Derek Chauvin is now properly referred to as convicted murderer. A jury found the former Minneapolis police officer guilty of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter for kneeling on George Floyd’s neck for nine minutes and twenty nine seconds on May 20th, 2020.

Chauvin now awaits sentencing and could be sent to prison for decades. The three other former police officers who stood by and did nothing while Chauvin murdered Floyd will be tried in August.

A white police officer murdering a black civilian is nothing new. The cop facing consequences beyond being fired or suspended is rare, especially in the US.

So, while many, understandably, are celebrating the fact that there will be accountability for Derek Chauvin and hopefully some justice for George Floyd and that racist and brutal cops actually can be convicted of murder and not always get away with it, it’s important to remember that this doesn’t happen all the time or even frequently. If it did, Chauvin probably wouldn’t have felt perfectly comfortable murdering someone in broad daylight with plenty of witnesses and a camera filming him.

Look at what it took to get to this moment:

  • Solid (and incredibly hard to watch) video evidence that Floyd was in no way able to resist let alone threaten Chauvin
  • A spring and summer’s worth of protests in every major American city, complete with solidarity protests around the world, and the tireless work of BLM and other groups
  • Mounting calls to defund (and in some cases abolish) the police
  • Massive media coverage and pretty much the whole world watching the trial
  • The knowledge that if Chauvin wasn’t charged or walked, things would explode again in the streets
  • 10 hours of jury deliberation after they were presented with some of the most bogus arguments imaginable

Yes, this is a victory and it hopefully will change things, but it’s important not to get complacent. This is in no way proof that the system works, only that it can work in a specific and very public case if enough people force it to.

This isn’t a reason to stop calls to defund the police. Or, for those of you who don’t like the slogan, it’s not a reason to stop calls to take stuff like traffic stops crowd control and dealing with people who may have accidentally passed a counterfeit $20 bill away from people with guns and let a much smaller and better-trained group of people with guns focus on stuff like murder, assault and hostage taking, all the while removing a paramilitary force from our streets (see, the slogan works better).

Murderer murders man in broad daylight, is filmed, and then is convicted of murder shouldn’t be a banner headline, it should be the norm when such a thing happens. And it shouldn’t take hundreds or thousands or millions of people to make it happen, either, just a few of his peers.

Until police indiscriminately murdering black men is what shocks and surprises us and repercussions for those cops is what’s expected, the fight needs to continue.

Until that is the reality, the fight needs to continue.

It’s official: As of last week, the Proud Boys are a terrorist organization according to the Canadian Government. Last Wednesday, Public Safety Minister Bill Blair added the group, along with 12 others including two neo-Nazi groups, to the Federal Government’s list of terrorist organizations on Wednesday.

This was due, in part, to pressure from Federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh. Also, the fact that the group took part in the violent attempted coup at the US Capitol last month probably motivated this decision more than a bit, despite Blair’s claims that it wasn’t a factor.

While this move, inevitably, has garnered Canada international coverage as well as praise, we can’t ignore the fact that the Proud Boys are, sadly, a Canadian export. Or at least they aren’t an import.

Founder Gavin McInnes is from Montreal, despite founding the group in the US. And while he isn’t the current leader, his ideas still dominate the Proud Boys.

It Took A While

Regardless, they are active here and have been since their founding in 2016 with hardly any pushback from the Federal Government. We can’t forget that.

We also can’t forget that this is the same group that harassed peaceful native protestors while carrying the Red Ensign Flag. Was that supposed to be a Canadian far-right attempt at a Confederate Flag?

We also can’t ignore the fact that, from the start, they have been and continue to be a white supremacist and misogynist (or as they call it: “western chauvinist”) organization. Their final initiation requirement is to get into a physical confrontation with a “member of Antifa.”

Since “Antifa” isn’t an actual organization and just means anti-Fascist, it’s been clear from the start that the Proud Boys are violent defenders of fascism. Still, that wasn’t enough for the Government of Canada to do something about them.

Neither was their participation in Charlottesville, where they marched alongside neo-Nazis and where one counter-protester was murdered. This is around when the US-based Southern Poverty Law Center classified them as a Hate Group.

But not Canada. No, it took their participation in an actual failed coup attempt in another country that resulted in multiple deaths for our government to act.

Canada Has No Excuse

The United States actually has an excuse for not trying to do anything about the Proud Boys on the federal level. The sitting President, up until a few weeks ago, was a wannabe fascist himself (albeit an inept and ineffectual one).

They were in his base. He called them “good people” and told them to “stand back and stand by” during a debate.

He was happy to give the terrorist label to Antifa, despite them being more of a concept than a group. This left the Proud Boys to be covered by the country’s anything goes free speech laws.

Canada, on the other hand, has hate speech laws. We also have (currently and during every year of the Proud Boys’ existence) a Prime Minister who espouses inclusivity and other progressive values every chance he gets.

We have no excuse for waiting this long. Of course, I’m not the least bit surprised:

  • White fishermen in Nova Scotia terrorized Mi’kmaq Community (vandalism, arson) this past summer and fall while the RCMP just looked on.
  • Closer to (my) home, synagogues and mosques are routinely vandalized in Montreal. Police do investigate, but never seem to go beyond the specific incident to a larger pattern.
  • Quebec’s Premier still refuses to admit that systemic racism even exists here.

And those are just a few recent examples.

Hate groups exist in Canada. Just because the PM isn’t inviting them over for Tim Hortons doesn’t mean the government is doing enough, or anything, to combat right-wing extremism here at home.

Yes, we did something about the Proud Boys at the federal level, finally. That is a good thing, don’t get me wrong, but it’s really just a necessary first step that we waited far too long to take.

Featured Image: Troll, a painting by Samantha Gold

Mylène Chicoine is no stranger to horror. She founded Festival de la Bête Noire as a way to share what helps her to de-stress.

While some turn to comedy and laughter, for Chicoine and those like her, it’s horror and horror-themed art that allow them a form of catharsis, freeing themselves from their demons by confronting them head on.

Festival de la Bête Noire is a horror theatre festival that normally has hosted shows that audiences take in on site and in-person since 2018. But the COVID-19 pandemic has taken a great toll on the arts.

Theaters are closed, and gatherings that would allow for live shows are banned for now. For those needing to keep art and culture alive, the pandemic and the ensuing public health measures have presented a lot of challenges and the name of the game has been adapt or die.

Festival de la Bête Noire has decided to go online this year and I spoke with Mylène Chicoine about what that means.

“We’re not doing in it an actual physical space,” she said. “It’s a multimedia online event from people’s living rooms. We’ve removed the physical aspect completely.”

In order to keep the authenticity of live theater consistent with the spirit of past festivals, Chicoine and her team decided to have as little postproduction as possible, meaning that recorded shows should try to minimize editing and video effects after recording.

“We are NOT a movie festival, we are a THEATRE festival. We still want to see theatre, and performance, and live art even though it’s technically not live.”

When asked about the response to the change in format this year, she said most of the responses have been extremely positive, admitting that Bête Noire almost didn’t happen this year due to the pandemic. The festival happened because of the outpouring of support from the theatre community and its fans.

“We had a lot of demand from the community: Are we doing it this year? Are we doing it? Is it going to happen? We need it. The biggest motivation for the team was the community wants it so we’re going to give it to them.”

Festival de la Bête Noire has 16 shows this year. Two of the shows are mixed shows featuring separate performances within a single show.

The virtual festival has a few alumni, including the The Malicious Basement, Quagmire Productions, and Marissa Blair. In the name of transparency, I myself am acting and handling design for Quagmire’s Poe in the Snow.

Chicoine says that festival alumni were given an extra week to apply knowing that they are faithful participants who have provided good content in the past.

“We like to have repeat performers because it gives them a name and a platform that they need.”

The virtual format has not been without its challenges. Many artists expressed concerns about the ban on post-production, claiming that the festival was trying to restrict their art.

“We don’t want to restrict their art, we want to restrict their technology, that’s the big difference. If you’re in a venue, you’re not using a green screen, you wouldn’t use one in your living room either. We don’t want to make it look like a movie, but of course we’ve had to be a bit more flexible, especially with the new lockdown.”

Chicoine says the festival’s limits on technology this year were among some of the biggest challenges for performers. It forced performers to stretch their creative muscles and think outside the box.

Other challenges for the Festival de la Bête Noire were unfortunate realities of the COVID-19 pandemic. People involved with the companies and performers or their loved ones were exposed to the virus and either got sick and/or were forced to self-isolate. The pandemic itself resulted in some theatre companies dropping out of the festival entirely.

“We understand completely that these things are going to happen and we have had production meetings with every company that has required one to formulate a different kind of plan, whether it’s an extension, being more flexible on technology, but unfortunately we did lose a couple of companies to COVID.”

Most of the companies that dropped out were outside of Montreal and could not participate due to the pandemic, while some participants even got sick and died. It has been really upsetting for everyone involved with Bête Noire, but Chicoine and her team anticipated this happening.

Festival de la Bête Noire 2021 is fulfilling its mandate by giving artists and performers a platform to explore the horror genre by performing, creating and watching, and being a part of something, bringing people together in a socially distant way.

When I asked Chicoine if there were any advantages to going virtual, she pointed to fact that it allowed for more international entries, speaking of participating companies in the US and as far away as Japan. Chicoine mentioned The Peony Lantern by The Yokohama Group, a multimedia performance that takes place in the World Peace Theatre in Kawasaki, Japan.

Given the unpredictability of the pandemic, Mylène Chicoine is preparing for disaster, but it has not dampened her excitement for the shows on offer this year. When asked if there were any shows she was particularly excited about, she mentioned Pento by Mad Paradox, a show about mental health issues.

As for the technicalities regarding the accessing the shows, Chicoine and her team demurred from using sites like YouTube and TikTok because they’re too restrictive. In order to avoid the censorship that comes with those sites, all ticket holders will be sent a Google Drive link to their show which gives them one week to watch it at their convenience. Viewers don’t need a Gmail account to access the link.

Festival de la Bête Noire is running virtually from February 17, 2021 to March 15, 2021. For more info check out LaBeteNoirFest.com

Last Sunday, approximately 10 000 people took to the streets of Montreal demanding justice for George Floyd and all the other victims of racist police violence. This Sunday there’s another local protest against police brutality.

Before we go any further, I’d like to address what I knew every newscast would lead with the following day right after it happened: Yes, there was some looting. A bit of looting and some broken windows, nothing that should detract from the valid and necessary reason so many people were out, social distancing as much as possible during a pandemic.

Lenny Lanteigne, owner of Steve’s Music Store, the main target of the looters last Sunday, gets it. He told CTV that he thinks the protest was necessary and while he’s obviously not thrilled people stole his inventory, he knows what’s important. “They’re guitars, not human lives.”

In the US currently, there’s a strong argument that some of the rioting is actually quite necessary to be heard and affect change. In just over a week, the story changed from “the cops are fired” to “we’ve arrested one cop and charged him with third-degree murder” to (just yesterday) “we’re charging him with second-degree murder and the three cops who stood by with aiding and abetting second degree murder”.

The looting last Sunday in Montreal, though, came across more like a mini hockey riot with mostly white dudes using the opportunity to steal stuff than something tied into the message of police racism. The SPVM officers kneeling to put on their riot gear before teargassing the crowd (which preceded the looting), though, was a small reminder that the police here aren’t really all that different than those in the states.

We’ve Got A Long List Too

The protest last Sunday may have been in solidarity with demonstrations across the US and now across the world, but it was also demanding justice for victims of racist police violence in Canada and Montreal too. For every George Floyd or Eric Garner, there’s a Regis Korchinski-Paquet or Fredy Villanueva.

We also have a serious problem with Canadian police indiscriminately brutalizing Indigenous people. From the so-called “starlight tours” out west to a recent local incident next to Cabot Square where a Native woman in distress had to deal with 17 cops and the SPVM (Montreal Police) canine unit before getting an ambulance, it seems like our police don’t think that Native Lives Matter.

Or Black Lives, apparently.

In a CBC study of fatal encounters with police of all levels across Canada over 17 years, Black and Indigenous people were seriously over-represented when compared to the overall population. Meanwhile a 2019 report commissioned by the City of Montreal revealed that the SPVM was four to five times more likely to stop Black or Indigenous people than whites.

Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau did admit that Canada has a problem with police racism, after 21 seconds of awkward, probably staged, silence, while dodging a question about US President Donald Trump. Of course, anything that came after the 21 seconds, he knew, would get lost in the shuffle.

Quebec Premier François Legault, while supporting the protest, denied that systemic racism exists in Quebec. This from the man that, pre-pandemic, was all about systemically discriminating against minorities through Bill 21.

Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante, to her credit, admitted that systemic discrimination does exist in our city. The question now becomes what she is going to do to fight it.

After initially opposing outfitting police with body cameras, she now says it will happen as soon as possible. This is largely due to pressure from boroughs like Côte-Des-Neiges—Notre-Dame-De-Grâce and the public.

The Spotlight and the Shadows

Body cameras on police would be a welcome improvement, because unlike their counterparts south of the border, our police are camera-shy when it comes to race-based brutality. This helps our political leaders propagate the lie that violent and murderous police racism is a shameful American problem, but there are only a few bad apples here.

In the US, violent racist cops are brazen and kill in the daylight, either not caring who is watching or filming or hoping to be the next white supremacist champion or MAGA hero. George Zimmerman has fans and he wasn’t even trained.

Here, they’re just as brutal, but know to avoid the spotlight as much as possible. For the person on the receiving end, though, the result is the same.

With the only real-world empire most of us have ever known burning before our eyes and crumbling into a failed state, the kind the US would usually think of invading, it’s easy to get distracted. When we see peaceful protesters teargassed and assaulted by gleeful cops, it’s easy to forget that we have problems here too,

Solidarity with those fighting to get out from under Trump’s boot is essential, but remember that the underlying problem of racist police violence is a Canadian one, too.

The next Montreal Anti-Police Brutality Protests starts Sunday, June 14th at 11am at Place Emilie-Gamelin

Photos by IK (see the album)

Tomorrow morning, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in the US is set to scrap Net Neutrality. Specifically, they plan to eliminate Title II protections that force the courts to treat internet access as an essential service.

John Oliver explains this distinction more in depth (if you haven’t seen this segment, you really should, even if you know about Title II):

In a nutshell, without this classification, Internet Service Providers (ISPs) would be free to restrict or slow down access to sites that cannot afford or refuse to pay a fee to be in the fast lane. They could also start bundling sites together the same way cable companies bundle stations and charge extra for packages.

The Nightmare Scenario

My guess is they would probably bring in a mix of the two.

First, imagine basic internet including major email providers and maybe the weather network and a few search engines. You could then add the Social Media package with Facebook, Instagram and Twitter for an extra fee, the news package with only mainstream sources for another fee. YouTube would cost extra and if you want Netflix, well you’d have to pay extra for it, above and beyond what you pay (or what your roommate, friend or ex pays, let’s be honest) to Netflix.

Don’t think this is possible? Look at this add for mobile internet packages in Portugal:

Meanwhile, smaller competitors, some widely used and relied on but not popular or potentially profitable enough to be automatically included in a package would take forever to load. If Verizon or Comcast can’t make an extra buck off them, why would they make it easy to access them?

While sites with primarily written content that use embeds for video and audio (like this one) may end up coasting underneath the throttling radar, others won’t. What about BandCamp? Vimeo? Crowdfunding sites? Gaming sites? How about sites that don’t use a lot of bandwidth but really irk the ISPs because of their content?

While the FCC is billing this as “Internet Freedom” it’s actually about letting a handful of companies restrict the freedom of everyone else. I have no problem with websites charging for their services or opting not to, they are already free to do that online. ISPs, on the other hand, should not be.

They don’t own the internet, we all do. Or no one does.

Yes, the ISPs may own the cables, but that only permits them to charge a rate for use of said cables. They have absolutely no business telling us what we can and can’t use the cables to access. No one tells you what you can and can’t say on a phonecall, the Internet should be no different.

Beyond the USA

While this may seem like an American problem, but it’s actually a global one as the internet is a global entity and America is a huge part of it. The biggest sites are American and so are most of the largest indie sites and non-profit sites.

Not only that, there are quite a few people that rely on or at least need some American eyes and ears for their livelihood: independent musicians, app and game developers, the list goes on. While their internet access may not be limited, their potential audience and clientele will be.

Meanwhile, the free flow of information and independent journalism could be seriously compromised, with stories about protest in the US not covered, or not properly covered by mainstream press not making it past someone’s computer or phone, let alone around the world. Likewise, smaller stories could have a hard time finding their way to interested people in the 50 states.

Then there’s the whole issue of American influence. Portugal may not set the global standard when it comes to the Internet, but the US does.

Here in Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau may have said he supports a free and open internet and is “very concerned” about the FCC’s attempt to roll that back in the States, but how long will that stance last? You can bet that Canadian ISPs are just itching to do what their American counterparts may be able to do very soon and will use what happens south of the border to influence lawmakers here.

So What Do We Do?

The first thing we can do is fight like hell to make sure these changes don’t pass, and by we I don’t mean me, at least not directly. Americans (those reading this and others) are the only ones who can contact their elected officials and the FCC to fight this at the source. There is also an online campaign to oppose the FCC’s intentions called Break the Internet.

If they aren’t successful, there’s the legal avenue, though that takes time, probably more time than it takes for ISPs to start changing the Internet forever. There’s also hoping someone (ie Elon Musk) decides to offer unobstructed access (he already wants to offer the world access through satellites) and thus make it unfeasible for ISPs to offer anything but the net as we know it even if they are no longer legally obliged to.

Hoping for a capitalist benefactor/Bond villain to save us all may only lead to disappointment. People outside of the US fighting hard to preserve Net Neutrality and those in the States fighting hard to bring it back (or creating some sort of pirate ISP) may be the only way to fight and win.

But if we do win eventually, or even if the ISPs lose tomorrow in the US (or in the near future), we need to talk about how to prevent this from happening again, because you know it will. This isn’t the first time I’ve written about a threat to Net Neutrality and it certainly won’t be the last.

Maybe it’s time to look to more radical solutions to preserve what we have and have had for years. Maybe it’s time to nationalize ISPs. At least, the very threat of such an action would scare the corporations who currently control access to the web to forever shut up about changing the rules. At best, we could end up with an internet that could never be changed.

For now, though, let’s hope that the FCC sees the light, or moreover, is forced to see it.

* Featured image: Backbone Campaign via Flickr Creative Commons

The sixth mass extinction will hit harder than expected, according to a collaborative study between Stanford and the University of Mexico. 32% of all vertebrate species are steadily decreasing, even if one third of them classify as low concern species.

We already knew that animals and plants are going extinct 100 to 1 000 times faster than what is normal  (and those are the most conservative estimates). If we stay on this course, the general consensus is that around 30% of all species will be gone by 2050. The scientific community went from asking if the next mass extinction is underway to asking if it’s going to be worse than the last one – which, keep in mind, killed most of the dinosaurs 66 million years ago.

Now, researchers say that assessments based on species extinctions, alarming as they may be, might be underestimating the problem. According to the article published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States:

“Our data indicate that beyond global species extinctions Earth is experiencing a huge episode of population declines and extirpations [EN: local extinctions], which will have negative cascading consequences on ecosystem functioning and services vital to sustaining civilization. We describe this as a “biological annihilation” to highlight the current magnitude of Earth’s ongoing sixth major extinction event.”

This huge study is based on a sample of 27 600 vertebrate species (which is roughly half of them). All of the 177 mammal species among them have seen their natural range significantly shrink, 40% of them have seen their populations decrease by 80% or more.

The article concludes: “we emphasize that the sixth mass extinction is already here and the window for effective action is very short, probably two or three decades at most…”

*Featured image by Robert Young under Creative Commons

In a week that saw US warships sent to North Korea, increased tensions in Syria following a US missile strike and the American military drop, for the first time, the largest non-nuclear bomb in its arsenal on Afghanistan, the most ominous story came to light yesterday. President Donald Trump really wants to ride in the Queen Elizabeth’s gold-plated, horse-drawn carriage when he visits England.

While foreign leaders hitching a ride to Buckingham Palace with Her Majesty is occasionally a thing that happens, American Presidents generally take a different vehicle because of security concerns. A police source told the Times of London:

“The vehicle which carries the president of the United States is a spectacular vehicle. It is designed to withstand a massive attack like a low-level rocket grenade. If he’s in that vehicle he is incredibly well protected and on top of that it can travel at enormous speed. If he is in a golden coach being dragged up the Mall by a couple of horses, the risk factor is dramatically increased.”

I’m not sure of this source’s name or rank, so let’s just use Captain Obvious. Security concerns are heightened when it comes to this President in  particular. There are supposed to be massive protests and even the British Parliament is refusing to let him address them.

Instead of taking the safer route, the Trump team is doing their best to insist on the gold-plated carriage ride. It’s a pretty safe bet that this approach goes right to the top. And that is why this otherwise trivial piece of nonsense is downright scary.

Trump wants to ride in something gold sitting next to royalty. Putin got to do it. That peasant Obama slummed it when he visited the Queen. Slummed it in a super-fast grenade-repellent limousine driven by a chauffeur with more real-world military training than most fictional action heroes.

Maybe if the hyper-secure car was also gold on the outside Trump would ride in it. But then he would be in a competition with the Queen for opulence. Come to think of it, the main reason he probably wants to ride in the carriage is to be on equal footing with the Queen.

Why is that something he cares about? Being on equal footing, or even a dominant footing, when meeting with Xi Jinping, Justin Trudeau, Vladamir Putin or Theresa May makes sense. You don’t want to negotiate from a position of weakness. But what on Earth could President Trump possibly hope to negotiate with the Queen?

She is technically a Head of State, sure, but that is purely symbolic. Symbolism matters to this President. Celebrity, though, matters even more. The Queen is a celebrity, way more than Prime Minister May is, you might say she is THE celebrity.

Riding in the Royal Carriage means, to Trump, that some people may see his celebrity on par with hers and that he is one step ahead of Obama in looking important. It’s all about proving that he is important. The fact that he achieved, perhaps by fluke, something that only forty-four other people have done in a country of millions doesn’t seem to be a factor.

If Obama took a secure limo, Trump wants to ride in the same carriage as the Queen. If other Presidents dropped bombs, Trump wants to drop the Mother of All Bombs. His bomb is bigger.

Some have suggested, and I tend to agree with them, that launching sixty missiles at an airfield in Syria was a PR stunt:

A distraction, most likely from the persistent allegations that he is a Russian puppet. But he didn’t just give us one distraction, no, that’s something a standard politician would do. Trump has the most distractions, the best distractions. Bigly.

Three distractions so far. If this is a case of the tail wagging the dog (as in the 1997 film Wag the Dog which many have referenced in the past few days), well, this dog now has three tails and might grow more.

The Trump team can’t even do deflection right, because their boss is only focused on looking bigger and badder than anyone else. Meanwhile, the biggest, baddest dog in the yard, the US military (along with its defense contractor allies) has been unleashed, or at the very least, is now connected to a real long bendy leash that no one is pulling on to reign it in.

These distractions could turn into full-blown wars. When it comes to North Korea, it’s now up to Kim Jong Un to be the restrained, responsible one if the world is to avoid the start of World War III.

If Donald Trump was taking the actions of the military he now commands with the gravity the situation warrants, then he wouldn’t be telling reporters about the chocolate cake he was eating when ordering a strike on Iraq, only to be corrected that it was, in fact, Syria he had sent missiles into. He also wouldn’t be ordering military actions from a golf course.

He also wouldn’t care if he got to ride in the carriage with the Queen, or, for that matter, whether or not he got to meet with the Queen at all. This focus on image and who looks more famous, bigger and more important, may be laughable, but it also may be what dooms us all.

 

 

Germany, Rwanda, Kosovo, Syria – what do these places have in common? They were and are the sites of some of the worst atrocities in our history.

On April 7, 2017 the Orange-Gasbag President of the US authorized military strikes against Syria. The attack was allegedly precipitated by the use of chemical weapons against civilians.

Though the Syrian government, led by president Bashar al-Assad, has denied responsibility for the chemical attacks, the insurgents he is fighting not only lacked the means to commit them, but the targets consisted of the rebel-held town of Khan-Sheikhan, and one of the medical clinics treating victims of the ongoing civil war.

This article is not about the US President’s hypocrisy, as he blames Obama for the situation in Syria and yet in 2013 tweeted:

It is not about the fact that the US military strike hit an almost empty airbase that had little impact on Assad’s reign of terror, or the fact that the Orange Blowhard’s administration has clearly seen the film Wag the Dog.

For those unfamiliar with the movie, it features a President on the brink of scandal whose advisors fabricate a war to win back support from the American people. With the evidence of treason against the Cheeto Administration mounting, it should be no surprise that they’ve thrown themselves into a war against a hugely unpopular world leader, especially given that said world leader is backed by Russia, the very state accused of hacking the American election. With evidence mounting that Russia was warned about the US airstrike, this move by Orange Administration is clearly just for PR purposes.

This article is about Crimes Against Humanity, Genocide, and War Crimes.

With refugees being turned away by xenophobic politicians in primarily white countries and military leaders breaking every rule in International Law, it’s high time we looked at how the world defines these crimes.

For this article, I’m going to use the Rome Statute, the treaty that established the International Criminal Court and has been in force since 2002.

The International Criminal Court, based in The Netherlands, is a permanent court that investigates and tries individuals charged with crimes against humanity. Their goal is to put an end to impunity for atrocities and acts complementary to existing criminal justice systems.

The Rome Statute, in describing the role of the International Criminal Court, provides detailed definitions of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.

Genocide is defined as any of the following acts “committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group”:

  • Killing members of that group
  • Causing serious physical or mental harm to members of said group
  • “Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part”
  • Imposing measures to prevent births within that group
  • Forcibly transmitting the children of said group into that of another group

Crimes against humanity are defined by the Rome Statute as acts committed as part of a “widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population with knowledge of the attack.” That means that for an act to be considered a crime against humanity, it has to be part of a widespread deliberate attack against civilians that includes one or all of the following acts:

  • Murder
  • Extermination
  • Enslavement
  • Deportation or forcible transfer of the population
  • Imprisonment
  • Torture
  • Rape, sexual slavery, forced prostitution, forced pregnancy, or forced sterilization or any other serious sexual violence
  • “Persecution against any identifiable group or collectivity on political, racial, national, ethnic, cultural, religious, gender” or other grounds
  • Enforced disappearances
  • Apartheid
  • “Other inhumane acts of a similar character intentionally causing great suffering, or serious injury to body or to mental or physical health.”

Unfortunately, the Rome Statute’s definition gender is binary, recognizing only male and female despite evidence that gender goes beyond the two.

War Crimes are defined as breaches of the 1949 Geneva Conventions, which establish a set of rules for humanitarian treatment in war. Article 8 of the Rome Statute has a sort of abridged version of the definition of war crimes, which include:

  1. Willful killing
  2. Torture or inhuman treatment, including biological experiments
  3. Willfully causing great suffering, or serious injury to body or health
  4. Extensive destruction and appropriation of property, not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly
  5. Compelling a prisoner of war or other protected person to serve in the forces of a hostile power
  6. Willfully depriving a prisoner of war or other protected person of the rights of a fair and regular trial
  7. Unlawful deportation or transfer or unlawful confinement
  8. Taking of hostages

The Statute lists other offenses as war crimes, including intentionally directing attacks against civilians and civilian objects even when they’re not military objectives.

Though it goes without saying that war crimes and crimes against humanity are indeed taking place in Syria, prosecuting war crimes is always a problem. As Larry May, Professor of Philosophy and author of the book Crimes Against Humanity: A Normative Study once wrote:

“We cannot prosecute on the basis of moral outrage alone.”

It is for this reason that rules on how to prosecute atrocities were established. However, in order to successfully do so, you need a certain degree of consent from the country the crimes took place in, as state sovereignty and the right to self-determination is the rule in our international system. There are no overarching laws to force countries to hand over their war criminals if they don’t want to subject them to international justice.

The International Criminal Court can only prosecute cases committed in a state that is party to the Rome Statute since 2002. The ICC has no jurisdiction in countries like the USA, China, and Russia who chose not to ratify the treaty, undoubtedly due to concerns about their own statesmen being prosecuted.

In this international crisis we have to remember that we are citizens of the world with a responsibility to shelter and protect the victims of atrocities and punish the perpetrators. At the same time, we must do our best to respect that the people of a country have the right to determine what is best for them. Let’s hope an influential someone in the White House remembers this too.

In movie treason trials, a person facing a cruel, usually male, judge and screaming prosecutors is accused of betraying their country while they plead innocence and national loyalty. Sometimes the trial will end in a hanging, other times it will end by firing squad, and still others end with electrocution. Rarely is the accused set free.

In real life, treason cases are a lot more complex.

Despite the enhanced vigilance of Canadian and American law enforcement in the face of terrorism, people are rarely prosecuted for treason.

Since Canadian and American criminal laws have their roots in the British legal tradition, it’s time to look at how we and our southern neighbors define the crime and how it should be prosecuted.

In Canada, treason is defined in our Criminal Code.

There are two types of treason: regular, called simply treason and high treason.

High treason is defined as committing one or all of the following acts if you are a Canadian citizen:

  • Killing or attempting to kill the Queen (Canada’s de jure head of State) or causing bodily harm leading to her “death or destruction”
  • Maiming, wounding, imprisoning, or restraining the Queen
  • Making or Preparing for War Against Canada
  • Assisting an enemy at war with Canada or assisting any armed forces Canadian forces are fighting regardless of whether those armed forces are at war with Canada

Treason is defined by one or all of the following acts:

  • Using force or violence to overthrow the Canadian government or the government of a province
  • Communicating “without lawful authority” scientific or military information or sketches, plans, or documents of a scientific or military character that you knew or ought to have known could be used by an agent of another state against Canada
  • Conspiring to commit the above and manifesting an intention to go through with it via an overt act
  • Conspiring to commit high treason and manifesting an intention to commit it by an overt act. Conspiring with a person to commit treason is considered an overt act.

The law not only defines the crime itself and the penalties, but also who can be convicted of either kind treason and under what circumstances.

According to the Criminal Code, the rules on treason apply to Canadian citizens.

A crime of high treason can be committed while in or outside of Canada, as can acts of regular treason.

A conviction for high treason carries the penalty of life in prison.

The penalty for regular treason is a bit more complex.

If you’re convicted of using force or violence against Canadian government or province with the intent to overthrow it, it’s life in prison. The penalty is the same for communicating military or scientific information, documents etc. knowing or having ought to know that they could be used by another country or even conspiring to do so and manifesting intention to carry it out by an overt act while Canada is at war with that country. If you communicate or conspire to communicate this stuff when Canada is not at war, the penalty becomes a maximum of fourteen years in jail.

The penalties for treason are heavy in Canada as in most countries, so the rules of evidence and procedure are extremely strict in these cases.

Proceedings against people accused of violent attempts to overthrow the government have to take place three years or less after the alleged crime was committed. For overt acts of treason, the words of information expressing the overt act have to be laid under oath before a justice within six days of the alleged overt act, and a warrant for the person’s arrest has to be issued within ten days of that.

There can be no conviction for treason on the evidence of only one witness unless that witness’ testimony is corroborated my material evidence.

Only two people in Canadian history have been tried and convicted of treason.

The first is the Métis leader Louis Riel, who was hanged in eighteen eighty five.

The lesser known, Kanao Inouye aka the Kamloops Kid, was responsible for interrogating and torturing Canadian Prisoners of War in Japanese occupied Hong Kong during the Second World War. He was convicted of war crimes and sentenced to death by a British war crimes court, but his lawyer successfully appealed on the grounds that Inouye was a Canadian citizen and therefore could not be considered a war criminal. Inouye was instead tried for treason and hanged by the British Hong Kong Supreme Court in 1947.

In the United States, the laws regarding treason are similar. As the nation was born in defiance of the British Monarchy which had been known to charge people of the crime willy nilly, the crime of treason is clearly and strictly defined in the US Constitution.

Article III, section 3 of the constitution defines treason as:

“…levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort.”

As in Canada, the rules for a conviction on the charge of treason in the US are strict. American law requires the testimony of two witnesses to the crime or a confession in open court to convict someone of treason.

As in Canada, convictions for treason are rare. Most civil war veterans, for example, were granted amnesty by the US government instead of facing treason charges. In some cases, such as that of Iva Toguri D’Aquino, the trials and investigations were corrupt and ultimately resulted in presidential pardons and apologies.

The penalty for treason in the US can be imprisonment or death.

With the implications of treason so heavy, it’s no wonder people are rarely charged with the crime. However, with the revelations of the Orange Administration’s willful conspiring with the Russian government to corrupt their elections and push an agenda hurting the American people, the only question left is whether law enforcement in the south will grow a pair and prosecute those clearly guilty of the crime.

Moms Demand Action New York State Chapter Leader Jaime Levy Pessin is a modern and efficacious woman living in Brooklyn, NY with her husband and two children. As I enter her home for the interview I witness a person who makes multi-tasking seem as natural as waking up each morning.

As interview starts, some Moms Demand Action business is taken care of, a call answered, her daughter Cora and son Noah’s activities are settled and their dinner is prepared. This all happens over the course of maybe two minutes and Jaime is calm and polite as we get down to some questions.

S- For readers new to Moms Demand Action give us a brief history of the organization.

J- Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America was founded the day after the horrific Sandy Hook shooting, which left six educators and 20 six and seven year-olds dead in their elementary school. A mom in Indiana, Shannon Watts, started a Facebook page with the idea that we needed to have a Mothers Against Drunk Driving for the gun violence prevention movement. And her page spread like wildfire.

New York City was one of the first chapters to form. Weeks later we held our first annual march across the Brooklyn Bridge. More than 1,000 people showed up in below-freezing temperatures to march with us.

Since then, we’ve grown to 3 million members in all 50 states. We’ve joined forces with Mayors Against Illegal Guns under the umbrella of Everytown for Gun Safety. We are a nonpartisan, grassroots group committed to passing reasonable, evidence-based laws that are proven to reduce gun violence.

Do you know Shannon Watts and in what ways is she still involved in Moms Demand Action today?

I first met Shannon at our first Brooklyn bridge march. She has since turned into a great figurehead of the movement. She is a volunteer and founder.

Shannon travels the country and meets the other volunteers. She does speaking engagements, does press and fundraisers. As she is traveling she makes a point of stopping by and seeing what all the other volunteers are doing. She has really gotten to know all the people across the country who are working as part of this thing that she created.

I think she is still a little bit baffled that she started this movement but Shannon is always very adamant in pointing out how much every person has played a part in it. She doesn’t view Moms as her creation, she sees it as if she did this one small action and then everyone else kinda filled it in throughout the country.

This is what is so cool about volunteering with Moms. There is a sense that every single person has something to contribute. Whether you have ten minutes or ten hours there is a place for you. She wants to make sure that message comes through.

Can you tell us what led you to your role as a leader in Moms Demand Action -New York?

In the days after the Sandy Hook shooting, I was devastated. I didn’t personally know anyone affected, but a six-year-old boy named Noah was killed. My son is named Noah and was four at the time. I was paralyzed by fear and grief. During that time, Shannon’s Facebook page somehow popped into my newsfeed, and I had a realization: If I am not part of the solution, then I’m part of the problem. And that’s when I started volunteering.

In the early days, we really were a motley crew of volunteers – “accidental activists” is what we called ourselves, because none of us had ever done anything like this before. My career had been as a journalist for traditional media, so I was never allowed to publicly express a political opinion – forget about planning a rally or meeting with elected officials!

I’ve been involved in the organization in a bunch of different roles since we got started. I currently run the New York state chapter, which is massive compared to how we began!

But another project that I helped start, which I think is truly special, is our Mother’s Dream Quilt Project. It’s a series of quilts that incorporates fabric from victims and survivors of gun violence. We hold quilting bees around the country that bring together victims, survivors and everyday Americans who believe we can do a better job of preventing gun violence.

With all the concerns about civil rights coming up around the Trump administration, why do you think gun violence is so important?

After the election, I did a lot of soul-searching around this question. In a way, this seems like such a small piece of the puzzle.

“I’m going to fight like hell to push back the kind of stand your ground laws that allowed Trayvon Martin’s killer to suffer no consequences.”

But then I realized: I’m worried about voter suppression; the idea of people with guns showing up at the polls to intimidate other citizens is chilling. I’m worried about immigration; what does it mean to have vigilantes with guns patrolling the border?

I’m worried about hate crimes against the LGBTQ community, and I’m worried about violence against women; we know that the presence of a gun in these situations makes them vastly more dangerous. And I’m worried about the unfair treatment of African-Americans in this country, so I’m going to fight like hell to push back the kind of stand your ground laws that allowed Trayvon Martin’s killer to suffer no consequences.

Can you tell us both about your personal experience and Moms Demand Action’s presence at the Women’s March in DC on January 21st?

I thought the Women’s March was so inspiring. I met a few fellow volunteers at the Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn at 4 a.m., and there was bus after bus after bus loading up for DC.

Moms Demand Action had nearly 1,000 members come in from around the country to join the march. Being in a crowd with so many passionate citizens gave me hope that this administration will not break our spirit.

I think the key takeaway, though, was that it’s not enough to march. It feels really good, and it’s important, but we have to take it home to our communities and get involved in our local politics.

We need more women running for office, whether for school board or Congress. We can’t just pay attention when it’s time to elect a president – we need to start developing a bench. So I hope – and I think that it’s happening – that the march has compelled people to start working seriously in our own neighborhoods.

What are some of the highlights of Moms Demand Action-New York’s current six month plan?

The new administration is in the pocket of the gun lobby; the NRA contributed more than $30 million to Donald Trump’s campaign – they were his single largest donor. So we are going to be working very hard to push back against the gun lobby’s dangerous agenda of guns everywhere for everyone.

“What’s crazy is that more than 90 percent of Americans – and that includes 87 percent of Republicans and 84 percent of gun owners – agree that we should have background checks on all gun sales.”

One of the major pieces of legislation we expect to be fighting is something called “concealed carry reciprocity.” The gun lobby would like for permits to carry concealed weapons to be treated like driver’s licenses, where one state’s permit would be recognized across all state lines.

Here’s the problem: The standards for getting a concealed carry permit vary wildly from state to state. In New York, you have to undergo a background check, submit character references and show a proven need to carry a concealed weapon in order to get that permit. In Arizona, there are no permitting requirements at all. New Hampshire also just rolled back their already weak permitting program.

With reciprocity, a New Yorker who couldn’t pass the rigorous standards here could travel to another state, get a concealed carry permit and legally carry a hidden weapon in Times Square or on the subway.

As a New Yorker, this is a direct threat to my safety. The idea that “guns everywhere” make people safer is patently untrue. New York State has one of the lowest rates of gun violence in the country. We also have one of the lowest rates of gun ownership, and some of the strongest gun laws. There is a direct correlation: stronger gun laws keep us safe from gun violence. Concealed carry reciprocity would make our state a much more dangerous place to live.

Another priority for the New York chapter is going to be relationship-building with our elected officials at the statehouse. We’re planning our first-ever Lobby Day this spring, and we’re going to be meeting in-district with our representatives as well.

We believe that, much like the same-sex marriage movement, the gun violence prevention movement will win at the state level. We want to continue to develop relationships with our state representatives to make sure that they will keep New York at the forefront of sound gun policy.

Our overarching goal is to ensure background checks on all gun sales in the United States. Many people don’t realize that the law as it stands leaves gaping loopholes in the system, making it very easy for a felon or a domestic abuser to purchase a gun without a background check. And background checks are proven to work: suicides, cop killings and domestic violence-related deaths all go down in states that ensure background checks on all gun sales.

What’s crazy is that more than 90 percent of Americans – and that includes 87 percent of Republicans and 84 percent of gun owners – agree that we should have background checks on all gun sales. When you take the question of gun violence directly to the citizens, they will vote in favor of common-sense gun reform.

In 2016, despite the dismal election results nationally, we actually won three out of four ballot initiatives by asking residents of California, Nevada and Washington State to pass stronger gun laws. It was one of the few bright spots in the progressive agenda last year.

We have quickly become the strongest counterweight the gun lobby has ever seen. That’s why we’re committed to getting this message to our elected officials: The other side is scared of losing their guns. We’re scared of losing our children. Who do you think is going to win in the end?

What are some things the modern, busy adult can do to stand against gun violence?

What is great about Moms Demand Action is that we offer so many different entry points for people to get involved. You can spend five minutes a week signing petitions and calling your senators, or you can get more deeply involved and meet with your elected officials or plan events. We need all levels of commitment.

The first thing you should do is text JOIN to 644-33, or visit our website to officially sign up as a member. Soon you’ll hear from someone in your local chapter about ways to get involved. Like the national organization on Facebook (or the New York chapter) and follow us on Twitter (@momsdemand) to get national calls to action.

For students, recent grads and parents: Did you know the gun lobby is pushing to allow guns on college campuses and K-12 schools? We defeated 16 guns on campus bills throughout the country in 2016. But the gun lobby is going to keep trying, and we’re preparing to fight. Ask any educators you know to join our Educators for Gun Sense campaign by sharing the link.

For people who want to spend an hour or so a week volunteering for a good cause, consider joining the Gun Sense Action Network. We do a lot of phone banking to voters in states that are playing defense against horrible bills.

This makes a huge impact. Last year, for example, the Georgia statehouse passed a sweeping guns-in-schools bill. We were able to drive at least 30,000 calls to the governor’s office, and eventually he vetoed the bill – even though he’s typically an ally of the gun lobby. People who join our Gun Sense Action Network can make calls from home, on their own time!

(ED’s Note: While most joining options are for Americans living in the US, making calls is, of course, open to Americans living abroad and Canadians as well)

How many people in America die from a gun each day?

Moms treat gun violence like a public health epidemic, which it is. What disease kills 93 Americans a day? That’s too many people so we should treat it as such. Unfortunately, Congress has barred the CBC from actually studying gun violence. The US government doesn’t actually study this even though it is a public health problem.

One thing that many people don’t realize is how prevalent gun violence is in our country. About 30,000 people a year are killed by gun violence in the U.S. – 93 a day. Twice that number are injured every day. But I think it’s the ripple effect that really makes the point.

A study came out recently that said the probability of knowing a gun violence victim is 99.85 percent. Think of that: Nearly every single American will know a victim of gun violence in their lifetimes! That’s insane.

I’ve seen it play out personally. When I started volunteering for Moms Demand Action, I didn’t know anyone (as far as I knew) who had been a victim of gun violence. But since December 2012, I have had one friend on lockdown with her daughter at the Kansas City JCC while a shooter killed two people in the parking lot. My sister’s childhood friend was shot and killed in his car in Miami. One of my husband’s relatives lost her granddaughter when the granddaughter’s husband shot her in front of their two kids in California. A close friend of mine was at the Fort Lauderdale airport baggage claim with her three kids when a gunman opened fire.

It just gets closer and closer. That’s what keeps me up at night, and that’s what motivates me to keep going.

 

Of all of the Orange Racist Misogynist’s cabinet picks, Betsy DeVos is among the most controversial. Nominated as US Secretary of Education, she was incapable of answering basic questions about education during her confirmation hearings and could not even denounce guns in schools because of the alleged threat of bears.

DeVos was confirmed only because Vice President and Religious Fundamentalist Mike Pence was the deciding vote. She is so unpopular that many parents have protested outside schools she’s visited.

It’s time we talk about the government’s role in education, so today we’ll compare Canada to the US.

In Canada education falls strictly to the provinces.

In Quebec, education is the domain of the Ministère de l’Éducation et Enseignment supérieur.

Originally run by a single minister, the department was split in 2016 and the responsibility of running it is now shared between the Minister of Education, Recreation and Sports and the Minister Responsible for Higher Education.

The main goals of the Ministère include promoting research and education and contributing to the scientific, cultural and professional education of the people of Quebec. Its main law is the Loi sur le Ministère de L’Éducation, du Loisir, et du Sport, which in its preamble recognizes that all children have the right to an education and that parents have the right to choose where their kids go to school.

The law also includes the recognition that groups have the right to establish their own independent educational establishments and if said establishments serve the common good, they are entitled to governmental support. This recognition has come under fire in recent years as many religious schools have failed to provide basic education to their students in favour of religious teaching useless outside of their communities. In 2014 a former Hasidic Jew attempted to sue the province because he was taught only Torah (the main text in Judaism) at a school in Boisbriand, claiming the government failed to get him the basic education guaranteed by law.

Despite its guarantees, the Ministère’s own laws undermine its goals for it is also charged with the enforcement of the education provisions of the Charte de la Langue Française, Quebec’ main language law. Though the government is supposed to recognize the right of parents to choose where their kids go to school, the Charte imposes strict rules on whether or not a child can get an English education in the province. The Ministry also dictates course material in primary and secondary schools, and advises the government on Education policy.

Then there’s the Ministers themselves.

Quebec’s Minister of Education, Recreation and Sports is Sébastien Proulx, is an experienced politician and lawyer. Notable highlights from his time in office include investing government funds to refurbish arenas and curling clubs and his refusal to push for more extensive changes in a high school history curriculum developed by the former PQ government. The course has been widely criticized for leaving out the contributions of the Anglophone and Allophone Quebecois.

The Minister Responsible for Higher Education is Hélène David, former Culture Minister and University Professor. In light of recent sexual assaults at the University of Laval in Quebec City, she has pledged to fight rape on campus and sponsor initiatives to teach consent.

It should be noted, however, that while she seems to be doing well, her reputation is hardly pristine. As former Minister of Culture she was pushing the signage debate in 2016 when no one wanted to hear it.

As in Canada, education in the United States is primarily a State and community matter. The US Department of Education’s mission is to promote student achievement and ensure equal access to education to prepare them for global competitiveness. The Department, however, can only do so through scholarships, fellowships, and by demanding accountability of its schools through its budget.

The Department of Education’s main activities consist of distributing federal funds for education and monitoring that money. It gives fellowships to individuals for research into disabilities and rehabilitation and offers grants to schools for low income students to fund their education.

In order to keep parents informed and measure student progress, the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) requires annual state wide assessments. This helps keep schools accountable.

Now let’s talk about Betsy DeVos.

Despite her vacant claim about supporting accountability, the Michigan philanthropist seems to be against it.

She is in favour of Charter schools, which are independently run public schools granted a lot of flexibility in how they operate in exchange for high academic accountability. They can apparently be started by anyone who submits an application to the state and have been widely criticized as being sloppy for-profit establishments.

DeVos has no experience in education and neither she nor her children went to public school. What she has is money and the 200 million she donated to the Orange campaign got her this cushy job.

Fortunately, unlike the Canadian model, the US Department of Education has so little power DeVos is unlikely to do much damage.

* Featured image: FreeImagesLive.co.uk via Creative Commons

The Syrian official opposition is calling for suspension of the International Anti-ISIS Coalition airstrikes after one of them killed at least 56 civilians on Tuesday, northeast of Aleppo. Meanwhile, the US is hosting an International Coalition meeting to press allies to do more in the fight against ISIS in the Middle East.

Tuesday’s strike happened near the ISIS controlled town of Manbij. The civilian death toll of the airstrikes in the region is now over 125, according to most sources. Al-Jazeera reported as many as 200 casualties, including many children.

The Syrian Coalition, the official opposition of the Al-Assad regime, sent an urgent letter to the ministers of foreign affairs of the international coalition demanding immediate suspension of the airstrikes until an investigation of this “horrific massacre” is completed. It said:

“We believe that such incidents indicate a major loophole in the current operational rules followed by the international coalition in conducting strikes in populated areas. It is essential that such investigation not only result in revised rules of procedure for future operations, but also inform accountability for those responsible for such major violations.”

The National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposing Forces, by its full name, was formed expressly to oppose dictator Bachar Al-Assad and is officially supported by the international community. Their principal mission is to become a transitional government in charge of restoring democracy and peace. They are currently based in Istanbul, trying to organize for the election which is supposed to take place in November.

Amnesty International (AI) sided with them and accused the International Anti-ISIS Coalition of failing to take the necessary steps to avoid civilian casualties.

“There must be a prompt, independent and transparent investigation to determine what happened, who was responsible, and how to avoid further needless loss of civilian life. Anyone responsible for violations of international humanitarian law must be brought to justice and victims and their families should receive full reparation,” urged Magdalena Mughrabi, interim Deputy Director of AI’s Middle East and North Africa Program.

AI found that the true death toll of the strikes was difficult to document. They were able to confirm 60 civilian casualties in the last couple of days and about a hundred since the Coalition’s operation in Manbij began on March 31st.

The United-States officially announced the launching of an investigation on the last airstrike in Manbij. However, the International Coalition has ignored the majority of cases when civilian deaths have been reliably demonstrated to this day, says Amnesty International.

US Seeks Additional Support for Military and Political Action

Meanwhile, they are pressing their allies to increase their involvement in the international anti-ISIS coalition. US Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter gathered 30 of his counterparts, including Canadian Minister of Defence Hajrit S. Sajjan, for a two day-long conference on a Maryland military base.

The International coalition, led by the US, was formed two years ago with the express goal of coordinating military intervention against terrorist groups ISIS and Al-Nosra, in Iraq and Syria. The fourth meeting of the coalition started on Wednesday. Ministers are expected to plan further military and political intervention against the Islamic State in the Middle East.

Sajjan just announced that Canada will send 40 to 60 of its army’s medical personnel in an effort to retake the Iraqi region of Mosul, currently controlled by local militias. Canada had previously announced that the operation to take back the Iraqi region of Fallujah from militias last month would be its last combat mission.

Canadian Minister of Foreign affairs Stéphane Dion is expected to join the Maryland talks today. He was in Washington this week, like many other ministers of Foreign affairs. Together, they promised over two billion dollars of humanitarian aid to Iraq. This is an additional commitment for Canada, who had promised 1.6 billions over three years back in February.

If there was any talk of the civilian casualties during the meeting, it has not reached the media. At the time this article was written, the Syrian Coalition was reportedly holding an urgent meeting “to discuss the situation in Manbij and to consider appropriate action to address such a flagrant violation of the Geneva Convention on the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War.”

A few years ago, following the Michael Brown shooting, FOX News host Sean Hannity explained that he never has problems with police because when he gets pulled over, he simply informs the officer that he is licensed to carry a firearm and it’s in the car. Philando Castile did just that and was murdered by a police officer in front of his girlfriend and her young child.

Castile, by all accounts, was a pillar of his community, well loved by hundreds of children at the school where he worked, not to mention their parents, his colleagues, friends, family and, of course Lavish Reynolds, his girlfiend. A woman who, after witnessing her boyfriend get shot, was able to muster the strength to go live on Facebook and show the world what had just happened.

Jeronimo Yanez, the police officer who shot Castile probably didn’t know what the public now knows about him. All he had to go on was that Castile had a busted tail light, was riding with a woman and a small child, had informed him that he was carrying a licensed firearm and was reaching for something.

Could it be his registration? It would make sense. That is what you’re supposed to show the police when they pull you over, after all.

Could it be his gun? Why? Why would someone take the time to inform an officer that they are carrying a legal firearm if their plan was to whip it out and shoot? Why would someone riding with a small child be likely to kill over a busted taillight?

Why would a police officer jump to this unlikely conclusion and shoot before even telling the person to freeze? Truth is they wouldn’t if it was Sean Hannity in the car, or if it was me or most white people.

Castile, though, was a black man. When it comes to black men and sometimes black women and children, it’s sadly all too common for police to shoot first and hope nobody asks questions later.

Not Close to an Isolated Incident

There would have been significantly fewer questions when Baton Rouge police murdered Alton Sterling just a day before Yanez shot Castile in St. Anthony, Minnesota. However, a group called Stop the Killing had caught the whole thing on video and had the forethought to wait for the police to tell their side of the story before showing the world what really happened.

Sterling was selling CDs outside of a convenience store and allegedly pointed a gun at someone who called the police. According to the convenience store owner who witnessed the shooting, the police were aggressive from the start and quickly escalated the situation. Sterling was complying with them and never went near his weapon which he was licensed to carry.

The cellphone video shows police yelling at Sterling to get to the ground and then tackling him almost immediately. One officer shouts “he’s got a gun!” This was in reference to the firearm the officer had found in his pocket, not a weapon Sterling was brandishing or even going near. Hearing this, the other officer shot Sterling in the chest.

Two black men murdered by police in two days. A record? Hardly. Two black men murdered by police in two days and the public has video proof. That is new, and a reminder that filming cops is not just a right but a civic duty.

NRA Double Standard

Both victims were also legal gun owners. After much pressure the National Rifle Associaton (NRA) released this statement, which didn’t even reference what happened to Sterling:

“The reports from Minnesota are troubling and must be thoroughly investigated. In the meantime, it is important for the NRA not to comment while the investigation is ongoing. Rest assured, the NRA will have more to say once all the facts are known.”

The NRA’s reluctance to rush to the defense of black men who legally owned firearms when we all know that they would have been all over the stories if the gun owners had been white is not at all surprising. While I’m not a fan of open carry laws in general and think no one has a legit reason to own an AR-15, this video shows just who the Second Amendment applies to and doesn’t, at least in the eyes of law enforcement:

Dallas Doesn’t Change Anything

As I was writing this, Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests against these two most recent murders were happening in cities all across the United States (and still are a few days later). In Dallas, Micah Xavier Johnson, an Afghanistan War veteran with sniper skills who was not a part of the march turned the peaceful protest into a bloodbath shooting twelve police officers, killing five.

According to Dallas Police Chief David Brown:

“The suspect said he was upset about Black Lives Matter. He said he was upset about the recent police shootings. He was upset at white people. He wanted to kill white people, especially white officers.”

While Johnson did attain his goal of killing white police officers, he also shifted mainstream media focus away from the recent police killings he claimed he was upset by. Instead of simply chalking this up to the work of a spree killer with easy access to firearms, the training to use them properly and a likely case of PTSD, quite a few people in the media, online and at least one former politician decided to use this to attack BLM, despite this statement that they do not support murder:

This is already being used by some and will undoubtedly continue to be used to push a #bluelivesmatter agenda. There are three huge problems with this.

First, cops choose to be cops, people don’t choose to be a particular race, so the comparison is nowhere near valid. Second, the hashtag was created specifically to reinforce the notion that police are entitled to murder black people, despite being disguised as some sort of BS equalizer. Third, according to politicians, the media and mainstream thinking, police lives do matter and to some, matter more than others.

The shooting in Dallas is being treated as a national tragedy. Prominent voices on the right and even the supposed left equate an attack on police with an attack on everyone. The President is even cutting his trip short to visit Dallas, something he didn’t do for any of the black victims of police shootings.

Police were attacked by one spree killer who is now dead. Black people are under constant attack by an officially sanctioned paramilitary force that has killed and continues to kill them with impunity. Systemic racism is a real thing that’s alive and well in police forces across the Western world.

No, All Lives Are Not Dealing with this Right Now

If you think we should be saying #alllivesmatter, then you’re missing the point entirely, either intentionally or because you just don’t get it. This kitchen table analogy should explain how you’re basically the person railing against a cancer fundraiser by screaming that other diseases matter, too or this cartoon dude:

all houses matter

I’m white and I don’t think for a second that my life doesn’t matter because I say #blacklivesmatter, I know that my life mattering is not in dispute. I know that if I had been driving that car with a busted tail light instead of Philando Castile, I’d probably still be alive right now.

Sure, police kill white people without a valid reason, too, but they do it nowhere near as frequently as they murder black people. 26% of Americans killed by police are black, though only 13% of the population are. The ratio of unarmed black men killed by police versus unarmed white men in the US is six to one (and I got those stats from a right-wing website trying to argue, badly, just the opposite point while doing their best to misinterpret Washington Post numbers).

I know my life matters, I don’t need to scream it. I know that Black Lives Matter and I feel it’s important to let everyone know. It’s not an either-or situation. It is a dire situation that needs to be addressed and fixed now.

Now, sadly not now more than ever, it’s important to keep saying Black Lives Matter.

The three North-American leaders are meeting this week in Ottawa for the Three Amigos Summit. It’s the first summit in almost three years, and the last one for US President Barack Obama. This is relevant because both major party presumptive nominees Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have recently claimed to be against the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and lean towards protectionism.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau greeted his Mexican counterpart Enrique Nieto this morning. Obama is expected to join them to start the negotiations. Here’s what is on the table (and what is conspicuously absent).

A Hope for Climate Action

Climate action is expected to dominate the talks this week. The leaders will discuss how to reduce methane emissions and encourage carbon markets and renewable energy.

The most important thing, both for the environment and the Canadian economy, is Mexico and the US’s commitment to get 50% of electricity from renewable sources by 2025.

It is a remarkably ambitious target; currently, only 13% of US electricity and around 22% of Mexico’s is from renewable sources. Hydro-electricity puts Canada at a great advantage by providing almost 60% of its energy (other sources like wind and solar provide 3%).

The leaders have yet to decide whether to include nuclear energy as an acceptable source. Nuclear energy produces very little greenhouse gas, but it produces radioactive waste that we don’t know how to get rid of.

Including it would mean little to Mexico, because it represents only 3% of its electricity, but would be significant for the U.S, where 19% of electricity is from nuclear energy. For Canada, it means that around 80% of its electricity would be considered clean.

Leaders are expected to discuss how to facilitate the movement of all this clean power across borders. Whether nuclear energy is accepted or not, this would be a tremendous trade opportunity for Canada.

US and Canada have also committed to reduce their methane emissions by 40 to 45% by 2030 and are pressing Mexico to do the same.

Strengthening Relationships

Canada’s relationship with its continental partners has been strained under the conservative government. Last year’s Three Amigos summit was cancelled partially due to Harper’s quarrel with Obama over Keystone XL.

Trudeau’s election drastically changed the situation, as was clearly demonstrated when he visited Washington in March. It was the first official visit in nearly 20 years and it went along so warmly that Trudobama bromance quickly became a trending hashtag.

It is doubtful that the negotiations will go as smoothly with the next President of the United States. While a good relationship with a Hillary Clinton presidency is conceivable, the rising protectionist streak in the U.S will be harder to work around. Trudeau has expressed, as openly as he could, that a Trump presidency would be quite undesirable. Canada and Mexico are thus eager to get the maximum out of this last summit with Obama.

The relationship between Trudeau and Nieto has not had much chance to develop. But if this photo of them jogging together is any indication, it started off on a pretty friendly path:

trudeau nieto jogging three amigos summit

Trudeau’s promise to lift restrictions on Mexican visas to Canada certainly goes a long way towards that.

Human Rights

Mexico and Canada want to sign an agreement on Indigenous rights. They will officially commit to sharing information about best practices for protecting indigenous people from violence, social isolation and exploitation.

This very vague promise is the only concrete human rights issue on the summit’s agenda.

The Three Amigos Summit should be an opportunity to focus on human rights issues above all, argues Amnesty International in an open letter. The NGO is calling on the leaders of all three countries to stop putting illegal refugee and migrant children behind bars.

There are also considerable concerns over the civil rights in Mexico. 27 000 Mexicans have disappeared since the country started its famous war on drugs in 2006.

The absence of Mexico’s civil rights as an issue at the summit is especially conspicuous, considering six people were recently killed in violent clashes between protesters and the police in southern Mexico. The teachers from the radical National Coordinator of Education Workers (CNTE) are blocking roads and train tracks to protest against the education reform and the arrests of union leaders. Footage shows police officers firing on civilians.

Activists are also pushing the Canadian Prime Minister to address women’s rights in the Southern state. An appealing study revealed that a majority of detained women were sexually abused while in custody.

Instead of sitting down I chose to ride my tricycle in the sun. I love my trike, it doesn’t have gears, it is clunky, it is beautiful, chipped pink spray paint lace, imperfect, and it squeaks like an oversexed bed.

pride trike

Sunday my beloved tricycle broke, the back axel snapped and the wheel fell right off. Normally I would have gotten upset, but I didn’t, there was WAY more on my mind. Then later I reached into my fanny pack only to find out that my favorite rose tinted heart shaped glasses had broken. Two things that bring me to my happy place.

I realize now that I didn’t care about these “things” like I would have even a couple days ago.

There was a mass murder at a Gay nightclub on Sunday in Orlando Florida. A man conducted the largest mass shooting carried out by a single perpetrator in American history at a gay nightclub called Pulse in Orlando Florida.

This was an act of terrorism and blatant hate. It is an unfathomable tragedy. What motive could a human have for slaying innocent people?

The 49 Orlando Victims and Their Stories, from The Advocate, they were dancers, lovers, friends…

Omar Mateen was the gunman. He claimed he did it for Islam. The reality was that he was gay, and his religion wouldn’t have it. He was a regular at Pulse and regularly messaged other men on a gay dating app. He beat his wife and hated his life so much that he had to kill the people he wanted to be like the most. The free spirits, the ones who were proud and out about their homosexuality. Not chained in a closet like this deranged gunman. We need to talk about gun control and domestic violence.

Even days later all of the hairs on my body on are on end, tears welling thinking about this tragedy.

My heart shattered into a gazillion shards of sadness. Blood and glitter. Act of terror and a hate crime- terrorists vs gays? Its like predator vs alien for the horrible Republican ignorance, I could not even click the sound on what Donald Trump had to say about this, I was already sick enough at the reality.

People just going to dance at a safe place to have fun. Gay clubs exist because they must. It is a family for people who may have been rejected by their birth families, It could have been Club Marcella or The Underground, it could have been here, my clubs, my friends.

miss pulse anita waistline

Anita Waistline is Miss Pulse 2015, she is a Buffalo gal, home for Pride. I have heard there were other Buffalo Drag Performers that were performing at Pulse that day, all of whom were ok. That literally brought it home to me.

There is no reason for hate, there is no reasoning with evil, violence and oppression is now. It happens and the world stops for only a moment. We listen to accounts of gun shots that lasted the whole song. People bleeding and crying, dying, molten red on the dance floor, broken dreams of people who had already gone through so much.

The frantic mother trying to locate her son who was in the club hit me hard. She proudly told the camera with tears that he had set up a Gay-Straight Alliance at his high school. When I was in high school we did not have a gay straight alliance so we started our own, we fought for it and made it happen.

I am proud to say that the Frontier Central High School Gay Straight Alliance still marches in the Pride parade. I cried when I saw them a couple years ago. It was a necessary place. I do wish it was LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual,Transgender, Queer). Having that letter to identify with, feeling included, is so important, especially when coming out as a young teen.

Direct action is the only way to a revolution, even a personal one. If people are hungry, feed them, if they are sad give them a hug, and if they need a safe space make it happen.

When I went to put my deconstructed trike in my car I noticed a giant Silence of the Lambs style moth crawl out of it, as if it opened its wings for the first time. A transformation, a metamorphosis. I road my trike and wore my glasses in the Buffalo PRIDE Parade last week with a giant rainbow flag flowing strong.

gay pride america tricycle

We marched because others could not. We marched because our LGBTQ brothers and sisters are still dying and being targeted. We march for Orlando because we know it won’t stop there, a beautiful candle light vigil taking over city hall, the Peace Bridge lit up rainbow, the world lit in rainbow solidarity, flags half mast, it could have been us. It could have been my friends. It was. 49 members of my extended family dead, 53 others hurt, the rest of the world suffering, wondering who’s next?

Life is too short to be someone you aren’t, sounds simple enough. A close friend of mine helped me disassemble and paint my trike before she sadly passed away. Chelsea Lee Jones changed my life. She was more than just a friend. She was a transgender woman who finally became her true self, and then was tragically taken from all who loved her so dearly.

She fixed clocks, enjoyed swing dancing, and brought women like her out into the world who were too scared to go alone. She inspired her community and made me a better person.

Life sometimes only gives you a lovely creature such as Chelsea for a short time, but their impact resonates beyond their body. I will forever wear the ring she made me. It takes a lot of guts to be exactly who you are without fear, and that was the essence of her, fearless beyond comprehension.

chelsea cyclist

We lose too many people who are fearless, unafraid, targeted for their unbridled beauty and raw uniqueness.

In the US and Canada it is normal to be different, we take that for granted, but there is still obviously a long way to go. Don’t let fear win. Love wins always. Strength in numbers will gain equality for all.

Be kind to others and take care of yourself. Hold your special ones closer, tell people you love them everyday, that stuff is small but everlasting. Stand stronger and hold your head high with pride, never forget the tragedy at Pulse Nightclub, what happened in Orlando will be a lingering scar on our hearts forever.

Honor and Donate to the victims of the Pulse Shooting

pulse

 

Panelists Samantha Gold and Enzo Sabbagha discuss Jian Ghomeshi’s  second trial, the latest bathroom laws in the US and the Montreal festival season at its start. Plus the Community Calendar and Predictions!

Host: Jason C. McLean
Producer: Hannah Besseau
Production Assistant: Enzo Sabbagha

Panelists

Samantha Gold FTB Legal Columnist

Enzo Sabbagha: Musician, Podcast Production Assistant

* Ghomeshi and Bathroom Law Reports by Hannah Besseau

*Festivals Report by Enzo Sabbagha

* CLARIFICATION: The Peace Bond Ghomeshi signed doesn’t preclude other victims pressing charges. It only applies to Kathryn Borel.

Microphone image: Ernest Duffoo / Flickr Creative Commons