No Scrutiny Please, They’re Saudi.

This op-ed appeared in The Ottawa Citizen on October 1, 2015. 

In 2014, on the shores of Lake Geneva and next to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, a lavish ceremony was held to honour the recipient of the Moral Courage Award — an annual honour bestowed by UN Watch, a Geneva-based NGO dedicated to “(monitoring) the performance of the United Nations by the yardstick of its own Charter.“

Surrounded by Canadian diplomats and at least one fellow cabinet minister, Jason Kenney was feted “for demonstrating the courage to lead in upholding the founding principles of the United Nations, and defending the true principles of human rights.”

Lauding the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism, UN Watch executive director Hillel Neuer declared: “When others have been silent while serial perpetrators of human rights abuses like Iran and Syria seek to hijack the UN’s human rights and anti-racism causes, Minister Kenney has been a clear and consistent voice for their millions of victims, opposing tyranny, hypocrisy and injustice.”

Accepting the award “on behalf of my colleagues and Prime Minister Stephen Harper,” Kenney sought to reiterate what he, his colleagues, and the prime minister have long portrayed as their unequivocal stance in defending the rights and dignities of those living under the world’s most oppressive regimes.

“Human rights are not subject to interpretation,” he said. “They exist by virtue of the dignity of the individual person. They cannot be written off simply because a handful of particularly brutal regimes have been given a veto powers in a bureaucratic body.”

You’d expect, then, after word leaked that Saudi Arabia, a leader in the abuse of human rights, restriction of religious freedom, and repression of women, was selected to head a panel of independent experts on the UN Human Rights Council, that both Kenney and Harper would be among the prominent human rights advocates – including UN Watch – leading the condemnation of the appointment.

One could argue the confluence of events coinciding with this incomprehensible decision — allegations of indiscriminate killing of civilians and ethic cleansing of Shiites in the Saudi-led aerial campaign against the Houthi rebels in Yemen; the imminent beading and crucifixion of Ali al-Nimr, nephew of a well-known Shia cleric and prominent critic of the Saud dynasty, arrested as a 17-year-old high school student for taking part in pro-democracy protests — made it incumbent upon Kenney and Harper, both of whom position themselves as global leaders in human rights advocacy, to front the charge in seeking to have the UNHRC appointment rescinded, to call for for an investigation into atrocities in Yemen, to demand clemency for a man condemned to death simply for seeking political reform.

Instead, they’ve offered absolute silence on each crucial matter detailed above. That’s not to say the government’s relationship with the Saudis has gone entirely unmentioned in recent days: When questioned about the ethics of his government’s secretive, multi-billion dollar arms deal with Riyadh — secured without the requisite human rights assessments or assurances such weaponry wouldn’t be used against the civilian population — Harper defended Saudi Arabia as a valued ally. He was concerned only, evidently, about possible job losses in Ontario should the deal be axed.

A key element of the Conservatives’ re-election bid has been to present themselves as warriors against fundamentalist ideologies and extremist entities. That they’ve deemed a woman who — entirely of her own accord — wears a niqab a greater threat than providing arms to a regime which adheres to and exports the actual medieval ideology which imposes draconian dress codes on women hints at the emptiness beneath the government’s veil of nationalistic rhetoric and international proclamations of moral authority.

Further reading:

Ten facts about Canada’s arms deal with Saudi Arabia

This thread of links.

Questions for the Minister: HERE and HERE 

Need To Know: On Syria And The Migrant/Refugee Crisis

This was initially meant to be a lengthy Facebook post for those who look to me for information on complex matters (which I do happily, by request). However, it received such appreciation and requests to make it open to all (which I eventually did) that I thought I’d post it here, too, but with additional links/further info for those seeking a one-stop landing for information on the issue.


Here’s a round-up of information on the current migrant/refugee crisis, the impossible situation in the Middle East driving it, and what – if anything – can/should be done.

First off, however, regarding the loathesome, xenophobic memes making the rounds, courtesy of extremist websites/blogs, FB pages, and media personalities:

The FB page I’ve seen many sharing patently fake anti-Mulsim nonsense from – Britain First – is a NEO-NAZI OPERATION. It’s a white-supermacist organization, full-stop. If you find yourself sharing anything from that page/site – especially when it comes to anything about Muslims or Islam – perhaps you need to re-examine your own values before calling into question the beliefs of others.

A few helpful links on that:


The same goes for the bigotry emanating from other notoriously-ignorant FB pages – Right Wing News, Chicks On The Right, The Blaze (Glenn Beck’s operation), Fox News, The Rebel, Atlas Shrugged – or the personal pages of disgraced conservative figures like Allen West, Sarah Palin, Pamela Geller, Franklin Graham, Ben Carson, Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter, Ezra Levant, Brian Lilley, etc.

There’s nothing wrong with being C/conservative, or holding a C/conservative world view. That’s not who these people are, nor what they represent. All of the above are part of a hateful segment which no respectable person takes seriously.

Granted, once in a while a few of those pages might post something innocuous (often one of those feel-good viral memes from other sites). That’s fine. It’s their intentional misinformation and fomenting of hatred that’s the problem.

There are reputable C/conservative publications / personalities in existence. These are not them.

A few quick (but hardly thorough) links debunking some of the most-shared — and so obviously BS — anti-refugee memes:




And related:

Here’s Shannon Gormley, deftly tackling the xenophobic nonsense:

And now…

The full story of the boy whose death woke the world up to the already years-long humanitarian catastrophe:

One of just many reports by Terry Glavin, who broke the Kurdi story:

A simple (but in being simple, not nearly thorough) explanation of why people are fleeing Syria:

More on that, with a deeper look at the death toll of ISIS versus the death toll of Syria’s Assad regime (Spoiler: ISIS isn’t the problem):

A phenomenal visualization of the death toll from Syria’s ISIS/Assad civil war:

In the war on ISIS: Friends, foes and in between

The new Cold War in the Middle East:


“Why can’t they just go home”? Because THERE IS NO HOME TO GO TO.



Liz Sly, on the emptying of Syria:

Her photo essay on children who only know life inside refugee camps:

And her early – and important – examination of the refugee crisis looming in the Middle East:

A must-see photo gallery of Syria’s children, and the hell they’re living:

The nightmare that is life for those who’ve not fled:

And the dilemma many are faced with:

After 4 years of conflict, more than half of Syria’s population of 22 million have been driven out:

On that note: It’s not just Syria, or migrants from Syria. We are also involved/supporting/enabling the bombing/destruction of Yemen



And, of course, Afghanistan, Iraq …



Some Iraqis are abandoning the fight against ISIS for safety in Europe:

Afghan NATO translators who helped coalition forces are having to take illegal routes West after having their asylum applications rejected:

To those demanding to know “why aren’t Muslim countries doing anything?!”

Uh, they are.

The vast majority of Syrian refugees are hosted in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey.

Lebanon, Turkey & Jordan have taken so many refugees that it’s changing their demographics.


The tragic lives of refugee children in Lebanon.

Meanwhile, after being shuttled on trains and branded with numbers, refugees are being housed in former concentration camps. Yes, you read that right.




Some key explainers on the many factors fuelling the crisis:

1. U.N. Funding Shortfalls and Cuts in Refugee Aid Fuel Exodus to Europe:

2. Why migrants risk everything for a new life elsewhere:

3. 8 reasons the refugee crisis is happening now:

4. The migrant crisis: here’s why it’s not what you think –

What can WE do? Two of the most respectable voices in Canada:

1. Roméo Dallaire: Response to Syrian refugees ‘atrocious’:


2. Great interview with former chief of defence Rick Hillier:

Asylum seekers will keep coming, regardless of the chilly welcome from the West:

We should – and can – take in 20 times more refugees:

Excellent primer from Laura Payton on where Canadian policy stands:

Glavin, on the Conservative’s recent policy change:

Meanwhile, refugees are left to plead for family reunification:

A group of notables lay out eight steps to get more Syrian refugees into Canada:

Refugees are, in fact, a huge economic and cultural boon to society — not a burden. They are not welfare-seekers.


Why our chance to help those in desperate need is also a potentially historic economic opportunity:

And no, we do not give refugees better health care or government services than citizens receive





No matter the nonsense which continues to come from the current Conservative government:

Harper says only bogus refugees are denied health care. He’s wrong.

Why how we refer to those seeking asylum matters:

On fears of radicalization – nothing fights radicalization like opportunity.

Compassion towards needy Muslims is part of the antidote to a hateful jihadist ideology


Things to note re: the claims of ISIS infiltrating migrants.




ISIS doesn’t want Syrian migrants to flock to Europe, either:


Further reading – Follow the journey of the refugees with these in-depth journals:



Move Along, #Harperman – We’ll Take It From Here

What began as a discussion* (and mocking) of the sideshow of the day song of a generation turned into a great exchange about political/protest tunes. I’ve collected some of the best recommendations, and in addition to my own suggestions, have linked to the better ones found throughout the night.

Feel free to post the songs I’ve missed, but which you’re particularly fond of, to the comments.  I’d love you hear your favourites. Also welcome: Those so bad, they’re amazing.

*To see the full conversation thread, be sure to click the various “view other replies.”

Bruce Cheadle:

Tom Russell – Who’s Gonna Build Your Wall 

Terry Glavin

Damien Dempsey – Sing all our Cares Away

The Internationale (English Version) 

White Riot by the Clash

Douglas Hunter:

Elvis Costello – Ship Building

Sine Nomine:

Rage Against The Machine version – The Ghost of Tom Joad

George McKie:

Midnight Oil – Beds Are Burning

Ken Cunningham:

Drezus – Red Winter (idle No More)

Billy Bragg – Between The Wars

Flynn Flon:

Marvin Gaye – Inner City Blues

Brother Ali – Uncle Sam Goddamn

Crosby, Stills, Nash – Ohio 

A Change Is Gonna Come – Sam Cooke

Laurie K:

Green Day – American Idiot 

Matthew Elliot:

Janelle Monáe – Hell You Talmbout

Robert Cooper:

Manic Street Preachers – If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next

And from me:

First, the songs which initially came to my mind:

Eminem – Mosh 

Black Sabbath – War Pigs

Ramones – My Brain Is Hanging Upside Down (Bonzo Goes to Bitburg)

God Save The Queen – The Sex Pistols

Rage Against The Machine – Killing In The Name

Johnny Mandel – Suicide Is Painless (M*A*S*H Theme)

Creedence Clearwater Revival – Fortunate Son

Nina Simone – Mississippi Goddam

Billie Holiday – Strange Fruit

And below, some gems I wasn’t familiar with, which I found while searching:

Country Joe McDonald – I-Feel-Like-I’m-Fixin’-To-Die Rag

Eric Bogle – The Band Played Waltzing Matilda

Donovan – The Universal Soldier

Barry McGuire – Eve of Destruction

Tom Robinson Band – Glad To Be Gay

Bonus! This very fun post, thanks to Kady o’malley, and a what looks like a great book, recommended by Laurie K.

The Assault On Planned Parenthood: A Long Campaign Against Reproductive Rights

In 2011, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives voted to strip Planned Parenthood of federal funding, a move deemed necessary to ensure no taxpayer dollars were used on abortion despite existing federal legislation which prohibits funds granted under Title X from paying for such services.

This vote, a “culmination of a multi-year effort that involved parallel action by top Republicans and conservative media operatives,” relied on the work of anti-abortion activist Lila Rose, President and founder of Live Action, an organization through which she sought to “take out Planned Parenthood” ahead of the 2012 Presidential election by teaming up with disgraced far-right activist James O’Keefe to produce a series of undercover ‘sting’ videos purporting to show Planned Parenthood staff “willing to assist sex trafficking and exploitations of minors and young women.”

Rose’s elaborate production was eventually exposed for the lie it was — manipulated segments of video spliced to create exchanges which never occurred, or to misrepresent things which were said.

Even so, the ruse was – and still is – championed as a credible exposé within the complex network of organizations which make up the greater anti-abortion lobby, with the disproven allegations repeated by influential anti-abortion leaders including Troy Newman, President of Operation Rescue: a militant organization infamous for their relentless campaign against late-term abortion provider Dr. George Tiller, one which only ended after Scott Roeder, an Operation Rescue fanatic, pursued Tiller to his church and shot him to death as Sunday services began.

A longtime admirer of Rose’s efforts – Rose was named Operation Rescue’s Person of the Year in 2008 for her then-early campaign against Planned Parenthood – Newman helped Live Action’s (now former) research director David Daleiden, business partner of Rose and close friend of O’Keefe, establish a new operation from which to launch a fresh assault against Planned Parenthood, providing “consultation services” and both “financial and material support” to the Live Action off-shoot Center for Medical Progress.

In addition to Newman’s professional guidance and financial support, both Rose and Daleiden were students of Mark Crutcher, president and founder of Life Dynamics Inc., a radical anti-abortion operation whose “professional counter-intelligence … intelligence-gathering” methods – including the covert recording of abortion providers and subsequent manipulating of audio/video to fabricate criminal wrongdoing – have become the activists’ MO.

Much like Rose’s failed 2011 Live Action ‘sting’, Daleiden’s Center for Medical Progress string of videos are heavily-edited, with exchanges intentionally doctored to grossly misrepresent the context of conversations in order to satisfy a narrative being sold. In this case, that Planned Parenthood is trafficking fetuses, “selling baby parts,” for profit.

The sophisticated, coordinated pre-election rollout and subsequent reaction by conservative media and lawmakers mirrors that of 2011, right down to another procedural vote to defund Planned Parenthood. Though passing the House in 2011, nothing became of the vote, and the renewed effort was defeated in the Senate.

And just as Planned Parenthood was cleared of the allegations levelled in 2011, the current round of increasingly-hyperbolic accusations have already been thoroughly, and repeatedly, disproved.

In full accordance with the law – one which has long-enjoyed broad bipartisan support – women who undergo an abortion can choose to donate usable tissue toward science. Fetal tissue is unique and provides a crucial form of stem cells without which public health advances – the eradication of polio, for instance – would not have been possible.

Planned Parenthood is not selling fetal specimens, which, it’s important to note, are acquired with the full consent of those terminating a pregnancy, be it a medically-necessary referral or an elective procedure. Nor do clinics profit from the donation of fetal tissue.

Despite claims to the contrary, abortion services are not the driving force behind Planned Parenthood, nor are they performed for monetary gain (profit) or as a means of facilitating ‘immoral’ and ‘promiscuous’ lifestyles (abortion on-demand as a recreational activity).

Planned Parenthood is a leading provider of high-quality, affordable health care to both men and women across America. In addition to the sexual health and reproductive services — screening and treatment for STIs, low- or no-cost reversible contraception (condoms, birth control, IUDs) and emergency contraception (Plan B), family planning and counselling, including pregnancy guidance and support, pre- and post-natal care, access to adoption services, and sexual education — Planned Parenthood offers a range of general health services, such as screening for breast and cervical cancer, and public immunizations.

Abortions account for only 3% of Planned Parenthood’s activities, and the most recent comprehensive report on induced abortion in the United States found 92% of all abortions occur within the first 13-weeks of pregnancy — only 1.2% occur at or after 21-weeks.

That 20-week mark is a crucial point of contention for anti-abortion activists who, unable to overturn Roe v. Wade, have sought to outlaw the procedure beyond 20-weeks, often without exception — meaning in the case of rape or incest, even if the victim is a child, the pregnancy must, by law, be carried to term.

Beyond the 20-week limit, activists push lawmakers to enact TRAP laws: impose redundant and wholly irrelevant requirements on abortion providers and clinics to regulate them out of service.

It’s the network of anti-abortion organizations who organize and finance the activist campaigns, and which reward the politicians who enact the legislative changes demanded.

Though hardly as influential north of the border, this cabal spans across Canada, sharing resources, swapping speakers, providing on-demand ‘experts,’ and partnering in campaigns  – including the effort against Planned Parenthood – with organizational allies.

Both Live Action and Operation Rescue are revered by Canada’s anti-abortion activists, and two prominent figures – Jonathon Van Maren, communications director for the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform (CCBR), representing the “educational arm of the pro-life movement” and Alissa Golob, Executive Director of Campaign Life Coalition (CLC) Youth, representing the “political arm of the pro-life movement” — the pair behind the graphic #no2Trudeau anti-abortion campaign – recently shared a stage with Operation Rescue’s President, one of the old hands working the strings behind the curtains of the series of video ‘stings;’ controlling the dance of the new, fresh-faced anti-abortion marionettes.

Newman was a keynote speaker at this year’s CLC Youth Banquet (Rose had the honour in 2010), a companion event to the annual March For Life on Parliament Hill. Buried among the litany of hyperbole and flat-out lies about abortion and the medical professionals who provide them – absurd allegations found in the hysterical, low-budget pseudo-documentary Bloodmoney, a film championed by CLC, CCBR and their anti-abortion affiliates, and treated as gospel by Golob – Newman tipped his hand on the upcoming strategy against abortion providers.

As reported by those in attendance:

Because abortion is an immoral activity, Newman and his fellow pro-life activists suspected other immoral activity would also take place in and around the abortion industry and Operation Rescue aimed to uncover and expose malfeasance and criminal activity. “The job is to point out the true villains … to put them in orange jumpsuits and put them behind bars.”

Ironic that Newman chose the following quote to motivate the CLC audience: “In times of universal deceit, to tell the truth is a revolutionary act.”

A more fitting Orwell citation, and perhaps the most succinct summary of the ongoing quest to not only destroy Planned Parenthood, but to rescind advances in public health and personal freedoms gained through the liberalization of sexual and reproductive rights: “We are all capable of believing things which we know to be untrue, and then, when we are finally proved wrong, impudently twisting the facts so as to show that we were right.

Abortion rates are lowest where the procedure is legal — where laws regarding the practise are the least-restrictive and women have relatively-easy access to a full range of reproductive health services.

Of course, the most effective anti-abortion strategy is contraception; a woman need not seek to terminate an unintended pregnancy if she’s able to prevent the pregnancy from the start.

It’s telling, then, that those dedicated to the cause of ending abortion are the ones working to ensure demand for the procedure never fades.

For instance, in 2009, Colorado launched a state health initiative specifically targeted at combating the soaring rate of teen pregnancies. Funded entirely by a private donor over 5-years, the Colorado Family Planning Initiative provided more than 30,000 contraceptive devices at low- or no-cost to women across 68 family-planning clinics.

The result was astounding: By 2013, the teen-birth rate plummeted by 40%; the abortion rate dropped even further, falling a full 42% from its previous demand.

As noted in the New York Times:

The changes were particularly pronounced in the poorest areas of the state, places like Walsenburg, a small city in southern Colorado where jobs are scarce and many young women have unplanned pregnancies.

In 2009, half of all first births to women in the poorest areas of the state happened before they turned 21. By 2014, half of first births did not occur until the women had turned 24, a difference that advocates say gives young women time to finish their educations and to gain a foothold in an increasingly competitive job market.

“If we want to reduce poverty, one of the simplest, fastest and cheapest things we could do would be to make sure that as few people as possible become parents before they actually want to,” said Isabel Sawhill, an economist at the Brookings Institution. She argues in her 2014 book, “Generation Unbound: Drifting Into Sex and Parenthood Without Marriage,” that single parenthood is a principal driver of inequality and long-acting birth control is a powerful tool to prevent it.

Still, when presented with the irrefutable data, Carrie Gordon Earll, senior director of public policy for the Colorado branch of Focus On The Family – a powerful organization within the anti-abortion Religious Right – rejected the findings.

“What we have seen over many years is that access to contraception does not equal fewer unintended pregnancies and fewer abortions,” Earll told the Denver Post. “Availability of contraception leads to increased sexual activity, which leads to unintended pregnancies and abortions.”

And thanks in part to lobbying by Focus On The Family, rather than continuing to fund the proven-effective program, the Republican-controlled state Senate killed the program this past May.

It’s this factsbedamned ideology which drives the anti-abortion coalition, and which leads its members to adhere to an increasingly-nonsensical script.

In 2010, when the Canadian Paediatric Society recommended adolescent health care providers counsel patients on emergency contraception – specifically, Plan B, which does not abort a pregnancy, but prevents it – Golob (as noted above, CLC activist and co-founder of the #No2Trudeau campaign) was incensed. She claimed health care providers mentoring their patients with regards to reproductive options was “a recipe for enabling child rapists to continue sexually assaulting young girls behind their parents’ backs.”

She questioned the “highly suspicious” motives of the Canadian Paediatric Society, claiming doctors would be “profiting off minors who are more than likely going to return because they have some kind of STD, pregnancy etc.”

In a 2012 interview, when asked how sex education “affects the youth’s understanding of sexuality, chastity, and contraception,” Golob responded:

“Sex education that promotes contraception, inevitably promotes promiscuity and abortion. Former abortionist Carol Everett said in the documentary Blood Money, ‘We had a whole plan to sell abortions and it was called sex education. Break down their natural modesty, separate them from their parents and their values, and become the sex expert in their lives so they turn to us. We would give them a low dosage birth control pill they would get pregnant on, or a defective condom. Our goal was three to five abortions from every girl between the ages of 13 and 19.’

Furthermore, a study done in 1999 by the British Journal Education and Health found that government policies that focus on providing family planning, or contraception and abortion, have failed to have any impact on teenage pregnancy rates. Despite the millions of pounds spent in government initiatives over the last four decades pregnancy rates among teenaged girls aged 13-16 have remained steady, while abortion rates have gone up.”

Keep in mind, it’s Golob and her associates who travel across Canada to ‘educate’ Catholic students on issues regarding sex, contraception, and abortion. (Abstinence only!)

Her organization is also one leading the charge against the Ontario government’s new sex-ed curriculum. One only need visit CLC’s website to see just how astoundingly inaccurate and wholly irresponsible their claims are in their push for abstinence-only education — dangerous misinformation which is prevalent throughout the site, such as the promotion of ‘reparative’ therapy to ‘cure’ homosexuality, the presentation of long-debunked health claims regarding birth control and abortion, and the dissemination of anti-vax propaganda to discourage Catholic School boards from implementing the HPV vaccine program.

Planned Parenthood’s Canadian branches, on the other hand – in addition to the exceptional counselling services offered – are working to ensure youth are provided the opportunity to benefit from evidence-based, age-appropriate sexual education.

Lauren Dobson-Hughes, President of Planned Parenthood Ottawa (PPO), says her organization is a proud supporter of Ontario’s new curriculum, which “matches what we’ve been teaching for some time.”

“Through our classroom sessions or our Insight Theatre program, PPO’s sex ed is innovative, interactive and engaging. It covers everything from LGBT issues to STIs, consent, sexting, puberty, and healthy relationships … We not only teach the facts, we teach them in a way that’s meaningful. It’s no good knowing the theory if you’re scared to apply it to real life situations.

At the end of every sex ed session, there’s a question box. This is where youth submit their questions anonymously, to be answered in front of the class. And when youth feel safe, they ask questions like this:”

(Actual questions from sixth- and seventh-graders, as evidenced by photos from a PPO session):

If someone you are texting asks you for a picture, how do you let them know you don’t want to?

Is masturbation normal?

What if it doesn’t fit?

Is one boob supposed to be bigger?

Can you get an STI from kissing?

What do I do if one of my friends thinks being gay is wrong?

If someone masturbates are they still a virgin?

What would be a polite way to say no?

What is the appropriate age for sex?

As was the case in 2011 when – citing the U.S. Congressional investigation stemming from Rose’s ‘sting’ – Canadian anti-abortion activists and their allied MPs set out to strip International Planned Parenthood Federation of funds granted through the Harper government’s Muskoka Maternal/Child Health initiative, the network of anti-abortion operations have latched onto the most recent fabrication, and they have Dobson-Hughes’ organization in their crosshairs.

The recent years’ increasingly-contentious environment regarding sexual and reproductive health had already cut into PPO’s funding, and now, in addition to demanding an investigation, opponents have begun intimidating known PPO donors into rescinding their financial support.

Recently, PPO was forced to turn away a woman a woman whose abusive partner was trying to force her to end her pregnancy.

“I never want to have to do that again,” laments Dobson-Hughes, whose organization does not provide abortion services. What they do offer, however, is confidential, unbiased counselling for those seeking sexual and reproductive guidance.

Case in point, as detailed by Dobson-Hughes:

Summer was 17, and heavily pregnant when she saw Planned Parenthood’s counsellor. Summer hadn’t wanted to be pregnant, but growing up in the rural North, she didn’t have the access to contraception she needed. She had received no pre-natal care, had not seen a doctor through her entire pregnancy, and had no financial support. Planned Parenthood’s counsellors worked with Summer, ensuring she got a midwife, helped her access assistance for housing, and connected her with cultural support from her community.

And in the end, that’s who loses the most. As fundamentalist culture-warriors position themselves the moral gatekeepers of society, demanding government “stay out” of their lives while seeking to dictate how others’ lives are lived, it’s people like Summer who bear the brunt of the fallout.

It’s the students who ask “Is it OK to say no?” whose questions go unanswered; adolescents who wonder “Is my body normal?” who are left without resources, and without reassurance.

In America specifically, it’s the lowest-income who cannot otherwise obtain cancer screening or pre- and post-natal services who are left without; it’s those whose only affordable access to contraception and STI screening is through their local Planned Parenthood clinic that are deprived.

Still reeling over the recent Supreme Court ruling on marriage equality, forced to watch as their opponents’ victory was celebrated across the world, America’s social conservatives are grasping for relevance, desperate to recover the political influence – reclaim a status – they once boasted.

That they are doing so at the expense of some of society’s most-vulnerable ultimately speaks to the emptiness of their moral crusade.

How you can help:

Donate to Planned Parenthood Ottawa  HERE
Donate to Planned Parenthood USA  HERE

Speak out. Reproductive rights are human rights — If you support a woman’s right to choose, do so with pride and without reservation.

Meriting A Quota

In seeking to redress the underrepresentation of women in key positions of political leadership, Liberal Party of Canada leader Justin Trudeau has pledged gender parity within government at decision-making levels, vowing as Prime Minister to appoint an “equal number of women and men” to cabinet.

Unveiled in June as part of a larger “Fair and Open Government” Liberal platform, the gender quota proved particularly divisive, sparking heated debate over the wisdom, or even the necessity, of such policy.

Generally speaking, diversity for the sake of diversity, however well-intentioned, is problematic. It not only fails to address the root of a given inequality, but it feeds into the notion of those underrepresented as being so due to an inability to succeed on merit. Further, it casts suspicion on the credentials of those who advanced on merit, but as members of a subset, are assumed have benefited from the quota.

It’s through this “[x] for the sake of [x]” lens that those who instinctively recoil from forced parity have largely viewed the Liberal proposal.

In pointed fashion, columnist Andrew Coyne challenged the idea that merit need not be substituted for gender. “If merit is defined in traditional terms,” Coyne argues, “this is obvious nonsense.”

“Suppose, in a governing caucus of, say, 180 members, one-third are women. And suppose that the talents and experience to be desired in a cabinet minister are distributed equally between the sexes, such that a fifth of either — 12 women, 24 men — might be considered cabinet material. If nevertheless the cabinet must have an equal number of women and men, then in a cabinet of 36 six women who should not have been appointed will be, and six men who should have been appointed will not be.”

What this scenario overlooks, however, is that a Prime Minister need not restrict cabinet appointments to a given cohort of elected MPs. If based entirely on merit, it would be highly-credentialed, non-partisan, and yes, unelected, experts from pertinent fields tasked with overseeing portfolios.

Proven scholarship of a complex issue would be sought over the proven scholarship of a PMO script.

Coyne acknowledges “the idea that we would judge ministers as individuals, on the basis of their ability to govern the country — that train left the station long ago.”

What, then, is meritorious about the status quo? Beyond the presumption of competence, on what superior capabilities – proven merit – are Ministers currently chosen? What explicit proficiencies would we lose to a quota?

Where Coyne’s column succeeds, if not intentionally, is in demonstrating the problem with how gender quotas, and the notion of merit, are traditionally defined.

In 2014, Rainbow Murray, associate professor of politics at Queen Mary University in London, published a fascinating argument in defence of gender quotas — for men:

“The focus on women’s underrepresentation has the unintended consequence of framing men as the norm and women as the ‘other’ … The arguments against quotas, based on meritocracy, assume (albeit sometimes implicitly) that the significant overrepresentation of men, over time and space, is the correct and fair outcome.

A much less commonly aired argument is that men receive an unfair advantage in accessing political power … men may themselves be accessing politics on the basis of their sex rather than their more tangible qualities.

As the traditional status quo, (men) benefit both from the presumption of competence and from greater opportunity to demonstrate their worth … It is not sufficient for women to be interchangeable with men; they are expected to offer something distinctive, without which the democratic process is incomplete, thus necessitating their presence.”

By modifying how the quota is approached, emphasizing the problem of overrepresentation, the onus is shifted “onto men … to prove their worth and justify their coveted place within politics.”

What makes Murray’s thesis particularly compelling is its ability to be applied to any over-represented group; the normative reasoning underpinning the quota being its key feature.

“The central concern lies not with gender equality, nor fairness, valid and important though these undoubtedly are. Instead, the emphasis is on enhancing the quality of representation for all.”

“Meritocracy,” Murray concludes, “can be advanced through challenging the status quo, opening a debate about quality, and making better use of available resources of talent. For the problem of (un)fair competition to be resolved, it first must be recognized.”

Trudeau’s proposal may not be the answer to the institutionalized gender disparity within government, but in the absence of a definitive solution, for the interim, a gender quota can provide a point from which to work toward a more-representative, more deeply and broadly qualified, group of representatives.

We do our country a disservice, risk forfeiting the range of talents offered by those we elect, not in contesting the status quo, but in allowing it to persist without dispute.

Freedom Of Religion vs. License To Discriminate

This op-ed appeared in The Ottawa Citizen on April 8, 2015. 

There’s a fundamental misunderstanding, or perhaps, a deliberate mischaracterization, of what constitutes religious freedom in a pluralistic society; of the role governments should play in protecting religious liberties, the extent to which citizens are obligated to facilitate the customs of another, and what it means to be unjustly targeted for holding contrary views.

On March 25, a cadre of evangelical leaders and activists took to Parliament Hill to decry “unjust infringements of the State” against Christianity, assail the perceived granting of rights to “others” at the expense of their own, lament being violated by “activist” courts, ostracized by business leaders, and vilified by media. MP James Lunney cited their grievances in his withdrawing from the Conservative caucus to better fight the “unprecedented attack” on his Christian beliefs.

These self-appointed spokesmen of Christianity, the beliefs/values they espouse, their connections and affiliations, merit a deeper examination than space permits, but the following brief should offer some insight into why they, and the various, inter-connected organizations they represent, feel so spurned by modernity:

Bill Prankard of the Bill Prankard Evangelistic Association is a faith-healer who claims that faith through the laying-on-of-hands has cured everything from quadriplegia to cancer; he has written books claiming that the power of God holds the cure for all ailments. He has bemoaned that while Christians “stand on guard” for Canada, “other groups have been coming with agendas that are very anti-Christian and anti-God and they’ve been doing a lot of stuff in our nation. I believe it’s time for Canadians to rise up and to take back what the enemy is stealing.”

André Schutten is a lawyer for the Association For Reformed Political Action. When Alberta lawmakers passed legislation affirming students’ rights to form gay-straight alliances, Schutten declared such a law “would make the Bolsheviks proud.”

And of course, there’s Canada Christian College president Charles McVety, whose most recent claim of religious persecution was evidenced by the coming-together of major corporations in committing to diversity and inclusivity in the workplace.


The concept of religious freedom has long been exploited to justify discrimination: Many religious conservatives, for instance, deemed God “the original segregationist,” and when the couple at the heart of Loving v. Virginia (1967), the landmark Supreme Court case striking down America’s ban on interracial marriage, were initially charged in violating “anti-miscegenation” laws, Judge Leon Bazile contended “Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents … The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.”

As America’s march toward full marriage equality presses on, the Supreme Court set to rule on the constitutionality of same-sex marriage shortly, Conservative lawmakers, backed by Christian leaders like James Dobson, Franklin Graham, and Tony Perkins, are scrambling to preempt a ruling many expect as inevitable, enacting legislation under the guise of protecting religious liberties which would grant the right to refuse service to those who might “burden” the conscience.

As the recent backlash in Indiana against such license to discriminate has shown, however, the majority will not stand for replacing White with Straight on “[X] Only” signs.

Given the ongoing, real persecution faced by religious minorities – Christians hunted down by Islamic extremists throughout the Middle East; Muslims slaughtered by Christian militias and Buddhist extremists in Central African Republic and Burma respectively – it’s appalling that such affluent, privileged members of society cast themselves as the victims of tyrannical government; oppressed by an “overly-secular, militant atheistic” society.

Much to traditionalists’ dismay, society has progressed, and those who continue to preach hatred, foster intolerance, are finally learning the Bible is no longer the impenetrable shield it once was.

Want To ‘Send A Message’? Vote.

This op-ed appeared in The Ottawa Citizen on June 12, 2014 

In October 2013, British comedian and actor Russell Brand, acting as a guest-editor for a revolution-themed edition of New Statesman, penned a bizarre, 4,500-word call to revolution.

“I have never voted,” Brand declared. “Like most people I am utterly disenchanted by politics. I regard politicians as frauds and liars and the current political system as nothing more than a bureaucratic means for furthering the augmentation and advantages of economic elites. As far as I’m concerned there is nothing to vote for. Total revolution of consciousness and our entire social, political system is what interests me, but that’s not on the ballot.”

Brand’s manifesto quickly went viral. He was called “brilliant,” lauded as the “de facto voice of a younger generation.”

What a shame that would be, given that if a generation adopted Brand’s approach to democracy, they’ll have rendered themselves mute.

Brand’s type of misguided effort to affect change has found an audience, though on a much smaller, not-quite-so-revolutionary scale, in the run-up to the Ontario election.

Decline Your Vote, a movement launched by conservative activist Paul Synnott, bills itself as a means to “(send) a message to all political parties that you’re not happy with what they have to offer or how they’re conducting themselves.”

“Declined votes,” the website notes, “are required to be recorded and reported as a separate category from spoiled ballots.

This your opportunity to vote NONE OF THE ABOVE.”

If only change-making were that easy.

Let’s be clear: It is absolutely your right to spoil, decline, or altogether refuse to cast a ballot. That’s the beauty of democracy: you’re free to vote – or not vote – for whomever you choose.

However, declining your ballot succeeds in “sending a message” about as well as abstaining achieves a “total revolution.”

There are legitimate frustrations over the first past the post electoral system; real grievances about the quality of the current slate of politicians/platforms/parties; an overwhelming desire to “throw the bums out,” yet a distinct lack of worthy alternatives behind whom to throw one’s support.

Cynicism toward the political system is understandable. But by forfeiting the influence you do have – the power of the vote – you are handing the power back to those you argue haven’t earned it. Whether by 10 or 10 thousand, the candidate with the most votes will be deemed victorious. Even if more ballots are declined than cast for the winning candidate, someone will be elected by night’s end.

Little notice will be taken of the number of ballots declined. Votes that, it can be argued, were wasted; that depending on turnout, might have made a difference in voting a candidate in – or keeping one out.

Case in point: In Nevada, where “none of these candidates” is an actual choice on the ballot, Democrat Harry Reid defeated Republican John Ensign by only 428 votes, while “none” garnered 8,000 votes. Similarly, Republican Dean Heller beat Democrat Shelley Berkley by fewer than 20,000 votes, as 45,000 votes were directed to “none.”

If you want to have an impact, are disaffected by the current state of political affairs, declining your chance for a say in the matter isn’t the answer.

Though your ballot may lack an ideal candidate, you can choose to support the person or party which represents your ideals better than the others.

Then, after ballots have been counted, get involved. Become politically engaged with your party of choice; have a say in shaping policy, work to recruit quality candidates.

And perhaps, come next election, you’ll have someone, something, to vote for.