Thursday, September 28, 2006

Zero Tolerance nightmares

Here's a link to my latest column for Capital Xtra, a plea for sanity in the face of the horrific violence at Dawson College. The Zero Tolerance Nightmares website that I refer to can be found here.

I would like to give a shout-out to Susan Cole at Now Magazine for naming the shooting for what it is: another example of male violence against women.

And for those in Ottawa, tonight is the annual Take Back the Night march:

6:30 pm: Rally at the Women’s Monument at Minto Park (Elgin and Gilmour) (Speakers Mreama Abdul, Soheila Dalvand, Fran├žoise Roy and Senator Nancy Ruth)

7:00 pm: The March Up Elgin, down Rideau, around the market, and back to City Hall.

8:00-9:30: Info Fair at Ottawa City Hall (Foyer), 110 Laurier Ave West (Information tables, Counselling, Entertainment and Refreshments) Don’t Forget to bring your own light (flashlights, lantern, glowstick etc.)

Feel free to bring Noise Maker (Pots and Pans, whistle, drum, horn, tambourine, etc.

Come with a small item or image symbolizing gender stereotypes to be discarded.

Men are welcome to join the march under the lead of women.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Made-in-Canada lunacy

It it weren't for the trusty Hill Times, I would have missed this frightening tidbit.

Guess who Rona Ambrose just hired as her chief of staff? Darrel Reid, former president of Focus on the Family.

All you need to do is spend 5 minutes on the organization's website, and you can get the drift. The group maintains that homosexual people can be "converted" through therapy, and its American leader, James Dobson, has referred to abortion as a "baby holocaust."

The link between right-wing evangelicals and the fight against climate change recently solidified in the U.S., when 86 religious leaders (including Dobson) signed a letter demanding action on global warning.

This actually represents an about-face, because for many years, some in the more loony fringes of the fire-and-brimstone community had actually welcomed global warming, hoping to hasten Earth's destruction and make room for the re-birth of Christ. I kid you not. Maude Barlow provides more specific background on the connection between End Day Fundamentalists and opposition to environmental laws in the U.S., in her book Too Close for Comfort: Canada's Future within Fortress North America.

It seems that the hiring of Reid must be a strategic move, aimed at shoring up support for Ambrose's "made in Canada" solution to climate change (otherwise known as the destruction of the Kyoto Accord, and the introduction of "voluntary" emissions targets that no one will actually have to follow). This month's issue of This Magazine has an excellent article about how industry-sponsored big PR companies manufactured doubt about the science behind climate change, leading to the erosion of support for solutions (like Kyoto) that could have cut into corporate profits.

And now for a quote from the man himself ...

In several Focus on the Family publications Reid refers to gay marriage advocates as "anti-family," yet in a 2002 press release he applauded the Ontario Court of Appeal's decision that parents should be allowed to spank their parents as "resounding victory for families." Hmmm, so equality is not a family value, but spanking is?

Yes folks, this is the person who will be running the Office of the Minister of the Environment.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Save Gay Marriage Action Centre

The wonderful folks at Xtra have just launched a fab new website, containing lots of information about the equal marriage issue, including a detailed chronology, competing viewpoints, and a link to where you can contact your MP.

Check it out!

The sound of the axe falling on minority rights in Canada

Do you hear that sound? That wheezing noise in the background is the sound of our rights being pulled out from under us. On the surface, the Conservative government's announcement of $1 billion in cuts may seem benign. If you were half asleep while watching the news last night, the gravity of the situation may not have hit you. But I know that I sat up in bed and couldn't sleep all night.

Why, you may ask? Budget announcements generally don't provoke fear in the hearts of writers like me. Since Paul Martin's devastating slash-fest in the mid-90s, we've become used to seeing social programs axed. And since Harper's thin victory, we've seen entire government departments completely enviserated (remember Climate Change Canada? The One Tonne Challenge? Sigh ...)

But as of yesterday afternoon, Canadians just lost a gem of a program called Court Challenges. Many people in the queer community may not know it, but this program has had a direct impact on all of our lives, and without it, our rights will be under serious and well-calculated attack.

I've linked to the Court Challenges website here, although I wouldn't be surprised if the PMO took it down by day's end. For those who don't know about the program, the logic does seem a bit absurd. Since 1994, Court Challenges has provided funding to equality-seeking groups to pay for the legal costs associated with suing the government.

I know that this very idea sends the Canadian Taxpayers' Federation into a frothy rage. But there's a reason why this program has benefited all Canadians. The theory was that Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms had yet to be tested. We all had all sorts of human rights in theory, but the only way to test and ensure those rights is by taking cases to court, and asking judges to clarify the interpretation of the Charter. But that placed the onus on individual citizens and cash-strapped advocacy groups to pay tens of thousands of dollars (sometimes hundreds of thousands) to take cases to court. While some of these groups were able to find lawyers to take their cases for free, there are still some very high fixed costs associated with going to court. Basic stuff like ordering transcripts, paying for travel for witnesses, etc. That's where Court Challenges filled in the gap.

There is no arguing against the fact that no other group in Canada has benefited from the Court Challenges program more than the gay and lesbian community. That's why the program has always been a thorn in the side of the Conservatives (especially the religious nuts). I will post a more extensive list of court cases that were successful because of Court Challenges, but here's quick sampling:

1. Egan case (1995) Gay men Jim Egan and Jack Nesbit sued Ottawa for the right to claim a spousal pension under the Old Age Security Act. The Court ruled against Egan and Nesbit, but all nine judges agreed that sexual orientation is a protected ground and that protection extends to partnerships of lesbians and gay men.

2. Gay adoption case (1995) -- An Ontario court judged ruled that is was contrary to section 15 of the Charter of Rights to deny gay and lesbian people the right to adopt their partners' children.

3. M v. H (1999)-- the groundbreaking case where one lesbian sued her partner for spousal asupport after their relationship broke down. The Supreme Court ruled that Canada's Family Law Act was unconsititutional, and ordered all of the provinces to "read in" same sex equality rights into their provincial laws. This was the case that established legal recognition of same sex common law relationships.

4. The Marc Hall case (2002) -- Later made into a cheesy TV movie called Prom Queen, in this case, an Ontario Superior Court judge ruled that a gay student had the right to take his male partner as a date to the prom at his Catholic High School.

And of course, there have been all of the court battles over equal marriage for same sex couples -- all funded in part by Court Challenges.

It was good while it lasted. But don't believe for a minute that this program was cut for anything other than ideological reasons. I would also argue that there was a more strategic agenda at play here. First of all, the Conservatives announced these cuts during a time of unprededented economic security (Canada had a $13.2 billion surplus last year!!!). And second, it seems that they took their marching orders directly from the whackos over at Focus on the Family and the R.E.A.L. Women of Canada (look here for more background on those groups). Anti-feminist and anti-gay groups have been lobbying for years to get rid of Court Challenges. And while it may take them a few more years to get rid of those pesky abortion and gay rights laws, the government has just given them a big nod, validating their intolerant and extremist views.

And just one more thought ....

If Harper decides to pull a fast one and use the Notwithstanding Clause to change the definition of marriage back to "one man, one woman," the queer community will have to go it alone in the courts. Even though dozens of constitutional lawyers recently rendered a legal opinion that there is no constitional way that Harper could possibly overturn gay marriage without using the Clause, he might decide to move forward anyway, and dare us to sacre up the resources to fight him in court -- on our own dime.

Welcome to the Harper revolution, folks.

What are you going to do about it?

Friday, September 08, 2006

A rare victory -- and Zucchinis for Peace!

Wow, we have to celebrate the small victories when we see them. Apparently, the federal government has bowed to public pressure, and will let the INSITE safe injection site continue in Vancouver for another 18 months. Here's Libby Davies' take on the story.

And here's a link to a hilarious and fun anti-war action from Homes not Bombs. Send zucchinis, not missiles, to Afghanistan. A snippet from their call-out:

CANADA SHOULD SEND FOOD, NOT BOMBS, TO AFGHANISTAN We are most often told that the main reason the Canadian military is in Afghanistan is to help the
Afghan people. Many Afghan people are starving. It is time to send massive amounts of food aid, not massive amounts of bullets and bombs.

The Power of A Symbol
Politicians are often unable to grasp the meaning of words, and require symbols to help them out. We have seen in the past few years stunning examples of Homes not Bombs campaigns that have succeeded in employing the noble zucchini in the cause of peace. We have argued that successive war ministers' confused sexual desires to launch phallic-shaped missiles would be more safely directed if phallic-shaped zucchinis were sent instead.

Consider me flattered -- and puzzled

Wow, thanks to Capital Xtra for running such a gushing profile of me. Although I find it hilarious that the reporter found me to be "demure" and "bookish." I don't think I've ever hear those two words used together -- or to describe me. But seriously, I feel very humbled. Thanks Kacie and Gareth.

And here is my latest column -- a special letter to Vic Toews, our esteemed Minister of Justice. Bleh.

Later this week I'll post some links to the various sources I quote in my column. If you're also scared about the extreme makeover of our criminal justice system that's underway, send a letter to your MP. Please.