Posts Tagged ‘politics’

At the United Nations two weeks ago, Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird spoke out against child marriage. Great. But Canada officially doesn’t fund any international aid agency that provides access to abortion (even by simply providing referals). When asked to clarify about this, International Development Minister Christian Paradis confirmed that this ban extends to agencies helping victims of child marriage and war rape.

In case you are not disgusted by this policy, girls who become pregnant are not actually physically mature (their pelvises and birth canals aren’t physically developed enough for having a baby), resulting in higher mortality and greater risk of other health complications. This is all exacerbated by the socioeconomic conditions in which child marriage tends to be practiced, which tend to limit access to proper health care. And the right of a rape survivor to end a pregnancy seems like a no-brainer. (To say nothing of the right to bodily autonomy. That’s something the Harper Government doesn’t like to be reminded of.)

Below are the texts of three emails I wrote—to Baird, Paradis, and my local MP (who is not a Conservative). Feel free to adapt these letters if you’d like to send one of your own. I’ll be posting any responses I receive in a later post.

Letter 1:

Dear Minister Baird,

You recently spoke to the United Nations about the need for more action on child and forced marriages. Yet last week, International Development Minister Christian Paradis said that Canada will not fund projects that give such child brides, or survivors of rape in war zones, access to abortions.

I understand that this policy is consistent with the government’s decision not to fund abortion services under its global maternal health plan. However, the need for an exception to this policy in cases of child marriage and war rape is obvious and pressing. According to Human Rights Watch, girls under the age of 20, and especially those under the age of 15, who become pregnant are more likely to die of complications from pregnancy and face other serious health consequences, largely due to their physical immaturity. Further, the right of women who become pregnant as a result of rape to terminate their pregnancy should be beyond question.

While I applaud your efforts to curb the practice of child marriage worldwide and to promote maternal health, survivors of sexual violence need protection as well, and sometimes abortion is a necessary part of that process. I urge you to reconsider this policy and stop leaving rape survivors behind.



Letter 2:

Dear Minister Paradis,

You recently said that Canada’s government will not fund international aid projects that allow access to abortions for child brides and survivors of war rape.

I understand that this policy is consistent with the government’s decision not to fund abortion services under its global maternal health plan. However, the need for an exception to this policy in case of child marriage and war rape is obvious and pressing. According to Human Rights Watch, girls under the age of 20, and especially those under the age of 15, who become pregnant are more likely to die of complications from pregnancy and face other serious health consequences, largely due to their physical immaturity. Further, the right of women who become pregnant as a result of rape to terminate their pregnancy should be beyond question.

Abortion is sometimes a necessary part of health care for women and girls in these horrifying situations. It is hypocritical of the government to speak against sexual violence and child marriage yet deny survivors the care they need. I urge you to reconsider this policy and stop leaving rape survivors behind.



Letter 3:

Dear [MP],

Last week, shortly after Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird spoke at the United Nations denouncing sexual violence and child marriage, International Development Minister Christian Paradis confirmed that Canada would not fund any aid agency that provided these survivors of rape with access to abortions.

This policy prevents girls from accessing necessary health care. Girls who become pregnant are still not physically mature, and face higher mortality and other health consequences as a result. Furthermore, the right of rape survivors to be able to choose to end a pregnancy should go without saying.

As a resident of [riding], I urge you, when Parliament resumes, to work towards changing this policy. Preventing violence against women worldwide should be a bipartisan goal, and treating survivors of such violence is just as important.




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Bill C-279, “An Act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code (gender identity and gender expression)”, has been passed by the House of Commons. It now needs to go through the Senate, so I guess I should keep holding my breath, but I am encouraged by the fact that 18 Conservative MPs voted in favour of this bill. Read more here (for some reason this source only counted 16 Conservative MPs, but the official record shows 18).

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I saw the movie Lincoln last weekend. It was excellent, and tellingly the theatre was nearly full two months after the release date.

Apart from Daniel Day Lewis’s eerie transformation into exactly what you imagine Abraham Lincoln to have looked and acted like, the outstanding performance in this film, to me, was Tommy Lee Jones’s depiction of Thaddeus Stevens. Stevens was an abolitionist congressman who had to retract his statements that he thought all races were created equal in order to make the 13th Amendment more palatable to less radical politicians. (He does so with searing rhetoric, but the emotional cost to him and to the black people listening to him is apparent.)

The rest of this post requires a minor spoiler (probably not a spoiler at all if you know anything about Civil War history or are inclined to look things up on Wikipedia). Stevens’s housekeeper and mistress/common law wife, Lydia Hamilton Smith, was black. (This fact is not apparent until nearly the end of the film and is played as a “big reveal” of sorts.)

After the movie, one of the people I saw it with thought that this fact cheapened Stevens’s work for abolition somehow; several others in the party agreed; I caught myself agreeing for a second.

But really, how is acting in the interests of someone you love—not just acting in their interests, but fighting for their human rights when they have less opportunity to do so themselves—a less-than-noble motive?

Taking the original statement further, is it ignoble for Lydia Hamilton Smith herself to support the abolition of slavery, because she’s black and therefore serving her own interests? If we frame the story that way, it’s the privileged members of society granting rights to the less privileged who are the greatest heroes; the underprivileged who fight for their rights are less worthy of praise. (I’m writing in general terms now, because the argument could apply to any social justice movement.)

This reasoning, to me, is obviously wrong. In fact it’s a way in which hegemony is maintained after it’s been officially dismantled. The narrative of already-privileged allies acting benevolently supersedes the narrative of activism by the less-privileged group and thus makes their contribution to history seem smaller, keeping them as a group less visible.

It also ignores the power of personal interactions to change people’s opinions. It might not always turn out so well, but sometimes it takes having a gay sibling, or a child in an interracial relationship, or a feminist teacher, or a trans friend, or a Muslim coworker to change a person’s mind about their bigotry. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with reconsidering one’s own bigotry.

Allies are vital to any social justice movement. But let’s not pat them—or ourselves—on the back too much for their detached benevolence. Granting rights to those who have been deprived of them is good; but the struggle by those people for those rights is the heroic tale we should remember.

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Parliament just voted on, and passed, a motion that Bill C-279, which would extend protection against hate crimes and discrimination to trans people, be read a second time (bills in Parliament go through three reading before being made into law) and referred to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. This is good news!

The vote was 150 to 132, and all of those 132 nays were Conservatives. However, 15 Conservatives voted for this motion. This gives me some hope. I know it doesn’t mean they plan to support the final bill, but it’s not a bad sign.

Here is the full list of how MPs voted on the motion, broken down by party. If your MP is among the Conservatives who voted against it, I urge you to write to them to express your support for C-279. Tell them to vote for it in future. Perhaps more importantly, if your MP is one of those 15 Conservatives who supported the bill being moved to second reading, PLEASE write to them to find out how they stand on the bill and to encourage them to continue supporting it. Heck, you don’t even have to be in their riding to tell them this. I think I might go ahead and email them all.

We probably won’t hear much about C-279 for a while now, as the Omnibus Budget Implementation Bill of Doom and Also we Hate Science is going to take up a hell of a lot of Parliament’s time. (Oh yeah, while you’re writing to your MP about C-279, maybe you should tell them how you feel about the budget, too.)

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Bill C-279 is “An Act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code (gender identity and gender expression)”. It’s going through first reading in Parliament and there was some debate on it last Friday. You can see speeches in Parliament from this debate here and read the text of the bill here. The bill’s goal is to add gender expression and gender identity to the rights protected by the Canadian Human Rights Act and to make crimes motivated by discrimination based on gender expression and identity (i.e. transphobia) hate crimes—that is, subject to more stringent sentencing.

Let me once again urge everyone in Canada to contact their MP and tell them to vote for this bill. (Here is where you can find out who your MP is and how to contact him or her.) (Oh, and tell your MP to read this.) The bill was passed by the last Parliament but didn’t make it through the Senate before election time, so had to go back to square one—with a Conservative majority this time.

Reading through the speeches for and against this bill, I’m struck by one thing—and it’s not the stupid, ignorant “bathroom bill” claims, which are bogus anyways. It’s the insistence by its opponents that this bill is unnecessary. Because human rights tribunals have ruled in favour of trans people already, citing the clause against sex discrimination. You know what? That’s great that some judges found a way to interpret the law so as actually to protect people. But that still doesn’t mean trans people are actually protected by law. Because hey, sex isn’t gender, and it certainly isn’t gender expression, and saying transgenderism falls under sex for legal purposes is, to me, just like saying “She used to be a man” or “X, who was born a woman but thinks she’s a man”. It’s denying what people are saying about their own experience. It’s insisting someone shouldn’t be offended because you’re not being offensive. It’s mansplaining. Pat on the head, get back to work, I can’t see your problem so it must not be there.

And you know what else? “Oh my god, I don’t know if we should extend human rights to this class of people, what about all the other people who will have to worry about other people’s rights now? It’s so hard and confusing to have to give people who are different from me their fundamental human rights. Oh my goddddd.”

(I suggest trying to be a bit more coherent than this when you contact your MP.)

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(Yes, there finally is a part 2, two months after said election. And it’s not actually the part 2 that I had planned to write, so there might even be a third part sometime!)

If you’ve followed this blog over the past couple of months you may have noted, along with my enthusiam for things that live in ponds, my frustration that Canada’s senate is an unelected body.

Normally, the appointed senators just put the rubber stamp on whatever the House passes. But sometimes chooses not to. Sometimes this group of well-salaried, unelected officials decides to block legislation written and passed by the elected representatives of the Canadian people. Ostensibly, this is a good thing; the senate offers a “sober second thought” in case the House passes legislation that’s profoundly stupid. But consider this: in the last session of Parliament, the senate voted down legislation that would have set greenhouse gas emission targets. And in the week before Parliament was dissolved, when everyone expected an election call, the senate had the opportunity to pass two incredibly important pieces of legislation—one which would have enshrined protection for trans people in the criminal code, another which would have sent cheap medication to the developing world—and didn’t bother to. The unelected senate can do real damage.

Now the new government is talking senate reform—finally. (It’s something politicians like to talk about, until they’re in power—and get to appoint the senators themselves.) The current proposal would set term limits for senators and give the provinces the opportunity to hold elections for their alloted seats. This sort of reform opens up many, many disputes involving the power balance among the provinces, and between the provinces and Ottawa, and potentially involving Canada’s constitution. This isn’t what I want to focus on right now, though.

What I want to talk about is this recent Globe and Mail commentary piece (complete with timely photo of the royal newlyweds). Its thesis is this: that the difficulty Canada has had, and will have, in changing the structure of its senate arises from the gradual process underlying its formation, going back to the earliest English monarchs. Canada has never had the opportunity to wipe the slate clean and establish a de novo democracy; it’s all descended from the English parliamentary system with dashes of the American government thrown in. (I believe it was Jon Stewart who said we were the only country ever to gain independence by asking nicely.) There is some good in this—in not having a history of violent uprisings (there have been some, but not very serious). But this process leaves us with anachronisms, the senate being one of them. Many anachronisms are harmless and might as well be upheld and treasured. (I think having a Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod is just wonderful.) Some are not as harmless, but will require a great deal of upheaval and political will to remove, with a relatively small payoff (would not having a senate change the country that much, and necessarily for the better?).

So change, when it happens, is incremental, and rarely completely solves a problem.

Because the rewards of changing the senate in any particular way will be small—it’s really mostly a matter of principal—it’s quite likely that we’ll see a small change—say, term limits for senators—and then will see no reason to go further and abolish the senate because that first change was so difficult. Maybe later the problem will come to a head again, and another incremental change will be made. In the meantime, we will have vestigial organs in our government, some of which are harmful, but not quite harmful enough to try to remove. It is quite interesting to think about what these vestigial organs say about our history. For though the senate is not elected, it has, in a sense, been naturally selected.

And…now I’m using evolution metaphors; time to stop writing.

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I’m going to give in and talk about the Canadian election a bit, and how it’s changed my attitude towards activism.

For those of you outside of Canada—and those of you who belong to the ~40% of eligible Canadian voters who couldn’t be bothered to vote—the Conservative Party, the most right-leaning of Canada’s major political parties, holds a majority of seats in Parliament after six years of minority rule. They only earned about 40% of the vote—thanks, First Past the Post—but they’re running the country more or less unfettered.

Now, I know this isn’t the end of the world. The Conservatives in Canada are probably farther left than the Democrats in the U. S. We’re not about to have abortion outlawed (probably), or gay marriage banned, or creationism taught in science classes, or our public health care system dismantled. On the other hand, though, we’re not about to have our terrible electoral system reformed or our greenhouse gas emissions reduced, and we are about to get some shiny fighter jets.

It seems that our political landscape is extremely economically focused. This is understandable: the economy’s been rough (or so I’m told; I’m a grad student so I wouldn’t know about these “job” things), and the Conservatives are good at talking about the economy in a way that makes capitalists happy, so they used that to their advantage in their campaign. This means that issues that are more important to me, particularly feminism/gender equality issues and environmental issues, are largely off the radar. So it seems to me that I shouldn’t be sulking about Canada’s rightward drift, because now more than ever I need to do something more than the occasional token petition-signing. Should I try to make a lot of noise to attract attention to these issues, and/or seek out organizations that are already doing this and sign up? Should I just take up local aspects of these issues, which are more likely to have actual results, even though I’m more than likely to be leaving town in the next (gulp) six months?

Two things that I will certainly be checking up on at the federal level: Bill C-393 and Bill C-398. The former will allow lifesaving drugs to be sent to Africa and the latter will enshrine protection against discrimination for trans people in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Both passed in the House of Commons, but the (unelected) Senate didn’t get around to voting on them before the election. Because they’re private members’ bills, they will not have to be re-introduced when Parliament resumes; they’ll be back where they were left in the (unelected) Senate. At present, the Senate has a Conservative majority (elected by 0% of voters because the Canadian Senate is not elected). There have been concerns/accusations from various quarters suggesting that the Senate (did I mention that Canadians DON’T FUCKING VOTE FOR THEIR SENATORS?) will kill either or both of these bills. If you’re interested in following the fate of these bills, openparliament.ca is a good resource.

I’ll try to end on a more positive note. Our official Opposition is now the New Democratic Party for the first time ever, and we’ve elected our first Green Party MP. This is novel and therefore exciting! I’m curious to see how the NDP uses its time in opposition—what I’d like to see is some serious attempts to introduce legislation that a majority of Canadians supports but that the Conservatives oppose. When these are defeated, the disconnect between the composition of Parliament and the will of the voters will become more apparent. It’ll be fuel to the fire of electoral reform, and it’ll make the Conservatives look bad to boot.

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