You Can’t Buy Ripped Jeans

Hey guys, I know I promised round two of a Maxime Bernier series but I’m back at school and most of my research has been for studies. In the meantime, I thought I’d try my hand at some creative non-fiction and would appreciate any feedback you might have. Let me know what you think!!!


I used to work retail when I was in high school at a locally owned department store. We sold a variety of products that I would purchase, others I wouldn’t, but none quite got under my skin as much as the selection of ripped jeans. At the time I couldn’t put my finger on it but something about purchasing already ripped jeans just felt like cheating – like buying dog tags for a war you never served in. Fifteen years later I stand by most of that that assessment but in hindsight I don’t think it went far enough.

Manufactured ripped jeans are just too damned convenient. They’re essentially strategically placed scars applied by an artist so to augment the wearer’s ‘cool factor’ without undermining the utility of the product. They’re uniformly mass produced the world over so that any interested consumer can pay twice the money for half a product and collectively project the same illusion. The wearer can feel confident that his or her scars won’t result in uncomfortable stares from the odd passerby. No one will question his or her sex appeal over those ripped jeans. If anything, they’ll probably add to it. Of course there’s a chance ripped jeans could undermine his or her job prospects but by then they’ll have changed in to something more respectable. No harm, no foul.

Compare that to actual ripped jeans. Jeans that you spent your hard-earned savings on that were ripped to shreds by a total stranger who didn’t like the look of you. Jeans with tears that generate stares because they’re a touch immodest and don’t you know they can see your underwear? Jeans that you had no choice but to wear all winter even as your legs damn near froze from exposure. Jeans you grew to resent because they seemed to represent everything that went wrong with your life but continue to wear day-in, day-out because, let’s be real: what else are you going to wear? If you’re lucky someone may impress upon you a sense of pride because every rip tells a story, but it’s a story few will ever hear. After all, the forum is maintained by gate-keepers who found your story interesting but crude and inarticulate, but keep trying and all the best and take care and hey, nice jeans. Where’d you get ‘em?

It’s that last bit that I think was missing from my early take on ripped jeans. Yes, manufactured authenticity will probably always be a thing as the powers that be have decided there’s nothing that can’t be bought. But it will never be more than an illusion because you can’t buy ripped jeans any more than you can buy experiences you’ve never experienced. The sad truth is some things just can’t be bought. They can only be endured, and carried.

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The Party of “Intellectual Laziness” Episode I: The Carbon Menace

Julie Couillard was pissed. Three days after she’d left an urgent message with her ex-boyfriend, asking him to come by her apartment and pick up his files, he’d failed to show up. He’d initially suggested that she throw them in the trash, but after speaking with her lawyer she decided it didn’t feel right and went to his office to return them in person. It’s a good thing too, because her ex-boyfriend was then-Canadian foreign affairs minister Maxime Bernier and the files contained classified information from a NATO summit concerning the military engagement in Afghanistan.

It should have been the end of him but if the 2016 American election taught me anything, it’s never underestimate the ability of an angry white dude to bounce back from political obscurity. Yes, Bernier resigned from his cabinet position but retained his position as MP within the Conservative party of Canada. After the Conservatives were re-elected in 2012, former Prime Minister Stephen Harper even reappointed Bernier to a cabinet position, albeit a junior position that lacked the prestige of his former office. After the Conservatives lost the 2015 election and Harper resigned, Bernier submitted his name as a candidate for the party leadership and was widely speculated to win.[1] In a surprise twist, Bernier lost the leadership race to current leader Andrew Scheer by less than 2% of the vote. Rather than accept defeat gracefully and present a united front going in to the next election, Bernier behaved as any self-aggrandizing narcissist would do. He jumped on Twitter where he denounced the Conservative party as “too intellectually and morally corrupt to be reformed“, and announced his intention to create his own political party. Hence the People’s Party of Canada (PPC) was born.

After the public scandal regarding the forgotten documents, Julie Couillard wrote a book to counter the negative publicity she’d endured from Bernier and members of the Conservative Party of Canada. Here she dishes out a lot of dirt on her former lover, including a now-famous passage where she accuses him of “surprising intellectual laziness”. To be clear, this post is not a review of Couillard’s book. I didn’t start this blog to weigh in on inconsequential ‘he-said-she-saids’ between two consenting adults. More importantly, I didn’t read it. I don’t know anyone who did. No, I’d much rather discuss Bernier’s “intellectual laziness” that is a matter of public record, and turns out there is no shortage of material.

I’ve read the PPC platform and the best way I can describe it is sloppy. It was clearly written to pander to the angriest members of the ‘basket of deplorables’ this side of the border, with no regard for feasibility or importance. Considering that they’re polling at a mere 2% of the popular vote, it’s tempting to ignore them altogether. However, Canadian elections are just around the corner and we cannot afford to dismiss obscure candidates under the naive assumption that they’re too crazy to get elected. That being said, it’s difficult to comment on the PPC platform as it contains enough hasty generalizations, internal contradictions and other logical fallacies to make a Fox News commentator blush. I could not possibly address them all in a single blog entry and therefore decided to tackle this through a three-part series of posts, each of which focuses on one pillar of their election platform beginning with their environmental policy. So without further ado, let’s hop aboard the train to crazy town and see what shakes loose when a confederacy of dunces runs for public office.

Episode I: The Carbon Menace.

The Conservative government under former Prime Minister Stephen Harper was widely criticized for regressive policies on climate change, and rightly so. They withdrew from the Kyoto Accord, muzzled federal scientists, and drastically cut funds to both Environment Canada and Fisheries and Oceans Canada, all of which were widely perceived as politicizing science to appease the oil industry. I’ll say this for them, for as long as Stephen Harper was Prime Minister, he never had the nerve to publicly deny the existence of human-influenced climate change. In fact, while their plan was not nearly proactive enough, Harper himself went on record referring to human-influenced climate change as “perhaps the biggest threat to confront the future of humanity today”. The PPC, in contrast, went full Alex Jones and embraced conspiracy theories denying the existence of global warming.

As a rule I try not post overly long quotations and guys, I’m sorry, I really tried to cut this down. However every time I thought the stupidity had run its course, the PPC communications team surprised me by squeezing in one more argument against global warming that frankly reads like a high school bio student trying to bullshit their way through their final exam. On a positive note, no one in the PPC can accuse me of bastardizing their environmental platform, as this was copied, verbatim, directly from their website. Literally all I did was adjust the formatting for spacing purposes and delete the word “facts” – largely because including it felt like complicity in their nefarious plot to set the planet on fire. I may be sassy but I’m not a liar.

Let’s do this:

“The Liberal government is spending billions of dollars at home and abroad to fight global warming—or “climate change” as it is now called to account for every natural weather event and its opposite. In order to lower greenhouse gas emissions, it has imposed taxes and countless regulations, it subsidizes inefficient and costly “green technology,” and it is blocking the development of oil resources crucial to our prosperity.

“It is an undisputed fact that the world’s climate has always changed and will continue to change. Until twelve thousand years ago, much of Canada was under ice, and it is thanks to natural climate change that we can live here today.

“There is however no scientific consensus on the theory that CO2 produced by human activity is causing dangerous global warming today or will in the future, and that the world is facing environmental catastrophes unless theseemissions are drastically reduced. Many renowned scientists continue to challenge this theory. The policy debate about global warming is not grounded on science anymore. It has been hijacked by proponents of big government who are using crude propaganda techniques to impose their views. They publicly ridicule and harass anyone who expresses doubt. They make exaggerated claims to scare people. They even manipulate school children, getting them to pressure their parents and to demonstrate in the streets.

“Climate change alarmism is based on flawed models that have consistently failed at correctly predicting the future. None of the cataclysmic predictions that have been made about the climate since the 1970s have come true. No new ice age. No steady warming in direct relation with increases in CO2 levels. No disappearance of polar ice caps. No exceptional rise in ocean levels. No abnormal increase in catastrophic weather events. No widespread crop failure and famine.

“In fact, CO2 is beneficial for agriculture and there has recently been a measurable “greening” of the world in part thanks to higher levels. Despite what global warming propaganda claims, CO2 is not a pollutant. It is an essential ingredient for life on Earth and needed for plant growth.” PPC website, as of August 2019

Welcome back. Congratulations on making it to the finish line, your skills of perseverance are admirable. Need a minute? I get it. Go for a walk or a cool glass of tap water. I’ll wait.

….

…..

Feel better? Good. Let’s discuss.

Okay…a lot to unpack here. Let’s start with the argument that the climate “has always changed and will continue to change” until the sun inevitably swallows the Earth whole. Essentially they’re arguing that global warming is just a phase that Mother Nature is going through, as she’s done time and time again since the days of Eden. While scientists agree that the Earth’s climate does evolve over time, these changes usually occur over hundreds of thousands of years, not decades. The rapid warming that the Earth has experienced since the Industrial Revolution, in contrast, correlates to the higher concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere that is a direct result of human activity. Scientists have produced dozens of models that support this theory, that – contrary to what Bernier and the PPC suggest – are actually pretty good.

The PPC continues by claiming that “there is however no scientific consensus on the theory that CO2 produced by human activity is causing dangerous global warming” and that “many renowned scientists continue to challenge this theory”. Really? Got a reference for that, preferably one you didn’t scrape out of the cavity of your own ass? Because I have an entire assembly of scientists who – with the help of peer-reviewed sources and university experts – came to a very different conclusion:

In 2019, the government released Canada’s Changing Climate Record, where nine public servants from two government departments when on public record saying:

“There is overwhelming evidence that the Earth has warmed during the Industrial Era and the main cause of this warming is human influence. This evidence includes increases in near-surface and lower-atmosphere air temperature, sea surface temperature, and ocean heat content…The observed warming and other climate changes cannot be explained by natural factors…only when human influences on climate are accounted for…can these observed changes in climate be explained.”

The report goes on to list some of the many threats – both social and economic – that jeopardize Canada’s future if we don’t take immediate action to address climate change. Indeed, some of them may have already materialized, which begs the question how much worse it could possibly get. Most of these risks are associated with changes in extreme weather, with more extreme hot temperatures augmenting risk of droughts and wildfires, and warmer extreme cold temperatures, resulting in more precipitation and by extension, flooding in parts of the country. The social or human cost of these disasters is immeasurable, however, there are some reports indicating how draining they are on the Canadian economy.

The 2017 flooding in Ontario and Quebec alone cost the provinces an estimated $223 million in insurable damages to roads, businesses and residences as thousands were forced to flee from their homes as lakes and rivers climbed to a fifty-year-high. In addition, local businesses such as the Toronto Island Park lost millions in forgone earnings as their businesses remained closes for much of the tourist season. And these figures don’t even consider the costs associated with mobilizing the military to rescue flood victims, which generated enormous costs to the federal government and brought the national capital region to a stand-still.

And of course, there was the clean up.

The Disaster Financial Assistance program requires the federal government to cover up to 90% of the costs associated with eligible natural disasters, such as the flooding in Ontario and Quebec. From 1970 – when the program was launched – to 1996, this cost tax payers an average of $10 million per year. From 1996-2011, this climbed to $110 million. Since 2011, tax payers have paid approximately $360 million per year for clean-up costs, much of which was for natural disasters associated with global warming.

The PPC attempted to bury the sad truth under some absurdly optimistic pseudo-science, but if you were hoping to offset the apocalypse by planting a tree, then sorry to flood on your parade. Suggesting that global warming will help plants because carbon “is an essential ingredient for life on Earth and needed for plant growth” is almost as ridiculous as suggesting that plants need sunlight, therefore droughts are good for agriculture. Sure plants need carbon dioxide, but they can only absorb so much. The higher concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere compounded with loss of forests due to clear cutting means that plants cannot possibly keep pace with the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere. This puts us back at square one.

So let’s be real. While climate change adaptation may pose some challenges to our economy, that doesn’t mean that the status quo doesn’t come at a cost. Moreover, the longer we put off the inevitable, the higher those costs are going to grow. Many of these will be monetary but some will not, and may include losing a loved one in a forest fire or losing your home in a flood. So yeah, I guess the PPC was accidentally, almost right about one thing. I do want to scare people. I’m all for educating children about the risks of climate change. I’m a socially inept, introvert who’s afraid of crowds, but I’ll demonstrate in the streets if that’s what it takes. But I need to know that my leaders will stand with me, not bury their heads in the sand and wait for the storm to pass. That kind of naivety will only encourage the storm to stick around. Failure to recognize that is intellectually deficient, and refusal to act upon it can only be described as laziness.

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Bummed out? Yeah, me too. Take a minute but please tune in next time for Episode II: the Demagogue Strikes Back, where I’ll be discussing the PPC’s policy on immigration and why it sucks.


[1] As an aside note I distinctly remember that leadership contest because former business man and reality TV star Kevin O’Leary was also in the running. At the time I considered O’Leary to be ‘Trump of the North’ and was actually hoping Bernier would win. Who knows what kind of leader O’Leary would have been but I’ll say this for him: as the son of a Lebanese immigrant who recognized the benefits of immigration, I don’t think we would have seen the same nationalist, racially-charged rhetoric that we’ve seen from Bernier. I bring this up only to acknowledge my own short-sightedness and I dunno, I guess to point out how innocent we all were back then

Hate is not a Partisan Issue

Man, the metaphorical ink has not even pseudo-dried on my most recent post concerning race relations in America and already the GOP is doing its upmost to plunge America in to round 2 of the Civil War. This time thanks to the mad ravings of the current president and his chronic inability to check his worst impulses before jumping on Twitter.

President Trump has always had a weirdly cozy relationship with white nationalism and a propensity to spew racist jargon without bothering to check his facts. From suggesting Mexicans are “rapists”, to allegedly referring to African countries as “shithole” countries, you can only slip up so many times before the public is forced to conclude that you’re not having a senior’s moment, you’re just an asshole. However, it was his most recent Twitter-tirade where he suggested that four minority Congress womyn should go back to the countries that they came from that finally spurred Democrats in to action.

To be frank I don’t know that I have much else to say regarding the President’s tweets. On the one hand I recognize that impulse is dangerous; that it is imperative that we never shrug off racially-motivated attacks, especially when they’re spoken by a man occupying the highest level of public office. However the sad truth is I have nothing more to add to this discussion that hasn’t already been said. I can repeatedly call the President’s behavior “racist” until I’m blue in the face, but if you’re reading this article you probably already agree with me or you never will. No, I’d much rather discuss how the majority of the GOP defended his behaviour and the implications of this on modern politics. The reason being that while I believe the current president is a hateful, bigoted, narcissistic man-child with delusions of grandeur undermined by mounting paranoia, I don’t think that description fits the majority of GOP senators. This begs the question how they can defend the President’s behavior and how this will influence the political discourse in America for years to come.

First up is Senate Minority leader Kevin McCarthy, who argued that neither the President nor House Speak Nancy Pelosi were racist, rather have competing ideologies:

” I believe this is about ideology.” He said. “I think (the Republican) party has been very clear, we are the party of Lincoln…yeah, it’s all politics.”

You know, what Kevin? Massage the language a bit and tweek your delivery and I think you’ve almost got it. Yeah, this about ideology. The president is demonstrating a racist ideology and politicians (who, as their title suggests, are “all politics”) are debating how to respond. It didn’t necessarily have to be this way. Ten years ago I might have assumed that a group of grown-ass men would have the courage to condemn racism regardless of which party it came from but here we are, on the other side of Charlottesville, where apparently you can’t even condemn Nazism without first suggesting that wrongs were committed on both sides. If this is a political issue worthy of public debate it’s only because the GOP made it so by defending or belittling the significance of the President’s actions.

And how are the actions of a previous presidents relevant to what you decide to do today? You don’t hear the Democrats screaming that the Trump campaign must have conspired to undermine the 2016 election because they hail from the party of Nixon. The campaign did that on its own. Moreover while it’s true that Lincoln did issue the Emancipation Proclamation, he did not believe that African Americans should have equal rights and considered forcibly relocating freed slaves back to American colonies. Might be time to find a new champion in your racism defense, for Lincoln has not aged well.

I think my favorite defense so far came from house Minority whip Steve Scalise, who used his air time to remind us all who the real victim in all this was:

(This is just) “one more attempt to personally attack President Trump instead of focusing on things that can actually get this economy going.”

That’s right, four minority womyn were the subject of a racist tirade but please, tell me more about how the trust fund baby and tax evader was the real wronged party. After all, who doesn’t love a good over-dog story? Let Goliath show that little turd David who’s boss, am I right fellas?

Sigh, for a party that’s constantly labelling the opposition a pack of “liberal snowflakes”, they sure don’t handle criticism well themselves.

Finally there is Senate Majority leader and Muppet- doppelganger Mitch McConnell, who opened by saying that the President is not a racist before adding the following:

“the tone of all of this is not good for the country. Everyone outta calm down their rhetoric, and we ought to move back to the issues.”

I saved this one for last because I think it’s the sickest of all. What issue could possibly be more important than the lives and well-being of American citizens? “The squad” who were the subject of these attacks have proven themselves time and time again to be strong, resilient womyn but that cannot diminish the sad truth that language like this exposes them to some risk. I already discussed this in a previous posting but minority womyn are especially vulnerable to harassment, discrimination and even violence because of their gender and race, and when high ranking officials condone this behavior, it emboldens those who might wish them harm. The president’s tweets, whether McConnell wants to admit it or not, legitimizes acts of hatred against not just these Congress womyn but minority womyn in general.

I opened this posting by suggesting that the GOP is doing it upmost to ignite a race war but now that I’m nearing the end I’ve come to think that maybe that’s not fair. Their not trying to start a race war. They’re not trying to do anything at all. They’re simply burying their heads in the sand and waiting for the storm to pass, hopefully just in time to retire with a full pension so the next round of politicians can clean up the mess they left behind. And why? Probably for the one reason that they all bent the knee in the first place when Trump secured the leadership. You won’t find it in any of the statements I listed above but its something to the effect of “we realize our captain is bigoted demi-god with the self-restraint of a toddler at an ice cream bar, but he speaks to the worst elements of our base and we are a pack of leeches that would sooner sell our own mothers than give up power.”

This more than anything speaks to the tragedy of modern political systems such as those in the United States. Politicians may serve on multiple committees with conflicting objectives and beliefs but they should always be for the good of those they were elected to serve. Not the electorate that was born here, not the electorate whos skin pigmentation falls within a certain colour gradient, but the entire electorate, and preventing threats to their health and safety should be their number one priority. In this case not only has the GOP failed to respond to a racially motivated threat, but set a chilling precedent by effectively telling the President of the United States that his racist language is above reproach.

So under the wild and obscure possibility that my small corner of the internet has attracted a GOP-enthusiast who somehow kept reading after I called the president a narcissistic man-child, hear this: step up or get to work on some better excuses, because when the hour of reckoning inevitably comes, petty deflections such as those I listed above are definitely not going to cut it.

Joe Biden and the Sticky Issue of Segregation

So in hindsight I might have jumped the gun in posting my June entry when I gave Joe Biden a tepid thumbs-up rating on the like-ability meter. Of course hindsight is 20/20, and new information often comes to light that prompts us to question the motives or decisions of those we previously admired, or at least “liked”. In this case, I posted before Biden’s first debate and watched his like-ability start to waver when questioned by senator Kamala Harris about his messy history with racial segregation and bussing.[1] For those who missed the exchange, here is a summary below:

HARRIS: I’m going to now direct this to Vice President Biden. I do not believe you are a racist and I agree with you when you commit yourself to the importance of finding common ground. But, I also believe—and it’s personal. And I—I was actually very—it was hurtful to hear you talk about the reputations of two United States senators who built their reputations and career on segregation of race in this country. And it was not only that, but you also worked with them to oppose bussing…So, I will tell you that on this subject, it cannot be an intellectual debate among democrats. We have to take it seriously.”

BIDEN: “I did not oppose bussing in America. What I opposed is bussing ordered by the Department of Education. That’s what I opposed.”

Biden has since apologized for diminishing the impact of segregation in this reply but I still think it merits further discussion. First off, it’s worth considering that a career politician with a history as long as Biden’s is bound to have accumulated a few skeletons in his closet. Times change, and we change with them. The first problem with Biden’s initial response is that he seemed reluctant to learn from his mistakes. And yes, I do strongly believe that this was a mistake.

Intentionally or not, Biden’s response contained echoes of the popular narrative that conservative American activists have touted for centuries to defend the disenfranchisement and abuse of African Americans. The Civil War, these people argue, was not about slavery per se, but “states’ rights”. The problem with this civil war defence was been well-documented by people much smarter than me, so I’ll leave it to them to completely debunk any lingering beliefs you hold that the Southern cause was somehow a noble challenge against state tyranny. But I would like to reiterate one critical point: The real problem with the ‘state’s rights’ defense of the Civil War is that it is incomplete. After all, southern states had no problem deferring to the Federal government during the Nullification crisis and slave-holding states reaped huge benefits from the federal government’s decision to override states’ rights by implementing the Fugitive Slave Acts. The Civil War began because slave-holding states believed that they had an inherent right to own, trade, abuse, and disenfranchise slaves, on account of race. And if any state tries to enact laws or policies that defy the principles that America was founded upon then yes, I do believe that the federal government has a moral duty to intervene.

I am not trying to create a moral equivalency between slavery and segregation; that will only belittle the horrors and significance of slavery. However, both institutions are underpinned by a common assumption that African-Americans should receive inferior treatment on account of their race. And while African American activists are doing everything they can to remind us that black lives matter, we cannot risk electing a president who listens to their cries with deaf ears.

Last year, America and the world at large held its breath during the Alabama senatorial election where accused child-molester Roy Moore squared off against Democrat Doug Jones in a traditionally red state. Jones won the election, largely thanks to support from African American voters. 98 percent of black women voted for Jones, as did 93 percent of black men and are largely credited with having secured his victory. Multiple supporters and pundits were interviewed in the aftermath of the election but I think it was NBA-superstar and Doug Jones supporter Charles Barkley said it best in his closing appeal to the Democratic party.

BARKLEY: “Well, this is a wake-up call for Democrats… They’ve always had our votes and they have abused our votes and this is a wake-up call…for Democrat to do better for black people and poor white people.”

Yes, that was a supporting actor from the movie Space Jam demonstrating a greater understanding of African-American political engagement than a man who served as Vice President to the first black president in American history. Is it too late to phone in Barkley for President? Scratch that, the leadership race is full enough as-is. How about Secretary of State? After all, Dennis Rodhman informally served as America’s self-appointed ambassador to North Korea so yeah, basketball player-turned-politician wouldn’t be unprecedented.

Let me be clear and say that I agree with Harris in that I don’t think Biden is a racist. However it’s not good enough to oppose racism on a personal level if you are complicit in programs and policies that keep racial segregation alive. After all, if I can squeeze in one more Civil War parallel, Lincoln has been historically lauded for issuing the Emancipation Proclamation and evidence suggests that he personally opposed slavery. However, in a debate with Stephen Douglas in 1858, he famously stated:

“I have no purposes directly or indirectly to interfere with the institution of slavery in the states where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so.”

Abraham Lincoln – 1958

So yes, mea culpa. Biden’s history of turning a blind eye to segregation was well-documented and I should have been more vigilant in my research. The difference here is that I’ve demonstrated a willingness to learn from my mistakes and take responsibility when I was wrong. And it only took me one month! Joe Biden’s been sitting on more than a few lapses of judgement for decades but it’s 2019, and the ‘it-was-a-different-time’ defense is no longer acceptable. Time to step up, Joe, or fail to do so at our peril.


[1] Bussing refers to the practice of transporting students to schools in different neighbourhoods in an effort to address racial segregation, as segregated schools received much less funding and undermined the academic performance of minority students.

Forced to be free: Thoughts on the Quebec ban on Religious Symbols and Policing Womyn’s Dress

It was around this time over twenty years ago that I remember going to Corry McClane’s house for a summer barbeque and water balloon fight. I don’t remember too many details about the party itself, save one moment when all the girls crowded in to the living room and one asked if we’d heard the news that as of that year, womyn in Ontario, Canada were legally permitted to step out in public completely topless.

If any of the girls present thought that this was socially acceptable they kept their mouths shut, and let the rest of us prattle on about how this was icky because boobs are icky and good girls keep their ickies from the public eye. The fact that we were all in the process of changing out of bathing suits that 60 years ago might have been considered ‘icky’ was completely lost on us, largely because our means of determining relative icky-ness weren’t that sophisticated. By our metric, traditional western standards of dress alone reflected the perfect balance of freedom and modesty. Anything more was prudish, anything less was wanton, end of discussion.

Yes, I was incredibly narrow-minded but in my defence I was a) nine, and b) stupid. Rest assured that all these years later, my views have softened substantially. Between summer camp, the communal change room at the gym, and a brief stint as a sales rep at a lingerie store, I’ve seen enough boobs to be effectively bored by them, so partial nudity no longer fazes me. From a practical stand-point, I can also see how anti-boobists would make life particularly hellish for breastfeeding mothers and I for one have no interest in explaining public indecency laws to their screaming, milk-deprived offspring. That being said, it’s true that more than twenty years after Corry’s party I’m yet to exercise my court-sanctioned right to walk around topless in public.

No, it’s not an insecurity thing. I’m actually rather fond of my boobs but even if I wasn’t I can’t see that stopping me. I’m not terribly fond of my thighs but I never let that keep me from wearing shorts or dresses. It’s also not a morality thing. After all, I’m vegetarian so if I really believed in imposing my lifestyle choices on an unsuspecting public, I’d have gone topless at a PETA rally ages ago. No, the reason I’ve never gone topless in public is simpler than all of that. It’s the same reason I won’t watch a Kardashian spin-off or adopt a python. I just don’t want to. I have absolutely no issue with any womyn who choose take their shirts off in public but I’m not going to join them just to satisfy someone else’s notion of how I ought to dress.

I bring this up because the governing CAQ party in Quebec recently passed legislation that bars civil servants from wearing any religious symbols in the execution of their jobs. While the law technically applies to all religions, it will have an especial bearing on Muslim womyn who cover their face and/or their head at work. The new law enjoys popular support in its home-province and other parts of Canada as well, with many arguing that head scarves in particular are inherently oppressive and have no place in a modern, secular state. The cruel irony of this is that a top-down regulation banning individuals from wearing religious symbols is itself oppressive. It denies religious persons the freedom to choose how to dress and stigmatizes religious expression, thereby exposing all religious persons but especially Muslims to undue risk.

The assumption that a head scarf is synonymous with oppression is pretty weak, as we can see from example just how far Muslim womyn can and have gone to protect their right to wear one. For instance, in 2015, Zunera Ishaq successfully challenged the law requiring womyn to remove their veils while taking the Canadian Oath of Citizenship at the federal court level. More recently a group of women in France defied a public ban on “burkinis” and refused to vacate a public pool, despite later being questioned by the police and issued fines. And of course the hijab-wearing  Ilhan Omar recently made history as the first Somali-American congress womyn, all while enduring constant media scrutiny from Fox and Freaks and Jeanine Pirro, among others. These are just a few examples but the point I’m trying to make is do any of these womyn sound like they’re oppressed? Or can we at least entertain the possibility that many womyn really do wear a veil by choice?

The reasons why Muslim womyn choose to cover their head and/or face are very diverse. Some do so in order to show their submission to God or serve as a constant reminder to hold true to Islamic values, such as honestly and generosity. Others do so to show their pride in their ethnic identity and to maintain ties to their roots. Some even choose to cover their heads as an act of defiance against Western notions of feminine beauty, which has been heavily influenced by the male gaze. The list goes on but the most important take-away is these womyn are making a conscious choice. You don’t have to understand it, or agree with it, but you do have to respect it. Doing otherwise not only denies Muslim womyn agency but may expose them to harassment, discrimination and in some cases, violence.

This individual gets a passing reference below but for now, I just want to acknowledge his hat…

Islamaphobia is on the rise all over the world and Canada, despite its reputation as your friendly neighbour to the north is not immune to this. Indeed, inflammatory rhetoric that portrays Islam as an oppressive, dangerous force may actually inspire acts of discrimination and other hate crimes against Muslims. Multiple Muslim womyn in Canada have reported racially-motivated attacks and those who wear veils are at a particularly high risk by virtue of wearing a visual indicator that links them to their faith. However the most horrific example of Islamaphobia in Canada was undoubtedly the mass shooting at the Quebec City mosque in 2017. The perpetrator (who shall go unnamed in this article but can be seen in the image above) spent the day of the attack reading Islamaphobic statements from media personalities including Ann Coulter, Bill O’Reilly and of course, American president Donald Trump. You’d think that this revelation would have given some politicians pause to consider the link between hateful language and hate crimes, but no. The governing CAQ party pressed ahead with the ban on religious symbols despite having witnessed the worst excesses of religious discrimination in their own backyard.

Even as I write this I can feel my readers rolling their eyes and arguing that breasts are different. That compelling a womyn to remove her head scarf is not the same as requiring her to remove her top, but this misses the point. The question isn’t where should we draw the line, it’s why do we have to draw the line at all. Social norms governing dress have always been specific to time, culture and circumstance, so any regulation governing dress will always be somewhat arbitrary. However, creating artificial barriers that segregate vulnerable communities away from polite society only reinforces the view that there’s only one way for a womyn to be. The truly progressive stance would be to let womyn wear whatever the fuck they want.

Nice girls don’t: thoughts on Game of Thrones and the Democratic Leadership Race

Hot takes, compliments of Captain Obvious! Joe Biden is likeable, and the Game of Thrones series finale was less so.

I know, internet commentators have gone on ad nauseam about when and how the final episode let them down but for what it’s worth I’m not here to comment on the Game of Thrones series finale per se. For starters (by way of disclosure) I didn’t actually watch the show. I’m one of the few hold-outs who still believes that George R.R. Martin will someday finish the books, so my knowledge of the T.V. show is limited to the occasional YouTube clips and spoilers I read on Wikipedia. So no, I’m not going to hate on your favorite T.V. show; I think we can all agree I’d be pretty out of my depth. I would however, like to comment on the writers’ treatment of its two leading ladies and what that says about how we as a society regard powerful womyn.

It goes without saying that spoilers are to follow, so if you’re yet to finish the series or you want to believe that Daenerys never evolved past season 5, you might want to stop reading now.

Yes, the mad queen of Westeros was overthrown by the mad queen from across the sea and the audience was left scratching their heads and wondering who was left to cheer for. As confused as we were it was nothing compared to Jon Snow and the brotherhood of disillusioned white dudes, who having witnessed the carnage that the Mother of Dragons hath wrought, realized all too late that they might have backed the wrong horse. Ergo, the last queen was killed, a council was called, and the iron throne was claimed by a male character you’d be forgiven for assuming was no longer in the show.

Way to break the wheel, boys.

My issue with the series’ conclusion isn’t so much that Daenerys went mad (though I do agree with the critics that her 11th hour trip down the rabbit hole could have been better written), it’s that it’s another example of the writers punishing its female characters who dare to pursue power. Jon Snow, Tyrion Lannister and even Davos Seaworth too experienced the horrors of war but never truly lost their grip on their moral compass. Even Jaime Lannister actually grew more temperate as the series progressed. The same cannot be said for many of the show’s female characters, who grew more destructive as they asserted their power. Sure, some of them made it through the series with their heads and their sanity intact but the implication is clear: we accept powerful womyn when their quest for power leads to villainy and by extension, their downfall.

I bring this up because after months of will-he, won’t-he speculation, Joe Biden decided that the Democratic leadership race wasn’t already full enough and threw his name in for consideration. Almost immediately he pulled ahead in public opinion polls, fundraising, and even shrugged off accusations of inappropriate contact with his female colleagues. This came as a bit of surprise to me, especially as the electorate is increasingly showing a penchant for newcomers with a relatively clean slate untainted by career politics. However, when I looked in to it more closely, it became more evident why the electorate was favoring him:

“I think many of these other candidates have great ideas,” One campaign attendee said. “They have great aspirations and they’re good on the stump – all the things you want in a candidate. But they don’t have the experience, the gravitas or the toughness that Joe Biden brings to the fight with Donald Trump. He can go toe-to-toe with him in any debate, anytime, anywhere.”

Really? “Gravitas” and “toughness”? No disrespect to Biden but these aren’t adjectives I would have readily associated him with. Folksy? Sure. Affectionate? Afraid so. ‘America’s Uncle?’ That’s not an adjective but I can see where you’re coming from. Tough? No. If you’re seriously suggesting that Biden is ‘tough’ I can only assume it’s because he has a penis, and therefore benefits from both assumed toughness and the freedom to act tough without reproach. The problem with this is the leadership race was already brimming with tough, gravitas-y female contenders that are now being overlooked because a well-known man entered the race.

Fellow nominee Elizabeth Warren was famously silenced by Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell when she #persisted in challenging Jeff Sessions’ confirmation as Attorney General, citing his track-record on civil rights. More recently Kamala Harris went toe-to-toe with Ken Barr over his conduct as Attorney General, particularly as it pertains to the Mueller Report. Both of these candidates have demonstrated how tough they can be but in so doing, could well have reinforced society’s worst assumptions about powerful womyn. After all, it wasn’t too long ago when the current president of the United States dismissed his female debate opponent as a “nasty woman” for daring to challenge his income tax avoidance during a debate. Statements like this are troubling because they reinforce the wide-held perception that politics is a game that womyn cannot win: either play nice and be called ‘weak’ or be tough and be called ‘nasty’ or God forbid, ‘mad’.

And yes, I realize that the current president of the United States may not be the best standard of comparison for how Western society regards womyn. I think even card-carrying Republicans would agree that that’s setting the bar a little low. My point is that Hillary Clinton was publicly ridiculed for doing exactly what Joe Biden is credited with doing right now, largely because she is a womyn and any womyn who dares to assert herself is met with public scrutiny. After all, nice girls don’t shout, or fight, or question the authority of men. A girl who does must be mad, and mad girls are dangerous and must be stopped before they wreak havoc on the kingdom at large.

To be clear, I don’t dislike Joe Biden, though I’ve got a few questions regarding his support for the Hyde Amendment and some lingering concerns with how he handled the Anita Hill testimony. What bothers me is that as soon as Biden threw his name in the ring, the progressive left abandoned the opportunity to make history in favor of endorsing the status quo. And why? Because they don’t think a womyn can assert herself? Should assert herself? Assert herself and retain the public’s respect? I don’t know, but if it’s any combination of the three then all the more reason to defend female candidates, for never was a wheel in more dire need of being broken.

Could it Happen Here?

A number of years ago I remember walking down Wellington Street in Ottawa, Canada and seeing a small group of teenagers setting up pink and blue flags on the lawn in front of the Parliament Building. Intrigued, I approached one of them and asked what the flags represented and was shocked when one of the girls replied that “they represent the babies that are murdered every year from abortion.”

I was stunned. I’d heard of anti-abortion activists successfully push for legislative change south of the border and they certainly angered me but I can’t say they scared me, as I naively assumed the anti-abortion movement just didn’t wield that much influence in Canada. This particular protest was a wake-up call. I’d seen multiple protests in the past and even participated in a few but I’d never seen such a coordinated, elaborate effort to take away what I considered a basic human right. The Parliament Building in particular is supposed to be symbolic of our privilege to live in a progressive, liberal society but any innocent tourist who took a selfie there on October 22, 2014 did so with the anti-abortion brigade’s shitty lawn decor defacing the background. Apparently the movement is stronger and more determined than I’d been led to believe.

I bring this up because all across the United States we’re seeing legislative changes restricting access to clean, safe abortions. Alabama Republicans recently passed a bill banning abortions except under rare circumstances. Mississippi, Ohio, Georgia and many others recently signed so-called “Heartbeat” bills in to law; compelling womyn to carry pregnancies to term as soon as a heart beat can be detected. I want to believe that such legislative changes would never fly in Canada but we’ve already seen politicians at all levels of government express anti-abortion sentiments, which begs the question: could it happen here?

Recent figures suggest that the anti-abortion movement is gaining momentum in Canada but it’s difficult to know just how broad their influence has grown. It’s true that participation in the annual capital city March for Life has exploded by staggering 2000+% since 1998 but you know, word gets out, people plan ahead, it’s not unusual that these things gain momentum over time. Also, it’s not all-together difficult to obtain a percentage increase of 2000+% over twenty years when your base figure is only 700. My readership increased by 450% in one month but in numerical terms, that’s an increase of 18 from a base figure of 4.[1]  Yes, 700 is a helluva lot bigger than 4, but I’m also one person and the capital city March for Life Rally coordinated buses to recruit participants from across two provinces. I’m not saying their numbers are insignificant; I’m just saying that it’s fair to approach the participation rate with a touch of skepticism.

More importantly, this figure doesn’t illustrate the volumes of people who support a womyn’s right to choose but are less inclined to spearhead a counter-protest for a fight they feel they’ve already won. Lives have literally been lost in the fight for universal suffrage but last federal election, 32% of eligible voters didn’t even cast a fucking ballot.[2] As for abortion, statistics show that 77% of Canadians support a womyn’s right to chose and in the face of such a high approval rating, it’s easy to grow complacent. However, while pro-choice individuals refocus their interests elsewhere, anti-abortion activists will not, and that’s when complacency becomes dangerous.

Abortion was fully legalized in Canada in 1989, when the Supreme Court ruled that section 251 of the Criminal Code – which outlined the circumstances in which an abortion was legally admissible – was unconstitutional. Prior to 1989, a womyn could obtain an abortion provided she made an effective case to a panel of doctors, who were (let’s be real) generally white, male and so blinded by privilege that they could not possibly appreciate the constraints that they were imposing on pregnant womyn by compelling them to carry a pregnancy to term. The court did not, critically, decide that government has a constitutional obligation to protect a womyn’s right to choose, rather struck down the panel requirement and paved the way for the legalization of abortion.

Despite this “setback”, the wording of the ruling did offer the anti-abortion movement some space to campaign to restrict abortion rights, as long as their recommendation differed from what was originally in section 251. For instance, in 1990, former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney tried to recriminalize abortion through legislation that could have become law if it hadn’t been squashed by the Senate. However, I think the most insidious example of the anti-abortion movement’s desire to restrict abortion rights came in the form of the Unborn Victims of Crime bill, a failed private members bill that called for harsher punishments for violent offenders who attacked pregnant womyn with the intent to harm the foetus.

On its surface it seemed progressive enough. After all, haven’t feminists traditionally argued that governments don’t do enough to support victims of domestic violence? However, on close examination it became more evident that this was part of an agenda to restrict abortion rights in Canada. First off, the law’s capacity to prosecute a violent offender should not be contingent on whether or not the victim happened to be pregnant at the time of the attack. Assault is still a crime no matter who it was committed against or what circumstances they found themselves in. Moreover, similar laws have been passed in the United States and statistics show that they have no impact on deterring domestic violence. Finally, the wording of the bill was somewhat suspicious. It did not refer to “woman” or “foetus”, it referred to “mother” and “child”, and even concluded with an argument that “It is not a defence to a charge under this section that the child is not a human being.”

Yikes.

To be clear, this was a proposed amendment to the Criminal Code and by law, the Constitution can override amendments to the Criminal Code that violate the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. However, the wording of the bill was ambiguous enough that it could well have triggered a lengthy court battle with pregnant womyn wishing to terminate their pregnancy caught in limbo.

This brings us back full circle to the topic of could it happen here. It’s no coincidence that these restrictions on abortions throughout the United States are being imposed now. Anti-abortion activists have been emboldened by the appointment of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, and believe that with the number of Supreme Court justices now favoring conservatives, that they will be able to overturn Roe v. Wade. Kavanaugh – a man who was famously appointed despite strong evidence of having violated one womyn’s right to exercise control over her own body – seems well-positioned to support legislation that would restrict womyn’s rights further.

So could it happen here? Technically, yes. Will it happen? I’m not sure. Five years ago I would have said ‘no’ but five years ago I also would have said that there’s no way BREXIT will pass or the Donald Trump will be elected president, so I’m not sure what to believe any more. I do recognize that the Canadian and American legal systems are different, and that it might be easier to overturn Roe v. Wade than it would be to circumvent R v. Mortengaler. However, it’s imperative that pro-choice activists recognize that access to abortion in Canada is not a constitutionally enshrined right. There are multiple avenues that anti-abortion activists could pursue to limit a womyn’s control over her body that are well within the limits of the Supreme Court’s 1989 ruling.

Over the past few weeks, several Canadian politicians have come forward including Sam Oosterhoff and even Ontario premier Doug Ford, identifying as anti-abortion. Much has been made of the inherent contradiction of conservative politicians stripping away social safety nets while denying women access to abortion, and I think that’s fair. Compelling low-income womyn to carry a pregnancy to term and then denying both mother and child access to adequate social services has been rightly labelled pro-birth, not “pro-life”. That being said, I don’t think access to a clean, safe abortion should be contingent on a womyn’s ability to economise her decision. Or prove that she was raped. Or demonstrate that her life is at stake if she carries her pregnancy to term. Requiring womyn to “prove their case” in order to obtain an abortion is essentially what the Supreme Court struck down in the first place. At the risk of compromising my anonymity, I will say that I am a healthy, educated, thirty-something with a well-paying job complete with benefits. In some pro-lifer’s dystopian wet dream I might pass for a “breeder” except for the fact that I don’t want children, and I don’t feel that I should have to publish my tax returns to justify my decision.[3]

Now, some might call my decision “selfish” but I have little patience for that line of thinking. After all, the anti-abortion movement has been championed by individuals who’d sooner set the planet ablaze then pay a carbon tax so if you count yourself among their numbers, spare me the faux-moral platitudes. Moreover, I don’t consider exercising control over your own body to be selfish. If anything, it’s reclaiming your rights in the face of individuals who’d violate them to serve their own agenda. The pro-choice movement is founded in the principle that your body is just that. Your body. It cannot be used for forced labour or breeding quotas or anything else without your consent. If we decide that there are exceptions to this rule, we may open the flood-gates to other exceptions that gradually erode our ability exercise this fundamental freedom. Now, more than ever, is the time to be “selfish”.

Elections in Canada are just around the corner so if you care about this issue, contact your local candidates and grill them to determine unequivocally where they stand on abortion. Not just in the case of rape, or incest, or any other caveat that they want to ham-fist in there to guarantee some wiggle-room. Where they stand on a womyn’s right to choose what can or cannot be done with her body. Let them know you care about this issue and that you will hold them accountable if they betray your trust.


[1] Speaking of which, smash that ‘like’ button and hit ‘subscribe’!

[2] Don’t tell me the options didn’t do it for you. There is ALWAYS a least suck-y candidate

[3] It’s not like I’m running for president….