First nations day of action marks the beginning of summer
Calls for accountability, inquiry and Chief Blair’s resignation mark G20 anniversary By Danny Viola
One year after Toronto’s G20 summit, hundreds of Canadians are still demanding answers regarding the largest mass arrest in Canadian history. On June 23, approximately 100 people attended a panel discussion titled G20: Lessons Learned, Messages Lost, at the University of Toronto. Moderated by Bob Hepburn of the Toronto Star, panellists John Sewell, Barbara Byers, Meaghan Daniel and Clayton Ruby talked about the police’s actions at the summit and the lack of accountability since the event. Sewell, an activist and former mayor of Toronto, said that police had a simplistic attitude about their job that weekend. Instead of protecting people, businesses and upholding the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Sewell argued that they instead broke the Charter and focused on protecting the G20 leaders. “It was a major failure on the part of the police service and those in charge,” he said. Ruby, a lawyer representing Dorian Barton in a highprofile case against police, used the phrase “sleight of hand” to describe the follow up investigations into the police’s action. Sleight of hand, he said, means that the public is convinced that something meaningful is happening when in reality it is not. “I have never before seen so many accountability measures offered and exercised to so little effect,” he said. Ruby called the Special Investigations Unit useless
and said they lack any real power in average cases of police brutality. He said that they cannot even get police officers to talk to them, noting that only two charges have been laid. The Fundamental Freedoms Festival occurred on June 25 and saw about 800 people rally at Queen’s Park. The event’s organizers called for a full, independent inquiry into all levels of decision making to find out what led to 1,105 people being arrested at the summit. To date, 93 per cent of detainees have been cleared of all charges. The rally was emceed by Gilary Massa, Equity and Campaigns Organiser of the Ryerson Students’ Union. “We have not forgotten,” she said to the crowd. “We may have been beaten, arrested and told to stay home, but one year later we are still here fighting for justice in our communities.” Nathalie Des Rosiers, General Counsel of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, said that it is important for the police to mend their relationship with the public. She said that hiding behind a uniform, especially when badges were removed, was detrimental to a good relationship with the people of Toronto. “I think errors can be made, mistakes can be made and people will tolerate this,” she said, “but hiding and refusing accountability is unacceptable in a democracy.” An Angus Reid poll commissioned by The Toronto Star shows that public perception of the police’s actions has undergone a dramatic shift. Last year, 73 per cent of people
thought that the police were justified in their treatment of protesters. Now only 23 per cent agree. Sid Ryan, president of the Ontario Federation of Labour, was met with roaring applause when he called out Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair and demanded his resignation. “You let us down, Chief Blair. You did not protect the citizens of this community, Chief Blair. You were behind the scenes, Chief Blair, covering up for those cops who beat the crap out of our citizens,” said Ryan. He argued that while the police ask citizens to come forward when they witness a crime, the same police are quiet when their own officers attacked peaceful protesters. “We know the code of silence that you have engaged in has prevented the Special Investigations Unit from finding out what went on behind the scenes,” Ryan said, “we know that you know the identity of those cops—don’t tell me you don’t, you do. And because of that code of silence that you’ve engaged in, we are demanding here today that you step down, Chief Blair. It is time you left.” After the rally, dozens of protesters broke away from Queen’s Park and marched through Toronto. They stopped at Queen and Spadina, where one year ago hundreds of protesters and ordinary citizens were kettled —a tactic which Toronto police say they will no longer use. The impromptu march ended in front of police headquarters at College and Bay steets.
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“The mob mentality that took place at the riots is now happening on social media”
Ryerson Free Press
Thanks to social media, those involved in Vancouver’s riots may be remembered for many years
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By Rhiannon Russell The evening of Wednesday, June 15 had so much potential. The Vancouver Canucks were a game away from winning the Stanley Cup, and thousands of cheering fans packed the streets outside Rogers Arena, the possibility of victory in the air. By the end of the night this potential had gone up in smoke. After the Canucks lost 4-0 to the Boston Bruins the crowds started to sour. Excess alcohol consumption and the taste of crushing defeat set the stage for pandemonium. Police cars were set ablaze, people were beaten and stabbed, and stores were looted. It took Vancouver police hours to disperse the crowds, relying on tear gas, pepper spray and flash bombs to do so. Hundreds of rioters were arrested and will likely face charges. What distinguishes these riots from similar sports riots of the past,
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like those in Vancouver in 1994 when the Canucks lost in the Stanley Cup finals, is the development of social media and Internet communities. In this case, online vigilantism has kept the search alive long after the windows were smashed. Encouraged by Vancouver police, the public has submitted photos, videos and tips to identify the rioters. Websites like Public Shaming Eternus and Identify Rioters, as well as the Facebook page “Vancouver Riot Wall of Shame,” have outed dozens with the help of perpetrators’ friends and families. Nathan Kotylak, 17, was identified in photos attempting to light a police car on fire. He’s since made a public apology and said he’d accept all consequences for his actions. Camille Cacnio, a University of British Columbia student, turned herself in to police after photos surfaced of her walking out of a looted store, smiling and carrying stolen pants. While these sites aim to hold rioters accountable for their actions and help police with the difficult task of identification, some visitors have turned condemnatory and are eager to humiliate and harass the accused. Kotylak and his family fled their home after their address was posted online and they received threats. “The mob mentality that took place at the riots is now happening on social media,” said Bart Findlay, Kotylak’s lawyer. In an apology posted on her blog, Cacnio wrote, “People are trying to retaliate by yet another form of mobbing – the thing about this form of mob mentality that astounds me is that this time they’re doing it sober.” Vancouver police insist they didn’t provoke this extreme hyper-vigilance. “We can’t control what they do with social media,” said Constable Lindsey Houghton. Public shaming is certainly not new, but the advent of the Internet allows this humiliation and degradation to be prolonged endlessly. “This online stuff is going to last a long, long time,” said Rob Gordon, professor of criminology at Simon Fraser University. “And it is being done anonymously. This isn’t restorative justice — this is no forgiveness.” For many of the rioters, now that their names have been published online, their futures are tainted by a few moments of thoughtless action. In many ways, public disapproval is a life sentence. Technology allows for instantaneous publicity whether it’s desired or not. Barbara Kay, a National Post columnist, wrote that Cacnio’s situation should incite fear in everyone “because in this era of ubiquitous random surveillance, none of can be absolutely sure that one day we might not find ourselves electronically outed in perpetuity for some peccadillo or other.” To their credit, some of the bloggers behind these sites discouraged threatening comments and derogatory language. Captain Vancouver, the anonymous blogger behind Public Shaming Eternus, wrote, “There is this belief being pushed in different circles that the use of shaming achieves nothing of worth. I do not believe this to be the case when justice is involved.” He criticized those who’d targeted rioters directly with harassment and hateful remarks. “Uttering threats and physical violence should not be condoned ... I understand everyone’s frustrations at these people. Let’s keep it at that and just let them bear their shame.”
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Sex-work legal battle leaves women without recourse “Business as usual” for Ontario police leaves some sex workers unsure about their safety By Katie Toth The legal battle over sex-work laws went to the Ontario Court of Appeal this month, causing some sex workers and advocates to start asking what will happen next in what they describe as a fight for safer working conditions. Morgan Page, trans sex-work outreach officer at the 519 Community Centre, is not optimistic. She says she expects the court system to draw out the stay for as long as possible before new, potentially harsher regulatory practices are discussed in the House of Commons. Page suspects that the stays the government is requesting will be granted “after exhausting as much time as they possibly can…that appeal will be appealed by whoever didn’t win, and it will keep being appealed until it eventually gets to the Supreme Court of Canada where we will have the actual decision.” That decision may not look as good as sex workers had originally hoped, said Page. “The Harper government is not going to back down all of a sudden. That would be political suicide for them.” Nikki Thomas is the Executive Director of Sex Professionals of Canada. She seems to agree. “It’s entirely possible we’ll end up with something worse than what we started with but we had no way of knowing that when we started the challenge,” she says. “Back in 2008 there was a lot more uncertainty politically than there is now. We had no idea there would be a Conservative majority at this point…we just have to make sure we’re included in the dialogue and get a chance to participate in the discussion.” The appeal was held through the week of June 14 to 17. At press time, a ruling has yet to be made, although as of Friday, June 17, a temporary stay on the legislation remains in effect as the justices make their decision. Justice David Doherty, head of the panel of five judges, said, “the stay will remain in effect until we say something different.” The Crown has requested a new 18-month minimum stay on the current laws, whatever the Court’s decision may be, so Parliament may discuss the issue and come up with a new regulatory system if necessary. A legislative stay is a decision courts can make after they strike down a law, in order to give the lawyers on behalf of the government time to prepare an appeal or give Parliament
time to discuss what new laws, if any, should be put in place. During said time, the previously existing laws remain fully in effect. “In effect all the laws are still in place even though they’ve been ruled unconstitutional,” Page said. For Page, while the original ruling on Sept. 28, 2010 may have felt like a breakthrough, a lack of education around the stay and what it means for sex workers left many women vulnerable. “A lot of the sex workers we serve…were quite confused about what this decision meant and what a stay was,” she said. “There were quite a few people that I worked with who seemed to be under the impression that everything was completely legal and they didn’t have to worry about police anymore. That’s definitely not the truth.” After an initial sense of confidence however, Page said her clients are newly cautious. “By now most of them have definitely got an understanding that the police are still a threat out there and are still going to arrest them.” Page believes that charges against sex workers in her community over the past two years have been on the rise. “There has been an increased police presence in the village and on the stroll, so much so that the traditional stroll at Homewood and Maitland is basically no longer in use by trans sex workers,” she said. She points to new boundaries imposed on sex workers charged with solicitation or communication for the purpose of prostitution. For example, sex workers charged with public communication are often asked to agree not to enter the area from Bloor to Queen and Yonge to Sherbourne, Page explained. That’s the entire gay village which prevent them from being able to access their strolls. These boundaries also, however, prevent sex workers from accessing the community services and programs often nearby, for fear of getting arrested. Thomas points out that the legal complexity of the issue, however, is more nuanced than the law merely remaining in place. “Police…are still going out and still arresting people on charges that would not be pursued at the trial level,” she said. “There’s no judge in the entire country who’s going to pursue with charges against someone for communication at this point, when the law is currently being reviewed by a higher court.” Sex work continued on page 6
In B.C., Pipes Spell Double Trouble KSL gas pipeline is low profile, high threat By Dawn Paley The struggle against the proposed Enbridge pipeline, which has galvanized First Nations throughout northern BC and earned popular support from people across the country, has become one of the highest profile Indigenous and environmental issues in Canada. Concerns are mounting that in Enbridge’s shadow, other energy projects are slipping under the radar—with potentially explosive consequences. The Kitimat Summit Lake (KSL) gas pipeline, also called the Pacific Trails Pipeline, is of emerging concern to Wet’suwet’en land defenders and local residents. If built, this pipeline would connect to an existing Westcoast Energy Pipeline at Summit Lake, near the geographical centre of B.C., and cut west to Kitimat. A recent report prepared by the B.C. Tap Water Alliance about the KSL pipeline proposal states: “The general location of the pipeline was the first phase of B.C.’s new and controversial Energy Corridor discussions; other phases...included the Enbridge oil pipeline from Alberta’s tar sands to Kitimat, which many First Nations strongly opposed in early 2011.” At the western end of the proposed pipeline would sit a brand new Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) port, which is being built by a handful of former Duke Energy insiders on Haisla reserve land at Bish Cove, an area described in media reports as pristine beachfront. First planned as a pipeline to supply the tar sands with natural gas, the project has since been modified to provide an export channel for the emerging shale gas bonanza in northeastern B.C. and Alberta. “In 2004, for all of the energy processes in North America, we didn’t have enough gas,” said Will Koop of the BC Tap Water Alliance. “Now they want to export this gas, they want to change the direction of the import gas proposal from Kitimat to the tar sands and reverse it,” Koop told The Dominion. The proposed KSL pipeline would be almost 500 kilometres in length and 91 centimetres in diameter. It would also be flanked by an 18-metre right-of-way on each side. The project
has quietly received approval from both the federal and provincial governments, and is awaiting the final nod from the National Energy Board, the federal agency that oversees oil and gas projects in Canada. “Nobody showed up for the first open house in Houston—three people I think—so they cancelled all the other open houses. There was never another open house on the KSL pipeline,” said Glenda Ferris, a long time environmentalist who lives in the Buck Creek Valley near Houston BC. “There was never even a news article about this pipeline in the local papers...They did this all under the table.” In February 2011, Vancouver-based Pacific Northern Gas sold its stake in the KSL project to the Houston-based Apache Corporation and EOG Resources (formerly Enron). Ferris is not alone in feeling left in the dark about the plans to build the KSL pipeline. In early April 2011, Freda Huson, a spokesperson for the Unist’hot’en Clan of the Wet’suwet’en, received a letter from Pacific Trails Pipeline, indicating that the company planned to put drilling pads on the site of her family’s camp. A week later, Huson visited the location, the company having neglected to seek permission or prior consent from her clan as traditional landowners. On the site, Huson noted fluorescent ribbons inscribed with the words “Pacific Trails Pipelines” hanging from tree branches, marking the path the pipeline would follow. Enraged, Huson took down the ribbons, and returned the next day with members of her family to build a makeshift fence around the area. These days, Huson is entertaining the idea of moving into a cabin on-site so that she can keep a closer eye on what is happening on the land she says her family has depended on for trapping and fishing for hundreds of years. “I received a telephone call and they said they were wanting to meet with us, because we told them they were not coming in, and we would block them,” said Huson, referring to her
last interaction with one of the pipeline companies. Unlike in the case of the Enbridge pipeline, elected officials from the 14 First Nations along the KSL pipeline path have already agreed to the project. Some have received incentives, including employment for band members, for agreeing to the project. The Haisla Nation did not respond to a request for an interview before press time. The cumulative impacts of the infrastructure connected to the KSL pipeline will be enormous, and range from LNG terminal and storage areas near the coast to the massive shale gas projects in northeastern B.C., which are slated to use a significant portion of the energy generated by the proposed SiteC dam. A recent study from Cornell University indicates that natural gas extracted from shale through a process known as hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) may actually release more carbon emissions in the long run than coal or oil. Oil and gas pipelines running side by side also make a dangerous combination. East of the Morice River, lying to the west of the town of Smithers, a significant distance separates the proposed route of the Enbridge oil pipeline and that of KSL. Closer to the river, however, as well as to the west, the proposed pipelines would run side by side. “When they go up the Morice and through the coast mountains to Kitimat, they’re right on top of each other,” said Ferris. “The basic probability of failure is an explosion, why would you ever allow an oil pipeline to be built next to the KSL pipeline?” “I’ve never seen Enbridge acknowledge the KSL pipeline,” she said, “and what hazard the KSL pipeline is going to pose to an oil pipeline.” Enbridge did not return this reporter’s request for an interview before press time. Dawn Paley is a journalist in Vancouver. This article was originally published by The Dominion.
OPINION Attacks on Pride: An open letter to Toronto councillors By Elle Flanders Dear Councillors, I am sure you have many other things to do with your time apart from endlessly debating the issues of Israeli Apartheid and its positioning within Toronto Pride. I have appealed to you before, but do so once more as in the July 1 issue of daily Israeli newpaper, Ha’aretz, Irwin Cotler (Canadian MP, co-founder of the Canadian Parliamentary Committee to Combat Anti-Semitism and former justice minister) has finally put this argument to rest when he states unequivocally that criticism of Israel as an apartheid state is within the bounds of legitimate discourse. While my Jewish voice and those of countless others did not allay your fears in this regard, I hope the man who has led the charge not only against anti-Semitism in Canada, but who coined the phrase “the new anti-Semitism,” can allow cooler heads to prevail. I have written to you before as a member of the Jewish community and the gay community, as someone who has fought for justice my whole life, be it for Jewish rights, gay rights or, now, justice in Palestine. What being Jewish (and gay) has taught me is to fight for the rights of others, not only my own. Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti, Councillor James Pasternak and Councillor Doug Ford, I hope you are listening: Cotler has suggested that it is not only legitimate criticism, but it is an important principle of democratic speech. Neither you, Councillor Mammoliti, nor you, Councillor Ford, nor your brother, Rob, the Mayor, have terrific records when it comes to defending LGBT rights in this city, and it is becoming more and more clear to most of us, that any problem with Queers Against Israeli Apartheid has become a ruse to defund Pride (and no doubt other minority cultural organizations to follow). Councillor Mammoliti, you claim that “hate groups” (read the article here: http://bit.ly/ pBlA1K) (however, I do not believe that as a Jew of conscience I have been participating in a “hate group”) and “politics” have no place in parades, yet to be clear, you fund Pride as a cultural organization. Also, to be more clear, your own city staff and manager have told you that the term Israel Apartheid does not contravene city policy. Now, Councillor Pasternak, I understand you want to change that policy (although you all voted unanimously to adopt the report), but again, I suggest you read Mr. Cotler’s views on that: he has a few years experience when it comes to anti-Semitism and the law. I too have fought anti-Semitism in this city, when neo-Nazis David Irving, Ernst Zundel and the like were active here in Toronto. Banning/threatening Pride because of a group, in which many of whom are Jewish, that criticizes Israeli state policy cannot be compared to the real work of ridding a city of discrimination and anti-Semitism. These charges are clearly wrongheaded and dangerous thinking. Councillor Mammoliti, perhaps it is also unclear to you that the way Pride and many other institutions came to be is exactly through “activism,” “politics” and engagement in civil
rights. You would not have an anti-discrimination policy if it were not for the tireless work of the Dudley Laws in this city or the Doug Stewarts (Black Cap) or, frankly, the Tim McCaskells (of the Toronto Board of Education, Aids Action Now and now QuAIA) or Tony Souzas (also of QuAIA, founder of Gay Asians Toronto, etc). Frankly, your homophobic comments over the years do not make you a great candidate to take on this debate. It’s hard for most of us not to have suspicions that perhaps you have another agenda. As for Team Ford, it’s hard for us there as well not to think that with Rob Ford’s absence from all Pride events and with the upcoming deficit we are now facing (which you admitted on AM 640 talk radio was indeed one of the concerns of re-funding Pride), that this isn’t about anti-Semitism, hate or anything of the sort, but rather a reason to slash culture funding wherever you can (and maybe with a smattering of homophobia?). I mean, what else can we think with your voting record on LGBT issues? I urge you to drop the witch-hunt against the LGBT community and the larger agenda to defund Pride (and no doubt other city cultural events) and to calm the rhetoric. Do we really want to be a city that doesn’t allow the expression of political opinions, in or outside of parades, marches, cultural events? TIFF, which you support generously, has a political position many times a day with films that espouse them from all over the world; so too does Luminato, Caribana, etc. And they are not all opinions you personally (or other constituents) might find “tasteful.” The LGBT community has always had strong opinions on many matters, some specifically LGBT-related, some about unions, and even some about the military. This is what makes for democracy. Finally, if you think we are successful and affluent enough to be able to fund ourselves (as Councillor Mammoliti also stated in several interviews), then perhaps we should take our parade elsewhere (or let it die) and all the millions of dollars we bring with it. You might have quite a few very angry businessman and taxpayers when you have to add those lost millions to the deficit. And to be even-handed, you will have to cut off TIFF and Luminato and all the other cultural events that make this city not only great, but frankly put even more dollars in your coffers. A city without culture is not only dead, but also poorer in all senses of the word. You cannot begin to cherry-pick with culture; policing the speech and actions of the LGBT community is not part of your job any more than deciding which films get played at TIFF or what plays happen in the theatres. Funding culture with the knowledge that it pays back tremendously is what is fiscally and morally responsible and hence part of your jobs as Toronto city councilors. We are your gravy. Elle Flanders is a Canadian filmmaker and a driving force behind Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (queersagainstapartheid.org). This article originally appeared on rabble.ca on July 6, 2011: rabble.ca/news/2011/07/attacks-pride-open-letter-toronto-councillors
The value of a life: Time to juxtapose By John Baglow
This is summer, the living is easy, and my blogging may be light from time to time. Readers know that my place is not solely devoted to incidents of uncontrolled police brutality, and I had meant to give the topic a rest—after all, there are enough cases before us all at this point to take up one’s writing time 24/7, and one does suffer indignation fatigue after a while. But these two juxtaposed stories today require a good look, if only as a vivid illustration of how what Bob Marley famously called the Shitstem works in Canada. Item: The four killers of Robert Dziekanski, after years of investigations, cover-ups and inquiries, have been charged with—perjury. And they’ve now been given an extension to allow them—after four years—to prepare their defence. “The first court appearance for four Mounties charged with perjury for their testimony at the public inquiry into Robert Dziekanski’s death has been put off until August. Const. Bill Bentley, Const. Kwesi Millington, Const. Gerry Rundell and Cpl. Benjamin Robinson were scheduled to make their first appearance Wednesday in B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver, but the Crown defence lawyers asked for an adjournment until Aug. 31.” (from: http://bit.ly/ q2QRPy) “Crown defence lawyers” may be a misprint, but it’s a telling one. They’re all on the same side. The defence, after four years, asked for more time to prepare. And the special prosecutor has already declined to prosecute the four horsemen for anything more than lying under oath. Item: A 15-year-old boy has been charged with first-degree murder for killing a police officer. Clearly a serious crime was committed. The boy had been pulled over and he suddenly took off, dragging the officer for 300 meters. The vehicle then rolled, pinning the officer and ultimately killing him. There is no question that the officer was a blameless victim of an impulsive act. There is no question that justice, accordingly, must be served. But first-degree murder? And note the alacrity with which this lad was charged. (Robert Dziekanski was killed nearly four years ago.)
Here are the salient Criminal Code provisions (from sections 229 and 231, respectively), defining murder and first-degree murder: Culpable homicide is murder (a) where the person who causes the death of a human being (i) means to cause his death, or (ii) means to cause him bodily harm that he knows is likely to cause his death, and is reckless whether death ensues or not; (1) Murder is first-degree murder or second-degree murder. Planned and deliberate murder (2) Murder is first-degree murder when it is planned and deliberate. Murder of peace officer, etc. (4) Irrespective of whether a murder is planned and deliberate on the part of any person, murder is first-degree murder when the victim is (a) a police officer, police constable, constable, sheriff, deputy sheriff, sheriff ’s officer or other person employed for the preservation and maintenance of the public peace, acting in the course of his duties; The question that presents itself is whether this kid had formed the intention to cause the officer bodily harm, or simply panicked and fled. I have no difficulty with a lower legal bar to prosecute wrongful death where a peace officer is involved. But, on the face of it, this looks like textbook manslaughter by a frightened 15-year-old. In any case, we have two innocent victims. And two glaringly different standards of justice in a country I used to recognize. This article originally appeared on Dawg’s Blawg on June 29, 2011: drdawgsblawg.ca/2011/06/the-value-of-a-life-time-to-juxtapose.shtml. The boy remains in jail and is paralyzed.
Ryerson Free Press july 2011 5
“P” is for Palestine and Pakistan By Henna Khawja I would like to open with this disclaimer: the following is based on my humble personal narrative, not fact or statistic. Contrary to other Muslims/South Asians/women of colour seen in the media, I do not speak on behalf of my community, nor would I ever attempt to. Also, the statements in this article apply to other ethno-religious communities; however, I can only speak from what I directly experience. I was born and raised in a suburb of Toronto, to parents who left their home of Pakistan in the 1970s, mainly thanks to Mr. Trudeau. I identify as a Pakistani-Canadian woman who is also a practicing Muslim, raised in a home where both the Pakistani culture and the Islamic religion were enforced in a strong, yet flexible, manner. As the stereotypical youngest child, I came into this world choosing to channel my inner rebel. Yes, I chose to become a social worker (insert gasp here)—not the other traditional career paths expected from doting, hard working, immigrants of colour, parents whose selfless prerogative for abandoning their homes was to provide their children with promising educational opportunities. Unfortunately, my career is not highly respected in the South Asian/Muslim communities, as the daily realities of my job are also daily taboo. Regularly, social workers deal with issues of oppression—you know, all of the “isms.” In my opinion, social work does not simply mean working in a school or child protection. On the contrary, I believe the core focus for social work should be the ideal of social justice. In the words of one of my heroes, Saul Alinsky, it is “better to die on your feet than to live your life on your knees.” Let’s utilize some deductive reasoning here, shall we? If social work is based on social justice, and social justice is based on action, then action must mean not just talking the talk, but walking the walk. I have a strong passion for the Palestinian cause, and I define Israel’s interactions with this beautiful country as Apartheid. That said, I have always made a strong effort to mobilize around this cause: organizing events at Ryerson University or marching the beautiful, bustling streets of downtown Toronto in solidarity with thousands of others. Here is my dilemma: so often I am posed with the accusing, sometimes confused, statement: “Why do you care about Palestine?” The question is usually, and sadly, followed by, “but you’re Pakistani!” You see, I have internal sirens that initialize when surrounded by hate, oppression, discrimination or any sort of negativity. It is a condition that was present at birth; I believe it is called compassion. There are many reasons that I care about Palestine. One, Palestine has historical parallels to my Indo-Pakistani ancestry. In 1947, British India separated religious demographics, leading to the Declaration of Independence of Pakistan on August 14, 1947. Consequently, mass violence ensued, as did the forced migration of millions. This era is commonly referred to as “Partition,” and it was a violent affair; the ripples of hate are still felt today in both Pakistan and India. Similarly, on November 29, 1947, the United Nations
approved Resolution 181, which aimed to “resolve” the ArabJewish conflict by segregating the population into two states, one Arab and one Jewish. This, too, resulted in mass violence and the forced uprooting of hundreds of thousands of individuals. Palestinians refer to this period of time and exodus as the Nakba or “catastrophe.” The Jewish state of Israel was officially born on May 15, 1948, leaving the state of Palestine in hearts, memories and, unfortunately, quotation marks for many. Furthermore, Pakistan and Palestine are important causes to support because both nations have a strong experience of displacement. In 2006, the Canadian Census counted approximately 125,000 Pakistanis—five years ago! I should also mention that Toronto held the largest diaspora nationwide, with approximately 66,110 Pakistanis. That said, the Pakistani community has fairly strong numbers in this nation, and we should exercise our freedoms and civil liberties. This means, building solidarity, mobilizing and respecting the experiences of other communities. In contrast, I am unable to even provide a statistic for PalestinianCanadians, as it is grouped under “Arab” with loads of other communities (cue head scratch). As Canadians, we are a privileged bunch; we watch atrocities occur overseas from the safety of our living rooms, read about them in the Metro on the GO Train, and watch clips of mass destruction on our handy smart phones. It is common knowledge, I believe, that this generation is largely a desensitized one. As a student, with tears in my eyes and envy in my heart, I read about the American Civil Rights Movement, Tiananmen Square, the Iranian Revolution, the Palestine Liberation Organization, and the Women’s Suffrage Movement. There was one constant in all of these revolutions: mobilization. There was also one constant demographic: students. But from my first Toronto rally on January 18, 2003 with thousands of others, to my most recent Nakba demonstration on May 15, 2011 outside the Israeli Consulate, I have felt the absence of both Pakistanis and students. So often, I hear about drones, suicide-bombers, hate-filled individuals, Federal Court judges and misogynistic men massacring my people in Pakistan. Why am I not sharing my pride in Pakistani mobilizations? Well, they simply do not exist in Toronto. By contrast, I see how strong the Palestinian community is, and how passionate Palestinians are about their cause. It pains me to see small Palestinian mobilizations, and my blood boils when the Jewish Defense League (JDL) verbally abuses peaceful protestors with profane language. It also truly punctures my heart to hear a person accuse my support
as misplaced. On the other hand, I grin from ear to ear when I see individuals of different ethnicities and religions showing solidarity. My heart melts every time a child, on the shoulders of his/her caregiver, screams words of peaceful protest, in unison with the rest of the crowd. My feet itch to dance when individuals, Palestinian or not, huddle together, break out into song and dance: simply for the sake of bliss. My eyes well up with tears when I see perfect strangers embracing: wordless gestures to say thank you—for supporting my people, my nation and me. Is that not a beautiful thing? The next time a person stops and accuses me of not having the right to support the Palestinian people, I hope to turn my keffiyeh-clad neck, and have a much more positive response. On that day, I also hope to see you by my side, fist raised, smile on your face—and yes, I mean you! Solidarity forever!
assault, harassment, robbery, that sort of thing.” Gauthier is concerned that a loss of the legislation against living on the avails of prostitution will make it more difficult to prosecute pimps who are exploiting young women. “If we lose the living on the avails charge, that… makes it very difficult for us to enforce against pimps.” Gauthier notes that “generally the way the pimps operate is they recruit girls who are often underage and exploit them. Often times they make them work against their will and make them work in dangerous surroundings, keep all of their money, that sort of thing.” Robbery, extortion, child abuse, and withholding income are all already illegal in Canada. When asked if removal of the laws may make it more difficult for him to respond to victims who are also sex workers, Gautier says, “right now, some people who are involved in the sex trade seem to think they are committing an offense so there might be a bit of fear in reporting, whereas if the laws are struck down they may not feel those repercussions so they may be more willing to come and speak with us. “However, I think most people—at least the ones who’ve been doing this for some time—understand that they’re not going to be charged if they’re the victim of a crime… and will report to us anyway.”
As a Supreme Court appeal continues to approach with each legal step, advocates also begin visioning their hopes for the future. Thomas would like to see a system of minimal regulation, where strict laws over licensing and red light districts do not push independent sex workers further underground. She says she’d like to see a system in which independent sex workers can work alone or within small groups, quietly, within their own communities. Thomas is fiercely opposed to red light districts or bureaucratic regulation practices. She points out that red light districts not only “segregate and ghettoize [sex workers],” but are “really not fair to the people who live in that area…to force them to have all of the prostitution conducted in Toronto all of a sudden concentrated in an area that they live in, when they may not be interested in having it around.” Page also hopes that “having their work not criminalised will hopefully help begin ending the stigma around sex work…which keeps people who are trying to exit sex work or pursue other work in addition to sex work from doing so.” However, “The reality is a lot of women will still do street based work and it will still be dangerous,” Page said. She’d like to see more government programming “addressing the inequalities in people’s lives that make people rely on survival based sex work.”
Henna Khawja is a practicing social worker in the GTA, although she longs to return to life downtown. She is also Ryerson and U of T alumna, but definitely considers the former to trump the latter. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sex work continued from page __ Thomas says, “Justice Himel’s decision effectively neutralized the laws in terms of being able to prosecute them, but people can still be charged with those laws. And what police will do is they’ll target the most vulnerable and the least informed.” Police in Ontario continue to arrest people on prostitution-related charges. Just two months ago, London police officers arrested two men and charged them with keeping a common bawdy house. Meanwhile, in Metro Vancouver, RCMP officers raided and closed two local massage parlours only weeks after Himel’s September 28 decision was made, a move that sex advocate Susan Davis said was a response to the Ontario victory. Toronto Police Services spokespeople could not answer questions from the Ryerson Free Press about the boundary programs imposed on sex workers or whether they continue to arrest sex workers and clients at press time. Detective Paul Gauthier of Special Victims Services, however shared his perspective on the ruling. Special Victims Services is a special branch of the Toronto Police Services that responds to the needs of victims of crime who are involved with the sex trade. While often sex workers may have broken the law, through this arm of the Service, Gauthier explains, “we look at the more serious of the offenses, generally the offenses that we get are sexual
PHOTO: Robin Iversen Rönnlund
FEATURES The Egyptian Revolution: What’s next? After the fall of Mubarak, the movement enters its second phase By Jesse McLaren Despite the removal of Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak, his regime is still intact: the emergency laws and military trials of civilians are still in effect; police cracked down on demonstrators on Nakba Day and beat a bus driver to death in June; the regime recently arrested journalist Rasha Azab and interrogated journalist and activist Hossam elHamalawy; the regime censored murals commemorating martyrs and arrested the street artist Ganzeer for producing an image that criticizes Egypt’s military dictatorship. Like the decade of struggle leading up the revolution, these political questions are part and parcel of social and economic demands. Workers are demanding a monthly minimum wage of 1,200 Egyptian pounds ($200). Women demonstrated in Tahrir on International Women’s Day for governmentfunded childcare, an end to discrimination in hiring and promotions, and an end to sexual harassment and violence against women. Peasants have begun reclaiming the land. In early June families of martyrs demanding justice joined a sit-in by homeless people demanding housing. But these demands challenge the military regime and the corporations that support them, which persist despite Mubarak’s overthrow. As a striking doctor said, “Every percentage point for increasing health care will come from the budget of the Ministry of Interior and other parts of the oppressive machine.” The same economic crisis that contributed to the revolution is driving a deeper wedge between political reforms gained and the social and economic demands that have yet to be met. The stock market even panicked at a raise in the minimum wage to 700 pounds. The Arab Spring is a huge threat to Western imperialism in the region, and the counter-revolution is taking a variety of forms: direct military intervention in Libya, indirect intervention through Saudi Arabia in Bahrain, and a combination of weapons sales and “financial aid” in Egypt. But with the Eurozone in crisis, the funds are relatively small for such a large and strategic country as Egypt, and the government was just forced to reject the loan, citing the “pressure of public opinion.” Meanwhile the internal counterrevolution in Egypt is based on a combination of co-opting and attacking the revolution. While corporations and the regime are claiming the mantle of the revolution—on murals and posters—they are attacking the strength and unity on which the revolution depends. One of the first acts of the military regime after the fall of Mubarak was to ban strikes that helped drive him from power, and since then it has broken up sit-ins and harassed union activists in education and transportation. It has also overseen attacks on the International Women’s Day March—including subjecting women to virginity tests—and the burning of a Coptic church. The regime has accused striking doctors (who earn less than $3 per day) of being traitors to the revolution, while the state-controlled trade unions have accused the independent trade unions of being “counter-revolutionary among the workers.” Just as Stalin’s counter-revolution used the language of socialism, so the military regime in Egypt is using the language of revolution in an attempt to undermine the movement for change. The leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood is complicit with the military regime in its quest for power, using religious language to call off demonimage: jesse Mclaren
Egyptian street artist Ganzeer was arrested for producing this image, which reads: “New! The Freedom Mask! Greetings from the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces to dear Egyptians! Now available for an unlimited time.”
strations. But many of its membership, particularly the youth, were radicalized by the revolution and continue to demonstrate. In this context workers’ struggles are key to counter divisions and push the revolution forward. As Hossam el-Hamalawy wrote in the Guardian: “Many are disappointed with Egypt’s progress— me less so because I never had high expectations from an army takeover. But two things have changed in Egypt in the past 100 days which give me hope, and both relate to the fact that the revolution is unfinished. “The first is that mass strikes are continuing. The second is that workers have taken the step of establishing independent trade unions, which I believe are the silver bullet for any dictatorship. “Attempts are already under way by middle-class activists to place limits on this revolution and ensure it remains only within the realm of formal political institutions. But the main part of any revolution has to be socio-economic emancipation for the citizens of a country. “So this is phase two of the revolution, the phase of socio-economic change. What we need to do now is take Tahrir to the factories, the universities, the workplaces. In every single institution in this country there is a mini-Mubarak who needs to be overthrown. In every institution there are figures from the old state security regime who need to be overthrown.” In neighbourhoods the Popular Committees to Defend the Revolution have continued to advocate for better services and to remove corrupt officials. In workplaces more than 150 independent unions have
formed since the fall of Mubarak—from textile and aluminum workers, to postal and hospital workers, and even workers who issue marriage licenses. In March doctors organized national strikes demanding better wages for all workers, the removal of corrupt officials, and an increase in the health budget from 3 to 15 per cent of GDP. On March 25 an independent union uniting all hospital workers was launched in Cairo, and three days later the hospital director resigned. In April postal workers from across Egypt met to organize an independent union. According to Adil Hisham, a postal worker: “Alongside supporting workers’ demands, we’ll be working on setting up our independent union as quickly as possible. … Now is the time for workers in Egypt to set up independent organizations to defend themselves from the bosses’ attacks, and to unite their demands in the wake of the victory of the revolution which opened the door to all workers to get organized and speak with one voice.” On May Day, the Egyptian Federation of Independent Unions mobilized the first national public demonstration for workers in over 60 years, and the Democratic Workers’ Party was launched to represent workers demands: raise the minimum wage, remove corrupt managers, renationalize privatized industries, and end Egypt’s ties with Israel. In the first week of June there were strikes or protests by flight attendants, petrol workers, subway workers, and Parliament workers, while a pharmacists’ union formed. Meanwhile protesters marked the anniversary of the death of Khaled Said by chanting outside the Interior Ministry and spray-painting his face all over the notorious building—while vans full of riot police watched passively. Suez Canal workers went on strike for two weeks. In mid-June hundreds of British trade unionists sent a solidarity message, demanding the Egyptian regime respect the right to strike and protest, and the British government stop selling weapons used to suppress strikes and protests. The Egyptian Revolution is inspiring people all over the world. Shortly after the fall of Mubarak workers in Wisconsin occupied the Capitol Building, inspired by the revolution and received solidarity messages from Egypt. Then Tahrir arrived in Madrid as tens of thousands occupied the main square against austerity. In Canada Parliamentary page Brigette DePape interrupted the Throne Speech calling for an Arab Spring in Canada. Though our conditions are different, we too have been inspired by Palestinian resistance and mobilized against the Iraq War; we too are mobilizing against police indifference and injustice, from the missing and murdered Aboriginal women to the mass arrests at the G20; we too have lived through a generation of neoliberal policies, and are facing an austerity agenda; we too are facing attacks on our trade unions, but are starting to fight back. That’s why we need to learn more from the Egyptian Revolution. As an Egyptian activist said recently, “If you’re inspired by our Arab revolutions, do as we did. You need one. I know you need one. And we need you to do one. It’s not just an Arab Spring, it’s a world spring.” Jesse McLaren recently spent one week in Cairo for a conference about the Arab revolutions. This article originally appeared on Your Heart’s on the Left on June 26, 2011: yourheartsontheleft.blogspot.com
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The origins of racism Racism is so embedded in our society that many people assume it has always existed. But, says Yuri Prasad, it is really a modern phenomenon that developed with capitalism By Yuri Prasad The plague of racism continues to scar the world that we live in, even though there is no scientific basis whatsoever for the division of society into races. Race is a social construct that benefits our rulers. The idea that people with different skin colours have different ideas and interests is a “common sense” one. The implication of this for many people is that prejudice is natural, and that any attempt to get rid of it is doomed. If this were true, racism would be a feature of all human societies in history. But this was not the case. People in the ancient world did not regard skin colour as any more important than hair colour. Tomb paintings from ancient Egypt depict light, brown and black figures in a fairly random way. The Greeks and Romans did not believe that white skins were inherently superior. In fact, we can be almost certain that the Roman emperor Septimius Severus was black. As the Trinidadian Marxist scholar CLR James put it, “Historically it is pretty well proved now that the ancient Greeks and Romans knew nothing about race. They had another standard—civilized and barbarian—and you could have white skin and be a barbarian and be black and civilized.” And early explorers from medieval Europe did not believe their societies were necessarily superior to those that they visited. In 1600 a Dutch trader entering the city of Benin in west Africa wrote, “The city looks very big when you go into it. The houses in the town stand in good order as our Dutch houses are. These people are in no way inferior to the Dutch in cleanliness. They wash and scrub their houses so well that these are as polished as a looking glass.” All sorts of prejudices thrived in pre-capitalist societies, such as the ignorance and suspicion of strangers. But racism differs from these. Racism exists where an entire group of people is systematically discriminated against on the basis of characteristics they are said to share. In some, but not all, circumstances the group is defined by certain physical characteristics, like skin colour. The development of such a structured prejudice did not exist prior to capitalism, and a key phase within it—the transatlantic slave trade. Forms of slavery had existed in medieval societies all over the world. Between the tenth and sixteenth centuries, the chief source of slaves in western Europe was eastern Europe—the word “slave” comes from the word “Slav.” But the slave trade took off on a massive scale when Portugal, Holland, England and France began growing sugar and tobacco in their colonies in the seventeenth century. These crops required an enormous amount of labour. At first plantation owners used “indentured servants” from Europe to provide it. These white-skinned debt-slaves were contracted to work for no wages for three to five years. Few survived that long. Soon the demand for labour was such that owners looked to Africa to supplement their numbers. By 1653 African slaves in Barbados outnumbered white labourers by almost three to one. And while there were only 22,400 black people in the southern colonies of North America in 1700, there were 409,500 by 1770. It is a common argument that slavery was the result of a racist worldview. Black historian Eric Williams challenged this. He wrote, “Slavery was not born of racism—rather, racism was the consequence of slavery.” The slave traders and owners had previously looked to ancient Greek and Roman texts to justify their actions. These had suggested that the enslavement of those captured in “just wars” was legitimate. But it was difficult to stretch that definition to the hundreds of thousands now being transported in the most horrific of conditions from Africa. The thinkers of the European Enlightenment, who held that all men were created equal, were in a quandary. How could they explain away the fact that their prosperity was based on the enslavement of millions of people—and that those slaves were worked to death? In addition there was the problem of white indentured labourers making common cause with slaves and idigenous peoples to run away or attack their masters. In response the plantation owners developed laws that outlawed association between white
and black people. A new theory—that black people were not human beings, but were a subspecies more akin to animals—was developed to justify slavery. In 1771, the English philosopher David Hume wrote, “I am apt to suspect the Negroes to be naturally inferior to the Whites. There never was a civilized nation of any other complexion than white. No ingenious manufacturers among them, no arts, no sciences.” He was one of many who gave racism a “scientific” gloss. Soon theories abounded in which all peoples of the earth could be described as “white,” “black,” “brown,” “red” or “yellow.” These arbitrary categories were then placed in hierarchical order, with whites at the top. Nevertheless, a powerful movement against slavery grew. On the plantations rebellions increasingly took on an insurrectionary character. In slave-holding nations, such as England and France, working-class opposition to the trade became increasingly militant. The planters used the most barbaric repression to deter resistance. Slaves in Barbados who rebelled were punished by “nailing them down on the ground with crooked sticks on every limb, and then applying fire by degrees from feet and hands, burning them gradually up the head, whereby their pains are extravagant.” Those whose profits depended on slavery resorted to all manner of slurs in a vain attempt to resist abolition. Racism did more than justify the oppression of black slaves. It also served as a means of dividing the poor by tying the interests of impoverished white farmers to those of the slave‑owning white elite. Racism offered destitute whites the idea that they were supposedly superior to slaves, even if their conditions were not all that different. This reduced the chances of class conflict. Frederick Douglass, the great anti-slavery campaigner, noted, “The hostility between the whites and blacks of the [U.S.] South is easily explained. It has its root and sap in the relation of slavery, and was incited on both sides by the poor whites and blacks by putting enmity between them. They divided both to conquer each.” The “usefulness” of racism to the capitalist class is the chief reason why the ideology survived the end of the slave trade in the ninteenth century. It is a means to divide the poor and to divert their attention away from the real causes of their misery. Now the domination of the world by a handful of European powers, or “Europeanized” powers such as the U.S., was justified by a racist assumption that whites should “civilize” colonial nations. According to Rudyard Kipling, the poet of British Empire, this was the “White Man’s Burden.” Racism got a further theoretical boost from a form of “science” that distorted Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection. Now the different races were said to be suited to differing roles in society because of a difference in their biologies. While the forms of racism have changed over the centuries, it remains a fundamental part of capitalist society today. Despite the great efforts of the bosses, racism was never automatically accepted by the working class—neither in days of slavery nor in much more recent times. Peter Fryer documents hundreds of acts of resistance to racism in his outstanding book, Staying Power: The history of black people in Britain. One such episode is a mass meeting organized by radicals in Sheffield in 1794. Thousands of artisans unanimously passed a resolution calling for emancipation of black slaves. “Wishing to be rid of the weight of oppression under which we groan, we are induced to compassionate those who groan also,” declared the Yorkshiremen, before pledging to “avenge peacefully ages of wrongs done to our Negro Bretheren.” Since the days of slavery, the battle to “avenge the wrongs” of racism has been a continual theme in British working-class politics. The long tradition of militant resistance to racism remains the best answer to those who try to excuse prejudice by claiming that it is just part of human nature. This article originally appeared in Socialist Worker (UK) on July 9, 2011: www.socialistworker.co.uk/art.php?id=25296 PHOTO: DERPUNK/FLICKR
How it went down: On board the Tahrir By Miles Howe Through it all—and by “all” I mean getting boarded by the Greek Special Forces on the high seas as the Tahrir attempted to leave Agios Nikolaos bound for Gaza—I was struck by the humanity of the Greek Special Forces. These were the same men who had been sitting at the marina, under an umbrella, cracking jokes with us for days. When the shit hit the fan, sure, they didn’t suddenly see the humanity of our mission, put down their guns, place flowers in their hair and escort us to Gaza. It’s easy to say that they were the enemy. Period. Perhaps harder is to appreciate that the Tahrir was loaded with people, many of them senior citizens. No one was beaten. No one was tasered. No one was tear-gassed. And yes, they did try to soak us with a water cannon. And yes, they did seize our boat with M-16s. But, to paraphrase the motto of this Freedom Flotilla II campaign; they stayed human. I was also struck by the power of peaceful activism. In an extremely tense situation, not a hand was raised. Barely an oath was uttered, even though a year of work, for some, was ending eight nautical miles from shore. Palestine was on the mind, and the general mood was of anger, but a slowburn anger, tempered by peace and calm, which will not extinguish itself with one simple act of piracy. The Greeks broke the Tahrir’s diesel tanks when they rammed her into port, but already the steering committee is planning and mulling over the next Freedom Flotilla. I’m sorry that we’re not sailing to Gaza right now. And I’m sorry that Peaceful Waters Trading Co. ends for the moment in Agios Nikolaos. But as Bob Lovelace says, “Keep the long view.” While we are not at the end of the
PHOTOS: MILES HOWE
road, we are still at a brick in the path. And before somebody adds some stupid comment to this, letting the world know how some guy with a supposedly fearsome Middle-Eastern name from Hamas is ostensibly behind the whole Freedom Flotilla II, I would ask you to remember three things. First, the Israeli PR spin machine took huge hits during this campaign. From charges of chemical weapons, to ‘no gays allowed’ claims, to harbouring terrorists in our midst, time and again these allegations were debased as false. In some cases, the lunacy of the charges was even admitted to by Israeli members of parliament themselves. Second, the world got to see the outsourcing of Israeli and American foreign policy onto Greece. That, in itself, is valuable information, and Demir has already invited the Flotilla movement to his Turkish house for next year. Third, and more important, this movement is not about governmentto-government. This was always about person-to-person, and will continue until Palestine is free. Around my dinner table, at the end of a rousing Passover seder, we all used to toast and say “Next year in Jerusalem!” That’s all well and good, but next year in Gaza—if not sooner! This article originally appeared on the Halifax Media Co-op on July 5, 2011: halifax.mediacoop.ca/photo/how-it-went-down/7695. Miles will be reporting regularly to the Co-op from the Canadian Boat to Gaza. Visit “Dispatches from the Tahrir” for updates: halifax.mediacoop.ca/boat_to_gaza
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Above and opposite left-side: ‘Garden of Roses’ exhibit Opposite right-side: ‘Habit’ exhibit
luminato Photos by Carol Kan
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NATIONAL ABORIGINAL DAY Text and Photos By Peter Lewicki
An 11th annual sunrise ceremony was held in the roof top gardens in Toronto’s City Hall, in the early morning hours of Tuesday, June 21. Led by elder Alex Jacobs, the festivities included drumming, sharing of tobacco, and blessings and a call to protect Canadian water. City Councillor Mike Layton read the City’s official proclamation, and helped raise Ab-
original flags, including the flag of the Mississaugas people—generally recognized as the first inhabitants of the land on which Toronto now sits. National Aboriginal Day was first proclaimed in 1996, providing an opportunity to acknowledge the achievements of First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples.
Syncrude job fair Text and Photos By Erin Byrnes
Following an elaborate Yes-Men style hoax, activists brought a handcuffed Stephen Harper to a Syncrude job fair before trying to send him back, “to the hell on the earth he created,” Fort McMurray. Their hoax posited that the tar sands would be the location for Mordor, in Peter Jackson’s upcoming Hobbit film and questioned whether Canadians are alright with being defined by the Tar Sands. Activists drew attention to the idea that Canada is becoming increasingly defined by the environmental and human-rights abuses of a Petrostate operating in the interest of and at the behest of oil corporations and the Harper Government. Stephen Harper/ Jiv Parasram explains: “It was about performing the absurdity of the real situation. When you put it into a pop culture reference, it’s a hilarious concept that Harper is, like Sauron spreading darkness through the lands; but then the reality hits and it turns out it’s actually quite jarring. Who knows what this type of work can do? But if it can make anyone consider the Tar sands from a new perspective, if even for a moment we’ve reached our goal.”
Bringing Burlesque back By Katie Toth
The 4th international Toronto Burlesque Festival will be showcasing the best of Canadian exotic dance this month, giving newbies to the art form a chance to see hot ass and tassles. “The festival is four years running and we are in our biggest year yet,” says Chris Mysterion, co-founder and producer. The event runs from July 22 to 24, 2011 at Mitzi’s Sister, the Gladstone Ballroom, the Mod Club and the Academy of Spherical Arts. Dancers say their art is about more than a chance to check out babes; their shows—which combine dance, theatre and storytelling—are feminist acts. Coco Framboise is a dancer, writer and teacher who performs professionally. “I think that what people love about these shows is that … they don’t feel like they’re being lecherous in an ugly sort of a way,” she says. “You would never catcall your neighbour. You would never say, ‘hey, this is my grandma, looking good girl! Ow!’ …but here you would, the dancers would be hurt if you didn’t.” For Framboise, the world of burlesque is a place where people are free to express their sexuality through catcalls or exhibitionism, knowing that they’re kept safe by the firm limits imposed by the art form. “There’s no champagne room. The performers are in this complicit dynamic where the audience is supposed to be vocal and the performers are supposed to be naked … [but] there’s no next level of that interaction,” she says. “It’s kind of an interesting opportunity both for the performers to try on a different personality and for the audience members to let themselves go as well.” Kinky LaFemme is a dancer with Glamourpuss Burlesque. She says that for her, burlesque is a way of “taking back control.” “We’re subjected to the gaze—be it male or female—like on the street, right? It’s going to happen no matter what, and this way … you’re actually drawing attention to it,” she says. “Yes, I’m aware that you’re looking at me, and I’m playing with that and having fun with it, and turning it into a performance, and enjoying it. It’s not about being vulnerable or being taken advantage of or anything like that. “Realistically, if somebody comes to a show and they want to … leer at me and make me an object, they can go to town! I don’t really care. Because when I’m dancing, I’ve got the power. So I don’t really care what they think at all. It’s about how I feel when I’m dancing.” LaFemme adds that one of the most powerful elements of burlesque is that it offers a “chance for people to see bodies that aren’t normally seen in other mediums.” For St. Stella of the Atomic Cherries, this opportunity PHOTO: SKYE REGAN
was about more than feminist theory. After 13 years of ballet training, she had been told to give up because she had the wrong body shape. “Basically, I was told, ‘you might as well give up now.’” At first, she says, she was devastated. “I was that girl who had ballet shoes on her wall and hailed Karen Kane, you know?” Burlesque gave St. Stella a space to dance again. “In burlesque, I’m sort of average size. There’s women way smaller than me, there’s women way bigger than me and it doesn’t matter,” she says. She says she’s drawn to the way that creativity and ideas are prioritized, rather than maintaining the same form. “You can be a sea monkey. You can be a sexy cabaret performer. You can bleed on stage … It’s not about your body type, it’s about how good you can entertain—which to me is so refreshing.” Honey B Hind also came to burlesque after training in classical dance. She says she wants her dance to support young women. “I wanted to do something for them that’s not something they see all the time,” she says. “I grew up with eating disorders and I grew up in the classical ballet world,” says B Hind. Burlesque helped her feel comfortable in her skin. “You put the makeup on and you put the wig on and you put the image on and you kind of feel like you’re a little bit more confident version of yourself.” B Hind says her favourite part about dancing is sharing that energy with other women who aren’t always secure about their bodies. “I also do a gig at the painted lady every Friday, and I’m constantly surprised that the women will come up to me and say ‘you were awesome, you are great because you’re showing me something that we don’t see every day, you look like me,’ so that makes me feel very proud,” says the slender 39-year old. “I feel like I’m showing you, this is you, this is what you are, it’s okay to look this way.” But the scene doesn’t come without its challenges. In an intimate community like Toronto burlesque, the internal competition can be intense. “In the beginning it was a very grassroots, do it yourself attitude … it was more of a punk-rock background, so we were scratching each other’s backs. Now that it’s become a little bit more mainstream there’s been a shift in the mentality,” says Chris Mysterion. “I like to, when I notice people becoming competitive, sit them down and say listen, this isn’t about money—because really, there isn’t money in this industry—it’s about going and getting the art form on stage and doing a good job.” Contrary to popular belief, says Mysterion, burlesque is
“not lucrative.” But that hasn’t stopped the scene from growing at a rapid pace, which has led to some concerns. “The scene as a whole is expanding, and if there’s room to expand and the bottom doesn’t fall out, then great,” says Mysterion. For a while, he saw new dancers without experience in Toronto putting themselves on stage to flop. Dancers were left unsupported, and new viewers of burlesque didn’t know if these novices were representative of the craft in Toronto. He says that people were “coming out and going, uh, I paid twenty bucks to see that and it wasn’t so great, I may not go back again.” So Mysterion decided to do something about it. He created a pay-what-you-can Burlesque ‘Open Mic’ for new talent. “People can come out and see the newer acts and get a feel for what burlesque is all about,” Mysterion says. “And this is where people get good at what they do … as an entertainer, I took every opportunity at the beginning to do what I do.” There’s a method to his madness. Ontario is producing award winning burlesque, including Miss Roxi Delite, a burlesque and feature dancer who won the title of Miss Exotic World this year in Las Vegas. As a teacher, Framboise sees a more intimate side to the community. She says that when dancers begin, the emotions can run high. “I have the Coco Framboise School of Burlesque. [My students], they’re engaging some of this energy for the first time,” she says. “Sometimes they’re angry for a little while. And I think it’s because they find that their lives don’t fit them. They want something bigger … they can no longer buy that job at the bank or the partner who restricts them.” Framboise says that many dancers and students create characters that are “heightened versions of themselves,” who can allow them to do things they’re normally afraid to. “It’s really exciting to see how just having an opportunity to play, having permission to try on different energy, having permission to literally and figuraltively shed layers. I think it’s really gorgeous and exciting to see what that does to human souls,” she says. “Burlesque has shown me that sexual energy … is not just for sex,” says Framboise. “You can use it to find more bravado to ask for all sorts of things. You could use that power and gusto to leave a partner, or move across the country, or take off your bra in front of hundreds of adoring strangers … you can be more brave if you want to.” Check out the Toronto Burlesque Festival online: www.torontoburlesque.com
Ryerson Free Press july 2011 13
Toronto by Bixi A review of the city’s new bike rental program By Kate Mills Bixi, a bike rental program, was introduced to Toronto on May 3. It takes its name from the first two letters of bike (bi) and the last two letters of taxi (xi). It’s meant to be like a taxi but on bike. I recently set out on a day trip with my boyfriend to see what all the rage was about. My first experience with Bixi was actually last year in Montreal, where Bixi was launched. Before even getting on the bike I got so confused with the fare payment machine (and freaked out that it was taking money from my credit card) that I got my credit card out of that machine and made my way to the nearest ‘actual’ bike rental company. But a year later I was ready to give Bixi another try. Bixi, as I later concluded, is meant for people wanting to get from point A to B quickly rather than day trippers. The reason is you have to check into one of their docks every half hour or the $5 per 24 hour charge becomes much more than that very quickly. Not exactly the terms for a leisurely day trip. We began our Bixi adventure at Bay and Bloor. The machine was much easier to use this time—I’m guessing because it was in English, not in French. Our first challenge was getting the bike out of the dock. During the day, this would continue to be a challenge and my boyfriend would revel in making a public spectacle out of shaking the bike in an effort to get it out of the dock. By the end of the day we realized you just have to push down on the bike handle bars and then out of the dock—one thing at a time. Getting the bike out of the dock is probably some kind of honed art with Bixi riders having their own secret method. Anyway, before we left the first dock I checked my BlackBerry for the time to make sure we would not go over a half hour to get to the next dock, so as not to be charged beyond the $5. The next Bixi dock was very close at the University of Toronto. We clicked our bikes into the dock waiting for the green light to appear than sat down on some steps near the ROM and took a break before embarking again. You have to wait at least two minutes between each dock before unlocking again. Before we left U of T I encountered my next learning experience. I tried to use the same unlocking code I was given when I paid to unlock the second time. The bike wouldn’t unlock. I then read the machine instructions over again and saw that when unlocking the second time I have to insert my credit card again and I will be given a new unlocking number. I guess this is so people can’t steal the bikes. It doesn’t charge your credit card again; it just recognizes your card and gives you a new code. After that and some more shak-
ing and tampering to get the bike out of the damn dock we moved along to our next stop—Kensington Market. In order to make it somewhat of a relaxing day trip, we decided to stop at places where it’s fun to hang out. After all the bikes are yours for 24 hours for just $5, as long as you don’t bike longer than 30 minutes without checking into a dock. So we walked around Kensington, tried on some second-hand clothes, got some lunch, and relaxed in the park. The day was becoming progressively more fun. After that we, of course, had trouble getting the bikes out of the rack again even right after watching a pro—a petite, twenty-something woman who uses it to get to work and get groceries—smoothly and seamlessly take hers out of the dock. The next stop was King and Spadina. After waiting the two minutes, this was my first time getting the bike out of the dock myself—definitely a high-five moment. Then we took off again to the waterfront. We went to a couple of Bixi docks nearby. The nicest one was beside Redpath Sugar. We sat by the water behind the Corus Entertainment building where there were benches and a big ship from Sault St. Marie was either dropping stuff off or picking stuff up. Then the rain started to fall. So we made our way to Union Station, where there were
a lot more bikes than at any other spot, I guess because it’s a popular spot for commuters to get to and from work in. Then we decided since the rain calmed down to bike over to St. Lawrence Market to pick something up for dinner, but alas it’s closed on Mondays. So then we took the bikes back to Union Station and made our way home. Overall rating: The Bixi bikes are great for getting to and from work and for running quick errands—if you live and work downtown. Although I must say: I wouldn’t want to bike in the winter months. Also, it’s important to note that if you ride with Bixi you don’t mind hitting the streets with cars. It is illegal unless you have a tire size less than 61 cm (basically a child) to bike on the sidewalks in Toronto. Biking alongside cars is not very relaxing for me—which brings me to my next point. If the city wants to make better use of Bixi I think we need more bike lanes, because when I was on the bikes lanes along the waterfront and near U of T I felt much more safe than when I wasn’t on one. If there were bikes lanes everywhere there would be more bikers out there. More bikers mean less traffic congestion and less congestion on the TTC. Less traffic congestion means less air pollution. The bikes themselves were sturdy and easy enough to ride. The seats were a little uncomfortable, but most bike seats are. Out of 10, I would give the service a 7.
Bixi is good for…
Ten steps to a 24-hour Bixi rental
• • •
What you want to avoid (applies to all Bixi users) • 1st 30-minute period included • 2nd 30-minute period is the $5 (system access fee) plus $1.50 • 3rd 30-minute period is $5 plus $1.50 plus $4 • 4th 30-minute period is $5 plus $1.50 plus $4 plus $8
People who don’t mind riding their bike on the streets People who live and/or work downtown Getting to and from work and running errands (within the confines of anything south of Bloor but not west of Kensington and not east of Jarvis) People who don’t have the space to store a bike People who don’t have a car and depend on a bike and/or the TTC for transportation
Bixi is not good for… •
People who don’t live and/or work downtown (unless you are coming downtown for a day doing quick trips) Leisurely day trips People who don’t like riding the streets (depending on the route)
2. 3. 4.
5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10.
The 24-hour rental is best suited for sporadic quick trips downtown. Otherwise I would recommend getting the yearly membership for $95 or a 30-day membership for $40. Insert credit card into fare machine. Touch ‘Rent a bike’. The machine will ask if you want one or two bikes. Two bikes is the maximum you can rent out per credit card. The machine will print out your unlocking code(s). Choose any bike(s) and enter the code on the part of the dock where you take the bike out. First, push down on the bike handle bars; second, take out the bike. The countdown begins: You have 30 minutes to get to the next bike dock or you will be charged beyond the $5 per 24 hours. When you check back into another dock wait to hear a ‘click’ and see the green light. Wait two minutes before taking out another bike. Insert your credit card into the machine. The machine will recognize it and not charge you again. It will give you a new unlocking code(s).
Thailand’s National Sport surprises many newcomers By Mai Habib
Thailand is best known for its beautiful coral beaches, luscious forests and seemingly endless parties. The country attracts thousands of tourists a year looking for adventure and a way to disconnect from reality. People from all walks of life come to enjoy the Thai culture and country, whether to vacation or to do some soul searching. I spent just over two weeks traveling here. From food to Elephant riding, Thailand never seems to disappoint the eager traveler. An unknown hidden treasure of Thailand is the country’s deep rooted martial arts scene, mainly, its national sport, Muay Thai. Unknowingly to most, hundreds of Westerners flood the country to train in the fighting sport. Most describe it as not only a physical strain but a mental and soulful one as well. Muay Thai is a mixed hybrid of traditional regional Muays or “ancient boxing”. It is practiced in many countries and there are different rules depending on which country the fight is in and under what organization the fight is arranged. Muay Thai is a combat sport that uses stand-up striking along with various clinching techniques. Muay Thai is often referred to as the, “Art of Eight Limbs” because it uses punches, kicks, elbows and knee strikes, thus using eight “points of contact.” Thailand is the Mecca for Muay Thai and harbours traditional training camps. It attracts trainers from all around the world and bridges a gap between the Western world and the Eastern one. Adam Siddiqui is a high school teacher in Toronto, Canada who decided to take some time off and head east to train. He was sold on a Muay Thai training camp in Pukhet, Thailand and although he did some training at gyms in Toronto, Adam was not prepared for the intensity to come. Fighters and trainees practice twice a day for six days a week. Although tough on the body Adam says, “if there were parts of training that you didn’t want to do, one did not have to participate. Also, no one was penalized for taking rest days off.” This is a direct reflection of PHOTO: Thomas sauzedde
the common Thai philosophy, “the more you put in the more you get out.” People training for Muay Thai come from every country around the world. The sport attracts the most number of foreign athletes to a single country. Why? “It’s a lot of fun and so different,” declares Adam. “I also know that Muay Thai is a sport with much culture, language and many ideas behind it.” When I was in Thailand I went to watch a Muay Thai fight in Chiang Mai, a city in the north. I was very hesitant and tried to resist the idea of going and watching a fight because of the fighting and aggression. To my surprise, Muay Thai was not what I had thought it would be. “It’s not as aggressive as everyone thinks. It’s more of a game and wins are more often on point basis than the standard North American knock out style,” says Adam whose respect for the sport grew as he learned about its history and culture. There is a profound respect for the ring the fighter is in and they ask for wisdom at every one of the four corners. There is also a huge respect for the opponent and no fighting is out of aggression or excess. When asked what he hoped to gain from his experience, Adam replied, “I hoped to learn some amazing technique, a new language and eat amazing food...The main reason for coming here is to escape North America. I also wanted to see how this sport is practiced in its home country and of course, learn from the best. All of these goals were accomplished.” As with experience in a foreign country, one gains as much as they put in. Adam says, he was “actually fortunate enough to be able to lead the warm-ups and teach some beginner students.” At the gym, “many people would stop by and take pictures...I eventually became the un-official greeter.” Adam describes Muay Thai as a humbling and strengthening - not just physically - experience. Although his training period is almost up, he hopes to “come home and teach Muay Thai to beginners” now that he has the highest quality training.
Ryerson Free Press july 2011 15
The World of Shorts Worldwide Short Film Festival showcases unique merits of short film By Amy Ward Stop me if you’ve heard this one: A woman walks into a clinic to get a prescription for her shiny new STD. In the other door walks her one-night stand, who turns out to be the doctor on duty. So begins writer-director Katrina Saville’s eight-minute film, The Appointment, one of 275 shorts that appeared in the Canadian Film Centre’s Worldwide Short Film Festival in Toronto from May 31 to June 5. The festival presented films ranging from one minute to 39 minutes long, on topics as diverse as monster-rousing campfire stories, the reincarnation of poet Charles Bukowski and pimping one’s wheelchair. There were 33 screening programs organized on loose themes with names like “Hardgore,” “The Hipster” and “Laughter Without Borders,” that included animation, documentaries, music videos and plenty of mixed genres. Add to that a launch event at Yonge-Dundas Square and screenings at the CN Tower, and a celebration of the short film becomes an outsized event. The beauty of shorts is that they break down the film experience into its most basic components—beginning, middle and end—with an illusion of simplicity. Story, that basic device that allows humans to connect regardless of their own experience, was a recurring theme in the festival’s opening night program, which showcased whimsical award winners
from around the world. “I woke to find I was an old man,” began the narrator in Brent Bonacorso’s West of the Moon. Animation and live action intertwined to depict the fantastical tale, as the narrator recounted his surreal dreams that mystified and delighted the audience. Like a beautiful dream, the story ended just as insanity made perfect sense. “That’s the trouble with these things,” the narrator said. “Just when they start to get interesting, you end up awake.” The seventeenth edition of WSFF showed a growing appreciation for the snappy form. “There’s been a renewed interest from the public in short films,” said festival director Eileen Arandiga. “We had more films, more venues, more people, more everything.” As our attention spans continue to decline, a short film program can offer a variety of cultural, artistic and ideological experiences within a 90-minute screening. If one film doesn’t resonate with you, there’s a great chance the next one will. At their best, short films overcome the challenges of time constraints to convey beauty, express an argument and make you think. “It’s more difficult sometimes to make a shorter film,” said director Anita Doron, whose two-minute film Lust used animation to tell the epic tale of romantic desire through history. A time limit creates a challenge of efficient expression even as it provides the freedom of simplicity. Sites like Youtube show a growing appreciation for the form, but might also draw audiences away from theatres. Still, Eileen Arandiga believes Youtube videos are a complement, rather than competition, to a theatrical short film experience. “It’s helping to grow the audience for short film,” she said. As wider audiences gain respect for the short film’s unique merits, established artists have been increasingly returning to the form. Shorts are no longer just something created by students or aspiring filmmakers. This year’s festival included films directed or written by Spike Jonze, Scott Thompson and Rachel Weisz, among many other professionals entrenched in the industry. “The thing that you want to say suggests the medium,” said You Are So Undead director Alex Epstein, who also co-wrote the 2006 feature Bon Cop, Bad Cop and has written episodes for TV show Naked Josh. “For me, it starts from the story.” The idea for his short film, about teen girls who lose their innocence (and their mortality) to vampires, suggested itself to him as a vignette, not something that could be made into a longer film. Recognizing how a story can best be told is the art of being a storyteller, regardless of genre. Although this year’s festival is over, the Canadian Film Centre continues to run monthly World of Shorts screenings at NFB Mediatheque. A July 20 screening will show a roundup of festival award winners, while future programs will revolve around seasonal or other themes. For those envisioning their own cinematic glory, submissions for next year’s festival will begin in September at shorterisbetter.com.
A PR volunteer gives her take on the Bollywood weekend By Sahar Fatima
Loud, shrill screams. Blinding camera flashes. An enormous crowd rushing the stage. I might have expected to see something like this at a Justin Bieber concert, but certainly not a press conference. An Indian journalist roughly shoves me out of my spot at the front, clicking her tongue irritably, probably hoping to get in a few questions for the man in the limelight. Indeed, only the King of Bollywood, Shah Rukh Khan himself, could incite this kind of insanity and havoc amongst journalists, many from respected media outlets including the BBC. I sit in one of the chairs that had, until a few minutes ago, been occupied by scores of media from all over the world, and stare in amazement as reporters jump and elbow their way closer, yelling out questions they know cannot be heard. And this was possibly the most civilized behaviour I’d witness during my time as a public relations volunteer for the twelveth annual International Indian Film Academy awards
weekend, which took place in Toronto this year from June 23 to 25. The Bollywood equivalent of the Oscars, IIFA brought Khan and many other glamorous stars including Boman Irani (3 Idiots) and Ritesh Desmukh (Double Dhamaal), the two of whom hosted the awards once again. Other than the awards night itself, which was held on June 25, IIFA’s head company Wizcraft International Entertainment organized a series of film premieres, such as Chillar Party, and a fashion show, IIFA Rocks. Many press conferences regarding upcoming films were also held. It was at the end of one such press conference at the Fairmont Royal York hotel that I was nearly mauled by a mob of fans. Save for the help of one beefy security guard, two other PR girls and I had the impossible task of escorting stars Rishi Kapoor, Dharmendra, Hema Malini and Esha Deol about 100 metres from the conference room to the elevators all on our own. Well over a dozen people ran towards us—papers, pens
and cameras in hand—yelling out the actors’ and actresses’ names. We quickly held out our arms, enclosing the celebrities in a circle, and walked them forward. The crowd engulfed us immediately; I felt at least five hands pushing against me, two of them belonging to an elderly man. The lunatics pressed forward and hurled insults in my ear. By the time we finally reached the elevators, I was shaking and was fairly certain I’d been groped. Needless to say, any thoughts I had about joining PR in the future were effectively buried away after my stressful, and at times nightmarish, experience at IIFA. One good thing to come out of all this was getting to meet countless journalists, many of whom I watch on TV, like Farah Nasser from CP24. It was interesting dealing with them as a journalism student who understands their thirst for information. To all those still considering PR: I’d suggest staying far away from celebrities. PHOTO: JUDY**/FLICKR
MUSIC The Best (and Worst) of NXNE 2011
orth by Northeast, or NXNE for short, is one of Toronto’s premier music festivals. This year’s edition took place from June 15 to 19 and featured over 600 bands playing at approximately 50 different venues. That’s a whole lot of music, drinking and late nights. This was my third time attending and NXNE didn’t disappoint. Here are some of my highlights, disappointments and lessons learned from this year’s festival. BEST EXCUSE FOR DRINKING IN THE DAYTIME What’s better than drinking in the afternoon? Why, drinking in the afternoon on a sunny rooftop while watching awesome bands, of course. The best part of NXNE is all the official, semi-official and unofficial parties that happen during the daytime. You can usually find out about these parties on Facebook or by word of mouth, and they range from free to ten bucks, with a variety of bands and cold beverages. You can also B.Y.O.B. without fear of having it confiscated by overzealous bouncers. Just learn from my good friend’s mistake (I’ll spare him the embarrassment and not mention his name here) and be sure to pace yourself, otherwise you’ll end up passed out in bed with your clothes off by 5 p.m., and miss the rest of the evening. This festival isn’t for the faint of heart. BEST SHOW FOR ZERO DOLLARS AND ZERO CENTS One of the great things about NXNE are the shows at Yonge-Dundas Square, featuring some of the biggest names at the festival, that are completely free to the public. So long as you don’t mind crowds (or slight rioting, as was the case with the Iggy Pop show last year), they are perfect for broke students, or anyone else living on a shoestring budget who wants to see live music. This year’s lineup included Montreal indie pop darlings Stars, ‘80s new wave “icons” Devo, and Los Angeles hip-hop group The Pharcyde. But it was Toronto punks Fucked Up who put on the most memorable performance. It took only half a song for the band’s charismatic frontman Damian Abraham to jump in the crowd, where he stayed for the entire show, and three songs for him to lose his shirt. Even if you don’t like their tunes, you owe it to yourself to see Fucked Up play at least once, because they are one of the best live bands in Canada right now. BEST KURT COBAIN IMPRESSION Ty Segall, a guitar troubadour from San Francisco, who can shred like no one’s business and, if you squint, kind of looks like the late shaggy blond-haired Nirvana frontman. If nothing else, Cobain would’ve admired Segall’s ability to get the kids riled up - the minute he hit the stage at a packed Wrongbar Friday night, there was a sea of bodies bouncing off the walls and throwing their drinks. SHOW WITH THE MOST JEAN SHORTS AND TATTOOED HIPSTERS PER SQUARE INCH File this under the “Why Didn’t They Think Of This Sooner?” category. On Saturday afternoon, I went on the first inaugural NXNE “Bruise Cruise,” which took a few hundred festival goers, threw them on a boat with a cash bar, got a bunch of garage rock and punk bands to play, and sailed out into the open waters of Lake Ontario. Not surprisingly, though, the majority of the crowd consisted of sun-deprived hipsters and sleep-deprived music journalists. Thankfully, no one fell overboard and/or drowned. BEST BAND TO RECEIVE A 8.0 OR HIGHER ON PITCHFORK One of the biggest differences between North By Northeast and other Toronto music festivals such as Canadian Music Week, is that there is a larger focus on up-and-coming Canadian, American and international acts. No band had a bigger buzz this year than New York City’s Cults, who played three sets at this year’s festival, including a free show at Yonge-Dundas Square. You can attribute a large part of the attention to many favourable reviews of the band on the Internet, including their recent self-titled debut album receiving a highly coveted 8.5 out of 10 score from the taste-makers at Pitchfork. Luckily they lived up to the hype, playing a solid set of ‘60s girl group-inspired, lo-fi garage pop tunes, complete with glockenspiel and samples from a speech by infamous cult leader Jim Jones. Also, a note to lead singer Madeleine Follin: please return my calls. BIGGEST RUMOUR ABOUT A “SECRET GUEST” PERFORMANCE Every year at NXNE, there are a certain number of “special guest” performances at various venues, usually at 1 or 2 a.m. time slots. Usually they are bands that were already announced as playing the festival; often they are larger bands playing smaller, more intimate venues (Vancouver garage rock duo Japandroids’ unannounced show at the Dakota Tavern was one of my highlights from last year’s NXNE), but there are always rumours circling around about these special performances. Saturday night’s biggest rumour - other than Lady Gaga making an appearance at Woody’s - was that The Black Keys would play a show somewhere. They were already in town for the 2011 MuchMusic Video Awards, so surely this was plausible. Texts were sent out, phone calls were made, NXNE schedules were analyzed for potential venues where the duo might play, but it was all for naught. Later, I read on Twitter that Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney ended up making an appearance at the Horseshoe, but didn’t play. Oh well, there’s always next year. WORST SCHEDULING CONFLICT OF THE WEEK Speaking of the MMVAs, who was the genius that thought it would be a good idea to have the tween and teen-friendly awards show on the same weekend as NXNE? Rehearsals and Sunday’s main event slowed down pedestrian traffic around Queen Street West and John Street, and TTC traffic ground to a halt. I blame Justin Bieber. WORST BAND I SAW AT NXNE Maybe it was because they had the unenviable task of playing after Fucked Up, but the set I saw by Los Angeles’ OFF! was pretty disappointing. I didn’t know what to expect, but I had read good things, and instead got a bunch of washed-up California punks playing unmemorable songs. No thanks. BREAKOUT ARTIST AT NXNE Dirty Beaches is Alex Zhang Hungtai, a Montreal via Taiwan singer-songwriter, whose music sounds like an unholy cross of ‘50s garage rock, Elvis, a David Lynch soundtrack and a smattering of blues and soul. Bathed in red spot lights at a packed Silver Dollar, Hungtai barked, strutted and played his guitar while on his knees. His debut album Badlands was recently named to the long list for the 2011 Polaris Music Prize, an award given out to the top Canadian album based solely on artistic merit (regardless of genre and record sales), and voted on by a jury of approximately 200 Canadian music journalists, radio hosts and bloggers. Expect to hear more from this guy in the near future. — Max Mertens
Ryerson Free Press july 2011 17
ART Abstract Expressionist New York: Masterpieces from the Museum of Modern Art
he Museum of Modern Art’s Abstract Expressionist New York exhibit wrapped up in April and headed north, to our own Art Gallery of Ontario. Featuring Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko and a whole room of Jackson Pollock, as well as lesser-known but equally great artists like Franz Kline and Clyfford Still, the show is all masterpieces, and a great exploration of the mid-20th century movement that changed everything about art. The exhibit’s introduction starts with a quote from Jackson Pollock, who painted by flinging and pouring paint onto a canvas on the ground: “The modern painter cannot express this age, the airplane, the atom bomb, the radio, in the old form of the Renaissance or of any other past culture. Each age finds its own techniques.” The list of inventions references the Second World War, which, in its global dimensions and catastrophic loss of life, was facilitated by these new technologies. “There was an enormous sense that if the world was going to keep on going, it needed to be reinvented,” says AGO curator Anne Temkin, in her introductory video posted online. “And what to me is such a beautiful idea is that the ambition was there, and the conviction and the faith was there, on the part of these artists, that…by forging a new art, a new painting, they were somehow contributing to a fresh start, a new beginning for civilization.” And that’s why this exhibit matters. The Abstract Expressionists’ attempt to step back from the relentless technological innovation that almost blew up the planet failed. Nuclear weapons are plentiful and threatening, and other technologies Pollock never imagined, like the Internet, are part of western daily life. But walk into this exhibit, block out the screaming babies and nasal guided tour volunteer (bless her), and stare at a Rothko (my favourite), or Pollock (my least favourite, but there’s a room-full), or Krasner (Pollock’s talented and beatendown wife). The large scale, the colours, the lack of any discernable object all contribute to a clean space for your cluttered brain to rest, at least for a few minutes. The show explains how Abstract Expressionism moved the centre of the art world from Paris to New York City, as the “new beginning” excited, scandalized and revitalized it at the same time. And the techniques and subject matter (or lack of it) were radical; a trustee resigned in protest when, in 1952, the MoMA bought Mark Rothko’s first piece, a calming stack of blurred rectangles in off-white, blue and yellows covering an enormous canvas in Rothko’s signature “Colour Field” style. As much as the movement was about inner emotions, the Abstract Expressionists were
closely allied with the Beat Generation, and the bustling New York City social life. Their clubs and periodicals are well documented in the exhibit. The mix of fun, cool beatnik parties and contemplative creative work is enough to make me wish I were an Abstract Expressionist. But other than the influence of the Surrealists (think Salvador Dali’s melting clocks)— many of whom fled war-torn Europe for New York—little is made of the rest of the century’s artistic influence on Abstract Expressionism, perhaps to emphasize (or glorify) how distinctly American it was. That was profitable for the MoMA, mostly viewed by Americans who once again find themselves in a patriotic war-time era, but makes less sense for the AGO. Perhaps either could have found room to drop the “abstract” and explain how Expressionism, at the beginning of the century, began breaking with realism to privilege emotion, evoked by the scene, object or figure painted. One West Coast artist, Clyfford Still, lived quietly in San Francisco, and his mostly-black canvases are some of the most anti-traditionalist. Tar-like black paint is unevenly layered on his two pieces exhibited, almost as if it were covering up the real painting beneath, of which we can only see thin, jagged lines of colour traveling through the ooze. The movement’s obsessive use of strong colours (Rothko and Pollock) is tempered by some serious black, and its mysterious hue pops up throughout the exhibit, in Franz Kline’s big black lines, bold against white planes, and the two pieces which are entirely black; first, Ad Reinhardt’s “Abstract Painting,” finished in 1961 and glorified and reviled to this day (you’re not “aware of no thing but art,” as Reinhardt said the painting was aware of nothing but black), and Barnett Newman’s “Abraham,” which is more blue-black stripe on flat black canvas. Maybe more interesting than the painting itself is what Newman had to say about it: “I never had black on black…the terror of it was intense. It took me weeks to arrive at the point where I finally did it. And it was, to a certain extent, the beginning of my new life.” This is how much the Abstract Expressionists believed in art. The product as well as the thinking is without the irony and cheekiness that developed in 1960’s pop art and beyond, while still being relevant, and a welcome respite. — Kasia Mychajlowycz The AGO is open every day but Monday, and costs $16.50 with a One Card (or any student ID). There are three-minute video talks by curator Anne Temkin and how-to AbEx techniques at www.ago.net/abex-multimedia
STAGE A Night at the Ballet
had the pleasure of attending the opening night of The National Ballet’s Celebrating Greta on June 15, a mixed program featuring George Balanchine’s Mozartiana, Jerome Robbins’s Other Dances and Twyla Tharp’s In The Upper Room. The week was dedicated to commemorating principal dancer Greta Hodgkinson’s 20 years with the company. The programs were printed with a “Celebrating Greta” banner, and artistic director Karen Kain acquired Other Dances as an anniversary present. Hodgkinson and her partner, principal dancer Zdenek Konvalina, were featured in the performances every night, which is not common, as casts are often switched with each show. Other Dances, originally choreographed by Robbins for Russian powerhouses Mikhail Baryshnikov and Natalia Makarova, was set to Chopin scores and comprised of four mazurkas and one waltz. And it was, if I may say so, utterly beautiful. Alternatively playful and romantic, the piece seemed to emphasize equality between the dancers. When performing together, their movements often mirrored each other, and had the amicable quality of long-time friends or lovers who fit each other like a glove; when apart, they shared equal stage time for their solos. Hodgkinson stole the show, though that was to be expected. Although the choreography was intricate and complicated, she made it look natural, and for the duration of the piece had an almost ethereal quality. Other Dances was in the middle of the triple bill, preceded by George Balanchine’s Mozartiana. Balanchine made “neo-classical” dance popular, so it was no surprise that his piece, inspired by the works of Mozart, had qualities that were both modern and traditional. The intricacy and speed of the footwork made the performance appear decidedly classical, and very technique-focused. Though Sonia Rodriguez and Aleksandar Antonijevic brought austerity to their roles of the stately court couple, they were balanced out by Keiichi Hirano’s exuberant, youthful character. The three soloists were surrounded by four national ballerinas, and four students from the National Ballet School. Twyla Tharp’s In The Upper Room completed the evening, and was a flurry of frenetic motion. Performing in front of a cloud of smoke, the dancers were clad in a mix of red jumpsuits and black-and-white striped tops and bottoms that looked like loose-fitting pajamas. The chaotic ballet/contemporary number was characterized by difference; there was never a moment in which all the dancers were entirely synchronized. Tharp was quoted as saying she wanted the performance to “burn the retina,” and with the incredible variation of movement between dancers, she achieved her goal. In The Upper Room was a stunning feat of athleticism, and almost completely disregarded the rigidity of technique. Though the dancers were, of course, technically perfect, that was not the point of the piece: the emphasis was on feeling, not thinking, which was abundantly clear in the freeness of the movements of every single performer. What was fascinating was Tharp’s use of odd numbers: there were several partnering sequences throughout the performance, but there was never a perfect ratio of women to men. Tharp also disregarded the romance that usually comes with partnering — the piece was much too turbulent for that. In a word, the performance was triumphant, as was the entire show. —Kelsey Rolfe
How to Stab a Curtain
hat would happen if, when Romeo returned to Verona to be with Juliet, she wasn’t dead? What if she was sleeping with another man instead? That is the premise for How to Stab a Curtain, a two-act comedy from the founders of Threatless Theatre that parodies the works of William Shakespeare. The play hit the quaint Abrams Studio from June 16 to 18, for four sold-out shows. How to Stab a Curtain was the result of 19-year-old theatre production student Nicholas Paddison’s hope that there could be a way for students to understand, respect and even come to like the works of Shakespeare. Written and directed by Paddison and 20-year-old Umed Abdullah, a theatre student at the University of Windsor, the play follows Romeo Montague as he looks for a way to still go down in history now that he’s lost the option of dying beside Juliet Capulet. He finds himself on a journey to Denmark to murder the king so he may claim the throne and eternal fame, joined by a set of characters from other Shakespeare plays (Macbeth, Prospero and Hamlet, to name a few). The set itself was minimally decorated — just a bench, which doubled as a bed if the scene called for one — but was enhanced by projections on the back wall, which the crew used to draw the “scenery” (the church in which Romeo and Juliet died, the kingdom of Denmark, the high seas). The theme was discreet, and it worked wonderfully to accent the talent of the performers. Despite a small stage and an even smaller set of actors (who all took on approximately three roles apiece), How to Stab a Curtain had a big, boisterous voice. Infused with both classic Shakespearian monologues (all the memorable ones, of course) and a touch of the modern (what’s a gun doing in this scene?), it was as intellectually valuable as it was a roaring good time. The heart of the laughs came from the play’s shameless, self-reflexive humour. Openly acknowledging themselves as actors, the cast would yell out such gems as Paddison’s “No, I don’t want a program!” when being dragged out the theatre doors, and Abdullah’s “You’re sitting on my head scarf; it helps distinguish which character I am.” Perhaps what was most impressive about the cast was its ability to improvise on the fly. No show was ever entirely the same as the last, and their collective skill at going with the flow had not only the audience, but also the crew in stitches. “We were dying [of laughter] in the booth,” shared Bree Lawrence, the show’s head of props. Stand-out performances included Paddison in his dual role as the narcissistic, fame-loving Romeo and the eclectic Prospero the Illusionist, and Abdullah as Juliet’s sassy nanny and permanently sulky Hamlet. However, Kurtis Whittle and Caleigh Barker stole the show in their renditions of Peter, the illiterate church boy, and the sexually insatiable Gertrude, respectively. — Kelsey Rolfe
FILM The Best of Midnight Madness
fter the sun goes down, there are only two types of film festival fans. One group finds the most exclusive party they can bait or flirt their way into so they can soak in the scent of celebrity. The other group heads to the theatres to catch the flicks that air only after the faint of heart have gone to bed. With two months remaining until the Toronto International Film Festival invades our streets, TIFF is honouring the twisted cinema of late-night screenings past with The Best of Midnight Madness. Every Saturday night throughout the summer, the TIFF Bell Lightbox will screen some of the most memorable sci-fi, horror and stoner flicks from the past 22 years. “Midnight Madness started in 1988 as a place to put films that didn’t really fit anywhere else in the festival,” said proWild Zero grammer Colin Geddes. This retrospective selection continues the trend, covering a wide ground of perversions, including zombie flick Wild Zero (airing July 23), ultraviolent manga adaptation Ichi the Killer (July 30), and Elvis-meets-mummy tale Bubba Ho-tep (August 6). The program attracts a loyal following of fans with iron stomachs and a taste for a little witchery. In his introduction to the premiere screening, Geddes recalled his first TIFF experience discussing obscure films with strangers in line. “I found soulmates,” he said, after he realized there were others out there with a taste for Italian cannibal cinema. The opening night screening featured Brain Damage, a campy 1988 film by Frank Henenlotter, whose other credits include Frankenhooker (1990) and Basket Case (1982) plus two sequels. A moralistic tale about the dangers of drug addiction, Brain Damage stars soap
opera fixture Rick Hearst as Brian, a young man torn from the straight and narrow by a phallic hand-puppet creature named Aylmer. The talking parasite feeds on brains, preferably of the human variety, and latches on to Brian as his vehicle for hunting down some fresh meat. Aylmer keeps Brian stoned on psychedelic juice while sending his body to kill the next meal. When Brian realizes what is happening, he must choose whether to detox from the creature’s controlling drug and return to his concerned girlfriend, or let Aylmer have her for dinner. The production values are mostly cheap, the acting is sometimes laughable and the overall experience is great, gory fun. Although many of the Midnight Madness films are available on DVD, there’s something to be said for climbing out of your basement crypt, lacing up your platform boots and hitting the cinema with a bunch of other people with a warped sense of humour. Geddes paired the films with trailers from older films “maybe not coming to a theatre near you,” like Lethal Panther and Warlock, to add to the campy experience. Just like those ten days in September, outside on King Street, the club kids drift from one nightspot to the next, while inside the theatre, the twisted people get their scare on. But who’s to say you can’t watch the movie, and then take those platform boots out for a spin? Once the movie ends, the night is all yours. — Amy Ward The Best of Midnight Madness airs at the TIFF Bell Lightbox Saturdays at 11 p.m., until August 20.
aw Opium is an informative and controversial feature documentary about the opium trade and the fight against it. The film attempts to show a way of life from the angle of all the people involved in the process. It looks at the trade’s history, production, distribution, use and how all these activities affect lives and the economy. These various perspectives take the viewer away from their own vantage point, and things begin to seem much more complex. The documentary gives you a sense of wanting to help or to come up with a solution, eventually realizing that it just isn’t that simple. Opium is extracted from poppy fruits and has both medical (morphine and codeine) and recreational (heroin) uses. It is the focus in this documentary since it’s one of the oldest and most used drugs in the world. The documentary, which was presented at the Royal Cinema in Toronto on May 25, seems to question the failure of the “war on drugs” helmed by Richard Nixon 40 years ago. The main deterrent of this war is punishment, in the form of jail time, for those involved with illegal drug use or drug trafficking in America. Billions of dollars have been invested in law enforcement to control the situation. As it is not clearly explained, the viewers of this documentary should probably be familiar with the history of the American wars, and have a general understanding of how the economy during the war works. As the story presents itself, you begin thinking of the government as a group of corrupt individuals out to make money, which might not be very far from the truth. Raw Opium definitely calls into question a number of conspiracy theories about the government and its influence on the trade. It is said that illegalizing the drug makes the entire process more profitable. Therefore, legalization of narcotics, in the film, is viewed as a positive method of stopping their use since they become less expensive and less appealing. One of the ways drug abuse can be curbed is through initiatives like Insite, a clinic in Vancouver and the only one in Canada exempt from Section 56 of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. This allows addicts to come into a safe and clean environment where they can inject themselves with the drug of choice in a controlled setting. Medical personnel are
around to provide needles, first aid, psychological help and, when necessary, rehabilitation. The clinic is said to receive around 700 visits per day, and seems to be a great alternative to dirty needles and death from overdose. The “war on drugs” to many people appears to be a fight which is never going to be won. They believe that people who are usually taking drugs are mentally ill with many personal issues, and that throwing them in jail seems to be a way to
PHOTOS: 365horror.co.uk (top); isafmedia/flickr (bottom)
further traumatise them. With all the money put into the police force to catch drug traffickers, there aren’t enough resources going into a support system for rehabilitation or psychiatric assessment of these “criminals.” Raw Opium is worth watching just to gain a different perspective, and to understand that many people have invested a lot, both financially and physically, into the opium trade. — Anastasiya Komkova
Ryerson Free Press july 2011 19
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Published on Jul 10, 2011
Check out the July issue of the RFP featuring coverage of the First Nations Day of Action, sex-worker rights, NXNE, Bixi and more.