Sunrise sunset: on the passage of time

sunrise sunset


Walking alone on the Bund in Shanghai in the early evening is the time when I feel most melancholic and reflective. It’s got something to do with how brightly the neon from the office towers across the river shimmers and plays across the black water. I have been a foreigner in a foreign land—I drape myself over railings gloomily and munch on cold meat buns, waiting for the late-night greasy spoons and clubs to come sputtering back to life. I think about the friends I’ve loved who’ve gone already. Overhead the sky begins to burn.

I like sunrise and I like sunset. They both stand for the passage of time. That’s why so many of us still wear timepieces while carrying iPhones and Galaxy Ss. It’s important to live within time. There are 60 seconds in a minute, 60 minutes in an hour, 24 hours in a day, and 365 days in a year. We might live forever. We might not. I feel the weight of time pressing down on me.

What do we do with the time we have on this earth? Do we chase power? Chase love? Chase truth? Chase beauty? Chase life? Chase death? There’s a Psalm that goes Remember how fleeting is my life. / For what futility you have created all humanity! Who can live and not see death, / or who can escape the power of the grave?

The Supreme Court of Canada recently handed down a decision called Ezokola v. Canada (Citizenship and Immigration) 2013 SCC 40, in which it created a new test for determining whether a refugee claimant is complicit in his or her government’s war crimes. Briefly, Mr. Ezokola was a government employee for the Democratic Republic of Congo while the DRC committed awful, awful atrocities against humanity. The question was whether or not Mr. Ezokola was excluded from attaining refugee status in Canada because of Article 1F(a) of the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, which explicitly denies refugee status to individuals who are guilty of committing war crimes.

What was key to the Court’s decision was that the Canadian approach to 1F(a) up to this time had failed to distinguish between voluntary crime and guilt by association. In Mr. Ezokola’s case, he was merely a pawn caught up in a corrupt, antidemocratic, and horrifically violent government helmed by President Kabila. The moment Mr. Ezokola became aware of the depth of the atrocities being committed by his leaders, he resigned, knowing that the DRC would treat this act as treason. Since then, Mr. Ezokola and his loved ones have been hounded across the world by the DRC’s intelligence thugs. It was on this basis that Mr. Ezokola sought refugee protection in Canada. Don’t worry—we’re going to give him and his family a serious shot at a new start. His appeal was allowed by the SCC and remitted to the Refugee Protection Division of the Immigration and Refugee Board. It was time for Mr. Ezokola and his family to go, and he was smart enough to cut his losses.

I wish you all the best Mr. Ezokola.

Some people let the angel of death who hovers overhead motivate them to new heights. Some people go to her willingly. Some people ignore her. Some people commit war crimes. Some people flee from war mongers. I think death is as beautiful as she is horrible. She stands for the end of something. And she gives me the courage to live the life that suits me best. If all things are but a momentary diversion on the road to the grave, then let those diversions be the ones I choose.

Together we will live forever: on immortality and taxes

Immortality and taxes

“Death is the road to awe,” whispers the dying Lord of Xibalba to Grand Inquisitor Silecio in the 2006 film about the quest for immortality called The Fountain. Chills. But what does that even MEAN, anyway? Define your terms: awe—a feeling of reverential respect mixed with fear or wonder; death—the destruction or permanent end of something. I guess a part of the reason why I like that line so much is because I don’t think there’s anything to fear, wonder, or respect about death in 2013.

The really tired joke that gets trotted out (by me) whenever I talk to a tax lawyer is that the only two things in life that are certain are death and taxes. I take issue with this joke (I’m taking issue with myself, to be clear). Death might not be certain anymore. The futurist, Ray Kurzweil, has spent the bulk of his life writing and lecturing on something he calls the Singularity, a speculative point in future-time where our Artificial Intelligence [A.I.] will have advanced to such a state that it will become capable of augmenting itself. And I ain’t talkin’ ’bout Skynet, here. We’re human beings, and we’re smart enough to have read the literature proposed by our most gloomy and dire noir-prophets, and consequently to plan ahead in creating A.I.—embedded with failsafes—that won’t augment itself into wanting to DESTROY ALL HUMAN LIFE.

So what is the speculated outcome of the Singularity? Hold onto your butts, ’cause I’m talking ’bout the Tree of Life, the Fountain of Youth, the portrait in Dorian Grey’s attic, and the Philosopher’s Stone—I’m talkin’ ’bout immortality. But not in the sense that we’ve traditionally conceived of immortality in our literature and philosophy.

Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about the Technological Singularity: “a theoretical point in time when human technology (and, particularly, technological intelligence) will have so rapidly progressed that, ultimately, a greater-than-human intelligence will emerge, which will radically change human civilization, and perhaps even human nature itself.” Kurzweil prophesizes that the Singularity will smack us upside the head around the year 2045, but popular science fiction writer Vernor Vinge predicts a more hopeful 2030.

Back to immortality. Listen to what a speaker at the 7th Annual Singularity Summit held last year in San Francisco had to say about death: “We don’t die because the laws of physics require us to die—we die because we’re not currently smart enough not to die … Why settle for predicting human behavior when we can re-engineer the human genome? … An exponential function is a multiplicative derivative … Solving the problem of friendly artificial intelligence is the key to saving the world.”

I’m getting chills again.


Kurzweil says confidently to a 60-year old man at the Singularity Conference, “Life expectancy tables are based on what happened in the past. In 25 years, we’ll be able to add one year of life for every year that passes. We have a very good chance of making it through.” And I’m only 25 years old. This is great!


The takeaway here is that none of us should really bother planning ahead to pay the tax consequences of our loved ones passing away. Canada doesn’t have a specific tax on dying, but this is only because a person’s assets are said to have passed on to the beneficiary exactly one minute before you died, according to the law. But don’t worry about that. You aren’t going to die.


Together we will live forever.

Quebec’s Charter of Values: actually of little value

Keep calm and wear hijab




It’s quite likely that the recent proposed Quebec Charter of Values has caught your eye (hopefully your third)… or maybe you simply ignored it because the Anglophones of this country, since well before the 1880’s, have been so accustomed to Quebec rattling its cage that it can no longer be heard – nothing new under the sun. This is not to say that their pleas are invalid, but rather that Quebec’s ‘cultural identity’ has forced the rest of Canada into some serious constitutional, political, cultural, and philosophical ponderings quite consistently throughout our brief, lovely history as cozy Canada.


The main point of the legislation is to prohibit the wearing of ‘conspicuous’ religious symbols by state personnel (cops, politicians, etc.) in carrying out their roles, in order to ‘reflect state neutrality’ – a statement as loaded with controversy as my poutine is with gravy.


This of course indicated to me the persistence of Quebec’s need to reassert its cultural identity in the face of not only a history of Anglophones, but of the more recent waves of religious immigrants that have been welcomed into our country over the last century.


These religious inhabitants enjoy the same protection as the original French Catholic inhabitants, under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms — a lovely document — section 2: “Fundamental Freedoms: (a) freedom of conscience and religion; (b) freedom of thought, belief, opinion, and expression”. (You could easily argue that religious garments are a part of the freedom of expression, as much as they are exercising freedom to religion). In essence, the charter was so designed to safeguard minority rights and freedoms from a possible oppressive majority that intends to encroach on those rights because it finds them distasteful, irrational, or other predilections unrelated to anything lawful.


One of Quebec’s arguments may be that the freedoms above are subject to the reasonable limits clause of the charter, which tells us that a violation of our charter rights must not also trample democracy and freedom; it has to be reasonably justified in accordance with these principles. The question that seems to require answering so far is thus: can the imposition of the value of secularism by a province be enforced by an act, while trumping the charter right to freedom of religion, consistently, in a just, democratic, and free society? We might wish to look to France to see how they’re faring with similar legislation. This issue is a deep one which I cannot fully explore, but there are a few things I have noticed apart from the red-flag constitutional issue.


First, Quebec’s legislation appears to work in a very, very sneaky way to disadvantage minority religious groups, even though the ban would be on all religious symbols, including that of the dominant, white, francophone population of Quebec: the crucifix. Think about which religious groups find it of paramount importance to wear their religious symbols in accordance with their beliefs. Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus, for instance usually consider their religious symbols as indispensible to their identity, culture, and purpose. Of course, so do many Christians and Catholics, but perhaps, as the majority, they could withstand the blow of such a piece of legislation, while many minorities could not.


It is possible to construe this as an issue of the empowering will of the majority over the minority, because the majority does not need to exert itself or protect its values or symbolism to stay afloat as much as a minority group does. At the end of the day, the dominant Québécois religious culture will stay intact, yet the minorities may fearfully cling to whatever is left of their religious culture because of the proposed legislation. Although this consequence could conceivably be unintentional, there is also good reason to think Quebec’s identity-anxiety factors in here.


Second, we should be critical of Quebec’s reasoning regarding secularism. The essence of secularism is to separate church and STATE. It is one thing to say that the state is investing in, say, the Catholic Church, or that the Pope has the power to create provincial legislation, and a whole different thing to say that the government invests in public officials who need to perform functions that we’d need in a secular society anyways, but these officials may display their own personal beliefs. This to me is in no clear way an imposition of religion on the state, or an involvement of the state in religion. The secularism being thrown around here is more likely Quebec’s masquerading of its cultural insecurities, of its separatist aspirations, and other fanciful things.


Whatever comes of the constitutional issue, which I think most of Canada actually agrees on anyways (that the statute violates the charter freedom of religion), let me leave you with the words of J.S. Mill: The only part of conduct of any one, for which he is amenable to society, is that which concerns others. In the part, which merely concerns himself, his independence is, of right, absolute. Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign.” (By ‘he’, Mill means she too)








Confessions of a Facebook Fugitive

Facebook Like




For one reason or another, people are often surprised to find out that I don’t use Facebook (anymore). Usually, this surprise stems from the fact that people fundamentally misunderstand my conscious decision to stay off “the Book”. Of course, there are many valid motives for deactivating a Facebook account. For example, you may notice your friend count mysteriously thinning out around exam time, only to flourish again once the end-of-term party has occurred – after all, everyone wants to get up on tagging all those pics and swapping holiday stories. However, my motives are slightly more complicated than a complete lack of impulse control coupled with a heavy tendency towards procrastination (although I suffer from that as well).

I’m a relapsed and rehabilitated ex-Facebooker in that I kicked the habit once in 2011 and returned in 2012, only to kick the habit again in 2013. In this day and age, quitting Facebook cold turkey is not by any means an easy thing to do. Internet addiction is an actual phenomenon, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Facebook addiction doesn’t soon become one as well, if it’s not considered one already. In the depths of my struggle, I would reactivate my account at off-peak hours, quickly catch myself up on the comings and goings of my various friends, acquaintances, and enemies, and then quietly deactivate again after 10 minutes of frenzied creeping. Rinse and repeat.

Eventually I managed to wean myself off of the monolith of social networking for good. I stayed off of it for over a year, and was pleased with my successful recovery from Facebookaholism – until I went on an extended travelling stint. Meeting people from all corners of the globe under short-term conditions unavoidably makes staying in touch a bit of a challenge, and Facebook suddenly became something of a necessary evil. So I was back, but not quite with a vengeance. I limited my friends list only to those people who I didn’t have a legitimate, alternative means of contact with, set my privacy settings to tin-foil hat mode, and would sign on only intermittently. Then I started law school, and as you are probably well aware, the snowballing Facebook friend explosion is practically a rite of passage during the initial excitement of orientation and the weeks beyond. For some, deleting Facebook is seen as akin to committing social suicide – after all, there is seemingly no better way to stay dialled in. So why did I do it? I have a few reasons (of which I will only touch on a few, for brevity’s sake).

For one, Facebook promotes a very particular kind of communication, and one that I don’t necessarily sanction. I’m old-school in that I still write pen and paper letters and/or maintain email correspondence with my friends in faraway places. In these messages, featuring actual sentences and paragraphs, I ask them about their jobs, and their families, and their significant others. I update them on my life and they update me on theirs in return. We swap stories. There are a handful of people that I care enough to do this with, and they represent only a tiny fraction of the amount of Facebook “friends” I had accumulated at my peak. Ultimately, I got tired of trading quality for quantity.

Relatedly, Facebook makes it a lot easier to be harassed, and I speak from experience. Blocking someone is a hopelessly ineffective technique, because despite Facebook’s prohibition against creating multiple accounts, it is way too easy to neatly evade this supposed rule. Facebook is the communicative medium of choice for a lot of people, and given that I’m very selective about who I give my contact information to, it was essentially the easiest way to get in touch with me for a lot of people who I didn’t want to be in touch with, even after I had made that latter fact explicitly clear. Not only could these people get in touch with me, they could keep getting in touch with me, far past my limit of wanting to deal with them. See: modern-day cyber-bullying as another, far more vivid illustration of this point.

Finally, I have serious concerns about Facebook’s use of my personal data. Things didn’t always used to be so shady, but in recent years, Facebook has been rolling out a lot of various changes to their privacy policies that are highly troubling. If you’re like most people, you probably don’t think twice about what you say or do on Facebook. I’d wager that at least one message thread, picture, or tag of you on “the Book” could possibly be incriminating or, at the very least, highly damaging to your personal and/or professional reputation. It’s unnerving to think that messages between individual users or photos uploaded and set to be viewed by “my friends only”, for example, are potentially not as confidential as you think they are, but that’s a reality you should be prepared to face (unless you’re staunchly in the “ignorance is bliss” camp).

In the United States, the Federal Trade Commission has recently begun an inquiry into whether Facebook has violated a regulation whereby they were required to get the explicit consent of users before exposing their private information to new audiences. In both Canada and the United States, Facebook has been the defendant in class action suits brought by users who are upset by the fact that their names and photos were used without their consent by advertisers to endorse products in Facebook ads circulated to their friends. With these class action suits, the stakes are high – as they always are when dealing with large groups of people and huge amounts of settlement money – but somehow it seems even more significant when privacy and civil liberties, which are arguably beyond price, are also on the line.

Given the ubiquitous nature of Facebook in modern life, it’s kind of crazy to think that all of us once lived in a world before Facebook – a world where we didn’t have instant access to what the vast majority of our “social network” was doing at any given time. A world where our fingers didn’t immediately poise themselves over the f-a-c-e keys (and the rest left to autofinish) as soon as we opened our internet browsers. A world where we didn’t have to worry so much about the ominous implications of what corporations are doing with some of our most personal data.

Further, studies about the effects of Facebook usage have already started to crop up, and in the coming years, will undoubtedly multiply not only in number, but also in scope. Go to Google Scholar and type in “facebook” as a query – you’ll get some very interesting results, some positive, and some not so much. For example, there has been a demonstrated correlation between Facebooking and narcissism – surprise, surprise. Facebook has also been connected to increasing levels of dissatisfaction with one’s own life. After all, when you’re only seeing the highlight reel of other people’s lives, the fact that you’re sitting at home in sweatpants eating a microwaved meal while skimming through pictures of a group of your friends jumping on the beach in Maui suddenly seems way more depressing than it actually is on any objective level (although that’s perhaps a bad example, because that actually sounds really depressing).

I hasten to concede that Facebook is not entirely a bad thing, and that it essentially does a bang-up job of what it’s supposed to do – allow you to “connect with friends and the world around you”.  But if it’s true that nothing in life is free, at what price does that connection come?

The Courage to Love: Fear and Unconditional Love

Fear and Unconditional Love

What is the nature of man? John Donne once wrote, “No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less.” This is some heavy stuff. Basically, John is just cribbing from when Michael Jackson sang, “You are not alone / I am here with you / Though we’re far apart / You’re always in my heart / But you are not alone / ‘Lone, ‘lone / Why, ‘lone.”

Thanks for that, Michael.

Law school can sometimes feel like an exercise in fear and loathing. And you will be somewhere around the topic of estoppel on the edge of sanity when the coffee finally begins to take hold of your addled brain. You’ll remember saying something like, “I feel the distinction between using estoppel as a sword and a shield is making me lightheaded; maybe you should explain again…” And suddenly there will be a terrible roar all around you and the sky will be full of what looks like a flock of robed judiciary, all swooping and screeching and diving around your seat. Okay. That’s enough.

It’s important to love people unconditionally. This is hard, though. Especially when you’re frantically competing against these same people to be ranked on a metric of, here’s a fact pattern riddled with grammatical errors and logical inconsistencies and you have 3 hours to justify your million-dollar legal career that potentially hangs in the balance. But the alternative is even more horrible—letting an island-woman drift aimlessly in the deep blue sea of law school without a friendly face to get her through the day.

Reach out and say hi to someone you wouldn’t normally have thought to talk to. Be kind. Don’t be quick to judge them. Learn to be comfortable in your skin. Speak up in class! Listen to what others have to say and try to relate to them and understand why they might have come to hold their position instead of jumping to quick antagonist conclusions. The more you can put yourself into a positive mental headspace by loving and accepting unconditionally the people around you, the better you’ll feel about every other aspect of your life. I’m being real and chill as heck here. Just ease up on yourself and others.

Meanness stems from insecurity and fear. So throw away your insecurities and your fears at the door of Allard Hall. The unconditional love that you can summon up the courage to give to the world will be repaid tenfold (if not by the world, then by me).

Brandon McCartney, alias Lil B (look up the etymology of alias), put it succinctly when he wrote, “We have a chance to build a world filled with Positive / Love / Possibility / Freedom, and / Self-acceptance.” He also wrote, “We all did weird stuff. Let it go.”

That stuck with me.

The Freedom to Hate: An Aborted Attempt to Explore the Psyche of Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin

Beverly McLachlin


I’ve always liked to play the devil’s advocate (advocatus diaboli). Some people don’t like the devil. Thankfully, I didn’t run in those circles as a kid. Our Supreme Court really doesn’t like the devil. And I hope to run in that circle someday. This is tricky. Should I stop saying controversial things? Or should Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin stop treading on me?

To describe the issue of where the limits of our right to freely express ourselves should be set when dealing with hate speech as a “thorny and contentious” one would be an understatement. In R v Keegstra, the Supreme Court of Canada was given the chance to deliver a distinctively Canadian-nuanced analysis (overly-polite and way, way too sensitive) of the crossroads where freedom of expression and hate speech meet. In the competing opinions offered by the Justice Dickson-led majority and the Justice McLachlin-led (as she then was) minority can be found a compelling back and forth between the social democratic and the civil libertarian approaches to expression.

Briefly, Keegstra involved a public high school teacher from Alberta who taught his students an extremely vitriolic and anti-Semitic syllabus, which he then expected them to reproduce in their classwork and on their exams. After being charged under s 319(2) of the Code with unlawfully and willfully promoting hatred against an identifiable group in a public manner, Keegstra sought to have the section struck down because it violated his right to freedom of expression guaranteed to him under s 2(b) of the Charter. The court ultimately decided that s 319(2)’s violation of freedom of expression was justifiable under s 1 of the Charter. I think that its reasons are suspect.

Justice Dickson’s social democratic approach was the one taken by the majority of the court in Keegstra. This approach casts the individual expressing hatred as the antagonist, the identifiable group being exposed to hatred as the protagonists, and the state as the benevolent protector figure. Central to this approach is the idea that allowing certain kinds of expression can actually impede the pursuit of truth, which is one of the core values of freedom of expression. In other words, the hatred being propagated by Keegstra is framed as having very little value, and in fact, perhaps having negative value. For Dickson, the hate speech here has a very poor chance of being true, and if left unregulated, has a very good chance of stifling the identifiable group’s ability to achieve self-actualization. This line of argument is not persuasive to me. What about Mr. Keegstra’s right to self-actualization? What if it is central to his self-identity to espouse vitriolic and anti-Semitic ideas? In my view, he should be allowed the right to alienate himself from polite Canadian society if he so chooses. Stifling Keegstra through criminal legislation and punishing him through the criminal system only serves, as McLachlin persuasively argues, to feed those conspiracy nuts like Keegstra more ammo by publicizing their ideas (through the typically strong reaction generated in the media whenever the criminal law is used to restrict expression) and generating sympathy for their cause. After all, if the hate speech is so patently untrue, why not just let the open marketplace of ideas sort it out? Everyone should be free to contribute whatever they want to the public conversation, with the understanding that the valuable stuff will rise to the top and the ridiculous, hateful, and patently untrue stuff will sink to the bottom and be ignored (for the most part). This is essentially the civil libertarian approach.

McLachlin’s civil libertarian approach failed in Keegstra, although I feel it remains the more convincing of the two arguments. Here, the individual expressing hatred is cast as the protagonist, and the State, swooping in with its censors and criminal penalties, is cast as the primary antagonist. What motivates McLachlin’s position is a healthy skepticism of claims by the legislature or decisions of the judiciary that purport to claim a better knowledge of what is true than a member of the public. There is always a deferral to the marketplace of ideas with the libertarian approach, and the thinking goes that we as a society are not so idiotic as to believe historical revisionists and hateful propagandists like Mr. Keegstra. We’ll figure it out ourselves, says the civil libertarian, so keep your noses out of it federal government. McLachlin is right, and I have never been more persuaded by a slippery slope argument than in this instance: where does this deferral to the legislature and judiciary end? It provokes questionable actions on the part of authorities, and who is to say whether the legislature might be encouraged in the future to broaden the definition of hate speech to include the kind of edgy racial jokes that are the bread and butter of comedians like Chris Rock or Larry David? Could these comedians one day face penalties if they performed in Canada? Incredibly enough, this exact concern materialized in the recent 2013 Whatcott decision.

Whatcott involved a man who was found to be in violation of Saskatchewan’s Human Rights Code because the homophobic fliers he was distributing fell under the prohibition against “any representation […] that exposes or tends to expose to hatred, ridicules, belittles or otherwise affronts the dignity of any person.” There are several distinctions to make between this prohibition and the one found in Keegstra: this prohibition does not require that the accused intend to promote hatred; this is human rights legislation within the civil domain, and consequently there is no defense of truth available to the accused. In other words, there is a laughably low threshold here that even Larry David could easily rise above by performing one of his skits poking fun at Orthodox Jews on the road in Saskatoon (unlikely, I admit, but humor me). And anyway, certainly not all Orthodox Jews are offended by Larry David having a bit of fun at their expense on his show Curb Your Enthusiasm, so why would we trust our judiciary to judge what does pass the threshold of affronting the dignity of another person?

McLachlin GIF

Look at the history of the jurisprudence in the Whatcott case to see what I mean. At the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal level, all three judges held that the four homophobic fliers distributed by Whatcott did not pass the threshold to meet a representation of hate speech. The Supreme Court of Canada, however, held that two of the four homophobic fliers were in fact illegal. Thankfully, the SCC also struck out the portion of the code that read, “ridicules, belittles or otherwise affronts the dignity of any person.” But that isn’t going far enough in my opinion. What I’m trying to highlight here is how hopelessly subjective it can be to decide what expression is and is not hateful. I want to be clear here that I am not attacking the intelligence of any of the members of the judiciary. What I am saying is that the illegality of any piece of expression, because of the way these prohibitions are worded, can only ever be in the eye of the beholder, and I don’t trust the judiciary anymore than I trust myself to judge on this issue. I’d rather leave it to the marketplace of ideas. To continue my example, if Larry David’s skits became too hateful towards Orthodox Jews, and were generally becoming unappetizing for the general public, then they would let him know that by refusing to go to his performances or to watch the show that he writes for. We wouldn’t need the Supreme Court to fine Larry David for us because the marketplace of ideas would make his expression extremely uneconomical for him to continue saying, not to mention alienating in the extreme.

Imagine my dismay when I discovered that Whatcott was a unanimous 6-0 decision with McLachlin voting on the side of the majority. What changed in the last 22 years? Unfortunately, the judiciary do not often reveal what goes on behind the closed doors of the Supreme Court so we are left to guess at McLachlin’s change of heart. What is often mentioned as the most likely explanation for this dramatic shift is that Whatcott did not involve the draconian punishments of the criminal law that Keegstra did. Perhaps it is because Whatcott only faced a civil punishment of fines that allowed McLachlin to come to a compromise with the other Justices on the SCC. It is interesting to note that it took 16 months for this decision to be handed down. An alternative explanation that I find particularly convincing is that Chief Justice McLachlin is nowadays so focused on achieving complete consensus in the Court that she was willing to concede on this infringement of freedom of expression if the other Justices would agree to strike down the portion of the code dealing with ridiculing and belittling other persons. But then I become even more scared at the possibility that whether or not to censor expression like, “A priest, a rabbi, and a lawyer walk into a bar and the bartender says, ‘What is this, a joke?’” was seriously something to debate among the Justices at our highest court. We will never be able to say for certain unless McLachlin herself chooses to one day explain her shift, but what I do know is that I find myself worried for the future of freedom of expression in Canada.

While Canadian society can be optimistically thought of as one that has a strain of Peace, Order, and Good Government running through it, I pessimistically see this as a gradual shift further towards a benevolent dictator-like judiciary. If I’m already finding their decisions in Keegstra and Whatcott questionable, I worry about a future where the Supreme Court of Canada becomes filled with judiciary who are ultra-sensitive to any form of expression that even mildly offends. It is foreseeable, I think, that the next generation of judiciary (I’m talking about you guys) might be even more willing to label expression that does not currently meet the threshold of hateful expression as hateful, perhaps in response to outspoken advocacy groups representing, for example, Boston Terrier owners, or people who really enjoy stargazing and the Dark Sky Society. I don’t want another doting parent/censor in the form of this country’s highest court to protect me from obscene pornography (think about the redundancy of this expression for a second), historical revisionists, or homophobes handing out pamphlets. These are all things that I deeply enjoy considering and rejecting (or accepting) on their own individual merits. To take away my ability to receive these “harmful” expressions is to take away the opportunity for me to march to the beat of my own drum.

Hate, whether the SCC likes it or not, is a reality of our world. To block it out and censor it is to refuse to acknowledge and perhaps address the underlying issues that led to that hatred developing in the first place. Rather than send Mr. Keegstra to jail, why not instead make sure that those students also got history lessons in an upper year course that taught them more mainstream perspectives on the Holocaust? Perhaps even more daring, why not teach those students about the rise of hate groups like the Neo-Nazis in America and engage them in dialogues around why they think these particular groups are so filled with hatred, to the point of absolute silliness, towards another identifiable group? Rather than fining Mr. Whatcott for his homophobic fliers, why not use Mr. Whatcott’s homophobic fliers as a jumping-off point to engage in a public discussion while standing at the crossroads where religion and homosexuality meet? We can only be lifted up further as a society by engaging in discussion, no matter how low in value the Courts might deem those initial “hateful” expressions that end up sparking a fire in the public consciousness. Let the open marketplace of ideas reign supreme. And don’t tread on me, Beverley.

10 Vancouver watering holes for the erudite, and everyone else




As the saying goes, what goes up must come down. We have previously covered caffeine in all of its liquid glory, and this week we will cover the countervailing substance – alcohol. Although you may primarily see alcohol as some combination of: soother of wearisome study sessions, eraser of nightmarish exam writing experiences, fuel of bad dance moves, instigator of questionable decision making, and facilitator of strangely intense 3:00am bonding with that weird girl in your contracts class, we can’t forget that alcohol has a highbrow side to it as well. I’m certainly not beyond Saturday nights spent crying tears of pure, undiluted whisky while eating greasy pizza and listening to bad music when life feels truly unbearable, but there are people with much greater expertise than I when it comes to cheap drinks in bountiful quantities, so I’ll defer to those authorities.

Anyone who’s spent virtually any amount of time in most other places in the world will recognize that Vancouver’s draconian liquor laws make drinking less fun (see, as a comparative example, Montreal’s numerous terrasses) and more challenging (see, as a comparative example, bottles of wine for pocketfuls of change across the border), but while we wait for the tides to turn, here are a list of places to enjoy a tipple and hopefully not have to re-evaluate your whole life the next morning. As always, be cool, stay safe, and keep hydrated.

  1. Pourhouse (162 Water Street). Pourhouse boasts a beautiful room and sophisticated ambiance, complete with live music on Sunday evenings. The bartenders here are awesome, and the drinks they craft are incredible and worth the expense. Try their house-made maraschino cherries – I know, I was skeptical too, but trust.
  2. The Diamond (6 Powell Street). Another great room combined with talented bartenders and skillfully mixed cocktails. Lovely view if you manage to score a window seat. Always busy in the evenings, and lots of industry types hang out here if you’re into the whole see-and-be-seen type of thing.
  3. The Cascade Room (2616 Main Street). The Cascade is one of my safety choices, as it is a consistently good place to spend an evening. Also, games night on Monday! The focus here, again, is on cocktails, although they also serve wine and beer. Generally I’ve found that it’s pretty mellow on weeknights (as in I’ve posted up in one of their booths sipping drinks for four hours on a Tuesday night) and bumping on weekends (as in I’ve waited 30 minutes just to get seats at the bar on a Friday night).
  4. Alibi Room (157 Alexander Street). Beer, beer, and more beer. The Alibi Room is one of the best places to visit for a rotating selection of many different microbrews, alongside a tight wine and cocktail list.
  5. St. Augustine’s (2360 Commercial Drive). A casual spot centrally located on the Drive near the Skytrain station. Check out their website for their live beer menu, which is also displayed on screens on site. 60+ taps which are rotated on a regular basis means that you will always find something new to try or old favourites to revisit.
  6. The Union (219 Union Street). The Union slings stiff, Southeast Asian inspired cocktails that may assist in easing pangs for Sangsom buckets and large bottles of Singhas quaffed on sandy beaches. Long tables and pocketbook-friendly weeknight specials mean that you can bring all your friends.
  7. 33 Acres Brewing Company (15 West 8th Avenue). A new local microbrewery, 33 Acres also has a tasting room where you can enjoy their beers on tap. I haven’t yet been, but I’m excited by these kinds of developments – if you go, let us know how it is!
  8. Shebeen (210 Carrall Street). Tucked in behind the Irish Heather is Shebeen, boasting what may arguably be the most comprehensive offering of whiskies in Vancouver. Whisky from Islay, whisky from Kentucky, whisky from Japan, they have it. Tasting flights are available if you’re feeling unsure, indecisive, or just looking to dabble.
  9. The Storm Crow Tavern (1305 Commercial Drive). Ever thought to yourself: gee, I wish there was a bar I could go to and enjoy affordably priced food, have a few drinks, and play some tabletop board games? Well, there is, and it’s The Storm Crow. It’s a nerd bar, and it is awesome. That is all.
  10. Firefly (2857 Cambie Street). Sometimes you just want to stay in and enjoy your fancy drinks and greasy pizza and whisky tears in the privacy and comfort of your own home. Firefly has one of the greatest selections of non-mainstream wine, beer, and spirits in the city. Their craft beer collection alone is truly impressive. The employees are super knowledgeable about all things alcohol and are happy to make recommendations.

Angela is a 2L who already needs a nightly drink this soon into the semester, and also feels the need to remind us all to be excellent to one another as we fight these collective battles against never-ending readings. You won’t find her on Facebook, but you can find her on Twitter at @ange7a or occasionally fleeing Allard Hall at top speeds if you ever want to talk about books, coffee, food, culture, the implications of technological innovation, the colonization of Mars, the meaning of life, or just about anything else. 

Solution: Law Students

Pro Bono


Executive Director of Access Pro Bono Jamie Maclaren held a talk on August 30, 2013, about the value of pro bono work, at the Pro Bono Students Canada annual Lunch Launch. Importantly, he highlighted the access to justice crisis in Canada, and in our province. With fixed annual contributions from the Law Foundation, there are ever-increasing tradeoffs to budget allocations that inevitably limit access to lawyers for low and middle-income individuals with legal issues. Law students represent an invaluable resource and a partial solution, in my opinion, as they themselves have access to tools that can help some of those that fall outside of the current pro bono net. Not only do law students give, in return they receive invaluable experience to develop themselves in their legal careers even before they start working for a firm. I greatly enjoyed Andrew’s post here in the Legal Eye last year on this topic.

While law students like getting involved, there is often a dilemma. I once heard the remark that law school itself is a huge commitment, and any additional commitments become over-commitments. It is not surprising that law students hesitate to commit more time to legal endeavors when faced with so many additional commitments and a desire to maintain a life outside of law school. Volunteering as a law student is a commitment, but it is often as much of a commitment as you make it to be. Programs like Pro Bono Students Canada (PBSC) have a limited commitment of 3-5 hours per week, and the Law Students’ Legal Advice Program (LSLAP) is infamously flexible (you can take as many [or as few] files as you want, pretty much!).

Now is the time of year when law students are applying for programs such as those I have mentioned above (the PBSC deadline is September 19, 2013, and although the LSLAP application deadline of September 9, 2013, has just past, an email to one of the LSLAP execs may still be able to find you a spot). If you are a law student at UBC (or elsewhere), I encourage you to take the plunge and get involved with one or both of these programs, whether you are motivated by the access to justice crisis or the prospect of adding more to your resume. Do not discount the value of the assistance offered by a law student to client and public interest organizations.

10 Vancouver coffee venues to help get you through the grind

Coffee Beans


Now that the school year is underway, it’s high time to turn our minds to a staple of the law student’s diet – coffee. I brew mine at home with a setup involving a Porlex tall hand grinder with an inverted Aeropress and Able fine disk filter, but I appreciate that you might not be as hardcore. If you just want a delicious cup of liquid motivation without the accompanying labour of love, you may be curious to know what some of the better coffee offerings in Vancouver are, especially if you happen to be new to the city. (Also, if you fall into the latter category, I apologize in advance for the deep depression you may find yourself in during the upcoming months of endless rain combined with tedious case law.)

This is by no means a comprehensive list, but is merely intended to offer a glimpse into our city’s burgeoning coffee scene while also inspiring java-fuelled study sessions. Obligatory earthsaving mention: bring your own mugs! I know you have at least one law firm branded reusable mug somewhere!

  1. Matchstick Coffee (6239 East 15th Avenue). The darling of my neighbourhood, Matchstick serves up excellent coffee, delicious pastries, and freshly roasted beans for all your home brewed needs.
  2. Kafka’s Coffee and Tea (2525 Main Street). Pourover, Aeropress, syphon, espresso, or even tea, everyone will find something to their liking at Kafka’s. They also support local artists by exhibiting a revolving showcase of their work.
  3. Revolver (325 Cambie Street). The epitome of hipstery coffee snobbery, for the true connoisseur. Revolving list of carefully sourced coffee is meticulously brewed by the cup (read: slowly). Good luck finding a seat during peak hours.
  4. Rocanini (127 West 5th Avenue). This location is primarily a roastery, which means that it’s definitely not the cozy, sit-and-stay-awhile type of place. However, you can and should pop in for a cup of expertly brewed coffee, and they sometimes host free tastings (and maybe even impromptu glimpses at the roaster if you ask nicely). If you find Sharif here, he is super friendly and happy to chat about everything coffee-related. They also sell whole beans here alongside brewing equipment.
  5. 49th Parallel (various). A Vancouver original. The 4th Avenue location is the OG, but the Main Street location also houses Lucky’s Doughnuts, so choose wisely.
  6. Elysian Coffee (various). I haven’t been to the 5th Avenue location of Elysian, but have had many tasty cups of coffee at their Broadway location (which also has a delightful outdoor seating area).
  7. Caffe Cittadella (2310 Ash Street). A beautiful heritage house transformed into wonderful café with seating upstairs, downstairs, indoors and outdoors. They use 49th Parallel beans, and do a fairly masterful job of turning them into tasty caffeinated nectar. Their food also doesn’t look half-bad for coffee shop fare.
  8. JJ Bean (various). JJ serves consistently decent coffee and enormous cookies and muffins (with vegan options) for when you just need a rainy day pick-me-up. Beware the sometimes surly service, and some of their locations might still be wifi-less.
  9. Our Town (245 East Broadway). One of the many places where you might find a law student in the wild (as in, not in the confines of Allard Hall). Free wifi and great window seats if you can snag one. Our Town is open until decently late, and also offers libations for when you need to switch from coffee to wine. It appears that they are working on a new location at the intersection of Kingsway and Knight (they sure love their corner spaces).
  10. The Grind (4124 Main Street). So, the coffee here is entirely forgettable, but I include it on my list for a very important reason –  this is one of the rare few coffee shops in Vancouver open late nights/early mornings (the jury is still out on whether it’s truly 24 hours or not?), with free wifi and a decent number of power outlets. I’m too distractible to be able to study effectively at coffee shops (or even really study at all, to be honest), but if you’re the type to really hit the books hard with a mug of coffee and a pair of earplugs at 11:00pm, then you’re welcome.

Angela is, inter alia, a 2L, Ontario transplant, skeptic, coffee snob, and lover of good vegetarian food. You won’t find her on Facebook, but you can find her on Twitter at @ange7a or occasionally fleeing Allard Hall at top speeds if you ever want to talk about books, coffee, food, culture, the implications of technological innovation, the colonization of Mars, the meaning of life, or just about anything else. 

Sisyphus, and why your life is absurd…



(Specially dedicated to all us struggling to survive law school)

A famous Greek myth, illustrated by Camus, depicts a cursed being named Sisyphus rolling his boulder up to the top of a summit, only for it to plummet to the bottom again, where the cycle resets. Yet we don’t need to have our existential fancy-pants on whilst lighting a cigar to appreciate how each of us have our own Sisyphean stone to push.

The stone represents the glaring absurdity of the fact of life itself; the burning and toiling that you undergo throughout the course of your existence does not somehow conclude with a celebratory event like your graduation ceremony with welcome signs reading, “You did it!” Instead, all of your accomplishments, your resume, your friends, will blow away in the dust.

Although we could consider this the ultimate absurdity, that of human life in general, there are ones lurking in the very moments of our day-to-day life, which can be either the cause of distress or empowerment.

You’re working on improving your health, eating well, catching some extra sleep, and so on, and your body protests and rejects your hardest work with one fell-swoop – perhaps thanks to some illness, or emotional distress. You are working diligently on what you think is a brilliant idea for your boss, s/he examines it for a moment, scoffs, and pretends you don’t exist. You try to open up your formerly tender heart to a new lover, and they demolish you for the risk you took. You happily proclaim that you are riding your bike to work to reduce emissions, despite its inconvenience, but China acquires more coal-powered energy…

Upon reality contradicting your will, your perseverance, in such a mundane but truly arbitrary fashion, the first reaction is often decided angst. This is where the existentialist sits in their cafe sobbing and realizing that they are like Sisyphus, no matter how intelligent, beautiful, popular, or powerful they are.


This is however certainly not the end. While it is possible for us to pound our fist on the stone that we must hurl to the bottom and roll back up again, we might wish to seek empowerment through the absurdity of these day-to-day events.

There is a famous Latin expression known as amor fati, which means love of one’s fate or life. You don’t have to be a believer in a mystical thing like fate to appreciate the use of this though. If you can imagine the universe reproducing our lives, exactly the way they are right now, again, and again, do you wish to be breaking the bones in your fist against the Sisyphean stone thanks to the absurdities of life? Or perhaps you might collect your emotion and realize that this is going to be a long journey. Perhaps the only thing that makes sense here is to love your contradictory burden and feed off of it, so as to overcome the contempt that only adds to the weight of the stone.

This time Sisyphus lets out a satisfied laugh. The stone now smells fresh; the rough edges of the rock feel good against his tormented and tattered hands, because he now notices the things that he allowed to escape from his mind while despairing about the future. And so he sings ‘amor fati!’ on the trek up the mountain, as if he knew nothing else.