City of Edmonton shuts down pro-life group’s plans for the second time
The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF), on whose board I sit, offers pro bono legal services to individuals or groups whose Charter rights the JCCF agrees have been breached. They have announced that they are filing a court application on behalf of the Alberta March for Life (AMLA) and its vice-chair, Jerry Pasternak, “against the City of Edmonton for its decision to cancel a scheduled lighting of the 60,000 LED-lit High Level Bridge in colours chosen by AMLA.”
First, some background on the lighting-up history of the High Level Bridge and the reasoning behind this application.
Edmonton conceived its “Light the Bridge” program with the objective of helping to “recognize major events and cultural celebrations.” Its stated aim is “to reflect the diversity of people who call Edmonton home and our connection to the global community.” The bridge has been lit, in a variety of colours, for such causes/events as Melanoma Awareness, Disability Employment Awareness Month, Rosh Hashana, the Edmonton Oilers Home Opener and Wrongful Conviction Day.
The stated criteria include: events of national or international significance; local events that positively impact community spirit; national or international issues that build community “such as Treaty 6 Recognition Day or End Bullying Pink Shirt Day or World Cancer Day.” The city “reserves the right to deny requests that do not merit public support or are mainly personal, private, political, polarizing or commercial in nature.” (emphasis mine)
This is the second time Edmonton has cancelled a pro-life group’s scheduled bridge-lighting on the grounds that it was “polarizing,” as per its criteria caveats. In May 2017 AMLA received permission to celebrate a March for Life via the bridge, lit up in pink and blue, but was cancelled. The JCCF observes that the city does not offer any precise definition of what “polarizing” means, and furthermore:
“The City of Edmonton is home to a diverse population with a wide variety of views, values and beliefs including, unsurprisingly, persons who express pro-life views. As a government that is constitutionally obligated to be neutral regarding the expression of its citizens, it is not the proper role of the city to elevate and promote the favoured ideological causes of some citizens to the exclusion of the lawful views of others,” stated Justice Centre staff lawyer James Kitchen in a JCCF press release.
In the lawsuit, the JCCF will argue that Edmonton is offering state property to the public to utilize for expression, and can therefore only limit expression in a justified manner. Obviously hate speech, or overt racism or obscenity would run counter to the values and purposes underlying freedom of speech. But, they argue, expression of a pro-life opinion is none of these things, nor can it be considered any more “political” or “polarizing” than other causes for which the bridge has been lit.
According to the JCCF, the arbitrary decision is procedurally deficient in that neither notice of cancellation nor opportunity to respond was provided. The lawsuit requests that the City only light the bridge “without political or ideological favouritism” or in “neutral colours” (perhaps blue and gold, the province’s colours), as well as a declaration that the cancellation was unjust.
Edmonton naturally set out with the best of intentions in planning the Lights program. However, when they wrote the words “personal, private, political, polarizing,” did their committee members actually have a discussion about what the words meant, or wonder if their own assumptions about “political” and “polarizing” were the gold standard of settled opinion? Did they ask themselves whether polarizing meant the same thing as, say, “opposition” of opinion?
Perhaps they had in mind anything that might give offence to certain groups. One might easily deduce this since in our current era pro-life groups are often held up to ridicule and contempt without consequence, because pro-abortion is treated by most politicians and virtually all members of our cultural elite as the default opinion of all civilized and enlightened people.
And yet the offence is purely ideological. Those who do believe in the sanctity of human life from conception are not promoting violence, or actively preventing anyone from having an abortion. They seek to persuade fellow citizens to their belief, but the freedom to attempt to persuade others is the basis of democracy. The judgment that it is “polarizing” has not come down from some objective, disinterested court. It is a subjective judgment that has come down from activists and ideologues whose opinions our progressive elites defer to. How is it the city’s business to privilege one ideology over another?
One could argue that the city has grounds for rejecting the light display because of its “community-building” criterion. It is true that any and all pro-life displays cause social tension. But one could say the same for Pride, which in recent years has become extremely politicized, and which contains indecent presentation and performance that offend many people, especially parents of young children. But since LGBT feelings are routinely privileged in our institutions of education and governance over the feelings of those who find elements of the Pride brand off-putting, the city apparently does not find Pride polarizing at all, only “community-building.”
Likewise, the bridge is open to a request for the Walk a Mile in Her Shoes movement, which raises consciousness for violence against women, an important cause to be sure. But would it be open to, say, Male Victims of Intimate Partner Violence Awareness Week? The statistics on male victimhood within relationships are (I know, hard to believe, but true) almost equal to female victimhood, but I am guessing that any attempt to use the Bridge to raise awareness of that fact would be considered “polarizing.”
It may be that pro-life displays are not community-building, but that is not their fault. Pro-lifers are always willing to engage in civil dialogue with pro-abortionists, and civil engagement is the most fundamental community-building exercise (remember Norman Rockwell’s famous painting?). But those who consider pro-abortion the only admissible position in public life do not usually willingly engage with pro-lifers. Yet in the present cultural climate, their intransigence, their insistence that there can be only one correct opinion on this subject is not considered polarizing, while the opinion that the subject should be up for debate is considered polarizing, a faulty and undemocratic assumption that the City of Edmonton has demonstrated in their cancellation.
If the city cannot exercise ideological neutrality in its assignment of the Lights, then it should get out of the ideas and “rights” business altogether. Governments, after all, have no obligation to promote “causes” at all. Edmonton could reserve the Lights for a narrow swath of indisputably community-building communication, such as support for the city’s sports teams, physical-disease awareness weeks/months, national holidays and other apple-pie messaging.
But if they wish to go beyond those parameters and offer a podium for philosophical positions or ideals, then they have an obligation to treat groups that dissent from popular opinions with the same respect and rights to that tax-funded space as those with popular opinions.
UPDATE: On December 6th, a Twitter user reported to The Post Millennial that two of Michaels’ tweets had violated the Twitter Terms of Service. Michaels then locked his account.
The Post Millennial reached out to Twitter to verify if disciplinary action had been taken against Michaels since his harassment of Andy Ngo was reported on, but did not hear back by the time of publication.
The Post Millennial has learned that a Twitter account that has been engaged in targeted harassment of TPM Editor-at-large Andy Ngo appears to belong to none other than a Twitter employee.
Max Michaels, who goes under the Twitter handle Manchild, is an Operations Infrastructure Analytics Engineer at the Twitter Command Center. According to his Linkedin, he has worked at Twitter for over 7 years.
Michaels’ abusive behaviour towards Ngo began in June of 2019 after Ngo was bloodied while reporting from an Antifa riot in Portland. Beneath a tweet calling for information which might lead to the arrest of those involved, Michaels wrote: “It’s almost like there are repercussions for being a piece of shit.”
Under another tweet by Ngo, Michaels replies “you should just get fat again and hangout on reddit acting sad. I liked fat, sad Andy better.”
Michaels also replied to journalist Peter Hasson, who was reporting on Ngo’s brain bleed as a result of his beating at the riot, calling the hemorrhage a “lifelong, pre-existing condition from garbage Andy.”
Michaels was featured in a 2016 Vice article describing the important functions of the Command Center. In the piece, Michaels is quoted as saying he and his team are responsible for “keeping the lights on at Twitter.”
A recent job posting for the Twitter Command Center suggests staff have a great deal of insight and control over the intricate details of Twitter’s technical infrastructure, calling into question what impact potential biases in the staff might have over users’ personal information and security on the platform.
Ngo was recently suspended from Twitter for tweeting a truthful claim that “The U.S. is one of the safest countries for trans people. The murder rate of trans victims is actually lower than that for cis population. Also, who is behind the murders? Mostly black men.” Ngo was forced to delete the verifiably truthful claim in order to regain access to his account.
The Post Millennial reached out to Michaels for comment but has not heard back by the time of publication. He did, however, confirm on Twitter that he still works in Operations for Twitter.
Targeted harassment is explicitly against Twitter’s Terms of Service. A Twitter spokesperson said, “Abuse and harassment have no place on Twitter. We take enforcement action against any content that is violative of our rules, regardless of the account involved.”
Daniel Koren is the director of Hasbara Fellowships Canada, an organization that empowers student leaders to fight against anti-Israel and antisemitic discrimination on campus.
In an opinion piece titled “Free Speech, but not for Palestine” published in the Toronto Sun on Nov. 28, two anti-Israel activists (one of whom is known for his anti-Israel activism at York University) suggest there is nothing wrong with calling for an intifada on campus.
As the director of Hasbara Fellowships Canada, which empowers student leaders to fight against anti-Israel and antisemitic discrimination on campus, I strongly disagree.
In their op-ed, Hammam Farah, a York alumnus and founder of the university’s Students Against Israeli Apartheid (SAIA) club, and Mona Dennaoui, a former member of SAIA, suggest they were bullied by members of the Jewish Defence League (JDL) and other Jewish counter-protestors at the now infamous York rally on Nov. 20.
This, despite the fact that, according to most accounts, Jewish protestors were outnumbered by anti-Israel demonstrators by at least six to one.
Astonishingly, referring to members of the JDL (known for their hawkish position on the Arab-Israeli conflict) as “snowflakes” isn’t the most ludicrous comment in Farrah and Dennaoui’s op-ed.
No, what’s most absurd is that they suggest there is no free speech for Palestine at a campus known for its hostility towards Jews and pro-Israel students, a campus notorious for a vulgar and violent mural that Jews have for years demanded be removed, a campus where even uttering the words “Israel” or “Zionism” can result in harassment and discrimination.
Farrah and Dennaoui are right about at least one thing, though: the importance of freedom of speech on Canadian college and university campuses. What they fail to articulate is that chanting “Viva, viva intifada!” is not free speech. In my view, it’s hate speech.
But please, don’t take my word for it.
Take the word of Adele Banita-Bennett, whose 22-year-old husband Aharon was stabbed to death in the name of intifada as Adele, their two-year-old daughter, and infant baby watched in horror.
Or, to illustrate why the Palestinian Roots mural promotes violence against Jews, take the word of Yosefa or Maya Levlovich, who were in the car with their father Alexander when Palestinians hurled rocks at their car, forcing it to crash. Alexander, now known as the first victim of the “Stabbing Intifada” of 2015-16, died in hospital the next day.
Or take the word of any of the relatives of the victims of the October, 2015 Jerusalem bus attack, where three Israelis were killed and 16 others were wounded in the name of intifada.
I can go on and on. This is the real face of intifada, and not just to the Jewish- and Arab-Israelis who have been mercilessly attacked in cold blood, but to anyone who has been paying attention.
When a small number of Jews are subject to chants of “Viva, Viva Intifada!” from a much larger group, that’s not just some innocuous saying to us. It’s a call for a violent uprising of knife stabbings, car rammings, and suicide attacks, not “peaceful resistance,” as many anti-Israel activists have suggested. It’s a horrific promotion of murder and genocide.
Palestinians, like all people, deserve the right to protest and freedom of speech. Palestinians, like all people, should not be held collectively responsible when their leaders promote bloodshed by calling for an intifada.
But to imply that this term can mean anything else but violence and murder is to assume it is subject to interpretation when it is not. These examples are indisputable facts concerning hundreds of innocent Israelis, Jewish and Muslim alike, murdered in the name of intifada.
It is the height of hypocrisy that Hammam Farah, who has personally attempted to silence oh so many Jewish- and Israeli-Canadians, claims to be interested in preserving freedom of speech. If he were, then that freedom would have to be awarded to all people, even those he disagrees with.
Following the rally at York, some of the IDF soldiers who spoke said it was unfortunate not a single anti-Israel protestor would give them the chance to start a dialogue that could lead to interfaith building. Instead, they were just trying to shut them down. As the founder of SAIA York, who organized the rally, this is Hammam Farah’s legacy.
Sadly, if anyone is guilty of denying freedom of speech and expression, it is the anti-Israel activists at York, U of T, McGill and other campuses around the world where Jews are being told what they can and cannot do or say. Or am I just being a snowflake?
A popular parody account has been suspended from Twitter following outrage by one of the largest media outlets in the world. The man behind Shaniqua O’Tool, an account that had over 15,000 followers at the time of suspension, says The Guardian forced Twitter to censor comedy.
He spoke to The Post Millennial to reveal details on the campaign waged by The Guardian against his satirical tweets. While his identity is known to The Post Millennial, it is being withheld for reasons of privacy.
Starting as a Godfrey Elfwick-styled account, the account owner says the Shaniqua O’Tool character was meant to “poke fun at both the far-left and the far-right.” He says the name was inspired by the 2003 single “Shaniqua don’t live here no more” by Little T and One Track Mike.
The account’s owner points out the existence of a Twitter account dedicated to compiling the Guardian’s most meme-able headlines, including one where Guardian columnist Abi Wilkinson suggests the “tears of joy emoji” mocks human suffering.
“Some of [The Guardian’s] headlines bordered on insanity, so I felt it was worthy of satire.” He says. In 2017, he began posting edited Guardian headlines with Shaniqua’s face photoshopped in as the columnist.
Some of Shaniqua’s antics were so indiscernible from authentic Guardian headlines that they attracted the attention of outraged media outlets. Gateway Pundit wrote an article decrying Shaniqua as an “ISIS sympathizer” for her headline on police needing to learn the importance of spotting a “fake suicide vest” before shooting. The Gateway Pundit article, which claimed to have read the non-existent Shaniqua column, was quickly deleted.
“I mocked [Gateway Pundit] for it,” the account owner says, “and when my headlines caught conservative commentator Katie Hopkins off guard, I mocked her for it too.” He says, asserting that his satire was bipartisan. However, he notes that there was a difference in how people of different political orientations handled being the target of his comedy.
“It is a consistent and recurring pattern over the last few years that if you poke fun at conservative or right-leaning people, they tend to just go with the joke or ignore you. If you poke fun at left-wing people, my experience is very different. They report you, verbally attack you, mobilize their followers to report and block, and ensure your name is added as a ‘Nazi’ to block lists.”
On November 29th, 2019, the account received a copyright strike notice from Twitter. The claim was apparently filed by Guardian editor Tom Stevens, who wrote that Shaniqua’s infringement was “pretending to be a Guardian writer. The tweets are fake and offensive.”
The claims were made through Twitter’s copyright system, which is intended to protect the rightful owners of intellectual property. Prior to completing a claim within this system, a complainant must acknowledge that they considered “Fair Use” laws, and accept responsibility for damages in the event they misrepresented fair use material as infringement.
Fair Use is a provision which states that copyrighted work can be utilized if the use is sufficiently transformative. According to the University of Minnesota, transformative content uses original work in a “completely new or unexpected way,” and lists parody as being the clearest example of “transformative content.”
In the case of Shaniqua, the account was not utilizing anything more than the template of Guardian headlines. The headlines themselves, lede, and photo were original.
In 2017, Buzzfeed called Twitter’s copyright system “hair-trigger,” and stated that “a copyright violation from a major media company is the surest way to lose access to one’s account.”
The Guardian filed two subsequent copyright claims on December 2nd, and the account was suspended the same day. In the claim, Guardian editor Tom Stevens writes “Becoming a serious problem now. Please take appropriate action.”
After the news of the Guardian‘s apparent campaign against Shaniqua surfaced, Twitter users began posting their own parodies of Guardian headlines using the hashtag #trollingtheguardian
Prior to getting suspended, the man behind Shaniqua attempted to open dialogue with Guardian media editor Jim Waterson, but his direct messages were not returned.
“He never replied, presumably, because he knew my days on Twitter were numbered.”
While appeals on copyright strikes are possible, the account owner says he was discouraged from doing so as it would mean providing consent for Twitter to share his personal information with The Guardian. Fearing harassment or a lawsuit, he did not appeal.
“It’s clear they don’t like being mocked,” he says, “I was followed en mass by Guardian journalists [the day of my suspension]. Being followed suddenly like that was deeply unnerving. It felt like they were letting me know they were watching me.”
The account owner has filed an appeal with Twitter over the account’s suspension but has not heard back as of publication.
The Post Millennial reached out to The Guardian but has not heard back by the time of publication.
On “Trans Day of Remembrance” this year, numerous politicians and celebrities used the occasion to virtue signal on social media. They repeated the claim-turned-mantra from LBGT activist groups that there is an “epidemic” of trans homicides motivated by transphobia and racism in the U.S.
Chelsea Clinton, doing what the Clintons do best, weighed in vapidly on Nov. 20: “Since 2013, more than 150 trans people have been murdered in the U.S., the majority Black transgender women. On #TDoR2019, we remember and honor the lives lost, hold their loved ones in our hearts and must commit to doing all we can to end this epidemic of violence and hate.”
Though the sentiment is valid, the claim she repeats is not. There is no “epidemic” of violent homicides against trans people in the U.S. How do I know? From data released by the Human Rights Campaign and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
I responded to Ms. Clinton: “The U.S. is one of the safest countries for trans people. The murder rate of trans victims is actually lower than that for cis population. Also, who is behind the murders? Mostly black men.”
Five days later, I was informed by Twitter that I had violated its policy against “hateful conduct.” For stating a verifiable empirical claim, Twitter determined that I “promote violence against, threaten or harass other people” based on protected characteristics. I was given the option of deleting the tweet and facing a timed suspension, or appealing the decision while remaining indefinitely locked out of the platform. I chose the latter option.
My appeal was rejected.
Twitter’s decision to force me to accept a false reality in order to use its platform is chilling to those who value truth above dogma, as uncomfortable as the truth may be. The dogma of our day is the trans ideology—an authoritarian worldview replete with science and evidence denial. Among many things, it claims that sex is a construct and that trans people are being hunted down across America
So far this year, there were 22 homicides in the U.S. where trans or gender non-conforming people were victims. That number has held relatively steady since the HRC, America’s largest LGBT lobbying group, started releasing annual reports four years ago. According to the HRC, there were 26 homicides in 2018, 29 in 2017, 23 in 2016 and 21 in 2015. The HRC provides the most comprehensive data set for trans homicides in the country. The FBI does not release numbers of trans people who are killed.
Though every homicide is a tragedy and victims are due justice, lying about the scale is politically exploitative and reckless. It prevents the public from accessing real problems honestly in order to advocate for real solutions. Worst of all, it harms the very people who need protection.
The average homicide rate of cis males in the U.S. is around seven per 100,000 from 2015–2018, according to FBI figures. The rate for cis females during this timeframe is 1.9. The rate for trans homicides since the HRC began tracking in 2015? About 1.7. (This rate was calculated based on the 2016 UCLA Williams Institute estimate of there being about 1.7m trans adults in the U.S.)
For a developed country, the U.S. has high homicide rates. That is undisputed. But if the rates of cis men being killed isn’t spoken about as an “epidemic,” then neither should the rates for trans homicides, which is significantly lower compared to the cis population.
And while much attention is focused on the victims being mostly black trans women, no attention is given to the fact that the majority of known homicide suspects and convicts are also black. This intra-racial violence is consistent with other homicides in the U.S.
Additionally, there is no evidence to support the narrative that trans people are being killed because they are trans. The overwhelming majority of trans homicides involve victims being killed in the course of high-risk behaviours like street prostitution and drug dealing. Cis women and cis men involved in these activities face similar risks.
While it may feel good to earn praise by hiding uncomfortable truths, those who ultimately suffer in this instance are trans people themselves. They are told to fear people around them, that they could be killed at any moment and are helpless in the face of omnipresent hatred. This is not compassion or empowerment.
I’m now back on Twitter, but only because I was forced to accept that on this platform, a journalist will be punished for telling the truth.