Posts Tagged ‘ politics ’

“Instead, the official reiterated the government’s position that political parties and candidates, not Elections Canada, would be responsible for increasing voter turnout under Bill C-23.”

“Instead, the official reiterated the government’s position that political parties and candidates, not Elections Canada, would be responsible for increasing voter turnout under Bill C-23.”

That’s the altogether revealing comment that might have slipped past you in a Hill Times article last month which showed that a 2008 Elections Canada ad which was seemingly critical of industry — and which Conservatives had pointed to as evidence that Elections Canada needed to be stripped of the ability to encourage people to vote — never actually aired in the first place.

“The ad—a 25-second video that contrasts urban pollution and emissions to an evergreen forest as it urges youth to “vote, shape your world”—was created for Elections Canada but cancelled in 2007 by the newly installed chief electoral officer that year, Marc Mayrand.”

The obvious irony — that the allegedly partisan commercial was pulled because it was considered not objective enough, and yet is being used to silence impartial voter encouragement — is significant on its own.  But it becomes that much more jaw-dropping in the face of the Harper government’s position: that it was important to end impartial voter drives, in favour of clearly partisan ones.

Stephen Harper has made no secret that his aim is to reshape Canada so that the Conservatives become the nation’s “natural governing party.” He’s been arguably helped by the fact that the anyone-but-conservative vote has been split among three parties, with few other distinctions among them — especially since the NDP dropped socialism from its platform and the Liberals have been adept at obscuring their own neoliberal track record.  The hypocrisies already noted about the Harper government’s “Fair Elections Act” have already revealed that this bill is intended to help achieve this natural governing status, but the comment above reveals that the use of the bill goes much deeper than the mainstream media has already realized. Continue reading

Porn opt-ins, soft censorship and buttbuttinating personal responsibility

On Monday, British Prime Minster David Cameron announced that internet service providers in the U.K. would be required to filter out online porn as part of several new rules to come into effect by the end of the year.  Adults will still have the ability to opt in to view porn, but filtering will be the “unavoidable choice” default that ISPs will need to provide.  The same day, Twitter announced that it would be implementing a tagging system to fight porn, apparently at the British government’s urging.

Meanwhile, the chairman of the Canadian Association of Internet Providers (CAIP), Tom Copeland, revealed that an opt-in idea like Britain’s had been discussed in Canada off and on for several years.  On Tuesday, Conservative MP for Kildonan-St. Paul, Joy Smith, expressed a wish to implement the initiative in Canada, calling it a “common sense approach” to protect kids.  She has promised to flag this for Prime Minister Stephen Harper to address when Parliament resumes.

Soft Censorship

The initial rationalization being given is that as an “opt-in” policy, nothing is actually being “censored.”  It sounds like it’s just as easy as unchecking a box, to opt back in.  Easy, right?

Unfortunately, reality doesn’t work that way, and it would be impossible for an opt-in scheme to become anything other than a softer kind of censorship.

“This Website is Unavailable”

The biggest concern being raised so far is the inaccuracy of filters, and their tendency to affect many things that are not actually porn.  Cameron has already had to concede that the filters required in the U.K. could end up blocking sexual health, sex-ed and clothing and / or novelty stores.  There’s really no guarantee that discussions about womens’ reproductive health, sex workers’ rights, transsexuality and more would escape the filter, and remain available to the general public, rather than just those who opt to view porn.

The implementation would almost certainly target consensual BDSM (an acronym for bondage & discipline / dominance & submission / sadomasochism), given that the filter announcement was accompanied by a declaration that  it would be illegal to produce or possess anything that could be considered “violent” or that simulated rape — something that drew fire from former MP Louise Mensch, who commented on Twitter: “It is not for our government to police consensual simulation, between adults, of one of women’s most common fantasies.”  [The U.K. already has an unusual and related legal precedent in which the House of Lords ruled that a person could not legally consent to violence (aside from things like surgery), although subsequent rulings have left that legal landscape a bit unclear.]

Tumblr illustrated the problem with filters when it drew some complaints over the weekend for flagging and tagging blogs as “NSFW (not safe for work),” or “Adult,” applying filters, and preventing tagged blogs from showing up in searches. Terms like “gay,” “lesbian,” “bisexual,” “transgender” and more were affected — words that could just as easily call up a porn niche as summon a wealth of social discussion.

Autostraddle notes:

“Although Tumblr’s settings page allows users to opt out of hiding NSFW posts in searches, it seems blogs that have been labeled NSFW (with or without their consent) have not been appearing in searches at all, basically blocking them from gaining new followers through anything but reblogs and word-of-mouth. In addition, many noticed that a whole host of vaguely “adult” tags, including those listed above, are now unsearchable on some mobile apps, including Tumblr for iPhone.”

The effect of targeted tags being dropped from search engines and functions cannot be understated — and could easily become a naturally organic consequence, as search engines and algorithms adapt to the “new normal.”  Soft censorship.  Say goodbye to your favourite LGBT blog.

If that last comment sounds melodramatic, then note that Tim Horton’s also had to apologize for blocking the gay and lesbian news website Xtra from WiFi users (also over an apparently busy weekend), after LGBT people and allies began lobbying to boycott the coffee chain.  Once filters are a factor, this is hardly an unusual occurrence.

And as discussions become inadvertently filtered, they become less accessible and less traveled… factors that almost inevitably drive their ranking down on complex search algorithms like those used by Google.

Clbuttic Mistakes

Filters have improved somewhat since the legendary problem reported by Dick Cheney’s staff, when the installation of new filters targeting offensive words (like “dick”) prevented them from accessing the then-Senator’s own website.  Even so, there are endless examples of filters overreaching and doing what they were never intended to do — sometimes with hilarious results.  Even still, one occasionally runs across a phenomenon known as “The Clbuttic Mistake” — a phenomenon of mangled text that results when auto-format filters replace words considered rude or offensive with milder counterparts, without accounting for context.  In these sorts of situations, “classic” becomes “clbuttic” (18,700 instances on Google), “constitution” becomes “consbreastution” (3,240 instances), “assassination” becomes “buttbuttination” (2,040 instances), and more.  While the filters being sought by the British PM perform differently — preventing the display of a page, rather than changing its text — their programming will inevitably be just as arbitrary.

Good luck finding your town’s website if you live in Dildo, NL.

It gets even more difficult when it comes to trying to filter images, which don’t of themselves have keywords other than the descriptions assigned to them.  The broadest filters could make significant swaths of classic art inaccessible, while still letting actual porn through.   As noted at The Cracked Crystal Ball II:

Let us assume that we have a computer system available to us which can identify nudity in images.  How do we differentiate between the nudity of a great piece of classical artwork and a playboy centerfold type of picture?  Is there in fact a difference?  What a commercial sites that sell sex toys?  Are they to be deemed “pornographic”?  

“Or, come to that, how does one differentiate between a novel with a sex scene and a pornographic story?  Where does the line exist between “legitimate” art (as the anti-pornographers see it) and porn lie?  … and is there any meaningful way to differentiate that a blocking system could identify?”

The arbitrariness of keywords is not the only thing likely to make a filter be applied in an overly broad way.  Obscenity is a perpetually subjective concept, always open to interpretation by individuals.  This often results in the “just in case” mentality, where businesses and individuals apply the rule in an overly broad way, to avoid any possible complaints or legal liabilities.

A Homosexual Propaganda Law for the Internets

And indeed, to many social conservatives, LGBT news sites are considered pornography, or at the very least as potential gateways to pornography.  Linda Harvey of Mission America illustrated this vividly last May on her talk show at WRFD radio, in Columbus, Ohio:

“Homosexual-themed pornography is extremely accessible to young people if they ever visit any websites covering the gay agenda as news. For instance, if your child was during a report on same-sex marriage just researching the political issue and visiting sites that are sympathetic to the social and political goals of the homosexual movement may quickly bring them in touch with explicit images because many of the homosexual news blogs have soft-porn gay dating sites or worse as ads. So what is the reaction of your son or daughter to such graphic images?

“If they feel a curiosity it may start a process of wondering if they could be homosexual. This is not true of course but the really tragic thing is they are not likely to share this question with you the parent, it just seems too personal. If they follow up and visit these sites some will experience sexual feelings and mistake these for the pervasive fiction of some inborn gay identity. After all, isn’t this the message that kids get everywhere that ‘some of you are destined for homosexuality and there is nothing you can do about it so just go with it and be proud’?”

Protecting children from witnessing homosexual love and involuntarily becoming gay as a consequence was the public rationale used by Russia when it enacted its law banning “homosexual propaganda.” But the law affects any public statement, action, publication or gesture that can be seen as LGBT-positive, including Pride parades and events, affirming publications and support groups, and far more.  On Monday, four Dutch tourists were the first foreigners arrested under the ban, when they interviewed passers-by about their views on the ban for a documentary on human rights.  Days ago, Russia also went a step further by making it illegal to “offend the feelings of religious believers.”  Self-described “human rights consultant”and American evangelical Scott Lively has on multiple occasions taken credit for the ban in Russia, encouraging Hungarian legislators to:

criminalize the public advocacy of homosexuality. My philosophy is to leave homosexuals alone if they keep their lifestyle private, and not to force them into therapy if they don’t want it. However, homosexuality is destructive to individuals and to society and it should never publicly promoted. The easiest way to discourage “gay pride” parades and other homosexual advocacy is to make such activity illegal in the interest of public health and morality…”

[Lively is one of the evangelists who inspired Uganda's "Anti-Homosexuality Bill."]

Censoring Silence

In the highly polarized and politically charged atmosphere of the past few years, it’s no secret that there are interest groups with a thirst to censor anything favourable to their ideological opponents.  The will certainly exists.

Much of the censorship proposed lately is rationalized in the name of protecting children, but the list of things that people assert that children should be protected from can quickly balloon into a monster.  Last April, I wrote a three-part series (1, 2, 3) on how social conservatives even targeted the Day of Silence (a day in which LGBT students and allies refuse to speak, as a way of protesting the silencing effect of anti-gay and transphobic bullying and harassment) as offensive:

“Acceptance of others has been conflated with “encouraging experimentation,” and lately also equated to corruption of children and “mental molestation.”  To many, it’s all inseparable.  In this mindset (coupled with heads-as-empty-vessels theory), even silent solidarity with LGBT kids corrupts children sexually and indoctrinates them into homosexuality.”

When CAIP’s Tom Copeland spoke to the Canadian Press, he noted:

“The discussion has gone on forever and a day, mostly it starts around child pornography and what can be done to combat it and whether or not Internet service providers can play a role, or should play a role,” Copeland said.

“And then every once in a while somebody decides, ‘Well, we need to take this further, it needs to include general pornography sites’ -which aren’t illegal – ‘it needs to include hate sites.’ It needs to include any number of sites that somebody all of a sudden has a burr in their britches about.

“And generally the industry has said we can’t possibly block all of these sites.”

That last point is important.  Requiring a block on all porn becomes a burden on ISPs, especially as technology and the means to evade it changes at rapid pace.  And in giving ISPs the responsibility of “protecting” people from porn, they may also inherit the legal liabilities.  One man recently filed suit against Apple for allowing porn on iPhones, blaming the company for the failure of his marriage and a porn addiction.  In an opt-in world, what kind of legal liabilities do ISPs face, if some porn does slip through?  And if there is the spectre of legal consequences, doesn’t it incentivize the over-application of filters?

There are, of course, many fears that opt-in policies could lead to censorship of other kinds of content, by being exploited erosively, in the same way that restrictions and regulations have been continually implemented in the U.S. to limit and gradually eliminate womens’ access to abortion, and making moves to do the same with contraception.  It’s not inconceivable that an opt-in policy could be instituted and then gradually widened to things that are “controversial” — like sex ed, abortion, sex workers’ rights, environmentalism, transsexuality, atheism, evolution….

Personal Responsibility

Even if that didn’t happen, it’s still the height of laziness to put the burden of parental and personal responsibility on the state.

But then, society has a serious double-standard on issues of personal responsibility.  We’ve been increasingly seeing messaging blaming women for rape, blaming the poor for their own poverty, and blaming minorities for racial strife, in the dubious name of “personal responsibility.”  And yet when it comes to actual personal responsibility in terms of parenting and individual choice, people cry for the government to establish soft censorship to do the job of instructing kids.

The calls for “parental rights” when it comes to shielding their kids from LGBT-inclusive anti-bullying education prove to be a hypocrisy as well, given that those parental rights are easily punted to the wayside when it comes to subjecting other parents’ kids to squishy fetus dolls in candy bags or grisly aborted fetus posters displayed outside schools or family events, to recruit children in the war on womens’ reproductive rights.  It would seem to be that only one kind of parent is supposed to make decisions for everyone else’s children.  And in calling for a national porn opt-in requirement, it’s almost a weird kind of “we’ll happily abdicate the responsibility to the state, as long as the state is doing what we want” sentiment.

Meanwhile, MP Smith has already indicated that she sees it as irrelevant if things get pushed into the cybercloset as a consequence of the measure:

“What you have to weigh on this is how can we better protect our children. It’s not going to be perfect. Nothing we do is going to be perfect. But it’s one more step to protecting our children. And what I’ve heard is people say, oh, as an adult it’s embarrassing for me to have to do this. And my answer to that is, unchecking a box can’t be too much of a price to pay when it comes to protecting and nurturing our children. So it’s not about censoring anything, it’s about protecting the children. And we know the harmful impact of pornography on children because research is showing that. And so this is something that Prime Minister Cameron has done that has been really bold and it’s been collaborative and I think we need to have this conversation right here in Canada and take some of these steps.”

We wouldn’t want the kids to sear their eye sockets, after all.

Won’t Somebody Please Think of the Children?

And this is where we get to the point of the debate that few want to discuss: the possibility that sexual curiosity may be a natural part of youth, one that in practice will probably not be thwarted by an opt-in law, anyway.

As the Toronto Star pointed out, David Cameron’s plan conflates child pornography with youth porn consumption.  Regardless of what one feels about the latter, it mostly happens when kids wilfully seek to view porn, and they have also often proven to be remarkably able to evade security, anyway.  It’s concerning that people are seriously considering changing the fundamental nature of the Internet and seriously squelching the dialogue of some communities, in favour of something that may not achieve its stated goal in the first place, and would be better accomplished by parents monitoring and better educating their kids.

No one can deny that there are some pretty abysmal and misogynistic forms of porn out there, forms we’d obviously rather not be plastered everywhere that kids travel — and that’s why the Internet has organically evolved to mostly limit that sort of thing to spaces where it is deliberately sought out.  You typically don’t get porn in Teh Google unless your search terms are keyed to find it.  And The Huffington Post isn’t likely to advertise porn, since it’s bad for business and readership retention.

It’s not perfect, certainly, but throwing out very positive resources on sexuality that can be found — like Scarleteen — in the process is an unreasonably nuclear option.  It’s not like there’s a lack of (free!) resources already available for parents who want to eliminate any risk of their children burning their eyes.

But it would seem to me that better parenting would be less focused on protecting kids from knowing anything about sexuality, and focused more on keeping good lines of communication open, so that kids are comfortable asking their parents questions while they’re figuring things out.

Either way, given the way some proponents push the idea of soft censorship, it can’t help appear as though some teens have a better handle on sex and sexuality than many adults.

(Crossposted to rabble.ca)

Using scripture to rationalize slavery by the one percent

morecraftI grew up in a Pentecostal church, so I remember the beginnings of some of the dominionist doctrines that characterize far right faith groups today.  There was never any one principal compendium of theology that every church got behind (just as there’s no single denomination in the dominionist movement, and divisions exist), but rather there were different streams of thought that flowed in and gradually changed the course of the river of belief teachings.  It filtered in through books by C. Peter Wagner, sermons by Oral Roberts, through Maranatha Ministries publications, through Youth For Christ media, and various other influences that made up the charismatic movement.  So I remember when “abundant life” teachings became the new dogma.

Abundant life teachings were a loose offshoot of faith-healing, in which congregations were told to put their finances and trust in God and he would consequently bless them exponentially, in return.  If you had only a dollar to your name, you give that dollar to God and he’ll find a way to give you much more in return — a twisting of the parable of the widow’s mite (Mark 12:41-44), changing the valuing of the poor that Jesus-the-man intended into a give-everything ideal that could be taken advantage of in the name of Jesus-the-legend.  There could be no excuse, then, for holding back the amount one tithed, in order to do things like pay the rent and bills, or to buy groceries.

Heads, we were right; tails, you were wrong.

It became another weapon in the shame machine, too.  Abundant life teachings implied that the poor were poor because they were sinners, were irresponsible, lazy.  And if you as a Christian gave abundantly to the church but saw no reward in return, then you needed to search your heart, because it meant that you were holding something back.  It meant that there was some sin, some doubt, some laziness, some guilty pleasure, some impure thought that held you back, and that God therefore would not reward you until it was flushed out and addressed.  And in this way, you were to give everything, and if you saw no return on it, it was your own fault.  A shyster’s dream.

Abundant life philosophy became a part of charismatic philosophy, one of the foundations for what is called the New Apostolic Reformation, or Seven Mountains Dominionism, a kind of roadmap for the Evangelical extreme, fundamentalist Catholicism and other allies to try to achieve theological-based governance.  And this is where it becomes necessary to parse things once again, because I’m referring to narrow branches of philosophy within a faith, and not the whole faith itself.  This becomes blurred, because many of these leaders pass themselves off as speaking for their faith authoritatively, and few actually challenge them on that.  I say this repeatedly in my blog because I believe it’s important that the specific abusive exploitations of Christianity that I single out not be conflated with Christianity itself, and by extension, with all Christians.

Abundant life teachings became a boon to some in the corporate sector, and had a lot to do with the growing together of dominionist doctrine and the Ayn Rand survival-of-the-fittest beliefs of the corporate class.  Abundant life philosophy taught that the rich were rich because they were worthy in the sight of God, and blessed accordingly… a self-aggrandizing patronization that was easy to believe, reflecting the self-important self-image of many financial elites.  And it absolved those who subscribed to abundant life teachings of feeling any social responsibility toward the poor.  Poverty was for the weak, the unworthy, the lazy, the irresponsible… for those who deserved it.  It fit the belief among the rich that anyone could be rich if they simply worked hard enough at it, or believed in God enough — something that fails to take into account the lack of opportunity and constant obstacles faced by the poor.

In case it’s not clear in my writing, I’m not talking about a conspiracy.  There might be another name for it out there, but I call it “coinciding interest opportunism,” the tendency of self-interested parties to move toward policies, beliefs and tactics that suit those interests, resulting in the merger we’re seeing between the top one percent of wage earners and dominionist religion.  The latter provides not only an affirmation of the growing class divide as though it’s pre-ordained by Christ, it also provides a mechanism to devalue the poor, perpetuate shame and keep adherents submissive and believing in the rightness of that submission.

And using abundant life -style teachings, even something as evil as slavery can be rationalized.

Easier for a rich man to pass through the eye of a needle than for the meek to inherit the earth… or something like that.

Vyckie at RH Reality Check pointed to a video today that vividly illustrates the convergence between far-right religious fundamentalism and the Any Rand -style corporate opportunism of the upper upper upper class.  It’s a sermon posted online, which expounds on Proverbs 11:29, which reads:

He who troubles his own house will inherit the wind,
And the fool will be servant to the wise of heart.

On the basis of this scripture, Joe Morecraft of Chalcedon Presbyterian Church teaches his congregation that in godly cultures, slavery is God’s chosen fate for the morally deficient:

“There IS a place for slavery, then, in godly cultures.  It’s the only place you can keep a fool under wraps.  It’s the only way you can keep a man from ruining other peoples’ families…”

Morecraft’s church is located in Cumming, Georgia, so there’s quite likely an undercurrent of racism throughout the sermon.  But race isn’t addressed directly at all; only through dog whistles and appealing to parishoners’ assumptions about those he defines as fools.  Interestingly, the language he uses is more often the language used to target LGBT people (i.e. about family) than racial groups.

The video clocks in at 5:50 long, and provides a stunning lesson in the way evil can be rationalized through the use of scripture.  It’s worth watching in full:

How prevalent is this kind of belief?  Well, if you look at all of Christianity, then not very.  But if you look within the narrow, vocal stream of North America’s far right Evangelicals in particular, it’s probably a lot more common than most would want to believe.  Morecraft is hardly a major name among theocrats, although his church is apparently the progenitor of an offshoot of Presbyterianism that now encompasses 12 churches.  His sermon is notable, though, as an example of the ideas that pervade pulpits in average neighbourhood churches — at least in southern states.  While theocrats aren’t usually as blunt and bold as, say, Bryan Fischer, the attitude that equates poverty with sinfulness has become pervasive in the increasingly consolidated far right.

And it’s helped to make religion a tool in the arsenal of corporate social engineers.

(Crossposted to The Bilerico Project Dented Blue Mercedes)

Harper’s Theological Crossroads.

Right from when it was first proposed during the May 2011 federal election, the Office of Religious Freedom (ORF?) was met with the accusation that it was an attempt to pander to its base, concerns that it would overstep the boundary of what Canada should be doing in foreign nations, and skepticism that it could be instituted in any kind of way that would be fair and balanced for all religions.  As it turns out, it’s becoming not very popular among Evangelicals, either.

One of the clearest examples of late is RoadKill Radio’s interview with Jim Hnatiuk, who is the leader of the Christian Heritage Party of Canada.  Hnatiuk, of course, has a vested interest in dissuading far-right conservative voters from supporting Stephen Harper and the Conservative Party, but what’s noteworthy is the particular aplomb with which RKR commentators lead the discussion, and continue what appears to be an ongoing conversation among dominionist-leaning (those who seek to legislate their morality) Evangelicals.  (Incidentally, the RKR commentators also indicate their support for Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill in that same webcast)

The growing discontent with the Office of Religious Freedom parallels an increased dissatisfaction with the Harper government on other fronts.  Anti-abortion Members of Parliament have been breaking ranks and speaking in defiance after the Prime Minster’s Office quashed a motion that sought to reopen the abortion debate in the guise of condemning sex-selective abortion.  The Supreme Court’s decision partially upholding hate speech legislation against Bill Whatcott has rankled many and been characterized as curtailing religious freedom, as well.  In the case of the Office of Religious Freedom, RKR’s Ron Gray dismisses it as pandering and “window dressing to attract Canadians, people of faith.”  Hnatiuk seems to object to the image of religious diversity projected during the launch, before characterizing the Office as a deflection from these and similar events (at 8:46 in the video):

When I saw the office being established… and I looked on the website of some of the presentations that were taking place around its establishment with all of these minority faiths standing behind the Prime Minister and I said “Oh my goodness, they’re actually believing that they’re going to benefit from this and that this is all about them and not about more votes and not about the attacks on the Christian freedom that we have in Canada….”

The Harper Conservatives have been coming to an ideological crossroads for some time, now, one that many predicted when the party achieved its majority government, but realized that it could lose power just as quickly if it appeared too radically conservative on social issues.  Theocons became energized at the thought of being now able to legislate according to ideology, only to face the realization that the Conservatives are more concerned with maintaining power.

Only weeks before the ORF, Whatcott and sex-selective motion controversies, the Harper government came under fire for a Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) donation of $560,000 for Crossroads Christian Outreach in Uganda, given that the organization had an anti-gay position statement on its website, and was doing work in a nation where anti-gay positions have fomented a volatile culture of violence and hatred toward lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans (LGBT) people.  In classic Conservative fashion, Julian Fantino ordered a review, and then reported it completed, later that evening:

“… Minister Fantino’s office contacted LifeSiteNews Monday night to say that the review was complete and Crossroads’ funding would remain in place.”

MPs have demanded a full audit of CIDA, but that is unlikely, now that the entity is being folded into the department of Foreign Affairs.  It remains to be seen what will be made of the report coming down shortly which notes how funding to theological groups have risen significantly, while funding to non-theological groups has stagnated:

Some examples: Africa Community Technical Services received $ 655,000 from CIDA in 2010, almost three times more than in 2005. On its website, the NGO says it carries out its duties “under the authority of the scriptures” and “seeks to glorify our Lord Jesus.”

Cause Canada says: “We pray that our identification with Jesus, our concern for justice and our practical demonstration of God’s love [...] attract people to Christ,” on its website. This Alberta NGO received $ 483,000 from CIDA in 2010, an increase of 32% compared to 2005.

This rise in money to religious groups also comes at the expense of womens’ programs, which have been shut out in many cases:

Then there’s the $495,600 CIDA grant to Wycliffe Bible Translators of Calgary, which works so that aboriginal people in far-flung corners of the world can read the scriptures in their native languages.“It’s okay to translate the Bible,” says Nicole Demers “But there are aboriginal women here who are dying.”

In fact, adds Demers, groups seeking CIDA funding are being told to leave the phrase “gender equity” out of their grant applications.

And it’s becoming clear that the controversies are only going to get rockier for the Conservatives as people become more aware of them and as the Canadian social landscape becomes even more polarized.

So it’s significant that Harper’s flagship promise to theological conservatives is floundering.  Because as Jim Hnatiuk points out, these were the expectations of something like an Office of Religious Freedom (at 6:14 in the video):

Predominantly, worldwide, we see the whole issue of the Islamic worldview being predominantly the ones that are persecuting Christians — and others, and other faiths as well, but you know, by and large, it’s Christians out there.  So if that is, if they’re going to be setting up an Office of Religious Freedom that can, they have to be saying, you know, in one sense, we’re going to really speak out against these… this, uh Islamic uh what do they call it a [could not make this word out]…  

So if our government is saying that they’re going to be, I guess my point is, fight against, fight for religious freedom, they’re gonna be, they’re saying we’re going to start fighting against these Islamic regimes…

Best laid plans, and all…

(Crossposted to Rabble.ca)

C-279 Passes Third Reading (Hansard)

C-279 passed Third Reading, on a vote of 149 – 137.  Aaron Wherry gives the early breakdown:

“Randall Garrison’s bill was supported by the New Democrats, the majority of Liberals (Judy Sgro and John McKay abstained), the Bloc Quebecois, Bruce Hyer, Elizabeth May and, by my unofficial count, 17 Conservative MPs: Erin O’Toole, Bernard Trottier, Terrence Young, David Wilks, Laurie Hawn, Michael Chong, Chris Alexander, Shelly Glover, Kellie Leitch, Cathy McLeod, Deepak Obhrai, Gerald Keddy, Jim Flaherty, John Baird, James Moore, Lisa Raitt and John Duncan.”

Before the Third Reading vote, there were three votes on clusters of amendments:

  • Amendment cluster one, Division no. 642 (defining Gender Identity as per the first half of the Yogyakarta definition): 152 to 134.
  • Amendment cluster two, Division no. 643 (dropping gender expression, and adding classes that have already been added to human rights legislation since the bill was originally drafted): 148 to 140.
  • Report Stage, Division no. 644 (concur the bill in with the amendments): 150 to 137

If you’re wondering how your MP voted on the amendments, today’s Hansard is up.  No one paired in any of the votes (so in answer to one query, no, Justin Trudeau didn’t pair to make up for not being present), although there were some abstentions from the votes on amendments. Earlier in the day, Rob Anders tabled the notorious poll / petition which he actively solicited responses for through his website:

“Mr. Speaker, I stand today to present, on behalf of thousands of people who sent these to my office, petitions in opposition to Bill C-279, otherwise known as “the bathroom bill”, that would give transgendered men access to women’s public washroom facilities. These constituents feel that it is the duty of the House of Commons to protect and safeguard our children from any exposure and harm that would come from giving a man access to women’s public washroom facilities. I present thousands of signatures on behalf of the riding in Calgary West, and I know that there are many others that have gone to other members in this place.”

The votes at Third Reading are as follows: Continue reading

C-279 amendments made, in afternoon of impassioned speeches.

Update / Correction: The amendments were given a voice vote, but not actually passed.  Because there was visible opposition, it’s subject to recorded division, and the amendments will be voted on, on March 20th.

More twists and turns than a mangled slinky.

It’s official, the amendments to drop gender expression and define gender identity have been made.  To me, whatever happens, it will all be bittersweet.

The debate, however, was very good.  Keep the kleenex close by.  From Hansard, here are the highlights:

David Anderson brings up the obligatory “bathroom bill” panic:

One concern is that the bill is unsettling to people. The author has really refused to talk about or deal with the potential implications and consequences of such wide-ranging and undefined legislation. My constituents, I have to say, do not see this as benign legislation because of the things we just talked about, in particular the fact that there is such a lack of definitional framework to the bill. What I am getting from my riding is that the constituents oppose it, but they do have some questions that I will pose on their behalf.

The first question to the member opposite is this: does he actually believe that there is no one who will try to abuse the situation that would be created by his deliberately vague legislative agenda?

That is what the member seemed to be saying when he spoke, but he has refused to address this criticism in his speech. It remains out there in the public’s mind, and I have heard that from my constituents.

Second, especially with regard to minors and adults, my constituents have questions about the power relationship that would exist in what in the past were basically private facilities that would now become very public facilities. They are asking what their obligations and rights would be. The failure to address these issues is really why the bill has become known as the “bathroom bill”. I do not think we can just brush off people’s concerns.

Sean Casey chided him for it while touching on the key points:

So in the context of this debate, which has at times been a vigorous debate and at times a debate with moments unworthy of this House, there are some who, contrary to evidence and facts, choose another path to make their case. They choose fear and innuendo, all the while claiming a moral high ground. They claim for themselves exclusivity to that which is right and decent, using language that is hurtful and demeaning. How can anyone claim to be of good heart or claim the virtue of “love thy neighbour” yet reduce this bill to gutter language when they call it “the bathroom bill”? It is an entirely offensive and erroneous implication to suggest that transgendered people would be lurking late at night in bathrooms should this bill pass.

Megan Leslie gave an emotionally charged speech, and since I don’t see a video to post yet, I’ll include it all right here:

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for Charlottetown for his speech. That was really incredible.

I am a trans rights activist. I have been working on the issue of transgender rights for many years in my community of Halifax, and I am an ally to the trans community. Years ago, when I was a law student, and then later when I was working at Dalhousie Legal Aid, I worked with NSRAP, the Nova Scotia Rainbow Action Project, and we developed a trans rights awareness program.

I had the opportunity to work with transgendered Nova Scotians to develop a presentation on trans rights. We actually presented to the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission on the realities of being trans people, their experiences, day after day, within their communities, our communities, within their/our legal institutions and within their/our government institutions, because we do not realize, when we are cisgender, which is when our gender identity matches our biological sex, how often we get to take for granted our gender rights.

I had a transgender client who once asked me to write a letter on official legal aid letterhead that gave a legal opinion about her right to use the bathroom, based on case law. She would keep it in her purse and use it if she ran into problems. Imagine walking around with a legal document, a legal opinion, in one’s purse or wallet to settle disputes about the right to use a bathroom. Imagine the indignity of arguing this with mall security, with a bouncer, with classmates or co-workers, just to heed the call of nature. It could be at any time. It could be this afternoon. It could be tomorrow. It could be every day. It could be never. One just does not know when it is going to happen.

Imagine being pulled over by the police for speeding and answering questions about why the sex listed on one’s identification does not match one’s gender identity. Perhaps one’s birth name is called out at the doctor’s office, because one has to have sex reassignment surgery to change identification. Imagine what that would feel like. These small indignities happen every day to members of our community.

The bill does a small thing by adding trans rights to the Canadian Human Rights Act and by adding trans motivated hate to the hate crimes list. It is a small thing, but it is a magnificent thing.

I am pretty close to the trans advocate community at home, and we have had long discussions about the idea that adding trans rights to human rights legislation may not actually grant protections that members of the trans community do not already have. As we heard, there is ample case law to show that human rights commissions will fit trans rights into different categories that already exist. For example, when Nova Scotia Rainbow Action Project made our presentation to the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission, it was strong and steadfast in its commitment to protecting trans rights and said that it would find a way to make it fit under another ground, but what ground? How do we protect the dignity of trans Canadians when we are asking them to fit their problem into the margins? How do we protect the dignity of trans people by making them look for their rights under another category, such as sex, when it is not about sex, or gender, when it is not about gender, or disability, when it is absolutely not a disability?

It is meaningful to look at rights and see ourselves there. It is important to know that we are protected, that we can hold up a human rights act and say, “I am protected. I am here in this document”.

Further to this argument, we heard evidence from the Canadian Human Rights Commission that fitting trans people into the margins now is not a guarantee that they will be fit into the margins in the future. Enshrining rights in legislation protects those rights, and trans Canadians need this protection.

The Canadian Police Association agrees. Today, president Tom Stamatakis spoke out in favour of this bill with a simple and beautiful statement that equality under the law is an important principle for Canada’s front-line police personnel to uphold. It is that simple.

My home province of Nova Scotia has had this debate in our legislature. I want to share a letter from Kate Shewan about how things have changed since this legislation was passed in our province.

I think we can learn from the Nova Scotia example, and I think we can learn from the members of our trans community who have had this experience.

She writes:

      I’m a board member of Nova Scotia Rainbow Action Project, an organization that advocates for the rights of the LGBT community. I’m also a trans-identified person. I’m writing to you in support of Bill C-279.
      As a member of the trans community in Nova Scotia, where provincially we’ve benefited from the changes to the human rights act, I’ve seen first hand how this change can benefit individuals within the trans community, a community which has suffered significant discrimination.
       The immediate change that I saw following the Nova Scotia legislation was a change in attitudes and a new confidence. Members of the trans community who had almost taken it for granted that they would be discriminated against in the employment market and other areas of society felt empowered and more confident, knowing with certainty that their rights were protected, and seeing that the challenges our community faces had been formally acknowledged. In a group that suffers significant unemployment, underemployment and disengagement from society in general, I believe this empowerment and confidence will help to give trans Canadians a better opportunity to reach their full potential, improve their employment and economic situations and become more engaged in the community.
      It is important that these protections are also in place at the federal level, so that all trans Canadians can benefit from these changes….
Today is International Women’s Day, and I heard a lot of statements in the House about how far women have come in our fight for equality. I heard a number of references today to the Persons Case, a court case that ruled that we, women, were persons under the law.
The result of that case probably did not do much for women that week. It probably did not change their day-to-day experience. It did not mean that the next day all of a sudden women got to sit at the tables of decision making. It did not mean that the next day they started working outside the home and were paid wages equal to men’s, and it did not mean that domestic violence ended.
However, not long after that, some women got the right to vote. A woman could look at that document and know that in the eyes of the law, she counted.
In the lead-up to today, I got a lot of calls and emails from my community telling me why they thought I should support this bill. Of course everybody knew that I would, but they sent me such interesting things that I wanted to share a couple of them.
I had one community member who contacted me to say:
      I’m trans, but have a good job, house, car, money in the bank…by all measure successful in most people’s eyes. (Not to boast) just trying to show that we are like most other people, just are part of a gender spectrum that is finally being recognized.

I also want to share a letter I received from the sexual orientation and gender identity division of the Canadian Bar Association. I was a member of that group when I was a law student. This is from the chair of the equality committee and the co-chairs of the sexual orientation and gender identity community. Here is just a shout-out to Amy Sakalauskas and Level Chan who are actually from Nova Scotia. I was happy that they have taken up this issue. They wrote:

      Transgender Canadians are a minority who suffer profound discrimination, such as job losses, alienation from their communities, ridicule, harassment and inadequate health care services. They also disproportionately fall victim to hate crimes, including homicide.

They go on. It is these kinds of examples that make us realize we have to do something about this.The bathroom panic argument just does not wash. We have laws against peeping Toms. It is an illegal act. That argument does not wash here.An argument that does wash here is that recently I was at a community event and a young person came up to me. I do not really remember it. I do not remember if this person was a young man or a young woman, blond or brunette, but this person came up to me, took my hand and opened it, put something in my hand and closed it up. Then they left.I opened my hand and there was a tiny little note. It said:

      Thanks for giving…[an eff] about trans people.

I think that is why we are here.

Michelle Rempel also gave an emotionally-charged speech.  As things were proceeding, folks on Twitter and news feeds were arguing over whether her words meant that she is or isn’t going to support the bill.  But in fact, it’s still not entirely clear.  Again, her comments are included here in full:

Mr. Speaker, I speak today to Bill C-279. I would like to thank the member for Halifax for some of her comments here today.

I have had the privilege of representing constituents in Calgary Centre North for nearly two years now. In this time, I have had the opportunity to review many pieces of legislation and debate both their merits and their flaws. As I have done so, I have been struck that oftentimes, we have to evaluate two components of legislation: the why of the bill and the how of the issue. Many times we disagree, sometimes vociferously, about the why. We have differing political ideology, thoughts on how public policy should be best utilized and thoughts on how this country should be governed. It is in this context that I first speak to the why of this bill.

After reading testimony from witnesses during this iteration of the bill and in the last Parliament, and after consulting with those who work with members of the trans community and members of the community itself, I am frankly shocked by the discrimination this group of people faces.

The member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca and witnesses to this bill at committee, and indeed members here today, have given this House so many examples that I cannot reiterate them. Suffice it to say that I would offer that the summary of evidence could read as follows: the trans community in Canada has, on frequent occasions, experienced elevated levels of sexual violence committed against members; frequent workplace discrimination and job loss based on gender; lack of clarity on health care provisions and sometimes access to health care; lack of clarity on processes related to obtaining identification documents; bullying in places of employment and educational institutions; discrimination in accessing housing accommodation; and numerous other incidents of discrimination.

Most importantly, they live with the consequences of these acts of non-compassion, of false assumptions that, simply by virtue of their state, they are sexually promiscuous, or more ludicrously, that they are criminal. In this, the trans community experiences very high levels of both depression and suicide. This is not acceptable to me, and this is the why of this bill. It is my hope that no one in the House, either on this side or the other side, could read the testimony, could talk to people in the community, and argue that this is acceptable or tolerable in our country.

The question set upon us as legislators is the how. How do we prevent these situations from occurring?

I have spent a lot of time on the how. I found that this bill seeks to address the how by addressing the following assumption, using the language of the member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca during the bill review at the Standing Committee on Justice, that “transgendered Canadians do not enjoy the same protection of their rights as other Canadians”.

This is a very serious charge that is worthy of study, as the ideas and values that are the heart of how our country operates, the freedoms it affords to all groups to worship without persecution, to seek prosperity in one’s field of work, to choose whom we love, and to speak with conviction on issues that impact our communities, are all based on the assumption that Canadians have equality of rights in freedom of expression and can do so without the threat of discrimination or violence to their person. However, to assess whether this bill provides an adequate how, I first evaluated the validity of this assumption.

The member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca had an exchange with the member for Edmonton—St. Albert at justice committee about this assumption. The member for Edmonton—St. Albert said:

      Except now that the Canada tribunal has emphatically stated that there is no longer any doubt, I would suggest to you that your first hurdle has been cleared by precedent… There is now case law that supports the proposition that individuals who have a genuine gender identity disorder are entitled to human rights protection.

There have been numerous examples given in the House and at committee of case law that shows that this provision exists. I understand the member for Halifax when she says that she wants to see herself in that human rights bill. The case law does exist to show that it is there.

Mr. Ian Fine, the acting secretary of the human rights commission, stated the following, “the commission, the tribunal, and the courts view gender identity and gender expression as protected by the Canadian Human Rights Act”. Having said that, he also stated that “adding the grounds of gender identity and gender expression to the [Canadian Human Rights Act] would make the protection” of the transgender community explicit. The rationale that he stated for this necessity was as follows: “This would promote acceptance and send a message that everyone in Canada has the right to be treated with equality, dignity, and respect”. I do not disagree with the latter part of that statement. It gave me quite a bit of pause for thought, and that has been at the heart of my deliberations on the bill.

It could be argued that this is contradictory in some regard. Mr. Fine previously made a statement that the tribunal, the commission and the courts do view gender identity and expression as protected by the Canadian Human Rights Act, and that somehow even though this protection exists, it does not send enough of a message to Canadians on this issue. While this contradiction may be well intentioned, I feel there are many examples where serious issues arise when legislators equate symbolism with social action or when we inadvertently dilute the role of social activists by being reactive to an issue with legislative symbolism.

The member for Halifax has my playbook because she stole my speech on International Women’s Rights Day. I would like to speak on the social action process for the struggle for female gender equality.

Even after laws were passed to enshrine women’s gender equality within our laws, the member is right; we did not see those changes happen overnight. In fact, lawsuits still had to be fought and won, offenders had to be charged, battles had to be waged to change workplace codes of conduct, and awareness training programs had to be crafted. I would like to highlight that in the British parliament, even after women had been elected, as little time ago as 1993, a woman in this place did not make it to a vote because she could not find a bathroom.

I have also stood in the House to highlight that sexism does happen with frequency in this country in spite of these laws. I am not trying to imply that the struggle for trans rights is directly concurrent with the struggle for women’s rights, but in my deliberations on the bill, I found there is a burden of evidence which suggests that case law does exist to provide the trans community with protection under the law against discrimination and violence. Here is my concern. In this fact, the how of this legislation may not achieve the ultimate solution to the why, in that it may place too much of an emphasis on symbolism over direct social action.

As always, the member for Halifax makes a very compelling argument.

A question that I have struggled with in evaluating the validity of the bill is what guidance we, as legislators, are truly giving judicial organizations in how to carry out the intentions of Parliament in this regard. The way the term “gender identity” is defined in the preamble of the bill, even with the amendments, played a large part in my decision to vote to study the bill further. I am still not entirely clear on how parliamentarians, the human rights tribunal, criminal courts, sentencing judges and the broader community at large will be required to interpret this term.

I am also not clear on the following key issues. What constitutes the scope of discrimination against someone based on his or her gender identity in the eyes of my colleagues, as legislators, of members of the trans community and the courts? What kind of speech based on someone’s gender identity could be considered hate propaganda? What does it mean in defined terms to have a bias based on a person’s deeply held internal and individual experience of gender?

Admittedly, the evaluation of this legislation has been very difficult for me because I believe that the why it presents is concerning. Any time we as parliamentarians are faced with clear situations where fear of differences or lack of awareness allow hatred to mushroom, we have to take note and ask ourselves what role we play in breaking down these barriers. This legislation has opened my eyes to the plight of a group of people in this country who experience extreme discrimination. Both sides of this debate should agree that equality and protection against harm are two fundamental values that all Canadians of any gender, any age, any background are entitled to.

However, as legislators we are also tasked with deciding if the proposed legislation is sound. Given the lack of clarity that I found in the bill, I do have concern about its viability and if the how will achieve what the community and Canadians hope for in addressing the why.

Raymond Côté (after relating some personal experiences) presented the theological case for — yes, for — the bill:

All of my colleagues in the House will agree that human dignity is non-negotiable. It is very simple. I would even add that the sanctity of human life is something we value so highly—at least we should—that we cannot put a price on defending it. We must never tolerate pettiness or compromise.

I have spoken about my faith before, and I want to share some of the Catholic Church’s social doctrine. It very clearly states that every human being has the unalienable right to exist and to have dignity within society. That represents a tremendous challenge, because it means that we must allow the right to be different, the right to a certain degree of dissidence, the right to go against the established norm and the right to go against the stream.

This also means that people like me, who have the privilege to have a favourable—even comfortable—place in society, must make concessions. I am very pleased to be able to reach out to a group in our society whose rights are too easily violated and to offer them some progress. It may not be perfect, but it is still progress.

Jinny Jogindera Sims concluded the debate by again evoking the struggle for women to be recognized as persons under law:

My colleague articulated beautifully the struggle that women have had. When we look at history, it was not that long ago that women were not recognized as persons. I challenge anyone in the room to think that we could be sitting in the House as women representing our ridings if that legislation had not been enacted and we had not been recognized as persons. That did not automatically get rid of all the discrimination and all the barriers and glass ceilings that exist. However, what it did do was to open up a pathway, and it took away the greatest barrier, which was to not be recognized at all.

This bill, in turn, would do exactly that. It says to the members of our transgendered community that they are part of this society and they are explicit in our human rights code. They do not have to hide, nor do they have to go looking to see which corner of the human rights code they fit in, nor do they have to see if there is a judge who is going to be favouring looking for a spot or fear a day when the judiciary could turn around and say it is not explicit and cannot be found in here, so they are not covered. It is to avoid that very situation that we have to have legislation like this.

… I do not know if members are aware, but I was a classroom teacher for a very long time. In that role, one of the things I discovered very early on in my teaching is that for children to be successful in life, they have to see themselves reflected, but they also have to feel themselves protected. When we have transgender young people in our community who do not feel protected explicitly in our law, we leave them vulnerable.

… It would be fitting if we could all vote for this measure unanimously, especially when we are on the eve of International Women’s Day. We would celebrate the fact that we have enshrined those rights into our legislation and into human rights.

Following this, the amendments were given a voice vote and accepted into the bill, and the Speaker announced that proceedings will resume on March 20th:

Normally, at this time the House would proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded divisions at the report stage of the bill. However, pursuant to standing Order 98, the divisions stand deferred until Wednesday, March 20, immediately before the time provided for private member’s business.

Previous records or notes:

Amendments Submitted to Canadian Trans Human Rights Bill C-279

iPolitics is reporting that sponsor Randall Garrison has submitted a package of amendments to the trans human rights bill C-279 (h/t Jill Page):

“Garrison’s amendments target some of the more contentious elements of the bill by removing the term “gender expression” and giving a definition of “gender identity,” which forms the basis of the bill. The legislation seeks to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and Criminal Code to protect and prevent discrimination of transgender people.”

There’s no word on whether Speaker Andrew Scheer will accept the amendments, and in fact, we may not know until the bill is reintroduced at report stage, which is tentatively scheduled to happen on February 27th.  If passed at that time, the bill would then move on to Third Reading, two more hours of debate and a final vote.

During the committee process, a number of Conservatives successfully filibustered the proceedings, to ensure that the bill would proceed without amendments.  Bill sponsor Randall Garrison (NDP, Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca) believes that two amendments are necessary in order to get the Conservative votes needed to pass the bill.  Those amendments (as mentioned above) are to remove the term “gender expression” and to add a definition of the term “gender identity,” based on the one found in the Yogyakarta Principles.  There’s no indication whether the package being reported by iPolitics contains anything different, but it’s considered likely that it’s limited to these two.  It’s expected that with those amendments, the bill may have a narrow chance at passage.

If these two changes are accepted, then the resulting bill would merely clarify inclusion for the people who are already most certain to be read into the legislation currently, and leave the situation vague for those who are most uncertain about inclusion:

… transitioning people are mostly considered read into existing legislation already, although there is some feeling of precariousness to that, and it takes some effort to demonstrate inclusion in each case (which was one of the reasons the acting CHRC secretary general, Ian Fine, agreed that explicit inclusion would be helpful).  Because of this… Canadian trans people have the luxury of taking the time to pass a comprehensive trans human rights bill, without anyone falling through the cracks in the meantime — and I believe that this is far preferable to trying to fix a flawed or abbreviated bill later.  For that matter, the more discussion that happens about trans people, the more that hearts and minds can be (and are) changed… so taking longer to pass a bill is not all bad.

It’s also worth pointing out that Bill C-279 applies to federal contractors and federal institutions.  It would provide an important signal to provinces, employers and Canadians in general as well, but it doesn’t of itself provide total protection to everyone across Canada.  There are a lot of emotions wrapped up in this bill, as though all our lives depend on it, and maybe we need a reality check on that.  It’s important, but not to the level of the emotional involvement people currently have with it.  This is another reason why… we can afford to be pragmatic and seek something comprehensive.

I’ve written previously about why I oppose these amendments, but at the same time would not actively oppose an amended bill:

In theory, if gender expression is dropped, it could in fact still work the way that Randall Garrison and many others believe — that gender expression would be read into the legislation, anyway.  It’s not an ideal situation, and I could not in good conscience actively support that bill.

But I don’t think I’d stand in its way, either.

I don’t like incrementalist approaches, given that we’ve been on the short end of that stick enough times to recognize the harm of them.  I will not participate in an incrementalist effort that could potentially exclude some trans people.

… But I’ve also watched the divisions and rifts that have happened in other places where trans-inclusive initiatives fall apart.  It can get very bitter very quickly, and in a way that will never help us develop the infrastructure that trans people (as a movement) need.  I don’t want to be responsible for something similar, especially if I can’t be certain any actual harm would happen.

Others have suggested that they would actively oppose the bill if gender expression is dropped:

Newfoundland trans activist Jennifer McCreath has created a website to voice her opposition to federal trans rights Bill C-279, saying that if “gender expression” is not included, the bill should be thrown out completely.

… “If you’re going to do it, do it right. If you’re going to offer human rights and protection, make sure it’s absolute,” she says. “I don’t see any value in building a weak foundation.”

So now, it’s a waiting game to see whether the amendments will be made.  Which is unfortunate, as this time would be better spent actively lobbying for an inclusive bill.

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