1. Oh, Canada

Canadian media has been celebrating the world record for “longest kill shot” reportedly earned by a Canadian sniper in Iraq:

A Canadian sniper working alongside Iraqi forces in their fight against ISIS successfully struck a member of the militant group from a distance of 3,540 metres, Canada’s military confirmed Thursday.

The sniper is a member of the elite Joint Task Force 2 special forces unit, but citing operation security the military provided no details about how or when the incident took place.

The Globe and Mail first reported the sniper record Thursday and quoted unnamed military sources who said the kill shot disrupted an ISIS attack on Iraqi security forces.

The shot surpasses the previous record held by a British soldier, who in 2009 shot a Taliban fighter in Afghanistan from a distance of 2,475 metres.

Image from cbc.ca

This news comes amid calls for a public inquiry into the murder of Shanna, Brenda, and Aaliyah by Lionel Desmond, and his suicide. Desmond was suffering from PTSD when he killed the women in his family and then took his own life, and veterans advocates have been critical of the mental health supports available:

Peter Stoffer says a judicial inquiry would shed light on the inner workings of many organizations including the Department of National Defence, the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Nova Scotia health system, and the mental health care system. 

The story about the sniper is clearly a piece of propaganda from military sources intended to boost the prestige of the Canadian military right when Trudeau is increasing military spending by 70 per cent over the next decade to $32.7 billion dollars. This new spending particularly emphasizes funding for special forces operations, so the placement of a news story promoting the “elite” nature of Canada’s special forces is hardly coincidence.

As Tony Seed observes in his blog:

The more than $30 billion in announced additional military spending over the next decade alone, most of which will be paid to the biggest arms monopolies, will result in the great parasitism of Canada’s economy and social wealth. This figure does not include costs related to future military deployments or any of the government’s subsequent “decisions related to continental defence and NORAD modernization.” Although it is a truism to note how far these sums of money would go towards providing for the people’s well-being, just as significant is the fact that this wealth is directed away from the all-sided development of the economy towards militarism.

Wondering where all the new spending is going to go? Ships, armoured vehicles, fighter jets, drones, etc #cdnpoli pic.twitter.com/ZJe66iKhqo

— Cormac Mac Sweeney (@cmaconthehill) June 7, 2017

This story also induces some cognitive dissonance. When “kill shots” are being treated in the national media as though they are simply levels in a video game and not human beings being called upon to kill other human beings, it shouldn’t be any wonder that troops are returning with severe PTSD.

In all the discussion of Lionel Desmond’s PTSD, there was little public discussion of what it is that we are sending troops into war to do. The vague idea that the Canadian public generally holds that we’re engaged in “peacekeeping” allows a distancing of the extreme and horrifying violence of combat, and the terrible things soldiers are called upon to do. There is little willingness to engage with the idea that if people are returning so deeply traumatized, maybe we should be questioning our involvement in military action and not just the mental health services available to veterans.

What happened to the previous record holder for longest sniper kill, Sergeant Craig Harrison? He developed post-traumatic stress disorder after his discharge:

Sgt Craig Harrison, who served in the army for 23 years, told ABC news that he felt like he was “hung out to dry,” when he was discharged. “They didn’t even say thank you,” he said.

Over the course of his career, Sgt Harrison completed multiple deployments to Iraq, Afghanistan and the Balkans, the latter of which caused him to develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Sgt Harrison said that his nightmares were related to the people he had killed, that “I can smell them, I can see them. Every person who I have taken their life”.

That, of course, is conveniently left out of the news coverage of the current record holder.

At the same time Canada is celebrating killing people at distances of over three kilometers, the government is denying that we are even involved in combat operations. One wonders what effect that has upon soldiers simultaneously being asked to kill people and then being told that what they are actually doing is “advising and assisting.”

In this article from 2014, it’s suggested that the high rates of suicide and PTSD experienced by troops who served in Afghanistan is also impacted by public attitudes:

It’s a vicious cycle as those who go to war feel extra mental stress when they sense their sacrifice is unappreciated, and their cause diminished by post-war indifference.

And it doesn’t help when Canadians talk a bold game about “supporting the troops” but don’t deliver.

If the public doesn’t believe troops are actually engaged in combat, I imagine that makes it more difficult for people returning from war to actually speak about their experiences. If your family and friends believe you were out there “assisting and advising” and have no idea what you actually did, then I imagine it’s even harder to try to explain to people why you are so traumatized now.

Meanwhile, spending for war is being increased while Canada buries the violent impacts of war, asking us to cheer on sniper shots like we’re watching a Hollywood movie while pretending that war is benign and that our “150 years of being nice” means that we must be peacefully and politely going about the business of war.

So at the same time as we tell Indigenous women that equality costs too much, we increase military spending. At the same time as we pledge to make more war across the planet, cause more refugees, and impoverish more women and children, we brag about our supposed international reputation for being “nice and friendly.” We talk about the tragedy of the Desmond family, but turn around and rah rah killing in war like it’s the same as getting the record for most puppies walking at the same time, or most children jumping through a skipping rope.

And while even talking about things like free community college education or a living wage or assistance levels that allow people some dignity is “puppies and rainbows,” we can spend billions of dollars to stoke global conflict. We treat joining the military like it’s a social program that solves issues of poverty or lack of access to education or “behaviour problems in youth,” so we can’t send mental health counsellors into Black communities, but we can tell Black men just to join up as the path to respectability and stability.

We are turning women away from domestic violence shelters because we don’t fund enough beds, so women have no place to run to. We don’t even talk about the lives of women who are shot to death and we bury them a day later and in private, but we have all the space in the world to celebrate “kill shots.”

We won’t pay for inquiries into deaths in prisons or deaths in nursing homes or from military PTSD – or pay to make the changes that presumably those inquiries would demand – but we have money for more drones. Austerity tells us there’s just no money for housing or for drug treatment centres so I guess people will just have to die in prison un-investigated, but we are bringing democracy and civilization to the rest of the world.

And as we are inundated with celebrations of Canada 150, and told what a peaceful and welcoming country we live in, and how lucky we are to live in such a good country, and how we don’t have violence and conflict like other places, and as we erase histories of Indigenous genocide, we publish military propaganda pretending that killing people is some kind of game, but just as long as Canada is on top in the killing game, it’s all glorious and free.

2. Bikers and Bullying

Let’s look at some of the rhetoric surrounding the story of the bikers escorting a bullied boy to class.

The 10-year-old boy, who is Indigenous and African-Canadian, is being severely bullied. His mother reports, for example, that children on the school bus ripped his clothes off. His mother desperately searched for help as the school couldn’t or wouldn’t end the bullying, and ended up reaching out to the group Defenders of The Children. An escort was arranged for the boy to school, and 150 local bikers showed up to take him to class.

Image from cbc.ca

The accounts of the bullying are horrible, and the inaction and inability or incompetence of schools in dealing with this violence is also disturbing.

But I also find the rhetoric in the white community around bikers to be interesting. While Black victims of police shootings, for example, are told they deserved it for wearing baggy pants, or dressing like a thug — with the implication that for Black people, wearing clothing that’s associated with “being a criminal” makes you a criminal yourself — white bikers who wear clothing that is also associated with violent criminals like the Hell’s Angels are still allowed to be seen as wholesome.

Bars still ban wearing bandannas or athletic clothing — dress codes derived from the criminalization of Black people and hip hop — and we have a graffiti cop in Halifax who openly talked about the criminal culture of hip hop and asserted that legal graffiti is “just as bad” as illegal graffiti because it “promotes” hip hop culture. But nobody says anything about “promoting” biker culture, or suggests that if children start wearing leather vests or patches that means they must be glorifying criminal biker gangs.

Schools ban Black children from wearing clothes or colours or accessories they associate with Black gangs, but again, nobody says that allowing bikers in schools might encourage kids to become an Angel later in life. People write articles about North Preston saying that rap videos encourage young children to glorify all the gold chains and criminal activity, but nobody seems to think that glorifying bikers might lead young children into the drugs and pimping and shootings that biker gangs are responsible for.

In fact, people in Halifax have called for the Angels to return to “clean up the streets,” with the implication that while Black shootings are dangerous, white gang activity is somehow better and more ordered and safe.

Image from cbc.ca

I mean, people think wearing a Black Lives Matter shirt makes you a terrorist and a threat to society, but nobody ever seems to question the messages that might possibly sent by treating bikers as enforcers. I wonder if 150 Black men wearing bandannas showed up at a school in Cape Breton they would have quite the same reception. Hell, Black kids show up at their own schools in Nova Scotia and get suspended for wearing hats.

And no, of course all bikers aren’t criminals, and of course people who wear biker clothing and participate in biker culture shouldn’t be stigmatized just because some bikers are criminals. But it’s interesting how that same reasoning doesn’t seem to apply to Black people.

Beyond that, it’s also interesting how some reports seem to gloat over little kids being intimidated. Isn’t it, perhaps, a bit hypocritical of us to oppose bullying, but then advocate a bunch of adult men dressed in clothing that evokes biker gangs terrorizing elementary school children? This article, for example, takes some glee in the prospect of dangerous-looking adult men intimidating 10-year-olds:

The students at Harbourside Elementary School in Sydney, Nova Scotia, got a wake-up call this morning they’ll never forget. Dozens of leather-clad bikers from clubs around town including the Cape Breton Bike Rally and Bay Boys Motorcycle Club rolled up to their school Wednesday morning to drop off Xander Rose, a fourth-grader at the school. The bikers’ message: Bullying in any shape or form will no longer be tolerated.

The article goes on to recount truly disturbing incidents of bullying including sexual harassment, and I don’t think anyone feels particular sympathy for the children inflicting torture on another child, but if we want to intervene in and stop child bullying, maybe we need to also address the glorification of adult bullying and adult violence.

And I wonder about children who aren’t bullies themselves and who weren’t involved, having all these adult men “rolling up” on their school. What about victims of sexual assault who may be terrified of men who now have 150 intimidating strange men at their school? What if there are children who come from homes where they experience violence from criminal bikers and who associate seeing bikers with their own trauma? What about kids for whom bikers invoke the histories of racist violence committed by biker gangs?

Image from https://ladylibertyslamp.wordpress.com

Responding to child violence by threatening children with bikers and making them feel fear — and perhaps feel that they might be in danger from adult bikers and should fear violence from them — plays a role in perpetuating the exact same ideas of power and domination that create bullying in the first place. Teaching children that if you’re big and physically intimidating and frightening that it’s okay to threaten smaller, weaker people isn’t really doing anything to address why bullying happens. And if adults want bullying to stop, maybe we also need to confront our own glorification of violence and power, and the messages we send children about how to resolve conflict.

Maybe there’s some connection between living in a country that gloats over kill shots and the ways violence is absorbed by children. Maybe when we celebrate 150 big threatening men stopping bullying it also sends messages about masculinity, messages about men gaining power from physical stature, and about men being enforcers in society that end up playing into harmful gender myths and toxic ideas of manhood. Maybe when we feel glee at children “being rolled up on” we are also participating in some of the learned cruelty that makes bullying so common in schools.

Bullies are awful and they do lasting damage to their victims. Of course when we see some bullies getting a bit of comeuppance and a victim of bullying getting some support and being made to feel good we are going to celebrate. When there has been no help, it’s completely understandable why the child’s mother would feel that the bikers are the only support she is going to get, and why she would want them there for her child.

But if we don’t think through the implications of the messages we send children when we promote physical intimidation as a solution to violence, and if we choose that over actual programs and therapeutic interventions and systemic approaches to dealing with bullying and trauma, then we end up perpetuating the problem, not solving it.

If children are violent, we adults also need to look at ourselves, and the violence we promote. If we want bullying to stop, we’re going to have to start with the messages we send children about dominance.

3. Unconstitutional Laws

There were a few stories on the overturning of a sex crimes conviction in Nova Scotia due to issues with the video link and with remote testimony.

Kevin Kindred pointed out in Facebook posts that the case also featured a conviction for “anal intercourse.”

Chart from cusjc.ca

As Kindred argues:

If anyone is curious why it’s important to repeal the “anal intercourse” provisions of the Criminal Code even though they’ve been declared unconstitutional … here’s a case from *this week* where someone was convicted under those provisions. Despite the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal declaring them unconstitutional in 2006.

Kindred goes on to point out that:

Under the law as worded right now, it’s an offence to have anal intercourse. But there’s a defence that applies if (a) it’s consensual, (b) both parties are over 18 (which is not the normal age of consent) and (c) there are only two people in the room (not a requirement for any other kind of sexual activity).

Dozens of cases now saying that that law is unconstitutional, but here we are.

As this article from the Xtra details, anal intercourse laws reflect long histories of homophobia and the criminalization of gay sex.

Laws making anal intercourse a crime have played an essential part in justifying discrimination against us. As long as our expression of intimacy was considered criminal, it remained legitimate to discriminate against us in other ways. Justice Scalia would have allowed Texas to keep sodomy a crime because “many Americans do not want persons who openly engage in homosexual conduct as partners in their businesses, as scoutmasters for their children, as teachers in their children’s schools, or as boarders in their home.”

It is true that anal intercourse has come out of the closet among straights. An early episode of Sex and the City had the girls talking about it. There’s a whole new porn genre—bend-over-boyfriend—where straight guys take it up the ass from women with strap-ons. But in reality, the stigma against anal intercourse remains very strong and is still firmly directed at us. It was no surprise that when US personnel set out to humiliate male Iraqi prisoners, they forced them to simulate acts of anal intercourse.

Regrettably, you don’t have to look to a group of young, out-of-control soldiers in a far-off place to be reminded of how our society continues to view anal intercourse. While sodomy laws in the United States and Canada have been found to be unconstitutional, the recent history of those laws and their unjust use in our own backyard demonstrate just how firmly entrenched the stigma is against anal intercourse.

Anal intercourse in Canada was a total crime until the late 1960s, when a defence was introduced exempting married persons or persons over 21-if only two persons were present. In the ’80s, the defence was changed to allow anal sex between married people or when both people are over 18-still with only two persons allowed to be present. The age of consent for vaginal intercourse was 14-with group sex allowed.

In the late ’90s, the Ontario and Quebec appeal courts found the latest version of the anal intercourse law discriminated on the basis of marital status, age and sexual orientation.

Between 2008 and 2014, 22 people in Canada were charged with anal intercourse. Legislation was introduced in 2016 to repeal Section 159 of the Criminal Code, which forbids minors from participating in consensual anal sex, even though they are above the age of consent for other sex acts.

To be clear, nobody, least of all Kindred, is defending the rape of children. The issue isn’t that anyone wants child rapists to be excused, but rather the use of a charge that has been declared unconstitutional in Nova Scotia for over a decade when other charges can and do apply. Certainly, we can address the severity and trauma of child sexual assault, and take into account the facts of the assault, without using laws that should no longer exist.

Laws against anal intercourse are relics from the days when homosexuality was actually criminalized in Canada (and remains illegal in over 70 countries in the world). Provisions requiring a higher age of consent for anal sex reinforce long-held myths about all gay men being pedophiles, and stigmatize gay sex as somehow more obscene or damaging than heterosexual intercourse — attitudes still reflected in the practice of assigning “R” ratings to films depicting gay relationships.

The continued use of charges for anal intercourse indicates that it’s not enough to “pretend it’s not there” in Kindred’s wording, but that these laws actually need to be removed. The issue in this case is child sexual assault – reviving laws that are recognized as homophobic is unnecessary and unnecessarily participates in criminalizing gay relationships.

4. Deer.

People in Truro are considering a “deer cull” due to hungry deer roaming the streets.

Classic Far Side cartoon by Gary Larson.

Some blame the deer problem on the increased development of the once-wooded areas near the top of Young Street, driving animals from their normal habitat.

“It’s a culmination of things. Increased development, houses being built where deer used to thrive. People tend to feed them which is problematic” said Ward 3 Councillor Danny Joseph.

I’m guessing the deer feel like there should be a people cull, then.

El Jones is a poet, journalist, professor, community advocate, and activist. Her work focuses on social justice issues such as feminism, prison abolition, anti-racism, and decolonization.

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  1. Thanks, El. Weaving all these issues together and connecting all the dots creates a narrative that we should all find concerning.

    When I saw the “kill shot” stories in the media, my first thought was that I was seeing the celebration of the death of another human as if it were some kind of sports statistic. Thank you for weaving in the all too real issue of PTSD and pointing out the fact that our nice country has resources for war making, but not for peace making in our schools and other parts of our communities. Pointing out that the sniper story was a PR exercise is so on point, and as usual, the corporate media – including CBC – bought it.

    When I saw the biker story this week my first thought was that it was sad that 200 bikers had to saddle up and do something about a problem that the provincial government, the local School Board and the school administration were unwilling to confront. Then, of course I focused on the absurdity of dealing with bullying with the threat of more bullying. And, after reading your column, I realized that this whole episode was a PR exercise – they’re just a bunch of big cuddly teddy bears. Yeah right.

    The majority white society’s tolerance of bikers and biker garb when contrasted with society’s negative attitude towards anything resembling the common perception of what constitutes hip hop or black gang attire is enormously hypocritical. Thanks for making that very important point and please keep up the great work.

  2. Outstanding work El Jones.

    Something about the biker story has been bothering me, but I wasn’t able to put my finger on it. Kids ultimately learn to bully from adults.

    When the HA came back to Halifax last year the discourse around it was infuriating. The last time the HA was in Halifax they were shutdown because members were convicted of murder. They are one of the most prominent international criminal organizations in the world. But it seems a substantial amount of people are convinced that the HA will make their neighbourhoods safer. Meanwhile, the NPF, a gang which doesn’t even exist, is public enemy number one. The double standard is ridiculous.

    1. I am a motorcyclist, not. “Biker”. The display in Cape Breton by the group “Defenders of Children” scared the crap out of me. While superficially it may have seemed that they were anti-bullying, the meaaafe it sent was “when confronted by force, retaliate with greater force”. Using the persona of a criminal gang -which is exactly the image portrayed – to deal with a bullying situation is right out of Tony Soprano’s handbook. What will happen to the child if he gets bullied again. Will the bikers come back with tire irons and brass knuckles?

      1. I had a discussion about the biker story this evening with a good friend of mine. We grew up together and went to junior high in Cape Breton. After talking about it for a bit we asked the same question you are, and we both agreed that if this had happened in our school, the kid would have been beaten up and bullied more for it.

        I have no idea if this rally will be successful in ceasing the bullying, but I sincerely doubt it will. Like you ask, what’s the next step for the bikers? Follow up on their show of force? They will inevitably have to back down (well I hope they would anyways).

        And you know what I think that has to be really scary for not just the child who was bullied, but for all the other kids at the school as well, when they realize just how incapable adults are when it comes dealing with bullying.

        You have to wonder how none of them could have thought of the consequences of the rally, its so incredibly short sighted on their part.

  3. For some, looking for the pits in a cherry pie will always be more important than savoring the taste of the product. Always looking for “hidden” meanings and agendas can cause one to lose focus on reality and what may be the actual truth. Sometimes a “fluff piece” story is just that. The story about our Canadian sniper has been known and reported about for a long time; I am not sure if I see the relationship to the issues of PTSD in the same way as the article tells it or why it is import to shine the light on it today. Nor do I advocate hiring bikers to try to resolve our bullying problems in our schools… I just, like many, found it to be an interesting story, nothing more.

  4. If this out of control government stops clear cutting the forests. Perhaps the deer will return to their woodland homes.