Desmond Cole, the Toronto Star and Another Existential Crisis for Professional Journalism

DISCLOSURE: I worked as a mainstream news reporter between 2003 and 2012.

I see this as a two-fold issue; firstly, actions and secondly, words. I’ll consider both briefly and then elaborate on my concerns.

Actions

There is no point in rehashing here the now well-known details of what lead to Desmond Cole’s departure from the Toronto Star. The Star has doubled down on its position that it has concerns Cole, a Black journalist who has now fully embraced activism in the name of Black liberation, violated its newsroom policy of journalists “becoming the story.”

A couple of notes on the incident itself.

In defending its policy, the Star notes “a public meeting of a democratic municipal government committee discussing an important matter of public interest was brought to a halt as a result of Cole’s actions would seem to (emphasis mine) go beyond advocacy to an entirely different level of the journalist/activist becoming the story.”

Wait.

“Would seem to”? What’s the ambiguity here? Either Cole was reminded about newsroom policy or he was not (he was). Either he was called into an editor’s office because of concerns about protocol or he was not (he was).

And, let’s not pretend — despite the Star’s reassurances about this being a “cordial chat” and that Cole was not “disciplined” or “threatened with any consequences” — this was a meeting of equals. ANY worker (especially precarious freelancer)/manager relationship is highly unbalanced in favour of management. Also, what this meeting wasn’t, was a chat to congratulate Desmond Cole about a courageous stand on a social justice issue plaguing Canada.

Additionally, the Star argues that Cole’s “actions went further than whatever latitude to act as advocates the newsroom granted in the past to some former Star columnists, such as Catherine Porter.”

With no further explanation about why Porter, a white columnist, was not treated similarly, we are expected to merely accept the Star’s declaration as truth. Q.E.D.

So, the Star’s inability or unwillingness to interpret and enforce a newsroom policy that doesn’t pick and choose what amounts to winners and losers is highly problematic, to say the least.

I also want to broaden the discussion here.

Elsewhere, I have extensively interrogated the self-regulated ethics of professional journalism. There, I noted the three biases that underpin the profession, identified by media scholar Ben Bagdikian in The Media Monopoly:

  • “[P]rofessional journalism regards anything done by official sources — for example, government officials and prominent public figures — as the basis for legitimate news.”
  • “[P]rofessional journalism tends to avoid contextualization of the news it covers.”
  • “[T]here is a clear pro-business bent to professional journalism, which serves the aims of its corporate masters and advertisers.”

The existence of the first two biases in the Cole case can be fairly obviously identified:

  1. The Toronto Police Services Board is, in the Star’s own words, “a public meeting of a democratic municipal government committee”. It doesn’t get any more official than that. The disruption of a board meeting such as this, by any journalist affiliated with a professional journalism company, serves as a contestation of the very foundation of legitimacy for the gathering of news by professional news companies. It is an existential crisis that it’s fair to imagine most newsroom policy handbooks have overlooked.
  2. Cole names this lack of contextualization in his resignation post:
    “The Star invests heavily in reporters whose excellent work inspires much of my commentary on anti-Black racism and white supremacy in Canada. Yet it seems the Star is reluctant to invest in columnists who relentlessly name these racial power imbalances, who call out the political and institutional forces responsible for white supremacy and Black suffering (emphasis mine).” In other words, context. Cole is identifying context in his work. His attendance at the police board meeting April 20 cannot be extracted from the larger context in which Cole raised his fist and halted the meeting. He didn’t just attend a random meeting. This meeting, as Cole noted, was merely one more thread in the tapestry of racial profiling via carding that Toronto and Ontario have been criticized for during the past three years. Community rage at the discriminatory nature of random carding is palpable in Toronto. This is part of the context.
  3. The third bias, the clear pro-business bent, is less obvious in the Cole incident. However, it can be argued — as it will be in the following section — that the self-described core of Cole’s journalism is the interrogation of racial power imbalances, white supremacy and Black suffering and that is a threat to the ruling bloc’s cultural hegemony of the late capitalist status quo.

Words

In the Dialectic of Enlightenment, Horkheimer and Adorno tell us that opposition to what they term the Culture Industry is futile, in that an all-encompassing commodification of culture will also incorporate that opposition.

Cole tells us that his journalism is that of a “very political and unapologetically Black voice.” It is obvious that among the reasons that he has entered into the relations of production is to shine a bright light on the “political and institutional forces responsible for white supremacy and Black suffering.” Cole, like so many other writers, but most relevantly here, Black writers and writers of colour, cannot merely opt out of late capitalism. If they are to enter, or be forced, into the relations of production, it makes sense that, like all writers, they will write about what stokes their fire. And, this is truly a righteous torch to carry.

These writers are often literally selling the justification of their existence into a society that has proven time and time again to be hostile to that existence.

And, this doesn’t even address the fact that many of these workers have been locked out of other options due to systemic prejudice(s) — or, that many women and men have been doing this type of labour for free on blogs, on social media and elsewhere with little to no recognition or appreciation.

And, to be perfectly clear: this is not the same tired old trope of activists getting paid to protest. This describes the forcing open of a labour market within late capitalism; again, an economy in which an individual, alone, cannot, at present, merely refuse to participate and expect to survive.

Implications

Ultimately, writers seeking liberation of any type, cannot escape their subjection to the totality of the culture industry’s form. The logic of the culture industry results in the writers becoming branded as the anti-commodity; a process of negative commodification imbued with notions of danger and rebellion. They become fetishized. During this fetishizing process, their material struggles for liberation become abstracted through words — often refereed through ‘style guides’, behaviour policies and other blunt disciplinary tools — and detached from the labouring bodies searching for liberation (this detachment of language from bodies is taken up extensively by McNally). It is, for the culture industry, quite inconvenient when those labouring workers reassert their physicality.

In order to survive economically, the writers, especially those particularly vulnerable to erasure due to their socio-economic location (such as those facing racism), become subducted beneath the political/economic mantle by the crushing forces of cultural hegemony. “Anyone who resists can survive only by being incorporated,” Horkheimer and Adorno tell us (104).

That is, until they step too far over the ruling bloc’s invisible (and ever-shifting) line.

Cole appears to have done this April 20.

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Raise Corporate Taxes To Slay Ontario’s Infrastructure Deficit: An Alternative Policy Proposal

The province of Ontario currently faces a significant public infrastructure deficit which is harming its economic productivity and its quality of life. The government’s own numbers estimate that deficit at “tens of billions of dollars.”[1] Some media reports have pegged the number at times in excess of $100 billion.[2] I propose a new policy paradigm of increased and creative corporate taxation to help fund this infrastructure funding shortfall. To examine this policy recommendation, I will first place the issue in its historical and present-day context. I will then investigate several methods used to finance the curbing of infrastructure deficits. Finally, I will analyze each method and explain my policy recommendation.

Issue Background
This analysis adopts the provincial government’s definition of public infrastructure as that consisting of “highways, bridges, culverts, transit systems, schools, universities, hospitals, drinking water and wastewater systems, parks, and government buildings.”[3] Important implications flow from a lack of investment in crucial public infrastructure; among them are decreased economic productivity and heightened social ills. Firstly, emerging research is increasingly quantifying the toll Ontario’s public infrastructure deficit is taking on productivity. A 2013 briefing report by the Conference Board of Canada specifically connects the two issues: “[T]here is a high degree of interdependence between the quality and quantity of public infrastructure and the performance (productivity) of an economy’s business sector.”[4] Public infrastructure investments by the Ontario government between 2004 and 2014 were projected by the Conference Board’s report to lift “the province’s real productive capacity by 2.1 percent” and add “$1,044 (in constant 2012 dollars) to the average income per resident.”[5] In the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area, the economic cost of the infrastructure deficit, vis-à-vis traffic congestion is estimated to be $6 billion each year.[6] That cost is currently expected to grow to $15 billion per year by 2031, according to projections by the City of Toronto.[7]

Secondly, increased traffic on overburdened roads has resulted in increased delays for people simply trying to get around the province. This, in turn, has had a cascade effect of further negative consequences for Ontarians, a 2014 Canadian Index of Wellbeing report tells us. The issue of intensified traffic gridlock “increases stress among commuters, reduces time available for other valued activities, and reduces business productivity,” the report notes. “It contributes to higher levels of pollution, especially in urban areas, and diminishes environmental quality, thereby jeopardising public health.”[8] This problem is particularly acute in the Greater Toronto Area, where the average commuting time is about an hour in length.[9]

Government investment into Ontario’s public infrastructure has come in ebbs and flows in the post-Second War era. At present, the province segments infrastructure investment into three eras: The “Era of Visionary Investment” (1955-1974), the “Era of Neglect” (1975-1999) and what it calls the “Era of Renewal” (2000-2009)[10] [see Chart 1].[11] The most recent figures public available show the province states that it has invested nearly $100 billion in public infrastructure since 2003.[12] The government claims this spending is significant stating, “the province has not seen this level of investment since the post-war era, when many of the foundations of our present-day infrastructure, including the 400-series highways and the Toronto subway, were first laid.”[13]

Province of Ontario, Building Together: Jobs & Prosperity for Ontarians (Toronto: Queen’s Printer for Ontario, 2011), iii.

However, the province expects that during the course of the next quarter century, it will “encounter diverse growth challenges”[14] which will ostensibly exacerbate the issues faced by the significant infrastructure deficit if it is not addressed before then.

Funding Schemes
Several mechanisms for funding infrastructure deficits have appeared in jurisdictions in Canada and abroad in recent years. Some have been highly controversial. Other projects have been widely discussed but remain primarily in the proposal stage. This section will investigate three such mechanisms: firstly, the privatization of public assets, secondly, various funding programs from the federal government to the provinces and finally, proposals to tax corporations at higher levels and/or more creatively.

A major plank of the current Liberal Party government of Ontario’s plan to fund infrastructure investment is the privatization of some public assets.[15] Among the planned privatizations is the eventual selling of 60 percent of Hydro One, a transmission and distribution utility.[16] The province expects to eventually “realize $9 billion in proceeds, $4 billion of which will be invested in infrastructure and $5 billion to reduce (provincial) debt”[17] (which is projected to be approximately $300 billion in 2015-2016).[18] The privatization, via the offering of shares of Hydro One on the Toronto Stock Exchange, began on November 5, 2015.[19] The Government of Ontario argues that this privatization scheme is good for the province because it will provide needed money and also introduce “private-sector discipline” which “(will) allow Hydro One to achieve operating efficiencies” while remaining under provincial regulation.[20] However, an October 2015 report by the Financial Accountability Office of Ontario flags the government’s plan as potentially counterproductive. While the initial privatization which began on November 5, 2015, and is estimated to involve 15 percent of the total Hydro One shares to be offered, is expected to “significantly reduce the Province’s deficit in 2015–16,”[21] by the time all 60 percent of Hydro One is privatized (estimated to be 2019-2020), “the Province (will) experience an ongoing negative impact on budget balance from foregone net income and payments-in-lieu of taxes from Hydro One.”[22] In other words, not only will tax revenues from a completely publicly-owned Hydro One not be available for reinvestment into projects such as infrastructure, the loss of that revenue may drag Ontario’s budget down. Whether this short-term gain versus long-term pain trend will be projected for all public assets the government may privatize is unknown at this time.

A second method of funding infrastructure used in Canada involves transfer funding from the federal government to the provinces. Several programs have been implemented since 2000 and a greater emphasis was placed on the role for the federal government in the funding of infrastructure, specifically municipal infrastructure, in the aftermath of a 2001 meeting in Winnipeg by mayors of the five largest cities in Canada. The mayors argued “for a ‘new deal for cities’ to ensure local communities could address pressing public concerns and ‘fundamental infrastructure needs’.”[23] The federal government currently states it plans to directly invest $11 billion in infrastructure funding in Ontario between 2014 and 2024.[24] The money will flow to Ontario, via Ottawa, after it is collected through two federal programs: the New Building Canada Fund and the Gas Tax Fund. Ontario is also projected by the federal government to potentially “benefit” from $4 billion worth of projects “of national significance”, $1.25 billion worth of funds for embarking on public-private partnerships and $10.4 billion in federal tax rebates.[25] Federal funding has the potential to be helpful to Ontario, to a certain degree, but the main drawback to the scheme is that various programs have not adequately offset the provincial infrastructure deficit to this point. In the future, any increases to such funding initiatives will also be contingent on political will on the part of the federal government of the day.

The final funding mechanism investigated here is various proposals to adjust corporate taxation to help offset the cost of the infrastructure deficit. A March 2015 report by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives argues that Ontario has a significant “revenue problem”[26] and that in order to meet it its goals of infrastructure spending and debt reduction, it “must raise taxes.”[27] Among the taxes it advocates hiking is the joint provincial-federal corporate tax, which it states is “one of the lowest corporate income tax rates among developed and developing countries.”[28] Corporate taxes were slashed during the financial crisis which began in 2008-2009 in an attempt to encourage the private sector to spend. However, several reports indicate that attempted inducement was ineffective in achieving its desired goals. The result has been that huge pools of cash horded by Canadian companies are currently lying dormant. This total of this dormant cash, or “Dead Money”, as former Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney called it[29], is now estimated by the Broadbent Institute to be approaching $700 billion.[30] Despite nearly a decade of an objectively favourable tax climate, companies in Ontario are among the least willing to spend in Canada and invest an average of only $7,000 per worker. That ranks Ontario companies second-lowest behind only Quebec which spends a mere $5,700 per worker.[31] Given all of this, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives argues it is time for corporate rates to rise. “The failure of corporate tax cuts on their own to spur business investment, coupled with our competitive tax rates, means there is room to return the corporate income tax rate to 2009 levels,” the Centre notes.[32] Meanwhile, the United States government appears to be embarking on a unique program to seize untaxed income from American corporations. Some reports indicate that as much as $2 trillion worth of American corporate profits are sitting in foreign accounts. President Barack Obama proposes to tax that money at a rate of 14 percent to help pay for infrastructure upgrades.[33] The amount of Canadian corporate assets held overseas in “tax havens” is estimated by Canadians for Tax Fairness to be approximately $200 billion.[34] If the Canadian government attempted a similar initiative to that of the Obama administration, the tax revenue windfall could be substantial.

Conclusions/Policy Recommendation
Ontario’s infrastructure deficit poses a significant challenge. Given the potential counterproductive nature of privatizing public assets, as flagged by the Financial Accountability Officer of Ontario, the decision to go down that path by the current government is concerning. As well, the failure of past federal-provincial infrastructure funding schemes demands a change of the status quo. Put bluntly, those funding initiatives simply have not in the past and are not presently addressing Ontario’s infrastructure deficit in a meaningful way. That any increases to those federal-provincial programs are contingent on political will is also a drawback. New thinking is required to deal with Ontario’s infrastructure problem. I recommend that the federal government move to begin taxing Canadian overseas corporate assets currently held in tax shelters and share those confiscated revenues with the province of Ontario under the condition that the money be used exclusively for infrastructure spending. I also recommend that the joint provincial-federal rate of Ontario corporate taxation be increased to 2009 levels immediately. Further increases of the rate also need to be considered. Ultimately, a more aggressive tone is clearly needed by government with the Canadian corporate sector, which has demonstrably not fulfilled its end of the low tax bargain since the financial crisis began.


 

[1] Province of Ontario, Building Together: Jobs & Prosperity for Ontarians (Toronto: Queen’s Printer for Ontario, 2011), http://moi.gov.on.ca/pdf/en/BuildingTogether_En.pdf (accessed on October 26, 2015), iii.

[2] Robert Benzie and Richard J. Brennan, “Liberals to force provincial government to have long-term infrastructure plans,” Toronto Star, November 7, 2013, http://www.thestar.com/news/queenspark/2013/11/07/liberals_to_force_provincial_government_to_have_longterm_infrastructure_plans.html (accessed on October 26, 2015).

[3] Province of Ontario, Building Together: Jobs & Prosperity for Ontarians, 4.

[4] Conference Board of Canada, The Economic Impact of Ontario’s Infrastructure Investment Program, April 2013, http://www.conferenceboard.ca/e-library/abstract.aspx?did=5425 (free registration required) (accessed on November 1, 2015), 2.

[5] Ibid., 1.

[6] Benjamin Dachis, “Cars, Congestion and Costs: A New Approach to Evaluating Government Infrastructure Investment,” C.D. Howe Institute, July 2013. https://www.cdhowe.org/pdf/Commentary_385.pdf (accessed on October 30, 2015), 2.

[7] City of Toronto, Deputy Mayor’s Roundtable On Gridlock & Traffic Congestion, February 2014, http://www.toronto.ca/legdocs/mmis/2014/ex/bgrd/backgroundfile-72899.pdf (accessed on October 30, 2015), 2.

[8] Canadian Index of Wellbeing, How Are Ontarians Really Doing?, 2014, https://uwaterloo.ca/canadian-index-wellbeing/sites/ca.canadian-index-wellbeing/files/uploads/files/ontarioreport-accessible_0.pdf, (accessed on October 30, 2015), 42.

[9] Ibid., 40.

[10] Province of Ontario, Building Together: Jobs & Prosperity for Ontarians, 9.

[11] Ibid., iii.

[12] Province of Ontario, Results-based Plan Briefing Book 2014-15, (Toronto: Queen’s Printer for Ontario), http://www.moi.gov.on.ca/docs/en/MOI-2014-15RbPBriefingBook-PartI-English.pdf (accessed on October 31, 2015), 6.

[13] Province of Ontario, Building Together: Jobs & Prosperity for Ontarians, iii.

[14] Province of Ontario, Results-based Plan Briefing Book 2014-15, 7.

[15] Province of Ontario, Building Ontario Up: Ontario Budget 2015, http://www.fin.gov.on.ca/en/budget/ontariobudgets/2015/papers_all.pdf (accessed on November 1, 2015), 73.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Province of Ontario, Hydro One Initial Public Offering Closes, (Toronto: Queen’s Printer for Ontario, 2015), https://news.ontario.ca/mei/en/2015/11/hydro-one-initial-public-offering-closes.html (accessed on November 5, 2015).

[18] Ontario Financing Authority, Province’s Consolidated Debt Portfolio, http://www.ofina.on.ca/borrowing_debt/debt.htm (accessed on November 1, 2015).

[19] Province of Ontario, Hydro One Initial Public Offering Closes, https://news.ontario.ca/mei/en/2015/11/hydro-one-initial-public-offering-closes.html (accessed on November 5, 2015).

[20] Province of Ontario, Building Ontario Up: Ontario Budget 2015, 79.

[21] Financial Accountability Office of Ontario, An Assessment of the Financial Impact of the Partial Sale of Hydro One (Toronto: Queen’s Printer for Ontario, 2015), http://www.fao-on.org/web/default/files/publications/FAO%20Hydro%20One%20EN.pdf (accessed on October 29, 2015), 1.

[22] Ibid., 4.

[23] Joan Grace, “Building from the Ground Up: Funding the Infrastructure Deficit in Manitoba,” Manitoba Law Journal 37, no. 2 (2014): 408.

[24] Government of Canada, New Building Canada Plan: Ontario, http://www.infrastructure.gc.ca/regions/on/on-nbcp-npcc-eng.html (accessed on November 1, 2015).

[25] Ibid.

[26] Kaylie Tiessen, “Fixing Ontario’s Revenue Problem,” Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, https://www.policyalternatives.ca/sites/default/files/uploads/publications/Ontario%20Office/2015/03/CCPA%20ON%20Fixing%20Ontarios%20Revenue%20Problem.pdf, March 2015, (accessed on October 28, 2015), 5.

[27] Ibid., 12.

[28] Ibid., 10.

[29] The Economist, “Dead Money,” November 3, 2012, http://www.economist.com/news/finance-and-economics/21565621-cash-has-been-piling-up-companies%E2%80%99-balance-sheets-crisis-dead (accessed on November 1, 2015).

[30] Press Progress, “Corporate Canada is sitting on $680 billion, 85% of Canadians say raise corporate taxes,” Broadbent Institute, September 13, 2015, http://www.pressprogress.ca/corporate_canada_is_sitting_on_680_billion_85_canadians_say_raise_corporate_taxes (accessed on October 27, 2015).

 

[31] Benjamin Dachis, William B.P. Robson and Nicholas Chesterley “Capital Needed: Canada Needs More Robust Business Investment,” C.D. Howe Institute, July 2014, https://www.cdhowe.org/pdf/e-brief_179.pdf (accessed on November 3, 2015), 7.

[32] Kaylie Tiessen, “Fixing Ontario’s Revenue Problem,” 10.

[33] Jeff Mason and Kevin Drawbaugh, “Obama targets foreign profits with tax proposal, Republicans skeptical,” Reuters, February 1, 2015, http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/02/01/us-usa-budget-tax-idUSKBN0L51IX20150201 (accessed on October 29, 2015).

[34] Canadians for Tax Fairness, Canadian $$ in Tax Havens Reach $199 Billion,

http://www.taxfairness.ca/en/news/canadian-tax-havens-reach-199-billion (accessed on October 31, 2015).

The Militarization of Police: But Why?

Since the beginning of the year, several stories in high-profile mainstream media publications have examined the increasing militarization of police forces in North America.

  • In March, The Economist wrote a feature on the phenomenon noting that the use of tactical units, which are often armed with military-style weaponry such as so-called flash-bag grenades and tear gas, has spiked in the United States. Some cities are now using tactical units for routine patrol. The Economist suggested that civil forfeiture laws, under which no criminal conviction is required for people to lose large assets, are actually making it profitable to seize alleged proceeds of crime.
  • In June, The New York Times reported that during the Obama years, police forces in the United States have received “thousands of machine guns” along with”armoured cars and aircraft.” The Times asked whether the events of September 11, 2001 have blurred the lines between soldier and police officer.
  • And on August 15, the Toronto Star published an in-depth look at the militarization of law enforcement both in Canada and in the United States, noting Toronto’s notorious G20 Summit as a domestic example. The story also pulls from a report by the American Civil Liberties Association that claims 62% of tactical deployments were for drug searches and thus, “inappropriate.”

There has been much written about the who, the what, the where and the how of police militarization but little delving into the why. In this post, I explore three possible, and arguably intersecting reasons for the why: (a) Following Giorgio Agamben, that security and the overstepping of the law by governments in order to save the constitution is a long-held practice and is now a paradigm of North American governance. (b) That the state continues to show itself as terrified of marginalized groups and is using violence to coerce co-operation or at least peace from those groups when they express anger. And, (c) That neoliberalism, or the trend of governments toward market solutions and the retreat by the state from social programs is necessarily resulting in the increased use of the state’s security apparatus to quell opposition to such a trend.

This analysis assumes the police are an enforcement arm of the state. 

While Agamben freely admits there is no singular definition of the state of exception, he argues that it constitutes “the original structure in which law encompasses living beings by means of its own suspension.”[1] This, he claims, is a modern paradigm of governance. In other words, the state of exception is the situation in which the law is suspended to uphold the constitution of a particular society and that situation has become normalized and institutionalized as a driving pattern of governance. “In this sense, modern totalitarianism can be defined as the establishment, by means of a state of exception, of a legal civil war that allows for the physical elimination not only of political adversaries but of entire categories of citizens who for some reason cannot be integrated into the political system”, he tells us.[2] That is, the constitution can be suspended in order to save it. This state of exception has been taking root since the First World War, gained traction through National Socialism and has achieved its largest deployment today.[3] The state must have the tools necessary and at its disposal to continue to govern in a continuous state of exception, and thus, the militarization of the police, which function as its enforcement arm most often in times of crisis and suspension of liberties. The police are often the only coercion agency of the state funded at the local, state/provincial and federal levels of government, allowing multiple states of exception to exist — but also for a co-ordinated police effort during a singular state of exception to be possible. A good example of this cross-jurisdictional state of exception is the use of local[4], provincial[5] and federal[6] police officers during the Toronto G20 summit in 2010, during which the civil liberties of protesters were widely suspended and the largest mass arrest of Canadians occurred.[7]

The state of exception is also clearly being used to perpetuate and reproduce historic racism. But, the state of exception as a paradigm of government cannot be used to explain the cracking down on historically marginalized groups, such as Black North Americans and First Nations people. There is a deeper history there and I see it as being about the devaluing of human life via a structural racism that is woven into the fabric of North American governance. Black Americans and First Nations people have been subject to hyper-exploitation and attempts at genocide to the extent that the experiences of the oppressors — that is, overwhelmingly North Americans of European decent — have, I believe, formed an unfinished project of marginalization that continues to the present day. In situations such as these, and others, the state’s actions are not broadly based and sweeping but target specific groups because of antiquated notions about superiority or merely a depraved indifference to the lives and well-being of those who have endured despite attempts to kill them politically and biologically. The militarization of the police is necessary here for the state insofar as those who have fought and continue to fight against oppression do so while concurrently challenging the racist state’s fundamental legitimacy. As W. E. B. Du Bois puts it in Black Reconstruction in America: “[I]f the poor, unlettered toilers are given no political power, and are kept by exploitation in poverty, they will remain submerged unless rescued by revolution; and a philosophy will prevail, teaching that the submergence of the mass is inevitable and is on the whole best, not only for them, but for the ruling classes.”[8]. The state’s coercive response, as seen in situations such as demonstrations in Ferguson, MO after the shooting death of Mike Brown by a police officer in August 2014 and at the Elsipogtog First Nation in October 2013, are both attempts to assert a racist sovereignty and a superiority of the established ruling classes against the respective marginalized groups. Pam Palmater summed up the enforcement by the state of a sovereignty poisoned by racism in a post about the clash between Mi’kmaw activists and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police at Elsipogtog in a post only days afterward: “This heavy-handed deployment of heavily armed RCMP cops against women and children shows Canada’s complete disregard for our fundamental human rights and freedoms, and their ongoing disdain for Indigenous peoples. One RCMP officer’s comments summarized government position perfectly: ‘Crown land belongs to government, not to fucking natives.'”[9]

Finally, the nature of neoliberalism may be inherently coercive. As I have written here about neoliberalism in Ontario, some scholarly authorities see neoliberalism revealing increased authoritarianism. Concurrent with the neoliberal period generally and the aftermath of September 11, 2001 specifically has been an intensified securitization inside states, York University professor Greg Albo tells us. “In Canada this combination of economic and geopolitical interests has produced an internal realignment of the state, with military and security structures absorbing new funds and resources,” he notes.[10] If the police, again the department most often called to put down opposition to neoliberalism’s goals, are to be successful, they need the tools used to quell chaos. Such tools have been developed and deployed by the West during its ongoing wars on terrorism since 9/11 and logically, the fruits of those labours are spilling down to policing departments as such wars — take Afghanistan and Iraq for examples — wind down and focus shifts to domestic disturbances.

Whatever the “why”, and this analysis does not purport to be the final word, the militarization of the police is an ongoing phenomenon. Here, I have attempted to explore the state of exception, structural racism and neoliberalism as three possibilities for why the police in North America have become increasingly militarized. Any society that permits the expansion of the state’s coercion will inevitably have to deal with the counter pressure of civil rights activists. What is crucial to consider is the difference between a real crisis for the state and one that is a fictitious crisis in which civil and social rights are trumped so that the constitution may remain in place. What is left then, if the constitution survives such a battering by the state itself?


[1] Giorgio Agamben, State of Exception, Trans. Kevin Attell, (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 2005), 3.

[2] Ibid., 2.

[3] Ibid., 86-87.

[4] Graham Slaughter, “45-day jail sentence for Toronto police officer who beat G20 protester,” Toronto Star, December 9, 2013, http://www.thestar.com/news/crime/2013/12/09/45day_jail_sentence_for_toronto_police_officer_who_beat_g20_protester.html (accessed on August 24, 2014).

[5] Adrian Morrow and Daniel Leblanc, “Toronto police, OPP called the shots on G20 response, report says,” The Globe and Mail, May 14, 2012, http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/toronto/toronto-police-opp-called-the-shots-on-g20-response-report-says/article4178745/ (accessed on August 24, 2014).

[6] Josh Visser, “RCMP abandoned policy when it participated in G20 ‘kettling,’ report says,” National Post, May 14, 2012, http://news.nationalpost.com/2012/05/14/rcmp-abandoned-policy-when-it-participated-in-g20-kettling-report-says/ (accessed on August 24, 2014).

[7] Canadian Civil Liberties Association, What Happened During the G20?, http://ccla.org/our-work/focus-areas/g8-and-g20/two-months-after-the-g20/ (accessed August 24, 2014).

[8] W. E. B. Du Bois, Black Reconstruction in America, https://archive.org/details/blackreconstruc00dubo, 206 (accessed August 24, 2014).

[9] Pam Palmater, Feathers verus Guns: The Throne Speech and Canada’s War with the Mi’kmaw Nation at Elsipogtog, http://indigenousnationhood.blogspot.ca/2013/10/throne-speech-in-action-canada-is-at.html (accessed August 24, 2014).

[10] Greg Albo, “Fewer Illusions: Canadian Foreign Policy since 2001,” Empire’s Ally: Canada and the Afghanistan War, eds. G. Albo and J. Klassen (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2012), 253.

IV. Zone of Indeterminacy: Interdiction concerning the enclosure of the Social Commons

Here, I have taken up the enclosure of the Social Commons. And here, I have attempted to locate those shunted aside by the austerity agenda.

  • In this post, I attempt to describe the zone of indeterminacy into which those cast aside by austerity have been and are to be consigned. The point, I submit, is that the neoliberal austerity state seeks to marginalize them and keep them from political organization and the potential control of the state.

The Western welfare state is, when contrasted with neoliberal austerity, arguably a facilitator of human development and maximized life. Collective taxes pay for collective services and when corporate taxes are placed at an appropriate level, all factions of society pay their fair share.

But, as previously written, the Beneficiary in neoliberal austerity is placed into a zone of indeterminate exclusion in which their social citizenship is blocked in a process that favours the Producer. The state’s governing apparatus is directly responsible for this process.

It is this zone that I am concerned about here. It is here that the state transforms from a facilitator of maximized life to a limit concept. It is one in which the governing paradigm of power vs. powerless becomes intensified once again. There are those inside and those outside, placed into their own sphere. The two spheres contrast. They may overlap but they do not meld into one another. It is not accidental. It is a governing tool.

This zone of indeterminacy is where the state has designed a political coma for those Beneficiaries whose social citizenship has been blocked. They are not politically alive and yet not politically dead. Residents of this zone in neoliberal austerity regimes include excess labour, those who cannot or choose to not achieve social citizenship via production and those dependent on others. In this zone of indeterminacy, the residents remain part of the neoliberal austerity state but no longer claim social citizenship (political life) within it. The Leviathan, the sovereign composed of millions of bodies, Thomas Hobbes used to describe the undivided state remains intact. This, I submit, must be among the reasons why in 30 years of neoliberalism, the state has not imploded despite a generalized retreat from welfare spending and a focus on market competition.

To be clear, this does not suppose that the Western welfare state is the only, the best or the final facilitator of life. It is however, a tool that can be used to facilitate and maximize life and arguably has been, in varying degrees, since the Second World War. Power interactions and the facilitation of maximized life potentially occur during every interaction — but the Western zeitgeist locates the welfare state if not at the core than just off-centre of the life limitation vs. facilitation debate. This is why I give it such prominence here.

 

Open Letter To Council Requesting Affirmation Of Toronto As A Sanctuary City

Dear Deputy Mayor, Councillors and city staff,

My name is Joe Fantauzzi. I’m a resident of Toronto and first generation Canadian. My family immigrated to this country from Italy in 1957, fleeing a region of that nation torn by the Second World War. My family was lucky. Low-skilled urban labour was in demand at the time we arrived. It was also an era of post-war boom in Canada which permitted upward mobility. As you’ve likely noticed, much of that has changed. Temporary foreign workers are being brought to this country by the hundreds of thousands[1] with no clear agenda to grant them access to the privileges enjoyed with Canadian citizenship.[2] At the same time, real wages are stagnating. With this dire economic situation as a backdrop, I write to you today to urge you to uphold your Feb. 21, 2013 decision to declare Toronto a Sanctuary City and to continue to allow this city’s estimated 200,000 undocumented people access to city services.[3]

This is a matter of basic human dignity. Without status and in a foreign land, undocumented people are reduced to bare life. They are here because we deem them productive or because they have fled another place for a better life here. But they have no agency in Canada. They face barriers to the free health care we show off to the world as an example of our just society. And they cannot look to the state to assist them financially if they lose their jobs. But they are here and may have every intention to stay. It is unconscionable to block their access to city services and programs ─ including funerals. The refusal by this city in January to pay for the burial of Rogerio Marques De Souza, an undocumented labourer from Brazil, whose family could not afford a funeral, was disgraceful.[4]

But if you will not uphold Toronto’s status as a Sanctuary City for the undocumented, do it for yourselves. Some will derisively tell you that Canadian municipalities are merely creatures ─ or even tools ─ of the provinces in which they are located; that you are all out of your jobs if the provincial government decides it be so. I see things differently. I see Toronto, specifically, as a unique place guided by unique legislation (The City of Toronto Act) and in a unique position to leverage that autonomy against the interference of senior governments. Neither Queen’s Park nor Ottawa exerts day-to-day management over this city. Toronto, for all practical purposes, must not function, politically or psychologically, as some colony of the Province of Ontario, I argue to you. You have the ability to redefine who gets to be “in” and who has to stay “out.” You have the ability to create a safe space for vulnerable people living in fear of deportation, distrustful of authority and disconnected from the society in which they live.[5] I tell you again: these human beings are here now and they deserve dignity, compassion and just treatment now.

Thank you.

Joe Fantauzzi


 

[1] Government of Canada, “Facts and Figures,” Fact Sheet — Temporary Foreign Worker Program, http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/resources/publications/employers/temp-foreign-worker-program.asp (accessed on February 20, 2014).

[2] Gwen Muir, “Expanding the settler-state: racialized exclusion and the Temporary Foreign Worker Program,” Solidarity Across Borders, May 10, 2013, http://www.solidarityacrossborders.org/en/solidarity-city/solidarity-city-journal/expanding-the-settler-state-racialized-exclusion-and-the-temporary-foreign-worker-program (accessed on February 20, 2014).

[3] Nicholas Keung, “Toronto declared ‘sanctuary city’ to non-status migrants,” Toronto Star,  February 21, 2013, http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2013/02/21/cisanctuarycity21.html (accessed on February 20, 2014).

[4] Nicholas Keung, “City of Toronto refuses to pay for funeral of undocumented immigrant,” Toronto Star,  January 24, 2014, http://www.thestar.com/news/immigration/2014/01/24/city_of_toronto_refuses_to_pay_for_funeral_of_undocumented_immigrant.html (accessed on February 20, 2014).

[5] City of Toronto, Undocumented Workers in Toronto, October 22, 2012, http://www.toronto.ca/legdocs/mmis/2013/cd/bgrd/backgroundfile-55291.pdf (accessed on February 20, 2014).

Temporary Foreign Workers: What Canada Must Do To Protect A Vulnerable Labour Class

At Illuminated By Streets Lamps, I’ve posted a paper about the vulnerability of temporary foreign workers in Canada. Migrant workers are an exploding source of labour in Canada but economic and political rights are not following.

Here is the post: Temporary Foreign Workers: What Canada Must Do To Protect A Vulnerable Labour Class

The following points are among my key findings and recommendations for moving to address that problem:

  •  Between 2003 and 2012, the number of temporary foreign workers admitted to Canada jumped from 102,932 to 213,573 — a difference of 107.5%.
  • Inquests are mandatory in Ontario when an on-the-job accident kills a worker employed at “a construction project, mining plant or mine, including a pit or quarry” — but not in the course of agricultural work.
  • Effective collective bargaining must be extended to migrant workers by Parliament.
  • Public health benefits must be extended to workers injured in the course of their work even after their employment contract expires.
  •  When an agricultural worker is killed on the job, migrant or not, an inquest must be held.

 

 

Locating Canada’s State Multiculturalism As A Racist Doctrine

I, like many Canadians, am a product of Canada’s state multiculturalism. My family was permitted to enter and remain in Canada, achieve legal, civil, social and economic rights and ultimately, through a gradual whitening of the Italian people in Canada, privilege. I recognize this, take it seriously and frankly, wish to see any structures of privilege I enjoy challenged.

While I believe informal, or civil multiculturalism, may ultimately lead to equality and equity of opportunity if oppressive cultural structures can be crushed, I argue state multiculturalism policies, which underpin modern Canadian nationalism, have been, and remain, inherently racist.

In other words, state multiculturalism as a nationalist doctrine is merely a false flag for the very racism it is supposed to counteract. It is making racism worse ─ not better.

Over at Illuminated By Street Lamps, I have explored this concept, following in the steps of Canadian theorist Himani Bannerji.

Here is the link: Locating Canada’s State Multiculturalism As A Racist Doctrine