AUKUS Pact: How Will Canada Be Impacted?

The military dealings of Canada’s allies in the Pacific Ocean might play a large role in the future of Chinese-Canadian diplomatic relations.

On Sept. 15, the heads of state of Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States unveiled a trilateral security pact that will serve to expand the three nations’ military influence in the Indo-Pacific region. The pact is more commonly known by its acronym AUKUS.

This deal comes after years of Australia’s tiptoeing on a diplomatic tightrope between American and Chinese partnerships, cementing the nation’s relationship with the U.S. for the near future. The agreement will put into place the construction of tomahawk cruise missiles, extended range joint air-to-surface standoff missiles, long-range anti-ship missiles, and most notably, nuclear-powered submarines, which will all be sent to the Australian military.

According to Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, the country “received overwhelming support when it came to Australia moving ahead to establish a nuclear submarine fleet for Australia to ensure that we could contribute to the peace and stability of the Indo-Pacific.”

This deal will make use of British and American technologies and resources to build at least eight nuclear-powered submarines, vessels Australia has not acquired until now. The increase in size of Australia’s fleet will make patrolling the Pacific and Indian oceans easier as it looks out for what it perceives to be its biggest threat: China’s growing military presence in the region.

According to Dr. Julian Spencer-Churchill, Concordia political science professor and former Canadian Forces captain, “The issue AUKUS is attempting to solve revolves around power and values. Xi Jinping differs from his predecessors because he is dramatically more totalitarian: he’ll stop at very little to achieve some sense of greatness. Whether that’s the Spratly Islands, Taiwan, or the Uyghurs, he wants it all. These countries [involved in AUKUS] are trying to curtail his influence and get him to back down through military buildups.”

Due to the most prominent feature of AUKUS being Australia’s submarine program, many countries have reacted in a variety of ways, ranging from excitement to condemnation. For instance, the Indian government, which has been in heated armed disputes with China in the Himalayas, welcomed this partnership. The Japanese government has reacted with similar satisfaction due to its disputes with China over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands.

On the other hand, one of the harshest critics of AUKUS has been France, which saw its nearly $66 billion contract with Australia for the construction of diesel-electric submarines scuttled with little notice before the new deal was announced. Another more obvious detractor of this deal is China, which views the trilateral agreement as an impediment to its influence in the Pacific.

On the day AUKUS was announced, many were quick to notice Canada’s absence in the deal. While the Conservative Party was eager to take a stance in favour of joining AUKUS and criticizing Trudeau for not signing on, the Prime Minister stated that Canada had no interest in acquiring nuclear submarines, and that the country had nothing to offer in this matter.

Canada remains a member of the Five Eyes partnership, meaning it will still receive tactical information from the three nations involved in the pact. Critics of the AUKUS deal view it as a stern finger-wag at China, but its long-term impact remains to be seen.

While the tension between the Chinese and Canadian governments is still present, all hope for diplomacy and civility is not lost. On Sept. 24, it was announced that Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, the two Canadians trapped in China for over a thousand days, will be returning home. In return, Meng Wanzhou, a Huawei executive trapped in Canada for just as long, will also be returning to her home country. If the AUKUS nations and their allies choose to pursue a more diplomatic approach, much could be in store on the global political stage.


Graphic by James Fay


Revisiting The 1975’s sophomore record

Now’s a better time than ever to listen to I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it.

What now feels like eons ago has only been about five years. The 1975’s 2016 album, I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it, came three years after their self-titled debut, The 1975. The 17-track sophomore release has come to be a springboard for the music that the band would produce in the years following.

The interim period between their debut and their catapult to fame was defined by a social media blackout that fueled rumors of a potential split of the band. Following this, neon signs began appearing in a variety of different locations, each one displaying a song title from the album. Their placement was meant to reflect the meaning of the songs. Signs popped up in a variety of places such as New York, London and Los Angeles. Whether it was outside a grocery store, an emergency room or even in a church, all of the places were reflected and referenced within the respective tracks. With the help of photographer David Drake, photos of these signs came to be promotional icons for the aesthetic of the album.

It has now become tradition for The 1975 to open all of their albums with a version of the eponymous track, “The 1975.” With the second installment of this now-tradition for the band’s albums, I like it when you sleep’s version is more dependent on choir vocals and heavy synth. Nonetheless, its meaning as a track still remained a masqueraded tale of oral sex, “Go down / Soft sound / Step into your skin? / I’d rather jump in your bones / Taking up your mouth, so you breathe through your nose.”

It is just like any band to question the direction that they hope to take musically and lyrically as their careers are being forged. From their first LP to this one, there is a remarkable change in the sound of their music. At first, The 1975 was mostly a guitar-heavy, Brit-pop, emo band. This esoteric style of music is still appreciated by avid fans, but casual listeners only began to flock once their sound did a 180 and morphed into the synth-pop, production-heavy, I like it when you sleep. Even with a great change in style, band members and friends George Daniel, Ross MacDonald, Adam Hann and Matty Healy have stayed the course.

The first half of the tracklist opens with staples, “Love Me,” “A Change Of Heart” and “She’s American.” In an interview with Pitchfork, band frontman Matty Healy summarizes I like it when you sleep as “ego, fear and light.” These three tracks are exemplary for this description by Healy. “Love Me” comes off as a very musically striking track with heady guitar riffs and solos, when lyrically it is a tirade about the way fame has brought temptations into his life and fluffed up his ego following the band’s successes. In its own right, the song is self-referential, with its lyrics about fans loving the band and him trying to “Be the man that gets them up on their feet.”

“A Change Of Heart” follows the story of a falling out between two lovers. While this kind of song is cheap in music, Healy used this particular track to criticize people on the internet with, “And then you took a picture of your salad / And put it on the Internet.” The project’s fifth track, “She’s American” sees a musical output almost reminiscent of ‘80s pop songs with its prominent drumming pattern in the mix and upbeat production effects.

Lyrically, Healy is digressing on his status as a British man living in the United States, as the band lived in California when recording the album. His juxtaposition with the cultural differences between American and British women sees a variety of lyrics highlighting these differences such as “If she says I’ve got to fix my teeth / Then she’s so American.”

I like it when you sleeps shining moment comes in the form of the project’s 10th track, “Somebody Else.” Like every other band, there needs to be a song that catches you and reels you in to check out their other songs, and “Somebody Else” is exactly that. “Somebody Else” is not just a bedroom pop jam for heartbroken teenage girls, it is a staple for the music that The 1975 makes.

Throughout the middle ground of the album, there are a handful of tracks that attempt to engage listeners that are frankly a bit long and experimental in contrast to the album’s more popular songs. While tracks like “Please Be Naked,” “Lostmyhead,” and the title track can appeal to devoted fans, a casual listener may find little to enjoy with minimal or no audible words across these tracks.

While not for everyone, fans of production and mixing could certainly appreciate the mastery possessed by band drummer and often producer, George Daniel. Nonetheless, as Healy mentioned in Spotify’s storyline feature, ambient music is his favourite art form and he likes to “think of ambient music as the engine of The 1975.”

As the album draws to its end the tracklist ends on the melancholic trio of “Paris,” “Nana” and “She Lays Down.” The first of the trio is one of the album’s more critical songs, where Healy describes a foul girl whom he meets who is coked up to the nines (“She’s a pain in the nose”). While the lyrics are a bit sporadic in this song, Healy is again able to point the finger back at himself as opposed to solely criticising someone else. Healy, who once was addicted to heroin and other opiates, does a variety of self reference in this song with lyrics like “As the crowd cheered for an overdose,” and “She said I’ve been romanticizing heroin.”

The penultimate track, “Nana,” is a wearily somber acoustic track that sees Healy retelling the tale of his grandmother’s death and how he is reeling from it. His poignant lyricism builds on earlier themes of religion, while diving headfirst into mourning. “And I know that God doesn’t exist / And all the palaver surrounding it / But I like to think you hear me sometimes.”

As the lengthy I like it when you sleep draws to a close, Healy caps off the album with a fingerpicking acoustic guitar track, “She Lays Down.” While this track is bereft of any heavy production or woozy synth notes, the lyrics make up for the song’s overall simplicity by being a very personal memo referencing Healy’s relationship to his mother and her postnatal depression “—And in the end, she chose cocaine / But it couldn’t fix her brain.”

In hindsight, everything always looks clear. I like it when you sleep was a standalone masterpiece at the time, but looking back on it to this day, there is a linear progression throughout The 1975’s albums. As Healy mentioned on Spotify’s album storyline feature, this album was the springboard upon which he dove into the band’s next two albums, saying, “I often see ILIWYS as the creche for the ideas that came next.”

All of this to say, I like it when you sleep will likely be to The 1975 what The Dark Side of the Moon is to Pink Floyd, an album that will be remembered for decades down the road. Though vastly different, both of these albums possess similar qualities that see them lyrically covering a variety of topics, backed by memorable musical displays. With this album being their breakout, the band later ensued with what is arguably their opus, A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships. With the sound having gone through an evolution, there is a traceable pattern of growth in sound, lyricism and delivery with the progression of music from The 1975.


Penelope Isles are the psych rock revivalists 2020 needs

We spoke with Penelope Isles’ Jack Wolter to discuss the band’s latest work and surviving lockdown in the U.K.

Penelope Isles have put in some serious work. The U.K.-based band is spearheaded by sibling duo Jack and Lily Wolter. Originally from the Isle of Man, Jack and Lily initially had separate solo projects, Cubzoa and Kookie Lou, that have released EPs respectively. Lily then moved to Brighton where she met Becky Redford and Jack Sowton, who would later become a four-piece band once Jack Wolter joined them in 2015.

Following their new formation, the band released a 7-track project, Comfortably Swell, in the fall of 2015. This release came to jumpstart their extensive history of touring. They hit the ground running; the band performed in pubs, stores, festivals and venues as they set out to make a name for themselves in the English music scene.

In January 2019, Penelope Isles signed to British record label Bella Union. Once partnered with the label, they released their full-length debut album to Spotify, Until The Tide Creeps In. It has garnered 1.95 million streams to date. The release covers a variety of bases both sonically and lyrically — there are many intimate lyrics as well as many aspects of psychedelic rock, fused with a lush sound and warm vocals.

Last year alone, the band performed well over 100 shows that also saw them opening 16 shows for the Wallows’ Nothing Happens tour, prior to COVID shutdowns. Although the band was not scheduled to open for Wallows on what would have been the European leg of the tour, Jack was still excited to have them, saying, “We had their London show in our diary.”

With the effects of shutdowns in the U.K., they took it upon themselves to write, record and produce their latest album. As Jack says, “It was perfect timing to make a record as we had no choice but to be in lockdown.”

Most recently, the group made some personnel changes, seeing members Becky Redford and Jack Sowton leaving the group earlier this year. With new members Hannah Feenstra and Henry Nikelson now on the team, they are looking to release their newest record shortly.

While the future still looks uncertain, a certainty is that Penelope Isles continue to be dedicated to their craft, and striving to be a great live band. With their next record already finished, Jack says that he and Lily are both working on new material for their solo ventures.

The Concordian spoke to Jack Wolter about making music in a pandemic, and the band’s upcoming album.

TC: As a band formed in Brighton, there’s definitely a lot of lore and a history of great music coming out of there. What kind of legacy do you want to etch as Penelope Isles continues to get bigger?

JW: I guess to leave an impact and for people to have enjoyed the experience of seeing us play live. I don’t think we are a particularly important band in the way of changing how people think. Most of our songs are abstract thoughts and feelings. But we do love playing live and that connection with the room. I would be stoked if anyone thinks of us as a great live band.

TC: COVID-19 drew your tour with Wallows to a premature close. Even though it was cut short, how was the tour and how did you and Wallows come together?

JW: We have the same booking agent so they hooked us up. The boys from Wallows dug our sound so invited us along. It was nuts! It was an amazing few weeks and ones we’ll never forget. Sold out show after another. Our music is a little different to Wallows so we were a bit nervous as to what the American/Canadian kids would think, but it went down so well. We loved playing for all you guys.

TC: What advice would you give yourself back when you first started with everything you’ve learned up to this point?

JW: Take time away from it all sometimes. As obsessed you might be. I still have to remind myself of this.

TC: Up-and-coming bands sometimes burn bright and die fast when they change their style to fit certain niches. Right now, you guys have a familiar sound and vibe with your music, where is the balance between experimentation and continuity for Penelope Isles?

JW: Good question. I think it’s important to feel comfortable in the environment in which you are making music. That applies to both writing and producing. On this next record we have pushed ourselves a little more in terms of how the songs sound sonically. It’s more experimental and dramatic in moments but doesn’t drift too far away from the songwriting on our first album. Our new songs feel more emotional. Maybe because we have lived, loved and lost a little more. I think if you are personally making art to please someone else then it is in danger of losing something special.

TC: In other interviews you have cited Radiohead as an inspiration, do the comparisons of your first album to Radiohead’s In Rainbows put any pressure on you for future releases?

JW: I mean that is such a compliment! It’s one of our favourite records. Not really as I know that it’s nothing as good as In Rainbows. Our new record is sounding cool and we’re ready to share it when we can! I’m excited to see what people think and can’t wait to play live.

TC: With production for all of your work done in-house by you, should we expect the same for the upcoming album?

JW: Yes! When we got back from America we rented a cottage in the southwest of the U.K. and moved all our gear down for a month. We made a lot of it there as well as back here in Brighton. It was perfect timing to make a record as we had no choice but to be in lockdown.

TC: You have no shortage of touring and performing experience in a variety of different places, how eager are you to get back on the road and start doing shows again?

JW: Very much so. And even more so after such a long period without touring. The process of travelling around, leaving town, returning home is something that I really have missed dearly. It’s something I need in my life like many others who travel a lot. It feels pretty claustrophobic staying in one spot. But everyone can relate to that right now. We are very excited about coming back to America and Canada one day soon!

Photo by Laura Caldwell

Music Quickspins

QUICKSPINS: King Krule – Man Alive!

Archy Marshall’s third album as King Krule is his most abrasive to date

Although Man Alive! showcases the same influences that made King Krule (aka Archy Marshall) an underground success—the rhythms of hip hop and trip-hop, the harmonies of jazz, the abrasiveness of punk—his latest LP is harsher and more aggressive than its predecessor.

Marshall’s third LP as King Krule ditches the pristine beauty of 2017’s The Ooz for chaotic drums, noisy guitars and thundering bass lines. Still, the London-based singer-songwriter sounds wearier this time around. Although he can still rip out a convincing punk howl, he is generally quieter and more reserved, never quite returning to the confident swagger of “Biscuit Town” or “Dum Surfer.”

“This place doesn’t move me,” he admits feebly on “Please Complete Thee.” “Everything just seems to be numbness around.” His list of guest musicians is noticeably shorter this time around as well—which is a shame because so much of the magic of The Ooz came from his chemistry with his collaborators. Thankfully, he brings back saxophonist Ignacio Salvadores, whose baritone sax lines swim ominously throughout the album. Man Alive! is less ambitious, less expansive, and less beautiful than The Ooz, but if you fell in love with King Krule’s music for its melancholy and musings on loneliness and depression, you won’t be disappointed.

Rating: 8/10

Trial track: “(Don’t Let the Dragon) Draag On”


Poli SAVVY: Brexit is a done deal. Or is it?

Hello February, goodbye to the EU.

After more than three years and many extensions, Britain’s breakup with the European Union is finally official. And the story of their divorce is a long and laborious one. A chapter might be over, but the saga continues.

Back in June 2016, 52 per cent of the United Kingdom’s population voted in favour of the Brexit referendum. Yet, the withdrawal of the UK from the EU was sold to voters without a clear idea of what it would mean. Now that it’s here, the question remains.

What exactly does Brexit look like? Alas, my friend, we still don’t quite know and Britain has more time to figure it out once again.

Ironically, even as British Prime Minister Boris Johnson officially signed the Brexit Agreement, which came into effect on Friday, Jan. 31, the UK still has another 11-month transition period. They need to negotiate new regulations over various issues such as trade and immigration, while the old rules still apply. They couldn’t figure it out in three years, but who knows what will come out of this transition period?

We are not just talking about a few new adjustments here and there. We are actually looking at more than 750 treaties and international agreements that will need to be looked over, according to Financial Times. It will take time, and it should. Changes of this nature can’t be made in a rush.

However, despite the separation anxiety the exit is causing, it actually could mean greater opportunities for Canada. While our country and the UK were trading under the EU Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) since 2016, another deal will have to be drafted and agreed upon by both countries. Seeing how the UK struggled in dealing with Brexit in the first place and how unsteady the road ahead is, Canada could end up with the upper hand.

But ONLY eventually, after the transition period (which could also be postponed for another year or two).

How Britain managed to conquer the world is a wonder.


Graphic by Victoria Blair



FKA twigs creates world-class pop music on MAGDALENE

MAGDALENE comes four years since twigs’ first full-length release, LP1. While LP1 introduced twigs as an innovative artist to follow, MAGDALENE cements her as one of the most creative voices of modern pop music.

As is evident from the record’s title, MAGDALENE is steeped in Christian references. The juxtaposition of religious symbolism and sexuality can often be used as a cheap ploy for subversiveness in pop songwriting. Yet, because twigs brings the Christian elements both into the lyrics (as on “Mary Magdalene”) and into the orchestration (as with the choral singing on “Thousand Eyes”), this combination makes complete sense.

Despite the R&B sensuality that flows through this record, it is also deeply pained. To say MAGDALENE is a breakup album might be a bit reductive. Yet, many of the tracks deal with twigs coming to terms with who she could be outside of a broken relationship.

MAGDALENE is a tortured, spiritual manifesto for pop music’s future, and you can expect to hear its influence in countless albums to come.


Trial Track: “Home With You”

Star Bar:
“I’m a fallen alien
I never thought that you would be the one to tie me down
But you did
In this age of Satan
I’m searching for a light to take me home and guide me out” (Twigs on “Fallen Alien”)


Charli XCX enchants Montreal with her futuristic pop

British pop auteur performs a sold-out show at the Corona Theatre

Charlotte Aitchison, known by her stage name Charli XCX, has been experimenting and expanding the borders of pop music since she was 14. She played a sold out show on Oct. 15 at the Corona Theatre during her tour promoting her latest album release, Charli.

The audience was lively and happy, with people of all ages making up the crowd, though the majority were teens and young adults. The northern-England artist’s sound has evolved from witch house to punk, and now borders a dance-pop and electro-pop sound that resonates with youth everywhere.

Charli demonstrates a perfect balance of upbeat futuristic pop, filled with clicks and digital manipulations in both her lively party tracks as well as her slower songs detailing heartbreak, confusion and loneliness. The latter makes up most of her new album, which she performed almost in its entirety that night.

Teeter-tottering the avant-garde while still adhering to mainstream pop, Charli ponders how the future might be with her explosive sound. At Corona, she was just as dynamic as her music, bringing a fun yet reflective vibe to the audience. At times dynamic party pop songs, other times self-examining and introspective, creating this space for crowds alike to reflect.

The show opened with Toronto’s airy yet edgy electro-pop artist Allie X. Later, digital sounds and computer-musings emerged among a large flashing cube before Charli herself came on, wearing a jewel-studded mask covering her mouth and a large shiny coat. She began the show with “Next Level Charli,” the first track off of her new album, then moved on to the more upbeat and cerebral “Click.” Charli’s energy was contagious, going back and forth between slow songs and upbeat bangers. 


She slowed it down again with “I Don’t Want to Know,” which got people swaying. She brought back the energy with the hedonistic 2016 hit “Vroom Vroom,” and then the introspective “Gone” – both a party track to celebrate with others and solo, having everyone singing “Why do we keep when the water runs?/Why do we love if we’re so mistaken?” During “I Got It,” she yelled to the audience to “get down low!”

Although Charli is known for collaborating with many other artists in the pop world such as Lizzo, Yaeji, Sky Ferreira, Troye Sivan and CupcakKe, she still brought the energy to Corona as a solo performer. Then about midway though, Charli brought in a couple Montreal artists and drag performers, giving them each a chance to perform. According to Charli’s instagram, she is continuing to bring on local dancers and artists to accompany her on stage wherever she stops on tour.

Charli then played the Pop 2 version of “Track 10 / Blame it on Your Love,” not withholding the dreamy, squeaky production of the original version. Though most of the show included tracks from her new album, she came back for the encore with past upbeat hits, starting with the electronic and dreamy “Unlock It” and the Icona Pop cover of “I Love It.” She then finished with the bubble-gum pop “Boys,” and last year’s hit “1999.”

Like in her music, Charli brought both an upbeat party energy to the crowd as well as an introspective and contemplative one, making us delve into letting loose while also considering our own personal reasons for it. Charli loves to party, and she continues to remind us to keep it real with ourselves while doing so.


Photos by Laurence B.D.


Trick or treat, deal or no deal

It may not be a coincidence that Brexit, the United Kingdom’s planned exit from the European Union, is scheduled for Oct. 31, which, as you know, is also Halloween. 

In fact, Brexit is a pretty scary prospect for my family and friends back in my native Northern Ireland (NI). Their fears are not unfounded: a Sept 04 report by the Canadian credit ratings agency DBRS suggests that if the UK crashes out of the EU on Oct 31 it could “inadvertently lead to the breakup of the Union” – (namely the UK) by increasing support for Scottish independence and the unification of Northern Ireland with the Republic of Ireland.

The prospect of a breakup of the UK is a serious matter: even casual students of history know that the birth or death of a nation is usually a very messy business.

A potential flashpoint would be the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland (ROI). Since 1973, when the UK and the ROI joined the EU, people and goods moved freely across the border. However, if a no deal Brexit leads to a NI-ROI border with infrastructure – fences, passport and customs posts. This so called “hard border”, in confirming the 1921 partition of Ireland would become a target for the catholic paramilitary IRA (Irish Republican Army). IRA attacks on border infrastructure would mean reprisals on the catholic community by the protestant paramilitary UVF (Ulster Volunteer Force). British military  intervention to separate the two sides could revive the shooting war that lasted from 1969-1998, reports the BBC.

Bertie Ahern, former PM of the ROI, in an article for Irish Examiner expressed how the Irish feel about a hard border: “They fear that any infrastructure at the border equals trouble, disagreement, Army, soldiers, police. Some of it might be exaggerated but there is that fear of the slippery slope. It is something that really worries people.”

Irish people are angry and frustrated by what they see as the UK’s cavalier attitude towards Ireland as Irish Journalist Una Mullally writes in The Guardian, “With every bungled stage of Brexit, there is a dismayed head-shake about the fact that this is the first century where all of Ireland isn’t under British rule, yet still Britain finds a way to screw us. When Britain sneezes, we catch the cold.” Of course it’s not just about the Irish and the NI-ROI border. About 3 million EU citizens established in the UK may have to rethink their futures after Brexit.  Polish citizen Niko Cichowlas who runs a London based construction company explains: “When I hear the guys talking, they feel that the British are turning against them, they feel this rightwing antagonism, and some of them end up becoming quite anti-British themselves – the process works both ways. They feel under attack, it is very sad.”

The crazy thing is, Brexit didn’t have to happen. It only came about because of a throw away promise made during the 2015 UK election campaign by UK Prime Minister David Cameron. He said he would hold a referendum on EU membership if his party was re-elected. Probably, when he made the promise he just couldn’t imagine that on June 23 2016, 17.4 million UK citizens (52 pc of eligible voters) would vote to leave. In this way, a casual election promise led to the UK’s biggest political and constitutional crisis in half a century.

There may be some hope of a last minute deal to take the UK out of the EU in an orderly manner. Following their October 10 meeting in Liverpool, the Irish PM Leo Varadkar and the UK’s Boris Johnson stated they could see “a pathway towards a possible deal.” I hope so — Halloween isn’t far away and there’s already too much scary stuff happening in the world without tacking on a disorderly Brexit.


Graphic by @sundaeghost


How Brexit in the UK affects Northern Ireland

A Northern Ireland student’s take on Brexit and how it will affect his home

Within “Brexit”––the United Kingdom’s pending withdrawal from the European Union (EU)––is a lesson on how an international border can return to haunt the foreign power that imposed it, long before for reasons of political expediency.

The border that separates my native Northern Ireland (NI) from its southern neighbor, the Republic of Ireland (ROI), also separates Britain from an orderly Brexit which is ironic, since it was Britain that created the border when it partitioned Ireland in 1921. It would even be amusing if a disorderly Brexit wasn’t such a threat for Ireland, north and south.

In 2016, Brexit came about, largely, from British immigration angst. Since the NI-ROI border will be the UK’s only land border with the EU, you’d expect it to have customs posts, passport control, and barriers of some sort. However, this “hard border” scenario is problematic because of Ireland’s history and the tangled web of national identities that didn’t disappear with partition.

In NI, those citizens––usually Catholic––who identify as Irish see the border as an emotional reminder of partition that deprived them of basic civil liberties for 50 years. For instance, there were cases where access to social housing and to employment in private and public employment was denied to members of the Catholic community. However, some NI catholics pragmatically cherish the border for locking the UK into injecting roughly (CAN)$16 billion annually into the NI economy.

NI citizens––usually Protestant––who identify as British see the border as confirming the union with the UK and their own distinct society. Others, seeing their future in the EU, have obtained ROI (EU) passports and some might even buy into a united Ireland as to remain in the EU, according to The Irish Times.

Hardcore NI nationalists are fundamentally opposed to the border. In fact, the Irish Republican Army (IRA) would consider border infrastructures as “legitimate military targets.” But any border attacks by the IRA would provoke reprisals by the––mostly Protestant––Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF). In this way, a “hard” (visible) border might reignite the violence that ended with the 1998 Belfast Peace Agreement, according to The Washington Post.

Meanwhile, south of the border, ROI citizens see it as a firewall against the craziness of NI sectarian politics, which is why, in a 1999 referendum, they massively voted to relinquish the ROI’s constitutional claim of sovereignty over all of Ireland. However, the border question is not exclusively in their hands because the 1998 Belfast Peace Agreement allows NI’s Secretary of State to call a referendum on the status of the border. A similar referendum would have to be held in the ROI. How those referenda would play out is anyone’s guess.

To avoid a hard NI-ROI border, the UK’s Withdrawal Agreement includes a so called “backstop,” a post-Brexit temporary customs union between the UK and NI with the EU. However, after the UK’s attorney general judged that the backstop could tie the UK to the EU perhaps indefinitely, according to The Irish Times, the Withdrawal Agreement was struck down by more than 200 votes in the UK Parliament on Jan. 15, 2019.

At the end of January, Prime Minister Theresa May was considering an alternate backstop with technology replacing visible border infrastructures. If this option is rejected, the UK may crash out of the EU on March 29, creating a hard NI-ROI border and a possible return to armed conflict in NI, according to The Guardian.

Last year, I had a chilling reminder of the violence I knew growing up in Belfast. On DW’s “Belfast facing Brexit”, ex-IRA member Bob talks of bombers and ex-UVF member Noel, although referring to his past, speaks in the present tense: “I’ll shoot a Catholic nationalist … that way the message is sent to that community…” This is just one example of the consequences for NI, of Brexit, and the border.

Graphic by @spooky_soda


A relationship between ‘first cousins’ is never a good idea

Photo via Flickr.

News emerged on Sept. 16 that Canada and the United Kingdom have reached an agreement to share embassies in some countries. While the agreement may help cut costs, its stated goal can also harm Canada’s image abroad.

The agreement, as it stands, doesn’t seem so threatening. Canada will allow British diplomats to work out of its embassy in Haiti. The U.K. will allow Canadian diplomats to work out of its embassy in Burma. In this way, both countries will gain diplomatic representation in countries where they previously had none.

What’s concerning is that the agreement could grow to cover a much longer list of embassies and consulates around the globe. Canada was once a colony of Great Britain and our foreign policy was once dominated by that country. Sharing embassies with our former colonial power certainly calls into question Canada’s independence.

Under the Conservative federal government, Canada has restored the “royal” moniker in the name of its armed forces. Premier Stephen Harper’s government also ordered all Canadian embassies to display a portrait of the Queen. Last year, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird drew criticism for having paintings by Quebec artist Alfred Pellan removed from the lobby of the Department of Foreign Affairs, only to have them replaced by the Queen’s portrait.

It feels almost as if this recent agreement to share embassies is but a small part of a longterm plan to recolonize Canada.

While Canada is regressing, it seems the rest of the Commonwealth is coming-of-age. Jamaica is considering abandoning the monarchy to become a republic, and Australia held a referendum in 1999 on whether to ditch the monarchy and elect its own president; the referendum was defeated, but at least they held a sincere national conversation on the subject.

In the meantime, our government has instead been trying to reassociate Canada with the U.K. out of some stubborn and misguided sense of nostalgia. And they’ve been doing so without any discussion on the subject. It is inevitable that the sharing of embassies will lead people around the globe to associate Canada more closely with the U.K. and Canada’s image will be hurt as a result, especially because of the differences in foreign policy.

The two countries’ foreign policies diverge in more areas than one might think. The last time Canada stored nuclear warheads for the United States was in 1984; meanwhile, the U.K. still has its own stockpile of 225 nuclear weapons. The U.K. joined the U.S. in the ill-advised war in Iraq, a war Canada refused to join in the absence of any mandate from the United Nations. Economically and politically, the two countries have different foreign policy objectives in a number of countries.

As Paul Heinbecker, Canada’s former ambassador to Germany, told The Globe and Mail, “We have an incompatible brand with the U.K.” Canada, known for being a peace-loving nation will now be rooming with a former colonial power. Whether it’s fair or not, many people will now think to paint us with the same brush.

Far too many questions remain about the specifics of how such an agreement would work in actual practice. If the U.K. were to decide it wanted to cut off diplomatic relations with a country, where would that leave Canada if we shared an embassy there?

If our foreign policy interests diverged and we had competing interests in a country, what type of strain would an embassy-sharing agreement place on our relationship? Would Canadian diplomats working out of a British Embassy have the same power to work against the U.K.’s interests as they would if they were working in a separate embassy?

Although government officials have called it a largely “administrative” agreement, the plan calls not only for the sharing of facilities, but also for the sharing of staff. Will Canadians still have access to the same level of French-language consular services as they currently do in our own embassies?

This agreement is pretty harmless because it only covers two locations but if it was expanded to encompass many more, it could have real implications on Canada’s image. Not only do the optics of sharing embassies undermine the notion that Canada is an independent nation, but the agreement may well undermine Canada’s ability to meet its own foreign policy objectives in the future.

As is typical with the Harper government, this agreement was formulated under a shroud of secrecy. And what Canadians are now left with is a long list of concerning questions and few satisfying answers.

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