Sunday, November 30, 2014

An Open Letter To Jim Prentice

Dear Mr. Prentice,

In responding to MLA Laurie Blakeman's Bill 202 as you did, you have just thrown LGBT students under the political bus AGAIN.

Let me be abundantly clear here.  Clause 11.1 one of the Alberta Human Rights legislation does not "protect" the rights of anyone.  It creates an environment where teachers are afraid to talk freely about sexuality that isn't straight "missionary position heterosexual".

By allowing for a "conscience exemption", you force teachers to go running to parents for "permission" to  talk about these topics.  Guess what?  That sends a message to students that being LGBT is somehow "bad" or "illicit" - something to be ashamed of.  Surely in today's world we know better than that.

Parents who wail and moan about their right to "protect" their innocent little child from these "evils" are doing nothing more than propagating their own ignorance and discomfort with matters of sexuality.  They aren't going to have an honest discussion with their children about sexuality, they're going to repeat the very narrow viewpoint that they have, which is often informed not by facts and rational evidence but by religious doctrine.  Remember, the vast majority of the discrimination and hate that is aimed at LGBT people in our society has its roots in religious dogma.

Yes, as parents they are free to teach their children whatever religious dogma they wish at home.  They are not free to deny their children free and open access to objective, evidence-based knowledge.  Schools which object to students giving each other moral support through mechanisms like Gay-Straight Alliances do so not because they have a religious objection with any validity.  They do it out of fear that their particular little narrow viewpoint of the world is somehow threatened by treating all of society's citizens as equals.

The rights and safety of LGBT Albertans are no less rights than the religious freedoms of Albertans or those of parents.  A child growing up gay in a religious home has the same right to a safe place at school that acknowledges their sexual identity as real and valid as a straight child.

It isn't hard to guess the political calculation that went into this decision.  You looked, smelled blood in the water from the Wild Rose party's recent disasters and decided to throw LGBT students under the political bus in hopes of securing a little more the religious vote that had gone over the WRP in the last several years.

Using students as a political football is appalling enough.  Doing so with students who are part of a tiny minority population is reprehensible, Mr. Prentice.

I urge you to pass Bill 202 in its full form as it stands today.  Man up, and do the right thing by LGBT students in this province, and take steps that remove discrimination from the system.


Friday, November 07, 2014

So, Just Who Is The Terrorist Here?

In 2014 in Canada, we have had several incidents involving people attacking various institutions and symbols of government.

Consider the following list:

The two in October has been deemed "terrorist actions", the first two have never been called that.

GGYesYesVeteran's Affairs Office
Justin BourqueYesNoRCMP Officers
Martin RousseauNoNoCanadian Forces Member
Michael Zehaf-BebeauYesNoCanadian Forces Member & Parliament

Looking the surface of these, I don't see a whole lot of difference between these various events.

The first two involved people who were upset with the government for various reasons, as did the last two.  The last two have been dubbed "terrorists".  What's the difference?  Oh, well, allegedly the last two were "converts to Islam" and had been "radicalized".

All four involve a great deal of anger with the government, and arguably 3 of the four involved ideological differences with the government.  The case of GG seems to be more of a case of frustration with Veterans' Affairs, although given the current government's "Veterans as Photo-ops" approach to Veterans' Affairs, one could argue that there is a causal connection.

In the story around GG at the very least we are talking about PTSD and Depression (both significant mental illness conditions requiring treatment).  Michael Zehaf-Bebeau is known to have sought help for significant mental health issues unsuccessfully.  We don't know enough about Martin Rousseau, although there are hints in the story of possible depression and the act itself seems to be more one of opportunity rather than anything planned.  Justin Bourque is a little harder to pin down on this front, and I don't think there's enough evidence to be certain about his mental health.

Objectively, three of the four cases reflect people struggling with potentially serious mental health issues that were largely untreated.

So, why are the cases of Martin Rousseau and Michael Zehaf-Bebeau dubbed "terrorism"?  Frankly, it's nothing more than an arbitrary connection of these people's religious affiliation.  Both men had converted to Islam somewhere along the way in their lives.  This is not a crime.  In Canada, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees that each of us has the right to follow whatever religion (or lack thereof) that we choose.

There had been much talk in the news about "radicalized" youth travelling to Syria to fight with ISIS in the months prior to the October events.  The events of this past October got dubbed "terrorism" because a couple of people who were arguably dealing with untreated mental illness happened to be converts to Islam. 

I'm not saying that there are not violent factions within Islam.  There unquestionably are.  However, mere association with Islam should not be seen as an affiliation with terrorism.  The individual acts of two men, both apparently suffering from serious mental health problems, should not be considered "terrorism" on the basis of their choice of religion.  Even if they had posted violent threats online, we have to consider those in the full context of their lives.

The use of the label "Terrorist" has become one of political expediency.  We need to be much more judicious in applying such labels.  As a public, we need to be even more skeptical of the motives of a government that uses that language about people who are now dead and cannot be objectively examined.

On Coded Language and Political Policy

In the last few years, coded language has become a significant factor in how political parties present themselves.  This is especially preva...