The Toronto Village

Among the many other pieces of news coming out of Toronto’s police and their treatment of queer people there is a serious story about institutional neglect–a serial killer, permitted to operate by police inaction.

It is mid January, 2018. I am sitting in the press conference for Andrew Kinsman’s family. We are in the 519 Community Centre; above the lobby bulletin board hangs a sign: “FAMILIES DEFINE THEMSELVES.” The conference is in the ballroom on the second floor. The last time I was here it was full of steamy bodies—the humid rain had moved the TreeHouse Party inside, and we danced in the microclimate of our sweat. I remember a friend’s hand in the small of my clammy back that made me wriggle and slap them away.

Now it is cold. Journalists and equipment personnel sparsely laugh and chat, milling near a hastily erected coffee station. One behind me loudly barks: “There’s probably a book in this!” The family is huddled, watching them. Watching us, I guess. They have just learned an arrest has been made. They have just learned, for certain, that their brother was killed. They are waiting for the body to be found.

They speak imperfectly, as all of us would. They think aloud of the child that Andrew was. Shelley Kinsman takes no questions after her statement. I watch her anxiously clutching and persistently rubbing a small black stone with both hands throughout. I never find out what it was. She looks like my mother, fretting at her rosary beads.

Andrew’s sister Karen tells a story about how her brother wanted to be a paleontologist, and how the family once hid a cow femur and convinced him there must be dinosaurs buried in the yard. He dug and dug until, ecstatic, he found the bones.

The room shifts uncomfortably and moves quickly past the infelicitous image.

I could have posted any of the news outlets just publishing basic facts, but it’s so devoid of the context that this piece brings in that I preferred this one instead.

Read more here. And ready some tissue.


Just because it’s normal, doesn’t mean it’s right

Philadelphia has had an interesting election regarding their District Attorney. Larry Krasner won the contest, but his career isn’t as a prosecutor–it’s as a defense attorney. Krasner’s platform highlighted the many ways in which the American justice system is abused and promised to end these practices. But what is bizarre is that the media is covering him like it’s a total surprise he’d gut dozens of state prosecution positions for their role in this abuse, despite him explicitly saying this was his agenda.

The Inquirer is not alone. At The Philadelphia Citizen, co-Executive Director Larry Platt compared an inexperienced Krasner to Trump and Oprah, lampooning his “amateurish first week,” pointing to the “freaked out Assistant District Attorneys” blowing up his phone. “It had,” he hyperbolically suggested, “the feel of an authoritarian (Trump-like?) purge.” But the Trump comparisons will fall flat. Most Philadelphians hate Trump, and they voted for Krasner in a landslide. And though Philadelphians voted against typical prosecutorial expertise in carrying out systematic justice, Krasner has considerable experience in the Philadelphia criminal justice system as a defense attorney. What’s more, Trump is a monstrous bigot fomenting a smokescreen of fear and hate to advance a war against poor people. By contrast, Krasner has pledged to do his part to fight back on the other side.

The Inquirer’s coverage is not just anti-Krasner; it is bad reporting, featuring fundamental oversights that shouldn’t appear in the city’s paper of record. First, the coverage is premised on the belief that Krasner was acting in bad faith — that he jettisoned people like Notaristefano for no good reason — and worse yet, that he has no real interest in securing justice. It didn’t seem to occur to the paper that Krasner might have a serious problem with the way that Notaristefano was prosecuting cases or about his overall track record.

Second, The Inquirer seems dumbstruck that Krasner’s own personal impression of prosecutors played a role in their ouster. But Krasner has spent decades in the court system, giving him a front row seat to how prosecutors play dirty by, say, turning a blind eye to brazenly lying cops or unconstitutionally hiding evidence from the defense. Why shouldn’t this sort of information, combined with what he has learned from others in the legal system, inform his personnel decisions?

Third, the coverage betrays a basic misreading of what district attorneys do. The presumption at work is that the district attorney’s office is a technocratic one rather than a political force that wields incredible discretionary power over people’s lives and liberty. Consider that no one would ever fault a president, governor or mayor for excusing functionaries who were hostile to their mission, and installing a new team. The technocratic conception of the district attorney’s office is a smokescreen obscuring the regular operation of mass incarceration: seeking maximum sentences for huge numbers of people at whatever cost, however ethically repugnant or legally dubious. That the status quo was normal did not make it right.

Read more here.



Ending cash bail

Or, “ending extortion by law enforcement,” if you want a less whitewashed description. A stunning proportion of America’s incarcerated population has yet to even go to trial because of the practice of cash bail, penalizing poor people doubly for being unable to post their own bounty. Such incarceration disrupts their employment, which feeds back into their original problem of not being able to afford bail. The cruelty inherent in the logic of this system is a feature rather than a bug for those with authoritarian (and white supremacist) inclinations, but there is plenty of work to end the practice.

The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world, imprisoning 2.24 million out of the world’s total of 10.2 million incarcerated people as of 2013, according to the International Center for Prison Studies. The ICPS also reports that, in 2013, 480,000 people were held in U.S. jails before even being tried for their charges. The system of cash bail targets poor people who can’t afford their bail, and several major insurance companies make billions in profits from the cash bail system.

Critics of the cash bail system point to research demonstrating that cash bail discriminates against the poor, and especially poor people of color. According to a 2015 report from the Vera Institute of Justice, two in five people held in America’s jails are behind bars because they cannot afford their bail. The report also notes that 75 percent of people in jail are accused of non-violent crimes, such as shoplifting or minor traffic offenses. There’s also evidence of profound racial bias within the cash bail system. The Vera Institute reports that black Americans are jailed at almost four times the rate of their white counterparts.

While the statistics for cash bail are staggering, the cruelest injustices of this system become clear in the context of real people’s lives.

The article is relevant for any jurisdiction that still engages in the practice, even if the United States is its specific context. Read more here.


It’s that bad

Intelligence agencies are (unsurprisingly) cagey about their activities. Every time we get a chance to peek under the mask, we learn more about how bad it is. The Liberals, who inherited Conservative policy that characterizes environmentalists and indigenous activists (there is plenty of overlap) as a domestic terrorist threat, have done little more than spew hot air, keeping the worst of the human rights violations from Conservative policy.

This is what that looks like.

The records detailing monitoring of individual activists and leaders speak to a larger pattern of surveillance against non-violent dissent, Indigenous-led social movements and their allies. As APTN reported in relation to the documents referring to Thomas-Muller, RCMP records also listed a number of groups as “involved persons,” including “the Defenders of the Land, Direct Action in Canada for Climate Justice, Ontario Public Interest Research Group, Ruckus Society, Global Justice Ecology Project, Sea to Sands Conservation Alliance, Canadian Youth Climate Coalition, the Indigenous Action Movement and the Wet’suwet’en Direct Action Camp.” In 2014, the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) filed complaints against both the RCMP and CSIS, alleging unlawful surveillance against opponents of Northern Gateway that included many of the same organizations. While the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP launched an independent investigation, the Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC) (the body responsible for CSIS oversight) instead held a series of secret hearings. They issued a decision in 2015, but barred the BCCLA from speaking about the outcome. The BCCLA has since applied for judicial review of this decision.

Just last month, documents obtained by VICE News demonstrate that the RCMP surveilled Indigenous activists who constructed a Tipi on Parliament Hill as part of Idle No More’s Unsettling Canada 150, a campaign coinciding with 150 years since Canadian confederation. Idle No More has come under government scrutiny on other occasions: in 2015 documents obtained by APTN confirmed that Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development (AAND, now INAC) shared information about peaceful protests led by the group with Canada’s spy agency, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), and passed on information about meetings between government and First Nations leaders to the Integrated Terrorism Assessment Centre (ITAC), the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and others.

Read more here.


I know those cognitive shortcuts, too

It’s clockwork at this point: No argument, no matter how meticulously evidenced or delicately constructed, will ever be engaged with as long as it implicates people as participants in a harmful system. Instead a variety of shortcuts are employed to avoid confrontations of complicity. One of the more routine ones I receive is the presumption of “insanity”–that none of my conclusions need be examined or grappled with because I’m “crazy”–and it’s a familiar one Sherronda Brown receives too.

When I wrote “The Racist Roots of Gynecology and What Black Women Birthed” for Wear Your Voice Magazine, I was called a liar. My credibility and intelligence were challenged by white readers who refused to believe the facts that I laid out about disparities in pain management and anti-Blackness medicine.

“Sims never gave [anesthesia] to the enslaved women in his care. It is recorded that he subscribed to the belief that Black people did not have the same capacity to feel pain as white people, a belief that many people in the medical field unfortunately still hold. Physicians continually offer less pain relief and fewer management resources to their Black patients, even to children, due to this accepted myth.”

I spent an entire weekend reading through texts like Trial and Error: J. Marion Sims and the Birth of Modern Gynecology in the American South, “Toward an Understanding of the ‘Medical Plantation’ as a Cultural Location of Disability,” and A Calculus of Suffering: Pain, Professionalism, and Anesthesia in Nineteenth-Century America. I even read Sims’ own account of his life, work, and ideology in his autobiography.

I provided evidence and sources. Still, the legitimacy of my work was questioned, because so many white people refuse to admit that the insidiousness of racism and anti-Blackness reaches as far and as wide as it does, and that it harms us in the many horrific ways that Black people and non-Black people of color know all too well.

White supremacy’s modus operandi is not only to deny the validity of clear evidence set before it, but it is also to alter narratives in its own favor, something that we have witnessed Trump and his supporters do time and time again. It’s something that we have seen history textbooks perpetrate, claiming that the enslaved Africans of the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade were nothing more than immigrants and that Canada’s First Nations peoples agreed to move out of their own lands to make room for European settlers.

It’s lazy thinking, and it’s fucking ubiquitous.

Read more by Brown here.


Dr. Becky, PhD

A teaching assistant at Wilfrid Laurier University was recently disciplined for making the dignity of trans people the subject of a debate. Lindsey Shepherd–or Dr. Becky, PhD as I’ve come to call her–recorded audio of her meeting with the administration, and leaked the subsequent recording. Since then, a horde of tedious dudebros have followed her every tweet, and Dr. Becky has taken up the reactionary dipshit speaking circuit. Whatever benefit of the doubt I might have given her before vanished once she signed up for generously paid speaking circuits to lambast the evil transes.

Her fans sound suspiciously similar to Jordan Peterson’s, for reasons that should be transparently obvious.

Still, I didn’t feel the need to respond myself because there has been nothing I’ve said about J Pete that doesn’t apply to Dr. Becky, PhD. But Florence Ashley looked at the typical frozen peaches lobbed in the name of ceaselessly litigating my humanity, and I’m sharing what she found:

Free speech only benefits those who have a voice. If you’re not invited to speak, freedom of expression is pointless. Those who have a platform don’t concern themselves with the difficulties of obtaining one as much as those who don’t have one.

When free speech is reduced to a justification for one’s intuitive reaction or opinion on a given case, it is instrumentalized in defence of those we agree with. It becomes a mere shadow of the right we have enshrined in our Constitution.

There is much to be said about balancing free speech with other human rights, such as the right to equality. But even for free speech absolutists, a lot more can be done without talking about other rights. The distribution of outrage and the equality of access to platforms are free-speech issues.

Read the rest here.


Good news Thursday: Canada pays $800 million in reparations to victims of cultural genocide

Marcia Brown Martel began eight years ago a lawsuit claiming damages against the Canadian government for an operation that would come to be known as the “60s scoop.” The Indigenous communities, destabilized by the lasting effects of ghettoization and the cultural genocide program we call the residential schools, were frequent clients of Child & Family Services. Unlike today, placement practices for children removed from their parents’ care had little regard for reunification as a possible goal. Indigenous children were effectively trafficked out of their communities and placed in white, Catholic homes, far away from home. Some were even sold to the United States and various countries in Europe.

Now the Canadian government has announced that it will not only consolidate the various lawsuits filed against it, but will settle for all of them, earmarking $800 million for the remaining survivors.

TORONTO — The federal government has agreed to pay hundreds of millions of dollars to survivors of the ’60s Scoop for the harm suffered by Indigenous children who were robbed of their cultural identities by being placed with non-native families, The Canadian Press has learned.

The national settlement with an estimated 20,000 victims, to be announced Friday by Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett, is aimed at resolving numerous related lawsuits, most notable among them a successful class action in Ontario.

Confidential details of the agreement include a payout of between $25,000 and $50,000 for each claimant, to a maximum of $750 million, sources said.

In addition, sources familiar with the deal said the government would set aside a further $50 million for a new Indigenous Healing Foundation, a key demand of the representative plaintiff in Ontario, Marcia Brown Martel.

Spokespeople for both Bennett and the plaintiffs would only confirm an announcement was pending Friday, but refused to elaborate.

“The (parties) have agreed to work towards a comprehensive resolution and discussions are in progress,” Bennett’s office said in a statement on Thursday. “As the negotiations are ongoing and confidential, we cannot provide further information at this time.”

The sources said the government has also agreed to pay the plaintiffs’ legal fees — estimated at about $75 million — separately, meaning the full amount of the settlement will go to the victims and the healing centre, to be established in the coming months, sources said.

Read more about the settlement here.


Silver-lining-in-genocide Senator wants to assimilate you

If there was ever an argument for abolishing Canada’s appointed Senate, Lynn Beyak is it. After defending the first genocide of the continent’s first nations by European colonials, then the second genocide through the residential school program by bonafide Canadians, Beyak spent her summer months supposedly meeting with Indigenous communities. Her takeaway? Give up your culture and assimilate–also, apply for citizenship that you already have.

“Trade your status card for a Canadian citizenship, with a fair and negotiated payout to each Indigenous man, woman and child in Canada, to settle all the outstanding land claims and treaties, and move forward together just like the leaders already do in Ottawa,” she said in an open letter published Sept. 1 on her Senate website.

(Indigenous people born in this country are Canadian citizens, and were given full voting rights in 1960.)

“Like the leaders already do in Ottawa” is an interesting euphemism, considering the outstanding criticism is that we flout our treaties. Perhaps Beyak is unaware, but a federal government dishonouring its agreements is generally perceived as a high-risk partner in diplomacy, and it severely damages your government’s ability to bargain. There’s a reason North Korea has exactly zero friends, with their supposed ally mostly using NK as a proxy to undermine the United States. The fact that Trudeau is undermining “fewer” of these treaties isn’t… exactly… progress.

Also, she’s apparently unaware that status first nations are still citizens? Why is this twit being paid with my tax money?

“None of us are leaving, so let’s stop the guilt and blame and find a way to live together and share,” she wrote. “All Canadians are then free to preserve their cultures in their own communities, on their own time, with their own dime.”

Great! So we’re de-funding the Catholic systems then! (Somehow I doubt that’s what she actually means)

How about, instead of paying this leaking ass-pimple her salary, we use the money to fire her into the fucking sun.



Away from declaration, towards euphemism

Obscurity has been a feature of politics probably since politics was a thing, but it got especially severe starting with Nixon and his Southern Strategy: Court racism without actually saying openly racist shit. The principles of the strategy seem to have spread quickly, and Kristen Cardozo reviews its modern impact:

And yet this is a strangely naked moment we’re living in. If there has been a historical progression, it has been in language, moving away from an open declaration of our alignments and into euphemism. Now, in Trump’s America, our euphemisms are being set aside in favor of the open, forthright bigotry modeled by officials in the highest offices in the land. We live in an America where a sitting US president has insisted that some people marching under a Nazi flag, at a rally where an American woman was murdered, are good, a president who has referred to a “they” who are stealing “‘our’ history and ‘our’ heritage,” as Confederate monuments tumble. The president, in his first major policy decision post-Charlottesville, cancelled the wildly popular DACA program that allows undocumented people brought to this country as children to work, presumably because it will play to his rapidly shrinking and very white base, as well as thwart the will of the first Black president. Trump’s alignment to white supremacy is expressed loudly, not in a polite whisper.

Our president literally opened his campaign with a claim that Mexicans are rapists and criminals. As Trump won primary after primary, white pundits repeatedly said, up until the moment that Trump took office, that his bigotry “wasn’t funny anymore.” That it could ever have been seen as “funny” at all shows a divide in how people of different races read. For people who have been on the receiving end of American racism, the blunt declaration of a candidacy predicated on open hatred of brown bodies was another sign that, to white people, the fundamental American was always white. White Americans found Donald Trump’s overt racism humorous because too many of us saw it as an aberration, one that had no place or purchase in our egalitarian culture. People of color, who live under a daily onslaught of micro and macro aggressions, saw it as a clear reveal of the racism that underlies American culture.

Read more here.


There is no middle ground on justice, moderates

One of the reasons I distrust so-called “moderates” is that their list of things they’re willing to compromise on is a bit too long, and often includes critical human & civil rights issues. In fact, being willing to tell your neighbour they are only partially human, or partially “equal,” should be considered extreme in my opinion.

The average American will easily agree that they believe that freedom, justice, and equality are basic rights, rights we are born with. These ideas are woven throughout the entire narrative of our democracy. But in practice, very few people actually believe that freedom, justice, and equality are rights that every American deserves. When you enjoy your freedoms, and you tell those who want their freedoms that they have to wait, that they have to go slowly, that they have to give you time to make uncomfortable adjustments to the amount of privilege that their inequality has afforded you, what you are saying is, “You were not born with these rights. You were not born as deserving as me. I have the power and privilege to determine when it is time for you to receive freedom and equality, and my approval is conditioned on how comfortable and safe you make me feel about how that freedom and equality will impact the privileges I enjoy.”

Read more Ijeoma Oluo here.