Election 2015: A time for (cautious) optimism

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Gosh, it looks like the 90s, doesn’t it?

The longest election campaign in Canada’s recent history is finally over, and the results were decisive. So now what?

Now, I did not vote Liberal in Monday’s federal election (I have never voted for any party but the NDP in fact), but I must say that I woke up on Tuesday morning immensely relieved. Stephen Harper is no longer our prime minister.

I’m going to type that one more time with feeling: STEPHEN HARPER IS NO LONGER OUR PRIME MINISTER.

Yes, yes, I appreciate that Harper served the country as its leader for ten years, and that not ALL of his policies were bad, and that many people obviously felt they benefited during his time in office, but the man simply sickened me, and his government was poisoning the country with its dirty and divisive tactics, its dishonesty, its mockery of Parliamentary democracy, its willful sacrifice of evidence-based policies for ideological ones (like its attack on the research-supported and incredibly effective harm-reduction facility InSite), its willingness to kowtow to wealthy oil companies at the expense of our environment, its indifference to veterans, its racism and xenophobia, its intrusion on our liberties, and its sheer LAZINESS and AUDACITY in openly courting only the 30-odd percent of the vote needed to keep itself in power. Canada has lost much of what has made it a traditionally great nation, and some of it (the many decades-long research archives destroyed by the Conservative government, for example) can never be retrieved.

Some of course will sputter, “But…but…the ECONOMY!”, to which I reply, no economy is worth our souls, and ten years of Harper was destroying ours. Besides, the economy, in its current condition, seemed to be succeeding only in making the rich richer and the rest of us poorer so please excuse me if I don’t shed a tear because you can’t afford that new mink coat. Many have also tied their economic protests to the importance of the oil industry, so I’ll also say this: the Canadian oil industry has not been touched by anyone but Harper for the past ten years, and has been shedding jobs for months. Tar sands oil is incredibly expensive to extract, and if oil prices fall as low as they have been and companies can’t make a profit doing it, they’ll stop. Resource extraction tends to be volatile like that. Harper literally gave the Canadian oil industry everything they asked for, and they’re still pulling the plug on projects that, I know, employ a LOT of Canadians. And why? Because oil companies aren’t charities–they don’t give a crap about your jobs or families. If they aren’t making money they won’t keep employing people. That’s just business. I’m sure most of the people currently working in the oil industry are highly skilled hardworking people–they will be in demand in whatever industries eventually move in to take oil’s place (or, of course, oil prices could very well rebound though that doesn’t help the environment much). Things are going to be tough for a lot of people for a while, but no one is doomed.

There are more important things than money.

The Harper government was actively making my country a more ugly, unfriendly place, and I am glad to see it go. I was excited on Monday night, even though I was sad to see awesome NDP incumbents like Peter Stoffer, Megan Leslie, and Paul Dewar lose their seats. I am excited for a new kind of Canada, whatever that will be. I could not have lived with more of the same. This election had my heart in a vice, and now I can finally breathe again.

Alright– so Justin Trudeau is the new Prime Minister of Canada. I can’t say I never thought it would happen some day, though I am surprised to see it happen so soon. Sure, his lineage has helped him–who else can say they have been familiar with the job of Prime Minister since their birth?–and I think his status as a Canadian political “celebrity” certainly clinched him the Liberal leadership, but he also ran a smart campaign and surrounded himself with smart people, to whom he apparently actually listens. I know I’ve called Trudeau stupid before (actually, I think my exact words were, “He’s a dummy”), but I guess perhaps I’m the dummy this time and Justin Trudeau was being stupid like a fox. Being a good-looking white male and the son of a famous politician gets a person pretty far–but it doesn’t necessarily get them a majority government.

Obviously fear had a huge part to play. Though Trudeau did not tend to play the politics of fear, Harper’s increasingly disturbing tactics pretty much did that for him–the urgency of removing this man from the highest office in the land by whatever means necessary weighed heavily in progressive voters’ minds. Many people proclaimed themselves “ABC” voters (“Anyone But Conservatives”) and strategic voting initiatives like Leadnow’s “Vote Together” campaign promoted voting for whichever candidate could beat the Conservative in a given riding, regardless of who the candidate was or what party they represented. A lot of people saw these tactics as cynical, and they were. They were also pretty effective–Stephen Harper’s government is out, very out. Unfortunately, this kind of “ABC” voting also meant that more progressive parties like the Greens and the NDP lost many votes they otherwise may have had.

As I watched the CBC’s election coverage on Monday, I was surprised that no one on the expert panel mentioned Trudeau’s promise to reform our first-past-the-post electoral system as contributing to his win. Many voters wanted to vote with their hearts, but determined to “hold their noses” just this once so that they’d never have to again. Next time, they reasoned, we won’t have this stupid system that gives parliamentary majorities to parties with only 39% of the popular vote, and our votes for Green or NDP (or the Pirate Party or the Marxist-Leninist Party or whoever) won’t be “wasted”.  Electoral reform was a promise made to voters, a promise that resonated, and a promise that will hopefully be kept.

That said, I’m not exactly going to bet the farm on it. For one thing, people are often loathe to change or do away with systems that are advantageous for them the way first-past-the-post was advantageous for Trudeau on Monday. Secondly, even if the new Liberal government keeps its promise and this federal election truly was the last of its kind in Canada, Trudeau did NOT necessarily promise a new system based on proportional representation. He may prefer (and I believe does prefer) a kind of ranked balloting system, in which voters rank candidates in order of preference. If there is no clear winner based on first-choice preference, officials begin to count second choices. This system may still be rather “first-past-the-post-ish”, and it’s certainly one that would disproportionately benefit the Liberals (who, if they aren’t a voter’s first choice, will likely be the second choice listed for many liberal Tories and conservative NDPers and Greens).

Cynicism aside, I couldn’t help feeling optimistic as Trudeau took the stage for his victory speech. Canadians may have voted out of fear, but they still voted for change. They didn’t vote for xenophobia. They didn’t vote for isolationism. Trudeau, it’s true, will cut a very good-looking figure on the international stage, and if he can keep his promises without plunging the country into debt I will be proud to call him my Prime Minister. But I’m much more proud of my fellow Canadians, because although they didn’t all make my favourite choice, they made a choice for a better country than what we had become. And better is always something to be proud of.

Election 2015: Get Out and Vote (and don’t let anyone stop you)

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The upcoming federal election (October 19) is probably the most important one of my voting life thus far. Although at the outset this election was framed as being “about the economy”, the choice facing Canadians is more about moral values than dollars and cents. What kind of Canada do we want? What kind of legacy do we wish to leave for our children and grandchildren? Do we want to be a leader in the serious problems facing the world (climate change, the refugee crisis), or do we wish to be on the wrong side of history, dragging our feet until the total of human death and suffering has reached a point we can no longer ignore? Do we embrace our multicultural society or not? Do we reconcile the wrongs that have been, and continue to be, perpetuated against Canada’s First Nations or do we shrug and say “it’s not high on our list of priorities right now”? Do we protect our human rights and extend them to all Canadians, or do we rescind them from those we deem undesirable for reasons of their religion, ethnic background, or political activism? Do we explore ways to strengthen our democracy or do we continue to weaken it?

[It’s probably obvious where my political preferences lie based on the fact that this is my blog, but if you want to ignore climate change, let refugees continue to die on the open seas, let the systemic causes of murdered and missing Indigenous women go uninvestigated, spy on your neighbours (while forfeiting your own freedoms), live in constant and unsubstantiated fear of people who look different from you or worship a different god, or, y’know, if you enjoy letting the government destroy decades worth of research your tax dollars paid for and you LIKE the fact that they have been found guilty of cheating in all four of the past federal elections, by all means, please vote for Stephen Harper’s Conservatives; if not, you’ll probably want to vote for someone else.]

vote_canIt’s no secret that our democracy is a flawed one–no democracy is perfect, and a multi-party, first-past-the-post system like ours often results in unique (to the rest of the world) but not uncommon (to us) situations whereby a political party that does NOT have the majority of the popular vote in Canada ends up with the majority of the seats in Parliament and ends up forming the government. That’s what happened last time, and it could well happen again.

At this time, our best and only weapon against the shortcomings of our democracy is to participate in the system as it currently is and VOTE. Vote for the party that best represents the Canada you want to see (or vote strategically if you believe there is a strong case for that in your riding), and vote for a party committed to electoral reform, that is, to finding alternative electoral systems that can better represent the will of Canadians (both the NDP and Liberal parties of Canada have pledged to implement electoral reform if they form the new government).

Unfortunately, recent cuts to Election Canada’s budget, coupled with new voter identification restrictions imposed by the ironically-named “Fair” Elections Act, have resulted in incorrect voter cards being sent the hundreds of Canadians, long line-ups at advanced polls, widespread confusion on the part of Elections Canada employees as to what constitutes the proper ID, and even “pre-marked” ballots being handed to voters (the result of a “printing error”, according to Elections Canada). While it is more important than ever to vote (and you should), I can empathize with voter frustration when faced with confusion, misinformation, and long waits at the ballot box.

But still, vote. Please vote [even if you want to vote Conservative; I mean, I’d really rather Conservative voters just stay home and do some crochet or whatever but democracy means we all get our vote so I could never sanction saying “don’t vote” to anyone]. And while you’re making your plan to vote, keep in mind some key points:

  1. Election day is October 19, 2015. It is now too late to vote in advanced polls to to make arrangements to vote by mail. You must vote at YOUR polling station (voters in federal elections are not permitted to vote at any other polling station). To find your polling station or to confirm the hours your polling station is open, please visit the Elections Canada website at elections.ca. (It takes a little clicking around to find everything you need but it’s not hard.)
  2. If you are scheduled to work on election day, your employer must ensure you have three consecutive hours to cast your vote while polls are open, even if this means giving you some time off. For example, here in Vancouver my polling station is open from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. A voter who works a 9 – 5 job, for example, must be given three hours at the beginning or end of their workday in which to vote. This means either the voter can start work late, at 10:00 a.m., or finish work early, at 4:00 p.m., in order to have three consecutive hours to vote before the polls close. In this case, the choice of which time to give you (morning or evening) is up to your employer, however, they CANNOT refuse to give you three consecutive voting hours; that would be illegal.
  3. In order to vote, you MUST be able to provide appropriate ID as per the new rules (voter cards are not ID). While the new identification rules are rather strict, there are many acceptable forms of identification, and a comprehensive list of acceptable voter ID can be found on the Elections Canada site. If you have any further questions about ID, you can probably find an answer on the ID FAQ page.
  4. Once you’re in your polling booth, pencil in hand, check your ballot carefully to make sure there are no marks on it–“dirty ballots” have been reported in some ridings, and a dirty ballot could invalidate your vote.

A major concern so far is that many Elections Officers at advanced polling stations have been (hopefully unintentionally) misinforming voters as to what constitutes proper ID and possibly turning away voters who may, in fact, have had correct identification. Laura Track of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association volunteered as an observer at one of the advanced polls over the weekend, and has compiled a very good list of concerns and reminders titled “Election Shenanigans“.  Here’s a gloss of some of her very important points:

  • You do NOT need photo ID to vote. If you do have a piece of government-issued photo ID that has your current address on it, that’s great, but if you don’t, two pieces of ID from the aforementioned Elections Canada list as acceptable. Do NOT let anyone turn you away from the polls because you do not have photo ID–whoever you are speaking to is incorrect and you should demand to speak to another Elections Officer or to their supervisor. Even if you don’t have any ID with your current address on it, there are ways around this so get informed!
  • Despite its confusing name, your Voter Identification Card (the one you may have received in the mail) is NOT a required, or accepted, piece of ID. Not only does it not count as an acceptable piece of identification for the purposes of voting, you are not required to have this card or to bring it with you. Your VIC can speed up the voting process, but you cannot be turned away for not having it. Again, if an Elections Officer attempts to turn you away for not bringing your VIC, they are incorrect and you should demand to speak to someone else.
  • If you are not already registered to vote, or you’re not sure, checking or registering is a fairly simple process on Elections Canada’s Online Voter Registration Service. That said, you do NOT need to be pre-registered in order to vote in this election. If you have appropriate ID but are not registered in your riding, do NOT let anyone turn you away–Elections Officers can and must allow you to register to vote at your polling station.

Get informed, be prepared, and VOTE. Broken as our system is, hopeless as it may seem, your voice does count and you CAN make a difference in your country and the world.

P.S. If you do not get the result you were hoping for, and you might not, be brave. Voting is just one of the tools at your disposal in a vibrant democracy–we can change the system for the better, from the inside and out.

 

As a Proud Canadian, I Welcome Refugees

Last week I came across an internet meme that said the following:

By accepting millions of “refugees” from war torn countries into our countries all we are doing is inviting their wars in along with them. Changing their location doesn’t change their ideology.

This is, sadly, just one example of many ignorant, xenophobic memes that are being shared as the pressure on western nations to lend refugees fleeing war-torn Syria and Iraq a helping hand increases. Living in a world with the internet means having to expect this crap–the internet is, after all, everyone’s soapbox.

What I didn’t expect was to see an image of this text posted on the Facebook page of an old acquaintance of mine, a person I recall as being intelligent, polite, and certainly not one to turn their nose up at anyone just because of where they’re from or what they look like. It was a strange kind of punch in the gut–I know that politically I’ve never been aligned with a lot of the friends of my youth, but I thought surely, on this fundamentally human issue, Canadians, with their proud national heritage of providing aid and peacekeeping in times of trouble, would be more or less in agreement. I guess not.

First things first, the meme itself. There are a LOT of problems in this tiny snippet of text, including:

  • The word “refugees” being placed in quotation marks, as if there is some more legitimate kind of refugee than the kind that is fleeing almost certain death at the hands of either ISIS or their own government (particularly in the case of Syria, where the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government on its own people has been documented and confirmed).
  • The idea that refugees fleeing a war will bring their wars with them is absolutely ridiculous, and this should be obvious to any thinking person. For starters, how does being a victim of war and slaughter make this “their” war? And when has a refugee to Canada EVER brought “their” war with them? Did Jewish immigrants fleeing the Nazis bring the Third Reich to Canada? Did the English children sent to Canadian homes to ride out WWII bring the Blitz? Did my Latvian grandparents bring the Soviet army with them? No, no, and no. Refugees are FLEEING their oppressors, not packing them in a suitcase. They want to live far away from what is threatening them. That’s the point.
  • What is “their” ideology anyways? How can such a vague little sucker punch possibly presume to know the ideology of whatever group of people it is referring to as “refugees”? It wants people to fill in the blanks; it’s a wink and nod–i.e. “I’m not racist/ religiously intolerant/ paranoid, but you know what their ideology is like.” It’s not explicit (presumably so no one can dismiss it as Islamophobic), but I bet both the creator of this meme and the people sharing it are thinking of Islam. And if so, what on earth do either the creator or the person posting truly know of Islam? Sure, a lot of atrocities have been committed in its name, but the same can be said of Christianity, which has not only contemporary atrocities but also 2000 years of bloodshed and oppression to its credit. Do we presume Christianity is a naturally violent ideology in light of this huge body of evidence? No, not usually, so there is NOTHING which gives us license to do it to Islam, especially when its roots are shared with Christianity and it promotes many of the same positive qualities, including humility, peace, and, ironically, hospitality.

Normally, when I see a post like this on Facebook I disconnect. I unfollow, or unfriend, or just ignore it and try not to let it get me down. But sadly, these views aren’t uncommon and they aren’t just words. They’re harmful deep-rooted sentiments shared by more Canadians than I’d like to admit. Public sentiment shapes policy, and policy puts obstacles in the way of those Canadians who DO want to help refugees, and HAVE found a way to sponsor one or more people (this is especially true if the Conservatives continue on as Canada’s government after the October election, which is not unlikely, but even the numbers quoted by the NDP and Liberals, while higher than the numbers offered by Harper, are far less than the number of refugees we could accommodate, and will likely stay low if these kinds of sentiments persist). Besides, the person I know who posted it on Facebook isn’t someone who can be written off as a run-of-the-mill racist troll. There were obviously reasons this person felt the way they did, reasons that had a little more substance than “I don’t like people are who aren’t white and English-speaking.” (which is NOT a sentiment I would ever attribute to them and I’m not doing that now). So I decided to engage, because human lives are too important to ignore just because I don’t want to rock the boat by getting into a heated Facebook argument with an old pal.

I’m glad I did, because when you hash it out with someone instead of just reading something they shared on social media and thinking, “Whoa, that’s crazy”, you usually find yourself being presented with a more nuanced argument than the one found in a tabloid-esque meme. So I stuck it out (and to their credit, so did my acquaintance) and it seems  their actual position was a little more like this: ISIS has claimed they will sneak operatives into the West disguised as refugees [I haven’t heard of this anywhere else so I don’t know if this threat is credible but I understand why the idea would be worrisome], people seem to pushing for a lowering of screening standards to speed up refugee application processing times, obviously the lives of refugees are valuable too but it’s natural to care more about those close to you (i.e. Canadians) and want to protect them.

This kind of position is something we can work with. For example, if the idea of relaxing screening of refugee claimants is a big concern, that’s a reasonable thing to take into account in refugee policy. If we want to expedite applications for refugee status, there are safe ways to do that, according to former general and chief of defense staff Rick Hiller, who says, “Doing it quickly doesn’t mean you have to take short cuts.” As with anyone who comes into Canada, whether they’re fleeing a murderous caliphate or just driving from Seattle to watch their lame Seattle Sounders get their asses handed to them by the awesome Vancouver Whitecaps (except last time, when we lost), security, caution, and appropriate documentation is important.

As for the position that it’s natural to care more about people here in Canada than people in another country, I can certainly sympathize with that. I read about other people in other places dying all the time, and although it weighs on my heart, it is nowhere near the devastation I would feel if something happened to someone in my family or to one of my friends. Emotionally, I completely 100% understand.

But rationally, and as a Canadian who has benefited from, and indeed, owes her entire existence to immigration (I don’t think my parents would have met had my mom not been able to immigrate to Canada with my grandparents!), I can’t support policy that says that the potential for risk to even one Canadian life outweighs the very real deaths of thousands of refugees fleeing the Middle East (according to the UN Refugee Agency, 2,500 refugees have died attempting to cross the Mediterranean in this summer alone).

We are Canadians, which means that most of us are the children of immigrants ourselves (speaking of children, according to the UN, more than half of Syrian refugees are under the age of 18). We are proud of our various heritages, and we should be. We are proud and happy to live in a beautiful and safe country, and we should be. But we are not superior beings. My life does not mean more just because I was lucky enough to be born here and not somewhere else. Our merit as human beings has NOTHING to do with where we were born and everything to do with our actions. And right now, our close-minded, tight-fisted, fear-mongering rhetoric is showing that maybe WE’RE the ones with the ideology problem. Since when are Canadians deaf and blind to the plight of their fellow human beings?

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Note: If you are interested in helping refugees but can’t afford to sponsor an individual or family to come to Canada, there are many agencies providing refugees desperately needed aid and require donations to continue their work. Here are a few:

[In case you’re wondering, I’ve donated to the UNHCR, but donations to any of the above agencies will help if there’s one a little closer to your heart.]

Federal election 2015: Fight their money

The bell has rung, the gates have opened, the flag has waved, and they’re off! Four federal political parties running neck and neck towards the grand prize, a four-year mandate to govern this country we call home (well, three running neck and neck and one trailing behind in a really heartbreaking underdog story, and technically the Bloc also running but more for the sake of biting the other parties’ ankles and stirring shit up). It’s time for Canada’s longest (and most expensive) election campaign in over a century. Time for our parties’ leaders to dust off their folksy sweaters, firm up their “meeting the average voter” handshakes, and let the attack ads and photo ops fly. Feel the excitement! Feel the thrill!

I’ve never made a secret of my disdain for Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his Conservative government, and I simply could not suppress a cynical snort when I read our incumbent PM’s rationale for calling an election campaign so far ahead of the fixed October 19 election date:

I feel very strongly…that those campaigns need to be conducted under the rules of the law. That the money come from the parties themselves, not from government resources, parliamentary resources or taxpayer resources.

Harper was ostensibly talking about the opposition parties, however, given that his is really the only party with access to government resources for partisan advertising (which the Conservatives have continually made use of for years under the guise of keeping Canadians “informed” about government activities, like their boondoggling Economic Action Plan), he is certainly well aware that HIS party was the problem. It’s also pretty brazen to invoke the rule of law, given that members of the Conservative party have been found guilty of breaching election spending rules in 2006 and 2008, as well as committing straight-up electoral fraud in the 2011 federal election (voter suppression via the now-infamous “robocalls”). Almost everything the Conservatives have told us about what is happening in our country in the last few years and about their own actions and intentions is so blatantly and purposefully false that I’d be tempted to call it some sick kind of joke, except I’m pretty sure Stephen Harper is not in possession of a sense of humour, just as I’m sure the many Canadians whose lives are negatively affected by the Conservative’s various ill-supported policies are not feeling too hilarious right now either.

As for the claim that parties should be spending their own money on their election campaigns, that much is true, and Harper knows his party can easily outspend any of their rivals (it’s not too hard to raise donations when your supporters are typically well-to-do corporate elites; it’s a little harder when your party is trying to appeal to the working poor and struggling middle class families). Far from ensuring a fair fight, Harper’s early election call ensures he can control as many angles of the game as possible, and ensures that his party’s particular strength (garnering donations, if not actual popular support) will be a key factor in the campaign (as it stands right now, none of the opposition parties can afford to run an election campaign for this long; Harper can). Former head of Elections Canada, Jean-Pierre Kingsley, was quick to call out Harper for “gaming the system” and for saddling the Canadian taxpayer with additional costs (a 37-day election period, the usual minimum, costs Elections Canada approximately $375 million to administer; the election campaign we are now in will last 11 weeks).

Increasing the campaign length isn’t the only trick Harper has up his sleeve. Bill C-23, the shockingly-named “Fair Elections Act”, has made it harder for thousands of Canadians to vote, and has prohibited Elections Canada from encouraging voting. Again, not a joke. The federal body responsible for administering elections in Canada is no longer allowed to encourage Canadians to vote. They can tell you where the polling stations are, they can tell you how to register as a voter in your riding, but actually saying, “Hey Canadians, please consider exercising the democratic freedom many people worldwide continue to die for and cast your ballot for your preferred candidate at the next election”? Not allowed.

harper-not-careSo what can you do, if you don’t want the Harper Conservatives to win the next election? They have the money, they’ve controlled the message for years, and they’ve had the power to change Canadian election laws in their favour, so what can you possibly do?

For starters, you can fight their money with your money. Though the Conservatives have a bigger war chest than the other federal parties, all parties are bound by campaign spending limits. The Tories could have all the money in the world but after a certain point, they can’t do much with it during the election. This means that anything you can do to help the opposition party of your choice close the funding gap not only helps that party get their message out, but also weakens the comparative power Harper’s sizable piggy bank gives him. And every little bit, even $5 if you have it, helps. [Another nice thing about donations to political parties is that they qualify for a pretty generous tax credit–up to 75%–so a donation of $100 would usually only end up costing you $25 after you file your taxes.] You can donate to the NDP here, to the Green Party here, and to the Liberal Party here (and in case you’re wondering, yes, I listed these links in the order in which I personally like the parties).

If donating to a particular party isn’t your thing, but you do want to support a cherished political cause in its fight against the current regime, that is certainly an option. For example, if you don’t want oil tankers navigating coastal waters in BC and just want to make sure that whoever wins the election isn’t in favour of more of them, you might want to support the activities of the Dogwood Initiative. If your main concern is the Harper government’s erosion of Canadian democracy, you could consider a donation to Leadnow. The Internet has allowed concerned Canadians from coast to coast to come together in unprecedented ways. A Google search should help you find the activist community deserving of your dollars. [Note: sadly, these activist organizations usually do not qualify as registered charities for the purposes of tax credits, but you’ll probably get some good karma.]

Can’t stomach the thought of another four years of the Harper Conservatives but can’t afford to make any political donations? That’s okay too. You can fight their money with your time. Both political parties and non-party political activist groups like Leadnow rely on dedicated armies of volunteers to get the message out. Donations can buy a lot of advertising, and a lot of annoying phone calls from strangers, but there really is no replacement for people power, especially the power of local people to stand up for their own communities (remember last April when Enbridge had an unlimited budget to spend on promoting a “yes” vote in a Kitimat plebiscite on the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline, and the “no” side still won with 58%? People power!). No riding should ever be considered “safe” of course, but your time might be best-spent in areas that usually vote Conservative or where the current non-Conservative incumbent is not popular. If you live in a non-Conservative stronghold and you are able to travel, consider volunteering for the party at large, or for a riding association where you still have some roots or connection to the community where you’ll be canvassing (your old home town, for example).

If you have neither time nor money, fight their money with your voice. The Internet makes this ridiculously easy to do. If you have a blog, blog about the issues. If you’re on Facebook, or Twitter, or Instagram, or Tumblr, or whatever you crazy kids are into these days, share articles, share memes, share information, share your opinions. Challenge political comments you don’t agree with, politely and with facts. Read up on the issues. Get into discussions at parties. Your opinion matters. YOU are a “regular Canadian”. YOU are jointly responsible for what happens to this country, and YOU are jointly in charge.

And then of course, most importantly, fight their money with your vote, and convince others to do the same. Unlike Elections Canada, we’re allowed to encourage our fellow Canadians to exercise their democratic freedom and civic responsibility, and none of our money, time, or voices will make a difference unless Canadians register with Elections Canada and show up at the ballot box to demand change. Not sure if you’re registered to vote? You can easily check right now on the Elections Canada website.

I’m more afraid of C-51 than terrorists

Let’s get one thing straight: I am definitely afraid of terrorists, and I am afraid of militant religious fundamentalists like ISIS. Images of terrified men in orange jumpsuits kneeling before masked militants, knowing they’re going to be beheaded in gruesome fashion and that the whole world (including their families) will be able to see video footage of it on the internet, fills me with a revulsion and a sense of panic that I must make a conscious and sustained effort to keep in check.

But I do keep it in check, and it is important to keep it in check. Because thankfully, in the whole entire population of the earth there are really very few people who want to hurt me simply for not believing what they believe, and it is quite likely that I will never actually know of anyone who has concrete plans to. Of course I am afraid that I, or someone I love, might be the victim of a terrorist attack. If you watch, read, or listen to the news, it’s hard not to be. But in order to live a full and happy life, I need to try not to be afraid, and it really shouldn’t be that hard, given the odds human beings already live with (illness, accidents, etc.).

What I mean is, I acknowledge that there are terrorists out there. I acknowledge that there are people committing atrocious and murderous acts in the name of religion or politics or personal revenge. I hope upon hope upon hope that neither I nor anyone I love will ever come into contact with any of them. But at the same time I acknowledge that the rest of us, whether Muslim or Christian, Jew or Gentile, liberal or conservative or pacifist or gun-lovin’, are, if not perfect human beings, at least not in any kind of mind to kill innocent strangers. We don’t need to be watched. We don’t need to be bullied into not being terrorists. And we, in Canada, certainly don’t need a bill with powers as sweeping and unregulated as bill C-51 (the Harper government’s new Anti-Terrorism Act, not to be confused with the bill C-51 of 2008, which made amendments to the Canadian Food and Drugs Act).

If you want to know why I am against bill C-51, despite the fact that I, like most people, really don’t want Canada to experience any terrorist attacks in the future, the BC Civil Liberties Association has compiled an excellent list that pretty much sums it up.

Of their eight points of serious concern, two really stand out for me:

Bill C-51 drastically expands the definition of ‘security.’

When you think of being secure, you likely think of being safe from physical danger. But Bill C-51 defines security as not only safeguarding public safety, but also preventing interference with various aspects of public life or ‘the economic or financial stability of Canada’. With this definition, a demonstration in favour of Quebec separatism that fails to procure the proper permit, environmentalists obstructing a pipeline route or a peaceful blockade of a logging road by an Indigenous community could all be seen as threats to national security.

It will severely chill freedom of expression.

It’s unclear even to experts exactly what kinds of speech and protest activity may be considered threats to national security if the bill passes; the average Canadian has little hope of feeling confident that their legitimate political activity hasn’t inadvertently crossed the line. Bill C-51’s expansive language means that Canadians will likely choose not to express themselves even in completely legal ways rather than risk prosecution. Legitimate speech will be chilled, and our democracy will be worse off for it.

Last autumn, I went up to the Burnaby Mountain Conservation Area and joined those protesting Kinder Morgan’s drilling and testing activities (FYI, Kinder Morgan is a wealthy, Texas-based oil company that wants to put an oil pipeline through a conservation park on Burnaby Mountain). At the time, I seriously deliberated “crossing the line” (i.e. crossing the police tape that surrounded the Kinder Morgan work site and therefore voluntarily accepting arrest for violating a court injunction). In the end, I held back, afraid of what the minimal, but still very real, legal consequences could do to my future ability to travel, pursue various career avenues, etc.

If bill C-51 passes in its current form, with its current vague and broad definition of what constitutes Canada’s “security”, it would be entirely possible and dare I say likely that a pipeline project like Kinder Morgan’s would be considered essential to Canada’s “economic security”. Those who crossed the line into Kinder Morgan’s work site, or who organized civil disobedience activities designed to delay or halt pipeline construction, wouldn’t necessarily be treated merely as trespassers in contempt of a court order; it’s probable they would be considered a threat to Canada’s security and imprisoned as terrorists. More than a hundred brave people crossed the line last fall (and, in a strange turn of events, charges were dropped for most of them as Kinder Morgan had designated the boundaries of the injunction site incorrectly). They asserted their rights as Canadian citizens to go wherever they wanted in a public park, and to defend values they believed in. Very few will cross the line once C-51 is passed, and the Harper government knows this.

The government knows too that people are afraid of terrorism the way I have described being afraid, but instead of calming our fears, instead of exhibiting leadership and refusing to sacrifice our Charter of Rights and Freedoms to knee-jerk anti-Islamic sentiment, they are busy stoking it, counting on it to distract people from the state of the economy and the quagmire tar sands development (the cornerstone of Harper’s economic policy) finds itself in. In short, Harper is counting on our fear (and the thinly-veiled racism lurking beneath it), to win him the next election.

From Maclean’s Martin Patriquin’s article “Stephen Harper and the niqab gambit“:

Since the terrorist attacks in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, the Prime Minister has taken to peppering his speeches with the words “jihad” and “terrorism,” whether speaking in Montreal or British Columbia or Brisbane, Australia.

[Remember who else liked to pepper his speeches with words about terrorism? Was it George W Bush? Oh, that’s right, it was. And what did he want? To invade Iraq. And did he find any weapons of mass destruction there? No, he did not. And are America’s actions implicated in ISIS’s current ability to sweep across that destabilized country? You bet.]

The Prime Minister’s recent declaration of “offense” at the idea of a veiled woman taking the Citizenship Oath (even after privately verifying her identity with a government agent), is all part and parcel of his ploy to bring out the worst in us–fearful, xenophobic, irrational–and to exploit these negative qualities for political gain (his caucus, for its part, are doing a good job flying the xenophobic flag, hence Conservative MP Larry Miller’s comment that women who want to wear niqabs when taking the Oath should “stay the hell where [they] came from”) . I’m not convinced that Stephen Harper is truly afraid that a Canadian-born jihadist group will carry out a large-scale attack in Canada, but I know he wants us to be.

The fact of the matter is, we are literally one thousand times more likely to be killed in a motor vehicle accident (inferred from the statistics cited in the Maclean’s article above) than by a home-grown terrorist. Notice that Harper is not giving CSIS sweeping powers to make us drive more carefully.

w-moose_s-2It should also be noted that as Canadians, we are (as noted in Scott Gilmore’s “How to end the fear economy“) more likely to be killed by a MOOSE than by a terrorist. Curious that I haven’t seen any government MPs gravely intoning that moose dwell in every Canadian forest, lurking along every highway. Considering I was in a close shave involving a car and a moose two Christmases ago (we were very lucky to have been going fairly slowly and only to gently nudge its hind leg with our side-view mirror), I’d be interested to know what Harper is going to do about the very real threat of moose-caused vehicular fatalities.

Answer: nothing. Because bill C-51, as currently written, isn’t about keeping Canadians safe. If it were, Conservative MPs sitting on the committee reviewing the bill would be listening to the very legitimate concerns of environmental and civil liberties activists, Muslim groups, and constitutional experts about the serious and democracy-eroding ramifications of the bill in its current state. Instead, Conservative committee members are asking their expert witnesses if they are terrorists (the argument being that if you weren’t a terrorist, you wouldn’t be worried about this bill). If the Harper government ACTUALLY cared about keeping people safe, they would hold an inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women, and they would look into long-standing claims that tar sands activity has negatively impacted the safety of food and water in Albertan communities. But they aren’t doing any of these things.

Because the government doesn’t care about keeping Canadians safe. With bill C-51 and the government’s focus on “jihad” and “Islamic extremism”, it’s clearly all about playing on the politics of fear, and on the racism rooted in these fears. With its broad and sweeping powers in terms of surveillance, search, and seizure (CSIS only needing to make sure they don’t kill anyone or “violate their sexual integrity”), bill C-51 is also about making dissenting Canadians afraid–afraid to speak out, afraid to protest, afraid to question rather than immediately condemn that which the government calls a “threat”.

Harper wants his voting base to be afraid of terrorists. And he wants the rest of us to be afraid of him. And it’s working.

 

 

Women in Canada can wear what they want (and that includes niqabs)

(Hopefully) soon-to-be Canadian citizen Zunera Ishaq has recently won a court battle allowing her to wear her niqab (a veil, worn by some Muslim women, that covers most of the face) during her public citizenship ceremony. Prime Minister Stephen Harper called Ishaq’s wish to take the oath with her face covered “offensive”, and his government is currently appealing the federal court’s ruling.

Before I offer my opinions on the matter, some background (which you can also obtain by reading the article linked above):

  • Though Ishaq wants to wear her veil during the public swearing-in ceremony (at which a large number of people and photographers are usually present), she says she has no problem uncovering her face with a government representative in private to verify her identity before taking the oath. Therefore, the wearing of a niqab during swearing-in would not be a security concern.
  • Since 2011, a law introduced by then-immigration minister Jason Kenney has banned face-covering veils such as niqabs in citizenship ceremonies. This is the law which has been struck down and this is the law that the Harper government is trying to maintain.
  • Canadians’ right to religious freedom protects the wearing of religious garments, even in situations where such clothing would normally not be permitted. It is on these grounds that the government’s policy is considered by the courts to be unlawful.
  • According to Ishaq, wearing the niqab is her personal choice. She is not being oppressed or pressured by anyone to cover her face.

The issue of extremely modest religious garments like niqabs being worn in a secular country like Canada is one that it has taken me an incredibly long time to form an opinion on. I must admit that there was a time when I was against them–I saw face veils as symbols of misogynistic oppression based on sexual control rather than religious devotion, and I couldn’t understand why any woman who was NOT being coerced or oppressed would voluntarily choose to wear one. Then I realized that I don’t have to understand–it is not for me to decide what is appropriate for another woman to put on (or not) when she leaves her house.

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Maclean’s cover, January 2012

I have said before that I believe in a woman’s capacity to decide if and when she would like to be seen as a sexual object (without assuming she is being controlled by some villainous pimp, etc.). This may not seem related to the issue at hand, but my point is this: if I am willing to accept that women would sometimes make themselves sexual objects of their own free will, it would be hypocritical of me NOT to accept that there are also some women who voluntarily choose a course of extreme modesty. [Obviously, there are opportunities for exploitation and oppression at both ends of this spectrum, and that is never okay.]

In the case of Ms. Ishaq, wearing the niqab is not only an expression of her modesty, it is an expression of a deeply-held religious belief, and part of her identity. Whether or not she wears one as she takes the citizenship oath should be of little consequence to the rest of us–once she is a Canadian citizen it seems extremely likely that Ms. Ishaq will continue to be veiled as she goes about her daily life. Her face, even mostly covered, will be the face of a Canadian citizen. It will be her right, as a Canadian citizen, to keep her face covered on the street and at the grocery store and in the post office if that’s what she wants. She has been here since 2008. Hers is a Canadian face now, and we need to understand that. Muslim children are born in Canada all the time, and the Islamic faith is no longer an “import” to this country–it is a part of our Canadian landscape, a landscape that includes many cultures, many religions, and many ways of being spiritual (or not). Why would we, as a country, choose to degrade and humiliate a woman at the very moment she is becoming a Canadian citizen?

Instead of just admitting to an Islamophobic bias (which really seems to be the root of the issue), the Prime Minister is trying to appeal to some kind of sense of decency–the way he’s telling it, of course it’s just “offensive” to cover your face when you take the citizenship oath (even if your identity has been privately verified so there is absolutely no security concern), it is, in Ol’ Steve’s words, “not how we do things here.”

Now, I could point out that muzzling scientists, calling law-abiding Canadian citizens who like the environment “radicals”, cutting services for veterans, turning Question Period into a sad farce, making partisan Senate and judiciary appointments, jumping in on America’s wars, committing election fraud, and being embroiled in scandalous cover-ups has traditionally been “not how we do things here,” but apparently the Prime Minister’s sense of Canadian decency extends only as far as your clothes and whether or not his fearful, aging, conservative Christian voting base is afraid of Muslims.

I must agree with Ol’ Steve that clothes are important, and they do send a message about a person’s respect for the honour they are about to receive. This is why I am sure Prime Minister Harper sought a legal appeal when drunk-driving pop sensation Justin Bieber showed up to receive his Diamond Jubilee Medal wearing baggy denim overalls, a backwards ball cap, and a wrinkly t-shirt. To be given a medal (which most recipients earned through years of volunteerism or public service) on behalf of our head of state, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, by the most powerful man in the country, and not even bother to do up both overall straps is certainly NOT “how we do things here”. If anything is offensive to Canadian values and decorum, that surely is.

But Justin Bieber is a celebrity, a Christian (believe it or not, he has actually thought about a hot-button issue like abortion for long enough to be against it), and a rich white guy. Which means he can wear whatever the hell he wants and the Prime Minister will smile and shake his hand.

I hope Ms. Ishaq will be able to take her citizenship oath soon. I hope she will be allowed to wear whatever she wants (though I assume no matter what she will be nicely and respectfully attired). Given how much she has fought for the religious freedoms enjoyed by all Canadians, I know she will not take the privilege of citizenship for granted. There are many ignorant people out there who will say things like, “If she doesn’t like our rules, she can go home,” and they have not a damn clue what they’re talking about. Ms. Ishaq DOES like our rules, and OUR rules, as enshrined in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, say that she can wear what she likes. It is OUR rules she is fighting to preserve. Niqab or no niqab, Zunera Ishaq is already home–in Canada, a woman can wear whatever she wants.

Happy Thanksgiving, and Good Riddance to Columbus Day!

1378159-colu5As much as I can’t believe it’s nearly mid-October, it cannot be denied that Canadian Thanksgiving is nearly upon is. For our neighbours south of the border, this means preparing to take Monday off work in celebration of Columbus Day.

Or not: yesterday I came across this little internet tidbit informing me that the city of Seattle, Washington, recently voted to do away with Columbus Day and start celebrating the second Monday in October as Indigenous Peoples’ Day instead.

I immediately thought three things:

  1. I didn’t know that cities could declare their own holidays, or re-designate existing ones.
  2. What a great idea!
  3. I wonder if we should do the same with a holiday in Canada?

Regarding Thought #1, I would love to be able to tell you whether it’s possible for Canadian cities to declare or re-designate holidays, but feel like the process of looking this up would be, frankly, too boring. So I won’t.

About Thought #2: I think it’s pretty obvious to most people by now that European explorers like Christopher Columbus did not “discover” anything. There had been people (i.e. full-on societies) living in both North and South America for thousands of years before these swashbuckling yahoos showed up and ruined their lives. Celebrating Christopher Columbus or any other European explorer for thinking they’ve “discovered” some place just because neither they nor anyone they knew personally had been there (despite being already populated) is almost as stupid as giving ME a holiday for “discovering” your house, robbing your family, and inviting my asshole friends to move in.

And let’s not mince words: Christopher Columbus was a TOTAL asshole. If you want to know why without having to do any boring research, enjoy this Columbus Day informational graphic courtesy of The Oatmeal.

In light of his self-righteous and greed-induced robbery, rape, mutilation, murder, and enslavement of Indigenous people in the Americas, it makes absolute and total sense NOT to celebrate this colossal shit and instead to turf Columbus Day in favour of a day that both acknowledges the historical (and ongoing) wrongs perpetrated against Indigenous people and celebrates their rich culture and heritage. So good for you for re-designating this holiday, Seattle. You rock.

And now for Canada (Thought #3, if you’re keeping count). Our upcoming secular holiday is Thanksgiving, a holiday that seems to be all about having the warm fuzzies and counting your blessings (and eating a lot of food) as autumn sets in. Sounds good to me. Remembrance Day is about the past and present sacrifices of the men and women serving in Canada’s military. All right. Family Day is about spending a day with your family. No problems with that. Generally speaking, our Christianity-based holidays are more traditional than religious, and our secular holidays are innocuous at worst and excellent times to recognize the best in ourselves and others at best.

indexExcept Victoria Day. What the heck is that about? A celebration of the birthday of Queen Victoria, a British monarch who already has two Canadian provincial capitals named after her (Regina and Victoria) and never set foot in this country. Compared to a murderous lout like Columbus she seems harmless enough, but the Victorian era was no walk in the park. Victorian society was incredibly sexually repressive, and the conditions under which Britain’s poor lived and worked were nothing short of appalling (not that this is all necessarily Victoria’s fault, but as the head of state it’s not NOT her fault either). From what I can gather, Queen Victoria seemed pretty intelligent, really loved her husband, had lots of kids, and lived a long time. And that’s great and all….but not really “get a national holiday named after you” great.

Besides,  it was during her reign that conditions in Western Canada continued to get worse for First Nations and Métis people. The Canadian Government (of which, remember, she was the head of state) was behaving like assholes. Land in the prairies (some of which was already being farmed by French Catholic and Métis farmers like Louis Riel) was being parceled out to English settlers and resistance to this (the most notable of which was the North West Rebellion) was violently stamped out. Promises to teach Cree tribes to farm in return for land and to protect them from hunger while they learned to change their way of life were ignored. In British Columbia (whose name, according to Wikipedia, was actually chosen by good ol’ Queen Vic), the Canadian government didn’t really bother with treaties at all and simply took control over the whole schmeer in 1871. Canadian history is really not my forte, but it seems that life for First Nations People in Canada didn’t seem to improve a whole lot after Confederation, despite the song and dance about how wonderful the establishment of the country was for everyone else.

Of course, I’m not saying all of this is Queen Victoria’s fault per se, but as major events that occurred in Canada during her reign, none of this is worth celebrating. What IS worth celebrating is the tenacity and courage of First Nations people throughout this oppressive history, and the unique cultures that have remained alive despite racist, violent, and systemic attempts to stamp them out.

I know there have already been attempts to re-name and re-designate Victoria Day, but so far it doesn’t seem like much has happened. Why not? Why continue to celebrate a legacy of violence and repression? Why not celebrate the fact that we get to live in an amazing and beautiful country and didn’t even have to fight a war for the privilege? Makes sense to me. (By the way, the argument that “It’s always been called Victoria Day” holds absolutely NO water since most people my age call the holiday “May Long” or “May 2-4” anyways.)

Anyways, things to think about on your hopefully happy Canadian Thanksgiving.

People’s Climate March Vancouver: I came, I marched, I blogged

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First we gathered at CBC Plaza

If you’ve at all been paying attention to the news lately you probably know that approximately 400 000 people marched through the streets of New York last Sunday to demand that the world and its leaders (125 of whom were meeting this week for a UN summit on climate change) to take meaningful action against climate change. What you may not have known was that this historical event (the largest climate march in history) partnered with marches in more than 130 cities all across the globe, including here in Vancouver. Though I’d received a phone call from the lovely people at leadnow.ca inviting me to take part in the upcoming march, I was feeling overwhelmed by various urgent and not-so-urgent obligations and wasn’t sure I was actually going to attend until I came across an opinion piece by Dr. Lynne Quarmby in the Vancouver Sun that morning (the piece was actually from the previous Friday; I just didn’t see it until Sunday morning). And that settled it. If you’ve ever read my blog, you’ll know that there are a lot of issues I care about. To name a few that I’ve written about at least once: I care about women’s rights and gender equality. I care about marriage equality and the rights of LGBT people. I care about the integrity of our democratic institutions. I care about the arts.

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After some speeches, we’re on the move!

Until recently, if you’d asked me if the environment was a top priority of mine I would have said no. Not because I didn’t care about the environment, but because defending it seemed impossible, especially in the face of my own complicity in the causes of climate change (I sure do love using electricity, driving cars, and buying cheap products about whose production I know nothing). I thought, “Why does this have to be my fight? Can’t it be David Suzuki’s fight? I mean, I recycle, don’t I?”. Even though I always knew I was against, for example, the proposed Northern Gateway crude oil pipeline, my reasons at first had more to do with not wanting diluted bitumen sloshing around in my backyard than about the planet as a whole.

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Gorgeous sign art by a talented marcher.

But then I realized that the crisis we are facing is so much bigger than my own backyard. It’s not just that we need to find a less controversial and more democratic way to review and approve energy projects, it’s that the oil actually needs to stay in the ground. It’s not just that Canadian ports have no business shipping the U.S.’s coal overseas (we don’t–we really shouldn’t be helping U.S. companies skirt around new American environmental regulations), it’s that the coal needs to stay in the ground. It’s not just the thousands of jobs in agriculture, aquaculture, and the tourism industry that will be lost if a pipeline leaks  or a tanker spills, it’s the thousands of human lives that have already been lost due to extreme weather events caused by climate change over the past few years. Our selfish actions, and our indifferent attitudes, are killing people.

And you know what else? We’re killing ourselves too. Do you think a drought, or a hurricane, or a flood, or an ice storm, gives a crap that you live in Canada, or work really hard at your job, or are rich, or are devout? Nope. Not at all. We’ve messed with a balance that is pretty important to our survival and now this imbalance is messing with us. We can stop it. But we need to act now. We need to stop being defeatist and thinking there’s nothing we can do. And we need to demand that our politicians stop selling the ground we stand on out from under us.

So that is why I marched. That’s why I chanted and cheered and, once or twice, cried a few tears because hope is so heartbreaking, especially hope in the face of such powerful and insidious forces.

There is no room for dismissing me or my fellow marchers around the world as radicals or foreign agents or whatever the hell Joe Oliver and Stephen Harper and Ezra Levant would have you believe. We are regular people from all walks of life who have read the writing on the wall and know that something needs to be done.

It’s not even about our children’s future anymore. It’s about ours. You don’t need to be an environmentalist or a leftist or a Democrat or a hippie to know that you can’t eat money, or drink investments, or live in a city that’s under water or buried in snow. Common sense (and the consensus of the scientific community) tells us that you can’t essentially burn down your house and still live in it.

There are a lot of things I want to achieve and fight for in my life, but none of that will matter if this fight is not won. I’m trying to save my own home. What’s so radical about that? As my favourite sign from Sunday’s march read, “There is no ‘Planet B'”.

Think about it.

P.S. Maclean’s did a great interview with Naomi Klein that is well worth a read.

Bill C-36 imposes moral judgement on consensual sex

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Picasso – “Nu couche et Picasso assis”, 1902, http://www.pablo-ruiz-picasso.net

Though I have neither bought nor sold sexual services (nor know anyone who has done so, or at least who has told me about it), I find myself incredibly concerned about the Canadian government’s proposed bill C-36, which responds to the Supreme Court’s striking down of certain parts of Canada’s prostitution law by creating a new piece of legislation that is just as restrictive, ignorant, and unsafe (if not more so) for sex workers and their customers.

In my understanding, the bill restricts sex workers to working either in their homes or on the streets (since anyone renting space to them elsewhere would be “benefiting from the avails” of sex work, which means security guards, drivers, etc. would also be breaking the law if hired by a sex worker), prohibits them from advertising their services anywhere people under 18 may reasonably be expected to see this advertising (which includes, apparently, the internet so I’m not sure how that’s going to work), and criminalizes the act of purchasing sex. To reiterate: selling sex would be perfectly legal (with the above restrictions) but buying it would not.

Which of course means that the selling of sexual services wouldn’t REALLY be a legal transaction, because all of the sex workers’ customers would become criminals.

I know there are people who are passionately for the abolition of prostitution in Canada, and I know they mean well. I know the overwhelming majority of sex workers are women, and I know poverty is a factor in many women’s decision to become sex workers. I know there are women, men, and children currently performing sex work against their will. I know there are some sex trade workers who are being exploited, trafficked, assaulted, and plied with drugs by the people who are supposed to “protect” them. And this should and must stop.

But human trafficking, selling drugs, attacking a sex worker, and purchasing sex from minors (or exploiting a minor) are already illegal. What we need are better tools to enable police and courts to enforce existing laws, and trusting relationships between the justice system and sex workers that will both keep sex workers safe and help police to root out human traffickers, drug dealers, child molesters, and johns who hurt or kill sex workers. Effectively driving the profession farther underground and into the most dangerous parts of town (as bill C-36 would do by forcing sex workers away from any area children “might” be present, and customers of sexual services to hide for fear of arrest), does nothing to create trust between the justice system and the people this legislation is supposed to protect.

As for poverty, I can’t imagine what it would be like to be in such a desperate situation that sex work became my only way to support myself and/or my family. No woman or man should be driven into sex work because of poverty. Instead of criminalizing johns, however, I would rather see our federal and provincial governments enact legislation that strengthens our social safety net and ensures vulnerable families never dip below the poverty line in the first place. It’s all well and good that the government wants to earmark $20 million for “exit services” (i.e. services that help sex workers leave the profession, though I am a little worried that most of these services may not be provided by impartial government agencies but by church groups eager to impart their brand of morality). Wouldn’t it be great if they earmarked those millions to fight poverty in Canada, so those who didn’t want to be sex workers never even had to start?

I am the first to admit that I am not the the most knowledgeable when it comes to sex work or to poverty. I also admit I personally would not like to be a sex worker. Which is why I have to trust the sex workers whose opposition to this bill I have read on Twitter and in news articles (like this one). Instead of rushing out to speak for people I do not know and whose lives I know nothing about, I have to trust what they’re saying. Yes, unsafe conditions, trafficking, drugs, and poverty are all problems in the sex trade. Problems that can be dealt with in other ways that don’t criminalize the exchange of money for sex itself. Yes, many sex trade workers are or do become victims of violent or exploitative situations, but their exploitation, abuse, and murder is already illegal, and bill C-36 won’t make those things any more illegal than they already are. I am not trying to downplay the dangers or the indignities that might befall a person working in the sex trade. BUT…

  • To claim ALL women who work in the sex trade are victims while ALL of their customers are aggressive, misogynistic criminals both patronizes women (ignoring the fact that some people do truly choose sex work), and demonizes men (and the occasional women) who turn to professionals when having sexual relationships (or indulging a specific odd kink) in their personal life isn’t possible. And there are lots of non-misogynistic reasons a person may pay for sexual services (from what I have read/heard, sometimes johns want human touch and someone to talk to, sometimes they have disabilities that make sex difficult, or their partner has a disability or illness and has given their healthy partner permission to seek sexual gratification from a professional, etc.). There are, of course, less saintly reasons a person may seek out sexual services as well, but if the sex trade worker is 100% consenting to the arrangement then that is none of our business.
  • The government’s talking points on bill C-36 have consistently referred to sex workers as being “women and children”, completely ignoring the men who also work in the sex trade. Are they too victims? Are they too being exploited by misogynists? Or can these men be trusted to DECIDE whether or not they want to receive money in return for sexual services because they’re men?
  • Bill C-36 and its advocates are being incredibly disingenuous. For example, Julia Beazley, policy analyst of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, claims that the use of sex workers is all about power, and that the government, through this bill, has “courageously challenged the belief that men are entitled to paid sexual access to women’s bodies.” (You can read more from Ms. Beazley on CBC.ca) I completely agree that no one is entitled to paid sexual access to anyone’s body unless the person whose body it is WANTS to grant paid sexual access.

This last point is something neither the government, nor Christian advocacy groups, (nor, it must be admitted, some feminist organizations) seem to be getting. It is possible to WANT to sell sexual services. It is possible to take pride in sex work (and lots of vocal sex workers and kink artists do). It is possible to make yourself a sexual object (on YOUR terms) when you want to and still believe in dignity and equality for all genders. And it is possible to purchase the services of a sex worker without being a pervert.

What the government is effectively doing with this bill is saying that not all sexual relationships between consenting adults are okay (notice I am talking about adults, not children, and situations that involve full and freely given consent, not coercion or exploitation). Consenting adults can have sex and that’s just fine with the government, but as soon as one of them pays for it, that person is a criminal and a pervert and an aggressor and a deviant. The seller of said services suddenly becomes not an equal partner in a mutually agreed upon sexual act, but a victim who lacks the agency to decide for themselves what they want to do with their bodies. Essentially, there are certain kinds of sex the Conservative government simply “doesn’t like”, or perhaps doesn’t understand, and is hiding behind the guise of protecting women to impose their tastes (while creating situations that would actually make sex work for women more dangerous and allow Robert Pickton types to murder women with a lot more impunity).

I thought we established long ago that when it comes to fully consenting adults, “there’s no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation.” I know Pierre Trudeau wasn’t talking about sex work then, but perhaps we should be now.

Into the Woods (Skookumchuk Hot Springs)

View from our campsite at Skookumchuk Hot Springs

View from our campsite at Skookumchuk Hot Springs

My TC and I are a couple who enjoy two things very much: exploring BC (our adopted home), and relaxing in peaceful outdoor settings.

It is for this reason that you won’t catch us at any Vancouver beach apart from Wreck, and why TC (who is more motivated when it comes to looking up stuff) took it upon himself to organize a quick overnight trip to the Skookumchuck Hot Springs near Pemberton.

Also known as St. Agnes Well or the T’sek Hot Springs, the Skookumchuk Hot Springs are accessed by the In-Shuck-Ch Forest Service Road, which runs along the beautiful Lillooet River. Campsites and use of the springs are to be had at an incredibly reasonable $10 per person per night, plus $10 per vehicle. Though a few sites were a little exposed, they were generally quite nice with picnic tables, fire pits, and nice flat places to set  up tents. Most of the sites (like ours) are on the river and provide gorgeous views of swift green water and beautiful mountainscapes.

I have long believed that I am a terrible camper and I was apprehensive about my first camping trip since high school. It turns out that tents have come a long way since then (they’re so easy to set up now!), and that camping for one night is basically just having a picnic somewhere and then sleeping over, so it takes very little worry or organization. Or maybe I just think that because TC took care of most of the preparations. At any rate, we forgot to bring any soap but the hot springs did have hand sanitizer and, well, hot springs.

The springs themselves are a collection of soaking tubs of various sizes (some quite large) set in a clearing. Hot water is piped in from the natural spring a little farther up the slope, but the rock pool itself is far too hot to soak in. Bathers in the tubs can control the temperature of their tub by controlling the amount of cold water that flows in with the hot. As for the tubs, they are the kind of fairly ingenious assortment that would make a DIYer’s heart skip a beat. A couple of the tubs are the round, wooden-slatted variety (the kind you’d imagine people crushing grapes in). A couple of the tubs are simply empty water tanks, sawed in half and set in a wooden frame. And one tub (our favourite), is a hot tub shell propped up by wood and rock. Water is constantly flowing into the tubs and, at the same time, spilling out the other side. The tubs are cleaned often and the pools are never stagnant. I hardly noticed the kind of sulfur smell I’d come to expect with most natural hot springs (that said, I removed my engagement ring as a precaution before getting into the water since sulfur can ruin precious metals). Speaking of removing things, the tubs at Skookumchuck Hot Springs are clothing-optional, and most bathers seemed to favour the option of NOT wearing clothes.

If you like sitting in the tub at home, you’ll love sitting in a huge one that never gets cold and that allows you soak, chat with friends/loved ones, and be in the woods at the same time. We were at the Skookumchuk Hot Springs for less than 24 hours, but we managed to get three good soaks in. Heaven.

Just as enjoyable for me was the drive to and from the springs. I’m not generalizing when I say the In-Shuck-Ch Forest Service Road is beautiful. It truly is, with new vistas opening up at every bend. Additionally, if you’ve ever driven the Sea-to-Sky highway, you are probably familiar with the drive between Vancouver and Pemberton and know exactly why TC and I love doing it so much.

The journey also provides fun opportunities for other things. On the way to Pemberton, we stopped for the l.5 km walk to Nairn Falls (where interpretive signs teach you all about the formations around the waterfall). It was, of course, rugged and beautiful and made me think of Lord of the Rings for some reason.

Nairn Falls. Photo: Brayden McCluskey

Nairn Falls. Photo: Brayden McCluskey

On our way back from the springs the following day, we stopped along the service road to take a look at a fascinating old cemetery that appears (due to the lack of surnames on most of the tombstones) to be a family plot. The newest headstone I saw was from 1930, though since I didn’t enter the cemetery itself I can’t be sure. What is obvious is that this plot has been carefully tended, and the tombstones decorated in much the same style, with coloured beads pushed into the cement. I was a bit surprised to see inverted pentacles carved into a couple of the older wooden grave markers (it just seemed unorthodox for an ostensibly Christian plot), but a cursory internet search suggests that an inverted pentacle was sometimes used by Christians to denote the eastern star, without being anything creepy.

In-Shuck_Ch CemeteryWe were starving by the time we got to Pemberton (the service road is a bit rough and takes over an hour to travel carefully), and all I wanted to do was eat and wash my hands (but not in that order). We stopped in at The Pony, where I had the best open-faced sandwich of my entire life: chicken breast stuffed with artichoke, red pepper, and feta on a bed of mixed greens and tomatoes, covered in harissa sauce and served on a thick toasted slice of homemade whole wheat bread. Oh yeah, and it came with soup. The sandwich WAS the special for the day, so I don’t know if it’s part of the menu usually, but it should be. Best sandwich.

And then of course, the view from the parking lot behind The Pony was so impressive I just had to take a photo. Ta-da!

Just a big ol' mountain. Visible from a parking lot in Pemberton.

Just a big ol’ mountain. Visible from a parking lot in Pemberton.

My god, this province is stunning.

When it came to discovering and getting to the Skookumchuk Hot Springs, we made use of the incredibly helpful directions and suggestions on the Whistler Hiatus website.

Nairn falls