“Love will fix all”

When people tell me that Liberal-ized “LOVE” is the answer… that all we need is sole “love” to lick the well-deep wounds… I have this burning desire to respond:

Will Love put my native tongue back into my bruised, post-9/11, numbing-cream™ filled mouth?
Will it allow me to share my passions and heartaches with my warrior Mamanie?
Will it allot me a careless life without constantly thinking about not letting my tired Middle Eastern parents down, letting my political mouth run, run into borders I am banned and stapled to?
Will lOve give back my parents the 25+ years they continue spending to prove themselves as “pal(e)..atable” enough while guarding their iron-vested ventricles?

Will it shield me from the everlasting throbbing pain whenever anyone whose complexion resembles mine gets called, “a sand n***er”, “a terrorist”, “an exotic gift”, “a helpless burden”, “a security threat”?

Will loVe let my scars heal and restore how easily I once used to trust… how I trust my own community.. people who utter words like mine, hold the same values as me, deal with the same intergenerational traumas as my mind/     /soul/    /body, yet have no choice but to betray me when our only sanctuary is within each other’s arms?

Will lovE rewind history.. will it stop drones and badge accompanied guns from erasing lives as beautiful as the varied shades of the early evening glow to the dark night sky?

Will it allow us to scream, cry and express anger for our lost, broken and endlessly tortured without affirming repulsive tropes?

Will it enable people to return h o m e safely and for lands to be power-washed to rid them of everlasting rainy stains of fallen, rainbow eclipsed roses?
Will Love enable A community to take asylum within Meccas of the mind and have faith in Faith again?
Will it stop A community from cursing a queered Hijabi, Muslim Arab, Afghani-Iranian refugee, or dark skinned Afro-Iranian with the weapon of Western imprinted slurs and glares?

Will lOve let MY community raise their hands towards the sky again without fear, resentment and mistrust?
Will loVe let MY people move about with their spirits glowing on both the lands my ancestors cared for & the stolen and Ancestral ones my loved-ones are exiled to?

Would lovE grant US the opportunity of staring at a blank page with absolutely nothing to write about.

O n l y   i f  …

Corrupt prosecutors behind Brazil’s 2016 right-wing coup selected as finalists for UBC’s $100,000 Allard Prize

The Car Wash Task Force

The winner of the 2017 Allard Prize for International Integrity, based out of UBC’s law school, will be announced this Thursday September 28 in the Old Auditorium. Among the three finalists is Brazil’s “Car Wash Task Force”, a team of prosecutors famous for spearheading a wide-ranging corruption case that led to the criminal conviction of former President Lula da Silva and the impeachment of his co-partisan and presidential successor, Dilma Rousseff.

The Collective Advocates and Advocates for Democracy (CAAD), a group of progressive lawyers and activists that formed during the outbreak of Brazil’s ongoing political crisis, recently sent a letter to the Allard Prize asking that the Car Wash Task Force (known in Brazil as “Lava Jato”) be removed from the list of finalists.

In this letter, they explained that the Task Force has been widely condemned by the Brazilian legal community:

“Having brought together renowned lawyers from all over Brazil as part of our collective, we found numerous abuses, arbitrariness and legal violations committed by the so-called ‘Car Wash Task Force’. […] The outrage of the decision condemning former President Lula without evidence was so great that it provoked an unprecedented reaction of more than a hundred lawyers, of all ideological shades, who denounced in a joint work the illegalities and problems of the decision that condemned former President Lula.”1

The letter refers to the Lava Jato People’s Court, which was convened by CAAD to assess the legality of the Car Wash Task Force’s proceedings.2 It was composed of two juries, one popular and one professional. After seven hours of public debate, the People’s Court issued a judgement condemning the illegalities and constitutional violations committed by the Car Wash Task Force.3

UBC sides with the right-wing oligarchy against the Brazilian people

According to its website, the Allard Prize is “awarded biennially to an individual, movement, or organization that has demonstrated exceptional courage and leadership in combating corruption or protecting human rights, especially through promoting transparency, accountability, and the Rule of Law”.4 Its organizers claim that by bringing corruption charges against prominent politicians like Lula and Rousseff, “the Car Wash Task Force has brought about a new era of integrity and accountability in Brazil.”5

This favourable view is shared by Brazil’s largest corporate media outlets, most of which supported the 1964 military coup that established a brutal rightwing dictatorship for two decades.6 In keeping with this legacy, congressman Jair Bolsonaro cast his vote for Rousseff’s impeachment “in honour of a human-rights-abusing colonel in Brazil’s military dictatorship who was personally responsible for Rousseff’s torture”.7

By contrast, much of Brazilian civil society and grassroots political movements view the Car Wash Task Force as a tool of an oligarchic elite, represented by the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMBD), that sought power by “judicial” means after having lost the 2014 election to Rousseff’s Worker’s Party (PT).8 Protests opposing the Task force number in the hundreds of thousands9, while an attempted rally in its defense only attracted a little more than half a dozen people.10 Brazilians reject the hypocrisy of the Task Force’s ‘crusade against corruption’, which played a key role in undemocratically installing the notoriously corrupt Michel Temer as President. As David Miranda writes in The Guardian, “It is impossible to convincingly march behind a banner of ‘anti-corruption’ and ‘democracy’ when simultaneously working to install the country’s most corruption-tainted and widely disliked political figures.”11

Much of the Brazilian legal community is also highly critical of the Task Force. Vera Karam de Chueiri, director of the Faculty of Law of the Federal University of Paraná (UFPR), claims that the Task Force has harmed the country’s democratic principles. “Lava Jato […] is not annihilating corruption. This is because it assumes exceptionality as a rule. It cut into the heart of our constitutional democracy.”12

In a 2004 magazine article, Sergio Moro, the leader of the Task Force, praised “authoritarian subversion of juridical order to reach specific targets.”13 Moro is well known among Brazilian lawyers and jurists for his aggressive tactics and disregard for the rights of accused persons.14 Alberto Toron, a professor of criminal law at the University of São Paulo, noted that Moro has long ignored correct legal procedure. “Judges should not trample the rights of the accused, but Moro’s attitude does not surprise me.”15

The Task Force’s illegal conduct extends beyond its treatment of the accused. New revelations have shown that the prosecution evidence used by the Task Force was deliberately falsified.16

In light of the clear arbitrariness and bias displayed by the Task Force, the Deputy Attorney General of Brazil, Aurea Lustosa Pierre, issued an opinion defending Lula and ordering the Superior Court of Justice to scrutinize Moro’s judgement of the former president.17 She noted that Moro made several political statements critical of Lula and appeared in photos smiling with Lula’s political opponents, casting serious doubt on his neutrality.18

The right-wing coup and the twilight of Brazilian democracy

There is no separating the Task Force’s activities, which began in 2014, with the subsequent parliamentary coup that put Temer in power. As Brazilian journalist Fernando Morais put it, “The coup and Lava Jato are Siamese brothers”.19 In response to the political crisis engendered by the Task Force’s proceedings, over 100 Brazilian diplomats have signed a letter expressing concern that the “significant achievements” of democracy in Brazil are under threat.20

The American Association of Jurists, a legal organization with consultative status at the United Nations Economic and Social Council, issued a declaration on the eve of Rousseff’s impeachment:

“This process is part of an imperialist plan […] to destroy the regional integration process […] in which Brazil plays a fundamental role. For that colonialist plan, recourse to the traditional coup d’état carried out by the armed forces is no longer possible. Therefore, new methodologies are employed, using parliamentary bodies and the judicial powers [like the Car Wash Task Force] to execute so-called ‘soft coups’, such as those executed with success in Honduras and Paraguay, and those frustrated in Bolivia, Venezuela and Ecuador.”21

Michel Temer’s rise to power – the result of the Car Wash Task Force’s relentless and unsubstantiated attacks on his opponents Lula and Rousseff – has been devastating. His deeply unpopular 20-year freeze on all social spending was condemned by the UN as an attack on the poor that places Brazil in “a socially retrogressive category all of its own”.22 Temer’s labour reforms have eliminated fundamental rights enjoyed by Brazilians for over seven decades.23 Survival International, a global indigenous rights organization, has accused Temer’s government of “setting indigenous rights in Brazil back decades”, and said it bore “heavy responsibility” for a recent “genocidal” slaughter of uncontacted tribes in the country’s Amazon Basin.24 Conversion therapy – psychological treatment aimed at “curing” people of homosexuality – has been re-legalized.25

Under the banner of “anti-corruption” and “human rights”, the Car Wash Task Force has promoted the most regressive, authoritarian, and corrupt forces within Brazilian society. If UBC and the Allard Prize are truly committed to democracy, equality, and progressive values, they will remove the Car Wash Task Force from the list of finalists and rescind their invitation to Vancouver.

Trump-style politics at UBC: Why you should proobbbbabbly vote in the upcoming AMS By-election this week

Aah free speech. Two deliciously click-baity words that roll in and out of your mouth like Warheads candy the morning after Halloween. If only “free speech” as is commonly used nowadays by libertarians, white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and the “alt-right” actually refers to the legal definition of freedom of expression. Otherwise members of these groups would not be sending death threats and hate-mail to Black Lives Matter activists, to Indigenous people, to women, to LGBTQ+ people, to Muslim people and to other marginalized groups when they speak up about, what, their own right to life, safety, and free expression as marginalized people? #notalllibertarians

Give me a break. After the events at Charlottesville, Virginia, it’s become more obvious that white supremacists are emboldened to use activist tools to promote their causes. They’re no longer afraid (if they were ever!) to gather collectively to chant in unison in support of anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, whiteness, homophobia, transphobia and the status quo. Nor do they care that a woman is killed in the process, so long as they are not themselves found culpable.

In this light, it makes perfect sense that Franz Kurtzke in his campaign in the upcoming AMS by-election for VP Academic would refer to his invasive pamphlet distribution on campus as ‘activism’ and ‘social justice reform.’ Using this language is Kurtzke’s strategy to replicate ‘alt right’ strategies to gain traction and media attention: to “troll” his way into the limelight using polarizing, click-bait rhetoric and appropriate social justice language to make the same tired points. I blame Canada’s mainstream legacy media for giving the likes of Kurtzke a platform that would retroactively allow him to call himself an activist. Does being kicked out of UBC free speech club make him more relevant, somehow? Does getting talked to by the RCMP without the risk of getting shot or assaulted make him a philosophy ‘activist’ hero?

Make no mistake, I am not flattening the differences between white supremacists in Charlottesville and bow-tie wearing “philosophy dweebs” at UBC. Canada has its own rich history of vitriolic status quo enforcers, misogynists, and white supremacists with which to compare Kurtzke to. However, his participation in the AMS by-elections after his campaign of a gigantic waste of paper and ink reflects the influence of Trump-style politics that has come to power in the U.S. As the Ubyssey’s report of the VP academic debate shows, he is not prepared or genuinely interested in campus politics. He is cynically banking on the attention he has received and general campus apathy to gain power. Why? Because he can. Because the rest of us are busy with work, with our readings, with our papers, with our daily struggles. Maybe we are even getting married, or having and raising children. Might we be busy with advancing philosophical debates within our respective scholarly fields? Gasp! But alas, if we are angry about Trump, then we should—perhaps reluctantly—be paying attention to the likes of Kurtzke in our own backyard, too.

I wish I had the time and energy to unpack everything that is wrong and disturbing about Kurtzke’s campaign. I wish I could give you a nuanced take on Canadian white supremacy and setter colonialism, the suppression of marginalized people’s speech (including at UBC!), and why someone like Kurtzke would feel threatened by anti-rape culture education on campus and the Institute of Gender, Race, Sexuality, and Social Justice.

But I am tired. I have no time for the fragility of white men, who invoke psychiatry, neurodivergence, and mental illness only when it is convenient. Boo-fucking-hoo. I am tired of ahistorical defenses of Western colonialism written by professors concerned about “viewpoint diversity.” I am tired of professors denying trans, non-binary people’s identities. I am tired of the banality of everyday rape culture, white supremacy, and all other forms of injustice and oppression committed by students, police, professors, friends, and family. I’m tired of how both legacy and social media exploits marginalized people’s stories and labour, both institutions only interested in clicks and dollars.

I value my own fragility and my own mental health. I’ll be sure to vote in the upcoming AMS by-election from September 18th-22nd, and, hopefully, never visiting r/UBC ever again.

To Franz Kurtzke, if you’re reading this: have you gotten better at playing the piano any time soon? To Max Holmes: tell us why we should all vote for you, instead.

Jane Shi was a founding editor at The Talon. She studies English and Asian Canadian and Asian Migration minor at UBC. She thanks Amber Louie for gifting her with the concept of attending to our own fragility as marginalized people.

The Balmoral Hotel: One of the Many Effects of Decades of Neoliberalism in Vancouver

“Money doesn’t solve everyone’s problems, community does,” proclaims Balmoral resident Amanda Germann.

On June 2, 2017, the city gave residents of the Balmoral Hotel, one of Vancouver’s most neglected single-resident occupancy (SRO) buildings on the Downtown Eastside (DTES), an eviction notice for June 12. The notorious slumlords – the Sahota family that own the building and other real estate in the area, totaling $130 million – were ordered to vacate the building after engineers found significant structural problems on May 30th. The Balmoral Hotel was home to around 150 of the city’s low-income people, over 50% of which are people of colour. After pressure from tenants and activists, BC Housing committed to securing housing for everyone and the Sahotas were forced to offer a small amount of relocation assistance. However, tenants and housing advocates criticize the government for failing to enforce bylaws and insist that problem landlords should be fined for renting out such deplorable living conditions. Over three decades of neoliberalism in British Columbia ensures that issues such as the Balmoral are not an anomaly.

The tenants have struggled for years to have their voices heard by the Sahota family and municipal government while the building has continued to deteriorate. Black mold, rats, cockroaches and bedbugs, along with rotting structural beams in the building’s foundation, are the results of negligence spanning decades. Recently, occupants decided to take matters into their own hands by organizing to stand up for their rights and address the safety and health hazards of their living conditions. Various community activist groups and organizations such as the SRO Collaborative, the Vancouver Tenants Union and the DTES Women’s Centre have stepped in to support the DTES tenants and their struggle for dignity.

Sam Dharamapla, a former book-keeper who worked at the Balmoral and other Sahota-owned hotels for ten years, joined the tenants’ struggle after being fired from his job a year ago. At the June 11th block party rally, Dharamapla proclaimed that the Balmoral is a symbol of this “historical movement of the Downtown Eastside.”

Roberta Westenberg, a 57-year-old tenant at the Balmoral, who has lived there for over a year, described her living conditions to the crowd at the rally despite feeling ill after recently returning from the hospital. “My ceiling is falling down, my walls are cracking to the floor, I’ve got water flush coming through my place, [and] people urinating in the room up top,” she detailed. “I smell death every day.” Roberta has asked since she moved into the Balmoral for her room to be cleaned up but no action was taken. She thanked the crowd for gathering and pleaded for people to return the following day to support her and the other tenants on eviction day.

Mark, a tenant who also spoke at the rally on Sunday, recalled being unable to access water to put out a fire in the building. He stated that after he complained to management that his hot water was not working, the water was shut off completely. This is extremely problematic in light of the recent Grenfell Tower tragedy in London where the BBC reports at least 70 people died when the building was engulfed in flames after “years of neglect” by the local government, which many believe could have been prevented. Mark also witnessed the management at the Balmoral use physical violence as a response to psychotic breakdowns where tenants were beaten with sticks. He insisted that it is essential to spread awareness about the “unequal human rights situation” that people are experiencing within many of Vancouver’s SRO buildings. He then addressed the broader lack of economic opportunity and stated, “I can certainly see how a lot of people end up resorting to crime. This system is designed to make people resort to crime because it doesn’t give any options.”

DJ Joe was a Balmoral resident that lived in the building for 27 years, since 1989. She stated that two years ago she started taking matters into her own hands after the Sahotas failed to address problems. “What if something like this happened in your place [where] you asked somebody for help and they ignored you, how would that make you feel?” Joe asked. She said that the back door has been broken for over two years, which has allowed squatters to occupy the building. She stated that the tenants have tried their best to take care of the building and she expressed her frustration about the notice being given only 12 days before eviction. Joe confirmed that she did have a place to live but that it was worse than the Balmoral but she had no other choice. “I have to take what I can get,” Joe stated. She told the Talon that “we’re going to fight for our rights and we gotta get the Sahotas outta Vancouver. The Sahotas are wanted. We’re going to put their name to shame!”

DJ Joe was a Balmoral resident that lived in the building for 27 years, since 1989.

Amanda Germann and her partner Kevin Brown, two tenants of the Balmoral, described the living conditions and their interactions with the Sahota landlords to the Talon. “My experience living here has been nothing but a repeating, recurring nightmare,” Germann said, which has been plagued by poor health conditions from black mold. She also recalls tenants being physically abused by intruders and a number of suspected murders being labeled overdoses after inadequate police investigations.

Germann and Brown referred to the Sahotas as “scumlords” that care little about the tenants and all about money. “Money doesn’t solve everyone’s problems,” Germann proclaimed. “Community does.” In the eyes of the Sahotas, Brown stated, “all you are is a dollar sign, not a human.” They both voiced their rage that the Sahotas have left the Balmoral in such neglect that it has led to the eviction of all the tenants. However, they both confirmed on Sunday that they have found a new place to live and have no desire to ever live in the Balmoral again. Germann expressed her solidarity with fellow tenants at the Balmoral and vowed to support them in their struggle against the Sahotas.

Kevin Brown and Amanda Germann, two tenants of the Balmoral.

Brown criticized Premier Christy Clark for failing to help the homeless while pocketing $50,000 in Liberal party campaign donations on top of her annual salary of $200,000. Homelessness has continued to climb in Vancouver since Clark first took office in 2011. The latest conservative count conducted on March 7 and 8, 2017, found that homelessness in Metro Vancouver has increased by 30% since 2014, affecting at least 3,605 people. Meanwhile, the 2016 Census found that there are 21,820 empty homes in Vancouver. British Columbia under the Clark provincial government is the only province in Canada without an official poverty reduction strategy, despite having the second-highest poverty rate in Canada. In January 2017, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives called upon the provincial government to develop and implement a strategy. Out of all of the other provinces in Canada, BC also has the highest concentration of wealth, where the top 10% of its residents own 56.2% of the province’s total wealth and the bottom 50% of the population owns 3.2%.

Dennis Pilon, in his essay “British Columbia: Right-Wing Coalition Politics and Neoliberalism”, documents over three decades of neoliberal austerity cuts to social welfare and services in BC. It began with the “restraint” programs of Bill Bennett’s Social Credit government in 1983 and accelerated under Gordon Campbell’s BC Liberal Party, who implemented a 25% cut to income tax immediately after being elected to the provincial legislature in 2001. The provincial government continued to slash its spending on social services despite giving off the impression of a socially-minded budget. Pilon states that Gordon Campbell’s ““housing budget” offered tax cuts that people could apply to housing, if they wished. Such a market-oriented policy approach did little to help those genuinely in need of housing.” These neoliberal policies have only continued under the Clark government. For example, welfare rates have not increased since 2007 while inflation has increased at a yearly amount of 1.7%. This has effectively made the meager $610 allowance welfare recipients receive per month, $375 of which is to cover housing, worth less every year over the past decade. Pilon ends his article by proclaiming that “the lopsided legislative victory for the Liberals in 2001 (seventy-seven of seventy-nine seats) allowed Campbell to aggressively roll out neoliberal reforms with impunity. The failure of the BC NDP to fundamentally contest either phase of neoliberal restructuring meant that the Social Credit in 1986 and the Liberals in 2009 and 2013 paid only a modest electoral price for their unpopular market-oriented policies.”

This reduction in government social welfare spending thrust the responsibility of social housing into the hands of the private sector, where low-income people have little choice but to live in SROs owned by notorious slumlords such as the Sahotas. Furthermore, the City of Vancouver’s failure to hold SRO slumlords accountable to bylaws has only continued under Mayor Gregor Robertson on many accounts. Section 23.8 of the city’s Standards of Maintenance By-Law No. 5462 states that:

where any building or land does not comply with standards set out in this By-law, the Council may, by resolution, order that failure to remedy any default specified in such order within 60 days after service of such order, will result in the work being carried out by the City at the expense of the owner.

The city also has the authority to fine landlords a maximum of $10,000 for the violation of bylaws, which it has requested the province to increase. Asked about the inaction, Wendy Pederson, a housing advocate with the Vancouver Tenants Union, told the Talon that the city’s “inspections and legal department have been lazy, incompetent, and actually prejudiced against the tenants. They blame the tenants for the problems when really the tenants are shut down and don’t have the power to make complaints.” Pederson also mentioned that the tenants have received threats and other forms of intimidation including fear of violence and eviction for speaking out about their living conditions. She proclaimed that the city does not want to spend the money to house these people elsewhere and they know that some of these buildings need to be shut down. “So, [the city] is willfully looking the other way and hoping they can stretch this out as long as possible while they gentrify the DTES.”

Miloon Kothari, a former special rapporteur on housing for the United Nations, recently stated that Vancouver is “very quickly becoming an apartheid city.” Kothari told the Talon that in the ten-year period that he has been observing Vancouver, he has seen “more hyper-speculation”, “more hyper-gentrification”, and “there’s more of a concentration of poverty.” In comparison to his visit a decade ago, he has observed a clearer distinction between the rich and poor areas of Vancouver and he asserted that “there are no meaningful attempts to have a mixed-use city with people of different income levels living together.” He acknowledged that in communities like the DTES and Chinatown, low-income people are being pushed out by gentrification which contributes to the “classic definition of an apartheid city.” He pointed out that many attempts at mixed-use housing in Vancouver, such as the Woodwards Building, have only perpetuated segregation since the poor and wealthy have separate entrances. “That is not acceptable from a human rights perspective,” Kothari proclaimed. “Canada is supposed to be a country that upholds human rights…The approach being taken is one of housing as a commodity to be bought and sold and the results are what you see here,” he said, referring to the Balmoral. Furthermore, he recently told The Tyee that “social welfare policies have been victims of neoliberal policies,” which contributes to the increase in homelessness, “[costing] society more in the long run.”

He continued by stating that a better approach would be for Vancouver to declare itself as a “human rights city, a city for everyone who lives and works here. The city housing policy”, he said, “would be based on the rights of the most vulnerable first, to ensure that the most vulnerable have a place to live [with] the security of tenure so they are not evicted.” He clarified that, although the main concern is with the lowest income groups, this encompasses middle to upper middle-income tenants who are routinely affected by eviction. He ended by stating, “that there needs to be a complete radical shift and it’s not so radical in the sense that Canada has ratified all of the international instruments that protect the right to housing. So it’s just a matter of implementing those and there’s enough information, indicators and strategies available from the UN to be able to do that.” This is in stark contrast to the statements by the Cowichan Valley Liberal candidate Steve Housser who recently referred to the guaranteed right to housing as “communistic”.

The tenant organizing has finally spurred the government into action after years of inaction. The city recently spent $1.5 million reinforcing the structural integrity in the basement of the Balmoral, and BC Housing committed to housing everyone who was evicted on June 12. According to the DTES SRO Collaborative, as of June 16, every tenant that was evicted from the Balmoral had housing.

However, the fight for the right to housing still continues in the most expensive city in Canada. SRO Regent Hotel tenant Jack Gates filed a class action lawsuit in the summer of 2016 against the Sahotas and the city, which is currently in the court of appeals. Jason Gratl, the lawyer representing Gates in the lawsuit, also filed litigation on behalf of the Balmoral residents. These cases have the potential to set legal precedents where tenants could settle their grievances against landlords in the BC Supreme Court. Furthermore, SRO buidlings make up an integral portion of the low-income housing in the city, so it is imperative that these buildings remain affordable for the city’s many low-income residents once the living conditions have been improved. The Balmoral is one example of many neglected SROs throughout the Lower Mainland that has deteriorated under decades of neoliberal government policies in BC. Even though the most affected and marginalized have been tireless and resilient in this struggle, the responsibility to ensure access to adequate housing should not be solely placed upon their shoulders. All BC residents should demand these neoliberal policies and human rights abuses be addressed along with ensuring the right to housing.

For more information please follow the DTES SRO Collaborative and the Vancouver Tenants Union.

Special thanks to editors Eviatar, Ismail, Margaret-Anne and Tania.

Okanagan Fruit Leaves Sour Taste: Temporary Foreign Workers in Agriculture Fighting Back

Originally published at Rebel Youth

This article exposes the myths surrounding Temporary Foreign Workers, the hyper-exploitation and deplorable conditions migrants face, particularly in the agriculture sector. It includes a focus on RAMA – Radical Action with Migrants in Agriculture, an anti-racist and decolonial organization that advocates for, supports and works to build community for migrant workers in the Okanagan region of British Columbia.

If you enjoy Kelowna cherries, Oliver wine, or the peaches of Penticton, chances are they were grown and harvested by Temporary Foreign Workers (TFW) under the racist, exploitative and demeaning Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (SAWP), a stream of the TFW program. This program sees hundreds of thousands of workers brought into Canada, resulting in mega profits for business owners, where workers are denied the minimum labour rights that residents and citizens have.

What is it like to be a Temporary Foreign Worker in Canada?

In the recruitment stage, employers can ask for workers of a certain country, gender and age. The labour is highly gendered, with preference given to men for more labourious work. Candidates must have families in their home countries, and they must remain at home so, according to the law, “they have a reason to return home”. For this reason tourist visas are denied to family members who would like to visit, though there is some discussion of changing this rule, but for Mexican workers only.

When workers are recruited to be TFW’s, they must sign up to work for one employer from their home country. They may change employers, but only with permission from their current employer, which leaves them bonded to them in practice for the duration of their stay in Canada. Employers can and do fire them without cause, which is essentially deportation. Because of this, migrants are usually unable to fight back against the unfair treatment and the appalling living and working conditions on the farms. For example, they are often not given proper protection when working with pesticides, nor adequate instruction on health and safety measures. Further, it’s commonplace for workers to do physical labour in the hot sun for 12 to 16 hours a day without overtime pay, with two days off per month.

On top of this, they are not entitled to MSP coverage until three months of work has passed. Then, employers must provide MSP coverage, or alternatively provide private insurance. Most are never enrolled. There are a number of recent cases where workers were injured on the job before they had the right to access health care, where they were denied adequate treatment and promptly deported.

Most live in highly rural areas where they are isolated from the rest of the Canadian population. TFW’s often have curfews, are not permitted to have social gatherings and cannot bring any guests to the farms. Employers purposefully try to make them invisible and do not allow them to integrate into society, to discourage labour organizing, learning English, seeking intervention, and raising the profile of the issues that migrant workers face.

In experiencing all this mistreatment and hyper-exploitation, migrants are then subject to systemic racism and mistrust by the Canadian people. Many Canadians point the finger at TFW’s, some of the most exploited workers in Canada, as the source of our economic problems, rather than the bosses who profit from their exploitation. It is the bosses that undercut wages and right-wing politicians that use anti-TFW and racist rhetoric to pit workers of all statuses against each other, dividing us all. That’s good news for the bosses, who would have us divided rather than organized against them. Furthermore, almost all workers are racialized, and it is common that they experience police harassment when they do leave the farms, adding to their daily oppression and exploitation.

Why are Temporary Foreign Workers Coming to Canada?

The TFW program targets racialized people from colonized nations, where displacement and dispossession from land is systemic. International capital has a strong grip on these nations, as they are continuously exploited by neocolonial and imperialist policies of the North – especially Canada. Many workers have no other choice than to come to Canada as migrant workers, because they and their families continue to be driven off their lands by multinational corporations and wealthy landowners backed by the North. For example, the Mexican agriculture sector has been devastated by NAFTA, where millions of farmers have been driven off their land, unable to compete with cheap subsidized crops dumped into their economy by the US. As well, land is becoming more controlled by agribusiness with cheap crops sold to companies like Walmart and Safeway for consumption in the US and Canada. Because of the vast power of these mega corporations and pressure from Northern capital, working conditions are extremely dangerous and inhumane, where it’s common for workers to make $10 per day. Attempts to organize and demand better are often met with brutal violence.

This history and present allows the interests of Canadian capital to seek out workers from nations in already precarious situations who are looking to improve their living conditions and those of their families. Canadian capital profits twice – in the form of control of land for resource extraction abroad, and again when workers must come here after the loss of their livelihood. Unemployment, lack of opportunities, forced neoliberal austerity by the North, and low wages are all a direct result of foreign control, kept by any means necessary including violence, corruption, and war. Conditions are so bad that workers still choose to leave their families and travel to a new country for hard labour, where their rights are severely limited.

The Fightback

Because of the precariousness of migrant workers, organizing can be extremely difficult. Despite the threat of deportation and blacklisting, many workers are trying to formally organize under the Agriculture Workers Alliance. Further, organizations like RAMA – Radical Action with Migrants in Agriculture – are building a grassroots movement to ensure workers coming into Canada have the rights and dignity that every worker should have. RAMA prides itself on being an anti-racist and decolonial advocacy group. In order to address the exploitation of workers in Canada, we must fight against racism and colonization both at home and abroad. These struggles are connected to one another, and unless we unite against single cause of the problems – the capitalist system propped up by imperialist exploitation – we will not get the root of the problem.

Grassroots organizations are connecting these struggles and finding ways to foster self-advocacy. Luis, a collective member of RAMA, noted that, “Many of the workers are already politicized. We are just here to foster community and address problems of alienation on the farms. It’s about creating the space for them to organize themselves, despite the attempts of forced isolation by their employers.”

Temporary Foreign Workers deserve the same rights as Canadian workers, with the right to health and safety, to organize unions, to fair wages and overtime pay, and to change employers. The immediate demands of RAMA and groups like it include instituting a path to citizenship for workers if they so choose, rather than having the constant threat of deportation. Since workers are currently tied to their employers and can be deported without cause, they are often reluctant to report workplace injuries and illness, which do occur given the nature of the work and the difficult conditions dictated by the employers. Currently RAMA steps in, giving rides to doctors, chiropractors, and even to emergency rooms when workers feel they cannot disclose medical issues to their employers; however they are advocating against tied work permits so that migrants can leave unsafe conditions and have open access to medical care the moment they arrive.

Activists everywhere are expressing solidarity with migrant workers and this is a call to action to fight against the injustice imposed by the wealthy bosses exploiting migrant labour. Getting involved in the anti-imperialist and anti-racist movement, workers organizations, or grassroots groups like RAMA are all ways to join the fight!

Muslims’ and Malcolm’s rage

This piece was originally written for Malcolm X’s birthday.

It’s Malcolm X’s birthday, and social media is soon to be bombarded with his speeches, images, and quotes, with a general theme of romanticized revolution. Although the content shared of Malcolm varies, a specific side of Malcolm is often depicted: the politically strong, passionate Afro-American that was bluntly outspoken about racism and white-supremacy. Through this, there is a communal indulging in Malcolm’s rage. In “Malcolm X and Black rage,” Cornel West (1992) refers to Malcolm as the prophet of rage. West points out his deep passion for Black African freedom, and profound belief in Black self-love fuels his rage. West indicates that as the evolving black identities continue to deal with perpetuated aggressions such as racism and misogyny, they relate and utilize Malcolm’s rage as point of reference. Not surprisingly, the alluring nature of his rage rooted in passion has also captivated other communities – even those that don’t relate to Malcolm’s vision of justice. For instance, in his chapter, “Malcolm X and the New Blackness,” Joe Woods (1992) discusses how neo-Nazis engage in Black rap because they relate to the anger it embodies. Although neo-Nazis’ anger has a different intent than that of black rage, their desire to identify with it goes deeper than an attempt to wear black subjectivity (wanting to be black). I believe it demonstrates the empowering nature of Black rage. Similarly, West (1992) points out that Malcolm believed the Black diaspora’s justified rage could be the foundation for seeking communal justice.

As indicated by West (1992), Malcolm didn’t live long enough to establish a theological or practical means of, “channeling Black rage in constructive channels to change American society.” Nevertheless, the continuation of his legacy includes oppressed communities identifying with his need to transform rage into proactive revolution. As a Black Muslim woman, I often attempt to conceptualize how the Muslim community relates to this productive rage he attempted to achieve. Due to Malcolm’s Muslim identity, and the relatable nature of his rage against white-supremacy, it is no surprise that the Muslim community places him at the centre when discussing Islamophobia.

To be clear, I don’t have a problem with Muslims’ expanding Malcolm to resist against racism and sexism which correspond with anti-blackness. Woods (1992) argues that Malcolm’s spirit is fluid, in that various communities “wear Malcolm’s mask” and identify with his rage. Similarly, when discussing the allegations of Malcolm being sexist, Angela Davis (1992) in, “Meditation on the Legacy of Malcolm X,” argues that when analyzing Malcolm’s legacy an innovative approach is required. Davis suggests that we shouldn’t restrict Malcolm to the time frame he lived, but focus on how his reasoning could be expanded to the present. Thus, expanding Davis’s (1992) argument, I believe utilizing Malcolm to discuss Islamophobia is innovative. It has the ability to expand discourse, and therefore, advance our knowledge of Islam in North America. While there is a common assumption that Islam in the Americas is due to mass Arab migration, its origins began with Muslim Black slaves that were kidnapped, and taken to the Americas.

However, my frustration arises from the manner in which the Muslim community engages with his rage, forcefully prioritizing their oppression over the needs of the Black community Malcolm served. While Malcolm was Muslim, the drive for his passionate anger was the ending of Black injustice, and belief in the endurance, superiority, and ability of Black subjectivity. Thus, utilizing Malcolm, as Joe woods (1992) points out, “is engaging in African American discourse.” Woods (1992) explains that each story that is written about Malcolm shows a certain side of him, but also hides another. Similarly, Muslims investing in Malcolm’s rage as the foundation for their liberation shows their oppression, but erases his Blackness and reduces him to a revolutionary tool. I believe this mimics White narratives, as discussed in Toni Morrison’s (1992) “Playing in the dark,” where literature silences Black agency, and reduces blackness to a literary tool to understand white ontology.

Therefore, the spirit of Malcolm is one associated with questioning and critiquing the oppressions the Black diaspora faces.Thus, when Brown and Arab Muslims engage with Malcolm’s rage, but ignore how their communities perpetuate anti-blackness he resisted, they are not loving Malcolm. It is very similar to the situation Joe Woods (1992) depiction of neo-Nazis ironically engaging with Black rap. It is iconizing his rage. It is reducing Malcolm to a commodity. Moreover, it is placing Malcolm’s legacy on a shelf for Brown and Arab self-gain, where he is fetishized, and engaged with only when their being is jeopardized, but placed back and silenced when the very Black community that inspired his rage is oppressed. Loving Malcolm is allowing him to become a symbol of justice by unpacking the anti-Blackness that exists within Muslim communities.

Citations

  • Davis, Angela. (1992). Meditations on the Legacy of Malcolm X. In Malcolm X: In our own image (pp. 36-47). New York: St. Martin’s Press.
  • Morrison, T. (1992). Playing in the dark: Whiteness and the literary imagination. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.
  • West, Cornel. (1992). Malcolm X and Black Rage. In Malcolm X: In our own image (pp. 48-59). New York: St. Martin’s Press.
  • Wood, J. R. (1992). Malcolm X: In our own image. New York: St. Martin’s Press.

Rubbed Raw: Depression and Suicide, from the Eyes of a Lover

Trigger warning: Suicide/self-harm/depression

One: The Meeting

It’s never like it is in the movies, is it.
Except it was, wasn’t it?
Just like a high-school rom-com gone wrong,
everything went right, didn’t it?

Except it didn’t… did it

A High school history class turned hell,
you turned around and asked me for…
something. I can’t remember,
well
Not to sound cheesy, but I was caught up in your eyes.
And, not to seem sleezy but I know you were too.

Time seemed to stop, as we met each other’s gaze,
both of our glasses reflecting the other’s
look of speechlessness
of awe
of
Love at first sight doesn’t exist, does it?
Because that’s what it felt like, it did…
Didn’t it?
Everything about us has made me question it all.
It’s never like it is in the movies, is it?

Two: The Beginning

I remember to this day when our eyes met
in Mr. M’s monotonous… social studies class
the nice, quiet boy in front of me
intrigued and beguiled me with wild
stories of somber songbirds
and strange sketches
of life

Fast forward a
year

and the nice quiet boy is in front of me
shaking
heart beating, hands trembling, head spinning
hands in my hair, on my waist, up my back
first kiss
                  first love
                                                      first boyfriend
Ultimate happiness, tumbling down the rabbit hole
of intense emotions that nobody can handle
last kiss
first kiss
                         last love
                                                      only love
when you’re dating death things
get intense quickly
things are forever
but be careful what you wish for
my one and only, always and forever
forever is
much
much
shorter
than you think,
my love

Three: Us

my broken soul, and your broken heart
fit together in perfect harmony
like your hand in mine
among other things…

slowly you opened,
revealed, blossomed, bloomed
and showed me the colourful whirlwind behind the plain black square glasses

But things are never how they are in the movies, right?

and that black cloud I lifted came back again, didn’t it?

long days and longer nights wore you down till there was nothing left
of the smiley, happy, kind, laughing boy I once met
in Mr. M’s monotonous boring hot history class

just a shell of the beautiful soul I locked gazes with that fateful day on a fate-less path

I started to miss you before you were gone
well, you were gone before you… left
first the laugh died
then the love died
when you couldn’t get out of bed
I died a little
then you died.

and. then. you. died.

and… then you… died
                  and
                                    then
                                                      you
                                                                        died
and then you died

Four: The Event

When a man loves his razors more than you, you’re in trouble.
Because no seventeen-year-old should have to have first hand knowledge
of the widow of world war two
complete with PTSD and tattoos
depression and darkness and dank deep memories of
pain.

when a man loves his razors more than you, you’re going to be angry
because when you’re seventeen years old and in love for the first time
you’re supposed to be worried about dances and dates
and whether or not he’s going to spend the night,
not survive it.

because when you’re a teenager and you’re with someone you want forever
you’re supposed to make love in the back seat of your first car
not bleed out in it

because

we loved with a love that was more than love
in a hospital in downtown Vancouver…

so when your man starts loving his razors more than you.

when he looks in your eyes and whispers
“you’re my one and only, always and forever, and I will always love you”

your heart is going to shatter, and you won’t be able to put it together again.

when a man starts loving his razors more than you
you better start loving yourself
more
than
that
man

Five: The Aftermath

Fuck you for loving me the way that you did.
The days you spoiled me, brought me
flowers and foiled my plans to stay
unreachable

Fuck you, for holding me in your arms when I cried, for telling
me you’ll never leave my side.

I hate you

for making me realize I was beautiful,
for looking at me and making me feel like a goddess on land
for holding my hand
and making me fall in love with you.

for those picnics by the ocean,
showing me a world of ecstasy and pleasure, so intense and so beautiful
our hearts caught fire
and when I say fire I mean we
burned.

I hate you for feeling the same way I did
for thinking that we had a chance
for dancing with me while we were engulfed in the flame
of a love so intense it destroyed more joy than it created and every night
I can still see your face
the disgrace
of loving you and being replaced
by something that thinks it can
take. my. place.

unbearable.

please come back to me…

Event preview: 50 Years of Naxalbari

50 Years of Naxalbari: The Key to the Indian Revolution
Saturday, May 27th from 2:00 to 5:00 PM
Progressive Cultural Centre (Unit 126 – 7536 130th Street), Surrey
Facebook event

On May 25, 1967, the people of Naxalbari, a village in West Bengal state in India, decided that they had enough of an oppressive feudal system. For years, they had been dealing with hunger and oppression as they tilled the land for their landlords for no return. With no change forthcoming, these villagers began a struggle against their landlords. This was the beginning of the Naxalbari Uprising, a new stage in the progressive struggle for national liberation in India against capitalist exploitation, imperialism, and oppression.

To celebrate this pivotal event in Indian history which gave millions of workers and peasants hope for liberation, and to reflect on the legacy of the Naxalbari Uprising for activists and revolutionaries worldwide, the International League of People’s Struggles in Canada and the East Indian Defence Committee are holding an event entitled “50 Years of Naxalbari: The Key to the Indian Revolution”. The event will be held on Saturday from 2–5 PM at the Progressive Cultural Centre (Unit 126 – 7536 130th Street) in Surrey.  The venue is accessible by transit from Surrey Central station.

We hope to place the Naxalbari Uprising and the movement it launched in the context of other resistance movements around the world. The movement not only inspired other farmers who still suffer from feudal oppression to this day, but also among others who suffer under a capitalist system. Numerous student organizations in India, such as the Punjab Student Unions, bought the vision of Naxalbari to campuses in India.  Naxalbari has also influenced the resistance of Adivasis (“tribals”) in resource-rich India against multinational mining corporations plundering their land in search of iron and coal. Naxalbari has produced leaders of the feminist movement in India such as the late Anuradha Ghandy, who espoused the idea of “proletarian feminism”. We also remember the struggles of Ghandy’s husband, Kobad Ghandy, as well as Comrade Ajith, and Prof. G. N. Saibaba. These activists are all political prisoners today who have been suppressed because of  their solidarity with the oppressed peoples in India, and because of their outspoken criticisms of the growing fascism in India, as demonstrated by the actions of Modi’s BJP government and Operation Green Hunt.

The Naxalbari Uprising influenced arts and literature as well as politics. Novels such as Mahasweta Devi’s Mother of 1084 make reference to the state repression of the student movements in the aftermath of the Naxalbari Uprising. Famed novelist Arundhati Roy has also written an article titled “Walking with the Comrades”. Numerous films and documentaries have been produced about the movement which Naxalbari inspired, including Red Ant Dream.

We hope that all progressive people will join the event in order to celebrate the ongoing struggle for social and national liberation in India, and to be in solidarity with political prisoners and other freedom fighters there.

Event preview: Hands Off Syria

On Tuesday, April 11th, at 5:00pm, Stop War Coalition – Vancouver Coalition for Justice and Peace will gather in front of the US Consulate, on the traditional, unceded, occupied territories of the səlil̓wətaʔɬ (Tsleil-Waututh), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), and xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam) Nations to host an emergency rally denouncing the US bombing of Syria as well as Canada’s “full support” to Trump’s open-ended escalation. See here for the Facebook event.

Since its onset, the conflict in Syria has been marked with its utter devastation – several hundred thousand have been killed, millions more have been displaced, and massive destruction has been wreaked upon the homes and schools and infrastructure of the nation. The war in Syria by nature is a proxy war, with the US and other powers playing a critical role in funding groups friendly to their interests, ensuring the continued destabilization of Syria. Now, just as peace talks between the Syrian government and the opposition forces are underway in Geneva, the war has reached a new critical juncture. After years of bombing Syria, the US has finally openly and unilaterally attacked the Syrian government, with complete disregard for the national sovereignty of Syria, for any international law, or for the consequences of its actions.

Those who support the US attack on Syria have short memories. Remember the US invasion of Iraq, the false pretext of weapons of mass destruction used by the Bush administration, and the utter havoc that was wreaked upon that nation., Even today Iraq remains dangerously unstable. Iraq still suffers from the devastating loss of life, loss of infrastructure, and introduction of fierce sectarianism that the American invasion brought upon it.

Remember the US attack on Libya. Even today Libya remains in the grips of an unending civil war, and just like Iraq, Libya remains devastated because of US actions in the region.

Remember how the US shamelessly used chemical weapons and napalm in Vietnam, in Korea, how the radioactive uranium dumped by the US army even today poisons the landscape of Iraq – and now, after causing untold death and pain around the world with its use of weapons of mass destruction, the US would claim to be the champion of the innocent against the use of chemical weapons?

And remember Trump, how Trump openly endorsed the reckless use of nuclear weapons against America’s enemies, how Trump openly called for the murder of the families of those he called terrorists, how Trump turned away the refugees of the Syrian war, calling them all terrorists, and now it is Trump that would be the man to protect the innocents suffering in the conflict in Syria?

There is no place in the world that the US has intervened where it can be said that it has brought a better future. There is no single country where the US has intervened for any reason other than to protect its own interests. There is no reason any of us should support US intervention in any part of the world.

The anti-war movement has been stagnant in recent years, and it is time we revived it. There is no better time but now. There is no more appropriate moment. It is time for all anti-war activists to stand up, and say no to war, no to war in Syria, no to war in any other nation.

We demand the US keep its hands off Syria. We demand that Canada keep its hands off Syria. We denounce the US bombing of Syria, we denounce Canada’s full support of the US bombing, and we denounce imperialist intervention in any part of the world.

Come join us and bring your signs and your drums and your voices! Come join us at the US consulate at 1075 West Pender St., at 5:00pm, at April 11th, and say NO to war in Syria.

HANDS OFF SYRIA!

This article was also published on Rebel Youth.

Groups that have currently endorsed the rally:

  • Fraser Valley Peace Council
  • The UBC Social Justice Centre
  • The Young Communist League – Vancouver
  • Coalition Against Bigotry – Pacific
  • Siraat
  • Plan Peace
  • International Socialists Vancouver
  • Frente Para La Defensa Hugo Chavez
  • Occupy Vancouver
  • The Talon UBC
  • Socialist.ca
  • CODIR
  • Canada Palestine Association
  • ILPS Canada
  • Migrante BC
  • Canada Philippines Solidarity for Human Rights
  • Solidaridad con Ayotzinapa Vancouver
  • Canada-Cuba Friendship Association (CCFA)
  • Alliance Against Displacement

BDS court case verdict and the surrounding campus politics

On Thursday March 30th, 2017, BC Supreme Court Justice Frits Verhoeven delivered his ruling regarding the BDS court case against the AMS, dismissing the petition brought forward by UBC Commerce student Logan Presch. The litigation attempted to prevent the AMS from proceeding with a referendum, which was put forward by the student group Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights (SPHR), involving the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. The referendum was originally scheduled for a March 6th to 10th poll during the general elections  when the voter turnout was 11,219. This would have made it easier for the BDS referendum to meet the quorum set out in AMS bylaw 4.4 (b), which requires it to be supported by 8% of the active student body before it is adopted. However, it was delayed due to the litigation and is now an online vote from April 3rd to 6th.

On Monday March 27th, the court case resumed after being adjourned by Justice Margot L. Fleming on March 8th. Justice Frits E. Verhoeven took over the hearing for Justice Fleming. Retired CUPE lawyer, Paul Tetrault, was granted right of audience by Justice Verhoeven and joined the case as an agent for SPHR president Jordan Buffie. Lawyer Howard A. Mickelson, representing Presch, spent most of the day on Monday laying out his argument against the AMS decision to proceed with a referendum regarding the Proposed Question:

Do you support your student union (AMS) in boycotting products and divesting from companies that support Israeli war crimes, illegal occupation and the oppression of Palestinians?

Mickelson revealed on Tuesday during the rebuttal that he is doing the work pro bono and told the Talon that the issue “is a matter of public interest.” He recalled visiting Israel recently, talking to people about the legality of the settlements in the West Bank and the bulldozing of houses, and he concluded that the situation is “a very complicated and nuanced problem.” Mickelson stated that his goal is to move the conversation “to a less polarized place” and claimed that “the BDS referendum and the nature of the question (with reference to war crimes) is a polarizing form of debate.” The Talon also reached out to Tetrault following the verdict and he commented that the “the settlements in the West Bank are totally illegal” as ruled by the International Court of Justice in 2005. Furthermore, he proclaimed that the BDS movement is a tool for advocates of Palestinian human rights to take action and insisted that “you cannot have dialogue between two unequal forces. Mr. Mickelson is… claiming that we are just talking about two equal forces here, not an occupied people and an occupier.” He gave an analogy:

Imagine if the reverse were true that somehow Palestinians were occupying this land that belonged to Jews and they were setting up Palestinian-only settlements and putting the Jewish people into small villages and not allowing them to move. How would the world react to that and how would Mr. Mickelson react to that?

Mickelson decided to abandon his first submission that the BDS referendum violated Section 2(e) of the AMS Constitution which is to “promote unity and goodwill amongst its members” by creating a “toxic and divisive” environment on campus, calling the submission “extremely controversial”. The Talon reached him by phone in Hawaii after the verdict and questioned him about that decision. He stated that this argument was a “hot potato” and that it was not “fair to put it in the court’s hands with such a limited period of time.” Tetrault responded to this reasoning by stating that “he dropped [the first submission] because the courts basically indicated to him that it was an impossible argument to make.” He stated that Mickelson’s original argument attempted to assert that any decision or debate on campus that led to divisiveness was contrary to the AMS constitution. Tetrault proclaimed that if that was the case “you could never have any issue debated that would cause controversy, division or vigorous debate. That is clearly ludicrous and clearly contrary to the whole notion of the university itself. There was never any merit to the argument.”

Two of the affidavits that the petitioner had originally relied upon to argue this claim were filed by Hillel employees, including Executive Director Rabbi Philip L. Bregman and Program Director Sam Heller. The Chief Executive Officer of the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver, Ezra S. Shanken, has previously congratulated Heller for his “leadership” on an anti-BDS campaign. Hillels at campuses all over the world often disseminate Israeli hasbara (propaganda) and talking points, and have taken a central role in opposing BDS on campuses. The Talon reached out to Rabbi Bregman for a comment but did not receive a reply.

Nevertheless, in Justice Verhoeven’s ruling, he dismissed the relevance of the affidavits that claim the BDS referendum has created a “toxic environment” on campus, stating “they are not directly relevant to the issues before the court.” Mickelson instead decided to rely on his second and third assertions, namely that the referendum contravened AMS Bylaws and Code. He attempted to include some of the evidence from his first argument to persuade the judge to invalidate the AMS’s decision to proceed with the referendum based on some irregularity.

He argued that the AMS Bylaw 4.2 has an implicit requirement that the ‘yes’ or ‘no’ must be meaningful and contested that the Proposed Question was ambiguous thus not capable of being answered “yes” or “no” violating the bylaw that states:

The text of the referendum shall be drafted to ensure that the question is capable of being answered “yes” or “no” and if in the opinion of Council a petition for a referendum does not meet this requirement, Council shall forthwith refer the referendum to the Court to prepare a clear and unambiguous question.

On Thursday March 30th, Justice Verhoeven rejected this proposition in his ruling. He quoted AMS President Ava Nasiri’s affidavit where she states that the Student Council “is of the opinion that the Proposed Question is capable of being answered ‘yes’ or ‘no’”. Additionally, the opinion of the legal counsel in 2015 was that the same referendum question was not ambiguous.

Justice Verhoeven proclaimed that “the AMS Bylaws and Code allow for the society to be used as a vehicle for political expression.” He referenced past referendums that have dealt with other world affairs, including one in 1967 involving the Vietnam War, another in 1952 dealing with abortion, and one in 1987 which addressed a movement to boycott companies associated with the apartheid regime in South Africa. Furthermore, Justice Verhoeven stated that “an AMS referendum may form part of the robust and vigorous political debate that is often seen on university campuses.”

The case law relied upon by the petitioner to argue the violation of AMS Bylaw 4.2 dealt with zoning and money bylaws that the judge ruled are substantially different in nature from the case at hand. The judge also rejected that the word “meaningful” should be read into Bylaw 4.2 as Mickelson had argued. The judge noted that the bylaw does not prohibit a vague and ambiguous question from passing and acknowledged that this may lead to some issues as to how the AMS should implement a successful referendum. But after citing some case law referring to bylaw structure, Justice Verhoeven ruled that it is not the court’s job to “fill gaps or improve upon” a Society’s bylaws.

Furthermore, the judge agreed with the petitioner that the Proposed Question is a “loaded one”, which is intended to lead to a particular answer. The question states that Israel commits war crimes, conducts illegal occupation, and oppresses Palestinians, and that some companies support these policies. The judge noted that the question compels a person of conscience to vote ‘yes’ and makes one who votes ‘no’ feel as if they are supporting “war crimes, illegal occupation and oppression.”

Justice Verhoeven then recognized the controversial nature of the Proposed Question may lead to strife on campus and that it is the duty of the AMS to ensure the “safety and security” of students, as well as the promotion of “respectful debate.”

He ruled that the AMS did not violate its bylaws by allowing this referendum question to move forward.

The second argument that the petitioner relied upon was that the AMS violated Code of Procedure IV Article 4.2 (c) which requires a referendum question to state that it will cause the student society to break a contract with a service provider. Justice Verhoeven rejected this argument as well. He cited Buffie’s assertion that the AMS will not be required to break a contract if the referendum is successful.  He stated that the question was broadly drafted to allow the student society a range of possible actions and to catalyze discussions about future AMS purchasing decisions. Furthermore, AMS President Nasiri’s affidavit stated the position of Council that the Proposed Question “does not require the AMS to break any current contracts.”

Therefore, Justice Verhoeven ruled that the AMS did not contravene its Code of Procedure.

The Petitioner’s order to halt the referendum relied on sections 104 and 105 of the BC Societies Act. An injunctive relief was sought concerning 104 (1) (a), but the judge ruled that that section does not apply in these circumstances. He stated that it was not necessary for him to decide whether or not the AMS or its president was considered a person under this section of the Societies act, as Mickelson had contended.

Justice Verhoeven quoted a previous case, Sarjit Singh Gill v. Khalsa Diwan Society which states “The court is always reluctant to interfere in the internal affairs of any corporate body. The respondent society should be left to govern itself in a democratic fashion and make its own decisions, including what may be seen by some of its members to be mistakes.” He emphasized the relevance of that comment and stated that “an order of the court could be seen as interfering with the free and democratic process of the Alma Mater Society and could be seen as intruding into political issues or taking sides. A great deal of caution is required on the part of the court.” However, he mentioned that, if illegalities were present, the court would have had the jurisdiction to intervene. Justice Verhoeven then dismissed the petition.

Tetrault reacted positively to the court verdict and stated that “the courts basically rejected the attempt by the pro-Israeli forces on the UBC campus to shut down [the] debate… [The verdict] was a very good decision for free speech, student union independence and I think it will discourage people from going to court to decide political issues.”

Rabbi Bregman responded to the ruling by telling The Canadian Jewish News that he was “disappointed” and claimed that “we really won the battles, because the judge didn’t disagree with any of our arguments… So we go forward fighting this nefarious referendum aimed at marginalizing and demonizing not only Israel but by extension, those who support Israel.” UBC law student Eric Webster contested this assertion by telling the Talon “the judge thoroughly rejected all of their arguments. I acted as agent for Eviatar Bach in the case and I heard the judgement,” he proclaimed. “The idea that the judge didn’t disagree with their arguments is not only patently false, it is contrary to common sense. If you lose a lawsuit, the judge disagreed with you.”

SPHR issued this statement following the court verdict:

SPHR is delighted with the Supreme Court’s decision regarding the petition against the AMS. We are pleased to see the Court taking the position that the AMS did not violate their bylaws regarding our proposed referendum question. The question, as determined in 2015, is clear, unambiguous, and factual. The judge affirmed the importance of the democratic functioning of the AMS, and that the courts must hesitate to intervene. This is an important precedent for BDS campus campaigns. The Court did not allow ideological opposition to stifle free debate. We were initially disappointed that the AMS did not take a position regarding the claim that the question creates a “toxic and divisive environment”. This argument was however dismissed by the petitioner, who decided to continue arguing solely on procedural grounds. The judge’s permission of SPHR and a student as additional parties allowed to clarify that, far from being mutually exclusive with dialogue, the referendum helps to promote serious and engaged discussion of an important political issue. Unfortunately, these legal proceedings have delayed the referendum past the general elections, which means it is imperative UBC students vote, and vote well. VOTE YES on April 3rd-7th.

&

Remember to vote online at https://amsvoting.as.it.ubc.ca/, from April 3 to April 7, and to vote well: Vote YES to BDS, for Freedom, Justice and Equality!