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Vaccine passports: an inevitable measure in a post-COVID reality?

As Canada ramps up its vaccination efforts across provinces, the government tries to determine the best options for a gradual return to normalcy

The United States and the European Union have started outlining what fully vaccinated people can and cannot do, especially when it comes to international travel. While vaccinated Canadians are not granted special freedoms thus far, the Trudeau government is closely monitoring the idea of “vaccine passports.”

The concept of an immunization passport has already been in use well before the COVID-19 pandemic. In Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East, many nations require international travellers to show proof of vaccination, particularly against yellow fever, polio, or meningitis.

This time, however, vaccine passports might also be required for daily life activities even within Canada.

Israel, currently the most vaccinated country in the world against COVID-19, has already defined privileges for vaccine passport holders. Those who present a green pass on their smartphone are allowed to dine in restaurants and exercise in gyms, as well as attend mass sporting events.

“I really wanted to get the vaccine to finally be able to enjoy the country,” said Ora Bar, a Concordia student currently living in Tel Aviv. She added, “If you want to go to a restaurant and eat indoors, you need to have the pass. Without it, I couldn’t even enter to go to the restroom.”

Officials in the United Kingdom are also developing COVID-19 passports, which would show that a person has received either the vaccine or a recent negative COVID test, or has gained partial immunity after contracting the virus in the last six months. Later this April, such proof may be required to safely attend soccer stadiums, concert venues, and nightclubs.

However, in the U.S., immunization passports have become a controversial topic fuelling political and ethical debates. Currently, 47 per cent of Americans are opposed to government-sponsored COVID passports, while a violation of privacy and freedom has been the most common concern raised by the general public.

On April 2, vaccine passports were banned in Florida as Governor Ron DeSantis signed an executive order that prohibited all businesses from requiring proof of vaccination from their customers. A few days later, he was joined by Texas Governor Greg Abbott who also outlawed such measures in his state.

“Government should not require any Texan to show proof of vaccination and reveal private health information just to go about their daily lives … Don’t tread on our personal freedoms,” stated Abbott on Twitter.

Meanwhile, New York became the first U.S. state to implement a digital vaccine passport. If one were to attend a baseball game, a play or a wedding reception, they would be required to show their vaccination papers. Now, New Yorkers can simply present a QR code via Excelsior Pass, an IBM-powered application available on both Apple and Android for free.

As for Canada, it is still too early to be thinking about relaxed COVID-related restrictions even for vaccinated Canadians, according to Justin Trudeau. The prime minister has made it clear that “we’re still in the middle of a very serious third wave.”

The Trudeau government is primarily focusing on mass vaccination instead of the freedoms that fully vaccinated Canadians can enjoy. So far, over 770,000 Canadians have received both doses of a COVID vaccine, making up just two per cent of the population.

As of April 9, Canada’s vaccination levels are far below those of Israel, the UK, and the U.S. — where 61,47, and 33 per cent of the population has received at least one dose, respectively. This category stands at 20 per cent in Quebec (and just over 17 per cent nationwide), suggesting it may be too soon to focus on the post-pandemic life.

Nevertheless, Health Minister Patty Hajdu confirmed that Canada has actively discussed the concept of vaccine passports with fellow G7 countries, focusing on international travel in particular.

“The G7 partners agreed that there needs to be some consistency and some collaboration among the countries, so we have some kind of system that would be recognizable, no matter where a person was travelling,” Hajdu explained last week.

When it comes to using vaccine passports domestically for everyday activities, Trudeau has so far refrained from officially implementing such a system, saying it raises questions of equity. Since the majority of Canada’s population is currently ineligible to get the COVID vaccine, the government is only monitoring the passport’s efficiency worldwide.

“These are things that we have to take into account so that yes, we’re looking to try and encourage everyone to get vaccinated as quickly as possible, but we’re not discriminating and bringing in unfairness in the process at the same time,” stated Trudeau in March.

While COVID-19 vaccines remain optional in Canada, the country’s chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam also strongly encourages Canadians to get vaccinated as soon as they are eligible.

Once a larger share of the population receives both doses of the vaccine, Canadians can expect to have more specific guidelines for those who are vaccinated, along with a plan for a gradual return to ordinary life in Canada.

 

Graphic by Taylor Reddam

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Genocide in Xinjiang with silence from Canada

The Canadian government’s silence about ongoing genocide speaks volumes

In a mountainous region thousands of miles from the glittering lights of Beijing, a people face cultural extinction. Within the remote and sparsely populated region of Xinjiang, a tremendous evil is at hand while the world watches with an indifferent gaze. The inhabitants of the region, the Uyghur people, with a history spanning thousands of years, face a genocide of epic proportions.

The Uyghurs sit at the eastern edge of the Turkic world. Unlike other Turkic groups, the Uyghurs’ national aspirations suffered following the Qing Dynasty’s 18th-century conquest. Subjugated and deprived of a nation, the Uyghurs were left powerless over their collective future. In the subsequent decades, a series of clashes between various political groups culminated in the 1949 absorption of the Uyghurs into the People’s Republic of China.

Under the new regime, Beijing began a rapid assimilation program bent on enacting conformity across the budding communist nation. The Uyghur language, religion, and culture faced a ferocious onslaught as the Chinese government fought to maintain control over the northwestern region. In the 1950s, the Chinese government ordered the migration of thousands of Han Chinese — China’s largest ethnic group — in the first of many policies promoting assimilation. Consider a report released from Arizona State University indicating the Han population rose from 220,000 (6.9 per cent) in 1949 to 8.4 million (40 per cent) in 2008.

The demographic shift is no coincidence or product of the natural migration of peoples between areas. Instead, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) sought to actively dilute the Uyghurs into a subservient people deprived of their national identity. Under the guise of economic development, Chinese organizations such as the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps (XPCC), moved at least hundreds of thousands of Han Chinese into Xinjiang, dramatically shifting the region’s demographics.

In 2014, Xi Jinping, the CCP general secretary and president of China began interning Uyghurs in concentration camps with the “Strike Hard Against Violent Terrorism” campaign. Under the guise of “vocational training” and “re-education,” the Chinese government began the largest internment of people since the Second World War with as many as three million Uyghurs detained.

Today, the campaign is worsening with reports of torture, compulsory sterilization, rape and brainwashing. Forced to recite slogans in Mandarin pledging loyalty to the CCP, beaten for praying, and tortured at the whim of the Chinese authorities, the Uyghurs face individual bodily harm and collective cultural annihilation.

Concurrently, the world continues to grovel to the Chinese government. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau sent Canadian troops to a military parade where they saluted Xi Jinping. Furthermore, the Trudeau government, unlike the other Five Eyes, welcomed Huawei to build a 5G network, despite the company’s role in surveilling Uyghurs.

In the fading days of the Trump administration, American Secretary of State Mike Pompeo rightfully declared the situation in Xinjiang a genocide. Last week, Parliament unanimously passed a Conservative motion calling on the Liberal Government to recognize China’s atrocities against the Uyghurs as a genocide. Additionally, MPs also passed an amendment introduced by the Bloc Quebecois calling on a boycott of the 2022 Beijing Olympic Games should the genocide continue.

However, hope of Canada following the United States in holding China accountable collapsed when Liberal Minister of Foreign Affairs Marc Garneau abstained on behalf of the “Government of Canada.” The abstention ought to shock Canadians as their government chose to ignore the will of Parliament. In doing so, Garneau revealed the dark underbelly of the Trudeau administration — one that claims to cherish and protect minorities while remaining silent in the face of their cultural destruction.

Regardless of the genocide’s progression, the Olympics and all economic activities benefiting China ought to cease. Doing business with a country that utilizes de facto slavery against its own people, imprisons political dissidents, and executes thousands annually is not only an act of complicity, but support.

The lights of the internment camps only remain illuminated because of the world’s economic relations with Beijing. However, concerned Canadians, organizations, universities, and governments can take action through reevaluating engagements with complicit Chinese institutions. In doing so, Canada can proudly defend human rights and perhaps change history. The alternative is a red Maple Leaf affixed to the death certificate of the Uyghur people.

 

 Graphic by Chloë Lalonde  @ihooqstudios

Are satellites the future of the Internet in rural Canada?

Trudeau announces $600 million project to connect rural Canada to broadband

The federal government is offering telecommunication companies subsidized access to a network of low-orbit satellites in an effort to increase broadband availability across the country, but questions remain over whether this will be a sustainable solution for delivering Internet to Canada’s remote regions.

On Monday, the federal government announced that the government will spend $600 million to gain access to a group of low-orbit satellites run by Canadian company Telesat. The government will then offer satellite network access to Canadian internet service providers — or ISPs for short — at a reduced rate, who can then pass on the service to consumers at a reasonable price.

If granted access to the Telesat network of satellites, an ISP must pass on the service to consumers at 50 Mbps download speeds and 10 Mbps upload speeds. ISPs will also be “subject to reporting conditions,” according to an email sent to The Concordian from the Ministry of Innovation, Science, and Economic Development.

Questions remain over whether satellite Internet will be affordable for people in remote communities.

“It’s great to have rural broadband access,” said Daniel Paré, an associate professor in the Department of Communication at the University of Ottawa.

“But if it’s priced at a level that doesn’t make it affordable for people, how much advantage does it really bring at that point?”

In the past, when the government offered companies subsidized access to telephone lines for rural communities, phone plan prices did not reduce significantly. This is partially due to the challenges associated with crossing Canada’s vast terrain. It is also because there is smaller demand in smaller communities, making it difficult for ISPs to justify reducing their prices.

Government officials say this is one of their main reasons for acquiring Telesat network access.

“Canada is a big country,” said Minister Navdeep Bains during a press conference on Nov. 9. “And our geography presents challenges to building networks.”

He said satellites will help overcome Canada’s difficult geography, but did not say whether ISPs will be required to cap their prices when offering satellite access to consumers.

Erin Knight is a spokesperson for OpenMedia, a non-profit based in Vancouver that advocates for changes to Canada’s Internet policies. She also expressed concern over the sustainability of satellites as a long-term solution. She said that, while a satellite network can be effective for covering a large amount of terrain, they tend to have a shorter lifespan than land-based infrastructure.

This study from 2016 suggests that a satellite’s lifespan can be hard to predict; it can change significantly based on its size and distance from the ground.

“Low Earth Orbit satellites can last for a few years, versus a fiber connection which can last for more than 70 years,” she said.

 

Graphic by @sundaeghost

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Pro-Armenian protestors gather to call for Mayor Valérie Plante’s support

A thousand protestors gathered in front of city hall on Thursday

A pro-Armenian protest in front of Montreal City Hall on Thursday Oct. 8 called on Mayor Valérie Plante to publicly support Armenians in the ongoing Nagorno-Karabakh territory conflict.

On Sept. 27, conflicts re-erupted in the region, leaving at least 23 civilians killed. While the Nagorno-Karabakh territory is recognized internationally as located in Azerbaijan, the majority of the territory is occupied and controlled by a majority population of ethnic Armenians.

Aram Shoujounian, one of the organizers of the demonstration on Thursday, said they want Plante to denounce Azerbaijan and Turkey’s violence towards Armenians in a conflict that has claimed over 300 lives, according to Armenian, Turkish, and Azeri reports.

Shoujounian said the protest also calls on Plante to recognize the independence of the “Republic of Artsakh.”

While the disputed territory is officially called the Nagorno-Karabakh, Armenians refer to the territory as the Armenian-language name of the region: “Artsakh.”

At present, the majority of the territory is ruled by a government called the “Republic of Artsakh,” and positions within the government are largely held by ethnic Armenians.

“We’re telling Valérie Plante, and the entire city hall, to recognize the Republic of Artsakh as an independent state, because that’s the only way to guarantee the security and the right to live on the territory of the Republic of Artsakh,” Shoujounian told The Concordian.

“We do not want our democratic societies to stay neutral,” said Shoujounian.

Located between Armenia and Azerbaijan, the territory has been disputed through political and military conflict for decades, beginning in the ‘80s.

Russia brokered a cease-fire with both countries in 1994, but conflict continued throughout the years.

Canada suspended drone technological exports to Turkey after reports emerged that the technology was used by Turkey to target Armenian civilians.

A ceasefire agreement on Oct. 10 was promptly broken just minutes after the agreed upon deadline. Both countries put blame on the other for breaking the agreement.

On Friday Oct. 16, Justin Trudeau met with Armenian and Turkish leaders to speak on the conflict, and to encourage a peaceful resolution. A petition supporting Armenia and Armenians in Artsakh was begun by Ontario Liberal Member of Parliament Bryan May, and will collect signatures to present to parliament until Nov. 8.

Fourth-year Concordia student at the protest.

One fourth-year Concordia student said she was attending the protest because more needs to be done.

“There is a second genocide towards Armenians happening right now and people are silent,” she said.

She says leaders need to take a stand to get involved beyond peace talks, stating, “Talking nicely and telling them to cease fire won’t work because we had a ceasefire agreement.”

Nathalie Setian, the student’s close friend, said, “they [Azerbaijan and Turkey] just want to invade and erase us as a nation as an Armenian race.”

Both Armenian Montrealers said they came to pressure government officials to support the self-determination and safety of the people in the disputed region, and to aid the movement in Montreal.

“We’re raising money [for Armenian soldiers], we’re donating a lot, we’re writing open letters,  we’re urging the government and the politicians and especially the media to stand with us,” said Setian.

“We’re raising our voices and doing as much as we can to get people to stand up for us, because we’re not accepting biased and falsified information by journalists.”

Last week the Armenian diaspora in Montreal organized a protest in front of the Montreal Gazette and Global News media offices, to call out the “surface level” reporting on the conflict, and how the reporting does not accurately represent the level of threat this conflict has for the ethnic Armenians in the conflict zone.

“If you are neutral, that means you support terrorism,” said Setian.

“We don’t want genocide to repeat itself and we don’t want whatever happened in Syria to repeat itself in Artsakh,” said Setian.

Since the protest, Setian has co-written an article on the conflict.

On Saturday Oct. 17, Armenia and Azerbaijan agreed to a ceasefire starting at midnight. The deal was brokered by the OSCE Minsk Group. Early Sunday morning, the ceasefire deal was broken with both sides blaming each other for the violation.

Today, Monday Oct. 19, Plante has released a statement saying she stands in solidarity with the Armenian people, and will support efforts to find a peaceful resolution to the conflict.

“To the Armenian community of Montreal I would like to offer you all our support…I wish you strength and peace in these very difficult times and know that we stand altogether with you,” said Plante.

Photos by Hadassah Alencar

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Putting the “Lib” in “Glib”: The modern portrait of Indigenous policing

The fight for Indigenous policing to be recognized as “essential”

On Sept. 23, in his Speech from the Throne, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau painted an optimistic and valiant picture of the country and how it is to be run in the next few years. He talked about a lot of things that Canadians love to hear: the government is supporting families, workers, small businesses, advancing scientific research for a vaccine, and saving orphaned kittens along the way.

This isn’t to say Canada isn’t doing well considering the circumstances. I can’t complain about the way the COVID-19 crisis has been handled, but one point many felt was majorly glossed over was that of racism and policing.

The polemical debate about the structure of our existing police system erupted over the summer, as the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis rekindled the Black Lives Matter movement. Despite the suggestion of sweeping reforms, many felt that the problem of discrimination in Canadian law enforcement could only be resolved by defunding it and focusing on local initiatives to prevent crime.

In fact, in late July, it was reported that 51 per cent of Canadians supported defunding, a figure that the Prime Minister was careful to omit as he proposed to “modernize training” and “move forward on RCMP reforms.”

Among the maelstrom of voices criticizing our current policing structure, I have heard few who took the time to be alarmed by the Prime Minister’s last point: “Accelerate work to co-develop a legislative framework for First Nations policing as an essential service.”

Ever since the 1991 approval of the First Nations Policing Program (FNPP), the legislation granting Indigenous people their own police forces, it has never been granted the status of essential service. This is ironic because non-Indigenous police forces, considered essential, are allocated between eight and 29 per cent of their cities’ annual budgets. Meanwhile, Indigenous police forces’ budgets are considered negotiable because of their status as simply a government program.

Year after year, demands for proper funding to procure equipment that follows basic legal safety requirements and to run an adequately-sized police force have fallen on deaf ears. Between 2006 and 2017, the FNPP’s allocated budget stagnated, even though inflation made the Canadian dollar grow by 18.85 per cent.

A 2015 Public Safety Canada report noted that, of the 58 police forces created in 1992, 20 have disbanded — a 34 per cent failure rate for this program, most of them within their first decade in service. On average, the failed police forces had only five officers overseeing about 1,700 people, with a budget of roughly $0.7 million each.

Because the FNPP isn’t an essential service, the federal government has never implemented a reliable way to provide local police forces with the funds they needed. A lack of oversight and monitoring of Indigenous police has manifested into inconsistent payments and absent support, particularly for urban Indigenous populations, who are still subjected to metropolitan police officers’ racial biases.

These factors have been able to thwart the operations of Indigenous police, exacerbating the persisting crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women. Despite their best efforts, officers are often overwhelmed and burnt out, and aren’t given the resources to suitably investigate serious cases like the rampant disappearances.

Many have denounced the FNPP as a structure that was “set up to fail”; the truth is, our antagonistic system of law enforcement has always neglected Indigenous issues, and the Canadian public’s nonchalance towards First Nations has also contributed to their continued deficiencies. And with Indigenous people being 10 times more likely to be killed by police than white Canadians, providing communities with a racially and culturally sensitive police force is a question of life or death.

What happened to the “Truth and Reconciliation” we were promised throughout the past electoral campaigns? Eloquence and prudent remarks can only do so much, Mr. Trudeau. It’s time to put your money where your mouth is.

 

Graphic by Lily Cowper

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Liberals win federal elections as minority government

Same Parties, New Results: A Recap of the Federal Election.

The results are in for the 2019 federal election, signaling a second term for the Liberal Party under Justin Trudeau. However, the Prime Minister cannot celebrate just yet, as the Liberals no longer have majority status due to the loss of 20 seats.

At 157 seats, Trudeau will have to form a coalition or loose agreements with one or more of the other parties in order to maintain the ruling majority. This is due to the legislative condition that bills require more than 170 votes in order to pass as law.

The New Democratic Party under Jagmeet Singh, with its 24 seats, is sizeable enough to form such deals with the leading Liberals. Should this happen, the NDP would be able to push for compromises on new legislation, placing its platforms on government agenda. A welcomed development for the New Democrats, given that the NDP has lost 15 seats from its previous 39.

The Green Party under Elizabeth May has in fact reached a new milestone by gaining three seats in parliament, up from two. Nevertheless, any Green contribution to a Liberal-NDP coalition would be limited due to low seat numbers and overlapping platforms.

On the other side of the political spectrum, the Conservative Party under Andrew Scheer has increased its seats by 26, up to 121. The Blues have collected most votes in both Alberta and Saskatchewan, with strong showings in Manitoba and Ontario as well. They also lack any realistic chance at forming a coalition government, given that Singh himself has denied any possible collaboration with Scheer, as reported in an article in the Globe and Mail.

Another party unlikely to ally with the Conservatives would be the Bloc Québécois under Yves-François Blanchet. Now larger at 32 seats, having gained 22, the party can further its claim of representing much of the Quebec population. Furthermore, with increased influence in parliament, the BQ is poised to bring separatist sentiments out of the sidelines.

Interesting to note, former Liberal candidate Jody Wilson-Raybould is the only independent victory of this election, keeping her seat in Vancouver-Granville.

Finally, the People’s Party of Canada under Maxime Bernier did not win any seats, as none of its candidates have been elected. Additionally, Bernier lost his own riding, Beauce, to a Conservative candidate.

 

Photo by Andrej Ivanov

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The influence of memes and bots in the electoral campaign

“Right now, we are not seeing a lot of positive Trudeau memes,” said Associate Professor Fenwick McKelvey. “So, will it influence the vote? That is something we walk in with an open mind, saying this could be totally meaningless. But then at the same time, it is an important part of how people understand and engage in politics.”

The lack of investigation of the role of memes in Canadian politics led McKelvey, from the Department of Communication Studies, to look at the content being shared on social media. While memes are usually regarded as harmless, humoristic tools, McKelvey argues that they are actually an important part of shaping public opinion and representing all the different political party leaders.

“I think the humour part is important because people look at these images and it helps them laugh or make a joke,” said McKelvey, “and then they identify closer with that party or with the people who created the joke.”

According to the research, which McKelvey is doing with the help of undergrad students, there is currently a tendency towards counter-Trudeau memes. And it is not only a right-wing phenomenon, but memes are also used by all parties to campaign with generic, negative messages.

The research identified 30 Facebook groups posting memes about the election, each focusing on different issues. It can be observed that from the left-wing, climate change is a recurring theme while the right promotes corruption-related memes. Yet, Trudeau’s various scandals, such as SNC-Lavalin and his Brownface incident, prevail above all.

On Sept. 27, in a meme-tweet style, Trudeau announced his latest environmental promise to plant 2 billion trees if he was to be re-elected. “We’ll plant 2 billion trees over the next ten years. That’s it. That’s the tweet.”

This tweet, which McKelvey argues was orchestrated by his campaign staff, was an attempt to adopt the meme trend and ended up backfiring on him. It was received more as a joke than anything, said McKelvey.

“It’s interesting to see the varying reactions, I mean at least from the students,” said McKelvey. “No one took it seriously. It came across as a joke.”

The research comes after McKelvey co-wrote a paper with Elizabeth Dubois on the role of bots in politics. Simply put, bots are the loose word to describe any automated accounts on social media that behave or pretend to be a human.

In politics, the worst scenario could be where bots push for a story to become more popular than it should be, whether false or not, impacting public perception directly. It can become terrifying knowing that, according to a study by the University of Southern California and Indiana University, nearly 50 million Twitter accounts are run by bot software.

Although, under the Transatlantic Commission on Election Integrity, political parties worldwide have now agreed to obey a code of conduct that states full disclosure on their use of bots.

Yet, while Jagmeet Singh and Andrew Scheer took the pledge, neither Justin Trudeau, Elizabeth May nor Maxime Bernier’s names can be found in the online agreement.

What about their roles in spreading false information?

Since the 2016 United States election, the existence of online-interferences from automated agents is not a secret anymore.

In fact, parts of McKelvey’s research on the role of bots was to recognize the capacity of bots to manipulate the content on social media, but also acknowledging that bots can serve important public functions, along with the public interest.

“We have the CBC using bots to help people understand how disinformation spreads online,” said McKelvey. “We also have a bot that is called the Parity Bot. So, whenever someone tweets something negative or abusive to a woman in politics, it will automatically tweet something positive. It’s a way to counter interact negativity online.”

And when it comes to memes, McKelvey argues that analyzing false information being spread through them doesn’t look at how people share information they know to be false but believe anyway. Instead, he believes in trying to think about this sharing process more as social identification; how people come to understand themselves and politics.

 

Graphic by Victoria Blair

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Poli Savvy: The storm before… the storm?

It’s been a whole new world of pain for the Liberal Party, as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau deals with accusations of racism over his use of “brown face.”

Old yearbook photos have been posted by TIME Magazine, showing Trudeau with a unique take on Aladdin, complete with a turban and dark face paint. Naturally, many Canadians were less than impressed with this attempted display of multiculturalism, leading Trudeau to issue apologies to the public and… NDP leader Jaghmeet Singh?

According to CBC, Trudeau approached Singh to apologize for the incident – a confusing move, seeing that Aladdin is of an Arabian background, not Indian. Moreover, it seems that Singh has enough on his plate, given that the Steel Workers Union of Regina might vote Conservative according to the Regina Post. A traditionally New Democrat group in the NDP heartland, workers are being forced to choose between work opportunities provided by a pipeline or job protections offered by Singh. Whether this highlights a dangerous trend among unions is yet to be seen, but the NDP certainly cannot afford to lose support after previous defections to the Green Party of Elizabeth May…

… who is facing her own scandal, covered by the Toronto Sun since an image on the party website shows her holding what appears to be a photoshopped reusable mug, though the truth is much more sinister. It was proven that May was instead using a single-use paper cup to store her coffee, leading to calls of hypocrisy by voters who feel that the pro-environment leader should lead by example. How this will affect the Green Party’s chances at a federal majority is too early to say. Regardless; Liberal scandals, NDP popularity drops, and Green Party controversies could prove to be advantages for the Conservative Party of Canada’s leader, Andrew Scheer.

Well yes, but actually no, since the National Post reported that Ontario’s CPC base is in trouble due to major cuts in healthcare, environmental protection, student grants, social services, legal aid… basically everything, by Conservative premier Doug Ford. A fact not lost on Scheer, who, interestingly, has conducted most of his Ontarian campaigns without Ford by his side. Undoubtedly a risky move that could alienate “Ford Nation” voters, but one that would gain the approval of no other than Bloc Québécois leader Yves-François Blanchet.

Incensed by the cuts to French-language services, under Ford no less, Blanchet has expanded his campaign to include francophone towns in Ontario; as covered by Global News. Claiming that French-speakers outside Quebec are being treated like second-class citizens, he has called for votes towards an independent Quebec, a bilingual Supreme Court, and expanded powers for the federal commissioner of official languages. In other words, nothing new; but a stark contrast to fellow Quebecer Maxime Bernier.

From claiming that carbon dioxide is not a pollutant to backing a candidate who had published racist tweets, as covered by CBC, the People’s Party of Canada leader is no stranger to controversy. However, Bernier is facing a lot of criticism for calling environmental activist Greta Thunberg “mentally unstable”, in a series of tweets back in September. Aside from the fact that picking a twitter fight with a 16-year-old is frowned upon in politics, his choice of words proved quite poor seeing that Thunberg has autism and Asperger’s Syndrome.

Ultimately, how these scandals impact the upcoming election remains to be seen. Canadians will simply have to vote for whichever party they feel is the best choice for Canada or the best option available.

 

Graphic by @sundaeghost

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Perspectives on “Brownface,” from a brown-faced person

It is almost starting to feel that in the  #MeToo era, you can’t react quickly enough to any story linked to sexism, harassment, racism, etc – and that’s a good thing. It’s high time that survivors and victims of sexual assault have this safe space where they instantly have trust and public opinion on their side. Even if, in reality, getting an actual recourse of actions against the perpetrators is a little too much to ask. Remember Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey-Ford?

But what has been lost in this knee-jerk reaction, is the time to reflect – before, during, after.  It’s like once the public condemnation has come down, there is little room for anything else. And this is where it becomes dangerous.

The latest, of course, has been the Justin Trudeau brownface debacle. And following the trend that has been set forth, let me firstly make an exaggerated, arm waving, red faced denunciation of his actions. We are talking about the year 2001 here, Mr. Prime Minister – I know it wasn’t the age of woke but it wasn’t even the age of utter disconnect with global discourses. Coming from a political background, one would assume (though why should we?) that you would have been more sensitized to the issues of race, stereotyping and the deep emotions of hurt and abuse that are associated with these actions.

The any-other-colour-except-your-own face has a terrible history. It has been implicit in creating ridicule simply for the sake of laughter and amusement. It is demeaning to those of us whose identities are reduced to our colour only. The revelation of these images has given rise to a great debate about who Trudeau really is. There are accusations of racism, and of course statements of how unfit he is to be the leader of this country. And all of this is justified. We need to be held accountable for our actions.

But here, I want to move beyond Trudeau and this specific incident. I want to take a moment to remember that we are the sum-total of our actions and thoughts. Not one action. Not one thought. The sum-total of all our actions, since the time we are mature enough to make our own decisions to the day we die.

I realize that in such a reactionary world this has become an unpopular opinion, but it is precisely why we need to pay attention to this. One action doesn’t define us, because if that was the case, then I am quite certain that none of us would be free of charge. What’s more, what constitutes right from wrong, socially acceptable behavior, attitude and norms are constantly evolving, as we become more aware of the diversity of identities that exists around us.

We also need to consider at this point whether one action from the past is all it takes to discount the evolution that we might have made as a person since then. Is there no room to recognize that people grow and learn from their mistakes?

Again, I feel I must emphasize here that this doesn’t discount Trudeau whose privileges should have made him more aware of various social considerations.

Moreover, with a highly-charged political environment, these stories have the effect of distracting one from the more serious question. Was brownface stupid? Yes, a hundred times yes. But, is it as worth our attention as much as immigration policy, climate change, the refugee crisis? No. A thousand times no.

Am I positioning one issue above others? No! What I am simply saying is that the tendency of getting swept away in the social media world is far too great, while the current political situation demands that we do just the opposite – that we stay anchored and vigilant. That one individual’s stupidity and lack of sensitization to other people’s identity doesn’t let us become insensitive in return to the impact our lack of attention can have on millions of others.

As a brown person, who because of her student status has no voice in the outcome of the Canadian election, I feel it is critical that we maintain focus on the issues that go beyond this. And yes, one can correctly argue that such incidents pile up to bigger crimes of violence against minorities, which is why we need to move forward now and look out for and work against those greater structures of violence.

 

Graphic by @sundaeghost

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Poli Savvy: Walking on eggshells one week into the election

The election campaign is now in full swing. From the start, the Liberal party was taken aback by reports alluding that their cabinet blocked efforts by the RCMP to investigate allegations of obstruction of justice regarding the SNC Lavalin scandal. Trudeau’s main statement in response to the questions regarding his cabinet’s involvement was roughly his job as Prime Minister is to be there to stand up for and defend Canadians’ jobs.

Conservative leader Andrew Scheer debuted his campaign with a public reprimand of the PM, calling on Justin Trudeau to allow law enforcement to investigate his cabinet. The somewhat unknown conservative leader is struggling to make a name for himself that is not Harper or Ford.

Trudeau was not present at the first English debate hosted by MacLean’s and City TV. Instead, he rallied in Edmonton, one of the bedrocks of the Trans Mountain Pipeline project.

The Green Party was almost laughed off the stage by commentators and Scheer, despite Elizabeth May having the only political plan that even begins to address our climate crisis economically and scientifically.

Jagmeet Singh marked some points by connecting the Conservative leader to the much-hated Conservative Premier of Ontario during the debate.

“[Scheer] believes that the priority should be making life easier for the wealthiest,” said Singh. “I believe it has to be different and we can do it differently.” However, Scheer and Ford have not been seen together since the debate, indicating Scheer is distancing himself from his fellow Conservative.

This week hasn’t been all policy. A photograph of Trudeau surfaced on Wednesday, published by the TIMES, depicting the Prime Minister in blackface back in 2001.

“I shouldn’t have done that,” Trudeau stated in the Liberals’ campaign plane. “I should have known better, but I didn’t and I’m really sorry.” Trudeau has since admitted to other occasions where his costumes involved blackface.

One leader that has not shown restraint in his response is Singh, stating “What we see now is an ongoing pattern of behaviour that is going to hurt Canadians.”

Needless to say, this will have an impact on the Liberals’ re-election campaign. But does a picture of a man 20 years ago define him? At the end of the day, it is up to the people to determine what to make of Trudeau’s character.

 

Graphic by Victoria Blair

Categories
News

No electoral reform for Canadians

Canadians respond to Trudeau’s decision to abandon electoral reform plans

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s recent decision to scrap plans for electoral reform has disappointed many voters, Concordia students included.

The Liberals will not go forward with this pledge due to the lack of consensus on the kind of electoral system Canadians would prefer, stated Trudeau in an interview aired on Global News.

The announcement garnered mixed reactions, including mobilization from those in support of electoral reform. A National Day of Action for Electoral Reform took place on Parliament Hill and in various cities across the country on Feb. 11.

In Montreal, protesters gathered outside Jarry metro station then took to the streets to express their disappointment on the retraction of the Liberal’s campaign pledge. The crowd marched to Trudeau’s constituency office on Crémazie Boulevard East, according to the Montreal Gazette.

“We created the Facebook event [for all electoral reform events]  shortly after the 2015 election as a reminder to follow up on Trudeau’s promise that his government would bring forward electoral reform legislation within 18 months,” said Caitlin Urguhart, the organizer of National Day of Action for Electoral Reform. “The event quickly went viral, with more than 10,000 people responding as interested in attending.”

“Members [of the Facebook group] were outraged and wanted to do something about it. I saw the opportunity to mobilize people across the country and started to organize [the event],” Urguhart said.

“We are demanding a fairer, more collaborative and more representative democracy,” she said. “No path worth walking is easy, so we’re asking this government to do right by Canadians and walk the hard road to electoral reform.” Urguhart said now is not the time to give up on our democracy. “Now is the time to get to work.”

According to CTV News, during Trudeau’s election campaign, he pledged to voters “that the 2015 election will be the last federal election using the first-past-the-post” system.

First-past-the-post, or single member plurality (SMP), is when voters cast one vote and the candidate who receives the most votes in a constituency wins the riding and a seat in the House of Commons.

SMP is credited to be most successful when there are two political parties, however, as the number of parties increase, the less it is said to reflect voter wishes.

In the 2015 federal election, the Liberal government won a majority in the House of Commons with only 39 per cent of the vote. As a result, the Trudeau Liberals have held Town Hall meetings across Canada where electoral form was discussed. They created an all-party parliamentary committee to review a wide variety of reform options, such as proportional representation, ranked ballots, mandatory voting and online voting.

Some within the Concordia community weighed in on Trudeau’s decision to abandon electoral reform.

“I think that it is really telling of the Trudeau government of their broken promise on electoral reform,” said Alex Tyrrell, a Concordia student and leader of the Quebec Green Party.

Tyrrell recommended a preferential ballot electoral system, where voters would rank their preferences from most to least favourable candidate, to better represent citizens votes.

However, one student understood Trudeau’s decision to maintain the current electoral system.

“Although I support the Conservative Party, it seems to me that Trudeau shows maturity and political savvy in abandoning electoral reform,” said André Grant, a Concordia political science student. “Instead of slavishly sticking to campaign promises, he’s realized many of them are unrealistic. That takes maturity.”

“Whether you agree with his policies or not, Trudeau did this because he believes it’s good for Canada,” said Grant.

Categories
Opinions

Trudeau’s language gaffe

The sun barely emerges through the grey clouds, as darkness covers the entire city. Pale creatures with chalky skin wander the streets, seeking shelter from the frigid elements.

Let’s face it, January is a tough month and everyone’s morale is usually running low. Luckily, our university offers psychological services to help students get through these troublesome times. Many individuals on our editorial team have utilized these services and the councillors have helped many of us.

We don’t realize how lucky we have it though, considering we have access to all these services in English. The same can’t be said for the rest of Quebec, where many health services are solely offered in French.

This issue came to the forefront at a town hall meeting last week in Sherbrooke. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau descended on the small city located 150 km outside of Montreal to answer questions from the public, in an attempt to boost his public appearance.

During this meeting, a woman named Judy Ross stood up and brought this issue to the forefront and asked Trudeau, in English, why it was so difficult for anglophones to get access to mental health services in their native language, according to CBC News.

Following Ross’ question, Trudeau answered her question in French. He said: “Because we’re in Quebec, I’ll answer in French.” This response infuriated many from the anglophone community in Quebec.

Now we don’t want to ignite a language debate, but considering Concordia is an English university, we have to stand up and say something.

Trudeau, who openly defends bilingualism, made a giant hypocritical misstep at this town hall meeting.

Here at The Concordian, we are upset to say the least. It appears Trudeau is not concerned about the plight of anglophones in Quebec and even had the audacity to insult Judy Ross by responding in French. How can we trust the PM when his missteps create these giant ripples that divide our society?

In Quebec, language has always been at the forefront of debate. Bill 101 and language laws are something that every Quebecer knows all too well. As anglophones, and even as francophones, Quebec can be a very difficult province to navigate.

For example, according to CTV News, in 2012, the parents of a two-year-old girl in Vaudreuil made a complaint against the province’s ambulance service because a paramedic refused to speak English while treating their daughter who had just suffered a seizure. When the ambulance arrived on scene, the paramedic said, “Non, moi je parle français.” It is instances like this that prove how problematic the language issues are in this province.

By not answering that question in English, Trudeau has ultimately contributed to language tensions that have been tearing this province apart since the rise of sovereignty. Anti-Anglo sentiment is very real in Quebec and to see it from our own prime minister, who is supposed to represent all Canadians, is utterly appalling.

So The Concordian demands for the government to offer mental health services in English, because these services are absolutely vital for the English-speaking community and for the Concordia student body, if they seek help outside of our campus.

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