So Cromrades from way back might remember when I kicked up a bit of a fuss over the impending launch of a right-wing corporate news network specifically designed to mimic the journalistic excellence that is the USA’s Fox News Channel. It wasn’t so much that it existed, which was bad enough, it’s that they were lobbying to force everyone to pay for it. CBC, which is our answer to NPR, does have a ‘must carry’ license, but CBC is non-partisan and actually has standards. Sun News Network (Fox News North’s real name) barely pretends to be anything other than a Republican North Party mouthpiece. To hear SNN describe it, the only things Canadians care about are oil jobs and lower tax rates (the second, BTW, is totally untrue).
But, much like the blind squirrel and the nut, the stopped clock that is the Sun News Network does occasionally get things right, and an opinion piece by Tom Brodbeck regarding the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold Gladue manages somehow to get something absolutely correct. Well… the title anyway. Everything after the title is a big steamy load:
Dear Rob Nicholson:
As Canada’s justice minister and attorney general, I’m sure you are keenly aware of the recent Supreme Court of Canada ruling on Sec. 718(2) of the Criminal Code. This is the one that forces courts to give aboriginal offenders special consideration during sentencing.
The aboriginal offender, under this judge-made law, is to be treated differently based on his or her race and ancestry. Mr. Nicholson, that is not the Canada I grew up in. The Canada I grew up in strived for equality of rights among Canadians, including racial equality. The cornerstone of our justice system is that everyone is equal before the law and is free of discrimination before the courts, including discrimination based on race or ethnic origin. Those rights are even codified in Sec. 15(1) of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The title of this laughable ‘open letter’ is, of course, The Law is Racist. Which is, by any reasonable standard, a true statement. I have talked before about how the structure of the judicial system props up racial inequalities in such a way as to make the hammer of justice fall more heavily on those who can least afford the blow. There is a serious racial problem built into the way we enforce our laws, and until we learn to confront that fact, we will keep falling into the same traps. Which, by the way, is the entire purpose of the Gladue ruling, but we’ll leave that alone for now.
However, this is the total opposite of the point that Mr. Brodbeck is trying to make. In Mr. Brodbeck’s world, noticing race is the same as racism. Now, it occurs to me that, not knowing anything else about him besides this abortion of an opinion piece, Tom Brodbeck is an idiot. Just as it is not idiotic of me to notice Mr. Brodbeck’s idiocy, it is not racist to notice race. It is not racist to realize the serious problems, both contemporary and historical, facing Aboriginal Canadians. It is not racist to look for innovative ways to adjust for some of these problems, nor is it racist to suggest that unique challenges require appropriate solutions rather than a broad-brush approach.
Perhaps the most hilarious part about the section I’ve clipped above (aside from the invocations of “the Canada I grew up in” which is a telltale racist dogwhistle) is the invocation of the Charter. Incidentally, unless Tom Brodbent is my age, the Charter didn’t exist in the ‘the Canada (he) grew up in’, but that’s a nit pick. Mr. Brodbent would like us all to pay very close attention to the wording of Section 15 of the Charter:
15. (1) Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.
Of course, much like anti-gay Christians who talk about marriage having “always been” one man and one woman (and omitting all the times when it’s been a whole bunch of other things), he would very much like us to stop reading there, please. Of course, if we read the next fucking line down, we see this:
(2) Subsection (1) does not preclude any law, program or activity that has as its object the amelioration of conditions of disadvantaged individuals or groups including those that are disadvantaged because of race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability
Seriously. The next line down. It’s not even something you have to hunt for. As Amanda Marcotte so aptly put it: there’s stupid, and then there’s conservative stupid.
Attention conservatives (and less intelligent liberals) – noticing race isn’t racist. Failure to notice race, or denying the existence of racism, does far more to propagate racial inequalities than does making allowances for them. While Mr. Brodbeck makes a couple of salient points about the fact that the original Gladue ruling does not come with instructions on how to go about actually accomplishing the race-sensitive sentencing, legal progress has been made since then. If the federal government wishes to pass legislation the provides such guidelines, then that is their prerogative (although I must say I do not wish for this particular government to go within 100 kilometres of racial justice issues); however, the current problem – as pointed out by the Supreme Court – is not that judges are doing this job incorrectly, it’s that they aren’t doing it at all.
But gosh, thank goodness we have brilliant minds like Mr. Brodbeck’s around to fill us in on just how racist the court system is because it doesn’t treat Aboriginal offenders as though they have the same privileges as white ones. Where would Canada be without this kind of “Straight Talk” (yes, that’s what their opinion section is called – gag me with a fork) to shine the light of “common sense” on complex problems? I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t mind finding out.
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