“Justice for Joyce” protestors march against systemic racism

Thousands march through downtown Montreal, calling for more accountability from the government


Thousands of protestors gathered on Saturday to demand action against systemic racism in Quebec after an Atikamekw woman, Joyce Echaquan, died at Joliette Hospital where she was racially abused by staff.

Mask-wearing demonstrators packed Place Émilie-Gamelin with drums, Indigenous flags and “Justice for Joyce” signs. Many were on bicycles, others pushed baby strollers. Protestors shuffled toward the speakers, all the while attempting to maintain a two-metre distance from each other.

The multilingual demonstration began with a prayer for Joyce. Buffalo Hat Singers were followed with a drum-pounding performance. Chiefs, local politicians, and Indigenous activists took to the stage to denounce the denial of systemic racism in Quebec public institutions and to call for a criminal investigation into the case of Joyce Echaquan’s death.

Cheers and chants of “justice for Joyce” punctuated remarks.

“I have spent the last few days wondering, am I next?” said one Indigenous speaker, fighting back tears. “Who’s next? I’m tired of hearing about intentions. We don’t want intentions!”

Manon Massé, co-leader of Québec solidaire, urged Premier Legault to engage with First Nations communities more respectfully and to put into practice the 142 calls to action listed in the Jacques Viens report, which in 2019 concluded that Indigenous people face systemic discrimination when trying to access public services in Quebec.

On whether political parties are working together in the National Assembly to address the issue of systemic racism, Massé told The Concordian that “The CAQ and the PQ don’t recognize that there is systemic racism [in] Quebec, [in] our institutions,” but she insisted that she is willing to work with other parties to advance change.

Jessica Quijano, who works at the Iskweu project and the Native Women’s Shelter of Montreal said that the Indigenous community needs its own health centre.

“First Nations people often don’t seek medical attention because of systemic racism.”

However, she saw positives in the protest turnout.

“I think it’s hopeful to have this many people, but I always say that protests are dress rehearsals for what’s really to come.”

Jennifer Maccarone, the Liberal Member of the National Assembly (MNA) for Westmount–Saint Louis, had strong words for Premier Legault.

“I think he’s completely disconnected from the community he represents.”

She accused the CAQ of doing little to address racism in the province and acting without transparency.

“Joyce deserved nothing less than proper health care and respect,” she told The Concordian.

“You have to change the way people think,” Gregory Kelley told The Concordian, the Liberal MNA for Jacques-Cartier. He called for Quebec’s educational curriculum “to have more Indigenous content so people understand better who the Indigenous peoples of Quebec are and what are the challenges they face.”

The demonstrators observed a moment of silence for Joyce, then marched from Émilie-Gamelin toward René-Lévesque Boulevard and stopped at the Quartier des Spectacles. One nurse and one orderly have been fired from the Joliette Hospital, and three investigations have been launched. A GoFundMe page has been created for the family, and the Echaquan family is filing a lawsuit against the hospital.

Photograph courtesy of Joe Bongiorno


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


Poli Savvy

WE are never ever ever getting back together

To Justin Trudeau’s relief, we haven’t heard about the WE Charity scandal in a minute. To his dismay, here’s a reminder of it, and why it’s important we don’t forget.

So what exactly happened?

In mid-April, as the Federal Government was still scrambling to make sure all those financially affected by COVID-19 were given proper support, Prime Minister Trudeau announced additional funding for students, whose income relied on job availability during the summer.

Introduced alongside the Canada Emergency Student Benefit (CESB) was the Canada Student Service Grant (CSSG), a program where the government would compensate university students and recent graduates under 30 years old who signed up to do volunteer work. With a budget of $912 million, this program would be administered by the WE Charity, a Toronto-based international human rights organization focusing on youth empowerment, who would be allocated $43 million in management costs.

When Conservative Party members asked to verify how the charity was chosen, Trudeau stated that they were the “best and only organization able to deliver on the scale that we need.” Of course, this isn’t true: not only is the government itself well-equipped to handle this project, but 20 other organizations were considered for the management of the CSSG starting in April.

Why is it a problem?

Justin Trudeau and his family have been closely affiliated with WE for years. He, his wife, his brother, and his mother have attended and been invited as keynote speakers at WE’s annual WE Day event as far back as 2007, the year of the event’s first edition.

Over the years, the Trudeau family was paid an estimated $283,400 for speaking at these events.

This begs the question: how was the WE Charity chosen as the “best and only” organization? And why did no member of Trudeau’s Cabinet, whose role is to oversee his decisions, speak up on the conflict of interest at play?

Why does it matter now?

The PM’s recent decision to prorogue Parliament is going to be a big setback for the ethics committee currently investigating this deal. Because all Parliamentary activity is being put to rest, the investigation will only continue after Sept. 23, when MPs are due to reconvene.

For now, WE Charity has cancelled its WE Day events indefinitely, cancelled the deal made with the government, and repaid the $30 million it had been handed for the administration of the project.

To many, though, prorogation is simply Trudeau’s way of further delaying this investigation, as well as the one currently looking into the country’s relations with China. Considering this isn’t the PM’s first rodeo when it comes to corruption charges — what with the SNC-Lavalin case and his trip to the Aga Khan’s island four years ago — only time will tell what and whether he will be facing any consequences once Parliament returns.


Graphic by Victoria Blair.


Erin O’Toole: From MP to PM real quick (maybe)

The new Conservative leader’s potentially quick rise to national power

Erin O’Toole recently became the Conservative Party’s new leader after a whopping 57 per cent vote victory. Self-described as a military man who will fight for the rights of Canadians, O’Toole’s election comes at a critical time in Canadian history, as the country struggles with a pandemic and the Liberal Party loses trust following the WE Charity controversy. In just a few months, he could even become Prime Minister.

This parallel universe in which O’Toole becomes the leader of Canada just a few months after winning the leadership of his own party exists because Parliament is currently in prorogation.

But what exactly is prorogation?

According to the CBC, prorogation “suspends all parliamentary activity, including all legislation and committee work,” until Parliament is next summoned.

In a nutshell, prorogation is like hitting Parliament’s reset button. Ongoing committee work such as bills, studies and investigations are paused during this period and can be reintroduced once the break is over. To top it off, a fresh agenda will be proposed by the Trudeau government upon the reopening of Parliament activities.

In point of fact, Justin Trudeau considers that Parliament has been due for a reset because “the throne speech [they] delivered eight months ago had no mention of COVID-19.” Trudeau said  his government wants to test the confidence of the House.

On Sept. 23, the new session will begin. A speech from the throne will be given, and a confidence vote will be taken.

If confidence is lost…

Should the House decide that it does not have confidence in the government, elections would be triggered.

Canadian elections have historically been ruled by the Conservative Party and the Liberal Party, suggesting that a race to power in this scenario would be dominated by either Justin Trudeau or Erin O’Toole.

However, O’Toole does not intend to trigger this scenario. In an interview with The West Block in Toronto, the pro-choice leader states that Fall elections are not his priority.


Poli Savvy: Start the clocks, the countdown starts.

With one week left to go, federal leaders continue to compete for the public’s attention in the press and through their policies.

Justin Trudeau is trying hard to put the blackface controversy behind him. Obviously deflecting with new and more “a-pleasing” promises than ever, the Liberal leader is neck and neck with Andrew Scheer. However, there is something to be said about his efforts to meet the more progressive party platforms, in an attempt to keep the left-wing vote away from the NDP and the Green Party.

What do I mean when I say party platform? Well, I’m talking about the promises our leaders are making to us. Trudeau – trying to escape his long rap-sheet – is promising net-zero emissions by 2050, and a tax cut that will allow everyone’s first $15,000 in income to be tax-free. Jagmeet Singh, the second leading progressive leader is also promising major climate and economic action. Don’t get me wrong, these leaders are not interchangeable. In matters dealing with the Indigenous communities, Singh has been more favorable due to his strong stance on the clean-water issue in northern Indigenous territories, while Trudeau has been accused of doing little for Indigenous communities.

During the french speaking debate hosted by TVA, we saw four of the six candidates debate questions of foreign policy, Bill 21, and climate action. Conservative leader Scheer scrambled to connect with the Quebec audience, and through his support for the TransMountain pipeline, it’s likely he didn’t win many votes outside of Alberta that night.

As a follow up, the English speaking debate this past Monday included all six federal leader candidates. I’m not sure whether this debate was meant to replicate the dynamics of a high school classroom, but that’s besides the point. Yves-François Blanchet once again proved that he is fighting for the rights of Quebec – more specifically, their right to equalization payments.

Singh made quite an impression as the media declared him the winner of Monday night’s debate. His ability to connect with people is uncanny, and translates to a loss of votes for the Green Party; too bad it won’t be enough to become the default progressive leaders.

So in this coming week, my fellow Concordians – stay alert, listen, and most importantly: vote.


Graphic by @sundaeghost


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


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


Poly Savvy: Old Rivalries in New Brunswick

Both the New Democratic Party and the Green Party have butted heads the past two weeks on what appears to be a controversial development in the eastern province.

Previously thought to be 14 defectors, eight former New Democratic candidates have switched over to the Greens, as reported by the CBC. One defector, former party executive Jonathan Richardson, even went so far as to blame the move on NDP leader Jagmeet Singh’s ethnicity’s effect on regional popularity.

Naturally, such a statement has led to accusations of racism against the Greens, accusations that the party has vehemently denied. Instead, it was pointed out that Singh had not once visited the Maritimes since assuming his position in 2017. Unsurprisingly, words have been thrown back and forth since the defections, reaching levels of passive-aggressiveness best reserved for thanksgiving.

But regardless of the political bickering, the real question remains; what will be the consequential effect of these disputes on the upcoming federal and provincial elections?

The answer is… probably nothing.

It’s no secret that the Green Party has never been one to gain more than two seats at the Federal level, so far. Nor have they established any sort of major political ground on the eastern seaboard. Therefore, it’s safe to assume that no riding was ever truly in sight for a Green takeover; as New Brunswick is primarily split between Conservative and Liberal MPs, with a slight lead for the Blues.

In fact, the Greens hold a mere three provincial seats out of the province’s total of 49. Zero on the Federal level.

But what about the NDP? Have they lost any potential advantage in future polls?

Again, not necessarily.

The “defectors” mentioned consisted of members of the Oranges, who ran in the 2018 provincial elections. Ran, not won, as the NDP had not gained a single seat. Most of these individuals had figured that their prospects would be better for joining the Greens, either through the assumption that following a Sikh leader would hurt their chances or genuinely believing that Singh had not done enough to remain popular in the area.

In the end, the Greens did not gain a single seat as the New Democrats did not have anything to lose. To find out if the former had gained any clear advantage, we will need to see the results of the upcoming elections.

Until then, the Green Party will just have to settle for brownie points.


Graphic by Victoria Blair

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