Written by: Daniel Xie
Originally appearing in the Canadian Files
On June 25, 2020, The Canada Files contributor Daniel Xie was able to interview Green Party Leadership candidate Dimitri Lascaris. Dimitri Lascaris has fought for the rights of ordinary Canadians and for a just foreign policy first as a class actions lawyer, and later on as a political activist and a journalist for the Real News Network. Currently, he is seeking to become the next leader of the Green Party of Canada, and position it in a direction where it can effectively implement a progressive sociopolitical platform, while defending itself from the media and the corporate elites.
Daniel: So, first, let us start off with a simple question. Why have you decided to run for the position of leader of the Green Party?
Dimitri: I think that what we have in the Canadian political landscape today is a complete unwillingness by elected officials to become unapologetic defenders of eco-socialism, progressivism, left wing politics, whatever you want to call it. There is nobody today in parliament, who is actually vigorously and effectively advocating for such policies. I could give you many other examples of the ways in which the progressive movement is underrepresented. When I looked at the other leadership candidates, they’re all fine people with great resumes. And I think they have the best of intentions, but there isn’t one person in there that I think is both able and willing to be that champion of the left.
Daniel: Meryam Haddad has also identified as an eco-socialist, and I know that Amita Kuttner positioned herself socially to the left during the TVO debates. So what sets you apart from these other candidates?
Dimitri: So let me say, first of all, I have a tremendous amount of respect for both Meryam and Amita. Both Amita and Meryam are clearly very progressive candidates. And I readily accept that. However, if you’re going to implement a truly progressive platform in this country and defend it, we are going to encounter fierce resistance from the corporate sector. We need somebody who not only has the politics and values, but knows how to confront the corporate sector. And that’s what I’ve done.
That’s something that would distinguish myself from all of the candidates. I was a class actions lawyer for 14 years. I started my career as a Wall Street Attorney, I saw how large banks manipulated the legal system to their advantage. I left in disgust and became a class action lawyer. My class actions team was the most feared securities class actions team in Canada. We recovered approximately half a billion dollars from major Canadian corporations, including the big banks. I’ve also [challenged the powerful] in my capacity as an independent journalist,for The Real News, exposing the misdeeds of the powerful in the corporate sector. And as an activist, I’ve repeatedly confronted people in positions of power and exposed their hypocrisy. This is the kind of leadership we need. We need someone who’s tough, who knows how to do it, and who has an established record of getting it done.
Daniel: Oh, more on that point. You say that there needs to be overt resistance to the power structures that will inevitably oppose and the left wing politics. You’ve mentioned with regards to that, that we need to break up the media monopolies that contribute to the resistance of progressive policies and socialist policies. So this question is tied to democracy in the media.
How do you see the relationship between the state of the media and how conductive the media is for healthy democracy?
Dimitri: Well, you know, being able to cast a vote is not in and of itself efficient for a democratic society, you also have to be able to cast your vote on an informed basis. The media plays an absolutely critical role in ensuring that we have an informed citizenry. And in that regard, the media is an absolute catastrophic failure in this country.
Postmedia owns well over half of the newspapers in this country. It is quite clearly managed by people with very right wing beliefs. What we have in this country is a complete absence of voices on the left. The only people representing the left, are small or not for profit media organizations like The Canada Files or Ricochet Media. And, they simply don’t have the network nor the financial capacity to reach Canadians the way that right leaning media organizations do.
Dimitri: So we have to break up the media one hundred percent. I would break up the National Post into 20 different pieces and make those organizations truly independent of each other. I would substantially increase public funding for the media. I think media organizations like The Canada Files should receive significant public funding. Until the problem of right wing bias within the media and the absence of left wing voices has been fixed, we will not have a robust and healthy democracy.
Daniel: So, going back to the issue of progressive alienation, an issue that I have seen progressives have to deal with, is the lack of a just foreign policy. With the liberals, despite presenting Canada’s defender of peace and freedom in the world. They’ve supported the arms trade to Saudi Arabia, continued their special relationship with Israel, even as Gaza is and the West Bank is essentially under threat of annexation. The NDP is a little better if anyone looks at their record with BDS and pro-Palestine candidates. So, my question is, for you what does a just and progressive foreign policy look like that progressives can support?
Dimitri: The first word I would use to describe that policy is universality. That means that we actually take seriously the idea that each and every human being, regardless of his or her their nationality, ethnicity, religion, is entitled to precisely the same human rights. Our foreign policy measured by that standard is a complete and utter failure. You mentioned the case of the Palestinian people. Our government for decades has acknowledged with the international community that the settlements in the West Bank violate the Fourth Geneva Convention. Yet our government has never imposed an iota of sanctions on the state of Israel. And in addition to that, we continue to engage in the arms trade with Israel, and we continue to defend Israel in the United Nations by voting consistently against UN resolutions that rightly condemn Israeli human rights abuses.
One other case I want to talk about, because I think it really highlights the abject hypocrisy and moral bankruptcy of Canada’s foreign policy, is Venezuela. Our country has been leading this motley collection of western states known as the Lima group, whose singular objective as far as I can tell, is to remove Maduro and the Chavista movement from power and replace them with a right wing neo-liberal government.
Now, who is in the Lima group. This is something that the media never talked about. Honduras is in the Lima group. Honduras is led by a brutal narco dictator who brazenly stole the election in Honduras about three years ago. Who else is in the Lima group? Brazil is in the Lima group, led by Jair Bolsonaro, a right-wing misogynistic fascist. So how are we to believe as Canadians that the purpose of the Lima group is to restore democracy in Venezuela, when we are involved in that entire initiative with the most undemocratic regimes in the Western Hemisphere? It’s preposterous.
Daniel: What do you see in regards to creating a healthy media and a healthy democracy is the role of whistleblowers such as Wikileaks, Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden, all of which have been treated shamefully by the establishment?
Dimitri: The three individuals you mentioned are persons of heroic stature. We should be erecting statues in their honor. What they have done is absolutely marvelous and they are being persecuted. They are being abused by the state and vilified by the media, even by supposedly progressive newspapers such as the Guardian.
Mr. Assange and Chelsea Manning brought to light some of the most horrific atrocities of the United States government during the Iraq war, and in return, the Guardian vilified them. And also, of course, there’s Edward Snowden. I mean, they should bring Edward Snowden back on a plane to the United States. That man is an extraordinary hero. The media has its priorities all wrong. We need to have robust protections not only for the actual whistleblowers, who perform the incredible public service of revealing the misdeeds of the state and the powerful.
Daniel: Moving on to another topic I want to talk about, which is climate justice. The Liberals and the NDP have done very little to reach targets related to climate change. A solution that progressives have put forward is the implementation of a Green New Deal. What are your thoughts about adopting a Green New Deal and championing it in Parliament as the leader of the Green Party?
Dimitri: I’m a huge fan of the Green New Deal. And I think we have an extraordinary opportunity to garner massive public support for a green new deal right now. You know, the argument that has been made against large scale public investment to deal with the climate emergency is that the financial resources are not there for that. The pandemic is showing us that this is nonsense. The government has summoned up tens of billions of dollars to support the economy. After the pandemic, the right is going to start exerting tremendous pressure on the government to implement austerity, in order to pay for the very large tab that the government has picked up to support Canadians during this period.
What we should be doing instead is taxing the wealthy to a far greater degree than we are, we should be imposing hard limits on wealth accumulation and posing a 100 per cent tax. I’ll tell you what, to talk about a wealth tax. This is what I think a real wealth tax does. A wealth tax that is real and meaningful, would impose a 100 per cent tax on all networks in excess of $500 million. So we essentially tax billionaires out of existence.
You know, another thing we should be doing is we should be dramatically reducing our military spending, that would free up billions of dollars a year. We should be eliminating immediately all fossil fuel subsidies over the course of several years, that will generate billions more.
Ultimately though, if we’re going to sell Canadians on the idea that we have to phase out the fossil fuels industry as rapidly as possible, they are going to have to see that we’re not just a party of the “NOs” but we’re a party of the “YES”. We say yes to supporting workers, we say yes to public investment, we say yes to improving the quality of life for all Canadians through a guaranteed basic income, for example, and through more generous and indispensable social supports.
Daniel: You mentioned we can win people to a eco-socialist platform by implementing labor reforms that will allow for a transition of workers from the fossil fuel industry. Can you discuss what form will this transition of labor from the fossil fuel industry into more sustainable industries will take?
Dimitri: We could start with imposing a tax on the fossil fuels industry. Alberta and Saskatchewan have an enormous problem with orphaned wells and with tailings ponds. What I would do as prime minister, is to impose a tax on the fossil fuels industry, the proceeds of which would be used entirely to rehabilitate the land in Alberta and in Saskatchewan. If we actually taxed the industry and used that money to fund necessary cleanup, that would create an enormous amount of employment in Alberta and Saskatchewan.
This would be a win-win-win situation, because you’re putting people to work in a time when the oil industry in Alberta is suffering. Secondly, you’re restoring the health of the environment in Alberta. And thirdly, the people who will be doing that work will feel a lot better about the jobs that they’re doing, because they’re actually restoring the environment rather than destroying it.
Daniel: So onto another topic, police brutality and systemic racism. The George Floyd protests in the United States, along with the murder of Regis Korchinski-Paquet in Canada have brought the issue of police abolition, or police de-funding, to the forefront. To what ways and to what social services we can reallocate police funding for that can allow us to deal with the root causes of police brutality?
Dimitri: I am enthusiastically in favor of reallocating very large segments of police budgets at all levels of policing in this country to dealing with the root causes of the behavior that our society has described as being criminal. One of the causes of criminality is poverty, another cause of criminality is substance abuse and addiction. Homeless is another cause of criminal behavior.
One of the things I would do in response is spend money on safe injection sites for people and ensure that people suffering from substance abuse are receiving necessary treatment. Another way to deal with criminality is to get rid of homelessness and poverty. So we need a guaranteed basic income in this country. I would reallocate money being spent on policing towards funding a guaranteed universal basic income so every single Canadian is guaranteed to have the financial resources to meet their basic needs along with the basic needs of the family members.
Also we need to improve our mental health services in this country, we need to improve access to support networks, and advice and treatment in the context of domestic abuse. There’s so many things that we must do in order to actually get to the root causes of criminal behavior. What the police are is basically a hammer, and society has decided that all of these social problems are a nail. And we send them to deal with the symptoms of criminality.
They do it in ways that are brutal, and in ways that are fundamentally racist. They are not the solution to the behaviors that we have decided we want to deter. The solution is to get to the root causes. And that means a massive reallocation of funding away from the police to the types of social supports addressing the root causes.
Daniel: The George Floyd protests have also raised the issue of systemic racism, particularly facing black and indigenous peoples along with other racialized minorities as well. How will you go about addressing systemic racism in Canada as leader of the Green Party and hopefully as Prime Minister eventually?
Dimitri: Well, again, this is something that can be approached with a number of reforms. There’s no question that there is systemic racism in the justice system, not just in policing. It goes beyond that, because you look at the statistics. That’s the only possible explanation for what we’re seeing in terms of incarceration rates, over 30 per cent of the people incarcerated in Canada’s prisons are indigenous, and they constitute slightly less than 5 per cent of the population. There’s no way that this could happen without systemic racism.
One thing I would do for sure is I would change or reform and strengthen civilian oversight oversight of the police. So we have a Civilian Review Board. With respect to the RCMP, the Civilian Review Board does not have the actual power to enforce its decisions. We need to have a Civilian Review Board that actually can force the police to implement reforms and impose penalties upon officers who violate the civil rights of Canadians, and not simply make these toothless recommendations that can be ignored by the RCMP. The Civilian Review Board should have healthy representation from racialized communities, from indigenous peoples and from black Canadians, amongst others.
I also want to end various types of police violence outlawed like chokeholds and tasering. I think we should disarm a lot of our police forces. I also favor a national ban on carding, you know, because carding is being used to target racialized communities overwhelmingly, shouldn’t just be banned outright. So these are some of the many ways we can go about doing it.
Another thing I want to add also, as I think, you know, Indigenous people should be policed by Indigenous law enforcement agents. We shouldn’t be sending in White men, to police, Indigenous communities. And we have to fund the creation of indigenous police forces. I’m all for that. Absolutely. And I know that Chief Allen Adam, you know, of the Chippewa First Nation who was recently brutalized in a shocking way by a police officer, an RCMP officer, has called for just that. He’s called for Indigenous communities to be policed by Indigenous people, and I think he’s absolutely right.
Daniel: With regards to the RCMP, some candidates in the Green Party, most notably Meryam Haddad, have argued that we need to move forwards the process of abolishing the RCMP. What are your thoughts on perhaps working towards either fully abolishing the RCMP, or heavily de-funding as you’ve suggested with regards to the police?
Dimitri: Yeah, I appreciate that qualification you made at the end, because I do believe we will need some level of humane, anti-racist policing to occur in our society. But when we’re talking specifically about the RCMP, I don’t know if the RCMP is frankly reformable at this stage. I think we might just have to just, you know, take it apart and re-imagine what our federal police force should look like, re-staff it with people who are truly committed to the civil rights of all of our citizens, and truly committed to the maximum possible degree to using non-violent techniques to practice law enforcement.
Daniel: One final question that I want to ask is, regardless of who the Green Party selects, whether it’s you, Meryam Haddad, or some of the other candidates such as Amita Kuttner, Glen Murray or Annamie Paul, there are those that will paint the Green Party as spoilers in an election. What do you have to say in regards to the obvious naysaying directed towards the Greens?
Dimitri: Well, one of the one of the things I think you’re talking about is essentially strategic voting. I think the Green Party of Canada has suffered far more than any other party as a result of the first past the post system and strategic voting, and this is partly because we haven’t appealed to workers, the poor and progressive Canadians nearly enough in terms of our socioeconomic policy in our foreign policy.
So if we were able to be as strong on questions of inequality, on questions of respect for international law and human rights and on questions of anti racism as we are with respect to the environment, I think it would be much easier for us to attract voters.
But FPTP is still going to be there, and I think, you know, one thing I would be open to doing is possibly entering into an arrangement with the NDP to ensure that that progressive parties, or at least in the case of the NDP, more of a centrist party, maximize their presence within parliament. That’s something that I would be open to discussing with the NDP and any other political party, if it is pursuing a truly progressive agenda. But it has to be truly progressive and it has to have a serious plan for dealing with the climate emergency.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.