By Colby Cosh - Friday, August 17, 2012 - 0 Comments
The verdict in Russia’s trial of feminist punk group Pussy Riot is expected this morning; it will probably have been announced by the time you read this. The group was arrested after staging a brief impromptu performance at the famous Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow, rebuilt in 2000 after being demolished to make way for the never-built Palace of the Soviets in 1931. The performers have been formally charged with khuliganstvo (“hooliganism”), the old catchall term that meant in Soviet days, and means now, that one has done something not otherwise criminal of which the Organs do not approve.
The trial is rightly regarded as an outrage. There’s no indication or suggestion that Pussy Riot did any physical damage to the church; their appearance lasted mere seconds before they were escorted out. And Russian Orthodoxy’s grovelling support for Putinism has certainly made it a valid target of protest. Pussy Riot are nothing less than old-fashioned political prisoners, and they deserve the exterior moral support that Russian political prisoners have always received from Europe and the West—whether a Tsar, a Central Committee, or an outdoorsy populist President is running the show.
It has come to the attention of Canadians that Pussy Riot member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova may be a permanent resident of Canada. Indeed, Lisa Kirbie, who seems to have been first in Canada to notice the possibility, is waxing wroth about being bigfooted on the story by the Toronto Star. (No, reporting the same facts as somebody else isn’t plagiarism, by any definition. But it’s certainly poor form.) “Is Nadezhda Tolokonnikova a Canadian?” Kirbie asks. “Why won’t the Harper government step up and help her?”
Lisa Kirbie can have the glory if she wants it, but I don’t know that I’d be so eager, under the same circumstances, to be seen as a catspaw of Putin’s government. Nadezhda T.’s alleged permanent-resident card was shown in this Russian state news broadcast. If you watch, you’ll see it’s a 60 Minutes-style “gotcha” story, clearly arranged with the help of the local prosecutor: Tolokonnikova tells the reporter specifically that she did not get a Canadian residency permit, and there’s a quick cut to the office of one of Putin’s heavies, who lets the camera linger lovingly over Tolokonnikova’s Canadian residency documents.
Now, if a Russian prosecutor from absolutely any era of history informed me that I have two testicles, I’d reach down and give them a real quick count. But Tolokonnikova’s husband has apparently confirmed that the docs are legit. It is still curious that it’s the friends of Pussy Riot who are hyping her status—in the name of trying to establish that Tolokonnikova might be a “Canadian”, even though it is precisely the point of “permanent resident” status that holders are not Canadian citizens and have no claim on Canadian consular assistance in their home countries. In exchange for that dubious benefit, they’ve helped Putin’s regime trap Tolokonnikova in a televised fib and made her look, to xenophobic Russians, like a troublemaking tourist who got in over her head. Heckuva job, guys!
The Canadian government should advocate for Tolokonnikova—and for the other members of her group, too: not because of some connection to Canada, but in the name of ushering thoughtcrime and classic authoritarianism off the stage of history. A rally for Pussy Riot is planned for Toronto and other world cities today. I trust none of the attendees will be Canadians who have availed themselves in the past of the cheap sensual delights of Cuba.
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, June 4, 2012 at 8:00 AM - 0 Comments
Budget bill protests were organized this weekend in Victoria, Owen Sound, Waterloo, Penticton, Halifax, Winnipeg, Vancouver, Mississauga, Port Moody, North Bay, Prince George, Beamsville and Calgary. And dozens of websites will go dark today to protest C-38.
Seemingly in response, the Conservatives are dispatching 10 ministers across the country to “detail the benefits of the Government’s Plan for Responsible Resource Development.”
By Emmett Macfarlane - Wednesday, May 23, 2012 at 11:09 AM - 0 Comments
There is no shortage of finger-pointing on either side
Reasoned debate is off the table. The student protesters and the Charest government are sharply at odds – in fact, they despise each other – but they’ve collaborated in one respect: each side has acted to ensure that rather than a robust public discussion about how to fund the province’s universities we get an ugly, protracted battle about the right to protest.
Why has the situation deteriorated so miserably? There is no shortage of finger-pointing on either side.
From the government’s perspective, too many protesters engaged in unacceptable tactics, including blocking non-protesting students from attending classes, vandalism, intimidation and violence. Some critics assert that the peaceful majority failed to condemn, in strong enough words, the hooliganism of those in their midst. Then, last week, classes on one campus were literally invaded, in defiance of court injunctions.
From the protesters’ perspective, the government has been obstinate, initially refusing to meet with student groups and then offering a fishy-looking compromise they quickly and roundly rejected. Peaceful, legitimate protests were often broken up by police. Then the government passed a law which, as I wrote here a few days ago, criminalizes peaceful protest in ways that are likely unconstitutional.
It is this latest decision by the Charest government that has guaranteed consecutive nights of tension, violence and arrests for the foreseeable future. By passing, in hurried and thoughtless fashion, a bill that casts its net so widely, that contains vague provisions and harsh penalties, and that does next to nothing to address the real lawlessness that supposedly necessitated it, the government has legitimated the sense of victimhood that so thoroughly saturates the rhetoric adopted by student leaders.
If much of the blame falls to the government for exacerbating the situation, the protesters – especially the student leaders – are by no means exonerated. That their response to unacceptable legislation was to label it a declaration of war was no heat-of-the-moment exaggeration. Well before the Charest government crossed the line, the movement had declared itself the “Quebec Spring,” with protesters likening themselves to revolutionaries battling a totalitarian state.
It is this mindset that impoverishes our political discourse. It is emblematic of a shift away from policy debate, political compromise and democratic deliberation. It is an attitude that infects people of all political persuasions, although it tends to be more intense among the less moderate on either side.
Some of the protesters’ critics have dismissed the entire movement as representative of a “culture of entitlement.” I think this is problematic, largely because it ignores the reasons and justifications for their legitimate position (even if I happen to disagree with them). There should be room for the policy debate, for the expression of legitimate concerns about access, equality and universality with respect to post-secondary education.
The real problem is the increasing tendency to replace policy discussion and political debate with the invocation of rights. Invoking rights is the equivalent of playing a trump card. It leaves no room for compromise. It denies the validity of other perspectives or alternatives. It reduces political discourse to the making of demands. It subjugates other values, policy ideas or arguments about the distribution of resources. It risks replacing logic and deliberation with emotion and threats.
Now, lest anyone think I’m arguing otherwise, let me state the obvious: fundamental rights are imperative for any functioning democracy. More specifically, the right to free expression and free assembly (including the right to protest) must be fiercely protected.
That said, not everything is a right. In the face of a bylaw regulating unkempt lawns, for example, it would be incorrect to claim one has a “right” to let his or her grass grow three feet tall.
Even more significantly, the fundamental rights we do enjoy also come with limits. This is a fact which almost never emerges in debates about rights. My own research has demonstrated, for example, that media coverage of Supreme Court of Canada decisions concerning the Charter of Rights often ignores the extensive analysis the Court engages in about whether rights limitations are reasonable under the law. The very first section of the Charter is a statement that the rights within are subject to reasonable limits and limitations analysis is often the core feature of Charter cases.
The problem is not that Quebec’s student protesters have asserted the right to protest. The problem is their rhetoric and actions are premised on the notion that a tuition increase constitutes an unreasonable violation of their fundamental rights. They believe their concerns about accessibility and universality override other concerns, like sustainability or quality of education.
Many of those who support the student protests will find this argument unpersuasive. They’ve pointed to the Quebec Charter of Human Rights, which includes free public education under its social and economic rights, conveniently ignoring the language of the section (“to the extent and according to the standards provided by law”).
More generally, critics’ response to my argument that the debate should not be about rights often amounts to “of course it should, unless you don’t believe in social justice.” The problem with social justice, like rights-based arguments, is that everyone favours it but have legitimate disagreements about what counts as social justice. For example, proponents of the tuition increase have pointed out that rather than functioning as a progressive policy, subsidizing tuition is in fact a regressive policy that disproportionately benefits the middle and upper classes.
Unfortunately, that policy debate has been taken off the table. Thanks in part to a foolish law passed by a government that has bungled its response to the protests from the beginning, the rights narrative dominates. And look at how productive it has been.
Emmett Macfarlane is a political scientist at the University of Victoria. You can follow him on Twitter: @EmmMacfarlane
By Martin Patriquin - Friday, April 20, 2012 at 3:51 PM - 0 Comments
You’re as brave as your average internet commenter
Dear Red Square Types,
I’m writing this a few hours after you wreaked havoc on Palais des Congrès where your nemesis Jean Charest was giving a talk about the Plan Nord. Congrats on busting open that fire hydrant; lord only knows that the streets around there needed a good soaking anyways. Also, nothing shows originality and righteousness like smashing windows. By destroying so much property, you’ve officially put yourself into esteemed company: you now have that much more in common with those bands of addled mooks who destroy St Catherine Street after a monumental win or loss by the Habs at the Bell Centre. And, like those brave souls who break windows and clash with police, many of you did as much from behind a mask. If only you’d steal a few dozen pairs of tennis shoes we really wouldn’t be able to tell you apart. Again, congrats. You’re as brave as your average internet commenter.
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, November 25, 2011 at 10:29 AM - 20 Comments
On Wednesday evening, during a vote on the government’s Canadian Wheat Board legislation, a protestor in one of the visitors’ galleries began shouting his objections. He apparently held a sign that read “lies” and yelled out that “this government does not represent me.” One way or another, the individual was removed from the chamber.
Yesterday after QP, deputy government House leader Tom Lukiwski rose on a point of order to say that this individual’s protest had been facilitated by the NDP’s Niki Ashton and to complain that various opposition MPs had not shown sufficient disapproval when the disruption occurred. This led to a discussion about the extent of Ms. Ashton’s involvement and the justification one might have to protest. And that then segued into a general debate over decorum.
By Colby Cosh - Sunday, November 6, 2011 at 11:43 AM - 79 Comments
In parks and public squares across the land, Occupy protesters are bivouacking in the name of social justice as the mercury dwindles. On Parliament Hill, MPs are battling in comfort over the fate of a bill to chop up the Canadian Wheat Board’s “single desk” control of wheat and barley exports.
Unrelated phenomena? Maybe. But it’s worth remembering that the moral case against the CWB was driven home by civil disobedience—in particular, by Manitoba farmer Andy McMechan’s 1996 cross-border protest trip with a wagonload of his own wheat. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, October 28, 2011 at 8:52 AM - 10 Comments
Jeff Jedras questions the suggestion that Occupy protesters would simply be better off voting.
Yes, they should get involved, but we should also reform our political system because, the fact is, it is viewed as irrelevant and ineffective by many Canadians, and not just the young folk. If we want greater engagement by citizens of all ages, we need to start doing something differently.
Off the top of my head, I’d suggest loosening the oppressive yoke of party discipline, empowering individual MPs to have personalities and agendas and represent their constituents and causes, and making the policy development process in political parties actually connected to their election platform instead of an exercise in pointless tedium. For starters.
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, October 11, 2011 at 2:04 PM - 52 Comments
Brian Topp considers the Occupy Wall Street protests.
There are false roads open – like the fantasist right-wing populism of the American Tea Partiers. And there are better roads open – like modern, prudent, determined and fearless social democracy, of the kind Jack Layton was talking about. Perhaps we will go down that first road, brought to us in Canada in our mild Canadian way by Stephen Harper and his team. Hopefully we will go down the other, on offer in Canada through Mr. Layton’s team.
But the Wall Street occupiers are there to let the Wall Street revellers and bonus-hunters know that their own particular party – and the whole approach to government that made it possible in the United States and here in Canada – has just about had its day.
By Claire Ward and Nicholas Köhler - Monday, October 10, 2011 at 10:40 AM - 29 Comments
A new protest movement, with Canadian ties, is taking shape, and spreading
Last Sunday, just before 7 a.m., as the sun cast its first light on Manhattan, cold, damp Zuccotti Park, just south of Ground Zero and north of Wall Street—those twin poles of a shattered American psyche—looked like little more than a junkyard. Shopping carts, blankets, garbage bags, sodden pizza boxes, piles of cardboard protest signs. Most of the two or three hundred anti-Wall Street protesters camping out there were wrapped in sleeping bags and under tarps, the pigeons pecking about their heads. A couple snuggled together on an air mattress. An elderly man in combat fatigues, his grey hair tied back in a bandana, slept against a concrete wall, a German shepherd at his side. Such were the moments of first light, before the makeshift village in Zuccotti Park came to life.
When the people awoke they gathered in groups to discuss ideas: corporate control, securitization, debt and credit, the environment, the Federal Reserve. There was heated debate and a lot of hugging. “I see it as a mathematical improbability to have a growth-based system based on finite resources,” said Tim, a 57-year-old bassist from New Haven, Conn., with long grey dreadlocks. “It’s kind of depressing, to be honest with you. I think the bottom is going to have to fall out of the economy.” When a protester approached asking for rolling papers, Tim promptly produced some from his pocket. “The solution is money,” said Rick DeVoe, 54, an environmental activist from East Hampton, Mass. “If the dollar doesn’t work for us, let’s create something that does.”
Over by the info booth a mousy girl in her 20s handed out a newspaper—The Occupied Wall Street Journal, a deliciously tongue-in-cheek jab at Rupert Murdoch’s business broadsheet. On a nearby table, various pamphlets lay strewn beside a Macdonald’s coffee cup and a well-thumbed copy of Dostoevsky’s Notes from Underground. A white-haired soccer mom on vacation from Tennessee, all smiles and glasses, asked if there was a petition to sign. Volunteers distributed food from the kitchen—concrete benches laden with donated bagels, coffee, juice. At the media centre, marked off with caution tape, youths sat on cement benches glued to MacBooks, spreading the word on various social media networks. @OccupyWallStNYC, one Twitter handle among many here, had some 39,000 followers as of Tuesday.
By Emma Teitel - Friday, June 17, 2011 at 11:30 AM - 1 Comment
A long-standing conflict between Mongolians and Han Chinese is reawakened
The conflict between Inner Mongolia’s indigenous herders and its Han Chinese mining community spans five decades, but recent events confirm it may continue indeﬁnitely. Last month, a Mongolian herder known as Mergen was trying to prevent a mining convoy from crossing the fenced prairies of Xiwu when, his people allege, a Chinese coal-truck driver ran him over on purpose. Enraged, and further angered by government-backed mining operations on their land, the herding population erupted with protests, the largest since 1991, in over three cities.
Beijing insists that the mining, and fencing off of herding territory, is essential for development and environmental protection (they made no mention of Mongolia’s status as China’s leading producer of coal). The herders, on the other hand, say their rights have been unfairly reduced, and that the mining is actually poisoning the environment. Mindful of the unrest, authorities swiftly sentenced the Chinese truck driver to death last week, but tensions continue to simmer.
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, December 9, 2010 at 10:59 AM - 19 Comments
In regards to the sweeping police powers invoked during the G20 summit, the Toronto Police Chief points to the Integrated Security Unit, the coordinating authority established by the RCMP. The RCMP says it was “made aware” that the Toronto police might invoke the law, but “not consulted.”
The Ontario ombudsman’s report lays out a series of discussions between federal, provincial and municipal authorities starting at paragraph 117 and by that telling, it was federal legislation that was first considered.
It appears that the federal government’s reluctance to enter into an agreement under the Foreign Missions and International Organizations Act provided increased incentive for officials to look to the Public Works Protection Act. Under the federal Act, the RCMP appeared to have clear authority to construct and control the interior security barrier for the “red zone,” but the Toronto Police Service believed that unless it was somehow delegated power under that legislation, it would have to look elsewhere for incontrovertible legal support to construct and control the exterior security fence.
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, December 8, 2010 at 7:20 PM - 75 Comments
The Scene. This space has been used in the past to acknowledge the futility of placing anything more than passing significance on the pronouncements of this government’s ministers and mouthpieces. Their words are like daylilies, blooming only for 24 hours before fading into memory. To quibble, to seek to extend their meaning beyond nightfall, is to argue with the sun.
Perhaps then what follows here is relatively pointless. But then sometimes the rhetoric is so colourful, its aroma so intoxicating, that it is difficult to forget; near impossible, whatever one knows to be true, to admit to oneself that these are merely passing fancy.
So it is that we turn to the blooming words, uttered less than a week ago, of this nation’s Justice Minister and Attorney General.
“Mr. Speaker,” Rob Nicholson declared, under some attack from the other side, “no group of individuals has more respect for human rights in our country than the Conservative Party … There is no group of individuals over the course of Canadian history that has had a better record for standing up for human rights than the Conservative Party of Canada and its predecessors.”
These were strong words strongly delivered. Mr. Nicholson’s reading comprehension has been the subject of some lament, but his ability to stand and fulminate is unquestioned. His is a raring appearance of great conviction.
But here we are, less than a week later, struggling to reconcile that rhetoric. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, December 7, 2010 at 4:06 PM - 72 Comments
That weekend in Toronto is bestowed an historic epitaph courtesy of the Ontario ombudsman.
For the citizens of Toronto, the days up to and including the weekend of the G8/G20 will live in infamy as a time period where martial law set in the city of Toronto, leading to the most massive compromise of civil liberties in Canadian history, and we can never let that happen again,” André Marin told reporters Tuesday.
The full report is here.
By Aaron Wherry - Sunday, July 18, 2010 at 6:52 PM - 0 Comments
On Monday, the Conservatives filibustered an attempt to by opposition parties to start hearings into the biggest mass arrest in Canadian history.
On Sunday, the Conservatives demanded hearings into their own decision to change the census, in part so that, in the words of Maxime Bernier, the opposition parties can “explain to Canadians why they want the state and the government of Canada to know lots of details from their private lives.”
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, July 16, 2010 at 5:13 PM - 0 Comments
This video was made as a response to the G20 Summit in Toronto June, 2010. The rest speaks for itself. It was sent to us by a lover of our music who wants to remain anonymous. We are very proud to share this mash-up with you.
Video after the jump. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, July 13, 2010 at 12:32 PM - 0 Comments
The Conservative backbencher who, in December 2008, warned of possible “treason and sedition” now frets that new evildoers might use our very own Parliamentary democracy against us, infiltrating our minds with their words.
Bob Dechert, a Conservative MP, said he is concerned anarchists or other demonstrators could use Commons hearings to build sympathy. “They want to have the media attention to talk about how they were handled by the police and perhaps try to get out the message they didn’t get out during the protest because of the silly things – and actual very criminal things – they did to try to disrupt those summits.”
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, July 9, 2010 at 9:57 AM - 0 Comments
I spoke to one 38-year-old investment dealer who went down to have a look at what he thought was a designated protest zone at Queen’s Park. He moved too slowly when, for reasons that have yet to be properly explained, a line of riot police advanced to clear the area. Four police pushed him to the ground, cuffed him and put him in a police van. He says he spent the next 21 “dehumanizing” hours in custody, much of it in a cramped cell at Eastern Avenue. “People’s legal rights were shelved for the purpose of controlling the extent and size of the demonstrations that weekend,” he says, still shaken from the ordeal.
The Liberals seem to think Vic Toews should be the first to testify when the public safety committee commences hearings.
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, July 8, 2010 at 9:05 AM - 0 Comments
The Ontario Premier gets comparative.
In a closed-door meeting with MPPs on Wednesday, McGuinty deflected questions from members unhappy at the heavy-handedness of police in dealing with protesters—and the government’s complicity in failing to correct the mistaken impression officers had been given more powers.
“He told us, ‘Just remember, the same guy who gave us the Charter also gave us the War Measures Act,’” said one startled MPP, noting the premier also refuted calls from several members to strike a public inquiry into the G20 debacle.
For the sake of comparison though… Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, July 7, 2010 at 4:41 PM - 216 Comments
So there is now the tale of the amputee whose prosthetic leg was confiscated by police. And then—with all the necessary caveats about amateur video posted to the Internet, what it shows and what it doesn’t show—there is this.
The public safety committee will apparently soon be recalled to consider the events of that weekend in Toronto.
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, July 6, 2010 at 11:57 AM - 0 Comments
Mark Donald writes of his experience in the midst of the G20 madness.
I am writing this account on the morning of July 1 – Canada Day. I do it not in an effort to smear or merely embarrass the police services, but to remind them as forcefully as I can that both they and I must seek the same goals – the preservation of a free and democratic society. It is surely the job of the police to keep us safe. But, we must remind ourselves that the founding principles of this nation were not simply granted by the beneficent state; they were expanded, renewed, and agitated for by the actions of ordinary people. The sooner we as Canadians remind ourselves of this great truth, the sooner will stop regarding peaceful protesters as prospective terrorists, and the sooner both civilians and police will see themselves as what they really are: partners in the ongoing project that is our nation.
Quietly, an independent review of police tactics has apparently been launched.
By Aaron Wherry - Sunday, July 4, 2010 at 12:44 PM - 79 Comments
Thoughts from Tabatha Southey, Lisa Rochon, Elaine McCoy, Aaron Leaf and Roland Paris. Torontoist has the 14 essential video clips of G20 weekend and an interview with the hero of the one below. The Star tells the stories of the TTC employee who was tackled and the protesters who got engaged. Dalton McGuinty speaks and punts. The CCLA is considering a lawsuit. And Mark Holland wants federal compensation for business that were trashed.
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, July 2, 2010 at 12:05 PM - 26 Comments
In a chat with the Mark, Bob Rae considers last weekend’s anarchy in Toronto.
Well I think the first thing is that the violence obviously discredits the notion of protest and I think it’s a very deliberate tactic by those who think that violence is a good idea, or that the destruction of property is a good idea. It’s an obvious tactic to try to get a reaction from the police. And I think that the one thing the NGO community should be doing, should have been done much sooner as the preparations of the event were ongoing, was to do everything they could to separate themselves from those doing the violent destruction of property. And I think that if you’re trying to help world poverty then I think you have to say that I don’t want to be associated with those who are practicing violent destruction. And the other thing is that people have to recognize that it’s inevitable that the very acts of vandalism colour the public’s impression of protests in general.
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, July 2, 2010 at 11:05 AM - 13 Comments
On Monday, in an interview with the Globe, Toronto police chief Bill Blair seemed relatively unconcerned by the suggestion that any public trust had been lost over the weekend. Two days later, in conversation with Christie Blatchford, Mr. Blair is decidedly more philosophical.
“One of my greatest concerns about this – there’s a lot of noise right now, but in the longer term, we’ve worked really hard to demonstrate [our belief in] human rights and civil rights …We’ve worked really hard to build respectful relationships with people with whom we’ve not always had great relationships.
“I’m very concerned about losing that,” he said.
“The trust between us is absolutely critical to keep in the city and it’s also the right way to do business, and so losing any element of that trust, any setback in that, any suggestion that we’re less than committed to maintaining and upholding human rights and civil rights, of treating diverse communities and marginalized people disrespectful is really fundamental.
“So we have a lot of work to do.”
Adam Radwanski, meanwhile, has assembled a brief history of the much-disputed five-metre rule.
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, June 30, 2010 at 2:40 PM - 53 Comments
Turns out the “weapons” “display” was about as straightforward as the “secret” “new” “law.”
The NDP’s Don Davies has now formally requested a recall of the public safety committee to study the security practices around the G8 and G20 summits.