Here comes the Canada Day/Independence Day extravaganza

Brian Sun, 2015-06-28 11:44
Big white guys with guns, happy holiday!

Every year at this time we get to take a day off, hang with friends and family, and think about how lucky we are to be so darned free in these great countries of ours. This year we’ve got a special reason to celebrate, as the United States has finally joined Canada in legalizing same-sex marriage. Americans can be proud now that their government is a little less like Uganda. (Many, of course, think marrying one’s pet goat won’t be far off, so they’re not celebrating quite so much.)

But every year, it seems, we’ve got a little less reason to do so. Here are a few freedoms we’ll have a little less to celebrate about this year.

  • The War on Terror™ continues. The War on Drugs™ continues. Both have been used extensively to roll back our rights and invade our homes, in some cases to steal our homes (see below, "civil forfeiture"). Both are now so firmly entrenched in our economies that it’ll be hard to root them out. They’re not wars, they’re industries. In an age when many of our decent jobs have been sent overseas, they’re increasingly attractive industries. Maybe soon they'll be all we’ve got.

  • On June 10, 2015, the number of people killed by police in the United States reached 500 for the year. Obviously, they’ll hit 1,000 before the year is done. It’s becoming increasingly clear that if you’re black, the last thing you want to do is call the police for “help.” On March 31, police in Oxnard, California killed 26-year-old Meagan Hockaday, a black mother of three. Her boyfriend had called the police for help because she was upset over an argument. Twenty seconds after arriving, police shot her dead. Cops say she had a knife, but did not allege that she’d threatened to use it.

  • While killings of blacks have been prominent in the news, and the number of them certainly disproportionate to their percentage of the population, the police kill many, many others. According to “The Counted,” a project of the UK’s Guardian, “Among the first 500 deaths, 49.6 per cent of people were white, 28.2 per cent were black and 14.8 per cent were Hispanic/Latino. According to the 2013 census, the US population is 62.6 per cent white, 13.2 per cent black and 17.1 per cent Hispanic/Latino.” Men were 95.2 per cent of those killed, while 4.8 per cent were women. The Guardian undoubtedly does not have a “The Counted” project for the UK—there wouldn’t be enough to write about.

  • June 25th was the 13th birthday of Tamir Rice, of Cleveland. Unfortunately, he and his family weren’t able to celebrate this important, coming-of-age year—he was dead, shot by a cop.

  • Regarding police killings, no one in the US is running around shouting, “They’re killing their own people!” or calling for bombing of police and police infrastructure. That kind of thing is reserved for foreign “official enemies.”

  • See also Fifteen Most Outrageous Responses by Police After Killing Unarmed People.

  • In Canada, so far in 2015 17 have been killed by police.

  • In Canada, Parliament just passed Bill C-51 into law. It amends more than a dozen previous acts of Parliament, and expands the powers of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS). Ostensibly aimed at “terrorism,” C-51 includes a definition of “terrorist activity” so broad that many say it is capable of being used to suppress dissent. We know that the HarperCons are especially concerned about opposition to the fossil fuel industries, and aboriginal protesters. More suppression is expected.

  • There were a few hours on June 1st, 2015 of freedom from parts of the USA Patriot Act, which expired when Congress let an expiry date pass; unfortunately, passage of the USA Freedom Act the following day put them back, so here we are again. It’s exceedingly obvious that the expanded powers police have under the Patriot/Freedom acts are mostly used in the War on Drugs™. In the War on Terror™, not so much. The use of so-called “sneak and peak” warrants, where police get a warrant and sneak into your place when you’re not there, has increased almost exponentially, but it’s mostly a tactic of the drug war. From September 2001 to April 2003, law enforcement agencies made 47 sneak-and-peek searches nationwide. In 2013: 11,129. Of the 11,000+, 0.6 per cent of the searches were conducted in anti-terrorism cases. The rest were for drugs investigations. (Note that, as per below, "civil forfeiture," police can confiscate property in drugs investigations, so there's a real incentive to do lots of them.) So remember when Americans were told the police needed more power to chase down terrorists? As was predicted by the nay-sayers, it was BS.

  • The police in both countries are more and more militarized, seeing themselves as "at war" with a hostile enemy: the citizens who are not police. When Congress passed the National Defense Authorization Act for the 1997 fiscal year, they created the Pentagon’s “1033 program,” which sets up the Defense Department as a procurement agency. They sell surplus military equipment at fire sale prices to State and local police departments. Vastly expanded after 11/9, so far $4.2 billion in military equipment has found its way downward. "Police departments across the country now utilize some 500 military aircraft, 93,763 assault weapons and 432 Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected military vehicles," for local police investigations/actions. Local crime now often brings on military-style attack squads. The American Civil Liberties Union reports that currently there are about 50,000 deployments of SWAT teams per year. Arizona's celebrity dickhead Sheriff Joe Arpaio has five armored vehicles and ten (10!!) helicopters. Perhaps by this point it won't surprise you to learn that the majority of these SWAT deployments are for ... wait for it ... drug investigations.

    Citizens in poor, and, especially minority, communities now feel like they're under occupation by a hostile army. The legions of American police officials travelling to Israel to study Israeli tactics in the Occupation isn't making anyone feel any safer.

  • Under the US Justice Departments “Equitable Sharing Program” (doesn’t that sound progressive and equal rights-like?), local law enforcement agencies are able to keep 80 per cent of the property they seize in “investigations,” where they suspect a crime has been committed. According to Justice Department figures, 81 per cent of the assets seized under “civil forfeiture” were taken when no indictment was issued. As the Justice Department originally set up the program, it was seen as a way to deprive criminal drug organizations of their ill-gotten gains. However, state and local governments set up their own forfeiture programs, seeing it as a way to underfund police and lower taxes. Nowadays in the US, you can be stopped on a highway and robbed legally by any cop who stops you. If you’ve got a joint, you can lose your car. If you’re carrying cash, you soon won’t be. If your son or daughter is involved in a drug deal, and the cops suspect that any part of it went on in your house, you can lose the house. It’s as if local police have formed their own criminal gang. As I observed elsewhere, “It's a stunning example of you get what you pay for. You want low taxes? You've got low taxes (especially if you're rich). You want lots of cops running around busting poor people, especially black people, and throwing their asses in prison so prison privateers can make lots of money? You've got it. But someone has to pay for all those cops, and that'll be you.

  • Canada also has civil forfeiture laws, but the proceeds appear to go to the government, and not the police force that does the seizing. So civil forfeiture appears to be a cooperative activity of the police and the Crown (i.e. the Attorney General). Nevertheless, it can be very lucrative. The RCMP in the Nelson, British Columbia area, a hotbed of grow-op activity, won an award for seizing $75 million in 2012. After confiscation, the Crown has to apply for forfeiture, and they have to prove that "on the balance of probabilities," the asset was the proceeds or an instrument of crime. A conviction is not necessary. Since Canada does not have the "double jeopardy" rule, the Crown has sometimes applied for forfeiture after someone has pled guilty, even when the guilty plea was conditional on no further forfeiture. But they also seem to lose such cases.

  • As we learned from the Justice Department investigation into the Ferguson Police Department, subsequent to the murder of Michael Brown, that department was to a great extent a shakedown crew, issuing summonses right and left for minor stuff, and the town’s courts levied fines, and fines when fines weren’t paid, etc. Most of this was directed at the town’s black citizens. So to pay for the low taxes that are often the case in the US, poor people are beset by police who issue tickets so the fines can top up their department’s, and even the town’s, funds. In fact, we all know this is going on all over the US, not confined to Missouri. People’s lives are ruined from being issued traffic tickets.

  • See also, Drug cops took a college kid’s savings and now 13 police departments want a cut.

  • In Canada, you’re not free to be an aboriginal woman.Since 1980 1,182 aboriginal women have been murdered, or are missing and presumed murdered. In order to arrive at the number, the RCMP utilized, among other records, “Sisters in Spirit,” a database created by the Native Women's Association of Canada. The NWAC’s funding was cut by the Harper government in 2010.

  • The Harper government has ordered Revenue Canada to conduct more audits of charity groups that may possibly have strayed into “advocacy.” It’s one thing to do educational work on the environment, it’s a whole ‘nother thing to be in opposition to, say, fracking and the oil sands. The good news: we’re still entirely free to advocate for the Harper agenda without worrying too much about nasty RevCan audits. The CD Howe Institute and the Fraser Institute don’t need to be worried. Meanwhile, Revenue Canada cut its organized crime unit.

  • As has been extensively reported, the Obama Administration, having swept to power promising to provide more protections for whistleblowers, has prosecuted more whistleblowers than all presidents before him put together. He’s given a whole new meaning to “Don’t ask, don’t tell.” Chelsea Manning, who exposed war crimes, is in jail. War criminals run free.

  • You’re not free to not-buy Israeli products, and not free to advocate that others not buy them. This clever stratagem follows a fundamental plank of the Obamacare Act, where people are not-free to not-buy private insurance. I’m assuming stores will have displays of Israeli products, and you’ll have to buy at least one before you can check out and leave the store. Congress passed a law directing US trade negotiators in ongoing “corporate domination” negotiations (n.b. usually called, ridiculously, “free trade” negotiations) to make rejection of boycott-divestment-sanctions (BDS) of Israel a key plank. Several US states are currently considering legislation, and Illinois has already passed one, that would outlaw BDS, usually considered to be an example of “free speech.” Not to be outdone, Canada’s Harper clowns are considering making BDS a “hate crime.” The Canadian Quakers might well be judged a “hate group.”

  • In Canada and the US, to a very great extent you’re not free to have a decent, well-paying job any more. They're all being sent overseas under the guise of the ridiculously named "free trade." And you certainly won’t be free to elect a government that will protect local jobs. Once Canada signs on to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the Trade in Services Agreement (TISA), and Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), governments' ability to apply "performance requirements" to the actions of foreign investors (as in, You can take over this part of our government so long as you provide x amount of jobs for local residents) will be severely curtailed. This is already true for the "free trade" (corporate domination) laws already in effect. As in the leaked TPP documents we've already seen, the preambles have lots of nice stuff about progress, the environment, labour rights, etc., but the rest is about how much it'll cost your citizens if you dare do any of that.

  • You’re not free in either country to get "news" from the mainstream media. “News” in both countries has devolved to the point where formerly reputable organizations now just spew the talking points of government and their agencies, sports, and entertainment. In fact, these days political news is more of a branch of entertainment news. Fortunately, you don’t have to confine yourself to the jimps (journalist impersonators). If you want actual news, in the way the word used to be understood, there’s lots of it out there, but it can be difficult to ferret out the good from the bad. (The “ridiculous” is in the mainstream.)

  • We’re not free not to be governed by a bunch of criminals. A suspicious number of Harper toadies and Senate appointments seem to be in trouble with the law. Remember when Harper said he’d be open and accountable? (Maybe I’m misremembering.) In the US, you’re not free to be governed by people who don’t want to go to war. Congresspersons are big-time investors in the war industries, and going to war is win-win for them.

  • Over 2 million people in the US are not free at all. They’re in prison. Another 4.5 million are on parole or probation, with limited freedoms. Many cannot vote. Canada has around 15,000 people in prison; if Canada’s incarceration rate were the same as the US, it would be more like 200,000. In the decade to 2013, the number of visible minorities in prison in Canada increased by 75 per cent, while the number of white prisoners fell. Aboriginal peoples make up 20 per cent of inmates in Canada, but only 3.6 per cent of the population. In both countries, crime rates are actually down, while prison populations are growing. In the US, it’s largely because of the emergence and growth of private prisons, such as those run by the Corrections Corporation of America. When CCA takes over a prison, the state or local government involved often signs a guarantee that the prison population won’t go under a certain percentage, say, 90 per cent of available beds. Many, many prisoners in the US spend years in solitary confinement. In international law, solitary confinement is regarded as torture.

  • We’re less and less free to have decent, well-paying jobs. Finalizing of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the Trade in Services Agreement (TISA), and Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) will bind our governments even tighter in a straitjacket that’ll prevent them from doing anything about it. In the meantime, all these people hanging around with no job and nothing to do but get into trouble is good news for the prison privateers. Some have observed that America’s black people were freed from slavery, but have been re-enslaved by the justice system.

  • We’re less and less free to vote. District jerrymandering and voter suppression have been going on for years in the US, aimed at ethnic minorities, especially blacks, and poor people who are all suspected of having Democratic Party sympathies. In Canada, Stephen Harper’s government passed the Fair Elections Act, which puts in place a number of measures that’ll ensure Harper and cronies can repeat their sorry, criminal performance from the last election without consequence. Some have said over 500,000 eligible voters may find themselves unable to vote, including, crucially, many, many young people and students. Harper: win-win.

  • Especially in the US, voters are not free to elect a federal government, and certainly not a president, that’ll represent the interests of working people, or even balance the interests of working people with the interests of the wealthy. In fact, the electoral system and money are so tightly connected that the interests of working people aren’t even taken into account. The upper levels of the US armed forces are so tightly interwoven with the weapons industries you can hardly expect them to sit still if their interests were to be threatened by the electors favouring progressive candidates. They have weapons. As William Blum has remarked, if he were elected President, he’d be quickly assassinated.

  • We’re not free to vote for a political party that objects to the Israeli occupation and regular attacks on the West Bank and Gaza. At least not one with any chance of winning. Even though the New Democratic Party in Canada (used to be a socialist party, is now sort of social-democratic) is doing well in the polls four months before the federal election, leader Tom Mulcair is an unrepentant supporter of Israel (though he wishes they’d be a little bit nicer about things). Elizabeth May’s Green Party supports a two-state solution, and calls for an end to the occupation and settlements, but, then, everybody says they support that. More important to the Greens is Israel’s “inviolable right to exist, in the absence of violence and conflict." In the States, fuhgeddaboutit. The Communist parties in both countries have the only official pro-Palestinian candidates.

  • In fact, it's looking like the US will have to change the name of its national holiday, as it appears no longer to be "independent." Much of the US Congress appears to take its marching orders from Tel Aviv, to the extent that when the US President raises an eyebrow at Israeli crimes, Congress goes mental. How about "Israel Rules" Day?

I’m going to stop there, it’s getting depressing, and it’s too long for most people to read now. I’m guessing if I kept at it, I could at least triple the number of words.

But, in closing, it would be dumb of me not to notice that there are a few things to talk about that are good news for freedom. In addition to the victory for the LGBQT community above, let’s celebrate a few.

On the other hand

  • It’s looking more and more like Canadians are getting tired of the sneaky, nasty Harper Conservatives, their constant intrusions into our freedoms, and their power-building at the expense of democracy. Many, many are hoping for a new government after October 19. Stephen Harper really shot himself in the foot with his “Anti-terrorism Act,” which a wide swath of the Canadian public recognized as not only unnecessary, but a bald attempt to criminalize dissent. The other day, Global TV’s Tom Clark (Tom Clark!), as conservative a commentator as there is, tore into Kory Teneycke, one of the lapdog-for-Harper-pitbull-for-everyone-else nincompoops that regularly stink up the Canadian media, over the Harper Conservatives’ latest attack ad against Liberal leader Justin Trudeau. In it, they use ISIS (Da’esh) propaganda footage, and their anthem as background music(!), a tactic we all thought was outlawed by the Anti-terrorism Act. If Tom Clark’s not treating them with respect, they're definitely losing respect.

  • In Alberta, citizens threw off Jim Sinclair’s dusty, mouldering “Progressive Conservative” government, a party that had ruled Alberta for 44 years. As is the tradition in Alberta, when voters decide it's time for the ruling party to go, they don't just vote it out, they sweep it out. The “Progressive” Conservatives went from a stultifying 61-seat majority (that is, 70 to the other parties' nine) to third-party status, losing 60 seats. Rachel Notley’s New Democratic Party of Alberta now enjoys a majority government. In further good news, Premier Notley and caucus have taken off running, announcing major changes, including to the minimum wage and carbon taxes. This compares favourably to Bob Rae’s (ptoo!) 1990 NDP majority in Ontario, which spent the first little while saying, “Jeez, we’re the government, what do we do now?”

  • In Toronto, Christina Gray, a member of the Lax Kw'alaams Tsimshian First Nation, located within British Columbia, was called to the bar by the Law Society of Upper Canada at Roy Thomson Hall. She’s the first new lawyer called to the bar who was allowed to wear her First Nation regalia at the ceremony. In her case, it was her Tsimshian button blanket, which contains signifiers of her clan, and her cedar-bark hat. It was a great moment for her, her clan, and, I would say, for Canada. You can read about her here.

  • The city of Seattle, with its openly Socialist councillor Kshama Sawant, raised its minimum wage to $15, entirely satisfying the $15 minimum wage campaign. San Francisco did likewise. Voters in several states, including “red” states Alaska, Arkansas, Nevada, South Dakota, passed increases to their minimum wages.

  • Voters in Colorado and North Dakota turned down proposals that would have granted personhood to fetuses at the moment of conception. In North Dakota, 64.3 percent said “no.”

  • Oregon joined Colorado and Washington State in legalizing recreational use of marijuana.

  • In May, a US federal appeals court overturned the convictions of three Plowshares activists, who spent two years in prison for breaking into the Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. They spray-painted peace slogans, poured blood, etc. The Facility processes and stores uranium for the production of nuclear weapons. Currently there is enough enriched uranium to build 10,000 bombs. (Note: Iran does not have one of these.)

  • Québec and New York State have banned fracking. New Brunswick has a ban on fracking currently in the Legislature. Fracking is allowed, and is being done, in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, the Yukon, and the Northwest Territories.

  • Finally, voters in Ireland approved same-sex marriage in a referendum, passing the measure with a plurality of 61 per cent. Okay, Ireland isn’t the US or Canada, but me ma’s family came from Cork in the 1870s, and I’m really, really interested in Ireland.

Doubtless there’s more, but that’ll have to do for this piece. Feel free to add to either section in the comments.

Have a terrific holiday!


Christina Gray, of the Lax Kw'alaams Tsimtshian First Nation, is called to the bar in Ontario