Pam Palmater on Privatising on Reserve Property

Thursday, August 30, 2012

See Pam Palmater's blog post: "Flanagan National Petroleum Ownership Act: Stop Big Oil Land Grab"on her blog Indigenous Nationhood. 

The Québec student strike and social crisis – a view from a Québec law professor

Friday, August 24, 2012

Professor Annie Rochette
The Québec student strike and social crisis –
a view from a Québec law Professor

Two days ago, I marched along thousands of students, professors, teachers, and fed-up citizens in the 6th national demonstration against the tuition fee hike. Every 22nd of the month, since March 22nd, there have been official national marches, but every night since the beginning of this social crisis, people, students and ordinary citizens have taken the streets to protest against the neoliberal agenda of this government. The student strike and nightly demonstrations have lasted over 6 months because the government of Québec, headed by the Liberal party of Québec, has refused to back down on a drastic tuition fee increase for higher education or even to negotiate (and not just pretend to do so) with the three principal federations of student associations. Instead, the liberal government passed an unprecedented law denying the fundamental freedoms of association, expression and political thought to force students AND teachers back to class. All this, Charest argued, in the name of the right to education. Of course, he is referring to the rights of individual students who voted against striking but constituted a minority within their associations to sit in a classroom and “receive” their education.

As if education is something that is simply transferred from a teacher to a student.

In order to understand the student strike, it is important to put it in a historical context. In the 1960s, under the leadership of a newly elected government of Jean Lesage, Québec was coming out of a long dictatorship-type government under Maurice Duplessis, where, with the help of the Catholic church, francophone québécois were kept undereducated and underpaid, and working for industries and companies owned mostly by wealthy anglophones. This is the story of the Quiet Revolution of Québec, where it was decided that accessible education was the key to the empowerment of the francophone and undereducated majority. The CEGEP system was created and a freeze on university tuition fees was adopted, to enable the poor francophones to attend university. Historically, therefore, accessibility to higher education has been a pillar of Québec society. There have been periodic increases to tuition fees under different governments (for example, when I was a law student in the early 1990s), but nothing as drastic as this liberal government hike.

It’s also important to note that in Québec, salaries are in general lower than in other Canadian provinces (except maybe in the maritimes) and that we have higher income tax rates than in most other provinces, because historically, Québec has always adhered to socialist values of having universally accessible social services such as health and education. With the neoliberal agenda, these values have been in danger. In the university setting, this has meant the application of managerialism to higher education, where students are considered consumers (“clientele”) paying for the product that is education, knowledge and research as commodified goods, professors as entrepreneurs. This is a trend that most of us in higher education are trying to resist. And this is exactly what the students are protesting against, as is eloquently demonstrated in their manifesto.

At my university, next week we start the catch up semester for the winter 2012 semester. I won’t even go into the absurd nature of the catch-up schedule, which expects teachers and students to cram into 5 weeks an almost-entire semester, but let me instead give a portrait of what this will look like because of Bill 78 (Law 12) for numerous teachers and students. In those faculties where student associations have voted to continue the strike (the student association in my faculty have voted to go back to class for now), professors are required under the law to teach no matter what. If you have one student present in a class of 80, you are required by the law to teach to that one student. If there is an illegal picket line, you are still required to teach your class. If students are arguing or even physically assaulting each other in your classroom (this actually happened in law classes in the spring), you are still required to teach your class after you have called security. The only exception is if your physical integrity is threatened, in which case you are covered by another law for health and safety and you can refuse to teach. If you refuse to teach your class in these less than ideal conditions, you can pay fines from $1000 to $5000 per class, and these can double for every class you refuse to teach. Oh, and the administration of the university is required under the law to report this to the Ministry or the university is subject to heavy fines. Thankfully, my union recognized that teaching under these circumstances is not teaching and that our academic and political freedoms are sacred. Yesterday, we adopted a proposition that basically says we will defy the law if normal conditions do not exist. By adopting this proposition, we are taking a collective stand against the special law and our sister union (CSN) will cover the expenses of the fines, civil suits, etc… that we are subject to by not teaching under these circumstances. The “Profs contre la hausse” movement of university and CEGEP teachers in support of the student strike has powerfully denounced the effects of the special law in a manifesto signed by professors and teachers all over the world.

The student strike and its portrayal in the mainstream media and by the liberal government have profoundly shaken my beliefs about higher education. I chose to be a law professor so that I could do my part in changing this world, in making it a more ecological and just one. In the last ten years, the face of higher education has changed and words like “clientele”, and “efficiency” are now commonly used by university administrations and colleagues. I am expected to apply for research grants from agencies that are regarding fundamental research as less and less important and applied research as the only knowledge production that matters. I am expected to keep students happy even though I find that a good number of them hold instrumental views of their education because that is what society has been telling them since they were in first grade. The student strike and the impetus behind it, the creativity and intelligence of the student movement, the eloquence of its leaders, the resilience and determination of students in the face of police brutality and violence and government repression, have renewed my hope for the future of higher education and Québec society.

Jean Charest even used the student strike as an excuse to launch us into provincial elections (when we all know the real reason is to avoid the Charbonneau Commission on corruption and collusion). Yet, during this campaign, all parties except for Françoise David’s Québec Solidaire party have avoided talking about issues concerning higher education.

Annie Rochette is a Professor at the Département des sciences juridiques, Université du Québec à Montréal.

Professors at UQAM contemplate a work stoppage as term time looms

Le Devoir today is reporting that professors at the Universite de Quebec a Montreal have voted in favour of an 'arret de prestation' if the university forces them to teach during student strikes and protests.

A previously unheard interview with Martin Luther King Jr.

Today The Guardian has posted a previously unheard interview with Martin Luther King Jr. on the importance of non-violent protest.

Meanwhile in Quebec student protesters ponder a strike to protest legislation by the Charest government to quell non-violent protest.....

Professor Rakhi Ruparelia on the 100$ bill

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Feminist Law Professor Rakhi Ruparelia weighed in today on the 100$ bill controversy. See her commentary in today's Toronto Star here.

Rakhi Ruparelia
When does a $100 bill resemble a burger? When the Bank of Canada decides to “neutralize” the image of a woman that seemed to focus group participants to be Asian. Apparently, the new bill, like a Canadian burger, has no recognizable ties to ethnicity. They’re just “regular,” neutral, ethnicity-free entities — in essence, the default category for everything not found in the lone “ethnic food” aisle in my grocery store.
The original image on the bill, an “Asian-looking” woman peering through a microscope, was unsettling to many in the focus groups. One participant from Fredericton suggested: “The person on it appears to be of Asian descent which doesn’t rep(resent) Canada. It is fairly ugly.” Others took issue with the depiction of only one ethnicity. A few suggested that the yellow-brown colouring of the banknote “racialized” the bill and enhanced the perception that the woman was Asian.

Rather than viewing these comments for what they are — racist and illegitimate — the Bank of Canada gave them credence by stripping the contentious image of its “Asian” features. Not surprisingly, the new “neutral” woman appears to be white. In an earlier statement about the issue, a bank spokesperson indicated that in accordance with its policy, “The original image was not designed or intended to be a person of a particular ethnic origin,” which is why it was modified.

There’s no question that the bank messed up. But to his credit, Mark Carney issued an official apology on Monday, noting that the new image “appears to represent only one ethnic group.” While I have trouble envisioning a potentially “all-inclusive” image, I applaud the bank governor’s recognition that white people have ethnicities, too. Just like my burger.

This acknowledgement is critical given the belief by some white Canadians that ethnicity is something “other” people have, a belief reinforced by the bank’s attempt to make the image neutral. The power to deem something “neutral,” “regular” or “other” is the power to set the dominant standard against which we are all compared.

Disturbing remarks about the bill weren’t limited to focus group participants; online news stories generated thousands of comments and many anonymous posters seized on the opportunity to launch into lengthy racist (and sexist) rants about everything from the way Asian women drive and how white men are responsible for every major historical achievement, to how “our” country is being taken over by immigrants. Some contributors sexualized Asian women, commenting on their physical attractiveness or making snide remarks about their involvement with prostitution. Some posts were so foul that moderators removed them.
Even more common were the endless tirades about “political correctness” as a toxin that is polluting the country. People were angry that the bank had even considered using an Asian-looking woman, that others criticized the reversal, and that the news media had bothered to report the story. Now, Carney’s apology has incited a new storm of attacks. It’s disheartening that efforts to be inclusive or anti-racist so often become pejoratively labelled as “politically correct,” as if such initiatives were bad things.

This controversy has brought to the surface some very unattractive truths. It has confirmed the experiences of many racialized people born and raised here and elsewhere: Canada is a society of “regular,” ethnicity-free, white Canadians, and the rest of us — the ethnic “Canadians” — are guests in our own home, tolerated (sort of), but at perpetual risk of overstaying our welcome.
The Bank of Canada’s decision was offensive, but Carney did the right thing by taking responsibility. Now it’s our turn.

As a country, we’re at an important political and social crossroads. The choices that we make moving forward — during the upcoming Quebec election, in response to anti-Muslim racism in reasonable accommodation debates, or in defining the “us” and “them” in Canadian narratives — will reflect our aspirations and commitment as a nation. Such issues demand a cogent, unwavering, unapologetic, anti-racist response.

Are we up for the challenge?

Rakhi Ruparelia is a law professor at the University of Ottawa specializing in issues of racism.

Pithy feminist commentary on 'legitimate rape'

Joseph Harker in the Guardian on racism and violence against women

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Read this excellent commentary in today's Guardian on how racism pervades media coverage on violence against women and girls.

Update on Legal Challenge to Save the Gun Registry

From the Coalition for Gun Control:

In spite of the federal government's best efforts, the fight to preserve the registry continues. On Monday, Toronto's Schlifer Clinic went to court to fight to stop the government's efforts to have their Charter challenge to maintain the registry thrown out of court.

In May, the Schlifer Clinic, a Toronto clinic serving abused women, filed a Charter challenge against Bill C-19 and the elimination of the long-gun registry, based on the violation of the life, liberty and security of women  under section 7 and on the violation of women's equality rights under section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom.

While it is widely known that women are at disproportionate risk of gun violence, women's safety experts and front-line women's organizations were given only limited opportunities to give input into Bill C-19 and even then, their recommendations were completely ignored. Now, the government is trying to have the Charter case dismissed before arguments are heard.

The Schlifer challenge is in addition to Quebec's ongoing case against the federal government demanding access to the province's data. The court is currently considering the case, with a ruling expected in the fall, until which time the registry continues in the province and the federal government is forbidden from affecting the integrity of the registry data. We are disappointed that no other provinces have joined Quebec, particularly in light of efforts by the Conservative government to further weaken our gun control laws.

At the end of June, the federal government quietly passed regulations forbidding provinces from requiring gun dealers to maintain records of their sales of rifles and shotguns, undoing a measure in place since 1977 under the false pretense they were "back-door registries." This dangerous change will make these guns completely untraceable, meaning it will be next to impossible for police to trace guns used in crime or to hold dealers who sell to unlicensed and dangerous individuals to account. In light of global efforts to improve the regulation and tracing of firearms, this change is shocking.    

But all is not lost. Quebec, the Schlifer Clinic and others are championing efforts to prevent the destruction of our gun laws. The Schlifer challenge includes a request for an injunction to prevent any data from being deleted. Originally scheduled to be heard in August, arguments for the injunction will be heard in court on September 13th, while the full case will be heard in March 2013.

Earlier this month, Toronto City Council voted to seek intervenor status and support the Schlifer Clinic in its fight. The court will hear from the City's lawyers on Friday to decide whether to grant their request to intervene.

Please don't hesitate to get in touch if you would like to know how you can support the Schlifer challenge and broader efforts to maintain sensible gun control laws in Canada.

Designed by Rachel Gold.