Prize

Trigger Warning: Sex, Offensive Language

as I sexualize  you

I watch myself objectify you

cut clothes to fit your frame

move you till you’re perfectly arranged

until we’re in intimate role plays

a conductor

you’re my instrument

I  pray

to never act this way

to love a lie I create, a charade

 

these instincts will take me to the precinct

for wanting things I can’t ask for

bodies I’d draw a map for

down from your eyes to whatever door

I can open

under you I’m folding conversations like tents in my mouth

hope you don’t figure it out

choking on words trying to be self assured but this

base takes over operations

primitive and impatient

sleeping with these visualizations

in the morning we condemn

and at night we give in to temptation

 

blank spaces become races for crowns I have no title for

I ask what I read the bible for

I cry like I’m guilty

less than I should

for sick thoughts polluting time in a waste

of all of us, asphyxiates futures for a taste

chews brain activity into mush I can’t escape

sluts don’t get to be smart

when all they think about is fucking

but damn I

want to watch you button down

with your buckle undone

fingernails around a condom

loosened up for one-on-one

calm enough to yawn some

drunk so much you gone son

don’t bother turning the switch on

get unzipped and flip wrong

my eye candy has gone along

tripped and fallen but

I’m strong enough

 

prize won’t collect itself.

 

so I lift it up on the bed

take off its shoes

check its head

find a bump,  get some ice

turn it over on its side

cuz bodies full of booze can’t make invites

how’d you expect this fantasy to end like

an ear bite, sheets tight, winding legs like teens in a campsite

that’s not polite

taking love like a parasite

devouring you so I’m satisfied

why bother fucking if you won’t requite

porn ain’t life

it’s not alright

 

one yes is not all night equity

sex is not an enemy

homies aren’t prey

so quit huntin’ bae

Nazim Hikmet: The Red Giant Looming Over Turkish Poetry

This article originally appeared on Rebel Youth: http://rebelyouth-magazine.blogspot.ca/

“The flame of Hikmet which set hearts on fire can not be extinguished, as long as there are people, militants, who will struggle to improve life and make it more beautiful.” – Dimitri Koutsoumpas, General Secretary of the Central Committee of the KKE at the Scientific Congress organized by the Greek Communist Party in honour of Nazim Hikmet, 13 June 2015

“One religion, one law, one right: the labour of the worker” – Nazim Hikmet

In an era when Turkey is more polarized than ever and the limited democratic institutions built there are are under attack, it becomes increasingly important for the Turkish left to recognize and reclaim their socialist legacy. There is perhaps no one figure more symbolic of that legacy and its silencing than the legendary poet, Nazim Hikmet Ran. Nazim Hikmet was born in the Ottoman Empire and would partake in the Turkish War of Independence in 1919. While his earliest poems written during those early years are nationalist rhetoric, his worldview would change significantly when he travelled to the Socialist Republic of Georgia in 1921. There, he witnessed firsthand the results of the Bolshevik Revolution, and as a result travelled to Moscow to study at the Communist University of the Toilers of the East. When he returned to Turkey, he brought with him both the Marxist-Leninist vision of social change, and the newly developing writing style of the young Soviet state, with particular influences from the Russian poets Vladimir Mayakovski and Vsevolod Meyerhold. However, while his convention-defying poetry was celebrated, his politics did not receive the same respect. Arrested, tried, and sentenced for the communist ideas expressed in his poems, Nazim Hikmet would spend long years in jail and finally flee to the Soviet Union, living the rest of his life in exile. Nazim Hikmet is considered the greatest poet of the modern Turkish language and his poems are taught throughout schools in Turkey. Yet, the very state that praises him also persecuted him, forced him to spend half his life in solitary confinement and the other half of it in exile in the Soviet Union for his communist views. Further degrading him, the Turkish government would repeal his citizenship, only reinstating it in 2006, fifty years after his death.

His poems were unique for his time. Until him, there was a distinct gap between literary and folk poetry in Turkey – the former being elitist in language, and both adhering to strict syllabic meters. Nazim Hikmet was the first to bridge this gap and the first to break free from metric conventions. His poetry is entirely in free verse and yet retains a certain lyrical flow. His poems are rightly lauded for their simplicity and accessibility, as well as their deep symbolism and metaphors. He combines sharp political analysis with compassion, optimism, romanticism, and sometimes despair. His themes are ever encompassing yet distinctly human: he wrote love poetry, poems about Anatolian villagers and rural life, poems about the everyday struggle of the worker, poems about life in prison, and in true internationalist fashion, poems dedicated to communist figures worldwide as well as a poem dedicated to the working class of neighbouring Greece – long a rival of the Turkish state. Yet, all his poetry is tinted with his distinctive “romantic communism” – his poems are nostalgic representations of the peasantry and proletariat of his country, devoted visions of the Anatolian countryside and intimate accounts of the struggles of the everyman, while also being ferocious exposes and critiques of the capitalist system.

The following poem, written while Nazim Hikmet was in prison, will perhaps comfort the reader and remind them to not only survive ,but also live and thrive in these times when global fascism and oppression is on the rise once more.

Some Advice to Those Who Will Serve Time in Prison

By Nazim Hikmet, May 1949

If instead of being hanged by the neck

You’re thrown inside

For not giving up hope

In the world, your country, and people,

If you do ten or fifteen years

Apart from the time you have left,

You won’t say,

“Better I had swung from the end of a rope like a flag” –

You’ll put your foot down and live.

It may not be a pleasure exactly,

But it’s your solemn duty

To live one more day

To spite the enemy.

Part of you may live alone inside,

Like a stone at the bottom of a well.

But the other part,

Must be so caught up

In the flurry of the world

That you shiver there inside

When outside, at forty days’ distance, a leaf moves.

To wait for letters inside,

To sing sad songs,

Or to lie awake all night staring at the ceiling

Is sweet but dangerous.

Look at your face from shave to shave,

Forget your age,

Watch out for lice

And for spring nights, and always remember

To eat every last piece of bread –

Also, don’t forget to laugh heartily.

And who knows,

The woman you love may stop loving you.

Don’t say it’s no big thing:

It’s like the snapping of a green branch

To the man inside.

To think of roses and gardens inside is bad,

To think of seas and mountains is good.

Read and write without rest,

And I also advise weaving

And making mirrors.

I mean, it’s not that you can’t pass

Ten or fifteen years inside

And more –

You can,

As long as the jewel

On the left side of your chest doesn’t lose its luster!

References and Further Reading:

Arslanbenzer, Hakan (2015). Nazim Hikmet: Human Scenes from my Homeland. Daily Sabah. Retrieved from https://www.dailysabah.com/portrait/2015/10/17/nazim-hikmet-human-scenes-from-my-homeland

Blasing, Randy, & Konuk, Mutlu (2002). Human Landscapes from my Country. New York. Persea Books.

Blasing, Randy, & Konuk, Mutlu (1994). Poems of Nazim Hikmet. New York. Persea Books.

Goksu, Saime, & Timms, Edward (1999). Romantic Communist: The Life and Works of Nazim Hikmet. New York. Palgrave Macmillan.

Onayli, Kutay (2014). Nazim Hikmet: A Loving Revolutionary. Vagabond Magazine. Retrieved from http://vagabondmagazine.org/nazim-hikmet-romantic-communism/

Respectability Politics doesn’t Protect Us

“After all the work I’ve done, after all the work our people have done, they don’t want us?”

Those were my mother’s words the morning of Trump’s immigration ban. My mother is a chemical engineer who has greatly contributed to the field of wood pellet size reduction for their use in renewable energy. I couldn’t turn to my mother and say this, but I thought to myself: such is the failure of respectability politics.

Throughout 2016, both Canadian and international news sources ran articles on the Hadhad family, who had fled war in Syria and continued their chocolate-making business in Canada. While those articles tracked the progress of this family, the CBC named a recent piece “Sweet Success: How the Hadhads went from refugees to employers in 1 year.”

The language used in this subtitle reflects the general liberal attitude towards refugees. It suggests a praiseworthy progression from refugee status to respectable success, as though these things are mutually exclusive. The CBC’s rags-to-riches spin on the Hadhads’ experience shows how Canadians treat refugees: we value and respect them only insofar as they are able to achieve economic prosperity, that is, ‘usefulness’ to society.

In another classic feel-good example, a video shows a white man in the United States who used to “hate Muslims” tearfully confessing his respect for his new Syrian neighbours: “…in three months, they all had jobs, cars, their kids were going to school…”

It is important to celebrate the accomplishments of our neighbours such as the Hadhads, who, in the face of so much adversity, were able to build an entire business in one year. And for the American Syrians to have cars, houses and children in school after only three months in the country is a remarkable feat. But we should be wary of assigning value to ‘successful’ immigrants, and we should be aware of how the stream of ‘feel-good’ refugee and immigrant narratives may seem humanizing, but can actually have the reverse effect.

Of course, valuing economic success and defining respectability as capitalist productivity is nothing new. These neoliberal standards of humanity aren’t applied exclusively to immigrants, and we all hold each other to them. In “The Rise of Respectability Politics,” Frederick C. Harris notes white America’s focus on the potential economic benefits of black inclusion, rather than the humanity of black Americans, and shows how this kind of thought is entrenched in American history.

Immigrants and refugees, especially those who are undocumented, are placed in a unique situation, since they must constantly prove their economic productivity to society in order to be accepted as people. Yet respectability politics are also ingrained within Middle Eastern and South Asian cultures, as suggested by my own mother’s response to Trump’s Muslim ban. As an act of protest, a group of Iranian doctors at Harvard posed for a photo. Venture Beat released an article showcasing the impact of Iranian immigration in the development of US technology. Respectability politics is perpetuated not only by Western media, but our own cultures and ways of thinking as well. We need to let go of our entrenched biases that those who hold certain jobs and positions are more deserving of respect and compassion, and to halt the narrative of respectability politics. It won’t protect us, and only places our brothers and sisters who pursued different avenues and careers as somehow less deserving.

Similarly, during Trump’s campaign, many academically high-achieving students revealed that they were in fact undocumented in retaliation to Trump and his supporters’ rhetoric of vilifying undocumented immigrants. The media covered all the stories: ‘local high school valedictorian with a 4.0 GPA reveals in her speech she’s undocumented’! Liberals loved it. Are average-performing students or trade workers who are undocumented immigrants less deserving of remaining in the country? Are they expendable?

Such is the failure of respectability politics. We, as people deemed ‘temporary’ citizens no matter our citizenship status, deserve the right to mobility only when we are economically useful to the majority, and oftentimes only when we excel according to standards set by the majority. As soon as xenophobic sentiments build and our contributions are no longer enough to keep them at bay, we are disposable.

The continuous output and circulation of these sometimes feel-good videos and sometimes acts of resistance only add to this flawed perception of all minorities ‒ not just immigrants, refugees, and those who are undocumented. We need to be having conversations that focus on our humanity and not our contributions to society. Because although our accomplishments and impacts are immensely important, they only create a hierarchy of value within our own communities, and they ultimately don’t protect us.

The Post-Truth Politics of Jordan Peterson’s Gender Nonbinary Pronoun Debate

Last Friday, November 3rd, the UBC Free Speech Club hosted University of Toronto’s Professor of Psychology, Dr. Jordan Peterson, to speak at the Telus Studio Theatre located in UBC’s Chan Centre. With a description stating, “Come and spend your evening with Dr. Peterson, and find out what the future holds for free speech, and western civilization” we feel the pressing need to comment on his politics around free speech. Dr. Peterson also was an invited speaker on November 4th at the Vancouver Convention Centre for an event organized by “Students for Liberty BC”.

In 2016, Dr. Peterson became a controversial figure for popularizing the notion that no one should be compelled to use gender-affirming pronouns for trans people if they did not see such pronouns as legitimate. In a series of YouTube videos released in late 2016 and early 2017, he critiqued Bill C-16, which sought to add protections against discrimination on the basis of “gender identity and gender expression” to Canada’s Federal Human Rights Act and Criminal Code. The bill passed on June 15th of this year in midst of Jordan Peterson’s dire attempt to precipitate fear mongering.

Mary Bryson speaks at the panel at U of T. Photo via WikiCommons

On November 19th, 2016 Dr. Peterson engaged in a debate with UBC’s Dr. Mary Bryson, Senior Associate Dean and Professor in the Faculty of Education, who is gender nonbinary and uses the pronouns “they/them.” This debate occurred ironically just a day before the International Transgender Day of Remembrance, which memorializes trans people who have been murdered due to hatred of  their gender identity. The debate was organized by U of T, and throughout the debate, which covered the issue of academic freedom in relation to the use of gender-affirming pronouns, Peterson repeatedly misgendered Dr. Bryson, referring to them as “she” and “her.” In the wake of the debate, Bryson informed the Ubyssey that they had received large amounts of hate mail and violent threats via email and social media from people who took issue with their gender expression and viewpoints.

In 2016, “post-truth” became the Oxford Dictionary’s word of the year, “an adjective defined as relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” Here, the “post” of post-truth refers to “belonging to a time in which the specified concept [in this case, the truth] has become unimportant or irrelevant.” Are we living in a post-truth political climate surrounding the gendered pronoun debate? Are we living in a time in which the UBC community is complicit in allowing someone the freedom of speech to preach factually-inaccurate information concerning gender under the pretense of academic integrity and rigour? Would it be audacious of us to state that refusing to acknowledge the gender identities of nonbinary people requires deliberate ignorance of facts and research that suggest that the use of nonbinary pronouns is indeed logical?

Dare we also say, at the same time, that we respect Dr. Peterson’s effort to engage in an important dialogue around freedom of speech?

We would like to be clear that the concerns he has about freedom of speech are evidently shared among many in our current culture and society, including ourselves. Over the past year having met with, listened to, and engaged in amicable conversations with people who are concerned that their freedom of speech is being limited for the sake of political correctness, there is something to be said about addressing this common issue. At the University of Toronto forum in which Dr. Peterson debated with Dr. Bryson and Dr. Brenda Cossman, a Law Professor & Director at the Mark S. Bonham Centre for Sexual Diversity Studies, Dr. Peterson stated the following:

I’m going to read you something a graduate student sent me from the University of Toronto the other day and I can also tell you that I’ve received hundreds of letters like this: “Today I had a tutorial at the University of Toronto where I talked about Jordan Peterson and issues of personal identity, legally sanctioned categories etc…still students were not engaging in discussion. I asked them why. One said it was because she was worried to share her opinion for fear of being singled out or saying something offensive. I asked who else was not speaking for that reason. The whole class put their hands up.”

We too share the concern of some of the students and professors who feel too afraid to engage in intellectual discussion on campuses out of fear that their peers will aggressively reprimand them. No one should be called out or humiliated if they have a genuine interest in learning. With that being said, at a high-ranking university like UBC, students and professors are also expected to ground their discussions in academically rigorous facts. This is where we depart from Dr. Peterson and his acolytes: they lack any factual evidence that is persuasive enough to convince us that gender nonbinary people do not exist and therefore should not have their rights entrenched in law. Trans people have the right to be referred to by the pronouns they feel best affirm and respect their gender.

We have listened to Dr. Peterson’s arguments, and like most people, we do see some legitimacy in them. We admit he is eloquent and persuasive, if even for the wrong reasons. Is there some legitimacy in what he brings up about free speech and a culture of polarization that we too are concerned about? Absolutely. But what Peterson is using his “free speech” towards is the suppression of minority rights that he takes ideological issue with. We don’t support such “intellectual” thinking, or argument. He is responsible for the ideas that he shares as a public figure, and even more so as an academic. Being an intellectual and academic in the public eye carries the weight of appearing to have come to persuasive conclusions by way of academic rigour, regardless of whether or not that is the case.

With that being said, the issue of political correctness, especially around one’s usage of gender pronouns, is one that requires critical analysis. Let us present to you five arguments as to why respecting and affirming the genders of nonbinary people is a valid request.

 

1) The physical construction of the gender binary through imposing “corrective surgeries” on intersex babies at birth.

Protesters outside the Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago, Oct. 26. | Courtesy of Sarah-ji Rhee / Love and Struggle Photos

If we are to take a biologically deterministic approach here, that is, one that argues that there are only two sexes, and therefore only two genders, we encounter a scientific flaw in this argument. What gender pronouns should a parent use to refer to their intersex baby by if biologically this baby is neither categorically male or female? What often happens is that doctors surgically alter the genitalia of newborns, henceforth, constructing sex in alignment to the ideological belief that there are or should be only two genders (and by extension, sexes). The results of this practice have been described as “catastrophic”, often leading to “irreversible physical harm and emotional distress” in intersex individuals who have gone through coercive gender assignment surgery.

Intersex people, individuals who do not have either XX or XY chromosomes, or who present other physiological and genetic differentiations from the male vs. female sex binary, make up as much as 1.7% of the population. About 1 in 60 people, then, differ from the “platonic ideal of absolute sex chromosome, gonadal, genital, and hormonal dimorphism” .

So even by Dr. Peterson’s standards, there is a very real rift in the sex binary of “male” and “female”. What is interesting, however, is that Dr. Peterson himself has acknowledged this. Though it is difficult to find much of his opinion on the matter, he tweeted an article on intersex people with the comment, “Genuine complexity in sexual identity”.

Notwithstanding his insistence upon the existence of “genuine” innate genders and sexual identities, Dr. Peterson appears to acknowledge this rift in the sexual binary. He does not, however, comment any further on the potential use of gender-affirming pronouns for intersex people, although, by his own standards, a comment seems warranted. The ratio of intersex infants who are subjected to gender assignment surgery to the remainder of infants born who do not undergo such surgery, is estimated at being between 1 in 1500 and 1 in 2000 people, and so this leads us to wonder if he declined to comment because the argumentative shift is one from the topic of statistical commonality and validity, an argument that he so often invokes, to one about physical versus psychological validity.

 

2) The existence of multiple genders in many Indigenous communities as well as communities beyond North America and Great Britain.

A common myth surrounding nonbinary genders is that they have only come into existence rather recently, either within the last decade or so, as part of the rise of internet social justice culture and the microblogging platform Tumblr, or at some point within the latter portion of the twentieth century as a result of feminist movements.

This simply isn’t true, as there are multiple examples to be found across the globe and throughout history where some form of a third gender (if not more), has been recognized. A “third gender” is a gender outside of the binary of “women” and “men,” a binary which also notably differs greatly across cultures in terms of how it is defined and entrenched. Examples of third-gender cultural roles include Hijras in India, Kathoey in Thailand and Mahu in Hawaiian and Tahitian cultures.

However, a cultural group outside the gender binary that is perhaps more pertinent to what most people now call “Canada” are Two-Spirit people, belonging to various Indigenous cultures here, on the land they know as Turtle Island. Colonial accounts of Nēhiyaw (Cree), Lakȟóta (Lakota), Diné (Navajo), and Ojibwe peoples show that these nations recognized nonbinary genders, dating back hundreds of years in the settler archive (although scholars and Indigenous knowledge verify that this recognition of two-spirit people existed well before the colonial era).

Map of Gender-Diverse Cultures (Source: PBS)

The implications of this become more pressing when we consider the imposition of a western-European gender binary on lands that not only existed and were owned and occupied prior to our current culture’s tenure here, but lands that in many case were taken under false pretences, and ceded due to deception, if they were willingly ceded at all.

Furthermore: what do land acknowledgments mean if we allow ourselves as settlers to impose a gender binary on all people living here, a gender binary that did not exist in this place prior to the arrival of settler culture amongst local Indigenous communities?

In any case, this essentially discounts any attempts at de-legitimizing nonbinary genders by describing them as some recent, trendy, or adolescent phenomenon, and it leads into our third argument:

 

3) Gender is different from biological sex.

We define gender as one’s personal sense of their own gender, which may differ or correlate with the one assigned at birth. Though the ways in which one’s gender identity is embodied is culturally mediated, guided, and often bounded by the norms and values of particular societies or cultures, each individual within society develops a personal identity in relation to one or more of any number of gender identity categories that may exist within their culture. They may identify with gendered roles to varying degrees, or not identify as belonging to any gendered category at all.

Beyond this, gender is often performative, and people understand and mediate both their own gender identities and the identities of other people within their culture and community by paying attention to behaviour, to the way they or others dress, and to the relationships that exist between individuals. Gender is constantly constructed and deconstructed by the ways in which people engage with one another, affirming or rejecting each other’s gender identities and performances.

Whether it’s in the field of history, humanities, anthropology, or sociology, there is plenty of academic literature to support the argument that gender is socially constructed, while sex, is biological (though sex is still not precisely binary, as we discussed above). Additionally, in the field of medicine, or even in Dr. Peterson’s own field of psychology the differences between gender and sex have been proven to be tangibly relevant, despite the common argument that distinguishing gender from sex, on identification documents, for example, would be medically irrelevant or even simply confusing. It is true that transgender, nonbinary, and/or intersex individuals make up only a small percentage of the population, but not only is this not an appropriate basis for being disrespectful or explicitly harmful towards them, Dr. Peterson himself has been willing to admit that intersex people, being a very small minority as well, are worth considering with respect to examining the binary of sexual identity, if not for engaging with its consequences.

Gender & Sex (Source: Canadian Institutes of Health Research)

The fact that society too often conflates sex with gender leads to discrimination against trans people, structurally, culturally, and personally. So much of this discussion around protecting trans and especially nonbinary people is rooted in the ethical responsibility we hold to prevent violence that targets trans people. According to a 2013 American survey from 6450 trans respondents, 78% had experienced harassment, 35% physical assault, and 12% sexual assault.

For many people who are gender nonbinary, their own identities, interests, behaviours, or stories go beyond the existing binary of men and women. In Gender Failure, a montage of personal stories by two nonbinary authors, Rae Spoon and Ivan Coyote, the difficult reality they experienced engaging with the gender binary and its expectations and entanglements is explored. Appropriate to the title, both Spoon and Coyote argue that “it’s the binary that fails to leave room for most people to write their own gender stories.”

Gender identities do not arbitrarily arise from out of nowhere – both Spoon and Coyote describe how their gender identity and use of the pronoun “they” is reflexive of their failure to appease the rigid expectations associated in male and female gender roles. In view of the argument put forth in Gender Failure that using the pronoun “they” is rooted in a marginalized experience from the roles associated with the gender binary, Dr. Peterson’s logic that nonbinary identities are illegitimate because gender is inextricable from biology is open to heavy criticism.

 

4) Racial and Gender Categories have historically been socially constructed.

Racial Categories in the 2010 American Census

“Historical Census Statistics on Population By Race, 1790 to 1990, and By Hispanic Origin, 1790 to 1990, For The United States, Regions, Divisions, and States.” (Source: United States Census Bureau)

For multiracial individuals, including one of the authors of this article, calling someone by their  multiracial identity could also be dismissed by racists who would invoke a compelled speech discourse. For some people who might refer to themselves, for example, as a biracial Chinese/British Canadian in terms of racial identity, one cannot help but draw parallels to the emergence of racial categories to gender categories over time. This parallel exists because racial and gender categories are social constructs.  In fact, only until the year 2000 could Americans choose more than one race on the national census, and only until 2010 were 63 racial categories available. The first American census in 1790 had only three racial categories: “Free Whites, All Other Free Persons, and Slaves”.

Much like the optional racial categories that shift over time, so too can gender categories. In 2015, Facebook gave users the option to select from 58 different gender identity options, and if none of those fit, they gave a final option: fill in the blank. From 63+ racial categories to 58+ gender categories, a noticeable pattern emerges. Identities shift across time and cultures, and to resist calling someone by their chosen “they/them” pronouns is deliberately shoehorning a multiracial person into a nonrepresentative and simplified racial category.

Possible Gender Options on Facebook (Source: Facebook)

 

5) Compelled speech is already taken for granted in Canadian culture.

Dr. Peterson’s argument then comes down to the issue of free speech, particularly the notion that calling a nonbinary person by their pronouns is “compelled speech.” But we can find plenty of examples in society where we are “compelled” to speak in a certain way.

For example: An argument can be made that respecting pronouns is synonymous with respecting someone’s name, whether their name is familiar to someone in a particular cultural setting or not. To claim that one has the “right” or “freedom from compelled speech” to address someone by a gender-negating pronoun is equivalent to not recognizing the legitimacy of an ethnic name we aren’t familiar with (lest we again consider the implications of denying this to Indigenous people and many of their names). Consider how ludicrous and inappropriate it would be for a professor to say to a student “You can’t force me to call you Li Wei because I don’t recognize that as a legitimate name; I am going to call you Bob.” Respecting a person’s name is similar  to respecting their pronouns.

Furthermore, those who state they should resist “compelled” speech around pronouns conveniently ignore how they are compelled to behave and speak in certain ways on a daily basis. At UBC, for example, a student is required to write their papers and exams in English. There is no denying this is a form of compelled speech. At UBC, students are compelled to complete assignments by a set deadline. This is a form of compelled action.In Canada, under section 32 of the Official Languages Act  “all federal institutions are required to provide services in both official languages” of French and English. This is again a form of compelled speech.  We are also required to wear clothing to prevent nudity in most public spaces under section 173 of the Canadian Criminal Code. This is also a form of compelled action. Cisgender women are also socially prohibited from revealing their breasts in public, which is also a compelled action. Lastly, the selling of tobacco products in Canada are required to explicitly state health warning under the Tobacco Act. Again, this is a form of compelled speech. With pronouns, this therefore comes down to the question of whether or not “they/them” pronouns are legitimate. Let us take a moment to reflect on a reality that will surely spark controversy: referring to people only in the binary of male and female pronouns is in fact compelled speech because this forces people to disregard the factual spectrum of gender. The argument that one should not refer to someone who requests “they/them” pronouns under this notion of “compelled speech” is merely a rhetorical strategy that lacks critical thinking.

    UBC’s English-Language Requirement

It’s not hard to effectively draw a somewhat explicit, if not more insidious, parallel between intentionally and repeatedly calling someone by pronouns other than their own, and using more explicit racial, sexual, or homophobic slurs to actively make a mockery of someone’s social identity by using said slurs (given that it is the social and historical context of language that is used to determine what constitutes a “slur” in the first place). Since the defense of “compelled speech” does not typically defend against refusing to call someone by something other than a homophobic, racial, or gendered slur, nor should it be a defense for insisting upon referring to trans and/or nonbinary people by pronouns that aren’t their own.

However, the case could also be made that enforcing said potential slurs in a legal context could become very tricky. Thankfully, contrary to Peterson’s belief, we generally don’t have to concern ourselves with the legality of enforcing it as a slur.

 

What is Bill C-16?

Beyond “self-censorship’’ and “safe spaces,” Peterson’s most pressing concern seems to be with the passing of Bill C-16, now law, as an amendment to the Canadian Human Rights Act and Criminal Code, which adds “gender identity or expression” to the currently prohibited grounds of discrimination and hate propaganda.

But C-16 refers only to hate propaganda (commonly referred to as “hate speech”) which strictly refers to advocating genocide, and discriminatory practises which apply the provision of goods and services, employer-employee relations, and federally provided services. The former Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act regarding what was categorized as hate messages was repealed in 2013. So no one will likely ever be taken to trial for intentionally and repeatedly refusing to refer to someone by their pronouns unless they are causing undue hardship to an employee, discriminating in the provision of goods or services, or criminally harassing someone, in which one is deemed to reasonably fear for their life and safety, a relatively high standard to be met.

Dr. Peterson also commonly cites the Ontario Human Rights Commission, which is more explicit about misgendering as being a form of of harassment and discrimination, but again, this only becomes a case for the OHRC when it falls under a “social area covered by the code,” one similar to that of the CHRA, including contracts, employment, goods and services, housing, and membership in vocational associations and trade unions.

Therefore, the “compelled speech argument” Dr. Peterson so strongly relies upon, is strictly a social one, with no legal ramifications extant for failing to respect someone’s pronouns. The significance of this is that the debate no longer concerns the ethics of codifying said ‘compelled speech into law’, a point that Dr. Peterson has raised so often, to one concerning socially compelled speech and stigma, an argument that we have addressed, and that falls through when we consider the many other situations in which we are socially compelled to speak in a certain way.

 

In conclusion

These arguments comprise our philosophical disagreement with Dr. Peterson, but it must also be mentioned how Dr. Peterson’s presence can pose a more directly tangible threat to students on campus. It’s here that we must touch on Dr. Peterson’s recent doxxing of two student activists who helped to organize a protest of a free speech event at Ryerson University in Toronto.

Following his broadcasting of their personal profiles to his Twitter (which has a following of more than 235,000), one of the students’ profiles is no longer public, and the other reports having received messages “bordering on death threats.” Without assuming the worst of Dr. Peterson’s intentions in doing this, (despite having discussed strategies for “fighting back” with comments such as, “What makes you think you couldn’t scare them back into the corners? And that would be a good thing.”), the consequences have been real for the students.

Considering Dr. Peterson’s visit to UBC, we must practice our own free speech to dissent to his unsubstantiated claims about gender, nonbinary people, and their pronouns. We stress once again that currently the debate over free speech and self-censorship is heavily polarized, and this merits concern and address. But one cannot have their proverbial cake and eat it too. If Dr. Peterson is to call out the common discomfort of many conservatives, centrists, and even left-leaning individuals with self-censorship due to a culture of political correctness, then he must also adequately address the self-censoring effects that can be created by his own ideas, his own followers, and others, which have not only bordered on death threats, but have at times involved actual death threats.

The debate on free speech is divided, but if the condition of abolishing all kinds of self-censorship must be met, a world with “fully free speech” will never arise. Cultural shifts will lead to the praise or stigmatizing of different ideas. Whether it’s homophobes or queer people, misogynists or women, White Nationalists or people of colour, at any given point we must decide who we choose to support. At the end of the day, with politics aside, we cannot deny one final fact: everyone wants to be treated with respect and dignity.

This all said, we felt it pressing that Dr. Peterson and his visit to our campus be addressed, as his ideas, shared under the mantle of “academic freedom” and “free speech” are far from inconsequential. We have presented 5 arguments that demonstrate why nonbinary people and their pronouns should be respected. All academics have a responsibility to abide by facts that hold up to rigorous scrutiny even when those facts might be against their own personal intuitions and beliefs.

Quote from UBC Freedom of Expression Statement Draft, 8 Nov 2017

 

In the spirit of maintaining a commitment to freedom of speech, especially with UBC’s recent broadcast statement on the “Freedom of Expression”, we invite anyone to engage with us in discussion or criticism to our points raised here. As the UBC Free Speech Club states on their Facebook Page, let’s ensure “arguments are made with wit and reason rather than rhetoric and personal attack”. Be willing to understand our perspectives, as we try to understand yours. Let one thing remain certain: the freedom to express ideas grounded in strong evidence without fear for safety.

 

Authors:

Andy Holmes is a 4th-year Honours Sociology Student with a minor in Critical Studies in Sexuality, a 2017 UBC Wesbrook & Premium Undergraduate Scholar, and sits on the City of Vancouver’s LGBTQ2+ Advisory Committee. He is a cisgender biracial Chinese-Canadian man, queer, uses the pronouns “he/him/his” and recognizes that he is a settler on unceded Coast Salish territories where he resides.

Curtis Seufert is a 4th-year Sociology and French Student, Associate Writer for The Source/La Source, and Contributing Writer for The Ubyssey. He is a cisgender bisexual man of German, Scottish, and Ukrainian heritage, uses the pronouns “he/him/his”, and is a settler on unceded Coast-Salish territory where he was born, and currently resides.

Helen Wagner is a 4th-year Anthropology and Honours History Student. They are actively engaged in several student organizations at UBC, including departmental clubs and the AUS. They are a settler, of German-American and Canadian descent, and grew up on unceded Coast Salish territory. Helen is nonbinary and queer, identifies as both genderqueer and transgender, and uses both they/them pronouns and she/her pronouns in their day to day life.

Interview with Yves Engler – A Propaganda System: How Canada’s government, corporations, media and academia sell war and exploitation

This interview was recorded on October 9, 2016 at the University of British Columbia on the occupied, ancestral, unceded territory of the Musqueam people. It is important to recognize that institutions across these lands continue to perpetuate acts of colonial violence and dispossession towards the region’s First People and that questioning and dismantling these oppressive structures are necessary steps along the journey of decolonization.

Transcript below.

Scott Martens: Ok, Alright. I’m here with Yves Engler at the UBC Geography building which is located on the occupied traditional, ancestral, unceded territory of the Musqueam peoples. Yves Engler is a Montreal-based dissident, author, journalist and activist who has written a number of books critical of Canadian foreign policy, including The Black Book of Canadian Foreign Policy, Canada and Israel: Building Apartheid, The Ugly Canadian: Stephen Harper’s Foreign Policy and Canada in Africa: 300 years of aid and exploitation. His most recent book is entitled A Propaganda System: How Canada’s government, corporations, media and academia sell war and exploitation. Thanks a lot for chatting with me Yves!

Yves Engler: Thanks for having me.

SM: In your new book A Propaganda System: How Canada’s government, corporations, media and academia sell war and exploitation you refer to the marketing strategies of the National Hockey League to outline the propaganda system within Canada. How do these analogies help us gain a better understanding of the propaganda system and its functions within Canadian society?

YE: Well first of all I think it’s in large part a sort of literary device to make the book a little bit more readable or popular. But if you start looking at how the manufacturing of support for the Vancouver Canucks, or in the book I detail the Montreal Canadiens, it’s very much tied to the team’s need to sell tickets, the team’s need to sell broadcasting rights, TV rights. And they work with many local businesses, local media outlets to generate a frenzy around the hockey team. And at the end of the day it doesn’t matter one way or another whether the Montreal Canadiens put the black rubber behind the opponent’s goalie more times than the other team puts the black rubber behind their goalie. But they create a sense that that is important. And I think that, when it comes to Canadian foreign policy, what I’m doing in this book is detailing the institutions (the military, foreign affairs, some of the corporations) that are very much generating a positive belief towards Canadian foreign policy a sense that what those institutions of Canadian foreign policy are doing is benevolent, is helpful, is righteous. And I think there is somewhat of a parallel with the NHL hockey teams.

SM: In your new book you note that the Department of National Defence’s Security and Defence Forum (SDF) sends money to the University of British Columbia’s Centre of International Relations** (p.34) and that “dozens of academics writing on military, security and foreign policy issues receive SDF funds” who “generally [articulate] pro-military positions.” (p.35) You also mention that SDF’s budget ranges from 2–2.5 million each year and the committee that allocates those funds are security studies professors and others who have “direct links with the military-industrial complex.” (p.37–38) UBC also receives funding from Boeing and Lockheed Martin. What effect does this funding have on educational institutions and the schooling that they provide?

YE: Well in the case of the Security Defence Forum, the military’s funding agency for the universities, the military wouldn’t be providing those funds if they didn’t think that it served the military’s public relations ideological objectives. So they are quite explicitly funding university programs to build up academic work, academic life in areas of study that serve their purposes and they have security studies programs at universities. The military documents that if they stop the Security Defence Forum that a number of security studies programs that current exist at Canadian universities would end, not necessarily over night, but with time. The military is also involved with setting up the security studies programs at Canadian universities so they provided the seed funding for those programs. So presumably many of those programs would never have developed without the military’s funding.

More generally with Boeing and Lockheed Martin, funding from arms companies, funding from corporations more generally seeps into what areas the research focus is put on. I think it also seeps into the general politics of universities. The more that university administrators focus their time on seeking out corporate funding that just seeps into how they view the institution. Likewise with academics, the more they seek out outside funding they obviously sort of start orienting their outlook in that direction.

With regards to Security Defence Forum another element I think that… you know they also fund graduate work, they fund conferences. So having some funding around from the military increases the likelihood of graduate students looking into or researching domains that Security Defence Forum is prepared to fund. You know, generally prods people in a direction in their academic pursuits that the military sort of prefers.

SM: Many people view Canada as the noble peacekeeper. How was this image adopted, what is its propagandistic function, and what are the geopolitical interests that Canadian peacekeeping has generally served?

YE: Well I think the propagandistic function of Canadian peacekeeping, or the sense that Canada is a benevolent force in the world, is to make the population trust officials, trust foreign policy decisions of the Canadian government. The history is that Canadian foreign policy decisions have been overwhelmingly motivated by supporting the British Empire, the US empire more recently and advancing Canadian corporate interests abroad. So the notion that Canada is a benevolent force in the world I think to a large extent puts the public to sleep in terms of being critical of our policy makers in their international decisions. So it’s, I think, effective in sort of giving politicians a free pass on foreign policy issues.

Specifically about the geopolitics motivating peacekeeping or UN peacekeeping it’s varied and you have to look at each specific UN peacekeeping mission to discuss it properly. But you can look at some important peacekeeping missions that Canada has participated in. The early 1960s in the Congo Canada very clearly helped US policy, which was designed to undermine Patrice Lumumba who was the independence leader in the Congo who was trying to break free from Belgian colonial rule. And Canada actually contributed to his assassination during that UN peacekeeping mission. A more recent example in 2004 Canadian peacekeepers in Haiti were part of a force that overthrew Haiti’s elected government. It was US, French and Canadian forces that ousted the president Jean-Bertrand Aristide and it was those three countries that ousted the elected government. Their forces then became part of a UN mission and the UN mission remains in the country to this day. So it’s really an occupying power from the standpoint of most Haitians. So UN peacekeeping as very much aligned with US lead geostrategic interests on a number of occasions. That’s not always what’s going on but that’s often been the case.

SM: We’re fast approaching Remembrance Day and once again the Royal Canadian Legion is distributing poppies. You point out “Today poppies commemorate Canadians who have died at war. Not being commemorated are the Afghans or Libyans killed by Canadians in the 2000s or the Iraqis and Serbians killed in the 1990s or the Koreans killed in the 1950s or the Russians, South Africans, Sudanese and others killed before that. By focusing exclusively on ‘our’ side Remembrance Day poppies reinforce a sense that Canada’s cause is righteous.” (p.56) Poppies obviously serve an important propagandistic function but what can you tell us about the Legion’s influence in schools and Canadian War Museums?

YE: The Royal Canadian Legion has been a force advancing militarist thought for almost a century in this country and Remembrance Day poppies, in my opinion, are a contribution to that. It’s sort of framed as protecting or commemorating those who fought, those who died or were victims to wars. But, I’ve had a number of discussions with those selling poppies in recent days in different places across the country and their description of what the whole poppy campaign is about is a very nationalistic description.

The Legion has been a force for militarist thought in that they have efforts to get veterans into schools to do programs in schools. They have efforts with teachers around Remembrance Day. They’ve also been a force that puts pressure on the Canadian War Museum when they weren’t happy with a museum exhibit regarding World War II. A few years ago in the mid 2000s the Legion put pressure against the Canadian War Museum to change an exhibit that said that Canadian fighter jet, pilots had contributed to the 100,000s of German civilians dying, being killed during World War II which is a basic fact of history. But the Legion didn’t want the War Museum to mention that fact and they were able to successfully put pressure against the Canadian War Museum to change the exhibit, which led to the head of the Canadian War Museum resigning. So the Legion has been a force that has put pressure on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) on some of its coverage. It’s been a bastion of militarist thought in this country.

SM: So looking at some of the donors for UBC again… mentioned earlier Lockheed Martin and Boeing. They have plaques specifically commemorating these people and corporations who have donated to the UBC school here in Vancouver and in the Okanagan. Donations from the fossil fuel industries including Chevron, Shell, General Motors, TransCanada, the American Petroleum Institute, Athabasca Oil Corporation, among others. (Referring to the “start an evolution campaign” where donors who gave more than $25,000 in gifts to UBC are recognized on the Leading Lights Pillars. You can search the list of donors at this webpage.)

Among the long list of Canadian mining companies that give donations to UBC is Goldcorp, Hudbay Minerals and SNC-Lavalin, who have committed human rights violations (here, here and here), and Imperial Metals, the company behind the 2014 Mount Polly mining disaster. In your book you state that “Internationally focused resource firms have donated tens of millions of dollars to Canadian universities. . . a consortium of BC mining companies donated more than $20 million to the University of British Columbia, including $5 million from Goldcorp.” (p.94) What are the implications of these corporate funds coming to Canada’s largest academic institutions? Also what is the Canadian International Institute of Extractive Industries and Development now called the Canadian International Resources Development Institute and what function does it serve?

YE: Yeah, well, I think in terms of mining funding to UBC, it obviously leads to… it’s partly a PR exercise for the companies. It provides to companies with some good PR to associate with a prestigious public university. The mining companies usually… I mean I don’t know all of the details of where the funding from these different mining companies went to and how it’s being used on the campus. But usually the companies are trying to get access to public resources that are housed in universities and benefit from a lot of the publicly funded infrastructure and they sort of come in and put up some money but it’s actually ultimately a very small sliver of the overarching cost of some the research or efforts taking place and then they gain benefits for putting up fairly limited amounts of money.

In terms of the Canadian International Resources Development Institute it was set up during the Harper government’s time, put up about $25 million [$24.6 million] from the federal government into the institute. And it’s designed to help the Canadian mining sector abroad. I think it was Julian Fantino, the minister in charge of Canadian Aid Agency that was behind the initiative initially, told the Canadian mining companies at a meeting that this would be “your biggest proponent abroad.” I’m not familiar with all of the details of its functioning but it’s designed really to advance Canadian mining interests abroad and the Canadian government has many different initiatives with different governments in Africa, it funds mining schools in Ethiopia, Senegal. The Canadian International Resource Development Institute is tied into a mining initiative called EXCEED, I’m forgetting what the acronym stands for, that’s funded by Canadian aid in Africa. And basically the Canadian government is a leading funder of mining-related aid initiatives on the African continent in large part because Canadian mining companies dominate on the continent. And these initiatives in different ways advance the interests of Canadian mining companies abroad.

SM: Alright, thanks Yves. We’ll have to continue this discussion. It’s a very interesting book. I have quite a few other questions but we’ll leave it there for times sake.

YE: Cool.

For more information please visit:

https://yvesengler.com/ or https://fernwoodpublishing.ca/book/a-propaganda-system

**Note: The Centre of International Relations no longer exists at UBC.

Originally published on The Iconoklast.

Whiteness Game

 

Dear white people, when your people voted for a terrorist
You told me to fight anger with love, I did
But the second I did you backstabbed me by killing my people,
No I don’t want your love or hope in this game when you mindlessly carnage our souls, bodies for your bloodthirst,
It is heritage for white people to pretend to be in solidarity with us, when our sisters, mothers, and brothers are killed every single second by this whiteness game that your people are amazed to play everyday,
I guess your hunger is not satisfied after years of colonizing and killing my people in name of whiteness, but you better damn well know our backs have eyes too

“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.