This post is dedicated to all those who say:
“I believe in freedom of speech, but drawing Muhammed is a provocation, Islamophobia and hate speech!”
Or something along those lines.
And I answer you that nothing could be further from the truth!!!
When the original Danish Cartoon controversy erupted into worldwide violence, my son had a classmate, Abdulahee, whom he was very good friends with. Abdi’s dad used to be a Math teacher before immigrating to Canada from Africa and their mutual love of Math led them into a great friendship.
As parents dropping off and picking up kids in the lower grades of school often get to know each other and chat together, I got to know Abdi’s parents: his mom was shy, and would only return greetings and a smile, but his dad was more open and the two of us would often chat about the weather and such.
As an immigrant myself a few decades earlier, I was curious how the ‘new immigrant’ experience had changed since my days and so I would ask him and our conversation taught me some interesting things. At times, we even discussed politics…
It was at the time that the violent reaction against the cartoons was at its highest that, while offering Abdi’s dad a ride home after we had dropped off our little ones at school, I asked him what he thought…
Yes, my dear readers, many have pointed out to me that asking a newly arrived Muslim immigrant his opinion on the cartoons and the violent reaction to them in the Muslim world was not politically correct and that I might have been ‘putting him on the spot’, so to speak. Rest assured, I asked as politely as my little Aspie self was capable of and assured him he did not have to comment if he were uncomfortable.
Which he was not.
He thought the cartoons were totally horrible and should not have been published and that death was an appropriate punishment for the cartoonists and the publishers.
OK, I asked – and was told.
By this point, we had arrived near his house, but he seemed very reluctant to leave the conversation at this. So, we sat in a parked car in front of his house and, for the next half-hour to an hour, we talked. And talked. And talked…about the cartoons, the reaction, and all that…
Because I knew this was an intelligent and educated man and I was truly interested in learning why he thought political cartoons were sufficient justification for killing someone, and he was open to explaining his reasoning to me, I sat, and listened, learned and, at times, asked questions.
This issue was front and centre in the Muslim community he was a part of and they discussed it a lot among themselves. And the anger and bitterness were not faked: they were truly felt.
Because their religious leaders explained to them that this action was a direct attack on the Muslim family, an act of intolerance and racism. Islamophobia!
“You guys would not do this with an image of Jesus, so why do you think that you can do it to our prophet and get away with it? If they did this about the Christian God, they’d be in jail or dead!” he explained animatedly to me…
Well, you can see where this is heading, my dear readers. With a smile of surprise on my face I asked why ever would he think this?
It seems that he was assured by his religious and community leaders that this is absolutely so!
He was incredulous.
So, I walked him through (in my limited manner) some of the reasons behind the reformation and enlightenment and how criticizing -nay, ridiculing, parodizing and blaspheming – political and religious figures in our society is the cornerstone of our culture and the root of our tolerance.
Because if nothing is so sacred that it cannot be lampooned and parodied, then nothing can be so powerful enough in our society as to force everyone to officially respect it, even if it is contrary to their own belief system.
If everyone can make fun of Christ, then nobody can force a non-Christian to bow to him as a God.
If everyone can make fun of a Guru, then nobody but his followers need to act as if he’s more than any other man and bow to him in respect.
If everyone can make fun of our politicians and famous people, then nobody gets pun in jail for telling political jokes – but, more importantly, nobody gets put in jail for pointing out when said politician brakes the laws. It keeps them ‘human’ and not above the rest of us.
It is not a perfect mechanism, but it is the best one we have!
After his first incredulity, Abdi’s father started thinking.
And then he asked: “So, when they make fun of Muhammed, it means he has become an important figure in your culture?”
It is precisely because Islam has become a part of our cultural tapestry that Muhammed has become an influential political figure in our culture, along side of Jesus and others.
And yes – apart from being a religious figure, Jesus Christ is also a political figure. And now, since Islam has become a part of our cultural tapestry, so is Muhammed!
In a very real sense, criticism of Islam in general and Muhammed in particular, and drawing cartoons/caricatures of him, is far from ‘rejection of Islam’ or ‘Islamophobia’: rather, it is the tacit acknowledgement that Islam is now part of our culture and that its leading figures – religious, political or cultural – are being treated equally to leading religious, political and cultural figures in the rest of our society.
Even at the height of the violent times, a reasonable Muslim grasped that drawing Muhammed was a symbol of acceptance, not rejection, of Muslims into our midst. I just hope others can be as open minded!
I have to say, yet again, that I am sick and tired of religionists demanding that their non-evidence based claims be ‘respected’ more than any other non-evidence based stories, just because they call them ‘religion’.
I am sick and tired of non-evidence based beliefs being afforded more privileges under the law than evidence-based claims.
But most of all, I am sick and tired of people demanding limits on my freedom of speech, just because my I will not treat as absolute truth everybody else’s non-evidence based claims!
At 10 to 10, I made my way into the Courtroom #2-6.
What I describe below is what lead up to Eric’s case – to skip to it directly, please, go here.
It was packed with a murder of lawyers – wait, that is for crows. When it comes to lawyers, is it a gaggle? Or a pride?
Whatever it is, it certainly has an air all of its own. They were swarming back and forth, checking notes, striding towards each other and sharing hushed conversations and abruptly striding away again. Had they been wearing wigs, it could have been straight out of David Copperfield!
No sight of Eric.
At the stroke of 10, Madam Justice Kelly (? – I was in such a rush to get in, I didn’t check the name walking in and the roster was gone later… but one of the lawyers down the hall thought it might just have been Justice Kelly…..please, dear readers, forget me my sloppiness) promply came in, took her place and after the customary pomposity (‘Hear yee, hear yee, anybody having business to be heard before the crown…..’ something like that, they do stand on their ceremonies, and rightly so! After all, we ARE the Children of the Magna Carta!) got to business in a most practival and efficient way.
And I mean efficient: before I even got oriented, the first case was over!
Now, please, let me explain the layout of courtroom #2-6 at 361 University Avenue in Toronto: it will explain why, in addition to not having any legal training whatsoever and therefore only understanding the proceedings through my highly imperfect layman’s prism, I had a bit of a hard time hearing everything that was going on.
Like most Ontario Courtrooms, this one was wall paneled; what was new to me were the three huge panels of marble decorated with a brightly painted coat of arms. I could not find a pic of an identical one, but this one is pretty similar.
In front of this, on a raised platform, was the large desk of the judge.
Below/in front of this, also elevated, but less, were the desks of the court clerk, transcript person, and so on and so on. Two rows of them, descending in height.
Then come the counsel tables. Usually, there is only one row of these with the lectern splitting them or to one side of both of them. Well, in courtroom #2-6, there were many, many more.
It was a bit confusing with all the
penguins lawyers striding around, but I think there were 4 rows of 4 tables, with the lectern in the middle of the second row. And different lawyers had very important documents spread out on each table.
To the right of the room, on the judge’s left, but really close to her desk at the back of the room, was the jury box with the jury door in the back wall beyond it.
Following all the lawyer desks, there was a low wooden barrier with a couple of breaks in it for people to get from the lawyer area to the spectator area and vice versa. In the middle, between the two breaks, there was the penalty box, with about six or eight seats in it and a plexiglass barrier separating it from the spectator area.
Next came the benches for us, the spectators, and a couple of chairs for the bailiffs, and the doors to the hallway beyond.
Why such a detailed description?
Well, my dear readers, the distance from the judge to the spectator area was quite large….as was the distance from the lectern, from which most of the lawyers spoke…facing the judge and away from the spectators, making it difficult to hear… My apologies.
Still, I did manage to glean the gist of at least a few of the cases that were heard before Eric’s came up – and, my dear readers, they made my head spin.
And not in a good way…
So, permit me to finally commence the narration!
As I said, I quite missed the first case.
The second case was that of a man who had been sentenced for a 2 year suspended sentence for an assault with a weapon. And while the maximum possible sentence for this offense was up to 10 years in prison, so getting only 2 years suspended was not so bad, there was a bit of a problem…
A two year sentence would affect this man’s immigration status!!!
Correct me if I’m wrong, but….
The very reason why any criminal sentence of 2 years and more is supposed to be considered by the immigration people is precisely because we do not want people who commit serious criminal acts to be permitted to settle among us. Yet, over and over during this morning, sentences and dates were manipulated in order to actively prevent immigration boards from learning of the criminal activities of the people before them….
But, I am getting ahead of myself!
Now, this guy had time to appeal this tiny slap on the wrist of a sentence when he was first convicted, but he had not done so….because he did not realize the immigration board would learn of it.
AND IF THE IMMIGRATION BOARD HAD LEARNED HE WAS A CRIMINAL, IT MIGHT ‘PREJUDICE’ THEIR ASSESSMENT OF HIS STATUS!!!
So, this joker’s lawyer was claiming that since knowing about his clients criminal sentence would be ‘prejudicial’, the court ought to let him appeal the sentence, even though it was way over a year since the appeal deadline had gone…
And the judge – and the judge GRANTED IT!!!
The judge agreed to conspire to defraud the immigration board and prevent them from learning evidence necessary for them to fairly evaluate this man’s immigration application.
The very next hearing had immigration implications as well.
It turns out that this particular person has plead guilty to some serious charges which I didn’t quite catch, but they were serious enough to require a sentence longer than 2 years in jail.
And this person’s sentencing hearing was scheduled just a week before his immigration hearing!!!
Of course, being sentenced to two or more years of jail, as this individual was bound to be, based on whatever it was he had plead guilty to, would be prejudicial to the immigration hearing...
So, the judge summarily moved the sentencing to be the week after the immigration hearing, successfully keeping them in the dark about this future resident’s undisputed serious criminal history.
I suspect I lost about 30% of my hair listening to just these last 2 cases alone…
Moving a pre-trial date, no details. Done.
During all this time, lawyers are coming and going. Usually, when the court is in session, nobody breathes a word, yet during all this,
people lawyers were striding back and forth and consulting importantly in hushed voices…making it that much harder to hear the real action!
When the people concerned in the cases were even brought to court (not all were, choosing to have their lawyers be there in their stead), they would either step up from the spectator benches or, if incarcerated, the bailiffs would sneak them in (while the action was going on) through the jury door and sit them, one at a time, in the jury seats. Even though they were the accused, and most demonstrably not the jury. You knew they were the accused because before they were seated, among much clattering, the bailiffs would remove their shackles…
A Mr. Henry wanted his case to be severed from a Mr. Brown’s case, and the trial to be moved from June 2015 to some time in 2016.
Whatever happened to ‘justice delayed is justice denied’?
OK – I stopped taking note of the # of the case, as some that were brought in were not actually scheduled for today…yet still no sight of Eric!
At this point, another dude was brought in – and this time, he was put not into the jury box, but into the penalty box. A second, different dude was put into the jury box and unshackled. He was a Mr. Williams – not on the docket for the day, but…
It seems the guy in the penalty box is being held as a material witness in another case in which he is to testify on Monday, and the Crown wanted him held until that time so that they would be sure to be able to produce him as a witness.
The judge asked him his position and he said that was OK, as long as they would let him get a shower and shave and get clean clothes (the raw-linen blazer he was wearing was wrinkled and a size too small) and she happily made the order to say so.
The next case was that of a Mr. Farouk, who needed his court date moved.
This judge is most certainly efficient!!!!
At this point, the Crown and some of the lawyers started talking to the judge about scheduling, who is to go next and so on. As Eric was listed as self-represented and no mention was made of his case, I was getting worried that without a legal advocate, he might get lost in the shuffle…
Still, I held my breath and hoped for the best!
The next case was a very sad sob story.
You see, a certain Me. Villenouve (sp?) was caught with a somewhat incriminating amnout of narcotics.
He stepped up to face the judge from the spectator ranks – obviously, he had not been in custody prior to his trial date.
Mr. V. chose to be judged not by a jury, but by a judge alone and entered a plea of guilty.
The court learned that he had been found to be in possession of:
42 grams of Ecstasy
(?) grams of Hashish
231 grams of pot
22 grams of crack cocaine
The defendant pleaded guilty to everything but the Ecstasy – which, he claimed, belonged to his SO.
And there were extenuating circumstances: his SO, you see, was addicted to drugs and this 50-year-old-man did not realize that this was a bad thing. Nor did he realize that having all these drugs on him was a bad thing.
Plus he has been on disability for years – see, he is the victim here!!!!
He told the court he did it out of love, and he was sorry, and knew he was a bad boy and would never ever do it again! Pinky swear!
Now, this 50-year-old man looked rough, wore gray sweat-pants and brown leather jacket to court…and walked out a free man!
OK – there were some conditions on 20 month conditional sentence. But, he walked out of the courtroom, no jail time for him.
The next case was of a Richard something – and they were using a Spanish interpreter for him. With all the background noise, and the interpreter speaking simultaneously to other people, it was difficult to make out the details – at first. But, this case did drag on a bit and I think I got the gist of it.
You see, Richard is a refugee from Venezuela.
He was biking down the street when he passed a 79-year-old lady. He stopped his bike, leaned it against something and walked up to her asking for directions to somewhere,
When she tried to help him, Richard pulled out some pliers, attacked her, cut the gold chain about her neck and stole the crucifix that had hung on it.
He then tried to hide behind some bins or cars, but the highly traumatized victim saw him and alerted a bystander who affected a citizen’s arrest until the police arrived.
When arrested, Richard gave the cops a fake name and it took them hours to properly id him.
OK, so Richard is the bad guy, right?
But here is an unexpected twist: the 79-year-old victim wanted to only testify from behind a screen.
For me – that is a deal-breaker: everyone MUST have the right to face their accuser. If you want to hide – no case. End of discussion.
That the judge even considered it makes my skin crawl!
This is so deeply against the principles of common law, as stated in the Magna Carta, that I cannot express the depth of disgust I feel for a court willing to subvert justice in this manner!!!
However, instead of pouncing on this cornerstone of justice, the defense entered such irrelevant facts as that the accused’s sister is a 50-year-old house cleaner and that his son, back in Venezuela, is in a hospital.
You have a perfectly principled reason to scream that justice is being denied (not being permitted to face the accuser), yet the defense brings in irrelevant and frivolous crap?
What is happening to our ‘justice’ system?!?!?
Finally, the crown asked for Richard to serve 5 months and 28 days for this whole mess, which would actually be equivalent to the time he had already spent in jail. They went through the complicated loops and jumps they had to go through to arrive at ‘time served’…and, again, some sort of immigration complication was raised the meaning of which I did not fully grasp.
What I DID grasp was that during this bit, another man was brought in and put into the jury box: it was the first time two people were in the jury box!
Now, when they brought him in and unshackled him, I was not sure it was Eric: I had never met him in person, having only known him from YouTube, emails and a few phone conversations.
Yet, this person might have been Eric…
The long gray hair and mid-chest long and rather majestic ‘Santa beard’ did not belong to the Eric I had seen on YouTube, the keen eyes did!
It was Eric!!!
And HIS case was next!!!!
This is a mood-setting background description – for the actual event itself, please, see here.
Finally, the day is here: Eric Brazeau will have his appeal motion hearing today!
What’s more: I am going to get to watch history be made!!!
For a wordy account of my journey here and the impressions of the courthouse, please, see here (written in the in-between time from when my bus arrived downtown Toronto to when I got to enter the courthouse, so it sets the atmosphere outside and is indulgently loquacious).
In the hour-and-a-half while I was outside in the foggy Toronto dawn (the direct sun rays never reached street level), I managed to get….sunburned. Now, my face is pink and turning redder and itchier by the minute! But, I digress!
It took me a while to find the proper place to go: that is the cost of showing up at the courthouse before the daily schedule does. Helpful people try to give you the best advice they can, but they just might send you to another building a block away and it just might take you an hour to get back to where you were in the beginning.
But, this time, the schedule was posted and I had no trouble going up the escalator and down the long corridor and around the corner, all the way to courtroom 2-6, where Eric’s case is scheduled to be heard at 10am.
There are no chairs just outside courtroom 2-6, so, at 9:15am, I am sitting around the corner, in front of 2-4, hoping that I’ll see other people who come here to support Eric and/or report on this incredibly important lawsuit and typing all this in, so that I may report to you, my dear readers, my freshest impressions of this day.
The Toronto courthouse is extremely different from the Ottawa one. First of all, the security is much, much tighter.
Of course, after the October terrorist attack in Ottawa, the security in the Ottawa courthouse also increased: main entrance only, checking bags etc. But, as of March, metal detectors and such were only used in select cases, placed in front of select courtrooms. Here, we are talking full TSA workup, with dire warnings that if they find even the tiniest pen-knife, you will be arrested and thrown in jail, never to see the light of day again, as will your children, and your children’s children and… OK, I may be paraphrasing a bit, but that is the general gist of the warning. I was a bit afraid they might confiscate my Redbull, as getting wings might seem dangerous, but I got lucky!
And while the security people checking bags and people coming in were friendly enough, in an officious kind of way (asking cheerfully if I’m showing up for jury duty), the security guard nearby the desk that lists the daily roster would do an about face and march in a different direction if a person even threatened to try to catch his eye.
The Ottawa guys are different: they go out of their way to be helpful, thinking of ways to search for your case (and, yes, at times, it almost seems like the way the cases are listed is meant to confuse and discourage). Let’s hope the Ottawa guys keep their friendly demeanour.
While waiting for 10 o’clock to arrive, I stuck up a conversation with a nice lady sitting next to me. As we were chatted amiably, I explained why I was there and why Eric’s case was such an important one.
She took a great interest in it. At the time, she heard something about some stuff happening on the TTC (Toronto Transit Commission), but from the mainstream newspapers, she did not understand what it was all about. When she learned that Eric was still in jail, just because he said out loud that he did not like a specific religion, she was very angry on his behalf!
She confided that once, not that long ago, she was taken aback by a fundie (that is short for Christian fundamentalist) co-worker who had expressed a rather homophobic belief. She did not like it, and explained to he co-worker that she did not like it, but she thought that it would have been wrong to stop the co-worker from saying out loud what she truly believes, even if it was stupid!
And I fully agreed with her!
The best response to bad speech is more good speech.
Yes, she agreed, because of the danger of driving bad speech underground, where it would gain power precisely because it was persecuted!!!
I was so happy to hear that she gets it! She really, really gets it!
Perhaps there is still hope for our citizens!
It was on this note of high expectations that I am packing up and getting ready to enter the courtroom.
This is a mood-setting background description – for the actual event itself, please, see here.
361 UNIVERSITY AVENUE
That is what the carved letters beneath the royal crown on the wall of a 70’s, perhaps 60’s looking stubby concrete building said.
Nestled in the shade of the CN Tower and skyscrapers looming all around, it looked more like a prison fortress than a hall of justice.
Right in front of the downtown Toronto Court House was an indulgently big open space – inlaid brick and slate slabs, of course, greenery only in confined concrete grave-beds, and of the prickly kind too. Perhaps some of the bushed might look friendlier, had they had any leaves, but on this cool, damp and foggy April morning, they were only prickly sticks, as bare and lifeless as the concrete building beyond them.
This urban opening – is it a park? – seems made even more open because University Avenue is a split road, with a wide median, keeping the buildings opposite farther than most city streets manage to. And, in addition to the squat bunker of a courthouse, there are several other ‘historical’ buildings which boast their opulence by not being tall: every square meter in the heart of Toronto’s downtown is serious money, so a building that is short is, in fact, wasting tons of money each minute it refuses to grow tall!
In order to attend the courthouse today, to hear the appeal in the case of Eric Brazeau, Canada’s honest-to-goodness political prisoner, I took the overnight bus from my home to Toronto, thinking this would be a convenient way to spend the night and arrive refreshed and ready to go. I can sleep quite comfortably on an airplane, in a car, so, why not a bus? After all, these days, long distance buses have more legroom than airplanes!
My 5-1/2 hour bus ride was to start at 1 am, so arrived at the station nice and early (2+hours ahead), so my poor, long-suffering hubby could get to bed. There I discovered that while the seating at the Ottawa bus depot is plentiful, it is uniquely uncomfortable… Oh, well. I put my earbuds in and listened to the audiobooks of ‘The Song of Ice and Fire’ by GRR Martin.
I read the books years ago, then followed the show faithfully. Now that the narratives of the two are set to diverge in the 5th season of the show, I thought I’d refresh my memory of the books by listening to the audiobooks of them when I had insomnia or time on my hands – like a bus ride between Ottawa and Toronto!
My plan seemed flawless….the key word being ‘seemed’!
It turns out that the seats on this particular doggy bus are even more uncomfortable than the Ottawa bus depot ones!
Not only is the seat short and somewhat forward sloped, making you feel like you will slide off the smooth surface of the seat with every slight breaking of the vehicle, the back rest is concave so that if your lower back is actually touching the seat, your head and shoulders are thrust into an aching forward-crouching position. And since the seat is so short, trying to sit sideways will jolt your ‘hanging’ hip with every pothole on the highway. And in today’s Ontario, the potholes on the highways are exquisite!
I was glad to escape my little torture-chamber on wheels when we reached the downtown Toronto bus depot at 6:30 in the morning! Making my way through the throng of waiting and eager taxi drivers, I walked the few short blocks from the bus depot to the courthouse, only stopping briefly at Timmy’s to pick up a tea.
Aside: I’ve discovered a most amusing way to converse with our British cousins! One time, in a line-up (queue for our cousins) I struck up a conversation with a couple of Brits in front of us. Inevitably, the Canadian obsession with Tim Horton’s came up. I professed my deep love and appreciation for fine tea, which met with their full appreciation. I ended by pointing out that tea just does not taste the same if it is served in anything but a Timmy’s paper cup!
I thought they were going to choke! But, eventually, they seemed comforted by the thought that I was just joking them – so I left them happy.
Currently, I am sitting on a cold concrete bench in front of that dungeon-ish courthouse and waiting for 8 o’clock, when the doors are supposed to open. Hence the, perhaps, over-sharing of my impressions and experiences so far.
As I am sitting here, typing, the sun is beginning to shine and burn off the early fog. It looks like it will be a glorious day outside! Let’s just hope that it will be as glorious inside…
Looking around, one cannot miss the centerpiece of this urban square: a nod to the Greek roots of our democracy. Sort of…
It is a statue-type thingy with the triangular roof resembling an ancient Athenian temple, but instead of supported by Greek pillars, it is supported by 12 flat, two-dimensional grey metal abstract representations of humans. 3 males and 3 females on each the front and back. These abstractions of the human figures are featureless – no faces, no arms: so the ‘triangle of justice’ roof thingy is not being supported by their arms, it is standing on their heads.
Let’s hope the justice meted out beyond them today will not also be standing on its head….