ski jpg.JPGLot 2: Hit the slopes at Mont Tremblant AND support the Dawg - does it get any better than that? (The answer, btw, is no.)

This special Dawg-sized Ski package includes: - 1-day adult ticket - 25% off ski rental - A special “Top Dawg” ticket that puts you at the head of the line, and lets you start skiing at 7:45am ahead of the crowd!

The ticket valid to season end April 12th, 2015. This is the way all the cool dawgs will be spending Easter!

The package is worth $100, but the first $50 bid takes it! Ticket can be delivered in downtown Ottawa.

Place your bids in the comments below, with a $1.00 minimum for each increasing bid. Remember, the first $50 bid takes the package!

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Emergency Measures.jpg

Lot 1: “Emergency Measures” (Sono Nis, 1976). “‘Emergency Measures’ establishes John Baglow as one of the few North American poets with vision, intelligence, wit, linguistic equipment and technical competence to command serious reading and response anywhere on Earth. In any language.” ~J. Michael Yates A rare first edition, personally autographed for the successful bidder.

Place your bids in the comments below, with a $1.00 minimum for each increasing bid. Bidding will close April 15 at noon (12h00 Pacific Time) No bid received after the closing time will be accepted.

Items will be shipped, postage paid, upon receipt of payment at the indiegogo site specifying the item number, or upon receipt of a money order or certified cheque.

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The Dawgtion!

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dawg 6.jpgIn just one week, Dr. Dawg’s friends, fans, and even a few appreciative foes have come through magnificently, contributing almost $3,000 to help our host defray his legal expenses. For some of you, it was a gesture of support for his willingness to put his principles on the line; for others, an act of appreciation for our favourite online rendez-vous. But to everyone who’s contributed so far - your generosity is more than appreciated.

And now…let’s have some fun.

For the remainder of the campaign, we’ll be running a Silent Dawgtion, with special guest Richard Warman as the Guest Dawgtioneer. The items we have lined up should surprise, amuse and delight you. Here’s the rules.

Every two days, a new item will be posted, and will remain open for bidding until the end of the campaign. Place your bids in the appropriate thread at Dawg’s Blog, with a $1.00 minimum for each increasing bid. Bidding will close April 15 at noon (12h00 Pacific Time), the day before the end of the Indiegogo campaign. No bid received after the closing time will be accepted. Winning bids will be confirmed on both sites.

The successful bidders will be contacted at the email address they use to comment on Dawg’s Disqus system, and asked to submit their preferred shipping address. Items will shipped, postage paid, upon receipt of payment at the indiegogo site specifying the item number, or upon receipt of a money order or certified cheque.

And now…let the Dawgtion Begin! In just a few hours, the first item for bidding will be posted - and it’s a good one. Bid generously, check back often, and keep your eye on the site for new items.

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For those of us who recognize that gender is plastic—if not infinitely so—the debate over the notion of “transgender” is of considerable interest.

The actual number of “trans” persons in the population is minuscule. Yet the issue of discrimination against them has been a hot topic in progressive circles for some time, including discrimination by some feminists who are derisively referred to by other feminists as “TERFs” (trans-exclusionary radical feminists).

Why has this been foregrounded in the current debates over gender and oppression?

There is a Bill, presently before the Senate, that would prohibit discrimination against trans people. Perhaps predictably, it’s become enmeshed in frankly stupid discussions about bathroom privileges. Those discussions are simply not worth refuting. Too easy. The doomed US Equal Rights Amendment foundered, at least in part, on similar discussions about toilets. There’s a Freudian monograph here waiting to be written.

It’s not surprising that many of us—most of us—find gender plasticity somewhat threatening. Our own identities are at stake. Recall the discussions about the “place” of women not that long ago. I can’t but think that the trans debate is a condensation of the wider anxiety about gender that was on full display when women wanted access to “non-traditional” paid work, for example, or even the right to enter a restaurant on one’s own, or to wear pants, or to drink in Ontario bars other than the part reserved for “ladies and escorts.” Those were the days.

In Tonga and Samoa, as I have seen first-hand, “trans” men, known as “fakaleiti” in Tonga and “fa’afafine” in Samoa, are respected members of society. If you want to get something done, they say in Samoa, get a fa’afafine to do it. There are many, many other societies in which the “trans” phenomenon is no big deal. The kathooeys of Thailand are another example from a multitude of them. Iran, believe it or not, actively supports gender reassignment surgery, although the matter is complex in Iranian society. But in too many nations, transgender people continue to suffer violent discrimination.

I have a lot of questions.

If gender is really a social construct, “performed” rather than innate—a default-point for those of us who want to abolish rigid gender roles—is it possible to conceive of a society in which “gender” doesn’t exist as a category? What would such a society look like—one transitioning from cis (which, as a term, is itself cis-centric) and trans (which really means “beyond”), to ultra (way beyond) to ultima (the end-point where gender simply dissolves as a meaningful category)?

If we really want to transcend “gender,” the current debates certainly obscure that aim. Because what is currently being discussed is not “trans” at all—that is, going beyond gender—but simply moving from one binary gender to the other. Biological males who “transition” to a female identity (and the far smaller number of women who go the other way) seem, at least to me, to be moving out of the gender role frying-pan into the gender role fire.

This will date me, but I remember reading Jan Morris many years back, and being struck by the way she described being a woman. It was, speaking frankly, a collection of stereotypes. And if we are honest, we have to acknowledge that those exaggerated stereotypes are everywhere in evidence today. One merely has to attend a Gay Pride parade to observe them. Drag is a caricature, and bogs us down in the worst aspects of gender construction.*

Let me digress for a moment. Gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and all the other additions to an increasingly unwieldy assemblage, seems an odd collocation of widely disparate constituents. I remember how scathing feminist friends were about a once popular gay slogan that marked an attempt to ally with feminism, “same struggle, same fight.” It wasn’t the same at all. And it seems to me that, when it comes to fighting oppression, there are significant differences among the sub-populations of GBLTQQI as well, other than being marginalized by a deeply patriarchal and sexist society.

If moving beyond gender is the goal, “trans” folk are going in precisely the opposite direction. They are, in fact, reinforcing gender. Essentialism inevitably rears its head: “femaleness” and “maleness” remain objective binary categories as before. Trans people just want to switch one out for the other. Nothing really “trans” about that, is there? If gender per se is but a complex, rigid and invidious social construct, where does the transitioning journey take them?

This is where I can understand the reservations of the TERFs, to some small degree at least. Those socialized as men who transition to being women still carry all of that previous baggage with them. Gender identity runs very deep: it’s a key aspect of the construction of the self in our society. It can’t just be magically shed holus-bolus. TERFs, too, seem to me to have a largely essentialist view of “woman,” but insofar as their politics are based upon the experience of being raised in a society that “womanizes” them, if you will, I can see how someone lacking all but relatively recent experience in that mode of being might be unwelcome in their political ranks.

Those who are racialized as Black, for example, might well appreciate the contributions of Howard Griffen in furthering an understanding of racism among oblivious whites, but could be expected to resist any (hypothetical) attempt by him to appropriate “Blackness.” More serious, inquiring conversations across the barriers of “identity” need to happen, if only to break down those other rigid categories from both the inside and the outside.

I well recognize the minefield into which I have advertently strayed. No doubt I’ve missed so much, and so much. Yet there can still be no doubt where I stand. Discriminating against anyone for what they choose to wear (are you listening, Mr. Harper?) or with whom they choose to identify, is extraordinarily dumb and hurtful. Bill C-279 should have had quick passage, and it deserves unqualified progressive support.

In the meantime, though, “gender” continues to triumph, in ever subtler and more contradictory ways. The current notion of “transgender” paradoxically subverts and strengthens the very construct we progressives are attempting to confront. Hence the fear (transphobia, if you must)—and the embrace.

UPDATE: “Politically sidelined” turned out to be prescient. This piece was banned by!
* I feel I should clarify (thanks to commenter Jaime) that this does not actually describe all transwomen by any means—nor are all drag queens transwomen. I was getting at the performance of gender qua performance, which, of course, can also be done (and is done) unselfconsciously, without parodic exaggeration and caricature. Certainly the transfolk I met in Tonga and Samoa were anything but drag queens. But if gender is performed, there is surely a range of performances available, and we all appropriate those scripts from the society around us, whether self-consciously or (more usually) unconsciously. What is “being a woman” (or a man) but a collection of these scripts, which inevitably bring with them gender stereotypes?

My questions remain, What if we didn’t perform gender? What would that look like?

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Harper plays his election cards

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Dogs playing cards.jpg

Politicians—and governments—are usually far smaller than the issues that plague us. Take the economy, for example. A good economic situation, by which I mean one where large profits are made, is a boon to incumbents; a poor one can prove disastrous to them. Yet domestic fiscal and monetary policy have about as much effect on global tides as witches dancing around a cauldron.

Governments during bad times are invariably in a defensive position, knowing how little they can actually do even with sterling acts of political will. Their response, therefore, is usually to ride the thing out, make a few highly publicized tweaks here and there, loudly blame the party previously in office, and hope for the best. The Opposition, for its part, blames the government in office, promises different tweaks that will make all the difference, and hopes for the worst.

Our economy, once again thanks to matters well beyond our control, is somewhat precarious at present. Cheap winter fuel and gasoline are bad for us, at least according to the mainstream economists, who do little more than pace capitalism, that weary marathoner, with shouts of encouragement. Our nascent status as a petro-state is faltering, thanks to OPEC’s untimely generosity at the taps.

There are, of course, short term quick-fixes and band-aids aplenty for tanking economies that can relieve a little of the pain, if not address the causes. But the economy as a whole is like the weather. Everyone talks about it, said Mark Twain, but no one does anything about it.

His point is actually a subtle one. We expect problems to get solved. And when we can’t do it ourselves, we expect “the authorities” to take over. Think the government won’t get blamed for bad weather? You’re wrong.

In a paper that all voters should read (but they won’t), “Blind Retrospection: Electoral Responses to Drought, Flu, and Shark Attacks,” political scientists Christopher H. Achen and Larry M. Bartels estimate that Al Gore lost approximately 2.8 million votes in the 2000 US presidential elections, from electors in states that were either too dry or too wet at the time.

And, as the title of the paper suggests, it gets worse. While for a number of reasons the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918 had no discernible effect on the electorate (even though the federal government’s laggardly response to the public health crisis arguably made things worse), a series of shark attacks in New Jersey in 1916 cost President Woodrow Wilson a significant number of votes.

So what is Harper to do? He can’t will the price of oil to go up. Nor, for that matter, can he make it stop snowing in the Atlantic provinces, or pluck sharks from the sea. But he can divert Canada’s attention.

Classically, there have always been two broad approaches to winning popular approval, short of trying to have a real conversation with people whose choices have historically tended to be irrational. The first is bread and circuses: feed and entertain the masses rather than risk serious public policy debates. But free bread (welfare, in other words) is not the conservative way, and the grim and earnest demeanour of Conservatives doesn’t lend itself to carnival distractions either. Take Harper’s 24/7 video series, for instance. Please.

That leaves the other avenue: tell the people that they are under threat, and establish yourself as their protector. This tends to work like a charm.

Hence the time-honoured, multi-pronged strategy of fear is once again being trundled out. Harper is not holding back, either. We’re now involved in a new and rapidly expanding war. A dangerously broad “anti-terrorist” law, Bill C-51, is coasting through Parliament, with draconian time-allocation measures to ensure that it isn’t properly debated, and rigged Committee hearings. A scapegoat—Canada’s Muslim population—has been selected and targeted.

The latter initiative is already spreading like a stain, as these things tend to do. Despite a court ruling, the Harper government is still fighting to prevent Muslim women in religious dress from taking the oath of citizenship: even the hijab—a mere headscarf—may be banned, the Conservatives now suggest. A Quebec judge subsequently threw a hijabi out of her courtroom, and was backed by the Court of Quebec.

The anti-Muslim backlash after the killing of two soldiers by murderous misfits last Fall has been greeted with official silence—that is, complicity. In Shawinigan, Muslims were forbidden to build a mosque. The leader of Quebec’s third-largest political party suggested formal investigations before any new Muslim places of worship are opened in la belle province. Both the town council of Shawinigan and the politician in question have backed off, but much of the damage had been done.

Disabuse yourself of the notion, in case it is forming, that all of this nasty stuff happens within the borders of Quebec. Just read the comments following articles in the SUN chain of newspapers, or listen to a few call-in shows. Harper himself linked mosques and terrorism in a not-so-casual comment on Bill C-51.

All of this has been followed by artfully-timed dog-whistles from Conservative pols: there were John Williamson’s remarks about “whities” vs. “brown people,” and Larry Miller’s injunction to niqabis that they should “go back where they came from.” Both were followed by apologies—and broad winks to the base.

We can confidently expect this sort of thing to continue and even escalate during this election year. Canadians are being played for fools, and the polls show that they may be once again rushing in, although at least their collective enthusiasm for Bill C-51 has been cut in half since they started actually learning something about it.

The pressing political problem, for those of good will, has always been to find a way of engaging voters that does not appeal to their prejudices or leave their magical thinking unchallenged. How do we build such a radically new political culture, from the bottom up? At this point, to be honest, your guess is as good as mine.

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Confession: I’m not keeping up. So I may as well start taking a few risks and trust in the dialectic.

ISIS, ISIL, Daesh, whatever name is used*, may be the most evil gang of sadistic psychos the world has yet produced. They no more represent Islam than did the Japanese United Red Army represent Karl Marx. We learn about the beheadings (if far fewer than those that take place in Saudi Arabia) from self-promoting videos, ditto burning a hostage alive in a cage, and we recoil with visceral disgust and anger at their lip-smacking pleasure in the deeds.

I want them all dead. Every damned one.

And yet I persist in opposing action by the West, including Canada. Because every time we righteously intervene to topple this or that dictator or Islamist non-state actor, killing, directly or indirectly, a few thousand or (in the case of Iraq) hundreds of thousands of civilians, a fouler phoenix inevitably arises from the ashes. Compared to the sado-political ISIS, al-Qaeda looks like a crew of cranky elder statesmen these days, and the Taliban like Sunday school teachers (boys only, of course). Can you conceive of anything worse than ISIS and its new ally, the equally psychotic Boko Haram, each of which kills civilians en masse and rapes young schoolgirls for the pure pleasure of it? Well, be prepared to stretch your imaginations. Or draw a graph.

We literally make whole populations crazy, and crazed people with guns form gangs and governments, and then we react with more violence, proving only that the human capacity for monstrousness, nourished by its often unwitting enablers, has no limit.

But…if Germany had remained within its borders and conducted its Final Solution intramurally, what would we on the Left have proposed? Intervention? Highly likely. And the Right? Just as likely, nonintervention, with obligatory handwaves of disapproval. Somewhat like our alliance with Saudi Arabia, as the heads there continue to roll.

Yet Germany, being a European power, seems more familiar somehow (read: white). If we had won our point, would the West, in this utterly hypothetical situation, have starved, tortured and carpet-bombed the German civilian population into submission, knocked off Hitler, rescued the human contents of the death camps—and then just withdrawn, leaving the country almost entirely in the hands of crazed political insurgencies?

That question isn’t even worth posing, is it? We would have found plenty of people who shared our general Western world-view, worked with them, and restored something like the status quo antebellum. In fact, that’s what we ended up doing, after pretty much the whole world had been targeted by the Axis gangsters.

But these folks in the Middle East, now. Broadly speaking, they have a different worldview, one which the West does not share except in some superficial respects. Grasping that world-view, learning its vocabulary as it were, does not appear to be part of any of the West’s strategic plans. And in any case the West never intervenes militarily in places like the Middle East for purely humanitarian motives.

But is there a better solution to the ISIS phenomenon than intervention right now? I don’t know.

That’s where we on the Left are weak. Our opponents know it, and in our heart of hearts we know it too. I’ m all for the R2P doctrine, but where is it being applied? To Syria, eating itself from within? To Nigeria, infested with Boko Haram? To the spreading caliphate of ISIS? The great power veto and the composition of the Security Council being what they are, R2P is a non-starter.

So, failing UN action under R2P, what’s left, pun intended? As Rosa Luxemburg said, we have a choice between socialism and barbarism. Barbarism is winning hands down, and, truth be told, we don’t have a clue what to do about it. Concretely, that is. So let’s argue about “ISIS” vs. “ISIL” vs. “Daesh” and produce a few sparkling op-eds. ¡Revolución!

When it comes to foreign armed adventures, our political enemies here at home are all lather, rinse, repeat. But we’re no slouches in the wash-house of the insane ourselves. Anyone have anything new to add?

* Apparently “ISIS” isn’t politically correct in some circles because it’s the name of an Egyptian female deity. Others oppose its use because ISIS is neither Islamic nor a state. Meanwhile, Sterling Archer now finds himself working for the CIA.

[Next: Cis, trans, ultra ad ultimam.]

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A racist narrative unwinds

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…and falls off the spool.

Martese Johnson (above) is a junior at the University of Virginia: a member of the Honor Society, a leadership coach, an all-round good student.

He was beaten bloody by liquor cops this past Wednesday, the aftermath recorded on camera. He now faces charges of obstruction of justice “without force” and “public swearing and intoxication.”

A seemingly simple-enough narrative: this young Black man was drunk, tried to use a fake document to get into a drinking establishment, and some cops over-reacted. Nothing much to see here—move along.

But wary of recent (and lethal) police behaviour in Ferguson, Missouri and elsewhere, the Governor of the state has ordered a full investigation. Politics, eh?

The honour student stuff just makes it that much worse. His wild nature asserted itself, despite all that civilizational overlay. As the racist comment goes, “You can take the Black out of the jungle…”

He was a thug. Check out the comments thread here.

But wait. he was never charged with possession of a false ID: it was genuine. Nor was he intoxicated, as a breathalyser proved. Public swearing? Oh, yeah, for sure—he swore a blue streak after the officers had thrown him to the ground, opened a gash in his head that required ten stitches to close, and handcuffed him. Witnesses say that he had not earlier resisted questioning or arrest. But one can see, from the video, that he was resisting, maybe a little bit.

As would you or I.

The usual subjects are even now combing through Johnson’s background. (They’re going to come up empty this time, though, I suspect.) And the media ran far and wide with the false account, until unquestionable facts began to emerge. It just made so much sense. White supremacy is a subtle and complex syndrome: sometimes it merely involves an unquestioning acceptance of a dominant racial narrative.

Will the stunning counter-narrative now emerging change that? Don’t hold your breath.

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dawg.jpgThe Persistence of Legal Debt, by Salvadawg Dali

As you all know, this Green and Pleasant Blog was recently the setting for an important legal decision. The judgement rendered in the case of “Baglow v. Smith et al.” has sparked heated debate among bloggers and lawyers, generated a measure of foreground crowing and backchannel angst on both sides, and created a little clarity in a complex and confusing corner of the law.

The degree to which new ground was broken and precedents set is still unclear. But we now know how the law sees the relationship between fair comment and defamation, and about the liability of a comment board’s publisher for its comments. Baglow v. Smith et al. has helped to shape the extension of existing legal principles into this strange new sphere. The map isn’t complete, and will never be; but to a greater degree than before, we know where we stand.

I don’t want to revisit the decision or rekindle the discussion that followed it: that’s already been done elsewhere, perhaps best by Dr. Dawg himself.

But I do want to talk about the cost of all this to our host and friend.

The judgement was the culmination of a four year fight that cost both sides a considerable amount. The “Other Guys” ran a number of funding appeals, and canvassed their readership constantly for donations. John never asked his readers for a penny, despite some fairly heated persuasion from those of us who didn’t want to see him carry this burden alone.

But the case is over, and Dr. Dawg is now dealing with a considerable debt at the end of his legal action. The amount is significant.

So a number of friends and supporters are launching an Indiegogo campaign to help Dr. Dawg with those costs. The campaign’s target amount is just a fraction of the actual expense; what really counts is your show of support.

My contribution is frankly selfish. I think Dr. Dawg has created a unique little oasis here, a rare space where smart and funny people gather, argue with (usually) wit and civility, and occasionally even change their minds. I’m grateful for this place. My donation is a thank you to Dr. Dawg for keeping it vibrant, and for fighting the good fight on behalf of us all.

A good cause, a good friend, and even a few cool rewards. Donate now - the Doctor is in.

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The Holocaust

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…is full of lessons for humanity.

But apparently we aren’t supposed to say what they are.

That monstrous event didn’t burst from some metaphysical realm into history. It is history—like the earlier genocide of the Armenians and the later ones in Rwanda and the Balkans. It’s time to stop treating it as something wholly apart from every other crime against humanity. It’s time to stop sacralizing it.

Learn what the Holocaust has to teach: that, like every other genocide, it began with words, everyday bigotry, stereotypes, negative assumptions, and the cynical use of fear by the state. That within that dark matrix it flourished, continuously enabled by the same attitudes from which it sprang.

The Holocaust was not an unspeakable atrocity. It was a profoundly speakable one—if only it can, in effect, be permitted to do so.

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Ottawa, March 15: a cold, damp, freezing-rain day. Intrepid, element-braving souls showing the flag. A great speech by PSAC official Larry Rousseau, who presently holds my former job, and can not only do a barn-burner in both official languages, but can sing as well. If I were running against that guy now, I thought, I’d lose. He can keep that job for as long as he wants.

And another good one from former PSAC National President Nycole Turmel, now Chief Opposition Whip for the NDP, and more from a range of other speakers.

But, dammit, there were a few hundred people, out of a city population of close to a million. It was a demonstration like hundreds I have attended. Nothing set it apart. And yet it was a protest marking a democratic crisis in this country. A turning-point. Our accelerating move into darkness. Where the hell was everybody?

Yeah, I’m going to rain on that parade. As if it hadn’t been raining hard and cold enough.

CSIS (CSIS!) tells us that white supremacists are more of a threat than jihadists. Peter MacKay, on the other hand, says the neo-Nazis planning to shoot up a Halifax shopping mall weren’t “terrorists” because their motives weren’t “cultural.”

C-51 specifically disallows murder and rape as CSIS “disruption” tactics. Relieved? Don’t be. What is excluded leaves a lot included. Torture. Beatings. Let your imagination soar.

The NDP, principled throughout on this issue, is being derided by the usual Liberal suspects. Tom Mulcair says he will not repeal C-51, but eliminate the poison from it. Sellout! Yet C-51 is not made out of new cloth. It contains current law mixed with amendments to it. Simple repeal means no law at all. And the NDP, unlike the collaborationist Liberals, will vote en bloc against the Bill, taking all the political risks that go with that.

Yet the NDP is now openly divided on another (and I believe related) issue, that niqab thingie. Alexandre Boulerice says he’s against the niqab, and so is his party; he suggests that we hold Bouchard-Taylor-like hearings across the country to establish the lines of “reasonable accommodation.” Meanwhile the Bloc Québécois, manifesting the ugly underside of ethnic nationalism, asks: “Do you need to veil your face to vote for the NDP?”

As they say on Twitter, WTF? What is our country becoming? How many women actually wear the niqab in Canada? A few hundred? Will their daughters wear one?

An ideological battle is being fought on women’s bodies, a “site of struggle,” to use the lingo. Niqabs are “anti-woman,” says Stephen Harper, that fervent born-again feminist whose government crippled pay equity (with Liberal support) in the federal public service, and who opposes a national inquiry into murdered and missing Aboriginal women with all of his considerable might and main. “Anti-woman.” Right.

“Mobilize against Greenpeace and the intellectuals of this world,” thunders a star Conservative candidate. Meanwhile Justin Trudeau wants to abolish free expression and social engagement on Canadian university campuses.

This is the political Theatre of the Absurd in which we now find ourselves immersed. And over it all hovers the spectre of C-51, the establishment, let us make no bones about it, of a police state: wide-ranging surveillance and licence to break the law, without any meaningful oversight since the Conservatives abolished the office of the Inspector General of CSIS in 2012. CSIS is already out of control. Now pretty well anything will go. Except, of course, murder or rape. Somebody must have gotten soft. Or maybe those terms, too, will get redefined, like “terrorism.”

Even the faithful have taken to scratching their heads. Until they bleed, I hope.

A few hundred people, on a cold, rainy day in Ottawa, standing up for democracy. Symbolic, somehow, of the mess we are in.

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