Yes, it’s racist

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Judge Eliana Marengo recently told another human being that she had to be stripped of her identity and publicly humiliated in order to have her case heard in a court in Québec. That is to say, the judge refused to hear the case while she was wearing a hijab.

For clarity, Article 13 of the regulations of the Court of Quebec make no reference to headscarves. This was just one judge’s decision to make life harder for another human being. And it was racist.

Wait, how was it racist?

This is a point that people keep refusing to understand. I have written previously about how you can be substantially racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, etc. without ever actually making reference to a person’s race, sex, orientation, gender, etc. This is exactly the same thing.

A policy that makes life harder for one group of people is discriminatory against that group, regardless of how obliquely that group is singled out in the wording of the policy itself. And it’s still discriminatory even if that policy contains an ostensibly non-racist/non-sexist/etc. counter-example to ward off suspicions of racism, sexism, etc. (Cf. the Charter of Values and conspicuously large crucifixes).

It is laughable that Marengo invoked equality to justify her racist abuse of power. She deigned to instruct us in righteousness by telling us, “The same rules need to be applied to everyone.” To get an idea of how the rules are applied to everyone in Québec, I have compiled Table 1, below.

White people do religious stuff in the public sphere in Québec all the time. Nobody minds. Nobody gets upset. Certainly nobody refuses to give them the basic justice that all humans are due. But when one private person of colour wears a hijab to court, suddenly a) it’s fair game to publicly humiliate them and strip their identity, and b) it’s hitting below the belt to call it “racist” when it happens.

Table 1: A convenience sample of conspicuous religious accommodations in the province of Québec, indexed by race

Religious thing Private or public? Who did it? (Race) Is it okay in Québec?
Prominent crucifix in legislature Public White Okay!
Giant cross overlooking biggest city in province Public White Okay!
Big white cross dominating the provincial flag Public White Okay!
Nearly every street and city named after a Christian saint Public White Okay!
Private person wearing hijab in court Private POC “This is unacceptable! Religious people are always demanding more and more accommodations. This is not about race at all!”

BibTeX

@online{bgcarlisle2015-4434,
    title = {Yes, it’s racist},
    journaltitle = {The Grey Literature},
    author = {Benjamin Gregory Carlisle},
    address = {Montreal, Canada},
    date = 2015-02-27,
    url = {https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2015/02/27/yes-its-racist/}
}

MLA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. "Yes, it’s racist" Web blog post. The Grey Literature. 27 Feb 2015. Web. 21 Sep 2017. <https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2015/02/27/yes-its-racist/>

APA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. (2015, Feb 27). Yes, it’s racist [Web log post]. Retrieved from https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2015/02/27/yes-its-racist/


Why the PQ and its Charter of Values is racist

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On a couple occasions, I have been challenged by people who are upset when I say that the Parti Québecois and its Charter of Values are racist. While I disagree, I can understand their objection. On the surface, the Charter of Values makes no reference to race, and there are even non-white members of the PQ, so it might be hard to see how I make the case for racism.

Before I directly address the problem of racism in the PQ and the Charter of Values, there are two fairly non-controversial general propositions about oppressive systems like racism that I will briefly outline. Understanding these positions will clarify why I say that the PQ and the Charter are racist.

1. You don’t need to have a negative disposition toward a group to be party to that group’s oppression

One of the most self-centred conceits of us white people regarding racism is the idea that it primarily exists as a state of mind for the white person—as if the biggest problem about racism is that it’s a character flaw for white people. (Mutatis mutandis for men and sexism, straights and homophobia, cis people and transphobia, etc.)

I see a parallel to this all the time when I implicitly or explicitly call out a straight person for something homophobic, and suddenly the biggest problem is that the straight person is offended at being thought a homophobe, not that something genuinely hurtful and oppressive happened to a queer person.

A society can be substantially sexist, racist, homophobic, transphobic, etc. in which its citizens have a generally positive attitude toward women, people of colour, gays, and trans people.

This is because racism, etc. are systemic and institutional ways in which a society is structured to make life worse for the oppressed group, while maintaining privilege for that group’s complement. Racism, etc. are not primarily a matter of personal dislike between two individuals, although that is unfortunately also part of it.

For emphasis, even if every single person in Canada had a personal epiphany, repented and swore to never have a negative thought about any other person on the basis of her race, that would not affect the problem of racism in Canada in the slightest until we dealt with the laws, power structures, social norms, institutions, and systems set in place to privilege whites and make life harder for everyone else. Same thing goes for any other system of oppression (sexism, homophobia, transphobia, etc.).

Thus, appealing to the character or the intentions of a person or group (E.g. “They’re not racist! They don’t hate brown people because …”) is not a good argument against someone being racist, since racism is not primarily a matter of the state of mind of the group that is doing the oppression.

2. Even if a proposed piece of legislation doesn’t mention an oppressed group at all, it doesn’t mean that it isn’t oppressive to that group

Let’s do a thought experiment. Imagine there’s a group of legislators who propose a law, ostensibly to prevent voter fraud. Here is the proposed law in our thought experiment:

Everyone who wants to vote in Canada must bring a current government-issued photo ID and their birth certificate, and the names on the two documents must match each other exactly.

It is not hard to see why a law like this is sexist. (“But how can it be sexist? It doesn’t even mention women!”) It’s sexist because (except in Québec) it is common for women to change their names when they get married. Hence, such a law would systematically disenfranchise women more than men.

The important thing about this argument is that the oppressiveness of the law doesn’t turn on whether women are explicitly mentioned or whether the legislators had any hateful emotions toward women. The oppressiveness of the law toward women isn’t a function of the state of mind of the legislators at all. The only question that is relevant with regard to whether the law is sexist is whether or not it systematically makes life worse for women and not for men.

If you concede that a law like the one above is fairly clearly sexist, then it’s not a big cognitive jump to see why “Stand Your Ground” laws in the United States, for example, or even the Charter of Values here in Québec are racist. These are laws that systematically single out particular racial groups and not others, to make life worse for them. “Stand Your Ground” is racist because whites in the United States are overwhelmingly using it to murder people of colour. The Charter of Values is racist because whites are using it to make life worse for non-whites.

It’s true that race is not mentioned in the Charter, but it is conspicuously silent on the subject, just like how there was no mention of women in the law in our thought experiment that if enacted, would disenfranchise most women. Even the prohibition on wearing very large and ostentatious crucifixes comes across as a transparent attempt to preempt accusations of racism. I grew up among very conservative Christians, and never once met a person who wore a large cross. Ever. I’ve never even heard of that happening among the most devout. I’m sure that the only reason that large Christian symbols were even mentioned is so that the PQ can say, “See? We’re not racist. The law will even apply to whites!” It certainly wasn’t included because there’s a problem with Christians wearing too many big crosses, threatening the neutrality of the state.

The Charter would not change life at all for white religious people. They already wear clothing that conforms to the Charter’s requirements. On the other hand, the Charter will cause crises of faith for many non-white religious people, make them feel unwelcome in Québec, and remove any representation they would have otherwise had in positions of authority in the province. The fact that this prohibition is invoked under the banner of “neutrality” is laughable.

So even though there is no mention of race, the Charter is racist because it systematically targets POC to take away their freedom and make their lives worse.

BibTeX

@online{bgcarlisle2014-4048,
    title = {Why the PQ and its Charter of Values is racist},
    journaltitle = {The Grey Literature},
    author = {Benjamin Gregory Carlisle},
    address = {Montreal, Canada},
    date = 2014-03-23,
    url = {https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2014/03/23/why-the-pq-and-its-charter-of-values-is-racist/}
}

MLA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. "Why the PQ and its Charter of Values is racist" Web blog post. The Grey Literature. 23 Mar 2014. Web. 21 Sep 2017. <https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2014/03/23/why-the-pq-and-its-charter-of-values-is-racist/>

APA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. (2014, Mar 23). Why the PQ and its Charter of Values is racist [Web log post]. Retrieved from https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2014/03/23/why-the-pq-and-its-charter-of-values-is-racist/


Lessons for Québec from British pop singers and Japanese Anime: “secular” is not “neutral”

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The Québec charter of values

Over the last few months, much debate has occurred over the proposed Québec Charter of Values, which was ostensibly introduced in order to guarantee the “neutrality of the state.” The real reason, of course, is that the PQ wants to gain political points with its separatist base, and has no qualms about riding roughshod over the rights of minorities to do so.

That said, I still want to address the “neutrality” thing, because it bothers me so much when I see people making the claim that the Charter will make the machinery of the state more “neutral.” But first, let’s consider a couple related questions.

Why do British people lose their accents while singing?

Have you ever heard a person ask, “Why do British people sound American when they sing?”

The reason for this phenomenon is not that British people actually sound American when they sing. For that matter, if you think about it, American people don’t sound particularly American when they sing either. Because of the mechanics of singing, everyone has to pronounce their words in more-or-less the same way, regardless of their speaking accent.

While speaking, one’s accent might influence what syllables to stress and whether to use a short or a long vowel sound for particular words. When singing on the other hand, pretty much all of that is dictated by the music itself. There is really only one way to sing “Ave Maria,” for example, no matter what your accent is. And so, everyone sings the same way, and it’s not the same as anyone’s speaking accent.

Don’t believe me? Read the words, “Ave Maria” in your own head in different kinds of accents—standard BBC, Zoidberg, Morgan Freeman, etc., and then imagine those same people singing it. Unless you’re imagining them really exaggerating their accent, they all have to sing it in pretty much the same way, just due to the nature of what singing is.

Why are Japanese Anime characters drawn as white people?

Curiously, this is the same thing that happens when a person asks, “Why are Japanese Anime characters drawn as white people?

They’re not. Read the linked article. Japanese Anime characters are drawn as cartoon characters. They are not photo-realistic representations, and it is only the assumption of American viewers that fills in the gaps in favour of these characters being white. It’s the same reason that when you draw a stick figure, you assume it’s a white male, unless it has a dress or a something to mark the “other.”

What’s going on in these cases?

The underlying assumption in both of these questions is the same fallacy. The assumption is that the majority (in these cases, white and American) is “neutral,” “default,” “normal.” In the absence of all markers to the otherwise in one’s singing voice or in cartoon characters, many people will fill in those gaps with what they take to be “neutral,” and come to the conclusion that British singers all sing with an American accent, or that Japanese Anime characters are drawn as white people.

A similar fallacy is being made by supporters of the proposed Québec Charter of Values. Like the cases above, they assume that what they are (i.e. non-religious, or maybe non-visibly Christian) is the “default,” but in this case, instead of inadvertently filling in something that’s neutral with details from what they take to be the default, they are explicitly trying to make an ideal “neutral” person, based on their own assumption of what the “default” is, or should be.

Challenging the assumption—”secular” is not “neutral”

I have heard so many politicians indicate their support for the Charter because it’s supposed to make the state more “neutral.” There is no reason why not-wearing-a-head-covering is “neutral.” In fact, I’m here to tell you that there is no a “neutral” to be found.

There is no normal, neutral, or “default” type of person when you’re thinking along categories like gender, sex, race, religion, orientation, etc. And as far as religions go, an atheist person is not a person who has no religious beliefs. It’s that her belief is that there’s no God. To repeat: there is no “default.”

What would neutrality actually look like?

Imagine a little boy in Québec who grows up in a family where head coverings are the norm. He looks at his doctors and teachers, and none of them looks like him. He has a minor run-in with the police in his teens, who call him “towel-head,” and slowly, over time, he realises that there is no one—not a single person—in a position of power in his province who looks like him. His Christians friends, on the other hand, have all kinds of role models—teachers, doctors, judges, lawyers—all employees of the state who look just like them.

How is that neutral?

If something is supposed to be neutral, it has to be neutral for everyone, not just for the majority.

By saying that a public worker has to remove her head-coverings in order to be “neutral,” we are saying that a certain group of people, namely the non-religious and the Christians, are more “neutral” than the rest.

The test that the PQ seems to be applying for whether a government employee appears to be neutral is this: If a white, Christian person looked at a government employee, would that person worry that she was going to be treated by the government employee differently because the employee is religious?

If your major concern is protecting white Christians and non-religious people from anyone who wears a head-covering, of course the answer is to say that a “neutral” state is one where everyone conforms to the standards of dress for Christians and the non-religious. But really, we should stop calling it “neutrality” in favour of a more honest term like “state enforced atheism or Christianity.”

I suggest another test for the neutrality of government employees. Something like this: If a non-white, non-Christian, non-secular, totally marginalised minority person looked at our government employees, would that person worry that she was going to be treated like an “other”?

If a child growing up in Québec sees a number of people wearing head coverings in government jobs that is proportional to the number of people wearing head coverings in the general population, that would be true neutrality.

BibTeX

@online{bgcarlisle2014-3941,
    title = {Lessons for Québec from British pop singers and Japanese Anime: “secular” is not “neutral”},
    journaltitle = {The Grey Literature},
    author = {Benjamin Gregory Carlisle},
    address = {Montreal, Canada},
    date = 2014-01-22,
    url = {https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2014/01/22/lessons-for-quebec-from-british-pop-singers-and-japanese-anime-secular-is-not-neutral/}
}

MLA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. "Lessons for Québec from British pop singers and Japanese Anime: “secular” is not “neutral”" Web blog post. The Grey Literature. 22 Jan 2014. Web. 21 Sep 2017. <https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2014/01/22/lessons-for-quebec-from-british-pop-singers-and-japanese-anime-secular-is-not-neutral/>

APA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. (2014, Jan 22). Lessons for Québec from British pop singers and Japanese Anime: “secular” is not “neutral” [Web log post]. Retrieved from https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2014/01/22/lessons-for-quebec-from-british-pop-singers-and-japanese-anime-secular-is-not-neutral/


Internet vigilante justice against the police in Montréal through social media

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I hate Instagram too, but arresting someone for using it is ridiculous

I hate Instagram too, but arresting someone for using it is ridiculous

It’s hard to trust the police in Montréal these days. “Officer 728” is a household name, known for her abuse of power, which was caught on video. There was also a famous CCTV video of a prostrate man being brutally kicked repeatedly by the Montréal police. This problem isn’t restricted to Montréal either. Recently a police officer in Vancouver was caught on video punching a cyclist in the face while putting him in handcuffs.

Technology and the abuse of police power

I used to largely dismiss reports of police abuses of power. When I saw graffiti saying, “eff the police” or something to that effect, I used to chalk it up to conspiracy theorists and delinquent youths. Now that it’s all on Youtube, it’s harder to ignore the problem.

(I also used to dismiss those who spray-painted “burn the banks” in a number of parts of Montréal as conspiracy theorists, but since 2008, I can kind of see where they’re coming from.)

We’re entering into an age when abuses of power by police are being caught on tape more and more often. I don’t think that police abusing their power is a new thing, or even that the rates have changed recently. I’m of the position that it might just be more visible because of the recent development that nearly everyone is carrying around a camera in their pocket that can instantly upload video of police brutality to Youtube. The Google Glass project (and the clones that are sure to follow) may make this even more common.

This is unsettling to me, partly because it might mean that a lot of the times I dismissed claims of police abuse, I was in the wrong.

We should all be legitimately outraged by this

More importantly though, this should make us all angry because this is not how justice works in Canada. Even if the robbery suspect was completely guilty of every crime the police suspected, we don’t allow individual police officers to dole out their own personal vengeance in the form of physical beatings. We certainly don’t allow groups of police officers to do so against suspected criminals as they lie helpless in the snow, and most emphatically, there is no place in Canadian justice for criminals to be punished in this way (or any other) without due process or without even having been formally charged with a crime.

A police officer punching a restrained person is much worse than a regular citizen punching another citizen. This is because the police are, so to speak, the final guarantee that the government has power over its citizens and that there is the rule of law in a country. The most basic reason for others not to steal your stuff is that if they do, there’s a good chance that the police will come and take away their freedom in such a way that it’s not worth it for most people to engage in that behaviour. All laws largely work on the same principle. Sure, there’s other sanctions that a government can use, like taxation, but even that is underwritten by the threat of police coming and putting you in prison if you break the tax laws.

So, when a police officer physically abuses a citizen, he shakes our faith in the proper functioning of the machinery of government. This makes the issue not just one of bad PR for a particular police department, but one of general faith in our country to work in a just and equitable way. Further, if the police are vigilantes and there is no recourse, it legitimizes vigilante justice by the people against the police.

This means that when a police officer abuses his power, there must be some recourse that is transparent, timely and just. There can’t even be the appearance that the police are above the law, otherwise what you will see is ordinary citizens taking the law into their own hands to bring the police to justice, which is a very scary prospect.

Ordinary citizens are taking the law into their own hands to bring the police to justice

In response to the issues I have described above, as well as a number of much less famous examples of abuse of police power during the protests in Montréal, there has been a movement toward the use of social media to identify the police who are abusing their power. This is being done by citizens who believe that there has been abuse of power by police in Montréal, and that the normal channels of addressing these abuses have been of no avail.

They are collecting photos, videos, identification numbers, names and addresses of police officers, cataloguing their transgressions and calling for retribution.

The police are calling this “intimidation.” They are calling for it to be taken down. They’re (rightly) complaining that there is no way for a police officer who is wrongly accused in this way to clear his name, and that the police, and even some non-police are being put in danger because of this.

What needs to happen

I have not been involved in the student protests in Montréal. I have never been beaten by the police. I generally believe that if I call 911, it will be the “good guys” who show up at my door. That said, I can understand why someone who was abused by a police officer might be tempted to post this information out of frustration at the ineffectiveness of the official recourse against such abuse.

In some ways, the police have been implicitly training us to use these methods if we want anything to get done: Likely the police officer from Vancouver would have gotten away with punching the cyclist in the face if the cyclist’s friend hadn’t caught it on video and posted it to Youtube.

If the police want us to use official channels to address police abuses, they have to give us reason to think that it’s better to do that than to just appeal to the Internet for justice. Politically-motivated arrests of people for posting “intimidating” things online won’t cut it.

I think we will only see a real change in public attitudes toward police brutality given the following three conditions.

  1. The official channels must be transparent. It must be clear to everyone that something is being done, and we have to see that officers who abuse their power are appropriately punished. Confidence in the relationship between the state and its citizens is what’s at stake, and so the solution must be one that publicly restores confidence.
  2. Official channels must be timely. The old adage, “justice delayed is justice denied” applies here. If citizens get impatient waiting for justice to be applied, they may be tempted to take it into their own hands.
  3. Finally, official recourse against police abuse must be just. This is where an official means of recourse against police brutality could actually outdo Internet vigilantes. Internet vigilante justice will always be faster and more transparent than anything official could ever be, but an official channel can enforce punishments fitting to the crime, and can claim legitimacy in a way that vigilantes never can.

If a police officer publicly faced criminal charges, rather than just a “paid leave of absence” followed by “counselling” and this happened in short order after an accusation of abuse, this would do a lot to restore faith in official channels. The people of Montréal might even learn that the legitimate checks and balances are preferable to pursuing vigilante justice through social media.

BibTeX

@online{bgcarlisle2013-3454,
    title = {Internet vigilante justice against the police in Montréal through social media},
    journaltitle = {The Grey Literature},
    author = {Benjamin Gregory Carlisle},
    address = {Montreal, Canada},
    date = 2013-04-6,
    url = {https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2013/04/06/internet-vigilante-justice-against-the-police-in-montreal-through-social-media/}
}

MLA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. "Internet vigilante justice against the police in Montréal through social media" Web blog post. The Grey Literature. 06 Apr 2013. Web. 21 Sep 2017. <https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2013/04/06/internet-vigilante-justice-against-the-police-in-montreal-through-social-media/>

APA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. (2013, Apr 06). Internet vigilante justice against the police in Montréal through social media [Web log post]. Retrieved from https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2013/04/06/internet-vigilante-justice-against-the-police-in-montreal-through-social-media/


À tous les politiciens de la province du Québec, au sujet de la voiture Google

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Pendant le prochaine election provincial au Québec, je peux presque garantir que je voterai pour n’import quel parti qui fait un promesse crédible qu’il va légaliser le voiture auto-conduisant de Google pour le utilisation par le consommateur au Québec avant le fin de leur mandat. Même si c’est le Parti Québecois.

To the politicians of Québec, re: the Google car

In the next provincial election in Québec, I can almost guarantee that I would vote for any party that makes a credible claim that they will legalise the self-driving Google car for consumer use in Québec before the end of their term. Even if it’s the Party Québecois.

Why should the Google car be an election issue?

I’m not picky that it be the Google car, per se. But the fact is, Google has a self-driving car that, from all reports, works pretty well. And there are a lot of bad drivers in Québec. Actually, there are a lot of bad drivers anywhere.

We have automobile accidents and road rage. Deaths by automobile accident happen a lot. Humans are just not designed for operating machines that fly along highways at 100 km/h. We get tired and distracted by cell phones and we daydream. Machines are just a whole lot better at doing boring and repetitive tasks that require constant attention (like driving a car) than humans will ever be.

Not only that, but humans have better things to do with our time than operating a complicated series of levers, wheels and buttons in such a way that it tells a metal-and-rubber deathtrap to continue hurling itself down a highway rather than colliding into something in a fiery explosion. How many hours of time are lost every day by people sitting in their cars commuting and getting angry, when they could be reading a book, eating their breakfast, napping, or even just watching the scenery go by?

And how many traffic jams are caused by individual stupid human drivers who do things that are either dangerous, or just irrational?

This is a public health issue. This is an economic issue. This is something that we should use the machinery of government to make happen.

“We have the technology”

I feel like this is a phrase I use a lot, but in this case, we seriously have the technology to make these sorts of things disappear. Today. The biggest issues standing between me and my very own Google car are not technological ones, but legal and political ones.

It’s not one of those “this drug might someday provide a good treatment if it’s translated to humans” cases. It’s a case of “we have the technology, and it works really really well, but there are legal reasons that we are not using it.”

That’s why this should be a big political issue, not silly language debates, or “sovereignty” or things like that. Those debates are old issues. No progress has been made on them. Let’s all agree to disagree on them, and instead try to do something that would actually make a difference in the lives of Quebeckers.

You’d even vote for the PQ?

Yes, I would even vote for the PQ if they were pro-Google-car.

But they’re separatists!

I know, but if they try to separate, I’ll get a vote on that issue, too.

BibTeX

@online{bgcarlisle2013-3268,
    title = {À tous les politiciens de la province du Québec, au sujet de la voiture Google},
    journaltitle = {The Grey Literature},
    author = {Benjamin Gregory Carlisle},
    address = {Montreal, Canada},
    date = 2013-02-24,
    url = {https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2013/02/24/a-tous-les-politiciens-de-la-province-du-quebec-au-sujet-de-la-voiture-google/}
}

MLA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. "À tous les politiciens de la province du Québec, au sujet de la voiture Google" Web blog post. The Grey Literature. 24 Feb 2013. Web. 21 Sep 2017. <https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2013/02/24/a-tous-les-politiciens-de-la-province-du-quebec-au-sujet-de-la-voiture-google/>

APA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. (2013, Feb 24). À tous les politiciens de la province du Québec, au sujet de la voiture Google [Web log post]. Retrieved from https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2013/02/24/a-tous-les-politiciens-de-la-province-du-quebec-au-sujet-de-la-voiture-google/


How to tell when democracy in your country is in trouble

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Here’s a short quiz—try to use only news items from this week:

Then democracy in your country might be in trouble.

The police and democracy

When the police abuse their power, it is a major affront to the democracy of a society. The police are one of the most important front-lines of power that the state has over its citizens. They are invested with the authority of the state, training, equipment, as well as the legal and physical protections that are a part of wearing the uniform of a police officer. There is a huge power difference between a police officer and a non-police citizen.

Put simply, if I’m going to continue to live in a society governed by laws, I need to know that when I call the cops, it’s the “good guys” who show up. And right now, given the beatings that have happened in recent memory and the allegations of corruption, I don’t know that I can trust that to be the case. To be honest, things would have to be pretty bad before I called the police to intervene in a situation, and that’s just because there is now part of me that can’t help being afraid that I will be needlessly beaten by them on arrival.

This is a problem for democracy because when a police officer abuses this power, she puts a wedge between normal citizens and the fundamental trust they have in the proper functioning of the state. On a really basic level, I am (we all are) less inclined to appeal to the state now, and more likely to try to take things into my own hands, and this is a serious undermining of the rule of law.

I used to live in China and now I have dangerously pro-communist sympathies that conflict with the Harper government’s policies

I don’t actually have any pro-communist sympathies, but it is true that I used to live in China. I just wrote that because I’m curious to know whether CSIS is going to show up at my door now.

When I was a teenager taking Civics class in high school, one of the really basic things that they taught us was that democracy meant that you could safely have unpopular political views. Canada is supposed to be one of the world’s great democracies. We are a country where, for part of when I was growing up, our democracy even stretched so far that the official opposition party in Ottawa was the Bloc Québecois—a party that was committed to undoing the union of the provinces that make up the country itself. If that is not democracy, nothing is.

The use of Canada’s intelligence service to intimidate Canadians who have political views contrary to the Harper orthodoxy is not only an undemocratic affront to some of the most basic freedoms that are guaranteed to Canadians, but it is also a spineless and dirty way to achieve partisan political ends. Rather than fostering debate or even allowing disagreement, this act shows a contempt for the basic principles on which this country functions, and for other citizens as human beings who often have useful and legitimate things to add to a nation’s political discourse.

Nitpicking language police

This is a symptom of a larger problem. The language police eventually backed down on this issue, but the overzealousness of these officers has to come from somewhere. Xenophobia is a great way to try to get votes in an election—if you get the French-speaking majority in Québec afraid enough that their language is going to disappear, they’ll even vote for Marois, but it’s super-scary being in the minority.

In many ways, a good measure of how democratic a state is, is how it treats its minorities. When the language police unnecessarily makes life difficult for minority citizens, that reflects poorly on us all.

I don’t know the answer is to these problems. It’s much easier to identify problems than solutions. But Canada seems to be turning into a place that I don’t recognise as being particularly democratic anymore.

BibTeX

@online{bgcarlisle2013-3257,
    title = {How to tell when democracy in your country is in trouble},
    journaltitle = {The Grey Literature},
    author = {Benjamin Gregory Carlisle},
    address = {Montreal, Canada},
    date = 2013-02-22,
    url = {https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2013/02/22/how-to-tell-when-democracy-in-your-country-is-in-trouble/}
}

MLA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. "How to tell when democracy in your country is in trouble" Web blog post. The Grey Literature. 22 Feb 2013. Web. 21 Sep 2017. <https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2013/02/22/how-to-tell-when-democracy-in-your-country-is-in-trouble/>

APA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. (2013, Feb 22). How to tell when democracy in your country is in trouble [Web log post]. Retrieved from https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2013/02/22/how-to-tell-when-democracy-in-your-country-is-in-trouble/


Why anglos don’t vote in Quebec

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The CBC has asked the question, Why aren’t Quebec Anglos voting? So, as an anglo and a Quebecker, I will answer. Twice.

The short answer: no options

The short answer to the question is that if anglo Quebeckers go and vote, they have to make the choice between corruption and separatism, and so they would rather just stay home. Most anglo Quebeckers would love to vote the Charest Crime Family out of office. Unfortunately, the Liberals seem to be the only game in town if you don’t want a separatist party.

This is actually not strictly true. There’s also the Green Party and the UCQ. The only problem is that when you say “I’m voting Green,” it comes across as tantamount to, “I’m going to spoil my ballot,” and everyone seems to be trying really hard to pretend the UCQ doesn’t exist.

The long answer: anglos are “the bad guy”

Québec politicians love to (probably pretend to) hate anglophones, and they have crafted their campaigns such that any loss in anglophone voters (a term which turns out to be an oxymoron in Québec) would be made up for by telling francophones that they are being somehow attacked by them. And since anglos are a minority in Québec, they can get away with this, whether it’s true or not, without losing too many political points.

You gain political points in Québec by being pro-French in the same way you gain political points in America by being pro-Jesus. American politicians tout the protection of “traditional Christian values” as part of their campaigns. Quebeckers do it by defending their unique culture and language.

If you think I am exaggerating, I can tell you that I live in a Québec where it is totally possible for a native francophone to get punched in the face just for speaking English in public on St Jean Baptiste Day. Don’t believe me? Send me a message. I have stories, like when I went to get my métro pass during my first summer in Montréal: On hearing my accent (and without even asking if I spoke French) the photographer at the métro station told me that I should know that Montréal is a French city, and that I probably wouldn’t survive here long since I’m an anglophone.

If you’re an anglo in Québec, you are “the bad guy” in the political theatre. You are the moustachioed villain, tying the damsel to the railroad tracks, and each political party is trying to describe how they would save the day, by either rescuing her or defeating you.

All this brings us back to the original question—why it is that anglos in Québec don’t vote. The answer should be a bit clearer by now. If this is the role that anglos play in the provincial political discourse—villain, scapegoat, etc.—and if the politics of this province are aligned such that no one represents the interests of anglophones, then it should not be surprising that anglos are somewhat politically disengaged.

Edit (Aug 21, 22h46): Marois, PQ leader says that if elected, she will ban non-francophones from holding elected office in Québec http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/quebecvotes2012/story/2012/08/21/parti-quebecois-non-french-speakers.html)

BibTeX

@online{bgcarlisle2012-3007,
    title = {Why anglos don’t vote in Quebec},
    journaltitle = {The Grey Literature},
    author = {Benjamin Gregory Carlisle},
    address = {Montreal, Canada},
    date = 2012-08-21,
    url = {https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2012/08/21/why-anglos-dont-vote-in-quebec/}
}

MLA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. "Why anglos don’t vote in Quebec" Web blog post. The Grey Literature. 21 Aug 2012. Web. 21 Sep 2017. <https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2012/08/21/why-anglos-dont-vote-in-quebec/>

APA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. (2012, Aug 21). Why anglos don’t vote in Quebec [Web log post]. Retrieved from https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2012/08/21/why-anglos-dont-vote-in-quebec/


Protests in Montreal and resource allocation

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Casserole protest! The most delicious kind.

Casserole protest! The most delicious kind.

For the past little while, there have been nightly protests in Montréal. They started out as student protests against a proposed raise in tuition, but after Law 78 was passed, they have sort of turned into “casserole protests,” which have a larger base of support than just students—people who are generally opposed to such limits on freedom of expression. (For the record, “casserole protest” sounds like the most delicious kind of protest ever.)

Everyone is upset at the students, and in a lot of cases, they’re right to be angry at the students. The Champlain bridge was blocked by student protesters. The métro was bombed by student protesters. I know some people personally who have had encounters with student protesters that have been beyond rude.

In some ways, the protests have replaced the weather as the default topic of conversation between strangers:

“What do you think about the student protesters?” [No time given to respond.] “I’ll tell you what I think! They’re spoiled. They want the world on a silver platter. And they’re supposed to be the future!”

While it’s easy to make sound bites and Facebook statuses that quote how Québec students pay the least in tuition, nation-wide (to say nothing of the States), it’s something of a simplification, and I find that no one has actually addressed the real issue at stake here.

The real issue is one of applied economics and resource allocation. When education is subsidised by the government, it’s an investment that we make as a society in our future. We subsidise education in a thousand different ways, only one of which is maintaining tuition at an affordable level. Subsidising education is something that we need to do to some degree at least, if we want our society to function as a recognisably modern one.

Let’s take the example of medicine. There are a number of ways that we subsidise the training of doctors. We pay for common laboratory equipment and materials, which doctors require for their education. If we didn’t do this, every would-be doctor would have to finance and build his own laboratory (and dig up his own cadavers, I suppose). We pay for professors, so that medical students don’t all have to hire their own private tutor to teach them pathology etc. We also support professional associations, which regulate licensure. We subsidise teaching hospitals. We help fund research into medical practice, ethics and treatment. There are a million ways that we, as a society, use the coercive powers of the state to compel millions of people who are not doctors to help fund the education of medical students.

Why do we do this? Because we value having that particular kind of expertise. We want to live in a society where a certain proportion of people are trained and licensed to practice medicine. Not only do we want to live in a world like that, but there would be profound economic implications for us if we did not.

The fact is, having a well-educated populace benefits everyone, not just the people receiving the education. I gave the example of doctors, but a similar sort of argument could be made for nurses, bioethicists, graphic designers, business people—even philosophers, theologians and historians. (Maybe you think you want to live in a world where we don’t invest in training in history, but I really don’t.)

Maybe I’m being overly optimistic, but I feel like the question of how much money to invest in subsidising tuition is one that can have a correct, empirically-verified answer. In the UK, there has recently been some research suggesting that “graduates contribute to the economy almost 10 times what it costs the state to educate them to degree level.” (BBC News)

I’m not suggesting that all levels of funding will bring back this sort of return. Rather I’m suggesting that if we were to imagine our return on education spending, r as a function of some investment, i, (so, r = f(i)), we would likely come up with a curve that has a point at ($0, $0) on the left, and on the right side, as i approaches infinity, r would approach some constant k. I’m just guessing though. I don’t actually know. We might get results we don’t expect after actually doing some more serious work on the subject.

Now what if we hired a few economists (say, one paid for by the student groups, one by the government and one by an impartial 3rd party to settle disputes between them)? They could probably come up with a reasonable function between these two variables, based on census and tax data from the governments of Québec and Canada. They might even be able to come up with a different function for each academic discipline. Then, you find dr/di and set that equal to zero. Solve for i and that is the optimum. (Or maybe there will be more than one optimum. Anything could happen—it’s calculus!)

So, returning to the student protests, I find myself in the position of being somewhat sympathetic to the student movement’s ends, while being deeply offended by many of their means. Further, while I think it is a necessary part of a free society that people be allowed to lawfully assemble and protest, I am sceptical that a mob of mostly twenty-somethings is a delicate enough political instrument to weigh fine-grained distinctions of economic policy.

BibTeX

@online{bgcarlisle2012-2910,
    title = {Protests in Montreal and resource allocation},
    journaltitle = {The Grey Literature},
    author = {Benjamin Gregory Carlisle},
    address = {Montreal, Canada},
    date = 2012-06-11,
    url = {https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2012/06/11/protests-in-montreal-and-resource-allocation/}
}

MLA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. "Protests in Montreal and resource allocation" Web blog post. The Grey Literature. 11 Jun 2012. Web. 21 Sep 2017. <https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2012/06/11/protests-in-montreal-and-resource-allocation/>

APA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. (2012, Jun 11). Protests in Montreal and resource allocation [Web log post]. Retrieved from https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2012/06/11/protests-in-montreal-and-resource-allocation/


Law 78 loophole

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The new and controversial Law 78 requires that protesters give a certain number of hours’ notice before protesting. So here’s my question: Is there any downside to providing superfluous notice of a protest that will never happen? If nothing bad would happen to the student protesters for giving advance notice of a certain protest and then not showing up for that protest, then there’s a fairly easy loophole, which I have outlined as follows:

  1. Go to a computer and enter the names of every single intersection in Montréal into a database.
  2. Have the computer write into a text file every possible permutation of intersections in Montréal, formatted as an itinerary for a protest through the streets of Montréal. Include routes with only 2 intersections, going all the way up to routes with n intersections, where n is the number of intersections in Montréal. (This part doesn’t even have to be that sophisticated—include a whole bunch of impossible routes. It doesn’t matter! No one will be showing up for those protests.)
  3. Repeat step 2 for every possible timeframe over which a protest could occur in the next year or so. (Start with “every hour on the hour for an hour,” and work your way up to longer protests.)
  4. Submit this document by email to the proper authorities. (Don’t print. Think about the environment!)

Once you’ve done that, no matter what protest actually occurs, there will be an entry in the file that roughly corresponds to it. If the police say that you’re not adhering to your route as planned, you just say, “Oh, I’m not here for that protest. I’m here for another protest.”

Now that I think about it, I’m kind of curious to calculate how many pages such a document would be.

BibTeX

@online{bgcarlisle2012-2905,
    title = {Law 78 loophole},
    journaltitle = {The Grey Literature},
    author = {Benjamin Gregory Carlisle},
    address = {Montreal, Canada},
    date = 2012-05-27,
    url = {https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2012/05/27/law-78-loophole/}
}

MLA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. "Law 78 loophole" Web blog post. The Grey Literature. 27 May 2012. Web. 21 Sep 2017. <https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2012/05/27/law-78-loophole/>

APA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. (2012, May 27). Law 78 loophole [Web log post]. Retrieved from https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2012/05/27/law-78-loophole/


Liveblogging my RAMQ experience

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8h30—RAMQ says: “Yes of course, we’ll fax your temporary card to your pharmacy. Ask your pharmacy to call you when they receive it. It might take up to an hour.”

[I gave RAMQ the fax number twice during this call.]

9h00—pharmacy says: “We’ll call you as soon as it arrives.”

12h00—pharmacy says: “No, we haven’t received anything.”

14h15—RAMQ says: “The lady said she was waiting for the fax number. We’ll fax it for real this time. ;) It will probably take 15 minutes to a half hour.”

15h15—pharmacy says: “No, we haven’t received anything.”

15h20—RAMQ says: “No, there’s no note on your file that mentions anything about faxing a temporary card. What’s the number you want it sent to?”

15h40—pharmacy says: “Ah yes, it just came in two minutes ago.”

BibTeX

@online{bgcarlisle2011-1881,
    title = {Liveblogging my RAMQ experience},
    journaltitle = {The Grey Literature},
    author = {Benjamin Gregory Carlisle},
    address = {Montreal, Canada},
    date = 2011-06-6,
    url = {https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2011/06/06/liveblogging-my-ramq-experience/}
}

MLA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. "Liveblogging my RAMQ experience" Web blog post. The Grey Literature. 06 Jun 2011. Web. 21 Sep 2017. <https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2011/06/06/liveblogging-my-ramq-experience/>

APA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. (2011, Jun 06). Liveblogging my RAMQ experience [Web log post]. Retrieved from https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2011/06/06/liveblogging-my-ramq-experience/


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