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Posts Tagged ‘legal’

After 800 Years, the Barons Are Back in Control of Britain

King John, surrounded by English barons, ratifying the Magna Carta. (photo: Time Life Pictures/Getty Images)

By George Monbiot, Guardian UK, 17 July 12

The Magna Carta forced King John to give away powers. But big business now exerts a chilling grip on the workforce

Hounded by police and bailiffs, evicted wherever they stopped, they did not mean to settle here. They had walked out of London to occupy disused farmland on the Queen’s estates surrounding Windsor Castle. Perhaps unsurprisingly, that didn’t work out very well. But after several days of pursuit, they landed two fields away from the place where modern democracy is commonly supposed to have been born.

At first this group of mostly young, dispossessed people, who (after the 17th century revolutionaries) call themselves Diggers 2012, camped on the old rugby pitch of Brunel University’s Runnymede campus. It’s a weed-choked complex of grand old buildings and modern halls of residence, whose mildewed curtains flap in the wind behind open windows, all mysteriously abandoned as if struck by a plague or a neutron bomb.

The diggers were evicted again, and moved down the hill into the woods behind the campus – pressed, as if by the ineluctable force of history, ever closer to the symbolic spot. From the meeting house they have built and their cluster of tents, you can see across the meadows to where the Magna Carta was sealed almost 800 years ago.

Their aim is simple: to remove themselves from the corporate economy, to house themselves, grow food and build a community on abandoned land. Implementation is less simple. Soon after I arrived, on a sodden day last week, an enforcer working for the company which now owns the land came slithering through the mud in his suit and patent leather shoes with a posse of police, to serve papers.

Already the crops the settlers had planted had been destroyed once; the day after my visit they were destroyed again. But the repeated destruction, removals and arrests have not deterred them. As one of their number, Gareth Newnham, told me: “If we go to prison we’ll just come back … I’m not saying that this is the only way. But at least we’re creating an opportunity for young people to step out of the system.”

To be young in the post-industrial nations today is to be excluded. Excluded from the comforts enjoyed by preceding generations; excluded from jobs; excluded from hopes of a better world; excluded from self-ownership.

Those with degrees are owned by the banks before they leave college. Housing benefit is being choked off. Landlords now demand rents so high that only those with the better jobs can pay. Work has been sliced up and outsourced into a series of mindless repetitive tasks, whose practitioners are interchangeable. Through globalisation and standardisation, through unemployment and the erosion of collective bargaining and employment laws, big business now asserts a control over its workforce almost unprecedented in the age of universal suffrage.

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Canadian senators warn United Church over Israel boycott

CAMPBELL CLARK, The Globe and Mail, Jul. 04 2012

Canadian senators are warning the United Church of Canada that a boycott of goods from Israeli settlements in occupied lands could cause a rift with the Jewish community.
(Nasser Ishtayeh/AP)

A group of nine senators has warned the United Church of Canada that it could spark a rift with the Jewish community if it approves the boycott of goods from Israeli settlements in occupied lands.

The senators, all United Church members and from both the Conservative and Liberal parties, have waded publicly into a controversial issue before it comes to a vote in mid-August.

It’s a debate in which the lines between church and state have already been crossed several times as the United Church considers a new foray into the electrified world of Mideast politics.

A working group established by the church has issued a report that proposes a boycott of all products from Jewish settlements in occupied lands, arguing the settlements are illegally eating away Palestinian lands and the hope for a two-state solution. But it also rejects a wholesale boycott of all Israeli goods.

The nine senators have warned in a letter to United Church moderator Mardi Tindal that the distinction drawn with the narrower boycott will “be lost upon” Israelis and Canada’s Jewish community.

“What will be made clear to them is that the United Church has chosen sides, declaring Israel guilty and the Palestinians the only injured party,” the senators wrote.

Conservative Senator Nancy Ruth noted that she has no objection to the church wading into weighty international politics, but fears that members of the Jewish community will see itself as being singled out by an anti-Israel-sentiment.

“I’d say it’s a matter of diplomacy,” she said. “I don’t think it will be helpful for Jewish-Christian relations.

The church’s working group said it struggled with that issue. But its report maintained that arguments about the complexity of affairs in the Middle East are not an excuse for silence.

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Williams: Christians need to confront shame and disgust over homosexuality

Archbishop makes one of strongest interventions yet on issue that lies at heart of some of deepest divisions in church

Ben Quinn, The Guardian, 27 June 2012

Rowan Williams the archbishop of Canterbury has said the church is still ‘scratching its head’ about its position on same-sex marriage Photograph: Nick Cunard/Rex Features

Christians need to confront feelings of embarrassment, shame and disgust over homosexuality, the archbishop of Canterbury has said.

In one of his strongest interventions yet on an issue that lies at the heart of some of the deepest divisions in the church he leads, Dr Rowan Williams said the church was still “scratching its head” about its position on same-sex marriage.

He was speaking at an event involving Christian teenagers at Lambeth Palace, his official residence in London, which was entitled “Help, my friends think I’m mad” and where some of the discussion focused on how Anglicanism was viewed from without.

Dr Williams also turned to the question of women bishops, which is due to be considered by the Church of England’s general synod next week, saying it was another issue that gave the impression that sex was “the only thing the church is interested in”.

The Daily Telegraph reported him as saying: “Same with same-sex marriage, where once more we’re used to being alongside people who are gay; many of our friends may be – indeed we may be – wrestling with that issue ourselves, and the church is scratching its head and trying to work out where it is on all that, and what to think about it.

“What’s frustrating is that we still have Christian people whose feelings about it are so strong, and sometimes so embarrassed and ashamed and disgusted, that that just sends out a message of unwelcome, of lack of understanding, of lack of patience.

“So whatever we think about it, we need, as a church, to be tackling what we feel about it.”

The archbishop’s comments come after the Church of England was criticised this month by gay rights campaigners for delivering an uncompromising warning to the government against pressing ahead with a controversial proposal to legalise gay marriage.

Introducing same-sex marriage could lead to the church being forced out of its role of conducting weddings on behalf of the state, the church claimed in a submission in response to the government’s consultation on gay marriage.

The National Secular Society on Tuesday published a legal opinion it obtained in response to the church’s submission. The opinion, which has been written by barrister and human rights expert Dr Ronan McCrea and sent to equalities minister Lynne Featherstone, said the church’s failure to distinguish between social, religious and legal institutions of marriage “confuses the issues”.

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What a 10-Year-Old Did for the Tar Sands

By Angela Sterritt, YES! Magazine, 24 June 12

Ta’Kaiya Blaney, of the Sliammon First Nation, sings her environmental advocacy song, ‘Shallow Waters,’ 07/31/11. (photo: Richard Walker)

Why a First Nations student from British Columbia is taking on a controversial trans-Canadian pipeline project – through song.

Ten-year-old Ta’Kaiya Blaney stood outside Enbridge Northern Gateway’s office on July 6, waiting for officials to grant her access to the building. She thought she could hand deliver an envelope containing an important message about the company’s pipeline construction. But the doors remained locked.

“I don’t know what they find so scary about me,” she said, as she was ushered off the property by security guards. “I just want them to hear what I have to say.”

The Sliammon First Nation youth put in a great effort learning about environmental issues and the pipeline in particular, and hoped to share her knowledge and carefully crafted words. Enbridge officials said they were unable to provide Ta’Kaiya space or time and failed to comment because the Vancouver office is staffed by a limited number of technical personnel. Their headquarters are located in Calgary.

So Ta’Kaiya stood outside, accompanied by three members of Greenpeace, her mother, and a number of reporters and sang her song “Shallow Waters.” The song’s video has hit YouTube and been viewed more than 53,000 times.

She co-wrote her song after learning of Enbridge’s bid to build twin 1,170 km pipelines to transport oil from the Alberta tar sands to British Columbia’s north coast. Like the proposed TransCanada Keystone XL pipeline that would connect the Canadian tar sands to the U.S. Gulf Coast, Enbridge’s Alberta-B.C. pipeline is widely opposed, largely because it would bring hundreds of oil supertankers a year to the Great Bear Rainforest – an ecologically significant region along a particularly dangerous route for tankers.

“Oil pipelines and tankers will give people jobs, but if there is an oil spill like the [BP spill] in the Gulf of Mexico, that will take other people’s jobs and the wildlife will die,” said Ta’Kaiya.

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Huge Turnout at Michigan Capitol Reading of ‘Vagina Monologues’

By Dawson Bell and Kathleen Gray, Detroit Free Press, 19 June 12

Thousands of people turned out for protest performance of The Vagina Monologues at the State Capitol in Lansing, Mich., in response to Rep. Lisa Brown, D-West Bloomfield being silenced by House Speaker James Bolger for comments she made in opposition to new abortion legislation passed by the House last week. (photo: Susan Tusa/DFP)

Several thousand people thronged the state Capitol lawn this evening, to protest the treatment of two female lawmakers who were barred from speaking on the House floor last Thursday following an emotional debate over abortion.

They heard a recitation by the two lawmakers and others of The Vagina Monologues.

The performance, kicked off by the work’s author Eve Ensler who flew in from California for the occasion, was the culmination of five days of reaction to the decision by House Republican leaders to issue one-day revocations of the right of state Reps. Lisa Brown, D-West Bloomfield, and Barb Byrum, D-Onondaga , to speak on the House floor.

They said the discipline was in response to incivility displayed by the two representatives a day earlier during a debate over legislation to impose new restrictions on abortion clinics. Brown said she was punished for using the word vagina.

Welcoming the crowd today, Brown said the legislation would “effectively overturn Roe v. Wade,” the 1972 U.S. Supreme Court decision which ended most state-level restrictions on abortion, and “turn back the clock to the 60s, when women were denied health care.”

Concluding her remarks during the House debate, Brown had said, “I’m flattered that you are all so interested in my vagina, but ‘no’ means ‘no.'”

Today, she said, “We shouldn’t be legislating vaginas, if you can’t say vagina.”

Byrum got her one-day gag order after she reacted vigorously during the abortion debate when she was not allowed to speak on an amendment she sponsored that would have required a man seeking a vasectomy to have proof of a medical emergency or life-threatening condition.

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For Churches, Being Political Is about Being Faithful

June 17, 2012, The United Church of Canada

Toronto: In a recent interview on CBC Radio, Senator Nicole Eaton said, “I don’t think that churches should take political stands. I think they should be more about helping people and giving people succour.”
Her comments were made on the program As It Happens, during an interview about her Senate inquiry into foreign funding of Canadian charities. Since Eaton launched the inquiry in February, concerns have been raised about the chill being felt by charities that fear their charitable status will be threatened if they participate in public debates that challenge government policy.
During the interview Eaton chose to single out The United Church of Canada as one she thought was involved in “political work.”
“And so we are,” says the United Church’s Moderator, Mardi Tindal, in response to the senator’s comments. “We are very political, as was Jesus—that’s why he was crucified.”
Tindal adds, however, there is a very clear distinction between being political, meaning advocating for changes in public policy, and being partisan.
“It is a distinction that is often misunderstood—but it is critical, especially when a member of the Canadian Senate suggests that it is inappropriate for churches to participate in shaping public policy,” she explains.
Tindal notes it was the deep Christian faith of Tommy Douglas, a Baptist preacher, that drove him to champion universal health care with such passion. Similarly, faith motivated Nellie McClung in the struggle to win women the right to vote.

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Anglicans threaten rift with government over gay marriage

Church says introducing same-sex marriage legislation could lead to it being forced out of traditional wedding role

“It seems odd that the Church of England should be obsessing about a few thousand gay couples once again when there are currently 3 million children in Britain living in single-parent households.” Ben Summerskill, chief executive of Stonewall, which campaigns for gay rights.

Ben Quinn, The Guardian, 12 June 2012

The Church of England has delivered an ­uncompromising warning to the ­government against pressing ahead with gay marriage proposals. Photograph: Gareth Fuller/PA

The threat of an unprecedented clash between church and state over the issue of gay marriage has opened up after the Church of England delivered an uncompromising warning to the government against pressing ahead with controversial proposals.

Introducing same-sex marriage could lead to the church being forced out of its role of conducting weddings on behalf of the state, the church claimed in a potentially explosive submission in response to the government’s consultation on gay marriage, which closes on Thursday.

The submission’s warning of a potential clash between canon law – that marriage is between a man and a woman – and parliament is likely to put pressure on the prime minister, David Cameron, who has spoken out in support of gay marriage and already come under fire from supporters of the proposals for allowing a free vote amongst Tory MPs.

In a 13-page submission, the church says it cannot support the proposal to enable all couples, regardless of their gender, to have a civil marriage ceremony.

“Such a move would alter the intrinsic nature of marriage as the union of a man and a woman, as enshrined in human institutions throughout history,” it says.

“Marriage benefits society in many ways, not only by promoting mutuality and fidelity, but also by acknowledging an underlying biological complementarity which, for many, includes the possibility of procreation.”

The controversy comes at a particularly delicate time for the church itself, which is in the middle of a process that will choose a new Archbishop of Canterbury later this year to replace Dr Rowan Williams.

Internal debates on gay rights have been particularly heated during his tenure as he struggled to balance the CofE’s own factions at the same time as holding together the disparate worldwide Anglican communion of 80 million members.

The church’s submission warns that despite ministerial assurances that churches would not have to conduct gay marriages, it would be “very doubtful” whether limiting same-sex couples to non-religious ceremonies would withstand a challenge at the European court of human rights.

This could make it impossible for the CofE to continue its role conducting marriages on behalf of the state, it warned.

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Women Are Born Free in the US but Everywhere Give Birth in Chains

By Sadhbh Walshe, Guardian UK, 07 June 12

Only 16 of 50 states in the US have any regulations or laws against the shackling of female prisoners during childbirth. (photo: Guardian UK)

In 2007, a 17-year-old girl called Cora Fletcher was charged with retail theft. Over a year later, after she missed a court date, she was sent to the Cook County jail, in Illinois. She was eight months pregnant at the time.

During a pre-natal check-up at the facility, her baby appeared to have no heartbeat, so she was sent to the county hospital. As the medical team tried to induce her, Fletcher claims that both her hands and both her feet were shackled to either side of the bed. Only when she finally went into labor, three days later, was one hand and one foot released. It’s hard to imagine a more crucifying way to force a woman to try to give birth.

Sadly for Fletcher, there was no payoff for the trauma and humiliation she was forced to endure, as her baby was born dead.

Fletcher was one of the plaintiffs in a class action lawsuit brought against Cook County on behalf of 80 female prisoners and detainees who also claimed to have had similar experiences of being shackled during childbirth. Just under two weeks ago, the county agreed to a settlement of $4.1m dollars payable to the women, who will each receive between $5,000 and $45,000.

The Cook County sheriff’s office made it clear, however, that they were agreeing to the deal for expediency’s sake only and were admitting to no wrongdoing. This despite the fact that Illinois became the first state in the union to ban the practice of shackling women during labor, back in 1999 – at least seven years before any of the women named in the lawsuit had their babies. A spokesman for the department, Frank Bilecki, went so far as to issue a statement claiming the jail’s treatment of (female) detainees is the “most progressive in the nation”.

If that is the case, women in America better watch their backs.

The practices of making pregnant women wear belly chains and of shackling their hands and feet before, after and sometimes during labor, are just another way in which the United States distinguishes itself – or fails to distinguish itself, perhaps – as anything but a bastion of liberty and justice and a champion of women’s rights. No other country in the “civilized world” finds shackling pregnant women a necessary or desirable procedure. The practice has been repeatedly and vigorously condemned by the committee against torture at the United Nations; and it has been decried by both the American Medical Association and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. (You can imagine how doctors relish the prospect of trying to safely deliver a baby whose mother is in chains.)

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New Brunswick university under fire for anti-gay hiring policy

By Andrew Rankin, Special to the Star, 1 June 12

Jillian Duplessie, left, with friend Ainsley Cotter. Duplessie revoked her acceptance at Crandall after she learned about the school's anti-gay hiring rule.

ST. JOHN, N.B.—A Christian university in New Brunswick is under fire for a policy that prevents it from hiring homosexuals.

Crandall University, a small liberal arts school in Moncton, was thrust into the spotlight earlier this week when 22-year-old Jillian Duplessie revoked her acceptance after she learned about the anti-gay rule.

Since then the aspiring teacher has joined forces with a Moncton-based homosexual advocacy group called River of Pride, which is now calling on the government to stop funding the university, which is both publicly and privately subsidized.

“Considering that we live in a country that has legalized gay marriage and has come a long way in accepting homosexuals as normal members of our society, it’s an archaic policy that came as a huge shock to me,” said Duplessie. “It completely caught me off guard. Many of our taxpayers are homosexuals and are paying for a school that they would have no chance of being hired at.”

Crandall University told the Toronto Star on Friday that it was standing by vice-president Seth Crowell’s comments to the CBC in which he defended the hiring policy and said the school was given the right to educate based on its beliefs in 1983.

“Within that act of the legislature, there’s a sub-clause that says Crandall University — at that point Atlantic Baptist College — has the opportunity to grant degrees to students with a viewpoint that is Christian,” said Crowell. “In the confines of a faith community, of a religious community, it has that jurisdiction.”

The university’s moral code calls on staff to be “sexually pure, reserving sexual intimacy for within a traditional marriage between one man and one woman, and refraining from the use of pornographic materials.”

James LeMesurier, a Saint John lawyer who specializes in employment and labour law, says hiring or firing someone on the basis of their sexual orientation is a clear breach of the province’s Human Rights Code.

“Our Human Rights Code specifically says no employer or person acting on behalf of an employer shall, because of sexual orientation, refuse to employ or to continue to employ any person or to discriminate against any person,” said LeMesurier.

“That is the very fundamental aspect of the Human Rights Code.”

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A Monetary Policy for the 99%: Twelve-Year-Old Reformer Goes Viral

12-year old Victoria Grant explains why her homeland, Canada, and most of the world, is in debt. April 27, 2012 at the Public Banking in America Conference, Philadelphia, PA. (Screengrab: publicbankingtv)

By Ellen Brown, Truthout | News Analysis | 29 May 2012

The YouTube video of 12-year-old Victoria Grant speaking at the Public Banking in America conference last month has gone viral, topping a million views on various web sites.

Monetary reform – the contention that governments, not banks, should create and lend a nation’s money – has rarely even made the news, so this is a first. Either the times they are a-changin’, or Victoria managed to frame the message in a way that was so simple and clear that even a child could understand it.

Basically, her message was that banks create money “out of thin air” and lend it to people and governments at interest. If governments borrowed from their own banks, they could keep the interest and save a lot of money for the taxpayers.

She said her own country of Canada actually did this, from 1939 to 1974. During that time, the government’s debt was low and sustainable and it funded all sorts of remarkable things. Only when the government switched to borrowing privately did it acquire a crippling national debt.

Borrowing privately means selling bonds at market rates of interest (which in Canada quickly shot up to 22 percent), and the money for these bonds is ultimately created by private banks. For the latter point, Victoria quoted Graham Towers, head of the Bank of Canada for the first twenty years of its history. He said:

Each and every time a bank makes a loan, new bank credit is created – new deposits – brand new money. Broadly speaking, all new money comes out of a Bank in the form of loans. As loans are debts, then under the present system all money is debt.

Towers was asked, “Will you tell me why a government with power to create money, should give that power away to a private monopoly and then borrow that which Parliament can create itself, back at interest, to the point of national bankruptcy?” He replied, “If Parliament wants to change the form of operating the banking system, then certainly that is within the power of Parliament.”

In other words, said Victoria, “If the Canadian government needs money, they can borrow it directly from the Bank of Canada.

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The Supreme Court is right to hear life-support case

Hassan Rasouli, shown with his wife, Parichehr Salasel, has been in a persistent vegetative state since October, 2010. Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail

GLOBE EDITORIAL, May. 23, 2012 , Globe and Mail

The Supreme Court of Canada was right when it agreed to hear the case of a patient on life support, despite shifting medical facts. In doing so, it is expected to provide much-needed guidance on end-of-life treatment.

The issue – who decides – has been a divisive, emotional one. Giving doctors unilateral decision-making power seems extreme, yet it is equally perverse for families of incapable patients to insist upon costly interventions of no medical benefit and some potential harm.

The absence of direction has left a policy vacuum, and potentially treatment vacuums in Canadian hospitals. Will physicians hesitate to start trials of therapy in critically ill patients if they think they cannot withdraw them when later deemed futile?

To answer the question of who decides, two critical-care physicians, Brian Cuthbertson and Gordon Rubenfeld of Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, have taken their case to Canada’s highest court. They say there is no medical purpose in keeping Hassan Rasouli on life support and have proposed shifting him to palliative care.

The 60-year-old retired engineer has been at that Toronto hospital since October, 2010, when a brain infection incurred after surgery for a brain tumour left him in a persistent vegetative state. After that, he received round-the-clock care, with machines doing all the things he can’t: breathe, hydrate and nourish.

Then, unexpectedly, his diagnosis changed.

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Student group law could push Catholic schools into clash with province, observers say

By Lee Greenberg, The Ottawa Citizen May 14, 2012

TORONTO — Ontario’s Catholic schools are on a constitutional collision course with the province, one that likely will redefine the limits of the church’s influence in its publicly-funded classrooms, experts say.

The battle is shaping up over a proposed law that would force all public schools to embrace student-led groups — such as rainbow clubs and gay-straight alliances — that promote tolerance for homosexual students.

Catholic schools and their supporters argue they should have the right to rule clubs out of bounds if they conflict with their religious views.

But lawyers say that view is one that has not yet been tested in the courts.

“You can’t attack Catholicism in the classroom, because that’s constitutionally protected,” says Ed Morgan, a law professor at the University of Toronto. “It’s not at all clear that anything other than the teaching of Catholicism in the classroom is protected. In fact, there’s a very good argument that that’s the extent of the (British North America) act’s protection.”

The last such test of the Church’s authority in its schools came in 2002, when gay student Marc Hall challenged Durham, Ont.’s school board’s decision to ban him and his boyfriend from his Catholic school prom.

The school board argued it was exercising its religious freedom by banning Hall and his partner from the celebration. Hall’s lawyer argued the public education act forbade the school from discriminating.

Ultimately, Hall won a temporary injunction in what was only a partial victory. The judge in the case, Robert McKinnon, decided not to rule on the larger issues.

Doug Elliott, one of the lawyers involved in that case, says the situation unfolding in Ontario over gay-straight alliances is a chance to finish that argument.

“This is a turning point in the history of our education system,” Elliott says. “Either Catholic schools are going to adapt to this new environment and are going to accept that they are subject to the ultimate regulation of the government of Ontario, which is a secular institution … or they’ll decide to fight it. And if they do decide to fight it, I think quite frankly, they’re going to end up losing.”

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Catholic Bishops Threaten to Sue for Their Right to Hate Lady Parts

By Kaili Joy Gray, Daily Kos, 21 May 12

The Catholic Church's U.S. hierarchy warned Tuesday that without quick action by Congress, it will sue the Obama administration for mandating that insurance plans provide birth control to women without a co-pay. (photo: Daily Kos)

The Catholic Church’s U.S. hierarchy warned Tuesday that without quick action by Congress, it will sue the Obama administration for mandating that insurance plans provide birth control to women without a co-pay.

“[F]orcing individual and institutional stakeholders to sponsor and subsidize an otherwise widely available product over their religious and moral objections serves no legitimate, let alone compelling, government interest,” lawyers for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops wrote in a letter to federal regulators.

Talk about sore losers. The bishops had their chance to weigh in on the Obama administration’s new policy to require health insurers to cover birth control without co-pays. The Obama administration generously carved out a boatload of exemptions for them to address their “concerns.” The bishops even got their puppets in Congress to introduce bills on their behalf – which the American people overwhelmingly opposed. They even got themselves invited to the boys-only congressional hearing on birth control – because who understands birth control better than a bunch of supposedly celibate men?

At the end of the day, though, they lost. They made their case that basic health care for women violates their “religious liberty” and makes Jesus sad – and they lost. They launched a charm offensive to “set the record straight,” arguing that the Catholic Church totally loves women’s health care and has been “the most effective private provider of such care anywhere around,” and people better stop saying mean stuff about them or they won’t be able “to live out the imperatives of our faith to serve, teach, heal, feed, and care for others.” And no one bought it.

You’d think, after such a resounding “f*ck off” from the American public, the bishops might leave women’s health care alone and go back to focusing on those important things they claim to care about. But when the Administrative Committee of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), led by Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, archbishop of New York and the president of the bishops’ conference, met to decide whether to accept defeat or keep whining, they of course decided to keep whining, even as they concluded:

Prayer is the ultimate source of our strength – for without God, we can do nothing; but with God, all things are possible.

Well, apparently their prayers didn’t work, so they’ve decided to scrap the God plan in favor of litigation:

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Majority of Ontarians favour gay-straight alliances and oppose Catholic school funding, poll finds

By Robert Benzie, 16 May 2012, Toronto Star

Ontarians favour the right of students to form gay-straight alliance clubs in Catholic schools by a margin of almost two to one, a new poll suggests.

The Forum Research survey also found more than half of Ontario residents — 53 per cent — oppose the public funding of Catholic schools with 40 per cent supportive and 6 per cent unsure.

As the issue of gay-straight alliances dominates debate around new anti-bullying legislation, the poll concluded people are accepting of the anti-homophobia clubs designed to promote tolerance.

Fifty-one per cent agreed that students in publicly funded Catholic schools should be allowed to form clubs under that sometimes contentious name with 28 per cent opposed and 21 per cent undecided.

“Now that people are more familiar with them, there’s more support for them,” Forum president Lorne Bozinoff told the Star on Tuesday.

Forum’s interactive voice response telephone survey of 1,072 Ontarians was conducted Monday.

Bozinoff said it is difficult to say whether high-profile opposition to gay-straight alliances from some Catholic educators has had an impact on support for public funding of the religious schools, which is enshrined in the constitution.

“This is a killer issue in Ontario,” he said of separate school funding. “No one politically is going to go anywhere near this. It’s explosive and uncontrollable.”

Premier Dalton McGuinty, whose opposition to a Progressive Conservative scheme to extend funding to other faith-based schools helped his Liberals win the 2007 election, said he’s “confident” the controversy can be resolved.

“It’s really important that when our kids go to school that they are welcomed there, that they are supported there, that they are accepted for who they are and that they be able to establish these gay-straight alliances, the student-support groups, call them whatever name that you want,” McGuinty told reporters at a St. Clair Ave. West seniors’ home Tuesday.

While Catholic teachers have generally been supportive of the alliances, trustees and many parents have opposed them as not being in accordance with church teachings.

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The People’s Bishop

“‘You can’t sit anymore in churches listening to stodgy liturgies. They put you to sleep. Most of these churches are museums with floorshows. They are a caricature of what Jesus intended. Jesus would be turning over the money-changing tables in their vestibules. Those in the church may be good-hearted and even well-meaning, but they are ignoring the urgent, beckoning call to engage with the world.'”

07 May 2012, By Chris Hedges, Truthdig

Retired Episcopal Bishop George Packard is detained by police, December 17, 2011. (Photo: Ozier Muhammad / The New York Times)

Retired Episcopal Bishop George Packard was arrested in Vietnam Veterans Memorial Plaza in New York City on Tuesday night as he participated in the May 1 Occupy demonstrations. He and 15 other military veterans were taken into custody after they linked arms to hold the plaza against a police attempt to clear it. There were protesters behind them who, perhaps because of confusion, perhaps because of miscommunication or perhaps they were unwilling to risk arrest, melted into the urban landscape. But those in the thin line from Veterans for Peace, of which the bishop is a member, stood their ground. They were handcuffed, herded into a paddy wagon and taken to jail.
It was Packard’s second arrest as part of the Occupy protests. Last Dec. 17 he was arrested when he leapt over a fence in his flowing bishop’s robe to spearhead an attempt to occupy a vacant lot owned by Trinity Church in lower Manhattan. The December action by the Occupy movement was a response to the New York City Police Department’s storming and eradication of the encampment in Zuccotti Park. Packard will appear in court in June to face the trespassing charge that resulted. Now, because of this second arrest, he faces the possibility of three months in jail.
Packard’s moral and intellectual courage stands in stark contrast with the timidity of nearly all clergy and congregants in all of our major religious institutions. Religious leaders, in churches, synagogues and mosques, at best voice pious and empty platitudes about justice or carry out nominal acts of charity aimed at those bearing the weight of resistance in the streets. And Packard’s arrests serve as a reminder of the price that we—especially those who claim to be informed by the message of the Christian Gospel—must be willing to pay to defy the destruction visited on us all by the corporate state. He is one of the few clergy members who dare to bear a genuine Christian witness in an age that cries out in anguish for moral guidance.

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Does temporary foreign workers program create second class of labourers?

NATHAN VANDERKLIPPE | Globe and Mail | May. 06, 2012

Yessy Byl spent five years dealing with temporary foreign workers and heard first hand stories of neglect and mistreatment. Many of the workers wouldn't make a formal complaint for fear they'd be fired just for speaking out. Jason Franson for The Globe and Mail

Five years of dealing with temporary foreign workers affected Yessy Byl in a way she did not expect. There were the stories, from the more than 1,000 people she spoke with in her job as a labour advocate, of neglect and mistreatment – overtime not paid, commitments not honoured, hefty “hiring fees” deducted from weekly cheques. And yet many of them wouldn’t make a formal complaint for fear they’d be fired just for speaking out.

It left her deflated and disillusioned. “My faith in this country has been badly shaken,” she says. “I have to remind myself: There are some good employers.”

For Ms. Byl, and many other critics, Canada’s growing numbers of temporary foreign workers have raised important questions about the kind of country we are becoming, and how a nation that has long welcomed immigrants is establishing a burgeoning second class of labour, devoid of many of the rights to democratic participation and workplace choice other Canadians enjoy.

As Canadian employers struggle to address a burgeoning labour shortage, temporary foreign workers have become a pillar of the economy – there are now more than 300,000 here, triple the number a decade ago. Visiting workers once associated with harvest time in Canada’s orchards and tobacco fields now turn up everywhere from fast-food chains and abattoirs to the Alberta oil sands.

Anticipating another surge in demand, the Harper government has, in the past few weeks, formalized a series of changes to speed up the program. Now able to bring in people with just 10 days notice and to pay them 15-per-cent less than a Canadian would earn, employers have responded with joy. They still must prove they can’t fill a job any other way, but others see deeper significance in the trend and are holding their breath.

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Family Battle Offers Look Inside Lavish TV Ministry

By ERIK ECKHOLM, Published: May 4, 2012, New York Times

The Holy Land Experience theme park in Orlando, Fla., is part of the Trinity Broadcasting Network’s operations. - Brian Blanco for The New York Times

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. — For 39 years, the Trinity Broadcasting Network has urged viewers to give generously and reap the Lord’s bounty in return.

The prosperity gospel preached by Paul and Janice Crouch, who built a single station into the world’s largest Christian television network, has worked out well for them.

Mr. and Mrs. Crouch have his-and-her mansions one street apart in a gated community here, provided by the network using viewer donations and tax-free earnings. But Mrs. Crouch, 74, rarely sleeps in the $5.6 million house with tennis court and pool. She mostly lives in a large company house near Orlando, Fla., where she runs a side business, the Holy Land Experience theme park. Mr. Crouch, 78, has an adjacent home there too, but rarely visits. Its occupant is often a security guard who doubles as Mrs. Crouch’s chauffeur.

The twin sets of luxury homes only hint at the high living enjoyed by the Crouches, inspirational television personalities whose multitudes of stations and satellite signals reach millions of worshipers across the globe. Almost since they started in the 1970s, the couple have been criticized for secrecy about their use of donations, which totaled $93 million in 2010.

Now, after an upheaval with Shakespearean echoes, one son in this first family of televangelism has ousted the other to become the heir apparent. A granddaughter, who was in charge of TBN’s finances, has gone public with the most detailed allegations of financial improprieties yet, which TBN has denied, saying its practices were audited and legal.

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Calls Grow for Cardinal in Ireland to Resign

By DOUGLAS DALBY, Published: May 3, 2012, New York Times

Ireland Cardinal Sean Brady. Peter Morrison/Associated Press

DUBLIN — Pressure is building on the leader of the Catholic Church in Ireland, Cardinal Sean Brady, to resign in the wake of damaging accusations made against him in a BBC television documentary about his role in a secret inquiry into clerical sexual abuse.

Abuse survivors, senior government ministers, serving priests, canon lawyers, newspaper editorials, police officials, human rights groups and the head of the country’s biggest children’s charity were among those calling on the cardinal to step down Thursday over his failure 37 years ago to report damning evidence against the Rev. Brendan Smyth. That failure allowed Father Smyth to continue abusing children for at least 13 more years.

Father Smyth, who died in prison at age 70, was convicted in the 1990s and admitted to molesting and raping about 100 children in Ireland and the United States.

Speaking in Parliament, Deputy Prime Minister Eamon Gilmore on Thursday described the disclosures in the BBC program as “another horrific episode of failure by senior members of the Catholic Church to protect children” and said the cardinal should resign for failing to report the accusations.

Prime Minister Enda Kenny, who delivered a landmark speech last year denouncing Vatican interference in investigations into clerical sexual abuse, said the office he held precluded him from calling for the cardinal’s resignation, but on Wednesday he said the primate should “reflect” on the contents of the BBC program.

Northern Ireland’s deputy first minister, Martin McGuinness, a Catholic, said the cardinal’s decision to stay on would “leave many Catholics wondering whether anything is to be done by the leadership of the Catholic Church to ring the changes which many believe are required at such a sad time for all.”

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North Carolina Pastor Sean Harris Urges Parents To ‘Man Up’ And ‘Punch’ Effeminate Children

Erik Kain, 5/02/2012, Forbes

NC Pastor Sean Harris, who urged parents to hit potentially gay children in his sermon

It’s hardly surprising that the ugly rant of Pastor Sean Harris, the senior pastor at Berean Baptist Church in Fayetteville, is going viral online.

The wonderful thing about the combination of the internet and free speech is that when someone says something really ugly and horrifying, their words are called out. We don’t need to clamp down on speech like this through any legal means. The best disinfectant is sunlight, as the saying goes, and social media is the best sunlight we have when it comes to hateful speech.

These days, people can’t simply preach to the choir, as it were. The whole world is right there listening on YouTube and passing it around Facebook and Twitter. Pretty soon your violent sermon is being mocked and scorned across the digital empire. Good thing, too, because Harris’s words deserve condemnation.

Harris says: “So your little son starts to act a little girlish when he is four years old and instead of squashing that like a cockroach and saying, ‘Man up, son, get that dress off you and get outside and dig a ditch, because that is what boys do,’ you get out the camera and you start taking pictures of Johnny acting like a female and then you upload it to YouTube and everybody laughs about it and the next thing you know, this dude, this kid is acting out childhood fantasies that should have been squashed….Can I make it any clearer? Dads, the second you see your son dropping the limp wrist, you walk over there and crack that wrist. Man up. Give him a good punch. Ok? You are not going to act like that. You were made by God to be a male and you are going to be a male.”

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Breivik an extreme manifestation of the anti-Muslim right

The other remedy, the only rational and desirable one in my view, is to aggressively enforce a secular state, in every sphere — on municipal councils, in provincial legislatures and in the education system — so that religious faith is located impartially in the church, mosque or synagogue, and in the home, and never in forums funded in any way by taxpayers.

Anders Behring Breivik. Photograph by: Heiko Junge , AFP/Getty Images

At first view, the trial of 33-year-old Norwegian mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik is a shameful grotesquerie.

Why has this pathetic excuse for a man, who boasted of spending an entire year playing video games in his mother’s basement before carrying out the worst massacre in his country’s history, been granted a platform from which to grandiosely expound his lunatic theories before a global audience?

At the very least, he should be locked away in a hole far from the light of day, as was done to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the planner of 9/11. And yet, some good may come from the Breivik trial, expected to last 10 weeks. For it has early and obviously become impossible, as the court patiently allows the killer his self-aggrandizing disquisitions, to explain him away as an isolated madman who acted outside any political context.

A lone gunman Breivik may have been. A narcissistic sociopath with illusions of grandeur? Certainly. But his writings and statements make clear that he is no more insane than Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot, or Osama bin Laden could be considered insane. Therefore, he cannot be viewed in isolation. Breivik is a mass murderer with explicitly political ends — a Christian-European mirror image, by his own deliberate design, of al-Qaida’s Islamist murderers.

In the aftermath of Breivik’s massacre off 77 innocents last July, most of them teenagers, there was intense debate about whether western Christians should be made to “own” Breivik, in the same way Middle Eastern or South Asian Muslims are often exhorted to “own” Islamism — that is, assume some internal responsibility. The consensus among pundits and politicos of the Christian Far Right was, no way, no-how: Breivik’s not ours. This reaction is understandable, as is the similar tendency among even very conservative Muslims to disavow any connection to Bin Laden or to his extremism.

The simple truth, though, is that such connections exist. Bin Laden drew on a radical, literal, fundamentalist interpretation of the Qur’an. Breivik’s ideology draws on a medievalist, arch-conservative and romanticized view of Christian and Norse mythologies. The iconography and imagery in his turgid, 1,500-word manifesto are explicitly Christian. He uses the term “cultural Christian,” to connote a white citizen of Western Europe, who may or may not practise Christianity.

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Ontario trans rights decision makes Canadian history

ONTARIO NEWS / Surgery no longer prerequisite for birth certificate change

Andrea Houston / Extra / Monday, April 16, 2012

Lawyer N Nicole Nussbaum.(Facebook)

In what a London lawyer is calling a “game-changing decision,” the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal has struck down a rule that required trans people to undergo “transsexual surgery” in order to change the sex category on their birth certificates.

Released April 11, the 95-page decision follows a challenge by one trans woman who complained she was discriminated against because she could not change her legal documents unless she had surgery. However, she did have surgery in 2008.

“She had an orchiectomy (the removal of the testicles), at least in part to satisfy the requirement to change the sex designation,” explains lawyer N Nicole Nussbaum.

The tribunal found that the Vital Statistics Act requirement of “transsexual surgery” prior to changing the sex designation on a birth certificate discriminates against trans people, she says. The provincial government has been ordered to remove this stipulation.

“They completely knocked that out,” Nussbaum says. “The tribunal doesn’t have the authority to strike down a law, but they can say the law is not enforceable.”

An emotional Susan Gapka, the chair of the Trans Lobby Group, says she is still poring over the decision. She tells Xtra it is a key building block toward allowing trans people to be included in society. She hopes it will support Toby’s Law, which is currently moving through the provincial legislature. Toby’s Law would amend the Ontario Human Rights Code to include gender identity and gender expression.

“I’m absolutely ecstatic,” she says, noting Ontario will be the first Canadian province to legally recognize this distinction. “This is a very good decision. It supports what we have been saying all along, and now the court has acknowledged that.”

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Summit of the Americas agree war on drugs a failure

The problem with the current war-on-drugs policy is that it is unwinnable – and leads to weakened states, staggering levels of violence and continued drug consumption in Canada and the U.S.

From Tuesday’s Globe and Mail, Published Monday, Apr. 16, 2012

This weekend’s Summit of the Americas did not produce a joint communiqué charting the future of the hemisphere, but the 31 leaders agreed on one thing: The U.S.-led war on drugs has been a dismal failure.

The summit pledged to create a panel of experts through the Organization of American States to consider drug policy reforms, and new approaches to stem the violence and power of the drug cartels.

Even Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who has created mandatory-minimum prison terms at home for minor drug offences, seems to have moved beyond the rhetoric of a Reagan-era counter-narcotics crusade: “Everyone believes… that the current approach [to the war on drugs] is not working, but it is not clear what we should do.”

The onus is on the hemisphere’s leaders, including Mr. Harper and U.S. President Barack Obama, to consider innovative, evidence-based policies. The decriminalization of marijuana – which comprises between 25 and 40 per cent of the drug cartels’ revenues – is one option. In the Netherlands, where licensed coffee shops can sell small amounts of marijuana, the rate of cannabis use is just 5 per cent, versus 14 per cent in the U.S. The policy of tolerance helps the government regulate cannabis sellers, and also distinguishes between soft drugs and cocaine and heroin.

In Portugal, where all drugs were decriminalized in 2001, there has been a decrease in serious drug use and drug-related deaths, and a savings to the criminal-justice system. “The aim shouldn’t be to totally decriminalize the whole enterprise, but to set some reasonable standards so that people don’t become criminals for minor drug use and clandestine organizations don’t make obscene amounts of money,” said Allert Brown-Gort, a Latin American expert at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana.

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The Charter proves to be Canada’s gift to world

By JOHN IBBITSON, From Monday’s Globe and Mail, Published Sunday, Apr. 15, 2012

Queen Elizabeth II signs Canada's constitutional proclamation in Ottawa on April 17, 1982 as Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau looks on. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms has caused no end of squabbles among Canadians. Ron Poling/The Canadian Press

The Charter of Rights and Freedoms was signed 30 years ago Tuesday. Since then, not only has it become a national bedrock, but the Charter has replaced the American Bill of Rights as the constitutional document most emulated by other nations.

“Could it be that Canada has surpassed or even supplanted the United States as a leading global exporter of constitutional law? The data suggest that the answer may be yes.” So conclude two U.S. law professors whose analysis of the declining influence of the American constitution on other nations will be published in New York University Law Review in June.

As the first Commonwealth nation to adopt a bill of rights, Canada has influenced other former British colonies as they create or revise their own constitutions, the study finds. Israel, Hong Kong and Eastern European countries have also drawn from the Canadian example.

Both the Charter itself and the nation that gave birth to it serve as an example to the world. “Some countries may be especially prone to borrow from the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms because they perceive themselves as sharing the same goals and values as Canadian society,” write David S. Law, who is professor of law at Washington University in St. Louis, and Mila Versteeg, who teaches law at University of Virginia.

In contrast, professors Law and Versteeg conclude that the American constitution, once the foundational document for new nations in search of a government, has fallen out of favour. It fails to protect rights, such as freedom from discrimination based on race or sex, that are considered fundamental in our time; it enshrines rights, such as the right to bear arms, that other nations don’t value; its courts increasingly interpret the American document so perversely – by claiming that it must only be applied as the founding fathers originally intended – as to render it useless as a tool for tackling modern problems.

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Sexual Humiliation, a Tool to Control the Masses

By Naomi Wolf, Guardian UK, 06 April 12

Portrait, author and activist Naomi Wolf, 10/19/11. (photo: Guardian UK)

In a five-four ruling this week, the supreme court decided that anyone can be strip-searched upon arrest for any offense, however minor, at any time. This horror show ruling joins two recent horror show laws: the NDAA, which lets anyone be arrested forever at any time, and HR 347, the “trespass bill”, which gives you a 10-year sentence for protesting anywhere near someone with secret service protection. These criminalizations of being human follow, of course, the mini-uprising of the Occupy movement.

Is American strip-searching benign? The man who had brought the initial suit, Albert Florence, described having been told to “turn around. Squat and cough. Spread your cheeks.” He said he felt humiliated: “It made me feel like less of a man.”

In surreal reasoning, justice Anthony Kennedy explained that this ruling is necessary because the 9/11 bomber could have been stopped for speeding. How would strip searching him have prevented the attack? Did justice Kennedy imagine that plans to blow up the twin towers had been concealed in a body cavity? In still more bizarre non-logic, his and the other justices’ decision rests on concerns about weapons and contraband in prison systems. But people under arrest – that is, who are not yet convicted – haven’t been introduced into a prison population.

Our surveillance state shown considerable determination to intrude on citizens sexually. There’s the sexual abuse of prisoners at Bagram – der Spiegel reports that “former inmates report incidents of … various forms of sexual humiliation. In some cases, an interrogator would place his penis along the face of the detainee while he was being questioned. Other inmates were raped with sticks or threatened with anal sex”. There was the stripping of Bradley Manning is solitary confinement. And there’s the policy set up after the story of the “underwear bomber” to grope US travelers genitally or else force them to go through a machine – made by a company, Rapiscan, owned by terror profiteer and former DHA czar Michael Chertoff – with images so vivid that it has been called the “pornoscanner”.

Believe me: you don’t want the state having the power to strip your clothes off. History shows that the use of forced nudity by a state that is descending into fascism is powerfully effective in controlling and subduing populations.

The political use of forced nudity by anti-democratic regimes is long established. Forcing people to undress is the first step in breaking down their sense of individuality and dignity and reinforcing their powerlessness. Enslaved women were sold naked on the blocks in the American south, and adolescent male slaves served young white ladies at table in the south, while they themselves were naked: their invisible humiliation was a trope for their emasculation. Jewish prisoners herded into concentration camps were stripped of clothing and photographed naked, as iconic images of that Holocaust reiterated.

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Pennsylvania Church Kidnaps Teens, Holds Them At Gunpoint, For ‘Learning Exercise’

The Huffington Post | By Laura Hibbard | Posted: 03/27/2012 Updated: 03/28/2012 6:18 pm

The Glad Tidings Assembly of God church in Middletown, Pa., has sparked outrage after a teaching exercise traumatized its youth group and left some with physical bruises, WHTM TV reports.

A shaken 14-year-old told the station two men came into the room with guns, pulled pillow cases over some of their heads, and pushed them into a van.

“They pulled my chair out from underneath me and then they told me to get on the ground,” the unnamed girl tearfully told WHTM. “And I was the first person to go into the van. I had my hands behind my back they said ‘just do as I say and you won’t be hurt.'”

The “kidnapped” youth group was then taken to their pastor’s house, where it looked like the minister was being attacked.

The girl showed the station the bruises she suffered from the event, and claims the men laughed while she cried in the van.

Despite claims from officials that the incident was only meant to teach teens what it’s like to be a persecuted Christian missionary, there could be serious repercussions for the church.

“It’s actually quite serious,” First Deputy District Attorney of Dauphin County Fran Chardo told the station in a separate report. “False imprisonment of a child, someone under the age of 18, is a second-degree felony punishable up to 10 years [sic] in prison.”

Since the teens never agreed to take part in the “lesson,” church officials could be in legal trouble for the incident. WHTM also reported the man who “kidnapped” the teens was an off-duty cop, using a real, but unloaded, gun.

In the midst of potential legal ramifications, Andrew Jordan, the church’s pastor, told WHPTV he will still continue to carry out this lesson, but he will ask for parental permission.

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British Conservatives lead charge for gay marriage

By Anthony Faiola, Published: March 29, 2012, The Washington Post

Lefteris Pitarakis/AP - Recently, David Cameron’s Conservative-led coalition government has launched an effort to grant gays and lesbians the option of entering civil marriages.

LONDON — Americans watching the latest push for social change in Britain might feel as if they had stepped into an alternate political universe: Here, the Conservatives are leading the charge for same-sex marriage.

Gay couples in Britain won the right to civil partnerships in 2004, which granted them nearly the same legal status as married heterosexual couples while avoiding the controversial use of the word “marriage.” But Prime Minister David Cameron and his Conservative-led coalition have launched a historic drive to grant gay men and lesbians the option of also entering into civil marriages, touching off a surprisingly fierce uproar in largely progressive Britain and fueling a rebellion on the right as the party comes under heavy fire from traditional allies in the British clergy.

Yet challenging tradition appears to be exactly Cameron’s point. The proposal, put forward this month despite the lack of a strong clamor for marriage within Britain’s gay community, is nevertheless emerging as the cornerstone of a bid by the 45-year-old prime minister and other young leaders on the right here to redefine what it means to be a modern Conservative.

“I don’t support gay marriage despite being a Conservative,” Cameron said in a recent landmark speech on the issue. “I support gay marriage because I am a Conservative.”

Spurred to action by a book about a child with two dads, the Conservatives under Margaret Thatcher rushed a ban through Parliament in 1988 forbidding local governments and schools from promoting homosexuality, with same-sex couples then described by law “as a pretended family relationship.” Twenty-four years later, strategists see Cameron’s decision to champion the gay marriage cause as an attempt to seize the mantle of progressive change from the left and broaden the Conservative Party’s appeal among an increasingly key voting group: young urbanites.

To be sure, since returning to power in 2010 after 13 years in the political wilderness, the Conservatives have pursued causes at the core of their founding beliefs: slashing the deficit, cutting public payrolls and moving to lower taxes. Yet the party of Thatcher has also sought to reinvent itself by becoming what one Conservative strategist called “very pro-gay.”

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Catholic students demand right to name clubs ‘gay-straight alliances’

Wed Mar 21 2012, Toronto Star

Trevor James (with glasses) at Queen's Park, who spoke in support of gay-straight alliances in Catholic schools, seen with Leanne Iskander (middle) and Christopher McKerracher. NICHOLAS KEUNG/TORONTO STAR

Trevor James, a straight youth from Peterborough, got up at 4:30 a.m. Wednesday and took a two-hour bus ride to Toronto to talk about school clubs for gay students.

Flanked by Leanne Iskander, 17, who self-identified as queer, and Christopher McKerracher, 16, a bisexual man, both from Mississauga’s St. Joseph Secondary School, James asked the province to strengthen its anti-bullying bill to ensure queer students’ rights aren’t just tolerated but recognized and respected.

At issue is what some critics call weak language in the Liberal government’s Bill 13, which would allow Catholic school officials to deny queer students from naming their clubs ‘gay-straight alliance’ as their public school counterparts do.

Instead, according to new guidelines by the Ontario Catholic School Trustees’ Association, they should be called “Respecting Difference” clubs. Members of these clubs are also banned from peer counselling and activist activities.

James, Iskander and McKerracher said they are torn between their religious upbringing and their commitment to equity and equality.

“I love my school. It’s my home away from home,” James, 17, told a news conference at Queen’s Park. “We are not fighting. We just wanted to be treated equally. If we do not accept racism and nationalism in school, why is it okay to be homophobic?”

To call these clubs anything but gay-straight alliances is a denial of queer students’ existence, further perpetuating their marginalization by society and peers, added James, a student at St. Peter’s Secondary School.

James only started advocating for his gay peers after an incident in his class last month when a classmate made a comment that “gay people are ruining TV.”

“A girl who has two mothers was trying to say something back, but she was basically put down by others,” noted James who, along with three dozen students, has since tried to launch a gay-straight alliance in his school, which has an enrolment of 1,300.

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Alberta bows to home-schoolers’ pressure on teaching religion

By Karen Kleiss, Postmedia News March 15, 2012

Home-schooling families protest Education Act changes.

EDMONTON — The governing Conservatives have bowed to pressure from Christian home-schooling groups and amended Alberta’s new Education Act, making parental control over education explicit.

Advocates, however, say the changes don’t go far enough and they still fear they will one day be brought before a human rights tribunal for teaching that homosexuality and abortion are sins.

“The amendment doesn’t hurt, but it doesn’t help,” said Paul van den c spokesman for the Alberta Home Education Association, which organized a protest at the legislature last week.

“Home educators can’t swallow this, and neither should any parent in Alberta.”

Their concerns centre on section 16 of the proposed new law, which says all programs of study offered by Alberta schools must respect the Alberta Human Rights Act and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Christian groups worry that because their faith-based curricula teach that God created the Earth and that homosexuality and abortion are sins, they will be sanctioned by authorities and forced to stop home-schooling. Alternatively, they fear that a complaint lodged against them will land them before the Alberta Human Rights Commission.

The solution, van den Bosch says, is to change the law so that home education is not defined as a “school.”

The new Education Act currently says “parents have the right to make informed decisions,” and van den Bosch wants the language changed back to the wording used in the Schools Act, which says “parents have the right to make decisions.”

The amendment passed in the legislature just before midnight Wednesday does not make any of those changes. Instead, the government has added a preamble that details the intent of the law.

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Ugandan Gay Rights Group Sues U.S. Evangelist

By LAURIE GOODSTEIN, March 14, 2012, The New York Times

Dozens marched Wednesday in Springfield, Mass., to the coffee shop of an evangelist accused of inciting persecution in Uganda. Ilana Panich-Linsman for The New York Times

A Ugandan gay rights group filed suit against an American evangelist, Scott Lively, in federal court in Massachusetts on Wednesday, accusing him of violating international law by inciting the persecution of gay men and lesbians in Uganda.

The lawsuit maintains that beginning in 2002, Mr. Lively conspired with religious and political leaders in Uganda to whip up anti-gay hysteria with warnings that gay people would sodomize African children and corrupt their culture.

The Ugandan legislature considered a bill in 2009, proposed by one of Mr. Lively’s Ugandan contacts, that would have imposed the death sentence for the “offense of homosexuality.” That bill languished after an outcry from the United States and European nations that are among major aid donors to Uganda, but was reintroduced last month.

Mr. Lively is being sued by the organization Sexual Minorities Uganda under the alien tort statute, which allows foreigners to sue in American courts in situations asserting the violation of international law. The suit says that Mr. Lively’s actions resulted in the persecution, arrest, torture and murder of gay men and lesbians in Uganda.

Reached by telephone in Springfield, Mass., where he runs Holy Grounds Coffee House, a storefront mission and shop, Mr. Lively said he did not know about the lawsuit. Nevertheless, he said: “That’s about as ridiculous as it gets. I’ve never done anything in Uganda except preach the Gospel and speak my opinion about the homosexual issue.”

Mr. Lively is the founder and president of Abiding Truth Ministries. He is also the author of “The Pink Swastika: Homosexuality in the Nazi Party,” which says that Nazism was a movement inspired by homosexuals, and “Seven Steps to Recruit-Proof Your Child,” a guide to prevent what he calls “pro-homosexual indoctrination.”

He has traveled to Uganda, Latvia and Moldova to warn Christian clergy members to defend their countries against what he says is an onslaught by gay rights advocates based in the West.

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Why I Am Leaving Goldman Sachs

By GREG SMITH, March 14, 2012, The New York Times

TODAY is my last day at Goldman Sachs. After almost 12 years at the firm — first as a summer intern while at Stanford, then in New York for 10 years, and now in London — I believe I have worked here long enough to understand the trajectory of its culture, its people and its identity. And I can honestly say that the environment now is as toxic and destructive as I have ever seen it.

Victor Kerlow

To put the problem in the simplest terms, the interests of the client continue to be sidelined in the way the firm operates and thinks about making money. Goldman Sachs is one of the world’s largest and most important investment banks and it is too integral to global finance to continue to act this way. The firm has veered so far from the place I joined right out of college that I can no longer in good conscience say that I identify with what it stands for.

It might sound surprising to a skeptical public, but culture was always a vital part of Goldman Sachs’s success. It revolved around teamwork, integrity, a spirit of humility, and always doing right by our clients. The culture was the secret sauce that made this place great and allowed us to earn our clients’ trust for 143 years. It wasn’t just about making money; this alone will not sustain a firm for so long. It had something to do with pride and belief in the organization. I am sad to say that I look around today and see virtually no trace of the culture that made me love working for this firm for many years. I no longer have the pride, or the belief.

But this was not always the case. For more than a decade I recruited and mentored candidates through our grueling interview process. I was selected as one of 10 people (out of a firm of more than 30,000) to appear on our recruiting video, which is played on every college campus we visit around the world. In 2006 I managed the summer intern program in sales and trading in New York for the 80 college students who made the cut, out of the thousands who applied.

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1 in 10 Alberta men say violence against women is OK: Poll

Richard J. Brennan, Mar 14 2012,


Almost one in 10 Alberta men contacted for a recent survey believes hitting a woman is okay if she makes them angry.

That was one of several troubling findings in a Leger Marketing survey of 1,000 men in the western province made public this week. The survey also found that 40 per cent of men surveyed say women who dress provocatively risk being raped.

“This is first study of its kind that has been done in Alberta and I believe in the rest of the country,” Ian Large, vice-president for the Alberta branch of Leger Marketing, said Wednesday.

“Alberta has a particularly bad reputation in this area,” Large told Torstar News, adding that the men surveyed were remarkably honest.

According to a report released by Statistics Canada in 2011, Alberta and Saskatchewan have the highest rates of spousal abuse in the country at eight per cent.

Those taken aback by the “ground-breaking” results include Alberta Premier Alison Redford, who says she was sickened by some of the findings.

Redford said the statistic showing that 21 per cent of men surveyed said slapping a child’s face is acceptable behaviour “made me sick to my stomach.”

“I think that is very troubling, and as a mother of a nine-year-old, I want us to do better as a community,” she said. “We have to start saying to people that this behaviour is inappropriate … It’s not acceptable in Alberta in 2012.”

Redford said the “silent majority” has a role in ensuring this kind of behaviour is not tolerated and that families feel safe in their own homes.

The Leger survey results were released in Calgary Monday at the Alberta Council of Women’s Shelters (ACWS) annual “Breakfast With the Guys” fundraiser, designed to encourage men and boys to take a stand against domestic violence.

The survey was completed from February 6 – 27, with 1,000 men, 18 years of age or older, living in Alberta. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.5 per cent 19 times out of 20.

Among the alarming results:

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A War Turns Into a Madhouse

By Charles P. Pierce, Esquire Magazine, 13 March 2012

I honestly don’t believe that anyone knows anymore what in hell we’re supposed to be doing over there.

An Afghan woman gestures to the body of a child, who was allegedly killed by a US service member, in Panjwai, Kandahar province south of Kabul, Afghanistan, 03/11/12. (photo: Allauddin Khan/AP)

This weekend, everything about the United States policy in Afghanistan stopped making whatever sense it ever made in the first place.

An American soldier, Christ alone knows why, committed an act of terrorism against the Afghan people. According to reports, the soldier wandered off the base and into an Afghan village, where he systematically went door to door and murdered 16 people, including nine children. There are now the low, mumbling noises of regret from the U.S. government, and the general tone of the commentary in this country is to ponder deeply how this might affect the American “mission” in Afghanistan.

(Also, if I see one more headline calling this thing a “spree,” I may be forced to regret my own career choice. A spree is when some drunken frat-boy shoots out the streetlights on campus. This was mass murder, no different from the mass murders committed by Richard Speck or Jeffrey Dahmer or William Calley. If the American press tries to soften the edges of what happened with euphemism, which is what I suspect is already underway, the American press is guilty of one more crime against truth.)

I honestly don’t believe that anyone knows anymore what in hell we’re supposed to be doing over there. The main stated goal of our military operations – the destruction of the Afghan-based al Qaeda, including the killing of Osama bin Laden – has been accomplished. You hear a lot of vague talk about making Afghanistan “safe” for the Afghan people, and about how we have to be sure that Hamid Karzai’s government is secure, and about how we’re training the Afghan military to perform that task because we can’t allow the Taliban “to make a comeback.” Even if you accept them as legitimate, and, in poll after poll, the American people keep saying they don’t, how do the events of just the past two months render those goals anything but obviously futile? Our soldiers shoot up civilians. Afghan men in police and army uniforms shoot up our soldiers. After almost 11 years of our occupying a Muslim country, somebody in our military still is stupid enough to burn Korans in a garbage pit, or get photographed urinating on dead Afghans. More violence ensues. You’ll pardon me if I start to believe that the whole place is simply turning from a war into a madhouse. Better empires than ours have gone crazy in Afghanistan. Now, apparently, it’s our turn.

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UK Report alleging discrimination against Christians ‘confused’

Civil rights advocates are expressing puzzlement at a new report from Christians in Parliament and the Evangelical Alliance UK which claims that Christians are victims of prejudice in Britain.

By staff writers | 27 Feb 2012 | Ekklesia - The inquiry has been launched by Christians in Parliament, an all-party group.

The report, ‘Clearing the Ground’, suggests that civic and legal authorities in the UK are suffering from ‘religious illiteracy’ and that there is a failure to treat Christians who hold conservative social views – including those who say that their beliefs should allow them to discriminate against others in the provision of goods and services – with fairness.

During a six-month inquiry, the Christians in Parliament all-party group, led by Conservative MP Gary Streeter, analysed a range of instances, including employment tribunals and court cases, where Christians claimed they had received unfair treatment under the law.

It also took evidence from what are described by the group as “key organisations, denominations and experts” and received written evidence from a further 40 groups and individuals.

The report criticises the Equality Act 2010, despite the exemptions churches have from it, and indicates that some Christian groups believe that the Equalities and Human Rights Commission is biased against Christians – even though it made a high-profile attempt last year, criticised by other equalities groups, to intervene at the European Court of Human Rights in four cases in which Christians alleged they had been unfairly treated.

The new report alleges that “indications from court judgments are that sexual orientation takes precedence and religious belief is required to adapt in the light of this. We see this as an unacceptable and unsustainable situation.”

‘Clearing the Ground’ makes a number of recommendations for correcting what it sees as ‘religious illiteracy’ in public life, and it promotes the notion of ‘reasonable accommodation’ as a concept “that has merit and warrants further consideration. If proved viable it may help prevent legal cases where religious activity is” [according to the report] “unduly restricted”.

Writing for the Daily Telegraph website to accompany the launch of the report, Gary Streeter MP and Jim Dobbin, a Labour MP, call on the Government to consider requiring judges to weigh up whether employers have taken “reasonable” steps to accommodate the religious beliefs of workers. The MPs say new guidelines could help balance what they say are “competing” rights.

But critics say that the report is confused and confusing in its understanding and approach to a range of complex issues.

Simon Barrow, co-director of the religion and society thinktank Ekklesia, commented: “Initial impressions from this report are that it raises significantly more questions than it answers. For example, it seems to assume that most people who are convinced Christians automatically share, or should share, a range of prejudices – notably against LGBT people – which make them unwilling to comply with requirements to act in a non-discriminatory way in the provision of public services. This is not the case. Many Christians from all traditions believe that equal treatment of others is not simply a legal requirement but a Christian obligation.

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The Gospel according to “Glee”?

Recent polls would indicate that “Glee’s” live-and-let-live attitude toward sexual politics and religion are in line with much of the population in the United States.

By Brian Kirk, February 23, 2012, RETHINKING YOUTH MINISTRY

Glee cast

Does high school musical sitcom “Glee” go out of its way to be hostile to Christianity? Some may think so, given the matter-of-fact treatment in so many episodes of teen drinking, drug use, sex, pregnancy, and its acceptance of same-gendered relationships. As a progressive Christian and fan of the show, even I wonder at times if they are pushing the envelope a bit too far. I’ve often commented that I’m not sure younger teens should be watching the show. It is, after all, an exaggerated, satirical look at how adults view adolescence. I’d be a little worried if some middle-schooler watching the series sits there thinking, “Oh, so that’s what high school is going to be like!”
Several episodes have dealt with the issue of faith (most famously the season two episode “Grilled Cheezus”), but most often the Christian characters are depicted as either hypocrites or espousing a sort of “believe whatever you want but believe something” sort of attitude. In fact, the writers depict the few nominally Christian characters as perfect examples of moralistic therapeutic deism—an understanding of the Christian faith that maintains that God is only important to life when we need something from “him” and faith is ultimately only necessary to the degree to which it helps us live happily and achieve our personal goals. All of this to say that “Glee’s” depiction of Christianity up to now has been somewhat realistic perhaps, but definitely not flattering.
Then comes along the February 14 episode “Heart.” It’s Valentine’s Day and the McKinley High Christian club, the God Squad, has decided to raise money by performing singing telegrams throughout the school. Meanwhile, girlfriends Brittany and Santana are called into the principal’s office for a minor public display of affection in the hallway. When Santana argues that straight students kiss in the hallways all the time, the principal admits to the double standard but says he’s responding to complaints from several conservative students. Unwilling to let this injustice stand, Santana pays The God Squad to perform a singing love letter to her girlfriend.

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A Quiet Struggle Within the Gay Marriage Fight

By MATT SMITH | February 18, 2012 | The New York Times

Worshippers at a service at Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley. Clergy members and the church are in a battle of their own over gay rights. Noah Berger for The Bay Citizen

Straight couples dressed in tuxedoes and pastel-colored gowns were forced to wait in a hallway outside the San Francisco recorder’s office on Tuesday as 10 Bay Area Christian leaders sat in a circle inside singing “We Shall Overcome,” “Chapel of Love,” and “We Shall Not Be Moved.” It has become an annual Valentine’s Day protest of the city’s inability to give marriage licenses to same-sex couples, an authority that is on hold until appeals of a court’s decision to strike down California’s gay marriage ban are exhausted.

“We’re just going to keep knocking at the door until justice is available to all people,” the Rev. Karen Oliveto, a Methodist pastor of San Francisco’s Glide Memorial Church, said after sheriff’s deputies handcuffed her and her fellow protesters and led them to jail.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit earlier this month upheld a decision declaring Proposition 8, California’s ban on same-sex marriage, unconstitutional. The ruling represented a milestone in the secular struggle over gay rights. In the shadow of that struggle, however, a quieter battle is being waged within churches over whether gay people can be married and ordained.

Long before the issue of same-sex marriage grabbed the spotlight, liberal Protestant pastors in Northern California were fighting against church rules prohibiting ordination and marriage of homosexuals. That internal church struggle is broadening nationwide.

In recent years, mainline Protestant denominations — which are different from evangelical Christian churches that read the Bible as literal truth and emphasize a personal relationship with Jesus — have one by one changed rules that had prohibited marriage and ordination of gays and lesbians. The Episcopal Church, Presbyterian Church U.S.A., Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the United Church of Christ at one time all barred same-sex wedding ceremonies and ordination of gay clergy members, but they have changed those rules over time.

The last holdout among major mainline Protestant groups has been the United Methodist Church,

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Corporations Have No Use for Borders

By Chris Hedges, January 30, 2012 by

What happened to Canada? It used to be the country we would flee to if life in the United States became unpalatable. No nuclear weapons. No huge military-industrial complex. Universal health care. Funding for the arts. A good record on the environment.

But that was the old Canada. I was in Montreal on Friday and Saturday and saw the familiar and disturbing tentacles of the security and surveillance state. Canada has withdrawn from the Kyoto Accords so it can dig up the Alberta tar sands in an orgy of environmental degradation. It carried out the largest mass arrests of demonstrators in Canadian history at 2010’s G-8 and G-20 meetings, rounding up more than 1,000 people. It sends undercover police into indigenous communities and activist groups and is handing out stiff prison terms to dissenters. And Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper is a diminished version of George W. Bush. He champions the rabid right wing in Israel, bows to the whims of global financiers and is a Christian fundamentalist.

The voices of dissent sound like our own. And the forms of persecution are familiar. This is not an accident. We are fighting the same corporate leviathan.

“I want to tell you that I was arrested because I am seen as a threat,” Canadian activist Leah Henderson wrote to fellow dissidents before being sent to Vanier prison in Milton, Ontario, to serve a 10-month sentence. “I want to tell you that you might be too. I want to tell you that this is something we need to prepare for. I want to tell you that the risk of incarceration alone should not determine our organizing.”

“My skills and experience—as a facilitator, as a trainer, as a legal professional and as someone linking different communities and movements—were all targeted in this case, with the state trying to depict me as a ‘brainwasher’ and as a mastermind of mayhem, violence and destruction,” she went on. “During the week of the G8 & G20 summits, the police targeted legal observers, street medics and independent media. It is clear that the skills that make us strong, the alternatives that reduce our reliance on their systems and prefigure a new world, are the very things that they are most afraid of.”

The decay of Canada illustrates two things. Corporate power is global, and resistance to it cannot be restricted by national boundaries.

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Washington State Senate Passes Gay Marriage Bill

By WILLIAM YARDLEY | February 2, 2012 | The New York Times

the Washington state Senate passed a bill to legalize same-sex marriage!

SEATTLE — Washington appeared almost certain to become the seventh state to allow same-sex marriage after the State Senate voted late Wednesday for a measure that would allow gay and lesbian couples to marry beginning this summer.

Supporters had considered the Senate to be the more challenging chamber in which to pass the bill, but it was approved easily, by a vote of 28 to 21, after less than 90 minutes of debate. The measure now moves to the House, where it has wide support and could be voted on as soon as next week. Gov. Christine Gregoire has urged the bill’s approval. The governor is a Democrat, and both legislative chambers are controlled by Democrats.

“Regardless of how you vote on this bill, an invitation will be in the mail,” Senator Ed Murray of Seattle, the prime sponsor in the Senate, said in his final remarks before the vote. Mr. Murray, who is gay, has noted many times publicly that he and his longtime partner hope to marry in their home state.

The measure, echoing one passed in New York last June, includes language assuring religious groups that they would not be required to marry same-sex couples or allow them to marry in their facilities. Washington would join New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Vermont and Iowa as states where same-sex couples can marry. Washington, D.C., also allows same-sex marriage.

Washington has steadily expanded rights for gay and lesbian couples since 2006, when it approved domestic partnerships. In 2009, it passed a so-called everything-but-marriage bill, which was challenged in a public referendum and upheld by voters, 53 to 47. Opponents of the marriage bill say they will challenge it in a referendum this fall. The Roman Catholic Church is among the opponents.

The floor debate late Wednesday was civil and relatively succinct.

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Transgendered people outraged over Canada’s identification rules for air travel

Joanna Smith | Published Jan 31, 2012 | the

OTTAWA—The Canadian transgendered community fears being grounded by rules forbidding airlines from allowing someone to board if their hair and clothing do not match the gender identity listed on their passport or other identification.

“We cannot have regulations which judge people on how they appear to be gendered. It’s unacceptable,” said Christin Milloy, a trans-identified blogger whose Monday post about the identity requirements for air travel was one of those widely discussed by the transgendered community online this week.

At issue were a couple dozen words buried in the identity screening regulations that airlines must follow when it comes to deciding who can — and can’t — board their aircraft.

“An air carrier shall not transport a passenger if . . . the passenger does not appear to be of the gender indicated on the identification he or she presents,” says the amendment to Transport Canada regulations, first published in August 2010 but apparently unnoticed until now.

No stories about transgendered people being banned from flights have emerged and one likely reason is the existence of a loophole that was missed in all the uproar.

“If, for medical reasons, a passenger’s facial features do not correspond to the photo on his or her identification, the air carrier may authorize the passenger to board a plane if he or she provides a medical certificate relating to this,” Transport Canada spokesman Patrick Charette wrote on Tuesday, noting the department was unaware of any transgendered or transsexual person with a medical document being refused on board since the rules changed.

Charette said the regulations are those of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) used in every country and were amended because they did not previously explicitly require airlines to match what passengers actually looked like with the identification they were using.

New Democrat MP Randal Garrison, the LGBT critic for his party, said the medical exemption solves the immediate problem but is not enough.

“If they’re going to interpret that to cover transgendered people I suppose that’s better than denying them the right to fly, but what’s the problem we’re fixing?” said Garrison, who has written to Transport Minister Denis Lebel for an explanation. “How does it make every person at the gate of an airplane a gender expert? It’s sledgehammer for a flea again.”

Liberal MP Justin Trudeau (Papineau), who drew attention to the issue on Twitter on Tuesday, said there is no need to look at the ‘M’ or ‘F’ on a passport or other government-issued card in the days of photo identification.

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Harper seeks changes to Indian Act, but won’t abolish it

Tue Jan 24 2012 | TheSpec

TALKS Prime Minister Stephen Harper applauds National Grand Chief Shawn Atleo after he addtressed the Crown- First Nations gathering in Ottawa on Tuesday FRED CHARTRAND/The Canadian Press

It’s time to update the Indian Act to bring it in line with modern practices, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said as he opened a major meeting with First Nations leaders.

He said the act has lead to problems over the years, but the government has no plans to repeal the legislation.

“After 136 years, that tree has deep roots,” he said. “Blowing up the stump would just leave a big hole.

“However, there are ways, creative ways, collaborative ways, ways that involve consultation between our government, the provinces and First Nations leadership and communities, ways that provide options within the act, or outside of it, for practical, incremental and real change.”

Shawn Atleo, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, said some will see the meeting as just another meaningless exchange, but he said it is an important and historic day because “we must repair the trust that has been broken.”

He said it is time “to undo the damage that has been done” by the Indian Act, which he described as a boulder in the path of progress.

Atleo also called for concrete action, “to smash the status quo in tangible ways.”

“Our people cannot wait,” he said. “They insist that we stop lurching from crisis to crisis.”

Education has to be a top priority. “Our kids … deserve good schools.”

Harper said he wants to work in partnership with First Nations to put more modern legislation and procedures into the act.

With mutual respect and trust, much can be done, said the prime minister.

The day-long meeting involves native leaders, cabinet ministers and senior civil servants.

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Guantanamo Bay 10 years on: Human rights gone wrong

20 January 2012, Embassy –
By Alex Neve – secretary general of Amnesty International Canada.

Obama should show leadership and recommit to his earlier promise to close the prison, and Harper should call on him to stick with that promise. There can be no second decade.

Demonstrators next to the United States Embassy in Ottawa on Jan. 11. Amnesty International Canada

Last week marked an ignominious anniversary—ten years of injustice at Guantanamo Bay. It defies belief, but one decade on, that global icon of human rights gone so terribly wrong in the ‘war on terror’ is still in business.

To say that the incalculable human cost, the mountainous financial cost and the debilitating cost to the integrity of universal human rights protection have all been staggering would be woefully inadequate. Equally disconcerting is that there is no end to the whole sorry debacle anywhere on the horizon.

The first prisoners began to arrive on Jan. 11, 2002. At least 12 of that original group remain there today. Since that time, 779 prisoners have been held at Guantanamo.

The overwhelming majority were eventually released—usually after years of being held illegally without charge or trial, suffering torture or ill-treatment, and being cut off from the outside world.

They had been described by various United States officials as being among the world’s most dangerous men; but most were set free with very little fanfare. With each release it has become clearer that Guantanamo’s overwhelming legacy is not one of reducing insecurity but deepening injustice.

The numbers say so much. Of the 779 prisoners held at Guantanamo during the past decade, only six individuals have been convicted. Four of them, including Canadian citizen Omar Khadr, were convicted on the basis of plea deals. Only two had full trials. Ten years on, 171 men from 20 countries are still held at the base. None appear to be going anywhere at any foreseeable time in the future and only a handful face any prospect of being brought to trial.

Among the 171 is Omar Khadr. Under his plea deal he became eligible for possible transfer back to Canada anytime after Oct. 31, 2011—but that has not yet come to pass.

Not much of a surprise, as promises and possibilities come and go regularly at Guantanamo. More than two months of waiting for Omar Khadr. More widely, US President Barack Obama’s principled post-inauguration pledge that the infamous prison camp would be closed by January 2010 has been a broken promise for almost two full years now.

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School board will give out Bibles despite complaint

QMI AGENCY | JANUARY 19, 2012 | Toronto Sun

(DEREK RUTTAN/QMI Agency file photo)

A Prince Edward Island school board says it doesn’t plan to stop handing Bibles out to students despite receiving a complaint from a parent.

Ricky Hood, superintendent for the Eastern School District, said the Gideon Society has been handing out Bibles to students for 46 years, and it doesn’t take up any instructional time, reports Charlottetown’s Guardian newspaper.

He told the paper there is nothing taught about or said about the Bibles in class at district schools.

A father complained after students at L.M. Montgomery Elementary were given forms to take home asking parents if they wanted their children to receive a Bible. The form asks them to opt out if they don’t, according to the Guardian.

Hood said it’s a service, just like notifications the school sends out for groups like Girl Guides or about sports tournaments, and that a single complaint isn’t likely to change procedures.

The debate over Bibles distributed at schools has also been taking place in Ont. The Bluewater District School Board is reviewing the matter after a parent complained in December. Meanwhile, a school board in Waterloo banned the practice as of last year.

Ont. premier Dalton McGuinty has left the decision up to school trustees.

Hood said his district won’t be looking to review the process.

“We don’t stop doing things because someone doesn’t like it,” he told the paper.

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Board says no to so-called ‘gay-straight alliances

Teri Pecoskie | Jan 17 2012 |

Mitch Burke, an openly gay student at Bishop Tonnos, says verbal attacks have let up since he went public about his sexuality a year ago. Cathie Coward/The Hamilton Spectator

Don’t expect to find any gay-straight alliances in the city’s Catholic schools — at least, not any groups that go by that name.

“We commend any initiatives and efforts to reduce bullying,” said Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board chair Pat Daly. “But would we have clubs in our schools called ‘gay-straight alliances?’ No.”

Daly’s comments come just weeks after the province introduced new legislation that will compel school boards to take a harder line on bullying. The legislation will also require boards to support student-led activities that promote respect for people of all sexual orientations and gender identities, including gay-straight alliances or similarly named groups.

Despite its opposition to the term “gay-straight alliance,” Daly said his board supports the proposed changes and is committed to reaching out to gay students through dialogue with chaplains, guidance counsellors and staff. It will also back gay students who want to assemble under the broader banner of antibullying awareness groups.

“Saying that, any club or curriculum that takes place within our schools has to be in keeping with the teachings of our faith,” Daly said. “That’s essential for us.”

The Catholic Church’s general teaching is that while being a homosexual isn’t sinful, acting on it is.

Although Bill 13 — tabled Nov. 30 and going through second reading — doesn’t speak to what the clubs are called, Minister of Education Laurel Broten insists they be “issue specific.” That means boards won’t be able to lump them into broader “equity” groups, as some Catholic schools have done.

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An Open Letter to Joe Oliver

Elizabeth May, Green Party Leader, 9 Jan 2012

The project, proposed by Enbridge Inc, would construct a 730-mile pipeline from the tar sands to a new port at Kitimat, British Columbia. Photograph: Veronique De Viguerie/Getty Images

Dear Joe,

Your letter caught my attention. I respect you and like you a lot as a colleague in the House. Unfortunately, I think your role as Minister of Natural Resources has been hijacked by the PMO spin machine. The PMO is, in turn, hijacked by the foreign oil lobby. You are, as Minister of Natural Resources, in a decision-making, judge-like role. You should not have signed such a hyperbolic rant.

I have reproduced a short section of your letter. The idea that First Nations, conservation groups, and individuals opposed to the Northern Gateway pipeline are opposed to all forestry, mining, hydro-electric and gas is not supported by the facts. I am one of those opposed to the Northern Gateway pipeline. I do not oppose all development; neither does the Green Party; neither do environmental NGOS; neither do First Nations.

I oppose the Northern Gateway pipeline for a number of reasons, beginning with the fact that the project requires over-turning the current moratorium on oil tanker traffic on the British Columbia coastline. The federal-provincial oil tanker moratorium has been in place for decades. As former Industry Canada deputy minister Harry Swain pointed out in today’s Globe and Mail, moving oil tankers through 300 km of perilous navigation in highly energetic tidal conditions is a bad choice. In December 2010, the government’s own Commissioner for the Environment, within the Office of the Auditor General, reported that Canada lacked the tools to respond to an oil spill. These are legitimate concerns.

Furthermore, running a pipeline through British Columbia’s northern wilderness, particularly globally significant areas such as the Great Bear Rainforest, is a bad idea. Nearly 1,200 kilometers of pipeline through wilderness and First Nations territory is not something that can be fast-tracked.

Most fundamentally, shipping unprocessed bitumen crude out of Canada has been attacked by the biggest of Canada’s energy labour unions, the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada, as a bad idea. The CEP estimates it means exporting 40,000 jobs out of Canada (figure based on jobs lost through the Keystone Pipeline). They prefer refining the crude here in Canada. (The CEP is also not a group to which your allegation that opponents of Gateway also oppose all forestry, mining, oil, gas, etc is anything but absurd.)

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Fight for religious freedom should start at home

Championing religious freedom abroad is laudable. But we should examine our own house, too. Given the abomination of theistic strife, complete separation of church and state should be holy writ. It isn’t – even in Canada. Why not?

By Michael Den Tandt, The Ottawa Citizen, January 9, 2012

Human rights agencies suspect the Conservative government's Office of Religious Freedom, intended to protect religious minorities in foreign nations, could become a vehicle for defending Catholic enclaves, such as Egypt's Coptic minority. Photograph by: Mohamed Abd El-Ghany, Reuters, Ottawa Citizen

As they get set to roll out Canada’s new Office of Religious Freedom, Conservatives face suspicion from opposition benches, as well as from left-leaning human rights organizations such as Amnesty International, that this is a clumsily disguised attempt to curry favour with Christian evangelicals.

It’s a fair question. If the Office of Religious Freedom, to be established as a subbranch within John Baird’s Department of Foreign Affairs, becomes a vehicle uniquely for the defence of Pakistani Catholics or Egyptian Copts, it may do more harm than good. Rather than protecting the right to have faith, the government would be perceived as aligning itself with one faith, Christianity, over all the others.

If, however, Baird truly intends to champion religious freedom globally for all, including those who choose to be agnostic or atheist, then he has a great deal of important work ahead. For rarely, judging from the latest report from the U.S. Department of State’s Office of Religious Freedom, have there been more instances of governments violating people’s inalienable human right to worship as they please, or not worship at all.

Al-Qaeda, still the reigning champions of theistic hatred, in 2010 attacked Sufi, Shia, Ahmadiyah and Christian holy sites in Pakistan. The Taliban assassinated Abdullah Haleem, who was director of hajj and religious affairs in Kandahar. Iraqi extremists attacked the Our Lady of Salvation cathedral in Baghdad, killing 50.

State use of apostasy and blasphemy laws is on the rise, according to the State Department, most worryingly against Muslims who promote interfaith tolerance. In Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, converting to any faith but Islam is considered apostasy and punishable by death.

Anti-Semitism is flourishing on every continent, as seen in desecrations of cemeteries, racist graffiti, accusations of blood libel, Holocaust denial and other historical revisionism. In 2010 there was a rise in anti-Semitic cartoons in print in Poland, Spain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela.

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Effort to silence pipeline critics called ‘red herring’

Harper’s comments about foreign financing don’t stand up: activists

By Doug Ward, Vancouver Sun, January 10, 2012

Groups opposed to the proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline, shown protesting outside Enbridge's Vancouver offices last year, say the federal government is trying to delegitimize opposition groups. Photograph by: Jason Payne, PNG Files, Vancouver Sun

Blaming opposition to the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline on foreign cash is a red herring designed to obscure the controversial project’s risks, say environmental organizations.

The anti-pipeline groups were reacting to the offensive launched in recent days by the federal Conservative government against what it called “radical” environmentalists who receive money from U.S.-based foundations.

“The Conservatives are clearly trying to delegitimize the opposition because that is the only tactic they have left,” said Emma Gilchrist, communications director for the Dogwood Initiative, a B.C. environmental group.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper warned Friday that this week’s regulatory hearings into the project could be “hijacked” by groups funded by foreign money.

His remarks were echoed Sunday by federal Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver, who said anti-pipeline groups are using “funding from foreign special interest groups to undermine Canada’s national economic interest.”

The Dogwood Initiative received about one-third of its $600,000 budget in 2010-11 from U.S.-based charitable foundations, said Gilchrist.

Blogger Vivian Krause, a fierce defender of the oil industry, has reported that U.S. foundations gave $300 million to Canadian environmental groups over a 10-year period.

In contrast, said Gilchrist, foreign companies have poured $20 billion into the oilsands between 2007 and 2010.

“So clearly the Conservative government’s opposition to foreign money is a red herring,” said Gilchrist. “It’s absurd and hypocritical to say that foreign money is okay if it’s in agreement with Conservative policies but it is not okay if it is in disagreement.”

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Oh, Canada’s Become a Home for Record Fracking

By Nicholas Kusnetz, ProPublica – 30 December 11

As Ernst searched for answers to what happened to her water, she unearthed evidence of other problems related to drilling. She found an Alberta Environment and Water report that listed cases in which the fracking of shallow wells resulted in gas or fluid leaking into nearby gas wells or spraying into the air. She also found government gas well records that said Encana had fracked into the aquifer that supplies her water well.

File photo hydraulic fracturing operation. (photo: AP)

Early last year, deep in the forests of northern British Columbia, workers for Apache Corp. performed what the company proclaimed was the biggest hydraulic fracturing operation ever.

The project used 259 million gallons of water and 50,000 tons of sand to frack 16 gas wells side by side. It was “nearly four times larger than any project of its nature in North America,” Apache boasted.

The record didn’t stand for long. By the end of the year, Apache and its partner, Encana, topped it by half at a neighboring site.

As furious debate over fracking continues in the United States, it is instructive to look at how a similar gas boom is unfolding for our neighbor to the north.

To a large extent, the same themes have emerged as Canada struggles to balance the economic benefits drilling has brought with the reports of water contamination and air pollution that have accompanied them.

The Canadian boom has differed in one regard: The western provinces’ exuberant embrace of large-scale fracking offers a vision of what could happen elsewhere if governments clear away at least some of the regulatory hurdles to growth.

Even as some officials have questioned the wisdom of doing so, Alberta and British Columbia have dueled to draw investment by offering financial incentives and loosening rules. The result has been some of the most intensive drilling anywhere.

“There definitely is concern on the part of people living in northeast B.C. on the scale of developments, which are quite significant already and are only in their infancy,”said Ben Parfitt, an analyst with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, a research institute that promotes environmental sustainability. “We are seeing some of the largest fracking operations anywhere on earth.”

Canada’s eastern regions have proceeded more cautiously. In March, Quebec placed a moratorium on shale development pending further study. Protesters have taken to the streets in New Brunswick demanding the same.

Public opposition, coupled with low gas prices, has slowed drilling over the past year. Still, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers expects production from shale and other unconventional sources to more than triple in the next decade.

The industry’s aggressive plan for growth has drawn an ambivalent response from the nation’s top environmental officials.

In March, Canada’s deputy minister of the environment sent an internal memo warning that more work was needed to assess the risks from shale gas drilling. The memo, obtained by an Ottawa-based newspaper and addressed to Environment Minister Peter Kent, said water use and contamination top a list of environmental concerns including air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions and the use of unknown toxic chemicals. Kent subsequently ordered two studies looking at the safety and environmental impacts of shale drilling.

Yet, in a written response to questions from ProPublica, the environment ministry affirmed its commitment to continued development.

“Our Government believes shale gas is an important strategic resource that could provide numerous economic benefits to Canada,” the ministry’s statement said. Gas is an important part of a clean energy future, the ministry added, saying that “a healthy environment and a strong economy go hand in hand.”

B.C., Alberta Lure Drillers

Canada’s current drilling boom dates to the late 1990s, when Encana began using fracking to extract gas from dense rock in northern British Columbia.

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Bishops Say Rules on Gay Parents Limit Freedom of Religion

Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki of the Diocese of Springfield, Ill. Matt Roth for The New York Times

By LAURIE GOODSTEIN | Published: December 28, 2011 | The New York Times

Roman Catholic bishops in Illinois have shuttered most of the Catholic Charities affiliates in the state rather than comply with a new requirement that says they must consider same-sex couples as potential foster-care and adoptive parents if they want to receive state money. The charities have served for more than 40 years as a major link in the state’s social service network for poor and neglected children.

The bishops have followed colleagues in Washington, D.C., and Massachusetts who had jettisoned their adoption services rather than comply with nondiscrimination laws.

For the nation’s Catholic bishops, the Illinois requirement is a prime example of what they see as an escalating campaign by the government to trample on their religious freedom while expanding the rights of gay people. The idea that religious Americans are the victims of government-backed persecution is now a frequent theme not just for Catholic bishops, but also for Republican presidential candidates and conservative evangelicals.

“In the name of tolerance, we’re not being tolerated,” said Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki of the Diocese of Springfield, Ill., a civil and canon lawyer who helped drive the church’s losing battle to retain its state contracts for foster care and adoption services.

The Illinois experience indicates that the bishops face formidable opponents who also claim to have justice and the Constitution on their side. They include not only gay rights advocates, but also many religious believers and churches that support gay equality (some Catholic legislators among them). They frame the issue as a matter of civil rights, saying that Catholic Charities was using taxpayer money to discriminate against same-sex couples.

Tim Kee, a teacher in Marion, Ill., who was turned away by Catholic Charities three years ago when he and his longtime partner, Rick Wade, tried to adopt a child, said: “We’re both Catholic, we love our church, but Catholic Charities closed the door to us. To add insult to injury, my tax dollars went to provide discrimination against me.”

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Ontario’s publicly funded intolerance

Scott Stinson Dec 14, 2011 – The National Post

“Our concern is that this anti-bullying legislation is meant to bring a change in the Catholic curriculum,” said Teresa Pierre, director of Ontario Catholic Parent Advocates, which wants to see Bill 13 dropped. “We are concerned about the potential erosion of Catholic principles.\

The various groups that have come out against Ontario’s proposed anti-bullying law are doing a fine job of proving the argument that the province has no business funding a separate Catholic school system.

It was one thing when, last week, religious groups held a press conference to accuse the McGuinty Liberals of, among other things, harbouring a “radical” sex-education agenda. Many of the actors in that drama have been pushing that line for some time now, and the suggestion that Ontario has an agenda to foster homosexuality deserves little more than a roll of the eyes.

More moderate voices, meanwhile, have said they expect Catholic schools to be places of tolerance, although they are leery about the part of Bill 13 that requires schools to allow the formation of clubs such as gay-straight alliances should students choose to form them. But now Teresa Pierre, the director of a group called Ontario Catholic Parent Advocates, is saying quite plainly that Bill 13 would require Catholic schools to accept homosexuality. And that they shouldn’t have to.

She said her group believes that Dalton McGuinty, the Premier of Ontario, wants to force Catholic schools to allow groups like gay-straight alliances that would end up promoting homosexuality as acceptable, something that goes against official Church teaching.

“We would not tolerate negative speech toward anyone based on his or her sexual orientation in our schools,” she said. “Nevertheless, we don’t want society telling the Church what is proper behaviour and what it should teach.”.

This is a strange way to promote tolerance: do not say anything negative toward anyone based on sexual orientation. Oh, and also, homosexuality is unacceptable and improper. But again: don’t say that to anyone.

It’s the second part of that quote that goes a long way toward explaining the fundamental flaw in a system that funds a separate Catholic school system: “We don’t want society telling the Church what is proper behaviour and what it should teach.”

Fine, no problem. The Catholic Church has a right to its beliefs. But the fact that taxpayers continue to fund schools that want to teach those beliefs looks ever more ridiculous as stories like this play out.

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There Goes the Republic

On Wednesday, White House press secretary Jay Carney claimed “the most recent changes give the president additional discretion in determining how the law will be implemented, consistent with our values and the rule of law, which are at the heart of our country’s strength.”

What rubbish, coming from a president who taught constitutional law. The point is not to hock our civil liberty to the discretion of the president, but rather to guarantee our freedoms even if a Dick Cheney or Newt Gingrich should attain the highest office.

Posted on Dec 15, 2011 | By Robert Scheer | Truthdig

AP / Pablo Martinez Monsivais

Once again the gods of war have united our Congress like nothing else. Unable to agree on the minimal spending necessary to save our economy, schools, medical system or infrastructure, the cowards who mislead us have retreated to the irrationalities of what George Washington in his farewell address condemned as “pretended patriotism.”

The defense authorization bill that Congress passed and President Obama had threatened to veto will soon become law, a fact that should be met with public outrage. Human Rights Watch Executive Director Kenneth Roth, responding to Obama’s craven collapse on the bill’s most controversial provision, said, “By signing this defense spending bill, President Obama will go down in history as the president who enshrined indefinite detention without trial in U.S. law.” On Wednesday, White House press secretary Jay Carney claimed “the most recent changes give the president additional discretion in determining how the law will be implemented, consistent with our values and the rule of law, which are at the heart of our country’s strength.”

What rubbish, coming from a president who taught constitutional law. The point is not to hock our civil liberty to the discretion of the president, but rather to guarantee our freedoms even if a Dick Cheney or Newt Gingrich should attain the highest office.

Sadly, this flagrant subversion of the constitutionally guaranteed right to due process of law was opposed in the Senate by only seven senators, including libertarian Republican Rand Paul and progressive Independent Bernie Sanders.

That onerous provision of the defense budget bill, much discussed on the Internet but far less so in the mass media, assumes a permanent war against terrorism that extends the battlefield to our homeland. It reeks of a militarized state that threatens the foundations of our republican form of government.

This is not only a disaster in the making for civil liberty but a blow to effective anti-terrorist police work. Recall that it was the FBI that was most effective in interrogating al-Qaida suspects before the military let loose the torturers. Under the newly approved legislation, that bypassing of civilian experts will be codified as a routine option for a president.

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Why Is Ontario Funding Catholic Schools?

Writer Yoni Goldstein | Huff Post | 08 Dec 2011

There is absolutely nothing to like about the Ontario government’s funding of Catholic schools. Not one thing. It is, quite frankly, a stupid and wholly unfair policy, a relic so far out of touch with the present day the fact that it has lasted this long is preposterous.

In the latest example of why this farcical legislation must be changed, Catholic school boards are condemning the McGuinty government’s anti-bullying bill because it would allow for the founding of “gay clubs” at publicly funded school boards. The Liberals introduced the legislation last week, in part as a response to the suicide of an Ottawa student who was gay.

The Catholic School Board and its supporters argue that the anti-bullying bill infringes on their freedom of religion. That is, if Catholics want to keep gay students closeted at school then they should be free to do so without government intervention. It’s total hypocrisy — using the Charter, designed specifically to afford everyone equal rights, to effectively deny young Canadians the freedom to be who they want to be. And in the context of gay students, who are particularly exposed to bullying, it’s downright cruel.

According to the Evangelical Association, the anti-bullying legislation “violates the common law of separation of church and state.” Fine then. If separation is what they want, so be it. Let’s stop government funds from supporting Catholic schools — then we’ll have a solid boundary between church and state.

McGuinty’s anti-bullying legislation is more than sensible, it’s vital. While bullying is unavoidable to a certain extent (kids will be kids and so forth), keeping it to a limit in our schools is of paramount importance. If they are to gain any knowledge at all, kids need to feel safe at school, and the best way for kids to feel safe is to be a part of a group of like-minded peers. Bullies prey on the weak — student groups, which offer strength in numbers, are the bully’s kryptonite.

Of course, Catholic schools are free to be wrong on this issue, just as soon as they stop taking money from the government. But as long as Ontarians — among them many gay people, and even more people who don’t think it’s right that kids are being tormented for their sexuality by their peers — are footing the bill, Catholic school boards must allow gay students to organize against bullying.

At its core, funding for Catholic schools is unfair. The policy favours one religious brand at the expense of all others, a practice that is rightly considered unacceptable in just about every other aspect of public policy. And since funding all religious schools isn’t an appealing option — both because of cost and because doing so would inevitably lead to a massive increase in archaic and crazy demands based on various religious grounds — the best course of action is to strip funding from Catholic schools. At least that way the rest of us won’t be left paying for a willfully blind educational system out of touch with the values of the majority of Ontarians.

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