The McGill Daily Liberating itself downwards since 1911 Sat, 24 Mar 2018 22:52:25 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The McGill Daily 32 32 Tre Mansdoerfer elected SSMU President Wed, 21 Mar 2018 21:31:25 +0000 This story is currently in development, and will be updated to reflect any changes that may occur.

Tre Mansdoerfer has been elected Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) President for the 2018-2019 academic year, winning against his opponent Corinne Bulger by a mere 69 votes. Out of six positions, SSMU President was the only contested position with a close 50.7 percent of the vote with a total of 7100 votes cast.

All candidates running unopposed have won their respective elections, including Jacob Shapiro for VP University Affairs with 90.5 percent of the vote, Sophia Esterle for VP Student Life with 88.4 percent of the vote, Matthew McLaughlin for VP Internal with 87.3 percent of the vote, Marina Cupido for VP External with 62.9 percent of the vote, and Jun Wang for VP Finance with 82.6 percent of the vote.

All questions in the Winter 2018 Referendum have also passed with a majority “yes” vote, including a motion to renew the Black Students’ Network fee and adopt a fee increase, a policy which now mandates SSMU to lobby the administration for a Fall Reading Week, and ECOLE’s existence referendum. Motions to amend the SSMU Clubs fee, the University Centre Building Fee, and the SSMU Campus Life Fee have also passed.

Changing the Narrative Tue, 20 Mar 2018 22:41:02 +0000 There’s no shortage of twenty-somethings who wonder whether or not they’ll make it in the real world, but 26-year-old singer-songwriter and activist Lucas Charlie Rose ignores those nagging thoughts. Instead, the artist has been steadily working on his music from his elementary school days back in France. For the past eight years, Rose has been rapping and making hip hop music in Montreal, and has recently started a non-profit record label called Trans Trenderz to provide a platform for trans artists to promote their music. In addition to his musical pursuits, Rose participates in panels and conference about decolonization, mental health in Black communities, and trans issues. I had the opportunity to sit down with Rose in February and discuss his music, activism, and his efforts to make space for marginalized identities in the music industry.

AB: When did you start making music?

LCR: I was in elementary school, and I had this one teacher who would bring his guitar to class and teach us poems through music. He put them into song because it was easier for us to remember. At the time I was already writing poems, but this was huge for me because I realized I could make my own songs.

AB: So where did you grow up?

LCR: I was born in France. When I was nine years old I moved to Niger for three years and then back to France for three years. Then I did my last three years of high school in Washington.

AB: What’s it like moving around that much?

LCR: It’s weird. Like I’m in Canada, but I’m not Canadian, but I don’t feel French either. I don’t feel like I belong anywhere. Because I’ve lived in so many countries, I always wonder why countries exist, it just doesn’t seem to make too much sense.

Making music that makes sense

AB: How did you get started making hip hop music?

LCR: I don’t really know. That was the type of music that I was into at the time and I could relate to. Hip hop is for people who look like me and who don’t really have a voice. I just connected with the music. I was in a rock band at one point, but that’s expensive. You have to pay for the instruments, rehearsal space, and at some point I didn’t have resources to keep going. But with hip hop, you really only need a computer and you’re good.

AB: Can you tell me a little about your music? And about Gender F*ckboi?

LCR: I like to describe it as trap-infused soul music. I love mixing the sounds. Gender F*ckboi is an album about me, really. 2017 was a rough year for me and Gender F*ckboi were the songs I wrote that year. For me, it’s almost like a journal. When I’m writing music like that, most of the time I’m not really thinking about the lyrics that are coming out. It’s just coming out. I’m learning about myself in the process. That’s why I called it Gender F*ckboi. First of all, being a Black masculine person, you’re seen as misogynistic, as oppressive. You don’t have to do anything; you’re just automatically seen like that. And I’m trying to redefine Black masculinity as well with this album.

It’s a political life

AB: What does your work aim to say and how does it comment on social and political issues?

LCR: I’m just trying to be heard. People don’t really listen to us trans people. But at the same time, I don’t want people to see me exclusively as a trans artist. I’m an artist who happens to be trans. So my music is just about the things that I’m experiencing and people call it political because my life is political. It’s a political opinion to decide whether or not I should be allowed to live. I’m just trying to survive in this world.

AB: Your work also brings attention to the Black community, the trans community, and the Black trans community. So in that context what does visibility mean to you? Are there any negative consequences to that visibility?

LCR: Yeah, of course. If people see you, but don’t see you the way you want to be seen, then that visibility isn’t helpful. It’s fine to have trans people on TV and all but then if you’re not showing anything beyond the fact that this character or person needs surgery, then you’re just objectifying their bodies. Visibility then also relates to who is in power and in control of the narrative. If trans people are in control of their own narrative, then that’s the only visibility that is actually helpful. But that also comes at a price, because the more visible you are when you’re different, the more haters and death threats you get, which unfortunately, is really common.

AB: You helped to establish Trans Trenderz–what is it? What do you hope to do through it?

LCR: It’s a non-profit record label for trans artists. We want to release music that’s available for free. So if you don’t have enough money to buy the CD, you can download the music online for free. We also help other artists release their own music. We’re not like other labels where we tell the artists to pay us back the money it took to produce their music. I wanted to create a system that protects the artist and where there isn’t the pressure to be making money afterwards. I’m also working on developing the website so that there is a forum for trans people who make music and people who want to work with them to connect and learn more about each other. I’m trying to build a community because I really believe that music can change the world, especially when I see people like Rihanna, who [attended a conference on education with the French President Emmanuel Macron]. People who make music have so much potential to change the world. Trans people, we haven’t really used that avenue yet. My goal is to build up this community and empower each other.

AB: It makes sense that the artists are protected, but why the focus on making the music free?

LCR: Because being a trans person costs a lot of money, we can’t always afford CDs and music and going to shows. I also wanted to be able to have a platform where trans people can go and listen to music that’s made by people that have the same experiences.

AB: What do you think the artist’s responsibility is to their audience?

LCR: When you’re an artist, you have to keep in mind that without your audience you’re nothing. For me, the responsibility is being true to yourself. You don’t want to become a crook, or advertise violence or things that could hurt your audience. You have to be respectful to the people who listen to you. But you also have to be genuine in what you do. It’s a professional relationship between the artist and the audience; at a show the audience is essentially hiring you, so you need to respect that. At the same time, the audience needs to respect the artist’s private life, and too often people just don’t. Just because I make music and I talk about falling in love, that doesn’t mean you can come into my private life and sneak around. Respecting those boundaries is just so important.

This moment in music

AB: Okay, so let’s move on to music more broadly. What does this moment in music mean for artists of colour?

LCR: Hip-hop is the most salient music genre right now. As a result, it feels like a matter of time before it becomes a white dominated genre. When you see people like Post Malone it feels more that way. Even back when Eminem was starting off, it wasn’t like everyone said ‘you’re white, you don’t belong here.’ Everyone was praising him, even though he is lowkey mediocre. He doesn’t challenge anything, but he’s still making so much money. It’s great that hip hop has this huge visibility, but it’s so mainstream now. It’s become a matter of keeping hip hop in its rawest form — using it to give voice to marginalized people. When I say marginalized I mean people who aren’t represented in the music industry. People who you don’t see when you watch music videos or t.v. shows. Black people are still marginalized. We’re still marginalized within the music industry. It’s not like Nicki Minaj doesn’t experience racism just because she’s making money. It’s just a matter of different privileges.

AB: What is your response to the claim that mainstream hip hop is filled with misogyny and homophobia?

LCR: I think it’s racist. Black people aren’t more misogynistic or homophobic than other people. If you listen to pop music right now it’s actually a lot worse. If a Black artist is singing about going to a strip club, everybody thinks it’s misogynistic. But how is it misogynistic? Is it misogynistic to give money to a stripper? Of course it’s not. You’re supporting local businesses and hip hop is a genre that embraces sex work in a way that others just don’t. There are a lot of songs that are categorized as being misogynistic because it’s just Black people talking about sex. For example, there is a song by YG, about going to a strip club and bringing a girl home. But he says that he still calls her the next day and respects her. So you have to think about how white people see us. There is work to be done sure, but one of the biggest problems in hip hop right now is that it’s white people who own the majority of the labels. So the narrative is not one of liberation. When you’re a white person and you own a record label, Black people are your puppets. You decide what comes out of that label. For me, when somebody says that hip hop is misogynistic or transphobic or discriminatory, I want them to criticize what they’re listening to first. Especially when it comes to the actual language being used. You have to be aware of the context in which the words are being used.

AB: How do you go about trying to challenge this narrative that Black masculinity is fundamentally oppressive?

LCR: I talk a lot about Black trans men. Sometimes people will look at me and think, well, now you have male privilege, but that’s not really how privilege works. Cis men, when they look at me, don’t see someone who looks like them. They’re still violent towards my body. Trans people are often seen to be transitioning to please cis-male sexuality. The trans male privilege is conditional. I have it if I’m walking down the street, but as soon as I pull out my papers it disappears. As soon as people recognize me on the street, I’m outed. And it’s important to remember that when we’re talking about male privilege, we’re talking about white male privilege. Because does Black male privilege really exist? Is it really a privilege in most situations? That’s what’s going to get you shot. So I’m hoping that the way that I express my masculinity can help cis men as well.

Tuning in to different narratives

AB: What does being an ally look like to you?

LCR: Imagine that you’re at Madison Square Garden, and it’s completely sold out and people are there to watch you perform. But you don’t have a microphone. You’re try to sing louder and louder until eventually your voice breaks. You keep singing, but after a while you’re tired and it doesn’t even matter that people are leaving and you’re singing only to one person now. You can’t even do that now because your voice is just gone. Your message doesn’t get across. All you needed was a microphone. That’s what an ally is. An ally is there to amplify your voice. To make your life easier when you’re trying to get your message out there. But when you’re not performing, it’s turned off. It doesn’t have a role.

AB: If you could pick one accomplishment that you’re most proud of, what would it be?

LCR: I think just the fact that I’m still making music. Because it’s really not easy. I’m really proud of the fact that I’ve had failures but I’m still going. Others only really see the success, but successful people are the ones who have failed the most.

AB: We’ve talked about a variety of things, but do you have any final thoughts?

LCR: Just that people need to stop focusing on differences and focus more on what makes us alike. What I always tell people is, it’s okay if you don’t understand my life because I don’t understand yours either. I don’t understand what it’s like to not be me. Anything outside my experience, I don’t really understand. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t respect it, or that I can’t relate. And it doesn’t mean that I can’t support it. I have different sets of obstacles sure, but nothing about me is so different that you can’t listen to my music and enjoy and support it. Everybody can benefit from hearing different narratives.

This interview has been significantly edited for clarity and length.


First Nation speakers demand solidarity at walkout Tue, 20 Mar 2018 18:42:02 +0000 On March 14, the Indigenous Student Alliance (ISA) held a demonstration at the Y-intersection on the downtown campus to protest the ongoing injustices against Indigenous peoples in Canada. The demonstration was organized in the wake of the acquittals of Gerald Stanley and Raymond Cormier, who murdered Colten Boushie, 22, and Tina Fontaine, 15, respectively. Brady Francis, 22, was also recently killed in a hit-and-run. The event was inspired by similar walkouts which took place at the University of Victoria and the University of Toronto. Indigenous speakers were invited to share their perspectives on the Canadian government’s failures against Indigenous people. The speakers also encouraged Indigenous students and allies to take action. Speeches were followed by drum performances by the Buffalo Hat Singers, a group based in Montreal, and the Medicine Bear Singers, an Indigenous group from McGill.

Continued Injustices

Carlee Kawinehta Loft, the Indigenous Affairs Commissioner at SSMU, spoke first. She started off by reading the land acknowledgment, then pointed to the fact that recent cases are not unique, and that injustices against Indigenous people are a nationwide problem.

“The injustices they faced happened far from here, in territories you maybe haven’t even been to, but remember that injustices and colonial violence happen here too, in this territory, here on the unceded, stolen land of the Kanien’kehá:ka.”

Loft explained how Canadian institutions are responsible for perpetuating these injustices on a national and local scale. “These injustices occur due to the nation-wide implementation of various Canadian systems which systematically devalue Indigenous lives,” she explained. “These [systems] include the child welfare system, the so-called justice system, the educational system, and many others.”

At the end of her introductory speech, Loft expanded on the responsibility of university students to use their educational privilege to learn and care about Indigenous issues, in order to enact change. More than just a commemorative event, the demonstration aimed to encourage allies (i.e. non-Indigenous folks who wish to support) to take action.

“I’m happy you came today but remember that your action doesn’t stop here. It doesn’t stop today and there are many ways that you can reach out. You go and become involved with different activist organizations, you can look into where to to donate.”

This point was emphasized by the next speaker, Nakuset, who is the executive director of the Native Women’s Shelter in Montreal. “Look into the organizations that are doing the work, either join them, model them, use them as role models and help us, because when you all came to this land, we helped you, and we would like it if you returned the favor.”

She highlighted the resilience of Indigenous people, who, against all odds, are still alive today, and are pushing for their rights to be respected. “After all the things that the government has done to us we should all be dead, but we’re still here, and we are just trying to have a fighting chance.”

Nakuset is a survivor of the Sixties Scoop, a state-sanctioned assimilation process which took place during the 1960s, and which saw Indigenous children being taken from their families to be placed in foster homes or put up for adoption.

“Most of us were brought up to be ashamed of our cultures,” she explained. “I ended up getting my education right. By working at the Native Women’s Shelter, I create projects to help Indigenous women, because we see here in Montreal that there is a lack of services for Indigenous people, and there is injustice on so many levels.”

Referring to the Brady Francis’s case, for which no one has been arrested yet, and which further exemplifies injustices in the Canadian legal system, she stated: “Our people keep dying and […] no one is held accountable. And this is today so what is going to happen tomorrow? What are we going to do as a community to make sure that things change?”

Devastating consequences

Talia, a student at Concordia University, spoke next, sharing her lived experience and personal history. She recited a poem, which can be found in The Daily’s commentary section this week.

“I grew up exactly like Colten, Tina, and Brady, in poverty, in foster care with drunk, young parents who constantly fought in front of us. I have a lot of those memories, that I am not trying to forget, but that I’m trying to let go, as I try not to let them direct my path.”

Originally from Saskatchewan, she highlighted the importance of being aware that even if Indigenous racism and prejudice may not be as visible in Montreal, “they’re very fucking real out in the prairies. I remember being in grade [school] and realizing that no matter what I did with my life, they would see nothing more than my brown skin, and not even consider me human.”

The Fight is Happening

Ben Geboe, the executive director of the American Indian Community House in New York City, put forth some numbers, and further highlighted the resilience of the Indigenous community and the necessity of taking action. “Right now there are 95 cases against the Canadian crown for the rivers, the mountains, the lakes. It’s not an ideological or passive battle, it is actually happening. We are languishing, but yet we are surviving with the help of great activism.”

Denzel, one of the drummers, expressed his thoughts on the event and on allyship. “I am happy with the turnout, happy to see how many people came out to support us. It’s important to have appeal from all and to have them join us because we all need to call for justice for Indigenous people, not just [from] Indigenous people.”

Similarly, Talia claimed that “non-Indigenous and every minority in Canada needs to learn the history, and fight with us.” She finished her speech by recounting a prophecy an elder told her.

“It’s a prophecy that we had seven generations ago that we were going to lose and suffer for seven generations. Then for another seven generations we are going to start to heal, and reclaim our language, our names, and our clans. I am that eighth generation that will help spark the fire. If I had known my culture when I was a weak kid, I’d probably be a lot further in life, and would probably love myself a lot more.”

Hoodfar addresses feminism in Iran Tue, 20 Mar 2018 18:38:59 +0000 On Wednesday March 14, the McGill Iranian Student Association (MISA) hosted a talk featuring Homa Hoodfar, the author of The Women’s Movement in Iran: Women at the Crossroads of Secularization and Islamization and professor of socio-anthropology at Concordia University. The event, titled “For the Women’s Day,” was aimed to address the origins and development of feminist movements, following International Women’s Day on March 8. Hoodfar discussed the widespread concept of feminism as a western idea and the discussion of its applicability to women’s struggles in the Middle East, as well as the lesser-known history of women’s movements in the Middle East prior to World War I.

The origins of Feminism

Homa Hoodfar discussed whether feminism coming from the West is something that is needed in Muslim societies. “I became quite interested because feminism […] was a movement, something that developed because women were claiming their rights.”

In 1982 she founded an organization called Women Living Under Muslim Laws, a feminist international network, along with eight other women from Pakistan, Iran, Egypt, Malaysia, and Turkey. The organization supports women’s research of feminist movements, and provides aid to women in activism.
Prior to the formation of WLUML, Hoodfar explained that little was publicized on feminist movements in the Muslim world.

“We knew nothing of each other’s history; we didn’t know anything about Turkey or Iran or Egypt […] the only model we knew was the British or American or the French or the German model,” noted Hoodfar. She said that “Iranian women had a long history of struggling for women’s rights,” with many other feminist movements encompassing various backgrounds. For example, the Women’s Organization of Iran (WOI), founded in 1966, represents decades of Iranian women’s activism, both before and after the Iranian Revolution in 1979.

Hoodfar discussed the unknown early history of women’s activism in the Middle East, consisting of women from many parts of the world with the common background of living in a society governed by laws derived from interpretations of Islam.“Their demand was education, possibility of training for jobs, especially for low-income women, so they could contribute to development; training for health was a very important issue, the age of marriage, and marriage reform,” said Hoodfar. She noted that the meetings were unable to continue throughout World War I, and fell by the wayside. Hoodfar emphasized that women in these circumstances continued to participate in political activism throughout the 20th century and continue to pursue research of women’s movements and status in Muslim societies.

The Question of Women

In June 2016, Hoodfar was indicted and detained in Tehran for feminist research, and was interrogated by Iranian intelligence services. Her release was secured under “humanitarian grounds” after 112 days of the detainment in Evin, a notorious prison in Iran.

During her imprisonment, she noted that the interrogators were unable to agree upon a single definition of feminism other than it being a western concept. Hoodfar responded to the prison authorities by noting that it was inaccurate to confine women’s struggles for rights and opportunities to the west. “Did you know that Naser al-Din Shah’s daughter was a feminist, and we have her […] memoirs?” continued Hoofar, “we know in 1907 […] we had women’s organizations for women’s rights [in Iran].” Thanks to their efforts, phrases including “women’s rights are human rights,” “rape as a weapon of war,” and “violence against women” became a part of the UN Human Rights Mandates.

The Fight Today

Sue*, a participant and member of MISA, pointed out that the discussions pertain to “the issues that we don’t usually talk about in our own friendly gatherings.” Hoodfar referenced modern movements against sexual violence such as the #MeToo movement, which supports survivors, noting the importance of having a mechanism outside of and independent from specific regions.

“At most, they want to keep everything quiet, so they don’t want people to socialize for mobile change if it doesn’t give them any benefit. But, in the world community using naming and shaming as a weapon, can push the government […] no government can say we don’t have violence against women because women have documented it.”

Hoodfar concluded by encouraging participants to call out injustice and oppression perpetrated against women, and bringing awareness of many women’s situations to the larger public eye, as demonstrated in the case of the UN Human Rights mandate.
“Activism was developed because women were claiming their rights,” said Hoodfar.“Women have and will continue to fight to claim their rights around the globe.”

*Name has been changed to preserve anonymity

Presidential elections in Sierra Leone goes to second round Tue, 20 Mar 2018 18:32:53 +0000 Sierra Leone is currently in the middle of two rounds of presidential elections. So far, no candidates have reached the 55 per cent threshold necessary to get elected directly in the first round. Consequently, the two leading candidates, Samura Kamara from the incumbent All People’s Congress (APC) party with 42.7 per cent of the votes, and Julius Maada Bio from the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) with 43.3 per cent of the votes, will stand in a runoff.

Voting will start on March 27. The Daily spoke to Mohamed Sesay, a Postdoctoral Fellow from McGill currently conducting fieldwork in Freetown, the country’s capital city, about the current situation in Sierra Leone following the first-round of the elections.

Mohamed Sesay, a graduate of the University of Sierra Leone, is part of the Yan Lin Centre’s Research Group on Global Justice. Sesay holds a PhD in political science from McGill University, which he received in 2016. His current research engages with the institution of chieftaincy in post-war Sierra Leone, and how this traditional authority can be restructured to conform to rules of modern governance without undermining its contemporary social relevance. On top of that, Sesay is also contributing to a global project examining the nexus between conflict, justice, and development.

The McGill Daily (MD): How would you describe the current atmosphere in Freetown, and Sierra Leone in general? What has been the public’s response to results of the first round?

Mohamed Sesay (MS): The current situation in Sierra Leone is peaceful. It is getting back to normal as public offices are reopening and kids are going back to school after they were shut down a week or two ago. A few weeks before the elections, there were expectations that there would be violent outbreaks. There are several reasons for that. First, these elections are contested, as the incumbent government has been in power for two terms, and the current president cannot run for re-election. The current minister of finance is the presidential candidate of the party in power, the All People’s Congress (APC), which seeks to maintain power. Second, new opposition parties, other than the traditional Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP), have been created. These include the New Grand Coalition (NGD), and Coalition For Change (C4C), which have contested the elections and made opposition very serious. Potential violence led the Office of National Security to raise the level of security threat to the second level. The international community worried. Yet it turned out to be largely peaceful, even though there was some violence, which nevertheless remained very localized.

The general public accepted the results as representative of their will. Several factors have acted in favour of this positive response. First, the National Electoral Commission (NEC), which announced the results, has become a largely credible commission to the people. Before results were announced, a coalition of civil society organizations, the National Election Watch (NEW) projected that there would be a runoff. Results confirmed this prediction, lending the group credibility and respect. Second, an important factor to the democratic process in the country is the provision that a candidate needs at least 55 per cent of votes to get elected directly in the first round. If this number is not reached, candidates need to build alliances with other parties. That provision has made it possible for smaller parties to see themselves as a stake in the electoral contest, as alliances have become an inevitable part of the electoral contest. Third, international observers wrote statements about the elections that were largely positive, and concluded that the elections were fair. On top of that, local observers unanimously concluded that they were fair. One last factor I wish to put forward is the progressive announcement of results, in a 25 per cent increment, which prepared the minds of Sierra Leoneans to what the results would be.

MD: Have outbreaks of violence happened during the current elections? How are politics changing in the country?

MS: There was never, in fact, widespread violence following elections in Sierra Leone. Some level of trust is building nationally in the institutions responsible for conducting elections. The NEC has been able to establish itself as the credible institution to monitor elections, and a majority of Sierra Leoneans accept results they announce as reflective of the people’s will.

There have been shifts in the political culture of politicians. They too put more trust in institutions. For example, in 2012, when the opposition party was not satisfied with the results, it went to the Supreme Court. This very fact shows change in the country’s political culture. The media is changing too. I was impressed by the role of the national broadcaster. Ten years back, the incumbent party dominated it clearly, and it served as a tool for propaganda. Now, it creates greater space for opposition parties, and even allows some criticism of the incumbent party.

There has also been some shift in the political culture of the general public. Before and after the war there existed a high degree of political intolerance. People were very attached to their ethnic group, and to their region, and political elites emphasized differences to gain votes. Each political party depended on one particular region. Now we see that a sizeable portion of Sierra Leoneans are voting across regional and ethnic lines.

For example, the APC (whose historical electoral base is located in the North of the country) won the elections in 2007 because it got votes from people living in South. I recently heard people say that they were voting because the government did not perform, which is something that was not common practice in the past, and shows an evolution in the political culture of the people.

MD: There have been lots of discussions about the use of blockchain technology in the elections (originally used to keep track of cryptocurrency transactions, this technology consists of a digital ledger, a book, in which all transactions are recorded and which is widely accessible thus permitting accountability). What is your opinion on the question?

MS: I would expect technology to be a trend in Africa, and not just Sierra Leone. One reason for this would be an increasing interest to use technology to run elections, in order to reduce the ability of politicians and voters to engage in fraudulent practices. However, for Sierra Leone to be the first country to use it shows that the level of trust for the voters and institutions is still quite low, and I am no sure whether we should be happy about that.

Also, there has been a lot of reporting about this new technology, but I don’t think we know for sure that it has created any impact in the credibility of the election. When the NEC announced the results, 154 polling had to go through a recount stations because of irregularities, following requests made by parties. That’s the reason why there was a two-day delay in the announcement of results.

Furthermore, after the final results were announced, votes were annulled in 221 polling stations due to overvoting (when the number of ballots cast is superior to the number of people registered to vote). In total, there were 139,427 invalid votes, which is a huge number, and we are yet to know why we had so many. Consequently, I am not sure of the extent to which the blockchain technology was able to prevent malpractices.

MD: Is the peaceful transition of power that occurred in Liberia influencing Sierra Leone? How so?

MS: Yes, in some ways. The building of a democratic process needs to have a regional perspective. Twenty or thirty years ago in West Africa, there were a lot of military coups. Even though countries have internal dynamics, there are regional factors and norms, and there has been progress in consolidating democratic governance. If democratic overturns in West African countries become common, it will create a trend. Liberia and Sierra Leone come from the same past of bad governance and conflict. The conduct of elections in Liberia could become a sort of inspiration for actors in Sierra Leone to be committed to institutionalizing the democratic process. As democratic norms develop and expand, it will become increasingly difficult for politicians to stand against them. It is however important not to give too much weight to these external forces, but I would not rule them out either.

MD: Where do you see Sierra Leone going from these elections?

MS: I am not sure, but I think elections are here to stay. Nonetheless, I am not too sure what they mean for the broader democratic process, as the political elite may be using elections to provide a facade that we have democracy in Sierra Leone. What I mean is that we are yet to see democratic norms being played out in the daily lives of the people with improvements in the socio-economic situation of the country.

On top of that, the number of women that voted in the elections is very low, and even lower than in past elections. Elections have not translated into an inclusive space that would allow women to fully take part in the democratic process. I believe that this can be explained by the fact that structures of exclusion and injustices are still intact even though we have elections. Politicians will present that to the international community to get investors in the country. We have democracy, but not fully yet.

Also, the peace building process will continue. I don’t see the country relapsing into violence anytime soon. Given what the country has gone through, many Sierra Leoneans would not want to go back to those days of violence. In terms of reconciliation we have made progress, as people just want to move on.

Overall, I would say that I am cautiously optimistic about the future of the country. I am looking forward to the second round of the elections. If the incumbent wins we will have a continuation in the governance of the country, which has not been able to transform the lives of Sierra Leoneans. But when you look at the opposition party’s manifesto, it is not that different. If we don’t have alternative way of promoting socio economic development, it will also impact in the rate at which the peace building process will be continued.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Introduction: SSMU elections pullout Tue, 20 Mar 2018 18:28:33 +0000 The Daily interviewed each of the seven candidates in order to decide on our endorsements. Questions centred around past experience, the executive as a political actor, and portfolio-specific details. We sincerely hope that the 2018-19 student executives contribute to a better undergraduate experience at McGill. Please take the time to make an informed decision; the voting period runs from March 19-21.


The SSMU President is the leader of the SSMU executive team, in addition to being a key player in interactions with the administration. The President is the only undergraduate representative on the Board of Governors, and sits on Senate. The President is also responsible for the maintenance of SSMU’s governing documents and the enforcement of its Constitution and Internal Regulations. Furthermore, the President is tasked with supporting the rest of the executive team as need arises.

Corinne Bulger

Claire Grenier

Bulger is a U2 Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies major with a minor in Indigenous Studies at McGill. She is currently an Arts Undergraduate Society (AUS) Representative and Floor Fellow at New Residence Hall, as well as a former Rez Life Coordinator. As an AUS Representative she has had to sit in on the AUS and SSMU Council meetings, which have contributed to her experience in governance. Her involvement with residence life has both trained her in event planning and established an understanding of the supportive environment necessary for the interpersonal relations within the SSMU Executive Council.

Her platform revolves around three aspects: creating a community space in the aftermath of the SSMU building closure, evaluating the progress of certain projects such as the Our Turn Sexual Violence Policy and the Milton-Parc Relations, and lastly, increasing the accessibility of governance practices such as voting, referendums, and the General Assembly. Bulger stated that the transparency of governing documents and the translation of some of these documents, such as the SSMU Constitution into French, are also aspects which she wants to focus on.

Bulger conveyed a concern towards the amount of privileged candidates running for executive roles and expresses her desire to make “our governing bodies more inclusive.” In terms of governance reform, she cited the mandate to the AUS reformation on their hiring practices as a source of inspiration to base this desire off of. The mandate strongly encourages marginalized groups to apply for executive positions.

Bulger states that her long-term goals as President include creating a positive environment and focusing on teamwork and empathy between different executives on SSMU. She emphasizes the necessity for strong and close relationships between the executives of SSMU in order to increase the overall empathy of the SSMU Executive Board.

Tre Mansdoerfer

Mansdoerfer is a U3 student majoring in Electrical Engineering. He is an Engineering University Society (EUS) Senator as well as a former EUS SSMU Representative. Mansdoerfer’s platform focuses on three aspects: rebuilding faculty relationships, engaging current student concerns, and focusing advocacy on student needs.

As Senator he sat on the Legislative Council for the past two years, and he explains how he has witnessed apathy from most faculties on the council. He cites the impeachment of the Management President over the past two years as well as the lack of involvement of EUS within SSMU. He emphasises his hopes to strengthen inter-faculty relationships. He also describes the lack of involvement in the Round Tables, saying that only four out of the five presidents attended. In order to increase attendance, he expresses a wish to reach out to faculty presidents and establish a more personal relationship with them.

In regards to engaging current student concerns, Mansdoerfer wants to reform the structure of the General Assembly (GA) as well as the Board of Directors. He proposes a lowering of quorum in the GA because he does not believe that high turnout should only occur for assemblies addressing issues students are most passionate about such as the Boycott, Divest, Sanction (BDS) campaign. In the past, Mansdoerfer has expressed his belief that SSMU should remain relatively apolitical about “external” issues. He would also like to make the Chair of the Board of Directors a non-voting member as it is undemocratic and he would like to invite two alumni representatives on the Board in order to strengthen its structure.

Overall, Mansdoerfer’s platform stresses a dedication towards involvement and representation of all faculties in SSMU as well as a campaign revolving around “restor[ing] faith in the student society.”

Endorsement: Corinne Bulger, with reservations

Both candidates, Bulger and Mansdoerfer, demonstrate extensive involvement in respective Faculty representation at SSMU and an understanding of student politics. However, Bulger demonstrates a more streamlined plan as a President, as she draws on her experience with student engagement and administrative work, both through her intensive involvement in Residence Life and as an Arts Undergraduate Society (AUS) representative to SSMU. While Mansdoerfer’s experience also speaks to his work, his platform only focuses on issues that pertain to student involvement and fails to provide a consistent framework that is aligned with the President portfolio.

Bulger’s platform highlights her dedication to advocacy for increased student participation in government, but fails to propose a concrete solution to SSMU’s inaccessibility. Bulger expresses her intention to follow through on SSMU’s more positive initiatives, including work with the Milton Parc community and Gender Neutral language in SSMU legislation.

However, Bulger only commits herself to addressing the inadequacy of SSMU governance and its relation to student body representation, and thus fails to take a stand on significant political debates, like the SSMU-AVEQ affiliation question. Her goals regarding governance reform, while admirable, are not concretely outlined at this time.
As she presents a hopeful candidate, the Daily endorses Bulger, with reservations.

VP University Affairs

The VP University Affairs plays a pivotal role in student advocacy, sitting on Senate and representing SSMU and its constituents to the McGill administration.The VP University Affairs also oversees the SSMU Library Improvement Fund, works with student senators on advocacy projects, oversees student research initiatives, and implements equity initiatives.

Jacob Shapiro

One of the two candidates to get on the ballot during Elections SSMU’s extended nomination period, Shapiro has no previous experience in student governance at McGill: in an interview with The Daily, Shapiro admitted to being “relatively new” to SSMU politics, but felt that as a self-described future teacher, he was attracted to the VP University Affairs (UA) position as it exists “to remind the university that it’s here for us to learn.” Shapiro’s three-pronged platform stresses “continuity, creativity, and community,” which highlights the VP UA portfolio’s research mandate, commitment to supporting student advocacy,and student consultation. Shapiro’s platform also includes a few more clear-cut promises to build on the work of the current VP UA, including but not limited to, adjusting the Academic Roundtable to allow for greater collaboration, broadening the bi-weekly Senate Caucus meeting to include additional representatives, and creating first-year senate support positions.

While not part of the VP UA portfolio, among Shapiro’s biggest concerns regarding SSMU is governance reform, be it at the level of McGill’s Board of Governors, or within SSMU. He feels it’s intrinsically linked to the VP UA portfolio because “it’s hard to advocate well for students if you can’t prove to the administration, [one] that doesn’t want to listen, that you’re speaking on behalf of students.” He points to “contradictions” in the SSMU system as being proof of this, i.e. SSMU having both elements of direct democracy, such as General Assemblies, but also a Board of Directors more akin to that of a corporation.

When asked which reforms could thus be put forward, Shapiro admitted he has “conflicting ideas because [he didn’t] know what the best model is,” but felt greater consultation needed to take place, and that an “elected Board of Directors should be up for debate.” The ultimate goal should be making increasing student engagement, and making SSMU “as democratic as possible,” he says.

Endorsement: No

While Shapiro’s platform does include some smaller straightforward goals and focuses on student consultation, it contains few concrete proposals. Plans for “support systems for students needing to engage in personal advocacy” and “equity events co-sponsored by student groups” are vague and offer little insight into how to implement them. Shapiro also
fails to mention the Library Improvement Fund, which the VP UA manages. Finally, Shapiro also has too little experience working in and navigating SSMU to convince students that bigger goals like a “university advocacy conference” are feasible. The Daily thus endorses a “No” vote for Jacob Shapiro.

VP External

The VP External is responsible for connecting SSMU’s constituents to the wider Montreal and Quebec community. The portfolio includes communication with other post-secondary institutions and McGill’s labour unions, and lobbying the government on behalf of SSMU. The VP External is also mandated to provide support for student-run social and environmental justice campaigns.

Marina Cupido

Serving as the primary liaison between SSMU members and the wider Montreal and Quebec community, the existence of the VP External position has been questioned by many who don’t understand why the position also mandates that support be provided for student-run social and environmental justice campaigns endorsed by SSMU. However, Cupido has defended the need for the position, and says McGill undergraduates should not shy away from SSMU’s “inherently political” nature: her platform emphasizes issues of social accessibility, be it greater Indigenization efforts on campus, the need for better outreach to the Society’s francophone members, or greater transparency between the society’s members and its student government. Cupido has highlighted the need for greater communication between SSMU and other Quebec universities, in campaigns like CUTE (“Campagne sur le travail étudiant”), organized around fighting unpaid internships in the promises, or in regards to joining a student federation. Amongst Cupido’s biggest campaign promises is her wanting to affiliate the Society with either the Union Étudiante du Québec (UEQ) or the Association for a Voice in Education in Quebec (AVEQ).

In the Winter 2016 referendum period, SSMU members voted against a SSMU-initiated proposal to join AVEQ, but Cupido feels SSMU members have not adequately been made aware of the the merits of joining a student federation, notably the increased level of provincial representation for SSMU. As VP External, she’s promised to continue to fulfill SSMU’s observational status with AVEQ, but also attend UEQ’s meetings and congresses, and initiate a “thorough communications strategy” informing students of the benefits of joining either UEQ or AVEQ, prior to bringing a new motion to referendum next year. Like a number of this year’s candidates, Cupido has little experience serving in student government, but cites her time working with The Daily as a News Editor and as the paper’s Managing Editor as proof of a deep understanding of SSMU’s inner workings, having covered student politics on campus for nearly four years.

Statement of Recusal

Cupido has been a contributor at The Daily since her first semester at McGill. She’s worked as both a News Editor and as the paper’s Managing Editor in the last two years alone, and as such, The Daily’s Editorial Board has chosen to recuse itself from an endorsement, as any endorsement could reasonably be questioned by SSMU’s membership.

VP Finance

The VP Finance portfolio includes ensuring the long-term financial stability of SSMU in cooperation with the General Manager, overseeing funding and operations management committees, providing the Executive Committee and Board of Directors with regular reports on the financial status of SSMU, and developing the annual budget of SSMU. among other tasks.

Jun Wang

Wang is a third year finance student, who previously served as VP finance of the student resident council, as well as the Desautels Management Competition Committee (DMCC). He hopes to rebuild trust in SSMU by implementing reforms to the funding system. Wang’s platform is centered around three pillars; accessibility of SSMU funds, accountability of SSMU’s processes, and the transparency in financial structure.

During the debate, Wang expressed concerns over SSMU’s dense network, which he believes can be inaccessible for individual clubs and student services. Wang’s campaign prioritizes reforms in the application of for funds, as well as a service pooled fund, aimed to allow services to donate their surplus to others in need without a referendum. Wang believes that the reimbursement process and reformed templates should be communicated through a mandatory, collective meeting between the presidents and VP finances of SSMU services. Wang emphasized that many services lacking a business background, may face barriers in understanding their financial position.

When questioned about the role of VP finance in advocating for social responsibility, Wang emphasized the need to maintain financial stability, while representing the interests of students. If elected, Wang plans to build on the social goals of the green funds, and to strengthen SSMU’s social responsibility mandate on its investment portfolio.

Endorsement: No

Wang’s platform for the VP Finance position is based on accessibility, accountability, and a minor restructuring of SSMU finances and communication. He proposes changes to the funding application procedures for clubs in order to make it more accessible and simple, and an advisory committee to review club spending. Wang has served as VP Finance of student residence hall council, and the DMCC marketing committee, but has no SSMU experience. When asked about how he would implement social responsibility in his role as VP Finance, Wang only briefly discussed past initiatives, but did not seem to present any concrete new goals. He did, however, mention that he would try to keep his personal beliefs out of his job. Due to his lack of prior experience with SSMU, along with the limited nature of his platform and relative lack o engagement with social responsibility, the Daily endorses a No vote.

VP Internal

The VP Internal is responsible for communication between SSMU and students and sends out the SSMU listserv. Responsibilities also include the Old McGill Yearbook and various events, including the 4Floors Halloween party, Frosh events, and Faculty Olympics.

Matthew McLaughlin

The VP Internal position at SSMU is responsible for planning events like Frosh, publishing the yearbook, and running the weekly listserv. Matthew McLaughlin, a U0 Management student studying Strategic Management and Urban Systems, is running unopposed. He is currently the SSMU Secretary General and the Douglas Hall President, and has also served on a number of other SSMU committees, including the Accountability Committee and the Community Affairs Committee.

McLaughlin’s platform focuses on the accessibility of SSMU, emphasising the need for more communication. He proposes expanding the weekly listserv to additional platforms like Facebook, Twitter, WeChat, and WhatsApp. He also aims to make it easier for students and clubs to submit content to be included in the listserv, along with biweekly Facebook Live broadcasts in which he’ll explain what the SSMU execs have been doing. Furthermore, he wants to create town hall sessions in which students will be able to speak to the SSMU execs face to face, to ask questions and voice concerns. Addressing the SSMU building closure, McLaughlin says he will send out periodic listservs including updates on the construction, and important information regarding the relocation of clubs and services. Matthew’s platform also proposes a centralized calendar in which students would be able to find all events taking place around McGill at one location.

Endorsement: Yes, with reservations

Matthew McLaughlin shows extensive experience in student governance, team working and group governance in general. His proposition regarding the creation of a campus calendar, and concrete propositions regarding student instances and organisations traduce a knowledge of the functionings of parts of the student organisations, that make him mostly fit for the position of VP Internal. The Daily nevertheless maintains reservations based on McLaughlin’s lack of experience regarding the functionings of SSMU’s legislative parts. The Daily also maintains reservations on McLaughlin’s silence on contentious student issues. We worry this silence translates a disregard of the fundamentally political role of a SSMU executive position, and a buy into the idea that SSMU can be apolitical, an idea we believe simply is erroneous given the inherently political nature of governing. The Daily endorses a Yes, with reservations.

VP Student life

The VP Student Life’s portfolio deals with clubs and services, student services, mental health initiatives, and independent student groups.

Sophia Esterle

The VP student life is responsible for overseeing SSMU’s liaisons with the Board of Directors (BoD), student clubs and services, as well as managing McGill’s mental health initiatives.

Esterle previously served as the SSMU equity committee, and the Douglas Hall Spirit Representative. Esterle emphasized the need to advocate for marginalized voices through prioritizing mental health on campus, which has consistently been a prominent election issue in recent years.

During the debate, Esterle emphasized the need for reforms on the McGill Counselling Services, noting the month long wait for the first appointment. Esterle criticized McGill Counselling ‘s binary designation of gender in their sign up sheets, which they feel is “purely wrong and discriminatory.”

When asked about the cutbacks on the Eating Disorder Program (EDP) at McGill, Esterle responded that they will advocate for the right to a treatment program, and regain the resources firstly through communication with Mental Health services, then by pressuring the BoD. If elected, Esterle will attempt to create an in residence support system, and a search engine cataloguing clubs and services.

Esterle also stressed the importance of individual contact with students, despite the building closure, which may limit accessibility. Esterle plans on increasing office hours as needed, in order to maintain direct communication with individual students, and to represent their needs better on the BoD.

Endorsement: No

Esterle is running for VP Student Life on a platform largely based around mental health services at McGill. Her platform is divided into administrative changes, individual changes, and creation of committees. Main points of her platform include: a research engine for McGill clubs and services, and making McGill counseling services more efficient and easier for students to navigate. Esterle’s platform, while hopeful, is relatively limited in scope, and may at times forget to take institutional memory into account. While her commitment to the improvement of mental health services at McGill is valuable, The McGill Daily is not confident that her previous experience as Douglas Hall Spirit Representative and serving on the SSMU Equity Committee has adequately prepared her for the role. As a result, The Daily endorses a No vote.


Endorsements: Winter 2018 Referendum Period

Policy on Implementation of a Fall Reading Week – YES

While a majority of Canadian universities have already implemented a minimum of four or more study days in the Fall semester, McGill belongs to a growing few that have not. According to a 2015 survey by McGill Enrollment Services, 71.5% of respondents were in favour of a Fall Reading Week, and research has suggested that such a break would offer some much-needed respite to new students who might be over-burdened with a transition to life at McGill. The adoption of such a policy would mandate SSMU to support campaigns for the implementation of a Fall Reading Week at McGill through the offices of the VP External and the VP University Affairs, giving students added legitimacy to pursue this goal. As such, The Daily endorses a Yes vote regarding the implementation of such a policy.

ECOLE Fee Levy – YES

Created in 2011, the Educational Community Living Environment (ECOLE) at McGill, a collective living house and community space on the university’s downtown campus, has strived to exemplify a model of urban sustainable living through applied student research, alternative education and community building. Without the organization’s $2.00 opt-outable student fee levy, ECOLE would be incapable of supporting its own open study lounge hours, free space booking services, and putting on events and programming around environmental and societal sustainability. As such, The Daily endorses a Yes vote for this fee.

BSN Fee Renewal and Fee increase – YES

The Black Students’ Network (BSN) at McGill works everyday towards making our university campus safer and more accessible for Black students, and is committed to educating the McGill undergraduate community by hosting panels and events to discuss racial issues. In recent years, the BSN has become the main financial contributor to Black History Month at McGill, and has came forward and made it clear that without a fee levy, continuing to put on BHM at McGill will not be possible. As such, The Daily endorses both a renewal of the BSN’s opt-outable fee and a levy to increase the fee to $1.00 per student for full-time students and $0.50 per student for part time students per semester, from $0.40 per full-time student and $0.20 for part-time students.

Amendments to the University Centre Fee, the SSMU Clubs Fee, and the SSMU Campus Life Fee – YES

With the SSMU Building closure comes a new set of problems for SSMU, mainly concerning its ability to house the numerous clubs and services integral to McGill student life. Many of the fees that have helped SSMU keep said clubs and services going have strict definitions of how they can be spent, which could potentially constrain SSMU’s abilities to secure spaces for them with the building closure. These three motions would allow SSMU some more leeway in managing obstacles in the coming months, obstacles that include paying third-parties other than McGill University for expenses related to SSMU Building closure, allowing SSMU to use significant rollovers in the Club Fund and the Campus Life Fund from previous years, and amending SSMU’s Internal Regulations to allow SSMU to grant money to clubs that are not currently running a deficit. The Daily endorses a Yes vote in these three referendum questions.

McGill Syrian Students’ Association hold talk on Yemen Mon, 19 Mar 2018 22:48:50 +0000 On March 13, the McGill Syrian Students’ Association, Amnesty International, and the World Islamic and Middle Eastern Students’ Association hosted speaker Ala’a Ahmed and screened the FRONTLINE PBS documentary “Inside Yemen” to raise awareness on the humanitarian crisis in Yemen. Ahmed was one of the organizers during Yemen’s uprising in 2011. He is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Political Science at Concordia University, after coming to Canada as a refugee. He also co-founded a media advocacy organization called SupportYemen.

The documentary, released in July 2017, focuses on the complete lack of compensation for workers in Yemen due to the conflict and its effects on their daily lives: “[It was] the first time all employees in the country receive […] coupons because we have not received a salary,” says one man interviewed in a grocery store. Garbage workers were not paid, leaving the streets filled with garbage that has caused bacteria to collect and infiltrate the water. This has effectively led to a cholera epidemic, leaving many hospitalized for extreme dehydration. According to the World Health Organization, there are over 300,000 cases of cholera and 1,600 accounts of death by cholera as of mid-2017. According to a nurse interviewed in the documentary, the number of malnutrition cases has doubled since the war began.

Miryama Abdulaziz, one of the hosts, explained that the event’s goal was to shed light on what is happening in Yemen, and raise funds for Mona Relief. This organization focuses on relief, giving people food, medicine, blankets, and other basic supplies.

Abdulaziz further described that, “each family receives a basket for the price of $30-35 USD, [which] contains wheat, sugar, rice, oil, and powdered milk — enough for a family of six to eight people for one month.” Since 2015, the organization itself has been “able to support more than 40,000 people as of July 2017.”

After Abdulaziz’s intervention, Ahmed described his experience in Yemen during the 2011 uprising.

“The perfect places for us to go [for protests] were the universities where more active young people were. […] Everything we did was voluntary, we worked hard together to build tents and to have sit-ins, but the government cracked down, and with more people being hurt or killed, the more international attention there was to our cause.”

Ahmed then recounted the political events that led to the humanitarian disaster that plagues Yemen today. Saudi Arabia and the US campaigned an initiative to propose that the former president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, step down. They offered Saleh immunity according to the agreement, and proposed that his vice president Abdul Mansour Hadi lead the transitional period as president, from 2012 to 2014. Saleh, unwilling to lose power, formed an alliance with the Houthis, a political religious group from Northern Yemen in 2015. He managed to take over Sana’a, the country’s capital city. Hadi took refuge in the port city of Aden causing the outbreak of the war.

In March 2015, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates launched a military intervention to restore Hadi to power. But the war settled into a stalemate. “Officially the Houthis remain in control of Sanaa, the capital, and much of the North, while the Saudi-UAE coalition controls much of the South,” Ahmed added, “A comprehensive Saudi-UAE blockade and air campaign has caused famine conditions, the spread of communicable diseases such as cholera, and a wave of internal displacement.”

He then expanded on the flow of information in and out of Yemen: “both the Houthis and Saudi-UAE coalition tightly control access for journalists, with the media centering its attention on an Iranian-Saudi proxy war.” Saudi-backed media claims that Iran supports Houthis fighters, while the opposing side offers a vision of Saudi adventurism.

The war has four main axes of motion. Ahmed expanded on each of them: “the first and most familiar [axis] is essentially a northern conflict with forces aligned with former president Saleh and his former allies the Houthis, against the Saudi backed coalition forces loyal to the displaced transitional president Hadi. [Second, is the] strong separatist movement in the South of Yemen […] and a developing conflict between the secessionist southern transitional council and president Hadi’s government.The third axis is an increasingly active jihadist movement.”

The fourth axis revolves around regional politics. “Saudi Arabia and the UAE have different interests in [Yemen] […] with Saudi Arabia being more focused on airstrikes and targeting the Houthis, while the UAE is more focused on the South and supporting the separatist movement,” explained Ahmed.

Saudi airstrikes often target schools. “Youth in Yemen who comprise 75 per cent of the population are denied an education and meaningful action to political processes,” stated Ahmed, adding that the disappointed youth were left with few options but to join either side of the conflict.
Ahmed then put the conflict into geographic context, explaining that Saudi Arabia controls almost all land and sea borders surrounding Yemen. This means it controls everything that goes inside the country, sometimes taking medical equipment away in meticulous searches of humanitarian aid packages.

“One of the reasons [they do this] is to frustrate the people. The Houthis are not the actual government in the country, and the less services provided and the more frustrated the people are, […] [the] easier [it is] to get some kind of uprising against the Houthis from [the] inside.”

Jeeda, the president of the Syrian Students’ Association, explained the group’s involvement in the event. “The reason [why] many of us at the SSA were passionate about this initiative is because we empathize and understand the struggles with our brothers and sisters in Yemen. We can only imagine the suffering they’re going through and it’s very familiar to us with everything happening in Syria. There’s limited media coverage on it and no clubs in McGill are addressing this issue.”

Ahmed was “happy to share [his] own personal experience as an activist who is involved and who is living in Canada.” He explains that “the war is never talked about in the media and [he] wanted to bring some attention to it. However, he concludes “the most outstanding challenge is that Yemen has fractured in ways that will make any negotiated settlement extremely challenging and fragile. […] Reaching an end to the war will be difficult, and doing so will only be the first step in a very difficult reconstruction process.”

Canadian healthcare fails racialized people once again Mon, 19 Mar 2018 10:00:49 +0000 Content warning: Racism, violence

On March 8, 2018, Wessen Vandenhoek, a Black man living in northeast Calgary, sought care at the East Calgary Health Centre. He was visibly in pain, so the medical staff recommended that he call an ambulance. Upon the ambulance’s arrival, Vandenhoek was greeted with verbal hostilities, threatened, and refused care. “You don’t look like you need a fucking ambulance!” the paramedics said. “This is for real people, not people like you who use us as a goddamn taxi!” Vandenhoek is certain his appearance and race factored into how the paramedics treated him, something bolstered by the change in the paramedics’ tone when they eventually took him to Peter Lougheed hospital. They then quickly adopted a friendlier attitude and helped him into a wheelchair. But when Vandenhoek tried to speak with staff about why he had been treated in the manner he had, he says he was refused the names of the paramedics and threatened with a psychiatric hold, an involuntary stay in psychiatric care that would serve to discredit Vandenhoek if he were to pursue the paramedics’ harassment in court. Since his experience with Calgary Emergency Medical Services, Vandenhoek says he’s missed at least one doctor’s appointment because he “doesn’t feel comfortable going to a medical place right now.”

The paramedics’ denial of Vandenhoek’s medical needs is part of a larger issue of systemic racism in the Canadian healthcare system. The needs of racialized and marginalized people are often minimized, resulting in disproportionately poor health outcomes for those communities. One study linked perceived racism and discrimination experienced by Black women to negative birth outcomes, such as high rates of premature birth and illness incidence. There have also been a number of complaints made across the country about anti-Indigenous racism in health care, in which racist stereotypes and myths have led to neglect, misdiagnoses, and even death. For example, Brian Sinclair, an Indigenous man, was found dead in a wheelchair in a hospital waiting room after going untreated for 34 hours because the nurses thought he was drunk — a pervasive stereotype projected on Indigenous people.

Power dynamics between healthcare providers and their patients enforce racist, bureaucratic systems of oppression that threaten the quality of care provided to racialized people seeking medical aid. Medical officials act on systemic racial prejudices, which end up privileging the health, safety, and well-being of white patients. Further, there is an ongoing under-representation of Black, Indigenous, and Latinx doctors across medical disciplines. Therefore, we must seek representation through the education and inclusion of marginalized and racialized medical professionals into doctoral programs, residencies, and care facilities like surgery rooms throughout Canada’s healthcare system. Moreover, we must expose the extensive reach of state violence and colonial racism through the acknowledgement of people like Wessen Vandenhoek and Brian Sinclair to dismantle the racism that threatens the quality of healthcare. This can be actively combated by giving specialized training to healthcare professionals. As a first step, McGill should also seek to implement a program similar to the University of Toronto’s Black Student Education program to diversify the student body of our medical school and take part in the dismantling of racism in the Canadian healthcare system.

Untitled Mon, 19 Mar 2018 10:00:47 +0000 Content warning: anti-Indigenous violence, abuse, alcoholism

A yellow house,
Nothing big, nothing fancy, it that was more than I could ask for, and it was more than I needed,
And please believe that I did appreciate it,
Stuck between a boring life, and a country life,
Life should have been so apathetic, so deserted,
And it killed me knowing I might never leave and see the world,
I despised, that fucking honkey ass white class town,
And I tried to run away, I tried to give you reasons to kick me out, to throw me out like trash to put me where I belonged,
But to end life, was out of the question, like father like daughter, so bare with me for the moment to say goodbye,
Goodbye to my fatherís remains, no more crawling to your grave in the middle of the night seeking comfort and salvation
Thereís so many lows in this life of mine, dad
Defeated at that times, tempted to cuddle up with the wine bottle,
But you werenít suppose to leave me at ten years of age and every once in a while I hear you whisper ìthere, there my girl be strongî
So goodbye small town, goodbye humble beginnings,
And what the fuck was I thinking?
I left home in such a rush that I forgot that I was too naive and foolish to be free at only sixteen
Lost in sorrow canít let go of the pain feeding the addiction, this wasnít who I was meant to be, another low life Indian
So I pushed friends away and I went back to the basics, and I found myself amongst the trees and along the river beds
This is peace, this is contentment,
And this is new, Mother Nature, Creator, I believe I finally found you
So goodbye to my friends at the house of whites, God, Jesus Christ!
Itís nothing personal you see but it hurts to be brown and not feel a connection
Too many questions to have faith, to be faithful, no more communion, no more wise tales, no more horror, cause if youíre scared, you go to Church,
Iíll proudly wear my sins on my skin forever tagged and forever true
But this much I do know, ignorance is bliss and the more I learn about humans the more I need to distance myself from large groups,
Silly folks this isnít America, false dreams have you thinking that life is about having it all, well Iím a broke ass Indian thatís probably richer than them all
And before I say I know it all, I had to say miigwech (thank you) to my friends, to my family to my teachers and to my elders for showing me the how and why for installing the tools of what were taught and putting more action into thought
And like a sparrow, Iíll always come back home but right now I still need to learn how to fly…
My name is Miigiizikwe, it means Eagle Woman but I still feel like a girl

This poem was originally recited at Injustice Not Forgotten: McGill Student Walkout & demonstration.

Vowel against cybercolonialism Mon, 19 Mar 2018 10:00:39 +0000 It’s 2:05 p.m., and the room is buzzing — Chelsea Vowel’s fame precedes her: a Métis public intellectual, writer, and educator, Vowel is known for writings ranging from political tweets and drags (often retweeted by The McGill Daily twitter) to her latest book, Indigenous Writes. Around me, audience members chatter about the full room, how they reserved their tickets online, and what they thought of Indigenous Writes, the bestselling subject of the talk.

Hosted by the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada, in collaboration with the McGill Indigenous Studies Program, Vowel’s talk is part of a series called “Books That Matter.” And matter they do — Vowel’s Indigenous Writes is considered essential reading by many within academic circles and beyond. One reviewer, Shelagh Rogers, a broadcast-journalist based in British Columbia, was particularly touched by the book, calling it “medicine.”

Following an introduction and land acknowledgment by Professor Gabrielle Doreen, speaking first in Cree and then in English, Vowel begins by reading a series of tweets she received that morning. The tweets, unabashedly anti-Indigenous, reveal brazen cyberbullying: a digitised enactment of white supremacy and colonialism.

After denouncing the acquittal of Colten Boushie’s murderer, Vowel shifts gears to discuss the portrayal of a shaking tent at the Musée des Beaux-Arts. Vowel liked that the exhibition gave no explanation or translation for the sacred ceremony or its cultural context. She notes that it is not a place or experience that is shared openly but that the artists were able to give the viewer a sense of its feeling, its intensity, without telling them what it was. “I felt like you weren’t going to understand it unless you already knew something about it, and it felt like something for me,” Vowel explained.

In her trademark tongue-in-cheek style, Vowel discredits her own book as a bestseller. “It is ridiculous, in 2018, that anything in that book comes as a surprise to anyone,” she declares, calling it an introductory scope of Indigenous peoples in Canada — stuff we should already know. “The fact that people can still open that up and go ‘Woah, I didn’t know that,’ means that we have a really, really long way to go.”

Vowel feels, after the Colten Boushie verdict, that reconciliation is dead. “I don’t want reconciliation, I want a reckoning,” she clarifies, insisting that the “truth” in “Truth and Reconciliation,”is still missing. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was established by Canada to address and expose the abuse of residential schools.

The book was born, according to Vowel, in response to people in the comments sections of Indigenous-related news articles, starting with news coverage of the federal government’s audit of the Attawapiskat First Nation in Ontario. Vowel looked up the numbers — which, she noted, are publicly available to anybody — and proved that the actual funds that landed in the community were insufficient to begin with. Yet fellow commenters would shift the conversation from fact to fiction quickly, veering away from the content of the article or Vowel’s research to spout racist comments about the Indigenous community.

The battles in these comments sections, Vowel says, are indicative of the everyday experience of many Indigenous people: “You have to answer to all of these assumptions and stereotypes that people have […] you don’t get to just talk about a shaking tent installation that is so cool.” She adds that in these conversations, Indigenous peoples have to prove every claim they make, whereas non-Indigenous people can spread stereotypes that are believed immediately.

Vowel, who is now the mother of six daughters, wrote the book for two hours a day during her three-month maternity leave for her fifth baby. She shares the ideas she had for covers and titles, which were ultimately rejected by the publishers. The final title, Indigenous Writes, was actually a snarky suggestion by Vowel, which the publishers loved and is now revered by audiences for its wit.


Prove Your Queerness Mon, 19 Mar 2018 10:00:34 +0000 Content warning: Homophobia, anti-LGBTQ+ violence, refugee discrimination

When LGBTQ+ refugees arrive on Canadian soil, they must prove what they have been trying to erase their entire lives. Their queerness.

These refugees are interrogated by refugee boards, which cross-examine a claimant’s sexual history, erotic texts messages, intimate journals, and other artifacts to authenticate their sexuality. For many refugees fleeing homophobic violence, the burden of proof is crushing.

Individuals escaping the threat of incarceration, torture, or in extreme cases, execution, have most likely destroyed any evidence of their queer identity in order to survive. But to secure their sanctuary in Canada, they must pass a sort of queer litmus test to verify that they are indeed a “genuine gay.” All too often, however, migrant justice is defined through heterosexual experiences, and homosexuality through a white lens.

This leaves LGBTQ+ refugees at an abyss, as the simultaneity of their oppressions are unrepresented. If an immigration board determines that a refugee doesn’t fit the western mold of queerness, their application is often dismissed. In a case from the British court, an Iranian gay man was initially denied refugee status because “he did not look like a homosexual.” In this way, gay stereotypes influence how immigration courts view “authentic sexualities.” In a similarly disturbing case, a Romanian man was subjected to anal examinations by British immigration officers to “authenticate his alleged homosexuality.” This invasive pseudo-scientific method of screening reduces queerness to a sexual practice, and not an identity. Moreover, the life-or-death urgency of a refugee’s case is undermined if a court views homosexuality as a “voluntary practice,” and not an integral part of their identity. One can’t help but wonder whether these immigration judges view their own heterosexuality as ‘voluntary.’

This invasive pseudo-scientific method of screening reduces queerness to a sexual practice, and not an identity.

Of course, if a refugee hails from one of the 73 countries where homosexuality is still criminalized, they are all too familiar with the lack of choice in being gay. Still, immigration courts have recommended that queer folks simply restrain from “flaunt[ing] their homosexual activities” to avoid violent persecution. The argument that queer people should self-censor ultimately erases the value of public expression, and relegates queer bodies and voices to the dangerous isolation of invisibility. While it would be preposterous for courts to suggest that political or religious minorities simply cease practicing their respective beliefs, pervasive myths around homosexuality allow judges to suggest that one turn their ‘queerness off’ — or at the very least, conceal it. Perhaps a more equitable ruling would advise these judges to stop being so damn straight!

In Canada’s immigration system, where there is a 70.5 per cent success rate for refugees seeking asylum based on sexual orientation, the issue is not blatant homophobia, but rather a western framing of queerness. Professor Sharalyn Jordan, who advocates for queer refugees at the Rainbow Railroad organization, contends, “it is not a case of board members being overtly homophobic or transphobic but […] of ethnocentric criteria being applied.” For instance, the lifestyle of a hijra person from South Asia might not perfectly translate into a Canadian framework of being queer (that is: they can’t be specifically categorized under L, G, B or T), and will subsequently be dismissed. Desperate to secure their sanctuary in Canada, LGBTQ+ refugees may then feel pressured to conform to western standards of gayness.

Desperate to secure their sanctuary in Canada, LGBTQ+ refugees may then feel pressured to conform to western standards of gayness.

Indeed, white gay norms influence how immigration officers adjudicate legitimate LGBTQ+ people. Refugees who do not fit western conceptions of being gay or trans may be considered imposters. In reality, only 2.2 per cent of queer refugee claimants have no credible basis. Critics assert that “bogus refugees” will “act gay” if it provides an easy route to citizenship without considering that pretending to be queer and failing comes with the risk of horrendous marginalization and violence in one’s country of origin.

Furthermore, refugee boards often lack basic discretion, which makes the decision to disclose one’s queerness a precarious gamble. In a tragic case from the American immigration system, a family of asylum applicants learned of their brother’s closeted homosexuality after a refugee officer nonchalantly divulged this private information. Subsequently, relatives harassed and completely severed ties with their queer family member. This meant that the very officers who were responsible for providing asylum for the family ended up endangering the safety of the family’s most vulnerable applicant. If the purpose of refugee programs is to provide sanctuary for those who have endured unimaginable horrors, then we must restructure our systems to avoid further traumatizing these already oppressed communities.

Ironically, homophobia’s colonial history is often erased from debates concerning queer refugees. In reality, the violence that many LGBTQ+ individuals flee in the Global South is the legacy of anti-sodomy laws imposed by European colonialism. There is a risk in mythologizing the West as a progressive haven for LGBTQ+ people: the colonial roots of homophobia are obscured. For example, in much of pre-colonial South Asia, hijras were actually culturally celebrated. Indeed, the problematic narrative of white countries emancipating gender non-conforming people of colour from their ‘barbaric cultures’ only further entrenches imperial power dynamics. While Canadians can celebrate programs such as the mission to bring gay Syrian men to Canada, we must avoid a self-congratulatory depiction of the west. We must recognize that both the homophobia from which these refugees are fleeing, and the conceptions of queerness to which they must conform, are products of western domination.

Despite the system’s failures, organizations like the Rainbow Railroad have been successful in assisting LGBTQ+ refugees throughout their arduous screening processes. In the spring of 2017, when the government of Chechnya began its anti-gay purge, the Rainbow Railroad partnered with the Liberal government of Canada to provide sanctuary to more than thirty queer refugees. The Canadian asylum operation, which breached international law and threatened Moscow-Ottawa relations, demonstrated Canada’s capacity to be a global leader. Remarkably, Justin Trudeau, (the ultimate saviour-daddy) who seizes every photo opportunity to hug a refugee or snap a selfie at Pride, somehow avoided tokenizing the Chechen mission. Operating with discretion and minimal media coverage, real lives were saved. These persecuted queer Chechens, some of whom had escaped gay concentration camps and electric-shock torture, were given a second chance at a better life.

Although it’s simple to condemn the western gatekeeping of queer refugees, proposing constructive solutions is far more demanding. A more equitable and intersectional method of screening would recognize the cultural diversity of queerness and ultimately prioritize the needs of asylum applicants.

In fact, rather than forcing refugees to traverse the bureaucratic tightrope towards citizenship and prove their queerness based on western norms, perhaps the tables should turn. Perhaps the time has come instead for immigration boards to prove their straightness.

Tingnan mo yung palengke!/ Look at the life Tue, 27 Feb 2018 18:54:37 +0000 Content warning: explicit mentions of violence, death, racism

I am disoriented by the bleakness and finitude of death. I am suffocated by the thought of bodies and bodies and bodies lying dead. I neither know where my life begins, nor where it ends in the face of death. Death affronts pulls you in — takes you by the nape of your neck — forces you to face it. There is no (more) life.

I cannot begin to conceive of the weight of my mother’s body, my father’s body, my sister’s bodyólimp. I cannot begin to understand the loss of words to form coherent phrases, the phrases soon muddled into incoherent sounds.

And yet.

We live in death.

October 2013, a 7.2 magnitude earthquake hit the island of Bohol, Philippines, killing 222 people. December 2012, a category five typhoon killed over 600 people in Mindanao, Philippines. January 2012, a landslide killed 25 people in the mining town of Pantukan, Mindanao, Philippines. December 2011 and June 2008 and November 2006 and February 2006 and November 2004, and all in the Philippines.

I did not know the children or the parents who died. I did not know which families these people belonged to. I never did, and I never will.

And yet.

I know of them, because I saw the disaster on TV and I watched a video on Facebook and I saw a picture on Twitter. I know that the country I was born in, the one I emigrated from, is the host of natural disasters that have resulted in countless dead bodies. I know it is the host of the war on drugs, a war that triumphs the on-going murder of innocent people. I know it is the host of the rampant disease and poverty that leave people dead.

And yet .

To know this is to know nothing about the Philippines.

I only know its death. Death defines the racialized body.

In a world dominated by colonialism, our racialized bodies are only allowed to exist in death. Colonialism shapes the world into a home for the white body; these bodies are the only ones that truly fit into our white-shaped world. White bodies are the ones allowed to build this home, the ones entitled to life in this home. The racialized body cannot fit into the mold, cannot inhabit the same home. The racialized body (my own body) doesn’t have the same entitlement to live in this world. The racialized body, unable to fit, unable to settle into a place called home, dies. Death is the only state in which colonizers can perceive of the racialized body. Death makes the racialized body legible, life does not.

The news reports, the Twitter pictures, the Facebook videos all become a microcosm of the world in which we live, in which we attempt to forge a home. We see white bodies live animated lives with ease: the pictures and videos and articles detailing the feats made in films, sports, and academia — all produced by white bodies. We see white bodies live because to be seen living and taking up space in a world in which you are at home is natural. We only see racialized bodies in death because to be seen alive, inhabiting the home shaped for white bodies, is somehow unnatural. We only see racialized bodies in death because, for us, life in the face of death has become natural.

Only in death do we see racialized bodies live. Only in the mass of flesh, the blood, the destruction do we see our bodies. Our homes are forged in this death, blood, destruction — a physical container. Only in death are marginalized people allowed to be alive.

And yet.

I know we are more.

I know my Tia — who lives in the Philippines, who goes to the palengke, the large, tumultuous, seemingly unending market where children run around, where vendors sell meat, fish, and produce, where people go to buy food and miscellaneous things every day — is more. I know my uncles — who work and harvest their fields, and their children who go to school to read, and write, and play, and laugh — are more. I know that the Philippines is alive.

Ignoring racialized people as they live only naturalizes the institutional oppression they endure — an oppression that determines what they can do, what they can be, and how they are allowed to live their lives.

The paradox of living life in death is a negation of life itself. To untangle racialized people from this, we must make them visible in life. The colonizer must acknowledge both their humanity and their mortality.

You must demand to see racialized people beyond the lens of what the colonizer lets you see. You must demand to see the work of racialized people. You must demand to see the accomplishments of racialized people. You must demand to see racialized people living and alive.

We are more than the monotonous lull of the rising fatality count. Let us live, let us live, let us live. Then watch us live. And then — look at the life: Tingnan mo yung palengke!

SPHR hosts discussion on the Freedom Flotilla Coalition Mon, 26 Feb 2018 14:00:54 +0000 On February 20, McGill Students in Solidarity for Palestine Human Rights (SPHR) hosted David Heap, a community-based activist for peace and human rights, and media coordinator of the Freedom Flotilla Coalition (FFC), a self-described “grassroots people-to-people solidarity movement composed of campaigns and initiatives from all over the world working together to end the blockade of Gaza.” Heap discussed the important role the FFC plays in defying the illegal blockade of Gaza, detailing how the movement raises international solidarity with Gazans who experience the ongoing siege from the Israeli occupation. The FFC also provides a platform for international civil societies to mobilize and discuss the Gaza situation. Several missions organized by the FFC attempted to reach the shores of Gaza to distribute much-needed supplies to Gazan residents; however, all were either stopped or assaulted by the occupation’s navy.

Missions to break the siege did not begin with the FFC, but with the Free Gaza Movement. Heap clarified: “two voyages in [August and October] 2008 sailed to and from Gaza and brought medical supplies without any security risks, and without any harm to anyone.” But when the occupation’s military carried out operation “Cast Lead” from December 2008 to January 2009, Heap explained, “free Gaza voyages arriving during the operation came under attack, […] the navy began shooting and ramming boats, and it became very difficult and dangerous.”

The Israeli occupation is responsible for putting activists in danger, Heap stressed. “The only thing that makes [the voyages] difficult is the occupier’s violence.” This hostility is exemplified in the FCC’s first voyage in 2010, organized by the Free Gaza Movement and the Turkish Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief (IHH). Of the six ships sailing to Gaza, “the largest, the Mavi Marmara, was attacked and boarded in international waters by the occupation’s commandos, killing nine activists and injuring several others,” stated Heap. The attack received extensive media attention generating an international public outcry, and caused the occupation to temporarily ease the blockade on Gaza.

Heap then described Israeli tactics to intercept humanitarian boats en route to Gaza. “Before we encountered the occupation’s navy, we lost contact with satellite radio […] the satellite phones all got blocked. This is in itself an admission of guilt, the occupiers are saying they’re about to do something they don’t want the world to see, so they have to cut off all channels of communication to control the narrative. They boarded with armed commandos, but we are committed to non-violent resistance. They are not committed to nonviolence.”

Heap was detained along with the other activists present onboard, spending six days in jail.
Heap explained that “typically flotilla participants are deported after 24 to 48 hours because it’s a media liability to keep [Western] internationals in prison.”


“Before we encountered the occupation’s navy, […] the satellite phones all got blocked. This is in itself an admission of guilt, the occupiers are saying they’re about to do something they don’t want the world to see.”


Heap went on to say that the most important thing was that “we were not forgotten, [however] the dangers for the Palestinians in Gaza [are] being forgotten. If nothing else, these actions serve to remind the world that they are not forgotten. They may be forgotten by the governments of the world, but they are not forgotten by the people of the world.” With this, Heap underlined one of the main goals of the flotilla, “this is one of the reasons to sail, it reminds a captive people that they in their international prison are not forgotten.”

He also reminded the attendees that the “blockade itself remains illegal under international law […] the special Rapporteur for Human Rights in September 2011 said that there is no way the blockade of Gaza could be legal because it deprives a civilian population from the right of freedom of movement […] which is considered collective punishment under International Law and the Geneva Conventions, guaranteeing the freedom of movement for all people within their state.”

Heap then described the Estelle Flotilla in 2012 which stopped at various European ports, raising awareness in the cities. He explained, “we learned in that case about the importance of the pre-voyage. The last part of the voyage can be predictable when we’re intercepted by the occupier’s navy. When we meet people in a European communities we have an impact on that community.”

An alternative tactic to the flotillas was the Gaza’s Ark campaign from 2012-2015, which sought to challenge the blockade from the inside out. Heap explained, “Gaza’s Ark was a project to sail from inside Gaza out, to emphasize the fact that it’s not about us bringing stuff to Gaza, it’s about freedom of movement for Palestinians in Gaza.” Heap and his colleagues would “rebuild a fishing boat in Gaza, buy trade goods from Palestinians who wanted to trade with the world, and sail out to challenge the blockade. [We were] demanding freedom of movement and freedom of commerce […] and the project sold about $25,000 worth of export goods.”

The Gaza’s Ark campaign addressed the plight of Gaza’s fishermen, who “since 2012 and in fact earlier, suffered from the occupier pushing back the very narrow band of waters where Palestinians are allowed to fish. Sometimes it’s six nautical miles, sometimes it’s as little as four nautical miles. Keep in mind that any other coastal people in the world has a minimum of 12 nautical miles of territorial waters and normally a 20 nautical mile economic zone.” Heap stated “many end up in the occupation’s prisons for the crime of fishing. For the crime of trying to feed their families.”

Heap went on to express his support for the Women’s Flotilla which sailed in 2016 that “underlined the aspects of the blockade which particularly affect women […] and the role women play in the resistance and the survival of their societies.”

George Ghabrial, a member of SPHR, said “it’s important to remind the McGill community at large that [the struggle for Palestinian liberation] is bigger than just McGill or a campus. We have a room full of people who are relatively aware of the issue today thinking about the occupation of Gaza. It inspires people to think a little bit differently and maybe empowers them to take action in different ways they hadn’t done so before in their communities and in that way spread more internationally.”

Regarding future flotilla plans, Heap stated that “this year, we’re planning a sail called ‘A Just Future for Palestine’ and the flotilla will be called ‘Al Awdah’ [The Return] with representatives from all over Europe, Malaysia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States as well as several [representatives from] international organizations. We need to continue to spread the international nature of this. The purpose is to break the media blockade and to reach people with the story of what’s happening in Gaza.”


“It inspires people to think a little bit differently and maybe empowers them to take action in different ways […] and in that way spread more internationally.”

Public expresses outrage at Ahed Tamimi trial Mon, 26 Feb 2018 14:00:45 +0000 On Sunday, February 18, around 50 people gathered to protest against the trial of Ahed Tamimi and the treatment of other Palestinian political prisoners at Norman Bethune Square. The rally was organized by Solidarité pour les droits humains des Palestiniennes et Palestiniens in coalition with five other groups as part of Free the Tamimis Global Day of Action, an international campaign organized in response to the arrest and detainment of the 17-year-old activist, Ahed Tamimi. The ongoing imprisonment of the Tamimi family has sparked public outrage, in response to the military court’s ruling last month to keep Tamimi and her mother in custody during closed-door trials.They, allegedly, do not have a clear timeline. Various speakers at the event denounced the prosecution of child prisoners, as participants held banners reading “End apartheid,” and “Stand with Gaza.” Two police vehicles were present at the rally.

Treatment of child prisoners

“Israel does not differentiate between the child, the elderly, the women,” said Omar Ben Ali, a speaker and Palestinian refugee participating in the event. “In the eyes of the Israeli occupation, every Palestinian is an enemy. Every Palestinian must be punished.”

Ben Ali, who is from the Jenin region of the Israeli-occupied West Bank, is currently stateless because of the Canadian government’s refusal to recognize his claimed refugee status.

Ben Ali emphasized that the Ahed Tamimi case is not an isolated incident, as all Palestinians under occupation, including his wife and children in Palestine, are at risk of violence.

“When I see Ahed al-Tamimi, I see five daughters of mine”, said Ben Ali. “Every second, I have a fear that my daughter will be subjected to what Ahed al-Tamimi is subjected to. Not just my daughters, but […] all Palestinian children.”

According to the Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network, approximately 700 children are put on trial in military courts each year. Recent cases include the detainment of Abdel-Raouf al-Bilawi and Razan Abu Sal, two 13-year-olds, who were sentenced to four months in prison in January this year for throwing stones at occupation forces. They are reportedly the youngest Palestinian prisoners to date, and the youngest prisoners in the world.

Both al-Bilawi and Abu Sal live in the occupied West Bank, like the Tamimi family members, where Human Rights Watch have documented multiple cases of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) being physically abusive, and where the Tel Aviv based Haaretz has reported on allegations of IDF officers purposefully disabling Palestinian youth.

“With Ahed Tamimi we have a young person who happened to be born Palestinian, who happened to be born into occupation of her land, who happened to be born into the resistance struggle of her people for freedom and justice,” said Dolores Chew, another speaker at the event told the audience.

In Israel, there are two distinct legal systems in operation: the civilian legal system applied to Israeli citizens and a military court system applied to the Palestinian population.

According to the prisoners rights group Addameer, there are currently 350 Palestinian children in Israeli detention. According to a study published on October 2017 by Israeli rights groups HaMoked and B’tselem, the Israel Prison Service (IPS) incarcerates Palestinian youth under harsh conditions, such as night interrogations without the presence of a guardian or a legal counsellor. The report states that 91 per cent of interviewed minors were arrested at night, and minors were not made aware of their right to remain silent, or their rights to counsel. Such detainment is unlawful: Israeli law prohibits night interrogations.

Moreover, Israel, as a signatory of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1991, is obliged to uphold international juvenile justice standards which mandates that “[t]he arrest, detention, or imprisonment of a child […] shall be used only as a measure of last resort.”

Chew noted that while minors are unlawfully arrested and interrogated, “soldiers […] have authority from the Israeli state to invade homes regularly, vandalize the contents, destroy food, terrorize children asleep in their beds and shoot them in the head. All this with absolute impunity.”

A report published by Breaking the Silence, a non governmental organization (NGO) run by former Israeli soldiers, mentioned the discretion given to soldiers to open-fire and identify targets, which led to massive casualties of unarmed Palestinians.

“It is the Israeli state declaring ‘we can do this to you and get away with it’,” said Chew.

“With Ahed Tamimi we have a young person who happened to be born Palestinian, who happened to be born into occupation of her land, who happened to be born into the resistance struggle of her people for freedom and justice”

Right to resist

This state-sponsored military campaign on Gaza operates in areas which are legally under Palestinian authority. Most of the attacks perpetuate the persecution of Palestinian children in villages within the West Bank.

The Palestinian West Bank is currently separated into three administrative divisions: Areas A, B, and C. Each division operates under varied levels of civil control by the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Israeli occupation forces. Areas A and B comprise respectively of only 18 and 22 percent of the West Bank, and are supposed to be administered under the PA. The remaining 60 per cent, Area C, is occupied by Israeli forces, and is considered to be illegally administered under international law. Nabi Saleh, the village where the Tamimi family resides, is part of the former division under PA control. However, the Israeli state maintains de facto authority and governance through raids conducted by Israeli soldiers to arrest and detain Palestinians. Chew stated that Palestinians under the occupation have the right to resist these actions.

“The […] Zionist state of Israel flagrantly violates international law,” she said. “The occupation of Palestine is the longest military occupation in modern history. Under international law, people under occupation have a right to resist. Therefore what Ahed and other Palestinians do to resist occupation is their legitimate right under international law.”

*Anna, a Palestinian student present at the rally told the Daily in an interview, “International law grants Tamimi, and many other Palestinian activists placed under PA division control the right to legally resist the presence of Israeli soldiers […] on their land. It is important to distinguish ‘aggression’ from ‘legal resistance against colonialism.’”

According to the United Nations General Assembly Resolution 3314, the definition of aggression does not “prejudice the right to self-determination, freedom, and independence […] particularly [of] peoples under colonials and racist regimes […] nor the right of these peoples to struggle to that end and to seek and receive support.” Moreover, the UN has recognised the right for occupied populations to use legitimate armed force to see “liberation from colonial and foreign domination” in numerous occasions.

“The Israeli occupation of Palestine is illegal, and has always been colonial,” said Anna, referring to the Israeli state’s decision not to withdraw from Palestine in 1967 despite a unanimous decree of the UN Security Council to adopt Resolution 242, which called for the “withdrawal of Israel armed forces from territories occupied.”

Under international law, people under occupation have a right to resist. Therefore what Ahed and other Palestinians do to resist occupation is their legitimate right under international law.”

Inaction from the international community

“As Western governments are supporting the Israeli occupation, what will become of us?” asked Ali. Ali claimed refugee status on arrival in Canada almost ten years ago, a status which has been denied despite being unable to return to Palestine due to the occupation. He subsequently applied for immigration status under humanitarian and compassionate grounds, but that however was too refused.

One of the speakers, Andrew Welsh pointed out that Canada currently does not recognize the existence of a Palestinian state.

“It is not a coincidence that in 2016, the Trudeau government passed a motion condemning the BDS [Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions] movement,” said Welsh.

In February 2016, Canada’s Parliament passed a motion condemning the BDS movement, a grassroots movement seeking a peaceful resolution to the Israeli occupation.

“We need to be in solidarity, with those that are fed up,” said Welsh in French. “Fed up by the lies of the government, that claims to have no money to finance the creation of jobs, but has the money to build new weapons. Canada is going to increase its military budget by 70 percent. A part of this budget will go in the support of the Zionist occupation of Palestine.”

Anna explained in an interview to The Daily how the extent of apathy of Palestinian human rights is reflected in the international responses towards cases like Tamimi’s.

Anna stated that the content and amount of information, or lack thereof, published in Western news sources such as the New York Times and Newsweek further reflects the inaction of the international community.

She explained how, for example, Tamimi’s trial was postponed from January 31 to February 6 and finally to February 13, but “Western news sources have, for the most part, refrained from publishing the news of this postponement.” Anna illustrated her point by noting how an article published by the New York Times (NYT) on February 4 regarding the change of date of the trial was taken down.

In an article published in December 22, 2017, the NYT included the perspectives of several Israeli figures, such as Yossi Klein Halevi, a senior fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute, a Jewish research and education institute, who stated that “when you see yourself as under permanent siege, your greatest fear is the loss of deterrence.” However, Anna told the Daily that this statement does not reflect the experiences of Palestinians because “Israeli occupation forces control the movement of Palestinians from Gaza and the West Bank, and Palestinians are thus the people under siege.”

Active support and worldwide protest

“For those of us living at a great physical distance from Palestine where we don’t experience the heel of a military boot on our necks,” stated Chew, “it might have seemed that things were relatively quiet, relatively peaceful but the […] [Israeli airstrikes] on Gaza just a few hours ago are a reminder that this is a state of continuing war and civilians including children are the targets.”

On the day of the rally, the Israeli military carried out multiple strikes overnight in the Gaza strip, killing two Palestinians in an Israeli tank fire. The same day, two Palestinian teenagers were killed near Rafah, the southern region of the border, for approaching the border in an allegedly “suspicious manner.”

“We need to make people aware that even when Palestine drops out of the news for us over here, Palestinian people have to live the daily indignities of occupation,” continued Chew.
“You are the ones who have to stand for the Palestinians,” continued Ali, echoing Chew’s words and stressing the importance of international solidarity. “Because even Palestine’s children no longer trust in these [Western] governments.”

“Palestine’s children only call for the people, those who are free all over the world,” said Chew, quoting resistance movements such as “Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS),” which have been “called for by the people of Palestine.”

“We need to make people aware that even when Palestine drops out of the news for us over here, Palestinian people have to live the daily indignities of occupation”

BDS was formally nominated for the a Nobel Peace Prize by the Norwegian parliamentarian Bjornar Moxnes, backed by the support of his party, the Rødt (Red) Party. BDS is currently active in Montreal among other resistance groups such as Tadamon, an organization in support of Palestinian human rights.

“We must continue the pressure, there is an end in sight. […] Ahed, we send you our love and deepest solidarity,” concluded Chew.

*Names changed to preserve anonymity.

International news briefs Mon, 26 Feb 2018 14:00:19 +0000 Astana, Kazakhstan – Monday, February 19

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev approved on a decree concerning an alphabet switchover without warning last Monday, likely in response to the unpopularity of the new apostrophe-heavy alphabet adopted last October. Nazarbayev signed off on a 32-letter version of the alphabet that almost nobody has seen before, and ordered officials to ensure that the alphabet be implemented within the next seven years. The new alphabet contains fewer apostrophes, which have been replaced in favour of accents. Prior to the decree, Kazakhstan used a 42-letter Cyrillic alphabet. The government has advocated for the new alphabet which they claim will be better suited for typing on computers, in order to boost to country’s modernization. Prior to the most recent alphabetical switch, one Kazakh newspaper, Arqalyq Habary, was already publishing with the new alphabet. In the Gabit Musirepov district of the North Kazakhstan region, authoritieshave already began issuing letters to residents in the new 32-letter script. They will now have to change their alphabet again.

Written with material from the official website of the President of Kazakhstan, and Eurasianet.


Lima, Peru – Wednesday, February 21

At least 44 people are dead after a bus fell approximately 200 meters into a ravine in Ocoña District of the Arequipa region in southern Peru. The operator Rey Latino stated that the bus was carrying around 45 people, but police stated that there were probably more passengers on the bus because additional passengers boarded en route and did not appear in the initial register, suggesting the official death toll with increase. The bus also did not have permission to drive on the Panamericana Sur highway, its permit having expired in 2016 according to the Regional Management of Transportation of Arequipa. Road accidents are common in Peru, where roads are not considered to be safe, and bus drivers lack training. Nevertheless, Peruvian judicial authorities and police claim that these high crash rates are due to the speeding and imprudence of drivers. This is the second most deadly crash of the year, however: in early January, a bus collided with a truck careened off a cliff, killing 48.

Written with material from El Mercurio.


Victoria, Seychelles – Thursday, February 22

A new marine protected area has been created in the Indian Ocean around the Seychelle islands. The zone is 210,000-square kilometres wide, an area equivalent to nearly half of the Black Sea. The government’s goal in creating this sanctuary is to protect the sea and the archipelago’s economy, which is heavily reliant on fishing and tourism. The new zone is the result of a financial deal brokered by American NGO The Nature Conservancy. The NGO levied $21 million to pay off an outstanding sovereign debt, in exchange for conservation funding to protect this ocean-dependent nation. Environment minister Didier Dogley said that by 2020, close to a third of Seychelles waters will be protected against deep-sea mining, dredging, oil and gas exploration, and unregulated and illegal fishing. Like many other oceanic nations, Seychelles is one of the nations most vulnerable to climate change, rising sea levels, and ocean acidification, as its economy is almost totally reliant on marine resources.

Written with material from AFP.


Juba, South Sudan – Friday, February 23

South Sudan’s northern state of Tonj was recently the site of brutal clashes that caused the death of at least 30 people. The new governor of the state, appointed two days earlier, blamed tribal clashes between two Dinka tribes subclans, but also vengeance following cattle raids. These conflicts remain, according to the politician, “the major challenges in the state.” On the same day, UN investigators said they had identified more than 40 South Sudanese officials and military officers alledgedly responsible of war crimes and crimes against humanity. The civil war started five years ago in 2013, following a split between President Kiir and his former Vice President, Riek Machar. Tens of thousands of people have died, and between 2.5 and 4 million people have been displaced.

Written with material from IOL.