Ray Bobb: To The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (Re-Posted With Permission)

A brief note from Jamie on the piece of writing (by another author) that takes up the majority of this post:

For readers who are unfamiliar with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, this is a government-implemented program in Canada, which visits indigenous communities primarily for the express purpose of hearing the experiences of residential school survivors, which are then reported to the Canadian government along with any insights shared by those communities about how the government can take steps towards reconciling with indigenous communities. Residential schools were geographically isolated institutions initiated by the Canadian government and run by the Roman Catholic and Anglican churches, in which more than 150,000 indigenous children over the course of more than a hundred years were forced to face horrific physical, sexual, and spiritual abuses while being racially and culturally brain-washed, in a campaign of systematic cultural genocide. Many children were assigned Anglicised names or even referred to only by numbers, many healthy children were intentionally exposed to tuberculosis, and countless children died alone in remote wilderness trying to escape. The last Canadian residential school closed in 1996, in Alberta. A majority of Canadian public schools do not even acknowledge this facet of Canadian history, and as a result, a significant majority of settler Canadians have literally no understanding of the continued legacy of trans-generational violence within indigenous families and greater communities. As a result, that majority tends to harbour dehumanizing and blatantly racist attitudes towards this country’s indigenous peoples, which prevents reconciliation between indigenous peoples and settler society, continues to maintain serious social barriers against the social growth and empowerment of indigenous communities, and prevents the Canadian government from being held accountable for its actions and racially selective policies against indigenous peoples (thus contributing to the perpetuation of debilitating racial injustice on the scale of genocide, merely repackaged to appear otherwise). This is all especially important given that indigenous populations across the country are once again on the rise (e.g., it is estimated that within the next ten years, up to a third of the province of Saskatchewan will be of indigenous heritage) and yet currently, approximately one half of all children currently in the custody of child care services are of indigenous heritage (i.e., child care services taking custody of indigenous children has become the new residential school system — there are now more indigenous children separated from their families by this abuse of power than there were during the 60s scoop). The following is a two-page essay that was handed to me by the author (a residential school survivor) at a recent consciousness-raising rally for indigenous rights.

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Philosophy Dudebros, Boston, & Nazis

A post by Jamie

This past week, the United States has experienced a horrific series of civil rights violations: the Boston Marathon bombing, followed by the lockdown of the entire city under martial law (during which several civilian homes were burst into with military might, in SWAT raids searching for one of the suspects, both of whom were considered armed and highly dangerous), and the passing of a bill (CISPA, or Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act) that allows the United States government to monitor traffic on the internet at its whim and fancy. And that’s not just American citizen’s internet traffic — that includes monitoring of non-Americans accessing US websites too. Canadian civil liberties organizations have asserted that this is very likely to result in further violations of Canadian citizens’ civil liberties as a result (e.g., extradition to the states for alleged “cyber crimes” against the US government).

Also this past week, I observed someone on my Facebook comparing the Boston SWAT raids to the Nazi invasion of Poland and rounding up of Jews at gunpoint. And to my utter shock, not one but two philosophy dudebros came along to defend this individual, on the basis that they think my emotions have clouded my ability to think critically about this outrageously offensive comparison (which directly equates Jews to terrorists, no matter which way you attempt to slice that). This post is going to get personal.

Concern troll warning: Take your “reverse sexism” claims right now and stuff them where the sun doesn’t shine—unless you’re homophobic, in which case, get ready to chew and swallow. If I could literally force-feed it to you, I most certainly would not hesitate.

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MP Scott Reid goes after atheists in the House of Commons #DefendDissent

Our beleaguered and religion-soaked cousins south of the border may, from time to time, look northward with envy at Canada’s largely non-religious civil society. Our politics are not replete with the same invocations to the intercession of the supernatural that plague the American landscape; indeed, it is considered somewhat gauche in most circles to make large public shows of one’s private belief. Canada’s approach to religion is largely a ‘live and let live’ one, with the exception of certain rural areas where religious affiliation is held in the same grip as one’s self-identity.

As I’ve discussed at various points in the past, this laissez faire approach to religion has not stopped the Republican North government of Stephen Harper from deciding that Canada’s international role should be to protect religious freedom, despite the repeated warnings of those American officials who have tried the same and realized what a mine-field it becomes. An entirely unnecessary ministry has been created in order to oversee Stephen Harper’s desperate attempt to look after the evangelical base that he needs to be re-elected, but whose actual priorities (destroying women’s health care, legislating Biblical morality) he cannot espouse for fear of triggering a centrist backlash.

Yesterday, while discussing this mission, MP Scott Reid had this to say: [Read more...]

Segregation in 2013

I went to a high school with an incredibly diverse student body. While I didn’t really recognize it at the time, I was incredibly lucky: I was surrounded at all times by people from all over the world with a wide variety of experiences and beliefs. It didn’t “force me” to be tolerant or anything like that – like all things that happen during youth I just took it in stride. It wasn’t really until I got to the largely monochromatic environs of my undergraduate program* that I realized what it was like for major parts of the rest of the country – surrounded by people who look like you, and taking it in the same stride that I took my variety of classmate.

The idea that someone would want to segregate schools is, thus, very foreign to me. My education benefitted immensely from being cheek-by-jowl with people whose backgrounds were dissimilar to my own. It broadened my world view and allowed me to reflexively challenge a lot of racist and xenophobic assumptions about people who weren’t born in Canada in a way that the classes I took couldn’t hope to approach. The idea of someone choosing to rob someone of that kind of opportunity is baffling.

And yet, we find pretty much exactly that happening in Georgia: [Read more...]

Canadian House of Commons passes trans anti-discrimination bill

A rare bit of good news coming from the Canadian Parliament yesterday:

A bill that would make it illegal to discriminate against transgender Canadians was approved by the House of Commons on Wednesday. The Opposition private member’s legislation passed by a vote of 149-137, with the crucial support of 16 Conservatives, including four cabinet ministers. It was one of the first tests of the Conservative caucus’ resolve on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights in Canada at a time when Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird has been mounting a strong defence of such rights abroad.

The thing to remember in this story is that a majority of sitting members of Parliament are Republican North Party members, and all bills require nothing more than a simple majority to pass or fail. If the government had ‘whipped’ the bill – meaning that a strict party-line vote was required – it would have failed. To Stephen Harper’s credit, one of the few areas where he’s been consistent is in allowing his members to ‘vote their conscience’ on these kinds of bills. Of course his conscience led him to vote against granting legal protection to trans Canadians, but luckily enough of his members weren’t as amoral as the boss. [Read more...]

Philosophy Dudebros & Grassroots Don’t Mix

A post by Jamie

Hi-dee-ho, there, FreeThoughtBorg. I know a lot of you are eager to-be activists and even more of you have a lot of philosophy under your belt buckles. But you may not know yet that being Philosophy Dudebro in a grassroots action is terribad form. And if you don’t yet know this, you need to know this. Thus, I am writing to address you today with why that is, using my experiences over the past year in pro-choice activism to provide a context. For anyone who can’t guess from the choice in terminology alone, a Philosophy Dudebro is any guy who walks up to either a demonstration being attended by a grassroots counter-protest (think pro-life and pro-choice in the same space) or a grassroots demonstration on its own (think isolated pro-choice demo) with the expectation of unlimited time, energy, and attention for playing around with thought experiments and endless debate (see also: not protesting; pointless exercise; mental masturbation). Both pro-lifers and men who consider themselves pro-choice (but who haven’t checked their male privilege at any time in the past decade) do the Philosophy Dudebro thing, and it’s equally antagonizing no matter where on the issue your politics align. Some so-called “pro-choice” Philosophy Dudebros can’t even stop themselves from their pointless exercise when they finally stop engaging the pro-lifers.

Trigger warning: This post makes brief mention of graphic depictions of genocide, ethnic cleansing, mass murder, and abortion—one of these things is not like the others—in the context of these histories being blatantly misappropriated by “pro-life” campaigns to “unmask the genocide” and “end the killing”. It’s disgusting. It’s beyond words. In fact, it’s just plain obscene. This is why I treat the entire pro-life movement as a hate movement of Westboro Baptist Church calibre.

Tone Police warning: I’m using a fair amount of profanity in this post because I am aggressively challenging the blood-boiling sexism embedded in this issue. This choice is deliberate but well-controlled and not at all impulsive. I am not going to play nice with people who critique the tone of my delivery, so just don’t bother.

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Black History Month: The Wandata Trial

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. [Read more...]

Movie Friday: Martin Luther King Jr. and the Other America

There are few things that get me more irate than people who selectively quote Martin Luther King Jr. as their ‘trump card’ for their argument. While I think Dr. King had some fantastic ideas in his time, he was looking at reality through a theological lens without the benefit of scientific training; furthermore, the world he knew is now more than 50 years old. To suggest that disagreeing with Dr. King in 2013 means that your argument is incorrect is a naked appeal to authority that happens far too frequently.

Even beyond that though, most of the quoting I come across is sliced out of a single speech (the ‘Dream’ speech), without even the courtesy or intellectual rigour to quote the lines in context of the rest of the speech:

But one hundred years later, we must face the tragic fact that the Negro is still not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. So we have come here today to dramatize an appalling condition.

If someone wants to try and reconcile that passage with the idea that Dr. King was colour blind, they’re welcome to waste their time doing so. Also everyone is invited to evaluate whether or not the conditions that prompt that speech are radically or even meaningfully different than they were in 1963.

The fact is that Dr. King wrote more than one speech, and his beliefs went beyond simple platitudes of “colour of skin vs. content of character”. Failing to appreciate this not only gives us a skewed and wildly inaccurate view of both the man and his contribution to history, but it robs us of the wealth of thoughts he did contribute. So today I invite you to brew a cup of coffee, sit down somewhere comfortable, and watch the video linked here. [Read more...]

Supreme Court of Canada rules on niqab case

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. [Read more...]

#IdleNoMore: Something is happening

It is more or less always true in social justice conversations that if you’re talking more than you’re listening, you’re fucking up. This is particularly true when you’re advocating for a group you don’t belong to. I realized that I was guilty of this a few months back, particularly when it came to aboriginal Canadians. While I think the challenges faced by First Nations, Métis, and Inuit Canadians are criminally underdiscussed, what I failed to realize is that the root cause of this is the absence of aboriginal voices in the conversation. If nobody takes your contributions seriously (or worse, you’re not even provided a platform to contribute at all), then even if your problems are addressed, they are done so in an extremely paternalistic and often half-hearted way.

And I was doing that.

Luckily, technology allows me to do something about that, so I put out the call on Twitter, asking for accounts from aboriginal persons, preferably those that discussed political realities and interpretations of news items. A trickle quickly became a flood, and my ‘following’ list exploded. This doesn’t mean that hey now I am magically allowed to talk at length about stuff, but it does mean that I’m slightly more aware of stuff than I was before.

And it’s a good thing too, because something’s happening right now: [Read more...]