One of the weird facets of having male, able-bodied, and a great deal of middle-class privilege (that really does border on white privilege at times, my skin colour notwithstanding) is that there are a number of evidently-common phenomena that I have simply never witnessed. I have never known someone to be raped*, I have never seen harassment more obnoxious than cat-calls or a honked horn, and as near as I can tell I have never been on the receiving end of serious discrimination either at the hands of an employer or the police. Left with only my own personal experience as a yardstick for reality, it would be trivially easy for me to fall into the seductive trap of assuming that the world is a fair place and the concerns of anti-abuse groups are very occasional and dramatic exceptions to a general trend of figurative rainbows and puppies.
But because I have made the decision to not only listen to those who have experienced those things, but to engage with their ideas and compare them to the few occasions where I have had to deal with being subjected to discrimination, I have learned to let the weight of my skepticism rest more heavily on those who say there’s no problem than those who say there is one. One recent example of a major transition I have made is my attitude toward police. I have seen too many stories of egregious and unpunished crimes committed by police all over the world to believe that these are isolated incidents that are not reflective of a larger and more disturbing trend. Despite my universally positive personal interactions with Vancouver Police (I have repeatedly noted the positive way they handled both the Occupy Vancouver presence and the post-hockey riots), in the absence of robust and meaningful civilian oversight I am obligated to view all officers with suspicion. … Continue Reading
This year for Black History Month I will be examining Colour-Coded: A Legal History of Racism in Canada, 1900-1950 by Constance Backhouse. Please read the preamble post if you haven’t already. Part 1 of this series is here. Part 2 is here, and a follow-up can be found here.
Part of the main thrust of this year’s Black History Month is that while the history of black people is not defined by racism, it is almost impossible to understand the contemporary black experience without carefully examining the way racism has shaped it. As such, there is some valuable information to be gleaned from comparing how white supremacist entities treated other (i.e., non-black minorities) groups and people. Put another way, I believe it is both possible and valuable to examine, for example, the discrimination and ultimate dispossession of the black population of Halifax’s Africville by understanding other groups whose property rights (and indeed, human rights) have been simply ignored by an uncaring and paternalistic political system.
One such example (which is roughly contemporaneous with some of the more egregious aspects of the Africville saga) comes to us in the form of the case of Sero v Gault. Eliza Sero was a Tyendinaga Mohawk woman who shared custody of a fishing net with another woman, through which she gained her livelihood. A provincial government fisheries inspector named Thomas Gault seized Sero’s net on the grounds that she did not have a provincial license. This was no small matter for Sero – her way of supporting herself was caught up in that net (a net she didn’t own outright to begin with), and so she sued. … Continue Reading
In Canada this past week, two Earth-shattering events of domestic and sexual violence against women were aired in the news. Trigger warning: if you are a survivor of domestic and/or sexual violence, as I am, and you are already having a bad day, this is not going to be a post you’ll want to read today.
One of those events revolves around Senator Patrick Brazeau — the Algonquin (First Nation) man appointed by Stephen Harper to be the alleged “sober second thought” of the Conservative Party of Canada until 2049; who has since been arrested, charged, thrown out of the Conservative Party, and placed on a mandatory leave of absence from his duties as Senator (while other politicians demand the Senate be abolished once and for all). … Continue Reading
This year for Black History Month I will be examining Colour-Coded: A Legal History of Racism in Canada, 1900-1950 by Constance Backhouse. Please read the preamble post if you haven’t already. Part 1 of this series is here.
It is either appalling ignorance on my part (if you wish to blame me) or abysmal historical instruction from our public school system (if you want to blame society) or both (if you want to be accurate) that made me completely unaware that, for the better part of a century, Canada outlawed aboriginal dance. I suppose it should come as no surprise that a country that would make a language illegal wouldn’t restrict that chauvinism to only one method of cultural expression, but for whatever reason I didn’t connect those two dots.
Backhouse invites us to acknowledge that dance is not simply a cultural quirk or an exotic way for aboriginal people to show off aspects of their heritage – they are an intrinsic part of how aboriginal people live their lives, participate in their history, and express their existential relationship to the land and their beliefs. Beyond that, the Grass Dance of the Dakota people was also a vital component of their economic and familial tradition and practices. Far from being an ancillary (but still important) method of artistic expression as is the European tradition, dance occupies a much more central niche in many aboriginal communities.
It is with this in the background that we turn our attention to the town of Rapid City, Manitoba in 1902, and the arrest of Wanduta, a Dakota elder (“Heyoka” is the title they used) for participating in a Grass Dance (also known as a Give-Away dance, due to the profligate exchange of gifts that occurs as part of the ceremony). The Dakota had been invited to perform their dance as part of hte Rapid City July Fair – a practice that was common. White settlers enjoyed the spectacle and exotic flavour of aboriginal dance, and paid handsomely to see it. While most dances were performed on reserves in cultural context, the Dakota outside of Rapid City were not averse to being part of the spectacle of the Fair. … Continue Reading
Jamie and I had, in the not-too-distant past, a disagreement over whether or not the Supreme Court of Canada (in its contemporary form) is an ally of justice when it comes to aboriginal people in Canada. Indeed, based on Monday’s post, it would be hard to make the case that Canada’s court systems are anything other than the most hypocritical arms of a white supremacist system, garbed as they are in the clothing (both figurative and literal) of justice. Any court that doesn’t recognize Canada’s current system of legislated inequality and discrimination when it comes to aboriginal sovereignty and the recognition of Treaty rights cannot really lay much claim to the title of ‘Supreme’.
That being said, I understand (perhaps better than Jamie, perhaps only differently from him) the Constitutional limitations of the court. It is the duty of Parliament, and not the courts, to create legislation, and most judges are quite loath to overturn the will of the elected government* unless there is an extremely compelling reason to do so – i.e., the law violates the Charter rights of Canadians. Judges are also bound to interpret the law according to the way it was interpreted by previous courts, making it a dispositionally conservative entity.
All that being said, as I pointed out before, the Court has made some recent decisions that I support. Decisions that I believe reflect a progressive sense of justice, and a decision-making process that prioritizes harm reduction over tradition, and attempts to balance maximum freedom with the greater good. Of course if I’m happy, that means that there are a lot of people on the political right who probably hate every single Justice, but that’s rather beside the point.
What was the point again? Oh right… Canada’s courts aren’t completely awful: … Continue Reading
There seems to be a lot of misinformation and possibly wilful ignorance perpetually circulating around about Canada’s—quite frankly genocidal—140-year-old Indian Act. Internet trolls and eugenicists alike declare that it has so many “benefits” for First Nations. Special emphasis is placed on the two separate events in Canada’s history that a proposal for putting The Indian Act through the shredder was shouted down by a majority of indigenous peoples. This, in turn, is declared as evidence of how beneficial the Act is to the people over whom it legislates. I disagreed that the Act had any benefit to indigenous peoples at all, before actually committing to sitting down and reading the entire length of its current revision on Monday. I even disagreed that it had any utility before finding a handy list of all the revisions that have been made since it was written, because I’ve heard plenty from indigenous peoples, of what a piece of work this thing really is. And I still think it’s the work of a eugenicist scumbag now, after reading its entire length in the current revision (no wonder all the eugenicists agree with each other!), and this post is going to be about every reason why I came to that conclusion years ago.
… Continue Reading
Earlier today, I wrote a quick summary of this morning’s Supreme Court of Canada majority decision that says judges may require witnesses to remove their niqab to testify in court. The majority laid out some specific issues that should be considered when making such a decision, including the broader social context of requiring victims of abuse to violate their religious beliefs in order to see justice, and the “chilling effect” that such a practice may have. In this post, I want to briefly touch on the two dissenting positions, and provide some of my own thoughts and concerns. … Continue Reading
Back in the early days of this blog, I talked about an Ontario court case involving a woman who did not want to be compelled to remove her niqab (a Muslim face covering) in order to testify against two of her family members who she accused of sexually abusing her over a number of years. I thought it was an interesting case for those of us interested in how to properly build a secular society that respects personal expression but does not kowtow to every religious cause under the sun. I said this at the time:
For once, I don’t have a clear-cut answer of what the court should do. On the one hand, testifying would have deleterious effects on the plaintiff and possibly cause her to lose her family and social life; it would most certainly deter other abused women from coming forward after they see that the consequence of speaking up is social isolation (and possibly more abuse). On the other hand however, allowing her to wear the veil not only violates the right of the accused to confront their accuser face-to-face, but implicitly assents to the practice of veiling women.
The case found its way to the Supreme Court of Canada, who handed down their decision this morning. I have, on several occasions, expressed my deep respect and admiration for Canada’s Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin, who wrote for the majority in the 4-2-1* decision, finding that while the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (equivalent to the U.S. Bill of Rights) does explicitly defend a person’s right to freedom of religion, it also explicitly defends the rights of the accused. As such, the decision prescribes a series of test questions that must be satisfied before requiring a woman to remove her niqab to testify.
The full text of the decision is here, and my own summary and analysis of the decision follows below the fold. … Continue Reading
There’s a scene in a particularly cringe-worthy episode of The Office where Michael Scott, the bumbling boss, tries to manipulate the audience into picturing a criminal in their mind. He describes this fictitious person, using increasingly racial language, and then ‘stuns’ us all with the big ‘reveal’: the criminal is a white woman. Steve Carell does a masterful job of portraying the sneering arch-liberalism of the Michael character as he tries to demonstrate how racist his audience is, and yet how ideologically pure he is. The bonus of course is in the fact that Michael himself commits various acts of well-intentioned racism throughout the series, especially in this particular episode.
But like most of the satirical edge of The Office, there is a truth to be mined from Michael’s nuttiness: we do have racialized ideas of criminals that exist in our public life. These are not so mysterious when you are aware of how those attitudes came to be, dragged along as part of the overt and noxious racism of the past into the ‘polite’ racism of our contemporary world. Add to these attitudes a capitalist system that foists the burdens of poverty disproportionately upon certain racial groups, and the fact that poverty and criminality are causally linked, and you end up with the repeated emergence of the image of “the black criminal”.
A particularly great example of the pernicious power of this idea comes to us from Brooklyn: … Continue Reading
When I was 17 years old, I received my G2 “graduated learner’s” license. The way Ontario’s system worked (or maybe still does), you could get a permit at age 16, but if you were driving, you had to be in the company of someone with at least 5 years’ experience at a full ‘G’ license. For many people, myself included, that meant I had to be in the company of my parents to drive. Not exactly the freedom of the open road that I had fantasized about. And so when I got my ‘G2′, allowing me to drive unaccompanied, I was well chuffed. Gone were the days of riding shotgun and being forced to listen to whatever talk or jazz station my dad preferred – control of the radio would finally be mine!
My neighbourhood at the time was populated with a large number of young men who would spend their allowance (I imagine) buying really expensive stereo equipment to put in their shitty cars. It was a rare night in Brampton when I didn’t pull up next to someone pumping some obnoxious dance ‘tune’ at a stoplight. In my childish glee, I used to switch over to the classical station, crank my own volume, and blast away some Brahms symphony or a Bach partita or whatever was playing at the time. It never failed to get a reaction – mostly puzzlement, sometimes amusement, occasionally irritation as they realized they were the targets of mockery.
It is, I suppose, lucky for me that I was not 17 years old in Florida: … Continue Reading