. Who does that serve? Don’t you think there is a way to offer him the kind of programs that would address his violent tendencies and anti-social actions over the course of the next 25 years that would allow us to take stock of his progress and evaluate the danger he might or might not represent to society after half a life spent in prison, as opposed to two-thirds of a life spent in prison?

Do we not trust the National Parole Board to make that assessment? They don’t have such a bad record in Canada, as recidivism is pretty low, but I guess they could do even better if we made sure they were staffed by professionals and not cronies. This is possible if you have an interest in fixing people and helping them to be productive citizens instead of some other motivation.

Further reading here

Seven hundred years
Is that enough time to keep
us safe from a corpse?

07 October 2015

To Summarize…

Here’s a little run-down of my 78 Tory Wrongs series, with links to be updated for the topics to come for the rest of the campaign.

1. Misappropriation of the EI Fund
2. More advertising than action
3. Income splitting for the wealthy
4. Partisan distribution of child tax credits just before the campaign
5. End of home postal delivery
6. Terrorizing us all with their own “terrorism hoax
7. Bill C-51 compromising the rights of Canadians http://bit.ly/1EijMbP
8. Cuts to search and rescue services
9. Killing the Trans rights private member’s bill in the Senate 
10. Obsession with finding the Franklin Expedition ships
11. Changing the Museum of Civilization to the Museum of [War] History
12. Fetishizing the War of 1812
13. Tar sands http://bit.ly/1Jk9KwA
14. Intransigence on greenhouse gases/carbon emissions
15. The Nigel Wright/Mike Duffy affair
16. Senate spending scandals
17. Purely partisan (and numerous!) Senate appointments
18. Senate abolition by attrition
19. Bev Oda’s $16 orange juice (and expensive taste in hotels)
20. Peter McKay flying back from a fishing trip on an Armed Forces helicopter
21. Stephen Harper taking one of his children to a hockey game in Boston on a government jet
22. Centralizing the source of information in the PMO
23. Opaque government (fighting access to information)
24. Not meeting with the Premiers
25. Proroguing Parliament to save his own skin
26. The “In and Out” scandal
27. Election overspending in Labrador
28. Robocalls
29. Taking attack advertising to new lows
30. The [Un]Fair Elections Act
31. Muzzling scientists
32. Selling assets to “balance” the budget
33. Reducing funding for the CBC/Radio Canada
34. Cancellation of Federal Interim Health Plan for refugee claimants (and lying about it)
35. Closing Veteran’s Affairs offices
36. Cutting funding for women’s health groups
37. Cutting funding for environmental groups
38. Attempting to deny coverage to injured veterans
39. Going to war without a UN resolution
40. Imposing a faux “transparency” on First Nations governments
41. Chronic underfunding of First Nations reserves
42. Refusing to meet Chief Theresa Spence
43. Not committing to implement the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission
44. Missing and Murdered Aboriginal women “not high on their radar”
45. Losing the UN Security Council seat
46. Unnuanced pro-Israel stance
47. The Omar Khadr case
48. The Raif Bhadawi case
49. The Mohamed Fahmi case
50. Endless photo ops
51. Announcing and re-announcing funding…without spending it
52. Not respecting their own fixed election date law…until now…and doubling the campaign length
53. Reliance on “omnibus” legislation
54. Negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership in secret
55. Missing the anniversary of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms
56. Appointing a unilingual judge to the Supreme Court
57. Appointing an ineligible  judge to the Supreme Court
58. Publicly attacking the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court
59. Replacing the Thérèse Casgrain award with the Prime Minister’s award
60. Trading Canadian art for portraits of the Queen in Canadian embassies
61. Monument to the “victims of communism
62. The “Mother Canada” monument
63. Opposition to InSite
64. Rules to make supervised injection services more difficult to open
65. Fighting (and losing) the Bedford case all the way to the Supreme Court
66. Adopting even worse anti-prostitution legislation
67. Mandatory minimum sentences
68. Consecutive life sentences
69. Preventing poverty “not a charitable purpose”
70. The long gun registry (ordering and pardoning law-breaking by the RCMP)
71. Killing the long-form census
72. Defunding the Court Challenges program
73. Depriving ex-patriates of the right to vote
74. Depriving refugee claimants of due process
75. Two-tier citizenship
76. “Safe” countries for deportation that aren’t
77. Demonizing refugee claimants as “queue-jumpers”
78. Welcoming back convicted felon and former Canadian Conrad Black

This list is, unfortunately, not exhaustive. Exasperating, excruciating, yes.

Do you suspect I might not be voting for these guys?

#67 No Judgment on Sentencing

Another darling of the “law and order” crowd: mandatory minimum sentences, because we can’t trust judges to deliver the kind of justice we expect. Leaving aside the “trust the judges” talk around the government’s “terrorism” and “citizenship” legislation, it is clear they have no such trust in matters of the criminal law. They are being shown, however, that their attempts to impose draconian penalties without allowing judges to exercise discretion depending on the circumstances of the case, just won’t fly past the Charter protections against unreasonable punishment.

At a time that crime rates in the country are continuing a decades-long downward trend, it seems that all we hear from the government is that we should be afraid — very afraid — because the criminals are out to get us and the justice system is just turning them out on the streets to commit more crimes. This approach to governing requires an attack on the statistics that would show that the trends are in the other direction (reduce funding for agencies that produce that information), and a sensational case or two to “prove” to all Canadians that the bad guys are hiding behind every bush and the judges might as well be handing them weapons. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The usual way that our criminal law works is that Parliament indicates the relative importance of different kinds of crimes by prescribing a maximum penalty, and judges consider the complete circumstances of the crime for which someone has been found guilty in imposing the sentence. A more serious situation gets a more serious penalty, a repeat offender showing no remorse gets a harsher penalty than someone who slipped up and expresses the desire to make amends.

The problem the government runs into is that, in light of the Charter, the courts have a problem with the disproportionality of the mandatory minimum sentences in the absence of the possibility of judges adapting them to the circumstances of the case. Unfortunately, there seems to be no maximum on the number of times the government will try to look tough by enacting this kind of law in the face of them being declared unconstitutional one after the other.

Further reading here (et ici). 

A mandatory
sentence for electoral
fraud might work for us

06 October 2015

#66 We Can Do Worse

The Supreme Court of Canada struck down the provisions of the Criminal Code relating to the sex trade, and gave the federal government a year to replace them with laws that would pass the test of constitutionality. The outgoing government seized upon the opportunity to present a piece of legislation that included many of the same provisions, with a few extra oppressions for good measure.

Back in the new law are the provisions about communicating for the purposes of prostitution, for example, and there are new criminal sanctions for the purchase of sexual services. What drives the clients underground will necessarily drive the sellers underground, to places where security and health services have trouble reaching them. There was even a proposal in the original bill that criminalized the sale of sexual services in certain areas (within a certain distance of schools, I believe it was), but this was tempered before the final adoption. It didn’t really fit with the “all sex workers are exploited victims” narrative the government was trying to use to sell this to the public.

So there is no reason to believe that the new laws will do any better on the test of whether they are overly broad and fail to protect the health and security of sex workers. We can expect more court battles over several more years before it comes back to the Supreme Court to send the government back to the drawing board yet again. We will have wasted an awful lot of money, but even more importantly, we will have sacrificed the health and the lives of many women and men involved in the sex trade.

Further reading here

The court spoke as one
Start with their health and safety
before you make laws

05 October 2015

#65 Another Hard-fought Loss

Another round in the war against the health of “undesirables” (in the eyes of the outgoing government): anti-prostitution laws. And yet another loss for the government in front of the Supreme Court of Canada. You would think they might learn something from the court decisions that keep going against them, or at least get tired of losing, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. And they have stacks of our tax dollars that they are ready to throw away on each attempt to justify their badly-conceived laws.

Prostitution is not illegal in Canada. However, all sorts of activities around it — brothels, living from the “avails” of prostitution, communicating in public with clients — have been criminalized over the years. In the Bedford case, Chief Justice Beverly McLachlin wrote that “Parliament has the power to regulate against nuisances, but not at the cost of the health, safety and lives of prostitutes." The decision was 9-0.

I think it’s important to underline that this is not about being soft on the sexual exploitation of unwilling people. There are other laws that deal with that problem. And while some would argue that the very act of exchanging sexual services for money or other considerations is in itself exploitation, I would suggest that you really have to set that aside a bit to consider the impact of the laws on the health and safety of those involved in sex work. The more the laws push people into dark corners and make their every move illegal, the more they are exposed to danger and distanced from the services that could help them.

If it’s illegal to run a “brothel” and any place where you exchange sex for money is considered a “brothel”, then you can’t have any control over your environment and have to practice your trade on the street. If it’s illegal to “live off the avails of prostitution”, then a sex worker can’t hire anyone to assure her/his security. If it’s illegal to talk to your client before getting into the car, you can’t assess the level of danger you might be getting into.

So once again, the federal government has run head on into the question of protecting people’s health — or endangering it — through the application of the law and has been found wanting. Their only answer is to demonize the people whose health and safety they would like to put back in danger.

Further reading here

When the law “protects”
by putting you in danger
the law is just wrong