Month: April 2016

Trudeau Government: The Honeymoon Is Over

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BY: JAMES DIFIORE

Depending on where your political beliefs fall, the first 6 months of Justin Trudeau’s leadership has either been testament to positive politics or a buffet of cringe worthy sentimentality. Unsurprisingly, Trudeau has continued to show a remarkable gift for retail politics and connecting with people on a human level, but that kind of charm eventually wears thin, and so far Trudeau has not shown Canadians what they will see once he turns off his celebrity sparkle.

The answer to what should come next is obvious; the mountain of carefully crafted policy implementations we were promised during the campaign. But even more precarious than campaign promises are the items that seem to contradict the very essence of the Trudeau brand. That image, which encapsulates progressivisms -from international humanitarian work to domestic social policies – has been quietly eroding since the new year began through a series of decisions that have contradicted his personal brand.

The most glaring contradiction thus far is clearly the decision to honour the 15 billion dollar arms deal with Saudi Arabia. At the recent federal NDP convention in Edmonton, NDP stalwart Stephen Lewis said, “What kind of feminism is it that sells weapons to a government steeped in misogyny?” It was the perfect question for a young prime minister who has skated virtually unchallenged since his election victory, and one Canadians should demand he answer sooner than later. The most valuable facet of having a brand like Trudeau’s is the built-in flexibility to change course when the people demand it. After all, isn’t that what being a down to earth leader is all about? Furthermore, if Trudeau remains a loyal servant to his brand, then he should level with Canadians regarding its special relationship with the Saudi kingdom.

Instead of throw away lines like “We don’t want to break a contract”, perhaps it is time for Trudeau to explain exactly why we are beholden to a regime as nasty as theirs. Typical ambiguous responses have been flying out of the office of Foreign Affairs over the past month, including “Saudi Arabia is a strategic ally in the region” and “Our two nations have various economic ties.” But Trudeau has given himself little choice but to remain loyal to transparency, and that would have to include an explanation of the exact dynamics between Canada and a country that beheads atheists and dissidents more often than ISIL. A flowery speech and a boilerplate response from Stephane Dion aren’t good enough. Canadians, as Trudeau often repeated during the campaign, deserve better than that.

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But it gets worse.

It turns out the deal the Liberals could not get out of that was initiated by the Conservatives wasn’t exactly accurate. Global Affairs Canada has released documents that confirm Stephane Dion signed off on the export permits just last week, without a formal announcement from the Trudeau government. The document pays lip service the Saudi Arabia’s abhorrent human rights record by stating “the reported high number of executions, suppression of political opposition, the application of corporal punishment, suppression of freedom of expression, arbitrary arrest, ill-treatment of detainees, limitations of freedom of religion, discrimination against women and the mistreatment of migrant workers” – but ignores these atrocities and justifies the sale by citing previous arms sales to the Saudi kingdom since the early 90s. Worse, like a successful drug dealer justifying the sale of crack to a 12 year old, the government is implying that if Canada doesn’t sell arms to a barbaric, theocratic regime, somebody else will.

In other words, Trudeau is supporting the status quo, which is essentially continuing the fine work of Stephen Harper. There is no way around that point, and even Trudeau’s sparkly eyes can’t sell this to Canadians who are cognizant of the greater implications of this deal.

Which means the honeymoon, which began with so much hope, is now over, coming to an end in the hot sands of a Saudi desert. Trudeau still has qualities he can use to build a more progressive country, but if he continues to provide counterweights that so drastically contrast his sunny image, the honeymoon ending may be the least of his concerns.

 

Wall Street Document Cites E-Cig Regulations as Good News for Tobacco Stocks

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BY: JAMES DIFIORE

One of the world’s largest financial services companies is advising its investors to expect growth in tobacco company stocks due to government restrictions on e-cigarettes and vaporizers. Kathleen Wynne’s Ontario government, along with several other state and provincial governments in North America, has already passed legislation that equates vaporizers with combustible tobacco products, resulting in several protests and demands from opposition MPPs to rethink the controversial measures.

The document, titled Tobacco – Negative Reaction to Pending E-Cig Regs Overdone –   drafted to calm investors after all major tobacco companies experienced shrinking stock prices over the past week, may also help provide context to the controversy surrounding the recent fundraising strategies of the Wynne government.

A high-powered lobbying firm, Sussex Strategy Group, which represents big tobacco and various other industries, teamed up with the Ontario Liberals for a $6000 a ticket, high access dinner with the premier herself. The event has caused headaches for Wynne who has been in a state of damage control ever since, trying to reassure Ontarians that her government is not for sale. Sussex’s tobacco company connections help reinforce the possible reasons behind the unusually aggressive posture the government has towards nicotine vaporizers.

Recently, several governments outside North America have loosened restrictions on electronic cigarettes as a response to new research showing it is significantly less harmful than tobacco, but the Wynne government is moving forward with Bill 45, legislation that essentially equates e-cigs with cancer-causing traditional cigarettes. While there is no smoking gun proving Sussex has successfully lobbied the Wynne government to tighten restrictions on e-cigs, the lobbying firm’s client list must be pleased, especially when a company like Wells Fargo is praising e-cig restrictions as a coup for tobacco companies stock prices.

Along with its new restrictions on e-cigs, the Wynne government has been trying to curb contraband tobacco for years, with an estimated 1 billion dollars of lost revenue due to illegal cigarettes manufactured on First Nations reserves. It is difficult to estimate how much of a dent the government has made in the underground market, but tobacco companies are obviously the main benefactors.

Some members of the public have taken a stand against these new regulations. Organizations like the Vapor Advocates of Ontario, who organized a protest recently at Queen’s Park, are pressing the government to loosen restrictions on businesses that sell vapor products, as well as the perceived false equivalency the government is making between cigarettes and e-cigarettes.

In Ottawa, where there are more tobacco lobbyists than anywhere else in Canada, health officials have gone a step further in the fight against e-cigs, banning flavoured vaporizer liquids in an attempt to dissuade children from using the product. Ottawa Public Health staff argues that e-cigs are just as harmful as cigarettes, a dubious claim with no actual scientific backing.

SHAD: One of the Greatest Emcees, One of the Worst Radio Hosts

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BY: JAMES DIFIORE

When the CBC parted ways with Jian Ghomeshi they were left with a massive hole to fill. Given all the legal woes and the subsequent media storm that engulfed the public broadcaster, executives had some tough decisions to make. First and foremost, they felt it was important to make a real statement with whom they chose to replace Ghomeshi.

Their first move was a show rebrand. I would have paid to be in the room when they settled on keeping the show name but replacing the upper case Q with a lower case q. Not only did it seem like a decision that was drenched in unnecessary humility, but it immediately put the new host into a position of symbolic weakness. It screamed, “This show will not be as good as when Jian was the host, but that’s ok for some reason. Trust us!”

The conventional wisdom would have been to fill the host’s chair with a woman. That decision would have at least been consistent with the image problem the broadcaster and the show had at the time. By replacing an accused (yet ultimately acquitted) abuser with a strong, female voice, the network would have made a statement without having to explain a thing. It would have been universally seen as the right way to move the show forward given the circumstances they were dealing with.

Of course, choosing a nice guy, especially a non-white nice guy, would have also fit within the unspoken CBC mantra. Ghomeshi isn’t white, but he was just white enough for many people to believe he wasn’t a person of colour. But there were also other options like broadcasting veteran Sook Yin Lee, an experienced interviewer on television and radio, and someone who didn’t need any orientation for the role.

However, after 6 months of rotating a slew of temporary fill-in hosts, CBC settled on veteran Canadian hip hop artist, Shadrach Kobango, better known as Shad, to take over the broadcast.

Shad is a glorious lyricist. As an emcee his rhyme schemes and mostly casual delivery make him one of the most listenable hip hop artists in the country. He’s super intelligent, uniquely creative and is already a legend in the sparse landscape of Canadian hip hop.

He was also immensely unqualified to take the helm of the most widely listened to radio program in the country’s history, one that is syndicated in 160 markets south of the border.

Shad has been the host of q for just over a year, and during that time he has had his share of critics. It’s not easy to say since he seems like such a nice guy and all, but he’s extremely boring to listen to. It reminds me of Toronto university radio, where most hosts are very monotone and do not have the authority behind the mic to engage listeners for long periods of time. That spark of greatness Shad carries with him in the recording booth as an artist just isn’t there as a radio personality.

This mediocre reality isn’t entirely Shad’s fault, however. I don’t know how much of the content is determined by his producers, but whoever decides on the locally focused content is dropping the ball. He once had the “I-am-trying-really-hard-to-be-shocking” BuzzFeed pill Scaachi Koul as a guest who yapped about a morning rave she attended that was “full of white people as far as the eye could see,” because I guess that’s what q listeners find interesting? More recently, Shad had a bizarre panel of Canadian musicians who spoke about racism in the music industry. What could have been a compelling, thought provoking 15 minutes was actually a bizarre conversation featuring arbitrary stories that did not include any tangible examples of racism. It just seemed like the show was thrown together without any research or organization by the producers who tried to pass off typical music industry bullshit as serious examples of racial discrimination. One guest cited venue sound engineers who didn’t mix live hip hop well as an example of cultural racism, and Shad seemed all too eager to let his guests skate by without challenging these seemingly benign claims. The segment fell flat, and the Internet let the producers of  know it through the universal theme in the comments section that said “This is what passes for racism? Really?”

One could argue that Shad is a work in progress, but if he is he shouldn’t be saddled with weak content to boot. But hey, CBC is known for keeping horrible programming on-air forever, so even if he has plateaued he might still have a career for years to come.

And if that’s the case then the decision to change the letter ‘Q’ to a lower case ‘q’ isn’t just fitting, it was tragically prophetic.

We Need to Talk About Whitey

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BY: JAMES DIFIORE

There’s no good way to write a piece like this, especially in today’s world of awareness, where a small group of white people have decided that being white is the same as being evil, and being male is the equivalent of, well, also being evil.

Add to that the fact that I’m not gay and you have the Luciferian trifecta of being a horrible person.

This combination – white, male, straight – is currently the enemy of self-righteous preachers in the modern realm of social justice. There was a time not too long ago where repugnant men on the right, guys like Rush Limbaugh, would cry incessantly about it being open season on white men. These complaints always seemed so pathetic to me, mostly because I didn’t notice any unfairness towards whites, and partly because I knew white people had run things for so long that any complaints of injustice seemed misguided.

I’m 39 years old, and I have never felt the need or inclination to defend myself for being white. It just seems like such a bizarre thing to do. I don’t really have pride in my whiteness, but, much to the dismay of many of my peers, I don’t have any white guilt either. I do not identify with pieces of shit that enslave, marginalize and oppress people of colour, other than we share the same skin tone. At the same time I’m competent enough to know that I could not possibly identify with non-whites and their experiences in this world. After all, the world is a very complex place. I understand how the oppression of people of colour is the counterweight to the privilege white people enjoy, and I am fully aware of the imbalance North America still fosters after hundreds of years under this system. I won’t pretend to know all of the answers as to how to correct this injustice, but I think I have discovered a tragic reality that has fostered the prolonging of this white supremacist system. Namely, the white people who have spoken out most forcefully about racial inequality are the very people who guarantee its survival.

I have a young son. He’s still too young to understand the nuances surrounding race. Hell, he doesn’t even talk yet. Lately I’ve been thinking how lucky he is not being able to speak, because it won’t be too long before random people, mostly bitter activists, and mostly white, will be badgering him, asking him to stop mansplaining or whitesplaining. He will soon learn that there are large contingents of people out there who will want him to know his place, and that if he can’t parrot their talking points and self-admonishing postures, he should just shut up.

In case you haven’t noticed, the Tea Party of the left has emerged, and they have taken the form of the verbally abusive, incredibly judgmental know-it-alls who have collectively decided that racism is bad, but blanketing one particular race with unadulterated hatred is acceptable, expected, excused and justified. White people who live in a white supremacist society have two choices; be an ally in the army of self-loathing peckerwoods, or be an enemy of progress.

I know, you think I sound like Rush Limbaugh. Hey, I get it. Not too long ago if I read what I just wrote I would have said the same thing. But then something happened. I began to notice a widespread trend of openly calling out white people simply for being white. These days, calling someone ‘white’ is an insult on par with calling them a dickhead, an ignorant piece of shit, or just plain evil, especially in the world of the young, hip bloggers and commentators who fill up our newsfeeds and inboxes with the latest trends in social justice.

Recently, a fairly well known editor and media personality tweeted that she was looking for writers to pitch her web site some stories. She mentioned how she was specifically looking for ethnic writers, an understandable request given the complexion of writers in Canada being a pretty pale shade overall. But then, inexplicably, just after she communicated what she was looking for, she felt the need to point her finger specifically at who she wasn’t looking for. Namely, white men. She just said it. She went on, after getting a little bit of heat, to compare white men to demons and then suggested that white men be placed in the garbage.

This female editor was threatened with rape and murder after tweeting those ignorant tweets. This is obviously an overreaction, a criminal one at that, and should be admonished in the strongest terms possible. Nobody deserves to be threatened with rape and murder after saying stupid things. Unfortunately, many people failed to see the stupidity in her words. Worse, many people said that by comparing white men to demons, what she was really doing was trying to uplift non whites, which is about as logical as me wanting to uplift lesbians by calling gay men ‘faggots.’ Yes, it’s that stupid. And finally, the white saviors amassed, telling anybody who criticized this editor that by doing so you were co-signing the death threats made against her. Yay social justice!

Even more recently, a co-founder of Toronto’s Black Lives Matter Movement tweeted the following: “Plz Allah, give me the strength not to cuss/kill these men and white folks out here today.” Predictably, the media overreacted, devoting more segments to this person’s tweet than they had to many of the stories revolving around police antics against black people in the city. But one other thing struck me; many activists, black and white, did not see any problem with making a public statement about killing a group of people who all had the same skin colour. There is no room for debate on this point – that because we live in a white supremacist system, this means it is acceptable to openly muse about killing white people. Their logic is that only one race rules, therefore that ruling race is available to be a target of hate speech. Only, it isn’t hate speech because white people run things. Make sense?

So what is a white guy who has never held racist ideas but still wants to support his family supposed to do when the industry he is trying to find work in is telling the world not to hire him? Am I supposed to fall on my sword? Furthermore, what am I supposed to think when an activist, who is part of an organization I support and respect, makes it clear that my skin tone makes me an acceptable target of violent hate speech? Is it vengeance against white supremacy? Is this all part of the complexities of social justice? Should we be organizing lynchings against white folks at The Drake? Will these white folks merely volunteer their heads be placed in a noose as a way of doing their part? Look, I don’t know how to quantify what white guilt is, and I know I’ve had it a lot better than most non whites, but I can’t reconcile the self loathing required to champion a hypocrisy of morals. I can’t get to a place where I nod politely whenever I am lumped in with the people who enable my privilege.

And I don’t like speaking like this. I hate it, in fact. I’ve been told countless times by white people who “get it” that all I have to do is understand that white people have had it good for a long time, and I should align myself with people who openly disparage white people because of my white privilege. My privilege, which I know exists by the way, apparently isn’t potent enough to spare me from having to hear about how my skin colour makes me disposable, why my opinion is no longer needed, and why my appearance sometimes disqualifies me from applying for work in my field. I suppose that when a straight, white male speaks the world believes he is speaking for all straight, white males. I don’t know about you, but I had always believed no race or gender was monolithic. Apparently, there is an exception to that rule, and I guess to many people that exception is grounded in status. I profoundly disagree.

I sometimes wonder if the self-proclaimed gatekeepers of decency and liberalism will grow out of this phase where progress is not just measured through new opportunities for minorities, but also through the hyperbolic discourse levied at the exact demographic you will need to help facilitate real change. It shouldn’t be controversial to point out that if there is to be a shift in privilege in North America, the keepers of that privilege are going to have to be a part of that shift. Personally, I would love to be on the front lines working towards an egalitarian system where nobody is left behind based on their heritage and skin colour. The problem is I’m not welcome at that table unless I conform to a belief system I find self-deprecating and the exact antithesis of what I want to instill in my son.

White people who want to help create this shift are everywhere, by the way; but we are feeling intimidated. And it isn’t non-whites who are intimidating us; it’s other white people. The frantic, over eager, self-hating honkies that agree with everything a person of colour says might sound dope, but a good ally they do not make. Trust me, these douche bags are the most annoying white people…to other white people. They are cowardly, bearded hipsters who the rest of us will never, ever follow. Sure, you think they got your back, but you could tell them almost anything and they’d just nod with a furrowed brow, their stuttering blinks tipping you off that they don’t know shit. Worse, they are probably wearing a Public Enemy t-shirt with penny loafers.

But don’t worry; you are right to mock them when they’re not around (we both know you sometimes do, it’s all good), despite their semi-endearing qualities. But at the end of the day my non-white brothers and sisters, you had first pick in dodge ball and you ended up taking the fat kid. Don’t get me wrong, they mean well, but they are a bad combination of being incredibly shallow thinkers and fierce ideologues. They have managed to create a debate killing, Orwellian paradox, claiming to be for freedom while snuffing out free speech. Yes, rabid right-wingers have the exact same complaints about these white guardians of the left, but that doesn’t mean they are wrong, it just means the right are motivated by something other than progress. Free speech, which these same white lefties will cite whenever they defend systems like the Boycott/Divest/Sanctions movement, is not dependent on ideology or opinion. Aligning with the prototypical white activists, especially the commentators and online vigilantes, guarantees a longer incrementalization process for achieving true equality. White activists engage in relentless browbeating, and the condescending style they use to explain why Caucasoid people need reprogramming will never work if the goal is racial harmony. You can be right about all the main issues, ancillary issues, or even have a multi-generational demand for racial reparations…all that is great. But real progress is currently being bogged down by the relentless pursuit of other people’s moral infractions, executed by a group of self appointed white saviors, infecting social networks and weakening the very fabric of mainstream political discourse.

Toronto Star columnist Desmond Cole called me a racist the other day. I shrugged. Not because I agree with him, but because that label is tossed around so arbitrarily these days that I couldn’t summon up the energy to actually get upset. If that isn’t a sign of ineffective activism, then I must be as oblivious as the activists I criticize.

Peace.

 

 

 

 

Ghomeshi: How the Reporters Who Broke the Story Set the Tone of Division

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BY: JAMES DIFIORE

The public does not show any signs of slowing down the debate surrounding the not guilty decision in the sexual assault trial of Jian Ghomeshi. As expected, there has been an outcry from some members of the public over the perceived lack of justice in the case. Others agree with the decision, arguing that the witnesses were so unreliable that the judge had little wiggle room and could have only reached the decision he did. The public is predictably polarized and will probably have it out until the next Ghomeshi trial begins in June.

But if you ask the two main reporters involved in breaking this story – the Toronto Star’s Kevin Donovan and freelance scribe Jesse Brown – you might begin to understand why this particular story seemed destined to divide the country. There was always an element of polarization, even before the story actually broke.

Brown had a scoop. He had already interviewed 8 women by the time he brought the story to The Star. Brown had never met 7 of the women before interviewing them as sources for the story, but one woman was decidedly different. Brown and she had a long-time friendship, which made things problematic from the Star’s point of view. Journalists, especially those who work for a big publisher, are meticulously careful about even the appearance of a possible conflict of interest when reporting on a big story. Reporters are almost never allowed to remain on stories if they have a personal connection to any of the subjects involved.

Brown, for his part, feels like his reporting was not a problem, and says neither Donovan nor the Toronto Star seemed concerned about his relationship with one of the alleged victims.

“He (Donovan) knew…and never raised it as an issue. In fact, he never bothered to interview her prior to our 1st story’s publication, though he had opportunity to do so. “

The truth is the Ghomeshi case created a rift between Donovan and Brown, born out of the stark differences in how a full time reporter and a freelancer investigates a story.

On Brown’s professionalism, Donovan says, “I found Jesse Brown reluctant to ask the sort of questions that needed to be asked. On social media he aggressively asks questions, but that was not my experience with him in person. To be fair to Jesse Brown, he has no background in this type of journalism.”

Donovan added, “…my interviews elicited more information due to the nature of the questions I was asking.”

Brown, who has secured a decent following since the Ghomeshi case broke at his Canadaland podcast site, continues to insist that his personal friendship did not negatively impact his ability to objectively investigate the story.

“…my connection to (name removed due to publication ban) actually helped with the reporting of the story, as I could personally confirm that she made her allegations years ago, when she said she did, back when the alleged incidents occurred. “

Donovan sees Brown’s involvement differently.

“ a reporter who has a connection or friendship with someone who is an alleged victim in a story cannot objectively do his or her job. It’s very important for journalists to be open about these things and to know when to step back.”

This is why Jesse Brown’s initial involvement is problematic. Nobody I have spoken with for this story had anything negative to say about Brown’s honesty or his intention to find the truth behind the Ghomeshi accusations. He’s not accused of fabricating interview notes, but we should consider the possibility his friendship did impact his work, as Donovan suggested. This is precisely the reason you walk away from the story if you are too close to a subject. Donovan knew this and interviewed the same women Brown had interviewed, a sort of insurance policy on accuracy. Indeed, Donovan did not have confidence in the type of questions Brown asked the other alleged victims, although he did not elaborate as to how Brown’s questions were insufficient, just that he was able to unearth additional info not pursued by Brown.

But it’s not just the integrity of the story, or your new career as a podcaster, or even your loyalty as a friend that matters, it’s the professionalism to understand that your perceived lack of objectivity could be seen as activism rather than journalism. Since Brown admits he was friends with one woman and knew about her alleged encounters with Ghomeshi years beforehand, he should have never interviewed the other 7 women.

From the very beginning of the Ghomeshi affair, objectivity seemed to take a back seat to salacious details of statements made to the media. Some articles from major papers and online publications seemed almost annoyed at having to use the word “alleged” in front of the allegations, often peppering the rest of the article with language that implied Ghomeshi’s guilt, such as referring to the alleged victims as ‘survivors.’ Journalism seemed lost as regular news articles were written like editorials, featuring an activist slant against a man who hadn’t yet been convicted of a crime. While columnists and civilians are free to share their unfiltered opinions, those opinions began to largely outnumber the reporting that should have remained neutral.

As for Donovan, he didn’t break any rules or have a friendship with any of the witnesses. Instead, he reserved the right to take some of the interviews  as part of a soon-to-be-published book entitled Jian Ghomeshi – A Secret Life. When the largest daily paper in the country spends months publishing articles that deal with the fear some women have coming forward to report sexual assault, they probably didn’t think their lead investigative reporter working on the biggest story in the country would one day add to those fears by publishing the details of those interviews. He isn’t the first reporter to write a tell-all, but the sensitivities surrounding this case makes his book tough to swallow, especially for some of the women he interviewed in good faith.

With the first trial resulting in a not guilty verdict, and with the second trial looming, this saga will reign supreme as the most volatile, socially relevant and consequential story in recent memory. Many will see it as proof the justice system is not equipped at handling sexual assault crimes, while others will see it as proof that reporting sexual violence promptly is the tough pill victims have to swallow in order to achieve justice. But from a journalist’s perspective, it should give every writer pause as they ponder what their role is when unearthing a story of this magnitude, especially if they are connected to one of the alleged victims.