We’ll tread that fine line…

I hope nobody mistakes my approach to racism and cultural tolerance as ‘the right way’. People a lot more well-versed than I am in the vagaries of anthropology, history, sociology, and psychology (just to name a few relevant fields that I am utterly clueless in) have time and again failed to find the surefire path forward to diplomacy and harmony. I can barely sweet-talk women at the bar. If there is a ‘right way’, and I don’t believe that there is one, I’m an unlikely candidate to be the one who comes across it.

That being said, I know that some methods are better than others. There may be few things that we know to be surefire correct, but there are a hell of a lot that we know to be just plain wrong. There are, like logical fallacies or lousy apologetics arguments or privileged whines, arguments that are uttered pre-refuted. We know colour blindness doesn’t work, we know that ‘reverse discrimination’ isn’t what people say it is, we know that dividing the world into ‘racists’ and ‘non-racists’ is a house built on the sand of bad psychology. We can dispose of these arguments just like we can the “well then why are there still monkeys” ‘proof’ that evolution is a liberal conspiracy from the Muslim atheist devil.

Some situations, however, are quite a bit more tricky: [Read more…]

Canada’s answer to Fox News actually gets something right!

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: [Read more…]

Watch for flying pigs

Shit’s been heavy recently. I think it’s maybe time to lighten things up with another ‘good news’ week.

I’ve talked before about my crush on Chief Justice Beverly McLachlin. I really don’t want that to be construed in a disrespectful way, but there simply is no other way to express my fanboy admiration for pretty much every aspect of her legal mind. If I could, I would take her brain out for a nice dinner, maybe go dancing, walk it to the door, shake hands and walk home feeling really good about myself. I have never made a study of the law, but I do have a pretty clear idea of what fairness and justice look like, and every decision I’ve seen come from Justice McLachlin’s court have been more or less in lockstep with those ideas.

Those of you who read last month’s series on Black History know that the central thesis of my exploration of the facts of history was that we can and should use those facts to essentially chart a forward course. We can avoid repeating mistakes and learn from our failures as much as our successes in planning immigration and social policy, and in dealing with each other as countrymen who do not necessarily share a land of origin. The principle is equally valid in understanding not only broad social phenomena, but personal and interpersonal issues as well. At least I think so.

And so, apparently, does the McLachlin Supreme Court: [Read more…]

Yesterday, tomorrow, today

The central thesis of my series on black history this year was focussed on the importance of understanding the whole truth of our history as a nation. This is not only relevant to Canada, mind you – it is universally true that understanding where we came from tells us how we got where we are. Furthermore, it gives us an indication of how we can move into the future intelligently, avoiding the same pitfalls that had waylaid us before. The reason why I thought black history was particularly useful for this task is that a) it has not been well-explored and is not well-understood, and b) it is a particularly egregiously bad slice of our history that we must learn to confront honestly if we are to glean anything from it.

That being said, Canada’s abysmal treatment of black people is far from the worst story we have to tell. For that, we have to turn to First Nations Canadians. The original settlers and inhabitants of the land were repeatedly exploited and conned into agreements that worked to their continual disadvantage. It is only recently that we have been willing to confront our national shame in anything other than an entirely token way, and many (myself included) would argue that we are still not doing enough to not simply make up for historical injustices, but to understand how we non-Aboriginal Canadians fit into their historical narrative.

Just as in the case of black history, learning the history of the Nation of Canada and the First Nations of Canada teaches us about ourselves, in ways that we may find uncomfortable but which are critical to moving forward: [Read more…]

So high, so low

So I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: mandatory minimums are racist. When we finally strip away the facile understanding of ‘racism’ as an intentional discriminatory act by a bad person against someone else, we are able to recognize that people, institutions, and traditions can be racist. The lack of intentionality is immaterial with respect to whether or not an action is racist – a better yardstick to use is whether or not it has the same effect that an intentionally racist (or “really” racist) action would. Put another way – I can be racist without even trying, and so can a non-conscious entity such as an institution (or even a non-entity like a policy).

Judged by this metric (which is arguably far more useful and accurate than the one used to detect ‘classic racism’), mandatory minimums serve to exacerbate existing racial disparities by removing the capacity of the system to take societal factors into account. In other words, they’re racist:

The legislation, a medley of 10 bills on the Harper government’s tough-on-crime agenda, includes mandatory-minimum-sentencing rules that will curtail judges’ abilities to deal out alternative sentences. That could undo a decade-long effort to find culturally specific ways of diverting inmates such as Mr. Findlay away from serial engagements with the justice system. Native Canadians make up less than 4 per cent of the general population, but they account for 22 per cent of prison inmates. Many of those are young men who have grown up in poverty and high unemployment, and who have lower-than-average education levels.

Shawn Atleo, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, said recently that aboriginal children are more likely to go to jail than to graduate from high school. More will go to jail after C-10, and many will end up in the gangs that flourish in western and northern jails, where more than 70 per cent of inmates are aboriginal. “What we’re doing with C-10,” says Jonathan Rudin, program director of the ALST, “is to increase our reliance on things that don’t work.” [Read more…]

Sometimes it’s a good day

If there’s anyone in the Canadian political system who’s reading this and wants to make me an extremely happy guy, it’s really not that difficult. I’m a simple man who enjoys the finer things in life – a nice meal, a pint of good beer, a productive day at work, time spent with close friends… it doesn’t take a lot. What puts me over the moon is when politicians legislate like liberals and act like grown-ups.

Liberal ideas – promoting equality and long-term progress through evidence-based policy – are ideas that I can support. For reasons that surpass understanding, it is rare to see someone get tough with liberal ideas. Not tough in a macho, bullying kind of way, but tough in a “I believe in this, and am willing to fight for it” sort of way. Too often, perfectly defensible liberal ideas get bulldozed by threats of political ramifications or hurt feelings. However, there are rare moments when the planets align and politicians get tough on things I agree with, and those days make me happy.

Today is a very good day. [Read more…]

Nation will rise against Nations

It is difficult to be Canadian sometimes. We pride ourselves (well, most of us at least) on being tolerant, forward-thinking people. Part of our national neurotic need to be seen as distinct from our American cousins pushes us to be more collective, more restrained, more self-effacing; a contrast to the stereotype of our indvidualistic, brash and assertive southern neighbours.

The reason this stance is difficult is because of the cognitive dissonance present in seeing ourselves as progressive and inclusive, and yet becoming increasingly aware of the abhorrent way we have treated our most-maligned minority group: First Nations and other aboriginal people. Whereas slavery is America’s admitted national shame, Canada has not yet donned the sackcloth and ash required to atone for our past (and current) sins. We saw a dramatic manifestation of those sins this morning.

It is not enough to simply allocate increased funding to First Nations communities, or to issue public apologies for past mistakes (although both of those are helpful in their own way). We need to instead change the narrative we have about the relationship between the nation of Canada and its First Nations across the country. High-profile discussions like this may yield some hope: [Read more…]

Canada doesn’t have a race problem – Attawapiskat edition

Canadians have a reputation as being polite and rather passive. I am not sure what in our history has given us this docile stereotype, or if it is even actually true that Canadians are more well-mannered than our American cousins. What I do know is that there is no faster way to completely invalidate the myth of Canadian civility or progressiveness more quickly than bringing up the fraught relationship between the government of Canada and our First Nations people.

Immediately upon bringing up reserves, or federal cash transfers, or treaty rights, or ceded lands, even the most self-effacing and convivial Canuck is likely to start frothing at the mouth and denouncing the “culture of poverty” or the “laziness” and “corruption” that apparently runs rampant through every single First Nations community in the country. It’s amazing how quick my fellow countrymen are to lay all blame for the problems affecting our indigenous peoples at the feet of the victims.

A commenter last week remarked how much better the relationship seemed between Canadians and our First Nations, compared to Americans and their aboriginal populations. I decided not to step on the point too hard, because I knew that this week I’d be talking about this story: [Read more…]

Lowering tide sinks some boats more than others

“A rising tide raises all boats” is a common bromide found in political lexicon. If you ask a liberal, the phrase is meant to illustrate the fact that improving public services benefits the rich as well as the poor. If you ask a conservative, the phrase is meant to illustrate the fact that programs designed to benefit the creation of wealth through private sector innovation will have ripple effects that increases wealth in the population at large. Whichever interpretation you favour (be it the liberal one or the incorrect one), I suppose the point of convergence is that making economic improvements has broad-reaching benefits for many levels of society.

The problem with this aphorism is that it simplifies the ‘rise’ far too much. It gallingly neglects the fact that not all of those boats are raised the same amount. Ideally, programs that are designed to raise boats will do so in a roughly equal way (or, better, in an equitable way based on merit). The reality is that, depending on the nature of the program, some boats get catapulted into the stratosphere while others just bob in place. The increasing disparity in incomes that is currently part of the focus of the Occupy movement is evidence that it is possible to raise some boats while letting others get capsized.

The other side of this problem is that the discrepancies in rise is mirrored when tides drop: [Read more…]

Thoughts on the state of the occupation – update

So I’ll confess I sounded a bit maudlin on Monday when looking at how things were shaping up for the Occupy Vancouver movement. I don’t know that my mood has changed much since then, but I have some new insights.

As some of you know, the city was granted an unjunction to remove all persons and structures present on the lawn of the Vancouver Art Gallery so that the city could ‘clean’. I put this in quotes because I sincerely doubt the city’s intention to remove anything other than protesters they don’t like. Antipathy toward the movement has been turned up as the movement has progressed. Some of the blame for this can probably be laid at the feet of the protesters themselves, who failed to articulate the reasons why the occupation itself was necessary. The majority of fingers, however, can be pointed at the ridiculously one-sided media coverage it has received.

There was no shortage of people capable of articulating the ideology of the occupation at the site. There were passionate, coherent, well-informed people running sound equipment, organizing marches, working at the library and info tents, plus volunteer medical staff always within earshot. What the media has done instead is consistently focussed on the more flamboyant members of the group. I am not so cynical as to consider this an intentional campaign of misinformation by a media that wishes to maintain the corporate status quo. At the same time, however, considering that this criticism is leveled at them regularly – to the point where protesters have stopped talking to the media at all – makes me think that they are either just really stubborn in their stupidity, or that there is indeed an element of intentionality: [Read more…]