Harper takes advantage of Canadaâ€™s democratic deficit
Haitian relief efforts need co-ordination By Danielle Webb
Roma Sobieski’s heart broke when she heard about the devastation in Port-auPrince. The earthquake that shattered Haiti two weeks ago galvanized a planet to help the most impoverished nation in the western hemisphere dig itself out from the ruin of its own cities. But for some people, the flurry of charities, donations and activists flooding to the cause of the Caribbean country are as random as throwing dandelion seeds into the air. While their hearts are in the right place, their efforts need to be more focused. “Because everyone is so eager to aid in Haiti’s aftermath, the best way is collaboration and working as a team,” Sobieski says. The University of Alberta student is helping to organize a concert to benefit the Canadian Red Cross and the Royal Le Page Haiti Earthquake Relief Fund. Similarly, Mohammed Ali Aumeer, president of the Continuing Education Students’ Association at Ryerson, has been organizing dozens of events, benefits, auctions and rallies to encourage students to give to Haiti relief efforts. His efforts, combined with student unions across Toronto, have raised tens of
thousands of dollars for a number of charities. “The devastation is really mind-blowing,” he said. “Haitians need support in rebuilding — that should be our main focus right now, until things stabilize in regards to access to medicine, food and water.” And for many students and would-be donors who question the final destination of their support, co-ordination on the receiving end of those donations is just as important. In fact, according to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, that co-ordination is one of the key points lacking in current relief efforts. “We are still in an emergency,” she said from Montreal on January 25, noting that many victims of the quake are still suffering greatly two weeks after the event. But the idea of collaborating toward a common goal is not new. In a 2007 study published by the U.K.based Association of Charitable Foundations, Gerri McAndrew notes that charities are most effective when they work together with government agencies, other charities and NGOs toward a common goal. “Collaboration enables you to get information and skills you couldn’t provide on your own; and it allows you to punch above
your weight,” he wrote. “But it’s really hard to manage, it takes time and energy and requires constantly focusing on the outcome.” And with international aid agencies descending on Haiti, that collaboration is what’s needed most right now. Canada and the U.S. are teaming up with a host of other partners to launch one of the largest co-ordinated aid projects in history. Clinton told a press conference that she would help organize a donor’s conference supported by the United Nations that would co-ordinate the relief efforts of the hundreds of charities and NGOs currently working in Haiti. It all comes down to the efforts of people like Sobieski and Aumeer, working on the ground to help from afar. Meanwhile, other charitable organizations that aren’t involved in the Haiti relief effort can feel sidelined. While millions of dollars in aid pour into shattered Haiti, malaria, famine, drought and genocide still wreak havoc on many parts of the world. Ryerson journalism professor Suanne Kelman thinks that media coverage plays a strong role in helping people decide where to throw their hard-earned money.
“It’s a bit of a circle,” she said. “The audience is riveted by it because the media pays a lot of attention to it. But the media pays attention to it because it’s easy to focus people’s attention on it.” And when audiences can relate to the plight of others, they’re far more inclined to give. “Most Canadians are not under the threat of malaria,” she said, noting that the threat of a major communicable disease, even with the recent deluge of H1N1 stories, is difficult for most Canadians to comprehend. “This is different. All of us have a visceral response.” She also noted that charitable giving can suffer from a sense of charity ennui, as well. When images of human suffering become too common, the donations peter out. “Pictures of famine are now very, very familiar and give a sense of hopelessness,” she said. But no matter the cause or the victims, she hopes that the donations to Haiti don’t dry up too soon. “The aid organizations are going to need money down the road when it’s less photogenic,” she reminds us.
Speak Up, Speak Out Confronting Homophobia By Elizabeth Chiang
Ryerson Free Press The monthly newspaper for continuing education, distance education and part-time students at Ryerson Address Suite SCC-301 Ryerson Student Centre 55 Gould Street Toronto, ON CANADA M5B 1E9
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Editor-In-Chief Nora Loreto
News Editor James burrows
Features and Opinions Editor James Clark
Layout Editor Andrea Yeomans
Culture Editor amanda connon-unda
Photo Editor Dan Rios
Cover Photograph In 1998, two brutal murders shocked the United States: James Byrd Jr. was lynched and dragged to death in Texas, and Matthew Shepard was brutally tortured and murdered in Wyoming. Both murders made national headlines: James Byrd Jr., an African-American, died at the hands of white-supremacists; Matthew Shepard was targeted because he was gay. Despite their differences, both men died because of hate. The subsequent trials marked a turning point in hate-crime legislation. Where there was none before, their deaths gave impetus for the passing of hate crime laws on a federal and state level. Ten years ago, Matthew’s mother, Judy Shepard, began her tireless campaign to shed light on homophobia, which contributed to her son’s death. Ten years later, homophobia still has a lingering presence that continues to plague society. Judy Shepard knows how to command a crowd. Perhaps this is an innate character trait, or maybe it is the result of her personal tragedy. She has an inner strength and a fire that burns in her eyes – she is passionate about her cause. Shepard came to Ryerson on January 26 for a talk hosted by RyePride, the Ryerson Students’ Union and the Continuing Education Students’ Association of Ryerson, which was titled “Confronting Homophobia” and she certainly confronts it head-on. Speaking to a near capacity auditorium, she emphasized the need to accept others for who they are, and to be the change we want to see in the world. Hearing her read her victim impact statement is heartbreaking. The death of a child is difficult enough; the death of one’s child by the hands of another person is immeasurable. Yet her outlook on life after tragedy is still optimistic, a reflection of her upbringing as a child of the sixties. “The culture of the sixties was peace, love, harmony. The philosophy we lived for then should have dictated that this never should have happened,” said Judy. For a mother who lost her son so violently, there is no trace of bitterness. She firmly believes that most children do not want to
hate, but are brought up in a society where hate is silently fostered. She notes that it is still socially acceptable to use slurs like “That’s so gay” because there is an ingrained cultural attitude of ignorance. “People don’t speak up. It’s so much a part of our vernacular. We have to be the example [the younger generation can] learn from. If you’re afraid to speak up, think how people who are gay feel?” She joked about life in Wyoming, where “there are more sheep than people” and where “she is one of twelve Democrats.” It is a constant uphill battle: gay rights groups were blindsided by President Clinton’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, and further stonewalled by President Bush’s Republican agenda and the vetoing of several attempts to pass a hate crime bill. Notably, President Obama signed the “Matthew Shepard Act” in October 2009, which expands the United States federal hate-crime law to include “crimes motivated by a victim’s actual or perceived gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability.” This is an amendment that will have far reaching effects, and something Shepard hopes will remain in place and help change cultural attitudes. Shepard noted, with aplomb and a touch of sadness, that the gay rights movement still has a long ways to go and may not see fruition in her lifetime, but will hopefully come to pass in the next generation. She wants openness, for being gay to come out of the proverbial closet. She wants to remove the stigma that surrounds being gay and out. “Hate language, hate crimes, hate epithets... we need to evolve into people who accept others for who they are, not who we want them to be. Talk about it. We need to make it part of the vernacular. We need to make it okay [to be gay].” And so, Judy Shepard continues to talk, to lecture, to discuss. She continues to advocate, to stand up and to educate others by fostering communication, “I didn’t want to be a hater... I do it for Matt. The one thing you don’t ever want to do is piss off somebody’s mom. That’s what they did and I’m going to fix it.”
Contributors Astrid Arijanto haroon akram-lodhi michael allen iqra azhar Nicole Brewer evan brockest stephen carlick elizabeth chiang chanel christophe james clark katia dmitrieva otiena ellwand jessica finch kaitlin fowlie tashika gomes graeme z. johnson salmaan abdul hamid khan
Haseena Manek drew penner norman otis richmond Sachin Seth kate spencer brett throop danielle webb
Publisher CESAR The opinions expressed in the Ryerson Free Press are not necessarily those of the editors or publisher. Advertising Ryerson Free Press’ advertising rates are as follows. All prices are for single insertions. Discounts apply for Ryerson groups and departments. Full page—$750 Half page—$375 Quarter page—$195 Eighth page—$95
Ryerson Free Press february 2010 3
we told you. Conservative government’s attempt to close safe injection site fails By Evan Brockest
Harper Shuffles Cabinet By Graeme Z. Johnson
With the rest of Parliament grounded until March 3, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has decided to get a jump on his competition by making some strategic adjustments to his cabinet. Here is a breakdown of some of the major players in the new cabinet and their qualifications: Minister for Public Safety – Vic Toews: From his record, he’d probably rather still be Justice Minister, since he hasn’t yet been able to realize his dream of bringing ‘offenders’ as young as ten years of age to justice. However, he should feel right at home overseeing CSIS, since Toews already believes prisoners do not deserve the same rights as other Canadians. “[I]t is wrong that these individuals who have broken their obligations to society are now entitled to have the same voice in society,” Toews says of inmates’ right to vote. He would also have people accused of certain crimes presumed guilty until they can prove their innocence, as evidenced by his proposed 2006 legislation on gun crimes. This legislation would have required “people charged with serious gun crimes...to demonstrate to the courts why they should not stay in custody until their trial.” Minister of Public Works and Government Services – Rona Ambrose: After falling temporarily out of favour due to her blunders as Environment Minister, the former Minister of Labour’s success at busting the CN worker’s strike last month seems to have restored the Prime Minister’s faith in her.
Veterans’ Affairs and Minister of State (Agriculture) – JeanPierre Blackburn: Blackburn takes over the department after the previous Minister, Greg Thompson, resigned January 16. Blackburn leaves behind his oversight of the Canada Revenue Agency, to which he was appointed after being caught “double-dipping” into the federal payroll as Labour Minister, paying two salaries to certain employees close to him. President of the Treasury Board – Stockwell Day: Now that Day will have a major role in determining the federal budget, it might be a good time for groups who believe in things like civil rights, women’s right to choose, or education to look for alternative sources of funding. After all, Day has gone on record as saying “homosexuality is a mental disorder that can be cured through counselling,” and that “women who become pregnant through rape or incest should not qualify for government-funded abortions unless their pregnancy is life-threatening.” Additionally, the Minister has adamantly asserted that “God’s law is clear: standards of education are not set by government, but by God [and] the Bible.” Luckily, Day has proven that he is able to bend his principles a little bit. After all, why else would someone who believes that democracy is “the ultimate deification of man, which is the very essence of humanism and totally alien to God’s word” have run for Parliament in the first place?
The Conservative federal government’s efforts to close Insite, a safe injection site located in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, were rejected last week following a dismissive ruling by the B.C Court of Appeal. The ruling follows a previous appeal made by the federal government after the B.C Supreme Court ruled in favor of Insite’s continued existence in an earlier decision. “I’m so proud of the decision that was made here this morning,” said Liz Evans, founder and executive director of the Portland Hotel Society, which is the organization responsible for operating Insite. “It looks like not only have they agreed that it is our constitutional right to have Insite exist, but they’ve also … weighed in support of the jurisdictional issue, and that means effectively that Insite is now a provincial issue.” Insite is North America’s first legal safe injection site and, after opening in 2003, has provided services to drug users who face multiple barriers to access within the conventional health care system due to mental illness, poverty, racism, and other forms of oppression. “Stephen Harper, we told you,” said Dean Wilson in retort to the government’s sustained legal action against the organization. “It should be a non-issue, man.” Wilson is the president of the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users, a progressive grassroots organization of IV drug users that advocates for various public policy reforms. Illustration: astrid Arijanto
“We have no human rights.” Doctor recounts horrors of Israel’s assault on Gaza one year later
By Sachin Seth One night, during Israel’s offensive in Gaza in late 2008 and early 2009, Dr. Mads Gilbert turned to his colleague, Dr. Hameed, at Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City. For hours they’d been working non-stop to care for the countless war-wounded, performing surgeries and amputations on mostly young Palestinians. “How can this go on?” asked an exhausted Dr. Gilbert. There had been no news of foreign aid, and countless civilians continued to rush into the hospital with life-threatening injuries. The doctor had been deeply affected by the plight of the wounded Palestinians. Dr. Hameed replied immediately. “We have no human rights.” In a 90-minute lecture at the end of January at Ryerson, Dr. Gilbert, just one of two foreign doctors allowed into Gaza during Israel’s Operation Cast Lead, transports a crowd of eager attendees into Al-Shifa hospital, right into the middle of the war. The doctor presents dozens of photos of the war-wounded Palestinians who sought aid at the health care centre. The photos are horribly gruesome. Legs are blown apart, bones pop out from underneath broken flesh, young faces are bloodied and miserable. Members of the audience can barely look. A man in the first row turns away every time a photo is shown. He wears an expression of pain. A woman in the third row is weeping. She is of Palestinian descent, but she never looks away.
Dr. Gilbert describes how hard it was to help those Gazans in dire need. “There was no electricity,” he explains. “The hospital ran on two unreliable generators because Israel shut the area’s power off. Sometimes doctors operated with the lights from their mobile phones.” Dr. Gilbert describes one particular patient’s case in detail. “This is Joumana Samoni, a four-month-old baby,” says the doctor, as he presents a photo of a beautiful young girl with only two fingers on one hand. “Her hand was injured and three of her fingers were amputated.” Samoni was forcefully ejected, along with her family, from her home by Israeli forces in Gaza. Her father, grandmother and grandfather were all killed. Her mother went missing. Samoni came to the hospital alone, but was eventually reunited with her mother. Dr. Gilbert also presents many statisticss and graphs. He tells the audience, now queasy from the photos, that for every dead Israeli, 100 Palestinians were killed. Of the approximately 1,400 dead Palestinians, 431 were children. “And 85 to 90 per cent of those killed were civilians. More than 5,000 were injured...more than 20,000 were left homeless,” he says. The doctor paints a grim picture of life in Gaza. He takes no credit for the work he and his colleague, Dr. Erik Fosse, did as physicians there during the war. “We are no heroes. The heroes are still in Gaza.”
Gaza Freedom March crosses border despite lockdown By Graeme Z. Johnson
“I’ve never done this before, I don’t know how my body will react, but I’ll do whatever it takes,” 85 year-old Holocaust survivor Hedy Epstein told Agence FrancePresse December 28, the first day of her hunger strike. Epstein is one of more than 1,300 activists who gathered in Egypt this December to mark the first anniversary of the illegal Israeli siege and blockade of Gaza as part of the Gaza Freedom March organized by American antiwar group, Code Pink. The hunger strike was organized to protest the Egyptian government’s refusal to allow marchers to cross the Rafah border into Gaza – the only border crossing not controlled by Israel Defence Forces. An outspoken critic of Israel’s 2008 massacre of over 1,400 Palestinians within Gaza – during which Israeli forces indiscriminately targeted civilians with white phosphorus munitions, a practice expressly forbidden by the Geneva Convention – Epstein has been an advocate for Palestinian rights ever since her first visit to the West Bank in 2003. Smuggled out of Nazi Germany at the age of 14 by her parents, who later lost their own lives at the Auschwitz concentration camp, Epstein has become a well-known Photo: Marius Arnesen/FLICKR
activist and speaker against Israel’s treatment of the Palestinian people – a stance that has gained her harsh critics among Israel’s supporters. Zionist newspaper The Jerusalem Post, which refers to Epstein as part of a “cottage industry of anti-Zionist Jews pushing, wittingly or unwittingly, a modern anti-Semitic agenda” called the hunger strike an attack on Israel’s legitimacy as a nation and expressed satisfaction that “[t]he fringe group of antiZionist Jews who fled the Hitler movement or survived the extermination camps are passing out of existence because of their age.” “You’re not allowed to criticize Israel or else you’re anti-Semitic,” Epstein quipped, talking to reporters last Month. “You’re allowed to criticize every other country, including the U.S., but not Israel, why is that?” This solidarity march is Epstein’s third attempt to enter Gaza in her effort to promote peace in the region. During her first attempt, security guards at Ben Gurion International Airport labelled her a ‘terrorist’ and a ‘security risk.’ Her second attempt came to an abrupt end when she was violently attacked. “The day before I was to go, I was assaulted,” Epstein remembers. “I don’t know whether I was targeted ... but my suitcase
and pocketbook, neither were touched – it was not theft.” Despite the hunger strike and protesters’ peaceful blockades of major thoroughfares in Cairo, Egyptian authorities locked down the border, turning away busloads of protestors. Of the more than 1,300 who attempted the crossing, only 100 were allowed to enter Gaza. Those unable to reach their destination staged solidarity demonstrations within Egypt, where many found themselves the targets of police violence. Code Pink cofounder Medea Benjamin reported that she and 50 other American activists were beaten by Egyptian police while trying to get to a meeting with officials at the U.S. embassy. Solidarity protests were also held all over the globe in support of the march being let through the crossing. In addition, an aid convoy led by British MP George Galloway – who earlier this year was denied entry to Canada due to his work on behalf of the people of Gaza – was attacked by Egyptian riot police who also injured dozens of protesters. Galloway himself was forcibly deported and barred from ever returning to the country. Betty Hunter, one of the convoy organizers, called the Egyptian government’s behav-
iour “shocking.” “There can be no justification for preventing this aid, and the people who have worked so hard to provide it, from reaching Gaza,” said Hunter. “Egypt is colluding with the Israeli government’s illegal siege of Gaza.” Intervention from Turkish officials eventually ensured that more than half the convoy passed through with the other half following in a month after being subjected to ‘security procedures.’ However, blocking peaceful protesters and humanitarian aid is just the latest result of the escalating security measures being put in place at the Rafah crossing, measures that include new security checkpoints and a 14-kilometre underground steel wall. The wall is a joint effort between Egypt and the United States with the aim of permanently blocking a series of tunnels running under the border which, officials say, are used by ‘terrorists’ to transport arms and other contraband. According to Egyptian ambassador to Saudi Arabia Mahmoud Ouf, blocking the tunnels will “put an end to the smuggling of arms and drugs between Gaza and Egypt.” Critics of the project say that the tunnels are primarily used to transport food to civilians within Gaza, calling the wall’s construction an attempt to starve the people of Gaza.
Ryerson Free Press february 2010 5
Deaths on Christmas Eve a Status Issue Why five men fell almost 130 feet from a faulty construction platform By Haseena Manek This year, Christmas Eve passed in Toronto as it always does, snowless, but still cold, malls filled to the brim with frantic shoppers. But while most of us were trimming the tree, singing carols and watching Miracle on 34th Street, the families of five Rexdale construction workers were devastated with the news of a ‘workplace accident’ that would cost them almost everything. The six men, ranging in age from 21 to 35 years old, were working on high-rise balconies from a swing stage that split completely in two. Unfortunately, these men were not in a union, and safety equipment was only provided for one, so five of the six fell thirteen stories to the concrete unprotected. One of these men, 21-year-old Dilshod Mamurov, survived. He was saved only by the fact that he managed to hang on to one half of the scaffolding as it split. He swung down two stories before he fell and while that 20-foot difference saved his life, the other four men fell to their deaths. Mamurov is currently in critical condition at a local Toronto hospital. Both his legs are broken and his spine shattered, and he will most likely need constant medical attention for the rest of his life. Mamurov’s family is reportedly in the process of trying to come to Canada, despite financial restrictions. Farrah Miranda, from the Toronto chapter of No One Is Illegal, (a collaborative organization that fights for rights, dignity and protection of immigrants and refugees), said, “All of these men had precarious immigration statuses and reason they died, the reason they didn’t have access to the most basic safety
precautions is because they didn’t have permanent status [in Canada].” Both the Ministry of Labour and the Toronto Police are currently investigating the scaffolding malfunction. Just over a week before the accident, alternate reports say, a month and a half long stop-work order relating to other swing stage concerns was lifted on the site. But are they investigating why only two safety lines (enough for one man) were provided for six? “Employers always try to cut cost,” said Chris Ramsaroop, a legal aid from the Workers’ Action Centre in Toronto, “and they don’t produce and provide workplaces that are safe.” At the same time, “undocumented, foreign [and] recent workers are being exploited because [Canada doesn’t] have the necessary government framework to protect workers.” It is a fact that a migrant, foreign, or recently immigrated employee attempting to raise concerns about the workplace risks not only being fired, but also being deported, or “repatriated” as it is euphemistically referred to. “It’s the larger structure that needs to be held accountable.” Miranda agrees. “The real problem here is there isn’t a full and inclusive program for workers to get status when they come to Canada,” she said, “that’s what we need for workers’ rights.” Right now there are 200,000 undocumented workers, working in the most dangerous workplace situations all over Canada. The owners of 2757 Kipling Ave, identified as ‘2058876 Ontario Ltd. have refused to apologize or promise better workplace safety but have released the following statement: “We wish to
express our condolences to the loved ones of those who died, and extend our hopes for a speedy recovery to the individual who was injured.” A month later, spokesperson Danny Roth refused to answer any more questions, stating that they are “not having any further comment at this time,” and that the above statement (released on December 25), is still the “position for ownership.” This story is not only illustrative of our country’s treatment of foreign workers, it is a human tragedy. What’s worse is that, as Ramsaroop said, it is “representative of tens of thousands of workers across this country.” These five families, most with no family support in Canada, (or in Mamurov’s case, are not even in Canada), with temporary work visas or refugee claims in place, are living in uncertainty. They lost their foothold in the gruesome and humiliating battle for status in Canada, and worst of all, they lost a father, a husband, a brother or a son. Undocumented workers are, says Miranda, “treated as commodities, used and abused and then disposed of when they’re no longer needed.” This dehumanization is not acceptable. “The company is to blame [and] the government is to blame,” she continues. Those who are responsible for unnecessary death should be held accountable. Visit http://toronto.nooneisillegal.org and http://www.workersactioncentre.org for more information.
New Student Senators elected By Nora Loreto, Editor-in-Chief
The Senate election happened swiftly this year, yielding a new crop of student soldiers who must now enter into battle against an administration with such power, that the small changes they will be able to make will only happen if the group is united, prepared and courageous. The Senate is Ryerson’s highest decision-making body where students have any hope at all of making a difference. The Board of Governors is technically a higher body, but students are so outnumbered that the strong gain little more than lip service and tacit respect, and the weak walk away with a job at Rogers Communications and a new suit. Last year, the Senate’s student representative structure was reformed and with it went the public announcement of the vote counts of the candidates. Before that, the numbers were provided to all students through Student News without any problems. For some reason, this
practice has been halted. Interested students (and student journalists) must wait until the results are published in a Senate report in March. Of course, this doesn’t add to a climate that is seemingly transparent. With online balloting comes the possibility of nefarious tampering that would not likely be detected by anyone. In such cases, enhanced transparency is absolutely critical. Next time the administration starts pointing its nose into the policies that guide student union elections, someone should ask to see how they apply the rigorous standards of democracy, while using a process that is simply not transparent. And so, in the spirit of trying to keep our administrators honest, we’ve gathered the vote counts so you can scrutinize them for yourself. Should you have any questions, please contact CRO of the Senate elections, Diane Schulmann email@example.com.
School of Business
Engineering, Architecture, & Science
Top five are elected
Liana Salvador, (Nursing) – 445 Toby Whitfield, (Business Management) – 405 Idil Omar, (Arts and Contemporary Studies) – 392 Andrew McAllister, (Theatre) -348 Sagal Ahmed, (Public Admin. and Governance)* - 335 Lise de Montbrun, (Architectural Science)* -335 Francesca Piacente, (Arts & Contemp.Studies) -297 Ahmer Siddiqui, (Graphic Comm. Man.) – 242 Faisal Rashid, (Business Management) – 203 Sean Del Giallo, (Criminal Justice) – 196 Habib O. Baruwa, (I.T. Management) – 194 Donna Ann Ryder, (Social Work) – 141 Jaclyn Dell’Unto, (Psychology) – 137 Lina Kiskunas, (Nursing) - 135
Yanna Chevtchook, Business Management – 95 Bianca Lauzer, Hospitality & Tourism Management – 58 Sheetal Patel, Business Management – 85 Mitchell Silber, Business Management - 69
Kemoo El Sayed, Civil Engineering – 186 Hasan Sharif Akhter, Mechanical Engineering – 99 Mohammad Salman Ansari, Biology – 88 Arash Mirzaei, Biology – 40 Maher Aldajani, Civil Engineering - 38
Declined to Vote: 68 Ballots Submitted: 1387 Votes Cast: 3805 * Lise removed herself due to the tie vote.
Arts One elected
Declined to Vote: 36 Ballots Submitted: 343 Votes Cast: 307
Declined to Vote: 36 Ballots Submitted: 487 Votes Cast: 451
Mariam Munawar, Business Management – 50 Charles Sule, Env. Applied Science and Management – 17 Ian Clendening, Urban Development -16 Christopher Correia, Urban Development - 7
Rebecca Zanussi, Journalism – 149 Jaideep Gandhi, Graphics Comm. Management - 97
Declined to Vote: 4 Ballots Submitted: 71 Votes Cast: 90
Declined to Vote: 16 Ballots Submitted: 262 Votes Cast: 246
School of Continuing Education Two elected
Andrew West, Politics and Governance -94 Lesley Brown, Arts & Contemporary Studies – 72 Stephen Kassim, Politics and Governance - 70
Deep Jaiswal, Nursing – 171 Vikky Leung, Nursing - 106
Mohammad Ali Aumeer, Non- Profit and Voluntary Sector Management Certificate – 46 Deborah A. Baxter, Non- Profit and Voluntary Sector Management Certificate – 33 Amil Delic, Film Studies Certificate - 31
Declined to Vote: 4 Ballots Submitted: 240 Votes Cast: 236
Declined to Vote: 17 Ballots Submitted: 294 Votes Cast: 277
Declined to Vote: 2 Ballots Submitted: 87 Votes Cast: 110
from dyncorp to xe, private secUrity firms prey on world’s poor By Chanel Christophe
u.S. PReSident baRaCk Obama has announced plans to send 30,000 more troops into Afghanistan to support the war efforts started in 2001 to oust the Taliban. The staggered deployment will commence early in 2010 and the President has promised to begin withdrawing the troops approximately eighteen months later – July of 2011 to be precise. This is the second troop surge that Obama has ordered since becoming the Commander in Chief, and this second wave of U.S. military presence in Afghanistan will take the total number of soldiers stationed there to well over one hundred thousand.
PHOTO: THE U.S. ARMy/FLICKR
Following these soldiers into the combat zone will likely be a number of private security firms. Since the start of the war in Afghanistan, and the subsequent invasion of Iraq in 2003, a number of these firms have been contracted to provide support services to troops in combat regions. Initially, security jobs with these companies were exclusively for Americans, but as cost minimization and profit maximization become more important, these private security firms began to look beyond American shores for cheaper workers. The first company to do this was KBR Inc., a multinational corporation based in Houston Texas. This former subsidiary of Halliburton is a company with close ties to former U.S. vice President dick Cheney, who was Chairman and CEO of Halliburton for five years until 2000. Other private security companies, including xe (formerly BlackWater Worldwide), Watertight Security, and dynCorp, have copied the initial strategy employed by KBR and have been actively recruiting local country nationals (LCNs) or third country nationals (TCNs). The destination of choice for their immense employment drives seems to be East African countries such as Namibia, Uganda and Kenya. The search has also broadened into South East Asia and Latin America. A United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) report has indicated that “an estimated 155,000 contract personnel are currently in Iraq in support of the US occupation. About
30 percent of them are TCNs.” These foreign recruits have “a range of jobs such as non-combat security contractors hired to guard personnel and convoys, as well as static installations, including bridges and pipelines. TCNs with more advanced skills are sometimes employed to train military personnel, participate in de-mining operations, or interrogate detainees.” The attraction for the TCNs is understandable. The $500 - $700 US a month wages are considerably higher than what they could receive in their home territories; but it represents about a tenth of what their American counterparts are paid. For that reason, the recruitment of TCNs has been criticised as mere exploitation of the poor and uneducated in these developing countries to do the Americans’ ‘dirty work.’ The practice has also drawn opposition because of the lax oversight of the contractors and their hiring processes. A number of new hires are former guerrillas, paramilitary and counter-insurgency forces from conflict areas. One company, Blackwater, was embroiled in controversy when it was reported in 2004 that some persons recruited from Chile were ex-military commandos trained under the government of the ex-dictator Augusto Pinochet. The drive for profit at the cheapest cost is pitting available labour in one country against another. The Ugandan government for instance, passed legislation that required Ugandan nationals be paid no less than $600 per month. One company, dreshak, responded by moving its efforts to neighbouring Kenya where it could pay less. The era of globalisation and liberalisation makes it unlikely that these recruitment drives will ever stop. The endless source of cheap labour from these markets means that these companies can improve their bottom line by keeping wage costs down. The poor have become the pawns of the powerful in this tug of war for profits.
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Overseen at Ryerson...
Ryerson Commerce Society takes recycling to new heights. With a budget of $150,000, you’d think they could afford a real ballot box for the RCS elections.
Haiti Re-occupied? U.S. given full control of Port-au-Prince airport
By Chanel Christophe In the aftermath of the quake that rocked the Caribbean nation of Haiti, political rumblings are now astir. A flare-up has erupted between the U.S. and a number of other nations trying to assist in the recovery efforts. The government of Haiti has signed two Memoranda of Understanding documents with the U.S. State Department, effectively ceding control of the international airport in Port-au-Prince to the United States. That control grants the U.S. the right to determine which planes should land at the airport. The exercise of that authority has not sat well with certain other regional and international governments. A few days after the quake, a CARICOM delegation, including some Caribbean leaders and disaster relief officials, was denied permission to land in the stricken country and was forced to return to Jamaica. CARICOM is a grouping of Caribbean states, of which Haiti is part, and the delegation intended to make their own needs assessment of the situation in their sister nation and look to set up a field hospital. The U.S. has also turned back a French aid plane carrying a field hospital that wanted to land. That decision prompted the French co-operation minister Alain Joyandet, who is in charge of humanitarian relief, to complain that “this is about helping Haiti, not about occupying [it].” As these delegations and relief contingents are turned away, the U.S. continues to build a military presence in Port-au-Prince. At least ten thousand troops are expected to arrive in Haiti over the coming weeks. Washington has insisted that the main role of their troops will be to assist in the humanitarian relief effort. This military build-up at a time when medical and other relief is denied landing permissions has drawn the ire of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who accused the United States of taking advantage of the deadly earthquake in Haiti to occupy the Caribbean country. President Bharat Jagdeo of Guyana, while not going as far, has said that the U.S. is putting obstacles in the way of other countries who are seeking to provide assistance. Food, water, and medical assistance are slowly trickling in to those affected by the January 12 quake and plans are being drawn to begin evacuating close to half a million persons from the flattened capital.
Olympic medals are green-ish VANOC invites criticism with heavy-handed tactics, bumps kids choir By Jes Sachse and Graeme Z. Johnson This season’s Olympics medals do not appear to disappoint. Unveiled in October, the medal’s design boasts ‘undulation’ - that’s a wave, “inspired by the ocean waves, drifting snow and mountainous landscape” of our beloved country. Or something. Coupled with original contemporary Aboriginal artwork. The passionate description is almost as touching as Jill Bakken, former U.S. Olympic bobsledding gold medalist’s comments to the Globe: “An Olympic or Paralympic medal is a cherished possession for every athlete — it’s what we all strive for when we train and compete ... To feel it being placed around your neck on the podium or seeing children’s eyes light up when you show it to them are experiences that defy words. Seeing these beautiful medals today makes me wish I was competing again in 2010.” On the heels of the environmental crisis, it was an opportunity to produce what the 2010 Games has called “the greenest medals yet.” True, these sparkly laurels do reclaim metal from electronic waste. But This Magazine reports that of 2,855 kg of metal used, recycled content accounts for only 12.41 kg, which is approximately 0.43 per cent by weight. So, as This explains, that’s like a ratio of a pick-up truck to a chihuahua. It doesn’t stop there. The medals were supplied from mines in Canada, Alaska, Chile, and Peru, by Vancouver-based Teck Resources - a company accused of exceeding waste limits at Alaska’s Red Dog mine. Now that certainly lights up my eyes. In addition to its these questionable practices, the Vancouver Olympic Committee is attempting to exercise unprecedented levels of control over artistic contributors to the ‘Cultural Olympiad’ and their work. VANOC has sent contracts to artists demanding they sign away the rights to their work and any royalties their art may garner. Additionally, the Olympic Committee will have unrestricted rights to use songs and artwork in any way it chooses. If artists decline, the Committee will refuse to use their work during Olympic events. Even if artists agree to these restrictions, there are further strings attached. Artists and performers who take part in the events must sign a contract which states that “[t]he artist shall at all times refrain from making any negative or derogatory remarks respecting VANOC (the organizing com-
mittee), the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games, the Olympic movement generally, Bell and/or other sponsors associated with VANOC.” These restrictions effectively ensure that artists who are critical of the Olympics, the exploitation of Indigenous as well as people living in poverty and homelessness, and the loss of civil liberties that has occurred in British Columbia (which includes granting police the right to enter private homes to seize anti-Olympic materials and increase video surveillance of public spaces) are silenced. Contractual limits on the range of artistic expression are only one part of what Vancouver’s Alliance for Arts and Culture calls a series of “dangerous implications in terms of artistic censorship.” In a 2008 internal memo, Conservative government officials revealed that “the Department of Canadian Heritage intends to invest $20-million toward the opening ceremony of the Olympic Winter Games in order to ensure that the event adequately reflects the priorities of the Government and helps to achieve its domestic and international branding goals.” VANOC’s use of Indigenous images certainly accomplishes that, branding the games as a multicultural event, but given the dearth of actual Indigenous input, it becomes nothing more than cultural appropriation. Beyond just the use of Aboriginal images in the Olympic celebrations though, there remain questions about what role Indigenous artists will actually play in the proceedings. For example, a Mi’kmaq children’s choir, which has spent the last two years preparing for an anticipated performance at the opening ceremonies after an invitation from BC Premier Gordon Campbell, was recently ‘uninvited’ to the event. The group was told that “there would be no place for the Choir at the opening ceremony” and that they were welcome to instead perform Aboriginal cultural events held after the ceremony. No official reasons were given for breaking the promise made to these children, but looking at the Vancouver Olympic Committee’s performers list, one cannot help but notice that all the most high profile events – namely the Victory Ceremonies – have scheduled acts consisting of primarily white artists such as Trooper, Loverboy, and Theory of a Deadman ( just to name a few), while Indigenous performers have been shunted to the less high-profile events of the ‘Cultural Olympiad’.
Good News for Free Speech: Canwest is Bankrupt By Graeme Z. Johnson
Corporate media giant CanWest LP, which owns dozens of newspapers and magazines across the country, filed for bankruptcy protection January 8 after the company found itself unable to make payments on more than $1.4 billion in debts to more than 300 creditors. The company’s troubles may come as good news to many who have criticised CanWest’s virtual stranglehold on much of the Canadian newspaper industry. The company has been heavily criticized by free speech advocates, journalists and human rights activists for its selective reporting and attempts to silence dissenting voices within its publications. According to Stephan Kimber, a former columnist for CanWest’s Halifax Daily News, the company’s owners – Winnipeg’s prominent Asper family – “...consider their newspapers not only as profit centers and promotional vehicles for their television network but also as private, personal pulpits from which to express their views.” “The Aspers support the federal Liberal Party. They’re pro-Israel. They think rich people like themselves deserve tax breaks. They support privatizing healthcare delivery. And they believe their newspapers ... should agree with them,” Kimber wrote in the column which ended his career with CanWest. “[T]hey do not want to see any criticism of Israel,” reports Bill Marsden, an investigative journalist at CanWest’s Montreal Gazette. “We do not run in our newspaper op-ed pieces that express criticism of Israel and what it is doing in the Middle East ... We do not have that free-wheeling debate that there should be about all these issues.” “[A] professor at... the University of Waterloo, wrote an op-ed piece for us in which he was criticizing the antiterrorism law and criticizing elements of civil rights,” Marsden remembers. “We got a call from headquarters demanding to know why we had printed this.” “In all our newspapers, including the National Post, we have a very pro-Israel position,” CanWest founder Izzy Asper, a vocal opponent of Palestinian sovereignty, told the Jerusalem Post in a 2003 interview, “We are the strongest supporter of Israel in Canada.” This support has manifested as selective reporting (a 2004 study found the National Post was 83.3 times more likely to report the deaths of Israeli children than Palestinian chil-
dren), outright hate speech (with one particular National Post editorial referring to the “Palestinian people as one collective suicide bomber”) and censorship. “[E]veryone has been sent the message they have to watch what they write,” Ryerson journalism professor John Miller told the Washington Post. “If it goes against what is perceived as the Asper line, then some stories aren’t going to get written, or some stories will be written and then they will be killed.” In an attempt to maintain control over their newspapers’ political stance, CanWest has even tried to reduce editors’ ability to comment on current events by forcing its major newspapers to run “national editorials” produced by CanWest’s central office – a move which met with major resistance from reporters and journalist organizations across the country. In an open letter published online, journalists at the Montreal Gazette wrote, “We believe this is an attempt to centralize opinion to serve the corporate interests of CanWest. Far from offering additional content to Canadians, this will ... reduce the diversity of opinions and the breadth of debate that to date has been offered readers across Canada. “More important, each editorial will set the policy for that topic in such a way as to constrain the editorial boards of each newspaper to follow this policy. Essentially, CanWest will be imposing editorial policy on its papers on all issues of national significance. Without question, this decision will undermine the independence and diversity of each newspaper’s editorial board and thereby give Canadians a greatly reduced variety of opinion, debate and editorial discussion.” Activists outside of CanWest have also attempted to highlight the media conglomerate’s failure to accurately report events. In 2007, the Palestinian Media Collective produced a satirical facsimile of the CanWest-owned Vancouver Sun to draw attention to the company’s anti-Palestinian
Government Pays some Rent 200 Years Late By Graeme Z. Johnson
In what some are saying is Canada’s largest settlement of its kind, the Federal government has reached an agreement with the Mississaugas of the New Credit (MNC) First Nation to finally purchase the land on which Toronto is built. According to an MNC news release, the proposed settlement, valued at $145 million, is the result of two separate land claims; “one claim deals with a 1797 purchase and the other claim relates to the Toronto purchase of 1805 ... Canada did not provide the First Nation with adequate compensation for the land at the time of purchase.” The land in question covers “250,880 acres (14 x 28 miles) of land from the River Credit Mississaugas. The 250,880 acres includes an area from Ashbridge’s Bay to Etobicoke Creek, at the southern border, and running 28 miles north at either end [and] the Toronto Islands.” The proposed settlement must still be ratified by members of the MNC First Nation, but if the band’s reaction is favourable,
stance. CanWest’s response was a lawsuit the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) called “an ill-advised attempt by CanWest to use the courts to silence satirical criticism and constrain fair comment.” Quebec���s Ligue des droits et libertés (LDL) echoed BCCLA’s criticism, calling the action “an attempt to crush dissenting opinion through legal proceedings ... [and] abuse of the judicial system.” Unfortunately, CanWest’s sale of its newspapers may not address these abuses as well as some may hope. Besides CanWest, the majority of Canada’s media outlets are controlled by only four other large corporations – Bell Canada, Torstar
“In an attempt to maintain control over their newspapers’ political stance, CanWest has even tried to reduce editors’ ability to comment on current events by forcing its major newspapers to run “national editorials” produced by CanWest’s central office.” Corporation, Quebecor, and Rogers Communications – most of which are eagerly waiting to snap up CanWest’s leavings. Following the preferred trend of ailing businesses these days, CanWest has reserved $3.4 million dollars to fund what it calls “retention bonuses” for 24 of its top managers – managers which, according to court documents, are absolutely necessary to the continuing operation of the company. Meanwhile, the corporation finds itself unable to pay more than $14.4 million dollars in pension benefits owed to former employees.
Québec launches anti-homophobia policy By Brett Throop
the MNC’s 2,000 members could receive compensation by the end of the year. Though many are celebrating this landmark agreement, MNC’s success highlights the government’s failure to make reasonable offers to other Indigenous groups also seeking reparations for the loss of their traditional lands. Six Nations of the Grand River First Nation is currently pursuing a lawsuit against the Federal government, which violated the 1784 Haldimand Proclamation and other treaties when it actively encouraged European settlement on the more than 950,000 acres surrounding the Grand River. This land had been guaranteed for the Six Nations’ sole use in recognition of the losses sustained during their alliance with Britain during the American War of Independence. Six Nations, which now occupies less than five percent of the lands it owns, may be owed more than $82 billion because of the government’s failure to properly compensate its members.
Québec’s government is calling itself a world leader in fighting homophobia with the release of a policy last month promoting the social equality of LGBT people. Premier Jean Charest stated in the policy’s forward that while full legal equality for LGBT people has been achieved in Québec, “cultures and mindsets remained marked by homophobic prejudice and sentiment.” The policy sets out a broad range of objectives but contains no concrete measures for their implementation. Instead, an
interdepartmental committee will be established by the end of January to produce an action plan for achieving the policy’s goals. Objectives include promoting research on the realities faced by LGBT people, helping individuals exercise their rights, and providing support for victims of homophobia. The adaptation of public services to eliminate heterosexism is also called for. “Heterosexism is a denial of the realities faced by sexual minority members, and a tendency by staff members to assume that everyone they deal with is heterosexual,” the policy document notes. This, it says, leads to an under-use of services by LGBT people. The policy also expresses a need for municipal-level strategies to combat homophobia. Representatives to the implementation committee will include those from the departments of Education, Health, and Social Services.
Ryerson Free Press february 2010 9
OPINION Equal Rights Not So Equal Yet By Kate Spencer
My father was born and brought up in the 1950s – a time when women were kept in the home. He was raised traditionally, with a mother who would have a hot meal on the table every night, a clean home always, and seldom openly disagreed with her husband. My father grew up, and got married. He considered himself much more open-minded than his father had been, and fully supported the women’s rights movement. He would do a few dishes, perhaps take the garbage out, and then settle down to his paper. My mother famously asked him once, “Do you really think you’re done for the evening?” and my father looked up and said, “But I helped!” My mother was of the opinion that household tasks were to be shared equally – and Dad would soon come to realize that the best way to keep the peace was to help out. Now, I live with my boyfriend – a truly lovely human being, who believes firmly in equality for all, and supports me in all that I do. When I ask him why it is that I still seem to end up being in charge of keeping our home tidy, he claims to not live up to my cleaning standards. If I have to do the job over again, what is the point in him even attempting it in the first place? Two generations later, and the reasoning may have changed, but I am still somehow stuck scrubbing our toilet. The Economist tells me that women are doing better than I think they are – the cover of their first issue this year was Rosie the Riveter doing her familiar flex, with the triumphant “We Did It!” caption. The message is clear – women have made it, have arrived, and are now truly equal. They follow this by saying women now make up 50 per cent of the job market, and by 2011 there will be 2.6 million more female than male university students in America. However, what they leave out is interesting. Are they forgetting that women still only earn 80 cents on the male dollar? And when they say that women are in control of many powerful corporations, they neglect to tell us that only 15 of the Fortune 500 companies are run by women. In a recent issue of ELLE magazine, Rachel Combe reports on a study from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, which says that women have experienced a steady erosion of happiness from the 1970s – we are now notably less happy than men (clearly a shady state of affairs). Does the women’s movement have anything to do with our sudden sadness? Consider the 1970s – a time when “girl power” was hitting its stride, when “I am Woman, hear me roar” was an anthem for the hope felt by women who wanted equal rights and equal pay. And it’s been one long bout of not doing as well as we hoped since then. And above and beyond that, we are still doing the double
shift of working at work and then coming home to make the dinner, clean the house, and take care of the kids. We are also expected to do it cheerfully, and to rejoice in the fact that, quite literally, we have the opportunity to do twice as much as our mothers did. It’s no wonder we’re feeling depressed. Our troubles really began with the shift away from matriarchal rule. In many of the original societies of North America, women were in a position of power. And why was this? Essentially, because women can make babies – and as the child bearers, were responsible for making sure a tribe didn’t die out. In many of those societies, the history of the tribe was passed down through the “wise women” who were responsible for remembering the tribe’s history, which could go back for 45 to 50 generations. “Civilized” societies have tended to be male-dominated, and that may have had a lot to do with the fact that men were no longer in danger of being killed by animals and war. It is telling that the first place in the U.S. women got the vote was in the Montana territories. Again, this was a situation where men were in daily danger of being killed – it was a rough life out there in Wild West Montana. And as that was the case, it was natural that women be in a position of more importance in the community. Really, where we went wrong is inviting men to come home reliably at the end of each day. One of our biggest troubles in the here and now is complacency – this feeling that we have gotten to a certain point, and feel that we no longer have any right to complain about a lack of equality. After all, compared to so many less fortunate women, we are so lucky! We do not have to live in fear of honour killings or genital mutilation, and in theory we are able to do anything we want. What is therefore so sad is that we still seem to find it difficult to really assert our own personal power. I have yet to talk to a female friend who says she would be comfortable earning more than her (future) husband – that things are just so much more natural and easy if women are kept in a lower earning bracket. On our own sliding scale of equality, we are still allowing men to dictate how far we can go. What we need is to remind ourselves of what we were trying to achieve with women’s rights. It is not a problem that has been dealt with, not something that happened to our mothers but against which we are now immune. Equal Rights for Equal Pay may seem elementary and obvious, but it is still a goal that we have to fight to achieve, and we shouldn’t have to feel unfeminine or apologetic about wanting to be considered just as worthwhile as our male counterparts. Women need to remember what Rosie the Riveter has been telling us all along – “We can do it!” but we haven’t done it yet.
FEATURES Western Aid Sweeps Complicity in Haitian Poverty Under the Rubble By Haroon Akram-Lodhi
A Haitian girl rests after receiving treatment at an ad hoc medical clinic at MINUSTAH’s logistics base the devastating earthquake that rocked Port au Prince, Haiti on January 12. The horrific earthquake that struck near Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital, on January 12, has destroyed large parts of the city and will result in tens of thousands of deaths; the Haitian Prime Minister is already saying at least 200,000 have died. As communications were restored, the world started to respond: the U.S., United Kingdom, France, Canada, Germany, China, Mexico and Venezuela all pledged immediate support in terms of personnel, cash and supplies, while the Inter-American Development Bank, the United Nations and the World Bank have all released money to be used for emergency relief. No one should doubt the extent of Haiti’s need in the face of the worst earthquake to rock the country in 200 years. But the reality is that the need has been present in Haiti for decades. The response of the global community to the calamity is necessary: but Haitians have been living in a calamity for years. More to the point, some of the very countries that are rushing to the aid of Haiti are the ones that are responsible for the systemic calamity that Haitians have had to endure. The hypocrisy in response to the Haitian earthquake is breathtaking: the countries and their corporations that have mired Haiti in poverty must now be seen to be ‘doing something’ because a global media event demands a response. They rush in, having created the very conditions that enabled the earthquake to be so deadly. Haiti, the first country to overthrow colonial slavery and achieve independence, is the poorest country in the western hemisphere. Two-thirds of its population of 10 million live on less than US$2 a day, and two-thirds of the population still live and work in the countryside. Yet Haiti is a prime
example of the fact that poverty is not a naturally-occurring phenomena: it is created, and has been created in Haiti. Between 1957 and 1986 Haiti was brutally ruled by Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier and his son, Jean-Claude, or “Baby Doc.” Their private militia, the Tontons Macoutes, killed tens of thousands as the country lived in fear. As was common during this period, the United States, which had occupied the country between 1915 and 1934, ignored to the terror in its backyard, as the Duvaliers were fiercely anti-communist. But there was more to the support of the U.S. than just political ideology: there was also an economic interest at stake, because during the reign of the Duvaliers Haiti set up two tax-free export-processing zones in Port-au-Prince, with, at their peak, 180 factories assembling light manufactures for US transnationals exporting into the US market. So Haiti had a classic ‘dual’ economy: a small enclave of a manufacturing sector owned and operated by US capital that generated dollars for the Haitian elite, surrounded by a vast agrarian hinterland; beyond the small number of jobs that were generated in the export-processing zone, the linkages between the enclave and the hinterland were minimal. This economic structure became the modern foundation of the extreme inequality that has characterized Haiti since independence and which continues to do so: within the French-speaking minority that constitutes Haiti’s ruling class, one per cent of the population own nearly half the country’s wealth even as the Creolespeaking Black majority remains impoverished. The political instability that has rocked Haiti since the overthrow of the Duvaliers in a military coup in 1986 has its origins in this
Photo: United Nations Development Programme/FLICKR
profound inequality. A vibrant civil society fought it; it was from civil society that Lavalas, a popular movement for social change, emerged, and their candidate, the Roman Catholic priest Jean-Bertrand Aristide, was elected President in 1990. Yet when Aristide’s government started proposing radical reforms that challenged the interests of Haiti’s dominant class, the military intervened again in support of the status quo. It was only a US-led intervention that forced a return to constitutional government in 1994, and that intervention came with a price: the restored government of Aristide had to implement an IMF-led structural adjustment program. Radical reform was overthrown, along with the military, by the U.S. intervention. Aristide was de-fanged--he now lives in exile in South Africa--and the former radicals that had confronted the Duvaliers and the military starting scrambling for the crumbs of elected office as the boundaries between political parties and urban gangs faded and the state became increasingly dysfunctional. One aspect of the structural adjustment program was particularly pernicious: the country had to dramatically reduce import tariffs on rice, the staple food of Haitians. To an uninformed outsider, this might seem sensible--why not import rice that was cheaper than Haitian rice? But the impact of this reform for the bulk of the Haitian population, who were peasant farmers, was nothing short of catastrophic. Even in the late 1980s Haiti was self-sufficient in rice, which meant that Haitian peasants could make a rudimentary living selling their surpluses for urban consumption. Cheap imports undermined Haitian rice farming, and hence peasant livelihoods, and now two out of every three spoonfuls of rice that are eaten
in Haiti are imported. The wanton destruction of Haitian farming massively contributed to the deforestation that plagues the country and, through the latter’s impact on flooding, severely aggravates the destructive impact of the tropical storms that periodically sweep Hispaniola. It forced hundreds of thousands to leave the land to search for non-existant jobs in the cities: a lucky few were able to migrate to the U.S. or Canada, but most ended up unemployed and living in squalid shanties such as Cité Soleil, in wooden or tin shacks, with no running water, no sewage systems, and no electricity. Cité Soleil, the outcome of an economic policy foisted on the country by outsiders, was at the epicenter of the destruction on Tuesday. Cheap rice imports sustained the perverse inequalities of wealth, power and privilege that define Haiti’s ruined political economy. Where did those rice imports come from? The United States. From which countries did the rice trading companies originate? The United States. Structural adjustment may have been a disaster for Haiti’s agrarian economy, but, it was a boon for Louisana’s rice farmers and trading companies. That the United States and other advanced capitalist countries, which propped up the Duvaliers in return for cheap manufactures and then not only neutered radical reform but indeed destroyed the livelihoods of Haiti’s peasantry, should now express dismay at the destruction of Port-au-Prince compounds the depth of the tragedy: to the social wreakage wrought by decades of foreign tutelage and about which we did very little there now lies physical wreakage, to which we will respond.
Ryerson Free Press february 2010 11
‘Harper: Fired!’ Thousands vent fury at Tories in anti-prorogation protests By James Clark, Features and Opinions Editor | Photos by Dan Rios Tens of thousands of people in over 60 towns and cities across Canada sent a strong message to Stephen Harper’s Conservatives during pan-Canadian protests against prorogation on January 23. The success of the protests defied critics who suggested, like Harper, that Canadians don’t really care about parliament, and are more concerned about the Olympics. In the days and weeks after Harper prorogued parliament on December 30 (for the second time in 13 months), hundreds of thousands of people joined the Facebook group called “Canadians Against Proroguing Parliament.” The group was started by University of Alberta graduate student Christopher White who was trying to figure out how to express his opposition to Harper’s undemocratic move. Little did he know that so many people were also trying to figure out the same thing. White’s group struck a chord. Pundits tried to dismiss the group, saying that the Facebook fan site for the TV show 90210 is bigger, or that joining a group online isn’t the same as actually taking a stand. But other observers recognized something more significant. Informal polls of members of the Facebook group revealed that many had never before joined a political group online, and that almost all of them had voted in the previous elections. The first real signs that the Facebook group represented a genuine and growing anger among Canadians were the polls that saw Conservative support drop between 10 and 15 per cent. Almost in majority territory just a few months ago, the Tories are now in danger of losing the next election. That was before the protests. On January 23, nearly 30,000 people across Canada joined rallies against prorogation, attracting support from all over the political spectrum. Protests even took place abroad: in London, U.K.; in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Dallas in the United States; in Costa Rica; and in Oman. In Toronto, more than 10,000 people rallied in Yonge-Dundas Square before marching throughout the downtown core. Rallies in Vancouver and Ottawa also attracted thousands of protesters. More significant, however, was the large number of protests in towns and cities where political events like these are rare occurrences, and where the local Member of Parliament is a Conservative, including many who had won by a very small margin in the last election. Harper’s decision to prorogue parliament was, for many, the straw that broke the camel’s back. Although many Canadians
remain outraged at what they see as a Conservative at time. The Conservatives’ smear against career diplom torture of Afghan detainees – was met with opposition mittedly a small percentage of the population) express Canadians supported Colvin’s side of the story than t of abuse and torture to take its course. Harper’s decision to prorogue is now widely see and to prevent them from demanding the release of s when. Now that Parliament is shut down, the governm Others say that Harper was running from critici Copenhagen in December. Canada won countless “F meaningful discussion and progress on fighting clima lute tatters. Climate change campaigner and scientist of the world.” And yet others point to Harper’s ongoing attacks elected, the Conservatives faced criticism for distribu of Parliament, sabotage committees and undermine t caucus, preventing members from speaking directly t and the Conservatives routinely video-tape their med fact – when they can’t ask any questions. Harper’s attacks on civil society organizations su respected faith-based NGOs), student groups in sol Agency (which delivers social, education and health p
attack on democracy, others have been angry at the government for some mat Richard Colvin – who blew the whistle on the widespread abuse and on by the public. Even those who support the mission in Afghanistan (adsed anger over the government’s shutting down of dissenting views. More they did the government’s. And they wanted the inquiry into allegations
en as an attempt to escape any scrutiny or criticism by opposition MPs, secret documents that would show how much the government knew and ment can’t be forced to release any documents. ism over his government’s destructive role at the climate change talks in Fossil of the day” awards at the summit because of Harper’s sabotage of ate change. Critics say that Canada’s international reputation is in absot George Monbiot had this to say: “Canada now threatens the wellbeing
s on democracy, free speech, civil liberties and dissent. Shortly after being uting a secret guidebook instructing their MPs how to obstruct the will the democratic process. Since then, Harper has tightened his grip on his to the press. Most cabinet ministers refuse media requests for interviews dia conferences in private, issuing pre-made clips to journalists after the
such as the Canadian Arab Federation, KAIROS (one of Canada’s most lidarity with Palestine, and even the United Nations Relief and Works programs to Palestinians in 59 refugee camps) have also attracted wide-
spread criticism, and have created a McCarthy-like climate in Ottawa and across the country – a warning to anyone who dares criticize the government. But Harper’s cynicism has backfired spectacularly. Not even organizers in local chapters of Canadians Against Proroguing Parliament expected such a big – and angry – turnout. In Toronto, most of the main slogans for the event focused on opposing prorogation and on supporting democracy. The crowd, however, immediately expressed its anger and frustration at Harper. One popular slogan was “Harper: Fired!” Another was: “Be a man and not a mouse: Stephen Harper, face the House!” Other slogans connected the war in Afghanistan to Harper’s attempt to evade criticism: “Stephen Harper: You can’t hide from war crimes!” In the wake of the protests, there remains an appetite to build on the momentum, but the movement will face new challenges. One hopeful sign is the fact that so many local meetings have taken place after the protests, to plan next steps. Christopher White, who launched the Facebook group, is calling for “31 days against prorogation” – a day-by-day guide to showing your opposition to the shutting of Parliament in the month leading to its re-opening. Others are also planning a “Torch run for democracy” and local Town Hall meetings to discuss the nature of democracy in Canada. Already, the call has been issued for flash-mobs to mobilize anywhere and everywhere Conservative ministers appear publicly. Harper has been “flash-mobbed” once – at the C.D. Howe Institute in Toronto just days before the pan-Canadian protests – and Minister of Industry Tony Clement has been “flash-mobbed” twice – once at York University and again in Saskatoon. It remains to be seen what lasting impact the protests will have. But one thing is for sure: they gave the government and the media a glimpse of the deepening and widespread anger at the Harper government and its policies that could very well carry over into the next election, expected to be called by Harper sometime in the spring. If the protests continue, or grow into something bigger, Harper may start to have second thoughts – and rightly so! For next steps, visit the Facebook group: “Canadians Against Proroguing Parliament”.
Ryerson Free Press february 2010 13
capitalism Strikes Again
Toronto may lose another beloved independent bookstore, slain by the hands of Indigo By Nicole Brewer
For over 30 years, the Toronto Women’s Bookstore (TWB) has been empowering women and building community through the books it sells, the courses it offers, and its strong sense of community. Now, though, a short five months after the closure of another beloved Toronto independent bookstore, Pages, the Women’s Bookstore may also be forced to close its doors forever. The Bookstore’s letter to the community explains that despite all of the events, courses, workshops, community resources and additional services they offer they receive no other funding that what they make through sales, since they are a store. “Over the past few years, our sales have not been enough to sustain us and this is why we are coming to you, our community, for help,” the letter says. If every customer made a donation of just $10, though, they would be able to keep their doors open for another three months; $30 per customer could be enough to save the store for good. And yet this independent bookstore is still fighting for its life, and fighting against the giants of Chapters, Indigo, and Coles, who seem to be monopolising the bookstore corner of the economy. This is just another way in which the importance of community is seemingly being forgotten, and in fact sacrificing it for the beautiful convenience of consumerism. Not only a bookstore will be lost if this business closes its doors: the TWB offers courses and workshops that focus on subjects from the art of practical dreaming to embodied activism, and are one organisation still striving to promote the importance of feminism and anti-oppression politics. The TWB carries books that reflect its feminist, anti-oppression view such as books on feminist and anti-racist theories, transgender rights, health, and books by women of all kinds – Jewish, lesbian, First Nations, marginalised women, and many more. This bookstore offers support for many members of the community in many ways, and in turn the community has been able to help it to survive a firebomb in 1984 and keep its doors open thus far. Now, though, the ever-growing Indigo
organisation is making it difficult for independent bookstores of any kind to stay open. The number of feminist bookstores worldwide has shrunk to only 21 from 125 in 1994, says a December 2009 article on the CBC News website. The article reports that it is not feminism that is declining, though, and the decreasing number of feminist bookstores is due to the battle between chain and independent bookstores. Bookstore giants like Indigo have their place in our city, just as clothing giants like American Eagle and Le Château do. However, there always needs to be a balance maintained. Queen Street West is dotted with independent designers’ stores, offering a unique variety of clothing for a much-needed change of scenery from, say, the Eaton Centre. Toronto’s independent bookstores exist to offset the impersonal nature of the Chapters scene, but with such stores placed so frequently throughout the GTA, book lovers seem to be favouring the flashy convenience of the giants to the comfortable, community-friendly independent bookstore. What does this say about us? Are we so willing to succumb to the consumerist nature of the business world without a second thought about the businesses, communities, families, people who may suffer as a result of that decision? Now on the brink of having to close for good, the TWB has turned to the community it has been giving to for years for a little bit of giving back. The letter to the community voices a graceful plea for support: “In the past, when feminist bookstores were closing down all across North America, the support of the community is what kept TWB alive. You are the reason that we are still here today, and we believe that with your help we can once again work together to save this organization where so many of us as readers, writers, feminists, artists, and activists have found a home.” The full letter can be found on the TWB website, www.womensbookstore.com/communityletter. html
Congo Bleeds Coltan By Salmaan Abdul Hamid Khan
A “geological miracle,” the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is stuffed full of valuable minerals. It should be one of the richest nations on earth, yet this vast country, centred at the heart of Africa, remains impoverished and plagued with conflict. It has been seven years since the end of the “Second Congo War,” a conflict involving eight African nations and approximately 25 rebel groups. Dubbed “Africa’s first World War,” the Second Congo War would last five years (19982003) and claim over four million lives. It is hard to believe that such an event would be so underreported by Western media outlets, seeing as it has been the deadliest conflict since World War Two. However, the end of the war would not bring peace for the nation, especially for its eastern regions, which just so happen to sit above the country’s highest concentration of precious minerals. The tailspin of violence, which would only intensify the already ongoing conflicts in the east of the DRC, would claim another 1.4 million lives by 2008. Till this date, as a result of either direct conflict, or the lack of food and medicines, the death rate in the Congo sits at a staggering 45,000 people a month. So what exactly is going on in the Congo? To answer this question, it is first necessary to begin with the nation’s history. The area constituting the present day DRC was first carved out by Belgium’s King Leopold II, following the conference of Berlin, also known as the “Scramble for Africa,” where other European powers would also carve out their own slices of the continent. Known as the “Congo free state,” King Leopold would treat this land as his own private property and would enslave and brutalize its inhabitants, forcing them to extract and gather natural resources such as rubber and ivory. It is estimated that the Belgians murdered as many as 20 million Congolese in the first 30 years of their rule. After 75 years of Belgian rule, the Congolese would finally gain independence in June of 1960, and the people would see their first democratically elected leader in the form of Patrice Lumumba, then head of the Mouvement National Congolais. Lumumba, known as one of the fathers of African independence, advocated greater control of the nation’s natural resources by and for the people, and opposed control of the country by western economic interests. Readily portrayed as a “communist” by then U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, it is no surprise that only three months after his election, the CIA, along with the Belgians, would aid in the overthrow and murder of the Congo’s first Black leader. Four years later, the U.S. would back a military coup that would place Joseph-Désiré Mobutu, better known as “Mobutu Sese Seko,” in power. The Dictator Mobutu, a staunch anticommunist who would play a vital ally in the cold war, would rule the nation for 32 years with an Iron Fist. Under his rule, the Congo, then re-named “Zaire,” would open up its markets to foreign mining companies who would rape the nation of its natural resources, leaving little or no profit to the local inhabitants. However, this Tyrant of Zaire, a man who was once described by George Bush Sr. as “one of Americas most valued friends” and as a leader who was respected for his “dedication to fairness and reason,” would prove too hard to control anymore. Much like Saddam in Iraq, the Western powers found little or no need for the costly dictator anymore and in 1997 Mobutu and his crumbling administration were overthrown by rebel forces in the “First Congo War.” This conflict would give birth to the newly designated, “Democratic Republic of Congo” (DRC). Contrary to its name, there was nothing really democratic about the new Congo state as the new, self installed president Laurent-Désiré Kabila, would prove to be just as much of an authoritarian as his predecessor. The new Kabila government would fail to unite the nation, and in 1998, a multiple of rebel groups, along with eighth other neighbouring nations, would begin the Second Congo War. Africa’s World War has left its mark in the hearts and minds of the Congolese, and for those living in the North and South Kivu provinces in the east, the conflict is still very much alive. So why is the war still raging on in the North and South Kivu provinces? The answers can be found beneath the ground, within the soil, and around the dozens of mines scattered across the jungle. The DRC is a miracle when it comes to mineral deposits and no other region is as “blessed” as these two provinces in the east. Apart from the vast deposits of gold, copper, and diamonds, one of the more precious and coveted minerals in the area is Coltan. Coltan, once refined, is capable of holding a high electrical charge. This makes it a vital element in creating capacitors, the electronic elements that control current flow inside circuit boards. Thus, Coltan is an important element in almost all electronics from cellphones, laptop computers, digital cameras, video game consoles, to ignition systems and even hearing aids. In our increasingly technological world, as demand for electronics increases, so does the demand for Coltan. This is an astonishing fact when one realizes that upto 82% of the worlds coltan reserves are found in the forests of eastern Congo. Within these mineral rich regions exist a number of militia groups. Some of which are ILLUSTRATION: ASTRID ARIJANTO
made up of Congolese who claim to be fighting against an unjust government; others made up Rwandan Hutus who had taken part in the 1994 Rwandan genocide and subsequently fled the country out of fear of persecution. The Rwandan genocide in 1994 resulted in the deaths of nearly one million Tutsis and moderate Hutus. The militia groups in these regions are accused of gross human rights violations, countless incidences of rape, kidnappings, and of mass murder. What is keeping them alive and functioning is the bulk of their income which they generate off the mineral trade. Local villagers are enslaved and forced to work at gunpoint in the Coltan mines in order to fund the very militias that are destroying their communities. Also reaping the benefits of the mineral trade are neighbouring Uganda and Rwanda; two Western allies who directly fund and arm warring militias in the region in an attempt to gain from some of the resource theft. So what is the DRC government doing about this? The newly formed Congolese government is barely able to control areas outside the nations capital. Furthermore, the Congolese military, much like the Afghan military that’s in the works, is a disfunctional and destabilized force. Further undermining the Congolese army are foreign institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) which have set up financial rules that restrict the Congolese government from spending on the army which has led to officers going for months without pay. As a result, many soldiers within the DRC army, which is supposed to be protecting the civilians, take part in the lucrative mineral trade, often forcing local villagers to mine for Coltan at gunpoint. To add more fuel to the fire, the DRC military, which is in part supported by the UN mission in the Congo (MONUC), has been accused of human rights violations and of carrying out crimes such as rape. In response, to distance itself from the decrepit fighting force, the UN has recently made major cutbacks in its support of the army. In my opinion, this will not really solve the problem as the increased withdrawl of UN support could ony work to further destabilize the armed government soldiers. The solution to this problem lies in the mineral trade. So long as the local militias and the corrupt Congolese miltary can profit off the trade of a mineral such as Coltan, the longer the conflict will rage on in the eastern Congo. Thousands will die each month at the expense of the electronics industry and the technology that we have come to depend so much on in this society. Complicit in these crimes are the western corporations that more than willingly turn a blind eye to the conflicts surrounding these minerals. A 2003 UN report on the illegal exploitation of minerals in the Congo listed a number of American and Canadian companies whose purchase of conflict minerals are indirectly fueling one of the worlds worst conflicts. In total, eight Canadian mining companies were implicated in the report. These included Banro, First Quantum, Hrambee Mining, International Panorama Resources, Kinross Gold, Melkior Resources, Tenke, and American Mineral Fields. Furthermore, there are reports that that there are upto ten small Canadian mining companies in the DRC today. One Asutralian-Canadian company, Anvil Mining Ltd., has even been accused of “helping government soldiers in quelling a village uprising near an Anvil mine… in an assault that killed more than 80 rebels and villagers.” Thus far, the Canadian government has refused to implement recommendations regarding increased monitoring of Canada’s mining firms abroad. Congo’s curse remains our prize. Little has changed since the time of the Belgian colonists as foreign corporations continue to loot the nation and reap all the benefits. One can only imagine what this great African nation may have looked like had the country been allowed to develop without foreign disruption.
Ryerson Free Press february 2010 15
The art of winter cycling Wisdom from the Ryerson Bicycle Club By Jessica Finch For many Torontonians cycling is a welcome alternative to commuting by car or public transit. It’s a cost effective means of travel and it’s a great way to exercise. And although cycling is often thought to be an exclusively spring or summer activity, there are many people in Toronto who bike year round. Winter biking is not as difficult as it’s made out to be, and if proper precautions are taken prior to riding, it can be just as enjoyable as a summer cycle. The Ryerson Bicycle Club organizes a number of group rides throughout the season, and they recently held a winter workshop on safety measures for effective winter cycling. The best piece of advice for winter cyclists is to get a cheap bike or, as it’s often referred to, a beater bike. As Ryerson Bicycle club’s executive Benedict San Juan explained, “The salt, the grime, [and] the snow will just eat away at your bike and you don’t want that happening if you have a really nice one, so it’s usually good to find a cheap, used one.” Before riding, it’s important to prepare your bike and yourself for the cold. Layers are key in winter cycling and it’s important to dress in materials that are both waterproof and absorbent, to keep you warm and soak up sweat as you ride. Tights, for instance, that have a fleece interior and quick dry outer layer, are perfect for winter riding and can be worn underneath everyday clothing. Above all, it’s important to protect your extremities; hands, feet and head as they’ll be most vulnerable in cold conditions. For hands and feet, wool is the best material. San Juan speaks from experience, “Wool is just amazing [for] keeping your feet warm … when cotton gets wet its stays soggy … for a long time [but] wool can … keep you warm and it dries up a bit faster.” It’s always important to overdress rather than under-dress, and if it gets too hot during a ride layers can be removed as needed. Next, it’s crucial to check your bike and ensure that it is in good working order. This should be done prior to any ride, but winter conditions make bike maintenance even more important. “Make sure you don’t have any problems, because it would suck to have to do road side repairs in winter,” cautioned San Juan. Bike maintenance begins with the ABCs, that’s ‘A’ for air in your tires, ‘B’ for brakes, and ‘C’ for cranks, chains and driver chain. Air and tire pressure are important for a good ride, but different tires require different pressure. The appropriate level of pressure, or PSI, needed in particular tires can be found on the tires themselves. In winter, however, San Juan suggests putting slightly less air in your tires, as this may help with
traction on snowy roads. Brakes must be working well and it’s also important to clean off any grime that has accumulated. The chains and cranks must also be clean for a bike to move efficiently, thus wiping down trouble areas after a ride is always recommended. Some fundamental do’s and don’ts were also discussed during the club’s workshop. For instance, many cyclists have a tendency to lean into turns while biking, but in winter this can lead to skidding. Thus, winter cyclists should try and ride upright at all times and remain aware of their surroundings. A top priority is visibility, as winter weather can mean overcast days and adverse conditions. Thus, wearing reflective gear, and
having all your lights and bells working makes for a safer ride. If riding in bad conditions, it is recommended you lock up your bike and find other means of travel. Cycling can be fun year round, and in the GTA bicycle friendly businesses are catching onto the trend. Several companies have set up bike rooms and facilities in their workspace and are keeping them open in the winter months. On campus the Ryerson Bicycle Club hosts events such as the Inside Ride, which raises money for children’s cancer charities, in every season. The next ride will be January 30th along the Martin Goodman trail. Check out Ryerson Bicycle Club on Facebook for more information.
Less Gas, More Ass
The 2009 Toronto Bike Awards acknowledge the city’s most dedicated cyclists By Nicole Brewer Now I know what I’ll do next time I care to be appreciated for something – start cycling. Apparently, a great way to be acknowledged in Toronto is to get involved with the ever-growing cycling community. On January 19, cyclists from across Toronto gathered at the Gladstone Hotel’s ballroom to celebrate the city’s most dedicated and outspoken active transportation advocates – and what a celebration it was. The 2009 Toronto Bike Awards ranged from awarding bike-friendly businesses to committed citizens to city councillors for their efforts in promoting, enabling, and encouraging active transportation in the city. Unlike any awards ceremony I’ve ever been to, the Bike Awards offered a coffeehouse-like feel, with modern red accents in the cosy brick-walled ballroom and a live jazz quartet that broke all the ice as people streamed in and began to socialise. The Red Rhythm played classics such as Puttin’ on the Ritz while the free food was picked at and the open bar was taken advantage of, and slowly a transition was made from ice-breaking to award-giving. MC Lex Vaughn was lively, dry, and hilarious – she starred in the Toronto Cyclists Union’s 2008 Pee-Wee Herman Picture Show fundraiser – and sprinkled the awards night with silly and sometimes tasteless (but wonderful nonetheless) bike-related jokes. The first and largest set of awards was the Bicycle Friendly Business Awards (BFBAs), presented on behalf of the City of Toronto. Presenters included Toronto city councillors Joe Mihevc and Gord Perks. The 2009 BFBAs were awarded in seven categories: Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC) was presented with the bike parking award, which recognises excellence in providing easy-touse and safe bicycle parking for employees and customers alike. The award for best skill development was given to Charlie’s FreeWheels, a program that teaches youth from the Regent Park community about bicycle mechanic skills and safety. The bicycle-friendliest suburban business was Smart Commute North Toronto Vaughan, which is working to overcome the barriers to cycling in the suburbs. OCAD was awarded the best bike commuter award with over 200 new bicycle parking spots having been installed recently for staff and students. Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre was proclaimed the best large business (100 or more
employees), with showers and change rooms, bike parking, bike racks on the offered shuttle services and informational sessions for staff. Finally, the Bike Train Initiative of Transportation Options was awarded best small business (under 100 employees) as well as the best overall bicycle-friendly business award. This business has gone above and beyond the call of duty in the way of active transportation advocacy, promoting cycling, and enabling cyclists. All of the businesses awarded have worked to support creative and environmentally sustainable initiatives to create positive change in the Toronto community. More information on the BFBAs is available on the City of Toronto’s website, www.toronto.ca/cycling/bfba/2009. htm. Other awards given out during the night included the Toronto Cyclists Union’s Golden Spoke Awards: Cycling-friendly councillor of the year, Joe Mihevc, ward 14; most tenacious cycling activist, Hamish Wilson; and others for cycling volunteers of the year, male and female; and excellence in member services. The Toronto Coalition for Active Transport named Paul Young the active transportation champion of the year for his efforts in articulating the link between active transport and health and raising cycling’s profile in the city. I Bike T.O.’s bloggers Herb and Anthony also presented awards to one individual and one group who they felt had acted as the best cycling advocates in Toronto. Check out www. ibikeTO.ca for more information. The Bike Pirates – a volunteer-run organisation that empowers cyclists and makes cycling more accessible to all – also made an appearance at the ceremony to present a few community awards of their own. Other special guests included the Cycling Oriented Puppet Squad (CYCLOPS) with a short musical skit about cycling (“Less gas, more ass!”) and mayoral candidate Sonny Young. After all of the awards were presented, the night took off with free cake and a dance floor, making the 2009 Toronto Bike Awards by far the most entertaining awards ceremony I’ve ever attended. Photo: xjara69/Flickr
Fred Hampton’s Canadian Connection Black Panther Chairman gave one of his last speeches in Regina By Norman Otis Richmond Shortly before his assassination, Fred Hampton prophetically said: “I believe I’m going to die doing the things I was born to do. I believe I’m going to die high off the people. I believe I’m going to die a revolutionary in the international revolutionary proletarian struggle.” December 4, 2009 marked the fortieth anniversary of the assassinations of Fred Hampton, chairman of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party, and Mark Clark, chairman of the Peoria chapter. Unfortunately, Hampton’s predication came true. The story of the murders of Hampton and Clark is now available in a new volume of works by Jeffrey Haas called, The Assassination of Fred Hampton: How the FBI and the Chicago Police Murdered a Black Panther. The book is published by Lawrence Hill Books and is available at A Different Book List, Knowledge and other progressive book-sellers. Hampton made one of his last speeches in Regina, Saskatchewan – only one week before his assassination. This was Hampton’s only visit outside the United States. He visited the University of Regina where he spoke to students and trade unionists in the labour movement. Ironically, El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz (Malcolm X) also made only one visit to Canada. He did an interview with the CBC and visited the home of Betty and Austin Clarke on Asquith Street. Hampton came to Canada to garner support for Chairman Bobby Seale, a founding member of the Black Panthers Party, and spoke about the involvement of Canadians in common struggles. Hampton said: “I think also that we’ll see a lot more repression here in Canada. I think that with a lot more people waking up, there’ll be more repression – of Indians and of all progressive forces in Canada.” Hampton’s words were quoted in Prairie Fire, a progressive weekly newspaper based in Regina that was printed from
1969 until 1971. Prairie Fire devoted a great deal of ink to Hampton. The November 25, 1969 issue ran an editorial about how Hampton and two other Black Panther Party members were harassed by Canadian immigration officials, condemned in the House of Commons and attacked by the Leader-Post, a conservative Regina daily. In the same issue, Prairie Fire ran an exclusive article called “Panthers Outline Program.” But later, readers got another story. “Don’t Mourn. Organize!” – the famous quotation by the great Joe Hill, a leader of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) – jumped out at you from the pages of Prairie Fire. The editorial ended with this: “Chairman Fred Hampton’s name now joins the list of the many people who have died in fighting for the rights of their people.” Its last article, “In Memory of Fred Hampton”, described a memorial torchlight parade for Hampton. The story ended with support from the labour movement: “George Smith, president of the Regina Labour Council, expressed his solidarity with the Panthers, especially their efforts to put socialism into practice with hot breakfast programs and free medical clinics. “He said many people in Canada and US are left to die slow deaths by malnutrition and poverty, and that these deaths are just as much the result of our social system as deaths by gunfire which Blacks and Indians meet every day. “Many more will die before the fight is won, but the struggle for a more progressive social system will continue.” Ten years ago, the African Liberation Month Coalition and CKLN-FM 88.1 FM organized a screening of the 1971 film The Murder of Fred Hampton at the Bloor Cinema. The inspiration came from Barry Lipton, who made a tape of Hampton’s last speech available to me. The tape was played on CKLN. Lipton was one of the organizers of the Saskatchewan event over 40 years ago. Friends rallied together – Carm, Paul and their father, Corrado – and secured the Bloor Cinema for
more than a reasonable price. My old friend Liam Lacey wrote a half-page article about the event in the Globe and Mail. As a result, the place was packed. My friend Akua Njeri supplied the film. We were in business. It was Hampton who first came up with the idea of the Rainbow Coalition. It was later picked up and popularized by Rev. Jesse Jackson. Njeri pointed out in her book, My Life with the Black Panther Party, that “Fred Hampton was the originator of the concept of the Rainbow Coalition. He was the first person to come up with that concept in 1969. “That was an effort to educate and politicize other poor and oppressed people throughout this world. He worked with and attempted to politicize the young patriots organization, which was a group of Appalachian Whites in the near north area of Chicago, politicizing them and organizing them to recognize the leadership of the Black revolution, the vanguard party, the Black Panther Party, and to work in their communities against this huge monster we had to deal with, which is racism.” Hampton continues to inspire many today, including singers, musicians and hip hop artists. Ernest Dawkins recorded “A Black Opera” live in Paris on January 13, 2006. He dedicated the performance to Fred Hampton. Contemporary musicians such as Dead Prez borrow heavily from Hampton, and sample him on their debut album Let’s Get Free. M1 and Stick Man are currently working with Fred Hampton, Jr. Hampton once opined: “If you’re afraid of socialism, you’re afraid of yourself.” The vision of Hampton and Clark, and of the progressive forces around the world, is alive and well in today’s struggles for peace, justice, equality and freedom. Watch The Murder of Fred Hampton online: http://bit.ly/ FredHampton
Ryerson Free Press february 2010 17
CULTURE Mayworks celebrates 25 years of arts for the people By Tashika Gomes
If you close your eyes tight enough, you can see the colours, you can hear the drums and you can feel the passion. Each artist performing at Mayworks acts as a beacon; voicing the struggles of the working class and artists alike. Equity-seeking groups such as First Nations people, queer-identified individuals, women and those people who are politically and socially engaged are given a platform for artistic expression which they might not otherwise obtain. Beyond the significance of the festival and its social justice mandate, this year Mayworks will be even more special. As Canada’s largest and oldest labour arts festival, Mayworks will turn 25 years old this May. Back in 1985 the Labour Arts Media Committee founded the festival to create a forum that would recognize workers as artists, and artists as workers. The group envisioned a festival that would provide a stage and an audience for various disadvantaged groups in the city. Since its founding, Mayworks has hosted celebrations in cities across Canada, in Edmonton, Ottawa, Winnipeg and Toronto. The organizers are conscious to host the festivities in locations across the city, thus making it more accessible to more of the public. They also ensure that event locations are wheelchair accessible. From art galleries to clubs, the festival offers nine days of spoken word, performance art, photography, workshops and family-friendly events. They pride themselves on having a large and diverse audience. “Last year we had many events where there was standing room only. (Our audiences are) from different communities… Quite an accomplishment,” said Mayworks publicist, Matthew Adams.
Although it has been difficult to get coverage from the mainstream media about the festival’s growing success, in the last ten years the festival has definitely become more popular outside of the labour movement. Many people who are not unionized or part of a labour council are presenting art and attending events. For many artists, the festival acts as a stepping stone to greater things. Some of Mayworks’ artist alumni had existed almost completely in obscurity before eventually gracing the covers of magazines. One such grassroots group who appeared on the cover of NOW Magazine was Pretty Porky and Pissed Off. They’re fat-activists who use theatre to challenge body image stereotypes. When it comes to the kinds of artists that Mayworks is prepared to spotlight in their events, the festival committee is dedicated to giving as many new artists as possible the type of exposure they deserve. As a testament to this policy, every year Mayworks’ line-up is unique. One of Mayworks’ most renowned artists at last year’s festival, Favianna Rodriguez said performing at Mayworks is, “a way to reach audiences that you may not reach otherwise.” She also said, “It’s great to collaborate with artists who have the same political inclinations.” “It was very powerful,” said Rodriguez, who is based in California. “It was a great experience for me to go to Toronto and interact with the community there…To see how Canadians…really saw the interception between art and labour,” she said. Despite the economic downturn, the festival has not floundered. The organizers say they are accustomed to running on a slim budget and they have been able to skim by during hard times. The festival committee has even decided to branch out beyond the month of May. They will be bringing arts to the labour movement all year round by providing cultural services to conventions and training schools. Adams is positive about in which direction the labour movement and the arts are growing together. He said, “More unions are embracing the use of the arts. They are beginning to see that the arts are not some add on or simply entertainment but are a way that they can explore their issues, get their messages across and celebrate their victories.” Although a full schedule is not set to be released until mid-March, the Ryerson Free Press was able to get a sneak peek at the line-up. The highly anticipated queer performance troupe Swell will be on stage on April 27. In addition, audiences should anticipate sold out shows for feminist powerhouse poet Ami Mattison, who is coming in from the U.S. The festival runs from April 24 to May 2, 2010. Visit www.mayworks.ca for more information. To volunteer for the for the Mayworks festival email firstname.lastname@example.org. Submissions for the Bookends exhibition are open until February 12, 2010.
REVIEW: footnotes in gaza By Katia Dmitrieva
Footnotes in Gaza. Metropolitan. Written and illustrated by Joe Sacco. Hardcover. December ’09. Joe Sacco’s newly-released Footnotes in Gaza is no less ironic and blunt than his other graphic novels. His voice can be heard in the opening chapter, “A Glimmer of Hope.” Journalists at a party in Israel swap information on the latest violence as if they were discussing stock prices. Sacco intones that “they’ve photographed every wailing mother, quoted every lying spokesperson, detailed every humiliation-and for what?” The people in the region live in emotion-numbing reality. And Sacco doesn’t let us forget it for a minute. Later, in the chapter titled “Claustrophobia”, the stress incurred by Palestinians when crossing Abu Houli checkpoint is recounted in his ink drawings and suspenseful blurbs over six agonizing pages. The driver concentrates on the slightest sign from the Israeli soldiers manning the checkpoint. After all, Sacco injects, these gatekeepers have the power to close the road for hours, days, or indefinitely. Sacco’s destination was Khan Younis, site of the Israeli massacre of Palestinian civilians over fifty years ago. But along the way, he interviewed survivors, witnesses, and a memorable fedayee (guerilla fighter) who
insisted that Rafah city hid another key event. During his research, Sacco noticed that the massacres in Khan Younis and Rafah were barely documented. In fact, the 1956 Israeli military roundup and execution of Gazan civilians was summarized by a UN report in just a few sentences, a veritable footnote in time. Sacco highlights these crucial moments in the Palestinian narrative while reflecting on current hostilities between Hamas-controlled Gaza and the Israeli state which chokes it. A veteran conflict-zone journalist and cartoonist, he delves into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict once more by relying on history as a guide and Gaza as his story-telling focus. Sacco has an uncanny ability to integrate himself into his surroundings, offering the reader an observant perspective on the conflict through his subjects’ eyes. As one of his interview subjects revealed, the massacre of men in Khan Younis left “a wound in [the] heart that can never heal.” Sacco illustrates with unflinching clarity how those wounds can fester with his detailed, frame-by-frame unraveling of Gaza’s tragic past and sombre present.
18 ryersonfreepress.ca MAYWORKS POSTER ARTWORK: Favianna Rodriguez
The Oscars as a stage for social commentary A review of past themes and a prediction for 2010 By Michael Allen As we near February, so too comes that sacred time of year for Image Arts students and entertainment junkies alike: The Oscars. The air is electric after the buzz from the Golden Globes, and folks all over prepare for Hollywood’s Super Bowl weekend. However, as entertaining as it is to make our predictions for best supporting actress, best visual effects and the holy grail of them all, best picture, let us pause to reflect on what lies ahead in 2010. Now it is no secret that in the past the Oscars have been transformed into a venue for discussing social issues. In 1973, Marlon Brando refused his Oscar for The Godfather, citing the misrepresentation of Native Americans in film. Likewise, Michael Moore’s acceptance speech in 2002 for Bowling for Columbine evoked shouts and boos when he criticized the war in Iraq. Although these individual outbursts and protests are rare, the Oscars is the time for Hollywood to speak up about social issues. This can be seen even so simply in the films they choose to recognize.
Traditionally, the best actor/actress and best picture recipients have been tied to performances and films that address hot-button issues of the day in American society. George Clooney mused in his 2006 Best Supporting Actor acceptance speech for Syriana that Hollywood is unafraid of engaging subjects outside of mainstream discourse. “We’re the ones who talk[ed] about AIDS when it was just being whispered,” he said. Indeed 1993’s Philadelphia, starring Tom Hanks as a homosexual man stricken with HIV, was seen by critics as a bold step and earned Hanks an Oscar. Some argued however, that Hanks recognition had much to do with soothing the tempers of gay rights activists over negative stereotypes in the previous year’s Best Picture winner, The Silence of the Lambs. It seems that, especially in recent years, each Oscar telecast has a social justice theme. This was perhaps most exemplified in 2007 when former U.S. VicePresident Al Gore’s documentary An Inconvenient Truth took not only the Best Documentary Feature Award, but also claimed Best Original Song, a first for a documentary. In addition to being invited on stage by the director, Gore’s presence was ambient throughout the entire award show as he continually appeared onstage to support his stance on global climate change. Actor Leonardo DiCaprio proudly announced early in the telecast that this was the first “green” Oscar show and echoed Gore’s sentiment that climate change is “not a political issue; it’s a moral issue.” Of course, this remark came after a gushing DiCaprio begged Gore to run for president in 2008. Not a political issue indeed. What theme will be
most prevalent at the Oscars in 2010? For that we usually can take a cue from the Oscar’s junior predecessor, the Golden Globes. If we are to put any stock in the decisions made by this smaller gala, it’s looking to become an even better year for Ontario-born Avatar director, James Cameron. With both he and his record smashing two and a half-hour, 3D spectacle claiming the top prizes at the Globes, it should not be a big surprise if we see a repeat of Titanic’s near clean sweep in 1997. It’s difficult to extrapolate what particular theme Avatar will fulfill, as it is a film jammed-packed with as many ideas as eye-popping effects. Will this year harken back to 2004’s Hotel Rwanda, with the themes of relocation and genocide as envisioned in James Cameron’s blue-skinned natives, or will anti-war sentiments over the occupation of a sovereign territory (or planet) for a natural resource win out? It’s my hope that Avatar, a film that populated ideas so big it doesn’t know how to effectively address them, does not overshadow other, more focused and socially conscious, films from this year. I’m always cheering for the underdog so I will have my fingers crossed for Precious, about an innocent 16 year-old girl growing up in Harlem who struggles to over-come some of the most brutal and squirminducing emotional abuse ever committed to film. Regrettably I seem to have raised more questions than I had sought to answer; a common hazard when one tries to read too much into entertainment. It is probably a good thing that we try to keep it in perspective. The Oscars are an annual celebration of the newest films. So as we pitch-in on our Oscar pools and tune in next month, if nothing else we know we will be entertained. Hopefully as the awards are handed out and the long-running speeches are cut off by the orchestra, Hollywood will remember that’s why we keep going to the movies in the first place.
CBC launches Kids in the Hall TV show, again By Iqra Azhar
On Monday, January eleventh, I went to the CBC building to see the premiere of Death Comes to Town, an episode in the newly revived Kids in the Hall series that was going to air the following night, Tuesday, January 12 at 9 p.m. As a part of the younger generation who wasn’t around when the original Kids in the Hall aired, I was very interested in seeing what the hype was all about. CBC Radio host Jian Ghomeshi climbed up the steps to the podium promptly at noon and announced the program. He explained that there would be a bit of a Q & A period with the cast and then the 30-minute premiere episode of the show would follow. I swiftly took out my notepad and pen, but was so swept away by the comedians that I never got a chance to turn on my recorder. It turned out I didn’t need to and with the super enthusiastic fans cheering on either side of me, I wouldn’t have been able to hear a single thing if I had recorded it. I arrived at CBC early, not knowing what kind of following The cast of Kids in the Hall. From left: Scott the old television show still had. I Thompson, Dave Foley, Mark McKinney, Bruce didn’t want to take the risk of havMcCulloch and Kevin McDonald.
ing to stand in the back. At first, I was one of eight students in the front rows and we just stared at the empty stage as the CBC staff set everything up. By noon I was glad I arrived early, because there was a crowd gathering around the 200 seats, all of which had been taken. I was pleasantly surprised. I was impressed when I realized the comedians from Kids in the Hall had also appeared in movies and TV shows that I was familiar with: Gilmore Girls (Bruce McCulloch), A Bug’s Life (Dave Foley), Friends and Seinfeld (Kevin McDonald). Mark McKinney and Scott Thompson rounded out the show’s talented line up of actors. The original Kids in the Hall show first aired on CBC in 1988 until 1995. Since then, the actors have all been working on individual projects. They came together to revive the TV show after some of them toured together for the Just for Laughs Comedy tour around North America in 2008. They realized they still wanted to work together. At the Q&A all five of the actors had everyone laughing so much with their answers that there were very few questions asked. Instead they presented several live mini-sketches. Although I got a sense of the Kids and their style of comedy from the Q&A, nothing could prepare me for their first episode. Filmed in North Bay, the action takes place in a fictional town called Shuckton. Weird characters, all of which are played by the famous five, fired-off jokes and plenty of material that is not for the easily offended. The eight-part series is the Kids’ twist on a murder mystery and in the very first episode someone dies. To follow along with this edgy ‘whodunnit’ narrative, Canadian talent at its best and some good ol’ quirky fun…I’ll be making sure to watch the show on CBC on Tuesday nights. I’ll be turning on the television to see who gets killed next.
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MUSIC There’s beauty behind the facade of this ugly record Spoon – Transference
’ve heard music critics call Transference “dirty,” “gritty,” “grainy,” “raw,” and even “ugly,” but only on a very shallow level. You see, this is the first time the Austin, TX quartet have ever produced their record entirely independently. So when people point to the album’s ugliness or rawness, they’re speaking mostly to the fact that the production is more lo-fi than any other Spoon album since 1998’s A Series of Sneaks. The album is also more spacious than any of their albums since 2002’s Kill the Moonlight. However, under Transference’s sparse grainy shell is a set of songs more emotive than your typical Spoon LP. This album is less concerned with style than with substance, less with
cool detachedness than with emotion, less with pretense than with power. And all of this makes for a hard-hitting album. The power of Transference is in its beauty hiding behind the raw, aggressive production that, though it may take a while to surface, lingers long after the first few listens. Transference begs the listener return for more, and rewards them each time by letting them a little closer to the album’s hidden heart. Those looking for a repeat of the immediacy of Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga will be disappointed this time around, but anyone with an ear for depth and music whose quality lingers long after repeated listening is in for a treat. Rating: A —Stephen Carlick
Sophomore effort from the most beloved/hated band in the world today, is likeable Vampire Weekend – Contra
ere’s why Vampire Weekend is so divisive: those who like it tend not just to like it, but to deem it the end-all-be-all of modern music. And, those who hate it love to hate hype, but refuse to admit that it’s the band’s fans, not their music, that they abhor so much. The fact remains that Vampire Weekend’s music is hardly loveable and hardly hateable; it’s likeable at best and tolerable at worst. So let’s just all stop being so adamant about our taste and our pretense and just accept that Contra isn’t going to blow any minds, change any opinions, or save the music industry. What’s it going to do, then? Well, It’s going to go to number one on the
OK Go learns pop doesn’t need to be sticky to be sweet OK Go – Of the Blue Colour of the Sky
’ll be flabbergasted if anybody’s written a song slinkier, sexier and more sinuous in 5/4 timing than OK Go’s “WTF?,” the first track from their first album in four years. And I’ll be damned if any pop/rock, guitar-based band straddling the line between cult band and major-label act has made a more consistently catchy and fun album than Of the Blue Colour of the Sky. Flaming Lips producer Dave Fridmann has rounded out OK Go’s sound this time around, making the band less reliant on jerky, joked up disco pop to get their point across. The band sounds positively sophisticated here, favouring a more mature and full-bodied sound that sacrifices none of the band’s clever, pointed
album sales charts (it already has) and it’s going to serve as a reminder to the band’s hardcore fans not only that Vampire Weekend aren’t their fringe, outside-of-the-box musical secret anymore, but that their music is simple and inoffensive enough that Contra appealed to enough people to surpass Susan Boyle on the charts. So everybody, let’s meet each other halfway and agree that Vampire Weekend are just a bunch of college-aged guys making smart, catchy pop music that loses its edge in the last quarter of Contra. If you’re wondering what it sounds like, listen close; the person next to you has it blaring from their headphones. Rating: B —SC
lyrics or saccharine melodies. To those who fear this might be the end of the band’s trademark choreographer videos, fear not. The second single “This Too Shall Pass” comes fully equipped with a video that could bring a smile to the face of even the band’s most staunch critic. Of the Blue Colour of the Sky sounds like the work of dreamers who, instead of growing up to lose their air of whimsy, find themselves instead endowed with the maturity and the tools necessary to achieve the sound they set out for. For OK Go, this means an LP that just might finally get critics on their side, and they deserve it: they’ve spent nearly a decade getting here. Rating: B+ —SC
Starving student artists are hungry for art on campus
Introducing the Continuist ‘zine collective By Drew Penner It is artistic hunger which forces creative minds of all stripes to the ends of the earth. They are in search of a glimmer of inspiration to fuel the fire of creation. Artistic hunger can also be more literally encapsulated in the colloquial term “starving artist.” The ravenous desire to not only release experimental content into the world at large, but also provide a useful forum for other students to have a voice is what drives a Ryerson-based art collective to publish an annual ‘zine called the Continuist. The Hunger is the theme members chose for this year’s issue. “All artists are kind of hungry,” says co-editor Gint Sileika. “A lot of what we do is about our desires and wants. So it’s kind of a general theme – (we have a) hunger to do art.” Having received a few thousand dollars in funding each year from the Faculty of Arts and Ryerson’s Project Funding Allocation Committee for Students, the ‘zine is also an illustration of Ryerson’s commitment to promote up-and-coming artistic talent on campus. The university has helped fund initiatives like Function Magazine, the Ryerson Gallery and Maximum Exposure, the year-end show for Ryerson’s School of Image Arts. “‘Zines are small scale publications produced on an independent not-for-profit basis,” explained social critic Hal Niedzviecki, founder and publisher of ‘zine and independent culture magazine Broken Pencil. “Their significance is that they allow anyone who wants to publish their thoughts, stories and comics, to go ahead and do just that,” said Niedzviecki. This year, as the Continuist collective devours new bits of tasty content, they are experimenting with a new method of showcasing their work to the world by releasing submissions online as they come in throughout the year. This will allow for a more fluid and involved artistic process, and vastly increase the reach of the publication which has a print run of a few hundred copies. Running a Wordpress blog is free and gives editors a wide swath of material to choose from when compiling the hard-copy edition at the end of the school year. “These days most ‘zines that are in print have an online component because of the need to attract an audience and let people know you exist,” Niedzviecki said. “It’s an interesting idea to put all your submissions online, including ones you wouldn’t necessarily put in the print version of the ‘zine,” he said. Sileika, now in his final year of Arts and Contemporary Studies, hopes adding a web presPHOTO: DREW PENNER
ence will encourage students from other programs to be creative. “It’s like having a magazine without any limits or boundaries,” he said. “We’re hoping to branch out in bigger and better ways.” Arts and Contemporary Studies program director Klaas Kraay remembers helping the students get up and running more than three years ago, coaching them to apply for funding. “I think it’s a terrific venue for creative expression,” said Kraay. He also said is excited to see the publication move into the online world, “because it showcases contributions on an ongoing basis … throughout the year.” For three years the collective has been active on campus, hosting pub nights and launch parties. This year they’ve decided to host DIY art workshops for students. At Halloween they held a punk-rock pumpkin carving seminar for about 20 students, blasting tunes, eating candy and learning seasonal skills. In January they held a collage and button making workshop. “We just want to get as many people as possible involved in something that’s creative outside the classroom,” said co-editor Steph Perrin. “It’s a really nice environment to do that type of work,” she said. “It’s nice to have a club on campus that’s not political.” “It’s always hard to get students to take the time to submit content,” she said, stressing unconventional formats are the norm at the Continuist. “Articles, interviews, lists – we want it all!” Perrin’s advice for anyone considering risking artistic creation: discover the Hunger. “Whatever that makes you want to take time out of your day to express yourself – that’s the theme,” she said. “It’s the passion that drives you to take that time.” The ‘zine launch party will happen at the end of the semester. Students interested in contributing can send selections to email@example.com or at www.thecontinuist.wordpress.com The Ryerson Free Press believes that the creation and publication of art is very political regardless of the political intent of the art itself.
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Arcola Theatre takes its carbon-neutral goal to the next level Why one Ontario theatre went Green By Kaitlin Fowlie
Rooftop garden? Check. Organic beer? Check. LED lights? Check. At first glance, the Arcola theatre demonstrates all the usual suspects of a sustainable enterprise. Upon deeper investigation, the theatre reveals itself as more than simply a trend-following arts organization pulling PR stunts. Opened on credit cards in a reformed factory building in east London, Ontario, the Arcola Theatre is an inspiration for students wishing to change the world via the arts. It was the virtue of commitment which drove this unique business and its founders all the way from their first production lit by candles, to generating their own sustainable energy in house. The Arcola theatre thrives today because it stuck to its core values – integrating several strands of specialization to lead the way toward change in arts organizations. What is so special about the Arcola theatre is that it marries art, engineering, community development and environmental sustainability. Ben Todd, the executive director of the theatre, spent 10 years as an engineer before he decided to commit to the arts sector five years ago. When he joined the Arcola Theatre, he joined a mission to shift the culture in London toward a more sustainable one. Todd maintains that handling climate change requires not only convincing individuals of the facts, but he says it is about driving a cultural shift. He says that with the changes he is making at his theatre he and his team are not striving for a revolution, but rather seeking gradual change. The problem is not awareness, he says. People are all too aware of the impending threats upon us, and no amount of understanding seems to contribute to a solution. Todd said he believes that, on a personal level, we need to be walked through the five steps of grief in order for environmental threats to register. This includes denial, anger, bargaining, accepting, and finally we do something about it. Todd says that people need both a place to stand, and a lever in order to leverage change. In his own case, he said he stands firmly rooted on the stage, and his lever is art. If art is the means by which cultural change can be brought about, then it must encompass more than simply its performance aspect. In conversation Todd pointed out that some artists are like one trick ponies, but he said that artists have the potential, unlike any other specialist, to work with an idea and make it a reality in a matter of months. However, in order to maximize the power of
invention, artists also need to extract from their other faculties. Da Vinci for example, a Renaissance man in his many abilities as an architect, poet, engineer, anatomist and musician, influenced the world in an unparalleled fashion. He remains impressive to this day because he was able to harmonize his artistic abilities with other passions. If artists don’t see the need to restrain themselves and their consumption habits, they fail to see a priceless creative challenge. Greening the arts sector and their particular organization is an accomplishment that also looks great on a CV, makes an organization more interesting, more marketable, and more prolonged. Of course, it is also increasingly necessary. While the carbon footprint of a theatre is negligible compared to that of a hotel: theatres represent two per cent of London’s total carbon emissions - they have to get involved with the cultural players if they wish to shift the culture. The Arcola’s emphasis on community work makes it a vital facet in the district of Dalston. The area in east London is becoming progressively more and more gentrified, adding more affluent inhabitants to its arts oriented environment. The theatre acts as a mediator between the newcomers, who like to come to the theatre and drink organic beer, and the remaining original population who share the edge that the theatre had maintained since before property prices swelled. Taking pride in its status as a welcoming place, the theatre boasts a variety of groups for different crowds, including 50-plus groups, Turkish & Kurdish groups, youth and writers groups. Green Sundays is the name for one of the many local projects the theatre has organized. At this monthly open house the staff welcome supporters of the theatre to share their ideas on environmental issues. They have film screenings, poetry readings, discussions and a “swap shop” where people can trade and reuse books and clothing. In the past they’ve hosted drum circles and workshops where people can learn how to make home-made eco-friendly toiletries. Green Sundays have shown the theatre’s audience that environmental issues don’t have to be uninteresting and instead they get people involved in their community, while invoking the big-picture questions that will lead to a more hopeful future. The theatre has also received considerable acclaim for
its goal to become the world’s first carbon neutral theatre. Arcola Energy is the name for their environmentallyfriendly agenda, which includes everything from using paperless invoicing to international green theatre collaborations and hydrogen fuel cell powering their LED lighting. Going carbon neutral means the theatre is reducing their consumption of heat and electrical energy and they are producing their own renewable energy onsite. Lighting for the theatre is produced using a mixture of LED and low power tungsten technologies, which means they’re able to reduce their power consumption by up to 90 per cent. The lights also allow a nearly infinite colour range, and they don’t contain mercury or filament, making each light more durable. Performances lit on 5 kilowatts (about 5 spotlights) arranged in the “right way” can do wonders, and shows that it’s possible to have effective lighting and still reduce consumption. LED lights are gaining in prominence across the globe. Approximately 8,000 Starbucks across the U.S. have switched over, and Radiohead’s current tour is lit by these energy saving specimens. As the Arcola theatre makes plans to expand its humble empire, Arup – an independent firm of designers, planners, engineers and consultants - will be assisting them in architectural and engineering plans. Arup’s work in Toronto includes engineering for the expansion of the ROM, and current work on Waterfront redevelopment. Todd’s online manifesto states that art should be made in such a way that it can be enjoyed by everyone - forever. He says that it’s simple. His modus operandi may sound lighthearted and optimistic to some. How can something complex as the endangered environment be considered simple? We have to consider its simplicity in the interest of finding a solution, otherwise we will remain too intimidated to do anything. The Arcola theatre gains mastery over the complex environmental issue by means of what it knows best. That’s something everyone can do. According to Todd, “If you can’t do it, you are rubbish.”
Jess Dobkin reveals her everything in her new show By Otiena Ellwand
Dobkin is what all artists try extremely hard to be—Busy, creating something that is making money. Dobkin is off to the Harbourfront Centre, where her newest show, Everything I’ve Got, will debut on January 31st. It’s a piece that has been in the works for the past two years and will make its rounds at festivals in Toronto and Montreal. Inspired by a friend’s struggle and then death from cancer, Dobkin started to think about mortality from an artist’s perspective. What happens to an artist’s unrealized ideas and their creative work once they’re gone? Dobkin says that Everything I’ve Got is like a show and tell of her ideas, just in case the inevitable comes early. Dobkin is doing the unthinkable— she’s putting all of her ideas out there and that means that they could get stolen. But Dobkin is no stranger to taking risks. In her piece, The Two Boobs (2003) she used her breasts as puppets. In Fee for Service (2006) she invited audience members to sharpen a pencil in her vagina (video: http://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=b2abCLGBlao). Then in the Lactation Station (2006) she asked lactating mothers to donate their breast milk for audience members to taste-test. She’s definitely teased the boundaries, to say the least, and has been rewarded for doing so. In 2006 she was named Best Performance Artist in Toronto by NOW Magazine for her “consistently clever and wacky [performances]” that stimulate an “intelligent discourse on women’s bodies and public space.” “My work is a way of processing experience,” says Dobkin. “I want the audience to broach challenging subject matter with me.” She says she uses humour to break the ice and she shows her own vulnerability to make people feel safe enough to engage. “I don’t always feel free and comfortable in my skin,” says Dobkin. “I’m fascinated by the body as a tool, as a medium, it’s this unbelievable, multi-dimensional canvas … The things that it does, it’s so quirky and unpredictable— the weird shit that comes out if it, how it has all of these senses, its fluids…” Perhaps it is this vulnerability mixed with openness about her body that makes her work so surprising. In a YouTube video shot by Bark News at Nuit Blanche in 2006, reporter Ryan Ringer gets an interview while his pencil is being sharpened by Dobkin’s vagina dentata (Latin for ‘toothed vagina’) in her piece, Fee for Service. The whole interaction is awkward and embarrassing
PHOTO: david Hawe
for Ringer, but also surprisingly gentle. When Dobkin asked Ringer if he thinks her vagina is beautiful, he answered, “Hmm, sure it’s beautiful but you know I’m probably saying that because I think I have to and I don’t know why.” His honesty shows the vagina’s two sides, as a body part that is so coveted and yet, at the same time, so stigmatized. Even though this man, woman and vagina are set in an intimate environment, there is discomfort in the fact that this is not the usual context where those three things typically meet. There are no societal guidelines, no rules on how to react or behave and it’s this tension of not knowing how to be that is fundamental to Dobkin’s art. At a coffee shop with Dobkin on Danforth Ave., for once it’s not she who is getting the weird looks. An older woman standing beside our table is wailing to herself about a beach in Yugoslavia. “For the love of Timothy’s!” says Dobkin. Momentarily distracted, she gets back on track. “Some of the things I do don’t seem so strange to me … Maybe it’s because the people I run with, with a lot of misfits, and perverts, and weirdos … Things don’t seem all that strange.” Then she remarks, “With my work it’s about pleasing myself first.” Despite this individualistic bent, the social aspect of her work is one of her favourite parts. Dobkin is eager to get the conversation going between her and her audience. Just like in any relationship, there’s a certain amount of risktaking required “I do feel some anxiety before I put work out there because I don’t know how it will be received and I do want people to be able to access it and I don’t want to alienate … I’m not interested in the shock value of performance art, I’m really interested in engagement.” Dobkin’s work may be ‘out there’ but she is not an alien. She’s a working woman, a mother, and an artist who loves to socialize. “I was just thinking this morning that if I were to have a next career, I would like to be a party planner.” And for some reason, this all makes perfect sense, for if her work is any indication of how fun, interesting and exotic her parties would be, then, it’s time to crack open the champagne and get the party started.
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