Dispatch from the Front Line: Does "Pension?" count as hate speech?

Another terrible discovery, thoughts on the NWC, a prayer for Montreal's windows and Sajjan dodges yet another near miss.

It was another gutting week on the Indigenous reconciliation front. You'll all have heard the news out of Saskatchewan, where a reported 751 unmarked graves were reportedly found at the site of a former Indian Residential School. As with the previous discovery in Kamloops, the local Indigenous leaders have been admirably careful with their language. The estimate could be off by as much as 10 per cent; the graves may once have been marked, although what happened to those markers is as-yet unknown. It's possible that some of the dead buried there had no connection to the school, and may not even be children. In other words, we don’t yet know whether this is the discovery of an unmarked grave for the children of the nearby residential school — or a forgotten prairie cemetery, perhaps one that once used wooden markers lost to neglect and time. Or some combination of both.

We will know more as investigations continue. Regardless, the big picture remains clear, and ugly. Canadians are, and ought to be, bracing themselves for more discoveries like this; burial sites for perhaps thousands of children who were forcibly sent to residential schools and never came home. We honestly don't have anything to add to our note of two weeks ago. And we'll continue referring back to that as we find more and more of these sites, at hundreds of locations, in the years to come. We don't want you to harden your heart against these terrible truths. But you'd better be prepared for more of them.

In other news, your Line editors continue to think that not enough of you are tuned in to the sexual misconduct scandal still roiling the Canadian Armed Forces. Yes, yes, we know the military is this weird, complicated thing that no one really pays much attention to in this country. But you really ought to be.

You all know the basic outline already: sexual harassment and assault is a major problem in the armed forces. In 2015, former Supreme Court justice Marie Deschamps completed a major report into the issue, and recommended sweeping changes. A few of the changes were made, but the report was mostly immediately assigned dust-collector status and forgotten. That would be bad enough, but what really gave this life was that the Trudeau government — specifically, National Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan — was given a heads-up that Gen. Jonathan Vance, the country's top military officer, was himself accused of misconduct. And the PMO found a way to bend the nature of the space-time continuum as they contorted and twisted their way out of having to do anything about it.

It's a horrific look for a government that considers itself feminist, especially when the guy at the top has some baggage of his own. The Liberals did what Liberals do — said they should have done better and circled the wagons. Accountability is for chumps, after all. This week, Gregory Lick, the ombudsman for the Canadian Armed Forces — a position that exists to give serving members of the armed forces a place to go with complaints within their chains of command — took aim at his own chain of command — Minister Sajjan, saying that his reporting structure has to be changed because Sajjan, frankly, ain’t interested in hearing about problems that the Liberals find awkward.

Here’s Lick:

"The collective actions or, in some cases, the inaction of senior political, military and civilian leadership within the government have eroded trust within the defence community ... When leaders turn a blind eye to our recommendations and concerns in order to advance political interests and their own self-preservation or career advancement, it is the members of the defence community that suffer the consequences ... It is clear that inaction is rewarded far more than action. In the four months since the most recent outbreak of multiple accusations of sexual misconduct, the actions of the minister of National Defence, senior government and military officials have bitterly proved this point. The erratic behaviour of leadership defies common sense or reason. The concept of ministerial accountability has been absent."

Folks, trust us when we tell you that by the standard of Ottawa bureaucratese, that statement is blistering. Lick is directly targeting Sajjan with that last sentence. Translated into normal Canadian English, Lick is accusing Sajjan of inaction in the face of obvious problems.

Oh, and, gosh. Folks, we had largely finished this week’s dispatch when yet another near-miss landed in the direct vicinity of Sajjan. Forgive us, but the hour is late, so we’ll just quote directly from the Canadian Press report that came out just this evening:

A reserve military officer who was ordered suspended from the Vancouver police three years ago for an inappropriate relationship with a subordinate is no longer working for Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan.

Department spokesman Dan Le Bouthillier said in an email Friday that Maj. Greg McCullough is no longer employed as a military assistant to the minister of national defence.

McCullough was hired in March 2020 to support Sajjan's work in Vancouver despite an external investigation that found him guilty in 2018 of two counts of misconduct for his relationship with Const. Nicole Chan, who later took her own life in January 2019.

Le Bouthillier said McCullough is now working with the Army Reserve in Vancouver on other duties.

Sajjan's office has said the two men served together in the same army reserve unit in B.C., but that the military was responsible for hiring him to the unique position and neither the minister nor his staff knew about McCullough's past.

Oh, well, gee. The minister didn’t know that his assistant was, uhhh, recently suspended for sexual misconduct with a subordinate. Well! Fair enough, then, right?

What was it that Lick said about ministerial accountability again? About inaction? Oh dear, it’s totally slipped our little ole minds. Probably nothing important!

More seriously: We don't expect much to come from this. From any of it, or from all of it. Firing Sajjan would require Trudeau to admit he’d fell short, and, well, we all know this guy is way more comfortable apologizing for stuff that happened a century before he was born than he ever is admitting he himself screwed up. Apologies are just a subset of performance art for Trudeau, not actual admissions of failure and expressions of regret. But let's not mistake what has happened here. A slew of senior military officers have quit or been removed. The PMO has been singed. Sajjan has been directly called out, and his own assistant implicated.

There is no mystery here. Canadians have been told there is rot in the government, and that our men and women in uniform are suffering for it while Trudeau looks the other way. And you’ll have to get used to that, too.

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Meanwhile, we have not been ignoring provincial affairs here at The Line, either. In recent weeks, we’ve published two op-eds with strong criticism of Doug Ford’s decision to invoke the notwithstanding clause; this one, from Daniel Tencer, and, on today, another from Leonid Sirota.

To be honest, dear Line reader, we don’t agree with either of these writers. That is absolutely fine: we shouldn’t agree with everything we publish. But we find ourselves closer to the National Post’s Colby Cosh on this particular subject, who noted, quite rightly, that if it were anybody else, the left would be thrilled to see a government clamp down on third-party spending. Indeed, we can remember, only a few years ago, when right-leaning third parties like Ontario Proud were regarded as uniquely nefarious agents bearing deep responsibility for the election of Premier Buck-a-Beer.

When this was pointed out by Cosh, many seemed to fall back into a critique of process. Oh, it’s not that Ford’s aims were out of line, but rather his unconscionable invocation of the notwithstanding clause, which would override foundational freedom of expression rights that the left decides not to associate with neoliberal oppression when the moment suits.

Well, we at The Line are about as close to neoliberal freedom of expression absolutists as this country will allow, and in all honestly, even we are struggling to get our blood up about a law that extends pre-writ spending restrictions on third parties to 12 months from six. The left is angry at Ford because they think he is rigging election spending rules in his own favour, and they’re probably right. Ford is acting like every government before him in that regard. What’s unique here is that he’s willing to break taboo and invoke the notwithstanding clause to do it.

We will debate whether or not the clause is a good thing or a bad thing to fill our time after we are all consigned to purgatory, but like it or not, provincial governments have the power to override the Charter for a spell. The clause was conceived for situations exactly like this one — the courts have returned a Charter-based ruling unpalatable to a provincial government, and said provincial government is willing to burn political capital to overrule it. This is not some unique abuse of power. It’s just a use of power. A crude and probably unwise one, but well within Ford’s purview.

Further, we find the rhetoric on this file to be a touch catastrophic.

“There is good reason to believe that the Charter’s four decades of moderating populist and anti-minority impulses in Canadian politics are largely at an end,” wrote Sirota, for example, bypassing the fact that there’s nothing particularly populist or anti-minority about a bill shifting pre-election third-party spending limits. (In fact, one could argue the opposite is true.) It’s a statement that places a touching amount of faith in the Charter, although one that also displays a degree of historical amnesia.

The clause has already been invoked 17 times, mostly by Quebec, where its invocation to suppress minority rights always fails to evoke the same amoure propre for the Charter.

A quick final note on politics; the Liberal’s dropped their online hate speech bill just before Parliament was set to adjourn for the summer. We are working our way through the ghost of Section 13, and expect to have more analysis in coming weeks, after we get back from our summer break.

By then, we expect to to able to answer two crucial questions: Would Carolyn Bennett’s spiteful, idiotic mockery of Jody Wilson-Raybould qualify? Or will there be legal exemptions for letting interpersonal dynamics get the better of us?

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On a final note, while we’re all hockey fans here at The Line, we don’t really go in for the whole “Canada’s Team” thing. Teams belong to cities, and any self-respecting municipality wouldn’t be caught dead cheering on a rival team that had knocked its local heroes out of the playoffs. Yet we can’t help but feel some happiness (leavened with envy) for the Montreal Canadiens, who have advanced to the Stanley Cup finals for the first time in 28 years. 

Montreal has had a tough pandemic, especially over the first two waves when its COVID-19 case loads, death rates, and total deaths were the highest in the country. But perhaps thanks to a strict (and very un-Montreal) curfew, the third wave was much easier. Vaccination rates are high, case counts are down, and, on the evening of the Fête Nationale, the Habs scored in overtime to beat Las Vegas in the semi-finals. It’s a Cinderella story, as they say. 

But this being Montreal and these being the Canadiens, politics always has to poke its nose into the party tent. (Sorry, we lied, we’re talking about politics again.) Even before the puck was dropped, the journalist Antoine Robitaille got a bit sniffy: 

And close watchers of these things will recall the anxiety that greeted the news, back in early May, that for the first time in a century, and probably in the franchise’s entire history, not a single Quebecer would suit up for a game. It might seem silly to outsiders, but these are the sorts of things that matter to Montrealers. 

But with the Canadiens playing for the Coupe Stanley, concerns over the lack of Quebec-born francophones on the team (there are only two this year) are for the moment taking a back seat. With goaltender Carey Price repeatedly slamming the door in OT, it all feels a bit like the run of ‘93 when Patrick Roy set an NHL record with 10-straight playoff overtime wins. If this fairy tale unfolds as it should, it will be like old times as Montrealers can expect a parade “along the usual route.”

But one way we hope it isn’t like old times is when it comes to the other Stanley Cup-winning tradition in Montreal, and that’s the traditional trashing of the downtown core. Montrealers rioted after Cup wins in ‘86 and ‘93, and if the 15 arrests after the win on Thursday are any indication, some people are getting ready to do it again. It’s been a long pandemic and the city’s merchants have suffered enormously. We really hope the hockey fans cut them a break this time. 


  • University of Toronto philosophy professor Joseph Heath wrote for us on why the modern “woke” talk so much about harm — it’s their way to making the illiberal seem liberal and just. “When they come across something they don’t like, rather than calling for censorship on the basis of content, they will instead attempt to restrict it on the grounds that it causes harm,” he wrote. “For example, students who are trying to censor the expression of ideas in the classroom will claim that the discussion makes them feel ‘unsafe,’ or that it threatens their mental health. What is crucial about this move is that it allows them to call for illiberal actions (i.e. censorship or punishment of speech) on grounds that are, in principle at least, not illiberal.”

  • From B.C., Rishi Maharaj explained the current controversy over chopping down some of B.C.’s remaining old growth forest … and why it makes no sense to do so: “With regard to tourism, the B.C. government’s logical acrobatics about how much old growth they claim remains in remote and inaccessible corners of the province becomes irrelevant. Building a tourism industry on old-growth requires areas that can be accessed by car from major cities and there can be no doubt that Fairy Creek is among the last of those.”

  • You can add Leonid Sirota to the list of those unhappy with Doug Ford’s use of the notwithstanding clause. “If nothing else,” Sirota argued, “governments owe those whose rights they seek to limit an explanation of why this is necessary for some greater good. When those whose rights are being restricted are the government’s political adversaries, as is the case in Ford’s conflict with unions, the explanation ought to be especially clear and compelling. Yet Ford’s government has provided nothing more than sloganeering about the dangers of American-style election campaigns.”

We will be around for part of next week, team, before largely shutting down the Line for a few weeks of vacation. Enjoy your weekend, and if you like what you read above, help keep the Line viable by clicking the little blue button below.

The Line is Canada’s last, best hope for irreverent commentary. We reject bullshit. We love lively writing. Please consider supporting us by subscribing. Follow us on Twitter @the_lineca. Fight with us on Facebook. Pitch us something: lineeditor@protonmail.com