Monday, January 30, 2012

Guilty verdicts in Kingston -- a turning point in the war against women?

The struggle for equal rights never ends and must never end.    Recent events in two parts of the world, seemingly disconnected but linked by the common element of who the targets are, are a reminder of this.

Firstly, the guilty verdicts yesterday in Kingston in the so-called "honour killings" of Zainab, Sahar and Geeti Shafia and Rona Mohammad Amir are not only welcome but perhaps finally causing the discussion we should have been having all these years.   I'm not just talking about deliberately killing women because they just want to be themselves; it's that people bring their preconceived notions of what's right and wrong to Canada.   Moreover there seems to be a willingness to completely isolate oneself from the community at large and force one's children born here to act and comply as if it is "the old country."

But what I find even more incredible is that this was not a case of refugees gone bad.   No, one of the convicts, Mohammed Shafia, bought his way into Canada, via the Québec immigrant investor program.    The others, second wife Tooba Yahya  and son Hamed Shafia, managed to get in under suspicious circumstances.   Of course Mr Shafia couldn't bring in both of his wives into Canada since polygamy is illegal here but he came up with a BS story that Ms Yahya was his cousin, and numb-nuts immigration officers overseas didn't run a background check.

I suppose there is a reason why we have to have a business class of immigrants; every province in fact runs a program although Québec's always seems to be the highest profile.   It's because we need those skills and if it means fast-tracking the naturalization process then so be it.   But is it too much to ask some questions beyond the normal questions we'd expect?

And it's not just would-be Canadians.    It happens in long-established communities here as well and in all religious groups.   Sadly, there are going to be more tragedies like this one.   Every province will have its own goals on what it needs to achieve from immigration from all classes but surely we can all agree that leadership starts from the top, and that in particular it's the licensed religious leaders of all faiths who need to take a stand.    Child protection authorities need to be more vigilant as well.    There are far too many false apprehensions which cause nothing but grief on their own, but it's the failure to act even when victims don't want the help but obviously need it that's outrageous.

It's good to hear most Muslims in Canada and their leadership want to stop the cycle of violence.    But it all goes back to where it begins.   If someone wanting to come here to Canada refuses to recognize the equality of women, they should not even bother applying.    If someone already here refuses to recognize equal rights for women and acts on that notion, the full force of the law should be applied.

This leads somewhat awkwardly to what's been going on in a number of places as of late and secular vs religious Jews.    We have all heard about women who have been "ordered" to go to the back of the bus by ultra-orthodox Jews, or the eight year old who was attacked for the dress she was wearing to school and by grown men.    Or even in Montréal a few years back when a women's only exercise studio caved into some radicals who said they wanted the windows tinted because they thought a woman in skin-tight exercise gear was offensive.

Set aside the principle that you should pick on someone your own size -- and gender.   Many of these men have managed to get around mandatory conscription laws for far too long.   They don't even have to subscribe to alternate service, such that existed in most Allied countries during World War II.

It's good to see people fighting back, in small but measurable ways.

The major principle I think we need to get around is that while as a secular society we are very accommodating to all ethnic groups and religions -- consider how boring dining would be if there weren't the choices of food out there, particularly Middle East and South Asian -- there has to be a limit to where we say this is what we are all about.    That there are common values we all hold to.   I'm not saying we have to agree on everything, because then we would not be a democracy any more.   We need to however say that there is a point where we are willing to reasonably accommodate each other but at a certain point we need to have common rules of the road.

Because in this particular case whether we like it or not, religious based "tribunals" of all religions (and we see agitation to allow these alternate forms of arbitration, be it Sharia for Muslims, the Beth Din for Jews, the Curial courts for Catholics, etc.) are almost always stacked against women.   Until relatively recently, even the law here was constructed to be against women.    Women who were married weren't allowed to get their own property until the 1970s.  We forget easily that spousal assault didn't even exist as a crime in Canada until 1983 and the principle of "no means no" wasn't enacted until a decade after that.

I've said this before and I'll say it again -- we need to see this for what it is, a war against women.   There are too many men and sadly even many women too, who openly and enthusiastically support femicide.    Until we all get around to this fact and push back, more will die.   The longer we let this go on, sooner or later we'll get to the point where the blood will be sticking on our hands rather than those of the perpetrators.

To be honest I breathed a sigh of relief when the guilty verdicts came down yesterday.   It's unfortunate however that the four life sentences each of the Montréal Three got are concurrent -- frankly a hundred year sentence is call for, not twenty-five.   Actually, I would have gone even further, invoked  that this was a crime of hate as an aggravating circumstance, and doubled it to two hundred years.

UPDATE (7:46 pm EDT, 0046 GMT 01-31-2012):   Minor edits.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Harper: Right about Iran, but on the tar sands and "outsiders" ...

This week, the Prime Minister expressed aloud concerns many of us Canadian of all stripes have had either openly or privately – that Iran is a ticking time bomb with its nuclear program which without a shadow of a doubt has only one aim, to create a nuclear bomb that would threaten Israel. Meanwhile, the PM has been critical of “outside interference” in the debate over piping the oil sands south and west.

The priorities of the Western alliance got totally distracted by the Iraq debacle when it should have been aimed squarely at North Korea and Iran. And while Canada would almost certainly have no choice in the matter should there be a war, and hopefully one with only conventional weapons, there is also no doubt we should have done a more persuasive job in using our “good offices” (such that they are) to help calm things down, given that we have direct relations with Iran and the United States still does not, over thirty years after the hostage crisis ended.

Iran has threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz which would choke off oil supplies from Qatar, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates; but it would also have the result of of Iran blockading itself. So no one can really take that one seriously. But its willingness to crush internal dissent as well as diverting massive resources that could be feeding and educating its people but instead going into a fanatical voyage over the atom cannot be ignored. It rigged two elections in a row and loudly supports honour killings of women.

The whole idea of “Atoms for Peace,” as Eisenhower called it in the 1950s – the Fifties! -- is really a joke. Once you can control the atom, you can do almost anything, just short of being God (although you can certainly pretend to be the Almighty). No doubt nuclear energy has had its benefits in terms of power generation and practical uses ranging from irradiating food to nuclear medicine. But the ability to make weapons grade fuel, like Canada can, carries with it huge responsibilities.

While the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) regularly inspects our nuclear facilities, you never hear about it on the news because we comply fully with our international obligations. It's time for the world to take a firm and unequivocal stand with Iran. Iran has to open up their facilities, all of them, or face suspension from all UN agencies on which Iran has a seat. For a country that really doesn't care about world opinion, it may not mean much, but such shunning may spark the kind of revolt that has carried across much of the rest of the Middle East.

Briefly, as for Canada – well, as a democracy, we have to be willing to accept outside criticism of our policies as many in this country have those same anti-government views. The old saying goes, we hold our friends close and our enemies closer but we also hold our allies to a higher standard. Or in this case, to the standard that our allies hold us.  We should be living up to that standard, quite frankly. The pipelines are almost certainly going to be built even if they are delayed for a time. That doesn't mean we can't listen to reasonable criticism and make alterations to the routes that ameliorate as much as possible the potential damage; while also settling once and for all the ensuing Aboriginal land claims as well.

Guess that makes James Cameron and Raffi Cavoukian agitators as much as Robert Redford and Kevin Bacon -- even though the former two are Canadians.   I don't really like Cameron (for all the obvious reasons) and I outgrew Raffi decades ago, but they have as much right to complain as anyone else.   And Redford and Bacon's opinions should be welcome, after all, the border is just a line in the map -- we share the same ballpark, more or less.

We can't very well say one country can't have energy while we should have as much as possible. Of course every country is entitled to nuclear energy provided it truly is peaceful and any weapons grade level material is handled according to strict and accepted norms. For our part, we should be leading by example. After all, I thought Alberta was the land of the Four Strong Winds. Heck, even we're trying to “ride the wind” in Ontario too although it's costing us plenty with the "feed in tariff" (especially on windy days when windmill power makes up 10% of the "load".)

UPDATE (7:50 pm EST, 0050 2012-01-19 GMT):   Looks like President Obama has indefinitely shelved Keystone XL.   It'll eventually happen though not for another couple of years at least.   But I still say we have to keep an eye on the ball that is Iran -- just as we should of after 9/11.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Foot in mouth syndrome: What is Harper's real position on gay marriage?

Towards the end of last week, news emerged that the Harper Government was taking the position that thousands of same sex marriages in Canada may have never taken place because the institution was not valid in the home countries of the couples who took out marriage licenses here.    Therefore, a gay or lesbian couple who later decides to get a divorce cannot access our courts to dissolve something that "never really happened."   And this actually had me reeling.    No matter what one may think about the practice it is perfectly legal in Canada and we've collectively made a decision, through our elected representatives, to just move on.   Some time later, Team Harper appeared to backtrack slightly but nowhere near enough.

Here's what makes me angry about it:   This is the exact same excuse many Southern States used to try to stop interracial marriage.   They would not recognize any such marriages that had taken place out of state -- in clear violation of the "full faith and credit" clause of the Constitution.    Even mixed race couples who had clear roots in the North or West put themselves in peril when they travelled on vacation to the South.    Since "ignorance of the law is not an excuse" many well-intended couples were summarily banished and ordered never to come back again, "or else."   Eventually it was recognized that the heart wants what it wants, and that marriage should be as colour blind as public education or mass transit.   Which is as well as it should be.

To use an analogy -- and I realize I'm hyper-extending, but bear with me -- in Israel, many couples of all stripes get married civilly in Turkey or Cyprus.   In fact, make that most, somewhere like 80%.    Reason?   Because of the very strict norms imposed by the various religious heads -- the Chief Rabbinate for Jewish people, the Supreme Imam for Muslims, the Patriarch of Jerusalem for Catholics, and so forth.   A civil marriage can only be contracted in Israel if both can prove a lack of connection to any confessional group -- and that's not really easy.    Just one baptismal certificate for a Christian, for instance, and game over; you get married in that denomination in Israel, or not at all -- civil marriage is not an option.

This has proven problematic for those Jews from the former Soviet Union who took advantage of perestroika and immigrated en masse to Israel, and are in the opposite camp -- they want to get married under a chuppah.   Under the Law of Return, part of Israel's constitution, they gained immediate Israeli citizenship as soon as they cleared customs in Tel Aviv.   But because their parents and grandparents didn't practice Judaism (because they could not) the Chief Rabbi doesn't consider them to be Jewish.    Seriously.   So they have to take a trip out of the country to get their marriage contracted (or covenanted if your prefer).    Crazy but true.

So what of the marriages contracted out of country -- civil or religious?    Israel considers them to be perfectly valid.     There was some dispute as to validity for decades, but it was established beyond a doubt in 2006 by the country's courts.

I wrote a few years back about a lesbian couple who validated their marriage in a northern state then the relationship soured, one of the partners won custody of their daughter, and the other took the child to another state and was charged with spousal kidnapping.    The at fault party tried to invalidate the marriage by claiming her state of abode, Virginia, banned gay marriages in its state constitution.   The courts ruled against her saying that whatever the position of the voters on this one, the federal constitution overrode that and a same-sex custody order from out of state could and would be enforced even in states where the practice was outlawed.

I cannot for the life of me understand what the problem is at this time.    If this is an example of what to expect from the "hidden agenda" of Mr Harper I cannot imagine what he has planned next.   Splitting hairs on legal points is to be expected from all political parties, one would suppose.   But it does no good to the families who could be forced apart on a "technicality."

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Lahey sentenced -- fire the bastard

We learned today that the disgraced Roman Catholic bishop of Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Raymond Lahey, was sentenced to time served for possession of child pornography on his laptop which he was stupid enough to have in his carry-on and not in checked luggage.   Time served.

Some may say merely being disgraced in public fashion is punishment enough.    But I have to disagree.    As a member of the First Estate, indeed an "apostle" in the eyes of the church, Lahey not only should have known better but was expected to; and instead undermined the trust of a laity already disgruntled by the inaction of their church on sex abuse.

In my opinion, nothing less than excommunication (or dis-fellowship, if you prefer that term) is indicated.   But that's something only the church can do, and I'm not wasting my time waiting for the Holy See to exhale on this one.