Is a boycott a hate crime?

There are (FALSE) rumours in Canadian news circles that the Conservative government in Canada is considering laws that would make a hate crime out of boycotting. The context of choice in these reports is boycotts of Israel.

Boycotting Israel is not a hate crime; it’s a crime of ignorance.

People have the right to choose which companies to support with their money and which to withhold support from. If they decide to make their decisions based on propaganda, misinformation, bigotry and horrible priorities, that is their right too.

That’s the beauty of our free market, free expression society. We should all endeavour to keep it that way.


Down (but not out) at 25,000 feet

Just after midnight on Thursday, I posted a message that only began to explain my mood:


Little did I know at the time that my Thursday would be a lot more eventful than expected and that I would be running more than one race.

I organize team building events in the format of the TV show The Amazing Race. All of our events are custom designed and personalized. Every race is unique. The finished product is the result of countless hours of work including much logistical planning. The process for designing a race begins weeks before its execution.

When I left my house at 8am for Trudeau airport in Montreal on Thursday morning with a bag of materials and clues for a 3pm race in Toronto, I was excited but very calm. Visibility was poor around Toronto’s City airport but I had time. I knew that my 9:30am flight could be delayed up to 2 full hours and I would still arrive with enough time to set up and get the race going.

At the airport, I learned that the 8:30am flight had not yet left, and along with the 9:30am flight, we were waiting for the fog to lift in Toronto before departing. My previous experience was this this was a morning phenomenon and I was confident that we would leave well before 11:30am. The pilot of the flight, along with the Montreal ground crew, were watching a camera perched at the Toronto airport and were encouraged by what they saw. Obviously, their optimism encouraged me.

I got off on next flight out, just before 10am. I knew my schedule would be tight, but that I had time. In the air, all felt perfectly normal, until the captain took to the PA system and explained that the weather conditions had worsened since we took off and that, though we were approaching Toronto’s Billy Bishop airport, that we would have to “hold up here for a while”. When he said he would update us “every 10 minutes”, we all got the sense that this wouldn’t be a short wait.

10, 20, 30 minutes passed. The captain made an attempt to land. We were at the height of the Rogers Center and part way up the CN Tower. We saw they were virtually engulfed in dark fog. The captain pulled the plane back up.

I was still calm. A few passengers started talking about how we would rather land safely and be late than risk a landing with poor visibility.

10, 20 more minutes passed. The captain then explained that we are going to try again from the other side. We made an approach that allowed me to just barely see the edge of the runway from my seat in row 9. And then we were pulled back up again.

At this point, I am slightly on edge. I reassure myself with the knowledge that we were so close. 300 meters to be precise, confirmed by a handheld GPS and ultimately by the co-pilot later on.  The passengers around me start discussing theories of what might come next. Generally, we are confident this is all coming to an end soon, but the word “Pearson” (as in the airport) has entered the conversation.

5-10 minutes later, and the captain takes the mic again. We are all expecting him to say we’re trying again. I wonder if a “third time’s the charm” comment is forthcoming.

Instead, he says this:

“Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. As you’ve noticed, we have tried twice to land at Toronto City airport, but the fog is not permitting a safe landing… We will be proceeding to our alternate… (Pause)”

He paused long enough for everyone in the middle of the plane to either mouth, or say aloud, “Pearson.”

Then he continued. “Our alternate is Montreal. Arrival time in Montreal is…”

A collective, audible gasp could be heard. I am confident that what came out of my mouth was a hushed “no!” though the voice inside my head screamed something that sounded more like “no <censored> way!”

I looked around for a flight attendant, probably to get a visual confirmation that the captain said what I thought (feared) he said. Emily and Kathleen,  I quickly learned their names, were being bombarded with questions. We could not believe our ears.

Now headed east, an intense feeling of resignation came over me. I started to rehash and question my decisions. Should I have flown the night before at this time of year? Could I have foreseen such a crazy delay? Did I do everything I needed to do to put myself in a position for success on this race? I was upset but I was taking it out on myself. I wanted to punch a seat. I joked with the flight attendants who asked me not to. I obliged.

Standing at the back of the plane, trapped without communication at 25,000 feet, I felt helpless. I tried to ignore that I would need to explain this to my client by getting into a conversation with the flight attendants. They were in good spirits. My inner voice explained their calmness as being “on the clock” and that they wouldn’t have to deal with the same consequences I would. I started to try to justify my bad mood.

And then, my feeling of helplessness bothered me more than the circumstances I found myself in. I became defiant. I looked at the flight attendants and said: “forget this! I’m going to make this work!” (Ummm..  the f-word I used wasn’t “forget”.)

I went back to my seat and pulled out my laptop and started preparing emails with the clues and instructions for my staff on the ground in Toronto. The clues would need to be reprinted and materials would need to be delivered, but I certainly wasn’t going to accomplish anything useful by brooding or feeling sorry for myself.

As soon as we landed, I took the front seat of the plane, connected to the airport’s Wi-Fi and sent the e-mails. I called my awesome staff and race partners and explained what they needed to do to make this work. We were on the ground for about 35 minutes, and I used every single one of them to be in productive communication. I was committed to making this work regardless of the circumstances.

I called my client (interrupting his presentation at his company meeting), explained the situation and reiterated my commitment to making this work. We agreed to postpone the race start by an hour. Bolstered by his flexibility and generous understanding, I got right back to making the necessary adjustments.

By the time we were up in the air again, this time with a very confident confirmation from the pilot that we would not be back in Montreal, I was cautiously optimistic. This was a freaky, unexpected situation that forced me to let go of the reins, relinquish control, and put my trust and faith in my partners. Though I absolutely love what I do for a living, I have had a lot of trouble doing this in the past. This company is my proverbial “baby” and I have been meticulous about making sure that nothing bad happens to it.

In this situation, it was absolutely clear that if we were to see success in this event, I would need to lean on others rather than do it all on my own. There was only so much I could do over the next 55 minutes in the sky and I did all of it, just in case. Ultimately, though, it was my staff and partners who came through and made this race happen.

I could not be more grateful for their listening, partnership, and can-do attitude. Thank you to Lee, Willard, Debby, and Frances for helping turn a very unfortunate situation into a wonderful learning experience. Through Amazing Race Canada, I have designed engaging challenges to teach effective problem solving skills, but this one was more challenging than any I have dreamed up.

I was recently told that “attitude is altitude”. Looking back, I will not soon forget how a change of attitude at an altitude of 25,000 feet changed the course of this fateful day. Sure, our circumstances have an effect on our lives, but having (and keeping) a positive attitude can overcome some of the most challenging situations we might encounter.

Gold Medal Olympic Breakfast

WOOHOO!!! Congratulations to the Canadian men’s hockey team (and the women, and men’s curling, and women’s curling, and… ) on their incredible GOLD MEDAL performances!

I am not a fan of waking up before 7am, but if I am going to do it, it’s going to be for a good reason (Canadian Olympic hockey GOLD!) and I am going to have a great breakfast. Here’s what I made and served this morning:

CAN 3-SWE 0 for Olympic GOLD, Sochi 2014 Feb 23/2014

CAN 3-SWE 0 for Olympic GOLD, Sochi 2014 Feb 23/2014

All you need:

For the Olympic rings: bagels (Montreal bagels, the best in the world), cream cheese, red, blue, green, and yellow food colouring (mix red, green and blue to make the “black” for the middle ring),

For the gold medal: scrambled eggs and bacon (ran out just before 11pm last night for this ingredient)

Cut steak into the shape of a maple leaf for a Canadian finish.

Deliciously GOLDEN!

Congratulations to all of Canada’s athletes. So proud of how you represented us on the world stage!

See you in Pyeongchang in 2018!

2014 Super Bowl Commercials

Thank you for visiting Mark Unleashed, a blog dedicated to truly speaking freely, even when the opinion is not common or mainstream, and personal development.

Please check out some of my posts by clicking on the links to the right and subscribe to receive future posts right in your inbox. Thank you!

If you’re like me, the day after the Super Bowl is a day to check out all the commercials that you missed during the big game. Or, in Canada, all of the commercials that our immature national TV regulator prevented us from seeing in a bid to promote Canadian content. Here’s a link to simplify your search for all of the 2014 Super Bowl commercials. Thanks to Mashable for simplifying my search this year. Enjoy!

Which commercials did you like best? Post in the comments below!

Love, Mark

PM Harper addresses the Israeli Knesset

This morning, Eastern time, I sat in my recliner (can’t do much else these days 😦 ) and watched my Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, do what no other Canadian Prime Minister has done before him, address the Israeli parliament, the Knesset.

Before I go on, let me say proudly: I am a Jewish-Canadian, I am pro-Israel and, though I am a firm believer in judging each issue on its merits and not blindly voting based on ideology, I am (on many issues) a supporter of Prime Minister Harper and the Conservative Party. For some readers, that alone (or any single one of them, really) will be enough to make them sigh (or worse) and click away from my blog in search of Leftier pastures. They’ll likely head straight for their favourite echo chamber where everyone agrees with their views. Mark Unleashed is not such a place.

It was an eloquent speech where he reaffirmed Canada’s friendship to and support of Israel. I nodded in support a few times, notably when Harper said: “Canada supports Israel fundamentally because it is right to do so.”

I appreciated, too, when the Prime Minister addressed world opinion of Israel, saying:

“…in the world of diplomacy, with one, solitary, Jewish state and scores of others, it is all too easy “to go along to get along” and single out Israel. But such “going along to get along,” is not a “balanced” approach, nor a “sophisticated” one; it is, quite simply, weak and wrong.”

It was an historic speech. In a time where the United States, Israel’s most powerful ally, is governed by a President who has largely abandoned historic American support for the Jewish state, Canada has abandoned its sit-on-the-fence approach, which for decades tried to please all sides but succeeding only in showing itself to be unprincipled and incapable of taking a moral stand.

Throughout the Canadian broadcast, cameras panned 3 targets. 1) The Prime Minister at the podium, speaking. 2) The Israeli PM, Benjamin Netanyahu, and 3) the seats occupied by 2 Arab-Israeli MKs (members of the Knesset). This is significant because despite allegations of Apartheid, mostly by people who don’t understand what it means, Arab-Israelis are full Israeli citizens who have all of the rights of citizenship in Israel including, as we saw here, the ability to be elected to and sit in parliament.

Sadly, the Canadian media did not say anything to make this clear to Canadians watching at home. Instead, when these 2 Arab MKs started shouting in the middle of Harper’s speech, they changed the headline at the bottom of the screen to read “Harper Heckled at Israeli Knesset”. Because that’s what is important, obviously.

These Arab MKs did not applaud at any point (that we were shown) during Harper’s speech, not even when Harper mentioned that Canada looks forward to the day where it, along with Israel, can recognize an independant, peaceful, Palestinian state. Well, you may answer, they probably knew that the tone of the rest of the speech would be staunchly pro-Israel. This is not the first time they’d heard of Stephen Harper, right?

So why were they even there? From watching the entire speech, I would argue that these Arab MKs were waiting for an opportunity to pounce. After all, they chose one of the most odd moments. Of all of Harper’s comments, talking about anti-Semitism cloaked as anti-Israel criticism and “the twisted logic of calling Israel an Apartheid state” were not the most pro-Israel points Harper made. Weird moment to choose. But they knew that they needed to distract the world media from this historic visit by a Western leader who unforgivingly supports Israel, and hijack the media narrative. They needed to give the media something ELSE to report, something ELSE to open the story with.

The media tends to do that, eh? In addition to pandering to their listeners and readers, they give notoriety to those who disrupt and cause a scene. Whenever there’s a kidnapping or a shooting, they profile the killer, not the victims. Backwards, don’t you think?

But what is most absurd about this outburst is that these Arab MKs mere presence in the Knesset disproves their disruptive words. The simple fact that Arab-Israelis are able to be elected, sit in the Knesset, and scream out “Israel is an Apartheid state” PROVES, ON ALL BY ITSELF, THAT IT IS NOT ONE. Arabs and their elected representatives have full freedom of expression in Israel, yet they represent a culture where, by and large, (and yes, there are exceptions) such behaviour is not tolerated and would likely have grave consequences.

A Jew could NEVER hold a position of governance in Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and I can go on. Firstly, because Jews are not treated as equals in these countries unlike how Israeli-Arabs are treated in Israel. But if they were able to (hypothetically, of course), imagine what would happen to one of them who dared interrupt a speech in Syria by Ayatollah Khomeni. Death. No less. Freedom of expression in these countries, especially when it involves dissent against government interests, is unheard of, and the notion is even laughable. But in Israel, it’s part of the fabric of society.

As we stand today, I fail to comprehend how so many educated people still hold such an anti-Israel bias. Is it ignorance? Is it anti-Semitism? Is it hatred passed down from previous generations? Is it the classic underdog scenario? Or is it just fashionable to do so because so many others do?

Whatever it is, I hope that people open their minds and see what is really going on, who they are truly supporting. I will never understand how people who loudly claim to be pro-peace, and anti-war, can support people who cheer those who blow themselves up on packed Israeli-public transit buses, launch rockets into civilian populated areas, and use their own children as armour for PR purposes. We are not going to have peace as long as we support parents teaching their children how to shoot a gun before they learn how to kiss.

Whatever this anti-Israel sentiment is based on, I am glad, and proud, that my Prime Minister is standing tall, against it, on the World stage.

Electoral District Names in Quebec

Mr. Justice Allard, Mr. Doyon, Dr. Hudon,

(Members of the Federal Electoral Boundaries Commission for Quebec.)

I am here today speaking as a private citizen and elections administrator on a strictly non-partisan basis.

I have played a role in the impartial organization of every federal and provincial election since I earned that right by virtue of age. I was the Returning Officer for the provincial electoral district of D’Arcy McGee from 2006-2012, the Assistant Returning Officer for the federal electoral district of Mount Royal from 2007 through the 2011 General election, and have been involved in various management positions at the municipal and school board levels.

Most recently, I participated on the Canadian government mission to Ukraine as an observer of their parliamentary elections this past October 28th.

My elections career began as Chief Electoral Officer of student association elections at Trent University in Peterborough, Ontario. I mention this experience because it motivates my participation in elections administration to this day. What I learned in this first elections management position is amazingly simple. It’s about the voter. Canadian university election turnout is stagnant at approximately 8%. My goal was to increase that – dramatically. By working hard at keeping the elector’s participation as a central focus, my team and I were able to average over 25% in 4 consecutive university-wide votes, defying all expectations over a very short time period.

I am deeply committed to ensuring the highest possible participation rates from our citizens, and that is why I am here today. My intention is to share some of the impacts that I see from your decision to dramatically change the way our electoral districts are named.

I will not mince words. I believe that it is an unqualified mistake to move away from the common practice of naming electoral districts after the regions they represent in favour of naming them after famous people. While I understand and appreciate the need to honour those who have served Canada and Quebec by allowing their names to live on after they pass, the cost to democracy of renaming electoral districts in this way far outweighs the societal benefit of remembrance.

I have two main concerns. First, people’s names are a source of great emotion that risks adding unnecessary bias to an election. I would assume that your commission would never propose naming a West Island electoral district after Jacques Parizeau or an East End district after Pierre Elliott Trudeau. Similarly, is it worthwhile to risk alienating a voter in your proposed Gilles Villeneuve electoral district because they oppose auto racing’s impact on the environment? Or an aboriginal voter in your proposed Elzear-Bernier district who opposes Bernier’s claim of Canadian sovereignty over the arctic? Electors have, on numerous cases, threatened in the past to not vote over much less.

Second, and this is the main focus of my presentation, the proposal to rename districts using people’s names is irrelevant to the actual electoral process, is an unnecessary move, and is one that risks causing far more problems and confusion than it promises to solve.

There are countless other ways to honour our dead without risking alienating voters in the exercise of their most fundamental democratic rights.

Let me be clear, I am positive that it is NOT this commission’s intention to drive people away from the polls by causing them to be confused about which district they live in. However, while that is not your intention, the risk of it happening as a result of this naming decision is very real.

As the former Returning Officer for the provincial electoral district of D’Arcy McGee, a riding named after a person rather than any geographic entity in the district, my staff and I are constantly shocked by some of the inquiries we receive. At least 5-10 calls each election, from electors who live on Rue D’Arcy McGee in Verdun and on Rue D’Arcy McGee in Laval. Two women even showed up to be trained to work, and were upset when they were assigned to work at a polling station in Hampstead, nowhere near their homes. Provincial elections are very well run, but this is one instance where we should not be taking their lead.

It is impossible to isolate the impact of the name of a riding on voter turnout in any scientific way as many other factors play significant roles. However, I assert here that the goal in naming electoral districts must be simplicity and clarity. Since districts are delimited by geographic factors, they should be named in the same manner.

People who live in Pointe-aux-Trembles would never be surprised to learn that their electoral district is called La Pointe de l’Ile and those who live in Outremont have it even easier. That’s the way it should be.

Electors need to know the name of their electoral district before they can carry out any reasonable research as to the candidates they will choose from. By naming districts after people, as you are proposing in approximately one third of Quebec districts, some names that many of us have never even heard of, this commission will cause an underlying confusion in the minds of most electors that will undermine the rest of the candidate research process.

Every province has their own way of naming districts but none of them have gone the personal-name route like the one proposed by Quebec, and there is no popular movement in favour of this change. Virtually every district outside of Quebec is, and will remain named in favour of geographic features. Sure, it might seem boring to have multiple districts which begin with the word “Vancouver”, “Edmonton”, or “Calgary”, 10 in fact on their proposed map, up from the previous 8, but each one is clearly and simply identified using local geography as a reference. Sure, the proposed district of “Calgary-Spy Hill” is named after a landfill, but if you live near that site, you know that’s probably your district.

We must remember who these names are truly for. This is not a competition to see which province can come up with the coolest names or honour the most people. As nice as it might sound, this is not an education tool to educate the current population about famous past Quebecers. This is about the current and future electors of Quebec. We separate electoral districts as an administrative and representative requirement, not for show. We must maintain simplicity and clarity as our objectives.

In the last 5 elections I have managed, I have received countless complaints from those who, for various reasons, were not able to cast their vote. The top three reasons as to why people were “unable” to vote are:

3 – “not enough time to vote” – despite 30+ days of being able to cast one’s vote at the Federal level, using many different possible voting methods.

2- “went to the wrong polling station” – despite being sent information to their home address outlining the exact location where they can vote.

And the number 1 reason relates to various legal and administrative issues such as getting onto the voters list, bringing proper identification, etc…

Again, these complaints persist despite continuously greater information provided to electors with each passing electoral event about their rights and their responsibilities.

I mention this because it shows that most people, including and especially those who do not automatically vote every election, cannot be counted on to seek out information on the process. If we want them to participate, we must make it as easy and as intuitive as possible for them.

Voter turnout is dropping at an alarming rate. In 2011, 61.1% of Canadians cast ballots despite the most voting opportunities ever available. In 2008, that number was a shocking 58.8%. When we have a federal election where, most recently, approximately 4 of every 10 electors decided, for whatever reason, NOT to participate, something must be done to reverse that trend, to encourage participation. At the very worst, no decision must be made that will push (or WILL RISK) pushing that trend in the wrong direction. The confusion that your proposed naming structure will almost certainly cause is counter-productive to what our elections administration goals need to be in order that people have the best chance of being included.

I grant that many will take this in stride, but certain age, ethnic, linguistic, and other groups are especially susceptible to being disenfranchised by this unnecessary renaming. And, if EVEN ONE PERSON IS TOO CONFUSED BY THIS NAMING DECISION TO CAST THEIR VOTE, then this renaming plan should be aborted immediately. Since I cannot see even one democracy-related benefit to this naming plan, if you agree that there exists the possibility that at least ONE person will be negatively impacted by this change, then I submit you are morally obligated to not proceed with it. If you truly believe in the fundamental democratic rights of Canadians and Quebecers, I ask you to please return to the previous method of naming electoral districts based on significant geographic names that will be much more familiar to those people who live in the respective areas.

I should mention that I firmly believe in personal responsibility. In theory, it should not matter what name you give to an electoral division. People should be responsible enough to do the minimum research required to exercise such an important democratic right. If the world worked in theory, I would not be standing here right now making this plea. Our elections experience shows that unless we make voting hyper-easy within the limits of the law, many will stay away. This name change is unnecessary. It needlessly risks confusion and thus alienation of voters. As such, it must be reconsidered.

I live, eat, and breathe elections. Most who know me will not hesitate to say I am obsessed. Even as I write this, after thinking about it over many hours and taking many notes over the last 4 months, I still have not managed to commit your proposed name for either the electoral district I managed or the one I currently live in, to memory. And it is not for lack of trying. It is for a lack of a connection. You are trying to create an unnatural connection that simply does not exist, between a famous person and an election boundary. “Mount Royal” is easy to remember when you know that the “Town of Mount Royal” makes up a large portion of your territory and “Pierrefonds-Dollard” is brilliantly simple as a descriptor of an electoral district that is made up of Pierrefonds and Dollard des Ormeaux.

I am reminded of a simple, yet, very famous expression – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Thank you.

Quebec’s Criminal Students

Last night, a video was brought to my attention that shows a Concordia University classroom taken over by students on “strike.” (And this is not the only one!)

(“Strike” is in quotations because student associations, as the corporations that they are, do not have that legal right, but that’s a topic for another day.)

This is a clear case of people substituting their view of what is right for the view of others. Some students believe that the proposed tuition hikes in Quebec (that will become law in just a few days) merit going on “strike” and not going to the classes that they paid for. They believe that it is smarter, wiser, and more mature to skip these classes, thereby not getting credit for them, and then taking them again in a future year where the cost for the same class will be higher. If this doesn’t make sense to you, you’re not alone. This completely illogical, childish decision is reason enough that this juveniles should get their asses back to class and get their learn on.

That I disagree with the strike action, despite my logical backing, does not make me right. Students have the right to not attend their own classes, even if they paid for them, if that is their wish. However, as a great quote rightly notes, “one person’s freedom ends where another person’s freedom begins.” These students do not have the right to prevent others from going to class, learning, and getting value for what they paid for.

So, what should be done about instances like the one shown in the video? Well, these kids (a term I believe appropriate given their behaviour) believe that it’s okay to shock and be loud to make a statement. I think we should shock them, loudly, to make a statement of our own. I propose that the police be called in to arrest each person who participates in preventing a fellow student from learning in a classroom. Arrest them, you ask? What law did they break?

A simple reading of the Criminal Code of Canada shows a clear violation of the theft statute. Have a read:

322. (1) Every one commits theft who fraudulently and without colour of right takes, […] anything, whether animate or inanimate, with intent

(a) to deprive, temporarily or absolutely, the owner of it, or a person who has a special property or interest in it, of the thing or of his property or interest in it;

By barging into a classroom in session and preventing fellow students from participating in classes they paid for, not only are these demonstrators guilty of extreme selfishness and horribly bad judgement, the above statute clearly shows that they are guilty of theft, as they are depriving, even temporarily, the owner of the right to an education of their interest in that education.

So come on, Montreal Police and Crown Prosecutors, you have arrested people on crazy, creative charges in the past, the difference this time is that the law actually supports you here. So use the clear video evidence, identify the education-thieving perpetrators and arrest them immediately so that the smarter, more mature students can get what they paid for and what we as society need them to have, an education.