Torontoâ€™s doors open for summer
Activists celebrate Alvaro Orozco’s return to Toronto Freed from immigration detention, the queer artist wants people “to continue to fight for justice” By Katie Toth
Alvaro Orozco, a gay artist and refugee claimant from Nicaragua, who was in danger of being deported because of doubts about his claim of being gay, will be allowed to stay in Canada. On May 31, his Humanitarian and Compassionate Grounds application was approved, just three days before his scheduled deportation. Orozco had been living without immigration status since 2007. “The first thing [I thought] was, oh, so the struggle is finished. No more struggle,” Orozco said. Orozco, however, doesn’t want the success of his application to allow people to become complacent about what he perceives to be a problematic immigration system. “The detention centre is still full with kids and families. It’s not fair,” Orozco stated in a press release. “It’s not fair that police are working with immigration to arrest people. We need change now. I hope that people in the community will continue to fight for justice for immigrants and refugees.” Numerous artists, immigration activists and queer people in Toronto came together to protest the deportation order. Community members suspect that the pressure they put on the government may have been a factor in Orozco’s release. “This is a very important victory for the community and it means, first of all, that when people mobilize collectively we can win,” said Craig Fortier, an organizer with No One Is Illegal-Toronto. But Fortier hesitated to speculate on what, exactly, made Orozco’s release happen. He warns against “assuming that there is some sort of clear and rational purpose with respect to immigration policy in Canada.” He was originally picked up by police at Ossington Station and given to Canada Border Services on the evening of May 13, following a warrant for his arrest due to his undocumented status—a warrant that had been in effect for four years. During those years, despite his lack of legal status, Orozco remained committed to the LGBT and arts communities in Toronto. He has been featured in four art exhibits while volunteering as a mentor for the Sherbourne Health Centre’s youth group, Supporting Our Youth (SOY). He also won an Identify ‘N’ Impact Award from the Toronto Youth Cabinet in 2010 for his volunteering and community involvement with street-involved youth. Canada Border Services Agency seemed to be committed to Orozco’s prompt deportation. “The CBSA is committed to the removal of all individuals deemed inadmissible to Canada,” wrote one Canada Border Services Agency spokesperson in an email. Canada Border Services Agency later informed Orozco on May 27 that his deportation date had been set for June 2—a date that would later be deferred until June 9. But community members insisted that Orozco’s deportation order was unfair. This order came as a result of losing a refugee hearing in 2007 when he could not sufficiently prove his homosexuality. Nat Tremblay, a friend of Orozco’s and a fellow artist and queer activist, was also frustrated with a requirement of Deborah Lamont, who adjudicated Orozco’s case in 2007. Lamont wanted Orozco to prove he was gay when he left Nicaragua. “He wasn’t able to show that he’d had sex with other men,” Tremblay said. “He left when he was 12. He was on the run!” Orozco has stated that he left Nicaragua at the age of twelve, fleeing beatings from a homophobic father who threatened to kill anyone in his family who turned out gay. The coalition that supported him included people who worked with Alvaro at Mayworks
Festival and SOY, as well as representatives of No One Is Illegal-Toronto. They moved quickly following his arrest, staging two press conferences and a video campaign, and plastering posters throughout the city. Activists chose guerilla tactics that would bring attention to their relationship with Orozco, including a phone blitz and two impromptu street protests, within one week of his detention. Such a campaign wasn’t without its challenges. One protest, which included taking the street at the corner of Church and Wellesley, certainly drew the attention that activists were seeking. Some onlookers looked supportive, but drivers became increasingly aggressive, especially after protesters cleared the street to allow for an ambulance to pass through. When the demonstrators attempted to retake the road, people in vehicles pushed forward—resulting in two buses almost hitting social worker Jane Walsh. Walsh was in a precarious position. “So the ambulance came, and then the traffic decided to push forward,” Walsh said. “I got stuck between a city bus and another bus, and I almost got squished.” “I was very close to being struck,” she said. “I feel like I should know better.” But Walsh doesn’t regret her decision. She says guerilla tactics are an important tool for informing the public about issues that are under-reported. “It raises awareness about what’s going on.” Another protester, who asked not to be identified, noted that while some drivers might have felt inconvenienced by the protest, “it’s more of an inconvenience for Alvaro to be deported and lose his family and his home.” Nicaragua’s changing political climate also complicated activists’ messaging. On a legislative level, Nicaragua has made strides as a country since Orozco’s failed refugee claim was first processed. In 2007, Article 204, the Anti-Sodomy law, was repealed. In 2009, the human rights ombudsman created the position of a special prosecutor for sexual diversity to focus on LGBT issues. And during 2009, two gay pride events occurred at Mangua with no reports of violence, according to a report by the U.S. State Department on human rights. However, LGBT activists find the ombudsman’s new position to be an ineffective drain on resource because trends in homophobic violence in Nicaragua are difficult to identify. This position is backed up by the U.S. State Department report that also pointed out that LGBT human rights violations are underreported and mischaracterized. Fortier noted that state policies weren’t the only factors in creating safety for Orozco. Nicaragua’s progress is “important, and we need to commend queer activists within Nicaragua for really pushing the government on that stuff. That being said, society moves slowly,” Fortier said. “In this case, it’s not just somebody who’s facing homophobia from the state—which still exists in Nicaragua—he’s facing possibilities of violence from his family, who he hasn’t seen since he was a child, and he’s been exposed throughout the media. And he’s anxious and nervous…he is at risk.” One of Orozco’s friends, Ezra Patell, saw a changing political landscape in Nicaragua as irrelevant. “The poor guy left at a young age. It’s not right to keep telling him to move and move and move,” Patell said, during a street protest in support of Alvaro. “He has a home here…he’s a Canadian to me.” Now that Orozco’s Humanitarian and Compassionate Grounds application has been approved, he can begin an application for permanent residence, and stop living underground. But Fortier believes that “this is only a start.” He wants to see Alvaro’s success become the beginning of more activism in support of Toronto’s migrant community. “How do we build a sustained movement that would ensure that people like Alvaro don’t end up in this position in the first place?”
Kanesatake and a Canadian Mine Controversial niobium mine receiving little public attention By Stefan Christoff Only minutes up the road from the focal point of the 1990 Oka Crisis, Niocan Inc. plans to set up an underground mine for the extraction of niobium, a rare element used in high-grade steel production. Despite the past history of tensions and widespread opposition to the current proposal within the Mohawk community of Kanesatake, the proposed mining project has remained under the radar. Even as the company continues to lobby government officials and push forward with the project, little media or mainstream political focus has been paid to the issue. Residents of Kanesatake, though, are not letting their guard down in the face of the mining project. “A very short-sighted vision drives this mining project that will impact the land and environment for future generations, but the government and Niocan only see dollar signs,” says Ellen Gabriel, a celebrated activist from Kanesatake. “Our community has been resisting for over 300 years and our rights are not recognized, particularly our rights to the land, but we have every right to defend this land.” As the site of the Oka Crisis, Kanesatake has already served to ignite a generation of protest and action within Indigenous communities. If the Quebec government grants permission to open the mine against the will of Kanesatake, the potential political implications are serious. “Quebec’s government holds no jurisdiction to grant mining permits on traditional Mohawk lands,” Sohenrise Paul Nicholas of the Mohawk Council of Kanesatake told The Dominion. “We are opposed to the mine and are willing to defend the land...A mine is not [an] appropriate project for our traditional lands.” Voices opposing the project highlight the long-term environmental impacts of underground mining, a process that will use large amounts of water from local aquifers and affect an estimated 25 square kilometres of fertile agricultural lands. “One immediate concern is environmental,” says Nicholas. “A major mine operating in a mixed residential and agricultural area is not acceptable. Beyond permanently altering the natural landscape, the mining process will disturb high concentrations of radioactive elements within the land.” Radium and polonium—both radioactive— have been measured in elevated concentrations within the underground ore body that Niocan Inc. is proposing to mine, a process that may lead to large volumes of radioactive waste. Many Mohawks also oppose the mine on the basis of their collective water rights. “A mine like this will be detrimental to our water table and our health in general,” says Nicholas. “About 90 per cent of our homes in Kanesatake use well water every day, and once those aquifers are disturbed for mining use there is no guarantee that our water will be safe anymore.” Over the past decade Niocan Inc., based in downtown Montreal, has been lobbying to set up the controversial project amidst agricultural lands just outside of Montreal. Highly unpopular in both Kanesatake and surrounding Quebec communities like Oka, the contested mining project is uniting local farmers and Mohawks in an anti-mining struggle. “Local farmers living close to where the mine would be situated are totally opposed and are expressing outrage that this mine would position itself right in the middle of the farming area,” Kanesatake resident Walter David told The
Dominion in an interview at his Moccasin-Jo coffee and tea shop in Kanesatake. David says he has seen solidarity develop over the last decade through joint opposition to the Niocan Inc. mine. “Agricultural workers are growing many fruits and vegetables on these lands just beside Montreal. Do we want toxic chemicals entering our food and water supply? “Today we are supporting the farmers and the farmers are supporting us.” Points of opposition to the mine put forward by Mohawk activists in Kanesatake and community residents in Oka are similar, even if disagreements over fundamental land rights in the area exist. It is a fascinating political solidarity, born from opposition to corporate mining, in an area historically shaped by territorial conflicts. Recently, Quebecois community activists collected thousands of signatures for a petition they delivered to Quebec’s National Assembly. Arguing that “there is a blatant conflict in using land in the Oka area for both agricultural purposes and the establishment of a niobium mine,” the petition calls on the Quebec government to “protect the important agricultural, residential, recreational and environmental areas in the Oka region against any current or future mining development project in the area.” Representatives for Niocan Inc. continue to lobby to mine niobium, a highly lucrative element actively extracted from mines only in Canada and Brazil and used for aerospace, military and industrial machinery. Any new mine could result in revenue to the tune of tens of millions of dollars per year. The immediate economic gains for a company seeking to extract the element from Indigenous lands are clear. A final decision on whether to grant permission to Niocan Inc. for the mine is forthcoming from Quebec’s Environment Ministry, although the decade-long negotiations have lead to two separate reports from Quebec’s Bureau d’audiences publiques sur l’environnement (BAPE). On water, a 2005 BAPE report concluded that the “ground water pumping required for operating the mine would lead to lowering of water levels in the deep aquifer...it could also lower the ground water table and the level of certain wetlands,” impacting “agricultural water supply.” This report also stated that pollution stemming from the mine “could trigger contamination of ground water.” Despite these findings, progress toward the establishment of the mine continues, as local residents work to raise awareness and struggle against the project. “We have had conversations; it is an issue that we will deal with,” Hubert Marleau, interim Chairman of the Board and CEO of Niocan Inc., said of land disputes involving the Mohawks of Kanesatake. “In Canadian history there have been many
cases where things were not so easy,” said Marleau. “In the end things worked out and people were happy.” But not everyone agrees with Marleau’s rosy assessment. “Well, this is a selective view of Canadian history,” says Clifton Nicholas, a community activist and videographer from Kanesatake. “Throughout all of Canada’s history we were never given a fair shake.” The debate about Niocan’s niobium mine points to a larger context of simmering land conflict across Canada. In recent years, Indigenous people from coast to coast have taken to the front lines to oppose industrial development on traditional territories. These areas, like the one where the proposed Niocan mine will be situated, are often officially classified by Canadian or provincial authorities as crown lands open for private development, even though they have been long held by local Indigenous communities and are sometimes subject to ongoing land claims, legal challenges or disputes.
Kanesatake has already ignited a generation of protest and action within Indigenous communities. Community activists and traditional leaders opposing development on disputed land are facing increasing state pressure, including the arrest of six Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug (KI) leaders in Northern Ontario, police repression of community leaders of the Algonquin of Barriere Lake in northern Quebec, and the ongoing fight by the Sinixt Nation against logging on traditional lands in BC. The future of Niocan’s pending mining operation in Kanesatake remains unclear; however, if recent history and the historic 1990 land-rights standoff are any indicators, Niocan Inc. is set to face fierce, community-led resistance if the project moves forward. “No means no and Niocan Inc. needs to understand this,” says Nichloas. “Nothing the company says will change our position; we do not want our traditional lands to face [an environmentally destructive] mining project that goes against our wishes.” For more information on Niocan and Kanesatake visit MiningWatch Canada’s resource page at www.miningwatch.ca/en/home/country/ canada/quebec/kanesatake-niocan
Ryerson Free Press The monthly newspaper for continuing education, distance education and part-time students at Ryerson Address Suite SCC-301 Ryerson Student Centre 55 Gould Street Toronto, ON CANADA M5B 1E9
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Contributors annie burns-pieper erin byrnes stefan christoff amanda cupido kaitlin fowlie laura kaminker carol kan meaghan kelly anastasiya komkova haseena manek hafsa mulla Kasia Mychajlowycz manori ravindran ruane remy talia ricci norman (Otis) Richmond caro rolando kelsey rolfe Boké Saisi Katie toth
Publisher CESAR The opinions expressed in the Ryerson Free Press are not necessarily those of the editors or publisher. Advertising Ryerson Free Press’ advertising rates are as follows. All prices are for single insertions. Discounts apply for Ryerson groups and departments. Full page—$750 Half page—$375 Quarter page—$195 Eighth page—$95
This article was originally published in The Dominion.
Ryerson Free Press june 2011 3
Supreme Court lets Ontario farm worker legislation stand By Kasia Mychajlowycz Depending on who you ask, the Supreme Court of Canada’s recent decision regarding the rights of agricultural workers, delivered April 29, was “good for farmers” or “not even fertilizer.” The first assessment is from the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, which represents 37,000 farm families in Ontario. The second statement comes from the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), a union representing more than 250,000 workers in Canada who brought their case all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada, and lost. The decision ruled that the Agricultural Employee’s Protection Act (AEPA) did not interfere with farm workers’ freedom of association, which is protected under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The UFCW argued that the AEPA, which was legislated in Ontario in 2002, did not meaningfully protect farm workers’ rights because it excluded them from the Labour Relations Act, the general labour relations legislation, and did not expressly give them the right to unionize, or the right to strike. “This decision is not really worth the paper it’s printed on,” Stan Raper, UFCW spokesman, told journalists following the ruling. “It’s not even fertilizer.” Meanwhile, organizations representing farmers were celebrating their win. A statement from the Ontario Federation of Agriculture said that farming was a “unique sector”, implying that it deserves to be exempt from the normal labour relations legislations that covers workers. The Act’s first paragraph states “the unique characteristics of agriculture, including, but not limited to, its seasonal nature, its sensitivity to time and climate, the perishability of agricultural products and the need to protect animal and plant life.” But the Act doesn’t work for workers, said the UFCW. In their press release, issued directly after the ruling, the UFCW said the Act “blockades the right of Ontario farm workers to form unions to compel employees to bargain collectively.” In fact, the Act does not outright ban unions or collective bargaining; rather, it doesn’t legislate what only lawyers would call “majoritarian exclusivity”, which allows for only one union to represent all the workers in one sector, as voted by the majority of the workers. This is the most popular form of collective bargaining in Canada. This kind of bargaining could also, if legislated in this case, bring all 80,000 agricultural workers in Ontario into the UFCW, without competition from other associations. UFCW president Wayne Hanley references the “harsh working and living conditions” of Ontario farm workers, many of whom are temporary migrant workers brought to Canada through the Canadian Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program, most commonly from Mexico or the Caribbean. A 2006 policy paper from the not-for-profit North-South Institute documented instances of workers’ abuse, and recommended better accommodation for migrant workers, among other things. In 2004, the program brought over 19,000 migrant workers to Canada. However, the report also said that the program was a model for other countries to follow, noting that workers are paid the same as their Canadian counterparts, receive health cards within a week of arrival, and are entitled to collect Canadian pensions after retiring.
Farming is Canada’s fourth-most dangerous job. Farm owners are the most likely to die of an accident while farming, followed by their own children, and then farm workers. Between 1990 and 2004, 453 people were killed while farming; 225 of them were farm owners, 80 were children of the farm owner, and 45 were hired workers, which includes migrant workers. Separate injury and fatality data for migrant workers is not kept by the Canadian government, Canadian Agricultural Injury Reporting, or the relevant consular offices. In a blog post, prominent labour lawyer and law professor Roy J. Adams claimed that, despite UFCW’s condemnation, the Supreme Court ruling has the potential to “shake up” industrial relations in Canada. Adams stated that the ruling upholds the right to collective bargaining, though not in the way UFCW might have wanted: “In [the decision], the court made it clear that to exercise these rights, the associations do not have to seek certification as exclusive bargaining agents. Nor do they have to win the support of a majority of the relevant workers.” While the UFCW believes that, by upholding the AEPA, the Supreme Court has made Canada “international pariahs” in the labour world, Adams claimed the opposite: that requiring unions to have the majority of workers in a sector join in order to bargain with any employers is actually against international standards. Still, Adams says, the provincial government should take action soon, and amend the Act to include the right to strike, and attempt to get a voluntary structure for collective bargaining established between workers and farmers.
Crisis in Canadian Labour? By Boké Saisi Professor David Camfield celebrated the launch of his book, Canadian Labour in Crisis: Reinventing the Workers’ Movement, at Beit Zatoun in Toronto on May 17. The book, which focuses on the present day issues affecting unions and the working class, seemed to resonate with the union members in the audience. Those both in favour of unions, as well as those disillusioned by the hierarchical structure of unions, chimed in to discuss the worker’s movement in Canada. Camfield, who teaches in the Labour Studies program at the University of Manitoba, believed one of the major issues in the labour movement is the definition of ‘working class.’ In Canadian Labour in Crisis, Camfield proposes an overhaul of the current structure of the workers’ movement. “Democracy within unions is suffering” he wrote in his introduction. But this problem can be solved “by reforming unions from below and building new workers’ organizations, rather than by taking a reform from above approach.” Camfield’s definition of working class includes anyone who does not have control over the means of production. He includes those who earn both high and low wages, who work fulltime or part-time, or who have a high or low level of economic autonomy. Public sector employees happen to make up the majority of worker’s unions. “Only 17 per cent of the private sector is unionized,” said Camfield. So, most people in the non-unionized private sector, who are technically part of the working class, are not part of the worker’s movement and thus reduce the number and power of the movement. The workers’ movement, Camfield said, aims to amend the problems in unionized environments. The bureaucratic nature of unions, he said, means that there is a severe divide between members of unions and those who represent them. This results in another problem, that of
substitution. This is when union leaders act on behalf of their members. While theoretically this is the most efficient way to get the needs of the union members heard, when unions begin to take on strictly political agendas, both Camfield and many audience members believed, they take away from issues that may be more pressing to individual union members. “The key is to have an agenda that doesn’t begin at the election,” said Camfield. In doing so, he says, any potential conflict of interests can be avoided. Representatives from the Greater Toronto Workers’ Assembly reiterated this sentiment and also thanked Camfield for taking a “harsh but refreshing” stance on the issues facing the workers movement in the book. One audience member raised the timely debate around sex workers’ rights. As a relatively new group of workers aiming to formally mobilize, though groups such as the Sex Workers Alliance in Toronto and Vancouver already exist, the potential power of a formally solidified group seeking rights is evident. According to Camfield, workers’ movements, like those currently being formed by sex workers, are “fundamentally good on an ethical basis.” Camfield believes that this utilitarian belief speaks to the historical formation of worker’s unions and labour laws. As the industrial revolution came about, so did unfair, unsafe and inhumane working conditions. As a result, the labour unions that formed did indeed have a utilitarian function that provided a greater good for the greater working population. The change in function of unions, says Camfield, from one that was utilitarian in nature to a political one, is central to the problems facing the workers’ movement in Canada today. PHOTO: MNICOLEM/FLICKR
“They told us that everything we were doing was illegal, and that our chanting made everything worse.” Windsor students fight Catholic school board attempt to close libraries By Meaghan Kelly An Ontario school board is re-evaluating their decision to lay off librarians and dismantle their libraries after widespread opposition. The Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board cited their deficit, which could reach as high as $10 million, and decreasing enrolment as the primary factor in the decision. The Ministry of Education, however, will investigate their entire budget, after criticism of rising administrative costs. Education Minister Leona Dombrowsky stated that their funding has increased by 34 per cent ($61 million) since the Liberals have been in office, while enrolment has declined 17 per cent. Windsor West MPP Sandra Pupatello stated that the board had doubled their spending on administrative costs. “No other board in the province is considering closing libraries,” said Dombrowsky. But librarian-teacher jobs are still at risk and library staff is declining across the province, with provincial support for libraries also decreasing. While the province is beginning to get involved in the opposition to the board’s decision, their record on libraries has been particularly disappointing, despite their promises. The Ontario School Library Association (OSLA) report states that in September 2007, Premier McGuinty “announced an investment of $120 million – $80 million ear marked for books for elementary school libraries, and $40 million for librarians over the next four years. To date only $25 million of the promised $80 million has been released for books and e-resources. In March 2010, an announcement was sent stating that funding was suspended for 2010/11.” The Windsor-Essex board attempted to dismantle their libraries and spread out the books among the classrooms, despite a People for Education report that concluded that libraries are essential for promoting literacy. According to the May report, trained library staffing improves elementary school students’ testing scores for reading. In addition to higher achievement levels, “the presence of teacher-librarians is associated with more positive attitudes towards reading in both Grade 3 and Grade 6 students.” Despite these findings, Cathy Geml, associate director of the school board called the PHOTO: christy sheffield/FLICKR
library “nostalgic” in “twenty-first century learning,” and said that the time spent going to the library was “lost instructional time.” The decline in library services isn’t just occurring in the Windsor-Essex region. According the People for Education report, only 56 per cent of elementary schools in Ontario had a teacher-librarian on staff that was trained in the curriculum and worked directly with students. In high schools, despite bigger libraries and the focus on more independent learning, this number is 66 per cent, which has decreased 12 per cent in ten years. According to the OSLA May 2011 brief, “schools with professionallytrained school library staff have reading achievement scores that are approximately 5.5 percentile points higher than average in grade 6 EQAO results.” Despite the board stepping back from their decision, it is clear that libraries are in danger despite the evidence that librarian-teachers working in libraries improve literacy skills. And, simply put by the OSLA, “students who are in schools without a staffed and resourced library program are not receiving the same education as students who have school libraries.” It isn’t just the library associations and potentially laid-off librarians who are getting fired up by the decision. F.J.Brennan Catholic High School students started a petition in order to gather support for their libraries. Students at Brennan, Assumption College Catholic High School, and St. Anne’s Catholic High School organized walkouts, facing suspensions and police scrutiny. According to The Student Movement Windsor, a student stated that five police cruisers showed up to one protest. “They told us that everything we were doing was illegal, and that our chanting made everything worse.” For the students, librarians help with much more than testing scores, as one student petition states, “the librarians also help students learn to critically evaluate materials and to use information ethically.” The People for Education Report recognized too that the library isn’t just about literacy. The report stated that libraries are designed to be “sites for students to explore and develop their own interests, and to foster a love of reading, along with their inquiry and research skills.”
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OPINION as parliament returns, let cats be cats and mice be mice By Laura Kaminker A new Parliament opened this month, and with it, we step into a great unknown. Will Stephen Harper’s Conservative majority plunge us into chaos? Will the government impose a neoliberal austerity agenda that shreds what remains of Canada’s social programs? Will his social conservative base have free reign to chip away at our rights and freedoms? And if so, will the New Democratic Party (NDP) opposition oppose him at every turn? Lying beneath these questions is a truth we cannot repeat often enough: the majority of Canadians did not vote for this government. A new Environics poll shows that the majority of Canadians oppose two central pieces of the Conservative plan: corporate tax cuts and the purchase of wasteful, unnecessary fighter jets. But the popular opposition goes much deeper than that. In the recent federal election, 5,832,401 million Canadians voted for the Conservative Party. In our ridiculous, undemocratic, first-past-the-post system, this translated into 23 new Conservative seats in Parliament, but represented an increase of just under two percent (1.96%) in Conservative votes over the 2008 election. The NDP, on the other hand, won the votes of 4,508,474 Canadians, gaining 67 seats, an increase of just over 30 percent over the last election. In other words, support for the Conservative Party is pretty much static, while support for the NDP is surging. What’s more, in 122 ridings won by either the Conservatives or the Liberals, the NDP came in second. In fact, the NDP finished below second in only five per cent of ridings nationally. The results in many of these ridings were very close: in 14 ridings won by the Conservatives with the NDP finishing second, the difference was a total only 6,000 votes.
And if we speak about eligible voters, as opposed to people who voted, we see that only 24 per cent of the electorate voted Conservative. The mainstream media tells us that this great Orange Wave was powered by ignorance. Voters didn’t want the Conservatives or the Liberals, so they voted NDP, without really knowing what they were voting for. I ask you, why would that be? Why would voters understand they didn’t want Liberals or Conservatives, but somehow not understand what the NDP stands for? Did Jack Layton not campaign his heart out? Did the NDP not run ads announcing its platform? Was Michael Ignatieff so much more visible than Jack Layton during the 2011 campaign? No, no, no. The corporate-owned, hidebound media cannot (or perhaps will not) process the plain truth in front of their faces: millions of Canadians wanted change, and they wanted change from the left. On the other hand, Liberal partisans decry the results of the 2011 federal election because, they say, the strong showing for the NDP handed the Tories their long-sought majority. Progressive people were “supposed to” vote for the other neoliberal party, simply out of duty, whether or not that party earned or deserved our vote. But if, like me, you care not about parties but about people, you see that—despite our grave disappointment at having a Conservative majority—millions of Canadians rejected both corporate parties and called out for a leftward shift. A strong plurality of Canadians want a return to realliberalism, a government of social democracy, where government coffers exist for the good of all, not the enrichment of the few. We may be entering a period of turmoil, but we are also
entering a period of opportunity. But resistance is not automatic. History teaches us that the NDP itself will be divided by those who caution “pragmatism”—that is, a shift to the right, to prove that the NDP is a “government-in-waiting”— and all those who call for a return to the NDP’s historic role as a labour party and social democrat party. Four-and-a-half million Canadians didn’t vote NDP so that the party would become the Liberals. We voted NDP because we want the NDP! We shouldn’t assume that a Harper majority means we can’t win our battles, but nor should we assume that an NDP Opposition means our perspective will be represented and our voices will be heard. It’s up to us to hold their feet to the fire. We must constantly be on Jack Layton and all the NDP critics, to tell them what we want and what we expect of them. We expect them to oppose war and the march of militarization. We expect them to oppose a so-called austerity budget that will enrich private industry while eroding the quality of life for the great majority of Canadians. We expect them to uphold the rights of labour, women and all working people. To champion the environment over industry, and public health care over private profit. To speak up for the rights of aboriginal people. To oppose anything that chips away at reproductive freedom. We don’t want an Opposition whose goal is to “make Parliament work.” That simply means giving in to everything the Government wants. We want an Opposition that will oppose. Jack Layton, I voted for a mouse. I won’t sit by and let you become a cat. This op-ed was originally published on June 1, 2011 on we move to canada: http://bit.ly/wmtcblog
There is plenty of evidence the world is coming to an end By Haseena Manek If you don’t think the world is ending, just flip through the average mainstream newspaper. During the May long weekend, the front page of the Toronto edition of Metro shouted warnings of an impending apocalypse—apparently scheduled for May 21. The coverage focused on the California-based broadcaster Family Radio—the group predicting the end of days—and responses to its prediction by the wider public, including local environmentalists. Tom Evans, a spokesperson for Family Radio, suggested that, if the world didn’t come to an end on May 21, “God is a liar.” If the predictions of Family Radio aren’t enough to convince you about the end of the world, there is plenty of other evidence. As you move past the usual Bible-thumping rhetoric, you will find countless signs that the world is going to the dogs. It may not be the kind of fire and brimstone you’ve come to expect, or even flooding, earthquakes or mudslides (although there seems to be lots of that, too). But unless the world soon changes dramatically, I wouldn’t be surprised to see more frequent predictions of the coming apocalypse. For instance, page ten of the Metro reports that former leader of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Dominique Strauss-Khan, is currently in jail for allegedly raping a hotel worker in New York City. Strauss-Khan, the man in
charge of organizing monetary support for the developing world where IMF aid packages often exacerbate the exploitation and oppression of women, now stands accused of sexual assault. As a result of his million-dollar bail, StraussKhanis now being held under “elaborate house arrest” in a private Manhattan apartment with armed guards. Then there is our favourite body-builder-turned-actorturned-California Governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger—also known as “Conan the Republican” or the “Governator.” Schwarzenegger is now getting divorced following revelations about his 10-year-old love child that no one had ever heard of. Not surprisingly, his soon-to-be ex-wife Maria Shriver is now considering writing another book. Speaking of books, one Hilary Winston has recently published her life story, originally titled My Boyfriend Wrote A Book About Me, a revenge novel about her various boyfriends, in response to a novel one of these guys wrote about her. According to the article, Winston’s work is no skin off his back: “He’s really egocentric. He likes the fact that I wrote a book about him.” Finally, there is the ongoing release of video messages by Osama Bin Laden. It makes me wonder: is there a special branch of al Qaeda that gets paid to release and promote Bin Laden’s ante mortem video blogs? Honestly I would not be surprised if Osama was chilling on a Cali beach right now.
But don’t ask anyone in the CIA, because any employees sharing actual truths about bin Laden’s death face prosecution, according to a memo issued by CIA head Leon Panetta. You can read all about it in a tiny five-line blurb at the bottom of page 15, next to an ad for Crocs. Bin Laden was the “justification” for the decade-long War on Terror, first in Afghanistan and later in Iraq. His death has been exploited by Obama to counter Republican accusations that he is soft on terror and to give US imperialism a reason to intervene in Pakistan, which is likely the next target on the US hit list. You can read more of Bin Laden’s message on page 15 of the Metro: he “praised the mass protests that have toppled and shaken long-time rulers across the Arab world while trying to cast a role for Al Qaeda.” As far as I can see, this is an attempt to co-opt the brilliant and inspiring resistance in North African and Middle Eastern countries, connecting Bin Laden to a movement that has rejected his politics. There was real-life twenty-first-century revolution in Egypt, and somebody decided it was a good opportunity to reinforce the supposed distinction between so-called “Islamic terror” and U.S.-backed terror. “Though both Bin Laden and the West have generally ‘Apocalypse’ continued on page 12
FEATURES Our Place in the Scum: Freeganism De-mystified The radical roots of a still growing movement By Kaitlin Fowlie Dumpster-divers, plate scrapers, bandits, wild foragers, hippies. Call ’em what you want, the mystery of the freegan remains a largely elusive social phenomenon in Toronto. Exactly who are these earth-lovers that scour the urban streets in search of domestic treasures, and why do they do what they do? These personality types have been blacklisted as parasites to society since the early 1960s. Shut out by shop owners and denied access to goods and services based on the assumption that they have nothing to give back to their community, they are forced to the margins. Their pennypinching is rarely seen as a deed of activism, but a characteristic of sloth. Some people have been quietly trying to change this assumption for the past 30 years. Freegans, a multi-faceted group that is united by a general belief in anti-consumerism, adopt alternative life strategies based on restricted participation in the mainstream economy. Essentially, they rely on a nominal consumption of resources, often limited to findings made inside dumpsters, discarded on streets or tossed into alleyways. They embrace community living and thrive in minimal environments. But Freegans are far from leeches. On the contrary, their political stance lies in their sharing of resources, which, they believe, improves the collective lives of all of us. Freeganism is about reducing the impact on the planet and living with a clear conscience. It’s an inherently sustainable lifestyle that relies on human labour, locality and creativity, does little to hurt others and a lot to unite a population. In an attempt to break out the oft confused epithet, Warren Oakes—drummer of the band Against Me!—compiled a DIY-style manifesto “Why Freegan” in 1999. In it, Oakes inscribes various calls to awareness, including the emergency state resulting from the 10 gallons of water wasted with every flush of a toilet (and an invitation to copy that particular page on sticker paper and display in public washrooms). Oakes promotes carrying around a durable plastic cup and utensils at all times, using hankies, and exercising dining and dashing (but not without leaving a tip). He invites his readers to make a list of all the unethical practices that piss us off and companies or products we want to boycott. He notes that when he finished making his list, he realized he couldn’t justify buying anything, so he simply decided to boycott everything. While he does admit that he will occasionally indulge in the odd Thai meal out, (no one’s perfect) he tries to be very conscientious about consuming. The freeganist philosophy existed long before this manifesto was written, however. It can be traced back to the environmental movement of the 1960s. Against the backdrop of the San Francisco Renaissance, an anarchist street theatre group based in Haight-Ashbury began giving away rescued food in their community. Every day at 4 p.m., they would set up shop in Golden Gate Park and serve their patrons a stew made from salvaged meat and veggies from behind a giant yellow picture frame like a puppet show. At times, they would feed up to 200 people who had no other source of food. They called themselves the Diggers. The Diggers were fanatically political, and performance art like mime, improv and dance was always part of their food service, offering entertainment for their community and a mouthpiece for their disgust of the capitalist economy. They flaunted their half-naked bodies in belly dancer garb they flew through the financial districts of San Francisco, which at the time, was just starting to bubble with the rise of drag culture and rock-n-roll. They published their own collective pamphlets called “The Digger Papers” that
they would give out at the parties thrown in church basements and garage-operated free stores. Their DIY publishing efforts probed the public with questions like “when will Pablo Picasso take the seven thousand paintings he has in storage and give them away with a smile? When will art-for-arts sake climb higher than the social responsibility of the civilized past?” Digger art shows that, from early on, freegan activities have been inescapably political because food waste is a highly political issue. Many freegans do what they do because they believe addressing this problem is the vital first step to sorting out other social problems like global warming and poverty: if we waste less food, we’ll need less land to grow it on, and cut down fewer trees and use less water and energy for transport and processing plants. Food is wasted at every stage of production, but the only stage consumers have control over is the personal decision to support grocery stores. Freegans have taken initiative where commercial supermarkets have failed. Alas, like many alternative lifestyles, somewhere along the line, freeganism became a fad and its politics were lost among the superficial “glamour” of grunge. This is a sorrowful truth for Keith McHenry, co-founder of Food Not Bombs (FNB), the international organization that feeds those in need in over 1,000 cities. He takes a break from packing up from a day of action in his town of Fort Lauderdale, Florida to talk to me. He tells me, “Freeganism, as a term, came up as a joke. I found this huge wheel of cheese in the dumpster and I was just like ‘why be vegan when we can be freegan?’ But really, to me, Food Not Bombs is the real movement, the real thing. Freegan is something that was adopted by the media to de-politicize the FNB movement, to make it into a chic, non-threatening thing and so it’s kind of a funny thing because people call me about freeganism but no one calls me about FNB.” He tells me how the New York Times called him for an interview and wanted to hear nothing about FNB, but was simply interested in the “scene” aspect of freeganism. “They wanted to talk about freegan, about a nice cliché little thing, upper middle class kids doing the garbage thing and getting free stuff and having a bohemian lifestyle, not about the capitalism needing to be challenged. Freegans don’t go to jail. FNB does.” The idea for FNB started when Keith was a homeless 16-year-old hitchhiking down Route 1 in California. He pulled thirty 45-cent Martin Luther King postage stamps from a dumpster in Santa Cruz and took them into a Denny’s restaurant and tried to convince the waitress to accept them as payment for breakfast (she did). But the “real” light bulb came on when he found employment as a produce worker at the Bread and Circus in Cambridge, Massachusetts and he found himself having to discard tons of food. He decided, instead, to take it to housing projects near his work. Keith began to make rounds at other supermarkets to see if he could rescue even more food. His inquest led him to recover 3 to 7 cases of organic produce each morning up to five mornings per week. The amount of food being discarded would allow him to fill his Nissan pickup truck several hundred times a morning, but he usually gave up after a few trips; the food being wasted was simply too great in volume to take in. His rescue initiative continued in Boston for 8 years, after which time he moved to San Francisco and started a second official chapter of FNB. Since then, his work has led him all around the U.S. and across the world, intercepting
food on its way to landfills in New York, Tel Aviv, Sydney, Berlin and Istanbul. Speaking on the phone with Keith feels similar to sitting cross-legged on the floor in front of a grandfather who has stories for days. His fantastical experiences are relayed in a monotone voice that sort of adds up to an air of magic realism. His tales are occasionally interrupted by his relaying directions to his volunteers, as they pack up their evening’s event. I can hear his crew shuffling equipment into vehicles. “I haven’t brought the large table yet ... just load up all the big stuff first ... Oh! He just got hit in the head with a bagel!” he cries, as if surprised I didn’t notice this occurrence. His flighty demeanour is not to be mistaken for flakiness. Keith’s work has taken this grassroots feat to a revolutionary concept, prompting reactions from the public and the police. Keith has been arrested over 100 times and spent over 500 nights in jail. He has been beaten by police and jammed into a tiny jail cell hanging from the ceiling of a police office. During the 80s, the entire FNB crew endured thousands of arrests in San Francisco. Their banners and literature were the first targets for police during these years, as they held the artistic proof that FNB had the potential to be a revolutionary organization. They were removed by the police, who subsequently tried to turn FNB into a charity. Under these conditions, the group slowly devolved. Enthusiasm dwindled, volunteers left and fewer and fewer people were fed. Without a political edge, action proved impossible. Despite the controversy that clung to FNB, Keith continually encouraged his volunteers to have a strong political presence, and to use art to reach out to people. “Theatre helps wake up the public. To this day, I still encourage all chapters of FNB to have theatre involved in their meals, and music and art. We were influenced by the Living Theatre out of New York, their philosophy of the fifth wall of theatre: the blur between daily life and theatre and you can’t tell which is which. The public going by was part of what we were doing and they wouldn’t even know.” With this outlook, FNB remained throughout the 80s and 90s, and today it is an inspirational activist presence, albeit with an often rocky relationship with the law. When Keith hangs up, I can’t help but picture him and his volunteers gallivanting around a park in Florida banging soup spoons on pots and pans and singing praises to the wheat sheaf ’s and corn crops like no amount of public uproar could stop them. Without the trend factor of Freeganism, the issues FNB makes public probably wouldn’t get as much attention, and the opportunity to get involved wouldn’t be so widely advocated. Perhaps owing to FNB, Toronto’s free scene is a lively one, including such active groups as Really, Really Free Market; Toronto Free Gallery and our own local FNB chapter. Facebook is crawling with Toronto freegan support pages where people organize night-time dumpster dives, exchange goods and impart caution about which areas might have bedbugs, etc. Keith tells me that when he visited Toronto a few years back, he was impressed with our chapter’s ability to do something that he constantly pushes FNB to do: stay political. “What I found in Toronto?” he says. “I tried to tell them that, and I really think they got it, I think they’ll be alright.” Get in touch with Food Not Bombs in Toronto: http://on.fb. me/FNBTO
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Malcolm X and The Music By Norman (Otis) Richmond aka Jalali El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz (Malcolm X) was assassinated 46 years ago, on February 21, 1965, because of his attempt to internationalize the struggle of African people inside the United States. Malcolm was born 86 years ago on May 19, 1925. While U.S. President Barack Hussein Obama has acknowledged Kwanzaa, I very seriously doubt that he will show Malcolm the same love. Manning Marabe’s new volume, Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention, has sparked a renewed interest and debate about Malcolm. Previous works like Karl Evanzz’s The Judas Factor: The Plot to Kill Malcolm X, Zak Kondo’s Conspiracy’s: Unraveling the Assassination of Malcolm X and Bill Sales’ From Civil Rights To Black Liberation: Malcolm X and the Organization of AfroAmerican Unity are all being reopened. Contrary to popular belief, it was Malcolm, not Martin Luther King, who first opposed the war in Vietnam. Malcolm was the first American-born African leader of national prominence in the1960s to condemn the war. He was later joined by organizations like the Revolutionary Action Movement, the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee and the League of Revolutionary Black Workers. This was in the tradition of David Walker, Henry Highland Garnet, Martin R. Delaney, Bishop Henry McNeil Turner, W.E.B. Du Bois, Marcus Garvey, Ella Baker and Paul Robeson. Malcolm continued to link the struggles of African people worldwide. King came out against the Vietnam War after his famous April 4, 1967 speech at Riverside Church in New York City. Malcolm spoke against this war from the get-go.
Musicians did their part to keep Malcolm’s name alive. Long before Spike Lee’s 1992 biopic, X, hip-hop, house, reggae and R-n-B artists created music for Malcolm. High-life and great Black music (so-called jazz) artists first wrote and sang about Malcolm. The dance of Malcolm’s time was the “lindy-hop” and he was a master of it. The Autobiography of Malcolm X, which Malcolm wrote with the assistance of Alex Haley, gives a vivid description of his love of dancing. Years later, on a visit to the West African nation of Ghana, Malcolm spoke of seeing Ghanaians dancing the high-life. He wrote: “The Ghanaians performed the high-life as if possessed. One pretty African girl sang ‘Blue Moon’ like Sarah Vaughan. Sometimes the band sounded like Charlie Parker.” Malcolm’s impact on Ghana was so great that one folk singer created a song in his honour called “Malcolm Man.” After Malcolm’s death, many jazz artists recorded music in his memory. Among them, Leon Thomas recorded the song, “Malcolm’s Gone” on his Spirits Known and Unknown album; saxophonist-poet-playwright Archie Shepp recorded the poem, “Malcolm, Malcolm, Semper Malcolm” on his Fire Music album. Shepp drew parallels between Malcolm’s spoken words and John Coltrane’s music. Said Shepp: “I equate Coltrane’s music very strongly with Malcolm’s language, because they were just about contemporaries, to tell you the truth. And I believe essentially what Malcolm said is what John played. If Trane had been a speaker, he might have spoken somewhat like Malcolm. ‘Malcolm X’ continued on page 9
‘Malcolm X’ continued from page 8 If Malcolm had been a saxophone player, he might have played somewhat like Trane.” Shortly before Malcolm’s death, he visited Toronto and appeared on CBC television with Pierre Berton. During the visit, Malcolm spent time with award-winning author Austin Clarke talking about politics and music. Time was too short to organize a community meeting, but a few lucky people gathered at Clarke’s home on Asquith Street. Clarke had interviewed Malcolm previously, in 1963 in Harlem, when he was working for the CBC. Clarke recalled they “talked shop,” but also discussed the lighter things in life, like the fact that both their wives were named Betty. It is not surprising that Malcolm made his way to Canada. His mother and father, Earl Little, met and married in Montreal at a Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) convention. Both were followers of Marcus Garvey. His mother, Louise Langdon Norton, was born in Grenada but immigrated first to Halifax, Nova Scotia and later to Montreal in 1917. Jan Carew’s book, Ghosts in Our Blood: With Malcolm X in Africa, England, and the Caribbean, documents this aspect of the life of the Pan-Africanist. While on a visit to Nigeria, Malcolm was given the name Omowale, which means in the Yoruba language, “the son who has come home.” It was this period of his life that he visited Nigeria, Ghana, Liberia, Senegal, Morocco, Algeria, Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Guinea and Tanzania. It was during that period that he met with Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, Julius K Nyerere, Nnamoi Azikiwe, Sekou Toure, Jomo Kenyatta, Dr. Milton Obote, Abdul Rahman Muhammad Babu and others. During this visit, he also met Ras Makonnen, a legendary Pan-Africanist from Guyana, Richard Wright’s daughter Julie Wright, Maya Angelou, Shirley Graham Du Bois, the wife of W.E.B. Du Bois, and the Chinese Ambassador Huang Ha. It must be mentioned that Paul Robeson, W.E.B. Du Bois,
his wife Shirley Graham Du Bois and Robert F. Williams all supported the 1949 Chinese Revolution. Malcolm also was a huge supporter of the People’s Republic of China. He was delighted when China tested its first nuclear weapon. Babu talked about the significance of this event at the Malcolm X: Radical Tradition and a Legacy of Struggle Conference in New York City in 1990. Says Babu, “When Malcolm X came to Tanzania, I took him to meet President (Julius) Nyerere, on another historic date. Because that very day, China exploded her first nuclear bomb. And as we went to see Nyerere, Nyerere said, ‘Malcolm, for the first time today in recorded history, a former country has been able to develop weapons at par with any colonial power. This is the end of colonialism through and through.’” Malcolm was the chief organizer of the Nation of Islam and the founder of the group’s newspaper Muhammad Speaks. He split with the nation and its leader Elijah Muhammad in 1963. At the time of his death, he headed two organizations. The secular group, the Organization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU), was his political arm. He also organized the religious group, Muslim Mosque Inc. (MMI), which practiced Sunni Islam. Today, Islam is the second-largest religion in the United States and Canada. Many credit Malcolm with helping spread Sunni Islam as well as revolutionary Black Nationalism and Pan-Africanism among African people in the Western Hemisphere. Like Augusto Cesar Sandino of Nicaragua or Sun Yat-sen of China, Malcolm was embraced by all sectors of the Black Nationalist and Pan Africanist movements. All Nationalists and Pan-Africanists claimed to follow his example. Revolutionary Nationalist groups like the Black Panther Party (BPP) and the League of Revolutionary Black Workers emerged in the late 1960s after Malcolm’s death. Even after the BPP and the League embraced Marx-
ism, Malcolm was still their man. The cultural Nationalists who maintained that the Cultural Revolution must precede the political one also embraced Malcolm. He was a controversial figure. Actor Ossie Davis eulogized him as our “Black Shining Prince” while the director of the U.S. information agency Carl T. Rowan referred to him as “an exconvict, ex-dope peddler who became a racial fanatic.” He was loved by the oppressed and hated by the oppressors. Malcolm spoke about the OAAU and the MMI in these terms: “Its aim is to create an atmosphere and facilities in which people who are interested in Islam can get a better understanding of Islam. The aim of the OAAU is to use whatever means necessary to bring about a society in which the twentytwo million Afro-Americans are recognized and respected as human beings.” The Autobiography of Malcolm X and other books by and about Malcolm continue to sell worldwide. Some of his books have recently been published in Cuba. Malcolm was one of the few Black Nationalist leaders that welcomed Cuban leader Fidel Castro to Harlem in 1960. Many Nationalists didn’t want to be identified with communism. Carlos Cooks, the leader of the African Nationalist Pioneer Movement absolutely refused to have anything to do with Castro. But African people in the West could easily identify with the slogan, “When Africa called, Cuba answered.” Kwame Ture (Stokely Carmichael) was fond of reminding us that the only place in the United States that Fidel felt safe was in Harlem. Toronto-based journalist and radio producer Norman (Otis) Richmond is the co-founder, along with the late Milton Blake, of the BMA/TC. Norman can be heard on Diasporic Music, Thursdays from 8pm to 10pm and Saturday Morning Live, Saturdaysfrom 10am to 1pm online at www.ckln.fm. He can be reached at email@example.com
Black Music Month is 32 Years Old Happy birthday! By Norman (Otis) Richmond Both African and progressive people in general are mourning the passing of Gil Scott-Heron. I can still remember Kwame Ture (Stokely Carmichael) coming up behind Scott-Heron and blindfolding him. Scott-Heron never flinched, even when he turned around and saw that it was Ture. That event took place in Washington, DC at a Black Music Association convention. Black music has been an international force since the Fisk Jubilee Singers, a gospel group from Nashville, TN, conquered Europe in 1873. Yet it was only 32 years ago the Black Music Association (BMA) persuaded the U.S. government to officially recognize Black Music Month. However, the first African president of the United States has jumped Black Music Month for the safer African American Appreciation Month. In June 1979, around the time the Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight” was being released, Kenny Gamble led a delegation to the White House to discuss with President Jimmy Carter issues regarding the state of Black music. At the meeting, Carter asked trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie and drummer Max Roach if they would perform “Salt Peanuts,” to which Gillespie replied that he’d only do so if the President (who made a fortune as a peanut farmer) provided the vocals. Since that great and dreadful day when Carter butchered the song, June has been designated Black Music Month. When broadcaster and community activist Milton Blake and this writer created the Toronto chapter of the Black Music Association in 1984, it was our intention to plug African-Canadian music makers into the international music market. At that time, only jazz pianist Oscar Peterson had penetrated the global market. Most observers of Canadian Black Music credit Norman Granz, a Euro-American, and not the Canadian industry, with Peterson’s success. Blake and I were well aware of this fact and sought to correct it. We sat down with Garth White, PHOTO: 3liz4/FLICKR
Diane Liverpool, Francis Omoruyi, Daryl Auwai, Wayne Lawson, P.V. Smith, Xola Lololi and Chris Thomas, and formed the Toronto chapter of the BMA. The Toronto arm of the BMA was all-African from its inception. We were never a “tribal” group. Our leadership was made up of people from Africa, the Caribbean and North America. The BMA in Toronto, like the New York City chapter, distinguished itself from many of the other chapters in the BMA by supporting the United Nations-sanctioned cultural boycott of South Africa. We held a demonstration involving 300 musicians and friends to prove our point. Most members of the African Canadian community supported the cultural boycott, although another Black music group criticized the BMA for its stand. Our chapter supported the efforts of Dick Griffey, head of Solar Records and the Chairman of the BMA, to have our convention in Nigeria. Not all members of the BMA wanted to visit the Motherland. Some BMA members were of the opinion that “I ain’t left nothin’ in Africa.” We in the Toronto chapter quoted El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz (Malcolm X) and reminded them, “You left your mind in Africa.” For a variety of reasons, the convention never took place in Nigeria. However, I did visit the Motherland in 1990 for the first time. I traveled to Nigeria, Ghana, Togo and the Kalakuta Republic (Fela’s House). The trip convinced me that the roots of our music were indeed from and in Africa. The BMA’s Toronto chapter fought vigorously for Black Music categories to be included in Canada’s most prestigious awards, the Junos. We lobbied the Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (CARAS), beginning in 1984, and submitted a brief on February 7, 1985. We always paid tribute to African political and musical icons like Marcus Garvey, Bob Marley and Sam Cooke. The BMA held workshops and seminars on various music-related topics and showcased local talent like Carlos Morgan, Djanet Sears, Itah Sadu, Adrian Miller, Jayson, Lorraine Scott, George Banton and Glen Ricketts (father of Glenn Lewis). We produced a compilation cassette of local artists like Clifton Joseph and others. The cassette was manufactured by RCA Canada thanks to Larry McRae. Since the formation of the BMA, Canadian Black Music has grown. Former Toronto Mayor David Miller declared himself a jazz and blues man at a news conference for the celebration of the twenty-fifth anniversary of Black Music Month in 2004. Former Mayor Barbara Hall also confessed that she is a fan of African rhythms. Today the late Oscar Peterson, Tamia, Deborah Cox and Glenn Lewis are bona fide international stars. Canadian hip-hop and R-n-B artists like Kardinal Offishall, Devine Brown, Jully Black, Saukrates, Choclair and Wade O. Brown are emerging on the global scene. Other veterans like Archie Alleyne, Salome Bey, Jay Douglas, Glen Ricketts, Lazo, Michee Mee, Maestro, King Cosmos, Jayson, Macomere Fifi, Tiki Mercury-Clarke, Eddie Bullen, Kingsley Etienne and Jo Jo Bennett and the Satellites still make music in the city. Fitzroy Gordon’s new radio initiative, Caribbean and African Radio Network, has been granted a license. This can only be a boost for Canadian Black Music Makers. Toronto-based journalist and radio producer Norman (Otis) Richmond is the co-founder, along with the late Milton Blake, of the BMA/TC. Norman can be heard on Diasporic Music, Thursdays from 8pm to 10pm and Saturday Morning Live, Saturdaysfrom 10am to 1pm online at www.ckln.fm. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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This page (Bottom left): • This woman sold hand bags at Anjuna Market in Goa. • Indian woman often wear ensembles made up of dozens of colours and jewels.
Photos by Talia Ricci
A Taste of India
Opposite page (Clockwise from top left): • This young Delhi boy was selling vegetables at tourist spots. Many children work to help bring income to their families. • The grace of a traditionally dressed Indian woman. • Often people will gather for a chat and sit on the sidewalk, enjoying the sun and each other’s company. • A young boy licks his fingers after finishing the last remains of his kulfi, an Indian ice cream. • Some children are left without parents or homes, a reminder of how fortunate we are here in Canada. • These four brothers and their little sister were some of the friendliest children I met on my trip. They were living on the street with their mother, stuck to each other like glue. • A father goes for a scooter ride with his young daughter in Goa. No one here wears a helmet. • Mumbai: The city of dreams.
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Toronto: more than just a livable city By Hafsa Mulla “This is a city of immigrants without slums, without graffiti, and without gridlock, dynamic but seldom frenetic, a metropolis with clean air and healthy downtown neighbourhoods. In short, a city that works.” —The New York Times Toronto is a vivid concoction of opulent architecture and rich culture, immersed in a blanket of history and a fatal obsession with hockey. Every adjective that describes Canada could be applied tenfold to Toronto, the city has all the nation’s urbanity and bustle. But there’s a distinctly peaceful buzz to the pace of life that makes the city less of a concrete jungle and more like, home. A city cloaked in smiling faces and a buoyant sense of adventure and possibility in the air. Breathtaking views of the city skyline and surrounding vicinities that are brightly lit fascinate not just the tourists, but the locals, too. If it isn’t the engaging street art that is adorning the city’s anatomy, it’s the street performers pouring melody in your ear or contemporary dancers swaying to groovy beats on Dundas Square. Toronto is the mosaic of multiculturalism, which, of course, injects the city with a diverse and fresh appeal. For many, the city is home away from home. One can prance around many ethnic enclaves such as Chinatown, Little Italy, Greektown, Portugal Village, Little Jamaica and Little India, on foot or by cab, to sample exotic cultures and cuisines. Here, a range of staple delicacies can be found that cram street corners with drool-worthy aromas, from crispy dosa to rare beef pho; the variety is endless. The city itself may be sprawling but the eminent infrastructure doesn’t dismay its commuters. One can take part in the city’s commendable ecological correctness by biking or rollerblading in the designated lanes. Not a traffic
enthusiast? Hop on the public transit system, which links the subway, buses and streetcars and allows an easy and convenient travel from one end of the city to the other. Toronto’s fashion Mecca doesn’t disappoint its pilgrims either. Comb the city through its narrow streets to yield le dernier cri items or vintage treasures. The finest and the most stylish fashion addresses, however, can be found in Yorkville and on Bloor Street, where the crème de la crème strut in their vertiginous heels and Louis Vuitton Neverfulls radiate the atmosphere. What’s more? Add four distinct seasons into the bargain that garnish the city with temperatures as low as -25 C to as high as 35 C, and wet days in between. Each season is celebrated with a variety of special events that Torontonians actively partake in. Nuit Blanche glorifies fall as galleries, museums, educational and cultural institutions across Toronto join forces to showcase the city’s talent and commitment to contemporary art for one sleepless night in September. WinterCity marks the arrival of the coldest days with shows, concerts, performing arts and the sought-after prix fixe restaurant promotion during Winterlicious. The summer kick-starts with collaboration, accessibility and diversity during Luminato, an annual multidisciplinary celebration of theatre, dance, music, literature, food, visual arts, fashion, film, magic and more. Moreover, the largest cultural festival of its kind in North America, Caribana, features music, costumes, delectable cuisine and performances, followed by Toronto’s ever-popular Summerlicious Despite being the undisputed entertainment capital of Canada, there is more to the “Hollywood North” [as they say] than just the hoo-ha. Trek outside the hustle and
bustle and stroll along the tranquil Lakeshore bristling with boats, and indulge in hot poutine and a steamy cup of Tim Hortons, to get the real charm and flavour of “Toronto the good.” Toronto’s list of offerings is inexhaustible. But the answer to the pressing question of whether or not it is a livable city is an unequivocal yes. Toronto resonates with the qualities of a civilized city. It offers a good quality of life with everything one would expect from a metropolitan district: healthcare facilities, safety, world-class education system, calibre of sports and recreation facilities, among many other factors that add to its degree of excellence. In 2010, Quality of Life Survey published by consultants William M. Mercer—an analysis primarily based on an evaluation of 39 quality of life criteria, which include political, social, economic and environmental factors— Toronto was ranked sixteenth out of 215 cities from around the world. In addition, Fortune Magazine has ranked Toronto first overall in its international survey of the best cities in which to live and work, calling it, among many other things, the safest city in North America. Toronto is not just home to the tallest freestanding structure in the Western hemisphere, the CN tower. It is also home to nearly 2.5 million residents who bejewel the fastest growing city with support, warmth, ebullience, diversity and magic. And why wouldn’t they? This is their livable city, their home, their Toronto. Get to know Toronto online. Visit the city’s official website: www.toronto.ca
Tales from the T Makes you feel grateful for ‘the better way’ By Kelsey Rolfe Boston—and its neighbouring city, Cambridge, MA—has one of the most comprehensive transit systems, boasting five subway lines that take you within minutes of anywhere you need to go. And if that’s not enough, there are buses to carry you where the tube cannot. It really is an excellent system. Or so I’ve been told. I recently spent six days in beautiful Boston, staying in my friend Gary’s Harvard College dorm. And although we used the T (the name of their transit system) more times than I can count on two hands, I never once had a “normal” ride. From experiencing “the longest five minutes from Cambridge Square to Harvard Square” (Gary’s words, not mine) to having to trek underneath a highway and back to find a subway station, Gare and I had our share of interesting adventures. He was more than apologetic for his city’s transit failings, but I couldn’t help but love every wacky minute of it; hey, you’ve got to make the best of a weird situation! Or 20! Not too long into my visit, we decided to take in a movie at the AMC in Boston Commons in light of the slightly dismal weather; naturally, this required a subway ride. Luckily, Gary had the foresight to insist we leave early, given our unrelenting bad luck with the T. After scanning our Charlie Cards (sort of like reloadable Tim Cards, but for the subway) and going down to the platform, we were startled out of our conversation by some sort of noise echoing through the station. It was garbled and kind of funny-sounding, and though no one could make much of it, everyone started moving. People ran up the stairs and down the stairs and shot confused looks at their fellow travellers, trying to get insight as to what was going on. Gary suggested I stay put while he investigated, but I inevitably got caught up in the throng of people, and made my way to the upstairs platform, where the noise seemed to originate. On my way, a woman caught my attention and yelled something about the trains reversing direction due to an accident.
‘Apocalypse’ continued from page 6 supported protest movements in the Middle East,” reads the article, “their goals differ.” No, I’m sorry, don’t even try it. Don’t take the removal of Hosni Mubarak and make it your own. That victory belongs to the Egyptian people, not to Bin Laden or any supposed terrorist support, and definitely not to Western support. But that’s just it, isn’t it? We live in a world where newspapers print information that pleases the corporations that own them, where government “leaders” adjust policies to benefit destructive capitalism. Finding the truth is tough: it’s hidden like gold. Only it’s not like gold because gold is some-
Shocker. Even though I’d only been in Boston for fewer than two days, no transit-mishap could have surprised me. To have the trains reverse their direction seemed only natural at that point. I met up with Gary in the middle of the platform while chaos swirled around us (poor, poor Boston commuters), and we exchanged information. The results were inconclusive, but it appeared that we had to get on a train that would typically go in the opposite direction of where we needed to be. Around us, the P.A. system blared a nonstop circuit of gobbledy-gook. How anyone had figured out the gist of the announcement was beyond me, because there wasn’t a word in that message that was comprehensible. We made our way to the appropriate subway car and, just as we were taking our seats, the announcement started over again. Except this time, the message was crystal clear, as was the voice of the announcer: “Trains will be redirected to accommodate problems at Davis Square. If you’re going outbound to Alewife, take the inbound train; if you’re going inbound to Braintree, take the outbound train.” Let me just say that I found it completely wonderful that, in order to figure out which train you needed to be on, you had to get on a train (not knowing if it was the right one) to actually hear the message properly. And if you’d got on the wrong one, it was too late anyway; both trains were leaving their respective platforms. And as Gary and I shared a little giggle over this fact, the announcer’s voice boomed, “This is the Braintree train” almost every five seconds. The girls across the aisle from us tittered, and even I couldn’t repress a laugh. Because not only was this altogether redundant, the P.A. announcer’s voice was the epitome of the Boston accent (she could pahk the cah in Hahvahd Yahd, if you know what I mean). Every time the announcement repeated itself, the entirety of our subway car smiled at least, guffawed at most. Best, if not most convoluted and unorthodox, subway ride ever.
thing people kill for, and truth is something people die for. Silently, people die, every day, every hour, every minute, all over the world, for war, for money, for sex slaves, for drugs and for worse. People are dying in Mexico, Sierra Leone, Palestine and here in Canada as well. But the majority of us continue along, fed simulated truths and simulated food, told to think less and shop more. Is this any way to live? So unaware of our rights or the rights of our neighbours that we don’t even realize when they’re taken away? It’s like living empty and soulless. This is why so many
people are depressed nowadays—and why people keep predicting the end of the world! Even sheep can sense the slaughter approaching, but we still don’t realize that the way we live is destroying the Earth. It is destroying our bodies and our minds. With every can of Coke, new pair of shoes, F-16 fighter jet and reality TV star, we are little by little robbing ourselves of our own humanity. Something needs to change. (Otherwise, I won’t be at all surprised if and when lightning bolts start falling from the sky.)
doors open toronto Photos by Carol Kan
Doors Open Toronto allows Torontonians to go into spaces that are normally closed to the public. From offices, T.V. stations to historic buildings, here’s a look at this year’s Doors Open Toronto. Ryerson Free Press june 2011 15
CULTURE Cannes heat
Prizewinners from the Croisette By Manori Ravindran, Culture Editor If you weren’t lucky enough to steal away to the south of France last month, news from the formidable Cannes International Film Festival easily found its way to North America after an eventful fortnight. Whether it was reports of festival president Gilles Jacob saying “No Cannes Do” to controversial filmmaker Lars von Trier, or director Bernardo Bertolucci wishing 8 ½ had been made in 3-D, the festival stole headlines around the world. But amidst the faux pas and the foie gras were a number of films that resonated with the reputably tough French audience. Cannes’s Official Selection is organized into various categories, each as prestigious as the next. The main competition consists of 20 films — all projected in the Théâtre Lumière — that compete for the Palme d’Or, the highest prize awarded at the festival. The Un Certain Regard category, meanwhile, focuses primarily on works with an “original aim and aesthetic” (Canadian filmmaker Xavier Dolan was nominated in this category in 2010 for Les amours imaginaires). A handful of other films, such as Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, and Rob Marshall’s Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, are also screened, but excluded from the competition. Palme d’Or (The Golden Palm) This year’s Palme d’Or was awarded to Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life. The director’s career has spanned over 40 years, but the elusive Malick has made only four feature films. The Tree of Life, his fifth, was announced in 2005, but met several delays. The film centres on Jack, one of three brothers growing up in the 1950s, whose perspective is greatly influenced by each of his parents. Interspersed with stunning visuals, Malick traces the evolution of Jack’s worldview from childhood to adulthood. The Tree of Life premiered to both boos and applause from a stunned audience, many of whom couldn’t quite comprehend what they had witnessed. Speaking at a press conference following the announcement of the award winners, jury president Robert De Niro said, “Most of us felt it was the movie with the size, importance, intention…whatever you want to call it, that seemed to fit the prize. Most of us felt the movie was terrific.” Grand Prix The Grand Prix, also bestowed by De Niro’s jury, is the second most prestigious award at Cannes. This year, the prize was shared by Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne’s The Kid with a Bike and Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Once Upon a Time in Anatolia. The former, written and directed by the Belgian Dardenne brothers, follows a young boy who turns to an older woman for company after his father abandons him. Ceylan’s film is a Turkish drama about a doctor living on the Anatolia steppe, a vast ecoregion in Turkey. Jury Prize After the Palme d’Or and Grand Prix, the Jury Prize is the third most important award at the festival. France’s own Maïwenn Le Besco starred in and directed Poliss, a drama that polarized Cannes audiences, but ultimately nabbed the prize. The title is a play on the word “police,” spelled as though a child had written it. The film is about a police department’s Juvenile Protection Unit, and the events that transpire when a government photographer arrives on assignment to document the unit. The filmmaker, who simply goes as Maïwenn, is one of four female directors whose films were included in the main competition. Un Certain Regard The Un Certain Regard jury consisted of only five members, with director Emir Kusturica at the helm. The category generally encompasses films that are diverse in style and vision. Once again, the prize was split, between Kim Ki-duk’s Arirang and Andreas Dresen’s Halt Auf Freier Strecke. The former is an intensely personal film that addresses an event South Korean director Ki-duk experienced while making his last feature. Dresen’s film, which translates to Stopped on Track, tells the story of a cancer patient trying to come to grips with his illness.
Best Screenplay The Best Screenplay award went to the Israeli drama He’arat Shulayim (Footnote) by Joseph Cedar. An Orthodox Jew himself, the director’s films often centre on issues relevant to Israeli society. Footnote is no different, following the relationship between a father and son who are both Talmudic scholars. Cedar explores the rivalry between the pair as they strive for recognition in an unforgiving field. Though he wasn’t there to accept his award, Cedar had earlier told Cannes journalists that the film is based on what he personally observed among Talmudic scholars at Hebrew University. Individual awards Other winners in the main competition included Nicolas Winding Refn (Best Director, Drive), Kirsten Dunst (Best Actress, Melancholia) and Jean Dujardin (Best Actor, The Artist). Denmark’s Refn, whose film Drive follows a driver who does stunts by day and robberies by night, was popular among audiences, who also applauded a strong performance by Ryan Gosling as the driver. Kirsten Dunst took home Best Actress for Melancholia, despite director von Trier being sent packing for his Nazi comments at the film’s press conference. “This is an honour that’s once in a lifetime,” the actress told the jury. “Thank you to the Cannes Film Festival for allowing the film to still be in competition.” Lastly, famous French television actor Jean Dujardin won Best Actor for his role as a silent film star in Michel Hazanavicius’s The Artist. The film was the first silent black-andwhite film to be included in the Cannes competition.
Cat on a Hot Tombstone Elizabeth Taylor does Hollywood Forever
By Caro Rolando Robin Pabello and Alexa Polar have idolized Elizabeth Taylor for a long time. As a kid, Pabello would sneak into her grandmother’s bedroom at night, sit quietly on the floorboards and look up at Taylor in awe. Polar, too, would stare at her in silence. She prayed there was some sort of a gene in her family that would one day grant her the same beauty as that dark-haired diva. But it wasn’t until two weeks ago that Polar and Pabello watched Taylor do her thing in the quintessential Hollywood way. On May 14, 2011, the two young women sat under the stars at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Los Angeles, and reveled in Taylor’s performance in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. For the record, Pabello and Polar are not freaks. Nor were they the only ones watching a film in a cemetery that day. Polar, a screenwriter, and Pabello, her manager, were among hundreds of other film lovers at a summer event called Cinespia. Founded by set designer John Wyatt, Cinespia plays classic Hollywood films in a location where equally timeless Hollywood personalities are buried: Peter Lorre, Rudolph Valentino and Douglas Fairbanks, to name a few. And while Taylor isn’t buried at Hollywood Forever, she may as well be. According to Wyatt, Taylor’s contributions to society—both artistic and humanitarian—make her as much of a Hollywood legend as Valentino and Lorre. “[Taylor] was an early, early AIDS activist,” Wyatt said to the Cinespia audience prior to the film. “She stood up to a lot of people, and did a lot of good work. But of course, we all loved her for her amazing mastery of her craft. She was a fantastic, fantastic actor.” To be fair, not everyone that attended
Cinespia on May 14 was there just for Taylor. Some were there to celebrate the event’s tenth anniversary—honouring the fact that Cinespia makes classic films accessible in this day and age. “Anytime you see an older movie, you’re always surprised how they’re still relevant to what’s going on today,” said Steve Jones, a regular Cinespia attendee, who was waiting to get in. Others were drawn out of curiosity, wondering what it would be like to watch a movie between tombstones and mausoleums. Paul Andrews, a British journalist who is new to L.A., said such an event would never occur back home. “It just sounded like something I’ve never done before,” Andrews said between casual sips of red wine outside the cemetery gates. “I love movies, and to go to a movie in a cemetery sounded like something very different and a lot of fun. It’s just the whole L.A. thing…they find increasingly weird ways to show films,” he added. Many Cinespia-goers flock to the event as an escape from the craziness of city life. With picnics, board games and friends in tow, they arrive at the gates of the cemetery early to reserve a spot in the lineup, and bask in the last few rays of sunshine before night falls. Jonathan Martofel said the process provides an excuse to spend quality time with people he cares about. “I’m here to spend time with my friends,” he said, as he waited in line. “I make an effort not to forget. This is important. Living in L.A., everything moves by so quickly. I’m happy that there are places to go to like this,” he added. Martofel said that he often meets other people at Cinespia. They share wine, trade stories and just hang out. To Wyatt, a diverse audience is part of
what makes Cinespia so special. “I really do feel like a community has sprung up around the Cinespia screenings,” Wyatt said in an interview before the film. “It really shows all the types of people that live in L.A.… Any given night, you’ll have a household-name movie star next to an aspiring actress, next to a [production assistant], next to a big shot producer, next to a Goth who loves cemeteries, next to a film nerd. And everybody’s sort of together. These identities kind of drop away, and they all just become a film audience.” But for Pabello, the screening of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof was more than just a gathering of film-lovers—it was a goodbye party for Taylor. “It’s kind of like all these people came to say goodbye, and let her physical body go, but keep her spirit,” Pabello said in a telephone interview. “I thought it was a beautiful thing.” Pabello and Polar have faced criticism from friends and family who have never attended Cinespia; the very idea of moviewatching in a cemetery dissuades some from attending. “My mom was very skeptical at first; she was very against it,” Polar said, adding that her mother is a traditional Catholic. To Jones, the fact that Cinespia is in a cemetery is a positive thing. “It’s kinda neat watching the movies that so many of these people that are buried around did and made,” said Jones. “It’s like you’re watching it with them. Their spirits are there, I’m sure of it. They come back and say hi.” Cinespia will continue to screen Hollywood classics for the rest of the summer. The lineup includes The Shining, Vertigo and Young Frankenstein, among others. For more information, visit ww.cinespia.org.
A Faustian Bitumen Bargain
Edward Burtynsky discusses the Tar Sands By Erin Byrnes On May 2, 2011, the Harper government emerged from its third campaign with less than 40 per cent of the vote and its first majority government. The path to victory began with losing a vote of confidence and snagging the Commonwealth precedent of being held in contempt of parliament. Their win left some Canadians feeling as if their country had just taken a sharp right turn towards the consolidation of a petrostate. The next day, I spoke with Canadian photographer Edward Burtynsky, who is renowned for capturing global industrial landscapes through an unflinchingly beautiful and devastating lens. His exhibit Oil is showing at the Royal Ontario Museum and features large-format prints that depict a global dependence on a dwindling resource. Throughout his years photographing the Canadian landscape, Burtynsky says the biggest change that he has seen is the alteration of Alberta, a province he says has been reshaped by oil. The Alberta tar sands are the world’s largest industrial energy project, and a sink for $200-billion in investment. Bitumen, a viscous crude, is extracted from beneath the strip-mined boreal and desecrated wetlands through an in situ process that uses three barrels of water per barrel of extracted oil, produces 40 million tons of carbon per year, and leaks 11 million litres of toxic, contaminated water into the surrounding environment every day. “It has really just begun...,” Burtynsky says. “Oil companies are dancing a jig today; they are as happy as clams.” As a major contributor of CO2, the Alberta tar sands block any meaningful climate change policy in Canada, which already boasts an abysmal lack of adherence to the Kyoto accord. “Are we ready to become the pariahs of developed nations? To wear that stigma?” BurPHOTOS: Edward Burtynsky
tynsky asks. While it is hard to find fault with Burtynsky’s photography or his environmental ethic, some activists claim that his photographic work is too neutral in its representation of a controversial subject. In response to his critics, Burtynsky says that his imperative is not primarily political, although it remains a component of his work. Rather, he describes his photography as a thirty-year meditation on a usurping and runaway species. He describes a focus of his work as the transformation of landscapes and synthetic landscapes created from real need and superfluous desire. “I’m not out there to start a smear campaign,” Burtynsky says, noting that visitors to his exhibit will get what they want from his work. He says the danger of creating art that is structured like a campaign is that it becomes two-dimensional and loses its complexity and ability to resonate with people in different ways. That would be a disservice to the subject, he says, and it is not his intention to inform people of how they should think. Burtynsky is animated when he speaks of the “Faustian deal” forged between oil companies and the Canadian government. According to Burtynsky, the development of the tar sands comes at a price not only to the environment, but also to Canadian society as a whole. The development of a petro-economy comes at the cost of investing in brainpower, creative industries and the addition of value to product through design. Instead, Burtynsky points out, we are pumping oil. “This government is pro-oil and probably not pro-culture.” Burtynsky says there are now no barriers to the expansion of the tar sands in Alberta. “Nothing stands in the way now. Nothing will for the next four years.”
No more student rush? By Amanda Cupido
I skipped down the streets of Toronto, excited to see Billy Elliot at the Canon Theatre. Frantically trying to keep up with me was my friend Nicole, who had never seen a play in the city before. Since I’m a regular around Toronto’s theatre scene, I felt it was not only my duty to expose her to a show, but to introduce her to the beauty of student rush tickets. I thought it was the greatest idea. Fifty per cent off tickets at the door with a student card, as long as you show up two hours before the play starts. Usually they go for 25 dollars a pop. Mirvish student rush tickets have always treated me well. With them, I’ve seen plays like A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Spring Awakening, and the list goes on. In my mind, it was the same price as going to the movie theatre twice – without popcorn. Clearly, live theatre provided a much richer experience for that price. I approached the box office with a huge smile on my face. “Two student rush tickets for the 1:30 p.m. show, please.” The man behind the glass just stared at me. I’m never sure if they can hear me through the weird microphone speaker that is embedded in the glass wall that they work behind. (Why is that necessary, anyway? What are they afraid of? Was there a horrible ticket incident I’m not aware of?) Anyway, I repeated myself slightly louder so my voice could carry through the bulletproof glass. “I’m here for the STUDENT RUSH tickets,” I said, proudly waving my 25 dollars in the air. “We don’t do student rush tickets anymore.” My heart stopped. What. What? No more student rush? Was I going to have to pay full price to see Billy Elliot? Was I ever going to be able to afford to see a play again? “There’s a ticket lottery now,” he went on to explain. Essentially, the cheap tickets are now free for everyone. Anyone can enter their name into the lottery and an hour and a half before the play starts, they draw ten names. Each person is able to claim two tickets at the discounted price of 50 per cent off. As students, we already get screwed over in so many ways: rising tuition, higher car insurance, paying full price at the movies. Why couldn’t we just get a break when it came to the theatre? Nope, they had to take that away from us, too. Nicole wasn’t upset since the concept of student rush was new to her, so she didn’t even know what she was going to be missing out on. But I refused to pass up the chance at getting these tickets. “We have to win this lottery.” We made our way to the little table stationed in the lobby of the theatre, where a young guy in a suit gave us ballots to fill out. As we dropped our ballots into the box, we realized a total of three ballots had been submitted so far. “Our odds are looking good,” I said to the ballot guy. “Yeah, and we’re drawing the winners any minute, so stick around.” Five minutes later, everyone who entered the lottery won the opportunity to purchase the cheap tickets. So what was the point? Just an excuse to give away tickets once reserved for students? Maybe the evening plays have more people entering this lottery. But either way, I think it’s ridiculous. Mirvish, get your act together. No pun intended.
Ryerson Free Press june 2011 17
Hot Docs: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
oronto’s Hot Docs has become a reason to get excited for spring in this city. This year, rush lines spilled out of Toronto cinemas every night between April 26 and May 6. The 18th annual Hot Docs International Documentary Festival had over 200 films, making it the largest documentary festival in North America. The festival has stories on display from every walk of life: mall Santas, puppeteers, homeless in the Yukon, Somali pirates and Donald Trump. If you didn’t make it this year, you missed out. During the festival, several awards are given out and audiences are able to vote with their ticket stubs for their favourites. The top five audience picks were (from one to five) Somewhere Between; Give Up Tomorrow; How to Die in Oregon; Wild Horse, Wild Ride; and Senna. Somewhere Between is an American documentary about teenage girls adopted from China during the 1990s after being given up as a result of the one child policy. Give Up Tomorrow is a co-production between the U.S. and the U.K. It focuses on the trial of Paco Larrañaga and how his case was able to overturn the death penalty in the Philippines. Senna is a British film about Brazilian Formula One champion Ayrton Senna. The film follows his life and his tragic death on the track. I was actually able to see the other two audience picks. How to Die in Oregon was about end-of-life choices in Oregon, and was a real tearjerker. In the state, terminally ill patients have the option to choose when they end their lives by taking a medication prescribed by a physician. The film closely followed one woman in her mid-50s as she struggled with terminal cancer. It followed her choice to end her life when she couldn’t handle the pain any longer. The film also looked at Washington State, which has passed the same law. How to Die in Oregon was beautifully done, and showed the immense trust the subjects put in the filmmaker. My critique of the film would be that I am not sure it had enough information to further the discussion on the topic if someone was not already convinced of this choice. Overall, though, it was well done and very moving. If you are able to see this documentary, make sure to bring tissues. The complete other extreme was Wild Horse, Wild Ride. I think I shed more tears in this one, but for completely different reasons. The film is about the Extreme Mustang Makeover challenge, an annual competition that takes place between horse trainers in the United States, who must train a mustang in 100 days. The mustangs come from federal land that can no longer support them. They need to be rounded up each year, and many spend the rest of their lives in federal holding facilities. The purpose of this contest is to train these mustangs so they can be adopted by good homes. The great thing about this film is that it centred on a contest, which gave it a natural beginning, middle and end: this really added drama and suspense to the documentary. The filmmakers, a husband and wife team, also did a great job of finding characters. They picked a wide variety of participants in the contest as main characters, and allowed the audience to see the steps involved in training a wild horse. Not only do you meet some interesting people in this film, you also meet the horses they train, each with a unique personality and journey to the final competition. The audience was cheering and clapping the entire way through. Family Portrait in Black and White took the Best Canadian Feature award this year. The film was an interesting portrait of a unique family. Olga Nenya is a woman who adopts 23 foster children, mostly black, in extremely xenophobic Ukraine. She is first portrayed as a saint, but over the course of the documentary, we learn that she is very controlling, picks favourites among the children and insists on running the family her way. She even goes so far as to try to prevent the adoption of some of her foster children. While this documentary was quite a feat to undertake with so many characters, I am not sure I would agree it was the best Canadian film in the festival. My criticism of this film was that it seemed to lack direction and wasn’t as engaging as some of the festival’s other great films. It was one of those experiences where you think it will end several times before it actually does. A Canadian film, which I preferred, was The Team, from a Toronto production company. The film follows the actors and producers of a Kenyan soap opera created to diffuse tribalism and violence after the 2008 Kenyan election. It did a tremendous job of creating awareness, following interesting characters and chronicling the making of the first season of the soap opera, which is also called The Team. Not only was this film informative, it was also visually stunning. This film seemed to hit all the marks structurally, artistically, with its characters and within the greater context. The balance was fantastic. If you missed the festival, or just want to keep the feeling alive until next year, Hot Docs has an online documentary library that can be accessed free through their website. They also hold monthly director-attended screenings between October and April. The program is called Doc Soup, and early bird subscriptions are available until July if you are interested. — Annie Burns-Pieper
The New Auteurs: Kelly Reichardt
elly Reichardt, an independent filmmaker and screenwriter, has created low-budget films for 17 years. Recently, fans of her movies thought it was time to honour her best work. A Reichardt retrospective took place in May at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) Bell Lightbox, TIFF’s new location on King Street that shows a variety of films, ranging from classic cinema to modern productions, all year round. Reichardt’s films show the challenges and the thought processes of the American people. Americans’ frustration with a normal life, or lack thereof, is revealed by her characters constantly being on the road in search of something better. Her movies have a very realistic quality to them; a minimalistic style is used, allowing the characters to take the audience along on their journeys without explaining much about their lives. The feeling as you watch the movie is as if you are a stalker observing a person and following them around. There is no narrative and no secondary character to explain what exactly the protagonist is thinking, and it’s more personal than any big Hollywood production. There isn’t a heavy introduction of the character’s past, but rather a focus on the present emotional state. Lovers of fast-paced Hollywood movies might want to stay away from these films as they are much slower and less dramatic. The low budget that Reichardt works with is clearly apparent when her own dog Lucy appears in two of her feature films, Wendy and Lucy and Old Joy—the first of which was shot in a mere 20 days with a crew of about 13 people. This, however, does not appear to hinder the director’s creativity, and it seems that she prefers working on independent productions with very few people. Wendy and Lucy is one of Reichardt’s films featured in the retrospective. Wendy (Michelle Williams) is a young vagabond travelling to Alaska to find work in a cannery. She struggles to cope with poverty and find work in a downtrodden U.S. economy. The story, however, takes place in Oregon. Wendy is trapped there because her car breaks down and her beloved dog, Lucy, is lost as a result of Wendy’s arrest for shoplifting. Throughout the film, Wendy is searching for Lucy while attempting to get her car fixed and get back on the road. This movie seemed incredibly realistic and had a sense of earnestness. Wendy’s fear, sadness and anger at never finding her precious dog, her frustration with not having enough money for a place to stay, and a sense of overall helplessness was very well translated from the screen to the audience. Williams is a terrific actress who really understood her character and made her come to life. The one complaint about the film is a moment of unnecessary naivety. When Wendy was searching for Lucy, one of the shots focused a great deal on a graffiti word “Goner” as she was walking past a wall. Reichardt underestimates the audience’s ability to grasp the seriousness of the situation and might as well have written “symbolism and foreshadowing” beside that word. It was almost funny at a very sad time. Overall, the movie was well written and directed, and contained some very powerful acting. Frequent independent moviegoers will enjoy Reichardt’s work, and the retrospective was definitely not set up in vain. For viewers unfamiliar with indie cinema, Reichardt’s films are a great place to start. — Anastasiya Komkova
STAGE My Fair Lady
y Fair Lady, playing this summer at the Shaw Festival Theatre, will put a smile on your face and a song in your heart. Each character is like seeing an old friend, but never tiring of hearing his or her stories. It was Julie Andrews who first graced a Broadway stage in 1956 as Eliza Doolittle, an unrefined and common flower girl. She played opposite Rex Harrison’s Professor Henry Higgins, a speech scientist and selfdeclared bachelor. Higgins accepts a bet from fellow speech expert Colonel Pickering to transform Eliza’s ear-splitting accent from the streets of London and pass her off as a duchess. This season at Niagara-on-the-Lake, it’s Deborah Hay as Eliza who belts out such classic songs as “The Rain in Spain” and “I Could Have Danced All Night.” Although Hay could not exactly capture the innocence of youth like Audrey Hepburn in the 1964 film adaptation, her performance and voice were full of expression and vigour. I couldn’t have asked for more. Benedict Campbell was cast as the egotistical Higgins. With a performance like his, it was easy to forget anyone else had played the part. That was a difficult task, especially since Harrison reprised his stage role as Higgins for the movie, immortalizing himself on film and in the memories of millions. Patrick Galligan was charming as the silver-haired Pickering. Neil Barclay was welcomed comic relief as Eliza’s father, the stout Alfred Doolittle who has a gift for rhetoric. Doolittle’s
famous number, “Get Me to the Church on Time,” is always a highlight. With a few more hours before tying the knot, “there are drinks and girls all over London” and he’s “got to track ‘em down.” The entire cast oozed energy and vibrancy, matching the flamboyant garb of the upper-class Brits and the hopes and dreams of the working poor. The storyline remains relevant and touching. When Eliza is successful at transforming herself into a lady, both on the inside and the outside, she ends up smitten with Higgins. But the self-congratulatory bromance between Higgins and Pickering leaves no credit for Eliza, and in anger she leaves them both. Scrambling to find her, Higgins, it seems, may need her more than she needs him. The idea of the young Eliza and the older Higgins is still slightly creepy. In Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion (1938), the movie from which the musical was adapted, the age difference between the main characters was unnoticeable. But My Fair Lady takes the opportunity when Eliza goes missing to poke fun at the odd arrangement of a young girl living with two older men, neither of which she is related to. This Cinderella story of sorts may be about classicism, transforming oneself or finding friendship and love in unexpected ways. But there is definitely one message that will continue to inspire audiences: “The difference between a lady and flower girl is not how she behaves, but how she is treated.” — Ruane Remy
andida is a comedy about a woman of the same name trapped in a love triangle. Caught between her husband, the Reverend James Mavor Morrell, and an 18-year-old poet, she must choose either to continue living the life of a pastor’s wife or to fall for the seductive romance of youth. What’s a woman to do? Candi (Claire Jullien), as her father fondly calls her, is portrayed as desirable for both her beauty and her poise. Morrell (Nigel Shawn Williams), her husband, is a handsome Christian clergyman popular in and out of his congregation, especially with the female parishioners. His unwavering love for his wife is revealed through one of his life philosophies: “An honest man feels that he must pay Heaven for every hour of happiness with a good spell of hard unselfish work to make others happy. We have no more right to consume happiness without producing it than to consume wealth without producing it. Get a wife like my Candida; and you’ll always be in arrear with your payment.” Morrell has been eagerly anticipating his wife to return home from her vacation. She returns without the children, but instead with Eugene Marchbanks (Wade BogertO’Brien), the poet. As soon as Marchbanks is alone with Morrell, the younger professes to the older his love for Candida. Marchbanks persists, despite Morrell insisting it’s all an innocent crush, until the reverend’s confidence in his wife’s love and faithfulness is shaken. Throw some slapstick into the mix and it’s all quite hilarious. Jullien is perfect as the lady of the house: confident, calm, sexy and the one really calling the shots. As she explains to Morrell and Marchbanks, her husband is master
because she makes him master. Williams as the self-confident, at times naïve reverend who has been blessed with love all his life is endearing and charming. It was refreshing to see Williams, a Black man, starring in a lead role initially written for a white male. Skin colour is irrelevant to Williams’s acting ability, but I have never seen plays resurrected from decades past — in this case 1962 — where the lead roles have been cast with actors who do not match the ethnic appearance of the character. But after the first few minutes, the novelty wears off and the jokes begin, all in British accents. Marchbanks, a source of much laughter, is a scrawny boy with a wise and gentle soul. What he lacks in romantic experience he makes up for in understanding and insight. Unlike Morrell, he’s learned to live without love for a lack of caring family or friends; and, therefore, he is stronger than he seems. Bogert-O’Brien transforms the sweet Marchbanks from pitiful and pathetic to courageous and masculine. And although Marchbanks has little to offer aside from intense love and passion, in the end, Candi keeps the audience guessing: who shall she choose? With a cast of six, no musical numbers and one stage setting, Candida is a triumph of quality writing, stage presence and engaging acting. Norman Browning plays Burgess, Candi’s father and an unethical businessman. Krista Colosimo plays Proserpine, Morrell’s uptight secretary who is secretly in love with him. And Graeme Somerville plays the somewhat lazy Reverend Lexy Mill, Morrell’s subordinate. The dynamics of these three enriched the story and lightened the mood. On stage at the Royal George Theatre in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Candida will be sure to keep audiences laughing this summer at the Shaw Festival. — Ruane Remy
PHOTO courtesy of mirvish productions
classic movie turned into a musical. It all started at a party when Billy Elliot, the movie, was first released. According to legend, Elton John was at the dinner party and announced that the movie should be a musical. And if it happened, he’d write the music. And so it happened. Debuting in London and now in New York and Toronto, Billy Elliot has been tearing up the theatre scene. I went in with high expectations. The reviews have been solid and there’s been a buzz around the city. Also, I had never seen the movie, which I felt was an advantage since I was able to go in with an open mind. The plot is about a boy (Billy Elliot) growing up in England who has a secret love (and skill) for dancing. He hides it from his disapproving father who thinks he’s at boxing lessons. When the truth comes out, Billy has to fight for what he loves to do. It’s a story about being true to one’s identity and redefining the stereotypical lack of masculinity in the performing arts. The acting throughout was subpar. I was slightly disappointed. The English accents of all the actors felt forced and inconsistent. Clearly, they cast the musical with dancing as a priority, which - based on the storyline - made sense. The actor playing Billy Elliot at the performance I saw (J.P. Viernes) was a truly talented young dancer. He was one of six boys cast to play the role. The set was simple and there were no special effects or set changes that blew my mind. I did enjoy a winter scene where snow fell from the sky and looked unbelievably real. The actors enhanced the scene as they shuddered and walked as if it was freezing cold onstage. This provided great ambiance and was entertaining to watch. The classic story has a happy ending and was a feel-good musical. It showcased the dancing skills of young artists, but it lacked some strong triple threats. A great show to see with the family, but Billy Elliot definitely did not meet my expectations. — Amanda Cupido
Ryerson Free Press june 2011 19
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Published on Jun 9, 2011
Published on Jun 9, 2011
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