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Much has been written recently about the necessity of confronting and reconciling legacies of privilege in Canadian society.  Just last week, posters went up in public schools in a school district in the BC Interior and at the Ontario University Institute of Technology in Oshawa asking students to reflect on their own privileged status, be it health, gender, race or sexual orientation.  Students, parents and members of the broader community were predictably outraged by the message.  However, while I would argue that students under the age of 21 are probably not the right audience for this reminder, it is not an inappropriate ask of those of my generation.  As uncomfortable as it is and as confrontational as it often feels, coming to terms with the impact of privilege in our society is long overdue.

My own life is absolutely the product of all of the privilege that has and continues to be afforded to white healthy heterosexual males.  I have seen it starkly many times.  When I was a teenager, a Black (and devoutly Christian) friend from work and I were shopping at a sports store and he was suspected and held for shoplifting simply because he was wearing an NFL jersey that was of a type sold in the store, AS WAS I.  As a young first year lawyer, I sat uncomfortably as an older client repeatedly insisted upon directing his questions to and obtaining answers from me RATHER THAN THE FAR MORE SENIOR FEMALE LAWYER THAT I WAS WITH.  And those are just two more glaring examples that fly into my mind quickly.  There have been countless other that I could list.

My only concern is with the generational fairness of how we as a society address the legacy of privilege.  The world is changing, and changing fast.  That is as it should be.  And there will be a necessary realignment of leadership in our society that will mean that those who have been the beneficiaries of privilege must be disproportionately excluded from the opportunities that were previously disproportionately bestowed upon them.  But in doing so, we must be careful to avoid creating yet another class of people who are to be unfairly excluded from opportunity on the basis of their identity.

I am 57, and have reaped the benefits of my privilege for virtually my whole career.  It is fair and appropriate that I recognize my privilege and forgo the types of late stage career leadership opportunities (politics, corporate boards) that have traditionally been extended to and claimed by people like me.  That is not to say that I will have no role in the transformation of our society.  I share my views in this blog, I mentor and encourage young people from diverse backgrounds that I come across in my work, in my not-for-profit Board work and anywhere else I find them.  But I will leave the formal leadership opportunities to others. I will make space for others, and allow the voices that are emerging to take precedence over mine. The more angry voices of those seeking change often bluntly state that it is time for people like me to shut up and stand down, and although I am often unsettled by the tone of the request, it is not an unfair expectation.

I do so because it is the right thing to do not only for society, but also because it is a generational imperative.  I have great confidence that the transformation of society that is ongoing now will rightfully negate the bulk of the privilege that my son would have historically enjoyed as a white heterosexual male.  Happily, that will not bother him; in my experience he and the vast majority of his generation reject the tribal mythologies that were so much a part of my own childhood.  The millennials will certainly not enjoy the full benefits of their historically privileged status, but if those of us who are older, who have enjoyed those benefits for at least a good portion of our lives and careers, do not step back and allow the disproportionate allocation of opportunities that are required to reorder society, it will be left to the millennials to unfairly bear this cost.  And so the cycle of righteous grievance will continue.

It is tempting both intellectually and opportunistically to believe that we can best serve the cause of the disenfranchised to use our privilege to be the leaders of the required change.  Even if that was true, and I do not think it is, too many will see that as yet another paternalistic expression of privilege.

Having said all that, I also recognize that my views are conveniently sanguine because I have already enjoyed a great run down the highway of privilege.  Those ten and twenty years younger than I are caught betwixt and between in this thesis.  For those, the correct personal strategy for reconciling privilege is less clear cut.  However, I do hope that such enlightened men in positions of power will find a just path to manage their careers in a fashion that balances their own aspirations with the demands of societal transformation and intergenerational fairness.


On February 9, 2018, a Saskatchewan jury constituted in accordance with the Criminal Code of Canada acquitted farmer Gerald Stanley in the death of Colten Boushie, a 22-year old First Nations man.  The death resulted from an incident on the Stanley farm in which Mr. Boushie and three friends arrived in a disabled vehicle and attempted to start Mr. Stanley’s all-terrain vehicle before being confronted by Mr. Stanley and his son.  Mr. Stanley was charged and tried for second degree murder and the lesser included offence of manslaughter.

On the basis of the portions of the testimony of the witnesses that are not in dispute, many commentators have noted that it would be difficult to support either a finding of guilt for second degree murder or an outright acquittal in this case.   The fact that the jury nonetheless acquitted Mr. Stanley has understandably given rise to questions with respect to systemic elements of racism in the justice system, including particularly the use of peremptory challenges in the process of jury selection.

Shocked and disapproving reaction to the acquittal by the First Nations community, the broader community and the Canadian government itself has been swift.  Rallies have been held across the country, and both the Prime Minister and the Minister of Justice expressed resolve to act to address systemic issues that may have contributed to this troubling verdict.  The Boushie family arrived in Ottawa only four days after the decision, and has already met with the Prime Minister and three Cabinet ministers.  The resolve for change is undeniable.

Meanwhile, on January 26, 2016, after five years of foot dragging, jurisdictional challenges and a full throated defence by the Government of Canada, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal (“CHRT”) ruled against the federal government in a challenge brought to its chronic and undeniable underfunding of critical social services to First Nations children and families relative to the level of equivalent services provided to Canada’s non-First Nations citizenry.  Since the date of that decision, three compliance orders have been issued by the CHRT, and yet the government has still not come forward with any concrete plan to address the deficiencies detailed by the CHRT.

The government’s resolve to address the systemic issues that may have contributed to the Colten Boushie jury finding is admirable and should not be discouraged.  However, the issues to be addressed, including that of the availability and use of peremptory challenges, are complex, and have implications that can as often help as hurt victims and accused parties from minority communities seeking justice through the court system.  The solutions will not be simple, and will not be found and implemented quickly.

The CHRT ruling, on the other hand, specifies a funding formula for services that can be applied without further study and lengthy deliberation.  The finding of a court of competent jurisdiction with respect to the Canadian government’s abrogation of the human rights of child soldier Omar Khadr was sufficient to prompt a quick financial settlement in that case despite public outrage against that settlement.  It is both confounding and disappointing that the government has not found the same decisive resolve respect to the CHRT ruling.  I am certain that the First Nations’ community, and perhaps even the Boushie family itself, would agree that a far greater good could come from this tragedy and the collective frustration and goodwill that have emerged in the face of Colten Boushie’s death if the government addressed the specifics of the CHRT ruling in priority to the vagaries of jury selection mechanics.

Justice Minister and Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould had it right in her tweet last Friday: “As a country, we can and must do better”.


January 2018

Before I even start into this piece, let me make one thing clear:  I do not accept the premise that Donald Trump is a “stable genius”.  I would not even accept the notion that he is an unstable genius, or any kind of genius, let alone the Machiavellian mastermind that one might infer from what I am about to argue here.  That being said, my appreciation for the niceties of deterrence theory provided by my outstanding undergraduate education at the University of Toronto compels me to take note of some very interesting dynamics that are developing in the world of global politics and to concede that they are without a doubt attributable to the irrationality of President Trump.

We all know the basics of nuclear deterrence theory.  Mutual assured destruction (“MAD”) as recognized between two states with overwhelming first strike capability assures us all that no rational actor would ever initiate nuclear war for fear that retaliatory annihilation would be launched before the initial strike could destroy that capability.  That, many would argue, is what saved the world in the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1963 and perhaps in many other scenarios of which the broader public has no knowledge.

The application of MAD to the current stand off with North Korea is, however, less clear cut than in the classic Cold War scenario.  Even accepting the most outrageous of Kim Jong-un’s claims with respect to the near term capability of North Korea’s nuclear arsenal, it would not be credible to believe that North Korea could muster an overwhelming strike upon the North American territory of the United States.  Nor is it plausible to believe that the intention of the North Koreans in developing this capability is to dissuade the U.S. from a first strike against the North Korean regime.  South Korea is an ally that the U.S. has sworn to protect militarily.   A nuclear strike to wipe out Kim Jong-un’s regime would necessarily result in a devastating death toll in South Korea.  Mutual assured destruction of North Korea and South Korea in the context of a U.S. nuclear strike provide sufficient deterrent without the expense and complication of North Korea acquiring nuclear capability itself.

What nuclear weapons do deter, however, is a conventional targeted strike upon the regime that could conceivably degrade the conventional forces of North Korea to a level that could reduce the potential for retaliatory losses in South Korea to a level that U.S. strategists might find acceptable as a means of otherwise eliminating ongoing risk to their South Korean ally.  Of course, the acceptability of this strategy would be much different if there was any risk of a retaliatory nuclear strike to the continental U.S.  This is undoubtedly the calculus that underlies North Korea’s dogged, open and provocative attempts to develop intercontinental nuclear first strike capability.

As these attempts have accelerated in the last 20 years, successive U.S. administrations have attempted to use the carrot of increased trade and stick of trade sanctions to at best short term success.  Enter The Donald, and his school-yard style threats of “fire and fury like the world has never seen”.  His consistent refrain of “America First” has put both allies and enemies on notice that no interest has any priority approaching that of U.S. national security.  Targeting of U.S. cities will not be tolerated, even if the price of risk mitigation is the destruction of the entire Korean peninsula.

In the last few weeks, the dynamics on the peninsula have shifted dramatically.  The risk of mutual destruction of the two Koreas has become the impetus of new dialogue.  North Korean skaters will join in the PyeongChang Winter Olympcis.  They are even talking about entering a hockey team made up of players from both Koreas.  Both Seoul and Pyongchang, it seems, have realized that their mutual security might better assured by reduced peninsular tensions than from their respective reliance upon and provocation of an inwardly focussed and increasingly unpredictable America.

The Trump Administration has tweeted its way from crisis to crisis, inflicting a seemingly endless amount of collateral damage.  It would be refreshingly ironic and instructive if it manages to fumble its way to at least one collateral repair.