The Grant Rant

A journalist's view from Niagara

I know the blog has been rather quiet in the last few months. I have been very busy with some major investigations at The St. Catharines Standard with a few more on the way. Plus, we have an Ontario provincial election in a couple of weeks and a municipal election right after that. So my dance card is a bit full.

Still, if you will excuse some shameless self-promotion, I am proud to say I was nominated for and won, a National Newspaper Award and an Ontario Newspaper Award recently.

The NNA nomination for local journalism was my third nomination for Canada’s top prize in journalism. Third time is lucky, as they say, and I won for my investigative series titled The Wolf in Priest’s Clothing, about sexual abuse by Catholic clergy.

The series also won a feature writing category at the ONAs, where I was also nominated for a journalist of the year. I am also proud to say I was nominated alongside my colleague Bill Sawchuk for beat coverage for our ongoing investigative work on Niagara’s regional council.

There was some truly amazing work nominated at both awards events by some extraordinarily talented journalists and it is humbling to counted among their number.

New content will be coming to this blog soon! Stay tuned!

 

The list of #menbehavingbadly continues to grow. The latest is news icon Charlie Rose who, it seems, had a thing about not wearing pants around his female coworkers, and apparently showing his female staff explicitly sexual movie clips. Every few days, there are new stories about men in positions of power and influence treating women in despicable ways, ranging from the creepy to the outright criminal. The reveal of new allegations seems to have become part of our daily routine.

The cases have all been American so far, but I figure it is only a matter of time before a Canadian scandal hits the headlines. If you are doing the math, it is inevitable.

Many men, it seems, are baffled. I’m not talking about the men who are genuinely shocked at the scope of the problem. I am talking about the men who don’t understand why they shouldn’t catcall women, or grab them at the office, or not wear their pants. (Seriously, Charlie? Wearing clothes around your co-workers is not exactly a taxing professional requirement. At what point, exactly, did that seem like it was OK?)

So as a public service, the Grant Rant blog is publishing this handy guide for men (particularly those MRA, “red pill,” insecure types crying “Men can’t even ask women on a date anymore!” You can, dullstone, you just can’t harass them) who, for reasons that frankly baffle me, are unclear on the issue. Feel free to print this and keep it in your wallet should you ever think that now is the time to harass a woman:

THE GRANT RANT HANDY GUIDE TO SEXUALLY HARASSING WOMEN

  1. Don’t. 

  2. Seriously, don’t.

  3. Wear pants and don’t be a seedy creepy creep.

  4. DON’T!! EVER!!! What is the matter with you?

 

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On Nov. 16, 2017, I was invited to speak to the St. Catharines Rotary Club about issues surrounding the news media and fake news in the era of trump. You can listen to my speech in its entirety on Soundcloud here or the link below.

The slideshow that is referenced during my speech is embedded below or can be found here.

In the annals of political advertising, the recent attempt to by the Conservative Party of Canada to brand its new, plucky leader Andrew Scheer won’t be remembered as a high water mark.

You can sympathize with the party’s plight. After nearly a decade in government with a leader in Stephen Harper who, while not exactly popular was trusted by a lot of Canadians to keep the country on track, the Tories lost to a very popular, very photogenetic Justin Trudeau of the Liberals.

Fact is, the Tories can’t win the next election on policy arguments alone, not unless the Liberals implode in a fashion similar to the old sponsorship scandal that sunk Paul Martin’s fledgeling government. He will never be as charming as Trudeau, but he needs to close the gap. On some level, the Tories need Canadians to like Scheer. Or, you know, at least not look at him and go “Who is that guy again and why is he wandering around the park all the time?”

In a way, the Tories are where the Liberals were under Stephane Dion and Michael Ignatieff. Those were leaders with all the charisma of a sleepy possum (in the case of Ignatieff, a somewhat arrogant and angry sleepy possum) who just could not connect with Canadians.

Well, this newly released ad is probably not going to help the Tory cause.

It features the Conservative Party leader lumbering around a park in an ill-fitting t-shirt, looking about as comfortable as a seal at a shark party. He looks vaguely panicked, like he really, really doesn’t want you to go look at what might be in the trunk of his car. And what in the name of Odin’s unseeing eye is with the “random” people saying hello? We know they are actors, and they aren’t doing a great job. Right on cue they say:

“Uh hi..Alex? Is it Arthur? Antonio? It’s something with an A, I know that….”

(If they are not actors, then they are people being held hostage and someone needs to help them.)

Then there the populist message. Scheer, in his rumbled shirt wandering aimlessly among strangers in an upper-middle-class suburb, is a “man of the people,” where the Liberals are part of the “cocktail crowd” – as if the Tories, with their extensive war chest, are impoverished monks.

But maybe Scheer has a similar problem as former Ontario Party PC Leader Tim Hudak. Like Hudak, Scheer has been a politician most of his life, with little experience in the outside world. And that often fosters an odd, slightly awkward public presence that is less everyman and more pretending to be an everyman.

Or maybe I am wrong. Maybe Scheer really does wander around playgrounds by himself. Maybe that is his thing. And maybe Canadians respond to that. Maybe.

Look, most politicians tend to produce slightly awkward political advertizing. And, to be fair,  Scheer’s ad is nowhere as horrifying as the weird monstrosity produced by Niagara Falls Liberal candidate Ron Planche during the last federal election.

They are politicians, not actors, after all. But in terms of political messaging, what Scheer is trying to say gets lost in the weird, uncanny valley vibe going on. It doesn’t so much sell a political message as it does appear to be inspired by the faux everyman groove found in that episode of the Simpsons when Homer meets President Ford.

For those who have followed my work in the St. Catharines Standard, I have been writing about the long promised, but never realized, memorial for the 137 men who died building the Welland Canal from 1914 to 1935 for five years now.

I won’t repeat the full story of the workers here. I wrote an entire series on the subject in 2013 which I encourage you to read. But this is the Reader’s Digest version:

137 men died building the canal and in 1932 when the canal opened the federal government promised a memorial in their honour. That memorial never came.

Following the series we wrote at The Standard, the city of St. Catharines struck a task force to build it, and over the last five years local politicians, business, unions, artists and the community writ large worked to finally – more than eight decades after it was promised – get the memorial built.

The memorial was officially opened at a ceremony on Nov. 12 which I was honoured to act as emcee at.

Writing about the lives of the workers who died building the canal, seeing those stories play a part in getting the memorial built and being part of the unveiling of the memorial itself, has been one of the most satisfying moments of my career.

If you are in Niagara, I strongly encourage you to take a moment to visit the memorial near the Lock 3 Museum in St. Catharines. Reading the series we published will give you the background to understand why this memorial means so much to so many people. And it is worth taking the time to watch the video of the ceremony below (skip to the 25-minute mark of the video to the start of the event). There are some fantastic performances from local artists inspired by the stories fo the fallen, some great lessons about Canadian history and a treat to see, nearly a century later, the names of men who died working to make this country stronger finally recognized in public.

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A special shout to historian Arden Phair, who I worked closely with to bring the stories of the workers to life in the newspaper, and to my editors at the time Erica Bajer and Wendy Metcalfe who were instrumental in getting the series done and having the paper actively advocate for the memorial.

Upon reflection, I don’t think I know a woman who couldn’t say “Me too.”

The most important women in my life – my mother, my partner and my best friend – could say that without much of a moment’s thought. So could the publishers, editors and reporters I’ve had the good fortune to work with. And so could most female friends and women I have met over the course of 20 years of being a journalist.

All of them could say “me too,” and that’s a problem. Because no woman, anywhere, should ever have to say “me too.”

But they do. They have to because if they don’t speak up, who will?

If you are uncertain what I am talking about because you live under a stone and the last media you ever consumed was Leave It To Beaver, “me too” has become the short, poignant slogan for women over the internet to point out that they too have been the victim of sexual harassment, abuse and assault.

The #Metoo got rolling after a series of revelations about the creepy behaviour of Hollywood bigshot Harvey Weinstein. Again, if you have been dwelling underground like a mole-person, Weinstein has been accused by a growing chorus of actresses of sexually harassing and assaulting them. It was apparently the worst kept secret in Hollywood for years, though only recently exposed by the New Yorker magazine and the New York Times.

Following those articles and subsequent follow up coverage, women everywhere  – likely at their wits end that these sorts of predators exist unopposed for as long as they do – started sharing “Me too” on social media as a way to show the problem isn’t just about one Hollywood producing asking actresses to watch him shower in exchange for career favours. It exists in every sort of workplace you care to imagine. And no matter how enlightened (that’s “woke” for you young folk) we believe we are as a society, it still happens all the time.

In 2017, women still have to navigate a minefield of harassment and because there are men whose evolutionary progress apparently stopped around the time the species developed bipedal locomotion. That is to say there walk among us far too many Drooly McDroolersons who think women exist solely to boost their porcelain egos either through pleasure and abuse. And there are far, far too many men who say nothing about it when they see it happen.

Don’t believe me? Check out your social media feeds right now. Presuming that you follow even a single woman, you will see #Metoo soon enough.

At this point, there is someone reading this column thinking “Well, why don’t women say something sooner?” You can try to deny it, but I am looking at you, fella. I know what you’re thinking.

Here is the thing about sexual abuse and harassment: It usually has nothing to with sex and everything to with power. Someone like Weinstein could literally make or break an actor’s career. So if he harassed a woman, what was she to do? He could very easily blackball her and cripple her career.

Has your boss every done something really awful to you? Pushed some ethical or moral boundary they shouldn’t have? Did you feel free to just confront them or report them? Or did you pause to think “If I complain, will I get fired?” If you understand that math, you understand why women sometimes don’t say anything. We still live in a world where police out-of-hand dismiss claims made by women of sexual crimes. You think the workplace is, by some miracle, is going to be any different than the rest of society?

There is an entire edifice of male behaviour that, at worse, actively promotes the mistreatment of women and, at best, quietly condones it by saying nothing.

Again, don’t believe me? Consider this hypothetical involving a more benign action on the spectrum of wretched that is sexual harassment:

You are on the street standing beside Drooly McDroolerson (for this thought experiment, we’re giving you questionable choices in friends) and a woman you think is attractive walks by. You, being an evolved primate, think “Oh, she is pretty” and go on about your day. But Drooly, who despite all appearances is only one hair away from being a baboon, decides to shout at this woman. Probably some barely intelligible grunt about her legs or buttocks. If she is really lucky, he might even include some manner of description of what he would like to do her.

Now, do you say something? Do you tell Drooly to stop behaving like a sexual predator in training, or do you stay quiet?

Maybe you say nothing because you don’t think it is your business. (This is frighteningly common. Many people knew about Weinstein but said nothing. Even Jane Fonda recently said she stayed quiet about because she didn’t think it was her place to speak up.) Or maybe you think catcalling isn’t that big a deal. After all, it wasn’t like Drooly grabbed her, right?

Except that by verbally attacking her (catcalling is a form of complement in the same way taking a boot to the crotch is a form of exercise) you’ve made her feel unsafe in her own community. And if you didn’t call McDroolerson out on his behaviour, you’ve given him tacit permission to do it again.

The trouble is that Drooly isn’t alone. He isn’t just nut on a street corner barking at parking metres and anyone in a skirt walking by. Drooly works in schools, leads meeting in boardrooms, holds political office, or carries a badge. Drooly is the product of a culture that has for far too long treated women poorly. And while women have and do stand up and speak up for themselves, this is an issue that men have to tackle head-on.

Yes, yes #notallmen and #alllivesmatter or whatever hollow rebuttal you think you have hit upon, Drooly. Shut up. If your reaction to #metoo is #notallmen or some variant of “but I have never abused a woman” you’ve missed the point by a country a mile.

It is not too far-fetched to assume if other men had taken the stories about Weinstein seriously a whole legion of women would not have been abused. He is not some next-level Lex Luthor-esque genius whose deeds are hard to discover. He is just a guy with a little bit of power and an elephant-sized sense of entitlement to do to women whatever he wants to. Far too many men stayed quiet and, in doing so, allowed it to go on happening.

Every woman who is in important in my life has had to deal with harassment at some level or another. It is unfair. It is unnecessary. It is wrong, and it makes my blood boil.

Nothing I have written here is any different than what I have said publicly or privately in the past. I have tried, where and when I have to, to speak up because it is the right thing to do.

All men should. All men have to. Because the abuse of women at the hands of men is not a women’s issue when you get right down to it. It’s a men’s issue. And men need to carry the weight of the solution on our shoulders.

Because no woman should have to say “me too.”

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You ever listen to a politician speak and wonder if they are actually, truly, from around here?

And by around “here” I don’t mean the town you live in, or the province or even the nation. I am talking the planet.

There are moments when someone who is purported to represent the interests of the nation and its people says something so disconnected from reality that you aren’t sure they are of this Earth.

By way of a for instance, take recent comments by the Conservative Senator from Dryden, Ont, Lynn Beyak on Canada’s First Nations.

This month she floated an idea to resolve the unresolved issue of Canadian history – the nation’s relationship with its indigenous peoples. Keep in mind, this is a historic problem of epic proportions that beguiles any simple solution. There are more than 600 recognized First Nations groups in Canada, representing more than 1.4 million people, with treaty rights that extend back beyond Confederation itself. There have been residential schools, attempted cultural genocide, systemic racism, cultural and political exclusion and the ignoring of treaty rights, to say nothing of internal problems within First Nations communities ranging from the same political problems found everywhere else to communities in crisis where life has become so hopeless that suicide pacts are regarded as a reasonable solution by youth.

And, just for kicks, all of that has to be sorted out in the context of modern Canada, a fully fledged liberal democracy guided by the rule of law that isn’t going anywhere.

Like I said, it’s complicated.

Well, unless you are Lynn Beyak. Then you would offer a solution so assinine, so disconnected from reality, that you’d be forgiven for thinking she is an alien from another world and her human disguise just happens to be that of a Canadian senator.

On her website, Beyak offered this helpful suggestion to resolve the nation’s most enduring and difficult political issue:

“Trade your status card for a Canadian citizenship, with a fair and negotiated payout to each Indigenous man, woman and child in Canada, to settle all the outstanding land claims and treaties, and move forward together just like the leaders already do in Ottawa.”

I actually had to read that twice because the first time I thought the only way I could have read what I read was if I had taken a very heavy blow to the skull, and I was seriously concussed and delusional.

But no, it’s not an illusion. An actual senator wrote that.

The open letter on her website is a train wreck of ignorance, but even in that one paragraph, there is a lot to unpack. After all, it does seem that the good Canadian senator doesn’t know very much about Canada.

But maybe I am just being picky.

The senator apparently needs to be reminded that indigenous people in Canada with status cards are already Canadian citizens. Even if we put aside the fact that the families of these Canadians were living on this land long before it was called “Canada” – we’re talking on the order of thousands of years here – anyone born in this country is a citizen by definition.

True, in the case of our First Nations, its took a while for our morals and ethics to catch up to our ideals (First Nations Canadians, specifically “status Indians”, weren’t given full voting rights until 1960), but status cards do not make their holders less Canadian or non-Canadians living in Canada. It just gives the holders – as defined by federal statute – access to certain programs and services which are limited and specifically defined.

(Oh and if you try to claim this gives First Nations Canadians some sort of unfair advantage over the rest of the country, you should be forced to live in a place like Attawapiskat for a week and ask the residents there how much of an advantage they think they have because of their status. Or, you know, read a history book.)

 

Anyhow, the point is that those with status in Canada aren’t citizens of another nation living under different laws. So asking them to sell their status cards for “a Canadian citizenship” is to ask them to sell their status for something they already have.

If that last paragraph makes you just slightly uncomfortable, it is probably because of that something-for-nothing, snake-oil salesman schtick is the kind of attitude that created some of the problems we face today. It sounds a little too close for comfort to the stereotype that Indigenous people could be tricked out of their lands and rights for a handful of beads or other trinkets.

Historically, treaties between First Nations and the crown were signed in good faith. And historically, one side of that unbalanced equation – the side with the guns and money – only honoured those treaties when it suited them. When they didn’t, well, that brings you back to the “we have all the guns and money” thing.

So not only is Beyak’s idea tone deaf and ignorant, it also solves nothing. Does she actually believe telling millions of Canadians they are not actually Canadians achieve anything other than more resentment? Does she really think abandoning status will repair the historical damage done to First Nations communities? How does selling status resolve outstanding treaty issues? Or poverty and justice issues? Or true institutional reform?

It doesn’t. It can’t.

Then again, maybe her idea that some Canadians aren’t Canadians shouldn’t be such a shock given her other views on the subject. Beyak’s also thinks t one of the worst crimes committed against Canada’s First Nations – the horror factories known as residential schools – really not that bad:

“A small number of aboriginals found the schools bad and a slightly smaller number found them good. Only 1 in 3 Indigenous children ever attended them. Very few were torn from their parents arms, but rather were enrolled by loving parents who were away trapping and trading for months on end, and who wanted to prepare their children for the future.”

On her website, Beyak tries to say her position is supported by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, which looked closely at the residential school system and came to this conclusion:

“Residential schools for Aboriginal people in Canada date back to the 1870s. Over 130 residential schools were located across the country, and the last school closed in 1996. These government-funded, church-run schools were set up to eliminate parental involvement in the intellectual, cultural, and spiritual development of Aboriginal children.

During this era, more than 150,000 First Nations, Métis, and Inuit children were placed in these schools often against their parents’ wishes. Many were forbidden to speak their language and practice their own culture. While there is an estimated 80,000 former students living today, the ongoing impact of residential schools has been felt throughout generations and has contributed to social problems that continue to exist.”

Sounds just like summer camp fun, doesn’t it?

For those who don’t know, part of the mission of residential schools was to strip indigenous people of their identities. The prevailing and fairly gruesome paternalistic political attitude of the era was that First Nations people were like children who needed a firm hand to be re-educated. Their languages, religions, customs and traditions were to be literally put to the flames. Consider the story of this man’s grandmother that I wrote about in 2016, and the long term impacts on his family and community because of residential schools:

In many ways, Karl Dockstader’s family history was reduced to ash when a doll was thrown into a bon fire.

In the 1930s, Dockstader’s grandmother was taken from her home and placed in a residential school. Aside from her language, the only thing the eight-year-old Oneida Nation girl had from her home was a traditional corn husk doll.

Other children at the school also had traditional items from home. Rattles. Jewelry. Clothes.

When they arrived at the residential school, the children were brought to a courtyard. Their family keepsakes — their only tangible links to their cultural identities — were set on fire as they stood by helplessly.

“As the doll was engulfed in flames, so too was her connection to our traditional ways,” Dockstader said.

Later, she would be physically abused for speaking her own language.

She learned her lessons well. Although Dockstader can speak some Oneida, he isn’t fluent. He wanted to learn from the best source he knew, but she would not share a language that so often brought her pain.

“She would only speak Onedia to her brothers and sisters. But when we asked her to teach us, she had a look of fear in her eyes,” he said. “She wouldn’t teach us.”

Perhaps the question Senator Beyak should ask herself is how many abused children is too many? Five? Ten? A hundred? If 30 children attend a school, and 10 of them are abused (to grant, for the sake of argument, Beyak’s claim that one in three indigenous children when to residential schools and only a small number thought they were bad) do those 10 children not count? Do the future consequences of that abuse not count?

How many communities had to have their hearts ripped out before one can admit the residential schools were a historical disaster, a stain on the nation, and a tragedy that has very real consequences for Canadians today?

At this point, the Senator from Dryden only stands in the way of forging a better path forward for Canada that is fairer, more just and more ethical. These problems will never be resolved if our politicians cannot even recognize their fellow citizens are citizens.

The best thing Beyak can do for her country now is resign.

 

NOTE: A thanks to Sean Vander Klis for providing some guidance in the framing of this column. 

If there is a reality of being a journalist in 2017 it’s this: governments don’t like us.

I know, I know. That is news in the same way as “the rain is wet” is news. Governments have NEVER really liked reporters. By my experience, if most governments from city hall to the White House had their way, most reporters would be in some kind of gulag and journalism would be reduced to happy photos of cheque presentations and kittens on parade.

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What is different these days is the effort by those in public institutions control the message, and this often takes the form of witch hunting for those who share information with journalists. It doesn’t really matter if we are talking about the federal cabinet or the local council. Governments are working harder than ever to keep what they do away from public scrutiny.

And if you don’t think this is true, examine the stories that have hit the headlines the last few years that got their start from whistleblowers who decided the public has a right to know. There are many examples in local journalism. For instance, the work we’ve done at the St. Catharines Standard and Niagara PostMedia papers on the regional government and its related arms has, on more than occasion, reported on leaked information. Our exposé on the long hidden Burgoyne Bridge audit report, is a prime example.

As I have previously written, the response from local government to this kind of reporting hasn’t been to address the issues raised, but rather to complain about leaks and demand unswerving loyalty to the government and, more critically, to its politicians:

Consider the recent comments by regional chair Alan Caslin on the May 16 episode of the Tim Denis show on CKTB 610 A.M.

Denis and his other guests expressed dismay as the NPCA’s draft code of conduct’s insistence on absolute loyalty from board members that supersedes any other loyalty that member may have. Caslin’s reply is telling. He did not address the problems associated with the NPCA demanding loyalty from elected officials, but rather focused on the issue of leaks:

“When it comes to codes of conduct and conduct of councillors, we struggle with trying to keep in-camera items private. Inevitably, they get leaked way too often and that has to stop. So those sorts of, that decorum has to be more more prevalent, not only prevalent but followed and respected because, quite frankly, the information that is dealt with in-camera is in-camera for a reason.”

Denis said he was concerned with the emphasis on loyalty and the consequences of dissent. Caslin again changed the focus on the need for loyalty:

“Being prescriptive where the loyalty lies is an absolute necessity and quite frankly may help in keeping that confidential information private.”

In this kind of environment, it can become difficult for those in public institutions concerned for the public trust to get information to journalists who will share it with the public. So I am taking the same step many other journalists around the world have by providing a means to send me information annoymously and securely.

I’ve set up a PGP email that receives encrypted anonymous messages.

What is PGP? It stands for “pretty good privacy” and is a way for people to send anonymous encrypted messages. This kind of end-to-end encryption method allows you, the message sender, to encrypt a message to me, the receiver, who alone has the means to decrypt it.

This is done through the use of “keys”. You use my public encryption key (see below) to encrypt your message and I use my private key, which no one else has, to decrypt it. In other words, you can send a message that no one can read except for its intended recipient. If someone without my private key intercepted the message, all they can read is a meaningless string of letters, numbers and symbols.

So, how can you send me information without revealing you who are?  There are a couple of ways to do it:

1) Protonmail.

My PGP email is set up through ProtonMail, an encrypted email service built by some scientists at CERN. This is the simplest and easiest way to do it. You can set up your own account without having to identify who you are. If you are sending your message to another ProtonMail user – like your friendly neighbourhood journalist – you don’t need to mess around with encryption keys. The system encrypts and decrypts messages for you.

My ProtonMail address is: grantlafleche@protonmail.com

2) Other PGP email.

So you don’t want to use ProtonMail, but you’ve got a document showing, say, how the local government has been misspending public money. How to get it to me?

Well, there are a number of options to set up a PGP email. If you already know how to do that, or have another PGP system already set up, all you need is my public key, which you will find below. If you don’t, here is a handy guide to setting up your own PGP email.

My public key to encrypt messages can be found by searching grantlafleche@prontonmail.com at the PGP Global Directory, or in the block below:

—–BEGIN PGP PUBLIC KEY BLOCK—– Version: OpenPGP.js v2.5.8 Comment: https://openpgpjs.org xsBNBFmsm/ABCAC7e0dfW4cqKsUE+/aDwleeKqlshcI5KQNOBym5rtck1Ogy yax8stVzsYynO33pXiMmC17DNyxA4Dw+v8TddOO9zZ4jLLluaNr3F46HEM8Q L0BOaItnNmKyABunuTRJB1UuH5EsHfxIpS3GbCbbR8MGt8ps/5bysMpXa0np wCmAFRV/G2OetpeIUpbrpY2ko/BYRj720Mk3ZTJaFfSGYc7BrovKljTCnmD2 N7zF7ZCdpqZCOpS0TbaL4JqjUexuJ2RFt2F5sjqCAv7VWTQV2ofR4QH5PMAx LEc8RTWSmf7oY0DaELeRjjQ5aFMr2mRf7vbk+x/RDI/jh8bOINPgjvPDABEB AAHNO2dyYW50bGFmbGVjaGVAcHJvdG9ubWFpbC5jb20gPGdyYW50bGFmbGVj aGVAcHJvdG9ubWFpbC5jb20+wsB1BBABCAApBQJZrJvxBgsJBwgDAgkQfVy8 v5HlxGIEFQgKAgMWAgECGQECGwMCHgEAANzSB/4sv/Z7MzT5a3R50aQjShZi Z2xxMBcj9NM9tVDwibmvUN2Jdrv6LWz7q+8RJVkfOH1Oja7yTTmxlK+N8vnk nG6F1DjOaP07XXL9tWxRyAsUUzdTLXZl4udcqqTRrbEcMdlCokovP2pMGeHd IOe/QAE3Ht3LhMqIgb++lDDHzZWCJdFwS11ECAHnC+OnAFdQs1Ejda6sMYPP 3W7TGApD7M+VwUJjGLI8EcgbrwCd5u5+I04kRFq//k2u0u6nzRPxvgl734iD 8NBegDkOgmV0TWBMaZtVW7EXizd3TGVhGyzJEICzIWFaCGwCrDwdaoE1yrkv o4UAlDZPqe4R2M1zZSaCzsBNBFmsm/ABCADB0zyTmmgUdx1B4k6CGkWKPe6+ PbkHUUOrCeV/DcUUetM/KGBkv3CSB5ne/IRFK+zHUvToSG9nQ9qJ1Oprhi9l iZXlF3Cz3fGOrGERPKffKtQ2VJGLHj24MDmZeXnDSxFzvBleRCW6oyOXYVpq oVIQWmTRKVMkkjJGkdZZLIFRvp2fAqGgyVwLkm88n1X+avG3VriYIu5bI9+g NqEX6gDgwmJbUqcFYUK3+VEFTwKc3PkW/XVZBPE0TbFP5Vr3lBz2oHBB8+H4 MbSo3aGLznLWl9Eg6YZDSXXzvfvpsahigoLDbQoKjB5tHVIMq84B1Nnu/Diw pYte6LenUBaHU5rtABEBAAHCwF8EGAEIABMFAlmsm/EJEH1cvL+R5cRiAhsM AABxmwf+JyusSwuzyeGz50o/g0mtOz/dAZ7KJBRCbDLMHzD3VOAfKZJJMueX Y2aIUzmmMvxdcNux/LIyWneOdfJeYPGKWFrMlwekdMESwxM8FdDUyY4py9Es HbzRZxhOQHhNLYC3O3ZM492ate3PhRjP/j74S9PnVT66gsjQR2VabMaNxyRa wFQGQyx1hwakc8y4ohLmAycMNZOLsYZjYNdBxVnTdthpNldZiHlkAiUqY+4Y UaozDgrh9wIa4Gv8xR6OvfjUeLNv5ZaG8+ox0Q5MxzBB/5594tSlntpH1EpH tSI756DnuJoDbcda++3TUOjrq4s94BRxC5T13kfNIvTxu3YRNw== =+wJu —–END PGP PUBLIC KEY BLOCK—-

There are other ways to encrypt a message using a public key, such as this service which allows you to enter the public key and your message to produce encrypted text. If you use my public key to encrypt it, I am the only one who can read it. However, this doesn’t protect your anonymity if you send it from say, say, your work email. Your boss might not be able to read it, but they’ll know you sent it. If you have a private email, like Gmail, however, this method can be used to send me encrypted messages. (But again, Gmail isn’t as secure as something like ProtonMail. Forewarned is forearmed, as they say.)

Finally, if you don’t use email or the term “encryption” causes you to break out into a cold sweat for fear that Skynet is rising, then you can always “brown bag” documents or information to my office at 1 St. Paul Street in St. Catharines.

There was something rather chilling about the ease with which the young woman justified political violence.

“We don’t rely on the cops or the courts to do the work for us,” she told a CNN reporter in the news network’s recent “Unmasking Antifa” report.

The woman – masked, dressed in black and flanked by other antifa members in the same uniform – described her movement’s willingness to use violence for political ends with the same comfort one might use when talking about a favourite flavour of ice cream.

That violence has taken the form of riots on university campuses to silence right-wing speakers in the United States, threats of violence used to silence similar speakers on campuses in Canada, and several violent protests across the US. Recently, that violence extended to attacking a journalist in Virgina.

“Antifa is any group that’s willing to stand up against fascists by any means necessary,” the woman said to CNN. “You have to make it so unpalatable to be doing white supremacist organizing they no longer want to do that.”

There is an obvious conclusion that can be drawn about antifa from the CNN interview. If its cause is to combat fascism or racism, then its cause is just, but its methods are repulsively anti-democratic and, perhaps unknowingly, mimics the very ideology it claims to oppose.

When asked about whether she believes people have a right to free speech, for instance, the antifa woman said: “We do feel communities have the right to step in and say ‘No, this is not acceptable in our community, we will not stand for this.'”

From this point of view, “not standing for it” includes the use of violence.

This is not how democracy and civil liberties work. In a free society, we do not cede our right to speak, to organize or to associate to masked gangs of crusaders.

Those who respect civil liberties do not riot or assault others to prevent their voices from being heard, even if those voices transmit a message so ugly that our natural inclination to rise up to oppose it.

We can argue against that message. We can organize and protest. We can march. We can write articles and books, create art and music and we do not give up our ground.

But we do not use threats and violence to incubate a climate of fear designed to silence others. The solution to ugly and hateful speech is, and always will be, more and better speech. Never violence.

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It is easy to sympathize with a band of self-styled Nazi-fighters. Nazism, or any related racist dogma, is so vile and so indefensible that to even engage in a debate on its merits is to abandon a slice of one’s own humanity. Fascism is a species of ideology that can be dismissed outright. Whenever and wherever such ideas arise, they ought to be directly opposed.

But if we do not find our backs against that hard wall of necessity where violence is the only means left to protect and preserve life – in the case of self-defense or actual war – then we fight our battles with words and actions that do not extend to bloodshed.

To engage in violence when opposing something as disgusting as a white power march is to cede the argument to the racists. It is to say in effect, “We surrender the life blood of civil liberties to take up the trucheon.”

What antifa fails to grasp is that there are only two positions on freedom of speech. To borrow from Noam Chomsky, it’s easy to be in favour of free speech for views you like. Dictators and tyrants always are. So if you are in favour of free speech then you are in favour of free speech for those views you despise. Otherwise, you are not in favour of free speech.

Antifa, it seems, has picked its side on the matter. Only the view regarded as acceptable is the one it permits. Riots or outright assault is can await those who don’t conform.

This permutation of antifa philosophy isn’t just undemocratic. It is utterly ineffective.

To date, antifa violence hasn’t protected anyone or blunted the reemergence of white supremacists. It hasn’t stopped the rise of the alt-right, or the election of Donald Trump. Certainly, antifa violence of the last few years did not frighten white supremacists away from that march in Virgina. It did not stop a white supremacist from slamming a car into peaceful protesters, injuring dozens and killing Heather Heyer.

In short, if the stated goal of antifa violence is to stop white supremacists, then antifa is a complete failure.

As I have argued before, when those on the far left – call them antifa, alt-left, ctrl-left, or something else entirely – engage in violence, they feed into the white-supremacist, alt-right mythology of being “oppressed.” Rather than make them afraid, the violence emboldens those who harbour Nazi sympathies.

Undoubtedly, there are those who fly the antifa flag who are not violent and if they respect civil liberties they ought to distance themselves from those who are.

For as it turns out, there is a historical precedent of uniformed gangs bound together by a singular ideological vision using violence to intimidate and silence those who do not conform to their politics. You need only look back less than 100 years to find it.

Their uniforms were not black hoodies and bandannas. Back in the 1920s and 1930s, they wore brown shirts and they played an instrumental role in the rise of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party. You may know them better as the Nazis.

Antifa may claim to oppose fascists, but in their violence, they look a lot like the thing they claim to hate.

There are many sides.

In any conflict, big or small, there are always many sides. Many motives. Many shoulders that carry the blame. Shades of grey, not stark blacks and whites, typically rule the day.

Since the events in Charlottesville, Virgina, there has been an argument in the press, on social media, around dinner tables and over office water coolers about assigning blame. Were the alt-right thugs, the Nazis, the KKK and assorted other racists responsible for the violence? Were the counter protesters – called the “alt-left” or “ctrl-left” or “social justice left” depending on who you ask – the real culprits? Do both sides share the blame equally?

There were many sides in Charlottesville and everyone who chose the truncheon over argument carries a measure of fault. In a free society, free speech means those who hold views you despise are still allowed to speak or march. Your job is to carry your argument forward, not silence someone else by using your knuckles.

So let’s not be disingenuous about it. There were, and there are, many sides.

Yet we must not lose sight of a simple truth: the existence of many sides does not imply a moral equivalency among them. All sides may share blame and responsibility in any given conflict, but the weight is not carried equally.

Some are more responsible than others.

United States President Donald Trump has it made clear where he stands. Immediately after the riots in Charlottesville that were trigged by Nazis chanting white power slogans, Trump would not outright condemn any group more than any other. It took two days before he criticized white supremacy. But then on Tuesday, Trump held fast to his assertion that both sides are equally at fault, singling out the “alt-left” and even suggesting there were very fine people among the ranks of white supremacists.

This is not the first time he has done this.

When asked by former Fox News anchor Bill O’Reilly why he respects Russian tyrant Vladimir Putin, Trump gave an answer that explained in full his moral vision.

O’Reilly: Putin’s a killer…

Trump: There are a lot of killers. We’ve got a lot of killers. What, you think our country is so innocent?

This was not a president reflecting on America’s past sins. It was a statement of moral certitude: when it comes down to it, America and Russia are the same. Everyone is at fault, so therefore no one is. Anything either side does is just part of the game.

This is the moral nihilism of Donald Trump, the alt-right and the white power movement nestled comfortably in its shadow. There is no right and wrong. No moral high ground. No lines that cannot be crossed. There is only the muck through which we sift and all that matters is who managed to climb to the top of the biggest pile of mud.

This is the only position that makes it possible to claim there are “good” Nazis and white supremacists.

Part of the justification here is that the good people were only “silently” protesting the removal of Confederate statues. They were standing up for “tradition” and history, he said. To move the statues is to “change history”, as though placing a statue in a museum is the equivalent of driving 88 miles an hour with Doc Brown. The fact that the Confederate States were built on a slave economy is also easily dismissed by Trump. George Washington had slaves, he said, as though that fact ends any objection to what the South stood for and why the Civil War was fought.

The good folks had a permit to march, Trump said. And their silent protest was ruined by club wielding, permitless alt-lefters.

Perhaps “silence” means something else in the Trumpverse. It is a matter of public record the marchers were not silent. They chanted the old Nazi slogan of “blood and soil” and warned that “Jews will not replace us.”

They carried Nazi flags and shields emblazoned with the symbols of white power groups. Some came in full combat gear and were armed with military style rifles.

As I argued in my last column, these white supremacists feel their time is now because Trump has tacitly told them it was time to step out into the light to “take their country back.”

Trump’s rambling, rage filled and bizarre Tuesday press conference drew open cheers from David Duke and other white power trolls because the president refused to take a moral stand against them. Trump’s insistence that everyone is at fault is being taken in Nazi circles as a sign of approval.

The Nazi march was designed to provoke violence. They came armed and marched in phalanx formation. Some of the counter protesters, the “alt-left,” played into their game by choosing violence. By arriving with their own shields, by engaging in fisticuffs, these people fed into the white supremacist narrative.

Indeed, the alt-left or whatever label one affixes to them have been feeding the alt-right, white supremacist narrative for years.

The far left steadily built an insular cultural ethos that allows only their view point. They created ironically named “safe spaces” on university campuses where dissent is not allowed. They riot on those same campuses if someone with a point of view they don’t like is scheduled to speak. (It is not just alt-right jesters like Milo Yiannopoulos, whose scheduled speech at Berekely was cancelled because of riots, that are silenced. Richard Dawkins, biologist and intense critic of religion was recently denied a speaking engagement because his views on Islam were deemed too offensive for the ears of students.)

In the minds of the alt-right, each of these offenses to free speech was further evidence that their lurid fantasy is correct: That these alt-lefters “hate” freedom, are motivated by Marixist ideology (even if they don’t know it) and, in some version of the story, will only be defeated in a massive conflagration.

In a very real way, the anti-fascist protesters who decided to meet hate with violence were played as fools and their blood in Charlottesville is just fuel for the white power movement they hate.

Still, while one can condemn violence as the wrong path to political change, as well everyone should in a democracy, we should not lose sight of the root cause of what happened in Virgina.

The violence was provoked, deliberately, by Nazis, purveyors of an ideology corrosive to everything democracy is supposed to be. A peaceful anti-fascist protester was killed by a murderous driver. And those Nazis only felt this was their time to march and wave the swastika because a U.S. president helped create a climate for them to thrive in.

Yes, there are many sides.

But some carry more blame than others.

quote-those-who-can-make-you-believe-absurdities-can-make-you-commit-atrocities-voltaire-191236