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GTA Convoy anniversary event draws large crowd

As thousands gathered in cities across Canada this past weekend to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the Freedom Convoy, a large crowd convened at Vaughan Mills – a shopping centre north of Toronto, situated at the southeast quadrant of Highway 400 and Rutherford Road interchange.

Local Vaughan organizers said that they were supporters to come from Ontario cities including Georgina, Simcoe, Muskoka, Barrie, Port Hope, Niagara and Hamilton.

Large trucks, Canadian flags and freedom signs filled the mall parking lot. Shouts for freedom and horn honks interspersed upbeat music playing from a parked flatbed truck.

Many of the attendees present at the anniversary celebration said they participated in the Ottawa Convoy last year. For them, gathering at Vaughan Mills presented an opportunity to commemorate the bravery of the “freedom fighters” on Parliament Hill. 

Evelyn Jaeger and her son-in-law were in Ottawa when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the Emergency Measures Act. Jaeger recalls feelings of fear and anxiety during the “intense” night. 

“It was freezing cold and our phone battery died right away,” she said. “As we walked to where the majority of the protesters were, a lady came crying and said ‘go the other way, they are trampling old ladies.’ We worked our way to the front of the line and for hours we were face to face with so many policemen in full battle gear. Even behind us, we saw more policemen with gas masks, big guns and horses. We didn’t know if we were the next ones that they would trample over next.”

Despite the heavy police presence in Ottawa, Jaeger said that there was “a good atmosphere among the people.” She noted many hugs with strangers, tears of joy and a feeling of unity. 

“We will make a point of celebrating this every year, like Remembrance Day. We have to remember how we fought for our freedom. Freedom is not for nothing,” said Jaeger.

Another protestor, who wished to remain anonymous, remarked how “unifying” the Ottawa Convoy had been.

“Although the intensity was palpable, it just brought tears to your eyes to be with another group of people who had been considered outcasts for so long. You no longer felt alone. Just being in the inside of a building where you could eat with other people without being questioned about your vaccination status was touching,” the protestor said.

Anne Marie Shirk, a registered nurse who was fired for not taking the vaccine, went to Ottawa to “help out.” She pointed out similarities between the Ottawa Convoy and the first anniversary celebration event. 

“In Ottawa, it was the best time ever. People were dancing, kids were in the bouncing castles, people were just having a good time smiling and laughing. This weekend– this day right now– is a great reminder of how it was last year. I am proud to be Canadian and I am proud to be here. Everybody here is like family, there is that friend feeling. There are smiling faces and no masks,” she said.

Jodie, who attended the Convoy in 2022, said that the one-year anniversary gathering should send a message to Trudeau. 

“I want him at least to sit down and have a conversation with the people who feel this way. When we first went into Ottawa, he kind of ran away. None of the politicians spoke to anyone. We felt like we didn’t have a voice,” she said. “In a democracy, you are supposed to gather and protest, but they want to take that away from us as well. We need to keep doing this, build our numbers and take the country back from tyranny.”

Court rules school board right to reprimand trustee over gender identity comments

After nearly three years of back-and-forth court proceedings, the Ontario Superior Court ruled on Jan. 13 that the Toronto Catholic School Board (TCDSB) had acted legally in reprimanding school trustee Mike Del Grande for comments made back in November 2019.

Del Grande came under public scrutiny when he opposed a motion, directed by the Ministry of Education, to include the terms “gender identity” and “gender expression” as protected grounds for discrimination to the TCDSB’s official Code of Conduct, attempting to mirror the already-in-place provincial Ontario Human Rights legislation. 

In the six-hour Nov. 7 meeting where trustees were voting to amend the code, Del Grande– who was also the TCDSB’s Vice-Chair – suggested that the terms “pedophilia”, “gerontophilia”, “bestiality” and “vampirism” should also be added along with the terms gender expression and identity. Although Del Grande later claimed that he was solely trying to illustrate the “slippery slope” argument of including such terms in the Catholic code, several trustees and members of the LGBTQ+ community took offence, inciting widespread public pushback.

“The point that I want to make is you wanted to add four terms. And my concern is that why stop at the four terms? Because it doesn’t cover everybody,” he said in the 2019 meeting.

Following an independent, board-led review of Del Grande’s actions in May 2020, an investigator found that he had contravened the code of conduct by “creating an unwelcoming and harmful environment for certain members of the Catholic school board community.” After a failed attempt in August 2020 to publicly censure Del Grande, the board voted again in November where a two-thirds majority ruled in favour of imposing sanctions.

Following the consensus of the Nov. 11 vote, the sanctions required the TCDSB trustee to issue a public apology to the LGBTQ+ community and undertake equity training. At the Superior Court, in front of a three-judge panel, Del Grande and his legal team had been mounting a challenge to revoke the sanctions. In tandem, they have also been fighting his case at the Ontario College of Teachers (OCT) the regulatory body for teachers in Ontario after Del Grande was accused of professional misconduct.

Campaign Life Coalition (CLC) has been supporting Del Grande since the controversy broke out in 2019. They have crowdfunded his legal defence fee at the Ontario Superior Court of Justice and the OCT. 

Jack Fonseca, Director of Political Operations for CLC, said that the decision was a “disgrace.” The socially conservative political lobbyist organisation hopes that Del Grande will appeal to a higher court. 

“I’m actually confident that if he appeals to a higher court whose judges are focused on the law and not politics, he’ll win. And if so, that’ll be good for Catholic education. If he loses however, and if that becomes a precedent, it’ll make every other faithful Catholic trustee in Canada an even bigger target of the cancel culture mob. It’ll be used to bypass our democratic process of voters electing their representatives. Instead, Codes of Conduct will be used by left-wing activists, most especially pro-LGBT activists, to sneakily reverse the results of democratic elections, and undo the will of the people,” said Fonseca.

Justice Sandra Nishikawa was the judge who handed down the executive decision which rejected Del Grande’s appeal against the TCDSB’s sanctions. Fonseca argues there was a conflict of interest and bias on the bench.

“The lead judge who authored the decision was appointed to the bench in 2018 by Justin Trudeau and is a pro-LGBT activist in her own right,” Fonseca says. “This judge had a bias against Del Grande’s Catholic beliefs on human sexuality, appears to have spent much of her adult life fighting against those beliefs, and she should have recused herself from the panel.”

Fonseca highlighted Nishikawa’s time on what he describes as “the radical feminist, pro-LGBT women’s legal group” LEAF and her position as Chair of the Equity Advisory Group of the Law Society of Ontario. The word equity in itself, Fonseca argues, signals a “vehicle for promoting LGBT ideology.”

“The stench from the bench is hard to bear,” he said.

The Corriere Canadese—an Italian-language paper published in Toronto has been closely following Del Grande’s case since 2019, attending most committee hearings and board meetings.

The paper’s editor Joe Volpe objected to the Superior Court ruling on legal grounds, reasoning that the TCDSB was wrong to suggest the implementation of the terms gender expression and identity because they do not have the constitutional authority to regulate matters pertaining to Catholic dogma.

“The TCDSB, like all ‘Catholic’ boards of education, has a specific role in the contract (the Constitution) that binds this country. The only ‘entity’ with legal authority under the Constitution to interpret what ‘Catholicism’ means in that context is the magisterium. Neither Boards nor individual trustees have any jurisdiction in this regard. In the case of the TCDSB, which claims to serve c. 90,000 students and their parents, those families expect their values to be upheld and promoted,” said Volpe, a former federal Liberal MP and cabinet minister.

Volpe condemns the TCDSB for its handling of the situation and its treatment of Del Grande.

“The TCDSB has suffered gravely thanks to the trustees and staff who egged on this attack on the value of the Catholic ethic – Del Grande is the soft target in that process. It’s a long process. Over the last three academic years, the TCDSB has lost some 9,000 students and the revenue that accompanies them. The Director and his ‘allies’ on the Board should have resigned for having brought the TCDSB into such disrepute,” he said. 

True North spoke over the phone to Del Grande’s lawyer, Dr. Charles Lugosi, who said that his legal team is in the process of filing an application called “leave to appeal.” Lugosi says this is the “next step in the process” and it would essentially ask permission of the court to bring an appeal to the Superior Court’s Jan. 13 ruling.

Girl Guides of Canada remove Brownies name over concerns of racism

The Girl Guides of Canada (GGC) officially renamed their Brownies branch – designed for 7 and 8-year-old girls – to Embers earlier this January over growing concerns of racism.  

The name-changing effort stems from current and former GGC member complaints over what they describe as the racist nature of the word Brownies, which allegedly “caused harm” to racialized girls and women. The Jan. 11 GGC press release said that the name of the branch acted as a “barrier to belonging,” deterring girls from joining the GGC altogether or postponing their entry until they were old enough to participate in other sections, such as the Guides or the Pathfinders.

Concerns with how racialized (Black, Indigenous and people of colour) girls and women felt when addressed as a “Brownie” were primary motivators spurring the official rebranding. The GGC website said that racialized girls “didn’t like being called a ‘Brownie’” because it prompted “teasing and racist comments,” making them “feel extremely uncomfortable.”

In an appeal to inclusive language, the newly christened Embers– a name signifying “potential waiting to be unleashed”– will “create a space where every girl feels that she belongs.” 

Jill Zelmanovits, GGC’s Chief Executive, said that following the rumblings of a name change over the last couple of months, “families have signed up with Girl Guides for the first time because changing this name means Girl Guides is more inclusive for their daughters.”

Although the branch for 7 and 8-year-olds is called Brownies after the centuries-old household fairies in English folklore who aid in chores undetected, GGC is still changing the name because of “how it makes women and girls feel.”

Efforts pushing for a name change began in early November when girl guides executives began accepting input, consulting with “racialized girls in Guiding, the National Indigenous Advisory Circle, community partners and organizations, as well as GGC National Youth Council, Provincial Commissioners and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Facilitators.” They came up with two name options, Comets and Embers, which were released in mid-November and then put out for a vote. Embers won “overwhelmingly” according to Zelmanovits.

The phasing in of the name Embers on all GGC resources, programs and portals is slotted to be complete by Sep. 1. After this date, girls cannot wear any clothing or crests associated with the original Brownies name.

GGC board of directors unanimously agreed the Embers-Brownies name change was the right course of action “to reduce harm to racialized girls and stand by our commitment to inclusion, equity and anti-racism.” 

Over a hundred supporters rally in Toronto over Jordan Peterson disciplinary action

Angelica Vecchiato

Just over a hundred people gathered in front of the College of Psychologists of Ontario (CPO) on Eglinton Avenue West on Wednesday afternoon to show support for Dr. Jordan Peterson. 

The protest, organized by Bethan Nodwell and Stacey Kauder, comes in the face of recent backlash surrounding the CPO’s proposal of disciplinary action against the University of Toronto Professor Emeritus’ comments made on Twitter and on a Joe Rogan podcast episode aired on Jan. 25, 2022. 

The CPO – the regulatory body responsible for the safeguarding of the “public interest” by “regulating the practice of psychology” across the province – threatened to remove Peterson’s clinical licence if he doesn’t undergo a mandatory “coaching program” for his lack of “professionalism in public statements.” 

In retaliation, Peterson has since filed a Notice of Application for Judicial Review with the Ontario Divisional Court, mounting a legal challenge against the College arguing that their actions violate his Charter right to freedom of expression. 

The Toronto protest drew support from all different corners of the province, with some protestors coming as far as Barrie and London to stand in solidarity with the professor. While the demonstration’s primary purpose was to rally in support of Peterson, many attendees saw this as an occasion to stand up for freedom of speech and the right to protest for all Canadians.

For Mississauga nurse Brenda, who lost her job in Oct. 2021 due to vaccine mandates, the protest had a dual purpose.

“I came to the protest today because I am a supporter of Jordan Peterson. I admire and appreciate what he stands for. I also came to break free from the tyrannical implementation of these mandates which have affected many of us including myself. Still in the medical realm, these mandates have not been lifted, so I can’t utilise my God-given skills to support my community,” she said. 

Ottawa physician Mary O’Connor and PPC leader Maxime Bernier spoke to the crowds – along with a virtual visit from EU Member of Parliament Christine Anderson – expressing support for Peterson while also acknowledging the importance of freedom of speech and expression in a democracy.

Bernier said he came to support Peterson, but also to support “courageous Canadians who were silenced,” referring to those who lost their jobs because of “their convictions.” 

“Freedom of expression is the most important of all freedoms. Without it, you’re not free anymore. All these regulatory bodies and authoritarian politicians who censor us must stop. The bad guys are always the ones who censor,” he said. “I believe it is a new beginning right now. It is important to be here. It is important to win the battle: to regain our freedom. We will win that battle for us, for our children and for our country. ”

While protest attendee Adam Czarnota thought that some of Peterson’s tweets were insensitive, he maintained that this doesn’t give the CPO authority to take away his professional licence. He said that he originally attended the rally to “see what it was all about,” and was pleasantly surprised with what he saw. 

“It’s nice to see character in Canadians. It’s not something you usually see,” he said.

Canadian Catholics mourn loss of Pope Benedict XVI

Canadian Catholics around the country are mourning the loss of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI following his passing on Dec. 31. 

The former prelate, born Joseph Aloisius Ratzinger, died a natural death in the Vatican’s Mater Ecclesiae Monastery. Since then, his body– vested in traditional red liturgical garments– has been transported to St. Peter’s basilica so that the faithful can pay their final respects to the great “theologian-pope” of the 21st century.  

An estimated 35, 000 pilgrims per day have made their way to the Vatican where Benedict’s remains are to lie in repose until his funeral mass on Jan. 5, which will be presided over by his successor Pope Francis. Rome authorities said they are expecting 60,000 people to attend Benedict’s Requiem Mass in St. Peter’s Square. 

Elected Rome’s 265th pope in 2005, Benedict XVI made history in 2013 when he became the first pontiff to resign in 600 years, citing that his declining strength and age made him physically unfit to continue with his parochial duties.  

The 95-year-old former pontiff was especially revered for his intellect and contemplation. In a statement, Archbishop of Toronto Cardinal Thomas Collins remembered Benedict as a “great theologian” with “astonishing intellect.” 

Collins added that as a pope, Benedict “led the universal church with wisdom and holiness, providing a clear and loving message of how our faith can inspire us and guide us through the storms of life’s journey.” 

To honour Pope Benedict, Collins has asked all 225 Toronto parishes to add a special prayer of the faithful at all Masses for “the repose of the soul of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI” and to lower their papal flags until his funeral mass later this Thursday.

Bishop Raymond Poisson, President of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops–which oversees clerical work throughout Canada– said in a statement that Benedict “leaves behind a great legacy of teaching that will continue to inspire us.”

Poisson also noted that the former prelate made special efforts to “heal the wounds of our past,” citing Benedict XVI’s meeting with a Canadian delegation, made up of representatives of Indigenous communities, to discuss their experience of residential schools back in 2009 and 2012. 

“During this meeting, the Pope listened to their stories and expressed his regret and sadness for the sorrow suffered by many Indigenous people in the residential school system,” said Poisson, Bishop of Saint-Jérôme and Mont-Laurier in Quebec. “A few years later, he canonised North America’s first Indigenous saint, St. Kateri Tekakwitha, also known as the ‘Lily of the Mohawks.’”

On Twitter, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau lauded the Pope Emeritus as an “accomplished theologian and scholar” and an “inspiration to millions.”

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre expressed sadness on Twitter, stating that “the world mourns the loss of a great spiritual leader.”

“May his soul rest in peace,” he said. 

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