The truth about Reconciliation: it’s really not that complicated

Assiniboine hunting buffalo – Paul Kane – National Gallery of Canada

Reconciliation with First Nations has been described as many things: complex, difficult, and multifaceted. I’ve even seen it described as a “shitshow.” One is tempted to throw their hands in the air and walk away in confusion and dismay.

When it comes down to things like the details of exactly how to proceed, or how to alter Canada’s institutions, or how to move past the Indian Act, this may be true. But broadly speaking, to make concrete, permanent progress in all of these details the solution is quite simple

So simple that most of the answers have already been given to Canadians. Both First Peoples themselves and various Canadian and International commissions have provided recommendations for the first steps to progress. 

Canada simply has to acknowledge First Nations’ rights as titleholders and decision-makers on their own land. 

That’s the first step that the Canadian government has refused to take. This has been true since before 1867; this is an appalling lack of political will.

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A roadmap for reconciliation

Arthur Manuel was a widely respected Indigenous leader and activist from the Secwepemc Nation who passed away in January 2017. In his book The Reconciliation Manifesto, he lays out a convincing argument for how to proceed toward meaningful reconciliation. His six-point map towards decolonization is summarized as follows:

  1. Formally denounce the racist “doctrine of discovery” and “terra nullius.” These ideas simply mean that the land in Canada was “empty” and therefore was not owned by anyone prior to European contact.
  2. Recognize First Nations right to self-determination.
  3. This right to self-determination must be in accordance with international human rights standards.
  4. At this point, only then can we turn to talks of “who [Indigenous people] are, and what we need, and who [Non-Indigenous people] are, and what you need, and we can then begin to sort out the complicated questions about access to our lands and sharing the benefits.”
  5. Clear jurisdictional lines of authority based on free, prior and informed consent of Indigenous people. 
  6. Striking all colonial laws from the books, while making Section 35 of the Canadian Constitution comply with UNDRIP.

In short, Canada must give the land back. First Nations must be given the ability to have a say in how their lands are developed. Having a say doesn’t mean merely having an opinion heard, as is usually the case so far. An opinion heard can easily be discarded. On the question of land development, it means being able to definitively say yes, no, or yes with conditions.

Land is wealth

Currently, Indigenous people occupy (not own) 0.2% of land in Canada in the form of the colonial reserve system. Reserves are a creation of the Indian Act, which has served as an oppressive, paternalistic force against First Peoples. Reserves are not in any way a form of ownership of land for First Nations; in fact the very opposite is true. It is a system of denying land and title rights. As First Nations throughout Canada expand in number, the size of the reserve stays the same, leading to overcrowded conditions on reserves.

It must be understood that land itself is a significant form of wealth. It has sustained nations across Canada for thousands of years. The Canadian government has systematically taken away a significant source of wealth from these communities.

What if First Nations’ title and land rights had been respected as Canada grew as a nation? What if they had a significant say and a share in the wealth Canada produced? 

It is no surprise then that 1 in 4 Indigenous people and 4 in 10 of Canada’s Indigenous children live in poverty. Poverty has many negative downstream effects that also disproportionately affect First Peoples in Canada. This includes discriminatory treatment from all areas of society, including the police.

Treaties: We stole the land fair and square

The legal justification for Crown land, that is land owned by Canadian federal and provincial governments, is summed up by Arthur Manuel as, “Okay, we stole it. But we stole it fair and square.”

The land of Canada was far from empty when Europeans arrived. Most estimates put the population of North and South America in the range of tens of millions of people. This is roughly the same as Europe at the time. 

Terra nullius, the doctrine of land being uninhabited, was often combined with the “doctrine of discovery” as a main legal underpinning for Crown ownership of land. Clearly, this idea is bankrupt both factually and morally. 

A good chunk of Canada including parts of British Columbia, Quebec, and Newfoundland and Labrador did not make any treaties with the local Indigenous population. Therefore we can say that the Crown simply stole these areas, not so fair and square.

Aside from this, much of Canada is covered by a patchwork of still legally-binding treaties between the Crown and various Indigenous communities. What exactly those treaties cover is another story. The signing of a treaty doesn’t necessarily mean that a nation has ceded their land ownership claim. There are a few reasons for this:

Cree Chief Mistahimaskwa (Big Bear)
  • Some saw the decimation of their traditional economies, such as buffalo hunting on the Prairies. Signing a treaty thus was an act of coping with this destruction.
  • Some First Peoples sought protection from the Crown, both from other nations and colonizing forces. Any treaty signed on these grounds could easily be invalidated by the genocidal intent of the Indian Act and the residential school system. 
  • Many First Peoples considered treaties to be offensive in principle. Cree Chief Mistahimaskwa (Big Bear) refused to sign Treaty 6 calling it a “rope around our necks.” He resisted the signing the treaty with settlers for years until the threat of starvation became too real. With the buffalo population disappearing and not enough other food sources available, Chief Mistahimaskwa signed the treaty in order to prevent the starvation of his band.

Most nations that did sign treaties did so under their own understanding of land ownership and according to their own customs. These differed wildly from Crown interpretations:

Even in modern times, the federal and provincial governments tend to interpret treaties in legalistic terms, contending that Indigenous peoples “ceded, surrendered, and yielded” their ancestral rights and titles through treaties. In other words, treaties can be seen as real estate deals by which the Crown purchased Indigenous lands and provided them with reserves and one-time or continual payments in return.

This narrow view of treaties has produced a huge divide between the Canadian government’s perspective and that of Indigenous peoples. On the one hand is the government’s view of treaties as legal instruments that surrendered Indigenous rights. On the other is the Indigenous view of treaties as instruments of relationships between autonomous peoples who agree to share the lands and resources of Canada. Seen from the Indigenous perspective, treaties do not surrender rights; rather, they confirm Indigenous rights. Treaties recognize that Indigenous peoples have the capacity to self-govern. Bridging the gap between these two views of treaties poses a huge challenge to people and lawmakers in Canada.

The Canadian Encyclopedia – Treaties with Indigenous Peoples in Canada

Moving Forward

One of the most striking aspects of Arthur Manuel’s six steps toward reconciliation is that the first three do not require much from Non-Indigenous Canadians at all. Simply recognition and acknowledging First Nations right to title on their own lands. 

That’s it. Only after that can we all move forward towards real, meaningful reconciliation.

Public health over profit: Covid-19 is surging under Jason Kenney

“The cure cannot be worse than the [virus] itself,” said Trump back in March.

It seems that Alberta premier Jason Kenney and Health Minister Tyler Shandro have taken Trump’s words to heart. The dynamic between the two and Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s Chief Medical Health Officer, echoes the uneasy tension between Trump and Anthony Fauci.

Jason Kenney, Tyler Shandro, and Deena Hinshaw. Photo: The Canadian Press

Kenney and Shandro have been antagonizing public health officials, according to CBC News. Covid-19 is currently surging with over 1700 new cases on Saturday. The situation is quickly spiralling out of control.

This comes as former NDP premier Rachel Notley accused Kenney and Shandro of suppressing and undermining public health recommendations by Deena Hinshaw.

From CBC News:

The cabinet committee, to which she and the group reported, was pressuring her to broadly expand serology testing, which is used to detect the presence of COVID-19 antibodies in the blood.

The problem was that the tests had limited large-scale clinical value and Hinshaw believed it would overestimate the virus’s presence in the population. 

“Honestly, after the battle that we had about molecular testing, I don’t have a lot of fight left in me,” Hinshaw said during that meeting.

The level of political direction — and, at times, interference — in Alberta’s pandemic response is revealed in 20 audio recordings of the daily planning meetings of the Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) obtained by CBC News, as well as in meeting minutes and interviews with staff directly involved in pandemic planning.

Taken together, they reveal how Premier Jason Kenney, Shandro and other cabinet ministers often micromanaged the actions of already overwhelmed civil servants; sometimes overruled their expert advice; and pushed an early relaunch strategy that seemed more focused on the economy and avoiding the appearance of curtailing Albertans’ freedoms than enforcing compliance to safeguard public health.

But at the daily pandemic briefing Wednesday, as the province announced its 500th death, Hinshaw reiterated her belief that her job is to provide “a range of policy options to government officials outlining what I believe is the recommended approach and the strengths and weaknesses of any alternatives.

 “The final decisions are made by the cabinet,” she said, adding that she has “always felt respected and listened to and that my recommendations have been respectfully considered by policy makers while making their decisions.”

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Related: The Conservatives are hostile towards those we need the most

Jason Kenney’s attempt at “avoiding the appearance of curtailing Albertans’ freedoms” is a clear-cut effort to pander toward anti-mask and anti-vaccine people.

Taking aim at healthcare workers, too

Since the start of being premier of Alberta, Jason Kenney has antagonized the most valuable community possible during a pandemic: doctors, nurses, and other healthcare workers. With 750 layoffs of nurses on the line, Kenney and his government have refused to meet with United Nurses of Alberta to renew contract negotiations. United Nurses of Alberta is the union that represents 30,000 nurses in the province.

Things have gotten so bad under Kenney’s leadership that the Alberta Federation of Labor, a group of unions, has asked Albertans to boycott businesses that support the United Conservative Party. Healthcare workers are leaving Alberta to such an extent that other provinces are looking to poach those leaving the province.

“My message today to Saskatchewan is that we will invest in healthcare,” said Saskatchewan NDP Leader Ryan Meili. “My message today to Alberta doctors and nurses: come on over, Saskatchewan will welcome you with open arms under an NDP government.

It gets worse with Kenney too. Many Conservatives in Canada long for the day that we give up our prized healthcare system in favour of a “free market” based system, American style. The UCP is chipping away at socialized healthcare with Bill 30, which allows for public funds to be funnelled to for-profit healthcare. The recently formed party has a history of cutting public sector jobs and voted to reject the commitment of upholding principals in the Canada Health Act.

The track record of Conservatives in power across the country speaks for itself. This is a party hostile to healthcare workers, but not so hostile to big business. Their willingness to stand against healthcare workers during a global pandemic is truly horrifying.

Want to defund the police? One gigantic problem: they don’t care

At this point, we are all aware of what it means to defund the police. It simply means moving money and tasks away from police departments and then funneling that money into new social programs that can properly deal with public health issues. One example of this could be social workers showing up to a mental health crisis.

Photo: @Lulex

Protests have erupted throughout Canada and the USA in response to all-to-familiar accounts of police brutality. One would think that maybe the police might start paying attention?

Wrong. They’ll just punch you in the face.

A pattern of violence

That’s what happened to Genesta Garson of the Tataskweyak Cree Nation. Video has recently surfaced of three RCMP officers in the Thompson, Manitoba detachment trying to get Garson into her cell. 

While surrounded by three officers she struck one officer with her belt. Without hesitation one of them punched Garson right in the face, knocking her out instantly. Then the officers proceeded to drag Garson on the floor to her cell. And the crime that started all of this? The officers arrested her on the “suspicion of being drunk.”

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Or there’s the story of Celine Samuel, 44, from Northlands Denesuline First Nation. She died in a cell in the same detachment in Thompson, Manitoba. Another victim of the province’s Intoxicated Persons Detention Act (IPDA), which is used disproportionately against Indigenous people.

Another similar event happened earlier this year. On Thursday, June 4th of this year, Police Officers were sent on a wellness check of a 26-year-old Indigenous woman, Chantel Moore. The result of this ‘wellness check’ was that she was shot and killed by the police. 

Clearly, even after protests erupting and calls to defund the police, they are still willing to harm Indigenous people. 

A systemic problem

It gets worse, too. The superintendent of Manitoba RCMP, Kevin Lewis, dismissed the violence, saying that the police were simply “reacting to the situation at hand.” When Garson filed a complaint with the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission, police showed up at her home and workplace and pressured her to withdraw the complaint.

There are other ways in which policing has failed Canadians. The Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Inquiry has sharply criticized the RCMP for “rotating their most inexperienced officers in and out of remote Indigenous communities” and that they should “instead find ways to install veteran detectives and specialized Indigenous squads,” for example.

“The continued racism and sexism by many RCMP officers directed at Indigenous Peoples, the high rates of missing and murdered Indigenous women … have caused many Indigenous Peoples and communities to lose trust and confidence in the Canadian justice system, the RCMP, and police services in general,” according to the report. Consider also that between 2007 and 2017 one third of people killed by police were indigenous. Shifting funding to civilian watchdog groups would be a highly effective measure to provide a counterbalance to often unquestioned police narratives and pressure police to take Indigenous people’s concerns seriously.

There is no doubt that dealing with mental health issues on the spot can be a huge challenge, with split-second decision making and crucial de-escalation tactics needed. That is the point. These challenges require specific training and psychological expertise. The police have 2 major insurmountable problems associated with them: 1 – they are not mental health experts, often with minimal training, and 2 – the mere presence of the police during a mental health crisis can escalate the situation due to perceived hostility of the police toward vulnerable communities.

The idea of redirecting police funds to a new Emergency Crisis Assistance Force is not a new, far fetched idea. In Oregon, the CAHOOTS program has been active since 1989. This program responds to emergency crises such as suicide prevention, conflict resolution and mediation, grief and loss, substance abuse, housing crisis, first aid and emergency care, domestic violence and many more services, free of charge. They respond to roughly 22000 requests annually, making up 20% of all public safety requests in the metropolitan area. This program has been wildly successful and if implemented on a provincial or national scale, could save countless lives and provide effective services that the police simply cannot.

This shift in public safety policy must be done strategically. The last thing Canada needs is to defund policing without having alternative programs in place, leading to a possible power vacuum and ultimately defeating the entire purpose which is public safety. Let’s get to work and build non-authoritarian, non militarized, alternatives to policing. Then we can shift our funding from the police to these new, more effective institutions.

A New Wave of Hate: Anti-Asian Sentiment on the Rise

The second wave of Covid-19 is here in Canada and many questions loom as to how the future of the pandemic will play out. One thing that is for certain, though, is that a new wave of hate has spread throughout Canada. This is a wave that cannot be weakened via social distancing or lockdowns. This is an infection of hatred: Anti-Asian sentiment has soared since the outset of the pandemic.

Photo: Ehimetalor Akhere Unuabona

There are legitimate reasons to be critical of the Chinese government, at the behest of Xi Jinping, for their handling the Covid-19 pandemic. They clearly tried to suppress information during late 2019 and early 2020. Doctors and other whistleblowers such as Li Wenliang were silenced for warning others of mysterious pneumonia cases in Wuhan. Li paid the ultimate price, dying of Covid-19 on February 7, 2020.

What isn’t legitimate is to lump all Chinese (and other East Asian) people together and blame them for being the cause of the pandemic. This is clear-cut scapegoating.

Hate Crimes on the Rise

As early as July Vancouver police were warning of noticeable increases in reported anti-Asian hate crimes. By September hate crimes against Asian people had grown by a staggering 878%. Racists caused 9 hate crimes in the fist 9 months of 2019. In 2020, 88 cases have been reported during the same time period. This is in Vancouver alone. Toronto and other cities across Canada are reporting similar trends.

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Other ethnicities such as Indigenous people have also been caught up in this new wave. Racists aren’t known for their ability to distinguish between different ethnicities, for obvious reasons. They’re just not a very bright bunch.

A great deal of research has established that the vast majority of hate crimes and incidents go unreported. A poll in BC has corroborated this: “Since March, one-in-four residents of East Asian and South Asian descent have endured racial slurs or insults,” says Mario Canseco, of Research Co.

One in four. Think about how shocking that is, for a country that prides itself as being a beacon of multiculturalism, diversity, and tolerance.

Statistics Canada released a report detailing perceptions of personal safety. For white people (not a visible minority) about 6% reported racial or ethnic harassment or attacks. This number jumps to 31% for Chinese people and about 27% for Korean people. People of East-Asian descent occupy the top 5 spots of feeling unsafe in their own country during the pandemic.

What Trump says matters in Canada too

Since taking office in January 2020, Donald Trump has presided over a presidency with a noticeable increase in hate crimes and incidents, including a spillover into Canada too. Trump has consistently referred to the novel coronavirus, currently out of control in his own country, in very racist terms. Calling Covid-19 the “Chinese Virus” is extremely problematic, according to the World Health Organization due to the “unnecessary negative effects on nations, economies and people.”

“In recent years, several new human infectious diseases have emerged. The use of names such as ‘swine flu’ and ‘Middle East Respiratory Syndrome’ has had unintended negative impacts by stigmatizing certain communities or economic sectors,” says Dr Keiji Fukuda, Assistant Director-General for Health Security, WHO. “This may seem like a trivial issue to some, but disease names really do matter to the people who are directly affected. We’ve seen certain disease names provoke a backlash against members of particular religious or ethnic communities, create unjustified barriers to travel, commerce and trade, and trigger needless slaughtering of food animals. This can have serious consequences for peoples’ lives and livelihoods.”

Ostensibly, Trump claims that he uses this phrasing because he wants to make sure everyone knows that the virus originated in China. Everyone already knows this though, so I ask, what’s the point? What is he really trying to do here?

Why on earth would any rational-minded person conflate an entire country of almost 1.4 billion people with a despotic government? How could that be anything but an intentional demonization of Chinese people?

This type of backward thinking doesn’t halt at the border, unfortunately. Remember when Derek Sloan questioned Theresa Tam’s loyalty to Canada? While Sloan was in the race to become the leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, he criticized Canada’s top doctor in a bizarre campaign video. Sloan questioned whether Tam worked “for Canada or for China” and stated that “Dr. Tam must go! Canada must remain sovereign over decisions.” Given that Tam is from British Hong Kong, one wonders about the intent behind those statements.

Not your ordinary Rebel Scum

Speaking of problematic lingo, Ezra Levant has also joined in. Levant is the owner of Rebel News, which boasts 1.39 million followers on his YouTube channel. His newest book is literally called “China Virus: How Justin Trudeau’s Pro Communist Ideology is Putting Canadians in Danger.”

Putting Justin Trudeau and the phrase “Communist Ideology” in the same sentence is a comical leap into fantasy for anyone who has a basic understanding of left-wing ideologies. That aside, clearly Ezra has found a significant audience in alignment with this Trump-like language.

In a YouTube video about his book, he recites the previously mentioned quote from the WHO regarding problematic naming of diseases. His response to the quote? He simply responded that the WHO is dominated by “communist China” and that he is a free person who can say whatever he wants. He also does the classic, “China is not a race, its a country.” Sinophobia, xenophobia, racism: its all the same shit, just in a different pile. Life must be easy when you don’t have to think about the consequences of your actions.

To his (negligible) credit, in his YouTube video Levant does distinguish between the Chinese government and Chinese people in his book. The problem, though, is that not everybody who comes across this book knows that. Not everyone is going to read the book.

Titles and headlines matter, especially in the age of social media. Its is very common these days for social media users to simply skim headlines of articles without actually reading the content. I am not of Asian descent, but if I was, I could easily imagine coming across this book – or worse, a person with this book – and feeling threatened. On the other hand, how many of his supporters wont buy the book and simply be influenced or emboldened by the title? Such questions have no concrete answer but are worth thinking about.

Confront Racism at all costs

It’s 2020, and we still have to deal with this shit. When I say we, I don’t mean white people. Racism is still prevalent in our society, and consequently Asian and other visible minorities are taking the brunt of this new wave.

Anti-Asian riots broke out in Vancouver’s Chinatown in 1907, with banners labelled, “For a White Canada.” It may seem like Canada has progressed far enough past this point and that we will never, as a society, return to this type of thinking. In order to prevent that, we must confront anti-Asian racism wherever we can, so as to prevent normalization in our culture.

It’s an American election dumpster fire: Canadians need to be vigilant too

The American democratic experiment is stuck in gridlock. It has become clear that Joe Biden will be the next president with a lead of over 4 million votes. More importantly, Biden has passed the 270 electoral vote threshold needed to win. However, Trump-style politics are still in favour with millions of Americans.

Even though the election has been called and Biden as the winner, Trump has assembled an army of lawyers ready to contest the results. Some states may even do a recount – drawing the results out even longer. This is a real test of faith for America’s republic.

It is often said that the USA is a divided country. This has been true since the founding of the country, but this is also true everywhere. No country is a monolith. What is true is the country is more polarized – its divisions are much more defined.

What has become clear is that American’s have still not outright rejected Trump-style, far-right politics. Trump has correctly pointed out that he has won the most votes ever for a sitting president. This, to anyone on the left, is a scary thought given all the harmful policies and actions he has taken over the past 4 years.

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Some common feelings among Canadians on social media have been of both relief and gratitude. Donald Trump has been defeated and many Canadians can now take a deep breath. We are thankful that it could never happen in Canada, right?

Don’t be so sure of that.

Donald Trump is not the root cause of America’s problems. He is a symptom of a much larger movement that has swept through Europe, Asia, and South America as well. This movement has shown its face in the form of anti-immigrant policies, xenophobia, nativism, and outright racism at times.

Examples of this can be found in the Covid-denying, military-dictatorship-supporting, Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil. In the Netherlands, the PVV party’s leader, Geert Wilders ran on a campaign fueled by Islamophobic, anti-immigrant rhetoric. During their last election, the party gained 5 seats and got the second most seats in their parliament, ultimately losing to a coalition party. Other examples of this movement can be found in the Philippines, India, Germany, France, and many more countries.

Canada first politics

Canada has been affected too – the Covid-19 pandemic has provided fertile grounds for the far-right and anti-lockdown folks to cultivate and collaborate. The party closest aligned to these ideals is the People’s Party of Canada, lead by Maxime Bernier. They lost in the last federal election with a feeble 1.6% of the vote.

While this may seem like an irrelevant, fringe party, this could have easily not been the case. It is extremely difficult for newer political parties to gain a foothold in Canadian politics. In lockstep with his counterpart down south, Bernier has joined the choir of democracy denial:

If we rewind a few years to May 2017, you may recall that Maxime Bernier came in a close second to Andrew Scheer during the Conservative Party Leadership race. It was a close call – Bernier finished with 49%, just behind Scheer with 51%. In the first round of voting, Bernier actually had the most votes.

What if, instead of losing and forming his own party, Bernier had won and become the Conservative leader? Would he have defeated Trudeau? Would he have gained a bigger following? What if it was someone more like Donald Trump?

These questions are asked in order to reveal how vulnerable our democracy is. Canadians need to stay vigilant because far-right populism has not gone away. A long chunk of modern Conservatives have aligned themselves with conspiratorial thinking.

Whether the ‘cancelling’ of Trump by his fellow citizens reverses this tide still remains to be seen. Canada’s electoral system is too similar to the USA’s for Canadian’s to shrug their shoulders at the last four years down south.

Breaking away

Canada needs to safeguard our electoral system and prevent the system from being undermined. Our system needs to be democratized further.

Jagmeet Singh, leader of the federal NDP has put forward his support for one reform that would help make our system more democratic. Instead of the winner-take-all first-past-the-post system that we currently have, proportional representation would be a great improvement to our democracy.

Proportional representation has many benefits and provides a much more democratic electoral system.

It may seem that a proportional system could make it easier for fringe parties such as the PPC to gain a foothold in Canadian Politics. If we look at the previously mentioned case of Geert Wilders in the Netherlands, ultimately they didn’t stand a chance. Left-wing or center-left parties can (and did) form a coalition to prevent them from taking power.

Reforms similar to this will help Canadians prevent this new, 2020 version of far-right politics from gaining traction. It is healthy for all of us to breathe a sigh of relief now that we know Trump will be gone. However, we cannot simply shrug our shoulders and think that it cannot happen here.

Fascism on the ballot: Will Americans drown out hate?

Today is the day where we get our first glimpse of whether or not our neighbors to the south choose to vote out fascism. This new, 21st-century style of fascism has emerged in various places across the planet such as Brazil, Poland, Russia, Turkey, and others.

Make no mistake, even in Trump loses the election, Fascism and hate will remain. Let’s push it back into the shadows.

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Canada is not immune to this export of ideology and we must be vigilant. During our short period as a blog, Northern Currents has published a few pieces on the rise of the far-right. This includes Qanon, anti-maskers, xenophobes, and more. See the following links:

More resources on fighting fascism and hate here in Canada:

The Conservatives are hostile towards those we need the most

While the coronavirus pandemic started spreading across the globe, many governments were caught off guard and had to act quickly. Those countries that elected to put their top scientists in charge and listen to their expertise were more successful in flattening the curve than those that didn’t.

Photo: Chrisopher Austin

We can easily compare Canada to the USA, whose government failed to listen to their top scientists and come up with a cohesive national strategy. The Trump administration and Republican governors routinely silenced and attacked scientific opinion. Canada, on the other hand, put Theresa Tam, a pediatric infectious disease specialist, front and center of the pandemic response. Most other provinces followed suit, following the guidance of their own top scientists and doctors.

It is true that our Canadian government made mistakes as well, albeit not to the same degree. For those of us further left than the Liberal party of Canada, there are valid criticisms of Justin Trudeau’s handling of the pandemic response. In the first round of CERB, for example, there were many people left out such as students, seniors, and those in the gig economy. Luckily Trudeau was pushed to make the program more inclusive by both everyday Canadians and the NDP.

Fair criticism aside, one question to consider: How would Canada have fared under a Conservative government?

Reopen the economy… in May?

As early as May, then leader of the Conservative Party, Andrew Scheer, was already echoing “re-open the economy” rhetoric. This Trump-like rhetoric expressed a narrative common to far-right, pro-big business pundits and politicians. At this time Canada had flattened the curve, but had a long way to go in reducing daily case numbers. Would Scheer have reopened the economy too early?

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Pierre Poilievre, opposition critic for finance, had a similar approach. Poilievre excessively whined about the cost of Trudeau’s response plan, and advocated for a ‘free market’ solution to create jobs and economic growth. Never mind that had programs like CERB and the Wage Subsidy never been introduced, much of that public debt would be our own personal debt. That is, many of us would have to take out loans or pay with credit in order to make it through the pandemic. Never mind that business supports and rent relief actually saved many businesses from going under in the first place, making recovery that much easier. Never mind that grocery store executives most likely colluded to cut workers pandemic pay raises. Classic free-market move there.

Conservative deficit hawks like to make a fuss about Canada’s public debt reaching 1 trillion dollars. This is most likely going to happen by the end of this fiscal year. It’s not as scary as it sounds though, as debt financing is simply how modern governments work. When determining the health of an economy, the debt to GDP ratio is a better indicator than absolute debt as a dollar amount. It is projected that Canada will reach a 50% debt to GDP ratio after having a consistent 30-35% for the last decade. Keep in mind too that it was almost as high as 70% in 1994. The World Bank estimates that countries with 77% or higher for long periods of time will experience slow economic growth due to the deficit. This rise in debt to GDP is only temporary and as we recover from the pandemic, we will go back to normal.

Source: Canada Debt Management Strategy

Ford, Kenny, and Moe

Even during a pandemic the conservative, pro big business agenda never rests. Doug Ford sought to strip healthcare workers of their collective bargaining and other rights with Bill 195. Dave Murphy, president of CUPE Local 7800 said, “This is the way the government of Ontario pays back the heroes and heroines of this province by then stripping them of their vacation rights, their leave of absence rights, their seniority rights, their health and safety rights.”

On the topic of free markets, Doug Ford defended price gouging of Covid-19 tests. Ontario has had lax rules on gathering sizes and little requirements on who may be tested. Compared to BC, Ontario had gathering sizes of up to 100 while BC is limited to 50. BC requires that one must either have symptoms or have an exposure to a confirmed case in order to get tested while Ontario rules are relaxed.

These two factors have resulted in unnecessarily long line-ups at testing facilities. One company, HCP Diagnostics, offered the chance to “skip the line” and take a test for $400. Doug Ford dismissed the concerns of price gouging saying, “It’s a free market society.” Contrast that to Justin Trudeau’s recent affirmation that vaccines will be free to all Canadians.


Since the start of being premier of Alberta, Jason Kenny has antagonized the most valuable community possible during a pandemic: doctors, nurses, and other healthcare workers. With 750 layoffs of nurses on the line, Kenny and his government have refused to meet with United Nurses of Alberta to renew contract negotiations. United Nurses of Alberta is the union that represents 30,000 nurses in the province.

Things have gotten so bad under Kenny’s leadership that the Alberta Federation of Labor, a group of unions, has asked Albertans to boycott businesses that support the United Conservative Party. Healthcare workers are leaving Alberta to such an extent that other provinces are looking to poach those leaving the province.

“My message today to Saskatchewan is that we will invest in healthcare,” said Saskatchewan NDP Leader Ryan Meili. “My message today to Alberta doctors and nurses: come on over, Saskatchewan will welcome you with open arms under an NDP government.

Healthcare workers protesting UCP cuts

It gets worse with Kenny too. Many Conservatives in Canada long for the day that we give up our prized healthcare system in favor of a “free market” based system, American style. The UCP is chipping away at socialized healthcare with Bill 30, which allows for public funds to be funneled to for-profit healthcare. The recently formed party has a history of cutting public sector jobs and voted to reject the commitment of upholding principals in the Canada Health Act.

Over in Saskatchewan, a candidate for Scott Moe’s Saskatchewan Party was caught promoting conspiracy theories about Covid-19. Daryl Cooper deleted Facebook posts on his official campaign page that included claims that 5G caused Covid-19 and other Qanon conspiracy theories.

Same old Conservatives

At the federal level, the Conservatives, having just gone through a leadership election, are going through an identity crisis. It seems that through electing Erin O’Toole, the social conservative base is still a powerful voice within the party. This is worrisome in and of itself, as social conservatives aren’t known for their embrace of science.

If we were to wonder about an alternate future in which the Conservative Party of Canada was in power during the current pandemic, we wouldn’t need to use our imaginations to understand how they would govern. The track record of Conservatives currently in power speaks for itself. This is a party hostile to healthcare workers, but not so hostile to big business. Their willingness to stand against healthcare workers during a global pandemic is truly horrifying.

Refugees aren’t safe in the USA. Canada must help out.

street metal pillar with various stickers

Our southern neighbors are at a boiling point with a torrent of racial unrest and questions about whether or not the current president will honor the results of the upcoming election. Xenophobia and racism has been a central theme of the current administration. As a result of this, the United States is no longer a safe country for many people of color, immigrants, and refugees.

street metal pillar with various stickers
Photo by Markus Spiske on

In 2004, Canada and the USA entered into an pact called the Canada-US Safe Third Country Agreement. The central purpose of this agreement was to control the flow of refugees, mandating that refugees entering into either country make their asylum claim in the first country they arrive in. That is, a refugee could not arrive in the USA, and then travel to Canada to make an asylum claim.

This agreement requires that signatory countries have a good human rights record. Countries are also required to have signed onto the 1951 Refugee Convention and the 1984 Convention Against Torture. Refugees are extremely vulnerable as they are by definition, not protected by their own governments.

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One does not have to look to hard in order to find obvious violations of this agreement by the United States, by leaders both current and past.

Torture was standard operating procedure during the (illegitimate) Iraq war under George Bush, and cheered on by American news commentators on a nightly basis. One right wing war hawk, John Bolton, was a key proponent of the use of torture during the Bush Administration. He was then given a spot in the White House under the current Trump administration as a national security advisor. Although he has since left the administration on less-than-friendly terms, this signifies that the current president does not consider human rights to be relevant when choosing his team.

Stephen Miller, the not-so-subtle white nationalist, also currently enjoys a seat at the table of the Trump administration. Indeed, he has been very influential in any race or immigration related policy in recent years. He is known to be a powerful mastermind behind such programs as the Muslim travel ban, refugee intake reduction, hiring over 10,000 more ICE agents, and separating children from their parents at the Mexico-US border. Miller also went as far as to block a white house study that found that refugees had a net positive effect on government revenues.

Clearly, with people like this in the White House, the USA is not a safe country for immigrants and refugees.


The Covid-19 pandemic deepens the problem too. Immigrants and refugees are more likely to contract the virus for a variety of reasons. Those unfortunate enough to be detained in ICE detention facilities are often kept in over crowded and unsanitary conditions. An astounding 20% or more of detainees have tested positive for the virus. How is that not torture?

The Canadian Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA) requires the continual review of all countries designated as safe third countries. Canada’s federal court has made a landmark ruling that the Safe Third Country Agreement infringes on the rights of asylum seekers coming into Canada. This ruling has been suspended for six months in order to give Parliament time to respond. “Refugee claimants turned away at the Canada-U.S. border face grave human rights violations in the United States, notably atrocious conditions in immigration detention,” said Alex Neve, Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada. Have we heard much from parliament about this?

Abolishing the Safe Third Country isn’t an outlandish call to action either. Refugees from Haiti that were resettled in the USA are already trying to escape to Canada. This is due to the very real fear of being sent back to Haiti due to president Trump’s decision to end their protected status in the USA.

Clearly, with people like this in the White House, the USA is not a safe country for immigrants and refugees.

It is clear that Canada must disband from this agreement for the sake of refugees fleeing persecution from around the world. Even if a Biden administration successfully takes power in January, it is too late. The damage has been done already – xenophobia and racism have been unleashed by Trump. White supremacists have been emboldened, and are on the hunt looking to recruit from conspiratorial minded groups.

Canada is not immune to racism and xenophobia, but we will be better suited to take in refugees for a long time to come.

Canadian Freedom and Anti-maskers. Covid-deniers just don’t get it.

In this land we call Canada, much has been made about citizens handing over certain freedoms in order to get ourselves out of the Covid-19 pandemic. When it comes to mask wearing, the science has already been settled. Wearing a mask is one important tool among many to help break chains of infection, and slow the spread.

Photo: engin akyurt

Yet a strikingly large cabal of anti-vaxxers, Qanon cultists, 5G conspirators, and even white supremacists have aligned themselves under a twisted banner of “Freedom.” They claim that mask mandates (by a government or business) are a destruction of ones individual freedom.

It’s not just mask wearing either. Social distancing, lock downs, contact tracing, vaccines and any other measure that actually helps us survive the pandemic are all seen as an overbearing police state to these folks.

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To counter these covid-deniers, comparisons are often made about seat belt laws or drunk driving laws. If you think that the government enforcing mask wearing is gross abuse of state power, then what about drunk driving laws? Don’t they infringe on your freedom to drive while intoxicated? A typical response from them is along the lines of, “Well no, you see, drunk driving laws are there to protect everyone else around you.” And then it dawns on them.

These comparisons are great for proving that it is reasonable for a government to enforce specific measures for public safety. But it does miss out on a much more valuable and broad point: the role of government in public health.

Public health is a major responsibility of all levels of government. Most of us, whether left or right wing, do believe the state has some crucial role in public health. We can debate how much, but only the most hard core right-libertarian types deny this role of government.


Examples of this are everywhere. Fluoride in our drinking water has been around since the 1950’s. Building codes exist to prevent mold and hazardous materials in our homes. Pollution regulations exist to keep toxic fumes out of our air supply. Health initiatives range from safe sex, obesity, nutrition, mental health, drug use, healthcare accessibility, and the list goes on. The state provides an entire army of scientists and professionals to improve health of the public.

Surely, mandating masks and social distancing during a once in a lifetime pandemic is not an overreach of government. Lock downs, hard as they may be for all of us, are not an overreach either. They are a last resort needed to ensure public heath once cases have outrun contact tracing efforts.

Anti-mask really in Vancouver, BC

It is not only legitimate that the state play an active role in fighting a pandemic in 2020, it should be expected. One only has to look to our southern neighbors to see that Donald Trump’s failure to act and make national plan. Republican state governors followed suit in places like Florida, Texas, and Arizona and now more than 200,000 people are dead.

It is quite obvious that those who view our governments response to the pandemic as an “assault on freedom” do not understand freedom in Canada. Our freedoms are very well defined in the Canadian Charter of rights and Freedoms. Evan Solomon, on his show calls these people “dangerous, ill informed idiots.”

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is one of the most important documents in Canada. Unfortunately it seems that none of these pandemic-deniers have even read the first line:

1. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the rights and freedoms set out in it subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.

Any type of freedom will have limits, as different freedoms will eventually come into conflict. The conflict here is between freedom of association and expression versus the right to “life, liberty and security of the person.” It should be concluded that one does not have the freedom to put others at risk of sickness or even death. Government interventions in a pandemic aiming to manage public health should therefore not be seen as an erosion of personal freedoms. Rather, it can be reasonably justified as fulfilling its role in public health.

Racist blood quantum laws still define First Nations in Canadian Law

Since signed into law in 1876, the Indian Act has used Blood Quantum laws to define who is legally a First Nations person in Canada. These laws were born out of racist, paternalistic ideas of controlling and colonizing First Nations People by the Canadian government. They were an attempt at defining those who have lived on this land for thousands of years in a way that suits colonial interests.

The Indian Act is a legislative tool used to subjugate and control one race of people. Blood Quantum laws are one part of this project.

Blood quantum laws define people based on a percentage of ancestry, that is, how many descendants a person has that are also first nations. If a person has enough descendants, they are considered to have ‘status’ in Canada and therefore qualify as ‘Status Indians’ who are subject to benefits and restrictions of the Indian Act.


Historically, these laws have been complex, exclusive, and discriminatory. They do not apply to Inuit, Metis, and ‘Non-status Indians’ and there are several ways in which one could lose their status. If a woman were to marry a non-status person, she would lose her status. But if a man were to marry a non-status person, that person would gain status. Matrilineality, kinship through the female line rather than male line, was present in some indigenous societies for thousands of years. The Indian Act and Blood Quantum laws ignored and attempted to eliminate this aspect of some cultures.

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There were many other roadblocks built into these laws. Going to university and earning a degree was off limits and would result in removal of ones status. Living off reserve could also result in a loss of status. If one had status they were not allowed to vote. Live outside the country for more than five years? You guessed it, status would be lost. Passing on status to ones children could be complicated or impossible if one parent did not have status.

In 1985 bill C-31 was passed and attempted to fix these some of these discriminatory laws. The fact is that the main problem of defining ‘status’ based on blood quantum remained; This colonial way of thinking denies the right of First Nations to define themselves.

First Nations have lived on the land we call Canada for thousands of years before this land was “discovered.” Over this time they already ran into the problem of who is and isn’t a member of their nation and had developed their own systems. These systems are what should be used to determine who is First Nations, rather than blood quantum laws. Letting nations themselves decide is a necessary condition of self-determination.


There is no one definition of what makes a person indigenous and there are many different factors to consider. This is because there is such a wide variety of cultures, customs, politics, and beliefs among nations with thousands of years of history. To simply lump this diverse group of people into one group is wildly unhelpful. Nonetheless, the best way to determine if one is indigenous is provided by United Nations:

  • Self-identification as an indigenous person at the individual level and
  • Acceptance by the community as their member

Another key point of bill C-31 was to separate legal status from band membership. This did allow bands to manage their own membership. This is a step in the right direction although, there is one glaring problem: even though bands can determine their own membership, Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development provides funding to bands based on the number of “Status Indians,” not band members.

So, we can see here that one could be a member of a First Nations band, but also not have status. This is what the Canadian government needs to fix. Blood Quantum laws need to be removed.

According to a discussion paper by the Assembly of First Nations, this can have negative financial effects. Programs like community infrastructure and housing would not receive proper funding:

As a result, the following situation takes place: should a Band that doesn’t have its own-source revenues introduce a membership code where its criteria takes a less strict form than those depicted in the Indian Act, then the non-status members of such Band will saddle it with additional financial burden.

Many bands that have their own membership codes do use hereditary connection as one path to membership. At first glance it may seem odd to advocate against blood quantum laws while many bands choose to use similar approaches, but this misses the point entirely. The point here is that bands should be able to determine their own membership laws, not have a colonial state prescribe them.