Archive | September, 2012

No justice, no peace

29 Sep

Me in Maclean’s during the weekend of the G20 in Toronto. Yeah, they misspelled my name.

On Friday, George Horton became the only person convicted of assaulting an officer during the chaotic weekend of the G20 in Toronto.

A judge determined that he should spend 10 months in jail.

The victim? A police cruiser’s door.

While the cruiser was unable to deliver a victim impact statement, an officer who was inside of the car said he felt his life was in danger. He had been hit on the head, through Horton was not accused of that attack.

Full disclosure 1: I have, a few times, kicked the door of a car. While never a police car’s door, there have been a few instances in Toronto where a car has come close enough to taking my life that my only reaction is to scream and let my foot loose upon a car door. One time in particular I believe I used my foot to close someone’s door as I was biking past it along University Avenue. While I don’t advise people to kick other peoples’ car doors, I don’t think it’s a crime that warrants jail time.

Full disclosure 2: a police officer knocked me to the ground about two hours before Horton kicked the door of a cruiser. He raised his shield upon my arm while I was cowering in a corner of a window at Queen and John Sts. and he hit me repeatedly until I collapsed. Despite being able to say exactly where the officer was in the police line, at what intersection, at what time exactly, the OIPRD said that I didn’t have enough evidence to be able to ID him.
“What did he look like?”
“A ‘roid-raging meat head. White. Frightening.”
“No, you’ll have to be more specific. What kind of uniform did he have?”
“Well, I thought it was kind of weird to see someone wearing a vintage Princess Patricias Light Infantry Military uniform decorated with rainbows and Banksy images, but I’m pretty sure that. Or, what all the other cops wearing.”
“Sorry, we can’t help you. For all we know, the hospital records of your bruises could have been caused by your friends when they pulled you out of the crowd.”
“I don’t bruise easily”
“Yes, but we don’t know that”
*Nora walks out, kicks police station door.*

The hypocrisy is astounding.

Forget the fact that the policies promoted by the leaders of the G20 nations wreak havoc on people around the world and can be tied both directly and indirectly to the deaths of many, many people.

Forget the fact that the police that weekend beat, assaulted, harassed, intimidated, arrested, detained, starved, kettled and pissed off thousands of Torontonians and our friends who came in solidarity.

Forget the fact that no one has been held accountable for what happened that weekend.

Forget the fact that the $1 billion spent on that weekend could have quadrupled the money available for First Nations higher education through the post-secondary student support program, for example.

Forget the fact that organizers remain in jail for organizing for that weekend.

Forget the fact that police stood back while businesses had windows smashed to justify a campaign of mass arrest the day after.

Forget the fact that KICKING A CAR ISN’T AN INDICTABLE OFFENSE.

Forget all of that. Because, when the world’s most powerful and rich men come to town, logic and reason are thrown under a bus. Repression and injustice comes out in force. You will lose your rights. You will lose your freedoms and civil liberties.

I don’t know Horton. Unlike some of the others who have done/are doing jail time who I’ve had the opportunity to organize with, I’ve never met Horton.

But if the G20 taught me anything, its that state injustice radicalizes people.

A population of people radicalized through experiencing direct state injustice isn’t going to be good for the powers who seek to oppress us.

Indeed, as I’ve written previously, no justice, no peace actually means something.

I’m struggling to pull together something to say about this that isn’t totally hopeless because, I admit, this has deeply depressed me.

So, here it goes: Don’t kick cars.

Our organizing and our movements have to be more sophisticated than that if we’re going to be the force that creates change.

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Gowans is acquitted, DiManno oozes scorn

22 Sep

The other night, I wrote about the coverage that Mary Gowans’ case has received from the Toronto Star. It’s below this post if you haven’t read it yet. Or, here.

Well, Gowans has been acquitted. The judge found that the accuser, an 18-year-old former student, made claims that were contradictory and that which contradicted fact.

The acquittal wasn’t enough to stop Rosie DiManno from going judgement-crazy on Gowans. DiManno regurgitated her column from Sept. 14, today, post-verdict.

DiManno, at one point writing. like. this. to. make. a. point. of. how. little. she. thinks. of. Gowans., continues her character assassination of the woman as if she were found guilty.

She oozes word upon word re-accusing (and re-victimizing) Gowans, post-verdict.

She frames her column in such a way that both paints Gowans as immature, idiotic, a sexual predator and a pedophile, while carefully adding a caveat to each characterization that it’s being said by her accuser (like, adding “he said” to each damming sentence as if it nulls the content somehow).

Yes, the accuser who a judge didn’t believe.

On the subject of a claim made by the boy/man (he’s 18 so…man I guess), the queen of virtue DiManno writes, “She professes to have been blind to their adoration [her fake breasts] and clueless about the complainant’s mooning obsession with her. Such unawareness beggars belief.”

Her column is sick and, while it may satisfy some of DiManno’s fans, is totally unfair to Gowans, the facts of the trial and to the quality of journalism in general.

I can’t understand the psychology of a writer like DiManno: why must she so viciously attack Gowans, again? It’s clear: Gowans made some supremely obtuse calls. Her life’s been destroyed and she’s been acquitted. Why does DiManno continue after her?

My frustration with DiManno and the coverage of this case in general is twofold.

First, with a shortage of women columnists in Canada, the ones who do exist carry an extra heavy burden to write well. Unfortunately, the mainstream press has forced some of the least capable and least able to discern what is column worthy, into the mix of the man-heavy pile. With so few women columnists out there, why waste a precious Toronto Star column on publicly executing a woman who’s been acquitted?

My second frustration is that the Toronto Star and all other Canadian media outlets are dangerously lacking intelligent comment about the many issues that are actually threatening us all. Surely DiManno has better things to write about. Surely there’s an editor at the Star who can take her aside and ask her to try something new…to avoid the gratuitous, self-pleasure of writing a 1,205-word crucifixion and try commenting on, oh I don’t know, nearly anything else.

Gowans isn’t a threat to public safety. She’s not a politician. She’s not even a teacher any more. There’s no reason to give her this kind of negative attention. Watching this trainwreck only makes those of us whose lives are not in total shambles feel better about ourselves, which isn’t the purpose of journalism.

It’s better left to bloggers like me to rant about in the middle of the night, not grace the pages of the Toronto Star.

“I do not see you as predatory” politics of statuatory rape and the Toronto Star

17 Sep

Apparently no sex needs to be alleged for one to endure a “sex trial” (from the Toronto Star online)

The Toronto Star loves writing about teachers behaving badly.

During my time at the CFS, every time a “teacher scandal” hit the Toronto Star, a coworker of mine would always call me into his office to read the latest scandal together. It would be regular: a few times a month. Each time I’d think “Man, the Toronto Star hates teachers.”

Part of that is that I come from a family of teachers. We read the blue pages aloud. We debate the details (and unknown details) when we have the chance. Throw in some administrators and union reps among my aunts and uncles and you have a recipe for many an entertaining night.

Recently I’ve been unsettled by the relentless coverage of the case of Mary Gowans.

Gowans clearly overstepped boundaries in a relationship she had with a former student. Upon graduating Grade 8, the pair became questionably close. A judge is determining just how close, as Gowans faces a maximum 10-year sentence for sexual interference.

She had a relationship with this student. He babysat her kids, volunteered with her and exchanged up to 2000 texts with her over a few years. Their relationship ended when the former student (a strapping young lad by accounts from the Star and Rosie DiManno) touched her and she (uncomfortable with how far it had gone) ended their “relationship.” He told his mother and charges were pressed. A judge is determining if a legal line was crossed.

While reading the seemingly endless stories coming from the Toronto Star, I’ve felt uneasy. Yes, Gowans crossed a line. But why is she getting this level of attention from the mainstream press? Are all adults implicated in inappropriate relations with children held to the same standard?

Then I’m stuck with the story of Officer Curtis Borel. About the same age as Gowans, he was convicted of the charge that Gowans is being tried for: sexual interference. But, where Gowans’ version of sexual interference was horseplay and a questionable multi-year relationship where they may or may not have kissed, Borel admitted to raping a 15-year-old girl.

He was handed a 20-day sentence, served on weekends, and probation.

Now, I’m not an advocate that anyone should be in jail. With folks remaining in jail for organizing around the G20 who have all served more than a 20-day sentence (and who, none of them, were convicted of raping children), I see jail as the least effective way possible of dealing with people who “break the law.” So, this is not an advocacy piece for jail.

No. This is an advocacy piece for fairness.

Borel was sentenced at the beginning of August. Despite this, I can’t find any record of his case being covered by the Toronto Star. (To check, I Googled my name and Toronto Star and many hits over the past year surfaced. Hardly scientific, but helpful nonetheless).

This story isn’t complete as we don’t know the outcome of Gowans’ trial. However, to read the Toronto Star’s coverage paints the picture of a desperate woman who gambled her family and husband on a kid. Her life is ruined.

No doubt Borel’s is ruined too. But there’s a difference between Borel and Gowans’. She never had sex with her former student. Borel met his victim at a “party house” and articles about her paint her as reluctant, unsure and having had sex with him consensually…. as if a 15-year-old can consent to sex with a 39-year-old.

So, I remain torn. Is it the fact that Gowans is a teacher in Toronto, and Borel was a cop outside of the GTA that has changed the level of coverage? Doubt is, as the Toronto Sun covered the trial. Is it the fact that Gowan’s transgression is worse than Borel’s? No… Is a teacher subject to greater scrutiny than police… seemingly yes, in this case.

But, I also can’t shake out of my head that this has more to do with the fact that Gowans is a woman. The boy with whom she had a relationship is, despite being a boy and the victim, consistently described by his manliness: his athleticism, his height, his apparent strength. Gowans is painted both as a predator and a victim. Indeed, when you read through the “alleges” she comes off as a victim.

In Borel’s case, the victim is clearly a victim, but her hesitancy builds a narrative that Borel, who was in personal trouble, just decided to have consensual sex with…oops…. someone who turned out to be 15. It’s Trainspotting all over again (with a 10-year age difference turned into a 29 year age difference…). And, in the end, he (legally) got off pretty light. (no doubt that his life is otherwise ruined).

So, I’ll have to wait until the verdict in Gowans’ trial to make a better comparison.

But the questions still remain: what is with the Toronto Star’s obsession with teachers?

There are bad people doing their jobs poorly everywhere. The difference here is this: Gowans was, despite her transgressions, a highly popular teacher in her school. This builds a delightful, and easy narrative.

We have no idea what kind of cop Borel was…the newspaper coverage didn’t dredge up that kind of information.

But to me, this is a story of a one-way mirror.

Unfortunately, we don’t have a similar record of journalists who do their jobs poorly as we do teachers (or even cops). But journalists who write about these trials do so as if they exist in a vacuum. This does more damage than good both to the victim, the perpetrator and to the community at large.

It’s no secret that teachers having sex ignites the online world like little else (other than cute cat pictures): take a quick look around Fark and this is obvious.

However, mainstream papers have a duty to be consistent in their coverage. Stop with the public crucifixions of people (teachers, especially). Or, if you’re going to treat a Mary Gowans in this way, you better spend the same amount of resources (and Rosie DiMannos) on the Curtis Borels of the world.

So, with more questions than answers, I’m left with a simple piece of advice to the editors out there:

Journalists should  keep in mind that theirs is a distorted lens. They are not under the same scrutiny that they dish out and this gives them power. For example, no way would I write about the gross, lecherous behavior I’ve seen or have heard of undertaken by journalists (conferences are great for watching this), but I’ve heard and seen it happen. I’m unaware of anything to the extent of Gowans and Borels, but, just because no one’s writing about your sexcapades doesn’t give you a green light to destroy the lives of others.

Journalists: please, please please: use caution and keep your humanity as you yield your keyboards.

Dear Ontario teachers:

12 Sep

I know you’re angry right now. You should be. That your bargaining process has been interrupted by the reprehensible actions of the Liberals and Progressive Conservatives in Ontario should outrage you and all Ontarians who support you.

I want to acknowledge your pain. Having never had a student wet himself beside me, having never had to separate a fight where girls’ hair is strewn across the floor, having never had to explain why the Merchant of Venice doesn’t suck, having never had to stop myself from swearing for more than a few days at a time….I know that what you do I could never do. What you do, most people can’t do. Even with the shitty teachers lumped in, the service you give to the community deserves to be acknowledged, honoured and celebrated.

Somehow, this message hasn’t gotten to Dalton McGuinty. Somehow his teacher-wife who I assume he talks to has withheld this vital information from him whenever they chat. Somehow his memories of high school (likely awkward) have clouded his judgement. Values of fairness, respect and process have been lost or forgotten.

Today was a terrible day in the history of Ontario.

In part, you are to blame. You spend too much time with students. Unlike the current government, you don’t issue a press release every time little Preethy learns to spell or big Hugh walks into class on time. You don’t brag to the world that another cohort of students have come and gone from your classroom with more knowledge than before. If you took the government’s approach to public relations, you would release an advisory about every child, every three days, even if medium-sized James was still a terrible fractioner.

In part, your union representatives are to blame. They thought that only Hudak could be as bad as Mike Harris. They were wrong. They thought that *maybe* Dalton was different. Despite having taken no action on much of the waste and poor policy ideas of the Harris years (like EQAO), they thought -just maybe- Dalton’ll respect us.

Did you know that one of the stats that Dalton likes to keep referencing is that under his watch, there’s been zero days lost to teacher strikes? He drags that out whenever he can. I first saw it at the Liberal convention in 2011. No mention, of course, that Ontario have a college professor strike under his watch. But who’s counting?

Dalton knows that playing politics with teachers is risky business. Screwing over the people who spend the most time with your children is not the smartest idea. But, his kids are grown now so bets are off, apparently.

You’ve all been used. Disrespected. Shamed. He’s hoping that you’ll return to your classrooms and never mention this again. He knows that your other political options aren’t the strongest and that many of you will reluctantly return to the Liberal tent.

But, you don’t have to do this.

You’ve just experienced what many progressive people would call “oppression” and it was at the hands of the “law” or, the people who you elected to represent you. These people were empowered by your votes, are paid with by your money, play with your money and then make your most powerful tool, a strike, illegal.

When you experience an injustice at the hands of people you pay and you elected, you have to first acknowledge that you’re part of the problem. Then, that there’s something you can do to fix it.

I urge you to think beyond work-to-rule. That pisses off the most keen or the most in need of extracurrirulars. The most keen will grow up to become embittered politicians and repeat this vicious cycle. The most in need of extracurriculars are the ones you care about the most.

Instead:

-Refuse to mark anything. Refuse to submit grades. Refuse to administer tests. Use this as an opportunity to be creative and responsive to your students. Give fake grades to the students who need to hear that they’re better than everyone else.

-Refuse to administer the government’s standard tests. Return the tests blank.

-Talk to your students about what has happened. Organize protests at your school in any way you can.

-Mail all your garbage to Queen’s Park. Because, why not? (primary teachers: this could include wood shavings…)

-Take your kids outside for class once a week. Hold class outside in protest (the kids will probably love this).

-Write a letter and send it to all of your kids’ parents about how you have been affected by this decision.

-Consider a wildcat strike. Tell your most active, badass kids to spread the word in advance so that no one actually shows up to school.

-Encourage your students to boycott their uniforms.

-Never forget and spend every second you have not marking to rage against this decision.

-Make sure that you have a few colleagues ready to take action with you. Do this together.

Teachers, I really feel for you. This hasn’t been fair. But, remember that the saying “no justice, no peace” actually means something.

Keep the children safe, get creative, and fight back with everything you have.

 

**I updated a sentence where I misused a comma. The rogue comma lead some to the interpretation that I think elementary teachers are garbage. It has been corrected.

Ontario students: it’s time to step up

10 Sep

In 2005 during the last college professor strike, CSA organized students to protest their professors by wearing pawn hats and making signs like these.

I’m writing this listening to April 26 1992 by Sublime. If you’ve never heard it, you must. It was in Québec City where I first heard this song many years ago and, having had the FTAA protests, it’s a pretty appropriate place to be introduced to such a song.

So, while writing this, I’m inspired by songs of rioting. I just thought it was useful for you to know that.

This week, Statistics Canada should release its tuition fee data. If it’s like the past two years it will come out late next week. Or, if it’s like the 2 years before that, late October.

Québec students just had a massive victory. After the longest student strike in Canadian history, a high profile campaign that embarrassed the hell out of the establishment and sticking to principles of direct democracy, they managed to block the hike like they said they would. They also embarrassed the hell out of Jean Charest who’s next political step will have to be behind the veil of patronage that is given to all failed politicians who, despite having received a veritable shit kicking, still slide their selves into high paying consultant positions or new, high profile law firms.

Actually, if Charest receives anything less than a Senate appointment, my guess is that we can assume he was snubbed. Or maybe he’ll take over for Dalton McGuinty.

Now, for activists who believe that higher education should be free, this isn’t a total victory. The PQ will continue to increase tuition fees by the rate of inflation, but it’s much better than what Charest was promising.

Indeed, the students have won enough hearts and minds of Québecers to truly influence government.

Québec’s fees will remain relatively stable next week in StatsCan’s data. So will Newfoundland and Labrador’s, where students, united, have been successful at rolling back tuition fees at a rate unseen in any other Canadian province.

For Ontario, the data will demonstrate, again, that students will be paying more. With the seventh consecutive tuition fee increase of up to 8%, Ontario’s tuition fee gap as the most expensive province in which to study will continue to widen. On average, undergrad tuition fees will likely rise from $6,640 per year to $6,972. That’s nearly $7K *on average*.  For graduate students, their average fees will likely be around $8,184 (this number is misleading: StatsCan has admitted to excluding MBA tuition fees from this calculation because, as they told us at the CFS at the start of this practice, it skews the average…. wtf).

None of what I’ve written here, though, will be a surprise to any student who has just received their tuition fee bill.

This is the fault of neo-liberal wolves wearing some sheepskin trying to pretend that they’re of the enlightened humanist class (just read the Glen Murray, Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities says online…) Ontario students cannot afford to keep accepting these tuition fee hikes.

And yet, “student” organizations like the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance and the College Student Alliance strangle any hope of activism on their campus through their confusing use of doublespeak, faulty logic and outright lies. OUSA’s last major submission boasted that they had the plan to increase quality without any additional cost. This, coming from an organization that supports higher tuition fees, is outrageous and certainly not reflecting the opinions of anyone on their campuses who aren’t members of the Young Liberals or babysitting the houses of their university administrators. The College Student Alliance was too busy playing a public relations game to support college management during OPSEU’s recent round of negotiations to even discuss quality or tuition fees any time recently on their website, though their last coherent position on tuition fees was that they should rise by (wait for it………) five per cent.

Ontario students have to take back the student organizing on their campuses. They have to approach their students’ unions, use their resources and organize through the structures that they can access. If, like at McMaster University, their General Assemblies have been taken over by Liberal/Conservative students who are only interested in raising student fees to give the administration more money for student activities, the students have to rise up and take back their students’ union.

It’s absurd that Ontario students, studying right beside Québec, pay three times more for the same education. The only difference is that students in Ontario have been betrayed by all three political parties and the popular movements that support lower fees are more organized in Québec.  So, some lessons:

College students: take back your students’ unions. College students in Québec have *free* education and you can too. You need to get organized, take control back from student union staff who have built fiefdoms around them and kick them out. It’s your money, it’s your campus and it’s your right.

University students: everything I said for college students goes for you too, other than the free education part. Get organized. Reject the rhetoric of “pragmatic lobbying” that so many Liberal-controlled students’ unions hide behind and democratize your students’ unions.

If you go to a school where your students’ union is a member of the Canadian Federation of Students, your task will be easier. Show up one day and volunteer, call a general assembly or organize an action. If you find it isn’t that simple, leave a message below and I’ll hook you up.

Québec (and Newfoundland and Labrador) show Ontario students that it is possible. It’s totally possible. All it takes is strategy, solidarity, some risk-taking, creativity and a relentless drive for fairness and justice for you and your classmates.

Welcome back to school. I too have three classes this semester and will be feeling your pain..though as a student through the University of Saskatchewan, my tuition fees this year were lower than they were at Ryerson when I started in 2003.

Fear not a discussion on sovereignty.

4 Sep

“If you look at Québec solidaire, they’re a hard left political party that believes in the separation of our country” –unhelpful rhetoric from Ian Capstick, former NDP staffer, this morning on The Current.

Tonight, eyes across Canada will be on Québec. It’s nice to have everyone pay attention. I didn’t feel like during the last Ontario election the outcome mattered all that much and so no one was watching. It was clear that the PCs had fumbled and the NDP would pick up a few protest votes cast to spite the Liberals more than support the NDP. In retrospect, there probably would have been no difference between a McGuinty ultra majority, or a Conservative majority, so Québec’s election is a good reminder that sometimes, yes, elections matter.

There’s been a lot of scary writing by people about how we’re all doomed if (when) the PQ wins.

In the Kitchener-Waterloo by-election, the best insult Liberals could hurl at Mulcair is that he’s a separatist (which, to argue this must ignore nearly all of his political past).

Inspired by what I’ve seen online this past week, I’m writing to assure you, dear Canadian, that there’s no reason to be worried about the future of Canada as it may or may not hinge on tonight’s results. No, you should worry about the future of Canada for other reasons.

Some people use Québec to scare non-Québec Canadians to whip up nationalistic feelings of patriotism so that we simply fall in line. Just like Marois has done to avoid talking about real policies, commentators in the ROC are doing the same thing. It’s easy to scare people with the belief that Canada is about to collapse because of Québec than to allow Canadians to see which public policies are possible, like 7$/day daycare. If Canadians knew about Québec’s approach to social programs they might just start demanding them in Nova Scotia or Ontario. They might start taking to the streets in the hundreds of thousands.

Instead: fear separation. Fear the separatists who hate Canada like terrorists hate freedom.

I can’t bring myself to the level of nationalistic, Canadian fervor to become concerned with the protection and maintenance of Canada’s borders. Despite being an Anglophone living in Québec, studying in Saskatchewan and with all my family in Ontario, I don’t understand the fear that it seems folks have with having this discussion.

Our borders are invented. They run through national lines that had evolved through war, cooperation, familial lines and trade. We had no part in shaping them. They were imposed upon this land by a few people in England and a few people in Canada. Like the myths that surround Pierre Trudeau, our borders have taken on a place in our consciousness that builds them up to be something that they aren’t really.

Québecers have a history of being hyper aware of their place, or non-place, in the Canadian confederation, so it’s no surprise to me that the conversation has traditionally been of sovereignty or federalism. But this dichotomy isn’t good enough. It’s clear to me that we have to evolve this discussion beyond “will I need a passport to visit Québec?”

Québec isn’t going to change the make-up of this Canada. New models of self-governance emerging from First Nations communities are the biggest “threat” to Canadian federalism, and I support these struggles. If First Nations communities can succeed in winning their autonomy from local authorities, and if they can enter into new kinds of relationships with existing provinces or municipalities, well then, we will have a new model on our hands. And it may work for the rest of us too. It would change the face of the Canadian federation for the better.

When I hear about sovereignty, I hear people who are legitimately frustrated and angry with a federal government that they, by in large, did not elect. I hear people outraged that their money is being spent on war rather than education or pharmacare. I hear people who are scared that the relentless drive toward English that exists around the world through the movement of global capital will also wash out the French from this province.

I hear similar frustrations in Ontario and Saskatchewan too. The difference is that the answer isn’t to have a full-scale reexamination of our borders. Instead, there is no answer. It’s normally just sighing, disenfranchisement and anger washed down by a beer.

Our people make up Canada: WE are Canada and people are hurting, bad. When can we talk about the hurt that our borders and our political system have inflicted upon us? And, for the ROC, when can we/you ask the question, what must change to make it better for our communities?

I’ve avoided dissecting the problems with the PQ version of sovereignty so far, of which there are many, just because it’s another post altogether. But the PQ’s wants the easiest path to a free Québec: have a vote, win, declare independence. This isn’t sufficient. It takes on the same nationalistic xenophobia that exists in the rest of Canada, translates it, and uses it to create a mini, French version of what Québec just ceded from. Parizeau’s “money and the ethnic vote” comment in 1995 was a good indication of the problems with how the last push for sovereignty was formulated. I wrote an essay on it in Grade 10 history.

But the current rhetoric from Marois is just real politik. She’s trying to get elected. Her polls are saying that this rhetoric will work in target ridings and she’s going for it. That’s how our democracy works. She’s playing by the same rulebook as all the other mainstream parties. Taking issue with Marois’ approach is to take issue with the manifestation of Canadian democracy itself.

This is why new discussions emerging from Québec solidaire, for example, are so important. Their’s is a new way to approach this issue. It’s inclusive. It offers the rest of Canada a potential model for the reenfranchisement of people everywhere.

Why are partisan political commentators so concerned when we talk about changing those borders?

These debates are dangerous because they threaten the only thing that gives our federal government its legitimacy. Partisans know that if Québec has this discussion, confederation is threatened. Alberta will go next. Then Newfoundland. Then Northwestern Ontario. Political parties could no longer fight each other for total control of the world’s second-largest land mass, the home to 20% of the world’s fresh water.

As you’ve probably heard from an ex…this isn’t about you. It’s about them.

Handwringing over sovereignty is a game of political elites. Don’t get caught up in this debate on their terms. Redefine the terms of the debate and ask yourself critical questions: is there a better way to organize ourselves? How does it look? What would it take to move us there?

As a progressive person, I have to believe that the local decision-making of engaged and involved communities is the most important node of power. I have to believe that community empowerment is the first line of defense in the struggle to take back our democracy and I have to believe that this may result in a rejection of the borders that were imposed on all of us by people we didn’t elect.

I also have to believe that people are near-universally awesome and solidarity means that we create experiences for us to travel, live among communities that we’re unfamiliar with, explore landscapes where we’ve never been and honour the traditions that have come from these lands regardless of the political structure that exists around us.

Controlling borders, granting access to some to enter and imprisoning others is all about power. I don’t want to be part of a system that treats people this way and I’m prepared for the challenge and the work it will take to change this.

To end, I want to acknowledge how painful a process of going through a discussion like this is. I imagine that for many Québecers, the thought of enduring a referendum process is worse than the possible outcomes and the anticipation of this pain (and the memory of it from 1995 and 1980) is enough to not want to touch this question ever again. The question of sovereignty divided people here: neighbours, families and communities. It wasn’t the process that I advocate above. Québecers who endured these campaigns are right to be nervous, frustrated and angry with the PQ’s rhetoric.

But all ye in the rest of Canada do not have a similar right. It’s like feeling like you earned a gold medal when you’re watching someone on the TV flip back and forth on a trampoline. You didn’t earn it. You can’t even flip once on a trampoline.

Don’t fear conversations about sovereignty. Instead, use this discussion to open a space in your community have your own discussions: does the political system we have, accompanied by the borders created to control our movement, our identities and commerce, serve us or oppress us?

And what about for people who aren’t “us”?

What will it take to make it stop?

3 Sep

I can tell when I’m being mocked.

I spent the day painting, sanding and caulking. I sat down at my computer with some tea and thought it was time to write something for this blog. But I couldn’t think of what.

Thankfully, Louise Brown at the Toronto Star came through (just like old times when I worked at the CFS). She posted this.

Now, I’m not going to spend time deconstructing the journalism of the story, or why it would be the case that this is news, now (on a Sunday of a long weekend, 3o days before the subject of the article is set to be released), but I am going to go bananas on the content of the article.

Glen Murray’s at it again. And, knowing the yesmen and yeswomen that he has built around him at the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities, he’s not going to get the advice that he needs to hear.

I’ve wrote about this plan a few times. Here, for Huffington Post. Here, on this blog. In case you missed it, here’s a primer:

A document was leaked that promised to push through a suite of changes to higher education in Ontario that included:

Shortening degrees to four years
Placing 1/3 of all undergraduate courses online
Forcing schools to offer education in three semesters
Docking university budgets by 3% if this plan isn’t implemented
Boosting university budgets by 3% if the plan is implemented and the president calls Glen personally to say he’s really, really smart.

[ok, I made up the last part]

The plan was panned by nearly everyone that matters in the sector.

In a stunning show of idiocy, Murray’s Ministry continued with the plan as if nothing had happened. A discussion paper was issued and consultations occurred over the summer. But, because we *already* know the plan, we know that the results are already figured and that these consultations are a dog and pony show, similar to the one Bob Rae was torn up over by Ontario’s students, staff and faculty, in 2006.

On Sept. 30, Murray will either announce exactly what was contained in the leaked document from February, or soften it somewhat so that it’s a “good news story” full of consultation and a pleased OUSA and CSA.

Here’s what’s absolutely certain: nothing will actually come of these changes. OUSA and CSA will be pleased.

One year tomorrow I was stuck at the door of the Liberal Party platform launch at a hotel in downtown Toronto. Dalton McGuinty, with an adoring Murray looking on (I’m guessing), announced that tuition fees would be reduced for Ontario undergraduate students by 30%. One year later, we now know that the program offered a grant of less than 30% to one in nine Ontario students.

This plan is going to be similarly distorted. We know this because it’s happened with the credit transfer system promise (other than the creation of a committee, nothing’s happened) and the online institute (something happened, and it was shelved).

Heather Mallick wrote this in response to the last time this report was written about. It’s really good and I’m not going to repeat what she says.

But, I will say this.

Ontario students do not want three year degrees. This can be said with certainty as we look at how nearly all of Ontario’s three-year degrees were phased out since the elimination of OAC.

Ontario students do not want three semesters. It’s not practical. Thanks to the same government, working during the summer is a necessity. The working theory that Murray et al. had was that if students could study all summer, they could take advantage of a job market less saturated by workers, like during the winter. Except the job market doesn’t work like that. There aren’t thousands of workers taking summer holidays leaving open spots for students. Instead, they’ll be fighting each other over Tim Horton’s and McDonalds jobs in January.

Ontario students do not want to be forced to take an online class. Ever taken an online class? IT ISN’T THE SAME AS CLASS IRL. It just isn’t. Allowing students the choice to study online isn’t what’s being proposed. As Ryerson University President Sheldon Levy once said in a pre-budget consultation, no 17-year-old proudly announces to their parents that they’re going to school, and runs into his room, closes the door and goes online.

And, contrary to Louise Brown’s article’s assertion, no student wants to be one of 3,500 fucking students in a single first year class. No one. I don’t care if Jesus is playing the banjo for the duration of the course. It’s not education. At best, its entertainment. At worse, it’s the rock bottom of a system that has had the shit kicked out of it so badly by government after government that it will never recover.

Just like the current assault on teachers, this is an attempt to destroy Ontario’s higher education system. The most outrageous part is that words like “innovative” “creative” “transformation” and (my personal favourite because it makes me want to drill my fist into the monitor of my computer) “spend smarter” are taking the place of the words that should actually be there: austerity, cut backs, destruction. If the Ontario Liberals haven’t figured out how to “spend smarter” after being in office since 2003, it’s time to resign.

Each one of these changes will need to be approved by Senates, Boards of Governors and unions/faculty associations. There are enough obstacles to stop it that, if unified, students and workers should be able to. It’ll also likely be opposed by free-thinking administrators, who will likely oppose this just as much as the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations.

But, they going to have to oppose this with everything they have. And it’s not going to be easy, with OUSA and CSA cheer-leading from the sidelines.

Glen: I know you love the Internet and I assume you’re an avid Googler of your name. When you eventually find this, I need you to read this to yourself, internally, using the voice of your mother. Stop this hair-brained scheme. Stop it immediately. You’re going to fail or (what’s worse) you’re going to destroy Ontario’s education system. It’s the opposite of what Ontario needs, what students want and it shows that you’re dangerously unqualified for the portfolio you hold.

If you want to maintain the facade of capability, make this plan disappear.