Saturday, February 06, 2016

A Little More For Alberta's Bishops To Stew On

Since Alberta's Roman Catholic Bishops seem to have something up their cassocks about transgender students, I thought it would be quite appropriate to post the following article that appeared in Huffington Post  in its entirety:

Two and a half years. That's the average wait time for a transgender child in my region to be seen and assessed by a psychiatrist who specializes in gender dysphoria. 
What can happen in two and a half years? 
I have a transgender child. My child was brave enough to tell me what was happening in his mind and body when he was 8 years old. He told me that nobody would ever love him, and nobody would ever marry him, because he wasn't really the girl he was born as.
He thought nobody would ever love him. He thought something was fundamentally wrong with him, that he was broken, that he was defective. At 8 years old, my child told me he felt he was worthless. No child should feel that way ever for any reason. 
What in the world does this have to do with LGBTQ support guidelines for educators?
Every teacher -- whether they knew what was going on with him or not -- that told him, "Oh, lots of girls go through a tomboy phase..." meant well. But what he heard is "Your brain is wrong. You're a girl." 
Every parent that said, "I'm just worried it will rub off on my child..." doesn't wish their child to go through hardship. But what my child heard is, "You are contagious."
Every time he was made to stand in the girls' line, he was told he was something he's not. Every time he was made to stand in the boy line, he was ostracized and taunted for being different and told loudly by the other boys, "You are not one of us." Every time he was allowed to choose which line to stand in, he was told, "You must show us all this very private thing you are coping with, this thing so huge and challenging half of us will never even attempt to understand it. Declare yourself. Male or female? Are you a weird, wannabe boy, or a freakish, failure of a girl?" 
Does that sound like a harsh interpretation?

What if we forced kids to identify by who had divorced or married parents? Or who had wet their pants beyond age 7? Or who still slept with stuffed animals? Or by financial status, or by who was adopted? 
Why in the world would we ever force children to publicly declare the thing that humiliates them the most, and then categorize and judge them based on those factors? 
Despite a staff full of teachers who meant well, who wanted to support my child's education but were unable to get enough support from their head office to help him the way he needed, I pulled my transgender child from public school. Because I was told that my child's ADHD was the only thing the division could actually help him with. Because it was not until a blog post of mine went viral that parents quit expressing their "concern" that my child was "too troubled" and "should stop calling so much attention to it." 
As if it was something I should just snap my fingers and fix. As if I wasn't doing everything in my power, alone, to try and get him some support, to comfort him when he came home sobbing, when he called me in the middle of the day to tell me he just couldn't take the anxiety anymore. When he was so distraught he couldn't even tell me what was wrong. 
Two and a half years means the difference between life and suicide for thousands of transgender children. If you woke up tomorrow with the wrong set of genitals -- and were then forced to publicly declare to your co-workers and boss that it had happened -- would that be humiliating? Would that impact your ability to do what you're there to do?

When you ask a transgender child to use a bathroom that doesn't coincide with their gender identity, that is exactly what you are doing.

I don't want school divisions to simply provide bathroom support for LGBTQ youth. I want every single staff member in contact with ALL children to be trained in compassionate care of LGBTQ youth. I want the education to be mandatory for staff, and I want parents of LGBTQ kids to have the opportunity to speak publicly and educate parents. No transgender child should ever be outed, publicly misgendered, belittled, dismissed or rejected based on his gender identity or how he presents himself to the world.

My child should never be categorized, labeled, judged and forced to identify based on his deepest, most private internal wars.

MY CHILD SHOULD BE SAFE AND PROTECTED AT SCHOOL.
My child's teachers only meant to help. But some of them lacked the training to reduce his anxiety and exposure as a person who was different. In the span of one school year, my child went from excited to show his true self to his peers -- in the form of a haircut and some new boyish clothes, not even a name change -- to telling me he wished he had never been born and it all could just stop. 
That isn't a far cry from a suicide wish. In just one school year. Now tell me what two and a half years can do. 
LGBTQ health must be prioritized in all areas of life. It is not a fad. It is not elective. If educators do not implement strong guidelines for supporting LGBTQ youth, teachers and parents in schools then children who already struggle to have the desire to keep living have even less hope to cling to. Passive attitudes in building these clear and inclusive guidelines contribute to youth suicide rates. And in ignoring the necessity of these guidelines, you will tell my child, in the absolute clearest terms, that he was right when he thought he didn't deserve the love and respect everyone else does. 
Things can change. LGBTQ kids can grow up with every comfort, safety and support as their cisgender heterosexual peers. The bathroom debate is about so much more than bathrooms. It's about proving to LGBTQ kids that they are as worthy of respect as every other child in each school. It's about proving that we love them, they are not broken and they are safe in school. The struggle won't end when we allow transgender kids to use bathrooms that match their gender, but it's certainly a solid place to start showing them from a very early age that we care, and we are listening and they are safe.
Let's be abundantly clear here.  This isn't about what Roman Catholic theology says about transgender people.  It isn't about what a bunch of adults who have decided to get all uncomfortable about the subject (the same adults who probably can't bring themselves to talk to their children about sex except in the most elliptical of terms, no doubt).  It isn't even about the Bishop's authority with respect to the Roman Catholic school system in Alberta.

This is about one thing, and one thing only:  ensuring that one of the most marginalized groups of students in our schools is able to attend school and learn in a safe, accommodating and welcoming environment.  An environment which singles them out for their "differences", or marks them to their peers as "lesser" beings for whatever reason is unacceptable.  No matter what the theology may say, these children are very real, very much a part of the schools, and they deserve to be treated with respect and dignity like EVERY OTHER MEMBER OF THE STUDENT BODY.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Bishop Henry Returns ...

It has been quite some time since I felt a need to address something that Calgary's Bishop Fred Henry has written.  Then I happened to wander past the Calgary Diocese website and read his latest "pastoral letter" (or whatever his columns on the website are officially known as).  The title is benign enough:  "Heal the Wounds, So Many Wounds ..." 

Unfortunately, what the reader is then subjected to is possibly the most offensive screed the Bishop has written in several years.

It starts off with one of the Bishop's standard attacks on "liberalism", and then goes after Transgender people:
The cutting edge of liberal culture is the attempt to label the two created human sexes, male and female, as arbitrary and unjust impositions on humanity. This involves an attempt to separate sex from gender, that is, the biological fact (human anatomy and chromosomal cellular structure) of the two human sexes from their social and cultural expressions, which they term "gender," and which is seen as totally socially constructed and in no way grounded in nature. 
Then, using such a phenomenon as hormonal treatment and "sex-change operations," they begin to deny the very stability and reality of the two created sexes. After that, they claim that whether or not one undergoes such an operation, one's subjective feeling about what sex/gender one is trumps the physical facts of one's body. 
- See more at: http://calgarydiocese.ca/messages-from-the-bishop/1362-heal-the-wounds-heal-the-wounds-so-many-wounds.html#sthash.jjOtfvFp.dpuf
Lovely, Bishop Henry.  I see that once again you have returned to your old haunts - by attacking that which you refuse to even attempt to understand.  Are you really going to argue that chromosomes define gender?  Or that physical anatomy defines gender?  Still?

I'm going to come back to this topic in a minute, because there are a couple of other gems in the Bishop's screed that I think warrant bringing to your attention.
The soul and the body are in a master/slave relationship, the former legitimately dominating and re-making the latter. For Biblical people, the body can never be construed as a prison for the soul, nor as an object for the soul's manipulation. Moreover, the mind or will is not the "true self" standing over and against the body; rather, the body, with its distinctive form, intelligibility, and finality, is an essential constituent of the true self. 
Let me get this straight - the Bishop wishes to argue that the distinction between gender and sex that there is actual evidence for, is overruled by the mythology of a soul (which may or may not exist - I haven't seen any evidence which objectively substantiates such a claim), and somehow the "soul and body are intertwined", and therefore couldn't possibly be at odds with each other?  Sure ...
Tolerance is a working principle that enables us to live in peace with each other and their ideas. Most of the time it is a good thing. But it is not an end in itself, and to tolerate or excuse a grave evil in society is itself a grave evil. 
Oh, even better.  He doesn't quite go as far as saying it, but essentially the Bishop is saying that transgender people are a "grave evil".   Wow - that's quite a claim, Bishop.  Just what is the evil that transgender people are perpetrating?

Let's come back to the Bishop's complaint that gender and sex are inextricably linked with each other for a moment.  We already know plenty of situations where chromosomes and anatomy don't fully align, such as a woman with a 46 XY karyotype, or perhaps he'd prefer to review Swaab's 2009 paper about brain differentiation during gestation.  Either way, the Bishop's argument that chromosomes or genitalia tell the "whole story" is complete nonsense.

As for gender roles, we know those are in large part social constructs.  The impact of messages in mass media about how boys should behave or what girls should do are pervasive, as are the messages we live with in our social circles.  The effect of these in socialization is neither trivial nor easily ignored.  Yet, we have a lot of transgender people who manage to successfully transition and blend into their new social roles.  If the two were inextricably linked as the Bishop claims, this would seem to be a nearly impossible task, and yet it happens.

As for the Bishop's implicit declaration that transgender people are some kind of "grave evil", I would suggest to the Bishop that he needs to substantiate just what this grave evil might be.  What I see are a lot of people bravely living their lives as honestly as possible.  If the Bishop thinks that this is "deceptive" and "evil", perhaps the Bishop needs to be reminded of the old saw about "walking a mile in another person's shoes".   There are a good many people in the Transgender community as a whole who might justifiably take umbrage at the Bishop's attempt to invalidate their reality and lived experiences.  

Friday, October 30, 2015

Reflections On The Post-Harper CPC

Whatever else you say about the results of the election on October 19, it was the end of Stephen Harper's career as leader of the CPC and Canada's Prime Minister.

By all measures, this election was the CPC's to lose.  They had control over the government and its messaging, they had a financial warchest rumoured to be many times the size of their competitors, and they had control over the timing.

So, what did they do wrong?  Lots.

Harper had spent his entire time as leader of the CPC consolidating his control over the party and its top ranks.  It had become the Stephen Harper Party, for better or worse.  Personal brand of the leader is often a powerful force in making a party's success.  Making the party all about the leader is never a good idea.  Leaders sooner or later lose their legitimacy, or they become tired of what they are doing and lose their "touch".  Although the CPC appeared unified behind Harper, that doesn't mean Canada was unified behind them.

The first thing that Harper did was run a campaign that was about fear and division.  He lashed out at Liberal leader Justin Trudeau, snidely calling him "Justin" at every turn, claiming that he had neither the smarts nor the experience to be the next Prime Minister.  He played the classic socialist bogeyman arguments against the NDP.  All this is pretty normal fare in Canadian politics, but somehow Harper took it to new lows - borrowing tactics from US Republican / Teaparty politics.

When attacking his peers didn't get him the traction he wanted, Harper turned on his own campaign manager, Jenni Byrne and brought in Australian Lynton Crosby.  Shortly after Crosby's name was floated, we got two gems out of Harper - "Old Stock Canadians" and the Niqab issue.  Both were distinctly vile to Canadian sentiments.  While they briefly got traction, they both backfired on Harper.  Yes, a somewhat ham-handed response by Mulcair destroyed his support in Quebec, that support didn't come Harper's way to any great extent even in Quebec.  Canadians saw this for what it was - KKK style racism, and they turned on Harper in droves.

Then, when Crosby jumped ship to save his "professional reputation" (as a purveyor of division and racism, I might add), Harper turned back to his usual stock approaches to campaigning, hoping desperately that Canadians wouldn't put together what his government was doing.

Harper ran a most un-Canadian campaign.  He threw people under his political bus.  His candidates weren't to be found campaigning on the ground in most ridings, even his cabinet ministers were nearly invisible most of the time.  That made the campaign all about him, and Canadians don't _like_ Harper.  They might have voted for him previously, but really that was because the Conservative attack machine had managed to assassinate their characters before the election - in essence, making Harper the least unpalatable option.

It didn't do the CPC any favours that in the last four years they had accrued the baggage of repeated scandal (Mike Duffy, Pamela Wallin, Patrick Brazeau, Bruce Carson and others), a reputation for not answering questions in the House and a legislative agenda that more and more Canadians rightly saw as mean-spirited, if not downright malicious (Bill C-51, Bill C-24, the "Fair Elections Act").  No amount of sweater vests and kittens can overcome the shadow that casts.

So, what does the CPC need to do to rebuild?  A lot, and very little of the post-election analysis out of CPC members has even broached the realities.  MPs need to recognize that they are intelligent, thinking beings who should speak out for their constituents, not just act as party brass dictate they should.  A decade of "Harper's Trained Seal Act" has left the party with a deficit of ideas and original thought in the senior ranks.

Further, the party has to acknowledge that it has acted in an incredibly racist manner.  Yes, Jason Kenney (Minister of Curry in a Hurry) built up a lot of support within Canada's various immigrant communities, but he did so while part of an organization which gained much of its backing by playing off mistrust between groups, rather than unifying them.  The niqab issue, like the turbans in the RCMP 20 years earlier, is incredibly divisive and destructive.  It was a "throw an entire vote under the bus" moment, and the government's continued appeals even after losing the case in the courts merely cemented the overt racism of Harper's campaign.  The CPC cannot be seen to govern for all Canadians until it acknowledges that.

Further, legislation like Bill C-24 and the "Barbaric Cultural Practices" act are vile.  C-24 created a two tier citizenship.  Anyone who holds, or is eligible for, citizenship in another country is suddenly subject to further punishment, not at the discretion of the courts, but at the decision of the minister - making it a political decision.  I'm still not sure how many Canadians really understand how vile that really is.   The "Barbaric Cultural Practices" act was another part of the Conservative war machine.  It was designed specifically to attack the most visible crimes associated with the Muslim community (for acts which we already have laws against).  It was unnecessary, and again overtly racist - designed to whip up public outrage and fear, not to address a real gap or problem in our society.

If the CPC wants to come within striking distance of the keys to 24 Sussex again, they will have to acknowledge how they became the Harper Party, and what they did as that party.  Then, and only then, can they start to make the broadly inclusive coalition that is needed to ascend to power.  

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

On Senate Reform - Harper's Way

Earlier this week, Stephen Harper basically tried to make Senate Reform in Canada the province's problem to sort out.  More or less, he said that he wasn't going to appoint any more senators until the provinces come up with a plan to reform or abolish the Senate.

Harper has finally figured out one thing - namely that Senate reform cannot be done by legislative fiat, nor can he simply bully his way through.  Any meaningful reform has to have actual leadership to drive it.  Harper doesn't want to lead, he wants to dictate.

Basically, what Harper did was a "Halt or the dummy gets it" hostage taking approach.  This is not the approach of a leader, but rather that of a manipulator who doesn't understand how to build consensus.  Consensus among the provinces is not easy to build.  It will take being open to negotiation and careful consideration.

Harper has had the last decade to build consensus between the provinces and get the reform process rolling along.  Instead, he has treated the provincial premiers like dirt, tried to play them off against each other and generally has acted as a force of division.  On the Senate file, he stuffed it full of cronies and bag men, it blew up in his face.  Then he tried to "reform" it by proposing to do so through legislative fiat rather than through the Constitution's amending formula.  When the Supreme Court pointed out how every one of his proposals was unconstitutional, he gave up and went into a sulk.

Now, after watching Mulcair rise far above his expectations in the polls, Harper comes out with a passive-aggressive "it's not me, it's you" approach to the Senate file.  This is not leadership, it is a gross failure to lead.  

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

On The Liberal Party's Sliding Support

Over at the National Post, John Ivison is trying to give more credit to the attack ads and a handful of missteps for the sliding support of the federal Liberal Party.

Ivison has missed two key points that have driven supporters away from the Liberals:

Bill C-51 and Bill C-24.  Along with the so-called "Fair Elections Act", these two pieces of legislation represent Harper's most egregious attacks on Canadians and our citizenship.

Trudeau had a golden opportunity to call this chicanery out and make a huge pile of political hay in the process.  All he had to do was denounce the bill when the Conservatives refused key amendments.  Instead, the order was given to the LPC caucus to vote for Bill C-51.

Similarly, Trudeau has been astonishingly blind to the intersection of Bill C-51 and C-24, which between them not only violate our Constitution in both word and principle but in fact create a legal construct that resurrects both the archaic concept of banishment, but places the decision making entirely in the hands of politicians.  This violates one more principle of our government - those who make the law should never be the same people charged with its enforcement.  Further, Bill C-51 does not make terrorism a crime.  No, far from it.  Bill C-51 is a piece of legislation which makes political dissent a crime.

When Trudeau gave the order to vote for Bill C-51, he enabled Bill C-24.  In doing so, he made second class citizens of every Canadian who is eligible through their parents or grandparents to hold citizenship in another country - even if they have no meaningful association with that other country.  Canada is a nation filled with immigrants and their children.  First, second and third generations are all now second class citizens, all subject not to equal treatment under the law, but to unjust punishment at the hands of the ministers.

Many of these people are potential supporters of the Liberal Party of Canada.  How many who are not died-in-the-wool supporters of the LPC do you think are going to continue to support them?

Two leaders have been abundantly clear in their opposition to Bill C-51:  Tom Mulcair and Elizabeth May.  Both of whom represent parties with platforms that many Liberal supporters could easily adapt to.  Justin Trudeau and his advisors would do well to bear this in mind.  

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

On Recession Economies

So, today the Bank of Canada lowered its prime lending rate to 0.5%.  Supposedly, this signals that Canada is sliding into a recession.

Those of us who have been watching have long ago figured out that the minute the bubble burst on oil prices, Canada was going to slide into a recession.  Arguably, if you aren't in the oil patch, Canada has been in a recession for the last four or five years.  What am I talking about here?

Jobs.  Sure, the government has posted "new jobs growth" regularly, but let's be honest with ourselves here.  Most of the jobs involved have been service jobs.  Jobs that pay poorly, have terrible hours and don't even provide a subsistence level of income.  If you're a skilled knowledge worker, you might luck out and get a contract job.  But guess what?  Contract work is unstable, and instead of paying a premium for your skills, you'll be lucky to get the same dollars you made as a full employee.

So, how do we end up with a long running "jobs recession" but still have economic growth for the last few years?  It's not really difficult to see.  If you have money invested in companies, they end up looking like they are posting profits, and the GDP numbers improve.  Basically, we're measuring two different things.  Growth in the size of the economy has become the rising tide that only floats the boats of the truly wealthy.  The rest of the "boats" are so far away from the water that the tide isn't even going to reach them.

Lower interest rates?  Well, it makes it easier to borrow money, right?  Sure ... except you need to have the income in the first place to support the loan.  So who benefits?  Once again, it makes it easier for business to borrow.  Oh, great, that means they can create jobs, right?  They could, but in today's world, they have been funnelling those funds into projects which eliminate jobs like automation projects; and as much as possible, new work that requires people gets shoved offshore wherever it is cheapest, or (until recently) assigned to temporary foreign workers instead of Canadians.  

The net effect of Harper's lovely little war on the middle class has been that those who aren't part of the privileged classes are screwed.  Lose your job?  Chances are the next one won't replace your previous income, and most certainly won't have any stability to it.  The problem is that business has decided that people are a risk, not an investment.  They are no longer willing to invest in people to solve problems.

Harper can deny that we're in a recession all he likes.  The cold, brutal reality is that we have never recovered from the consequences of the 2008 downturn, and the current crude oil price war being waged by Saudi Arabia and others is going to continue to keep things depressed.  Business may well post profits, the GDP will seem to grow, and workers will continue to be left behind.  

Thursday, July 09, 2015

About That October Election

Everybody in the media seems quite convinced that there is going to be an election scheduled for October 19, 2015.

Don't be so sure about that.  Harper has more than a few cards that he can choose to play.

The basis for this October date is the "Fixed Election Dates" act that Harper pushed through parliament in 2006.  Let's be abundantly clear - this act does not oblige the Prime Minister to request the dissolution of parliament in time for this date.  It essentially orders Elections Canada to set up for polling on that date, but there is nothing whatsoever which constrains the Prime Minister or the Governor General's powers with respect to dissolving parliament.

What are the other options that Harper can play out?

1.  Let the current Parliament run through until the mandate dissolves automatically in Spring 2016.

The last election was in Spring of 2011, and therefore the 5 year limit in the Constitution comes into play.  This is an almost unavoidable wall for Harper, as the Constitution doesn't make the dissolution a discretionary power of the Governor General at this level.

2.  Prorogue Parliament Until Dissolution

If Harper decides to let the current mandate run out in 2016, he may decide to prorogue parliament rather than give the opposition a place to readily beat the government over the head with.  Rather than bother with that possibility, he's quite likely to prorogue parliament and then continue to spend taxpayer dollars on his ongoing propaganda campaign.  (He can do all that using "Order In Council" to keep things going)

3.  Drag Canada Into A Shooting War

Harper has been trying to drag Canada into one of several conflicts.  Right now there are two hotspots he's playing this card in - Iraq/Syria/ISIS and Ukraine.  Harper has been pulling out all the stops to make ISIS as terrifying as possible, with the latest volley coming from an obscure Senate committee report.

Other than his ongoing desire to play "War PM", why would Harper be doing this?  Simple - there's a little clause lurking in the Constitution which allows for the current parliament to be extended if there is an "apprehension of war".  Harper has to convince 2/3 of the house to go along with this little charade.  A year ago, I would have said "fat chance" to that going anywhere.  But that was a year ago, before the Liberals voted for Bill C-51.  Today, I wouldn't be surprised to see the Liberals (or a reasonable percentage of them) vote for this motion, out of fear of being called "soft on terror" or something of a sort.

In short, there is very little reason for Harper to call an election for October.  He has plenty of options, and unless he thinks that he can win, he doesn't have to dissolve parliament in time for October 19.  No doubt he is hoping that his rivals will spend enough of their war chests over the summer on the assumption of an October election.